HC Deb 06 March 1978 vol 945 cc964-6
21. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection how many Price Commission investigations have been instigated so far.

Mr. Maclennan

The Price Commission has instigated 17 investigations, the reports on eight of which have been published to date. Two more are to be published shortly.

Mr. Durant

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of these investigations was of a large company in my constituency where the price increase was directly attributable to the price increase imposed by the British Steel Corporation? Is not this a waste of time and should not the legislation be altered so that at least prices of commodities such as steel, and also the British Steel Corporation, can be investigated?

Mr. Maclennan

It is inevitable when companies are investigated that some hon. Member's constituency will be affected. The nationalised industries are subject to investigation under the Price Commission Act.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

Not steel.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Lady, from her sedentary position, is presumably speaking of the provisions of the European Coal and Steel Community which, as she rightly implies, preclude such an investigation.

Mr. Marten

In view of all the work that the Price Commssion is doing, will the Minister tell us what it costs together with the consumer advice centres which were mentioned in an earlier Question? What is the total cost?

Mr. Maclennan

I would not wish to give that information without notice.

Mr. Molloy

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the cost of the Price Commission is well worth paying in the fight against inflation? In that fight the trade union movement has not been coerced but, in a voluntary spirit in an effort to secure what is best for the nation, has co-operated fully with the Government. The Price Commission has a very onerous responsibility. Does not my hon. Friend agree that perhaps the apotheosis of hypocrisy was achieved by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), who is the spokesman on prices for the Opposition, when on a television programme she showed the increase in the price of commodities in the shopping bag but took care not to say "If I had had my way and if we could have killed the Price Commission, under the Tories these prices would have been infinitely higher"?

Mr. Maclennan

The whole country will have noticed that the thrust of the Opposition's case this afternoon has been an attempt to demolish the Price Commission—(HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] No doubt it will also notice that that has now been confirmed. The general public will notice that throughout the lifetime of this Government the Opposition have consistently sought to attack root and branch all measures designed to hold down the cost of living.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House by how much the rate of inflation has gone down due to activities of the Price Commission? Come on—let us have it straight out.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman knows that the prime purpose of the Price Commission is to reinforce competition—which he ostensibly supports—but when any action is taken to sharpen competition he and his hon. Friends go to the defence of their industrial friends.