HC Deb 25 November 1975 vol 901 cc659-62
Q1. Mr. Stott

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to take the chair at a meeting of the National Economic Development Council.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

While, as my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is Chairman of the NEDC, I like to chair the council about once a quarter, as I did at the last meeting, on 5th November. I hope to chair NEDC again quite early in the New Year.

Mr. Stott

In view of the vital importance of the new industrial strategy linked with our economic recovery, is it possible for this House to have a progress report on the strategy, and any developments? If that is the case, when may we expect such a report?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the next meeting NEDC is likely to discuss the follow-up to decisions taken at Chequers on 5th November. I also understand that in January there will be a full document raising this subject in terms of about 30 industries, including the work of the EDCs. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is right that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer should report to the House on NEDC, in the follow-up to the meeting of 5th November.

Mr. Budgen

May I ask the Prime Minister to reflect on his last great attempt at a selective regeneration of British industry through the medium of the IRC? Is not the IRC best remembered by the merger between Leyland and BMC, and did not that merger bring great sadness and misery to countless thousands of our fellow citizens?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The Bill to set up the IRC was fought by the Conservatives with great vigour and venom, but after it passed into law it received the fullest possible co-operation from industry. The board of the IRC consists, to a large extent, of top industrialists. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, immediately after the change of Government in 1970 the IRC was abolished, but I understand that there have been statements since that time suggesting that Conservatives regretted the decision to abolish the corporation. If the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the IRC, I suggest that he is not speaking for industry.

Mr. Skinner

Before my right hon. Friend chairs the next NEDC meeting, will he announce that the Government will introduce a fairly wide-ranging set of import controls, and will he make a concurrent announcement that those import controls will be introduced as a facet of Socialist planning, but will not be used as a device to lure certain trade union leaders into accepting a continuation of an incomes policy in 1976 and 1977?

The Prime Minister

On the latter point, the trade union leaders speak with more authority on behalf of the trade union movement than does my hon. Friend.

With regard to import controls, I have repeatedly told the House—and I repeated at Rambouillet exactly what I said in the House—that we reject a generalised system of import controls, whether to help our balance of payments, which is rapidly improving, or for any other reason.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Has the Prime Minister got the figures right this time?

The Prime Minister

We have said that where abnormal imports—quite apart from whether dumping can be proved—threaten industries that are vital and needed in our economy for many years to come, and where those imports supplement the effect of world depression, we reserve the right to introduce selective import controls, following the procedure laid down in Article 19 of GATT but not as a general policy. I explained all this at Rambouillet.

Mrs. Thatcher

When the Prime Minister next meets the NEDC will he be able to tell it which ministerial voice on Government economic policy he proposes to follow? Will he follow the voice of the Secretary of State for Energy, who, over the weekend, seemed to want more nationalisation, or that of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who argues that State collectivism is incompatible with liberty and democracy?

The Prime Minister

I thought that that was rather pathetic. I thought that in the last few weeks of the last Session the right hon. Lady did better by speaking only on Thursdays.

The policy of Her Majesty's Government was explained in the Gracious Speech, in my own speech and in the White Paper on the regeneration of industry.

Mrs. Thatcher

On the Gracious Speech, the Prime Minister addressed no part of his speech to the future. The right hon. Gentleman has become a complete memoirs man. Will he now tell us exactly what he proposes to do in the future?

The Prime Minister

It sounds as though the right hon. Lady's public relations department was working overtime this morning.

I spent most of my time on the Gracious Speech talking about our policies for the future. I spent much time talking about the present policy on inflation—on which the right hon. Lady could not even vote. I also looked forward on the matter of public expenditure, in respect of which the right hon. Lady has not yet told us what cuts she would make.