§ 9.3 p.m.
§ The Minister of Technology and Minister of Power (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Minister of Technology Order 1969 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 13th October.As the House will know this Motion follows the statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 13th October, the Order having been laid on the same day. If the House sees fit to approve the Order, it will go to the Privy Council tomorrow and come into force on Thursday.
I take it, Mr. Speaker, that this is not the occasion for discussing the policy or policies of the new Department, but the machinery of Government which is involved in the Order is so important that I hope that the House will feel that debate on it is merited. I must ask for the indulgence of the House in presenting these changes, which cover other Departments as well as my own. Perhaps I might first go through the Order in detail and then deal with some of the wider matters, and my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General will be able to answer questions that may arise in the debate.
The Order is short. Article 1 is formal. Article 2 merges the Ministry of Power with the Ministry of Technology and, in the latter part, provides for a Minister of State in lieu of the Minister of Power. Article 3 transfers industrial responsibility from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Technology, and the second part of that Article transfers control of office development in England from the Board of Trade to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and in Scotland and Wales to the Secretaries of State. Article 4 transfers the responsibility for the I.R.C., exercised previously by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, to the Ministry of Technology, and transfers provisions relating to the disclosure of Customs information from the D.E.A. to the Treasury. Article 5 contains the transitional provisions, and the two Schedules deal with the legislative consequences.
1070 That is a very bald outline of a very big change in the machinery of Government, and it covers two areas of Government, one in respect of planning of the environment and the other in respect of industrial development. In making these changes, we are following the principles that lay behind the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence, which began as three separate Departments and merged under a single Minister. They were followed in respect of the setting up of the Department of Health and Social Security. Thirdly, there was the merger between the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office, which, in turn, had absorbed the Colonial Office. There is therefore some experience of the technique: it is not entirely new in government.
I should like to say something about the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning, because he will have, and I know that there is a lot of interest in the subject in the House and elsewhere, responsibility for regional policy as a whole, covering the economic planning councils and boards. He will also have responsibility for negotiation leading to the implementation of Redcliffe-Maud, and special responsibilities in the area of environmental pollution, which is a matter of growing public concern. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Transport will come under his direction and, as the House knows, he will represent both Departments in the Cabinet, and will be examining the possibilities of further integration. But the policy that lies behind that particular change is very well known to the House. Planning, land use planning, and social and environmental development are part of a single complex, and this is the arrangement that has been announced by the Prime Minister.
I turn now to the Ministry of Technology itself which, despite its name—which is, to some extent, deceptive—had, over the years, become very largely an industrial Department. It had acquired responsibility from the Board of Trade for the engineering industries, one by one, and, from the Ministry of Aviation, responsibility for the aviation industry. What is now happening is that this process 1071 is being carried a stage further. The merger with the Ministry of Power brings the public nationalised industries in with the private industries that we previously sponsored, while the remaining manufacturing industries from the Board of Trade are brought in as well. At the same time, from the Board of Trade comes responsibility for I.D.C.s, for factory building, for industrial estate building grants, loans and investment grants, and from the D.E.A. central responsibility for industrial policy, including the I.R.C. and the part which was played by the D.E.A. in regional industrial policy. The objective which I have set myself, and which I hope the House will think is right, is that the new Department should be run as a unified Department and not as a conglomerate of its component parts.
I have brought together a few figures which must be taken to be rounded and approximate, giving some idea of the scope of the new Ministry which the House is being asked to approve. It has a staff of 38,900, of whom a very substantial number work in research establishments. Taking 4,590 qualified staff operating in the Ministry of Technology and adding—because, in terms of overall policy, this is right—the 4,685 in A.E.A. establishments, we arrive at a total of 9,275 qualified scientists and engineers.
Looked at from the management end, at the Under-Secretary level—I am giving figures that must necessarily be slightly approximate—there are about 60 people of Under-Secretary level or their scientific equivalent at the headquarters end and 20 in the research establishments, making a rough total of 80 in all. Adding above that Deputy-Secretaries and equivalents and Permanent Secretaries, the total runs to about 90.
The budget of the combined Departments, which will include the budget of the Ministry of Technology and the giving of investment grants, comes to about £1,500 million a year; and the Department will have acquired from the Ministry of Power responsibility for the supervision and study of the investment programmes of the nationalised industries, running very roughly at £900 million a year.
In addition, there are a number of agencies which will be brought together 1072 —A.E.A., N.R.D.C., I.R.C., Shipbuilding and Metrication Boards, and the industrial estates companies coming from the Board of Trade. Taking the nationalised industries, which employ 960,000 people, and about 82 per cent. to 84 per cent. of private industry, we get an idea of the range of industrial responsibilities which are now brought within the one Department.
In addition—I finish with these two statistics—there are grants to about 60 organisations of one kind or another, including the research associations, and productivity services, one of which—the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service—comes from the Ministry of Power; all these number about 20 separate services in all.
I turn now to the more obvious advantages that come from the arrangement which is being laid before the House tonight. One is undoubtedly that for industry that has to work with government there will be some reduction in the number of Departments that the major firms and industries have to deal with. As regards I.D.C.s, for example, hitherto industries that were working with us came to us on one side to make their industrial case and went to the Board of Trade on I.D.C. questions.
We are also bringing together—I think that this is an advantage, too—the experience that government has acquired over the years in handling, on the one hand, its relations with private industry which are of growing importance, and, on the other hand, its experience in dealing with public industries. To draw a parallel, we have gained very substantially by the merger with the Ministry of Aviation in being able to bring into our work with private industry people who have acquired over the years, admittedly in a customer rôle, a great deal of knowledge of the defence industries.
In addition, there are certain connections which previously involved crossing Departmental frontiers which are now to be brought together. One—this is the most obvious, perhaps—is the generation of electrical power and responsibility for the electrical plant industry. Anyone who has been following the difficulties of meeting demand and supply as far as it bears upon the load of a particular industry will see great advantages in that. Gas, oil and chemicals are coming together.
1073 Steel and steel users are coming together. I have had many contacts with the Ministry of Power over the years about steel prices in respect of shipbuilding reorganisation and the motor car industry. These now come together. Textiles and textile machinery come together. Coal and mining machinery come together. Perhaps from a human point of view most important of all, we are able now to marshal in one Department the responsibility for dealing with redundancies and closures that follow from structural change or technological change with functions in the same Department that have some greater capability to deal with regional problems.
I ask the House for its indulgence because I have said enough—and it is only a summary—to indicate that, from the point of view of the officials and Ministers, it is a major management task making, out of the very large block of work done elsewhere, a modern and effective Department. If I think aloud a little, the House will know that it is because we are bound to proceed in an experimental spirit to some extent until we get the matter absolutely right. I thought it correct to be clear in my mind about the objectives of the new Department. Without being too formal, we obviously have acquired, with greater emphasis than before, an interest in industrial growth and expansion, based, as it must be, on economic strength. But this is the contribution which we would hope to make to discussions in Government about economic and industrial policy.
We hope to develop still closer relations with both sides of industry and have this relationship working both ways. If we are doing our job properly, we shall provide a channel through which industrial thinking can be fed to Government when major decisions are contemplated and which, if we are able to win industry's confidence, will be a channel through which public policy can be conveyed and discussed with major industrialists, industries and trade associations.
I know that this is an area which, according to the book and the many people who write it, should be full of controversy. But I can only say, after nearly three and a half years of doing this job in the engineering industry, that there has not been conflict. There have been differences of opinion. There were 1074 some arguments about certain items of policy and legislation passed in the House. I put that on one side. My experience is that working with industry on this basis is not controversial. If we are able to do our job in a professional way and to reach rapid decisions and work informally with the minimum bureacracy, I have no reason to believe that this arrangement will not be of great convenience to industry.
We have, as an objective, built into the Department our responsibilities for defence supply. We still have responsibility—perhaps even more so—of ensuring that our highly qualified body of scientists and engineers have their work oriented and steered even more towards industrial need or to meet social needs of a kind which will emerge as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning formulates the demands which he will make upon our scientific manpower on questions of pollution.
We must maintain a very close liaison with other Departments. Some questions in the minds of hon. Members bear on the extent to which this liaison can be made real. We must also take a very broad view of our responsibilites because if technology is simply the narrow and short term pursuit of efficiency without regard to human factors it is, quite rightly, likely to meet very strong public resistance. We must therefore find some way, through the Department and in the Department, of taking a broad and long view of the job which we have to do.
Finally—and this is something to which I attach much importance—we must try to pursue our work with as open and information policy as possible. In some areas of defence and commercial security it is not possible to say anything at all, but, apart from those two fenced areas, my view is that we should aim to convey much more fully than may have been customary in the past the methods of working, the organisation of our work and our objectives. I recognise that we shall be judged by results, but I thought it sensible to indicate the way in which I view the job.
I turn to the management task which had to be faced straight away. We are organising the Department in a unified way. We shall have a central economic 1075 group which brings together certain elements from the component departments and which will obviously be charged with the responsibility of considering how Government resources should be deployed over the whole field. We shall have an industry group bringing together the private and public industries. We shall continue to have an aviation group, and we shall have a regional group, which will bring together the regional industrial work which now comes to us, the location of industry and our own regional organisations, and we shall have, as we have had, a research group strengthened by those who come from the outside.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
It is a matter of concern in Scotland as to what extent the regional office of the Board of Trade will be taken over.
§ Mr. Benn
I will come to this in a moment. As I think the House knows, there is no change in the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Scotland in this respect, except in so far as he assumes responsibility for the control of office development in Scotland. If there is a point which I have missed on this, I will see that this is dealt with more fully later on.
