Economic Expansion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 1973.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Cronin Mr John Cronin , Loughborough 12:00 am, 30th November 1973

But present trends mean the present Government's policy, and that, surely, is the real interpretation of the noble Lord's remarks.

I was about to say that it is obviously important that positive steps should be taken to cope with the present disastrous growth situation. The first step required is to cope with the fuel crisis. As far as we can see there is no hope of oil prices being reduced. Some people talk optimistically about the future of North Sea oil. It may make a substantial contribution to our economy, but we cannot escape the fact that in present terms the production costs of North Sea oil are about 10 times those of oil produced in the Gulf. There is no possibility of any early or even prolonged help from North Sea oil.

We could convert more power stations to nuclear power, but the Financial Secretary himself will agree that to overcome our energy problems by doing that will require investment of about £1,000 million annually, which is totally beyond our means.

It is extremely important to exploit to the maximum the cheap indigenous fuel that we have ; in other words, to get the maximum coal production. But the future as regards coal production is painfully gloomy. Only two days ago we had the confrontation between the Prime Minister and the leaders of the mine workers. It is clear that, as a result, coal production will come crashing down in the course of the next few months at least. It is appalling that when one of our biggest economic difficulties is the fuel crisis and the lack of cheap fuel, as a result of the Prime Minister's obstinacy we are to be driven into a situation where we cannot even get the cheap fuel that we have available because we cannot get the miners to produce it in sufficient quantities.

We have already had several debates about the miners' case and most right hon. and hon. Members—certainly on the Opposition benches—will agree that the miners have a very strong case for a much higher wage increase than even they are demanding. That case is not diminished by the fact that the Government, backed by some Tory newspapers, have been putting out suggestions that the demands of the miners are in some way illegal or unconstitutional. Nothing is further from the facts of the case. The miners, like anyone else, are entitled to strike if they feel that their conditions are unsatisfactory, irrespective of what Government are in power and irrespective of the policy being pursued by that Government.

What is important in this connection is not merely that the miners have a strong case but that the miners cannot be induced to mine coal under their present conditions of payment and work. It is a basic economic fact that if people cannot be persuaded to do some work they have to be paid more in order to attract them into the industry or they have to be given more attractive conditions. Bearing in mind that 600 miners are leaving the coal industry every week, obviously there has to be a very much larger settlement than is possible under the Government's present arrangements.

The Government base their views on the continuity of phase 3, but I think that most of us will agree that phase 3 is becoming increasingly meaningless. It is budgeting for an enormous increase in inflation by itself. But certainly it is not serving any useful purpose. If it is to be used as an excuse to destroy our coal industry it will be an act of the most meaningless folly.

To turn to more positive aspects of the debate, the Government clearly has to encourage capital investment. Our basic problem is that countries like France and Germany invest about 25 per cent. of their gross national product, compared with our 18½ per cent. This unfortunate trend must be reduced.

The hon. Member for Leek said that it was most important to obtain confidence from businessmen who, after all, are the people who do most of the investing. The most important way of obtaining that confidence and so reversing the trend that we have seen in the City is by efficient economic management. By every possible economic indicator the evidence now is that the country is being managed economically with the utmost incompetence. Being optimistic, one can only hope that the Government will show a little more efficiency in the economic management of the country if they are to increase confidence.

Another important move which would be desirable is some direct intervention in obtaining more capital expenditure—