HC Deb 13 June 1968 vol 766 cc435-8
Q7. Mr. Speed

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for the Home Department at Blackpool on 28th May on incomes policy represents Government policy.

Q8. Mr. Hordern

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 28th May at Blackpool on incomes policy represents Government policy.

Q9. Sir F. Bennett

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech of the Secretary of State for the Home Department on income restraint, on 28th May at Blackpool, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister

I would refer hon. Members to the Answer I gave on 11th June to Questions by my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and Kingston-upon-Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).—[Vol. 766, c. 27–28.]

Mr. Speed

Was the Home Secretary speaking in his capacity as Treasurer of the Labour Party or as a senior member of the Government?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend did not make such a distinction. He was speaking as himself, having both responsibilities, and addressing a distinguished trade union.

Mr. Hordern

The Home Secretary said that when the present legislation ran out there would need to be a voluntary policy. Does the Prime Minister agree with that or not?

The Prime Minister

I have made the position perfectly plain. It is in my speech to which I have just referred and I am prepared to read out the relevant passages if the House so wishes. The position is that we hope that it will be possible, for the three reasons stated in my speech, that it will not be necessary to ask Parliament for a renewal of the powers we are seeking in the current Bill. But, as we have also said, no responsible Government could give an absolute assurance that these powers would not be required. We have, however, given the assurance that any renewal of such powers would not be done under the expiring laws continuance procedure.

Sir F. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he accepts the word "expect", used by the Home Secretary, or the word "hope", which he has used? Even the Prime Minister, with his devious mind, cannot match both.

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman is interpreting my right hon. Friend's speech as saying that in no circumstances could there be further legislation, I have explained that such interpretation is incorrect.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many, if not all of us, hope to get back sooner or later to a voluntary policy? Some of us who rather reluctantly supported the incomes policy a few weeks ago would be rather less willing to support it 18 months hence.

The Prime Minister

I recognise the reluctance with which many hon. Members felt it right and necessary to vote for the Second Reading of the Prices and Incomes Bill, but I remind my hon. Friend that, in the speech to which I have referred, I said that, given the achievement of the required surplus in the balance of payments and all that means, success in the development of the T.U.C.'s voluntary policy, which is of first importance, and also success in the productivity drive launched through her new Department by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, we hope that it will not be necessary to have further legislation.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult to discover any Cabinet Ministers who have ever believed in the Prices and Incomes Bill? Is it not time for a categorical assurance, following the Home Secretary's statement, that, even if the Government continue this unfortunate Bill for the next year, the legislation will not be continued in any circumstances beyond that period?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has on many occasions gone on record in favour of a positive prices and incomes policy. All members of the Government support this very necessary though repugnant legislation because, in present circumstances, it is needed as an essential supplement to the so far embryonic voluntary policy of the T.U.C.

Mr. Heath

The Home Secretary said that when the powers ran out there would need to be a voluntary incomes policy. He gave an undertaking that there would be no compulsory powers. The Prime Minister said in his own speech to other trade unionists that it would be misleading and irresponsible to give such an undertaking. Why does he keep the Home Secretary in the Government?

Hon. Members: Answer.

The Prime Minister

I shall answer that question, but I shall want one day to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to state where all his own Front Bench members stand on this issue. His regular and well-known trends to the Right under pressure from the Right and from every Powellite doctrine show that he has not the guts to resist.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary expressed the hope, as I did, that it would not be necessary. As I have already pointed out, if hon. Members interpret my right hon. Friend's reference to a voluntary policy, and that alone, without statutory powers, as meaning that there can be no question of further legislation, that is not the policy of the Government.

Mr. Roebuck

Since a week is a long time in politics, is not the important aspect of this matter the fact that the Home Secretary supports the present policy? Would not those who do not wish to see further legislation of this sort do better if they worked hard to make the present policy successful so that we could break out of the dreadful economic troubles which have dogged us for so many years?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in terms that he fully supported the legislation. He was talking about what might happen in 18 months' time. The important thing now, particularly with the new drive being given to productivity agreements, is to strengthen the T.U.C.'s voluntary policy and the productivity link with wages.

As my hon. Friend says, we need to improve substantially the economic situation, remembering that the previous Government never succeeded in getting an incomes policy at all and that only this week the Bank for International Settlements has placed the responsibility for the economic situation unequivocally on the years before 1964.