HC Deb 03 April 1951 vol 486 cc136-64

8.39 p.m.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 9th February 1951, entitled the Utility Apparel (Maximum Prices and Charges) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 216), a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th February, be annulled. I think it would be for the convenience of the House, which we are most intent on considering, if, together with this Order, we considered Statutory Instrument No. 250 entitled Utility Apparel (Women's and Maids' Underwear and Nightwear), about which there is a Motion in my name on the Order Paper for the annulment of the Order.

This is neither a flippant nor a frivolous Motion. An earlier attempt was made by me and by my hon. Friends to have this same Motion considered, but it was, in fact, defeated by the House being adjourned, and today is the last day upon which a Prayer is available to us on this first Order. Meantime, trade negotiations by the President of the Board of Trade have been broken off because, as I understand it, this system of using the Parliamentary, constitutional method of examining the problems the House is charged with examining has not met with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman. He pretends that it is difficult to negotiate with industry while there is a chance of arrangements that he has made being annulled by a Prayer of this kind.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary how many orders have, in fact, been annulled, and, indeed, in how many cases where we have used this same and only method open to us to discuss the details of these orders has he not found our representations helpful, and incorporated them in adjusted or amended orders. If the right hon. Gentleman believed that by his action he was influencing trade and industry improperly to try to influence me and my hon. Friends to desist from these Prayers, he has been wrong, and if he thought that I and my hon. Friends would be deflected from carrying out our duty towards the public and to our constituents he was, again, equally wrong.

I should like to say, at the outset, that I have no intention of asking that this Order be annulled in its entirety. On balance, the situation would, in fact, be worse—it might be chaotic—if, suddenly, this Order were to be annulled, but I do want to emphasise to the hon. Gentleman and to his right hon. Friend that this method we have at our disposal is the only method open to us of being able to consider the details of what his action means. Maybe, the system is wrong. It is not for me, at this point to discuss that. Maybe, there ought to be some amendment of our Parliamentary procedure which would allow us to discuss Amendments to Orders, but so long as this method is the only one open to us I for one propose to continue to pursue it.

The right hon. Gentleman, in thinking he might deflect us from our duty has done very two very serious things. He has attempted—and I am not sure that the Leader of the House, in moving the Adjournment the other night, was not aiding and conniving at it—to thwart the decisions of Parliament, because the parent Act, the Goods and Services (Price Control) Act, 1941, was approved by the House only subject to the power of hon. Members to be able to pray, and to use this system of discussion on Orders which came up under the Act. I wonder, indeed, if the action of preventing Prayer does not merge on the illegal. The second thing he has done—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think that that is going far beyond this Order.

Colonel Hutchison

I shall, therefore, come back to the Order—the two Orders, in fact—and to the matters of their detail. Order No. 250, which came into operation on 26th February, had the effect of increasing manufacturers' prices on all this range of underwear which we are considering. Concurrently with this Order No. 250, which increased manufacturers' permitted prices, Order No. 216 was brought into operation. These Orders, if I may say so, are in tandem. Order No. 216 governed the permitted margins that could be added to these goods, and, indeed, to a wider range of goods—the permitted margins that could be added by the distributors, that is to say, the wholesalers and the retailers. In addition, Order No. 216 refers to what are known as "Related Schedules." These Schedules have turned out to be the nigger in the woodpile the whole way through, because the Related Schedules applicable to a variety of goods, though not all the goods covered by Order No. 216, lay down selling prices.

Taken together, Orders Nos. 216 and 250 fix the price at which these goods can be sold in the shops. It is clearly obvious that if a parent Order like Order No. 216 is brought out, allowing the margins which can be added to the manufacturers' prices in order to arrive at the selling price, and, at the same time, the Government say, "You must not add the permitted margin to the manufacturer's price until you have seen the selling price which is permitted for your goods under the Related Schedule," that obviously holds up the whole flow and system until the Related Schedule makes its appearance. So, although the trade knew quite well what their final prices would be by taking the manufacturer's permitted price and adding the permitted margin under Order No. 216, they were not allowed to do that; they had to wait until the Related Schedule, namely, No. 4L, made its appearance.

Perhaps the easiest way to show the sort of nonsense that has arisen would be to take a simple case out of these two Orders. I ask hon. Members to look at Order No. 250 and to take the first example, which can be found on page 2. There, the price for cotton slips of a quality of cloth designated X3130 in its smallest size can be sold, as from 26th February, at a maximum price of 60s. 9d. per doz. Under Order No. 216, in relation to those identical goods the wholesaler has to refer to the Related Schedule 4K. Turning to the Related Schedule 4K and hunting for the same article, we find that the same cotton slips made of a quality of fabric X3130 in the smallest size can be sold by the wholesaler at only 60s. 4d. per dozen.

So the fantastic situation has arisen in which the wholesaler has to pay to the manufacturer 5d. more per dozen than the price at which he is allowed to sell. That, clearly, holds up the whole flow of goods. The goods disappear from the shelves and are not available to the public; the flow of these articles dries up; they are not available for sale, and the unfortunate housewife, hunting for one of these garments, discovers that, for example, finding utility nightwear has become a nightmare.

