HC Deb 12 December 1985 vol 88 cc1079-164 4.15 pm
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Nigel Lawson)

I beg to move, That this House approves the Autumn Statement presented by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer on 12th November; welcomes the prospect of continuing low inflation and steady growth as the basis for maintaining the trend of rising employment; and congratulates Her Majesty's Government on the continuing reduction in the share of national income pre-empted by public expenditure.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Lawson

Let me start by apologising to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). In our last debate I praised the right hon. Gentleman's writings for Punch. I had not realised that this harmless compliment would be used by the SDP to cast doubt on the right hon. Gentleman's working class credentials. Apparently, a Mrs. Shirley Williams declared on television last week: You aren't working class Roy — you're a very good writer. Could I make it clear that we on this side of the House, who do not suffer from these class hang-ups, entirely accept that the right hon. Gentleman is every bit as working class as he feels it necessary to be.

Exactly a month ago today I presented my autumn statement to the House. In it I described a satisfactory outlook for growth, inflation and the current account of the balance of payments. I set out this Government's public expenditure planes for the next three years. In the intervening month inflation has fallen back further, to an annual rate of 5.5 per cent., as I predicted, and last week's figures appear to confirm that the long and seemingly inexorable rise in unemployment has at last come to an end. The whole House will, I know, welcome this.

I have read with interest the report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. Once again, I congratulate the Committee, under the skilful chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) on the speed with which it has been produced.

It is useful to recall what the autumn statement is and what it is not. My predecessor presented the first autumn statement to the House in 1982. It contained then, as it does now. three principal elements. The first is a projection of the Government's expenditure plans. This year I have expanded the information available on public expenditure by providing plans not just for the immediate year ahead but for each of the next three years. The second is a new forecast of economic prospects, as required by the Industry Act. The third is the rates of national insurance contributions for the coming year. That is what the autumn statement is.

It comes at the end of the annual public expenditure round and gives the House an early indication, before publication of the public expenditure White Paper, of the Government's spending plans.

The autumn statement is not and has never been a sneak preview of the budget. It is essentially for this reason that I decided this year not to publish either the so-called estimated fiscal adjustment for 1986–87 or the inevitably highly uncertain revenue forecast from which the fiscal adjustment figure could be conventionally derived. I am genuinely sorry that the Committee has not felt able to endorse this common sense decision. I found its arguments on this point distinctly unpersuasive and we shall simply have to agree to disagree. There will be no fiscal adjustment or revenue forecast published this autumn or any subsequent autumn.

Indeed, there could have been no swifter vindication of the decision not to publish a revenue forecast at the time of the autumn statement than the latest developments in the oil market, following the OPEC meeting in Geneva. The dust has not settled on that yet, and it is too soon to form a view of the likely level of oil prices during the coming year, but, in so far as the prospect now is for a lower oil price than was assumed at the time of the autumn statement, it follows that, other things being equal, tax revenues in 1986–87 will be correspondingly lower and the scope for tax reductions in next year's Budget correspondingly diminished. The House and the country should be in no doubt about that.

While it is possible to conceive of a sudden fall in the oil price so great as to cause serious disruption and dislocation to the entire world economy, I find the prospect as unlikely as it is undesirable. Short of that, there is no threat to the British economy. Even now, at its peak, oil accounts for only 6 per cent. of GDP, and we are a substantial oil consumer as well as a substantial producer. What we stand to lose on the swings, we stand to gain on the roundabouts.

Mr. Dick Douglas(Dunfermline, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he has missed out the fact that we are also a substantial oil exporter thanks to the fact that we are currently producing as much as the Saudis—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but we are producing 2.7 million barrels a day, which is much the same as the Saudis. The Chancellor has access to much more information than I, and I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong. What does he predict will be the oil price in February and March next year when we are likely to be in great difficulties and his fiscal and budgetary strategy is likely to be in ruins?

Mr. Lawson

I will no more make predictions about the oil price in the spring than I will give a fiscal adjustment for 1986–87.

Government policy in this area remains unchanged. I recall a rather similar state of affairs some three years ago, when I was Secretary of State for Energy. The oil price was weak, and the nervous Nellies, if I may borrow a phrase, were talking about "free fall". OPEC decided to hold its meeting, for the first time, in London— in order, so it was said, to bring pressure to bear on Britain to curb its oil production.

I had the very great pleasure of receiving visits from several eminent OPEC oil Ministers, all of whom wanted us to do just that. I explained how that was impossible and how we in the United Kingdom maintain the freest oil province in the world in which decisions on how much to produce are made not by the Government but by the oil companies. That remains so today, and there is no way round it—not even by the back door.

As it happens, United Kingdom oil production is now at its peak, and from now on is likely to be on a gradually declining path, but there is no way in which the United Kingdom will become a country member of OPEC.

I return to fiscal policy. There is one respect in which the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee could have been of great assistance to me, and for which it has no need of uncertain revenue forecasts to help it form a view. It could have said what, in its judgment, would be the right PSBR to aim for in 1986–87. I have read its report very carefully, but I cannot find its view on this central issue—the central Budget judgment from which all else flows—anywhere.

It would be unfair to chide the Committee for that omission, however. As it is composed of independent-minded Members from three different political parties, I suspect that there are as many views as there are members of the Committee—perhaps more. No such excuse will wash for the official Opposition, though. They, if they are to be taken seriously at all, are obliged to have a single view on the great issues of the day. I have to confess that it is not always entirely clear what that single view is, but I am sure that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will be only too happy to clarify it for us today.

For example, I read in Tribune the other day an interesting interview given by the right hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who was described, I am sure accurately, as Labour's trade and industry spokesman. In it he complained that the Treasury has been too dominant over economic and industrial policy and declared that, in the unlikely event of there being another Labour Government, they would build on the Department of Trade and Industry as the powerful economic and industrial ministry". Perhaps the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will, either now or when he rises to speak, tell us whether he shares the view that, under Labour, the Department of Trade and Industry would be the powerful economic ministry. Is this the official view of the Opposition? I am happy to give way now. Evidently he has to take advice.

I return to more important matters, the Budget judgment and the right PSBR for 1986–87. What is the Opposition's view on that? What in the right hon. Gentleman's opinion should it be? The whole House will expect the right hon. Gentleman to tell us.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to get all views in the House, from the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee to the Opposition Front Bench. It was some time ago that I was a member of that Select Committee, but there was a time when the Chancellor professed a close interest in monetarism when everybody knew that there was division in the Treasury. Why does the right hon. Gentleman assume unanimity in the Select Committee when he did not have unanimity in his own Department?

Mr. Lawson

There is certainly unanimity in the Treasury. I have made it clear that I do not expect unanimity in the Select Committee. However, I expect a single view from the Opposition. That might be too much to expect, but I pay the Opposition the compliment of expecting it. Let me help the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook by giving him a point of reference. In the Red Book published at the time of the Budget last March, I indicated a provisional figure of £7.5 billion. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that figure too large, too small or just about right? Which is it? I am happy to give way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."]

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

What does the Chancellor think?

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman cannot dodge the question by muttering about the iniquities of privatisation. I accept that there is a difference between the two sides of the House on privatisation.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham,Erdington)

The right hon. Gentleman has noticed.

Mr. Lawson

It is a profound difference. We believe that businesses do better for themselves, their employees and for the nation when they are in the free enterprise sector of the economy. The Opposition still believe in nationalising everything that moves. Or do they?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wish they did.

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that he wishes that they did, but let us try to find out. Once again, I shall give the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook the opportunity—I am in a generous mood today; perhaps it is because Christmas is coming—to set the record straight and tell us what Labour's policy is.

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Lawson

Which of the privatised companies does Labour propose to renationalise, and on what terms, should it ever be given the chance? British Telecom? British Gas? British Aerospace? Britoil?

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Lawson

Enterprise Oil? Cable and Wireless? Amersham International? Associated British Ports?

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Lawson

The National Freight Company? Jaguar? Let us take those 10 for starters.

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Lawson

I shall gladly give way to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook if he will now tell us which of those he wants to renationalise.

Mr. Skinner

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lawson

I am sorry that the right hon. Member is unable to answer the question.

Mr. Skinner

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lawson

I shall give way to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.

Mr. Skinner

The Chancellor has left the sensitive ones off the list. What about a nationalised JMB?

Mr. Lawson

The argument about privatisation is about whether those companies, and others yet to be liberated, will do better and make a greater contribution to our national economic performance in the private sector than in the hands of the state. It has nothing whatever to do with fiscal policy and the scope for reductions in taxation. The right hon. Gentleman appears to believe that the proceeds from privatisation should automatically be invested in additional public sector capital projects. A moment's reflection should demonstrate that that cannot make sense.

Spending on public sector capital projects—which Labour when in office ran down just as fast as it could—has to be justified on its merits, project by project. There is no more reason why the transfer of businesses from the state sector to the free enterprise sector should be matched by an increase in spending on public sector capital projects, than that the cost of renationalisation, to which the Labour party is committed, should be offset by an equivalent reduction in spending on public sector capital projects. Is that what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing?

Let me commend to the right hon. Gentleman two recent studies by a source which he should find congenial. Mr. Gavyn Davis, an economic adviser to the last Labour Prime Minister, entitled "—Selling the Silver and Other Bogus Arguments—" and "—More on the Privatisation Debate—" which expose all too cruelly the right hon. Gentleman's confusion on this issue. The plain fact is that privatisation is a policy which is justified on its own merits, is successful and popular, and, at the same time, enables us to bring about a great leap forward in wider share ownership, not least among the employees of the companies concerned. Moreover, we shall continue that policy for many years to come, throughout this Parliament and the next.

Only today, more than 200,000 investors have been allocated shares in Cable and Wireless, and three quarters of that massive public offer has gone to those who applied for up to 1,000 shares. When at the end of the day, some time in the 1990s, the privatisation programme comes to a successful conclusion, with the vast bulk of what was once the state sector of industry safety in the free enterprise sector, it may well be right to permit an offsetting increase in public borrowing. But it will, by then, be an increase from an extremely low level.

Already this year public sector borrowing is likely to be far and away the lowest it has been as a proportion of GDP for 14 years. Indeed, it would still be the lowest for 14 years, even if there had been no privatisation and the proceeds had been replaced by additional borrowing. In short, however one looks at it, the Government's fiscal stance is and will remain prudent. It is hard to imagine a greater contrast with the profligate and irresponsible spending and borrowing plans of the Opposition.

Mr. Skinner

During the past three months I have been puzzled that the Government, who for six years have been on record as saying that the Labour party and a future Labour Government would borrow money to get rid of the dole queues, eight weeks ago sent the Chancellor of the Exchequer, authorised by the Prime Minister, to the currency markets where he borrowed the biggest sum ever borrowed in one day by any Government since the end of the war. He secured $2.5 billion, not to get rid of dole queues or to save the National Health Service, but to rig the currency markets for Ronald Reagan and to save the pound when there are troubles with OPEC. Is it not a scandal, a cheek and hypocritical to attack us for wanting the borrow money to reduce the dole queues?

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Gentleman refers to the strengthening of the reserves by a $2.5 billion floating rate issue. There is an interesting difference between what happened with the Labour Government and what happened with us. The Labour Government had to go on their knees, cap in hand to borrow everything that they could, whereas we asked the market for $2 billion, but as everyone was so anxious to lend us money we accepted $2.5 billion, instead. That is a fact.

Whether there will be scope for reductions in taxation in next year's Budget, and if so by how much, is, for the reasons I have made clear, particularly uncertain at present. But when tax reductions do come, they will come as a result of our continued success in keeping public expenditure under control, and they will be permanent.

The statement that I presented to the House last month shows that the Government intend to achieve cash totals that will keep public spending broadly stable in real terms. Therefore, as the economy grows, public spending will continue to fall as a proportion of national output. By 1988–89 the proportion is planned to be down to 41 per cent. To achieve that reduction will be a major prize. It will represent the lowest proportion since the early 1970s.

The Treasury Select Committee properly sought to probe the realism of the figures. To hold public expenditure broadly flat in real terms is a demanding objective, but as I explained to the Committee, I believe that it is one that we will achieve. A number of specific factors will help.

First, the period of substantial real increases in defence expenditure has now come to an end, although we shall maintain and improve our defence capability through the pursuit of greater efficiency. Secondly, we are now expecting much slower growth in the massive social security programme. Thirdly, the particularly rapid fall in inflation since 1978–79 led to a sharp increase in real terms in the interest payable on. Government debt. That phase has also come to an end. Those three factors together account for the lion's share of the increase in Government expenditure which we have seen during the past six years. They will not be generating pressure for further increases during the next three years.

The Treasury Select Committee also seemed to complain about what it saw as a major but unannounced change in the Government's economic policy or monetary policy. It is mistaken on both counts. There has been no major change in the Government's financial strategy. Indeed, its continuity is a great source of strength. The evolution that has occurred in the light of changing circumstances could scarcely have been more clearly enunciated, both in my Budget speech and in my speech at the Mansion house.

In my Budget speech I said: significant movements in the exchange rate, whatever their cause, can have a short-teen impact on the general price level and on inflationary expectations. This process can acquire a momentum of its own, making sound internal policies harder to implement … That is why I have repeatedly argued that it is necessary to take the exchange rate into account in judging monetary conditions… There can be no doubt about the Government's commitment to maintain monetary conditions that will continue to bring down inflation. Short-term interest rates will be held at the level needed to achieve this".—[Official Report, 19 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 789.] All that has happened since then is that the Government have demonstrated once again that we mean what we say. Not least by resolutely resisting the blandishments of those who would have us seek some opportunistic window through which to depart from that policy. It remains as firmly in place as ever.

The results are impressive.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

My right hon. Friend said that he did not expect unanimity from the Select Committee, but our report is unanimous. He also said that we did not express a view on the PSBR, but in paragraph 26 we point out that if the fiscal stance is to remain the same, it will be necessary to reduce the PSBR substantially to offset the increase in public expenditure planned since the Budget.

Mr. Lawson

With great respect to my right hon. Friend, for whom I have great respect, that is not a view on what the 1986–87 PSBR should be. That is the only answer which would have been of assistance to me in trying to reach my conclusions.

I am confident that inflation will continue to subside. No one seriously doubts that.[Interruption.] The Government will stick to their strategy to ensure that that happens, and, as the Prime Minister said, we shall take no action, on taxes or on interest rates, to put that paramount objective at risk.

What of the results of our policies so far? Let us compare the past six years, from 1979 to 1985, with the previous six years, from 1973 to 1979. This is an interesting comparison for many reasons. One period was dominated by a Labour and one by a Conservative Government, and both 1973 and 1979 were peak years in the economic cycle. Therefore, it is a fair comparison, and I always like to be fair, as the House knows. On the record on output, there is little to choose between the two periods, whether we take total GDP, or GDP excluding North sea oil. But there is one fundamental difference. Since 1979, we have closed the gap with our competitors. Our growth since 1979 has been virtually the same as that recorded by France and Germany, whereas during the Labour years France and Germany grew twice as fast as we did. At the same time inflation has been substantially reduced. The average inflation rate since 1979 has been 9 per cent. compared with 15 per cent. during the previous six years.

The years of misery were the years before we came into office, when soaring costs, financial irresponsibility, escalating controls and declining profitability produced the fastest peacetime inflation on record and sapped the foundations of employment. There the responsibility lies.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will no doubt spend a good part of his speech bemoaning the performance of manufacturing industry. He will argue that, even though output as a whole is well up, manufacturing output is still lower than it was when the Government came into office. Since the first half of 1979, manufacturing output has fallen by 5.5 per cent., but that is scarcely new. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, one would imagine that under Labour manufacturing output was expanding fast. The House will be interested to know that between the second half of 1973 and the first half of 1979, manufacturing output fell by 4.5 per cent.—not much difference there either.

But, in reality, there is a big difference. In sharp contrast to what the inherited in 1979, manufacturing industry is now in a much stronger position from which it can compete in world markets. In 1979, manufacturing —indeed, industry as a whole — was stripped of its. profits. No wonder it had trouble weathering the storm when the second oil shock arrived.

Today, manufacturing industry's profits are back to levels last seen before the first oil price shock in 1973. This Government wish manufacturing industry to succeed and we have created the conditions for it to do so.

Probably the most striking difference under this Government has been in the growth of manufacturing productivity. That has risen by almost 25 per cent. since we came into office. During the previous six years, the growth in manufacturing productivity was a meagre 4 per cent. The resulting inefficiency and overmanning was, of course, the main reason why there was such a shakeout of labour after the second oil shock. We are still living with the consequences of that inheritance.

What of the performance of the economy since 1983? The right hon. Gentleman still seems to be engaged in the sterile task of refighting the last election, and keeps harping on the effects of the 1980 recession.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lawson


The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook seems to forget that he lost the election. The electorate judged our record and chose to renew our mandate.

What matters now is an assessment of what has happened since then. Take the period from the first half of 1983 to the second half of 1985—the period since the general election. Total output has risen by 3 per cent. a year and manufacturing output has risen by 3.25 per cent. a year. Our output growth has matched that of Germany, and exceeded that of France. Inflation has averaged 5 per cent., compared with 15.5 per cent. under the Labour Government. Manufacturing productivity has risen by more than 4 per cent. a year. Profitability is up, taxes have been reduced, public expenditure has fallen as a percentage of GDP, Government borrowing has been cut and the number of people in work has risen by about 600,000.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I have listened to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said and especially to his last point. Will he tell the House in specific terms what impact the autumn statement will have on unemployment?

Mr. Lawson

That is a foolish question. The important thing, as I said earlier, is that the whole House should welcome the recent figures, that show that the long rise in unemployment has come to an end. I would expect the hon. Gentleman to welcome that, rather than try to slander it. What the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook finds most galling is that we are well poised to continue that performance up to and beyond the next election.

I began by apologising to the right hon. Gentleman, so I end on the same note. I am sorry that he suffers such visible anguish at having to acknowledge that the economy is growing strongly. I deeply regret that he has had to eat his words about inflation rising to double figures and to accept that it is down to 5.5 per cent. and set to fall much further next year. I am sorry that he cannot stomach the fact that manufacturing exports are 14 per cent. higher in real terms than when he left office. My heart bleeds for the right hon. Gentleman as he ties himself painfully in knots arguing that our policies are simultaneously deflationary and reflationary.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that our privatisation programme was not intended to impale him on the horns of a dilemma—whether to renouce Socialist dogma or popular support. However, the right hon. Gentleman's problems are of his own making. He and his party base their philosophy on the belief that the British people cannot prosper without more state direction, more state ownership, more state spending and higher taxation. They firmly believe that the desire to own property or to spend one's own money is essentially immoral, so Labour are bound to find themselves decrying both the achievements and the aspirations of the British people.

The autumn statement is a record of achievement by the British people, assisted by a Government who work with the grain of the nation, not against it, and of popular aspirations towards ownership and independence being steadily fulfilled. The good news that it contains has been widely welcomed by all who wish this country well. I commend it to the House.

4.46 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: declines to approve a Statement of economic policy which further damages the interests of manufacturing industry, makes no proposals for a substantial reduction in unemployment, neglects necessary investment in public sector housing and other capital sector programmes, and is based on the sale of national assets for the primary purpose of raising revenue to provide temporary finance for cuts in income tax,". Those who have had the privilege of listening to the Chancellor regularly during the past two years will know that he always blusters most when he is especially worried about the economy. They will agree, as those outside the House agree, that there is no more demeaning sight than that of a Chancellor of the Exchequer desperate to talk about anything other than his policies. If there is a more demeaning sight, it is that of a Chancellor basing his arguments on completely phoney statistics that have been exposed as such.

A simple example is the Chancellor's repeated claim of 600,000 more men and women in work. The right hon. Gentleman knows that since his Government were elected—he may believe that the world began in 1983, but they were elected in 1979—there has been a net loss of 1 million jobs. The recent claim of 600,000 extra jobs is based on the inclusion of part-time jobs as though they were full-time, and a completely bogus estimate of the self-employed sector.

If that is the best that the Chancellor can do, we are again going through what can only be described as the annual Lawson cycle. That cycle begins in November with the announcement that the economy is set fair for tax cuts and a reduction in unemployment. This year, the upswing in brag and boast was especially pronounced. The speaking note circulated by the Chancellor's acolytes refers to a Tory economic dream come true. In his speech, the Chancellor modestly proclaimed the clearest vindications of his policy.

In the second phase of the cycle, more objective observers question the Chancellor's claims and, I fear, his veracity. This year,The Daily Telegraph described the autumn statement as a combination of dodgy accounting and electoral cynicism". That is how the cycle began and how the Chancellor continues to put his case today.

Let me give another example. The Chancellor drew my attention to what Mr. Gavin Davies said in his professional capacity about the asset sales, as though ii were a commendation of the policy that the Chancellor has adopted. One thing that Mr. Gavin Davies said in the business circular was that selling £4.75 billion of public sector capital assets was exactly the same economically as issuing £4.75 billion of extra gilts. Is that a commendation of the Chancellor's policy? Is that what he thinks he is doing? Is that what his more misunderstanding Back-Bench Members think he is doing? Is that the Gavin Davies judgment which he endorses today? Of course it is not. It is a sign that the Chancellor wanted to make a cheap point about Mr. Davies's origins and assumed that no one in the House would have read the document. It simply will not do.

The third stage in the Chancellor's autumn cycle is when he turns on his critics and abuses them for being prejudiced, ignorant, or both. The fourth stage in the Lawson cycle is the stage when the critics are proved to be completely right in their assessment of his policies.

Let me remind the Chancellor what happened last year. Last year, the Lawson cycle, which began with so much boasting and bragging, ended in the January sterling crisis. The pound fell almost to parity with the dollar, and that fall was accentuated by the Chancellor's performance. He seemed to welcome depreciation as a way of increasing the fiscal adjustment and financing tax cuts. He seemed to believe in the free float, even when it turned into the free sink. That is clearly why the Prime Minister determined yesterday not to allow him to talk down the pound again, and intervened in these matters, as the Bank of England has been intervening for the past fortnight, by announcing that she intended to keep interest rates high and the pound high at the same time.

In any case, the Prime Minister's intervention was largely unnecessary, because, as the Select Committee report makes clear in paragraph 19, the free float is dead. The Chancellor could not bring himself to mention any aspect of those paragraphs in the Select Committee's report, but what they say, and what is clearly true, is that the free float was formally buried at the New York G5 meeting, when the Chancellor had to make a humiliating recantation of his old beliefs. Although the Chancellor no longer believes that sterling should find its own value in the international market, we are still paying the price for the Chancellor's folly in the years when he did. Interest rates stand at 12 per cent., and real interest rates at 7 per cent. That is still largely the result of the damage limitation which the Government had to introduce after the financial fiasco of last January. The result of a 12 per cent. interest rate and a 7 per cent. real interest rate is a catastrophic effect on manufacturing investment and the real wealth of the country.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is possible for a central bank to hold up the value of its currency for a prolonged period against market forces?

Mr. Hattersley

If I am wrong to believe that, the error is compounded and shared by the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman, who studies the Prime Minister in all her works, will recall that she said last night that rates would be held up for as long as it was necessary to protect the pound and to hold down inflation.

Mr. Budgen

What is the right hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. Hattersley

I believe that it can be done for a substantial period, and that the Chancellor is doing it now.

Mr. Budgen


Mr. Austin Mitchell

Drop him a line and tell him.

Mr. Hattersley

If the hon. Gentleman believes that interest rates at 11.5 and 12 per cent. are not a manipulation of the short term, he misunderstands not only what is happening, but what the Chancellor said this afternoon. The Chancellor made it clear—this was one of his tough passages — that he would ensure that, whatever the consequences, the exchange rate would be held at a level which he thought right to keep down inflation. That is why the Prime Minister was wrong to believe it necessary to bolster the Chancellor's resolve yesterday. I do not believe for a moment that the Chancellor will make the same mistake as he made last year. He will make a different mistake from the one that he made last year, although it will result in similar intolerably high interest rates.

The confusion has meant that commentators have found it difficult to give an adequate journalistic description to the change in Government policy. The Government have made an 0-turn. They have gone round in a circle and arrived back at the same place—high interest rates, low manufacturing investment, high unemployment and deteriorating public services.

In his Mansion house speech, about which he spoke so proudly this afternoon, the Chancellor made the second recantation of Government policy, which we shall have to examine in the year ahead. In that speech he formally disowned the basic tenet of monetarism. He now admits that there is no systematic relationship between the various definitions of the money supply and the nominal gross domestic product. That was his central admission. It would be unworthy of me or the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), who at least agrees that that was what the Chancellor said, to assume that that admission was made because the Chancellor was singularly incapable of meeting his M3 target throughout his stewardship. However, he said that his failure to meet his M3 target did not matter.

I hope that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury can give me a capable and understandable answer to my next question. How does he justify the bland announcement that M3 targets no longer matter when, in the name of pursuing M3 targets, so many companies have been made bankrupt, so many public services have been cut, and so many jobs have been lost?

Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the money supply is growing too quickly, or too slowly?

