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.