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Volume 929: debated on Monday 4 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next expects to meet the CBI.

My right hon. Friend expects to meet CBI representatives at the NEDC meeting this week.

Will my hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State, before he meets the CBI, to read the new book about the CBI which was published two weeks ago and ask the CBI whether it can explain the apparent contradiction between its total opposition to public expenditure and the disclosure in that book that it uses for its own membership campaigns the fact that it can fiddle company structures so as to screw more grants out of the Government for individual companies?

Not only have I read something about that book, but I have read my hon. Friend's review of it in Tribune and I recognise that he has very strong opinions about the subject. I will bear in mind the rough tenor of what he has said, but I am sure he will agree that it is in the interests of both Her Majesty's Government and the CBI to see more investment in this country for everybody.

When the Secretary of State meets the CBI, should he not discuss with it objectively a problem of industries in our public sector which has arisen in South Africa? For instance, Alfred Herbert—whose improved results I welcome—has been urging its South African associates to persuade the South African Government to put on a tariff against the import of British machine tools because of Alfred Herbert's great interest in its South African associates. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that such a policy of urging the use of tariffs against other machine tool manufacturers could cause unnecessary hostility to an industry in the publicly-owned sector?

That is a specialised matter which does not arise from the Question on the Order Paper. However, if the right hon. Gentleman writes to me and gives me more information I shall have the matter looked into.

Does not the Minister agree that the logic in the question asked by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) should lead him to the proposition that neither the TUC nor the CBI should have any sort of privileged position?

That is an interesting observation but I do not think that that is what my hon. Friend meant.

Leisure, Brewing And Manufacturing


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what was the return. before tax, on capital employed in the leisure industry, in the brewing industry and in the manufacturing industries as a whole in each of the years from 1973 to the last year for which figures are available.

For large listed companies operating mainly in the United Kingdom in manufacturing industries, the rate of return on net trading assets, measured at replacement costs, was 7 per cent. in 1973, 3½ per cent. in 1974 and—provisionally—3 per cent. in 1975. Corresponding figures are not available for companies in the leisure and brewing industries.

Does not the Minister agree that it is rather curious that no figures are available for the brewing industry? If they were available—I declare an interest here—they would show that over recent years the brewing industry has been earning less as a return on capital than the cost of new money. Does not that factor make it rather odd that it should be the one industry singled out for examination by the Price Commission?

The singling out of the brewing industry is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, but I am sure that his decision to have that industry examined carefully was widely welcomed by many people who have a direct interest in the drinking of beer. We shall have to wait to see what the investigation finds.

Is the Minister aware that the latest pronouncement on the brewing industry by the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection will, it is estimated by the brewing industry, delay £250 million of new investment, with all that that means for jobs? Will the Minister have a word with his right hon. Friend so that in future, before he makes these grandiose announcements on prices, he takes jobs into account as well?

I understand that in this not-so-crowded hour the hon. Member is seeking to raise all sorts of issues. However, if he wants to tackle the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection he should have the decency and courtesy to put down a Question to him.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the social and revenue implications of the brewing industry, there might be a case for requiring it to hive off brewing interests from the other interests into which it is spreading with a view to securing special taxation arrangements?

The problem of investment in the brewing industry is specifically under examination. The Government are giving every inducement to encourage investment across the whole of industry, and we expect an increase in the level of investment this year of between 10 and 15 per cent., which will contribute towards the economic recovery now on the horizon under the present Government.