Trade And Industry
Airports (Night Flying)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he is satisfied with the programme of night flying at Luton Airport for 1972; and if he will make a statement.
The proposed programme for 1972 will be finally determined by Luton Corporation after considering the views of the airport consultative committee. I have already announced my intention to consider more stringent restrictions at Gatwick, Luton and Manchester on and from the summer of 1973.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the situation in Hertfordshire, where we are at the end of our tether over the intense noise caused by even the existing level of flights at Luton Airport? Since in the past Luton has never taken the slightest notice of the airport consultative committee's views on night flying, does my right hon. Friend feel it is likely that the Luton authorities will take any notice this time, or will they merely go ahead and increase night flying, as they have already announced they intend to do?
I am not unaware of these problems and, if I were, it would not be the fault of my hon. Friend, who brings them to my attention two or three times a week. The suggested night flying is below the level of last year and I hope that this may give some relief.
Would my right hon. Friend agree that the whole question of night flying and noise around Luton and other south-eastern airports will not be resolved until Foulness is operational? Will he do everything in his power to accelerate the construction programme for Foulness?
I agree partly with what my hon. Friend says, but I believe some steps can be taken to help those suffering from noise at night, as we have done at Heathrow, and I hope we may be able to do so in other areas before Foulness is operational. We cannot hope to solve the problem altogether.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will take steps to prohibit take-offs by jet aircraft from East Midlands Airport between the hours of 23.30 and 06.00 between 1st April and 31st October, 1972, and thereafter, with provision for exemption in exceptional individual cases where hardship might arise.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) on 29th November, 1971.—[Vol. 827, c. 8–9.]
Bearing in mind the easement which has been given to the neighbours of Heathrow and Gatwick Airports, is it not unsatisfactory that people in the East Midlands should still suffer this abominable noise at night? Does the Minister look upon the people of the East Midlands as second-class citizens regarding sleep at night?
No. The hon. Gentleman will have studied the reply which I gave, which was that the local authorities responsible for both the aerodromes and the people living around them are the people who, in my view, are responsible for seeing that a proper balance is kept between the needs of the area for air services and the difficulty of noise at night, which is infinitely less than in the areas which he mentioned.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the East Midlands Airport is developing rapidly, that it is still at a less developed stage than Luton and that the problem will, therefore, be more serious in future unless firm measures are taken now?
Firm measures can be taken at the request of the local authorities as soon as they see that a problem is developing. We have power to do this, but it is not necessary at the moment.
This is a general question. Surely it is not correct simply to say that under pressure from local authorities there will be a change. In the case of Glasgow Airport there has been pressure from immediate local authorities concerned, but the flights continue. This is, therefore, not only a matter concerning Heathrow or the East Midlands; it is a general problem affecting all airports in Britain and the same principle should apply to them all.
The same principle applies to them all. The only point where there is a difference is in the designation of airports. We have specifically said that this would take place where noise was a serious problem. If Glasgow, Luton or any other local authority or consultative body asks for this to be taken into account, we will do it.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate he has made of the effects of his decision to ban night jet take-offs from London Heathrow Airport in the summer season of 1972 upon the number of landings.
I expect the ban on takeoffs to reduce significantly the aggregate of 3,500 summer night arrivals and departures hitherto permitted. The precise extent of the deterrent effect on landings by most airlines will not emerge until they have completed the extensive rescheduling which they must now make.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people warmly welcome his courageous decision to ban night takeoffs at Heathrow during the coming summer season? Is he also aware that many people are also concerned about the noise from landings? Would he continue to look at ways of reducing this nuisance?
We will continue to look at the possibility of reducing the nuisance in any way possible. As my hon. Friend knows, however, landings are more difficult. I believe that we will reduce the number of landings simply by the action which we have already taken.
Is the right hon. Gentleman really satisfied that the manufacturers are doing all they can technically to reduce noise and nuisance, and that the Government's support for this in incentives and technical aid will bring about the desired degree of lowering of nuisance in future?
I am not satisfied with any of these things, but that is another question.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what were the total exports and imports, respectively, between Great Britain and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for 1969–70; and what steps he is taking to increase the total level of trade with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the next five years.
In 1969 our imports from the U.S.S.R. were £1962 million and our exports £95·5 million. In 1970 the comparable figures were £210·5 million and £102–4 million. Expansion of this trade is largely a matter for British industry, but full support is provided by the Department and by our embassy in Moscow.
