§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State for Industry to move the Second Reading of the Bill, I should tell the House that we have already lost an hour of the time that should have been available to debate this measure. An extra hour has been allowed for today's debate, but more than 40 hon. Members want to speak. I hope, therefore, that even though this is a two-day debate and we have the extra hour, Members will be reasonably brief in their speeches.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill, based on policies long advocated by my right hon. and hon. Friends and clearly set out in our manifestos, contains the Government's proposals for far-reaching democratic Socialist reforms affecting the relations between the community, management and workers and is designed to deal direct with the problems of manufacturing industry that lie at the heart of Britain's present industrial and economic weakness.
The reforms contained in the Bill have three prime objectives. The first is to reverse the long decline in British manufacturing industry by providing a new and important source of public investment which in its turn will help to sustain and expand employment. The second is to inject both the national and the regional interest, and the interests of working people, into the strategic decisions made by major industrial firms, and to improve our use of existing plant and equipment. The third objective is to extend industrial democracy in those firms to make them more accountable and thus help to bring about the shift in the balance of power towards working people which we see as a prime necessity if our underlying problems are to be overcome. I should add that we intend to meet these objectives by winning active support for these policies.
936 The Bill provides for the development of new instruments for those purposes. First, it extends and strengthens the Industry Act 1972 which we inherited from our predecessors. We are proposing that the power to acquire up to 100 per cent. of the shares of a company by agreement, which had been limited to assisted areas, should be extended to the country generally, and to remove the restrictions imposed by the old Act which made a public shareholding possible only as a last resort. We are also making it possible for these shares when acquired by the Government to be retained, since in our view, if public money is to be invested in private firms, it is reasonable that the taxpayer should benefit fully from his investment.
We are removing the time limit on Section 8 of the Industry Act under which it would have expired in 1977. We are retaining the Industrial Development Advisory Board, and I shall shortly be announcing some fresh appointments to it, but I must make it clear to the House that the responsibility for reaching decisions rests with the Minister, who is accountable to the House of Commons, and I have no intention whatever of shielding behind outside advice or of avoiding my responsibilities for policy decisions.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I apologise for intervening so early in the debate, but an important aspect of the whole legislation is to whom the Minister is to be accountable. Is he to be accountable to the House, or to the Commissioners in Europe? Will those Commissioners have a right of veto, and will they be subject to any control by the Council of Ministers? What is the position concerning the provisions which my right hon. Friend has just announced? Will this House be free to come to a decision on these matters?
§ Mr. Benn
I shall deal with the Industrial Development Advisory Board. I do not want to touch on matters of renegotiation, but my hon. Friend will know that Articles 92 to 94 of the Treaty of Rome, coupled with Article 189, make its regulations applicable in this country and that Section 2 of the European Communities Act means that the Bill when enacted will be subject to the provisions of those articles in the treaty.
937 The Bill also establishes a National Enterprise Board with the functions and powers set out in Clauses 1 to 8, which give it the power to work anywhere in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
Clause 2 specifies the purposes, functions and powers in greater detail, based upon the policy contained in the White Paper published last August. As the sponsor of the Bill and the new Board, the Secretary of State will be accountable to the House of Commons for the work of the board, because with the power to give specific directions contained in Clause 6 the accountability will be greater than for a normal nationalised industry.
The board will also work under the general supervision of the Government, in exactly the same way as the Bill and the White Paper on which it is based were subjected to detailed collective scrutiny and approval before they were published.
The National Enterprise Board will have an initial statutory tranche of £700 million with power to increase this amount if Parliament approves to £1,000 million. This sum is, of course, additional to the £550 million provided for under Section 8 of the 1972 Industry Act, subject to parliamentary approval for successive tranches, and an unlimited sum already provided by statute under Section 7 of the 1972 Act.
The National Enterprise Board will have no compulsory powers of acquisition. The White Paper set out the Government's specific nationalisation proposals, which will be dealt with by normal legislative process separate from the National Enterprise Board.
The Board will have responsibility for promoting industrial democracy, which we believe must develop organically out of the needs, experiences and aspirations of those who work within the firms in which the NEB will participate.
Clauses 9 to 13 provide powers in relation to the transfer of control of important manufacturing undertakings to non-residents, and these powers should be welcomed in present circumstances.
Clause 14 deals with Planning Agreements which, though voluntary in character, will provide that regional development grants under them will not 938 be reduced during the lifetime of each Agreement. This is an important response to the demands from industry that there should be greater certainty in its dealings with the Government.
The Planning Agreements will, we believe, allow us to move towards a more successful and constructive tripartite dialogue between Government, management and workers in the firms concerned, and managements will also get the benefit of greater disclosure of Government forecasts to help them in their own planning. These Government forecasts will be more likely to be accurate because they will be based upon a greater disclosure from the firms.
Clause 15 amends the Industry Act along the lines that I have already indicated.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of Clause 14, which refers to regional policy, will he assure the House that the Government's powers under this clause, and the regional policy generally, can be exercised without the permission or without the interference of the EEC Commission?
§ Mr. Benn
My right hon. Friend is probably the greatest expert in regional policy in the House of Commons and he also knows the Treaty of Rome. He also knows, that all regional policy, in so far as it involves State aid, is subject to the European Commission and to the articles to which I referred when answering my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). In our manifesto the Labour Party referred to the "Draconion curtailment of parliamentary powers".
I now come to Clause 15, which amends the Industry Act.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
On the question of Planning Agreements, what provisions will be made to ensure that confidential information from companies will remain confidential?
§ Mr. Benn
I shall come to that in a moment. I am now dealing with the clause which concerns Planning Agreements and I shall come to disclosure in a minute.
Clauses 16 to 18 increase the limits on ships and off-shore installations from the 939 £1,400 million, provided by the previous Government, to £1,800 million.
Clause 19 raises the discretionary powers of the National Research and Developme nt Corporation to deal itself, with certain projects, without detailed ministerial oversight.
Clauses 20 to 24 deal with the disclosure of information by firms both to Government and workers, subject to safeguards for the national interest, and provides for arbitration where the release of sensitive commercial information is at issue between the firm and the workers in it. That is set out in the Bill. We believe that those who invest their lives in industry are entitled to know much more about the prospects for the firms in which they work than has hitherto been the accepted practice. I recognise that the details need to be worked out with great care and I shall be entering into discussions on this matter with the CBI and TUC in the near future. I am hopeful that these provisions for greater disclosure will go a long way towards bringing about industrial democracy and better industrial relations.
The Bill ends with five supplementary clauses and four schedules dealing with various financial and administrative matters.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
On Clause 21(2), concerning disclosure, will the Secretary of State indicate whether paragraphs (a) to (j) are exclusive or whether other information will also be required?
§ Mr. Benn
I should prefer to deal with that matter in Committee since the disclosure provisions are somewhat complex in character. In considering this Bill may I move the House to examine the magnitude of the problems that confront this country at this time? Britain, like all industrialised countries, is now threatened by the danger of a world recession. The oil price increases and the energy crisis have adversely affected the prospects for world trade. Inflation is world-wide, investment is sagging in many countries, and unemployment in the United States is high and growing.
Britain suffers from these problems along with other countries. Bur we entered this crisis weakened by years of 940 relative industrial decline as a great manufacturing nation. The numbers of our people engaged in manufacture have fallen and our imports of manufactured goods have risen sharply. Our investment record is poor compared with those of our principal competitors.
Since 1970 British manufacturing industry has been investing a mere 4p in every pound of our gross national income in new plant and equipment. The United States, Japan and France invest twice as much per worker as do we. Governments of both parties have worked hard to improve this investment rate, and policies of public subsidy and public intervention designed to correct it have been introduced.
When the Conservative Party was in power, public subsidies by means of grants, incentives and inducements of all kinds reached the level of £2 million a day. This was supplemented by the most elaborate system of direct controls over private industry ever imposed in peacetime.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)
What proportion does that £2 million a day represent of the revenue in tax obtained from those same private companies?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman must not make assumptions. I shall deal with the question in my own way.
The level of subsidies to private industry by the previous Government was at the rate of £2 million a day. When the Conservative Party was in power it denied to the House of Commons the knowledge of the sums of money that were paid to individual companies. It was not until this Government came to power that we were ready and able to reveal to the House of Commons the names of the companies which had received these subsidies.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
The Secretary of State mentioned Britain's investment record compared with those of the United States, France, West Germany and Japan. Is it not strange that he should call in aid countries which are not burdened with the comparable level of corporate taxation as is Britain, or a comparable level of personal taxation? Those countries have a substantially lower proportion of State control of industry than 941 Britain, and are not faced with the pernicious legislation which the Secretary of State has put before the House today.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman should turn his mind to this question. When the Conservative Party was in power, and had the opportunity to make all these changes, there was a catastrophic fall in investment below the levels at which it was when the Labour Government left office in 1970.
Dealing with the measures taken by the previous Government, there were the Industry Act, the Pay Board, the Price Commission, the Industry Relations Act, providing investment checks, profit checks, and a direct attempt to control labour, coupled with company tax cuts and endless exhortations to invest, notably by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), once the initial 1970 policy of non-intervention and disengagement, along with its main advocate, had been dropped from the Department of Indusdustry. That full panoply of central and bureaucratic control was actually accompanied by a further sharp fall in investment, and the whole policy finally collapsed under its own weight, lacking the consent that any industry policy requires for success.
I hope, therefore, that in criticising the Bill the Opposition do not fall into the trap of arguing that they are opposed to intervention. They even nationalised Rolls-Royce and Govan Shipbuilders as part of their strategy for a managed economy.
§ Mr Tom King (Bridgwater)
We should discuss these matters meaningfully. The right hon. Gentleman understands the position. He know the true record of the investment situation of this country. It took us two years to reverse the decline which had already set in in 1970, and by the time the Conservative Government left office investment was sharply rising. It is only since then that there has been a catastrophic decline.
§ Mr. Benn
Since the hon. Gentleman invites us to discuss these matters, over the last 30 years, under Governments of both parties, the country has failed to obtain the level of industrial investment it needs to be effective. This is a start-point for our debate.
942 The argument is not about a managed economy but about the much more important question, "In whose interests is it to be managed?" Is it to be intervention to prop up a system that has failed in a last effort to make it work, or is it to be intervention to release the wasted energies of our people by instituting long-overdue reforms in our industrial structure that offer real prospects of success because they meet the needs of those who create the nation's wealth? For many years we have been told that business has not had the confidence to invest and that, if only there were new laws, lower taxes, higher prices and profits, more moderate workers or a change of Government, that confidence would be restored and the investment would take place.
However, investment on the scale we needed never took place and we now know that it must take place if we are to put British industry back on its face—[Interruption.]—back on its feet.
Are we to define industrial confidence only in terms of the political prejudices of those who own industry, or are we to extend our definition of confidence by seeing British industry as being no less and no more than the British people at work? I have no doubt that it is the confidence of the whole nation that we must now seek.
We have come to the end of a chapter in our industrial history. The industrial system to which the Tory Party adheres—at least officially and in its manifestos—has failed us. I am not sure that any individual or groups of individuals can be personally blamed for what has happened. There are no villains and there are certainly no heroes in this story. We shall never make progress if we waste time looking for scapegoats or even for bogymen, or even supposing that it was all the fault of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
It is no use blaming working people or the unions if they have to work in ancient factories with obsolete equipment producing old-fashioned goods at unecomonic prices and earning low wages as well. Working people not only are not responsible for the weakness of British manufacturing industry. They have hitherto been denied the tools and tackle that they needed to put it right.
943 Professional managers have suffered, too. They have also been denied the essential information they needed to learn, in time, what might be wrong with the firms for which they worked and how their performance could be improved, and they were shut out from the decisions that might have put it right.
I ask those hon. Members who carry on about disclosure to consider what might have been the benefits if the problems of British Leyland, Herbert, Fodens, and Ferranti had been disclosed to the workers in those firms and to the professional side of management early enough for them to be put right.
We have got to make a fresh start now. We have got to get investment up, and to get it up as soon as we can. If the market economy cannot or will not give us that investment, we must do it direct.
The prospects of a world recession are thought by many to be great. Everyone knows that lean years lie ahead. However, it is of critical importance that we in Britain use those years for re-equipment and emerge at the end with a manufacturing industry re-equipped and reconstructed to allow us to build on a securer basis for the future. We will not accept a return to the pre-war conditions of the wage cut and investment slump that destroyed our morale and undermined our strength at that time.
There is another reason for action. My hon. Friend who will be winding up the debate will deal with the regional aspects of our policy. I say this bluntly to the House, and especially to those members of all parties who represent areas of high and persistent unemployment in England, Scotland and Wales; successive Governments have developed policies designed to deal with these problems. There has been some success, but the hard core problem of unemployment remains.
I see no prospect whatever of reversing an even sharper downward trend in job opportunities in the development areas during this recession, where branch factories are so vulnerable, unless we have the power through the National Enterprise Board or the Scottish Development Agency or the Welsh Development Agency to act directly on the problems.
Nor do I see how we can prevent the Midlands, with its vital but often ill-equipped engineering industry, from enter 944 ing on a downward slide towards development area status, unless we are prepared to act directly on the investment gap and find some alternative to the industrial disputes that have troubled that indusry.
Even in the rich South-East, London Members are becoming concerned increasingly at the loss of manufacturing jobs. I make no apology for being concerned with jobs which are of central importance.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Wales and Scotland. Is the House to understand that the powers of the NEB will be given to the Welsh Development Agency, and will that development authority be made accountable to the Welsh Assembly?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman is tempting me into an area of devolution which I am not briefed to answer correctly. The National Enterprise Board will operate throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland and Wales, and will be to that extent working in parallel with the two development agencies in Scotland and Wales when they are set up.
It is no good talking about full employment if jobs cannot be maintained. Redeployment requires investment, and redundancy without redeployment simply lengthens the dole queues.
What are the arguments against the Bill? One is that there is to be too much intervention, that there is to be too much power for the Government and the Secretary of State at the expense of Parliament. That criticism is made by a party that transferred more power to the Commission in Brussels without any accountability whatsoever to the House of Commons.
I have heard the Bill described as a charter for workers' control. Both things cannot be true. It cannot be true that this is a Mussolini nightmare and a Trotskyite nightmare at one and the same time. We are seeking to get the relationship between Government, management and workers into a better balance.
Another criticism is that this is a Socialist measure. It is; and who is to argue that where public money goes in there should not be an equity stake and public accountability? Public sector investment—now 28 per cent.—was one 945 of the major sources of continuing confidence, even during the period of recession.
It is argued that the Bill destroys the mixed economy, but even the Planning Agreements, quite apart from public ownership, are designed for at most 100 to 150 firms out of hundreds of thousands. However, we do not accept the definition of a mixed economy that leaves the public sector permanently loss making by Government action and the private sector permanently profitable by public subsidy.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am obliged to the Secretary of State for saying that he now envisages the Planning Agreements extending to 150 firms. He previously said 100. Will he name the 150 firms he has in mind?
§ Mr. Benn
I was just coming to the hon. Gentleman and I will deal with his question as I do so. It was his party that defined category 1 companies in the Counter-Inflation Act and the Pay and Price Codes. Aneurin Bevan used the more colourful phrase—"the commanding heights of the economy". It took the bureaucratic mind of the Tory Party to make them category 1 firms. We have never produced a list of Planning Agreement companies—
§ Mr. Benn
The category 1 firms to which reference was made in the policy of the Tory Party. In considering these Planning Agreements, we shall be entering into discussions with any firms that might propose Planning Agreements or where the Government might seek Planning Agreements. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, the Planning Agreement system is a voluntary system.
For the Conservative Party no one has worked harder than the hon. Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) over the past year to distort the real meaning of this policy. They first invented the secret list of named companies for nationalisation. They had to drop that when it became clear that there was no secret 946 list. In fact, there never was. They knew that, and they had to drop that charge.
We have not heard one constructive proposal from the spokesmen of the Conservative Party since they left office nearly a year ago. They have busied themselves entirely with misrepresentation. I expect that we shall get more of it today. What is their policy? What would they do? With the publication of this Bill the country is entitled to ask how the Opposition see the task ahead. How would they boost investment? How would they win the co-operation of the nation? How would they cope with the depression in the regions and the problem of world trade? I doubt whether we shall hear any answers today if past form is anything to go by.
Negative opposition will not be enough as the reforms contained in the Bill become more widely known throughout the country. It is true that this is a powerful Bill, but its power is not the power of the members of the National Enterprise Board, the power of the Seccretary of State or the power of the Cabinet. It is the power of the ideas that have already gone into this policy which already excites the imagination of people who know that the nation can do better than it has been allowed to do so far.
The Conservative Party has nothing to offer, but the British people know that we need investment and that we must harness our skills and achieve co-operation and not the three-day week, if we are to produce more than ever from our old factories with their old equipment and extend industrial democracy. The British people will come increasingly to see the Bill as an instrument that they can use for themselves to put this country once again in the forefront of the world's industrial nations. Those are the powerful ideas that give the Bill the power that it will need to succeed. I have the great honour of begging the House to pass this measure.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)
I shall start where the Secretary of State ended and deal with the misrepresentations that he put before the House. The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of 947 points which I thought he could have explained at slightly greater length.
First, I shall deal with the £2 million a day which it is suggested is a subsidy to the private sector. That has to be seen as the payment to private companies in order to get them to do things that the politicians want them to undertake. It represents 25 per cent. of the total that the companies give the Government out of their taxes. In other words, £8 million in taxes goes into the Government from the private sector and £2 million goes back on our decision as politicians. If the House feels that anybody should be accountable for the spending of that money, the responsibility must be with us. If we misspend it, it is not the private companies which are responsible but ourselves. If we decide that we shall spend on Concorde £1,500 million, or our half of it, that is our decision and that is included as part of the £2 million a day. Let us have no more repetition being equated with truth, that being the right hon. Gentleman's stock in trade on all these matters.
Next, the right hon. Gentleman said that we had affronted the House by transferring power to the Commission in Brussels. That is no legitimate source of complaint. The previous Conservative Government succeeded whereas his Government failed. The then Labour Government tried to do precisely the same thing but the Conservative Government managed to negotiate successfully the signature of this country to the Treaty of Rome. I have not the slightest doubt that that is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman's Government will shortly be announcing—namely, that they intend to remain within it.
The third matter which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with was the decline in investment. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) accurately put the situation before the House. The House knows the figures. Investment declined in 1970 and 1971 because industrial confidence collapsed in 1969 and 1970. Industrial confidence collapsed as a direct consequence of the financial policies of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is because Labour hon. Members do not understand the time lag between the decline of confidence and the fall in 948 capital investment that they see fit to repeat the same accusation.
The reality is that we rebuilt confidence in the early 1970s and that that threw up higher and rising levels of investment in 1972 and 1973. One reason for us having a relatively high rate of investment at this moment is because of the confidence that was built in 1972 and 1973. Perhaps Labour Members need not go on repeating what the House understands to be the total misrepresentation put forward by the Secretary of State.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Michael Meacher)
This is a point of some importance in view of the hon. Gentleman's pretence that he is correct in representing what my right hon. Friend said. Will he not acknowledge that, contrary to what he said, in 1968 manufacturing investments rose by 6½ per cent., that in 1969 it rose by 7 per cent. on the previous year and that in 1970 it rose by 8 per cent., whereas when the Conservative administration took office in 1971 it was minus 6½ per cent. and in 1972 it was minus 10 per cent.? The hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I think it would have helped if the hon. Gentleman had listened. The figures that he has given bear out the argument I was deploying. He gave the figures for capital investment actually spent. Those figures always lag behind a decline in confidence. For that reason the hon. Gentleman misunderstands what is now happening. The present decline in confidence will destroy investment over the next two years. The Secretary of State's Department has already produced all the figures.
I now leave the points that were made inaccurately by the right hon. Gentleman. The House will remember that three years ago at this Dispatch Box the present Secretary of State for Industry took part in a debate on the Industry Bill 1972. He was speaking in Opposition. He said:We believe that the arbitrary nature of the Bill is likely to strain relations between Government and industry given the massive range of powers which the Secretary of State has and the large sums involved."—[Official Report. 22nd May 1972; Vol. 837, c. 1031.]That is what the right hon. Gentleman said when he opposed the Industry Bill 949 1972. He was speaking from the then Opposition Front Bench.
What did the legislation do which he described as likely to lead to a strain in the good relations between industry and Government? It gave £150 million for general aid to industry. Today he is taking powers for the National Enterprise Board to spend £700 million, and powers in his own name to direct the NEB specifically on how to spend that money. He is repealing most of the safeguards which were built into the 1972 Act to protect the private enterprise economy. He is taking powers to compel British industry to disclose forward plans and to make available information which will inevitably become public. That does not happen in any other country in the world.
What the right hon. Gentleman warned as likely to emerge from the Industry Act which the previous Conservative administration placed on the Statute Book—namely, a strained relationship—is as nothing compared with the consequences of the strain in the relationship which will emerge as a consequence of this Bill.
Last summer we saw the beginning of the attempt by the Prime Minister to suggest that the ideas that the right hon. Gentleman has rightly said lie behind the Bill would not be as radical, as purposive or Socialist as all of us have believed. In the middle of last summer the Prime Minister announced that the responsibility for drafting this Bill was to be removed from the Secretary of State and was to be placed under the personal command of the Prime Minister.
The next attempt to allay public anxiety was the appointment of the industrial adviser to the Government, the chairman-designate of the National Enterprise Board, not to work for the architect of the proposals or in the Department of Industry, but to answer direct to the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Office. Last Friday, according to Press reports, the Prime Minister, speaking on Merseyside, seemed to be converted to the curious constitutional view that the White Paper was to become the law and that the Bill would be subservient to what was said in the White Paper.
However, if we are not convinced by the idea that the White Paper is to be 950 the law, there are other reassurances for us. The Treasury will be there pitching to protect the taxpayers' funds against the ravages of the Secretary of State. If the Treasury fails, there is to be the hard-nosed Sir Don Ryder, who would have to be overruled before the Secretary of State was able to do what he wanted. But, for all the Prime Minister's assurances, the Bill is what the House is considering. The White Paper and the presence of Sir Don Ryder as chairman of the Board are in no way a barrier to the use of the powers in the Bill by the Secretary of State should he decide to use them.
The latest published evidence about the consequences of the Bill in its infant form from the Department and from the CBI shows that investment intentions and industrial confidence are gloomier than they have been at any other time since measurements of industrial confidence have been taken. It is no small wonder. From the date of the publication of the policy documents in 1973, it has been clear that the Left-wing architects of the Bill have been determined—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am delighted that my words should have brought such a welcome chorus from hon. Members opposite. It does not take long to identify where they sit.
The purpose of the Bill was to achieve three principal functions for the National Enterprise Board and the Government. First, there was the unfettered freedom to nationalise individual companies. Secondly, there was power to direct those companies to obey the political will of the Government. Thirdly, there were the compulsory powers to force companies into Planning Agreements. The Secretary of State suggests that the powers are voluntary. We shall see when we reach the appropriate stage of the Bill. The Bill achieves all three objectives which have been persistently sought by the Secretary of State and his Left-wing colleagues. The Bill has emerged with the maximum powers for the Secretary of State and the minimum of parliamentary scrutiny.
Let us consider the Secretary of State's powers in the Bill. He has absolute power to appoint the National Enterprise Board. He has power to direct the Board to use the provisions contained in Sections 7 and 8 of the Industry Act 951 1972, and the Board will have no right of appeal against him if he should issue a directive. The right hon. Gentleman has the right to determine the financial objectives of the Board. He has power to give specific directions to the Board which it cannot resist. He has power to force companies to disclose information to the Government and to unions on a scale unequalled in the world.
I do not suggest that there is not reference on occasion in the Bill to the Treasury. The Secretary of State must consult the Treasury before he fixes the financial objectives of the Board. But the terms within which he fixes them are so vague—simply to show an adequate rate of return as calculated in advance—as to be totally meaningless.
The power of the Secretary of State is widened, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, by the repeal of the limitations in the Industry Act 1972. The limitation of 50 per cent. of a company's equity which could be taken under Section 8 has gone. The restriction to use the powers only in the last resort has gone. The provision that all the powers should come up for review at the end of 1977 so that Parliament could see whether there had been worthwhile use of taxpayers' money has gone.
There has not been one economic justification, not one industrial rationalisation, to explain why the safeguards built into the 1972 legislation should be swept aside on the assumption, apparently, that they had failed.
Even the limited parliamentary control once promised by the Secretary of State for Industry before companies were nationalised has gone. I quote from the working document which the right hon. Gentleman produced shortly after he took office:The Industry Act will provide us with powers to extend public ownership by the acquisition of individual companies through a full parliamentary process.I defy the Secretary of State to show what "full parliamentary process" any company acquired by the National Enterprise Board, under his directive or not, must go through. The reality is that there is no parliamentary process. This is one of the most serious extensions of power in the Bill. It is a total reversal of the argument that there would be 952 parliamentary control on the use of the powers.
The National Enterprise Board is empowered to bid for any company. When hon. Members opposite have been campaigning throughout the country saying that there would have to be acquisition by agreement, the impression has always been left that there would be friendly negotiation after which, if everybody was reconciled to the company going into the hands of the State, agreement would be reached. But that is not the situation. The Board, with or without the direction of the Secretary of State, has the power to make aggressive takeover bids for any company it requires. The one parliamentary safeguard against it is that it cannot acquire more than 30 per cent. of the equity or spend more than £10 million without the Secretary of State's approval. I wonder how many hon. Members think that there would be any difficulty in obtaining that approval.
