Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st March 1974.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Barnet Hendon South 12:00 am, 21st March 1974

The offer of payments on Pay Board relativity recommendation, and backdated to 1st March, was made and the strike need never have taken place. In the course of time, I believe that the Government and the miners will have reason to regret that the settlement was not a relative pay settlement. If it had been, it would have been an integral part of an ordered framework for dealing with special cases within the wider context of a counter-inflationary policy.

But the settlement to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred with pride, is an ad hoc settlement, carried out as part of a much-publicised rejection of a counter-inflation policy. The relative pay report played no formal part in the negotiations. The National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board were, in effect, given a blank cheque. Therefore, the difference between a relativity pay settlement and the actual settlement is not a difference in cash; it is a difference in principle. The practical consequences of this will increasingly emerge as various wage groups press their claims.

Already workers such as the chemical workers and the Post Office workers are reacting to that form of settlement, for the nature of the settlement outside relative pay gives wage demands an entirely new impetus. Therefore, I fear that the Government will regret that the settlement was made on an ad hoc basis and not on a Pay Board relativities award.

The miners themselves may well suffer, since one of the basic aims of a relative pay settlement was to ensure that the improvement to the miners' position in the wages league table would be a lasting one. There are many industries with the muscle of the miners, and in a wages free for-all, which I hope we shall not reach, the miners' new position could be quickly eroded.

Meanwhile, the effect of the settlement is that there is to be a substantial rise in the price of coal. A 48 per cent. increase for industrial users has already been announced. We accept that this has to be met because it was a necessary payment for a special case, but if it becomes contagious the serious inflationary effect is obvious.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about housing and an unhappy inheritance. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the freezing of house rents, he mentioned that there were 280,000 tenants in Wales. He did not refer to the 98,000 in Wales who are receiving rebates under the Housing Finance Act. There are many problems—the current problem of high interest rates, the effect of over-heating in the building industry in 1973, shortages and the cost of building materials and labour.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the completion of houses in 1973. It is a matter of interest that, despite the many problems faced in 1973, there was an increase over 1972 in private house completions. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman concentrated on the public sector house building. It is a matter of which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) is fully aware. When one talks of completions of housing, one means the completion of a house which was planned and approved probably three years before. The hon. Gentleman was fully aware of that when he was Under-Secretary in the Welsh Office. He will also remember my hon. Friend quoting something he said at that time.

It would, I believe, have been of assistance to the House if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had talked about the future by quoting what are the approvals at tender stage. The approvals at tender stage for local authority house building programmes in 1973 were two and a half times the number for 1972 and, in fact, the highest figure since 1969. We can, therefore, look forward to a period of increasing housing supply.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he is in office at that time, will pay tribute to the fact that the decisions were taken in 1973, in the same way that the decisions which were taken by local authorities in 1968 and 1969 produced the completions figures which we had three or more years later.