HC Deb 14 January 1964 vol 687 cc24-6
40. Mr. Wade

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will bring the National Incomes Commission under the National Economic Development Council in order to ensure that recommendations about increases in incomes in particular industries form part of a broader national incomes policy which has the support of leaders of the trade unions and industry.

45 and 46. Mr. Lubbock

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether he will refer to the National Economic Development Council the question of reducing tariff protection for industries where profits and incomes are rising above the rate of the Government's guiding light, as a means of distributing the benefits to the consumer;

(2) whether he will ask the National Economic Development Council to consider the positive aspects of a national incomes policy and in particular whether a larger share of increased income should go to pensions, redundancy pay and fringe benefits.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

The whole problem of prices and incomes is at present under urgent consideration by the National Economic Development Council which is seeking to define the respective rôles to be played by Government, management and the trade unions. The various matters raised within these questions are within the scope of these discussions. It is too early to predict in detail what view the Council will take of these questions. But, following last week's meeting, I am sure that it would be wrong to underestimate the broad measure of agreement which exists on the need for a constructive and properly balanced policy relating to prices and incomes of all types. The Council will be resuming its discussion at its next meeting.

My right hon. Friend does not contemplate any change in the constitution of the National Incomes Commission, which has a distinct rôle and has already demonstrated the value of submitting important cases to impartial examination.

Mr. Wade

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that an effective incomes policy requires the co-operation of the trade unions and the employers and that the N.E.D.C. is a body where employers and trade union representatives are meeting to discuss, among other things, an incomes policy? Is it not, therefore, essential that the N.I.C. should be more closely associated with the N.E.D.C? If not, what is the future of the N.I.C?

Mr. Macmillan

This is one of the reasons why the original Answer to the Question was not as detailed as it might have been. This is a part of the discussion which is going on within the National Economic Development Council. The Council is resuming discussion of the whole problem at its next meeting. As I said, at the moment my right hon. Friend does not contemplate any change in the constitution of the National Incomes Commission. Within the framework of its discussions, he regards it as having, and as having demonstrated the importance of, a separate rôle.

Mr. Lubbock

Do I understand from his Answer that the Minister accepts the principle that tariffs should be reduced in industries where profits and incomes are rising above the level laid down by the guiding light? Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that this is one way of limiting increases in the cost of living which affects both sides of industry equally?

With reference to Question No. 46, does the hon. Gentleman accept that, while there may be a fixed overall percentage limit for wage increases which can be tolerated in any one year, there are some sections of the community which have been left behind and which are entitled to a bigger share in any national increase in incomes?

Mr. Macmillan

The criteria for assessing the justification for any particular wage increase were suggested in fairly general terms in the White Paper, Incomes Policy: The Next Step, Cmnd. 1626. They have since been somewhat amplified in Ministerial statements, and in the Government's evidence to the National Incomes Commission on the Scottish plumbers' and builders' case, copies of which also were made available to Members of Parliament.

As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I can only repeat that it is a great mistake to under-estimate the agreement and general opinions expressed at the last meeting of the N.E.D.C.

Mr. Callaghan

With reference to the first part of the Economic Secretary's last answer, in view of the reports which have been appearing that the Government put some statement before the last meeting of the National Economic Development Council, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider publishing any such statement so that the House of Commons may know what proposals the Government have in mind in this connection in order that we may be informed as to any bargain which they have put to the employers and the trade unions so that the public interest can be fully taken into account in all these matters?

Mr. Macmillan

This is an entirely separate question. I shall report to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Callaghan

How can this be a separate question when the Minister, in his last reply, referred to published statements by the Government on these matters? I am asking that unpublished statements—unpublished, at least, as far as Members of the House of Commons are concerned—should also be made available so that we may consider and debate these issues which are at least at important to the House of Commons and the public as a whole as they are to the National Economic Development Council.

Mr. Macmillan

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is worrying about. I have already said that I shall tell my right hon. Friend of the hon. Gentleman s desire to have the unpublished, if any, published; but I still think that unpublished statements are a totally separate issue from published ones, to which I referred.