Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 15th January 1996.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham , Coventry South East 7:24 pm, 15th January 1996

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). If anyone on the Labour Back Benches expresses a view, that is a split in the Labour party, but when the hon. Gentleman expresses a view, that is a suggestion to the Government. He should make his mind up. He and some of his hon. Friends have been a revelation to Labour Members. He has suddenly discovered the global economy. When they attack the Labour Government of 1974–79, some of his hon. Friends forget that there was a global economy then. We all remember what happened during the oil crisis and with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but Conservative Members forget such things.

When, earlier, the brain drain was being used to justify the Government's policies since 1979, especially those in relation to the rundown of manufacturing industry, I could not help but cast my mind back to the period between 1959 and 1964 when, under a Tory Government, there was also a brain drain—and everyone knew it. It is interesting that, between 1974 and 1979—under Labour—there was no brain drain.

I must remind the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington of the period 1970 to 1974 when, under a Tory Government, we had record inflation. Conservative Members conveniently forget that time. They poke fun at Labour Members who even hint at regulation in industry, but it was the hon. Gentleman's party that had to move in to prop up Rolls-Royce. I do not hear anything about that. Whenever Labour Members suggest any assistance to major industries, the allegation, as always, is, "That could be nationalisation through the back door." Conservative Members must start to think about where they are going.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury claims that he wants to reduce taxes and that this is a tax-cutting Budget. When we make any proposals or suggestions, Conservative Members say, "Ah. They want to increase expenditure." Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain why the Government claim that the Conservative party is a tax-cutting party, but lift the cap on local authorities, saying, "You can increase council tax by about 2 per cent." Conservative Members cannot have it both ways.

Negative equity is a double-edged sword in some ways. It involves not only the 1 million people who have had their homes repossessed, but the inner cities. In the part of Coventry that I represent, especially in the Hillfields, Stokealdermore and Willenhall areas, many shopkeepers are going out of business because of business tax. Furthermore, if they want to sell their property, they cannot. Many of them tell me that they want the Government to introduce some flexibility into that sector and to understand some of the problems of inner cities and areas such as Hillfields. I am sure that some of my colleagues would say the same. We will never regenerate inner cities unless there is some flexibility on business tax. If Treasury Ministers visit the Hillfields area of Coventry, we can show them the effects of the business tax. It is no good Ministers trying to blame local authorities, because what they can do is limited.

Another issue that will cause concern is rent capping. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] Some Conservative Members do not seem to know what the Government are proposing. Rent capping will have a major effect on capital investment in council house repairs. Conservative Members say that they want to do something about the inner cities, but they do not intend to do anything about rent capping. I have highlighted two points to which Conservative Members should be, but are not, addressing their minds.

Some other hon. Members have mentioned the global economy. Treasury Ministers have not yet told us how Britain will compete in the global economy. The general agreement on tariffs and trade and the Pacific rim countries are both important. Although 68 per cent. of our trade is with Europe, we need a positive response from the Government on the Pacific rim countries. I and a number of my colleagues have raised that matter for some time, but the Government do not seem to have a positive strategy for dealing with the global economy.

Nothing has been done to try to rejuvenate the building industry, which is as vital to the economy as is the industrial part of our economy; they go hand in hand. As long as we have an imbalance, we shall have a problem. We shall have 2.6 million unemployed because both those parts of our economy have a major effect. Nothing is being done in education and training, so if the economy really starts to take off, we shall have a major problem because of a lack of skills. Conservative Members may sit and smile; I do not mind. I suggest that the almost 60 million people outside the Chamber are not smiling as a result of Government policies.

It is not the Opposition's job at this stage to put forward policies; it is our job to look at the Budget and to highlight the problems with it. We will propose policies at the appropriate time. It is no good Conservative Members trying to deflect the flak to the Opposition when they should be taking the flak for their own actions.