The more one looks at the powers in the legislation, the more obvious it is that the more serious the powers the less the parliamentary control, and the more trivial the powers the greater the parliamentary control. For example, there must be absolute parliamentary agreement before the £700 million is raised to £1,000 million. But the £700 million will be spent without parliamentary control. The Secretary of State will tell us when he considers that a company is an important manufacturing company. However, he has already told us that the Table A companies are those companies. But he must lay that information in an order before the House—as though he is giving information about which we do not know already.
The Treasury is then brought in to deal with a secondary range of relatively minor powers which set the totally undefined target for the National Enterprise Board. The Treasury must be consulted when the Secretary of State wishes to extend the guarantee limit on shipbuilding loans. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to give help with interest payments to people owed money under the shipbuilding Act, the Treasury must be consulted. If he goes as far as to raise the ceiling below which ministerial approval for NRDC projects is not required, the 953 Treasury must be consulted. No one can doubt that there will be plenty of work for the Treasury under the Bill, but it is not in areas where it has relevance to parliamentary control or scrutiny.
The powers where the Secretary of State stands alone are totally different. He has power to direct the Board to buy any company; power to exempt the Board from the statutory restriction on what it can buy and the money it can spend; power to order companies to disclose to him and the unions all details of their business over an unlimited period. In his working document the Secretary of State says that it will be a three-year period. He has power to direct, without any appeal, the Board in the use of the powers given to him in the Industry Act.
However the Secretary of State may put the case, there is no doubt that parliamentary accountability has been one of the principal and earliest victims of the Bill and it will be the task of my hon. Friends and myself in Committee greatly to strengthen Parliament's opportunity to scrutinise the legislation.
The Secretary of State has been asked about parliamentary accountability. For those of my hon. Friends who did not see the "Panorama" programme I shall quote what the right hon. Gentleman said about the use of the powers under the Bill. The transcript reads:DIMBLEBY: … But according to this Bill, you will have power to direct the National Enterprise Board how they spend £700 million without actually going back to Parliament.BENN: Ah yes but then you see …DIMBLEBY: It's an awful lot of money isn't it?BENN: Well, I know, but then a Minister with power of that kind accountable for how he exercise it … accountable on a daily basis, more accountable than if I didn't have the power.How will the House know about any directives the right hon. Gentleman gives to the NEB? We shall find out some 18 months later when the Board's annual report is published. There is no parliamentary accountability, and faced with that sort of situation I would rather settle for the Kirkby precedent. Let us have the stuff published when the House has gone home for Christmas, because at least we get it within a fortnight.
954 Moving to the next aspect of the Bill, I agree that the rationale of the legislation is the need for investment.
§ Mr. Benn
Before the hon. Member moves on, will he deal with the point I made? Every year that the hon. Member was a Minister £700 million was given to private industry and he concealed from Parliament the names of the firms that received it. It took this Government to make public the names of the firms that had received Government money.
§ Mr. Heseltine
That is a marvellous argument to illustrate the degree of confidentiality that industry can expect from the right hon. Gentleman when the Bill becomes law. As he knows, he has not published this information. I stand to be corrected, but as far as I know there is no information available listing, company by company, the £700 million of grants to private firms. There is a list concerning 20 companies. It was published not because the right hon. Gentleman wanted anybody to have the information for genuine reasons, but simply to damage the credibility of the free enterprise system.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
Is the hon. Member saying that where there is such a vast outlay of public funds information should not be given to the public about where the money has gone?
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Member has completely missed the point. There is a degree of accountability for spending this money, as there should be, and it is for Parliament to take the decisions to spend it. If we decide to spend it on regional aid, the RB 211, Concorde or shipbuilding grants, that is all very well, but let us account for it. Do not let us expect industry, under the sort of propaganda the Secretary of State was conducting, to carry the rap for the policies formulated in this House.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Eric Heffer)
Is the hon. Member asking the Government to publish every detail of every loan and grant made to every company? If that were done industry would lose confidence for that reason more than for any other.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Member should have listened more carefully. It 955 was his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who said that he had published all this information, and I made clear that he had not—
§ Mr. Heseltine
The Minister of State should not keep interrupting. We shall have a lengthy Committee stage and we shall give him all the time he requires when we get to it.
Perhaps I may now deal with the NEB. The Secretary of State for Industry approached the matter by arguing that industry had failed to invest and that therefore the Government must invest for it. We totally and utterly reject this approach to industrial investment. We believe that the most effective investment comes where Governments create the atmosphere in which investment is attractive and in which industry, in partnership with Government, is given every incentive to carry out investment in those conditions.
I agree with the Secretary of State about the failure of investment over the last two decades, but it is not a failure of industry but of the political system and of Governments to bring about the climate of partnership which has been created between industry and Government in the rest of the capitalist world. The failure was because our management of the economy has constantly subjected industry to a stop-go situation, because Government and politicians were totally obsessed with the concept of nationalisation on the one hand or total abstinence on the other, because they failed to understand what was happening across the world and because they totally misunderstood and never worked out the sophisticated mechanism which might have led to the renewal of confidence we all want.
If the right hon. Gentleman is trying to find out why we have not got the scale of investment we need, I can tell him it is because the ratio of profit to GDP has fallen, because free cash for disposal after all costs and tax has been dramatically reduced for the private company and because industry has been forced to operate in an atmosphere of sharp lurches from expansion to contraction and back again. The position is worse than it has ever been and consequences of the social 956 contract with its rapidly rising wages will do more to destroy investment over the next decade than anything any benefits from this Bill will do to encourage it.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
The hon. Member constantly refers to industry. Does his definition of industry include the workers? What contribution did his Government make to ensuring that the workers had confidence?
§ Mr. Heseltine
I can give the hon. Member the assurance she wants, but of course my workers include everybody in a company, not just those who belong to trade unions.
Circumstances today are worse than they have ever been, and in these prevailing economic conditions the Government's policy of highly selective investment in industry will mean that the weakest will come to collect the cash and the strongest will be gradually debilitated. We shall therefore have a situation of selective industrial support in which the strength of British industry is continually debilitated and there is a failure to back the successes of the economy without which there is no long-term future for British industry. It is always the weakest companies that come first, even if they have had Government help in the past. Take, for example, some of the companies that the IRC supported—British Leyland and Alfred Herbert. They were helped by the Government, but three to four years later they were back again because their fundamental problems had never been faced or tackled.
The remedies are clear. We have to establish a new basis for explaining the nature of profitability in a capitalist economy, and we have to pursue policies that give industry the opportunity to retain sufficient of its cash so that it can then respond to market forces at home and overseas and invest in a way in which industry would then be capable of achieving. Too many of us in this House have failed to see the need for that over far too long a period.
I can give one big example of the worst sort of Government intervention where the Government own the industry. It concerns the steel review announced by the right hon. Gentleman recently. What is the consequence of that review? The right hon. Gentleman has delayed the 957 long-term investment strategy of the British Steel Corporation for 12 months. He claims that he has saved 13,500 jobs. In fact he has only delayed the loss of them for two to four years. We do not know what cash will be needed to finance the review, and there has been no attempt to spell out the implications of the review for the economy. He has provided an additional two to four years of uncertainty for 13,500 workers after which they will find that the Government can no longer support them. He has failed to give the necessary degree of impetus to retraining, re-employing and rehousing which would have been a much better way of investing the money.
In addition, he has done much worse. The Government have shown every British worker whose employment depends on the sale of products which use steel from the BSC that for a long time the BSC's capability to provide good quality steel at an effective price is prejudiced. The whole of Britain's manufacturing capability, with all the jobs at stake, is being deliberately undermined by the strategy of holding up the investment programme of the British Steel Corporation. Nationalisation has all too often turned out to be a deceit, and a confidence trick on the British people.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Is the hon. Member not aware that many of the works that are scheduled for closure in the British Steel Corporation have been making a profit, and that the complaint of industry is that it has not been able to get enough steel? This state of affairs is likely to continue. Many people in BSC feel that the delay in the closure programme is needed.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Let us go back over the history. What did we do in this country to the steel industry? We nationalised it, denationalised it and renationalised it. We subjected it to every sort of political interference. Then we wonder why we have not got the steel. The failure of British industry is in this House and the inability of the politicians to see the real need to build investment over the past 20 years. That is why the British Steel Corporation cannot provide steel. If we had done what the Europeans did, which was to back the private sector of their steel industry and expand it, we would 958 not have had half the problems that we have had with our steel industry.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is because of the recent delay during the closure review that the cost of the £3,000 million investment programme has risen to £4,500 million? Is that not a typical example of how planning delay will lead us down a slippery slope?
§ Mr. Heseltine
My hon. Friend is right. That is an example of the unrevealed costs which have been incurred simply to play to the populist ambitions of one Labour politician. It is all very well for Sir Don Ryder, talking to the Investor's Chronicle, to say that his aim for the NEB isto see this as a totally commercial animal, not some big Santa Claus … I have no intention of participating in something that is just a home for lame ducks.Before making such remarks, he ought to speak to some of the chairman of the nationalised industries and learn what public interference and political pressure are all about. All Governments and all Ministers have interfered with the nationalised industry, and the price that is being paid is incalculable.
I come next to the concept of the Planning Agreement. First, I shall say what we are not talking about. There is no question of any Conservative Members suggesting that information should not be made available to employees in companies, though not necessarily to trade unions, who represent some of the employees. The best companies do it on an ever-increasing scale. As we made clear in our manifesto at the last election, we would have moved forward purposefully to achieve greater progress in this important matter.
We are not talking about disclosure of information or a desire to involve work people in the companies for which they work. That is not the issue. What we are talking about is the disclosure of information which adds up to the corporate plans of British manufacturing industry. The reason we are against it is that it is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of what a corporate plan is all about. We know, and Labour Members who have industrial experience also know, that corporate plans are essentially vague extensions of an understanding of what the possibilities might be.
959 It is right intellectually that companies should indulge in corporate planning, look forward and work out what the options are likely to be. But nobody in industry would put a corporate plan on a piece of paper and say, "That is what will emerge". Nobody would do that, but Governments will, and trade unions will. That is where the trouble will start. That is why we are fundamentally opposed to the whole approach of revealing information on this basis.
The question was always seen against the background of corporate plans being voluntary. Let us go back to the same "Panorama" programme and see how voluntary the intentions behind some of the thinking on these plans happen to be. Mr. Dimbleby by this time was talking to Mr. Don Groves, who is the regional organiser of Mr. Jenkin's union, ASTMS, in the Midlands.DIMBLEBY: The system of planning agreements is meant to be entirely voluntary, is that your understanding? Do you think this system can be put into effect on a voluntary basis?GROVES: Well, its like any negotiations, isn't it? It's voluntary. I've never yet met an employer that wants to volunteer to bargain decent salaries, or decent conditions, it's a matter of gently persuading them in the usual traditional way, put their arm up their back and when they yell out you sit down and negotiate with them, and planning agreements will, in fact, occur in exactly the same way.This is described as the regeneration of British industry. Perhaps Mr. Groves had a more accurate summary of what was going on when in reply to an earlier question he said:much more important the employers aren't aware yet of the impact of planning agreement … it's a completely new development … and this development as far as I know hasn't been tried in any other country outside of the Socialist bloc.That is the practical approach of a person—
§ Mr. Benn
Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the situation that now confronts the workers in, for example, the Imperial Typewriter factories at Hull and Leicester, the Honeywell factory in Lanarkshire, the Singer Sewing Machine companies in West Central Scotland, and in many other factories who wake up and find that their jobs have been taken away from them, not by their arms being put behind their backs and twisted, but by their being sacked without notice, without prior disclosure 960 of the plans to those most directly concerned?
§ Mr. Heseltine
I imagine that they feel much like the 40,000 people laid off by the British Steel Corporation in the past five years or the 200,000 laid off by the National Coal Board. Much of that happened under the last Labour Government. There is no question but that we must improve on this matter. No one disputes that. But that is not what the Bill is dealing with. We are dealing with long-term plans which would have serious ill-effects on the jobs and the security of the very people the Secretary of State is trying to protect.
The deal was to be a quid pro quo. Industry was to have a Planning Agreement with the Government and the basis of that agreement was that the Government would give to industry certain information. That is what the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech today. Certain information would be handed to industry and certain grants would also be made available on a permanent basis. In exchange, industry would hand to the Government a great deal of information, so that the Government could then build their plans on that information.
It is interesting to see that in Clause 14 the grants to be handed over are clearly spelled out, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said. But on page vii of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill we find that it is the Government's intention that the grants will not be reduced in any case. Therefore, I cannot see what benefit there is to industry in that bribe.
The second question is what information industry will receive from the Government that would help it with its job. There are several questions on this. Will only companies which enter into Planning Agreements receive that information? If so, how are the big companies which do not enter into Planning Agreements to be able to compete with those that have? They will not have the same information. Will that be used as a threat of a special advantage to companies, thereby prejudicing those that do not enter into Planning Agreements and compelling them to do so? If the argument is that all the big companies will have entered into the agreements, what about the small and medium companies which are excluded altogether? How will they compete with 961 the big companies which are given privileged information? Those questions must be answered.
Many Opposition Members wonder just what information the Government have that will be handed over to private industry to make it that much more efficient. What is it that the Government know which, if given to industry, would make it eaiser for industry to trade profitably or invest successfully? We hear not a word from the right hon. Gentleman. If the finance director of a large company had asked for guidance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer last October and had been told to budget forward at 8½ per cent. inflation, his company would be bust today. If he read the Labour Party manifesto saying that inflation would be down to 10 per cent. at the end of this year, he would also be bust today. If he went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to discuss his cash flow problems, he would be talking to the man who succeeded in taking £1,000 million from industry in one Budget, only to be forced to give it back six months later because he got his sums wrong. He would also be talking to the man who had to come to the House a few weeks ago to explain that his borrowing calculations were £2,000 million out in six months.
This is the basis of the information upon which the Government say that they have a contribution to make to the private sector. It is a total and absolute delusion. I should have thought that what lies behind the reality of the situation is contained in a speech by Richard Marsh. He ought to know. He has experience on both sides in this House and industry. As the chairman of a nationalised industry he has worked with Ministers in both Governments. On the way that the Government deal with the nationalised industries and the disclosure of information he says:None of the five-year investment plans we have produced has remained intact for more than six months because of the inability and unwillingness of Government to settle investment plans for more than an inadequate period ahead. The cost to the taxpayer of the present short-term nature of the Government's … method of allocating investment to the nationalised industries is frightening.That is somebody who knows.
Why does not the Secretary of State for Industry and the Government put the 962 nationalised industries through the Planning Agreement process and make it work so that we can all see what the arguments and advantages are?
To show the fatuity of the whole thing, the Bill provides for 250 people to monitor the whole of British industry, including clerks, messengers, bottle washers and the corporate planners. It is suggested that 250 people will do the whole thing. ICI alone has 250 doing that kind of work. The Secretary of State thinks that he will monitor the whole of British industry in this way. The right hon. Gentleman has a staff of 10,000 now and yet he cannot answer a simple factual question when asked for information in this House.
We know what will happen. Information handed to the Minister will assume a significance and a validity which no corporate planner would ever give to information of that kind. The first Minister will build on the information assumptions which it does not warrant. He will make claims in the heat of a by-election or meet the need during a General Election for a survey of intentions. The first Minister will have a bonanza with the great regional development plans about which he has been told over two, three and four year periods hence. He will then go, because the plans will not work out in the way he promised. What will his successor say? He will say, "I will not be caught in that way. I will make sure that I have a double or triple check. I want more information and details earlier." So the bureaucracy, which always feeds on itself, will multiply as more intrusions are made into the private sector of the British industry.
Let us look at some of the areas where the disclosure of information will have a harmful effect. The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be confidentiality. How can he tell this House that he believes in confidentiality when he is the Minister who, in dealing with Sir Arnold Hall, the chairman of Hawker Siddeley, published the whole of his side of correspondence about the HS146 without ringing Sir Arnold Hall to find out whether he had any objection to it? How can the right hon. Gentleman, who has seen his civil servants' recommendation about Kirkby leaked to the Press—I do not know where from—tell us that the secrets of British industry will be safe 963 in his Department? The right hon. Gentleman will be playing with the forward investment programmes of a significant area of British industry upon which the jobs of Britain's working people depend. The House had better understand the dangers.
I will point to some of the more precise and technical difficulties. If the right hon. Gentleman were in Opposition we would hear emotive words of insider dealing. Let us consider the problems of the Government and the unions being given this information. In my view, it would put them in an impossible position. We hear talk of confidentiality. Let us consider a situation where the National Enterprise Board is preparing to buy into a manufacturing processing company, reaches agreement, thinks that it is a very good deal from both points of view, and therefore puts forward its recommendations to the Treasury and the Department of Industry. Then, when it is about to be signed and approved by the Government, somebody says, "We have a Corporate Plan from one of the company's competitors showing that it is is about to invest £10 million in a competitive process which will destroy the validity of that company". According to what we are told, the Government would not tell the National Enterprise Board. Therefore, how they ever sustain a charge from the Public Accounts Committee that they had let the National Enterprise Board go ahead with investment which they knew would turn out to be a complete waste of money?
What does the trade union leader, given a Corporate Plan about a particular company, do if it looks bad and gloomy and he happens to be a trustee for the pension fund of his union which owns a lot of shares? Is he allowed to sell them? If he does not sell them, he will be held to criticism by his members for not doing so.
How will we deal with that kind of situation if all these plans are made available? [AN HON. MEMBER: "It was in the IR Bill."] There was nothing like this in the IR Bill. I have it here and will read from it, if necessary.
Let us look at the effect on employment of companies which have investment to make in this country or elsewhere in Europe because they want a 964 base within the Common Market. Will they come here? Will they invest in this country? Will they invest in partnership schemes in Europe with British companies knowing that they have the choice between a non-British and a British partner, one of which carries with it total disclosure and the other total confidentiality? Is that the kind of risk to which hon. Gentlemen are seriously suggesting employment prospects should be subjected?
The reality is that trade union leaders are placed in an impossible position. It is interesting that the unions are to get the information, not the employees. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman because I know that he is trying hard to get the information given to employees, not to the unions. One has to praise him for trying and to sympathise with him for losing the only battle that he lost on the Bill.
What will happen to the ambitious trade union member who sees his responsible leader accept a Corporate Plan which allows a degree of profitability to a particular company? At the next union election he will say, "Lads, back me and I will get more of that profit for you." Elections to unions will be fought on the amount that can be extracted from projected profits of the Corporate Plans three years ahead. That will lead to the further diminution of profitability in British industry and a further reduction of investment opportunities in this country. So it will go on.
We shall go into more detail in Committee of the endless numbers of examples of this kind which will bring about a cataclysmic decline in the possibilities of success for the British free enterprise system. Against the background of the economic policies of this Government that is gravely weakening the morale and confidence of British industry, with the worsening prospect every day of investment in industry and the certainty of rising unemployment.
There could not be a worse moment at which to introduce the Bill. It would be a bad bill to be introduced at any moment. It is a weary combination of old-fashioned nationalisation and a damaging erosion of privacy within which every Government and every company 965 must, to an extent, operate. It will destroy, not create, jobs. It will divide management and unions, not bring them together. It is mischievous, and deliberately so. I tell the House, on behalf of the Conservative Party, that we shall repeal this Bill.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
Having listened carefully to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), it is clear to me that the Opposition have little constructive criticism to offer to this debate. I welcome the Bill as an attempt at what has been described as the regeneration of British industry. Most of us know that it is long overdue.
Essentially, this is a mild measure building on the 1972 Act that was put through this House by the previous Government. The Secretary of State has been subjected to the usual hysterical attacks from big business and the Conservative Party. In my view, they are a fair indication that my right hon. Friend is progressing on the right lines.
We know all about the huffing and puffing from the hon. Member for Henley and from his colleague the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), but essentially they are fighting a sham fight. Their strategy is to make a fuss about a measure like this in order to try to deter our Labour Government from introducing even tougher measures.
If my argument that this is essentially a mild measure needs bearing out, I notice that even the Welsh CBI is singing muted songs of praise about the Bill, and the Welsh CBI is not exactly the most progressive of bodies. On the other hand, if capitalism had been so successful, my right hon. Friend would have had to use vastly different arguments. However, the fact is that the capitalists have let down Britain by their failure to invest. This great defect has to be remedied to give British work people more power to their elbows so that we as a country can compete in the markets of the world.
Clause 1 of the Bill establishes the National Enterprise Board, and Clause 2 sets out its functions for the promotion of industrial efficiency and international competitiveness. Success here could be of immense benefit to the country.
966 Then the Bill speaks about the maintenance and safeguarding of employment. The key priority here lies in getting the support of work people, because naturally they are concerned above all else about the security of their jobs. We know all the difficulties in Wales, in the north of England and in Scotland over the years.
I refer in passing to the problem of Northern Ireland. The fact is that there is already a Finance Corporation operating in Northern Ireland. It might be described as a forerunner of the National Enterprise Board. But, in view of the effectiveness of that body, I hope that we may expect the support of the Irish Unionist Members in the Division Lobby.
A further function of the board is to help firms which are in difficulties, broadening and extending the interventionist policies contained in the 1972 Act which, as I say, was brought forward by the previous Conservative Government. It could be described as propping up capitalism. Big business and the Conservative Party have no objection to Government aid for industry. They are concerned about the possible change in the old structure of ownership and decision making in industry. They will try in any way that they can to hide the failure of their own stewardship. They will blame the work people. They will blame the trade unions. Anything can be sacrificed. No slander is too malicious to maintain their essential control. In a mild way, this is now being challenged.
Clause 7 specifies an overall borrowing limit of £700 million. With the consent of the Treasury, that limit could be raised to £1,000 million. I question whether that is enough, especially bearing in mind the statement a few days ago by Lord Stokes that British Leyland alone needed £200 million immediately, as he put it, "just to stand still". Vast sums are needed if the economy of the United Kingdom is to expand and if our living standards are to improve.
Clause 2(2)(c) speaks of an extension of public ownership into profitable areas of manufacturing. I wonder what that means in practice. The amounts quoted are not enough to buy out major concerns such as ICI. Is this merely buying part of the shareholding in different concerns? This is what the late Hugh Gaitskell advocated nearly 20 years ago, for which he was so severely criticised by the 967 British Left at the time. However, I agree that if there is to be public money invested in this way, likewise there should be public accountability.
We need to get away from the Morrisonian concept of public ownership. The Secretary of State already has the British Steel Corporation under his control. The corporation has 1,500 headquarters staff planning how to make other people redundant. The hon. Member for Henley referred to the BSC and said that he felt that it should have more freedom. In Newport, I have had a fair amount of experience of the BSC. Frankly, I have not much confidence in it. It closed our tube works with the loss of nearly 1,500 jobs. Now there is a shortage of the product. The work people argued at the time that what was needed was not closure but capital invested in the works.
When we talk of public ownership through this Bill and the National Enterprise Board or the existing nationalised industries, I feel that certain criteria have to be accepted. First, there is accountability. The National Enterprise Board is closely allied to the Government. The Secretary of State needs to tell us more about its accountability to Parliament. To an extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Henley, but I am sure that it is for vastly different reasons. Organisations like the BSC resent very much the implications of political control, but, whenever this has been raised on previous occasions I have not noticed the hon. Member for Henley being so keen on the BSC coming under the direct control of the House of Commons. The BSC is keen for Britain to stay in the Common Market. That is yet another indication that it wants to get away from political control.
It raises also the question asked earlier in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), who wanted to know from the Secretary of State how far the Common Market would affect the functions of the National Enterprise Board, provided that we stayed in—which Heaven forbid. From the reply of my right hon. Friend about Articles 92 to 94 of the Treaty of Rome, it seems that changes will be needed in the treaty rules. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will be taking this matter into 968 consideration, because the Brussels Commission refuses to allow major changes in the structure of industry without its prior approval. The Brussels Commission could veto the Board's function and ensure through the court that it did not aid the industries in the manner which the Bill suggests.
The question of interference by the Common Market is vital because that organisation is already interfering so much in our affairs. Public enterprise concerns should appoint managers who believe in public enterprise. They should not appoint people who are anxious to sell public enterprise back to private enterprise. We have seen examples of this recently.
In publicly-owned enterprises there should be a major extension of industrial democracy, bringing work people into the decision-making process, giving them a say in the enterprises in which they invest the whole of their working lives. Work-people should be informed of their rights under the Bill when it becomes law. Plainly written leaflets should be issued giving them an explanation of their rights. This, in turn, puts new responsibilities on the trade union movement.