Mr. Hattersley

It was growing about 10 per cent. faster than the Chancellor intended.

Mr. Maples

Answer the question.

Mr. Hattersley

I will. Within the parameters of the Chancellor's policy, it was growing far too quickly. Our intention is, was and will be in government to run an economic policy which, while paying proper respect to monetary control, does not believe, as the Chancellor once believed, that monetary control is all that matters. That was the Chancellor's error.

The Chancellor believes that his error has been absolved by the announcement that inflation will be controlled by an over-valued pound, supported by high interest rates. That policy is bound to cause long-term damage to the economy. What is more, the Government know that it will cause long-term damage to the economy, but they pursue such a policy wilfully and knowingly in the hope of snatching a brief political advantage. That brief political advantage is the pretence of economic recovery. The Government now have a wholly short-term perspective. Just as the world began for the Chancellor only in 1983, for this Government the world will end on polling day at the next general election. Even before that date, all that matters to the Government—

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman is worried.

Mr. Hattersley

I repeat what I said during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I am worried, but not about the Tory party. I am worried about the economy and the unemployed.

Even before the general election, all that matters to the Government when they determine policy is the voter whom they believe might be persuaded to rally to their cause. That is why, since the Government were elected and in terms of this autumn statement, the unemployed have been written off.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John MacGregor)

That is not true.

Mr. Hattersley

If the Chief Secretary believes that I am wrong, he will correct me when he replies to the debate. I have no doubt that even on the Government's official figures—the massaged, manipulated and bogusly low figures—3 million men and women 'will be out of work on general election day.

Last Friday we rightfully welcomed the reduction in the November total of unemployed—seasonally adjusted, a reduction of 8,100. The document that announced the reduction stated that the underlying half-yearly trend was a reduction of 2,000 men and women on the unemployment register each month. That 2,000 reduction in unemployment each month is less than half the reduction of the register that is caused simply by entrants into the new special employers' schemes — schemes which in the past the Prime Minister derided as not real or proper jobs and as proposals not worthy of the then Government's intention.

If the underlying trend supported by the Government continues, unemployment will still be higher than 3 million in 1991, and we shall be back to the 1979 total of unemployment some time towards the end of the 21st century. Cynics in the Government will say that the unemployed do not matter and that their votes are lost already, but those who say that misunderstand the British people. It is now understood that a Government who made a reduction in unemployment their first priority could begin to put this country back to work. When it is convenient to do so, the Government admit that money spent on public sector capital is cost effective and a socially beneficial way to reduce unemployment.

Three months ago, at Question Time, the Prime Minister said, when I complained to her about how little was being done in the north of England, that more capital was being spent in the north than in any other region, as if that were a great achievement of the Government's policy. When there is a popular point to be made about public works, the Government cleave to it, just as during the debate on the autumn statement the Government were proud to make a wholly bogus boast about how much extra money was being put into housing capital investment. They make those boasts because they know that there is now a national consensus in favour of building houses, renovating old schools, replacing old hospitals, repairing roads and beginning to put Britain back to work.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that there was a Government who placed the reduction of unemployment as their top objective quite recently? That was the Government of which he was a distinguished ornament from 1974 to 1979. Regrettably, their record was that unemployment went up by 115 per cent.

Mr. Hattersley

That Government had a level of unemployment which at its highest, was more than 2 million less than it is today. They did not have the uncovenanted bonus of North sea oil, which should have been used to transform the nature and character of this country.

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is among the cynics about whom I have been complaining, who say that the unemployed do not matter. Some say that, but they are wrong. However, the optimists who pretend that the trend of 2,000 fewer people unemployed a month will improve are also wrong. The trend will not improve, because reducing unemployment is not the Government's greatest priority, nor their intention.

The prospects for the unemployed are revealed by the nature and content of the autumn statement. Whatever growth we enjoy next year will not be investment-led, but will be consumption-led. The increase in consumption by £6.4 billion will be greater than the total increase in the gross domestic product. Exports will grow next year by only 2 per cent., which is more slowly than the rate of growth in world trade. On the other hand, imports will rise by 6 per cent.—faster than the growth in world trade, and faster than domestic expansion.

The intended tax cuts will finance some of that extra consumption, but will result in creating jobs in foreign countries, not here in Great Britain. The result, we hypothesise, the Treasury hypothesises and the Chancellor hypothesised in his autumn statement—even though he seems to be shaking his head, or at least his jowls—will be a deterioration in our balance of payments, just at the time when oil surpluses, on which we have lent so heavily during the past six years, begin to decline. As the Chancellor does not recall the prognosis in his autumn statement, I shall remind him again. The prophecy is the deterioration in our balance of payments at the same time as the oil surplus on which we depend so heavily is beginning its rapid decline.

We should now be encouraging the renovation and revitalisation of manufacturing industry in anticipation of the day when the oil runs out. However, the prospect revealed by the autumn statement is quite the opposite. Soon—

Mr. Roger Freeman (Kettering)


Mr. Hattersley

Again, I shall give way at the end of my paragraph, which is quite long. Soon, it will be too late. The imports will be entrenched, the export market will be lost and the collapse of manufacturing industry will no longer be masked by oil revenue.

In that context, it is important to remind ourselves of the unanimous conclusion of the House of Lords investigation into our external economy, a report which the Chancellor derided and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry abused, and a report largely written by peers who have either infinite experience in industry or have served in Conservative Governments. The most distinguished contributor to the report is both an ex-Conservative Minister and a senior figure in industry and the City.

The report, about which the Chancellor laughs, says: After 1979 output of manufacturing industry fell and has not yet recovered to its previous levels… Much of the growth that has recently occurred in GDP is attributable to oil. Oil has become a major factor in Britain's balance of trade and in the growth of the economy as a whole. But for how much longer can this be relied on? The oil trade surplus will have almost certainly reached its peak this year. People worried about the prospects for oil contributions to our economy and prosperity must hardly have been able to believe their ears when they heard the Chancellor proclaim his oil policy. I confess that there was much conversation on the Opposition Front Bench, because none of us could believe that he had said it. I am sure he said that the output of oil, its extraction, was not a matter about which the Government had a view—it was a matter left wholly to the individual companies.

If the Chancellor wishes to recant those words, he will do so. Is he really saying, and are the Government really saying, that they have no depletion policy? That is simply nonsense. Are they saying that they have no conservation policy and no views about how much revenue they expect from oil next year? If we have a Government with no depletion policy, we have the only Government in the world who treat their national assets so lightly.

The Government should understand that all the oil revenues that they have received to date, every penny of them received last year, have been dissipated on the extra cost of unemployment incurred by the increase of 2 million under this Government. Those revenues should have been used to reinvigorate manufacturing industry and encourage new investment. Instead—

Mr. Freeman


Mr. Hattersley

I shall give way at the end of the paragraph. I might forget the hon. Gentleman, but somebody will remind me.

Instead, manufacturing industry has been driven into a decline. The Chancellor was right in one thing, if in nothing else. I shall remind him of the facts of manufacturing industry, arid I shall correct him on one of the sophistries by which he pretends he is offering these statistics. There have been four successive years when net investment in manufacturing industry has been negative. Total manufacturing investment is 20 per cent. lower than it was in 1979. Output is 6 per cent. lower than it was in 1979. The balance of manufactured trade, which was in surplus by £5 billion in 1978, is now in deficit to the tune of £4 billion. The Chancellor sets against all that the increase in manufacturing productivity.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman why. at has happened. It has happened by what is called the batting average effect. If we put out of production, by record numbers of bankruptcies, the least efficient firms, the overall level of productivity improves, just as the average of a cricket team is higher if only the first five batsmen are allowed to go to the wicket. Total output, however, like the total score of the entire innings, is lower than if the other companies had been allowed to make a contribution to the British economy. That is not a cause for congratulation. Rather, it demonstrates that more companies ought be doing business and contributing to the British economy.

Mr. Freeman

It is difficult to tell where one of the right hon. Gentleman's thoughts ends and another begins. He was dealing with manufacturing investment. Will he confirm that it is still the official policy of the Opposition to direct pension fund investment through a state investment bank into British public investment?

Mr. Hattersley

It is certainly the Opposition's policy to provide tax incentives and to repatriate institutional investment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would be feeling more secure today if he could exercise the upward pressure on sterling which such a process would bring about.

It is Labour party policy to create an industrial bank of the sort that has been successful in Germany, Japan, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. The Labour party would wish that some of the money brought back to this country—the Chancellor may have it either way, through tax incentives or the removal of tax privileges—should go to a national investment bank. Action of the type that I have just outlined would be hugely beneficial to the economy as a whole, and therefore to pensioners, about whom the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) is rightly worried.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has no idea when the oil will run out. Can he tell the House what will be the source of revenue to pay the Treasury bills when that day comes? The right hon. Gentleman has on previous occasions given a series of bland answers to that question. He once said that the economy would adjust to the new situation. He can mean only that the economy will learn to live with 3 million unemployed.

The right hon. Gentleman gave one answer to that question, and the Prime Minister gave another. The Prime Minister said that when oil revenues were no longer available the nation would be subsidised and would live partly off the interest obtained from foreign investments made during the years — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Conservative Members are not enthusiastic about what I have said. They are proud of creating a remittance man's economy, waiting for the cheques to come in from Tokyo and Frankfurt. I would not enjoy that position. A remittance man's economy would be low on employment, low on manufacturing and technology and, I believe, low on self-respect. Conservative Members will have to make up their own minds about that.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

That is not the case in Japan. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain his remark?

Mr. Hattersley

The idea that Japan is wilfully eroding its manufacturing base is a fantastic proposition, but that is the long-term prospect of conservatism.

Some comment should be made on the short-term prospects of that policy, which has made the country dependent on oil revenues. We are developing the vulnerability of a single-commodity economy. I know the figure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quoted as oil's contribution to our economy. I am aware of the size of that contribution, but I am worried about our dependence on it and our vulnerability to changes in the levels of its contribution.

If there is no vulnerability, why have there been so many alarms and excursions during the past three days? If we are not vulnerable to the slightest change in oil price, why does the Chancellor have to authorise intervention in the exchange markets, and why does the Prime Minister have to make her stern pronouncements? If we are not vulnerable to oil price changes, why did the Prime Minister say last night, and the Chancellor repeat today, that, despite the consequences, high interest rates must be maintained as this is not the appropriate time to change?

There is turbulence in the oil markets at the moment, and we are wholly vulnerable to it. Last night, the Prime Minister spoke as if our perilous reliance on oil revenues was not her fault. It clearly is. She spoke also as if the present level of interest rates was a temporary necessity. Unfortunately, it is a permanent feature of Conservative economic policy. Interest rates rose to 14 per cent. in January, and have been at least 11 per cent. since then.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

What was the Labour's Government's top rate?

Mr. Budgen

What would the right hon. Gentleman have done?

Mr. Hattersley

I would not have talked the pound down in the way that the Chancellor did in January.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)


Mr. Hattersley

Now that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) has recovered his manners, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Dorrell

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not talk down the pound, yet five minutes ago he was advocating precisely that course of action—a lower level for sterling.

Mr. Hattersley

There is a considerable difference between believing that we have lost competitiveness and blundering around as the Chancellor did in January and allowing the pound to reach dollar parity. It is inconsistent to say that the pound should be helping exports and not imports, and then to cause the two months of confusion which resulted in the crisis of 14 February 1985.

The Government hope that the collapse of manufacturing industry, the continued high level of unemployment, the increase in interest rates, and interest rates held at their intolerably high level, which the Prime Minister says damages mortgage holders as well as companies, can be forgotten during a period of increased consumption flanked by the tax cuts on which they are determined.

The Government believe that they can buy the British people and their votes by making temporary tax cuts. They are wrong. I do not believe that the British people want tax cuts when they involve penalties in jobs, public services and help for the worse off. The public know that tax cuts help only part of the population. Tax cuts will provide no benefit for the unemployed or for those families who are obliged to finance them. Likewise, they will not benefit those who receive lower child benefit, lower housing benefit and worse public services.

I have no doubt that tax cuts will come, but when they do they will be unsustainable. Whether the Chancellor cares to admit it or not, the cuts are to be financed by the proceeds from asset sales. A contribution to Government revenue of £4.7 billion from asset sales must, by simple arithmetical necessity, be the place from which the tax cuts come. There is no possible alternative to that, unless the Chancellor has hypothecated his £4.7 billion for a totally different purpose. He has not, and tax cuts are supposed to be the electoral trump card, a frenzied scramble to keep the twice-made but constantly broken tax cut promise.

The Government would gladly sacrifice long-term national interest to achieve that end. They would gladly divide the nation, rewarding some while sacrificing others. They are willing to sacrifice long-term interests, to divide the nation, to help the better off and to penalise the poor. They are unwilling to invest in new jobs which could begin to put the country back to work. That is typical of the Government's approach. It typifies the discredited Chancellor and, above all, an attitude to politics——

Sir William Clark

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

Certainly not—which is exemplified by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I can say nothing worse about the Government than that they are not fit to be in office.

5.19 pm
Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

First, I express appreciation to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his kind words about the report of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service. It should be recognised that it is probably not in the nature of an all-party Select Committee on any subject to produce a report that states that everything that the Government of the day are doing is marvellous. It is natural that most Select Committee reports tend to be critical and to be given headline reports the day after their publication. However, it is important to appreciate that many recommendations— certainly those that the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service have made — have been implemented by the Government after a comparatively short time.

I believe that the Select Committee has an important, constructive and critical role to play. It must reflect the views of the official Opposition and perhaps those of the alliance, as it is an all-party Committee. I am bound to say in passing that the alliance's amendment appears to be based on an inaccurate and speculative preview of what the Select Committee's report would say rather than on what it actually states. It is rather unfair of the alliance to quote some of the Committee's recommendations while not quoting its views on subjects such as the EMS, on which it came to an opposite view.

I accept that the autumn statement is not a sneak preview of what will appear in the Budget. In the past—this was the view taken by my right hon. Friend's predecessor—it provided the House with a framework and expressed the Government's view of what would be in the Budget when duly presented. For that reason we regret that figures which were previously presented in the statement—for example, updated figures on revenue and fiscal adjustment—have not been provided.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that he believes that last January's sterling crisis was precipitated by the publication of the so-called fiscal adjustment. The Select Committee's view is that the removal of the adjustment. coupled with the indication in the Gracious Speech of future income tax reductions, has not decreased speculation. There are fewer data on which to work, and to that extent speculation is likely to be wilder than otherwise.

Whether or not we have a fiscal adjustment, the Government last year tended to put great weight upon it, which tended to increase speculation. It was Treasury Ministers' statements on fiscal adjustment last year which caused the problem. This year we have references in the Gracious Speech to reductions in income tax. It could reasonably be said that that is a sneak preview of what is likely to appear in the Budget and that speculative pressures have increased as a result. Had we had the figures for which the Select Committee asked. arid had they been in our possession over the past few days, with all the qualifications that are necessary, I doubt very much whether they would have increased the speculative pressure which has existed in markets during the past week or so. As my right hon. Friend said, we must agree to disagree on that, but it is important that the House should have as much information as it can when facts are available on which to form a judgment so that right hon. and hon. Members can express a view before the Chancellor of the Exchequer produces his Budget. Meanwhile, it would be wise if Treasury Ministers did not express views on tax cuts or anything else of that nature.

I believe that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has misunderstood profoundly what is happening. Alternatively, he thinks that it is better for him to present his case in the way he did. The Opposition amendment states that the Government's policy is based on the sale of national assets for the primary purpose of raising revenue to provide temporary finance for cuts in income tax. The Select Committee has taken the view consistently that the proceeds of asset sales should not be treated as enabling a reduction in public expenditure and thus in the public sector borrowing requirement. The Government are wrong to take that view. The Committee's view is that it is a mistake to regard the proceeds of asset sales as revenue. The Committee has said throughout that the proceeds should be regarded as a means of financing the PSBR. I still believe profoundly that that is so.

If that is so, the position is similar to a sale of gilts. It is not precisely the same, but it is a means of financing the PSBR. I note that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is nodding; he may not nod in a moment. If my proposition is accepted, the Government have no more scope for cutting taxes next year than they would have if they were to borrow the money and finance the borrowing by the sale of gilts.

It is wrong to suppose that the proceeds of asset sales provide a miraculous way in which tax cuts can be financed and that the Chancellor's scope for doing so is greater than it would otherwise be. The wording of the amendment appears to be grossly misleading. It seems that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has come to the conclusion that he has found a convenient catch phrase with which to cast doubt on tax cuts that can be justified on an entirely different basis. The economic effect of the sale of assets is not the same as a reduction in public expenditure programmes. I hope that we shall not hear so much of the argument that has been advanced by the right hon. Gentleman.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to paragraph 19 of the Select Committee's report, which appears in bold type. In this paragraph the Committee looks into the abandonment of M3 as an indicator of monetary policy. When the Government first came into office, the be-all and end-all of their policy was the control of M3. The medium-term financial strategy was to be predominant, and it was argued that the exchange rate could look after itself. Attention is drawn to that in paragraph 17 of the Select Committee's report, and paragraph 18 refers to the change which has taken place to exchange rate policy. The Committee concludes: All this represents a major change from the economic policy as it was originally explained to us when the present Government took office. In particular, a policy which centred upon holding the money supply to some specified target rate of growth seems to have shifted towards concentrating upon the exchange rate. We think it would be helpful if the Government were prepared to recognise this explicitly. There is a problem because we have moved from a policy which was dogmatic in its approach to one where it is difficult precisely to identify its constituent parts. The Select Committee observes that it is difficult to ascertain the weight which is to be given to the effect on inflation of a high exchange rate as against the virtues which are to be found in lower interest rates.

We still have not had—we did not have it from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon—a real exposition of the Government's policy. My right hon. Friend still insists that there is no exchange rate target, range or objective, and that it is merely taken into account in assessing monetary conditions. I do not believe that that is the general impression which common sense or commentary otherwise would lead one to believe. My right hon. Friend must recognise that there is now an interest rate-exchange rate policy. He has then to explain to the House precisely what that involves. It is certainly not the same as the policy which was pursued originally when the Government took office.

The balance between monetary and fiscal policy is the so-called fiscal-monetary mix. I am somewhat worried about monetary policy. When the previous Conservative Government were in office, I believed that the control of the money supply was important. I never believed that it was all important, and certainly not in the over-simplified versions of monetarism which one heard expounded. I still believe that control of the money supply is important and I have a slightly worrying sense of déjà vu, a sense of having been here before.

I believe that a programme entitled "The Writing on the Wall" has been receiving much attention recently. I have not seen it but I gather that it is directed to earlier periods. I can recall making speeches in which I stressed how important it was to control M1 and M3. At a later stage I made speeches in which I explained that M3 was behaving oddly because of structural changes in the economy. We had introduced a policy of competition and credit control and the consequence was that M3 figures were behaving strangely. My Treasury colleagues and I chose to under-emphasise M3 and to place greater emphasis on M1. It is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu. We heard originally that M3 was all-important and now it is M1 which is important. I recall that M1 was invented 10 or 12 years ago. M3 is not behaving well because of the structural changes that are taking place.

At that time it was important to distinguish between the money supply figures, the money supply and aggregate demand. In fact, the money supply figures were misbehaving and the money supply was going up, though most of it was siphoned off into the property market, so that aggregate demand was not greatly affected.

As I say, most of it went into the property market, and that caused the huge inflation in property prices. I am worried—given that at present we do not have a reliable indicator of what is happening to the money supply—lest what is happening to the stock market is somewhat similar, and there has been a substantial increase in stock market prices.

It is much easier to unwind money from the stock market than from the property market. Stock exchange investors have a higher propensity to consume than do property speculators, who at the end of the day run out and buy five or six Rolls-Royces. That is why, on the money side, I find things worrying.

The fiscal situation is also worrying. There has been talk lately of the Government adopting a policy of Reaganomics—a tight monetarist policy and a slacker fiscal policy—and in that context one must look at the passage in the report to which I referred my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in my intervention in his speech.

In the debate on the Queen's Speech, I expressed the view that there was a degree of reflation implicit in what was happening. The Chancellor seems at this stage not to have a fiscal stance other than what was announced in the last budget and what will be announced in the next. Meanwhile, there is no change. Nevertheless, as the Select Committee points out, there has been a substantial increase in public programme expenditure since the time of the budget. If that is not offset by a reduction in the PSBR at the next budget, I believe that there will be a relaxation of fiscal stance. The pressures making for that—unless the Chancellor takes the action which I suggested —mean that there has been a general change in that the planned public expenditure has gone up since the last budget.

There is some danger that the Government, in doing the right thing or at any rate in recognising reality, do not make the best case that they could make. For a long time we went on insisting that public expenditure should be cut. It was not—even now the Chancellor is not proposing to cut it but merely to maintain it—with the result that the Opposition were successful in suggesting that there had been cuts in the National Health Service, in the roads programme and all over the place, although such cuts were not taking place.

The policy that is now being pursued by the Government—although I have expressed concern about it not being clearly explained and have said that some of the variables involved seemed to be moving in a slightly dangerous direction—coupled with the overall position, means that we are managing to secure our inflation objectives and a reasonable rate of economic growth. The official forecast in the autumn statement is for a reasonable, by historic standards, rate of economic growth.

We should not be too afraid to say that that should lead to a reduction in unemployment—although not too fast a reduction — because the unemployment that has has been a once-for-all shakeout of people who were, in a sense, in non-jobs. It will be difficult to generate new jobs for them.

Despite all the misgivings that I have expressed, I believe that the Government's basic line at present is right in terms of reducing unemployment. It is bound to be a slow process, and if the policy were expounded more clearly there would be greater acceptance of what is happening, and less speculation, bearing in mind the fact that uncertainty about what the Government are doing causes problems.

5.34 pm
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

It is always a pleasure to speak after the right hon. immediately thank him and his Committee for the valuable Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) because one can contribution that they make to our debates by producing their reports quickly and thoroughly and by including in the appendices a number of points which help us in our consideration of these matters.

It is a pity that the Chancellor has withdrawn the assessment he made about what was possible in terms of taxation, because it was a move towards the Armstrong recommendation that one could look at revenue and expenditure in the same context and be able to make sensible decisions about what hon. Members wished to see achieved. Although it did not go as far as that, it was a move in that direction and I deplore its removal from the autumn statement.

The most important aspect of the report is contained in paragraph 19 — we must remember the restrained language that is used by every Select Committee—which says: All this represents a major change from the economic policy as it was originally explained to us when the present Government took office. In particular, a policy which centred upon holding the money supply to some specified target rate of growth seems to have shifted towards concentrating upon the exchange rate. We think it would be helpful if the Government were prepared to recognise this explicitly". The Committee asked the Government openly to acknowledge the fundamental change from a monetarist policy to an exchange rate policy. I wish the Government would do that. The confession of error is good for the soul, though it may not be quite so beneficial to the theme of political consistency.

I find an agreeable coincidence here in that this is taking place at a time when Professor Minford has urged that monetary considerations dictate a reduction in interest rates. Professor Minford was the academic who came immediately to the mind of the Prime Minister when she was asked in the House which economist she respected most. The danger in academic life, as Sam Brittan reminded us the other day, is to tie oneself too closely to the economic actions of any Government. I am sure that that view will be endorsed by many who now regret that they ever took the Prime Minister's shilling.

Dominating the discussion of the autumn statement are the three factors of oil prices, exchange rates and interest rates and the way in which they affect unemployment and growth in the economy. The major objective of the Government is the preservation of the one success that they can claim — the reduction of inflation. That is an objective that any Government can achieve if they forgo the true goal of economic policy, which should be the predominant, overriding and major task of improving the prosperity of the nation.

In pursuit of their single and limited aim of keeping down inflation, the prime determinant of their economic policy is the exchange rate. It follows that the defence of the pound is now as important as at any time in the past and that the consequences are likely to be as ill-starred as on those previous occasions.

The problem is—as it always has been—that the Government listen more to the City than to manufacturing industry. Sir Winston Churchill once said that finance should be less proud and Industry more heeded From the time of his ringing declaration to the demands that we now hear from manufacturing industry that their needs are being neglected, the problem in Britain has remained. The City of London is near, is wealthy, has friends in Whitehall and Westminster, knows which doors on which to knock and speaks the same language. On the other hand, manufacturing industry is distant, is widely dispersed and speaks with different voices that are seldom heard in all their full regional diversity in the unaccustomed corridors of Government activity.

As a result, we have a high pound, freedom from exchange control and the sale of Government assets at cheap prices, and the City chalks up yet more multimillionaires while manufacturing industry languishes. The gates of more factories are padlocked and more jobs are lost. In my constituency, more than one third of firms have closed their doors and skilled engineers, formerly the cream of industry, have seen the loss of 30 to 40 per cent. of their jobs.

The Manchester chamber of commerce has specified in detail what is happening in the real world. It is not a shakeout of non-jobs. They were genuine jobs. I must ask the right hon. Member for Worthing to understand that those were small to medium-sized firms producing medium-tech articles for the export and home markets. They have shut. The jobs have been lost. They will never return. If we had a boom now, they would not come back. That has been the greatest condemnation of the Government.

