§ 19. Mr. Macfarlane
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will now make a statement on the Government's intentions with respect to the National Nuclear Corporation.
§ 25. Mr. Palmer
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he hopes to make a statement on the reoganisation of the National Nuclear Corporation and associated design and manufacturing enterprises.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this vacillation, probably on his part, is doing nothing to assist the British nuclear industry, either domestically or overseas? What can he tell the House today about the timing of the future programme? How much pressure can he bring to bear upon these organisations to present their plans, because, as he will understand, the industry is faced with a series of problems if he does not act positively?
§ Mr. Benn
I never thought that I would live to hear the Conservative Opposition demand that I should take firm action against the interlocking private shareholdings imposed on the industry by the Conservative Government and which I am trying to unravel. The arrangements made by the Conservative Government were quite unsatisfactory, and I am seeking to proceed by agreement. That is why the process is taking a bit of time. It requires agreement, unless the House is ready to legislate. All I can say is that those groups in the industry, both at Risley and Whetstone, whose views have been taken on the matter formally, are of the view, right up to the highest management level, that a majority holding in the public sector would be the best way to support the NNC.
§ Mr. Palmer
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Sir Arnold Weinstock, head of GEC—certainly the man with the greatest power there—is laying down certain demands for the restructuring of the industry? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will make these decisions, and not Sir Arnold Weinstock?
§ Mr. Benn
I do not think that it would be fair to reveal in the House discussions that I am having with Sir Arnold Weinstock, who was left, under the arrangements reached by the Conservative Government, with a command ownership role in the industry. I have enjoyed useful discussions with Sir Arnold on this matter, and I am of the view that a decision of this magnitude must be made by the Government. But in the absence of legislative power I have to seek to proceed by agreement, and that is what I am trying to do.
§ Mr. Tom King
Quite apart from the role of private sector companies in this matter, have the right hon. Gentleman's proposals had the full support of all the nationalised industries concerned?
§ Mr. Benn
I am involved in discussion with the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Atomic Energy Authority. I am trying to reach a consensus, because that is the proper way to proceed. I have no legislative power to operate differently from that. This is a very important industry, and the way in which it has been structured leaves the 21 Government very little scope except to proceed by discussion and agreement. I do not regret that—unless I am criticised for taking a long time to seek an agreement.