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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 888: debated on Monday 10 March 1975

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Industry

West Midlands

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he is taking to reduce unemployment in the West Midlands and to increase investment in the region ; and if he will make a statement.

:I am aware of the concern expressed recently about the economic situation in the West Midlands. When the National Enterprise Board and the planning agreements system come into operation, we shall be in a position to do more to encourage industry to raise the level of investment.

:I appreciate that reply, but cannot my hon. Friend take emergency action now to increase investment and reduce unemployment until the board becomes fully operative? Is he aware that the North Staffordshire area, which is within the West Midlands region, has special problems? Will he undertake to consider those problems and take them into account in any moves he makes to attract new, modern industry into the region?

:With regard to my hon. Friend's first point, it would be wrong for me to anticipate the Budget of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My Department is aware of the problems in the West Midlands and of the similar problems in other parts of the country. We are examining them, but it would be wrong for me to suggest that we could take emergency action.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what proposals he has to revitalise industry in the West Midlands in order to end short-time working in subsidiaries to the motor industry.

:The West Midlands and the motor industry are going through a very difficult period and we shall continue to keep a close watch on the situation.

:Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Goodyear tyre plant, which is the largest employer in my constituency, has been on short time for several weeks and that several hundred redundancies have now been declared? Does he appreciate that that is a very serious situation? Further, is he aware that the industrial building industry is in difficulty and that the future completion of a Government skillcentre is in jeopardy? Does he not think it necessary to take urgent steps to see that that matter is remedied?

I suggest to my hon. Friend that when individual firms run into difficulties there should be talks between the unions and the management concerned, and that an approach should be made to my Department. Something can be done in some of these cases. Beyond that, as my hon. Friend will realise, the world situation is a difficult one against which to resolve these problems rapidly.

:Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people in the West Midlands work in small businesses and that the very existence of those businesses is being put in jeopardy by the Chancellor's capital transfer tax proposals? Will he have discussions with his right hon. Friend to ensure that his good endeavours on one front are not sabotaged by his right hon. Friend on another?

:I take the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but it would be wrong to suppose that the current difficulties facing small firms in the Midlands, which may be making components or supplying to the large motor firms, are currently affected by the Budget proposals to which he refers. That is a separate point, which I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman is taking up with my right hon. Friend.

Companies (Disclosure Of Information)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry why, if the disclosure of information might be held to be prejudicial to the interests of an undertaking, he is requiring in the Industry Bill an undertaking to disclose that it is appealing against a direction to furnish such information.

:When a company makes an application that may restrict the information available to its workers their representatives should know of this, and be able to argue their case.

:Is it not more in line with the Maoist derivations of the right hon. Gentleman's philosophy on industrial affairs that a company should be given the right to appeal for the protection of non-disclosure, but to be obliged to disclose, before its case is heard, that it is seeeking such protection? Is not that a negation of British natural justice?

:The last great incursion of Mao Tse-tung into British politics was the warm welcome he gave the former Leader of the Opposition when he visited China last May. The Maoist contribution to current debate is to give warm support to British membership of the Common Market.

In our view, people who invest their lives in British industry are entitled to know more than they are now allowed by the shareholders to know about the future of the companies in which they work. It is no good Conservative Members constantly saying that we should tell the truth to the British people if, when we ask industrialists to do the same about the firms in which those people work, they always line up with those in favour of secrecy.

:Is my right hon. Friend aware that from the interventions from the Opposition on this sort of topic we take it that they approve of such closures as that of the Imperial Typewriter Company, in Hull, where the workers, having been told that there was nothing to concern them about their future, received one month's notice a fortnight later? A total of 1,400 jobs have been lost. The company is up and off with the British taxpayers' money, and there is a great deal of unemployment in my constitutency.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a public scandal that men who have worked for many years in industry should be laid off by managers who have told their workers nothing about the problems which lead to the closure.

Will the Secretary of State tell us which paragraph of the White Paper states that companies will be compelled to disclose information where they have no intention of entering into planning agreements?

The hon. Gentleman must not seek to reproduce at Question Time the debate in the Committee which is going through the Industry Bill line by line. We have made it absolutely clear.—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer the question. It was made absolutely clear in the White Paper that the disclosure of information by management to workers and Government was a central part of our proposals.

Private Investment

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will give the figure for private industrial investment in 1974 ; and how this compares with 1973.

Capital expenditure by manufacturing industry in 1974 is provisionally estimated at about £3,260 million, at current prices. This represents £2,115 million at 1970 prices—10 per cent. greater than in 1973. This figure relates mainly to private industry, but includes publicly-owned manufacturing concerns.

