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Duration Of Act

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 31 January 1979

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

'(1) As from the end of the relevant period the Price Commission Act 1977 shall have effect as it would if the following provisions of this Act, namely section 1 and the Schedule, had not been enacted, but without prejudice to the operation of those provisions during that period.

(2) Subject to subsection (3), the relevant period for the purposes of this section is the period of one year beginning with the date on which this Act is passed.

(3) Her Majesty may by Order in Counsel extend or further extend the relevant period for the purposes of this section; but the extension effected by any particular Order under this subsection shall not exceed 12 months.

(4) An Order under subsection (3) shall not be made unless a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.—[ Mrs. Bain.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.15 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I believe that it will be useful for the House to discuss new clause 2. We prefer it to new clause 1, which we do not intend to move. The time scale of this legislation forced ordinary Back Benchers to produce amendments extremely quickly on Monday. Originally, we submitted new clause 1 but, on analysis the following day, we decided that its drafting was slightly faulty. Therefore we substituted new clause 2. We are pleased that the Chair has accepted it for debate.

As I said on Second Reading, the Scottish National Party has reservations on this subject. Unfortunately, two of our amendments that we thought came within the scope of the Bill were rejected. We accept the Chair's ruling, and we repeat that we are delighted that new clause 2 was accepted for debate.

We are moving this clause in the spirit of what we believe to be open government and the right of the people to scrutinise legislation. We believe that Parliament has a right to analyse the effects of each piece of legislation. Far too often wild claims of success or failure are made when new legislation is introduced. As a moderate party—as I said on Second Reading—we wish to be realistic in accepting that predictions can often go awry. It is in that spirit that we move the clause.

We believe that at this stage there is a solid case for attempting to introduce legislation to allow the Price Commission extra powers to control prices more effectively than it has in past. We also believe that the present circumstances are unusual and that those circumstances justify our support of the Bill. However, just because we support such legislation at present does not mean that we feel that it should never again be discussed by Parliament. It is not the function of Parliament to declare itself to be infallible. It is our duty and responsibility, as elected Members, to examine the problems confronting the country and to take action which, in our limited wisdom, we believe to be correct in the circumstances.

Our new clause recognises the need for regular scrutiny of our actions. We seek by the clause to guarantee that the powers of the Bill shall not extend longer than one year and that, should any extension be sought by any Government, that extension must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

If the clause is accepted by the Government, or is forced upon them by a Division, we shall have done much to advance democracy and open Government. In an area as vital as price control, we believe it to be all-important that legislation should be open to constant and repeated scrutiny and, if necessary, to alteration.

In this spirit I have much pleasure in asking the Committee to support the new clause.

I wish to make it clear that the Government do not like the new clause. Indeed, we were more attracted by the two SNP amendments that were ruled out of order. They were properly ruled out of order, but that dons not diminish their attraction.

Although the Government do not like this clause, in matching the frankness of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain)I can tell the House that the Government are prepared to recommend its acceptance as part of the processes of open government, democracy and the proper duty of a Parliament in which the Government do not have an overall majority to respond from time to time to the wishes of minority parties. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) smiles, but I hope that it will diminish her smile to realise that, as a result of this exercise in open government and proper democracy, the Bill looks like receiving a Third Reading in its full form.

We accept the new clause in this spirit. We believe that the powers of the Price Commission should be permanent, and in the parent Act they are permanent. The new clause provides that a year from today the House will have to decide whether these extended powers will be continued. The new Labour Government will, of course, continue them. We should not mind confirmation as the evening wears on that, if by some mischance there was a Conservative Government, they would not continue the Commission at all. I make no bones about it; the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East has made it possible for the House to decide the issue of principle on a future occasion.

The Secretary of State said that a future Labour Government—I hope that this is not likely in the near future—would seek to reintroduce these powers. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that one major brewery company obtained price increases before the Prime Minister's announcement. As a result there will be distortion of competition within that industry. Will he say how the Government will react to that?

I shall be happy to say a word if you will allow me, Mr. Godman Irvine, although the question is on the margins of order.

That is why I asked for your permission, Mr. Godman Irvine. The Government will react as required under the Bill and the Act governing it. We shall wait for the Price Commission to make its judgment on individual price applications and respond to them, trying neither to influence the judgment nor radically to change it while it is being made. That is the only way that the Government can react.

The Government are prepared to accept the new clause in exactly the terms that the hon. Lady proposed, in the knowledge that, a year tonight, we shall be able to decide whether the House or the country wants to continue price controls in their full and, I hope, rather more rigorous form.