The first job is to see that the routine work, that is to say the daily business, of the Department is carried through with speed and efficiency. We then have the liaison task. We have the methods we shall need to adopt for handling individual problems that arise, and we have the longer-term policy considerations to which I referred.
I have to be accountable to the House for everything that happens in this Department and, obviously, to concern myself with all major policy issues which arise but, with a group of Ministers of the calibre and nature that I have, it is proper to devolve as far as I possibly can the executive responsibility of these groups. I have placed a note on this in the Vote Office. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General will look after the industry group. My noble Friend Lord Delacourt-Smith, who is a Minister of State of Cabinet rank, will look after aviation. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) will look after the regional distribution of industry work which I have described. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Wood- 1076 side (Mr. Carmichael) will look after aviation in this House and perform certain general work throughout the Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) will work with me in the central economic group and on nationalised industries in the industry group, and will have special responsibility for minerals. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Dr. Ernest A. Davies) will look after the research group and will work also with the industry group on private industry matters. The co-ordination of work which is to be devolved in this way will be conducted in the most informal way possible, without a formal committee, by regular meetings.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The Minister was good enough to make this information available to the House before the debate, but there is no mention of the responsibility for nuclear energy. Will he please clarify that point?
§ Mr. Benn
The responsibility for the atomic energy division which was previously in the Ministry of Technology is in the process of being marshalled with the industry group, and responsibility for research policy, that is to say the deployment of qualified people, will be dealt with by the research group. That is the best answer I can give.
May I turn to the problems of liaison, which are the ones that lead to the greatest comment at the time of the announcement. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General will be responsible for liaison with the relevant Government Departments in the industrial field, which of course includes the Board of Trade, with which we have had very good relations in the past, on exports, in respect of the engineering industry and with the I.R.C. I hope that he will devote some of his attention to relations with the C.B.I. on the industrial side.
May I say a word on exports, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to exports in his question after the Statement by my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister? We have now had three and a half years' experience of working with the Board of Trade on industries that we have sponsored and they have not, and this has created no problems. It has been very informal in character, as I aim that all our operations should be, and we shall 1077 be working with the new industry divisions from the Board of Trade and with the power industries in exactly the same way. If any hon. Member wishes to know more about this, I shall be glad to provide further information.
My noble Friend Lord DelacourtSmith will maintain the necessary contact with the Ministry of Defence arising from our supply functions and with the Board of Trade on aviation matters. Again, there is no change there as compared with the past. I am also asking him to undertake the new work which I am anxious to encourage of building closer relations between the Ministry of Technology and the T.U.C. An industrial Ministry which does not have close links with the trade union movement on matters of industrial policy would not be discharging its responsibilities.
Finally, on the matter of liaison, I wish to say something about the work which my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield will do in collaboration with the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning. Here is a frontier where it is difficult to draw a line. If it is drawn in one place, it opens up a liaison requirement in another. If the frontier is moved, all sorts of difficulties will occur unless the matter is handled intelligently. I regard my hon. Friend who will undertake this responsibility as working at least as closely with the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning as the aviation Minister in the Department has worked with Defence. I believe that it is practicable to do this both in respect of England and the Scottish and Welsh Offices.
I should like to refer to one other aspect, the need to handle problems which continually involve more than one Department in an informal way. Concorde, which concerns quite a number of Departments, has for some time been handled by an entirely informal working group of Ministers who have not had to gather with the formality of papers, but simply to keep the project under regular review. This has worked extremely well and is completely informal in character. Similarly, on closures and redundancies, I myself have worked with the Board of Trade and the Department of Employment and Productivity across the Departmental frontier exactly as if it did not 1078 exist. I feel that there is scope for this sort of co-operation and I intend to encourage it as far as I can.
Finally, when I look ahead at the future policy requirements which a Department like ours will have to meet, it is clear that some issues spreading over the whole Department, such as relations between Government and industry, deployment of Government resources in support of industry, the rôle of trade unions in respect of industrial policy, human factors in technological change, and so on, are issues which a Department like ours, with its new responsibilities, must attack in such a way not only to shape our future policy but even, by the study of them, to give us insights into the handling of current problems.
These are early days to speak with confidence about the way in which the arrangements I have described will work. I am grateful to the House for listening to me at rather greater length than I would have liked. These are very big changes. The House will want to pay tribute, despite the political controversy there may have been, to the Department of Economic Affairs. I can only say that, for my part, I have worked with three Secretaries of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore). Relations with the D.E.A. in these areas have been very close and we have been very much helped by them. I would say the same of the Ministry of Power, the older Department, and the Board of Trade which for a long time has worked in close relationship between Government and industry.
In the new Department we are now able to weld together parts of the Government apparatus in maintaining and establishing good relations with industry, and we have to try to show industry as best we can how they can make the most use of us. For that reason I have described at length the way in which we propose to approach our task.
Ministers and policies come and go, but I hope the House will agree that it would be right to wish success to those who are working in the areas which now come within the Ministry of Technology because, however one looks at the matter, a lot of our national future is 1079 locked up in the success that we may be able to achieve.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)
The Minister makes it all sound immensely plausible, but I think that the House has been listening to the biggest take-over bidder of all time. The right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Development must have felt as though he was back once again considering merger and monopoly policy.
We are grateful to the Minister for explaining to us some of the mechanics and the reasoning behind the proposed changes. We do not deny that, on occasion, changes in the machinery of government have to take place, but we recognise that any such changes have their costs. A change is justified only if the benefit to be expected from it exceeds the costs in terms of distraction and diversion of effort imposed by it. When changes are well thought out, the disruption of the working life of the people concerned can be limited.
I imagine that into that category comes the departure of the Department of Economic Affairs. It has been long anticipated. I hate to think what morale must have been like in that Department during the last few months. It is a merciful release that the months of uncertainty and demoralisation have come to an end. I recall that, only a year ago, the D.E.A. was certified by the Prime Minister as being a permanent, essential and continuing feature of modern British government. Here is another case where the Prime Minister swallows his words within a matter of months.
The principal character in the cast is the expanded Department of Technology. I do not want to be too dogmatic in dealing with such a complicated and difficult matter but, to us, the changes summarised in the Order are misconceived changes to a misconceived Department, and I will try to justify that approach.
We believe that the Department is now too big for any Minister; and that is not a personal comment on the right hon. Gentleman. We believe that the changes 1080 are bound to slow down the Government machine for some months. For months and months ahead, senior civil servants and Ministers will be distracted making the new machine work. We know that large numbers of civil servants will continue to work at their present jobs in their present offices. But, at the frontiers, where liaison is most important, there will have to be taken an enormous number of difficult decisions involving definitions of work and staff, and, by their nature, those decisions will have to go high up the hierarchy. It is not only in trade unions that demarcation disputes occur. They will be rife in Whitehall as a result of this Order.
We on this side of the House regard a Department as large and as interventionist as this one as a veritable nightmare. The costs which we envisage emerging in terms of distraction, disruption and diversion in our view cannot be justified by any likely benefit to the national interest.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point about the size of the Department, the Minister said that its budget would be £1,500 million a year and that it would employ 38,900 staff. I think that the budget of the Ministry of Defence is over £2,000 million a year. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the Ministry of Defence should be split up because it is too large? How will the size of the new Department compare with some of the others that we have?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would let me get a little further in what I intend to say before drawing premature conclusions. I shall meet his argument by implication in what I have to say.
The right hon. Gentleman recognises that MINTECH is only another name—we think a bad one—for a Ministry of Industry. The Ministry has acquired a great number of new responsibilities since it was first established. There is nothing wrong in a Ministry of Industry as such. An appraisal of the effectiveness of any Ministry of Industry must depend upon the purpose with which it is employed.
Labour's approach is, frankly, evangelical. It is perfectly respectable, but 1081 we do not agree with it. Labour takes a crusading view of the Ministry of Technology—the Ministry of Industry. Ministers in the Labour Government seriously seem to believe that they know best. We think that it is presumptuous for Ministers to try to teach industry what to do when Governments so palpably do not do their own job properly.
Moreover, we believe that this is primarily a private enterprise country. We earn our living in the world by private enterprise. The proper function of the Government, above all, is to make private enterprise work better. It is never perfect. I do not maintain that when Labour came into office the private enterprise system was in perfect order. It will always need change. But Labour has damaged the self-correcting mechanism of the private enterprise system by the tax changes that were introduced soon after they came to office.
Corporation tax distorted the link between the firm and those who invested in it, and the high marginal rates of taxation made things worse. They have throttled the shareholder. Labour is apt now to say that investors no longer matter. The limited liability company is one of the glories of British invention, and we say that all parties should do their best to improve the operation of that invention, not change it—[interruption.] I should be grateful if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) would reserve his wit for any windup speech that he tries to make.
Private enterprise has not only had to suffer the distortion of the system by ill-conceived Labour taxation policies, but also by the storms and hurricanes of Labour economic policies.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
On a point of order. Are we debating this Department or the Labour policy of intervention as against a policy of free market forces?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I was about to intervene. We cannot discuss the fiscal policies of the Government or the whole general political background on this Order—at least not in detail.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but it is necessary for me to show that there are different approaches behind the different attitudes to this 1082 Order. I am coming to the end of this part of my argument.
Now that he has a bigger Department, I hope that the Minister will not continue to be misled in his attitude to industry by the teachings of Professor Galbraith. The vast mass of industry with which the right hon. Gentleman will be dealing looks to the Government for a limited range of vital conditions. Industry as a whole looks to the Government for a stable and expanding level of demand, an encouraging tax system, an infrastructure, communications, power, education, social services, a legal system and a tariff system. It is the Government's job to see that these matters together provide a climate that encourages efficiency and enterprise.
