HC Deb 20 October 1966 vol 734 cc381-3
15 and 16. Mr. Heffer

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (1) whether he will clarify in greater detail the concept of severe restraint following the period of the wages standstill; and if he will make a statement;

(2) whether he will make a statement on his talks with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry concerning the future machinery needing to be introduced regarding wages and salaries, following the ending of Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act.

Mr. M. Stewart

My hon. Friend will be aware that I am at present holding consultations with the Trades Union Congress and Confederation of British Industry on the criteria for prices and incomes determination and arrangements for continuing mutual discussions during the period of severe restraint. Good progress is being made and a White Paper will be published when consultations are completed. Further consultations will be held in due course with the object of securing a planned growth of money incomes in line with real output after the period of severe restraint comes to an end.

Mr. Heffer

Could my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that there will be no question of a continuation of compulsion as far as collective bargaining is concerned? Will he give us an assurance that at the earliest possible moment there will be a return to free collective bargaining, that this in no way means the ending of an incomes policy, but that he will adopt the views of the Trades Union Congress and allow them to set up machinery through the trade union organisation?

Mr. Stewart

In the first place, I should like to repeat what I said recently in a public speech and which was recorded in the Press. The life of the compulsory powers under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act is in any case limited by Statute and there would be no question of renewing or prolonging them. Next, I agree with my hon. Friend that the end of that exceptional period does not mean the end of an incomes policy. It is certainly desirable that the trade union movement should have its own machinery for considering wage claims. Exactly how trade unions, Government and employers work together on this is something which we are still working out.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Will the Minister give an assurance that during the period referred to in the Question he will not seek to override, or to obtain the authority of the House to override, the arbitration provisions written into the Act by which teachers' salaries are negotiated?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that I shall make—without any prejudice whatever to what is contained in that question—any pronouncements at all at this stage about the operation of criteria during the period of severe restraint until I have concluded these consultations.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while it may be necessary, to overcome an economic crisis, to make provision that contracts freely entered into shall not be enforceable—and I think that the Government were right to do this—it is desirable that that state of affairs should cease as soon as possible? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that in the period referred to in the Question the Government will give careful reflection to that matter?

Mr. Stewart

I can give my hon. and learned Friend the assurance for which he asks, carefully worded as it was. On the earlier question, we do not underestimate the seriousness of what has been done about contracts, but I believe that the nation as a whole understood the Tightness of this at the time.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Will the First Secretary wipe out in the period of wage restraint the great unfairness by which civil servants and local government officials will get their annual incremental increases whereas the staff of private enterprise are not allowed to have theirs?

Mr. Stewart

I answered a Question about that a little while ago. I will not at this stage prejudge the criteria for the period of severe restraint. That is exactly what I am engaged on discussions about at the present time.