Schedule – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th June 1974.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendments made: No. 21, in page 8, line 8, at end insert— '1A.—(1) The Secretary of State or the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may, by an order made for the purposes of this paragraph in respect of subsidy payments of any description, prescribe conditions to be observed by any person—

  1. (a) who claims or receives subsidy payments of that description; or
  2. (b) to whom any food is sold otherwise than by retail, being food in respect of which subsidy payments of that description have been or can be made, and to whom notice of the conditions has been given under this paragraph.
(2) A person who has sold food otherwise than by retail shall not be entitled in respect of that food to any subsidy payments of a description to which an order under this paragraph applies unless he has given the purchaser notice of the conditions required to be observed by him under this paragraph; and if a person sells otherwise than by retail food in respect of which he has claimed or received subsidy payments of any such description, or in relation to which he has himself received a notice under this paragraph, he shall give a like notice to the purchaser.(3) Any notice under sub-paragraph (2) above shall be in writing and given not later than the time when the goods are delivered pursuant to the sale.(4) If any person knowingly contravenes a condition required to be observed by him under this paragraph or fails to give any notice which he is required to give under sub-paragraph (2) above he shall be—
  1. (a) guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400; and
  2. (b) liable to pay to the Secretary of State or the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on demand, a sum not exceeding the subsidy payments made in respect of the food to which the contravention relates.
(5) The power to make an order under this paragraph shall be exercisable by statutory instrument and includes power to vary or revoke a previous order; and a statutory instrument containing an order under this paragraph shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.(6) This paragraph is without prejudice to the matters that may be included in a scheme under section 1 of this Act and to the imposition of any condition, as a matter of contract, on persons who claim or receive subsidy payments.(7) In this paragraph "subsidy payments" means any payment under a scheme under section 1 of this Act and any allowance made by a Board as defined in Article 2(1) of the Order mentioned in subsection (3) of that section in respect of milk supplied by it in the year there mentioned'.

No. 22, in page 8, line 20, leave out paragraph (b) and insert: '(b) whether any condition required to be observed under paragraph 1A above has been contravened.'.

No. 23, in page 11, line 17, leave out 'there mentioned' and insert: 'mentioned in paragraph 1A(7) above'.—[Mr. Maclennan.]

9.45 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

1 beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have elucidation of the situation regarding this debate? It will not have escaped your notice that, while the larger part of the Bill relates to the departmental responsibility of the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, Clause 6 relates exclusively to the responsibilities of the Department of Employment. But no representative of the Department of Employment is present.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already said enough to indicate that that is not a point of order. The Government will choose the spokesmen they wish to speak in the debate.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

I fully appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order, however, for a representative of the Department of Employment—1 see that one is belatedly coming into the Chamber to join us—to intervene in the debate to deal with matters in Clause 6 directly connected with his departmental responsibility?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

If the Minister made an effort to catch my eye, he would probably be successful.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will not have escaped your notice that in the last two Divisions a considerable number of Members from the various Opposition parties were missing. It seems to me that in this kind of situation, in which the Government are achieving such massive majorities, it would be best for the Third Reading of the Bill to be given formally and we could then take one or two measures associated with it.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

I shall speak very briefly. I simply want to say that we commend the Bill to the House. We believe that it has been considerably improved in Committee and on Report. We believe that it will have an effect in reducing prices. It enables us to bring forward food subsidies which have already saved 5p in the pound. We believe that the further powers with regard to display and price ranges are important in informing the consumer.

9.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I would like to say a little on the matter while dealing with Third Reading, and I believe that I am entitled to do so. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members who are not interested in the debate will leave the Chamber—

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is being deliberately offensive. There are hon. Members on this side who were in the Chamber for far longer during the debate than he was.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I am not trying to be offensive to any hon. Member of the House. I am merely telling the House—[Interruption.] I am not apologising. I intend to say a few things about the Bill, and I am sure that those hon. Members who are interested will remain and no doubt those who are not will go.

I do not wish to oppose Third Reading but I hope that the House and, certainly, the country realise how ineffective the Government's actions in this respect will be. We have heard a great many words about the Government's action on prices, yet we have seen little action. [Interruption.] This is strictly related to the Third Reading of the Bill—

Photo of Mr Gwilym Roberts Mr Gwilym Roberts , Cannock

I noted that through the Committee stage and again in the debate today there has been considerable criticism of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to say something which he has not said at any previous stage; namely, what the Opposition did in the past about inflation. This Bill, however limited, tries to do something. We hope to hear in the short time which I am sure the hon. Gentleman is to take the Opposition's views about inflation—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). If he goes beyond the content of the Bill he will be in trouble.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I seem to be in trouble whatever I do. I shall, naturally, follow your ruling very carefully Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I hope within the confines imposed to be allowed to say a few words. We have to face the fact that the total action by the Government since they came into office has had the effect not of reducing prices but of putting them up. The total effect of the Government's actions have been, in a number of sectors, to put up the retail price index, as we saw on the day we rose for the Whitsun Recess. There has been the largest rise in the retail price index since records have been kept. That was after the Government had been in office for about three months. The May rise in the retail price index was a record. So much for the Government's protestations that they are taking effective action on prices.

Why did the retail price index go up? The total effect of the Government's action put up the index. The announcements in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget on 26th March had the direct effect of putting up the retail price index by an amount never seen since records have been kept. What will this Bill do against that sort of background of prices shooting up as a direct result of the Government's action? What can the Bill do to help in these circumstances?

I feel I can carry both sides of the House with me on at least one matter. Both sides share the same aim in that we want to do something effective to contain inflation, if ways can be found to do that. [Interruption.] At least the retail price index did not go up by the same amount when we were in office. The retail price index in May went up in one month more than in any single month since 1947 when records began. [Interruption.] I am attempting to treat the House seriously. The index went up because of the direct effect of the announcements in the Budget speech. That is the precise reason, and anyone who challenges it has merely to look at the retail price index and the make-up of it to see that that is exactly true and that it was the reason why the index went up. Both sides of the House share the same aim. We wish to contain inflation. We all want to protect the less-well-off during a time of severe inflation.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I think it is common ground between both sides—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Speak for yourself."] I am trying to speak for myself but not finding it at all easy. I am doing my best and I shall go on trying to speak for myself. However, the Government take the view that indiscriminate food subsidies are a good way of helping those who are worse off. Such subsidies, which account for a good deal of the Bill, are an inefficient way of helping those who are worse off. They are expensive for the taxpayer and their cost-effectiveness is extremely low. Food subsidies give the same help to rich and poor alike.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

They help rich and poor alike. For example they help overseas visitors, they help those who eat out in hotels and restaurants. They are open-ended in cost. If the Government use the powers that they have taken in this measure, the food subsidy bill will be running at the rate of £700 million this year. Inflation will be at just under 20 per cent. What does that mean for next year? Does it mean that there will be food subsidies of the order of £1,000 million?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

That is interesting. Is it the policy of the Government to have a food subsidy of £1,000 million a year?

Photo of Mr Gwilym Roberts Mr Gwilym Roberts , Cannock

The rich taxpayers will pay it.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

Exactly. Am I right in understanding it to be the policy of the Government that food subsidies should go up to £1,000 million, with inflation running at 20 per cent. a year and with the cost being met by increased taxation? We shall be grateful to have confirmation of that from the Government Front Bench as opposed to the Government back benches. If that is what they propose, I am surprised that the powers will run out so quickly. Why not have power to keep them on for longer? We are, to use a famous phrase, entitled to an answer.

What is to be the Government's policy at the conclusion of this period? Do they propose, with inflation running at this high rate, to carry on food subsidies in ever-increasing amounts, paid for by ever-increasing taxation? Is that the prospect they put before the British people? Even Sir Stafford Cripps found it impossible in the late 1940s to go on with indiscriminate food subsidies at that rate. I believe there are signs that food subsidies are in danger of leading to shortages in the shops. There is already said to be a shortage of liquid milk which will lead to a shortage of cheese.

Photo of Mr Thomas Swain Mr Thomas Swain , North East Derbyshire

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Dairy Council has announced that there is no possibility of a shortage of liquid milk or cheese in the next two years?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I have not seen that announcement. If it is true, it is encouraging. The information I have is that there are already shortages of milk and there are indications that in the autumn of this year there is likely to be a shortage of cheese.

This policy leads to unfair competition. There are situations in which the small shopkeepers have been penalised. There are all sorts of unintended side effects from the operation of indiscriminate food subsidies. This can be only a temporary expedient. The long-term plan of any British Government should be to make sure that there will be a plentiful supply of food for our people. It is essential for any Government to help farmers to produce more of our food than they do at present.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered,That the Prices Bill may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Coleman.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I am sure that that would be the greatest boon to the consumer in the long run. That might not be wholly relevant to the Bill, and I do not ask for an answer tonight. Many of the measures in the Bill are short-term palliatives, not long-term solutions to the problems caused for the consumer and the food producer as a result of the Government's actions.

Some 25,000 tons of foreign cheese is being subsidised this year, a fact which will no doubt please hon. Members. The cost of subsidising that foreign cheese will be of the order of £2 million. Some English cheeses are not subsidised.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Roberts Mr Gwilym Roberts , Cannock

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the point consistently made in Committee was that the subsidy went not to any manufacturer of foreign cheese but directly to the British housewife? That is what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are opposing.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I have merely said that 25,000 tons of foreign cheese will be subsidised at a cost to the taxpayer of over £2 million when there is much English cheese that will not be subsidised. If hon. Members think that that is a satisfactory situation, they are entitled to their views.

