Orders of the Day — Industry and Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:05 am on 9th November 1990.

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Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 10:05 am, 9th November 1990

The problem in the North sea is that the men have been forced to resort to industrial action because they have no prospect of industrial negotiation. I hope that Conservative Members will join me in calling on the employers to resume talks with the trade unions in the North sea industry so that we can bring an end to the dispute. At the heart of the dispute is the men's concern about safety in the North sea—a concern that will be highlighted on Monday by the publication of the Piper Alpha report.

The problems that we face are not accidents of fate. They are not, as the Secretary of State tried to tell us this morning, common problems shared by all our European competitors. They have been created uniquely in Britain by this Cabinet and this Government. Employment in industry is rising in France, Germany and Italy but it is falling in Britain. Output in manufacturing is rising by 5 per cent. in Germany this year, on the eve of the creation of a single market, by nearly 2 per cent. in Spain, and by 1·5 per cent. in France, but has fallen by £1 billion in Britain in the past three months.

Industrial investment is rising in Europe this year by nearly 10 per cent., but it is stagnating here, and the reason for that is clear: the interest rate bill that industry faced in 1979 was £6 billion, but this year it is £24 billion. Next year —the year before the creation of the single market, when the competitive challenges will be greater than ever before—it is predicted that investment in Germany will be rising by 4 per cent., in France and Italy by 6 per cent., in the European Community as a whole by 5 per cent. while in Britain it is predicted to fall by 2·5 per cent. That will be the worst possible start for British industry in the internal market.

These are disastrous industrial trends, which cannot be blamed on the Gulf crisis, the American recession or the European Commission. They are a problem caused directly by the mistakes of this Prime Minister, this Cabinet and this Government. We have had 11 years of a Government who promised that we would have zero inflation, said that they had created an economic miracle and told us that stop-go economics had been abolished once and for all. Inflation, which the Government promised to reduce to zero, is now 10·9 per cent., higher than that of all our main European competitors. In 1979, the Government blamed the previous Labour Government for the level of unemployment. They said that the Labour Government's policies had not worked, but for many years unemployment has been at least 50 per cent. higher than it was then, and again it is rising.

What about mortgage rates? I hope that Conservative Members are concerned about the problems of home owners. They were facing problems in 1979 because of what the Conservative party described in its manifesto as Government financial mismanagement. The current rate of interest is 14·5 per cent., which the Chancellor of the Exchequer used to call usurious.

If anyone had dared say to Conservative Members in 1979 that, after 11 years of what they promised would be an economic revolution, 11 years during which Chancellors of the Exchequer were variously described as brilliant, marvellous and wonderful, 11 years during which the Prime Minister and her Ministers told us that Germany and Japan had had the economic miracles of the past and that Britain's would be the economic miracle of the present, 11 years during which the Government, uniquely, have had £100 billion of revenues from North sea oil, Britain would have the highest inflation, the greatest trade gap, the slowest growth, the least investment and the worst interest rates of all our major competitors, they would have told us that we were talking about another country, another Prime Minister and another Government.

There is no escape for the Government now. Their failures are clear. After 11 years of a Conservative Prime Minister and Conservative free market ideology, we are entitled to more than promises that things will get better. We are entitled to a full explanation of what has gone wrong. The rate of company liquidations is rising. In many areas the number of liquidations will double this year. What is proposed in the autumn statement? The Government say that we should compound the interest rate problems that companies face by hitting them with further cuts in support services for industry. Having hit industry with the worst interest rates of all the main European economies, the Government are now hitting it with some of the biggest budget cuts. There is to be a 22 per cent. cut in the industrial research and development budget this year. There will be a 40 per cent. cut in the technology transfer budget and a 67 per cent. cut in regional enterprise grants.

Small firms will be hit hardest of all. The Secretary of State mentioned the Government's flagship programme——