HC Deb 20 January 1969 vol 776 cc6-10
5. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what steps she takes, when a wage rise is vetoed or reduced, under the Prices and Incomes Act, 1968, to ensure that such wage rises are not in fact paid.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mr. Harold Walker)

The first step is to inform those concerned of their legal obligations. If we had reason to think that in any particular case those obligations were not being observed we would have the case investigated.

Mr. Ridley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that large numbers of builders and engineers are receiving far more than the Id. an hour the Government vetoed? What is he going to do about it?

Mr. Walker

We would have to look at particular cases. These might well conform with the requirements of Government policy. My right hon. Friend told the House in her statement on the building industry settlement that the Government do not rule out local site productivity agreements which would give the workers concerned an increase.

Mr. Biffen

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is perfectly legal for a company to make a lump-sum back payment to cover the period of frozen wages when that period has lapsed?

Mr. Walker

It is perfectly legal to make retrospective payment when a standstill order has expired, but this is something that the Government do not generally approve of.

Mr. R. Carr

It is the Government's claim that one of the purposes of the prices and incomes policy is to promote fairness. How does the hon. Gentleman square this with the fact that some building workers employed by some firms are getting more than the Government say they should have?

Mr. Walker

As I said in reply to an earlier supplementary question, such settlements conform to the requirements of the Government's policy, which does not preclude a local or site settlement on a productivity basis.

6. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what estimate she has made of the percentage effect on prices, between 19th March, 1968, and the latest convenient date, of the prices and incomes policy.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mr. Roy Hattersley)

I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) on 25th November. 1968.—[Vol. 774, cols. 19 and 20.]

Mr. Ridley

But that reply said that the hon. Gentleman did not know what effect the prices part of the policy had had. Since the hon. Gentleman does not know what effect Government policies are having, would it not be better if he stopped them?

Mr. Hattersley

I find the logic of that supplementary question difficult to follow; and the so-called facts in it are even wilder than the logic. I said that a precise estimate is not possible but that the Government have no doubt that the policy is making a contribution towards their general economic strategy.

11. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she will make a statement on the progress of her discussions with trades unions on machinery to replace the existing prices and incomes legislation.

16. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what consultations she has had with the Trades Union Congress in order to ascertain the feasibility of a non-statutory incomes policy.

37. Mr. Barnett

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and productivity if she will make a statement on the discussions she has recently had with the interested parties on both sides of industry about the future of the existing prices and incomes legislation.

Mrs. Castle

The T.U.C. and the C.B.I, have both accepted my invitation to join in a study of the future of prices and incomes policy and I hope to have discussions with them on this subject during the comming months. I have already had a preliminary discussion with the T.U.C. in the context of their draft 1969 Economic Review.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Can the right hon. Lady tell us to what extent her plans for strike ballots and cooling-off periods are designed to take the place of prices and incomes legislation? Would she not agree that, as someone who, in the words of one of her hon. Friends, has been judging wage claims by reference to the blackmailing power of the unions which present them, she is singularly ill-fitted to devise the future strategy of the Government's prices and incomes policy?

Mrs. Castle

The latter part of that Question is a matter of opinion, and the hon. Member is entitled to his own personal opinion. As to the first part, these are two entirely separate matters. When one is dealing with the whole question of industrial relations, one puts forward proposals for dealing with them on their merits.

Mr. Biffen

Is it not a grotesque fantasy to believe that the T.U.C. can supervise the voluntary incomes policy? What sanctions does the right hon. Lady expect the T.U.C. to impose on constituent unions? What sanctions will exist for those in employment who are not union members?

Mrs. Castle

The rôle of the T.U.C. in prices and incomes policy is exactly one of the matters which is now the subject of the discussions I am having.

Mr. Barnett

As the Prices and Incomes Board found, on a very careful statistical analysis, that wages had been held back only by 1 per cent., and since my right hon. Friend could very likely achieve that anyway by a voluntary policy, and since it might help her new policy if she reverted to a voluntary system, would she now assure us that she will not bring in fresh legislation?

Mrs. Castle

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows the answers to those questions, which have been ventilated several times in the House. I would remind him that the Prices and Incomes Board did not draw the deduction from those calculations in its report that a prices and incomes policy was unnecessary. On the contrary, it thought that devaluation made it more difficult to administer but all the more imperative to have. The possibilities of what legislation, if any, should follow the expiry of the current legislation at the end of 1969 are exactly the matters which I am discussing with the organisations concerned.

Mr. Atkinson

It was precisely on that point that about two months ago I put a question to my right hon. Friend, to which the answer was that she could not anticipate the contents of the White Paper "In Place of Strife". In view of the Parliamentary Secretary's reply today divulging the content of the White Paper which is to be published on 28th January, are we now to assume that the Department has changed its policy over White Papers?

Mrs. Castle

I am sorry, but again I totally fail to follow the argument. I could not accept for a moment that the content of any White Paper to be published on 28th January has been divulged this afternoon. Nothing more has been divulged than the title of that document, which of course is already known to the House.

12. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she will now review the criteria she has used to decide whether price increases are consistent with the Government's prices and incomes policy.

Mr. Hattersley

Prices and incomes policy for 1969 was set out in the White Paper published in April last year; my right hon. Friend has invited the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. to join her in a review of the policy for productivity, prices and incomes after the end of this year.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Has the Parliamentary Secretary's right hon. Friend yet grasped the fact that, every time she and her clever friend Mr. Jones intervene to prevent a price increase by a manufacturer, the Chancellor has to raise taxation and thus increase prices that way? Is she not yet aware that, economically, it makes far better sense if the consequences of a price increase go to the manufacturer rather than to the trader?

Mr. Hattersley

If that question means, is there a conflict of policy between my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor, the answer is "No".

Mr. John Page

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Chairman of the Commission on Industrial Relations will be invited to take part in these talks?

Mr. Hattersley

That is a very different question. Clearly, the invitation to the T.U.C. went to the T.U.C. when Mr. Woodcock was General Secretary. As to when he will relinguish that post, that is a matter for the T.U.C. and not for me in this House.