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Price Commission

Volume 978: debated on Monday 4 February 1980

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12.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the Price Commission to have been wound up.

The Commission will be formally wound up shortly after the Competition Bill receives the Royal Assent.

Will the Minister ask the chairman to publish a report showing how much this Government's disastrous policies have contributed to inflation by increasing VAT, mortgages and rents, bus fares, petrol, gas and electricity prices and the prices of bread and many other essential foodstuffs? Would not such a report show that we should retain the Price Commission instead of abolishing it?

The hon. Member should remember with humility that the retail price index doubled during the life of the previous Government. The Price Commission was entirely ineffective in dealing with this and merely operated to delay price increases. This had the effect of storing up large increases for the consumer at a later date.

May I ask my hon. Friend a rather more constructive question? Will he consider introducing legislation to give those whose jobs were destroyed by the Price Commission—that is, those in the bread industry, the brewing industry and elsewhere—an opportunity to sue the members of that Commission for damages?

That is an interesting suggestion which would be of particular interest to members of the legal profession.

Will the Under-Secretary ask the Secretary of State to consider answering a question on prices and inflation at least once during his tenure of office? Is he aware that his right hon. Friend has answered none since he took office? Also, will he explain why his right hon. Friend and other Ministers in his Department seek to evade responsibility for a counter-inflation policy by a change in ministerial responsibility for questions? What is the sense in asking Members of this House to direct questions about the retail price index to the Secretary of State for Employment?

The right hon. Member is not being fair. My right hon. Friend has twice answered a substantial number of questions about prices. The arrangements that are to be made for the future will be an improvement, yet again, because questions on prices will be answered by the Minister responsible for the policies concerned.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Price Commission is to write another report before it is closed down, it might find it very difficult to write one listing those commodities in which prices have been permanently kept down by its actions? Indeed, would it not be so short a report that he would be able to afford to publish it?

I am sure my hon. Friend is right. All these interesting suggestions will be put to the part-time chairman of the Price Commission.