I am obliged for that reply. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the United States is now a strong competitor with ourselves, Japan and West Germany for Soviet trade, that recently the United States Secretary of Commerce was in Moscow and that large numbers of American businessmen have suddenly realised the great potential for increasing trade with the Soviet Union? Therefore, does he not feel it would be a good idea for his right hon. Friend to go to the Soviet Union to try to heal the breach created by his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, so that we can develop our trade with the Soviet Union during the next few years?
Soviet authorities have often told us that their purchasing decisions are taken simply on commercial considerations, and I am certain that that is so. I know that, when the time is proper, my right hon. Friend looks forward to visiting Moscow in order to increase our trade, which is what we all desire.
Integrated Circuits (Research)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what additional financial assistance he intends to make available to British firms engaged in research on integrated circuits.
I do not think that financial assistance by the Government is necessarily the solution to all the complex problems involved. However, I have had discussions with some of the firms concerned and am willing to consider any proposals they may wish to make for support for projects related to the application of integrated circuits.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that not unhelpful answer. I hope he will bear in mind what he was told by the Plessey Company during his recent visit to my constituency and will also remember that the £5 million support given by the N.R.D.C. in 1969 for this sort of research is due to expire in 1972 and then has to be repaid on a 3 per cent. basis regardless of profits. Will he also bear in mind that the United States and Europe are ploughing great sums of money into the micro-electronics industry? Will he ensure that our own industry does not die?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have all those factors and many others in mind.
Footwear Imports (Undeveloped Countries)
asked the Secretary of State for trade and industry what changes he intends to make in regard to the importation of shoes and other footwear from undeveloped countries.
In an order laid before the House on 26th November, footwear and virtually all other industrial goods other than most textiles are to be admitted free of duty from the developing countries listed as from 1st January, 1972.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the footwear industry is the major employer of skilled manual labour in Norwich, an area which, because of its high level of male unemployment, higher than the national average in all England, let alone southern England, and because it has the lowest wage rates in the country, cannot be expected to undertake this form of foreign aid? Is he also aware that the local president of the footwear manufacturers has today predicted widespread unemployment in the area if these orders are not annulled?
I had the opportunity of meeting representatives of the footwear industry last week. I was able to explain to them the safeguards which we have instituted and they seemed to be considerably reassured. There will be an opportunity to debate the matter later this week.
Origin Marking (Wool Textiles)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will make a statement on his initiatives to restore origin marking on wool textile products.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress he is making with his consideration of the application by the wool textile industry for origin marking orders under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act. 1968.
As a first step, my hon. Friend has discussed with representatives of the wool textile delegation the possible need for stronger general safeguards against the consumer being misled into believing that imported goods are British.
I am grateful for that reply. Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Conservative Party, at any rate, believes in maximising consumer choice and discrimination? Will he therefore do his best to ensure that a Private Member's Bill on this subject, which the Government are supporting, will be brought forward as much as possible?
I can certainly give that assurance. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) has a Private Member's Bill on the subject and, as has been said, the Government are anxious to support it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman able to assure the House that the full resources of his Department will be made available to help that Bill, which is of such importance that it should receive help beyond that normally expected for a Private Member's Bill?
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that every help will be given. I am as anxious as he is to see the Bill succeed.
What safeguards may be introduced by the Department against possible damage in the interval between now and the Bill's becoming law?
I will give thought to any proposals on that subject, but effectively the situation does not arise until 1st January next year and it is possible that steps will have been taken between now and then to alleviate the situation.
Oil And Natural Gas (Exploration)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many licences for oil and natural gas exploration on land he has granted in the last two years to British and overseas oil companies, respectively.
Forty-six land licences have been granted since 1st December, 1969, three to United Kingdom companies and 43 to the United Kingdom subsidiaries of overseas companies.
On balance of payments considerations, could more preference be given to really British companies?
That is not what governs the apportionment of licences in this sector. It depends on an applicant coming forward. Generally speaking, in appropriate circumstances, those who apply get a licence.
On the criteria governing selection, what consideration is given to job-creating industries on the Scottish East Coast?
Exploration licences do not of themselves lead to many jobs. We are here concerned with a fairly limited exercise of locating and then developing resources of hydrocarbon oils.
Is the Minister saying that no consideration is given?
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will make a statement on the progress of exploration for oil in the North Sea so far this year.
Progress has been very encouraging and three significant oil discoveries have been confirmed this year in the United Kingdom sector of the Continental Shelf. Twenty-four exploration wells have been or are being drilled in northern waters since January.