The Minister claimed that there has been no clash with industry in his previous experience. Nobody doubts that industry likes a tap of public money. We question whether a tap of public money is good for industry. We believe that if the private enterprise system is worked properly most industry, but by no means all, should be left to flourish on its own.
§ Sir K. Joseph
This is not so. I am coming to those industries now. I say that by this new accretion of industrial responsibility a vast range of industry, which can perfectly well look after itself if our economic climate is right, does not require the special treatment needed by some industries.
We know that there are industries which look to the Government as their main client, particularly in the defence field, and other industries such as shipbuilding, which from time to time need Government help because of world forces. We know that there are pioneering industries, intensely heavy on development costs and risk, which do not find an adequate market for their products without some Government help. We realise that the country needs an understanding Government, robust entrepreneurs, proper respect for profits, and 1083 a freely operating capital market, and that in the complicated world in which we have to live, with many of our rivals providing covert support for some of their industries, the Government must interest themselves in that part of industry which cannot flourish unhelped.
We recognise that, but we beg the Government not to extend the attitude of understanding help that is necessary for some industries in the form of subsidy to a wider range of industries than is absolutely necessary. The whole approach to the creation of this vast Department implies an attitude which suggests that all industry needs much more intervention by the Government than we believe is necessary. We believe that if the private enterprise system is enabled to work properly, much of industry can flourish on its own.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I come as a newcomer to this subject, but I think that a cost-benefit study of the Government's operations in the machine tool industry might show that no great benefit has resulted to that industry. That is the sort of field in which we think the industry can well cope on its own, subject to fluctuations, and the rise and fall inseparable from the free enterprise market, without the expenditure of public money.
We are surprised, since the Ministry of Industry has been created under the name of the Ministry of Technology, that two of the main pressures that were available to the Government to encourage efficiency in industry have been left outside it. These are company law and tariff policy. There is no reason why complete co-operation should not occur between two separate Ministries, but we regard these two functions of Government as very important for the encouragement of efficient industry.
I come, now, to look at the division of work which the Minister has explained to us. First, he spent some time justifying the division of work on regional policy. It is impossible for any minis- 1084 terial demarcation to put coherently into one Ministry every implication of each aspect of policy, but we wonder whether the two newly appointed Ministers will be able to reconcile their different responsibilities for regional policy.
The Minister of Technology is responsible for helping industrial efficiency. That is not always easy to harmonise with the I.D.C. and regional policy attitude to industry unless the Government adopt our policy of stressing, above all, infrastructure so that in its own interests industry goes where people are available to work, and where communications are first-class. Will the Paymaster-General say whose overall decision prevails between the Minister of Technology and the Secretary of State?
Now I look at the range of work within the Department. The essential centre of the Department is its procurement function. Here, I have no experience to help me, but we on this side of the House recognise the enormous importance of the skills of clientship that a Department must have in this difficult area. What we do not see is that it is necessarily ideal to keep the procurement function within the Ministry of Industry.
Our argument will be that this huge agglomeration of responsibilities, each calling for difficult decision-making by Ministers, imposes upon the Ministers concerned an impossible burden of responsibility. I emphasise that the procurement function must involve Ministers in a series of very difficult decision-making jobs.
§ The Paymaster-General (Mr. Harold Lever)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me to which procurement functions he is referring in this Department?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The old responsibilities of the Ministry of Aviation, to which the Minister referred. Is that right?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Then there are the responsibilities that have been taken from the Ministry of Power, where the skills of clientship are also absolutely vital. As the House knows, in power we have two monolithic single designs clients—the A.E.A. and the C.E.G.B. Here again, the skill of client-ship is absolutely vital, and we feel that Ministers will be called in for decisions 1085 far more often than is practical when Ministers have such a wide range of responsibilities.
The industrial responsibility imposed upon Ministers in all the very awkward industrial areas of space, defence, computers and nuclear power, will also call for constant Ministerial decision-making, however much we are successful in mobilising entrepreneurship and risk capital. Merely going through the list indicates—in coal, with its present problems, and gas, with the problems of the North Sea—the Ministerial burden that this new Department will impose.
As for steel, the House will realise that my hon. Friends and I do not think that it should be a Government responsibility. But there it is. The Government have nationalised steel. I do not believe that the Minister even referred to the immense range of problems which are current in steel—the need to raise productivity, the endemic labour tensions the need to carry through—if that is the industry's decision—the movement to product groups, with all the regional strains and tensions involved. Here is a field all on its own to which the Minister did not refer, which will call for a great deal of Ministerial time.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of clarification, would the right hon. Gentleman and his party keep the Ministry of Power in its original state? If so, how do they reconcile this with the clarion call to cut down the numbers of Ministers in the Government?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Some nationalised industries will call for different treatment. We very much regret that steel was nationalised. I am simply trying to draw the attention of the House to the aggregation of Ministerial burdens imposed by this Order. The Minister never referred to the steel industry. Everybody will agree that steel is filled with problems calling, from time to time, for Ministerial decision, simply because the Government those to nationalise it and take responsibility for it.
Then there is the whole range of research responsibility, where we suspect the Government are clinging to research empires which no longer in all cases fulfil a function. We believe that there should be a greater effort by the Government 1086 to hive off research wherever possible to private enterprise, with development contracts where necessary, and to reduce the sphere of research covered directly by Ministerial responsibility.
The Government are responsible within this Department for a whole range of high technology decisions and there are other Ministers involved in many of them. I repeat: I am a newcomer, but I am not convinced that the Government have, in all cases, made the right decision on high technology, be it CERN or E.L.D.O. I merely mention this to show that, in this Department, a number of these high technology decisions will have to be made by Ministers with other Ministers, and again there will be a strain on Ministerial time—
§ Sir K. Joseph
The high technology decisions, whether they are the immediate responsibility of the Department of Education and Science or of the Ministry of Technology, are obviously taken by Ministers, as the Minister himself said, in groups—sometimes formally and sometimes informally, but they certainly will impinge on Ministerial time—
§ Sir K. Joseph
CERN was a decision of the D.E.S., but the Ministry of Technology—I appeal to the Minister—was bound to have been consulted about it and about many other high technology matters. That must be so. If I am wrong, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will correct me when he winds up.
To add to this responsibility, there is the difficult and time-taking work involved in regional responsibility, with the immense number of decisions to be made about I.D.C.s, investment grants and all the old Board of Trade functions of regional deployment of industry.
Now, I come to perhaps the biggest job of all. We were encouraged to learn that the Paymaster-General will be handling it. That is the relationship with industry as a whole. Of course, contact with the Government is important, so that the Government should have an understanding of what industry needs and how the general pressures that the 1087 Government exercise impinge on industry. We are surprised that tariff and company law should not march with this responsibility, but I only ask the House now to consider, when these responsibilities are added together, whether they do not impose impossible burdens on the Ministers concerned.
There are some other activities of the Department which we would gladly see reduced. The Government know that we are very sceptical about the need for I.R.C., certainly as it now is, if the private enterprise system were enabled to work properly. I am even sceptical of the need for an enlarged N.R.D.C., if the private enterprise system were enabled to work properly. I do not deny that certain industries and sectors cannot flourish for themselves in the present state of world competition, where some form of Government help is necessary, but there is a whole range of industry which can be enabled to look after itself.
We are convinced that, in addition to these tasks, which are more or less necessary, there are some industrial busy-body functions which are not justified at all. I would include among these the industrial liaison scheme of the Ministry of Technology. I believe that there is cause to have cost-benefit studies made in the work connected with the machine tool industry. Certainly, it is not possible for an outsider to condemn these, but simply to say that there is reason to examine them with some scepticism. We believe that the whole rigmarole of intervention is not worth a few general pressures properly exercised.
So, in our view, there are some things which are not in which should perhaps be in a Ministry of Industry, there are some things in that need not be in, and there are some things in that Government should not be doing at all. The result is far more than any Minister or group of Ministers can properly be responsible for. The temptation for an overwhelmed Minister is to run around in large circles, feverishly active, achieving relatively little. We fear that the Minister may find that this comes easily to him, but the penalty for industry is more serious. If we are right in believing that the tasks will impose more decisions than Ministers can give, the real needs of industry will not be pursued or understood or the 1088 necessary persuasion or explanation done with other Government Departments.
The vast and amorphous jellyfish of a Department, we foresee, will be flabby and inert because it has been given too much to do. Delays due to size are just as serious as delays due to Cabinet committees. The Prime Minister has constructed a Ministry filled with divisions which will all need constant Ministerial decisions. We believe that those decisions will not be given. The Minister told us that there are about 100 civil servants or equivalent of the level of Under-Secretary or above. It will not be possible, m our view, for the Minister himself to know his top advisers, his top civil servants, and certainly access between the Ministers who have to give decisions and their advisers will be intensely difficult.
Are we asked to believe by the Minister that Lord Robens and the other heads of the nationalised industries will be content to deal with a Parliamentary Secretary, however virtuous and conscientious he may be? Of course not. The heads of industries will expect to deal with the Minister. In the fields which I have mentioned, decisions and interviews will fall upon the Minister. It is true that there are two Cabinet Ministers. What happens if they disagree? Do they take their disagreement to the Cabinet?
In our view the Department offers no coherent span of control. The art of a Government or of a Minister is to identify and to use the general pressure which will encourage people to do in their interests what is in the national interest. With this approach a Minister can have time for the difficult areas which abound in the field of the Ministry of Technology and which require specific Government decision or action. As conceived by the present Government and by this Minister—though not necessarily by the Paymaster-General—the approach which we should prefer will not be used. In our view the Minister will be torn into different bits by his excessive empire.
