HC Deb 04 November 1975 vol 899 cc221-5
Q2. Mr. Ashley

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at NEDC.

Q4. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.

Q6. Mr. Welbeloved

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.

Q10. Mr. Weetch

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to meet the TUC.

The Prime Minister

At Chequers tomorrow, Sir.

Mr. Ashley

Although the readiness of Opposition Members to abuse and attack the trade unions makes it difficult for Labour Members to make constructive suggestions, because they would be distorted, will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that at tomorrow's meeting the need for increased investment is discussed, as also is the need for utilising that investment—which means some straight talking about overmanning?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I have never found any of my hon. Friends to be inhibited, in parliamentary terms, by anything said by Opposition Members. My hon. Friends' questions are invariably constructive. What a number of us have said—this includes trade unions and others—is that, under successive Governments, there has been a policy of inadequate investment—a policy that has sometimes been misdirected, with a poor return on investment compared with other countries. We must also consider the urgent matter of overmanning, although it must be said that a period of world depression and of heavy unemployment in most advanced countries is not a period in which one starts to deal with that problem. But in our discussions with the unions and the NEDC we constantly stress the need to deal with overmanning problems at the right time, which may not be very long postponed.

Mr. Baker

Since the car industry is so important to our economy and will feature strongly in the discussions tomorrow, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the nature of his discussions with the management of Chrysler last night?

The Prime Minister

As the House will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and I, with my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, had discussions with Mr. Riccardo and other representatives of the Chrysler Corporation at Chequers yesterday evening, about the grave situation facing the Corporation in the United Kingdom. They explained the reasons for this situation and its implications for their continued operations in the United Kingdom. Further discussions have been taking place at the Department of Industry, and in a few minutes my right hon. Friend will be meeting the representatives of Chrysler. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will make a statement to the House as soon as it is practicable to do so. As I told the House last Thursday, I would not want to underrate the gravity of the situation. Nothing I heard last night would cause me to do so. We are now in the process of discussing with the heads of the Chrysler Corporation the whole situation, and any ideas which they or anyone else may have for solving the problems.

Mr. Marshall

Did my right hon. Friend see the misleading leading article in The Times yesterday, concerning import controls, presumably written by a failed Tory candidate? I wonder whether, at the meeting of the NEDC tomorrow, my right hon. Friend will refute these misleading, irrelevant and damaging allegations and, instead, put forward the case for selective import controls, as agreed by the recent TUC and Labour Party conferences.

The Prime Minister

Tomorrow morning's meeting of very important and busy people will not have time to discuss leading articles in the Press—for which there is no ministerial responsibility whatsoever. At Question Time yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade dealt very fully with the subject of import controls. As he made clear, we do not rule out protective measures for particular industries suffering or threatened with serious injury as a result of increased imports. We have made it clear that we do not believe that a generalised system of import controls on behalf of our balance of payments or anything else is right for Britain. It would have a serious effect on our exports. My right hon. Friend emphasised the Government's determination—as he did during his visits to the European countries last week—to continue to do our best to sustain world trade. But, as he pointed out; We cannot stand idly by in a situation that would result in the destruction of a major British industrial capacity that we shall need in the future when the world depression gives place to recovery in this and other countries.

Mr. Hal Miller

Will the Prime Minister ensure that the Central Policy Review Staff's report on the motor industry is on the agenda for the next meeting of the NEDC? Since some of his hon. Friends have been discussing the contents of this report with newspaper reporters, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that after that meeting the report is published, so that we can all have a look at it?

The Prime Minister

That report is not on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting. I think the House knows that we have on the agenda a very important paper on the approach to industrial strategy. After tomorrow's meeting we hope to be able to publish the documentation that we shall have been discussing at the NEDC meeting. It is my intention to publish the CPRS report on the motor car industry as soon as possible. Since a considerable amount of the information contained in it was supplied by British motor car firms on the basis of confidentiality, we must naturally get their agreement to its publication.

Mr. Wellbeloved

While I accept the Prime Minister's comments about the dangers of blanket import controls, may I ask him to initiate, at the NEDC meeting tomorrow, a discussion on selective import controls? Is he aware that the deep and growing concern about unemployment in the textile, footwear and motor industries is not confined to those hon. Members who, by force of habit, oppose Government policy, but goes much wider on the benches behind him?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of that although I think that the list of industries about which there is deep anxiety is not confined to those which my hon. Friend has mentioned. I have said that what we could not accept—and my right hon. Friend said this yesterday—is a situation in which, during a serious world depression, imports reached a level in individual cases—whether or not that level can be proved to be due to dumping, or unfair practices—that led to the disappearance of a British industry which has great prospects for the future when there is a recovery.

Mr. Crawford

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the people of Scotland feel that the Government are welshing on their promises? Will the Prime Minister tell the House when the NEDC will next meet in Scotland?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member will know that he has used a word about which I have expressed criticism in the past, and I do so again today. I am sorry to find hon. Members so oblivious to the views of their Nationalist friends elsewhere. I do not accept the hon. Member's statement. There is no going back on important matters of this kind.

Mr. McCrindle

Since a sizeable proportion of the jobs in this country continues to be provided by smaller firms, has the right hon. Gentleman given any consideration to the more direct representation on NEDC of such firms?

The Prime Minister

This is a matter for the NEDC as a whole, and not for the Government. The CBI is represented, and if the hon. Member were ever to receive a report, as I have done many times, of one of the quarterly meetings of the CBI—the full-dress conference of its membership—he would find that small firms in all parts of the country were well represented there. I have never found the CBI to be in any way backward in expressing the anxieties of small firms, just as much as it expresses the anxieties of big firms. In some cases it gives more expression to the anxieties of the small firms than it does to those of the large firms.

Mr. Weetch

So that my right hon. Friend can take part in a constructive discussion of the rôle of public expenditure in the economy, and since there has been a quite obvious absence of any public statement, will he say whether he has had any communication from the Leader of the Opposition about her policies with regard to priorities in cuts in public expenditure?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I have not had any such indication, and neither has the country. We do get from Conservative Members—I continue to receive them in my postbag—requests for increased expenditure in their constituencies. The Conservative Party is, of course, committed to vast increases in expenditure, which I have sometimes outlined for the House. I do not think that this is something on which to waste the time of the NEDC. If it will soothe the anxieties of my hon. Friend, if I get the opportunity I shall consider with the NEDC secretariat whether it would like this subject to be discussed.