No, I shall not. The Government will want that, and in a year's time I shall be voting for it. The hon. Lady's new clause gives the House the opportunity, in a year's time, to make up its mind.

A word from the Liberal Party would be in order at this juncture. Some of my colleagues have not been averse to a little tail twisting of Governments. To use an old-fashioned phrase, this piece of tail twisting makes the Government look proper Charlies. We are all in favour of open government, but that has rather been dragged in at the last moment.

The Minister defended safeguards in 1977 as being essential to the proper working of the Act. He is now defending the removal of the safeguards on the ground that it is inconsistent with the Act to have them, that they should never have been inserted in it, and that it is fundamental to his prices policy to have them removed.

The right hon. Gentleman may be one of those in the debate who want to make a speech that approximates to accuracy. I do not know whether he was present during the Third Reading of the parent Act, but I explicitly said that I did not like safeguards and would get rid of them as soon as I could. It was one of the shabby compromises that he is going to denounce.

To the contrary, at other times during that debate the right hon. Gentleman defended safeguards.

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to recall that in the Committee stage the Secretary of State was totally devoted to safeguards, and stated that it was always the Government's intention to have them from the moment that the Bill was planned?

I am greatly obliged to the hon. Gentleman for quoting chapter and verse. It makes it even stranger, because apparently the Minister's opinion changed between the Committee stage and Third Reading. We are now told that safeguards must be removed, and that after a year the Government will again be prepared to review the whole matter.

I have always thought this an unnecessary Bill—the type of Bill that brings some disgrace upon Parliament at a moment when we are supposed to be in something of an economic crisis. In addition, it is extremely badly drafted. But it is very appropriate that the proceedings should end on this farcical note.

I was pleased with the alacrity with which the right hon. Gentleman accepted the new clause. I am glad that he was so keen to have a whiff of open government. I am only surprised that he did not include this open government provision in the Bill. I am sorry that he makes forecasts of what a Labour Government will do in a year's time. From the whole tenor of his remarks, not only now but on prior stages, it is obvious that he envisages a long and dismal period ahead, under which we cannot hope for the return of a healthy competitive economy that is comparable with those that prevail in so many excellent countries of the modern world.

Since the Secretary of State did not give way to me, I only want to repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) has just said. If the Secretary of State thinks so much of the new clause, why did not he have it in the Bill in the first place? Perhaps we had better make clear what we Conservatives think. We think that this is another trading-off exercise with the Scottish National Party in order to keep the Government in office for a few more months and in order to get the Bill at the end of the day.

I have no doubt that the Minister was told that certain votes were not available to him if he did not accept the new clause. It does not make the Bill any better. However, it gives us a chance, which we shall take when we win the election, to remove it from the statute book a little more quickly, or at any rate not to give it an extended life.

I am always suspicious when people talk about frankness, because that is usually the moment when they are planning not to be frank. But on this occasion the Secretary of State was. I do not think that his acceptance of the new clause relates to anything as high-minded as his belief in democracy and open government. It is simply a fact of parliamentary life that he needed the votes of the Scottish nationalists to get this grubby little Bill through the House, and that the bone which he is throwing to that particular tartan-clad dog is this new clause.

The right hon. Gentleman is right. The decision about the future of safeguards will be taken in the next Parliament, and quite properly. It will be taken not on the basis of expediency, of pandering to trade union leaders, of short-term measures that might damage industry, or of a little political advantage for the Secretary of State. As such, the insertion of a new clause that ensures that we shall come back to the subject a year from now is to be welcomed.

I would have preferred the Scottish nationalists to do the right thing and join the rest of us in voting down this damaging little Bill, which will do nothing at all to help in the control of prices but will damage industrial confidence. However, they were not prepared to do so. They have extorted this little concession from the Government, and we are glad that they have. But I hope that no one will dress this up as a triumph for democracy and open government. It is a shabby little deal.

I should like to reply to some of the points that have been raised. First, I think the Secretary of State for the manner in which he received and accepted the new clause and for the way that he recommended it to the Committee. I do not share his views about the next complexion of the Government, since any Westminster Government is the same in our eyes and since we are on the way to having self-government in Scotland.

Some of the remarks passed by Conservative Members reflect their dismay at their ineffectiveness as an Opposition party in this place. There is no question of a trading-off exercise with the Scottish National Party. Those who heard what I had to say on Second Reading on behalf on my party know that we regard the enactment of the Bill as being necessary to assist in solving some of the immediate problems with which we are faced. My party believes that any measure that will so assist should be supported.

