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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 983: debated on Monday 28 April 1980

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I remind the House that long supplementary questions reduce the number of questions that can be called.




asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he intends to make a further statement on Inmos.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the future of Inmos.

I have nothing to add to my reply on 24 March to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans).

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this project is uncertain, to say the least? Does he accept that the real problem is that British industry, generally, is miles behind many of our industrial competitors in the application of chips and chip technology, and that the real need is to concentrate on and plough money into the application area rather than into the production of chips, where we cannot compete?

I agree with some of the implications of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, but I am not sure what conclusion should be drawn in this case.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the inordinate delay in coming to a decision, one way or the other, from the beginning of this year until now? Is the reason that the Prime Minister resists the proposition that the Government should intervene further in the matter? In view of the enormous intervention by the Japanese Government and the United States Government, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is important to come to a decision soon?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that a decision by the Government's resolving the issue should be reached as soon as possible, but the issues are very complicated, and have become more so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was some question of GEC buying this company and thereby relieving the taxpayer of any further injections of funds? Can my right hon. Friend report to the House on that matter?

It has been announced in the press that GEC is interested in some possibility of a connection with this company, but the negotations are obviously confidential.

Will the Secretary of State say how much State money has been invested in this project? What has happened to the offers to the development areas with high unemployment that were supposed to be benefiting from it?

The question is really for the National Enterprise Board. I believe that about £25 million has either been invested or committed.

Does the Secretary of State believe that we should have a manufacturing capacity in silicon chip technology, or does he believe that we should import it?

The decision is for those who want to manufacture silicon chips in this country. There is taxpayers' money available, under widely understood schemes, of which they can avail themselves if they come within the criteria, but the decision is essentially for them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if a further £25 million is given to this project he will be taking a view about whether there should be various forms of silicon chip marketing and production in this country? He will be going into the market place and ceasing to be a politican.

My hon. Friend is, as usual, right or nearly right. But an inheritance is involved. There is the National Enterprise Board, which the Government have continued with the purpose of making judgments on a limited but important range of business decisions. It has recommended that a second tranche of this initiative, started by our predecessors, should be given.

I remind the House that the eight open questions on the Order Paper today were tabled before I made my statement last week, so I will call them.

Manufacturing Industry

3. Mr.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what annual rate of change he expects for 1980–81 and 1981–82 in productivity, output and jobs in manufacturing industry.

Unknowable: the assumptions made for the Financial Statement and Budget Report were published in them. The outcome will depend on world trade, the effectiveness of management, the co-operation and understanding of their own interests of wage earners—in short, upon our competitiveness.

Does not that reply seek to conceal the substantial decline expected in manufacturing industry, in output and in employment? If these forecast falls are judged a success of policy, what would convince the right hon. Gentleman that he is failing? What part is the right hon. Gentleman playing in the discussions with the TUC and the CBI on the future use of North Sea oil revenues for the benefit of industry, and what view does he take upon that important matter?

No, the Government are not shirking the publication of some assumptions on which the Budget was based, but the hon. Member goes beyond assumptions and asks for my personal opinion. The margins of error in this area of forecasting are so wide that my personal opinion is not relevant. I do not have a personal opinion on these difficult matters. We have a dopted certain assumptions for the purpose of the Budget. They have been published. There are regular discussions with the CBI and the TUC and others; and next week, at the NEDC, the subject to which the hon. Gentleman refers will inevitably come up.

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that the disastrous loss of jobs in the textile industry has moved into the textile machinery manufacturing industry and that firms such as Muschamps in Oldham and the even more famous Stone-Platts firm, which has been in Oldham for almost 150 years, are to close at the end of this year? Does he intend to stand by and allow that sort of thing to continue?

I know that there are difficulties in a number of parts of the textile machinery industry, but the hon. Member's assumption that the Government can do something about what is essentially the combined effect of management effectiveness and work force cooperation is misplaced.

In view of the likelihood that people in manufacturing industry, particularly middle management, will have to change their jobs more frequently in coming years, will my right hon. Friend require the Occupational Pensions Board to make recommendations as to the way in which people changing jobs in mid-career can fully protect their pension rights in private schemes?

My hon. Friend and I have been dancing a minuet around this difficult subject for nearly 20 years. I shall certainly speak to the relevant Minister about what he has said.

