HC Deb 20 October 1966 vol 734 cc379-81
11. Mr. Dickens

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will indicate the procedure whereby the prices standstill is to be enforced.

17. Mr. Winnick

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether it is the Government's intention to take action against those companies who have raised their prices during the wages and incomes standstill.

Mr. William Rodgers

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we have taken powers under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act, now in force, which can be used to reinforce the voluntary basis of the standstill.

Mr. Dickens

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's attempts to hold the prices standstill so far have proved utterly inadequate? Will he not give the House an assurance that the Government will forthwith establish a central prices control agency to regulate essential prices?

Mr. Rodgers

In the first place, although I share my hon. Friend's concern on the question of prices, as I am sure we all do, I would not agree that the voluntary standstill has not achieved a very large measure of success. As I said, the great majority of those concerned are co-operating with it, and we have the reserve powers within the Act. I think that these are adequate for our purpose.

Mr. Winnick

Despite that Answer, will the Minister agree that there is widespread concern among people in the Labour movement over the large price increases that have taken place? Does he agree that if no action is taken on prices, but only on wages, the whole freeze will be discredited?

Mr. Rodgers

May I make it quite clear that there is nothing at all between us on the importance of working on prices, but I think that we have achieved a large measure of success, and if a full explanation is given in the light of the standstill White Paper, many people will appreciate what has already been done.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Would the Minister answer a simple but very important question: does he really believe that under a mixed and competitive economy it is either possible or desirable to enforce a prices standstill?

Mr. Rodgers

In a society where there is a large degree of public responsibility, there are very many people who are prepared to co-operate with the Government when the Government make it clear that their policies are in the national interest.

Mr. Manuel

Is my hon. Friend aware of the big erosion of the income of the lower income groups by price increases? Would he inform the House quite clearly and definitely which commodities, where price increases have taken place, he is having examined? Will he pay particular attention to the price increases in respect of laundries and biscuits?

Mr. Rodgers

We are examining a very large range of commodities and services. But as my hon. Friend will agree, the whole purpose of the prices and incomes policy is to help, among others, those who, because of their fixed incomes, have suffered most in the past from rising prices.