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Industrial Development Advisory Board

Volume 885: debated on Monday 3 February 1975

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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.