HC Deb 22 February 1968 vol 759 cc631-2
12. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the details of such voluntary price vetting arrangements as have been agreed and indicate how these have been strengthened since devaluation.

Mr. Frederick Lee

No, Sir. There are almost 100 goods and services covering the main sectors of industry on the early warning list. The arrangements broadly follow the form described in Cmnd, 2808. Eight items have been added to the list since last summer. Discussions are now taking place with industry about further additions.

Mr. Biffen

But that does not answer my Question. It is not about early warning but about price vetting. In view of the intriguing commitment of the C.B.I. to the policy of more vigorous price and income restraint, is there any indication that the C.B.I. is prepared to vet price increases in the same way that the T.U.C. has said that it is prepared to vet wage increases?

Mr. Lee

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consult the C.B.I. on that point—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".]—the hon. Gentleman asked me a question which should be directed to the C.B.I. and not to me. Many Government Departments have very fine systems for price vetting, in which they discuss with the appropriate industries applications made by those industries, and on many occasions they are successful in getting the applications either reduced or withdrawn.

Mr. Orme

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that the statement of the C.B.I is exceedingly important? I understand that his Department is consulting the C.B.I. continuously, so why does he object to this matter being raised? The point is that they say that they want wages strictly defined, non-extendable and strictly limited, but what are they prepared to do about prices? We should know this.

Mr. Lee

My hon. Friend got the point of the question entirely wrong. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) was asking questions which I still assert should be directed to the C.B.I. We have always consulted the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Higgins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his last two answers are preposterous? It is not the job of my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) to implement the Government's prices and incomes policy, although he might wish that it were. The right hon. Gentleman must know whether or not the C.B.I. is prepared to assist the Government in their policy. Is this true or not?

Mr. Lee

The C.B.I. has not taken responsibility for vetting price increases. What it has done is circularise all its members asking them to limit price advances, according to the criteria which we have laid down.