HC Deb 23 March 1967 vol 743 cc1893-5
12. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will seek to amend the Prices and Incomes Act, 1966, so as to prevent the Chairman of the National Board for Prices and Incomes from making public statements on controversial matters.

Mr. M. Stewart

No, Sir.

Mr. Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that trade unionists are much concerned about the unfortunate intervention by the Chairman of the National Board for Prices and Incomes in urging permanent legislation to control wages, and this at a time when democratic negotiations were being conducted between the Government and both sides of industry?

Mr. Stewart

The attitude of trade unions and employers to the Board will be determined by the character of the Board's reports. Their character has been very widely recognised. If an attempt were made to impose more limitations than are absolutely necessary on the freedom of people who do public work, we should not get the best service.

Mr. Winnick

Would it not be better for the Chairman of the Board to give fewer public sermons and make a few more fairer reports than the one the Board has been responsible for on drapery workers?

Mr. Stewart

That is a further question.

Mr. David Howell

Surely the First Secretary of State recognises that it is not so much a question of limitations on the Chairman of the Board as of making him and, indeed, the leaders of other outside bodies which the Government have set up accountable to this House and to Parliament?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think this can be so. If moderate government is to be carried on at all, either by this Government or any successor, there must be considerable use of people who will give public service on what the hon. Gentleman refers to as "outside bodies". If they are to be pursued every time they make a speech, we shall not get competent people to do the job.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Does not the Secretary of State think that this Board, and particularly perhaps its Chairman, are in danger of being considered merely as an adjunct of the Government? Does he not think that the work he has put upon them already is quite out of keeping with the Board's composition, with the secretariat, the machinery available to it and so on? Will the right hon. Gentleman in his future legislation take into account the fact that it would be wildly inappropriate to give extra powers to this Board in conjunction, if he is thinking of it, with an extended Part II?

Mr. Stewart

The right hon. Gentleman is on a rather different tack from the previous questioners. It would look even more as if the Board were an adjunct of the Government if I were to attempt to give orders to the Chairman about what speeches he should or should not make. That is exactly the point that I was making.

As to the question of the work that the Board should do, I agree that the range and scope of its work has been increasing and we have got to consider carefully what burdens it can and cannot carry, but I do not think that a wrong decision so far has been made on this point.

Mr. McNamara

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the nature of the work of the Prices and Incomes Board is that of a quasi-judicial character in its relationship to wage claims and the inquiries that it is making? Therefore, it is most unfortunate that the Chairman of the Board should make statements about extra powers that he feels the Board might need, or even statements which might prejudge issues which come before the Prices and Incomes Board.

Mr. Stewart

This is a matter on which, after all, very large numbers of people have expressed opinions—people in all sorts of positions—and I am reluctant to attempt to impose more restrictions than are absolutely necessary on the freedom to speak of people who do public work.