HC Deb 11 October 1976 vol 917 cc7-9
6. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether he will make a statement about future Government policy towards price control.

Mr. Hattersley

The present statutory powers to enforce a Price Code will expire on 31st July 1977, and I am considering what should follow.

Mr. Gow

Will the right hon. Gentleman take the House into his confidence and tell us whether it is a permanent feature of this Government's policy to have price control? Does he recognise that the present system of price control is preventing the creation of precisely those profits in industry which the Chancellor of the Exchequer says are essential for the country's recovery?

Mr. Hattersley

The main permanent features of price control which are existing law are those passed into law by the Conservative Government in 1973. It is my duty to decide between now and next summer what the future of price control should be. I think the hon. Gentleman will concede that we must clearly look at this matter with the greatest care and realise our obligation to do what we can to maintain the social contract and limit the rate of inflation. This is an overwhelming obligation, and clearly the Government have some rôle to play.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Malta Mr. Mintoff has instituted a system whereby every resident is allowed a certain quantity of basic commodities, such as sugar, at rock-bottom prices and that above that quantity he is charged a very much increased price? This has kept prices generally down. Will my right hon. Friend consider that system for this country?

Mr. Hattersley

I used to deal with Malta in my previous job. I think that I am entitled to be spared that now.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that with interest rates at their present level a firm must make 16 per cent. before it can break even on an investment? If the firm then makes 16 per cent., according to Sir Arthur Cockfield's view of the television rental business it is making excessive profits. What are poor business men to do?

Mr. Hattersley

We shall have the opportunity to debate the code in general this evening. If the hon. Gentleman is saying on his own behalf or on behalf of his party that he thinks that Sir Arthur Cockfield is wrong, and that television rentals are not too high and should not be stabilised, I hope he will make it absolutely clear here and now.