Industry Bill

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

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Industry) 12:00 am, 3rd July 1975

Perhaps I should give way to the hon. Gentleman. He could declare a few more interests if I gave him a moment or two.

The guidelines have been the subject of some preliminary discussion with the TUC and the CBI, and there will be further consultation with interested parties, including the NEB organising committee, before they are settled.

I take this opportunity to inform the House of the issues under consideration although, of course, we shall be making the guidelines available at a later stage. The general approach of the guidelines will be to accord the NEB the fullest possible operating freedom by exercising Government surveillance so far as possible through long-term strategies and annual budget plans. The Government will settle with the board a broad framework of objectives and strategy, looking only at large individual cases.

The guidelines will cover acquisitions, loans, interest payments and the criteria for investment and pricing. The board and its companies will be subject to general prices policy and to a requirement to avoid showing undue preference in its trading relationships. The Bill itself has made clear that the board will be subject to the fair trading legislation.

The guidelines will cover financial and other objectives, the eligibility of NEB companies for the generally applicable forms of financial assistance, the discharge of duties imposed on the board under Clause 3, its employment responsibilities, its rôle in furthering industrial democracy and its relationships with consumers. In the course of the proceedings in Committee great emphasis was placed upon the threat of unfair competition from the NEB. We do not intend that the board's companies shall be given any unfair competitive advantage. The NEB will follow the City code on takeovers and mergers and the Stock Exchange listing requirements where these are relevant. The board's companies will, of course, be subject to the whole body of company law and fair trading legislation.

Particular concern has been expressed about the NEB acquiring shares without the consent of the board of the company concerned. The guidelines will require the NEB to inform the Government of any case in which it proposes to seek to acquire more than 10 per cent. of the shares of a company in opposition to the views of the company's board. The Government will then decide whether to intervene. But it would be inappropriate for the Government to come to a final conclusion about the text of the guidelines until our consultations have been completed and until, in particular, there has been consultation with the board itself.

The Opposition shrilly demand that we drop the NEB and indeed this Bill. They suggest that at a time of great national crisis consensus is required, and that it is the duty of Government to abandon contentious policies in favour of consensus policies. To the Tory Party consensus consists of all other parties dropping their own policies and adopting Tory policies. Then we are all truly non-political and objective.

If these policies embodied in the Bill were important when they were first conceived in the early 1970s, today they are absolutely essential. To deal with the crisis we face today, the Opposition put forward a range of contradictory policies from which we are asked to perm any three out of seven.