HC Deb 13 April 1976 vol 909 cc1119-21
2. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what assistance or advice he has given either the National Enterprise Board or British Leyland to achieve the improvements in productivity and industrial relations which the Prime Minister declared would be necessary before further sums of public money could be advanced to the company.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

I am confident that both management and the trade unions in British Leyland fully recognise the improvements that need to be made, and are committed to their achievement. The current unofficial strikes are, however, putting the future of the company and the employment it provides at risk, have already resulted in the lay-off of many other employees, and can only damage the company's competitive position both in this country and overseas. I earnestly hope that the strikers will now quickly return to work, as instructed by their union.

Mr. Miller

I congratulate my old opponent on his recent appointment, but will he please answer my Question? What advice or assistance has he given to the NEB or the company to improve industrial relations and efficiency? Have the Government set any bench marks which must be met before further tranches of public money are made available?

Mr. Booth

The position of the Government has been made very clear to the company and the NEB. It was included in the agreement on which the money was provided for British Leyland. The Government will look to see that improvements in productivity and efficiency are made before more money is committed to the firm.

Mr. Stokes

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is immense concern in my constituency and in all constituencies where British Leyland workers five that the company is in such an appalling situation? Why is morale so low, and why are Ministers, the Government and the NEB doing nothing about it?

Mr. Booth

It is not the case that nothing is being done. A considerable improvement has been made in the position of the company. The unions have worked with the company in achieving that improvement. New consultative machinery has been set up. The recent strikes have been most worrying and damaging, but we must not allow them to blind us to the progress that has been made, nor should we allow them to lead us to the conclusion that if Government money is provided it will solve all the problems of a company at a stroke. A number of long-term changes have to be worked out in the company. I am concerned that they should be made and that as much progress as possible can be achieved.

Mr. loan Evans

I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his promotion. Will he continue the efforts that he and his predecessor have made to try to bring about a satisfactory industrial relations situation in British Leyland? Will he remind the Opposition that at this moment the President of the AUEW is in London talking to British Leyland workers and trying to find a solution to the problems? It is not helpful for the Opposition to be critical about the present situation when so much is being done by the trade union movement.

Mr. Booth

I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I confirm what he said. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and I talked to the President of the AUEW this morning. In a few minutes, if he is not doing so already, he will be talking to those most directly involved with a view to bringing about a conclusion to the dispute and a return to work as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Hayhoe

I add my congratulations to the new Secretary of State on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box to answer Questions. We hope that he will do better than his predecessor. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we shall support all efforts to end this damaging dispute? Is he aware that there is great public disquiet that public money continues to be put into the company despite the sad history of industrial disputes?

Mr. Booth

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. I shall be very proud if I can achieve half as much as my predecessor in bringing about a proper liaison between the Government and trade unions in the interests of the economy and the country. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's assurance of support towards ending a damaging dispute. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I suggest that to generalise, as one or two of his hon. Friends are in danger of doing, on a specific dispute, and to suggest that it will wreck the company, will not necessarily aid the situation at a time when crucial talks are taking place.

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