HC Deb 08 July 1981 vol 8 cc532-53 12.37 am
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet completed its consideration of the instrument. It had a meeting on Tuesday to consider the instrument. It asked the Department for further comments in an additional memorandum. The Committee has not yet made up its mind whether to draw the special attention of the House to the instrument and is not able to do so until it receives a response to its request. Normally, the Committee, if it thought necessary, would report the instrument to the House and print the memoranda supplied by the Department.

I am surprised, therefore, that the Department intends to go ahead with the order. Since the House set up the Joint Committee to scrutinise statutory instruments and to report them to the House if necessary, it would be prudent for consideration to be deferred until the Joint Committee has completed its consideration. Almost certainly that wall be next Tuesday. We do not want to defer the matter indefinitely, but there is not much point in having such a Committee if its request is not taken into account.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

That is a matter not for the Chair but for the Minister.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had hoped that since my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is present he would be able to intervene. Is it true that the organisations representing persons employed in the industry were consulted? I do not believe that it is possible for me to get a reply to that question unless the Joint Committee has had the opportunity of asking the question and seeing the documentation from the Department. I wanted to hear from my hon. Friend the analysis that his Committee has made of this matter, but the House is entitled to know whether this information has been examined and what replies were received from the Department so that some of us who feel strongly about the matter can make our views known.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The order is properly on the Order Paper. It is not a question for me. I am sure that the Minister will have noted what has been said. He may want to refer to it, but it is a matter for debate.

Mr. Brown

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The order is properly on the Order Paper. It is a matter not for me but for debate. I call the Minister to move the motion.

12.42 am
The Under-Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. John MacGregor)

I beg to move, That the draft Furniture Development Council (Dissolution) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 23rd June, be approved.

I am prepared to listen in the debate to points that hon. Members may wish to raise, and I shall be happy to reply to them if, by leave of the House, I am permitted to speak again.

The purpose of this order, which is being made under the authority of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947, is to make provision for the amendment and subsequent revocation of SI 1948/2774 so as to wind up and dissolve the Furniture Development Council and so that the statutory levy which is collected by the council shall cease to be payable in the furniture industry after 1982. It also provides that for 1982 the level of exemption from liability to pay the levy will be increased from a chargeable turnover of £3,000 to £200,000, thus giving early relief from payments of the levy to the smaller firms in the industry.

The House may find it helpful if I explain a little of the background to this statutory levy and the Furniture Development Council. The levy is collected by the Furniture Development Council, which came into being on 1 January 1949 and which is the only survivor of those development councils set up under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947 in the immediate post-war years. The council originally had a wide range of functions, but since 1968 its sole function in practice has been to collect the compulsory levy, the proceeds of which it passes to the Furniture Industry Research Association, known as FIRA. The rate of the levy, the maximum permitted under the existing order, is 50p per £1,000 of turnover. The levy applies only to the manufacture of furniture of a type commonly used for domestic purposes. Thus, for example, office furniture manufacturers pay the levy only when their chairs and tables are of a type commonly used in the home. Manufacturers of built-in furniture have been included within the scope of the levy since 1967.

The present proposal to discontinue the statutory levy and wind up and dissolve the Furniture Development Council follows a detailed review last year of opinion in the industry. All but five of 40 different industry research associations, so far as they were supported on a collective basis by their industries, received such funds last year on a voluntary basis. The Government therefore decided, since they were on a voluntary basis, to seek the views by ballot of the companies in those few industries where, contrary to the norm, statutory levies existed to establish whether there was a clear balance of opinion in those industries in favour of continuation of a compulsory collection.

In the case of the furniture industry, which is the only one where there exists a development council that collects the levy rather than the levy being collected by the Government, my right hon. Friend is required by the 1947 Act to consult every five years with the council and with organisations representing both sides of the industry on the question whether the council should remain in being, and, if so, whether the development council order should be amended in any respect. Although the quinquennial review was not due until this year, the views of the council and those organisations were also sought both last year and this year.

Perhaps I should make it clear at this point that the review of the statutory levy has been quite separate from the Pliatzky review of non-departmental bodies—quangos as they are commonly known—and that the Pliatzky report did not have any bearing on this exercise.

The council favoured its own continuation. Amongst the other organisations consulted there were divided views, but a clear majority—63 per cent.—of the levy payers who voted in the ballot were against continuation of the statutory levy. Although it was the smaller and medium-sized companies that were more strongly opposed to the continuation of the statutory levy, even amongst the larger companies that voted, half were against its continuation. It is right that the views expressed by this substantial majority should be respected. That is the reason for this order.

With the ending of the collection of the levy, the Furniture Development Council will be relieved of what has been its sole function for the past 13 years. Consequently, the order also provides for its orderly winding-up and dissolution. I stress that the proposals before the House in no way reflect any criticism of the council. Over the years it has carried out its collection task with great efficiency and for the last 18 years it has been under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Roger Falk, to whom I should like to pay special tribute tonight for all the work he has done.

Nor does the order reflect on the work done by the Furniture Industry Research Association over the years for the benefit of the whole of the furniture industry. Our consultations have shown that many in the industry greatly value the work done by FIRA and we hope and expect to see FIRA continuing to draw financial support from the industry, although support given on a non-compulsory basis.

Although we favour the switch to non-compulsory funding, and this is what the industry has voted for, it would be wrong to discontinue the statutory levy so abruptly as to be damaging to the future of FIRA. We have received strong representations on this point. Indeed, one of my first tasks when I took up my office in the Department was to deal with this question. I believe that it is necessary to allow a period for adjustment to the system of non-compulsory funding of FIRA. Having heard the views of the council and FIRA on the time needed for this adjustment, I agree with them that the levy ought not to be completely abolished, nor the council dissolved, until 31 December 1982. The order provides for this.

As I said earlier, the order contains a provision to give early relief to the smaller firms in the industry by providing, with effect from 1 January 1982, that those companies whose designated turnover does not exceed £200,000 shall be exempted from levy from that date. As the Minister with special responsibilities for small firms, and as one who is very conscious of the burdens that Governments can impose on small firms, I am delighted that the council and FIRA have willingly accepted this exemption.

