HL Deb 12 March 1973 vol 340 cc9-27

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)


My Lords, I am not going to dissent from the proposal that we go into Committee, but I should like to point out that we are going into Committee very shortly after we have had the Second Reading, and although I am not blaming anyone and I agreed through the usual channels with the noble Earl the Chief Whip that we should take this stage to-day, nevertheless it has meant a rush and one of the consequences of that rush is that somewhere in the pipeline one of our Amendments got lost. Thanks to the co-operation of the staff, it has been printed and circulated as a manuscript Amendment; but I thought that one ought to point out that had it not been for this rush to get the Bill on to the Statute Book, the mistake would have come to light earlier and less trouble would have been caused. I take this opportunity of saying to the Government that I am sorry that they have just had sight of this Amendment. It was not our fault; of that I am quite certain. Nevertheless, the situation arose because the Government tried to get this particular Bill on to the Statute Book in such a short period of time.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is referring to an Amendment which is likely to come after Clause 5. It is my understanding that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, after consultation—and I freely admit this—with myself, has agreed that if it meets the wishes of noble Lords opposite and would be helpful (and there is everything to be said for having a considered look at the Bill rather than taking manuscript Amendments, for whatever reason, without due reflection) we should break our discussion at a moment before that particular Amendment comes up for consideration. If, as I understand it, this would in fact be helpful to noble Lords opposite, then my understanding is that we should accommodate ourselves to such a timetable over the next two days, it being understood—and I believe that this is the agreement through the usual channels—that we shall finish our Committee stage at some not totally inconvenient period to-morrow evening.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Establishment of two Agencies: the Price Commission and the Pay Board]:

LORD WIGG moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 7, leave out ("two Agencies") and insert ("an Agency").

The noble Lord said: I understand that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we consider Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 standing in my name, which I accordingly move, together with Amendment No. 7 standing in the names of my noble friends Lord Beswick, Lord Peddie and Lord Champion.


May I intervene just to say that from our point of view that is absolutely acceptable if it is agreeable to other noble Lords.


As the suggestion came from the Leader of the House naturally I agreed with alacrity to the proposal.

The first Amendment that I am moving, that there should be one Agency instead of two, is a point of fundamental importance, and to appreciate it in the terms in which I see the problem one has to go back a little into the history of the relations between the Government, the Confederation of British Industry and the trade unions. Following the election of a Conservative Government in 1951 it may be said with truth, I think, that for the following 13 years there was the closest consultation between the Government and the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. I well remember the first proposal that came before the new House in 1951. It was a proposal to set up a Home Guard. At this stage I shall not go into the thinking which led to that proposal, but as soon as it was pointed out to the then Secretary of State for War that there ought to have been consultation with the Trades Union Congress he accepted with alacrity. Indeed, I pay tribute to the genius of Lord Butler in his Second Reading speech, in the terms of which he saw that in the society in which we lived there was common agreement throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom—indeed, one could say throughout the whole of the Western world—that what was needed in our economy was a mixture of public enterprise and private enterprise, and that perhaps the argument should be where the line would be drawn. But be it noted that the present Administration, from the day that it was formed, have never had meaningful consultations with the Trades Union Congress on any subject. What Mr. Keath has done, dominating his Cabinet as undoubtedly he does, is to decide the principles and then discuss the details with the T.U.C. I do not doubt—although I do not know—that the same sort of relationship has grown up with the Confederation of British Industry.

The second proposition I would put is this: I believe again that through the length and breadth of these Islands there is agreement that there ought to be a prices and incomes policy. I certainly am no recent convert to that point of view. I well remember thirty years ago as Parliamentary Private Secretary to my noble friend Lord Shinwell, associating myself in a very humble way with a proposal that he put to the Cabinet. I trust I am giving away no secrets in saying that he put forward a proposal that there should be a wages policy, the embryo of a prices and incomes policy. The first act of the present Administration was not only to cut off the consultations on principle with the Trades Union Congress but also to throw out of the window the idea of a prices and incomes policy and to dismiss with precipitate discourtesy a man who had been a Minister in a Conservative Administration.

