I am grateful for the opportunity to raise what is one of the most important moral crusades that this country has seen in the twentieth century. I refer to the Lucas Aerospace combine shop stewards' committee, its corporate plan and the work it has done over the past three years. The shop stewards' imaginative method of tackling the question of providing jobs for peace and not for destruction is an important moral crusade of which the House and the nation must take note. I say that against the background of the Iranian contract for the production of means of extermination, a contract worth about £2 billion, which is grinding to a halt.
Time after time some of us on the Back Benches have raised these points. Indeed, only a short time ago I discovered from the Ministry of Defence that among the thousands of people that it employs there is not one person who devotes his or her time and energy to the possibility of substituting production for extermination with production for peace.
One of the difficulties faced by the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards is that, by and large, people do not wish this sort of question to be raised. They prefer to go for soft, easy contracts to sell 500 tanks to a reactionary regime in some distant land—the further away the better.
The Lucas Aerospace shop stewards have said that when they raised the question of the morality of the work being done by Lucas Aerospace, allied to their concern for jobs, they were told by the executive elite that runs Lucas Aerospace—as it runs all our big corporations—that the work carried out by Lucas was quite adequate for jobs.
In a recent press release the confederation trade union committee said:
The 'Corporate Plan' initiative, launched in January 1976 was rejected by the management, who maintained that the Company's present product policy was the best guarantee of employment; the shop stewards point out that almost exactly two years later the Company announced the closure of its Liverpool, Bradford and Coventry sites.
So who was right? Was it the highly paid corporate executive elite or the lads on the shop floor, albeit rather sharp
lads with penetrating minds? As a matter of fact, their minds seem sharper than those of the corporate elite when it comes to the actual experience people have had.
This is an important debate. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister is here after our pressure on Thursday for a debate. Unfortunately, he was not able to meet our request then, but I am pleased that the debate is now taking place.
It is worth pointing out also, against the background of the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards' views and their corporate plan, that one of our greatest commercial rivals is Japan. We know that, because we see Japanese products such as motor cycles, televisions, sound centres, and motor cars everywhere. Indeed, people become very concerned about the level of importation of Japanese cars, and Members for areas where there is a motor industry are concerned about the number of commercial vehicles imported from Japan.
What is the position with regard to Japanese defence expenditure? In July 1976 in the Financial Times, the Far East editor, Charles Smith, talked about "A dilatory phoenix". He said:
The first is that Japan's defence spending is never going to get very big (it is currently 0·87 per cent. of the GNP), and may indeed grow more slowly in the next few years than in the recent past because of the expected slow down of the growth of the Japanese economy.
The Japanese have been very sensible. They have taken a moral view very similar to that of the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards. Because of their experience as the only nation in the world to face the horror of a nuclear holocaust, they have kept their defence expenditure down.
We spend about 5 per cent. of our GNP on defence. The Japanese are putting their expertise and development into products that people actually want. That is why we see their products on the streets of this country and virtually every other developed nation as well as underdeveloped nations.
Therefore, the attitude of the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards is a vital matter that we must take notice of. It is a pity that because of the structure of our Government the nation sometimes seems able to accept such ideas only in a crisis. If the Iranian arms contract is not to be renewed or extended, as seems likely, there will be a crisis for many employees in the armaments industry.
It is true that over the past three years the shop stewards' committee has discovered a number of difficulties. Institutions, whether of Government or of the trade union movement, have not responded as rapidly as the shop stewards thought desirable and as the nature of their views demanded. We should change our institutions if they are incapable of meeting the sort of attitude expressed by the shop stewards' committee. We are talking about men and women who have got together in their spare time and thought up plans for alternative production.
When the idea was introduced, the committee circularised a number of academics to see what sort of response they would receive, and they got about half a dozen ideas. They circularised the shop stewards in the various factories throughout the Lucas group and received over 150 practical ideas on what production and resources could be put to. That is the basic, practical, down-to-earth background of the corporate plan, which the shop stewards titled
A contingency strategy as a positive alternative to recession and redundancies.
It took the shop stewards three years to meet the management to discuss the corporate plan, because they were challenging the hierarchical nature of our society, which is that the bosses shall make the decisions and the workers shall accept them, and woe betide workers who question those decisions and perhaps even produce better ones. That sort of attitude challenges the whole nature and structure of our society. That is why they took three years to meet the management, and then it was only in a television studio because the plan had received such widespread publicity and sympathy.
The moral strength of the plan is clear and basic. People ask "Why on earth cannot the common sense of this plan be discussed?" It was not until that publicity and the pressure from outside organisations was realised that the Lucas management was driven into a television studio, after three years of pressure, to discuss the corporate plan. That is a serious indictment of the management, and to some degree of the Government for not putting more pressure on the management to get to grips with the matter and enter into discussions with the shop stewards.
What did the plan contain? I cannot go into it, because although we have, happily, a fair amount of time, it would take too long. It is a comprehensive, detailed and practical plan. The shop stewards were probably the first to coin the word "microprocessors". Now it is part of our language and people are talking about the microprocessor revolution. The Lucas shop stewards were discussing that very subject almost four years ago.
Perhaps I may give just one illustration of the sort of thing the shop stewards were advocating. They said on page 21:
The increased speed of both road and rail vehicles and the larger payloads which they will carry, both of passengers and goods, will give rise to stringent braking regulations during the coming years. This tendency will be further increased by Britain's membership of the EEC. The EEC is now introducing a range of new braking regulations. These specify not only stopping distances, but calls for minimum standards of braking endurance over a continuous period. In addition, the regulations lay down conditions for 'braking balance' between axles in order to prevent a dangerous sequence of wheel locking.
They go on to say:
In Britain public attention has been dramatically focused on the weaknesses of existing braking systems by the Yorkshire coach disaster which claimed 32 lives in May of this year. The Sunday Times of June 1st stated 'Last week's crash might have been avoided if the coach had been equipped with an extra braking device, such as an electromagnetic retarder which is being fitted to an increasing number of coaches in this country '.
That is the retarder which is advocated in the corporate plan.
They also say:
that is, the loss of braking operation because of heat—
can be greatly reduced, if not totally overcome, by using a retarder. A retarder is basically an electro magnetic dynanometer which is fitted usually to the prop shaft between the engine and the back axle.
In fact it would appear that only 10 per cent. of Britain's 75,000 buses and coaches actually have retarders fitted to them.
