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Government Economic and Social Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:02 pm on 9th June 1993.

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Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones , Alyn and Deeside 7:02 pm, 9th June 1993

I thought that my right hon. and learned Friend the leader of the Opposition left the Chamber the victor of this afternoon's debate. He precisely, and often quite humorously, pulverised the Government's record.

The House today heard speeches from the former Chancellor and the Prime Minister. In effect, we may have heard not just one resignation speech but two. I listened to the former Chancellor's resignation speech. I have never heard the word "loyalty" used to such devastating effect —with contempt, with reproach, with anger. He skewered the Prime Minister on that word. It was one of the most dramatic moments that the House has witnessed, even compared with the personal statement made by lord Howe about the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. I thought that I heard the former Chancellor complain that, in Cabinet and elsewhere, the Prime Minister had bullied him in his work at the Treasury.

The Prime Minister's speech was tragic. Many Labour Members thought that it was a speech of parliamentary suicide which dwelt over-long, and foolishly, on an apprently hypnotic leader of the Opposition. The parliamentary by-election in the constituency of Christchurch may almost be a plebiscite on the future of the Prime Minister.

The right hon. Gentleman used a boxing metaphor. He may have seen the show at the Mermaid theatre, which is devoted to the life and times of the greatest, Muhammad Ali, whose autograph I once obtained in these precincts on a copy of Hansard. Muhammad Ali did go one fight too far. I encountered Ali in the Central Lobby only weeks after his disastrous fight with Larry Holmes and clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, he should not have embarked on that fight. Larry Holmes had once been just his sparring partner. To continue the metaphor, at the Dispatch Box today, we saw a Prime Minister who was not just lethargic and dispirited but, almost by the process of government and leadership, or the need to give that quality, punch-drunk.

I was disappointed at the Prime Minister's comments. I wanted him to say that he believed in the primacy of manufacturing industry. I wanted him to show the House and the nation at large that he had policies and a programme to restore the economic and industrial greatness of our nation. There was not a clue of that, no sign of that and no determination to provide that leadership, that vision and that policy.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell), who made a powerful speech, I ask myself, where has the £100 billion of North sea oil revenue gone? Why was it not invested in manufacturing industry? Why did the steel, chemical and textile industries contract? Why did our collieries and shipyards close? Why are our businesses going bankrupt? Why is our economy coming apart at the seams? Those where the questions that the Prime Minister should have addressed and, albeit in the bear-pit of the Chamber this afternoon, he should have attempted to give the country and hon. Members the answers.

A dilemma has arisen in my constituency and some of my constituents are in a predicament. Corporate Jets, part of British Aerospace, was recently sold. My constituents are perplexed and angry. British Aerospace owned that company until a week ago, and 600 of my constituents who work there awoke one morning last week to find that the production process and, in effect, they themselves had been sold to an American company. British Aerospace is our nation's largest employer, but it decided to sell the executive jet—an aeroplane that can fly the Atlantic and is arguably the best of its kind in the world—to an American competitor. That is symptomatic of what is wrong with Britain's industrial policy.

My constituents want to know whether the President of the Board of Trade knew that British Aerospace was going to sell Corporate Jets, whose great executive jet can beat the competition throughout the world. They want to know whether the Prime Minister knew that Corporate Jets was going to be sold. They want to know whether, as employees of an American company, they have an industrial future and whether they will continue to produce that wonderful aeroplane for more than three years. They look to the Government for a guarantee.

Speeches must, of necessity, be brief. I believe that the nation needs a strong regional policy. It wants investment in manufacturing industry, more apprenticeships and investment in schools and skills training. We need investment in manufacturing industry to sustain what is left of the welfare state. The nation does not want dispiriting diversions such as that caused by the Asil Nadir scandal or the cynicism and menace of the Matrix Churchill case. It wants Cabinet leadership which has the nation interest at heart. We have today seen evidence that the Conservative party can no longer give the nation the leadership it needs.