HC Deb 22 November 1977 vol 939 cc1313-6
Q4. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Prime Minister when he will next take the chair at a meeting of the National Economic Development Council.

The Prime Minister

I hope to take the chair from time to time, but I have no specific date in mind at present.

Mr. Renton

When the Prime Minister next takes the chair, will he give an assurance to the NEDC that the national revenue from North Sea oil will not be squandered in a further programme of Labour Government extravaganza? Will he also commit himself to seeing that this money, which belongs to us all, is not lost in madcap schemes of the Secretary of State for Industry and the Secretary of State for Energy but goes largely towards increasing personal incentives to work?

The Prime Minister

We have already begun discussions on these matters, and in due course we will publish a paper which will, I hope, carry the debate even further. I do not need to give any such assurance as the hon. Gentleman asks about my meeting with the NEDC, because its members would not dream of asking me such a stupid question.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there is need, when he next meets the NEDC, to impress on that body that the British Steel Corporation should sustain its investment programme? Does he not also agree that the Conservative Party seems intent on making Britain into a vast tourist centre while neglecting our manufacturing industry?

The Prime Minister

This is an important matter, although I am not aware that I shall be discussing it with the NEDC. We should not allow what is a very deep world recession in steel, which is leading to losses in steel-making industries throughout the world, including the United States and West Germany, to deter us from long-term investment to ensure that we have a viable industry in this country.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the Prime Minister take a last-minute personal interest in the appointment of the Director of NEDC? Some of us would consider that the appointment of a senior civil servant to this post without any experience of industry—[Interruption.]—coming on top of the appointment of a senior civil servant to head the Central Policy Review Staff—[Interruption.]—is not a happy omen, and that these bodies ought to be in the hands of people with direct experience of industry.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman, no doubt having heard the shouts, may feel that this is the first encomium that he has had from the Conservative Benches for a long time, in that they want to appoint him to this very important position. [An HON. MEMBER: "Good God!"] The hon. Member who interrupts, not for the first time, is perhaps not wholly in accord with the rest of his party. But it is important to get the agreement of both sides of industry—namely, the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress—on this appointment. The salary that is being offered is really not as luxurious as we might expect and, therefore, there may be some difficulty, but I am sure that we shall find a very appropriate person.

Mr. Buchan

If my right hon. Friend will not be discussing oil revenues with the NEDC, will he go a little further and not discuss this subject with the Treasury either? Above all, will he reject any ideas that the oil revenues should be used in relation to exchange control and overseas investment? Will he settle firmly on the point that any such revenues should be used for the regeneration of those areas in the United Kingdom which did well by Britain in the first Industrial Revolution and should now be brought into the twentieth century by proper industrial investment in them?

The Prime Minister

I find the Treasury a very great repository of knowledge and information, and I treat its advice with due deference on all occasions. On this particular matter, however, I do not think that we should assume that there is any desire on the part of Her Majesty's Treasury to attempt to do other than find the right solution for these problems. There really are occasions when it is not a bad idea to repay a little debt. But that should not detract from the general point my hon. Friend is making, and which I have made on several occasions from this Dispatch Box, namely, that these revenues should be used for a long overdue regeneration of British industry, that being the basic task to which we must address ourselves while these revenues are coming into the country.

Mr. McCrindle

In view of the Government's recently discovered interest in small businesses, will the Prime Minister confirm that he feels that he receives the reaction of small businesses and knows what they are really thinking, if and when he takes the chair of the NEDC?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure that I do. I find that there is more value in getting to know what small businesses are saying by visiting them. I visited two last Friday and had very interesting discussions with them. They are feeling extremely encouraged by the measures that the Government are now taking, with the tax provisions which are being made and with the advantages which are being received. I am sorry if this is robbing the Opposition of a group of people whom they thought they had in their pockets. But I think it is important that we should encourage small businesses, and have thought so for some time, because they employ about 22 per cent. of the total labour force in this country.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I allowed "injury time" because we were late in starting Prime Minister's Questions.