§ 14. Mr. Barnett
asked the Minister of Technology what representations he has received about current levels of liquidity in industry; and what replies he has sent.
§ Mr. Barnett
Is not my hon. Friend aware that, particularly for small companies in development areas, where it tends to happen very frequently, there is a great shortage of liquidity? Will he consider the possibility of making payments of the investment grants and R.E.P., for instance, in advance of the Government's actually making the payment, so as to assist small companies of this type?
That question would probably be better directed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am conscious of the difficulties my hon. Friend has mentioned, but, after all, this is part of the general strategy which is producing a balance of payments surplus ahead of target.
I can only repeat that that point of view is not reconcilable with the fact that our balance of payments improvement is ahead of target and is far better than any hon. Member opposite said we could achieve.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Is the hon. Gentleman really telling us that he is not aware of the desperate intensity of the lack of liquidity particularly among small firms? Are we to understand that in the private Whitehall discussions which must be going on about the credit squeeze and its relaxation the Ministry of Technology is not representing this point of view to the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
§ 15. Mr. Biffen
asked the Minister of Technology what proposals he has to redefine the role of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation in the light of experience so far gained during its existence.
§ Mr. Biffen
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that both in respect of the equity participation in George Kent and in respect of the frustration of the Skefco bid the I.R.C. has established for itself the reputation of being an interventionist nonsense which should go the way of the Department of Economic Affairs?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman has picked out two of the activities of the I.R.C. of the last three years and entirely left out of account many others. I should have much preferred him to comment on the specific acts in which he thinks the Corporation has engaged and with which he disagrees rather than make a blanket condemnation of a group of distinguished industrialists who in my opinion are doing a very satisfactory job of work.
§ Mr. Benn
The I.R.C. is not the only instrument, of course. Quite a number of mergers occur naturally of their own accord. The Ministry of Technology itself is and has been involved in some, notably shipbuilding and the computer industry and in supporting the aero-engine merger. One has to regard the I.R.C. as one of the means by which the problems of fragmentation can be overcome, but not the only one.