It might be thought that the Government are being neutral between different companies operating in Britain today, that the Government like success, and that if success is to be found in financial operations conducted by individuals rather than in industrial successes employing large numbers of our people, that has nothing to do with the Government. If we have financial success, that is OK. It might be thought that industrial success is OK but has nothing to do with the Government. I believe that it has to do with the Government. It is the Government's actions which make the one prosperous and the other bankrupt. It is the Government's actions which produce the high pound that make exports dear and imports cheap. It is the Government's actions which produce interest rates which, in real terms, are at the historically high levels which benefit the lenders and penalise those who borrow for investment. It is the Government's actions which result in wealth passing from industry to the City. It is the Government's actions which have produced the millions of unemployed people and the silent and bleak factories which disgrace my town.

The current price of oil is prompting fresh consideration here and elsewhere as to the basis of our economy which, at one time, was our ability to produce and sell our products but which has been distorted by the North sea economy.

I have a simple view about our attitude to oil prices. It is like that of the potato farmer. The potato farmer likes high prices. If we try to explain the sophisticated economic arguments for low potato prices, all he will do is feel for the assurance of his well-stuffed pocket. By all means let us have a depletion policy—it is shameful that we do not have one — to keep some of our wealth in the ground, but as we produce it let it be sold for the highest price we can obtain.

The effects of sales which lead to higher prices are the easiest things in the world to deal with. It is easy to spend wealth wisely rather than to squander it on consumer imports which can ruin our industry. We can arrange matters so that we have a higher level of industrial activity which will consume industrial raw materials and equipment for our manufacturing and employment industries. Such imports could result from a more sensible economic policy.

The saddest and most grievous waste of opportunity has come in the past few years. Since 1945, the major constraint in limiting growth—limiting the creation of wealth and prosperity — has been our balance of payments. For 35 years we have lived with that problem — frequently more of a nightmare than a problem. Suddenly, at a stroke, the ordeal disappeared. The policies of expansion which had been constrained by our payments deficit could have been revived in a new form, to use profitably that wealth which had arisen from the waters of the North sea. It is that waste, neglect and abuse of such a unique opportunity which ranks among the most woeful of our recent peacetime history.

One of the diversions of those of us who spend our waking days discussing economic and financial matters has been the argument about the nature of the anticipated tax handouts in the Budget. The expectation was that the main aim was the reduction of thresholds with the intention of reducing the poverty gap. We understood from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that was his chief aim.

Recently, we have discerned glimmers of expectation that the weight of tax relief is to be diverted to the reduction in the basic rate. Our Nigel would hardly be our Nigel if he did not intend to reduce the higher rate as well as the basic rate. What are the Chancellor of the Exchequer's real intentions? I am sure that he would regard a basic rate of 25 per cent. and a maximum higher rate of 50 per cent. as his great achievement. Even if I agreed with that kind of tax system, I should hardly regard it as the acme of economic achievement. The achievement must be and can only be the prosperity of the whole nation. It is to that that he should have turned his attention.

The solutions that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had in mind will not start the long road back to reality. He is unlikely to be able to have his 25 per cent. and it would be nonsense to do so. He might try to reduce the basic rate by 2 per cent. to 28 per cent. and the higher rate to about 56 per cent., and claim some credit from his supporters. That will do nothing for the nation as a whole, and that should be his priority. The long road back to reality still lies before us and that task still remains.

5.45 pm
Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

It was interesting to listen to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I had hoped that he would be able to answer some of the questions that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked him. It was disappointing that the right hon. Gentleman did not answer one of the three major areas of questioning. I hope that when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) replies—I know him to be an honourable man who likes to have the full picture—he will respond to those questions. They are crucial. It is not sufficient for Labour Weekly to talk about a great rip-off and £62 million raised from asset sales without at least telling its own followers what their policy is. Once they have been told, perhaps the rest of us will know what the Labour party's policy on privatisation is.

I broadly support the Government's economic strategy. I work closely with business. I know that our manufacturing industry and the whole of the economy have no greater interest than the counter-inflation policy. An inflation rate of 3 per cent., or somewhere near, is a goal to which no industrialist in this country would object. He would enthusiastically support it.

Mr. Budgen

No, he would not.

Mr. Morris

Yes, he would. My hon. Friend is a lawyer, not an industrialist. I have a close relationship with industry, and I know that that is the view of the CBI and chambers of commerce.

Mr. Budgen

Yes, but they are not prepared to take the medicine needed to achieve it.

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the problem. We see evidence of genuine growth in the economy. If my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury were to take a trip to the east midlands, he would see a real increase in employment. That has not occurred simply in the past three months. It probably goes back six or seven months. Last Friday, I had an opportunity to spend time in the Northampton jobcentre. It is interesting to see that we are making progress with part-time employment. It is apparently derided by the Opposition, although my female part-time employees want such jobs. They help the family budget and they are delighted to have them.

Progress is also being made in respect of the long-term unemployed in Northampton. That is crucial. As hon. Members are aware, it is often the east midlands with its industrial base that is the precursor of progress in the rest of the midlands and forward to the north.

There is some evidence after six or seven months of some progress in reducing unemployment, but I have one or two anxieties. The first relates to training. It is extremely worrying that we fall abysmally behind relevant training levels in Germany, France and United States.

Hon. Members will have read the leading article in a newspaper about the Coopers and Lybrand report, which not only criticised this country's level of training, but said that too many manufacturers and employers were not aware that this country falls lamentably behind its competitors. I must tell my right hon. Friends that, if we are to remain competitive and become even more competitive, we must tackle that problem before we can move forward.

I make no apology for reiterating the problems with exports. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor rightly said that there was a 14 per cent. increase in manufactured exports during the past 12 months, and my hon. Friend the Minister was wise to criticise the over-exaggeration in the House of Lords report. However, my right hon. Friends should take note of the 36th report of the Public Accounts Committee. Indeed, it is nice to see the Chairman of that Committee sitting on the Opposition Benches today. That report delved with some depth into the issues. It took evidence from the Northern Engineering Industries and other interested parties. It showed clearly that the Treasury's internal inquiry—the so-called Byatt report—which was challenged by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Export Credits Guarantee Department, was a superficial report. However, it raised one real point—that manufacturing industry should demonstrate to all taxpayers that the help given to it to obtain exports has a beneficial affect on employment in the United Kingdom.

I draw the attention of my right hon. Friends to paragraphs 44(g) and 44(h) of the Select Committee report. They read: We accept that UK exporters should not be disadvantaged on soft credit for exports. It continued: though the UK's capital goods exporters should not be undermined as regards their competitiveness. I welcome the move on the aid and trade provision. However, I do not believe that the budget of £60 million contained in the autumn statement is adequate. The Minister may ask me where the additional money should be found. I suggest that it is not before time that the Department of Trade and Industry considered a transfer of money from internal United Kingdom orientated support to external export support . Evidence is coming in thick and fast that, in terms of job production, the beneficial effect on manufacturing—especially in the midlands and the north—comes from our major exporters. I would like the Government to do something to support them.

There is, of course, the problem of interest rates. Many of my hon. Friends are not bankers and revolt against a policy of high interest rates. I work alongside industry and I recognise that for years industrialists have asked for stability in exchange rates. In a sense, before the current oil position, there was a strategy to achieve stability in the exchange rate at about $1.50 to the pound, with a declining pound-deutschmark rate. In many ways, the pound-deutschmark rate is the key element to the future success of British exports.

The current position in the oil industry causes some concern. If the price reduction means a sterling decline pari passu with the rate at which oil prices decline, that could have a double benefit for this country. First, sterling would come back to a level that many manufacturers believe would make them more competitive, and, secondly, it would increase the world economy.

If oil prices decline and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor decides to keep the sterling exchange rate at about $1.50, he must take account of the warning signals that Britain may end up with the worst of all worlds. I understand that the Treasury has said today that it envisages the effect of the present decline as broadly neutral on inflation because the fall in sterling is cancelled by lower oil prices—and thereby we obtain growth in the world economy. If that is the position, we can live with it.

It has been suggested that the oil will run out and that we should have a depletion policy. There is no better man to handle the oil position than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. He has been the only Secretary of State for Energy—and I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell)—who has listened seriously to the arguments from the oil companies about what would achieve maximum oil production from the North sea. He moved, on the second occasion that he was asked to do so, on that proposition.

The Budget that introduced the many changes to the tax regime for North sea oil has been highly successful. Opposition spokesmen suggest that North sea oil is about to run out and that there should be a depletion policy and a consolation policy. I wonder why they have learnt nothing during the past 10 years. North sea oil and gas enterprises have provided major employment in some of the most hard-pressed areas of Britain. They have provided the major technical advances that have enabled a number of our industries to be in the forefront in their areas. Above all, they have sustained the unemployed through a difficult period while we begin to re-enter what I hope will be opportunities for virtually full employment— [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) can laugh if he wishes. I recognise the problems of Grimsby. I invite him to come to Northampton to look at what is happening in the east midlands, where things are turning round. He will then be a little more cheerful.

5.57 pm
Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton,South)

I hope that the Government note carefully the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) about the importance of training, and especially skill training, and support for exports. I am sure that his anxiety in that area and his proposals to alleviate the problems will be echoed throughout wide sections of British industry and on both sides of the House.

I was hoping for an explanation of the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the inflation rate policy that he described. He appeared to suggest that he would pay any price for a low level of inflation. I fear that that is where the Government have already gone wrong. It is no use looking only at one dial on the dashboard. thereby letting the other dials become out of tune. It would be most unfortunate if the Government continued on that course.

I am also pleased to speak after the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) because I agreed with most of his comments. Indeed, his Select Committee's report has been of considerable help to the debate both in this House and in the country. His remarks about the money supply position rang a loud bell with me. We have always advocated a firm monetary policy. His references to the early 1970s—to competition, to credit control, and to what happened then—awaken fears that matters may be going awry in a way that the whole country may regret in due course.

I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman and the Select Committee in their strictures of the Government for not producing the revenue forecasts and for not providing an estimate of the fiscal adjustments. Let the House be clear why that is the case. It is straightforward politics, not for the reasons which the Chancellor gave. If he can cut taxes in his Budget, he has decided that he wishes to pull them like a rabbit out of the hat, not have them discounted by being publicised beforehand, despite references to them in the Queen's Speech. He also clearly wants, as he would put it, to kill speculation.

But another term for speculation is open debate about the Government's economic strategy and whether cutting the level of income tax is the appropriate thing to do at present. We would have a much more intelligent debate in the House and the country if those figures were available and if criticisms and support of the Government's economic policy and proposals to cut income tax were made with the figures available rather than in the dark as we are doing as a result of those figures not having been put in the autumn statement.

Mr. David Howell

I admire, with the hon. Gentleman, the work of the Select Committee and I have listened to a good many criticisms of the absence of the figures. But I cannot understand what he is asking for if, understandably, no fiscal judgment has been reached in official sources with the Government's stamp on it. There may well be guesses in the Treasury and the hon. Gentleman may have guesses, but why does he seek an official revenue projection when no such thing exists and when the events of the last few days show how silly it would be to put any firm figures on the situation?

Mr. Wrigglesworth

It is rather curious that it has been possible for the Treasury to make estimates in the past but not now. The circumstances are no different from those existing in the past and it would be helpful for the Treasury and the Government, with all the resources that they have at their disposal, to make an estimate so that the debate before the Budget can take place in the light of those figures. We have figures from the national institute and various other bodies, stockbrokers and other economic forecasters of what they think the fiscal adjustment may be. Those are revised in the light of economic circumstances. The view of the Select Committee, which I support, is that the autumn statement should help to provide us with a "green Budget" so that there can be an intelligent debate about the strategy to be adopted come the spring when the final judgments have to be made. That is an intelligent way in which to conduct our business in the House and to conduct the debate in the country.

Central to the autumn statement is the judgment whether the Government have changed their economic strategy and whether the statement implies that there has been a move towards an expansion of the economy. The Chancellor has stoutly maintained that the statement and his Mansion house speech which preceded it do not imply any easing of the Government's strategy. In evidence to the Select Committee, the Government's chief economic adviser said that there is no conscious easing of fiscal policy and nor has there been any significant easing of monetary policy. Later, he went on to point to the continuing downward pressure on the PSBR as a percentage of GDP. The Chancellor himself pointed with pride to the lowest borrowing requirement in relation to our national income since 1971.

But as the Select Committee has helpfully pointed out, as have other commentators, the additional proceeds of some £2.5 billion from asset sales, together with the allocation of part of the 1986–87 reserve next year to departmental programmes, means that an additional £4 billion has been added to spending programmes since the 1985 Budget. Indeed, looked at since the January spending White Paper, the picture is even more dramatic. The change in spending programmes is up by £4.9 billion from £139 billion in the 1985 White Paper, excluding special asset sales, to £143.9 billion in the autumn statement, an increase of some 3.5 per cent. That is a pretty substantial increase and means that under the Government the planning total has risen by around 9 per cent. which clearly shows a change of strategy.

The asset sales and the raid on the contingency reserve both expand demand. That is in contrast to what the Chancellor said in his 1984 Budget speech when he pointed out that the higher level of asset sales which the Government were planning as the privatisation programme gathers pace is a further reason for reducing the PSBR significantly in the coming year. He said that asset sales reduced the Government's need to borrow, but that their effect on interest rates may be less than the effect of most other reductions in Government spending programmes. That was when asset sales were increased from £1 billion to £2 billion, not by their existing substantial amounts, and there is no similar coyness from the Chancellor this year and no intention to reduce the PSBR.

Therefore, the possibility is that actual spending may overrun the remaining contingency reserve for next year, pushing the PSBR up from £7.5 billion to around £9 billion or £10 billion. When asset sales are added the Government will run down their capital or increase debt by between £13 billion to £14.5 billion next year to produce a true borrowing ratio similar to that of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in 1983.

What is the Government's scope for tax cuts? The Government prefer not to have open debate, as I said earlier, because of the weakness of their stance, hence the decision not to include the revenue forecasts and give a clue as to the fiscal adjustment. But the oil revenue forecast in the autumn statement is based on a nine-month forward price of oil of $26 and on the assumption that the exchange rate will not change much from its average level since March. In the light of recent events, both those predictions could look over-optimistic. The weakening in sterling oil prices through the rising pound has already knocked £1.5 billion off prospective North sea oil tax receipts, and that will be counted, as sterling falls, at the rate of approximately £150 million for each 1 per cent. depreciation in the currency. However, as the dollar falls in the oil price it could knock £500 million off oil revenue. That suggests that if the oil price falls below the forecast suggested by the Government's chief economic adviser, the Chancellor's scope for action on cutting taxes will be even more severely limited.

It is clear from the Queen's Speech, as has been said earlier, that the Government's intention is to have a consumer rather than an investment boom. The Treasury forecast for growth is 3 per cent. in 1986. That is higher than the weighted average of forecasts of various institutes that I mentioned earlier which is some 2 per cent. The Treasury forecast is 4 per cent. growth in consumer expenditure and if tax is cut by only 2p in the pound, that assumes an increase of real pre-tax earnings of more than 3 per cent., double the average for the 1980s. That is consistent with a high rate of growth in average earnings and falling inflation. It suggests that the Government are clearly hoping to ride into the election on the back of improved living standards for those in work.

In contrast, the investment position is much worse. The London Business School predicts an increase of only 1 per cent. next year, compared with the Treasury forecast of 3.5 per cent. The Chancellor has admitted that the bulk of the rise in investment in 1986 is expected to be in the private sector. That figure will be well down on the 7 to 8 per cent. likely to be achieved in 1985, which was boosted by the boom in anticipation of the ending of capital allowances, to which industry is clearly looking forward and is getting its investment out of the way in order to obtain those allowances before they end.

Export growth will slow down markedly and a number of forecasters are predicting current account deficits after 1987 despite the substantial contribution being made by North sea oil. Phillips arid Drew predicted a £1.5 billion budget deficit, but with an alarming increase in non-oil deficit to £16 billion. That is the price that will be paid by industry for the Chancellor's pre-election consumer boom.

The Chancellor has admitted that despite an increase in capital spending in the public sector, the mix between capital and current spending is much as before. That may seem surprising, given the exaggerated reports in some of the newspapers and the media when the autumn statement was published. The extra £500 million spent on council housing, hospitals and road building appeared to be quite substantial. That inspired leak at the time of the publication of the statement suggested that between 40,000 and 70,000 jobs could be created, at around £10,000 per job.

That remarkable conversion to the cost-effective virtues of capital spending is a surprise. Nevertheless, it is to be welcomed. It was only in December 1984 that the Prime Minister was condemning such proposals for investment in the infrastructure as not being cost-effective. The truth is that the shift from capital spending to current spending is still dramatic, and in our view there should be a further switch towards capital spending.

It has been estimated that the Chancellor's £2 billion spent on public sector capital spending will create 175,000 jobs. What is the actual position? Simulations in the report of the Select Committee on Treasury and Civil Service show that the equivalent of 2p in tax cuts would create 112,000 jobs on the London Business school model in four years, compared with 159,000 with increased Government spending. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research is more favourable to Government spending—199,000 jobs compared with 35,000. The parliamentary unit at Warwick university suggests, in the Select Committee report, that the Treasury model would also give a better outcome for public spending than for tax cuts.

The balance of advantage is clear. The Chancellor would do better to try a combination of a £1 billion targeted increase in capital spending and a 1 per cent. cut in the employers' national insurance contribution, which would directly help industrial competitiveness and increase the number of jobs created.

It seems that there is a fundamental incoherence at the heart of the Chancellor's economic policy. The medium-term financial strategy is clearly in shreds. We are left adrift with no compass to navigate between the financial rocks. If sterling M3 is no longer the overriding target of monetary policy and just one of a number of intermediate targets, what lies behind the Chancellor's monetary calculations? If there is no relationship between broad money and PSBR, what is the framework for the Chancellor's budgetary calculations?

There is no exchange rate target, only a suggestion that interest rates are set to bear down on inflation and hold the pound to around the average of the past two and half years—about 81 on the basket of currencies. That has now been blown off course. The Chancellor is operating with no framework and running the risk of the crisis which gave rise to the over-reactions of the market earlier in the year. That could happen again as long as we are unclear what direction he is going in, what indicators he is looking at and the framework within which he is operating.

The recent events in the oil markets have inevitably drawn attention to the fact that we are all unclear as to what the Government's strategy is. Oil spot prices for North sea Brent crude on the European markets currently range between $21 and $24. There has been intervention on the foreign exchange markets and the pound has recovered to $1.43, with the effective exchange rate up to 78.6 arid the pound-deutschmark rate at 3.61. The House will recognise that that is not a very stable situation. There is the possibility of a fall to $20 in the oil price and the risk of a precipitate fall below that. In our view, the Government must steer to avoid two dangers—first, the collapse of the oil price and, secondly, a free fall in the currency rapidly down towards parity.

In the past few months, industry has been buffeted by currency instability with the pound falling from $1.40 to $1.03, rising again to just above $1.50 and falling back to $1.41. Some of that instability is due to the market's perception of sterling as a petro-currency. Much of it is due to the Government's lack of strategy to deal with the problem. The effect of the oil price fall on revenues its not the most important issue, although it will pre-empt the Chancellor's scope for tax cuts. The Prime Minister is right not to put tax cuts before wider economic considerations. The danger is not that the scope for cuts in taxation and interest rates has been ruled out, but that the Government will launch another panic over-reaction and push interest rates up to prop up the exchange rate.

In our view, the Chancellor should use the opportunity to enter the European monetary system at a competitive rate. It was most encouraging to read the comments of the president of the Bundesbank when on 30 November in The Times he said that he would welcome Britain's entry into the exchange rate mechanism but that we should not enter at the "wrong" rate. He hinted at a realignment involving a further mark rise. Another possibility, which almost certainly would be necessary, is for the pound to enter in the wider 6 per cent. band.

Clearly, the movement in the market provides the opportunity for the Chancellor to reconsider his stance on full membership of the European monetary system and take the advice given to him by his chief economic adviser, the CBI and the Governor of the Bank of England, who all suggested earlier in the year that it would benefit British industry and the economy if the Government decided to go in.

Even if the Treasury's view is that the overall impact on the economy of the changes in oil prices is broadly neutral, the reality is that that neutrality is a roller coaster of upward lurches alternating with downward plunges. Obviously, OPEC will continue to exert a major influence over the price of our oil and therefore our exchange rate position. The only way in which the Government will be able to withstand the pressure and obtain greater stability is by international co-operation on the exchange rate and oil prices. We urge the Government to work in cooperation with the European countries through the exchange rate mechanism in the European monetary system and with the OPEC countries in a way that the Government have not been prepared to do in the past, in order to try to get greater stability than we have had or which we shall have in the short-term future, in oil prices.

I hope that the Government will change the mix of their fiscal policy in the Budget in the forthcoming year. As I said earlier, all the current prospects are that the Government will, if they can, concentrate on cuts in income tax. We believe that a mix which includes investment in the infrastructure and cutting employers' national insurance contributions, and which acts directly to get the long-term unemployed and the less well-off back to work and on higher incomes, would be of greater benefit to the economy than the strategy pursued by the Government.

At the present time the Government's inflation strategy is being threatened by the higher pay settlements in the private sector. The other aspect that the Government have allowed to go by the board and to which they have simply paid lip service is any attempt to have incomes matching increases in productivity in a way that would stop inflation feeding on increases in pay. Such increases are simply not justified by the levels of productivity in British industry, although they are rising.

If the Government are to succeed in getting unemployment down, they will have to follow that strategy. They cannot get interest rates down unless they are prepared to allow the pound to come down and then to enter the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system, in order to get greater stability, which would be welcomed by British industry and would provide extra export markets and extra growth at home. That would bring many more jobs to the country and help to reduce the unemployment figures, which the whole House, including all my hon. Friends, want to see in the very near future.

6.20 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth), have mentioned the oil market, the speculation, mainly in oil futures, and the extreme volatility of oil prices.

My right hon. Friends are right not to be too exercised by what has been occurring in oil markets. We are seeing the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries at last beginning to face reality. It is having to face the long descent from politically rigged oil prices. It is facing a world in which there will be less demand for energy in relation to output growth, and in which oil prices will be soft for many years to come. The seeds of the problem were planted in the attempt to keep oil prices too high in the early 1980s.

There is no need for the British Government to consider production control. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that that was the last thing that the Government intend. I welcome that. I am sure that it would be unwise for the British Government to become tangled up again in an attempt to control production, and force world crude oil prices to political levels, at which they would not stay.

There is no danger of a collapse in crude oil prices, although we shall see terrific volatility. The reason is that in the last resort the Saudis' interest in shooting themselves in the foot, by vast increases in production, is a limited interest. I do not think that they will do it. The Soviets, whose oil production has been a substantial influence on oil markets, are in some difficulties over their oil production. There is evidence that they are cutting back their sales on world oil markets. There is also the fact, which people overlook, that for the first time in the past 12 months or so oil has begun to become cheaper in local currencies in Europe. Hitherto, it has been much more expensive even than it was at the height of the oil price increases in 1979. We are now beginning to see the benefits of cheaper oil in local currencies in the European economies working through into European demand.

Therefore, the prospect is not of collapse but of a steady downward movement in oil prices from the ridiculous and unsustainable heights of the past. It is wholly beneficial to the industrial economies, including the British economy. Lower oil prices bring substantial benefits. They are part of a worldwide trend to lower raw material prices. We should not stand in the way of that development.

The pattern of lower prices of raw materials, including energy fuels, brings me to inflation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear her view that at present it is important for us to maintain a policy of relatively high interest rates, with a base rate of 11.5 per cent.—not 12 per cent. as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) seemed to think, in an unfortunate and rather muddled speech. My right hon. Friend said that we need to maintain high interest rates to fight inflation, and we should not take any risks with inflation. There is no doubt that the struggle against inflation under the ministrations of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, combined with the Government's policies, has been going extremely well. Most people confidently look forward to inflation rates being considerably lower next year. My right hon. Friend's figure is 3.75 per cent. by the last quarter. Even that may be pessimistic. It might be considerably below that. The battle on that front is going well.

I suggest—indeed, I assert—to my right hon. Friends that the main influence on the rate of inflation here in the United Kingdom is the international influence. Of course, there are both domestic and international infuences, but it is on the international scene that the main influences are at work. They are powerful influences downwards. If we look at the staggering figures of international prices for commodities, we see that import prices have fallen by 10 per cent. since March, and that commodity prices are down 28 per cent. in sterling terms since February. Across the world, we see the pattern of raw material prices collapsing in on themselves— for example, in foodstuffs, where there are vast surpluses, ruining farmers. We have seen some of the ructions working through in the tin market, and there is a suggestion that they are working through into the rubber market. Across the world, the raw material scene is one of falling prices and weakening returns. The oil price is only part of that scene.

