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Industry

Volume 885: debated on Monday 3 February 1975

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Finance For Industry

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what arrangements his Department is making to monitor loans offered to companies by Finance For Industry.

None, Sir. My Department does not monitor loans made by private sector financial organisations.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reassuring reply to British industry as distinct from the other less assuring activities that his Department is undertaking. Will he do what he can to assist the small and medium-sized firms which are facing grievous difficulties and problems by ensuring that the FFI helps such companies with their loan finance, if not by interference or by orders, then by encouraging it to do so?

As I made absolutely clear, the Government do not interfere with the activities of the FFI. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would let the FFI know that. If hon. Members will read the Industry Bill, they will find in it great reassurance for the future of industry.

Can my hon. Friend give the House any estimate of how much money has been lent by the FFI, how many jobs have been created by such loans, and how many of those jobs are in Gateshead?

I cannot give my hon. Friend that information, because the FFI is a private sector financial organisation. If my hon. Friend were to ask me about the operation of the Industry Act I should be in a much better position to answer him.

Industrial Development Advisory Board

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make it his practice to lay before Parliament the full texts of all the reports of the Industrial Development Advisory Board and regional development board reports that advised against the provision of public money to particular projects.

The procedure was laid down in Section 9 of the Industry Act 1972, which sets out the circumstances in which advice given to me must be made public. I shall certainly keep the House as fully informed as I can.

As the Secretary of State, in his Industry Bill, is taking unto himself quite unprecedented powers, outside the control of Parliament, would it not be an excellent thing if he were to take the initiative in these matters, so that the House was much better informed? As he is always preaching, to others, consultation, participation and the sovereignty of Parliament, will he not take an initiative and practise what he preaches?

I am happy to give the House information whenever I can. Some information which the Industrial Development Advisory Board receives from companies is confidential and it would not be right to publish it. I make it clear that it is advice to the Minister, and under our system of government Ministers make decisions and are then accountable for them. I am not prepared to accept that an advisory board, however distinguished, has the right to usurp the functions of members of the Cabinet or Members of this House.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that in Clause 1 of his new Bill he is not only muzzling the board but is proposing that it shall not be allowed to bite, and that it shall be allowed to bark only once a year, in its annual report?

You, Mr. Speaker, would rule out a premature Second Reading debate or Committee stage of the Industry Bill, but the House will have noticed that the Industrial Development Advisory Board will continue to operate. Indeed, in some ways, in so far as the National Enterprise Board will have delegated responsibilities, it will continue to operate even in those respects. We shall have the opportunity of debating that matter. I am making the simple point that I am accountable to the House for what I do, and I am happy to make public the advice that I receive as and when necessary. I have made no attempt to conceal it. I am very happy that these matters should be discussed in the light of the fullest possible information.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his readiness at all times to co-operate with the trade union movement and with employers' organisations?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have sought as far as possible to make the discussions about alternative policy in the Department of Industry completely open, so that everybody may know what the alternatives are and can join in by contributing his views, but in the end I must be accountable to the House of Commons and the electorate for the decisions taken.

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make all the deliberations of the Department of Industry as open as possible, will he publish the advice given by his Department's First Permanent Secretary on matters concerning Kirkby?

The hon. Gentleman is asking a different question about the relationship between civil servants and Ministers. If it were argued that the advice given by civil servants to Ministers should be published, two things would follow immediately. It would bring the Civil Service into the heart of political controversy and it would mean that where Ministers could shield behind official advice they would be abandoning their accountability to the House. Before the hon. Gentleman presses that point he should consider the implications of what he said. If he is saying that as a Minister he never did anything that Ilk civil servants did not advise him to do, it would represent the abandonment of his ministerial responsibility.

European Economic Community

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he can give an estimate of the number of firms which have lost money because of United Kingdom entry to the EEC.

Information on which to base such an estimate is not available.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it would be of benefit to the House if the information could be collected, particularly as the CBI continues to say that it is in the interests of British industry to stay in the Common Market, whereas it is obvious that it is not in the interest of many companies to do so?

It would be beneficial to the House and to the country as a whole if more information could be made available, no doubt on a sector-by-sector basis. The industrial case for entry was dependent on the positive dynamic effects which were to be achieved according to paragraph 53 of the 1970 White Paper, which depended on British industry's responding favourably to greater economies of scale, greater specialisation and a sharper competitive climate. As the House knows, the result is a very large increase in the balance of payments deficit, which has increased from £180 million in 1971 to £2,076 million in 1974.

