HC Deb 03 July 1975 vol 894 cc1670-5
Q4. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Prime Minister when he will next chair a meeting of the NEDC.

Q4. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Prime Minister when he will next take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on 24th June.

Mr. Gardiner

When the Prime Minister next goes to the NEDC he will doubtless wish to explain and discuss his Government's measures designed to beat inflation. Will he be able to assure private firms, large and small, that they will not be made the whipping boys of the Government's new policy and will not be forced to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea when faced with strikes in support of claims above the limit?

The Prime Minister

It is not usual, although it occasionally happens, for NEDC to deal with matters affecting pay. A brief statement was made yesterday on this subject. There is no question of making small firms the whipping boys of the policy. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are in close touch with the CBI, which itself put forward a number of proposals. We want to reinforce the proposals of the CBI and the TUC in this direction.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

On the general question of incomes, which may well be one of the major subjects of discussion with the NEDC, will my right hon. Friend say what steps the Government propose to take on the recommendations of the Boyle Report and when the House may expect a statement?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I fully appreciate the depth of feeling among hon. Members. I have received a number of representations from both sides of the House about the way in which pay and allowances have been eroded since the last review in December 1971. Since then, prices have risen by 65 per cent. and average earnings by 85 per cent. There is undoubtedly real hardship among Members of all parties, especially young Members with family responsibilities. The Government are considering this matter very urgently. We intend to publish the report, together with our recommendations, within 10 days or so.

Assuming that the House accepts our recommendations, I give an assurance now that the Government will propose to pay the resulting increases in pay and allow- ances as from the date when Lord Boyle signed the report on 13th June, so that hon. Members will not be adversely affected by the time which the Government must take to get the right answers in the context of our current discussions with the TUC and the CBI on anti-inflation measures in the year ahead.

The Government are anxious that, in applying the limits on incomes for the coming year which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on Tuesday, we shall be able to take decisions about anomalies in respect of awards in industry generally including hangover cases from the last pay round and arbitration decisions which have been made or are already proceeding. The transitional arrangements which we must announce in the next few days will be very important, and we certainly want to consider how they should be assimilated to the report of the review body dealing with Members' pay and allowances.

Mr. Morrison

Will the Prime Minister explain now what he intends to do should the miners come out on strike in defiance of a statutory policy?

The Prime Minister

Sir, that is a hypothetical question, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I hope to have the opportunity of saying something about this, not to the hon. Gentleman, who has not spent long at the coal face, but to the members of the National Union of Mineworkers when I address them next Monday.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Will the Prime Minister give two assurances—first, that the increase in prices since the Members' salaries were last increased will be met in full in the Government's recommendation, and, secondly, that the Government will now consider getting us out of this bizarre charade of having to pretend and "Box and Cox" about our pay, by having it linked to a decent index, so that the difficulty may be sorted out?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give any information to my hon. Friend on the first part of the question. All I can say is that nothing that happens in the next week will change the Government's attitude to the report. There will be no question of any guillotine falling, or anything like that, between now and publication.

As to the second part of the question, while I am not in a position to announce the details of the Boyle Committee's recommendations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because I think the House is entitled to read the report itself, when we publish it, with the Government's recommendations. This problem might have been easier to handle if during the three and a half years, for most of which time there was a Tory Government in office something had been done. Nothing was done for three and a half years.

While I am not yet in a position to announce these details, I think it is right that the House should know, on procedure, in relation to the financial proposals, that the Boyle Committee recommends that, for the future, Members' pay should be reviewed every two years automatically. The Government accept this, but I think the House itself may wish to consider it, and I propose to initiate discussions through the usual channels and in every way to get back-bench opinion on the question whether the time has not now come for Members' pay to be linked directly and automatically with other relevant salaries. What they are is a matter for discussion. I am sure that the House will—[Interruption.] For a lot of younger Members in the House this is not a laughing matter. It may be for some well-heeled hon. Members opposite, but not for younger Members. I believe that it should be for the House as a whole to decide—there are arguments for and against, and I have always favoured this myself—whether it would like to take the whole question out of the range of external inquiries and debates in this House and make it more automatic. If that is the wish of the House, the Government will most certainly very happily make the necessary arrangements.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware, on the vitally important question of Members' salaries, that some of us believe that it might have been better if this information had not arisen out of a purely coincidental supplementary question from the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, to which the Prime Minister made a long and totally unprepared supplementary answer? We would prefer a proper statement in the normal way, and a proper opportunity for the House to discuss it.

May I have the temerity to return to the Question originally addressed to the Prime Minister about the NEDC, and ask him whether his attention was drawn to the speech of Sir Ronald McIntosh on 11th March, indicating that there were occasions on which it would help to enlarge the membership of the NEDC by including consumers' interests and, indeed, representation of the Opposition parties in this House? In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman will rightly wish to get the maximum support for the proposals which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is likely to introduce, would not this be a suitable occasion on which to make that enlargement, so that all parties in this House can have detailed discussions about the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's proclivity, on matters of great importance to the House, to go into purely procedural issues—as he has done in regard to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes)—does not necessarily fit him for membership of the NEDC. But, concerning the early part of the question, this is a matter of very great importance. If the right hon. Gentleman had wanted a statement after Questions, he would no doubt have put down a Private Notice Question. I believe that it has been to the advantage of the House that it was taken in the way it has been.

With regard to the NEDC, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right in indicating that Sir Ronald McIntosh said that it would be a good thing to extend the membership of the NEDC to include consumer interests. The right hon. Gentleman may not have been aware that Mr. Michael Young, from the Consumers' Association, has been a member of the NEDC for two months. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman's first reference was to the Consumers' Association. I am glad to tell him that Mr. Young has attended two meetings of the NEDC, one of which was under my chairmanship.

As to broadening the membership of the NEDC to include representation of Opposition parties, I do not believe that this would be right. It has not been the view taken by any Government, by the CBI or by the TUC in the 12 or more years since you, Mr. Speaker, in another capacity, set up the NEDC