Although it is not intended to give free membership of FIRA to the smaller firms within the industry that will obtain early exemption from the levy, as a result of the provisions that I have just described, I understand that FIRA has arrangements in hand to enable them still to have access to FIRA's services by voluntary subscription and that the association will undertake specific projects for those firms that are prepared to pay for them. At present the statutory levy yields about £½ million annually, which represents about 40 per cent. of FIRA's total income. I understand that the raised exemption level will mean that some 700 smaller companies out of a total of about 1,700 companies presently liable for the levy will no longer be required to pay it in 1982.

I should also make it clear that in addition to the support obtained from the industry through the statutory levy the Department of Industry has supported a lot of work at FIRA by way of cost-shared contracts for specific programmes of work. In recent years this support has accounted for 17 to 20 per cent. of FIRA's income. This support is in no way linked to the existence of the statutory levy. Under present research and development policies the Department would expect to continue to support specific work at FIRA in the same way as in the past, if suitable proposals for support are put by FIRA to the Department's research and development requirements boards.

As was the case when the last development council—the Textile Development Council—was dissolved in 1972, the draft order provides for the necessary administrative arrangements to allow the orderly winding up and dissolving of the Furniture Development Council. It provides for the residual property, rights and liabilities of the council to vest in my right hon. Friend after the council's dissolution. It makes provision for the council's accounts. As the 1947 Act requires, it also makes provision for the imposition and recovery from the industry of charges to meet the council's liabilities and winding-up expenses should—unexpectedly—the council's assets be insufficient for this purpose. However, very properly, the Council has already indicated its intention so to conduct its affairs as to avoid the need for any such supplementary levy on the industry. Lastly, the order also provides for the application of any surplus money, after the liabilities of the council and its winding-up expenses have been met, for purposes consistent with the council's functions. It is naturally intended that such surplus moneys would be passed on to FIRA.

We expect that the council itself will complete as much as possible of the business of winding up its affairs. On the dissolution date, the remaining rights and obligations vest in my right hon. Friend. He will arrange to complete any outstanding business relating to the winding-up, including the collection of outstanding debts and the application of the surplus moneys.

I should like to finish by referring to the future of FIRA. The furniture industry is not a high-technology industry. We should acknowledge that. In relative terms it has only a comparatively low R and D expenditure. Nevertheless, there are important matters that need to be worked on. There are standards to be determined, materials to be tested and selected, designs to be proven and so on. No one disputes this. Nor is it disputed that FIRA has played a useful role in these and other areas in the past. It is certainly our wish that the work carried out by FIRA to the benefit of the industry shall continue. This is why the Government have been concerned that the transitional arrangements should be such as to allow FIRA to get off to a good start 'without the statutory levy and for BRA to continue to play a role of value to the furniture industry and in line with its wishes.

The majority of companies in the industry have now said they do not want a statutory levy any longer. I do not infer from this that those companies are saying that there is no more work to be done, that standards do not matter, that no new materials will be introduced, or that the ultimate in furniture designs has been reached. Of course, the votes against the levy mean no such thing. What they mean is that the companies want to choose for themselves how they spend their own money, to judge for themselves what work they need to have done, and to judge for themselves whether they themselves, FIRA or some other institution altogether should do that work. I find bat wish altogether understandable and one that is in accordance with the sensible principle that people are the best judges of how to spend their own money.

We have not been dogmatic about this. In those cases where the majority of companies within an industry have felt that it is in their interests to retain a statutory levy—cutlery and iron castings, for example—we have accepted this. Equally, however, it would be wrong to oblige an unwilling industry to retain a statutory levy when it had made clear that it was opposed to it.

As a result of the draft order and the system of funding to which it will give rise, FIRA will be put in the position of the great majority of other research associations. Its success will be determined by its responsiveness to the needs of the industry that it serves. It is my belief that FIRA can succeed and will show itself responsive to the furniture industry's requirements—and this by the key test of furniture companies freely choosing to pay for its services. I believe also that the relationship thus established is the surest way of ensuring that FIRA stays attuned to the needs of the industry in future, to its own and the industry's mutual benefit.

12.55 am
Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

I am alarmed that the order has not been adequately considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Why do we have the Joint Committee if we do not give it the opportunity to examine the validity of this sort of order and legislation? My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is in his place. I hope that he will inform the House of what failed to satisfy the Joint Committee on the validity of the order. It may have been something to do with the winding-up procedure.

The dissolution of the Furniture Development Council and the ending of the statutory levy on manufacturers to fund research at the Furniture Industry Research Association is a retrograde and short-sighted step that the Government and the industry will come to regret. It is not a victory for free enterprise, individual initiative and self-determination but a decision that will collectively weaken the ability of a hard-pressed industry to compete effectively.

The furniture industry is under extreme pressure. Like so many of our other long-established industries, it has fallen a victim to monetarism. High interest rates are crippling to such an industry. They have been accompanied by a fall in domestic demand and a high value of the pound. These are automatic consequences of the Government's ideological obsession with monetarist policies. The results have hit the industry especially hard.

Thus, there has been a massive increase in foreign imports of furniture and a loss of domestic employment. I understand that 130 furniture firms went out of business in 1980 alone. Employment in the industry fell from 76,000 to 65,000 last year. About 18,000 workers are on short time. Until the end of 1978 our exports of furniture were always greater than our imports. However, in 1979 and 1980 the trade surplus disappeared and last year exports were £194 million and imports were £282 million. In the first quarter of this year home deliveries to the retail trade were no less than 10 per cent. down on the previous year.

These few statistics reveal that the industry is facing a crisis. As it is essentially a small-scale industry with many small employers scattered throughout London and the South-East and other population centres, it does not attract much attention and concern. However, it is still a sizable industry and it is our responsibility to safeguard and defend it. At this time of all times, it is proposed to inflict massive damage on the one institution in the industry which exists to keep it in the forefront of technical advance, which is its research association. This has to be folly. As one member of the Furniture Development Council has written, it is an irresponsible act of industrial vandalism. Sir Roger Falk, the chairman of the Furniture Development Council, referred to it as an absolutely unique body anywhere in the world and said that this bewildering decision is one which will limit the future development of the industry.

The Furniture Development Council is not one of the Government's hated quangos. It costs the taxpayer nothing. The research association, which will lose 40 per cent. of its funding as a result of the Government's decision, has been highly cost effective and has been run on a tight budget. Its work has been of enormous worth to the industry from the 1950s, when it carried out research of universal value to the industry in design, timber and glue selection, resilience of springing, and strength of seating, until its more sophisticated work today.