Is it not clear from those figures that industry was investing more in 1974 than in 1973, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman has alleged? Will he now publicly admit that the policies of the previous Conservative Government were producing an increase in investment and that it would be wise for him not to interfere with that improvement?

I am afraid that I do not accept that argument, in that the so-called "Barber boom" had come to a halt by the summer of 1973, before the oil crisis. The previous Conservative Government left office following the disaster of the three-day working week and the investment in the pipeline at that time may have continued until the end of the year —but the forecasts for future investment were low when the hon. Gentleman's Government left office.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures are an argument for the increased investment in the public sector which he proposes to carry out?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The one sustained area of continued high investment and high investment intention is the public sector. That has come out clearly from the recent NEDC reports. It is our intention to introduce the National Enterprise Board and to make good use of the Conservative Government's Industry Act of 1972. That indicates our view that public sector investment must play a leading part in re-equipping British industry.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that if investment stood high in 1974 as a result of commitments in the pipeline in 1973, it makes nonsense of his attempts to try to blame the Conservatives in 1970 for falling investment which was already planned in 1969?

British Steel Corporation

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is the total number of BSC employees working on less than a five-day week.

The corporation informs us that some 4,500 employees are at present working less than five days a week on their normal duties, but the corporation has so far found alternative work for nearly all of these, so as to provide full five-day working.

Is the Minister aware that there is grave concern amongst the employees of the British Steel Corporation about their future? Does he agree that nationalisation is not necessarily an answer to full employment, and that it can lead to redundancies just as much as private industry?

In fact, the record of the British Steel Corporation on redundancies is a great deal better than it would have been if the corporation had been a number of private concerns. That is shown by the fact that only half of the job losses resulting after 1967, after nationalisation, led to redundancies. In 50 per cent. of all cases there was redeployment. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the BSC is taking all steps to try to overcome the present situation. It is making up 80 per cent. of average earnings under the terms of the guaranteed working week agreement made between the corporation and the unions. That is a great deal better than arrangements made with private concerns in similar circumstances.

Concorde

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he now expects the Concorde aircraft to go into operational service.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade said in reply to the hon. Member for New. bury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on 26th February, the question of the date on which British Airways and Air France should begin commercial services with Concorde will be a matter for discussion at the Secretary of State's forthcoming meeting with the French Minister for Transport which is to take place in London on 25th March 1975.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that Concorde goes into service at the earliest possible moment? Does he further agree that not until Concorde is in service shall we get foreign orders for the aircraft? I impress upon the Ministry that it is vital for jobs in my area—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will agree with this—that the aircraft gets into operational service at the earliest possible moment.

I entirely agree that it is of the greatest importance to ensure that Concorde is brought into operation at the earliest possible moment. That is why we are taking every step to ensure that that happens. Provided that the certification programme can be completed later this year we hope that it will be possible to start limited service before the end of this year.

Is the Minister aware that among the steps that we hope the Government will take is that of ensuring that both the British Embassy in Washington and British Airways do everything possible to help those in America arguing against Senator Proxmire's Bill, so that the aircraft can enter service in the United States at the same time as it enters service elsewhere?

We are doing all that we can to assist in the discussions to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I think he will be pleased to know that the recent publication by the US Federal Aviation Administration of an environmental impact statement on Concorde is an important step forward. Of course, there are other steps to be taken. There has to be a period of public hearings and representations before the FAA decision is finally made. We shall seek to assist in those disussions in the way that the hon. Gentleman has described.

Johnson Firth Brown

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what further discussions he has held with the trade unions and/or management concerning the future of Johnson Firth Brown consequent on the collapse of Jessel Securities.

Since my reply to my hon. Friend on 9th December, my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State has had discussions with both these parties about the acquisition by Government of Jessel Securities' shareholding in Johnson Firth Brown Ltd. However, hon. Members will know that the shares have now been otherwise disposed of.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is strong resentment amongst the workers in Johnson Firth Brown about the interference of the European Coal and Steel Community in this matter, and its interference with the proposals of the British Steel Corporation for taking a share in this important company? Does he agree that the special steel industry in Sheffield is far too important to become the catspaw of city financiers in London? Further, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the NEB, when set up, will study that industry with a view to a sensible reorganisation?

On my hon. Friend's first point, I certainly agree that it is a matter of deep public concern that the European Commission imposed conditions which were as unacceptable as they were in this case—namely, the divesting of William Beardmore's and the JFB Foundry, in Glasgow, employing 1,000 men. That is a condition which even before it was carried out caused acute job anxiety in that firm, and which would certainly have undermined its viability if it were outside a larger group. I agree, too, that a decision on the reorganisation of the special steel sector should not be left to a board which allowed itself to be argued into a self-damaging situation as a result of political suspicions which were entirely unjustified. I give my hon. Friend the assurance that we shall retain an NEB option to reorganise the industry in the proper interests of wider industrial benefits to this country. That is what we now propose to do.

