HC Deb 29 June 1971 vol 820 cc201-3
Q5. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if he will outline his specific duties as head of the Civil Service Department.

The Prime Minister

The position remains as it was under the previous Administration. I am ultimately responsible for the whole range of work of the Civil Service Department, which covers machinery of government, the broad organisation of Departments, the development of administrative techniques including the provision of certain central services, together with the central management of the Civil Service, the recruitment of civil servants and their pay, pensions and other conditions of service.

Day to day responsibility for the Department is delegated to my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the continuing sense of wonder that this enormous Civil Service machine did not find itself able to warn the Government within hours of the position over Upper Clyde Shipbuilders? Or is it perhaps that Mr. Anthony Hepper is right and the Government were indeed told?

The Prime Minister

The position has been stated to the House quite clearly, and it is that it was the Government director on the board of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders who asked for a fresh investigation to be made into the financial state of the company. The result of this investigation was made known to the board on Monday and the Government were informed by the board on Wednesday. It is difficult to see how under any organisation of Government it is possible to know more than the board of a company knows about its finances. As we were told within 48 hours of the company hearing of the result of the report, I would have thought that we had been speedily informed.

Mr. Thorpe

Does not the Prime Minister agree that it is rather fine accounting for a 49 per cent. shareholder to know that there is only enough cash to last three days?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the Government's decision, but when the board reported to us it reported that it was able to pay wages for the following week. At the same time it wished to give information to the trade unions that this was the case. We asked immediately for time in order to be able to examine this situation ourselves. We asked for only four days, and the company agreed to give us this. We said that, if the board wished it, we would undertake to pay wages for the following week in any case. On the Sunday the company informed my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that it was not even in a position to pay wages for that week. The Government then undertook the responsibility of paying wages for the current week as well as for the following week, and have since accepted the responsibilities which have been explained to the House.

Mr. Lawson

Will the right hon. Gentleman do the House the favour of reading in yesterday's HANSARD the answers to the large number of Written Questions on this subject? He will find, if the answers of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are to be accepted, that his Department was in continuous contact with Upper Clyde Shipbuilders from the middle of October last year, and that all the information that could have been given was continuously given. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts what is said in yesterday's HANSARD, will he hold a public inquiry into this matter?

The Prime Minister

It is well known that in February of this year, when the Government made the arrangements for Yarrow and provided a considerable sum of money to enable Yarrow to be separated as a defence asset from U.C.S., it was the firm view of U.C.S. that the company was then viable and that its outlook was bright, and this was accepted by the Government. Later on, as I said, a director on the board took the view that the company must look further into its finances. It was as a result of this report, information on which was passed to the Government two days after it was known by the board, that the board decided it should go into liquidation.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think we are getting a little far from the Question on the Order Paper.

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