HC Deb 17 May 1971 vol 817 cc919-68

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

I beg to move, That this House, noting the resolution unanimously carried on 10th May relating to the increase in the price of basic foods and the setting up of an organisation for consumer protection, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to announce their plans for this new organisation and trusts that it will embrace all the powers of the Consumer Council. Time for this debate has been eroded by important statements. Therefore, in the interests of hon. Members who I know wish to speak, I shall seek to curtail what I have to say.

The Motion arises from the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace) on 10th May. In that debate my hon. Friend gave details of the steep rise in the price of basic foods and called for an organisation for consumer protection. It was an important debate in which several thoughtful contributions were made, although it ended with a very disappointing speech by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I regret that the Minister is not in his place today, but he has explained to me that he cannot be here owing to another engagement.

When my hon. Friend's Motion was put there was general agreement with it and not one dissenting voice. It is so recorded—

"Question put and agreed to."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 101.] We thought it possible that the Government had at last relented and seen a little sense and that the pleas of my hon. Friends, and indeed of hon. Members opposite, had had some effect.

However, it became apparent on the following day that nothing had changed on Tuesday, 11th May, we were back to the old slogans—"Stand on your own two feet. Shop around. Competition will solve all the problems."

There is a consistency about the Minister, even if it tends to get rather tedious. However, he and his right hon. Friends must realise that when the House of Commons approves a Motion it means something. It is not to be flouted in the way the Minister did on Tuesday. When I asked him what action the Government proposed, he used these words: Although the House did not divide on the Motion, I listened carefully to the points raised in what was, after all, a private Member's MOtion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 189.] I regret to have to say that I regard this as executive arrogance of the worse kind. Do not the Government realise that the majority of us are private Members, that when a private Member raises a subject in this House, it is not to be taken lightly, and that when the House accepts a Motion proposed by an hon. Member the Executive should take action on that Motion? That is the very basis on which our democratic system is based. The Government Amendment, far from heeding the will of the House, compounds the insult to the House and makes it clear that they have decided to do nothing.

If it was the case—I am not suggesting that it was—that the Government could not get sufficient Members to the House to divide on 10th May, that only shows with what little interest the Government view the serious problem of rapidly increasing prices. Whichever way we look at it last week's debate exposed the Government's total failure to grapple with this problem. We are entitled to view with some scepticism the Minister's claim that the Government are concerned about the rising price of food and other essential goods, because we also remember his statement in this House on 29th July, 1966, when he was on the back benches on this side of the House when he said: The time has come when we should have higher prices for food and no subsidies for either the agricultural or the fishing industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 2127.] Today we are seeing in action the policy in which the Minister of Agriculture believes, a policy of high food prices. Despite the promise at the General Election, put into final form on 16th June by the Prime Minister, and which more than anything else won the Conservative Party that election, the Government have deliberately taken steps which must have the inevitable effect of increasing food prices. Blaming the trade unions trying to make them a scapegoat is the ultimate hypocrisy. What they are doing and what they have in the pipeline makes further wage demands inevitable and they must face this.

Inflation is the greatest problem facing the Government and this is certainly not the way to tackle it. The record of the Government since the Prime Minister's pledge has been deplorable. Far from taking action to hold or reduce prices their policies have made increases certain. Far from seeking to protect the consumer they are the Government which has abandoned consumer protection.

Let us consider what they have done. First, they abolished the early warning system. This gave the Minister notice of price increases, and gave his officials the opportunity to advise whether such increases were justified in their view. The officials in the Ministry—and I know them well and have a great respect for them—have built up considerable expertise in this field. I could speak at length of my experience with the early warning system, but I will desist.

Secondly, the Government abolished the Consumer Council. Excellent work was being done by the Council under Dame Elizabeth Ackroyd. When I was the Minister there were times when I felt that the Consumer Council was a bit of a nuisance, times when I was overwhelmed with work and I felt that it was badgering me a bit too much. What that proved was that the Council was doing an effective job. Looking back at my experience I can say that Dame Elizabeth and her colleagues were doing a good job in the interests of the housewives. Here again, groups of skilled people have been disbanded but I believe that the Council will have to return in some form or another.

Nothing would please me more than for the Minister to get up tonight and to say, "We have changed our minds". There is a great deal of virtue at times in being able to change one's mind. After all, it was a Conservative Government which set up the Council. I would remind the Front Bench of what their pre-election guide said. It said: In 1963 the Conservative Government set up the Consumer Council which has since proved to be a powerful and influential spokesman for the interests of the consumer, They were ready to claim credit for it when they thought it might win a few votes. The Council proved to be powerful and influential and its record over six years was impressive. Was it a case of proving too powerful and too influential for some friends of the Conservative Party in industry?

The Amendment says that the Government will rely upon other organisations to protect the consumer. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will say which public and private organisations. I have a great regard for the Consumer Association but I would point out that no one was harsher in its criticism of the abolition of the Consumer Council than the Consumer Association, so that must not be called in aid.

Thirdly, the Government abolished the Prices and Incomes Board—

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)


Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

I must get on with my speech. We have lost a good deal of time. The hon. Gentleman must try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. The Government abolished the Prices and Incomes Board which did some first-rate work under a distinguished Conservative, Mr. Aubrey Jones, to whom great credit is due. I am afraid that he is a different type of Conservative from those whom we have on the Front Bench today. He did a job honestly and ably. He was not a "yes" man. If anyone doubts the value of references to the Board on prices they should read some of the reports it produced on tea, margarine, bread, beer.

The Minister has written the Board off with some references to gimickry and bureaucracy. I say that the reference on retail price margins which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and I made to the Board was not a gimmick. It was made after a good deal of though and if hon. Gentlemen opposite will refer to the Food Manufacturers' Federation, with which I discussed this reference, they will find that the Federation supported it fully and was anxious that it should be fully processed.

After all their promises the Government have gratuitously abandoned all of the machinery for protecting the consumer. Although the Minister of Agriculture admitted to me last week that the Board found from time to time that the increases were not justified. He agreed that the Board did a good job and added: …from time to time increases were not justified."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 95.] If certain industries increased their prices without justification, when they knew that there would be scrutiny of them by the Board, what are they likely to do when they know that they have a Minister who does not care a rap? It is naive in such circumstances to talk loftily about the virtues of competition. It is the consumer who is squeezed all the time.

There is no moral value in competition. The ultimate object of competition is to make a profit, not to help the consumer. In a mixed economy of course we accept that we must have competition. It has its part to play. It is not only what the Government have abolished which worries us, it is the other measures taken by them which will have the effect of increasing prices. We must bear in mind the promise to bring down prices. All the following measures will increase them.

There are the levy proposals, which will deliberately increase the price of meat and flour, which means the price of bread, and the price of some milk products. Government spokesmen have brushed aside this increase as something insignificant. It is not small and it is in addition to the rising trend of increases. I know that they said they would do this before the election, it was part of Conservative Party policy. They also said that they would hold prices. What they did not tell the electorate was that these two pledges were incompatible, that they could not hold down prices and at the same time introduce the levy system. Then we had the Annual Price Review which this year places a larger burden on the consumer than ever before. It means an increase in the price of milk, milk products and sugar.

I understand that there are to be sharp increases in the price of some baby foods as a result of the additional cost of milk.

I have read in some newspaper reports that the increase will be as much as 25 per cent. I should be grateful if the Minister would say whether this is correct. We are deeply concerned about the effect of increased prices on the older people. Here we have a blow at the babies. We want to know more about this matter from the Government before the end of the debate.

I should be the last to suggest that the task of a Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is easy. I found it an extremely difficult and arduous office to hold. There are factors which are beyond the control of a Minister of Food. He must take into account such matters as fluctuations in the cost of imported materials. But he must satisfy himself that the food-producing industry is making an effort to absorb part of the increased costs. The Minister of Agriculture does not believe in taking any action at all.

One thing which the Government have done which they claim is making a contribution to reducing prices is to cut selective employment tax. What significant effect has it had? My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) said in the debate last Monday that the effect would be negligible. He gave the figures. Certain firms—and they are some of the best firms, like Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury—published lists of price reductions. But, having studied the lists, however welcome they might be, one could not see that they would have a significant effect on rising prices.

The Minister—and I must quote him because it is important in the context of this debate—said a week ago: Let me give another example of competition working. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his Budget speech the halving of the rates of S.E.T., there was an immediate response by a number of leading multiple food chains and department stores. They all tried to steal a march on each other to get customers into their shops. This is what competition is about."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 98.] We saw a graphic picture of Lord Sieff and Sir Jack Cohen on the pavements pushing the customers into their shops as a result of the Chancellor's measures. The Minister of Agriculture is living in cloud cuckoo land. We must get the matter in the right perspective. I do not say that the cut in S.E.T. has made no contribution, but the right hon. Gentleman built it up out of all proportion to its real value. The fact is that prices are rising at 10 per cent. per annum. Let hon. Members study the details given in HANSARD last Thursday as supplied in a Written Answer to me at column 162. Prices have gone up markedly since March.

While, the Minister has been hard at it abolishing things, he has been advising us to shop round. I must comment on this advice, because he gives it at every Question Time and in almost every speech he makes on food matters. There is a touch of unreality about it. It may be possible and prudent for some people to shop round in certain circumstances. But what about people who live in villages? What about people who live in the countryside, with whom the Minister of Agriculture must be concerned? What about the elderly and the infirm? What about mothers with young children? I must point out to the Government Front Bench that there are many housewives who do not have nannies to look after their children. There are housewives and mothers who just cannot follow the Minister's advice to shop round. They have not the time or the facilities to do so.

