Orders of the Day — G.E.C. and a.E.I. (Merger)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd November 1967.

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Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West 12:00 am, 23rd November 1967

We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) for raising the question of the G.E.C.—A.E.I. merger, which is a matter of great public interest. This is one of the largest industrial complexes in Britain, representing a large section of our manufacturing industry, in heavy engineering, electrical development, turbines and many other facets of engineering, including nuclear development. This is a combine representing not only these sections of British industry, but also large sections of British workers.

I should like my hon. Friend to explain why he felt that the I.R.C. should not be directly involved in this take-aver. Why are large sections of industry not accountable to the Government publicly or to Parliament? Here was a takeover which involved tens of thousands of £s—indeed millions of £s in relation to the benefits gained by the shareholders. No prices and incomes policy operated for them. The shares went up, and it is estimated in some quarters that as much as £35 million was gained at the time of the takeover. This is an extremely serious point.

The other interesting thing is that, while there were many thousands of small shareholders, the people who played the largest part were the insurance companies and the Church of England which was proved to be a large block shareholder in this industrial complex. We saw an industrial battle taking place at a time of economic crisis, when we wanted industrial efficiency and increased output. It took place to resolve the matter in the interests not of the economy but basically of the profit motive. We must ask ourselves: can that be the sole criterion in one of the major manufacturing industries of this country? That is a very pertinent question.

As a result of the takeover, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Arnold Weinstock is now in control of this huge industrial complex. To whom is he accountable? As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) said, it is strange that no hon. Member opposite should be present for a debate such as this which is taking place earlyish in the evening. We on this side of the House are showing a public interest in and drawing public attention to this matter.

Like the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, many thousands of my constituents work at one of the giant A.E.I. plants in the Trafford Park area. I know that they recognise the need for industrial output and industrial efficiency, and to produce the goods which this nation needs. They are not talking about it; they are producing the wealth which this country so desperately requires. They are concerned whether when Mr. Weinstock talks about removing some of the fat, that means removing their jobs. Does this slimming down mean that their employment will be in jeopardy? They, and not just the shareholders, are entitled to be consulted and told about developments which may affect their livelihoods. These people create the industrial wealth of our society. We need efficient management and planning, but when the pinnacle is the profit motive rather than the good of the nation innocent people sometimes suffer.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Power is involved in a very difficult job concerned not with an expanding industry but with a contracting industry, namely, coal. My hon. Friends on this side of the House have shown great concern about this matter. Heart searching and discussion are going on. My hon. Friends are, however, able directly to discuss the matter with the Minister concerned, because it is a public industry and because account can be given and taken of what the slimming process can bring about. This is an important lesson to be learned. That is where the problems of the A.E.I. workers arise.

A number of my hon. Friends wish to speak and I shall take only a minute or two more. The points which my hon. Friend has raised about this take-over—the problems of industrial management, the industrial autocracy of tomorrow which has been created and its accountability to society, where Parliament comes into this and where a Labour Government comes into the question of planning of industry and of unemployment—are the issues which must be discussed and debated in the House of Commons. I am more than grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham for raising this matter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary at the Department of Economic Affairs can give assurances on the questions which we have asked, because this is not the end of the road. It is obviously only the beginning in industrial take-overs and expansions. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall watch these developments keenly.