Does the right hon. Gentleman maintain that the Government have no part whatever to play in any of these matters—that the high exchange rate, the historically highest interest rate in our history and the rigid reduction in investment imposed by the Government have no effect upon industry? If so, is he not aware that practically every reliable economist today, along with the CBI and the TUC, deeply disagrees with him?

An alternative policy which interfered with the exchange rate, which sought to hold down interest rates and which subsidised investment further would make matters worse. The basic fact is that large numbers of individuals are misguidedly pricing themselves and their fellow workers out of jobs.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I am afraid that I was provoked. Is the Secretary of State saying that things could be worse than they are at the moment? If so, he does not know what is happening to British industry in practically every sector.

Yes, things certainly could be worse than they are at present. The adoption of the policies implicit in the statements of the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends would make inflation, and therefore unemployment and interest rates, much worse.

Small Businesses


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what study his Department has made of the recent report by the Small Businesses Administration in the United States entitled " Government Competition: A Threat To Small Businesses."

This report, prepared by a task group established by the office of the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the United States Small Business Administration, was published in the United States last month. A copy was obtained by the Department last week and is currently being studied by officials.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. When that report is examined, I believe that it will be found to be an indictment of the activities of the American Government in squeezing smaller businesses. Will my right hon. Friend authorise a similar investigation in this country to see whether our small businesses are suffering in exactly the same way?

We are already conscious of what is called the " crowding out " effect on small and other businesses of excessive Government spending, borrowing, taxing and regulating. We do not need convincing of that.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the biggest threat to small business in this country is the high rate of interest that it is required to pay? Will he study the speech that I made in the House in November last year, when I drew the Government's attention to the need for a regional development bank, under which the rates of interest payable in the regions would be less than in other parts of the country, depending on the level of unemployment?

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but there would be no guarantee that such lower interest rates would not leak into other activities. It is a nice question whether inflation or interest rates are the worst enemy of small businesses at the moment. Certainly our policy is intended to reduce those burdens on small businesses so that they can flourish.

Small Firms Counselling Service


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is the annual cost of the small firms counselling service.

The cost of the counselling service in 1978–79, the last period for which figures are available, was estimated to be about £600,000.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the cost-effectiveness of the service? If so, what areas is the service investigating, what are the guidelines that apply in investigating them and how are counsellors selected or nominated to provide this service?

An early independent evaluation of the counselling in the Southwest shows that, in a sample of 65 clients, about 150 jobs were either generated or saved. Now that counselling is well established throughout the country, we intend to commission a further evaluation by independent consultants. I am also introducing a continuous in-house system of monitoring by following up individual cases. As for the help that counsellors can give, their particular value is that many small businesses, and particularly new businesses, lack a whole raft of management techniques, and the assistance of experienced business men can save many small firms which might otherwise go to the wall.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that small businesses generally are grateful for the management expertise which this service provides? However, there is a problem on which I should be grateful for his comments. I have come across examples—I am sure that many other hon. Members have seen the same thing—of small business men who are unaware of the services offered in this direction. Will he consider methods of improving the general knowledge of these services?

The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to an important matter. We are anxious that these services should be more widely known. We have recently introduced a national Freefone number. Those in trouble or with problems can simply dial 100 and ask for Freefone 2444. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to advertise that.

Is my hon. Friend aware that these services are provided by banks and management consultants, who give much better value for money than a counselling service organised on public funds?

Perhaps my hon. Friend is not aware of how large a proportion of the work done by the counselling service is concerned with people who are thinking of starting a business. It would be rare to find good value for someone who has not even got a business going in the payment of fees to a management consultant.

Northern Region


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he is satisfied with the progress being made in attracting industry to the Northern region; and if he will make a statement.

I am confident that the Government's regional and other policies will succeed in promoting industry and employment in the North as elsewhere.

Is the Minister aware that in spite of all the fine promises during the election campaign last year the rate of unemployment in the Northern region, at 9·5 per cent., is the highest in the country? In those circumstances, will his right hon. Friend reverse his monstrous decision to slash the grant to the North of England Development Council? Is he aware that that was the biggest cut of its kind? When will the Government take the problems of the North seriously?

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about unemployment in the Northern region. However, if he is fair he will draw the attention of his constituents to the position as it developed during the final years of the previous Administration. Nevertheless, there is a problem, and that is why, particularly, we have concentrated more development aid potential on the North.

