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Commons Chamber

Volume 975: debated on Monday 10 December 1979

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House Of Commons

Monday 10 December 1979

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Untitled Debate

I remind hon. Members that brief supplementary questions enable me to reach far more questions on the Order Paper.


National Enterprise Board


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether any guidelines have been given to the newly constituted National Enterprise Board.

The existing guidelines will remain in force until the Industry Bill has been enacted. A draft of the revised guidelines reflecting the Bill's provisions and the new role of the NEB will be available to the House tomorrow.

Is the Secretary of State aware of deep concern in the North-East now that it is being said that Inmos is not to locate one of its manufacturing units in that region? Does not that warrant intervention by the National Enterprise Board, particularly as it is also said that a second allocation will be made to Bristol, which is not a special development area?

That decision is for the company and the National Enterprise Board to make.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the general guidelines should be for Her Majesty's Government to encourage private enterprise where it is willing and able to do the job?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the guidelines just mentioned will not preclude the possibility of the Northern region having a northern development agency, of the type pressed upon him by the northern group of Labour Members?

The guidelines will not preclude such a possibility, which will be considered on its merits.

Since, on Thursday, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), told us in Committee that he would apologise if the guidelines were altered before they were published, and since at the same time the new board of the NEB proposes changes in those guidelines, what does the Secretary of State propose to do? Will he apologise or will he force the resignation of this board?

My hon. Friend offered to apologise if the guidelines were not available for presentation tomorrow and we adhere to the intention to publish the guidelines tomorrow. The National Enterprise Board has been consulted.

British Leyland


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he has yet received the British Leyland corporate plan.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he has yet received any request from British Leyland for additional public funds; and if he expects to do so.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he proposes to make a statement to the House regarding the further financial requirements of British Leyland.

I received the BL 1980 corporate plan on 5 December. The plan envisages public funding additional to that already provided to BL. I am considering the BL proposals and shall make a statement to the House as soon as possible.

Since it has been announced that imports represent 60 per cent. of the British car market, what considerations will guide my right hon. Friend in his deliberations on the corporate plan?

In the light of my right hon. Friend's answer to my previous question, will he agree, as regards British Leyland, to facilitate purchase by the private sector of any manufacturing capacity at plants that the State cannot, or will not, run profitably?

I understand that British Leyland is ready to consider any proposition to purchase that makes commercial sense.

Is the Secretary of State aware that last week the management of British Leyland removed its franchise from a Norwich garage that is under new ownership and with which I am associated? Is he aware that the garage wished to increase its throughput of British Leyland cars from 20 to 500 a year but that British Leyland management labelled that garage as "too aggressive"? If that is the attitude of British Leyland management, will the Secretary of State assure us that no further taxpayers' funds go to British Leyland?

I was not aware of that, but my hon. Friend's question is entirely for the board of British Leyland. I am sure that members of that board will read what my hon. Friend has said.

Does "the national interest" include the problem of the thousands of people in Coventry who are to be made redundant?

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House when other motor manufacturers, such as Vauxhall, can expect fair competition from Leyland without the distorting effects of taxpayers' subsidies?

That is another factor in the considerations which the Government have to give.

Following my right hon. Friend's answers to the questions put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), may I ask him to facilitate the sale of MG to those who might want to buy it?

I repeat that that is for the management of BL to consider. I understand that it has already had a meeting with the potential purchasers to discuss possibilities.

National Enterprise Board


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement regarding progress in filling the remaining places on the National Enterprise Board.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he has yet appointed any trade union members to the National Enterprise Board.

Since his statement on 21 November, my right hon. Friend has appointed Mr. J. F. G. Emms of the Commercial Union Assurance Co. Ltd. to the board.

I regret that the TUC has felt unable to accept my right hon. Friend's invitation to suggest the names of senior trade unionists for consideration for appointment to the board; but the offer remains open and, I hope, will be taken up.

Will the Minister concede that his right hon. Friend's actions have contributed severely to disharmony in industrial relations throughout the country and that he ought to abolish his doctrinaire approach to this board?

There is no question of a doctrinaire approach to this board. We have regretted the resignation of the previous board on masse, and the House has debated it. We hope that the trade union movement will now see fit to put forward names so that the unions can take part in harmonious co-operation of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Will the Minister consider appointing a member of the Irish Development Authority to the National Enterprise Board, since the former body is a thousand times more successful in attracting mobile manufacturing industry? On that score, will the hon. Gentleman also look at the incentives which are available from the Irish Government for the attraction of industry, with a view to upgrading the incentives which are currently proving a failure here in the United Kingdom?

I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman represented Irish interests. Obviously if there are lessons to be learnt, I hope that they will be drawn.

Does not the hon. Gentleman now regret his right hon. Friend's cavalier attitude to TUC nominees on the National Enterprise Board, and will it not be seen to be a grave error, when, in the future, this Government need the support of TUC members, and it is not likely to be forthcoming?

I do not think that there was any cavalier attitude in this. I know that the TUC feels that it has been treated shabbily. That is a matter for the opinion of its members. All that my right hon. Friend has done—and I have repeated it today—is say that the places on the board are open and that we hope very much that the TUC will take advantage of them shortly.

British Steel Corporation (Industry) Limited


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will issue a direction to the British Steel Corporation, pursuant to section 4(5)(a) of the Iron and Steel Act 1975, to wind up British Steel Corporation (Industry) Limited.

The answer is, of course, as I had expected. If an hon. Member wishes to ask questions about the nationalised industries, he has to indulge in subterfuge, which is regrettable. But may I say that I hope—

Order. Let me point out two matters to the hon. Gentleman. First, he must ask a question. Secondly, he must keep his comments until a more appropriate time.

I was just about to put my question to my hon. Friend. Bearing in mind the mess that British Steel has made of its own industry, will my hon. Friend have talks with the chairman to make sure that he does not try to rearrange the deckchairs of the "Titanic" by attempting to lure industry away from Birmingham to the rest of the country? Will my hon. Friend stop him from spending tens of thousands of pounds trying to persuade Birmingham industry to go elsewhere, when industry in terms of British Steel has failed? In the Midlands, we are tired of British Steel taking our industry to cover its own mistakes.

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern to make sure that Birmingham and the West Midlands get their fair share of investment. However, I know he takes a balanced view of these matters, and I am sure that he will appreciate that this is a problem which is related to plant closures and that there are now no fewer than eight sites where BSC plant or land has been available as part of the closure arrangements. Having set the financial parameters for the British Steel Corporation, we must leave it to resolve the problems in the way that seems best to it.

Will the Government at least facilitate British Steel hiving off those plants that it no longer wishes to run to the private sector—if the private sector wishes to run them properly—while we still have an industry left with people to employ?

I appreciate, of course, what my hon. Friend suggests. However, these are matters where at present it may be a case of the least said, soonest mended.

Since the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) is so highly conversant with the private enterprise sector of the steel industry of the West Midlands, can we be sure that one of his colleagues will be raising the question shortly of Round Oak, the private enterprise company in the West Midlands which is in serious trouble?

Does not my hon. Friend agree that British Steel can save jobs only if its fully competitive? Is not it being impeded in its efforts to become competitive by its inability to obtain cheaper supplies of coking coal? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the British Steel Corporation will be able to import these supplies of cheaper coking coal?

My hon. Friend raises yet another argument which suggests that non-intervention is the best policy at present.

Bearing in mind the problems of the British steel industry, the possibility of a national strike on 2 January and the troubles that steel-making at Sheffield is having due to the dismissal of a shop steward, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that we debated in this House what is happening to the steel industry?

Recognising the present difficulties of the British Steel Corporation, when my hon. Friend refers to non-intervention in the case of coking coal will he accept that we have examples of intervention in other Common Market countries in support of their steel industries? Is it not therefore a great shame that the British Steel Corporation cannot receive similar energy supplies to assist the survival of the industry?

My hon. Friend may want to think this through in the wider context. He will probably be one of the first to agree that it is better to move away from a war of subsidy than to go too fast down that path.

Cannot the hon. Gentleman understand that when he talks about non-intervention to his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), he is encouraging the import of German coking coal, for example, with 29 times the subsidy given to such coal in this country? If he does not want to subsidise British coking coal, why do not he and his right hon. and hon. Friends ensure that subsidised coking coal is not allowed to come into the country?

This argument has been thrashed out many times. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the subsidy argument cannot be related to only one aspect of this issue. It has to be moved on to a much wider basis, and in the view of the Government this is a matter for agreement within the Community.

National Enterprise Board


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he will meet next the chairman of the National Enterprise Board.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects next to meet the board of the new National Enterprise Board.

I meet Sir Arthur Knight quite often, and I shall meet the full board soon.

Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the chairman of the NEB about the board's regional responsibilities? Does not he agree that the best way to show that it is living up to those responsibilities would to locate the Inmos factory in a special development area?

I do not think that there is any need to remind Sir Arthur or the new board of regional responsibilities. The decision on Inmos is for them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the NEB, when he meets it, that in no circumstances will he ever come to the House to say that the board is thinking of resigning before ascertaining whether it intends to do so? Will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise to the House for what he said about Rolls-Royce during the debate that we had on that subject?

In view of the horrifying and growing massive de-industrialisation of the British economy, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a time for abandoning entrenched attitudes on all sides and for him to discuss with the chairman of the National Enterprise Board a series of selective interventions to shore up parts of British industry that we cannot afford to lose?

The process to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers has been intensified over the years. That was so during the lifetime of the Labour Government, when the policy that he recommends was carried out in vain.

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the press reports that the new chairman of the National Enterprise Board is apparently about to advise him that in the remaining few weeks of the financial year, and after the Industry Bill receives Royal Assent, it would be foolish in the extreme to flog off assets in five or six important British industries?

The hon. Gentleman made his point of view plain in the most recent sitting of the Industry Bill in Committee. I am sure that the chairman of the NEB will have read his remarks.

Small Businesses


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what action he is taking to reduce the impact of high interest rates on small businesses.