I estimate that the cheese subsidy saves the average person between 1p and 2p per week. The average saving achieved by the butter subsidy is less than 2p per person per week and by the bread subsidy about 5p per person per week. The 1p that the Government put on the milk subsidy will save just over 5p per week per person, and the 1p which the Conservative Government put on will also save 5p per week per person.

There are many price increases in the pipeline—for example, electricity price increases—and they more than wipe out the gain from these subsidies. Government spokesmen have admitted that more than three quarters of the benefit will go to households with incomes of above £30 a week and only one-quarter to households with incomes below £30 a week. More than £500 million of the £700 million will go to households with incomes above £30 a week, and £168 million will go to households with incomes below £30 a week. It is the classic situation of the subsidy not being effective in helping those who are worst off—which is presumably the intention of a subsidy.

I concede that this has to be paid for out of taxation. Taxation has had to go up massively to pay for the food subsidies. Direct taxation on a single person earning as little as £19 a week has been increased—

Photo of Mr David Weitzman Mr David Weitzman , Hackney North and Stoke Newington

If the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about it, why did not the Opposition vote in their proper strength in Committee?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

We had a sensible and satisfactory series of votes. If we lacked in quantity we made up for it in quality.

Childless married couples with an income of £34·50 a week have to pay extra tax. Indirect taxation has also had to go up. Indirect taxes have been increased on cigarettes, wines, spirits, petrol, rail fares, electricity, coal and postal charges. The Government have increased the cost of the items which figure highest in the expenditure of those with low incomes. For example, pensioners spend a great deal on electricity and tobacco, the cost of which has not been reduced by the Government. Some items that the Government have subsidised appear comparatively low in the requirements of those on low incomes and pensioners.

The retail price index, which is directly relevant to the Bill, increased last month alone by 1·75 points as a result of three taxes imposed by the Government in the Budget. The retail price index has gone up faster than ever before since it was first started in 1947.

Against that, the Government claim that there have been savings as a result of the food subsidies and the rent freeze. The Government may prevent the index from going even higher, but they do not bring it down. Their actions have put up the retail price index. On 20th May the Secretary of State gave an optimistic forecast about curing inflation, as did the Minister of State of few days earlier when he said that Labour was taming inflation, yet only a week later there was the highest increase ever recorded in the retail price index.

As I have shown, the subsidies introduced in Clause 1 are wholly ineffective. They do not help the people they are designed to help. They are indiscriminate and expensive. They may fool the consumer, but they do not benefit the people they are intended to benefit.

In Clause 2 the Government have also taken wide-ranging powers. The right hon. Lady gave examples of the use she will make of them. She has her voluntary agreement, but it will achieve very little.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

As the hon. Gentleman is making such a devastating attack on the Government, will he not vote against the Third Reading of the Bill?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

It would be wrong to vote against Third Reading. We did not vote against Second Reading, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman voted against Second Reading. There may be some marginal benefits in the Bill and I do not wish to oppose it on Third Reading.

The Bill will achieve little and the voluntary agreement will achieve little. The Bill is designed to confuse and muddle. It will have no effect on prices or upon items which have been promoted in the shops for many months past. We are told that the Bill will help the consumer, but I believe that it will achieve very little for the consumer.

The Bill is one more example of the charade by which the Government are trying to fool the public in the hope of an early General Election. It is not worth spending any more time on it. It is designed to be a charade under a smokescreen of words and precious little action.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Roberts Mr Gwilym Roberts , Cannock

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am disappointed in the speech made by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). He gave the impression at the beginning of his remarks that he would tell the House what the Conservatives were prepared to do about inflation, but 1 heard not a single word on that topic later in his remarks.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Disappointment is a common experience.

10.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Wainwright Mr Richard Wainwright , Colne Valley

We are now embarking on the Third Reading of what is conspicuously a hybrid Bill which involves fully separate and distinct Departments. I refer to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, the Department of Employment and the Department of Prices and Consumer Affairs.

This kind of debate customarily places the House in a difficult position when hon. Members have to make up their minds on the last stages of a Bill. The view of the Liberal Party is that if the Bill had consisted of only Clauses 2 and 4 we would have wished it a fair wind.

I would remind the House that Clause 2 enables the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection to achieve her voluntary agreement in regard to the price of basic household items, on which we would like to congratulate her, and Clause 4 provides for a sensible system of unit pricing and price marking which is overdue in a civilized country. However, the expensive part of the Bill, which touches the taxpayer's pocket, provides for a prodigal series of subsidies, many of them on commodities which are already running short. We have it on the authority of the Milk Marketing Board that milk and milk products are already running dangerously short in some parts of the country, and the housewife's choice in milk products is already very severely restricted in many parts of the country.

It has already been shown—I shall not repeat the figures tonight—that these extremely expensive subsidies for the most part benefit people who would never claim to be in any great need. I wish to spend a few moments dealing with the myth propagated throughout discussions on this measure that the subsidies are being paid for almost exclusively by the higher income group. They are being paid for out of the general fund of steeply increased taxation on all fronts, from sharp increases in the range of VAT, from excise taxes on tobacco and drink, and out of the iniquitously low threshold at which PAYE begins, even after the recent Budget.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Roberts Mr Gwilym Roberts , Cannock

Does that profound statement on VAT mean that the Liberal Party has come to a view which has been held on the Labour Benches for a long time—namely, that taxes such as VAT perpetuated by the Common Market are highly undesirable?

Photo of Mr Richard Wainwright Mr Richard Wainwright , Colne Valley

That does not enter into the matter. If purchase tax were still in force, I would say that the subsidies would have to be paid for out of purchase tax, which would affect people on low incomes.

No shred of evidence has been produced during all our discussions that these subsidies are in any way a scientific attempt to relieve those in real need, and there are many people in that category. The subsidies do not measure up to meeting the social effect which an extension of family allowances would have had. No arguments have been produced at any stage to suggest that they do.

The worst part of the story about the subsidies is that at the end of March next year there will be an appalling day of reckoning when suddenly those in charge of affairs of State, whoever they may be, will find that they will have to reconcile the British public and the trade unions and others to a massive number of accumulated soaring prices—a situation which has been cosmetically disguised at vast expense for a relatively short period of time. Again we have had no word from the Government during any stage of the Bill to indicate how that situation will be faced. I can only suppose that they hope that someone else will be in their place by then and that they will not have to face it.

The other objectionable feature of the Bill is the power which has been smuggled in by Clause 6 to abolish the Pay Board. Here again, the time since Second Reading has done nothing to show that the social compact is in any way a satisfactory or watertight replacement for a statutory system of controlling prices and incomes. This gratuitous, well-advertised provision to give special power to abolish the Pay Board is a flight of unreality, and it is interesting that we have not heard from the Government when they intend to invoke that power.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest. He said earlier that it was the considered view of the Liberal Party that the Price Commission as at present constituted was a monstrosity which should be removed. Now he is saying that the Pay Board should be retained.

Photo of Mr Richard Wainwright Mr Richard Wainwright , Colne Valley

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening he would have known that I was simply objecting to this power. At no time have I endorsed the forms which the Pay Board and the Price Commission take. But there is no merit in a power to abolish the Pay Board without a power to put in its place a more democratic body which is more under the control of this House. We Liberals would like to see a means for the statutory control of incomes under the control of this House and not farmed out to some convenient extra-parliamentary body.

In view of the massive cost of the subsidies for a very poor return and in view of this power to abolish the Pay Board while putting nothing effective in its place, we Liberals intend to vote against the Bill, always provided that those who believe in talk rather than in action and in speeches rather than in voting do not detain us until such a late hour that it would be unrealistic for us to remain here.

10.17 p.m.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

I am delighted to be able to assure the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) that there will be at least one Tory in the Division Lobby voting against the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be overcome by fatigue. This is an important Bill and it is important that hon. Members should have an opportunity to speak about it. It is equally important that speeches should not be curtailed. Therefore, I trust that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends will have the apparent strength, resilience and vigour of their hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) and stay until the Division is finally called.

I am extremely disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), who made a very good analysis of the deficiencies of the Bill, does not intend to lead his troops into the Division Lobby against it. I believe the Bill to be the most expensive piece of window-dressing with which Parliament has been confronted for many years.

As hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will know, I have maintained a reasonably consistent posture. With my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), I have voted against all the subsidy clauses and provisions.

I welcome part of the Bill. Unit pricing is dear to my heart and I am delighted to see it included in this measure. I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing it forward because this part of the Bill is extremely sensible. It is a small but effective weapon for the housewife in the battle against inflation. Therefore, it grieves me considerably to vote against a Bill containing that provision. My other convictions will not allow me to support it, however, because I believe that it is a prodigal waste of resources.

I question neither the integrity nor the good intentions of the Secretary of State. Of course the right hon. Lady wants to do all she can in the battle against inflation. We all do, just as we want to help the old and the needy. But this is not the right way to do it. It is costly and wrong. The Bill provides for an expenditure of £700 million. What will the bill be next year? If inflation increases, who knows what it will be? If it decreases, we shall still face a large bill next year—I suggest in excess of £700 million if the same sort of provisions are brought forward.

