asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection which Minister in his Department is responsible for handling consultations on the proposed new prices policy.
I am primarily responsible. I have already had discussions with the CBI and the Retail Consortium and am meeting the Food and Drink Industry Council later this afternoon.
Will the Secretary of State accept that the reason why the prices policy is in tatters is that he applies different criteria to private industry and the nationalised industries? What assurances can he give the House that, under the new prices policy, there will not now be a repetition of the squalid ignoring of the prices policy on gas prices by the Secretary of State for Energy?
I do not accept for a moment that the present prices policy is in tatters. As to the future prices policy, which was the subject of the hon. Gentleman's Question, it is clear in the consultative document that the provisions of that policy will apply to nationalised industries as they apply to the private sector.
As the right hon. Gentleman has stated that workers who voluntarily take on austerity must be satisfied that the prices they pay are justified, in view of his right hon. Friend's decision to override the veto of the Price Commission on gas prices does he think that the increase in gas prices is what he would call socially accountable?
The increase in gas prices was part of a decision taken in December concerning the economy as a whole, which has clearly made the economy a good deal more stable than it was. Many of the decisions within that policy were regrettable although necessary. I think that the gas price increase comes into that category.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that an increase in prices of this kind will affect working people in particular very badly? Will not the Cabinet reconsider this matter? This is something which working people obviously are not prepared to accept much longer, which means that it will have a very bad effect on phase 3 of the incomes policy.
I note what my hon. Friend says. Specific questions about specific details of the gas price proposal, to which I think he was referring, are not for me but for the Secretary of State for Energy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "] However, I also understand the point that my hon. Friend makes about the Cabinet in general having to investigate and inquire into these matters, and I am sure that my colleagues will note what he has said.