HC Deb 03 February 1977 vol 925 cc740-2
Q3. Mr. Wrigglesworth

asked the Prime Minister when he last took the chair at NEDC.

The Prime Minister

I took the chair at the meeting of the National Economic Development Council yesterday at which representatives from the trade unions, management and Government reaffirmed their commitment to the industrial strategy and reviewed the valuable reports of the sector working parties. There was agreement on the next steps to be taken, and on the need for action at company level, including the implications for investment, manpower, finance, product development and marketing. Discussions also covered a number of other matters, including prospects for employment and economic growth. The Government undertook to look into a number of points raised by the trade union representatives about manpower training.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, which I am sure will be welcomed on both sides of the House. Although things are looking much better at the moment, with interest rates coming down, the pound strong and the industrial strategy on course, would my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong for people's expectations to be raised too high too soon? Is it not clear that there will be a need for a further period of restraint and that the decay of a decade in British industry cannot be cleared away in a matter of minutes?

The Prime Minister

That is a fair way of putting the proposition. It is one which, in their more rational moments, has the support of the Conservative Opposition. They believe that it will take a considerable time to repair the ravages of the last decade. I turn to my bedside reading: It is idle to talk as so often before of the economic miracle that is round the corner. The foundations of our economic health will not be relaid in less than a decade. I promise my hon. Friend that "The Right Approach" makes very good reading for quotations. What it says is correct. This is what we have constantly said to the country.

I am glad to say that sterling is now more stable and looks like continuing that way. This enables us to turn to the more important problems in some ways of getting the restructuring of British industry right and of making certain that the sector working parties' reports are translated into action.

Sir P. Bryan

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to encourage the nationalised industries to adopt the Bullock Report recommendations before any legislation for the private sector is introduced?

The Prime Minister

The Government are about to embark on a series of consultations on the Bullock Report and until we have done so I prefer not to state a position.

Mrs. Castle

Since there is a considerable amount of agreement with private industry in Neddy over the industrial strategy, can my right hon. Friend tell us why there are as yet no planning agreements?

The Prime Minister

To tell my right hon. Friend the truth, I cannot. It seems clear, and I think this is gradually getting home to industry, that it has made a political bogy of this issue when many of the things that are being discussed in the sector working parties—such things as I have referred to dealing with the implications for investment and finance and product development—are exactly the sort of things the planning agreements would be about. This is beginning to get home. Sometimes it takes rather a long time to get it across to people. I may say that I made the point strongly at NEDC yesterday.

Mr. Crouch

Can the right hon. Gentleman say something more to us about this atmosphere of agreement—which he said he sensed when he spoke at the NEDC meeting yesterday—between employers and the trade unions, because we would all be very much heartened if he could give some encouragement to the whole nation and say that he intends to prevent the two sides of industry from entering into a period of trench warfare over the question of industrial democracy?

The Prime Minister

The House knows my attitude on this. I am certainly doing my best to prevent a period of trench warfare on any of these issues. The regeneration of British industry can only be achieved by co-operation and it is in the limited areas where men are working together in their own industries that we are beginning to see this happen. I shall, therefore, continue along these lines and do my best to ensure that in these areas of common interest there is a consensus wherever I can promote it.