HC Deb 18 March 1968 vol 761 cc1-3
1. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Technology by what percentage is the net estimate of expenditure for industrial services of his Department under Vote 19 increased in 1968–69 over the previous year; what are these services; and what proposals he has to restrain this element of public expenditure.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

The increase is 22 per cent. Industrial services include general support for industry and, in particular, those industries sponsored by my Department; grants to research associations; and expenditure, other than on staff pay, on research stations. Policy in regard to expenditure on these services was stated by my right hon.

Friend the Prime Minister on 16th January, 1968.—[Vol. 756, c. 1577–1618.]

Mr. Biffen

Is it not a most extraordinary set of circumstances that in this sector we have increases in public expenditure of the order of 22 per cent. at a time when there is supposed to be restraint on the growth of public expenditure? Is the Minister aware that the more the Government interfere with industry the less profitable industry seems to become, and the heavier the burden borne by the taxpayer?

Mr. Benn

I think that the hon. Gentleman should take account of the industries in which this expenditure is being made; for example, shipbuilding, and the development of the pre-production orders for machine tools. All this expenditure is designed to reinforce, and is likely to succeed in reinforcing, economic performance with the object of switching resources.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that every time his Department, or one of his agencies, such as N.R.D.C., moves in on the industrial front, there is always the risk that other companies and enterprises in the same field will say that it is no good their trying, because the Minister has backed the other? Will he bear that risk in mind?

Mr. Benn

I understand the possible danger to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but this increase, which is about £5½ million, goes on policies which, broadly speaking, won the assent of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, notably, on shipbuilding, electronics and machine tools, and to raise a general point like this at this stage ought to be considered very carefully.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on this side recognise that the tremendous changes being carried out in the modernisation of the shipbuilding industry could not possibly have been carried out without the support of his Ministry?

Mr. Benn

It is certainly true that had the Geddes Committee not made the decisions and recommendations it did make, and if the Government had not acted on them, there would have been a very serious danger of the collapse of the British shipbuilding industry.