HC Deb 03 November 1966 vol 735 cc650-1
Q2. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Prime Minister what steps he is taking to co-ordinate the work of the Board of Trade, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Technology and the Scottish Office to minimise the ill-effects of unemployment in the motor industry.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friends already co-operate fully on this as on all other matters of common concern, Sir.

Mr. Cooke

Should not the Prime Minister take personal responsibility for the mounting mass unemployment in the motor industry and the chaos in Britain's foremost exporting industry as it is a direct result of Government policy, as foreshadowed by the Prime Minister's own article in the New Statesman in 1961, when he said that the British industry was "heavily distorted by the motor car" and other frivolous things?

The Prime Minister

I take full responsibility for all Government action, particularly that which I announced to the House on 20th July. It was recognised then that in the process of redeployment and strengthening the base of our economy some very harsh and, indeed, painful things would have to happen. These are part of the price of getting sterling strong and our balance of payments into surplus.

Mr. Longden

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the deadly danger is lest people should become so sickened by the selfish irresponsibility of a few trade unionists that they will come positively to welcome such totalitarian measures as the direction of labour?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, and that is certainly not part of our policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] It is certainly not part of our policy. If the hon. Gentleman was referring to the very considerable number of motor car workers who have been rendered idle, have been stood off work, because of the action of a small number of members striking unofficially who have brought a large part of the industry to a standstill, then what he said is very much in accord with what I said on a similar occasion last year. With that part of his supplementary question I would not quarrel.

Mr. Heath

How many men will be redeployed from the motor industry into other export industries?

The Prime Minister

It is not possible at this stage to make that forecast. The right hon. Gentleman may have heard that there was a debate in the House for a whole day on redeployment in the motor car industry. If he had been following that debate instead of conducting his pantomime about Standing Order No. 9, he might know more about it.

Mr. Dalyell

Would the Prime Minister agree that, in a departmental sense, the problem of the 9 per cent. unemployed at Bathgate is multi-dimensional? Would he consider whether, in order to alleviate this very difficult position, he might appoint some kind of Government task force?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's concern about the situation at Bathgate was the subject of a debate in the House this week. At the beginning of the measures in July, efforts were made to try to persuade the car firms concerned, so far as possible, to transfer work, particularly as far as branches in development areas were concerned. This did not prove possible in the case of Bathgate. I am satisfied that everything possible is being done by the Departments. I have been into the matter very much myself. Some of my hon. Friend's suggestions about long-term diversification, which will take time, are being carried out.