HL Deb 22 July 1970 vol 311 cc980-1002

3.10 p.m.

LORD BROWN rose to call attention to the policies and the institutional arrangements which have been developed during the last five years, designed to assist industry and to enhance collaboration with Government, and to the importance of further developing these in order to promote efficiency and improve the effectiveness of our economy; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I rise to open a debate that is fundamentally concerned with the degree to which Governments involve themselves with the affairs of industry and commerce. Historically, I think it is true that the Conservative Party based its policies on the doctrine that it was the Government's role to hold the ring and that what happened inside was not their business. Many in my own Party used to hold the view that every ill should call for Government involvement. These extreme points of view have faded, and the difference in attitude to-day has, I think, become one of degree rather than of doctrine. I seek to discover during the debate just how great our differences are with the present Government.

Our country is one of the most densely populated and industrialised in the world and every year our society increases in complexity. My Lords, if you drop a pebble into a pond, the resultant ripples spread across its entire surface; and our society is rather like that to-day. Industrial amalagamations, technological changes, reorganisation, expansion and contraction of output, which are often felt by boards of directors to be their business and that of nobody else, in fact impinge on all around them. They affect employment levels and the balance of payments; they affect local service industries; they affect our schools and housing; our roads and water supply; our drainage and transport and many other things, too.

The operations of commerce and of industry, on the one hand, and the policies of civic, county and central Government, on the other, interact one with another far more today than was ever the case in the past, and I think will inevitably interact increasingly in the future. We have only to think of such problems as pollution; the rebuilding of our cities; the siting of airports, docks or nuclear power stations; of under-employment in the development areas; of transport, health, and other things like that, to realise that this is so.

During the last five years, recognition has been given to these problems of interaction by the establishment of institutions, such as Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, the Prices and Incomes Board, the Monopolies Committee, et cetera, to hold the balance between what is good for individual enterprises and what is good for the nation. Departments, such as the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade, have established new policies largely aimed at the giving of selective assistance to industry so as to encourage those efforts which are of national importance, and at times, perhaps, to discourage other developments which seem detrimental. I believe that these efforts have been in tune with the needs of our ever more complex society.

We on these Opposition Benches are made increasingly anxious by whispers and Press articles and by the comments of members of the Government. We want to know the Government's intentions. I propose to comment on the policies of the previous Government and the institutions they set up, and to ask some questions to which I hope we shall get answers. I do not think that those answers should be too difficult to give, for I am not seeking details of Government forward planning; I merely wish to know whether the Government intend to continue and, by and large, to support what the Labour Party built when in Office and what we think the country needs.

The Industrial Reconstruction Corporation was set up for a number of reasons. The first was, I think, because a study of our overseas competitors in some sectors of industry showed that relatively small companies in the United Kingdom were often competing with much bigger units overseas. Many of our companies have too small a home base to continue to compete successfully for overseas contracts. The second reason was that, expert as are many of our merchant bankers in assisting industrial amalgamation, in the last analysis their professional duly is to carry out their clients' wishes rather than to try to safeguard the total national interest of the industry within which they operate. The third was that particular forms of company amalgamation did not always take place, because of lack of bridging finance. We on this side of the House believe that the fusion of such entities as A.E.I., English Electric and General Electric to form the G.E.E.C., the new big company; or the fusion of B.M.C. and Leyland; or the fusion of many interests concerned with computers into I.C.L., and many others, have not only rescued important companies from eventual failure but also have set up large units which have already begun to benefit our economy, and which will show much greater success in the future as they are given time to develop their new amalgamated structures.

While all Governments since the war have welcomed inward industrial investment, it is important that we have an institution like the I.R.C. which can undertake operations such as that which recently brought about the amalgamation of certain ball-bearing manufacturers and, by doing so, preserved under British ownership a major source of supply of some vital components. Abdication by Government from a proper involvement in such measures can in some industries lead only to failure to match the competitive efforts of our international rivals, leading first to loss of exports and then to a substitution of home-produced goods with imports. This is especially important in view of our probable entry into Europe.

Newspaper reports suggest that the I.R.C.'s wings are to be clipped; that they will have to seek Government approval in advance for each of their proposed operations. I cannot imagine the I.R.C. being able in such circumstances to continue to act as honest brokers in the intensely delicate and confidential atmospheres which are essential for the work they have to do. I think that bringing I.R.C. under detailed surveillance would destroy it. I should like to know what are the Government's intentions, and if the role of the I.R.C. is to be changed, could the noble Lord who is to reply give the House some reasons why they propose to change that role?

