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Price Commission

Volume 933: debated on Monday 20 June 1977

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether he will report to the House on the progress made in the appointment of the new Price Commission.

Subject to the Price Commission Bill becoming law, I propose to appoint Mr. Charles Williams, at present a managing director of Baring Brothers, as full-time Chairman of the Price Commission. There will be three part-time deputy-chairmen. I propose to appoint Dr. Gordon Hobday, Chairman of Boots, Mr. John Hughes, Vice-Principal of Ruskin College, Oxford, and Mr. Seamus Sweetman, Vice-Chairman of Unilever. I shall announce names of the other members of the new Commission as soon as possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the House is grateful to him for reporting today on the progress of appointment of Commissioners and that the names that he has announced will be widely welcomed in all parts of the House and the country?

I am grateful. I have said from the beginning that the Price Commission Bill and the Commission need the respect of industry and a policy which is well and appropriately applied by people who believe in it. I believe that both the chairman and the deputy-chairmen will fulfil that criteria.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that last year there were seasonal variations in two quarters of the year when price increases were reasonably favourable? Will he give power to the new Commission to give central directions to freeze prices on a wide range of goods? Does he not agree that that would be electorally sensible, that it would cause the Opposition to squeal blue murder and that it could also result in the survival of the Labour Government?

My hon. Friend will discover, once he has survived tomorrow night, that the Price Commission Bill includes substantial price freeze powers over increased prices notified to the Commission and which the Commission believes ought not to be allowed and ought to be frozen. If my hon. Friend wants opposition from the Conservative Party, he is likely to get it for most of tomorrow evening and possibly the day after.

Yes, he will be full-time. I am not sure whether it is appropriate to describe his relationship with the Government as a contract, but we have told him that we expect and hope that he will serve for three years.