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Mr. Newton : I am afraid that the information immediately available to me is not quite as up to date as that reported by my hon. Friend. In the light of what he has said, however, his concern is understandable and I will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on railway safety and inquire into whether, during the present industrial dispute, members of British Rail management have been operating signal boxes without the right certificates of safety ? Will he also note that I raised that point on another occasion ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Lady will be aware that comments have been made on that matter to the effect that there is no reason to suppose that danger has been incurred by anybody for the reasons that she seeks to imply. Of course, I will bring the question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Madam Speaker : With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to statutory instruments.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the draft Fair Trading Act (Amendment) (Merger
Prenotification) Regulations 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Anti-Competitive Practices (Exclusions) (Amendment) Order 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 1557) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Needham) : The House has had several debates on exports over the past few months, but, as I have been away trying to get business for the United Kingdom, I have unfortunately been unable to attend them. I welcome this opportunity to take part in such a debate because I believe that there is now an enormous chance to rebuild Britain's share of world trade. The United Kingdom's present position is one both of hope and of opportunity because, in the past 15 years, two revolutionary changes have transformed the opportunities that now confront us. The first is the transformation in industrial relations. I am sure that the present dispute is purely a hiccup in Britain's advance from the appalling problems of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The number of working days lost due to labour disputes in 1993 was 600,000 compared with 29 million in 1979. Fewer days were lost during the whole of the past nine years than in the single year of 1979 alone. I am also glad to say that the message is getting through to the most important trade unions in the country.
I mentioned to the House yesterday a brochure produced by the Amalgamated Engineering Union called "The Dawn of a New Era : Improving Industrial Relations". One of the first statements that it contains is :
"The new age of industrial relations in Britain means a more common-sense approach to trade unionism is needed if companies are going to prosper."
That is a fundamental change from the 1970s, when management spent most of their time closeted with their shop stewards while union bosses spent most of their time, having lost total control of their membership, in No. 10 Downing street trying to run the country. All that has changed. We are not returning to Victorian-style management, but are achieving a genuine wish by everyone in business and industry to work together for a common cause. The effects of that can be seen in our economy. Manufacturing industry invested a greater proportion of its output in the 1980s than in the 1970s. Profitability of manufacturing since 1980 has averaged 5.2 per cent., compared with 3.4 per cent. between 1974 and 1979. Growth in business investment in the 1980s was faster than in any other major industrialised country except Japan. Compared to 1979, investment in plant and machinery is nearly 50 per cent. higher. Over the last economic cycle, manufacturing investment increased by nearly a fifth and business investment by more than half. We have attracted the lion's share of inward investment into the EC-- more than 40 per cent. from Japan and nearly 40 per cent. from the United States. Even in the constituency of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), there have been six investment projects in 1993-94, involving a total plan investment of £15 million and some 500 jobs. With one or two notable exceptions, Labour Members say that there is a decline in manufacturing. That is nonsense. Since 1981, output has risen by a quarter, productivity by nearly three quarters and exports by three quarters.
So that is the first revolutionary change that has occurred. The second, which has been just as important, has been the privatisation of our public monopolies and
Column 384basic industries--the water industry, British Telecom, British Gas, the electricity industry, the nuclear industry, British airports and British ports. None of those either exported or invested abroad before 1979. British Steel, British Leyland and British shipbuilding were all in terminal decline. They had appalling labour relations, poor quality and out-dated products, and were under-invested. Those companies are now becoming major contributors to Britain's export effort and invisible trade surplus.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : The Minister mentioned two profound changes in the landscape over the past 10 years. Will he add a third--the profound swathe of destruction over much of manufacturing industry, which happened just over 10 years ago as a result of the Government's exchange rate policy ?
Mr. Needham : The hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said about manufacturing output, which has risen by 25 per cent., and about the success that Britain's manufacturing industry has had in increasing its productivity, efficiency and investment. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there was a decline in Britain's manufacturing in the early 1980s. The reason for that was that, in the 1960s and 1970s, Britain's management could not manage. It could not make profits, and managers spent their life in endless debate with shop stewards. The Government, particularly the Labour Government, had no control over the trade union movement, which did enormous damage to Britain's image and industrial infrastructure. Only when the Conservatives returned to power in 1979 did investment from overseas start to flow back into the country and British manufacturing companies start to re-invest here rather than go overseas.
Had the Labour party been in government since 1979, would trade union labour relations have been reformed ? Would a Labour Government have reformed the labour relations system, as we have ? I spent the first four years of my time in this House listening to Labour Members oppose every measure that the Government brought on to the Floor of the House.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : Is not the Opposition's true interest in how well our industry is doing shown by the fact that, at the opening of this important debate, only two Labour Back-Bench Members are present ?