My Lords, I turn now to a short comment on the Monopolies Commission, and ask what are the Government's intentions here. The Labour Government used it principally as an instrument to investigate proposed aggregations of market power which threatened the interests of the consumer. That was the main way in which we used it. We did not use it simply to limit the proportions of the home market held by a single corporation. The reality of competition to-day is, for most companies, international competition and not simply competition in the home market, and there are indications that the present Government may be turning against size qua size. I hope that that is not true, but we should like to know the Government's views on that matter.

We have heard much comment, notably from Sir Keith Joseph prior to the Election, which suggests that an extreme laissez-faire policy would be adopted towards industries which were in deep trouble, based on the doctrine that it is good that those unable to make a profit should be allowed to go bankrupt. I may be exaggerating the form of his statement, but it had that impact on many of us and it has caused anxiety on those grounds. Take shipbuilding as an example. Will the Government continue to support such companies as Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and Cammell Laird? I am well aware of the truly formidable difficulty of the decisions which arise over such matters—I have been involved in them in the past—but will the Government count the cost before committing themselves to any reversal of the current policy?

What would be the cost in budgetary and, perhaps more seriously, in social terms of introducing new industries into Birkenhead and Glasgow to absorb those made redundant by the closure of the firms I have mentioned? How long would such measures take? Are we prepared to face the additional bill of—I do not know the exact figure;£200 million or£300 million per annum—for the import of ships which we should cease to build? What happens to the industries ancillary to shipbuilding? Because shipbuilding firms are really the rather large tip of a substantial iceberg, as we all know.

During the 1950s a Conservative Government assisted the rundown of the cotton textile industry with substantial injections of taxpayers' money, and all credit to them. As a result, in Lancashire to-day only 7 per cent. of the working population are employed in the textile industry; the rest have been absorbed by new industries. Again, all credit to the Government for starting those processes. In the last five years the Labour Government agreed policies which have made possible the really magnificent operation by the noble Lord, Lord Robens, and the National Coal Board in dealing with the necessary acceleration of the reduction in coal mining operations. Advance factories have been built near the coal mining areas; various measures have been taken temporarily to regulate the decline in the consumption of coal; and financial help has been provided so that the National Coal Board can treat redundant miners as reasonably as possible.

These operations are the envy of the European Iron and Steel Community, who have similar problems as yet relatively unattended to. It may surprise your Lordships to learn that the total cost of all Government financial support to assist the N.C.B. during this decline period is of the order of 6s. to 7s. per ton of coal, whereas current subsidy rates by coal producing nations in the Common Market run from£2 to£5 per ton. That is a measure of the excellence of the job done by the N.C.B. Again, one hears criticism of the previous Government's policy about the coalfields, snide remarks about "feather-bedding" and so on. I hope that they are entirely unfounded. What we want to know is what the Government's policy is to be.

I turn now to the Labour Government's policies in the field of technology. Many of our industrial leaders have welcomed these policies. Some, however, have been pretty ambivalent about them. Some have been too ready in public to damn selective intervention in principle, and to appear the next week at the Ministry of Technology seeking to be selected as one of those chosen for support. In spite of the relatively high percentage of the gross national product spent in the United Kingdom on research and development, industry's rate of application of this knowledge, in terms of improved products and better manufacturing techniques, has been disappointing.

The Ministry of Technology was the first example of any Government in any country setting up a technico-economic Ministry. It was a very important step. One of its main policies has been to reorientate the large sums which British Governments have been spending since the war so that a higher proportion was spent on projects which had a chance of earning their bread and butter, perhaps long term, in the future. Such a reorientation has already led to closer technical collaboration with industrial companies, and if supported could lead to still more useful results in the future. To make certain that collaboration was not only with the "big boys" of industry, MINTECH created new institutions, such as the National Computing Centre, to assist companies with their computer software problems, and the Production Engineering Advisory Service, to provide industry with technological information and act as a bridge between the research output of Government research stations and universities and industrial companies.

The development of more modern types of machine tools was encouraged by the schemes under which MINTECH took some of the financial responsibility off the shoulders of companies which were prepared to take the risk of ordering and testing these new types straight off the drawing board. It is very important that we should encourage the use in our industries of more modern types of machine tool.

