HC Deb 06 March 1958 vol 583 cc1316-20
12. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will arrange for the Report of the Council on Prices, Productivity and Incomes to be produced in an abbreviated and simplified form so that it will be more widely read by the general public.

35. Mr. Cronin

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will publish the evidence submitted to the Council on Prices, Productivity and Incomes.

Mr. Maudling

The Council is responsible for publishing such material as it thinks appropriate. My right hon. Friend will, however, convey to the Council the suggestions made in both Questions.

Mr. Johnson

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the findings of the very distinguished and impartial members of the Council have added great weight to the evidence already provided by the improvement in the rate of sterling exchange and the rise in our reserves of gold and dollars that the financial policy of Her Majesty's Government is eminently sound? Would not he wish to take every possible step to make those things widely known?

Mr. Maudling

I am not dissenting from anything my hon. Friend says, but I think this goes a little beyond the scope of his original Question.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that most economists who submitted evidence at this Committee did so at the invitation of the Committee and not on their own initiative? As it is clear that the Committee took no notice of the advice of the overwhelming majority of them, is not the least the Committee can do to publish all that they say?

Mr. Maudling

I do not think I can accept the assumption on which that supplementary question is based.

13 and 14. Mr. Chapman

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether he will now broaden the Cohen Council by adding a trade unionist and an economist of known progressive views;

(2) when he proposes to wind up the Cohen Council on Prices, Productivity and Incomes.

Mr. Maudling

I will, with permission, deal with both Questions together, though I find it difficult to reconcile them with one another. The Government have no proposals to make either for winding up the Council or for making changes in its membership.

Mr. Chapman

Have we not established a constitutional tradition that committees like this shall represent both sides in the controversial matters affecting the community and both views about such things as the degree of laissez faire and the use of subsidies and as these eminent gentlemen frankly admit their one-sided standpoint in this basic field—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—certainly; they admit their one-sided standpoint on these issues which divide the community—is it right that they should go on unconstitutionally promulgating their own views?

Mr. Maudling

I am afraid I cannot accept the imputation in that supplementary question. Of course they should go on promulgating their own views. It would be foolish if they promulgated anybody else's views. The hon. Member should not assume that failure to agree with him is evidence of partiality.

Mr. Jay

Will not the right hon. Gentleman note that the suggestion in my hon. Friend's second Question is much more sensible than that in his first?

Mr. Maudling

I am not quite sure what the basis of comparison is, but I have given the Government's answer to both questions.

Sir G. Nicholson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the country as a whole is far more likely to pay attention to the views of men who have practical experience of affairs than to people who merely tell others how to do things?

25. Mr. Prentice

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how far Her Majesty's Government accept the conclusion of the Council on Prices, Productivity and Incomes that it would not be alarming if unemployment were to rise above the existing level.

Mr. Maudling

A high and stable level of employment continues to be a main objective of Government policy, and it is our belief that the present restrictive measures which are necessary for the strength of sterling and stability in the price level do not conflict with this objective.

Mr. Prentice

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the Question? The Report indicates that the Council would not regard it as alarming if unemployment were at a higher level. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it would be very alarming for the people concerned to become unemployed, and for their families? Would it be alarming to the Government?

Mr. Maudling

The Report is not to the Government alone but to the country as a whole. The Government do not consider it their function to comment on the Report as a whole, and even less upon individual sentences.

Mr. Jay

Would the right hon. Gentleman answer the perfectly fair question put by my hon. Friend? Do the Government agree, or do they not agree, with this specific statement by the Council?

Mr. Maudling

I have already answered that the Government do not intend to comment either on the Report in general or, even less, on individual sentences taken from their context.

Mr. J. Griffiths

In view of the fact that the Government now disclaim responsibility for this body, what is the use of continuing it in being?

Mr. Maudling

The use is that an impartial report is received from three very distinguished men on matters of great importance to the whole country.

Mr. Griffiths

In view of the reaction of the Trades Union Congress to this Report, does the right hon. Gentleman think that it can be in any way accepted as impartial or as of any use?

Mr. Maudling

I see no reason for thinking the three gentlemen concerned to be otherwise than impartial.

Mr. John Hall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Leader of the Opposition is apparently prepared to accept at least 3 per cent. unemployment?

26. Mr. D. Howell

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what action the Government intend to take following the first Report of the Council on Prices, Productivity and Incomes; and whether he will state the Government's policy in regard to the continued existence of this Council.

Mr. Maudling

The Council was established to report independently and from time to time to the community at large. No immediate action by the Government is called for on the recent Report, but they will naturally bear in mind the observations of the Council. There is no change in the Government's policy in regard to the Council.

Mr. Howell

Is it not clear that the only thing of value to come out of the Report is the assurance that we now have that Conservative freedom works only under a degree of unemployment, a stagnant economy, a high Bank Rate, and the fact that increased wages cannot be tied even to increased productivity? In these circumstances, with this Committee producing such a biased Report, which does not hold the support of both sides of industry, is it not a waste of public money to allow the Committee to continue in operation in its present form?

Mr. Maudling

If that is the hon. Member's impression of the Report, he cannot have read it with a clear and unbiased mind.