Clause 25. — (General Provisions as to Operation of Part Iv.)

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 Frank Cousins Mr Frank Cousins , Nuneaton 12:00 am, 9th August 1966

In many ways it has improved in both. This is bound to be so. The use of new equipment has increased productivity per man-year beyond the conception of a few years ago, and will continue to do so. To take one example, electricity generation, one can see how output per man-year has increased. The Clause now before us provides that somebody else, not the trade unions and not the employers, should be the determiner of whether the change has taken place.

There are references in this Part of the Bill to people not having greater remuneration and not having it for the "same kind of work". Both in the House and in Committee I have put the inevitable question: Who is to determine what such meaningless phrases mean? Our society can be divided not quite down the middle but fairly broadly into separate groups, and certainly in the fairly high income bracket no one can determine what the remuneration is. What about payments in kind given to many people? What about the attractions of gifts at the end of the year? What about the provision of accommodation and domestic facilities? What about participation in schemes created by the employer in order to give incentives? What about the provision of cars? How are these things measured? If I am given a bigger car, is that a better incentive? These things cannot be measured.

What does "the same kind of work" mean? Is it the same kind of work if an employer moves a man from one job to another? Is it the same kind of work if he does it deliberately? Is he trying to breach the agreement? These are just examples of the difficulties which phrases like this create for us. When I have asked questions about it, my right hon. Friend has said, "I am not asking to use Part IV. I am asking for the voluntary system to be worked". But, if we work the voluntary system not to the satisfaction of those who are to bring in Part IV, questions of this kind must be answered because they are there in the Bill itself. I have said that we shall not get out of our problems unless we give a great deal of thought and decision—my right hon. Friend and his colleagues must give some answers—to these questions. Only then will it be possible for us to go ahead with what is needed if we are to improve the country's economy.

It has been said that this standstill is more rigid than any other ever imposed in the world. Certainly, it is much more rigid than anything I know of anywhere except in Fascist or Communist countries. In the United States there is an example to which we should have regard. There have been some stringent measures there. A stage has now been reached when the trade unions have openly defied the President, and the employers are defying the President. Do we want to create such an atmosphere that the only solution left for the two sides of industry is to defy the law?

I was brought up to believe that a law which had to be defeated was a bad law. It does not mean that the people are bad. It is a bad law. We ought not to reach a stage when it is assumed that I am non-patriotic if I set out to ignore a law which I regard as bad. I have a greater responsibility than to accept that somebody has come with a heaven-sent idea on how to resolve our economic problems in this way. I do not believe—I am back where we started—that these provisions touch our economic problems.

Our economic problems are not related to a wage movement. It has an effect if we drive the economy to a point at which it is overheated. But we can overheat it with things which we ought not to be doing, by unnecessary defence spending, by illusions of grandeur which we cannot sustain, by things which we all know are wrong. If we would rather control wages than imports, then we are heading for a further balance of payments crisis. It is up to us to choose. There is nothing which says that the employer or agent cannot continue to import materials, and, in fact, he can get away with price changes for these. If we do not develop a readiness to realise what our rôle is, what part the unions and employers can play in making Government policies work, if we say to them both that they are irresponsible, and if we threaten them, then we are heading for a very serious setback.

I hope that the First Secretary does not assume, if I say that this is a bad Bill, that I stand for a free, untrammelled approach of beating the economy as hard as I can to a state which suits me or my organisation. There are substantial steps which can be taken to improve output, to make a better society, to make our real standard of living increase, and to make our economy thrive. I do not accept that the only alternatives are unemployment or devaluation.