What is the explanation for this nonsensical state of affairs? The explanation is that throughout the Government have assumed that there are considerable quantities of unsold stocks of these garments all the way through the pipeline. They think that it is wrong for a distributor to sell goods at a new and increased price if he has bought them at the old and reduced price. I do not want to detain the House on this particular aspect of the matter, although there is a great deal to be said as to the incorrectness of that theory. I will content myself by pointing out that the stocks do not exist; they are not there, and the whole of this assumption that the goods will be available for sale for a certain period of time because they are in the pipeline is wrong because the system is not working. So great is the demand for these articles, that no sooner do they come in than they are sold, and no sooner do the slips come in than they slip out.

I make two suggestions for the cure of this state of affairs. Either these Related Schedules should come out at the same time as the parent Order, or very close to it, or at least the distributor should be allowed to add to the manufacturer's price the permitted margin which is allowed in the parent Order. It is a simple matter to make the calculation. The public have their protection, and, at any rate, until the Related Schedule comes out, they should be allowed to make use of that system.

I want to examine each of these suggestions. It is quite obvious that closer timing between the parent order and the Related Schedule is essential. It has, in fact, been recognised by the Board of Trade themselves, because in certain negotiations which took place on articles of this kind, they promised that the trade would not be asked to wait longer than two weeks for the Related Schedule beyond the date on which the parent order came out. In the case which I quoted, the Related Schedule was delayed for between four and five weeks. For that period the whole thing has not functioned.

What of the suggestion that the distributor might be allowed to add the permitted margin to the manufacturer's permitted price? That is, clearly, a system which has been found to work by the Board of Trade because, whereas formally almost the whole gamut of utility goods was controlled by the dual price system, it has been abandoned in all except six groups, of which the group which I am discussing is one. If it can be abandoned and found to work with other similar articles, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should extend it. I know part of the reason why this confusion exists. The Board of Trade have found it, as they say, administratively difficult to keep pace with the needs of trade. I can understand that, but that is no argument for making the public suffer when the cure is as simple as the one which I have indicated. Until the administrative machine can catch up with its duties and responsibility, they must adopt a system of allowing the permitted margin to be added to the manufacturer's price.

One other criticism of the Order which I have to make is this. It falls from more important lips than mine, because it was criticised by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. Both the two Orders to which I have put down a Motion tonight came under their fire because of the delay in making out the parent Order, and on top of that delay we now have nearly five weeks' delay in bringing out the Related Schedule which allows the Order to work. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give some assurance that this is not to continue.

I have taken perhaps a little time to travel over rather technical and complicated matters, and I find myself in somewhat unusual company among the hon. Members who have supported me. I hope that my fellow-travellers will be persuaded that what is happening now is causing injury to the consumer. I am not primarily interested in the trade in this matter but in the consumers, who are largely inarticulate and can only look to us to raise a voice on their behalf. It is they whom the right hon. Gentleman is trying to stifle at the present time.

8.55 p.m.

Sir Joho Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to second the Motion.

I wish to deal only with the last point mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Colonel Hutchison), and that is the observations of the Select Committee upon the delay in publication of the Order. The Select Committee obviously took a rather serious view, in making their Report to the House, of the delay in the publication of Order No. 216. The Report says: Your Committee…are of the opinion that the special attention of the House should be drawn to them"— that is, four Orders, including No. 216 and No. 250— on the ground that there appears to have been unjustifiable delay in their publication. In the case of Order No. 216, it was made on 9th February and not published until 23rd February, a delay of 14 days. The Select Committee must have taken a very serious view of a delay of 14 days, because in the case of the other orders the delay is only seven days. Therefore, we ought to have some better explanation as to the delay in publication of Order No. 216.

The Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, provided for the prompt publication of Orders. Section 2 (1) provides that: Immediately after the making of any statutory instrument, it shall be sent to the King's printer of Acts of Parliament and…copies thereof shall as soon as possible be printed and sold by the King's printer of Acts of Parliament. If Members will turn to the Report of the Select Committee which they have no doubt obtained and have fresh in their minds and look at Appendix A, which is the Memorandum by the Board of Trade laid before the Select Committee at their request, they will find in the second paragraph that: The time allowed between signature and publication is normally agreed with His Majesty's Stationery Office on the basis of a standard scale showing the times within which publication can normally be arranged. The Board of Trade speak of a standard scale of times, but the Act says that an order shall be published as soon as possible and not according to some standard scale. In my submission there has been a clear breach, certainly in regard to No. 216, of the provisions of the Act. Later, in paragraph 6 of the same Memorandum, we find this: Each of the three Orders under consideration was sent for printing on the morning of the day after it was made. Why was it not sent upon the same day? The Act says that it shall be sent immediately to the King's printer after it has been made. Why was there a delay of one day in sending the Order for printing? My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the fact that at least one of the related Schedules was not published until many weeks after the publication of the Order. If the Parliamentary Secretary will look at paragraph 3 of the same Memorandum, he will find in the last sentence that: The Order itself could, no doubt, have been published earlier, but it is submitted that no purpose is served by publishing an Order in advance of any Related Schedule which it brings into operation. We are now told that the Related Schedule was published many weeks after the Order. The whole thing seems to be entirely nonsensical. This is a serious matter. It is quite clear that the intention of Parliament as laid down in the Act of 1946 was that there should be a rapid publication of orders immediately after they are made. That certainly has not been fulfilled in the case of the Orders under discussion, and I hope we shall have an explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary which is a great deal better than that made to the Select Committee.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

If I were to address myself at any length on this particular Prayer it would be to rebut some of the controversial remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) in the first part of his speech. Firstly, no doubt I would be ruled out of order, and, secondly, I have no wish to stir up acrimony tonight, because if rumour has it aright, peace and common sense may break out at any moment. I shall be delighted to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member and be a crypto-prayer with him, and I shall listen with interest to the Minister's reply.