The council has a unique repository of technical information. It has banks of information on machines and materials that are second to none in the world. It has a technical team of woodworking, upholstery, hardware, materials, plastics, production management and costing specialists and it responds to thousands of inquiries from manufacturers every year. It has responded to the need for management advice on value analysis, industrial engineering, production stock and quality control and training. It carries out valuable market research in an industry where marketing in the past has not been given the highest priority. It is now moving into microprocessor and robotic applications in the industry.

In such a fragmented industry, how could such programmes of work be carried out without a levy arrangement? All those services are available to the firms in the industry, large and small, for a levy of 0.05 per cent. of turnover. That sort of sum could be saved in most firms by tightening up materials control procedures alone. Such firms, in particular, will never be able to replace such a service at such a cost.

It is understandable that many small firms, faced with going to the wall, as many are at the moment, will look at every cost and be tempted to vote against the continuation of the levy. The entry point at a turnover of £3,000 was far too low and should have been raised over the years to around £15,000 or so today. It is true that 699 levy payers voted against the continuation of the levy, while 416 voted for it. However, representative associations—trade associations and the unions—wanted it to continue.

As I understand it, in previous quinquennial reviews of the continuance of the levy required by the legislation, representative bodies, such as the associations, were polled and there was not a ballot of all levy payers. I suspect that the ballot method was chosen because the Government were not neutral in the issue and they wanted the levy to end according to a mad ideology of self-reliance. Even so, the Minister has discretion to make a final decision. In arriving at that decision, he should have placed greater weight on the views of the trade associations and the organisations representing the workers in the industry, who are universally opposed to the ending of the levy.

I wish to end on an important issue on which I want specific assurances from the Minister. There is some research for the industry which is of national importance, far greater than the interests of particular manufacturers, where the Department of Industry has a clear responsibility. Health and safety of operatives is one such area—work on dust control and working conditions. Who will pay for that in future? I believe that the Department must fund it. A more important example is the safety of upholstered furniture. By that I mean the flammability and ignitability of modern polyurethane upholstery filling. The House will be aware of the terrible tragedies which have happened as a result of the accidental ignition in homes and stores of those lethal materials. The matter was debated in the House as recently as 22 May 1980.

The House will know of the campaign on the issue conducted for more than a decade by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I was first made aware of the terrible dangers of those polyurethane fillings by listening to a radio interview some years ago, in which my hon. Friend was questioned on the issue. I was horrified by what he had to say. At the time I thought that the subject was inadequately discussed. I went into the issue. Since then there have been major tragedies as a result of the flammability of those materials. The country has every reason to be grateful for my hon. Friend's knowledge and persistence in the face of official complacency and the unwillingness of the industry to do anything on the issue.

The Minister, speaking in last year's debate, referred to technical limitations of preventive measures in this area. She referred to research being carried out in this country. She also quoted the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council as saying that upholstered furniture has the largest single potential for contributing to fire and toxicity hazard.

My hon. Friend said that the foam manufacturers were not likely to put much money into research for a substitute for polyurethane foam upholstery, and nor will the average run of manufacturers of upholstered furniture. If the manufacturers of foam will not pay, the users of the foam will not pay and the consumer is at such a risk from the dangers of the use of that material, who will pay?

The research must be a Government responsibility, yet at the moment the Government pay only 25 per cent. of the cost of that research at the Furniture Industry Research Association. When the levy ends, who will pay for it? I want an assurance that the Government will fund the research when the levy ends, through the requirements boards. The Minister cannot avoid the issue. If the Minister proposes that no additional funds will be available for research into finding substitutes for polyurethane foam fillings for upholstered furniture, and it is cut back, the Government will carry the responsibility for the consequences. That is clear and I want it to be understood by the Minister. I hope that he will give us a very firm undertaking to do something about it.

The order is a mistake and will be regretted. It will weaken the ability of the industry to compete successfully with foreign manufacturers. It will harm the buyers of furniture. It leaves unanswered the question of consumer and worker protection research—an area in which the Government must make their position clear.

1.4 am

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) on the argument that he has put from the Front Bench against the order.

I intervened earlier on a point of order because I felt that one was entitled to hear the views of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It is a tragedy that, the House having made clear that statutory instruments should be examined by a Joint Committee of the House, a Department can then completely absolve itself from its responsibilities and submit an order such as this in the full knowledge not only that the matter has not been examined but that there is a doubt about it. Under any decent standard of behaviour, one would have expected the Department to wait until it had replied to the Statutory Instruments Committee before seeking to bring the order before the House. It is a disgrace that a Department should take such an attitude, running clearly contrary to the expressed desires of the House.

I should like to examine some of the points made in the order. It is stated at the beginning of the order that the people who were consulted by the Secretary of State were the organisations representative of persons employed in those industries appearing to him to be appropriate". What does that mean? Was my trade union consulted on whether we should get rid of the levy? Were we asked to vote? Let us examine this, because a great deal has been said about the voting and the way in which the industry has examined the question. It was not a question of bringing in some group to find out the feelings of the industry; it was done by the Department of Industry.

The Department asked two questions. The first was "Do you wish the levy to be continued?" Anyone who is asked "Do you want income tax to continue?" is unlikely to say "Yes". The second question was "If the statutory levy were abolished, would you be willing to contribute to collective furniture industry research by means of voluntary subscription?"

There is a list of what we are told were the results. They are given under headings of what are called turnover bands. I discussed it with those who had the job of examining these things and I was assured that there were problems and that the first problem was about the banding, because there was insufficient evidence available to the Department on it. The reasoning was that they could not determine the banding correctly and had to have wide bands to try to get an average.

It can be seen clearly that in the case of those under £50,000 turnover there were 329 votes and that 201 said they were against the statutory levy and 128 said they were for it. We ought to have added to that figure a further 329, because each of the firms should have allowed the representatives of the employees of the firm to vote, too. After all, they are all working in the same enterprise and they all have the same responsibilities. The results of BRA are just as important to those working in the industry, as I shall explain shortly. If in each of those firms the managing director was allowed to have a vote I do not quite understand why it is argued that someone on behalf of the workers should not also have had a vote.

I can tell the Minister what the result would have been. On the figures that he quoted, in the under-£50,000 turnover band 61 per cent. said that they were against the levy. If one adds the further figure that I have suggested, however, the result would be 69 per cent. in favour of the levy. In the £50,000 to £250,000 band, 288 managing directors voted—201 against the levy and 87 in favour. If one adds 288 more votes, which would have been in favour of the levy, the result is 62 per cent, in favour of retaining the levy—an overwhelming figure. I see the Minister frowning. If he has the document, I will help him by taking him through the figures.

