§ 3.31 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to make a Statement similar to that which my right honourable friend the First Secretary of State has just made in another place, about the first report from the National Board for Prices and Incomes. If I may, I will use his own words, which are as follows:
"The House will wish to know that the first report to be issued as by the National Board for Prices and Incomes is being published this afternoon, and 686 copies are available in the Vote Office. This is an interim report on road haulage rates, a case which I referred to the Board on May 6. The principal recommendation of the report is that the practice of general rate recommendations by the Road Haulage Association is not in the interests of the industry or its customers and should be abandoned; and that in consequence the latest recommendation for a general 5 per cent. increase, should be withdrawn, and in any case should not be accepted by the industry's customers. The report further recommends that it is for each haulier to judge, in the light of his own circumstances, the extent to which he can absorb increases in costs instead of passing them on to the customer. Other recommendations relate to the development of voluntary wage-negotiating machinery, to ways of achieving higher productivity and a number of other matters. I and my colleagues will be discussing the main recommendation with the Road Haulage Association tomorrow and the other recommendations in the report will be discussed with the Association and the trade unions by the responsible Government Departments.
"This first report by the Board is valuable and encouraging, not only for the substance of its recommendations which are, in my judgment, fully in line with the agreed principles on which the prices and incomes policy is based, but also because it clearly illustrates two points: first, that this is not a negative policy, designed merely to secure restraint, but is a constructive policy concerned to foster productivity, economic growth and general prosperity; second, that even in a complicated issue of this sort, it is possible for a detailed investigation to be carried out in a relatively short time. Both by the quality of its first report and by the speed with which it has been prepared, I think that the National Board for Prices and Incomes has launched itself into the public life of this country in a way which augurs well for the future."
§ My Lords, that is the end of the Statement. The report referred to is available now in the Printed Paper Office.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for 687 repeating this Statement. On those parts of the report to which he has referred, dealing with future methods of wage negotiations and increased productivity, but which are not contained in the Statement just made, we obviously cannot comment until we have had an opportunity of reading the report. I am sure that the House will be glad to hear from the Statement that this is not a negative policy but a constructive one of economic growth, productivity and general prosperity. We can all agree with those words; but I am afraid that I could not possibly apply them to the actions that the Government have taken in putting up the petrol tax by 6d. a gallon and by heavily increasing the motor vehicle duty. I think your Lordships might be interested to know—even anxious to know—how far it is possible to go on putting up the petrol tax and the motor vehicle duty without raising road haulage charges.
In regard to the recommendation that the customers should not accept the proposed increase in haulage charges, does that mean that they should not sign new contracts involving any increases at all? Or does it mean merely that they should not agree to a general increase of 5 per cent. and should all make the best bargain they now can with the road hauliers with whom they seek to make contracts?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, as I rather expected, the noble Earl has reverted to petrol tax and actions taken by the Government which have had (this is admitted, and it comes out in the report) some effect, and which are bound to have had some effect, on prices and costs within this industry. Since May, 1964, wages have gone up by 5¼ per cent. and fuel by 2 per cent., while tax has added about 1½ per cent. This has made a total of, say, 9 per cent. During this same period, the Road Haulage Association rates increase recommendations have totalled 13 per cent.—a very considerable amount more than the 9 per cent. that I have mentioned.
On the point that the noble Earl made about the acceptance by the customers of these increases, the report makes it clear that this ought to be a matter for bargaining between the customer and the haulier; and that the customer should not accept, as he has been prone to do in recent years, the 5 per cent. increase 688 as though there were no possibility of avoiding it. In this I am sure the Board and the report are right, and I support them.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, may I, on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches, welcome the emphasis that has been placed on productivity and economic growth. We are convinced that such a policy has a far greater chance of success than one which is restrictive and goes in solely for wage restraint. The Board are to be congratulated on having dealt with this matter so expeditiously. May I ask the Minister whether they will deal just as expeditiously with the question of electricity charges?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I cannot answer for that; but I think that this is a happy augury. In eight weeks the Board have dealt with a complicated industry, and I am rather hoping that they will be equally expeditious in dealing with some of the other major matters referred to.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, would the noble Lord ask the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, to fasten his seat belt?