The price of the food in the weekly shopping basket has become intolerable for many housewives since the election. They are unable to buy many of the things which they could afford to buy 12 months ago when the election pledge was made that prices would be held.

The Government have been in office for nearly 12 months. They must begin to shoulder the responsibility for their actions. It is no use their blaming past Governments for their own misdeeds. They have deliberately decided, as an act of policy, to return to free-for-all competition. We ask them seriously and sincerely to pause before it is too late; this is the object of our Motion. There are actions—not compulsory measures, but actions in relation to co-operation with the food sectors of industry—which they can take at once. One would like to feel that the Minister had invited the baby food manufacturers to his office for a discussion about the increase of 25 per cent. in baby food prices. Has he done so? I am sure that large sectors of the food-producing industry would be prepared to co-operate—it would be very much in their own interests—if they were given the opportunity.

I am beginning to mistrust the philosophy of the Minister of Agriculture. I can summarise it in one sentence. He said on 11th May: Under Conservative prosperity peaches will he eaten much more than before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 193.] What people want is stability in the price of the basic necessities of life—meat, bread, milk, rent. This peaches-and-pigeons philosophy is so unreal as to be farcical and grotesque. We appeal to the Government to institute studies into the whole field of food prices before it is too late.

We must charge the Government with failure. Last week, the people spoke clearly in the local government elections. Let the Government therefore change their policies forthwith. Let them live up to their promises or make room for a Government which has the confidence of the country.

5.27. p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move to leave out from 'House' to end of the Question and add instead thereof: 'welcomes the determination of Her Majesty's Government to protect the interests of consumers through greater competition and through the efforts of existing organisations both public and private'. The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) asked me why we did not vote against last Monday's Motion. It was not at all clear what the Motion meant, particularly in relation to the organisation proposed in it. The question of an organisation to scrutinise and check prices was never spelled out. No one in the debate spoke about it. There was only one paragraph in the speech of the mover of the Motion, the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace), describing what he had in mind. I propose to quote it so that there is no error: In these circumstances I feel that the Government, in fairness to the housewife, should set up some consumer protection organisation to watch food prices, to check the validity of any increases which the Government or the public might refer to such a body, and to make recommendations to the Government or Parliament for action. I have no exact details in mind for such a body, but I feel that it should contain among its members a number of practical housewives who, let us face it, know more about shopping problems than the whole of the Government and Parliament put together."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 48.] Is that the Opposition's policy? No other hon. Member opposite mentioned the organisation at all. Not one of them believed in it. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) said that he was in favour of the last Government's prices and incomes policy. He is a very brave man. I congratulate him.

Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)

I deliberately left the question of the organisation wide open simply in order to invite the Government's co-operation. I do not pretend to know all the answers, but I know that I have the housewives behind me.

Mr. Ridley

I want to show that the hon. Gentleman's omission was quite an important one. We well remember the prices and incomes policy of the last Government and how it split the Labour Party down the middle. We well remember how more than half of that party hated it from the very beginning. We must now ask the party opposite, has it been converted? Why did not hon. Members opposite vote against their hon. Friend's motion last Monday? Why did not the Labour Party come out and vote down that dangerous Motion to bring in another such incomes policy? Presumably hon. Members opposite will vote with us tonight.

There is a further difficulty arising from last week's Motion. The Motion by the hon. Member for Norwich, North spoke of an organisation for consumer protection with powers to scrutinise and check prices of essential services". The Motion today, in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, speaks of "an organisation for consumer protection". It is not speaking of "powers to scrutinise and check prices". [An HON. MEMBER: But with "powers of the Consumer Council."] I am going to talk about the Consumer Council in a short while, but the Opposition have got to make up their minds whether they want this Consumer Council they are talking about with powers to check prices, or not, because this is at the crux of the issue. Would they return to a policy of compulsory control of prices and incomes or not? As everybody in the House knows, we cannot have a compulsory prices policy without having a compulsory, statutory incomes policy. The Opposition have not made clear what they want, and their Motion last Monday was not worth voting against.

Is this to be a debate about prices and incomes, or consumer protection? Consumer protection is a related but separate subject apart from control of prices themselves. Consumer protection is about standards and quality, and I want to talk for a short time about both those subjects because they are implicitly covered by the Motion.

First of all, we have two basic beliefs which the Opposition do not appear to share. The first is that large increases of wages beyond the productivity obtained push up prices. The second is that competition is the best way to keep those rises in prices to the absolute minimum consistent with investment in the future. The right hon. Gentleman believes that there is no moral value in competition—no moral value at all, he has just said. I am going to give him some figures to prove that that is not so.

Starting with the question of wages. There is a danger that, under the pressure of steeply rising incomes, unit costs will go up more rapidly and we may move on to a much steeper trend of inflation than we have known in the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1970; Vol. 799, col. 1224.] Those are not my words, but words of the former Chancellor, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins). They are true.

Over the calendar year, 1970, the wage and salary bill in this country rose by£3,175 million in total. The gross pretax company profits in the same period rose by only£81 million. In fact, profits after tax, which is the money available to industry for investment, actually fell during last year. This was not just a freak year. Over the whole period from 1964 to 1970 the wage and salary bill in this country rose by£7,782 million. The gross pre-tax company profit rose by only£428 million. So it must be patently and abundantly clear to all that there is no scope for these wage increases to come out of profits. Therefore, they have to come out of increased prices.

Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)

Just to get my own mind absolutely clear. The profits to which the hon. Gentleman refers, which are taxable, refer to the calendar year earnings up to December, 1969, not December, 1970, because we are not yet taxing profits made up to December, 1970?

Mr. Ridley

That is correct. That is why I gave figures for the longer period, the six-year period, because they bear out the point that the increase in company profits is very small before tax and probably negative after tax. Figures for after tax are difficult to obtain.

The point is that if wages go up by sums of that amount there can be no other possible consequence than that prices must follow and, indeed, the share of the gross national product which was taken by pre-tax gross company profits in 1964 was 15.6 per cent., and in 1970 it was only 11.7 per cent. So the share of profits in the economy has been dropping, and this is resulting in an ever-weakening position relatively in relation to our competitors and in relation to investment. And there one has it. The increased wages which we have been paying ourselves in this country have come partly out of profits and investment, and they have come out of higher prices as, indeed, they had to.

I now want to come to the question of competition, in which the right hon. Gentleman believes that there is no moral value. During last year, wages rose by 14 per cent. The total wage bill rose by 14 per cent. and prices rose by 8 per cent. Have the Opposition ever considered why it is that the total of prices did not rise by as much as the total of wages? Because if competition did not work, one would have expected that wages and prices would have followed each other by equal amounts. That was not the case, because wages were absorbed, partly through the profit margin, partly through increased efficiency, and partly through the process of competition.

I find it extraordinary, how two-faced the Opposition are about competition. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) is always absolutely rigorous in his demands that we should promote investment. When we do something which affects the motor car industry or the steel industry or any other industry there are howls of protest from his hon. Friends. It would seem to me that the Opposition must make up their minds whether they believe in competition or not. I pay the tribute to the right hon. Gentleman that obviously he does.

Mr. Gorst

Would it not be true to add also that there has been a failure in competition in one respect, and that is in the area of the supply of labour, which is still a monopoly? This is why the imbalance to which my hon. Friend has referred has taken place.

Mr. Ridley

I think there are imperfections in true competition in the labour market, but I would prefer not to stray on to that ground because I want to say some important things about competition in prices and industry.

We believe that the area for action by the Government is where competition is weak or imperfect or less effective than it might be. It is not just a question of monopolies. We would define it as extending the activities of Government to promoting competition wherever it is weak, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said in his statement of 17th December. We hope to continue some useful consultations and discussions which we are having with interested parties on ways to improve the economy, and that that will lead to legislation on monopolies and restrictive practices next Session. Reform of the Monopolies Commission will mean an organisation which scrutinises and will check some prices where competition is weak.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

I wonder what happens when competition becomes so strong that one firm pushes up a lot of prices and the monopolistic position then affects production—which is the monopoly position. Do the Government then intend bringing in some private competitor or another? This could become a continuous process back and forth.

Mr. Ridley

When that happens, it becomes a monopoly. There are various remedies open to us. One is to increase foreign competition. Another is to bring new entrants into industry. Another is direct control of monopoly prices. These are all available, but it would be better, as the hon. Gentleman will agree, to try to prevent monopolies arising, because they are difficult to deal with once they do.

I will tell the House the actions which the Government have taken to promote competition in the short period they have been in office. They have referred the rope industry to the Monopolies Commission. They have refused, after a reference, permission for the British Sidac Transparent Paper merger They have allowed foreign steel to compete with British steel for shipbuilding plate in the shipbuilding market. They have freed the scrap export market and the coal import market. All these actions will lead to greater competition. The Government have made estate agents compete in their fees and are approaching the question of the professions in the light of the Monopolies Commission's Report on that subject. As my right hon. Friend said today they have considered whether tariff reductions can contribute. We have produced the Bank of England paper on competition in banking which has been welcomed throughout the House, and we have brought into existence the second force airline.

I should now like to announce—

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

The hon. Gentleman says that the Government have increased competition, but does he not agree, particularly with expensive consumer durables, that there need to be rules, recognised by everybody, and an effective referee? In doing away with the Consumer Council, he has left out that important part of effective competition.