Does my hon. Friend agree that these successes, which are largely to the credit of private enterprise, will be particularly valuable in any consideration of energy policy after we join the Common Market?
Yes. They are extremely relevant to the consideration of our energy policy whatever the circumstances. These discoveries are proving to be quite significant and will take on increasing importance.
In the last supplementary question the Common Market was mentioned. Is it not the case now that the Minister may, if he so desires, ban imports of coal but that when we get into the Common Market he will not have power to ban imports of coal even if he wishes to do so?
That is another question.
Consumer Protection (Packaged Goods)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will include in the proposed Bill extending consumer protection, provisions standardising the weights of packaged goods, especially foodstuffs and toilet requisites.
I already have powers, under the Weights and Measures Act, 1963, to require prepackaged goods to be sold in standardised prescribed quantities. A wide range of foodstuffs has to be sold in this way and I can extend the control to cover other foodstuffs, or other goods such as toilet requisites, if it should seem to me to be desirable and practicable to do so.
May I illustrate the point? I have two bottles of shampoo. Can my right hon. Friend tell me, off the cuff, whether this bottle at 12p for 45 grammes would be better value in terms of money than this bottle at 15p for 67 c.c.?
The odour seems to have a part to play in this.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a further statement on the Concorde.
The programme continues to make satisfactory progress.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most disquieting features of the whole exercise has been the incredible delay in coming to a decision while millions are spent producing Concordes which may subsequently not be given the go-ahead? Would he answer three short questions? First, what is the latest estimate of the cost of developing Concorde? Secondly, how much money has yet to be spent on development? Thirdly, what are the number of aircraft required to be made to produce the break-even figure on manufacturing costs alone, not including development?
I am not at all clear what the hon. Gentleman means by referring to any delay in reaching a decision. The latest estimate of the cost, which I have given to the House, is £885 million in toto. That has not been altered, although I shall certainly not guarantee that it will not be. So far as I recollect, just under £400 million has been spent. The break-even figure depends on the price set: it is, therefore, not yet possible to calculate it.
Would my right hon. Friend agree that it would greatly help the success of the Concorde project if there were an early and satisfactory settlement of the industrial dispute at Rolls-Royce, Patchway?
Could it now be widely publicised that Concorde is one of the quietest productions which aviation has ever created?
There is a later Question on publicity, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman and publicity is being given to that.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he can now state when he expects the manufacturers to receive the first firm orders for Concorde.
The manufacturers hope to receive the first firm orders in the first part of 1972.
Can my right hon. Friend say when B.O.A.C. will be in a position to place a firm order? Is he also aware that those of us who enthusiastically support the Concorde project would prefer a voluntary order from B.O.A.C. to any wing twisting or subsidising?
I accept what my hon. Friend says. I assure him that B.O.A.C. is in no way delaying progress but, like any other customer, is assessing how best it can fit this aircraft into its route patterns.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether there are likely to be further authorisations for long-dated items for Concorde to be produced by B.A.C. and Sud in advance of the orders he expects in the early part of next year?
This matter has to be considered jointly with the French. At the moment there is no urgent need for further authorisations. It will be a matter for consultation between me and my French colleagues.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us how many jobs are directly dependent upon the continuance of the Concorde programme in this country?
Directly dependent, about 26,000.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for what sum the claim has been made for damage to St. David's Cathedral by Concorde's sonic boom; and whether it has been settled.
No such claim has been received.
Will the Minister look at the open letter in The Guardian today which is signed by a large number of distinguished people and hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he also look again at the whole question of whether Concorde really is in the national interest? Will he review the whole issue and come before the House with a full report?
That is another question. This matter has been looked at and the answer is that we believe that it is in the national interest.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will now seek to encourage all Government organs for which he is responsible to advertise and promote Concorde.
Concorde already receives a great deal of publicity.
Electricity Supply Industry (Redundancies)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussion his Department is now having with the Central Electricity Generating Board as to future redundancies in the electricity supply industry.
This is a matter for the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Electricity Council, but I have no reason to believe the industry has a serious redundancy problem.
I am sure that the Minister is aware of the deep concern now being expressed by many men in the industry about their job security. In view of the widespread unemployment in the country, is it not the job of the Minister to engage in discussions with men who have loyally served the industry and who find themselves being made redundant only to see contract labour taking over their former jobs shortly afterwards?
These are serious matters. But they are primarily matters for the managements in the industry.
