HC Deb 12 November 1970 vol 806 cc578-9
3. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many references he has made to the National Board for Prices and Incomes since 16th July, 1970.

Mr. Bryan

None, Sir.

Mr. John Fraser

Is this not a blatant admission that the Government want to do nothing about prices except to leave it to the manufacturer to increase his profit by getting as much as he can out of the housewife? Is this not a complete capitulation of any policy to reduce prices?

Mr. Bryan

Once again the right hon. Gentleman appears to have a nostalgia for policies which have failed in the past. We have respect for the National Board for Prices and Incomes for a certain amount of the work it did, but we do not regard it as a success in the rôle of keeping down prices.

Sir G. Nabarro

In the context of the nationalised industries, would my hon. Friend bear in mind that the previous Government referred every demand for price increases from the nationalised industries to the National Board for Prices and Incomes? In contemporary circumstances my hon. Friend is proposing that the Government, Department by Department, should deal with these demands for increased prices. May the House be told the outcome of such negotiations?

Mr. Bryan

The first illustration of our influence on prices in the nationalised industries could be given as the Post Office, where a considerable reduction was arranged by the Government.

5. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now make a statement on the future of the National Board for Prices and Incomes.

Mr. R. Carr

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement I made on 2nd November.—[Vol. 805, c. 668.]

Mr. Sheldon

Is it not becoming quite clear that the Government have been busy demolishing those institutions for which they will find great need? Will he state that it is not his intention to initiate a freeze on prices and incomes?

Mr. Carr

The answer to the first part of the question is, "No, Sir", as it is also to the second part.

Mrs. Castle

Could the Minister say who will take over from the National Board for Prices and Incomes the duty of examining the problems of low pay industry by industry, case by case, a duty which under our White Paper the Labour Government gave to the Board? Could he in particular say what is happening to the three references made under this section, namely, hospital workers, contract cleaners and laundry workers, and what he will do about the reports?

Mr. Carr

The references which were made are being completed, as I have told the House before. As for the future, so far as the need for research into general pay questions is concerned, as opposed to inquiries into specific pay claims, we shall regard this as one of the important rôles for our new Office of Manpower Economics.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is an extremely dangerous posture for any Government to take to allow wage claims to be decided by so-called independent bodies? Is it not better to have somebody looking at pay claims, if it is thought to be appropriate to look at them, at a given time so that the Government themselves are involved and can express the national point of view?

Mr. Carr

This attempt has been made in a number of different ways over the last 10 years by successive Governments, and the further it has been pressed the less successful it has become. Everybody would agree that a policy for incomes is one of the urgent needs for this country. We believe that at the moment the best way of achieving this is to put responsibility where in the end it can only belong, namely, on those who have the job of deciding each case in each field and trusting that they will take the national interest into account.