I judge men not by what they say but by what they do. So that the proposal we are considering to-day, the proposal that has come from another place, is second best. It is the Government's second choice. This is a Conservative Administration applying principles in which it does not believe. The danger to our society at the present time is that right across the board there is a feeling of helplessness because Parlia- ment is not outside the fight. It is not holding the ring; it is in the ring with the Trades Union Congress, with the consumer and with the Confederation of British Industry. If the situation arises that in a democratic society, Parliament—the institution in which all hopes reside—is incapable of grappling with and meeting the complexities of the economic situation, we have gone a very long way down the hill. We in the trade union movement and, if I may say, we in the Labour movement—those of us who have thought of ourselves as socialist all our lives, I particularly those with as many grey hairs as I have—remember 1924, 1926, and 1931, and a feeling of hopelessness in the face of events which we are powerless to control.

We now have a proposal before us, and I am sure that on all sides of the I Committee there is a hope that this proposal will work. But if it is to work in the long run and is not merely a stopgap to get the Prime Minister out of a political and economic jam, then I agree with noble Lords on the other side of the Committee that it must be a voluntary system. In the long run by far I the best way to tackle the matter is to get a voluntary system which is accepted by all sides. But if it is to be accepted by all sides, it must be hammered out by men of good will, not only in terms of the difficulties which may be thrown up but in terms of the principles which I may be applied.

What the Government have said, what they have educated themselves into believing—the Chancellor certainly believes it, to judge by his actions—is I that the major cause of inflation in our I economy is wage demands. I do not deny—how can one deny?—that it is an I element; but quite clearly it is not the only element, and it is open to dispute as to whether it is the principal element. One would have thought that the Government, accepting the lessons that I hope they have learned and I hope that the Labour movement has learned from the difficulties of the Labour Government, would have accepted that pay and prices were at least the heads and tails of the same penny. Indeed the Government themselves believe that, because if one looks at the Bill one finds in Clause 1(3) that they have taken powers to amalgamate both Boards. So we have a situation in which two Boards are set up, and—I am relying upon the information in the Financial Times last week—they are going to live in the same building. Yet they are going to consider two problems, presumably in isolation. They are going to present reports to Government; one is to be presented after a period of two months. I should have thought it was sheer common sense—provided the Government mean business, provided the Government really want a voluntary policy, provided the Government want to heal the breach, if breach there be, between themselves and the trade union movement—to have had one Board and to have regarded it as a Board set up in at least quasi-permanent terms which would be able to tackle the problems right across the board.

I do not want to trouble the Committee at this stage with the purpose behind the other Amendments that I have put on the Marshalled List, but they are actuated by the same principle: to get a voluntary organisation and to do it on terms which would be acceptable not only to the Confederation of British Industry on the one hand but to the trade unions on the other, and to do it in terms which make sense to the maximum number of people of good will to whom one can make such a policy good sense. For example, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, emphatically and wholeheartedly, that one of the things we must introduce, by acceptance into our thinking, is a period of cooling off among those people employed in undertakings which make a direct impact on the convenience and wellbeing of our fellow citizens. That is what I hope to do by Amendments at a later stage. I mention it now only to show that I am pleading for something more than merely acceptance of one Board.

A week ago we were discussing, on Second Reading, the Bill as we knew it. We had not then had the Budget. I am grateful to Lord Boothby for highlighting again the difference between what the Government say and what they do. On pay they say, "That is the cause; that is something we must control". When it comes to prices, the Chancellor introduced a Budget last week in which there is a deficit of £4,423 million, and he proposes to meet that deficit by large-scale borrowing, £1,000 million of it to be borrowed, taking the redemption rate into consideration, at 9.6 per cent. The noble Earl, the Leader of the House, stands on the tightrope, but he does not know quite where he is. I can understand his difficulties and his contortions, because how in the name of God can you at the same time induce an increase in production in consumer durables, an overwhelming amount of the total sum of which is carried by hire purchase at very high interest rates, and at the same time give a bonanza to surtax payers? Because in the short run the £400 million is a direct gift to surtax payers instead of taxing them. How can you do that and then go to members of the trade unions, or to their wives, and say, "Look! In order to maintain the economy on an even balance, you must go slow in your demands"? It does not make sense.