If we examine the history of coaches between 1976 and today, we find that there have been a number, albeit a small
number, of spectacular crashes, almost in every case due to braking failure. There was the crash of a police coach at Wakefield, with the loss of several lives, as a result of inadequate maintenance. Because of inadequate maintenance, there was no braking, and no reserve braking by means of the retarder advocated by the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards' committee in its corporate plan.
That is the kind of imaginative development that was put forward. As the days go by, we see examples where the application of their ideas would save lives and be a useful addition to our safety standards. That is the attitude which they had and which they put forward.
What does it mean in terms of jobs? The Lucas Aerospace shop stewards' committee set up a special working group, which reported. It has been reported on in The Guardian today. It means, for example, the proposed closure of the factory at Bradford. My hon. Friends will discuss the other proposed closures. The Bradford factory closure has been modified by the provision of a new factory to replace the old one. However, the report which has just been produced, and which I know the Department of Industry will discuss shortly with the group, says that the closure of the Bradford factory has a number of disadvantages.
It is said that the engineers are not willing to move to Hemel Hempstead. That was the proposal put forward. Insufficient engineers may move to Hemel Hempstead to ensure the continuity of the generating systems business. The engineers concerned at Bradford do not accept the necessity for the integration of design and production. They operated separate design facilities successfully for years on constant speed drives produced at Netherton. The company's intention on the engineers required at Hemel Hempstead is to deploy some of them in production engineering and quality control areas.
The Bradford labour force is prepared to accept a new actuator factory, but insists on the retention of all surplus labour in Bradford in the new site, the existing site or new rented premises.
Mr. James Blyth told Members of Parliament on 6 April 1978:
It could well be that in Bradford we shall absorb the entire work force, or what is left of it, with an amount of natural wastage, if we manage to get more business—for example, if the McDonnell Douglas work comes along.
The McDonnell Douglas work did come along, and so the report comments that presumably the company could retain the entire labour force.
The report picks out a number of points. A further one is that the relocation offers, especially house price differential repayments, will cause industrial relations problems at Hemel Hempstead. Bradford is designated as a grey area with few opportunities for those who lose jobs. That is very important. Bradford is an intermediate area. Over the past few months the trend of unemployment in Bradford has, against the national trend, been increasing. One of the reasons is that Thorne, another large profitable multinational, closed down a television factory last year, with the loss of 2,300 jobs. That is the sort of decision, made in the executive suite, which ordinary working people cannot possibly shape.
The emphasis of the report is that all the jobs at Lucas Aerospace in Bradford should be retained. The reasons why are set out very cogently. That is the sort of basis that is being argued: that jobs should be retained to ensure that there are opportunities for learning skills in the future, that an area is not depopulated and does not drift along an avenue in which the skills are taken away and only semi-skilled and unskilled job opportunities are available.
I want to mention the Government's position in this context. The view of the combine shop stewards' committee is that the Department of Industry has been too close to the management and not close enough to the shop stewards. The committee points out, for example, that, as in Bradford, a new factory is proposed, but it will lead to a net loss of jobs in current circumstances. The committee points out that the Victor works at Lucas is on a broken back of concrete and that the works requires extensive renovation and extensive expenditure, yet a new factory is to be provided by the Department of Industry.
The committee is very concerned—so am I—that a former permanent secretary at the Department of Industry, Sir Antony Part, instead of retiring to his garden in Sussex, or wherever, should go on to the board of Lucas Aerospace. There have been a number of moves by a permanent secretary, Sir Anthony Part, and deputy secretaries neatly out of the Department of Industry and into some rather cosy well-paid jobs on private enterprise boards.
The committee makes the claim, which I think can be substantiated, that this demonstrates a closeness between senior civil servants in the Department of Industry and the management of a company. The shop stewards point out, for instance, that discussions are going on between the Department of Industry and Lucas on planning agreements, but the unions have not been consulted. The basic purpose of planning agreements is to get an arrangement between the Government and the major important company with the trade unions being involved as well.
There is far too much of a tendency for the senior civil servants at the Department of Industry always to approach the management rather than to approach both sides of the shop floor in industry, the management and the trade unions. The shop stewards argue that in their case it is absolutely essential that they should be approached and should have discussions on every occasion. It is not good enough simply for senior civil servants to have an understanding and a continuous relationship with the management, because the management has been shown to he at least less than competent over the past two or three years and is now actively trying to reduce the number of the work force at Lucas.
I know that representatives of the Department of Industry will very shortly be meeting representatives of the combine shop stewards' committee. I very much hone that it will not be simply the Department of Industry that is represented at this meeting but that it is wider, because it involves very important considerations. One of them is employment. Energy is another Department which should be involved, because many aspects of the corporate plan are concerned with the better use of energy and energy saving. Therefore, it is important that such a Department should be involved.
It is important that the Department of Employment should also be involved. One of the arguments that is always put forward about expenditure by the Department of Industry is "There has to be a curtailment. There must be a minimum. Public expenditure is limited, and, therefore, expenditure should be cut." But in fact, if the Department of Industry does not spend money on saving jobs, for example, what happens is that people are put on the dole, they are then paid money by the Department of Employment, they get supplementary benefit from the Department of Health and Social Security, the local authority loses rate revenue and the Inland Revenue loses tax revenue, and instead of it simply being a saving on one Vote, it is a transfer from the Vote of the Department of Industry to the Vote of the Department of Employment. In those circumstances, it seems to me that the Department of Industry could usefully determine to be prepared to spend money in order to preserve jobs and to encourage the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards to move along their various ventures.
I recognise that this will not be very easy. The Lucas company is a very large corporation, and it is seeking to operate that corporation in the traditional way by a small group of directors making decisions which have to be accepted by the work force. It will be very difficult for the Department of Industry to break away from its traditional links with the management. I make no criticism or individuals in the Department. I am saying that it is traditional for the Department of Industry to see itself as an ally of management. Many senior civil servants would not easily conceive of being allies of the rank and file on the shop floor. There is not much machinery whereby the rank and file can see senior civil servants in the same way as management can call on their knowledge and expertise and even buy it permanently when they get hold of someone such as Antony Part.