Is the Minister aware that what the ECSC is doing in this area is reflecting the view that a monopoly raises grave problems? Does he agree that if the logic of his argument is carried forward, we shall have a continuing series of monopolies right across our industries, irrespective of the interests of both consumers and the work forces employed in those industries? That is what the argument is about.

I do not accept that the ECSC is entitled to take power from this House in the way that it proposes. Though there may be competition considerations, it is utterly unacceptable to the Government—and, I hope, to all Members of this House—that a condition should be imposed which puts at risk the jobs of 1,000 men.

South Yorkshire

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry, if he will take action to reduce the high unemployment in certain areas of South Yorkshire, by reclassifying the South Yorkshire intermediate area as a development district.

While unemployment in South Yorkshire is certainly too high, particularly in certain areas, the general level is about the national average and, therefore, reclassification cannot be justified at the moment.

Does my hon. Friend realise that we are not standing for that? Is he aware that unemployment in the Mexborough district has been running at between 6·5 per cent. and 6·7 per cent. in recent years and that young people in the area have to go outside it to find suitable jobs? When will the Government do something to ensure that South Yorkshire has more viable industries and more diversification to provide some alternative to the pits for our young people?

The Government's policy in relation to the classification of areas·and it has been the policy of all Governments—is to do it on a broad-band basis. We understand that within the broad bands some parts have a very high level of unemployment. We are looking at the whole matter, but at this stage I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend the answer that he wants, which is to upgrade certain areas within the broad band.

Is the Minister aware that the newly-constituted area of South Yorkshire was created for local government purposes and that for any treatment of the kind proposed in the Question the whole industrial area of the former West Riding should be considered as one unit?

Local government boundaries and areas for intermediate, development and special development areas do not necessarily follow the same lines. I reiterate that this area is an intermediate area. It gets certain assistance from the Government. Nevertheless, there are problems within the area. We understand this. The position at the moment is that there is a general recession throughout industry, which not only applies to the Yorkshire area concerned but extends into development and special development areas with even higher levels of unemployment.

Workers' Co-Operatives

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will publish the guidelines currently being used by his Department to determine the terms under which financial assistance is offered to workers' co-operatives.

Guidelines for assistance under Section 7 of the Industry Act 1972 were announced on 2nd October 1972, and notified to the House on 1st November 1972. The considerations governing Section 8 cases are wider, and both are covered by the Act itself. These apply to all applications for assistance under these sections of the Industry Act 1972, irrespective of the type of company involved. The final responsibility lies with Ministers.

Will the Secretary of State say when, on any previous occasion to that concerning the Kirkby co-operative, the taxpayer has provided 100 per cent. of the capital of a company on the basis that it is non-returnable to the Exchequer whether the co-operative succeeds or fails?

I cannot answer that specific question without notice. However, I can say that this was the first co-operative supported under the Industry Act 1972. I have noticed the bitter hatred expressed by the Opposition to all workers' co-operatives.

Does the Secretary of State realise the importance of having guidelines? Will he explain why two separate cases—Aston Martin and Meriden—were considered not viable, though both had export potential, both were rejected by the IDAB, but the Secretary of State opted for one and not for the other?

No guidelines were written into the Bill passed by the previous Government. The matter was left to Ministers, subject to the advice of the IDAIR, with no obligation to accept that advice. In the case of Meriden, a marketing arrangement had been reached with NVT, whereas in the case of Aston Martin the absence of adequate marketing arrangements played some part in reaching our decision. The latest proposals for support from Aston Martin would principally have benefited the creditors and not the future of the business. It was on those grounds that I felt unable to accept them.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a further statement about Government financial assistance to the Meriden Workers' Co-operative.

With the completion of the necessary agreements, assistance has been provided to enable the co-operative to begin production.

Is the right hon. Gentleman still satisfied that the amount of assistance being given will enable the co-operative to reach viability? Is it his intention that it should continue to remain a subcontractor to Norton Villiers Triumph, or does he want it to be something more?

I certainly adhere to the decision that I took and recommended to the House. This co-operative is an important example of what may be achieved by these means.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the arrangement with NVT is time dated for two years for marketing purposes. I hope that with the launching of the cooperative, which I understand began production today, we may open a slightly happier chapter for the British motor cycle industry.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Aston Martin workers in my constituency think that they behaved far more responsibly than the workers at the Meriden co-operative? Even at this late hour, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to meet those concerned to see whether the proposals put forward, which involve a degree of worker participation, can be reconsidered to save this famous company?

