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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 940: debated on Monday 28 November 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The House has made it perfectly clear that it wishes to cover more Questions during this period. This is possible only if there are briefer supplementary questions and if ministerial replies are much briefer than they have been recently.


Fairey (Nuclear And Military) Engineers, Stockport


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether the National Enterprise Board has sought approval to purchase Fairey (Nuclear and Military) Engineers, of Crossley Road, Stockport.

Briefly, Sir, Yes, Sir.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. As he has recently met the shop stewards of Fairey, would he not agree that they are extremely keen that the firm should be taken over by the NEB and not be subjected to the letdowns that come from private industry and private capital?

I have had meetings with the chairman of the confederated committee of unions on this matter and he has put that view very strongly to me. I have also received letters from a large number of my constituents who are employed at Fairey, and they make the same point equally strongly.

Is the Minister satisfied that this firm has a continuing prospect of success?

As one of the arguments advanced for the NEB is that it is filling a gap not filled by the private sector when it is unwilling to make such an investment, will the Minister tell us what the NEB is doing using taxpayers' money to bid for a company for which there is not one but several private-sector buyers?

It is following the guidelines laid down for it, which include extending public ownership into profitable private enterprise, and it is respecting the wishes of the work force, which wants the NEB to take over the firm.

British Steel Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next intends to meet the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next expects to meet the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next expects to meet the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next plans to meet the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation.

I am in continuing contact with Sir Charles Villiers about the problem of the steel industry.

Will the right hon. Gentleman condemn the BSC's cynical, deliberate and continued rundown of the steel industry in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, which is throwing thousands of men out of work and causing them to lose their dignity? Is it not a total disgrace that Scottish oil revenues to the Government are now about £1,000 million a year yet no start has been made on an integrated steelworks at Hunterston? Given the succession of BSC's arrogant failures in Scotland, will the Secretary of State advocate the establishment of a Scottish steel corporation, answerable to the Assembly and funded from the Scottish oil revenues, which are required for the regeneration of the Scottish steel industry?

It might be suggested that the hon. Gentleman was making crude political advantage for the SNP out of the difficulties of the BSC. In fact, over the last few years the Scottish division of the BSC has done remarkably well. It has received £120 million worth of investment out of a total investment by the Corporation of £579 million. That represents about 21 per cent. of investment while Scotland accounts for only 10 per cent. of the Corporation's steel-making capacity. Far from the BSC letting down the Scottish people, they have done very well indeed.

Order. I shall call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being asked.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the BSC is to achieve staffing levels in line with those of its major competitors it will have to shed 40,000 to 60,000 jobs? Will he therefore agree a programme with the Chairman of the BSC to improve productivity in order to reduce the appalling level of losses, which, together with the capital expenditure programme, account for 20 per cent. of the public sector borrowing requirement of the nation as a whole?

I am discussing all these matters with the Corporation and the TUC's steel industry consultative committee. I shall be meeting them again tomorrow.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what deadline he has set in trying to reach these crucial decisions with the Chairman of the BSC and the TUC committee? Is he aware that if he lets matters drift, on the Port Talbot and Shotton example, for more than a year, he will be doing a disservice to those who work in the industry and to the nation? Is he aware that if he thinks he can get past this issue in the spring and get up to the next General Election he is mistaken?

These questions are being discussed urgently with the BSC. I do not want to go further at the moment.

I appreciate the difficulties of the world steel recession, but can the right hon. Gentleman tell us of any other national steel industry which has lost its domestic market share as quickly as has the BSC?

We have to ensure that we have a substantial, profitable and expanding British steel industry. It is unthinkable to do as some people, particularly some Conservative Members, suggest and to opt out of this pre-eminently manufacturing industry.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the reports that British Steel is stopping all investment plans? Does he agree that it is vital to modernise this industry and that nowhere is that more important than in Scunthorpe, where we need to invest in blast furnace capacity to make iron?

There is no question of stopping British Steel's investment programme. The matter has to be dealt with urgently. There are serious problems, but investment will take place next year.

To halt or defer the major investment programme of British Steel would have serious repercussions on other industries such as the plant makers. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there is no question of cutting back this investment programme?

Investment in the BSC at the moment is the highest of any steel industry in Europe. Its purpose is to ensure that we have modern and efficient capacity. That is one of the problems. We face the problems of low-cost plants and the difficulties of high-cost plants, with which my hon. Friend will be familiar. I can give my hon. Friend this assurance: investment will take place in the British Steel Corporation next year. The level has to be decided.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Scottish industry rationalised itself long before even the Benson Committee Report and that the industry, whether nationalised or not, ought to remain on a Scottish basis?