9.3 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I am in some difficulty tonight, because my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) has moved that Statutory Instrument No. 216 be annulled. Tonight is the last night on which we can pray about this Instrument. I presume hon. Members have got a copy of it. I have one in my hand. I see that in the Third Schedule there appears the words: Gaberdine raincoats—Related Schedule No. 16B. No doubt most hon. Members think we are discussing that. As a matter of fact, we are not. We cannot discuss it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that that Schedule has been revoked by Order No. 296, and we are only discussing Statutory Instrument No. 216 without the Third Schedule.

Sir H. Williams

I am delighted, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you have drawn the attention of the House to the fact that at the moment we are discussing something which, in part, no longer exists. That is most unsatisfactory from the constitutional point of view. On a Committee stage of a Bill we have the Bill in front of us. We go through it Clause by Clause. Every now and then the Motion is put that Clause so and so stand part, and we are entitled to assume that the Clause is somewhere there. We put down Amendments to leave out words and to insert words. On this occasion I do not think that hon. Members or those who devised this have the foggiest idea what is in the Order and what is left out.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It can all be discussed except the Third Schedule.

Sir H. Williams

The whole story about Order No. 216 is very strange. The first Order was made on 9th February and the Order which takes part of it away—I presume we can discuss the fact that part of it has been removed from our purview tonight—was made on 22nd February so, quite obviously, the Board of Trade underwent a very rapid change of mind.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think the other two Orders, Nos. 296 and 413, have not been prayed against.

Sir H. Williams

One of the objections which I have to the Order we are praying against is the fact that the Board of Trade showed no stability of mind. That is a legitimate point. We are entitled to examine not merely the Order, but what I call "the political morals" of those who made the Order. This Order was signed on 9th February, but 13 days later it was altered. Therefore, what is being prayed against is the whole Order. I do not know what information you have, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, about part of this Order having been removed by a subsequent Order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It was presented to the House, and the Third Schedule has been taken out of it.

Sir H. Williams

I am not quite clear—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] This is the first time that the point has ever been raised, and I therefore think that it is a point of substance. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not interested in good law-making, but I am, and that is the point which I wish to raise. On 9th February, an Order was made regulating certain prices. That came into operation on 26th February, but four days later an Order is made which takes it out of operation. It removes not the whole of the Schedule but the part of it, which was removed by Order No. 296. The interesting thing is that Order 413 removes the whole of the Third Schedule and not only the part of it which had been removed before.

I am making a protest against the most incompetent draftsmanship of the Board of Trade. Nobody in this House can understand this Order without having all these documents in his possession—all of them. They relate to gabardine raincoats, women's domestic overalls and aprons, knitted apparel, nylon hose, women's—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is all in the Third Schedule, on page 9.

Sir H. Williams

No, Sir. If they are in the First Schedule they are in order, but some are in the Third Schedule and this—

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

On a point of order. I would like to get this matter quite clear. Surely we are praying that the Third Schedule should be annulled—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—although the Third Schedule, by a subsequent Order, has been removed. Surely we are correct in saying why we agree that the Third Schedule should be removed, because in fact it has been removed. Surely we are in order in saying that it should be removed and not in order in saying that it should be retained.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Both would be out of order. Perhaps I could explain what has happened. S.I. No. 216 was amended by S.I. No. 296. S.I. No. 296 was revoked by S.I. No. 413. S.I. No 216 stands, except for the Third Schedule, which has been replaced by the Third Schedule in S.I. No. 413.

Sir H. Williams

We are all deeply grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but looking at the Third Schedule, I do not find the related schedule No. 4L. That is still in. Therefore, I think I can at least read out its title—"Women's and maids' underwear and nightwear and other knitted apparel." [Laughter.] Quite seriously, at this moment I am quite satisfied that no hon. or right hon. Member, except possibly the Parliamentary Secretary, is really aware of what remains in the document which is now under discussion.

My purpose in taking part in the debate is not that I necessarily oppose or support anything in Statutory Instrument No. 216, but that I think the time has come when this delegated legislation ought to be handled better. If we go into a shop, whether it sells food or underwear, we find a great mass of these documents stuck on the walls to help the shop assistants to comply with the law. Every now and then people are prosecuted because someone sells one of these articles at a price different from that in the Schedule, and the prosecution is directed not only against the shop assistant who made the mistake—in 99 cases out of 100 it is a mistake—but also against the employer, whether a person or a firm.

We ought to take a little more trouble. I have here 100 pages of documents all of which are concerned in this matter. Some of the pages are full of lists, numbers, initials and prices. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite treat this as a great joke. Some of them represent the employees in the distributive trade. Some of them profess to represent the Co-ops., who are large traders; but they are not always respectable. My local Co-op. was fined £33 today for selling coal under weight. That interpolation was definitely out of order, but I have been slightly provoked by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

The Board of Trade ought to behave better in this matter. In respect of some orders they behave quite well because they incorporate the Schedule in the Order. As a whole, the Ministry of Food are much better than the Board of Trade, because they never publish an order which has a related Schedule attached to it, but always publish a complete document. I cannot understand why one Department of the Board of Trade—I am certain that it is one Department—adopts the practice of having related Schedules while other Departments publish complete documents.

