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Government Economic and Social Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 9th June 1993.

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Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Beaconsfield 3:52 pm, 9th June 1993

I have given way already.

It is depressing that, as today's Financial Times reports, a Department of Trade and Industry study shows that United Kingdom companies spend significantly less than our competitors on research and development, and it is extremely worrying that the United Kingdom share of United States patents has fallen from 10 per cent. in 1980 to 6 per cent. in 1991.

No wonder that, when Management Today, in its latest issue, asked leading industrialists whether they felt that the Government had a clearly defined industrial policy, 90 per cent. said no. When they were asked whether they believed that the present Government's policy was the most effective for United Kingdom industry, again 90 per cent. said no. They understand that the purpose of an industrial policy is to co-ordinate to maximum effect investment, regional development, technological improvement and export performance. We believe that to be vital; it is, after all, what other successful countries do.

We need a new approach to tackle Britain's intolerable level of unemployment. Do not the Government yet realise that the biggest drain on our public finances is the cost of the unemployment that they have created—£9,000 a year for every person unemployed? It is the greatest misery in modern Britain—for individuals, families and whole communities—and, perhaps worst of all, a massive waste of invaluable human resources. We need action on unemployment, and we need it now.

I again ask the Government to act to help our beleaguered construction industry. Why do not the Government do what we and so many others have urged and allow local authorities to spend their own capital receipts on house building and house improvement programmes, helping both the homeless and the hundreds of thousands of unemployed construction workers? Once re-employed, those workers will start to pay taxes instead of drawing benefits, and companies will make profits on which they will pay taxes, rather than declaring losses on which they pay no tax at all.

This policy is backed by the construction industries, local authorities, the Institute of Housing and many City commentators. Midland Montagu has urged the Government to leap at the opportunity of adopting a policy full of common sense and compassion that efficiently targets the homeless, the housing market, the construction industry, and the South East. All we have heard from the Government is the usual dogmatic and obstinate refusal.

It is no wonder that the Government have slumped in popularity. According to the front page of today's Daily Telegraph—on which I rely for my information about the Conservative party—senior Tories on the 1922 Committee executive are to hold an inquest on the failure of the ex-Chancellor's sacking to halt the biggest slump in morale since the Profumo affair 30 years ago. No doubt the Prime Minister will dismiss this too as scaremongering, but as a principal participant in the Profumo affair might have said, "He would say that, wouldn't he?"

But he knows, does he not, the menace of these men in grey suits? After all, he was the beneficiary of their deadly manoeuvres against his predecessor—although he no doubt reflects that, while it took 10 years to move against her, after only 12 months they have him in their sights. If I were he, I would worry most if they sought to reassure me. Most of all, I would worry if they sought to show their solidarity with a man in a spot of bother by giving him a present—perhaps a watch inscribed, "Don't let the buggers get you down." After all, it appears to be a coded message that it is time for an early and a swift departure.

The Prime Minister cannot complain about the giving of a watch. He himself says that it is not a hanging offence. What we know, from the botched reshuffle and the abrupt dismissal of the former Chancellor, is that a hanging offence in this curious Government is loyally to carry out the Prime Minister's own policies, especially to the accompaniment of effusive declarations of his support.

The British people deserve a better Government, for they dislike intensely the concoction of betrayal, incompetence and dogmatism which are the characteristics of the present occupants of the Treasury Bench. What people are beginning to dislike just as much is the low ambition that these people have for our country.

The people of Britain do not want the low-skill, sweatshop economy which is the miserable Tory response to the challenge of competiton from Europe and the wider world. What they want is for us to become a high-skill, high-tech, high-wage economy, able to compete with the best and to succeed on the basis of our ability and the quality of our products in the markets of the world.