I do not question the right hon. Lady's honour. But she is bringing the Bill forward in the belief—I believe, the mistaken belief—that she will have these responsibilities for some time. Therefore her intention is to commit the British taxpayer to an ever-increasing bill. There are many more effective ways of disposing of £700 million, although I should be out of order in listing them. At this time in our fortunes it might be best to save that money entirely, but if we are to spend it there are certain categories of the needy who deserve special mention. Think what we could do with the money. It represents £100 for every old-age pensioner.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Member himself invited me to intervene when he said that I would pull him up if he started to say how the £700 million could be spent. If he would confine himself to the Bill, it would be a great help.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

I was tempted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by the prospect of the pleasure of seeing you on your feet, because your interventions are always charming and to the point. I shall try to relate my remarks to the Bill. With your tolerance and vision, you will agree that it is important to compare expenditure of that size with other ways in which it might help the needy. We could talk about old-age pensioners, the disabled and single-parent families. Food subsidies of £700 million are not the best help for them.

In my constituency, as in yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, many such people need help but instead will get subsidies to the tune of a few paltry pence a month on their cheese. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West said, much of this cheese is continental—Havarti and all the other types we spoke about in Committee.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

Do not forget Elbo.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

Indeed not. My hon. Friend has developed a taste for that variety. The fact that Blue Stilton is not included—I wonder whether Red Windsor might be—should concern us all.

The ordinary pensioner and the person on a small fixed income will get some benefit from the Bill but it will be minor and will be paid for from taxation. This taxation will not come from the small category of the wealthy. The Chancellor said in his Budget speech, in effect, that we cannot get much more by taxing the wealthy, even though we are to have a wealth tax.

Single people earning £19 a week are paying tax, and the hon. Member for Colne Valley was quite correct to draw attention to that matter. Young married couples in my constituency who are struggling with a mortgage and struggling to bring up their children are paying tax. Questions which I put down to the Chancellor a few weeks ago brought out the startling information that most of those families—in fact, all of them earning over £45 a week—are suffering as a result of the policies of the present Government.

We all know how many increased charges our constituents are having to bear. One does not need to speak at length about rates or night storage heaters to illustrate that the Bill is window-dressing. The Government are not helping people as they could with £700 million at their disposal. If they have that money at their disposal, there are many more effective ways in which people could be assisted.

It is absolutely essential that the Bill should be voted down, but I fear that it will not be voted down, because there will not be enough Members in the Lobby with myself and a few of my hon. Friends. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I believe that Parliament—

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

The hon. Lady and the hon Gentleman know the answer as well as I do. I believe that this is a retrograde step and it is wrong that Parliament should give it even a pseudo seal of approval.

There are many other things about the Bill that I do not like. The hon. Member for Colne Valley talked about the Pay Board. All I would say about that is that we either have both or we have neither. The Secretary of State said at the Box this afternoon that she is working for a voluntary agreement. I congratulate her. We hope it will work. We hope it will bring benefits to many people. I doubt that it will, but the right hon. Lady certainly has our good wishes. She says, "We are working for a voluntary agreement and I am backing it up with the power of the law." At the same time the Government, because they are forced to do so by their paymasters in the unions, are determined to abolish the apparatus of the Pay Board. It should be neither or both. To have a voluntary approach on one side and compulsion on the other, particularly when it is so organise, seems to me to be essentially politically dishonest. For that reason alone, I hope many hon. Members will be persuaded to think twice before going into the Lobby in support of the Bill.

Think of the massive bureaucracy that will be needed to enforce the Bill. One does not need to do more than refer to the statement which the right hon. Lady made this afternoon and to consider certain items on which manufacturers will concentrate their promotional activity. It is not the sphere of government to go poking into every High Street shop trying to influence people's taste and distort the market. [HON. MEMBERS: "Distort?"] Hon. Members may scoff, but what is inherently so much better about fish fingers than other forms of protein? What is so much better about instant coffee than tea bags, which incidentally I do not see on the list? Margarine is on the list but some other forms of fat are not. And so we can go on.

Then we have the items which will be on continuous offer, such as matches—one line—and toilet soap, again one line. Surely that is a distortion of the market. It is all nonsense. When bureaucracy starts spreading its tentacles in this way—

Photo of Mr Bob Mitchell Mr Bob Mitchell , Southampton, Itchen

Tea is on the list, as are butter and margarine.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

I sec that tea is on the list. Tea bags are not.

This is bureaucracy gone mad. It does not need a particularly good imagination to perceive all sorts of distortion and nonsense flowing from it. I therefore suggest that in passing a measure of this nature, while Labour may feel entitled to be pleased with themselves and light-hearted about it, we are taking a very retrograde step.

I suggest that we would be serving the interests of the nation far better by concentrating our endeavors and resources on saving the nation's wealth and not squandering it in this way. We should either save the £700 million completely or devote it to much better uses. We could bring before the House a sensible and a small Bill, such as could be translated from Clause 4—which ought to commend itself to at least certain hon. Members on the Government side of the House—and forget this specious, bureaucratic, interfering nonsense. I hope we shall have a goodly representation from the Opposition benches in the Division Lobby with us tonight.

10.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Fred Silvester Mr Fred Silvester , Manchester, Withington

In making her statement earlier today, the right hon Lady the Secretary of State, in answer to a question, said "It is very important to appeal to be doing something. It is better to do something than nothing." That is a questionable doctrine when one is considering passing a law which will have wide ramifications for the public in all its forms.

It is not true that it is necessarily a good thing to do something, as is done in the Bill, if it will give rise to long-term problems for minimal short-term gains. It is not a good thing to do something if one leads people to expect a benefit which will not accrue or if one pretends to deliver something which one is not delivering. It is fair, therefore, that we should consider now whether the Bill will deliver the advantages which the right hon. Lady pretends that she will deliver.

As it stands, the Bill is condemned on at least three counts. It is quite clear that it will cause some shortages and distortions. I should like to refer the House to The Grocer of this week and to some comments on cheese. It states that it is clear already that supplies of Cheddar are "acutely short." The Grocer also says that the demand for Edam—one of those cheeses which is being subsidised, and the demand for which in the previous week was described as "astronomical"—is now at an all-time high because the cheese is being subsidised and because Holland can supply it.

The right hon. Lady will remember that in Committee she went to great lengths to say that cheese was not price-elastic. We are already creating substantial distortions of the cheese trade—and not to the advantage of the British cheese producer. The Bill stands condemned on that basis.

We have had much discussion this evening about the small shopkeeper. No matter how we look at this matter, those who argue that the Bill is placing upon the small shopkeeper very substantial burdens, which we would rather not place upon him if we could possibly avoid doing so, have had the best of the case. As time passes the Bill will be shown to have placed serious burdens upon the small shopkeeper.

Third, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) rightly pointed out, the Bill stands condemned also because the time will come for these subsidies to go and the housewife will then have to face a bill of very substantial proportions and a shock of great magnitude.

Let us measure the disadvantages of the Bill against what the right hon. Lady says are the supposed advantages, of which I list four taken from the debate in Committee and on the Floor of the House. They are, first, that the Bill will help to steady or reduce the cost of living; second, that it will help the old and the poor; third, that it will divert substantial promotional sums from the less widely used goods to the more common foods; and fourth, that it will provide useful information to help the housewife in the hunt for better value for money.

Let us take each of those in turn. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has pointed out, in relation to the first of those supposed advantages—that the Bill will help to steady or reduce the cost of living—that looking at the Bill in isolation is deliberately seeking to mislead the public. We have to take the effect of the Bill in conjunction with all the other effects of the Government's policy. By the Government's own figures and by their mouths, on every occasion, they are forced to admit that the combined effect of Government policy has been to increase the cost of living. To that extent the Bill is therefore at best a palliative and it is not having the effect which is claimed for it of holding steady or reducing the cost of living.

The second point is that it will help the old and the poor. We have produced many figures on this point. The salient conclusion remains. The vast bulk of the money voted under the Bill will go to people who do not fall into the categories named by the Secretary of State. In fact, £144 million will go to people with incomes of over £50 a week. Only £48 million will go to the old-age pensioners. More than three-quarters of the funds will go to people whose income is over £30 a week.

If Labour Members pursue, as the Secretary of State has pursued with no credit to herself, the argument that the Government are getting money from the rich through taxation to pay for all this, they are taking a dangerous risk. It is dangerous to seek to divide up the general income from taxation and allot it from one quarter to another. That is the argument about which the motorist has protested over the years in connection with the road fund licence. Hon. Members who wish to spend vast sums on the social services should think about this. It is not the same thing as clawback in the family allowances. We are dealing here with a totally different principle.

The third point put forward in defence of what the Government are doing is that it will divert substantial sums from the promotion of less widely used goods to more commonly used items. The money for this proposal is coming in the first place from the 10 per cent. cut in the retail margin. The Secretary of State admitted in reply to a Question of mine that at this moment the 10 per cent. is already down to somewhere between 6 per cent. and 8 per cent., and all the evidence is that the money the right hon. Lady says is available is dwindling still further because of the enormous pressures on retailers' margins. The money she speaks of is turning increasingly into fool's gold; it is increasingly illusory.

To a large extent the bargain that the Secretary of State has struck with the voluntary groups involves only the small shopkeepers who are not included in the 10 per cent. cut in margin and whose resources for making these promotions will be even more slender.

The other source of the reduction is the money devoted by manufacturers to promotions. There were 671 promotions in 1973 which involved price cutting. Probably less than one-third involved the goods that the Secretary of State has included in her list. She has come to an agreement with the manufacturers, and I have no doubt that they will be as helpful as they can be. But what is the manufacturer to do when he is asked to transfer his promotional funds from goods which he has already included in his budget to those goods on the right hon. Lady's list? It may be possible if he makes both soup and baked beans and can transfer funds from one to the other, but what does he do if he finds that his competitor is still fighting the battle among the unlisted brands and he has to keep up? These funds will not be made available to be diverted in this way.