I make a most serious appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary that the Board of Trade should mend its habits so that when we go to the Vote Office and ask for an Order we shall be supplied with not only the Order itself but all the pertinent documents attached thereto. Parliament and the people are not being treated fairly so long as we have these great masses of documents through which we have to search to find what the original Order sought to do and what changes have been made by the amending Order.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Osborne (Louth)

I have to disclose an interest in the trade. If we find it so difficult to understand these great masses of regulations for which we are responsible, how much more difficult it must be for the men engaged in industry to carry them out. I plead with the Parliamentary Secretary, who has experience in the textile industry, for a much greater simplication of the regulation of economic affairs. Men in the industry who ought to be responsible for increasing the efficiency of their plants and seeing that cheaper and better goods are produced have to spend their time trying to understand regulations which we ourselves find it difficult to follow.

Furthermore, if the policy represented largely by hon. Members opposite is carried to its extreme, and trade is controlled by S.I. this and S.I. the other, trade will soon be so confused that men will lose heart and will not give their best to industry. I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that today in the textile industry which is affected especially by S.I. 250, far too much time is spent by men at the top in committees trying to unravel the difficult and complicated regulations, instead of in their factories making the goods that the people of this country require.

Apart from the political aspect, I plead with the hon. Gentleman from the practical point of view that he should do his utmost in his Department to simplify these orders so that they can be easily correlated, and to see that we have far fewer of them than we have at the present time.

9.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Rhodes)

May I say at once how much I appreciate the way in which this Prayer has been brought forward tonight. The hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) usually makes a constructive contribution and, during the time that I have been at the Board of Trade, when a matter of importance has been raised, he has usually indicated the line he intended to follow. Hon. Members are entitled to know the ins and outs of these different orders, and I should like to take the opportunity to try to explain what is probably one of the most difficult and intricate series of orders that have been prayed against up to now.

To begin at the end, may I say to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) that while I appreciate the gist of his remarks, they were really out of order because Order No. 216 is a distributors' Order and not a manufacturers' Order. The other is a manufacturers' Order, but it is not a cloth Order, and the hon. Member was trying to refer to the manufacturer of cloth. The remarks of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) were constructive until the last part of his speech.

I shall try to explain the sequence of these Orders. S.I., 1951, No. 216 introduced three amended schedules, 3H, 4K and 6L. The numbers should be ignored because they are related to the type of garment manufactured, whereas the letter relates to an amendment. The Order also continued in force three Related Schedules, 1K, 16B and 17. The reason for that is, first, if hon. Members will look at 3H and 4K—[Interruption.] If the hon. Members who have raised this Prayer are interested enough to look at them so that I can make a serious explanation, I shall be glad. Those two schedules related to a previous manufacturers' Order.

On a previous occasion, the hon. Member for Croydon, East, raised the question of the laying of related schedules at the same time as an order was laid. Those Related Schedules were laid at the same time as the particular Order was laid. They are laid in triplicate, and in both Houses. One copy goes back to the Board of Trade, receipted from each House.

Sir H. Williams

What I raised the other night was that I went to the Library to try to get the Related Schedules involved, but could not find them in the usual volume of printed and bound statutory orders. The Vote Office did not have any, although we learnt that some had been sent there. The Related Schedules which are laid are the ones which are put in the box in the Library—that is, the official laying. The ordinary volume which hon. Members consult did not up to that time contain the Related Schedules. I am glad to say that tonight I have had no difficulty in obtaining the schedules to the orders we are discussing. Therefore, I did some good the other night.

Mr. Rhodes

The hon. Member should not have had any difficulty on that other night either. Perhaps I may say where the Board of Trade responsibility begins and ends, which may save a lot of argument on future occasions. When an Order is laid, three copies are laid in both Houses. One copy is sent back to the Board of Trade, receipted. On the date of publication, the Board of Trade assistant solicitor, in his capacity as liaison officer to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, sends 15 copies to that Committee. Once these two first steps have been taken, the job of the Board is done, and the question of how the orders are distributed or put out in the Library is a matter for the administration in the House.

Sir H. Williams

The job of laying—that is, sending a copy to the Library or to the Votes and Proceedings Office, I am not quite certain which—is the job of the Board of Trade, but the provision of adequate copies in the Vote Office is the job of the Stationery Office; and they, and not the Board of Trade, are the people who failed.

Mr. Rhodes

I am glad that the hon. Member has given me the opportunity of correcting him. The job of sending the copies to the Library is not the job of the Board of Trade, but of the administration of the House. The job of the Board of Trade is to see that the Vote Office receives three copies—

Sir H. Williams


Mr. Rhodes

—yes—three copies of the order and of the attendant related schedules; and after the 15 copies have been sent to the Select Committee, the job of the Board of Trade has finished. The hon. Member is perfectly correct in that afterwards the Stationery Office and the Vote Office between them decide how many copies they want. While the hon. Member, quite rightly, told the House that on the night in question he was not able to get a copy from the Vote Office, it was not because they were not there but because the regular servant of the House who looks after the Vote Office was away on leave. In fact, the copies were there and could have been produced at a moment's notice by the person who knew about them. I wanted the opportunity of saying that, because I did not want that particular servant to have any blame in the matter.

Sir H. Williams

On that occasion the Home Secretary went out and brought back four copies, but they were four copies of the order which had been superseded and the official was on duty and supplied him with the four wrong ones, but not the four right ones.