I have mentioned only a few examples of policies which were directed at selectively helping industry to make more effective use of technology. I continually met trade Ministers from overseas, who asked about the work of the Ministry of Technology and other developments of a like nature. They showed immense interest in these developments, and I am sure that in the course of time many other countries will attempt to emulate them, for these countries can no longer afford to have science insulated from industry, as has been the case too often in the past.

But the technological and scientific policy of past Conservative Governments has not always followed along these lines. It inclined towards large prestige projects, which involved industry too little and took economies too little into consideration. Examples of this trend which were initiated during the 'fifties and early 'sixties were the Blue Streak rocket; the ELDO EUROPEAN Rocket Consortium; CERN, the atom smasher; the attempt to harness hydrogen fusion as a process for making electric energy, and Concorde. The existence of MINTECH, specialising in technology, resulted in a reassessment of many of these projects and the transfer of resources from them on to earthier, more industry-orientated projects. Would that some of the money spent on Blue Streak, for example, had instead been used to give scientific and technological assistance to shipbuilding during the 'fifties! It might have saved us a lot of grief to-day.

The Conservative Government, I think, of 1963 have to their credit the bringing into being of the Industrial Training Act. The Labour Government took that Act very seriously, because they too realised that one of the great problems of every industrialised society is the dearth of trained people. The last Government therefore set up one training board after another. As a result, the number of people being trained within industry has vastly increased. These measures have helped to eliminate the scandal of the irresponsible companies who spent next to nothing on training, poaching trained men and women from those companies who spent a great deal. Recently there have been criticisms from industry. Voices have been heard to say that the role of the training boards should be reduced and that the levies are too high. What is the policy of our new Government to be? I hope that they are not going to pull the rug out from underneath the feet of this lusty child, to which they gave birth: because, if I may say so, it is an excellent child.

As the House knows, I was personally concerned at the Board of Trade with means of helping our exporters. The total financial support given amounted to something like£6 million a year. When the Labour Government took office, exports were running at about£4,500 million per annum. To-day they are£8,000 million per annum. In the disappointment which must have arisen over the increase of£65 million in our imports in the single month of June, your Lordships may have overlooked the fact that our exports in that month reached an absolute record figure for this country of£699 million. It would be absurd for the last Government to claim the credit for such export figures—though it has not been unknown for others to place the blame on the Government when exports fell. But the Government have helped decisively. When on these occasions I was asked what the export policy of the Board of Trade was, I always replied, "We have not got one—because we do not export anything. What we do have is a policy for assisting exporters." And this is very important.

The Board of Trade recently reorganised its nine regional export offices, because it had become clear that the role they were playing in assisting exporting firms was a valuable one which was being increasingly welcomed by exporters. A basis for the augmentation and further training of the staffs of these offices has been agreed and partly implemented, because in some regions the available staff were unable to keep in personal contact with more than half of the exporters who could have benefited from their attention. Will the Prime Minister's undertaking during the Election campaign to cut the number of civil servants vitiate that plan? After three years of planning and organising, the Board of Trade started up its computerised system, whereby overseas buyers wishing to contact all British exporters who manufacture a particular type of goods can do so simply by sending a specification to our British Government overseas office in their country. The rest follows automatically very rapidly. That service, if it is to be completed, further developed and made the immense help to exporters which it could be, and is already, requires advertising overseas. That costs money. Will that expenditure be disallowed under the axe of the Chancellor's drive to cut Government expense? I sincerely hope that it will not.

I want now to do a little special pleading for a Department with which I was associated: the Export Credits Guarantee Department. The granting by British banks of large tranches of credit to overseas Governments and other institutions is an operation which cannot proceed without the act of involvement of E.C.G.D. These so-called buyer credit operations are a great stimulus to British exporters, because thousands of transactions of individual companies are thus freed from the arduous years of negotiating individual terms of credit and our exporters get cash payment. The provision of buyer credit is, then, a very efficient means of providing credit for export, and it helps to win additional export contracts; it saves exporters a great deal of negotiation, and it stimulates our merchant bankers to search for opportunities overseas where the provision of credit will help British exports.

The extension of these operations is, however, currently delayed by lack of suitable staff in the Export Credits Guarantee Department to carry out the very intricate work involved. A review of the controls on E.C.G.D. in expending their staff and in engaging staff for training to future roles was in progress when I left the Board of Trade. Will the Government see to it that the limitation on this valuable and necessary support for British exporters is eliminated by giving E.C.G.D. a higher degree of freedom in manning their own organisation? After all, they ought to have it, because they are an income-earning business; indeed, in most years they make profits. Or will the rather rash promise to cut the numbers of civil servants leave E.C.G.D. seriously undermanned?