Mr. Needham : I shall discuss my hon. Friend's argument later, because indifference towards exporting characterises the Labour party, with the honourable exception of the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar), who are in the Chamber.
Does anyone suggest that, had the Labour party been in power, we would have had privatisation ? Would we have made that enormous change, which has allowed our former public monopolies--now our private companies--to go overseas to trade and export ? Are any Labour Members saying that they would have followed the privatisation route ? If they are saying that now, they will have to answer the charge that they opposed every privatisation measure that we have ever brought before the House.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : Is not one of the many fascinating side effects of the privatisation programme of public utilities the £2 billion worth of
Column 385contracts that the privatised water companies have brought back from Latin America--a result of what can be done by our utilities if they are freed from the dead hand of Government control ?
Mr. Needham : My hon. Friend mentions one example ; I shall mention more later. That is exactly the type of thing that would never have happened if the Labour party had been in power in that period. Britain would have been to the Europe of the 1980s what Spain was to the Europe of the 1780s if the Labour party had had anything to do with our affairs. To use a phrase of the mid-west of America, if the Labour party had been in power we would have been "hollowed out". It is not enough to have achieved what we have. Now, we must seize the chance to devise and implement a strategic partnership with industry and business and to build on the opportunities that we have created for ourselves, and we are doing so. In the past two years, we have attracted into the Department of Trade and Industry from the private sector more than 90 export promoters. They are experts in the markets in which they have worked. They are the hinge on which the Government are building the partnership with business. With their help, we now have about 80 country market plans. We have considered the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats in the markets and what Britain can bring to those countries that we do not currently bring.
We have identified sectors in each of the countries. We have linked the sector opportunities to companies in this country. We are using the most senior people in British industry and British
business--British management--to help to godfather our staff in the DTI and to work with the export promoters to ensure that every opportunity that presents itself in those countries is transmitted to the companies in the United Kingdom that could benefit. We have linked the holders of posts overseas--the commercial attache s, the ambassadors--into the market plans through the Joint Export Promotion Directorate so that we have a seamless, coherent policy in each major market of the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) mentioned South America. I shall take India as an example. In the past eight months, we have signed more than £2 billion worth of orders for infrastructure projects in India. Four export promoters are in place. We have identified 15 sectors of the Indian economy in which British companies can do more than they are currently doing.
We have increased export credit guarantee cover. We have ensured that that export credit guarantee cover is competitively priced with export credit agencies anywhere in the world. In fact, we are in danger of running out of the cover because we have used so much of it. We are talking not only about the big companies in infrastructure but the little companies--companies such as Mr. Brown, who has developed a system of new types of grass seeds which could revolutionise the growing of grass in India. He has even come up with a brand new form of begonia, which is taking the Indian market by storm. There are 200 million middle-class Indians, capable of spending their money and wanting to spend it on high-quality British products.
We have considered the city of Bangalore, one of the most exciting cities in India. Together, the Singaporeans and the British will make Bangalore one of the great cities of the next century. We are flying Concorde out in
Column 386November with 100 British business men on board and we shall bring Concorde back with 100 Indian business men on board, to consider the opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the United Kingdom and to discover how we can help India to expand its economy by exporting through the United Kingdom and into Europe.
Our exports to India are now more than £1 billion, as are India's exports to us. Through the organisational structure and infrastructure that we have set out in the Indo-British partnership initiative, we have created opportunities in that country, which, after China, is the most exciting opportunity anywhere in Asia. That would not even have been thought of, let alone possible, two, three or five years ago. Throughout the world, whether it be with Japan, the United States, Korea, Malaysia or Thailand, we are working to establish closer, bilateral trading relationships, against the market strategy that I have just described.
We must get that message through to small and medium-sized British companies. I ask all Members in the Chamber, including Opposition Members, if they have companies in their constituencies that are good exporters but do not necessarily have the support and back-up to tackle every major market, to tell them about the DTI plans. If those companies are told about what the DTI is doing, we will ensure that we envelop them in the strategy that we are following so that those opportunities are brought direct to their doorstep.
I am delighted to say that when we decided to go to Members of the House of Commons to explain that, about 60 Conservative Back Benchers came along and showed interest and commitment. However, I am afraid that, although the hon. Member for Middlesbrough did his best to try to interest his colleagues, we only managed to find six of them. I hope that that message of indifference will be reported back. We are setting up 200 Business Links offices to provide a single access point for companies throughout the country. Every one of those offices will have proper information databases about opportunities for exporting and will have available to it the full range of overseas trade services. The larger Business Links offices will have export support services attached. We shall appoint 70 export development counsellors to work in those areas, who will be able to help companies to begin exporting and to become involved with the other DTI opportunities.
