§ Mr. Speaker
I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Furthermore, in view of the late start and the number of hon. Members who wish to participate, I am putting a precautionary limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. If the Front-Bench spokesmen and those who are called before 7 o'clock exercise discretion, it may be possible in the interests of the whole House to relax that limit.
§ Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)
I beg to move,That this House deplores the Government's economic policies, which have caused the severe and continuing recession and which are damaging all parts of the economy and all areas of the nation; and calls upon the Government to initiate without delay an investment based recovery including financial incentives for investment in manufacturing, tax credits for the enhancement of technology, assistance for regional economic development and a major programme of education and training to tackle Britain's continuing skills crisis.I happen for my sins to have been shadow Chancellor since the last election in 1987, during which period there have been three Chancellors of the Exchequer. The first was the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), who is not remembered with exactly ecstatic affection by Conservative Members. Despite being described by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), then Prime Minister, as both "unassailable" and "brilliant, brilliant, brilliant", he is given a much lower rating by contemporary Conservative opinion. Whenever they gather in private, he is berated for the economic mess in which their political fortunes are floundering, although in public, as hon. Members know only too well, the fiction is resolutely maintained that Conservative economic policy has been a continuing success. The right hon. Member for Blaby will be remembered as the Chancellor who dismissed rising inflation as a temporary blip and who, having put up interest rates to 15 per cent., none the less assured us that the economy would have, to use his phrase, a soft landing. The right hon. Gentleman may personally have achieved a rather soft landing, but sadly that was not true for the economy of which he was in charge.
There followed the present Prime Minister who spent about a year in the job—a year in which the British economy went steadily downward into a deep and savage recession, paralleled only by the recession in the early part of the decade which was presided over by that other Tory Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe).
The present Prime Minister assured us that there would not be a recession at all. Speaking to the Association of British Chambers of Commerce on 6 December 1989 he said:I do not myself think a recession is either likely or necessary.Even 11 months later, in presenting his autumn statement to the House, he refused to use the word "recession" throughout and forecast: 417the British economy is coming back on track".—[Official Report, 8 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 125.]To be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, he did appear to have a revealing glimpse of self-doubt in his own assessment when he told the Financial Times in an interview on 27 October 1990:It will take some time. It always does to change the economy. It's like turning the Titanic round as you know.Well, we do not know; we do not think that that was the Titanic's problem.
I believe that there is a unifying characteristic about the three most recent Tory Chancellors—a stunning inability to predict even with vague accuracy what is about to happen to the economy, coupled with the disreputable technique of bogus reassurance which would put Arthur Daley to shame. In the latter respect, the present Chancellor is the undisputed champion. Shortly after he became Chancellor, he told the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee on 5 December 1990 that the recession would be "short lived and shallow."
As the economy went into a nose dive, the right hon. Gentleman was soon proved to be absurdly wrong. Perhaps chastened by that experience, he seems to have decided by the time of the Budget that he would be more realistic in his forecasts for recovery. In his wind-up speech in the Budget debate on 25 March 1991 he told us:I am not in the business of publishing forecasts that are more optimistic than I think is the case, as that leads us nowhere. It is better to put the facts before Parliament and the country.He went on to predict:There is every reason to expect that growth will start again towards the middle of the year."—[Official Report, 25 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 698.]He repeated that forecast a month later when speaking at a press conference of the International Monetary Fund in Washington on 29 April. According to The Times, the Financial Times and The Independent, the Chancellor said —and I quote from The Independent's copy:The recession would be over somewhere around the end of the second quarterthat is, the second quarter of this year.
Therefore, the Chancellor, who was by that time careful not to be over-optimistic, predicted that recovery would begin in July of this year. By June of this year he was beginning to moderate that forecast somewhat. He told David Frost on TV-am on 2 June this year:In my Budget speech I said that from the middle of the year the recovery would begin … it may be slow at first. It will begin in certain sectors, probably in the housing market … there are … vague stirrings, but the signs arc there.I have on previous occasions reminded the House of the outraged reaction of the building industry to the Chancellor's statement, but one person at least appears to have been persuaded—and that is the Prime Minister himself.
In an interview in The Daily Telegraph on 19 June this year, under the banner headline "Recovery coming 'in weeks'"—this way in June—the Prime Minister was asked about the faint stirrings that the Chancellor had detected in the housing market. The interviewer said:The Chancellor did speak of 'vague stirrings' in his recent television interview.The Prime Minister replied:I think you can look anecdotally at what is happening.418 I am not sure how one does that, but I am quoting exactly what the Prime Minister said, and it must be right because it is in The Daily Telegraph. He went on:Anecdotally you look around you, you find lots of those For Sale boards now have Sold stickers on them.To help the comprehension of the readers of The Daily Telegraph, there are photographs of signs with "Sold" stickers on some of them.
§ Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that signs of recovery are hard to find. Can he explain why unemployment in Chorley has gone down in the past two months and why several of the builders are doing very well?
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman should look at the figures for the country as a whole. If he does so, he will find that that is not an encouraging sign. Some 850,000 people have been put out of work in the past 18 months and that is the figure about which the hon. Gentleman should think. If we are conquering the unemployment problem, why do vacancies keep falling? Vacancies have fallen again from 106,000 to 103,000. There are now 24 claimants chasing every notified vacancy and the number of vacancies in Greater London has almost halved, leaving a remarkable 84 claimants for each vacancy. Anyone who thinks that that is a satisfactory state of affairs has a lack of ambition for our economic success.
I return to the Prime Minister and the "Sold" signs all over the area at which he looks anecdotally. At this point one wonders what world the Prime Minister lives in, as repossessions mount to a record level, projected to be 100,000 in this year alone, and as the housing market remains wholly depressed.
No doubt encouraged by the Prime Minister's reassuring anecdotal ventures, the Chancellor continued into the early autumn promising recovery around the corner. He told the Financial Times in an interview on 16 September:Britain is coming out of recession. The statistics are highly encouraging and pointing very much in the right direction.A month later, at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool, the Chancellor told the Tory faithful:the green shoots of economic spring are appearing once again".I must bring the House rapidly up to date.
Interviewed by Mr. Walden last Sunday, the Chancellor appeared to be sadly bereft of statistics or even of anecdotal sightings of recovery. Rather lamely, he claimed:I have never changed my view about how I saw the path of the recovery … so far things have turned out very much as I expected".In what I find an astonishing backtrack, he then told Mr. Walden:We are not assuming, in our view of the future, that there will be a great and sudden revival necessarily of the housing market … we arc not assuming that housing is leading the economy out of the recession on this occasion".The words "on this occasion" should be translated as "in this interview". It was precisely the housing market in which the Chancellor claimed to detect the "vague" and faint "stirrings" which led the Prime Minister off on his anecdotal trail.
Will the Chancellor now admit that what he said in June on TV-am about "vague stirrings" in the housing market and what the Prime Minister told us about "Sold" signs everywhere was rubbish then, as it is rubbish now?
419 What is most revealing is that if we accept that Ministers believed what they said at the time, they were woefully ignorant of the catastrophic effect that their policies were having on the housing market and on the construction industry generally.
Ministers appear to have no concept of the mortgage misery and the consequent alarming surge in repossessions and lost homes, which are the direct result of their economic mismanagement. The collapse in the construc-tion industry simply cannot be talked away. I noticed an article by Mr. Andrew Taylor in today's Financial Times which said:Bad news continues to pour out of the sector with no sign of the recession loosening its grip on residential and commercial property markets."—The article quotes Sir Clifford Chetwood, chairman of Wimpey, Britain's second largest housebuilder, as saying:I have been in the industry 42 years. These are the worst conditions I have experienced.The article goes on:Tarmac, the country's biggest housebuilder, said this week that trading conditions had deteriorated substantially during the last two months.That is, the "last two months" in which recovery is supposed to be happening before our very eyes. Where are the encouraging statistics which are pointing very much in the right direction?
In his Mansion House speech given this year at the Guildhall, the Chancellor told us that the good news was thatIn Britain we are now on the road to recovery. Retail sales are on an upward trend.The Chancellor felt so strongly about that matter that he waxed indignant in our previous debate. Indeed, he challenged me to withdraw my sceptical remarks about his statistical justification. Unfortunately for the Chancellor, since that debate the release of the latest figures for October shows a 0.5 per cent. fall in retail sales for the month, a 0.3 per cent. fall for the August-October quarter over the previous quarter, and even a 0.3 per cent. fall compared with the equivalent period a year ago. On 19 November, the Financial Times reported:The Treasury agreed that sales had been flat for the last three months.It quoted a Treasury spokesman as saying:On the face of it the figures are a bit of a disappointment." We cannot look for recovery in that quarter—certainly if the Treasury assures us that it is not happening.Construction is a disaster and retail sales are poor. What about industry? The Government claim that we should be encouraged by a 0.3 per cent. rise in GDP in the third quarter, a rise which has occurred exclusively, as they well know, because of the full resumption of North sea oil production after a period of interruption. However, in the onshore economy, non-oil GDP continued to contract by 0.3 per cent., with manufacturing flat and services falling. Over the past three months—sad to say—both the value and volume of exports have declined, and manufacturing output, which constitutes about a quarter of our GDP, has barely moved since April. Car production in October fell by 27 per cent. and sales of new cars plunged by 22.5 per cent. in the same month.
Perhaps the most worrying feature of all is the alarming growth in liquidations and the rise in unemployment. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce revealed last week that companies are going out of business at a faster rate than at any time in the past five years. Dun and Bradstreet tell us that, in the first nine months of this year, 420 business failures are running at a rate of 930 per week—a 70 per cent. increase over the previous year and the largest increase for 11 years. Other alarming figures, from the real economy in which our constituents live, are that, in the past 18 months, unemployment has soared by 850,000 and 100,000 homes are being repossessed this year alone.
Against that tragic background, is it any wonder that consumer confidence has been slipping in successive months ever downwards—September down on August, October down on September, and November down on October? I agree, none the less, with the Chancellor on one point. In his Budget wind-up speech, he said:It is better to put the facts before Parliament and the country."—[Official Report, 25 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 698.]In the absence of candour from the Government, that is just what this debate is about.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned putting the facts before Parliament and the country. Will he put the facts before the country about Labour's spending pledges? Will he comment on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who said that he would increase overseas aid to 0.7 per cent., which would cost £2.3 billion? How does that square with Beckett's law that only old-age pensions and child benefit would go up?
§ Mr. Smith
I can understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to talk about almost anything except the recession. I have made our spending plans clear on innumerable occasions. We are discussing—I really must keep in order —the recession from which this country is suffering, even if there is a disinclination among those responsible for it to want it discussed in Parliament.
I ask the Chancellor how he can conceivably justify his claim earlier this year that the recession would be over "somewhere around the end of the second quarter." That is to say in the middle of this year. There is no doubt that he claimed that, and there is no doubt that that has not happened. Here we are, approaching the end of the fourth quarter, and the very best that one can say is that we arc bumping along the bottom of a deep and damaging recession. That is all too clearly understood by those at the sharp end in industry, commerce and finance, as well as by our constitutents.
The repeated claims of recovery around the corner, which are not fulfilled and which have been the Chancellor's stock-in-trade month after month, have fatally damaged his credibility and that of the Government as a whole. Indeed, the Chancellor's efforts are now regarded as risible as well as incredible. At the recent royal variety performance, Mr. David Frost, who was compering the proceedings, told the company that the Chancellor could at last give a completely firm forecast of when the recovery would occur—he said that it would happen definitely in the fifth quarter of the year. That statement has some aptness, because Mr. David Frost elicited the "vague" and "faint" stirrings that the Chancellor detected in the housing market.
What is deeply disturbing for Parliament and for the country is the "wait and see" attitude, which is the Government's substitute for a policy for recovery from recession. They hope for a consumer-led recovery. Indeed, on 4 June, the Chancellor told the OECD conference in Paris:Consumer spending led us into recession and I expect it to lead us out.421 Many people might think that high interest rates led us into the recession, but I let that point pass for the moment.
In the Walden interview, the Chancellor even seemed to lose confidence in that hoped-for salvation. On the retreat once again, he said:We are looking for part of the recovery to come from consumer demand, but by no means all … It does take time" —we have heard that before—what we need is what Disraeli once called the alchemy of time.Intrigued by that reference to alchemy, which I did not think was all that honourable an occupation, I consulted "Collins English Dictionary", which I have in the office. According to that dictionary, alchemy—alchemy of time is what we are relying on—isthe pseudo-scientific predecessor of chemistry that sought a method of transmuting base metals into gold: an elixir to prolong life indefinitely: a panacea"—it is hardly believable—or universal remedy.The Chancellor was being even more percipient than he realised. The truth is that, after 12 years in power and with an election fast approaching, the Government are merely hoping that something will turn up. In no sense is that an economic policy for this country.
What we need surely is an investment-led recovery which recognises the fast-approaching challenge in the form of the single market after 1992 and which seeks to rebuild the industrial capacity on which this country depends. Over the Conservative years, we have seen the persistent reduction in the capacity of our manufacturing sector, which, after all—we repeat it endlessly, but it is a fundamental truth about our economy which should be appreciated by the Conservative party—is our fundamen-tal wealth creator and the indispensable internationally tradeable part of our economy. For a country which has a tendency both to inflation and a balance of payments deficit, the overriding objective of policy must be to enlarge our capacity to produce the goods that customers wish to buy, both at home and abroad. That is exactly what is not happening now.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct to say that manufacturing is important, but is he aware that, according to the OECD's six-monthly series figures, manufacturing output fell under the last Labour Government, whereas it has risen by a quarter under this Government and rose faster in this country in the 1980s than in any other major country in Europe? Will he cast his mind back to the time when his party last implemented its industrial policy— when British Leyland was the butt of international jokes; when British Airways was rated beneath Aeroflot and when British Steel was the world's largest loss maker? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has never manufactured anything except dodgy policies, how can he do any better?
§ Mr. Smith
To show that that is not just a view that is held uniquely by the Opposition, I shall quote from the National Institute Economic Review of May 1991, which argued—in my view, persuasively—thatthe loss of manufacturing capacity in the early nineteen eighties must be partly to blame for the overheating of the economy at the end of the decade and the consequential problem of inflation and payments imbalance. It's only too likely that the present recession will create the conditions for just the same kind of overheating to occur again sometime in the nineteen nineties if nothing is done to compensate".So what is being done to compensate? Seemingly nothing.
Let us take the projections for investment, the very life blood of economic development. After a dramatic fall this year in gross fixed investment, which the Chancellor conceded in his autumn statement to be almost 11 per cent., the consensus of economic forecasts, which was helpfully compiled by the Treasury, shows an even further fall in gross fixed investment next year. According to the International Monetary Fund, the United Kingdom will be bottom of the investment league of the G7 countries next year and, according to the Confederation of British Industry, manufacturing investment, which is already falling this year by around 15 per cent., is expected to fall again next year by almost 4.5 per cent.
However, in this situation, the Government do not propose any action to bridge the investment gap. We appeal to them, before even more damage is done, to reconsider their rejection of the case for fiscal incentives to encourage company investment in manufacturing by increasing capital allowances and by introducing tax credits for research annd development expenditure to stimulate the adoption of new technologies in British industry. Those proposals are backed—
§ Mr. Smith
I am sorry, but I have given way frequently and I really must get on.
Those proposals are backed by a wide consensus in industry. The excellent House of Lords report, "Innovation in Manufacturing Industry" of January this year, argued strongly for the principle of such fiscal incentives. It is also supported, as the Chancellor well knows, in Budget submission after Budget submission by the Engineering Employers Federation, the CBI and the Trades Union Congress. I have no doubt that, in anticipation of next year's Budget, the representations will be resumed with even more urgency than before as our industrial situation deteriorates even further. I hope that the Chancellor does not, on this occasion, turn a deaf ear. What is galling for our industry is that, allegedly in the name of creating a level playing field, the present Government have created a situation in which, in the context of international competition, our industry has to play uphill in both halves against competitors whose Governments specifically encourage industrial investment.
I make no apology for once again urging the compelling case for a new approach to education and training. In "Training Statistics 1991"—the Chancellor seems to find this amusing, but the skills shortage is the most serious problem that this country faces and should not be a subject for amusement. "Training Statistics 1991", issued recently 423 by the Department of Employment, again reveals the astonishing prevalence of serious skills shortages even at a time of severe recession and high unemployment. It takes a bit of believing, but in the past 12 months, according to the Department of Employment, 24 per cent. of all enterprises reported skills shortages. The figure rose to 41 per cent. in high technology sectors, such as mechanical engineering.
The amount of training that employers are planning to provide has fallen dramatically. The balance of large manufacturing firms plans has become negative, falling by a staggering 67 per cent. between October 1989 and July 1991, with a balance of 20 per cent. of those firms planning to decrease training in the next 12 months. That is further evidence of the baleful effect of savage recession on industrial companies which are forced to cut essential investment and essential training simply to survive. According to the Government's own report, fewer than half the participants in employment training complete the course; 55 per cent. go straight back into unemployment; and only 23 per cent. find a full-time job at the end of it. That is no doubt why the Treasury quarrelled with the Department of Employment about giving it more money for schemes that achieve such poor results.
Perhaps most damning of all are the international comparisons. Our weakness in developing intermediate skills is starkly revealed in a paper by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which was published in January this year. It shows that, in Britain, 31 per cent. of technical workers in manufacturing had no vocational qualifications. In Germany, the figure was only 8 per cent. At higher levels of qualification, only 14 per cent. of British technicians were qualified, while in Germany the figure was 36 per cent.
It is absolutely clear that to compete, against Germany and others, in the single market after 1992 and in the world of constant technological change, those investment and training gaps must be closed. The Government can no longer shuffle off responsibility for training on to companies, particularly companies that have been debilitated by the recession. The Labour party believes that it is in the necessary marriage of technology and training and in the continuous enhancement of investment, particularly in manufacturing, that we can find the way forward to the competitive and productive economy that alone can guarantee our economic progress and support our standard of living.
As is often said, it is quite true that we need a recovery of confidence before we will see an end to recession. The Opposition believe that such confidence can be secured and maintained only by an investment-led recovery. Once this country starts investing in enlarging its industrial capacity, in enhancing its technological capability, and in developing the skills of our people, there will be a sound basis for self-confidence in our economic future. There is no sign whatsoever that this Government and this Chancellor comprehend those realities. That is why., after 12 years of failure, they will soon be relieved of the responsibilities of government.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Norman Lamont)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:welcomes Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement, which reaffirmed the Government's forecast of a 424 modest recovery in the second half of 1991, with growth gathering pace in 1992; notes that the total output of the British economy rose in the third quarter of 1991, providing further confirmation of this forecast; and congratulates the Government on its sound and prudent economic policies, which have reduced inflation from nearly 11 per cent. to under 4 per cent. have allowed interest rates to be reduced from 15 per cent. to 101 per cent. and have laid the foundations for sustained non-inflationary growth.".After four days of not always very exciting negotiations in Brussels, it is a great pleasure to return to the light entertainment that is provided by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). As usual, he has given an assortment of selective quotations and short-term statistics. If he has any constructive thoughts about the economy, he is determined to keep them firmly to himself. He has not offered the House any policies—he never does, and he never will. He knows that, as each month goes by and as the economy moves out of recession, the Labour party's position will become more difficult. He is desperate to talk down the British economy, but his opportunities are fast fading.
Much of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech dealt with forecasts. He told the House of the Government's stunning inability to foresee even the immediate future, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself has a bit of a past at forecasting. He, too, has a track record. In fact, his speech today bore an extraordinary resemblance to the speech that he made on 12 November 1984, when he forecast that unemploymentwill go on rising relentlessly and remorselessly."— [Official Report, 12 November 1984; Vol. 67, c. 435.]In March 1985 he said:So long as the Tory Government remain in office, unemployment will continue to rise".—[Official Report, 11 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 104.]What happened after that brilliant forecast? Over the next four years unemployment fell by more than a million.
§ Mr. Lamont
It is lower today than it was when the right hon. and learned Gentleman made his point.
The OECD said:Between 1984 and 1990, the UK had by far the best job creation record of the larger EC countries".So much for the right hon Gentleman's forecast.
§ Mr. Lamont
I will give way in a moment.
Far from being able to forecast the future, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has shown that he is singularly unable to forecast either the past or the present. In the same speech in March 1985 he was unable to do it. He said that he was amazed to be told that we were in the fourth year of economic recovery. What was happening? Between 1982 and 1985 growth had been running at more than 3 per cent. a year and the economy carried on growing for another four years after that. Not only did the right hon. and learned Gentleman not know where we were going; he did not even know where we had been. So much for his ability to forecast. What about the favourite subject of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to which he returns in every speech—investment? On 12 November 1985 he predicted that,there will be a temporary upward blip in the figures. However, from 1987 onwards … there will be a return to the downward trend."—[Official Report, 12 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 467.]425 That was an extraordinarily precise prediction, one might think, from someone who is so meticulous in his determination never to say anything. What happened? In 1987, 1988 and 1989 there was an unprecedented investment boom in Britain. Some downward trend! Even today, manufacturing investment is running at levels higher than those achieved in 1986. In view of those forecasts, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman in any position to give anyone lessons in forecasting? He does not even bother to make new mistakes; he just repeats the same ones that he has made before.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
While we are talking about the past and the nature of precise predictions, will the Chancellor recall the precise predictions that were made in 1985 about the way in which the money supply would diminish over the years and inflation would follow correspondingly year by year? The figures were precise—7 per cent., 6 per cent., 5 per cent., 4 per cent., year by year. That was the nonsense of all time.
§ Mr. Lamont
From the early 1980s inflation fell. The right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. Inflation fell markedly and it has fallen again.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East and his hon. Friends have talked in the past of a recession made in Downing street. That is the phrase often used by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I must have more influence than we thought because, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows only too well, throughout the industrialised world 1991 has been a year of either falling industrial growth or recession. Even in Germany industrial production is falling. Indeed, industrial production has fallen in the past year in every G7 country. The United States, Australia and Canada have been in recession for much of the past year. In Europe, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland are all in recession, while in turn growth is now slowing and unemployment is rising across much of the rest of Europe.
Overall, 1991 is likely to show the weakest growth in the world economy in a decade. We know that Opposition Members are still locked in their isolationist world. It is wilful ignorance to imagine that that factor could have no impact on the United Kingdom. Of course, the last year has been a difficult one for the British economy. Some sectors and many individual businesses have been badly hit. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's portrait of ever-deepening recession is fiction.
In my Budget statement last March, I forecast that growth would resume in the second half of the year. So far, the economy has developed in line with that prediction, so when I presented the autumn statement a few weeks ago there was no need whatever to depart significantly from my Budget forecast. I have no reason to revise my view that GDP will show a modest increase in the second half of this year and that recovery will accelerate next year. That is what I said in the Budget and in the autumn statement. That is what I say now.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)
The Chancellor mentioned what is happening on the continent. Does he remember that the Governor of the Bank of England told the Select Committee that our recession was home grown?
426 In view of the right hon. Gentleman's optimistic forecast, will he tell the House whether he believes that there will be a credit crunch this winter?
§ Mr. Lamont
I do not believe that there are reasons for thinking that there will be a credit crunch, if by that the hon. Gentleman means the inability of British banks, because of capital inadequacy, to meet the demands of borrowers, I do not believe that that is the position in Britain. Britain is better positioned in that respect than many other countries. I have demonstrated to the House that many countries are in recession and many countries are experiencing slowing industrial production. That plainly affects the world economy and the growth of world trade.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East did his best to suggest that my forecast for next year was over-optimistic, but my view is broadly shared by independent forecasters. Over half of the main City forecasters believe that growth in 1992 will be 2 per cent. or more and so do organisations as diverse as the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission. The IMF forecasts that we will grow as fast or faster than Germany or France in 1992.
As for this year, the right hon. and learned Gentleman did his best to present my views and those of independent forecasters who support my views as unrealistic. However, he admitted that no one has ever suggested that we would see fast growth at this stage. In virtually every speech and public appearance that I have made since the Budget, I have made it clear that growth would be modest at first and that business conditions would remain difficult in some sectors for a while. I understand the frustration and impatience of business men who would like to see demand picking up more quickly, but it is simply not normal for the economy to move instantly from recession to speedy growth. Current conditions are exactly what one would expect to see at the turning point between recession and recovery. Mixed signals are inevitable but there are signs that the fall in output is behind us.
Industrial production rose by more than 1 per cent. in the third quarter. That was a larger increase than in the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy or France and larger than in all the G7 countries other than Canada. As one of my hon. Friends said, the rise in unemployment in October was the smallest for over a year. Unemployment fell in the north and Wales and fell in Scotland for the second month running.