Mr. Ridley

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, but I will say something about that when I come to deal with consumer protection.

I should like to announce my new set of references to the Monopolies Commission. The first one is of the traditional type and will cause no great surprise. The boot and shoe machinery industry, which might be a monopoly industry, is to be referred to the Monopolies Commission. Secondly, the breakfast cereals industry—cornflakes and so on, which are vital to the housewife—is an industry whose structure may be leading to abuse through excessive price rises. This is right on the point of the Motion, and I am referring the in- dustry to the Monopolies Commission. There is, we believe, a connection between the structure of the industry and the prices which have been charged. Thirdly, we intend to make a general reference, of the type which has occasionally been made in the past, into practices in general, not related to any specific industry. That is the reference of parallel pricing and price leadership, an area where study will be useful, and we hope for advice on how to sharpen competition as a result of the Monopolies Commission's work.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Will it be within the terms of reference for the Monopolies Commission to look at the costs that arise with breakfast cereals from extremely expensive coloured packaging and coloured printing?

Mr. Ridley

The terms of reference are usually very wide, and it will be for the Commission to decide. Fourthly, we intend to make our first reference of a nationalised industry. Under Section 2(2) of the 1948 Act, the practices of the gas and electricity supply industries over connection charges can be examined. The two industries have kindly given their consent to co-operate; we have no power to force them to do so. This problem is an old one which arises basically out of the monopoly position of the electricity supply industry in the supply of lighting for houses. It is an appropriate subject for the Commission to investigate so that competition can take place despite the monopoly position.

Three out of four of these references are concerned directly with prices. I do not want to prejudge them, but in making this announcement we believe that the references to the Commission will have a direct bearing on prices. This makes five monopoly references in under one year by this Government, which compares favourably with the three monopoly references in the last three years of the Labour Government.

Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)

There are one or two questions which I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman, the answers to which will affect the debate. He said that under the legislation to be introduced the Monopolies Commission would check certain prices, but he was not clear on the circumstances in which this power may be exercised. Will it be limited simply to the 33⅓per cent. situation, or is it intended to define market power more widely? Secondly, are the references on boot and shoe machinery and breakfast cereals to be of the normal duration of about two years, or short references, to the possibility of which the Secretary of State referred in his statement in December? Lastly, is the general reference likely to take about two years and would the recommendations, if necessary, be implemented by legislation?

Mr. Ridley

I am sorry to take up more time, but I cannot help doing so if I am to respond to the right hon. Gentleman's question. On the general point, we have not yet made clear to the House the substance of the forthcoming legislation on the Monopolies Commission. I am not able to answer the question as to whether the criterion for a reference will be one-third, but I will inform him when we have made decisions. We hope that the cereal prices reference will be a quick one. The boot and shoe machinery reference is a standard monopoly reference and will perhaps take longer than the other one, but I hope that the Monopolies Commission will be as expeditious as possible. The general reference is more difficult to predict, and I think we must leave it to the Monopolies Commission.

Mr. Dell

Will legislation be required?

Mr. Ridley

I cannot answer that hypothetical question until we see what the Monopolies Commission requests. If legislation is required, we will consider it.

We shall continue to watch for areas of weak competition and excessive price or wage increases and make further references in due course of other candidates of the type I have just mentioned.

I should like briefly to say a little about consumer protection, which is the other leg of the subject we are debating. It is confusing to bring this issue of the Consumer Council into a debate which in the main has been about prices—or at least it was last week—and not about questions of quality analysis, safety, labelling and the general aspects of value for money upon which the Consumer Council has done its work in the past.

We are entirely in sympathy with "consumerism", the demands of con- sumers for a square deal. These demands are healthy and represent one of the forces which contributes to the improvement of the goods available in the shops, the standard of living and competition. It is not a question of ends, it is entirely a question of means. Our means are slightly different from those which have been employed in the past.

The function of the Government is to establish and maintain a body of law which sets out the ground rules for good commercial behaviour. Such law may be positive, in the sense of requiring food to be labelled, or defining specific obligations which sellers are to accept, or negative, in the sense of saying "Such and such an action is so contrary to the well being of the community that it must be treated as a crime." Central Government has shown itself ready and willing to play its part. One only has to look at the record of the last 10 years—major legislation on weights and measures, hire purchase, trade descriptions and medicines, and valuable Acts of Parliament on such matters as misrepresentation and unsolicited goods. Here I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) who will be pleased to know that their Act has reached the Statute Book. Extensive new food labelling regulations are coming in. This is not the end of what we are doing. We hope before long to act on the question of exclusion clauses, and we are considering action on the Crowther Report on consumer credit. This adds up to a body of consumer law which must already be the envy of most other countries, a constant readiness to developing needs, and a readiness to act upon them where legislation emerges as the proper answer.

It is no use just passing laws about this, that or the other. Somebody must see that they are obeyed. In the field of criminal law designed to protect the consumer this matter has traditionally, and properly, been the rôole of local government. It is therefore with great pleasure that I pay tribute to the work of the local inspectors in administering this body of the law, and the House will agree that their expertise and knowledge has increased enormously in the last 10 years.

I would stress that all consumers do not live in the West End of London. They live all over the country. Therefore, it is vital that the enforcement of the consumer protection laws should be based on local government so that everybody has an opportunity to benefit from the protection which exists.

I do not believe nor does the Government that it is any more the function of the State to provide the consumer pressure groups. I pay tribute to the Consumer Council and to its members who served it for so many years for the valuable work they carried out. In a sense the Council blazed the trail. Many of the Acts on the Statute Book which I have mentioned owe something to the Council, and indeed in a way the Council paved the way for its own abolition. It increased awareness among consumers, it stimulated other bodies to come into the field and it was influential in getting legislation on the Statute Book.

There are more private organisations in the field. There is, of course, the Consumers' Association which has a growing reputation. Its magazine Which? is widely read, comparative testing is perhaps its strongest side, and it is enlarging its field in many other directions. If any hon. Gentleman feels there should be more representation for consumers or if constituents write to him suggesting that they are not represented, he should suggest that they join the Consumers' Association, and perhaps even bid for office on that body's managing board. There are now over 80 local consumer groups which carry out valuable work in the districts and give their members full value for money. If any hon. Member has not such a group in his constituency, he might feel inclined to try to stimulate one to come into existence.

There are over 500 Citizens' Advice Bureaux, partly supported by the Government, which undertake work in this field as well as in many others. Therefore, the pattern of consumer protection is emerging as consumers themselves want it. It is for them to provide the organisation they need locally and centrally. A Government body could induce the idea that the Government have guaranteed quality and approved everything they buy. This would lead to pressure for government to take responsibility for too much and would lull the citizen into a false sense of security.

One cannot protect people against their own mistakes, whether it be in buying the wrong lawnmower or putting in a wage claim that could price them out of the market. The difference between us and the Opposition is that we do not pretend that people do not have to show responsibility for themselves. It is downright irresponsible one day to come to the House and demand higher wages for all, on another day to demand that prices be stopped rising—except, of course, in the case of steel on which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is always so eloquent—on a third day to demand that we increase company liquidity and investment, which could only mean higher prices or lower wages, and then, today, to put down this Motion demanding that the Opposition's irresponsible schizophrenia be sorted out by "an organisation" of unspecified powers and duties, which is to sit like King Canute on the rising tideline of prices, ignoring the economic facts of life. I ask the House to reject the Motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir R. Grant-Ferris)

I would remind the House that there is three-quarters of an hour left for debate. If six hon. Members wish to take part in the discussion, three on each side, it will mean that each speaker should take seven minutes.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)

I hope to speak very briefly indeed since I have virtually had my say on this matter on an earlier occasion. I would remind the Under-Secretary of State that the Motion which I put before the House last week was entirely my own and I was not assisted by any political party or group. It was put together by my wife and myself in our own home and was an amalgam of the experience of all the people in our area.

The hon. Gentleman said that my Motion was not worth voting against. I find that remark offensive, contemptible and arrogant and an insult to the House which accepted the Motion. What is more the remark will cause deep offence in East Anglia because, during the debate on my Motion, one hon. Member said he regarded my contribution as moderate and one that should be listened to. I make no exaggerated claim for my efforts, but I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman made a terrible mistake in making the remark he did.

It has been claimed that the debate on the subject last week which was widely publicised, particularly in East Anglia, had some dramatic effect on the elections last Thursday. I reject such a claim entirely, but from the letters I have received since then from all over the United Kingdom there is an indication of public interest, support and concern. Indeed, favourable reaction has come from well-known members of the Conservative Party as well as from others. One staunch Conservative, a small grocer, was so incensed at the price of butter, and found it so difficult to convince his elderly customers that it was not his fault, that he came along to the Labour Committee rooms and offered the use of his car for the rest of the day and drove Labour supporters to the poll. At a social function I was approached by a Conservative lady who had retained her seat on a rural authority and who told me "Don't forget that I am a housewife, too, and I would urge you to keep up the pressure on the Government on this very important matter." I will not refer to what happened in Lowestoft, but if the Minister of Agriculture himself were here I am sure he would feel very worried.

The Minister last week made great play, as did the spokesman for the Government this afternoon, about demands for the return of the National Board for Prices and Incomes and all the cumbrous machinery that he envisaged. I made no such suggestion and I do not make it today. I want to see some definite protection organisation set up by the Government which will co-operate with the Government and be recognised by the Government. The Government's theory of unrestricted competition, with the help of one or two organisations, is wishful thinking. In the present situation it will not work and certainly will not convince the housewife. While prices and the profits of the big food combines continue to rise, discontent will continue to grow. Do not forget that it was the women who swayed the General Election result in spite of the public opinion polls. It is my experience that women have longer memories than most men give them credit for.

