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Industrial Services (Public Expenditure)

Oral Answers to Questions — Technology – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1968.

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Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry 12:00 am, 18th March 1968

asked the Minister of Technology by what percentage is the net estimate of expenditure for industrial services of his Department under Vote 19 increased in 1968–69 over the previous year; what are these services; and what proposals he has to restrain this element of public expenditure.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

The increase is 22 per cent. Industrial services include general support for industry and, in particular, those industries sponsored by my Department; grants to research associations; and expenditure, other than on staff pay, on research stations. Policy in regard to expenditure on these services was stated by my right hon.

Friend the Prime Minister on 16th January, 1968.—[Vol. 756, c. 1577–1618.]

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

Is it not a most extraordinary set of circumstances that in this sector we have increases in public expenditure of the order of 22 per cent. at a time when there is supposed to be restraint on the growth of public expenditure? Is the Minister aware that the more the Government interfere with industry the less profitable industry seems to become, and the heavier the burden borne by the taxpayer?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I think that the hon. Gentleman should take account of the industries in which this expenditure is being made; for example, shipbuilding, and the development of the pre-production orders for machine tools. All this expenditure is designed to reinforce, and is likely to succeed in reinforcing, economic performance with the object of switching resources.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that every time his Department, or one of his agencies, such as N.R.D.C., moves in on the industrial front, there is always the risk that other companies and enterprises in the same field will say that it is no good their trying, because the Minister has backed the other? Will he bear that risk in mind?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I understand the possible danger to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but this increase, which is about £5½ million, goes on policies which, broadly speaking, won the assent of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, notably, on shipbuilding, electronics and machine tools, and to raise a general point like this at this stage ought to be considered very carefully.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on this side recognise that the tremendous changes being carried out in the modernisation of the shipbuilding industry could not possibly have been carried out without the support of his Ministry?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

It is certainly true that had the Geddes Committee not made the decisions and recommendations it did make, and if the Government had not acted on them, there would have been a very serious danger of the collapse of the British shipbuilding industry.