HC Deb 28 November 1966 vol 737 cc108-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Temporary Restrictions on Increases of Prices and Charges (No. 1) Order 1966 (S.I. 1966, No. 1321), dated 21st October 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st October, be annulled. —[Mr. Alison.]

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

I rise to support the Motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and my other right hon. and hon. Friends. It is unusual for the House to move to a Prayer at this hour of the evening, but I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that it is right and proper that this Order should be given adequate debate in the House, because there cannot be the slightest doubt that it is an innovation, a precedent, of great importance, implementing, as it does, Section 26 of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1966. It imposes restrictions in respect of certain laundry and cleaning prices and charges. I am sure that the House agrees that this is an innovation which ought to be discussed in the House.

Perhaps I should make it clear that on this side of the House we believe that there is a case for a voluntary incomes policy, because we believe that this will enable the economy to be operated at a higher level of aggregate demand without inflation than otherwise would be the case. But throughout the great debates which have taken place in the House on the incomes policy within recent months, we have firmly objected to the introduction of an element of compulsion into the system with respect both to wages and to prices. This Order implements the element of compulsion on prices.

It is important to appreciate that it does so with respect to one particular industry, and this bring out a point which we repeatedly made when the Bill was going through the various stages in the House—that the Act is discriminatory. The object of this Order is to discriminate against a particular industry. We believe that in doing so it will intimidate other groups and other industries so that they will not make price increases which they might otherwise feel are entirely justified. It is essentially this element of intimidation which is objectionable in this Order.

It appears that the one reason why the laundry and dry cleaning business have been singled out for special attention in this way is that they have a remarkably good case for putting up their prices within the terms of the piece of legislation authorising this Order. What concerns us on this side of the House, and I had hoped that it would concern hon. Members opposite, too, is that the cases of all the other industries influenced by this Government will not be adequately ventilated on the Floor of the House, and this reflects the general approach which the Government have had to the whole question of the Prices and Incomes Act. There was not adequate discussion of many aspects of the Bill when it was going through the House.

In particular, it is relevant to ask the Parliamentary Secretary—and I am glad to see him in his place—what has happened to the original Schedule 2 of the Prices and Incomes Bill. He well knows that when we were upstairs debating the various Clauses of the Bill, day after day and night after night, a large percentage of that time was taken up with Schedule 2, which set out the criteria against which price and wage increases should be judged. I estimate that between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. of the total time which we spent in Committee was spent debating that Schedule.

Right up to 10th August the Parliamentary Secretary and the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), then First Secretary, were adamant in saying that they would tolerate no alteration or amendment to the Schedule originally set out in the Bill and in the form in which it went through Committee stage. They maintained this attitude right up to 10th August and maintained that the paragraphs of Schedule 2 were correct and should remain part of the Bill.

But only two days later, at the very moment that the Bill received Royal Assent, on 12th August, a completely different Schedule was introduced which set out different criteria. These are the criteria which affect this Order. They were never discussed on the Floor of the House, in Committee or on Report, and they were not given the scrutiny which I believe they ought to have been given, bearing in mind that the Parliamentary Secretary and his hon. Friends knew that they intended to substitute a quite different Schedule for that originally placed in the Bill.

In the terms of this Order, we on this side of the House argue that the deflationary measures which have already been taken—and they are certainly massive measures—have been sufficient in themselves to bring about the kind of relationship between prices, incomes and productivity which the Government say they wish to bring about. But by introducing a freeze on a particular industry the effect of this Order will be either none at all—if the deflationary measures are very severe—or, alternatively, to cork up to the end of the period of freeze and then of severe restraint pressures which, the moment that restraint is released, will immediately put the country back into the position in which it was previously. In addition, this kind of Order will prevent the redeployment of resources in the directions which are needed, because it strikes at the very root of the price mechanism on which we rely to alter the deployment of resources throughout the economy.

Before I turn in some detail to the industry, I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will make one point clear when he replies. The industry is very concerned about the criteria relevant to its decisions now. Only on 25th November yet a further Order was tabled which alters once again the form of Schedule 2 and the criteria relevant to particular industries in the period of severe restraint.

This Order is rather strange, because not only does it introduce criteria for the period December to June, but there appears to be an overlap in the month of December. I hope the hon. Gentleman will make it clear whether the criteria which the laundry and dry cleaning industry is to have regard to in December are those in the second version of Schedule 2 or the new third version. This affects one or two points I wish to raise.

First, there is the question of competition, that aspect of the laundry industry which is most relevant in considering the question of prices. There cannot be the slightest doubt—if there were, it has been removed by the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board—that the industry is extremely competitive, not only in the number of firms involved, but also because they all face severe competition from launderettes, with coin-operated machines, from the ordinary domestic washing machines—with housewives, admittedly aided now by better detergents, doing their washing at home—and also from the development of drip-dry shirts.

The implication is clear. Such an industry would not wish to raise prices unless it had no option but to do so. That is indeed the message which emerges clearly from the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board. It may be argued that the industry can easily absorb the costs put on it by the Government in the form of increased petrol tax, the Selective Employment Tax, and so on. But we must bear in mind the point made in paragraph 8 on page 2 of the Prices and Incomes Board's Report: An increase in charges leads customers to send fewer articles each week, or to send none in some weeks. If that is so, it is difficult for laundries to pass on increased costs in the form of higher prices without finding turnover reduced.

I want to raise a matter which has concerned both the C.B.I. and the Institute of British Launderers and Cleaners. The Order was laid without advance consultation with the bodies concerned. This was despite the fact that the Institute specifically asked for meetings with the Government immediately it was known that it was proposed to introduce the Order. It is not surprising, given the strength of its case, that the industry, together with the C.B.I., feels that the Government have acted in an unreasonable manner in not having adequate consultations before introducing this extremely severe Order, which is wholly based on the principle of compulsion.

The excuse given was that a very large number of complaints against the industry had been made. There is some doubt about precisely how many complaints there have been. The figures vary considerably. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us how many complaints have been made. The best estimate I have been able to obtain is that there have been about 300 since last July. But when one puts that figure against the total number of transactions carried out by the industry in that period—about 40 million—one must concede that it is a very small proportion, indeed. I hope also that the hon. Gentleman will tell us whether these cases which resulted in complaints have been investigated and with what result.

The case for this industry against the Government is so strong that it is necessary to enumerate each argument one by one, and I therefore make no apology for putting my speech into a series of points. The next one I want to raise is that the increases which took place in the industry were justified in terms of the increases in taxation imposed by the Government and, therefore, fall within the criteria for justifiable price increases included in the amended Schedule to the Act.

It is argued in the Prices and Incomes Board's Report that the Selective Employment Tax would probably have justified price increases of about 4 per cent. for laundries and 4½ per cent. for cleaning. But it would be unreasonable to suppose that they could have raised the amount needed to pay the tax and to cover their costs merely by making a flat-rate increase in all their prices across the board.

Clearly, if one increases the prices of one item as against another, the extent to which one's turnover will fall will vary. It may be that the extent to which one can increase the price of, say, cleaning an evening dress is quite different from the extent to which one can increase the price of laundering dishcloths without a reduction in turnover. It will depend, in economic jargon, on the elasticity of demand.

It may be that an increase for a certain item will be more than that which the Report of the Board suggested should be the average. On the other hand, the increases on other items may well be less than the average. It may well be that consumers who complained to the Government about increases which seemed too high did so without making due allowance for the fact that there were other increases which they had not noticed so much or which were appreciably less or perhaps non-existent. This is the weighted average, the relevant figure which we should be considering. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell us how many letters of complaint have dealt with the weighted average of all prices. I should be surprised if the Government have received any on this basis, although it is clearly the relevant basis.

The next matter concerns the figures quoted in the Board's Report suggesting than an increase of 4 to 4½ per cent. might be justified. The figures have been disputed by the Institute, which maintains that the true figure is a lot closer to 5.8 per cent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the figures. The main difference between the estimates seems to be that the Report begins Chapter 2 by saying, The laundry industry employs about 100,000 people … whereas the figure is, I understand, nearer 122,000 people.

If one rounds off 20 per cent. here or there, it does not make very much difference, but I suggest that this sort of rounding off is not legitimate and that the justifiable figure is therefore appreciably higher than that which appears in the Report. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm that the figures which the British Launderers' and Cleaners' Association have put forward, based on the Government's own statistics, justify an increase appreciably larger than that suggested by the Prices and Incomes Board. The Board makes no allowance for increases in petrol tax last July, or in the cost of water, a very substantial percentage increase in a number of areas.

It is alleged that to some extent the cleaners and launderers have anticipated the introduction of the Selective Employment Tax, that they put up charges before that tax became payable. This is not universally the case. A number had held their prices steady for a considerable time, some of them for two years. Others had delayed any increase until the Board's Report was published. In any case, there is here a basic flaw in the Government's economic reasoning, because both the first and second versions of Schedule 2 of the Act are devoted to the supply or cost side of the equation. Each version resolutely refuses to make any reference to the level of demand, a matter which we debated at length in Committee upstairs when the Act was going through the House.

Its relevance in this connection is that the demand for dry cleaning in particular varies a great deal from season to season. As a result, it is usual for dry cleaners to do good business during the summer and then to find that they often have to survive on overdraft or credit facilities during the winter. Given that it was known that the Selective Employment Tax was to be imposed and that the Chancellor would not make credit any easier in the forthcoming winter, it was not unreasonable for any laundry or dry cleaning establishment wishing to survive during the winter to anticipate having to pay the tax over the year as a whole. Indeed, it would be extremely short sighted for any successful business man to fail to anticipate changes which the Government had already announced.

It is true that this seasonal factor is not so important to laundries, but, even so, they may reasonably look forward to a bad winter this year with people necessarily economising because of the Government's measures and therefore being less likely to send stuff to the laundry rather than do it at home or take it to a laundromat. If this was so, this was a good case for a firm raising the tax at a time when it was able to raise it. This would not be such an argument if it were not for the fact that the vast majority of laundry and dry cleaning establishments operate on very fine margins, another point drawn out by the Prices and Incomes Board's Report.

There now arises the question whether it would be possible for the laundry and dry cleaning industry to absorb the increases in the costs of the industry resulting from Government measures. The Report suggests that establishments should seek to amalgamate and to invest more in labour-saving equipment. This is somewhat inconsistent with the Government's withdrawal of investment allowances from the industry. There is no scope, certainly not in the short period of the freeze and the wages standstill period, for the introduction of new machinery and new methods to enable costs to be absorbed as the Board recommended.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

Surely the Board suggested not so much the bringing in of new equipment as a fuller use of the equipment already there and the possible writing off of some establishments trying to go on inadequately using existing equipment.

Mr. Higgins

It is perfectly true that that was the Board's argument. I hesitate to enter the argument of excess capacity as a whole, but I suggest that if the Board reads a number of learned works by the former Chairman of the Laundry Wages Council precisely on this matter of excess capacity and rationalisation it will appreciate that its economic analysis was not correct.

I now come to the actual costs of the wages which the industry has to bear. It is a labour intensive industry and it is extremely difficult to absorb any increase in wages in either laundry or dry cleaning. Are we to understand that for the next month, December, both the standstill and period of severe restraint versions of Schedule 2 are relevant? If so, there is raised the whole question of whether the workers in the industry come within the Government's category of lowest-paid workers.