Without commenting on the deliberate attempt to use the Question to knock the Common Market, may I ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he is aware that the overwhelming majority of British industry—including the nationalised sector—is strongly in favour of remaining in the European Community? Why, therefore, are he and his right hon. Friend anxious to get out of it? Will the hon. Gentleman also tell the House, on the authority of his right hon. Friend, whether he is answering in this matter on behalf of the Cabinet or on behalf of the anti-European minority, or whether he is speaking for himself?

I am not aware that giving simple facts about the experience of British entry into the EEC is in any way giving a one-sided view or distorting the question. I shall continue to give the facts. On the question of the responsibility for this view, the hon. Gentleman well knows that it has been the proper decision of the Government not to depend on the decisions of any particular group, whether it be the CBI or any other, but to take account of the fact that industry is considerably more than the board rooms, and to extend the decision fully to the people of this country in a democratic referendum.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what discussions he has held with representatives of industrial companies regarding the desirability of this country remaining a member of the European Economic Community.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what discussions he has had with leaders of British industry about British membership of the EEC.

I and my Department continue to receive views from both sides of industry and its representative bodies on a wide range of Community matters, including the question of membership.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that whenever and wherever he speaks on the subject of EEC membership he does so as holder of the office of Secretary of State for Industry? Is it not therefore incumbent upon him, to avoid misleading and confusing the electorate, to make it clear that the views he expresses are not those of the majority of industrial management because, in the normal course of events, the very title that he bears might lead people to believe that that was so?

I had no idea that anybody assumed that as the Secretary of State for Industry I was the spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry. If that view prevails, I am glad to take this opportunity of establishing that it is not so. By providing for a referendum we ensure that everybody will have one vote —the hon. Gentleman, myself, the President of the CBI and every elector. This decision will not be made by the Government; it will be made by the British people. It would have been a lot better had the decision been made in that way in 1972.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a survey recently conducted on behalf of the European Representation Fund showed that of 220 leading companies, 91 per cent. wished Britain to stay in the Common Market?

Yes, but the hon. Gentleman is in the terrible muddle of assuming that the only people in industry who matter are those who own it. We are providing for everyone to have a vote. Even if polls are accurate—who knows whether they are?—we are determined that this matter should be resolved through the ballot box in the proper way. Polls of this kind have very little bearing, except as part of the anticipation of the result.

When he speaks again on this subject will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the so-called representatives of industry have been chronically mistaken on other crucial political issues before this country and that this is a subject on which no section of the electorate should have privilege compared with any other?

I recall that in 1967 the argument being put forward by industrialists was that if we applied to join the Common Market there would be a flood of sustained investment. That did not occur after 1967 and it did not occur after 1971. There was the biggest investment slump for some years in the periods immediately preceding and following Britain's being taken into the Common Market by the previous Government.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for referring to industry's investment intentions. Coming back from the referendum to the question of industry, which is the subject today, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt have seen the survey in the Financial Times this morning which shows investment at its lowest point ever, expectations of growth at the lowest point, and the forecasts for inflation and unemployment at the highest rate. Does he accept that uncertainty over Europe is one of the factors that is bringing about this disastrous state of affairs?

My comment to the hon. Gentleman is twofold. First on 8th February 1974—when the hon. Gentleman was in Government—the Financial Times reported that industrial confidence was at the lowest point for 16 years. [Interruption.] I have the cutting and shall give it to the hon. Gentleman. The rest of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is a powerful endorsement of the need for the Government's new industrial policy.

European Commission

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry why there has been a delay in the joint studies between the European Commission and his Department.

There has been no delay whatsoever in any study considered to be suitable for joint sponsorship between my Department and the European Commission.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has been able to deny the rumours that have been spread about this subject. Will he reassure the House by saying how many studies have been undertaken in partnership with the European Commission, and at what cost?