The danger is not inflation, but that disinflation may turn to deflation. There will be substantial benefits for the United kingdom on the inflation front, but one has to ask exactly what additional contribution the policy of high interest rates is making. Substantially lower inflation rates are anyway in prospect—and a very good thing too. It is hard to argue that among the many reasons for interest rates being high, the inflation reason is the main driving force. It is clear that there are much more powerful driving forces at work, which is a good thing.

Must we have a policy of high interest rates to hold the pound? Again, there is some ambiguity. After recent events, it is self-evident that the level of the pound in the short term will be settled by conditions in the oil markets, and not by fine tuning or adjustments in interest rates. There might be violent movements in the oil market—I do not think there will be — when any interest rate pattern that my right hon. Friends try to set would have little influence on the pound. We have seen the pound fall by 5 per cent. in three or four days, while the interest rate policy has been unchanged. Therefore, in a sense high interest rates have not worked in keeping the pound at a certain level.

Does that matter? It does not. Many people feel that we would be comfortable with a lower pound against the basket of currencies, possibly against the dollar as well. The rate against the basket is 77.9. There would be no difficulty for the economy if it were 75—if the deutschmark rate were lower than it is now, at 3.61, which is lower than it was a few days ago. Many people in industry, although with a little exaggeration, said that that was very much what they wanted. There would be no discomfort and a great deal of gain and enthusiasm if the rate were a little lower.

We have seen, first, that the policy of high interest rates does not determine inflation. This is settled by other forces. So is the proposition to keep the pound at an exchange rate of around 1.40 to 1.45 against the dollar and 3.60 to 3.70 against the deutschmark? Is that the purpose of high rates? Is that happening? There is doubt about whether the pound will keep to those rates. Even if it does, is it necessary? A lower exchange rate would be acceptable, provided there was reasonable stability. There is always a difficulty of enormous volatility for the Government. That is what is so unsettling. However, the economy could live perfectly well with a slightly lower dollar exchange rate, and very well with a lower exchange rate against the whole basket of currencies. Therefore, one has to conclude that interest rates are not decisive in terms of the exchange rate of the pound.

The Select Committee report, which was presented with his usual ability by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), expressed concern about competitiveness and the damage that is being done by high interest rates. However, the argument cuts against the Select Committee, too. Since it published its report, sterling has been devalued by 5 per cent. This shows that concern that is based upon the belief that a high interest rate policy is holding up the exchange rate, is based upon a substantial illusion.

Other arguments have been aired in the press about the need for a high interest rate structure. There is the argument that high interest rates are needed to maintain a tight monetary stance. Reference has already been made to the fact that Professor Minford says that the monetary stance is much too tight. Nobody, quite rightly, relies now upon the slightly absurd measure of sterling M3.

The new measure that has been put together that indicates the measure of the money supply—MO—is, according to Professor Minford, much too tight. He says that over a three-month period it has contracted and that this should be changed. It is difficult to challenge Professor Minford's view that if the worry is about the money supply, interest rates should stay as high as they are. He thinks that they should come down. That is a considerable argument.

Another argument that has been aired in the press is that interest rates are high because unit labour costs are too high. This cannot be denied. There has been a spasm of management feebleness of, I regret to say, the familiar kind. Substantial pay increases in key areas of our export industries and manufacturing have been conceded, and they will have the inevitable effect.

First, the recruitment of new people into jobs will be reduced. Secondly, de-manning will be accelerated. Thirdly, the export performance of some of these firms will be weakened. That is regrettable. Whether there is a connection between interest, rates and industry's feebleness to face up to pay settlements, I very much doubt.

When I meet industrialists, I ask them again and again why they do not put very much more emphasis in their pay negotiations upon capital as well as income, upon profit sharing, upon share options and possibly upon share distribution schemes. I ask them why much more emphasis throughout British industry is not placed upon capital as well as upon income. In today's conditions, I believe that that would begin to take the heat off some of the very crude demands for more pay. At present, people just do not understand any other way of securing their position than to seek higher incomes.

If there were to be such a change of attitude, the urgings of my right hon. Friends, which are economically correct— that more wage flexibility is needed, that people should accept lower wage rates in order to clear the market, and that then there would be many more jobs and possibly jobs for all who sought them—would be right. However, when my right hon. Friends make speeches of that kind other people say, "Oh, I know what they are saying. They are saying that workers should take a cut in wages." It should be no surprise, therefore, if that is the interpretation of the message, that it is not received with great enthusiasm.

The other half of the message, in which wage flexibility should never be separated from anything that the Government, whom I support, say, is that, although it must be the aim of policy to go for wage flexibility and labour market reform, we must also aim at spreading capital ownership. We must ensure that capital and capital resources compensate for the fact that in many cases wages which clear the market will be rather low.

If hon. Members asked me to give an example of that, I should have to point to the vast growth in part-time work. Millions of people are prepared to take part-time work. It is convenient for them, and I see nothing wrong with it. However, part-time work inevitably results in part-time wages. The economy and our society are marching very fast in this direction, in a way that is almost unrecognised by economists, who consider only the formal, traditional. full-time employment sector of the economy.

In this new, completely different pattern of work, the case for wider capital ownership as a support and an additional resource— as it were, a second income support for the wage or salary—is very strong. I believe that the Government would be right to make wider capital. ownership their primary social goal. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer believes in. this. I know, too, that other right hon. and hon. Friends of mine have said in many speeches that this is the right way forward. He is not sitting on the Government Front Bench now, but I know that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is dedicated to this concept.

We are now at the point at which one can say that the time for this idea has arrived. We are moving towards a different pattern of society: one in which the inflationary pressures caused by excessive wage settlements will be greatly reduced. Therefore, I hope that we shall hear very much more about this concept when my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench speak, perfectly correctly, about the need for greater wage flexibility so that more people can price themselves into jobs. That should be the way forward. However, it should be supported by vastly wider personal capital ownership of all forms. We made a start with British Telecom, and I hope that we shall go further with British Gas, but it is only a start. There needs to be a greater change of attitude towards wider capital ownership, which would affect nearly every family in the land.

I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to allow any gyrations in the oil market to affect their view about interest rates. Nor should anything that has happened in the last few days affect their views and intentions concerning tax cuts. I thought that I detected in the comments of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer a change of emphasis: that he was revising his views about tax cuts and that he thought that in the next two or three Budgets tax cuts would be less likely. That would be a great pity.

The revenue outlook, which right hon. and hon. Members have demanded should be quantified, qualified and specified—I believe rather absurdly—has not, in broad terms, changed very much as a result of oil price movements during the last few days. If the pound is to move down in a perfectly manageable way, and if dollar oil prices are also to move down, the net effect on our revenues is virtually "even steven". On the other hand, tax cuts are absolutely essential if unemployment in particular is to be controlled.

However hard I listen to the rather high-minded views of people like the hon. Member for Stockton, South, I cannot understand why there is anything wrong with this argument. What the centralists—that is what they are, in both the Labour party and in the centre parties—will never accept is that people will help each other and will fulfil the obligation to give each other jobs and create employment if they are left with the resources with which to do so. If the hon. Member for Stockton, South is in any doubt about that, I urge him to visit countries which have smaller public sectors, lower income tax and lower levels of taxation generally than our own. I am thinking in this case of Japan, which delivers an unemployment rate of 2.4 per cent. How does Japan do that? Many people have the resources with which to offer jobs and create useful functions for others. They have the resources with which to pay them, provided that those resources are not taken away from them by taxation.

Apart from the social argument, it seems to me to be iniquituous that such a high rate of tax should be placed upon people on relatively low rates of pay. Furthermore, lower taxation is a powerful engine of employment. I am amazed that people, particularly those who belong to the Social Democratic party and who claim that they like to stand back and look at things objectively, cannot penetrate and understand the argument that this is the way in which, increasingly, the economy works.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

In that case, why has there not been a substantial increase in employment during the past five years when taxes have been cut?

Mr. Howell

That is a matter of dispute. Some taxes have been cut, but taxes are high for those on low incomes, for part of the corporate sector and for small businesses. By my standards, we have hardly begun to make tax cuts. I expect much more in the future.

My message to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is that he should stand by the stance that he has taken up, with characteristic robustness, stick to his former policy intentions and not be exercised too much by the gyrations in oil prices, which, at worst, will have a neutral effect and, at best, will be beneficial. I should like my right hon. Friend to bring down interest rates — obviously not rapidly, but at a gradual and steady pace. I believe that it is possible to do so without risking the other policy objectives. I should like my right hon. Friend to stick to the commitment to which we have aspired since long before 1979 to cut personal taxes substantially, to help those on low pay, to provide employment and to create a flexible, high-employment, fully occupied society.

6.40 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

It is incredible that the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box for exactly 30 minutes at the start of the debate and not once did the word "unemployment" cross his lips. [Interruption.] The record will show who is telling the truth.

The autumn statement, like all the others delivered by the Chancellor, misses out what I believe economics is primarily about. I hope that I take my colleagues with me on that point. Economics is about people— their development, the use and application of their skills and talents, and the production and provision of the goods and services that they need. It is not about economic indicators and mechanisms because, at best, they should be the servants, not the masters, of the people in local areas and the regions.

We did not hear one word or see even crocodile tears about the plight of most of the regions where most of our people live rather than in the relatively cosy south-east. The Chancellor, with typical modesty, spoke of the highest rate of growth since 1973. His statement mentioned a substantial increase in the number of people in work since 1983. He then added: This has now been reflected in a levelling out in unemployment".—[Official Report, 12 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 434.] Not in Birmingham, not in the west midlands—far from it. My constituents and those in Birmingham and the west midlands are surprised and insulted when the Chancellor and other Conservative Members claim that things are well and getting better.

I do not expect any Conservative Member to take my word for it, but perhaps the Conservatives will listen to the Chancellor's points—the points that will be made by the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) on Sunday on Channel 4 in the brilliant "Writing on the Wall" series produced by our former colleague, Phillip Whitehead, who will soon be a Member again. The right hon.

Gentleman will say, "I have to admit in retrospect that British industry took much more punishment than I expected." He could say that again, although it is no surprise to any Opposition Member. At least the right hon. Member for Waveney—I pay tribute to him— shows more sense and understanding than the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster showed last night or earlier when he made this fatuous comment about the west midlands: You have got problems, sure, but they are not the same as the problems of the north or of Scotland. The problem here is a recessionary one. The West Midlands is not a place where there is a long history of the rundown of old industry". That gigantic and appalling ignorance stands the facts on their head. In the west midlands there is not a single nationally known company in the manufacturing sector that has not in the past six years been scarred by job losses, under-investment and lack of Government concern or cash. About 1,300 firms in the west midlands went bust last year. The increase in unemployment has been higher than anywhere else — 3 per cent. above the national average, for the first time reaching 16.5 per cent. About 360,000 jobs have been lost in the west midlands—a drop of 16 per cent. All that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster can say in his paraded ignorance is that the problem is a recessionary one.

Some Conservative Members may be saying, "We know that that has happened, but this is now on the mend." I shall read a list of firms, mainly in manufacturing—some old, some new—which in the past five months have made people redundant in the west midlands: GKN Fasteners in Sandwell, 96 jobs; Metro Cammell Weymann in Birmingham, which makes buses when it is allowed, 40 jobs: Spicer Transmissions in Wolverhampton, 80 jobs; Accles and Pollock in Sandwell, 40 jobs; GEC Telecommunications in Coventry, 111 jobs; Dunlop Aerospace in Coventry, 86 jobs; Sankey Laminations in Wolverhampton, 125 jobs; BL Longbridge in Birmingham, 200 jobs; Cadbury Schweppes in Birmingham, riding on the backs of this so-called consumer boom, 350 jobs; Apricot Computers in Birmingham — new technology — 93 jobs; Massey-Ferguson in Coventry, 450 jobs; Lucas in Birmingham, 240 jobs; Birmal Castings in Sandwell, 100 jobs, and BSR International in Dudley and Stourbridge, 460 jobs.

Most of those job losses are in an already shrunken manufacturing sector which used to be at the heart of the west midlands' former prosperity. That list of casualties among major manufacturing names reads like the tombstones in an industrial graveyard, and more plots are being dug.

Last week, the Austin Rover Group announced that 600 toolroom jobs will go at its plant in Kingsbury road, in my constituency. These are the men whose skills and experience provided the tools to put British Leyland back on the tracks, to put new models such as the Metro, Maestro, Montego and Acclaim on the road. They built the tools to put the latest Roll-Royce Camargue on the road. Do we not need these skills any more? Are we saying that Birmingham, the west midlands or the rest of Britain has no need of these developing skills in machine tools? That is what the Government will say to those men when they go out of the door at the end of March.

Since 1979, jobs in the machine tool sector in the west midlands have decreased from 8,750 to 3,500—a loss of six in every 10 jobs. I beg Ministers to understand that, in talking about the machine tool sector, we are talking about the heart of the manufacturing and production process. If we do not have the skills and the men to make these machine tools, we shall not have a manufacturing base that makes any sense. It is no surprise that, against the background of the Government's reckless attitude to the manufacturing sector, we now have the distinction, for the first time in our history, of importing more manufactured goods than we export.

Worse is to come. Doubt less Austin Rover will use the excuse of the closure of its once famous toolroom to buy the tools that it needs for future new models from West Germany and Japan. Indeed there is talk around Birmingham of a £7 million machine tool order for the Sherpa van going to West Germany.

That means we are putting at least part of future volume car production in foreign hands, with whom we compete head on in the market. What kind of economic strategy is that? It is the economics of bedlam.

Lack of research and development and lack of skilled men helped to run the former British Leyland into the ground under its former incompetent private owners. Even after the Labour Government stepped in to rescue it, it suffered from lack of research and development for new models for many years. It is stupid to risk making that mistake again because it will mean increasing reliance on imported machine tools.

The Chancellor, in his autumn statement, referred to a "levelling out in unemployment". I have to tell him and any of his remaining supporters that, at the end of November, 8,364 men and women in my constituency were jobless. This Christmas, they will find it hard to understand the "levelling out". There is virtually the same number of people now out of work as there was a year ago. That might be a levelling out in pure economic terms, but there are still 8,364 jobless people with little prospect of getting another job.

I return to the subject of Austin Rover machine tools. In the area around the toolroom, unemployment is running at 23.5 per cent.—2,454 men and 1,776 women. The rate of unemployment among women is now 28.5 per cent. Next door in Erdington, unemployment is 18 per cent. among men and 21.9 per cent. among women. In Stockland Green it is 23.3 per cent. for men and 27.9 per cent. for women.

Mr. Budgen

All this blubbering.

Mr. Corbett

If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) does not care, he should go to the Tea Room.

I know of many constituents in their mid-30s who are now in their fourth year of unemployment. Most of them will say that they do not believe that they will work again. Many of my hon. Friends know of similar people—and so should Conservative Members. What is the economic future for those people? I do not suggest that the Chancellor should have offered them jobs this afternoon, but his statement should have given them some hope that things will get better.

I do not understand the Government's so-called economic strategy. There is work that needs to be done in the city of Birmingham. One third of our housing is in urgent need of improvement and repair. With the present budget allowed by the Government and at the present rate of improvement, it will take 640 years to clear the backlog. The Chief Secretary should take note of that. No one can say that this work would not provide jobs for people in the construction industry and in the supply industry. Are the skills in Birmingham and the west midlands for bashing metal about and making it do everything except talk no longer needed? Are there no homes which need to be repaired? Do none need improvement or insulation? Today there are tenants in both the public and private sectors who are offered places with outside lavatories. That is not peculiar to Birmingham.

Are the hospitals so well staffed and so well equipped that no money needs to be spent on them? Can no more work be provided through re-equipping them? Are our buses and trains so modern and wonderful that we can lay off men at Metro Cammell Weymann on the rail and bus section? The answer to all of these questions is no and a thousand times no. These are the jobs which the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, demanded. These are real jobs and it is within the gift of the Government to provide them by spending people into work instead of spending them out of work. The Prime Minister's earlier pleas have been stood on their head.

Mr. Maples

The hon. Gentleman has given us a long shopping list of public expenditure proposals which are undoubtedly worthy. Which taxes would he raise to pay for them?

Mr. Corbett

The hon. Member does not understand. If he does not understand now—

Mr. Maples

Which taxes?

Mr. Corbett

—he does not understand a thing. There is a cost in terms of pound notes and Girocheques passed over post office counters for keeping 4 million jobless. The simple answer is to spend some of that money, perhaps a quarter or even a third of it, to put people back into work. They will then pay taxes and national insurance and do the jobs that need to be done. The Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) is shaking his head. I have no hope for him. He puts his paw in the air and supports a Government who wilfully find it better to pour money into the dole queues than to put it where it is needed and where it will do some good. I despair of him.

The Chancellor's autumn statement is not devoid of feeling, but he does not recognise that there are people at the back of these statistics. Never mind talking about fiscal adjustments. People cannot tip them over a bowl of corn flakes when they are jobless. They do not know what M3 is when walking around a market wondering whether they can afford fish or meat once a week. People who are jobless do not understand that—I am being in no way patronising. They look to this Government—many of them in June 1983 regrettably voted for the Government —to give them some hope and belief that there is a chance that they can retrieve some dignity by having a job. People do not matter to the Chancellor; they are put on the scrap heap. All that matters to him are the figures. The Government want to reduce inflation to 4 or 3.5 per cent. even at the cost of another 250,000, or whatever it may be, unemployed.

I wish that Conservative Members could understand what I have said. It is not just a question of the misery of unemployment; it is a question of the loss of dignity, of self-respect, and of hope. It is like cutting someone's legs off. The next Labour Government will alter the situation. We shall get Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands and Britain back into productive, wealth-creating work. We shall set about mending the hurt and harm inflicted by this wretched Government.

6.58 pm
Mr. Roger Freeman (Kettering)

The prospect of speaking after my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) is daunting for Conservative Members because his analysis is always so clear and correct, but perhaps I might add a postscript to his speech on the effect of a falling oil price. He talked of the pound strengthening against the dollar as in some way balancing the effect of a falling dollar oil price.

It is important to be aware of the equation, which is that for every fall of $1 in the oil price, which would result in the Chancellor losing about £500 million in revenue, the dollar must fall about 6 cents against the pound. If we fall by $6 from the $26 that the Chancellor might be assuming for next year, we shall require a 36 cent fall in the exchange rate. I therefore treat the argument that there is a balance with some caution. However, I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no need for panic because the fall in the dollar oil price, moderated by a strengthening sterling exchange rate, has a beneficial effect on the British economy in terms of lower industrial costs.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), I support the autumn statement because keeping public expenditure broadly stable in real terms is right. It is working in his constituency and in mine. My constituency has had the fifth highest fall in the rate of unemployment in the past 12 months. That is a good record and bears out what my hon. Friend said about the beneficial effects of the Government's economic policies for the east midlands.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

Everything might be all right in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but the north-east of Manchester has lost 20,000 jobs since the late 1960s. Only one week ago, the last steel-producing mill in Manchester closed. There has been a devastating effect on the community, on the infrastructure such as shops, pubs and clubs and on the morale of people — so much so that the most recent closure resulted in four suicides. The Government's policy might be all right for Kettering, but there are other, inner-city, constituencies which are suffering.

Mr. Freeman

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the rate of unemployment. He is doing his job and I am doing mine. I am merely explaining what is happening in my constituency. I shall deal with the beneficial effects of public sector and private sector capital investment in creating jobs.

Paragraph 14 of the Select Committee report talks of the need to reintroduce information about future revenues in the autumn statement. It is important that the House has information in the autumn statement about predictions of revenue. That is not to say that the Government must disclose their hand on the PSBR or the fiscal adjustment. One would follow from the other if there was a projection of future revenues, but it is important for the House to have those projections for this debate.

In response to such a suggestion, the Chancellor told the Select Committee that the House can "make their own assessments." It is important that the House has the benefit of work being produced by the parliamentary unit attached to the economic modelling bureau in the university of Warwick. I hope that its work will become more comprehensive so that the House and, perhaps, the Library, is informed of its findings before the debate on the autumn statement. We should be able to have a range of forecasts based on common assumptions.

Paragraph 31 of the Select Committee report draws attention to the fact that the Government's forecast of the increase in total investment in 1986 is 3.5 per cent. in real terms. A study of the Chancellor's answers to the Select Committee reveals that the private sector component will increase by about 5 per cent. and the public sector component will increase by about 2 per cent. I am well aware of criticisms made by the Confederation of British Industry and some sections of the business and industrial community about private investment. They argue that the ending of capital allowances has bunched capital investment and may end, let alone curtail, some investment schemes. Although there might be a bunching effect in 1985–86, what really counts when making private sector capital investment decisions is the level of corporate taxation. In four months' time, we shall have the lowest level of corporate taxation in the Western world.

Industrialists also consider the level of inflation. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, I believe that inflation might be 3.25 to 3.5 per cent. next year. Using the average indicators of growth in GDP shows that real growth will be about 3-5 per cent. next year. Those three touchstones are vital for business investment. They are the fundamentals. There is another factor—exchange rate stability, which I agree is important when planning capital expenditure. I favour our joining the exchange rate mechanism, as it will improve the stability of the framework in which industrialists decide to invest.

Public expenditure is forecast to increase by about 2 per cent. in real terms next year. I have three suggestions. The first is made by the Royal Institute of British Architects and other members of the group of eight. I hold no brief for them. I share their views because I think that they are right, not because I have any interest. They say that what really counts is the stability of public sector capital expenditure in terms of quantity and consistency. Local authorities, the construction industry, architects and others want stability and long-term planning. The economy will benefit if they are confident that a given level of expenditure will continue for several years. That is especially true for the construction of schools and the building or refurbishment of council houses.

My second suggestion concerns private sector capital in public sector works. I draw my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary's attention to the report of the steering group into water metering, chaired by Mr. Watts, published yesterday by the Department of the Environment. I believe that we are discussing expenditure of £1 billion to £2 billion to convert to meters for residential accommodation. I encourage my right hon. Friend to study the report, which I am sure he has not had time to read yet. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce private sector capital into a scheme which the report argues is a public good.

The companies in the industry would be only too happy to enter into a programme of conversion to water meters on the right terms, approved by the Government, so that consumers paid by consumption, not according to the rateable value of their house. Construction companies would be prepared to pay the capital costs, and would cover the costs for 10 years, through an increase in the tariff to consumers. Clearly public sector capital expenditure could not afford the £1 billion or £2 billion involved in a full programme. That would be too much to ask of it in three years, if major centres of population were converted, but if the private sector provided the finance and the expertise, the job could be done.

Thirdly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is shortly to make an announcement about the housing investment programme allocations. If there is still time, as I believe there is, it is important for the Treasury to come up with a more imaginative formula for local authority housing expenditure. I accept the need for control using the percentage mechanism of spending past capital receipts. Everyone accepts that in past years receipts were taken into national accounts as revenue. Therefore, when any of those receipts are spent, they score 100 per cent. as public expenditure. My point is that there should be an incentive mechanism so that local authorities which are still sitting on major public assets are encouraged to sell them. They should be given above a certain threshold level in absolute sterling terms the right to retain 100 per cent. receipts and spend them.

I welcome the strategy announced in the autumn statement. It is welcomed in my constituency, and I hope that it will be welcomed in the country.

7. 11 pm

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

The note of anger which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) introduced into the debate will be heard increasingly in the country, and it would be foolish for the House and the Government to ignore it. It underlies the cold rational calculations which we need to bring to bear when our motives are in support of the human interests of our constituents. My quarrel with the Government is that they are not only cold-hearted, but addle-headed.

The Treasury Select Committee has done a valuable service to the House in considering the autumn statement and setting out the economic background to it. Paragraph 19, which notes the major change of economic policy, is the most important part of it. As the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was only a lad in 1980–81 when the policy was set out, I shall remind him what his predecessors in the Treasury said when the medium-term financial strategy was first defined in the 1980–81 Financial Statement and Budget Report. They said: Control of the money supply will over a period of years reduce the rate of inflation. The speed with which inflation falls will depend crucially on expectations both within the United Kingdom and overseas. It is to provide a firm basis for those expectations that the Government has announced its film commitment to a progressive reduction in money supply growth. In paragraph 16 they said: To maintain a progressive reduction in monetary growth in these circumstances it may be necessary to change policy in ways not reflected in the above projections. The Government would face a number of options for policy changes to achieve this aim, including changes in interest rates, taxes and public expenditure. But there would be no question of departing from the money supply policy, which is essential to the success of any anti-inflationary strategy. In the whole of the Financial Statement and Budget Report there was not one mention of the exchange rate.

In the Mansion house speech which the economic adviser to the Treasury told the Select Committee was the present definitive statement of the Government's monetary policy, there is no coherent definition of the nature of exchange rate policies. I hope that the Select Committee will continue to press the Chancellor of the Exchequer for such a definition.

The main content of the Chancellor's speech was, "Sorry, boys, about the tax cuts, but the promises are off." The reasons which the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) explained to the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), regarding the calculation about oil prices falling, and sterling falling against the dollar, and the figures balancing nicely, are phoney. The fall in oil prices will have a major effect on the scope for tax reductions, given the way in which the Chancellor sees the economy.

