Would the right hon. Lady not acknowledge that there is widespread interest in the development of her talks with the T.U.C.? So that we may all be informed of the lines on which they are proceeding, can she confirm that a non-statutory prices and incomes policy would involve the repeal of Parts II, III and IV of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1966?
No. I cannot confirm anything of the sort. I have told the hon. Gentleman, and I repeat it, that consultations are going on about a future prices and incomes policy and what form it should take when the current legislation expires at the end of this year.
Does the right hon. Lady not realise that consultations have been going on for a long time and that it is of great importance to both sides of industry that they should know as soon as possible what the position will be as from the end of this year? Is she aware that this is particularly so in view of the leaks in the Press at the weekend? Will she undertake to tell the House as soon as possible whether it is true that the Government have decided to give up this stupid and damaging policy?
I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be too experienced to confuse leaks and suppositions. I have said that the House will naturally wish to discuss this important matter in good time, before the preparation of any further legislation which might or might not be necessary. I stand by that position.
Since March. 1968, 50 agreements submitted to my Department have not been approved, either because they failed to satisfy the criteria or because they exceeded the 3½ per cent. ceiling without justification on productivity grounds. Many agreements have been approved only after modification, following discussion with my Department. A special exception to the strict requirements of the White Paper was made in the case of the recent increase for agricultural workers, as my right hon. Friend explained in her statement on 30th January.—[Vol. 776, c. 1547 et seq.]
I understand that the Ford increase is 4½ per cent. above the maximum laid down in the White Paper. Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that the savings brought about by the elimination of strikes would be equivalent to a 4½ per cent. wage increase, and would he also agree—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Very well, I will be happy with an answer to that.
All the cases did not necessarily involve productivity. To the best of my recollection, that is the total number of cases with which we have dealt seeking approval under the requirements of the policy in the last twelve month period for which figures are available.