I welcome this Bill. The question still arises whether its provisions are tough enough. We must bear in mind the huge problems that exist in industry and the years of neglect that have gone by.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)
It would be wrong not to acknowledge that on this occasion the Government have attempted to provide the House with some sort of framework within which the inevitably massive assistance to industrial investment is to be provided. This is something which the House and the country entirely lacked during the régime of the Conservative Government. In spite of a speech or super-Gladstonian length from the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) it was notable that there were no signs of positive Conservative thinking about the framework within which this unavoidably massive investment is to be provided. But the framework in this Bill is so frail that it can be pushed into almost any shape which may suit any Government from time to time. We have all read advertisements for gadgets for the home 969 which are so flexible and adaptable that they will fit either the smallest semi or the largest mansion—telescopic, collapsible and infinitely suited to almost any range of uses. That is the characteristic of the framework in this Bill. As a result, the Government are left largely free to do what they please.
We on the Liberal benches fear most—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Hon. Members should have no fear, Liberal reinforcements always arrive and hon. Members should have noticed that the bons mots in Liberal speeches are always reserved for the later part of the oration.
The danger is, not that the country will have some fearful Soviet inflicted upon it or that the corporate State will dawn next year under the leadership of the Secretary of State; it is a much more dreary and unattractive one, namely, that the largest farmyard of lame ducks ever known will be under the presidency of the NEB although not under the leadership of Sir Don Ryder, necessarily. I predict that his life in that post will be a short one, because a man of such tremendous commercial acumen and determination is not likely to wish to remain long surrounded by the wreckage of once-great industries.
Those industries will also be notably vulnerable to the terrible dangers of political and social pressure; they will be massively labour-intensive, in which there will be appalling resistance when the inevitable lay-offs and redundancies are rightly suggested. Liberals are aghast because, during the whole of the discussion of this Bill, and in the Minister's speech this afternoon, there has been no positive mention of retraining. Yet this is probably one of the main elements to which this country must look for industrial salvation.
Furthermore, there is no substructure on which a Bill like this can hope to operate successfully. There is no substructure of works councils or other democratically-composed workers' organisations which could be entrusted with the otherwise admirable provisions for disclosure. As a result, disclosure is to be made, quite unsuitably in our opinion, to union representatives who may have no loyalty whatever to the plant con 970 cerned. There is also no structure for parliamentary control, partly because the outgoing Conservative administration left no legacy of parliamentary control whatever in this field. It was up to the Government to provide one when they first took office almost a year ago. This is important, because the key factor for a body which is to intervene to prevent great industries decaying is the ability to spot the symptoms of decline at the earliest stage. In this country there is no mechanism for doing that.
In 25 years of practice in an international firm of chartered accountants one of the few things I learnt was that only people on the very inside of such concerns can spot the first signs of decay. The tree appears to be in magnificent leaf, the branches are still growing and the fruit is appearing, but those on the inside know that management, research, salesmanship or market development—perhaps all of them—are beginning to fall off and that decline is setting in. Where, in the whole of this imposing structure, is there any arrangement for detecting these things early, before the duck becomes acutely lame?
In an effort to inject a constructive approach into this debate, even at a fairly late stage, I make this suggestion. The State is overwhelmingly the biggest buyer of manufactured goods in this country. Intelligent buyers soon spot when the supplier is going to seed. I hope that there will be some provision for State purchasers to report to the right hon. Gentleman when they detect that even famous names are beginning to offer an inferior service. Far more could also be done by commercial attaches abroad to report the gossip of the market place in their respective capitals, when they hear that great British exporters are beginning to lose their cutting edge.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am intrigued by the suggestion of commercial attaches listening to the gossip of the market place and then reporting back to the Secretary of State. What happens when one of the Government purchasers or a commercial attaché finds that one of our nationalised industries is falling down on the job? There is the case of a gentleman from the Coal Board who reported that the board wrongly spent £2 million. He was sacked. 971 What happens when the report concerns public and not merely private industry?
§ Mr. Wainwright
There is no problem here. It was implicit in what I said that reports which are critical of the nationalised industries should be acted on. I am aware of the example which the hon. Member cited, since it centred round Doncaster, in Yorkshire. It is entirely inapposite. I do not want to be led astray, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you will be the first to rebuke me afterwards. The example is inapposite because Mr. Grimshawe, the gentleman in question, was not an independent Government servant like a commercial attaché or a purchaser. He was simply an employee of a nationalised extractive industry. Furthermore, the duties of auditors could be extended when some Government gets down to a long overdue new Companies Act. For example, auditors share some responsibility in approving or otherwise every word in a chairman's statement, since some statements tend to give confidence that a concern is still fully alive when morbidity has set in.
The people who, above all, are in the best position to witness the first signs of the onset of industrial decay, are the workers. They are the people who see the managing director's efforts slackening off. They are the ones who notice when the boss's car is being driven off in the direction of the golf course. They are the people who know that the components are no longer arriving at the moment when they are required. They are the people who notice if more time is being spent in wining and dining than in selling the product. Therefore a structure where those working in a concern can monitor the directors' performance—and, indeed, can have a vote at the meeting which appoints directors—is long overdue.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
Is the hon. Gentleman speaking about professional activities, or an industrial concern? If he is speaking of an industrial concern, it is certainly one I do not recognise.
§ Mr. Wainwright
I am speaking of industries of which, over a period of 25 years, I have accumulated some modest knowledge.
§ Mr. Wainwright
In addition to lack of provision in the Bill in this respect we on the Liberal bench are concerned lest the NEB, having providing Labour Members with some political glory and ammunition, be overwhelmed in its early years by too great a task.
It was disappointing that the Secretary of State for Industry did not get round to saying which of the existing Government shareholdings would be taken on board by the NEB. Assuming they all are, we would say that Rolls-Royce, ICL, the subsidiary of George Kent, parts of the motor-cycle industry, British Leyland, Foden and Ferranti are enough for a start, without spending another £700 million in the early stages on further acquisitions.
A question which has already been touched upon is that of parliamentary control. Surely by now Labour Members should have learned from the experience of their earlier creation of the IRC—but obviously they have not done so. No less an authority than the present Paymaster-General, writing in 1973, when in opposition, said, in his book, "Political Responsibility and Industry",To whom, and in what respects, was the IRC responsible? The Government found that, like Frankenstein, it had little control over its monster.Going a little further than that, a young Fabian, Donald Roy, writing in a Fabian pamphlet only last September, said this of the NEB proposal:This would involve a transfer of sovereignty from Parliament more significant than either entry into the EEC or the setting up of the Pay Board and the Price Commission.In dealing with this point I do not want to raise Committee points, but I shall mention one by way of illustration. The measure contains all manner of subtle clauses designed to truncate the usual procedure of affirmative resolution in this House and to deprive both Houses of Parliament of the usual rights which traditionally they have in respect of that procedure.
In the opinion of the Liberal Party, this Bill cannot work until, first of all, there is set up some proper apparatus of worker representation. The provision that information must go to trade unions is dangerous and also inappropriate. There are many examples, some of which my 973 hon. Friends gathered when we had a nation-wide industrial campaign a year ago, involving information which was either available at Transport House or at union headquarters and yet which was not passed down the line to those who could understand it and use it in their own industrial experience. There are also cases of information being given, even in present conditions, to local union officials, who are then extremely jealous and who sometimes place obstacles in the way of that information being passed on to the workers on the shop floor.
The only people who should have a right to this information are those with a definite loyalty to the company concerned either through being members of the company under a new company law, or else being members of a supervisory board or works council. But the present provision tends to create two classes of trade union member—those trade union members on whom the Government have conferred the privilege of special inside information—and "the rest", who are to be left in their present regrettable and undeserved ignorance. This creates a privileged class of trade unionist and in our opinion is wholly deplorable.
I hope that if somebody else from this bench manages to catch Mr. Speaker's eye during this two-day debate this theme will be developed. I shall not pursue the matter now.
I welcome the greater part of the provisions in respect of Planning Agreements—partly because, in so far as anything these days is "voluntary", they certainly are. The only proposal which I have to make under this heading is that the first Planning Agreement should be between the NEB and the Secretary of State for Industry, otherwise the board's operations will enjoy an inappropriate obscurity.
There is a danger that the Bill, far from being the Soviet monster as described in the Tory Press, will be a piece of rather dreary window dressing. It will also run the risk of being expensive. Somebody has described it as potentially the most expensive game of Monopoly ever played. Certainly as it stands we regard it as bad by reason of its gross uncertainty. It is an infinitely flexible framework. Since uncertainty is notoriously bad for industry, which 974 essentially needs continuity, we shall look for substantial major amendments in Committee and on Report if, as we still hope, we are to be able to consider voting for the measure on Third Reading in its final form. But, as it now stands, I shall recommend my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Second Reading tomorrow.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
With all respect to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright)—and I have a great deal of respect for him, as I think have many other hon. Members—I found his speech most puzzling. Three-quarters of it made a powerful case for the Bill—a case which I should have been pleased to make myself. The hon. Gentleman had some criticisms to make of the Bill—and so have I, as I shall enunciate in a moment—but it is a tradition of the House that when one is broadly in line with the provisions of a Bill but thinks it can be improved, one gives it a Second Reading and has a bash at improving it later.
What I found incomprehensible about the hon. Gentleman's speech was the total dichotomy between the body of the speech and its conclusion. It seems to be stretching the elastic of logic very hard indeed to say all he said about the great gap that needs to be filled, and to conclude by saying that the Liberals will chuck the Bill out anyway. If we do not give the Bill a Second Reading, neither the hon. Gentleman nor I nor anybody else will be able to amend it in Committee. I am quite prepared to join the hon. Member in seeking some amendments in Committee, but if he wants my help then, he has to give me help now.
§ Mr. Richard Wainwright
Has the hon. Member so little confidence in the stamina of his Government that he does not believe that if this were to be thrown out they would not come back with something better?
§ Mr. Mikardo
The hon. Member knows better than that. Even though he and his party have not had any experience of Government within the lifetime of most of us, he still knows well enough that when a measure is squeezed out of the parliamentary timetable it is difficult to find time to put it back.
975 I agree very much with the hon. Member when he says that in the industrial scene it is important to spot signs of impending decay early. I should have thought that the proper operation of the planning agreements system will do precisely that. Of course, it will not do it as quickly, as easily, or as readily as could be done by somebody, as he rightly said, living inside the firm. But nobody is envisaging that sort of measure of integration. Within the limits of what is possible with manpower, and not upsetting relations between Government and industry, I should have thought that the thing which the hon. Member most wants is precisely the thing which the planning agreement system set out to secure.
In France, where the planning agreement system is operated on a wide scale—manifestly the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) is not aware of that—it is working to no insignificant extent in that way. What I find interesting is that the planning agreement system seems to be an extension to Government and industry, especially of Government as buyers—a system which is carried out by two or three large-scale multiple retailers vis-à-vis their principal suppliers. There are two or three large-scale retailers which operate a sort of planning agreement system with their principal and regular suppliers. They give information about projected demands to those supplier. In return, they get information about how those suppliers are working, what new designs they have on the stocks, what new plant they propose to buy—exactly as is intended under the Bill. I cannot think why that system, which I am sure every Opposition Member applauds when it operates in the private sector, should be thought by anybody to be reprehensible when it is operated in the public sector.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley was right in saying that one of the best ways to detect what is going on is to listen to what the workers say when they are lunching in the canteen or having a half pint in the pub on the way home. We learn a great deal by doing that. But, there again, this is precisely the function which the Bill will carry out. It is one of the purposes of the Bill. The hon. Member says that we should not have a Bill until we have a system of industrial democracy operating. That is making 976 the perfect the enemy of the good. It is saying that one cannot do a bit of good until one can do the job perfectly. I hope that on those grounds he will reconsider the last sentence in his speech, which fits so ill with all the rest.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that if your eye does manage to light upon another hon. Member of the Liberal Party during the course of the debate—your eye would have great difficulty in doing so at present—the hon. Member's colleague, when he speaks, will say that the Liberals have re-thought the matter.
When I came into the House for the debate I was delighted to see the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) sitting in his place by the Dispatch Box ready to lead the Opposition into battle on the Bill. From certain reports I read in the newspapers over the weekend, I had feared that by the time we came here today he would be moved by his new leader to different pastures, or lesser pastures, or even no pastures at all. I should like to say, in tribute to the hon. Member, that I hope no such disaster befalls him. I would regret it very much if he ceased to be the Opposition's spokesman on industry, because nobody could be easier meat than he is.
I give to the Bill a somewhat modified welcome. As I have already indicated, there is much in it which I applaud. It fills a gap which is screaming out to be filled. But I have two reservations. First, it needs some stiffening in parts. Comparisons have been made between the parts of the Bill and the White Paper. We shall have to look at those when the time comes. But my hon. Friends should also make some comparisons between the Bill and what we said in our election manifesto. There are some differences. Those of us who are in the Standing Committee will have to see to what extent, if at all, those differences are justified, and whether they would be justified in seeking to close the gap.
The second point which concerns me is one which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Henley and on which I agreed with him. I refer to his reference to the reports of the interview between the Prime Minister and the Confederaion of British Industry, which appeared in our Press on Friday. As the hon. Member for Henley rightly said, these 977 reports appeared to suggest that the Prime Minister had said, in effect, that where the Bill differs from the White Paper it will be amended to bring it into line with that White Paper. I am not pretending to quote the actual words, but they were along those lines. That will not do at all. When one has done operation 1 and then, in the passage of time, one improves it to operation 2, and has made it better, it is very silly to go back to the standard of operation 1.
Anyhow, the Prime Minister quite properly meets the CBI to talk about the Bill. At some stage he will presumably be meeting the General Council of the TUC to talk about the Bill as well, and I cannot believe that the TUC would be very happy or satisfied if my right hon. Friend told the TUC what he is reported as having said to the CBI.
If someone newly descended from Mars, who knew nothing about what was going on in this country and this world, had dropped into this Chamber this afternoon and listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Henley as the first speech he had ever heard, he would have got the impression that the Bill was seeking to make changes in an industrial scene which was absolutely perfect. What the hon. Member was really saying was, "Why do you not leave well alone?" But are we talking about leaving well alone? Are we talking about "well"?
A few years ago we used to have to argue about the relative merits and defects of public ownership and competitive private enterprise. There was a case to be made out on both sides, in the light of the knowledge which we then had. But today, when everybody can see, standing out glaringly, the abject failure of the private sector of British manufacturing industry, there can surely be no ground for argument.
I could make out a case, of course, for Socialist organisation of industry. I could also, if I were put to it, make out the classic case for the free private enterprise system. In fact, sometimes I think I could make out that case better than do Opposition Members, who do not do it very well. But the one thing for which one cannot make a case is private enterprise on public doles. That gives the nation the worst of all worlds. One cannot make out a case for a system in which 978 the taxpayer bears the risks and has to shell out when they do not come off, whereas a tiny proportion of people called shareholders get the profit if the risks come off.
Over the years—and this starts a long way back—we have witnessed a total failure of the private enterprise system. As we have heard, time and again, it does not invest as much in new manufacturing plant as do its competitors. It cannot maintain the same rise in levels of productivity as do its competitors. By virtually universal agreement, it has a lower level of export skills than its competitors in other countries. By comparison with other countries, it has done practically nothing about import-saving; and its organisation of suppliers and after-sales service is a byword, unhappily, almost throughout the world. This is an abject failure. It demands a remedy.
The Conservative Party suggests no remedy. All that the Conservatives say is "leave well alone"—as though anyone could believe that this is "well". The hon. Member for Henley said that all we need to do is to create an atmosphere in which we shall attract people to invest. But let us look at all the things which successive Governments, of his party and mine, have tried. There has been one form of inducement after another. One cannot cajole the private sector to invest in British machinery in Great Britain; one cannot bribe it, induce it or attract it. Everything that the mind of man and everything that the best brains in the two major parties have been able to produce has been tried, and not one of the ideas has worked.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. Will he explain why he feels that countries which operate a free enterprise system probably to a larger extent than ourselves—particularly West Germany—have managed to maintain a far more successful economic record than ours?
§ Mr. Mikardo
I have worked as a management consultant in this country and in some others. It would take too long to give a complete answer to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall give him a shorthand answer. We do not have the same standards of management, because we do not have the same objective criteria 979 of management skills in this country as that which exists in some other countries. Secondly, for decades—not merely for the last few years—industry in this country has distributed, in dividends, a higher proportion of its earnings and reinvested a lower proportion than is the case in almost every other industrial country. Thirdly, in other countries—West Germany is the most notable example—institutional investors do the job, or part of the job, which the NEB is to do here, but here institutional investors take a passive rôle about their investments.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I shall not give way again. I promised to be brief. The hon. Gentleman asked a question and I have given an answer. We can debate this wider question on some other occasion.
The hon. Member for Henley said that all we have to do is see that industry has plenty of money, and then it will invest it. But the fact is that this freezing or skimping of investment goes back at least half a century. In that half century there have been many times when industry has been very liquid indeed. In those highly liquid periods we have had no great increase of investment. But now, hon. Members of the Opposition are saying that industry will not invest because it is the wicked Labour Government who tax it up to the ears, stop it having any free money, and threaten it with nationalisation, so of course it will not invest.
There was an argument earlier between the two Front Benches about what happened during the previous Conservative Government's period in office. I shall give figures to settle the argument. They were a Government of friends of industry. They helped industry, as we have tried to help industry. They were very generous indeed with industry, and the profits of industry rose very rapidly between 1970 and 1973. Retained profits, proportionately, rose even faster than all profits. But the figures for all profits are as follows. Between 1970 and 1971 they rose by 9 per cent. In that year investment fell by 7.6 per cent. Between 1971 and 1972 industrial profits rose by 15.7 per cent.—plenty of lolly around. In that year, investment fell by 9.8 per cent. 980 From 1972 to 1973 there was a big boom, and profits rose by 29.5 per cent.—tons of money around. Although investment improved a little in that year, the net result over the three years was that profits rose by over 60 per cent. but investment fell by over 20 per cent.
§ Mr. Tom King
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the argument was between myself and the Secretary of State on this point. The hon. Gentleman says that he has been a management consultant. He must, therefore, be aware that profit from investment is not something that results the week after a decision is taken; that these things are planned and there is a considerable time lag between investment and profit there-from. I say this about the NEB—and the Secretary of State knows this; if the Bill is passed and the NEB makes investments, we shall not see the results of those investments for two or three years. The figures that the hon. Gentleman has given exactly prove that point. It was when profits had been made and when there was confidence that markets would continue, that investments started. That was why in 1973—the hon. Gentleman was very selective in his figures—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—that is exactly what happened.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must intervene. The hon. Gentleman who has just intervened is trying to catch my eye in this debate, but his long intervention has not improved his chance of doing so.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Although it is not for me to do your job, Mr. Speaker, I was about to say that that was not an intervention but a speech. I would not have given way if I had known that it was coming. I shall not give way to hon. Members who abuse the courtesies of the House in that way.
Let me continue the story—just to reply to the hon. Gentleman briefly. If what he says is right, now, in 1975, we ought to be getting the big investment arising out of the profits of 1973. Where is it? Let me continue with the story of those three years, because, again, there was argument between the Front Benches.
In those three years industry received subsidies from the Government amounting to £3,075 million. The hon. Member for Henley asked what proportion that was 981 of what industry paid in tax. The answer is that it was a bit less than half. In that period industry paid, in tax, £6,400 million, and it received in subsidies £3,075 million. In that period industry paid out in dividends £6,500 million. Is not it nice of industry to say "We have paid our tax so we are entitled to half of it back?" Which hon. Member, or which self-employed person outside the House—Conservative Members are always screaming about self-employed people—expects, as of right, that he will get back half of his tax? What we did from public revenues—whichever way one cares to look at it—was to rebate half of industry's tax or give it the money to pay half of the dividends which it paid. In spite of that, there still was no increase in investment.
Some companies did very well out of it. One company received more than £70 million in that period. One company—Guest Keen & Nettlefolds—received only £8.2 million, but it was sufficiently grateful to give a small thanksgiving offering in the shape of the largest single donation to the funds of the Conservative Party. This is something which strikes me almost as being a bit of corruption.
I now come to my last point. I apologise for speaking somewhat at length, but I was interrupted quite a lot.
The hon. Member for Henley said one other thing with which I profoundly agree. He wants the maximum of parliamentary accountability. It is now nearly 30 years since I came to this House, and in all that time I have striven on every conceivable occasion to increase the degree of accountability of the executive to Parliament. Perhaps I am not being altogether immodest if I say that during the years when I was Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries I made a small contribution towards getting the Government and those industries—and people generally—to understand the need for this accountability, and especially—to take one of the hon. Gentleman's points—the need to ensure that when a Minister gives a directive to a nationalised industry he gives it openly and in a form in which it can be challenged. I am all for that, I worked to get it, and 982 we produced a unanimous report which recommended that that should always be the case.
However much we try, we cannot get away from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). What on earth is the good of talking about making my right hon. Friend accountable to us when he is not going to be accountable to us however many restraints, controls and measures of accountability to this House we put into the Bill? He will be accountable not to us but to the European Commission in Brussels.
If the Secretary of State comes forward with a proposal and we pray against it and defeat it by two to one, provided that the European Commission says it wants that measure he will get it. There is no getting away from that, and my right hon. Friend has admitted it. What is the good of making false noises—because that is what they are—demanding accountability by my right hon. Friend to Parliament? Those who make that demand should seek to help to free us from the shackles which have taken our right to accountability away from us.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) is not here, but I notice that no other members of the Liberal Party are here either. The hon. Gentleman hoped that other members of his party would catch the eye of the Chair, but it seems difficult for them to do that now.
If the hon. Member for Colne Valley were here I should ask him to listen to the few words that I have to say about some of his remarks, which to some degree were picked up by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). When dealing with the quality and capacity of British management the hon. Gentleman had some curious words to say, which seemed to be both a travesty and a caricature of the reality. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow gave us his opinion in the light of a lifetime spent in international consultancy. He said that the levels of management were noticeably inferior to those in other countries.
I admit to having spent my life in industry, and to having been very much 983 engaged in international industry. It is noticeable that world wide, one sees at the head of some of the greatest concerns—both British and foreign—British managers, for the good reason that they are competent. There can be no doubt about that. These strictures are passed easily across the Floor of the House, but they are in ridiculously generalised terms and bear no reality to the generality of British industry.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I did not take time to develop the point. I take what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Our best is at least as good as is to be found anywhere in the world, in terms of both companies and managers. Our first division is as good as any other first division. The trouble is that our second, third and fourth divisions are awful.
§ Mr. Davies
I regard that as another generality of an almost useless kind, but no doubt the hon. Gentleman is accustomed to making such statements.
The debate has dwelt considerably on the matter of investment, followed by a degree of invective against management for the failure of the country to invest. The fact is that the whole texture of investment is extremely complex. It is not just a question whether someone has the money or the profits. Many factors enter into investment, not least of which is the fact that because of the structure of our concerns we are accustomed year by year to seeing upwards of two-thirds of our total reinvested money derived from within the concerns themselves. Therefore, when there is a sharp downturn in profits, when there is a sharp reduction in liquidity, this has a penetrating effect, but if they can possibly avoid it companies will not allow themselves to stop off short investment which is in course, and for this reason one sees time lags at both ends of the operation.
I draw the attention of the House to an article on the subject of company liquidity in 1974, published in this month's edition of "Accountancy". The article is written by Adrian Buckley, and in it he seeks to show the real derived profits of British industry over the years, after deduction of stock appreciation and replacement depreciation, which the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, with his experience of consultancy, will 984 no doubt be able to appreciate without difficulty.
The writer of the article says that on this basis in 1968, compared with 1967, there was a net reduction of 33⅓ per cent. in adjusted profit. In the following year, 1969, as against 1968, it was down by 12 per cent. In 1970, as against 1969, it was down by 16 per cent. In 1971 it was 12 per cent. up. In 1972 it was again up by 12 per cent. In 1973 it was up by 1 per cent.—a poor year, being the year of the great commodity surge—and in 1974 it was down by 50 per cent. Can the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow wonder, in the circumstances, that the impact on investment decisions as against investment performance is cataclysmic? That is what has happened to investment, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to study this article, because it will give him considerable enlightenment.
I am the last to seek to pretend that I have not learned a great deal since I have had the honour to be a Member of this House. I have tried to learn, but I was never in any doubt, long before I became a Member, that there are many activities within industry for which Government support is and always has been unquestionably needed.
In terms of high technology, aircraft, computers, and so on, it is ridiculous to imagine that this country, or any other, can hope to see industry succeed without a substantial degree of Government support given either in the way that we provide it or in the way in which it is provided in the United States, through major research contracts, and so on. There is a need also for substantial support in regional policy where, without it, there would be grave and serious distortion in regional investment.
I have always believed that the right way to bring about such measures is to go through the close mesh of this House of Commons, and I had hoped that it would be possible for all such cases and all such requirements to be subjected to the kind of scrutiny and intensive debate which goes on in this House and which I think refines intentions.
I learned during the years when I was in Government that there was a need for something more. There is a need for an instrument which can deal with matters which arise in a totally unpredicted and precipitate manner. I believe 985 that in some cases this instrument is necessary to deal with the orderly rundown of a business which is in irretrievable trouble, so that it does not result in a catastrophic effect both for the workers and the region in which it exists, or in other social consequences.
There is an alternative case where such support is necessary and where it has very often to be brought into action at exceedingly short notice. I refer to occasions when there is a sudden plunge in a company's affairs, which does not betoken a personal instability of a company or a personal non-viability, but where it is necessary to sustain a concern for a period of time. I suppose that the recent experience with the Ferranti Company is an example where, to return a company to the path of viability and satisfactory performance, we needed to sustain it. In such circumstances an instrument is needed. I do not believe that to seek to keep above water the nostrils of a concern which is irretrievably lost is anything but madness. I do not withdraw what I have said previously on the subject. I stand firmly by it.