The practical effect on the economy is that there is today a more deeply rooted defeatism in British manufacturing industry than there has been for 30 years. We have had our crises and our long-term decline, but we have never before had the acceptance of that decline by leaders of Government and industry. One financial director told me: We have learned survival. We may expand, but we do not expect to. The autumn statement reminds us that profits have increased, both as a share in non-North sea oil income, and as a return on capital. That has been achieved by a cut of 25 per cent. of capacity in 1980–81, and by the continuing sacrifices of innovatory expenditure, research and development and the development needed in marketing, product development and manufacturing technology to provide the basis for long-term growth.

Such investment as there has been, has been stimulated by the transitional effects from the abolition of investment allowances, and it has not increased capacity. Innovation is not catching up with overseas competition, which is continually moving ahead. We cannot merely aim to compete today. It is when our developments must compete with the fruits of overseas developments that the test will come. Research and development in industry is not broad enough to give a generally competitive edge to sufficient technological leaders. Today, enterprise and initiative, such as they are, find an outlet in takeover bids, rather than in growth.

Regarding electronics, any one of the measures, including the fall in share prices, the recession in personal computers and microchips, lower profits from public purchasing by British Telecom and the Ministry of Defence, and cuts in participation in Government research programmes, such as the Alvey programme, on its own may not matter. However, the whole picture of the decline in the electronics industry, which was dramatically highlighted by the pathetic bid by GEC for Plessey, is of the gravest concern.

The collapse of power station ordering in the 1960s led to the gathering together of AEI, English Electric and GEC. The collapse in profitability of BT's ordering is leading GEC to try to create a monopoly in the supply of system X to BT. If that is the best that GEC can think of doing with its cash mountain, it needs a change of management.

In engineering, the British Steel Corporation proposal to close the Gartcosh cold mill, and its effects in undermining the viability of Ravenscraig in my constituency and in the home town of the Chief Secretary, has led me recently to talk to many people in operating management across a wide sector of the engineering and steel-using industries. It is not only Austin Rover that is affected, but General Motors—Vauxhall, Lucas, GKN and Tube Investments — the great mass of British engineering industry. Shall we settle for contributing only 30 per cent. of value added to the production of motor vehicles registered in Britain? That is the height of the Government's ambition today.

The improvement in productivity is undeniable. It is set out in chart 1.6 in the autumn statement, but that chart gives the game away. Even after cutting out the least efficient and the most backward 25 per cent. of manufacturing industry— as occurred in 1980–81 —productivity in the remaining most efficient 75 per cent. is growing only at the average rate since the 1960s. The Chancellor's reply to that is, "Ah, but that is manufacturing; look at services."

Let us consider services and the apples of the Chancellor's eye—banking, insurance and finance. The review of United Kingdom services in the September Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin is sobering reading. It shows a general decline in the ratio of exports to imports of services just as has occurred in manufacturing. The review traces the reasons for that to a general lack of competitiveness. Even the ratio of exports to imports in financial services has declined since 1979.

Despite the growth of activity in the City of London, its share of international lending has fallen from 25.3 to 23.7 per cent. and the British banks' share has fallen from 23.1 to 20.4 per cent. I am not advocating an increase in international lending, even by British banks; I merely point out that, although there appears to be great activity in the City, it is not holding its world position.

We are told that there is no measure of productivity in the services sector, and there is much in that argument. We cannot eat, drink or wear banking, insurance and finance. Some may be entertained by them, but that is a somewhat kinky taste. For most people banking, insurance and finance are a means to an end, to obtain food, clothing, shelter. However, has the ratio of food, clothing and shelter served by banking, insurance and finance improved? Manufacturing output has fallen by 6 per cent., but employment in banking, insurance and finance has increased by 19 per cent. since 1979. That is a fall in productivity of 25 per cent. in terms of physical output served per person in banking, insurance and finance.

Banking, insurance and finance, however, it can be argued, serve not only manufacturing output, but GDP as a whole. There has been a growth in GDP of 6 per cent., but a 19 per cent. growth of employment in banking, insurance and finance. That represents a fall in productivity of the services that they provide to the community of about 13 per cent.

It is argued that the service industries provide not only material goods — especially finance— but freedom, security and consumer choice. Indeed those are important, but consider the state of the country. Can we say that the freedom, security and consumer choice of 4 million unemployed is a net improvement against the asset dealers of the City of London earning £200,000 a year? That is a strange, perverted view of what is being bought in terms of the changes in our society.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) that the autumn statement is important for bringing together the expenditure and the revenue-raising side of Government decision-making in tentative form, in what the Committee called the green Budget. I share the Committee's regret that the improvement has not continued in that direction.

With my concern for science and technology on this side of the House I am thankful for small mercies. I am glad that there was a 2 per cent. increase in real terms in the science budget, which fulfilled the request of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils. A mere £15 million is trivial in terms of overall Government expenditure, but, as the Minister of State, Treasury will know because of his former responsibilities, that investment is vital for our long-term future. I am sorry that the further increases requested for later years were not included in that decision.

I return to the main issues of the autumn statement. Here we must consider our old friend, the exchange rate. The Select Committee asked the Chancellor whether there was a target exchange rate. I believe that that was the wrong question. Whether it is a target, a target band, or a target band with soft margins is the wrong way to see it. When considering the relationship of oil prices, interest rates, the exchange rate and the Government's actions in the long term on expenditure and taxation, it is first necessary to distinguish the Government's time scale for decision-making.

There is the annual round of decisions on taxation and public expenditure totals. In some companies, there is an annual round of decisions relating to their economy perhaps wages, budgeting, investment, and decisions are taken annually in most companies. In the shorter-term horizon of decisions and information, there are continuous variations in the exchange rate, asset prices, interest rates and in some key commodity prices such as oil. In the market, those vary from day to day and hour to hour.

In both the annual round and the continuous daily round, a set of objectives and a set of instruments are available to the Government. In the annual round an assumption is bound to be made about the short-term variables, like the exchange rate and interest rates. The autumn statement tells us that the assumption is made that the exchange rate is broadly continuing at the level of recent months. In the background forecast of the longer term, which the Treasury does not publish, there will be an assumption about the exchange rate and interest rates.

However, it is extremely unlikely that the short turm will turn out as assumed. Had a different exchange rate been assumed, a different interest rate would also have been assumed. The underlying decision, which the Government are beginning to recognise, is that there is a decision to adopt an underlying interest rate rule—on the way in which interest rates will be adjusted in response to changes in the exchange rate, and on the way in which the Government will intervene in the market in respose to short-term movements of the exchange rate.

The Treasury has improved its apparatus to consider the design of such rules in the medium term, in the annual decision-making round. I am sorry that Sir Terence Burns is no longer in the Box. He would confirm that the Treasury is using the methods and indeed the programmes that were written in the programme for research and optimum policy evaluation at Imperial college, which I had a hand in establishing about 15 years ago. It will not be news to him that that approach is also being developed in the International Monetary Fund, and that its international reviews will be considered by such means, in a developing context of international economic cooperation.

The ways in which the short-term intervention and interest rate rules and the longer-term decisions on taxation and expenditure are combined are set out in the 1983 report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. That special report was published during the general election. It was not agreed by the Committee, but it contained several seminal ideas which, to the Committee's credit, are being implemented. In March next year there will be a conference at Brookings The preliminary conference took place in October and the Treasury contributed work to it. There is a progressive development. We are not told much about it in the House; I am not sure how much Ministers know about what is going on. Perhaps I should not tell them. The development will be of key importance to the Labour party when it begins to shift the goal posts and alter the objectives of economic policy.

It is sheer hogwash for the Chancellor to ask whether we shall simply accommodate inflation by devaluing. It is not a choice between accommodation and non-accommodation; it is a question of how much one accommodates, and how quickly the nationalised industries, which must consult the Treasury now on what the exchange rate will be in 1990, are being allowed to assume that there will be an improvement in competitiveness, which will be reflected by a movement in the index, and they are told that their assumptions are reasonable.

Complete non-accommodation may be a front which the Chancellor believes, from the traditional wisdom, it is necessary for him to maintain. It certainly exists in the structure of the European monetary system, but the real argument is about the extent and timing with which the changes in competitiveness between countries should be accommodated by the rate at which the exchange rates move. That becomes a properly formulated, sensible and practical question to ask. There will be differences in view and in priority among Governments, but the apparatus is there and is developing nicely.

I ask hon. Members to consider whether we are talking about joining the EMS of today or yesterday or the EMS of tomorrow. It will be rather different from the EMS of today, because it will contain an element of international economic co-operation. We shall have rules to say when parity adjustments are acceptable to take account of the underlying realities and different economies. I should like the Treasury to bring out of the back room some of its admirable work and put it into the negotiating process in the international organisations. Some people in those organisations—in the European Commission and in the IMF—are ready to listen.

On a more practical note, I have every sympathy with the Chancellor in trying to talk down the effect of the oil price on the exchange rate. Of course he is right to point to the fact that oil is only 6 per cent. of our GDP, and to the fact that Britain is a big consumer of oil, so that it will benefit from the reduction in oil prices as well as suffer a loss of revenues, but his argument would be much more convincing if he spelt it out more quantitatively than he does, and if he were more practical in the way that he describes the intervention that he is making and is prepared to make in the economy.

I do not for one moment agree with or applaud the underlying direction of the Government's economic policy. The country has suffered from the most disastrous six years of economic management since the war, but the Opposition would be foolish not to take part in the necessary technical debates that will form the basis of a much more successful economic policy when we get rid of some of the hag-ridden prejudices on the Government Front Bench.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Several hon. Members still wish to speak, and it is clear that unless speeches are shorter, some of them will be disappointed.

7.35 pm
Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

I shall speak briefly about the business expansion scheme, which in some respects needs reform. I should declare a small interest in that, before I was elected to the House, my company received venture capital funding through the business start-up scheme. As a result, 12 people are now employed who probably otherwise would not have been. Therefore, I am a friend of the scheme in general, because the business start-up scheme was excellent. I believe that the business expansion scheme is also generally excellent, but it has some severe problems.

Although farmland and property have largely been excluded, more than half of the investments being made through the scheme are still heavily asset-backed or retail-oriented. Pubs, hotels, restaurants, antique dealers and other such businesses feature largely in the range of BES investments.

I was told recently that a major multinational oil company wished to arrange business expansion scheme funding to allow petrol station operators to buy out their properties since, despite the huge multi-billion pound profits of the company, it believed that it could not afford the investment necessary in the property and equipment. That is not the sort of thing for which the business expansion scheme was intended, yet it would be legal and proper under the current rules of the scheme.

That sort of investment would be made anyway. The BES should help companies with good products and services which have difficulty in raising money and which would otherwise be unable to finance their operations. BES-oriented funds would be much more comfortable if such areas were excluded from the scope of the scheme.

While on the funds, may I say that I know of some feeling against them in the Department of Trade and Industry. However, they play a vital role in directing cash to the right areas and in helping start-up companies, especially with their management problems. Therefore, the funds should be considered far more favourably by the Government and they should be helped by being granted tax relief at the point at which the investment is made in the fund rather than, as is currently the case, at the point where the fund makes the investment in the relevant company.

However, at the same time, I recognise that some funds have been, to put it mildly, slightly dodgy. Considerable care must be taken in those areas. Many of the funds charge huge commissions on the money that they raise—commissions of about 20 per cent. are by no means unusual—and directors of many firms put themselves on the boards of companies in which they invest, often for large salaries. In addition, many of them take generous share options in the companies in which they invest.

Another abuse from which the scheme suffers is that some directors of companies that have raised funds through the business expansion scheme immediately take out large fees for themselves. Recently I heard about a managing director of such a company taking £50,000 out of the company as payment for his idea of setting it up.

I mention those matters as a friend of the business expansion scheme, not as its enemy, because there is a great danger that such abuses will discredit the BES and will be used against it by its enemies.

The BES should be geared much more heavily towards smaller manufacturing companies, and we could help it to move in this direction by excluding many of the sectors that qualify for its funding now, and by giving capital gains relief to investors in certain business operations. By doing we would go a long way towards dispelling the current feeling that many people wrongly have that the Government are somehow anti-manufacturing.

The pundits say, and many people believe, that we can look forward to a post-industrial service-oriented society, but manufacturing is vital to us. The service industries may be important, but the raw statistics of employment in the various sectors are misleading. They are distorted due to the failure of our manufacturing industry in the 1960s and the 1970s and to the tremendous growth of productivity in manufacturing. All this has given rise to the service industries taking a much larger share of employment than they would otherwise or than is healthy for the economy.

It must be recognised that many service industries are directly or indirectly dependent on the manufacturing industry. This explains why countries that have been most successful in their manufacturing sector have also seen the fastest growth in their service sector. Between 1950 and 1980, manufacturing employment has fallen by 2 million in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, service employment has risen by 5 million. In West Germany, over the same period, manufacturing employment rose by 2.5 million and service employment rose by 6.5 million. In Japan over the same period, manufacturing employment rose by more than 9 million and its service sector has seen a tremendous rise of 15.5 million jobs.

Vital though the service sector may be, overdependence on it is a dead end, and our future must be largely as a manufacturing country. At the same time, I strongly believe that the way to become a strong manufacturing country is not through public investment. Anyone who has seen the recent television programme "The Writing on the Wall" will have seen how, in the mid-1970s, politicians and bureaucrats under the aegis of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) flung money at any ludicrous scheme that took their fancy. Politicians who have never worked in industry or run a business and civil servants are not the best people to direct investment. Surely Labour Members have learnt this by now. The French Socialists are now learning the lesson the hard way. The only way to get a strong manufacturing centre is by making companies competitive so that they can produce what people want to buy, and not by pouring money into the economy.

It is tragic to see the tired, old, failed policies of public investment banks and boards being wheeled out once again by the Opposition. Will we go back to the mid-1970s when steel mills were built that the British Steel Corporation management warned the Government would not be needed, or are we to go back to the farcical old days of the National Enterprise Board, which pushed £38 million worth of taxpayers' money into an operation called Nexos?

Labour Members may well cringe of the mention of the name Nexos. It was dreamt up by Labour politicians and by civil servants as a company to rival IBM. The first thing it did was to give vast sums of public money—

Dr. Bray


Mr. Oppenheim

I am sorry; I shall not give way as many hon. Members are waiting to speak.

The first thing that the company did was to give vast sums of public money to a Mayfair head-hunting firm to head-hunt management at vast costs. During most of the years during which Nexos was in operation, its losses exceeded its turnover. It set up ludicrous deals to import Japanese equipment through middlemen at costs far and above those at which they could have bought the equipment themselves. Most of the equipment that it sold was Japanese equipment, and it made cost-plus deals with other NEB-backed companies for equipment that was never delivered in working order.

When Nexos finally went under, it was found to have a stock of Japanese fascimile machines that would have represented two years of sales. The company sold off 1,000 of the machines, for which it had originally paid nearly £2 million, for £1.

My advice to the Opposition is that, if they are thinking of directing taxpayers' money into pet industrial projects, they should put it instead into wine, women and song. The return will be the same but hon. Members will have far more fun.

7.45 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) made an interesting speech, although it was almost irrelevant to the needs of the majority of people. He was right about one thing, which is not bad considering that that is one more than the Chancellor achieved. He said that the future of the country depends on manufacturing industry. However, he fundamentally blundered, in the same way as the Government, in believing that a return to the mid-1970s would be anything other than welcomed in the part of the country that I represent, and many other places. For example, were we to go back to the mid-1970s, 725,000 people would have jobs in manufacturing in the north. In my area of the north-west there would be 300,000 more jobs than there are now, and that would mean that the rate of unemployment in the worst parts would not be above 50 per cent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who spoke about his area, was right. The utter failure of the Chancellor and his autumn statement and the ridiculousness of the motion that we are debating is that there is no real understanding of the problems of our economy. There is an almost Mr Bumble-like arrogance from the Chancellor, who pretends that unemployment is not the issue that affects massive and important parts of the country.

It is hard to know whether the Chancellor is more like Candide with his simple-minded innocence and optimism about the future, or a much more devious and unpleasant character who has made a deliberate and cynical calculation. That calculation was accepted by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), who said that he was representing his constituents and that we were representing ours. That is the Government's failure. They represent their narrow little interest in society and a narrow section of British society. They represent one region and have achieved that at the expense of the rest of the country, and of whole sections of the economy. They continue to destroy whole sections of the economy.

The statistics that the Government choose to parade as demonstrations of confidence do little for their credit. They must be able to do some things well simply on a random walk through the economy, but the rate of inflation in Britain is not significantly better, nor has the change in that rate of inflation been significantly better, than that of many of our trading partners. We depend on international trade, although the Government forget that.

Again, the improvements in productivity are not dissimilar to, even slightly worse than, those experienced by many trading partners. Some figures are devastatingly bad and ultimately dangerous, not simply for those who are unemployed but for those who face continuous unemployment into the future because of the ostrich-like policies of the Government. They are the figures that show how the Government have managed to turn a £3.8 billion manufacturing trade surplus in the mid-1970s into a deficit of £2.7 billion. In doing that, in their almost erratic lack of policy on sterling exchange rate, the Government have preyed on the manufacturing sector and all those who depend on it. That concerns not just employment but the long term skill base of our economy.

The Government have made the future so uncertain that manufacturers do not invest. The House of Lords Select Committee on Overseas Trade examined investment. In the conclusions to the report, Sir Terence Beckett was quoted as describing the rate of net investment in all industries as a Cresta run, going down from 1964, right the way through to an all-time low in 1981. The report went on to say: the Committee were concerned to find that of firms surveyed by the CBI in October 1984, 77 per cent. were investing to improve efficiency but only 20 per cent. were investing to expand capacity. That is what happens in an economy that is essentially defensive and where manufacturers and virtually the whole of the commercial and trading sector have no confidence in the future put forward by the Government. The Government's approach has created defensive, job-destroying investment instead of the creative, expansionary investment which Conservative Members pretend is taking place.

The Government have talked about the bold new economy and the sunrise industries which will take the place of what the Government regard as the clapped-out industries but—

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman retract or modify his remark about the industrial Cresta run beginning in 1964? Will he tell the House which Government were elected in 1964 and why the Cresta run was so steep from then on?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a remarkably intelligent question for the hon. Gentleman. Little purpose is served in trying to score points on the decline of manufacturing industry. Conservative Members must face a more fundamental question: are the Government's policies even remotely relevant and are the policies sound which have destroyed jobs in manufacturing every year since the Government took office? Do these policies which are systematically creating a gap between the south-east and the rest of the country, offer a future for the country? If the hon. Gentleman would care to join that debate, we could discuss the issue now. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how to restore manufacturing investment and to reverse the trend that is revealed in the House of Lords Select Committee. We could try to find a solution to the failure of the so-called unrestricted business sector.

My constituency boasts a plant owned by GEC, the biggest private manufacturing company in Britain. It systematically destroyed jobs on an enormous scale simply because it would not replace the investment that was created in Manchester.

Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

I shall give way in a moment.

Instead, it invested in different parts of the country. By its own chosen course, GEC has systematically destroyed jobs in one part of the company in order, to a lesser extent, to create jobs in other parts of the country.

Mr. Pawsey

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not denigrate GEC too much. GEC has secured the largest export order ever, the provision of turbines and allied equipment for Castle Peak in Hong Kong. The hon. Gentleman will also know that through its expertise, GEC is likely to obtain another substantial order from mainland China. With respect, GEC is one of our better industrial companies. It should not be denigrated as it is a company which provides substantial employment, not least within my constituency.

Mr. Lloyd

I join the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and pay the fullest tribute to the skills that my constituents have in the engineering industry. I deplore the scrapping of their skills by companies, either by GEC or others, in my constituency or in the country as a whole. I deplore the fact that this country is becoming a de-skilled nation.

It was skilled employees who created companies such as GEC and not financiers who treat companies as a merchant bank. Firms are created on a skill base which creates products within the engineering industry and elsewhere and allows us to sell to Hong Kong and China. We ought to be encouraging the engineers, not the merchant bankers.

Conservative Members talk about information technology, which is one of the newer industries and a great hope for the country's future. However, the National Economic Development Office reported that information technology may not be able to survive as a serious independent industry in Britain. Britain may have no role to play in the future of that industry because of the failure of the private sector to invest early enough and do the job which Conservative Members would have us believe they are doing.

The Chancellor talked about the value of privatisation and said that the extension of share ownership would turn us into a property-owning democracy. However, we have seen the failure of privatisation programmes. For example, we saw the failure of the privatisation of Cable and Wireless, which was grossly undersold and oversubscribed by a factor of 100 per cent. That is clear evidence that the Government have bumbled in the sale of precious national assets which should have been harnessed for the benefit of the nation and not against it.

Jaguar was one of the Government's acclaimed success stories and there were 125,000 shareholders. However, I am sure that the House does not need to be reminded that 125,000 form a small proportion of Britain's unemployed. I would hazard a guess that very few of the unemployed took part in that share deal. The proportion who did so became even smaller eight or nine months later when the number of shareholders fell to one third of its original number.

The reality of privatisation is that it involves flogging assets to the friends of Conservative Members. The Government are almost arrogantly disdainful of the needs of the rest of the nation. Their privatisation policy is based on the wonderful calculation that there will be tax cuts, and these are now jeopardised because of the Chancellor's non-policy on sterling exchange rates.

The Government want tax cuts that will favour those in society who already have at the expense of those who do not have. That is a nasty view of society. The Government are bribing a majority, a bribed coalition, and they are doing so at the expense of those who cannot afford to pay for the bribes. As I have said, the Chancellor may have forgone the ability to offer the bribes because of his non-policy on exchange rates, his non-policy on oil depletion and his non-management of the economy in any meaningful sense.

The tragedy is that the Government are stupid. They cannot understand the real economy in which ordinary people live. They are deliberately and unpleasantly cynical in their approach to the management of that economy and they ignore the real problems.

7.58 pm
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)

The speech of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) started very well. In fact, I thought that the House would be indebted to him for being remarkably frank when he talked about the importance to Britain of its trading partners. He stressed the word "partner", as opposed to competitor. That was an interesting new gloss to the Labour party's official policy on international trade. That is not quite the same as the "planned trade", about which we were told at the general election.

The hon. Member for Stretford talked about the problems faced by some of our manufacturing industries. He said that those problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) rightly observed, started from 1964. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that that trend was a long-lasting one embracing problems which have become deeply rooted which rather undermines the Opposition's challenge, who suggest that the problems started in 1979.

The pundits in the press have published comments on the autumn statement which have concentrated on what I regard as an absorbing but essentially uninformative debate about whether there has been an adjustment in the fiscal balance. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that there can be no proper dispute about that because the revenue side of the equation is still missing.

A more interesting debate arose in the autumn on the need to consider the shift that has taken place since 1979 — it has been the subject of speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House—in the method of assessing monetary conditions in the economy and the implications of the changes and shift for the mass of economic policy. The shift in policy has been reasonably open despite the admonitions of the Select Committee on Treasury and Civil Service that the policies of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer were not clear. I believe that my right hon. Friend's policy has become relatively clear over the past few months. It is a shift of policy which I welcome warmly because the emphasis on the exchange rate, which has been re-stated, seems to be entirely right.

In his speech at the Mansion house, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rehearsed some of the shortcomings of the different statistical measures of money supply on which monetary policy relied in the Government's early years. Those of my hon. Friends who know my views on these issues will not be surprised to hear that I agree with every word that my right hon. Friend said about the problems of monetary aggregates. He concluded the relevant passage of his speech at the Mansion House by saying: When, as now, signals from the various measures of money become difficult to interpret, the exchange rate inevitably assumes an increased weight in monetary policy decisions. I wish that it were inevitable that the exchange rate took the strain when monetary aggregates became obscure. I do not remember a time since being elected to the House when the signals of the various measures of money were not difficult to interpret. I remember occasions when my right hon. Friend's predecessor found the signals difficult to interpret, but insisted on trying to do so, instead of doing what my right hon. Friend now happily regards as inevitable and concentrating on the exchange rate. I fear that on occasions my right hon. Friend's predecessor, who is now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was led to what I regard as false policy conclusions. I warmly welcome the shift of emphasis which is now apparent. As I have said, I regard it as entirely right.

I wish to consider the implications of the change of emphasis and the importance attached to stable exchange rates for the rest of the Government's economic policy. Before doing so, I shall repeat some of the arguments which I have advanced previously which outline why I believe that stable exchange rates are so important. First, I believe that the exchange rate is by far the most accurate measure of monetary conditions in the economy, and in any economy, at any time. It is a basic law of supply and demand. If excess credit is created, the exchage rate for that currency will fall as the supply of the currency exceeds the demand. By contrast, if there is excess tightness in credit creation, the rate for the currency will rise on the foreign exchanges. That is exactly what happened in 1980 and 1981.