Before we vote on the clause, its origin should be put on record. It is a CBI clause. It has been adopted by the Scottish National Party, the party that voted against the parent Bill when it passed through this place, the party that complains about rising prices in Scotland and yet uses its votes in the House of Commons to reduce the power of the Price Commission. It did that when we were debating the parent Bill and it is trying to do the same thing with the present grovelling little clause. It is only a way of bowing down to the Confederation of British Industry, and it signifies whose side the Scottish National Party is on.

I am delighted that, as usual, when an SNP Member speaks in the House of Commons the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) enters the Chamber to listen. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I served on the Committee that considered the parent bill. I assure him that many of his allegations are false. I give him the categorical assurance that the clause was drawn by the Scottish National Party.

The hon. Member for the CBI has claimed that certain of my statements are unsubstantiated. I referred among other things to the voting record of SNP Members. I challenge them to point to one inaccuracy in what I said earlier. They voted against increasing the powers of the Commission when we were considering the parent Bill, and they are doing so again. Unfortunately, the Government are compromising with them to get their support.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with an amendment; as amended, considered.

10.33 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

If I understand the mood of the House, I think that it wants to make progress. Therefore, I say only three things about the Bill. If the House grants it a Third Reading, and if their Lordships in another place pass it unamended, the powers that the Government propose in this amendment Bill will be retained unimpaired. The new clause proposed by the Scottish National Party and accepted by the Government does not impair the Bill's powers in any way. It only limits the life of the powers. It is for the Government of the day to decide a year from now whether the powers should be renewed.

I hypothesise in the unlikely event of a Conservative Government taking office. Irrespective of whether we have accepted a clause that provides for annual renewal, the Conservative Party has been on record over the past four years as being wholly opposed to price control. It is clear that a Conservative Government would have abolished the entire Bill. We must accept that as a reality.

The hon. Gentleman says "Quite right". The more that we can get that in Hansard, the better it will be during the next six months. That is the reality.

If the House gives the Bill a Third Reading and gives the Commission greater discretion, it will possess opportunities a year from now, and for as long as the continuation of its powers is approved by the House, to play a more positive role in the control of prices. I believe that to be desirable in a number of ways. It will continue to exercise its discretion where necessary. We heard much talk in Committee about profit. The Commission will not unreasonably prevent profit being made for investment, innovation and exports.

Some hon. Members place particular importance on the obligations to the special needs of areas of high unemployment. The Commission will continue to understand that its obligations go wider than holding down prices to a reasonable level and that it should not pursue that aim to the exclusion of considerations like unemployment in the development areas. I would have gladly accepted an amendment along these lines had it been in order.

The basic principle on which we shall vote on Third Reading is whether we want an effective system of price control. If the Bill receives a Third Reading and returns unscathed from their Lordships' House, we shall have achieved that aim. I commend the Third Reading to the House.

10.36 p.m.

We now have the Bill as amended by new clause 2. When the Secretary of State starts talking about being frank, it is time to count the spoons. The right hon. Gentleman gave as his reason for accepting the new clause the problem facing a minority party. In doing so, he was being less than frank. That was not the reason why he accepted the new clause. The problem exists only where a minority Government are so determined to cling to power that they are willing to prostitute themselves, come what may. They have done it before.

The new clause was not so important that the Government would have had to resign if it had not been accepted. That was not the issue on which the right hon. Gentleman accepted the new clause. He accepted it because he needs the Lab-Nat pact, or the Lab-Nit pact as it is more popularly known, until after 1 March. That would have been a franker explanation.

We are deeply concerned that this measure should have been introduced at all. We are even more concerned about the damage that will be caused to investment confidence and eventually to job prospects. The Bill has been introduced against a background not of soaring profits but after a period of barely adequate profits over the last five years. It follows a period, especially in 1974 and 1975, when stringent price controls applied at the time of a wages explosion, all of which had to be absorbed and not passed on through higher prices. A 15 per cent. increase in wages last year also had to be absorbed because of competition. The situation is exacerbated by the likelihood of rising inflation this year and the fact that industry and consumers have also had to sustain 100 per cent. inflation over the last five years.

The Bill could not have been introduced at a worse time. We are opposed to this expensive piece of election window-dressing. What makes us more concerned is that the Government have not seen fit to accept a number of reasonable amendments, dramatically represented by the Minister of State as sabotage amendments. They amounted to two little exemptions: one important amendment on interim safeguards, and another to remove subsection (7) in page 2, which the hon. Gentleman said would actually strengthen the Bill. As it happens, he is wrong. These sabotaging efforts, as they were described by the Minister of State, would be more properly described as an attempt on our part to put an albeit inadequate and threadbare safety net in place of the safeguards to provide what little protection they might have provided and to prevent the uncertainty that will now ensue without any safeguards.

