HC Deb 20 January 1965 vol 705 cc343-63
Mr. David Price

I beg to move, Amendment No. 17, in page 5, line 2, at the end to insert: otherwise than by direct manufacture for commercial purposes". As the Clause is drafted the Minister of Technology would have a blank cheque to set up any number of factories and industries which he liked, and my hon. Friends and I are anxious to define his powers to further the practical application of the results of scientific research.

We recognise that it may not be possible to foresee every situation ahead, but we expect the Secretary of State to give some examples. Nor would we dissent from the general view expressed in another place by the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology as to the desirability of using development contracts and Government purchasing as primary methods of furthering technological application. What we do dissent from, however, is the implication that the Minister of Technology should have blanket powers to indulge in direct manufacture for commercial purposes.

I suspect that below the respectable clothing of technological development we can detect the cloven hoof of nationalisation, especially when the clothes are worn by Mr. F. Cousins. Unamended, the Clause could provide the back door to wholesale nationalisation and my hon. Friends and I, as hon. Members opposite will not be surprised to know, are totally opposed to further nationalization—as, indeed, is the vast majority of the public in this country.

Since they have been returned to power, the Government have announced only their proposals to re-nationalise iron and steel and to set up a lands commission. It may not be their intention to extend public ownership by the use of the powers in this Clause, in which case we are much relieved—although, if this is so, they should surely have no difficulty in accepting the Amendment. I appreciate that there is always Government pride in draftsmanship. They may not like the wording of the Amendment, but if they accept it in principle I am sure that my hon. Friends would be well content with that. We on this side would wish to hear their intentions from the Secretary of State tonight.

However, from earlier statements by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite we have good reason to be suspicious, and not least from those of the Minister of Technology. I remind the Committee that in an interview published in Tribune on 1st May last year Mr. Cousins said: There is no reason at all why public ownership should not be put into the new and modern industries right from the word go. It should also be obvious that some of the industries in which the greatest progress has to be made, and where the greatest investment has to be put in will not develop properly unless they are in public hands. As he is not yet with us, it would be unfair to press the Secretary of State to defend this statement by Mr. Cousins, but I put it on the record in support of my thesis that we have good reasons to be suspicious of the Government's intentions.

There are many statements by the Prime Minister, not least his Scarborough speech of 1st October, 1963, but I will not detain the Committee by quoting from them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] If my hon. Friends would like a bit of it I will quote, but I think that one can make the Prime Minister's point more shortly in the language of the Labour Party Manifesto, which certainly may be taken as the official view of the party opposite, when it said on page 9 of "The New Britain": A Labour Government will go beyond research and development and establish new industries, either by public enterprise, or in partnership with private industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that hon. Members opposite approve of this statement. It shows how right my hon. and right hon. Friends were in being suspicious of this power in what appeared to be an innocuous Bill. It is more than the cloven hoof. The whole tail of the beast is now emerging.

I should like to remind the Committee of some of the reasons why we on this side of the Committee think that it is not desirable for the Government to indulge in setting up State industries as a method of promoting technological advance. In our view, first of all, the classical arguments against nationalisation remain valid. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?"] I am sure that my hon. Friends are very familiar with them. If hon. Members opposite think of the arguments which they advance in favour of it and put them in front of a mirror they will have the arguments against.

Secondly, there is the assumption that if a venture is State-owned it is more purposive, which is the Prime Minister's phrase, than if privately owned. One asks by what criteria purpose is to be measured. The Prime Minister has never told us by what criteria he measures purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "The national interest."] The phrase "national interest" is just as elusive and indicative of absolutely nothing. The use of these imprecise terms is a common failing of hon. Members opposite. They run away from the normal criteria of profitability and making the thing work arid when they have made a thorough mess of it they say, "We are not interested in those. We are concerned with the national interest". The national interest is used as an argument by hon. and right hon. Members opposite when they can advance no proper criteria for the measurement of success or failure. There is no substitute in economic affairs for the discipline of the market. That was certainly the First Secretary of State's view as well as mine. The Committee will recall that, in the debate on the Address, the right hon. Gentleman told us: In general terms, we need to create a competitive climate in which efficiency is rewarded and inefficiency penalised".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 220.] 10.45 p.m.

