HC Deb 14 January 1971 vol 809 cc256-8
Q3. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Prime Minister when he will next take the chair at the National Economic Development Council.

Mr. Maudling

I have been asked to reply.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on 29th October, 1970.

Mr. Sheldon

Concerning the speech which was made this week by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Birmingham and which was said by The Times to have been irresponsible in misrepresenting the T.U.C. proposals for moderating wage inflation, may I ask whether the Prime Minister, when he meets the trade union members of Neddy, will take care to repudiate the action of the Chancellor?

Mr. Maudling

Certainly not. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it quite clear that he had studied with great care the proposals of the T.U.C. and that he welcomed, as all Governments welcome, proposals from the T.U.C. on these matters. However, he is perfectly entitled to explain why he does not agree with them.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that while whoever takes the chair at the next meeting of this important body should receive advice from the Prime Minister, the leaders of the nationalised industries might be reminded that they cannot expect, for example, power workers to confine themselves to a 10 per cent. increase in pay if the bosses in their own industry receive increases six or seven times as great?

Mr. Maudling

I hesitate to repudiate my hon. Friend's mathematics, but I suspect that that supplementary question goes a little wide of the main Question.

Mr. Moyle

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the Prime Minister does take the chair, he should ensure, in the absence of any other forum, that there is an N.E.D.C. discussion of wages and prices policy? Should it not be regarded as totally irresponsible of the Government to leave the argument of these matters to a civil servant when the Government have done things such as criticising local authorities for paying 14 per cent. and then paying 14 per cent. themselves to health workers?

Mr. Maudling

I can imagine what hon. Gentlemen opposite would have said if Ministers had tried to impress on an impartial court of inquiry their point of view.

As for the discussions in Neddy, it is always in my experience one of the main functions of Neddy to have impartial and useful discussions of these fundamental economic problems.

Mr. Brian Walden

Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been drawn to the evidence of the C.B.I. to this body, in which it has put forward the proposition that further sharp increases in prices will be essential for some industries? Does he not think that it will be very difficult to limit incomes, or even to have any sensible discussion of the subject, unless the Government give some sort of guidance about their own view of price increases?

Mr. Maudling

I have no doubt that the court will in due course comment on the evidence submitted to it. It is reasonable to bear in mind that a very rapid increase in wage costs must inevitably be followed by an increase in prices.