HC Deb 22 February 1968 vol 759 cc644-5
Q4. Mr. Ridley

asked the Prime Minister if he will take steps to co-ordinate the activities of Ministers responsible for the nationalised industries in order to ensure that the same policy is applied by all the nationalised industries with regard to the publication of the prices of their products.

The Prime Minister

I am satisfied that the present policy under which some, but not all prices are published, meets both the needs of the consumer and the commercial interests of the nationalised industries.

Mr. Ridley

Is the Prime Minister aware that the National Coal Board is charged by Statute with giving no undue preference or advantage in its prices? How then can the Board offer coal to some consumers at 3¼d. and to others at 5d.?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is no reason why all nationalised industry prices should be published. The Conservative Governments up to 1964 made no attempt to introduce the rule for which he asks. On the contrary, they introduced legislation to remove that obligation from British Rail. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to proposals that fall to be considered under the aluminium smelter suggestions, he had better await an announcement which will come before long.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a continued, irritant rise of prices in the private sector which receive neither publication nor justification? How does he intend to control these rises?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will know that both price increases and proposals for increases in the public sector have been referred to the National Board for Prices and Incomes and that where price increases in the private sector are reported to the Government and it is thought that they may be unjustified, we are similarly referring them to the Board.

Mr. Heath

On the question of the aluminium smelter, the Prime Minister has said that he would consider the publication of the economic costs for the fuel it involves when the Government came to a decision. Can he now tell us that in the case of the proposal for coal for the Invergordon smelter the Government will publish the price arrangement made by Lord Robens?

The Prime Minister

It is too early to say that because we have not yet decided which of the various competing smelter proposals will be given the go-ahead. But my right hon. Friends will consider, when the time comes for an announcement, whether the House can be given all the information for which the hon. Gentleman asked.

Mr. Bryan

Will the nationalised industries follow the example of the Post Office, where the Postmaster-General is shirking his responsibility to raise prices by asking the National Board for Prices and Incomes to name the prices for him?

The Prime Minister

I thought that the complaint of hon. Members opposite last year was that nationalised industries' prices were not going to the Board. Now that they are, the hon. Gentleman seems to be unhappy. One thing that my right hon. Friend did not do at the Post Office was to defer for a very long time, on the eve of an election, figures of a very serious deficit which would prove the need for higher prices.

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