Yorkshire and Humberside (Employment)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 4th March 1983.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:25 pm, 4th March 1983

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) in his litany of excuses for the Government, who have pushed up interest rates to the highest level in British history and crippled the economy with it. Today we are talking about the effects on our area of the worst recession in the industrial world. In Grimsby, there has been a kind of anorexia nervosa, a wasting away, as firms, for good reason, have laid off or made redundant 20 people here, or 100 people there, bringing the unemployment rate to one in five, with no compensating development.

Our industrial base has been narrowing and that process has been going on, as in the textile industries, at a time when our basic industry, fishing, has been in decline, partly because of the loss of the distant water opportunities and the collapse of the distant water fleet, but also because the new fleet making a smaller catch is threatened by a crisis of confidence because an aging fleet is not making enough money and is too crippled with debt to pay for new investment or even, in some cases, to keep going.

If the banks put the pressure on the fishing firms, as they have been doing, we shall be faced with the bankruptcies and we shall be in danger of bringing the whole house of cards, which is so precariously balanced, crashing down. The effects will spread to the ancillary services, such as engineering and the other firms that supply the fishing industry. They will be left with a legacy of debt from fishing firms, at a time when they are already finding it difficult to keep going. The whole fishing industry is in danger unless the Government take urgent action to help it.

Grimsby, as a port, does what it can. It is now joining Hull in an approach to the Common Market. In a common study we are trying to develop new structures for the industry, but the essential help that we need is help from the Government and new operating aid to rebut the crisis of confidence in a restructuring plan that will allow us to get the new building, development and equipment that we need. It is impossible for firms to go in for the restructuring or replacement of the bigger vessels such as the cat type vessels without cheap loans and Government finance for restructuring.

What is true of the fishing industry is true of our industrial position in Grimsby. These are problems that can be tackled, given the scale of the problem, only by a Government who are largely responsible for those problems in the first place. What we need from the Government, for fishing as for the rest of the industry, is an attempt to use their power for benign purposes such as growth, expansion and investment, rather than to shackle, restrict and burden industry.

I hope that in the next Budget the burden of the national insurance contributions and interest rates will be lifted. The Government must also boost demand. Grimsby's industries live by demand—the demand for paint products, caravans, textiles and for the food that we process. Without a substantial boost in demand, the process of industrial decline will continue.

It is curious that a Government who claimed that they would turn the position round are, at the same time, accused by the Treasury and Civil Service Committee of a failure to stimulate capital investment and allowing a deliberate decline in capital investment. The essence of the Labour party's complaints is that we need the tools to help ourselves. Most of all we need things such as free ports, for which Grimsby is a natural choice, enterprise zones, the ability to control our destiny, and, above all, more backing, help and support from the Government.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) will draw the debate to a conclusion. I congratulate him on his motion.