I think that the hon. Gentleman will know that after 1982 about 90 per cent. of the Northern region will still be anassisted area. That will be the highest concentration of any region in England and will be of immense benefit. I think that the hon. Gentleman has received a letter about the North of England Development Council from my noble friend Lord Trenchard, explaining the circumstances of the Government's attitude. The grant, of course, will continue for at least three years, subject to some agreement on arrangements between the Government and the local authorities.

If the Minister means what he says about the Northern region, why have the Government decided to end the cost escalation scheme for British Shipbuilders, which plays such a crucial part in employment throughout the Northern region? There is no evidence of any opposition from the EEC. France is continuing such a scheme for its merchant fleet. British Shipbuilders has been singled out for a further reduction in assistance. Why was not the Minister more candid about that decision in the debate a few days ago?

I do not think that I was lacking in candour during that debate. The point is that the amount of assistance to the British shipbuilding industry is considerable, as was noted in that debate. The intervention fund is being used to its maximum and the home credit fund is continuing to be used strongly. Therefore, the largest part of assistance is still available to help a situation which is, thank Heaven, improving marginally.

If the Minister is not lacking in candour, he has certainly been badly briefed. Is he aware that last week 2,300 redundancies were announced in the Northern region? That is not a phenomenon. It is becoming a regular weekly event. Despite what the Minister might say about what happened during the previous Labour Administration's term of office, the period since last May has been disastrous for employment in the North.

I thought that I had been extremely candid in recognising the seriousness of the problems. Of course they are there. However, they will not be wished away. Some assistance through the regional development grant will develop employment in the region. That will help, particularly, the establishment of new businesses. I am glad to say that in that respect there are encouraging signs in the starting up of small businesses. The position is not entirely bad. The hon. Gentleman will know, I am sure, that new jobs have been created in recent years, thanks to the incentives that are available. The future growth prospects of the region depend upon those new businesses.

Genetic Engineering


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether the National Enterprise Board will be permitted to invest in the field of genetic engineering.

My right hon. Friend will consider any proposals by the board which require his consent. None has yet been put to him.

Does the Minister recall that on 19 July last year his right hon. Friend said that it would be sensible to use the NEB to familiarise industry with new technology? Does he agree that biotechnology is one of the most important of the new technologies now developing? Is he aware that unless there is a massive injection of public funds through the NEB this country will miss out on that revolution, as it has on so many in the past?

I certainly recall the comments of my right hon. Friend on that occasion, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is an important area. I have had the chance to see some of the new technology in the United States. However, problems of this kind are a matter for the NEB.

Public Purchasing Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is the status of the current review of public purchasing policy.

As announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 28 February we intend to use the policy on public sector purchasing and research and development to help improve industry's performance.

Does that review include consideration of how small firms might be helped by public purchasing policy?

Yes, I can confirm that in the review we are looking at small businesses, along with other businesses. I emphasise that this is a continuing review. It is not something that terminates. It goes on.

Will the Minister also consider the role of public sector ordering in dealing with unemployment in areas where the rate is very high? Will he consider, in particular, the possibility of advance orders for ships in the public sector, particularly for the Robb Caledon shipyard in my constituency, which is in danger of closure unless help is given by the Government?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I can only say to him that at present all concerned are fully aware of the implications behind this question. Speaking specifically of defence, I have had the opportunity of travelling around the country with my hon. Friends the Defence Ministers and looking at a range of issues. Wherever help can be given, it will of course, be provided.

Despite the adherence to absolute non-intervention—which in the modern world is sometimes difficult— will my hon. Friend take up again the question of the Inland Revenue placing with the British computer industry, rather than with overseas industry, the order for what will, I believe, be the largest-ever single computer order when new systems come to be ordered in a year or two?

No decision has yet been taken on that matter, but I certainly take note of what my hon. Friend has said.

I was interested to hear the Minister say that he had had a look around the country with his Defence Department colleagues. Did his visit take him to the Vickers Elswick plant, where in two weeks' time 350 redundancies are to take effect. In this context the Minister has complete control of public purchasing and he could avert these redundancies—the first of 1,600 if he so wishes.