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham) : Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on the excellent practical content of his speech ? It makes such a refreshing contrast to the vague, idealistic waffle that we have heard so often from the two socialist parties. I have no doubt that we shall hear more of it from them this afternoon.
Mr. Needham : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall discuss some of that vague waffle later.
We are developing closer relationships with the clearing banks, including a pilot service for referring potential exporters. We recently announced the language for export initiative. The need for it and the response of business have surpassed our wildest estimates. British business now knows what needs to be done in terms of competitiveness, management skills and the learning of languages and it is taking advantage.
We are also ensuring that the Departments in Whitehall that are responsible for the sectors of British business and British industry for which the DTI is not responsible, such
Column 387as agriculture, construction, health and education, have their own export strategies and export units, and that each of them has a Minister who is responsible for exports. We are co-ordinating between ourselves the missions that go abroad. We are ensuring that we support the exhibitions overseas that are most likely to deliver the targeted approach and that we bring out to the markets the companies that are most likely to benefit from participating in such exhibitions.
We are ensuring that people in the regions have an opportunity to understand what is happening in their regions through the celebration of industry years. We are designating 1995-96 a major celebration of industry year in the west midlands, which will proselytise and promote what the west midlands has done, what it is doing now and what it can do in future. It will bring to the west midlands all the major potential inward investors to see for themselves what the west midlands is still capable of. It is the home of the British industrial revolution and is still one of the proudest and most successful industrial manufacturing bases anywhere on earth. We are looking separately at how we can maximise those strengths that Britain has in the capital goods sector. We exported £9 billion worth of capital goods in 1990. We brought the major companies and major banks together with the Export Credits Guarantee Department to examine our strengths and weaknesses in the highly important sectors of the advancing world to see how we could achieve a much greater rate of success. The companies have decided that, with the right sort of support and organisation, we can increase our sales from £9 billion in 1990 to £27 billion by the year 2000.
We have groups in health, education, power, oil and gas, telecommunications --where GPT recently picked up an order for £40 million in Wuhan in China--water and the environment--which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham mentioned--airports and
transportation. All those groups include a national promoter to chair them- -Sir Wilfrid Newton of London Transport chairs the transportation group and Sir Desmond Pitcher chairs the airport group. Their job is to bring together contractors, consultants, subcontractors and major companies, such as National Grid and PowerGen, to ensure that we have a British consortium capable of winning business for United Kingdom plc.
Of course, we understand that there will sometimes be competition between the groups and it will not always be easy, but we have put in place a system that rivals anything that is being offered by the Germans, French, Italians, Japanese or Americans. That is undoubtedly starting to show in the sort of orders mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On the issue of power and capital goods, I am unashamedly in favour of Sizewell C and Hunterston C. A problem was acutely outlined to those of us who went to the nuclear forum yesterday. The NNC and others asked how on earth we could continue to improve our levels of exports in the nuclear industry unless the home industry had major projects allowing continuity, either by Nuclear Electric or Scottish Nuclear. What are the Government's reflections on that ?
Mr. Needham : I speak as the Minister for Trade. Clearly, in order to sell the nuclear power industry overseas, whether Nuclear Electric, Scottish Nuclear or British Nuclear Fuels, we have to be prepared to support our industry here strongly and openly.
I do not want to make any more party political points, but some Opposition Members make it easy to do so. When we consider Nuclear Electric's proposals for Taiwan it obviously helps, as has been said, to be able to mention successful and continuing developments in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I agree that the basis of a strong export strategy has to be a strong home market. That is why it is vital to pull together the companies to ensure that we are better organised to stand and fight, in our home markets, the competition from outside that is an inevitable consequence of the single market.
We must take that organisation or system vertically and horizontally into the overseas markets. That is true for the water, power, airports, oil and gas and telecommunications industries. The other day, we took to India the telecommunications group, which comprises Cable and Wireless, British Telecom, Racal and GPT, all of which gave presentations on how they felt that they could assist in the telecommunications industry. It was a much more impressive exercise than taking each organisation individually so that each was scrapping with the other.
Of course, some companies will be in existing markets, with existing confidentiality structures, so that they will compete with one another, but there are many opportunities in the world. Britain must organise itself across the capital goods sector. One of the most exciting sectors is education, where Baroness Pauline Perry has done an extraordinary job in bringing together universities, management schools, grammar schools, higher education establishments and technology colleges, and has started to promote and sell the best of British educational quality.
