Financial Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:38 pm on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Shadow Minister (Treasury) 4:38 pm, 20th January 2009

This is a widening of the debate, but the three big car-making companies based in Michigan in the USA have problems that go beyond this immediate economic cycle. Asian car manufacturers have located themselves in states of the USA, mainly in the south. They are producing cars within the domestic American market, and so not necessarily with cheaper labour costs, although they have probably negotiated better terms with their employees. They are producing cars at a cheaper price that more Americans wish to buy. I am afraid that the big three American car manufacturers have become bloated and complacent.

If we are to learn something from the 1970s, it should be that it is not in the longer-term interests of the economy for the state to continue to support businesses that are not competitive. I am making the distinction between that and the provision of short-term cash-flow support for companies that are essentially viable but find themselves in short-term difficulties. It may sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two, but it is not that hard in the case of the American car companies. They have problems that, in retrospect, may have been evident for a number of years.

The third matter identified in the economic recovery plan is infrastructure development, with crucial investment to be brought forward. That is important in this country, where for example the house building sector has dried up, but also right across the European Union.

The fourth matter is innovation, and what many of us call a "green new deal". That is a matter on which the EU has provided genuine leadership in the global debate, and the high level of environmental consciousness in the EU and among its citizens means that there is scope for it to continue to lead on energy efficiency and greener transport, for instance by producing cars with lower carbon dioxide emissions. The American car-making market has not been sufficiently mindful of that, which is yet another example of the big manufacturers there being behind the curve and not anticipating changes to consumer demand. The EU can and should take the lead on such matters.

Yesterday, the Commission announced that only Iceland and the Baltic states will suffer a worse recession than the UK. Our economy is anticipated to shrink by 2.8 per cent., unemployment is set to rise towards 3 million in 2009, and the banks are awash with hidden toxic debts that the taxpayer is now having to fund. The Government's own borrowing estimates are constantly being revised upwards, and I ask the Minister whether he or the Chancellor really believe that the UK economy will start to grow again this July. Does anyone in the House or in the country believe that any longer?

We must offer some hope and some optimism that Britain and Europe as a whole will emerge from this crisis, that we will learn the lessons about greed in the banks, which the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned, and about inadequate regulation, and that we can build a better, greener, fairer and more decent society. I believe that that will be the case once we have got through the very difficult months and possibly years ahead.

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