One of the characteristics of a State industry is that, when it gets into financial difficulties, it has to be bailed out by the taxpayer. Would the Secretary of State or the Minister of Technology be prepared to see a State venture in support of a new scientific development wound up if it were unprofitable? This is really the key question. The Committee has to face the harsh realities of economic life. There have to be sticks and carrots, and they are either those of the market—these cal be modified in certain cases, but, basically, they remain—or those of the full-blooded State-controlled system, and I do not believe that, over a longish period of time, there is an in-between. There may be a transitional period when there is a move in one direction or another, but I do not believe that, over a generation or two, one can persist in a system which has neither the disciplines nor the rewards of these two alternatives.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Price

I am glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. Although I think that we should choose differently between them, I am glad to have his support for the view that those are the alternatives. To be fair to the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench, I do not believe that they do accept these alternatives. They believe that one can go along in the middle, in a sort of pink soup which lacks either the rewards or the deterrents of the two alternative systems.

There is the further point that, apart from any theoretical arguments, the Ministry of Technology has no experience of running industrial plants or companies. I have a very high respect for the administrative class of the Civil Service, but they are not trained as commercial or industrial managers, let alone as entrepreneurs, and I do not think that they would claim to be. The whole way of life in Whitehall is antipathetic to taking commercial judgments and risks. I should, therefore, prefer to see the commercial exploitation of scientific and technological progress in the hands of those who are trained and whose way of life is commercial and industrial.

We are living in a mixed economy, partially publicly owned and controlled and partially privately owned. I believe that any further invasion of the private sector by the public may well lead us to the position where the State will have to take over the lot. Today, 40 per cent. of the capital formation in this country is in public ownership. If it is extended very much further, we shall reach the point of no return.

The Secretary of State may say in reply that a bridge is needed between the work of Government laboratories and the commercial exploitation of their discoveries. This bridge exists in the form of the National Research Development Corporation. I realise that the N.R.D.C. has felt itself to be working under certain commercial disabilities in the past, and these were spelt out publicly in the Corporation's Report for the year 1961–62. But the proposals which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) put to the House on 28th July last, reported in columns 260–2 of HANSARD of that date, meet those disabilities. Is it the Government's intention to implement my right hon. Friend's proposals, and, if not, why not?

The Prime Minister is very keen on—some would say almost obsessed by—the Kennedy image, and he does his best to emulate the late President's actions and performances. I would ask him to have a look at the American Government's methods of stimulating scientific and technical research. Contrast the amount of Government research and development, let alone commercial exploitation, which is farmed off to private industry and the universities by the Federal Government and its agencies, with the intention expressed by the Prime Minister in his Scarborough speech to invade further the private sector of the economy. The Government will find that they have all the legitimate means at their disposal to further the practical application of scientific research, without indulging in direct manufacture for commercial purposes.

I trust that the Secretary of State will be able to accept our Amendment, because we believe that nothing further to what we propose is important or is necessary for the normal exploitation by Government of the results of their research in science and technology and that to go beyond that would be simply a dogmatic and ideological invasion of the private sector by a purely doctrinaire Government.

Mr. M. Stewart

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), in moving this Amendment, chose to widen the discussion somewhat in order to recite some of the passages from the Conservative speaker's guide. I shall, therefore, first reply on the narrow issue of the Amendment itself, and then make some comments on the wider aspects which he has seen fit to bring into the debate. On the question of the Amendment itself, it is not difficult to demonstrate that it is, like some of the other Opposition Amendments, inept, ill-drafted and unnecessary.

