HC Deb 27 July 1965 vol 717 cc209-12
6. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Technology what action he has taken in the last two months about the cyclical difficulties in the pattern of machine tool ordering within that industry.

32. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Technology when he expects to have the report of the working party set up to study the difficulties created by the cyclical pattern of machine tool ordering.

Mr. Cousins

As I told the House on 14th July, the membership of the working party I have appointed to study these difficulties is now complete. The Working party has held its first meeting and I have asked it to report as soon as possible.

Mr. Marten

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how long it took the working party before it held its first meeting after 14th June? Secondly, what is the present position in relation to the cycle in the pattern of machine tool ordering in the industry?

Mr. Cousins

The working party has had its first meeting. I have not got the particular date. It is a substantial committee in its own right. I did not quite understand the second part of the supplementary question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put it down.

Mr. Marten

There has been a cycle of ordering in the machine tool industry which that industry has found it difficult to carry. When he answered a similar Question last time he said that he was considering financing the stocks in this difficult cycle. What is the position of that cycle at the moment?

Mr. Cousins

This machine tool committee has been asked to consider the problem of cyclical difficulties. We have placed in front of it a number of tasks upon which it can make its examination, one of which is the question of the ordering of stocks in slack periods and the ordering of prototype models. It has not yet reached its conclusions on this, but it will let me know as soon as it has. I suggest that we should not get into the position where we assume that the committee will resolve the problem of cyclical ordering of machine tools. It is not a function of the committee.

Mr. Biffen

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the latest published figures suggest that in the three months ending in April the new home orders for machine tools are 20 per cent. lower than for the preceding three months? In view of that trend, does he not agree that it would be highly desirable that this committee should report at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Cousins

I agree. The hon. Member will recall that in the debate on technology I mentioned that the Machine Tool Trades Association had not expressed such concern as I did about this problem, because I think it is a wrong position where we have a down-turn in our machine tool ordering at this time. But this machine tool committee is a committee of some substance, and the people on it know what it is all about. It consists of people like Sir William Carron, Mr. Harrison of Alfred Herbert Ltd., and Mr. Kearns, Chairman of the M.T.T.A. They know what the problems are. I mention those three people as an indication of that fact that this is a committee of substance.

13. Mr. Hamling

asked the Minister of Technology to what extent his Department is consulting the machine tool industry with a view to extending public participation in the manufacture of machine tools.

Mr. Cousins

I am not at present planning an extension of public ownership into the manufacture of machine tools. No consultations are therefore taking place.

Mr. Hamling

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on these benches have been pressing for a consideration of this policy for a very long time in view of the inefficiency of the machine tool industry, as at present owned and controlled? Is my right hon. Friend looking at this again, because progress is going to be slow unless he carries out this consultation?

Mr. Cousins

Of course, we are aware of the dissatisfaction that has existed in some quarters about the pace of growth in the machine tool industry and its inability, in some cases, to meet requirements of modern industry. The question specifically asked of me was whether I have plans at the moment, and the answer to that is certainly not.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Would the right hon. Gentleman be assured that, whatever his Left-wing friends want, public participation in the machine tool industry would not help it at present? What is really required at the present time is a new scheme of investment allowances to get over the cyclical trend.

Mr. Cousins

I do not accept that that is a right conclusion. The question I was asked was whether I had had any discussion as to the possibility of public ownership at this time. The answer is still "No".

Mr. Harold Walker

Will my right hon. Friend have a careful look at the very substantial imports of machine tools with a view to establishing Government manufacturing facilities in this field to which the machine tool industry has at present expressed a complete indifference?

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was very anxious to deny that there was any risk of a sword of Damocles hanging over the industry, may I ask him what he is now going to do with the lesser swords being hung over it by his hon. Friends?

Mr. Cousins

One of the things which I feel would be helpful to the machine tool industry would be for it to recognise that we have set up an appraisal team which has a responsible task in trying to determine the issues and problems confronting the machine tool industry. The House should address itself to serious questions so that we can help rather than hinder the industry.