The Government have an almost pathetic belief in the value of competition to reduce prices. This may be justified in circumstances where there are adequate supplies to meet demand. But when demand exceeds supply, as in the case of butter and beef, prices rise because of keen competition for supplies. People corner wholesale supplies by astute buying, and the resulting competition for supplies puts up prices. There are many basic foods which are in short supply, and competition for them puts up prices. That is a basic business philosophy. I am not an economist. I believe that we suffer from them too much. But these are the simple facts of life. This is the sort of situation that I am asking the Government to investigate and control as part of the battle against wage-cost inflation.

I do not detract from the value of voluntary organisations such as those mentioned by the Under-Secretary of State. Apparently, there is now a move to set up a consumers' union. I have been approached in this connection and it may be that other hon. Members have. Such a body could become quite a militant one, and there is a danger in this. I remember the Housewives' League, which put out the Labour Government of 1945–50 and became almost a subsidiary of the Conservative Central Office —[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but I am giving them advice based on experience of the past.

The Government made a fatal mistake in abolishing the Consumer Council. I feel that they should now set up a similar body with wider powers, and I have suggested already that among its members there should be representative housewives. I do not suggest that lightly. I hold the view that the Government would be well advised to keep in touch with representative housewives, who can keep their Government closely in touch with their problems. This is vital from a public relations point of view, and I appeal to the Government to do it.

Another factor which has emerged since last Monday's debate is one that I have taken very seriously. A letter from a Norwich doctor supporting my case appeared in my local paper. It went on to express serious concern about the inevitable lowering of nutritional standards due to the rising prices of basic foods, with a consequent threat to the nation's health. This is a very serious matter. It is a point of real substance and an added and vital reason for a strict watch and check to be made on the price movements of essential foods.

Today's debate inevitably is political in character, but I appeal sincerely to the Government to set aside their natural party prejudice. I do not blame them for it. We on this side have it as well. The Government should implement the requests made by an undivided House last Monday. To do so would be an act of statesmanship. To fail would intensify the divisions in the nation, which I for one would deplore.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace), no doubt with the best intentions, once again has confused two quite separate matters. The separation was made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in a brilliantly clear speech. It is that consumer matters divide themselves fairly sharply into those dealing with the terms of trade, price movements and matters of that kind, and those concerned with the framework of the trade, advertising, hire purchase, quality and all those matters. What is the right machinery for one is not the right machinery for another.

When the hon. Gentleman appeals for the reinstitution of the Consumer Council, I cannot help thinking that lie believes that somehow the Council has control over prices, or would have had if it had continued. However, that was not its function. I am certain—and, if I were not, no amount of doctrinaire feelings or dogma would prevent me changing my mind—that no agencies or boards, whether public, semi-public or private, will ever be able to control prices. The most that we can do is, in conditions of monopoly or semi-monopoly or of restrictive practices, to provide suitable judicial and quasi-judicial agencies. I was delighted to hear that a rolling programme is envisaged by the Government for a bigger and better attack upon the monopolies and near monopolies which exist in our commercial and industrial system. We are told that it is foreshadowed for the next Session.

I want to devote my speech mainly to the second and quite unrelated matter, that of consumer protection, properly so- called. I agree with the objective of my hon. Friend, which is that as far as possible this must be self-regulating. Parliament must provide the framework of laws in which the consumer has a chance to protect himself and stand before the law on something like equal terms against his adversary, who must be the commercial and industrial interests.

I fear that he does not do so at present. I do not think that one can do what I should like to see done eventually, which is to withdraw all public support for the consumer in this connection, until there is a greater equality before the law in this matter of the consumer claims. Whereas I welcome such legislation as the Misrepresentation Act and other improvements in the civil law, both actual and envisaged, which will give him greater powers and I am glad to know that the exclusion of the normal Sale of Goods Act warranties is very much in the mind of the Government at the moment—none of that will do much good unless in the civil courts the consumer is able, for reasons of cost and so on, to take advantage of these laws. At present he is quite unable to do so. That is why it was necessary in the Trades Descriptions Act to give to the criminal law functions which are not or should not be criminal at all. The consumer is unable to take action in the civil courts because he cannot afford it.

I shall not expand upon this point. The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) know my views on the subject, and they have been somewhat crystallised in the Private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) for the institution of small claims courts.

There are many different views about the machinery which should be set up, just as there are about whether we should adopt the American system or adapt our own county court system. However, the way to get down costs, which is the crux of the matter, is not by means of increased legal aid. No amount of legal aid in the future could possibly deal with the problem. The only way to keep costs down is for the court itself to call the evidence, instituting the investigating officer as an official of the court, and thus doing away with the very expensive cross-examination of experts, with an expert's fee for each side, and with a great deal of time spent in the county courts.

At present it is quite outside the scope of possibility of the consumer, not merely the poor consumer but the average consumer, who buys his washing machine or some other consumer durable and finds that it goes wrong, or who puts in central heating and finds that it goes wrong. At present he has no effective redress in the civil courts against the offending firm purely because lie cannot afford the costs. Certainly he cannot afford the possibility of defeat in the county court. That is a wrong situation. Hon. Members on both sides must have experienced the sort of hollow echo of laughter which occurs when a constituent asks, "What am I to do? I have a dispute with a commercial firm." Faced with such a situation, an hon. Member may say, "I am afraid that that is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the law courts, for you and your legal advisers." That is the correct answer. It is not a matter in which either central or local government is involved. The theory on which we work is that we should not interfere in such matters. But the hollow laughter which comes back is more than most of us can take because that advice is no advice. First, solicitors are reluctant to take consumer cases, as is well known, because there is no money in them. So the county courts have become totally unbalanced. The courts which were to have been for the poor man, created about 120 years ago, are now barred not only to the poor man but to the average man regarding these small claims.

It is in this direction that the Government, particularly their legal members, should be directing their attention. So far there have been indications to the contrary, from both this Government and the last Government, on this all-important question of the small claims court. I use that as a "shorthand" description, although it is not a very good title. Until that is put right, there is not much point in passing civil law after civil law giving increasing rights to the consumer when they are theoretical in 99 per cent. of cases.

I hope that when we congratulate ourselves on these splendid laws which we have passed and are to pass, we shall realise that passing them is only the beginning. Until the procedure in the small claims courts is made open and possible for the consumer, I believe that there must be a public pressure group, which in theory I and my hon. Friend dislike, which, in some inefficient way, at least would hold the line until the legal procedural reforms which I have advocated are put into practice.

6.12 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who is my constituency neighbour, that prices and the general problem of consumer protection are to some extent separate issues. I do not want to talk about prices today—the Minister will be very relieved—except to say that the Government can hardly complain if they have been knocked about a bit concerning prices. We all vividly remember the lurid details set out in equally lurid leaflets about every small price increase which occurred under the Labour Government and the explicit promise issuing forth from the Conservatives before and during the General Election campaign that they would somehow bring a halt to rising prices. Since they have not done that, they can hardly complain if we rub it in a bit.

Consumer protection is really the problem of the day-to-day frustrations of ordinary people whenever they come into contact with commercial organisations, whether shopkeepers or manufacturers, to get any satisfaction from legitimate complaints. We all know about these frustrations because we have all suffered from them.

It is significant that today the Sun in its leading article, under the headline, "The Great Repair Racket", says: The service and repair of household appliances is now a national scandal. This is perfectly true. One buys an expensive washing machine and assumes that it will last for a long time. When the housewife tries to obtain a spare part for a small appliance which has gone wrong she is often rebuffed and suffers a series of excuses: "The thing is now out of stock. There is a new model.

Write to our service department". When she writes to the service department, she does not get a reply. So she then writes to the headquarters and again gets no reply, or an excuse.

The irritability, temper and effect on the health of the average person due to his or her inability to get any kind of satisfaction on a minor point, is very great. Shopping around for a small washer does not work, because one cannot get it. It probably is not made. This is why there is a need for a powerful body to speak for the consumer.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)

I am following my hon. Friend's argument with close interest. Does he recall that the Crowther Report on Consumer Credit advocated the appointment of a consumers' ombudsman in that sphere? Does he agree that this official should have his powers extended to cover the surveillance of all prices?

Mr. Davidson

I agree; but I want to go further. One reason for the public being so frustrated is that they do not know where to make complaints. I should like to see a specific Government Department responsible for consumer affairs and nothing else. The Minister may nod and think that it is impracticable. I remind him that in Canada a Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs has recently been appointed and is doing a very good job. The public in Canada are able to write to a Government Department with their complaints. The oath of office of the Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs states: The Minister shall initiate, recommend or undertake programmes designed to promote the interests of the Canadian consumer. I should like a Minister, preferably of Cabinet rank, to have the specific job of promoting the interests of the British consumer. No Department has specific responsibility for the consumer. It seems to be the responsibility of a number of Departments and Ministers. The Department of Trade and Industry deals with weights and measures rules, trade descriptions, and the like. In some ways, it carries out those responsibilities very well. But the main responsibility of that Department is directed towards trade and industry. The pressure of trade and industry on the Minister is very great indeed, but no pressure is brought to bear upon him by the consumer in general because he has not got access to him.