I could mention many more services set up by the Board of Trade, such as those of the Overseas Project Group, which has brought national users into play to help exporters, and the Group Export Representative Unit, which will pay dividends in greater exports if supported as it marches on with further staff and finance. I hope that the Minister who replies will have something to say about these matters which will assure me that penny wise, pound foolish policies are not to be followed. I hope that the Government realise that the diminution of too many services provided by the Board of Trade can have one of two results: either companies fail to do for themselves what the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office have done for them over the last five years, with the result that exports will then undoubtedly suffer, or exporting companies will do these things for themselves, instead of the Government, in which case thousands of serious exporting companies will individually have to start duplicating on a vast scale services which were previously performed centrally for them, very efficiently, by the Government. In the course of doing so they will spend in foreign currency sums vastly in excess of those spent by the Government on the central provision of these services.

The last example of Government policy towards industry that I wish to mention is in relation to the movement of industry into development areas. I confess some doubts as to whether the way in which the last Government used the huge resources which they devoted to this objective always gave the best return for money. In general, my criticism, made in the light of hindsight, is that it was insufficiently selective. It would, I think, have been better to use a higher proportion of the resources expended to stimulate companies to move into development areas, and assist them with the expense of doing so over their first few years, and to spend less in helping companies indigenous to those development areas and already established there.

Having said that, however, I must pay tribute to the fact that the last Government treated the problem of unemployment in those areas with a high degree of priority, and were unstinting in their efforts to attempt to solve it. Their degree of success was, admittedly, rather in terms of preventing a further rise of differential unemployment than reducing the current rates of unemployment; in saving the areas from the effects of rundown of older industries, like cotton textiles and coal, by introducing new industries rather than by any marked reduction in the discrepancy between employment levels in these areas and the rest of the country.

If the Government are going to take the risks of increasing economic activity by budgetary means (and I am certainly not going to argue the pros and cons of that this afternoon), then the possibilities of further reducing employment levels in the development areas would be greatly enhanced, but subject to certain conditions. First, that the Industrial Development Certificate scheme is operated rigorously to ensure that firms are not allowed large expansion of operations in areas where labour is already scarce. I confess to anxiety about the possible attitude of the Government to the granting of these I.D.Cs. because they have an inbuilt distaste for control and intervention, however logical it may prove in particular situations. I would point out to them that there is many a British company which in the past was forced to re-site some of its production capacity in a development area, accompanied by much abuse of this "interference", which to-day, if it spoke sincerely, would bless the day that it did so. Such companies now know that shortage of labour would have prevented the expansion of their efforts which has taken place had they not been literally forced to move.

The average percentage export achievements of the large range American-owned companies which have been set up in this country are well above those of British companies, much to my regret. But one of the factors in their success is often overlooked. Almost all of them are established in development areas where labour is plentiful, while sometimes their British counterparts are struggling with late deliveries due largely to labour shortages in the areas where their factories are situated. Secondly, the immediate availability of empty factory premises in a time of economic expansion can be a decisive factor in causing a company to expand its production capacity into a development area. A company whose marketing effort results in a surge of demand, perhaps from overseas markets, is faced with a delay of up to a year and a half if it has to build extra factory capacity on its existing site. Success in exporting, in particular, depends on the ability to respond flexibly and rapidly to extra demand, and to maintain delivery promises. In many cases, delivery is much more important than price.

The last Government, my Lords, have an excellent record in the provision of factory space and of advance factories which enabled companies to expand their production very rapidly if they would move into these empty factories in development areas. I hope that the present Government will not reverse that policy. It will be very tempting to do so if reports are received that X million square feet of factory space in development areas are vacant. I have in the past seen such reports, but the late Government, to their credit, ignored them. But if one states the figures of vacant factory space in terms of a percentage of the total factory space being actually used, it will be seen that the margin of unused and available space is a tiny percentage of the whole. Furthermore, if the unemployed in the area are eventually to be provided with employment, then the pre-building of factory space on a large scale is simply wise provision for inevitable future need.

