§ (1) The Minister may give to the Corporation directions—
- (a) requiring them to compile in such form as may be specified in the directions and to publish in such manner as may be so specified such statistics and returns as may be so specified, being either statistics and returns relating to the activities of the Corporation and the publicly-owned companies or statistics and returns relating to such of those activities as may be so specified;
- (b) to make in such form as may be so specified and to publish in such manner as may be so specified such forecasts as may be so specified, being either forecasts with respect to the output of the Corporation and those companies of, and their capacity to produce, iron and steel products or forecasts with respect to the output of the Corporation and those companies of, and their capacity to produce, iron and steel
502 products of such class as may be so specified;
§ (2) Any such directions may require statistics and returns to be compiled, and forecasts to be made, either periodically or on a specified occasion.x2014;[Mr. Freeson.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. Reginald Freeson)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
Before proceeding to speak on the new Clause, I wish to thank the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) for his very warm welcome. I deeply appreciate the extent to which he has gone to study my views on the political situation and the future of this country, and also the extent to which he 503 has circulated my views among hon. Members opposite. I am sure that will be very useful to them.
This new Clause empowers the Minister to give the Corporation specific directions about the publication of statistics, returns and forecasts. Subsection (1,a) empowers the Minister to give the Corporation directions to compile in such form as he may specify such statistics and returns as he may specify relating to the activities of the Corporation and the publicly-owned companies. It is this part of the Clause which replaces the original Clause 22(5). It goes wider than the original provision, because now under the Clause the Minister would be able to direct the compilation and publication of statistics and returns relating to all the activities of the Corporation and the publicly-owned companies, not just their principal activities as set out in Clause 22(5) in the Bill as it stands.
Under subsection (1,b) effect is given to the Minister's undertaking in Standing Committee in reply to an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), which would have required the publication of the Corporation's investment programmes submitted to the Minister. For reasons which the hon. Member for Yeovil accepted, this was unacceptable, but the Minister stated that, just as the collection of forecasts of output and capacity from the private sector was required, he considered it reasonable to require the same kind of information to be produced by the nationalised sector so that it would be available to the public and to the private sector companies.
§ Mr. Peyton
Will the Parliamentary Secretary give the reference to the Standing Committee proceedings?
§ Mr. Freeson
It was on Clause 34(2), which is now Clause 36(2), and in column 2508. In that undertaking the Minister indicated that he accepted the reasonableness of requiring similar information to be provided by the nationalised sector as was originally being required to be provided by the private sector. Hence the Clause.
Subsection (1,b) applies only to iron and steel products. It would not be reasonable to require the Corporation to publish forecasts of its output and capacity to produce diversified products, in many of which it will have only a 504 small share of the market. Indeed, to do so might weaken its commercial position. The Corporation can be expected to participate in the general economic planning activities of the industries with which its more diversified activities are concerned.
I shall now refer to some of the salient points of Amendments Nos. 90 and 89. The Government's Amendment—No. 90—is superior, in that it makes explicit provision for information about turnover, profit or loss, and capital employed, to be given for all but the smallest acitivities of each company separately and for the Corporation and all the publicly-owned companies as a whole. The Government's Amendment also follows the Companies Bill as far as possible, enabling the Corporation and the publicly-owned companies to use for the Iron and Steel Bill information on turnover and profit which they will be preparing for the Companies Bill.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
On a point of order. It is becoming apparent, as perhaps I should have appreciated earlier, that Amendment No. 89 standing in my name and in the names of some of my hon. Friends is more germane to Government new Clause 12 than to Government new Clause 2. It might save time if, even at this late hour, you found it possible to rule that my Amendment should be discussed with new Clause 12, because both my Amendment and that new Clause are directed to the provision of turnover, capital employed, and profit figures for the non-iron and steel activities of the Corporation.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary. This Clause covers in some respects a narrower field, in some respects a wider field, but at any rate a different field.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have no objection to that course being followed if the House has none. This seemed to us to be a natural grouping. Probably we were as much in error as the House was. It is suggested that Amendment No. 89 be discussed with new Clause 12 because the statistics and returns referred to in Amendment No. 89 are the type of statistics referred to in new Clause 12. If that is agreed, this discussion will be confined to new Clause 2, plus Government Amendment No. 90.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Freeson
The Government Amendment is consequential on new Clause 2 or closely associated with it. We are happy that Amendment No. 89 be discussed with new Clause 12. It remains for me to make some further general observations about the Clause. It differs from the existing Clause 22(5) in that under it a duty is imposed on the Corporation only if the Minister gives a direction, whereas Clause 22(5) requires the Corporation tocompile and publish periodical statistics and returns relating to each of the principal activities of the Corporation and the publicly-owned companieswhether or not the Minister gives direction as to their form and the manner of their publication. This change has been made solely because it is desired that the power of direction be extended to cover the matters to which the statistics and returns must relate and the frequency of their publication as well as the form and the manner of their publication.
