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Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:49 pm on 6th July 1983.

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Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells 7:49 pm, 6th July 1983

It is an honour to address the House for the first time on behalf of my constituents. The new constituency boundaries take in parts of four old constituencies. By far the largest part of the constituency was previously represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen). I inherit from him a tradition of great service to the constituency. He has also shown great personal kindness to me, and I thank him for that. As he now represents the constituency next door, he is not lost to me. As he is my area Whip, I doubt whether I shall be lost to him.

My constituency is an area of unparalleled natural beauty, from the Somerset levels, which are below sea level, to the Mendip hills with heights of 1,000 feet and more. It is an area steeped in the legends of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. They seem to have been the first visitors to come and stay. Today, their place is taken by the many thousands of visitors who come to Wells and to other resorts such as Glastonbury, Burnham on Sea and Cheddar Gorge. Tourists create traffic problems, but they are very welcome and tourism is an indispensable element in the local economy.

Our first industry is agriculture. I hope during this Parliament to play a part in making more tenancies available to young farmers. As with any industry, the long-term health of agriculture depends on the quality of its new recruits. New tenancies are required so that farming can maintain its enviable record of innovation and success. That conflicts, of course, with the desire of farm tenants for security. I believe, however, that the two interests—security and change—can be reconciled to give tenants reasonable security, but not perpetual rights. I am glad that legislation is planned for later this year. Its passage will be keenly watched by many farmers and aspiring farmers in my constituency.

My constituency has other important industries —some traditional, such as shoes, leather and cider-making, and some new, such as electronics and computer science. It is perhaps a sign of things to come that Wells has these important industries without the traditional marks of industrialisation. All are reacting to the challenge of world trade in the only way possible—by modernising plant, reforming work practices and ensuring that high-quality British design is not let down by high production costs.

I have noticed a tendency in the House and, indeed, in this debate to concentrate on overall figures and economic totals, but the real economy consists of individual companies and partnerships. That is where the real battles are to be won on cost, quality, reliability and productivity. What can the Government do to help? They can help by keeping inflation and taxes down. That is an indispensable element in any sustained recovery, and I welcome the Bill as a valuable contribution in that direction.

The Government have a further role to play. Government and industry are linked in many ways —through public purchasing, regional aid, investment grants and the funding of research and development. Defence expenditure, for instance, has profound industrial consequences. Several firms in my constituency depend heavily on defence contracts and the direction of their development programmes is set mainly by departmental specifications.

Government ownership of industry should certainly be reduced, but even if more nationalised industries pass into the private sector, as I hope that they will, the Government will remain closely involved in the workings of industry. That is in the nature of all modern industrial states. Other countries, including those more successful than ours, recognise that, and work to create a constructive relationship. The industrial activities of Government are co-ordinated in pursuit of certain strategic goals. In particular, they speed up the shift from old industries to new.

The task of identifying those goals and giving form and content to such a policy is, perhaps, not the best subject for a maiden speech. It requires changes in the selection and training of civil servants. It may even require a new breed of commercial civil servant. It requires Government Departments to co-ordinate their activities that affect industry and especially the new technologies. It does not require more money, which should commend such a policy to my right hon. and hon. Friends. Indeed, making Government aid more selective and specific will save money. Nor has such a policy anything to do with the tired old formula of nationalisation and state control that we still hear from the Opposition. That is the exact opposite of what is required. By meddling in company affairs and failing to achieve any overall sense of direction, such policies have actually retarded industrial change.

I am pleased at the content of the Finance Bill—its tax cuts, its sense of responsibility and its brevity. It is part of a strategy to create conditions for a more sustained recovery in the private sector. In addition, however, I urge that the authority and resources of Government be better directed towards helping our economy to face the industrial challenges of the years ahead.