HC Deb 22 January 1979 vol 961 cc1-3
1. Mr. Budgen

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection when he intends next to meet the chairman of the Price Commission.

9. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection when he expects to meet the chairman of the Price Commission.

The Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection (Mr. Roy Hattersley)

The chairman of the Price Commission and I meet frequently. I shall be having an informal meeting with the Commission on Wednesday.

Mr. Budgen

When the Secretary of State next meets the chairman, will he let him into the secret that the proposed new powers for the Commission are intended to control the unions by bankrupting companies and causing men to be laid off?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not think that I could offer that opinion with any degree of credibility. The chairman, unlike the hon. Gentleman, knows what the Price Commission Act says. It does not allow the situation that the hon. Gentleman has described.

Mr. Canavan

Is it not a piece of sheer hypocrisy for the Tories and the nationalists to shed crocodile tears about rising prices when they voted against increased powers for the Price Commission and in favour of a further devaluation of the green pound? Can my right hon. Friend confirm reports that the Government are ready to introduce a Bill to freeze prices? We shall then see whether the Opposition parties support us in the battle against inflation or are more concerned with supporting their friends in big business who are exploiting the present legislation by raising prices to safeguard their profits.

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend is right in both particulars. Not only are the Opposition trying to justify their past errors, but they are trying to prepare themselves for voting against tougher prices legislation in the weeks that lie ahead. We propose to press on with that legislation and to see how the various Opposition parties react.

Mr. Baker

Does not the Secretary of State think it a trifle absurd that he will soon be asking for new powers for the Price Commission, bearing in mind that he is not prepared to use his existing powers on prices in regard to the road hauliers? When he is prepared to discriminate in that way, would it not be more frank and honest simply to hand over management of the Price Commission to the picket lines?

Mr. Hattersley

I think that the House, and I hope the country, will note that the only occasion when the Opposition have managed to say something in support of the Price Commission was when they thought that by doing so they would embarrass the Government and damage the trade union movement. However, if the hon. Gentleman believes that we should have made the order concerning road haulage, I hope that he will support us in the Lobby over the Bill concerning safeguards. One of the reasons why it was not practical to make the order was that the road haulage industry was safeguarded. I propose to remove the safeguards.

Mr. Adley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he does not need much help in attempts to embarrass the Government? He is doing a pretty good job himself. Is he also aware that he may be sure that the Conservative Opposition will not behave as his party behaved in 1974?

Mr. Hattersley

I have never expected or wanted the Opposition to behave as the Labour Party does. The Labour Party will continue to improve the existing processes for holding down prices and, sooner or later, the Opposition have to decide whether they will help us with that or hinder us in it.

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