Orders of the Day — Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th November 1974.

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Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East 12:00 am, 4th November 1974

I think that if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to complete my speech he will see not only that there will be legislation on all these matters but that the provisions of the legislation, as has been made clear in the White Paper, will provide for a high degree of parliamentary accountability. I shall be very surprised indeed if the hon. Gentleman—or the House—found it difficult to contribute continually to the debates on these matters, because it is my hope that that will happen.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who opened for the Opposition today, was critical of our proposals. I must do the hon. Gentleman the honour of recognising that he has consistently been critical of these proposals—and I make no complaint about that—but the House will recognise that the Government have consistently advocated these policies. There has been no attempt on my part or on the part of my right hon. and hon. Friends to conceal our policies in any way from the electorate, and, therefore, nobody should be surprised that they are being brought before Parliament with a view to implementing them in full.

Unless every debate—as I feared would be the case when I heard the hon. Gentleman—is to be a perpetual re-run of the election campaign, we should use this debate to establish early what are the real arguments about our proposals—what are they really about, what are we not arguing about and on what should the House expect to find agreement?

Let me begin with this aspect: on what issues should the House expect, in the course of these debates over the forthcoming Session, to find itself in agreement? One must, surely, be the depth and extent of the industrial problem that confronts the United Kingdom. There is no question but that our industrial problems lie at the heart of many of the problems which we now describe as part of the gravest economic crisis since the war. In many cases industrial problems lie at the heart of the problems of inflation, of exports and of productivity. It has to be seen against a long-term, relative industrial decline which has gone on under Governments of all parties, including that of the Tory Party, when they had full opportunity to develop their policies with a working majority. There is another aspect: this country's industrial future needs and prospects.

Figures quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for Consumer Affairs before the February election forecast for Britain a standard of living that would be below that of Italy and just above that of the Republic of Ireland by the early 1980s. There has been a steady industrial decline for 25 years, and poor investment in private manufacturing industry has played a large part in that decline.

The wider problems of industrial relations have also been touched upon; not only wages negotiations but the whole question of relations within industry is clearly connected with this central industrial problem. If we add to that the intensification of those long-term problems by the oil crisis and the effect of the rise in oil prices last year, the confrontation associated with earlier legislation, and the three-day working week, we get some measure of the magnitude of the task that confronts us as we debate our industrial problems.

We may differ on the remedy but on the magnitude of the problems that face us the House should find some measure of agreement.