Under the previous Administration, were there not frequent consultations on these matters? Cer- tainly when there is redundancy such as this, when unemployment is growing rapidly in so many parts of the country, should not the Government themselves make some effort in the matter?
The hon. Gentleman must surely know that redundancy problems may be ventilated through the national joint negotiating machinery which exists for the purpose.
Advance Factory (Hare Law, Co Durham)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what efforts he is making to find a tenant for the advance factory which is standing empty at Hare Law, Stanley, County Durham.
This factory has been suggested to 54 firms, 22 of which have visited it. We shall continue our efforts to find a suitable occupant.
Is the Minister aware that that answer is as discouraging as the one which I was given to the same Question on 18th January? Is he further aware that unemployment in this area is now 8½ per cent. and that there is a desperate urgency for jobs to be provided not only in this empty factory but in many other factories in the North-East?
I am well aware of the urgency of the situation. That is why we are pressing ahead as hard as we can with this matter. The hon. Gentleman will be encouraged to know that 29 of the suggestions and 12 of the visits, respectively, have taken place since 1st July, 1970. We remain hopeful that real interest will be shown in occupancy.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in view of closures of factories in the Wigan area, what plans he has to bring new industries there.
I am glad to note that there has been a small fall in the unemployment rate in Wigan over the last two to three months. I am confident that Wigan will share in the faster economic growth and greater employment which the Government's policies are designed to achieve.
Yes, indeed. But is the Minister aware of the continuing contraction of the textile and engineering industries in Wigan? Cannot we have a more hopeful reply?
I can conceive of little more hopeful than the clear affirmation of the Government's determination to see that their policy leads to higher employment.
Air Corporations (Non-Smoking Accommodation)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will issue general directions to British European Airways and the British Overseas Airways Corporation requiring them to ensure that adequate accommodation is provided in all their aircraft for nonsmokers.
No, Sir. This is primarily a matter for the commercial judgment of the two airlines.
As the American airlines are making very good advertising copy out of the fact that they give privacy for consenting adults who wish to smoke in private so to do, will the Minister change his mind about B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.?
It may at least help the hon. Gentleman to know that B.O.A.C. intends to help consenting adults in this sphere by setting aside one quarter of the seats on each aircraft for non-smokers. B.E.A. finds greater difficulty in this regard. Because of the short nature of its flights, it would take a great deal more time for booking-in and B.E.A. has therefore not yet decided to follow B.O.A.C.'s example.
Textile Mills, Lancashire
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many textile mills were operating in Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley in 1961 compared with the number in operation in November, 1971; and what were the number of operatives at those dates.
At the beginning of 1961 there were 20 mills in the Leigh district employing 8,269 operatives. At the end of September, 1971, there were 12 mills. The latest available employment figures for June, 1971, show 3,917 operatives at work in textile mills in the Leigh district.
Does the Minister agree that those figures, coupled with the figures associated with pit closures, present a serious threat to the future of this area? Will he now give serious consideration to the textile industry's plea that a low level of quotas should run alongside the proposed tariffs?
I recognise absolutely that the present level of unemployment is unacceptably high. That is why special measures have been taken to stimulate output, investment and employment throughout the country. Leigh, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, is in a good position to benefit from these measures. On the second part of his supplementary question, I hope that the House will shortly have an opportunity to discuss the matter.
Is my hon. Friend aware that on the fringes of the Manchester area the closing of mills at the places named in the Question and at important townships like Bolton is most serious? Therefore, the area will welcome the statement just made by his right hon. Friend about continuing the marking-up clause on goods imported into this country.
I recognise the force of what my hon. Friend has said. However, he will also know that it had been anticipated that there would be a period during which some of the mills in the textile industry would progressively close down, strengthening the competitive position of the industry as a whole.
Are we to take it from the Minister's answers to this and an earlier Question that the Government have no further measures in mind to deal with unemployment? Is he resting solely on his expectation that existing measures will be sufficient?
We must give the existing measures a chance to work through, as there is evidence that they are doing.
Special Development Areas
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to designate further areas for special development area status.
I have at present nothing to add to what I told the House in the debate on the Address.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the unemployment figures in areas outside the S.D.A.s are in many instances worse than they are inside the S.D.A.s? Will he therefore look at that criterion with a view to extending the special incentives given to areas within the special development areas?
