General Duties of the Corporations

Part of Orders of the Day — Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th July 1976.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol North East 12:00 am, 28th July 1976

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall not give way for a moment, as I wish to make another point; after that I shall give way. There is another reason why I believe it is important. In what he said the hon. Member for Bridgwater did not seem to take into account the question why there should be this provision in the statute. It is to ensure that the Minister does not interfere in matters in which he has no authority to interfere. If ever a set of Ministers interfered with the day-to-day work of the nationalised industries, particularly the fuel industry at the time of the fuel crisis, it was Conservative Ministers. They were always interfering.

I sometimes talk to chairmen of nationalised industries. If one talks to them privately one finds that they all complain bitterly about the way in which Conservative Ministers interfered. I do not know whether or not they were bought luncheons, but this sort of thing is sometimes known as the "lunchtime directions". They are told, "The Government do not want to make this the subject of an Order, or to bring it out publicly, but if you can adjust your policy it will help a great deal." That was done constantly by Conservative Ministers. I see their difficulty. They wanted changes made, but apart from issuing a general directive in the national interest, which is a clumsy method. they had no statutory power. Therefore they did it by way of the so-called "lunchtime direction".

It is very important for the effective operation of nationalised industries that the powers of all concerned should be strictly and carefully defined in the statute, and if a Minister is to have extra powers so that the activities of a corporation can be broadened—and normally this will be at the request of the corporation—those powers should be defined. In my judgment this would do away with much of the need for the behind-the scenes guidance that can come from Ministers to nationalised industries. This would give a greater sense of security to those who have to run these industries.