Mr. Rhodes

That is not accurate in this sense that the four copies were of a previous Order, U.F.5 and those were brought back, but if the servant of the House in the Vote Office had known where the others were and could have laid his hand on them, copies of U.F.6 would have come out also. I think we can leave that as satisfactorily explained.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

It is a muddle.

Mr. Rhodes

No, it is not a muddle. There was a statement made which was not true and I have explained why it was not true. I think I am quite entitled to do that.

To come to the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) in regard to the delay in publication, I also must turn to the Third Report of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. The explanation is quite adequate. It may be a matter of opinion as to whether there should be more time allowed or not, but they were in the hands of the printers and if the hon. Baronet will look at Appendix B, on page 5, and see the remarks made by the Board of Trade in reply, he will see that it says: It should be noted that the Order and Schedules were published on the 23rd February, whereas the date of operation was 26th February. That does not appear to be long, but these were in respect of prices going up and there was no danger of the retailers concerned being subject to proceedings if they went wrong. If it had been a case of prices going down, I should say that a minimum of three weeks would be required to allow retailers to keep within the law by marking down the stuff they had in their shops. That is the explanation. I cannot be more explicit than that. It does refer specifically to No. 216 and to No. 250, and I cannot give a better explanation as to why there was delay in that case. We do try to keep them as up-to-date as possible.

Turning to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun, who was concerned with the delay between publication of orders increasing manufacturers' prices and publication of such orders, as that under discussion, which introduced new related schedules to allow distributors to get their permitted margins on manufacturers' prices, I can assure hon. Members that we do our utmost to keep them up-to-date.

Related Schedules Nos. 3H and 4K, which came out with Statutory Instrument No. 216, were in relation to a previous maximum prices order. The Related Schedule could not come out without the Order; they are both part and parcel one of the other. Leaving the No. 6L, which was a reduction, and taking 1K, 16B and No. 17—[Interruption.] Be patient; I was patient with the hon. Member the other night. He has asked for an explanation, and, if he wants a proper and serious explanation, let him please take it seriously. As we carried on, it was necessary to bring 3H and 4K up to date by bringing in an amending Order No. 413, which came into force on 29th March, and which brought in 3J and 4L in place of 3H and 4K. I take it that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now quite clear on that.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison

Except for the delay in doing it.

Mr. Rhodes

Of course, and I regret as much as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the necessity for the delay, and I will come to the reasons for it in a moment.

The first amending order referred to by the hon. Member for Croydon, East, was No. 296, which brought into force two amended Related Schedules—16C and 17A, and that was for the same purpose—to bring the prices up to date, so that there would be no more confusion about them. Sometimes, when delay has been likely to last for several weeks, I understand that it has been the practice in the past to revoke a Related Schedule of that description and allow the maximum prices as defined in the Order itself to take effect until the revised Related Schedule was ready.

The hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun is very well versed in these matters, and he will appreciate that, if he looks through Order No. 216 and examines the Third Schedule, he will find a number of descriptions there which are just brief statements, not to be compared with the large number of descriptions preceding them in the Second Schedule. The reason for that is that it is purely for enforcement purposes that the Related Schedules are put in there at all, and if it was possible to do it without the Related Schedules we would do so, because an enormous amount of work is involved.

Anyone looking through the Related Schedules would see how difficult it is carrying through each item and relating a specific price to a specific item in the Related Schedule. It is a big job and one that calls for a tremendous knowledge of calculation and slide rule. It is for enforcement purposes, and the intention of the Related Schedule is that the maximum prices or long stop prices can be defined, because hon. Gentlemen opposite know quite well that it is easy to evade the law in the case of an Order where there is only a margin.

It is easy for people who intend to do such a thing to do it. In the experience of the Board of Trade the largest number of prosecutions have been in relation to items in the Third Schedule and it is necessary to have a maximum price related to the margins as defined in the order. I understand we have reduced the items from 16 to six, which is a considerable reduction and if we can we shall reduce them further in the light of the experience of our legal department. I hope that the explanation I have given is quite clear.

9.36 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

In spite of the hon. Gentleman's lengthy explanation, the fact still remains that the order was not published until 13 days after it had been made. To put it quite shortly, the reason given was the long time it took to print the Schedule. Is there any object served in making an order before it can be published? If there is no point to be served by that, I suggest the Schedule should be sent to the printer in this case at least eight days before it is desired to make the order, because the result of making the order a good many days before it can be published is that the House is deprived of that number of days out of the 40 days necessary for a negative Resolution.

It is not only the trade that is concerned but the right of Private Members. I stress the words "Private Members," because I regret that in the last few weeks Prayers have been considered from the point of view of the two Front Benches. It is the right of Private Members of the Opposition especially to pray against these orders, and if that right is to be preserved it is essential that orders should be available to Members as soon as the praying time begins. May I have an answer on that point?

9.38 p.m.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison

The Parliamentary Secretary has shown a spirit of accommodation and reasonableness which prompts me to hope that some of the suggestions made will fall upon fruitful ground. I will not detain the House for more than a moment to comment on what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that it has been found from experience that the articles contained in the Third Schedule were easily sold by people who evaded responsibility, who evaded tax and who used wrong prices, and so on.

I find it very difficult to believe that there is much illicit trading, if I may call it that, in gabardine raincoats whereas, at the same time, it has not been found necessary to subject raincoats, being garments made from cotton cloth, to this complicated system. When one gets things as close together as that I am sure that, with the good will of the hon. Gentleman to examine whether these categories cannot be shortened further, he will find a way out of the dilemma experienced by the trade at present. Perhaps he will also consider the question whether, if he is delayed in bringing out these permitted schedules, he will allow the permitted margin to play upon the manufacturing prices until the Related Schedule comes up.

