Prices and Incomes
22. Mr. St. John-Stevas
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether he will make a statement on the progress of his talks with the Confederation of British Industries and the Trades Union Congress on the criteria for prices and incomes determination during the period of severe restraint.
The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)
The Government published on 22nd November the White Paper on the Period of Severe Restraint (Cmnd. 3150), following full discussion with the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
In view of the White Paper which the Government published on 22nd November, would the First Secretary take the opportunity of finding out what is meant by the phrase in the White Paper “excessive growth in aggregate profits” ? Would he not agree [column 1571]that in the present economic situation, a firm, which makes any profit, let alone an excessive one, is more worthy of commendation for its enterprise than censure for its misdemeanours?
I dealt with this in answer to a question after my statement yesterday. What one must ask oneself about profits is whether this is a genuine reward for enterprise, risk-taking and management. If so, it would not be described as excessive; but where profits are due to charging prices that could not be justified and is not a genuine reward in the way I describe, it would be excessive.
Mr. A. J. Irvine
Are these talks purely concerned with long-term objectives, including an acceptable method to ensure that the Government's views about the state of the economy are made known and given due weight in the course of wage negotiations between parties?
The discussions I referred to in the Question were those that led up to the White Paper; but I shall be continuing discussions with both parties of the kind my hon. and learned Friend has in mind.
23. Mr. Hattersley
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what progress has been made towards the setting up of a National Economic Development Council for the motor industry.
Mr. M. Stewart
This matter is still under consideration, but the Economic Development Council for motor distribution and repair has now held its first meeting.
Does not the First Secretary recall that over six months ago his predecessor agreed that the setting up of a specific National Economic Development Council for the motor manufacturing industry was a matter of some urgency? Can he say whether the delay is a result of the reluctance of motor manufacturers to co-operate with the Government?
No. My predecessor also said on that occasion, and on other occasions, that there are a good many complicated factors which make it necessary [column 1572]to take great care in this matter, but progress is being made.
Mr. Christopher Price
Would my right hon. Friend agree that the National Advisory Council for the motor manufacturing industry simply has not got the resources, and has not, through the history we have seen of it, played the part that it could play? Also, the failure of this body makes it more necessary to get a “Little Neddy” going for the manufacturing plant as soon as possible.
One must recognise that the National Advisory Council has done valuable work, but it would be desirable to have a body which, for example, could concentrate more closely on industrial efficiency, economic planning and contacts with other sectors of industry, and that makes the case for what we are now trying to do.
Price Increases (Complaints)
24. Mr. Winnick
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether he is satisfied that complaints to his Department about price rises are being satisfactorily dealt with; and if he will make a statement.
The Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)
Yes, Sir. As I explained in reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on 7th November—[Vol. 735; Col. 230]—specific complaints are dealt with by the Government Department with knowledge of the trade or industry concerned. All letters are acknowledged, and in cases where the increase complained of does not seem justified it is taken up with the trader concerned.
Would the Under-Secretary consider working more closely with local consumer groups, so that in the constituencies and regions those groups could become a sort of main local complaint bureau for workers and housewives?
I entirely agree that local consumer groups have a very important part to play. My hon. Friend may know that my right hon. Friend the First Secretary recently had discussions with the Consumers Association.
Will the hon. Gentleman give a few more facts? Will he [column 1573]say approximately how many complaints have been received; how many have been investigated and found justified, and how many have been investigated and found unjustified?
As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, North, we have received about 6,000 complaints since the First Secretary's statement on 12th September. Many of these complaints are still being followed up, but it would give a quite false impression of the way the process is working and the success we are achieving to give any detailed figures.
Wages and Salaries
25. Mr. Winnick
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what sections of employees will be allowed some increases in pay during the period of severe restraint.
31. Mr. Marquand
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether he will ensure that, when the present standstill on income and price increases ends in January next year, the incomes policy will be operated in such a way as to narrow the gap between higher- and lower-paid workers.