In the third band—turnover of £250,000 to £1 million—the first column gives the total vote as 276. That is the number of managing directors who voted. I am suggesting that for every one of those special category voters there should be added a vote representing my union members in the firm. One therefore adds to the column showing the number in favour a further 276 votes. That gives 371 votes in favour of the levy and only 181 against. That is 67 per cent.—an overwhelming figure—in favour of retaining the levy.

Therefore, when the Minister says that an overwhelming number are against the levy, that is not true. It is true on his fiddled figures, of course, but anyone can fiddle the figures and make sure that one does not ask for all the facts. The clear evidence is that he did not ask all the people. He asked only his friends, who he thought would give the right answer. They did not ask him to do it. There was no campaign in the industry. On the contrary, everyone was happy. It was the Department that decided to run this exercise in the first place. As has been pointed out, this is not a quango, so it was not a matter of trying to save public funds. The Department itself came forward with this. Presumably it had nothing better to do.

The Minister said in opening that he hoped and expected that the voluntary system would continue. He bases that, presumably, on the figures in this document relating to the second question. I suggest that he misled the House, because the House does not have the figures that he and I have. The overwhelming majority of managing directors who answered were against the suggestion, so what is this "I hope" business when he has the figures in front of him? In order to help the House, I will illustrate to the Minister why this is so.

The second question asked whether the respondents would be prepared to pay a voluntary subscription, so that the Minister could say that he hoped and prayed that it would continue. In the first band—turnover of under £50,000—out of 316 replies, 221 said that they would not pay a voluntary subscription and only 95 said that they would. They said overwhelmingly that they would have nothing to do with voluntary subscriptions. In the second band, out of 273 replies, 161 said that in no way would they pay voluntary subscriptions and only 112 said that they would. In the third band, out of 259 replies, 130 said that they would not subscribe and 129 said that they would. In the fourth band, out of 110 replies, 62 said that they would not subscribe voluntarily and only 48 said that they would.

On these figures alone—and they are fiddled figures anyway—there are no grounds for the Minister to claim that he "hopes" and "expects". He has given a totally unwarranted assurance to the House.

As to the question that the hon. Gentleman dreamt up in order to get the answer he wanted, the reply that comes out strongest of all is that he would not get a voluntary subscription. Therefore, this pious nonsense about "I hope and expect the voluntary system to continue" is clearly not backed up by anything.

The Minister said that the votes against a levy do not mean a vote against FIRA. In that case, I do not know what they mean. If one is asked "Do you want to get rid of the levy which keeps FIRA in business?" and one replies "Yes, I do", I do not see how that is not a vote against FIRA. Incidentally, if the Minister were to go further and ask "Will you try to keep it going?", the answer would probably be "No". In those circumstances, how can the Minister justify his claim that a vote against the levy does not mean a vote against FIRA? All the evidence is that that is exactly what it does mean. No undertaking has been given to the Minister, and he cannot give one to the House.

The two questions dreamt up by the Department were put voluntarily and answers were given by only half the industry. Only the managing directors were asked for their opinion. The other people in the industry were not asked. I speak on their behalf. They say that the Minister is totally wrong, and he ought to ask the views of everyone in the business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South examined in detail what FIRA is for and what it is doing. The Minister will have to spend some time answering those points. FIRA has been responsible for a whole range of safety issues. I reinforce my hon. Friend's point. Who will now be responsible? It has taken years to get the industry to accept that FIRA could look at some of those issues. However, because FIRA's conclusions were not mandatory, it was a dickens of a job to get the firms to accept the results. How does the Minister expect the industry to keep FIRA going in the way that he has suggested when he knows full well that it will not do so?

Who will test adhesives? Where will the tensile strengths of the springs be tested? What about all the trouble we have had with timbers? The Minister has not worked in the industry and is probably unaware of the state of some of my union members' hands caused by dermatitis through handling afrormosia and other timbers from different parts of the world. Who will determine which timbers are dangerous? FIRA did that.

Some years ago, I asked the Minister's Department to state which timbers coming into Britain were dangerous. I again ask the question, and I insist upon an answer. Who will control that aspect of the industry, which hitherto has been dealt with by FIRA? If he thinks that the manufacturers will do it, he should think again. We had to fight the manufacturers to prove that the timbers they were importing, while cheap, could be dangerous. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that an importer of cheap timber will be particularly worried about checking whether it will cause trouble to workers' hands, he has another thought coming, because that is not what happens in the real world—even if there were a FIRA to do it voluntarily, which I doubt.

A tremendous amount of work has been done on noise. The wood-cutting machine regulations were recently updated. Noise is now scheduled in those regulations. As always, things were fiddled with and two parts were introduced. The first part made it mandatory for employers to keep machines running at acceptable noise levels, namely, under 80 decibels. The second part provided that if employers could not do that immediately, they could give their employees muffs or earplugs until they could. When the regulations were debated, I asked how they would be enforced. I pointed out that, as long as employees could use muffs or earplugs, employers would not silence their machines.

FIRA is giving advice and help on those machines. Firms do not ask for help and advice. They are being made to seek advice, because the factory inspector is being brought in. Therefore, firms are being driven to seek information. Day in and day out, my union members find that their hearing is being damaged by indolent employers, who will not silence their machines. If the Minister thinks that such firms will run to pay money to be told how to silence machines—when the regulations allow them to get away with muffs and earplugs—he must be living in a world of his own.

I want the Minister to tell me tonight whether the Department will be statutorily responsible for ensuring that FIRA's investigation of noise will continue. Will that be funded by the Department? If not, who will fund it? The House is entitled to know.

From 1968 onwards there has been a conflict over foam. That conflict has emerged both inside and outside the House. The same officials who advised Ministers in the Home Office are advising Ministers involved in consumer protection. The fight will continue. Men, women and children are dying day in, day out and week in, week out. Everyone knows why they are dying. If it were not for the polyurethane foam, many people would escape the fires. However, they cannot do so because of the foam's burning characteristics.

The Minister knows that I do not accept that fires are always accidental. Fires are not always started by matches and cigarettes. When the fire officer looks at the evidence after a fire, he cannot find the foam because the fire has consumed it. Therefore, he never considers foam, because it is not there. Not unreasonably, the fire officer does not think about it and just asks whether the person involved smoked. If the person smoked, the fire officer will conclude that the person fell asleep while smoking a cigarette. However, he may not have a shred of evidence for that conclusion.

