23 AUGUST 1975, Page 3

Lord Ryder, inadequacy and the public purse

Leaving aside altogether the question of principle, whether the state should intervene on ahlarge scale in the industrial life of a democratic country, the matter of efficiency of the e"trre,, nt British Government in its intervention policy needs to be examined patiently and u. tally. This requirement applies in particular to the Ryder Report on British Leyland „...-Indicative as it is of the policy to be followed by the National Enterprise Board under Chairmanship of Lord Ryder — especially as viewed in the light of the report on the 010r industry of the House of Commons' Public Expenditure Committee (House of 1;c'Innlons' Paper 617). It is perhaps fair to say at the outset that, as our parliamentarians 2ve declined in public esteem, so there has grown up a fashion for introducing into the 'suanagement of the state's affairs tycoons, whizzkids and other examples of the modern 111ecies of managerial man. Yet a somewhat motley collection of parliamentarians — 'eluding a substantial number of Labour Members, so no dispute of doctrine need arise las come up with a report on the British motor industry vastly more considered and 'ostantial than the famous, or notorious, Ryder Report itself.

II . d is true, as we learn from his assiusly distributed press cuttings, that , rd Ryder works an eighteen-hour day, Zen he must be a very slow worker, for ere is no evidence in his report that any 1. e was taken for a serious examination ,lne structural problems of the motor L"Itlstry in general, and of Leyland in Knicular.

illere are three fundamental points about the . 4 , administration and industrial record of ,rdish Leyland which needed thorough nniny. The first is the grand question: the original merger which created ir Yland a mistake or not? There is a good 1 0f evidence to suggest that, broken up its component parts, this ailing giant .4t,lhaY be able to serve the economy well. R e second point relates to the first: the ller plan involves subsuming the exist1 successful parts of Leyland in the Asuccessful sections, and this hardly ,eerns to be the best method of encouragg that drive towards success which the rnj °tor vehicle industry — and the econ:irllY generally — needs. Thirdly, there is 11°1 disputing the fact that British Leyland had an abysmal record in industrial .1,'atinns. Yet the best comment Lord jder had to offer on the question of gr'Proving those relations was: "It is no '5d sitting at either side of the table and 1 ' tiling at one another." Lord Stokes could h2e done better than that and, indeed, Z an excellent record of consultation 01 workers. Lord Ryder's past exper ketlee has been much less varied: he has er had serious experience in a major te'lltstry dependent on engineering which heliresents the main part of the economy wi. IS being called upon to help. It is moot to"ether Lord Ryder appreciates that the 1„2re militant workers in the British motor t'hunstry feel they have been given a blank i clue by government support to the tune 01,500 million for a company which has not wholly, but certainly in part to Ca use its workers have been unwilling rnake the kind of effort and sacrifices .141dred to produce on time, cut costs and lieve commercial success.

the is another difficulty about Lord 't?srlder which, quite apart from any critiielrl We may have to offer of his report on 1),Iancl, must cause concern about the qnner in which he will run the National terPrise Board, virtually guaranteed unlimited government support — which means unlimited taxpayers' money — for its central activity, that of taking large or controlling shares in major industrial concerns. Asked why "you seem to be getting a lot of opposition from industry," Lord Ryder replied: "Anything done by any government is always opposed by the opposition, and I think there is a very high degree of misconception." This was a Freudian slip indeed. If Lord Ryder equates all criticism of what he is about with the view of the official parliamentary opposition, or if he regards all criticism of his proposals as politically motivated, then he is unlikely to demonstrate any serious capacity for grappling with the exceptionally difficult and complicated problems which lie before him as the Government's chief economic manager outside the Treasury.

But then, the sad thing is that Lord Ryder is a man of very limited industrial experience. It is even doubtful whether he grasps the nature of the legislation under which his board will act. Existing government intervention in industry takes place under Sectlan 7 of the Conservative Industry Act (1972) which lays down the principles of intervention in areas which require assistance for purely social reasons; and Section 8 of the same Act which provides for government action when the result is likely to be beneficial to the economy considered as a whole. These two sections are subsumed in the Labour legislation establishing the NEB. What emerges from the Expenditure Committee's report is that both of these provisions have been maladministered by the Treasury and the Department of Industry to a most extraordinary degree, given that they were exceptionally poorly and loosely drafted in the first place. Yet, the present Government's legislation broadens the general provision of these two sections in a quite alarming way.

Lord Ryder, despite his powerful position as a close confidant of the Prime Minister, and the fact that his position in the Government's service is supposed to be at least as independent as that of Lord Rothschild under the Heath government — and he was never inhibited from making public criticism of government activity — has not, it seems, grasped either the logical muddle of the legislation he is working with or the importance of clarifying its provisions. If he is simply to embark on a wild spree of public spending, then his policy will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. The great danger is that, along the way, he will influence the Government to make a series of individual decisions which have the effect of either destroying the hope for the revival of vital parts of British heavy industry or creating impossible industrial situations. It will be the most tragic effect a man of paper has ever had on the British economy; and even if the once tight-fisted mandarins of the Treasury no longer have the will to restrain public spending of the egregious kind to which Lord Ryder has committed himself and the Government, Members of Parliament, whether of the Public Expenditure Committee or not, should exercise unceasing vigilance over his activities on behalf of their taxpaying constituents.

Courts and police

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, has been firing off again at the English criminal legal process which, according to him, produces an unacceptably high rate of acquittals by juries in contested trials. In the past he has attacked some lawyers for abusing the system, and last week Sir Robert claimed that some acquittals "may be achieved by fear, by intimidation or by malpractice." In provoking serious debate on the accusatorial system of trial, on the rules of evidence and on the ability of a jury to deliver a true verdict, Sir Robert's criticisms can do no harm. But he appears to ignore the point that acquittals of the 'guilty' may also be achieved by poor preparation of the prosecution's case, or by a jury's reaction against the uncorroborated verbal evidence produced by the police in court, and by a feeling on the part of some jurors that, in spite of the safeguards for the accused the police hold all the cards.

This is not to blame the police so much ari the system — the only one in Europe — which allows the whole process of investigation, interrogation of suspects, interviewing of witnesses, selection of evidence, the decision to prosecute and the conduct of the prosecution to be entirely under the control of the police. And when, at the trial, a judge may deliver a summing-up in which he barely disguises a bias towards the evidence presented by the prosecution, it is hardly surprising when a jury sometimes reacts by taking the opposite view. The adoption in England of the Scottish system of Procurators-Fiscal has been recommended before, and it should now be given urgent consideration. In Scotland, both the decision to prosecute and the conduct of the trial — except in minor cases — are in the hands of full-time lawyers wholly independent of the police. The Royal Commission on the Police in 1962 stated that "anything which tends to suggest to the public mind the suspicion of alliance between the courts and the police cannot but be prejudicial." Such a suspicion would be largely removed by adopting the principles of the Scottish system — and that system produces a higher conviction rate than in England.