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Remuneration, Grants And Charges Bill

Volume 895: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1975

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be within your recollection and that of the House that yesterday, following the business statement, anxiety was expressed on both sides of the House that, when we came to debate the Government's White Paper on inflation and also the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Bill next week we would be at considerable disadvantage because we did not have available to us that part of the Government's armoury which is still under wraps.

Paragraphs 25 and 26 of the White Paper said:
"If however they find that the policy needs to be enforced by applying a legal power of compulsion they will not hesitate to do this.
"Legislation has therefore been prepared which, if applied in particular cases, would make it illegal for the employer to exceed the pay limit. The Government will ask Parliament to approve this legislation forthwith if the pay limit is endangered with resultant unfairness to the great majority of those who are prepared to observe it."
In his statement last Friday, the Prime Minister underlined this point. I will not quote at length what he said, but he made it clear that the Government had this legislation fully prepared and were ready to introduce it at any time it was necessary.

The Bill contains a rather dangerous and novel device for turning the contents of White Papers into law, thus avoiding some of the inconvenience of debate in the House of Commons.

I readily accept that it would be unreasonable to ask the Government formally to introduce that part of the legislation which still remains under wraps, but it is, I think not at all unreasonable to ask them to tell Parliament what is in it—to give us, in other words, a draft of the legislation. Indeed, it might even be helpful to their cause, in that it would show that the Government really mean business in dealing with this fearful scourge of inflation.

I very much hoped that after the Leader of the House had yesterday said that he would discuss this matter with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House might be here today to volunteer a statement. I understand—I make no point of this—that it is not possible for him to be here. In that case, may I ask the Patronage Secretary—from whom we hear from time to time, despite that convention of silence which surrounds his office —whether he would now rise and give us a helpful statement saying that this information will be available to the House. I think it would be very much welcomed on all sides that we should have the chance of judging the Government's attitude to their problems in toto, instead of just being obliged to look at this in part. I look forward with great interest to hearing what the right hon Gentleman has to say.

Further to that point of order. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would wish me to apologise for his absence this morning. He promised yesterday to convey to the Prime Minister what the right hon. the Leader of the Opposition had said on the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman has now again referred and to pass on her request. I gather from today's Press that apparently that undertaking did not satisfy the right hon. Lady and that she has written direct to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman will understand that it would not be right for me at this moment of time to intervene between that correspondence and that it would be better to wait and see what is the reply from my right hon. Friend to his right hon. Friend.

This morning I have no information to give on this point. The fact is that the point was made very adequately yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister returned from Brussels late last night and no doubt is now apprised of the matter. We shall be starting the debate on the White Paper on Monday, and I am certain that the answer to this question will be readily available then. But the right hon. Gentleman will understand that, for the reasons I have indicated, I can give no undertaking at this moment.

As to the contents of the Bill before the House next week, it will be thoroughly debated over the two days, and arguments about its contents will no doubt be adequately aired.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am astonished to learn that the right hon. Gentleman is so reticent and shy about intervening in this correspondence. His excuse—that there has been a letter from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister—seems to me to be astonishingly thin. I very much hope that he will use all his influence to secure a reply from his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in order that the House of Commons shall not be kept in the dark too long on this important matter.

I know nothing of the contents of the letter which the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has written to my right hon. Friend. I have not seen the letter. I take it for granted that the Prime Minister, being noted for his great courtesy in matters of this kind, will reply direct to the right hon. Lady. I have no doubt that by Monday morning, when this matter starts on its way in the House of Commons, many of these points will be cleared up.

There is nothing more that I can say, and it would be very improper for me to indicate what my right hon. Friend would say in reply to the letter, which I have not seen. I only know that a letter has been sent. There we must leave it.

I am not prepared to allow a quite irregular debate on this matter, on which I have allowed considerable latitude. It is very interesting but nothing to do with the Chair.