If children who do not smoke are involved in a fire, the fire officer will inquire whether there were any matches in the home. Most people have matches in the house. The fire officer will then conclude that the children must have found them and set fire to the furniture. He may not have a shred of evidence to support that conclusion. However, the fire officer could find no other answer because there was no foam to be seen and he had to reach some conclusion. As a result, the fire officer will tell a story that is acceptable to society. People can understand adults smoking, or children playing with matches, and as a result we somehow salve our consciences.

We now have more evidence that foam is self-combustible. That is a much better conclusion to draw, but the Department will not accept it. No one wants to hear that answer because it is frightening. We got help only from FIRA. That was the one body prepared to examine the issue independently and to see what could be done. The Minister spoke about firms helping. I asked the managing director of Dunlopillo some years ago what would happen if the company found a safe foam. I asked him whether he would give that foam freely to society. "Not likely" was the reply that I received. The company wants royalties paid because it has spent £500,000 on trying to find a solution to the problem posed by the dangerous foam.

I argued with the Department that it should fund the research itself. The agreement was to pay £36,000 over three years. That would not buy a house in London, let alone fund research work on foam. Nevertheless, it was paid and thereafter FIRA has continued to try to find an answer to this desperate problem. It is up to the Minister to tell us who will fund the research. We want no qualifications or hedging of bets. We want a straightforward answer. Will he pay it from his departmental fund? If not, who will? People working in the industry know that they are running into danger. That spells many problems for us all.

Another question that the Minister must answer concerns the foreign materials being imported. FIRA is being used to determine certain factors about such materials that may be incompatible with the regulations. Does the Minister believe that a firm will spend time and money importing from Eastern Europe and submit voluntarily what is being imported cheap—cheap and nasty—to an organisation that is being paid to carry out that work for it, only to be told that the furniture cannot be imported because it does not come up to our standards? I know the Minister well, and I do not believe that he is that stupid.

The Minister must answer some questions. What is the mandatory position? What rights will my union have in the protection of individuals working in the industry? The Department has taken the view that the workers in the industry do not matter because their views were not sought. They did not have a vote and it was said that it was not important for them to vote. I have to keep raising this matter in the House. Whenever I have problems, there is no one else to turn to. I have to go through one Department after another which has a touching point with the responsibilities within the industry.

Must I contine to keep coming to the Minister so that he can tell me that after tonight his Department will have no responsibility and that he hopes and expects that the voluntary system will work? Am I supposed to go away when our people working in the industry are subject to such dangers?

As I so often do, I have brought in the Health and Safety Commission. It turned to FIRA for advice. Do I understand that the Health and Safety Commission will pay FIRA for doing the work to get the answer? It is important to know who will do the work.

If I thought that everyone in the industry was as dedicated as the hon. Gentleman is for getting things right, I should be a happy man. It is a constant fight and battle to get the law complied with, never mind the consideration of any advanced thinking or initiatives. We have to fight and argue to get the implementation of the Factories Act now.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have asked questions. Recently I asked when the factory inspector last went down Hackney Road where furniture is manufactured on the pavement. Any of my constituents walking down that road with a baby in a pram has to go into the main road because she cannot pass the furniture being manufactured on the pavements. The shops are covered with dust. Any other firms would be put out of business. The commission has said that it will take five years and it still may not be able to visit one or more of those factories.

We have desperately tried to raise the standards by using FIRA. How does the Minister expect it to be done? In his opening remarks he piously said that nobody expects the standards to go down. FIRA has said that it will do all that it can. What does that mean if it is out of business or does not have enough money? How much money will the Department put into this venture? Will it give any subvention at all to FIRA, or will it opt out entirely?

I am totally unsympathetic towards the order. That is not because I represent the furniture workers' union. As one examines this matter, one can see a whole era being destroyed. That is not a bad thing if there are reasonable grounds for wanting to destroy it.

The starting point is that the Furniture Development Council has been unique, as Sir Roger Falk rightly says, in any industry in any country. Sir Roger thought that the views of the people in the industry were important. They were offered the chance to have their say—unlike the position with the Minister, who decided that their views were not worth having. He relied on his managing director friends. They are the only people who answered his question, because they were the only people who were given the question to answer. Sir Roger Falk rightly welded the industry together—the manufacturers. the retailers and the workers. Everyone formed part of a family with the purpose of producing good quality furniture which was of value to the consumer because he received a good quality product.

The consumer had better understand his interest in the order, because he will now be getting a product that is likely to be of far lower quality. It will not be long. The Minister smiles, but we have moved a long way in this industry. It was not so long ago that tea chests were used in the manufacture of furniture. We had louse-ridden fillings. The Rag Flock and Other Filling Materials Act 1951 did not come about because someone thought that a would be a good idea. My union had to fight to get it on the statute book, because our people were having to handle rotten filthy fillings which manufacturers were importing and using. Our people often contracted dermatitis. The Rag Flock Act stopped that. The Furniture Development Council came about because of the rotten standards in the industry. The consumer was being diddled because he could not see what he was purchasing.

This issue is not a simple matter of saying "We are getting rid of the levy, and things will be all right " What the Minister is doing is lowering the standards of quality of the product. There will be no way in which we can maintain them, because no one will pay to have the standards set for him. It will be claimed that that will cost more money. I should like to believe that it was that pious, but I know that it is not so, and the Minister must know that.

I shall do my best to stop the order going through tonight. It will mean a diminution of the product. It will be a bad day for workers in the industry and manufacturers—and there are many—who have a high quality of work and who are trying to maintain standards to make us competitive abroad in quality. Exports have been improving with the help of the FDC over the years. Therefore, our thrust into foreign markets is much deeper now than it has been for many years. That will go, because if the FDC no longer exists to help and guide there will be no one else to do it.

I hope that hon. Members will join me in opposing the order. It is disgraceful that it was brought forward in the first place, the Department knowing that it had not passed through the proper procedures of the House. We have not had the benefit of knowing the views of the Statutory Instruments Committee.

