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Orders of the Day — Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 1967.

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Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge 12:00 am, 22nd November 1967

Particularly in this rather excited atmosphere, I hope that I may ask for the usual indulgence of the House towards a new Member addressing it for the first time. May I say also how grateful I am for the friendliness and helpfulness of hon. Members on both sides and of the officials and staff of the House which I have enjoyed during the short time I have been here. Whatever else in the habits of the House we may change in the years ahead, I hope that the warmth of its welcome to newcomers will always remain.

I regard myself as fortunate to have known personally both my immediate predecessors as Members for Cambridge. Sir Hamilton Kerr served Cambridge faithfully for 16 years and was a highly respected Member of the House. Robert Davies, who defeated me at the last General Election, had served for less than 16 months when he died in June. As political opponents we disagreed, often violently, but we remained friends. He was a man who cared passionately about the causes in which he believed, even to the point of parting company with his own Government. He was also a man who cared passionately about the many individual constituents whom he tried to help, and he never spared himself in working for Cambridge. I know that Hamilton Kerr and Robert Davies regarded it, as I now regard it, as a very great honour to represent Cambridge in Parliament.

I shall not inflict on the House any kind of word-picture of Cambridge, but I want to stress two points which are not irrelevant to this debate. First, Cambridge as a whole is unique, yet its problems are similar to problems found in many other constituencies. Since the war the new has been rising steadily alongside the old, yet much remains to be done. We want to speed up the building of more homes and the replacement of old schools. We want to get on with city centre development. We want to expand the road programme. This is an issue on which I hope to breathe hotly down the neck of the Minister of Transport on another occasion. All these depend on the progress of the economy. Unless Government policies succeed, our hopes will be frustrated.

Secondly, I should like to see a still greater contribution by the university to the life of the whole city—the industrial life, the cultural life, the wise use of land. What is true of Cambridge is surely true of the whole country. If Britain is to regain its strength and prosperity in the future, the universities must be involved more closely in the mainstream of our national life, particularly in the development of industry. Someone who has a foot in both the academic and the industrial camps said to me the other day, "The technological universities should be centres for technological exploration rather than centres either for producing technicians or devoted entirely to the study of basic research".

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am glad to have caught your eye this afternoon, because of the feelings of many constituents of which I was made aware during the weekend. Several times on Sunday my telephone rang. I was telephoned by people anxious to let me know how concerned and worried they were about devaluation—an electronics engineer, a builder, a professor of chemistry, and a normally mild housewife who wanted to know how she could start a campaign of protest in Cambridge. This is some measure of the shock that people have sustained and which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition emphasised this afternoon.

I am sorely tempted to take up some of the points which were made last night in that terrifying speech by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, but if I am to remain reasonably non-controversial I had better resist the temptation. Instead, I should like to say something about the rôle of industry after devaluation and to support several of the points that were made by other hon. Members yesterday.

Before entering this House I worked for several years in industry, first in steel and latterly in an international oil company. I know that industry will not fail to play its part in the national effort, provided it gets proper stimulus and encouragement from the Government.

It is on that that I want to make three brief points. First, about the nationalised industries. We all know that their performance is vital to the whole economy and that there is ample room for improvement in it. Given the cut-back in capital expenditure, have the Government any fresh proposals for securing that improvement? In particular, when may we expect an end to the uncertainty that at present surrounds British Railways?

Secondly, about the export drive. As well as the automatic advantage of devaluation I hope that, despite what the President of the Board of Trade said yesterday, the Government are still not satisfied with what they are doing to help exporters. For example, what about a simplification of Customs procedures? What about further improvement in the E.C.G.D. arrangements? Cannot more be done for firms which are providing export services, one of which, as hon. Members may have read, made this cri de Coeur in a letter to The Times not long ago: We get no credit for exports, no tax relief, no rebates, no chance of a Queen's Award and no thanks from anyone. Small wonder that few British firms can be bothered with desperately needed export business. My third comment is about the whole attitude of the Government, for this is at the heart of the present crisis of confidence in industry. Surely what industry needs is helpful deeds, not soothing words; positive encouragement, not negative restriction. Yesterday the President of the Board of Trade seemed to sneer at the importance of incentives, and I hope he will talk a little more about this to businessmen. I hope, too, that the House marked the wise words yesterday of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) about the folly of increasing taxes and of ill-advised intervention.

There has been a great deal of talk about sacrifices. I believe that nothing is more urgent than the sacrifice of some of those sacred cows which too many hon. Members still cherish—for example, their suspicion of private enterprise and their hostility towards overseas investment. I fear that the morale of industry will remain low, and the response of industry will remain lukewarm, unless the Government respect private enterprise as the main creator of national wealth and accept profits, if they are properly and competitively earned, as a mark of efficiency and not an object of envy.

This Motion invites the House to approve the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. By implication we would also be approving the whole sad saga that ended last Saturday, and that I cannot do. This is a gloomy occasion on which to be addressing the House for the first time, but there is one gleam of light. More and more people, both in Cambridge and throughout the country, are determined at the first opportunity to return a Government who will again conduct our national affairs with competence and with integrity.