There is not much opportunity for trade unionists to meet civil servants in the ordinary course of events. That is one of the differences between the Lucas combine shop stewards' committee and most ordinary trade unionists. Many trade unionists would not dream of asking a Labour Minister to attend their trades council or meet them as the combine shop stewards' committee. They would argue that Labour Ministers are very busy and that they are very important people carrying out important work on their behalf in Whitehall. They would not dream of intruding on them. Managements see it as a matter of right that Ministers should go to their functions and that they should have a constant consultative capacity with senior civil servants. That is the difference.
The Lucas combine shop stewards have taken this notion of their position in society and torn it apart. They have said that they have as much right as anyone to be consulted, that they have as much right as the management to enter into discussions about decisions which will affect their future, and that they will not simply accept a notice in their pay packets at the end of the week to the effect that that is the end of the day for them and that they are out on the streets looking for jobs. They are saying very clearly that they have to be consulted, that they have to be involved in decision making and that if that means going to the Department of Industry and becoming involved in consultations to the same degree as the Lucas management, that is what must happen.
I say that that is what must happen, because Labour Governments are not elected to uphold the traditions. A Labour Government may not be articulated by many millions of people. But we get a Labour Government against the trends because many working men and women see a Labour Government as being on their side. When we get into office, we have to recognise that, whatever the difficulties, these traditional patterns of negotiation have to be pushed to one side and that political initiatives must be taken sometimes. That may cause a little difficulty with the CSEU, although recently the CSEU has shown commendable initiative. But working men and women—organised trade unionists—have as much right as managements to that close consultation.
I hope that the meeting which is to take place very shortly between the combine committee and the Department of Industry—and, I hope, the Departments of Energy and Employment—will represent a new initiative. It will be difficult because of the traditional patterns, and I am sure that Ministers at the Department of Industry will be having a lot of advice fed to them that they must not make any promises or say anything which will give an indication of help to the combine shop stewards, that it is the management which is taking the initiative and that it is management decision making.
The combine shop stewards are turning that argument on its head. They say that that is not the case at Lucas. They say that decision making should be taken at least jointly. Of course, that will be resisted. Everyone says that it is a wonderful idea. People pour out sympathy and say that it is a splendid idea with great moral virtue—but nothing seems to get done.
The reason is that if the Lucas combine shop stewards' committee should open the door of the elite of the Civil Service talking to the elite of management and making decisions in concert, many more trade unionists will also want a say in decision making. They would be right. If the Lucas Aerospace plan is adopted, it will mean an alteration in our society, and the Iranian contract may cause that degree of crisis that produces a change in our society. It is reckoned that it takes about 10 years for an idea to be taken hold of and put into practice. It may be that the general economic difficulties and the crisis in the arms industry will produce a rather shorter period in this case.
I understand the difficulties of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in replying to a debate at relatively short notice, but we represent a movement which is headed towards change. It may not take place next week or the week after, but it is irresistible. Change will take place. That is the message which goes out from this House.
We have talked to the shop stewards involved. They have met setback after setback. They do not look on us as noble saviours from Parliament. They look on us with a certain amount of suspicion because we are in Parliament and we represent the sort of establishment that they have been fighting for the past three years. They are still dedicated because they have the right ideas, and people with the right ideas will win in the end, no matter how many times they are put off. That is the message that we put out. The shop stewards will win, and they will have us behind them all the way.
I hope that in the next few weeks we shall be able to stand proudly—as we have not always been able to do in the past—and say that the Departments of Industry, Energy and Employment are behind those shop stewards. Perhaps it may even be possible, though it seems unlikely, that the whole Government will give their backing to these sorts of ideas.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) in thanking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for giving us the opportunity of having this debate.
I have been involved with the Lucas corporate plan for about three and a half years. Like a number of other hon. Members, I have a Lucas Aerospace factory in my constituency. It is agreed on the Labour Benches that the Lucas Aerospace corporate plan is fully in line with Labour ideas about industrial strategy.
I wish to put on record what the corporate plan is all about. Essentially, it is a set of detailed proposals for the manufacture of 150 products covering six major areas of technological activity, including oceanics, transport systems, braking systems, alternative energy sources and medical equipment. The products include wind generators, gaseous hydrogen fuel cells, solar collecting equipment, all-purpose, multi-fuel power tanks, kidney machines, hobcarts for spina bifida patients, portable life support systems, robotic devices for mining, underwater work and so on, and road and rail vehicles. There were two objectives to the plan—to protect jobs and to ensure that the alternative work would be socially useful. That is a tribute to those who compiled it.
There is a long history of redundancies in Lucas Aerospace. I first came in contact with the problem when the workers drew up a diversification plan three and a half years ago with the object of saving jobs. But then this plan was devised which has been widely praised as a considerable theoretical achievement. I led a deputation to Ministers three and a half years ago and they, too, hailed it as such. Books and articles have been writ- ten about it, but there has been no practical Government involvement yet. I hope that this debate will encourage such involvement.
A first step, which we suggested three and a half years ago, might be a feasibility study of the products proposed. The workers understand about marketing and demand and that the products will have to be sold at a profit. They say that one or two of the 150 products could be commercially successful. The electronic chips with which they were dealing at that time were four inches long. They showed the Minister examples and talked to him about some of the products which might result.
In spite of the difficulties, we have tried to involve the management, the unions and the Government. This is a classic case for a compulsory planning agreement to get such an admirable venture off the ground.
The Government recently said that they met the company to discuss a planning agreement and that another was planned. Has a further meeting been put in motion? The Government will probably say that over four and a half years they have taken a great interest in redundancies and have given considerable help to Lucas Aerospace. But most of that time has been spent on procedural arguments with the unions about whether the shop stewards making the plans were the true union representatives. There have been serious problems with the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. The Government have spent more time on procedure than on anything tangible.
I began by saying that the plan was a twofold issue—redundancies and new technology, new products, new exports and new jobs. I know that the Government will say that they have given considerable support to Lucas Aerospace to save jobs. Recently a grant of £8 million has been offered to build a new factory and to save jobs on Merseyside. This is important. What happens in a combine like Lucas Aerospace obviously affects the situation in other places. We take an interest in what is happening within the combine because it affects each unit in various parts of the country. Concern was expressed that work had not started on a new factory site at Huyton. I wonder whether the Minister could give more up-to-date information on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley mentioned that working parties have been established with the unions to discuss redundancy questions. There have been various complaints about procedure. Would the Minister make clear that the working parties have been dealing with other matters apart from redundancies? If they have been dealing explicitly with redundancies on the basis of what is happening in Huyton and other places where factories were to be built and where there were worries that factories would not be built, may we know whether the established working parties have got down to any details of the plan concerning new technology, new products and new jobs?
