Enterprise Initiative

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 1:06 pm on 4th March 1988.

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Photo of Mr Graham Riddick Mr Graham Riddick , Colne Valley 1:06 pm, 4th March 1988

That is most interesting.

I believe that the real divide is not so much between the regions, but within the regions. There exists an enormous divide of attitude in the regions. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) that everyone has undergone a change of attitude. I fear that that is not yet the case. The real divide exists between the people in the regions who understand the enterprise economy and those who do not understand it. It exists between those who have grasped the opportunities provided by this country's increasing emphasis on enterprise and those who have not grasped those opportunities or are even aware that they exist.

The social divide is between those who have taken the opportunity to buy their council houses and those who have not or, indeed, those who have taken the opportunity to buy shares in the industries that we have privatised and those who have not. The great divide is between those who have started their own businesses and are playing their part in Britain's flourishing private enterprise and those who do not understand or recognise the opportunities and rewards available from that enterprise.

Since the Government came to power in 1979 they have enormously improved the conditions in which private enterprise has to work, as we all know. I see that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is laughing. He should remember that we have reduced direct taxation and reformed the capital taxation system to provide proper incentives for individuals to work hard to produce the wealth that is so vital to this country's well-being. We have reduced the tax burden on small and large companies alike to encourage them to make decent profits. We have reduced the amount of red tape to free more time for the entrepreneur and manager to do what he is best at doing — designing, producing, marketing and selling. We have designed various schemes to help the budding entrepreneur to get off the ground, and the enterprise initiative is probably the best of these. In short, we have improved the overall economic climate so that enterprise can flourish and hard work and talent are rewarded.

As we all know, there is more work to be done; there are more battles to be won and more individuals to be convinced. I return to the question of attitude. Private enterprise, and Britain, will never flourish or achieve its maximum potential until all the people of this country believe in the enterprise culture—until they understand that competition is much healthier than corporatism, and that the ambition to improve the lot of oneself and one's family is nothing to be ashamed of and is much more laudable than relying on someone or something else. It is the age-old battle between those who believe in independence and those who believe in reliance. The real divide is between those who believe in freedom, choice, responsibility, and enterprise, which are the values that Conservative Members hold dear, and those who believe in dependence and servility to the state—the values in which Opposition Members believe.

It is depressing that no Labour Members are present apart from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. The hon Gentleman said that that they were all in their constituencies. However, if we were discussing a motion about state support for, or investment in, industry, many Opposition Members would he present — and many Conservative Members would be here to argue against the idea. Conservative Members have won the battle of ideas in many parts of the country, particularly in the south of England but also in the west midlands and in many parts of the north. Many thousands of people in my constituency of Colne Valley understand that success and wealth creation come as a result of hard work and enterprise and not Socialism or what Lord Young called the nanny state. That is perhaps why the good folk of Colne Valley elected me — their first Conservative Member in 102 years. However, the battle of ideas has not been won completely and that is why we have no choice but to continue to give more power back to the people and allow them to run their own lives without for ever having to look over their shoulders to see whether the state, in whatever guise, approves.

The Government must address themselves to several areas to ensure that the enterprise initiative and private enterprise fully succeed. Education is the most important aspect of the whole process and the Government clearly agree. The DTI's excellent White Paper states: The competitiveness of industry and commerce depends on our ability to harness the energy, develop the intelligence and promote the enterprise of our people, especially amongst the young. I could not have put that better myself and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on those excellent words.

I applaud wholeheartedly the Government's objectives to provide teachers and pupils with a greater exposure to the world of commerce, business and industry, but, most important, we must ensure that each individual has a first-class education. That is why the Education Reform Bill, which is now in Committee, is so vital to our well-being. What is so depressing is the way in which the battalions of education producers line up one after another and effectively say to the Government, "How dare you interfere with our God-given right to, and knowledge of how to, educate the children of this country." It grieves me to say this, but often it seems to be opposition for the sake of it. It is indeed a battle between the producers and the consumers of education.

Before I came to the House I worked in industry and spent a great deal of time interviewing people for jobs. When I interviewed for jobs that required O or A-levels, I was horrified regularly at the low level of general literacy and numeracy of many young people. It is not their fault. How unfair it is for them that they did not receive a proper basic education and for the 25 per cent. of Britain's long-term unemployed that they are either innumerate, illiterate or both. How can we expect them to play their part in Britain's ship, HMS Enterprise, if their education has not developed their intelligence, innate skills and ambitions? Our education reforms are a key factor in the Government's enterprise initiative.

I am lucky to have an American student working for me as a part-time research assistant. Earlier this week I told her that I was hoping to speak in this debate and she did a bit of work for me. Most of all, she put across to me strongly that in America enterprise and business are stressed at all levels of the education system, that in the universities and colleges tremendous stress is put on business and economics, and that people want to study those subjects. In no way is a career in industry frowned on.

My assistant pointed out that the Olympics in Los Angeles were wholly financed by private money and made a healthy profit. It was the first time that it had been done, yet the American people thought it was an admirable idea. If we were to host the Olympic games there would be no question of private enterprise; it would be down to the local councils. There need to be changes in education and attitudes.

One of the bees in my bonnet—as with education this one is not the responsibility of the DTI, although perhaps it should be — which is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), is that one of the greatest obstacles to economic progress in inner city areas, towns and industrial areas, such as Colne Valley and Huddersfield, is the planning restrictions which can do so much to stifle enterprise, small businesses and entrepreneurs. I want the green belt protected, which is why it is important that we provide land for industrial and commercial development, for use by entrepreneurs in our towns and cities because that is the way in which we create new jobs.

I know of several developments in my own area of west Yorkshire which have been delayed, frustrated or even stopped because of the planning refusals, or the unnecessary planning restrictions and conditions that make the enterprise barely viable or, in some cases, impossible. There are a whole host of reasons for that. Sometimes it is because the plans are contrary to the local plan or because the highway department or the water authority objects. Sometimes the fire regulations make it difficult to proceed; and it is sometimes because of the Government. In my constituency for example, 128 buildings were listed as of historic importance in 1980. By 1987 that figure had increased to1,455—it had been multiplied by 12. When such buildings are listed, we restrict their use for industrial development. Of course, we must protect our architectural heritage, but I believe that that has gone too far.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs will not he too disappointed that I have not referred to many of the proposals in his White Paper. There are not many proposals in it with which I disagree. It is a very good document and I welcome the increased business development help and consultancy that it outlines. I am pleased that it recognises that red tape and bureaucracy equal time-wasting and enterprise-blunting.

The real secret of the success of enterprise in this country lies outside the remit of the DTI. The downward spiral of income tax must continue, as must the reform of capital taxation. I have not touched on trade because I have not had the time. Clearly, the Government's emphasis on high-quality training is excellent. I hope that as British firms continue to prosper they will start to do more and more of their own training. Furthermore, the consistency and stability with which the Government have provided economic policy during the past eight years is of equal importance to enterprise. However, most importantly, we must get the education system right. We must change attitudes and we must get the planners off the backs of the entrepreneurs.

Free enterprise is at the heart of Britain's economic renaissance. The spirit of invention and enterprise is working in Britain once again as it did 150 years ago. If Government create the right conditions, free enterprise will do the job of reducing unemployment and creating wealth and happiness for the British people.