I recollect picking up the pieces of some of the tragedies which the then Secretary of State left for others to retrieve. I had the misfortune to see the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, among others, maintained in a state in which it could intermittently obtain a breath of air. It then went under the water again for an unfathomable period, and I had, somehow or other, to try to put it to together.
Any such instrument or measure needs to be essentially of a benevolent and co-operative kind. The intention is, by association with the management and workers and the financiers of the concern, to try to procure a situation allowing us to attain our objectives, be they social or the sustaining of a concern through to viability.
In those circumstances any instrument must be equipped with a series of safeguards which subject it to the kind of scrutiny and observation which this House should make. That was the case of the Industry Act 1972. It was an instrument which attained a number of these purposes. It was armed with a series of safeguards which, to the House and to the outside world, gave confidence 986 that the Government were not seeking to get into the vitals of British industry for its own benefit, but were trying conscientiously to help in a situation which could go extremely and dangerously wrong. I do not pretend that everything was perfect, but that Act, with its imperfections, clearly had that end in mind. That was clearly realised.
That Act, in that form, was in total contrast with this Bill. I do not see in it the desire to co-operate or to bring to bear the valid support of Government to management, to workers and to financiers, or to try to sustain the force of British industry. On the contrary, I see in it a force which is not so much interventionary as interfering, and which I greatly fear will bring about a degree of future internecine strife of the most damaging kind between Government and management.
All the safeguards in the 1972 Act have been disbanded. We saw the fall of the Industrial Development Advisory Board, despite the assurance of the Secretary of State that it would be maintained. We have seen with what contempt he dealt with the board and how he set it aside when it suited him to do so.
We have seen the safeguard involved in seeking to ensure that the Government never acted where there was a viable alternative. There was a safeguard whereby minority stakes were taken in concerns. We have seen the safeguards—that there should be an early disposal where at all practicable, and a review in 1977—swept aside. Therefore, this is a grossly expansionist measure, with no safeguards attached to it, and one which will be considered by industry as an unhelpful measure for its future. Industry has no confidence in the Minister. I am bound to tell him that. I am sorry that it should be so. It is useless to imagine that he stands there as in some way the guardian of industry. That is a travesty of the truth. He is not a guardian. I speak with knowledge. He has always been regarded as a scourge of industry, and he will continue to be so regarded.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman define what he means by "industry"? Who is industry, what is industry, and what does it comprise?
§ Mr. Davies
As I understand it, industry is a complex organisation, involving management, owners and workers.
§ Mr. Davies
I am speaking of a complex organisation. I do not speak of individual bits. That is the fault of the party opposite, which constantly speaks of industry as though it were bits. It does not consist of bits. It is a composite unit, which has to work as one. If the Secretary of State seeks abruptly to undermine it he will reap the rewards which he deserves. He is regarded as a menace and a danger to industry.
The consequence of pushing through this measure will be the utmost damage, because the confidence of industry will be undermined. Confidence in the Secretary of State has already been undermined.
I hope that the outcome of today's debate will be the defeat of the Bill and the withdrawal of the Minister.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Doug Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)
I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) that the right hon. Gentleman appeared to express the view of the boardroom and neglected the feelings and sentiments of the employees. The right hon. Member made an analysis. However, the policy he proposes will lead to further unemployment in parts of the country where it is already dangerously high. An attempt was made by the former Conservative Government to carry out that policy. I would have hoped that he could have learned a lesson from his experience while in Government.
I welcome the opportunity which is afforded to us under the Bill of a radical departure from the traditional method of funding and financing. The reasons have been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). In the past, Conservative and Labour Governments have attempted every other method and there has been no response from industry. Therefore, we must look at new and radical solutions to the problems facing industry.
988 I was disappointed by the speech by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). There was not one constructive statement throughout his speech. I would have thought that the Opposition would have welcomed the opportunity to look at a new Bill which might distract them from the Finance Bill now in Committee where they are defending tax havens such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles and the transfer methods of multi-national companies. However, it has not been so.
The Tories are not attacking this measure because it is a new means of securing public ownership or nationalisation. On occasion they are prepared to accept even that—for instance, with Rolls-Royce. The nub of the opposition is to the idea that State participation and help should be used to change the whole structure of ownership and decision making in industry.
As for the National Enterprise Board, the Tories should look at the successful record of similar organisations in Sweden and Italy. If that can be done in those countries there is no reason why such an operation cannot be successful in Britain. Just as the Italian organisation took industry to southern Italy, I hope to see the National Enterprise Board bring industry to constituencies like mine which have declining populations. This body offers to such areas new hope of providing positive action in place of money being spent aimlessly, as it was so often in the past.
§ Mr. Nelson
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Italy as an example. Will he expand on the point? Does he suggest that the problems Italy is currently presented with are in no way a reflection of the area and its form of organisation? Surely this goes completely against his argument rather than for it?
§ Mr. Hoyle
Italy is not in its present plight because of the activities of the State sector. Italy's present plight is due to other financial considerations, not to State participation. The hon. Gentleman would have done well to have compared 989 the NEB with what has happened in Sweden, where such enterprise has been a great success.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) the hon. Gentleman should recognise that he mentioned the Italian IRI, which is the State equivalent in Italy of the intended National Enterprise Board in Britain. Does the hon. Gentleman know that just a year ago the IRI had to return to the Italian Treasury for $2,000 million equivalent of extra money and that its chairman—Signor Petrilli—complained that its real problem was not knowing whether it was supposed to be a business man or a vet?
§ Mr. Hoyle
Certain companies within IRI have been a success. The Italian oil company has undoubtedly been a great success. State participation under the National Enterprise Board will also prove to be successful. All efforts in the past under Labour and Conservative Governments have failed to result in the necessary level of investment in the manufacturing industry. The NEB offers us a positive way forward.
I hope that the trade union movement will accept the challenge presented by the Planning Agreements and will press companies to enter into them. The union of which I am vice-president, ASTMS, has already prepared a draft Planning Agreement which we shall issue to our members, who, we hope, will make representations to their employers that they should enter into Planning Agreements. If the trade union movement has the vision to grasp the opportunities which are now presented, Planning Agreements will provide a means of changing the face of the firms for which their members work.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Will the hon. Gentleman's union contemplate taking industrial action to persuade companies to enter into Planning Agreements?
§ Mr. Hoyle
I have not suggested that. I have said that the members of my union will be making representations. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not object to that. Why should they not? Their life is bound up with the welfare of the firms for which they work. Should they 990 not have information of a status equal to that provided to shareholders?
I welcome the provisions relating to information to be provided to trade unions. All the items of information listed in the Bill are relevant. However, I believe that trade unions should have information about the timing and location of investments. A company's prices policy, particularly in relation to transfer pricing, is directly relevant to those working in the company and, in the case of multi-national companies, is relevant to import saving.
Information about product development is also relevant to those whose lives are tied up with a firm. Trade union members should be told what products are on the stocks and what it is hoped to develop. Such information is relevant to job security. Information about a company's development plans, particularly with regard to their regional implications, should also be provided.
The need for a change arises because the traditional method—the market mechanism—in a capitalist economy has failed so badly. In the two years to 1974 bank advances totalled 96.4 per cent. Of those, bank advances to manufacturing industry were 79.5 per cent. Total bank advances to other financial institutions were 93.5 per cent. Total bank advances to property companies were 174 per cent. Thus, manufacturing industry was well down that league table.
In 1971 the Stock Exchange provided 5.7 per cent. of the capital to individual commercial companies. By 1973 the figure had dropped to 1.1 per cent. In 1974 the figure fell to 0.2 per cent. These figures show that the Stock Exchange is totally irrelevant to supplying investment to the manufacturing sector, which is where it should go.
It is a condemnation of the previous Tory Government that from June 1970 to February 1974 investment in productive manufacturing industry fell by 11 per cent. That is why it is so essential we take new methods to deal with the present situation.
I believe that the NEB and Planning Agreements, because they will cover a wide spread of companies and industries, will set a standard for prices, output and product ranges that will affect the 991 decisions of other companies within the same sectors. They will set a new standard that will have to be taken into account not only by the employers in the industries concerned but by all the national interests.
I should like some clarification on some points that have occurred to me on reading the Bill. First, why does the Bill provide for Planning Agreements and information to apply only to manufacturing industry? There might be companies in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, which are partly involved in manufacturing and partly involved in retailing. Would they not come within the orbit of the Bill? In the White Paper "The Regeneration of British Industry" it seemed that many trade unions would not be regarded as parties to Planning Agreements but as bodies to be satisfied. On my reading of the Bill that seems to be missing from Clause 14.
Further, there is the problem created in our society by the multi-national companies. I am not clear how the Bill will deal with that issue. Clause 12(2) defines a body corporate as a bodyto be resident or not to be resident in the United Kingdom according to the central management and control of its trade or business is or is not exercised in the United Kingdom.I am aware that many of the multinational companies that operate here are of American origin and that many of the subsidiaries that are British are operated and controlled from the United States. Does that mean that the British subsidiaries would come within the meaning of the Bill as resident companies?
The activities of the Manpower Commission must be wedded with the provisions for the NEB and Planning Agreements. That is vitally important if we are to get the retraining facilities that are so vitally necessary. It is of the utmost importance if we are to take industry to the regions where there is a large amount of skill concentrated in the old and declining industries. If we do not take industry to the regions there will be the problem of unemployment, but if new industry is taken to the regions there will be the problem of retraining. I should like to see, as has happened in Sweden, a close liaison between the Manpower Commission and the activities of the NEB. I 992 should like to see an expansion of the Manpower Commission's budget to cater for the retraining that is necessary.
If we get all those things and get the Bill placed on the Statute Book we will have a new and powerful opportunity to provide manufacturing industry with the investment that it so sorely needs and to bring new prosperity to Britain.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)
I listened with care to the remarks of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle). I listened with perhaps a little sadness. At the beginning of his remarks he referred to a change in the structure of industry. I suspect that he was hinting at a type of industry that disappeared perhaps 30 years ago. Is he not aware that industry is owned not by one, two, three or half a dozen people but by millions of people who have invested, for example, in pension schemes and unit trusts? It is the small shareholders and the small investors who own industry. I would guess that even the hon. Gentleman's own union is a major shareholder in British industry through its pension fund. To suggest that there will be a major and dramatic change in the ownership of British industry is so much waffle.
§ Mr. Grylls
I do not think that that is true. The hon. Gentleman should remember that American multinational companies with manufacturing units in this country have, since the end of the last war, provided more than 100,000 jobs in development areas, the sort of area that the hon. Gentleman represents. In many ways they have performed a good and useful task.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that there is some kind of similarity between the NEB that the Government are proposing to establish and foreign organisations such as the Statsföretag AB in Sweden, and the IRI in Italy. No doubt he is aware that the Statsföretag AB is a different body from what I guess he hopes the NEB will be. It does not have as its 993 prime objective the taking over of a large sector of manufacturing industry. If he had done his homework a little better he would have known that.
Since July of last year the Secretary of State has been engaged in a propaganda build-up to try to set the scene for the Bill we are now discussing. I do not think that anyone in the House would doubt the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity and his passionate desire for further large-scale nationalisation leading possibly towards a complete Socialist corporate State. Few people here think that that is not likely to happen. One of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was very worried about such an event taking place. In a letter that he wrote to the Yorkshire Post on 21st February 1974, he said:I am concerned about the dangers inherent in it.That is further nationalisation. He continued:I fear that it will bring about only a corporate State and some type of bureaucratic State capitalism.The right hon. Gentleman's view of further widespread nationalisation is giving alarm not only to my right hon. and hon. Friends but even to members of his own Cabinet.
Where we criticise the right hon. Gentleman strongly, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), is in his use of bogus statistics. I think that my hon. Friend dealt very effectively with the suggestion that £2 million a day is being paid to industry by the British Government. The Secretary of State totally forgot to say what that money has paid for, and particularly in recent years. A large amount of the money that has been given to industry has been directed towards Concorde and regional development, for example.
The corporation tax yield in 1974–75 was £3,265 million. If we put that figure in realistic terms which we can explain more easily to our constituents, the corporation tax yield from British industry pays not only for the education budget but for the budget directed towards services for the elderly and the combined health and personal services presently provided. That is what British industry 994 is doing by providing that amount by way of taxation for the Exchequer. The top 20 British companies alone contributed, through wages and salaries and deductions in PAYE, in the current year over £800 million.
The Secretary of State, in trying to set the scene for the failure of British industry, is setting about a disastrous policy. On every possible occasion he has sought to devalue the work of British industry. Lord knows that we would all criticise. It is healthy that Parliament should criticise anyone in the land, but it is totally wrong for the Secretary of State, whose job it is to be responsible for British industry, to seize every opportunity to denigrate British industry. If we were living in the conditions that applied 500 years ago I would send the right hon. Gentleman to the Tower of London. It is an utter disgrace for him to do that sort of thing.
When the White Paper was produced the scene had not been fully set. We therefore first opened the White Paper with excitement shortly after the House went into the Summer Recess. We were happy to see that the Government believed inboth efficient publicly owned industries and a vigorous, alert, responsible and profitable private sector …We thought that everything would be all right and wondered what the fuss was about, but the odd thing was that, whatever we thought, nobody else believed it. Nobody in industry thought that all was well because everyone else had taken the trouble to read the speeches of leading members of the Labour Party. All the members of the Left wing who are present below the Gangway on this day of celebration whose speeches which nobody thought would be read by anybody were being read by people in industry, realised that the commanding heights were about to be taken over.
Then we had an exciting, rather intimate, debate when the Minister of State at the Department of Industry, two days before we rose for the Christmas Recess—I think in the middle of the night, when there were not many Members present—made a massive slip when he said that it was his personal wish that the capitalist system should be totally eliminated.
995 Therefore, I should ask the Secretary of State, if he were here—and I warned him that I should say one or two things about him—whether he was surprised at the deluge of criticism which has fallen on his shoulders since he started on this policy. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to convey this to the right hon Gentleman: does he ever lie awake at night wondering whether he might be wrong and that the rest of industry might be right? The late Richard Crossman, as appears in the articles in the Sunday Times about the stirring exploits of the former Labour Government, had a good description of the Secretary of State. He said that the right hon. Gentleman hada mechanical non-conformist self-righteousness which seems to come out even more strongly in office.Dick Crossman put the matter very well, much better than any of us could put it.
The tragedy is that, with all the problems facing industry, we have the Bill as it is. Let us consider the scenario. The liquidity situation in most firms is highly critical. The investment position is very bad. Investment intentions are lower than ever. Yet what are we doing in Parliament? We are debating a Bill—with the Government putting forward one view, the Opposition putting forward another and the Liberals, with no representative present, putting forward no view at all—concerned with nationalisation which we thought had gone out with the ark. It is no wonder that people say that sometimes we are irrelevant. We should instead be talking about the important matters.
I should like to suggest an alternative, more constructive scenario which might in another world take place. Let us suppose that the Secretary of State said that he was determined to set about making the nationalised industries successful and profitable and perhaps create an IRI into which all State holdings could go and be managed in a similar way to the Statsföretag over which the Government maintain only financial control and the industries run themselves. Let us suppose that we were planning and working for worker participation, worker directors and a greater feeling of belonging to industry, with a greater flow of information. Those are important matters which are needed in nationalised industries as well as in private industry. 996 In such a scenario we might be talking about freeing industry from price control.
If the Secretary of State had put forward a policy of that type, he would have had much greater support. If he said, "I shall set about making nationalised industries profitable and successful", he would perhaps create his own planning agreements because inevitably, with a State body owning all the State shareholdings, there would be a form of planning agreement. It would be necessary.
But let the nationalised industries prove their case to the rest of industry. Do not let the Government ram down the throats of the rest of private industry a policy which has not been successful. Let the Secretary of State declare that the Government have no intention at present to go in for more nationalisation. Let him say that he will continue to work the Industry Act 1972, which was beginning to make an impression in areas where industry and jobs were badly needed. If the Secretary of State did that, he would be entitled to ask for our support, and he would enjoy the confidence of industry. He would be entitled to say to private industry, "I want to persuade and cajole you into making these changes and to experiment with new forms of working".
France has the Sudreau Report. No doubt the Minister has a copy of it in French in his office. I shall not quote from it in French, but it has been very useful. The French Government have said, "Let us have a debate on this. But do not let us try to force it down everybody's throat". The report says that there is a need for greater working participation. We all agree with that. There is a need for greater job enrichment, particularly on assembly line work. There is a need for greater profit sharing in industry.
If France can have a free, open, national debate to find solutions to the problems of modernising industry, why cannot we? Why must the Government ram further nationalisation down our throats? It could and should be possible to have such a debate in this country, and we could then work towards a new era of industrial democracy. The tragedy is that where there should be dialogue we have only dogma from the Government. That, above all, is the tragedy of the Bill.
997 I want to put to the Minister one or two points on Clauses 9 to 13 about the transfer of British manufacturing undertakings to foreign control. Why does the Secretary of State need further powers when he has all the power he needs under the Exchange Control Act 1947? If a foreign company wants to take over a British company, it has to obtain exchange control permission. Why is it necessary in the Bill to make provision for prohibition orders and vesting orders? The Minister may fairly say that those are Committee points, but I should like to know the reason for the proposals in the Bill.
There is a certain conflict in the Government's approach, as we have seen throughout their dealings with industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer speaks with one voice and the Secretary of State for Industry speaks with another. On Thursday, the Chancellor said that he wanted to encourage foreign investment in this country, particularly from the Arab oil-rich states. It was a reasonable and, in the present situation, very sensible case to make. Three days later we are debating a Bill which proposes to give the Government Draconian powers to stop foreign investment. Who is speaking for the Government, the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Industry? If the powers go through it will not be the Chancellor who wins because no foreigner will invest in new plant in Wales, Liverpool or anywhere else where we need investment. They will see the threat first of a prohibition order and then a vesting order and nationalisation hovering over a company which had until then been free.
It was cavalier in the extreme for the Secretary of State to gloss over Clauses 9 to 13 by saying that the provisions concerning the transfer of control to foreigners will be generally welcomed. We must have a more detailed explanation. I ask the Government to take the Bill back, recognise that it is a mistake and that it will have a disastrous effect, and instead do something positive. They should tell industry, both management and the TUC, that they want to see effective and realistic changes and modernisation in British industry, that they want to do it by consent and consultation as is 998 proposed in France in the Sudreau Report. Let the Government say to industry that they have thought again and that they will not steamroller it into an out-dated industrial system which has so far proved to be ineffective.
If the Government want further investigation let them set up a Royal Commission on industry. Labour Members may laugh, but no one should be frightened of having industry examined by a Royal Commission. It might even recommend nationalisation, but it would take a positive and constructive look at the situation and if it thought that nationalisation was the answer, the Government could demand our support and we would give it because we should be doing something of real good for British industry.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. Mr. Speaker indicated to me that about 18 hon. Members were attempting to catch his eye. We can do a very neat bit of division here. The debate is due to finish at 11 o'clock. Eighteen Members could take 10 minutes apiece and we should just finish on time. That would also show a co-operative spirit on behalf of those taking part.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
It is to be hoped that this debate will dwell on industrial reality rather than political dogma. It was unfortunate that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) did not choose that course. His speech seemed to be based on the collected works of Aims of Industry, and in his enthusiasm to denigrate the Bill I almost expected him to dive into the Dispatch Box to haul out a rubber white elephant and lapel stickers attacking public ownership. The hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) wanted to put my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Tower of London for having the audacity to present the Bill today. Conservative Members are well known for their desire to put people in prison, but I have sad news for them, because they will have to put the entire Labour Party in the Tower in this instance. This Bill is not the work of one man—my right hon. Friend—it is the work, after years of discussion and consultation, of the entire Labour Party. It has been clearly presented in two manifestos, which 999 have won the support of the majority of the people. There is no secrecy about our industrial and economic intentions, as represented by the Bill. They have been welcomed and endorsed by the public.
Industrial reality has been the theme of the speeches by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and others. The sad reality is a picture of consistent low investment, poor productivity, low pay, poor conditions, regional imbalances and indaquate research and development. This is the industrial reality not of the present day, or of the last few years, but of recent decades in Britain. I hope that this debate marks the beginning of a real attack on our industrial and economic problems.
What has been the reaction of big business to these facts? It has been, all too often—egged on by the media and others who have all sorts of other interests to exploit—to point an accusing finger at the British worker. We have been told all too frequently that British workers do not work hard enough, that they do not work long enough, that they are paid too much, and that they strike too much. All that conflicts with the truth. British workers, by and large, are getting sick and tired of fat men telling them to pull in their belts. This has been the exhortation all too frequently from Ministers and other politicians who have trailed the land trying to cover up their deficiencies and shortcomings by blaming the people on the shop floor—the producers of the real wealth. It will not wash any more, because we know that the finger of accusation must be pointed now where it should have been pointed years ago—into many of the company boardrooms.
The industrial reality for Britain today is that it is dominated by a number of very powerful companies. By 1970 the top 100 manufacturing companies controlled more than half of British manufacturing industry. In 20 of the 22 industrial and service sectors of the economy, six firms or fewer controlled the assets of the top half of industry. On average, only four firms controlled half the assets of these 20 sectors. For 150 of the subsectors—or more than half of industry— 1000 the five largest firms accounted for more than 70 per cent. of industrial sales.
These companies are all multinationals. They have global investment programmes. Decisions in them are taken by a very small and exclusive group of men who shut out Governments from their decision making. Through prices, taxation and location they enjoy advantages which outweigh any regional incentives offered by Government. They exploit the cheap labour situation in Third World countries, and they enjoy tax and other advantages where available in the various tax havens. To compete with these terms would involve a massive increase in investment grants and other inducements to invest in Britain. These global investment programmes are based on time scales of between seven and 15 years. Their actions are taken over such a long period that they see out Governments, let alone Chancellors of the Exchequer. In many ways, therefore, decisions taken in Budgets and in strategic planning by individual Governments are irrelevant to these great companies.
We are today unveiling our industrial and economic strategy to deal with this and other problems which confront Britain. We say that we need an organisation like the NEB to spearhead new industrial ownership among the top 100 firms. We need to introduce Planning Agreements and to give unions the right of access to information. The NEB will be vitally concerned with job creation especially in areas of high unemployment. There will be powers to direct the Board to deal with these problems, and those powers will do much to reduce unemployment, which is now increasing and is still a great burden, and a cancer. The NEB will be involved with investment promotion, technological development, growth of exports, import substitution, the promotion of Government pricing policies and tackling the spread of multinational companies. I hope that it will also be concerned with the spread of industrial democracy, for that is at the root of the Bill.
We are aiming, through this advance, to open up pools of talent, expertise and experience. I am talking of the workers. For too long they have been excluded from the opportunities to decide what is 1001 done in their places of work, how it is done, and for whom it is done. We are not talking about wishy-washy consultation, where perhaps the most important item on the agenda is the colour of the canteen walls. We are not talking about suggestion box schemes where, if a man is lucky, he may win a fiver for a bright idea. We are talking about opening up the whole area of industrial advance and are telling the workers, through their trade unions, "You now have an opportunity to take part in what is done in your industries."
We are not talking just about opening up the books and giving workers a day-to-day view of what is done; we are talking about perspectives over three, four and five years, so that workers can take a real part in developing the industrial and economic strategies of the firms in which they work. In turn, they will receive information for the Government which will allow them to do the job with greater professionalism.
I hope that the policy will be followed in the public sector. Having worked in a publicly-owned industry, I can say that far too many of the workers in them see no difference between working there and working in privately-owned industry. That situation must be tackled.
When Morrison set up the publicly-owned industries, he was obsessed with their administration. The structure was all-important, and little attention was paid to the working relationships in them. If we can begin to build these policies in the public sector it will give a great impetus to their development in the private sector.
It is important that the NEB and Planning Agreements are used in the major firms. The presence of the NEB in each key sector is essential. Only in this way will the economic strategy pursued by this Government reflect the priorities which are truly in the national interest. We must therefore be clear about the power of the EEC and the Commission. We must know whether the Commission hay powers to neutralise or reverse the legislation. It is clear from what has been said so far that the powers exist. So long as they are there, they can be exercised. That is a matter of major concern to the House and the people. For example, the investment of large sums of money in 1002 British Leyland could be seen by the Commission and foreign motor vehicle manufacturers as unfair competition. Renault or Fiat could challenge that investment in the British courts. Nobody has challenged the powers that exist in the Common Market. They must be dealt with in the debate.
In my view and, I am sure, in the view of the overwhelming number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Bill represents a momentous social and economic advance. It presents great opportunities. It gives a new direction and new hope for British industry, with the opportunity for a real partnership between Government and industry. I hope that we shall embrace the Bill with all the enthusiasm that we can muster, that we shall profess its qualities throughout the country, and that we shall talk to the workers who are waiting for a true opportunity to take part in the industries in which they invest their lives and the lives of their families.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
In view of your injunction that we should be as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not try to take up the points raised by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), or to embrace the Bill, which the hon. Gentleman seems determined to do.