I have not had an opportunity to visit Vickers, though I hope that an opportunity to do so will present itself. In the meantime, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, part of the problem there arises directly from the Iranian situation. Some of the problems have arisen in an unexpected and unfortunate way for British industry.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind, however, the problems that he can create for Government Departments when they refuse to take the best buy by not taking into account the aspects of delivery, quality, reliability of spare parts and the standing of the firm? These aspects are of the greatest importance and if my hon. Friend moves from those it will be a direct subsidy, which may well be to the detriment of British industry rather than to its benefit.

My hon. Friend has put the matter into perspective. These facts must be borne in mind. What I have said in no way rules out what he has put forward, and I agree with him.



asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he proposes next to meet leaders of the Trades Union Congress.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects next to meet trade union leaders.

I shall meet representatives of the TUC at the National Economic Development Council on 7 May.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the TUC that the Budget strategy appears to doom Northern Britain to industrial decline and growing unemployment? With these mistaken policies, what hope can the right hon. Gentleman offer to the population of Flint—some 17,000 strong—which is currently enduring the harrowing male unemployment level of 38 per cent.? Surely the right hon. Gentleman's monetarist policies must be reversed.

No, I do not agree with the alternative policies adumbrated by the TUC. The purpose of meeting its representatives on the NEDC is so that there can be a continuing dialogue. The hon. Gentleman must now be sadly aware that had the previous Labour Government allowed redundancies to occur earlier in the Shotton area those who then lost their jobs would have been able, more immediately than now, to find alternative employment. At that time the world recession had not occurred. The hon. Gentleman is aware that there are good prospects in his area for new jobs as businesses show increasing interest in the area.

Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements to estimate the cost of the national day of tomfoolery organised by the TUC for 14 May, and inform the nation of the total amount of wealth lost and what that represents in terms of jobs lost as a result of that action?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the damage that will be done to our competitiveness by the so-called day of action and by all the other obstructions to competiveness that flow from the shop floor and the trade union side.

Will the right hon. Gentleman seek to justify to the representatives and the leaders of the TUC in the Northern region the cutbacks in regional development grants and all the other cuts that are being made in employment support when unemployment there is rising to proportions unknown in postwar years? Will he look again at the question of regional development grants and restore the cuts that were made this year?

No. The regional development grants were withdrawn from areas where unemployment was below the national average and where the economic structure created no especial need for subsidy from the taxpayer. The extra money for which the hon. Gentleman is asking would have to be paid by the taxpayer through additional borrowing or by an increase in taxes. The taxpayer's purchasing power would be reduced and other jobs would be lost elsewhere.

My right hon. Friend has had the opportunity to read the words of the General Secretary of the TUC explaining why the day of inaction has been called. Does he now agree that instead of the grounds being merely weak, as we had previously assumed, they are non-existent?

Was not the Secretary of State's stumbling, rather pathetic defence of his economic philosophy the biggest condemnation of the Government's approach to the economy? Does he agree that company liquidations increased by 66 per cent. in the last quarter over the preceding quarter? Would it not make much more sense to work in cooperation with the trade union movement?

The trade union movement in this country, with exceptions, is encouraging a further loss of jobs through obstruction to competitiveness, including by such manifestations of misunderstanding as the day of so-called action.

Enterprise Zones


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what initiatives he intends to take to attract industry to the enerprise zones.

The Government announced on 26 March a range of measures which we propose to apply in enterprise zones and which we believe will encourage economic activity. The measures include 100 per cent. capital allowances for industrial and commercial building; the abolition of general rates for industrial and commercial property; and the simplification of planning procedures. Details are available in the Library of the House.

Are not local authorities queueing up to take advantage of this adventurous and exciting opportunity created by the Government's positive intervention through the taxation system? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential, once the local authorities concerned have been designated, that industry should take advantage of the opportunities so presented? What steps is my hon. Friend taking, and what steps will he take, to make sure that big and small companies are made aware of those opportunities?

The scheme has been well received and the indications are that industry is taking a great interest in the matter. My hon. Friend's question has helped to further that process. The consultations that are taking place with local authorities will help to continue the process of alerting industry.

Will the Government compensate local authorities for the loss of rates revenue?

Will my hon. Friend comment on early-day motion 590, in my name and those of a number of my hon. Friends, which seeks to request that the clearing banks provide finance for firms in enterprise zones on attractive terms to support the boldness and initiative shown by the Government in the creation of such zones?