No, I do not agree. The BSC's problems have to be looked at in terms of the United Kingdom as a whole.

That may be the right hon. Gentleman's view. It is not the view of Scottish steelworkers or those who represent them. Major investments have taken place in Scotland. There are the Hunterston ore terminal at £91 million, the direct reduction plant, Ravenscraig stage 3, and tube development. These are all taking place in Scotland. If the right hon. Gentleman examines the figures, he will not come to the conclusions he expressed just now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that neither of the two hon. Members from the SNP who have questioned him on this matter represents steel workers? Those of us who represent Scottish steelworkers accept that the Government are facing a very difficult situation, and we rely on the Government both to maintain the investment programme and to provide alternative jobs where these can no longer be provided in the steel industry.

I thank my hon. Friend for putting the subject of Scotland into proper perspective. We shall take account of all that he has said in the discussions we are having with the Corporation and the TUC steel committee.

Does the Secretary of State share the view of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade that it would be inappropriate to raise the price of European steel, as is proposed by Commissioner Davignon, in view of the price weakness of the market?

That does not arise out of this Question, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government have no influence over the prices charged by the BSC. That power was given away when we entered the Common Market.

Will the Secretary of State answer the question put from this Box by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) and say whether any other national steel industry has lost as great a share of its domestic market as has the BSC? Secondly, does he agree that, however much money the taxpayer finds to save jobs in BSC, jobs will almost certainly be lost from employment elsewhere in the country as a result of the extra taxes raised for that purpose? Thirdly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that nationalisation of the steel industry has made matters far worse than they otherwise would have been?

I cannot take up all the questions put by the right hon. Gentleman since I should incur your wrath if I did so, Mr. Speaker. On the question of the market share, I do not know the precise market shares held by steel industries in other countries. However, BSC has done extremely well in exports over the past few years. It is still a net exporter. We have to make sure that the BSC becomes profitable and that we secure the jobs of the majority of the people who work in the industry.

National Enterprise Board


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether, in the light of his decision to set up regional agencies of the National Enterprise Board in the Northern and North Western Regions, he will consider making similar provision in the Yorkshire and Humberside Region.

My right hon. Friend does not envisage similar boards being set up by the NEB in other regions.

Is my hon. Friend aware that about 130,000 people are out of work in the Yorkshire and Humberside Region and that that is rather more than the number in the Northern Region? Does he accept that a great deal of this is structural unemployment, which has little to do with the present recession? Is he further aware that my constituency is in the process of losing 500 jobs through factory closures? In the light of this severe and continuing problem, will he reconsider whether to give us the benefits being offered to other regions?

I recognise that my hon. Friend is making a very strong case, but my right hon. Friend and the NEB are right to concentrate assistance on the areas with the highest percentage of unemployment. The figure for the North-West is 7·7 per cent., for the North 8·9 per cent. and for Yorkshire and Humberside 6 per cent.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that it is extraordinary to set up extra boards under the NEB when after two years the Government have not yet decided either the financial duties of the NEB or its capital structure?

That is a somewhat different question. The NEB is right to concentrate its effort where it is most needed.

I accept what has been done in setting up a board for the North-West. However, will my hon. Friend make sure that he has discussions with the NEB to ensure that it includes a represent- ative from North-East Lancashire? Is he aware that so often it has been the forgotten area, even within the North-West?

My right hon. Friend and the NEB would be in some difficulty if they were to specify that each area had to have its representative on the board, but I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the two new agencies will involve no increase in the resources available to the NEB but that they will merely assist the NEB to take decisions which it could take in any event? Will he therefore tell the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) that the new agencies are no protection against the devolved Assemblies in Scotland getting more than their fair share of resources?

The hon. Member has introduced fresh considerations into this matter. The new boards will enable the NEB to give more weight and authority where they are needed.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is perhaps best to ensure that we make a real success of the extension of the powers of the NEB in these cases before we go on to consider wider representations? Is my hon. Friend aware that there is strong support for what has been done?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's helpful remarks. We shall take account of what he has said.

Clothing Scheme


asked the Secretary of State for Industry how many applications have been submitted for support under the clothing scheme; how many have been approved; and what is the total of assistance involved.

By mid-November 482 applications for assistance under the clothing scheme had been received. Of these 287 had been approved for assistance, totalling £3·9 million.

Will my right hon. Friend make greater efforts to make this scheme known to the clothing sector, particularly the smaller firms? Will he tell them that it is possible for them to create a package of schemes over a period of years to meet the minimum investment requirement of this scheme?