Manufacturing investment, in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman claims to be so interested, rose in the third quarter for the first time in a year. Companies increased their stocks in the third quarter, again for the first time in a year. The narrow definition of money has moved into the upper half of its target range, again for the first time in a year. Manufactured exports are running at record levels and business surveys show that output, export and investment expectations are all up. After falling by I per cent. in the second quarter of this year, GDP rose by 0.3 per cent. in the third quarter. However the right hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to explain that away, it was the first time in a year that the total output of the whole economy had risen. Industrial production also rose in that quarter compared with the previous quarter, and by 427 a larger amount than in other G7 countries. That fully justifies some of the remarks that I made in both the Budget and the autumn statement.
§ Mr. John Smith
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, as is reported in The Independent, he said in Washington on 29 April of this year that the recession would be oversomewhere around the end of the second quarter"?Is he saying that the recession is now over?
§ Mr. Lamont
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, a recession is defined as falling output. Total output has ceased to fall and it rose in the third quarter. In that sense, technically, the recession has ended, as I have said publicly before.
§ Mr. Lamont
I will give way in a moment.
There are good reasons for believing that growth will gather momentum during coming months. Real incomes have been rising, consumer expenditure will increase as the full impact of lower interest rates works through to demand and, as world growth picks up, exports will increase further.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East and his hon. Friends seem confused. Today the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks of nothing but recession; in September, he absentmindedly started to use the word "recovery". Not only that, he and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition were so alarmed at some of the accounts appearing in the newspapers that the Leader of the Opposition said that Britain was heading for a short-lived boom fuelled by consumer credit. Which is it, recession or boom? The right hon. and learned Gentleman should have made up his mind.
Even during a boom, firms fail and people lose jobs —so it is not surprising that, as the economy emerges from recession, the right hon. and learned Gentleman always manages to come up with plenty of gloomy quotes., but his picture is highly selective. He should listen to the words of those who know far better than he does what is going on in the economy. Professor Doug McWilliams, chief economic adviser to the Confederation of British Industry, agrees that the economy "is edging up slowly." The president of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce said:Commerce and industry is on the road to recovery.Even in the depressed housing market, the chief executive of Abbey National says that the worst is over.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that I am wrong, but does he think that all those people are wrong as well? He went on about retail sales again this afternoon, but they rose in the third quarter. It is true, as he said, that they fell back in October. Instead of talking so much about how bad business is, he should listen to some people in business.
Mr. Desmond Pitcher, the chief executive of Littlewoods, said:I am sure we have turned the corner.Mr. Colin Evans, deputy chairman of Austin Reed, said:I believe the turnround has arrived.The CBI's last survey of the retail trade said that theslow upturn in retail sales is now starting to gather momentum.428 That does not mean that all retailers view the position in the same way and that all retailers are experiencing the same conditions. Clearly, there are business men who believe that conditions are improving.
In the months ahead, there will be weeks when the figures are encouraging and weeks when they will be less so. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman seriously think that the way to run the economy is to try to manage demand, quarter by quarter and week by week, changing our policy as each new statistic is published? What sort of stability is that for industry?
§ Mr Foulkes
As the Chancellor knows, I am a simple sort of soul. I do not know all the professors and chief executives to whom he refers. Every week I spend Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in my constituency. I talk to the textile manufacturers, who tell me that they are in a slump. I talk to the motor sales men, who tell me that things are pretty bad. I talk to all of the people in my constituency, people who see the reality of rising unemployment—then I come back to the House and hear an entirely different story, divorced from reality, from the Chancellor. Does not he think that it might improve his credibility if he were to admit what is really happening outside, and say what he intends to do to resolve the problem?
§ Mr. Lamont
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. He is not such a simple soul—only a bit of one. His intervention would have been more telling if he had commented on some of the facts and statistics that I have given. He made no attempt to reply to those.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East wrote me a letter last week—I have it here somewhere —calling for what he referred to as a "change of economic course". What change of course is he suggesting? Today he offered nothing in the way of serious policy proposals. He talked a great deal about recession, but did not say what alternative policies he would pursue, apart from training. What is this mysterious change of course that he keeps talking about? He implies that it exists, but he does not specify, or tell anybody, what it is. At the time of the Budget, the right hon. and learned Gentleman refused to say what his tax policies were. Now he tells me to change course. What does he want? Now is the time for him to tell us. Does he think that taxation is too high or too low?
At the time of the autumn statement, I asked him whether he thought that public expenditure was too high or too low. He asks us to change course, but what does he want? He will not say. I asked him a few weeks ago if Government borrowing was too high or too low or just about right. He calls for a change of course, but he will not tell us what he thinks the three main levers of policy— spending, taxation and borrowing—should be or how they should be used differently. He will not tell us because he has not got a clue.
Conservative Members have learnt the folly of fine-tuning, even if the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not. The sort of quick fix that he implies exists does not exist and could only undermine stability for business. It would encourage the illusion that Governments know best, that Governments produce economic recovery. As the history of Labour Governments shows only too well, attempts to pump up demand in response to short-term statistics end only in disaster. Businesses generate economic growth and prosperity. That is why we say that 429 the Government must stick to doing what only they can do —providing the framework within which businesses can plan and invest in the expectation of a sustained recovery, something that never happened and never could happen under Labour.
The Government have kept control of public spending; under Labour, it ate up almost half the nation's wealth. The Government have cut taxation rates. We now have the lowest corporation tax rates in the Community and among the G7 countries. That is why we get more inward investment than anywhere else in Europe. All Labour wants to do is to put up taxes again. The Government take a long-term view of measures to promote competitiveness. We cut unnecessary regulation and help markets to work better.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to smother business in bureaucracy and restore trade union power. The Government have brought inflation down—it is now 3.7 per cent., half the lowest rate that the last Labour Government ever achieved. Most important of all, by joining the exchange rate mechanism and sticking to its disciplines, the Government have demonstrated their determination to keep inflation down to levels comparable with the best in Europe.
Above all, it is our determination to secure low inflation that is laying the foundations for sustained recovery. Retail price inflation is down by two thirds. Underlying inflation, which never rose as high, has fallen less dramatically, but will fall further during the coming year. Factory gate inflation has fallen even faster than expected and by the end of the year should be down to the lowest level in more than 20 years.
As usual, the right hon. and learned Gentleman managed to go through a speech on the economy without mentioning inflation, exactly as his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did in his interminably long speech at the Labour party conference. There was not a word on inflation. We have been trying to get inflation down. All that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does is to try to get everyone down. His refusal to accept that the defeat of inflation must be the first priority—and, what is more, his refusal to understand and support the measures necessary to deal with inflation—would have led us to a far deeper and more damaging recession.
No matter what the level of interest rates, for years the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been arguing for a cut. In October 1990, when inflation was 11 per cent., he was calling for interest rate cuts. In October 1987, when interest rates were 9.5 per cent., he called for interest rate cuts. In March 1988, when interest rates were 8.5 per cent. —many people with hindsight believe that they were too low—he called for interest rate cuts. The right hon. and learned Gentleman proclaims his undying devotion to the ERM, but has never stopped him calling for interest rates to be cut further and faster. He never fails to choose soft options and easy answers. If I had taken his advice, it is all too clear what would have happened to the pound in the last few weeks.
In July, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was asked about the effect on sterling of his policies, he made this extraordinary remark to "Newsnight":All I would have to do is pick up the phone and talk to someone on first name terms.430 I wonder who that would be. I have been thinking about it. One can imagine the conversation, "Alto Jacques, is that you? How are things in Brussels? Listen Jacques, I've got a bit of a problem here. Can you help? Yes, I know you had to bail us out last week, but the colleagues keep spending it—yes, all of it. Yes, I'm sorry Jacques". But even the right hon. and learned Gentleman must have realised that first name terms might not deliver the goods —[Interruption.] Two weeks ago he seemed to be having doubts about his own abilities because he said, in answer to a similar question, that before doing anything, he would have to take advice. A lawyer's cry. Advice from whom? I can give him some advice, though I do not think he will thank me for it. His death-bed conversion to monetary prudence will not convince anybody, least of all the foreign exchange markets. They have heard him week in, week out talking of lower interest rates. The truth is that his policies inevitably would have led to higher inflation and higher unemployment in the long run.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the Chancellor see much prospect for lower interest rates in the coming months? Is he prepared, if necessary, to allow higher interest rates if there is pressure on sterling?
§ Mr. Lamont
The hon. Gentleman knows that I never comment on the trend of interest rates—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer his question by saying that we shall do whatever is necessary to sustain the pound's position.
§ Mr. Lamont
I have given way several times.
The one policy that the right hon. and learned Gentleman always puts forward in answer to every problem, short term or long term, is training and investment. That is the one phrase he always uses. He became rather cross when, in a previous debate, I compared him with a parrot which knew only that one phrase—training and investment. Whatever the question, the answer is always the same from the right hon. and learned Gentleman—training and investment. When he was asked on the radio the other day how he would keep inflation down, he replied:We need a programme of investment and training.In another broadcast, he said that the United Kingdom was in a poor competitive position, and he gave as his remedy more money for training and investment. When asked how he would keep the pound in the ERM, he replied that it would be done througha programme of investment and training.When asked how Britain would be able to be ready for monetary union, he replied:A programme of training and investment, of course.The right hon. learned Gentleman's letter to me last week called for action to initiate a programme of training and investment. That really will not do. He has refused to answer questions about taxing, spending and borrowing. We know why he refers to training and investment—because it is less embarrassing than talking about the things that other people want to talk about. Someone at some time should let him in on the secret that next year we shall be spending over two and a half times as much in real terms on training, enterprise and vocational education as in 1978–79.
Perhaps someone will tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that employers' training expenditure is now 431 running at record levels and that under the Conservatives the share of our total resources going into investment has reached record levels, far above anything achieved under Labour. Even with a fall in investment—and it always falls in recessions—the investment-GDP ratio will be far higher this year than at any point under the last Labour Government.
The truth is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's much-vaunted programme for training and investment would only make it more difficult for business to train and invest. How would he pay for it? His hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) tells us that the Labour party has only two spending commitments—increasing pensions and child benefit.Everything else is regarded as a desirable aim",she tells us, and will have to be paid for "as resources allow" out of economic growth. So there we have it— Labour's main policy to create growth will have to wait until there is growth. Under Labour it would be a very long wait indeed.
Where will the right hon. and learned Gentleman find the money to finance the training and investment? He has talked in the past of financial incentives and tax credits, but he knows, or he should know, that one business's tax break is another business's tax increase. We have reduced corporation tax from Labour's 52 per cent. to 33 per cent. He would have to put the rate up again. He would be taxing away the money that businesses already use to finance training and investment.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman always forgets that people invest in the hope of making profits, but does he ever talk about making profits—not in our hearing. In the 1980s, profitability increased markedly. The result was that, contrary to the famous prediction that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made in 1985, business men invested on a vast scale. Business investment under Labour increased by barely 1 per cent. a year; under the Conservatives it has grown by over 2.5 per cent. a year. Despite the recession, business investment in plant and machinery is 50 per cent. higher than in 1979 and business investment will rise again next year as profitability recovers. Who is the right hon. and learned Gentleman to talk about investment? As I say, it is easier for him to talk about investment and training than more difficult issues such as taxing and spending.
Another point to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman never refers is the fact that the best way to get more investment is to have more savings. That is one of the first things students learn in economics, though not, apparently, in the Labour party. The more we save, the more investment we can have and the more interest rates can be lowered. We have had 10 years of cutting taxes on savings. What a contrast to the position of Labour Members, who still refer to income from savings as unearned income; they believe in taxing it as heavily as possible.
The Labour party wants to introduce a new tax on savings, disguised as national insurance contributions. That proposal, together with all of Labour's other tax increases, would slash the return on savings. As a result, savings would fall and so would investment. A Labour Government would end up, as they did before, with a miserable investment performance. As always, there is a yawning gulf between rhetoric and reality. In every area, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is determined to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.
432 Nowhere is that more true than on public expenditure. All over the country the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleagues have been pledging extra spending —£35 billion worth of pledges at the last count, and still rising. Who is to pay for it? That is the key question. We do not know, they will not answer, they do not have an answer and they never will have an answer. There is a gaping hole in Labour's accounts, the same hole which last time they filled first by borrowing and then by running to the International Monetary Fund.
At the last election, at least the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was frank and honest. He told basic taxpayers where they stood—that they would be hit hard with higher rates. This time, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East talks mysteriously only of new tax bands. We are told that they would not make basic-rate taxpayers worse off. What on earth is the point of introducing bands if they are not to take money from some people and give it to others? We do not get any answers.
On economic and monetary union, it is the same story. Is Labour in favour of a single currency? We have had no answer—or rather, we have had two answers, yes and no. Labour's leader opposes the opt-out clause that we want, but its shadow Chancellor refuses to make a commitment to a single currency. They think that things are better seen in perspective—facing both ways.
The Opposition called this debate on the economy today. I am more than happy to respond by expressing the confidence of the Government that the policies that we are following are right. Is not it extraordinary for the Opposition to use one of their parliamentary days to call for a change of course, then advance scarcely a single positive proposal or suggestion in the debate? Is not it amazing that they come to the House crying loudly for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman called in his letter a "change of course", without being able to give the slightest detail on that change of course or how the Labour party would make such a change? Perhaps it is all training and investment.
We know what a change of course really means. We have cut tax rates, controlled public borrowing, reduced inflation and brought down interest rates. The Opposition would change course all right—they would put up taxes, borrowing, inflation and, ultimately, interest rates, too. They are not only devoid of positive policy proposals for economic success, they actively hope for economic failure. They will be disappointed, and no amount of gloom, depression and hand wringing will stop the recovery gathering momentum. That recovery will be produced by policies that are clear, consistent and firm, not diverted or abandoned because of each passing statistic; policies designed to ensure sustainable growth in the future, on the firm base of stable, low inflation. Every hon. Member knows that those policies are right.
The only threat to renewed growth would be a return to office of a party that is reckless with inflation and profligate with taxpayers' money. Britain's economic recovery can survive the cultivated gloom of a Labour Opposition, but it certainly could not survive a Labour Government. That is why we shall continue with policies that have created the opportunity for renewed growth and increased prosperity. Our policies have laid the foundations for recovery and they deserve the support of the House.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
There were two surprises in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, but the one that struck me most was that he wants more saving. There seems to be some schizophrenia, because I understood that the Government's policy was to encourage people to spend, that they wanted a consumption boomlet that would last until the election. The right hon. Gentleman now says that that is not what was in his mind—that he is really trying to reconcile what he has been saying for many years.
It is unwise to make comparisons with past predictions, because in 1979 the Government increased VAT from 8 to 15 per cent., saying that it would not increase prices. I found that astonishing then, and I still find it astonishing. We need reasonable forecasts, not because we expect them to provide blueprints for the future but because they provide a guide so that policies can be changed. The Government, however, see the trends and continue to make the same forecasts. If they were realistic, they would admit that they need to change their policies, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has proposed.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Francis Maude)
What can we understand the right hon. Gentleman to be proposing?
§ Mr. Sheldon
I shall come on to that in great detail. I shall go into greater detail than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East had a chance to do on the kinds of investment that can be produced, rather than the consumption boom which the Chancellor hopes for.
The debate is intended to bring the Government to account. They must account for their management of the economy. Naturally, I do not expect the apologists on the Government Front Bench to criticise the Government's policies, still less to condemn their actions. However, some of them might have had it in them to refrain from congratulating the Government on delivering the two worst recessions of the post-war years.
How did the implementers of the monetarist nonsense which brought about the first recession manage to produce a second recession? The Government came to office in 1979, when my constituency, Ashton-under-Lyne, was a manufacturing area with a level of prosperity higher than the national average. It earned its living then, as it does now, by making things, and it had many small to medium firms.
It used to have less unemployment than the regional or national average. In the district that embraces both my constituency and Stockport, there were 20,000 skilled engineers, many of whom were made unemployed. Today, there are no longer 20,000 but 5,000. At a time when skills are in demand, they have been wantonly discarded. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend continually puts forward those proposals, and he has the full support of the companies in my area, which understand those problems.
In the two years 1979–81, one third of the firms in my constituency closed. That was a devastating blow from which the constituency is struggling to recover. My right hon. Friend is right to talk about the industrial capacity being too low to produce the recovery we need. It is a long-term, essential and immediate job to bring industrial capacity back to what it should be. I have never forgiven 434 the Government for what they did to my constituency in those two years. The good medium and high-tech firms all flourished in Germany, Japan and the United States—indeed, in all countries. They had a good past and a reasonable future, but they were ruined by the highest interest rates this century and an unrealistic exchange rate, which lost them export markets and provided further competition in their home markets.
We now have the present long-lived recession, which is a further injury to deal with. It will be some time before I have the figures to show how serious the second recession has been—how many firms have closed, how many jobs have been irrevocably lost, and how the finances of the survivors have suffered. However, I know of repeated pleas for action and the despair of so many small firms, one of which resulted in yet another suicide of someone whom I knew, resulting from business failure. Meanwhile, closures of important firms continue. There is no question of a weeding-out process. Many are firms that expanded and invested with no expectation of 15 per cent. interest rates. Even prudent companies' reasonable expectations have been destroyed by the Government's actions.
The Chancellor gives selective statistics, but I suppose that all our statistics are, to an extent, selective. I visit many manufacturing companies and ask them about the state of their order books. I do not ask what hopes or expectations they have, or what they are dreaming of, but what they are experiencing. There is no question but that firms that expect recovery do not lay off workers. Firms that are hopeful about the future do not take such measures. Therefore, the rising levels of unemployment are a direct consequence of what those firms are experiencing, not what they are hoping for. That should be of concern to the Chancellor.
In such circumstances, it is effrontery that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) should be attacked for what they might do, instead of the Government being brought to account for what they have done and continue to do. Opposition Members want to return to common-sense methods of running the economy, encouraging investment and skills.
When I hear the attacks on that modest, even cautious, and certainly prudent programme, I must compare it with the gross waste of public money in which the Government have indulged. They spent billions of pounds on the nightmare of the poll tax, and millions of pounds were lost to the taxpayer when they sold off publicly owned assets at well below valuation. In fact, some of them were not even valued, so anxious were the Government to get rid of them. They waste our public services, and essential repairs are not carried out. The fabric of our schools, public buildings and roads store up bigger and bigger bills for the future.
Meanwhile, the Government are busy opting out of industrial policy. I recently asked Lord King of British Airways about his decision to buy Boeing aircraft and United States General Electric aero engines—not only that, but the fact that he was giving them a foothold in Britain at the expense of Rolls-Royce. I asked him what he had told the Department of Trade and Industry, and he said that he had said nothing. I was astonished, and thought that he had misunderstood my question. I asked what the DTI officials had said, and he said that they had told him nothing. I could not believe that, but he confirmed it openly and readily.
435 If the Department of Trade and Industry is dealing with one of the most important companies in our country, it should hold a view on what that firm should do or how it might be helped to overcome its problems. I am not talking only about the position in countries such as Germany or Japan, but about second or third-world countries. We are dealing with the issue of investment and the necessity for it—which, I regret to say, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not seem to understand.
The Confederation of British Industry has come round and is now talking about 40 per cent. capital allowances. I do not think that that is enough, but I am delighted that my right hon. Friends have again and again spoken of the necessity for plant and machinery. We must recreate the industrial structure that we once had and wantonly destroyed.
§ Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that, if we were to return to 100 per cent. capital allowances—which I think he may want—it could have a damaging effect on the quality of investment decisions, which are at present made for good, sound, commercial reasons? When I worked in industry in the 1970s, people took investment decisions for tax reasons, which are the wrong reasons for taking such decisions.
§ Mr. Sheldon
There is no doubt that the best way to invest is with the intention of selling more of the goods that come from those investments, and receiving a greater return on them. However, does the present level of 25 per cent. provide a level playing field? I do not believe that it does. Anyone who buys a piece of plant and machinery and tries to sell it back to the manufacturer at 75 per cent. at the end of the first year will be laughed at, because the value will then be much less—in some cases it will not even cover the commission of the salesman who organised the sale. That provides not an incentive to invest but a disincentive—a penalty. I understand why the Government call for neutrality, but the present position is far from neutral. I am in favour of some incentive beyond that represented by depreciation, because new methods tend to encourage new ideas of production, which is so important.
Again and again, I hear people say that it is a pity that we who produced the great ideas of the world did not actually manufacture their consequences. The feeling is that we had the idea, which was the crucial element, and anybody could manufacture the product, but that is not true. The great skill of Japanese and German manufacturers is that they know how to make things efficiently and well, which is what we are so bad at. Manufacturing requires the necessary industrial investment to transform the ideas into the articles that can be sold in the keenest markets. We must be more than neutral, but at present we are not even that.
Meanwhile, the Government are busy opting out of industrial policy. I asked Lord King of British Airways about the decision to buy Boeing aircraft and United States General Electric aero engines, giving that company a foothold in Britain at the expense of Rolls-Royce. We must turn our attention to that. When industry takes such decisions, the DTI must be involved and must know what is going on. I am not even sure that the Department's officials knew, but if they did, and they took no action, they are culpable in the extreme.
§ Mr. John Watts (Slough)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House more clearly what sort of involvement he would expect from the DTI? Should it twist the arm of British Airways? Should the company have been subsidised with taxpayers' money in order to buy a British product? What sort of distortion of the market is he recommending?
§ Mr. Sheldon
The market is being distorted: if General Electric wants to come into this country, it gives a price concession which damages one of this country's crucial companies. The DTI should at least have investigated the issue and asked questions. Its officials may not have come to exactly the same conclusions as I did, but they should have tried to find out. If they had agreed with British Airways, I could understand that they might have left the issue alone, but they might have come to different conclusions and taken different action. However, the Government leave it to the financial operations of others, and meanwhile the economy is run on the basis that one might be able to regulate but not to promote. I totally disagree.
We are now hearing that our outlook is so bad that we had better leave it to an independent central bank to decide the important aspects of our future. I find it strange that people with whom I have been associated should now accept that independent bankers control so much of our destiny. I would expect them to be more cautious.
People point to the success of the German Bundesbank as a sign of the strength of the German economy. It is nothing of the sort. It is not the cause of German economic strength, but the consequence. Mercedes-Benz, Siemens and Bayer do not owe their success to the Bundesbank: the Bundesbank owes its strength to German industrial progress. Germany found itself facing an expansionist Europe and a booming industry. The strength of Germany derives from the skills of people in industry. It did not matter that so much plant and machinery, and so many factories, were destroyed in the war, because the skills of the people were not destroyed; they remained, to recreate the industrial strength which we once again admire and respect. That is the task facing us.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East rightly speaks of the essential nature of skills, training and investment, he has it exactly right. It is terrible that, for 45 years, we have not done that—that is the scandal of our time. It is about time that we started to realise that the financial centre of London is not the key to our success. I do not deny that it plays an important part, but the key to our strength is our industrial might.
I find our love affair with the banking profession curious. From being the bogey of bankers, we are becoming the bankers' friend. I have played my part in defending the role of banks and the necessary role that they have, but I find myself a little outflanked by the new enthusiasm. If British industry were in the same powerful position as German industry, I might be a little more relaxed about economic monetary union, but I am worried about the time at which we are entering into new commitments.
The urge for an independent central bank and a proposed Euro central bank comes at a particularly dangerous time, when recessions, depressions and even a slump cannot be ruled out. We could be legislating well into the next century. Nobody can say that depressions were something peculiar to the 1930s. At times, 437 Government intervention is required. This could be a time when Franklin Roosevelt's new deal, hated by bankers, could come into its own. It is a time for the Governments to act together to take charge of economics for the sake of the citizens that they, and only they, can represent.
I used to hold that an international depression was impossible because, faced with an economic catastrophe, the bankers, people and Governments would overcome their differences and co-operate with Keynesian methods to end such a disaster. There are goals other than conquering inflation. The Government and our times rightly attach great importance to conquering inflation, but it is not the only aim of a successful economy. Following the German inflation of the 1920s, there was enormous unemployment and the rise of Hitler. Nazism was the result not of inflation, but of the counter-inflationary measures that did so much damage. The trouble was that they voted against the large numbers of unemployed and voted for Fascist and Nazi Governments.
In 1945, the Bank of England was nationalised with some Conservative support because of the way it had handled the depression. Independence of the central bank would restore its power. I always thought that, if an international crisis similar to that of the 1930s were to recur, there would be international agreement to control such events. I cannot be sure now that that would happen. With a Eurobank, I would be even less sure.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) once told the Governor of the Bank of England that the latter had the better job. I do not think that he was joking. The power of day-to-day decision-making, even in a nationalised bank, is underestimated. How much greater would be the power of the Eurobank.