During the various stages of the Bill's passage through the House, hon. Members have asked repeatedly whether it was a lion or a mouse. The answer, of course, is that it is both a lion and a mouse. It is a lion in that its ferocity can savagely undermine confidence in industry. It is a mouse inasmuch as it will have little or no effect on the retail price index other than in the shortest possible term. It may be that this was never intended to be a long-term measure—I have long suspected that—so, for what it is worth, the annual review is welcome. To that extent, this amended legislation cannot continue to exist after one year without being reviewed by Parliament. However, by then the damage will have been done. By the time this matter comes before Parliament again, investment in staple industries will have been hit and jobs will have been destroyed. Those lost jobs will not be replaced.

What gain will result? The statistics of inflation may be altered marginally, but not its reality. The reality of inflation cannot be altered by measures such as this. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the Opposition opposing various measures which the Government have brought before the House. But none of those measures has prevented prices from doubling. None of those measures has done what it promised to do. None of those measures has had anything but the most marginal effect on prices. Therein lies the dishonesty of this legislation.

The lesson that the Labour Party will never learn is that inflation cannot be destroyed. It can only be diverted by manipulation, and only for short periods. This manipulation of statistics is perhaps the cruellest trick that can be played on consumers. It is played at the cost of destroying the prosperity of business, great and small—not only big business. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken a lot about competition. In fact, the Bill will help the Price Commission to distort competition further. No party is more in favour of competition than my own. But by creating a state of affairs where the market leader's price has to be held, the ripple effect is felt all the way down to the smallest business.

Yes, but that is artificial competition, and in the end it distorts competition because it pushes the little men out at the bottom and there is less choice for consumers.

It is notable that in the David Frost programme shown on television last night the bitterest attack on the Government came from the frustration of a small business man. It came not from the captains of industry, and not from people of the kind that we discussed earlier, but from a small business man who was embittered by the fact that he had sold his house to invest in a business, that he had worked all hours of the day and night to make a go of it, and that it had all been lost as a result of the industrial chaos of the past few weeks. That is the little man who is affected at the bottom of the pyramid by the ripple effect of this distorted competition.

No. If the hon. Member does not understand that, I am afraid that his intelligence is incapable of insult, because the point is a very simple one. We advocate fair competition in which a balance is struck. This is not fair competition.

Throughout the proceedings on the Bill, the Opposition have advanced a number of arguments in the hope of getting some clarification from one of the Ministers dealing with it. On Second Reading the Secretary of State said that the raison d'être of this measure was what he described as the immense profits in 1977. According to him, these immense profits could be used as a historic basis for pushing loopholes through the safeguards. I am bound to point out that the immense profits in 1977 amounted in the first half of the year to a return on capital for industry of a little less than 3¼ per cent., and that that was against a rate of inflation at the time of about 17 per cent. Those were the immense profits to which the right hon. Gentleman referred so misleadingly on Second Reading. Therefore, the measure is not only futile and irrelevant but is cruel, because British consumers have been through quite enough under the present Government to deserve not to be misled in this way any more.

On Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman referred to what he was kind enough to describe as what had become known in the trade as my Gloucester speech. I am not sure what trade he was talking about, because, as far as I am aware, he has no connection whatsoever with trade or industry. If he had, he would not be introducing this Bill. But, alas, what I said then is only too true.

As was illustrated in that speech, companies are frightened at the prospect of a Price Commission investigation, not because they have something to hide but because they are uncertain as to the outcome, because they do not like the costs which are incurred, because of the executive and senior management time which is spent with the Price Commission, and the possibility, also, of confidential information being leaked. These are important areas of confidence which are being undermined yet further by the Bill.

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about "these massive profits", again he may not have consulted the Prime Minister, who said of companies' profits at the Labour Party conference in Blackpool:
"When I say that they must have sufficient funds, I mean that they must be able to earn a surplus, which is a euphemism for saying that they must make a profit. Whether you call it a surplus or profit, it is necessary."
That is something neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Bill accepts, because the Bill does not provide for a situation in which loss-making can be prevented by interim safeguards during an investigation period. Industry does not have any faith whatsoever in the discretion of the Price Commission. It does not have any confidence that it will not be pushed into a loss-making situation. Nothing that has been said during these proceedings about section 2 of the Price Commission Act has served in any way to produce that confidence.