The Government recognise that the high interest rates add to the difficulties faced by businesses of all sizes. But we must pursue our policies to control monetary growth if inflation is to be squeezed out of the economy. That is the most effective action we can take to assist small firms.

Since Conservative Members believe that small businesses are the engine of future economic well-being, and as such businesses will be squeezed by the forthcoming world recession, and by their customers retaining cash because of high interest rates, will my hon. Friend be more positive? I am sure that many small businesses throughout the country will wish to hear a more realistic appraisal from the Government.

There is no greater destructor of small businesses than rampant inflation, the removal of which has to be our first priority.

Is it not true that high interest rates are smashing small businesses? Is it not also true that the attitude of the Government towards large public and private enterprises, such as British Leyland, for example, will take its toll on small businesses? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when the Government attack large enterprises they are, in turn, attacking many small businesses which supply components and services?

The future of British Leyland depends upon the management and workers. We fully recognise the implications for the smaller business community.

Will my hon. Friend always treat advice from the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) with all the respect that it deserves? Is he aware that when the hon. Gentleman held the position my hon. Friend now occupies he was described as being about as suitable to look after small businesses as Jack the Ripper would have been to look after a nurses' home?

I shall not comment on that, save to say that the only piece of furniture that I inherited from the hon. Gentleman was a picture of a twisted railway line ending in a brick wall. I draw my own conclusions.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that unless the Government reduce interest rates quickly the only growth industry in Great Britain will be bankruptcy?

I am aware that the efforts of the Labour Government led to the highest rate of bankruptcy that has ever occurred in Britain's history. We recognise that the consequences of dealing with the problems of inflation, which we inherited, will be difficult for small businesses. We have taken that on board. Unless we squeeze inflation out of the economy we shall do immense damage to all businesses, large and small.

British Leyland


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he intends next to meet the senior management of British Leyland.

I see members of BL's senior management as and when the need arises.

When my right hon. Friend meets the senior management of British Leyland will he make it clear that it has no obligation to purchase high-price steel from the British Steel Corporation, and that it may be in its best interests, in view of recent developments, to enter into long-term supply contracts with Continental suppliers?

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the figures published today showing the increased import penetration of foreign cars into Britain? Does he now realise that if British Leyland is to compete with foreign manufacturers it is necessary for it to have a large injection of capital so that it may produce the new models which will sell in Britain and on the export markets?

I have explained that that BL plan is now before me. I shall report to the House the Government's decision as soon as possible.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the car industry's output has decreased from nearly 2 million cars 10 years ago to barely 1 million this year? Will he also bear in mind that that is affecting both the private and public sectors in the steel industry because of a lack of orders from the domestic car industry? What chance does my right hon. Friend see of bringing more work to our steel industry?

Yes, Sir, I realise that. Many firms and industries are interdependent.

British Steel Corporation


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

I have no plans at present to do so, but I meet the chairman and board members when necessary.

Will my right hon. Friend, as a matter of urgency, write to the board of the British Steel Corporation and commend the work that has been done by the staff side, trade unions and management at the Round Oak steelworks in my constituency? Will he also commend the manner in which 800 jobs are being shed to maintain steel-working on the site, where it has taken place for the past 200 years?

I am sure that all concerned will read the comments of my hon. Friend with gratification.

When the right hon. Gentleman next speaks to the chairman of the British Steel Corporation will he refer him to the letter sent to him by the hon. Member for Both well asking that the Clydale works at Mossend get the multi-pass mill? Will he bear in mind that if the works does not get the mill it will mean the demise of Clydale within the next six years, which in turn will mean another 2,000 jobs lost in the steel industry?

I am sure that the chairman and the management of the British Steel Corporation take all such matters seriously into account.

Will my right hon. Friend seek an early meeting with the chairman of British Steel to ask him how much progress the corporation is making in cutting some of its bureaucratic, top-heavy management, and to ask whether it will seriously consider off-loading to the private sector some of the plants that it cannot run profitably?

I regret that I have so often to say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that a proposition is for the management of British Steel. Once again, I have to tell my hon. Friend that if British Steel is not already well aware of the argument that he is advancing, I am sure that it will be made so by his remarks today.

Has the right hon. Gentleman heard from the board of the British Steel Corporation of the widespread resentment in the industry over the ruthless and ferocious way in which he is applying his financial policies?

The hon. Gentleman and the House must recognise that the market for steel has been much reduced, and that within that market competitiveness is the only way to preserve jobs and to be viable. The board of the corporation recognises that it is facing a falling market, and it is seeking to be competitive.

I accept my right hon. Friend's desire to ensure that the target that he set the British Steel Corporation earlier this year is met, but does he recognise that, following the publication last week of the half-yearly figures, it is clear that the corporation will not be able to meet the target within the time set? Does he accept that if we are to have a viable steel industry in future there will have to be more time for the corporation to meet his directive?

The Government are already planning to provide the corporation with no less than £450 million of the taxpayers' money for the next financial year. We adhere to the proposition that we shall not fund losses during the next financial year. The corporation has confirmed its intention to break even next year. It finds it essential to do so because the market has fallen so sharply.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he proposes to allow BSC to default on the payment of wages and other bills after the end of March?

Some months ago I told the British Steel Corporation board that I did not expect it to get into a position in which it ran out of funds next year. It has had ample warning of the need so to arrange its affairs that the contingency foreseen by the hon. Gentleman does not occur.

Does my right hon. Friend remember the remark attributed to the previous chairman of the BSC, Sir Monty Finniston, that he could make all the steel needed in Britain, competitively, but with a work force of 50,000 men? Are not many of the troubles of the present chairman due to the insistence of the previous Labour Government in keeping overmanned marginal steelworks going because they were located in Labour constituencies?

I think that misplaced—be it kindness, or timidity—has, by preventing adjustment when the market was better, succeeded in forcing upon the British steel industry far sharper cuts than might have been necessary.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that, if he were right in that, it would apply to the private sector of the steel industry, which is in just as much trouble as the public sector, if not worse? But is not the real reason the fact that competition from other countries, particularly in Europe, is coming in on a subsidised and unfair basis? In the light of that, how can he possibly expect viability by March 1980?

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's main proposition is true.



asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will introduce incentives for British industry to adopt robots.

It is important that British firms should consider urgently what benefits robotics may offer them and take an early interest where these are likely to be crucial, even in the longer term. Support of novel applications is possible through existing arrangements, for example the microprocessor applications project.

As that sounds a bit like misplaced timidity, if I may say so, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that we have had the need in this area for the past 15 years but that, as usual, those who want to develop robots have been deprived of resources? Is he further aware that our main competitor in this area—Germany—is investing greatly? What does he intend to do about it?

As I said to the hon. Lady, it is possible to support novel applications through existing arrangements, for example the microprocessor applications project. We shall, of course, help support and develop robotics in the United Kingdom where such support is essential and can be found within existing provisions.

Is my hon. Friend aware that of far greater potential benefit to the United Kingdom economy than the manufacture of silicon chips is the application of these devices to British industry? Is he satisfied in this connection that those British firms which are tailor-making equipment to provide for the automation of British industry, are showing the necessary ingenuity and flexibility?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the benefits which come from the application rather than from the original main invention. We should like to see—and seek to create—an environment in which we encourage British industry to take more advantage of new processes of this kind.

Will the Minister always keep his eyes to the future and to modernisation? Will he also bear in mind such schemes as that which has been brought into operation by Mr. Len Ferns, I think, in the North-West, who has decided to pay the income tax of his employees and has therefore cut out the squabbles and enmity that is created by employees having to pay income tax on their wages? Will he look into that scheme and see whether he can enlarge it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to that particular scheme. I visited the factory and saw for myself the dynamic effects it has had on the pace of the work of those employed there. There may well be wider applications, but the lesson from it, surely, is that lower tax is a major incentive and that we should not fail to take note of that.

European Community (Regional Development Fund)


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is the total value of grants made towards projects in England by the European regional development fund since 1975.

The sum of £146 million. This includes £58·5 million in respect of industrial projects and £87·5 million in respect of infrastructure projects.

Does my hon. Friend agree that these are beneficial to the United Kingdom and provide further evidence of the advantages that accrue to us through our membership of the Common Market? What steps are the Government taking at the Council of Ministers to develop the European regional development fund, as this would be greatly to the advantage of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the benefits to the United Kingdom arising from this fund. The regional fund is one of the few parts of the Community budget to give us a modest net benefit and is one that is guaranteed because of fixed national quotas. As to further opportunities that may come in the future, in view of the current state of flux I hope my hon. Friend agrees that that is another question.

Is not it true that if the regional fund is made larger we shall simply have a larger proportion to pay? Will the hon. Gentleman look at the whole machinery, which at the moment is simply being used for some parts of the infrastructure and not for industry at all?

It is perfectly true that, within the totality of the Common Market budget, there seems to be a lack of balance at present. We shall continue to pursue the United Kingdom interest in that connection.

Will my hon. Friend consider moving away from the discredited doctrine of additionality in the distribution of these funds, particularly now that the areas in which they might be helpful are being reduced by Government policy?

Is not it a fact that the Minister can no longer take refuge in euphemisms about lack of balance? Are not we paying £1,000 million more than anybody else, although we are far behind in our gross national product? Is it not time that the Prime Minister fought it out and told the Europeans bluntly that if we do not get the money back we shall come out of the Common Market?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not in the House when the Prime Minister reported that she had been doing just that.

British Steel Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what account of official or national support given to the steel industries in other countries he takes in his own consideration of the position of the British Steel Corporation.

In setting the corporation the target of operating at a profit in 1980–81 my right hon. Friend had very much in mind the efforts being made by steel industries in other countries also to operate profitably.

Is the Minister aware that British Steel Corporation's losses per ton are dissimilar and that, indeed, the position may be better than in other countries where the steel industries enjoy sustained support from their Governments, who are busily engaged in exporting their unemployment to this country? Will he not, in the national interest, ensure that his right hon. Friend curbs his excessive concern to slaughter British Steel Corporation's capacity, which is required and should be sustained for the longer term?