In the first place, the powers given to the Minister of Technology by the Clause as it now stands are virtually identical with those which were given to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research by the late Government in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Act of 1956. I do not think that it was ever supposed for a moment that that Act gave the Research Council powers to manufacture commercially. Nor is it proposed to do so under this Bill. I will say something a little further about circumstances and ways in which, without any concealment, it might be right and necessary, in the interests of modernisation to have a greater degree of public enterprise, but it cannot be maintained by anyone that the Act of 1956 to which I have referred, or the wording in this Clause, could empower the Minister to do that.

It should be noticed—and this is perhaps a point which needs a sharper eye—that in paragraph (b) of Clause 5 (1), referring to the Minister of Technology, his powers are defined as: … furthering the practical application of the results of scientific research. I am advised that that is different from applying the results of the scientific research. He is only empowered to further the practical application. Even if it were not for the analogy with the 1956 Act, that would rule out his doing what the hon. Gentleman opposite fears.

There is one other point, that the Amendment might have a result which not even the hon. Gentleman, with his hatred of public enterprise, would have wished to produce. The Amendment as it stands could well be interpreted to mean that the Minister of Technology could not support a private industry financially if the ultimate aim of that support was to result in commercial manufacture for profit. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman intended to produce that result. I comment on these points, but I should not have laboured them so much but for the tone of the hon. Member's speech. If he chooses to lecture everybody in the Committee in a manner which suggests that they are all half-witted except himself and his hon. Friends, he ought to take the trouble to draft his Amendment a little more carefully beforehand.

I turn to his more general proposals. He says that the Conservative Party is wholly opposed to any further nationalisation, and yet it was only an hour or two ago that the Government were being urged to spend more and more money on space projects.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Stewart

That would involve manufacture. Now we see what hon. Members opposite are saying. There would be research, and that would mean considerable preliminary expenditure. They do not object to that. There would be manufacture. But the moment anything resulted from it which would enable private profits to be made, the public would not be allowed to take part.

That may not be what hon. Members who are interested in space research meant, but when we tack it on, as we must, to what the hon. Member said, what do we find? He said, "We are wholly opposed to further nationalisation". He said that the trouble with nationalisation was that it did not respect the market. But what has been the principle of the Conservative Party whenever they have decided what to denationalise? It has been to pick out any public enterprise which was making a profit and to sell it off to their friends; and then they say at the end of the day, "How unprofitable public enterprise is". This is exactly the result which they always want to achieve—that every essential piece of expenditure, without which private industry cannot go ahead and make profits, shall be paid for by the general body of taxpayers, with the condition that the most powerful legislative steps shall be taken to see that the taxpayer never gets any return for his money. That is what the policies which the Conservative Party are advocating mean.

I go further. The hon. Member read out with great relish the things which we said during the election in our election manifesto and statements by members of our party about our belief that in the process of modernising this country one of the things which is very likely to be necessary is an extension of public enterprise. I could not understand why he regarded it as such a reproach against us that we made this view plain before the election. If I may revert to the subjects in which I was interested in the last Parliament, I always regarded it as one of the most despicable acts of the Conservative Party that they concealed their intention to promote a general increase in rents from the electorate at the preceding election. Indeed, they denied that they had any such intention. That is not our way. When we believe that a policy is needed by the country, it is our view that we should advocate it at the preceding election.

The hon. Member need have no worries that we shall conceal anything we do on these lines in this Parliament. I refer him to the Answer given by the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on 1st December. The Prime Minister was asked, What proposals he has for the establishment of new industries by public enterprise or in partnership with private industry to produce new scientific discoveries. The Prime Minister replied: The Government will be keeping this matter under continuous and urgent study, and will inform Parliament of specific proposals as occasion arises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1964; Vol. 702, col. 229.] There will be no question of concealing any activity of this kind. It may well be that the Minister of Technology will find that in order to make useful technological developments it is necessary to go further than the ordinary methods prescribed under this Bill—as, for example, placing development contracts or making loans to industrial concerns.