On a very important point on loss-making, we have still had no satisfactory explanation about what will happen to a loss-making or break-even public sector company. If the profits of such a company are to be pushed lower and it is in either a loss-making or a break-even position, it means either that its capital investment will have to be cut, with the ripple effect of that on private industry, or Government subsidy, or demanning, or an increase in the public sector borrowing requirement. The Government have a duty to tell the House which of those it will be in the context of the Bill.

But, of course, what will happen is that the Government will not allow the Price Commission to impose demanning because the unions will not like that, so it will be the PSBR, which the right hon. Gentleman is so keen on pushing up, which will be allowed to increase. What the Treasury has to say about the whole question of the PSBR now being transferred from the Treasury to the Price Commission is a very interesting concept. It will raise interest rates higher and crowd out private sector borrowing, if this is the case. The Government's policy on the nationalised industries is in total confusion.

Finally, what is still far from clear, despite ministerial denials, is whether it is intended to use the Bill as a pay sanction. The Government have said "No" on the one hand, but, on the other, they have said "If there is not sufficient efficiency in an industry, that is when the sanction will be used". I can only point out that at a time when there was a productivity deduction under the old Price Code, which could have disallowed up to 50 per cent. of the price increase accounted for by pay, that did not prevent pay from going through the roof. Therefore, as a pay sanction the thing is absolutely hopeless.

I hope, finally, that through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can say this to the consumers of this country: beware of this most dishonest bargain offer yet, this tuppence-off-now and fourpence-on-later measure, because that is what it is. It is consumers who will be paying more in the end, both in prices and in terms of husbands' and wives' jobs, for this expensive electoral trick which will undermine not only consumer interests but the prosperity of the country as a whole.

I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the Bill.

10.50 p.m.

In recommending to my right hon. and hon. Friends that they should vote for the Third Reading of the Bill, I shall make particularly sure that they are made aware of the remarks of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), because they, like me, will not accept lectures from the Conservative Party on employment opportunities in Scotland, since the Conservative Party has consistently in this House voted against measures brought forward to ease the unemployment in Scotland, including items such as the Scottish Development Agency, and—only last week—the expanded budget for projects such as assistance to Chrysler UK, which is essential to jobs in the West of Scotland, and the Polish contract, which has provided employment for shipyards on the upper Clyde. There is only one Scottish member of the Conservative Party here, and only one Scottish member of the Conservative Party has bothered to speak in the discussion on the Bill today.

Obviously, we are particularly delighted that the Government have seen their way to accepting new clause 2. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) vented his usual spleen against the Scottish National Party, which is in direct proportion to how close we are to him in his constituency, but did not have the courage to vote against the new clause, and we are pleased that the Government accepted it in the spirit in which we moved it.

We also welcome the Secretary of State's references to amendments Nos. 2 and 18, which we were disappointed were not selected by the Chair, although we accepted that ruling. We are pleased that the right hon. Gentleman saw that we were concerned about two vital aspects of industry in Scotland, namely, companies in assisted areas which could be affected by price rises, and those companies which could be severely affected by rising costs of imported raw materials, which are, of course, external uncontrollable factors. I ask the Minister to underline the action that is open to the Government in these two specific areas of concern.

10.52 pm

I make two comments only about the Bill. Every Government talk about increasing investment. Every Government even do some things about increasing investment. But we have never had a Government who so consistently and repetitively took one step forward and then two steps back in damaging the essential link between confidence and investment, and therefore damaging the strength of the British economy and employment opportunities. What the Secretary of State has done in going back on what he said about safeguard clauses is to take this disastrous Government two steps back yet again.

Secondly, this mean little Bill is, in its way, one further contribution to the illusion that Governments can do something about holding down prices, regardless of wage increases and regardless of the effect on employment. If for no other reason than that—ignoring even the effect on the economy through investment—this is a bad Bill and should be rejected.

10.54 pm

I shall be brief. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] I am delighted to receive reaction from hon. Members opposite.

And I am quite willing to help the hon. Gentleman.

I always heed your extremely good advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but at the same time I intend to tell the Government what I think about this Bill, which is piffling on the one hand and damaging on the other.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) said, it will have very little effect upon prices but it will be very damaging to profits, and I want profits because they mean inves- tment, and investment means jobs. The Socialist Party—because that is what it is, and not the Labour Party any longer—came to office pledged to provide virtually full employment, but it has succeeded in trebling unemployment. My duty in this House is not only to participate in decision-making but to represent the interests of groups within my constituency, and I come here to advise the Government of the comments of the general manager of a bakery in the North-West about the Bill.