First, comparisons are very difficult to make. However, if the hon. Gentleman considers them, he will see that British Steel, in terms of losses per ton, is very much at the bottom of the European table. Nowhere, as far as I am aware, will he find any European Government or taxpayers who have put £3 billion into their industry over the past four years, as we have. Second, if he looks at the comparisons, he will see that, for the greater part, either the European steel industries are operating profitably, or are showing a break-even, or are expecting profits in the near future.

Will my hon. Friend discuss with Sir Charles Villiers his statistics released in the press last week showing that United States and European engineering and steel production increased over the past five years and that there was a dramatic decrease in Britain? Does he not agree that this trend in Britain must now be reversed after a disastrous five years?

One of the problems in the European situation, as my hon. Friend probably knows better than I do, has been the increase in capacity in some countries. The result today is, I believe, that the European steel industry as a whole operates at about 70 per cent. of capacity. That is one of our problems. The chairman of BSC made some thorough assessments. It is his view that the United Kingdom industry must bring capacity down in line with demand, which will mean a reduction of the order of 5 million tons per annum.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the steel industry is not working in a textbook world of perfect competition? The Secretary of State should know what a Utopian world of perfect competition is. Is he aware that, by insisting on rigid cash limits, he will cause catastrophic losses in many regions at a time when, by his industrial policy, he is removing the very weapons that can provide jobs?

The hon. Gentleman must realise that the reasons for the plans that the British Steel Corporation has announced in outline and is discussing with the unions are lack of demand and a weak market. Those matters are not directly related to the cash position.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a great paradox on this issue displayed in the attitude of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), in that while he is tremendously opposed to the Common Market, the greatest support for European industry in the past two years has come from an EEC initiative—the Davignon plan?

Indeed. The purpose of Ministers is to try to ensure the continuation of the Davignon proposals into next year.

Does the Minister agree that the successive destruction of Scunthorpe, Llanwern and Port Talbot will destroy capacity in this country which can be replaced in future only by imports, which will do even more ferocious damage to the balance of payments than the Government have done so far?

Without commenting on the particular plants, I can only repeat that the assessment of BSC management is that there is no market for the steel. Unlike the Labour Party, I think that the British Steel Corporation tries to live in the land of reality. Because the market is weak, it sees the need to bring down capacity to meet it.

Did my hon. Friend gather from the recent debate on the steel industry that the salient feature was that sales equal production which equals employment? In view of the thousands of jobs lost in my constituency, can we convey to people how important sales are?

Sales will come about only through the British Steel Corporation being competitive, getting its manning in line with European manning and getting its product up to the quality of its competitors. Then it will sell steel.

Does the Minister of State deny that European steel producers are receiving larger subsidies than the British Steel Corporation—perhaps hidden in the coking coal subsidy? Does he also deny that the British Steel Corporation's losses per ton are smaller than many European steel producers? Will he confirm that we are likely to see the closure of steel-making capacity in this country which is more modern and efficient than that which is likely to remain open in the rest of Europe?

Certainly. I think that I have already acknowledged that some European companies and industries are subsidised. I am not aware that, over recent years and at present, they are subsidised to the extent of BSC. If the hon. Gentleman will table a question I shall be happy to send him the loss figures of European companies. I have the list here. British Steel Corporation's loss in the last year is higher than that of any other company in this list.

Industrial Investment


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied with the current level of industrial investment; and if he will make a statement.

No. But the way in which many firms use existing investment is equally disappointing.

Is the Minister aware that Scottish industry will be starved of investment because of the Government's decisions to cut the budget and powers of the Scottish Development Agency and to withdraw development area status from many places where unemployment is still too high? Does he realise that we need more, not less, public investment, especially since the ending of exchange controls will shift more private investment out of the country?

Questions concerning the budget for the Scottish Development Agency are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, with minimum lending rate at 17 per cent. and, therefore, industrial borrowing 3 or 4 per cent. higher, there is an even greater need—if we are to get on top of inflation so that interest rates can come down—for the trade union movement to back Government policy in cutting public expenditure and not oppose it?

My hon. Friend is right. The low level of productivity and the consequent low level of sales in this country are caused by a number of circumstances, not least lack of incentives, inadequate management and restrictive practices, all of which have played their part.

Will Conservative Members, who seem to have a balance-sheet mentality in relation to industry, accept that their policies have been entirely loss-making? In those circumstances, will the Minister give an assessment of how long this loss-making white elephant of a Government will continue?

The Government's first target of cutting inflation at its sources will be followed by a second one of helping the creation of many thousands more businesses, which will create sufficient wealth that, by the time of and after the next election, we shall have another Conservative Government?

Rolls-Royce Ltd


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he has had a meeting with the board of Rolls-Royce Ltd. following his statement announcing the members of the National Enterprise Board.

Has not the Secretary of State's row with the National Enterprise Board distracted attention from the real financial problems facing Rolls-Royce? Will he give some kind of assurance that he will treat this major company in a high technology area with some sympathy and support and not with the ruthless abandon that seems to have been exhibited towards certain other major publicly owned companies?

I am sure that the present and future management of Rolls-Royce will make as great a success as can conceivably be made of the triumphant increase in orders that the management and work force have achieved.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that orders alone are not enough, if they are not profitable? Will he assure the House that his Department's financial objectives for Rolls-Royce will be no less stringent than those of the NEB—namely, the achievement of at least a 10 per cent. return on assets by 1981?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when Rolls-Royce was under the auspices of the NEB, as part of the NEB's guidelines, Rolls-Royce had a duty to promote industrial democracy—despite the political lock-out that it organised during the engineering industry dispute? Now that the right hon. Gentleman presumes to run, or to handle, Rolls-Royce directly from his Department, what kind of guidelines or advice on industrial relations will he give to the chairman of Rolls-Royce?

We have expressed our general desire that industrial relations shall be as good as possible. We do not think that edicts from the Government or fiats under the law will improve industrial relations. We note that the legal requirement on the NEB to impose industrial democracy was totally ineffective under the previous Labour Government.

Post Office (Industrial Democracy)


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will make a statement on the continuation of the Post Office industry democracy experiment.

The views of all interested parties are at present being considered. My right hon. Friend expects to make a statement shortly.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great deal of suspicion that his Department is about to terminate this experiment? Is he also aware that there is a great deal of concern, because many in the trade union movement feel that it has been a valuable experiment? Will he give an undertaking that he will assure trade union members who have been appointed to the Post Office Board that they have done valuable work and that, because of that work, this experiment will be continued?

First of all, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am well aware of the views on this subject, because I have consulted widely, I have spoken to the Post Office management, the trade union members on the board, other trade unionists, and others who are interested. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this arrangement was set up by agreement between the two parties concerned for an experimental period of two years. If there is no agreement between the two parties about its continuation, the experiment lapses.

In view of the Secretary of State's most recent announcement that he does not believe that fiats from Government do anything to help industrial relations, will the Minister of State advise the House whether his right hon. Friend intends to vote against the Employment Bill due to be introduced next Monday?

I do not think that that is relevant to this question. The hon. Gentleman is disagreeing with his hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), who appears to be asking for intervention by the Minister concerned—myself or my right hon. Friend—over the continuation of this agreement. We are saying that this is a matter between the parties concerned. It is much better that experiments such as this continue by agreement and not by diktat.

Jury Vetting


asked the Attorney-General if he has concluded his consideration of the guidelines on jury vetting.

No, Sir. One aspect of the practice has been dealt with in the Divisional Court today. I shall consider the implications of this and then consult further with my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary before reaching my own conclusions.

Does not the Attorney-General consider that the best course might be to abolish this dubious practice, rather than spend a lot of time considering how it might be perpetuated?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind approaches other than those that have been made from Left-wing organisations? Is he aware that there are many who believe that it is important that we should have a balanced and proper jury to consider trials, particularly political trials? Does he agree that there has certainly been a degree of success with jury vetting in the past? My right hon. and learned Friend should consider that as well as the opposition to it.

All these matters will be considered when I have discussions with my right hon. Friend.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that this would have been a good subject for discussion by a Select Committee, had it not been that the Lord Chancellor was frightened of appearing before Select Committees and persuaded the Cabinet that he and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should not do so? Is it not true that the Lord Chancellor, in spite of the fact that it is the Home Secretary's responsibility to deal with the criminal law, has been talking all over the country about matters which he is afraid to deal with before Select Committees of the House?

I know that this subject is the hon. Gentleman's pet hobby horse and that he never misses the chance to make the point. I reject utterly the assertion that my right hon. and noble Friend is in any way frightened of anything or anybody.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind, on the whole of this question, that quite apart from what may be proper in the case of ordinary criminal trials, it is inevitable that there will be trials from time to time involving the safety of the State in which some form of jury vetting is absolutely essential for the protection of society?

Yes. This is one of the matters that will have to be considered.

Will the Attorney-General give an assurance to the House that, pending his further consideration of this important matter, there will be no further authorisation of jury vetting without the right hon. and learned Gentleman informing the House and placing a report on it in the Library?

No, Sir. What I can say is that there will be no further jury vetting, if it should prove necessary, except under my direct approval.

Official Secrets Acts


asked the Attorney-General if he will now make a statement about his prosecution policy under the Official Secrets Acts.

In deciding in any case whether to give my consent to a prosecution I shall consider whether there is sufficient evidence to support a charge and whether it is in the public interest.

May I congratulate the Attorney-General on his part in dropping the Protection of Official Information Bill in the wake of the Blunt affair? Is he aware that intimidation over the use of section 2, which all civil servants have to sign, is still a great inhibition upon civil servants opening up scandal and waste in Governments? When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bring forward a Bill to abolish section 2 and introduce a freedom of information Bill on the lines of the Bill put forward by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud)?

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the restriction on civil servants. Their obligations and duties as to how they should deal with official documents are clear. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend to decide when, at what time and in what form, any Bill to replace the present Act should be produced.