We certainly join with him in wishing all those concerned with the Ministry extremely well. We wish him personally well, although I for one wish that he had appeared a little more daunted by the scale of the job which he has taken on, because only if he is daunted will he and perhaps the Government begin to 1089 shed the things which the Government should delegate or should not be doing at all.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This last debate of the Session is very brief. Hon. Members have special contributions to make, if I can call them, and therefore I urge those who are called to be brief.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) tried hard to make of a simple Order a serious philosophical disagreement between the two Front Benches. It is nothing like that. It is about decision making and about the structure of Government. Some hon. Members may feel that it is an innocuous document and others may feel that it does not interpret the true decision-making processes of Government. But certainly I do not believe that there is a philosophical difference between the two Front Benches and therefore much of the right hon. Gentleman's argument is that much less valuable than it might have been.
By Thursday next the mating referred to in the Order takes place. Implicit in the change is the desire to give an even better service for trade and technology by combining and co-ordinating three Departments. Yet it must be said that changes in structure do not necessarily change attitudes nor do they make staffs agree nor do they encourage the sharing of a common objective. We have had evidence of this, it seems to me, in industries where there have been mergers. We have also found evidence of it in the trade union movement.
I make this simple observation: the fact that the Government have taken this step and that it has been justified in a very telling speech by my right hon. Friend may not be sufficient. We need to go much further if we want to ensure that the people in the Government Departments concerned—as my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is a very large number—understand it and want to make it work. The Order requires careful attention, not only for what it says but because it omits certain key matters associated with Government-industrial 1090 relations. I take the point, Mr. Speaker, that you wish hon. Members to be brief, and I shall be brief.
First, what are to be the functions of the State agencies in the area of Government industrial relations? There have been rumours in the newspapers—I naturally discount them and I would like to hear of this from the mouth of the Minister—on this issue. What is to happen to the Monopolies Commission, the Prices and Incomes Board and the Commission for Industrial Relations? Will they come within the ambit of the Ministry and, if so, how?
Secondly, is there to be a super board and is this being planned to match the super industrial Ministry? Rumours and anxieties have been expressed at the creation of such a colossus. I am not arguing the merits or demerits of the case but I am darned annoyed that neither a statement nor a hint hat been given of what the Government are cooking up on this point.
Thirdly, what was the reason for not including the science sector of the D.E.S. with Technology? There is increasing disquiet and disenchantment in the universities over the way in which the Government have failed to give the response to them that was promised.
Now we have a merger of Trade, Power and Technology and not a word about the rôle of the science sector. My right hon. Friend knows my concern to see this brought together with Technology. I have made this point to him many times, remembering that this is the practice in other European countries.
I must introduce a word of regret at the loss of two people connected with the merger, one indirectly and one directly. We all appreciate the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) who when at the Ministry of Technology was of great help and proved a great resource to many hon. Members on both sides. We regret his move.
The other personal sadness I have is in the science sector, particularly as this is so closely related to the debate tonight. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchen (Mrs. Shirley Williams). She too was of great assistance to us and it seems—in saying this I mean no dis- 1091 respect to her successor—that she was able to see intelligently and with sympathy this association between Science and Technology.
Fourthly, what part is industry expected to play in this reorganisation? What will be the criteria for restructuring industry? Are we to wait for another Weinstock to emerge for a decision to be made in the dozen or so vulnerable British industries, or are the Government ready to adopt a dynamic approach, as they have over computers?
The computer sector represents a success story. I hope that the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East recognises that this is a case where the Government took the initiative quite early on. They placed a great deal of money and expertise at the disposal of the management concerned. This has encouraged the establishment of a British company which is able to stand up to the great American giants.
In a recent tour of a number of East European countries which was undertaken by several of my hon. Friends and myself we were delighted to find that I.C.L. has not only gone into this somewhat difficult sphere of trade but in one country, in Czechoslovakia, has sold 21 machines. That has taken a lot of hard selling and service. We were impressed when talking with Government representatives and industrialists in East Europe to learn that this achievement arose because we had aggressive companies which knew the difficulties and were prepared to stay on the ground until the job was done. I should like to feel that this was an example to other British firms. However, the fact remains that support and assistance was required from the Government; and the success of the story reflects well on the intervention and approach which the Government took.
On the other hand, one might consider the way in which certain industries have not been stimulated. Consider, for example, nuclear reactors. Despite the fact that the Select Committee on Science and Technology is inclined to produce reports every couple of years urging the Government to take positive action no clear lead has been given.
Fifthly, how far does the proposed merger reflect the success or failure of 1092 previous mergers? The Minister should tell us the precise position on this score. For example was the Ministry of Aviation and Ministry of Technology merger of 1967 as successful as originally anticipated? Does this new merger attempt to lift up productivity and make it comparable with what has been spent on research and development? This is a crucial question.
The new Ministry of Technology empire must succeed at two different levels, at deciding what to do and at doing it. We spend more on research and development than any European country yet our productivity grows more slowly. For example, aircraft represent 2 per cent. of our exports yet 15 per cent. of our Research and Development. Conventional industries earn for us four times as much foreign money as our science-based industries.
We need a national investment policy for research and development. This may be a different exercise but it must be done. American firms spend about £20 million a year on technological forecasting. If we are to get the benefit of our new Ministry it is essential that we look at such forecasting.
If the change implied and required by this Instrument is to be made, then something more than the merging of these Ministries is needed. A careful assessment must be made of work practices and performance and not simply of methods, which is perhaps a common affliction among civil servants when trying to be efficient.
When dealing with such a large number of people and when bringing together such important services one must examine the entire system. Some of the characteristics of systems analysis are worth noting if the merger is to bring about improved and co-ordinated services. Whether we have discreet arguments about the philosophical differences and whether we would prefer to see individual sections of the new Ministry placed elsewhere, the real test will be whether this new Ministry, call it Technology or Industry, will provide a better coordinated service. That is the criterion and we must not lose sight of it.
This means that the question of improving the system within the organisation is extremely relevant. It is in this connection that we must consider the 1093 question of information collection, analysis and appraisal along with the improvement in decision making—for instance, the way in which decisions are taken now in both Ministries must come under sharper focus. The Minister will not be able to engage in matters of detail at, for example, the lower levels of decision-making in the new set-up and he will therefore need to allocate responsibility. That must be done at an early stage. In other words, he must satisfy himself that he has the right decision-making process at all levels, including the top level.
On the question of control within the Ministry a close watch must be kept on the various new standards of service and the performances of industry in different parts of the country. On specific industries, I ask my right hon. Friend to give attention to the industries of growth and innovation. He would agree that these are industries that will require greater care in the structure which he has proposed. I believe that they will be big business within the next few years.
Therefore, my right hon. Friend should say a word about the way that the new structure will give greater opportunity for these industries to flourish. I mention only a few—the small, nuclear reactor, video records, the small gas turbine, the all-electric motor car, specialised computer services, medical instrumentation and desalination.
There are many industries that other hon. Members will wish to mention, but it is important to show that the idea behind this merger and restructuring is not simply to create an empire, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East, but to give a better service. Better service in terms of industrial development, however, also means greater opportunities and greater exploitation of research and development.
I have offered these comments and criticisms briefly and, I trust, in a positive way. My right hon. Friend has a considerable task and responsibility in dealing with a service which is probably the most acute of all administered by the Government. Therefore, it will be under close scrutiny on both sides of the House. There is no doubt to me that my right hon. Friend is the most fitted person in the House to stimulate the enthusiasm to 1094 make the merger succeed. I wish him well.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
I will endeavour to be brief. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the rather casual, almost unnoticed, way in which the Ministry of Technology has now emerged as a totally transformed Ministry with powers and implications quite without any of the original significances with which it was invested. I want to talk a little about the composite powers now contained in Schedule 1 and, finally, about the challenge which it contains for hon. Members on this side of the House.
In considering the Ministry, it is profitable to reflect for a moment back to the very initiation of this Ministry in the Machinery of Government Bill in the debate on 19th November, 1964, when Parliament was invited to take part in a series of actions, the very first of which was to legitimise the creation of the Ministry. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said on that occasion thatit is a very odd Bill introduced in a very odd manner and involving some very grave issues of principle".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 656.]At that stage, one was still inclined to play it a little easy. In the debate, there were cracks about creating a prison without bars for Mr. Cousins. There was no vote on Second Reading. Again, on the Science and Technology Bill which created the initial component parts of the Ministry of Technology, there was no vote on Second Reading.
When the Ministry came to receive a transfusion by getting the power of the Ministry of Aviation, that was thought to be of such triviality as to be non-controversial business strictly for morning sittings. Although there was a vote on that occasion on the Closure because of some of the activities of my hon. Friends, who enjoyed the hilarity of those far-off days of the non-controversial morning sittings, there was no vote on the substantive Motion.
This evening, therefore, we now see this further immense accretion of powers. I take it that there will be no vote. If, however, all those incidents had been telescoped so that at one go we could have seen the intent and the implication of the creation of this Ministry, I believe 1095 that the reaction of the House—not just of this side, but all sides—would have been a great deal more searching and critical.
I believe that the clue in our perhaps casual approach to this matter lies in the speech just given by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman), who said that the Order was a very simple one, rather like saying that the first Commandment is a very simple Commandment. In a sense that is true, but it does not make it any the less significant or, some people would say, any the less controversial. Therefore, we do not want to deceive ourselves, despite the rather bland and almost disarming innocence of the Ministry of Technology, that what we are being asked to do tonight is to assent to the creation of one of the most powerful industrial Ministries at work in any of the Western democracies.