Therefore it is essential that this prices and incomes Board, if it is going to work, shall be honestly formed, honestly run, and on principles which can be debated, even if there are differences. And may I say that so far as I am concerned I am one of those democrats who do not believe in living in a hothouse. Democracy in the political sense was born in the agora; it is not a hot-house plant at all. It is a place where the conflict of opinion enables the truth to emerge to those who seek it. I am not suggesting I am the custodian of the truth: I am only one of the seekers, but I am a seeker who accepts a prices and incomes policy, who wants a voluntary agreement. Here I fall back on that dead genius Aneurin Bevan. When, in the early 'fifties, he was preaching the gospel of the commanding heights of the economy, he was preaching a gospel which is practical and which is common sense, because the alternative to it may well be the alternative to which the Government are heading.

Let us assume for a moment the dread possibility that this policy does not work. What is to follow it? A vast bureaucracy with a red pencil and a blue pencil, giving the answers that the pricing system has failed to give? That is a possibility, and I do not believe that in the form in which the proposals seem to be set out the Government have got it right, even in regard to that part of the economy which is nearest and dearest to their hearts; that is, the private sector. I do not think that our economy can work with dividend limitation and with all the inhibitions that can stem from a dead bureaucratic control. What is wanted at the present time is to liberate those forces in our society which are dynamic, in order to stimulate our economy and to get the wheels of industry turning. That is what is wanted.

Therefore it seems to me, particularly as the Government clearly envisage amalgamation at some time, that there is no reason at all why we should not start off as we mean to go on. Unless, of course, this is a political gimmick which has only been inserted in the short run in the hope that things are going to come right by the autumn. I believe that one of the prerequisites of the sucessful confidence trickster is that he should con himself, and I believe that the present Chancellor has succeeded in doing that, conning himself into believing that the one thing that must happen is going to happen, that productivity is going to increase at such a rapid rate that all the difficulties of inflation and associated matters are going to fade away into the distance. But would noble Lords ponder for a moment: is that not what Mr. Maudling thought? Is that not the legacy that we were left with in 1964? We were going to produce ourselves out of that position; great productivity was going to get us out of that difficulty. It left a deficit running at £1,000 million a year.

This present Administration have one advantage: they have been driven, willy-nilly, into a floating rate of exchange, so they are not likely, at least immediately, at least one hopes, to run into the same difficulty as the Labour Government had to face within a month of assuming office. But whether they are right or not, I venture to believe that the policy in this Bill, if it is thought out, if it is applied, is going to stay with us for a very long time, and I am quite sure that there are a number of noble Lords on both sides of the House who accept that point of view. I am not making a plea for very much. If they seek support for the Bill, the Government should have second thoughts on this point, if only as an earnest of their good will and of their honourable intentions to seek a long-term solution, and accept, as I move, that there should be one Agency and not two. I have not wearied the Committee or the officials by putting down the consequential Amendments, of which there are a considerable number. If this Amendment is accepted, then I would undertake to put down the consequential Amendments on the Marshalled List to-morrow or, if not to-morrow, by the Report stage.

3.11 p.m.


I recognise the wisdom of taking Amendment No. 7, which stands in the names of my noble friends Lord Beswick and Lord Champion and myself, at the same time as Amendment No. 1 which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Wigg. His Amendments state, in quite clear and positive terms, that there should be established one Commission, a Prices and Incomes Commission. The Amendment that stands in the names of my noble friends and my name, at least in the first paragraph, indicates the same point, and goes on to indicate that that Commission will operate in two divisions, one dealing with prices and the other with incomes.

