I think that we have substantial time in which to deal with this Question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Windy."] It is for Mr. Speaker to decide how long he wishes this Question to go on, but we have at least 10 minutes in which to deal with it, and I start by saying that the White Paper on Productivity, Prices and Incomes Policy in 1968 and 1969 was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) knows, published yesterday.
On a point of order. As I am particularly anxious to reach Question No. 24, and do not want 10 minutes spent on this Question, may I ask whether it is true that I can terminate answers to this Question by merely saying that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply?
Does not my right hon. Friend think that he may avoid considerable industrial disruption if he concen trates on the basic voluntary part of the statement in paragraph 11? In this way he will use his compulsory powers only in the last resort, indeed if at all.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is an ill-thought-out piece of work, with very confused ideas indeed? As this is bound to lead to industrial antagonism among trade unions and workers, I appeal to my right hon. Friend—and I mean genuinely appeal—to take this back and drop the whole concept of a policy of compulsory wage legislation.
I always listen with great care to my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that I cannot give him the assurance for which he asks. There are problems in a policy of this kind, but I think that he is exaggerating the difficulties we will encounter.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his White Paper he is trying to restrict all incomes to a certain level, including individual incomes, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under the close company regulations issued under the 1965 Finance Act, is at this time instructing the Inland Revenue that close company directors must take more income during this year and next, whether they like it or not?
The hon. Gentleman has pointed to a well-known contradiction in policy. It has existed ever since 1945. The reason why my right hon. Friend wants close companies to distribute more of their profits is so that he can tax them all the more, whereas they would avoid taxation if they simply ploughed back profits.
As the right hon. Gentleman has said that the Government's disasters of the past three years have been caused, not by soaring wages, but by stagnating production, and also by soaring Government expenditure, is not the effect of the White Paper going to be that when the whole policy explodes it will destroy confidence at home and abroad, quite unnecessarily?
The lesson is clear that the main emphasis of policy must be to get productivity up in this country. The difficulty here, and the reason why the short-term need is so great, is that we cannot get a sustainable substantial increase in productivity year by year over the next 18 months. We can get some increase, but we cannot get an increase of the order that will make it unnecessary to have an incomes and prices policy.
Is it not the ca e that the 3½ per cent. ceiling is by no means rigid, and that the Budget proposals provided for the contingency of an increase of more than that figure?
As my hon. Friend points out, there is an upper case forecast for the increase in production this year. But the policy, as he says, is not a rigid one. In so far as increases in income can be genuinely attributed to increases in productivity, then, of course, they can go through the ceiling. I think that this is a very important and constructive element in the new policy.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is the appealing complexity of this mass of statutory and non-statutory legislation which will in fact militate directly against that which he has just said is his primary aim—to increase productivity and get expansion going? Does he not realise that he would do much better by listening to many of his hon. Friends, and hon. Members on this side, and scrapping this statutory policy?
I have not heard much wisdom from the other side of the House, though I have heard some interesting suggestions from behind me. Incomes policy and prices policy are complex matters and they remain complex whether one is relying wholly on a voluntary system or on a voluntary system buttressed by statutory powers.
The White Paper makes it clear that we are seeking powers for the next 18 months, which is the crucial period, during which we expect to get this massive switch of resources into the balance of payments. We also say in the White Paper that we are leaving open, and leaving ourselves with, the possibility of renewing all or some of the powers at the end of that 18 months. This, of course, indicates the obvious fact that one cannot be absolutely certain of the time scale at the end of which we shall have achieved this victory in the balance of payments which we are seeking.
But is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that his predecessor told the House that the previous legislation was for one year and that that was the critical period? Those promises have been broken; why should we believe him?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that, in the intervening period, we have had to face this great problem of devaluation of the £—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] This is not the occasion to go into all the causes of that, but, if we did, a lot would be said about the handling of the British economy by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not know of any independent or serious observer of the British scene who denies that, in this year, after devaluation, we need a prices and incomes policy—and I think that, in their hearts, hon. Gentlemen opposite know it too.