HC Deb 09 June 1980 vol 986 cc3-5
3. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he proposes to announce his decision regarding further investment of public money in Inmos.

6. Mr. Viggers

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the future of the Inmos project.

12. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the future of the Inmos project.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am conscious of public concern on this matter. It presents complex and difficult considerations. Proposals are being considered by the parties concerned, but they are commercially confidential and there is nothing I can say about them at present. I will make a full statement as soon as possible.

Mr. Renton

While, obviously, my right hon. Friend wishes to reach the right decision on this complex and important matter, does he not think that his apparent indecision is causing damage to Inmos, its employees and the British microelectronics industry as a whole? Will he speed up his statement, and when he makes it will it contain a definitive view on whether there is a viable future for such a small manufacturer as Inmos?

Sir K. Joseph

My hon. Friend will, surely, recognise that since the beginnings of commercial negotiations are in hand it would be wrong to abort them when they are being considered by the NEB.

Mr. Viggers

While the ability of those involved with the Inmos project is undoubtedly exceptional, is it not an extraordinary commentary on Socialism in action that the previous Socialist Administration should have set up a share incentive scheme that will provide £6 million for each of the three main participants—two of whom are Americans—if the project is successful?

Sir K. Joseph

Without confirming or contradicting the figure used by my hon. Friend I can say that when the Conservative Party was in opposition I thought it rather admirable—and I still do—of the Ministers concerned to recognise the value and effectiveness of private entrepreneurial motives. Whatever one may think about the application in this case, the acceptance of the principle was not to be condemned.

Mr. Douglas

Notwithstanding his strictures on confidentiality, does the Secretary of State concede, that it is vital that he clarifies this matter as soon as possible and gives a clear indication that this is the type of project to which he would give assistance through the National Enterprise Board?

Sir K. Joseph

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Grylls

Does my right hon. Friend agree that since, apparently, nobody really knows whether Inmos will succeed or fail, it might be wiser to let the first investment in Colorado Springs mature to see whether it is successful before deciding on the second investment? That would give the Government time to receive an independent view by outside experts—not committed to the scheme one way or the other—before the second investment is considered and decided upon.

Sir K. Joseph

I am sure that the NEB will read my hon. Friend's comments and take them into account.

Mr. Palmer

Does not the right hon. Gentleman, with his ministerial experience, understand by now that British private enterprise is not particularly adventurous when it comes to taking risks? Does he agree that if the State does not invest, in whole or in part, Inmos will not happen at all?

Sir K. Joseph

I accept neither proposition in its unqualified form.

Mr. Squire

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Government Members support his Department's determination to reduce investment in declining industry, but that they will expect the Department to look sympathetically at all investment in expanding industries, particularly when private industry has declined to take part?

Sir K. Joseph

I have told the House that there is a commercial interest in Inmos from the private sector which the NEB is now testing.

Mr. John Evans

Is the Secretary of State aware that most people who are worried about this technology are alarmed at his vacillating weakness? Is it not time that he made a decision and insisted that the new production unit went to a development area?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to make good a failure in arrangements made by the Government whom he supported when they were in office. Surely it would be imprudent for me to force taxpayers' money upon the NEB when commercial interests are expressing an interest in replacing some of the taxpayers' money?

Mr. John Silkin

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his praise of my right hon. Friends and his acceptance of the principle that they enunciated. Does he agree that considerable praise is due to the capitalist countries, including Japan to the extent of over £500 million a year, which put Government money into such spheres?

Sir K. Joseph

On the contrary, it was my right hon. Friends who accepted the principle that ventures tend to go better if those who invest in them stand to gain from success. As for the comparison with Japan, the right hon. Gentleman is taking into account a lot of public sector support for public utilities, which also occurs in this country.