With this extension it was from a drafting point of view necessary to express the Clause in the form in which it has been set out. I can give the assurance that it will the Minister's intention to use this power of direction to require the Corporation to publish a wide range of statistics to enable Parliament and the public to be fully informed of the activities and to judge their efficiency, both here and outside the House.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I must first echo the welcome which my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) extended to the Parliamentary Secretary. This is not the hon. Gentleman's first appearance at the Dispatch Box. He acquitted himself so well at Question Time yesterday that at least one journalist was moved to comment on the fact. May I offer one word of kindly advice to the hon. Gentleman? I advise him to consult his predecessor, and he will find that he will be well advised never on any account to write letters. They can have the most damaging consequences.
Having said that, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful speech and point out, which was perhaps not entirely apparent from what he said, that both this and the next new Clause, which between them cover nearly two pages of the Notice Paper, are to replace five lines in Clause 22. If a measure were needed 506 of the effect and effectiveness of the lengthy debates we had in Standing Committee D, these two Government Clauses are sufficient witness.
They cover different points, as you, Mr. Speaker, were kind to recognise in response to my intervention, this Clause dealing with statistics, returns and forecasts, and new Clause 12 dealing with the question of the figures relating to the diversified activities of the Corporation and of the publicly-owned companies. Both these Clauses and the Amendment tabled by the Government to Clause 22 dealing with the acounts of the Corporation represent a quite significant advance in the Government's thinking on the whole question of the provision of figures and information about the activities of a nationalised industry.
At an early stage in Committee, and from our side of the Committee throughout the Committee stage, the Bill was frequently criticised for being no more than a rehash of the Bill introduced in 1948 by the then Labour Government. These criticisms did not come solely from the Opposition. The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) was active in the Committee, I am glad to say, and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) may take comfort that his point of view was adequately represented by the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Poplar said, during an early stage of the debates:Here the Minister comes along with a Bill which for all practical purposes is the copy of the Bill of nearly 20 years ago. I am bound to say I am deeply disappointed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 3rd November, 1966; c. 241.]That is a critticism which we have made, and it is criticism which in some respects the Government have reacted to and from which they have moved forward.
The accounts of the nationalised industries have been criticised as being lacking in necessary information. In some cases and in some areas the criticism has been that it is almost as if the information were intended to be concealed. Of course, one would swiftly absolve the chairmen and members of these corporations from doing any such thing, but the fact remains that this criticism has been made, and I am bound to say that it has some justification.
The Bill as originally drafted, and as presented to the House last July, made 507 very little advance on anything which had gone before. As a result, we found it necessary in Committee, on Amendments and new Clauses, to probe and demand that more information should be given: and furthermore, that the information should be given in a more meaningful form from which proper deductions could be made.
Allied to this, we insisted that where information was to be required from the private sector, and certainly where it was to be made use of, the Corporation should not be entitled to acquire information from private companies which could be of commercial value to it. Obviously the Corporation, with 90 per cent. of the iron and steel trade, will be competing with the private sector, and it should not have access to this information. The new Clause, which we welcome, represents the first instalment of the undertakings to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred and which were given at various stages during the Committee sittings.
Although we welcome the new Clause, it is right that we should raise a number of points about it and should ask questions. The Parliamentary Secretary pointed out that in some respects the Clause went wider than Clause 22(5) which it in part replaces. In that respect he is quite right. We must point out that in another important respect the new Clause represents a weakening of the position. Clause 22(5), which deals with the publication of statistics and returns, starts off by saying:The Corporation shall compile and publish periodical statistics and returns relating to each of the principal activities …".In the new Clause that has been watered down to the wordsThe Minister may give to the Corporation the directions—Thus, in this narrow but important sphere of the Corporation's activities, we have a substitution of a Ministerial discretion for a statutory duty.
- (a) requiring them to compile …".