If the Attorney-General does not intend to invoke a law that appears on the statute book is it not high time that it was revoked?

I have not said in any way that I shall not invoke a law that is on the statute book. I shall have to consider each case and decide whether, both upon the evidence and in the public interest, a prosecution should take place.

Does the Attorney-General appreciate that the Government have, at present, left this matter in mid-air? Can he give the House any idea of the Government's policy regarding the repeal of section 2?

As is known, the Bill was withdrawn from the other place, so section 2 still applies. In appropriate cases, when I am considering the public interest aspect, it will be open to me to take into account the recommendations of the Franks committee, the proposals made by successive Governments—because this goes back a long way—and public opinion on these proposals as expressed in Parliament and elsewhere.

Is not the Lord Chancellor one of those who has expressed, from time to time, concern about what he described as an elective dictatorship—a view about which he seems rather mute these days? Is not one of the ways in which scrutiny can continue through more open government? Would it not be a matter of public concern if a civil servant spoke out freely about waste in government, for example? Does not this all point to the need for more open government? What, for goodness sake, will this Conservative Government do about that?

The question asked about my policy on prosecuting under the Official Secrets Acts. I have described that. How far a civil servant can go in disclosing matters about his ordinary day-to-day work would be a matter for me to consider. I should have to consider whether a disclosure was a breach of the Official Secrets Acts, bearing in mind all public interest aspects, some of which I have referred to today.

Director Of Public Prosecutions


asked the Attorney-General, when he expects next to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Will the Attorney-General discuss, with the Director of Public Prosecutions, whether there is any time limits on the immunities granted to traitors such as Anthony Blunt and Ian Smith? In view of the fact that many law-abiding people in this country and elsewhere would be deeply offended if the likes of Ian Smith were allowed immunity from prosecution for the rest of their life, will the Attorney-General confirm the possibility of his being arrested and prosecuted for treasonable activities?

I can give no such confirmation. That is a matter for my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I had hoped that it was made clear during the debate on the Blunt affair that, when a confession is obtained as a result of immunity being granted, that confession remains inadmissible against that person for all time. If there was no other evidence it would be quite impossible to prosecute.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend again discuss with the Director of Public Prosecutions the delays in our courts and the advantages which would be gained in speeding up the criminal process if, in summary trials, the prosecution was obliged to serve on the defence a copy of its evidence?

My hon. Friend knows that I am sympathetic to that course of action. It is a matter on which we are continuing our discussions. I hope to be able to reach some decision quite soon.

Will the Attorney-General congratulate the Director of Public Prosecutions on sending a full-time official from his Department to assist in the Operation Countryman inquiry to ensure that there is no undue delay in evaluating the legal consequences of the results? Will he also raise with the Director the question why the headquarters of the inquiry have changed from Camber well to Godalming, in view of the disquieting press reports that security involving some police officers could not be guaranteed in the London area?

What amounts to lending an official from the office of the Director, to the Countryman inquiry was, I think, very sensible. I shall happily pass on the comments of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I hope that he made his second comment without having read the full statement by the assistant chief constable, Mr. Burt, who asserted in the clearest terms that suggestions that the Countryman investigations had been obstructed were completely without truth. That is what he said yesterday and it is in most newspapers today. I am satisfied that Mr. Burt is right about that.

Iron And Steel Trades Confederation

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely:

"the decision by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to call a national strike of its membership in the public sector from 2 January 1980."
I seek a debate because the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation has within its membership a far greater number of workers employed in the steel industry than any other trade union, and there is no doubt that the whole of the British Steel Corporation plants will close production the moment such a strike becomes effective.

The British Steel Corporation supplies 54 per cent. of the home market steel demand and a closure of its works would have an immediate and catastrophic effect on all steel-using industries, particularly shipbuilding, car manufacture and engineering. There is little doubt that the steel workers will get the sympathy of those unions concerned in the movement of imported steel in this country.

Many people believe that the BSC is already heading down the road of destroying the steel industry in this country. With less than two weeks to go before the industry shuts down for the Christmas and New Year break I believe that the House should debate the matter immediately.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Homewood) gave me notice this morning before 12 o'clock that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believed should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the decision by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to call a national strike of its membership in the public sector from 2 January 1980."
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Standing Order but to give no reasons for my decision. I listened with care to the hon. Member, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Mr George Wilkinson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on Thursday last, during business questions, I requested the Leader of the House to make arrangements for an early statement to be made, either in this House or in another place, on the death of a constituent of mine, Mr. George Wilkinson, who was then in prison in Walton, in Liverpool. As hon. Members will know, if one is informed of such an occurrence at 2.30 pm on a Thursday the opportunities to raise the matter are strictly limited. It is not possible to table a private notice question or to seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9.

Since I raised that matter, and the Leader of the House was kind enough to say that he fully understood my concern and would pass my request to his right hon. Friend, certain things have happened. First, the other place has not sat—either on Friday or today—so it has not been practicable for a statement to be made there by the Home Office Minister responsible for the prison service. Secondly, there has been a great deal of speculation in the press, both nationally and, particularly, in the North-East.

I am now in the difficulty that, at 2.50 this afternoon, I was informed by the Liverpool coroner that he had opened a coroner's inquest. At about 3 o'clock, the inquest was adjourned.

I therefore ask, Mr. Speaker, not for a ruling today but for your consideration of the difficulty that faces an hon. Member in these circumstances. It would be improper for me to raise in the House the cause of death, because that is now under the auspices and control of the coroner; it is sub judice. But there are other matters relating to the death of this person—not as to the cause of death but as to the circumstances prior to the immediate cause of death—which are the proper concern of the coroner.

I ask for you ruling, Mr. Speaker, and the comments of the Leader of the House, as to how an hon. Member is to proceed, particularly on a Thursday, when he learns that a constituent has died in prison in circumstances that give rise to difficulty. I ask for your opinion and ruling on the question whether, over the next five weeks—the inquest has been adjourned till at least 16 January—I shall be inhibited from asking any question, not on the cause of death but on other matters, whether I shall be inhibited from applying for an Adjournment debate and whether the Home Office is inhibited from making a statement in the House, since the Leader of the House said that he would at least pass on my request in good faith to the Home Secretary.

What is the position of an hon. Member when an inquest has been opened at 2.50 pm, as this one has today, before the first opportunity for a statement to be made, a private notice question to be tabled, or any other facility available to a Back Bencher to be used? What can I do and what can the House do between now and 16 January?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before you give your ruling, perhaps I might say that, fulfilling what I told the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), I passed his request immediately to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. These other events have supervened.

I shall of course look into what the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) has said and will communicate with him if there is any way in which I can help him. I shall give serious consideration to the matters that he has raised.


Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful if on that matter you would also communicate with me. The unfortunate man was in Walton prison only for one night, which is why I have not raised the matter, but the issue involves my constituency and some of my constituents, and it is therefore important that I should be informed. I reiterate that the unfortunate man was in Walton prison for only one night. I do not believe that the prison officers who are my constituents were involved, but I should like to be kept informed.

It would be preferable if I made my statement to the House briefly. Then the whole House will be in the picture.

Nuclear Missiles (Nato Meeting)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9—

Order. The hon. Member has probably not had the message that I sent to him. He gave me notice at 12.50 pm, which was after the time when he should have given notice, since this matter was known last week and he could have given notice that he wished to move the Adjournment of the House. Therefore, he cannot do it today.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since last Thursday, the Prime Minister of Holland has been to see the British Prime Minister and the American President—something that introduces, if I may say so, a new factor in the question of the 12 December meeting of NATO to discuss the siting of new nuclear missiles on British territory. Therefore, I ask that I be permitted to make my request for the Adjournment of the House—not to argue the case but to give reasons why it is a matter of urgent importance and one of precision. I should like to do that.

I should very much like to help the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). I prefer to help hon. Members, but the House has given me instructions that where the facts are known before 12 o'clock applications for Adjournment debates must reach me before that time. To reveal circumstances that I do not normally reveal—last week I had privately to indicate to another hon. Member that he could not raise a matter that he wished to raise because he had not notified me by the proper time. If I start playing with the rules of the House in this way it will be difficult to know where to draw the line. The House has given me the rules, which it expects me to observe.

Further to the point of order Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State for Defence failed to come to the House on Thursday, the day after the meeting that has been widely canvassed on television, and that meeting has not been subject to democratic debate in this House, an omission that is unique among the European Powers concerned. I therefore give you notice, Mr. Speaker, that, if there is no statement I intend to raise the matter next Monday under the Standing Order No. 9 procedure.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have guidance on how to raise the issue, in view of what you said to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun)? If a Standing Order No. 9 application were made to you before the prescribed time, would that be in order? There are important issues at stake on the possible deployment of theatre nuclear weapons. May we have guidance on how we can raise the issue under the rules of procedure?

I in no way underestimate the strength of feeling on the part of the hon. Member for Salford, East and hon. Members who support him in the matter. I am merely indicating that I have to observe the rules of the House. Had the notice come to me before 12 o'clock the hon. Member would certainly have been called to seek the leave of the House under Standing Order No. 9.

Further to my point of order, Mr. Speaker. If before 12 o'clock tomorrow morning I seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House, and particularly if there is a new development in the matter, will I be in order?

I am not being unsympathetic when I say that I shall let the hon. Member know tomorrow, when we know whether there is a new factor in the issue.

Bill Presented

Trade Descriptions

Mr. Martin Flannery, supported by Miss Joan Maynard and Mr. Frank Hooley, presented a Bill to extend the operation of section 1 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1972: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 14 December and to be printed. [Bill 102].

Statutory Instruments

With the leave of the House, I shall put together the questions on the motions relating to the four Statutory Instruments. I understand that the motion relating to dangerous substances is not moved.


That the draft Weights and Measures Act 1964 (Milk) Order 1979 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Solid Fuel) Order 1979 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Cinematograph Films (Distribution of Levy) (Amendment) Regulations 1979 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Cinematograph Films (Collection of Levy) (Amendment No. 7) Regulations 1979 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &c.—[ Mr. MacGregor.]