I should also like the Minister to bring us up to date on other questions. It has been established that the Government were prepared to hold a tripartite meeting once the working parties had reported. It was stated that this would possibly take place some time in February 1979. The working parties have been meeting and they have been discussing redundancy problems. Have the working parties been discussing ways and means of establishing some kind of feasibility study between the Government, the unions and the company to make practical arrangements for marketing some of the products I have mentioned in the long list?
If the working parties have not been discussing matters other than redundancies and have not been discussing in detail the practicable introduction of any of these products on a marketing basis, even in terms of a feasibility study, will the Minister promise that the Government will take the initiative in the tripartite meeting and introduce the subject of a feasibility study to see whether they, the company and the trade unions between them can tackle this problem in a more realistic way and implement in some form the Lucas corporate plan? There has been no argument on this side of the House about this being the right way to approach the question of industrial strategy.
People are quick to criticise workers when things go wrong in industry. Even when it needs the exercise of imagination, people seek to blame the industrial relations record of an industry for the decline, and there is a chorus of accusation in the press. In industries with a record of quiet industrial relations. where this accusation cannot be made, those who are so quick to criticise workers do not look to management to see where it has gone wrong but treat the decline as inevitable.
When a work force such as that at Lucas Aerospace constructively plans for expansion, one would think that management would welcome it. But that is not so. Management has been conspicuous in its lack of enthusiasm for the Lucas workers' initiative and their corporate plan. I greatly regret that but do not find it surprising. However, I would expect a Labour Government not just verbally to approve such an effort but to give all possible help to the work force to achieve their plan. There is at last to be a tripartite meeting on Wednesday to discuss the situation and the forthcoming closures and job losses. I hope that this portends a change of attitude and more practical support.
An additional interim report has carried the original corporate plan a stage further. It has considered the situation in the light of the redundancy and closures proposals currently put forward by management. The title of the report "Turning Industrial Decline into Expansion—a Trade Union Initiative" epitomises the attitude of the Lucas workers. They want to turn decline into expansion, and not just any old expansion but useful expansion—as is often said, expanding in the life industry instead of the death industry. I hope that the meeting on Wednesday will be the first of a series to ensure that this work is carried forward.
It is a pity that the working committee has had difficulties in producing the fresh report dealing with the current crisis. I regret that in the report the working committee had to complain that at some sites a direct instruction had been issued by the Management that all information should be withheld. That is extraordinary. It suggests a fear on the part of the management that information is a tool which can be dangerous in the hands of workers. I suggest that information in the hands of workers rather than in the hands of management is more likely to result in constructive proposals. I do not say that from a vague feeling of suspicion of management but because it is shown by the report that the Lucas management has decided to source more production abroad to the detriment of plants in this country.
The people who have a real interest in ensuring that plants in this country are able to do a good job and to expand are the workers in those plants. On the other hand, the management interest can be forwarded by production abroad. Management is interested in the maximisation of profit, which is not necessarily in the interests of the British people.
The working party makes direct statements about secret decisions by the company to source more production overseas in subsidiary and associated companies. The report notes that the hydro-mechanical fuel systems business is thriving, but, unfortunately, it is thriving in one of Lucas's associated companies in Germany. This is very important because this equipment is a product of the Victor works in Liverpool which is to be axed.
It has been put to us by management that the coming of electronics has made hydro-mechanical equipment less able to provide jobs. The workers' rejoinder to this is that, despite the electronic element in this equipment, the hydro-mechanical element remains the most important, and that since the market is expanding the work on this equipment must expand also. It is no use to the workers in Liverpool if this expansion is in Germany. As Lucas is a British-based multinational, it is scandalous that it should divert its production overseas in this way. It is the Government's job to ensure that something is done to prevent this.
The workers have put forward not only the list of product suggestions already outlined in this debate but eight specific product suggestions for the sites that are at present under threat of closure. The report proposes a Government-aided job maintenance programme. We hear a lot about the provision of jobs, and a lot of effort is put in by the Government on job creation schemes of various kinds. Here is a golden opportunity for a real job maintenance programme which will help to maintain an important sector of production. It will in no sense be pretend work or work created for its own sake. It will be very important production.
The working party challenges the company on its facts. It challenges the figure of £500,000 which the company claims is necessary for the Coventry foundry to be modernised. The working party claims that the cost of new equipment to modernise that foundry is £200,000, not £500,000. As a Coventry Member, I am obviously interested in this, even though the Coventry foundry is a small plant, because Coventry needs all the jobs it can get. I am therefore very pleased indeed that the working party's report recommends that, far from being closed, the Lucas Coventry foundry should be modernised and expanded to meet the requirements for non-ferrous castings which exist throughout the whole of Lucas Aerospace.
In seeking information for its report, the working party came across an extraordinary position. It found that most of the technical staff and others associated with the design of castings and the organisation of their production in Lucas Aerospace were not aware of the facilities available at Coventry. That is a fine way to run a company—to have a facility of which one's own design staff are not aware.
The working party points out that there is a general requirement throughout Lucas Aerospace for more non-ferrous castings facilities rather than less, and that the companies at present supplying nonferrous castings to Lucas show a marked reluctance to supply the short runs usually associated with the aerospace industry. Lucas Aerospace's own foundry would be completely geared to whatever kinds of runs were needed in the aerospace industry, whether long or short. Outside foundries cannot be expected to have the same determination to make aerospace needs a priority.
The working party also accuses the management of adopting an unrealistic accounting procedure in working out the hourly rates charged for the Coventry foundry, and, of course, accounting procedures can be extremely important.
There is a fascinating passage in the report which will, I hope, be probed deeply at the tripartite meeting on Wednesday. It is the passage in which the working party challenges the claim by the company about the figures which result from maximum utilisation of existing facilities. The company's figures show the extraordinary position that maximum utilisation apparently increases the overhead cost for each unit of output. The whole basis of telling workers that they can have wage increases if they increase productivity is the notion that overhead costs per unit of output go down if there is maximum utilisation of capacity and increased productivity.
Although I am very often suspicious of productivity agreements, there is a certain logic in that general statement. One would expect maximum utilisation of capacity to reduce the overhead costs per unit of output. There must be something very peculiar indeed about the organisation of Lucas Aerospace if it actually increases its overhead costs per unit of output when it has maximum utilisation. If that is so, there must be something very seriously wrong in the company, and it must be reflected in all sorts of ways.
