HC Deb 08 November 1976 vol 919 cc4-6
3. Mr. Conlan

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects to announce the Government's decisions on the future of the heavy electrical engineering industry arising from the report of the Central Policy Review Staff.

The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Alan Williams)

I fully appreciate the need for early decisions on how best to deal with the problems affecting the industry. The CPRS report has only just been received and Ministers will need time to consider it. I can assure my hon. Friend that decisions arising from the report will be taken as soon as it is practical to do so.

Mr. Conlan

Is it not clear to my hon. Friend that immediate action is required to avoid further redundancies in areas of very high unemployment? Furthermore, to avoid irreparable damage to this industry, is it not necessary that action should be taken at once and that a firm commitment should be entered into for steady ordering programmes, including the replacement of obsolete power stations, so that the industry will know precisely where it stands? Will my hon. Friend urge these policies on his colleagues?

Mr. Williams

I fully accept the urgency of the situation for the industry and the affected areas. Equally, my hon. Friend will recognise that general approval was given to the setting up of the CPRS investigation, and it seems reasonable that we should analyse it thoroughly and effectively. The industry is happy with the rate of progress that is being made. My hon. Friend will also bear in mind that we have to balance the questions of the future of the industry and the public expenditure implications.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

I agree that this is an extremely urgent matter. However, does not the Minister agree that the Think Tank is totally unqualified to report on this matter and has shot the whole thing out to a firm of consultants? What are needed are ministerial decisions on a long-term energy programme for the country which has hitherto been unforthcoming. When will those decisions be made?

Mr. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman cannot be so naive as not to understand the complexity of all the issues involved. He must also appreciate that a great deal of analytical work is required before a proper decision can be arrived at. As the implications for several industries are serious, we must carry out a thorough investigation. I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman should want quick answers even though they might be wrong answers.

Mr. Buchan

Does not my hon. Friend accept that this industry is of vital importance to employment in several depressed areas, including mine, and that, no matter what situation we face in terms of public expenditure, public expenditure on this industry is necessary if we are to regenerate British industry in future and to achieve the required phasing forward of the power station programme?

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend is right in saying how important is the industry. That is why we want to take the necessary steps to ensure its survival. As I said, simply phasing forward might not be the answer. It might solve the initial problem but it would leave a further problem at the end of the phase. Therefore, we want to look thoroughly at the CPRS recommendations and then make our decisions.