John Davies (businessman) - Trade and Industry

Trade and Industry

That October, Davies was promoted to be Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, a new department set up by Heath. He introduced himself at the Conservative Party Conference with a speech which reiterated Heath's pre-election policy of refusing to intervene in industry. The phrase most closely associated with him was said in the House of Commons on 4 November, when Davies said:

"We believe that the essential need of the country is to gear its policies to the great majority of people, who are not 'lame ducks', who do not need a hand, who are quite capable of looking after their own interests and only demand to be allowed to do so." (Hansard, 5th Series, volume 805, column 1211)

The term 'lame ducks' became associated with Davies. However, when Rolls-Royce (a vital defence contractor) ran into financial difficulties early in 1971, it was decided that the government should help by bailing it out. When nugatory efforts did not help, the company was nationalised to prevent it from going bankrupt.

In June 1971 the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into receivership after the government refused it a £6 million loan. The workers at the yard, led by Communist shop stewards, decided to hold a 'work-in' when they occupied the yard and continued production. This industrial action tended to refute claims that trades unions were work-shy and was therefore embarrassing to the government. Davies' London home was firebombed by the Angry Brigade on 31 July 1971. In February 1972 the government changed its policy and decided to retain three of the four shipyards at a cost of £35 million, although Davies knew they would never operate on a commercial basis.

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