Furthermore, I believe that a stable exchange rate is an essential prerequisite to a successful policy for controlling inflation and producing sound money. In reverse, fluctuating exchange rates have undermined successive Governments' attempts to control inflation. That was the position throughout the 1970s.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) said that he found himself in sme difficulty, as the monetary aggregates appeared, certainly for sterling M3 figures, to be moving well outside the Chancellor's previously announced target. He felt that that might suggest that monetary conditions were becoming too lax. I suggest to my right hon. Friend and to the House that it would be right to be concerned about unduly lax monetary conditions at the moment when the exchange rate began to fall. For as long as the rate remains reasonably stable, as it has in recent months, there is little cause for concern.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) spoke about the 5 per cent devaluation in the exchange rate over the past week. I must remind him that the movement has been barely 1 per cent. when measured against the international trading basket, and nowhere near 5 per cent. My analysis suggests that at the moment monetary conditions are not unduly lax.

My second reason for supporting a stable exchange rate policy, apart from inflation control reasons, is, if anything, more important. Proper emphasis should be placed on finance being the servant of trade. A stable exchange rate underlies the ability of any private or public sector company to make reasonably long-term plans for the future of internationally competitive activity. Just as fluctuations in the exchange rate during the 1970s undermined Governments' attempts to control inflation, so there is incontrovertible evidence that fluctuating exchange rates have damaged the growth of world trade.

Between 1955 and 1973, when exchange rates were broadly stable in the Western world, world trade grew by 7.5 per cent. per annum. Since the breakdown of that stable exchange rate regime, the rate of growth of world trade has slowed to 3.3 per cent. per annum. Fluctuating exchange rates are the greatest and most important of all non-tariff barriers to international trade. The hon. Member for Stretford underlined the importance of trade, and so do I. Stable exchange rates are an essential prerequisite to reaping the benefits that can come from growing international trade.

If stable exchange rates are important, and if my right hon. Friend is right, as I believe he is, to shift the emphasis to secure a stable exchange rate, what are the implications of such a shift? It is important to recognise that the move to a stable exchange rate did not happen overnight on 17 October. The City pundits did not leave their offices at 5 o'clock that evening to dine with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and open their offices on the following morning to an entirely changed world. There has been a steady shift, which I have welcomed on previous occasions, and which I am happy to welcome again, away from the concentration on monetary aggregates towards a concentration on the exchange rate. My right hon. Fraend's speech at the Mansion house is the most recent and strongest example of that move.

It was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who as long ago as 1980 described sterling M3 as a wayward mistress. Perhaps we can now describe it as a jilted lover. My right hon. Friend, like many men after a torrid love affair, cannot quite bring himself to cause the affair to come to an end. I wish that he could conjure up the courage to follow his convictions to their logical conclusion.

There is suspicion in the markets that the Treasury will use any convenient argument to support its monetary policy of the moment. In the old days there was a clear policy of following sterling M3, and that has thankfully fallen away, but it is said that there is no clear policy in its place by which the Government have announced that they will determine their monetary policy. I prefer clarity, and it is in the interests of the Government and my right hon. Friend's policy to control inflation, to underpin the growth of world trade and to make it a clear policy commitment to maintain the present level of sterling.

I can think of no better way of taking a further step down that road and clarifying that objective than for my right hon. Friend to join the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS. I do not pretend that that is a magic ingredient that will conjure away all the pressures in the foreign exchange market. Still less do I advocate that policy by way of Euro-enthusiasm. I support it because I believe that it would underline my right hon. Friend's seriousness in retaining the exchange rate at its present level. In the relatively short term it would allow him greater room for manoeuvre in easing down interest rates without undermining the exchange rate, which I regard as of great importance if we are to continue to control inflation and keep monetary conditions under control as well.

If we are able to maintain sterling at its present level, the key issue confronting policy makers in the Government and the private sector will be how to maintain and improve the competitiveness of our manufacturing and service industries. I draw no distinction between the two. To do so seems to me to be indulging in an argument about nothing. We must ensure that both our manufacturing and service industries are competitive and able to win increasing shares of world markets.

I have no doubt that in the short term the competitiveness of our manufacturing and service industries is a function of their wage bill, and that my right hon. Friend's policy of stabilising sterling is effectively serving notice on weak managements — which were, rightly, criticised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford — that the Government will not bail out managements which concede excessive wage increases, by allowing sterling to devalue on the foreign exchanges. The Chancellor is right to stress that in present circumstances and to insist that it is a key issue for industrial policy makers.

The statistics speak for themselves. Average earnings in Britain are now rising at between 7 and 8 per cent. per annum. In manufacturing industry — the sector that is supposed to be subject to special international competitive pressures—they are rising by 9 per cent., against 4 per cent. in Japan and 3 per cent. in Germany. If we are to concentrate, as we should, on international competitiveness, those wage pressures are a key priority in the short term.

In the longer term—assuming that we can maintain a stable exchange rate and control inflationary wage pressures — we must increase our ability to build businesses for the future that are internationally competitive. That is why the policy advocated by the House of Lords Select Committee based on a devaluation of sterling is wrong. The Committee argues that in 1980–81 the high rate of sterling killed off some activities that could have survived and made a contribution. I argued for the policy then and I still believe that it was right. I agree with that analysis.

The House of Lords Committee goes on to argue that we should now devalue the currency to allow that type of activity to re-emerge. I could not disagree more strongly with that point of view, because that policy would have us invest in precisely the capacity which was shown in the early 1980s to be at the margin of international competitiveness. It would be a fundamental misallocation of investment resources, and a devaluation policy, to the extent that it was designed to achieve that result, would be ill-conceived.

The House must accept that there is no going back—however we might have done things differently in the early 1980s—and that we have no choice but to concentrate all our effort on the creation of high value added industries that are able to hold their own and win in international competition. I do not have the time to discuss the methods by which such a policy could be brought about, but if the House of Lords was wrong to concentrate on devaluation as a way of achieving it, it was right to concentrate attention on these issues.

There is a tendency among some of my hon. Friends to say that private enterprise will supply these activities —that the hidden hand of the market will act and that these things will emerge naturally — but those who believe that are naive, and I hope that Ministers do not believe that it is so simple. If they do, they take a different view from comparable Ministers in comparable economies in the world.

A stable exchange rate at today's rate is a highly ambitious target for any Government to set. It requires a quantum leap in the value added that our industry can provide. Few British companies have at this time the scale necessary to secure the benefits of market leadership at an international level. In many fields of high value added economic activity, Britain not only does not have a leading company, but does not have a company that plays in the first league. Ministers have set the right goals, but they are ambitious ones. We have a great deal to do and little time in which to do it.

8.14 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) in his Roy Jenkins memorial lecture in favour of joining the EMS because that was the point at which his speech began to go wrong. That device would shackle our economy to that of the superior might of West Germany and reduce us to the periphery. I leave the hon. Gentleman's argument there.

I will concentrate on the autumn financial statement, which, in my brief period as a member of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee — it seems longer at times than is the case—is perhaps the worst autumn statement that I have ever seen and with which I have had to deal. It is a misnomer in every respect: it is not autumn but early winter, it is not financial because it is deliberately designed to conceal the financial mainsprings of the economy in the way that Victorians put shrouding round piano legs, and it is not a statement but much more a confidence trickster's manual. The economics of the artful dodger is embodied in that document. It is essentially an exercise in fantasy.

It is interesting at this juncture in the history of the present Government to see what happens under the counterjumperocracy, as Julie Birchell called the leadership of the Conservative party. It is a brilliant word because it sums up the shallow self-made men and women who worship their creator and who have led the party, people of no class and background, people with a simple blinding idea which has turned out to be a busted flush. In desperation as they try to find a way out of the trap into which they have marched and have led the country so confidently, when their policies do not work, their true natures come out.

We have the Prime Minister running round the world like Reagan's clucking hen, clucking wherever she is able; last night we had the semi-housetrained polecat routine from another whose true nature was coming out; and in the autumn statement we have the politics of deceit—[Interruption.]—because .it is essentially a deceit.

Last year the Chancellor found that his forecasts of revenue and expenditure were so fantastic and so disbelieved by the financial community that they led directly to the January financial crisis. His solution was not to give better and more sensible forecasts but not to give any forecasts, and that again will lead to problems because of the ignorance in which the market has been asked to operate. He has chucked overboard the compass—M3, which has led us from reef to reef, from shoal to shoal and from disaster to disaster—and, it having been chucked in the sea, it no longer counts after all these years.

The right hon. Gentleman has suppressed key information. He has suppressed information on Government revenues and on the fiscal adjustment, and we need to know both of those to judge the policies. He has concentrated throughout on over-optimistic assumptions about the economy, trade and exports. Exports will suffer and trade will become more competitive as the dollar goes down.

The Chancellor has made over-optimistic assumptions about productivity growth, which will not improve in the way it is said to improve; he has made over-optimistic assumptions about investment, which will not increase in the way it is said to increase; and he has made overoptimistic assumptions about the oil price and the exchange rate.

Lump all those over-optimistic assumptions together, put them with the techniques, and we have not an economic document but a confidence trick. It has been compared with Voltaire. As it has been panned and as it glosses over the facts, I suppose that we could call it Panglossian. That is about its only relationship with Voltaire.

The document tells us more about the psychology of the man who happens to hold the position for the moment of Chancellor of the Exchequer than it does about Britain's economic prospects. It tells us something about a cocky, brash personality who deep down is really shallow. It tells us, in the words of Dryden applied to Buckingham, about the economics of a man who has moved from devaluationist via Zurich to a high-wire act. Dryden said, and it is true of the Chancellor: Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong, Was everything by starts and nothing long. But in the course of one revolving moon, Was chemist, fiddler, statesman and buffoon. Railing, praising were his usual themes And both (to show his judgement) in extremes. Squandering wealth was his particular art, Nothing went unrewarded but dessert. That has gone unrewarded in this economy—the dessert of the real people who make real things, who occupy real jobs in real industry. All of that has been sadly neglected by the present Government.

Why should we have this sordid little document? My explanation is simple and, I think, accurate. The Government are changing course — at least, the Chancellor is changing course for them — but they cannot admit it because they have made a virtue of not changing, of not even turning, even when it is necessary to do so.

They have made the consistency of being wrong their main political virtue. However, the policies have not worked. Our average growth since 1979 — we must include 1979, regrettable though it may be for the Government—is about 1 per cent. Leaving out oil, it is 0.5 per cent. They cannot deliver that which was promised —the tax cuts and benefits—as a result of the new policies that were to turn the economy round. They cannot deliver so they must turn round, because not only can they not deliver; they have inflicted incalculable damage upon the economy, in particular manufacturing, on which this country depends.

There are 4 million unemployed people. We have the highest unemployment of any major industrial country. There has been a loss of 28 per cent. in manufacturing jobs —1.8 million people — the hard core of our unemployment. There has been a wind-down in the basic drive motor of the economy which has produced a national decline.

Even the benefits that the Government claim will result from their policies have turned to dross. The productivity increase that really comes from shooting the last four or five batsmen in a cricket team to improve the batting average has now slowed down, but it was always lower than that of competing economies. It is now reduced to the rate at which it was increasing through the 1960s and 1970s, which was one of the slowest in the world.

Inflation, to which the Government have devoted so much effort, is still higher than that of most of our major industrial competitors. Our labour costs are rising faster than those of most of our major industrial competitors. The Treasury has now become completely confused about labour costs. It says that people should price themselves into jobs and that labour costs should be held down, but, in contrast, it says that to compete in the international trade sector price competitiveness does not matter; it is not important. If price competitiveness is not important, labour costs are not important. The Treasury cannot have both theories. The two are completely inconsistent.

To retain their market share and survive, our firms are now taking, and will increasingly take, cuts in profits. That will lead to cuts in investment, cuts in research, cuts in design and cuts in all the methods needed to improve the non-price competitiveness of our goods. That will all be thrown overboard to enable industry to survive the difficulties that it will face. We have already seen the trends in firms such as ICI which is investing overseas because it cannot invest in our economy given the overvaluation of sterling.

If our competing industry—the sector upon which we must depend for survival — were healthy, its health should be apparent at this stage in the cycle when the Government have had six years to remedy what they call the fundamental defects of our economy. How healthy is that internationally competing industry? We have a huge and increasing deficit in information technology. Imports are increasing and dominate the market. That sector is suffering badly. In chemicals, production is being transferred overseas. Engineering is a black hole in the economy for all practical purposes. With regard to electronics and telecommunications, we should consider GEC—a cash mountain rather than a major productive asset. Consider, in particular, Standard Telephones and Cables and its misfortunes. Let us consider Plessey which is reduced now to a fiddler. How healthy is the sector? What are its prospects for survival in a world that will become tougher as the dollar falls? Our exports will face increasing competition.

Services are supposed to be the answer to our problems. Our share of the world trade in services has been declining at the same rate as our share of world trade in manufactures. Services are healthy only because it is much more difficult to import them. It is difficult to import hairdressers, although some people may prefer that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) said, there is an increasing propensity to import in that sector. Our multinationals, the basis of our worldwide survival, as the book by Stockford and Turner shows, concentrate on the low-tech sectors—food, tobacco and drink. That sector is slow to change. We are not competing effectively in the sectors which are crucial to our survival.

All the sectors which should be leaping ahead, given the stimulus of what the Government are supposed to have done, have been weakened and are much less competitive and effective.

The Government's policies will not work. If the Government are to have any credibility, they must produce some benefits—some of the tax cuts that they promised. How can they do that with policies that will not work? The autumn statement is the answer. They will raffle off public assets to provide tax cuts. They are selling what belongs to all of us to give tax cuts to some of us. They promised that the tax cuts would come from increasing the productive capacity and the power of the British economy. They have not. But they are still giving the cuts. That is the essence of a confidence trick.

The Government must change in that fashion because the Prime Minister is incapable of change. She can change on things that do not matter—televising the House of Commons and conveyancing for building societies. On those she can say one thing one minute and another the next. On the basic issue of national survival she cannot change. She must pursue her policies. Change must be smuggled past mummy like a naughty boy smuggling a dirty magazine—the autumn statement—past mummy's bedroom when he comes in late at night. That is what the Chancellor is doing with the autumn statement.

The Prime Minister, with the certainty of the second-rate mind, will persevere with her policies. We shall have a reflation which the Chancellor hopes that the City, the financial community and international financial opinion will not notice but which he hopes that the voters will notice. It will be a selective confidence trick dangled before sections of the community.

We are to change to Reaganomics three years late. It is interesting to note that the United States and British Governments took office committed to the same lunacies. By August 1982, finding his policies impossible to pursue, Reagan changed his lunacy and went in for a massive Keynesian expansion. The Chancellor has, three years late, learnt a lesson. Three years after Reagan abandoned Thatchernomics we shall embrace Reaganomics. We shall have a loose fiscal policy — stimulation by flog-offs, resulting in a massive £4.75 billion.

Council house sales and all the other flog-offs must be added to that. They have been diligently researched by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, (Mr. Blair). Those sales will double the amount raised to almost more than the public sector borrowing requirment. Flogging off has reached its highest level under this Government. Their policy is stimulation by tax cuts financed by the flog-offs, coupled with a tight monetary policy. Our economy has a limitless future of high interest rates strangling investment. In other words, we have a Chancellor who will combine the best Tory traditions of economic management. He will combine the fiscal stance of a Barber with the monetary stance of the Foreign Secretary, the former Chancellor. The two Tory elements that had the most disastrous results for the economy are to be combined by the Chancellor.

The Opposition welcome any expansion of the economy. The problem is that it is five years too late—five years of lost growth, production and investment and five years of descent into a nastier, more enbittered society. The Church of England speaks out and the Government resent that as an attack by hostile Marxists. Even the only religious organisation still on its knees—the CBI— criticises Government policy. There have been five years of misery and decline.

The Chancellor at last realises the folly of what has been done and is beginning to change. Even this Chancellor has learnt that we must be grateful for big-built but small-brained mercies. The problem is that the change is not enough. First, it is risky. He is gambling on oil prices and the exchange rate. Neither gamble is justified. As the oil price comes down, to try to safeguard himself the Chancellor will have to screw up the exchange rate with higher and higher interest rates. It would be all right if he let the exchange rate come down. We should have a stimulus for the economy from the bonus of cheap oil. He will not allow that to happen, so the gamble is risky.

Secondly, the change is irresponsible. The money is there for tax cuts. There is a chorus of demand from Conservative Members. They say, "Where is the money coming from?" They are simple-minded economists. The money is there for tax cuts from flogging off public assets. It is not there for doing anything useful such as expanding the British economy, for public spending, for housing, for rebuilding the infrastructure or for alleviating all the problems of this country. It is there to shove into people's back pockets. That is essentially wasteful and irresponsible. It does not provide the stimulus to the real economy that public spending would provide.

All such a technique achieves is to stimulate the purchase of imports. It is creating a position in which people will rush out and spend money on Japanese video recorders, German cars, French kitchen equipment, Italian washing machines and all the other items whose purchase does not result in jobs in this country. The headline in The Economist—"Vote buying starts early"—was correct.

During one sitting of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, I accused the Chancellor of electioneering. He did not deny it. He simply said, "You are going to lose." The Chancellor is putting an aerosol gloss on the whole economy. He is not providing jobs, stimulating the economy or improving the infrastructure. He is doing none of the important things such as encouraging investment so that we can survive in a competitive world. All that he is doing is putting a nice gloss, a feeling of bounce, in the economy, based on the purchase of more imports. It is a gambler's throw financed by asset sales. We have now reached the nadir of election politics in this country.

There has always been a tendency for Governments to manipulate the economy in the hope of gaining votes at the next election. The Labour party has not done that, of course, because when it was in government we had the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) as our one Chancellor in a position to do that—but he did not. That is why he joined the SDP. He wants to make its members as miserable as he made Labour Members in 1970.

Of course, Conservative Governments always manipulate the economy. In 1983, when voicing those platitudes about sacrifice and endeavour, they were shovelling money into domestic credit expansion as though it was going out of fashion. There was an enormous boom in domestic credit. It worked, because they were returned at the next election. That sort of action is now to be supplemented by the Government buying popularity by selling what belongs to all of us to give tax cuts to some of us. That is the ultimate in election manipulation. That is the ultimate in irresponsibility. That is the economics of bankruptcy.

The Earl of Stockton said that the Government were selling the family silver. That was a rather silly description. A true comparison would be with a household in difficulties—and the Prime Minister is fond of using the image of a household in difficulties. That is no wonder considering the way in which she runs our economy. The Government's action is rather like a household in difficulties selling its tools, its car and any productive assets. The Government are sacrificing future revenue from those assets in return for a quick gain to help them survive. They are buying the people with the people'a money. It is Government survival by hire purchase. Fortunately for the country, but unfortunately for the Government, that policy cannot work. The consequences will be ruinous.

Central to the Government's strategy is the attack on inflation. The Government intend to keep the pound at a high level. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) played with the fact that the pound has moved during the past few days despite such and such factors. But it is not the exact position or the minor movement of the pound that matters; it is the Government's intention to keep it as high as possible through high interest rates to achieve their aim of defeating inflation. They want to defeat inflation by making imports cheaper, by destroying jobs in this country, and by making life so difficult for our companies through high interest rates and an overvalued exchange rate that, to survive, those companies must squeeze labour costs.

That has all the logic of mutually assured destruction as an economic policy. It will certainly destroy productive industry, be harmful to the prospects for jobs and to investment and will not improve research design and all the other things that make survival possible. The Government will turn our country into a low-wage, low-skill economy. That can be the only outcome of such a policy.

The Government must calculate when to time the election before the feeling of euphoria peters out and the harsh cold consequences of their actions begin to show, as they will by the end of next year. We are heading towards 1979 to 1981 revisited. There is no excuse for what the Government are doing. They might have had an excuse for blundering into over-valuation of the pound and high interest rates between 1979 and 1981 because they did not really know what was happening, but were merely incompetent. Now they are deliberately going into exactly that position again, but with their eyes open, and that can only be ruinous for this country and its economy.

In our economic assessments, we must never lose sight of the centrality of the exchange rate. Our problem. since the war has been that unless our productivity increases at the same pace as that of our major competitors—and it has not—and unless our inflation rate is the same as that of our major competitors—and it has not been—the pound must be depreciated to stay competitive. The Government will not do—

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Tell us what the Labour party would do.

Mr. Mitchell

The Government have been in power for six years—

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

What is the answer?

Mr. Mitchell

I am just telling the House.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

No; we are still waiting for the answer.

Mr. Mitchell

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to come to the point.

If productivity does not increase at the same rate as that of our competitors, the pound must be depreciated if we are to remain competitive, or we will lose industrial capacity, lose markets, have a reduced share of world trade and become poorer and less capable of maintaining our high standard of living. Competitiveness is the problem, and loss of competitiveness has been the main reason why unemployment has increased, especially under this Government.

I believe that a competitive currency is the only way out. It is the only way for our manufacturing sector to revive and to have the stimulus to compete and to retake markets that it has lost. That is my message, my personal answer to the silly question asked by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo).

No one must go as far as I have in wanting a competitive currency to realise that to do the opposite of what I am recommending — to keep the pound artificially high through high interest rates—would be doubly crippling, doubly penurious and doubly ruinous for British industry. Indeed, it would be harmful to the longterm objective of the Government to improve the economy. It would defeat every attempt to expand the economy.

Every attempt to improve this country's position in jobs, investment, growth and the international trading sector is being thrown overboard by the Government in their squalid, sordid struggle to survive. Greater love of power hath no Government than that they lay down their country for their life.

The giggling, candy-loss economy towards which the Chancellor is leading us — and he treated the Select Committee with contempt — will leave us with a manufacturing base that cannot survive, cannot provide jobs, cannot help us to pay our way in the world. It will be a national disaster. It will fall to the Labour party, as it always has, to rebuild the strength of a country of which we can be proud because it satisfies the aspirations of the people—not some of the people, as the Government want, but all of the people.

8.38 pm
Mr. Robert Harvey (Clwyd, South-West)

The Government will shortly face one of the most crucial choices of this Parliament—whether to continue to seek a reduction in the burden of taxation, or to channel much of the money made available through the success of Government policies in keeping Government spending under control into the direct task of bringing down unemployment. I welcome the steps in the latter direction announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the autumn statement.

It is hard to dispute the economic success of this Government. We have had five years of economic growth, reaching 3 per cent. in 1983—the highest growth in the EEC—and a further 2.5 per cent. last year despite the miners' strike.

We are growing this year at the rate of 3.5 per cent., higher than any EEC country and maybe the United States as well. Meanwhile, inflation has been kept down to an average increase of 5 per cent. over the past three years compared with 15 per cent. under the previous Labour Government. All the dire predictions of the Labour party at the last election that inflation would take off and that growth would peter out have been exposed as the cant that they always were.

Britain's remarkable and sustained economic success explains why the Labour party is also so demoralised in the House. Productivity has been rising by 4 per cent. a year and manufacturing output by 3 per cent. a year. Capital investment is at an all-time high. The grim years of stagnation and high inflation during the 1960s and mid-1970s are things of the past.

The Government's success in controlling their spending while increasing it on the things that really matter, such as the National Health Service and on education per pupil, has for the first time made available spending resources to give an added push to the recovery.

The question is whether most of the new money should go into a cut in the standard rate of income tax, into raising tax thresholds, into a programme of selective public spending targeted at specific area of high unemployment, or a combination of those. Which would be the most effective?

I recognise that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made great strides towards reforming and simplifying the tax system in his two Budgets, and large-scale tax cuts might help towards further reforms. But tax cuts alone are not enough. It is argued that tax cuts would help to ease unemployment. To some of us the connection seems an indirect one. It is far more likely that the extra demand injected into the economy through tax cuts would be dissipated in imports, in which case the only new jobs would be those created abroad.

It is argued that tax cuts would moderate wage claims. Again, that is unlikely. There is no evidence of greater moderation being practised by the unions in times of tax cutting. While wages are soaring, tax cuts will be barely noticed. It has been argued that tax cuts could provide incentives. I agree that tax cuts at the higher rate provide incentives because they can mean the difference between personal failure and success. But the kind of tax cuts that have been talked about in terms of the cut in the standard rate, especially if they were scattered across the board through such a cut, while providing a few extra pounds for everyone, will not make much difference to whether an industrial or office worker works more or less hard.

The argument in employment terms for raising tax thresholds is that it eases the plight of the lower paid and provides incentives for those on the margin between social security and low-paid employment. I accept that argument, but it does not apply to a cut in the standard rate.

A cut in the standard rate would be an expensive, inefficient and indirect way of coping with unemployment. Unless we get unemployment down, we shall pay the price. For years now unemployment has been stuck at about the 3 million mark. One does not have to go down the crazy reflationary path being advocated by the Labour and Alliance parties to understand that this is an appalling human loss. Of course there are scroungers and some people on the black economy, although many are there because they have to be, not because they want to be. But for the vast majority of the unwilling unemployed that means living standards of a half or a third what they ought to be, no security or prospects for the future, no hope of betterment or advancement, just quiet, patient misery and the despair of rejection. That despair hangs like a pall over the 18 per cent. of my constituents who are unemployed and the 130 workers facing redundancy today at the Muntz plastics factory in my constituency.

