HC Deb 06 March 1978 vol 945 cc963-4
20. Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether he has appointed another vice-chairman of the Price Commission.

Mr. Hattersley

I very much regret that Dr. Hobday has found that pressure of other commitments forces him to resign from the part-time deputy chairmanship. I am most grateful to him for the valuable contribution he has made to the Price Commission's work. I am appointing to succeed him Mr. Leslie Pincott, the retiring managing director of the Esso Petroleum Co. Ltd.

Mr. Smith

Was it pressure of work that led Dr. Hobday to resign or was it a conflict on policy or a conflict of interest on his part?

Mr. Hattersley

Dr. Hobday issued a very clear statement saying that only pressure of work had made it necessary for him to resign, that he had enjoyed and valued his period with the Price Commission, and that he regretted that he could not continue with the Price Commission.

Another point that will be noted by people outside is the way Members of the Opposition treat very senior indus- trialists—one of whom has resigned and one of whom is about to be appointed— who want to serve the public and the Government.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are becoming sick of this personal sniping at the Price Commission and that the public will benefit, certainly in the case of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, by about £2 million in a full year from every penny by which it has reduced the price of its tea, and that the £18,000 a year paid to Charles Williams and the money spent on the rest of the Price Commission is money very well spent?

Mr. Hattersley

We must just learn to live with the rather low standard of political debate that we have from the Opposition.

Mr. Rathbone

Does the Secretary of State admit that it is not because of any lack of effort on the part of the Price Commission that criticism comes from these Benches but, rather, because of lack of direction from the Government as to what the Price Commission is about? To ensure that the new deputy chairman has an equally enjoyable period of office to that of his predecessor, will the Government make it absolutely clear to him that it is competition that keeps prices down and not Government decree?

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman is doing his best to reclaim a little lost territory, but it is not good enough. He asks for more direction from the Government, but he will recall that the Act setting up the Price Commission—admittedly he voted against it for two days and a night—requires the Government not to direct the Commission in any direct way but requires the Commission to take its own decisions about a number of matters, as British industry wished it would. That is the basic fact, which I am sure is right, about the Price Commission's existence.