33. Mr. McNamara
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, when he proposes to publish the criteria by which increases in pay will be permitted during the period of severe restraint.
Mr. M. Stewart
The White Paper Prices and Incomes Policy: Period of Severe Restraint (Cmnd. 3150), published on 22nd November, sets out the criteria for increases in incomes in exceptional cases and on a severely limited scale, including the incomes of lowest-paid workers.
Would the Minister make quite plain the position of workers in the public services? Will workers in the public services be able to receive increases prior to July, 1967? Will my right hon. Friend agree that there are so many workers in the public services whose pay is so poor that it is only elementary justice that they should be able to receive some increase before the end of severe restraint?[column 1574]
That is a matter that perhaps merits a separate Question, but I would say that any commitment entered into before 20th July where there is both a fixed operative date and a fixed amount is subject only to six months' deferment. After that, payment begins, and it is payment from that date. That applies equally throughout the public and private services.
It would also be true to say that, where-ever one finds genuinely comparable situations, they are treated alike in the private and the public sectors. There are, however, instances where, in the public sector, we might get a situation to which there was not a parallel in the private sector and for which we should like to make special provision. It is also open to workers in either the private or the public sector to put forward claims under any of the criteria in the White Paper.
Order. I hope that we can have reasonably short answers.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that many of the deferred increases due to come into force in the period of severe restraint concern well-and medium-paid workers, and that the productivity agreements which are to be let through also do not give very much help to the lower-paid worker? Will he agree that unless he makes a determined effort to lean over backwards in the interests of the lower-paid workers, the net effect of the period of severe restraint may be to widen the gap between the higher-paid and the lower-paid workers?
It was with this consideration in mind that it was thought right to put in the criterion concerning lowest-paid workers, but it must be clear that, if the proposal is to be justified on this account, its benefits must be confined to lowest-paid workers.
Mr. A. Royle
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the working to rule by limb-fitters at Roehampton, due to the Government's policy, is causing great distress to many disabled people, and will he tell the House whether these fitters will be allowed their pay increase under the White Paper which was tabled yesterday?
That really is a separate Question. That the dispute is causing [column 1575]distress is not in question; the responsibility for it does not lie with the Government.
32. Mr. Marquand
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what steps he is taking to ensure that no increases take place in the salaries and other emoluments received by top management in the private sector of industry during the current prices and incomes standstill and the period of severe restraint which is to follow, and that thereafter such increases do not exceed whatever norm is then in force for income and price increases.
Mr. M. Stewart
Both the White Paper on Prices and Incomes Standstill, Cmnd. 3073, and that on Severe Restraint, Cmnd. 3150 published on 22nd November, make it clear that the principles of the standstill and of severe restraint apply equally to all forms of income. Further guidance will be given in due course about the period following that of severe restraint.
Will my right hon. Friend explain how this sector of industry will be controlled? Further, will he agree that the whole problem of very high rewards in the private sector of industry has repercussions on the public sector, with damaging consequences to the incomes policy, and will he refer the whole question to the Prices and Incomes Board as a matter of long-term consequence to the incomes policy?
I will consider that last point. As to the earlier part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, we should notice both the existence of these statutory powers and the fact of the wide measure of voluntary co-operation that has so far been achieved.
Mr. David Howell
How should the incomes policy be controlled for those workers who do not have the bad luck to be in unions?
Don't be silly.
I do not accept, and I do not think that anyone would accept, the implications of that question—[Interruption]—but, of course, both the enforcement through voluntary co-operation and the use of statutory powers [column 1576]could apply whether workers are in unions or not.
Mr. Michael Foot
In pursuit of the principle enshrined in the Question, has my right hon. Friend been able to inquire whether the members of the Board of Governors of the Bank of England, who have been lecturing the rest of us about keeping wages down, have had any increase in their wages for the past six or eight months?
That supplementary question does go a bit wider than the Question on the Order Paper.