I have no intention of repeating the many arguments I put forward at the Second Reading, and I do not think this is the place to do it, but I am quite convinced, as I am sure noble Lords on both sides of this House will be convinced, that the Amendment that stands in the name of my noble friends and myself more accurately reflects the purpose of the Government in putting forward this Bill than does the document as it stands at the moment. The phrasing of the Bill in its inital stages was influenced to a large extent by political motivation—the anxiety to meet a number of conflicting influences, whether they came from the trade union movement or from the Conservative Party itself, or wherever they came from. At that particular time I would concede that the draftsman would feel that a useful way, and probably an easy way, of dealing with this situation was to say, "Let us have a body dealing with pay, and a separate one dealing with prices". But I know, and noble Lords opposite know—indeed they have publicly stated it—that one cannot separate pay and prices. It is inevitable that, in any consideration by the Pay Board or by the Price Commission, there would be considerable overlapping. I am sure that the Government are cognisant of that, and in the operation of the Prices Commission and the Pay Board, even if no change was made, there would inevitably be a high degree of co-ordination. Why is this? Because there is no alternative to it.

I appeal to noble Lords on both sides of this Committee to be conscious of their responsibilities. We as a House are probably influenced by these somewhat transient influences that dictated the particular phrasing of the Bill, and we recognise our responsibility to make certain, by the process of close examination, that the wording of this Bill accurately reflects what is in the mind of the Government. There is no shadow of doubt at all that, in the operation of the Price Commission or the Pay Board, there will be a high degree of co-ordination. I repeat what I said a few moments ago: the Government have stated that. My noble friend has indicated that they will be housed in the same building. I have pressed previously that, unless you are using the same staff, you will be heading for disaster, quite apart from the appalling amount of inconvenience you will inflict upon firms to be investigated if you have separate crowds of people going along for the purpose of investigating one day on pay, and a month later on prices. I say again that we all know there will be staff co-ordination. There is no alternative way. They will be housed in the same building, and we all know that they will work together. All this Amendment is asking is that we state that in the Bill.

If the Government are honest (and I am absolutely sure that they are) in their determination to see that there is adequate co-ordination, well then, at least say so. Acceptance of Amendment No. 7 will be to establish a Commission to be called the Prices and Incomes Commission and it shall operate in two Divisions, one dealing with Prices and the other with Incomes. That is the intention of the Government, so no one here can object to it. Secondly, The two Divisions shall be organised and operate in such a way as to ensure fullest co-ordination of their respective activities. Do noble Lords opposite object to that? Of course they do not. Thirdly, The Commission shall consist of not less than ten and not more than twenty-four mem- bers, appointed jointly by the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Any objection? No, because it is precisely the same number, but merely bringing together the members of the Price Commission and the Wages Board. Point 4 is a point that has been stated by advocates of this Bill, that, The appointment to the Commission shall take into account the views and interests of recognised producers and consumer organisations and shall be made by an order contained in a statutory instrument subject to annulment by either House of Parliament. Why is provision included? Because unless one can secure the full participation of all the different organisations, whether they be trade unions, large-scale businesses, or whatever, your policy will not work. Even a statutory policy must inevitably have a voluntary basis in terms of its acceptance by the community. All we indicate here—and this House has previously accepted this—is the concept that an incomes policy in itself is not sufficient to solve the problems of inadequate productivity; nor is it sufficient to be able to combat inflation. Therefore, you need full participation.

I end simply on this point. It is said opposite that if we intend to do all these things, then at least be honest and put it in the Bill. By putting it in the Bill, there will be a clear indication to all these interests whose support the Government need, and we all need, of what is intended; and I would urge the Committee to recognise the wisdom and indeed the honesty of the proposals that are included in these Amendments. I would urge this Committee, in recognition of its full responsibility in dealing with a Bill of this kind, in full support of all the points that have been expressed in the Second Reading and in other evidence. In consequence, I, with all the persuasion I have at my command, urge the Committee to give its support to these two Amendments.


I hope the Government will produce some positive reasons for setting up these two separate bodies. I have not yet heard a single reason. The previous Prices and Incomes Board operated very well as one unit and I can only imagine that the Government are either admiring the wisdom of Solomon or slavishly following the not altogether satisfactory precedent of what happens in the United States. One can easily imagine that the Pay Board may make proposals which make things very difficult for the Price Commission, and the Price Commission may make proposals which make things very difficult for the Pay Board, and it would seem enormously much simpler if the two bodies were united into one flesh. Can the Government give any positive reasons why they wish to make this unnatural division?


