HL Deb 30 October 1975 vol 365 cc619-22

[Nos. 1 and 2]

Clause 2, page 2, line 35, leave out ("establishing")

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because the Amendment would prevent the National Enterprise Board from establishing an industrial undertaking.


I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 2. It may be for the convenience of the House to deal at the same time with Lords Amendment No. 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 8.

These Amendments are concerned with the establishment of enterprises in this country. It was the purpose of the National Enterprise Board that they should have power to establish such enterprises and the White Paper speci- fically said that the Board would be an instrument through which the Government would directly create employment in areas of high unemployment. This was announced at the last Election and was translated directly into the Bill itself and I hope that noble Lords opposite will not seek to reinstate the Amendments.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 2. (Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, I believe that it is correct to suggest that we should consider Amendments Nos. 1 and 7 together. They both have the same effect, in principle, of allowing or not allowing the National Enterprise Board to set up companies of its own. This is a matter which we have discussed at great length both in considering this Bill during its various stages and also in dealing with the Scottish and Welsh Development Agency Bills when the same point arose. In each case, we have argued that the National Enterprise Board or the relevant Agency should not have this power to establish companies in competition with private sector companies. We believe it to be wrong in principle and we certainly do not think that it will contribute to building up that industrial confidence which we think so necessary. I believe that here is a clear-cut difference of opinion between my Party and the Party opposite. Nevertheless, I shall not be advising my noble friends to insist on these Amendments. The Government are clearly determined on them and I can only say that a great deal will depend on the wisdom with which the Board and the Secretary of State exercise the very considerable powers bestowed on them by the Bill.

May I, however, make one general comment? It has been said by members of the Party opposite both in this House and elsewhere that this House is a revising Chamber and that we have been extending our role and putting forward and carrying Amendments such as the present Amendment that are, in their view, beyond what we should be doing. It is true that we are a revising Chamber and I believe that we do a lot of very useful work in revising Bills when we are given the time to do so. However, under the present Constitution, the fact is that we are also a House of Parliament, though with restricted powers. Were our function simply one of textual revision, I suggest that that function could equally well be performed by a body of civil servants. I cannot imagine that so many of your Lordships would come so often and be so loyal in your attendance for such a limited role. Therefore, while we remain one of the two Houses of Parliament, we have to carry out the duties in such a manner as seems right to us within our strictly limited powers. That is what we have attempted to do in the Amendments which we put forward in the present Bill. My noble friend Lord Carrington put our position with his usual clarity when he was speaking on the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill on 23rd October last.

We try to carry out our duties responsibly as an Opposition, and in this case we sought to amend the Bill in such a way that those who are running British industry might have found new confidence in the Government's intentions. Of course, we accept that the Commons have disagreed with our Amendments, albeit with a small majority in the cases of the Amendments which we are considering at the moment; that is, with majorities of twelve and seven respectively. But we do not accept in any way that we were not right to make those Amendments in the first place.


My Lords, I regard the Bill as the most important piece of legislation that the Government have put forward in this Session and, while the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is, constitutionally, undoubtedly right to say that this House is entitled to make Amendments which amount to much more than textual revisions, I am very glad to hear that he is not advising the House to stick to the present Amendments. The great importance of the Bill is that it lays the foundations of what may well be a new order in British industry, whereas, if the Amendments are insisted upon, the effect would not merely be to revise the Bill; it would be virtually to emasculate it. If only for that reason and because there is a real division of principle, I hold very strongly that we should not insist on these Amendments, and I am glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has said.


My Lords, in rising again, it is not my purpose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, into the constitutional argument, except to say that I have great sympathy with him when he says that all those experienced and quite busy people very often come along here, sometimes to discuss matters other than the purely textual revision of a Bill. But the fact is that the results of the Division were not a reflection of the merits of the Amendment but of the unbalanced character of this House. While we have a built-in majority here it is quite impossible to accept the verdicts of the Division Lobby when we come to questions of principle like this. Like my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger I am happy that the noble Lord is not pressing this particular Amendment.


My Lords, I should like to say a word on this matter. Obviously, I agree with my noble friend Lord Aberdare that this is the right course at present, but one must remember that the balance of voting in another place does not involve an absolute majority for the Government and is not based on an absolute majority of the votes in the country. Therefore it falls to us to look very carefully at legislation which is making changes that are proclaimed to be fundamental and long-lasting. I think that we have been fulfilling our task in this and I hope that we shall continue to do so.

There is perhaps a special plea in the case of this Amendment because it has been made fairly plain that no far-reaching changes in respect of setting up new companies are expected in the near future. Quite clearly, the NEB will have a great deal on its hands without doing that. The reason why we have been paying so much attention to this is simply because we believe that this Bill is making extremely far-reaching changes, which, if allowed to remain on the Statute Book for ever, will have great and, we believe, prejudicial results for the economy. However, as my noble friend said, we have done our duty here. We have drawn attention to the dangers and we will leave it at that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

3.52 p.m.