I have never refused to meet people who have asked, through their Member of Parliament, to see me. That is the practice that I aim to follow. However, the parallel that the hon. Gentleman sought to draw between Aston Martin and Meriden is not a close one. I pointed out in answer to an earlier supplementary question that the marketing arrangements at Meriden are established through NVT. The marketing arrangements for Aston Martin are not so established. All the support in the latest proposal would have gone to the creditors, not to establish the business on a viable basis.

The right hon. Gentleman has already given the House an assurance that the maximum aid to the co-operative is £4·95 million. Will he now answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member of Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), namely whether that is sufficient to make the co-operative viable? If not, what will happen when the money runs out?

It is an old principle as the hon Gentleman knows, that Ministers cannot answer hypothetical questions. I answered the question by adhering to the statement that I made to the House in recommending support of the Meriden co-operative on the basis I proposed. I stick to that view.

Scotland (Minister's Functions)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what functions he has in Scotland, and what functions he will retain after the proposed transfer of certain powers to the Secretry of State for Scotland.

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what role he envisages for his Department in Scotland after the setting up of the Scottish Development Agency.

At present my right hon. Friend's functions in Scotland are the same as in the rest of Great Britain. Following transfer of responsibility for regional selective assistance in Scotland to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the setting up of the Scottish Development Agency which will be answerable to him, my right hon. Friend will retain throughout Great Britain his existing responsibilities for general and sectoral industrial policy, statutory responsibility for the British Steel Corporation and the Post Office, and responsibility for industrial research and development, together with certain aspects of regional industrial policy. In all these matters in so far as they affect Scotland, we shall, as always, consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Is it possible to avoid duplication between the Scottish Development Agency and the National Enterprise Board?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State for Scotland has published a consultative document on which he will be seeking advice from interested parties on the general question of the Scottish Development Agency. But we have always consulted very closely on this matter and there is no difficulty in making this distinction. These matters are being worked on at present.

Will the National Enterprise Board be regarded as a complement to, rather than a competitor of, the Scottish Development Agency? Is my hon. Friend aware that what Scottish industry requires is meaningful decentralisation within the context of a comprehensive United Kingdom plan for industrial development'? Does he agree that, just as political devolution is preferable to complete political separatism, industrial devolution is to be preferred to complete industrial separatism, in order to serve the best interests of the Scottish people and people elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The whole purpose is to allow this degree of decentralisation, in that certain decisions will be taken in Scotland about Scottish affairs. However, the broad overall aim is to preserve the industrial integrity of the United Kingdom.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that great concern has been expressed by industrialists in Scotland about a remark by the Minister of State for Industry during the Second Reading of the Industry Bill in which he said that the writ of the NEB would run in Scotland, that the Scottish Development Agency would be subservient to the NEB, and that this would lead to even greater centralisation of decision-making in Scottish affairs?

Which Minister will be responsible for ending the shameful practice whereby industrialists such as the Tinsley Wire Company, Coatbridge, settle in Scotland with Government financial aid and then, after capturing the Scottish market, move to England, throwing 120 men out of work and without regard to the social and economic consequences to the work force?

I am very conscious of problem. My hon. Friend and I know this one very well. That is why we are introducing the practice of planning agreements. We believe that these will be valuable and useful in this regard.

Industry Bill

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry which provisions of the Industry Bill are affected by EEC regulations.

I explained in my reply to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on 25th February how the exercise of the powers proposed in the Bill might be affected by membership of the EEC. All State aids that might be offered under the Industry Bill would be subject to the control of the European Commission under Articles 92–94 of the Treaty of Rome.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Italian tobacco industry, which is at present under State control, will, under the regulations of the EEC, end its control within one year? On 31st January the Italian Journal Stampa Sera reported that one year's notice has been given for State control to end and that private tobacco companies are already moving in to provide their own monopoly in the private sphere. This will not be to the advantage of Italy and it is unlikely to be to the advantage—

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the circumstances that I have outlined?

I thought that my hon. Friend was asking whether I was aware of something. I was not aware of the details of that case. However, my hon. Friend should be in no doubt that the powers exercised by the Commission under the Treaty of Rome are powers that the previous Government entrenched in our domestic legislation in Section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that on 3rd March his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the other EEC countries that the Government could now accept the terms that had been negotiated? Does he agree with this set of negotiations?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Cabinet has not yet determined its view on the renegotiation package. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who is always shouting his head off about the powers of the National Enterprise Board, should not be concerned about the powers of the European Commission over the House of Commons.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry how many representations he has received from both sides of industry since the publication of the Industry Bill.

