Enterprise Initiative

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 4th March 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West 1:33 pm, 4th March 1988

The hon. Gentleman is a perceptive man and a well-thought-of member of the Labour Front Bench. If he was giving a lecture on the economic history of the United Kingdom away from the House, he would acknowledge, rightly, the role of leads, lags and trends in an economy. Much of his speech reflected the worst sort of short-termism. He attributed to this Government faults that have been building up in our economy for a long time, especially as the world recession hit our manufacturers harder than it hit most, for reasons that I shall give in a moment. But the Germans have coped fairly easily with an increasing value of their currency because they set the framework of their economic miracle against clear principles back in the period from 1949 to 1953. As I said in a previous speech, their policies bear a strong resemblance to the policies that we put in place, in macroeconomic terms, particularly from 1982 to 1985.

Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman does his United Kingdom tour as part of the listening role of the Labour party, I hope that, when he launches into his lectures in Great Grimsby, Scotland or wherever, he will regale some of his colleagues in the Labour party with the lessons of the German economic miracle and that he will look at the period of German economic history between 1949 and 1953 when Euchen, an excellent economist, and Ehrhardt, an excellent Chancellor, laid the foundations for that German economic miracle, which are similar to the foundations that we laid in this Administration, in the teeth, at the beginning, of a world recession.

I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington on non-price factors. He is absolutely right to focus on quality, design and marketing as just three of those non-price factors. They represent the effort, the three enabling skills in a company, that must be deployed to best possible effect. I shall come back to some of my hon. Friend's comments later.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who gave his apologies to the House for leaving early, demonstrated yet again that he is the master of the mixed metaphor and that he can give a speech on any subject at any time with the minimum of consideration. Therefore, he is ideally equipped to be the next leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats, or whatever name they will be trading under at the next general election.

Let me look at the meat of the hon. Gentleman's argument. He said that we were not doing enough for small firms. He said that we had policies in place for setting up small firms, but with the exception of the business expansion scheme we were not doing enough to see them through the initial period of consolidation into further expansion. The hon. Gentleman has therefore completely misread the White Paper; he has completely misread the Department's latest initiative, because there is a whole raft of measures inside the enterprise initiative designed to help small and medium-sized companies to grow and to fill in the missing capabilities that they often find are exposed when they expand from a small company into a medium-sized company and, we hope, with many of them, eventually into a large company.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be stuck somewhere around 1968 in his appreciation of measures required to revitalise Britain's economy. I shall not hazard a guess at where the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is, but I think that he is somewhere between 1951 and about 1975½. I do not think that he is a root-and-branch clause IV man, but he is pretty much into the motherhood statements of the mid-1970s when he puts forward his recipes for recovery in Britain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) talked about change of attitudes. That is remarked on by those who have the advantage of coming back to this country having spent a period abroad. If one talks to a business man who has been away for four or five years and who has returned to the United Kingdom in the past two or three years, such people remark on the demonstrable and sometimes spectacular change in attitudes in the board room where our managers are much more professional and ambitious, and on the shop floor where trade unionists and the work force are rediscovering some of the basic virtues that are the key generators of employment.

I should like to mention the names of some fairly typical people to whom we in the DTI talk, who are not members of the chattering classes but who in many past conversations have influenced the formation of our policy. One, whose observations I have noted over a period, is the trade unionist, Bill Jordan. When the Labour party listens, I hope that it will listen to trade unionists such as him. I assume that when the Labour party and trade unionists meet, their conversations are about getting money for the Labour party. I do not want to damn Mr. Jordan's career by flattering him too much, but he is an expert on the quality campaign and on quality as a means of preserving and creating jobs. I doubt whether that has been on the agenda of meetings held between him and the Labour party research department.

British management skills, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East pointed out, are key. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) pointed out that things now are different from the 1960s and 1970s—we are becoming more professional. He, like my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington, returned to the issue of market share, which must be our national obsession. I am delighted to report that, at long last, the remorseless erosion of Britain's share of world trade in exports between 1964 and 1980 has been halted. We have stopped the rot. When future economic historians write about that period they will observe that a seminal event took place in about 1981–82, when that erosion of our share of world trade was halted.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover remarked, management skills are desperately important and today's profits, as he rightly said, are tomorrow's investments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) confirmed one aspect of the White Paper, which is that we are determined to get closer to the customer and to take DTI's services out to those who are best equipped to take advantage of them. We shall use chambers of commerce when necessary; we shall open more offices; we shall listen to and pick up as many tips as we can on the best way of implementing the enterprise initiative. In the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield, a soccer metaphor is perhaps appropriate. In the past five years Britain has started to move up the league table of economic performance in the OECD. It is our intention as a nation to more even further up it. Having decided that we should not be relegated in 1979–80, we have now moved up to a mid-table position and we must now decide whether to go for the championship. It is a long time since we have had the base that we now have from which to work. If we can make that decision, we must not throw the opportunity away—