11.0 p.m.

Do hon. Members opposite say that they know of their certain knowledge that there can never be any circumstance in which it might help modernisation for the Government to go into direct manufacture? If they do say that, how on earth do they manage to be so omniscient? It is not a proposition which can be proved in advance for a moment. But if the Minister of Technology or the Government as a whole felt it was necessary to do that, it would not be done under this Bill. Where existing legislation gives other powers to do it, it would be done under that legislation, or if new legislation were required it would be done by new legislation. The hon. Gentleman need not have worries about this Bill. We shall not proceed underhand in this matter.

But there is a larger issue behind this. We are constantly told that if we want to see the country modernised all of us have to give up our old prejudices and fears and doctrinaire ideas. We are certainly not saying that we believe that the Minister of Technology must regard public ownership as his sole or even his main way of proceeding. What we say is that we believe that some extensions of public ownership—though not under the powers in the Bill—will probably be necessary if technological advance is to be secured.

From the words and attitude of the hon. Gentleman opposite, he is apparently saying "Never mind whether that is proved or not. We are wholly opposed to further nationalisation." Who is being doctrinaire, who is allowing old prejudices to hold back modernisation, and in whose interests is it being done? It is simply, "We will never allow any sector of the economy to be taken away from the field of private profit even if there is clear public advantage in doing so."

Yet the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples)—I am sorry to quote him in his absence, but I think he is too robust a person to resent it—when talking about modernisation generally spoke of "the fear, sometimes the irrational fear," of the working man of losing his job. I never understood—we commented on it at the time—why such a fear should be regarded as irrational. If this country is to be modernised, we have to embark on courses of action which are bound to cause anxieties to some people about their jobs, and one of the duties of the Government will be to take every precaution to look after the welfare of such men.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are never slow in exhorting the working man to throw away his restrictive practices, his old irrational fears, his fuddy-duddy notions. He is to do all that. But they are not to surrender one inch of their belief in private profit and private enterprise. That is the case that is being presented to us in the Amendment. Unless the hon. Gentleman proposes to retract the words "We are wholly opposed to further nationalisation," I ask him for no more than that he accepts that there may be instances in which an extension of public enterprise may be needed for the modernisation of the country, and that where that is so the Conservative Party will not allow its prejudices to stand in the way. If he is prepared to say that, we might consider the Amendment on its merits. In the absence of his saying that, we must treat the Amendment as what it is, a determined attempt to stake out a claim for private profit without regard for the public welfare.

Mr. David Price

Could the right hon. Gentleman give the Committee one example? I accept what he has said, that he does not intend under the Bill to do any backdoor nationalisation. Of course I accept that from him if he tells us that. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he thought there would be cases in which, to fulfil the purposes of the Bill, it might be necessary to extend public enterprise. I wish he could give just one example of where he and the Minister of Technology see that this might be necessary.

Mr. M. Stewart

By asking that question the hon. Gentleman shows that he does not understand the point, which is that we are dealing with future developments. We shall be asking ourselves all the time about scientific ideas: to what extent can they be and ought they to be applied in industry? What I am saying is that one cannot start with the negative proposition that never in any circumstances will the right way of development be by public enterprise.

A number of important inventions have been made in public enterprise—jet aircraft, hovercraft and telecommunications, for example. All this has happened and that is why I say it is not possible to state in advance that, in future, methods of direct public manufacture would not be the right way to proceed. It is the hon. Member who has to prove his thesis that it can never be right to do this by public enterprise. I say that we should not start with a negative proposition and that we shall regret it if we do.