Persual of the Report makes it perfectly clear that the wages in the industry are extremely low. It is pointed out that the statutory recognition by the Ministry of Labour gives effect to the Laundry Wages Council. The average earnings of laundry workers are low compared with the average for all industries. Surely in these circumstances the right way in which to set about helping lowest paid workers is by implementation of the Wages Councils Acts, which have been cast aside by the Government in their prices and incomes policy, or to encourage the workers in the industry to redeploy into other industries where better pay is obtainable, or to increase efficiency in the existing industry in order that adequate wages can be paid.

As the Board points out, the industry has had considerable difficulty even retaining the workers which it needs to operate at a reasonable level of capacity. The absurdity of the thing is that the wages council when dealing with wage claims and the level of wages is specifically excluded from considering any change in productivity. That is something which the Minister might well consider when thinking of future action under this heading.

I turn now to the subject of administrative problems and difficulties. There is no doubt that as it stands the Order discriminates not only against the two industries as a whole, but in an odd way on the basis on which charges are calculated. It does not introduce a price freeze if the item of laundry or cleaning is done on a weight basis, but only does if it is done on the basis of numbers. This gives rise to several anomalies which have not been cleared up to the industry's satisfaction. Surely it is absurd to freeze primes for items done numerically, or item by item, without also freezing prices on the basis of weight. We would not like any of them to be frozen on either basis, but at least the Government should be consistent.

It is also true that the base period which is chosen for establishing whether there has been a price increase is somewhat doubtful. It is by no means clear what the position is as far as the highest or latest price is concerned. Are the Government taking as a base for comparison the price at the end of the base period or the highest price within the base period? Is it not unfair to insist that if a particular firm happened to be doing a "two or one" offer during the base period, then it should not be allowed to increase above that level, whereas other firms not making such an offer in the base period are able to raise their prices?

There are other ways in which the implementation of the Order raises some difficult questions. I understand that a questionnaire has been sent out to firms in the industry wishing to apply for a price increase. Some of these questions are extremely odd. For example, question 8 reads: What is the expected increase in annual turnover as a result of the proposed increased charges excluding any possible changes in the volume of business? It is surely quite silly to ask people to estimate what the increase in turnover would be without allowing for the fact that if one increases one's prices the amount of business done will be reduced.

A more worrying aspect of this appears in question 9 where the company applying for permission to increase prices is asked to supply a copy of audited accounts, comprising balance sheet and detailed profit and loss trading accounts for each of the last two financial years, and of any subsequent interim accounts. Unless I am mistaken this is information which private exempt companies, which many laundry and dry cleaning companies are, do not have to provide under any other legislation.

I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would tell us precisely which section in the Prices and Incomes Act enables the Government to demand this from those who feel that they have justifiable cause for increasing prices. I am sure that the Prices and Incomes Bill Standing Committee did not appreciate that this was likely to be done. The Prices and Incomes Board's Report was, by any standards, extremely favourable to the industry. It stressed the element of competition, it pointed out that the 12 large firms in the industry had only one-fifth of the total market, a very low degree of concentration indeed. It also pointed out that the profits being made in the industry were low; indeed, by implication, it suggested that they were so low that is was difficult for the companies to invest as much as they should if costs were to be reduced and the ordinary laundry business was to be made competitive.

The profits as a percentage of turnover before tax for the years 1962–3–4–5 were only 8 per cent., 8.8 per cent., 8 per cent. and 7.4 per cent. respectively. This is a pretty low profit margin. The Prices and Incomes Board went on to say in paragraph 44 on page 15: In recent years the level of profits in the two industries has been stationary or declining Why is it that the Government have decided to discriminate against these industries, where the level of profits is stationary or declining, and where their own Prices and Incomes Board has found that the industries are doing everything possible to meet the Government's requirements? It is true that if one looks at the figures on a basis of rate of return on capital one finds that the figure is something like 13 per cent. but this covers a very wide range of different firms.

Can the Under-Secretary clarify whether the Prices and Incomes Report, when it speaks of rate of return on capital is calculating capital on a replacement cost basis? If it is not is it taking historic cost? If so, these wide variations merely reflect an inconsistent way of calculating capital employed.

This Order is extremely discriminatory and it will undoubtedly be used as a form of intimidation against other industries, which may also have an extremely good case for increasing their prices. Our basic objection to it is that it strikes at the very root of the price system upon which we rely to ensure that resources are deployed from one industry to another. This fact alone is likely to mean that the period of readjustment after the prices and incomes freeze and after the period of severe restraint will be a great deal more difficult than it would have been if the Government had taken deflationary measures, but had not resorted to the compulsory method implemented in this Order.

Unless the Under-Secretary can satisfy the House, I very much hope that in the face of the arguments which I have put forward and those which will be put forward by my hon. and right hon. Friends, we shall divide against this Order.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Henig (Lancaster)

In following the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), I hope that he will not mind if I harp on what was the main theme of his speech, that of intimidation. This leaves me a little puzzled. Intimidation sounds a rather big word, but it is only a few days since we were discussing whether it was better to stop one man murdering another by threatening to hang him or threatening to put him in prison for life.

For obvious reasons, I am not attempting to draw an analogy between the crime of murder and increasing prices. The point that I am making is that any law-abiding society must in the last resort rely upon what might crudely be termed a measure of intimidation, a measure of compulsion, if it wishes those laws to be adhered to. In this case the Government have decided, for reasons which they think good, and which I think good too, that prices and wages should be frozen.

What is to be the situation if an individual considers that for reasons of his own he knows better than the Government and that his prices or wages should be increased? Any Government has a choice. They can either say that they believe in freedom and the man must be free to do as he chooses, in which case others will follow and those who were previously supporting the Government might say that they had been left in the lurch, or alternatively the Government can say, "This is the law and it is our task to rule the country. This law went through Parliament in the normal way and we must see that it is enforced."

It is my contention that the Government, in invoking Part IV, have done no more and no less than that. The other thing that strikes me as odd is that we hear talk from the other side of the House about measures of this kind and people say, if only the Government had simply deflated and not introduced this measure of compulsion. We all know what deflation means, especially on this side of the House. People lose their jobs. There is a degree of compulsion when someone receives his notice and is told, "We are sorry, the Government's economic policies require that for the moment you become unemployed." Some of us on this side of the House feel that the only thing which makes this Government's reversion to deflationary policies acceptable in any way at all is that an attempt is being made to do something new, to invoke new policies, to try to move away from the sterile, simple, "stop-go" with no social implications and to try, by temporarily freezing wages and prices, to move the economy to a new structure, whence it will be possible in future, for this or any other Government, to avoid having to revert to these policies. [Laughter.] While hon. Members opposite are entitled to laugh at any misfortune which they think may befall the Government, I hope that they will remember the country and will want to help in any way they can in making the policy a success.

What is new about this element of intimidation——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. We cannot on this Prayer discuss the Government's general economic policy. All we can discuss is whether laundry and cleaning charges should be frozen.

Mr. Henig

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you say, we are discussing whether this degree of intimidation can be invoked in this case, and because this is one of the first of such Orders it is obvious that it arouses some questions of principle. I will stick to the specific point.

The hon. Member for Worthing went on to say that by doing this at this time and discriminating against a particular industry the Government were striking a blow at the whole prices system which, it was suggested, was the best system for meeting the needs of the country. Some of us on this side of the House may have doubts about whether the prices of certain things do just this.

I am not sure that I accept some of the contentions put forward by the Opposition about the laundry industry being highly competitive. I suspect from my experience that, to a large extent, particular launderers have captive markets. I am equally dubious about the advisability of arguing whether the laundry industry should be enabled to make higher profits, and I am extremely dubious that the best interests of the country demand that in future investment should be in the laundry industry rather than in any other industry.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Would the hon. Gentleman help by giving an example of the captive markets of the laundry industry?

Mr. Henig

This is a concept which is as difficult to argue and to define as the concept of competition put forward by the hon. Member for Worthing. In many parts of the country—perhaps not so much in the big cities, but in the smaller towns—the number of laundries is very much smaller. In some areas there may be one or, at most, two laundries catering for the population. This does not make for a high degree of competition, certainly no higher than in many other industries where we would not normally speak of competition.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

Would not the hon. Gentleman concede that there is also competition between laundries and laundromats and home laundries and that that would apply with equal force in a small rural town with one laundry as it would apply in a large city?

Mr. Henig

I would accept that there would be a margin of competition. I am not prepared to accept that consumers' decisions on whether to use a laundromat or laundry depend wholly or even mainly on pricing considerations.

Although, as you rightly said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we cannot talk about the general policy on this Prayer, it is peculiarly important, because we are considering whether it is desirable at this stage for an industry either to be allowed to raise its price or to be singled out as an industry which the Government, acting legitimately, say may not raise its prices. Is it right—and this is the crux of the matter—for one industry to be singled out right at the beginning for this kind of treatment? It is my contention that it is right, first on one very simple ground, that, if it were not singled out that industry would, in effect, be breaking the law by increasing its prices, so that in that sense it is compulsion on the Government. But the second and wider point is that this is an action taken under an Act which is part of a policy which some hon. Members may like and other hon. Members legitimately may not like.

But the test of the Government's policy and whether it can win the confidence of the people will be whether it can be seen that the policy keeps down prices. One of the objections to the policy is that it has not done this sufficiently. My suspicion is that prices still show a tendency to rise. I could give one or two examples if it were in order, but it would not be in order. If the Government were to agree to this Prayer, and if an industry which says that it has good reason to increase prices were allowed by the Gov- ernment to do so, then the whole policy would be in ruins. There would be no consistency whatsoever.

In the interests of those who have supported the Government, in the interests of those whose wages are being frozen, in the interests of those who, in response to Government policy, have not put up their prices, and in the interests of consumers who use the laundry industry and every other industry—in other words, in the interests of a far larger number of people than that with which the hon. Member for Worthing was concerned, namely, those who make profits from the laundry industry—I believe that the Government should resist the Prayer.

8.16 p.m.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswstry)

The Government have found an eloquent ally in the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig), but it would be a little harsh to hold the Government accountable for his support or views. It is extraordinary for him to advance the proposition that prices shall remain frozen, because this is precisely what is not the Governmen's contention. The Government's contention is that there are certain areas in which price increases should be permitted because they are deemed to arise primarily from Government taxation, and a great deal of our dispute turns exactly around thic principle.

The hon. Gentleman talks about there being no consistency. If he argues that the laundry industry shall absorb entirely the increases in taxation, by the same token of consistency he must also be anxious that the hotel industry shall absorb entirely the additional costs arising from the Selective Employment Tax.

Mr. Henig indicated assent.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman nods his head vigorously. This is a fascinating doctrine on which we shall be interested to hear the views of the Under-Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Lancaster has achieved, I will not say the unique distinction, but the somewhat rare distinction of being a Government backbench Member enthusiastic in his support of the Government's policy. Therefore, it would be a bit rough if these way-out views were by some accident associated with the views of the Government Front Bench. Are we to expect that some representation will be made soon to British Railways to rescind the almost swingeing increases which they have made in their hotel and meals charges? I will not pursue that further, because I have greater respect for the rules of order. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) can chance his arm later.

