HC Deb 16 February 1956 vol 548 cc2512-5
26. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Minister of Labour if he will introduce legislation under which the restrictive practices of trade unions could be referred to the Monopolies Commission.

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Iain Macleod)

No, Sir. Labour questions are essentially different from those dealt with by the Monopolies Commission. I have said before that the removal of obstacles to production is one aspect of the general problem of increasing industrial productivity.

Mr. Johnson

Can my right hon. Friend say why, if it is desirable to refer restrictive trade agreements to the Monopolies Commission and to introduce legislation to deal with such agreements, it is undesirable to do the same thing with regard to the far more harmful restrictive practices of organised labour?

Mr. Macleod

There are many differences, but in my own view the essential one is that the practices referred to the Monopolies Commission deal with the price and supply of goods while those indicated in the Question deal with the working conditions of men and women.

Mr. Lee

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the trade unions gave up pre-war restrictive practices for the duration of the war, and that not a single trade union has ever asked for the restoration of those practices?

Mr. Macleod

I do not want to indicate, either by my Answer to the Question or by my answer to the supplementary question, that there is not a very difficult question here with which we should all rightly be concerned, but I think that it is only one aspect of the general problem of increasing industrial productivity, and the matter, if pursued at all, is best pursued with both sides of industry.

34. Mr. J. Howard

asked the Minister of Labour if he will institute an inquiry into the restrictive practices in the fruit, vegetable, fish and meat trades in order to ascertain the effect of these practices upon the commodities dealt with in those markets.

35. Sir F. Medlicott

asked the Minister of Labour if he will take steps to arrange for a committee of inquiry to be set up to investigate restrictive practices imposed by trades unions, and their effect upon the cost of living.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I am well aware of the public interest in this very complex subject and am studying it closely, but I am not satisfied that an inquiry on the lines suggested is the best approach.

Mr. Howard

In view of the general impression that the prices of the foods handled in the markets are increased as a result of the restrictive practices, does not my right hon. Friend consider that it would be helpful to all concerned if the effect, if any, on food prices could be clearly established?

Mr. Macleod

I intend to discuss this general question with the N.J.A.C, which is where it should first go, but I should not like to pick out any particular trade for such an inquiry merely because it happened recently to have come very much before the public eye.

Mr. G. Brown

As the Minister has chosen to answer both Questions together, and as the first appears to deal with restrictive practices by the distributive agents and the vast difference in the margins which exists, will the Minister disentangle the two aspects in the light of his previous answer not to undertake an inquiry into the distributive practices in the markets?

Mr. Macleod

I answered the two Questions together because my answer, that I am not satisfied that such inquiry would serve a useful purpose, covers both.

Mr. Brown

How does that tie up with the Minister's previous answer to Question No. 26, in which he distinguished so clearly between the sale of labour, particularly when under trade union agreement, and the sale of commodities under restrictive practices operated by distributive associations?

Mr. Macleod

In both answers I linked them to productivity and said that, in my view, it was best that they should first be discussed with both sides of industry. That could most appropriately be done on the N.J.A.C.

Sir F. Medlicott

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whilst many of these practices were thoroughly understandable when we had a million unemployed, many of them are now out of date and out of place, are adding to the cost of production and the cost of living and are driving abroad, into the hands of our foreign competitors, good trade and good business of which this country and the organised workers in time will stand in dire need?

Mr. Macleod

Exactly, but a vast number, and in fact the great majority, of restrictive practices are linked with considerations of health, safety and other matters. Where they interfere—and they may well do so—with efficiency in this country, that is part of the problem of increasing productivity, as I have said, and is therefore a matter for the two sides of industry.