Orders of the Day — Customs (Import Deposits) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1969.

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Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Shoreditch and Finsbury 12:00 am, 17th November 1969

I shall try to resist the temptation to comment at length on the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). To some extent he has let the cat out of the bag. In his peroration he firmly said that these restrictions had been working, that they were keeping the economy in check. He went on to say that, although he was not suspicious, he was nevertheless provoked into believing that the Government's reason for using this scheme for getting the economy into good shape was that they would use it for electoral purposes. He is entitled to make that judgment, but if he does, he cannot argue, as his hon. Friends have been arguing, that the scheme has upset everybody and is having a bad effect. I thank him for the point he made. He made a powerful argument for showing that these measures were first class.

I listened with especial interest to one part of the hon. Member's argument. During the months that I have been in the House, as a Scotsman he has called for more and more Government activity in Scotland. He devoted part of his speech to arguing that departments set up in Scotland should be disbanded, saying how wrong it was to have various Ministries sending employment to Scotland. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will bear this in mind in future. He has taken many into Scotland, and some of us Londoners have been a little worried about it. I was pleased to hear what he said, because I shall remind him of it from time to time. The whole problem of the debate is that hon. Gentlemen opposite can never get into perspective the whole strategy.

Every time we have a debate like this it is disjointed because we are attempting to address ourselves to a particular problern at a particular time and, consequently, no one ever really sees the whole picture. The point of bringing in this Measure last year was to provide an armament, to pursue a strategy, which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, enabled us to control the economy. It has to be seen in that light. Another hon. Member went on about some of the other things that we should be doing. He said we should be looking at unofficial strikes, at the wastage of manpower, at unemployment. This is true, and we are doing this, too. It is necessary to look at each in turn within the broad strategy. We are addressing ourselves to these various aspects.

The whole of our industrial relations policy is designed to ensure that as far as possible we remove any provocation that causes men to be so incensed about their conditions that they come out on strike, unofficial or official. As to wastage of manpower, one of the great problems is marrying up the amount of vacancies which do not coincide with the skills available of those who are unemployed. It is true that the 500,000 figure is too high but there are vast numbers of vacancies remaining unfilled.

It is in this respect that many of our manufacturers are feeling concerned; they cannot meet their delivery dates and they cannot meet their obligations because they cannot get the type of skill that they require. Our industrial training policy is trying to take care of this but it cannot be cured overnight. We can only set up all the facilities enabling industrial training to take place as quickly as possible and to provide people with the skills which they can use in areas where at present they are unemployed.

People talk about wastage of manpower. There are far too many people employed on public relations. Someone had better try to persuade me of the value of all these people to society. I see it most perhaps in local government. As is well known, a vast number of Conservative councillors were elected in 1968. When I look at their backgrounds I find that many are public relations people, "ad-men", this, that and the other. None of them produces one iota towards the health of the economy and this nation's recovery.

When talking about wastage of manpower it is worth pursuing it a bit further. I am asking that this Measure should be continued for as long as we have to do so. I am not so sure that this particular tool ought to be retained only in the armoury of management. It seems extraordinary that there is an argument to be adduced here that industry can use a whole range of tools of management but the Government cannot.

There is a powerful case for my right hon. Friend to consider whether this ought not to become a tool of government to enable us to deal correctly with the economy. I have some experience in E.F.T.A. and on the Council of Europe where I, too, served on the Economic Committee. I never heard there the sort of wailing that goes on from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those people were impressed by what we were trying to do. True, they objected to the 15 per cent. surcharge, not because they thought that we were wrong in applying it, but because they thought that others might copy us. They understood why we were doing it, and they took our word that we would get rid of it as soon as possible, which is what we did. Their concern was not for what we were doing but for what others might claim the right to do, without our reasons.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are doing the country a disservice when they try to create friction and bad feeling between ourselves and our partners in other parts of the world by using this as a political issue. I have no objection to hon. Gentlemen advancing their arguments, but they must go back to their own period in Government because there are many areas where they are open to criticism for having done precisely the same thing. If they can argue the case with a basic premise then we will listen with interest.

So far all that we have heard is a petulant comment from the hon. Member for Cathcart, in which he let the cat out of the bag. All that he has said is that we may be successful in all that we are attempting to do. By the time we come to a General Election we will be able to prove to the electorate that the country has had five years of first-class government. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are doing a very great disservice in creating trouble purely for a political end.

My last point has to do with the problem we have in trying to encourage our manufacturers to innovate. There is indiscriminate purchasing of imports, of semi-manufactured goods, that could easily be produced in this country. They are not being so produced because it is much easier to buy them in. When hon. Gentlemen talk about pushing up the prices at home it is because our manufacturers are prepared to buy in because it causes them no problems. They pay just as high a price in buying in as if they had set about the task of using research and development to innovate and produce the goods.

I think that this Measure has helped here. It has encouraged industry to try to provide its needs from its own resources, rather than buy in from abroad. I believe that in the further year for which this Measure is being extended it is likely to encourage industrialists to innovate more, to provide alternatives, to provide substitutes from within our own country. It is in this area that our country is so good, at being able to produce first-class quality goods through innovation, by using all its skills and expertise. I support this extension, because this Measure has a real chance of providing us with a firm basis and of enabling our industries to try to provide for themselves without simply importing unnecessarily. I hope that those in industry will note that we are encouraging them. This Government have given more funds to industry than any other. This will pay off in terms of the quality of life that our people will enjoy.