HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc11-3
11. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many representations he has received on the issue of managerial and supervisory boards as part of the revised structure for British industry.

Sir G. Howe

I have received observations on the idea of a two-tier board from a number of individuals and organisations.

Mr. Skeet

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this is one of the most important decisions that the Government will be called upon to take under the fifth directive? Is he also aware of the importance of seeing that the worker is associated with his own company and is given an opportunity to participate in high-level decisions? How does my right hon. and learned Friend intend to handle this matter? Will he do it by way of the new Companies Bill, or by some other method?

Sir G. Howe

I agree that this is a very important issue, to which the Government are giving serious consideration. We believe that it is important that there should be wide and informed public discussion about it. We shall shortly be bringing forward our proposals for the amendment of company law generally and in due course we shall be making available some suggestions, in the light of the EEC directive, as to the way that the point that my hon. Friend raises can be publicly considered and discussed. While the Government regard this as a matter of substantial importance, they do not conclude that it is easy to find a single solution in a single legislative means for the important business of seeing that those employed in companies or elsewhere are properly associated with and consulted about decisions affecting their interests.

Mr. Benn

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a position to say whether the Government's proposals will be published as a Green Paper, so that there will be no commitment about them and so as to allow full discussion to take place? Secondly, will he confirm that what he has in mind is not window-dressing but a real transfer of power to those working in industry? Thirdly, will there be an opportunity for the House to determine this, or are we in this matter, as in so many others, to be told what we are allowed or forced to do by the European Commission?

Sir G. Howe

Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may believe about window-dressing, there will be no element of window-dressing about our proposals in this respect. I shall bear in mind, with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the necessity for Parliament to join in the discussion of these matters, along with the many parties interested in them. With that in mind, the probability is that our proposals in respect of this matter will be published in the form of a Green Paper. It is clear from what has been said and done in Europe and in different European countries, and from opinions expressed in this country, that no one, including the right hon. Gentleman, is sure that he has identified the right way to approach this problem, which affects the whole of British industry.

Mr. Biffen

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect upon the great virtue of publishing a Green Paper on this subject so that Parliament may have an opportunity to express a view upon it and, above all—without entering too emotionally into relationships between this and other law-making institutions—upon the fact that industrial relations, of which this is part, are far too important a matter for us to receive our law on them written in Brussels and handed to us on a plate?

Sir G. Howe

There is no question of this matter proceeding in the way described by my hon. Friend. Proposals made from Brussels in the context of the European Economic Communities are still in the form of drafts and are still under discussion. It is recognised in Europe, as it is in this country, that there is no simple or direct way through. That is why I say that the Government will be anxious to hear views and to have this matter widely discussed.

Mr. Heffer

As we are all obviously dedicated to workers' self-management and workers' control in industry, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether, in the Green Paper, the views of Professor G. D. H. Cole, who argued for many years on the question of worker participation in management, will be taken into account and perhaps followed by the Government?

Sir G. Howe

I think that the last proposition is not immediately probable. As for the hon. Gentleman's earlier observation, that is the difficulty about an important human, social and industrial problem of this kind. It is so easy to find oneself attached to slogans, phrases, words and jargon. I have no doubt about the importance of the problems covered here, but I warn the hon. Gentleman, without any disrespect, against getting himself too firmly hooked even on those slogans to which he is most attached.