HL Deb 24 February 1977 vol 380 cc362-5

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government where they have set down the precise terms of their current Industrial Strategy.


My Lords, in November 1975 the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Industry presented to Parliament a Command Paper entitled An Approach to Industrial Strategy. The contents of this document had been agreed by the National Economic Development Council at Chequers on 5th November 1975, and provided the basis for the development of the strategy. The interim reports of the sector Working Parties in the second round of the strategy were considered by the National Economic Development Council meeting on 2nd February. The main ministerial papers for this and the July 1976 meeting, amended only to exclude commercially confidential information, have been placed in the Library.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in the last 17 months several thousand further firms have gone bankrupt, unemployment has soared and employment in manufacturing industry in successive Junes has fallen from 7.8 million to 7.5 million and now to 7.1 million, so there are 700,000 fewer people now working in the manufacturing industry? Do not these figures suggest that perhaps the present strategy is not working very effectively? Ought not this to be looked at once again with a more constructive and perhaps all-Party approach rather than with the dogma which has, perhaps, pervaded action until now?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, this is not a question of dogma. The strategy is neither rigid nor capable of being completely quantified at this moment. It is a continually evolving process. It is based on agreement and discussions between the Government, management and the unions. Although I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the numbers of unemployed are a matter for enormous concern by everyone, we cannot look to the Industrial Strategy on its own for a net increase in employment in the short term; but we must look to an improvement in industrial performance for faster economic growth and lower unemployment in the medium term. In the meantime, I would point out to the noble Lord that there are signs of increased funds being available for investments. Interest rates are falling. Although I would not for a moment underestimate the seriousness of the situation, he should also look at the glimmers of light in it. Finally, there are hopeful signs that the discussion between the Government, the TUC and management will result in a third round of pay talks, which we hope will be successful.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that the monetarist policy advocated by Sir Keith Joseph in a long letter to The Times today, and apparently the policy of the Conservative Party, would rapidly result in a very much bigger reduction than we have suffered in recent years in the number of people employed in industry?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is impossible to see how that policy could work at all without an enormous increase in unemployment because that is part of its basis.


My Lords, will the Minister not agree that, notwithstanding the voice of gloom and doom from the Opposition Benches, the interesting and encouraging figure that she has given should also be supplemented by the fact that, under this Government, we have had the best industrial record for very many years with regard to the numbers of man days lost?


My Lords, will the Minister agree that one of the heartening things about her Answer has been that she mentioned NEDO, and referred to management as one of the parties which are consulted. Does she not agree that this is, perhaps, a trend in the right direction? Was it not, after all, the case, during the earlier part of this Government's term of office, that management was always left out and a NEDO was never referred to? Was it not just the Government and the TUC getting together?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I would not agree that that was the case. Because the noble Lord raised the matter, perhaps I should say that management came much more into the picture when it realised that it also needed help from the public sector. The work of the National Enterprise Board and also the planning agreements have brought management into the picture to a much greater extent. Whatever the reasons, I agree that it is good that we should talk together.


My Lords, do the Government still adhere to the principle which was announced at the Chequers meeting of November 1975; that is, that manufacturing industry should receive the highest priority in the Government's thinking? If so, when will the Government begin to adopt a policy based on that principle?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, this is exactly what the Government are doing with the sector Working Parties, in which they have laid down the criteria that what is needed is improved productive efficiency, stronger financial backing, increased capacity, up-to-date products and more aggressive marketing. Therefore, a great deal of this is the responsibility of management as well as of the Government and the trade unions.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness remember that it was Humpty Dumpty who said: A word means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less"? In future, will she try to get away from the words and get on with the action, so that our country can make the recovery which we all so earnestly desire?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I shall. I hope that the noble Lord will, as well.