There are other cricitcisms of the conduct of the company in Birmingham. It might be claimed that management has the right to manage, that Lucas Aerospace belongs to Lucas Aerospace, and who are we to poke our noses into the way that it is run. I start from the proposition that Lucas Aerospace does not simply belong to Lucas Aerospace. The build-up of wealth in the company, as in others, comes from the labour of the workers in it. If their labour is wantonly wasted by bad management practices, they have every right and duty to complain and to be heard. As an hon. Member who tries to represent the workers, I think that I have the right and duty to give voice to their criticisms.
There are serious faults in Birmingham. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) may seek to discuss specifically the situation in Birmingham, and therefore I shall not pursue it unduly. However, it is most serious that young graduates have been allowed to leave Lucas Aerospace in Birmingham with the result that there are now insufficient designers to handle even the existing work load. That is bound to result in customer dissatisfaction, which will lead to a fall in orders and production. I leave my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak to pursue the matter in more detail.
There is often a lot of pious talk about industrial strategy, about the need to maintain production and to re-equip industry, and about the need for workers to co-operate in that process. Here we are discussing proposals which are enormous in their scope. They have been described tonight as a moral crusade. They express the desire of workers that their labour should be used constructively for the benefit of the workers in the company and of people generally.
So in one dimension the Lucas Aerospace corporate plan and the new interim report are enormous general structures. But they are also specific plans, and the point which concerns us here tonight, and which will arise for Ministers from the Department of Industry on Wednesday, is that this is not only about grand plans but also the need to maintain the jobs of specific workers in specific places.
I share the hope expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) that there will be the maximum ministerial involvement in the meeting on Wednesday. I was present at a meeting at which the Secretary of State for Employment met the Lucas combine committee. It was a good meeting, and it was appreciated by the shop stewards concerned. As employment is directly concerned in this matter, as the Department of Employment is expert at creating jobs and knows how to spend money on that to get a reasonable return, and bearing in mind that the Department is familiar with the general points of the Lucas workers' plan, it would be both courteous and efficient if the Department of Industry invited the Department of Employment to the meeting.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said, a similar consideration applies in relation to the Department of Energy, given the importance of energy conservation. I understand that at that Department one Minister is given the job of handling the subject of proper energy utilisation and conservation. The Department would surely be charmed to receive an invitation to Wednesday's meeting, and I am sure that it would be happy to co-operate. The shop stewards, who have undertaken their work in a most constructive way, feel that a fruitful meeting on Wednesday will show that the Government are at last taking their proposals seriously.
I am very much afraid that, if the meeting appears to be cursory and formal and does not go into matters in depth, there will be enormous disappointment on the part of the workers, which will have serious repercussions on morale in the factories. People can go on for so long making constructive suggestions, but they feel most frustrated if their suggestions meet with no response. Speaking as somebody who is very anxious to see the maintenance of the Coventry foundry, as is recommended in the interim report, and since I wish to see Lucas Aerospace expanded, I very much hope that Wednesday's meeting will be the first of many meetings to ensure that the job is properly carried out.
Close relationships exist between the company and the Department of Industry and the Treasury. Looking at Lucas Industries as a whole, I am fascinated to note that the amount of tax paid by Lucas Industries appears to be balanced almost exactly by the amount of money which that organisation has received in grant. If there is that kind of neat and tidy financial relationship between Lucas Industries and the Treasury to the good fortune of the company, it is particularly important that in relation to Lucas Aerospace workers and the Government there should be an equally close relationship which will be fruitful not only for the company but for the nation as a whole.
We are speaking in this debate about the shop stewards' combine committee. Before I talk specifically about the Lucas Aerospace committee, I believe that it is worth while spending a few moments on the subject of shop stewards' combine committees. This is an institution which has developed in the last 30 years and has set an example to trade unionists in other countries—as indeed in earlier days we set an example to the working classes in other countries.
An interesting characteristic of the shop stewards' combine committee is that it is the response of the working man or woman to the real and hard problems that arise when a person works for a large organisation containing a large number of plants. Just as management dis- covered its need to co-ordinate the activities of different but simultaneously operating units, so, too, did the workers discover that if they did not co-operate their activities in the various plants in a multi-plant firm they could be picked off, one group at a time, by management. In other words, they discovered that by applying to a multi-plant firm the ancient and well-proven Labour movement principle that unity is strength they could confront the management with a different degree of strength, co-ordination and unity.
That attitude caused a number of problems in British industry, and not least in the British trade union movement. The trade union movement was not structured to encapsulate within it this new strange infant, the shop stewards' combine. For many years, official trade union organisations, with the collaboration of the employers, fought like tigers to suppress these committees.
Some of us remember the number of times that the Ford shop stewards' committee ceased to exist—crushed by a combination of management and official trade union force. But, being essentially a healthy infant, being an essential and logical outcome of the kind of industrial growth that we have had, having been created by British working men, it persisted, in spite of the trade union bureaucrats and in spite of the multinational managerial bureaucrats, and it thrives today. It is still looked upon with a great deal of scepticism in official trade union circles and with outright hostility by managers, because the one thing that managers hate and detest is that their workers might have cohesion and unity throughout what they regard as their organisation.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that one of the interesting things about the combine shop stewards' committees is that, unlike what happened in previous days, the management cannot separate the work force and so bring about disunity between clerical workers, craft workers and unskilled workers? One of the real strengths of the combine shop stewards' committees is that they combine the blue collar and the white collar workers for a common purpose.
I entirely agree, but my hon. Friend should remember that the first stage of that development was the formation of joint shop stewards' committees within one multi-union plant, and then they extended. They discovered, as their ancestors in trade union life had discovered, a new source of strength. It was a logical response to the situation in which they found themselves, which was that their employer had many tentacles, many factories, and if he wished he could play one group of workers off against another.
That was the employers' answer. Hence their violent, total hostility, which is as strong today as it was 20 years ago, to the idea of bargaining with their workers as workers in an entire multi-plant group. The employers do not mind bargaining with trade union officials, strangely enough. The game they play is to bargain with full-time officials of the trade unions, to play them off against the trade union members. Some manage to play that game quite skilfully.