This may be a technical point, but the one conclusion arising from all this is that the money available to the Secretary of State from the 10 per cent. cut and the promotional funds is largely diminishing, and where they are not diminishing they are already allocated. There is no extra money available for these promotions. The right hon. Lady said this afternoon that this was all very well but that all she was doing was transferring from less desirable goods to more desirable goods. Who is she to say what are the desirable goods? Most hon. Members here would probably say that among the most undesirable goods were what are generally called convenience foods, the packaged goods for which people tend to pay a premium because they are more convenient than fresh goods.

The National Food Survey has shown that the proportion of food expenditure by the lower income groups is higher on convenience foods, which are excluded from the list, than on fresh foods. The people making their purchases have made that decision—not the right hon. Lady or her hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. She is saying that she knows better which goods should be promoted and which should not. I doubt it. There is no evidence to suggest that substantial moneys will be diverted to goods which people will find of greater benefit.

The last argument in favour of the Bill is that it will provide useful information to help the housewife in her hunt for best value for money. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) made the point clear. He was unable to indicate, despite his support for having this range of prices in the shops, any way in which the lists will end the confusion that he claims now exists in the housewife's mind about prices. The Bill adds yet another element to the confusion and does not solve the housewife's problem. In a few months we shall regard the price lists as tatty and dog-eared mementoes of a former age which we do not quite understand.

The whole thing seems so unnecessary. I tabled a series of Questions in which I sought to discover the benefit of the subsidies for various people. I was told that for a couple who are pensioners it is 33p a week and for a household of three or more children it is 74p a week. I was told later that the same benefit could be given in the old-age pension at a cost of £75 million and that slightly more benefit could be given to the large family at a cost of £39 million, making a total of £114 million compared with £380 million.

The Bill does not deliver what it claims to deliver, and it is unnecessary. The right hon. Lady is clearly the front woman for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I suspect that later she will be the front woman for the Secretary of State for Industry as well. She provides a beneficent appearance, a benign facade, smiling at the electorate.

Having examined the Bill, I feel that its value disappears before our eyes. I would compare the right hon. Lady with the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland", which gradually disappeared as one looked at it until the only thing left was the smile.

10.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

At this stage it is appropriate to discuss only what is in the Bill. I want to address myself to something which is now in the Bill but was not there on Second Reading, and which therefore has never been discussed in principle in the House. I refer to the word "cheese", which now appears in Clause 1(2)(a).

I take up the whole question of the cheese subsidy for two important reasons. First, I have been pursuing the Secretary of State with Questions on the matter, and therefore it is only right that I should state my views on it in the House. Secondly, it is an important constituency point for me.

I am completely opposed to cheese subsidies in principle. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) said in Committee: I have never disguised the fact that I take a fundamentalist point of view on food subsidies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 2nd May 1974; c. 20.] So do I. That represents my view exactly. Taking that point of view, and being opposed to subsidies on food I do not need to hide from what the right hon. Lady said in Committee. The Committee had been discussing the subsidisation of some cheeses of which nobody had ever heard—for example, Elbo, Tybo, Samsoe, Danbo, Havarti, and St. Paulin. The right hon. Lady said that we must subsidise them. She said that if we do not do so we shall be in breach of EEC and GATT regulations. That argument does not impress me.

I am against the subsidisation of any cheeses irrespective of from where they come. I genuinely believe that the £2·4 million which the right hon. Lady is proposing to allocate this year for the subsidisation of these peculiar foreign cheeses is a waste of money. In an answer to me on 9th May the right hon. Lady said that the subsidy would be £2·4 million. That is 8 per cent. of the total cheese subsidy. If we did not waste the £2·4 million in that way it could well be used for health centers in my constituency.

The House has had remarkably little and remarkably inadequate information on the cheese subsidy. As a result of Questions which I have been asking the right hon. Lady over the past few weeks it appears that she does not even know how much of the cheese is imported. In answer to a Question from me on 9th May the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: Imports of these"— that is foreign cheeses— cheeses are not separately distinguished in Her Majesty's Customs Overseas Trade Statistics."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May 1974; Vol. 873, c. 233.] The Government do not know how much is involved. They do not know the tonnage that is imported and they do not know the tonnage of consumption. I asked specifically what the estimated tonnage of consumption of these cheeses would be in 1974–75. The right hon. Lady's Under-Secretary of State said that separate estimates are not available. So there again, the Government do not know how much is involved.

Nor do they know the consumption pattern of the cheeses which they are proposing to subsidise. The Under-Secretary of State, in answer to me, said that in estimating the cost of the cheese subsidy it was assumed that relative levels of consumption would remain unchanged. When I asked how the right hon. Lady calculated her 1973 import figures and if she would give consumption figures in tons, using the same calculations, for each of the last 10 years, the Under-Secretary of State said that the information could not be obtained without disproportionate cost.

We do not have that information and nor do we know whether the figures which she has given, such as they are—and they are not very many—are even accurate. When I asked the Under-Secretary of State on what basis, in the light of the unavailability of the cost of the cheese subsidy, it was calculated that the cost of imported cheese subsidy would be £2·4 million in 1974–75 he replied: The calculation was made by apportioning imports under the appropriate United Kingdom Customs tariff heading on the basis of country of origin, and applying the subsidy of £105 per ton to the estimated overall imports of the varieties in question."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May 1974; Vol. 873, c. 543.] That was his reply despite the fact that he had already admitted that he did not know what the overall imports were.

Let us not worry any more about these peculiar cheeses, except to note in passing that we have now discovered that the first six of the list of imported cheeses are "normally", to quote the Minister of State for Agriculture, produced in Denmark, which will be of interest to the House, and that St. Paulin is "normally" produced in France. Let us leave them all, except to remember that the right hon. Lady does not know what her subsidies on those cheeses will save individuals in any one week. She admitted that to me on 9th May. A sum of £59,790 has so far been paid out in subsidies to importers of these cheeses, plus Gouda and Edam. Sixteen people have drawn subsidies out of 39 payments so far made. That means that half the payments are going to importers of foreign cheeses.

Let us turn to two exquisite examples of the new bureaucracy. I refer first to administration, and secondly to the cheese subsidy, with particular reference to Stilton. On the subject of administration, let us start at the top. Let us start with the Prime Minister

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Perhaps I ought to not comment on that. The Prime Minister told me in a Written Answer on 10th June that the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection had responsibility for general policy on this matter, and the Minister of Agriculture undertook the administration of subsidy on an agency basis. I do not know whether the right hon. Lady slips him a few bob while he is doing it! The fact that one Minister has responsibility for policy and another for administration seems to me to be the form of bureaucracy which one remembers over the selective employment tax, where the same sort of thing occurred.

The new arrangements also mean that there are now four officials—one principal, one higher executive officer, one executive officer and one clerical officer—working full time on cheese subsidies in the Milk and Milk Products Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, at an annual cost of £24,000 a year—which is not included in the £30 million so far allocated. This is despite the fact that the right hon. Lady already has a Department of 258, excluding her satellite boards such as the Price Commission. In view of the weight of bureaucracy that is to come, I was not surprised to see that one of her 258 staff is described as "paper keeper". He will certainly be busy. With 37 manufacturers and 35 importers already identified as eligible for subsidy, I expect to see the four officials whom I mentioned earlier increasingly reinforced.

I wish to say a word about the extraordinary situation regarding Stilton. Here I must declare a major constituency interest. As the House will know, Stilton is made only in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Most of the Stilton is made in my constituency in Melton. Just over 4,070 tons of Stilton were produced last year and the figure rises steadily because my constituents have been stepping up production of this splendid cheese, with a good record in exports. Of that figure 80 per cent. was blue Stilton and only 20 percent. white Stilton. The House should realise that the production processes of blue and white Stilton are identical, except that white Stilton is sold one month after it is made, whereas blue Stilton is kept three to four months longer and is spiked to allow it to mature and become blue. Despite the fact that these processes are identical, white Stilton is now to be subsidised but blue Stilton is not—much to the indignation of my producer constituents.

I need hardly add that the right hon. Lady has shown in her Parliamentary answers to me that she has no idea of the benefit to the average family of the subsidy on white Stilton. It may be an instance of the derision with which the decision has been received in Leicestershire if I say that as of 10th June, while five manufacturers of white Stilton had registered for subsidy, not one had actually made a claim.

So what does all this rigmarole amount to? It appears that the Government are spending £30 million, perhaps, to advantage the average family by 4p or 5¼p. This was what the Minister in Committee laughingly called a "not inconsiderable amount." He should tell that to my constituents, whose rates have been nearly doubled this year.

The scheme is a bureaucratic nonsense and the right hon. Lady knows it. Soon the country will realise what a waste of money it is.

10.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

The explanation of my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) about the wonders of the right hon. Lady's pursuit of hard pressed cheese is worthy of much wider dissemination. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will contemplate putting his speech into a pamphlet and persuading the right hon. Lady's Department to print it and circulate it throughout Whitehall and far beyond. It would be hard to imagine a more conclusive or more perfectly argued demolition of the entire nonsense of food subsidies than that which my hon. Friend produced.

I hope he will take care to keep us informed on these matters. It will obviously be a subject of continuing concern to the House to know, for instance, how the hard pressed cheese department within the right hon. Lady's Department is faring, what the growth date of employment in it is, how its budget is expanding and how many paper keepers have to be recruited. I hope my hon. Friend will make sure that the House is informed about these matters which will obviously concern us more and more the longer this legislation survives.