42.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry how many representations he has received from both sides of industry since the publication of the Industry Bill.

My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations from both sides of industry and from the City, which he is considering.

Have not the heads of industry expressed their deep alarm at the unprecedented powers being taken by the Secretary of State and the spirit in which those powers are apt to be applied? Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that his intention in seeking further State control, intervention and ownership is to try to achieve a Socialist Britain after his own pattern, rather than an efficient free enterprise industry?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that we have received approximately 30 letters from various bodies. They have not been quite so critical as the hon. Gentleman suggests, although some obviously have been critical and negative in their approach. The Government intend to carry out the manifesto upon which they were elected in both February and October last year.

In order to give the Bill an even chance of success, will my hon. Friend consider making a statement at the earliest possible opportunity to avoid further confusion about the whole process of the sharing of information and the Planning Agreements?

The Bill is now in Committee. Naturally, there will be the closest parliamentary scrutiny by both sides of the Committee and statements will be made and explanations given relating to the points to which my hon. Friend has referred. If my hon. Friend has a specific point in mind, I suggest that he gets in touch with me or my right hon. Friend and we shall answer that point.

In addition to the representations received from both sides of industry, may I ask what representations the Minister has had from the Home Policy Committee of the Labour Party—in which I believe his right hon. Friend has some distant interest—and what attitude he is taking towards those representations?

Surely a number of standing committees continually discuss the programme and policy of the Conservative Party. The Labour Party has a Home Policy Committee, which is a standing body, which I believe is entitled to express its opinion on present and future Government policies.

Is my hon. Friend aware of strong representations from workers on Tyneside, for example, for the rapid passage of the Industry Bill and, indeed, the introduction of Bills for the nationalisation of the shipbuilding industry in order that worker participation may become a reality?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the most interesting features of life as a Minister in the Department of Industry is the number of deputations that one receives from trade unions and workers on the shop floor who insist that we get this Bill through at the earliest possible moment.

British Leyland Motor Corporation

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on his future plans for British Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd.

The team led by Sir Don Ryder is at present conducting, in consultation with the British Leyland management and trades unions, an overall assessment of British Leyland's present situation and future prospects. I have undertaken to report to the House as soon as possible on the team's recommendations and their financial implications.

As there are disturbing rumours that Sir Don Ryder is thinking in terms of 30,000 redundancies, does the right hon. Gentleman foresee a situation in which he can guarantee that there is no likelihood of plant closures as a result of Government assistance?

I invited Sir Don Ryder to undertake these discussions with the management and unions. I have had no report, or forecast of a report. When the Government receive the report they will discuss the matter internally and with the unions and management. However, I have had no indication of the kind that the hon. Gentleman conveyed in his supplementary question.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that industrialists not unconnected with this company consistently argue that politicians who fail should be removed? Does he feel that industrialists who fail should also be removed?

I understand my hon. Friend's general point. The House would be better advised to wait until we have the report from Sir Don Ryder and his team before we jump to conclusions about any solutions which may emerge from it.

Tracked Hovercraft Vehicle

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry, in view of the fact that the tracked hovercraft vehicle, in its original building at Earith, is the only vehicle of its kind in the world and is of historic interest and potentially of scientific value, if he will take steps to ensure the suitable preservation and public display of this vehicle.

The vehicle, RTV31, is the property of Tracked Hovercraft Ltd., which developed it with funds provided by the National Research Development Corporation. The project was terminated two years ago and the disposal or preservation of any residual equipment is the responsibility of NRDC and THL.

Will the Minister bear in mind that it was Government money which was used to develop this most promising invention, in which we have a world-wide lead and which has now become a museum piece? Does his answer mean that the Government are taking no responsibility whatever for its preservation for the future in case it should have further scientific value?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right to refer to the fact that when the previous Conservative Government cancelled this project £5million of public money was lost without any benefit in sight. As for his question about preservation of the project, this is not a unique vehicle. Other air cushion vehicles are being developed elsewhere, notably in France. As I sought to make clear, the question of the vehicle's display and preservation is a matter primarily for NRDC. but if it makes such a specific request to us we shall certainly consider it.

As much of the expertise for the project came from my constituency, and as there is great disappointment that it is not possible to proceed with it, will the Government keep an open mind on the suggestion that my right hon. and learned Friend has made and positively respond if an appeal for help on a modest scale reaches them in the near future?

National Enterprise Board

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he intends to give the National Enterprise Board specific directions to acquire shares in profitable manufacturing industry.

This is unlikely, because the Industry Bill already provides the necessary powers.

Whose agreement will be necessary before shares are acquired in profitable manufacturing industries?