From these Benches we should like also to support the idea that these two Agencies should be amalgamated into one. A reason for doing that, which has not so far been greatly stressed, is that if prices and pay are being considered by the same body then the public interest in these matters is morely likely to be to the fore than would be the case if they were being considered separately. In thinking about pay there is a danger that the public interest may be lost sight of. There is a built in check against such danger if prices are being held in focus at the time that pay is being considered.

3.22 p.m.


I was not quite sure whether this was a very important Amendment until I examined it fairly closely. I think it is probably the heart of the Bill, since the T.U.C. is refusing even to talk to the Government because of their claim that the Government are unyielding on prices. If we could get over that hurdle the probability is that the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, would have been unnecessary to-day. The effort that needs to be made is to get the T.U.C. talking to the Government about this particular question; and every effort must be made to do that because there are many on the General Council of the T.U.C. who want to talk to the Government about this one and they cannot overcome the argument that the Government are so unyielding on prices.

When I spoke in the Second Reading debate I suggested that prices may even be considered when negotiations take place, and I say that with some recollection of this happening in my own industry. At one time our wages were directly related to the price of iron and steel. Because of certain circumstances we had to move off that position on to what are now known as threshhold agreements; but while prices and wages were interlinked in negotiations there was a much clearer understanding right throughout the industry of the problems which existed as regards both wages and prices, and of course productivity.

Now there are matters that have got to be taken into account when you are considering prices. That we discovered when the T.U.C. was negotiating with the last Government an incomes and prices policy. I see little to persuade me that I ought to deviate from the arguments that were used when the T.U.C. discussed this question with the Labour Government. I say that despite a lot of things that are being said to-day, because an incomes policy is inevitable, and with it, of course, a prices policy, if we are going to avoid the confrontations that exist at the present time.

In discussing prices, we cannot avoid discussing what is happening with international prices of raw materials, or for making steel, food for our survival in this country, even the chrome ore that we talk about fetching from South Africa to make certain types of steel. There are many raw materials that need to be brought into this country. Any incomes and prices Commission must discuss these and understand them, and they will have to be understood by the people who are employed in the industry as well as by those responsible for its costing. Then we found that taxation could not be avoided if you were considering prices inside of any particular framework. Whenever the Government decide that taxes shall be put on or taken off prices are affected. We have an example at the present time with V.A.T. Unless these matters are taken into consideration you will never understand just what is happening to prices and why some changes in prices might be inevitable if there are no changes in wages.

You follow that up by examining what happens to investment. If you do not get the investment inside industry then you do not get the productivity. I want to say that so far as this Government are concerned they seem to have destroyed every machine that we had, including the Productivity Council, which did so much good in saving this country. If we are now trying to find means of discussing productivity, the question arises as to whether we can discuss productivity, taxation, international prices, wages, in isolation one from the other. I do not think that we can do that, and I am wondering whether the machine that the Government have set up, comprising two bodies, is not just an attempt to be different from the Labour Government when they were dealing with this particular question.

Now when I suggested, as I did on the Second Reading, that Sir Frank Figgures should be used with the National Economic Development Council, a very fine machine and a very fine man, I meant that the National Economic Development Council was one of the few machines this Government have left for consultation between employers, trade unions and Government. I wanted that machine to be used, and I thought it could have been used. I was dismayed when I saw that the Government were taking Sir Frank Figgures away from the tool he could have used to do so much good inside this country and were putting him in charge on the pay side of this particular Commission.

Sir Arthur Cockfield is as well known to me as Sir Frank Figgures, and I am quite sure he is capable of running any machine that he is given to run. But all experience teaches me that if you bring two eminent, forceful, able men, confident in their own particular field, into a situation like the present one, where one is a Chairman of the Pay Board and the other is a Chairman of the Price Commission, instead of getting co-operation you are going to bring those mighty mentalities into conflict with each other. I am quite sure as time goes along that it will be demonstrated that each man is going to defend the decisions of his own particular board and in defending those decisions they are bound to come into conflict rather than to co-operate.