If I understood the hon. Member for Lancaster aright, in his general introduction about the new concepts of freedom which were being elaborated by the Government in the constructive guise of an incomes policy, it seemed to me that he got perilously near to advancing the thesis that no worker is free to market his skills and experience for the price which a willing employer is prepared to offer.

Mr. Henig

Would the hon. Gentleman say how free a worker is to do this when there is no employment available for him?

Mr. Biffen

Of course, a worker who is unemployed is not able to command the earnings of an employed person—that is obvious. If, however, the hon. Member is suggesting that this policy is the alternative to unemployment and to measures of deflation, I must tell him that that was the argument which was being advanced from the Dispatch Box before 20th July. It might have had some possible persuasive power then, but now it strains our credibility beyond what we can bear.

Let us, therefore, return to the introductory remarks of the hon. Member for Lancaster——

Mr. Deputy Speaker: (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he ought now to address his remarks to the Prayer.

Mr. Biffen

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think I have made the point about the implications of the hon. Member's remarks concerning the freedom of workers to bargain wages that employers are prepared to offer.

The laundry Order is undoubtedly the first of a series which will demonstrate the whole nature of the charade which passes as a prices and incomes policy. I shall limit my remarks because a number of my hon. Friends wish to speak and the ground has been fully, competently and cogently covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins).

The Schedule to the Order states that it will apply to undertakings or persons holding themselves out to the public as prepared to launder or clean any item of a description … The first question which I ask myself is why this industry was selected. Why laundries? Reference has been made to the number of complaints. The figure suggested by my hon. Friend was 300, a figure which has been widely reported in the Press. What the Under-Secretary has to say about this will be followed with close attention. Was it 300 up to the point at which the Government acted? If so, their action has not stopped presumed public disquiet, because the Answer given to me on Friday by the President of the Board of Trade was that 1,000 complaints had been received about laundry charges. Does this mean that there have been a further 700 complaints since the Government made the Order?

We are dealing here with an industry which deals with part-worn goods. The two activities which are most likely to give rise to general public griping are the two industries concerned with part-worn goods: laundries and motor vehicle repairs. I can guarantee that on any consumer panel there will be more generalised complaints about those two industries, largely, I believe, arising from the nature of the work they do.

Therefore, if the Government use all the means of publicity available to them asking for generalised complaints from the public about the goods and services that people receive, they will, I am sure, receive more complaints about activities dealing in part-worn goods, particularly the laundry industry and motor vehicle repairs. Therefore, I am not in the least surprised, for example, that motor vehicle repairs have now been referred to the Prices and Incomes Board.

The second question which must occur to anyone studying this rather bizarre story is what part in all this the Prices and Incomes Board plays. It gestated for nine months on this industry: it was referred to the Board in January, and the Report came out in September this year. It is still somewhat of a mystery why the reference concerned only laundry services for the public and not for the valuable and significant industrial laundry sector. None the less, at the end of it all the Prices and Incomes Board came up with a Report which, as far as I can see, was a clear exoneration of the laundry and dry-cleaning industries. Nobody could turn to that Report for ammunition for an attack to be mounted on restrictive practices or price-rigging. Therefore, one is bound to conclude that there was a political motive both in the reference of the laundry industry to the Prices and Incomes Board and in the way in which that Report has been dealt with since it was received.

I am not entirely convinced that this political action has been all that harmful to the laundry and dry cleaning industries. I am not saying that this is an industry which in totality now carries a heavy and monstrous burden placed upon it by an efficient and selective Government. When the story is unravelled, it will be a little more diffuse than that, a little more difficult to follow and a little more intricate, because there is no doubt that what has happened is that a very large number of the laundries and dry cleaners, because of the seasonal nature of their work, put up their prices almost straight away. Therefore, if we are dealing with a case of fairly substantial door-locking after the exodus of the horses, this is one example of it.

It should not be thought that I want to be too partisan about this, but the example which I should like to quote is that of the co-operative laundries. On 21st August, we had the Financial Times saying: Co-operative laundries throughout the country have been advised to raise prices by imposing a surcharge of between 5 and 10 per cent. on their customers. It went on to say: It is understood that Co-op laundries handle business approaching £10 million a year. As I calculate it, that is something like 10 per cent. of the total turnover of the laundry industry. I had no doubt that many other laundries did likewise. Therefore, what one would like to know from the Under-Secretary when he answers the debate is how much of the total laundry turnover he thinks was affected by increases in prices before this Order was made.

What I detest about the Order is its completely arbitrary nature, because it is designed to give the public the impression that here is a major action of price control when its actual effect is to fall upon those laggards who, perhaps, from a misguided sense of national duty held back their price increases. They are the people who are caught by this measure. It seems to me that this is something upon which all who are interested in the fortunes of either workers or of manufacturers under a prices and incomes policy should ponder long and seriously.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Without being out of sympathy with the point that the hon. Member is making, may I ask whether he will now join me in urging the Government to make a reference under Section 27 of those parts of the industry which did put up their prices before the Order came out?

Mr. Biffen

No, of course not, because the whole thing is convoluted nonsense from first to last. I have a record of opposition to this policy which is long and honourable and I am not deserting it now just to give the hon. Member the vicarious satisfaction of going along to the co-op and telling them that they must go back to the price level which they had before. After all, were they supposed to pass on the Selective Employment Tax or were they not? All these are the kind of questions which are left half answered as a result of this arbitrary action being discussed this evening.

Again, the hon. Member for Lancaster assumes that as a result of this Order prices will be frozen. But will they? All this Order requires is that they shall inform the Government and will then wait for either assent or dissent from the Government for price increases they propose. This Order itself does not freeze prices, and hon. Members opposite who are under that illusion have been brow beaten—which is probably the good fortune of back benchers, believing almost anything which will be of advantage to their Front Bench. But they should disabuse themselves of these misconceptions.

The Under-Secretary of State, I hope, will tell us how many applications for price increases have been received under this Order since it was published and what answers the Government have given. So there we are—three questions; one as to the percentage of the laundries which had in terms of turnover probably increased their prices before this Order was brought in, and the other two points which I just mentioned.

Then weight is mentioned in paragraph (1) of the Schedule, where are the words other than (i) charges by weight …. What this means, roughly, is industrial laundering, a good deal of which is charged on the basis of discounts. How will prices be affected by changes in discounts?

These are the kinds of questions which have to be answered unless we are to be left with the conviction that this is entirely an arbitrary public relations exercise on the part of the Government, harmful inasmuch as it has effect but much more harmful in the sense that it seeks to perpetuate a belief that something has happened which in fact has not. Of course, in that, it is of the very essence of this entire prices and incomes policy.

Finally there is the point, also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, on the question about investment. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I think, is under a slight misconception here, because, as I understand it, the Prices and Incomes Report concerning dry cleaners suggested that there was over-capacity in investment in their industry, but as far as launderies are concerned there was a necessity for increasing plant. If that is so, we immediately think of the latest White Paper on the severe restraint, and individual companies being allowed to increase their prices in order to provide sufficient investment. So even if dry cleaners cannot plead, can launderies not plead that they should be more favourably considered?

Indeed, the more I think about this Order the more it seems to me to be a symbol of the arbitrary nature of the Government's incomes and prices policy. They select just one of the many service industries which might have been selected, and above all this is a political Order. It is, therefore, I think an indi- cation of the futility of the idea that there is some voluntary industry-Government consensus which can determine the levels of prices or incomes or investment, because ultimately the Government will decide, and because it is a Government decision, it will be political. We are seeing witness of that this evening.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

It is very hard to discern what course the Opposition are trying to run with this Prayer against the Order. We had the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) making out the case, so far as I could understand it, that this was a dangerous and crippling Order which might have a very serious effect on the industry, and he invited us to be very concerned about this, for this reason. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) made it very clear that he disregards this point of view utterly. He regards the Order as utterly unnecessary, as having no effect, or in any way inhibiting the laundry industry and, indeed, even rather futile and useless, as I understand his argument.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent me. I was saying that surely the extent to which this becomes harmful to the future development of the laundry industry depends entirely on how long this Order stays in force and the degree of rigour with which it is implemented.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. Member for Oswestry has made clear the point which I thought was not sufficiently pressed by the hon. Member for Worthing, that this is not a harsh, restrictive Order. In many ways, from my point of view, it is not harsh or restrictive enough. It allows a great deal of flexibility. It allows applications to the Board of Trade for permission to increase prices, and it is not completely restrictive in that sense. Therefore, I feel that the two hon. Gentlemen ought to get together and have some discussion before they initiate a Prayer of this sort.

Personally, I welcome the Order, but I have some anxiety about whether it is strong enough. I appreciate the point that there are a large number of firms which increased their prices before the Order came into effect, and this was discussed some time ago in the House. It is understandable that there are firms which feel it unfair that they have been singled out and not allowed to increase their prices without special appeal, whereas others got away with it earlier. I have some sympathy with that point of view. But presumably that cannot be the main basis of the attack on this Order.

As was explained by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs originally, this is a holding operation. Whether further action should be taken under Section 27 is a matter which is still open to my right hon. Friend. I hope that we may hear something at the end of the debate about how far the investigations which were being pursued into this industry have got, and whether they are likely to result in an Order under Section 27 which deals much more powerfully not only with holding prices with the escape route that is available, but also going further and actually reducing prices.

I find it extraordinary that apparently both hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to regard the Board's Report on the laundry industry as an encouraging one. It is an extremely polite, well-written and diplomatic Report. It is clear and succinct. However, I should not regard it as a Report saying that the laundering and dry cleaning industry has done well. The reverse is the case. It points to a whole host of problems which need to be solved and which have not yet been solved.

I find it amazing that the hon. Member for Worthing should welcome it as a Report congratulating the industry for being fully competitive. There are references in it—in paragraph 43 on page 15, for example—to the fact that greater price competition would also help to reduce over-capacity. That does not suggest that there is sufficient competition at present. There are many comments about the unused capacity in the industry and about the need for more amalgamations so that capacity can be more efficiently used. There are a great number of comments of that sort, which do not support the arguments raised by either of the hon. Members who initiated this Prayer; indeed, I wonder if they have read the same Report. It has been available to us for some time.

I have considerable anxiety, as I have said, about whether the action taken by my right hon. Friend in this case is adequate. I welcome it, but I do not feel that it should be the end of the road. I think that this is only the rather tentative, cautious, and careful first move. I feel that the real gravamen of the attack on this Order will become increasingly clear if we go into the Lobbies tonight. It is an attack upon any attempt to control prices at all. I think that this must be evident.

To my mind this is a very modest first Order. I appreciate that the Government may wish to initiate this process in this way, but I hope that tonight we shall hear from my hon. Friend that the Government are determined to carry on with this policy and develop it, and that should it prove necessary they will take sterner action which I think might be necessary in this and indeed in other spheres.

The hon. Member for Worthing gave us a rather amusing account about different forms of laundry work and differing charges. He instanced dish cloths, as well as other items. I should have thought that dish cloths were excluded from this Order and came within the mass of laundry which is charged for by weight or volume.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Surely a dish cloth is a towel?

Mr. Blenkinsop

I should have thought that nowadays most people washed their own dish cloths.

