Clause 2

Part of Orders of the Day — Restrictive Trade Practices Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 1968.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Hall-Davis Mr Alfred Hall-Davis , Morecambe and Lonsdale 12:00 am, 27th June 1968

At least we secure revelation if not agreement or conviction in our discussions on this Clause. It has been made quite clear that it is no accident or oversight that this particular question of timelessness is in the hands of the Board of Trade which may consider itself a Department with a more settled long-term prospect than other Departments.

The Minister of State has been frank and told us that the voluntary policy is to continue and this is to be just a more interesting statement, a continuing element. By "this" I mean the operation of the early warning system. I think the hon. Gentleman did less than justice to the question of securing stability in the British economy when he suggested that the early warning system should necessarily be equated with the continued existence of the Prices and Incomes Board. Most people would not think that exactly the link for this Government's or any other Government's, form of prices and incomes policy.

We have concluded that the early warning system is intended to become a permanent feature of this Government's policy for managing the economy. I thought that the hon. Gentleman would tell us that the economic crisis would be a continuing element of this Government's policy and that is why these powers should be timeless. I believe time will prove that the early warning system has disadvantages and objectionable features which outweigh any advantages it may have. This is another reason for accepting the Amendment.

The early warning system involves pressures applied in private. Not only are they applied in private, but they are shielded from examination by this House and from comment by the Press. The Government do not disclose what has transpired at these discussions and industry or individual firms are most reluctant to do so because they fear that they may prejudice their relations with the sponsoring Government Department, which under the present prices and incomes legislation has a great control over the profitability of those undertakings.

The prices and incomes early warning system can be justified only if at all by dire economic emergency. I hope that by the end of 1969, if that is still a continuing situation in the British economy, we shall have a new Government. This Amendment should be accepted. It would be in line with the rest of Government policy. The arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Hbniton (Mr. Emery) advanced are of overwhelming weight in any dispassionate survey whether the Amendment is viewed by a supporter or an opponent of the Government's prices and incomes policy.