We are now establishing the national vocational qualification system en bloc in Oman. We have opportunities to do the same in Saudi Arabia. We are also looking at opportunities to introduce national vocational qualifications in Malaysia and across the far east. At present, the training is primarily job related ; we want to look at skill-related training. If we can achieve and maintain our own quality and keep to our standards, there will be many opportunities for us in the educational sector.
About two weeks ago, we signed a memorandum of understanding to build a British university in Thailand--there may be two British universities in Thailand. The university of London is setting up in Malaysia. The number of students coming here from Taiwan in the past three years has gone up by a factor of three. Across the range of British businesses, there are groups and organisational systems that can deliver aspects of Britain in a coherent way.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : May I say to my right hon. Friend--it is a great pleasure to address him in that way--that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned the opportunity for export. That is one of 126 different nuclear projects that are either going ahead or are likely to proceed. The nuclear industry is one of the industries in which Britain is a world beater. Will my right hon. Friend accept my absolute support for what he said about making possible through the privatisation of the water industry, the presence of world-class activities in industries from Britain? They can now go into markets
Column 389where a British presence simply did not exist before and where other countries, particularly France, used to have the field far too much to themselves. There are now huge opportunities for Britain, provided that there is bipartisan support for the activities of those organisations, whether in the nuclear or water industry.
Mr. Needham : I agree with my right hon. Friend. When I deal with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, I have no doubt that bipartisan support exists. I could not ask for more support than that which I receive from the hon. Gentleman for the proposals and strategies that we are putting forward. I do not want to flatter him too much--he can do without that--but he is almost unique in that capacity. I wish him all power to his elbow in trying to persuade more of his colleagues not only to listen to such debates but to participate in them. We must, as other countries have done, put across the message and the strategy. All of us, including industry and the trade union movement, must work towards the common cause. The requirements for Britain to survive in the next century include quality, competitiveness and productivity--we must all agree with that. The Labour party displays indifference, sometimes ignorance, too much carping and, occasionally, contradiction. I hope that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough will not mind my saying that I took time to look in depth at the policies set out in "Winning for Britain", which the hon. Gentleman's boss recently produced. It began with an executive summary--the Labour party is beginning to get the wording right. It stated :
"This document is the result of a year long nationwide consultation by Labour's Trade and Industry Team with those who work in British industry. Its conclusions reflect a consensus about the importance of industry to the British economy and to the future prosperity of the British people."
In the whole document the word "export" is used only once. I do not know to whom in British industry the Labour party spoke, but I find it astonishing that exports should be mentioned only once in a strategic policy document.
It is not only the lack of Labour Members present for this debate that betrays the indifference of the Labour party to these matters. There is also considerable ignorance in the Labour party--again, I exclude the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. The other day, I had occasion to write to the hon. Member for Livingston, who had claimed that the ECGD made a profit of £750 million in 1992-93, and that that money should be used to reduce the premiums. That certainly shows a lack of knowledge and experience on the part of Opposition spokesmen on industry. The fact is that the losses accumulated by the ECGD amount to £3.6 billion. Like any other insurance business, it has to pay off that deficit. It may run up a surplus at times, but the surplus from one year must go to reduce the enormous deficit. I, therefore, wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 4 May pointing out his mistaken ways and asking him what he would do to the ECGD system and the portfolio management system that we have in place. I asked : "Is it Labour policy to scrap or change the present system ?" I appreciate that the hon. Member for Livingston is a busy man--the fact that he is not here today is evidence of that. He is busy helping all sorts of people around the country. However, I should like an answer from him ; perhaps the hon. Member for Middlesbrough would remind him of his pending tray.
Last week, I listened to the hon. Member for Livingston speaking on "Question Time", when he tried to curry
Column 390favour with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary by saying that he would help to reduce public expenditure by introducing a minimum wage, thereby doing away with family credit. I was pretty cross when I heard that. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough may take an interest in what follows, as he used to be my opposite number for Northern Ireland. What will happen to the women who work in the shirt factories of Derry if we introduce a minimum wage and do away with their family credit ? Will the shirt factories be able to pay the minimum wage, so that family credit can be abolished in line with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion ?
The answer, of course, is that the ladies in question will lose their jobs. It is arrogant to suggest that those companies can afford to take over the burden, or that the workers will find alternative employment under what the hon. Member for Livingston describes as some form of training for high- technology, high-skill jobs. Of course we all want such jobs, but we cannot put the burden on employers who would then have to put hundreds of thousands of people on low pay out of work. I deplore the arrogance of those who say, "We will retrain them in some fictional skills that will find them alternative work." Perhaps the hon. Member for Middlesbrough could explain to me why "Winning for Britain" contains no mention of Northern Ireland, even though Wales and Scotland are mentioned. Perhaps the answer is that the Opposition--again I exclude the hon. Gentleman--would like to see Northern Ireland packaged and floated off elsewhere. It is a disgrace to the people of Ulster that the document does not mention Northern Ireland.