The Parliamentary Secretary went out of his way to say that it was the Government's intention that the power to give directions should be used widely, and for that we thank him. I draw the attention of the House to the valuable publication, the annual statistics—I happen to have the statistics for the year 1965, which is 508 the most recent year for which statistics have been published—published jointly by the Iron and Steel Board and the British Iron and Steel Federation. There are nearly 170 pages of statistical information about the iron and steel industry, about its products, about its consumption of raw material, about its manpower, and about everything else.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to indicate that it is the Government's intention, at any rate at present, that the statistics be published, and that the directions given in this Clause with regard to the publication of statistics will be an adequate successor to this volume. As the Iron and Steel Board is disappearing and the Federation will become a different animal, it is unlikely that the previous publication will be produced by them in future.
If the Parliamentary Secretary can say that this is the level of statistical information which the Government envisage, then it would go a long way to meeting the criticism on this side of the House that we are now dealing with a Ministerial discretion and not with what was originally a statutory duty.
The Clause as now drafted gives the Minister power to exclude certain activities from the duty to give statistics. Subsection (1,a), makes it clear that these statistics and returns extend to all the activities of the Corporation, that is to say, not only to its iron and steel activities, but also to its diversified activities. If this exclusion is to operate, we want some idea of how it will be done and of the circumstances under which the Minister is likely to want to exclude certain activities. He can give directions so that the obligation to publish statistics can extend to only some and not all of the activities. On what principle will the Minister exercise this discretion?
Subsection (1,b) deals with forecasts. This now relates only to iron and steel products, and it is quite right that it should. It would be really intolerable if the Corporation were to publish forecasts for its other diversified activities, in a great many of which it will be in competition with a large number of other industries.
Here again, it is quite clear that the Corporation can give forecasts only of its 509 own investment, of its own output, because the Corporation, competing with the private sector, cannot acquire information, and it must not be allowed to acquire information, from the private sector which would enable it to compile forecasts of capacity and output for the whole industry.
One must recognise, and the Government have recognised this, that it will represent a departure from what the Iron and Steel Board has been able to do—the Iron and Steel Board standing, as it were, apart from any of the companies in the industry, where the nationalised Richard Thomas and Baldwins or the remainder of the present private sector could in confidence collect statistics from all of them and could compile them into forecasts for the whole of the industry.
The Government have recognised this point and we welcome this. It is one of the most essential safeguards for the viability and health of the private sector that these forecasts as published here will relate only to the Corporation and to the publicly-owned companies. It would be helpful if the Parliamentary Secretary could repeat what the Minister said in Committee. More publicity is given if these things are said on the Floor of the House, and it would help if he repeated the Minister's assurance.
The Minister may ask the private sector for a forecast of investment and output. Naturally, there will be some suspicion in some quarters that the statutory Corporation, being as it were the Minister's creature, could come into possession of information which the private sector would be under statutory duty to provide under Clause 36. I am quite sure it would be valuable to the industry, and for the confidence which the industry must have in its own future viability, if the Parliamentary Secretary were to give a categorical assurance that in no circumstances will commercially valuable information be made available to the Corporation. This is an assurance which the Minister gave in Committee, and it would be helpful if it could be repeated.
The new Clause represents two steps forward and one back, and I refer to the substitution of Ministerial discretion. For that reason, although we greet it with some welcome, our raptures must be modified on that account. However, 510 subject to anything which my hon. Friends may wish to say, I see no reason why we should not let the new Clause go through without a Division.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Peyton
I should like to associate myself with the welcome which has been given to the new Clause by my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) and to say to the Parliamentary Secretary how glad I am that his first speech on the Bill from the Dispatch Box should be in the process of more or less fulfilling a promise made by the Minister to me during the proceedings of the Standing Committee.
It was in the last death throes of that Committee that the Minister gave this undertaking:Accordingly, it is my intention to introduce on Report an Amendment which would require the Corporation to publish periodical forecasts about the nationalised sector's output of, and capacity to produce, iron and steel products ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 15th December, 1966; c. 2508.]I do not think that I am being unduly legalistic when I say that, I am sure unintentionally, the Minister has fallen a little short of that, because the new Clause is not a requirement. It gives the Minister a discretion to impose a requirement. It would be tiresome and tedious if I went at length again into my views about Ministerial discretion.
