Orders of the Day — Commission for Industry and Manpower Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Robert Sheldon Mr Robert Sheldon , Ashton-under-Lyne 12:00 am, 8th April 1970

The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell) called himself an interventionist. We are grateful to know that there are such Members on the benches opposite. But even his interventism would be of a somewhat modest kind compared with the kind which the Government will be forced to go in for to obtain some of the powers required to deal with industry.

Over the past 20 or 30 years, we have seen a revolution in the attitude of Governments to industry. It has been accelerated since 1964. The normal attitude of Government to industry previously was that the Government should hold the ring and let industry operate within its own confines as best it may. The new philosophy, which we have fully embraced, is that the Government should involve and concern themselves in and, because of its importance to the well-being of this country, must take a more and more prominent part in industry.

As long as the people vote for Governments to control the economy effectively, any Government, of whatever party, will be forced by that electoral pressure to take on more and more responsibilities within industry. This is an inescapable consequence. It is inescapable in all Western European countries and even in the United States. As long as prosperity is one of the things for which people vote for Governments, then Governments will involve themselves more and more to make sure that if they have responsibility for matters over which they have no power they will acquire some power in exercising that responsibility.

The way in which the present Government involved themselves in industry through the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation was splendid. The Bill is one more modest step in this direction. I do not think that we have the relationship between Government and Industry right as yet, but we are beginning to learn and to understand it. I take some comfort from the way in which things are going. In the Government there are a number of Ministers, and there are even a number of civil servants, who are beginning to understand how industry works and how the Government can co-operate with it. In my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Department of Employment and Productivity and my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General we have men who have contacts with industry which enable them to under-stand industry's problems. These are developments in the right direction.

Whether we call this process creeping Socialism, public control, industrial regulation or a statist solution does not matter. The name does not matter. What is inevitable is that these relationships are being established and will go on being established. Even if hon. Members opposite were to form the next Government, they would move in this direction—perhaps not as fast—as they were forced to move throughout the 'fifties.

There is bound to be a demand for extra staff by the new Commission. I am disappointed to see on page iv from the information which is now compulsory, that it is expected that there will be little or no change in public service man-power as a result of the Bill. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir Edward Boyle) said, I should have expected some demand for an improved service. I would not have expected a vast increase, but I would have expected a modest increase, and I am rather sorry that we have not seen that.

All during this Parliament we have seen an increase in the numbers of mergers and a dedication to some of these larger organisations. The advantage of this kind of movement with new industries is more apparent, but our problems in the restructuring of industry, as we moved from a world in which we exported to the Commonwealth as our main customer, to a world in which we export an increasing proportion to other countries, has meant that we have had a larger share of contracting industries than other countries.

What we have needed to do is not so much organise the industries which are capable of expanding and which we are ready to expand, but rather to devise a new framework for the structure of those industries which were contracting and at the same time try to get the efficiencies and improved methods obtaining in those industries.

It can be done, but it is not easy. What can be done is that one forms a concentration and closes down the less efficient parts. Because the size is larger, one can re-equip in a more useful way than if one were to leave the individual units to fall back in production. The obvious examples are the railways, the mines and shipbuilding, where there has been concentration. Although they have not always made as much use of it as they should, there has been the chance to modernise, even in a declining industry.

We see in the Bill the basic dichotomy between the work of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation and that of the Monopolies Commission. They were the two sides of the scale—one pushing one way and the other pushing the other way. We know that, at present, the Monopolies Commission is rather less in fashion than the I.R.C.

The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said that the Monopolies Commission had won golden opinions. It may have won them from lawyers, but it did not win many from me. I saw it as of considerable importance in its early years, but as we became more and more involved with industry, we found that waiting three or four years for a report was not acceptable. The pace of industrial change today is such that there are not all that many industries in which we are prepared to wait so long for an absolutely precise report.

By the time a report of that length is produced, the situation has changed and the demand for the report has changed. The great virtue and attractiveness of the National Board for Prices and Incomes was that it could get out a report. It may not have been so accurate or so comprehensive, but it was relevant when it came out. It still had something to say about a situation which was considered important when the reference was made.