Orders of the Day — Commission for Industry and Manpower Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Boardman Mr Thomas Boardman , Leicester South West 12:00 am, 8th April 1970

As the right hon. Lady is present, I will take a moment to say how much I regret the tone of her speech in opening the debate. She is aware that there is on this side of the House unanimous support for creating the type of competition that will bring about efficiency. While there is much in the Bill which we contest, there is much in it which we would like constructively to amend. A less aggressive, bitter approach from her before she had heard the debate would have been welcome.

Why are restrictive trade practices excluded from the Bill? Although the consultative document says that these responsibilities are separable, it goes on in paragraph 15 to show clearly how the responsibilities overlap. It seems a nonsense to exclude this from a Bill designed to create a more competitive industry.

There has been some debate on the question of ministerial selection of the references. I endorse what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) and others. The Ministerial method of selection must bring political considerations into account, which may not necessarily coincide with efficiency. It must also give rise to the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that party considerations are introduced. It has been suggested that to bring in a registrar to do the first vetting might introduce delay. The Minister of State knows that there have been considerable Ministerial delays over decisions as to whether a matter should be referred, and I cannot believe that the registrar procedure would be anything but quicker and more effective.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) put forward the case of the Commission versus a judicial tribunal. Again it is a matter of speed and legal justice. Experience has shown that tribunals of full-time members achieve a speed which cannot be matched by part-time members. The Bill provides for a Commission of up to 20 members, and, differently from what we have enacted in the last few years, the Commission must now sit as a whole. There is no provision enabling it to sit in separate groups which would speed up business. Why this was omitted? It is a peculiar omission.

Lack of time prevents me from developing some of the arguments about monopolies by trade unions. As wages form something over 50 per cent. of the costs of industry, it is farcical to have a situation where the law permits exploitation of that element yet endeavours to control prices, with such a large wage element in them. It seems illogical.

There are points which can be raised in Committee about the power to probe companies at over £10 million. It seems that this probe must be carried out in a vacuum, without any yardsticks drawn from other parts of that industry, and, I hope, without powers to probe comparable companies. It will be interesting to see how this witch-hunt is to be directed. The question of price control has been put by my right hon. Friend as resting on one of two alternatives. There is the alternative which we put forward of increased competition and the one put forward by the Secretary of State, of State intervention. While there is no black and white of total intervention or total non-intervention, it is clear that as the right hon. Lady claims to be the ally of indus- try she is coming down on the wrong side of the fence to prevent industry saying, "God save me from my friends."