HC Deb 22 May 1978 vol 950 cc1090-2
2. Mr. Kenneth Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will make a statement on the progress of the Government's industrial strategy.

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

Encouraging progress is being made in the development of the industrial strategy. The key task this year is to obtain action at company level on the findings and recommendations of sector working parties.

Mr. Clarke

Why does it remain part of the Government's industrial strategy to persist in trying to find ways of allowing trade unions to put nominees on the boards of British companies? Does not the Minister recognise that the continued threat of legislation in this field is damaging confidence among British management and deterring many foreign investors from putting their money in this country?

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman should have spoken to the major multinational to which I spoke last week in the United States, which spoke glowingly of the prospects which it saw arising from the presence of worker representatives on the boards of its subsidiaries in Germany.

Mr. Robinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a key element in the success of the Government's industrial strategy would be the success of the British-owned motor car industry? Does he further agree that its success is being gravely threatened by the growing level of imports from Japan, which seems to be in marked contradiction to the undertakings that the Japanese have given to the Government? Therefore, will he, together with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, take up this matter again with the Japanese and set up a system for monitoring shipments from Japan, because that is what will determine the level in the future?

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend can be assured that the Department of Trade and my Department are aware of the problem. But I think that it has to be accepted that, because of the large existing levels of stock at the beginning of the year, it was perhaps inevitable that it would take a little time for the agreed figures to be attained. For that reason, we are doing exactly as my hon. Friend said. We are keeping a close check on shipments and on prospective future shipments.

Mr. Alan Clark

When the Ministers consider the progress of the industrial strategy, do the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend ever reflect on the ease with which manufactured goods of foreign origin enter this country and the difficulties that are placed in the way of those who manufacture such goods in this country and wish to export them?

Mr. Williams

Of course we do. That is why we are taking part in the multi-trade negotiations—to try to ensure that tariffs and barriers are removed wherever possible. Indeed, on a recent visit to Japan we discussed with MITI this very point—that there needed to be better access for British goods to the Japanese market.

Mr. Roy Hughes

How many more factories have to close and how many more people have to be put on the dole before the Government finally act and introduce a policy of import controls, as put forward by the Cambridge Group of economists and backed by the trade union movement? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, whether it be in cars, electronics or steel, in Britain's present economic circumstances a policy of free trade is no good for Britain?

Mr. Williams

I think that my hon. Friend should understand one simple fact. A retreat from free trade would be in the worst interests of Britain, because Britain relies essentially on clear access to overseas markets. Action has been taken in relation to imports of cars and colour television sets from Japan. These actions have been taken at an industry level, and the Government are quite convinced that they will be satisfactory.

Sir K. Joseph

Is it not humbug for Ministers to prate about an industrial strategy when excessive Government spending leading to excessive Government borrowing and excessive marginal rates of direct taxation, at all levels, is doing such savage harm to jobs and activity in the economy?

Mr. Williams

I admire the right hon. Gentleman's dedication to the gospel that he continually preaches. I would only point out that, in contradiction to the trends that one would expect if his gloom were justified, investment and production are rising, and inflation and unemployment are falling. That is not a bad attainment.