As I said at the outset, I had no intention of asking the House to divide on the matter and the accommodation I have had from the hon. Gentleman fortifies me in that. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman wish to move the next Motion to amend Statutory Instrument No. 250?

Colonel Hutchison

No, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

That Motion therefore falls.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 5th March, 1951, entitled the Utility Apparel (Industrial Overalls and Merchant Navy Uniforms) (Manufacture and Supply) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 376), a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th March, be annulled. This Order deals with the permitted price increases in two categories of articles, namely industrial overalls and Merchant Navy uniforms. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson), who will be seconding this Motion, will deal more particularly with the question of Merchant Navy uniforms and I shall, therefore, confine myself to industrial overalls. The Order itself gives an indication of the very wide variety of articles which are included in this Order. It includes such articles as women's wrap-over overalls with short or long sleeves, women's industrial hats, men's overall long coats, full-length type, men's bib and brace overalls, and a whole host of others, including probably the most common and popular of all—the men's boiler suit.

The rise in prices of articles such as these is a very serious matter for industry. Industrial overalls are largely obtained by either of two methods. Either the workpeople themselves must buy them in the shops and take such care of them as they can, replacing them as and when necessary; alternatively, many firms have now adopted the practice of providing these overalls for their employees either through their general welfare services or on a reduced cost basis which ensures that every worker receives new overalls either every week or every fortnight.

Whichever method is adopted for clothing industrial workers with overalls, the additional cost represents an important factor in industrial costs. Either the extra cost must be found out of the wages of the individual worker, in which case it is an important factor in raising the cost of living, or when the firms provide the overalls the increased price will represent a small but nevertheless important addition to the overhead charges which such firms must bear.

I dare say it will be submitted by the Parliamentary Secretary that these permitted price increases are necessitated by factors outside the control not only of his Department but of the Government as a whole. The facts, however, are entirely different because in this case we have in the manufacture of industrial overalls a raw material which is very much under the control of the Board of Trade and the Raw Cotton Commission—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Rhodes)

Mr. Speaker, may I ask if it is in order to refer to the Raw Cotton Commission?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid I was not listening, but we must confine ourselves to the Order.

Mr. Erroll

Naturally, Mr. Speaker. I have every intention of confining myself to the Order, and if the Parliamentary Secretary had not been quite so hasty I am sure he would have had an opportunity of hearing how I was proposing to relate the purchase of raw cotton to this Order. An important element in the cost of the production of industrial overalls is the cost of the raw cotton which goes into their manufacture. Apart from an incidental wage increase for textile workers, one of the main reasons for the permitted increase in prices is the increase in price of the raw cotton supplied to the spinners to make the yarn from which is woven the material for these industrial overalls. The Raw Cotton Commission—

Mr. Speaker

That can be stated as a fact as one of the causes, but I do not think it ought to be argued at length.

Mr. Erroll

The increase in the price of yarn, which is a material factor in this Order, has been brought about through purchases of yarn from countries other than the United States of America and the matter is very much within the control of the Board of Trade who, had they pursued a different policy in conjunction with the Commission, would have been able to obtain supplies of the right sort of cotton at materially lower prices. In this way it might have been possible to avoid the necessity for this Order.

I should be glad to receive some explanation on this subject from the Parliamentary Secretary and, if possible, to be given an assurance that the buying policy of his buying colleagues will be so altered as to secure the cheapest possible supplies of raw cotton for these most essential articles. I cannot accept, and I am sure my hon. Friends will not be able to accept, the argument that such price increases are inevitable or are the result of the war in Korea.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us how he expects to get cheap cotton from Egypt when the Leader of the Opposition wishes to persuade this House to reject the payment of debts to Egypt?

Mr. Erroll

I am most grateful for that intervention because the main burden of my complaint is that the emphasis of buying has been on buying cotton from any source other than the cheapest, namely, America, and that in buying from countries like Peru we are having to pay higher prices.

There is general agreement that the Order has been badly worked out. Some price increases have been too great; others have not been great enough. It is an Order which has been worked out by those who did not know their business. The Industrial Overall Manufacturers' Association state that the prices are known by the Board of Trade officials themselves to be wrong, but that it has been said by them that nevertheless such prices have to be adopted and that no alteration can be accepted. Another of my hon. Friends will develop this point more fully, and I shall conclude by suggesting that the Order should be withdrawn so that a better Order can be substituted.

9.48 p.m.

Mr. Watkinson (Woking)

I beg to second the Motion.

I want to deal briefly with the second half of the Order which makes material increases in the cost of Merchant Navy uniforms. I have no doubt that in his reply the Parliamentary Secretary will say that these prices are the result of long negotiations with the trade and that they express the trade wishes in this matter. I am not greatly concerned with that point, however, as I wish to base my arguments on the narrow point of the consumers' interest—and in this case the consumers are the officers and men of the Merchant Navy who have to buy these uniforms out of somewhat depleted funds. I think I am in a good position to speak from their point of view, if I may say so, as I served with the Merchant Navy in the war and I know that they often have to endure straitened circumstances.