Of course we cannot be excluded from progress within the Community. We must accept our position in the Community, which will lead to a greater alignment between us, but the main solution to our economic problems lies in ourselves. It lies in our will, determination and good industrial sense, wherein the Government have been found seriously lacking.
§ Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). We have all listened to his speech with great interest. He certainly convinced me, and I am sure the rest of the House, that he is diametrically opposed to a central bank. In those circumstances, he seems to be at variance with his own Front Bench spokesmen. I do not know whether that is a serious matter, but given the right hon. Gentleman's experience and standing, I should have thought that the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen would take careful notice of what he says.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about his constitu-ency. I agree that many jobs, particularly in manufacturing industry, have been lost since 1979, but one must remember that there was a great deal of overmanning in 1979. For example, in 1979 the steel industry employed roughly twice the number of people that it does now, producing the same amount of steel. That in itself meant that we took over an uncompetitive company. In order for it to remain competitive, jobs had to be shed.
438 Politicians often succumb to the danger of talking down the economy. For example, if a Gallup poll goes against the Government, sterling starts to shake. Equally, when Labour politicians talk down the economy, saying how bad it is, that has an effect on the foreigner. Therefore, I hope that they can be persuaded to stop.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, the latest reports of the Institute of Directors and the CBI show that they are not pessimistic about the economy. In fact, they say that the increase in confidence has been the highest for some years. The chambers of commerce are not pessimistic. It does the economy no good for the Opposition continually to talk it down. Never once does one hear the Opposition say that, since 1981, manufacturing output is up 25 per cent., manufacturing investment is up by 33} per cent., and manufacturing production is up by more than 50 per cent.
§ Sir William Clark
If the hon. Gentleman just thinks about what he is saying, he will realise that it takes a Government one or two years to bring the economy round. The economy cannot change overnight. It is ridiculous to suggest otherwise.
The Opposition never mention manufacturing exports, which are up 75 per cent. since 1981. The export of motor cars in the past nine months is 90 per cent. higher than last year. Those are all pointers for the economy. Why do we not start talking about some of our successes?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Would the right hon. Gentleman therefore care to suggest what I should say to those 420 workers in Rolls-Royce who have been ejected from their jobs with scant courtesy and with no idea why it has happened, who have all the skills required for building motor cars and are not to be given the chance to do so?
§ Sir William Clark
I fully sympathise with the hon. Lady's constituents, but one must face the facts of life: in a recession, and coming out of a recession, jobs are always being lost.
In the third quarter of this year, our exports rose by 1 per cent. That is something that we should be talking about. There is a slowdown in destocking. Many manufacturing industries have been destocking during the past few years but now that is slowing down. That in itself is a sign that we are coming out of the recession.
In the third quarter of this year, pay settlements were down from an average of 10 per cent. to an average of 6.5 per cent. In manufacturing industry, pay settlements were down from an average of 9 per cent. to 5.5 per cent. Those are all steps in the right direction to make us more competitive; and if we are more competitive, we can obviously sell more of our goods.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor reminded the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), he did not mention inflation once. He did not say that our inflation rate had been 10.9 per cent. and was now down to 3.7 per cent. It is just a little above that of Germany, but it is well below the EC average. Consequently, it is forecast that in 1992 our inflation rate will be below even the German average, which at the moment is 3.5 per cent.
In order to give people more confidence rather than surrounding them with gloom and doom, we should point 439 out that, since 1979, GDP has risen 22 per cent. in real terms. There are 800,000 more jobs now than there were in 1979. The net income of an average family, a husband and wife with two children, is up by 37 per cent. in real terms.
Our corporation tax, which has already been mentioned, is the lowest in the EC. It is the lowest in the G7 countries. It has come down from 52 per cent. under the previous Labour Government to 33 per cent. now. Income tax has dropped from 33 per cent. to 25 per cent., and the top rate, a penal rate of 83 per cent., is down to 40 per cent. The investment income surcharge, which we abolished, had a top rate of 98 per cent.
The economy is also assisted by separate tax assessments for husband and wife. In many cases, that has given the family an added incentive and advantage.
Public expenditure is under control. In 1979, it was 44 per cent. It is now down to just over 40 per cent. Up to last year, we had repaid £26 billion of the national debt. That is unheard of. It is true that this year we have a public sector borrowing requirement of about £10 billion or £10.5 billion, but with the strength of sterling and of previous national sector repayments, borrowing, and debt, that is something we can meet.
I want to make a few suggestions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary about small businesses. Many of the new firms that started were under-capitalised and so went to the wall, but the net number has increased by many hundreds of thousands since 1979. One of the snags that confronts small businesses in particular is that of cash flow. They have orders—although perhaps not as many as they had—but also cash flow problems, because the companies they supply do not pay their bills on time.
It is time that the Government considered a system such as that operated by some of our retail stores. If one has an account at Harrods, for example, and does not pay one's bill by a certain date, a mandatory rate of interest is immediately added to the total.
§ Sir William Clark
Yes, it does—if one does not pay within the stipulated time.
When a small company arranges to supply a bigger client, settlement terms of, say, 30 days may be agreed. Once that period is exceeded, a mandatory rate of interest should automatically be added. The small supplier would then not be in the hands of his bank. As it is, his overdraft increases, and so do the interest charges, at two or three points over base. That penalty should be paid by the firms which owe money to a smaller business.
I also want to point out that the Trades Union Congress, with 6.5 million members, has six represen-tatives on the National Economic Development Council; the National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses, with 5 million members, has none. I believe that organisation ought to be represented.
As to the capital allowance, I was interested in the point made by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, and I agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) in his intervention. One hundred per cent. capital allowances could lead to investment decisions being made entirely for tax reasons. What else could be done? At present, a 25 per cent. reduction is given on a reducing basis. In terms of cash flow, it takes a business man eight or nine years to get his money back on any machinery, for example, that he buys.
440 Would it not be easier to offer a straight-line reduction, giving 25 per cent. capital allowance over four years? That way, a business man making an investment would know that he would get his money back within four years.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider that suggestion. It would not cost the Exchequer anything more the first year, because a 25 per cent. allowance is already given. Only in the second year, when the allowance currently is 25 per cent. of 75 per cent., would any difference arise.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has come up with some further suggestions. There are probably many more. However, perhaps he could be more generous, given the present need for investment, and allow for a limited period, such as that which operated when the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) was Chancellor. An allowance period shorter than the four years mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman might have an immediate and useful effect.
§ Sir William Clark
That is worth considering, but I am not completely sold on that idea. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) reduced corporation tax to 35 per cent., but at the same time he took away the 100 per cent. allowance. In that way, despite the fact that a company lost the capital allowance on the excess on its investment, it gained on the reduction in corporation tax, from—I believe it was—42 per cent. to 35 per cent.
During his 30-minute speech, the hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East did not once say where the money for his proposals—other than those on training and investment—would come from. Neither did he refute the two commitments made by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) in respect of pensions and child benefit. Will Labour fulfil the £35 billion of pledges being given by its spokesmen throughout the country'? I understand that is a conservative estimate.
§ Sir William Clark
I meant, with a small c, in that some economists attach a higher figure to the cost of implementing those pledges.
There can be no doubt that, if Labour's pledges are implemented, even an increase in taxation from 40 per cent. to 49 per cent. would not produce enough revenue to pay for them. The ordinary person would inevitably be affected. Every person in this country earning between £10,000 and £30,000 would, if Labour implemented all its pledges, be worse off. Anyone earning more than £30,000 would be severely worse off.
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have answered that point many times, but I cannot let it pass. We have made it explicitly clear that none of the changes that we propose, either in tax or in national insurance contributions, will make a penny difference to any individual earning less than £21,000 a year. No one earning less than £21,000 will pay a penny more under us.
§ Sir William Clark
Rhetoric and promises are all right, but if Labour's pledges are to be honoured, there is no question but that the ordinary taxpayer will be affected —or that some of those pledges will have to be reneged upon. It is as simple as that.
441 I have no doubt that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, Britain is coming out of the recession. The recovery is slow and patchy, but the policy is sound— [Interruption.] Labour Members who laugh and snigger at such remarks ought to ask themselves why it is that Britain of all the countries in Europe has the most inward investment from overseas investors.
§ Sir William Clark
That is simply untrue.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary that the British economy is basically sound. Our gold and dollar reserves are sound, and we can look forward with confidence to the future—provided that there is no change of Government.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) reiterate his support for measures to help small businesses, in particular over the late repayment of debt. This is something for which my hon. Friends and I have pressed for some time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's call will be heeded by those on his own Front Bench, because it would be an extremely helpful and valuable measure.
The fairest statement that I have seen recently of the prospects of recovery was the one in the Greenwell Montagu Recovery Watch bulletin a few days ago. It said:The balance of evidence over the last month has been towards continued recession. Shafts of light from company statements and bullish confidence surveys are outweighed by gloomy economic data and depressing anecdotal evidence.One can make one's own judgment a little to one side or the other of that. There is a mixture of indicators, but on the whole the adverse indicators seem heavier and more serious than the favourable ones, many of which are things such as confidence surveys, which do not tell one very much about what will happen.
We must, surely, eventually get to recovery, but we have been waiting for it for a long time. The Chancellor has been waiting for Father Christmas since the spring, and I do not think that Father Christmas will arrive for him before 25 December. Worse than that from the Government's point of view, I do not think that he will arrive in time for the general election.
The Government are laying great stress on the possibility of a consumer-led recovery. That is perhaps the area in which they are least believed by those closest to the reality of retailing and the experience of consumers. The Government produced in the autumn statement a graph of consumer confidence. It is the first time, as far as I can see, that what is in effect an opinion poll has found its way into the autumn statement. It is a bit like taking a poll of general election candidates asking them to state in public whether they think that they will win. Of course, they all say that they will win. How many meetings have we all been to, all of us in all parties, at which the candidate has said that he looks forward to winning? Consumer confidence is not all that far from that, but, from the retailer's point of view, it does not pay the staff wages. The people in the street outside may tell the market researchers that they are more confident than they were six months 442 ago, but that does not take them into the shop, put their money over the counter or pay the staff wages of the retailer.
The Government do not seem to realise how severely consumers have been affected by the experience of recession. That is the factor that the Government are not considering. Consumers who saw their commitments enlarge so dramatically as a result of higher interest rates, who found themselves over-committed, and then found themselves unemployed and even less able to meet those commitments, will not rush out and spend money even if they have more of it. They are credit-wary, because their experience of credit has been a very adverse one in recent times. The Government fatally underestimate how very chastened many consumers are by the harsh experience of the last couple of years.
The main driving force of a consumer-led boom would have to be improvement in the housing market. That is where so much of the consumer boom of the 1980s came from. There is massive equity withdrawal from housing. There is no sign of that recovery in the housing market. That is perhaps the weakest of all the indicators on which the Government seek to rely. However hopeful we may be, however much we may snatch at the more encouraging indicators, we cannot look forward with any great confidence to a consumer recovery.
§ Mr. Tim Smith
Chart 2.7 in the autumn statement shows consumer confidence. It also shows that, since 1974, before every increase in consumer spending there has been an increase in consumer confidence—that the one always follows the other. What reason is there to suppose that this will not happen this time?
§ Mr. Beith
The reason that I just gave, which is the experience of recession. But I am prepared to wait and see. I advise the Government, however, not to take an indication of confidence as the same thing as money over the counter. One could never run any business on that basis.
Another danger which the Government face in the coming months is that of post-Maastricht pressures on sterling. There is considerable evidence that markets are expecting a realignment following the Maastricht negotiations and that there will be downward pressure on sterling, testing the Chancellor's resolve over interest rates. I believe that there is a strong likelihood that markets will seek to test that resolve. Nobody in the markets seems to believe that the Chancellor dare put up interest rates this side of the general election. Indeed, I have defended the Chancellor in some conversations on this very subject with people in these fields. I have said that I think that he might and they have all said that of course he will not; he dare not, they say, there is no way that he will put up interest rates this side of the general election. My touching faith in the Chancellor's resolve and commitment to anti-inflation policy was ridiculed by those with whom I had this discussion, who were obviously much more deeply cynical than I am. I have to warn the Chancellor that there is a widespread belief that he is not at all likely to take the measures that might prove necessary if intervention is insufficient to stem severe downward pressure on sterling in the coming months.
All this adds up to the likelihood that the Government cannot sort out the economy in the very short term and certainly cannot do so this side of the general election; they 443 cannot generate the feeling of happiness and cheerfulness about the economy which parties traditionally rely upon to win general elections. I think that that is impossible. I do not think that any incoming party with any set of policies could turn the economy around over the next six months. It is a much longer-term task than that.
My plea to the Government, therefore, is that they concentrate on what they can do, and that is to improve the long-term prospects for the economy. If they fiddle around with the short-term situation that will not enable them to win; it will not enable them to get a better general election performance. They might get at least some credit if they were seen to be laying better long-term foundations for the economy. They must, at the same time, provide some immediate help to the main sufferers, particularly the unemployed, and take measures designed to reduce unemployment by investment in those areas which can produce some reduction in unemployment. I am thinking particularly of repairs in schools and housing, which can generate some employment.
The Government must get on with addressing the long-term solutions. One of these is, of course, the single currency. Our whole a witude to this is fundamental to the future of our economy. What an admission to make after 12 years of Conservative government that our economy is uniquely incapable of being signed up for participation in a single currency. That is one of the principal arguments of those on the Government Benches who say that we should not sign up, that we cannot say at this stage whether we are capable, as an economy, of participating without damage in a single currency. That is a terrible indictment of 12 years of Conservative government.
The alternative to participating in a single currency is higher interest rates in this country than within that currency. The opt-out clause which the Government have so anxiously sought, the clause that would enable Britain uniquely to opt out of participation in a single currency, is a health warning on the British economy. It is a label attached to the British economy which says, "Warning: This is the United Kingdom economy; we reserve the right to devalue our currency. If you invest here, your money may lose its value, your products cannot be reliably priced for trade across Europe; you may face high transaction costs; and you may not get the full benefits of a single market." That is the label which the opters-out wish to attach to the British economy.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
In that case, how does the hon. Gentleman explain how, under both the Labour Government and the Conservative Government, inward investment has been at its peak when there has been a floating currency, where that has been a possibility?
§ Mr. Beith
The right hon. Gentleman must address himself to the new situation which is developing and in which there will be a single currency. I believe that, if we are not participants in it, it will be severely damaging to inward investment. In the case of a Japanese company wishing to invest in this country, whereas hitherto the attractions of the United Kingdom economy, along with the English language, which is important in Japanese investment, have been significant, for the future we are issuing a warning to the Japanese investor to be careful; he may not be able to price across Europe in the future, he may experience high interest rates in this country and he may find it much harder to trade into the Community, 444 because if we are not participating in the single currency we may not get all the benefits of the single market either. This is a warning which the Government must heed. It is not a label which I want to see attached to the British economy.
§ Sir Ian Stewart (Hertfordshire, North)
What the hon. Gentleman has said is an absolute travesty of the position taken by the Government and, as far as I know, by the official Opposition as well.
The reason why it is considered so important that we should not make a commitment at this stage to join a single currency is that a single currency would involve not only a single central bank but single economic management and a commitment by the Government and people of this country to subsidise, if necessary, the trade deficit of Italy, the budget deficits of other countries and the different standards of living. That would be a major constitutional and economic decision which we could not possibly take here and now. That is the reason why that option has to be kept open. It has nothing to do with the arguments which the hon. Gentleman has put forward.
§ Mr. Beith
The right hon. Gentleman has not been listening to his hon. Friends. Unlike the Prime Minister, I am prepared to have a referendum on this fundamental constitutional issue. I am prepared to let the people of this country decide.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the independent central bank, which I believe is part of the long-term anti-inflation policy. It was significant that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) expressed two views—that an independent central bank was a bad thing, and that there are worse problems than inflation. Inflation has been at the root of many of the worst economic problems that we have faced, and was certainly at the root of the problems in pre-war Germany, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
The Chancellor has clearly got the message about how an independent central bank would have to work if we had a single currency. He said:But the European central bank in stage 3 would have to be free to set interest rates without interference.Significantly, he said:That is the view of every member state. In a Community of 12 countries, it simply would not be practical for 12 Finance Ministers to intervene in the monetary policy decisions of the central bank."—[Official Report, 21 November 1991: Vol. 199, c. 516–17.]It is Government policy that if we have a single currency there can be no interference with the setting of monetary policy by the central bank. That is a significant step forward in Government policy. I accept that it is conditional on the decision to participate in a single currency, but I hope that Conservative Members have noted that the necessity of an independent central bank to such a system is accepted by the Government and other member states.
For the long-term benefit of the economy, the Government should invest to ensure that we have an adequate public transport system to move people to and from places of work without massive environmental pollution and to move goods. Our record compared with France, for example on the channel tunnel, is deeply depressing.
The Government should invest in housing to encourage labour mobility, and in training and education, which the Chancellor sought to ridicule as if they were unimportant.
445 It is fair to point our that training and education were one of the few positive points that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) made. They are extremely important and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, a frequent cry of industry and business is that those needs are not being met.
The Government should consider the genuine promotion of competition. The fiddling little Competition and Service (Utilities) Bill, which is being considered in Committee, does not address the need to promote competition in the economy, particularly among the massive privatised utilities that the Government have created. We have made proposals on the break-up of British Gas and British Telecom that are designed to promote competition, which the Government have not begun to do.
The Government must consider corporation tax and not simply brush it aside. I do not share the confidence of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East in investment incentives. They run considerable risks of distorting investment decisions. It might be more productive to guarantee a stable tax environment for business by indexing corporation tax allowances, for example, so that business could predict with reasonable accuracy what its tax liability would be. In the long term, that might be a more effective way of encouraging investment than some of the short-term proposals that we have heard today.
The Government must establish the constitutional framework for stable and decentralised government. The Federal Republic of Germany has had both because of its electoral system and the decentralised way in which so much of Germany is governed, where many decisions are taken by the regions. Such changes would be to the long-term good of the United Kingdom's economy.
My advice to the Government is that they cannot sort out the problem this side of a general election, so why not get on with the job of laying the long-term foundations for a successful economy? There might be some credit for that.
§ Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)
I have just finished reading Roy Jenkins's memoirs, which I commend to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They are most civilised, and are rather like reading about Marie Antoinette in the French revolution: all elegance amid disaster. One would not dream that he was giving an account of the first visit to the International Monetary Fund.
More recently, in his excellent memoirs, Edmund Dell—an admirable person, I always thought—gave an account of his stewardship as Chief Secretary under the previous Labour Government. As he was in charge of public expenditure, it might help the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) to read what he said. He said that there had beenNo comparable example of such intellectual and political incoherence in a party coming into office. They had no economic policy except a 'social contract' of obeying trades unions which was worse than codswallop and an industrial policy that politicians should tell industrialists how to be industrial, which could not be taken seriously yet had to be taken seriously.We all know where the Labour party's policies landed us then—the collapse of the economy and our 446 infrastructure and a high Cuban-like tax regime. The basic rate of tax was 33 per cent., the top rate was 83 per cent. and tax on investment income was 98 per cent.
We are told that Labour has learnt its lesson, but the leaders of the previous Labour Government were highly intelligent, well-meaning people. All of them had firsts at Oxford and one never would have thought that they could make such a mess of the economy.
I wonder whether the Labour party has learnt its lesson. The hon. Member for Derby, South has said that there will be higher taxes to pay for higher pensions and higher child benefit. But is there not to be more money for training? Did not the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) tell us that there will be more money for training? Did I not hear that there will be more money for the national health service? Were we not told that the Government are spending £6 billion too little on the NHS?
§ Mrs. Beckett
The BMA is giving its impression of the level of underspending. It may be right. We have not committed ourselves to restoring that underspending, nor are we in a position to do so.
§ Sir Peter Hordern
That is helpful, because it is now clear that the Labour party has no assurances of increasing expenditure on the national health service—contrary to the impression that it has been giving.
Nationalisation of the water authorities is deeply embedded in Labour's policy. It will cost quite a lot to do that. We do not know how much, but Labour will inherit the capital expenditure programme of all the water authorities. When the authorities were nationalised, total capital expenditure was £8 billion. Today, it is £28 billion. Instead of being financed by borrowing and the private sector, it will count as part of the public sector borrowing requirement.
I do not know what the PSBR will be next year, but some estimates suggest that it will be as much as £20 billion. If we add a further £28 billion, what does the Labour party think that will do to its credibility as a potential Government? It would represent such an enormous increase in borrowing as to make its policy incredible. If the hon. Member for Derby, South would like to correct me, I shall happily give way. The hon. Lady is not prepared to deny the figures. Taking the capital expenditure programme of the water authorities, the PSBR will be almost £50 billion.
It is hard to understand, therefore, why the Labour party should be so enthusiastic for a single currency and a European central bank because in the plans for the European central bank in the Dutch draft the deficit cannot exceed 3 per cent. of GDP and with Labour's proposals it would exceed 5 per cent. very easily. The only possible conclusion is that the Labour party would devalue again, as it has always done in the past.
The European dimension is the most important element in our economic policy. We have always been a trading nation, but the single market will bind our trade and business even more closely to Europe. Over very many years we have learnt the lesson that we cannot be immune from casualties which occur in other countries. For 447 example, the savings and loan debacle in the United States and the Government guarantees which were given at the time meant much higher borrowing for the federal Government. That affected interest rates everywhere throughout the world.
The collapse of stock markets in 1987 was universal; so was the response of lower interest rates. That was followed by a property boom. Perhaps more could have been done at that time. It is easy to argue in retrospect, but the Governor of the Bank of England could have been more explicit about what would happen because of the quantity of money that was borrowed for the property market. The difficulty now arises from the amount of money tied up in unproductive investment, such as empty office blocks here, in the United States and in Japan.
Now there is a new phenomenon. More and more money is being invested in east Germany in basic infrastructure— quite rightly, because they cannot proceed without it. But there is no immediate return from any of that investment. The return on trading activities throughout the world is inadequate. We cannot buck that trend. It is bound to be still with us, whichever party is in power in future.
However, there are some sensible things which we can do. One is to concentrate on the proper use of assets in the public sector. That is only a small example, but my right hon. Friends might consider it. I mean something as mundane as police stations. A police authority cannot sell a police station in order to build another one, because, although it may sell the station and put the money in the bank, it has to get Home Office permission to build a new one. That is absurd. There cannot be any possible financial loss in the transaction, because one set of assets will be paid for by the private sector and the police will be able to put the police station where they believe it should be sited. What the Home Office has to do with the calculation, I cannot imagine.
We can also continue to attract investment from abroad; in that we have been remarkably successful. The Japanese have invested in our country because they believe that is the best way of getting into the European Community; they invest because they reckon that we will be full partners in the Community. That is why Europe is so important.
That brings us back to the great debate. It is doubtful whether we would continue to attract so much investment from Japan and the United States if they felt that we were not full members of the European Community. The debate is between those who accept no diminution of our sovereignty and those who say that, having accepted membership of the exchange rate mechanism, we might as well take the next logical step and proceed to a single currency, believing that that is where our destiny lies.
I start from a different position. Let us look at the last 30 years. Are we satisfied with the stewardship of our economic sovereignty? This goes back over a long period, involving both political parties. In 1961, there were $2.80 to the pound; the exchange rate is now $1.79. There were FF13.7; there are now just over FF10. There were DM11.2; there are now DM2.85. We had fixed exchange rates with the dollar until 1972. After that, we floated; we floated downwards and we have done so ever since. That movement was a fair reflection of our economic performance relative to other major economies.
Parties of all political complexions have tried everything—prices and incomes policies, both voluntary 448 and statutory, and monetary policies. They all failed. The prices and incomes policies failed because of their inherent absurdity, and the monetary policies because they were not strictly applied.
So we joined the exchange rate mechanism under my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I have reached independently the same conclusion as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). Since so much trouble had been caused by trying to manage monetary policy ourselves, why should we not hitch ourselves to the deutschmark, which is managed so much better? Sir Alan Walters and Professor Minford told us that that was an impossible and disastrous policy. Encouraged by their opinions, we should consider what happened. We have seen a fast fall in inflation and a rapid fall in interest rates. Now they say, "Look at the trouble you are in."