This brings me to Lucas. What the Lucas Aerospace combine committee did was not only to carry out the now well-recognised function of co-ordinating the bargaining activities of workers over wages, conditions of work, and so on where there are a number of plants, but made a great leap forward into unknown territory by, in effect, claiming of management the right to discuss with it the products that they produced. That was a claim on what management regards as its prerogative, and that is what makes the Lucas Aerospace combine committee so interesting and encouraging.
We hear on all sides—I must say "on all sides", given the events of the past three or four weeks—not to mention pulpits, that shop stewards are the enemy of civilised life as we know it, that the fabric of Christian civilisation is about to crumble, because ordinary working men have discovered means of asserting power on their own behalf. You have heard, Mr. Speaker, some people on both sides of the House who should be ashamed of themselves deploring this fact.
What these men have done is to tell their historic, traditional lords and masters "We do not think that you are very good at the job of managing. We think that we should participate in that job of managing the work that we do". That is the question which the Lucas Aerospace combine committee posed to British management and the British State. In the context of this sad story, which has been dragging on for four years, the Labour Government have not played a creditable role. They have sided with conventional wisdom.
It is asked "Who are these people who claim the right to have a say in whatever their employers produce?" I know that my hon. Friends who are here tonight have had the experience of being involved with the consultations and attempts at bringing people together. They have seen the negative attitude of the State, to put it at its most charitable, to this positive and creative initiative by working men and women. The State does not know how to handle it. It is nonplussed because this challenges a traditional historic bastion of social, economic and political power. Its social democratic ideology furnishes it with nothing that enables it to make a positive response to these creative initiatives by working men and women.
This is a large company with a sophisticated technology which commands a high level of skills in our people. It has progressively run down its labour force from 18,000 to about 11,000. It denies that. It did so at great human cost, in the pursuit of maximised profit. That is all. That has nothing to do with the interests of our country. It has nothing to do with the interests of humanity. That firm is big in the armaments business. It is in the business of accumulating capital and maximising profit. It has done well out of it.
In the seven years up to 1977 it accumulated about £250 million of profit, but paid no tax. That is the meaning of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise). It paid no tax. It received as much in grants out of my constituents' money as it paid in tax. The rest has been—as the Chancellor has it—deferred taxation. That is a complicated euphemism for letting the corporate entities of capitalism off without paying their fair whack to the community. Meanwhile, this firm goes on exporting productive capacity abroad. It denies opportunities to my constituents and to those of my hon. Friends. It continues decimating the economies of Liverpool, Bradford and Coventry at will. It does so because nobody within the State has the will to stop it. All that the State has managed so far is a pathetic effort to bribe it with my constituents' money not to do so.
Whatever else the Lucas Aerospace case study might be, it is a classic case study in how not to go about bribing capitalism to do something that is socially beneficial. Those people are apparently unbribable, no matter how much money we give them. All we succeed in doing is making life easier for them, so that they may do what is to their greatest advantage. It is to Lucas's greatest advantage to downgrade the Lucas organisation in Britain, to reduce its productive potental and to create or set up new productive potential elsewhere, at the expense of our people and our economy. It takes the money. But the bribes do not work. Nor indeed do the bribes work elsewhere.
However, the hostility towards the shop stewards continues unabated. I referred to the troubles over the past three weeks. All the latent hatreds erupted to the surface on both sides of the House. We heard what Members of Parliament think of the organised workers of Britain. You, Mr. Speaker, have heard it. You have read our newspapers, with their mendacity, malignancy and bigotry. They hate these people with a bitterness that is almost unbelievable.
What are these people doing? They are saying "All right. The traditional way of doing work is not something we can continue any longer. Our existing line of products will not serve us much longer. Therefore, we should work differently and have new products." They have said "Perhaps we should not make instruments of war." But they have also said "Perhaps there is an alternative to unemployment by making new things."
These are constructive suggestions. What is the response? Mendacity and hatred—echoed faithfully and resounded in our press, whose philistinism is equalled only by its bigotry when it comes to dealing with working people.
This has been the experience of these men and women. They have played the constructive role and the creative role. They have said "Here we have thought out creative, constructive proposals for the organisation with which we are intimately familiar and about which we know more than anyone else. But what happens? They will not even talk to us. The State will not co-operate with us. All sorts of difficulties are placed in our path." For four years they have trudged along that path to attempt to get someone with power and influence to listen to them. Only now does it seem that it is beginning to happen.
I do not say for a moment that Wednesday will be the beginning of anything. But it might be. However, until now virtually nothing has happened. The directors who have run Lucas have flatly refused to engage in any constructive conversations with these people. Indeed, they have gone out of their way to subvert these men and women. They have actually done that. But who are these people who defy their own workmates? Although managers do not think of workers as their workmates, they are so. They are fellow workers. Who are these people? They are people who will, for example, build a factory in France to make car components, rather than build a factory in Britain or use an existing factory here. They justify this by saying that that is the deal that the French company with which they are dealing has insisted upon. Never does one hear of the reverse taking place. Strangely, it is always that they have to make a deal which involves either creating new productive capacity abroad or closing down capacity in Britain, reducing employment, to the advantage of some other organisation abroad. They run down the strength of our economy.
In effect, the directors of Lucas have for more than a decade been steadily sabotaging the British economy and sabotaging the work prospects and career prospects of almost every conceivable grade of worker in the British economy. whether he is an unskilled labourer or a highly skilled scientist. The men who are directors of Lucas have undermined their lives and they say "That is business." But we say "That is capitalism." That is how capitalism works.
They ignore the other consequences of their behaviour. They always whine about the tax burden. They pay expensive public relations experts to whine in public for them, hoping that no one will notice that they pay no taxes and that they are subverting the economy. When their bluff is called, when their own fellow workers say to them "All right. We have here a set of proposals", their only response is to run away and to deny their right to implement them.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will take sides with us and with the workers of Lucas Aerospace and give us some reason to hope that the meeting on Wednesday will be not only the beginning of the road for the Lucas Aerospace combine but the beginning of an example which will set a new pattern not only for the British economy but throughout Europe.
I must confess that when I came into the House this morning I did not expect that I should be replying to this debate. In view of the small amount of time that I have had to prepare for it, I hope that my hon. Friends will accept that if I try to reply to the matters which they have raised in as much detail as possible, they must not expect too much and that as regards other details on which they have sought information I shall let them have that later if I cannot furnish it tonight.