I quote from a letter dated 30 January 1979 from Mr. D. R. Robinson:
"Many of my colleagues feel that the proposed Bill cannot be claimed to have a sound economic base and our view is that the Government is merely acting under the present trade union pressure, with its political undertones. In a business such as this, there is a growing fear that stricter price control than that to which we are subjected at present cannot be justified, as the proposals would clearly drastically restrict our profits and thus make a case for necessary investment harder to make out. We are adhering to the recent agreement between the Federation of Bakers and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union to try to keep our wage costs at as reasonable a level as possible, but a profit performance worse than our existing marginal profitability would further reduce confidence in our business and consequently our sales position. I view these proposals as inevitably leading to failure to maintain even our present performance and foresee the loss of jobs as a result. Unless there can be adequate investment in our business we cannot anticipate growth of the business at all—no new jobs—no improvement in efficiency. Indeed, can we survive?"
I believe that from somebody in business—and in the food business, which is perhaps the most competitive industry in this country—that is an indictment of this mean little Bill that we have been debating today. I shall relish going into the "No" Lobby against it because I believe that profits are vital, despite what Labour Members say. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the Government have been a disastrous failure.

10.56 p.m.

This is not only a mean Bill but a very unhappy one, born of the expediency of Cabinet meetings and overtaken by events in the country at large. When 61 per cent of industry is working at low capacity, and when large and small companies are facing a major cash crisis, I ask the Secretary of State whether this is the time to bring in a Bill of this nature.

The one sector of industry that will suffer is that consisting of the food manufacturing companies. They will be forced into break-even trading, and that is in no one's interest.

The Bill is a political charade, put up in anticipation of a spring election. It will just blow up in the Prime Minister's face, because he does not want an election until October.

10.58 p.m.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to have possibly the last word from the Opposition Benches, although obviously we look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

The position that we have now reached has been amply demonstrated. There are those of us who believe that the Bill is a major restriction on the ability of industry to create a profitable and likely series of enterprises. But in particular I draw the attention of the House to the value of the interim safeguard which is at the nub of the Bill. It is clear from an answer given by the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection on 29th January that, under the safeguard operations, since the Price Commission came into operation last year £365 million has been contributed to company profits during the year from 1 August 1977. This represents approximately 0·5 per cent. of consumer expenditure.

That kind of operation has no real bearing upon consumer spending. The total profit earned by companies in that year was £7,141 million. The profit safeguard was barely 5 per cent. of total company profits.

We are arguing that, for the sake of destroying the statutory backing to that small contribution to company viability, the Government are taking a quite unnecessary risk for no benefit whatever, other than once again to demonstrate that industry cannot rely upon the Government pursuing a policy which is designed to enable it, against all the odds, still to employ people, still to invest, and still grudgingly to return the kind of profit that the Government will accept.

11 p.m.

I say to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), in respect of his final remarks, that a party that pays such scant regard to 0·5 per cent. of total consumer expenditure—and that is a lot of money—as appears to be the case with his party, is not one that is likely to be entrusted by the country with its fate. What has, characterised this debate has been the total lack of concern for the consumer. We had 20 minutes from the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), who just remembered in her last sentence that she was supposed to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.

Much concern has been expressed about the confidence of industry. The Opposition have devoted all of the debate to seeking to undermine the confidence of industry by misrepresenting the provisions of the Bill. If there is concern in this country, it is about inflation. In so far as this Bill will help to fight inflation it will be welcomed by the country at large.

The concern expressed has been principally about how the enlarged discretion of the Price Commission will be exercised. The Commission has shown a readiness to accept the need of industry for profitability. It has shown this in its granting of interim price increases and in its adherence to the criteria set out in section 2 of the parent Act.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) spoke of two concerns. The first was the need for the Commission to take into account the impact on companies of imported commodity costs. That is a proper concern to express, and one to which the Price Commission will be required to give attention. It is covered in the parent Act, but it was impossible to accept the amendment which she tabled. It would not have been unwelcome to the Labour Party.

The hon. Member also spoke of the problems of firms in assisted areas. That, too, is a matter which it is perfectly proper for the Commission to consider under the general criteria of the Act. These are real problems and concerns, and the balance which has to be struck between the protection of the consumer and the needs of industry is one which will be assisted by giving the Price Commission this discretion.

The Bill enlarges the powers of the Commission to act in the interests of the people of this country in the fight against inflation, and I support its Third Reading with confidence and pleasure.

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

Division No. 61]


[11.03 p.m.