Similarly, the Home Office has responsibility for bringing in all kinds of safety regulations, but it acts in a rather dilatory manner. Safety is important to the public, yet they have no say in the matter.

I believe that a Department with specific responsibility to act for the consumer is essential if he is to get anything like a fair deal.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument, but will he take it a stage further and tell us what power he proposes to give this Department?

Mr. Davidson

No, I will not tell the hon. Gentleman. He will have to work that out. I can understand the reluctance of hon. Members opposite to accept that they are the Government, but they must take responsibility. They have expert advisers, so it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility to work something out. I hope they will.

I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he would take some action on the irritating matter of exclusion clauses in contracts of guarantee. I hope that early action will be taken, because the Law Commission has recommended that they should be abolished. There is no reason for the Government not acting upon that recommendation as soon as possible.

Also, for consumer protection, the Government ought to introduce by law the concept of unit pricing for a wide range of commodities such as detergents, soap, cosmetics and biscuits. I cannot see why the public should not be enabled to compare value for money price for price and weight for weight. It should be easy for the public to do that, and I should like the Government to consider implementing that proposal as soon as possible.

I do not want to delay the House for much longer. I have made my point, and I conclude by saying that there is a need for a specific body to represent the consumer. Despite what the Minister said—and I think he was rather complacent—he has not made clear why, if the Consumer Council was necessary and a good thing a few years ago, and the Opposition as they then were felt constrained to praise it in their election manifesto, they have suddenly, on becoming the Government, found a reason for abolishing it. They have not explained why they have abolished it. I think they have done so because they have a doctrinaire objection to it, and for no other reason.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I have no doubt that rising prices had a profound effect on the local government election results last week, but it is somewhat odd that the Labour Party should be the beneficiary of the failure so far of the Government to bring prices under control. After all, it was the Labour Party that invented S.E.T., and it was the party that lost the local government elections which halved that tax. It was the Labour Party which, in Budget after Budget, raised indirect taxation, and only this afternoon we have seen hon. Gentlement opposite go into paroxysms of rage at the suggestion that tariffs should be cut. A tariff cut can only benefit the consumer, whatever other results may flow from such a move.

I want to devote the main part of my remarks to supporting the plea made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) for a small claims court. Like the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), whom I think I can call my hon. Friend, I was delighted to hear that the Government intend to take action on the exclusion clauses under the Sale of Goods Act. This may be of some importance, but in the years that I have been in the House I have known only one constituent take action under the Sale of Goods Act to protect himself, and he won his case. Not only did he win, but he received all the legal aid that it was possible to give him. Nevertheless, at the end of the day he told me, "I thought I had won, but I find that I have lost", and that was because, although we gave him all the help that was possible, and although he won on every ground, he was worse off than he was before he brought the case. That situation is clearly a nonsense, and until the consumer can go to court, without ruining himself, to protect himself against goods and services that are defective, he will not be properly protected.

The Consumer Council, whose passing I lament—I join the hon. Member for Accrington, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen in regretting its demise—produced a report on the small claims court. That was only one of the Council's many good works. The consumer still needs a pressure group working on his behalf, and the way in which the Department of Trade and Industry has taken on more and more responsibility over the whole range of industry increases rather than decreases the necessity for the views of the consumer to be heard in the echoing corridors of that Department.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

I shall be brief, but I want to deal with the point made by the Minister that so much legislation in this respect has been passed that in a sense it absolves us from the necessity of having a conumer association to protect the consumer.

Among the legislation that we have passed, there is the Trade Description Act. Having reread the kind of fraud with which the Minister and his colleagues went to the country, I am not sure that we cannot invoke the Trade Descriptions Act to deal with the situation confronting us. Hon. Gentlemen opposite promised: We will give overriding priority to bringing the present inflation under control. It seems to me that under Section 11(3) of the Trade Descriptions Act they are in grave danger of offering goods as available for supply and then failing to come up with the goods, but I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Good-hart) that this has become a major political issue. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, because he has recognised what his Front Bench has not.

What was regarded as one of the Government's meanest measures was the ending of the Consumer Council. I speak with care, because I had a slight vested interest in it by marriage, because my wife was a member of the Consumer Council. However, as the Government have sacked her I am by the same token free, for once, to speak on consumer affairs.

It is not sufficient to pass legislation to deal with the problem. The real difficulty is that people do not know how to take advantage of that legislation. My weekends used to be plagued by the telephone ringing and people asking, "Are you the woman who takes up carpets?" That is how they used to describe my wife, because there was no one else to whom they could put their queries. They used to try to do things in that amateur way.

It is clear that the Government do not intend to recreate the Consumer Council which they have just abolished, but the Minister has rightly paid tribute to the work done by many voluntary and private bodies. I am associated with the running of two such bodies, the Retail Trading Standards Association and the Consumer Association, and there are a number of other effective bodies in this field.

I hope the Minister will consider setting up a committee with representatives from all the private groups in existence to give him advice from time to time and to supplement the advice that he gets from his own excellent officials. I fear that the voice of the consumer is not heard as loudly as it should be, and unless his voice is heard and heeded, last week's results at the polls may be repeated next year.

We have the Trade Descriptions Act, but we have not made it easy for people to use the provisions of that Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) talked about value for money weight for weight and price for price. It is not good enough to say that a consumer can tell whether it is better to buy 6⅞ ozs. of biscuits at 21p, or 7¼ozs. of biscuits at 23½p. Perhaps the Minister will tell me which is the better value.

Nor is it good enough to say, as the Minister did, that because it was so effective, and because of the work that it did in stimulating consumer protection, the Consumer Council is no longer necessary, that it has worked itself out of existence having done the job that it was set up to do. Every consumer organisation protested against the abolition of the Consumer Council. The real difficulty about the Council was that it did not have enough powers. Something on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington—a Ministry of Consumer Protection—may be the right way forward. Perhaps we could resurrect the Council and give it power to investigate complaints. That is one of the difficulties. Amateur organisations have been examining complaints. All the best ones have said, "Write to your M.P." We hope that House of Commons notepaper will make a firm jump, but it does not always work. We have no power to make a firm jump if it does not wish to do so.

The Minister has said that we are no longer talking about prices. In that case, what about the debate last week, when a Motion concerning prices was agreed to by the House? Today's Motion trusts that the new organisation will embrace all the powers of the Consumer Council". I hope it does, and I also hope it will have the power to examine prices.

It is not true that competition by itself brings down prices. Competition takes place in order that the competitive battle may be won by somebody. Firms do not compete and then blow the whistle for half-time. That is the great dilemma of the party opposite. Firms are competing to win, and when a firm wins it immediately occupies a monopolistic position, which means that the Government are in trouble. What are they to do? Are they to create an artificially stimulated firm, so that competition can start again, or do what is being suggested now, by setting up an organisation for consumer protection? Either they are going to interfere or they are not.

Today's Motion is a very serious one. It is not enough for the Minister to sneer at it. He has said that my hon. Friend did not say how the organisation would be constructed, and he read an extract from his speech. To me my hon. Friend seemed to spell out a pretty good remit. There was no need for the Minister to sneer at the suggested presence of housewives on the body to be set up. Until we can extend democracy in this way there is no call for that kind of reply. We should pass the Motion because it is the will of the House, as indicated last week.

Secondly, we must pay atention to prices. Prices are not rising by accident; many factors are involved. We have appointed a Minister whose wholehearted philosophy is to increase prices At the same time as the Government were saying, two days before the General Election, that they would cut prices at a stroke they were busy making preparations to appoint a Minister whose view is that the nation has been molly-coddled for too long by receiving cheap food. That person is now Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is no accident that food prices are rising. It has not been due to inflated wage demands alone; it is also because we have a Government and a Minister of Food who are dedicated to the proposition that food prices should rise.

Unless we hear that philosophy repudiated from the Front Bench today we must push the Motion to a Division. I hope the Government will accept the will of the House and agree to the Motion.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. Richard Luce (Arundel and Shoreham)

I shall be brief. I have been concerned in matters affecting consumers and consumerism for the last three or four years, and I therefore want to make two or three points. Perhaps because I have been succeeded in my last job in the National Innovation Centre by Dame Elizabeth Ackroyd, whose work has been so concerned with consumer interests. I have a more direct link with the work of the Consumer Council.

I agree with my hon. Friends who have suggested that it is a fallacy to suppose that there is a link between setting up a national agency such as has been suggested—perhaps a revival of the Consumer Council—and a reduction in prices. I should have thought that the people who worked in the Consumer Council during the last seven years would be the first to agree that their work has had little effect in terms of a reduction in prices. They might argue that some of the work they have done has had a marginal effect upon prices. We would all agree that some of their work has had an educational effect upon the consumer, in that consumers have been told the reasons why price increases have occurred.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Does the hon. Member agree that the Consumer Council would be deeply concerned about the quality of a product in relation to the price paid for it?

Mr. Luce

I am coming to that point. There is general agreement, certainly among those who have worked in the consumer field, that the setting up of such a body would not have the literal effect of reducing prices.

Nevertheless, I believe that in a competitive economy it is necessary to have a central consumer organisation. In the private sector excellent work has been done by the Consumers Association, which gives information on products and services. Products have been examined by about 80 consumer groups. There is the Housewives' Trust and the C.A.Bs. But, despite all these bodies, the evidence is that we still need a focal point to act as a lubricating machine between the interests of the consumers and the interests of the producers. We need such a body to co-ordinate consumer activities and to apply pressure.

