HC Deb 08 July 1974 vol 876 cc923-5
4. Mr. Norman Fowler

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what representations she has had from the CBI concerning the operation of the Price Code.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Since taking office I have had a continuous exchange of views with the CBI and other organisations on the developments in prices policy and the operation of the Price Code.

Mr. Fowler

In any future talks may I ask the right hon. Lady to remember the vital importance of maintaining investment in British industry? Would she not agree that this is vital for our future economic prosperity, including the prospect of employment?

Mrs. Williams

I accept that investment is a legitimate target for the whole community, including the private sector. I shall be making an announcement later this week about the Price Code review.

15. Mr. Channon

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection when she proposes to start her consultations upon the new Price Code.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I hope to make an announcement after the enactment of the Prices Bill about the arrangements for the review of the Price Code.

Mr. Channon

Will the right hon. Lady tell us roughly what will be the time scale of her consultations and, assuming that there has not been a General Election by that time, when she proposes to come forward with new measures to replace the present Price Code?

Mrs. Williams

I appreciate that there is urgency in this matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that as soon as the Prices Bill becomes law I shall make an immediate announcement to the House giving full details. I hope that that may be later this week, subject to the will of the other place.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Will the right hon. Lady give us an assurance that in her new Price Code, if we have to have such a thing, there will be no provision for profit-margin controls on home sales? If she persists with profit-margin controls on home sales she must realise that the burden on the balance of trade resulting from goods being directed for sale abroad which are needed at home will be intolerable.

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman is showing some impatience. He has a Question on the Order Paper about this matter.

27. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will make a statement about the progress of her review of the Price Code, with particular reference to the contribution made by the code to the balance of payments deficit.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I am shortly making an announcement about the Price Code review. If the hon. Member or any other person has factual evidence that domestic price controls are having an adverse effect on the balance of payments, I shall be glad to consider it. At present I have no such evidence.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

May I suggest to the right hon. Lady that, if she ignores the evidence accumulating before her eyes for very much longer, she will find that the Price Commission has imposed an intolerable burden on a trade deficit which the country cannot sustain? To take one further example, will she look at the situation of trade in wrought nickel, to which my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) drew attention the other day?

Mrs. Williams

I am prepared to look at any authentic evidence that the balance of payments is being affected by the Price Code. But, since price controls were introduced, exports have increased by 45 per cent. in value and 16 per cent. in volume. If things went on improving like that we should soon be out of our balance of payments difficulties.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her policies of price control make a direct contribution to industrial peace and that the frustrated housewife who has seen prices rising now sees that they are not rising quite so rapidly? Is she aware, further, that this is a measure which is supported by the TUC, the CBI and everyone else who wants to see Britain out of the threat of inflation—except some elements of the Conservative Party?

Mrs. Williams

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I might add that there is substantial evidence to show that making higher profits in the export market than in the home market is very much in the national interest.

Mr. Biffen

In the review of the Price Code which is referred to in this Question, has the right hon. Lady met the widespread representations which I believe exist in industry that the present threshold payments are causing considerable erosion of profit margins and the potential for future investment by virtue of the diminishing ability of industry to absorb 50 per cent. of such wage increases in a productivity arrangement? Is she sympathetic to that view?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has informed the CBI and the TUC that, for the time being, the 50 per cent. productivity deduction introduced by the previous administration must continue but that this does not prejudice whatever decisions may be reached in the price review.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the downright ignorant nature of those replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the acknowledged form of words.