I was not clear whether the hon. Member for Worthing, and I suppose one should say the hon. Member for Oswestry, who supported him, or opposed him, or whatever his view may be, was in favour of industrial laundry being excluded, or whether he wanted it included. Most of the complaints have been about domestic laundry, and this is presumably why industrial laundry is not included. I do not understand the rather complicated argument advanced by one hon. Gentleman who said that we should pay no attention to the complaints which were being made. He seemed to say that there would be complaints in certain fields and that we should pay no attention to them. I should have thought that this was the last thing that we should do. Surely we should pay a great deal of attention to complaints. If there have been many complaints, I am delighted that the Government have shown some sign of taking action. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be deterred by the rather frivolous attitude adopted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but will press on, and will give us a good reason why Section 27 was not used in this case.

8.43 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am glad of the opportunity to take part in this debate because two points have not so far been made. First, we are told that this discriminates against the industry; our objection is to discriminate against one part of it, not the whole of it, and if we are going to be consistent surely we should bring in all parts and not attack just one part.

The other point in which I am interested is that this represents an attack on the poorer people of the community. It is the poorer people who take their laundry to laundrettes, wash houses, and so on. These are the people who will get no protection; it is only those who can afford to go to a laundry who will receive the protection of price control.

It is not only industrial laundry which is charged by weight; laundrettes calculate their charges on the same basis. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, I hope, understand the problem facing their constituents because they should know that many people who take their laundry to the laundrette, in a perambulator, will not be protected. Protection will be afforded to those people who have their laundry collected and brought back in nice cardboard boxes.

The Government state that they are out to help the lower paid workers—and we have heard such a lot about this over the last few days—but they are the very ones who are going to penalise the lower paid workers by this Order. I hope that some hon. Gentlemen will have second thoughts about this Order. It will not discriminate against the large laundries, but it will discriminate against the small people, those who already have difficulties. I am always astonished that laundries were not scheduled as an essential industry, as they were during the Second World War. That was one of the ways by which the Government helped women to go out to do some other work. Such work cannot be done now because of the financial squeeze, but during the Second World War women were able to go out to work in order to pay for the items of laundry which they sent out. They earned sufficient money to pay for sheets and those other items which women should not be required to launder themselves.

There is also discrimination against contract laundries. Contractors can ask whatever price they like and it is up to the person concerned whether or not he will accept that price. For instance, will Her Majesty's Services have to send contracts to the Government to see whether contractors are quoting an adequate price? This is important. Contractors take a great deal of business from the other laundries.

Often, when we talk about competition, we are thinking of London and other big cities. In the South-West we are lucky to have one major laundry. Most laundries in my constituency have already gone out of existence because they could not get sufficient work. There is in my area a laundry which is perhaps known by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott). This laundry has receiving stations in such places as Newquay, Teignmouth and Launceston. There may be talk about cutting prices, but it is impossible for that laundry to do so. It has to send its vans to the collecting centres, and it has to contend with the extra petrol tax, the maintenance of its vehicle and the cost of licences for those vehicles which all help to increase the company's expenditure. I made inquiries over the weekend and discovered that the laundry had made no price increase since January, 1965. However, it had to have an increase to conform to the Laundry Wages Council's award. Since 5th September the Selective Employment Tax has meant an increase of one halfpenny in the £. Therefore, the increase would appear to be extremely reasonable.

I should like to ask the Minister whether he does not also consider this to be a question of Income Tax under Schedule F. Incorporated companies have to pay dividends. The share capital of over 70 per cent. of those companies consists of preference shares on which they are entitled to return 6 per cent. As I understood it, the purpose of the tax was to encourage productivity. The present dividends have to be paid in any case. There is the levy on dividends, and I should like to know whether the Minister will take into consideration prices which will be fixed in the future. The reasons for the levy are not clear, and this matter is extremely important.

Hon. Members have spoken about the use of labour. Most of the laundry companies that I know of operate various schemes which have been in existence for many years. These schemes are helping to increase productivity. Also, the basic rates of pay are higher than those set by the Laundry Wages Council. Most laundries will find their profit margins to be extremely low. There will be fewer workers in the laundries. There is no investment allowance for these companies, particularly those companies in non-development areas which receive no help. Banks have been asked not to help the service industries, so these firms are in a very difficult position whichever way they turn. In many areas it is not possible for these firms to get rid of many more employees, even if they wish to do so, because they cannot afford to buy the machinery to replace the labour, to find the right type of machinery, or to make room for it in their existing buildings.

In the South-West we already have a 2.7 per cent. rate of unemployment. This time last year it was 1.8 per cent. Little alternative employment exists. The other day a skilled worker came to see me because he had lost his job, and I asked him what employment he had been offered since and he told me that at that time the only job he had been offered was as Father Christmas. That was not a job for a skilled man, and it did not help to keep himself and his family.

I also want to ask a question about the point that two-thirds of private firms which are exempt from having to send in audited accounts. I gathered that this applies to those firms, and if they do not have to send in their accounts every two years why should others? I hope that we shall be told, too, more about the investigations made in respect of complaints which have been mentioned by my hon. Friends. Will Ministry inspectors make the investigations, or will it be done by local weights and measures inspectors or by health inspectors?

I also want to refer to the question of cleaners. In preparation for this debate I got in touch with several laundries in order to obtain their views, and also some cleaners. A cleaner who works not far away from my flat rents his offices from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, which proposes to increase his rent from £350 to £875 per annum. He tells me that as a result of negotiations the increase has been reduced to £600 per annum. He had a seven-year lease in 1960, so it is about to run out, and now we have the Ministry putting up the rent and this might put him out of business altogether.

He has already had imposed upon him a 10 per cent. increase from the people with whom he contracts his cleaning and he also has extra costs for packing, paper, lighting, parcel postage, machinery, maintenance charges, and pay his own S.E.T. On top of that he will have to pay this extra charge which is being demanded by the Ministry. This could put him out of business.

When the Minister replies I hope that he will be able to undertake to look into these individual cases, and that he will take special note of this case I have just mentioned. I can give him the address of the cleaner, and I hope that he will be able to see that either the rent is not put up or that the cleaner is able to raise his prices where necessary.

Dry cleaning has not been mentioned much in this debate. I understand that there are about 1,700 shops belonging to one combine alone. I have made inquiries and I gather that since July only four complaints have been made. Reference has already been made to the fact that this is a seasonal trade, and in my opinion it is likely to be even more seasonal at the moment, because if there is one thing that people can economise on it is having their clothes cleaned. They either clean their clothes themselves or make them go without cleaning a little longer. Dry cleaning will be hit more than most other parts of industry. The Order discriminates not only against one part of the industry as compared to the other, but also against the whole industry as compared with other industries, and it hits hardest against the poorest people in the community.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I would first congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) on the point which she made about the bag-wash. I agree with her wholeheartedly. The Order discriminates against people who take their washing in bags to the local laundry, whether it is coin operated or manually operated. I hope that my hon. Friend will clear up this point.

My main purpose in supporting the Order is that it is essential at the moment for the type of price control which many of us on this side want to see. One of the arguments urged against effective price control is that it is too hard to police and supervise, but according to the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board over 1,400 different laundry establishments are concerned. If we can police them effectively, surely we can have the type of price control which we would like to see.

The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) said that this was a case of locking the stable door after the horse had bolted. This is largely true. We would therefore like to have a reference back, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said. We would like to see these prices effectively frozen or cut back. Many of these prices were raised to meet the effects of the Selective Employment Tax long before it came into operation. This happened through the whole range of service industries.

The point surely is not that we have discriminated against laundries, but why have only laundries been mentioned? There is a whole host of other service industries which could have been referred to, and prevented from putting up their prices. An example is that of hair dressers.

I am surprised at the tremendous defence of this industry which the Opposition have launched, saying again and again that the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board—this was especially the point of the hon. Member for Oswestry—was an exoneration of the industry. Yet paragraph 53, discussing the question of whether amalgamations could help to absorb future costs, says the advantages offered are: … a better combination of commercial and domestic laundry activities, the closure of under-utilised establishments and the fuller use of other establishments, the use of modern labour-saving equipment, and the rationalisation of delivery services. Anyone who lives in a modern suburban "semi" and has seen, day after day, half a dozen different laundry vans from half a dozen different companies going down the road knows that there is a great need for rationalisation of the delivery services. This is not an exoneration of the industry but an outright condemnation of it—as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said, in very polite language, but a condemnation nevertheless.

The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), speaking about the question of the industry being able to rationalise itself by competition and proper pricing agreements, seemed to assume that we were back in the days of laissez-faire capitalism, with everyone undercutting everyone else until there was one monopoly laundry service. We have not got that—[Interruption.] The hon. Member said, "Leave it to the mechanism of the market". This is what he meant, but we have not got this mechanism at all. There is very little competition in price: it is purely on service——

Mr. Biffen

I take the hon. Member's point, but how does he account for the very considerable changes in the structure of the laundry business—which is indicated in the Report—involved in the wholesale closures of laundries, if this does not come about as a result of competition?

Mr. McNamara

I accept that point, but I do not accept the point to the extent to which hon. Members opposite are making it, for this reason: until the war there were many small laundries, many employing one or two people, but now they have been rationalised to the point where they employ perhaps 20 to 30 people. With the type of laundry I see envisaged by the Report there would be perhaps one or two laundries for a very large city, having an efficient use of manpower, with larger machinery, better servicing and the like, which would entail the disappearance of the smaller laundries and achieving the efficiency that we want to see.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

What would the hon. Member do with smaller places? The city where I live has a population of 13,000.

Mr. McNamara

I think that the hon. Member for Devonport made a very good point when she said that an efficient laundry could arrange for collection and delivery centres within the West Country. I should have thought that the hon. Member was in one of the areas covered by the hon. Member's laundry.

I do not wish to detain the House for very long. I regard the Order as only a first step, and a very faltering first step, towards getting the sort of price control we want. If we can get price control in laundries we can do it throughout the whole service and retailing industries, and get the type of prices and incomes policy which many of us on this side of the House would like to see.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I think that there is some misunderstanding in the Chamber tonight. We as the Opposition are really complaining not about a storm in a wash tub, laundry or dry-cleaning establishment, but about the strong-arm action of the Government, strong-arm action which is welcomed by some hon. Members, and I tremble at the way and spirit in which they welcome it. I tremble at the references on this type of action by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), who has now left his place. I had hoped that in the past two years the Government would seek to make our economy work. We are talking about a free enterprise economy—not an economy to be sat on, to be buried with the trade unions, but an economy to work. Apart from their strong-arm action, the Government have shown that their left hand does not know what their right hand is doing, or what effect their right hand might have in economic affairs. They have pegged incomes and prices, and the trade unions and the T.U.C. have had their orders.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. The whole point of part of what I was trying to say was that prices have not been sufficiently pegged. It would be wrong, as the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) pointed out, to look at the Order and say that prices have been pegged.

Mr. Crouch

Admittedly, prices have not been sufficiently pegged under the Prices and Incomes Act, because that is why the Order has been introduced, especially to peg a sector of prices in the laundry and dry cleaning industry. We must see what effect the Government's total action in its freeze is having. On the one hand, we have wages severely pegged and the trade unions having no say in the matter. Of course, they are incensed. The public is incensed, and it looks for every sign of price rises. It has been encouraged by the First Secretary to report such signs. I am advised that there have been 350 complaints to the Department of Economic Affairs about this industry, and I hope that this figure will be commented on tonight by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies. I would be grateful if he would say how those complaints are made up as between the laundry industry and the dry-cleaning industry, and over what period they have been gathered.