Hypnotism (No 2) Bill

The following notice of motion stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. David Crouch:

That the Hypnotism (No. 2) Bill be referred to a Second Reading Committee.

In accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 66, as amended on 31 October, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) may move his motion only with the leave of the House. Leave having been declined, the Question cannot be put.

The Executive And Public Bodies

3.47 pm

I beg to move,

That there should be a review of the status and working of nationalised industries so as to provide for more effective scrutiny of the working of government-appointed bodies and nationalised industries.
By sheer coincidence, it is almost nine years to the day since I had a similar good fortune in winning the ballot. On that occasion, because of the special significance in my constituency, I drew attention to the need to review international navigation regulations. Last month, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales opened on the white cliffs of Dover the most up-to-date coastguard monitoring system in the British Isles, which is designed to minimise accidents in that congested part of the English Channel. I resist the temptation to suggest to the House that it was the debate that I then initiated that led to that structure being built and traffic lanes being obligatory in the English Channel. It has taken several giant tanker disasters and the pollution of our beaches to prove the need for such elementary precautions.

Today, my motion has wider implications, and, like the dangers at sea, the problems are well known but the solutions are not easy to quantify. Our democratic system depends on a realistic relationship between hon. Members and the Executive, and we need to review our position as well as that of the civil servants. That matter was brought home to me recently when I asked a newly elected hon. Member what his first reactions were following his introduction to the House. His comment that there was too much politics in the House gave me as much surprise as that experienced by the Verger of St. Paul's when an American tourist asked him whether the cathedral was open on Sundays.

Earlier in this century, Parliament controlled expediture by insisting that details of public expenditure be debated on the Floor of this House on Supply days. In recent years, these Supply days have become the instrument of the Opposition in order to raise political matters, the debate of which is more likely to affect the results of the next by-election than effectively control Government expenditure, and that applies equally to all political parties.

Like many hon. Members, my earlier adult years were in industry, and I had the honour to be elected to the House at what is now classically called "middle age". Not unnaturally, therefore, I am inclined to relate this motion to the situation in industry.

The responsibilities of Secretaries of State, supported by their Ministers, are similar to those of the chairman of a public company. Bearing in mind that the number of staff in a Government Department can vary from over 250,000 in the Ministry of Defence to 1,300 in the Department of Industry, there is as wide a diversity in Government as we find in private industry. The Department of the Environment has a staff of 50,000, and only 31 United Kingdom firms and 11 nationalised industries have a larger labour force.

Let us compare these responsibilities. After a general election, a Minister is appointed to head a Department that is administered by a permanent secretary who the day before could have been faithfully carrying out the policy decisions of the previous Minister, whose policies may well be diametrically opposed to those of the new Minister.

The industrial comparison would probably be a liquidator taking over control of a company. When one compares the duties of the chairman of an international company with those of a Secretary of State of the Crown, it is not too difficult to appreciate the difference. A Minister is expected, within a week of his appointment, to be able to answer in the House of Commons the most searching questions on the work of his Department. If a questioner is not satisfied with the answer, the Minister can be compelled to reply to an Adjournment debate that might take place well after midnight.

It would be fascinating to see the reaction of the newly appointed chairman of a large industrial group if told that a shareholder was coming to see him at midnight to seek an explanation of the mistakes of his predecessor. We recently had an example of the Secretary of State for the Environment being obliged to give priority over all his responsibilities to explain that the House had been mis- led because some folders were, in accordance with normal custom, tied together.

I maintain to the utmost that if a Minister misleads the House it should be obligatory on him to apologise to the House and correct the error. But there is, surely, a difference between a Minister's deliberately misleading the House on a major issue and giving an incorrect answer to a parliamentary question as a result of a clerical error. On the other hand, if the chairman of a hypothetical company had received 11 letters from the same shareholder and two replies had been inadvertently placed in the wrong envelope, is it likely that he would waste his time by attending a shareholders' meeting to explain the error? A Minister is expected to read and personally sign letters received by his Department from over 600 Members of Parliament who submit complaints and problems put to them by their constituents. He is expected to remember those replies when hon. Members meet him in the Lobby and wish to discuss problems with him. The chairman of a public company would delegate his responsibility in that regard to his public relations department.

It should also be remembered that a Minister, during the long Committee stage of any Bill that he is promoting, depends on the notes that his parliamentary draftsmen pass to him when he is replying to the Committee's criticism on clauses. These Committees can take two mornings a week over a considerable period. The equivalent in industry would be the chairman of a public company in industry wishing to alter the memorandum and articles of association. He would not contemplate doing so personally, but would delegate the matter to his legal department.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree, though, that it is the very fact that a Minister has to take responsibility at the Dispatch Box for matters that have gone wrong, not as a result of his own failures but of those of his subordinates, that causes a Department to try to avoid similar mistakes happening again and to correct them when they do occur? Do we not receive many letters, as Members of Parliament, about bodies including, sometimes, private companies, in which this chain of responsibility does not exist?

I agree. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall quote one Liberal Minister who was up against the same problem in 1869. That was Mr. Ayrton, one of Mr. Gladstone's Ministers.

Is it any wonder, in view of these responsibilities, that the, day-to-day operation of a Government Department must, of necessity, be controlled by the Permanent Secretary? He is responsible for carrying out his Minister's policies. By tradition, a permanent secretary can argue against the policies. But once the Minister has laid down those policies, the permanent secretary is honour bound to implement them regardless of personal conviction. There is one safeguard. The permanent secretary can advise the Minister, in writing, of his disagreement with the policies. In that event, the Minister can order the permanent secretary, also in writing, to carry out his instructions in spite of any personal conviction.

In due course, these facts will be disclosed to the House of Commons and will be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee on a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I am glad to say that in the many years that I have been a member of the PAC this has never happened. Equally, the PAC, as far as I am aware, has always taken a bipartisan view on any matters brought before it.

The industrial equivalent would be for the chief executive of a company to resign or be dismissed. In industrial terms, the public sector lacks the discipline which the market place provides elsewhere. Yet the public and nationalised industries spend more money and deploy more staff than ever before.

I have therefore asked for this debate so that the House can assess its ability to monitor the workings of the various Departments. The House will recall that the Procedure Committee has spent a great deal of time on proposals to re-design our Select Committee structure. The House has agreed to those proposals in principle. Unless these Committees are detached from party politics, their deliberations could follow the pattern of our Supply day debates and deteriorate into electioneering party politics.

Now that these new Committees are tied to Departments, an excellent opportunity occurs for them to study the effects of political decisions on the cost of the Departments and also the cost of capital projects that they have in mind. For example, if they were to study in detail the various reports of the PAC, they would observe that millions, almost hundreds of millions, of pounds have been wasted because Parliament has insisted upon the commencement of new projects before the plans have been properly completed.

There is a great temptation in times of financial stringency to disband architectural and engineering teams only to find, when the economic climate improves, that the blueprints are not ready for the capital works to start. For political expediency, the practical engineers' objections are often overruled. Examples that come readily to mind are the Liverpool teaching hospital, and roads and bridges, not forgetting the Humber bridge. Independent Committees should influence Cabinet decisions.

The powers that Parliament has conferred on these Committees are such that they will have to be used with the utmost discretion. I accept the decision that they should sit in public. However, it this is abused by hon. Members who seek to score political points, the whole system could be brought into contempt. One should reflect, for example, on the temptation before an Opposition Member with a marginal seat to put questions to a witness giving evidence to the Committee, in front of the press, in such a form that the most tentative proposal could appear to the press to be positive future Government policy.

I remind the House of the confusion that arose when tentative proposals were being considered by the EEC to standardise the quality of beer throughout the Community. The scare of Euro-beer was used by opponents of the Common Market.

The first report of the Selection Committee in appendix D on page 38, sets out a memorandum of guidance for officials appearing before Select Committees. It is not clear whether the memorandum is binding only on officials or is considered to be a guideline for the Committee's procedure as a whole. If the House could be given a decision on that matter today, it would be extremely—

We can answer that clearly. We asked the Departments concerned to produce this memorandum. They did. It was printed as evidence to the Select Committee. It is not binding on the Procedure Committee or anyone in this Parliament. As far as I know, it has no legal force. It may be regarded as an instruction by one person in a hierarchy to his inferiors. That is its strength.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know the amount of work he has put into this matter. He emphasises my point. Now is the time for decision. That decision should not be taken when there is a problem about whether Ministers should appear or whether certain Cabinet papers should be produced. I am submitting—the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) makes the point better—that the House at this early stage should get a decision. I am asking that the Government and the Cabinet should come to a decision. I do not, however, believe that the decision is in the giving of the Cabinet. It is this House that has the ultimate authority. It is much better to make a decision before trouble occurs, because bad cases make bad law.

One of the main reasons why I asked for this debate was that I hoped that we could settle these matters at an early stage, when we do not have prejudice. As far as I can see, only Mr. Speaker's prayers are answered.

It should be laid down that if a Minister refuses to produce papers and records the Committee should be empowered to take precedence over public business of the House. But the Opposition could use such a power wrongly to stop the business. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West, who remembers the case so well, has said that if a Minister does not produce the papers that are asked for, the business of the House should immediately be stopped. But that could be a wonderful arrangement for Opposition Members. Like me, the hon. Gentleman is a Chairman of Committees, and he knows the tactics that are being used now to delay Government business. The Committees should not be a method by which to do that.

As we now appoint Select Committees related to Government Departments, we should investigate the cost to each Department of serving Parliament in general and the Committees in particular. Once we asked that certain data be produced, there is a tendency for the Department to continue to produce the information, whether or not it is of real value.

I am delighted to see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) is present. I had the privilege of being his Parliamentary Private Secretary for a number of years, and I remember how he used to go through the Department finding out whether information was needed.

