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

I have learnt on previous occasions in the House never to take sides about soccer. However, my hon. Friend will know that I took just a minuscule amount of pride in the performance of Coventry City in the last cup final. We are today in the position in which, say, Kenny Dalglish was two years ago when he was considering the sort of side to build for the championship—but enough of soccer metaphors. I am now competing with the hon. Member for Yeovil in the mixed metaphor stakes.

We shall pick up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) about a freer market in books. He was correct to identify the great need in the United Kingdom to provide our teachers with valuable experience in commerce and industry. For the most part, they would welcome that, and I am encouraged by the reaction of commerce and industry to the White Paper. Representatives of the various sectors, such as the Institute of Directors, the chambers of commerce and the CBI, have welcomed our objective of getting 10 per cent. of teachers a year into companies to take a look at the things that will be required of the students in their care when they enter the job market. Warrington and Runcorn has shown that it provides a welcome home for inward investment by providing skilled workers and the right enterprise ethic in the local community. As we have been invited by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South to do so, we shall take a look at the inpediments to trade.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran), with his great experience as a regional director in Birmingham and as a keen observer of the national scene, made an excellent speech. There is a growing appreciation that we have to encourage our brightest and best younsters to opt for a career in industry and commerce. We need them. There is almost a form of economic warfare in the international market and we need the best people to fight in that battle on behalf of British industry and commerce. I believe that our national culture is changing and that we no longer suffer from the 19th century attitude that our top schools should produce only young people fit to become district commissioners in Africa or colonial leaders in far-flung parts of the world. We want people to lead British industry and commerce in the struggle for world markets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley referred to deregulation. I will communicate to my ministerial colleagues his clearly stated wish that we should take a radical approach to deregulation. My hon. Friend is currently decoding some of the terminology in our documentation and he believes that it sounds rather cautious. If necessary, I will try to persuade my colleagues in the DTI to tune that up and enhance the committment level a little.

Reference was made to the links that must be established between the universities and industry and commerce. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley will be aware from our recent documentation that a £36 million link programme, the teaching company scheme, has been created. As far as I am aware, that scheme has no enemies. It is universally acclaimed as an excellent way to firm up links between the higher education sector and industry and commerce. Bright young men and women are entering companies on postgraduate projects. They are given specific targets and often surprise the companies by the level of sophistication that they bring to a project.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) referred to planning constraints. He brought an interesting nugget of information to the House when he explained that there had been a 62 per cent. increase in rates in his authority coinciding with the authority's marketing efforts in an economic development unit. That often happens in Labour-controlled local authorities. Such authorities seem to produce policies that make their municipalities hostile territory for the private sector and small business men. They indulge in PR massaging. They set up a project which they often call an economic development unit to make a passing statement about their desire to bring employment into the area. For the most part, I am afraid that such action is a somewhat cynical exercise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) asked me to consider the trading and export services. I will read the Official Report carefully and respond to him regarding the British Overseas Trade Board.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) reasserted his argument that we should do all that we can to make education more relevant to the needs of our economy. Almost in passing he made an observation that could have dominated the debate. This side of the Budget it is probably right that it should not have done so. We have rediscovered over the past four or five years that supply-side economics work. As taxation rates come down, the take increases.

I recall an excellent article in The Sunday Times entitled Who is selling the snake oil? In that article the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was portrayed as the cowboy who came to town waving a bottle of elixir purporting to be a cure-all for everything from hair loss to digestive complaints. His cure-all was increased taxation for everything. We have discovered that the converse is true. Reducing taxation at corporate and personal levels increases income for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The country can then decide how to spend the increased revenue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) who, as far as I can understand, was fresh from a rectification job on his peripheral caries, brought some interesting comments to the debate, especially about job creation and the role of small firms. We shall continue to examine what small firms pay to local government. That is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but it is a key factor. Wandsworth is to be congratulated. Some London boroughs introduced nuclear-free zones, whereas Wandsworth is a de facto enterprise zone. Wandsworth is concerned about enterprise because it knows what enterprise does for jobs. I congratulate that brave and imaginative borough.

That takes me to the comments made by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. He said that he would speak as a basso profundo. He will know that the basso profundo often takes the part of the jester and sometimes the ogre. I suspect that the captains of industry and some trade unionists who read his speech may see him as an ogre because he made a number of suggestions that would turn the clock back to a time when competition in world markets was not as great as it is now, and seriously weaken our resolve to fight for competitiveness. Many of the policies that the hon. Gentleman would advance would undermine and erode the competitive ethic both in the board room and on the shop floor.

The world recession hit us very hard. The weaknesses in our economy had been building up over a long period. If we can put right in one decade what went wrong gradually over about two decades, we shall have done very well indeed.

I do not know any longer where the Labour party gets its information from. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby is a great researcher and I am sure that in the listening campaign he will be a great listener. Let me take this opportunity—unusually in a debate such as this—to mention some people who, in my view, typify the industrial renaissance in this country. They are not necessarily members of the chattering classes and they are unlikely ever to appear on the Robin Day programme. However, they are certainly worthy of a visit from the hon. Members for Great Grimsby, for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Those people, and hundreds like them, have influenced Government policy, perhaps without knowing it. I see that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) is in the Chamber, and our first port of call should be the midlands. Opposition Members should go to Lucas, an excellent company, and talk to John Parnaby, who is probably an expert—probably a world expert — on manufacturing systems engineering. He would probably enlighten the Labour party as to current trends in manufacturing sciences and intellectual investment on the shop floor. They could then go to Rugby to see Brian Small at Ingersoll.