I think that my hon. Friend will see from my original answer that we have received a substantial number of applications, although they have been on a relatively small scale. We have made about 5,000 contracts by correspondence with firms. The EDC and the trade associations have publicised the scheme, and I welcome the extra publicity that my hon. Friend wishes to give it. He is correct in saying that we are willing to look at rolling programmes of investment over perhaps two or three years rather than perhaps the original project.

Hitachi Television Plant


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will make a statement on the proposal of the Hitachi company to establish a new factory in the North-East.

No decision will be taken until consultations have been completed.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, whatever the decision, what is important is to take a decision? At present, conditions are favourable for foreign investment in this country, and that has been prejudiced by the delay in coming to a decision.

I think that my right hon. Friend will know from the discussions that he and his colleagues from the Northern Region have had with me that we have to balance a whole series of conflicting interests. After a meeting with Hitachi in September, the company suggested that it would welcome a little more time so that it could present its view of its intentions to those who in its opinion had misunderstood its intentions. As yet, the company's representatives have not come back to us from the consultations.

Is it not the Government's aim to encourage investment and employment in the North-East? Is not that exactly what Hitachi is proposing to do? What is wrong with that?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on a simple view of the situation. The diffi- culty is that in the discussions that we have had it has been suggested by the unions and the management that the net balance could be adverse. Therefore, I have been having considerable discussions with the sector working parties, with the unions and with the employers. Mr. Akerman of Mullards has seen me in the past fortnight. Sir Richard Cave saw me last week before he went off to Japan. The discussions are highly intricate, and I am trying to evaluate the precise balance of advantage.

Has Hitachi indicated in the discussions whether it will set up its operations elsewhere in the Common Market and export to us from there if it cannot get into this country?

That is one of the serious implications that has to be considered. The company has never put that point to us categorically, but it is undeniable that its intention is to set up a base from which it can operate within the European Community. The balance that we have to try to establish is whether the protection for British industry with Hitachi set up in Britain under conditions that have been agreed with the British Government is greater than if the company goes into another member country where there may be no conditions and from which base it can still attack the British market.

Whatever benefits the North-East may face, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the immediate effect of establishing a factory in that area would be to put 400 people in Plymouth out of work? To shunt pockets of unemployment around the country is a dubious practice at the best of times, but least of all should it be done when the result is to further Japanese economic penetration of the industry.

I do not accept that that is a necessary conclusion. In any case, the circumstances in Plymouth are unrelated to the problems. Hitachi would not be in operation here for another two years and would not achieve full production until five years after that. At the end of that period the impact on the British market would be an increase of 20,000 sets, because of import substitutions and exports.



asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether, in view of the level of unemployment in the county of Clwyd, which is now the highest in Wales and the third highest in the United Kingdom, and in view of the fact that within the county the highest levels of unemployment are in those areas which receive least Government support, he will now confer full development areas status on the whole county.

A large part of the intermediate area within Clwyd was designated as a development area for the first time last April. This designation must have time to take effect.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that reply will give no comfort to the Rhyl area of my constituency, where one in five is out of a job and where there are no jobs for women?

The Government are anxious about unemployment levels wherever they may be. In Rhyl the Welsh Development Agency has provided four advance factories and investment in Wettern Electric Ltd., which should create 50 jobs. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should clarify his position within his party. The view of the Opposition Front Bench is that the Welsh Development Agency should have removed from it the right to invest in profitable companies. The hon. Gentleman should clarify his position. He cannot ask for the agency to do more while his Front Bench wants to deny it those very powers.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, Mr. Speaker, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Manufacturing Investment


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what are the latest figures for manufacturing investment compared with last year.

Investment by manufacturing industry in the first three quarters of this year is provisionally estimated at £1,305 million, at 1970 prices, seasonally adjusted, a rise of 6 per cent. over the same period last year.

Would my right hon. Friend care to estimate how many jobs will be lost in manufacturing industry as a result of that investment on the assumption that we have a continuing stagnating level of overall output in manufacturing industry?

Does the light hon. Gentleman accept that a job is a job and that a new job created in the service industry is as important for the person who gets it as a job created in manufacturing industry?

Of course it is, but the whole problem of our economy has been that the manufacturing base has slipped in terms of our gross national product. The aim of the industrial strategy is to try to rebuild the manufacturing base. That does not mean that we want to damage the service sector.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many firms have failed to accept social responsibility for the investment that they have undertaken? Has my right hon. Friend's Department a policy of social responsibility in industry for firms undertaking new investment?