The order was designed not because the industry asked for it but because the Departments of Trade and Industry decided to get rid of this organisation because there was some idea that it would satisfy the Government's friends, who thought that it was not popular in the industry. When the question was put to the Minister's friends within the industry, the majority said, "We don't want to pay a levy." Then, however, his friends let him down. Instead of agreeing to pay a voluntary subscription, they have made clear that there will be no voluntary subscription. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw, when he replies, his statement that he hopes and expects that the voluntary system will work. He knows that it will not work. If he intends to challenge my remarks, he had better take me through the paper I have just taken him through and show me how he interprets the figures to enable him to say piously that he hopes a voluntary system will work when the majority of his friends say that it will not.

I want the Minister to give an undertaking on foam, noise and timbers. Who will pay? Individual manufacturers had not paid before the FDC was established and will not do so in the future if the voting figures are believed. Will the Minister pay? If not, he is duty bound to spell out who will pay. Or is it now understood that all these factors, so vital to all engaged in the industry and also to consumers, will be lost in the idea that at 1.30 am we can perpetrate a fraud on society by passing the order quickly and washing our hands of the whole issue on 31 December 1982?

1.36 am
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

The reason why the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments did not have the opportunity to present a report to Parliament for helping and guiding the House in its consideration of the order was that the Government Whips are running out of time. Our daily agenda, the Order Paper, is crowded with items because the Whips have misjudged the amount of business that has to be dealt with, presumably before 29 July, when, no doubt, in their sycophantic adulation, they will not wish the House to meet. I hope that it does. At least, there would be some useful occupation on that media-crowded day.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments was set up by the House for a purpose—protection for the consumer in legislation. It was designed not by chance but because of the discovery that a Minister, in the early 1940s, had acted illegally in the use of his subordinate powers. He did not have the powers to use, in any event. The House therefore set up a Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I am its Chairman, appointed as a member of the Opposition, to pursue the scrutiny work of the Committee with zeal just as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Accounts is, by convention, a member of the Opposition. There is little point in the House taking such action if the Joint Committee is not given the opportunity to report an instrument and present information to the House.

I am not saying that the Committee would have pursued that approach in this case. I cannot say anything on behalf of the Committee. The way that the Committee operates is to make a report to the House. No individual represents the Committee. The Committee itself decides whether to bring the attention of the House to a matter. When a Minister is unable, apparently, to exercise his power not to move an instrument, as was the case tonight, he denies the democratic processes set up by the House. If the Government say that they are concerned about democracy, they have to express that concern by action.

On a previous occasion when an order concerning the assisted places scheme was brought before the House and placed on the Order Paper and when consideration by the Joint Committee was not completed, the then Leader of the House withdrew the instrument until the assessment had been made and the report made to the House. That delayed the order for a considerable time, though, as I explained to the Minister, it need not have done so. The then Leader of the House has since been sacked. Perhaps he had too great a regard for democracy and the democratic processes of the House. The Prime Minister, who has no regard for democracy or for the democratic procedures of the House, used him as a symbol to emphasise her rigid doctrinaire adherence to her rotten policies.

The Minister has offered to answer points that I raise. But he cannot do that. The Committee is not here; we cannot make a joint decision about the hon. Gentleman's comments. He cannot substitute a response tonight for information that the Committee sought.

That information was sought not by me, but by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page), a former Chairman of the Committee, who was knighted for his service to the area of public life to which he has contributed. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman was looking forward to receiving the answer to the query that he raised in Committee.

Section 9 sets out the procedure for settlement of the council's debts and liabilities; and the Committee asked how creditors would be notified about the procedure. The Department replied that there would be notices in the London Gazette, and the right hon. Gentleman asked why the procedure was not incorporated in the order.

On a previous occasion when a Department had assured the Committee that all creditors would be taken account of, a member of the Committee had correspondence with a person affected who had not been taken account of by the Department. Bearing that experience in mind, the Committee asked why the order did not contain the procedure for winding up the council.

It is not a question of vires. The Minister has powers to improve the order, and that is part of the procedure that the Committee examines, along with ambiguity, unusual use of powers and so on. The further answer of the Department might have satisfied the Committee. There is no guarantee that we would have reported the order to the House, but the Minister, by not withdrawing it, has robbed the Committee of its right to make a judgment and robbed the House of the right to have the views of the Committee and the information provided by the Department.

When the Committee reports its views, it includes the views of the Department by printing the memorandum that it provides. If the Committee wishes to report an instrument to the House and raise criticial points, it has a duty to seek a memorandum from the Department concerned. The Committee had an obligation to seek information; it would be unfair not to do so. But, although the Committee acts fairly, it is, apparently, open to the Minister to act unfairly and to disregard the scrutiny that the Committee carries out.

As a Minister I was probably the last person to extend the compulsory levy. I did so enthusiastically after the due processes. I toured FIRA and was extremely impressed by its work. If the Minister adheres to the notion that a number of competing units in the industry will get together in a co-operative venture to meet competition from abroad or to improve export prospects, he ought to think again. The 40 per cent. contribution to FIRA was an important component of its income. It was improving standards, design and safety. There are no alternative facilities.

Is Japan likely to follow such a foolhardy step and stop paying for an organisation which is developing design standards techniques and safety factors? Of course it is not. No other competitive country acts in such a foolish and doctrinaire way to attack the standards which industry has built up. In Japan there is a more co-operative relationship with industry. The same applies to France and Germany. It is absurd for the Government to go down this road.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) described how workers have to fight for protection. Work is not the easy, carefree activity that many people in the higher echelons of the Civil Service, and some Ministers with their cars purring, seem to think that it is. Workers have a day-to-day struggle. They have to press, organise and fight for safety standards. The implementation of the order portrays a lack of care for those who get their hands dirty in the manufacturing side of furniture and allied industries. On every basis, the order is not justified. There is a strong case for not taking the order tonight, or ever.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

Is my hon. Friend aware that 30 per cent. of the votes against the levy represent only 0.04 per cent. of gross turnover?

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend emphasises clearly that only the representatives of capital have a vote. In my book, labour should be at least equal to capital. In my book, humanity is superior to material possessions or their representation by money. In my book, the industry could not survive without the workers. Yet they have been ignored by the Minister in the ballot which was rigged in its selectivity. On every basis the order should not be approved. The Minister has ignored parliamentary procedures and outside he has ignored the democratic and sensible procedures which would benefit the industry.

1.48 am
Mr. MacGregor

I shall endeavour to answer as many questions as I can. The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) made general remarks about how the decision on the statutory levy requested by the industry will affect the future of the furniture industry. He said that it would have a serious effect on the quality of the industry and its ability to compete. That is not the view of the majority in the industry. Those who continue to support FIRA and benefit from it—and about 42 per cent. support it on a voluntary basis—will be free to do so. I understand the passionate views on this issue, but we have heard a little exaggeration, to say the least, about some of the effects of tonight's decision, and that is one of them.