As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, the position is that there are no compulsory powers in the Industry Bill or in the White Paper.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a large section of people were disturbed by Sir Don Ryder's view, expressed on television to Mr. Christopher Chataway, that nationalisation is a method of regenerating collapsing British industry in order to hand it back, ultimately, to private enterprise? Will my hon. Friend take note of that and make it clear that large numbers of working people hope that profitable industry will be nationalised on behalf of working people and not taken over only when it is in a process of collapse, as it inevitably is under capitalism?

I personally am not aware of Sir Don Ryder making such a statement, although I understand that something similar was supposedly said— although it was denied afterwards—by the chairman of a nationalised industry. It is clearly laid down in the White Paper and in the statement of the National Enterprise Board that one of the functions of the board is that it should enter into profit-making industry.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will make it a condition of appointment to the National Enterprise Board that no persons appointed shall take up further appointments at the termination of their contracts with any firm with whom they have had financial dealings in the course of their work at the NEB.

This is a very complicated problem, but one which is important, and we are looking into the issues involved. At this stage, it is not possible to give a definite answer one way or the other.

I thank my hon. Friend for that neutral answer. In view of the special and privileged relationship between members of the NEB and industrial firms, is it not desirable that there should be an interval before such members take up appointments with private industry with which they may have had financial or advisory dealings? In those circumstances, will the Minister ensure that the rules governing such continuing appointments are assimilated to those governing the appointment of senior ex-civil servants when they leave the public service to take up appointments with private enterprise?

My hon. Friend is right. There are well-established rules for the Civil Service and the Armed Forces. There is no general code for public corporations. However, I have taken on board the point that my hon. Friend has made. I cannot go further than saying that we are looking into the issues involved.

South-West Region

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied that the present extent and character of regional policies take sufficient account of the specific needs of the South-West assisted areas, particularly in respect of the promotion of primary and local craft industries and the problems facing small firms.

Yes, Sir. Substantial assistance is available under the Industry Act 1972 by way of regional development grants and selective financial assistance, and also regional employment premium for manufacturing firms. The Development Commission, through the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, provides financial assistance by way of loans and technical and advisory services in rural areas. In addition, my own Department's Small Firms Information Centre in Bristol is available to help small businesses find solutions to their problems.

Does not the Minister agree that the economic structure of the South-West differs in character from that of the other assisted areas and, therefore, that greater flexibility in applying existing regional policies is essential if our specific problems are to be solved? In particular, does he not agree that the Small Firms Assistance Centre should be transferred from Bristol to a site within the assisted area itself, because Bristol is nearer to London than it is to Bodmin?

We have 10 such centres throughout the country, and they are very helpful. We have considered this matter and I am satisfied that this can be done from Bristol at present. In any event, may I say, wearing my hat as someone having responsibility for the Post Office, that a Freephone service is available for any small industrialist who wants to contact the Bristol office? We have not found any difficulties about that so far.

Does the Minister realise that in the South-West the small firms are subcontractors or smaller parts of major industry, and that these are usually the plants that close down first? Will he consider giving more money and greater assistance to COSIRA, to ensure that there is greater investment in the rural areas?

Secondly, I support my hon. Friend for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), in that the West Country does not consider that the unit in Bristol understands much about the problems of Devon and Cornwall. The Minister would be well advised to have the Small Firms Assistance Centre moved out of Bristol to some area in Somerset, Devon or Cornwall.

We have devoted much thought to the question which would be the best place for the centre. I have been given to understand by those in the area that so far the needs of smaller companies are being met. As regards the hon. Gentleman's question about investment in rural areas, the whole question of COSIRA falls within the purview of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. We can put this point to him.

Co-Operative Development Agency

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will be introducing legislation to establish a co-operative development agency during the course of this session of Parliament.

The proposal to establish a co-operative development agency is under consideration, but it is unlikely that decisions will be taken in time to introduce any legislation that might be considered appropriate this Session.

Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that the co-operative development agency, as envisaged in the Labour Party manifesto, could play a very important part in extending co-operation in our economy and that co-operation is a very desirable form of social ownership, which has proved its worth over many years, in distribution and elsewhere?

I entirely support the sentiments my hon. Friend has expressed. That is why the concept was originally put into the manifesto. We have great hopes that it will be able to achieve the extension of social ownership and all that goes with it in a society that is still basically capitalist.

As, in the first co-operative that has got off the ground, the cost of saving each job is modestly estimated at £30,000, is this the new standard that the Government intend to apply to saving jobs? If so, and if 30,000 jobs are at risk in British Leyland, has the Minister calculated the cost? It is about £900 million.

The hon. Gentleman should take into account the fact that we shall not be confined to firms in which private enterprise has already totally failed.