I understand from the remarks of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) that he will deprive us of a vote if we speak too long. The attitude of the Liberal Party reminds me of the attitude of a "Lady Bountiful" I heard performing not long ago at a function not far from my constituency when it was announced that the "Lady Bountiful" had consented to present the prizes at the end of the function. She interrupted at that point to say in a loud voice, "Provided that it does not go on too long." That seems to be the attitude of the Liberal Party—hardly a robust one. With that in view I shall try to encapsulate my remarks, although there are a number of matters on which further light must be thrown before we can conclude our examination of this measure.

I deal first with the statement made by the right hon. Lady this afternoon. It is the right hon. Lady's contention that this statement will save her the painful duty of activating Clause 2. I have examined with interest the shopping basket she has produced. I must say that anyone who subsisted on it would need urgent medical attention before long. A diet of sausages, margarine, fish fingers, breakfast cereals, instant coffee and baked beans would not be altogether good for the digestion. I should be riveted to know precisely how the items which the retailers, we are told, will have on continuous offer have been selected.

For example, toothpaste, denture powder and toilet soap apparently figure prominently in the right hon. Lady's imagination, but not shaving soap. It is godly in the eyes of the Department to wash and clean one's teeth, but not, apparently, to shave. We are advised that electric bulbs and matches are to feature, so at least the grateful British public will be able to light their homes and see the rather frugal and curious diet which the right hon. Lady has chosen for them.

However, the more serious point I want to make about the statement made by the right hon. Lady this afternoon is—

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is surely an abuse of the rules of the House. Surely, in a Third Reading speech one must stick to the Bill under consideration, and not deal with a statement which was made to the House earlier today?

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) has made a point. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) should relate his comments to the Bill itself rather than to the statement, and it seems that he is beginning to drift a little.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does not Clause 2 of the Bill prescribe that there are items that the Secretary of State may select as being household necessities? Surely, what my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) has been doing has been to advert to those items which the right hon. Lady has selected and which she has announced to the House as being the subject of a voluntary arrangement which is backed up by powers which exist in Clause 2? Therefore, surely my hon. Friend is perfectly in order?

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. What the hon. Mem- ber for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) says about Clause 2 is perfectly true, but it is really a question of generalities and we should not drift too far from the principle into details.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

I entirely accept your ruling Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My proposition is that the right hon. Lady has gone out of her way to tell us that the use she will make of Clause 2 is entirely dependent on the application of this bit of paper which she threw before us this afternoon. Therefore, it seems to me that the contents of that bit of paper are extremely relevant to our consideration of the relevant clauses of the Bill.

I had intended to make only one further point about the announcement made to the House this afternoon. The point is strictly germane to our consideration of the Bill on Third Reading. The right hon. Lady made clear that it was her concept that the back-up powers contained in the Bill had made it possible for her to obtain the agreement which she announced with a flourish of trumpets this afternoon, and which might not otherwise have been forthcoming.

I wish to put a proposition which I admit can be argued either way. I have always believed that if one has to choose between statutory control imposed with the full rigor and the full certainty of the law, and subject to the control of Parliament, that is on balance a lesser evil—not much less, for it is still a large evil—than a voluntary agreement which the Government expect the various constituent bodies involved to impose upon their members without statutory authority.

I view the statement made by the right hon. Lady this afternoon with considerable distaste. The retail consortium is a mug ever to have agreed to the arrangement which was anounced and I am sure that it will live to regret it. We have been told that the retail consortium has agreed to recommend the right hon. Lady's proposition to its members, but what happens if the members tell it to go to hell, as I hope they will?

The right hon. Lady told us that she has the assurance of bodies representing the small traders that they will ask their members to make reductions on the list to which she referred. I hope that those representative bodies will be told by the small traders to mind their own business. If the consequence is that the right hon. Lady has to come before the House and invoke the powers contained in Clause 2, that will be infinitely preferable. I do not approve of this arm-twisting procedure, although it has become all too common under Governments of varying colors in recent years We should get away from it as soon as we can.

Food subsidies have been well covered. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton totally demolished the whole proposition in his intervention, and the hon. Member for Colne Valley also exposed some of the follies of this proceeding.

I should like to say a word about the proposition often stated in interventions from a seated position from the Government side of the House that food subsidies are all right because they are paid for by the rich out of taxation. A recent Parliamentary answer showed that this year, for the first time, the tax threshold had fallen below 50 per cent. of average earnings. In the years immediately after the war the tax threshold was above average earnings. It is now down to below 50 per cent. That proves conclusively that food subsidies are paid for in the main by those who receive them. All we are doing is taking money from people through taxation and giving it back to them provided that they spend it on one form of food and not on another.

We learnt today that the Government have in mind to subsidise chapati but not to subsidise oatmeal. I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will be able to explain that to his constituents this weekend. What will the Race Relations Board say? Provided that the average family spends its money on chapati it will get back that portion of its taxation bill that goes towards the cost of the food subsidies. If, instead, it spends its money on oatmeal it will not. What is the merit of chapati and the demerit of oatmeal? The answer is that it is just the usual exercise in window-dressing by the right hon. Lady for which not the rich but the generality have to pay the price.

Clause 6, which provides for the abolition of the Pay Board, has been rather neglected. I shall miss the Pay Board. I have had many hours of innocent en- joyment pursuing the activities of Sir Frank Figures and his happy little band and finding out some of the weirder antics in which they are engaged. It will be sad to see them go. We need to know a little more about the Government's intentions.

We need to know tonight precisely when the Government will act. I was interested to read in The Scotsman newspaper recently of a meeting between the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Employment and the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) on a problem that has arisen in the case of a firm in Aberdeenshire—A.F. Engineering—which has attracted the ire of the Pay Board for a reason I have not been able to fathom—

Photo of Mr Douglas Henderson Mr Douglas Henderson , Aberdeenshire East

Because it is is in East Aberdeenshire.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

It is not unique. There are plenty of firms in Angus which have suffered from the ministrations of the Pay Board, but the Pay Board has not been quite so Draconian as it has with the firm in East Aberdeenshire.

The hon. Member saw the Secretary of State for Employment, apparently, and the Secretary of State is reported to have told him that the Government intend to abolish the Pay Board in about five weeks' time. That would take us up to about the middle of July. The Minister nods his head. We know that the Secretary of State for Employment cannot wait to get rid of the Pay Board, but what about the Chancellor? We do not get the impression that that is his view. We know that there is great conflict going on in the Government about these matters. Which way will it be resolved? Is the Chancellor to allow the Pay Board to go into oblivion next month? If the Minister can give us an unequivocal assurance, a solemn pledge, not a lightly given promise, on behalf of the Government tonight that the Pay Board will be abolished before the House rises for the Summer Recess, that will be interesting and helpful.

Perhaps the Minister will go one step further and give a solemn pledge that, if the Government are still in office come the autumn, we shall not have a wage freeze introduced by legislation at that point. It would be helpful for consideration of Clause 6 to have these solemn assurances.

Supposing the Pay Board is to be abolished, we need to know what is to happen then to some of the debris, the bric-à-brac, which it leaves behind it. It has outstanding at present quite a substantial number of orders requiring various concerns to reverse wage settlements which they have already made and which the board believes to be in contravention of the Pay Code and phase three: a wide range, from a firm called Tool Power Engineering, where the Pay Board has trundled out its great machinery of intervention to halt a wage increase for six men. One wonders what was the cost of that operation and what are the related sums involved. At the other end of the scale we have 125,000—

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

I never voted for the blessed thing. We have 125,000 employees of the Co-op whose fate currently hangs in the balance. We need to know what will happen to the orders imposed if it is abolished.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East was quoted in The Scotsman after his visit to the Secretary of State for employment: He added that Mr. Foot had made it clear the restrictions would cease to operate from that date —that is the date the Pay Board is abolished. Is that the case? Are we to understand that every order the Pay Board has issued will lapse at once when the Pay Board is wound up? If so, what is the justice of saying in those cases where the Pay Board has been able to enforce orders on the day before it is wound up that the unfortunate victims will be penalised, but that if the Pay Board has not been able to enforce orders, the victims will be able to escape?

Photo of Mr Douglas Henderson Mr Douglas Henderson , Aberdeenshire East

Just to correct that quotation in The Scotsman, What I in fact said was that existing restrictions would end and there would be greater freedom.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

I am grateful to the hon. Member for clearing that up because it is not what was given in The Scotsman, but we need a clear explanation from the Minister of State about what is to happen.

We have to consider the future of the orders against the background of a situation where the Secretary of State has exercised discretionary powers to override the Pay Board in the case of a 23 per cent. increase for Coal Board solicitors—horny-handed sons of toil—and more than 20 per cent. for Glasgow firemen. These people have been put through by him invariably because he realised that the Pay Board was quite incapable of enforcing its orders in these instances in any case. But we need to know what is to happen to the companies which have had orders imposed upon them and now face an intolerable position thanks to the board's intervention.

Alas, the Price Commission will continue with us. We have had several de-bales today about the manner in which the Bill is extending its role. Hon. Members opposite have been reminded of the way in which, when in Opposition, they consistently denounced the extra-parliamentary role of the commission and are now seeking further and substantially to increase its operations by this Bill.

We have established—the right hon. Lady could not deny it—that the commission is contributing on a rapidly expanding scale to the balance of payments deficit. From time to time, it seems to be on the verge of removing from the shops altogether some of the cheapest foodstuffs which we understood it was the Government's intention above all to safeguard through the Bill. The commission had a narrow escape the other day from getting blended butter, the cheapest form, removed from the shops altogether. I suppose that someone in the right hon. Lady's Department woke up and told Sir Arthur Caulfield to behave himself. But it was a narrow squeak and no doubt there will be many more before we finish.