I am not denying rumours; I am stating plainly to the House that the Press reports that appeared were false. That is not denying a rumour; that is making a clear answer to a published statement. Three studies were under consideration. One was the proposal in respect of Professor George's project, on which I made a public statement in Wales in July and later in the House, when I made absolutely clear that if a study of this order had to be considered largely to benefit the Labour movement in South Wales it would be sensible to get its views on how the study might be undertaken. It was nothing to do with the fact that the European Commission was in partnership but it was to do with the sponsorship of the study. The study connected with steel has been held up because the steel review is not completed. The third study is the responsibility of the Department of Employment, but I understand that an application for a joint EEC sponsor has already been made. Those are the three studies to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

On how many issues of internal regional and industrial policy does my right hon. Friend find that he is expected to consult the Brussels Commission before he reaches a decision?

My right hon. Friend knows very well, and I confirm, that under Articles 92 to 94 of the Treaty of Rome the Commission has powers over all State aids and, hence, regional aids. Therefore, in this respect I find myself required to consult the Commission, and the power rests with it on all these matters.

Ferranti Limited

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement about his discussions with Ferranti.

35.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he now expects to complete his discussions on the future of Ferranti Ltd.; and if he will make a statement.

A statement will be made when we have completed our studies of the financial prospects of Ferranti Limited and have discussed arrangements for the future of the company with the employees and the management.

Has any money been made available to the company since the Department was first told that the company was in difficulty? Why has there been this apparent delay in getting an outline agreement?

In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, the Government have given the company's principal banker a guarantee under Section 7 of the Industry Act to ensure that adequate finance is made available for the day-to-day running of the company. On the question of the delay, I regret the time that this has taken, but a series of very complicated issues has to be resolved. There is the question not only of the capital structure which is most suitable for this company but of the percentage of the equity which the Government should take, the relationship between the Government and the company in terms of control, the form in which other capital requirements of the company can best be met, the sources and terms of the non-Government capital, and the price at which the Government will subscribe to the equity. Those are a series of unrelated complicated issues which take a long time to resolve, but I am hopeful that we shall resolve them very shortly.

Does my hon. Friend recollect that on 9th December he confirmed that he had received the accountants' report on the financial affairs of Ferranti and assured me that a statement would be made shortly? Does he appreciate that the longer this matter drags on the more the confidence of both management and employees of Ferranti will be undermined? Will he help me to clarify the matter to my constituents by giving me his understanding of the terms shortly?

When I made that statement I was hopeful that we should be able to make a statement before now, but for reasons which are outside our control there have been changes in the precise financial position of the company—changes which have become apparent only since we received the accountants' original report. It is because we have had to take account of those changes that we have not so far been able to make a statement. I reiterate that, bearing in mind the consequences to which my hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention, we are determined to ensure that the tripartite talks take place as early as possible.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether the Government intends to increase its holding in the Ferranti Company; and, if so, what percentage share it intends to hold.

In consideration for any financial support the Government may give to Ferranti Limited we shall require a substantial part of the shares of the company. The size of that shareholding will depend upon the extent of the support to be given and the most suitable capital structure for the company.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that probably the main reason for Ferranti's financial difficulties was that it kept open the Oldham transformer works for social reasons because it provided a good deal of employment, and that this brought it into serious financial difficulties? Does he think that Ferranti should not have done that and therefore remained solvent? If he thinks that Ferranti should have done it, why is it that those industries which pursue social objectives are the ones in which a public stake has to be taken?

The decision to maintain employment and production at the Oldham transformer works was taken on commercial grounds, without any pressure from the Government. By that decision the company must stand. I am glad that it took that decision, which I believe was a proper one. On the second question, it is our view that if a Government put substantial funds into a private company, they should take a commensurate stake. We take a different view from that of the last Conservative Government, who, for example, put £40 million of aid into ICL at a time when the total nominal share equity was valued at less than that, and took no share equity at all. We think that that is quite wrong.

If the Minister feels so strongly on this point, will he explain why the Government are at this very minute doing the opposite of what he said and putting money into the Kirkby co-operative without any share in the equity?

The purpose of having a share stake is to ensure that the actions of the company are duly accountable in accordance with the money stake which has been given. In the case of Kirkby Manufacturing and Engineering Company Ltd., rigorous arrangements and procedures are laid down to ensure full monitoring. One of the conditions for the continued payment of tranches in proof of need is to ensure that the co-operative is acting in accordance with the purposes for which it was set up and that there is no danger of its going into liquidation.