Yes; I am kept in day-to-day touch with the statistics involved and with the facts. The hon. Gentleman will realise that extending the areas tends to dilute the incentive, which is a serious problem. Equally, too frequent changes in the deployment of regional incentives causes confusion. The need is to try to keep a balance of mind on the problem and seek to get the best possible arrangement.
Is it not clear that areas like Merseyside ought now to be special development areas? We now have 53,000 unemployed—7 per cent. of the working population and over 11 per cent. of the male population. Is it not clear that development area status itself is not sufficient and that we need to go further to endeavour to get to grips with this very serious problem?
This is a matter of judgment. I am closely in touch with the position in the North-West generally and on Merseyside in particular. I still take the view that the prospects for Merseyside are more attractive, perhaps, than those in some of the worst hit areas, such as the North-East and Central Scotland.
Without extending the special development areas, could not my right hon. Friend greatly assist employment in areas like the West of Scotland if he would extend to home firms considering expansion the same S.D.A. facilities which are available to incoming firms?
I am very well aware of the strong pressure exercised by my hon. Friend to bring this about, but it must be remembered that these measures were devised specifically to overcome the clear handicap which incoming firms must overcome in arriving for the first time in a new area. The benefit to be gained from any extension of those facilities to existing firms must be compared with the cost of so doing.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the dilution of measures. Is he aware that in manufacturing investment his Government have been responsible for a certain amount of dilution? Will he answer this specific question on S.D.A.s? He must have this information in his notes. How many new jobs have been created since the new areas were designated in February of this year—that is, specifically related to the new designation?
It would have to be a very much more precise question before it could be answered. I am unclear whether the hon. Gentleman is referring specifically to West-Central Scotland or to the wide field of special development areas. I will certainly answer a specific question if he cares to table one.
Metrication (White Paper)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will now give a date for publication of the White Paper on metrication which was promised to the House on 27th October, 1970.
I am not able at the moment to add to what my hon. Friend told my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) on 8th November.—[Vol. 825, c. 50.]
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the country is getting into a fearful muddle about this White Paper? All sorts of things have happened since the previous Government set up the Metrication Board, which has been showing nothing but arrogance and forcing metrication down people's throats. Cannot the present Government do something to bring some sense into the situation and not force metrication upon us?
I am very conscious of the country's anxiety, very ably expressed by my hon. Friend, to have clarification. I hope not to disappoint people when it comes.
Textile Quota System
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will now take action to prevent the textile quota system ending on 31st December, 1971; and if he will make a statement.
I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) on Friday, 3rd December.
Although I should have preferred any statement to have been made in the House, I welcomed the reports over the weekend that the Government are changing their policy and are retaining the quota system. Will the Secretary of State stand firm against the pressure which he will be under from abroad and not only retain the system but retain it at a lower level, because at the present level we are still importing 55 per cent. of home consumption? Will he advise overseas countries concerned that their best interests will be served by their trying to persuade Europe and the United States to take more textiles rather than to kill the Lancashire textile industry?
I take due note of what the hon. Gentleman says; I saw the speculation over the weekend, but at this stage it is speculation only.
Does my right hon. Friend recollect that when, in 1969, the Textile Council advised on this point, it advised that there should be an overlap and that the quotas should continue for some years while the tariffs were put on? In the reconsideration of this policy will my right hon. Friend go back to that very sound advice?
I am grateful for that. This is one of the elements which it is absolutely necessary to take into account in any thinking which is now given to the matter.
Has the Secretary of State any plans to hold discussions with other countries in the E.E.C. about quotas in future?
The question of the adaptation of our own arrangements to membership of the Community is a matter which will be subject to discussion with the Community and with the Commission. This is already being undertaken in an exploratory sense, though no issue of this kind arises specifically in relation to the negotiations.
Development Areas (Industrial Investment)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will authorise the acceleration of the purchasing programmes of public authorities and nationalised industries so as to encourage industrial development, especially in the North-East and other development areas.
I would refer the hon. Member to the answer which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace gave the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on 29th November.
I welcome such orders as have been placed, but is the Secretary of State aware that this is only a drop in the bucket as against the enormous tide of redundancies we now face, with male unemployment being over 15 per cent. in my constituency? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to a special emergency conference of all authorities responsible in this matter to take account of a limited number of practical proposals which we are prepared to put forward?
I am constantly in consultation with the chairmen of the nationalised industries on issues of this kind and will continue to be so. I think the hon. Gentleman recognises that already the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in bringing forward about £185 million worth of projects are not negligible.