We watch as the commission achieves the elimination of one product after another from the home market. I imagine that, after a period when the construction industry in Scotland was deprived of cement thanks to an industrial dispute, it is likely that we shall be deprived of cement altogether, thanks to the intervention of the commission making it impossible for the more costive cement plants to continue functioning.

One must protest about the manner in which the commission handles correspondence. A number of the powers in Clauses 2, 3 and 5 will involve masses of retailers and distributors in a further need for urgent answers from the commission. It is my information that such answers simply are not available. I have reported to the right hon. Lady the case of a firm which waited for nine months to get an answer from the commission on the application of the code, and as a result was almost put into the impossible position of being unable to publish its accounts within the period prescribed by law. This is intolerable. We all recognise that, with the extra burdens which the Government are laying on the commission, if it is to deal adequately with its correspondence it will have to recruit extra staff.

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In my experience in the House I have always been taught that a Third Reading debate is very narrowly confined. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) is making what amounts to a Second Reading speech and has been out of order from the beginning.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Order. In fact, the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) is in order on this clause.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Angus South

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was saying that the powers contained in the Bill are bound to lead to more need for urgent responses to correspondence, and we are simply not getting them at present from the Price Commission.

I find it quite intolerable that the Price Commission should shield behind the provisions in Schedule 4 of the counter-inflation legislation, which is designed to protect the confidentiality of information for the benefit of those who are the victims of the Price Commission, and refuse to divulge information which is needed by hon. Members and which relates to operation by the Price Commission of its powers. This is an intolerable situation, and, the sooner that the Price Commission is persuaded that it must deal with correspondence expeditiously and effectively, the better.

This is a Bill with virtually no redeeming features. If we knew for certain that the Pay Board was to be abolished under Clause 6, it would have perhaps one. Apart from that, it has none.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have decided, for reasons which I understand, not to oppose the Third Reading. There are precedents for the Bill. Those of us who take a jaundiced view of those precedents will perhaps feel freer to exercise our views upon it in the Division Lobby. I have no doubt that in time it will be destroyed in the way that we have seen happen to all these attempts to deal with inflation by passing laws against it. It will only be destroyed, ultimately, by public ridicule. The sooner that happens, the better.

11.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

I wish to refer mainly to Clause 6, which contains the power to abolish the Pay Board.

It seems to be my fate this evening to be called immediately after the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). Perhaps that is because the hon. Gentleman has spoken so frequently during the course of the day.

For those of us who live in Scotland, the operations of pay boards in the 1960s and 1970s have given cause for concern for a number of reasons. The first is that many wage negotiations in Scotland have customarily taken place several months behind those conducted for the same industries in other parts of the United Kingdom. This has been a matter of practice in industry. It is not one which I support, and I know that a great many professional bodies and trade unions have been concerned about delays which have occurred in the past.

One effect is that, whenever there is a freeze on wages, the wages of those in one sector of industry in most of the United Kingdom are increased, yet the wages of those employed in the same industry in Scotland are caught by the freeze. This has happened during the existence of the present Pay Board, and, the sooner that the Pay Board goes, the better will those engaged in industry in Scotland be able to negotiate directly to get fair wages for the jobs that they do.

Once institutional controls of this kind are set up, all sorts of anomalies arise, and further regulations and orders designed to correct them often give rise to even more anomalies.

The position described by the hon. Member for South Angus on the east coast of Scotland has been causing a great deal of concern. There, the phenomenal economic activity induced by the oil industry has led to intense competition for labour. Since the new industries are not caught under Pay Board regulations, they can obtain labour, while the activities of existing firms are curtailed. The Pay Board prevents many firms from increasing wages as they would like to, in order to retain staff. In a case taken up by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), the Pay Board had ordered one such firm to reduce wages by £4 a week.

The closing stages of the Bill's progress have been interesting for a new Member. I support it in most details and in principle. But the official Opposition have failed to test the Bill as I understood an opposition should. The majorities in Divisions show no real attempt by them to carry out their duty. It is hardly surprising that, as this Parliament has worn on, once narrow majorities have become increasingly large, reflecting the lowering of morale in the Conservative Party. It is not for me to dictate their policy, but my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) has referred to their activities as huffing and puffing but not bringing the House down.

Photo of Mr Douglas Henderson Mr Douglas Henderson , Aberdeenshire East

It is particularly significant that not one Scottish Conservative is present tonight—

Photo of Mr Douglas Henderson Mr Douglas Henderson , Aberdeenshire East

I beg the hon. Member's pardon. His earlier remarks had led me to believe that he had joined the Liberal Party or formed a party of his own. But the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), for example, who huffed and puffed because some of my colleagues were not present in a Committee in which a Bill worth £6 million was discussed—

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Order. In his enthusiasm, the hon. Member is getting wide of the debate.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

This is not the day on which we are interested in that. There will be a great deal of tension around television sets in Scotland tomorrow night, but it will be after the House has risen, so there need not be any comments about non-attendance.

Food subsidies by themselves will not provide a final solution to the grave problem of inflation which is threatening the United Kingdom and many other countries. Many factors which cause inflation are outwith the control of any United Kingdom Government. I could go on to argue—but I should not be allowed to—that that would not be true of a government of Scotland.

I commend the Bill as a start. There is strong feeling among those who pay large sums for food that this will be a brake on the rate of inflation. Although of marginal importance, it should be welcomed for that reason. Although I concede many of the arguments that some of my hon. Friends have made during the passage of the Bill regarding the limited effects of food subsidies, in Scotland we have, I am sorry to say, a large degree of poverty in many parts of our community. I think that some of the proposals concerning food subsidies will help people in that category.

11.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

I shall not detain the House long as it is only right that I should be brief both in stature and in what I have to say. [Interruption.] When the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) gets to know me better, he will recognise that if he listens quietly he may learn something.

If I may proceed on my lordly way, I think that the Bill might well be termed a basket Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] A basket of a Bill, a basket Bill. It is a Bill about baskets, about shopping baskets. [Interruption.] Some of us carry a lot of weight, some of us carry less.

We started this afternoon with the great announcement of the voluntary agreement. It was only right that one of my predecessors on this side visualized what a voluntary agreement might have been, with the right hon. Lady ladling Clause 2 in her handbag to try to force an unwilling trade to agree to certain proposals. It is the contents of the Bill which caused us in Committee and cause us now such grave misgivings but for the fact that there appears on the one hand to be an unwillingness by the Government to implement its clauses and equally a feeling that it is a matter of simply having them available to arrange a tidy voluntary agreement to allow the operation to proceed.

It is on the assumptions of the Bill that I want to spend a couple of minutes. I assume it has been introduced because the Government believe that the Price Code legislation is ineffective, that the Bill could achieve a slowing-down in the rate of price increases, particularly for food, and that, above all, machinery could be developed through the Bill which would enable this to be achieved without damaging either the supply, the manufacture or the distribution of food and that these aims together would benefit the consumer.

I suggest that during the debate those assumptions have been largely shown to be false. First, there can be little doubt that the Price Code in its implementation is having an extremely severe effect on those involved in carrying out its strictures. All manufacturing industry, particularly food manufacturing, has to go through an extremely tight procedure before any costs are admitted and prices can be increased.

It must be remembered that the food manufacturing industry, in which hon. Members will know that I have some interest, is in a difficult position because it is a large employer of labour. It is a large employer of female labour and, fair enough, the food manufacturing industry, with others, is having to move towards equal pay. It is involved not so much in extremely heavy plant and equipment. Its capital is often involved in large stocks of raw materials, many of them imported. Therefore, the room to manoeuvre that an industry of this kind has in relation to the Price Code and its application is very slight. When hon. Members are reminded the 50 per cent. of every labour cost increase in manufacture has to be absorbed, they will understand how deeply this bites into the margins of food manufacturers and of all manufacturers.

It must be conceded that the Price Code is having a major effect. Obviously there is always room in any organisation for improvement in productivity, but the more it succeeds from year to year the less room there is. Certainly there is much less room for manoeuvre at the top of the industry where the most efficient companies are located. It can be seen, therefore, that as a result of the operation of the Price Code the returns are substantially less in food manufacturing than in other industries as a whole.

The second assumption on which the Bill is based is that it will reduce the rate of price increases. We have had it amply demonstrated that this is a matter of taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. It must be conceded that such is the rate of inflation in costs, whether of imported products or our own indigenous costs, that it is not possible to remove the basic incidence of increased costs. All that one can do is to disguise it. Certainly food subsidies are a form of disguise in its application in shops, but it is far from disguised in its application to pay packets. This is the form of disguise which the Government, for their own purposes, are willing to adopt. Concerning that, I do not believe that we can claim that the Bill will have as one of its effects a reduction in the rate of food price increases. It will certainly cause some element of the increases in food prices to be transferred to a tax element; but the consequences upon the consumer, as has been fully pointed out, is much the same. People will be paying for it one way or the other. That cannot be over-stressed.

We have seen that the food subsidy provision in the Bill is to the tune of £700 million in the course of a year. We have seen in the Chancellor's Budget £1,400 million of additional taxation. There has been ample discussion in the debate about just what is meant by this and how far it would go before the balance between taxation and subsidy is regarded as inequitable by the vast majority of the population. The Government must be warned that this kind of balance is already a very large factor in the unease of people who are earning good money or poor money or less money than they should, because they see the taxation increase hitting them very hard.