When the Government undertake financial support for new investment we, as a prime objective, look for continuing viability, and, therefore, continuing employment within the firm, and higher productivity. On occasions this may mean, as my hon. Friend has suggested, that some jobs will be lost as a result of investment. However, it is the rôle of the wider policies of governmental support—mainly those within the Department of Employment—to give help to those who are made redundant.

Private Sector Investment


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he intends to take to increase investment in industry in the private sector.

The Government intend to continue present policies to improve the economic climate and will continue to provide generous direct incentives to private investment.

In view of the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), does the Minister really want entrepreneurs to flourish? What are the Government doing to advise entrepreneurs that the recent statement by the National Executive of the Labour Party is not Government policy?

The fact that we want to see entrepreneurs flourish is demonstrated by the success of our investment schemes, under which £1,100 million new investment has been generated. The Opposition constantly vote against any increase in funds under Section 8.

In view of the reluctance of private enterprise to take advantage of the incentives provided by the Labour Government, will my right hon. Friend consider taking over advance factories?

Advance factories still need projects to get them going. The Government will consider viable projects from any source.

In view of the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), does the Minister agree that it is no good offering direct assistance to industry when the climate is not right for investment because, as he explained, he has failed to persuade the clothing industry to take up the Industry Act money on offer? Will he explain to his hon. Friends that the level of investment will improve only when he can ensure that the likely rate of return matches the risks involved?

A total of £1 billion of investment has been generated as a result of our policies. In the period prior to the recession, the Conservative Administration did not manage in real terms to get manufacturing investment back to the level that it was when the Conservatives took office.

British Leyland


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next will meet the Chairman of British Leyland.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he will next meet the Chairman of British Leyland.

I acknowledge my own interest. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the new chairman is fully aware of the vital necessity of having a planned range of models throughout the Leyland range, and, in particular, to work on progress towards a new fleet and a medium-size family saloon? To that end, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, if extra finance is needed, adequate parliamentary time and discussion will be made available?

As the hon. Gentleman concedes, the model range is a matter for British Leyland. I know that the new Chairman of British Leyland is fully aware of that factor. As for parliamentary debate and time, I shall give consideration to that plea.

I press the right hon. Gentleman further about the middle-range car. Is he aware that the distributors are very anxious to have a middle-range car? They are not convinced of the merits of the new Mini.

That is a matter for the British Leyland board. I shall draw its attention to the hon. Gentleman's interest.

Will my right hon. Friend urge on the new Chairman of British Leyland the need to integrate his company's expansion plans with the investment and production plans of the British machine-tool industry? To that end, will he tell the House when he expects to have planning agreements with both British Leyland and the major British machine-tool manufacturers?

The need to relate British Leyland's plans to those of the British machine-tool industry is a matter that is already being considered by British Leyland. As for planning arrangements with British Leyland, my hon. Friend will be aware that there are participation arrangements. They were agreed during the time of the Ryder Report. Some of them have been successful, but, unfortunately, some of the trade unions have not been taking part in the discussions. I hope that they will do so.

Would the Secretary of State explain to the Chairman of British Leyand that the House voted funds for British Leyland on the basis of the Ryder plan and that if that is now changed or overtaken by events it will be necessary to come back to the House for approval of funding?

The National Enterprise Board will receive British Leyland's corporate plan at around the turn of the year. It will be for the Government to decide how we make our views known to the House. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman had to say.

In the light of the difficulties with British Leyland, steel, ships and aeroplanes, does the Secretary of State still believe in Clause 4?

The right hon. Gentleman should do a check list of the 1974 Labour Party manifesto. He would see that the only aspect of those manifestos which has not been fulfilled is that which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick). We have not made as much progress as we should have done on planning agreements. The Labour Party stands for the expansion of public ownership, and we are doing that.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what further plans he has to hold discussions on future prospects for British Leyland with the group's management and with the National Enterprise Board.

British Leyland is preparing a revised corporate plan on the basis of which the National Enterprise Board will report to my right hon. Friend on the company's future strategy. Discussions will be held as necessary.

I missed the first part of the answer but I thank the Minister for it. As the Government are inevitably involved, because of Government money, and as the Secretary of State said five weeks ago that time was running out for British Leyland, will the Minister add to his answer and say what is happening about future investment perspectives and the intention to put more money into the industry and the company?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will realise that with a new chairman and chief executive the corporate plan is being revised. When that is presented to the NEB and to my right hon. Friend, we can comment.

