HC Deb 08 April 1965 vol 710 cc676-9
The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on prices and incomes policy.

Following the signing of the Joint Statement of Intent on Productivity, Prices and Incomes, last December, I laid before the House on 11th February a memorandum on the machinery of prices and incomes policy, prepared by the Government in agreement with the representatives of management and unions, Cmnd. 2577. This memorandum stated that the National Economic Development Council would keep under review the general movement of prices and of money incomes of all kinds; and that a National Board for Prices and Incomes would be set up to examine particular cases in order to advise whether or not the behaviour of prices or of wages, salaries or other money incomes is in the national interest as defined by the Government after consultation with Management and Unions.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that agreement has now been reached on the considerations which, in the national interest, should guide all concerned with prices and incomes, including the National Board for Prices and Incomes in its investigation of individual cases referred to it by the Government. These considerations are set out in a further memorandum which has been endorsed by the National Economic Development Council and accepted by the representatives of the Trades Union Congress and of the four employers' organisations who were concerned with the two previous stages of our discussions on prices and incomes policy. This memorandum is being published in a White Paper which is now available in the Vote Office.

This concludes the third stage of our discussions on prices and incomes. Although the main discussions have had to be confined to those organisations which are most generally representative of the interests of employers and workers, the conclusions as endorsed by N.E.D.C. will, I hope, be accepted by all organisations and individuals concerned with questions of prices or incomes. Their acceptance will be an essential factor in implementing the national plan for economic development and so making possible a more rapid rise in real, as opposed to money, incomes.

I am also authorised by the Prime Minister to inform the House that Her Majesty the Queen has been pleased to indicate her approval of the membership and terms of reference of the National Board for Prices and Incomes to be appointed under Royal Warrant. Details are set out in the second part of the White Paper published today.

In addition to the right hon. Aubrey Jones, the Chairman, the Board will include:

Joint Deputy-Chairman:


I hope to announce the name of the second Joint Deputy-Chairman very soon.

Mr. Heath

The First Secretary will be aware that what he has told us this afternoon adds very little to what he told us yesterday in his speech, beyond the names of the members of the Board. The right hon. Gentleman has announced the publication of two White Papers. We will study those carefully and make our views known.

Mr. Grimond

May I ask the First Secretary to say a little more about the phrase individual cases referred to it by the Government"? Does this mean that the Board will consider only cases of increased prices or wage claims referred to it by the Government, or can it act on its own initiative?

Secondly, will it consider these cases after they have taken effect—that is, after agreement for higher wages has been reached, or when prices have been put up—or when a claim is made? Thirdly, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the magnitude of the outstanding claims now awaiting consideration?

Mr. Brown

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, yes, the Board will consider cases referred to it by the Government, and I attach enormous importance to this fact. The National Economic Development Council, on the other hand— the right hon. Gentleman will know that I have made the Chairman of the Board a member of the N.E.D.C. to maintain the link—will consider the general pattern in these matters and so the two things will be covered.

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's second question, about whether the Board will consider cases before or after they have taken effect, it can be either. It will be a matter for consideration of the merits of particular cases whether they are referred beforehand or afterwards. That will be a decision which the Government can take. In addition, people might ask for a case to be referred; somebody might ask for it to be referred beforehand.

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's third point, which he raised yesterday in the debate, I have looked this matter up. Although one must not attach too much importance to comparisons at any given point in the year—there are many fluctuations—the figures are quite interesting. One year ago, 6,400,000 manual and 990,000 salaried workers were covered by outstanding pay and hours claims. At present, 2,565,000 manual workers and 1,680,000 salaried workers are covered by claims. Therefore, whatever else these figures prove, it does not look like a build-up in the pipeline.

Mr. Maxwell

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend most warmly on the splendid progress that he is making towards bringing about the national incomes policy? May I ask him, further, whether he has started any studies to prevent the taxpayer's money being used for the financing of the purchase of obsolescent plant and what steps he is taking to get the Government to use their purchasing power to compel industry to modernise itself and increase its exports?

Mr. Brown

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That seems to be a different question, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology and I are at present discussing those very matters.

Mr. Godber

The First Secretary has replied to the question by the Leader of the Liberal Party about claims and awards and whether they should be referred as claims or awards. Would he not agree that it would be far preferable in general if it were claims that were referred and for them to be dealt with speedily? The right hon. Gentleman made the point that it might take two or three months, but he would, I am sure, agree that claims should be considered more speedily than this.

Mr. Brown

That is a considerable conversion, since the last Government sent only awards and then took two years over their decision.