I want first to pay tribute to the work which has been done over the past four years by the Lucas shop stewards. There is no doubt that a tremendous amount of energy, effort and endeavour have been put into the preparation of the corporate plan.
I was paying tribute to the tremendous effort and endeavour which the shop stewards had made on behalf of their fellow workers, as I do to my hon. Friends for the way in which they have pleaded their cause assiduously and for the way in which they have put their case on behalf of their constituents and on behalf of all the workers in Lucas Aerospace in various parts of the country.
It was my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) who first brought a deputation of Lucas combine shop stewards to see the then Under-Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), as long ago as December 1975, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley and my other hon. Friends have been associated with a large number of meetings with Ministers in the Department of Industry and other Departments and involved in trade union meetings up and down the country, all concerned with and all designed to advance the aspirations and hopes stressed in the corporate plan.
I welcome the spirit in which my hon. Friends have put their points of view tonight because they, too, spoke well within the spirit, the hopes and the aspirations of the corporate plan.
It is worth putting on record that, though we are all looking forward to the tripartite meeting which is to take place in my Department on Wednesday, that offer, option or possibility of such a tripartite meeting has been in existence for nearly two years. It was in March 1977 that the possibility of such a tripartite meeting, if it was desired by the union side and the management side, with the Department was first mooted. I recall meeting the combine shop stewards myself, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, in April 1978 when the possibility of a tripartite meeting was mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) spoke about the Department of Industry being the traditional ally of management. I hope that that was no criticism of Ministers. I am sure that he will recognise that, although some of us are Ministers, we are nevertheless still members of our trade union branches and attend their meetings whenever we can. I hope he will also recognise that by having offered that tripartite meeting, and that since that meeting has been on offer for some considerable time, that in itself shows the desire and willingness on the part of my Department to meet the workers, their representatives and the unions involved and that there is a willingness to listen not simply to management but to the union side as well.
If my hon. Friends look at the catalogue of meetings surrounding the corporate plan which have taken place since 1974, they will see that just as many meetings with union representatives in various layers of the trade union movement have taken place as have meetings with representatives of management.
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would follow up that statement with a written account of the meetings to which he refers. I believe that he will find that the only meeting at which the combine shop stewards' committee has been able to meet Ministers is the meeting arranged by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), who is chairman of the employment group of the PLP, with the Secretary of State for Employment. That is the one and only meeting facilitated by the Government.
I shall furnish my hon. Friend with a list of the meetings which have taken place. I think that she will see from it that rather more meetings with union representatives have taken place than she supposes. The latest was a meeting between the Lucas management and the unions only last Friday to take further certain discussions surrounding the report to which reference has been made There have been a large number of meetings, not just about the subjects raised in the corporate plan but in connection with the working parties and some of the proposals that my hon. Friends have put forward.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley will recognise that the combine structure which exists in, for example, Ford, Chrysler, Massey Ferguson, Vickers, British Leyland and British Aerospace is not a unique feature. Combines are now much more prepared to put forward the sort of alternatives that we have been discussing, but the existence of combines has been observed in the trade union movement for some time. Many of us recognise the contribution that they have to make, the hard work that they have done and the validity of many of the initiatives that they have taken.
I have been asked about planning agreements. My right hon. Friend wrote to the company management about a planning agreement in July. A preliminary meeting with the top management has taken place and there have been fur- ther meetings planned at working level. The latest position is that there was to have been a discussion with officials last week but it had to be postponed because of one or two industrial disputes and the imminence of the tripartite meeting on Wednesday.
Discussions about a possible planning agreement have been taking place but have not been concluded. I do not conceal from my hon. Friends, and we have never tried to conceal from the House, that we would like to conclude a planning agreement with Lucas.
The working party to which my hon Friend the Member for Yardley referred has been concerned with the reorganisation options and alternative proposals that might be possible on the sites under discussion—primarily Liverpool and Bradford, but including others as well. I do not think that I should go into more detail on the report which is to be discussed on Wednesday. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) made clear that it goes into a great amount of detail on alternative proposals for some of the sites, and I believe that those details ought more properly to be the subject of Wednesday's discussions.
There is no question of our having been secretive about the financial assistance made available to Lucas Aerospace I gave a full reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West on 19 June when I said
The projects announced by Lucas Aerospace on 12th June will create at least 500 jobs in Liverpool and at least 400 jobs in Bradford. The financial assistance for the Liverpool project is:
The cost per job—this applies only to the selective financial assistance to which I have referred—will amount to £2·2 million for at least 500 jobs, giving a cost per job in grant value of up to £4,400.
In addition my Department is to build a factory at Huyton at a cost of up to £3 million. This factory will be leased to Lucas Aerospace on a full repairing and insuring lease. Lucas will be given a rent free period of five years and will then pay the full market value rental as assessed by the district valuer. For the Bradford project my Department has agreed in principle to build a factory at a cost of up to £2 million. The initial rent free period will be two years, but otherwise the conditions will be similar to the Huyton factory."— [Official Report, 19 June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 94.]
That has never been concealed from the House. It has been made unfortunately plain in the figures which I have given. I do not intend to conceal the fact that job losses are involved in these proposals.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that these arrangements were made without any reference to the combine shop stewards' committee? Will he confirm that the arrangements in Bradford and elsewhere to which he has referred, which will produce a net loss of jobs, were carried out in consultation with the management and that no consultations were undertaken with the combine shop stewards' committee?
My hon. Friend will know from his experience that all these discussions are normally conducted on a confidential basis. If a particular company was willing to release the application to its employees, my Department would raise no objection.
Reference was made to the question of conversion work and the possibility that might exist within the Ministry of Defence. I hope it will be recognised that many jobs depend on defence-oriented business but that the United Kingdom is nevertheless participating in a United Nations study of the economic problems of disarmament in a proposal called the Nordic initiative. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, under my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, is taking the lead. At present, my Department feels that the Industry Acts and the science and technology legislation give it all the powers it needs to assist in the conversion process.
I take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said about the need to examine this matter further. The Government have taken certain steps, fal- tering though they may be in his eyes, in the direction he has been advocating.
Reference was made about the role that could have been played in these discussions by Sir Antony Part, former permanent secretary in the Department of Industry. The section of the working party report entitled, I believe, "Close relations" comments adversely on the close relations between the Department of Industry and the management of Lucas which, the report claims, make a mockery of supposed Government impartiality between both sides of industry.