Mr. David Price

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman took up my point about the N.R.D.C. and the extension of its facilities proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath). I do not wish to detain the Committee by going into the way the N.R.D.C. has been working, the certain things that have limited its opportunities, all of which were stated clearly in its Report for 1961–62, and the proposals of my right hon. Friend, but we do say that, because of the extent to which the economy has come under public control and public ownership, it is extremely important that it should not go further. This must be looked at in the totality of the economy because, if public enterprise is extended very much further, we will reach the stage where, in spite of themselves, right hon. Members opposite will find themselves having to take over the remainder.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

Not all of us are quite as hidebound on this as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) makes out. Most of us are able to view the mixed economies in Europe. There may be cases where State participation is required in private industry. But the question is: how far? This is one of the greatest debates we shall have to face.

I think that my hon. Friend wants to go too far. There will clearly be public debate in future on the participation of the State in industry and presumably this Amendment was put down to elucidate from the Secretary of State how far the Government intend to go into this field. It is an important Amendment.

Mr. M. Stewart

Other hon. Members may wish to take part in the debate but as I have been directly asked a question perhaps may now reply. The point is that we are asked to decide now how much the economy ought to be in the public sector. I was glad that the hon. Member for the Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) took a more flexible line than his hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price). But I would have said that this is exactly the question one should not try to delimit exactly in advance.

We shall have to consider, as we come to know more about what is required for the modernisation of Britain, how far it may be necessary to use the instrument of public enterprise. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that any specific proposals to that end would be laid before Parliament so that there would be no question of Parliament suddenly waking up to find things happening behind its back.

In general, I would have said that there were certain fields of public enterprise where absolutely on principle it would he right to nationalise. It was right for the coal industry if only because of the infamous treatment of the workers in that industry when it was in private hands. There was a solid reason in fact and history for doing it. However, approaching the more delicate question as to what extent increased public enterprise may be needed in order to inject new ideas into our economy, it is quite wrong to start by saying in advance how much. The right approach is to say that we must learn on merit and that we must see that Parliament and the public are fully informed of any steps in this direction which it is proposed to take so that the public will have the facts and be in a position to judge.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The point seems to be how best we can apply the results of scientific research to industry. Of course, there may be all kinds of ways of doing it. I can see no objection, doctrinal or otherwise, to a Government Department which makes a break-through in scientific matters offering it for sale to private industry. That is a perfectly normal way of doing things.

However, if the object of the exercise is to find how best to do it, surely we are entitled to look at the record on this matter and to compare the results of the nationalised industries with those of private industry. I am sad to say that it is true that by and large the nationalised industries have not done such a good job in applying the results of scientific research as has private industry. Hon. Members will recognise that the best measure is profit and loss. What other measure can there be? The nationalised coal industry has made a loss while the non-nationalised American coal industry has continued to make a profit.

Is it not the case that, wherever we look, in terms of results the nationalised industries have not done so well? One of the reasons why they have not done so well is that they have not been subjected to the discipline of the market and if they have made a loss, the taxpayer has paid, while if a private firm has made a loss the directors have gone to the wall. That is essentially the difference between them.

I should like to refer to something said by the right hon. Gentleman when speaking of space research. If we are seeking to apply the results of modern technology across the whole of industry, there is a way of doing it which we have not yet attempted in this country. It is to try to bring together representatives of the Government Departments engaged, private industry and the universities. These three bodies brought together can do a very satisfactory job.

This is not a theoretical idea because it is done very successfully in the Middle West Research Institute where there is brought together in one place all the knowledge and information of the American Atomic Energy Commission and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the function of the university is to feed this enormously complex technology into computers—the Prime Minister at least will understand that—and the results coming out of the computers are then on offer to private industry which wants to go to the university to take up the research relevant to its own production. The centre charges for it and is right to charge for it. Many hundreds of American firms pay a subscription of, I think, 5,000 dollars a year in order to go to that research centre and get from the uni-vesity's computers the material fed into them by Government Departments.

