HC Deb 19 March 1974 vol 870 cc832-5
7. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to announce the end of stage 3 of the counter-inflation policy.

13. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he plans any changes in the constitution of the Pay Board.

18. Sir P. Bryan

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether it is his policy that the Pay Board should continue to adjudicate on wage settlements under the rules of the stage 3 pay code.

Mr. Foot

I would refer the hon. Members to the statement which I made yesterday.

Mr. Pardoe

In view of the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman made yesterday that there would be some delay before the Government could go from the present statutory policy to the voluntary policy that they desire, will he say whether, bearing in mind the inflationary pressures of stage 3, the Government intend to carry on with stage 3 throughout that period of delay, or are they thinking in terms of moving to a less inflationary stage 4 more in accord with the needs of the economy?

Mr. Foot

We are not contemplating it, and I think it would be quite wrong for any Government to contemplate a breach in the agreements which have been made for this pay round. Much the most inflationary aspect of that pay round, if anyone likes to put it that way, is the threshold agreements. Whether they are inflationary or not, I think it would be quite improper to break them once they had been agreed. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. McCrindle

While the Pay Board exists in its present form, will the Minister consider invoking its provisions in such special cases as the nurses and the ambulance drivers, to name but two, which would have widespread public support? Would not this ensure that these special cases receive preferential treatment, which will become impossible in the free-for-all which we can expect?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman will look at the statement which I made yesterday, he will see that I indicated some relaxation in the way in which the present apparatus is operated compared with the way in which it was operated before. I am certainly not prepared to say in advance what might happen in particular cases, but if the hon. Gentleman will study what I said yesterday I think he will find the answer that he is seeking, and I hope that it will satisfy him, along with the others.

Sir P. Bryan

What will the Secretary of State do if in the engineering industry plant agreements take the national agreement far and away above stage 3?

Mr. Foot

I do not think they have done so yet, or that that problem arises yet. Of course, we may have to face these problems in advance, but I do not have to answer the questions here in advance. As I understand, that likelihood does not yet arise.

Mr. Davidson

May we, therefore, take it that those groups of workers who have been caught by the technicalities and legalities of phase 2, and also by phase 3, will now not have to wait until they are officially buried, but that the Secretary of State—if I may refer to him as that—will rush to their aid before it is officially buried but while it is unofficially buried?

Mr. Foot

I do not think my hon. Friend can take it quite that way. Whilst the legislation exists, I have no power to follow the course that he suggests. I want to get rid of the legislation because it is so rigid, but I do not have the power to intervene along the lines which my hon. Friend has suggested. That is one of the reasons why I want to get rid of the legislation.

Mr. Fell

Was not the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) an open invitation to members of all trade unions to have a free-for-all outside phase 3 in wage negotiations?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that anything I said yesterday or today is an open invitation or anything of the sort. I indicated how I thought we should proceed in the period up to the abolition of the Pay Board and the whole of its apparatus, and how I thought we should proceed in the period between the abolition of the Pay Board and the end of this pay round. What will follow then is a matter for discussion and will have to be presented to this House in one form or another. Within the rigid powers or restrictions which are imposed upon me as a Minister, under this legislation which I detest, I must do my best to try to deal with these problems, but the Act gives me very narrow room for manoeuvre. That is one of the reasons why I complain about the Act.

Mr. Whitelaw

In that case, can the right hon. Gentleman say at what date the unions can expect a free-for-all?

Mr. Foot

There was nothing in my statement yesterday, and there is nothing in any statement which I have made today, suggesting a free-for-all. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman, instead of making such suggestions, might study more carefully the statements made by Mr. Len Murray yesterday and the day before and the statement which appears in the Economic Review. If only the right hon. Gentleman, when he held this office, had studied more carefully the statements of Mr. Len Murray, there need not have been a coal strike.

Forward to