HC Deb 24 May 1976 vol 912 cc10-1
6. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if relaxation of the provisions of the Price Code will apply to the pricing policies of public corporations.

Mr. John Fraser

I would ask my hon. Friend to await the publication of the consultative document on the Price Code.

Mr. Hooley

But is my hon. Friend aware that the irresponsible behaviour of the management of public corporations in slamming on price increase after price increase without regard to the social or commercial consequences is now producing a backlash from the unions whose members are employed by those corporations as well as from consumers? Is he aware that the British Steel Corporation in two months is proposing an increase of 35 per cent. on the price of mild steel, with all the consequences for domestic apparatus which that will produce? What action will his Department take about the public corporations instead of simply shuffling off responsibility on to other Government Departments?

Mr. Fraser

First, I cannot accept all the premises of my hon. Friend's question. It is true that since 1974 the nationalised industries have had to absorb large increases in costs, but there is every reason now to expect that the industries' prices will moderate. I am afraid that I cannot anticipate the results of discussions over the Price Code. I must ask my hon. Friend to be patient on these matters.

Mr. Marten

On the Price Code, could the Minister answer the question, which I think his right hon. Friend forgot to answer, of whether the £5 million turnover threshold will be raised? Are the Government considering raising it in the paper which is to be issued?

Mr. Fraser

Those limits are under discussion at the moment.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hardly fair to blame his Department for the problem of public corporation price increases but that the fact that Jack Jones has raised this matter in the recent discussions with the Government is nevertheless of great importance? Is he aware that all of us on this side are looking for more steps to be taken towards the effective control of electricity and gas prices in particular in the present discussions with the trade union movement?

Mr. Fraser

I do not, as my hon. Friend says, accept the blame, but I do say that my Department has a responsibility to look at the consumer interest side of these matters. Certainly, one is prepared to consider such things as the recommendations of the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and other publications which will be available soon about the cost of energy for poor consumers.

Mr. Ridsdale

Is it not a fact that if wage increases had not been so phenomenal in 1974 we should not now face the kind of gas and electricity price increases that we do face?

Mr. Fraser

The increases in the price of energy have emanated from the Middle East as well as from pay settlements.

Mr. Cryer

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the gas and electricity boards could follow the example of British Rail and freeze their prices for a year? That would certainly help people on lower incomes. Should not British Rail be congratulated on a determined attempt to retain passenger and freight services by freezing its prices?

Mr. Fraser

The price of gas has been included in the Price Check Scheme and is being held down for six months in that respect.

Mr. Mike Thomas

It will go up in the winter.

Mr. Fraser

The price of electricity for low-income families is now under urgent consideration.