An examination of the work done by the Consumer Council over the last seven years bears out my point that it has had little direct effect upon prices but has nevertheless played an extremeliy useful rôle in helping the consumer in putting forward his case in many ways. It advocated the abolition of retail price maintenance, but in 1964 the Government had already decided to take action.

The Council exerted pressure to enforce maximum prices for the resale of electricity and gas, and to retain the sixpence after decimalisation. It has done useful work in many ways. It has advocated the setting up of local insurance information centres and the licensing of brokers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) will bear me out when I say that some of the Council's most valuable work has been in connection with selling methods. It has said some strong things about doorstep selling methods and some of the abuses that have taken place, and has managed to bring about a voluntary code of conduct in connection with the sale of educational books and central heating systems by doorstep salesmen. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham will also agree that it played an invaluable rôle in helping him to get through his Unsolicited Goods and Services Act.

In travel, the Council has played a leading part in getting a petrol grading system, and has also played a most useful role in improving the safety of electrical appliances, fire extinguishers, flammable nightdresses, toys, and so on. Its rôle in the consumer field has been very useful.

The Government should go out of their way to encourage the revival of a central consumer organisation, but there is a case for a joint effort by the Government and private sources together. I would urge the Government to consider doing everything in their power to bring this about. But it is a sheer pipe dream to suppose that by setting up or reviving the Consumer Council one could dramatically reduce prices.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)

At any rate today we have heard a new principle of Government—at least of this Government—that when Motions are moved which the Government think are inadequately argued, they will not oppose them but will then arrogantly reject the view of the House. This will assist the Opposition in putting down Motions and in getting them through, but it may not assist them in getting them implemented.

The Opposition Motion calls for the setting up of an organisation for consumer protection; the Government Motion places its faith in competition plus the efforts of unspecified public organisations. One which the Under-Secretary mentioned was the Monopolies Commission. I will come to what he said on that score. One public organisation should be an organisation like the Consumer Council. What public organisation is there which on its own initiative, without reference from the Government, after a survey of the whole field and a careful study, can advise the Government, Parliament and public on matters like consumer protection problems, on legislation for consumer protection, on how—as the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) put it—to achieve greater equality before the law, on improvements needed in competition legislation for the benefit of the consumer?

Why have not the Government understood the significance of the fact that it is some of those of us on both sides of the House who are most in favour of strengthening the forces of competition who are most in favour of an organisation like the Consumer Council? The hon. and learned Member for Darwen I sometimes regard as the voice of competition on the Government benches. He is in favour of a body like the Consumer Council. Indeed, I think that every hon. Member opposite who spoke is in favour of body like that.

What was the Council's own definition of its job? Its definition, written by Lord Donaldson, was "to make competition effective"—to make it effective by pressure, information and legislation. I would remind the House of Lord Donaldson's judgment at the end of the years of the Consumer Council: The experience of all consumer organisations is that it is becoming more, not less, difficult for consumers to get value for money. I was interested in the example of Canada quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), where they have seen the importance of bringing competition legislation together with Consumer Council-type activity to the extent of putting them together in the same Government Ministry, recently created. These things go together. The object of the Consumer Council was indeed to make competition more effective.

Two questions arise out of this debate. The first arises from the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and others. That is, what will the Government do about the idea of a small claims court proposed by the Consumer Council? Second, are the Government preparing the Crowther legislation? It will be difficult and complicated legislation to write. Are they doing that job? When will it be introduced?

The Government obviously consider that there are many areas of economic activity in which competition is not effective. They take a certain amount of credit for price cuts which they say have followed the cut in S.E.T., although they are rather naive in this. They seem to have forgotten what no housewife would forget—that talking about price cuts is one of the methods of competition in this country. But this is clearly the Government's basic view—that there are many areas where competition is not effective.

This is most recently shown by the statements over the weekend and today by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about the consideration given to cutting motor car tariffs. He obviously thinks that competition is not effective enough in that industry, so he is considering unilateral tariff reductions—but he will not make such reductions. He has also made that sufficiently clear. He may have pleased some of his hon. Friends by saying that they are thinking about it, but the idea of making these cuts is one which the Government obviously will not fulfil.

If the Government are not going to do this in an area where they claim, in these statements, that competition is not effective, what will they do? Why will they not introduce price control? What will they do about the motor car industry if that is their view?

We have been hearing for some time most recently in the Press, leaks and rumours about what the Government would do to strengthen the forces of competition. I welcome the announcements by the Under-Secretary today, particularly the short reference on breakfast cereals. He said that more references have been made by his Government in the last year than were made by the Labour Government in their last years. But I would remind him that if he is to have competition with us in the numbers of references—I do not mind such competition—he must count the references made to the Prices and Incomes Board, which was also concerned with the effectiveness of competition in securing price reductions or ensuring that price increases were not greater than they had to be. When he can beat us in that competition, I will certainly compliment him.

But the House should realise what certain of the hon. Gentleman's announcements today really mean. For instance, there was the important announcement about the subject of price leadership. He said that that was a general reference. General references to the Monopolies Commission do not give the Government powers of action when it reports. If any action is required which is outside the existing law, as is very often the case, legislation is necessary. So what is the total process in the Government's consideration of price leadership? We have had a year of this Government before they decided to make this reference, and now there will be two years, probably, while the Monopolies Commission considers it, and then, if necessary, legislation. If this is dealing with prices at a stroke, we need some redefinition of terms.

The Under-Secretary also suggested that perhaps when the legislation is introduced in the autumn there will be something to do with price control in certain market power situations. When I asked him what those situations amounted to, he could not tell us. I suggest to him and the Government that they should do precisely what was included in the Commission for Industry and Manpower Bill, which they opposed—that is, make it clear that, in all market power situations, not just any situations defined within the existing legislation as dealing with a third of the market for goods, there should be a power of price control.

Until the Government have gone that far, they cannot claim to have sufficiently strengthened the forces of competition to deal with the price situation which arises in areas of imperfect competition, which is what they apparently claim to be doing. But what will have been apparent during this debate—it is certainly apparent to this side of the House—is the complete and obvious inadequacy of what the Government are doing about prices in this period of gross inflation.

Their powers are inadequate, and they are not taking more until studies are done or until the autumn. The timescale of their handling of the problem is inadequate. Indeed, it is clear that the Government have not the faintest idea what to do in this situation. Their desperation about what to do, as speeches by hon. Members opposite have shown, has not been reduced by the local government elections.

So we are getting a new style of Government—government by ineffectual threat. "We will not bale out companies which give inflationary wage increases". How many companies have so far asked the Government to be baled out? "We will consider unilaterally cutting tariffs for industries where inflationary wage settlements are made." What unilateral cuts in tariffs have been made or will be made?

I shudder to think what terrible threats the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will come out with next to chill our blood. He may shortly be using the famous words of King Lear, who had trouble with two of his daughters, greater than even the trouble that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has with British industry: I will do such things— What they are yet I know not—but they shall be The terrors of the earth. The Government do not know what to do. All they are doing is to threaten but not to act. Indeed, this is the judgment on the Government. Instead of competition, we have threats; instead of leadership, floundering; instead of action, words.

6.50 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)

I have only a brief time in which to reply, and I shall, therefore, have of necessity to go rather quickly. This debate has been conducted on two levels. At one level it has been a bit of a charade, and at the other perfectly serious.

When the Opposition Motion calls for a new organisation, perhaps I need say no more than this. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) last week and his hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace) today both made it clear that they are looking for an organisation which will control prices. "Investigate and control" was what the hon. Member for Norwich, North said. Anybody who heard my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wind up the debate last Monday will have been left in no doubt that it is not the Government's intention to introduce any body to start controlling prices. That was our attitude, and it remains our attitude a week later.

Bearing in mind the clear, unequivocal, specific and categorical repudiation of that part of last week's Motion, I say on behalf of the Government that the Opposition Motion today is a bit of a charade. It was suggested by one or two hon. Members—the hon. Member for Norfolk, North himself used some fairly extravagant language—that it was offensive, contemptible and arrogant that we had not immediately adopted his proposal.

Mr. Wallace


Mr. Jenkin

I cannot give way; I have only about eight minutes left.

There is plenty of precedent for this. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), in a Motion concerning single women and their dependants, made the most specific demands for new social security benefits, and his Motion was carried. The Government did not do anything about it—nobody seriously suggested that they would—but the constitution did nod fall around our ears.

We all know that hon. Members opposite, or some of them, are looking for the return of the high old days of the Prices and Incomes Board, with the joys of norms and criteria, early warnings and statutory guidelines. Equally well, however, they know that we on this side are not. That is why I describe that part of today's Motion as a charade.

A number of serious issues have been raised and I will try to deal with them. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) mentioned the suggestion made by the Consumer Council in its publication "Justice out of Reach" for small claims courts. I remind him that on 17th February this year my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General told the House in response to a Question that this was one of the matters that were being studied by the Lord Chancellor. There were certain difficulties in the precise proposals put forward in the publication, but my noble Friend has arranged for the matter to be considered at a conference of county court judges, registrars and chief clerks and their suggestions are to be put to the County Court Rules Committee. It is suggested that to make justice cheaper in the county courts would be likely to be more effective than to set up an entirely new set of courts.

The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) asked about the Crowther Report. He will, I am sure, recognise that this was a long and complex Report. It is, of course, being urgently considered by the Government, and I am sure that the House will realise that it is too soon for me to make any sort of announcement on legislation.

