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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 Ian Lloyd Mr Ian Lloyd , Portsmouth Langstone 12:00 am, 9th August 1966

We have had some plausible noises from the Attorney-General, who referred, in an effort to justify the Clause as it stands, to the responsible people who would be administering this provision. It is always a dangerous principle to say that a provision as important as this will be in the hands of responsible people. To give the widest possible discretion and to attempt to justify it by saying that that discretion will always be exercised by responsible people is not a satisfactory argument when one recalls that some of the most classic examples of the misuse of bureaucratic power has been the misuse of quite small powers by so-called responsible people.

I hope I am not mistaken in arguing that, throughout the Government machine, it is the general rule, which is widely observed, that no Government Department shall publish statistics which will allow the case of the individual to be isolated from the general statistics published. Is there any good reason why the Board or any other Government Department should be exempted from such a general principle?

The Attorney-General then argued that, as far as he was aware, there were no cases of abuse. However, only this morning in The Times is an article going at considerable length into serious complaints by Colonel Whitbread, who complains that his company has been the subject of Report No. 13 by the Prices and Incomes Board. After describing that report as wholly irresponsible—I do not have the text of his words and I would not like it to be thought that I am quoting what he said—he states that, as a result of that, the Company has been referred to the Monopolies Commission. I have the impression that Colonel Whitbread is also arguing that certain breaches of confidence are involved.

That provides an instance of precisely the type of thing about which we are complaining. The Attorney-General cannot argue that this is a minor matter, that it is in the hands of responsible people and that we need not do anything about it.