The position cries out for further cuts in interest rates but, hooked as we are to the deutschmark, it seems that interest rates may have to rise rather than fall. They may rise, but I think that Germany is in difficulty. When it is recognised that Germany's internal deficit amounts to 5 per cent. of GDP and is rising, I expect the pound to begin to rise against the deutschmark, which would give scope for cuts in interest rates. I think that the fear of a possible Labour Government is the only thing that is holding the pound back.
We have to face the fact that, over the last 30 years, our economic sovereignty has meant the sovereign right to devalue our currency. We have had a sovereign right always to accommodate high wage increases without increases in productivity. Our manufacturing companies especially have never bothered to be competitive, because they knew that they would always be bailed out by the Government, as they always have been. That is not the position now, and they know it. That is why we are seeing much lower wage increases and substantial improvements in productivity. If there was not an exchange rate mechanism, something like it would have to be invented.
What about our loss of sovereignty? After the House of Commons Committee of Secrecy presented its second report on the expediency of the Bank resuming cash payments on 6 May 1819, Britain was on the gold standard for a century and more. Nobody talked about our losing our sovereignty to South African, Californian or Australian gold miners then. For many years after the last war, under the Bretton Woods agreement, we were effectively subject to the US Federal Reserve. Nobody complained about loss of sovereignty. Nobody called Sir Winston Churchill, who presided over our membership of Bretton Woods, arrogant for not having a referendum. For the best part of the last 170 years, we have deliberately relinquished our economic sovereignty, first to gold and then to the dollar, and we are arguably the better for it.
So now, what is new? We are already in the exchange rate mechanism. We are moving towards a single currency and a European central bank. That move needs to be considered carefully. Clearly there are considerable doubts about the timing and whether it will work. That needs to be looked at at the right time. I do so now not because of any Euro-enthusiasm but because of a calm calculation of our national interest. What is that interest? It is the defeat of inflation; it is to create conditions for sustained growth, which only stable prices and competition can secure.
We could, of course, decide to go no further hut, as a member of the exchange rate mechanism, we would not 449 have the protection of the single currency and we would be outside an arrangement of the dollar, the yen and the ecu. I do not believe that the position of sterling outside those major currencies would be sustainable for long. If it were, it could be sustained only by higher interest rates than would otherwise be the case.
What are we being asked to do? I understand that, according to the Dutch draft, no national deficit should be more than 3 per cent. of GDP. It is rather good to have such a limit. For those who believe—as I do—in monetary policy, such a limit is an acceptable—indeed, necessary —discipline. Of course, it will take some time to deliver. I understand that the Italians have a deficit of about 20 per cent. and no prospect of being able to deliver at the moment. However, it could lead in time to phase 3 of the negotiations for a European central bank.
Some people say that we cannot have economic union without political union. I recognise that that is a great difficulty, but I do not understand why it should be so, because the Federal Reserve in the United States does not attempt to conduct fiscal policy or to set the level of federal spending, and nor does the Bundesbank in Germany. It remains the policy that the federal Government of the United States and the German Government set fiscal policies and public spending levels, which is what Governments are for.
Provided always that the fiscal deficit overall is not more than 3 per cent., there is no reason why the countries of the European Community should not run their own fiscal and public spending policies and maintain their parliamentary sovereignty. There is no reason why there should be an even distribution of resources throughout the European Community. I do not go along with the idea of converging economies. I see no reason why that should be the case, any more than it is in the United States at present. If that were the case, it would allow us to allow entry to the eastern European countries in due course.
We must ask one question—what is it in our national interest to do? I believe that the acceptance in due course of a single currency and of a European central bank are plainly in our national interest and would bring about a stable and competitive economy and a rising standard of living for our people, which is what we are here for. It is not an easy policy. If the Opposition are genuinely interested in obtaining manufacturing investment and long-term investment of any kind, low—or better still, nil —inflation is required. It is no coincidence that Germany and Japan have had the lowest rates of inflation, the highest levels of investment and low interest rates for many years.
It would be easy to pump money into the system as the Opposition propose, but—
§ Sir Peter Hordern
No, I am coming to an end. But it would also be fatal. By far the most demanding economic policy of the past 20 years is that which the Government are trying at present. I think that it is a courageous policy which deserves to succeed.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
It would be sad enough if we were debating only one recession, but we are debating the consequence and continuance of the historic tragedy of the 1980s. I remind the hon. Member for Horsham (Sir. P. Hordern) that if the Government had not destroyed 20 per cent. of manufacturing industry, if they had sustained the record level of manufacturing investment that they inherited and if they had used the opportunity provided by £130 billion worth of oil from the North sea, we should not be talking about recession today —we would be celebrating our continuance in a virtuous circle such as that enjoyed by Japan and Germany for decades.
Instead of talking about high interest rates, we would be talking about the fact that we had balance of payments surpluses which gave us low interest rates which gave us the opportunity for higher living standards for our work force and low unemployment. Instead, we are talking about the monumental failure of the past decade and the recession is merely one sad—but sadly not final— symptom of that failure.
When the Government came to office, they took the £5 billion surplus in manufacturing trade and turned it into a £17 billion deficit by 1989. That represents a £22 billion turnaround in our trading position and I shall deal with that issue later. In fact, if one up-values that to current prices, it represents a £27 billion turnaround, because the 1978–79 surplus would be worth about £10 billion at today's prices.
The Government inherited a £594 billion current account surplus but turned it into a multi-billion pound deficit. Despite the £130 billion of balance of payments benefit from the North sea oil, they recorded a decade deficit of £25 billion. They took 10 years to equal the level of manufacturing investment that they inherited and, sadly, the recovery turned out to be a temporary blip, as hon. Gentlemen well know. Already, manufacturing investment has fallen another 20 per cent. and is due to fall again.
It is fascinating that, as they cooked the employment statistics, the Government have wriggled and tried to switch ground when talking about investment. When manufacturing investment was looking bad they switched to business investment so that they could include empty office blocks. In the autumn statement there was a switch to core investment, which includes the computers at race courses and supermarket checkouts—anything but face the reality of what they have done to this country.
We are now able to quantify what that destruction of investment has meant for this country, not on the basis of my figures, but on the basis of the Prime Minister's figures given to me in answer to a written question when he was at the Treasury. We have repeated those figures time and again—£20 billion of manufacturing investment has been lost merely because of the failure to sustain investment at the 1979 level. However, that does not mean anything—it is difficult to conceive it—so I shall illustrate what it could have meant.
The value of that investment is equivalent to 30 Nissan car plants washed away in the destruction of manufacturing investment. Nissan contributes £0.9 billion to the balance of payments each year. Had we been able to carry out investment on that scale—and I am talking illustratively—we could have been talking of a return on 451 payments of between £20 billion and £30 billion a year. But let us halve that, because we must recognise that there are limits to the number of investment opportunities of that quality. Even so, we would still have rid ourselves of our balance of payments problem.
The virtuous cycle—the price that we sought for the whole of the post-war period—is the prize that was lost in a bout of monetarist madness. The Chancellor today spoke about running to the International Monetary Fund. Instead of the prize, we have the spectacle of a party which derided the £2 billion IMF loan—which, incidentally, had been paid back before the Government came to office—itself being dependent, and its policies conditioned by its dependence, on £80 billion of footloose hot money that it had to hold in this country to finance its payments deficits. Because it has had to hold that £80 billion, it has had to keep interest rates high and because it has kept interest rates high, the exchange rates have been high. As exchange rates have been high, our companies could not compete and because our companies could not compete they have closed and our people have lost their jobs. At the end, another balance of payments problem was created. Instead of generating a virtuous cycle, the Government have generated a vicious downwards spiral.
I said that we are facing not only a single recession but a symptom of the long-term structural decline which the Government have brought about. They did not do so calculatedly, because they did not have the intelligence to understand the consequences of what they were doing and do not now have the honesty to admit the consequences of what they have done. To listen to what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor say is to hear a masterpiece of public relations. They say repeatedly "Good news, the recession is hitting bottom." How many times have we heard that phrase?
I am reminded of the leader of the lemmings, plunging down a 1,000 ft. cliff, seeing the jagged boulders below him and looking over his shoulder and shouting, "Don't worry boys, we're nearly there." That is what the Government are saying. Hitting the bottom, about which the Chancellor has been boasting today, is not an achievement. For heaven's sake, is that an achievement? It is the culmination of failure. The dead bodies at the foot of the cliff are the 41,000 dead bodies of companies that have gone into liquidation in the past two and a half years alone. That is the cost of blindly following the ludicrous monetary policies which Ministers have espoused.
The Chancellor said today not only that we have hit the bottom, which is supposed to be so reassuring, but that the worst is over. What does he mean? At the bottom of the cliff, the survivors now have to get all the way back up again. That is what the Chancellor means when he says that the worst is over. The Government will now measure all growth from today—from the bottom of the chasm. When the Government climb all the way to the top again—
§ Mr. Williams
I will come to that. If they climb all the way to the top again, they will have got back only to where they started. Yet they will tell us, "Look how marvellously we have done in getting ourselves from down there, where we should not have been, to here where we started." They will not say, "If only we had had the sanity to cross the bridge, we would be so much further down the other side."
452 As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, we may not get back and we certainly will not do so in the life of this Government. There are economic time bombs in the cliff which have been manufactured by the Government's own policies. The Government are, for example, relying on the recovery of consumer spending to lead them out of the recession. However, if the £9 billion that has gone back into circulation on an annual basis as a result of the change in mortgage rates is spent, as the Government hope that it will be, in time to bail them out, a third of that, as I have said before, will go into imports and £3 billion will go on to the balance of payments. Before anyone says that that is rubbish, he should look at the autumn statement. The Chancellor said then that the balance of payments would worsen by £3.5 billion next year.
The other economic bomb that the Government have planted is a wage explosion, which will not be brought about by a trade union plot. It will be created, pushed and driven for by the marketplace. If there is a recovery, the shortages, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) referred, that exist in key industries at the bottom of the cliff will be even greater as we start to find our way back up. As firms start to compete for finite skills resources, they will drive us into wage inflation on the way back up. The consumer boom that the Government hope to see will generate a balance of payments problem and wage inflation, prompted by business men and not by the unions, will generate an inflation problem.
As the balance of payments deficit grows over the next 12 months, as firms force up wages and as inflation inexorably rises as a result, the hot money will become increasingly volatile. The Government will be forced, if they are to retain it—and with an increase of £3 billion in the balance of payments deficit they cannot afford not to retain it—to increase interest rates.
I will make a purely personal observation. The hon. Member for Horsham and I came to the House at the same time and he knows that I am not given to seeking colourful or irresponsible solutions. We may disagree, and what I am about to say will inevitably attract the rebuttal of those on both Front Benches. I accept that. I would not make my observation if I did not think that it is essential that we face up to reality.
The heart of the problem was touched on by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), but he then sidestepped the implications. The heart of the problem is the exchange rate. We have gone into the exchange rate mechanism at the wrong rate of exchange. I remind hon. Members of my point about the gap of £155 billion and they will understand why I am giving a political hostage to fortune. If we have had over the decade £130 billion benefit in balance of payments terms out of the North sea, and if even with that we are in a £25 billion negative position, without the oil—and we all know that there will be less oil in the 1990s than there was in the 1980s—the gap in our capability of paying our way is £155 billion. That is the gap that we must close.
The rate at which we have gone into the ERM is the average rate over a period of years, according to the Government. How on earth in logic or in practice can anyone pretend that we can close a gap of £155 billion at the rate of exchange that created a gap of £155 billion? We must understand that truth, instead of making silly political points about this or that party being the party of 453 devaluation. As I said when I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who does not seem to understand much about economic matters, if devaluation is such a sin, why on earth did the Conservative party live for so long with a floating currency? That is not just devaluation, but oscillating currency. Whether devaluation or revaluation, it is left to the marketplace. It cannot be so wrong to say what I am saying; it is just politically inexpedient for the Government to say it.
Both the Conservative party and the Labour party have to recognise another fact. I realise that Front-Bench Members cannot support the conclusion to which I have come. I understand why they cannot endorse my remarks and why they will have to rebut them, but there is another consequence if my analysis is correct. A single currency is either an illusion or a suicide note. It is a suicide note because we cannot survive economically at the present rate of exchange, so we cannot guarantee our future. It is an illusion because at the present rate of exchange it is an economic impossibility to meet the requirements of convergence. [HON. MEMBERS:"No."] I ask hon. Members to think it through. The rate of exchange is such that by 1997 we shall not be able, at the present rate of exchange, to meet the convergence requirements that have been laid down in the proposals coming from Brussels and in the conditions set out by the Opposition.
I realise that the Government must say no to devaluation. However, I suspect that the real answer is, "No, at present." I suspect that it may not be no even before an election and it certainly will not be no after an election.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
My right hon. Friend should not he so embarrassed about the Government's position. Previous Conservative Governments have devalued the currency quite substantially. The Heath Government's own expansion was stimulated by a devaluation, which they called floating, and, in the same way in 1985–86, the pound went down about 30 per cent. in real terms against the deutschmark, which was one of the reasons for the Lawson expansion.
§ Mr. Williams
My hon. Friend's intervention is helpful. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury may find that his own Front-Bench Members are in a somewhat different position even before the election, not out of choice but out of necessity. I suspect that the Government would love to participate, not in a crude devaluation but in a nice respectable currency realignment. That is not devaluation —it is just tidying up the house. I do not care how it comes about and I do not care what label it is given, but if we do not face up to the reality that the rate of exchange is completely and utterly indefensible, Britain, which once boasted of being the workshop of the world. will become the back-street sweatshop of Europe.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. At the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker announced a precautionary 10-minute limit on speeches, which meant that we would judge the state of play at 7 o'clock. I am glad to inform the House that I judge that it is not necessary to impose a 10-minute limit. However, if hon.
454 Members are to have the opportunity to speak, I calculate that there should be a voluntary limit of about 12 minutes on speeches. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will respond to that request.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Sir Ian Stewart (Hertfordshire, North)
I must immediately use one or two of my valuable minutes by saying a word about what the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) said. The most immediate response to his call for a devaluation of the currency is that, since sterling joined the exchange rate mechanism a year ago, there has been a substantial and sustained increase in British exports. That seems to undermine the main basis of the right hon. Gentleman's argument about the correct level of the exchange rate.
Both the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) filled out a bit of the case that is being deployed by the Opposition on investment incentives. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West appeared to argue that only investment in manufacturing industry is relevant to the state and the prospects of our economy. As he knows, since the 1970s, an increasing proportion of investment has been in the oil and energy sectors, which are not part of the manufacturing sector, and in the service industries. Those trends have been followed not only in this country but elsewhere.
The level of investment in the economy has risen dramatically since the late 1970s, when the Labour party was in government. The benefit of that investment has been strongly demonstrated. It has meant a great increase in output during the 1980s, which can be closely related to the changes in the investment allowances which were introduced at the time. In the 1980s, we looked very carefully at the potential impact of reducing the 100 per cent. investment allowance and, at the same time, reducing the overall level of taxation on corporate profits. We came to the conclusion that it would be far better for companies to know that they could retain a much higher proportion of their profits than that they should have to shelter their profits from high rates of tax by resorting to artificial levels of investment allowances in order to save themselves having to pass over all their profits to the Exchequer.
Although it seems to have acquired a certain vogue that increased investment allowances are needed. the converse is an increase in the basic rate of corporation tax. That would be a step in the wrong direction. In the second half of the 1980s, following the changes in the investment allowance and corporation tax regime which we introduced at that time, we saw a considerable increase in investment. I have no doubt that if we were to reverse that change we would encourage a certain amount of investment which would not and should not otherwise have taken place, because it would be less concerned with profitability and more concerned with reducing the tax bill of the companies concerned. I do not believe that that would be in the interests of companies, and I am certain that it would not be in the interests of the British economy.
I strongly caution hon. Members who may be tempted to think that simply by increasing investment allowances, which would have to be offset by an increase in the rate of corporation tax, one would encourage investment in the long term, or even in the short term. A low rate of corporation tax of 33 per cent.—33 per cent. is the highest 455 rate; the small company rate, of course, is only 25 per cent. —coupled with a reasonable flat rate of 25 per cent. for investment allowances is much more likely to encourage companies to retain profits for productive investment rather than the artificial system which applied before.
I wonder why the Opposition have chosen economic management as the subject of the debate. Perhaps they are beginning to realise that national health service trust reforms and other moves in that direction are beginning to show their worth and they no longer regard it as a suitable policy on which to try to create political difficulties for the Government. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that they should choose this subject for debate. I always enjoy the witty speeches of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), but I am always left wondering what is the economic policy of the Labour party. If Labour Members are to put themselves forward seriously as a prospective Government, they must answer some basic questions which have so far been left unresolved. The heart of the problem is the fact that Opposition Members' sums do not add up on public expenditure, taxation and borrowing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), who spoke about water authorities, put his finger on an important issue. At the very least, a Labour Government, if by some mischance they were elected, would discontinue the programme of privatisation and would therefore immediately deprive themselves of many billions of pounds of revenue over the public expenditure programme period. If they were to increase taxes on higher earners, savings income, capital gains and on the other matters that they threaten, they would only barely replace the money which they would lose by discontinuing the privatisation programme. That is without taking into account any money spent on renationalisation or deprivatisation, whatever the correct term might be, let alone bringing back into the public sector all the borrowings of companies which are currently in the private sector and which now do not count as part of the public debt.
The Opposition cannot have thought the matter through. We have had no explanation from them. Endless speeches, statements and policy documents have been produced by Labour Members, but not a single line has addressed the gap between what they say that they would want to spend and their means of raising the money to meet it. There is a serious conflict of interest in what they are trying to do. They are saying to people, "We want you, as voters, to believe that we will spend an extra £35 billion, £40 billion or £50 billion on wonderful public expenditure projects, and we will not tax you, as earners. All right, if you are on a higher income, you will get a big increase in taxation." However, everybody knows that increasing taxes on higher incomes does not produce anything like the revenue necessary to sustain Labour's public expenditure commitments. Opposition Members cannot have their cake and eat it. They must explain how they will bridge the gap. To put it another way, they cannot use the same financial resources twice.
Let us consider a parable. Let us suppose that a disreputable business man was running a great commercial empire with many public and private companies and had control of the group's pension funds. One could not take money out of the pension fund and put it into the private companies controlled by the same person and still have that money in the pension fund. One cannot use money 456 twice over. Similarly, one cannot make commitments to huge public expenditure programmes while saying that one will not raise taxation ferociously to meet those commitments.
We need only look back at the past. The same sort of noises were being made in the 1970s that the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is making now about not imposing extra taxation on people with low incomes. In the election, as a result of which I first became a Member of this House, I well remember the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) travelling around the country with a great grin on his face saying that he would squeeze the rich until the pips squeaked with his new tax policy. The Opposition are at it again now. They want to increase taxation on higher earners. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East did not say that "the rich" included all those on anything above half average earnings, yet those were the people who received the extra tax burden.
One has to increase taxation all the way down the scale, to those on average and low incomes, if one is to raise anything like the amount that Labour would need to fund its public expenditure programmes. That is why the last Labour Government stopped increasing personal allowan-ces in line with inflation and why, as a result, nearly 2 million people were brought into the income tax net. However, in the 1980s, under a Conservative Government, about 2 million people have been removed from the tax net. We have reversed the unsatisfactory direction that was taken by the last Labour Government. That is why take-home pay for a person on average earnings remained virtually unchanged under the previous Labour Government. Indeed, the income of the average single person actually fell whereas, since 1979 under a Conservative Government, the average increase for single and married people, and married couples with two children, has been no less than 40 per cent. in every category.
That is the difference between an economy that has tax rates that are set to encourage incentive—and earnings progress—and an economy with the suffocating levels of taxation that are inevitable under a Labour Government because of their huge public spending commitments. If a Labour Government raised the basic rate of taxation from 25p to 33p, which was their chosen rate at the end of their last period in government, they would raise in tax only about half of what is needed to meet the public expenditure commitments that they have made throughout the country in the past two or three years.
That is the scale of the mismatch between the Opposition's words and figures. I warn them—perhaps I am even trying to be helpful—that they will not do their cause any good if they continue to put forward financial and economic arithmetic that does not add up. They will not be able to do that during a general election campaign because it will be easy for us to point out the gaping holes in their arithmetic and nobody will believe them.
The Labour party should come clean. There is nothing wrong or immoral about saying that one wants to be a high tax, high public expenditure party and that that is the way in which one wants to conduct oneself in government, but one cannot say that one would form a high public expenditure, low tax Government; that simply could not work. It has not worked in the past and Labour Governments have come a cropper every time that they have tried it. One cannot use creative accounting to get out of that problem. The Opposition must face up to that. The 457 sooner that they do, the better for them, but the better for the country also, because people will know where they stand.
§ Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)
It is now just a year since I first became a Member of Parliament. In fact, I was elected on the very day that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) became Prime Minister. In my maiden speech, I told the House of the difficulties that my constituency faced and the rundown that had occurred there during the 12 years that the Tory party had been in power.
In my first few weeks here, I listened intently to the Government telling us, "Our difficulties are over now that Mrs. Thatcher has gone. Mr. Major is about to deliver unto us a bright new tomorrow." In fact, at that time the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were denying that we were in a recession, and even when they finally conceded that there might just be a recession, they continued to deny its depth.
Far from having a bright new tomorrow, my constituency has continued to suffer since the right hon. Member for Huntingdon came to office. All the key indicators have gone from bad to worse in that time. Unemployment in the country has increased by about 3,000 a day; businesses have failed at a rate of more than 200 a day; and in every working day of the past year 300 families have had their homes repossessed. The misery that homelessness brings to families is a terrible indictment of any Government.
During the past year, manufacturing investment has decreased by 12 per cent. and manufacturing output by 5 per cent. In the past year, 8,178 businesses have failed in Scotland. Again, that has caused abject misery.
My constituency has not fared any better than any other. The picture has become bleaker and bleaker. Paisley is essentially a mill town—or rather, it was a mill town until 1979 when the Tories came to power. At that time, United Thread Mills in Paisley employed 3,271 people, but today only 402 people are employed there. Only last week, we were told that Paisley is likely to lose those 402 jobs in the next few months. That is not because people no longer need thread or because it is no longer being manufactured, but because that company, which started its life in Paisley, is now a multinational company with investments all around the world. Because of the Government's policy on and attitude to manufacturing industry, the jobs are no longer in Paisley—and they are not likely to be there.
In a recent written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), the Minister responsible for Scottish industry admitted that, between 1979 and 1989, the Paisley postal area lost 76 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs. If that is updated to the present day to include the recent manufacturing job losses, the figure is now over 80 per cent. In fact, only today we heard that we are likely to lose another 320 jobs in the whisky industry in Paisley, South.
Our area now needs a major economic initiative to regenerate its manufacturing base. We have suffered a haemorrhage of job losses. That has not happened in one fell swoop; it has been death by a thousand cuts. We now need a genuine initiative, but not the sort that has 458 happened in other areas, where jobs are simply transferred from one area to another without any new jobs being created. We desperately need a Government partnership with industry, such as the Labour party would initiate. As a result of the Government's lack of initiative and investment in manufacturing and training, we are in desperate danger of losing all our manufacturing skills. In my area, those were the skills of the thread-making industry and of heavy and light engineering.
During the by-election in which my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South and I were elected—on the day that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) resigned—I was campaigning when a newsagent said to me, "Look out at that road. I remember the day that Mrs. Thatcher came to power. I remember it well because a small boy was knocked down outside the shop when he was trying to cross the road. He was knocked down because the road was so busy with traffic and with people going to work in the manufacturing industries that he could not cross it safely. I looked out at that road this morning and there were two boys playing football on it." That is what the Government have done to the manufacturing industry of Britain. They have reduced it to absolute rubble.
§ Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)
Does my hon. Friend recall that the newsagent made that statement on the very day that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) resigned? That is the legacy that she left us from that 10-year period.
§ Mrs. Adams
I agree with that.
As a result of the lack of investment in manufacturing and training, young people have not learnt the old skills that we had in manufacturing. Therefore, it is all the more difficult to convert those old skills to fit the new technologies of today. Indeed, we have missed a rung on the evolutionary ladder. The end result is that we miss out yet again because we do not have the necessary skills for the new industries that are coming along, so the vicious circle created by the Government becomes an ever-increasing downward spiral in the loss of manufacturing jobs that has so damaged my constituency.
The only new jobs that we have been offered are at a toxic waste incinerator. An application has been made to site one in Renfrew in my constituency. No one wants such an incinerator. It would cause greater damage to the industry than we already have because the nature of the business would discourage new investment in the area.