The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), asked about weights and measures and whether we should not extend the powers under the weights and measures legislation to other categories of consumer protection. The Government are to produce a White Paper on metrication, and there is not the slightest doubt that the introduction of metric standards will greatly simplify the problems of weights and measures. I think we should await that White Paper before taking any decisions.

The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) made the astonishing suggestion that housewives are frequently incapable of shopping around, for a variety of reasons which he gave.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

In some categories.

Mr. Jenkin

I must remind the right hon. Gentleman what the Prices and Incomes Board said in one of its final Reports, on Prices, Profits and Costs in Food Distribution, at paragraph 199: our consumer survey…showed that most shoppers did not in practice use manufacturers' recommended prices as a basis for judging whether the price of an item was high or low. They tended to compare prices between shops rather than against the recommended price.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

indicated dissent.

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Member shakes his head, but that was a point made by the board which he wants to restore. It really is not on.

I should like, during the last few moments of the debate, to say a word about price inflation. It is a serious social evil as well as a grave economic danger, because it hits the poor and the retired, and it hits those on fixed incomes hardest of all. It forces a redistribution of income from the weak to the strong.

If we want price stability, then we cannot all have large increases in pay every year regardless of the rise in productivity. Those are not my words. They come from the last Government's White Paper on prices and incomes of December, 1969. There is not the slightest doubt that the sharp acceleration in wage claims since the third quarter of 1969 has had a

delayed but dramatic effect on the increase in price inflation.

Had there been time, I would have been delighted to quote the figures, but the pattern is absolutely incontrovertible: wage rises increasing rapidly from the middle of 1969 and price rises following six to nine months later. There cannot be one right hon. or hon. Member who does not in his heart acknowledge it. We are, therefore, asked for price controls. This is a lot of nonsense. Modern industrial society, modern consumer requirements, modern design and selling, would make it impossible for a total system of price control, which could only become increasingly bureaucratic and irrelevant. Those, again, are not my words. They are the words of the Leader of the Opposition in a lecture in New York less than two weeks ago. I concede that he was not forswearing all price controls. Nevertheless, his words, spoken less than two weeks ago abroad, contrast markedly with the words of many hon. Members opposite in the House this afternoon.

The fact is that we have a policy to fight inflation which is clear, which is working and which will be effective. It is the de-escalation of wage settlements. It is a firm control of the money supply. It is the reform of industrial relations. It is the reduction of taxation. It is the promotion of competition. We will not be deflected from this course by temporary unpopularity outside the House or by foolish charades in it. The Labour Party has nothing to offer but a repetition of the measures which failed when it was in office.

I ask the House to accept the Government's Amendment and to reject the Opposition Motion.

Question put, That the Amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 288, Noes 255.

Division No. 364.] AYES [7.0 p.m.
Adley, Robert Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Braine, Bernard
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Benyon, w. Bray, Ronald
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Berry, Hn. Anthony Brewis, John
Astor, John Biffen, John Brinton, Sir Tatton
Atkins, Humphrey Biggs-Davison, John Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher
Awdry, Daniel Blatter, Peter Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Bruce-Gardyne, J.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Body, Richard Bryan, Paul
Balniel, Lord Boscawen, Robert Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Bossom, Sir Clive Buck, Antony
Batsford, Brian Bowden, Andrew Bullus, Sir Eric
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Burden, F. A.
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Carlisle, Mark Holland, Philip Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Holt, Miss Mary Osborn, John
Cary, Sir Robert Hordern, Peter Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Channon, Paul Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Page, Graham (Crosby)
Chapman, Sydney Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Howell, David (Guildford) Parkinson, Cecid (Enfield, W.)
Churchill, W. S. Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Peel, John
Clark William (Surrey, E.) Hunt, John Percival, Ian
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hutchison, Michael Clark Pink, R. Bonner
Clegg, Walter Iremonger, T. L. Pounder, Rafton
Cockeram, Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Cooke, Robert James, David Proudfoot, Wilfred
Coombs, Derek Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Cooper, A. E. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Quennell, Miss J. M.
Cordle, John Jessel, Toby Raison, Timothy
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Costain, A. p. Jopling, Michael Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Critchley, Julian Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Redmond, Robert
Crouch, David Kellett, Mrs. Elaine Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Curran, Charles Kershaw, Anthony Rees, Peter (Dover)
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Kilfedder, James Rees-Davies, W. R.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. James King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Dean, Paul Kinsey, J. R. Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kirk, Peter Ridsdale, Julian
Dixon, Piers Kitson, Timothy Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Knox, David Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Drayson, G. B. Lambton, Antony Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Lane, David Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Dykes, Hugh Langford-Holt, Sir John Rost, Peter
Eden, Sir John Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Royle, Anthony
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Le Marchant, Spencer Russell, Sir Ronald
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Emery, Peter Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Scott-Hopkins, James
Eyre, Reginald Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Sharples, Richard
Farr, John Longden, Gilbert Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Fell, Anthony Loveridge, John Shelton, William (Clapham)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Luce, R. N. Simeons, Charles
Fidler, Michael McAdden, Sir Stephen Sinclair, Sir George
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) MacArthur, Ian Skeet, T. H. H.
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) McCrindle, R. A. Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles McLaren, Martin Soref, Harold
Fookes, Miss Janet Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Speed, Keith
Fortescue, Tim McMaster, Stanley Spence, John
Foster, Sir John Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Fowler, Norman McNair-Wilson, Michael Sproat, Iain
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Stainton, Keith
Fry, Peter Maddan, Martin Stanbrook, Ivor
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Madel, David Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper)
Gardner, Edward Maginnis, John E. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Gibson-Watt, David Marpes, Rt. Hn. Ernest Stokes, John
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Marten, Neil Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mather, Carol Sutcliffe, John
Goodhart, Philip Maude, Angus Tapsell, Peter
Goodhew, Victor Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Gorst, John Mawby, Ray Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Gower, Raymond Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Gray, Hamish Mills, Peter (Torrington) Tebbit, Norman
Green, Alan Temple, John M.
Grieve, Percy Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Gummer, Selwyn Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Gurden, Harold Moate, Roger Tilney, John
Hall, John (Wycombe) Molyneaux, James Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Monks, Mrs. Connie Trew, Peter
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Monro, Hector Tugendhat, Christopher
Hannam, John (Exeter) Montgomery, Fergus Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) More, Jasper van Straubenzee, W. R.
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Morgan, Geriant (Denbigh) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Haselhurst, Alan Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Vickers, Dame Joan
Hastings, Stephen Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Waddington, David
Havers, Michael Mudd, David Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Hawkins, Paul Murton, Oscar Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Hayhoe, Barney Nabarro, Sir Gerald Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Neave, Airey Walters, Dennis
Heseltine, Michael Nicholls, Sir Harmar Ward, Dame Irene
Hicks, Robert Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Warren, Kenneth
Higgins, Terence L. Normanton, Tom Wells, John (Maidstone)
Hiley, Joseph Nott, John White, Roger (Gravesend)
Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Onslow, Cranley Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Wiggin, Jerry Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wilkinson, John Woodnutt, Mark Mr. Bernard Weatherill and
Wolrige-Gordon, Patrlick Worsley, Marcus Mr. Hugh Rossi.
Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard Younger, Hn. George
Abse, Leo Ford, Ben Marks, Kenneth
Albu, Austen Forrester, John Marquand, David
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fraser, John (Norwood) Marsden, F.
Allen, Scholefield Freeson, Reginald Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Ashley, Jack Galpern, Sir Myer Mayhew, Christopher
Ashton, Joe Garrett, W. E. Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Atkinson, Norman Gilbert, Dr. John Mendelson, John
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ginsburg, David Mikardo, Ian
Barnes, Michael Golding, John Millan, Bruce
Barnett, Joel Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Gourlay, Harry Molloy, William
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Grant, George (Morpeth) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Bidwell, Sydney Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Bishop, E. S. Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Hamling, William Moyle, Roland
Booth, Albert Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Hardy, Peter Murray, Ronald King
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Harper, Joseph Ogden, Eric
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) O'Halloran, Michael
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Oram, Bert
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Orbach, Maurice
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Heffer, Eric S. Orme, Stanley
Buchan, Norman Horam, John Oswald, Thomas
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Paget, R. T.
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Huckfield, Leslie Palmer, Arthur
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Mark (Durham) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pavitt, Laurie
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Hunter, Adam Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Pendry, Tom
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Janner, Greville Pentland, Norman
Coleman, Donald Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Perry, Ernest G.
Concannon, J. D. Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Conlan, Bernard Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Prescott, John
Corbet, Mrs. Freda John, Brynmor Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Price, William (Rugby)
Crawshaw, Richard Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Probert, Arthur
Cronin, John Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Rankin, John
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Jones, Dan (Burnley) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Dalyell, Tam Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Richard, Ivor
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Judd, Frank Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davidson, Arthur Kaufman, Gerald Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Kelley, Richard Robertson, John (Paisley)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kerr, Russell Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n & R'dnor)
Davies, Ifor (Cower) Kinnock, Neil Rddgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydvil) Lambie, David Roper, John
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Lamond, James Rose, Paul B.
Deakins, Eric Lawson, George Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Leadbitter, Ted Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Delargy, H. J. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Leonard, Dick Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dempsey, James Lestor, Miss Joan Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)
Doig, Peter Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Lipton, Marcus Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lomas, Kenneth Sillars, James
Driberg, Tom Loughlin, Charles Silverman, Julius
Duffy, A. E. P. Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Skinner, Dennis
Dunn, James A. Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Small, William
Dunnett, Jack Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Spearing, Nigel
Eadie, Alex McBride, Neil Spriggs, Leslie
Edelman, Maurice McCartney, Hugh Stallard, A. W.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McElhone, Frank Steel, David
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Mackenzie, Gregor Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Ellis, Tom Mackie, John Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
English, Michael Mackintosh, John P. Stodart, David (Swindon)
Evans, Fred Maclennan, Robert Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Fenryhough, Rt. Hn. E. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Strang, Gavin
Fisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham, Ladywood) McNamara, J. Kevin Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) MacPherson, Malcolm Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Swain, Thomas
Foley, Maurice Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Taverne, Dick
Foot, Michael Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.) Wallace, George Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy Watkins, David Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Tinn, James Weitzman, David Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Torney, Tom Wellbeloved, James Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Tuck, Raphael Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Woof, Robert
Urwin, T. W. White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Varley, Eric G. Whitehead, Phillip TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wainwright, Edwin Whitlock, William Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mr. James Hamilton.