As I have sat and listened to what has been said here I am dismayed at what this Government do with some good suggestions which we on this side have tried to put forward. We are not trying to be obstreperous; we are trying to be constructive and to help the Government on this matter. But the machines they have devised will have the opposite effect to what they intended. I would plead with the Government to have another look at this question. I do not think it would require much consideration to merge these two bodies, to weld them together and to bring the two very important, very competent chairmen on to the same side of the fence from the word "go", so that there would be understanding and talking, with the same approach to the same problem.

If that course is adopted then there is a chance that the idea will percolate down to the C.B.I, and to the T.U.C. and that something will be done. Otherwise, I make the forecast that within a year from to-day we shall find the T.U.C. using the arguments of the respective chairman of these bodies, the C.B.I, using the arguments of the respective chairmen of these bodies, not in co-operation but in opposition to destroy the ideas of one another. I say that simply because we are setting up something which is a source of dissatisfaction, discontent and disagreement, rather than something which ought to be a source of co-operation and collaboration, and something which should percolate right down through the country and, I hope, overcome the opposition of the T.U.C. to talking to the Government on this important problem.


I am a little surprised that somebody speaking on behalf of the Government did not rise early in this debate in order to indicate quite clearly the Government's reason for having two separate bodies. It is perfectly true that there is reference in the Bill to the possibility of more effective coordination, and indeed complete merging, but, to the best of my recollection, during all the months when the Government have been contemplating what ought to be done in this matter of inflation and the effect of pay rises on inflation hardly any reference has been made to the creation of two bodies to deal with the situation. The general impression has been all along (I am open to correction) that the intention, if the voluntary effort failed, if the discussions with the T.U.C. came to nothing and proved futile, was that a body would be established to deal with the subject of pay and at the same time would take account of prices.

I should like to put a question at this stage. Whatever one may feel about the Amendments, and whether or not one is disposed to approve them, if a proposition is made to the Pay Board that wages in a particular industry or service should be raised—never mind by how much—how is it possible for that body to come to a decision which is pragmatic, reasonable and consistent with what should be done, without giving consideration to the subject of prices? I do not know how it can be done. Prices are bound to creep in. In fact, a long time ago I had something to do with negotiations in the trade union movement in connection with the shipping industry. Sometimes we had to approach the superintendent of a liner company, or the managing director of a joint company, and ask for an increase of some kind and we had to direct attention to the cost of living; and one cannot talk about the cost of living without injecting the subject of prices.

I think that the Government should answer that question because, unless they answer it and give some idea of what is in their minds in having a separate body dealing with prices, I am bound to say that they are open to suspicion, and that suspicion is justifiable because of what has been said over and over again, ad nauseam—that it is impossible to control world prices. How often have I heard that over the years! I have heard it said about Labour Governments and about Conservative Governments, and a long time ago I even heard it said about a Liberal Government. That was almost in the Neolithic age. Of course we know that that will never happen again, with great respect to my noble friends on this side of the House.


I am interested that the noble Lord finds it necessary to make that point about the future of the Liberal Party at considerable length.


I suffer from a certain disability and I do not hear very well, which some people would regard as a handicap. I am quite sure that it was a very proper interjection, almost an intellectual interjection, but we shall let it pass and I shall read the report of it in Hansard. But it seems to me that when applications which have been the subject of negotiations are made, the question of prices and the cost of living are bound to come in. The Government ought to reply at the earliest stage in order to save a lot of time.

3.37 p.m.


We have listened to very eloquent speeches on this Amendment, speeches delivered with such eloquence as to make at least one Cross-Bencher wonder whether he should vote for it. But while I can see the extremely cogent arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, in particular, to the effect that to amalgamate these two bodies at this stage would take the electricity out of the atmosphere, would be an earnest of good will on the part of all concerned, would give the opportunity of discussing matters relating to both prices and incomes, I should very much like to request the advocates of this policy to elucidate for me this administrative point. I cannot believe that there is a great difference of opinion between both sides of the Committee on the matter of introducing as much reason, as much conciliation, as possible into the discussion of the frightful mess in which we find ourselves at the present time. But before making up my mind in favour of the amalgamation at this stage, I should like to be assured that the amalgamation would not lead to a slackening in the speed of decisions. When I read the draft of this Bill and saw that provision was made for an eventual amalgamation, that seemed to me to be O.K. When I asked myself why there should be two separate bodies, it seemed to me that a case could be made out on the grounds that, in the early stages at any rate, the problems that they had to deal with would be, in some measure, of a different order of administrative magnitude.