We have learned to appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is not a man without virtue, that he is a man whose word can be trusted. Indeed, we ended the Committee stage by quite liking him. But we know that on the Government benches there are those for whom we would not care at all and in whose word we would put but little trust. I therefore do not at all like the idea of Ministerial discretion, because there might be a Minister who would not feel it necessary, as the right hon. Gentleman would, to issue such a direction as is here envisaged.
I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will both seriously study the promise which he gave and which is on record and which I have faithfully quoted and ask himself the straight question whether the new Clause meets his promise. I do not think that it does. This is a permissive power which the Minister may give the Corporation and 511 is considerably short of what I hoped would be done.
The actual wording of the new Clause leaves the Minister a great deal of discretion. Having decided that it would be a good thing to give directions to the Corporation, he is left to specify the form and manner of the statistics and returns which are to be required and the activities covered by those statistics and returns.
Taken as a whole, the new Clause falls a very long way short of what the Minister undertook to do. I do not want to prolong discussion, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have second thoughts and consider very seriously whether he should not strengthen the new Clause and make it measure up to his undertaking.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I, too, am rather surprised that the Minister has not laid an obligation on the Corporation and its member companies through the Corporation to provide statistics in this way, because I think that he will find that there will be an obligation upon him and on the Corporation because of other Acts and through other Ministries to demand certain statistics.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) said that the statistical record of the industry was very good. The booklet on statistics which he mentioned and which is provided by the Iron and Steel Board and the Federation together gives very full statistics, within the prudence of any industry which must not provide statistics which could be helpful to its competitors. It is always difficult for any federation or trade association collecting statistics to know what to publish and what not to publish, because it often finds that if it publishes certain figures it does not get them again and that constituent firms make it clear that they do not provide statistics to any federation or trade association in order to damage their competitive ability in the market. The Minister will have to bear this in mind with the nationalised industry just as much as private industries have to, because the nationalised industry will be competitive overseas.
512 Nevertheless, I hope that as much as possible about the industry will be published. Industry generally in this country has probably fallen short in its ability to collect the right kind of statistics and make them available to Government Departments and federations so that a proper picture can be obtained of what various industries are doing. This was clear with the National Plan, and I think that the Government themselves made a mistake when they produced the National Plan and had to make too many cock-shies. They could not get the proper statistics and so they made a guess. That is where the National Plan foundered, and I do not think that we are in a stronger position today than we were when the Plan was published.
However, events are on the move and things are improving. I sat on the fourth Committee of the Estimates Committee which discussed this whole question, particularly Government statistics, and we got a picture at any rate of what British industry was trying to do. There have been great improvements in recent years in this respect and the iron and steel industry has contributed to that improvement.
In the new Clause the Minister might have included a provision about bringing the collection of statistics up to date through the use of modern methods. It might not be appropriate to include that in the new Clause, but I hope that it will be borne in mind. Perhaps the industry should be provided with a computer to compile statistics, as is now becoming a common practice. This is helpful in that it saves staff and provides statistics much more quickly and I hope that very soon we shall find the Corporation itself purchasing a computer for use in the collection of statistics.
In particular there is a shortage of statistical information about manpower. Government Departments concerned find great difficulty at times because they cannot get the divisions of work among people in various industries. I do not know whether that applies to the iron and steel industry, but it is a matter to be considered, because the ability to train and retrain people can be improved and the value of the new training legislation, which we introduced, can be gained in full measure only if we have the right kind of statistics and know what people 513 are doing and so know exactly where they are.
There is some advantage in the Minister discussing with the Central Statistical Office the kind of uniform collection of statistics which it is seeking to provide. It is no good the Corporation setting up a system of statistical collection which does not follow the general pattern in Government, through the Treasury, and particularly through the C.S.O. At present various companies presumably have people, some qualified and some not qualified, to deal with statistics. The Federation will have its own staffs and so will the Board, and I hope that the Minister will make the best use of the staffs by bringing those best qualified together at the centre.
I have never taken the view that a statistical department needs to be composed entirely of people who are qualified statisticians, but one needs one or two qualified people at the top who can guide and make use of the figures. One can collect all of the statistics in the world, but if one does not know what to do with them, if one cannot measure the information given and make use of them to help in making forecasts, then the collection has been in vain. It is the best use of qualified people in the collection of statistics together with the provision of the best equipment and the introduction of a computer, which will enable the Corporation and its various companies to improve their activities. I support the new Clause.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)
Like my hon. and right hon. Friends, I welcome the step which the Minister has taken to implement undertakings given in Committee. I would like to ask a couple of questions about the new Clause. Do the Government envisage that the Ministry of Power or the National Steel Corporation or the publicly-owned companies will be the collecting agencies for the variety of statistics required by the Central Statistical Office, the Ministry of Labour, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Power for a number of different purposes?
