HC Deb 28 January 1974 vol 868 cc27-9
27. Mr. Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how export orders have been affected by three-day working in industry.

Mr. Peter Walker

The Department has no quantitive measure as yet of the effect of three-day working on export orders, but there is no doubt that there will be a deteriorating position so long as the industrial action in the mines continues to create the necessity for a three-day week.

Mr. Duffy

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if exports are affected at this time above all when they should be rising steeply, our economic future is even grimmer than many of us thought?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. That is why I hope that the Opposition will urge the miners not to take strike action.

Mr. Wilkinson

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the decision to exercise flexibility with respect to wool textile firms which have been working seven days a week, to give them about 60 per cent. power. If the miners give him a chance, will he extend this flexibility to the cotton and synthetics sections of the textile industry which have not been able to enjoy the same privileges as the wool textile industry but which make a significant contribution to the balance of payments?

Mr. Walker

This matter is under constant consideration and if the opportunity arises it will be taken.

Mr. Palmer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people hold the view that, had the resources of the electricity supply industry been properly organised, up till now there would have been no need at all for the three-day working week? Will he consider issuing a White Paper for the benefit of the House, setting out who gave the advice on this question and at which dates the advice was given?

Mr. Walker

This is a matter for my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, but on the figures there is no doubt that it was right and responsible for the Government to take the action we did.

Mr. Biffen

Does my right hon. Friend have evidence which confirms or validates the claim of a number of commentators that a great many companies in Britain are now in a critical and deteriorating cash position on account of the protracted three-day working week? If that is so, what hopes is my right hon. Friend holding out for some kind of financial rescue operation for these companies?

Mr. Walker

There is not yet a great deal of such evidence available, but it is obvious that if the situation continues it will deteriorate at an accelerating rate. In such circumstances, there are certain obvious things which can be done—for example, through the banks or under the Industry Act. If, however, the nation is starved of energy, firms will be going bankrupt and many jobs will be lost.

Mr. Benn

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm the figure of £100 million a week lost in exports as a result of the three-day working week which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) says, was clearly not necessary at the time it was imposed? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House how it is that he, whose ministerial responsibilities are to safeguard industry, will be presiding over circumstances in which there will be, as he himself admits, many bankruptcies, many of them among exporting firms? Will he look again, as the first edition of The Times did today, at the case for giving the miners a much better offer and allowing free negotiations to take place?

Mr. Walker

It is because we wish to safeguard industry that, unlike the Opposition, we introduced the Coal Industry Act, we are putting £1,100 million into the coal industry and, under phase 3 we are offering the miners more in one year than the Labour Government offered in six years.