The Secretary of State tried to draw a comparison between the Bill and our 1972 Industry Act, as if to try to associate us with what he is doing through the Bill and thereby, I suppose, implicate us in guilt by association. The measures are totally different. Our Act was an acknowledgement of the necessity for Government to intervene in British industry from time to time, and for very good reasons. It is generally accepted now that such intervention is necessary. If there is a dispute about the matter on our side of the House, I believe that it is about whether in each instance, each need for help, should be treated on its merits, on an ad hoc basis, according to policies well or vaguely defined; or whether we should spell out in which circumstances such help should be given.
The Industry Act 1972 was a brave attempt to do just that. It drew heavily on evidence which was being given at the time to a sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee, on which I was 1003 sitting, by experts from the Departments, industry, the trade union movement and banking. Possibly that took the form of the public debate which my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) suggested should take place.
Our Bill was not perfect. I and a number of my hon. Friends were glad to be able to increase the parliamentary accountability of the relevant Minister. We also cut down the amount of money which could be spent without the Minister's coming back to Parliament. In the original Bill it had been proposed that the limit should be £10 million on each investment. I moved an amendment to reduce it to £1 million, and we finally compromised with the Minister concerned to settle for £5 million. Most of us on the Opposition benches are glad that it was no higher, in view of what the Secretary of State has been doing recently.
The principles of our Act are stood on their head by this Bill. It appears that Government intervention is to be a matter of deliberate policy, an act of first resort, a policy of buying up instead of selling off at the earliest possible time, which is what we required the Minister to do. One can imagine the reluctance with which the Secretary of State has had to agree to the 30 per cent. control limit, without his approval, which will be given to the NEB in its acquisitions.
One must ask whether the policy of intervention, and particularly the NEB itself, can work. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) has left us. The hon. Gentleman and others referred to the Italian IRI. I wonder why the Secretary of State did not mention it. The TUC told the subcommittee to which I have referred that it wanted something on the lines of the IRI, but with greater accountability. It was entitled to that view. The Secretary of State might have referred to it. Perhaps the reason why he was so quiet about it was that, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said, the IRI's record is not found, on examination, to be something to be proud of.
One of the principal claims of the IRI, perhaps its most interesting claim, is that its holding company structure acts as a buffer between the politicians and the subsidiary operating divisions. I believe that up to a point that is true, 1004 although there has been considerable political interference, particularly in recent months. But we find in the Bill that the Secretary of State is empowered to give specific directions to the Board, possibly in close detail, for the operation of all its activities, presumably including its subsidiary companies. One can already see the political appointees moving into those companies. That happened with IRI and attempts have been made in recent months by the subsidiary companies to get rid of the political appointees.
I saw a few eyebrows raised today when the Secretary of State said that he would remove some members from the Industrial Development Advisory Board. One thought, "Yes, because they have not agreed with him, or have given advice with which he has not agreed in a number of recent cases".
Is the IRI successful in regional development? The Secretary of State said that there was no prospect of altering the regional unemployment situation without the direct involvement of the NEB. But what happened with the IRI? The state of unemployment is very much worse in the South of Italy than in other places. The causes are different from those in many of our regions. But, despite legally required massive investment through the IRI and other institutions, the gap between the living standards of those in the South of Italy and elsewhere has widened. Only about 10 per cent. of the population of the South of Italy have jobs there. The policy of the IRI has not succeeded and there is no reason to suppose that the NEB will succeed.
Much play is put on the need for the improvement of industrial relations and using the NEB for that purpose. But the fact is that the unions—this is what the sub-committee was told when it visited the IRI in Italy—picked off the companies within the IRI that they knew would be bailed out. That was not working towards the improvement of industrial relations.
Finally, on the IRI and any comparison that we might make with the NEB, we are told that the Secretary of State, working with the Treasury, must satisfy himself that the duties to be imposed on the Board are likely, taken together, to result in an adequate return on capital.
1005 What is the experience of the IRI? Thousands of billions of lire of assets yielding in the last four years a return on capital from 0.21 per cent. to an exciting 0.45 per cent. That is the record of the IRI. That is the contribution that it has made to the Italian economy. It is not surprising that the Italian economy is in the state in which it is.
The Bill and the vehicles to be set up under it will be used to increase investment in manufacturing industry. Of course, it can be used for this purpose—all too easily. It is an easy matter for the Secretary of State to authorise expenditure. We see it even now. The Government are printing money or taking it in tax from other people.
Why have we not had investments over the past few years? Investment by manufacturing industry rests, above all, on confidence. First, confidence in the short term that a company can sell the goods made by the plant and machinery in which it is investing; secondly, but more important, confidence in the long term. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have tried to put their fingers on the reason why investment over the past few years, since the war perhaps, has been less good than we would all like.
I believe that lack of investment arises from the absence of long-term confidence. Because the political and economic systems practised by the two main parties in this House are contrary to each other, the necessary long-term stability is not possible. To my mind, that is the fundamental weakness of our system. If we add to that in the last few years uncertainty about Europe and the terrible damage which most hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the Secretary of State, have brought about by their creation of uncertainty, we can see why British industry has not been investing in recent years. Of course, one cannot invest without cash. If the Chancellor takes £1,000 million extra out of British industry through advance corporation tax, as he did in the Budget, no investment is possible because there is no cash. Various deliberate acts perpetrated by the Chancellor and the general underlying lack of confidence are the reasons why we have been short of investment for far too long.
1006 I turn now to the question of foreign shareholding, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North West referred, and the apparent contradiction which he saw between the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who wants to encourage Arab and oil-producing investment in industrial equity in this country, and what the Secretary of State for Industry has proposed in the Bill.
I do not welcome the clauses in the Bill, because they are based on trying to defeat what I call the new bogy of British Socialist insularity—the multinational company, which has done a great deal not only for the workers of this country but for its economy. The clauses could help to regulate Arab investment. A few weeks ago I put a Question to the Chancellor pressing the point that we need to retain British, not State, control of our companies. We could use something in the Bill, but taken separate from it, for that purpose. We must direct, but avoid being swamped, by Arab investment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) dealt extremely well with the disclosure of information by showing that, if it were to be total disclosure, it would make complete nonsense of commercial confidentiality. For anyone to suggest that we do not look for disclosure is wrong. Disclosure was written into the Industrial Relations Act. I recall the many hours that we discussed this matter with the hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of State for Industry. Indeed, I have practised the disclosure of commercial information in negotiations with trade unions. Disclosure of information is practised throughout the country. Therefore, no one should think that we are opposed to the disclosure of information on principle. We take a somewhat more practical view than is apparent from speeches which have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The Bill is essentially part of the Socialist package which the Government are forcing on the country. We warned against it at the election. It was made clear in Labour's manifesto. It is a package of taxation designed to bring about the collapse of the private enterprise system.
I have referred to the action taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his 1007 March Budget. Either through stupidity, or ignorance of its effect, or as a matter of deliberate policy, the right hon. Gentleman took money through advance corporation tax from British industry and put it into a serious state of almost non-liquidity.
Now the capital transfer tax—thanks to the actions of my hon. Friends on the Finance Bill Committee we are achieving some amendments—still threatens to undermine one important part of our industrial set-up: the enterprising small business. Again, we have another form of taxation or levy on the self-employed business man. It is a package of taxation and bureaucratic intervention.
We believe that a partnership between the Government and industry is essential. In some areas, that partnership has to grow still closer. But it is certain that bureaucratic intervention and the extension of public ownership will add not one iota to the country's real wealth and to the happiness of those who work in our industries.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Listening to the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) I could not help feeling, "Methinks they do protest too much," like ladies of easy virtue lying back and crying, "Rape", perhaps in vain hope. At the same time, some of my hon. Friends expect too much from this Bill. Bills and Acts of Parliament seldom achieve anything in themselves. They enable people to achieve things.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Bill is that it brings a new source of energy and a new drive into industrial policy which has not been there before—and that is the trade unions. The big question mark over the Bill is whether the trade unions will follow the admirable example of the trade union of which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) is vice-president—the ASTMS—in trying actively to secure Planning Agreements, or whether, under the sheer weight of organisational problems, they will carry on much as before.
Looking at the sources of the present difficult industrial situation and the decline in investment, if the Labour Party is to be criticised for what happened in 1970, it is for not having had a give-away Budget. The fault of the hon. Gentleman 1008 opposite was in allowing demand in 1970 to fall too far, and allowing unemployment in the latter part of 1970, therefore, to rise. Industry cut back on investment simply because there was so much idle capacity during 1970, 1971 and the beginning of 1972.
The difficult in managing the economy is to maintain a sufficient level of demand to give the incentive to firms to invest, but not so much that there are no resources from which they can invest. In trying to maintain that balance, the Conservative Party came completely unstuck in the latter years in which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in government.
The Bill is very modest in relation to the organisation of public enterprise in Japan—with the vast ramifications in Miti—and in France. It so happens that the main headline in the Glasgow Herald today concerns an arrangement which Scott-Lithgow is making with some French firms in connection with new offshore engineering. Asked whether this would not be impossible, the managing director replied that the French companies with whom his company were negotiating already had a large Government holding. At the same time, many of the oil companies operating in the North Sea are Government-owned, especially the French oil companies.
If we look for models of efficient public enterprise, we have already heard from the Opposition of Statsforetag, in Sweden, and of the iniquity of interfering with the objectives that it has. But I would remind hon. Members that Statsforetag has Members of Parliament as directors both on the board and on the board's subsidiary companies, to ensure that the companies take account of political and social considerations. There is a really effective integration between the economic and commercial objectives of the companies and the social and political reasons why those companies have been kept operating by public enterprise.
The Bill combines three elements which are apparently very disparate and which could have appeared in altogether unrelated Bills. But what is of interest is that they go together in the highly personal strategy which the Secretary of State has brought to industrial policy. I listen to and read about the concern which is expressed as to whether this 1009 policy is that of the whole Government rather than of a single Minister. But, clearly and rightly, Ministers in all Governments have a rôle in the development of policies, and I compliment my right hon. Friend for bringing some new elements into industrial policy which are distinctively his own.
The National Enterprise Board is not a novel concept, nor is it in itself necessarily a very far-reaching one. We have a number of agencies. A good example is the British Steel Corporation, which has the powers which were contained in the articles of association of all the companies which went into the corporation. The corporation has just as wide powers as the NEB has.
What will matter is how the NEB operates, and this is a matter where encouragement must be given by the Government. What also matters is how it relates to the other two main aspects of the Bill. It can operate in three different ways. First, it can operate as a wholly autonomous body interfering sometimes here and sometimes there in no coherent pattern of activity, rather as the IRC operated during the period of the last Labour Government—brilliantly sometimes, a bit erratically sometimes, and certainly not systematically across the whole of industry.
Secondly, the NEB can operate in a totally comprehensive way, trying to fill the gaps and to plan the whole of British industry, virtually fulfilling a rôle as a kind of industrial economic Ministry, like a Japanese Miti, which this country has lacked.
Thirdly, the NEB can accept that the responsibility for planning in industry must remain with the Government and that it is the job of the Board to act as an energetic and efficient agent in fulfilling the tasks set it by the Government. I trust that it will develop in that third way.
In the second aspect of the Bill—in Planning Agreements—a new element is brought into the picture. It is that the relationship between the Government and individual firms is put on to a statutory, recognised basis instead of being the nudge, wink and backstage relationship which we all know it has been in the past. There is only one very slender clause dealing with Planning Agreements. 1010 It is to be hoped that its scope will be widened considerably in Committee.
It is necessary to think through clearly some of the matters that have been raised. Why should the small and medium firms not be able to have Planning Agreements? If a big firm is entitled to a guarantee that its development grants will continue, why should not the same guarantee be available to a small or a medium firm? Clearly, the reason is to limit the expansion of bureaucracy. That is a powerful argument, but I do not think that it should be the final argument. Bureaucratic means could be found for extending the scope of the Planning Agreements.
According to the Opposition, the exchange of forecasts between the Government and firms is nonsense. I thought that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was right to outline what corporate plans are like in firms. But they can be better or worse, and very often the quality of those plans depends on the exposure that they have, if possible, throughout the firm and, even better, to a wider audience.
We can say the same of Government. Tory Members left the short-term macroeconomic forecast model in the Treasury in a frightful mess. It was a shambles. It was a rambling, monstrous creature. I do not think that, as Ministers, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen realise what was going on. It clearly happened because that planning process was not closely integrated with the sort of decision making that was going on in government. We know why. I do not think that any Tory Member would say that Lord Barber was the most technically acute Chancellor that they have had since the war.
The Treasury apparatus just fell to bits during the Conservative period of office. I am now alarmed to hear that Lord Kaldor and Mr. Godley appear to be being listened to in the Treasury as prophets of a latter-day doctrine of the balanced Budget—the doctrine that suggests that in some way it is possible to control the deficit in the balance of payments simply by regulating the public sector deficit.
This is an extraordinary doctrine, and the arguments used to support it are even more extraordinary. I quote it as an example of the disarray there is in government today, marked by the failure to 1011 offer a wider planning system which brings industry and the country as a whole into the picture.
So long as this process is confined within the Treasury, to a highly technical discussion among officials and economists, with politicians looking on and not understanding what it is about and not being able to follow the implications of it all, we will get enormous nonsenses—like those we had from the Tory Government when they let the money supply get out of hand. No doubt we are committing similar nonsenses by too easily tolerating a large deficit in the balance of payments and allowing it to continue at too high a level for too long.
If we say, "Let us bring in some new element to the planning process"—if we try to create a complete framework in vacuo, and devise this in some terribly clever research institute and then say to the Treasury chaps, "Here you are, get on with it," the chances of its working are nil. It has to develop from practical experience. By all means let us have the design, the general schemes of development to which we work. But the concepts must arise through contact with practical problems with the institutions concerned, with, for example, the cycle of investment in the chemical industry or the unsteadiness of demand for motor cars. These are the issues which we will find trade unions pressing.
It is no good my right hon. Friend saying to the workers in Chrysler, "Let us have your corporate plan." The answer he will get from the unions is, "Let the Government stabilise the demand for motor cars and then we can tell you what should be done about industrial democracy, wage rates, investment and so on in Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and British Leyland."
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Gentleman has put forward many important points. May I suggest that the framework for such a concept as he describes exists in the Little Neddy organisation? Of course it is not adequate. In part it is answerable to the wrong Government Department. The basis is there. All sides of industry are already involved. No commitments, no issues of principle, have to be gone into for the first time. It would be much more effective if we were to start with the organisation which exists.
§ Dr. Bray
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have attended meetings of Little Neddies and had direct meetings with trade associations and firms. It is quite clear that Little Neddies are not, and never can be, decision makers. Nor can trade associations. If we want to talk to people who are putting their names on the line we have to talk to firms. That is why a recognition of this in the Planning Agreements is essential.
§ Mr. Heseltine
It is done that way in France, where they have sector planning, talking through the trade associations. They have learnt to work together. There is a way in which decision making has been shared.
§ Dr. Bray
There are major differences in the way industry is financed in France which affect this. What is the content of these Planning Agreements? They are major practical strategies which we should see coming from industry. For example, in my view the whole world energy crisis and the world food problem mean there has to be major expansion in heavy engineering—beyond the capacity of any existing heavy engineering enterprise. The planning of that in all its aspects must clearly be the subject of Planning Agreements—but with National Enterprise Board activity as well.
As another example, it is clear that there ought to be a major petro-chemical complex in Scotland. We have to say to BP, "Here you are, go ahead. We want it to be not a £200 million complex in 10 years, but £20 million in a year." We want those orders to go to the appropriate engineering firms, so that they have a fair crack of the whip. Because the firms cannot finance that on their own, owing to the risks involved, it has to be a matter for the National Enterprise Board. For example, the ICI ethelyne plant at Wilton, where I used to work, which produced 350,000 tons a year, has been shut down for four months. Now is the time for a new ethelyne plant to be built, because by the time it is completed the demand will be there. As the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said, the chemical industry is up against it because it has not got the cash resources to invest. So it does not invest. In this process we need a lot of practical working out. This varies between firms and industries. 1013 I would like to see the Planning Agreements strong enough to cope with this.
The most interesting aspect of the Bill is the importing of the influence of organised workers. It is not enough just to talk about the employees. They have to be organised in some way and in a dimension which transcends that of the firm itself. People have a permanent interest in their skills, which extends longer than their employment by any one company. By bringing in the trade unions we inevitably raise the question: where is the trade union that can cope with this?
If I may give an example, I have Satchwell-Sunvic, a GEC subsidiary in my constituency, whose shop stewards are complaining about the way GEC has stripped out the high technology products from the factories. We discussed the pressing problems but we had only just got going when the hooter went. Because the workpeople did not have cars and were dependent on buses they had to go off home. At that firm GEC makes no provision for consultation or for training for trade union members outside the working hours.
I have worked in personnel and in corporate planning in an electronics company for some time. It is not unreasonable to spend at least 1 per cent. of the total number of hours on this wider aspect of training. That is only two and a half days a year. Yet there are few companies which come anywhere near to that. Without that training, how realistic will the Planning Agreements be?
I do not share the Liberal view that we have first to create a framework of industrial democracy. I go in the opposite direction, and say that simply to give information is not to provide incentives strong enough to create the necessary trade union structure. What we ought to do is to give the trade unions representing the workers in a firm not merely the right to information but the ultimate right to decide what kind of management and ownership they want in their enterprise. Unless workers have that strength of incentive it is unlikely that we shall have the structure of trade unions developing fast enough to take advantage of the opportunities open to them through this Bill.
1014 I have checked that the Long Title would give scope for amendments to give workers the power to take over their firms, with this properly accommodated within the structure of the financial objectives of the enterprise.
If we take these three elements together—the NEB, Planning Agreements, and power for trade unions to call for disclosure of information—we have by no means a solution to our industrial problems but we have the opportunity to look at them in a fresh light.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
The Scottish National Party will oppose the Bill—not ifs and buts, like the Liberals—tooth and nail, root and branch. I say this not for doctrinaire reasons because no doubt some of the dogma, as has already been suggested, can be written out in Committee. I be-believe that one of the most dangerous pieces of dogma in this Bill is where it states that an industrial board should have power to take over 30 per cent. of a company. That amount of control in a company is nothing but full control.
We in the SNP are against the Bill because it is a further example of centralisation. The Scottish Council, which is a scrupulously non-political body, has inveighed for years against centralisation. It produced a report about centralisation in 1969 entitled "Scotland's 20th Century Nine of Diamonds" and its latest annual report, published in December, said more on this subject. Many Conservatives have been making similar statements, but we in the SNP have been getting sick and tired of those who mouth problems without giving solutions. We believe that the solution is that decentralisation of industrial decision making can be achieved only—and I repeat "only"—by political decentralisation.
The Industry Bill is the most obvious indictment to date of the uselessness of mere words from those who profess to have Scotland's interests at heart but who fail to do anything about the situation. But it is the system which has failed. It is Westminster which has spawned this Bill and centralisation has given birth to more centralisation.
It would appear that there was some backsliding between the Bill and the White Paper published in August, on 1015 "The Regeneration of British Industry" which said,The Government consider that the most effective assistance and support for the modernisation and growth of Scottish industry will be achieved by giving the Scottish Development Agency executive responsibilities over a wide field. It has therefore been decided that appropriate functions of the NEB should be carried out in Scotland by the Scottish Development Agency".But what do we find in the Bill? Scotland is not mentioned once. Furthermore, the Secretary of State for Industry, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), said that the NEB will work throughout the United Kingdom. Again, the Bill in Clause 2 says that the functions which the Board may exercise are functions inthe United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom …".That presumably includes Scotland. However, there is no single mention in the Bill of Scotland or of the Scottish Development Agency.
Does this mean that the Secretary of State for Scotland has lost yet another part of his pseudo-mock battles with the Secretary of State for Industry with which we are from time to time regaled in the Scottish Press? The Secretary of State for Scotland is a man for whom I have some admiration and not a little personal affection, but in this matter the old basso profundo has become castrato. It would appear that he has lost the battle with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and that the NEB will be working throughout the United Kingdom with no reference to the Scottish Development Agency.
§ Mr. Benn
I should not like the hon. Gentleman to continue his speech under a misapprehension. The Scottish Development Agency will be the subject of special legislation and the consultative document has been issued. Following the statement in the White Paper, power under Clause 7 of the Industry Bill will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland in July of this year when the necessary administrative arrangements have been made. Therefore, he must say what he has to say about the NEB against that background.
§ Mr. Crawford
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Clause 7 does not cover everything to do with industry. 1016 To those who say that we should await a Scottish Development Agency Bill, I would argue that the industry Bill legislation as it stands is overriding. It says that the NEB will have power in any part of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State may disagree with that, but that is what it says in the Bill.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The Secretary of State went some way to point out that the NEB will have power to operate throughout the United Kingdom. I think that what the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) is saying is that the Board, based on London, will have the power to do the things he has mentioned. There is not a word of restriction in the Bill. Indeed, the Board will have power in the Bill not only to operate throughout the United Kingdom but, as I read the provisions, to operate outside the United Kingdom. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is right in what he says.
§ Mr. Crawford
I believe that the Bill is overriding and if any Scottish Development Agency Bill is to be meaningful it will have to dismantle those parts of the NEB which are to work in any part of the United Kingdom.
For this reason, if the Bill ever reaches Committee, my hon. Friends and I will seek to table amendments to ensure that the writ of the NEB shall run only in England and not in Scotland. We shall seek to stop the awful—and I use that word advisedly—centralisation which the Bill implies. If the Bill has the misfortune to pass its Second Reading, we shall seek to amend it to ensure that there is set up a Scottish Development Agency with powers answerable to a Scottish Assembly—in a way in which the present Bill suggests that the NEB will not be answerable even to the Westminster Parliament. By the Government's acceptance or non-acceptance of SNP amendments in Committee, we shall be able to judge, as will the people of Scotland, whether the Scottish Members of the two unionist parties—Labour and Conservative—are honest in their protestations of their belief that it is necessary for Scotland to have more say in her own industrial destiny.
1017 The Bill as it stands may not be short but for Scotland it is certainly nasty and brutish.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Luton, West)
Ignorance may be bliss but it can also be tragic. Having listened to the representative of the Scottish National Party talk about increasing centralisation which will result from the Bill, I can only assume that he has not remotely understood its provisions.
We need not be modest about the Bill. It is not a modest Bill. It is a Bill which will pave the way to a new industrial revolution—a revolution which will change the face of British industry and the social structure of the United Kingdom. Despite its austere title the Bill will bring dignity, respect, responsibility and power to the working people.
On reflection, it seems strange that a country which has produced so many innovations in industrial processes down the years should have given so little thought to the development, nature and change of industrial organisation during the past 100 years and should have failed utterly to see that political democracy, if unaccompanied by social and industrial democracy, would come up against stress time and time again.
The Bill can be regarded as the wind of industrial change. It is a Bill which will end the single-minded ethos of the joint stock company, which places shareholders on a pedestal and everyone and everything else nowhere. The Bill will end the managerial society so beloved of commentators in the 1960s, with its insulting divisions between those who do and who do not take the decisions, and those who are affected and who are not affected by those same decisions. The Bill will transform and transfer industrial economics and ultimately social power in Britain.
All these changes will come about not through some complex political theory, not through some doctoral thesis of managerial control; nor even through the NEB, or even Planning Agreements. They will come about through one simple concept—the spread of information.
Information must surely be one of the most precious assets that anyone who wishes to control his destiny can have. 1018 Nowhere is the absence of misuse of information more glaring in our society than in the realms of economics, finance and industry. Those with vested interests—the Press, the City, the Treasury, and those who own and manage industry—pour out a barrage of false and scandalous information, in addition to withholding it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in defence of an economic system which is becoming ever more unacceptable in its own terms and ever less appealing to the aspirations of the great majority of the people of this country. More nonsense is talked about how hard up individual companies are, how difficult it is for them to invest, about rates of taxation and incentives, about levels of profit and economic growth and about comparisons of performance between public and private enterprises than on almost any other subject.
What the British people want is the truth. What they cannot get from British industry is that self-same truth. In British industry the truth finds expression not so much in the giving of false information as in the total absence of information. Let us take the case of Chrysler. Here the United Kingdom management says one thing and does another. Who can believe that it could have got away with its piecemeal decisions to run down the tool room at Linwood, to break up the design team at Whitley, and to use Europe and the EEC to produce a new car in France and, in effect, to destroy the productive capacity of that firm in the United Kingdom had it been compelled to give detailed financial information to the workers concerned and compelled to enter into Planning Agreements with those selfsame workers?
Who can believe that an announcement would come that factories producing Imperial typewriters in Hull would have been shut if there had been Planning Agreements? Who can believe that British Leyland would have got into the same difficulties if it had examined a Planning Agreement presented to it by my trade union, ASTMS? Who can believe that things in the future will not be different?
It is extraordinary that in the third quarter of the twentieth century the people who create the wealth of this land should be given so little basic information 1019 that affects themselves, their families, their communities and their towns. That information relates to demand, output, productivity, sales, profits, investment and manpower proposals, exports, imports and marketing. The reason why those people have been denied that information is that those who have withheld it know only too well that when they are given it they will directly use it to influence decisions which affect their lives, and they may even end by taking those decisions.
