Lucas Aerospace

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12 February 1979.

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Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton 12:00, 12 February 1979

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.