HC Deb 12 January 1981 vol 996 cc735-6
5. Mr. John Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he has any new proposals to assist British manufacturing industry.

6. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he proposes to take any new initiatives to halt the decline of British industry.

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government's present policies are providing a sound basis for future industrial strength. Inflation is coming down and measures already taken to reduce obstacles will produce good results when the upturn comes. The real need is for improved average competitiveness, and this depends on the enterprise and competence of management and the co-operation with management of the work force to improve productivity, unit labour costs and profit.

Mr. Evans

Is the Secretary of State sure that he has read the right answer to my question? Will he confirm that most opinion in the country is that Government policies over the past 18 months have proved disastrous for British manufacturing industry and that, unless there is a radical change, there is great danger that if the world economy picks up there will be very little British manufacturing industry left to take advantage of it?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is either indulging in humbug or is misunderstanding the position. British manufacturing industry is witnessing the consequences of years of decline in competitiveness, largely due to unrealistic practices on the shop floor, excessive wage claims and a refusal to achieve the higher productivity which alone will secure more employment and higher living standards. That is the truth, and I am sure that most people understand it.

Mr. Canavan

In view of today's reports about the Talbot car company, will the Government give all the necessary financial assistance to enable the production of a new car to go ahead at Linwood, otherwise there could be the loss of up to 9,000 jobs in car manufacturing and also in the steel and component industries? Is the Secretary of State aware that such assistance would be welcomed widely as a sign that he is now adopting a more interventionist industrial strategy, instead of just standing by with his hands in his monetarist pockets while British industry collapses all round him?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman does not phrase his question in a way that makes it very tempting for me to give him a positive answer. It is, of course, a quite different question from the one on the Order Paper.

Mr. John Page

Having studied the responsibilities and the brilliant experience of the dynamic Ministers in my right hon. Friend's new team, may ask him whether he is aware that there are smaller businesses in both the older sectors and the newer sectors? Will he see to it that the responsibilities for smaller businesses are co-ordinated and looked at carefully in the whole range of his Department?

Sir Keith Joseph

The answer is certainly "Yes." My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), who has been translated to other responsibilities, made a great name for himself both in the House and in the country for his constructive dedication to the cause of small businesses. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) is equally keen and very able and will have my ardent support in securing my hon. Friend's purposes.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

In considering these matters, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that industrial decline is not necessarily the same as economic decline?

Sir Keith Joseph

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is not necessary to have either if people generally understand economic reality and that cooperation between work forces and managements is the way to fuller employment and higher living standards.

Mr. Adley

By the phrase "modern industry", does my right hon. Friend mean, in the context of the question, British manufacturing plants established by overseas investors? Is it the policy of the Government to encourage overseas investment, and does my right hon. Friend see any reason, for instance, to differentiate between an American company which wants to build a factory here and a Japanese company which wants to do the same?

Sir Keith Joseph

We encourage inward investment where it makes sense in the national interest, just as we hope that our investment abroad is encouraged universally.

Mr. Orme

Is the Secretary of State aware that British industry will note that today he has given it no hope and no new proposals? Instead of blaming workers in industry, will the right hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the lack of investment in previous years in manufacturing industry, the present value of the pound, energy costs and the lack of public investment generally? When will the right hon. Gentleman take action in that direction?

Sir Keith Joseph

It would be a great help if the right hon. Gentleman would recognise that what this country has lacked is not investment but good use of the investment which has been made. In more and more cases, alas, existing investment has been underused and overmanned. That is why we have become so uncompetitive.