Surely my right hon. Friend can give, and is entitled to give, a much better answer. Cannot he tell hon. Members opposite of all the amount of money that is being poured into the area? Can he discover what advantage the local authorities are taking of the opportunities that have been offered to them? May I say with all the power at my command that the North-East Coast is a jolly nicer part of the country than the North-West?
Without wishing to enter into any purely local competition with my hon. Friend, I can say that the measures which have been announced are very considerable.
Announce them again.
Certainly. They amount to about £1,400 million of tax remission in a full tax year, £200 million of capital works and housing improvement grants, £70 million-plus of naval shipbuilding orders, £185 million of advanced capital works and nationalised industry programmes, and so on.
After that catalogue of announcements which the Secretary of State has hurriedly pushed forward, will he bear in mind that the situation in the development areas, and in the North-East in particular, is critical? It is in that sense that he must answer the House. Will he bear in mind that all the forecasts for industrial investment next year are no higher than the present levels? The industrial investment programmes of the nationalised industries could be looked at again so that the supplier industries to the nationalised industries can be encouraged to improve their investment programmes. Therefore, will the Secretary of State bear in mind that in the case of my constituency, where for every 70 men and boys out of work there is only one vacancy and where the unemployment figure is 12½ per cent., his answers must reflect the seriousness of the situation?
I should like to feel that my answers have reflected the seriousness of the situation. One of my answers quite clearly concerns the hon. Gentleman's part of the world and has benefited it.
European Economic Community
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with the Tobacco Advisory Committee about the implications for tobacco growing in the United Kingdom of the existing European Economic Community regulations on tobacco leaf, should the United Kingdom join the Common Market.
None, Sir. Tobacco is not grown commercially in the United Kingdom for use in products for smoking and this situation is unlikely to change.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us something of the discussions now going on between the Commission and the tobacco growing interests in France and Italy with respect to the future pattern of taxation on tobacco products? Would he bear in mind that if the Common Market pattern is introduced over here, it is likely to raise the price of cigar and pipe smoking relative to the cost of cigarettes, with all the implications which that would have for the National Health Service and for cancer?
These general discussions will cover the overall implications for the industry of our entry to the E.E.C., including, of course, the implication of the regulations on raw tobacco.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to provide employment opportunities in Sunderland.
I would refer the right hon. Member to the reply I gave him on 22nd November and to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the employment debate on 23rd November.—[Vol. 826, c. 258.]
That is totally unsatisfactory. Is the Minister aware that everyone in Sunderland is absolutely fed up with the Government's indifference to their special and particular problems? When will we receive replies to the representations which were made a considerable time ago?
There is absolutely no indifference whatsoever—very much the reverse. Between January and 29th November, 1971, Sunderland was suggested or shown to 57 firms from outside the region inquiring about prospects in the Northern Region and it is hoped that a number of these inquiries will give rise to firm projects. We are persisting as hard as we can in encouraging industrialists to have regard to the advantages of Sunderland.
But is it not a fact that in cases like this and that referred to in an earlier Question about unused advance factories, the absence of investment grants and the phasing out of the R.E.P. makes a substantial difference to the judgment of firms which might otherwise wish to move their work and plant into the area?
There are three empty Department of Trade and Industry advance factories and some small terrace units in the Sunderland area. The main factor militating against investment decisions is still a lack of confidence in bringing forward some of those decisions. This is rapidly being put right by a recognition that we have laid the foundation for sustained economic growth.
Would not the Minister accept that there is a definite difference between the interests of companies because of the removal of investment grants? Would not he and the Government try something new? Would they, for example, carry out a survey among Sunderland industry to discover whether existing industry, if offered the same grants as are offered for incoming industry, would expand and help solve our own problems?
No, Sir, I do not accept that that is a factor at all. There is a vast amount of competition among development and special development areas and a great deal of encouragement can also be given by the local authorities concerned. It is certainly being done in the case of Sunderland, to whose help and initiative in this regard I pay tribute.
Industrial Expansion (Scotland)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received from the Scottish Trades Union Congress and other organisations offering suggestions designed to promote the expansion of industry in Scotland; and what reply he has sent.
I have had proposals relating to most aspects of our measures to promote the development of industry in Scotland, and I have undertaken to consider them carefully.
Has the Secretary of State now replied to the Scottish Trades Union Congress after many weeks? Is the length of time which he is taking to reply an indication that he intends to implement some, if not all, of the proposals contained in that submission by the S.T.U.C.?
