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Orders of the Day — Reduction of Redundancy Rebates Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th February 1977.

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Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West 12:00 am, 7th February 1977

That is a very good idea, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and it would certainly have an enlivening effect on our debates. Also, it might make the economy of the House of Commons rather better than it is.

I had hoped that the Minister of State would be here for me to remind him of the number of occasions when he and I have taken part on debates on redundancy payments. He is, of course, the longest-serving Minister that the Department of Labour, Department of Employment and Productivity and Department of Employment has had for a long time. His service at St. James's Square is almost as long as the life of the trees in the middle of that square. It is a great compliment to the House that he is so knowledgable, but it must be acutely embarrassing to him to watch the rolling inconsistencies of Government policy over the years.

The saddest part of the Minister of State's speech was when he said that the Bill was part of the efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in seeking to upgrade the recovery of the economy. I suppose that it is part of what is known as the industrial strategy. Frankly, I do not understand what "industrial strategy" means, except that I believe that thosuands of people are engaged in working out statistics and making new plans and policies. One likes to think of industrial strategy as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, like some great field marshal in headquarters operations room, discussing with his commanders new moves which should take place. That, of course, is the situation that he often portrays to the House. His forecasts include such things as unemployment down to 3 per cent. in 1979, as we heard earlier. But when the other generals leave he rushes to the telephone, asks to be put in touch with the commanding officer of B Company and shouts "Attack at once", so that the strategy tends to go by the board.

How can the Bill seek to upgrade the recovery of the economy when it is yet another impost on productive industry? This is a further form of taxation on industry. As far as one can see, it does not fall on the Government or the Department of Employment.

Although there will be a reduction of £18 million in the amount paid out by the Department for the fund, the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states: No changes in public service manpower are expected to result from this Bill. It seems curious that a saving in expenditure of £18 million cannot result in the saving of even one Government job in the process. That is less difficult to comprehend when one realises that it is not a saving in Government expenditure. It is simply that levies paid in by industry will remain in the fund for a little longer. It is not Government money, because no one has ever suggested that contributions to the Redundancy Fund are taxation. It is supposed to be a self-balancing fund, and, therefore, it is double-talk to suggest that the Bill is providing a saving in Government expenditure.

This again leads us to the reasons for the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) and my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), that proud and successful defender of the small business man, pointed out that the only reason must be that new and greater calls will be expected to be made on the fund.

The Secretary of State made an embarrassed broadcast which I heard while I was driving up to the House of Commons today. In it he refused to say that he did not predict 2 million unemployed, but he refused to say the opposite. He simply said that the figure had been mentioned. and he passed by on the other side.

This must be one of the few examples —almost the only example—of sensible forward provision by the Government. They have realised that over the next year or so unemployment will increase disastrously and unnecessarily, and as it increases their demands on the fund will increase correspondingly. Therefore, in order not to increase the percentage of the levy, the Government are reducing the amount to leave a slightly larger quantity in the kitty which can be drawn upon when these further redundancies take place.

If this small Bill is reported in the Press, the news will be yet another log thrown on to the fires of exhaustion and frustration of management. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) to laugh. I apologise for my method of speaking, but I do not apologise for the sentiment. The point that I seriously advocate is that there is a great sense of frustration in middle management, which is constantly exhorted by the Government to do better. It is told by the Chancellor, by the Prime Minister and by all Ministers at one time or another that management will be supported by the Government in helping the economy to recover, yet all that hapdens is that management is given no new incentives. Differentials in management wage scales are constantly being compressed. Managements' efforts to manage its businesses are continually interrupted by Bills such as this.

If the Government are asking for a year for Britain, they should first get rid of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then they get rid of many of their policies and try to support those in private industry who are really making an effort to achieve more productivity and to earn money for the country.