This is one of the many and various ways in which one could apply the results of scientific investigation right across industry. No one wants to be hidebound by any particular theory. What we are after is the achieving of the best results for the country, and on their record the nationalised industries have not achieved it and by and large private industries have. This can be seen whether comparison is made here at home or internationally.

11.15 p.m.

For that reason, we view with the gravest suspicion the suggestion by the Government that, somehow or other, all the fruits—

Mr. Ioan Evans (Birmingham, Yardley)

The hon. Member is referring to the conduct of the nationalised industries during the last 13 years. Is he not aware that a Conservative Government were in power during those 13 years? In considering the Bill, what we have to bear in mind is that if we are to spend public money, surely there is nothing wrong in the benefit of the money which is spent going back to the public.

Mr. Griffiths

Indeed, the whole object of the exercise is to benefit the public. My view is that in so far as the Conservative Government began to apply the principles of private enterprise to the nationalised industries by way of the appointment of Dr. Beeching and by encouraging Lord Robens to apply market conditions to the coal industry, it was at that point, and that point only, that the nationalised industries began to do a little better than they did under hon. Members opposite.

We view with the gravest suspicion the notion of putting this proposal into a Bill of this kind, which deals not with the economic structure of the country but with one limited sector. It seems as though the Government are trying to slip in a technique by which they will be able to achieve nationalisation by what is called the back door. For that reason, we oppose it.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

As I see it, the wording of the Clause is taken from the 1956 Act, a Conservative Measure. Our Amendment is designed to clarify that wording for the reasons put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths).

It has been stated by the Prime Minister—and the Secretary of State has quoted this—that any further endeavour to nationalise any activity would be put before the House of Commons. Therefore, I cannot see why the Secretary of State is not willing to accept the Amendment, because it would back up the intentions which he has expressed. If he accepted the Amendment, we could well and truly understand the assurances that he has given us.

Having said that, I have to admit that I have been in the United States of America and have had to discuss the rôle of our nationalised industries, and not always unfavourably. Nationalisation is something that a logical person cannot condemn outright without quoting some of the advantages.

Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)

The hon. Member should tell his hon. Friend.

Mr. Osborn

I have had to be fair to audiences outside this country, as well as in this country, to collate the advantages and disadvantages. If, however, the Clause is to operate and our Amendment is not accepted, there will be a door wide open for the Minister of Technology to exploit new endeavours under the cloak of nationalised sponsors, perhaps against private industry and putting it at an unfair disadvantage.

It is not always certain that exploiting a breakthrough will necessarily achieve success. The brakes and the criteria which must operate to ensure that investment in research and development is wise are difficult to define at the best of times. Not long before Christmas, and at about this same hour of the night, on the Gas (Borrowing Powers) Order we were discussing the effectiveness of the Bronowski briquette, the amount of money that the National Coal Board had spent on it and the lack of success which it had achieved. One must not condemn this development because it has been developed by a nationalised industry, but it pinpoints the ease with which vast sums can be spent unless the right criteria are applied to the spending of that money.

It occurs to me that unless the Amendment is accepted, there will be a tremendous loophole for a vast drain of public money into endeavours and development which is not properly supervised. For these reasons, I ask the Secretary of State to reconsider his reply.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I am sorry that the Committee sees fit to make what may be described as somewhat unfriendly noises before I have even begun what I intend to be a series of very brief and, I hope, non-controversial remarks about this Amendment. So I hope hon. Members opposite will allow me to say what I have to say, and I hope that no exception will be taken to my remarks. When I entered the Chamber there seemed to be a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing as to who should nationalise what, and perhaps I may give my version of what I see to be the case which my party presents. It is that we see before us—and I think that the Committee must agree with this—a great deal of public enterprise, a vast amount of nationalised industry, of nationalised undertakings of one kind and another.—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

Mr. Michael Foot

I was wondering whether it was public enterprise which got that whistle going.

Mr. Cooke

It had a tendency to divert attention from my remarks. Perhaps I could say that public enterprise on this occasion apparently was unhampered, or only partly hampered, by the Socialist Government, for it seemed to be able to carry on quite a time.

