Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:32 pm on 21st March 1983.

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Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South 4:32 pm, 21st March 1983

It is not for me to criticise people in small businesses, but the lady obviously felt like that. It is interesting how the article finishes: However much the Secretary of State argues, no figures are given about the number of jobs that are provided by this scheme because they do not know". The Government have intervened in a small way. Our policy is to develop that intervention in a bigger way. There are plans to deal with the national crisis. There must be partnership between the employers, the Government and the trade unions. It is no good the Labour party's saying that the employers in the private sector are somehow an enemy because they are in the private sector. Similarly, the Government should not take that attitude with the trade unions. Unless the trade unions are brought into partnership to discuss matters, the economy will not come right. There is no panacea or blueprint. Until we talk together in this country, we shall not achieve in peacetime the unity that was achieved in wartime. However, it can be done. That is why we should spell out our policy. I ask—I have not consulted on this, although it seems to be a good idea—that just as the public expenditure proposals were discussed by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee the Labour party's proposals that have been spelt out should be looked at by such a committee. There is nothing to lose. If mistakes are made it is better to iron them out and have them discussed before proposals are implemented. If the Government proposals on immigration had been looked at before 1979 by anybody who knew anything about the subject, they would have proved them to be wrong because they were rubbish.

I play a part in working out the Labour party's general policy, and hon. Members ought to discuss it before the election just as we discuss the Government's policy.

The Department of Industry should have wider responsibilities, with the forecasting part of the Treasury brought within it. Forecasting is important for discussing what is happening with individual firms and industries. A national investment bank, which has been on the agenda for 30 or 40 years, should be set up to provide resources direct to industry rather than to portfolio investments. Finally, there should be tripartite discussions between the three sides of industry to examine growth, employment and real income. By partnership and discussion, and by looking at the wider aspect of employment, incomes of all sorts can be examined. It is not sufficient just to look at pay and incomes by themselves. The right way is to examine the position collectively where everybody plays a part in coming to a decision.

The press said that the Budget was boring. We can all bear what the press says on these matters. We in the Opposition regard it as irrelevant to the main aim of stopping de-industrialisation and returning to full employment. We do not need to look for our salvation to eastern Europe with its bureaucracy, or to Reaganomic United States with its free market forces. Britain needs to do something in the international economic scene, and this will be dealt with later. At home we can be our own economic schoolmasters, as we were in 1944, but we must relearn the lesson of the 1944 White Paper and update it to meet today's problems. The Government must lead in the fight to deal with unemployment. The Government's policy palpably does not deal with unemployment, the fall in industrial production and the large number of bankruptcies. This Budget is irrelevant to the needs of the community.