Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1970.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West 12:00 am, 20th April 1970

I will leave the railwaymen to judge whether their 11 per cent. application is an inflationary increase, not backed up by productivity measures.

I move to the concept of a prices and incomes policy and ask whether it is viable within our present society. I doubt whether it is. There are too many factors militating against it. If I am asked, as a Socialist, whether I am in favour of a prices and incomes policy, I say that I am, but in the type of society where it is possible to operate such a policy.

We do not have that society now. If we reach a point when the pressure is taken off the public sector, when we can have growth and expansion, full employment, a wealth tax, increased family allowance, when the Government make a genuine stand on redistributing incomes, then such a policy will be possible.

Present wage demands are greatly exaggerated with people taking the demand as the final settlement. This does not happen in industry. There are two sides, and collective agreements are worked out. I have never known of an industry where an employer has come along after a couple of years and said, "You have not had an increase for a couple of years. I think that you ought to have one." It is always the other way round. The worker has to ask, because it seems as though the employer has forgotten about it. There is a real conflict within industry which it would be foolish to ignore. There is a basic struggle and this brings me to the argument about shop floor democracy which is something quite new in many ways.

It cannot easily be defined and there is no easy answer as to how it developed. If my hon. Friends want to see a rationale it can only come about if we reduce the size of the private sector and increase the size of the public sector. As Nye Bevan would say, it is only by controlling the commanding heights of the economy that it will be possible to plan incomes as well as much of the rest of the economy. So much nonsense is talked about incomes.

A good example is the recent Ford dispute. There, many thousands of workers, grade C workers with over two years on the conveyor belt, classified in the engineering industry as semi-skilled, but within their own industry having a definite form of skill, performed at speed and with great dexterity, were said to be earning fantastic sums of money. Before the last settlement they were earning £3 a week less than the national average of £26 for a 40-hour week; and many had been working a 40-hour week for several weeks before the application.

Within a society where millions of workers can gain increments without going through an incomes policy, a Government produce a large identifiable sector of workers and say, "You must be stopped. You must be used as an example." That is an injustice to working people and they will not tolerate it.

We are in a very different situation, as the Government have recognised. I do not think that the Opposition have recognised it. I hope for their sake that they do not have to grapple with this problem, because it would completely overwhelm them. I am convinced that the workers will see the common sense of not allowing them to deal with it. I notice what Hugh Scanlon said at the A.E.F. conference today on this matter.

The problem of wages, incomes and growth is affecting not only Britain but other countries. It is occurring in Germany. It is causing great trouble in Italy. It has happened in France. I am told by reliable sources that when the explosion comes in Japan it will be of considerable force and that it will be of tremendous effect on that country's economy. People will not accept, in 1970, not merely 1930 terms, but 1950 or 1960 terms.

There is much dishonesty in talk about legislation. The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) challenged the Government about running away from industrial relations legislation. He said that an industrial relations Bill was needed. The Opposition's intention is not to control wages, but to get a firm grip on the trade union movement and to control wages if they can. Well, they cannot.

The argument about incomes, trade union legislation and wages will continue. It is not a little tidy issue which economists can put into pigeon-holes where everybody has his place. We are dealing with a complex industrial society. We can achieve growth in incomes and growth in the economy, which is so necessary. We can achieve redistribution of income. All I say to my right hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Treasury and to the Government is, "Next time, be a little bolder. Grab the nettle a bit more firmly. I believe that the people will support you. You have the ground base. Now let us continue in the right direction."