The causes of unemployment are blindingly obvious and have little to do with the standard reflation and deflation arguments that we hear in the House. They result from the technological revolution that is shaking out people trained in old fashioned assembly line manufacturing and requiring new skills which the old work force does not have. The new technology is replacing man with machine.

The long-term solutions are equally obvious. A proper long-term skills programme should be introduced with shorter working hours. Ultimately a shorter working week would help to ensure that all our people can enjoy the benefits of a wealthier and more leisurely society. The job release scheme, one of the best schemes introduced by the Government, should be extended and the retirement age ultimately lowered to 60 for those who want it.

Finally, in the short run, a carefully costed and targeted programme of infrastructure investment and support, in particular for construction and house building, should be drawn up to provide aid for those such as the redundant over-40s who are otherwise never likely to get a job again. Such a programme must complement a raising of tax thresholds and today there is room for both.

It would be a mistake if tax cuts and reform were put before the needs of a large and deprived group of people who have not shared in the greater wealth that the Government have engendered. It would be a pity if in the national perception the Government seemed to be handing out a further helping at the feast to the fortunate majority in work while the 3 million out of work watched hungry at the windows.

It would be a double tragedy if, after all the years of struggle to put Britain on its feet again, the public's concern with present levels of unemployment—the main concern of four fifths of the British public, so thank heavens that we are not an uncaring nation, however much better off we are becoming—should lead to the return of a Government who would destroy everything that we have achieved so far.

The Government, who have achieved so much, must now put unemployment at the top of the agenda, where 80 per cent. of the British people believe that it should be. Let us launch a national crusade against unemployment because at long last we have the resources with which to do so.

8.46 pm
Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) began his speech in a most interesting vein by saying that the Government were a remarkable success. He reeled off a number of statistics that looked encouraging. Then, like many Conservative Members who represent areas of a substantial unemployment problem, in 60 per cent. of his speech he admitted that for his constituents the Government had been a disaster. He referred to 18 per cent. unemployment and suggested a package of ideas that is largely that put forward by the alliance which earlier he condemned as crazy. He could conceivably be right, but if so he is condemning himself as well.

The most interesting aspect of the opening speeches was not so much what the Chancellor talked about but what he did not talk about, which often tells one a great deal about their train of thought. The Chancellor did not mention pay settlements throughout his speech, so determined was he to avoid that, although outside the House and during Question Time he has chosen to major on it in a fair way. I presume that his decision to do that was based on the fact that he does not know what to do about pay settlements.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke for his allocated time and, again, he did not mention pay settlements. I believe that he knows and appreciates what should be done about pay settlements, but he also knows that his party will not let him do it. Therefore, the only safe way out of that is not to talk about it.

The fear of what may happen to pay settlements if the Government's policy on exchange rates and their fiscal stance is relaxed has a lot more to do with the decisions and policies that are being developed than any other single thing. There is some justice in the Government's fear. The Chancellor reiterated today, as he did in the autumn statement and previous statements, that he was to continue the fight against inflation. That, without doubt, is the Government's greatest single success, although it is fair to say that if one compares the reduction of inflation in Britain with elsewhere the progress is useful, but it is nothing like as impressive when compared with the fact that inflation has been reducing virtually throughout the western world.

The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) made a useful and telling speech about the manufacturing sector, but the simple fact is that the Government look likely to continue with their high interest rate policy. They are doing that because it will keep the exchange rate higher than it would have been otherwise. The Chancellor does not deny that. He wants to fight inflation. One clear ingredient in the short-term analysis of inflation is the exchange rate, and he said that from the Dispatch Box today. We must give him 10 out of 10 for honesty. One of the appeals of a higher exchange rate is that it will make imports cheaper. That has an effect on the cost of living index, which suggests that the problem has been solved.

As hon. Member after hon. Member, especially those representing industrial areas, have pointed out, sadly, is not the end of the story. High interest rates, high exchange rates and cheap imports occur, but the other half of the story is that the British manufacturer trying to sell abroad suddenly finds that it is much more difficult to do so as his price has been put up because of the exchange rate. Trying to maintain the home markets, which is just as important, is equally difficult. Both those trends mean the loss of jobs, and that we are a net importer of manufactured goods.

Paragraph 33 of the report of the Select Committee on treasury and Civil Service states: export volumes have not been very responsive to price and cost changes. I think that the Chancellor is arguing that exchange rates are not that important for exports. Over the past four or five years they have not responded as immediately as people used to believe they did. That may be so . but they do respond. Anybody who deals in goods imported into Britain will say that if a line comes on to the market that is well priced people will buy it. Exchange rates have as big an effect on that in the short term as anything else. It results in high interest rates, high exchange rates and jobs that are difficult to hold both at home and abroad.

I do not believe that the Chancellor wanted that effect. I do not believe that he set off thinking about getting rid of jobs in manufacturing. He has allowed it to happen and he stated today that it will continue because he wants to fight inflation. When he uses the word "inflation" I suspect that he means the wage demand problem that I believe has dominated this country for the past 20 or 25 years. The great unspoken problem in British politics is how to develop a sensible income strategy. We have lost much of our base through that.

In 1979 we were told that a new formula had been found and that monetarism would solve all the problems. At least the Chancellor now agrees with nearly all of the Opposition, who never did believe that monetarism would solve the problem. We are now back to exchange rates, interest rates and appeals for moderation, which seem largely to fall on deaf ears.

We believe that there must be a better solution, which is to control wage demands rather than slowly squeeze to death the remnants of our industrial sector. We could make a genuine attempt to develop an understanding on pay. We believe that we need a pay policy whether it be voluntary, fiscal or legislative. That is something that we could discuss in depth on another occasion. It would be better to have a sensible approach to pay rather than squeeze our industrial base to death.

The Minister may have better figures, but as far as I can see from the figures made available, if one compares the pay rise of an average British worker over the past 25 years with the pay rise of an average German worker, amazingly, the British worker has beaten the German worker by 16 years to nine. Out of 25 years, the British worker has had the best rise on 16 occasions and the German worker on just nine. I do not believe that one person in the House would argue that that statistic reflects changes in living standards: we all know that the German industrial worker has done much better.

The prize of the development of a pay policy is that we can let interest rates go down, we can let the exchange rate reach a more realistic value and we can give our manufacturer a chance, at home and abroad, without roaring wage settlements. Somehow or other somebody must achieve that in Britain in the next 10 years if we are to have a substantial manufacturing sector. As hon. Member after hon. Member has said, it is difficult to envisage a living for Britain in the future which does not rely on our capacity to manufacture goods at a price that people are prepared to pay.

We seem to be moving towards a Budget with tax cuts. That will be on the back of asset sales, even if the Chancellor likes to pretend that it is not. I see that the Chancellor is in the Chamber. If, for some reason or other — we all know the difficulty of getting legislation through the House—something cropped up which meant that in the current financial year the £4.75 billion-worth of public asset sales did not occur, where would the Chancellor make the saving of that money? Would he borrow some more, cut back on capital investment in our economy or put off the tax cuts? I do not expect him to answer the question. There is not much point in asking because he does not often answer our questions. However, I suspect that less than 10 per cent. of the Members of the House would not know which of those three would be put on the back burner. It is tax cuts.

If we have some money through public asset sales to make tax cuts in the early part of next year, as was said by the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-Westst (Mr. Harvey) the alliance believes that part of it should go into public investment, into restructuring our hospitals, roads, schools, or sewers or whatever may be relevant in the particular part of the country. We argue that because we have now become so import-sensitive that any reduction in income tax will undoubtedly bring more imports, and that will have a much smaller job effect that if we put the money into public investment. I do not argue that case for all Budgets, or the Government would spend every single farthing that the national economy produced. However, I believe that in the next Budget there would be more sense, more humanity and more comprehension of the difficulties faced by many people if the money were pushed in that direction than used to make tax cuts which we know will benefit those in work who are probably already well-paid and are the better-off in our economy. They are not the ones who most need the state's assistance.

8.57 pm
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Being lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at this stage of the debate, gives me the opportunity to make a truncated speech, which might be of benefit to the House and which concentrates on three positive proposals that I should like to bring to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

With the background of an economy that is now progressing satisfactorily on most of the indicators— save, notably, that of massive unemployment—I should like Government policy to be directed principally to measures that would improve our competitiveness and this country's ability to do well in world markets, because I believe that that would have a useful part to play. I should like to draw three specific measures to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

First, there is a strong argument for more encouragement and support for industrial research and development. The House may know that between 1972 and 1983, Britain's total research and development rose slightly from £7.01 billion to £7.33 billion at 1983 prices, but at the same time the money for applied civilian research rose by only 2 per cent. in real terms and that for fundamental science and research declined by 20 per cent. That is not a satisfactory picture.

Equally, from 1967 to 1982, Britain's industry-financed research and development rose by a mere 0.9 per cent. a year, whereas over the same period the Japanese figure was 9.8 per cent. a year, for France and West Germany it was 5.9 per cent. a year and for the United States it was 4.1 per cent. a year. Therefore, basic research needs to be further encouraged by increasing public funds for higher education and the research councils. Industrial and applied research needs to be encouraged through the Department of Trade and Industry, with the continuation and expansion of the recently increased support under that heading, and by concerted efforts to educate British management in the vital necessity of that aspect of its activities. In that connection, we might consider the possibility of greater tax incentives for civilian and applied research, building on measures that already exist.

Secondly, there is a strong argument—as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) and others have said—for greater national investment in training and retraining. As is well known to the House, the performance of British companies has been lamentable in that respect. That was made clear recently in the Coopers and Lybrand study for the Manpower Services Commission. On average, British companies spend about 0.15 per cent. of their sales turnover on adult training compared with 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. in many of our foreign competitor countries. Indeed, too many British managers tend to regard such expenditure as an overhead rather than as an investment.

Those shortcomings can be remedied. It is not too late. The Government could take several measures to help. First, capital expenditure for training could qualify for tax relief in the year of expenditure. Secondly, there is a case for channelling further resources via the MSC into adult training and retraining programmes on similar lines to those operating now for the youth training scheme. Thirdly, there is a case for a statutory national individual training credit system, which has been recommended by several people. The United States has such a system. It also figured in a pamphlet written by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) and myself a while ago.

My third recommendation is in line with the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) and other of my hon. Friends. There is now an overwhelming case for this country to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. Paragraph 1.55 of the autumn statement makes it clear that monetary aggregates and the exchange rate are equally important indicators for decisions on short-term interest rates. Now that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Mansion house speech has served to obscure the clarity of monetary policy, we have what amounts to an exchange rate policy, principally to counter inflation. In those circumstances, it would be much more reliable to pursue that policy as a member of the exchange rate mechanism. The argument put forward by Mr. Samuel Brittan and others, that it could lead to lower interest rates over a period of time, holds quite a lot of validity.

Briefly stated, the arguments that are most persuasive are as follows. The most important part of our trade is now with the other EMS countries; it should help to keep our costs and inflation rate nearer to that of our principal competitors, notably West Germany; and with the muddying of monetary policy and the attenuation of the PSBR policy, it would assist in further progress on counter-inflation, which we all wish to see. It would help us to resist the politics of unrealistic expectations, which is always a severe temptation for any democratically elected Government at this stage of a Parliament; it could lead to lower interest rates in the way that I have described. Perhaps most important, and little mentioned, it could be a contribution to international monetary reform which, looking just over the horizon, is a necessary further stage in the policies that my right hon. Friend has been following in the Group of Five and elsewhere.

I hope that my right hon. Friend has been able to take note of those three points.

9.3 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I have three related questions for Treasury Ministers.

The first is in relation to public works and their real cost. The Institute of Civil Engineers argues persuasively that for every £100 million spent on sewers, over £50 million will be recouped by tax that would not be paid otherwise, unemployment benefit that would not be paid, and adjustments to several benefits, even housing benefit. Do Treasury Ministers accept that view of social accounting? If not, why not?

Secondly, I should like to ask about an unpopular and delicate subject, about which it is too easy to be trite: the black economy. It does not behove any hon. Member to adopt a moral stance about the black economy. Those who are involved in the so-called black economy are often living in poor circumstances. Nevertheless, the time has come, to judge from the constituency work of all hon. Members, to recognise that between 45 and 50 per cent. of all the repairs carried out by the building industry are carried out by a network—a subculture, if one likes—with people often asking in pubs whether anyone knows someone who can do the work. In no way other than cash is the transaction paid for. It is time that an assessment was made of the extent of the black economy. It is not a question of being moral but of being realistic and whether we should raise the tax threshold. To get a true picture of the economy this subject can no longer be ducked.

Thirdly, I turn to the collection of revenue. I know that Tony Christopher of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation and others have rightly persuaded Treasury Ministers to increase the staff of the Inland Revenue. However, are the Government satisfied that there are sufficient staff with the highest level of expertise to deal not only with fraud but with very complex tax collection? I am told that in the Government machine there are only 16 senior civil servants who are capable of taking on complex tax and fraud cases. As for prosecutions for fraud, out of 384 cases there have been only 37 prosecutions. Do the Treasury Ministers accept these rough figures and do they think that they are serious? If they think that they are serious, should not something be done about the matter?

9.6 pm

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I should like to add my voice to those right hon. and hon. Members who have asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give a further and better explanation of his medium-term financial strategy policy. When he was the master foreman who thought up the medium-term financial strategy, he will recollect that there were two main motives for it. The first motive was that there should be greater certainty. The second motive was a belief that politicians collectively could no longer be trusted to keep their hands off the money supply, thereby corrupting the currency.

When my right hon. Friend built that structure, the general feeling in the country was that inflation should be reduced. The need, however, for a medium-term financial strategy is now much greater. The general political wisdom is that, most of all, the Tory party wants to win the next general election and that it wants to do so by getting as many people as possible back to work as quickly as possible. That is precisely the circumstance in which the nation needs a medium-term financial strategy.

However, as I understand it—I note that many other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate share this view—that strategy has been all but abandoned. In its place has been put a regime of high interest rates and high exchange rates. It is obvious from what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that high interest rates are regarded as necessary so that the liquidity preferences—to use a very technical term—of the people who hold money may continue to be fairly high, but that is bad for manufacturing industry.

It seems to me that my right hon. Friend is also aiming at a high exchange rare. Again that is bad for manufacturing industry. It is also exactly the same as the theoretical position that was adopted by the Tory party in 1973, when it imposed a prices and incomes policy. it had as its objective, not the cure of the cause of inflation, but the cure of the symptoms. There are different symptoms now, but they are symptoms nevertheless. Again I believe that this policy will be unsuccessful.

There is a second analogy to be drawn with 1973. Instead of the high and rising property prices, which fed through to the retail prices index in 1973, there is a high stock market. I hope my right hon. Friend will explain why he virtually abandoned the medium-term financial strategy on 17 October. I hope he will also explain why he prefers a high interest rate and a high exchange rate policy. Most of all, I hope he will explain not only why it is technically desirable, but how it is technically possible, because both interest rates and exchange rates are tossed hither and thither by market forces. There may be some members of the Labour party who believe that the state can control interest rates and exchange rates, but there are not many in the Conservative party who believe that that can be done.

We supported the medium-term financial strategy because there was a collective view that politicians would corrupt the currency. I hope my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will explain that any unworthy suspicions that might be directed towards a Conservative Administration can easily be answered by him.

9.10 pm
Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

I should like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Opposition to welcome the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) to his new job as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I think that this is the first time he has taken part in a debate since he was appointed. We genuinely welcome his appointment and hope that he will enjoy his time in office. The right hon. Gentleman brings considerable advantages to his new job. In particular, he brings the experience of two important Departments—the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Trade and Industry, which stands him in good stead.

I am also sorry for the right hon. Member, and I am sorry for two reasons.

First, I am sorry for the right hon. Gentleman because he has been appointed to his new role at a time when, after six years of Conservative Government, the people will increasingly be asking to see the results of the sacrifices that they have been asked to make in terms of unemployment. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) has joined us. He has been absent for most of the debate. It is unfortunate if he intends to start barracking immediately. He has not sat here throughout the debate. Many of his colleagues have been present, and I intend to deal with as many of their contributions as I can.

I am sorry for the right hon. Member also because he will have to listen to the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in future. Previously he has not had to listen to that mixture of arrogance and self-delusion that characterises the Chancellor's speeches on such occasions, including this afternoon.

Only this Chancellor and this Prime Minister could bring themselves to table a motion that welcomes the prospect of continuing low inflation and steady growth as the basis for maintaining the trend of rising employment and go on to congratulate themselves on the continuing reduction in the share of national income preempted their word by public expenditure. Therefore, I begin by drawing the attention of the Chief Secretary and the House to what is really contained in the autumn statement and what is really happening in the economy.

The autumn statement begins by claiming that inflation is set to decline further. The right hon. Member for Norfolk, South might be forgiven for thinking that he has been appointed to his new job at the end of a year in which inflation has declined, but the truth is that inflation has risen in the past year from 4.75 per cent. to 5.5 per cent.

What were we promised a year ago? The Chancellor smiles, but in his more serious moments he does not regard it as a matter for risibility that inflation has increased. That is certainly not what he promised a year ago. We were confidently told then by the Chancellor that inflation would fall from 4.75 per cent. We were promised a decrease and we got an increase—the exact opposite.

Let us look at the next promise—at growth. The Chancellor describes growth as the basis for maintaining the level of increasing employment. What has happened to growth during the past year? A year ago, we were told that GDP would grow by 3.5 per cent. At first sight, it looks as though it did. The Chancellor is nodding with satisfaction. He tells us that next year output will grow by 3 per cent. in line with the average since 1981. That looks steady enough — 3 per cent. a year, no swings, no roundabouts, no ups and no downs.

However, anyone who ploughs through another 40 paragraphs of the autumn statement will find a different picture because the Chancellor admits that the true forecast for 1986 is not 3 per cent. but 2.5 per cent. and that the average for the period since 1981 hides a growth rate decreasing from 3.5 per cent. in 1984 to 3 per cent. in 1985 to 2.5 per cent. in 1986. Independent observers of the economy forecast — we are indebted to the Select Committee on Treasury and Civil Service for bringing the forecasts together in its report—that growth will be even lower, that it will not be 2.5 per cent. but nearer 2 per cent. next year, falling even further to about 1..5 per cent. in 1987. Thanks to the Select Committee, we can see exactly the same picture in other parts of the economy.

The Chancellor says that fixed investment has increased by 4 per cent. this year and will drop to 3.5 per cent. next year, but independent forecasters say that it will be nearer 1 per cent. Then the Chancellor says that exports have risen by 7 per cent. this year and will increase by only 2 per cent. next year, and that imports have risen by only 3.5 per cent. this year but will rise by 4 per cent. next year. On the basis of those figures it is not surprising that, when the Chancellor promises that the surplus on the balance of payments on the current account will increase from £3 billion this year to £4 billion next year, those same independent forecasters expect the opposite—a fall to £2.5 billion.

The truth is that this country stands on the brink of another recession and, buried in the economic statement, the Chancellor admits it. What else can the Chancellor mean when he refers to "the current cycle", or "a cyclical slowdown"?

But there is one thing which the Chancellor and the outside experts agree on — unemployment will stay above 3 million people: more than 3 million people next year and more than 3 million the year after that.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) said in a thoughtful speech that unemployment was due largely to the impact of technology on the economy. I agree that technology and its spread is responsible for some unemployment. It is wrong, however, to attribute increased unemployment and its continuing level simply to the introduction of new technology. The right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) is similarly wrong when he attributes the rise in unemployment in the past few years to a once-for-all shake-out of people in non-jobs. It is true that there is a shake-out of people in any recession, but to attribute the rise in unemployment in the past six years to a once-for-all shake out ignores my experience and that of my hon. Friends in the cities. It ignores the facts which were put to the House earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). We suggest that the right hon. Member for Worthing should tell the people who have lost their jobs at Metro Cammell in Birmingham that they are losing their jobs because of a once-for-all shake-out of non-jobs. He should go to Castle Bromwich and tell the toolmakers of British Leyland who are just about to lose their jobs that it is a once-for-all shake out of non-jobs. He should go to the BSR workers in Stourbridge and tell them that it is a once-for-all shake out of non-jobs. Thousands have lost their jobs in the past six years, and they are still losing their jobs.

It is not surprising that Conservatives prefer to talk about rising employment and ignore the fact that by far the largest increase in employment is represented by part-time jobs for women. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) says, the Opposition do not decry the provision of more part-time jobs for women. We are entitled to point out however, that the Government count those with part-time jobs in the figures for rising employment. but when they lose their part-time jobs, they are not counted as unemployed. Nor are they counted as unemployed before they acquire those part-time jobs. We are also entitled to point out, that some of the women who are taking part-time jobs do so because there are no full-time jobs.

We are also entitled to point out that the increase in part-time employment for women is concealing a clear decline in employment for men in the unemployment statistics. There has been a decline in employment for men in each of the past two years. Figures in the autumn statement show that. Then we are entitled to point out that the Chancellor's boast about rising employment is based on bogus claims about the number of the self-employed, and that there are still 1 million fewer people in employment now than in 1979 when "Labour was not working." Finally, we are entitled to point out that it is clear from the Chancellor's statement that the trend of rising employment will not be maintained next year. The truth is that the increase in employment is already falling back. It is part of a developing underlying recession in the British economy.

The Chancellor plans to reduce the share of national income used for public expenditure next year from 44.5 per cent. to 43 per cent. Even taking his figures at face value, the fact remains that it was 43 per cent. in 1978–79 the last year of that much maligned Labour Government. Where then is the achievement of this Government and this Chancellor by his criteria?

The difference is not simply the amount—it lies also in what the public expenditure is spent on, but the Labour party does not accept that the percentage of national income taken by public expenditure is significant in itself. It is entirely possible for the percentage of national income in public expenditure to increase while taxpayers and consumers are better off. Some Conservative Members dispute that.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Yes, we do.

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand economics. The answer is that it all depends on the rate of growth in the economy. It is also possible for the percentage of public expenditure to decline and still spend more in public expenditure. That is the real issue— the total of public expenditure. Next year, the percentage of public expenditure will decline because the Government hope to spend less in real terms than this year. They want a reduction of ;£l billion in real terms from £127.8 billion to £126.8 billion.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) got it wrong. Public expenditure is not broadly stable. It is clear from the figures in the autumn statement that the Government which he supports are planning to reduce public expenditure, not keep it broadly stable.

However the real reduction that is planned for next year is much more than £1 billion in real terms, as is admitted in the autumn statement. When we take out reserves and asset sales, we find that public expenditure next year is planned to be £133.1 billion.

Asset sales are not public expenditure and nor are reserves unless they are used for expenditure. Reserves are available for use either for expenditure or for temporary tax cuts such as have been promised. When hon. Members deplore the lack of a fiscal adjustment in the autumn statement, I must tell them that it is there and is called "reserves".

Public expenditure will be £133.1 billion in real terms as compared with £136.7 billion this year. That represents a reduction in real terms of more than £3.5 billion. If one goes through the Government's figures Department by Department, it is clear that that is what they have screwed Departments down to in their Star Chamber round of discussions.

The Government will spend less on education.

Mr. Dorrell

Can the hon. Gentleman give one year in the past 15 when, under Labour or Conservatives, the reserve was not used to finance expenditure?

Mr. Davis

That is a very good question. If the non. Gentleman reads Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee reports, he will see that they criticise precisely that. They criticise the present Chancellor's introduction of high reserve figures to provide himself with the flexibility for tax cuts in the following year.

Mr. Dorrell

Yes, to provide flexibility.

Mr. Davis

Of course. They used it to fight the miners. Who are they planning to use it to fight next year?

They are planning to spend less on education. I am, not sure whether the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West said that the Government will increase education spending or whether he wants them to increase education spending. Either way, I have bad news for him—they will not increase spending on education. Indeed, such spending will decrease in real terms.

The hon. Gentleman also got it wrong in regard to the job release scheme. It was not this Government but the previous Labour Government which introduced that scheme. One of the the Government's first acts was to cut the scheme when the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) was Secretary of State for Employment.

The Government also intend to spend less on trade and industry, less on housing and less on services provided by local councils.

The two most worrying aspects of the Government's policy are, first, what the autumn statement calls the sale of assets and the Chancellor of the Exchequer calls privatisation, and, secondly, what will happen when the oil runs out.

We do not disagree with the Chancellor about the accounting treatment of the proceeds of the sale of assets. The Select Committee is right. However, that is not the major point, nor is the doctrinal disagreement between the Chancellor and the new Conservative party, and the Opposition.

I say doctrinal, because this afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that he wants to see a completely privatised economy, whereas the Opposition believe in a mixed economy which includes both public and private sectors. It is the Government who are the extremists in the House.

The real issue relates to what will happen when everything that can be sold, has been sold. This year the Government will balance their accounts by selling £2.5 billion-worth of assets, and next year by selling £4.75 billion-worth of assets, but eventually all assets will be sold. What will happen then? How will the Government plug the gap?