I would remind the Committee that the vastly greater part of Bristol's prosperity depends on private enterprise still, and the point I wish to make, and it is a serious one, is that with such a lot of public enterprise as there is it would presumably be the wish of the Government and of this Committee that this public enterprise should be 100 per cent. efficiently run before we embark on any further nationalisation. One would wish to be extremely cautious and that before any further public enterprise is embarked upon the House should discuss it fully and frankly. It appears to me that this Clause as it stands, if it is not amended as proposed, provides a loophole for further embarkation on public enterprise without proper discussion in the House.

Related to this I would wish to give the Committee another point. I hope I am not out of order by anticipating a Question which I hope to ask the Minister of Technology when he enters the House—-[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—later, if he does—[HON. MEMBERS: "He will."] It is typical of the approach of hon. Members opposite to roar with laughter at the prospect of the Minister of Technology coming to the House. Of course, I hope that the Opposition win the by-election, but I would also hope, as I am sure all my hon. Friends do, that the opportunity will arise when we can get at this Minister of the Crown.

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. The hon. Member is getting very far from the Amendment.

Mr. Cooke

I do apologise if I have strayed—indeed, I imagine that I have strayed—out of order. I am sorry if I have done so because of provocation by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will try to come back to the point, and it is the last point I wish to make now, and it is on the question of restrictive practices.

I hope that the Secretary of State will do his best to bridge the gap between the Minister of Technology and the Minister of Labour in seeing that the fruits of technology, which is what the Bill is all about, shall not be prevented from being applied in industry because of restrictive practices of one kind or another.

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. There is nothing about restrictive practices in this Amendment.

Mr. Cooke

I apologise for straying rather far from the point, but I am sure that everyone will agree that nothing that I have said is remotely controversial.

Mr. W. Yates

I put a question to the Minister, which he very kindly answered, but that was not to be interpreted as the speech that I wish to make, and I realise that there is plenty of time in which I can expand what I was going to say to him.

The view taken by my hon. Friends and myself about nationalisation, and the stopping of it, depends on what form the nationalisation takes, either in this Clause, or which was envisaged in the Minister's reply. I wish to know what sort of nationalisation is meant, because it has been interpreted in many different ways. A noble Lord in another place referred to it as rationalisation and public ownership, and various words are now being used to take away the real classical meaning of nationalisation as propounded by the constitution of Clause Four as laid down by the Labour Party. The country must be told what is meant in this Clause and in this Bill.

I understand that nationalisation means the complete taking over, lock stock and barrel, of an industry. If, under this Clause, or by this Bill, it will be possible for the Minister of Technology to start a new industry, or to take over a private one, we want to know more about it. That is the sort of thing which everybody in the country wants to know. What does the Labour Party mean by nationalisation?

Hon. Members

The Minister has told you.

Mr. Yates

No, he has not. He has been very evasive.

One Minister says that it means public ownership. A noble Lord in another place says that it means the rationalisation of industry, and finally we are told that it means the modernisation of Britain. We want to know what the Government mean when they talk about nationalisation. This issue was made clear where I fought an election because, thank goodness, the person who opposed me was Mr. Bevan's Parliamentary Private Secretary. He made it clear to everybody in the constituency what nationalisation meant, and he lost the election.

