§ 3. Mr. Fisher
asked the Minister of Labour how many wage settlements have conformed to, and how many have exceeded, the 3½ per cent. basis laid down in the Government's White Paper since 27th May; and how many current wage claims exceed the 3½ per cent. basis.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ernest Thornton)
As I have said before, it could be misleading to quote simple percentage figures either for wage claims or settlements and then to compare them with the 3 per cent. to 3½ per cent. 3 "norm". As the hon. Member knows, the "norm" indicates the average annual rate of increase of money incomes per head which is consistent with stability in the general level of prices. Moreover, the White Paper on Prices and Incomes Policy (Cmnd. 2639) provides for exceptional pay increases in certain defined circumstances.
In addition, many wage claims do not specify an amount. They are rarely expressed as percentages, and the details of wages settlements given monthly in the Ministry of Labour Gazette show how complicated many of them are. However, it is the fact that many claims and settlements have been at an annual rate of more than 3½ per cent.
§ Mr. Fisher
The hon. Gentleman has given a long Answer but has not answered my Question. Is it not the fact that the figures confirm that the Government's attempt to achieve an incomes policy has so far failed, no doubt partly due to the baleful influence of the Minister of Technology? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Is it the Government's intention to pursue and persevere with this policy? If so, how do they propose to make it somewhat more effective in future?
§ Mr. Thornton
This is a problem which the party opposite, when in Government, tried for thirteen years to resolve and failed completely. People will not expect us to resolve the problem in less than 13 months.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
What is the difficulty which prevents the Joint Parliamentary Secretary from answering my hon. Friend's Question? Cannot we be told how many have exceeded the 3½ per cent. and how many have been less? It is a simple arithmetical calculation. If we are to have all this cotton wool we shall never really get an incomes policy.
§ Mr. Thornton
That is where the hon. Member makes a mistake. It is not easy, as his right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) will know. The complications of wages settlements are not all defined in percentage terms. They cover a wide range of settlements and it is extremely difficult to reduce them in all cases to percentage terms.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government's prices and 4 incomes policy is based on the voluntary principle and that so far, on the incomes side, the response of the trade unions has been at least as good as that of the manufacturers on prices?
§ Mr. Higgins
Are we to understand from the first part of the initial Answer by the Minister that the "norm" is something which is true by definition and that it is never to be used for comparisons of any kind whatsoever? Would the hon. Gentleman not agree with the point which has been made from this side three times that it is possible to calculate wage increases in percentage terms by a simple arithmetical process?
§ Mr. Thornton
I repeat, it is not possible to do this. I did say in my Answer, however, that as far as we can calculate, most of these recent settlements have been above the "norm".