As an example of this Order, a patrol jacket (officers' pattern), X3110/2, has increased in price from 15s. 3d. to 17s. 4d. The Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but I think this is the second increase within something like six months. It is clearly the right of any hon. Member to put down a Prayer against an Order of this kind solely with the purpose of obtaining from the Government an explanation of why these price increases have to be requested in fairly rapid succession. That is the small point I wanted to make. I should like a clear explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary why these increases, running through vastly long Schedules, and practically every kind of uniform used in the Merchant Navy, have had to be made, and why in each case they are of a quite substantial nature, amounting to 2s. or 3s. per garment. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will indicate that, at any rate, this recent increase is the last that there is going to be for some time.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I am obliged to support this Prayer that this Order be annulled so that I may raise some criticisms and complaints about its nature. The Parliamentary Secretary will not be surprised when I say that I do not join with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) in complaining about the increases in the prices which are contained in this Statutory Instrument. I had occasion to approach him on behalf of a small and enterprising firm in my constituency who wrote to me early in this year to complain that the Board of Trade had not increased the prices which they might charge for the industrial overalls which they were producing, in spite of the fact that there had been very substantial increases made by the same Board of Trade in the prices of their raw material.

I therefore addressed myself to the Parliamentary Secretary and asked that there should be an increase in these prices, and he was good enough to see me and to give me an assurance that, very shortly, an order would be forthcoming, and I expressed the gratitude which I felt. I hope, therefore, that he will not think me ungrateful, or that it is unreasonable on my part, if I join with those who are making the protests against this Order, because I do not think that it is a very good Order now that it has been made.

First, let me join in what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), in regard to a previous Statutory Instrument tonight, in expressing regret that it should be necessary for these orders to be so complicated and so difficult to understand. It happened that I had occasion on 2nd March to go into close proximity to this factory. I called, just after this Order had been published, to discuss the matter, and at that time the manager of the factory said that it would take him and his staff several days to work out exactly what these increases implied. Subsequently, I had a letter from him, and he had by then had time to go into these various increases.

What I wish to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is that the increases which have been authorised by the Board of Trade are not in harmony with one another, that in a number of these cases the increases in the prices are more than are justifiable, that in the case of comparable articles the percentage increase in the prices has been extremely various, and that the increase in price which has been authorised for these garments bears no relationship to the increase in price of the cloth which has been used as their raw material.

To make this as simple as possible I should like to give a number of different percentage increases and to contrast them. The concern in my constituency took a number of cloths, 30 in number, and worked out the old price of the garments and the new price of the garments. I have worked out the percentage increases, which were as follows: 30 per cent., 18 per cent., 28 per cent., 17 per cent., 16 per cent., rather less than 30 per cent. rather more than 38 per cent., 18 per cent. and 18 per cent. It is very difficult to imagine that increases which represent so varied a percentage increase can really be justifiable.

In the case of the first of these categories the increase in the cost of the cloth per garment was 3s. 6d. and the increase in the price of the garment was 6s. 5d. In the next case there was an increase in the price of the cloth of 4s. 4d., but the increase in the price of the garment was only 4s. 3d. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary: What can be the possible justification for an increase in the price of the manufactured article being less than the increase in the price of the raw material in one category, whereas in a similar but different category the increase in the price of the cloth was only 3s. 6d. yet it was deemed right to increase the cost of the garment by 6s. 5d.? In a subsequent case the effect of the increase in the price has been to alter the relative prices of two entirely different garments, in spite of the fact that the increase in the price of one was less than that of the other.

I do not propose to attempt to go further into all these detailed calculations. It would not be reasonable to expect the Parliamentary Secretary to follow each one of them. I have a constituent who is giving employment to a large number of other constituents, and it is his obligation to try to keep his concern going and to observe the maximum prices laid down by the Board of Trade. He has commented about all these increases; some of them he considers to be too great and some of them he considers to be too small. I find that the percentage increases broadly justify the criticisms he has made. Would the Parliamentary Secretary explain to the House how these figures have been arrived at? Anyone who chooses to examine the Statutory Instrument will find that there is a long Schedule with a number of code figures and a number of prices attached thereto.

I understand that these alterations in prices are made by the Board of Trade after consultation with the trade concerned, or, rather, that that was the case until the President of the Board of Trade decided to resort to direct action and to go on strike. Apparently this Statutory Instrument was supposed to have been arrived at in consultation with the association of the industry concerned. A constituent writes to me: I rang the Overall Manufacturers' Association and was told that these prices were known to be wrong, but that we must use them for our trading meantime. I then rang the Board of Trade, who did not know that the prices were wrong, who told me they would look into the matter, but that the prices would have to stand at the present time. We are obliged to observe these prices so long as this Statutory Instrument is in operation. I have quoted some facts and figures and I am perfectly willing to send the letter and the schedule to the Parliamentary Secretary in order that these calculations may be checked and corrected.

It is obviously impossible for the industry as a whole to continue to work satisfactorily unless the increase in the price of the manufactured article which they produce is correctly related to the increase in the price of the materials which they consume. Therefore, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider again this Order which has been issued. I thank him for recognising the need for an increase in prices, but I would ask him to consider whether the Statutory Instrument which he has produced does, in fact, bring about the necessary increase in the prices which are laid down in the Schedules.

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Fort (Clitheroe)

My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) has asked some very pertinent questions about the prices included in the schedules in this Order. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary about some of the specifications which have been included, with special reference to overlookers' overalls which are important protective clothing to many in my constituency.