My second point concerns the component powers that are now offered to this Ministry in the Statutory Instrument that we are asked to pass. As the Minister said in his introductory speech, this was to be a unified Ministry. He was not going to preside over a kind of conglomerate. It is interesting how the right hon. Gentleman takes over the language of the City and of the take-over jungle. He said that it was quite right that we should examine what the objectives of the new Department would be. He talked about the philosophy behind the change. Therefore, let not the hon. Member for Billericay chide my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) for talking about the philosophy of the differences when the word "philosophy" was first employed in this debate at the Box by the Minister of Technology.
Why should we be ashamed to dispute and debate the philosophy of government? In most cases, that is why we have been sent here. We have not been sent here to be pettifogging experts on moving the pieces of the Whitehall chessboard around, interesting and fascinating though that might be, especially for certain heavyweight columnists of the Sunday Press.
I asked my right hon. and hon. Friends and the House to consider the enormous accretion of power that is now proposed. There are the powers once vested in the 1096 Ministry of Aviation. It is sad that the Minister presents the Order on the day that Rolls-Royce reports a slump in profits and a cut in dividends—not quite the success story that comes from association with government that is as presented by some supporters of the Government.
In Article 4 we have the Minister taking responsibility for the I.R.C. Many of us are taking increasingly hostile interest in the activities and actions of the I.R.C. Paragraph 1(f) of Schedule 1 deals with the vital spending and loan powers which the Board of Trade has exercised hitherto in respect of the aluminium smelters, and just to show how non-partisan I am I will refer to paragraph 1(e) and the embarrassing business of the pulp and paper mills at Fort William, Paragraph 4 deals with investment grants, and that goes a long way towards the £1,500 million to which the Minister referred.
In parenthesis, and in the regrettable absence of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), I point out that if we aggregate to that amount the £900 million investment programme for the nationalised industries it takes this Ministry above the Ministry of Defence in spending powers, and all the indications are that this is the Ministry on a rising curve and, if we understand them aright, the Government consider the Ministry of Defence to be on a falling curve.
Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 deals with subsidies and physical controls vested in that sacred subject, the location of industry, and there is an immensely important ultimate sanction on capital spending of the nationalised industries in the power section referred to in Article 2.
We might ask ourselves to what end all these powers are collected and vested in a new Minister. I grant that it is difficult to regard the Minister of Technology and the Paymaster-General as twin standard bearers in the tradition of Keir Hardie, but I do not think that we ought to be too easily thrown off the scent of new style Socialism, and the principles referred to in "Agenda for a Generation". There, we read:In the public sector, we should certainly consider the establishment of a new Ministry —to be charged with the task of looking at the whole field of public industrial development to promote an increasing measure of co-ordination in investment planning between the various Ministries and public agencies.1097 Is not that a superb description of what this Ministry sets out to do?
Of course, the Paymaster-General may ask, "What is wrong with that?" It is in his party's policy. But I am a member of a party which contests that policy, and does not regard this present legislative proposal as some kind of technical non-controversial affair.
The same Labour Party statement refers to…the establishment of a new State Holding Company as the base for seizing new economic opportunities, including those in the development areas. We regret that public enterprise has not figured more prominently in regional economic planning.Those, again, are the very powers now being transferred to this Ministry to enable that part of Socialist policy to be promoted.
Nothing could be more apposite to paragraph 1(a) of Schedule 1 than the reference in "Agenda for a Generation" toThe use of the Industrial Expansion Act to create new Industrial Boards, on the lines of the Shipbuilding Board, for other industries where crucial structural reforms must come.
§ Mr. Biffen
I believe that the itch for intervention which is so apparent in "Agenda for a Generation" is already being consummated in this Order. That in turn raises the question what should be the attitude from this side of the House. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East made the specific attack that he did upon the Order. I accept his statement that this Department is too big for any one Minister, but I hope that the inference that is drawn from that is not to create another Minister but to dismantle as early as is possible major component parts of this Ministry and that, instead of "Agenda for a Generation", we shall have "Agenda for Freedom" and that there will be various parts of this empire which is being created by this Order which will be handed back to free enterprise.
1098 I was delighted that my right hon. Friend picked out the I.R.C. as being obviously a candidate which he was regarding with the same sort of scepticism as I believe is widely felt on these benches. I could add many others. I shall doubtless have other occasions when I can do this in the year that lies ahead, for there is no doubt that this Order marks out the ground on which battles will be fought for the loyalties and the confidence of electors over the coming months. The Order should be seen as the challenge of the new-style Socialism which it certainly is. And it is a challenge which I gladly accept.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I do not know that I can necessarily agree with the arguments which have been advanced by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), but I confess that I rather liked the way in which he approached the subject, because this, as he said, is an important matter. The House of Commons never ceases to amaze me. The Order in front of us is a proposal for sweeping changes in government and the organisation of Ministries, and my right hon. Friend rather hopes that Members will be interested. I can assure him that we are definitely interested.
I am especially interested in the sad death of the Ministry of Power. When I read, I think it was in bed on a Sunday morning, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had taken this decision I thought, "He has shot my fox"; because, if there is one Ministry that I have pursued on and off since I have been a Member on and off, it has been the Ministry of Power. It is a little sad that it is now being buried in this rather rough fashion at this time of the night.
It is worth recalling something of the history of this Department. It was started towards the end of the war years. It was during the lifetime of Mr. Macmillan's Government that the title was changed from "Fuel and Power" to "Power". This was heralded at the time with a mighty blast of trumpets, it being said that this was a new departure. No doubt Mr. Macmillan at that time tried to think of a new name. He obviously avoided calling it the "Ministry 1099 of Energy", because that would have provoked unkind reflections. He called it the "Ministry of Power". The late Lord Mills was brought in to head it, if I remember rightly. In the end it was clear to most of us that it was simply a question of dropping "Fuel" from the title. Things went on much as before. It would, therefore, be a pity if this was the case again, because the main loser would be the House of Commons in the matter of parliamentary accountability.
The Order is strikingly simple. It just takes from the 1945 Act the words "the Minister of Fuel and Power" and substitutes "the Minister of Technology". That seems to be the substantial change in the Order in reference to the Ministry of Power. The effect is that the wide-ranging responsibilities within the new Department of the old Minister of Power go on just the same. It is worth looking at those responsibilities.
First, the Minister has responsibility for the co-ordination of all sources of fuel and power, not only in the nationalised fuel and power industries, but in the oil industry as well. He has specific powers of direction in relation to the national interest which are given to him by the nationalisation Acts. He has to approve the detailed capital programmes of the coal, gas, electricity and steel industries. He exercises many duties in relation to electrical safety. He appoints and looks after the nuclear inspectorate. He certifies electricity and gas meters for accuracy. Perhaps my right hon. Friend did not appreciate what he was taking on, but these are some of the jobs which he must do. Another responsibility—and there may be others—is that he has to carry through a vast range of informal consultation with the chairmen of the nationalised industries.
That is a rough and ready list of the Minister of Power's duties. I suspect that after we have agreed this Order all these duties and all this work will tend to go on just the same. It would be surprising if that were not so. It will be done by the same people and same officials. Papers will go into the "in" basket and out of the "out" basket. The same committees and sub-committees will meet, and there will be the same consultations and occasionally, inevitably, the same delays.
1100 However, the respected Parliamentary figure occupying the former Minister's chair will not, I suspect, be my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, because presumably he will still be in his own chair, but my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, whose charm, ability and efficiency are known and respected by all of us. I take it that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General will answer Questions in the House, will open the fuel and power debates and, presumably, will introduce Bills dealing with the former responsibilities of the Minister of Power. But the difficulty from the point of view of the House of Commons is that in future the statutory responsibility will be not with the Paymaster-General, but with the Minister of Technology. In other words, my right hon. Friend the Minister will have the responsibility but the work will be done by the Paymaster-General and the House will find that in the matter of accountability the Ministry has passed one stage away from it. If I am wrong, I should be glad to be corrected.
This change represents, to a certain extent, a counter movement to that in which I have been active for three or four years, namely, the establishment of Select Committees, with the intention of bringing Ministers closer to the House for examination of their policies. I have no objection in principle to an enlarged Ministry of Technology or an enlarged Ministry of Industry. I believe that all Governments should treat industry as industry, whether it is privately or publicly owned. Therefore, I reject entirely the recommendation of a Ministry of Nationalised Industries made by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries.
That is a misunderstanding of industrial reality. But from the point of view of Parliamentary control some very real problems do emerge when one attempts to place side by side under the umbrella of one Ministry industries that have such different responsibilities and relationships to Government.
The true logic of this change, which has administrative merits, is that the legislative straitjacket in which the nationalised fuel and power industries are at present held should for the future be loosened. There is then a better chance of the new Ministry standing in roughly the same fair relationship to all the industries, 1101 whether publicly or privately owned; to enable the publicly-owned fuel and power industries to evolve, develop and diversify according to their own judgment, their own needs and according to commercial conditions.
Then I think it would be proper in the future for the inspectorate and licensing duties of the Ministry to be transferred to independent Ministries. The Ministry of Technology should not in future be concerned with enforcing electrical safety regulations, for example. That, surely, should now be done by an independent body. This argument could be applied to several other statutory duties of the present Ministry of Power, which should probably never have gone to that Ministry but which were taken over from previous Ministries. This issue should be carefully sifted; the general public and workers in the industries should be independently protected and the Ministry not allowed to be judge in its own case. In short, it is not good enough by itself to bring together into one grouping the responsibilities of previously separate Ministries without looking in a philosophical spirit at what those Ministries will do when joined in a new whole.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
For greater clarification, when the hon. Gentleman speaks of independent Ministries, does he mean independent public agencies?
