Orders of the Day — Prices and Incomes Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th July 1966.

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Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough 12:00 am, 14th July 1966

We have just listened to three excellent maiden speeches and it is my privilege to congratulate each of the three Members on having delivered them. I feel more nervous than they looked.

The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) mentioned unemployment in Lancashire, about which I feel deeply, as I hope he will remember. Only those who have been unemployed know what it means. It is most important that in this affluent society we should be aware of the horrors of unemployment, and I hope that he will keep preaching that theme, not only on behalf of his constituents, but on behalf of the workers of the whole country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) spoke so fluently and so well that I envied him, after 21 years of practising in the House. What I liked about his speech was his straightforward advocacy of the principles of free capitalism and the rewards for work and risk. I hope that we shall hear a lot more from him on that principle in which I believe myself.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Dr. Ernest A. Davies), who took the place of your predecessor, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pleaded for self-restraint by everyone to make this policy succeed. On both sides of the House we have to accept that without that we cannot have a free society. I hope that all three hon. Members will accept my warmest congratulations and those of the whole House on their maiden speeches.

I have supported an incomes and prices policy for more than 20 years. I believe that some such policy is inevitable. I supported Sir Stafford Cripps in 1949 when he had a similar policy which, for two years at least, held down prices, dividends and wages. Over the last 10 years, at my party's conferences and in the House, I have advocated statutory control of prices, rents, dividends and all forms of private income as a package deal in exchange for an equal freeze of wages and salaries. For that, I still plead and I will accept statutory power behind it.

But, having said that, I absolutely reject the Bill as being irrelevant to the economic blizzard which I believe to be about to sweep the whole of the capitalist world. [HON. MEMBERS:"0h."] Hon. Members need not react like that, because after hearing the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon, warning of what is to happen, I am certain that a blizzard is about to sweep this country and I fear that it may be something of the 1931 type and that there will be a crisis of confidence throughout the whole capitalist world.

I believe that the Bill cannot succeed for one simple reason: it does not have the wholehearted support of the trade union movement. Unless such a Bill has that support, it cannot succeed. I do not believe that this policy can succeed whichever party introduces it and that we cannot, as an alternative, go back to what some hon. Members on both sides of the House would advocate, which is a free-for-all for wages and profits. I reject that utterly.

We cannot go back to the bad old days when the economic machine was allowed to grind its way out regardless of the social consequences of its actions. We cannot, as it were, disinter the remains of Lord Shaftesbury and wipe out the old Factory Acts and send boys up chimneys to sweep chimneys and drive women and children down the coal mines. The nation's social conscience would not stand for a free for all, and I do not care who advocates it. There must be some political control of the economic machine, although I think that the Bill is the wrong way to do it.

I do not accept the cowardly way out of our present economic difficulties of allowing 2½ per cent. inflation year by year. That robs the best of our people and turns the National Savings Movement into one gigantic fraud. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), whom I regard as the Father of the House, asked across the Floor,"What will you do? ". I would like to answer that for myself, even though I am not entitled to speak for my party.