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Clause 5. — (the Board's Reports.)

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 Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford 12:00 am, 9th August 1966

The right hon. and learned Gentleman waxed very lyrical. Perhaps this is the result of being made a Bard or something of the sort over the weekend. I do not know whether he was given a special name. Perhaps he will tell us what the name was when he replies further to the debate.

What we are discussing now is not mythology. It is a practical matter. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members opposite believe that they have no intention of prying or snooping and they have no intention of making available to the public private information which would be to the disadvantage of an individual or company. They believe this, but, of course, this is so often the trouble with Socialists. They believe that something will not be to the public disadvantage but when they implement it they find that it is.

The Bill excludes a large section of industry. According to the White Paper, companies employing 100 people or fewer will not be bothered either on the wages side or on the prices side. They are completely exempt. Presumably, this is done because the Government cannot go so far into the economy in detail, but it does let off the hook a very large number of companies and people. Certain people will come before the Board while others will not, and the ones coming before the Board will have to make information available. This information may be of vital importance to them from a business point of view. Many of their competitors who do not come before the Board will not have to provide such information.

There are two questions to be considered. First, are the Government certain that they will get the information they want if they maintain that they may have to make this information publicly available? The expression "so far as … is practicable "allows them to withhold the release of information but it also allows them to provide information to the general public. Firms coming before the Board will be afraid to provide the information which the Government need in case it is made available to their competitors.

This state of affairs exists already in trade associations. One of the reasons why trade associations do not work particularly well in the collection of Government statistics is that member firms are afraid to give information to trade associations—quite wrongly, I think, but it is an understandable view—because they do not want it to be made available to their competitors.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government needed the Clause as drafted because otherwise there might be delay. I cannot understand this. If information is asked for and there are discussions with the people interviewed or from whom reports have been obtained, it ought to be quite easy to reach agreement between the two parties on exactly what should be made available and what should not. If the Government really mean not to allow information to be published if that would be against the wish of those who have been interviewed or from whom reports have been secured, no difficulty should arise.

The Clause could be improved considerably if the Government would take out the words, "so far as … is practicable". They ought to make quite clear to the House and the country that they want to make available in open report only such information as is agreed between all the parties should be made available. If they do not do that, compulsion comes into the Bill immediately, without waiting for the implementation of Part IV.