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We all remember the dramas and the traumas of the mid-1970s. We were the sick man of Europe and had 26 per cent. inflation. I am grateful because but for that, I would not have been successful in a by-election in a strong Labour seat. Equally, we can all remember the difficulties that we faced in overcoming the problems of the nationalised industries, which were grossly overmanned in the 1980s. We can go on and on, and even go back to William the Conqueror to make all the necessary partisan points. However, that would not be helpful. We must look to the future and consider what we can do to help.
The Labour party had 18 years in opposition to prepare its policies and it has had four years to implement them. However, the present position is very worrying for manufacturing. Something is certainly going wrong. I know that it will not help the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) and his career, but I agree with much of what he said. We have an exporting tradition and we should change the culture of investment. Our companies that do well, such as the pharmaceutical companies, have a culture of extra investment in their businesses. They invest a greater percentage than firms in many other sectors.
Members on both sides of the House, with the exception of members of the Government, are aware of the difficulties facing manufacturing industry. I remind the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) of what he said in Trade and Industry questions last week. He asked the Minister of Trade:
Mr. Crausby: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that manufacturing industry has declined in the north-west, because the industrial base has been damaged to the point that there are not the skills available to provide local industries with the people they need?
Mr. Page: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned this issue, because it helps me to explain why he is living in the past. Last year was dominated by the problems of the motor manufacturing industry--by the threats to the future of BMW in the midlands, the prospective closure of the Ford plant at Dagenham and the end of the Vauxhall plant in Luton. The only exception is
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) was right. We must have a critical mass of various activities, such as motor sport and the steel industry, in this country. If we do not have such a critical mass, we will suffer the downside. Smaller businesses suffer because they will not be able to supply a main industry and many redundancies will result.
The prime example of that problem is Corus. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said that there could be 4,500 redundancies but, every time I see a figure, the number seems to rise. The last figure that I saw was 6,000. I sincerely hope that it is not correct.
Not only Conservatives Members express concern about unemployment. Only a few months ago, John Monks said that he anticipated that unemployment in manufacturing will rise at the rate of 10,000 every month--a staggering amount and a worrying figure.
Two debates on manufacturing have been held in Westminster Hall recently. I have accused the Government of abandoning manufacturing and, if not the crime of malice, of the sin of indifference. I am glad that the Minister for Competitiveness has just arrived; he is his normal charming self. He said:
The plain fact is that matters are being allowed to slide. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) pointed out that, in the early 1990s under a Conservative Government, there was a continual and steady rise in employment in manufacturing as opposed to the collapse in the number of jobs by 350,000 that has occurred since 1997. The prospects are worse.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) made some valid and telling points. I do not normally like to agree with the Liberal Democrats, but I will on this occasion. He mentioned the way in which unit labour costs have moved. Relative to our major competitors, they have moved by 45 per cent. since 1995. There are also serious underlying trends in the balance of trade. Export volumes have risen by 38.5 per cent. over that period while import volumes have risen by 57.7 per cent. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East pointed out, we are an exporting nation. When our imports start to exceed our exports, that is a sign of trouble.
Overall manufacturing output rose by only 2.2 per cent. between 1995 and 1999, and that is lower than our GDP growth of 2.9 per cent. in the past 12 months. The relative strength of sterling against the euro and the dollar has made our exports less competitive and Member after Member has driven that point home. However, I do not know whether the Government have taken the message on board.
It is no surprise that the Government do not wish to address these serious issues--they are far too embarrassing for them. However, we have a positive programme to help manufacturing. First, we would remove the damaging climate change levy. We are below
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said, the levy is a blunt instrument that is not properly tuned to the needs of our industry. I noted how dismissive some Labour Members were; the Secretary of State seemed to regard the cost of £100 million as a mere bagatelle. However, £100 million is a lot of money to manufacturing industry and such a cost would be a hammer blow to something that is already being hit.
The Conservative party would have a seat for manufacturing industry on our council of economic advisers to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the shadow Chancellor takes on that role. We want manufacturing to be at the heart of the political process.
Several of my hon. Friends spoke about deregulation. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield made a powerful speech and I shall return to that shortly. However, the British Chambers of Commerce has estimated that industry will face an enormous bill of approaching £10 billion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) rightly discussed the pound and the euro. He made some positive points. Until the Chancellor stops his fiscal policy of spending more money than we earn, our interest rates will not come down sufficiently to enable the pound to reach a better level against other currencies.
We have also made commitments to help small village shops by a reduction in their rates and we have a clear policy for 3p off fuel. To put it delicately, the Government's policy on fuel is slightly unclear.
I want to put some flesh on to the bones of our deregulation policy. We have a positive policy that we have announced and shall use. Its main element is an independent assessment process outside of government, so that officials will not decide whether the regulations that they have drawn up will have a particular impact. We will appoint independent people who know industry and who know what is what. They will provide the advice.
I have to smile recalling that, when my party was in government, jumping about at the Opposition Dispatch Box was the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), now a Home Office Minister. I have to commend the hon. Lady on having brilliantly badgered and harried us about our efforts on deregulation; sometimes, she tabled 50 questions in one week--bang, bang, bang. She said that when a Labour Government came to power, they would do something magnificent. She spoke the truth. The Labour Government broke the record: in 1999, they introduced more than 3,700 new regulations, and every figure emerging now suggests that in 2000 they managed to top that record of hammer blows on industry.
Of course, the deregulation unit is in place and working to remove regulations that are crippling our industry. I recently heard about the unit's major triumph: it has done away with a restriction on Sunday dancing. Hon. Members can now dance on a Sunday without fear of the