I cannot comment on the claim in relation to Sir Antony Part. My Department has received a copy of the working party's report. We are studying it before the tripartite meeting on Wednesday 14 February. I have seen Sir Antony's statement in The Observer. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends have also seen it. Sir Antony says that, in accordance with public procedure, he consulted the Prime Minister's advisory committee under the chairmanship of Lord Diamond, who approved both his appointment and its timing in relation to the date of his retirement from the Civil Service.
I know that there is a great deal of concern about this matter among my hon. Friends. It is not the first occasion on which it has been noted. I know that Sir Antony is able to speak for himself, as he has done in the quotation attributed to him in The Observer.
My hon. Friends have referred to the breakdown of work between civil and military projects within Lucas. The 1976 sales figures reveal that only about 50 per cent. of the work was military in some way. The other 50 per cent. was civil. The main customer was Rolls-Royce, which took about 45 per cent. of production. The share of the Ministry of Defence was about half that. If one examines the work in which Lucas has been involved, one finds that it is certainly not all military. My hon. Friends have not given that impression, but it is worth putting on record that a great deal of work in which Lucas has been involved is civilian work. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will refer to civilian projects a little later.
I pay tribute again to those who must have spent many an hour preparing the corporate plan. It reads like a tour d'horizon through much of modern technology and research. It refers to such products as solar heating, windmills, braking systems, electric vehicles, heat pumps, oceanics, applications of microprocessors—perhaps a little before its time—kidney machines, aids for the blind and for spina bifida patients and powered undercarriages for aircraft.
As I have told my hon. Friends before, a great deal of work is already taking place either in my Department or in other Departments into many of these facets of new technology. I will not say that all this is a direct result of the corporate plan, but work is already proceeding in many of these areas. However, I recognise the plan's validity and the challenge and the social usefulness of many of its concepts.
My hon. Friends said that union difficulties had been encountered by the combine. It is only fair to say that the combine's activities have aroused comment at executive and general secretary level. Some of its activities led to a circular being sent out last year to divisional offices by the general secretary of TASS, which says:
Contrary to statements widely circulated, the 'Corporate Plan' is not the official policy of TASS. It was submitted to the National Conference of the AUEW where it failed to receive support. Nevertheless, the TASS EC took the initiative to put the issue to the Confed. EC and it was raised with the Government as a result.
I have no wish to engage in a long debate about union structures. My hon. Friends are very involved in their union. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley has strong union connections. They understand as well as I that there are levels of negotiation, participation and bargaining. I hope that they will recognise, however, that my Department is not in an enviable position when one level of a union tells us that an initiative is worth pursuing and another level, often domocratically elected and constituted, says that it would not be wise to proceed so deliberately with those proposals. The Department has received pressures from one level urging us in one direction and from a second level urging us in another. That is a difficult position for us, because we must try to retain, as I hope we do, good relationships with all levels of the trade union movement.
But I do not want to digress into a long discussion tonight. I only hope that my hon. Friends will recognise that some democratically elected executives and general secretaries have made this reference to us and that they will agree that my Department should pay attention to their proposals.
I should like to make it clear to my hon. Friends that for a long time I have paid tribute to the work done by the Lucas combine shop stewards. I was a member of the national executive committee that signed the motion put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) that they should be proposed for the Nobel peace prize. That was a testimony of my support for their initiative. I produced a paper for the Labour Party entitled "The Industrial and Employment Implications of Changing from Defence to Civil Production". I submitted that as an addendum to that study which was produced by the national executive committee study group on defence expenditure.
I said on the diversification issue and with specific reference to the Lucas combine:
In general, compensating employment has to be looked for by diversification into other industry. The diversification plans produced by the work force of Lucas Aerospace recognise this by seeking to utilise relevant skills in new ways.
I went on to say:
This is a constructive approach and with a positive attitude from the workers, industrial restructuring on a large scale becomes a possibility …
I made that submission with the full knowledge of my Department, and I went on to say:
In conclusion, the Lucas Combine Corporate Plan is a worthy initiative, into which much constructive thought has been concentrated.
That has been my position for a long time. Similiarly, my right hon. Friends in the Department of Industry have paid tribute to the large amount of detailed work done by the combine shop stewards.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend could give us a glimmer of hope that at Wednesday's meeting the Government might take some initiative to get the company involved in a feasibility study.
I seriously take on board what my hon. Friend has said. By the circumstances in which it was constituted, the working party has concentrated primarily on alternative restructuring options and proposals. It has been felt that it should also be seriously examining some of the proposals in the corporate plan. I shall certainly put this before my right hon. Friend. I shall be taking part in the discussions on Wednesday, and I shall endeavour to convey the feeling expressed by my hon. Friend.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West said, the working party has completed its detailed examination of alternative restructuring proposals and has produced a comprehensive report. She quoted from it, exemplifying the large amount of detail. I do not want to comment further without having the opportunity to examine it in more detail. It was discussed on a preliminary basis between Lucas management and the unions last Friday, and there will be a further meeting on Wednesday.
I said that the working party had completed its examination. I cannot tell at present to what extent it intends to go further. The further development of proposals in the report will be studied at the meeting on Wednesday. It would be premature for me to comment further until we have received a report from the management and unions on the progress that they made last Friday and in other discussions that they may have had.
I emphasise to my hon. Friends that I do not want to prejudice anything that they may want to say. I and my right hon. Friends want only to facilitate constructive discussions between the management and the unions on the future of the company.
There is no doubt that the new civil aircraft programmes that have been launched over the past six months—for example, the Boeing 757 and 767, the British Aerospace 146 and the Airbus 310, as well as the launch of the Rolls-Royce RB211–535—have significantly changed the immediate prospects for the equipment industry. When these prospects must be seized rapidly, companies like Lucas must be involved. If they do not secure business on some of the new programmes that I have mentioned, the longterm outlook for them must be bleak. The workers know this. It is a question of grasping as firmly as possible the opportunities in the aerospace and aero engine industries.
I thank my hon. Friends for raising this subject tonight. Because of the short notice, I have not been able to give my reply the kind of thought that my hon. Friends deserve. However, I have tried to answer all their points.
The tripartite meeting on Wednesday will discuss the comprehensive report. I look forward to that meeting, and I shall bear in mind the need for other Departments to be involved. Now that the meeting has been arranged, let us look forward to it, let us look forward to progress being made from it, and let us try to take forward the spirit of the initiative of the shop stewards' plan.