We are talking of an industry in which there are 150 million transactions a year. In all the research that has been carried out in the industry there is no statistical record of price increases. This is a service industry dealing with people's clothing, and it is the troubles which people's clothing suffer which are the biggest element in the complaints—not prices. I shall be very interested, therefore, to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us about the exact nature of these price complaints.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) has reminded the House that this is a highly competitive trade, a trade in which price is vital and is always most carefully considered. It is a service trade in which value for money counts. The price increases made recently, since the Budget, were made after very careful consideration, bearing in mind that a price increase, for whatever reason, will inevitably reduce turnover and may well drive business to the man next door.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

This point has been made on a number of occasions, and I am glad to have the opportunity to ask the hon. Gentleman directly about it. The Report of the Prices and Incomes Board shows that prices have been going up regularly by 10 per cent. a year and that the larger units in the laundry trade have been increasing their revenue by 6 per cent. a year. How does this accord with the hon. Gentleman's argument?

Mr. Crouch

That is no answer to what I am saying because the Board goes on to say much more about prices in its Report. For instance, in paragraph 55 the Board says: We do not consider that there is scope in the domestic laundry industry for the absorption of increased costs through reduced profit margins in view of the need for further investment in modern labour saving machinery. In paragraph 56—I do not want to weary the House by reading too much, but this is closely relevant—the Board says: Price increases so far in 1966 would seem to have been at a rate no greater than that experienced in recent years and to result from the general pressures on costs, though to some extent the Selective Employment Tax would also appear to have been anticipated. I do not deny this. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing has already pointed out that we are here discussing a seasonal trade, a trade in the dry cleaning sector of which profits are made only in the summer and spring, with losses made in the winter. Nevertheless, wages and taxes have to be paid week in week out throughout the year. This trade cannot draw on overdraft to pay increased costs and Selective Employment Tax, and it is not altogether wrong, in my submission, that the dry cleaning sector should have anticipated its year's budget and cost requirements.

The industry has a good record on price levels. Dry cleaning prices in this country are among the lowest in the world. The average price for dry cleaning a suit is 8s. 6d. It was about 8s. before the imposition of this extra tax. Perhaps the exact figure recommended by the Prices and Incomes Board for the increase may have been not 6d. but 4½d., but we are here dealing with commerce, and it is a round figure which is called for. There are some items of dry cleaning on which no increase in price has been put at all. The price of cleaning a suit in 1913 was 4s. 6d. The rate of price and cost growth in this trade has been remarkably low.

I remind the House of the range of price levels which have obtained since 1957. In the four years 1957–61 price levels were steady. In 1961 there was a modest in- crease. Prices remained level again for three years from 1961 to 1964. In 1964, due to increased pressure of rising costs of fuel, water and rates, prices went up again. But basically this trade has had a stable price record.

In January this year, as the House knows, the trade was referred to the Prices and Incomes Board, and the reason for the reference was … the importance of these services to a large section of the public This is not a little industry to be dismissed lightly. It is a service considered by the Government of sufficient importance to the public to be given serious consideration. It is not an industry to be run down or to be turned aside and lost in an advance towards progress. It is an industry about which the Government are concerned. I believe that the left hand of the Government does not know what the right hand is doing. For example, this business has lost investment allowances—and investment allowances mean the installation of labour-saving machinery. They could be described as allowances for the redeployment of labour from a service industry.

The launderers and dry cleaners have lost investment allowances and they have had imposed upon them Corporation Tax, which is a very heavy burden for both big and small companies to bear. They were appalled by the introduction of S.E.T. in the spring of this year. Let us not forget that the idea behind S.E.T. was to impose an addition to the selling-price of services to the customer, to impose a tax parallel to Purchase Tax. S.E.T. is intended to put up prices. It is a tax to remove some excess purchasing power from the economy by raising prices. This point was made most ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry.

This tax has been applied, and in some cases the result of the tax has been anticipated. I have already given reasons why it has been anticipated and why some prices have gone up. Those in laundry and dry cleaning business are prepared to be consulted, and they are complaining that they have not been consulted by the Government. The Government took action for the wrong reason. The right hon. Gentleman should have consulted the industry and its comprehensive associations which represent as much as 90 per cent. of the industry. But there was no consultation with the launderers and dry cleaners and no consultation with the C.B.I. That is my main complaint. This is not a storm in a wash tub. It is a storm in this Chamber.

I put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary which I hope he will answer. Do not the Department for Economic Affairs understand that S.E.T. was meant to hit the consumer? Will they not admit that it was meant to raise prices in some sectors and that this was the Chancellor's intention? I believe that this industry was right to take the action which it took and that the Government were not right in failing to seek some consultation with the industry and, instead, taking this high-handed and strong-armed action in an arbitrary manner. The trouble with the Government's economic measures this year is that they have been "one damn thing after another". I hope that you will forgive me for using that word, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was thinking of it as only a three letter word. The Government did not think out the implication of S.E.T. The tax was meant to redeploy labour. In the dry cleaning business it will simply remove the profits and close businesses if this Order and this special freeze is applied. For this reason I appeal to the House to accept this Motion.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is at least honest. He supports the Motion because he believes that the Order should not have been made and that the charges made by the laundries are reasonable. That view is in contradiction with the point of view put by some of his hon. Friends—that the Order discriminates because it applies to some sections of the industry and not to others.

I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will agree with me when I say that we ourselves are not wildly enthusiastic about the Order. The hon. Gentleman has referred to "strong arm methods" but I certainly do not think of the Order in such terms. It is, indeed, a tentative, faltering step towards the control of prices. From that point of view we welcome it. But we should concentrate upon the question of discrimination.

Most working people do not send their washing to a laundry. Many of them do it at home in washing machines. If they happen to be working, they have to go to launderettes, which are outside the scope of the Order. Their prices, therefore, can be increased, for there is no supervision in their case.

Only people in comparatively affluent circumstances can send their personal washing to a laundry, so the Order is discriminatory in effect because it controls prices for a section of the population which can possibly afford increased prices but discriminates against working class people who have to do their laundry at home or at launderettes at a time when they are subject to the wage freeze.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

What about old people living on fixed incomes who have not the strength to do their own washing or have not the facilities at home to do so and therefore have to send their washing to the laundry, whether they like it or not?

Mr. Fletcher

One cannot generalise, but I make the point that most working class people have to do their washing at home or go to a laundrette, but, of course, in exceptional circumstances, when people are very old or ill, they have to send their washing to a laundry. By and large, it is affluent people, who used to employ what they called "washer women" on the cheap in days gone by, who send their personal clothing to a laundry. There is thus discrimination under the Order.

Another aspect is that industrial clothing is sent to a laundry by its weight and this also is exempted from the Order. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that laundry companies, having had general laundry work prices frozen, will increase the cost of the laundry they take by contract or weight so that what they lose on the swings they gain on the roundabouts. Some of them may get round the Order in that way.

The Order should be supported because it is a tentative step in the right direction. Hon. Members opposite have ideological reasons for opposing it. They believe that it is the thin end of the wedge. But I believe that the Government are taking the right steps in implementing the incomes policy although they are being hesitant and are not being as vigorous as they should have been on this Order.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

The Government's attack on businessmen, traders and small businessmen is gathering momentum and the Order is another step in this direction. Because it is so blatantly unfair, it is liable to provoke to justified anger the business community in general and it may even persuade some of them that it is time to come forward and take a leading part in the political battle which obviously lies ahead.

I was fascinated to hear the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) refer to the need to police the industry and I thought that the phrase "police the industry" was an interesting insight into Socialist thought. The laundry industry was investigated by the Prices and Incomes Board which gave it a generally clean bill of health on prices but drew attention to two major needs. One was for a reduction in the amount of labour employed in the industry and the other was for greater investment in new and modern equipment.

It is also true that to a considerable extent there is competition between the laundry industry and people who have washing machines at home, as hon. Members have said. If the industry is to keep its customers and be a paying proposition, it will have to attract customers by being able to offer better service and better cleaning than people can get from their own washing machines at home. That underlines the need for the modernisation of the industry.

What we are talking about tonight is the epitome of the need of so much of Britain's industry, so much of which needs modernisation. But from where is the money to come to carry on this modernisation? This surely is a legitimate purpose for the profits of the industry. I am well aware that the word "profit" is a dirty word in the eyes and ears of many hon. Members opposite, but nevertheless if industries are not allowed to accumulate funds to purchase modern equipment, they cannot be expected to modernise themselves.

During the course of the past two years, many laundries and cleaners have made no price increases and this makes it bitterly unfair—and I hope that the Under-Secretary will address himself to this—that those who are caught by the Order worst of all are those who have not increased their prices during the past two years, whereas those who have will be affected least of all. The sort of quiet family business in a country town which is going along desperately trying to absorb increasing costs—[Laughter.] The Under-Secretary may smile, but that happens. There are many firms, family businesses particularly, which have a very close regard to the position of their customers and which over the past two years have tried to absorb costs. They have found that their reward is to be caught slap bang by the Order without being able to recover their increasing costs, whereas their competitors, or firms in bigger towns, larger firms which may have passed on all those increases in the form of increasing prices, will not be affected by the Order. This sums up the position—those who have been bad are rewarded by the Government and those who have done what the Government have asked are penalised.

I well remember that in Standing Committee on the Prices and Incomes Bill the Under-Secretary told us that the sort of increases which would be allowed to be passed on were increases resulting from Government action and from tax increases. We accepted his word that that was a perfectly fair and reasonable and proper attitude to take. Will he now justify to the House his action in this instance with this Order against the background of the assurance which he gave to the Committee?

Let us consider the increases which we have had during the past two years and which the Government themselves have said it would be legitimate to pass on.

Mr. Lubbock

There have been increases.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) interrupts from a sedentary position to say that there have been increases. The point is that there have been in some instances, and in many others there have not been. What is so desperately unfair is that where there have not been increases the full penalties of the Order will fall.

There have been increases in petrol tax twice. This affects the laundry industry very substantially, because it operates door-to-door services. The price of oil is a small additional cost. Vehicle licence duty has gone up, the initial allowance for the purchase of the new vehicle has disappeared, investment allowances have been withdrawn. Purchase Tax on some of the equipment used has gone up because hire purchase has gone up, rents have gone up, interest rates have gone up, overdrafts have risen and many businesses are today working on overdrafts. These overdrafts are now costing them more than they have ever done. If that is something of which hon. Members opposite are proud then they are welcome to it.

The costs of this industry have been consistently rising. The rates have gone up, and I venture to suggest will go up a good deal more in the spring. The cost of Corporation Tax will have to be borne and the cost of Capital Gains Tax, in the case of the family business, will also have to be met. Coal has increased in price, postal charges have gone up, affecting those who render accounts, and in many instances labour costs have increased over the past two years.

I am not surprised that unions have asked for increases in wages in view of the increases in costs. Their members have suffered as a result of Government taxation. The price of beer and cigarettes has risen, too. People have asked for increases and this has been added to the costs in industry which is perfectly justified in recovering such costs. Consider S.E.T. The Government said when it was introduced that they intended that the cost of it should be passed on. Now they have the opportunity of justifying their words.

