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Manufacturing Industry

Volume 990: debated on Monday 4 August 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will consider initiating new steps to assist manufacturing industry.

The Government's policies of cutting public spending, reducing inflation, promoting enterprise, fostering small business, and restraining the excessive claims of the public sector, will create a climate in which industry can prosper. Financial assistance to industry also has a part to play, but industrial success depends on action by management and work force to improve competitiveness.

That reply comes from fantasy land. In view of the CBI's latest industrial survey, does not all the evidence point to a deepening recession, mounting unemployment and many closures all over the country? Given that, is it surprising that the Secretary of State for Industry is viewed as the grave digger of British industry and of British jobs?

My reply did not come from fantasy land. It is true that the prospect is one of deeping recession, which in turn reflects world recession, oil price increases and our own sustained decline in competitiveness in recent decades. It is fantasy on the part of Opposition Members to ignore that crucial factor, which is within our control.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if, when circumstances allow, his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to alleviate or abate the employers' national insurance surcharge—which was so unwisely laid on British industry by the previous Labour Government—that might help British industry?

The answer is "Yes" but my right hon. and learned Friend would surely say that that would either have to be done at the expense of reducing public expenditure elsewhere or by raising taxation or borrowing.

Is the Secretary of State aware that interest rates would have been a good deal lower today if the Government had not abolished exchange controls?

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is correct in being so confident and in deciding what decision-makers all over the world would have done about the exchange rate, which in itself has some connection with our internal financial affairs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the abolition of national wage bargaining is of major importance to manufacturing industry and to employment prospects?

I am being tempted by all sorts of subjects outside my responsibility. Wage bargaining that ignores crucial local factors of supply·demand and profit does great damage to those firms and workers concerned.

Why is the Secretary of State being so modest about his Government? Why does he not take credit for his right hon. Friend's recent Green Paper on the streamlining of bankruptcy procedures, which must make life so much easier for him now that we have a record number of bankruptcies?

We still have some way to go before we reach the level of bankruptcies achieved by the Labour Government in 1975, 1976 and 1977.