Why should private individuals in a co-operative be subjected only to monitoring, when the rest of the Minister's suggestion is that the private sector should be accountable in some way?

The workers who work in the Kirkby co-operative are fully satisfied with the conditions of accountability. As for the Ferranti workers, it is entirely in accordance with their wish that public money put in will be accountable, and they are satisfied with the methods which we suggest.

On a point of order. In view of the very serious double standards revealed in the answers to those questions, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment as early as possible.

Multinational Companies

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether his Department is considering fresh studies of the effects of multinational companies on the freedom of action of the United Kingdom Government.

My Department keeps all aspects of multinational company operations under close review.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the past fortnight there have been two disgraceful instances of the unilateral declaration of massive redundancies by American-owned firms in this country? Will he confirm that the Government maintain full freedom of action on these matters and on larger concerns, such as the negotiations which are now going on with Chrysler? Does he not feel that this is a matter for urgent Government study?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Department has been very concerned about the cases to which he refers. The Government certainly do maintain full freedom of action. These are matters of great concern and the Government are looking closely at the position.

Have the Government made a study of the benefits to the British economy of the operations of many of these multinational companies? If not, why not?

A number of reports and studies have been made over many years on the whole question of inward investment. The Government have not said that there should not be inward investment; they have encouraged it. On the other hand, it is equally true that there are aspects that require the closest possible study.

Government Aid

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is the total of aid to private industry from public funds other than under the Industry Act 1972 since 1st March 1974, such as regional employment premiums, research and development, project launching aid, &c.

About £400 million net of repayments.

Does my hon. Friend agree that where there is massive public support for a private industry, public accountability should be extended? Is he aware that the proposals in the Industry Bill will be warmly welcomed on this account on the Government side of the House?

I am delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says about our proposals in the Industry Bill. That is the whole point of the Bill—that the money that we spend should be the subject of accountability both to the House and to the country as a whole.

Can the hon. Gentleman give, for the same period, the amount of aid from private industry to public funds?

I am afraid the hon. and learned Gentleman will have to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer that question.

National Enterprise Board

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects to be in a position to make appointments to the National Enterprise Board.

The board will be formed when the Industry Bill receives the Royal Assent. Appointments to it will be announced shortly afterwards.

When the appointments are made and the organising committee is set up, will it be responsible to the Cabinet Office or to the Secretary of State for Industry? If the future board is responsible to the Secretary of State, how is it possible for the chairman, Sir Don Ryder, to be responsible to the prime Minister and the committee or the board responsible to the Secretary of State? It does not make sense.

The Industry Bill is sponsored by the Department of Industry, and therefore the chairman of the organising committee will be responsible to the Secretary of State for Industry. Sir Don Ryder is, of course, the industrial adviser to the Government. In any case, he has not yet been appointed as the chairman of the organising committee.

When my hon. Friend makes appointments to the National Enterprise Board, will he ensure that they are of people who have sympathy for public ownership and not simply members of the great and the good from the City establishment?

The Government would be very wrong not to make certain that people who were placed on the board were in favour of what the board intended to do. Of course the Government will make certain that the right type of people with the appropriate experience, from industry, the unions and the academic world, are appointed to the board.

Will the Minister clarify one point? As I understand it, Sir Don Ryder is at the moment chief industrial adviser to the Government in the Cabinet Office and is therefore answerable to the Government as a whole. After the Second Reading of the Industry Bill, if it passes through the House, do I understand the Minister to say that Sir Don Ryder then, as chairman-designate of the National Enterprise Board, will become answerable to the Secretary of State for Industry?

Once the Bill has had its Second Reading, the organising committee will be established and the chairman-designate will take his position. He will then be responsible to the Secretary of State for Industry. The hon. Gentleman must know that as the Bill is supported and backed by the entire Government—if he does not believe me he should read the names of its sponsors—it means that whoever is responsible is responsible to the whole Government.

Companies (Government Shareholding)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what measures of controls are being exercised or will be exercised over those companies in which the Government has taken a shareholding.

The Government take whatever measures they consider appropriate to protect their investment, according to the nature of the enterprise and the form of assistance being provided.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it appears from the Industry Bill that in future the only control is to be conferred on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, and that the only body not to get control or information will be Parliament itself?