My hon. Friend must not go away with the idea that hon. Members on this side of the Committee are not conscious of the work of many people in Europe who saw the future of participation between private industry and the State. In particular, I mention Mr. Mattei in Italy, and others. I do not want hon. Gentlemen opposite to think that because we are opposed to nationalisation we are not considering various ways in which the State can participate in private industry. What we are opposed to is the classical Labour Party Clause Four, which is the root and base of their philosophy, which means the complete control of all means of production, distribution, and exchange. That is what we wish to be clear about. I am not quite sure whether the Government are trying to tell the people that nationalisation as it was thought of 20 years ago—when it was written about by you-know-who—is different from what it is today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who wrote about it?"] It was written by a man called Sidney Webb.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member must relate what he is saying to the Amendment.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that the sort of nationalisation envisaged by such pillars of Socialism as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) differs very much from the nationalisation propounded by such pillars of Conservatism as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Yates

It is clear that in this Amendment we are trying to get from the Government exactly where they intend to draw the line in regard to the sort of nationalisation they might be able to achieve within the terms of the Bill. We are trying to discover whether it is different from the nationalisation propounded by the old fuddy-duddies of the classical Labour Party twenty years ago. The country is entitled to know about this. People should know what the party opposite means by nationalisation.

All I say is that where the Conservative Party thinks it necessary for the State to participate in industry it wishes to reserve its position, because it is not prepared to allow nationalisation to go as far as hon. Members opposite would like it to go. They would like to see public ownership extended to all means of production, distribution and exchange. The Amendment has served a valuable purpose. It has shown that even today the Government do not really know, and cannot say, what is meant by nationalisation.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. M. Stewart

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 5, line 8, at the end to insert: (2) The Minister of Technology, in and for the discharge of his functions falling within subsection (1) (a) and (b) above, may exercise the powers conferred by section 1 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947 on competent authorities within the meaning of that Act, and for that purpose the Act shall apply as if he were named as a competent authority in section 17 (3) of the Act. This is a milder Amendment. It makes the very reasonable proposition that for the discharge of his functions within subsections (1,a) and (1,b), and for the discharge those functions alone, the Minister of Technology may become one of the competent authorities mentioned in the Statistics of Trade Act 1947. That gives him power to require certain information which will be necessary if he is to do the job mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b).

At present there are 15 such competent authorities and, in addition, any Secretary of State is a competent authority. This is an obvious and commonsense Amendment, which I hope will commend itself to the Committee.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

It is only right that I should intervene in this matter. I have been associated on many occasions with providing statistics for these competent authorities. I hope that with the creation of one more competent authority the demand for these statistics will be exercised with discretion. We have referred to a large number of smaller firms who already find it incredibly difficult to provide the information required of them, and one more competent authority will mean that one more burden is placed on these smaller and medium-sized firms. I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind that this demand for statistics should be exercised with a fair degree of discretion.

Mr. David Price

I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree with the general proposition put forward by the Secretary of State in the Amendment. I hope that the Minister of Technology, in the discharge of his duties, will find it possible, as far as possible—and I appreciate that it may not always be possible—to get the figures he wants voluntarily. I hope that in the compilation of figures it will not prove necessary, except in rare instances, to use the panoply of legal powers which exist under the Act and which, we appreciate, need to be used where it is the Government view that a 100 per cent. census must be made.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman takes my point and appreciates that in obtaining statistical sampling figures one can get a high degree of accuracy on a relatively small sample. Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate the sort of information which the Minister of Technology would be minded, in the first instance, to collect? For example, will he want to collect information on the number or possibly the value of electronically controlled machine tools, as distinct from the more normal types of machinery?

Mr. M. Stewart

I take the hon. Gentleman's point and I accept as valid the points made by both hon. Members opposite. I cannot go into much detail on the kind of information the Minister will require. The kind of things he is empowered to ask for hon. Members will find in the Schedule to the Statistics of Trade Act, 1947.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) provided an example of one of these; the kind of information it would be in the public interest to have. I am glad that hon. Members opposite raised these points. Perhaps I should have mentioned that it has been the experience that a great deal of this information has been provided voluntarily. The only reason why it is desirable to have statutory powers is that I do not think that it is fair to the co-operative firms which provide information voluntarily if the value of their work is spoilt because it cannot be made complete. I hope that this will work from the point of view of the Minister of Technology as it has worked so far with the other competent authorities.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 6 and 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.