I appreciate a number of the sentiments contained in the motion, and I am sure that the banks concerned will note my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Has the Minister read the original proposals for this idea by Peter Hall? Does he agree that they were weird ideas, and may we have an assurance that if the Government are going into these strange, mini-Hong Kong schemes, they will not pursue the proposals that Peter Hall put forward, even though Mr. Hall was once a member of the Fabian Society?

As the hon. Gentleman admits, the source of these suggestions is not unknown to him. I think that I detect on the Opposition Benches a growing reservation of positions as hon. Members become aware that this might become a popular development.

Will my hon. Friend consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to determine whether, under the derelict site procedures, we could attract into metropolitan areas which might also be suitable for enterprise zone grants from the European Community regional fund?

I shall certainly ensure that that interesting and helpful contribution is made known to my right hon. Friend.

Can the Minister not understand that the Government's continuing to advance the view that some kind of regional Hong Kong sweat shops can be a genuine solution to a deindustrialised economy is starting to sound like a sick joke? When will he come clean on the myth which he is trying to establish and confirm that there is no evidence on either side of the Atlantic that the net number of jobs created by small firms can in any way replace the much larger number of jobs lost by the closure of big firms?

The hon. Gentleman will always produce a carping, green-eyed view on any new initiative that he has not put forward. He is, typically, trying to talk in terms of sweat shops, but there are substantial safeguards about environmental pollution and other matters. The hon. Gentleman should judge this proposal as it develops, as I believe the whole House wishes to do.

Lucas Aerospace


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will in future contracts with Lucas Aerospace include a provision that there shall be no victimisation of employees who have taken part in the firm's conversion plans.

No; these are matters to be settled between management and the recognised representatives of the work force within the established legal framework.

Is the Minister aware that his Department is still party to the agreement with the company, its 12 plants and the unions to examine alternative product proposals aimed at maintaining the jobs there? Is he aware that one of the men principally involved in that agreement, Ernie Scarbrow, who is chairman of the shop stewards, is under threat of dismissal through having been too active in seeing that that agreement is carried out?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I find it difficult to accept the matters in the way that he has put them. Certainly the Department has carried out fully its part of the tripartite agreement of February 1979.

Does not the Minister understand that Ernie Scarbrow has been disciplined for the same alleged crime as Derek Robinson, in that he was merely trying to communicate with the membership that he represents? Do the Government still believe that trade union leaders and convenors have a right to communicate with their membership?

The hon. Gentleman perpetually seeks to come in on these matters, and he has reminded the House of his connection with the Red Robbo case. I do not think that that is a good precedent upon which he should argue this matter. These are matters between management and the established trade union channels.

Black Country Districts


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will take steps to promote industry in the Black Country districts of the West Midlands in view of recent closures and redundancies.

The Government's policies are designed to encourage industrial expansion and employment throughout the country.

Is the Minister aware of the deep concern that continues to exist at the never-ending redundancies in the Black Country? Will his Department show some understanding and recognition of the industrial and employment problems that exist in this part of the West Midlands?

The best hope for prosperity in the Black Country, as elsewhere, lies in the measures that the Government are taking to defeat inflation, put the economy on a sound footing and remove the shackles from private enterprise.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Black Country is one of the candidate areas for inclusion as an enterprise zone? In view of the apparent schizophrenia on the Opposition Benches. may we know at some time whether the Labour Members of Parliament for those areas which are candidates want the scheme or not?

I am not sure whether that question is addressed to me. However, I recently visited Wolverhampton, and I listened with great care to what the people there had to say about their problems. I was fascinated when the Socialist chairman of the planning committee said that he supported the concept of his area being advanced as a potential enterprise zone as the scheme seeks to undo the damage of years of Socialism.

Small Businesses (Paper Work)


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what reductions in forms, and generally unnecessary paper work, his Department has achieved in order to reduce the burden on small businesses.

The Department has already made savings of over 16,000 statistical forms which would have gone to firms this year.

I am encouraged by that answer, but is my hon. Friend aware that the accumulation of forms that small traders have to deal with remains a severe deterrent? One woman shopkeeper said to me last week " I cannot bear the thought of filling in another VAT form ". Will my hon. Friend continue to act to cut the number of forms and to cut red tape?