For a start, and a basic minimum, the process of wage bargaining will become fairer and easier for trade unions. We shall never again see the situation in which advisers from Ruskin College go to Ford and ask for information which would enable them to put in a proper wage claim but be refused that information.
There is also the fundamental question about low investment rates. We have heard some trivial interjections from the Opposition about this. It is not a question of rates of investment in 1970, 1971 and 1972. The experience of the past 30 years has shown us that conventional Keynesian demand management techniques will not produce the investment and sustained growth that this country needs. Over the last 15 years we have seen the growth of multinational companies which are not responsive to these conventional weapons or to changes in interest rates. They do not respond to changes in direct or indirect taxation, or to increases in investment grant, changes in depreciation allowances or changes in regional employment premiums.
The Bill will encourage investment in two particular ways. It will encourage direct investment by the NEB. The figure of £1,000 million a year put forward by the Tribune Group cannot be all that far out. The Bill will also encourage investment through the pressure of the trade union movement. Who can believe that when trade unions find out that their competitors are carrying out investment programmes, they will stand aside and watch their own firms not carrying out similar programmes? I suspect that within less than a decade the spread of company information will act as a dynamo for investment, will push the NEB and Planning Agreement along, 1020 will push public ownership and public co-operatives along, and will lead to the spread of industrial democracy and workers' control.
It is because the Opposition Front Bench has grapsed the essential nature of the spread of industrial democracy and workers' control that Conservative Members are kicking up such a fuss about the Bill. I believe that Mr. Ralph Bateman has got it right for once and the Prime Minister has got it wrong. It is this spread of power that will make all the talk by the Bill's criticis of the creation of the corporate State look ridiculous. It is this spread of power that will put Sir Don Ryder in perspective and scale down his rôle in this affair.
We accept that those who are responsible for and are prepared to put up with the cosy decadence and inexorable decline of the British economy will not like the Bill.
§ Mr. Heseltine
With which statement by Mr. Ralph Bateman does the hon. Gentleman agree? Was it when he said that the Bill would spell the demise of British capitalism?
§ Mr. Sedgemore
His statement with which I agree is that the Bill could turn out to be a charter for workers' control.
Conservative Members who are prepared to put up with the decline of British industry have everything to fear from the Bill. Faint-hearted, middle class housewives in Barnet and Finch-ley will not like it either. The "City illiterates" on the Conservative benches will take comfort in the illusions provided by the Prime Minister in his hilarious account of Treasury wisdom and safeguards. I suspect the Treasury will find it as difficult to turn back the tides of history as other false profits before them, because neither dubious constitutional theory nor lectures on Cabinet government to Hugh Scanlon or Jack Jones are likely to hold up the progress of the Bill.
I understand that nerves are jangling in the boardrooms of British industry. I am glad that the hon. Member for Henley intervened, because I was coming to him. The industrial mafia on the Conservative benches will fight the Bill in their usual elegant style, firing from the hips at everything and anything that gets in their way, mouths open, spittle falling, 1021 talking as fast as a train, and denying the truth all along the line. I dare say they will do what they did at the last election and draw diagrams in their bedrooms and boudoirs of the first thousand companies to be nationalised. Their inventive and possibly deceiving minds will no doubt rewrite the whole tone and tenor of the Bill.
I look forward to the Committee stage. The Bill is far from perfect, but it opens the road to Socialism in industry. The NEB could be turned into a great Socialist investment bank, as well as into a holding company. There are ideas and plans that Arab oil money may be channelled through the bank. I believe that when we go into Committee in joyous and constructive mood we should concentrate on those clauses which relate to the giving of information and secure for the trade union movement that it receives that information not through the courtesy of Ministers who may or may not like their ideas but as an absolute and inalienable right. If we do that, the Bill will do something which people have said Parliament cannot do. The real bitter-sweet aspect of the Bill, depending on which side of the House one sits, is that it could literally lead to the changing of one small part of the world.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgmore) for finding time from his heavy responsibilities on the Finance Bill Committee to come to this Second Reading debate. I have heard from some of my colleagues that his contributions to the Finance Bill debates are always worth listening to, and I think some of us now know why.
Nevertheless, for all his colourful language and the humour that he arouses on certain benches—particularly the Government Front Bench—it would be a great mistake to dismiss his speech as the rantings and ravings of a colourful member of the Labour Party.
Were Sir Don Ryder listening to these debates he would be mistaken if he thought that he was listening to one eccentric member of the Labour Party and if he did not appreciate that a large section of that party were criticising their leader's attitude to the Bill.
1022 We shall debate many points in Committee, some of which we shall strongly challenge. However, on Second Reading we must consider the principle and background against which the Bill is introduced.
Reference has been made to the White Paper. The Bill makes no mention of the vigorous, profitable, private sector, to which the White Paper paid tribute. That is perhaps the most significant change. The Minister knows that that is a subject of great concern throughout industry. That concern has been conveyed to the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was understood from stories in the Press that this debate would afford the opportunity for reassurance to be given to industry by the Secretary of State on the way in which the Bill would be implemented. No doubt the hon. Member for Luton, West would cheer the fact that no such reassurance was given. No attempt was made to suggest that the original concept of the White Paper has been honoured.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) discussed the rôle of the Secretary of State, who is the Secretary of State for all industry, both private and public.
The White Paper referred to the need for a vigorous private sector. If we are to achieve the results we all want—a genuine increase in investment performance—the sums envisaged under the NEB do not begin to meet the problem. There must be a partnership of all sources of funds.
The Sunday Times has been running a series of articles pointing out that investment needs are probably between £15,000 million and £20,000 million. It was pointed out that the sums allocated to the NEB could be taken up by British Leyland alone. That is why the Prime Minister recognises the need for all sectors to play their part and the need for a vigorous, profitable private sector and a capital market which can genuinely channel the funds of all forms of investment into British industry.
§ Mr. Heseltine
It is possible that the funds for British Leyland will not be forthcoming as a result of the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish to explore the possibility that the Government have in mind some other legislation 1023 in respect of other industries, which will make great inroads into the sums available under this legislation. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to press the Minister on that point.
§ Mr. King
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is one of the points we wish to pursue in Committee.
All hon. Members agree on the need to increase investment in British industry. The NEB and Government resources are insufficient on their own. The question is how we can obtain the total involvement of all sources of savings into this activity.
One purpose, as stated in the White Paper, was to ensure that industry knew where it stood and could press ahead with its plans. What has happened? There has been the biggest collapse of investment intention ever known.
I shall not pursue ad nauseam the point I made earlier about the difficulty of correlating years of profit and years of investment. Hon. Members may wish to pretend otherwise, but if they have any understanding of the problem they must know full well that investment occurs on a minimum of an 18-months to two-year cycle, and it is often three to five years before the effects are seen.
There are two essential requirements for investment. The first is cash, which is normally generated by cash injection or additional profits. The second is confidence that there is a market for which it is worth investing. Without those two requirements, no sensible company will invest.
It is against that background that we must approach the debate. I hope that we can do so constructively. Hon. Members will remember well, as I do, a very remarkable speech made on the Industrial Relations Bill by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) in which he asked, on a basic issue of principle which seemed to divide the House: how is it that men of good will on both sides who genuinely have the interests of the country at heart can fail to reach agreement on a point such as this?
If I understand it correctly, the majority of the Labour Party—I exclude the hon. Member for Luton, West and certain of his friends—recognise that we must have a mixed economy in Britain and that it 1024 is vital for all of us that the two parts of it co-exist successfully. Throughout the progress of the Bill through Committee my hope will be that we can make the necessary amendments to it, if we cannot secure its total withdrawal.
Hon. Members opposite must recognise the truth of the assertion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) that there is a total mistrust of the Government and the Labour Party, certainly on the part of management in industry, which at present carries the responsibility of pushing through industrial investment. It is no good pillorying such people as though they are all men who smoke large cigars and drive Rolls-Royces. There are many progressive managements. I expect that hon. Members opposite have examples in their constituencies of good management—management which they think is genuine and progressive. Those people ought not to be pilloried by the Secretary of State at every possible opportunity. They are doing a tough job in a very competitive world, in increasingly difficult trading conditions.
The Bill must be judged against the question of confidence and trust. Hon. Members opposite seem to wonder why there is great concern about Planning Agreements. There is nothing new about Planning Agreements, in the sense of planning and involvement between Government and industry. The Conservative Government had informal discussions and informal planning of this kind, because it made such obvious good sense. It is vital that industry and Government know where they are trying to go.
Planning of this type must be approached on the basis of mutual trust. It is the interlocking nature of the Bill that is so damaging. What is a company to do about this matter, with all the difficulties of forward planning, which must be very tentative? What sort of presentation does it put on any Planning Agreement? Does it sound optimistic or pessimistic; should it sound cautious or otherwise, when it knows that the very people it is talking to may leave the meeting and issue a directive to the NEB to take some action about that very company? Planning Agreements will be a washout unless there is confidence and trust between Government and industry.
1025 We come to the same problem on disclosure. The importance of good communications is recognised by anyone who has an understanding of modern industry. I had the privilege of running a plant that employed 700 people. I recognised the importance of good communications and I tried a number of different ways to improve them. I tried to achieve a full understanding of the investment programme and what we were planning to do. I tried to achieve, for example, an understanding of the order book, of the work level and the levels of employment. It is not easily done. There are problems. I know that members of the union are engaged in training courses so that they may be equipped to be able to understand a lot of the information that may come through to them. There are problems, but the matter must be undertaken against a background of trust.
The Secretary of State appeared to disagree, but our understanding is that he has been overruled. Instead of the disclosure being to the employees in a company it will now be released to the union representatives who may not be employees in the company in which the disclosure takes place. What does the district official do who is given information about two competing plants within his constituency? He may receive information that one company plans to make further investment which will increase its market share at the expense of the other company within the constituency. In the interests of industry advancing that is important, but it may involve some change in the employment ratio in the two plants. My impression is that the district official will be in a difficult situation. It is against that sort of background and with that sort of practical problem that we must judge some of the provisions in the Bill.
Next, I turn to the position of the NEB. The Secretary of State is alleged to have said that he wants to see decentralisation. A more massive centralisation of power than the NEB it is impossible to imagine. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) has dwelt already on the huge powers that the NEB will have. If we take the experience of private industry we get the impression that the Board will run the risk of being one of the two worst forms 1026 of private industry—namely, either a massive monopoly or a huge amorphous conglomerate. The problems of both, but particularly that of the conglomerate, are well known, particularly so in American industry. The problems of managing a conglomerate, bearing in mind the huge size of the proposed undertaking, will be a great disadvantage. The backing of the Government and of being a nationalised industry is a further disadvantage.
In considering the implementation of the social contract it is significant that wage rates in the private sector have increased by 17 per cent. in the past year and in the public sector by 28 per cent. In the present situation market forces and the restriction on demand have some effect on the private sector but little effect on the public sector. The lack of parliamentary control is a matter which I am glad to hear Labour hon. Members criticise.
There is clearly no mandate for the Bill. The fact that the Labour Party received only 28 per cent. of the votes of the people gives it no possible justification for introducing such a fundamental—[Interruption.] Yes, the total scored by the Labour Party at the last General Election was only 28 per cent. Labour hon. Members may like to check the figures. It is against that background that the Government have introduced what The Guardian describe as "Labour's public monster." I rest my case, if only on the parliamentary control aspect, on the words of the Paymaster-General in the present Government:The NEB should be rejected on democratic grounds alone.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) that British industry is in many ways suffering from an anxiety neurosis, but I doubt very much whether his party's rather unconstructive prescription is the answer for which we are looking.
The Bill spells out many desirable objectives. None of us would deny that strengthening the economy, promoting exports, maintaining full employment, extending regional development or socializing industry were desirable 1027 ambitions. But will they be entirely fulfilled through the instrument of the NEB or through planning agreements? I do not say that in a derogatory way. There are, however, a number of matters which should be probed in more detail.
The Secretary of State for Industry stressed three main matters. The first was the need to reverse the decline in manufacturing investment. The National Enterprise Board could have a valuable rôle to play in this respect. However, post-war Governments have been largely concerned with promoting exports. They have continually stressed the need to encourage firms to improve their export performance. That is a desirable objective, but, in view of our import bills and the amount of furniture, wood pulp, timber and even zip fasteners which are imported, we might learn more about industry's deficiencies if we paid greater attention to the character of imports.
For example, why do people feel the need to buy Japanese, American or Italian cars rather than British cars? Why is Swedish, Danish or German furniture much more attractive than our own? The NEB will have to look closely at the important question of getting British industry to satisfy the needs of the domestic market just as much as trying to stimulate and encourage industries to export more.
There is an important link between the NEB and the Manpower Services Commission in achieving the right investment. If we are to direct investment into areas where it is needed we shall have to apply social criteria. It is all very well providing jobs with firms which manufacture paper bags, balloons or tooth picks, but if such items are not essential to the national economy the investment decisions of the NEB should encourage other forms of employment. That may not be easy.
The second main area, concerned employment at national and regional level. There have been reports that the NEB headquarters are likely to be in London. I should like to put in a plug for Scotland, though I shall resist the temptation. Suffice it to say that I hope that the Board—one of whose primary functions will be to stimulate employment in the development areas—will be located in a development area.
1028 The references in the Bill to multinational companies are exceedingly welcome to Scotland. One of the striking things about Scottish industry since the end of the war has been the lack of enterprise among Scottish business men. It has been necessary to attract money from across the Atlantic for the new factories established in the central belt of Scotland. We are well aware that 7 million Americans are out of work, that another 4 million are on short time and that the situation is very serious in the United States. With one out of every 10 workers in manufacturing industries in Scotland employed by American companies, that is cause for great concern. I therefore very much welcome the interest which the NEB will be taking in multinational companies.
My right hon. Friend the Minister did not say very much about the liaison between the NEB and the Manpower Services Commission. He spoke about Government forecasts being available to firms, but manpower is one subject where forecasting has been notoriously unreliable. This problem is not confined to the United Kingdom. It plagues most Western European countries and even the United States. With investment, manpower planning will be one of the most crucial problems that Governments will have to deal with in the foreseeable future.
I come to the area of accountability of industry and the need to stimulate industrial democracy. In situations such as Lonrho, shareholders have a lot more in common with the shop floor workers than is generally realised. Sometimes shareholders do know a little more of the running of a company than do the workers. This makes what is happening in the board room and the values and the outlook of professional management all the more relevant.
Schedule 1 tells us more about who should not be on the NEB than it does about the sort of people the Minister should appoint. One thing which is plaguing this country is the plethora of academics, researchers and bureaucrats who are able to draw up all sorts of fancy plans for solving our problems. There is also insufficient involvement of the common sense which exists on the shop floor and of the experience and 1029 professional expertise of management specialists. I do not see management specialists as enemies but rather as essential partners in the running of British industry.
I hope that the NEB will give us the opportunity to ensure that the right type of people are involved in taking key management decisions, that perhaps we shall get rid of the numerous people who tend to occupy board rooms on the basis of their birth and connections and not their abilities, foresight or management qualities. I issue a warning here against the NEB consisting of public directors who may be just as remote from the world of the work place and the management specialist and who flit about like butterflies from one board room to another.
The most important point of the Bill will be its attempt to try to bring new attitudes into British industry. I regret many of the arguments from Conservative Members this afternoon and particularly the comment by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) that he will simply repeal the Act. Their approach does not bode well for the sort of constructive approach that British industry needs.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
I am glad that the Secretary of State for Industry has returned to the Chamber, because I would like, with no disrespect to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Mary-hill (Mr. Craigen) to revert to what he said in opening this important debate. Having been here virtually throughout the debate, I shall address myself to some of the previous contributions, many of which were very interesting. It is important to do so in order to see our way ahead.
If I understood the Secretary of State aright, he brought out three main areas of argument: first, the question of State investment; secondly, the dilemma of reconciling industrial efficiency, international competitiveness and the safeguarding of employment; thirdly, the whole question of the opportunities for State ownership, including investment in profitable manufacturing industry. Those are virtually the opening terms of the Bill.
1030 I turn my attention to the means by which these objectives may be attained, and the basic dilemmas which they pose. When the Secretary of State talks about industrial efficiency, international competitiveness and safeguarding employment, he speaks with great fervour, and I am prepared to accept that he speaks with sincerity. But in the House, whatever he may say outside, we are entitled to a degree of sophistication in the argument. Surely he must see the difficulty in reconciling these objectives?
I do not suggest that there is anything insincere in the right hon. Gentleman's approach to the dilemma, but that it is a dilemma cannot be denied. I shall later illustrate how it works in practice.
The Secretary of State and other Labour Members must address themselves to the difficulties which we face as a result of the Bill. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray), in a thoughtful speech, struck the first constructive note from the Government side when he pointed to the fact that hon. Members should not expect too much from the Bill. In an indirect sense he was touching the nub of the argument.
I turn to the question how effective the Bill will be in practice. We are being asked to take a great deal on trust. I am prepared to say, as has been said many times, "Let us not look into the crystal ball when we can look at the book". The problems on the railways have been mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) quoted Richard Marsh's words about how the railways had experienced great difficulty in making basic progress when their investment programmes had no more than six months' validity. Similarly, we remember only too well that State planning directed us on the disastrous course of backing cheap oil as the source of energy for the future and running down our coalmines, with all the difficulties that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have had to live with for many years.
I turn to the steel industry, with which I am most closely associated. The fact that I worked in that industry for 16 years, until nationalisation, gives me a great interest in its future and in seeing that it works effectively. What is the position of that industry today, almost eight years after nationalisation? The 1031 first thing to be said about it is that in every possible way it meets all that the Secretary of State seeks to achieve in the Bill. I shall elaborate in more detail.
I am seeking to highlight the problems of Planning Agreements and the disclosure of information. I ask the Secretary of State to remember that the British Steel Corporation makes quarterly reports to the Department of Industry giving details of manpower, deliveries, financial information and a whole range of details with which the Bill is concerned. Similarly, the British Steel Corporation puts before the Department of Industry an annual operating plan which upgrades the same information over 12 months looking both to the current and the following years. Finally, it has a five-year plan with a roll-over arrangement which provides a long-term planning agreement. I have checked with the BSC and found that it takes the view that its present planning agreements are in every way compatible with what the right hon. Gentleman is seeking in the Bill.
§ Mr. Benn
I am paying great attention to the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that, until we carried out the review of the closures, the one missing element was the involvement of workers in the steel industry in the planning of that industry? The hon. Gentleman is speaking of a planning agreement in the French sense of the programme contract which is between the Government and the boards of the corporation.
§ Mr. Marshall
I do not agree. I have also had the opportunity of talking to trade union leaders in the steel industry. The vital element which the Bill seems to ignore is the ability of trade union leaders to discover the information that they want and to use it with their usual skill in negotiations. The British Steel Corporation has an outstandingly good record of trying to reconcile the problems of redundancies and closures in discussions with the trade unions. There has been a great deal of co-operation in difficult circumstances in that area. I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman is selling short any part of the steel industry. I think that the industry's record shows that consultation has been of a high order.
§ Mr. John Davies
Will my hon. Friend recall to the Secretary of State that, at the instance of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was formerly a member, union members appointed to individual boards in the steel industry were involved in the planning mechanism to which my hon. Friend is referring?
§ Mr. Marshall
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend.
The British Steel Corporation is a good example of an industry which has substantial planning agreements and has shown an enlightened policy in those areas in which the Secretary of State takes a great interest.
Having said that, we have to ask: what is the situation today? It gives me no pleasure to look at the facts of life in the steel industry today and to observe that less steel is being produced than in pre-nationalisation days. In major areas of the operating divisions, such as Corby, there are out-of-work blast furnaces producing insufficient iron to meet the national need. It gives me no satisfaction to record that labour relations in the industry are worse now than at any time this century. Not one major plant under the control of the BSC is without a labour dispute. This is all part of the problem which has come from assuming that there is some miracle in State planning and assuming too much about the whole concept of nationalisation. It is summed up in one word—"interference".
I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) sitting behind the Secretary of State for Industry. In a strikingly vivid intervention some months ago, when talking of the problems of the steel industry, the hon. Gentleman highlighted Government interference as the main problem with which the industry had to contend. That is precisely my point.
§ Mr. Marshall
The hon. Gentleman will find it if he refers to Hansard. I shall always remember him for that intervention. It was made with great style and panache, and it has firmly stuck in my mind.
1033 If Government interference is the charge which is levelled time and again, in the operating sense, by the nationalised industries, this can hardly augur well for the Planning Agreements and disclosure of information clauses contained in the Bill.
I turn now to some of the basic questions to which I ask the Secretary of State to address his mind. The Bill is being rushed through with great speed. The issues raised are vast. They raise questions which will put tremendous constraints not only on the right hon. Gentleman but on many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. One has only to think of the situation which has come out of the steel industry, where the closure review forces every hon. Member with a steel constituency to fight for his corner. The Secretary of State intends to carry this over to the whole range of manufacturing industry. He is asking us to join him in carrying forward the fight which will go on whenever this closure argument arises. He is also asking us for a great act of faith that in this matter the civil servants will acquire an additional dimension which will enable them to overcome these difficulties of political as well as of industrial judgment.
I hope that I have made the argument that nationalisation is no cure-all, just as this Bill is no cure-all. Taking the nationalisation argument a stage further, it is to bring rationalisation, and rationalisation has meant redundancies, with the creation of a smaller number of larger units. All these are matters about which Government supporters have been worried and have spoken, yet the Bill will provide the means to spread this kind of problem further.
I turn to the timing of the Bill and to the cost of the exercise. The Secretary of State talks of 350 additional staff. I hope that that is right, though it is very hard to believe that, given the vast sections of the industry which could be affected by the Bill, that will be the case over many years to come.
I ask right hon. and hon. Members to think of the effect on the planning staffs and the headquarters administrations of many of the companies with whom Planning Agreements may be arranged. It is impossible to quantify at the moment, but 1034 surely a little thought would convince us that this must have its impact.
The rôle of the trade unions seems to have been disregarded totally. The Bill seems to suggest that they are unable to hold their corner. I do not think that that is so.
In a sense, the Secretary of State has sold himself short. He has also sold this House short if he thinks that we can consider a Bill of this kind in the simplistic political manner that he has attempted today. He challenged us to come up with practical alternatives. I leave the House with two final thoughts.
I suggest to the Secretary of State that there is no reason why he should not use the 1972 Act effectively. The kind of rôle that I see is an in-and-out investment, in which the money available is released once it can be floated back in a share issue or the repayment of loan. That is a way of spreading the jam a little more usefully. In practical terms, £700 million does not look like a great deal of money, bearing in mind that it is about one-sixth of the British Steel Corporation's present investment programme. I do not believe that the Secretary of State will do anything like as much with that sum of money as he would if he had some flexibility rather than locking himself into an equity stake.
The way ahead would have been for the Secretary of State to tell the House that he intended to make the nationalised industries work effectively and profitably, with better labour relations and better productivity, and that this was the means that he intended to use to do it. If he had done that, he would have won a good deal of support from both sides of the House. Instead, he is caught in the trap of dogma, as has been shown by many speeches from Government supporters.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
This is a Bill worth fighting for. We must get it right. The fact that there have been a number of speeches from both Front Benches over the last few weeks overstating the point of the Bill has not helped. I can understand the Opposition being critical of the Bill, because it is their job to oppose, although I regret that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said this weekend that the 1035 Bill would put us on the road to a Soviet-style economy. It is perhaps even more difficult for me to appreciate—and in a sense I offer this as a plea to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—the dangers of over-stating the implications of the Bill.
Several hon. Members from both sides of the House, have spoken, in the reasonable way we have just heard from the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall). They have raised points and comments that are worth listening to. Quite clearly we see some value in a Bill which puts right many of the things that have not been sufficiently effective in industry for many years, through various administrations. What would be wrong would be if we not only were highly critical of industrialists but at the same time set up aspirational levels among workers about what is likely to be in the Bill. This is probably the most worrying matter because it is so easy to get cheap cheers at any meeting. As politicians we are aware of this. We should not as politicians try to impress local Labour parties, or a wider sphere, and make them think that there is something here which will dramatically change the whole balance of power in the country.
It may well be that this is what some of my colleagues want. It is totally wrong, however, for any member of this party, especially Ministers, to give the impression that this is necessarily implicit in the Bill. I have gone through the Bill as carefully as anybody on this side of the House. I do not believe that we can make those assumptions. At worst it is dishonest. Therefore, we ought to look rather more closely at the practical application. Two things have not been referred to in the debate so far. Those of us who have sat here since four o'clock are entitled to make one or two observations.
The first concerns efficiency. That is a word of which we hear much less nowadays. Before the final vote tomorrow night there should be some reference to the fact that there is clearly a connection, which has not been specified so far, between the Bill's purpose of intervening in industry and its proclaimed aim of efficiency. I should like to know how Whitehall's new store of information will be usefully processed. How will the Government choose in which sectors to inter 1036 vene? One evident answer is to start modestly in a few sectors which have identifiable problems.
The Neddy and the Little Neddies can point to some of these but not to adequate solutions. Neddies tend to work on the lowest common denominator principle. There is a better answer—the experience of Japan, which would be more difficult to sell. We would have to look hard, as the Japanese do, at the sectors offering greatest potential and to push and cajole investment into them. We could think of this in terms of the computer industry and the ways in which we might give greater support to rationalising that industry in Europe.
