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Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that more could have been done for the Ravenscraig plant, which is in the area where I live? If those jobs and the industry had been protected there, we would not be in the current position.
Mr. Evans: Ravenscraig is an example of the devastation that has occurred in that area, but it cannot be corrected overnight. The closure has had an enormous impact throughout the area, and it took place several years ago. That is why I hope that we will redouble our efforts. There is a lot of talk, but we need action. That is what the Corus workers will be looking for--not a meeting with the Welsh Assembly or the Prime Minister, and so on.
The Government should be looking at the fact that rules and regulations cost an extra £5 billion and that taxation on business involves an extra £5 billion. The Government are fixated on the euro. They are telling industry to prepare for a switch to the euro, which is putting enormous costs on industry. Let us concentrate on manufacturing and find out how we can assist it. That is an enormous responsibility for the Government, but they must act now.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): I shall never cease to be amazed by the brass-necked audacity of the Tories. I worked in manufacturing industry throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and I watched at close quarters as the Tories vandalised and almost completely devastated our manufacturing base. I was employed for most of the period by a paper machine manufacturer, and there were 3,000 when the Conservatives first came to office. As the trade union representative, I took part in all the frequent redundancy discussions that occurred during those years.
The Tories then in government viewed those job losses as statistics--casualties of the market. We were exhorted to stop whingeing and to get on our bikes and find a job, but I knew those people personally. Every forced redundancy was, and is, a personal tragedy, involving not just the workers themselves but their families and communities. Redundancy can be a brutal affair.
In the early 1970s, I worked in a small factory as one of three vertical machinists in the machine shop. The company decided to reduce its numbers and to make one vertical machinist redundant. I had two small children at the time, and hon. Members can imagine the tension that we felt when I went home, knowing that the odds were only 2:1. I fully expected that I would be chosen because I was the last to start working there, and we had to wait two agonising weeks while the company made up its mind.
On the day of the decision, the foreman walked around the shop-floor, clutching a wad of brown envelopes, which he handed out here and there. We all knew exactly what they were. He passed me by without giving me an envelope, and I still remember the feeling of relief and guilt, because I knew that one of the other two would be going on the dole.
The management had decided to pick the man on the night-shift, because he was the only one who was not married. Some people might think that that was a fair decision, but he did not appreciate it and I very much doubt whether a tribunal would find such a reason acceptable today. The management delivered his brown envelope to his house while he was in bed. We all found the experience of being made redundant humiliating. It made us feel as though we had done something wrong.
I have recalled just one incident, but, over the years, there were thousands of similar experiences. Slowly but surely, the 3,000 of us were gradually whittled away with redundancy after redundancy--100 here, 50 there. It happened in factory after factory right across the country, but especially in the north. My Conservative predecessor, Peter Thurnham--who later joined the Liberal
It was not just incompetence, although the Conservatives' monetaristic ideas certainly displayed some of that. It may well have been acceptable, or at least understandable, if their policy had been successful, but, in reality, it was an economic disaster, from which we may never recover as a nation. We will certainly never be the same again. The responsibility for that will remain with the Conservatives, especially with their hero Margaret Thatcher, who did more damage to Britain's industrial base than Adolf Hitler achieved in the whole of the second world war.
I watched as thousands of highly trained and highly skilled craftsmen were driven into any job that they could find--should they be so lucky. At the same time, there was a virtual end to the training of apprentices. The termination of so many apprenticeship opportunities is comparable to a premier league football club abolishing its youth policy. It is not possible to have a successful football team without nurturing young talent, and we will not have a successful manufacturing sector without providing the necessary skills to our young people. During those Conservative years, Britain lost one of its most valuable assets--the skills of our people. They were sacrificed on the altar of market forces. We lost a generation of talent, and it will take mammoth effort to halt the slide of our manufacturing base.
In my constituency this week, Sandusky Walmsley--my old company--announced more redundancies. My predecessor blamed such a decline of industry on militant trade unions, yet Walmsley has good industrial relations and has not experienced a single minute of industrial action for more than 20 years. In the early 1980s, more than 17,000 people were unemployed in my constituency, and the unemployment rate in Bolton was more than 17 per cent. Today, my constituency has an unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent. and slightly more than 1,700 people claim benefit. It lessens the pain when alternative jobs are available, but the jobs that replace those in manufacturing are rarely better than the jobs that people previously held. That is especially true of people who are older and less able to retrain.
I recognise that the Government have done much good work for manufacturing, but there is clearly much more to do, especially in the north-west. We are still losing jobs, in particular in textiles and engineering. I very much welcome their efforts and this week's announcement of £54 million for the regional innovation fund. That can only help, especially in the north and the west midlands, which will be main beneficiaries. However, there is only so much that direct Government assistance can do. The high value of the pound against the euro is, quite frankly, much more important.
I am certainly not a euro enthusiast. I was born right after the war and brought up on war comics and black and white movies about the evils of the third Reich, but that is all behind us. To be anti-European when our involvement in Europe is clearly in the best interests of our country is pure stupidity; it is based on the ignorance of sheer prejudice.
I accept that entry into the euro will inevitably mean a loss of sovereignty. Labour's proposed referendum on that will enable the public to decide. We must engage in an intelligent and informed debate on the subject that weighs the loss of sovereignty against our prospects for economic survival. But who took us down the long European road to the point at which we have no choice but to join the euro? It was, of course, the Conservative party under the leadership of Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major. They made our membership of a common currency virtually inevitable. If that is the case--I believe that it is--we had better make the best of it and become members at the right time and at the right level while there is still something left of our manufacturing base.
The Government have provided a stable economic climate. We have low inflation, low unemployment, strong public finances and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to regenerate Britain's proud history of production. I call on the Government not to concentrate only on the large company job losses in the car manufacturing and steel industries--important though they are--but to keep a wary eye on the supply chain of industry, which is suffering the slow trickle of decline in small company after small company. It will only be with the success of small energetic enterprises that we will secure a stronger industrial base and a healthy manufacturing future.
Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): I must declare an interest. I have connections with a couple of companies that supply manufactured goods, service manufactured goods and repair manufactured goods.
My first pleasurable task is to congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) on his maiden speech. Every hon. Member vividly remembers his or her maiden speech, and he can recall his with pride because he delivered it in a positive and humorous way. As a by-election victor myself, I know the trials and tribulations that he had to go through to get to this place. It is slightly different to the easier ride of a general election. I congratulate him on that and commend him for the tactful way in which he referred to the splendid independence of his predecessor.
Let me just give the hon. Member for Falkirk, West a tad of advice. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant)--who, I must warn, leads people astray--suggested that the hon. Gentleman should sit on the same Bench as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I have to tell him that that is the old lags' Bench. If he goes there, it will be a career-inhibiting move and, as he has only just arrived in the House, I suggest that he chooses a more up-market Bench from which to start his political career.