I had a letter from a Government Department last week which referred to the Government's statements about the need to secure a withdrawal of purchasing power. The Selective Employment Tax, increased postal charges and the like were supposed to represent this withdrawal of purchasing power. How does one withdraw purchasing power save as the Chancellor intended, by allowing prices to rise? What is the sense of the Chancellor coming here and saying in the spring that he needs to withdraw so many hundreds of millions of pounds worth of purchasing power and that he is going to do it through S.E.T. so that prices will rise, and then having another Minister coming along and slapping down an Order on the laundry industry to see that it does not carry out the aim which the Chancellor told the House he had in mind in introducing S.E.T.?

The tax will cost the industry 5.81 per cent. Is it not to be allowed to recover that? Will the Under-Secretary eat the words and the promises he made in Committee? Look at the whole basis upon which the business community can expect to conduct its affairs. Businessmen had assurances from the Government. Those assurances were given during the passage through this House of the Prices and Incomes Bill. Today we have a direct contradiction of the promises made then. The Minister is taking the coward's way out—he is applying action and medicine which he would not take.

We have a service industry in the House, the House of Commons Catering Department, which has made increases in prices. It has never been allowed to accumulate enough capital to modernise its equipment which is a disgrace to any—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving) rose——

Mr. Mitchell

I will not pursue that point because obviously it would be out of order to do so. Nevertheless, if the House of Commons Catering Department passes on the Selective Employment Tax in increased prices, why should not laundries do the same?

The truth is that this Order is a political manœuvre to buy off the unions' opposition and the opposition of some members of the Left wing of the Labour Party.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

Perhaps I could help to put my hon. Friend in order by saying that the principal reason for the increase in charges in the House of Commons Catering Department is the cost of laundering.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must address the Chair.

Sir D. Glover

My hon Friend says that he would be out of order in discussing the House of Commons Catering Department, but the Department justifies its increased prices by the increased charge for laundering.

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for kindly drawing my attention to the way in which I can get past your eagle eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to revert to drawing attention to the position concerning a service industry in the House. I think that I have adequately made the point that here is an industry under our own eyes, one of the most antiquated kitchen departments anywhere in London, which would not be allowed to exist in most restaurants in the West End but which is unable to do anything about putting its finances right because it has no capital to modernise itself since it has never been allowed to accumulate profits for that purpose.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not refer to the House of Commons Catering Department unless he can relate it to this Order.

Mr. Mitchell

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is quite valid, that the Catering Department has not modernised itself and this Order will prevent the laundry industry from accumulating the funds to modernise itself. One of the needs of the laundry industry and its customers is modernisation.

First, this is a political manoeuvre to buy off the opposition of some hon. Members and the unions to other Orders which the Government have in mind. Secondly, it is a breach of the Prime Minister's promise of consultation between the industry and the Government before any Orders were introduced under the Act. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will address himself to that point when he replies. Everybody in the House knows, although it is not as widely known outside, that the Prime Minister's promises are pretty well worthless.

Thirdly—and this is the essence of the case—the Order is damaging to investment in the industry, damaging to modernisation of the laundry industry and thus damaging to the long-term future of the industry's customers, the members of the public.

9.33 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Many of my hon. Friends and myself have been highly critical of the Government's incomes policy, and in fact we still are. But we support this Order because we support action against price increases. I know that some of the things I say will not perhaps endear me to my Front Bench, but they certainly will not endear me to hon. Members opposite, particularly to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), who made an eloquent case against the Order which was, in fact, justification of an extension of the Order. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) did exactly the same.

Constituents in areas like mine will not be covered by this Order because it does not include laundrettes, wash houses, bagwash, and so forth. The main thing which it covers is the sending of laundry to the laundry industry, which is known to be the most expensive form of laundry. Therefore, the Government are closing the door after the horse has gone. We said this when the Government announced their intention of introducing the Order.

I cannot help feeling that the Government have introduced this Order first, perhaps, before they bring forward next the Thorn Electrical order against the wage increases which are being withheld in that firm. I am not in favour of a quid pro quo arrangement on those grounds, but I am in favour of action against prices as such.

I have said on many occasions that action against wages is action against individuals but that action against prices is action against commodities. I agree with many trade union leaders, and I think in particular of Mr. George Barratt, General Secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, who said that if the Government would take firm and definite action on prices, wages would come much more easily into place. Therefore, while I am in favour of legislation against prices, I am completely opposed to legislation against wages and incomes.

Mr. Crouch

Could the hon. Member assure the House that he is in favour of consultation from the Government to the unions and to the C.B.I.?

Mr. Orme

I do not quite see the point of consultation in relation to the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. It has existed across the board for a great number of years. What I am not in favour of is an unholy alliance of a corporate State approach of the Government, the employers and the trade unions. I am definitely opposed to that.

If the Government are serious about prices, there are many instances where they could have taken action. I am concerned about the recent White Paper on the period of severe restraint, which finally lifts the veil and gives almost a clear go-ahead for price increases, even in relation to investment profit, and so on. I agree that we must have investment, but if we start on this line and try at the same time to peg the wages sector and what is happening at present in the economy—this point has been made by a number of hon. Members opposite—wages will be pegged and people can do nothing about it put prices will be rising.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but the prices with which we are concerned are the prices covered in the Order. It would be out of order in this debate to discuss general economic policy.

Mr. Orme

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate the point and will come back to the Order.

This Order is the first statutory step that the Government have taken on prices. It is a very tentative step. It does not go very far and, as hon. Members have made clear, the vast majority of laundry prices have already been increased since the 20th July measures and the Selective Emplyoment Tax have been in operation.

Therefore, I would like to know from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary exactly what the Government intend to do about increases which they may consider are already extortionate, about the question of trades inside the laundry industry that are outside the scope of the Order, and what action the Government, therefore, intend to take.

I feel that in supporting this section tonight my hon. Friends and I are supporting it because we support action against prices, and we want to see the Government, particularly in relation to the laundry price increase, serious in their intent in doing something about this, and not trying to use this as a cover for other measures which may be introduced in a short while. It is on those grounds that I intervene in this debate, and to intimate to the Government that, while there is widespread support on this side for this Measure, we are very concerned about actions which may or may not be taken in future particularly in relation to other prices.

9.40 p.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I rise without any hesitation to oppose this Order, which I think is the most arbitrary Order this arbitrary Government have introduced since they got into power in 1964. The Government said that any action in this field would be as a result of consultation, but the Government took no consultation at all. By this action they lost the good will which at that moment they had of the C.B.I. It was a clear-cut example of the unwisdom of their arbitrary action and of their lack of appreciation of the human susceptibilities of the people of this country. On those grounds alone I oppose this Order.

But I oppose this Order for weightier reasons than this feeling for the individual. First of all, this Order, I believe, represents the Government's thinking in these matters. The Government's thinking in these matters is that somebody who is in productive industry is ipso facto doing a useful job for the economy of this country, but that, therefore, somebody in a service industry is ipso facto doing something which is wasteful, uneconomic and anti-social, and therefore should be hit on the head at the earliest opportunity. I would point out to the Government that, if this is the case, then the Government ought to be bringing in restrictive Orders against the coal mining industry, because the coal mining industry has not produced a ton of coal since it went into business. All it does is to move it from one place to another. Nature produces coal, and what we human beings have been doing and are doing is moving it from one place to another, as we have for the last 250 years. It is a distributive industry and not a manufacturing industry. It is the same with the laundry industry.

It is all right Governments making statutory Orders and saying prices must not go up, but the laundry industry, which is one of the most labour intensive industries in the country, is entirely governed in its activities by Government action. If the Government put up the price of petrol that increases the cost of collecting and delivering the laundry; if the Government put on S.E.T. that increases the cost of nearly all the girls working in the laundries and the cost of the men delivering the laundry. Inevitably, the Government thus put up the cost of each individual particle of the whole. It is a little bit unfair to say that an industry which is so conscious of Government action, which is so susceptible to increased charges because of Government action, should be the first industry or service against which the Government take direct action over increased prices.

I should like to interject here that I am not speaking as a laundryman, either Chinese or European. In fact, I am pretty hostile to my own laundry when I get my shirts back with holes in the tails which nobody can see. Do not get me wrong: I am not speaking tonight to protect the laundry industry and I am not saying there is nothing wrong with the laundry industry or that nothing can be done to make it better.

Here we have a classic example of the Government's thinking. They think that manufacturing industry is all right but that service industries are all wrong.

I do not want to over-emphasise this. It is hon. Gentlemen opposite who have talked about laundrettes, bag-washes and so on. I am not sneering at them, because that is the way that some people do their laundry. Others do it another way, and they are not always the wealthiest. For example, a woman with children who is out at work all day may not send her laundry to a bag-wash or a laundrette. Instead, she sends it to a laundry, and that means a heavy on-cost on her earnings.

With the international movement of the population, I suppose that probably 15 per cent. of the laundries in this country, certainly in the big cities, are those handling the laundry of visitors to the country—people who have come here to buy our goods, to see what we are doing in the export market, and even people who have come here as tourists.

This Order is freezing prices compulsorily, and I should like hon. Members to imagine for a moment what it will do. I do not know whether any hon. Member has had his laundry back since the Order came out. I have had mine back, and I am a little disappointed. I thought that I was sending my laundry to a high-class establishment. In the past, when I got it back, there was a little stud in the neck of each shirt, and the laundry was very well folded. But it is not so well folded now. If I was an American visitor staying in a hotel and I got my laundry back like that, I should be disappointed.

It has happened because the firm still has to run its laundry and make a profit. If it does not make a profit, it goes out of business, and I assume that even hon. Members opposite do not want their laundries to go out of business. Presumably they want their laundry done. They do not want half the firms in the country to close down—or do they?

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Prices and Incomes Board advocated greater rationalisation in the industry because there are too many laundries?

Sir D. Glover

I am not even arguing against that, because, in that event, they will still put through the same number of shirts, pants and other things which I should not mention in the House. We do not want fewer articles to go to the laundry.

What the Order means is that the Government are advocating to the laundry industry that it should reduce its standards. They want it to reduce the number of people employed, thereby cutting costs, or to reduce its delivery services, thereby cutting costs, or to stop putting finished laundry in a certain form, thereby cutting costs. By the S.E.T., increases in the petrol tax and all the other taxes, the Government deliberately have increased the on-costs of an industry which is very labour-intensive and, therefore, has little room for manœeuvre in cutting down expenses and on-costs. With the probability that rates are going up, and when rents are no more than static, and labour costs have gone up as a result of the S.E.T., and petrol charges have gone up, it means that the industry faces such increased on-costs that even the most efficient organisations cannot absorb them.

I should like a clear answer from the Minister tonight. Is he saying that, in the present position of Britain, the standard of laundry should be reduced, thereby keeping down costs, or is he saying that the laundry industry can absorb all the costs that the Government—not the industry's own labour force and not outside forces—have imposed upon it?

To go a stage further, during our debates on the S.E.T. the Government said that the whole purpose of it was to get people out of service industries. I should therefore like the Minister to tell the House where the people who are put out of work as a result of this Order will go. I ask that because I have said that it will mean a reduction in standards, and this, presumably, will mean a smaller labour force. Will Chan Chan the Chinaman go to the electronics industry, or will he be put out of work?

I think that the House has a right to demand from the Government a far bigger justification of the arbitrary action which they have taken without any consultation with the industry, and without any consultation with the C.B.I. thereby reducing for one of the smallest segments of our economy, the confidence between the C.B.I. and the Government. The Government promised consultation, and there was none. Why was not there the promised consultation?

