HC Deb 24 June 1968 vol 767 cc28-30
40 and 41. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Minister of Technology (1) if he will now invite Mallory Batteries Limited to withdraw its price increases for hearing-aid batteries until such time as an agreement is reached with him in accordance with the recommendations contained in Report Number 64 of the National Board for Prices and Incomes; and if he will, make a statement;

(2) when he expects to conclude his negotiations with Mallory Batteries Limited on the recommendation of the National Board for Prices and Incomes that the average increase of 45 per cent. in the price of hearing-aid batteries should be withdrawn.

44. Mr. Murray

asked the Minister of Technology what steps he now proposes to take to implement the recommendations contained in Report No. 64 of the National Board for Prices and Incomes following his discussions with Mallory Batteries Limited.

Mr. Benn

As I have already informed the House, discussions are in train with Mallory Batteries Limited on the recom-mendations of the Report, including that of withdrawing the price increases of 1st January, 1968. The company has now made proposals which are being carefully considered, and I hope that the issue will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion very soon.

Mr. Pavitt

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's efforts in this respect, but is he aware that we have now been paying a 50 per cent. increase for over six months? Would he do all that he can to expedite a conclusion, especially for those hearing-aid batteries which have increased by 78 per cent.?

Mr. Benn

My hon. Friend will know the complications involved in this case, because he will have read the Prices and Incomes Board's Report. I am well aware of the desirability of resolving this matter as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Murray

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it seems as though Mallory Batteries has turned a deaf ear to the Prices and Incomes Board? Is it not time that he shouted at it?

Mr. Benn

I appreciate the humour in my hon. Friend's question, but the firm is co-operating with us in the discussions now taking place.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that I first corresponded with him about this matter eight months ago? Then he put me off, and passed me sideways to Aubrey Jones, Esq. After another four months we awaited a report, and now after another four months we are awaiting a statement. Is it always to take 12 months to solve a relatively simple problem of this sort?

Mr. Benn

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not a relatively simple problem at all. It involves the pricing of products of an international company, and various considerations which are extremely complicated. I am sure that, although everyone wants to get a rapid issue out of these discussions, the Prices and Incomes Board reference was very well worth while, and has contributed to a wider understanding of the problems raised by this sort of issue.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

In these discussions now taking place is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that sufficient weight is being given to the enormous impact on the prices of these batteries that must inevitably follow from whatever type of hearing aid is adopted under the National Health Service? Has this point been fully considered?

Mr. Benn

My Department is, naturally, principally concerned with the pricing aspect, but we are very well aware, as is the hon. Gentleman, that the Health Service purchasing of a particular type of hearing aid affects the demand for, and hence the practical price of, different types of batteries.

Dr. John Dunwoody

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that these batteries are produced much more cheaply elsewhere in the world than they are here? If his discussions do not succeed, would he consider the rôle that a Government-owned concern might play in the production of batteries?

Mr. Benn

I do not think that it would be helpful to speculate in answering a supplementary question, without having the figures, which are not available to me at the moment, about the cost of manufacturing these batteries elsewhere. I will take note of what my hon. Friend says.