Abse, LeoFoot, Rt Hon MichaelMagee, Bryan
Allaun, FrankFord, BenMallalieu, J. P. W.
Anderson, DonaldForrester, JohnMarks, Kenneth
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Armstrong, ErnestFraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Ashley, JackFreeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMeacher, Michael
Ashton, JoeGarrett, John (Norwich S)Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Mikardo, Ian
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)George, BruceMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Bain, Mrs MargaretGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Ginsburg, DavidMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Golding, JohnMolloy, William
Bates, AlfGould, BryanMoonman, Eric
Bean, R. E.Gourlay, HarryMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Been, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodGrant, George (Morpeth)Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Grant, John (Islington C)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Bidwell, SydneyGrocott, BruceMorton, George
Bishop, Rt Hon EdwardHamilton, James (Bothwell)Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Blenkinsop, ArthurHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Boardman, H.Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMurray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHart, Rt Hon JudithNewens, Stanley
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHattersley, Rt Hon RoyNoble, Mike
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurHayman, Mrs HeleneOakes, Gordon
Boyden, James (Bish Auck)Healey Rt Hon DenisOgden, Eric
Bradley, TomHeffer, Eric S.O'Halloran, Michael
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Henderson, DouglasOrbach, Maurice
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Home Robertson, JohnOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Buchan, NormanHooley, FrankOvenden, John
Buchanan, RichardHoram, JohnOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Padley, Walter
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Palmer, Arthur
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Huckfield, LesPark, George
Campbell, IanHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Parker, John
Canavan, DennisHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Parry, Robert
Cant, R. B.Hughes, Roy (Newport)Pavitt, Laurie
Carmichael, NeilHunter, AdamPendry, Tom
Carter, RayIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Perry, Ernest
Carter-Jones, LewisJackson, Colin (Brighouse)Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Cartwright, JohnJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Price, William (Rugby)
Clemitson, IvorJanner, GrevilleRadice, Giles
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Cohen, StanlyJeger, Mrs LenaRichardson, Miss Jo
Coleman, DonaldJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenJohn, BrynmorRoberts Gwilym (Cannock)
Concannon, Rt Hon JohnJohnson, James (Hull West)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Conlan, BernardJohnson Walter (Derby S)Robinson, Geoffrey
Corbett, RobinJones, Alec (Rhondda)Roderick, Caerwyn
Cowans, HarryJones, Barry (East Flint)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Crawshaw, RichardJudd, FrankRooker, J. W.
Cronin, JohnKaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRoss, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Kelley, RichardRowlands, Ted
Cryer, BobKerr, RussellRyman, John
Davidson, ArthurKilroy-Silk, RobertSedgemore, Brian
Davies, Rt Hon DenzilKinnock, NeilSelby, Harry
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Lambie, DavidSever, John
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Lamborn, HarryShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Deakins, EricLamond, JamesSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dempsey, JamesLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Dewar, DonaldLeadbitter, TedSilkin Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Doig, PeterLee, JohnSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Dormand, J. D.Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Silverman, Julius
Douglas-Mann, BruceLewis Ron (Carlisle)Skinner, Dennis
Duffy, A. E. P.Litterick, TomSmith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
Dunn, James A.Lofthouse, GeoffreySnape, Peter
Dunnett, JackLoyden, EddieSpearing, Nigel
Eadie, AlexLuard, EvanSpriggs, Leslie
Edge, GeoffLyon, Alexander (York)Stallard, A. W.
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
English, MichaelMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidMcCartney, HughStoddart, David
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)McDonald, Dr OonaghStott, Roger
Evans, John (Newton)McElhone, FrankStrauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)MacFarquhar, RoderickSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.McKay, Allen (Penistone)Swain, Thomas
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Flannery, MartinMaclennan, RobertThomas Dafydd (Merioneth)
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Thomas Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Madden, MaxThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)

The House divided: Ayes 272, Noes 256.

Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)Watkins, DavidWilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Thorne, Stan (Preston South)Weetch, KenWilson Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Tierney, SydneyWeitzman, DavidWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Tilley, JohnWellbeloved, JamesWise, Mrs Audrey
Tinn, JamesWelsh, AndrewWoodall, Alec
Tomlinson, JohnWhite, Frank R. (Bury)Woof, Robert
Torney, TomWhitlock, WilliamWrigglesworth, Ian
Tuck, RaphaelWigley, DafyddYoung, David (Bolton E)
Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.Willey Rt Hon Frederick
Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Walker, Harold (Doncaster)Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)Mr. Bryan Davies and
Walker, Terry (Kingswood)Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)Mr. Ted Graham
Ward, Michael