Thirdly, the policy of investment grants is apparently now under threat. I am convinced that, quite apart from its general favourable effect on investment, particularly by smaller companies, it has been of very special benefit to development areas. I would not for one moment agree with the suggestion that the investment allowance method is sounder because it provides help only to the successful profit-makers. That, I believe, is a false argument. Woe betide the day when, as a result of Government policy, we return to a situation where help is withdrawn from industries which are having a rough time of it, simply because they are currently unprofitable, and is reserved for those who are making profits!

The policy of investment grants went some way towards correcting that situation. I sincerely hope that Government will not be tempted to revert to investment allowances simply because, being a reduction of revenue instead of a budgetary provision as in the case of investment grants, they will give the appearance of a reduction in Government spending. But it will be only an appearance. More investment is specially needed in the development areas. Those areas contain much of the capital goods production capacity of the country. These are industries of the future, but profits have never been easy to earn in such industries—not as easy as in some of the less useful, lighter industries in other parts of the country. If the Sir Keith Joseph line of policy is adopted by the Government we shall find ourselves providing support for the manufacturer of the proverbial dolls' eyes and other peripheral consumer goods, where quick profits are often easy, but the long-term export potential is not good, and withdrawing much-needed support from engineering and capital goods industries, which are vital to the nation and to our future balance of payments. We, on these Opposition Benches, want to know what line of policy over these development areas the Government propose to follow, but not in detail. We know that we cannot ask for detail at this stage of the Government's term of office, but we want assurances.

My Lords, I am no political zealot. My life has been spent mostly in an industrial managerial capacity. When I think of industrial commercial problems I try hard to maintain an objective standpoint and I hope that those on the opposite Benches will accept that what I have said has been said, not as a political attack on the Government but with sincerity based on that experience. I am deeply worried lest new institutions and collaboration policies pursued by the last Government to the benefit of the nation should be lost to us by an ill-considered drive on the part of the Government to cut the numbers in the Civil Service and to reduce expenditure. These are inevitable policies, inevitable institutions. They may not be in the ideal form at this moment, but this collaboration must grow in our society. In a wise industrial company the last item to yield to the accountant's axe is expenditure on future development. I hope that when he replies the Minister can assure me that the Government will show equal wisdom. May I end on something which I had forgotten, by paying a tribute to the President of the Board of Trade for his wisdom in supporting the establishment of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Brown, for his extremely able and informative speech, and for the way in which he has explained the policies and institutional arrangements of the past five years. In no small measure the noble Lord had a hand in their birth—not that he conceived them all, but he acted as a midwife to some of them, and he and his colleagues are naturally anxious about their future. It is no bad thing that there should be a careful investigation into the present condition of those policies and plans begotten by one Government—a kind of check-up to ascertain whether they are developing satisfactorily and healthily and are worthy of adoption by a new set of guardians. There is no need for me to conduct such an examination here and now—I have neither the knowledge nor the skill to do so—but I should like to consider briefly the purposes for which they were born. We ought to ask ourselves more often than, perhaps, we do: "To what end?"; "For what purpose?"; "What are our motives?". If we did this, we should be quicker and clearer in reaching decisions which are more likely to be right than wrong.

We are told that these policies and institutional arrangements have been designed to assist industry—an unimpeachable aim and purpose, and one which we all know is continuously necessary. For upon its welfare, and especially upon our exports, the future stability of our nation depends. Credit must be given to what has been achieved in restoring the balance of payments, to which we still need, as we have been reminded, to give our most serious attention. This is a child which is particularly susceptible to sudden illness and serious infection that can ruin its health very quickly. We see such a threat to its health in the present dock strike, to which we hope and pray there will be the earliest solution, the hope for which lies in the Pearson Court of Inquiry which is now sitting It always seems to me a great pity that this kind of procedure could not be arranged earlier, during a cooling-off period; but that child of the author of In Place of Strife was stillborn.

As Bishop of an industrial diocese, I have a great concern for the welfare of all engaged in industry; that they should be paid a proper wage; that there should be decent working conditions; that they will do an honest day's work for a fair day's pay—and we are always engaged in trying to secure the best possible relationships between management and trade unions. But I have a particular concern, as I am sure your Lordships have, for those hundreds and thousands of lower-paid workers among whom are to be found to-day the genuine poor. Families containing more than half a million people have to make do on a wage that is less than the Government's supplementary benefit level, and that, in itself, is a long way from being generous.