Will not the Michael Stewartthe right hon. Gentleman agree that if extra merit, skill and responsibility are not linked with increases, the long-term prospects of British industry will be very precarious indeed?
That is so general a proposition that no one could dispute it, but during the period of severe restraint I think that everyone has to ask himself not what income he thinks he deserves but whether he is keeping in mind the restraints that are being applied to others as well as himself.
26. Mr. Biffen
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs by what method the statistical data of the revised National Plan will be collected and evaluated; and when the plan will be published.
Mr. M. Stewart
I have at present nothing to add to the Answer I gave on 10th November to my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks).—[Vol. 735; c. 341–2.]
But would not the First Secretary agree that experience indicates that the preparation of the National Plan is a time-consuming and not obviously successful enterprise, and would the Government, therefore, think long and hard before embarking on any such further plans?
When the hon. Gentleman asks that question he shows himself to be very much out of touch with opinion in industry. It was made clear at the last meeting of the National [column 1577]Economic Development Council that the members firmly believed in the principle of planning, and it is after consultations with the N.E.D.C. that we shall be able to decide how to proceed from now on.
Can the right hon. Gentleman yet tell us, however, whether he intends to proceed once more by the questionnaire method when the time comes to produce a new version?
That is one of the things on which I want discussions in the N.E.D.C.
National Productivity Conference
34. Mr. Archer
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether he will now state the date of the National Productivity Conference.
Mr. M. Stewart
The National Economic Development Council will be advising about reconvening the Conference held in September. The House will be informed when a decision has been reached.
Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Prime Minister told the House on 1st November that the Conference recommended in September that it should be re-convened in three or four months' time? Would he agree that the time to exchange ideas on productivity is not at the end of the period of severe restraint but now?
The Conference held in September agreed that the National Economic Development Council should advise on the re-convening. We shall await the Council's advice.
European Economic Community
35. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what discussions he has had or intends to have with Common Market Ministers concerned with planning regarding the freedom of individual member countries within the Common Market to plan their own economies.
Mr. M. Stewart
None, Sir, but this is one of the aspects of our membership of the Community which my right hon. Friends will have in mind in their forth[column 1578]coming discussions with the European Economic Community Governments.
Would the First Secretary of State agree that, in view of the virtual collapse of the Governments own planning policies signified by the interment of the National Plan, it might be better to drop this as one of the Labour Party's conditions for entry to the Common Market altogether?
No. As I said to one of the hon. Member's hon. Friends just now, he has got it all wrong. This is an important condition.
36. Mr. Marten
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will make a statement on the Montreal Conference in mid-November, attended by representatives of his Department, on a North Atlantic Free Trade Area.
Mr. William Rodgers
At the invitation of the Private Planning Association of Canada, I attended part of the Conference which was on “Canada and the Atlantic Economic Community” and gave an address on the Government's policy on international trading arrangements and on European economic relations.
Can the Minister say whether this North Atlantic Free Trade Area is a starter? What effect would our entry into the Common Market have on any such proposal? Is there to be another meeting?
The Government's view on the whole question of international trading relations and on our relations with the Common Market and on prospects, if such there are, for a North Atlantic Free Trade Area were made very clear in the debate last week.
Regional Planning Councils
37. Dr. Gray
asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether he will now bear the territorial factor in mind when nominating replacements to regional planning councils so that some constituencies do not remain unrepresented.
Mr. William Rodgers
We are satisfied that the present arrangement by which [column 1579]members are appointed as individuals, not as representatives of particular places or territorial interests, is the best.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the constituency of Yarmouth is not represented on the East Anglia Planning Council? Does he not agree that the proposals made for physical planning would be greatly improved if the planners could receive advice from individuals who know the area at first hand?
The Economic Planning Council was set up precisely for this purpose. It is composed of people from East Anglia who know the region very well and they are always very happy to receive representations from anybody who cares to get in touch with them.