§ Mr. Palmer
I do not know about that; it would need to be looked at in particular cases. Electrical safety, which to a considerable extent is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Power and is to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Technology, might be undertaken entirely by the Department of Employment and Productivity under the Factory Acts as successors to the Ministry of Labour, because the safety of employees and the public is concerned. This is just one example of what I have in mind.
The House of Commons must look to other Instruments to exercise its responsibilities in these changing circumstances. I am doubtful whether the process of parliamentary questioning and Adjournment debates has anything like the effectiveness it once had when Ministries were smaller and more closely in contact with the House as a whole. I need hardly say that the instrument that 1102 I would recommend would be the greater extension of Select Committees generally, because Select Committees have the advantage of being able to examine all subjects of the Crown on all matters of public interest.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
In opening the debate, the Minister attached importance to the informality of discussions between Ministers, and he instanced the consideration of the Concorde project. He painted a picture of Ministers meeting, without any papers, informally, to discuss this project. This alarmed me. I spent a long time as a civil servant, and one of the great problems, it was clear to myself and my colleagues, was to make sure that one's Minister knew what he was talking about when he went to a meeting with other Ministers. If the Government have adopted the practice of having informal meetings without papers, that may explain a great deal of what has gone on over the last five years.
§ Mr. Benn
That is a fair point, but none of the decisions or reviews which the Government engage upon on the Concorde project is done other than after the most careful and detailed analyses have been produced. But, in the kinds of projects concerning the Board of Trade, ourselves and other Departments, an informality of practice is very helpful.
§ Mr. Blaker
I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance. However well briefed Ministers have been on the Concorde and whatever practice they have adopted, it has not led to any effective control of costs.
Yet that is not my main point. If there had been time, I would have liked to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), because I find myself in agreement with much of his speech.
I want rather to take up two modest points. The first concerns the division of responsibilities between the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade will be a severely reduced Department. Broadly speaking, it will have responsibility for the service industries, for matters like company law, and for export promotion and import policy.
1103 In terms of responsibility for the service industries, the separation of powers between the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade is likely to be unfortunate. Here we have a situation which perpetuates the lack of importance which the Government have attached to the service industries. It is clear that the Minister of Technology is to be the golden boy of this Government. This is the high-powered, dynamic, purposive Ministry to which will be attached so much importance by the Government. Indeed it has two Ministers in the Cabinet.
With a truncated Board of Trade, which will have a less powerful voice in the Cabinet, we shall see perpetuated the error of this Government, of which the country is now becoming aware, of attaching less importance to invisibles than to manufactures.
One of the other responsibilities of the Board of Trade is for export promotion and import and tariff policy. Here again, we have a situation which has its dangers. We have the big Ministry responsible for manufacturing. It will listen to the voice of manufacturing industry, which, no doubt, will press for protection. We have the less important Ministry responsible for tariff policy. That situation is not a happy one.
My second point is about the problem of demarcation disputes. I think that we shall see a lot of them over the next year or so. I quote one example, because it is symptomatic of the situation.
I put down to the Minister of Technology for answer tomorrow two Questions about supplies of nickel. It is a subject causing industry a great deal of concern because of the shortage of supplies and the fantastic rise in prices recently. One Question asks what action the Minister is taking to overcome the present shortage. The other Question is about the level of stocks. The former Question has been transferred to the Board of Trade. The other one has not and presumably remains with the Minister of Technology.
If one Question was to be transferred, I would have expected it to be the other one. One would have thought that the Minister of Technology would have re- 1104 tained responsibility for saying what is being done to overcome the present shortage. However, that has been transferred to the Board of Trade, and the Minister of Technology will deal with the level of stocks. I mention this as an example of the kind of problem which will arise. Perhaps the Minister, in winding up, will tell me why that transfer has been made and, if he can explain that, why the other Question was not transferred as well.
Another point concerns the demarcation of responsibility between the Ministry of Technology and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Planning. I understood the Minister to say that the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Planning would be responsible for regional economic planning, including responsibility for the regional economic planning councils and boards. He said that his Ministry would take over from the Board of Trade responsibility for I.D.C.s and investment grants, and, in addition—and this is the important point—the responsibilities which the Department of Economic Affairs had previously exercised on regional economic industrial policy.
For the last couple of years I have wrestled with the problem of trying to clear up the division of responsibility between the Board of Trade and the Department of Economic Affairs over regional economic policy. I have asked the Ministry about it, but I have never been given a clear explanation. The best that I could discover was that the Department of Economic Affairs was responsible for the formulation of broad policy when it came to regional economic matters and the Board of Trade was responsible for its execution.
I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I understood the Minister to say that in future his Ministry will be responsible for the formulation of regional economic policy and for its execution, and that the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Planning will also be responsible for the formulation of economic policy. The Minister shakes his head. I must have misunderstood him. Because of the importance of regional economic policy to the House, perhaps the Minister will make the position clear.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) called this change one of the most powerful Ministries of any Western democracy. I will not try to imitate the hon. Gentleman's florid language in this revelation, but it is clear that we are witnessing a massive accretion of power to the Ministry and a very important change in the machinery of government.
The Fulton Committee had something to say about the machinery of government. Because of the shortage of time I will not quote from paragraph 293 of the Report. It is sufficient to comment on this paragraph that the idea of setting up a Royal Commission to examine the machinery of government was dismissed because it was outside the Committee's terms of reference. But, as a member of the Fulton Committee, I was against an examination by Royal Commission for another reason: that any change in the machinery of government in a modern world is a continuing process.
We cannot wait for a Royal Commission to report on these matters, because they change too rapidly. The effect of the benefits that might be obtained from an examination would, to a large extent, be lost. I prefer to see a continuing change based on changing reality.
The Fulton Committee discussed secrecy, and in paragraph 280 stated:This shows that open government is possible; we suggest that the Government should set up an inquiry to make recommendations for getting rid of unnecessary secrecy in this country.The Prime Minister agreed with it and we all agreed with it in a debate in this House on the Fulton Report. Nevertheless, very little was done in this respect, and further action has been very disappointing. An inquiry was set up, but it did not produce very much lessening of secrecy within the Civil Service.
The important thing about the changes that we are witnessing here is that two tenets of the Fulton Committee have been offended. There was no recommendation for a Royal Commission on the machinery of government, but it was accepted that there would be an open discussion on the subject. If one argued for or against a Royal Commission, one was arguing about methods, not that this matter should not be discussed.
1106 The second Fulton tenet that was offended was that relating to secrecy. We asked for a massive increase in the amount of open discussion on the methods of government, and here we are introducing a massive change in the machinery of government. This is a matter of immense importance, yet it was not discussed as we requested. The matter was dealt with in secrecy. We are told that it was not even discussed in the Cabinet.
I feel very sad that this proposal did not receive the attention that it ought to have received. Had it been discussed openly, the experience of hon. Members and those commentators who are becoming increasingly knowledgeable on these matters could have been brought to bear on the subject. We are led to believe that the Minister; themselves did not tender any advice on this matter. If that is so, it is very sad, because they could have given a great deal of information about the way in which their Departments function.
This is arrogating to civil servants far too important a position. Once we exclude political comment and discussion, either within the House or outside it, we arrogate to civil servants far too important a rôle in deciding how the country is run. This is a very serious matter, because the way in which these matters are organised to a large extent determines a number of decisions that flow from that. Once we leave these matters to civil servants to decide, the whole decision on the shape of Government Departments is left to them.
The reasons given for this course of action are secrecy and administrative convenience. Arguments can always be adduced for doing things secretly. When industrial mergers are proposed, employees become apprehensive about their jobs and about the changes proposed. The Government realise the need to refer mergers to the Monopolies Commission. The delays caused by such a reference create a great deal of difficulty, but the Government accept that such delays are a lesser inconvenience than mergers that are wrongly planned. If the Government decide these matters on behalf of industry, they must not decide that in their own interests secrecy is paramount.
I feel very sorry that these changes have been brought about in this way. I 1107 hope that the Government will learn that this House and the people can be consulted, that their advice can be heeded, and that we can all take part in a debate on these important matters.
Having said that, I must tell the House that I support the Motion. I support it because I see clearly the distinction between a Ministry of Industry and a Ministry of External Trade. I always felt that there was this clear division between industry itself and external trade—which was very much muddied by the Board of Trade and the actions of various Ministries. That they have got it precisely right is unlikely, because there are bound to be some changes between the various Departments, but broadly it is right. The distinction can be made between industry and external trade. This is broadly the sort of situation we have now, and I feel that it is a very important step forward.
But the big task that the new Ministry of Technology has is to create a climate between Government and industry different from what has existed for the past century, or even longer. It is because of our industrial history that we have had a climate of suspicion between Government and industry. It is part of a tradition which we share almost uniquely with the United States. In the United States and Britain industry started by itself, and Government came in subsequently to regulate the activities of industry. So industry looked upon Government with suspicion, as somebody that always meddled.
Countries with which we can compare ourselves more readily in the modern world—countries like Japan, France and Germany—do not have this tradition, because in their cases—in Japan almost entirely—Government created their industry, so that industry looks upon Government as a friend—as people who come up with ideas worthy of support and worthy of taking into account. This kind of partnership is natural to countries in a similar situation to ourselves in terms of industrial development and the need for exports, but they have a tradition which because of our background we have not been able to obtain.