I have described the grim reality that people in my constituency face every day. The Government have presided over that loss of jobs. Coupled with that, a lack of investment in the construction industry, especially public sector housing, and a lack of funding for local authorities have created huge waiting lists for council housing and high levels of homelessness in my constituency. Council houses are in increasing disrepair. Renfrew district council estimates that it would need to invest some £300 million to bring its housing stock up to a tolerable standard.
Is it any wonder that people in my constituency continually question the sanity and morality of a Government who allow public buildings to fall into disrepair while building workers are unemployed, who have presided over record unemployment and record interest rates, who have created a level of homelessness in 459 Britain that we have not seen for a hundred years, who refuse to invest in manufacturing industry and training, who are locked into a dogma of the past and who are bereft of new ideas? They are a Government in their death throes who cling on to power in the hope that something will turn up. I have to tell them that it does not look as though something will turn up. It is time for the Government to die with dignity; it is time to go now.
§ Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)
I had the pleasure of listening to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mrs. Adams). She spoke then with the same passion with which she spoke this evening on behalf of her constituents in Paisley. It is entirely right that she should do so. As the character of this recession has been rather different from that of the previous recession, not only her constituents have been affected. 1n many ways this recession has been harder in the south-east. In some respects it has been a white-collar, middle-class recession and many of my constituents have also been affected. Therefore, I sympathise with what the hon. Lady said.
However, we must ask ourselves what policies are most likely to be effective in dealing with the problems that we face. The Government are right to give the highest priority to getting inflation down. I make no apology for repeating what I said at the end of July when we last had a debate on the economy. Reducing inflation should be the Government's top priority. Since we joined the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary systern, we have had considerable success in reducing inflation.
In the autumn statement of 1990 the Chancellor forecast that in the fourth quarter of 1991 inflation would fall to 5.5 per cent. By the Budget of this year he forecast in the Red Book that in the fourth quarter of this year inflation would fall to 4 per cent. He has beaten both those forecasts. Today inflation is below 4 per cent. In the Budget he forecast that by the middle of next year inflation would be 3.75 per cent. In this year's autumn statement he forecast that inflation would be 4 per cent. by the fourth quarter of next year.
It is possible that the Treasury is being unduly pessimistic. There is every possibility that the underlying inflation, and indeed the retail prices index, will be below 4 per cent. by the end of next year. That is the benefit of having adhered through some difficult times to the policy of United Kingdom membership of the exchange rate mechanism. That is the great benefit which the ERM will deliver to the British economy in due course.
Of course, there is an important trade-off here between the short term and the long term. What would have happened if we had not joined the ERM a year or so ago? Interest rates might be 1 or 1.5 per cent. lower today. Almost certainly sterling would be lower than it is today, and, therefore, inflation would be higher. It does not follow—I am sure that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) would disagree if he were still here—that exporters could have taken advantage of a weaker exchange rate in the way that he suggested.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Sir I. Stewart) said, the record of exporters in the past 12 months was a good one, even with an exchange rate which some people claim is excessively high. I should have thought that most people would have learnt by now that devaluation of the currency is not an economic 460 panacea and that they would see that countries which have had a firm exchange rate have been among the world's most successful exporters.
If inflation was higher than at present, house prices might be a little firmer and there might he a little more consumer confidence knocking around, but I suggest that that would give the illusion of improvement but no real improvement. There is no doubt that our membership of the ERM offers an opportunity to break the mould in which we have been stuck for the past 20 or 30 years. In the short term, it seems that everyone in the House agrees that there is no quick fix. I was doing a piece for the BBC World Service earlier this afternoon with the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) in which she agreed that there was no quick fix. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) did not come up with any proposals that would have any short-term consequences on the economy. There are no policies designed to give it an instant kick start. All that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could come up with were the same policies that we have heard endlessly before. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, those policies are the answer to every question about Labour's economic strategy—more investment and more training.
We all want to see more investment and more training, but, as I said to the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the way to achieve that is not by increasing tax allowances to 100 per cent. That would have a distorting effect. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North, who was a Treasury Minister at the time, was right to make the changes that were made in 1984. They have paid handsome dividends because the main source of cash for new investment is retained profits. If the taxes on retained profits are low, people have more cash for investment.
The Government have the right economic policy, even if it is frustrating that recovery seems to be so long coming. ERM membership brings a stable exchange rate and no one should under-estimate the value of that to Britain's exporters. It brings, and has already brought, lower inflation and in due course that will doubtless be followed by lower interest rates.
The Government also have the right fiscal policy. In a time of recession, it is right that we should move from the position three years ago, when we had a large public sector debt repayment, to the situation today when we have a growing but not unmanageable borrowing requirement, which will rise next year to about 3 per cent. of GDP.
§ Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)
The hon. Gentleman says that the Government have the right fiscal policy now. They have been in government for 12 years. I feel sorry for the Opposition Front Bench, which will have to take over after April, because of the mess that the Conservatives will leave behind. There are debts totalling billions of pounds, but the Government have sold the assets of this country. How can the hon. Gentleman say that they have the right fiscal policy now?
§ Mr. Smith
The Government have had tremendous success in reducing the national debt. In the previous three years, there have been substantial repayments of public debt. We can contrast the position today with that under the last Labour Government, when the fastest growing head of public expenditure was debt interest. That Labour Government borrowed so much money. The bill has to be 461 met by taxpayers today and by future generations. Our achievement in repaying some of the national debt is that future generations will not have to pay, today's taxpayers will not have to pay and that money is available to be spent on hospitals, schools and all the other things that we would like money to be spent on.
Hon. Members should read a written answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), who asked which member state is doing best in the European monetary union stakes as regards public sector borrowing, which is one of the criteria for convergence. Hon. Members will find that one of the conditions is that the total national debt of a member state must be 60 per cent. of GDP or less. Some of the member states in the European Community have a national debt of more than 100 per cent. In the United Kingdom it is well below the 60 per cent., so we shall have no difficulty meeting that test, if and when the time comes. It would be irresponsible and wrong to go any further as regards fiscal policy. We should seek to place a ceiling on borrowing of around 3 per cent. of GDP, which is exactly what the draft economic and monetary union treaty does.
In comparing this recession with that in 1981, hon. Members will recall that in the 1981 Budget, contrary to conventional wisdom—although it was certainly the right decision at the time—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) cut public sector borrowing in the middle of a recession. That was the right policy at that time and rapidly proved successful in terms of economic recovery.
Today we face a different situation. As I described, we start from a much stronger fiscal position and so it is right that we should now have a larger public sector borrowing requirement. I welcome the autumn and the fact that the Government want to increase public spending in key areas, including health and the transport infrastructure.
§ Mr. Smith
On unemployment, the position now is very different from what it was after the recession of 1981, when unemployment continued to rise until 1986. The signs are quite encouraging. Unemployment is still rising, which is obviously unacceptable and a matter of considerable regret—certainly to those of my constituents who have lost their jobs.
However, although unemployment is normally a lagging indicator in the economy, already the monthly rate of increase in unemployment has declined substantially. Last month it was only 15,000 and it fell in Scotland, Wales and the north of England—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have the Department of Employment's figures here. Unadjusted unemployment fell throughout the United Kingdom last month by 25,000. The figures rose by 16,000 462 only on an adjusted basis. In Scotland, Wales and the north of England unemployment fell. That is also cause for some optimism.
On the question of economic and monetary union, I was sorry that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is no longer in the Chamber, grossly misrepresented the Government's position. He knows very well that the criteria are clearly set out, in the draft treaty. If he looks at them, he will realise that the United Kingdom will have no difficulty in meeting the criteria. That is not the point. The question is whether it is sensible to make a decision now about something that the treaty says will be considered in five years' time, at the end of 1996. No rational person would try to make that type of decision now. It should be for the next Parliament or for the Parliament after that to decide.
The United Kingdom will have no difficulty in meeting the criteria, which relate to inflation, to our fiscal position, our performance within the ERM and to interest rates. We meet all those criteria and we should continue to pursue policies which ensure that we meet them. I think that we shall.
The two written answers that I referred to, given to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, show that many other countries in the European Community do not meet the fiscal criteria—either current borrowing of 3 per cent. of GDP or a total national debt of 60 per cent. of GDP. The United Kingdom is in a much stronger position than many other member states, and meeting those criteria will not be a difficulty.
I was disappointed by the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East. I want my hon. Friends to hear a little more detail about Labour's economic policies. That is not an unreasonable request when an election is imminent. People will start asking more detailed and more searching questions as the elections approaches. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North is right in saying that we hear so little because the Labour party has no answers to those questions. We hear the same tiresome statements about investment and training, but no answers to other questions. It is about time that we had some answers to those questions from the Labour party.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), because his economics is the economics of accountancy. He knows all about the figures but nothing about the reality behind them. It is his obsession with figures that leads him to make the crucial economic mistakes that he made. The debate is interesting in the light of those mistakes. It is almost a throwback debate to 1981, with the Government saying that things are bad but—a Micawberism—"Wait and see, something better will turn up, it might get a bit better."
Conservative Members have obviously been briefed by Conservative central office, because they cannot find anything good to say about their Government, so they give central office speeches attacking the Labour party and asking what it would do. They are attacking not a past Labour Government but the Labour Government who will take office next year. If that is all they have to say, if they can only attack Labour, it is a sad summation of 13 years in power. The reality is clear to all of us. My hon. and 463 learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) summed it up brilliantly—it is the state of the depression. It is horrendous—the mother of all recessions. It makes the Chancellor the Saddam Hussein of economics for accomplishing it in such a brief period.
I will not go on about the statistics. They are shocking. The consequences of those statistics are dismal for the future of this country. The manufacturing base, which is already nearing the limits of viability—it is only about 20 per cent. of GDP, compared to about 30 per cent. in Germany—is shrinking still further. We are losing all the supporting network of training, research, development and suppliers which keeps the manufacturing base in being.
The balance of payments has become a stranglehold. In the depths of recession, we are in a balance of payments deficit. It is horrendous. What happens when we expand? We cannot expand without making that balance of payments deficit worse. Every job we lose now, every factory we close, every production line that stops producing, means more imports later. It means, in other words, a tighter balance of payments deficit.
We shall be entering the single market in the coming year. That will be a highly competitive environment and we are entering it by jettisoning investment, research, design, development and all the other attributes that would allow us to compete in that market. We are not prepared for it, whereas our competitors are.
Firms that should be investing and preparing are throwing overboard, just to survive, research, design and everything, including model changes and investment, to struggle through a depression that the Government have created. That is the prospect not of success but of disaster later. It is a national tragedy for Britain.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield said that, sadly, the depression had hit Beaconsfield. I remind him that it hit Grimsby bitterly between 1979 and 1981, and now we are having a second dose of it. with the loss of Findus Ltd. and 900 jobs, and the shrinking of labour forces by major employers. We are suffering the failure of viable businesses. It is a tragedy. People who put their lives, their effort, their everything into creating businesses have seen them close simply because of the level of interest rates, the depth of the depression that the Government have created and the hostile, unfavourable and unacceptable behaviour of the banks.
From where will the recovery come? What will produce it? I cannot see the answer. The Government are always making predictions, and in that sense the Chancellor may be described as the Mother Shipton—perhaps I should call him the Brother Shipton—of economics. I fear that we are in a new norm, a prolonged recession with no real recovery, rather than the real prospect of recovery. I say that because all the engines of recovery seem incapable of driving us out of the recession.
Housing is one such engine. From where will recovery in housing come, with interest rates at their present level, with house prices still having some way to fall and with a huge overhang of unsold houses? One house in five sold in Britain now is repossessed, and that depresses the house price market. That is why I ask where the recovery will come from in housing.
Where will it come from in terms of consumer demand if unemployment continues to rise? People are more 464 frightened as unemployment rises and they have less money to spend. Credit, the debt level, presses on everyone and causes people to save and struggle rather than spend.
It will not come from companies. They are still struggling under a huge burden of debt. Nor will it come from exports, which are now falling because the pound is so overvalued that we cannot have export success at its present level of valuation. There might have been an improvement earlier with an expansion of the German economy, but that is now being deflated.
It will not come from Government spending, because the Government will have to borrow massively to keep going at the present mean levels of public spending. Hence none of the engines of recovery is available to pull us out of the recession. There is no escape and the tragedy is that the exchange rate mechanism—which the present aggressive, decisive Prime Minister bullied the hapless, shrinking right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) into entering all those months ago, forcing it on her against her will in such a decisive fashion—precludes recovery, because we cannot reduce interest rates.
It is paramount for us now to retain high interest rates, which are high in the historic sense, in real terms, and are high compared with Japan, and with America, where they stand at 5 per cent. Interest rates at 5 per cent. have not yet produced recovery in America. Yet our higher interest rates cannot be reduced; nor can we reduce the exchange rate, because high interest rates are necessary to support the exchange rate.
The right exchange rate is necessary for a country in deficit, as we are, to shift resources from imports to production and to attract investment into manufacturing industry by again making it profitable. The exchange rate, which in a market situation would fall, cannot come down because the whole dedication of Government policy is to keep the exchange rate at an unreasonable level. The result is that the market cannot operate. We have nailed down the lid on the recession.
There can be recovery only if we reduce interest rates and the pound with them. It is no good reducing interest rates on their own, because there is no point in just pumping out credit. It is like trying to push on a piece of string: it cannot be done. One can pull interest rates up., but one cannot push the string to get them down again. We must increase demand for British goods by adjusting the exchange rate so that demand is channelled to British goods through the price mechanism, making our goods and exports more attractive and cheaper and imports dearer.
It is no good telling me that the price mechanism does not work any more. The Government's alternative is to reduce prices in manufacturing from the uncompetitive levels to which they are forced up by the exchange rate, by firing people and depressing the price of labour. I agree that price is important, but the only way to achieve a reduction in prices and an ability to expand is to adjust the exchange rate. If inflation is too much money pursuing too few goods, it does not follow that we must—as we have been doing in this country—reduce the supply of money all the time and thus have the disastrous consequences for industry that have occurred.
We should expand the supply of goods, which simply means expanding the money supply and channelling demand to British production in Britain. If the exchange rate is kept at its present level, every coal mine, steel plant and textile mill that closes is due directly to the exchange 465 rate and will produce a worse balance of payments problem later on. We are deliberately taking resources out of production by means of the exchange rate.
It is no answer for Ministers to keep saying that we need only reduce inflation to produce the conditions for recovery. That is not true. We produce nothing but a graveyard. Any fool can bring inflation down. The Conservatives, understandably therefore, have been successful in their graveyard economics. But what is to produce recovery once inflation is down?
Our tragedy has been that we have always cut the supply of money, and kept money at too high a price, because of the dominant interests of finance and the kind of economics about which the hon. Member for Beaconfield talked. It is rubbish in terms of production, because a high exchange rate means that we shift the balance from production in this country to production overseas—in other words, to imports—thereby making imports more attractive and our production more expensive. We shift the balance from investment in Britain to investment overseas, and we have been doing that for the last 13 years. We shift resources from production into consumption, as we have been doing over the years.
§ Mr. Mitchell
A country with a powerful exporting sector can let its currency appreciate because it has the economic strength to ride that out. A country in which manufacturing has been shrinking needs the edge of a competitive currency to expand and rebuild back to the competitiveness which will allow its exchange rate to appreciate. It does not happen simply by putting up the exchange rate—that way comes rigormortis for industry —but from policies which make investment in this country profitable. It gives industry the prospect of being able to sell its production, and the only way to do that is to make the currency competitive. It is simple economics, although the Government do not understand that.
Instead, they have shifted the emphasis from production to consumption by the exchange rate. In other words, they have shifted from labour, which we represent, to wealth, which they represent. It has been a matter of simple social priorities for them. They have shifted it from manufacturing to finance. The whole policy of the Government has been dedicated to making money dear and people cheap, and they have succeeded. They have produced the sort of society that reflects that set of attitudes. Unemployment will increase because there is no way of stopping it increasing.
There is no way out unless we reverse the priorities. We must reduce interest rates, and with them the exchange rate. We must do that to channel demand to production. No other way will lead to recovery. Water cannot be made to flow uphill. By constantly preaching about defeating inflation, the Government simply shift the emphasis from the real economy to the mythical battle against inflation.
It is a mistake for a country to tie its currency to that of another, because a currency insulates a country against drops in another countries' economies. It is also a mistake to tie our economic cycle to that of Germany, which wants to increase interest rates and deflate its economy, whereas we want to hold interest rates down and expand our 466 economy. Yet we are forced to keep interest rates high to suit Germany. It means that we cannot improve our balance of payments and market forces cannot operate. It is a mistake to make changes in our exchange rate dependent on competitors who have a vested interest in seeing that exchange rate overvalued, because it strengthens, confirms and sustains their access to our market.
To make all those mistakes and then compound them by entering the exchange rate mechanism at too high a rate is total folly. The Prime Minister took us in at that high rate, and it is the last nail in his coffin. The pound is 24 per cent. overvalued in real terms against the deutschmark and more than 40 per cent. overvalued in real terms against the dollar. British industry can never recover the ground that it has been forced to give up by that overvaluation. The estimate of John Williamson in the bulletin of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research is similar.
The overvaluation will cause a growing deficit in our balance of payments, more unemployment, less invest-ment and a Government who are twisting in the wind because they will be subject to every threat and challenge to the exchange rate. Governments who hang on in that way are usually challenged by their friends—in the present Government's case, the markets, which will test them in the next six months. Every year we are wasting production and there is a gap between what we produce and what we should produce, if we were on the trend growth line, even the low trend growth line of the 1980s. I do not know how much that amounts to. Sir Donald MacDougall came up with an estimate of some £60 billion a year in lost production just because of that economic folly. How much richer that would make us and how much more powerful as a nation, yet we are chucking it all away.
The position worries me, because I now see a deflation sustained by the exchange rate mechanism, which has become tripartisan policy. Each party is committed to the mechanism that imposes that deflation. It is strikingly close to the situation of the 1920s, when Winston Churchill took us back to gold at an overvalued rate in 1925. The consequence was the general strike of 1926, the depression of the rest of the 1920s, and the suffering of manufacturing industry and basic industries of this country because they could not leap the hurdle of overvaluation that the Government had imposed on those industries. The problem ended only in 1931, when a Conservative Government took us away from gold and devalued by 30 per cent. A Labour Government, who had broken their backs and given their all to keeping the country on gold, went out, with Ministers saying, "They never told us we could do that".
We now have the same orthodoxy, except that it is called "communautaire". It is called a commitment to Europe, and is placed higher than the recovery of our economy and jobs for our people. It is producing the same results, and the outcome can only be the same. There will be a breach, and we shall devalue because such suffering cannot be imposed on electorates through the hidden hand of the exchange rate. The Government cannot keep the lid down.
We have seen what is happening in Europe. Because of the futile quest of the exchange rate mechanism to get inflation rates down to Germany's abnormally low level, which it has achieved because of its powerful manufacturing sector, France now has the CRS using its batons on nurses and has experienced four rounds of public 467 expenditure cuts, and Ministers cannot leave Paris without a police escort. A similar fate awaits us, because our deflation will be harder than that.
The only way out is to devalue. It will happen because it is the job of politicians in an untenable situation to walk out backwards, proclaiming that they are doing something different from what they are doing. I hope that it will be a Labour Government who do that because, without that devaluation, no Government can succeed, people can only suffer, our manufacturing base can only shrink further, and we shall be relegated to an indefinite, long-term future of crippling—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Beaconsfield sneers.
The previous Chancellor of the Exchequer effectively devalued our currency by 30 per cent. against the deutschmark in 1986. That was the reason for the expansion and was a contributing factor to the Tory party's success in the 1987 election. So let us not have a sneering partisan attitude to that, because the fate of this country and British industry is at stake. British industry has been strangled by a crippling and excruciatingly high exhange rate, from which there will be no escape unless someone devalues.
§ Mr. John Watts (Slough)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), I was both puzzled by and disappointed by the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). He started with a few good jokes, in true barrister style, then went through the ritual denunciation of the Government, but he said little about the Labour party's policy or anything relating to the motion on the Order Paper. I could not understand why that should be, but, as the debate has developed, the reasons have become crystal clear. Labour Back Benchers have said little in support of what I understand to be official Labour party policy.
We have just heard a powerful speech by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), denouncing the Leader of the Opposition's commitment earlier this week, when he met his socialist comrades in Europe, to sign up to economic and monetary union with absolutely no conditions. We heard a similarly powerful speech from the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) in a similar vein, and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) was not exactly fulsome in support of the line peddled by the Opposition Front Bench.
Therefore, all that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East could do was try to pour scorn and ridicule on the economy's prospects for recovery. In recent weeks, the Labour party has cast itself in the role of someone scouring the country looking for bad news. Earlier this week, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who is clearly becoming rattled because the financial and management reforms in the health service are reducing waiting lists, felt that he had to rubbish the Government's policies on that.
Likewise, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East disputed whether the economy was now starting to recover. He castigated my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for having forecast that the recovery would start from the middle of this year. Yet the GDP figures for 468 the third quarter show a 0.3 per cent. increase, which is surely one sign that the worst is over, and that better times are coming.
Labour Members will then say that, if oil is taken out of the calculations, everything else is going flat. One can always pick and choose one's statistics, taking out all the good news and giving only the bad. Labour Members sought to do the same when my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) intervened and asked, very reasonably, why, if everything was so dreadful, unemployment was falling in his constituency in the north of England over the past two months. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East said that he should look at the national figures. If we do so, we find—as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said—that, on an unadjusted basis, unemployment fell last month and, even on an adjusted basis, the increase was only 15,000 which is much less than most independent forecasters had expected.
In my constituency, unemployment is no longer rising but has peaked and levelled out at about 5 per cent. That is a problem for my constituents who are out of work and I look forward to the prospect of their finding work again when the economy recovers. But 95 per cent. of the working population in my constituency are in work and still earning good money.
The Slough industrial estate is still the largest in western Europe. The demand for power on the power station which serves the whole of the estate and therefore relates to a cross-section of businesses, and which provides employment for thousands of people, is higher this year than it was last year. That is another sign that industry in my constituency is recovering. The Thames Chiltern chamber of commerce and industry covers my constitu-ency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. In fact, it covers the whole of the Thames valley district north towards Aylesbury. In the past two quarters, the returns from a wide cross-section of businesses have been positive.
Opposition Members are wrong to seek to talk down the performance of the economy. They are equally wrong to pour scorn on the notion of an increase in consumer spending contributing to recovery. I may be too simple in my approach, but I do not think that I could find a business man in my constituency who would be prepared to invest in new capacity unless he believed that he had customers in the market who would buy those goods.
Some of that increased purchasing power in the domestic economy will come from the success of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in squeezing down inflation and part will come from the benefits of lower interest rates, which mean that the disposable income that was being consumed—particularly by the servicing of mortgage debt —is now available for other expenditure. Some of that purchasing power could then be applied to increased consumer demand to give manufacturers the markets for their goods. That would be a positive development that should not be decried.
Similarly, our partners in the European Community should join us in concentrating on measures to complete the internal market to increase the market available to all producers in the Community rather than being sidetracked by issues of political union—which do not necessarily have to be decided at this juncture. They should also concentrate on making progress in the important negotiations on the general agreement on tariffs and trade 469 to expand the prospects for trade worldwide. Such activities would expand the export markets for our producers.
The argument that financial incentives for investment will necessarily lead to greater investment in the absence of any increased demand is clearly flawed. I believe that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Sir. I. Stewart), who explained that such tax allowances were necessary only if the Government ran a high tax regime. If profits are taxed at 52 per cent., 60 per cent. or 100 per cent., tax allowances are needed if companies are to have enough cash to fund their investment programmes. How much better it would be to have a low tax regime, so that even companies that make the largest profits can retain 67 per cent. of them tax-free and smaller companies can retain 75 per cent. of their profits after tax and spend the money on investment that they judge to be commercially viable.
Investment can be financed from the retained profits that companies are allowed to keep due to a lower tax regime, and private sector savings. The supply of savings would be fatally affected by the Labour party's policy of taxing private individuals heavily. If the higher rate of tax is effectively to rise from 40 per cent. to 59 per cent., from where will the extra tax revenues be diverted? Savings, not consumption, are far more likely to be squeezed.
All our experience of trying to slow down a booming economy showed that the last sector of expenditure that consumers were prepared to cut was consumption. Their savings went first, and a decline in the savings ratio was created as people tried to maintain their standard of living. That would be the response if a Labour Government— were one ever elected—were to impose their new high tax policies on both those who pay high rate tax and those who pay basic rate tax.