To my amazement, when I carried out some research on this matter I found an interesting passage in a Hansard of 2 March 1869, 110 years ago. That was the time of the Gladstone Government. Mr. Ayrton, who was Mr. Gladstone's Secretary to the Treasury, admitted in replying to a Supply day debate that the charge for printing was very heavy. The report went on—the reference is col. 537:
"but he must, at the same time, remind hon. Members that the expense…was one which they themselves…created…constantly asking for information which had to be printed and circulated. The only way to diminish the expenditure for printing was by a little forbearance on the part of the Members themselves. There was always an indisposition on the part of the Government to refuse Returns, because it looked as if there existed a desire to conceal something. The mere preparation of the Returns cost a good deal, and when they were laid upon the table hon. Members might with advantage consider whether any urgent necessity existed for printing and distributing them. His own conviction was that a great many hon. Members did not pass their time in reading these Returns."
I remember a Liberal hon. Member once saying that he read Hansard every day, but he has gone to the House of Lords now.

The report went on:
"That day, for instance, they had received nearly 500 clearly printed pages of evidence relating to two Election Petitions. He should be curious to know by this day week whether any hon. Members had read these through."
I tried to find out today how many pages we had had last week, but one does not count the pages these days; one weighs them.

Mr. Ayrton was referring to the cost of £11,000 for the Irish Constabulary. The following passage shows that there is nothing new in the world:
"With regard to the Irish Constabulary, it was not surprising, in the state in which Ireland had been for some time past, that the force should have been brought up to its full complement, and, having to maintain this armed force, everybody, he thought, must agree that the best thing was to arm them in the best manner, so as to impress people with the conviction that they were efficient and capable of putting down disturbances."
It is an essential part of our democratic process that Members of Parliament should have the right to ask parliamentary questions. We have recently limited hon. Members to one oral question per Minister per day. The Committees might like to investigate what the saving would be if written questions were limited to, say, four per day on the same basis.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) wants time to debate her own motion, so I shall not delay the House for much longer. However, before I conclude I should like to refer particularly to the position of the nationalised industries, because I think that they are the most serious and most difficult matter.

At present some of the nationalised industries are controlled by other nationalised bodies, such as the National Enterprise Board. As a result, some nationalised industries are controlled by a board which has on it directors who are probably competitors of other directors. The board has to report to a Department, which in turn must report to the Treasury. All that having been gone through, if the Treasury wants additional funds for the nationalised industries in question it has to go to a Cabinet committee. It is little wonder that the nationalised indusries are inefficient. The set-up is more like a modern Gilbert and Sullivan opera than an efficient business.

Only last month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment gave a talk to the British Institute of Management in which he said:
"When I talk of being involved in management, I do not for a moment mean by that that politicians would or should become like managers in the industrial sense of the word, but only that all the information tools of management should be available to politicians and to civil servants.
The most important aspect of this approach is the relationship between Ministers and civil servants. We could do none of these things without them, and, indeed, one feels, I hope not over-optimistically, that what we are doing is as interesting to them as it is to us."
I hope that the members of the Committees will bear that in mind when they investigate Departments.

4.7 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on giving us this opportunity to examine the subject matter of his motion. It is important that the House should from time to time pay attention to the need for parliamentary control of the Executive and public bodies. The hon. Gentleman also brings in the nationalised industries. I want to deal with them later.

We should certainly think of parliamentary control of the Executive, because we have a Prime Minister who seems to be running the show. We wonder whether the Cabinet or the Prime Minister is in control. In order to try to restore parliamentary control over the Government and the Cabinet, we should perhaps begin to curb some of the Prime Minister's activities.

For scrutiny of Ministers and the Government we have created over a period of time nominated bodies, the so-called quangos. Hon. Members will agree that there needs to be better scrutiny, but at this very time the Government are doing away with the nominated bodies. I am not saying that the nominated bodies are perfect. There should be greater democratic accountability. One of their weaknesses is that they are appointed by the Ministers of the Departments to which they give advice. It has been a question of a Secretary of State's virtually appointing his advisers. There would be closer scrutiny and greater accountability if Parliament were to appoint the members of the nominated bodies who eventually advise the Government.

The Treasury, which is becoming economy mad, will find that the service given in the past by people who have served on nominated bodies for years will now be lost. Without the advice of these outside bodies Ministers will be increasingly dependent on their civil servants for advice. Judging by the way in which the Civil Service is under attack, it seems that in future there will be fewer civil servants to give advice. That creates problems of scrutiny.

The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe rightly referred to the setting up of the 14 new Select Committees. This is an experiment, and we look forward to working with them. They represent a further check on the work of Government Departments. It is a pity that the hon. Member, who was fortunate in the ballot, did not table his motion earlier in the Session. We certainly need machinery for the examination and effective scrutiny of the nationalised industries.

The hon. Gentleman, when he referred to prayers, said that we sought to forget our polical prejudices, but we now have a Government who are doctrinaire and dogmatic in their approach to public ownership. I have never known a Government who have been more prejudiced in their approach to political issues than the present Government. Had the hon. Gentleman been able to table his motion earlier we might have prevented the mad rush into legislation by the Government.

This country is still recovering from the reorganisation of local government by the previous Conservative Government, yet the present Government are now coming back with another Bill to deal with the issue again. We shall have a Second Reading of the Local Government Planning and Land Bill in about a week. The Conservatives made a botch of local government reorganisation by rushing into it.

The present Secretary of State for Industry, when he was Secretary of State for Social Services made an absolute botch of reorganising the National Health Service. The present Government say that they must now do something to undo the harm done by the right hon. Gentleman when he was at that Department. Anyone who knows the National Health Service knows that the right hon. Gentleman increased the bureaucracy and the cost of the National Health Service.

What have we heard so far from the Government about the public industries? We have had the British Aerospace Bill, which will set up a company nominated by the Secretary of State. That will be followed by the subsequent dissolution of British Aerospace. That will be a backward step. That Bill is already before the House. There is the Civil Aviation Bill, which will provide for the reduction of the public dividend capital of British Airways. The corporation as we now know it, will be dissolved. That Bill is before the House as well and we will live to regret it.

The Competition Bill is presently in Standing Committee. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe is the Chairman of that Committee. The Price Commission which has been abolished could have scrutinised the nationalised industries and looked at the prices being charged by public enterprises. The Government's belief in competition and market forces will, it is said, solve our inflation problem. Last year, inflation was in single figures. In the six months since this Government came to office inflation has almost doubled. Market forces are not working to bring down inflation.

The Industry Bill, which has had a Second Reading, provides for the transfer to private ownership of property held by the National Enterprise Board and by the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. Lastly, there is the Transport Bill, which will transfer the National Freight Corporation to private hands. These anti-public ownership Bills have been rushed through by the Government. It seems strange that at a time when we should be examining the role of public ownership we have witnessed an onslaught on the concept of public ownership by the Government. Their approach to the issue is dogmatic and doctrinaire.

The 1945 Labour Government brought the basic industries of this country into public ownership. Since then we have had Labour and Conservative Governments. During that period there was a consensus and a recognition that those basic industries—whichfailed under private enterprise before the war—should remain in public ownership. Our nationalised industries are playing a significant role in the British economy. They account for more than one-tenth of the gross domestic product and for one-fifth of the total fixed investment. Apart from the Government, who are a major employer, the four largest employers are the nationalised industries. They occupy a dominant position in the energy, steel, transport and communications industries.

About one-third of all plant and equipment bought by British industry is consumed by the public sector. The nationalised industries are not merely important in themselves; they are vital to the private sector and constitute in some areas, the sole domestic customer for several sectors of British industry. During Question Time today there was talk of the British steel industry. If the steel industry collapses many industries will be affected. We can therefore see that the nationalised sector of industry plays an important role in the success, or otherwise, of both large and small private businesses.

Recently British Leyland failed under private enterprise. We should remember that when Rolls-Royce failed under private enterprise a previous Conservative Government—quite rightly—were determined, despite the talk of lame ducks, to keep it alive. Eventually, Rolls-Royce was brought under the control of the NEB. The same can be said of British Leyland. The question is, what are we to do about British Leyland, which is a major part of the car industry and must succeed in future? Many hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the motor car industry. The effect of the failure of a company like British Leyland on the steel, coal, energy and car component industries would be dramatic. The collapse of British Leyland would have a serious effect on private industry.

British nationalised industries are large organisations, with a vital economic influence. They have a social role as well. If we make international comparisons—the only real criteria in evaluating the success of their combined economic and social achievement—we find, if we are objective, that our nationalised industries have an excellent record.

A great many myths are put about, to a large extent by newspapers, about the nationalised industries. The newspapers, which are of course part of the private sector, take a jaundiced view of them. Those myths should be exposed, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman's motion gives us an opportunity to expose them.

It is said that nationalised industries always lose money. This is a myth propagated by the Conservatives. They do not lose money. In 1976 coal, energy, gas, the Post Office and the telecommunications industry, and British Airways were highly successful. They were making surpluses that benefited our people.

The truth of that could be further demonstrated if we had more recent figures. In the Post Office, for example, the surplus would be shown to be even greater. It has been making a profit of about £360 million a year.

I shall come to that. If the Post Office were in the private sector there could be 360 millionaires, but its being in public ownership means that the benefit comes back to the public. As for the pricing of products and services, international comparisons can be made. On both the postal and the telecommunications side our Post Office compares very favourably.

Although there is a wide range of public enterprises that have been highly successful, there are nevertheless one or two exceptions. British Railways, for example, have been losing money. Again, however, the international picture shows that, whether in public ownership or under private enterprise, railways find it almost impossible to make a profit. Moreover, whether privately or publicly owned, much the same picture emerges, and where railways are privately owned they tend to be heavily subsidised by the Government.

There are many reasons for that state of affairs on the railways. The road haulage industry, for example, provides just the vehicles and the public provide the roads, the police and all the necessary facilities to make the industry function. The railways, on the other hand, provide not just the rolling stock but the network and the wherewithal that goes with it. It is for these economic reasons that the railways are not showing as big a financial surplus as many other public industries do.

