Orders of the Day — PRICES AND INCOMES (No. 2) BILL

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th June 1967.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton 12:00 am, 13th June 1967

I will not withdraw anything I have said until I have read the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in the OFFICIAL REPORT. His words were within my hearing and what I have said was my impression of what the right hon. Gentleman said.

The right hon. Member for Enfield, West referred to the notorious Selwyn Lloyd pay pause. That took place during the nine months July, 1961 to April, 1962. Comparisons were made with what had happened during the equivalent period of this year. During the period of that pause, weekly wage rates rose by 2·9 per cent. and retail prices by 4·5 per cent. During the equivalent period of nine months from July, 1966, to April, 1967, weekly wage rates rose by 1·3 per cent. and retail prices by 2·5 per cent. Unemployment now is far less than it was at one period when the right hon. Member for Enfield, West was Minister of Labour.

The line of argument pursued by the Opposition would seem to be that a prices and incomes policy is something with which we have to put up, whether legislative or not, during a period of crisis. This is not our approach. The right hon. Gentleman was telling us about free competitive collective bargaining, and so on. Do I understand that he is now going back on what the Tories have said and is advocating a free-for-all? That was the inference of his remarks.

All the anomalies we now know so much about—the millions of low-paid workers and the obsolete wage structures—are products of so-called "free" collective bargaining. So long as that system obtained, we could never rid the nation of the inequalities suffered by millions of low-paid workers who, no matter how much they strove to increase their share of the national cake, could not do it.

The coming of the Prices and Incomes policy is not merely something to bridge an economic crisis. It is something which we believe will lead to a far better redistribution of that portion of the national income which we can allocate to wages, salaries and so on. Therefore, I believe that, if we can get across to the nation the fact that, whereas a prices and incomes policy when it is used in a period of crisis must be the creature of that crisis, it is not the case that the restrictions that we have seen both during the period of the Selwyn Lloyd pay pause and during this period constitute a prices and incomes policy.

I often get the feeling that it is really the economic problems themselves that people object to rather than the incomes policy which has to attune itself to them. It is to us a great encouragement that industry itself, so unlike the cynicism of the Opposition, is now convinced that, with the partnership we have established with it, we can make great progress in ensuring that the largest possible amount is available for distribution.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that there is more for distribution now without creating inflation and a balance of payments problem than is being paid out? Is he saying that, if this legislation were not available, there would be scope for big increases which are being held back because of it? Did the Opposition not learn their lesson in office when, because of their lack of policies, they drove this nation to an annual deficit of £800 million on the balance of payments? If they have not learned that lesson, the nation will know that they are not fitted ever again to be the Government.

The Opposition have called in question the efficiency of this system. But today the balance of payments is in surplus. The Opposition left behind a deficit of £800 million. We have tried to create economic instruments that will ensure that the nation does not go back to that which we found when we took office. We are not relying merely on the prices and incomes policy. Within the economic strategy we are adopting, we believe that this policy is a very useful adjunct and that it can, by the way it is worked, bring about a greater redistribution of incomes and eliminate, as far as may be, in those areas where the low-paid people could never hope to gain more by free collective bargaining.