According to the Bill, an annual report will be published. Also, the 1972 Industry Act of the hon. Member's own Government continues as before; therefore the Minister will be as responsible to Parliament as he has always been in the past.

Why is it that one of the two Government directorships of BP has been vacant for 15 months, since the death of Mr. John Stevens?

That is the responsibility not of this Department but of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

North Staffordshire

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he proposes to take to diversify the industrial structure of North Staffordshire.

I agree that diversification would be desirable, but we have to give priority to the needs of the assisted areas where unemployment rates are much higher.

Is my hon. Friend aware that he is taking a blinkered view if he regards existing unemployment as the sole criterion for deciding whether to assist areas in diversifying their industrial structure? Does he realise that in North Staffordshire we are desperately short of new industries, that earnings in the pottery industry—our main industry—are below the national average, and that many people are leaving the area because of the poor economic prospects? Will he take those facts into account in considering the future of North Staffordshire?

Yes. We shall take all those factors into consideration in deciding whether an area should be written up as an intermediate area. We take into account not only unemployment but the movement in population and all of the other considerations which my hon. Friend mentioned.

Is my hon. Friend aware that North Staffordshire has suffered in recent years because of the designation of South Cheshire by the last administration as an intermediate area, and that it is very difficult to provide career prospects for young people in North Staffordshire without this diversification?

I appreciate the points made by both my hon. Friends in this direction. As I have said, the whole question of designation is under constant review. When we look at all the factors mentioned, these are taken into account in our deliberations.

Nationalisation

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects to introduce his Bill for the nationalisation of the shipbuilding, aircraft and guided missile industries; and if it is the Government's intention that these measures, if Parliament agrees, should pass into law this year.

I intend to introduce legislation to bring these industries into public ownership as soon as possible, in the present Session, so that vesting can take place in early 1976.

Will the Secretary of State answer two questions? Will he give these important industries, especially the aircraft industry, a little more time to prepare their response to his consultative document? Another two or three weeks would not do the right hon. Gentleman any harm and would help the industry greatly.

Will the Secretary of State say also why he believes that nationalisation is desirable when the management of this great industry is convinced that it will not produce a single additional aircraft and when the workers as a whole do not want it?

The hon. Gentleman got in two questions. The first was about time. I do not think that anybody can complain about the time. This was in our programme well before the election—in both manifestos, in the August White Paper, and in the Queen's Speech. In addition, the hon. Gentleman himself helped to tell the industry about our policies for it. I think that the period of consultation is adequate.

On the second question, about the case for public ownership of the aircraft industry, to anticipate the answer to a Second Reading debate in a supplementary question would be an abuse of the House. I have made the Government's view clear. I shall be happy to debate the matter when the Bill comes forward.

Bearing in mind that the right hon. Gentleman refuses to pay any money for the time taken by the employees of the companies that he proposes to nationalise, is unwilling to pay for the travelling expenses of those employees, and, furthermore, is prepared to go behind the backs of the employers in order to consult their employees without the employers' permission, is it surprising that certain of those companies refuse to put working capital into contracts which are required for the Ministry of Defence? Will he consult the Secretary of State for Defence about the situation?

The announcement made in the Queen's Speech was a Government announcement embracing the views of the Cabinet, including the Secretary of State for Defence. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can help me. Did he say that one of the complaints was that I was talking to workers without the permission of their managements? Is it really the view of the Opposition that employers in private industry are entitled to give or to withhold permission to their employees to talk to the Government of the day? If it is, it throws an interesting light on the view of the Conservative Party on matters of consultation.

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman says, will he clarify the position in regard to publicly-owned industries, in respect of which Members of Parliament are not allowed to talk to employees without permission?

If that is the case in point, I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that I gave formidable support to the view I deeply hold—that Members of Parliament should be allowed to go to the plants in the public sector to see the workers there. I represented that view very strongly to the person concerned in the case which I know the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Motor Vehicles

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied with the contribution of the motor industry in providing employment in development areas.

The motor industry already makes an important contribution to employment in the assisted areas. But we keep under constant review how this might be strengthened.

In view of short-time working and dangers of redundancies in these areas, does not the Minister feel that the Government's tax and hire-purchase restriction policies are conflicting with his Department's policy of trying to secure employment in these areas for people working in the motor industry? What assistance does his Department think should now be given to this industry?