Main Question, as amended, put:

The House divided: Ayes 289, Noes 255.

Division No. 365.] AYES [7.12 p.m.
Adley, Robert Dykes, Hugh Jennings, J, C. (Burton)
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Eden, Sir John Jessel, Toby
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Astor, John Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Jopling, Michael
Atkins, Humphrey Emery, Peter Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Awdry, Daniel Eyre, Reginald Kellett, Mrs. Elaine
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Farr, John Kershaw, Anthony
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Fell, Anthony Kilfedder, James
Balniel, Lord Fenner, Mrs. Peggy King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Fidler, Michael King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Batsford, Brian Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Kinsey, J, R.
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Kirk, Peter
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kitson, Timothy
Benyon, W. Fookes, Miss Janet Knox, David
Berry, Hn. Anthony Fortescue, Tim Lambton, Antony
Biffen, John Foster, Sir John Lane, David
Biggs-Davison, John Fowler, Norman Langford-Holt, Sir John
Blaker, Peter Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Fry, Peter Le Marchant, Spencer
Body, Richard Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Boscawen, Robert Gardner, Edward Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)
Bossom, Sir Clive Gibson-Watt, David Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Bowden, Andrew Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Longden, Gilbert
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Loveridge, John
Braine, Bernard Goodhart, Philip Luce, R. N.
Bray, Ronald Goodhew, Victor McAdden, Sir Stephen
Brewis, John Gorst, John MacArthur, Ian
Brinton, Sir Tatton Gower, Raymond McCrindle, R. A.
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) McLaren, Martin
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Gray, Hamish Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Bruce-Cardyne, J. Green, Alan McMaster, Stanley
Bryan, Paul Grieve, Percy Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) McNair-Wilson, Michael
Buck, Antony Gummer, Selwyn McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)
Bullus, Sir Eric Gunden, Harold Maddan, Martin
Burden, F. A. Hall, John (Wycombe) Madel, David
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Halt-Davis, A. G. F. Maginnis, John E.
Carlisle, Mark Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Marples, Rt. Hn, Ernest
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Hannam, John (Exeter) Marten, Neil
Cary, Sir Robert Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mather, Carol
Channon, Paul Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Maude, Angus
Chapman, Sydney Haselhurst, Alan Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Hastings, Stephen Mawby, Ray
Churchill, W. S. Havers, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J,
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Hawkins, Paul Meyer, Sir Anthony
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hayhoe, Barney Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Clegg, Walter Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Cockeram, Eric Heseltine, Michael Miscampbell, Norman
Cooke, Robert Hicks, Robert Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)
Coombs, Derek Higgins, Terence L. Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Cooper, A. E. Hiley, Joseph Moate, Roger
Cordle, John Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Molyneaux, James
Costain, A. P. Holland, Philip Monks, Mrs, Connie
Critchley, Julian Holt, Miss Mary Monro, Hector
Crouch, David Hordern, Peter Montgomery, Fergus
Curran, Charles Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia More, Jasper
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Howell, David (Guildford) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. James Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Dean, Paul Hunt, John Mudd, David
Digby, Simon Wingfield Hutchison, Michael Clark Murton, Oscar
Dixon, Piers Iremonger, T. L. Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Neave, Airey
Drayson, G. B. James, David Nicholls, Sir Harmar
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Noble, Rt. Hit. Michael
Normanton, Tom Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Nott, John Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Onslow, Cranley Rost, Peter Tilney, John
Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Royle, Anthony Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Russell, Sir Ronald Trew, Peter
Osborn, John St. John-Stevas, Norman Tugerdhat, Christopher
Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Scott-Hopkins, James Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Page, Graham (Crosby) Sharples, Richard van Straubenzee, W, R.
Page, John (Harrow, W.) Shelton, William (Clapham) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.) Simeons, Charles Vickers, Dame Joan
Peel, John Sinclair, Sir George Waddington, David
Percival, Ian Skeet, T. H. H. Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Pink, R, Bonner Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Pounder, Rafton Soref, Harold Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Price, David (Eastleigh) Speed, Keith Walters, Dennis
Proudfoot, wilfred Spence, John Ward, Dame Irene
Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Sproat, Iain Warren, Kenneth
Stainton, Keith Wells, John (Maidstone)
Quennell, Miss J. M. Stanbrook, Ivor White, Roger (Gravesend)
Raison, Timothy Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Ramsden, Rt. Hn, James Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Wiggin, Jerry
Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Stokes, John Wilkinson, John
Redmond, Robert Stuttaford, Dr. Tom Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Sutcliffe, John Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Rees, Peter (Dover) Tapsell, Peter Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Rees-Davies, W. R. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Woodnutt, Mark
Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart) Worsley, Marcus
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Younger, Hn. George
Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Ridsdale, Julian Tebbit, Norman TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey Temple, John M. Mr. Bernard Weatherill and
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret Mr. Hugh Rossi.
Abse, Leo Davies, Ifor (Gower) Heffer, Eric S.
Albu, Austen Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydvil) Horam, John
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Allen, Scholefield Deakins, Eric Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
Armstrong, Ernest de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Huckfield, Leslie
Ashley, Jack Delargy, H. J. Hughes, Rt. Hn. Gledwyn (Anglesey)
Ashton, Joe Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Atkinson, Norman Dempsey, James Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Doig, Peter Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Barnes, Michael Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Hunter, Adam
Barnett, Joel Douglas-Mann, Bruce Irvine,Rt.Hn.SirArthur(Edge Hill)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Driberg, Tom Janner, Greville
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Duffy, A. E. P. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)
Bidwell, Sydney Dunn, James A. Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Bishop, E. S. Dunnett, Jack Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Eadie, Alex John, Brynmor
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Edelman, Maurice Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Booth, Albert Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Edwards, William (Merioneth) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Ellis, Tom Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) English, Michael Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Evans, Fred Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)
Buchan, Norman Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Judd, Frank
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Kaufman, Gerald
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Kelley, Richard
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Foley, Maurice Kerr, Russell
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Foot, Michael Kinnock, Neil
Cant, R. B. Ford, Ben Lambie, David
Carmichael, Neil Forrester, John Lamond, James
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Fraser, John (Norwood) Lawson, George
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Freeson, Reginald Leadbitter, Ted
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Galpern, Sir Myer Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Garrett, W. E. Leonard, Dick
Coleman, Donald Gilbert, Dr. John Lestor, Miss Joan
Concannon, J. D. Ginsburg, David Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Conlan, Bernard Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Lipton, Marcus
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Gourlay, Harry Lomas, Kenneth
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Grant, George (Morpeth) Loughlin, Charles
Crawshaw, Richard Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Cronin, John Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) McBride, Neil
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Hamling, William McCartney, Hugh
Dalyell, Tam Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) McElhone, Frank
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Hardy, Peter Mackenzie, Gregor
Davidson, Arthur Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mackie, John
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Mackintosh, John P.
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Maclennan, Robert
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Stoddart, David (Swindon)
McNamara, J. Kevin Pendry, Tom Storehouse, Rt. Hn. John
MacPherson, Malcolm Pentland, Norman Strang, Gavin
Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Perry, Ernest G. Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Mallalieu, J. P. w. (Huddersfield, E). Prescott, John Swain, Thomas
Marks, Kenneth Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Taverne, Dick
Marquand, David Price, William (Rugby) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Marsden, F. Probert, Arthur Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Rankin, John Thompson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Mayhew, Christopher Reed, D. (Sedgefield) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Meacher, Michael Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Tinn, James
Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Rhodes, Geoffrey Torney, Tom
Mendelson, John Richard, Ivor Tuck, Raphael
Mikardo, Ian Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Ca[...]rnarvon) Urwin, T. W.
Millan, Bruce Robertson, John (Paisley) Varley, Eric G.
Milne, Edward (Blyth) Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n & Radnor) Wainwright, Edwin
Molloy, William Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees) Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Roper, John Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Rose, Paul B. Wallace, George
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock) Watkins, David
Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne) Weitzman, David
Moyle, Roland Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Wellbeloved, James
Murray, Ronald King Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Ogden, Eric Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
O'Halloran, Michael Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Whitehead, Philip
Oram, Bert Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Whitlock, William
Orbach, Maurice Sillars, James Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Orme, Stanley Silverman, Julius Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Oswald, Thomas Skinner, Dennis Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton) Small, William Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Paget, R. T. Spearing, Nigel Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Palmer, Arthur Spriggs, Leslie Woof, Robert
Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Stallard, A. W.
Parker, John (Dagenham) Steel, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Pavitt, Laurie Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham) Mr. John Golding.
That this House welcomes the determination of Her Majesty's Government to protect the interests of consumers through greater competition and through the efforts of existing organisations both public and private.
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