HC Deb 17 December 1974 vol 883 cc1347-9
Ql. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for Industry on the subject of industrial democracy to the Institute for Workers' Control on Wednesday 27th November represents Government policy.

Q7. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for Industry on industrial relations to the Institute for Workers' Control on 27th November represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Q10. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech of the Secretary of State for Industry concerning worker control of industry made in London on 27th November 1974 represents Government policy.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Adley

Is the Prime Minister aware that whatever the merits of the Secretary of State for Industry—and they are many—he has been and remains one of the prime reasons for the very damaging loss of confidence in British industry? The right hon. Gentleman's speeches, such as the one referred to in the Question, are used by many unpleasant forces in British industry whose views are probably not representative of those held by the Secretary of State and his colleagues on the Front Bench. Will the Prime Minister now consider relieving himself and the nation of this unacceptable burden by transferring the right hon. Gentleman to a less economically sensitive position?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the first and third supplementary questions is, "No". The answer to the second is that it is perfectly possible for any right hon. or hon. Member to have speeches misused by undesirable people. It has happened, I think, to right hon. and hon. Members of the Conservative Party.

Mrs. Wise

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not desirable for the jobs and economic health of this country to be in the hands of people so irresponsible as the present private owners of industry, whose confidence is apparently damaged by the mere advocacy of industrial democracy? Will my right hon. Friend accept that by increasing the control of workers in industry enormous energies will be released which will be for the benefit of the whole economy?

The Prime Minister

The Government's policy on the ownership and control of industry is set out in the White Paper dealing with the regeneration of British industry which was published before the election. Its main proposals will shortly be included in legislation to be put before the House. As for industrial democracy, which was the subject of my right hon. Friend's speech, the Government are committed to a far-reaching extension of this in both the private and public sectors. We are considering how best this can be achieved. My right hon. Friend said that there should be maximum discussion, and he and the Government are studying the ways in which these matters have been handled in certain European countries which have gone much further ahead than anything tried in this country.

Mr. Roberts

In the speech, the Secretary of State referred to the National Enterprise Board. The board will require a great deal of money. Can the Prime Minister say how much, and how it is to be raised?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be happy to study the Bill when it is presented, which I hope will be in the very near future. He will find these matters dealt with.

Mr. Ashton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been workers' control in the co-operative movement for 100 years, and that this week the movement has had to be called in to bail out the bastion of private enterprise at Centre Point? Will my right hon. Friend note that after the speech the Labour Party conference gave a massive vote of confidence to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and that he came top of the national executive election?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and I understand that it is possible that my hon. Friend will also have a massive vote of confidence by being appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend—on which I congratulate my hon. Friend.

With regard to Centre Point, I have not yet seen the details of what is to happen, whether in respect of industrial democracy or of the occupation of that residential accommodation, which was left under-occupied by the Conservative Party.

Mr. Tebbit

As one who thinks that in a mixed economy there is an important rôle to be played by worker-owned and controlled firms, may I advise the Prime Minister to suggest to the Secretary of State that if he wants to achieve the objective of worker-owned businesses being prosperous, he should not eternally look at businesses which are going bust, to pick them up and set them up again; that he should not try to follow the example of the co-operatives, which have not been very successful; but that he might turn his attention to seeing how he can establish new firms, particularly in development areas and assisted areas, in which workers could take the responsibility for running their own businesses?

The Prime Minister

I very much welcome the most forward-looking comments I have ever heard from the hon. Gentleman, both as regards industrial democracy and his view that public intervention and participation should not merely be in firms which have fallen by the wayside, where it is necessary to intervene to protect employment. Any ideas the hon. Gentleman has clearly been working on in this respect will be welcome to my right hon. Friend, who has been responsible for some pioneering in the matter. For example, he played a big part in the creation of a venture in Cumberland, of the kind the hon. Gentleman has in mind, for the production of buses jointly by a private firm and public enterprise, which has had a big effect on employment in the area.

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