Yes, I had my meeting with the S.T.U.C. at the very end of September and I have been looking at this, coupled with the suggestions of a number of other bodies from Scotland as well in the intervening period. My hope at the moment is to be able to pay a visit to Scotland, to Glasgow again, towards the end of this month, before Christmas—perhaps on 22nd December—to carry these discussions forward.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Scottish trade unions are concerned at the fact that whenever the nationalised industries consider reorganisation, this seems inevitably to result in the closure of offices, factories and workshops in Scotland? Would he keep closely in touch with the heads of the nationalised industries to ensure that Scotland's interests are not neglected?
I have always made it clear that to the degree that the Government are concerned with the activities of the nationalised industries, questions of regional policy figure very strongly in that consultation, and they will continue to do so.
How far has the right hon. Gentleman got in his consideration of the Clydeside Development Authority, put before him by the T.U.C. and supported by the Scottish T.U.C.?
This is indeed one of the issues which the S.T.U.C. has underlined in the proposals put previously by the T.U.C. It was a matter for discussion when the T.U.C. visited my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. This matter is, like the others that I have mentioned, under careful consideration.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he is satisfied about the security of electricity supply nationally during the next six months; and if he will make a statement.
I am advised by the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board that unless abnormal weather conditions coincide with exceptional plant breakdowns, capacity should be sufficient to meet demand.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Can he go a little further and tell us that we can now put power cuts behind us? Can he tell the House whether we have now conquered the problems which affect the large generating sets and the summer maintenance programme, which have led to power cuts in the past?
I cannot give the complete assurance for which my hon. Friend asks. But it is certainly the aim of the contemplated measures to keep any cuts to the minimum. The C.E.G.B. has undertaken a large maintenance programme during the summer with the aim of increasing availability this winter, and the performance of its 500 megawatt units has shown continuous improvement.
Public Companies (Inquiries)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will list the public companies into which his Department has conducted an inquiry under Section 165 of the Companies Act since it was enacted in 1948; and which reports resulting from such an inquiry, where application to appoint inspectors has come from the company's board and shareholders after the passing of a special resolution, have not been made public.
In answer to the first part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) on 18th October. The answer to the second part of the Question is, "None".—[Vol. 823, c. 30–1.]
Does not that answer confirm that if the Department's inquiry into Rolls-Royce is not made public, it will create a precedent? In view of the conflict of evidence which has recently been given to the Select Committee by different directors of Rolls-Royce, will not the anxiety and uncertainty in the public mind be aggravated unless this report is made public?
I will certainly consider what my hon. Friend says in the light of the report when it is available. But the practice of publishing such information was stopped in order to avoid unfavourable publicity for particular companies when the circumstances might not then have justified it.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many firms have gone into bankruptcy in 1971.
The number of receiving orders and orders of administration made in England and Wales from January to October, 1971, was 3,822 and the number of compulsory and creditors' voluntary liquidations of companies in the same period was 2,868.
What happened to the confidence which was supposed to flow into industry as a result of a Tory Government?
The speed with which the Minister rises to answer my supplementary question means that he has what he considers to be a good answer ready.Is it not clear that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have proved to be a disaster both to their own supporters and to ours? Is it not apparent that the appointment of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) as Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to look after small businesses is the ultimate insult?
I would have said that the hon. Gentleman had his supplementary question ready before he heard my answer. In any event, the reduction in numbers this year is associated with improved profitability and easier credit conditions.
Would my hon. Friend agree that smaller firms suffered far more than large public companies as a result of five or six years of Socialist Administration?
Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend is right. Most of the businesses which failed were small, and for such businesses the risk of failure appears to have been lower this year than last year.
Older Miners (Redundancy Scheme)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to improve the over-55s redundancy scheme as it applies to the mining industry; and if he will make a statement.
I have consulted both sides of the industry and I shall shortly be introducing a Statutory Instrument embodying my proposals for changes in the scheme that will apply to men becoming redundant between March, 1972, and March, 1974.
Does that mean that this is a two-year rather than a three-year scheme? Will the hon. Gentleman remember that the unions have been pressing for an extension so that people may get redundancy pay until they reach the age of 65 or until they find a job, whichever is the sooner, though they are not likely to achieve the latter? Before the hon. Gentleman finalises his answer, perhaps I can make a proposal—
Order. Not at Question Time. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question.
I was just getting round to that, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible to send this matter to the Select Committee on the Civil List so that these redundant miners can get the same sort of treatment as the Duke of Gloucester?