I would not wish to underestimate the terrific problems confronting the Commission or the division which has to deal with pay. God knows!, they are tremendous and will tax the best energies of those who are appointed. But as I read the Green Paper, the problems which arise from the kind of price regulation which is proposed there, particularly in regard to profit margins, allowable costs and so on, will be so multitudinous that I should certainly expect that it would take the full time of a very highly-staffed body sorting out the meaning of the Code and the applications of firms who will want to know quite quickly what to do. So I feel that if I were defending the status quo rather than the Amendment, I should simply ask whether the Amendment would lead to a certain slowing up of business. If I were assured that it would not lead to a certain slowing up of business, I personally should be rather inclined to vote for it.


I have a mind which finds itself fascinated by minutne, so perhaps I could endeavour to help the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, because he is a prize worth winning. If he will look at the Explanatory Memorandum he will see that the expenditure envisaged is £3 million a year, and that the public service manpower is of the order of 700. I entirely agree with him: if this were an amalgamation of two bodies already in existence with as limited a budget as this, both from the financial point of view and from the point of view of manpower, I should be reluctant to put forward the proposals I have because I should think that my good faith would be challenged. But it is not an amalgamation of that kind. What has happened is that, so far as we know, one section of a Government Department has been taken out from where it lives and is now housed in less salubrious quarters in a back street of Victoria, and that section is to be joined later on by two staffs superimposed upon that body.

I thought that Lord Peddie made a very powerful point—and he speaks from practical experience. He did not spell this one out in terms of bodies, but with a body of only 700 these chaps are going to visit a firm one week on the question of pay and the same chaps are going to come along the next week on the question of prices—because there are only 700 of them. Perhaps Lord Robbins would then link this with Clause 10 and look at the scope envisaged by this Bill. That says: This section shall apply to every company incorporated under the law of any part of the United Kingdom;…". There are going to be only 700 of them, so they will have to have season tickets between John o' Groats and Land's End, Liverpool and Lowestoft, they will be so thin on the ground. In actual fact, the intensive period is apparently going to last for only a short period. The Govern- ments are not amalgamating two bodies which already exist; they are bringing into being a pyramid which is already posed on its apex, because it is hiving off from a Government Department. I am extremely obliged to the noble Lord for putting the case he has, because I think he is with us, and I hope very much that he and I will go into the same Lobby together.


I think that on this matter my little mind has worked rather along the same lines as the greater mind of Lord Robbins. I have listened with the greatest interest to all the speeches that have been made so far from the noble Lords and noble Baronesses opposite, and one thing is quite clear: we are all now concerned with one thing, and that is to try to make this new body or these new bodies work just as well as they possibly can. Those of us who have not been involved in these complicated matters at first-hand find it difficult to be sure how organisations like this are likely to work best, but I am sure my noble friend, when he comes to reply, and in fact the Government generally, will attach very great weight to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, who has dealt with these things first-hand and who would know better than most of us the points at which they are inclined to overlap, because it is quite clear that they do overlap and will overlap. Also, we are impressed with what the noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, said, again because because he has dealt with these matters at first-hand.

I should have thought there was a prima facie case for having one body working in two divisions. I note from Clause 1(3) of the Bill that there is power for the Secretary of State, if and when he thinks that the time has come, to merge the two bodies. The one reservation I have in my mind against the desirability of merging them now is the one on which Lord Robbins touched. There is going to be an immense amount of detailed work for the Price Commission to do, and also very important work, on the other side, for the Pay Board to do—and very little time. If the Government feel, after deep consideration, that the best chance of this operating successfully is for those two Boards to get down to their individual jobs in the early stages, straight away, then subject to what is provided for here I would accept that logically and in the long run (if there is to be a long run; and I think it may be a fairly long run) the ultimate position which would be best would be one body operating in two divisions.


In order that the House may hear a Statement on the murders of the Governor of Bermuda and his aide-de-camp, I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.