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Clause 2. — References of Questions to the Board

Part of Orders of the Day — Prices and Incomes Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th August 1966.

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Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees 12:00 am, 9th August 1966

In the course of this discussion we have covered some of the ground covered on the previous Amendment. Arguments about restrictive practices are part of the agument about productivity. We want restrictive practices of all kinds to be abandoned as quickly as possible, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) pointed out, they are not limited to one side of the equation, or to one group of unreasonably minded men, such as the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) has in mind. There are many restrictive practices in all the professions and we want those to be abandoned as rapidly as any others. There is far less reason for such practices in the professions than there are for some of the restrictive labour practices which have been continued for some of the reasons mentioned and which we can all understand.

I want to say quite clearly what the National Board for Prices and Incomes can do. The Board can consider, on the basis of references made to it, all questions related to productivity, and in this respect the right hon. Gentleman was pushing at an open door. When the Board considers a reference and considers the productivity element involved, of course it may find itself considering restrictive practices on both the management and the other side. In this respect the Amendment is unnecessary. If obstacles to efficiency are to be overcome and the Board has any part to play, it will consider restrictive practices in the normal course of its investigations and will be looking at the sort of questions mentioned by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), for example.

First, the operations of the Board will cover restrictive practices by encompassing them in its work and in its reports on problems of productivity. Secondly, if we were to do as the right hon. Gentleman proposes, we should pre-judge the Board's reports. The right hon. Gentleman said quite openly, as he said in Committee, that he wanted the spotlight to be turned on restrictive practices. If we carried through the implications of that, we should be referring restrictive practices to the Board and pre-judging their nature before the Board had had an opportunity to consider them.

It is far better to make references to the Board on prices or incomes questions and assume that in the course of its investigations it will consider restrictive practices. In that way we shall not prejudge its investigations or its conclusions, which is precisely what we would do if we made an issue of restrictive practices in the way which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.

I half agree with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said. Many restrictive practices on the labour side have grown up over a long period as a defence against unemployment and as a reaction to the fear of unemployment. For that reason, we can be sympathetic towards these practices where they have existed, but I certainly do not take as gloomy and cynical a view about the impossibility of overcoming them. There is no room for conservatism of any kind, even if it is conservatism born of a proper desire to defend oneself against the consequences of unemployment. I take a much more optimistic view of the capacity of the great majority of men and women to consider the current situation and to regard it as greatly different from the situation of 20 or 30 years ago, despite immediate problems.

We should seek to understand why restrictive practices grew up while at the same time not seeking to perpetuate them in any way, either by word of mouth or failing to draw attention to them when they are properly obstacles to efficiency. I must ask the House to resist the Amendment, but in doing so I say again that where restrictive practices impede efficiency, we hope that they will be abandoned and that we think that they are something which should be properly encompassed by the Board's inquiries and reports.