HC Deb 09 August 1966 vol 733 cc1658-61
Sir T. Brinton

I beg to move Amendment No. 37, in page 25, line 35, to leave out Clause 28.

I understand that the arrangement is that Amendment No. 41, in page 26, line 38, to leave out Clause 29, is to be discussed at this time.

Clauses 28 and 29 deal with the power to restrict payments for wages and salaries either to their present level or, in the case of Clause 29, to reduce them to the levels of 20th July if the Minister should see fit. These powers are quite exceptional. They go far beyond anything which was granted even to the Government in the last war.

It is about 5.15 a.m. These two Clauses were last discussed in Committee, having been given no Second Reading in the House, at much the same time. If I remember rightly, Clause 28 was discussed in Committee between 4 and 5.30 in the morning. This is a Clause which confers colossal powers on the Government of the day. There could be no clearer indication of the disdain, even contempt, with which this House and the institutions of Parliament have been treated in relation to the Bill.

5.15 a.m.

I shall not spend much time on this because we spent a substantial amount on the Clause in Committee but I wish to make two points, both of which were raised in Committee. The first concerns productivity. Here was have another example of the Government's policies inevitably fighting against one another. Government policy throughout over this matter is dichotomous, ambivalent and counter-productive—to use the jargon that is popular these days. Employers must not pay anyone any more money even to raise productivity. That is nonsense in itself and I need say no more about it now.

In Committee there was a question about poaching of employees but there was no satisfactory answer. Nor was there a satisfactory answer about productivity. The Under-Secretary of State said that it was sad that productivity agreements could not be covered but the wage freeze was sacred. There will thus be the absurd position under this Clause that a man's existing employer cannot pay him any more money whereas another employer is at liberty to offer him more to go elsewhere.

I have no doubt that hon. Members present are feeling exhausted and have probably read the HANSARD report of the Standing Committee debate, when the Clause was fully discussed.

Mr. Biffen

One point discussed in Committee is of sufficient importance to mention again so that the Under-Secretary of State has the chance to answer it—which is something he did not do in Committee. There is a growing number of skills for which there is an international market and many American companies come to this country hoping to recruit these people, and do.

When the party opposite was in opposition, it used to work itself into a lather over the brain drain. But there is nothing extraordinary about it. It has continued and will continue. But are British manufacturers to sit back and refuse to match any bid for such skills as geologists, computer programmers, doctors, airline pilots and many others whose jobs can be followed just as well in North America, where their qualifications count as much as they do here?

Is it the desire of the Government that, whenever an American company makes a bid for the service of people such as these, the British company should ask the Government for written permission before it can match the offer? This proposition is not far-fetched. An American organisation is in London specifically to recruit geologists and we know that success in developing the North Sea bed could well depend upon the skills of such people.

These people may not be very many in number but they are of particular significance for the health and dynamism of the economy and I hope that, on this occasion, the hon. Gentleman will be able to say whether or not he requires the full bureaucracy to be observed before American efforts can be matched during the freeze period.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

There is much one can say about these two Clauses but I shall confine myself to asking the Under-Secretary of State to confirm something explicit in the White Paper but about which there may still be some doubt outside. That is, that the prohibition on extra remuneration for the same kind of work each side of a certain date, whether it be a date chosen by the Minister or 20th July, does not affect the ordinary annual increments of a subsisting contract of employment, whether for a local government officer, a teacher or under any other private contract which may have a scale of annual increments fixed for a time ahead.

Paragraph 17(iv) of the White Paper, Cmnd. 3073, states that it is not intended that the standstill should interfere with the normal arrangements for increasing pay either with age, as with apprentices or juveniles, or by means of regular increments of specified amounts within a predetermined range or scale. That is clearly stated in the White Paper, but it is not part of the Bill. Many people will not have read the White Paper in detail, and I would be glad if the Under-Secretary would confirm this.

Mr. William Rodgers

We do not need a long Second Reading debate on the Clause at this hour. It has been discussed thoroughly and, as hon. Members will know, it is impossible for us to give way upon it at this stage. This is the Clause which confers upon the Government, assuming that Part IV has been brought into force by Order in Council, power to require by order that classes of specified remuneration paid under a contract of employment should not be increased without the Government's agreement. This is a key Clause which has been fully discussed and which we have to keep in the Bill.

We have also discussed fully tonight the question of productivity, which was raised by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton). I have explained why we hope that, on the one hand, negotiations will continue but why, on the other hand, we felt that we should exclude productivity agreements and bring them within the standstill.

There are, of course, problems of poaching, whether in this country of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member or from abroad of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). All I would say of the internal problem is that we hope very much that all employers will act within the spirit of the policy in the way in which the hon. Member for Kidderminster himself has acted. This will be one factor at least which will tend to reduce the amount of poaching which might take place which would result in infringement of the policy by the movement of labour and by the payment of higher remuneration.

Of course, there are, and there always have been, problems in matching international rates. I do not believe that a six-month standstill period and whatever may happen after that would make a radical difference to the choice with which many people may be faced about remaining in this country and doing a job here, and going abroad. Factors other than pay have to be taken into account.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) drew attention to paragraph 18(iv) of the White Paper, where the position is clearly stated. If it helps the hon. Member, I will say that the policy stated in the White Paper remains the policy of the Government concerning increments.

Amendment negatived.