There has been much discussion recently about the steel industry—we had it at Question Time again today—and we know that it has made a huge loss. But, again, the steel industry throughout the world, whether privately or publicly owned, is operating in conditions of world recession and in such circumstances is bound to suffer. The problem for our steel industry today is that the Government have set a break-even financial target to be met in the early months of next year, and everyone knows that it is impossible to achieve. At the Dispatch Box today, the Secretary of State for Industry said that he had given the British Steel Corporation its terms of reference, that he would not finance it at all, that it must break even, and, if it does not come into surplus, it must carry on closing steel plants.

There has been reference to a catalogue of various parts of the steel industry. The Secretary of State went so far as to try a gibe against us on the Opposition Benches because we had kept the industry going. He seems to forget that although we are now in are cession there will be an economic upturn and it will be against Britain's interests if our steel industry is cut back so far that when the upturn comes we do not have an industry to produce the steel that both the private and the public sectors will require. Yet that will be the consequence of the crazy economic policies pursued by this Government, and we shall have to import steel from abroad.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is discussing the merits or demerits of nationalised undertakings. The motion is directed to the question whether we should have a body to review these matters. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will direct his mind to that.

I was about to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is need for scrutiny but that we ought nevertheless to scrutinise the important role of these public industries and the way in which they are working beneficially for the whole community. If we had a Scrutiny Committee directly related to the nationalised industries we could show that some of the myths being put about today were without foundation.

Another myth about public ownership is that what was done by the Labour Government in their extensive programme of public ownership in 1945 is unique to the United Kingdom, that the phenomenon of public industries is to be found here but nowhere else. In fact, most leading industrialised countries now have a publicly owned sector. For example, Germany and France do not have the problems that we have in the motor car industry, but they had public ownership in that industry long before we did. Hon. Members on the Conservative Benches talk about Renault and make comparisons with British Leyland, but they forget that Renault was put into public ownership in France before we even thought of public ownership in the motor car industry in Britain. Each country has evolved its own form of public ownership, and public enterprise has played an effective part in creating and maintaining economic prosperity.

It is interesting to note a comparison that is not always remembered in our debates on economic affairs. Apart from Switzerland, the three countries with the highest living standards in Europe are Austria, which has a Social Democratic Government and believes in public ownership, as the Labour Government have done, Sweden, which had a Social Democratic Government for 40 years, although that party is now in opposition, and Germany. Those are the three countries in Europe with the highest living standards, yet the Conservatives try to equate Socialism with low living standards. The truth is that Socialism can and does bring prosperity for the people.

Another myth is that nationalised industry is always some sort of monopoly—and I note here what was said by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe about a committee to scrutinise nationalised industry. In fact, the nationalised industries are not pure monopolies. They themselves have competitors. For example, the coal industry has the public gas and electricity industries competing with it, as well as the private enterprise oil industry.

In other public industries—perhaps we could do with some scrutiny here—there is a pure monopoly. For example, on the Post Office—I revert here to the interjection by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch)—a note of warning should be sounded. The Post Office has a complete monopoly in postal and telecommunication services in this country. I believe that we shall soon see the Departent of Industry bringing forward a Bill to carve up the Post Office, keeping the low-profit or non-profitable side in public ownership and hiving off the highly profitable telecommunications side to private enterprise. If that is done, it will do great damage to the people of this country.

One is bound to have a monopoly in certain sectors, and a good deal of the talk from the Tory Party on this subject is absolutely crazy. They talk about competition and imagine that alongside a public Post Office system we could have a number of small firms delivering mail in certain areas. In fact, what the Post Office is able to do on the postal side is a social service, especially in the rural areas. In a sense, people in the large conurbations are subsidising others in the rural areas.

Most hon. Members on the Conservative Benches represent rural areas, not the large conurbations, and they should take due warning here. If the Government go through with their mad scheme to hive off telecommunications, the Post Office, especially in the rural areas, will be put in great financial difficulty.

I have thought it important to take this opportunity to defend public ownership. I believe that the present Government are approaching this whole subject in a doctrinaire and dogmatic fashion, adopting an approach that we never saw from the Churchill, Macmillan, Home or Heath Governments.

When she came to Cardiff, the Prime Minister said "I am a reactionary." When someone calls himself a reactionary, we on the Labour Benches tend to think that it is someting of an admission or confession. But the right hon. Lady clearly said "I am a reactionary" and now we have a Government who are putting forward reactionary policies.

I make an appeal to right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches. One of the good features of this Parliament is that we have already seen Back Benchers offering a warning to their own Government. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) is in his place this afternoon, and he, for example, has given his Government a warning about the minimum lending rate. There have been other hon. Members who have realised that their Government are hell-bent towards the precipice and it is about time that someone said "Hold on; put on the brakes; think of what you are doing."

It is pleasing to find hon. Members asserting their rights as they should in this Chamber. Although when one's party is electetd to Government one expects to give it a great deal of support, when one sees that Government going completely off the rails it is not a friendly act to sit back and allow them just to carry on without regard to the consequences.

Reverting to the specific terms of the motion, I agree that there should be greater scrutiny. I consider that the experiment with Select Committees offers one way, but I hope that the Government will not proceed with their plans to do away with the nominated bodies. Rather than abolish them the Government should make them more democratically accountable. Instead of Ministers nominating the members of such bodies, the membership should be appointed by Parliament. The bodies that operate in the regions might be appointed by a combination of the regional councillors and Members of Parliament.

These Committees have an important part to play in scrutinising the work of Government Departments. Nevertheless, the Government insist on abolishing nominated bodies as a means of securing petty economies. If the Government made a mistake over expenditure it could cost a great deal more than it costs to maintain and service the nominated bodies that are designed to keep an eye on public expenditure, many of the members of which accept no financial reward for the work.

The House of Commons must be vigilant. In their policies the Government are giving effect to their theories, which are that provided certain laws are passed all will again be well in Britain. However, in the six or seven months that the Government have been in power we have watched matters go from bad to worse to hopeless. In those circumstances it is essential for Members of Parliament to assert themselves. Many of us are profoundly disturbed at the Government's policies. We owe it to the country to tell the Government that enough is enough. I agree with the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe in this regard. We certainly need to scrutinise the work of the Executive and the Government far more, and I hope that Conservative Members will join us in pressing for that.

4.32 pm

We should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for raising this important issue. The House should be spending a great deal more time considering how best it can control the Executive and public bodies. My hon. Friend is right—and this applies to all Governments. There is a tendency to devote Supply days to general debates and not to considering how the real power of this House, which is to control public expenditure, should be exercised.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) seemed to think, this debate is not for the purpose of discussing the merits or otherwise of nationalised industries. I understand my hon. Friend's objective to be that the House should be able to exercise some control over how the nationalised industries are run. It may or may not be right for the Post Office to make a profit of £360 million a year if that profit goes to pay for other public services. But surely it is a matter in which the House should be concerned in seeking to balance the various requirements between the urban and rural areas—the need for a competitive service or for a social service.

We in this House have no control over the budgets or policies of the nationalised industries. I think that the late Aneurin Bevan said that one of the great necessities was to bring the nationalised industries into public ownership. Now, although we receive very courteous replies from the chairmen of the nationalised industries when we raise matters with them, it is difficult to discuss those issues in the House or to question Ministers about them. It would be a very good thing, therefore, if the budgets of the nationalised industries were brought before the House for approval at some stage. Supply days ought to mean what they used to mean—an opportunity for Parliament to express views about general matters of policy and administration.

I see no reason why Ministers should not present their departmental Estimates in advance of the incorporation of those Estimates in the Chancellor's total Budget proposals. Ministers could appear before a Committee of the House with their permanent secretaries, who are, after all, the accounting officers, and such other officials as they need, to say what they propose to do. Members of Parliament could then indicate whether they thought that more or less money should be spent on roads or houses, or say how proposed cuts should be apportionated regionally between, for example, the North-East and the South-West. At the moment, so much of what happens is done by Treasury Ministers right across the board with insufficient regard for the way in which particular proposals will affect particular areas.

The hon. Member for Aberdare spoke about the Post Office and about balancing the needs of the urban and rural communities. The same applies to other aspects of public expenditure where the House ought to have a view about how much should be spent on deprived urban areas and about the corresponding need to support increasingly deprived rural areas which need sub-post offices, communications, bus services and other items.

It is ironic that the European Parliament, which has very little power, nevertheless has much more influence over the content of the EEC budget than this Parliament has over the content of our domestic Budget. While the European Parliament has very little power, it has considerable influence. However, this House, which nominally has all the power, has increasingly little influence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw), who was the rapporteur for the budget in the European Parliament, will confirm that in that Parliament by far the greatest proportion of the time was spent discussing practical problems for the immediate future—that is, how the money should be spent. We do not do that here. We have vast general debates about whether we should pay less or more to the European Community, but we do not discuss, as we should, the size and shape of that budget or its structure. We do not do it in respect of the European budget or in respect of our domestic Budget. It is high time that Parliament gave more time to considering this matter.

All Governments are the same. They have a vested interest in keeping Parliament busy but relatively harmless: as many Members as possible should be moving like demented ants from one Committee to another, as many Bills as possible should be in Standing Committees, and everyone should be kept occupied and, as far as possible, prevented from discussing the real issues in time to enable Parliament to have any direct influence upon them.

It is to that situation that my hon. Friend's motion is designed to call attention. It is necessary for Parliament to start talking much more about the realities of life as they affect our constituents. Why are not more hon. Members attending the debate? It is a subject which should be of concern to all Members of Parliament. The answer is that we have so many debates with so many votes—most of them hopelessly upgraded—that, when the opportunity comes to take a little time off, Members are away to some other activity.

When thinking about how we can control the nationalised industries and the Executive, we must first consider how we can exercise control over departmental budgets. We should spend more time worrying about departmental budgets and less time on the Finance Bill, where we operate ex post facto.