Will my hon. Friend give details of how many people now employed in the industry and in components industries would be unemployed if British Leyland had failed? Will the Government take action to ensure that we have a "Buy British" campaign for the products of British Leyland?

I thank my hon. Friend for his very helpful attitude, which is certainly more helpful than that of the Opposition to British Leyland these days. I think that the original estimate, at the time when British Leyland was assisted with Government finance, in April 1975, was that the workers directly employed and the indirect dependants accounted for about 1 million jobs at stake. As for buying British, I take note of what my hon. Friend says. This is something that we continue to examine.

As the management of British Leyland has invested so much time in negotiating a common bargaining date and a new pay structure, which has now been vetoed by the Trades Union Congress, will the Government make it quite clear that they will back the management of British Leyland if that is what it wants?

This is a matter still under consideration by my right hon. Friend and by the Government. Obviously, what the TUC has said will be taken into account.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied that British Leyland now has a feasible programme for returning to commercial viability.

I am awaiting the report which the National Enterprise Board will make to me when it has received and considered British Leyland's revised corporate plan.

What specific criteria will the Government adopt this time in assessing whether British Leyland's production targets are sufficiently precise?

It depends on the plan that we shall receive and the amount of resources that will be required. It is not only a matter of resources from public funds but what we hope British Leyland will be able to generate from profits. It is clear—and the House now realises it—that the market share position of British Leyland is extremely serious. The Ryder plan for British Leyland envisaged a market share of 33 per cent. and the present figure is much lower than that. But I have confidence that the newly-established British Leyland board will tackle this as quickly as possible.

Would the Secretary of State now like to have a second try at answering the question as to when he expects to conclude a planning agreement with British Leyland, this time without confusing us with the abortive participation agreement between management and workers at British Leyland?

I am sorry if my hon. Friend did not understand what I was saying last time round. I am sure that he, like most of us on this Bench, regrets very much that the participation scheme is not being carried through, but I know of no constraints and no difficulties to prevent British Leyland and the work force from concluding a planning agreement if they want to do so.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the commercial viability of the remainder of the British car industry rests on its being organised on a European basis? Has he thought about such an arrangement for British Leyland also?

The other British motor car manufacturers have integrated some of their operations within Europe. A protocol has been signed between British Leyland and Renault on technical assistance. I do not know whether it will be possible to build on that, but it is something that British Leyland is looking at.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the bus and truck section of British Leyland continues to operate efficiently and effectively? What is the prospect of funds being made available for the new foundry and engineering centre that is so necessary for the welfare of British Leyland?

I know that the bus and truck section operates effectively. I have no details about the foundry and the other matters, but perhaps I may write to my hon. Friend about them.

Civil Airframe Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the Government's plans for the civil airframe industry.

It is for the British Aerospace Corporation to formulate plans for the industry and to put proposals to the Government. I know that the Corporation is actively examining all the possible civil aircraft options.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the already demoralised civil aircraft industry in this country was appalled by the speech of Ross Stainton, the deputy-chairman of British Airways, about the Trident replacement, which should be supplied by this country and by our industry? Will my hon. Friend ensure that there is not only an immediate go-ahead for the HS 146 but that British Airways is told firmly that it must fly The flag as well?

The question of the aircraft programme of British Airways is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. The Government are anxious that wherever possible British airlines should buy British.

Why does the Minister think that the head of the nationalised British Airways made it plain that he has to go to the capitalist American industry rather than the nationalised British manufacturing industry to buy the aeroplanes that he needs? Does the Minister think that he might have spent his time better if, instead of going in for what he called the advance of Socialism by nationalisation, he had got on with helping the industry, with Europe or America, to produce an aircraft that the industry needs?

One of the reasons why Mr. Stainton might have thought it necessary to make those remarks was that during the period 1970–74 the private British aircraft industry introduced no new products. The Government have retained the option on the HS146 and the British Aerospace Corporation will be making recommendations at about the end of the year. We have ensured that the production of the BAC 111 goes ahead, whereas it would have been stopped if private industry had had its way.

What discussions has my hon. Friend had with representatives from Chadderton and Woodford about the 748 and the Coaster-guarder?

I have had discussions with representatives in the Manchester area. I am in frequent contact with workers' representatives in the industry.

I accept that it would be preferable if British Airways were to re-equip with British aircraft, but does the Minister agree that his own Government's programme foreshadowed the introduction of legislation on noise levels that cannot be reached by any aircraft at present in production?