Secondly, do the Government expect standards in the laundry industry to go down and thereby enable it to keep its prices stable? What do the Government expect will happen to the people who are in the industry and who as a result of this Order will be put out of work? Do they expect them to go into manufacturing industries which are laying off workers so fast that it is nobody's business, and all because of the action taken by the Government?

I think that the House has the right to demand clear answers to those three questions, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to give them as a result of this debate.

9.53 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)

I think that it would be helpful if at this stage I replied to the debate, and I hope to give the House some of the information for which I have been asked. In making my remarks I hope that I shall stick strictly to the Order which we are debating, because, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you found it necessary to point out on one or two occasions, the debate has at times tended to go a little wide.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking to this Order, both because this industry affects a large proportion of the population—the best estimate that I have is that about one-third of all households send items to the laundry—and because I think that we have a good case for having made this Order.

We have not sought to make the laundry and dry cleaning industry a scapegoat. I do not want anybody to feel that the Order is in any sense a reflection on an industry which over a long period has, by and large, given good public service. I take the points which have been made during the debate, including some by my hon. Friends, but I think that it is generally true to say that the National Board for Prices and Incomes gave the industry a reasonably clean bill of health. I say this at the beginning of my speech because I want to pay a tribute to the contribution which the industry has made, and to reassure it if it feels that it has been unfairly singled out in a way which casts some slur on it. This is not the way we look at it. We regard this Order as a pause for further inquiry which will enable us, in the words of my right hon. Friend the First Secretary, to carry out a holding operation at the end of which we will see more clearly what further steps it may be necessary to take.

The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) asked me a number of specific questions which I hope I shall catch up during my remarks, but perhaps I should deal with one of them now. He asked what had happened to Schedule 2. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is half as naive as he was trying to lead the House to believe, because when we discussed the whole matter in Committee the hon. Gentleman and others fully appreciated that Schedule 2 would be replaced in due course, as it was by the standstill White Paper. For this reason it was understandable that when we published a further White Paper dealing with the period of severe restraint this should take the place of the White Paper on the standstill. The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question relating to the new Schedule which it is important to answer. He asked what should happen in December. The answer is that industry should observe the criteria set out in the standstill White Paper, and quite clearly from the 1st January the criteria as set out in the new White Paper on the period of severe restraint will be the appropriate standard against which to judge either price or wage increases.

The burden of complaint this evening has been two fold. First, there is the argument that there was inadequate consultation. This point was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing; it was returned to later by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), and at the end of our discussion the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) made the particular point of saying that the consultation had been inadequate. I wish to deal first with that point, and then to deal with the heart of the matter, namely whether the Order was justified, giving the circumstances of the case and the information available to the Government at the time. I hope the House will bear with me if I make clear the form which consultation took on that occasion.

It has been said that we failed properly to consult the C.B.I. before making this Order. Of course, it is the case that we have already discussed in the House this question of consultation. For that reason, there is not a great deal more that I can add to what was said on that occasion, particularly by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary. Let me accept straight away that my right hon. Friend had given an undertaking both to the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. that they would be consulted about the use made of these powers.

The facts are simply these: that on the 20th October, acting on behalf of my right hon. Friend the First Secretary, I invited the President and Director General of the C.B.I. to meet me at the Department of Economic Affairs. I told them that the Government had in mind to make an Order under Section 26 to secure stability for the time being in laundry charges for the reasons which I then explained.

In the course of our discussion both Mr. Stephen Brown and Mr. Davies made it clear that such action would be unwelcome to the C.B.I. I think it is fair for me to say, if only in parenthesis, that there was no specific request made on that occasion for a further opportunity to discuss the matter either with my right hon. Friend or with myself, and the Order, of course, was made the following day.

My right hon. Friend, when speaking in the debate on 25th October, and when dealing with this particular point, made it clear that he recognises that the period allowed for consultation in this case was shorter than would normally be desired. Moreover, in reply to subsequent representations made to him by the C.B.I., my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that it is the Government's intention to allow a proper and reasonable time for consultation with the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. in the event of it being necessary further to use Part IV.

Sir D. Glover

The right hon Gentleman is disclosing something which is very significant. Is he really saying that in dealing with laundry prices the Government consider it is sufficient to speak to the president, or to the chairman, or to the secretary of the C.B.I. without having any consultation with the laundry industry itself?

Mr. Rodgers

I was dealing specifically with the C.B.I., but I had it in mind to say something about the point which the hon. Member has in mind. Perhaps I should add that although we have made it clear that we hope circumstances will occur in which it will be possible to have consultation which is perhaps more satisfactory than was possible on this occasion, there could be cases—and I think it is fair to say this in the House—in which particularly swift action is needed to deal with any threatened breach of the standstill. In these cases the Government will do their best to give the C.B.I. reasonable notice even allowing for such special circumstances. In the particular case of laundries and dry cleaners he has undertaken that the Government will consult the C.B.I. if the detailed investigation which is now being made by the Board of Trade should point to any use of the powers under Section 27 of the Act.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-superMare)

In view of what the Minister has said about reasonable time to discuss this matter, will he confirm what he said just now, namely, that he met the president and the deputy president of the C.B.I. the night before the Order was invoked?

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Member cannot have been following my argument closely. As was very fairly conceded by my right hon. Friend, I have already said that on this occasion the consultation could have been regarded as inadequate. I am now repeating the assurance given by my right hon. Friend that although there may be difficult circumstances, where swift action is necessary, we still have it in mind to consult the parties concerned.

A rather different complaint has just been made by the hon. Member for Ormskirk, namely, that we should have had consultations with the representatives of the laundry industry before making this Order. It would not be right to accept as a general proposition that in addition to consulting the C.B.I. and the T.U.C., individual trade associations and other interested organisations should be consulted in cases of this sort, as an invariable rule.

A proposal to make an Order under these powers can be anticipated by anyone who gains advance information that it is to be made. It is not the sort of decision which should, in everyone's interest, be hanging around for a long time while discussions are taking place. This is a problem of forestalling, which in many circumstances the House has been prepared to recognise and accept. We hope, in any future use of Section 26 powers, to give rather longer notice than on this occasion, but, in the public interest, the extent of consultation aind its timing must clearly remain a matter of judgment.

Sir D. Glover

The hon. Gentleman has disclosed something which is very worrying to the House. Is he really saying that in this atmosphere of freeze, if a trade union has a legitimate ground the decision will be taken by the T.U.C. and, in the same way, if an industry has an order made against it the decision will be taken by the C.B.I.? That is very authoritarian. The C.B.I. does not know about the laundry industry, and the T.U.C. does not know about individual unions.

Mr. Rodgers

That is not what I said. I said that in the end it was the Government that would make the decision. It is a proper decision for the Government. I indicated the problems of consultation, while making it clear that we hope on every occasion to have as much consultation as is compatible with the effective working of our policy and of our proper obligation to the public.

Those who criticise the Government on the ground of failing to consult the laundry industry before making the Order are closing their eyes to the fact that it is a temporary measure. It can be revoked at any time, and—perhaps of even more relevance—even while it is in force it is open to individual undertakings to ask to be exempted from its provisions.

These are matters which the Government are willing to discuss with representatives of the industry. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had a useful meeting with the industry of launderers earlier today, at which I was also present.

Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Minister's undertakings can be broken more easily in the case of a temporary measure than in the case of a permanent one?

Mr. Rodgers

That is not what I said, and, if the hon. Member reads my speech tomorrow, he will see the position set out clearly. I am trying to help the House. I have given way four times so far, but I think that I should now try to press on and deal with the heart of the matter—the justification for making the Order when we did.

I would emphasise again the extent to which the Order is flexible. In the debate on 25th October, my right hon. Friend made this plain. In the first place, the fact that we have made an Order under Section 26 in no way prevents us from making directions under Section 27, as some of my hon. Friends have rightly pointed out. In other words, we are not simply resting now that we have checked the rise in laundry prices. Our detailed investigations are continuing and they may show a case, in a number of instances, for making a Section 27 direction which would oblige the laundries concerned to reduce their prices to those prevailing before 20th July.

We should, of course, prefer not to go through the elaborate procedure of using our statutory powers and we must hope that discussions between the Government and the parties concerned will generally result in a voluntary reduction of the charge which will make the use of powers unnecessary. There is still plenty of scope for negotiation and a voluntary response to the present situation.

I should also make it clear that there is flexibility the other way. It is possible for laundries which feel that they have been unjustly treated and have a good case for an increase to make representations about way their prices should be allowed to rise above those prevailing when the Order was made. In fact—I was asked this question during the debate—the Board of Trade has received 38 requests for permission to increase prices from firms covered by the Order. These firms are being asked for the minimum information necessary to enable the Board to form a considered view of whether the request should be granted.

I take note of the points raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and her reservations about some of the information requested in the questionnaire. I also take note of the points of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) but, if a proper decision is to be made, it must be on the basis of confidential information which will give a balanced view of the position of the firms which are applying to get through. It is in their interest, as much as in the public interest, that the investigations should be complete and based on as much information as can be available.

I do not think, in these circumstances, given flexibility both ways and the fact that we are considering making directions under Section 27, but also considering the 38 requests made to us, that it could be said either that we are misusing our powers under Part IV of the Act or that we are treating the laundry industry harshly. We made it clear in debates on the Bill that we had no intention of using the powers on a wholesale basis and that we would judge on the merits of the case.

This is what we have done. Of course we have been selective, but if one is to judge on the merits of the case and not simply use Part IV right across the board, it is necessary to look at separate industries and then make up one's mind on the case. We did not wish to use our statutory powers, but we felt it necessary to do so in view of the available evidence.

The Report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes has been referred to. It is right, particularly in view of the figures which I shall shortly give, that I should remind the House of exactly what the Board said when it considered the question of the S.E.T. Many of the contributions to the debate have displayed a good deal of confusion about the exact line the Government have been taking over laundries on S.E.T.

The House may remember that in the Report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, whose general validity I think that it is fair to say has not been called into question, it was suggested that if the laundry and dry cleaning industries employed the same number of workers as before the Budget the S.E.T. would be equivalent, on average, to an increase in cost of 4½ per cent. for laundries and 4 per cent. for dry cleaners. The N.B.P.I. went on to say, in paragraph 56 of its Report: If some allowance is made for the more economical use of labour and for the fact that to some extent the tax would seem to have been anticipated, the net average effect on prices over the next 12 months should be less than is indicated by these figures. This, then, is legitimately the starting point for any view we may form about the decision the Government took in this case.

Mr. Higgins

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I disputed that figure. I suggested that the correct figure was 5.18 per cent. Would he disagree?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that the figure the hon. Gentleman meant to say was 5.81 per cent., and I am prepared to accept that higher figure in considering for the moment what the possibilities may be. It is perfectly true that the laundries have themselves suggested that a figure of about 5.81 per cent., nearer 6 per cent., would be more legitimate, but I put to the House that even if the higher figure were preferred the case for action would have remained. I say "even if" because we must consider that the National Board for Prices and Incomes carried out an independent inquiry on the basis of all the information available to it and the laundry industry was able to submit such facts and figures as it thought should be considered. Nor am I suggesting, as was implied by some contributions to the discussion, that the only increase arising out of Government action is that due to the introduction of S.E.T. I readily concede that laundries will have been affected by increases in Purchase Tax, the duty on petrol and in other ways.