The other necessity is to control the volume and content of legislation. I welcome the new Select Committees. I hope that they will serve a useful purpose. However, I regret that we do not operate a system under which we can consider legislation in draft. I have always thought that there is a good case for a form of pre-legislation process involving a Grand Committee. The Minister could present his draft Bill to all those hon. Members who are interested and, with the help of his officials, explain what it means and listen to comments. That might take one or two days.

Such a system will lead to fewer difficulties. It was a happy accident that the measure to amend the Official Secrets Act fell by the wayside. If there had been pre-legislative discussion, we should not have had so much trouble with the Immigration Bill. When the Community Land Bill was introduced, it was said that had there been some discussion on a draft measure the incredible would at least have been turned into the unacceptable. Some of the absurdities would have been ironed out. The Local Governments Planning and Land Bill contains twice as many pages of legislation as Parliament dealt in 1912. Some of it is quite good and some definitely not so good. It is impossible for Parliament to do justice to a Bill of that size and complexity during a Second Reading debate lasting only one or two days.

What happens? Hon. Members make their Second Reading speeches and criticise the measure. They have to be careful in case they are put on the Standing Committee—a mammoth task on a Bill of that size and complexity. The Bill goes to Committee and the junior Minister sees it through. Few amendments are made. We scratch the surface, but major amendments have to be reconsidered by the Cabinet body which processes such amendments. Once a Bill has received its Second Reading, it is difficult to exercise control over it.

If a Minister has faith in his Bill, he will be pleased to allow it to be examined in draft. After all, the Minister will have discussed such a Bill with almost every interested body in the country except the House of Commons. A Bill should be prepared for its Second Reading only after preliminary discussion among hon. Members. Our problem is that we do not have the opportunity to present in time our views on the departmental budgets or on legislation. We have either to say that we are rebels against a measure or be regarded as carping critics. Perhaps Opposition Members have no objection to Government Members being in that position.

This situation exists under all Governments. Many Governments wish that they had discussed a measure with their parliamentary colleagues more fully before launching into a policy which proves disastrous. An enormous amount of time is wasted on legislation such as the Community Land Act. That Act was unintelligible. It served the purposes neither of a Conservative Government nor a Socialist Government. It is to be repealed, and for that I am grateful. If we do not succeed in the urgent task of reasserting our authority over the processes of Government, more and more people will regard our debates as being less and less relevant to the needs of our generation.

4.44 pm

It is important that Parliament should discuss the control of the Executive and public bodies. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for raising this issue and giving us the opportunity to discuss it on a Monday—when we are not exactly overcrowded with keen and eager hon. Members vying with each other to speak.

It is interesting that we should be talking about the control of the Executive on the day when my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) attempted to secure a debate under Standing Order No. 9 on the visit of the Secretary of State for Defence to NATO to discuss the threat to impose cruise missiles on this country without any debate whatsoever in Parliament. If that is not a case of the Executive riding roughshod over the elected assembly, I do not know what is. The Government would have a majority on that issue because Conservatives go berserk and are besotted with the idea of spending more and more on death-dealing weapons.

However, there is a large body of opinion in the country, represented by a substantial body in the House, which has had no opportunity to criticise the Executive on its decision. All credit to the Dutch Parliament for taking that opportunity and for deciding not to put the world further into peril by enlarging our capacity to exterminate. That capacity is above our capacity to feed, clothe and shelter people. A subject of enormous magnitude has not been brought before the House. The Government should be ashamed, because they control the agenda for the House.

It is always said by Mr. Speaker that what is on the Order Paper is not a matter for him. Of course it is not. It is a matter for the Government, with the exception of one or two tiny concessions to the Opposition in the form of Supply days. However, the Opposition are always in a difficulty because so many matters compete for that time.

The Government have taken an initiative. The Secretary of State for Defence is to commit this country to increasing the number of these murderous weapons without the prior approval of the House. It is also shameful because the Secretary of State, who has never initiated a debate on that subject, appears on radio and television and makes statement without any public scrutiny. It is a disgrace that the Executive should trample roughshod over democracy in this way. That is one example of why the issue under discussion is so important.

It is interesting to reflect on the days of the Labour Government when we had a bare majority for some of the time and were in minority for the rest. The present Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, then talked about an elective dictatorship—not a phrase that comes often from his lips these days. If we were an elective dictatorship, working on a minority and calculating which of the minority parties would go into the Lobby with us, what are the present Government with a majority of 45? We now have a montrous dictatorship, but where is the Lord Chancellor's tender concern now?

The Secretary of State for Defence is rushing off and making commitments without our consent. When the Lord Chancellor made those remarks, the Government of the day were a different colour. That is why he is expressing no concern or criticism about public institutions today—and he should be the last person to do that, since he is a Member of the House of Lords.

Anxiety about control of the Executive is not expressed only when one is in Opposition. There is no doubt that when the Labour Party is in Government there is always a bubbling concern within the Labour Party to scrutinise the objectives, aims and aspirations of that Labour Government. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) will heartily agree with that. We do not simply become inert and supine supporters of every aspect of Labour Party policy because we are in office. There was genuine concern for democratic accountability during the period of Labour Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) and the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe mentioned nationalised industries, and Conservative hon. Members expressed continuing concern about them. One begins to suspect their motives—whether they are just attacking them, or whether they are genuinely concerned. Some Labour Party members are concerned because gigantic public corporations are not the ideal institutions that were envisaged when the Labour Party began talking about public ownership at the beginning of the century.

We accept that publicly owned bodies are often too bureaucratic and unfeeling, and that is felt particularly when, for example, the electricity board does not operate its code of practice and cuts off someone's supply. We care particularly when something goes wrong in a publicly owned industry, but it is the Opposition who have to accept the brickbats of criticism. We want to see more democratic accountability in those publicly owned bodies and greater sensitivity to present needs and issues by those bodies.

Although the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe has raised this issue, it is in direct contradistinction to the views of his Front Bench. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare has pointed out, the Government are busy reducing the level of accountability. They are producing one of the most bizarre and cumbersome methods of disposing of the aerospace industry that one could imagine. One suspects that the Government's aim is to avoid hybridity and nothing else, after their lengthy use of that instrument when Labour was in office. They will hand over an industry that directly employs 68,000 people to a shell company, and then to a company that will be sold off to private enterprise. That will only reduce public accountability.

It comes particularly ill for the Conservative Government to talk about accountability when the legislation passed by the Labour Government invoked democratic involvement of workers in that industry. Of course, the Government are selling off chunks of public assets in other industries that the Labour Government acquired through fierce battles fought on the Floor of the House. In selling off those assets, they are reducing public accountability.

There have been rumours that the Post Office will be split up and that the profitable sections will be sold. Today there were questions about the experiment in democratic control of the Post Office, in which the Post Office unions had elected representatives on the Post Office board. That was an important experiment, but the Secretary of State for Industry has given no assurance that it will continue. He talks only of agreement between the parties, yet that was reached when the Labour Government were in office. Why cannot the Secretary of State use his influence to encourage and retain that experiment rather than simply shrug it off?

The Secretary of State does not care about democratic accountability or the involvement of workers. He believes, in a touching way, in private enterprise, and that belief is beginning to contribute to our industrial decline. Anything that improves democratic accountability is ignored. Democratic control involves scrutiny, as that is one of the most important elements of accountability. The Government's philosophy is therefore to reduce democratic scrutiny by pulling out of industry wherever they can. That is strange and is in marked contrast to their views on trade unions. The Government feel that they must meddle in trade union matters as much as they can; and the Employment Bill serves that aim. Their philosophy is hardly consistent.

Government philosophy is about power in society. They want to hand power over to their friends in big business and to diminish the power of working men and women to organise and so equate the power of employers through the trade union movement. The Government want to shift power away from those who work for a livelihood towards the owners of capital. Democratic accountability is not in the forefront of their minds.

Derek Robinson claimed that there was collusion between Michael Edwardes of British Leyland and the Secretary of State for Industry with the intention of sacking him. It will be interesting to see whether the Treasury Minister will formally deny that. That particular convener of shop stewards, together with four others, issued a pamphlet taking a different view from that of the management. It was issued at the earliest possible moment after the management of British Leyland had made a proposal to cut back staff yet again. An open discussion of a different view and the publication of that view within a nationalised industry is surely part of accountability. The trade unions may be wrong, but at least they should have the right to put forward that view. Michael Edwardes and the management of British Leyland may be wrong and, as successive managements have made alterations and changes in their plans and decisions concerning market share and so on, it is conceivable that shop floor representatives are right on this occasion. After all, Lucas Aerospace combined shop stewards committee was right although the management told it that defence contracts would provide plenty of employment. Three or four years later, the management turned round and announced redundancies.

The people on the shop floor were right at Lucas and they may be right at British Leyland as well. There was a ballot at British Leyland, but it was a hasty affair giving no opportunity for shop floor workers to express a contrary point of view. The management of British Leyland had a massive amount of media coverage. However, an opportunity should be given for a different point of view to be expressed, because that is what public accountability means. Where there is unanimity of view but no right for human aspirations to differ, or for human intelligence to produce a different view, one has the dead hand of conformity, and that rules out a clash that might lead to development.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) knows nothing about it. He has never worked on a shop floor.

The only way that improvements can be introduced is by challenging each other's thoughts and ideas. Ideas should never be assumed to be good in themselves.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a very good reason for not having a closed shop?

I might point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the members of a closed shop are perfectly free to argue against the closed shop principle. Membership of a closed shop does not shut mouths. I do not want to be led too far down this road, although I am quite willing to argue about closed shops. I have never shrunk from such an argument. I believe that the 4 million people in closed shops derive enormous benefit from them. I know of no person in a closed shop who has been given a wage award and then told his manager that he did not like being in a closed shop and that he did not want the wage award. If a closed shop trade union organises improved working conditions, for example, ventilation, I know of no employee who says "I do not want the ventilation. Give me back the dust and the asbestos as well, because I have not contributed to the trade union."

The suggestion that people inside a closed shop cannot argue against the idea is quite erroneous. They can argue, and they are free to persuade their fellow workers to break a closed shop if they so choose. However, the fact of the matter is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker