HC Deb 14 March 1977 vol 928 cc31-6
45. Mr. Rost

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list his engagements for 14th March.

44. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what are his official engagements for 14th March.

46. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will list his engagements for 14th March.

48. Mr. Skinner

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what are his official engagements for 14th March.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Harold Lever)

Apart from my duties in this House, I have meetings today with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Rost

As chief trouble-shooter and the expert on lavish handouts from public funds to the motor industry, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what advice he will give the Government today about British Leyland? Does he recommend another blood transfusion of taxpayers' money or the operating table, or does he intend to sit back and wait for a decent funeral?

Mr. Lever

I do not know whether the hon. Member was expressing curiosity about British Leyland or whether he was anxious to emit a stream of well-prepared sarcasms. I shall assume that he is curious to have my views about British Leyland. Like all Government Ministers I am greatly concerned about Leyland's problems, but I have nothing whatever to add to what has been said on this subject by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Skinner

I get the impression that my right hon. Friend will be finishing up in Birmingham some time later this week as he seems to dabble in most of these matters. Will he go to the Treasury and ask his colleagues there how much money has been lost in taxes as a result of the setting up of the Bank of England lifeboat scheme a few years ago? Will he agree with me as an expert on financial matters that the clearing banks and others taking part in this rescue scheme are setting off certain payments under it against tax payments that otherwise would be paid to the Treasury? Would it not be a good idea to publish the exact amounts lost to the Treasury arising out of the scheme?

Mr. Lever

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is describing himself or me as a financial expert or whether he was referring to both of us. His question implies that he is dissatisfied with the operations of the Bank of England and the joint stock banks under the lifeboat scheme. In fact the scheme was organised by the Bank of England, and its most valuable and important effect has been to stabilise financial considerations in the City of London at a difficult time.

Mr. David Price

When the Chancellor gives advice to the Government later today on the future of British Leyland, will he take account of the fact that the company is too centralised and too large, and that its factories are too big? While these factors may amount to economies of scale on paper, will he realise that the diseconomies in human terms are absolutely shattering? If British Leyland is to succeed it must be broken down, if not broken up.

Mr. Lever

I will convey those views to the Secretary of State for Industry. The hon. Member will not expect exhaustive comments from me at the moment, and I hope that he will not be disappointed if his suggestions do not strike the Secretary of State with the shock of novelty.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

May I refer my right hon. Friend to my letter of 9th February 1976 complaining of injustice to one of my constituents, a Mrs. Moyles—a view confirmed in the report of Sir Douglas Osmond? Will he guarantee that the forthcoming report on the actions of the Chief Constable of Lancashire will not be shelved?

Mr. Lever

This matter and any other matter will receive very careful, earnest and impartial consideration. None of these problems is ever shelved.

Mr. Tebbit

Has the right hon. Gentleman been thinking today of possible cuts in Government expenditure? If so, as he came in before the end of Question Time to the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and saw the performance of all the Ministers on the Front Bench today, does he agree that that Department would be a very suitable subject for massive cuts in expenditure? Will he agree that by abolishing the whole lot of them he could achieve considerable expenditure cuts, as they have done nothing to keep prices down and they put up a thoroughly shameful show today?

Mr. Lever

I certainly do not accept the disparagement of my right hon. and hon. Friends in answering Questions today. The fact that they did not give the hon. Member total satisfaction is not, to my mind, any proof of incompetence. If the hon. Member is searching for significant and valuable economies, he will not find them by abolishing that Department, whose administrative expenses are negligible.

47. Mr. Canavan

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will list his official engagements for 8th February.

Mr. Lever

As well as meetings with my officials I spoke to a Financial Times conference on world banking.

Mr. Canavan

Did my right hon. Friend tell the conference on banking that the four major clearing banks announced annual profits of about £700 million at the same time as the country was faced with a 17 per cent. rate of inflation and unemployment of 1½ million people, due largely to lack of investment in industry? Is it not time that the Labour Government implemented Labour Party policy by extending public ownership into banking, instead of setting up a "phoney" inquiry under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson)?

Mr. Lever

I gather that my hon. Friend is not satisfied with any impartial inquiry into the banking system. The only inquiry that would satisfy him would be one that guaranteed in advance a result that was palatable to him. I reaffirm, as I have done many times from the Dispatch Box, that it is not Government policy to nationalise the banks. The recommendations of the committee remain to be seen. It will be a very thorough and careful inquiry, and if my hon. Friend has any information that is very telling or compelling in the direction that he wishes the Government to go he will have an ample opportunity to submit evidence to the committee of inquiry.

Mr. Adley

Has the right hon. Gentleman had any time since 8th February to consider the unfortunate situation in which he appears to find himself in his Manchester, Central constituency? It appears that he is the latest Labour Member to suffer a putsch. Will he take comfort from the fact that, even if his new executive does not hold him in great esteem, many hon. Members in this House do, even though we do not always agree with him?

Mr. Lever

I am grateful for the expression at the end of the hon. Member's remarks. I assure him that there has been no putsch in my constituency, and relations between me and my management committee continue to be warm and cordial even though there are often ideological differences of emphasis on certain points. None of this will detract from the esteem that the hon. Member was generous enough to express. It is shared by people of very different political opinions to his in my constituency, as it can be within the traditions of our political life in this country. I hope that will continue to be the case.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend recall that on 8th February, while he did not explain the Labour Party's policy on public ownership of the banks, I certainly did? The international bankers—and the British bankers for that matter—did not receive the proposals with any enthusiasm. Therefore, there will obviously be a tremendous political fight to get our case over.

Mr. Lever

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) in his time has treated certain aspects of party policy as something less sacred than the tablets of the law. Therefore, he will excuse me if I take the official policy of the Labour Party as sometimes not being completely compelling and that I have a right to express a dissident opinion. In regard to the experience, which I shared with him, in addressing the world banking conference, it is true that my hon. Friend expressed forthright support for the line of the National Executive, which differs somewhat from Government policy as it stands at present. I did not perceive signs of immediate and urgent alarm on the part of the bankers at my hon. Friend's statement of his opinion. I must confess that I did not see any marked signs of enthusiasm for his proposal. That proposal is, none the less, one that can be debated, argued about and proceeded with or discarded according to the judgment of a wise Government.

For my part, I fervently hope—and I am confident—that the Government will continue to regard as irrelevant to our purposes the wholesale nationalisation of our clearing banks. But that is a matter for democratic decision, via the normal democratic processes which I am sure my hon. Friend will do his best to shape in the direction of which he approves. I am sure he will not resent it if those with a contrary view fight as vigorously as he does in expressing his view.

Mr. Costain

In view of the differences between the Government Front and Back Benches on the subject of our democratic processes, will the right hon. Gentleman advise his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to hold a General Election so that the differences will be settled once and for all?

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in supposing that there is any rancour or acrimony between my hon. Friend the Member for Walton and myself. It is possible to have differences of opinion on various items without in any way prejudicing the common agreement and purpose in seeking to improve economic and social conditions in our country. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) would be well advised to spend any surplus energy or emollience he possesses in soothing the interminable back-biting that goes on between Opposition Members. At least Labour has only one leader. The Opposition faces the difficulty of having one official leader and a number of unofficial candidates for the leadership. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman that he should look after the Conservative Party and let Labour Party Members resolve in discussion their own differences of opinion, wherever those exist.