Will my hon. Friend quell the animal noises emanating from hon. Members opposite by telling the House that the first co-operative got off the ground about 135 years ago, and that it has proved a great success? There are those of us in the co-operative movement who are very anxious to see this item in the manifesto proceeded with speedily.

My hon. Friend is right. There are many existing co-operatives in France, Italy, Spain and Sweden which are very successful forms of social enterprise.

Regional Policy

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry, if he will make a statement on the EEC plans for exercising measures of control on the United Kingdom's industrial and regional policies.

All the industrial and regional policies of all member States involving State aids are subject to the provisions of the Treaties of Rome and Paris, which conferred power of decision upon the Commission. It is one of the Government's renegotiation objectives to ensure the retention by Parliament of the powers which we need to pursue effective regional, industrial and fiscal policies.

As there has been no apparent progress, so far, on the latter point which the Minister mentioned, does he not agree that there is still some way to go before the pledge on which the party opposite was elected can be honoured? Will the right hon. Gentleman make this point to his cabinet colleagues in the near future?

I do not think I can anticipate the discussions which are currently taking place, but I sought to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

Personal Injury (Liability And Compensation)

51.

asked the Attorney-General if he can yet say when the Royal Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury will report.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there are 250 cases of severe vaccine brain-damaged children who have been waiting since May 1973 for the Royal Commission to report? Is he also aware that the Secretary of State for Social Services declined to award compensation to them until the report is made? Will he press his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to award the compensation now rather than wait for the report? In any case, will he confirm that the Royal Commission will not be able to recommend retrospective awards?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my noble Friend and I are no less anxious than he is that the report should be available as soon as possible. This is a very wide-ranging inquiry. The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. Whether retrospective legislation will be appropriate will depend to some extent upon what is recommended, but I shall see that what the hon. Gentleman has said is passed to my right hon. Friend.

Is the Solicitor-General aware that the findings of the report are likely to involve matters of far-reaching importance to individual freedoms? Will he use his good offices with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to ensure that when the findings are made public there will be debate about them on the Floor of the House?

Perhaps we should wait until the report is available. I shall certainly see that what the hon. Gentleman has said is brought to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Magistrates (Training)

52.

asked the Attorney-General what is his policy towards adding to the membership of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on the Training of Magistrates so as to include representatives of those persons involved in the work of magistrates' courts.

My noble Friend's policy is to ensure that the committee is well qualified to give him the advice which he requires on the training of magistrates. He is satisfied that it is so. It does include several members who are directly involved in the work of magistrates' courts. It has also called for the views of those, including the relevant representative bodies, who may be able to assist it in its task. With permission, I shall circulate in the Official Report the membership and qualifications of the committee, which have already been published in the Press.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply. Does he agree that most members of the advisory committee are magistrates or magistrates' clerks? Does he accept that there are other court officers, such as probation officers and possibly even police, whose advice and experience would be of some value to the advisory committee? Will he consider drawing upon such sources of experience?

Of course the experience of people such as the hon. Gentleman has suggested is extremely valuable. The committee has invited memoranda from a substantial number of organisations, including some to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. The work of the committee is sufficiently advanced to make reconstitution inappropriate, and we hope that work will not be slowed down in that way.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend not consider it timely to consider the training of the judiciary generally? Does he not think it right to impose mandatory training on all judges, particularly High Court judges in matters of sentencing?

Mandatory training is not a matter for me. My hon. Friend will be aware that judges do have sentencing conferences from time to time, and in the course of those conferences they meet people of all kinds of different disciplines. That is of great assistance from the point of view of the question which my hon. Friend asked.

Following is the information:

LORD CHANCELLOR'S ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON THE TRAINING OF MAGISTRATES

Members

The Honourable Sir Leslie Boreham (Chairman). Judge of the High Court, Queen's Bench Division.

Sir Thomas Skyrme, KCVO, CB, CBE, TD (Vice-Chairman). Secretary of Commissions to the Lord Chancellor and a Justice of the Peace for the City of London.

Mr. E. R. Horsman, OBE (Secretary). Training Officer in the Lord Chancellor's Office. Formerly Clerk to the Justices of Eastleigh, Romsey and Totton. One-time President of the Justices' Clerks' Society.

Sir William Addison, DL. Chairman of the Council of the Magistrates' Association. A Justice of the Peace for the County of Essex and Chairman of the Epping and Ongar Division.

Mr. W. H. Clarke. Justice of the Peace for the County of Hereford and Worcester. Member of the Executive and Treatment of Offenders Committees of the Magistrates' Association and of the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees.

Mr. D. A. Crockatt, MBE, DL. Justice of the Peace for West Yorkshire. Member of the Council of the Magistrates' Association and Chairman of the Training Committee of the Council.

Mr. C. J. S. French, QC. Barrister at Law Recorder.

Dr. D. E. Gray, MBE, PhD. Senior Lecturer, Department of Extramural Studies, University of Birmingham. Justice of the Peace for the West Midlands and Chairman of the Solihull Division. Member of the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees.

Mr. F. H. Hatchard. Clerk to the Justices for Walsall.

Mr. J. B. Horsman, OBE. Clerk to the Justices for Wigan. President of the Justices' Clerks' Society.

Mr. R. L. Jones. Assistant Secretary, Home Office.

Mr. D. W. Jones-Williams, OBE, MC, TD, DL. Commissioner for local administration for Wales. Formerly Circuit Administrator for Wales and Clerk of the Peace and Magistrates' Training Officer for the County of Merioneth.

Mrs. N. M. Lowry. Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate.

Mrs. N. M. McGregor. Justice of the Peace for Inner London. Member of the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees.

His Honour Judge Mynett, QC. Circuit fudge. Mr. Eric Taylor. Solicitor.

Insurance Companies (Winding-Up)

53.

asked the Attorney-General whether, following the enactment of the Insurance Companies Amendment Act 1973, rules have been made under Section 365 of the Companies Act 1948 with respect to the winding-up of insurance companies.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that it would have been of great assistance to the liquidator of Nation Life if such rules had been made? Will he now give urgent attention to this problem?

In the particular circumstances of that case it is highly unlikely that rules made in advance would have been of great assistance, but the position, now that we have had this case—it is the first one in a generation in which a company dealing with life business has had to be wound up—is that the lessons which are to be drawn from that liquidation will certainly be very much borne in mind, not merely in connection with any rules and regulations which may be brought forward but from the point of view of the Bill which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade will be introducing this Session.

Maintenance Orders (Committal Warrants)

54.

asked the Attorney-General if he will advise magistrates' courts to make it their practice that when persons in respect of whom committal warrants have been issued for nonpayment of maintenance apply under Section 18(4) of the Maintenance Order Act for a hearing to ask for the committal to be quashed on grounds of inability to pay maintenance due to unemployment, such persons should be granted a hearing.

No, Sir. The question whether an application under Section 18(4) of the Maintenance Orders Act 1958 should be referred to the court is a matter within the judicial discretion of the magistrate hearing the application, whose duty it is to consider all the relevant circumstances.

Although the court has the power to decide whether to allow a hearing in such cases, as prison is regarded as the last resort in maintenance cases, is it not an abuse of the court's undoubted power to refuse to allow a hearing in such cases? Will the Solicitor-General comment on the refusal of Winchester Court to give a hearing to my constituent, Paul Watts, in such a case?

This is a statutory discretion vested in magistrates, and how it is exercised in certain cases must depend upon the facts and the occasion I am aware of the case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I understand that he has had a personal interview with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, but they have no authority to give directives to magistrates on how they shall exercise a statutory discretion.

Northern Ireland Judiciary

56.

asked the Attorney-General whether he will make a statement on the strengthening of the Northern Ireland judiciaries.

My noble Friend is satisfied that there is at present no need to strengthen the judiciary in Northern Ireland, but the position will he kept under review and further appointments will be made should they prove to be necessary. The hon. Member may like to know that very considerable progress has been made in reducing delays before the trial of defendants in the Courts.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that there is concern at some very serious cases of delay between arrest and trial? Will he and his noble Friend keep this matter constantly under review? That said, may I ask him whether he thinks it appropriate that we should pay tribute to the courage and devotion to duty of the judiciary despite threats and actual assassination?

In reply to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, of course I entirely agree, and I am sure the whole House will agree, with what he said, particularly in the light of some of the tragic incidents which have taken place.

In reply to the first part of the question, we have kept this matter very much under review. We have been very concerned and, of course, we shall continue to keep the matter under review. As a result of doing so, in co-operation with the judiciary in Northern Ireland and the Lord Chief Justice in particular, and others, special measures were introduced. I can give the House some figures. In September 1974 the average length of time, in weeks, between committal and trial was 22 for scheduled offences and 10·7 for non-scheduled offences. By February, those figures had fallen to 7·5 and 9·8 respectively—a remarkable reduction.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that despite the heavy arrears, there is considerable satisfaction at the rate of progress in reducing them and that, more than is generally recognised by the public, a high proportion of the serious offences of terrorism and violence are now resulting in sentences in the courts?

Yes, Sir, that is also true. I can give a further figure. At the beginning of September last year, 633 persons had been committed and were awaiting trial. At the beginning of this month, which is the last counting day, that figure had been reduced to 203.