The original scheme covered men becoming redundant between July, 1967, and March, 1971. The 1971 Act empowers my right hon. Friend to make similar schemes covering redundancies occurring before March, 1974, and that is the limit on the period. As for the details, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will await the announcement. The orders will, of course, be subject to debate and affirmative Resolution in both Houses.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what surveys he has carried out on the decline of traditional industries in North-West Kent.
No special survey is necessary as the Department keeps in close touch with individual industries both nationally and through the regional offices.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware of local fears that unless new industry is allowed into the area, North-West Kent could increasingly become a dormitory area surrounded by derelict land? Will he give this matter his urgent consideration?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry recently met a deputation from Kent, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) was a member. The Under-Secretary found it extremely helpful to have those discussions.
Capital Equipment (Sales To Usa)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is the total disadvantage in sterling terms that a piece of British capital equipment costing £1,000 has to bear which is sold to the United States of America, after taking into account the import surcharge, the investment tax credit and the revaluation of sterling, since 15th August of this year.
There are different ways of calculating the true cost of an industrial asset and various tax options are open to an American purchaser. But on a fair calculation, the factors to which my hon. Friend refers make the net cost of the British equipment over £160 more than the net cost of the alternative American equipment. This gives the latter a price preference of over 25 per cent.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very high level of discrimination against British capital goods and carries with it a threat of even higher unemployment? Will he consider going to Washington next week with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make it clear to the American Government that if there is a realignment of parities, there must also be a withdrawal by the American Government not only of the 10 per cent. import surcharge, but of the "buy American" tax credit?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we have regarded this particular part of the package as particularly offensive and entirely contrary to the American obligation to G.A.T.T. We have missed no opportunity of making this absolutely clear to our American colleagues. I do not think there is any particular need for me to visit the United States next week to reaffirm what I have already said.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear to the American authorities the considerable anomaly in their position in that while they protest that they are most concerned about imports from Japan, the overwhelming proportion of which are in consumer goods, the two countries whose imports into America are most hit by the restriction are this country and West Germany?
This point has certainly not escaped our notice and we have mentioned it on many occasions to our American colleagues.
While I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the remarks he has made in the United States on this subject, may I ask him to consider, if the United States persists with this flagrant violation of the rules of G.A.T.T., drawing the attention of the American authorities to the possibility that the present position might redound greatly to the advantage of British capital goods manufacturers if the goods of American manufacturers were excluded from our investment allowance arrangements?
There is, of course, always at times like this the temptation to play one off against the other. We think that this particular aspect of the American package will be short-lived. If it is, there is everything to be said for our trying to prevent a trade war starting rather than increasing it, and everything we are doing at the moment is aimed in that direction.
Steel Industry (Scotland)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what proposals for the expansion and development of the Scottish steel industry are contained in the long-term investment plans submitted to him by the British Steel Corporation.
The content of the investment programme is a matter between the British Steel Corporation and myself, but my current review of the corporation's plans and prospects will take account of regional considerations.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that mention was made in the annual report of the British Steel Corporation of a plan for a green-field site as part of the programme? Is he aware that it would be a tremendous boost to morale in the whole of the West of Scotland if approval were given to such a major new development in this area; and when can we expect his decision in the matter?
I appreciate that, and I have told the House that I am hoping to have the report of the Joint Steering Group in my hands before the end of the year. I shall obviously wish to process it very quickly when I get it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that steel production goes on in my constituency? Will he ask the British Steel Corporation to deal expeditiously with its investment policy and pass its proposals to him for his approval or otherwise? Is he aware of the great fear and perturbation in the West of Scotland lest the Government will rat on the decision that has already in essence been taken by the corporation? Finally, may we be assured that the Scottish steel industry, which is vital to the economy, will not be left by the wayside when the decisions are made?
I can give the hon. Gentleman the very fullest assurance that there is certainly no discrimination against Scotland in mind. He will be aware that the British Steel Corporation is very much a party to the inquiry that is now taking place.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the grave concern that exists in other parts of the country in which the steel industry is located, including South Yorkshire, where there have been redundancies at Samuel Fox and other firms? Will he find an opportunity before the Christmas Recess on 22nd December to make an interim statement on the expansion prospects of the industry in view of the reassurance that the people who work in the industry now badly need?
It would seem that I can only usefully make a statement at the point in time when I have something useful to communicate, and I am unlikely to be in that position before Christmas.