I come now to the machinery in the Bill. The machinery has already been shown to be extremely cumbersome. The idea of price scales in shops is not one which commends itself for ease of interpretation. It is very difficult to believe that this will be simple and well understood. It is difficult to believe that it will be always up to date. But the most important element in it is that it tends to disguise the real contribution which is made by smaller shops. I regret that we were not able to get that provision expunged from the Bill in our attempt earlier this afternoon. But I recognise that if we are to have a Bill which insists that display notices be put in shops, it will have to be a burden on the retail trade to see that it is done effectively. I hope that the voluntary agreement will be extended to carry that through without too much increased effort on the part of that hard-pressed sector of the community.

One has to conclude that the assumption upon which the Bill is largely based is that it should be a major extension of Government into the area of supply, demand and distribution. This is certainly a Bill whose principle we find very difficult to accept. I welcome the fact that there is to be plenty of consultation. I congratulate the right hon. Lady on being able to achieve a high level of consultation. But it must be clear that if voluntary arrangements are to be preferred, the legislation in the Bill is largely cosmetic or a charade in effect. If, however, the powers that have been written into the Bill are to be exercised to the full, it is probably the most Draconian measure that has been introduced into the food distribution trade for many a long year.

Finally, perhaps the Minister would care to comment on the relationship between the producers of food, the agricultural producers and farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection. One notices that there is a view that the Minister's Department should have the major hand in determining the prices at which goods should be sold. But those prices will ultimately affect the willingness of producers to invest, be it in livestock or in new equipment. I urge upon the Minister that to interfere in this way with the mechanism at the point of sale should bear some important relationship to the mechanism at the point of pro- duction. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment on that matter.

We see here a Bill which is a "huff and a puff", as has been suggested by many hon. Members on the Government benches, but which is to be put on the statute book with major Draconian measures included in it. If it is to be used to the full we shall see a major deterioration in the retail distribution of food products in this country.

11.39 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

We have had something of a one-sided debate. Most of the views that have been expressed about the Bill have not been exactly in favour of it. I did not find that at all surprising. What surprised me more than somewhat was the fact that the Government had the bare-faced effrontery to bring this piece of legislation before the House at all, when one considers that in the same month that these subsidies for which such great significance was claimed were introduced, involving hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, we have had the highest ever recorded monthly increase in the retail price index. I can imagine how embarrassed some Labour back benchers who care seriously about inflation must have been when they had to explain that to their constituents. We are not alone in our views. I quote from one newspaper. It says The massive April rise—due very largely to the Budget—crossed the phase 3 Pay Code. … It is no good for the Government to make excuses about 'factors beyond its control'. It was not acts of God, but acts of Mr. Healey in his Budget, which put up all the prices. Did I hear an hon. Member say "Tory Press"? I was quoting from the Morning Star of 25th May. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member recognised it. It must have caused him even greater embarrassment than I thought. [Interruption.] Inflation is not a laughing matter, but the Bill is. The Opposition are deeply worried, as are many Labour Members, about the problem of inflation. We see its effects upon our constituents, on the poorer members of the community, the poorer families and the pensioners.

I wonder whether Labour Members have recently been in touch with their constituents who represent these groups. Some hon. Members meet them regularly. It is our duty to represent their interests in this House, and I refer, of course, to those who are hardest hit by inflation, the people who have to face it daily when they do their shopping and who have all the time the anxiety of what will happen to savings, pensions and earnings which continue to be eroded in this way.

This anxiety is not confined to the poorer members of the community. It pervades the whole of the middle income group. We therefore do not underestimate the size of the problem or its importance, particularly to the economy. But this is primarily a social measure and it is claimed that it will mete out social justice. We have shown repeatedly that it will do no such thing. The figures which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) quoted show that more of the subsidy money will go to the better-off than to the people for whom it is intended.

I have received figures this afternoon which show quite clearly that more of the revenue from the imposition of VAT on sweets, chocolates, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and soft drinks is coming from poorer families and pensioners than from the rich. We also know that subsidies can have only the most temporary and marginal effect on the budgets of the families at whom they are aimed, because the items on which those families spend the greatest proportion of their food budget cannot be subsidised because they are not demand inelastic.

We know from what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) that more money could be put into the pockets of these families by way of the family allowance, and into the pockets of pensioners by an annual bonus, than these subsidies are ever likely to do, and at a fraction of the cost. Why did the Government not adopt these cheaper, more effective methods? The answer is that they would not have had the same immediate political impact. They would not have coincided with the Labour Party manifesto and they would not have met the dictates of the social contract.

We are entitled therefore to ask whether what is being meted out under the Bill is not so much social justice as Socialist justice, and whether the claims being made for it are not just a trifle disingenuous. We may ask whether the provision of the subsidies is not so much a pursuit of a social ideal as an exercise in political sophistry. But quite apart from the political considerations and the fact that we and a number of hon. Members have expressed repeatedly concern as to the effectiveness, cost and wisdom of these subsidies, we are also very concerned, and we cannot issue this warning often enough, at the whiplash of price increases that the consumers will have to face if and when these subsidies are withdrawn. If they are not to be withdrawn how much more will they cost than they have cost so far? We believe that before long the Government and the people, if they do not know it already, will find out from experience what a foolish, expensive and temporary piece of political window dressing this is.

Although the subsidies are fundamental to the Bill, they are not the entire Bill or the entire policy. Clause 2 is the second string on which the right hon. Lady has been able to hang her voluntary or, as it could have been, statutory shopping basket. We do not believe that even if it is possible to get this into operation it will be possible to know whether it is being observed, any more than a statutory version could have been enforced.

On the surface, the idea seems appealing enough. It seems sensible to try to focus the cuts in gross profit margins on necessities, especially as they cannot be the targets of subsidies. The only trouble is that for every price held down in this way another will rise. These consequential price increases may occur on items which the right hon. Lady thinks are not necessities, but which many other people do. As the right hon. Lady has admitted, this cross-subsidisation will have no effect on the retail price index. It will also have little or no effect on the budgets of the families at whom it is aimed.

Like the Chancellor's Budget, this Robin Hood measure may very well leave people a great deal worse off. One of the main reasons is that a number of the items in the lists given as either targets of the semi-permanent cuts or the occasional rotational cuts are not necessities. Also, the value of the measure is very much diluted by the fact that in each case only one item, only one brand, only one cut or only one line in the case of each item in the list will be on offer. In both categories the cuts will follow existing promotional patterns, and where they are not it will be impossible to discern whether they are useful, because of the vague definitions in the Bill and the limitation of choice imposed on consumers by the fact that only one cut, one line or one brand is to be offered.

Despite the right hon. Lady's avowed aversion to shopping around consumers will have not just to shop around but to do it on the run. For example, if Mrs. Brown wants to buy minced beef for the family supper it will not help her much to find that the lower-priced cut of beef is tripe. If the family like Heinz baked beans, it will not be much help if HP baked beans are on offer. The entire list could consist of brands that people did not like, cuts they would not choose, or items they would not use. That is the strength of the measure.

Even more important, the right hon. Lady knows perfectly well that even if she could focus the cuts in the gross profit margins effectively on those fresh foods that cannot be subsidised the effect on demand elasticity would be exactly the same as if they were subsidised. That is why sugar has already been withdrawn from the list; there is a shortage of sugar.

As the rotational promotions will vary from shop to shop, from item to item, from brand to brand, from day to day, it would be impossible to enforce them if they were statutory, just as it will be impossible to know whether the measure is being observed. Nor will consumers dedicated to buying only those items which are cut in price be able to discern easily what they are, let alone whether they want them or need them.

The right hon. Lady spoke in Committee of the value of the Woolworth shopping basket. She said that she was grateful to hear what Woolworth was doing, and that it was following her advice. It has subsequently come to light that the Woolworth meat offer was of a somewhat bogus nature. I saw it myself. Part of the offer involved cuts of meat which are not normally sold in butchers' shops and it was not possible to know whether the price was lower. Other items were mis-described. No items were unit priced. Two cuts of meat were offered together at a price which on average was cheaper for one of the cuts but dearer on average for the two. I must declare an interest. I have the misfortune to own a few Woolworth shares—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members want me to be precise, I own 1,000 Woolworth shares. I inherited them. I believe that they are worth about 42p a share.

The irony of the Woolworth offer is that it is typical of the kind of deception that is going to be practised on consumers by the measures that the right hon. Lady proposes. It will be nothing more than a Government approved nationwide loss leader operation of the kind that most respectable consumer organisations disapprove of and which most sensible housewives do not trust. It may well be referred to the Director General of Fair Trading as a practice that is calculated to mislead consumers and which is contrary to their economic interests.

We accept the need to regulate the price of subsidised foods but we believe that the maximum price notices will confuse consumers. But they are only part of the tangled web that the right hon. Lady will practice. If she does so not to deceive intentionally she will certainly succeed in deceiving. Her web may succeed in deceiving some consumers for a short time into thinking that they are being helped by this measure. It will deceive a good many consumers as to what or how they should buy under the right hon. Lady's shopping basket promotion.

This is the package that we are offered. Cross-subsidisation will probably put more prices up than down. Subsidies will go more to the rich than to the poor. We shall have lists that will reveal more than they can conceal. They will be foisted on the public and on the trade and described as a policy when they are no more than part of a conjuring trick. That is a trick that will not produce one rabbit out of the hat let alone putting one into the shopping basket.