Who is to do the studying? Surely not just civil servants alone or any one group of specialist advisers brought into the Ministry. Obviously this is not the time or place to spell out such choices, but it is a sorry comment on British economic practice that the public and those who run industry can legitimately ask, even with last summer's famous White Paper at hand, whether the choices have been seriously thought about and whether the infrastructure necessary for making them is being prepared.
The second reason for encouraging efficiency, which must continue to dominate our thoughts in terms of the Bill, is the whole question of consent. This will be needed if plants are to close, if capital-intensive processes are to be put into effect, if retraining and labour mobility are to be accepted as the norm, as they must be in a nation that wants to advance. Consent can surely be eased along and, at certain moments, can be bought.
I would like to ask more questions. What evidence is there that new jobs will replace old ones? Just how good is British retraining and why should the unions co-operate in this manner? The answers are not, and could not be, in the Bill but surely they should exist somewhere.
I turn to Planning Agreements. Surely the concept of those agreements is simple. I believe that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was wrong. As I understand the situation, Planning Agreements are still voluntary. He will recall the debate on this subject last July when some of us were concerned about the exact 1037 meaning of Planning Agreements. At the end of that debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry, specifically said that they were voluntary, and this has also been made clear by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) appears to disagree with that. I have expressed my concern about overstatements, and the hon. Gentleman must accept the position. If the Secretary of State for Industry says that such agreements are voluntary, until evidence is produced to the contrary this surely is the way in which the agreements will operate.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I shall report the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), but the disclosure of information which is at the heart of the Planning Agreement—information is what it is all about—is compulsory.
§ Mr. Moonman
I hope that the matter will be clarified in the Government's reply. If there is confusion about the matter, I hope that it will not be left in a state of ambiguity. I believe that there is great value in Planning Agreements—and that has been the view expressed by many Conservatives, although with some reservation. However, if the aim is to reach an understanding about investment intentions, employment levels, location of plant, and the proportion of export and finance required, those matters can only be enhanced by an understanding of the way in which decisions in industry are made.
What must trouble most people are the returns. We are told that the Government will provide detailed information in return for Planning Agreements. What information will the Government give in these circumstances? What information do they intend to give which they are not able to give at present? I suppose that the short answer is that by having company information and by disseminating it, the Government will be in a better position to return it. We should know more about the basis of the return of information. It is not to be done simply to satisfy the curiosity of parliamentarians. I want to feel that we are asking Ministers the same questions which are being put to us by 1038 management. The job is a tough one and people want to know how the system will develop. This matter cannot wait until the Committee stage, and I hope that we shall not have to wait for leaks in the Press. The question of providing information is fairly critical.
It has been said by some of my hon. Friends that whatever we decide in approving this Bill—and I hope that, despite the Liberals and the SNP, the Bill will go through tomorrow—the European Economic Community provisions will make the task much more difficult. I know of no evidence for that view. I know that one can take a certain view about the Common Market, but I hope that no prejudice—and I hope that the Minister will not encourage this—will enter into a serious debate on industry.
If there are inhibitions on a country's running of its own industrial policy, perhaps we should have evidence of that practice in France, or Germany or Italy. I know of no evidence to show that the industrial programme or policy of any one of those Governments has been inhibited by membership of the EEC. Those who subscribe to that view should be a little more careful and should give evidence to that effect. We may on occasion want to debate the Common Market, but that subject has no place in a debate as complex as the present one.
We should look at one or two of the experiences which have been mentioned. Reference has been made to the circumstances in Italy and France. There are real doubts about the Italian experience, and I regret this. Many of us have admired the way in which the IRI has operated and has been used as a holding company. I think that we should recognise that within the last two or three years it has got into difficulties, but it is hoped that this is a temporary phase. I would want to know whether the Minister has been able to look at the problems associated with the breakdown of IRI and whether he is aware of some of the experiences in France have have been pointed out. The important thing about the French experience is that it points out clearly that an industrial firm is not a political society, and that management does not begin with elections. Therefore, we come back to this point about concept. The way in which decisions are 1039 made within an industrial environment depends on consent and negotiation.
In the same context, however much one wants to see an increase in worker participation, which is also implicit in this Bill, surely no one who has spent any time in a supervisory and managerial rôle in industry will deny the fact that there comes a time when participation has to stop and decision making begin.
Therefore, we ought to recognise two features of the Bill. These are my final points. First, those aspects of the Bill which I think are particularly relevant refer to the change relating to foreign take-overs of British industry. There is no doubt that a transfer of assets which is felt to be contrary to the national interest will be stopped by the Government vesting order. The other point—which is perhaps not strong enough—concerns the NEB, which can extend public ownership into profitable areas of manufacturing. I think that it is absolutely correct. What surprises me is why it should be only the industries which are run down or neglected that are to be absorbed into public ownership.
I repeat my reference to the computer industry. We must look at these industries, which should be in the public sector—what I would term "industries of innovation", industries that have a future, rather than constantly looking back to industries that need to be helped out and straightened out. Not only do we need to get our costs right and our industrial planning in balance, but Planning Agreements and worker participation must be relevant and meaningful, and not merely sign language. We ought, therefore, to examine and understand the intelligent expansion needs of the various worker levels.
Reference has been made in the Press to these problems only within the last two or three days. Hon. Members from Scotland will appreciate the difficulties of the Scottish Daily News, because it is quite clear, in this particular example—an industry which affects my union, the printers—that aspirational levels have been set up because of the hope of Government support and investment, to see the revival of an important newspaper in Scotland. Because there has been some difficulty in getting the money, the 1040 result over the weekend has been a great frustration.
I think that part of the difficulty here is that when Government appear to be involved, to be interested in bailing out or supporting a company, it raises the levels of aspiration. We need to make quite clear, when engaging in support, the problems, the difficulties and perhaps the fact that a Government also have to withdraw. I do not wish to take up the time of the House in this debate on the particular frustration felt by my members in Scotland at present, because they have gone through a period over the last two or three weeks where at one stage their jobs appeared to be secure and they were putting their redundancy pay into the project. At the moment they feel let down and frustrated.
If we are to get the Bill right we need to refine it, and to be honest on this side of the House. Where we can improve it, we will do so. This does not conflict with our own Socialist ideal, which is to see the Bill on the statute book.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
It is with some pleasure that I follow the speech of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), as there were sections of it with which I found myself in considerable agreement. He raised a number of questions to which Ministers so far seemed to have closed their eyes. I hope that they will now address themselves to answering them. I should like to underline the hon. Gentleman's warning of the danger of increasing too greatly workers' expectations of what they are likely to get out of the Bill.
There are distinct parts to the Bill which would each merit serious discussion in their own right—the proposals for a National Enterprise Board, for Planning Agreements and for the compulsory disclosure of information. We could have a serious discussion over the proper rôle for a State holding company and over the limits or encouragement which should be given to it, and, indeed, of the high degree to which the one proposed here is made subject to ministerial dictation.
In fact, this NEB has come some way from the original proposal that it should take over some 25 of Britain's top 100 1041 manufacturing companies. As previous speakers have pointed out, it certainly does not have the resources at its disposal to do anything like this. From this, I fear that the NEB is much more likely to interest itself, in the first instance, in acquiring a number of small and medium-sized firms. There is nothing in the Bill limiting its operations to the giants. Medium-sized and small firms with growth potential must be warned that the beady eyes of the NEB will be on them, particularly if the acquisition of two or three competitors would give it a dominant position in one subsector of industry.
Let us face it—the NEB will fairly early want to have some success stories to its credit, and it will go out to get them, even though the growth firms it acquires would probably have succeeded anyway.
Again, we could have a serious discussion about Planning Agreements and whether these might not be more useful if employed for indicative planning, along French lines. But on Planning Agreements the Bill is so vague as to be utterly meaningless. We have to refer back to the White Paper to see how the kind proposed here are intended to operate.
We could also have serious discussion again over the compulsory disclosure of information. There is, after all, a lot to be said for making more information on the activities and problems of a company available to its workers.
Each of these three proposals, if presented separately, could give rise to very sensible discussion. But the Bill draws them together for a clearly declared Socialist purpose, and much of the threat posed by the Bill to free enterprise and to the healthy working of our economy lies in the undefined relationship between the three and the extent to which each one can and will be used to buttress and strengthen the grip of the others.
The NEB, the proposed Planning Agreements and the compulsory disclosure of information together constitute an all-embracing web of State power in which any high flyer in British industry will quickly find his wings entangled before he is devoured.
I repeat: much of the threat posed by by the Bill lies in the undefined relation 1042 ship between the three pieces of control machinery in it. I suspect that it is the Planning Agreements which will turn out to be the main instrument of the Secretary of State's grand design. From reading the Bill one might imagine that they will be nothing more than a further limb of regional development policy. It is from the White Paper that we learn that they will give the Government power over companies' investment, prices and employment policies, and—perhaps more significant—product development. There will be no statutory requirement on a company to conclude a Planning Agreement, we have been told; but there is a great deal of scope here for arm-twisting.
Under the Bill it will be perfectly possible for a threat of take-over by the NEB to be used to "persuade" a company to conclude a Planning Agreement. Under the Bill it will be possible for a Planning Agreement to contain an understanding that certain contracts be placed with NEB companies. Under the Bill it will be possible through Planning Agreement control over product developments to curb competition with an NEB company. Under the Bill it will be possible to make the placing of a Government contract conditional upon a Planning Agreement being concluded with it.
Under this Bill, it will be possible for the weapon of compulsory disclosure of information to be used against firms competing with NEB companies. Under this Bill, it will be possible for a company concluding a Planning Agreement to be given a market advantage over competitors which do not. All these inter-related pressures on companies are possible under the Bill as it stands before us, without any proper parliamentary process to check them.
Doubtless the Secretary of State will tell us that he has no intention of proceeding in some of the ways I have indicated, and if he does not say so the Prime Minister probably will. All right, let him prove it—first, by giving Parliament a greater check on these processes, as my hon. Friend suggested earlier today and, secondly, by adding three new schedules to the Bill in Committee.
Let each of the schedules set out a code of practice—the first governing ministerial directives to the NEB, the second governing the operation of Planning Agreements, and the third specifying 1043 the circumstances in which disclosures of information will be ordered. I believe that without some clear codes of practice added to it the Bill will grant to Ministers a licence for the exercise of arbitrary power of truly Orwellian proportions.
Let me draw attention to just one effect of this. Ministers will seek to justify this concentration of economic power in the hands of the State as being at the expense of capitalists and shareholders, but what worries me is that the vast increase in the economic power of the State proposed in the Bill will most certainly be at the expense of consumers.
We all know how our present mixed market economy works. The wishes and the choices of us all, as consumers, are reflected through the market mechanism, albeit blunted somewhat by the machinery of price controls and some other mechanisms, and those producers who respond generally make a profit, while those who do not fall behind or make way for others.
Again, in locating new plant, companies are sensibly steered towards the development areas by the IDC system and in inducements in the form of grants and tax benefits. Thus, though we do not have anything like a laissez-faire economy, it is, nevertheless, still one in which consumer choice prevails. But this Bill is totally destructive of this system. It provides for ministerial directives to override commercial judgment over large sections of the economy, and for political convenience to take precedence over the wishes of consumers collectively expressed.
One Socialist Member argued a little while ago that the NEB might be called upon to make a social judgment against, for example, the production of toothpaste. If we consumers want to clean our teeth and to buy the toothpaste, who is the NEB to decree that we cannot? There is plenty in the Bill about "industrial efficiency", about "maintaining employment" and "national needs and objectives"—but nowhere do the words "consumer" or "consumer interests" appear.
Ministers speak as if their judgments in these affairs were inspired by some godly and selfless perception not available to ordinary industrial and commercial mortals, but what happens when the 1044 political pressure is on them? What happens when a change in consumer taste threatens to close a factory in a politically sensitive area? What happens when a powerful union puts on the pressure to resist change? Will the Secretary of State's directives then be inspired by a lofty judgment of national needs, or by downright political expediency? Our experience over Kirkby is not very encouraging.
Even the present nationalised industries have their consumer consultative councils, imperfect though they may be. There is no provision in the Bill for a consumer voice to be heard over those sectors of the economy controlled by the Government jointly through the NEB or Planning Agreements.
The case for a freely operating mixed market economy was well presented by the CBI in its recent report, which said:A market economy is the economic aspect of political democracy. But instead of offering a blanket choice once every few years between two or three alternatives, it provides a daily—even an hourly—referendum. Customers vote with their purchases, and every vote counts. Changes in taste or attitude are signalled by the cash registers, and producers adjust their plans to meet them.That is what economic freedom means in a mixed market economy. It is this freedom of choice for us as consumers that the Bill attacks root and branch, superimposing upon our collective judgment the political dictates of a Minister or a Cabinet committee.
By such political directives on investment, prices policy and product developments, will the consumers' power be usurped. It is in defence of the consumers' freedom to choose that I shall vote against this Bill.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
The Opposition have emphasised the need for parliamentary power and responsibility. That is why I make no apology for referring once again to the area in which we have lost our Parliamentary responsibility and power, a matter which is relevant to the Bill. I refer to our membership of the Common Market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) explained that the Secretary of State might come to the House with proposals 1045 which were then rejected, but because he was supported by the Commission in Brussels the wishes of this House could be overridden. That was strictly factual. He did not say that those wishes would be overridden; he said that they could be overridden. We do not pretend to be psychic. We are not looking into our crystal balls and saying that this will happen; we merely say that it could happen. It is more likely that the Secretary of State will come to the House with proposals, to which the House will agree, but which may be overridden by the Commission in Brussels despite the united views of the Government and Parliament. That is possible under the Treaty of Rome. I remind the Opposition that we have no power of veto on industrial and regional policies. If the Opposition's concern with the powers and responsibilities of the House is genuine, they should look to their attitude on our membership of the Common Market. I am irresistibly reminded of the bureaucratic and centralised nature of the Common Market. As regards the remarks of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) about centralisation and the place of Scotland, I was puzzled by the implication that the phrase "part of the United Kingdom" somehow excluded Scotland. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman could have had sufficient confidence in the Government to accept that "Scotland" is implied in the words "part of the United Kingdom". Would not the hon. Gentleman like to turn his mind to the real centralisation facing us today—the fact that 20 large companies employ over 2 million people? Does not he think that Scottish workers, no less than English and Welsh workers, will welcome the provisions of the Bill for real devolution and the decentralisation of the power exclusively to hold and use information? If the hon. Member consults Scottish workers he will find that they are interested in that.
§ Mr. Crawford
Scottish and Welsh workers would prefer Scottish and Welsh-based development agencies to a London-based NEB.
§ Mrs. Wise
As the hon. Gentleman knows, they will have exactly such agencies.
1046 It will be interesting, when reading Hansard tomorrow, to look at the roll call of places represented by Opposition speakers today. We shall not find that they come from the industrial heartlands. For instance, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) expressed great concern for consumers. I share that concern. So do workers. Workers are themselves consumers—and they are better consumers if the Secretary of State manages to save their jobs.
A document composed by 300 senior shop stewards of British Leyland expresses the workers' concern for consumers. The document states:Spares supply is paramount to maintaining our customers' cars and other vehicles. If we want to retain our customers there is … no good reason why any of them should have cause for complaint, but they have. We have no coherent policy it would appear, for conducting this most important and possibly most profitable section of our business. Spares should be an integral part of our component production schedules. The Company will state that this is the case, but it is not so, and more often than not spares are only considered important when the Track System is laid off or when we are confronted with short-time working.Those workers are showing a concern for consumers and pointing out management errors which they have no possible channel for correcting. The question of spares has also arisen in the case of Meriden, with motor cycles. It arises frequently. I am not singling out British Leyland as a culprit.
Workers are not responsible for this kind of fault, nor for built-in obsolescence, which is another characteristic of our great consumer society. Workers are not responsible for the fact that often they are supplied by management with inferior tools. Last week some constituents complained to me that when they point this out they are told that the provision of tools is a management prerogative and that they—the workers—must mind their own business.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
The hon. Lady chides me for representing a South-Eastern seat. At a previous General Election I had the pleasure of fighting the territory which she now represents. Would she use her good influence over her shop stewards to ensure that their undoubtedly high regard for consumer interests is reflected in a somewhat greater 1047 concern and respect for maintaining delivery dates?
§ Mrs. Wise
As I have said, at present workers are not allowed any share in management, and delivery dates are a management prerogative. If the hon. Gentleman has in mind the question of interruption of production through strike action, I shall put him in the picture with regard to the workers at Chrysler—another section of workers in Coventry which has been told by the management that it worked so well during the three-day working week and that there were so few interruption of production—those were the opinions of the management—during the past summer that the firm's cars have been overstocked. That has contributed to the fact that they are now on a two- or three-day week.
We have heard a lot about confidence to invest. I suggest that if our industrial future depends upon people who lose confidence so readily and who are such fragile flowers we shall be doing them a great service if we take from their shoulders the undoubted strain of making investment decisions. I suggest that it is not acceptable that the future of workers and the future of the nation should depend on a multitude of irresponsible and unaccountable investment decisions. If, as I believe it does, the Bill helps to get a more rational approach into the area of investment it will have done all of us a great service.
I am extremely surprised that the robust guardians of British capitalism are now so reluctant to carry out their function of taking risks to reap great rewards. They seem nowadays to want the rewards without the risk. That is not acceptable to us.
Workers have a lot of power but at the moment it is a negative power. They have the power to stop things running but they do not have the power to run things in the interests of the ordinary people. I believe that it is the sharing of power through the disclosure of information and through the Planning Agreement system which will help to harness the talent and energy which now run to waste in British working people.
I was sad to notice that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to ideas the Opposition hon. Members as one man burst into hearty laughter. I do 1048 not believe that the British people share their contempt for ideas. One of the most valuable assets of the Bill is that it will encourage and enable British working people to take an intelligent interest in their own work, in what it is, why it is done and what happens to it. Our working people will have the greatest possible incentive to achieve efficiency.
Unfortunately my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) is not here now, but I noticed his remark to the effect that anyone in a managerial positions knows that there is a time when participation has to stop and decision making has to begin. I must tell my hon. Friend that anyone who has not had a managerial position but who has worked solidly day after day in industry knows that many rubbishy decisions are taken and that a great deal of inefficiency has existed which we have had no chance of altering. I suggest to my hon. Friend that when some of us talk about participation we mean participation in decision making and not some sort of phoney consultation.
We have heard a great deal about the lack of confidence which British industry has in the Secretary of State for Industry and in the Bill. I remind Conservative Members that workers in British industry are coming to the House in their hundreds to express their confidence in the Secretary of State for Industry and in the Bill. I heartily commend it, and I have no doubt that it will gets its Second Reading tomorrow evening.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
I assure the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) that there is an industrial heartland in the South-East and part of it is the paper industry in my constituency. I therefore hope that she will not feel tempted to use labels about so-called non-industrialisation in the South-East.
1049 I should like to take up the views of the Secretary of State about the villains responsible for the performance of manufacturing industry. He made an interesting statement in the Investors' Chronicle of 6th December, and he said much the same today. He stated:I have never taken the view that what is wrong is that there are a lot of villains about who have in some personal and special way failed the nation".I find it hard to believe that that is his view, because everything he has said prior to and during this debate—and it has been echoed by hon. Members opposite—indicates that the Labour Party believes that one villain essentially is responsible for the so-called failings of industry in the last 10 or 20 years, namely, management, and management confined to the private sector.
It is wholly wrong to lay all the blame for our industrial performance at the door of private management. The fallacy of the Bill is that it is based on an attempt to solve our industrial problems on a far too simple diagnosis. I do not believe that management basically is particularly bad. Much of it—and here I declare an interest in a manufacturing company—is highly skilled and the quality of line management is as good as that in most other Western European countries. There is a need for some spring cleaning in certain board rooms. There is certainly need for more training among middle-aged managers. But one cannot lay the blame for our industrial performance entirely at the door of management in private industry.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said, we must look more widely in our diagnosis and consider what other villains of the piece there may be. We must consider the performances of successive Governments and particularly the lack of stability over many years in the rate of expansion of the economy. The gyrations in our economic performance—fluctuations in demand, fluctuations in sums released to companies through investment incentives, and taxation—have presented companies with a veritable quicksand on which they have had to try to go forward.
We must consider the question of the tax burden put on companies. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to condemn companies' investment performance, 1050 but investment must be paid for. If, as a result of taxation, companies' cash flow and liquidity positions are not sufficiently strong, we cannot expect a thriving level of investment. It is no surprise that countries with a commendable investment performance, such as Japan and Germany, have a lower rate of taxation on company profits than the rate in this country.
It is as well to consider the Government Departments responsible for the administration of industrial policy. We lose out in this country because we have failed to produce a system under which there is ready interchange between the Civil Service and manufacturing industry. We have lost out considerably compared with countries such as France, where there is such an interchange, by not having sufficient people who have gone from public administration into private or public industry and then returned.
This is another major area for improvement. It is unreasonable to say that no blame can be attached to the performance of the unions, to the multiplicity of unions, to the demarcation problems to which this has given rise, and to the endless restrictive practices which are found in many sectors of manufacturing industry. That aspect of industry needs to be examined as closely as any.
The Government have put forward two solutions to our industrial problems—the extension of public ownership and the extension of union power—not employees' power—through the instrument of disclosure. If the Government study the facts they will see that there is no evidence that publicly owned industry will operate more efficiently than private industry, and that is the ultimate criterion whether we shall succeed as a nation. On every comparative financial criterion, public industry has not succeeded as well as private industry, whether it be rate of return, assets, output, self-financed increases in capital or taxation paid. On all these yardsticks the public sector has lagged well behind. There are striking figures for the period 1962 to 1972 which show that nationalised industries paid a total of £81 million in tax compared with £13,700 million paid by private industry.
Whatever the relative financial merits or otherwise of the public or the private sectors, it is a fallacy to suggest that it 1051 will be possible to solve our economic problems by extending the public sector. The moment a company is nationalised, efficiency suffers, because the public company operates in a different environment. The management of a privately-owned firm knows that in the last resort it will be dependent upon its company's financial resources. The public company knows that in the last resort it can fall back on to the taxpayers' bottomless purse.
I do not believe that the disclosure provisions will solve the problems of industrial democracy. I hope that the Secretary of State will not persist in suggesting that these provisions are in some way novel. Many companies already do what is suggested in the Bill. It is not breaking new ground for a company which is about to declare redundancies or to begin new manufacturing operations to consult the unions and the workers. The best companies do so, although I wish that many more firms would follow their example.
The Secretary of State has totally failed to recognise that there is a balance to be struck on disclosure. It is clearly not in the interests of employees for them to be kept in the dark about management intentions. Equally it is not in their interests that the performance of the company should be so publicly exposed as to threaten the company's competitiveness and viability. There is no sign that the necessary balance has been struck in the Bill.
What possible justification is there for limiting disclosure simply to the union representatives? This has been described as an exercise in industrial democracy, but democracy is not selective. Democracy means one man one vote, and treating everyone equally. Why should some employees be treated more equally than others? The Government's proposal seems a negation of democracy if members of unions are to have the rights which are denied to other employees.
Secondly, in the matter of disclosure there is no case for not treating shareholders on the same footing as those employed in the company. After all, they have risked their savings and investments in it. I believe, on the reading of the Bill so far, that the Secretary of State has opened up a mare's nest under the Companies Acts in the obligation he is 1052 putting on directors to disclose information to union representatives.
Thirdly, why has the right hon. Gentleman not provided a better defence against the disclosure provisions undermining a company's competitiveness? For example, there are no sanctions or inhibitions on the onward disclosure of commercially important information by the trade union representatives. Companies have no right of recourse to the courts of appeal from the appellate committee being set up by the Secretary of State. But the committee is the Secretary of State's creature. He lays down its terms of reference and prescribes its membership. There is a fundamental case for decisions of the committee going to an independent judicial body—in other words, for a right of appeal to the courts.
The Secretary of State sees the Bill leading to the regeneration of British industry and making industry more democratic. I share his aspirations and objectives, but I predict that the two certain results of the Bill are that it will channel huge sums of public money into the least efficient firms, those unable to survive without going to the NEB, and that it will add immeasurably to the power of trade union negotiators in forcing through wages claims that will ultimately work against the true interests of their members.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
As the first Member for Britain's largest industrial city to speak in the debate, I give the Bill a warm welcome. I have listened to every speech and have found it incredible that Conservative Members represent the party that took various powers to itself when in Government. There is not time to go into the background, but it is worth listing some of those powers. They include power to nationalise, power to support industry, power of investment, power over prices, power to demand information, ministerial power to amend statutes, power over large companies, power over profits, power to vet investment plans, power over multinational companies, power of entry and seizure of company books, power over mergers, power to veto directors, power to inspect the books, power to issue directives and power to define unfair industrial 1053 practices. We never saw the Conservatives use that last power to define asset stripping as an unfair industrial practice. They also took power to appoint commissioners when they thought it useful to do so. Those powers were taken by the Conservative Government between June 1970 and February 1974.
What we have done in the Bill is to mould most of those powers into a single measure that will be to the betterment of democracy. More and more people now realise that basic control over the economy lies at the door of central Govement and not of separate, individual companies. I am pleased to see that we are taking the legislation to bring that into effect.