The big battalions of trade unionists are not doing too badly—in company with the doctors and the teachers—but there are hundreds and thousands who have no one to press their claims in a situation where prices are rising with alarming rapidity. It must be a Government concern to protect the small employee. I welcome the words of the Motion, to enhance Government cooperation. It is Government co-operation that we need in the sense of involvement, and we should not necessarily be afraid of interference when exceptional circumstances demand it—for example, when the health of the nation is threatened, as it could be with a shortage of food, which will arise if a solution is not found quickly in the dock strike. It is surely obvious that the majority of people are growing increasingly sick and tired of the continual strikes in the docks, on the railways, the buses, the airlines, by the dustmen and in the motor trade—strikes which cause all kinds of inconveniences, hardships and problems for so many. A means must be found by the Government to remedy this state of affairs by a firm handling of the situation, so far as possible by co-operation.

I would take your Lordships back six years, if I may, to the Joint Statement of Intent on Productivity, Prices and Incomes. At that time, to quote the Statement, the economic situation, while potentially strong, was extremely unsatisfactory. The balance of payments was in serious deficit, with exports falling behind imports. It was considered that urgent and vigorous action was needed to raise productivity throughout industry and commerce, to keep increases in total money incomes in line with increases in real national output and to maintain a stable price level. To this end the distinguished signatories of this Statement resolved upon action in their respective spheres of responsibility, declaring: We, Government, management and unions, are confident that, by co-operating in a spirit of mutual confidence to give effect to the principles and policies described in the Statement, we and those we represent will be able to achieve and foster growth of real incomes and generally to promote the economic and social wellbeing of the country. That was the pledge given by the Government, management and trade unions.

I would draw your Lordships' attention to the aim: to promote the economic and social well-being of the country", words which I prefer to those of the Motion: to promote efficiency and improve the effectiveness of our economy". For what purpose? Not, surely, just as an end in itself—more money, more leisure, a higher standard of living. Not those things; but to serve the common humanity; to make sure that the benefits which have been achieved over the past years are not grabbed by a few but made available to all, not forgetting to respond to the crying need of undeveloped countries where poverty, sickness and death abound; and incidentally, in so doing to expand and enlarge, quite rightly, our own markets. I sometimes think that our concern to achieve and maintain a favourable balance of payments is thought of in terms of too small an economic unit, which could be remedied as a result of the negotiations in respect of the European Common Market, not forgetting at the same time our responsibilities and opportunities in the Commonwealth.

In conclusion, let me remind your Lordships that our problems are not entirely economic; they are also social and moral. Human nature being what it is—although, thank God!it can be changed—expresses itself in selfishness and greed, which limit man's vision in a right estimate of himself, his own position and his needs. It is this that we are continually up against in international, national, industrial or personal affairs. It is this that has to be overcome. And I would remind your Lordships that it can be overcome if man can stop thinking about himself alone and be concerned with the wellbeing of others. The policies of any Government and their institutional arrangements will in the long run be successful in promoting efficiency and improving the effectiveness of our economy only if they are framed and developed to secure the common good and to promote the economic and social wellbeing of all.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am given to understand that it is the usual practice when one is making his maiden speech to ask for the indulgence of the House. This I do on this particular occasion. It is not the first time that I have made a maiden speech here, because I made a maiden speech in this Chamber as far back as 1950, during the Speakership of Mr. Clifton Brown, as he was known at that particular time; and as one who speaks from the North-East, I had great affection for him because he was a Northerner. I know that in making a maiden speech one is expected not to be controversial, and I sincerely hope that if, as I proceed with what I have to say, I happen somewhat to transgress I shall have your Lordships' indulgence. Even after spending almost 21 years in the other place regarding Government policy, whichever Party was in power, an occasion such as this places a severe strain upon an individual as he seeks to address your Lordships in the House to-day.

Coming from the Northern Region, particularly Durham, my home county, I cannot but reflect upon the facts. Looking back to 1950, there were in the area which I represented six collieries. To-day there is one. Even the colliery in which I served my apprenticeship as a boy, at the age of 14—leaving school on Friday and going down into the bowels of the earth to follow that form of employment—has gone out of existence.

No other area has faced up to these big closures with greater responsibility than has my own area union in the transference of many of its members into other coalfields throughout the country. At one time, let it be remembered, we carried a membership of over one million who were attached to that basic industry. Because of the transference or closure, for economic reasons and through other factors, of so many pits within that county, membership has dwindled down to just about 50,000. Therefore, we as miners as a whole were very grateful for the action that was taken by a Labour Government as far back as 1945. We had always advocated nationalisation of the mining industry. "Nationalisation" has become a dirty word. Nevertheless, we as miners were very grateful to that Government when they had the courage to take over this basic industry and to pass that nationalisation Act.