This is an important question, because we want to know whether the Government have a view on this. If the Ministry of Power is not to be a collecting agency we want to know just who is. 514 It has been established, particularly in the deliberations of the Select Committee on Estimates, which looked into Government statistical services, that there is a good deal of overlapping in the collection of statistics and that there is an enormous amount of work involved for particular firms at firm level in the collection of statistics.
If the Ministry of Power is to be the collecting agency for the industry as a whole it is obviously quite unsatisfactory that this Clause in its present form should be permissive rather than mandatory. One can only draw the conclusion that the Ministry of Power has decided that whoever is to be the collecting agency it will not be the Ministry, otherwise it would have been bound to make the terms of the Clause mandatory. We would like some information as to what is the work which will be involved for the firms or the Corporation, and which of them will be doing the work of collecting these extra statistics for which this permissive Clause has been introduced?
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say something on the question of forecasting? I am a little uneasy about the the rather uncertain provisions of subsection (b) of this Clause. The whole question of forecasting is different when dealing with large sectors of industry. One of the most curious features of the National Plan was the division in the Plan of the Government's view of the future and in the second part of the Plan, dealing with what might be called the forecast of industry once found a very substantial divergence of view between, say, the electricity generating industry about the likely demand for capital or electricity and the view taken by the Ministry of Power.
There was a particular example in the activities of the Coal Board, when the Board, talking about coal exports, forecast an export target of exactly double the Government's forecast. Is there duplication in this matter? Is the Minister of Power to make his own assessment of the output of particular products and the industry as a whole, which will be set against the forecast of the industry, or will these be the sole source of statistical forecasting for the whole of the steel sector which the Ministry of Power will simply take as read? 515 We need this point elaborated, because although the new Clause is very welcome, it is in a permissive rather than mandatory form, and we want to know to what extent the Ministry will have its own sources, and to what extent there will be duplication, and whether there will really be some basis of comparison, particularly in forecasting, between what the Government think is likely to happen and what the industry really thinks.
§ Mr. Freeson
A number of points have been put to me for further information. It is good to have the agreement of both sides of the House on such a major improvement in the propagation of information. I have always held the view that one of the many merits of public ownership was the fact that it brought industries, such as the steel industry and service industries, under much greater public scrutiny by Parliament and the country than can be the case when large sectors of major industries remain in private hands. This is a personal view which I think is held by quite a number of other people.
I wish to answer the points put to me by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) and by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). The statistics for the whole industry, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford in the publications of the Iron and Steel Federation and the Iron and Steel Board, will be published by the Ministry and discussions are now going on between the Ministry, the Federation, the Iron and Steel Board and the Organising Committee as to the arrangements by which this type of publication will continue.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I would like the hon. Gentleman to deal with the question of to what extent there is likely to be a duplication of the statistics published by the Ministry which he has described and the statistics required by the new Clause. I recognise that the Corporation has only its own activities, but is there not a danger of duplication? I had not appreciated that this was the Minister's intention.
§ Mr. Freeson
In a sense I covered this point when I referred to the discussions as to the arrangements for the publication of statistics. It is a point to be watched. We hope to clarify matters on this, when our discussions are completed.
Either the hon. Member for Yeovil or the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford asked about the principles on which the directions will be given by the Minister. It is not a question of principle except in so far as that we shall have published as wide a range of information as possible. Only very minor activities will be excluded from the published information. I can give an assurance about the divulgence of information obtained in confidence from the private to the nationalised sector. It would not be the intention to pass on this information except with the full permission of the private sector.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford made a point about modern methods. It would not be appropriate to deal with it in the Bill, but we are very much concerned with it. We certainly take the point. We shall encourage the Corporation and others—this is true in a wide range of industry with which various Government Departments are concerning themselves—to adopt much more modern methods of statistical collation, research and administration on a whole range of activities with which they are concerned.