I do not accept that a system of voluntary funding, a system which applies in practically every industry, cannot work just as well for furniture. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) must tell us what is so special about the furniture industry that justifies his saying that when the industry does not want the statutory levy it will be unable to continue to exist with a voluntary levy when every other industry can do so.

Furniture manufacturers are just as capable as those in other industries of making the right decisions. The majority of companies do not want the statutory levy. They must be confident of facing the future without research funded on a compulsory basis. We are not saying that research should be funded on a compulsory basis. If what FIRA has on offer is appropriate to the furniture industry's needs, furniture manufacturers will wish to use its services and to pay for them. If it is not appropriate to their needs, it will, without the cushion of the statutory levy, soon recognise that and be encouraged to adapt to the industry's real needs. That seems to be a far more healthy and responsible state of affairs than the continuation of a statutory levy system which does not exist in other industries and which has clearly lost the confidence of many of those required to pay for it.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown


Mr. MacGregor

Well, it clearly has, because those required to pay for it voted against its continuation.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

The Hansard report will show that the Minister clearly said at the Dispatch Box tonight that a vote against the levy is not a vote against FIRA.

Mr. MacGregor

It is not a vote against FIRA. It is a vote against the statutory levy. As I have explained, it is the continuation of a statutory levy that has lost the confidence of many of those required to pay for it.

FIRA is not being asked to move overnight from statutory to voluntary funding. We asked the industry for its views and it gave them. I readily acknowledge that many feel that FIRA does useful work and that they derive benefit from it. But the strong preponderance of view in the industry is that the statutory levy should go.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

And the voluntary levy.

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, a majority said that, too, but a very high minority say that they are prepared to make voluntary subscriptions to FIRA. Many others would, no doubt, be prepared to pay for work that they wished FIRA to do, and in that way FIRA would be responding to the real needs of the industry. I am not prepared to say that we know better than the industry what its true needs are or that its preferences should be disregarded.

The hon. Member for Norwich, South said that we should have paid much greater regard to the associations than to the individual companies. He said that a number of associations had indicated that they were in favour of a statutory levy. We consulted widely. Let me respond to a question from the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch. As he knows, the unions were consulted as part of the consultation process. I must tell the hon. Member for Norwich, South that a considerable number of associations were against the retention of a statutory levy—the Business Equipment Trade Association representing office furniture manufacturers, the British Woodworking Federation representing kitchen furniture and fitment manufacturers, the Office Machines and Equipment Federation, the Chair Frame Manufacturers Association and the Association of Master Upholsterers. So the picture with the associations is by no means the clear one that the hon. Gentleman sought to paint in his opening remarks.

I turn next to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Furniture Development Council. The hon. Gentleman said that this should not have been part of the Pliatzky process because the Furniture Development Council is not a quango and it does not cost the Government anything. I readily concede this point. I was not trying to suggest that it did cost the Government anything. The levy exercise was not within the Pliatzky process. It was a different process. The point is that this was not just a question of getting rid of a body for the sake of it. We consulted widely in the industry before we took the decision to put this draft order before the House.

The point about the Furniture Development Council is not that it does not cost the Government anything. The point is that it is engaged in compulsory levy collecting. We are suggesting its abolition because the industry does not now want a compulsory levy imposed on it. As the hon. Member for Norwich, South—who is fair in these matters—will acknowledge, and as Sir Roger Falk now says, the sole purpose of the council is to collect the levy, so that the real point—I do not think that there is much between us on this—concerns the statutory levy. If the decision on the statutory levy is to remove it, the sole pupose of the council disappears.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch suggested that what we were doing was causing FIRA to lose 40 per cent. of its revenue. It is not true and should not turn out to be the case. It is true that 40 per cent. of its present income comes from the compulsory levy, but FIRA will still be well able to look for voluntary subscriptions, the level of which will be a matter for it. It is clear from the fact that so many companies have responded to the questionnaire saying that they would be prepared to make voluntary contributions that one cannot say that the whole 40 per cent. or anything like it would go. The more that FIRA makes clear, as the hon. Member said throughout his speech, that the work that it is doing is highly relevant to the industry, the greater are the prospects of increasing its revenue through a voluntary method, in the same way as nearly every other industry research association does.

I have one or two comments to make about the method of ballot used. We consulted thoroughly with FIRA about the whole ballot process before undertaking it. The original work took place before I came to the Department, but I have looked carefully at the way in which it was done. I absolutely reject the hon. Member's suggestion that this was "cooked up" by what he described as "my friends in the industry" to get the questions and answers that I wanted—or that my predecessor wanted. I reject that and I would like to show some of the processes through which we went. I hope that that will make the point clear.

The procedures for the ballot of companies were agreed beforehand with the council. With the ballot forms, all levy-paying companies received a long and detailed letter from the chairman of the Furniture Development Council. This urged them to consider the longer-term implications and to support the continuation of the levy. The companies certainly did not vote without being invited to consider carefully all aspects of the matter. Indeed, if there was any bias in the proceedings it was such as to favour a vote for the continuation of the levy. What went out to the member companies was the straight ballot form and the letter from the chairman urging them to support continuation of the levy, with reasons for so doing.

One has to say, as a result of the ballot, that the arguments for the levy failed to convince sufficient of the companies in the industry. The choice of how to vote was exercised by the levy-paying companies and it is their decision that we are now saying should be respected. Otherwise, what is the point of undertaking a ballot in the first place? It was a perfectly normal ballot. The questions were simple and straightforward, because that is the best way of getting a clear response. The more we confused the questions, the more difficult it would have been to judge what were the views of those who received the questionnaire. But in this case the questions were simple and the results very clear.

After the ballot, but before the results were known, the council's chairman wrote to my predecessor referring to the very thorough study of the industry attitude to the statutory levy which has been undertaken. That was his view, and he was very close to the matter. I understand his disappointment at the result, but he did not complain about the conduct of the ballot.

The hon. Member for Norwich, South raised a number of important issues to do with safety, which were followed up by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch. There is no reason to believe that FIRA must abandon its useful work, particularly in this area, just because the statutory levy is abolished. The testing of materials, for example, is done by FIRA not from the proceeds of the levy but on a repayment basis under contracts with the various manufacturers concerned. FIRA henceforward will have every incentive to promote all these services, for which it charges. Its equipment for testing the ignitability of materials was grant-aided by the Department's research and development requirements board. This type of assistance will still be available for any appropriate new work programme.