If I had to offer a note of criticism against that Government in regard to that transaction it would not be against the global sum of compensation that was paid to the previous owners of that basic industry. Oh no!It would be because diere had not been set aside from that sum a certain amount of money to meet the contingencies that were bound to arise, instead of the National Coal Board having to carry the load when it came into being. I think that most noble Lords opposite will know what I am referring to: the Mining Subsidence Act and its effect, and what the National Coal Board has had to do in this regard.

My Lords, in 1951 the figure for unemployment in the North-East was as low as 1.5 per cent. To-day, in 1970, it is double the national average; and in some parts of my own county well above it. This is in spite of the great interest that the previous Labour Government showed in bringing in new industries. I must admit that I am somewhat afraid, in view of the various speeches made by certain Members in the last Parliament who now hold office under the present Government, that areas such as the North-East will suffer if the policies that were enunciated at that particular time tare introduced during the term of office of this Government.

I should like to take your Lordships back to 1939—I know that it is a long time ago, and recalls memories of the past. But the fact is that if successive Governments had shown more interest in the North-East by affording it a fair share of new factory building space, many of the designated miners who over the years became unemployed might not have become miners at all; nor would they have been facing the state of uncertainty which they are facing at the moment. I wonder how many noble Lords are aware that at the time I am referring to we in the North-East were getting less than 5 per cent. of the new factory space, while London and the South-East were getting over 50 per cent. It may be that the dictum was correct: that if a man was a miner, then the pit was the place for his son. It happened in my family, as in thousands of others.

In 1945, when the Labour Government took over, what did they do? They changed the whole form of operation. We received a fairer proportion of what was going, and during the war we had in a place called Aycliffe, within the area which I previously represented, a Government Ordnance factory. After the war, that factory was taken over, and we had what was termed the new industrial trading estate. Side by side with this policy the Labour Government of the day introduced what was known as the New Towns Bill. Six new towns were to be built, one of which was to be known as Newton Aycliffe, to give accommodation to a population of 10,000. The greater part of that population was to feed the new industrial trading estate that had been set up by the Labour Government. People from all parts of the country came to reside in the new town and to work in the industrial estate. A further decision was taken, and the population of 10,000 became 20,000. New factories were built, and during the period of the last Government a further decision was taken (making three decisions in regard to this one new town) and it was agreed that the new town could grow to at least 45,000.

As new industry has been coming into this area with Government support it was unfortunate that in 1957 the Government of the day (and I should like noble Lords on the opposite Front Bench and Government speakers to bear this in mind) decided to suspend until 1959 the distribution of industry policy, for under that policy there might have been more factory development at that time, and in that event many of those who have lived all their lives in the area in which I live would not have had to leave and to find employment elsewhere.

Now, to-day, a new situation has arisen on this trading estate. I see from the local Press that Crane's factory is to close down and that the trades council members and the district officials at Newton Aycliffe are becoming very angry at these closures which are taking place on the industrial estate. I should like the Minister who is to reply to have some inquiries made as to why these factories are going out of commission. What is to happen to the Crowborough Engineering Works, which have been shut down for some weeks; and what is the prospect for the reopening of this engineering factory? If What I read on these closures is correct, it will be a severe blow to the new town and the surrounding area.

My Lords, it is well known that jobs lost during the period from 1964 to 1969, due to the changes inside such industries as textiles, mining and transport, amounted to no fewer than 470,000, which was more or less equivalent to the total of unemployment at that time. However, this was never stated by Tory politicians, either during the Election or before—which is quite understandable, because if they had done so it would have cut right across their attacks upon the then Government on the rise in unemployment. Nor was it ever mentioned by Tory spokesmen, when they made attacks upon the Labour Government for the high rate of unemployment, that in February, 1963, under a Tory Administration unemployment rose to the figure of no less than 878,000, excluding Northern Ireland.

I well remember that particular period, for in the Hartlepools unemployment was 13 per cent.; male unemployment in that area was 15 per cent., and in the rest of Teesside it was 6 per cent. I am now looking forward to the policies that the present Government have enunciated and are going to introduce, to see whether they will have the effect of raising the standard of living of our people and getting rid of unemployment. My goodness! I sincerely hope they are successful in their efforts, and that they will do this. But looking at their past performances when in office I must say that the prospects seem to be very grim indeed.