The hon. Gentleman should discuss noise levels with his hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who is always saying in the House that noise levels are too high. We have encouraged production of British aircraft for the world market. The fact that Concorde during its visit to New York earlier this month passed the noise test shows that we can succeed in these matters.

Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituents and the shop stewards in the industry have been in touch with his Department about this matter? Does he agree that there is a need to concentrate on subsonic aircraft? I hope that we shall not have to wait too long before the Secretary of State makes his announcement, because of the pressure on the work force and future employment in the industry. The situation must be rectified quickly.

I met representatives from Filton and Patchway a week ago and I gave them the Government's view that we must be clear about the possible options on subsonics, because that is the quickest way of getting the work into our industry.

Advance Factory (Dearne Valley)


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will now consider the building of a new advance factory within the Dearne Valley constituency.

I have no plans to do so at the present time. But we are building factories at Goldthorpe and Barnsley which will be accessible to my hon. Friend's constituents.

Does my hon. Friend realise that the unemployment rate in Mexborough is 11 per cent. or more? Does he realise that the people of Mexborough and the surrounding areas consider that his Department is not helping as much as it should? Is he aware that the advance factory in Mexborough remained empty for about five years and that it now employs only about 20 people, because it is used mainly for the storage of equipment? Will the Minister therefore authorise the building of a new advance factory in Mexborough and another elsewhere in my constituency?

I appreciate the difficulties in my hon. Friend's area. I assure my hon. Friend that both the factories that we are building in Goldthorpe and Barnsley will produce up to 300 jobs. My Department is offering encouragement and inducements to private enterprise companies to provide manufacturing jobs where they are needed in the form of 100 per cent. tax concessions for plant and machinery. That type of inducement will produce jobs.

In order to prevent advance factories from standing empty as a monument to the reluctance of private enterprise to be adventurous, will my hon. Friend give thought to the involvement of the NEB in an entrepreneurial rôle by allowing it to set up its own subsidiary manufacturing companies?

I am grateful for this suggestion by my hon. Friend, but the National Enterprise Board can do this already if it so chooses. I shall certainly draw to the attention of the NEB my hon. Friend's very helpful and constructive remarks.

British Steel Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will lay on the Table of the House all the papers that have passed between himself and the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation over the last 12 months.

Is there not a growing feeling, aggravated by the Secretary of State's evasive answers earlier this afternoon, that, while these very important discussions about the BSC's future are going on, there is a conspiracy of silence in regard to telling this House anything about those discussions? We represent the taxpayers who will have to pay bills amounting to billions of pounds. In how many weeks' time will the Secretary of State make a full statement to this House?

The matter is being dealt with urgently. I have had several discussions and my hon. Friend the Minister of State—the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)—has had discussions with the British Steel Corporation. As I have already indicated, I shall be seeing the TUC steel committee tomorrow. We are making as much progress as we can. I am not flippant in any way and do not underestimate the needs to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Will my right hon. Friend point out quietly to the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation that it would be better for the image of public corporations if chairmen were more forthcoming to Select Committees of the House, which have a duty to probe into these matters and which expect co-operation from persons of that status?

I am not aware that the chairmen of nationalised industries do not co-operate with Select Committees. I know that when I have had the honour to appear before Select Committees I have tried to be as helpful as I can.

Will the Secretary of State accept that we shall look forward to what he has to say on Thursday on these matters, but also take into account that he is being rather coy about this? Will he not assure us that he will try to make a statement before Christmas on what he intends to do, if necessary postponing some of the longer-term decisions for a second and later statement? Some of us want to be helpful, but he is not helping us.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he has any legislative plans to alter the structure of the British Steel Corporation.

Is the Minister of State aware that while his Department answers Questions for 50 minutes the Corporation will have lost another £50,000? Does he accept that the Beswick reprieves have acted as a cancer on profitable parts of the industry, such as Scunthorpe? Will he give the House a categorical assurance that no funds at present designated for investment will be taken away merely to pay wages in the industry?

None of that arises out of the hon. Gentleman's Question. Perhaps he will make a calculation of how many tens of thousands of dollars Bethlehem Steel lost while he was putting his supplementary question.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that while the steel industry is in trouble he will at all times consult the trade union leaders in the industry so that any solution is acceptable to them?

Yes, of course. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already said, we shall be meeting the TUC steel committee tomorrow.

Can the hon. Gentleman say when the first planning agreement was made with the Corporation and how many changes there have been since then?



asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he will next have discussions with French Ministers about the Concorde programme.

