HC Deb 20 March 1972 vol 833 cc1070-2
27. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he is satisfied with the present level of activity in the machine tool industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Davies

The low state of the industry's order book is a matter of concern at the present time. I am watching the situation closely.

Mr. Carter

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the low level of activity in this industry is a major contribution to the intolerable level of unemployment in the West Midlands? Is he also aware that the industry is saying that it can absorb up to a 30 per cent. increase in production without any increase in employment? In view of this sad state of affairs, will the right hon. Gentleman institute an inquiry into long-term employment in the industry?

Mr. Davies

I have had the benefit of one or two pieces of advice about the future of the industry, first from the machine tool economic development council, the chairman of which has given me some guidance on the subject, and secondly from the Way Committee which went into the whole question of the prospects of the industry. The truth is that the present position of the industry is due to its characteristics in relation to the industrial cycle and its sensitivity to low levels of investment. This is undoubtedly the problem from which it is suffering—it needs more orders.

Mr. Emery

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that a previous Minister, Mr. Frank Cousins, carried out a long and detailed inquiry into the machine tool industry which had precious little effect upon the industry? Is it not a fact that it is not inquiries that are needed but orders?

Mr. Davies

I heartily agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Benn

Since the Minister has told us that on Wednesday he will make a major statement on regional policy and on shipbuilding, and as he has already announced hovercraft policy and computer support, can he give us an idea of whether the Government will be ready to consider special help to the machine tool industry, the difficulties of which arise because its cycle of orders tends to leave it short of investment when it should be preparing for future expansion?

Mr. Davies

The right hon. Gentleman is indulging in his considerable versatility and talent for anticipation, as usual.