Adley, RobertFookes, Miss JanetMacfarlane, Neil
Aitken, JonathanForman, NigleMacGregor, John
Alison, MichaelFowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)
Arnold, TomFox, MarcusMacmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Fry, PeterMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Awdry, DanielGalbraith, Hon T. G. D.Madel, David
Baker, KennethGardiner, George (Reigate)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Beith, A. J.Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)Marten, Neil
Bell, RonaldGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)Mates, Michael
Bendall, VivianGilmour, sir John (East Fife)Mather, Carol
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Glyn, Dr AlanMaude, Angus
Benyon, W.Godber, Rt Hon JosephMawby, Ray
Berry, Hon AnthonyGoodhew, VictorMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Biffen, JohnGoodlad, AlastairMayhew, Patrick
Biggs-Davison, JohnGorst, JohnMeyer, Sir Anthony
Blaker, PeterGow, Ian (Eastbourne)Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Body, RichardGower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Mills, Peter
Boscawen, Hon RobertGray, HamishMiscampbell, Norman
Bottomley, PeterGriffiths, EldonMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Grimond, Rt Hon J.Moate, Roger
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Grist, IanMolyneaux, James
Bradford, Rev RobertGrylls, MichaelMonro, Hector
Brittan, LeonHall-Davis, A. G. F.Montgomery, Fergus
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)Moore, John (Croydon C)
Brooke, Hon PeterHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Brotherton, MichaelHampson, Dr KeithMorgan, Geraint
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Hannam, JohnMorgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Bryan, Sir PaulHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Buchanan-Smith, AlickHaselhurst, AlanMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Buck, AntonyHavers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMorrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Budgen, NickHayhoe, BarneyMudd, David
Bulmer, EsmondHeath, Rt Hon EdwardNeave, Airey
Burden, F. A.Hicks, RobertNelson, Anthony
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Hodgson, RobinNeubert, Michael
Carlisle, MarkHolland, PhillpNewton, Tony
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHooson, EmlynNott, John
Churchill, W. S.Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyOppenheim, Mrs Sally
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Howell, David (Guildford)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Clark, William (Croydon S)Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Page, Richard (Workington)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hunt, David (Wirral)Pardoe, John
Clegg, WalterHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Parkinson, Cecil
Cockcroft, JohnHurd, DouglasPattie, Geoffrey
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Hutchison, Michael ClarkPenhaligon, David
Cope, JohnIrving, charles (Cheltenham)Percival, Ian
Cormack PatrickJames, DavidPink, R. Bonner
Costain, A. P.Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Crouch, DavidJohnston, Russell (Inverness)Price, David (Eastleigh)
Crowder, F. P.Jones, Arthur (Daventry)Prior, Rt Hon James
Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Jopling, MichaelPym, Rt Hon Francis
Dodsworth, GeoffreyJoseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRaison, Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKaberry, Sir DonaldRathbone, Tim
Drayson, BurnabyKimball, MarcusRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Durant, TonyKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Dykes, HughKitson, Sir TimothyRenton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnKnox DavidRhodes James, R.
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Lamont, NormanRidley, Hon Nicholas
Elliott, Sir WilliamLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRidsdale, Julian
Emery, PeterLatham, Michael (Melton)Rifkind, Malcolm
Eyre, ReginaldLawrence, IvanRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Fairbairn, NicholasLawson, NigelRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fairgrieve, RussellLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Farr, JohnLloyd, IanRoss, William (Londonderry)
Fell, AnthonyLoveridge, JohnRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Finsberg, GeoffreyLuce, RichardRost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Fisher, Sir NigelMcAdden, Sir StephenRoyle, Sir Anthony
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)McCrindle, RobertSainsbury, Tim
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMcCusker H.St. John-Stevas, Norman

Scott, NicholasStanbrook, IvorViggers, Peter
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Stanley, JohnWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Shelton, William (Streatham)Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)Walters, Dennis
Shepherd, ColinStewart, Ian (Hitchin)Weatherill, Bernard
Shersby, MichaelStokes, JohnWells, John
Silvester, FredStradling Thomas, J.Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Sims, RogerTapsell, FeterWhitney, Raymond
Sinclair, Sir GeorgeTaylor, R. (Croydon NW)Wiggin, Jerry
Skeet, T. H. H.Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)Winterton, Nicholas
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)Tebbit, NormanWood, Rt Hon Richard
Smith, Dudley (Warwick)Temple-Morris, FeterYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)Thatcher, Rt Hon MargaretYounger, Hon George
Speed, KeithThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Spence, JohnTownsend, Cyril D.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)van Straubenzee, W. R.Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Sproat, IainVaughan, Dr GerardMr. Jim Lester
Stainton, Keith

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.