I expect to discuss the Concorde project with the French Minister of Transport in due course, but no date has yet been fixed.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he appreciate that we must keep closely in touch with the French? Now that we have made a breakthrough on sales of Concorde, is the industry equipped to make sure that when we get further orders we can go into production?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I managed to have a brief word with M. Cavaillé when I was in New York for the Concorde inaugural. We shall keep in touch on these matters, and the conditions on which further Concordes could be built have been made clear.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Chairman of British Aerospace about making some of the unsold Concordes available on lease?

Leasing arrangements have been under very close consideration indeed. The hon. Gentleman will know that a leasing arrangement has already gone forward with regard to Singapore Airlines, and we are pursuing other possibilities extremely vigorously.

Is a profit on the production of further Concordes one of the necessary requirements before further production is authorised?

No further loss to the taxpayer—something that the hon. Gentleman, with his party's financial stringency, would no doubt endorse.

Ferrous Foundry Scheme


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is the total amount of money given out under the ferrous foundry scheme.

Offers so far made under the ferrous foundry industry scheme total £58 million, and payments £7million. This assistance is related to a total foundry investment of £264 million.

Is there likely to be any money left unspent from this scheme? What additional steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that extra investment goes into the foundry industry in order to improve the employment prospects of the workers in the foundry industry, including places such as Bonny-bridge and Denny in my constituency?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the results at Denny are likely to be satisfactory. I think it improbable that there will be funds left over. He will appreciate that the scheme was originally for £25 million. It was increased to £40 million and now stands at £80 million. A substantial part of that has been taken up. Of the 296 foundries that have so far had offers of support, 192 employ fewer than 200 and 62 employ fewer than 50.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider altering the rules of the scheme so as to allow for grant aid the fees for professional assistance in the preparation of the complex submissions required by his Department? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that small foundries find the burden of employing outside accountants considerable?

If that is so, obviously I regret it. The departmental regional offices will do all that they can to assist. Putting the figures I have just given in a different context, what is encouraging is that two-thirds of the approvals given have been given to firms that are small on the basis of the Bolton criteria.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition do not accept that the industry schemes including this one, have caused the investments—to the tune, I believe the Minister said, of about £1 billion—of which the Government boast? Is he aware, further, that we believe that most of the projects in the foundry scheme and all the other industry schemes would have gone ahead anyway without the Government's schemes?

It is fascinating to a great many right hon. and hon. Members to discover that in the past 45 minutes the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) has indicated that he does not approve of support for the steel industry, that he does not approve of support for the car industry and that, obviously, he would not support the various investment schemes put forward by the Government and industry. This is the Conservatives' apology for an industry policy.

Hot Water Meters


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is his policy regarding the EEC proposal to harmonise hot water meters.

The United Kingdom market for hot water meters is very small at present and there is no United Kingdom manufacture. The relevant sector of United Kingdom industry recognises a possible longer-term export potential for such meters, however, and is in principle in favour of the harmonisation proposals in the current EEC draft directive. United Kingdom Government policy reflects industry's attitude, subject to satisfactory safety and energy conservation requirements in particular. Consultations with potential manufacturing and other interests are in progress.

The draft is not binding on this country. For once it is subject to legislation here in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman, who, I know, takes a keen and devout interest in this matter, along with many other right hon. and hon. Members, will have an opportunity therefore to participate in the legislative procedure, which is not completely true for every EEC matter.

Not at present, because discussions on the directive are still under way. But if it is introduced it will be brought before Parliament. That is the important principle with which the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) should be concerned.

Civil Aircraft Project


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if the British Aerospace Corporation has yet told him of any proposal to proceed with a new civil aircraft project or requested Government support for such a project.

British Aerospace is actively examining all the possible civil aircraft options.

How can British Airways buy British when the Minister has taken no decisions over the past three years to help the industry get any projects launched and now presides over the rundown of the nationalised aerospace industry?

The hon. Gentleman is characteristically inaccurate. The decision that I announced only last year, following that made by my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for Energy, has made it possible for the HS146 project to be launched following a positive recommendation from British Aerospace, should that be forthcoming and acceptable to the Government.

Is not it damaging when British Airways announces that it will buy American? This does not help formulate any policy at all. Will my hon. Friend recommend to the Secretary of State for Trade that Ross Stainton be sacked for his remarks?

I do not think that a random dismissal is a necessary solution to this problem. We are extremely anxious that British Airways and all other airlines, including the privately owned airline by which I flew to Teesside only a few days ago on an American plane, should buy British. I would point out that Mr. Ross Stainton made his statement in New York after having flown there in the greatest plane ever produced by any aircraft industry in the world.

