HC Deb 06 February 1973 vol 850 cc226-9
Q4. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech at Plymouth on 18th January on economic matters.

The Prime Minister

I did so on 24th January, Sir.

Mr. Meacher

The Prime Minister has again professed a concern for fairness. Is he aware that the 47 per cent. rise in house prices last year makes an absolute mockery of his claim? Is he aware that this represents a £19,000 million gain for owner-occupiers over the same period that tenants received nothing, except being forced to pay higher rents? Is this not so much a crack in his leaky prices and incomes policy as a veritable burst main?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that those two situations are comparable but in any case we shall discuss that in detail later on.

Mr. Redmond

Will my right hon. Friend repeat what he said in that speech about the arrangements for keeping phase 2 and phase 3 completely fair and particularly helpful to the lower paid?

The Prime Minister

Yes, that is our objective. The fairness in phase 2 is that the same arrangement applies to everybody. We stated publicly from the beginning that our objective is to sort out the anomalies. Some anomalies may have arisen over the past year, but some of them are much more deeply seated and are difficult to deal with. We discussed that matter in the Chequers talks and we recognised that we could not solve all the problems at once but that we had to do it by a system of phasing.

Mr. Harold Wilson

How does the Prime Minister justify asking the House to pass legislation on phase 2 and beyond, setting up the machinery, when the House does not have before it the code which will be the operative law which is to be enforced by that machinery and by the courts? How does he defend the fact that law-making agencies will be set up under this legislation which will make laws enforceable in the courts but which will not even be approved by Parliament or made answerable to Parliament in any way?

The Prime Minister

On the first question relating to the code, it is a perfectly logical position to create a structure in which these matters will be dealt with and in which the House will then have the power to deal with the code. No one has suggested that there will be one code throughout the process of the operation. Therefore, an arrangement must be devised whereby if there is a change, as there was in the United States, a further code for stage 3 can be brought into operation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is dealing with this in Committee upstairs and the document of consultation which we have offered to present to the CBI and the TUC can also be made available to Parliament at the same time. In addition we have said that the draft code can be debated in Parliament and the substantive code will be embodied in the order which will also come before Parliament.

Mr. Wilson

On the first question, will the Prime Minister in that case provide that Parliament can amend the code, because the code will be the operative law of the country and not merely a secondary piece of delegated legislation? Will he go into this to see whether Parliament should not have the right to amend the code?

Secondly, will the Prime Minister say whether the very full statement, with quotations, purporting to be the consultative draft by the CBI and others and published in the Press this morning is an accurate statement of the document pre- pared by the Government? If it is, does not the Prime Minister consider it right that Parliament should have it instead of its being available only to the Press?

The Prime Minister

On the last point, what is happening is that the informal consultations are proceeding on the basis of the code. That is a customary procedure in government and the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt acknowledge that it is desirable so to do. As soon as these reach a stage at which the Government can put them into a consultative document, it will be offered to Parliament at the same time as it is offered to the TUC and the CBI.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first question relating to amendment, he will realise that under our procedure the code will be amendable only if it comes forward in the form of fresh legislation every time one wishes to change the code in order to deal with a fresh phase. I do not believe that would be desirable. As for the forthcoming code, I would have thought that to have a consultative document, then to have a debate on the draft code, then to have a stage at which the Government can take note of the points which are raised on the draft code and' for them then to produce the full code for Parliament to approve was a comprehensive process.

Mr. Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Hon. Members on the Government side may protest but this is a fundamental constitutional issue. I put it to the Prime Minister, when he talks about what he considers desirable or undesirable, that increasingly there is legislation which sets up machinery but does not create the law which is enforced in the courts. There is the issue of these agencies making law without the control of Parliament, law which is enforceable in the courts and over which Parliament has no control.

As for the code, which I repeat is not just a minor piece of legislation but is the law which will be enforced in the courts, will the Prime Minister consider whether it is possible to devise in the Bill a system under which the code must come before the House so that it can be amended before it becomes the law and before it is enforceable with unlimited monetary penalties in the courts?

The Prime Minister

The agencies will operate under the code which must be approved by Parliament. Therefore, they will be acting under the law as it is laid down by Parliament both in the Statute and in the statutory instrument. The right hon. Gentleman knows that Parliament has long accepted the process of statutory instruments to implement legislation and he knows that statutory instruments are not amendable.

Mr. Thorpe

If the Prime Minister is genuinely anxious to do something for the lower paid, will he tell us why the Government are unable to follow the very acceptable experience of many of our European counterparts and introduce guaranteed minimum earnings?

The Prime Minister

When we discussed this issue it was accepted that it would not be possible to move in one step towards any figure which would be generally accepted as desirable for minimum earnings. In any case, the question of minimum earnings is a difficult one and we discussed the question of minimum rates. We decided therefore that the best way was to have an overall, across-the-board award and when we had further discussions with the TUC before phase 2 it, as well as the employers, asked for room for negotiation within the total sum. That was why we went for £1 per head plus 4 per cent. of the wage bill as the means of helping the lower paid and, at the same time, leaving room for negotiation within the total sum.