The relaxation of hire-purchase and credit controls is for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So far as we are able, we in the Department are trying to assist in what is undoubtedly a difficult situation in the motor car industry. On 20th January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to Mr. Riccardo, the president of the Chrysler Corporation in Detroit, asking for his analysis of the strategic situation facing Chrysler in all its companies, and especially in its United Kingdom operations. At present, this is the company causing most concern.

Is the Minister aware that the current imbalance in trade between this country and Japan in motor cars is having serious affects on both the short-term and long-term employment prospects of people in the motor car industry? In view of the seriousness of this situation, will my hon. Friend urge the Secretary of State for Trade to carry out an immediate investigation to discover why, in 1973, although we imported more than 80,000 Japanese cars, we could export only just over 1,000 cars to Japan?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this great imbalance, especially in Japanese cars. However, the proportion of the domestic market now taken by Japanese cars is still relatively small, although I agree that it is fast increasing and is based on an imbalance of trade with Japan. I shall draw this matter to the early attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency, which has a considerable investment in the motor car industry, there is some evidence that if the Ministry is to assist firms which are in difficulty it must do so not just in terms of paying cash but in terms of considerable financial advice, especially at board level? In view of the earlier remarks made by the Minister of State, may we have a clear statement of policy from the Ministry about its intentions where taxpayers' money has been invested in this industry?

We intend to provide assistance in response to applications which we receive under our powers in existing legislation, which, in effect, means Sections 7 and 8 of the Industry Act 1972.

It is our policy to monitor very carefully any previous input of funds. If my hon. Friend has a specific instance in mind, I shall be pleased to give it early attention.

With regard to exports to Japan, is the Minister aware that those of us who are concerned to see us maximise our trade with Japan are encouraged that the British Leyland export manager is going out to Japan? The Germans are able to export 23,000 cars to Japan a year, compared with our 1,000. I am sure that we can improve on that because it is a very lucrative market if worked upon properly.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the visit which is being made by the representative of BLMC quickly produces the results which he foresees. On his return, we shall give any assistance which we are able to give in accordance with his findings.

Shipbuilding And Ship Repairing

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he intends to announce his future proposals for the shipbuilding and ship repairing industries.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the Bill to take the shipbuilding industry into public ownership—which he said in answer to an earlier Question would come this year—will include the ship repairing industry? Does he agree that it would be ridiculous to take one industry into public ownership without the other?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that when this widespread nationalisation takes place it will not in any way cut back on the repair and shipbuilding that is currently taken on by the Royal Naval dockyards?

The hon. Gentleman's question raises a matter that concerns the Secretary of State for Defence as well as myself. The intention is that this industry should be in a better position to take orders from everywhere.

British Steel Corporation (Closures)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects the tripartite talks to take place on the steel industry in Scotland; and when he expects to make a statement on the future development of the industry.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects to make an announcement regarding the British Steel Corporation's closure review.

My right hon. Friend proposes to make a statement tomorrow on our review of the British Steel Corporation's proposed closure of plants. To assist hon. Members, I shall place copies of the interim report by my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning.

The tripartite meetings with the BSC and the TUC Steel Industry Consultative Committee to discuss the proposed closures in Scotland have been arranged for 17th and 18th April.

Is my hon. Friend aware that steelworkers in Scotland are greatly concerned that no decision announced tomorrow should affect or prejudice the future of any works in Scotland before there has been a full opportunity for representatives of the trade union committees in those works to make their comments to the Government and to the BSC, as promised by Ministers? Is he further aware that there is great dissatisfaction with the BSC's proposals in Scotland, and that this matter will require the fullest consideration by the Government before any decision is made?

I assure my hon. Friend that any threatened closure of Scottish plants—in particular, the one in Lanarkshire to which I think he may be referring—will not come about before the review is completed. On the assumption that the review is not too long delayed, there will be no reduction of operations before that time. I also assure my hon. Friend about the procedure regarding Scottish closures. It was originally agreed that that procedure would take place after discussions about the English and Welsh closures. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State visited nine Scottish plants between 11th and 14th November. The tripartite talks on the Scottish closures, which were originally fixed for 16th December, have had to be postponed for reasons that I shall not give. They will now take place at the earliest time that can be arranged, which will be 17th and 18th April.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this long series of meetings has surprised Scottish steelworkers, in that they have not led to the abandonment of plans hitherto announced? Is he further aware that steel consumers in Scotland, in common with the workers, believe that what is needed is an autonomous Scottish Steel Corporation, with the appropriate degree of public control?