The action taken by the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade in the Labour Government did much to ease the position of our unemployment situation. The coming into the area of Courtaulds within the last two years has helped to soften the blow where pit closures have taken place. Miners have been trained to these new tasks that come with these types of industry. Comments that I have heard have been very complimentary, which has been most pleasing, to say the least. Black and Decker, another modern type of factory, has served a very useful purpose in finding employment for many of those unemployed.

My Lords, if the unemployment situation is to be overcome in the area then the Government must continue, if not improve upon, the policies laid down by the previous Administration. The whole of the North-East is a development area within which local authorities are playing a very prominent part. There is a new industrial site waiting to be developed at a place called Chilton Buildings, under the Sedgefield Rural District Council, which is easily accessible from the A.1 road. I do not know how many noble Lords have experienced unemployment, or witnessed the effects it can have upon the man who is in need of employment and anxious to meet his commitments and provide for his family. Let me say to noble Lords that it is like a canker; once it gets into the system it takes some removing. I know this to be true.

I cannot say how much I have tried over the years to eliminate from my mind what it did, following the 1926 strike, when many of my colleagues were trying to find employment and standing at the colliery gate. To see men standing around, and almost pleading with management to take them on was very nauseating to me as a very young man. Let no one think for a moment that this is not taking place at this moment. The advancement of technology has done much; the Department of Technology under the Labour Government did much. But there are new challenges facing it. We have come a long way in the last few years. As I have always said, we have the technicians, and we have the personnel who are straining at the leash to get going. It is up to the Government to see that every form of approach and assistance is given.

Reading and listening to some of the comments that are made from time to time, one might think that industry is a one-man show; that it is solely run by executives and management. Let me say to noble Lords that I have never accepted this to be the case. I agree that they are an important part in its operation, but unless you can strike confidence within the trade and its operations with those who are engaged on the shop floor then you might as well close down. Once you have betrayed that confidence, the outcome is inevitable.

I accept that energy and imagination are required as much to-day as at any other time in British history. If we are to boost our standards of living in this competitive world we must increase our exports, as has already been said to-day. Anyone who thinks that if an article is stamped, "Made in Britain" there will be a ready queue to buy is very much mistaken. It may be true that we earned good dividends for ourselves in the past, when we were leading the world in the industrial field, but that day has gone. It may have been good salesmanship that gave to us that advanced position. In many areas we have been overtaken.

Therefore the problem to-day seems to be: how do we recover what we have lost? It may be that in this new age our geographical position may in some way be responsible for restriction in movement and success in our enterprise and initiative. I have already referred to the fact that we have in this country the technicians and the brains, and, if given the opportunity, they could make, as I see it, an indelible impression in world trade today. It is important that every effort must be put forward to increase our productivity. When we talk about productivity, let us never forget that this is a team effort. I am confident that it can be done, but it will be achieved only through confidence based on trust by both sides of industry.

I am conscious of the fact that when our export trade falls short we all suffer: in short, we are all in this. How often did my Party, when in Opposition, put forward proposals for an expansionist policy? It was some time before we were able to get the Government of the day to move in that direction. It is important that we are not outpaced in productivity by our competitors; for, if we are, we shall fail to maintain, let alone improve, our living standards. We cannot relax from what we have been able to achieve over these recent years.

Finally, I should like to place on record (I was unable to do so at the time, because of the position that I held in the previous Government) what that Government did to save what was known as the Furness Shipyard, at Haverton Hill, in the Tees-side area. If it had not been for the action of the Government, and the Department of my noble friend Lord Brown, in giving financial support, that shipyard would have been closed and 2,000 to 3,000 men working there would have been eliminated from their employment at that particular time. Men had been travelling from Sunderland and the whole of the Tees-side area to this ship-yard. Notices had gone out; men had left to find other places of employment. And then, after long and protracted negotiations, by the trade unions and Members from the other place, this yard was saved by the financial support that came from the Government. To-day that yard is building ships and men are employed.

My Lords, I trust and I hope that I have not overstepped the courtesy afforded to me on this occasion. It may be that I have gone beyond the unofficial time for a maiden speech, which I am given to understand is somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes, but I have been so incensed with feeling for my people and for the area and for this country. Like others, irrespective of where we come from, irrespective of our background, and irrespective of the standing in life that we hold, I love this country, and I love its people. And I want to see progress and a better standard of living for them.