Part of Clause 28 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd July 1975.

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Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield 12:00 am, 3rd July 1975

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

During the past three days we have been debating this Bill in very great detail as is appropriate, necessary and right.

The Bill has been changed partly by amendments inserted by the Government, partly by amendments accepted by the Government, and, of course, some amendments made in Committee have remained in the Bill, perhaps even against the wishes of the Government on one or two occasions. These include a requirement to develop economic policy as a branch of mathematical economics. I think it would be helpful to discuss these further in another place and to have discussions with my hon. Friends about them. But all the details of amendments, and of amendments to amendments, should not obscure the main purpose and provisions of this Bill.

This Bill is one of the most important to be presented to this House in recent times, since its aim is no less than to help bring about a solution to the problems that have held back the regeneration of British industry to which Government after Government have sought in vain for a solution for 20 years or more.

As a nation, we have fallen industrially further and further behind our main competitors. As we have done so, we have had one balance of payments crisis after another. Each crisis has meant yet another check to the economy and further weakened our competitiveness.

No responsible Government can claim to be serving the nation unless they are prepared to face not the symptoms of our problems, but their fundamental causes. It is with these that the Bill is concerned.

As a Government and nation we have to face the fact that our investment per worker has been well below the rate of our competitors. It might not matter if this was a short-term phenomenon, but anyone who looks over the record of the last 20 years will see that throughout this period we have had a problem that has been getting progressively worse. We must therefore tackle the issue of investment in industry. But that itself will not provide the answer. Even more important, we must also match the skill of our competitors in making effective use of manufacturing equipment, and here our record must be a matter of very great concern. We simply are not getting the results.

We need to make a new and major attempt to advance industrial democracy since attitudes, pretty well as much as management and lack of investment and out-of-date structuring, have been responsible for the difficulties which have so relentlessly afflicted us.

Apart from some minor or less controversial provisions, together with the important provisions for dealing with undesirable foreign takeovers by prohibition or vesting orders, this Bill covers three main areas. The one which has taken up most of our time, on Report at least, and also occupied a great amount of the time of Standing Committee on which I did not have the pleasure of serving is that of disclosure of information.

We have had our differences on this side of the House, just as there have been at least four different and distinct points of view put forward on the benches opposite by the various Opposition parties.

For my own part, I believe that we have got the balance about right. I look forward to the keen wind of free flowing information blowing through industry, improving relationships between management and workers and giving workers access to the information which will help them to become truly an integral part of their own industry.

I shall not hesitate to use the powers this Bill gives me to compel disclosure of information if need be. But, as I have said before, and said yesterday, I very much hope that satisfactory voluntary arrangements will mean that I do not have to exercise these powers.

For me the greatest success of this part of the Bill would be if it were to bring about voluntary arrangements for information sharing throughout industry. I say to managements who might be reluctant or dubious that nothing could transform the atmosphere more than this sharing of information with their work forces through their union representatives.

But if this free flow of information can change the atmosphere of industry, planning agreements can change its direction. How to plan an economy within a genuine democratic framework is the key to orderly and fruitful industrial progress.

Planning agreements, on which the Labour Party made proposals during its period in Opposition, are the means of creating a new partnership between workers through their trade unions, companies through their managers, and the Government—a partnership in which the three sides will come together to discuss and pool their wisdom and resources in order to increase the effectiveness of the major companies upon which our prosperity so much depends. We shall seek to do this through this real voluntary system.

The Government intend to make available shortly a consultative document which we will discuss with the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress. This document will, of course, be made available to Parliament.

But for me the real heart of this Bill is its provisions to set up a National Enterprise Board. One of the clearest signs of the frivolous and irrelevant Tory Opposition tactics that we faced was that, during this Report stage they chose—for it was their choice—to devote two of the three days of Report stage to the disclosure provisions of this Bill and less than a day to the section dealing with the NEB.

Under its prospective Chairman, Sir Don Ryder, the Board will have a crucial task and a number of rôles. It will, as directed by the Secretary of State in any particular case, exercise the selective powers in the Industry Act 1972, assisting industry in trouble and not necessarily just making handouts. It will ensure that the British people will obtain a return in terms of finance and control for the finance which they inject into an ailing industry.