Regarding a Scottish Steel Corporation, I believe that there is sufficient interconnection between operations in modern steel making to ensure that if there were a separation off of a purely Scottish steel making sector there would not be the economies of scale to make Scottish plants viable and competitive. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the BSC's proposals will not lead to the effect on steel in Scotland that the SNP believes. Since the review began, the BSC has announced a decision to build a direct reduction plant at Hunterston, which will be extremely important for that peninsula, and a signficant proportion of the £400 million proposed in the BSC's Strategy for Scotland has already been announced. Furtherfore, there is to be an extension—[Interruption.] This is an important enough subject for me to set out these facts. Furthermore, there is to be a planned increase in Scottish steel making capacity from 3·5 million tons now to over 4·5 million tons in the early 1980s. That is a great achievement.

Motor Cycles

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he has yet taken a decision on the future of the motor cycle industry in this country; and if he will make a statement.

I have not yet made final decisions on this matter. Discussions continue with the parties concerned. I shall make a statement in due course.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, following the withdrawal of the objection by the Small Heath stewards and workers, the Meriden co-operative is now in a position to go ahead, and that if it is to go ahead it means that there must be a three-factory industry which, in turn, will require a considerably greater injection of public money? Therefore, what is the point that the Minister has not yet decided?

The hon. Gentleman is right. The trade unions in the firms are pressing for a three-factory solution, on the basis of public ownership, to provide the capital investment that has been notably lacking hitherto under the private ownership structure. We are now considering that matter. The withdrawal of the hesitations by the Small Heath workers to the Meriden co-operative is indeeed welcome news.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of my constituents have been on picket duty at this factory since September 1973? Will he also bear in mind that there is a need not to miss the American peak sales season for the second year running? My constituents are grateful for my right hon. Friend's sympathetic attitude, but will he now do all he can to expedite the start of production at Meriden?

I am aware that workers at Meriden have been very patient and have waited a long time, under conditions of real hardship, to establish their co-operative. I had hoped to be able to establish it in November, but was unable to do so at that time because of the industrial anxieties at Small Heath, which appear now to have been relieved.

Footwear

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will now make a further statement on the progress of the Under-Secretary of State's discussions with the British Footwear Manufacturers' Federation regarding problems of the footwear industry.

I invited the footwear industry to make proposals on how Government and industry together might determine how best to assure a successful future for the industry.

On 29th January the footwear federation wrote to my officials to take up that invitation formally. Officials are therefore in the process of seeking nominations from employers' and employees' organisations to a steering group to oversee a study of the industry.

I welcome the Government's stated decision to do something unspecified about the unfair dumping that is going on from COMECON countries. What will that something be, and when will it happen?

Action with regard to dumping is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. Representations should be made to him—I believe they have been made to him—and I am sure he will act on them quickly.

With regard to further action for which we are responsible, I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that the discussions with the three COMECON countries, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Roumania—to which I referred during an Adjournment debate—have started and, as I said then, no solutions to the problem will be excluded from the agenda for the talks.

Many of the factories worst afflicted by difficulties in the footwear trade are in developing areas such as the one that I represent, and the consequence for the workers there is fearful. Will my hon. Friend undertake to be really tough in his attitude towards those countries which are dumping footwear here and depriving my constituents and workers in my constituency of a secure future?

I should very much like to be able to give my hon. Friend clear and precise assurances in terms of the way in which we are handling these negotiations, but I cannot, other than to say that I have borne in mind what he said.

Does the Minister accept that these discussions have gone on with different Governments all through the 1970s? Is he aware that the footwear industry is once again under extreme pressure and that it looks to the Government for help? Will the Minister therefore give an undertaking to show the industry that the Government are determined to get positive action in, say, the next three months?

Representations on antidumping were made in 1972–73 but were withdrawn at the time. I assure the hon. Member, however, that we mean business this time, and I am sure that we shall be able to achieve positive action within the sort of time scale he has in mind.