All hon. Members know what is happening to North sea oil. Throughout their term of office, the Government have been warned about their dependence on revenues from North sea oil to pay for unemployment, and at least the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) had the honesty to admit that that is how the money is being spent. The Government are living on unearned income which will eventually come to an end. The autumn statement was most frightening because we can now see an end to North sea oil revenues. Next year will be the first year in the history of the Government when those revenues will be less than those of the previous year. That is the big issue, not, as the Chancellor would have it, the argument between the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about whether the Government have, should have or can have a depletion policy, or about the short-tern fluctuations in the price of oil. North sea oil is running out. How will the Government fill that gap in future?

We were fairly asked what a Labour Government would do if they were in office. We would do exactly what our amendment to the motion states. We would recognise the importance of manufacturing industry and we would encourage it. In particular we would help industry to train the people that it needs for a high-technology high-turnover economy, and we would help industry to finance research and development. Both those calls were echoed by some Conservative Members who have more foresight than the Chancellor. We would increase the demand for manufactured goods by an increase in public expenditure. We recognise that public expenditure is the motor, not the brake, for the economy. We would provide jobs directly by increasing public expenditure and the house building programme. Instead of selling nationalised industries, we would expect them to grow in output and employment. We would expect genuine expansion, not the expansion beloved of the City of London through acquisition and takeover, which produces nothing in real terms and merely generates paper profits. Above all, our eyes would be fixed, not on the next election, but on the next decade.

We know, as the Government know but will not admit, that there is a long term problem about paying for the present level of public expenditure without the bonus of North sea oil revenues and the stop-gap policy of selling national assets. That is why in the long term even the Government must accept within their terms of reference that they must improve public expenditure, increase taxes, or increase borrowing. That is why any tax cuts announced in the Budget will be temporary, as they know.

Against that background, the Government also know that Britain is standing on the brink of a cyclical downturn. The so-called recovery is already running out of steam. There are more than 3 million out of work and Britain is heading for another economic recession. The Government's only response is to flog off the nation's assets to pay for temporary tax cuts in a desperate attempt to keep things going for long enough to get through the next election. They are smashing up the furniture to keep the fire burning a little longer. After the election, the Prime Minister will retire to Dulwich and the rest of us will be left to pick up the pieces.

9.30 pm
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John MacGregor)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) for his kind remarks about me at the beginning of his speech. As he rightly said, it is some time since I have been involved in economic and Treasury debates. However, I took part in them for many years before 1979. I heard my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer speak on many occasions over many years and his were always admirable speeches.

Although it is some time since I have engaged in economic debates, I look forward to a constructive and friendly dialogue with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) about the shape, method and basic content of the public expenditure documents with which a Chief Secretary is involved. Since I spoke on Treasury matters from the Opposition Benches, there has been much progress in improving those documents. I know that my right hon. Friend had a positive relationship with my predecessor, to whom I pay a warm tribute.

I have already discovered the club of Chief Secretaries and ex-Chief Secretaries who have some shared understandings not of the scars perhaps, but of the size and scale of their detailed work load. I have always admired the skills, the forensic abilities and the cheerful patience of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Rees). My admiration is enhanced as I discover what he achieved during his period of office.

I am sorry that I must disagree at the outset with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, and the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who mentioned fiscal adjustment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor dealt with that this afternoon, but, coming fresh to the issue, I am bound to say that I believe that the Chancellor's decision this autumn was absolutely right. I add only that the public expenditure figures in the document, especially for the first year, are real plans and decisions on which Departments are now basing their actions.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) so rightly pointed out, at this stage we do not take decisions on fiscal matters or make fiscal or PSBR judgments. Therefore, that figure is not meaningful and it could be misleading, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor explained this afternoon. The fiscal adjustment put forward in the autumn statement during recent years has shown me that that figure is frequently inaccurate, often strikingly so. That shows that it was right to have dropped it from this year's autumn statement.

The main thrust of the Opposition's charge was the decline of manufacture. There was much beating of breasts by the hon. Member for Hodge Hill and notably by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett).

Mr. Corbett

Do not belittle it.

Mr. MacGregor

I will not belittle it and, if I have time, I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's contribution. There was much beating of breasts, but remarkably little analysis of why things happened.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor pointed out this afternoon, the decline in manufacturing was similar during the latter period of the Labour Government and was only sharpening during our first two years of office, when we were dealing with inherited problems at a time of world recession. I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's point, because he was short of positive alternatives.

I noted how quiet the Opposition were about the impact of galloping inflation at well above the rates of our industrial competitors during the period of the Labour Government, the impact of restrictive practices and of Government interference and burdens preventing management from managing, and the impact of overmanning, which was such a feature of the industrial debates in the House and in industry during that time. There was little concentration on it this afternoon because the Government have gone a considerable way to solving those problems. In that context, it is instructive to consider the latest survey on unemployment conducted in November 1985 by the CBI. Employers were asked: Here are some factors which may have had a contribution to the level of unemployment in the country today. Which one of these if any do you think had the greatest contribution to unemployment? The answer given by 21 per cent. of those who replied was excessive pay increases relative to productivity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford rightly drew attention to the dangers of increasing unit labour costs. Secondly, 18 per cent. of those who answered said that the reason was overmanning compared with our competitors. That was a striking feature of the 1970s and caused much of the hidden unemployment. Opposition Members do not like listening to this, because it tells them what employers are saying now.

The answer third from the top, given by 16 per cent. of those who answered, was poor productivity and efficiency— [Interruption.] This is a very important analysis and I am not surprised that Opposition Members do not wish to listen to it. The fourth answer, given by 11 per cent. of those who replied, was failures on the part of the management. Next, 6 per cent. — a low figure—believed that restrictive working practices were to blame. To a large extent, that problem has been solved in recent years. Five per cent. of those who replied again, a surprisingly low figure in view of the impact of high technology—believed that labour-saving investment was to blame. However, I suspect that that is because much of that investment took place in the early 1980s and that less takes place now.

Then we come to the remaining items. Four per cent. of those who replied believed that growth in the number of people wishing to work was a factor. That is surprising because we are still at a stage where the potential labour force is increasing all the time because of demographic factors, and the numbers, especially of married women, who wish to join the labour force are increasing. Finally, 8 per cent. of those asked said that Government policies were the reason for unemployment. That is a striking illustration of what emerged strongly from the CBI conference at Harrogate. The thrust of that conference was what industry could do for itself and what the Government could do to remove the burdens on industry and to continue to create the right climate.

Mr. Terry Davis

If the right hon. Gentleman is asking the House to accept the conclusions of that survey conducted by the CBI, will he also ask the House to accept the official statement by the CBI that there is nothing in the autumn economic statement for it except an increase of £250 million in costs?

Mr. MacGregor

Let me be clear about this. First, I am asking Labour Members to accept what the CBI said in November 1985. Secondly, in the general discussion with employers throughout the country, there is an awareness that our determination to keep down public expenditure as a proportion of GDP and, above all, our striking success on inflation are in industry's interests. Perhaps the CBI did not identify that in its statement because it knows that inflation is moving downwards. However, a serious consideration of the autumn statement demonstrates clearly that it is in industry's interests. That also comes through in the survey.

Many hon. Members were worried about interest rates. I understand why industrialists and firms generally wish to have lower interest rates, but it is important to consider the context in which they talk about interest rates. I quote from the latest CBI News, in which the president of the CBI, Sir James Cleminson, says in relation to what the CBI said about interest rates at the Harrogate conference: In real terms, they must be brought down at a rate consistent with not increasing the rate of inflation. There is a growing understanding, which again came through in the debates in Harrogate, that it would not be in the interests of industry if, through the pursuit of our interest rate, monetary or exchange rate policies, inflation went up sharply again. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right last night to say that, if we were to take risks with interest rates, gratitude from industry would soon go sour if the results were a return to higher inflation, which would affect the future of every business.

Dr. Bray


Mr. MacGregor

I must continue because there is a great deal about which to speak.

My right hon. Friend's point is reflected in the statement from the CBI.

Above all, at the Harrogate conference there was recognition of the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford made in his powerful and effective speech about the dangers that will arise if our unit labour costs get out of line with those of our competitors. I thought that my right hon. Friend thoroughly dealt. with the points made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on oil policy and especially on depletion. I recommend that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook looks at my right hon. Friend's speech in Hansard.

The main theme of my right hon. Friend's speech was the danger of unit labour costs rising as a result of what he described as a spasm of management feebleness of a familiar kind. The CBI is echoing that. That would create more risks of losing jobs than anything, but is not understood by Labour Members. We must continue to put pressure on that aspect.

My right hon. Friend was also right to underline the need for flexibility in wage and salary arrangements and the methods of rewarding work done. He emphasised profit-sharing schemes, bonus schemes and, above all, share ownership and made points that were clearly not getting an echo from the Opposition Benches. The Labour party does not understand the importance of those points. How right it was to say that the philosophy of wider capital and share ownership was an idea whose time had come.

I point out to the SDP, which also believes in this policy and has been trying to make great play of it, that, while its members talk, we have been acting over many years to bring it about. My right hon. Friend and I have been members of the Wider Share Ownership Council for many years. Building on share incentive schemes or share option schemes is, above all, a key element of the policy of privatisation. It is one of the most important parts, along with the greater efficiency which this brings about in the industries pursuing that policy.

My right hon. Friend was also right to emphasise wage and employment flexibility, particularly concerning part-time work, which economic and social change is bringing about. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook would do well to recognise that part-time employment has a very important part to play for constructive and economic reasons. He should not be so derisive of it when he talks about such jobs being created.

On the wider economic front, it was striking how little the fundamental elements in the economic forecast were challenged. The hon. Member for Stockton, South produced a number of other forecasts about growth rather than the Treasury forecast, but on the whole the Treasury forecast has been pretty accurate, which is no doubt why he put forward his doubts so meekly and tentatively. There was little reference from Opposition Members to the importance of the downward pressures on inflation in continuing to keep people in jobs, in creating new jobs and in improving our competitiveness. That was hardly referred to during the debate by the Opposition, either because they do not understand it or because they are afraid to admit that we are succeeding. The combination of steady growth and lower inflation plus all the changes on the supply side are the key to jobs—about which I am concerned as much as the hon. Member for Erdington — and dealing with the unemployment figures in the long run.

I come to interest rates and monetary policy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor dealt with this subject at considerable length in his Mansion House speech. I do not wish to repeat the whole of that speech now, but it is an important statement of the Government's position. The key point is that the Government are committed to maintaining sound financial conditions and to securing an appropriate growth of money GDP while steadily pressing down on inflation.

The precise mix of fiscal and monetary policies to achieve that is a matter of judgment at any one time. All the evidence is that conditions are consistent with our objectives, notwithstanding the recent behaviour of M3. The fiscal policy remains tight and the forecast shows that the 198586 P—SBR at 2.25 per cent. of GDP is the lowest for 14 years. That figure is less than 3 per cent. even if the proceeds of privatisation are excluded.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Inflation has been falling and it is expected to fall below 4 per cent. by the end of next year. No one has challenged that and it is a clear sign that the Government's monetary policies are succeeding.

Mr. Budgen

It is theoretically possible to have a very low rate of inflation but nevertheless putting money into the economy to create a higher rate of inflation in future.

Mr. MacGregor

No one has challenged the plain fact that the economic forecasts for next year—all outside forecasts agree—suggest that the pressures on inflation are all downward.

Comparatively little has been said today about public expenditure, but as that is my particular responsibility I should like to discuss it in terms of the autumn statement. Most importantly, the key objective on public expenditure is being fulfilled in the three-year plans. Whether or not we include proceeds from privatisation, public spending between 1985–86 and 1988–89 will fall in relation to GDP. By 1988–89 it will be the lowest proportion. since 1972–73,and that is with or without the proceeds of privatisation. That approach has the broad support of industry.

Within that overall objective, the Government have a clear idea of priorities. We have not stressed the importance of priorities sufficiently in recent discussions but these priorities are carried through in the autumn statement.

The hon. Member for Erdington talked about hospitals and roads. He ought to know that the Government have concentrated expenditure in the Health Service as a key priority since 1979. Expenditure on the Health Service is up by 20 per cent. in real terms. The Government have made the two items the hon. Gentleman singled out—hospitals and roads — special priorities for capital expenditure. Both priorities have had expenditure increases of 30 per cent. in real terms since 1979. The Government have also employed 50,000 extra nurses.

Mr. Corbett

There is not enough nursing staff, although the Government have cut nurses' working hours.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman is opposed to the cuts in hours. The fact is that he does not have an answer to the fact that the Government have concentrated their expenditure on priorities. That rightly reflects a recognition of real economic and social needs.

In the autumn statement the Government have deliberately taken a decision to concentrate resources more on local authority housing renovation because we believe that that is where needs lie. It was rich for Opposition Members to argue that that will take years to carry out, as the Government are having to clear up a backlog of 40 years of inefficient control. The Government are doing that, and we shall carry it out over 13 years.

It is right that the level of local authority starts has come down in recent years because much more housing provision is taking place in the private sector, which is where the hulk of the population wants it to be.

Mr. Terry Davis

Give us the totals.

Mr. MacGregor

I would like to make a further important point about priorities. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there has been a switch from one particular priority, that of defence spending. Defence spending has been increased substantially under this Government, and much has been achieved by that. A great part of the programme for improving equipment has been completed. It is right now to establish priorities in other areas and to look no longer for real growth in the defence budget. An area where we can still achieve substantially greater output with a defence budget that is not increasing in real terms is by concentrating on better defence procurement policies and greater value for money. That applies, too, to the Health Service. It is notable that that is never discussed by Labour Members. By concentrating on greater efficiency and obtaining greater value for money, we can release many more resources for real needs within the same overall figure.

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

That policy has led to the closure of maternity, accident and emergency units in my constituency.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Lady will not face the fact that there has been a considerable increase in real terms on spending on the Health Service.

It has been explained repeatedly that the privatisation policy is being pursued because it is right in itself. It is better for the industries concerned and better for the customer. It produces wider share ownership and results in industries having to come to the capital markets to prove their priority before they can obtain finance from the markets. The policy is being pursued for these reasons.

It is true that proceeds come from the sale of assets, but surely it is clear that we are putting plainly in front of the public all the details of the proceeds from privatisation so that everyone can judge the way in which the policy is being pursued. The figures appear in the autumn statement because it is conventional for them to do so. The convention was followed by the previous Labour Government, and I understand that it is an international convention. The figures are in the autumn statement for all to see and no one is pretending that they are being hidden. It is possible for anyone to make a judgment, especially when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer produces his Budget, on the balance between privatisation and the borrowing requirement, for example.

I do not know what the Opposition would do about privatisation. They must come clean because the public want to know their wider policy and because their view of privatisation will form an important part of their future economic policy if, most unfortunately and many decades ahead, they return to power.

It is not clear what is behind the attack of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook on privatisation. Does he think that he must find a way of denigrating privatisation because it is such a popular policy, or is he saying that he would not pursue the policy, that he wants higher public expenditure and that his public sector borrowing requirement would be greater than the one which we are pursuing? He is muddled .in his attitude to privatisation, and that is plain for all to see.

I have listened carefully to the debate and many of my hon. Friends have made constructive suggestions. I was not able to hear every speech in the debate, but notes have been given to me setting out what has been suggested. When I entered the Chamber a short while ago I heard part of the interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). It was clear from my hon. Friends' speeches that there was strong support for the overall programme. There is strong support for the economic policy as a whole, as reflected in the economic forecast, and for the public expenditure programmes themselves. It is difficult to know what to make of the Opposition.

Mr. Penhaligon

Perhaps I can help the Minister. I shall be pleased to do so as he used to do much good work for the fishing industry when he was the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture., Fisheries and Food. the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, in effect, "If the price of oil declines, so be it. If the price increases, so be it. We shall not interfere with the cartel." That is understandable. Do the Government think that the economy will be stronger or weaker if the price of oil falls below $20 a barrel?

Mr. MacGregor

I thought that the Chancellor made it clear that there were advantages as well as difficulties implicit in that situation. This is an issue that we shall have to consider at the appropriate time. The hon. Gentleman referred to my previous work in connection with fish. He must know that he was putting forward a red herring.

It is difficult to know what to make of the Opposition. It was interesting to note that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook refused to answer the two questions that my right hon. Friend put to him this afternoon. I put them to him again. What broad level of public sector borrowing requirement does he think is appropriate in the current economic situation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] He has absolutely refused to set any level. Secondly, when will he say what the Labour party would do about the renationalisation of companies that have been privatised? [Interruption.] No wonder the right hon. Gentleman is turning with some embarrassment to speak to his hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald). Above all, will the right hon. Gentleman say what level of public expenditure he would think appropriate?

No wonder the right hon. Gentleman will not answer any of those questions. He knows that his present policy would mean higher taxation, higher borrowing, renationalisation and, above all, higher inflation. If the right hon. Gentleman is too coy to give the country a straight answer, let me remind him of Labour's plans at the last general election. [Interruption.] No wonder Opposition Members do not want to listen.

The sum total of electoral bribes offered by Labour at that time amounted to a staggering £40 billion of additional public expenditure. Since then there have been only indications, but they are all hugely upwards. Higher spending has been promised on rural and urban areas. I believe that Labour would renationalise companies transferred by us to free enterprise. They would set up new public corporations in pans of the economy where there were none before, student grants would be substantially increased, sixth formers would be given pocket money on the rates and aid would be doubled. Labour would abolish private medicine and private education, putting the entire burden on the taxpayer. They would spend more on the roads, railways and ports.

My right hon. Friend referred to a recent article in Tribune on an interview with the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who, I notice, has not been in his place. In that article he talked of an enormous expansion, by at least 50 per cent., in the Department of Trade and Industry budget. He talked about releasing financial constraints on local government for economic development. We know the type of local authorities to which it would go and—[Interruption.]—and the wasteful expenditure that that would mean.

In his recent policy document, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) listed a whole series of areas of further public expenditure. Indeed, it looks as though the Labour party is adopting the gut reaction, "Whatever you do, we will double it." No wonder the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not answer the questions put to him this afternoon. He must be terrified of what his right hon. and hon. Friends are cooking up.

I shall give only one quotation tonight: The Labour party is always wanting to bake plum pies before we have picked the plums. They were not my words but those of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.

Mr. Hattersley


Mr. MacGregor

I do not have time to give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. MacGregor

Those words of the right hon. Gentleman are quoted in Lord Barnett's book. The right hon. Gentleman was asked this afternoon what he would do about monetary policy and he answered by using one word —[Interruption.]— "prudent." That is an astonishing word to use given that list of spending. The right hon. Gentleman had one message this afternoon—he was frightened of the next election. There will not be an election for some time, but our policies will ensure that we shall win it.

Question put,That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 254.

Division No.28] [10 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Bermingham, Gerald
Alton, David Bidwell, Sydney
Anderson, Donald Blair, Anthony
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Boothroyd, Miss Betty
Ashdown, Paddy Boyes, Roland
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Bray, Dr Jeremy
Ashton, Joe Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Barnett, Guy Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)
Barron, Kevin Buchan, Norman
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Caborn, Richard
Beith, A. J. Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Bell, Stuart Campbell, Ian
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Campbell-Savours, Dale
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Canavan, Dennis
Carter-Jones, Lewis Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cartwright, John McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Clarke, Thomas McKelvey, William
Clelland, David Gordon MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McNamara, Kevin
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) McTaggart, Robert
Cohen, Harry Madden, Max
Coleman, Donald Marek, Dr John
Conlan, Bernard Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Martin, Michael
Corbett, Robin Maynard, Miss Joan
Corbyn, Jeremy Meacher, Michael
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Meadowcroft, Michael
Crowther, Stan Michie, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence Mikardo, Ian
Cunningham, Dr John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dalyell, Tarn Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Deakins, Eric Nellist, David
Dewar, Donald Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Dixon, Donald O'Brien, William
Dobson, Frank O'Neill, Martin
Dormand, Jack Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Douglas, Dick Park, George
Dubs, Alfred Parry, Robert
Duffy, A. E. P. Pavitt, Laurie
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Penhaligon, David
Eadie, Alex Pike, Peter
Eastham, Ken Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Prescott, John
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Radice, Giles
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Randall, Stuart
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Redmond, M.
Fisher, Mark Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Flannery, Martin Richardson, Ms Jo
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Forrester, John Robertson, George
Foster, Derek Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Foulkes, George Rogers, Allan
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Rooker, J. W.
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Garrett, W. E. Rowlands, Ted
George, Bruce Sedgemore, Brian
Godman, Dr Norman Sheerman, Barry
Golding, John Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Gould, Bryan Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hancock, Mr. Michael Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)
Hardy, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Harman, Ms Harriet Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Snape, Peter
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Soley, Clive
Haynes, Frank Spearing, Nigel
Heffer, Eric S. Steel, Rt Hon David
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Stott, Roger
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Strang, Gavin
Home Robertson, John Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Howells, Geraint Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Hoyle, Douglas Tinn, James
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Wallace, James
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Wareing, Robert
Janner, Hon Greville Welsh, Michael
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) White, James
Kennedy, Charles Williams, Rt Hon A.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Wilson, Gordon
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Winnick, David
Kirkwood, Archy Woodall, Alec
Lambie, David Wrigglesworth, Ian
Lamond, James Young, David (Bolton SE)
Leighton, Ronald
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Tellers for the Ayes:
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Mr. John McWilliam and
Litherland, Robert Mr. Ron Davies.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Adley, Robert Eyre, Sir Reginald
Aitken, Jonathan Fairbairn, Nicholas
Alexander, Richard Fallon, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Farr, Sir John
Amess, David Fletcher, Alexander
Ancram, Michael Fookes, Miss Janet
Arnold, Tom Forman, Nigel
Aspinwall, Jack Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Fox, Marcus
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Freeman, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Galley, Roy
Baldry, Tony Garel-Jones, Tristan
Batiste, Spencer Glyn, Dr Alan
Bellingham, Henry Goodhart, Sir Philip
Benyon, William Gow, Ian
Best, Keith Grant, Sir Anthony
Bevan, David Gilroy Greenway, Harry
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gregory, Conal
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Grist, Ian
Blackburn, John Grylls, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Body, Richard Hannam, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Harris, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Harvey, Robert
Bottomley, Peter Heddle, John
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Henderson, Barry
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hickmet, Richard
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hirst, Michael
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Brinton, Tim Hordern, Sir Peter
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Brooke, Hon Peter Hunter, Andrew
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Jackson, Robert
Bruinvels, Peter Jessel, Toby
Bryan, Sir Paul Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Budgen, Nick Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Burt, Alistair Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Butterfill, John King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Carlisle, John (Luton N) King, Rt Hon Tom
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Lamont, Norman
Carttiss, Michael Lawler, Geoffrey
Cash, William Lawrence, Ivan
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Chapman, Sydney Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Chope, Christopher Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Churchill, W. S. Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Lightbown, David
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Lilley, Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Colvin, Michael Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Coombs, Simon Lord, Michael
Cope, John Lyell, Nicholas
Cormack, Patrick McCurley, Mrs Anna
Crouch, David Macfarlane, Neil
Currie, Mrs Edwina MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Dickens, Geoffrey MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Dicks, Terry MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Dorrell, Stephen McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward McQuarrie, Albert
Dunn, Robert Madel, David
Durant, Tony Major, John
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Malins, Humfrey
Eggar, Tim Malone, Gerald
Emery, Sir Peter Maples, John
Evennett, David Marland, Paul
Marlow, Antony Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Mather, Carol Shersby, Michael
Maude, Hon Francis Skeet, T. H. H.
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Speed, Keith
Merchant, Piers Spencer, Derek
Meyer, Sir Anthony Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Squire, Robin
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Stanley, John
Moate, Roger Steen, Anthony
Monro, Sir Hector Stern, Michael
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Moore, John Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Moynihan, Hon C. Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mudd, David Taylor, John (Solihull)
Murphy, Christopher Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Neubert, Michael Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Newton, Tony Temple-Morris, Peter
Nicholls, Patrick Terlezki, Stefan
Norris, Steven Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Onslow, Cranley Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Ottaway, Richard Thornton, Malcolm
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Thurnham, Peter
Parris, Matthew Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn) Trippier, David
Pattie, Geoffrey Trotter, Neville
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Pollock, Alexander Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Portillo, Michael Viggers, Peter
Powell, William (Corby) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Powley, John Waldegrave, Hon William
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Price, Sir David Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Proctor, K. Harvey Waller, Gary
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Ward, John
Raffan, Keith Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Warren, Kenneth
Rhodes James, Robert Watts, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Whitney, Raymond
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Wiggin, Jerry
Rifkind, Malcolm Winterton, Mrs Ann
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Wolfson, Mark
Rossi, Sir Hugh Wood, Timothy
Rost, Peter Yeo, Tim
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sackville, Hon Thomas
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Tellers for the Noes:
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Mr. Ian Lang and
Shelton, William (Streatham) Mr. Timothy Sainsbury.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House approves the Autumn Statement presented by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer on 12th November; welcomes the prospect of continuing low inflation and steady growth as the basis for maintaining the trend of rising employment; and congratulates Her Majesty's Government on the continuing reduction in the share of national income pre-empted by public expenditure.