Motor Industry Debate (Vote)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th February 1976.

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Photo of Mr Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove and Redditch 12:00 am, 17th February 1976

Following the example of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), I shall try to concentrate on the serious aspects of the Department's work. Last week we discussed the reduction of the Minister's salary largely in the context of the motor industry. On the motion to restore his salary, I should like to set that motor industry in the larger context of industry in the West Midlands. I do so because the situation there is serious and the present Government have done nothing to remedy it, despite a very valuable contribution by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) who raised the matter at the end of May last year in an Adjournment debate to which the Minister of State replied.

I shall recap the brief discussion which took place on that occasion. The hon. Member for Northfield referred to the low investment, the low productivity, the high unit wage costs and the low profits in West Midlands industry. The Secretary of State assumed his office not long afterwards. Looking at his record, I have to ask what the Department has done to assist industry in the West Midlands. What notice has been taken of the representations by the West Midlands planning authorities' conference and by the West Midlands County Council, which have drawn attention for over a year to the serious structural weaknesses in the West Midlands economy and to its heavy dependence on the motor industry? That dependence has been increasing in the past few years despite the decline in the motor industry.

It is against that background that I wish to consider the Secretary of State's decision to move the Avenger production line from Ryton to Linwood. Before coming to that I should like to refresh the right hon. Gentleman's memory about the representations by the West Midlands planning authorities' conference and the current developments in the economy of the West Midlands. The crisis in the motor industry has coincided with a number of fundamental weaknesses. There is a need not merely for retraining, but for the restructuring of industry in the West Midlands so as to provide the centres of growth now so sadly lacking. Policy must surely recognise the need to concentrate our industrial resources and undertakings where the infrastructure and the skills exist. We must not persist in the policy of dispersion which has so gravely weakened the West Midlands.

The West Midlands area has been described as the heart of the British economy. It is, in the words of the Observer of just a year ago, "the workshop of Britain". The Observer went on to say that that workshop was "bleeding to death". The area accounts for 33 per cent. of this country's exports and for 53 per cent. of the manufacturing industry. However, unemployment in West Midlands manufacturing industry has doubled in the past three years alone and total unemployment in the past years has trebled. At the same time the number of vacancies has been cut by a factor of eight.

This is the largest percentage increase in unemployment in the country. It represents the largest reduction in the number of vacancies in the country. Unemployment in the West Midlands as a result of the actions of this Labour Government and of the Department of Industry, which the Secretary of State heads, is now numerically worse than that in the North-East or Wales.

Against this background the Secretary of State has diverted from the production of the Avenger from Coventry to Linwood. Is he aware that manufacturing wages in Scotland are higher than those in the West Midlands? Is he also aware that the percentage of unemployed in manufacturing industry is higher in the West Midlands than that in Scotland? Is he also aware that people are unemployed for longer in the West Midlands than in Scotland? It is against that background that I have asked him to reconsider the policy of industrial development certificates as applying to the West Midlands and called his attention to the need to promote industrial growth in the West Midlands.