In an intervention, the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) reiterated that, under a Labour Government, there would be no increased burden of taxation for anyone earning less than, I think, £20,000 —it may have been £21,000. That simply does not square with the Labour party's spending commitment pledges, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and his colleagues have costed at £35 billion. I know that Labour spokesmen and women find it boring when Conservative Back Benchers or Ministers question them about their spending plans. They are in the habit of saying that our estimate of £35 billion is rubbish. Labour's Treasury team should take the opportunity of this debate to make the position absolutely clear. Do they dispute my right hon. Friend's costings which total £35 billion, or do they allege that what we have identified as their commitments are not really commitments? Either way, I believe that the electorate have the right to know.
There is a suspicion that the Labour party is making promises to bribe people with their own money. They throw out promises of extra spending but are unwilling to frighten the horses by telling those same people what they will have to pay in taxation. Even today, I learned that the Labour party has announced two new spending commitments—
§ Mr. Watts
No. I have that information from an hon. Friend who serves on a Standing Committee.
I understand that the Labour party has made a new commitment that the 20 per cent. contribution to community charge will be abolished by an incoming Labour Government so that the community charge benefit will rise to a maximum of 100 per cent.—[Interruption.] I am not talking about the council tax, on which I estimate that that policy would cost about £400 billion.
I understand that a Labour spokesman in the same Committee said that there would be no control over the level of local government expenditure if a Labour Government came into office. I understand that there would be no capping, no circulars, no friendly chats and no attempt to constrain the level of local government spending. That is a further commitment on top of those that have already been costed.
§ Mr. Nellist
When the hon. Gentleman talks of the minimum 20 per cent. contribution to the poll tax, is he saying that he is in favour of literally millions of people in this country being driven further into debt to try to pay that 20 per cent.? Is he not aware that, despite Treasury protestations that nobody who could not afford to pay the poll tax would ever go to prison for failure to do so, of the 100 people who have been sent to prison, 31 were unemployed, 15 were pensioners and three were on invalidity benefit? If the Government carry on with the 20 per cent. rule for at least another 15 months, those people will be joined by many more.
§ Mr. Watts
It is perfectly reasonable for Opposition spokesmen to make new pledges that, if a Labour Government came to office before the community charge was abolished, they would increase the benefit to 100 per cent. However, I want the Opposition Treasury team to say how such a policy will be funded, because it is very much at odds with the frequently reiterated statement of the hon. Member for Derby, South that a Labour Government would make only two commitments to increase spending: on pensions and child benefit.
I am sure, particularly as my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary is present, that Conservative Members will sympathise with the hon. Member for Derby, South. As shadow Chief Secretary, she has the difficult job of trying to keep under control the wild spending promises of her would-be ministerial colleagues. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend has had some experience of restraining some of the demands of his right hon. Friends.
The hon. Member for Derby, South must make it absolutely clear to the House and the country whether her frequently reiterated statement that the only increased expenditure would be on child benefit and pensions is still Labour policy. Is she saying that the other so-called commitments—the extra money for overseas aid that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) promised at the Labour party conference, the new commitment made today on community charge benefit and the extra spending on training and investment about which we have heard today—are not commitments, even though the training and investment proposals were contained in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East? The House and the country are entitled to a clear answer on those matters.
471 The speeches that we have heard tonight suggest that there is clearly much less confusion and division on the single currency on the Conservative Benches than on the Labour Benches. A substantial proportion of Opposition Members are unreconstructed 1960 devaluers, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby made clear. It was a travesty of Conservative Members' position for the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) to say that our concern was that the British economy was uniquely unfitted to meet the criteria for entry into a single currency system. On the contrary, the British economy is one of the few of the 12 which currently meets the criteria laid down in the draft treaty.
My concern relates to what is known as Club Med; whether, at the time that a single currency is introduced, a political decision will be made, in the interests of what is called social cohesion, to allow Greece, perhaps Italy, and other weaker economies which cannot meet the criteria, none the less to be allowed into the system, and then for massive financial transfers to be made from the northern states to Club Med in order to bail out their economies which could not take the effects of a single currency, any more than the east German economy would easily adapt to the introduction of the deutschmark.
That is a particularly strong concern because, along with the Germans, we are still the only consistent net contributor to the EC budget. If any such costs arose from social cohesion, they would fall heavily and unfairly on the shoulders of British taxpayers and, at the same time, would add to the balance of payments problem to which Opposition Members have referred.
We are already in the unhappy position of contributing more to our wealthier partners in the EC than we make available to the third world and eastern Europe through our overseas aid programmes. Unhappily, the public expenditure plans in the autumn statement show that that trend is to continue. By the end of the planned period, we shall be shelling out £3 billion a year to our rich Community partners without any changes in policy or additional burdens being imposed by the Community.
That is my concern about the arrangements for a single currency. That is why we are wise to insist that, while we should take part in the discussions about the institutions which would be required and the way in which a single currency should work, we should not commit ourselves to joining such a club until we know who the other members will be on day one.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts), who is a colleague of mine on the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, on his stout defence of the Government. It is clearly central to that line to attack the Labour party on public spending, as every Conservative speaker so far has done. That attack has been answered many times by my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary, and no doubt it will be answered again with her usual ability this evening. Therefore, I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman in his remarks, but I shall take him up later on what he said about economic and monetary union.
Having had the pleasure of watching the Chancellor carefully for about a year, I have decided what his problems really are—and I should like to share my discoveries with the House. The Chancellor's first difficulty 472 is that he has to fight an election in the next seven months. Left to himself, he is a man of realistic disposition, a pragmatic chap, the sort of person to see things as they are. By nature, he is by no means a Pangloss.
If the election were in 1993, things would be much easier for the right hon. Gentleman. He would be much more relaxed and he might even have told the House what he really thinks—but because the election is imminent he continually has to be promising a recovery. We have heard the stories this afternoon—dawn is nigh, the sunny uplands are in sight or, in the words of the old song, good times are just around the corner.
Last December, as I am sure the hon. Member for Slough will remember, the Chancellor told the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee that he believed that the recession could be relatively short lived and relatively shallow. In fact, it was neither short lived nor shallow. We now know that output fell for four quarters in succession and that non-oil output fell for five quarters in succession. Output also fell by 3.7 per cent., the second deepest recession since the 1930s.
At the time of the Budget, as my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor said, the Chancellor revised his position and said that the recovery would begin around the middle of the year. That prediction is looking precarious. The latest output figures show that in the third quarter there was a fall of 0.3 per cent. in the non-oil economy. The hon. Member for Slough did not mention that. During the past three months there has been a fall in retail sales, a dip in consumer confidence, and big companies such as GEC and Pilkington, which have reported during the past two days, see no sign of recovery. We should listen to what they have to say.
The Chancellor points to the stock-building figures. He says that there is a small rise in manufacturing investment and he points to a fall in the rate of increase in unemployment as evidence of the recovery. An objective observer would probably conclude that the jury is still out, that it is too early to say that there is a recovery. The Chancellor rather admitted that when, in a Freudian slip, he told the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee that the recovery was slow in coming.
If there is a recovery, it is so imperceptible as to be a micro-recovery that cannot be discerned by the ordinary human eye. I suspect that the real situation is that the economy, after taking a nose dive for a year, is probably still bumping along the bottom and that any recovery, when it comes, will be slow and hesitant. It could be some time, even as much as a year, before we return to our productive potential. I suspect that that is what the Chancellor thinks; it is certainly what he should have said to us this afternoon. However, he did not dare say it because to do so would be politically disastrous for the Government.
The Chancellor has another obvious problem and that is that his predecessors, the right hon. Members for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), have left him an appalling inheritance. First we had the Lawson boom and now we have the Major slump. As to the Lawson boom, experts will continue to argue about the precise moment when the British economy went out of control. Monetarists emphasise the money supply figures and the explosion in the housing market. Keynesians point to the splurge in consumer spending and the succession of 473 tax-cutting Budgets. It is certainly the case that by March 1988 the economy was seriously out of balance, and the March Budget accelerated the process.
I shall not accept this evening the hoary old argument that I am speaking from hindsight; I am not. I have looked again at the speech that I made at the time and that is what I said then, as did many other Opposition Members.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that tax cuts in 1988 amounted to only £4 billion, whereas the increase in credit that year amounted to £40 billion? Does not that show, therefore, that the real culprit was not tax cuts, but the fact that interest rates were too low, and they were cut in 1988 at just the wrong time?
§ Mr. Radice
I will reply to the hon. Gentleman's point about interest rates later. It is true that there was a credit explosion, mostly due to Government deregulation. However, the hon. Gentleman's figure for tax cuts was wrong: they amounted to £6 billion in a full year. Added to everything else, they led to the consumer boom and to the economy going out of control. Therefore, those cuts must be taken into account—as we said in our Select Committee report.
I do not believe that the explosion was an overreaction to black Monday. Other countries that relaxed policy in the immediate aftermath of black Monday subsequently tightened it. Britain could have done the same, if the then Chancellor of the Exchequer had not begun to believe his own propaganda, to the effect that Britain had experienced a supply side miracle. There was no miracle, but instead a very British boom followed by a very British recession. The Governor of the Bank of England told the Select Committee—as I reminded the Chancellor this afternoon —that it was a home-grown recession.
The recession of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon was caused by relying solely on raising interest rates to bring the economy under control. As many of us warned at the time, interest rate increases take a long time to work, have unpleasant side effects and clobber the economy. It would have been far better, as many of us also said, to have taken a more balanced approach—especially in respect of tax and credit control. The Government ignored our advice, and look what happened. The British economy did not slow down until the middle of 1990. Small and medium-sized companies went out of business at record rates. Investment dropped like a stone, the service sector suffered, and house owners were dispossessed.
When the economy eventually slowed down it fell over a cliff, and we are still crawling along at the foot of it. There is an undermining of public finances, which the Chancellor admitted to the Select Committee was caused by recession and inflation. Two thirds of the public sector borrowing requirement can be accounted for by recession and inflation. In other words, that is the cost of the Government's mistakes with the economy. Bankruptcy announcements and redundancy notices continue to be issued and "To Let" signs are still in all our high streets. We see all around us the waste of talent, enterprise and skill. I see the impact of recession in my own region and constituency and even in my own family.
My right hon. and hon. Friends reminded the House that the present recession is the second to be caused by the 474 Government in 12 years. I remind Conservative Members that in the first ICI lost one third of its suppliers. That was not a question of dross or of overmanning, but of ICI—the bluechip flagship of our country—losing one third of its suppliers. That was a big recession and now we are experiencing another. It is a tragedy for the British people and no one can pretend that the Government are not responsible for it.
I want to conclude my speech with a few words on economic and monetary union.
§ Mr. Radice
My hon. Friend said a word or two about that matter, so I shall do so—especially as I am in line with party policy and he is not.
A good result will strengthen the prospects for our economy. There are strong arguments for Britain committing itself now to the objective of a single currency. They include savings on transaction costs, the elimination of exchange rate instability and the provision of a firm framework for economic and monetary growth. Instead of seeking an opt-out clause, which would weaken our bargaining stance in other regards at Maastricht, it would be better for the Government to have the courage to make up their mind now on a single currency.
It is no argument to say that no rash person would expect the Government to make up their mind now. Rational people in most of our partner countries are making up their minds in favour of a single currency—and some have an economic position that is less strong than our own. Uncertainty about our intentions will be bad for investment. Inward investment might switch from this country to the core EC countries, such as France and Germany, and uncertainty could be bad also for currency stability. If our position at Maastricht is seen to be too negative, we could have problems afterwards, and that might be bad for our reputation within the EC, which is bad enough anyway.
In contrast, a decision in favour of the objective of achieving a single currency would lend credibility to our anti-inflationary policies, underwrite the need to maintain a balanced macro-economic strategy—without the boom and recession we have had over the past five years—and provide the economic and monetary framework within which it would be possible to improve the supply side in the way that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) described—through education and training, research and development, and high-quality investment.
The Chancellor made fun of those objectives. I cannot imagine what he was thinking about, for those are the ways to improve the supply side and the economy's productive potential. There is no other way. If we do not start tackling those problems we will be unable to improve the supply side. We need the framework of European monetary union and of a single currency to achieve that. Deciding on a single currency would help to promote economic change in the decade ahead and would make us ready for the third stage of monetary union.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
My hon. Friend mentioned earlier that he is in line with current policy. As I understand it, current policy is that we would be in favour of economic and monetary union, provided that there was convergence between the economies. I refer to a convergence according to a much wider range of measures, including productivity.
475 The alternative would be a system of redistribution. Otherwise, we would see the same sort of tearing apart that hit East Germany. Is my hon. Friend suggesting that we should commit ourselves without insisting on either of those safeguards?
§ Mr. Radice
No, I am saying that if one accepts the objective of a single currency it will be easier to promote convergence. I am glad to learn that my hon. Friend wants convergence, because that implies that he is in favour of a single currency. That is splendid news.
The Government have lost their nerve. In 1987 and 1988, they set off an unsustainable boom, and in 1989–90 they forced the country into a deep and unnecessary recession. Now the Government are fudging the issue of a single European currency instead of giving a decisive lead. That is not a good record.
The Government have failed the British people, but fortunately they will soon be replaced by a Labour Government committed to preserving balance and to improving the country's productive potential—unlike the Government, who do not want to invest in education, training, research and development or high-quality investment. A Labour Government will also at last give a lead in the European Community.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) made a cogent case for Britain's entry into European monetary union. Earlier, other Labour Members argued that Britain should not follow that course. No wonder members of the Opposition Front Bench take an ambivalent attitude towards the issue. Members of the Opposition Front Bench have not told the House, either today or in previous debates, whether they want Britain to go full speed ahead into EMU in the 1990s, or approve of the Government's negotiating position—which is that Britain should have the right to opt out of the European monetary union if the conditions at the time are not right. I really think that an Opposition which takes its own policies on Europe so seriously and now says that it is the party of Europe should at least come clean and have a positive, definite policy on this very important issue.
It is also worth noting that there seems to be a certain amount of division on the Opposition Benches. I for one believe that it is better to have an honest debate on this crucial issue than to be dishonestly united, which is what the Opposition have tried to present to the country over the past year or so.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Prime Minister, when asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) whether he accepted the principle of a single currency, said:It is entirely clear from the documents in front of us in the treaty that what we are doing is entirely enabling for ourselves to have an option to opt in and we are not committed to opting in by anything either in clause 2 or any later part of the treaty.What on earth did that mean?
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I hope that my right hon. Friend is not catching bad habits from the Leader of the Opposition. My understanding of the Government's position is that we 476 want the option to go into EMU in the mid-1990s if conditions are right. I hope that that is a straightforward view that can be understood.
The hon. Member for Durham, North mentioned research and development and said that this was a very important part of increasing our productive capacity. I agree to an extent, but I warn the research and development lobby that it is not quite as simple as that. It is not enough just to pour money into research and development. The economy must also have the ability to commercialise, to productionise and to market that technology.
One problem that Britain and many other western countries have had compared with say, Japan is that we have put a lot of money into research and development and have come up with good products, but we have not always manufactured or marketed those products properly. The Japanese, by contrast, have bought a lot of technology from other countries and concentrated on honing their production and marketing skills. It is only now—as they have got these to a very productive level —that they are beginning to pour money into research and development.
It is also worth noting that recently the British Patents Office produced a paper that showed that in Europe countries wasted £20 billion a year reinventing the wheel because they put money into R and D for products which have already been invented and for which patents are on offer.
One of the themes of Opposition Members on both the Front and the Back Benches is that we need to take a long-term view in industry and that British industry needs to be able to plan for the long term. That is an important concept which deserves examination. I believe that most hon. Members would agree that the two countries in which industry has best been able to plan for the long term in recent years are Germany and Japan. So what characterises their policies?
First, Germany and Japan have tiny state sectors; there is virtually no state industry in Japan and very little in Germany. Secondly, both countries, consistently since the war, have followed extremely sound monetary policies. I accept that there has been an aberration in German policy in the last year or two, but there are special circumstances. Since the war Germany and Japan have pursued extremely sound, rigorous monetary policies. They have almost always balanced their budgets. In Japan, public spending has been very low. I accept that in Germany public spending has been more in line with that in the rest of Europe, but the important fact there is that the Germans have increased spending only when their economy has been growing and has been able to afford that spending —not the other way round, as has so often happened in Britain.
§ Mr. Nellist
Will the hon. Gentleman also accept that one thing that links Germany and Japan is that they have very little in the way of standing armies and no nuclear weapons? Since Britain has spent in the last 40 years, in present-day money, something of the order of £20 billion a year on those things, Germany and Japan have each been able to invest in their manufacturing industry around £400 billion more than Britain. That is quite relevant as well.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I do not want to shock the hon. Gentleman unduly, but I rather agree with the point he 477 makes. Countries such as Britain and America have borne a disproportionate share of the burden of defending the west over the past 30 or 40 years. Although there are benefits to certain sectors of the economy, such as defence and aerospace, high levels of defence spending are detrimental to the overall performance of the economy. That is one reason why America has failed so dismally in commercial and consumer electronics and done so well, by contrast, in defence electronics, and why Japan has done so well in areas such as consumer electronics.
However, although I agree with the point the hon. Gentleman makes, I believe that someone had to bear the burden of defence spending over the past 30 or 40 years, and we would not be enjoying the slight improvement in the world situation now if Britain and America had not borne that burden. Although it is a factor in the success of Japan and Germany, other factors to which I am about to come have been far more important and significant.
The point I was making was that public spending in Germany has not been based on large public sector deficits. Rather, the spending has increased as the economy has grown; hence, the country could afford the public spending.
Another factor that links Germany and Japan is that both encourage saving, with very low taxes or no taxes at all on savers. On the other hand, neither country encourages over-consumption with tax breaks on consumption. The result is that in both countries there has been a large pool of available capital for industry. Industry has not been crowded out by high state spending. Those policies have also borne down on inflation and interest rates, because more capital has been available.
In other countries, by contrast, the encouragement of consumption through tax breaks, penal taxes on savers, high state spending and budget deficits have led, first, to a shortage of capital for industry, secondly, to high interest rates, thirdly, to inflation and, fourthly, because of high interest rates, often also to artificially overvalued currencies, which of course has been detrimental to industry.
Finally, and perhaps most important, Germany and Japan have had rigorous exam-oriented, vocationally geared and selective education systems, which have produced the highest attainments in basic literacy, maths, science and engineering.
These policies are far more significant than financial structures, takeovers or other factors which are often blamed for short-termism in industry in Britain and the United States. These policies have allowed industry to finance and plan for the long term.
None of these policies strikes me as being particularly socialist or even Labour. In fact, to the extent that we know what Labour policies are at the moment, they strike me as being almost the exact opposite of the policies pursued in Germany and Japan. As I understand it, Labour would raise state spending above what could be afforded and they would clobber savers with an investment income surcharge, just as they did in the 1970s, all of which would mean less capital being available to industry.
It is interesting that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) spent so much time talking about the importance of investment in industry. I agree with him, but he does not seem to have grasped the 478 simple point that unless there are good levels of savings in the economy it is not possible to finance successfully that investment in industry.
The Opposition also paid lip service to the need for better education, but they would abandon and reverse the crucial education reforms which the Government are now pursuing, so industry would have no chance of matching the quality of the work force of competitors.
That is Labour's long termism. As always, rhetoric is far easier than the deed. Instead, the Opposition often offer simplistic interventionist policies, which have been tried and have failed before. We all know what happened last time Labour tried its brand of long termism: British Steel became the world's largest loss maker; British Airways was rated by its passengers below Aeroflot; British Leyland became the butt of international jokes.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I accept what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker.
That is where Labour's long termism led us. Interventionism and protectionism are no substitute for sound monetary policies and good education.
I know that some Labour Members are thinking that Germany and Japan have followed interventionist industrial policies, so I shall disabuse them of that misleading notion. Since the war, Germany has been one of the most liberal of the major industrial nations on trade and industry policy. For example, it has been the least rigorous in implementing the multi-fibre arrangement in Europe. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Japan has given the lowest subsidies to industry of any of the major industrialised nations—well below subsidies in the United States.
I know that the mythology is that Japan has prospered because of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and trade barriers. GATT reports show that Japan has been one of the lowest offenders in these areas, and, more often than not, MITI's industrial policies have failed. In the 1950s, MITI tried to consolidate the car industry to produce a people's car on Volkswagen lines. It failed because MITI did not get the co-operation of the car industry. There are many more such examples.
Many of Japan's most successful industries have had little or no help or guidance from MITI. Photocopiers, excavators, calculators, personal computers and consumer electronics are good examples. Many of the least successful Japanese industries such as chemicals and aluminium have received much help and guidance from MITI.
Often western politicians of all parties and western business men have used the bogey of MITI and supposed trade barriers as excuses for their failure in economic policy or their failure to market competitive products in Japan. It is too easy to forget that all western countries, including the United States, have heavily subsidised and protected industries at least as much as Japan.
Another important point about the success of the Japanese economy is that what characterises Japanese industry more than anything else is the intense competition 479 in the Japanese economy. As soon as a new sector comes into being, be it motor cycles, calculators or the latest example, notebook computers, 30, 40 or 50 companies pile in. They have a massive competitive battle, from which three or four incredibly strong competitors emerge. Because of that competitive honing process, when they start marketing their products on the world market they are almost unbeatable.
State-directed industrial policies are no anwer. They have failed in Britain before, and they are failing in Europe now. Decades of massive national state and EC aid to, and protection of, European computer, semi-conducter and consumer electronics industries have failed to produce world-class competitors.
Sometimes, given the way in which the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) go on, one would think that British industry had been the envy of the world until my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) came along and single-handedly devastated it. Recent OECD figures tell a different story. They show that in the 1980s the productivity of British manufacturing industry rose by 50 per cent.—far more than in any major economy, including Japan. Britain's manufacturing output has risen by almost a quarter since 1979, at a time when, according to the Opposition, the Government where laying waste to our great manufacturing industries. Our manufacturing performance in the 1980s was well ahead of Germany, France and any other major European country.
By contrast. going back to the 1960s and 1970s, OECD figures reveal that manufacturing output fell under the Labour Government of 1974–1979, despite the professions of Labour Front-Bench spokesmen that only they care about manufacturing. In the 1960s and 1970s, our performance in manufacturing output and productivity lagged behind most of our major competitors, in complete contrast to the past decade when we have at least made up some of the lost ground.
It is true that a number of international problems loom over our economy. An international shortage of capital is about to hit the world economy. The three great capital exporters of the middle east, Germany and Japan are becoming net importers of capital—Germany because of reunification, the middle east because of reconstruction and Japan because of various reasons to do with its banking system and the monetary problems that it is experiencing.
Our policies have resulted in major improvements to the supply side, the basic efficiency of the economy, in the 1980s. No one seriously talks of reversing those policies now. Our monetary policies will ensure that we can build on that in the 1990s on the basis of sound sustainable growth. Our education policies will ensure that industry has the literate, well-educated work force that it needs to produce wealth to pay for higher living standards and better, affordable public services. Nothing in Labour's policies would help long-termism or the basic productivity of our manufacturing industry. Its monetary and spending policies would starve industry of funds. Its education policies would deprive industry of the well-educated work force that it needs. Labour has no cures for our industry —rather, it is part of the problem.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
Too many of the Chancellor's pronunciations in recent weeks have been in the nature of a contribution to an academic debate on how recovery or the end of a recession is defined. That is of little interest to millions of working-class people and their families, who face the continued uncertainty of unemployment. Their definition is simple: recession is when their neighhbour loses his or her job, a slump is when their own job is lost and a recovery is when the Tory Government lose their job. It is a definition with which I have much sympathy, and it has much to commend it.
By any criteria, Coventry's economy is suffering badly. I arrived in Coventry in 1971, when it was probably the richest working-class town in Britain. Sixty-seven per cent. of workers worked in factories. If Britain was the workshop of the world, Coventry was the fitting shop, the heart of manufacturing in the midlands.
On Monday, I received an answer from the Department of Employment showing that, between September 1981 and September 1989, Coventry suffered a net loss of 19,900 factory jobs. More than 29 per cent. of our manufacturing employment was wiped out in a decade. Since September 1989, the recession has arrived and deepened in our area. The west midlands continues to suffer more than the other regions. The prognosis of the regional employers' organisation, the Confederation of British Industry, is that 10 of the 11 regions will come out of recession by next February; the one that will not will be the west midlands. West Midlands Regional Forum says that the west midlandsis one of the most pessimistic about the proximity and future strength of a recovery, sees further significant redundancies from its key manufacturing industries, shows little preparation for a recovery through increased investment, now has an unemployment rate above the EC average, is still expecting unemployment to continue increasing and employment to fall even further.In the two years since the figures that I began with, several thousand more jobs have gone in my city. The tactics of employers have grown more outrageous as their confidence has grown, and that is certainly evident in the aftermath of the miners' strike. Coventry is paying the price today of replacing the right of workers to work with the right of managers to manage. As we saw with the redundancies that were made at GPT in recent weeks, redundancy terms have worsened. Other workers have been threatened that, if they do not accept a quick death, as in the closure of a pit last month, severance terms will be slashed.