The right hon. Lady, who has nothing up her sleeve, admitted in Committee—as she admitted during her statement today—that some of the things which she has proposed will be difficult, that there will be anomalies and that certain matters might impose difficulties on the trade. She adds that it is better to do something than nothing. We sympathise with those sentiments. That is a very appealing claim. There is only one thing that is very wrong with it. The right hon. Lady knows, we know and most of the Press commentators know that what she has proposed will not do very much and that the result of the whole operation is nothing more than a political fraud. [Interruption.] That is what we have condemned it as.

In this measure there is one item—

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Order. The hon. Lady is entitled to be heard.

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

There is one item in the Bill to which we can extend a wholehearted welcome—namely, unit pricing. We hope that it will be introduced swiftly and intelligently and applied in the most effective manner. We hope that it will be accompanied by an adequate educative programme of publicity so that it can be appreciated by as many consumers as possible. It is not a bit of good the right hon. Lady or anyone else in the Labour Party lecturing us and suggesting that we have been making political speeches. If they claim that the motivation behind the Bill is not political and that we should accept its sincerity, we can only marvel at its naiveté and denounce its futility. On both sides of the House our objectives are the same. We want to protect the weaker members of the community against the ravages of inflation, and we realise that there is a compelling and urgent need to do so.

Despite the real misgivings we have about the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I doubt very much whether Liberal Members will disagree with what I am about to say. Despite the fact that we believe the Bill is politically tainted, we do not wish to see it fail. We hope that, despite our better judgment, it will succeed. We only wish that we could believe in our heart of hearts that it will.

11.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

I understand that there could be as many as 256 Conservative Members of Parliament hanging around to abstain. I do not want to detain them from their duty for one moment longer than is necessary. Therefore, I shall be brief.

Let me deal with one or two points: I cannot deal with a large number of the matters which have been raised. Let me turn first to esoteric foreign cheeses. Perhaps I can say to the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) who dealt with the subsidy on St. Paulin and Elbo cheeses, that if he goes on tabling Questions on this topic the cost of so doing will probably be greater than the cost of subsidising the cheeses about which he has been complaining. One has only to mention St. Paulin and Elbo to produce a Pavlov Ian reaction in some Conservative Members.

The exercise of food subsidies is a redistributive process aimed at those who need the greatest help. A figure of £440 million to £470 million of extra taxation raised in the Budget comes from those earning more than £60 a week. Some Conservative Members should be careful when they sneer and snigger about cheaper fish fingers, cooking oil and lard. There are many people who live frugal lives and who are entitled to look for some hope of relief. To them the holding down of prices is meaningful. These are matters which affect ordinary working families, and some Conservative Members may be out of touch with the situation. The House and the country will welcome what we are doing.

I will deal mainly with the points raised on Clause 6. I welcomed the thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Gordon Wilson). I confirm that there are as many employers as employees waiting to get rid of the statutory restrictions, with the anomalies, difficulties and problems which they involve. Matters of detail, such as what will happen to the Pay Board, will be covered by orders to be laid before the House. We intend to lay such orders as soon as we can, soon after the Bill becomes law early in July. This statement has the support of the entire Government. As to the future, the Government will be making a statement about pay arrangements following the abolition of statutory controls.

Hon. Members may have seen Press reports that the TUC is thinking of taking action with a variety of unions on collective bargaining. I understand that a substantive document has been considered by the TUC Economic Committee today. A statement about the abolition of the statutory policy will be made in due course. We already have the signs of voluntary agreement with people who sell and manufacture food which will bring about the sort of co-operation with the workers on which the future of the country depends.

We have a chance to get away from the statutory pay policy that virtually brought this country to its knees. No matter what sneering comments have been made about the Bill, no matter how supercilious the criticism of it, I believe

that outside this House the sense of fairness, justice and urgency which we have displayed in taking the Bill through the House will command the support of all the country. I hope that it will command the support of the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 209, Noes 20.

Division No. 40.]AYES[12 midnight.
Altaun, FrankFraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Mikardo, Ian
Archer, Peter (Warley, West)Freeson, ReginaldMillan, Bruce
Ashton, JoeGarrett, John (Norwich, S.)Miller, Dr. M. S. (E. Kilbride)
Atkinson, NormanGeorge, BruceMitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
Burnett, Guy (Greenwich)Gilbert, Dr. JohnMorris, Charles R. (Opens haw)
Bates, AlfGolding, JohnMorris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodGourlay, HarryMulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Bennett, Andrew F. (Stockport, N.)Graham, TedMurray, Ronald King
Bishop, E S.Grant, John (Islington, C.)Newens, Stanley (Harlow)
Blenkinsop, ArthurGriffiths, Eddie (Sheffield, Brightside)Oakes, Gordon
Booth, AlbertHamling, WilliamOgden, Eric
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHardy, PeterO'Halloran, Michael
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurHarper, JosephO'Malley, Brian
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Orbach, Maurice
Brown,Bob(NewcastleuponTyne,W.)Hart, Rt. Hn. JudithOvenden, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)Hatton, FrankOwen, Dr. David
Brown, Ronald (H'kney, S. &Sh'ditch)Heffer, Eric S.Palmer, Arthur
Buchan, NormanHenderson,Douglas (Ab'rd'nsh're.E)Pavitt, Laurie
Buchanan,Richard(G gow,Springbrn)Horam, JohnPeart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Callaghan, Jim (M'dd'ton & Pr'wich)Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Pendry, Tom
Campbell, IanHughes, Mark (Durham)Phipps, Dr. Colin
Carmichael, NellHughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North)Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Carter, RayHughes, Roy (Newport)Prescotl, John
Carter-Jones, LewisIrving, Rt. Hn. Sydney (Dartlord)Price, Christopher (Lewlsham, W.)
Cocks, MichaelJackson, ColinPrice, William (Rugby)
Cohen, StanleyJenkins, Hugh (W'worth, Putney)Radice, Giles
Coleman, DonaldJohn, BrynmorReid, George
Colquhoun, Mrs. M. N.Johnson.James(K'ston upon Hull,W)Richardson, Miss Jo
Concannon, J. D.Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.)Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)Roderick, Caerwyn E.
Cox, ThomasJones, Dan (Burnley)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Craigen, J. M. iG'gow, Maryhill)Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)Roper, John
C-awshaw, RichardJones, Alec (Rhondda)Rose, Paul B.
Cronin, JohnJudd, FrankRoss, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Cryer, G. R.Kaufman, GeraldRowlands, Edward
Cunningham.G.llsl'ngt'n.S&F'sb'ry)Kerr, RussellSandelson, Neville
Cunningham, Dr. JohnA.(Whiteh'v'n)Kinnock, NeilSelby, Harry
Dalyell, TamLambie. DavidShaw, Arnold (Redbridge, Ilford, S.)
Davidson, ArthurLamborn, HarryShort, Rt. Hn. E. (N'ctle-u-Tyne)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.)Lamond, JamesSilkin, Rt. Hn. S. C.(S'hwark,Dulwich)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Latham, Arthur(CityofW'minsterP'ton)Slllars, James
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Lawson.George(Motherwell&WIshaw)Silverman, Julius
Deakins, EricLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Skinner, Dennis
de Freitas, Rt. In. Sir GeoffreyLever, Rt. Hn. HaroldSmith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Dempsey, JamesLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Spearing, Nigel
Dormand, J. D.Loughlin, CharlesSprnggs, Leslie
Douglas-Mann, BruceLyon, Alexander W. (York)Stallard, A. W.
Duffy, A. E. P.Lyons, Edward (Bradford, W.)Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'slh, Fulh'm)
Dunn, James A.MacCormack, lainStoddart, David (Swindon)
Dunnett, JackMcElhone, FrankStott, Roger
Dunwoody, Mrs. GwynethMacFarquhar, RoderickStrang, Gavin
Eadie AlexMcGuire, MichaelSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Ellis, J. (Brigg & Scunthorpe)Mackenzie, GregorSwain, Thomas
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Maclennan, RobertThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
English, MichaelMcNamara. KevinTinn, James
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Madden, M. O. F.Tomlinson, John
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Magee, BryanTuck, Raphael
Evans, John (Newton)Mahon, SimonUrwin, T. W.
Ewing, Harry (St'ling.F'kirk&G'm'th)Mallalieu, J. P. W.Varley, Rt. Hn. Eric G.
Ewing,Mrs. Winifred (Moray&Nairn)Marks, KennethWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Faulds, AndrewMarquand, DavidWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Flannery, MartinMeacher, MichaelWatkins, David
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Mellish, Rt. Hn. RobertWaft, Hamish
Fowler, Gerry (The Wrekin)Mendelson, JohnWeitzman, David
White, JamesWilliams, Rt.Hn. Shirley (H'f'd&St'ge)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Whitehead, PhillipWilliams, W. T. (Warrington)Young, David (Bolton, E.)
Whltlock, WilliamWilson, Gordon (Dundee, E.)
Wigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)Wise, Mrs. AudreyTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)Woodall, AlecMr. James Hamilton and
Williams, Alan Lee (Hvrng, Hchurch)Woof, RobertMr. Ernest G. Perry.
Beith, A. J.Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Thorpe, Rt. Hn, Jeremy
Biffen, JohnJohnston, Russell (Inverness)Tyler, Paul
Bruce Gardyne, J.Latham, Michael (Melton)Winstanley, Dr. Michael
Cormack, PatrickLawrence, IvanWinterton, Nicholas
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir JohnRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Freud, ClementShaw, Giles (Pudsey)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)Mr. John Pardoe and
Hooson, EmlynSteel, DavidMr. Richard.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.