Orders of the Day — Commission for Industry and Manpower Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington 12:00 am, 8th April 1970

I am a full-time Member of Parliament and a part-time member of industry. If the hon. Gentleman worked for the Opposition Front Bench, he would very soon learn how hard members of the Opposition have to work.

The experiences to which I have referred, and others like them, are an indication of what people closely concerned with industry are undergoing now. It is a tribute to industry that it is as buoyant and successful as it is, despite the Government, not because of the Government.

At the outset of my speech, I asked why the Government were bringing the Bill forward. Is it a genuine desire on their part to promote competition, with a new energetic burst of consumerism, or is it, in reality, the right hon. Lady with her well-known love of interference with industry for interference's sake? I believe it to be the latter.

My hon. Friends may disagree, but I think that the Government are not serious in their proposals regarding prices. Apart from the obviously attractive window-dressing spin-off exercise on which they have embarked, understandably as an election approaches, I cannot see them being able to operate their plans effectively if they are to do so fairly. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham said, every other prices and incomes Measure so far in this Parliament has failed dismally, and there is no reason why this one should not do the same.

If, on the other hand, the Government are serious, if they intend to concentrate purely on prices and press this part of the legislation discriminately and vigorously, then industry is in for its worst experience yet. It ought to be copying the farmers and the anti-apartheid demonstrators and marching on St. James's Square tonight. In the final analysis, this Government, as so often, are speaking with two voices. In the first part of the Bill, the monopolies legislation, they are paying lip-service to competition, allegedly seeking to sustain and nurture it. In the second part, they are building machinery to distort competition and to discriminate against some of the leading companies which are so often the pace-setters. We need strong and effective monopolies legislation, and we shall attend to that in due course. The public must be protected and consumer interests must be constantly surveyed in the interests of all the people.

Recently, the President of the C.B.I. referred to "a major gap of understanding" between the Government and industry. Such a comment is not surprising when one remembers the way in which the First Secretary of State and the Prime Minister ran away from their industrial relations reform and abandoned the incomes side of their faulty prices and incomes policy. We are living in an age of smash and grab, and we all know it.

The Commission for Industry and Manpower, however grandiose and misleading its title, will not save the day in any attempt to control prices. It will fail signally. Every week, we see that industrial action brings rich results, whether it be the £11,000-a-year B.O.A.C. captains, the potential £60-a-week Mersey dockers, or even that currently equally militant body, the teachers. We are all in a wage scramble, and if we are not careful we shall be left behind. This is an ugly and dangerous manifestation of economic policies which have gone sadly wrong.

A good indication of the extent to which the erosion of inflation has gone is the pathetic poster which I saw yesterday on a Post Office van, saying, "Now you can become a £1,000 a year postman". To many relatively humble families that is now a far from adequate wage. The Government are saying, "We shall counter the situation by holding down prices", but they cannot possibly succeed.

Friends and contacts in industry have been telling me for a long time that the Government are naturally hostile to industry and that they can never hope for anything better. I have suggested that whilst there is a certain basis for that type of observation, the Government really do know the importance of industry to the country's economic performance, and that although they dislike the profit motive they will, in the end, do something to sustain it.

I must say that after today's experience I think that I was wrong in saying that. This Bill proves conclusively that not only do the Government not understand industry, but are prepared to indulge their emotive feelings against industry. That is why we shall tonight vote against the Second Reading, and that is why, when in the not too distant future we occupy the benches opposite, we shall radically overhaul the Bill's provisions.