The latest survey of the chamber of commerce, the bosses' organisation in Coventry, showed that 15 per cent. of firms in Coventry are working at full capacity. Investment in the past three months, compared with the previous three months, had fallen by 11 per cent., and orders had fallen by 55 per cent.
Twelve months ago, the chamber of commerce did a similar survey in Coventry, when it questioned 150 firms. When it conducted its survey this year, only 64 remained. Major companies in Coventry are not just shedding jobs: it is a haemorrhage. Not only is the damoclean sword of redundancies hanging by a thread over Rolls-Royce, but the sale of Parkside, the plant in my constituency, and the move to Ansty means that compulsory redundancy is rearing its ugly head.
481 Courtaulds, Matix Churchill, Dunlop, Kalmar and the Co-op—all household names—are on short-time working. At Jaguar, 2,000 jobs are going, and a couple of weeks ago its ownership transferred to America. The new owner, Ford, says that that is a technical tax matter. Workers in Coventry fear that, after the ownership has gone, development and possibly production will follow.
In the last 12 months, 8,000 have been added to the unemployment figures, and a real fear of unemployment stalks my city. Having spent three years on the dole before I became a Member, I know to my personal expense that unemployment is a degrading tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions. It is also a weapon which employers use to instil fear in their workers.
Unemployment has a cost as well. It is a "price worth paying" to get inflation down—so says the Chancellor. Officially, we have 2.5 million unemployed. That is costing £21 billion this year. Each unemployed person costs £9,000 a year in dole and income support and in the tax and national insurance lost to the Treasury. That is an underestimate which does not take account of lost production, the extra burden on the health service and other indirect costs.
Let us consider the figures in my constituency, where there are 4,500 officially unemployed. That costs £40 million a year. I reckon that there are about 30,000 in work in my constituency. Everyone in work is paying over £1,350 a year, or £27 per week, to service the unemployed. If my party still had the policy which it had when I was elected in 1983, of a programme to bring about full employment during the lifetime of a Government, not only would we lift the burden off the unemployed but those in work would have an increase in living standards of £27 a week.
Many hon. Members have spoken in favour of the European Community. I was elected in 1983 with the aim of seeing our withdrawal from the Common Market within the life of that Parliament. I am still opposed to our membership of that bosses' club, but not for nationalistic reasons. It is an illusion to think that a united capitalistic market can be created which can compete and build multinationals in Europe which are the same size as multinationals in Japan or America.
In the last five years, Japan has added to its gross national product an economy the size of that of France. Sir John Harvey-Jones has predicted that, if European multinationals are to be built in Europe in the next eight years on the same scale as those in America and Japan, half the factories in Europe will have to close. In Europe, there are 300 firms making domestic products—everything from kettles through to fridges; in America there are four. In Europe there are 13 manufacturers of trains and locomotive goods; in America there are five. In Europe there are 40 firms making batteries; in America there are four and in Japan five.
We have had two massive body blows recently. In Coventry, over half our employment is dominated by 15 multinationals. If we remain in the Common Market under current terms, with a move towards a single market, I am not sure that those 15 multinationals will survive. One example is telecommunications. GEC, the British leader in the production of public telecom systems, took over Plessey two or three years ago. Then Siemens came in from 482 Germany and took over 40 per cent. of the amalgamated GPT. In April 1988, Coventry had 9,552 employees in GPT. By last month, that had dropped to 4,495. Last week, the biggest private employer in my constituency, GPT, announced another 320 redundancies. When will it name the people who will lose their jobs? Seven days before Christmas: 18 December is the date when the workers of GPT will find out which of them are going down the road for the last time.
It is estimated that any public telecom manufacturer needs 12 per cent. of the world market, with investment in new switching systems, to have an adequate return. Britain has 6 per cent. of the world market in its domestic market. Even with the benefits of the single market, I do not think that GEC, with Siemens, will survive the 1990s.
There is still an hour and seven minutes left of this debate. I am doing my best to represent my constituents in what may be my last speech as a member of the Labour party. Hon. Members may not know that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) was expelled from the Labour party two hours ago. I intend to follow him on Saturday. I am rushing as much as I can. I will finish this speech on behalf of my constituents as a Labour Member.
My constituents face the insecurity and uncertainty of unemployment. The other body blow we had was the closure by British Coal of the pit in Keresley a couple of weeks ago. Only 13 days after the announcement of the closure of the pit 1,300 men worked their last shift. I do not think that the pit has been closed. The buildings are still on the surface. I challenged the area director of British Coal about what was being done with the land. He said that it was not being sold. I know why. British Coal has sacked 1,300 NUM members, but it is talking about driving two roadways from Dawmill, the UDM pit, down into that coalfield, which has 40 million tonnes of coal, so that, if the Tories win the general election and pits are privatised, a privatised Dawmill can come back. That is the penalty of market forces in Keresley.
When I asked British Coal to meet the leaders of the councils and the Churches, I was told that it was not interested in such fringe groups, which were low in their priorities. It is the local authorities which have to pick up the pieces when pits close. It is the social services department which has to go to pick up the pieces in villages like Keresley, where over a quarter of the jobs are going overnight.
What shall I tell my constituents when the debate is over? Is recovery around the corner? Car production fell by 27 per cent. last year. Production for the home market has fallen by 39 per cent. That was the rock on which Coventry and the midlands were built. It is no good singing, like Monty Python,Always look on the bright side of life.We should not hope, like Micawber, that things will turn up. Things have to be planned if workers are to get jobs. We are not getting that planning from the Tory Government. Workers who have been laid off or sacked cannot buy goods even if factories are producing them. People are going into debt; 250,000 are now six months in debt on their mortgages, and thousands have already lost their jobs.
I doubt whether exports will prove to be our salvation. Over half our exports go to the Common Market. Italy and France are still in recession. There is talk of a double dip in America, which is operating at only 77 per cent. of 483 its capacity. Germany is beset by the colossal cost of unification. There is no salvation in the capitalist system. It is a failure. I confess to plagiarism; those are not my words but the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). Unfortunately, they were said 17 years ago.
In the year since the Prime Minister got his new job, 67,500 men and 17,800 women in my area of the west midlands have lost theirs. Since the Prime Minister moved into his new house, 13,632 families in my area have lost their houses, having had them repossessed by banks and building societies. Therefore, I look forward to a majority Labour Government taking the economy by the scruff of the neck and bending it to the needs of our people—the working class people and their families.
I want a majority Labour Government to take millions of people—possibly more than 15 million—out of the ranks of poverty, if we define poverty as living on or below the margins of up to 40 per cent. above income support levels. I want a Labour Government to eradicate low pay, and I welcome my party's intransigence in the face of all the slanders from the Tories about the inadequacy of a national minimum wage—£130 a week even on half average earnings. Conservatives would not think twice about spending that on a meal for four in the Dining Room, but when it comes to curing homelessness, the Minister for Housing knows all about that. He defines the homeless as the people one steps over when one comes out of the opera at Covent Garden. One could not get one of the best seats in Covent Garden for £130, so why should folk not get that for a week's wages?
I also want a Labour Government who redistribute wealth, because the top 10 per cent. of the people in this country now own more than half the wealth. To achieve that and to carry out the necessary building programmes for the construction of hospitals and schools, it is not enough to hope for economic recovery or to place our faith in the capitalist completion of the single market. We must plan the economy and that is why my party card still has clause IV(4) on it. [Laughter.] To the laughter of Conservatives, I remain an unreconstructed socialist, and I am not at all ashamed of that.
§ Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)
I know that the House is looking forward to the wind-up, so I shall not detain it very long. Understandably, while there is little in the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) with which I agree, I very much respect the principles behind what he said. It is a pity that I cannot say that about many other members of the Opposition, who have already abdicated most of their principles.
We are discussing the Opposition's motion on the Government's handling of the economy and their suggestions to improve it. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)—I am glad that he is now in the Chamber—ridiculed the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to anecdotal evidence. I am glad that we have begun to take notice of anecdotal evidence, because if we had done so two or three years ago, it would have been—indeed, it was— abundantly clear anecdotally that inflation was getting out of control long before it appeared in the figures. It was equally clear anecdotally that businesses were beginning to 484 get into difficulty long before that fact showed in the figures. I welcome the move towards a recognition of evidence other than Treasury statistics.
Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said much this afternoon about the Labour party's proposals, which are loosely described in the motion. The Opposition Front-Bench team have ad nauseam tried to persuade us that they can increase expenditure by varying amounts —we have heard all kinds of promises—with only a minimal increase in taxation. Several of my hon. Friends referred to the 9 per cent. surcharge on savings which is being proposed. I slipped out of the Chamber for some of the debate, but I did not catch anyone referring to the other area that the Opposition have made it clear that they expect to be a source of income—the change in the past few years to a property-owning and share-owning democracy.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister coined the phrase "a cascade of wealth"—as the benefits of property ownership cascaded through the generations, everyone would benefit. However, the Labour party and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East regard inheritance tax as a major source of increasing Government revenues, so the cascade becomes an opportunity for them to follow their basic creed of envy to spend.
This morning we heard on the "Today" programme what I can only believe was a slip of the tongue by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). To its credit, the Labour party has as a matter of principle opposed privatisation whenever it has been discussed in the House and whatever industry was involved. It has a declared policy that it will wish to regain control of certain industries, but this morning the hon. Lady—my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was also present at the interview—declared that Labour would go on spending privatisation proceeds from the deferred payments which would still be coming in if Labour came to power.
I do not believe that one can have it both ways. Labour cannot be against privatisation but happily go on spending the proceeds. However, that is the nature of the Labour party, as we have seen over and over again today. It is a party devoid of principles, which seems intent on chucking out the only members who have any principles, and we heard them amply described only a few minutes ago. This country has no truck with people who discard their principles, and it will have no truck with the Labour party.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
In the year since the present Prime Minister got his job, 26,900 men and 5,400 women in Wales have lost their jobs. In the year since he got his new home in Downing street, 8,842 people in Wales have had their homes repossessed. In the year since the right hon. Gentleman set himself up in business as leader of the Tory party, 1,760 businesses in Wales have failed. Ministers often say that Labour is talking Wales and Britain down. That is patronising drivel. Labour is not talking Wales down; the Government are doing Wales down, and that is understood by everybody in Wales.
The Government cannot see beyond the next consumer bribe or the next tax cut. They have elevated short-termism into a science, always striving to boost consumption and never resourcing investment. Consumption may have 485 stalled in the past year, but since 1979 it has risen by 40 per cent. Interestingly, at the same time, production by British companies of British consumer goods has risen by only 7.8 per cent., barely one fifth of the consumption boost. As a result, consumer debt stands at a staggering £52 billion, five times what it was in 1979, and corporate debt is an even more staggering £27 billion, much of it financing the dividend payments to shareholders which have tripled since 1979 while investment has remained virtually stagnant.
Between 1979 and 1990, the real priorities of the Tory Government are clear. Manufacturing investment in Wales rose in real terms by a pitiful 10.6 per cent., whereas the market value of United Kingdom and Irish equities increased in real terms by a massive 214 per cent.—20 times more. Surely that is eloquent testimony to the fact that market forces are not working, and that institutional shareholders and the capital markets are abjectly failing British industry. Why will not the Government boost the real economy and not just the candy-floss economy which it is so keen to promote?
The issue is seen most clearly in pension funds, which have recently been exposed by the Maxwell scandal, one of a series of scandals in British industry. Short-termism is significant in this context. A handful of pension fund managers now control assets of £400 billion—three quarters of the wealth generated across the United Kingdom each year. Those managers have helped to create and promote a climate in which high dividends have been the norm at the expense of long-term investment in British industry and at the expense of pensioners and employees, whose rights have been negated as pension funds have been looted by business tycoons.
The Government have deregulated the corporate finance structure. They have turned a blind eye to the abuse of pension funds in recent years. Their announcement that they will bring forward the 5 per cent. limit on self-investment is simply not good enough. It does not address the Maxwell problem, for example, or the problem of British Steel lifting £150 billion of the pension fund money due to its workers.
All those issues point to the fact that the Government are interested only in tomorrow and not in building for the future. That is why we need a Labour Government who have the economic policies to invest in the future, to invest in industry and to invest in the skills base which has collapsed over the past 12 years. People understand that only a Labour Government have the economic policies which will put Britain back into the first division in Europe, and which will lead to rising living standards and rising prosperity for our people.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
This has been an interesting debate with some excellent contributions from both Opposition and Conservative Members. However, the comments on the present state of the economy by Conservative Members have been overwhelmingly characterised by the enormous gap between rhetoric and reality. The rhetoric is that there is sustained success; the reality is very different.
The figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) bear repeating. Over the past 486 year, 3,000 jobs have been lost every working day, 200 businesses have collapsed every working day and 300 families have had their homes repossessed every working day. We know that in every one of those groups. as the year continues, there is more to come. Manufacturing output is down more than 5 per cent. on the same period a year ago, manufacturing investment is already down 12 per cent., and the CBI predicts an overall fall of 20 per cent. over the year, retail sales are totally flat and gross domestic product is down 2.3 per cent. That is the reality that the Government have sought today to obscure with rhetoric. Faced with that, they weave, dodge and bluster. The other day, I was fascinated to note that the Chief Secretary apparently holds a special appointment as blusterer-in-chief.
What is most important is that the Government spend their time and energy not on finding ways to combat the recession, but on trying to find ways to combat the impression that they are giving and reinforcing of a Government adrift in shark-filled waters—and they are. However, the sharks that matter most are neither addressed nor affected by the Government's strategy. The sharks that really matter are our competitors, especially our partner competitors in Europe—the ones that are snapping up the export orders that Britain should be winning, the ones that are gaining the markets that Britain is relinquishing, and the ones that, whatever their problems, are still growing and still drawing further and further away from us.
During last week's Treasury questions the Government, with a fresh barrage of statistics about investment and exports, again sought to create the impression that there is no problem. On examination, almost all the new figures are based on highly-selective choices of data, not on the Government's whole record, or on bogus comparisons between incompatible figures. We can knock them down as fast as the Government can pull them up, but juggling the data to try to justify some line that Ministers will use anyway will not explain away that harsh reality.
It is less than a week—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) reminded the House, or perhaps told Conservative Members—since the president of the Building Employers Confederation was reported as saying that he had been in the industry for 42 years and that these were the worst conditions that he had ever experienced. The conditions are shockingly depressed. How can Ministers square that with either their fountain of recalculated and re-presented figures or with the rhetoric with which they accompany them? Of late, the Chancellor has been insisting that—I quote what he said to Brian Walden—what is happening now isvery much as I expected".That was said in answer to a depressing litany from Mr. Walden, who said to the right hon. Gentleman that there might bea technical recovery, you admit that some of the figures look very bad … there are serious debt problems … you admit that the housing market is flat, you say you expect a contribution to growth from consumer spending, now Chancellor none of it sounds very upbeat does it".That is a judgment from which the Chancellor noticeably did not dissent.
It seems that the Chancellor has perhaps been taking lessons from the Prime Minister in the art of precision. It was the Prime Minister, after all, who as a Minister in the 487 Department of Social Security pledged that child benefit would continue to be paid as now—a pledge which was carried out to the ha'penny for a number of succeeding years. One could not say that his words were untrue, but it is certainly not what people thought he meant at the time. It is something to be borne in mind before getting too excited about his pledge, for example, not to privatise the national health service.
Similarly, it is certainly true that in his Budget speech in March the Chancellor said that he expected recovery to begin in the second half of the year. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East pointed out, later in the debate he said that it would be towards the middle of the year. The Chancellor now says that our present circumstances are very much what he expected, that he never expected anything else at this stage arid that they are very much what he expected all along. He cannot stretch that to be compatible with the impression that his further comments no doubt deliberately created.
Whatever the Chancellor's precise words either at the beginning or end of the Budget debate, on 25 April—not long after—the Prime Minister said thatthe United Kingdom is coming out of its economic difficulties, while other countries are still facing deepening difficulties."—[Official Report, 25 April 1991; Vol. 189, c. 1206.]On 29 April, the Chancellor said in Washington that recovery is "around the corner". However, that is not the impression that he has been trying to create today. The Chancellor was no longer saying "in the second hai' or "towards the second half"; in April he was saying, "around the corner". The right hon. Gentleman is stretching things a little.
However, one must be charitable because that was said when there was still talk of an election in June 1991. Even when the June option had faded—no doubt with an eye on the autumn—on 19 July the Prime Minister was still saying:I am confident that, in the second half of this year, the economy will begin to take off". [Official Report, 19 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 679.]That sentence contains an active verb. I am sure that we have all noticed that take-off coming about.
By September, the pre-election hype was again well under way and, on the 16th, the Chancellor saidBritain is coming out of recession … The statistics are highly encouraging and pointing very much in the right direction".What a contrast between those statements and the one made to Mr. Walden a mere two months later—that the Chancellor never expected anything else but the position in which we now find ourselves.
I am trying to believe the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that he did expect anything else, but he did his best to make the electorate expect something else. With that record, not just on recession but on recovery, it is better to look to others for their judgment on where we stand and for the real signals that we should be considering.
The Government have been saying that with the technical recovery will come the end of all our problems. Some light was inadvertently cast on that today when the Chancellor, under pressure from my right hon. and learned Friend, conceded that, technically, the recovery was indeed here. "Technically", he said, "the recovery is now ended." We all recognise, however, that the problems have not ended. Others, of course, apply a rather more 488 stringent judgment. The Chancellor quoted Professor McWilliams of the Confederation of British Industry saying that output was "slowly edging up". However, the right hon. Gentleman did not quote what Professor McWilliams stated in a letter to the Financial Times only last week about real recovery. He wrote that,the onset of recovery does not mean the recession has ended. If you are a diver, your head may still be below water even when you are rising towards the suface … I prefer to define the recession as over when the economy has recovered to its previous level of output … the recession will not end before the second half of 1992, even using the Chancellor's own forecasts as published in the Autumn Statement.Professor McWilliams identified the right hon. Gentleman's forecasts as more optimistic than those of other commentators.
The Government still take no responsibility for Britain's real needs and conditions. They boast—many Conservative Members have done so in this debate— about bringing down inflation over the year from 10.6 per cent. to 3.7 per cent. Hands up whoever is taking the blame for putting it up. Are there no volunteers on the Conservative Benches? After all, it was the CBI that referred to the Government's "inflationary own goals" in the year that resulted in inflation at 10.6 per cent. It was the Governor of the Bank of England who referred to "administered price rises" as a result of political decisions. I note that the Government will take the credit when things improve, but none of the blame when they worsen. The Government took all the credit when unemployment was falling. Do any of them take any of the blame for its rise today? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That was a truly rhetorical question—one that expected no reply.
The Government have talked about worldwide recession, undoubtedly in an attempt to find someone to blame. However, I concede that the Chancellor was more accurate than usual today. He spoke of either "recession" or "falling growth" among our competitors. He sought to give the impression, without explicitly saying so, that somehow or other somewhere in the world sinister influences had brought about our recession.
It is only right to remind the Chancellor of what Peter Morgan of the Institute of Directors said earlier this year. He said:this awful recession, which has caused so much grief, is a failure of government economic management.Undoubtedly he is more than a socialist.Let us look further at who is to blame for the recession. On the question of recovery, the London business school, which again is not hostile to the Government, has said:The economy will do little more in 1992 than make up for the output losses of 1991".The Government have given up on ungrateful harsh reality, as they gave up on it in June and November when twice they chickened out of calling an election. It is increasingly evident that, having run away from an election twice, the Government are spending their time worrying about presentation rather than performance, script in lieu of substance. The Prime Minister tells The House Magazine that the Government have abolished the poll tax—yet it is alive and well and at the heart of the council tax, for which the legislation had not even been published when he spoke.
The Prime Minister told us that the Government had "got inflation licked" in the autumn when he thought that perhaps they were about to have an election. Yet in the autumn statement the Chancellor murmured quietly that inflation 489may rise slightly early next year".—[Official Report, 6 November 1991; Vol. 198, c. 452.]I understand that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the chairman of the Conservative party, told us on Sunday what the Government had achieved in negotiations on the social charter. The next day the Secretary of State for Employment was on the airwaves telling us how he was off to conduct the negotiations on the social charter, on the result of which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had commented. I think it was McLuhan who said that the medium was the message. Under this Government. the massage is the message. The concentration is all on public relations.
There was a revealing announcement last week. It conveyed the Government's sense of priorities better than perhaps most of the things that we could say in the House. They announced that they were putting £2 million more into extra help to relieve national health service waiting lists. That is terrific; we are all delighted. It could have been £4 million if the Government had not wasted at least as much—according to their figures—on sending us all a copy of the patients charter.
When it comes to the crunch and the Government are asked what action they intend to take to promote economic recovery, the answer is always the same, as it was the same today—they will wait and see whether it happens. Any approach, on any time scale, to economic and monetary union requires us to be able to compete on equal terms with the Germans, the French and the Italians. What do the Government intend to do to bring that about? They will wait and see whether it happens.
When the Government are forced to say what they would do if they were re-elected, they tell us that they would do it all again. They want to cut income tax again. To fund those cuts, they want to cut the proportion of national income which goes on public services—again. The Government tell us that they have got the inflation rate and interest rates down. They say, "If you want to know what we will do, just look at our record." Well, let us look. The Government cut income tax, yes, but they put up national insurance contributions and value added tax twice. This year they have got inflation down nicely in time for the election. That is very welcome, but is it unprecedented? Well, no, as a matter of fact it is not. In June 1983 inflation was 3.7 per cent.; within two years of the election, in June 1985, it was 7 per cent. In June 1987, when there was an election, inflation was 4.2 per cent.; within two years, in June 1989, it was 8.3 per cent. As we know, it continued to rise.
This year the Government have got interest rates down nicely in time for the election. Is that unprecedented? No. in June 1983 interest rates were at 9.5 per cent.; within less than two years, in January 1985, they were at 14 per cent. By June 1987—and an election—the Government had reduced them to 9 per cent. again; within another two years, in October 1989, they were at 15 per cent.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I do not have very much time. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman if I have time later.
The Government make much of their record on interest rates and inflation, but under them we have had a roller-coaster ride between boom and bust. Whoopee, we 490 are going round again. I do not believe that the country can afford a repetition of those policies or a third Tory recession.
Economic debates have two consistent features—yet more dubious statistics and greater strength in their advocacy—[Interruption.]
§ Mrs. Beckett
In our motion we call on the Government to initiate targeted tax relief, to promote investment in manufacturing, to reverse the cuts that they are still making in training, to establish a new skills programme and to offer support for research and development. Those are exactly the policies being called for by the Engineering Employers Federation and the Confederation of British Industry, whose members I seem to recall the Chief Secretary describing as "a few out-of-step people with old-fashioned ideas" during the last Budget debate.
Those policies are also called for by the Machine Tool Technologies Association, in a document produced a week or so ago, which argued thatthere is a role for Government in closing this investment gap … The correct balance and level of … investment needed … will come if policy provides: a stable economic environment; more innovation and training; greater availability of funds for investment; and the appropriate incentives from the tax system.All those are Labour party policy, for which we have consistently called.
Yet the Government Front Bench and Conservative Members consistently claim that the Labour party has no proposals. When commentinL, on the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East today the Chancellor said:If he had constructive ideas he kept them to himself. He has no policies, he never has and he never will have.Later he said:There is nothing in the way of serious economic proposals.[HON. MEMBERS: "There is nothing. new."] Indeed that was not new. The Government say that in every debate on the economy. I find that fascinating.
All over the world there are Governments who do not know that such proposals are not part of the policies for running their economy. that they are outdated and do not work, as our Government claim. All over the world there are Governments who believe that while keeping inflation and interest rates as low as possible is necessary for economic prosperity, it is by no means sufficient. All over the world Governments are carrying out precisely the policies that we advocate and call on our Government to pursue for the sake of the country, yet the Chancellor accuses us of beinglocked in their isolationist world.All over the world there are Governments, lacking the wise counsel of the British Conservative party, who do not know that they are getting it all wrong—grievously misled as they are by the fact that they have higher growth, higher investment, are more prosperous, and have better public transport. health, training, and education than we have. That has misled them to think that what they are doing is not an economic policy. I do not care what the Conservative party call it—[Interruption.] The Chancellor is pathetic.