One of the important things is that we have a piece of machinery which can do this—the Ministry of Industry—which I hope will be in a position, as in Japan, 1108 and other countries, to back projects, to back men, which is even more important and, most important of all, to create a new breed of men in Government circles who understand industry and can work with it. We must have an educative process between one and the other. We must not have a Civil Service type and an industry type, unable to communicate with each other. We must have to an increasing degree people who can move freely between one and the other—who can create a partnership, so that Government can bring to bear some of the advantages that they have in seeing the overall view and so that industry can see the problems of Government in having to move in certain directions.
That is the hope that I have for the Ministry, and that is what prompts me to accept the Order.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
I came into the debate with mixed feelings. I have always borne in mind, particularly in recent debates, words of many of my hon. Friends that all Governments are incompetent, so the less we give them to do the better. I would add that the larger a Ministry grows the more difficult it is for that Ministry to undertake the task given to it efficiently and effectively.
My interest, coming from an industrial background, has covered such fields as science, which will rest with the Department of Education and Science and which only indirectly involves this new Ministry; commerce, exports and imports, which are mainly Board of Trade matters and are still outside the concern of the new Ministry; investment grants and the regional location of industry, which will now be the concern of the Ministry; technology, in the scientific sense, in which this Ministry will still occupy a pioneering role, as in recent years, and heavy industry and power.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has reflected many of my own reservations when he and I have been in debates concerned with the growth of the Ministry of Technology. This is another revolutionary arrangement which complies remarkably well with the concept so lucidly explained in "Agenda for a Generation". So, if 1109 Conservatives are suspicious, hon. Members opposite must realise that it is because of their propagandists and the documents which they produce at their party conferences.
The Minister has glibly and in an attractive manner outlined the rôle of his new Department. I say this with no disrespect, because we are discussing tonight a matter of great moment—the growth of one more Ministry. He said that there are 38,000 staff in the Ministry of Technology, of which nearly 10,000 will be qualified scientists and engineers. The budget is about £1,500 million and capital expenditure in power alone is £900 million. To what extent can efficiency be combined with such scale? As Minister of Technology, the right hon. Gentleman supported the activities of the British Institute of Management, and expertise in modern industrial management has been one of the responsibilities of his Department. Surely the Prime Minister has set him a problem of communication and co-ordination between the various divisions of the Ministry. Might he not have to dismember some of his activities so as to retain the efficiency of the Ministry?
I said that I entered the debate with mixed feelings, since I, like many others, have supported the concept of a Ministry of Industry, embracing the nationalised and private sectors, this to include the concept of Technology, so that I have favoured a Ministry of Industry and Technology. To continue to describe this Ministry as a Ministry of Technology is surely one of the biggest misnomers of all time; perhaps some of its functions should be among those cut off. Aviation in its present form also sticks out like a sore thumb, and that could be considered in the near future. But it is too early to judge this Ministry in its new clothes. I will not follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in discussing the merits and demerits of intervention versus private enterprise being allowed to get on with its job.
We have spoken of suspicion between industry and Government. If industry is bled white with high interest rates, the credit squeeze, corporation tax, and higher social security contributions and is fighting for profit margins, it is no won- 1110 der that some companies have staggered under the burden. I do not imply that these industries consider that the Ministry of Technology has had a part to play in this ducking operation. Anyone who is drowning will clutch at a straw, and some have found such a straw in the Ministry of Technology. When the Ministry has the lifesaving apparatus, its help has been accepted and welcomed, but in the circumstances, does this increase or decrease the suspicion which goes with the new rôle of this enlarged Ministry.
The machinery for intervention in industry has never been more powerful. Many hon. Members opposite have accepted that there has been an accretion of power, resulting in excessive control of industry from Whitehall, requiring Ministerial decisions of great moment. Will Ministers be able to do the necessary homework to understand the many problems which they will have to tackle in this field?
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), spoke about the rôle of the Committee. A Ministry of this size will have to be looked at by Parliament, but many of its activities I would prefer to see not the concern of Parliament at all. There will be the problem of Parliamentary Questions. May we be given some lead as to what will happen next Session? Three Ministers have been answering Questions on a subject which is to be handled by one Minister. Will there be extra time for Parliamentary Questions? In what other way can we supervise the vast capital expenditure of this Department? I hope that in concluding the debate the Minister will indicate how Parliament will tackle the problem.
Reference has been made to the Fulton Report. I have developed on other occasions the thoughts of the Romanes lectures by Winston Churchill in which he considered the concept of a Third Parliament. We have not yet seriously thought of that possibility in the House. The main concept was that it should deal primarily with economics rather than with industry, but might not this be an essential development if one Ministry is to deal with all industry.
It is relevant that we still have science as an academic subject separated from 1111 technology. It has been suggested that the Minister of Technology should take science on board, too, but heaven forbid; he has enough on board already. It is as well that it is left with another Ministry. There were suggestions that in the Ministry of Power one Minister will be responsible for the industry supplying equipment to the electricity industry and for the electricity industry and that the same Minister will be responsible for the industry providing equipment for the steel industry and for the steel industry itself. So far so good, but will he be able to co-ordinate these differing any better? I should like an explanation of how this will be possible.
It was not my intention to speak for long, but in previous debates I have asked the Minister of Technology for a more elaborate explanation of these activities—more elaborate than the Written Answer which was given yesterday. I urge him to provide for the House and industry an organisation chart which has already been published in the Blue Book.
It is essential that the existence of this new Ministry should be looked at in the near future from the point of view of the industrialist, whether his concern is on the one hand with the technological or a scientific aspect of his business, or on the other hand, manufacturing operations. What are to be his new relations with the Government after these changes have been made? Most industrialists have not yet absorbed the significance of the proposed changes in so far as they concern the relationship between Government and industry or, more particularly, industry's new partnership with the Government. I am in some difficulty because I have always supported a partnership between industry and Government. I would not oppose extending this partnership. But I urge hon. Members opposite to understand that unless the Government remove the suspicion that this move has aroused, that relationship will be very difficult to establish. There is a suspicion that there will be increasing intervention and direction by Whitehall. If the Ministry exercise that type of direction too viciously that suspicion will not be removed and the Ministry's task will be all the more difficult.
1112 We have a Ministry of Technology with a bigger rôle and new Ministers in office. In previous debates we have wished Ministers well when they have taken on new powers. I wish them well on this occasion. I would sooner see them succeed than fail. I assure hon. Members opposite that management, staff and the shop floor in industry want them to succeed and not to fail. The responsibility as to the outcome is theirs.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
I think that it would be churlish if we did not wish my right hon. Friend well in his new Ministry, although I must add that I would have preferred this experiment to have taken place earlier in the life of this Parliament rather than near the end of it.
One of my hon. Friends has spoken of the Minister of Power in terms of "bribing the fox" but I must say that to some extent I have "shadowed" the Minister of Power ever since I came into this House and would ask whether there is any attempt at "bribing the fox" now. I want to assure my hon. Friends that there is considerable difficulty for any right hon. or hon. Member in following the Minister of Power, and there would be a very considerable difficulty in resuscitating the Ministry of Power.
I was not at all clear in my own mind, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology was speaking from the Front Bench about mining, what it was that he meant when he mentioned pit closures. Would my right hon. Friend tell us how he sees his responsibility for the mining industry in relation to the question of those closures? We have heard of technological efficiency, but I hope that we shall not just have technological efficiency without administrative efficiency. I hope, in other words, that we shall not have administrative efficiency for efficient administration's sake, but will see, and be told, the reasons for decisions about pit closures.
There are hon. Members on this side of the House who will object very strongly to any acceleration of pit closures if they are told simply that such and such a pit has been closed for administration's sake. I find myself in some difficulty when I hear that one Ministry only is to be responsible for 1113 the formulation of economic activity in this sphere, but that my right hon. Friend's Ministry is to be responsible for its implementation. I am confused, and I think that there is some confusion on the other side of the House as well.
This is especially important so far as economic activity in Scotland is concerned. What relationship has the Minister to the implementation of economic activity in Scotland? What part does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have to play? Has there been any change in his powers? I believe that many of my hon. Friends would like to know that answer and, on that note, I will finish.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ The Paymaster-General (Mr. Harold Lever)
This has been an interesting debate, with a tone of moderation prevailing, although certain fundamental as well as detailed questions have been raised. I will try, first, to deal with the general points, and then go into detail as I proceed.
What we have done is not to take any new powers. We have aggregated the powers which obtained until new proposals were made. If I may be rash enough to make a criticism of the Government that has not so far been made, it is that this has been too long delayed rather than it being premature and too impetuously undertaken, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) suggested.
There has been considerable public debate of this issue for a long time. I suggest that, if anything, this restructuring of Government follows events which have pointed to it for some time; and, as it develops, this step will prove to be welcome to those who seek increasing efficiency and the businesslike operation of those Departments of Government which are particularly concerned with business.
The more one accepts the responsibility of the Government in business matters, the more the Government are obliged to be businesslike. This is a businesslike proposal and although it is easy—I sympathise with the feeling of many hon. Members about this—to be apprehensive of a very large Department with a large personnel, I emphasise that no new powers are being taken and that this is an orderly aggregation of existing powers.
1114 In making this rationalisation, we have institutionalised the view that macro and micro economics to some extent march together—this was sensed by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph)—that nationalised and private industry should not be locked in watertight compartments, and that there should be a Department which is responsible for the greater part of our nationalised industries and in continuous contact with and maintaining a two-way dialogue with the private sector, or with 80 per cent. of our national industry.
That is the purpose of this exercise and I accept that if one holds the philosophy, which was frankly expounded by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East and supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen)—not to my surprise—that the function of Government is to, as he put it, engage in management of demand, to make the proper fiscal arrangements and provide a suitable infrastructure in which industry may operate, so that the rest can be safely left to operate spontaneously to the ultimate collective advantage, thereby creating a climate favourable to prospering industry, then such a theory is very wide of reality.