A very fair point was made about forecasting, especially bearing in mind the variations which existed in the first edition of the National Plan. So much is this point taken by the Department that we are undertaking a very thorough fuel policy review which has this aspect of forecasting energy requirements very much in mind. The same principle will be adopted regarding the various sectors of the steel industry. This is one of the opportunities which the Department will have rather more effectively than in the past with the nationalisation of the industry. The hon. Gentleman referred to overlapping and contrary figures, as he put it, which were produced in the past and asked how we would avoid this in future. On the energy side, we are doing this by the policy review. We shall seek to undertake this kind of major continuous review in the steel industry.
517 I believe that I have dealt with all the specific points.
The hon. Gentleman has not touched on one point which I made, namely, who is responsible for acting as the collecting agent for the various specialised figures at present collected by the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour?
§ Mr. Freeson
I dealt with that to some extent in my reference to the arrangements being discussed. The collation of information will be a matter essentially for the Ministry. How it will be undertaken is being discussed.
§ Mr. Alison
Then is it appropriate that the new Clause should have this permissive wording:The Minister may give to the Corporation directions",because he is bound to give the Corporation directions. The original provision in the Bill which the new Clause replaces was mandatory as opposed to permissive.
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate my difficulty. I am a new member of the club. I am assured that that is entirely a drafting matter and is not to be taken as any intention to reduce the kind of information which will be required. As I have said, only the most minor activities will be excluded. This is the intention of the Clause.
I have dealt with all the points which were put specifically to me—
§ Mr. Peyton
I am sorry that I was not here when the hon. Gentleman began his speech. I wish to press him on this point, because it does not seem to me that the clear undertaking given by the Minister is being fulfilled. The Minister made it clear that there would be a mandatory requirement. All that the new Clause provides is that discretion is conferred on the Minister. I do not think that that is adequate. If the Parliamentary Secretary had been a member of the Committee, he would have listened painstakingly, as the Minister did, to frequent and justified statements by the Opposition that we did not accept Ministerial discretion as being adequate.
§ Mr. Freeson
With all due respect, the hon. Gentleman is making heavy weather 518 of this. I have the relevant quotations from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Standing Committee's proceedings. The sentence attributed to my right hon. Friend was:Accordingly, it is my intention to introduce on Report an Amendment which would require the Corporation to publish periodical forecasts about the nationalised sector's output of, and capacity to produce, iron and steel products."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 15th December 1966; c. 2508.]The fact that the word is "may" does not mean that the Minister will not use his power to require the information to be published. However, may I say without commitment that this is something which we can consider again, and we undertake to do that.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The detailed point which I had in mind has been made, but comment should be made on the opening words of the Parliamentary Secretary. He ventured to put on record his belief that when an industry is nationalised it gets keener Parliamentary scrutiny and greater publicity. I do not think that that is true. If one looks at the record since 1946, HANSARD is positively littered with attempts to ask Questions about a nationalised industry and, because the statutory power has not been vested in the Minister, we have had no answer. Private industry comes under the auspices of the Board of Trade or the Chancellor of the Exchequer and it is always possible at Question time to probe matters. We should not allow the Parliamentary Secretary to get away with the suggestion that one of the supposed advantages and virtues of this piece of nationalisation is that we shall know all about the industry concerned.
So that it is not suggested that I might be sounding pompous, if I may say to the Parliamentary Secretary, in Committee or during the Report stage, it is always bad to introduce generalities of this sort. I came into the Chamber to listen to the debate because I was interested in one point. When one introduces a generality which has no scientific basis, one is asking Parliament to go on talking about it, as I have done for the last three minutes.
§ Mr. Peyton
The Parliamentary Secretary rather wrongly and unjustifiably accused me of making heavy weather of this point. He then went on to say that he would undertake, without commitment, 519 to consider it again. In other words, he accepts that there is something in the point.
Looking back over the years, when we were on the benches opposite, I wonder what would have been the reaction of the Socialist Opposition had a Conservative Minister given a clear undertaking of the kind given by the Minister and then produced a merely permissive Amendment such as this. It might well be that not the present Minister, because we know his intentions, but another Minister would say, "I do not mean to exercise this power", and then the whole of this exercise would be rendered nugatory.
The Minister gave a clear and specific undertaking. It is obvious that the new Clause goes no more than halfway to meeting that undertaking. We do not wish to make charges about Ministers falling down on their promises, but we are more than entitled to press the Minister and to invite him to say that he will undertake to table a new Clause in another place which will fully meet the point which he fairly promised to meet in Standing Committee.