Nowhere else in the world are there parties or Governments who do not recognise that the policies that we have consistently advocated for years from these 491 Benches are not part of a proper planning and direction for the economy. Only on the Conservative Benches are they so foolish, so "isolationist"—to use the Chancellor's word—and so locked in their own determination to listen to no one that they will not pay attention.
As the Chancellor has made crystal clear, while this wait-and-see Government are in power, our only hope of competing with those who follow, and are successful by following the policies that we advocate, is that they lower their standards to our levels. The British Government's idea of competing in Europe seems to be for Britain to crawl in at the bottom of the heap, when British people have the skills and the capacity to hold up their heads at the top.
All that the British people lack is a Government with the understanding, determination and policy to help them reach that place. When the Government are finally forced by the date to stop running away from the electorate, they will get them.
§ The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. David Mellor)
Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.] I have not even started and Labour Members are laughing. I do not know what is to become of them. They might let me get a few sentences out first. I see laughing on the Opposition Front Bench the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). I remember when he was a power in the land and chaired committees at the GLC. It seems that his only function these days is to come into the Chamber twice a day, for the opening and wind-up, and to laugh and make animal noises. It is a sad deterioration in what was once a rather good career.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks I have been unfair to his hon. Friend, who I am sure will grin and bear it. Indeed, knowing him, he will probably jeer and bear it.
I have been puzzled by today's debate. I assumed, since the Labour party had initiated it, that Labour Members had something significant to say. So it was with some expectation that I attended to hear what new thoughts the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) wished to convey. One can only say of his speech that it was environmentally friendly in that everything in it was recycled; we had heard it all before.
We have had a lot of negative criticism of the Government—what my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) rightly called talking down Britain—[Interruption.] Labour Members may find, particularly when they see what the opinion poll in The Daily Telegraph says tomorrow, that the British people do not find comfortable the rubbishing of the efforts that millions of people throughout the country are making to come out of a recession that has afflicted many of the world's developed economies. Finding themselves increa-singly in the position of having to talk down any good news for Britain and cheering at anything they can remotely distort into bad news is not an appealing platform for Labour Members and they must be seriously concerned about that fact.
We have had today only a sorry old rehash of the usual charges based on misconceptions about what has been happening. As usual, there has been from Labour Members an exclusive focus on manufacturing rather than 492 on any other part of the economy. Not that I resent that. I am not disposed to being shy about our record in manufacturing—[Interruption.]—but I wonder when they will start talking about the other 80 per cent. of the economy.
I am not ashamed of manufacturing when 22 per cent. of our national output for manufacturing is more than that in the United States or France, when our exports are at an all-time high, even during a recession, and when, for the third year running, we shall be increasing our share of world trade in manufacturing. I am not embarrassed by that record, notwithstanding the obvious difficulties that we know many businesses are facing here, just as they are in the United States, Canada, Sweden, Australia and in a number of other countries which are suffering equally from an economic downturn.
I was interested to note how much reliance the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) placed on the CBI in the somewhat selective reading to which she treated us from the recent CBI report "Competing With the World's Best." For instance, she did not quote the following passage from that report:most of those responsible for running British industry believe there has been a marked improvement in performance during the 1980s which has been more than a temporary phenomenon. While there is no concealing the seriousness of the current recession, most manufacturers believe that their companies are in much better shape to weather the current downturn than was the case a decade ago.I wonder whether the hon. Lady has the same document, because the whole of it is worth reading. At the end of the document, the CBI said:To sum up the Group's conclusions to this point, the state of the Manufacturing Nation is better than is generally recognised. Many of Britain's manufacturers have shown that they can compete with the best in the world, there is a sound base on which to build".
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman, who has not been part of this debate but has just joined us, is obviously unaware of the fact that the hon. Lady constantly referred to the CBI. I am perfectly happy to share the CBI's opinions with the House. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is becoming very excitable. Had he been here for a number of hours, any excitement would have died rather quickly.
§ Mr. Mellor
No, I shall not give way if the hon. Gentleman cannot contain himself. The hon. Gentleman squawks, but I shall give way only to hon. Members who have taken a serious interest in the debate. On a generous estimate, that might even include the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East.
The Opposition's portrayal of the CBI as a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued from the Government by the Labour party is absolute nonsense. The CBI is about as anxious to have a Labour Government as we would all be to have our daughters go to an all-night party at the Kennedys.
The CBI's document says:It is quite clear in recent years that central government should not he in the business of picking winners, or of engaging in direct intervention in the strategic direction and management of companies. Experience has shown"—493 the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East should focus particularly on this point—that Ministers and civil servants do not have the necessary skills and experience".If anyone is in doubt about how the CBI feels about the Labour party, he or she should look at the interview given by John Banham to The Guardian on Wednesday, 30 October. He said:Labour means an explosion of public pay settlements without increases in productivity; it means the minimum wage (causing up to a 300,000 increase in unemployment) and other social initiatives in line with the EC social action programme; it means business diverting resources from investment to meet rising local government bills unprotected by a retail price index cap.The other threat is devaluation, even though this is one which Labour has gone out of its way to stress is not real"—unlike the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who was all for it in today's debate.We're very much opposed to devaluation but there are siren voices in the Labour party talking about that, he says.All these add up to inflation, each percentage point increase in which he says costs business £5 billion a year.That is what the CBI thinks of the prospect of a Labour Government. It is not impressed by the 283 quangos which Labour would invent, and does not want social audits, contract compliance, work force monitoring and other such stuff. Mr. Banham has no doubt noticed what Conservative Members have noticed about the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East—he says nothing about inflation. The hon. Member for Derby, South mentioned inflation only to make a trivial point about marginal changes of fractions of a percentage point between just under 4 per cent. and just over 4 per cent. When she was last a Minister, inflation averaged 15.5 per cent. and peaked at 28 per cent. Therefore, I do not find that very convincing.
No doubt, when Mr. Banham mentions public sector pay, he is also aware that there has never been a strike during the Government's lifetime that was not fully supported by the Labour party. He is aware of the Labour party's proposals for the minimum wage. The only thing that independent commentators disagree about over the minimum wage is how much unemployment it will cause. It is a case of, "You pays your money and you takes your choice." Nomura Securities starts low and says it will cost 145,000 jobs, James Capel says that it will cost 166,000, the CBI says that it will cost 200,000 to 300,000, UBS Phillips and Drew says that it will cost 400,000 for stage 1, up to 50 per cent., and 1.25 million for stage 2, up to 66 per cent. Even the Fabian Society says that it will cost almost 900,000 jobs. No wonder the CBI is not struck on the minimum wage. We only have to think what the national minimum wage would cost the national health service—at least half a billion pounds. The total cost to the public sector would be about one and a half billion pounds, without any increase in the productive capacity of the economy.
Mr. Banham is not impressed by the Labour party's proposals to remove the caps from local government expenditure.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I was not going to bother to intervene, but, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps going on about Mr. Banham, I shall ask him the following question: is he aware that Mr. Banham still supports the poll tax? Would he like to say more about that?
§ Mr. Mellor
I was about to tell the hon. Lady something even more interesting. It is all very well the hon. Lady criticising Mr. Banham, now she knows the real nature of his views, but she was giving an entirely misleading impression to the House about what the CBI thought.
In his interview with The Guardian, Mr. Banham was referring to the fact that, although the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East has been extremely coy about saying what the Labour policy will be, one or two Labour spokesmen are not so coy. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) still occasionally plays the part of wild, colonial boy. In a debate with the Secretary of State for the Environment he said:Unlike the Secretary of State, I shall be precise. There will be no provision for capping in any legislation that we introduce."—[Official Report, 6 November 1991; Vol. 198, c. 472.]It remains to be seen quite what will happen to the British economy and British business if there is some outrageous increase in the already outrageous spending of most of the Labour councils.
The Labour party has made a great deal of investment and training, which seems to be its answer to every difficult question. If we have a flu epidemic this winter, its answer to it will no doubt be investment and training. However, the Government's record on investment is extremely good. Business investment at constant 1985 prices—comparing like with like—is £36.6 billion in 1979, £56.7 billion in 1989, £56.4 billion in 1990. Even though, as the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East said, there has been a falling-off in investment, it is still forecast that investment will be more than £50 billion this year. For business to be investing this year, even in a recession, almost 40 per cent. more in real terms than in 1978–79, which passes under a Labour Government for a good year, is an astonishing sign of how much investment has increased.
A former adviser to the Labour party, Mr. Gavyn Davies, said in his column in The Independent the other day—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] It is no good Opposition Members asking, "Who?" They know only too well who he is, and if they do not, they should ask his wife, who works for the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Gavyn Davies—the Opposition know who I mean now—said that business investment had settled at 14.1 per cent. of GDP in the second half of this year, which was a remarkably high level bearing in mind that we are in a recession. When we consider the figures for investment in plant and machinery, they seem even more significant. At constant 1985 prices, the investment was more than £32 billion in 1990 and less than £20 billion in 1979.
In addition, because low corporation tax has given businesses the incentive to invest where they see fit, the quality of investment has improved. The productivity of capital fell by 1.5 per cent. per year under Labour, but it has risen on average during the lifetime of this Government. It has risen more than in the United States, Japan, Germany, France or Italy where it fell during the period of this Government.
If one wants a real comparison of investment in the British economy with investment in the rest of the Group 495 of Seven, in the 1970s growth of investment in the British economy was 2.3 per cent. a year while in the Group of Seven it averaged 3.1 per cent. In the 1980s, growth in the United Kingdom each year on average was 6.7 per cent. while the G7 average increase was 4.6 per cent.
Honest to goodness, I do not think that we need any lectures from the Labour party on investment. It is a bit like being lectured by miss Elizabeth Taylor on the sanctity of marriage.
§ Mr. Mellor
I have not used that one before as it happens. I am not sure whether anyone else has, but I have not. I shall not use it again. That is its final appearance. If only the right hon. and learned Gentleman could say the same about most of the points that he makes.
I was up in the north last week and we saw the Nissan plant—[Interruption.] No, well north of Watford, almost in the territory occupied by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I was not quite brave enough to stick my nose into his constituency, but I was almost there. There is the Nissan plant at Sunderland and the Fujitsu plant at Aycliffe which has created 1,500 jobs and had £600 million worth of investment. That is the kind of thing that the Labour party should be jumping up and down about saying, "Jolly good thing too that more than 50 per cent. of inward investment in 1990 from the United States and Japan came to Britain." But at the Trades Union Congress a motion was passed saying that that investment is alien. The motion was proposed by that dreadful old Stalinist, Mr. Ken Gill. Mr. Jack Adams, the number two in the Leader of the Opposition's own union, the Transport and General Workers Union, has just been elected and takes up his post next March. He is a communist. Why worry about communism in the Soviet Union? Communism in the Soviet Union might have gone, but in the TUC it is alive and well and passing motions.
The sad thing is that, notwithstanding the outrageous nature of that motion which Mr. Gavin Laird said was sheer hypocrisy and racism, not a word of criticism of anything like that strength has been levelled by the Opposition Front Bench about it. The Opposition should not talk to us about investment when they talk in that way about major countries investing in Britain.
Then we have all the points about training. Once again, we will have much more sympathy with the Labour party's view on training when the Leader of the Opposition's union, which also sponsors the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who leads for the Labour party on these matters, stops passing motions to boycott employment training, youth training, employment action and TECs. It would be much more convincing if the Labour party could persuade the TGWU to co-operate. Then we might believe that it would do something about the country if it was ever given a chance to run it.
The Labour party has not told us a jot about what it would do. What is the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East so bothered about when it comes to telling us what the Labour party would do if in office on the crucial issue of economic management? Is he worried that we might pinch his ideas if he tells us what they are? The only thing that we would do is to pinch ourselves to make sure that we were not dreaming.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is an eloquent man and, like me, has a previous incarnation at the Bar. I 496 cannot help feeling that he has all the eloquence necessary to deploy his case if he sees fit, but that he takes the same attitude that we used to take at the Bar when representing a particularly dodgy client who, when one realised that his story would not stand up but that he was determined nevertheless to plead not guilty, would be advised not to give evidence on his own behalf. That is precisely the attitude that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking towards the Labour party's economic policy. It is all pretty blatant.
I have with me a document—it is well-thumbed, because I recite it to myself of a night, when I am bored —entitled "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change: A New Agenda for Britain." On page 8 there are some solemn words, given added solemnity by the fact that there is a facsimile signature at the bottom of them. It is in joined-up writing, which is suspicious, but it purports to be the signature of the Leader of the Opposition. The presence of that facsimile signature is obviously intended to give added value to the words set out therein:At the time of the next General Election, we will set out the accurate costs of our manifesto proposals in the light of the economic situation we are likely to inherit and the priorities which we consider most urgent.What could be clearer, yet on 26 September the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who is Labour's campaigns organiser, told us that that pledge was inoperative, and that Labour is not going to do that. I will be corrected if the hon. Gentleman did not say that.
Why the change? I will give way if any member of Labour's Front Bench will tell me. Was the hon. Member for Copeland right when he said that, despite that facsimile signature being put to those solemn words, Labour do not intend to do what they say?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] We are used to Labour breaking its promises after a general election, but to do so even before the next general election campaign begins really is something else. It was worth giving up the Mozart death night concert that I planned to attend just for that.
Although the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East is eloquent, plainly he has lost his voice. And well he might. What does Labour party policy amount to? Its interest rates policy used to be known as Monklands law—whatever interest rates are, Labour will take I per cent. off them. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East seems to have changed his mind as the evil hour of the election draws near.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The evil hour for him, not for me. I am looking forward to the general election.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was asked about interest rates on "The World at One" on 15 November, we did not get the 1 per cent. figure, but these words:I would have to take advice about it, and see what the situation was. I would be pushing to try to get it, but the timing of it is of course always a matter of judgment.What is the reason for that sudden change of tune? The right hon. and learned Gentleman used to sound ever so certain that 1 per cent. off interest rates would be the answer to everything.
Perhaps it has dawned on the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the real problem for Labour is not how much they can take down interest rates, but by how much they will have to put them up because of the collapse of confidence that would be the consequence of a Labour Government being elected.
497 The hon. Member for Derby, South trailed her coat a bit. She started doing that on the "Today" programme this morning. I will come to that later. She continued that process this evening, by quoting Professor Douglas McWilliams, chief economic adviser to the Confederation of British Industry. However, she did not quote his words from The Independent on 6 September, when he warned that if Labour won the next general election,
"interest rates would probably have to rise for several months, in order to convince the currency markets that devaluation of the pound was not in prospect."
Let us have a little parlour game at this stage in the proceedings, to liven things up. Who on the Opposition Benches can answer this? What do the following groups have in common—James Capel DJB, Goldman Sachs, Midland Montague, NatWest, Nomura, and UBS Phillips and Drew? They have in common the fact that they have all warned against higher interest rates under a Labour Government. That is the prevailing view that Labour must deal with. Small wonder that Monklands law has been abolished. However, it is not only that law which has died lately. We also have to mourn the death of Beckett's law, which is that whatever other promises may be scattered to the four winds—and there have been many of them—Labour makes only two pledges. They are to increase pensions, and to increase child benefit.
On the "Today" programme the hon. Lady made an appearance, which I hope all hon. Members heard, in which she commended a motion which contains a number of expenditure commitments, not one of which is part of Beckett's law, and made it clear that this was what the Labour party was committed to. But she said that it was cost free.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not got quite the brass neck to say that it is cost free. He admitted on an earlier occasion that one element in it would cost £900 million. He admitted thatReinstating the training programme"—these are his exact words on Radio 4—and bringing in the temporary work programme, we calculated in terms of the budget of somewhere about £900 million.Then he went on to say these wonderful words, which show that, despite the fact that he may look like a bank manager, he does not always act like one:which isn't a great deal actually in the context of public expenditure.That is a wonderful attitude. A billion here, a billion there; soon he will be talking real money.
Then we had the hon. Lady's celebrated passage on privatisation. Here we really do have an extraordinary instance of the left hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. The hon. Lady is now engaged in an exciting conversation with the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East. She is opting out at this point, but it will get more interesting if she will bear with me. She may be against privatisation but she said that she was looking forward to pocketing the proceeds in order to balance the books if her party was elected. Indeed, she sounded as if she quite relished the idea, and she ran off the names of the organisations to whose privatisation she referred, despite the fact that her party is committed to renationalising them. Furthermore, if she had read The Guardian before she got into the radio car this morning she would have seen 498 that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) was accusing the Government of wasting taxpayers' money subsidising the £5.5 billion sale of shares in British Telecom, the proceeds of which seem to be a key part of her policy for meeting expenditure if she is elected.
Indeed, when it comes to the question of renationalisation, the Labour party gets ever so coy. On Saturday The Times did a survey. It was excitingly headlined "Spotlight on Labour's financial wares". They wanted to ask questions about renationalisation. Apparently all the members of the shadow Cabinet were at lunch or dinner or otherwise unavailable, so a gentleman called Geoff Mulgan, senior research assistant to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, was put up. He could be a distant relative of Dave Spart, who knows? He was asked first about electricity renationalisation, and he said—hon. Members must listen to this:There will be no need for cash. We will make use of the complex web of debts and stakes in other generating companies. There will be no increase in the PSBR.One would have thought that he had been asked a question about the Maxwell empire.
Then the going got a bit hot for Mr. Geoff Mulgan, cousin of Mr. Dave Spart; he was asked about buying back the water companies. Here he got ever so hesitant and said this:I can't say how we will do it. The uncertainties that exist here would make it foolish of me to be more specific.That is the ringing manifesto on which 12 years of Tory misrule are to be brought to an end.
The only thing that is worse than that is the right hon. Gentleman's statement when producing his £2 billion package for manufacturing. When asked where the money was to come from, he said that it would come from better collection of tax revenues, the idea being that the Inland Revenue would collect the taxes as well as most Labour councils collect the rubbish. He got the idea of those £2 billion of tax revenues just waiting around for the election from the tax inspectors' union. The reality, as I understand it from the Inland Revenue, is that it is most unlikely that those proceeds would be available. If they were, it would take between 1,650 and 5,000 extra tax inspectors to collect them, and it takes four to five years to train a tax inspector. Yet that is to pay for the Labour party's manufacturing policy in its first year of government.
I end by thinking—[HON. MEMBERS: "More."]—but I think that they have had enough.
§ Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 204, Noes 312.502
|Division No. 23]||[10 pm|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.)||Beggs, Roy|
|Allen, Graham||Belth, A. J.|
|Anderson, Donald||Bell, Stuart|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Bellotti, David|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Benn, Rt Hon Tony|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)|
|Ashton, Joe||Benton, Joseph|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Boateng, Paul|
|Battle, John||Boyes, Roland|
|Beckett, Margaret||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Illsley, Eric|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Ingram, Adam|
|Caborn, Richard||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)|
|Callaghan, Jim||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Kennedy, Charles|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Canavan, Dennis||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Kumar, Dr. Ashok|
|Cartwright, John||Lamond, James|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Clay, Bob||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Clelland. David||Lewis, Terry|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Livingstone, Ken|
|Cohen, Harry||Livsey, Richard|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Corbett, Robin||Loyden, Eddie|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||McAllion, John|
|Cox, Tom||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Crowther, Stan||McCartney, Ian|
|Cryer, Bob||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Cummings, John||McFall, John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Cunningham, Dr John||McKelvey, William|
|Dalyell, Tarn||McLeish, Henry|
|Darling, Alistair||Maclennan, Robert|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||McMaster, Gordon|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Dewar, Donald||Madden, Max|
|Dixon, Don||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Dobson, Frank||Marek, Dr John|
|Doran, Frank||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Duffy, Sir A. E. P.||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Martlew, Eric|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Maxton, John|
|Eadie, Alexander||Meacher, Michael|
|Enright, Derek||Meale, Alan|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Michael, Alun|
|Fatchett, Derek||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Fearn, Ronald||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Fisher, Mark||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Flannery, Martin||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Foster, Derek||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Foulkes, George||Mullin, Chris|
|Fraser, John||Murphy, Paul|
|Fyfe, Maria||Nellist, Dave|
|Galloway, George||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||O'Brien, William|
|Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)||O'Hara, Edward|
|George, Bruce||O'Neill, Martin|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Patchett, Terry|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Pendry, Tom|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Pike, Peter L.|
|Gordon, Mildred||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Gould, Bryan||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Graham, Thomas||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Radice, Giles|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Randall, Stuart|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Grocott, Bruce||Richardson, Jo|
|Hain, Peter||Robertson, George|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Rooker, Jeff|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Rooney, Terence|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Henderson, Doug||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hinchliffe, David||Ruddock, Joan|
|Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)||Salmond, Alex|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Home Robertson, John||Sheerman, Barry|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Howells, Geraint||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hoyle, Doug||Short, Clare|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Hume, John||Soley, Clive|
|Spearing, Nigel||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Stott, Roger||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Strang, Gavin||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Straw, Jack||Wilson, Brian|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Winnick, David|
|Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Turner, Dennis||Worthington, Tony|
|Vaz, Keith||Wray, Jimmy|
|Warden, Gareth (Gower)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wareing, Robert N.||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)||Mr. Ken Eastham.|
|Adley, Robert||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Curry, David|
|Alexander, Richard||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Day, Stephen|
|Amess, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Amos, Alan||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Arbuthnot, James||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas||Dover, Den|
|Ashby, David||Dunn, Bob|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Atkins, Robert||Dykes, Hugh|
|Atkinson, David||Eggar, Tim|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Baldry, Tony||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fallon, Michael|
|Bendall, Vivian||Farr, Sir John|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Favell, Tony|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Body, Sir Richard||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Forman, Nigel|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Boswell, Tim||Forth, Eric|
|Bottomley, Peter||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n)||Franks, Cecil|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Freeman, Roger|
|Bowis, John||French, Douglas|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Gale, Roger|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Brazier, Julian||Gill, Christopher|
|Bright, Graham||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Glyn, Dr Sir Alan|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Gorst, John|
|Burns, Simon||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Burt, Alistair||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Butler, Chris||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Butterfill, John||Gregory, Conal|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Grist, Ian|
|Carrington, Matthew||Ground, Patrick|
|Carttiss, Michael||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Cash, William||Hague, William|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Chope, Christopher||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Churchill, Mr||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Clark, Rt Hon Sir William||Harris, David|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Colvin, Michael||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Conway, Derek||Hayes, Jerry|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Hayward, Robert|
|Cormack, Patrick||Heath, Rt Hon Edward|
|Couchman, James||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Cran, James||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Hill, James||Neale, Sir Gerrard|
|Hind, Kenneth||Needham, Richard|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Norris, Steve|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Page, Richard|
|Hunter, Andrew||Paice, James|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Irvine, Michael||Patnick, Irvine|
|Jack, Michael||Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)|
|Janman, Tim||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Jessel, Toby||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Pawsey, James|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Portillo, Michael|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Key, Robert||Price, Sir David|
|Kilfedder, James||Raffan, Keith|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Rathbone, Tim|
|Knapman, Roger||Redwood, John|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Rhodes James, Sir Robert|
|Knox, David||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Latham, Michael||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Shelton, Sir William|
|Lord, Michael||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Shersby, Michael|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Sims, Roger|
|Maclean, David||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Madel, David||Squire, Robin|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Malins, Humfrey||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Mans, Keith||Steen, Anthony|
|Maples, John||Stern, Michael|
|Marland, Paul||Stevens, Lewis|
|Marlow, Tony||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)||Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Sumberg, David|
|Mates, Michael||Summerson, Hugo|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Mills, Iain||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Thorne, Neil|
|Mitchell, Sir David||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Moate, Roger||Thurnham, Peter|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Morrison, Sir Charles||Tracey, Richard|
|Tredinnick, David||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Trippier, David||Wilkinson, John|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Wilshire, David|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Waldegrave, Rt Hon William||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Walden, George||Wolfson, Mark|
|Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)||Wood, Timothy|
|Waller, Gary||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Walters, Sir Dennis||Yeo, Tim|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Warren, Kenneth||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Wells, Bowen||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wheeler, Sir John||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Whitney, Ray||Mr. John M. Taylor.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
§ MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
§ That this House welcomes Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement, which reaffirmed the Government's forecast of a modest recovery in the second half of 1991, with growth gathering pace in 1992; notes that the total output of the British economy rose in the third quarter of 1991, providing further confirmation of this forecast; and congratulates the Government on its sound and prudent economic policies, which have reduced inflation from nearly 11 per cent. to under 4 per cent., have allowed interest rates to be reduced from 15 per cent. to 10½ per cent. and have laid the foundations for sustained non-inflationary growth.