HC Deb 26 January 1976 vol 904 cc17-9
11. Mr. Clemitson

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will list those companies with whom discussions have been initiated with a view to the conclusion of planning agreements and the industries within which those companies principally operate.

Mr. Kaufman

In parallel with discussions with the CBI and the TUC there have been exploratory discussions of a general nature with a number of companies. I am not yet in a position to make a statement.

Mr. Clemitson

But would not my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that planning agreements get off on the right foot and that there should be no unnecessary secrecy in their development? Will he give an absolute assurance that the commitments given throughout debates on the Industry Act, in the White Paper and the consultative committee and so on—that trade unions would be involved at every stage from the initiation of discussions about planning agreements—will be honoured?

Mr. Kaufman

We certainly fully stand by the commitments given during the passage of the Act. My hon. Friend may know that, following my meeting with him and another hon. Member and representatives of Vauxhall, I have sent a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) fully setting out the position about planning agreements. That is fully in accord with everything said during the passage of the Act.

Mr. Lawson

Can the Minister give us an assurance that the existence or nonexistence of planning agreements will have no bearing on any application for Government assistance by any company? In that context, while one thanks him for the paper "Criteria for Assistance to Industry", which was placed in the Library following a Written Question from me, will he explain how it is that it seems to differ from the criteria used in practice—for example, the need under the criteria for a project to have a reasonable presumption of profitability within three years, which does not apply to Chrysler, and the statement in paragraph 27 that the calling in of a receiver to make better use of the assets rather than the propping up of failed enterprises should be the main contribution of the Industry Act? Can he assure us that that document is still official Government policy?

Mr. Kaufman

I am grateful that the hon. Member was satisfied with my providing him with those criteria and also grateful for the courteous letter he sent me, which was a contrast with some other comments made later on that subject. Of course we adhere to the criteria, but, as I have said on other occasions, they do not represent a straitjacket in which we are imprisoned. These criteria are guidance within which we operate—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite sit there giggling as though it were not their Industry Act 1972 under which all the aid originally came and which we have now amended in the 1975 Act. It is they who laid down the original criteria. What we have done is improve upon them.

Mr. Loyden

In considering planning agreements in the shipbuilding industry and particularly in ship repairing, will the Minister take into account the tendency of small firms and factories now outside the scope of the Act to form themselves into federations, a tendency that could affect the outcome of a planning agreement for the industry?

Mr. Kaufman

If my hon. Friend has any information to draw to my attention, I should be glad to consider it.

Mr. Tom King

Is it not clear that the whole idea of planning agreements has now been overtaken by the Government's policy, announced at Chequers, of working together on sectoral plans? Is it not much more sensible for them to abandon their idea of planning agreements and to work on the much more sensible basis of sectoral planning in industry?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Member totally fails to understand what was said at Chequers and the place that planning agreements were given within the Chequers framework. Of course the Confederation of British Industry would prefer us to go for sectoral agreements, but if he can explain to me how a sector of an industry can deliver on an agreement in the way that a company can, I am open to persuasion.