I readily accept my hon. Friend's invitation. He will be pleased to learn that decisions taken by all Ministers since the Government took office a year ago have resulted in over 1 million statistical forms being saved. I shall publish details in the Official Report. That is in addition to the saving of 280,000 forms per annum resulting from a review of regular statistical inquiries initiated by the previous Administration and confirmed by this Government. It is still necessary for the Government to collect many kinds of statistical information. However, I believe that our decisions are widely welcomed in the small business sector.

I welcome what has been achieved so far, but is my hon. Friend aware that I hope that he has not put his scythe away and will continue to assess the need for the various forms?

I assure my Friend that it will be a continuing process. I shall be glad to hear from him if he has examples of forms that he considers to be unnecessary.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, no matter what the Government try to do for small businesses, their policies are failing? Why will the Government not take the actions that we desire? Is he aware that in the Mexborough district, which covers the Dearne, Conisbrough and Denaby, no jobs have been created since it was made a development area? Does he agree that the Government need do more?

It is for the Government to create the conditions, and for employers and workers in the area to join in enterprises to produce goods that the consumer wants, at a price that he is prepared to pay. The hon. Gentleman suggests that Government policies are failing. However, it takes longer than the hon. Gentleman expects, and even longer than I expected, for changes in policy to produce results.

Does the hon. Gentleman expect us to believe that the Government are creating the conditions for enterprise, with inflation at 20 per cent., the MLR at 17 per cent., VAT a: 15 per cent. and over-valued sterling?

That was not a supplementary question related to the main question, whatever else it was.

Following is the information:


Inquiries stopped

No. of forms saved

Quarterly export prospects survey300 a year
Annual survey of film distributors100 a year
Monthly manufacturers' stocks7,800 a year
Export prices survey (monthly or quarterly)5,000 a year
Shops inquiry 1981150,000 in 1981
Census of employment for1979 and 1980600,000 in each of the 2 years

Reduction in forms sent out

Annual survey of retailing5,000 a year
Annual survey of other distributive and service trades11,000 a year
Annual census of construction2,200 a year
1979 purchases inquiry by manufacturers1,200 in 1980

(i) All the inquiries are carried out by the Departments of Industry and Trade except for the census of employment, which is a Department of Employment responsibility.

Post Office


asked the Secretary of State for industry when he expects next to meet the chairman of the Post Office.

If the dispute in the Post Office is not resolved and telephone bills are once again not paid, what contingency plans are there to avoid the serious impact not only on the Post Office's finances but on the Government's economic policy? What action is being taken to reduce the power of relatively few people to cause disproportionate disruption in industry and commerce?

We hope that there will not be a repetition of last year's dispute. However, if bills are not paid on time, extra cost is imposed on the Post Office and the money has to be recovered from somewhere, either through subsidy raised from taxpayers or by an increase in charges.

The second part of my hon. Friend's question is about problems created by small groups of dissidents who may wish to disrupt the activities of the Post Office. That is a matter for the management. On more than one occasion my right hon. Friend said that if the service to the public is not improved, or if for some internal reason it becomes worse, we shall have to look seriously at the monopoly.

Has my hon. Friend seen this morning's article in the Financial Times, on the management of nationalised industries, which floats the idea that those nationalised industries that are making substantial profits should be relieved of cash limits so that the management can make its own commercial decisions, and, if necessary, raise the money from the market?

Yes, I saw the article and found it most interesting. My hon. Friend will also have seen reference to the group set up under Mr. Ryrie's chairmanship, which will be looking into these matters.

How can the hon. Gentleman tell his hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) that the derogation of the Post Office monopoly will assist in the problem that he mentioned? Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the problem is caused not by the Post Office unions, or by small sections of them, but by the Government's tight cash limits? Will he further accept that 60,000 people on the waiting list for telephones for more than six months demonstrates that investment is the problem, not the unions?

I know, and what I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree is that the service provided by the Post Office has fluctuated widely over the past year and has still not regained the position that it should. We therefore have every right to see whether the service can be provided by others.

Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he has concluded his review of the financial objectives for Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd. set by the National Enteprise Board; and if he will make a statement.

I shall publish in the Official Report a statement about the company's present financial position and the Government's intentions towards funding the company in 1980.

Has my hon. Friend studied the alarming report published last week by the Public Accounts Committee, which suggests that the RB211 may be heading for viability only towards the end of this century? Will it still be in production then? Are we convinced that the target set by the NEB of a 10 per cent. return for 1981 is within the realms of practical possibility?