In the weaving industry the overlookers gait up, tune and generally keep the looms in good running order. The work which they have to do makes a heavy call upon the overalls which they wear. Furthermore, owing to the nature of the work, they wish by tradition to work in overalls which have short sleeves. I would, on behalf of my constituents, like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, in the first place, to make quite sure that the utility specification from which these overalls are or were made, which is in the 3111 class of cloth, still covers the materials to be used for making overlookers' overalls.

The next point on which I should like to have his assurance, and so would the overlookers in the weaving mills of Lancashire, is that overalls made with short sleeves, which is the type they require, are also covered by this order. There is a large number of measurements given in the Table of Maximum Measurements on page 20 of the Order for the different dimensions of the overalls, but there is no mention at all of overalls being included with sleeves cut short just below the elbow. Unless such overalls are included in the Order they will not count as utility apparel, and the unhappy overlookers will be faced with having to pay Purchase Tax on the overalls they will be having to buy.

The last point to which I wish to draw attention in this somewhat unsatisfactory Order is on page 26. If Members turn to that page they will find a diagram entitled Style 3. Members will see a peculiar looking garment which, as far as I can understand, will form a sort of breastplate for the wearer. Perhaps if, as a result of this debate, this Order is withdrawn we can have something rather more specific in future, something rather clearer on how this garment is attached to the wearer's body. At present it looks like a piece of antique armour.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Rhodes

It rather sounds as if the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) has been attending some dressmaking classes. His complaints do not need answering by me because they should be addressed to the British Standards Institution, which is the authority for setting out specifications to which manufacturers work and on which manufacturers are represented. We will have a look at the question of the type of garments for overlookers. I do not think that is included in the Schedule, but if it is, so much the better. I promise to look at it and let the hon. Member know what the answer is.

The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) referred to the question of prices. This was the subject of negotiation. The prices were agreed. This is an interim Order, and we are aware of some of the shortcomings which we shall remedy as soon as we possibly can after the costing investigation now taking place in the industry. The hon. Member says that manufacturers are complaining very bitterly because they do not understand the Order. Perhaps it is its very simplicity that confuses him. All he need do is to read the price opposite the appropriate specification and he has the answer. He does not need to go back to any previous orders, but merely to look at the appropriate specification number of the cloth from which the garment is to be made and that is the figure at which it may be sold. It is quite simple.

Prices naturally vary. Quite a few of these cloths are grouped with one price for several cloths, which is the reason the increases in garment prices do not follow exactly the increase in the price of each cloth. I think that is understandable.

Mr. Molson

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary about two points. He says that these increases in prices have been agreed, but with what organisations? I have read out a sentence from a letter from one of my constituents saying that he rang the Overall Manufacturers' Association, and was told that these prices were known to be wrong. As the Parliamentary Secretary says that this is an interim Order and is to be corrected later, that is confirmation of what was written to me.

Mr. Rhodes

That may be. The Order was negotiated, and both sides agreed that some part of it might be wrong. There is no difficulty about it at all, although there are disparities, owing to the fact that the making-up industry, where there is a great demand, wanted to get many types of garment out to the public as quickly as possible. The hon. Gentleman knows that these prices were raised on account of the increases in the prices of cloth. I cannot follow the argument of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) in the wide course that he took. I am not going to discuss the origins of this particular type of cloth because this is not a cloth Order but a garment Order. If I attempted to follow him I should be out of order. I hope that the mover and seconder will now be prepared to withdraw their Motion.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, can he give us some explanation about Merchant Navy uniforms, which are very important to my part of the world?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that the Order was the result of negotiation, but on the other hand that it is only temporary. Can he give us any indication when he expects to produce the permanent Order, and the cost to the industry of making the necessary adjustments?

Mr. Rhodes

I should have thought it was obvious. It is not a matter of cost but something which helps the industry. With regard to the first part of the question, I cannot say, but I will find out, and I will let the hon. Gentleman know when another Order is likely to come forward.

Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

It appears to be one of the consequences of putting three different prices against this cloth that the quality goes down. It takes some time to negotiate these prices, and in the meantime the price of the raw material has gone up. I should like to have an assurance that the policy of the Department is not to lower quality in goods like this in order to keep the price down a few pence.

Mr. Rhodes

I said before that the disparity in prices, to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, was in particular groups of cloth. As to quality, I am as keen as the hon. Member is that quality shall be maintained. It may be for the quantity that is required, other specifications may have to be introduced. I do not know, but that is something we shall have to find out in the course of time according to the cloth which is going through. Hon. Members will realise that most of the cloth going into this type of garment is similar to that used for the Services.

Mr. Erroll

I must say that the Parliamentary Secretary's reply has been most unsatisfactory. He has refused to discuss individual cases of increases which have made this Order necessary, and he frankly admitted that a good deal of the Order is wrong. I suppose he thinks it is better to issue wrong Orders than none. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the assurance which he gave that this is only an interim Order, and is shortly to be replaced by a proper one. Again his reply was unsatisfactory because he was unable to say when the final Order would be introduced. However, I accept his assurance that he is going to introduce a proper Order to take the place of this temporary and most unsatisfactory one, and in view of that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Before my hon. Friend withdraws his Motion could the Parliamentary Secretary say something about the Merchant Navy? [Interruption.] It may not interest hon. Members opposite, but it is a matter of interest to the people of Tyneside. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is the hon. Lady interested in the Merchant Navy?"] I certainly am.

Mr. Rhodes

The same principle that was enunciated about the other garments applies to the Merchant Navy.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.