Indeed, the concept of the modern Government's duty is different from that of the pre-war Government, who thought that the weather and the overall out-turn of the economy were not their responsibility but that of more divine rulers. That concept has been abandoned. Once one accepts that the Government have an overall responsibility for the out-turn of the economy and for its performance, then it is impossible for one to stick for long to the naїve view that all that the Government need do to give effect to that responsibility is to engage in the turning on or turning off of the tap of demand—or, in the more popular language of debate in the last 20 years or so, to engage in the use of the break and accelerator. A modern economy cannot be run that way, not with the responsibility which any modern Government have and with the concepts which the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East and his hon. Friends have boldly advanced today.
For example, how does one bring about the major structural changes in industry that are required? How does one, for example, restructure the coal industry 1115 by creating a climate favourable to enterprise, profit and employment? Only one organisation, the Government, can do it and one cannot leave to individual firms, however well intentioned, this task of restructuring industry, and no country needs the restructuring of industry more vitally than ours.
That is because we were pre-eminent in industrial development. For this reason—for this heritage which applies to us more than to any Western European country—we have out-of-date industry which needs to be restructured to adapt our country and economy to the task of earning the high standard of life to which we have become accustomed. It was earned in the days of our industrial pre-eminence. Only by adaptation will we be able to keep this high standard and make our industry viable in the face of competition.
§ Sir K. Joseph
That may be true of some industries, coal mining among them, but most industries will respond to the market. If the steel industry had not been nationalised, the restructuring of the industry would have taken place spontaneously, some parts of it growing and some going bankrupt, under private enterprise, far more efficiently than will now be the case when every change needs the approval of the Minister.
§ Mr. Lever
I was going on to refer to the steel industry. It is not as if it did not have many opportunities to restructure itself. No one who looks at the industry as it was taken over by us could claim that it was then in a posture for the task which faces it in the modern British economy, struggling to maintain the high standard of life which we earned in the past and have to earn in the future to maintain it.
The steel industry is a case in point, but there are others, like the textile industry. Even the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were led to abandon their pure doctrine and to attempt the reorganisation of the textile industry, belatedly and abruptly, instead of seeking the continuous dialogue with industry which we are seeking in this new Ministry of Industry, as it were. They left things as they were, according to their doctrine, until the facts of life forced them to intervene.
1116 The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor Government intervened in the steel industry in the case of Colvilles, rightly as I thought at the time, because although my party was suspicious of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, my attitude was that if a man steals your clothes you may challenge his integrity, but you ought not to challenge his sartorial taste. They were interventionists, but they only intervene belatedly and without the set philosophy and without the coherent economic plan or philosophy to direct their intervention.
Unless the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends—and I do not wish this to happen—wish to be represented as Rip Van Winkles, they will have to do better than this. I am positively astonished that anybody can make the assertions the right hon. Gentleman made to which I have referred. This is not the only aspect in which one cannot justify the attempt of Government to take over economic responsibility and discharge it by the broad brush strokes of macro-economics. There is a whole range of activities where nobody could seriously challenge that something more detailed is required if a macro-economic policy is to work at all.
It is easy at the golf club bar, or even an enthusiastic part of the Conservative conference—provided that one does not choose the Young Conservatives—to assert in a generalised way that the Government are intervening in a meddlesome and destructive manner but they have been long on generalisation and short on condescending to particulars. We have not heard of a detailed case of meddlesomeness by the Ministry of Technology, as it was under my right hon. Friend.
Although I do not usually repeat compliments—while I have heard a great deal about generalised complaints about "big brother" from people who have not been subject to intervention by that Ministry, from the industrialists who deal with my right hon. Friend. I hear with total unanimity a story of useful work which that Department has been doing under my right hon. Friend. I do not hear any of this talk of arm twisting, "big brothering" and other horrors for which my right hon. Friend is thought 1117 to be responsible and for which, presumably, he will be responsible in an even bigger way.
To come to the point of the bankruptcy theory advanced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East and the hon. Member for Oswestry. I often think that the hon. Member is so wed to and determined in his out-of-date views that he thinks that because his watch has stopped, time has stood still. He really ought to look at some of the things that have been happening during the last 20 or 30 years around us. Let me give him two examples.
§ Mr. Biffen
May I assure that right hon. Gentleman that far from feeling that, I am constantly embarrassed, for example, by the way in which the Government, in their adherence to the theory of the money supply, are coming round to views which I have been advocating from this bench for some time?
§ Mr. Lever
I can perfectly understand the hon. Member's preference for the 19th century. What I must, however, question is his continually acting and arguing as though he were still there.
Let me take some of the points which might have come to the right hon. Gentleman's and the hon. Gentleman's attention when they advanced these philosophic arguments, as they call them. Do they believe in regional help? Do they think that we should not have brought into being the aluminium smelters? These are not broad-brush strokes, but are the larger micro economics. Should we have abandoned the computer industry? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that when we have, for example, a policy of encouraging efficiency, and encouraging efficiency which inevitably produces redundancies, it means that sometimes one takes a factory—I think of a specific case—takes over its work, put it in another factory and one ends up by doing the job of two factories rather more efficiently in one with fewer people, although it means, however, redundancy in human terms?
Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that it is no responsibility of Government, morally and economically, to provide the work for the factory and for the men who have been displaced, or help to do so? Whom does the right hon. Gentleman think will provide that 1118 work if the Government, with their knowledge, information services and the like, their access to and continuous contact with private and public interest, do not do so? If they are as indifferent as they are invited to be by the right hon. Gentleman, when these firms are closed down as industry is modernised and rationalised, who will play the rôle of speeding up the employment of these people and of these idle factories? I know that the right hon. Gentleman will say that in the right climate this will all be done by private enterprise with great speed, but the Government do it with great speed. They attempt to co-ordinate the efforts of private industry so that, more surely than would be the case by the natural processes on which the right hon. Gentleman is anxious that we should rely, these human beings will not even temporarily, for not an unnecessary day, be left on the scrap heap and these valuable factory premises are not an unnecessary day left idle and unused.
Another matter which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends seem to forget is that we are living in a modern world in which even Conservative Governments have accepted that there will be a large sector, although not as large as we have it—they would rather have it a little smaller—in which we must have nationalised industry. Must the Government take no responsibility for co-ordinating some of the efforts of private industry and nationalised industry?
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman two examples of where any objective industrialist would reject outright the kind of naїve doctrine which we are asked to applaud this evening. One is in nuclear design. Members of the right hon. Gentleman's own party on the Select Committee recommended, perfectly rightly, that left to itself, private industry would result in fragmented 50 or 60 design teams for nuclear power stations. Of course, we are not to have 50 or 60. Had we done as was suggested to we would have had 50 or 60 half-baked nuclear power station design teams and certainly not the two which we have brought about. The reason we have been able to bring them about is because here was an attempt to co-ordinate the needs of the public electricity service with the availabilities of private construction and supply.
1119 By organising the matter, as only the Government could organise with the help of nationalised industry, on a rational basis, we have ended up not with the spontaneous generation of fragmented, half-baked design teams in great and unnecessary number and with contractors not knowing whether or not they were likely to get orders and so unable to prepare to meet orders with efficiency and foresight.
When we have perfect harmonisation of the public industry in relation to private industrial nuclear design teams attached to them, a whole host of private contractors know that they have a first-class design team—not organised spontaneously by private industry. They know that the use of their design teams and facilities will be worked in an orderly way, because the electricity industry will plan their need with them, and the possibility of these design teams and the private supply firms delivering the necessary power stations in accordance with the need.
§ Mr. David Price
The right hon. Gentleman does not have his facts right. There were not 50 or 60 design teams looked at by the Select Committee—there were three, as he knows from the Report. My Socialist colleagues proposed one based on the A.E.A., while those with the minority view suggested two, which is what the Government have taken. The right hon. Gentleman has not done his homework.
§ Mr. Lever
But the hon. Gentleman forgets that inside those private contracting firms there were design teams. There were only three overall, but there were design departments and teams in all sorts of fragmented forms all over industry that hoped to play a part in nuclear design contracts.
Another duty of Government is to see how far the buying power of the nationalised industries can be used in support of private industry. I can think of a case in point, where we are at present seeking to arrange that orders shall be given to an exporting house by the nationalised industries so as to give it the possibility of retaining a sufficient 1120 industrial base to maintain its exports. But that cannot be done unless Government condescends to consult on the details, which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends wish us to ignore.
The right hon. Gentleman complains that the Ministry is too big, yet suggests that we add to it responsibility for company law and some aspects of tariff and fiscal policy within it. We simply cannot do that.
Again, the I.D.C.s involved detailed effort. We intervened to assist smallish groups of industrial firms so as to alleviate restrictive practices, at the group's request. This is the kind of work we do, and this is the work that is described as meddling by those who do not participate in it, but which is warmly welcomed by the private industry concerned.
What is also very important is that there should be a dialogue in which we acquaint private industry with the overall purpose of the Government's economic strategy. The reverse process should take place. We should be made continuously aware of the needs of private industry and nationalised industry, and of the co-ordinated needs of the whole of industry. The great task in relation to private industry is to set the scene where the more efficiently competitive a firm is, the more profit will accrue to it in serving the collective advantage and the overall economic needs of the community.
This is not a doctrine that anyone need be ashamed to support, and I think that in supporting it and stating it as the object of the Department I am stating the partnership of industry, national and private, which is the central objective of this new, large and rationalised Department.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Minister of Technology Order 1969 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 13th October.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.