Could it be that Mr. Stainton really does not know that discussions are taking place between his company and British Aerospace? Is it not more likely that this is a ploy and that he is hoping to extract a subsidy from the Government in return for an instruction to buy British even though British Airways may do so anyway?

I myself have had frequent amicable conversations with Mr. Stainton. When Mr. Stainton reports back that he intends to buy British, I am sure that our conversations will be even more amicable.

Will the Minister of State indicate when the British aerospace industry is to make a favourable decision relating to the HS 146 and when this very fine aircraft, whose production could employ many people within the aerospace industry, is likely to start production?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman pays tribute to the Government's decision to keep the HS 146 project alive when private enterprise would have killed it off because we were not ready to fund it 100 per cent. British Aerospace is hoping to bring forward a recommendation around the end of the year and we shall consider that recommendation as soon as it is presented to us.

Attorney-General (Court Visits)


asked the Attorney-General how many official court visits he has made during the current Session of Parliament.

None. My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has ministerial responsibility for the administration of the courts in England and Wales.

During my right hon. and learned Friend's court visits previously, has he formed any impression about the need for some reform of the law on criminal libel? Is it not absolutely disgraceful that a crook like Roger Gleaves, whose gang was responsible for the exploitation of young people and for the murder of one of my constituents, Billy McPhee, should be allowed out of prison after two years and should manage to persuade a magistrate to imprison three journalists and to lay criminal libel charges against two others whose only crime was that they were responsible for exposing the Gleaves racket in the first place?

Taking the second part of my hon. Friend's supple- mentary question, it appears that the matter is sub judice, so he will not expect me to comment on it. On the more general question, the reform of the libel law is a matter for my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. On this aspect of it there are conflicting recommendations from the Faulks Committee on defamation and the Royal Commission on the Press, and they are now being considered.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the worrying and increasing delays now being experienced in South-East England before cases are brought on for trial? Will he confirm that this is so because not enough courts are available? Is he satisfied with the liaison that currently exists between his Department, the Home Office and the Department of the Environment with regard to the provision of more courts?

My right hon. and noble Friend has this matter very much in mind. It is largely a question of the provision of court accommodation, quite apart from the provision of judicial officers. I know that my right hon. and noble Friend keeps it constantly under review.

When my right hon. and learned Friend is considering the work of the courts, will he consider transferring from the courts to industrial tribunals all claims and disputes about contracts of employment, as provided for in the Employment Protection Act? Is not it ridiculous that, while unfair dismissal cases, including constructive dismissal, which the Court of Appeal has said must now be decided on contractual bases, are dealt with in industrial tribunals, wrongful dismissal cases by the same people must still go to the courts?

I shall see my right hon. and noble Friend is informed of that point of view.

Spanish Gold Real Estate, Limited


asked the Attorney-General if he will refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions, with a view to prosecution for fraud, the activities and advertising in the United Kingdom of Spanish Gold Real Estate, Limited, in connection with its advertisements of retirement homes.

Spanish Gold Real Estates is the trading name of Swadeway Limited. I have no evidence of the commission by that company of criminal offences, but I shall consider any information which is submitted to me.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that advertisements of retirement homes in Spain, such as those appearing in Choice magazine, should be looked into? Will he consider the evidence that I shall send him? Two of my constituents have lost their life savings in worthless property which they have got through advertisements such as those in Choice magazine.

I shall consider any evidence that my hon. Friend sends me and, if it is clear that it should go to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it will be sent to him.

Contempt Of Court


asked the Attorney-General whether he will seek as early as possible to clarify the law relating to contempt of court by the media when a retrial of a criminal case has been ordered.

When the retrial of a criminal case has been ordered, the ordinary rules of contempt of court apply so that prejudicial comment may amount to a contempt. The Phillimore Committee recommended no change on this point.

Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we have reached an absurd situation. There was the recent case involving the Newcastle Journal, and again only recently there was another case involving my own newspaper in Stafford, the Stafford Newsletter, when the unfortunate editor was dragged before a court and told that he was in contempt. I have sent the papers to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Quite clearly, as Lord Justice Lawton recommended in 1969, the law should be changed. As it stands, the law is erratic and totally capricious. I hope that there will be a change as soon as possible.

The matter involving the Newcastle Journal is now sub judice. I have applied for the Divisional Court to consider the matter. That is the proper way of doing it. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is uncertainty about this aspect of the law. That is the very reason why I have asked for that matter to go before the Divisional Court for clarification.

I should like to thank the House for its co-operation at Question Time. We have covered a much larger field.