The company's report and accounts will be published shortly, and my hon. Friend will be able to draw his own conclusions. A written statement will appear in the Official Report, but I tell my hon. Friend that the company's business is expanding strongly, based largely on the RB211. However, with the weakness of the dollar, there will be added cash needs for the company during 1980. The question is how far the company can raise that cash from the private money market.

Is the Minister aware that his tribute to the RB211 will be welcomed after his hon. Friend's belittlement of it? Will he accept that the problem for Rolls-Royce is not the earning capacity of the engine—and that capacity has been borne out again today by the £50 million order—but the high exchange rate, which is making it difficult for British industry to sell, particularly in the American market?

I have already said that a reason for increased cash needs during the present year is the weakness of the dollar and the high pound. In its onward trading position the company must take properly into account the strength of the pound. Because of the high technical quality of its products, such as the RB211, it should be able to command better prices for them.

Following is the information:

I have considered the Company's five-year forecast for 1980–84 submitted earlier this year and accept it as the basis for short-term financial planning. As a result of the rapid expansion of the company's business and the weakness of the dollar, the company has an additional cash requirement of £180 million in 1980. However, I am satisfied that the company's policies of exploiting the technical successes of the RB211 engine, and aiming for greater commercial profitability, provide a firm basis for long-term viability. The Government accept the company's need to fund the requirement to carry forward its programmes.
As part of the funding, and subject to parliamentary approval, I intend to issue new equity equivalent to certain loans from the Department to be repaid in 1980 and modify the terms of the levy which the Government charge the company to recover the development finance for the RB211 engine. The modification will be confined to the RB211 engines on order at the end of 1979, and will be varied to reflect the effect of the exchange rate on sales income. The levy would be suspended at current exchange rates. For the balance, given the current constraints on public expenditure, and while I recognise that some further injection of Government finance may be necessary, I have asked the company to examine how much it can secure from the private sector.
The longer-term funding requirement duty for the establishment of a new financial duty for the company will be considered in the light of the chairman's report to me on the plans for improving the financial prospect of the company, which I expect to receive in the summer.

Development Area Status (Neath-Resolven)


asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether, in view of the continuing rise in unemployment in the Neath-Resolven travel-to-work area, as shown in the April figures, he will now announce his reversal of his decision to take the areas special development status away.

The assisted area gradings of all those areas affected by the British Steel Corporation's proposals are being reviewed. A decision will be taken as quickly as possible after BSC has given a final decision on the future of its steel making plants, following its consultation with the unions.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the unemployment rate in that travel-to-work area is now 9·3 per cent? Is he further aware that when the area had the status conferred upon it in 1968 the level of unemployment was 5 per cent? It is only since the announcement of his right hon. Friend that the area was to be downgraded that the unemployment rate has crept up. What will he do about it?

As soon as the result of BSC's consultations with the unions is made known, we shall review the matter. If that should not result in a steel closure, or if some other change of policy should follow from it, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the relative change in the area of Neath compared with other parts of the country will itself be perfectly good evidence for us to consider a review.

Indictable Offences (Trial Delays)


asked the Attorney-General what steps are being taken to reduce the length of time between committal and trial for indictable offences.

These intervals are excessive mainly in London and the South-East. The Lord Chancellor has increased the number of judges, and the number of Crown courtrooms. More courtrooms are being provided. In addition more than 50 judges from other circuits have agreed to sit for a time in the South-East during this year, to help with the backlog. That is much appreciated, and it is hoped that it will play a significant part.

I recognise my hon. and learned Friend's concern about this matter. Has the idea of courts sitting in two shifts, thus utilising more than four and a half hours in the average working day been considered? As to the supply of judges, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that many recorders are willing to sit for more than the statutory limit of 30 days in the year if called upon to do so?

The question of double shifts has been considered, and I am informed that so far it has been felt that it is merely a matter of practicability rather than principle. Not only would it need more judges, but more staff to man the courts. One must also consider the availability, not to mention the convenience, of all who are concerned, including the parties, those whom they wish to represent them, solicitors, witnesses, prison staff who bring the prisoners to court, and so on. So far, it has been felt that the combination of those factors has made it impractical.