Many other industries face the need to conform to statutory requirements. I felt that many of the points made by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch really related to statutory requirements or possibly an argument about whether statutory requirements should be introduced—as he knows, some have been—or whether the matter should be related to the work of the Health and Safety Executive. Many industries face this need to conform with statutory or other requirements, or to field representatives on standards or other committees to argue about matters concerned with their affairs. These situations are in no way unique to the furniture industry. The other industries manage their affairs without statutory levies, and I have no reason to doubt that the furniture industry would do exactly the same.

Mr. John Garrett

Is the Minister saying that in respect of research carried out by FIRA into the ignitability and flammability of polyurethane foam upholstery fillings his Department will do no more than it has done in the past, which is to give a grant for testing equipment, as I understand it—a grant that amounts to only 25 per cent. of the total cost of this kind of testing? If that is so, that is inadequate, because it is a national problem and a national responsibility. Therefore, the Department of Industry should fund research into the matter. Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the Government will fund the total cost of research into the flammability and ignitability of polyurethane upholstery? It is clear that nobody else will.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot give the undertaking that the Department or the Government will fund the total cost. It was not necessary to do so for the research done already. By making selective financial support available to FIRA, through the requirements boards, the Government have recognised not only the importance of some of the subjects that the hon. Gentleman has raised but FIRA as an important part of the technological infrastructure of the furniture industry, with relevant programmes of work agreed with industrial companies.

I have said that we expect to continue to support specific work at FIRA in the same way as in the past, but it is up to FIRA to put suitable proposals for support to the Department's requirements boards. The director of FIRA is aware of this.

Many of the points to do with safety refer to arguments about whether there should be a statutory responsibility. If such a responsibility is put on the manufacturer, it is up to the manufacturer to meet it. This is done in other industries, without the existence of a statutory levy. The manufacturers who are faced with a need will have an incentive to support useful work carried out by FIRA, because they will have to meet the statutory responsibilities. FIRA will carry out work on a repayment basis, and that can he in addition to the voluntary subscriptions.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch spoke with passion. I know that he feels strongly about these issues, although, as a result, in a number of places he exaggerated his case. I pay a warm tribute to his work with the industry. I am aware of his views. One of my first actions when I came to the Department was to agree—almost straight away, I think—to meet the hon. Gentleman and union representatives. We went over the whole area thoroughly. We have discussed the issues that the hon. Gentleman put to me on that occasion. They were carefully considered before the decision was made that brought the order before the House. The hon. Gentleman advanced his arguments extremely courteously when we had our discussion.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the voting results. His argument seemed to be "If you do not like the decision of the straight result, you find another way of interpreting the figures." There are endless ways of interpreting figures. The hon. Gentleman has no grounds for knowing that every employee of every company would go the way that he wishes to go. However, he threw them all in as being entirely on his side. He has no real evidence to support that. It is much more sensible to accept the straight results.

It is management which has to take decisions about expenditure and overheads. It is management which is in the best position to consider a statutory levy. It is for management to decide how it arrives at a decision. I have indicated that the chairman of the Furniture Development Council considered that we acted thoroughly and fairly. I repeat that from our point of view we had to consider the overall result. I have conceded that the voting was much closer in the larger companies. Overall there could be no doubt about the way in which the result went.

The hon. Gentleman said that the ballot was not popular in the industry. Surely, industry has made it clear in the result that has emerged from the ballot exactly what it thinks about the statutory levy.

The hon. Gentleman talked about lowering the standard or the quality of the product in the furniture industry. think that he exaggerated his case. He was suggesting that, if we abolished the statutory levy, the quality of products would fall, that the companies would have a reducing share of the market, and that imports of presumably better quality from overseas would rise. I do not think that that would be the effect of the abolition of the statutory levy. It would hardly be in the interests of the companies to allow that to happen. If the hon. Gentleman is right and if the standards in the industry can be maintained only by the statutory levy to FIRA, he is showing little faith in the ability of the industry to compete.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) referred to the Joint Committee. I am happy to deal now with the point raised by the Committee. I am in some difficulty about the matter because, as the hon. Gentleman will know, my Department has been corresponding with the Joint Committee about another question. The correspondence was entered into in good time. The question that was supplementary to the memorandum that we submitted reached my Department by telephone late this afternoon and after the business of the House had started. The procedure of late questions would be a way of stopping many of these issues from reaching the Floor of the House.

We were asked why the order does not require the Furniture Development Council to advertise the duties imposed on its creditors by article 9. First, the Department has the council's assurance that it intends to arrange for appropriate publicity to be given. It has been working closely with the council and FIRA in establishing all the arrangements for the transitional period, and I have every confidence that under Sir Roger Falk's chairmanship the council will abide by the assurance.

Article 10 of the order imposes on the Furniture Development Council the duty to do such things as the Secretary of State considers necessary for facilitating the winding up and dissolution of the council. We shall keep in mind the point that the Joint Committee has pressed on us on two occasions. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the appropriate publicity will be given.

I can give the hon. Member for Keighley a further assurance, which I think is important. The creditors would not be precluded from payment by a failure to comply with the provisions of article 9. With the liabilities of the council at its disillusion vesting in the Secretary of State, there is no risk of the creditors being unpaid.

Mr. Cryer

I wish to answer a point which the Minister made at the beginning of his relevant remarks to this matter. The Joint Committee had no wish to stop the order coming on to the Floor of the House. The reason why the question was asked only earlier today was that the Joint Committee considered the memorandum from the Minister's Department yesterday evening, so that a relatively short time had elapsed between the consideration by the Joint Committee and the question to his Department.

Mr. MacGregor

The request came to me very late. It was a specific and fairly simple question. I hope that I have satisfactorily answered it to the House, as well as to the Joint Committee.

Many of the fears have been exaggerated, but what comes out strikingly is that it is the industry which has voted—surely, in a democratic situation we should respond to that—for the ending of the compulsory levy. Few other industries now have such a statutory levy and their research associations continue to do useful work. I have no doubt that FIRA will do so. It is right, when the industry has made its view clear—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion,MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.


That the draft Furniture Development Council (Dissolution) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 23rd June, be approved.