The CBI warns that the Bill is a charter for workers' control. That is its greatest fear. We have not heard too much today from the spokesmen of the CBI about the death of the private sector or the effects on competition and the place of the shareholder. Much has been said about the disclosure of information, because hon. Members opposite realise that that is the nub of the Bill. The Bill will not be mainly used by Labour Members or Labour Ministers. It will be used most by the trade union movement. We make no apology for that. There is nothing to hide.
It is worth recalling the report in The Times last Friday about the Prime Minister's discussion with the CBI. My right hon. Friend seemed to be saying that a White Paper had precedence over a Bill and that he would have to look at the things which were different.
I have been a Member of this House for less than 12 months, but I have learned that White Papers—this one was never debated or voted upon—have not as much force as a Bill when enacted. The Prime Minister has put out a red herring.
As I see it, the Prime Minister is the father of the Bill. No doubt he will not wish to be reminded of that, but it is useful to look back to what he said. I have done this before in debates in this House.
On 17th March 1973 my right hon. Friend called for disclosure of manpower and labour costs and ownership and control of companies' projected work loads, pricing policies, development, production and investment data. I give the Prime Minister ten out of ten for that.
1054 Whatever may be said about the Prime Minister gettting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry in his sights, putting pressure on him, or whatever he may say in Cabinet meetings, I suggest that the power behind the Bill is Prime Ministerial authority. We have seen what can be done with Prime Ministerial authority by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
I turn to membership of the NEB, because that is important. I do not want the NEB to be saddled with people whom I should describe as spent forces, whether they be former politicians, trade union leaders or industrial managers. There are too many of these people from all sections littered about on public boards. I have an assurance in a parliamentary Answer, for what it is worth, that those appointed to the NEB will have not only experience but future potential to make a valid contribution. I shall watch closely the first appointment, which will probably be made after Second Reading.
I hope that the hand of Lord Goodman will not be behind the appointments. If what we read in the Crossman diaries is anything to go by, bearing in mind his suggestion for getting our housing drive under way, we would end up with the Jim Slaters, Metcalfes and John Bentleys of this world on the NEB. That is the last thing that I want to see.
Lastly, I turn to the Planning Agreements. Many companies will think that they are not covered by the Planning Agreements because of their structure and the markets in which they are in direct competition with offshoots of large companies.
I will give an example from my experience. One hat that I wore was that of production manager for a loudspeaker manufacturer. It was a small company with £3 million a year turnover. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentleman may laugh, but I have worked on both sides of industry and have a valid contribution to make.
§ Mr. Rooker
That company had a turnover of about £3 million a year and employed about 600 people. It had a 40 per cent. share of the market. It was in a 1055 monopoly situation. Its chief competitor also had about 40 per cent. of the market. That competitor was part of a multinational £100 million a year company. We operated in direct competition with that offshoot. It was crucial that the forces operated equally on both companies.
But under the system which I see developing the large company may be brought into a Planning Agreement arrangement for all the offshoots and conglomerates that it controls and may get an unfair benefit which the small company may not get. Therefore, consideration must be given to the market and the product of the companies concerned as well as to turnover. It is crucial that if we 1056 have an independent company with a pretty big share of an albeit small market which is not part of a larger outfit, it should not suffer due to lack of Planning Agreements. The small companies are very useful for their acceptance of innovation and their preparedness to give young people with shop-floor experience other types of experience. I am the last to say that companies of that kind should be treated unfairly simply because they are small.
I cut short my speech at that point, because I hope to serve on the Standing Committee, where I shall be able to pursue ways in which I think that the Bill is weak and requires strengthening.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I am glad to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), because I want to assure him that I did not laugh at him when he said that at one time he had made loud speakers and been in a monopoly position. But I can understand the humour in being thought to be a loud speaker in this place. Like the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), we all sometimes have to try to be loud speakers. But I appreciate that the hon. Member for Perry Barr was seeking to make the point that he had been in management but that he was speaking today in support of the Bill and of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I must warn him that he may find it difficult in future to follow every move of the Prime Minister, but we wish him well in that endeavour.
In this debate, my heart went out to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise). I have listened to her on a number of occasions doing what I have tried to do in the past, which is to make some recommendation to her Front Bench. Today, the hon. Lady supported her Front Bench to the hilt. But I have heard her making recommendations, and at times in the past when looking at her Front Bench she has had her hand firmly on her gun. The hon. Lady has spirit, and she demonstrated it today when she commended this Bill to the House. It is a Bill which I do not support, but I hope that both the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Perry Barr will be members of the Standing Committee, will make their contributions to the Committee's debates, and will listen to the arguments put forward from both sides.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West pointed to the empty place from which the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) spoke earlier. The hon. Gentleman said that we would need to refine the Bill. Many in this House and many people outside it hope that the Bill will be refined before it reaches the statute book. I can promise the House that it will be more than refined. We need to produce out of it a measure which will be useful to the community, to society and to industry as a whole, both management and trade unions, if 1058 we are to help the country forward. In its present form, the Bill will not do this. It will not help industry. Unless it is refined, we shall not have that dimension in it which will make it a piece of constructive legislation.
I was on holiday last August when the White Paper entitled "The Regeneration of British Industry" was published. I had to take time off my holiday to study it. I cannot say that it made very pleasant holiday reading, and I recognise that many of those who support the Government did not find it good reading. It was not what they wanted to hear. However, as we have heard today, many hon. Members and many other people outside this House, both in the trade unions and in management, support the Bill. To them, it is a glimpse of the promised land—a Socialist State in Britain at last.
The Secretary of State has said that this is just a beginning. The right hon. Gentleman was howled down today. He showed us a low profile. We must admire the way he handles the House when he has something difficult to present. He showed very little of himself or what was in the Bill. Today he said he thought that Britain had come to the end of a chapter of our industrial history. This is surely a warning to us that there is a sincerity in the right hon. Gentleman, reflected by so many of his supporters inside and outside of this House. They believe that this Bill will bring about the rejuvenation of British industry, will be a take-off point and will provide an opportunity for further investment and expansion and for a democratisation of industry.
There are many active Labour thinkers who believe that capitalism and the free enterprise system has had it and has failed the nation. In the words of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on 4th November:the time has come, in the view of … a large proportion of the British Labour movement, for the private enterprise system to give way to one that is to a far greater extent in public hands."—[Official Report, 4th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 769.]The right hon. Gentleman and his supporters have not tried to pull the wool over our eyes. The intention behind this major Bill has been clear. This is probably one of the most important 1059 pieces of legislation to appear in this House since the war. It certainly cannot assume a significance in this Parliament any less than that of the Finance Bill.
Not all of the Secretary of State's colleagues share his view on Government ownership and control of industry and believe such to be in the best interests of society. The Paymaster-General has strong reservations on this and has courageously tried to dissuade his party from creating the National Enterprise Board, which could become, as he said, the most powerful body in the country. He said it could becomemore powerful within its field of activity than the elected Government".He was writing a year before the White Paper was published. He went on to say that he felt that this institution would become so powerful that the Minister would not be able to control it, let alone Parliament. In fact, The Guardian chose to give his views the headline "Labour's Public Monster", referring to the National Enterprise Board.
The Paymaster-General is a staunch Socialist and I respect his views. But he is rightly concerned that the Government should not take a big step in this direction and create a body which, to all intents and purposes, would be outside the control of Parliament. Surely we must pause, if such a threat is being made, and consider the situation. Parliament must remain supreme. We dare not brush it aside—not even the most devoted admirers of the Bloomsbury and Hampstead breakfast set. The White Paper made some laudable statements. It spoke of the need fora vigorous, alert, responsible and profitable private sector".It also said:Industry and the Government should also be partners in the pursuit of the objectives which spell success for industry and prosperity for this country.There is nothing wrong in such thoughts. I welcome them. But I began to have my doubts when the White Paper went on to say that the Industry Bill would be a new initiative which would contribute to greater industrial efficiency and more and better investment and would raise the quality of management. My holiday went sour. I was in Devon on Dartmoor at the time. While I could 1060 not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should be sent to Dartmoor, I cannot help thinking that we should consider some other place for him, to set him aside from the dangerous position he is in today.
What is a Planning Agreement on a company basis? What does it mean? Does the Secretary of State suggest that his officials are equipped by experience in industry with a knowledge of production problems—which is possessed by many hon. Members on the Government benches—and an understanding of marketing and selling? Does he suggest that his officials could be competent in those disciplines, able to direct and instruct businessmen how to run their businesses? Does he imagine that he has civil servants today so well trained in management? Fulton did not think so a few years ago—as recently as 1968. Have things changed so fast in the knowledge of the Government Front Bench tonight that they believe that they have such men trained in management? It would be a historic moment if that is the situation in the Civil Service today, and if civil servants can take decisions better than the more experienced industrial managers.
There is nothing wrong in suggesting that the Department of Industry should have planning talks with industry. I am not against that, as the Minister of State knows. Of course they should be given information—but for the purpose of helping industry to succeed. There is a need for such sectional planning and co-ordination. It happens already in industry through the NEDC. Is that not enough? Is that not the right direction in which Government intervention should proceed? Should it not be intervention aimed to assist rather than merely to take control? Industry is willing to co-operate on that basis, and even ready to release confidential information providing that it can have absolute assurance that it will be treated as confidential.
In Sweden not only is there a body which is to all intents and purposes the Swedish National Enterprise Board, but Sweden has another similarity to Britain. I am sure that the Secretary of State has studied this. I have seen it for myself as a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries which went there about two years ago to look 1061 at this body. Sweden has today a programme of what is called general industrial planning. I want to quote from the Swedish budget statement which is published every year:General industrial planningaimed at creatinga better, more integrated basis for the far-reaching decisions that have to be made by firms and authorities alike.Studies are made of individual branches of industry, such as iron and steel, textiles, petrochemicals and so on, by section. That is the correct way.
Surely that is the way in which the structural problems which face a nation should be studied. They are studied in Sweden in this way. I should have thought that the Secretary of State should have studied this to find some pattern of how authorities and the public and private sectors of industry and the Government can work together with their advisers to pursue a planned policy for the progress of a nation.
My concern is that the Bill is much worse than the White Paper. It is unashamed in the way it sets out to destroy the free enterprise system and to replace it not just with a Socialist system but with—this is what gives me great despair—a bureaucratic system. Parliament will not come into it, or will come into it hardly at all. The proposed NEB will give enormous scope to the Minister and the Cabinet, and Parliament will get only an annual report. What can Parliament do at the end of a year, when these decisions have already been taken? Can Parliament refer them to the Public Accounts Committee and say "Look into this matter and tell us what went wrong last year, or the year before that"? The NEB will be much more powerful than any nationalised industry today, and we have precious little control over these industries now.
Some will argue that it is the Minister who will be responsible and that he and the Government will be fully accountable to Parliament, but we must study the Bill. Look at the powers that it confers on the Secretary of State. I shall not go into them now because there is not time to do so. We have been given a catalogue of these powers. They are enormous, and it is extraordinary that the Secretary of State should come here, 1062 blessed by the Prime Minister, and say that he wants to take these powers to spend hundreds of millions of pounds, and yet they are outside the authority and control of Parliament. That must be wrong, and we must take this up in the greatest detail and with the greatest concern in Committee.
The Bill gives the Minister powers which can only be described as powers for an industrial dictatorship of Britain. It is nothing less. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman making signs. I believe that The Guardian was right to say that the Government were creating a monster. If the Bill becomes law it is anyone's guess which will be worse—the Frankenstein of the National Enterprise Board, or the Dracula of the Secretary of State feeding off the body of British industry.
I do not commend the Bill. It cannot be refined, and I suggest to the House that we should throw it out.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Michael Meacher)
I think we have had a fairly colourful and important debate, but one which in many respects ran true to form. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) in opening the debate for the Opposition gave a characteristic display. He was warned by my right hon. Friend not to criticise the Bill without saying what he would do instead of it. He spoke at Gladstonian length, deploring stop-go, and deploring the politicians who deprive industry of security for the future. What was his solution? It was the instant stop-go that he had been criticising. His only answer was "repeal".
At least some of his hon. Friends were realistic enough to recognise that industry's problems require direct intervention in industry to be greatly expanded. I quote the words of one particular enthusiast:Both on the regional and on the national score there is a need for the means of action. I mean to provide the means and to equip it with powers and resources to do the job. In a new and rapidly changing world industrial and commercial environment the Government cannot stand aside when situations arise which industry and financial institutions cannot meet alone.Those are not the words of a social interventionist. I have quoted that impeccable source, the right hon. Member 1063 for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), the former Tory Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Yet despite the considerable increase in powers the fundamental problem of Britain remains unsolved. It has been widely agreed in the debate today that investment is the heartbeat of the economy.
The relative failure in this respect has been stunning. I shall not go over the ground which, in a rather sterile way, has been covered today about who or what is responsible for the decline in investment over the last few years. According to the OECD figures, for two decades to 1971, under both Governments, investment in manufacturing industry, at current prices, rose less than fourfold. In Germany it rose almost eightfold, in France about tenfold, and in Japan almost twenty-five fold.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
The hon. Gentleman referred to the discussion being sterile. I should have thought that this matter was at the heart of the debate, because our argument is that the Bill, and in particular the NEB, is not the way in which to bring about effective investment. If we can put a finger on why there has not been adequate investment in the past, we can find a solution. We believe that it is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Meacher
The Conservative Party had an opportunity during its last period of Government to implement those proposals which it thought were necessary to increase investment. Without going over the ground again, it is not unfair to point out that, despite the increase in investment which came in 1972–73, still at the end of the Conservative period of office, investment in British manufacturing industry was, in real terms, 10 per cent. down on the level that it had reached in 1970. I do not say that in a spirit of acrimony. I know that the Conservative Government did their best to improve investment, but they did not succeed. That is the relevance of the Bill. Against that background it is only the prejudiced who will deny that a new dynmatic thrust is needed today in British manufacturing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), in what I think will be widely agreed to be an excellent speech, was right when 1064 he said that it was not the case that we should leave well alone and all would be all right. Private enterprise has, by any standards of objectivity, failed in several important respects. There is a need today, widely recognised even among management, for new techniques, which will resuscitate investment and achieve a break-through in the regions, where we have only held the line, to stimulate sluggish areas of the economy, to strengthen British interests against undesirable foreign takeovers in crucial areas of our economy, particularly at present, and to get British industry into the offshore supply business to feed the North Sea oil boom, where we have lost out in the last several years. Those are crucial aims.
Yet I think that there has been much ill-informed and misleading comment, which I shall not say was deliberate, from the Opposition about the extent of the powers to be conferred on the Secretary of State and on the NEB, and on the degree to which the Board and the Secretary of State will be answerable to Parliament.
The hon. Member for Henley, in a passage of rising hysteria, pretended that there were virtually no limits to the powers being conferred on the Secretary of State and on the NEB to acquire firms. That might well be an apt description of the situation in which both multinational and domestic conglomerates marauded their power through the industrial landscape, swallowing up small firms in an orgy of takeovers in 1971 and 1972, when the hon. Gentleman was in office.
§ Mr. Esmond Bulmer (Kidderminster)
Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on his own proposals for a capital transfer tax, which will have that effect?
§ Mr. Meacher
The capital transfer tax will have none of those effects. It will ensure that the wealth of the country is better distributed in a publicly accountable way, and not in the way in which the takeovers were made a few years ago. As a description of the NEB, the remarks of the hon. Member for Henley were a travesty of the truth.
The NEB will not have power to compel anyone to do anything. It will follow the normal commercial processes. When it acquires shareholdings it will 1065 do so by agreement as the White Paper made clear from the outset. That is contrary to the impression repeatedly given by the Opposition. In establishing a base in profitable areas of manufacturing industry, as in all its activities, it will have to seek the Government's approval in every case where it plans to make an acquisition of more than £10 million-worth of equity, or, even more importantly, in every case where it plans to acquire 30 per cent. or more of the voting rights in the company.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I did not say what the hon. Member has attributed to me. However, will the hon. Gentleman deal with one point which I did make? I believe that the NEB has powers to make resisted takeover bids.
§ Mr. Meacher
I shall come to the question of compulsory acquisition. I intend to devote two or three minutes of my speech to that subject.
The Secretary of State's powers under Clause 6 to give specific directions to the Board have also been criticised, and equally wrongly. The use of its powers can be thoroughly probed in the House, which is considerably more than can be said of the activities of conglomerates over the past few years. It is more also than can be said of the Pay Board, which was set up under the last Conservative Government and the judgments of which were considerably more onerous on the individuals to whom they applied—but which was entirely outside parliamentary scrutiny.
The NEB will have to make annual reports on its activities and the Secretary of State will be obliged to lay them before Parliament. No doubt appropriate arrangements will be made in due course by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries or other Committees to review the Board's activities, while the Public Accounts Committee will have its usual rôle in relation to the provision of the Board's finances.
Again, in the exercise of Sections 7 and 8 of the Industry Act 1972 the NEB will act only on the direction of the Secretary of State, who will set out the terms and conditions of the aid to be given. The Secretary of State's directions will be published and he will be accountable for 1066 them and for the financial obligations he assumes in consequence.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
Given the Secretary of State's powers, will this, therefore, expose the National Enterprise Board to the activities and scrutiny of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration?
§ Mr. Meacher
That is certainly a matter which should be brought out in Committee and, if the Committee is persuaded that such a course is desirable in the interests of accountability, we will take full account of the arguments.
The position of the Industrial Development Advisory Board will be just the same, and so will the need for parliamentary approval of assistance under Section 8 of amounts exceeding £5 million. It is by no means the intention that all Section 7 and 8 assistance will in future be given through the NEB. The Board will be used for assistance to larger companies and where the scale of the assistance is such that the Government will acquire a substantial proportion of the equity of the company concerned.
§ Mr. Tom King
The hon. Gentleman said that larger enterprises are likely to be committed through the NEB. Will he confirm that aid to British Leyland, if it is given, is likely to be given through NEB?
§ Mr. Meacher
We are still awaiting, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, the report of the Ryder Committee, and until we see the recommendations and they have been discussed within Government I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any indication of the manner in which the Government will proceed. The whole point about the NEB is that it is to be flexible and that there are many ways by which assistance can be given, and they will not necessarily all be centred through the NEB.
§ Mr. Heseltine
As the Secretary of State for Industry has already said that there is to be a public stake in British Leyland, what conceivable vehicle is there other than the NEB by which there could be a stake?
§ Mr. Meacher
I regret having given way to that intervention. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would 1067 be aware that at least some parts of BLMC are in assisted areas, and there is no limit to the level of assistance that can be given under Section 7 of the 1972 Act.
Furthermore, contrary to misrepresentations by the Scottish National Party—I should like to give a little attention to this, in view of what the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) said—the NEB will not centralise regional industrial activities. It is not an overriding Bill in any sense. The Secretary of State's powers under Sections 7 and 8 will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 1st July of this year and the NEB will work closely alongside both the Scottish Development Agency and the Welsh Development Agency. The idea that a Scottish Assembly could stop redundancy caused by a multinational at Honeywells or that Rolls-Royce at Hillington, Glasgow could be hived off from Rolls-Royce at Derby shows an ignorance of present industrial conditions which is damaging to the interests of Scottish workers.
I shall spell out a little more the relationship between the NEB and the Scottish Development Agency. The legislation to establish the Scottish Development Agency will provide for certain functions of the NEB to be performed independently by the SDA in Scotland. They will include the provision of investment capital for manufacturing industry, the establishment of new public enterprise, joint ventures with private industry and the provision of advice to private industry. The NEB will not exercise its function in Scotland except in relation to companies which span the border. In those cases a suitable concordat or specific contribution will regulate the activities of the NEB as regards the reorganisation of companies. The extension of public ownership into profitable manufacturing industry and the management of existing Government services—
§ Mr. Crawford
Is the Minister saying that the writ of the NEB shall not run in Scotland and that the SDA will be all powerful in Scotland?
§ Mr. Meacher
I have spelled out in great detail the exact way in which it will work. Instead of getting up to inter 1068 vene, the hon. Gentleman should have listened.
On examination of the Bill I believe that it is undeniable that there is a strong and comprehensive framework of both public and parliamentary accountability. The CBI and Conservative Members who have made accusations of arbitrary powers should realise that the House will have more control over the activities of the NEB than shareholders have over the board of ICI and various other large private companies.
The hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), who I regret seems to have left the Chamber, criticised the one instance permitted of compulsory acquisition. I hope that the hon. Member for Henley will listen to this as he sought to raise the same point. There is power to enable the Government to prevent the loss to unacceptable foreign control of key British manufacturing businesses. The Secretary of State may, first, simply stop the change of control. In most circumstances that will be sufficient to protect our national interest. Where that is not appropriate a vesting order may be made, but only where it appears to be the sole appropriate means of safeguarding the national interest at risk. It is, therefore, a reserve power to be used if necessary.
Before a prohibition or vesting order becomes effective it must be approved by affirmative resolution by both Houses of Parliament. There will thus be an opportunity for Parliament to discuss, debate and to vote upon any proposal to use these powers. Further, no vesting order can be made before a separate order has been laid before both Houses dealing with the compensation to be paid in respect of the shares or assets required. At a time when a still partly collapsed stock market makes British industry peculiarly vulnerable—I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) agrees with me—I believe that these are the minimal powers required to safeguard our national interest. Again, as I have indicated, they are fully accountable powers.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Will the hon. Gentleman square that with the Chancellor's invitation to Arab and other investors to put their money in this country?
§ Mr. Meacher
We welcome investment in manufacturing industry, but not in areas or in a way or to an extent which would be damaging to our national interests.
Another dimension of accountability is provided by planning agreements. I have no opportunity to refer at great lengths to what has been a series of most thoughtful and valuable speeches from my hon. Friends. I should like to be able to do so. Perhaps at the risk of being invidious I shall single out the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray). I am sure that my hon. Friend will be on the Committee and that he will make a most valuable contribution.
Planning Agreements are to be regarded not so much as documents but as a new relationship between the Government, a company and its workers. I am glad to be able to assure the Liberal Party in the form of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who recommended that the NEB should make a Planning Agreement with the Secretary of State, that, subject to the vote of the House, we intend that the organising committee for the NEB will be appointed with Sir Don Ryder as chairman and that one of its major tasks will be to conduct a Planning Agreement with the Government so that there is agreement on the future plan and strategy of the Board. The purpose of Planning Agreements is to give an assurance to each of the three parties concerned of a simple but highly effective device of real and meaningful consultation.
Consultation is the essence of Planning Agreements. Without it, no Planning Agreement can exist. Though the Planning Agreement will be between the company and the Government, we envisage that union representatives from the company, while not formally party to the agreement, will take part, where they wish, in consultations on agreements with the Government. We also envisage that in drawing up the plans to be covered by an agreement management will consult full trade union representatives from the firm on all relevant matters. It is this process which contains the dynamic of the planning agreement process.
My hon. Friends the Members for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) and 1070 Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), among others of my hon. Friends, were absolutely right to stress that this process will involve the trade unions in a considerable challenge—one of the greatest challenges they have faced. We shall expect companies participating in Planning Agreements to provide the full, necessary, relevant information to union representatives unless its disclosure would seriously prejudice a company's commercial interest or be contrary to the wider national security.
But there will be circumstances in which we believe that information disclosure should be compulsory. In order to clear up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), may I say that the agreements will be entirely voluntary but that information disclosure will be compulsory—which is quite a different thing—subject to the conditions which I shall set out. We believe that this information should be made available so as not to penalise those firms which decline, on a purely voluntary basis, to enter into a voluntary agreement.
However, even in this vital area we have hedged round this important new requirement with full democratic safeguards. The hon. Member for Henley tried to conjure up alarm about the Department using the information it would secure under the powers of the Bill to prevent the NEB from buying a company which was about to be put out of business. It is characteristic of his party that it should want to preserve the right of big business to give the country a bad bargain.
The information which the Department will get under the powers of the Bill will not be disclosed outside the Government servants listed in the Bill unless it has been disclosed to the trade unions.
§ Mr. Meacher
Specifically the information will not be disclosed to the NEB. I stress that because there have been considerable misrepresentations on it. The 1071 Bill makes clear that the Minister or his officials will be liable to be prosecuted—
§ Mr. Meacher
I have two minutes, and I shall go on.
I intended to speak at greater length on the question of information, but I shall not have the opportunity to do so. However, my hon. Friend, when winding up the debate tomorrow, will complete what I intended to say.
The part of the Bill dealing with the information powers is the crux in promoting industrial democracy and will be of fundamental importance to the evolution of industrial practice. It is commonplace that one of the reasons for the poor industrial performance of this country over many years has been the polarisation in companies between the few, who decide what is to be done and the many, who are expected to do only what they are told.
Today it is no longer merely a matter of getting the support of industrialists and the City. It is a matter, above all, of winning the support of workers on the shop floor. Many people have come to see the class divide and all it stands for in industry as Britain's root economic problem. By opening the books to the workers, by releasing their energies to replace an otherwise resentful trade union veto, and by ensuring that industry is seen to constitute, not, as so many hon. Members opposite seem to see it, just management, but staff and workers, we believe that the Bill will offer a turning point in restoring Britain to her rightful place among the world's industrial nations.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ It being Eleven o'clock the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.