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Economic Affairs (Minister's Speech)

Volume 886: debated on Tuesday 11 February 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if the public speech of the Secretary of State for Industry made at Salford on 25th January on economic matters represents Government policy.

I am pleased about that. Why does the Prime Minister find it necessary, as instanced by his recent weekend speech to the businessmen in the North, almost to undermine the efforts of the Secretary of State for Industry to get through party policy? May I kindly suggest to my right hon. Friend that if he wants to carry out this monitoring job it might be a reasonable idea to see what the Chancellor of the Duchy is currently doing in pacifying the oil barons on the question of oil taxation and ripping up the manifesto into fragments?

When my hon. Friend says anything in a kindly manner, I always listen to him with particular attention. The speech that I made last week was not just to representatives of management but to management and trade unions. Some eminent leaders of Merseyside and Lancashire trade unionism were there. What I was attacking in that speech—I think that I had some little success in the matter—were certain neurotic comments in the Press and on the other side of the House in recent weeks which have shown a total ignorance of how Cabinet Government works. These matters are all decided on the basis of Cabinet decisions and Cabinet committees—[Interruption.] As I have said, I am always prepared to receive representations on collective responsibility, present and past, from Conservative Members. As for the question raised in my speech, I was speaking entirely about, and reminding the audience of, what was said in our White Paper, published before the last General Election—my hon. Friend fought his campaign on it, I think. That is what I was making clear last week. I hope that my hon. Friend will be pleased to think that that is so.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when those of us who still believe in free enterprise and the market economy strive to convince doubting industrialists that the Secretary of State for Industry does not represent the views of this Government, and that they are a bunch of good chaps, we are met with an air of sustained disbelief? Will he give us some idea what we may say in response to that?

Yes. My sustained disbelief is in the bona fides of the lion. Member's case. Throughout the last Parliament, on all matters, the Liberals, when they were here—which was not universally the case—intended to vote in a split way, or two to one on behalf of the Conservatives—

The figures are on the record and I shall be delighted to send them to the right hon. Gentleman. When the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) is engaged on his mission civilisatrice in the City, I think that I can help him best by asking him to take with him a copy of the White Paper, Command 5710, that I have here. We are working entirely within the framework of that White Paper in the Industry Bill and all future proposals within this Parliament about public ownership.

Will my right hon. Friend reflect again on what he said over the weekend about the dangers of cartels of raw material producers? Does he agree that if the Western European industrialised countries are going to gang up in the Common Market it will automatically produce a ganging up by the poorer nations which have important raw materials to offer? Are not the two things balanced? If we pursue one course, is not the other inevitable?

I recognise my hon. Friend's long-term concern in this matter but I cannot accept the phrase "ganging up". For example, there was the report made to the House by the Minister of Overseas Development about the Protocol 22 negotiations, with particular reference to stabilisation of the prices of primary commodities. If my hon. Friend will study the full text of my speech he will see that I was trying to suggest some assurance for primary producing countries, particularly in the Third World, to ensure that they can go ahead with production and make their contribution to the world food shortage.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the real question is whether his speech on Friday represents the policy of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Industry—because the powers that he will enjoy under the Industry Bill are very substantial? Does he realise that if, as he says, he is anxious to unite the whole nation to fight its way through our present economic problems and to get industry really working together, the two biggest obstacles at the moment to the restoration of the confidence of industry are the Secretaries of State for Industry and Employment?

I cannot accept that. Certainly it is our endeavour to unite the whole nation, and when this week is over I am prepared to offer my good offices to the Conservative Party to help to unite it—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but I do not seem to have been very successful over the last year in this matter. It is a matter of profound concern to democracy that someone should do this job for them. I am certainly prepared to help. On the earlier part of the hon. Member's question, everything contained in the Industry Bill has been done on the basis of Cabinet decisions and on a White Paper published before the election. We are adhering strictly to the White Paper.