But again, looking at the figures in the Board's Report carefully—and I think that they are well spelt out here—I doubt whether in an average case one could justify a price increase of more than 1 per cent. or perhaps 2 per cent. on this score. We can now see the range of possibilities, stretching perhaps from about 5½ per cent. at one extreme up to 8 per cent. at the other. I wish then to describe the position as we found it on 20th October, and to say in passing that on the basis of such information as we have it seems to us that about a third of all laundries, perhaps less, increased their charges because of S.E.T., or for other reasons, between 20th July and 21st October. Therefore, it is not true that all the horses had bolted.

Mr. Biffen

The Under-Secretary of State says "a third". Is he referring to numbers or to the share of total turnover of the laundry industry?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that figure refers to the number of establishments but to the best of my knowledge, although the hon. Gentleman's point is perfectly fair, the figure for establishments could also be very broadly applicable to turnover. If the hon. Gentleman would like further information on that point I would be happy to try to provide it for him.

Let me describe the position on 20th October and set before the House, a few figures which I think will be relevant to the decision which was then made. At that date we had received from the public a total of 819 complaints about increases in laundry and dry cleaning charges. These were in respect of 284 laundries and 15 separately identified dry cleaning firms. At that stage we had been able to relate price increase to turnover in 154 laundries and 15 dry cleaning firms. In other words, we had, at least in a preliminary way, processed complaints covering 154 laundries and 15 dry cleaning firms.

Bearing in mind the figures I gave earlier, in the case of laundries only 14 of these firms had made increases of 4 per cent. or less and a further 27 had made increases of 5 per cent. or less. Almost two-thirds of them, 98 out of 154, had made increases of over 8⅓ per cent., that is, 1d. in 1s., and of these 37 had been responsible for increases of over 10 per cent. and six had made increases of as much as 25 per cent.

Those are the figures which were available to us on 20th October, and it seemed to us, as I hope it will now seem to some hon. Members who have not previously seen the figures, that there was powerful evidence that the standstill was not being respected, and, in particular—this is the crux of the matter and it answers the principal point made by the hon. Member for Ormskirk—the Selective Employment Tax was being used as an excuse to pass on increases to the customer much in excess of what could be justified.

None of the separate dry cleaning firms had, on the face of it, increased their charges by less than 5½ per cent. and, broadly, the scale of their increases followed those of the laundries.

We have now had about 1,080 complaints involving 446 laundries and dry cleaners, and it is true to say that the pattern which was evident on 20th October has been evident also in the further complaints which we have received and in the result of the investigations which we have carried out.

Mr. Orme

Do not these figures confirm what many of us have been saying about locking the door after the horse has bolted? These increases had taken place before 20th October, and the Government's measures imposed then have not had any effect on them.

Mr. Rodgers

I take my hon. Friend's point, which is a fair and important one, but I made clear before I gave these figures that, on the evidence available to us, not more than about 30 per cent. of the firms involved had increased their prices during the period. This fact taken together with what I said about the possibility of using Section 27 will, I hope, reassure my hon. Friend on that point, which is one of considerable substance.

Attempts have been made to ridicule the number of complaints in terms of the extent of the business carried on. I should make clear that, although my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State invited complaints, the complaints we received were not the result of an organised campaign such as all of us in our separate constituency capacities are often familiar with. I have looked at many of the letters, and most of them have come from ordinary housewives, and sometimes from the husbands, who have found it possible during the course of a busy day to sit down and write a letter of complaint. I think that this absolutely genuine deluge of letters hides the experience of many housewives who felt aggrieved by the increases but did not find the time to get round to writing in.

Even if there is some sceptism on this point, the fact that we received over 1,000 complaints, far in excess of the number received about any other section of the economy, constituted a prima facie case. But I do not rest our case on the complaints received. I am resting it on the analysis of the complaints——

Mr. Webster rose——

Mr. Rodgers

—which I have——

Division No. 210.] AYES [10.22 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Carlisle, Mark Eyre, Reginald
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Chichester-Clark, R. Farr, John
Awdry, Daniel Clark, Henry Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Baker, W. H. K. Clegg, Walter Fortescue, Tim
Batsford, Brian Cooke, Robert Foster, Sir John
Bell, Ronald Costain, A. P. Glover, Sir Douglas
Biffen, John Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Grant, Anthony
Biggs-Davison, John Crouch, David Grant-Ferris, R.
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Crowder, F. P. Gurden, Harold
Black, Sir Cyril Currie, G. B. H. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Bossom, Sir Clive Dalkeith, Earl of Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Dance, James Harris, Reader (Heston)
Brinton, Sir Tatton d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Hawkins, Paul
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Doughty, Charles Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Eden, Sir John Heseltine, Michael
Burden, F. A. Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Higgins, Terence L.
Campbell, Gordon Errington, Sir Eric Hill, J. E, B.
Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister is not giving way, so the hon. Gentleman must not persist.

Mr. Rodgers

If we judge not by the volume of complaints, though this is a relevant factor, but by the analysis which I presented to the House, a very substantial case is made out for this Order. I believe that it is a flexible instrument, and I do not think that it ought to be regarded as a slur on the industry. In my experience it has won very wide public support, and if the House has a proper concern for the effectiveness of the standstill on the prices side, in the interests of the housewife, of the ordinary customer, and in the national interest, then it ought to accept what I think is a fair-minded explanation of the facts which we had before us on that occasion. Now that these facts are available I very much hope that the hon. Member will reflect upon them and decide that the Prayer should be withdrawn. If he presses it to a Division, I very much hope that the House will reject it.

Mr. Higgins

Would the hon. Member state whether the figures which he quoted are figures of an average increase per establishment or merely individual price increases on specific items?

Mr. Rodgers

Those were the figures which we examined in the light not only of the complaints but of the further information which we were able to obtain. Therefore, they are not isolated increases such as might conceal other factors in the total pricing system of the laundries which would offset them.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 134, Noes 217.

Division No. 210.] AYES [10.22 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Carlisle, Mark Eyre, Reginald
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Chichester-Clark, R. Farr, John
Awdry, Daniel Clark, Henry Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Baker, W. H. K. Clegg, Walter Fortescue, Tim
Batsford, Brian Cooke, Robert Foster, Sir John
Bell, Ronald Costain, A. P. Glover, Sir Douglas
Biffen, John Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Grant, Anthony
Biggs-Davison, John Crouch, David Grant-Ferris, R.
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Crowder, F. P. Gurden, Harold
Black, Sir Cyril Currie, G. B. H. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Bossom, Sir Clive Dalkeith, Earl of Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Dance, James Harris, Reader (Heston)
Brinton, Sir Tatton d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Hawkins, Paul
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Doughty, Charles Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Eden, Sir John Heseltine, Michael
Burden, F. A. Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Higgins, Terence L.
Campbell, Gordon Errington, Sir Eric Hill, J. E, B.
Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John Mawby, Ray Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Mills, Peter (Torrington) Sinclair, Sir George
Holland, Philip Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Hordern, Peter Monro, Hector Summers, Sir Spencer
Hornby, Richard More, Jasper Tapsell, Peter
Howell, David (Guildford) Munro-Lucas-Tooth, sir Hugh Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Hunt, John Murton, Oscar Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Teeling, Sir William
Iremonger, T. L. Nott, John Temple, John M.
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Onslow, Cranley Tilney, John
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Page, Graham (Crosby) Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Jopling, Michael Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Vickers, Dame Joan
Kaberry, Sir Donald Peel, John Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Kershaw, Anthony Percival, Ian Wall, Patrick
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Pink, R. Bonner Webster, David
Kirk, Peter Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Whitelaw, William
Knight, Mrs. Jill Prior, J. M. L. Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Lambton, Viscount Pym, Francis Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Langford-Holt, Sir John Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Woodnutt, Mark
Loveys, W. H. Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Worsley, Marcus
MacArthur, Ian Ridsdale, Julian Younger, Hn. George
Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
McMaster, Stanley Russell, Sir Ronald TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Maude, Angus Scott, Nicholas Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Sharples, Richard Mr. Peter Blaker.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fernyhough, E. Lawson, George
Alldritt, Walter Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Leadbitter, Ted
Allen, Scholefield Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)
Armstrong, Ernest Floud, Bernard Lee, John (Reading)
Ashley, Jack Foley, Maurice Lestor, Miss Joan
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Ford, Ben Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Fowler, Gerry Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Barnett, Joel Fraser, John (Norwood) Lipton, Marcus
Baxter, William Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton) Lomas, Kenneth
Beaney, Alan Freeson, Reginald Loughlin, Charles
Bidwell, Sydney Galpern, Sir Myer Lubbock, Eric
Binns, John Gardner, Tony Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Bishop, E. S. Garrett, W. E. Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Blackburn, F. Garrow, Alex McBride, Neil
Blenkinsop, Arthur Ginsburg, David McCann, John
Boardman, H. Gourlay, Harry MacColl, James
Booth, Albert Gregory, Arnold Mackintosh, John P.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Grey, Charles (Durham) Maclennan, Robert
Brooks, Edwin Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) McNamara, J. Kevin
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Griffiths, Will (Exchange) MacPherson, Malcolm
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Buchan, Norman Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Manuel, Archie
Carmichael, Neil Hamling, William Mapp, Charles
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hannan, William Mason, Roy
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mellish, Robert
Chapman, Donald Haseldine, Norman Millan, Bruce
Coe, Denis Hattersley, Roy Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Coleman, Donald Hazell, Bert Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Conlan, Bernard Heffer, Eric S. Moonman, Eric
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Henig, Stanley Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Moyle, Roland
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Hooley, Frank Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Hooson, Emlyn Murray, Albert
Davies, Harold (Leek) Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Newens, Stan
de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey Howie, W. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Delargy, Hugh Hoy, James Norwood, Christopher
Dempsey, James Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Oakes, Gordon
Dewar, Donald Hughes, Roy (Newport) Ogden, Eric
Diamond, Rt, Hn. John Hunter, Adam Oram, Albert E.
Dobson, Ray Hynd, John Orbach, Maurice
Doig, Peter Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Orme, Stanley
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Oswald, Thomas
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Eadie, Alex Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Ellis, John Jones, Dan (Burnley) Park, Trevor
English, Michael Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Ennals, David Judd, Frank Pavitt, Laurence
Ensor, David Kelley, Richard Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Kenyon, Clifford Pentland, Norman
Faulds, Andrew Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Ryan, John Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Price, William (Rugby) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Probert, Arthur Sheldon, Robert Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Pursey, Cmdr. Harry Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Wallace, George
Rankin, John Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.) Watkins, David (Consett)
Redhead, Edward Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Rees, Merlyn Slater, Joseph Whitaker, Ben
Reynolds, G. W. Small, William Whitlock, William
Rhodes, Geoffrey Snow, Julian Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Richard, Ivor Spriggs, Leslie Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Steel, David (Roxburgh) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, w.) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Robertson, John (Paisley) Storehouse, John Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Swingler, Stephen Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Rodgers, William (Stockton) Taverne, Dick Woof, Robert
Roebuck, Roy Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Rose, Paul Thornton, Ernest TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ross, Rt. Hn. William Tuck, Raphael Mr. Alan Fitch and
Rowland, Christopher (Meriden) Urwin, T. W. Mr. Ioan L. Evans.
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