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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 John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry 12:00 am, 9th August 1966

I am a little disappointed by the Under-Secretary's answer. I do not think that there would be any element of pre-judgment in a reference to the Board, because the whole approach has been that the Board should be encouraged to make a dispassionate study of the problems referred to it, whether they are problems of prices or incomes, or of demarcation or overmanning or alleged overmanning. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman would not argue that the Government have prejudged in any of the 18 instances which they have referred to the Board and on which the Board has already reported.

The point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) is still the most valid. It is that we are discussing the policy in its totality, with prices, incomes and productivity. Clause 2(1,a) specifically refers to prices; Clause 2(1,b) refers specifically to incomes and it is only right that there should be a Clause 2(1,c) referring specifically to the elements of productivity.

It has been made clear that the problems which concern us are the widespread allegations—I do not say whether they are fair or unfair—that there exist within British industry substantial elements of overmanning and demarcation difficulties which inhibit the proper and most economic utilisation of labour. There is a good case for arguing that the Board ought to be able to identify, in cases referred to it, areas where overmanning scales have or might be reduced, to identify the kind of agreements which led to such reductions and the extent to which health and safety arguments were sustained or not borne out by subsequent reductions. The arguments concerning health and safety are obviously legitimate in any determination of manning scales.

7.30 p.m.

It is quite true that already in the work of the Board there has been evidence that it is able to deal with them. In the baking industry report I understand that there was a productivity agreement which was, at least in part, facilitated by the Board's studies, and which, incidentally, has been put in the deep freeze for six months. It is precisely that kind of circumstance that we think might be facilitated by the acceptance of the Amendment.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has left the Chamber; he seemed to think that our proposal did not go wide enough, but my reading of the Bill leads me to believe that what concerns him would be covered by Clause 2(1). Even if our Amendment does not in his view go wide enough, I am sure that his many friends in another place could assist him by seeking to widen the Amendment during their deliberations later in the week.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) quite rightly argued that it was management's job to contest restrictive practices. No one would disagree with that view, nor with the view that the reports of Mr. Aubrey Jones would help to solve the matter. We on this side have constantly argued that there is essentially a useful rôle in which Mr. Aubrey Jones's activities can assist. They are the areas of illumination. The hon. and learned Gentleman may argue that this is a very limited rôle, but it