As to my hon. Friend's other point, he is wrong in thinking that there is a statutory maximum. There is neither a statutory maximum nor a maximum fixed in practice, but my noble and learned Friend feels that is is wrong for recorders to sit for more than about 50 days.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the delay amounts to a public scandal and a blot on the administration of justice? How big is the present backlog in courts on the South-Eastern circuit? What is the average delay between committal and trial? Will he and his noble Friend bear in mind the principle that justice delayed is justice denied?

I am not sure whether it was my noble and learned Friend who coined that phrase, but, whether or not he did, he has quoted it as often as anyone, and he feels it just as strongly as anyone can. It is for that reason that he is determined not to leave unused any opportunity to speed things up, because he accepts what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, namely, that the present delays are unacceptable. As to the periods, I have two tables which I should be happy to put at the disposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman afterwards, if he wishes.

Director Of Public Prosecutions


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

When he returns from the Commonwealth Law Ministers' conference in Barbados.

Will the Solicitor-General inquire of the DPP why it was that crucial evidence in the Lindo case was not made available to the defence until six months after the police and the Director of Appeals knew about it, and four months after the DPP himself was told? As in this case an innocent man stayed in gaol for a year, does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there must be a review whereby cases of that kind go immediately to the DPP, and whereby the defence is given all possible access to relevant facts?

My right hon. and learned Friend shares the sentiments underlying that question just as much as I do. It is a firm and honoured principle in the practice of the law that if information comes to hand that is of use to the defence, it should be made available to it. However, there are two parts to the question. One is the system to ensure that it happens, and the other is the question of precisely how much information should be given. The circumstances of the Lindo case disclosed a need for new rules. The Registrar of the Court of Criminal Appeal has instituted new procedures in his own court. Details of those were given in an answer to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) on 23 April.

When the Attorney-General meets the DPP, will he inquire how the DPP is getting on with deciding whether to prefer new charges in the Confait case? The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that three of my constituents were convicted of that murder in 1972 and were acquitted in 1975 by the appeal court after a reference. If the DPP decides not to prefer any charges, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman refer any information that he has to Sir Henry Fisher, who made prejudicial comments about them, so that, if he wishes, he can revise his findings and at the end of the day at least provide some equity in terms of compensation, which has hitherto been denied to my constituents?

Order. We are still only on the second question to the Attorney-General, and we shall not get much further at this rate.

As to an inquiry, I think that I should confine my answer to the first part of that question. Certainly the Attorney-General and I are very interested in the outcome of the inquiry and we shall keep fully up to date with it.

In view of the uncertainty prevailing in the courts with regard to jury vetting, will the hon. and learned Gentleman give an instruction to the DPP that there should be no further cases of jury vetting before he makes a full statement to the House? In particular, will he set out the constitutional authority for jury vetting? Would it not be better to wipe the slate clean and rely on debarring from jury service only those whom Parliament, in the Juries Act, decreed should be debarred?

It would be inappropriate for me to try to answer those important questions in the brief time available. In addition, I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend, who has been dealing with these matters personally, would like to deal with them himself. I shall draw to his attention what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman make it clear to the DPP that when persons are being held in custody awaiting trial, documents held by the DPP, particularly those in relation to so-called confessions, should in all circumstances be made available to the defence lawyers and not held back in the way that they are being in certain cases in Wales at the present time?

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that there is a variety of different situations in which this question might arise. One is on appeal, in which the DPP would not necessarily have any information upon which to act. A second relates to cases with which he is directly concerned, in which case he must, of course, act quickly. The other relates to cases which in the first instance are under the control of other authorities. Here again, all that the DPP can do is to give guidance to them and do his best to see that it is carried out.

Shoplifting (Elderly Persons)


asked the Attorney-General what recent representations he has received concerning shoplifting and the elderly: and if he will make a statement.

That is a slightly surprising answer, in view of press reports that were to be received from the Association for the Prevention of Thefts in Shops. However, in view of the continuing concern that the increase in self-service trading is the prime cause of shoplifting, and in the light of the stores' unwillingness to implement many of the Home Office proposals, will my hon. and learned Friend seriously consider requiring the stores themselves to undertake prosecutions in shoplifting cases?

The present position is that by far the majority of prosecutions for shoplifting are conducted as private prosecutions by the stores. I suggest that that is very satisfactory for many of the reasons that my hon. Friend has mentioned, but it would not be possible to direct that all prosecutions should be undertaken in that way.