asked the Secretary of State for Industry how many major firms in the private sector have indicated support for the concept of planning agreements.
A number of views have been expresed both to my Department and in the media. They reflect a range of attitudes and concerns. The Government have said that they intend to extend their consultations with both sides of industry about the best means of implementing planning agreements. Firms will be better able to form a view as those consultations progress.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is no area of our industrial policy on which the Opposition are less well informed than the degree of support for the concept of planning agreements? Does he recognise that amongst moderate opinion in this country there is a great deal of support for the development of planning agreements, which alone can set us on the path of economic recovery?
My hon. Friend is quite right. There can be no doubt that planning agreements are the best means of promoting the extra investment that this country desperately needs and for securing better industrial relations by widening consent through joint decision-making in industry. There is much wider support than the Opposition have indicated. After the White Paper was published in August last year, my Department discussed it with 13 of the largest manufacturing companies, of which nine generally favoured planning agreements.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there would probably be much more industrial enthusiasm for planning agreements if companies could look forward to the Government's being under a statutory obligation to reveal their plans for the economy and for particular industries?
The hon. Gentleman should well understand—since he has spent many hours in the Standing Committee considering the Industry Bill—that the Government have made it quite clear that they will provide short- and medium-term sectoral information to companies for the first time. This is of considerable advantage, and industry has told us how valuable it feels this will be.
Will my hon. Friend give us an assurance today that in the discussions which are likely to take place with the various interested bodies, particularly the CBI, there will be no retreat on the part of the Government in the face of the CBI's opposition? Will he also indicate that the views of his own hon. Friends on the Industry Bill Committee, calling for compulsory planning agreements for the larger companies, will be taken into consideration in relation to the whole question of the future of the Industry Bill?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend an assurance that following the consultations both with the TUC and with the CBI, which we have always been pledged to undertake, there will certainly be no secret changes. There will be full discussion in the light of any further representations that may be made to us by either side of industry, following the clarification of many points that have arisen in Committee.As to the further matter, of compulsory implementation of planning agreements, that is a point which has been made to us, but the Government believe that as a result of the guarantees that we shall give under Clause 14 of the Bill the great majority of large companies will see that it is very much to their advantage to undertake planning agreements with the Government voluntarily.
Since the hon. Gentleman has made clear that the bulk of public companies have no objection to voluntary planning arrangements with the Government, does he not realise the damage caused by the Government's insistence on compulsory disclosure powers and the damage that this could do to many companies' overseas competitive positions?Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the suggestion in The Times today, that the Government may be prepared to drop these compulsory disclosure powers in return for voluntary planning agreements, is one which the Government will support?
The hon. Gentleman would be unwise to believe all he reads in the Press. I can certainly tell him that the Government have always been committed to the compulsory disclosure of information. It was in the White Paper, and we have not in any way departed from that position. The only change which was made—and that was in response to representations from bodies which included the CBI—was that we have deliberately separated the compulsory disclosure powers from those associated with the planning agreements, in order to meet the suggestion that planning agreements should be wholly and completely voluntary.