Mr. Dalyell : What is the hourly wage of the women in the shirt factories in Derry ?
Mr. Needham : Two years ago, it was about £120 a week ; with bonuses they got £150 a week. If the minimum wage required a minimum payment without bonuses of £150, and it also had to be paid to part- time workers working, say, three days a week and at present topping up their wages with family credit, differentials would be forced up all along the line and the company would become wholly uncompetitive. I have spoken to people in the garment factories of Northern Ireland, and I know that the companies would go out of business--the Opposition should make no mistake about that. Where would the workers find jobs then ? It is not good enough for the Labour party to come up with generalised policies without working out their effects on ordinary working people.
"Winning for Britain" contains another extraordinary passage : "The strong individualism of the Anglo-Saxon business ethic may also inhibit the development of a corporate long-term perspective. British business culture is vulnerable to the vision of the chief executive as hero."
I could understand all that in the context of the hon. Member for Livingston standing for the leadership of the Labour party--but has someone told the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) that British business culture is vulnerable to the vision of the chief executive as hero ? How does Labour propose to change the culture of British business ? What do the hon. Members for Livingston or for Sedgefield know about British industry ? Has either of them ever worked in it ? The answer of course is no
Mr. Donald Anderson rose
Mr. Needham : I accept that the hon. Gentleman may have worked in British industry, which makes him exceptional in his party, but there is one suggestion in "Winning for Britain" with which I have some sympathy : the idea of establishing a university for industry. The first two people who need to attend it and who could learn the most from it would be the hon. Members for Livingston and for Sedgefield.
Mr. Anderson : As someone who has worked in export promotion both in the United Kingdom and abroad, may I appeal to the Minister to make up his mind about whether he wants to enlist the non-partisan support of the whole House for UK plc, or whether he wants to indulge in this sort of party- political knockabout ? We can have the latter if he wants it, but it will do nothing for Britain.
Mr. Needham : I understand that point, but on the day the hon. Member for Sedgefield has released his "Change and National Renewal" document, an endless attack on what he sees as the incompetence of the Government in running industrial policy for the past 15 years, he cannot expect me not to reply in kind. The hon. Gentleman should be on the Opposition Front Bench to speak for industry. Meanwhile, he must allow me to explain what the effects of Labour policy would be on British industry.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield claims for his goals :
"We are not going back to the past, nor drifting without purpose, as Britain is at present."
It is the Labour party which is drifting. Then comes the astonishing phrase :
"Labour will open up greater opportunities for the retraining of those in work by ensuring that every company invests in upgrading the skills of the work force."
There could be no stronger statement than that, but he continues :
"the objective will be to encourage."
Would someone explain to me how greater opportunities will be opened up by mere encouragement ? That is yet another statement of policy not backed up by any realistic ideas for action. The Opposition berate us continually about the importance of the manufacturing base and throw extraordinary statistics at us. The other day, the hon. Member for Livingston said that our manufacturing investment is now one tenth of what it was in the 1970s. That is just not true. The document says :
"The old debate whether manufacturing or services is the more virtuous is pointless and sterile. In the first place, the dividing line between them is increasingly hard to define. The highest value added in computer application is now software programing. It is simply meaningless to go on drawing a distinction between the production of hardware as a manufacturing process and design itself."
What do Opposition Members want ? Either manufacturing is that important or it is not. They cannot continue having it both ways. The hon. Member for Livingston said :
"The turn of the century could make or break Britain. If we are not by then making the things that the world wants to buy we will not be making a living in the world."
How on earth are we to make a living in the world with a minimum wage and the social costs of the social chapter wrapped round our necks ? If we are to succeed with Britain in manufacturing we have to create, on the back of the policies that the Government introduced in the 1980s, the sorts of strategy for partnership that I have just been suggesting to the House.
To return to the issue of bipartisanship, I accept that there are people such as Bill Jordan and the Amalgamated Engineering Union who have got that message. It said :
Column 392"British industry is undergoing a period of change, of growing prosperity."
this was the AEU talking, not me talking. That was not a Conservative party broadsheet. It continued :
"This has been directly attributable to the influx of inward investors wishing to use our plants and our labour."
How many times have we heard that from the Labour party ? [ Hon. Members -- : "Never."] Never. What about the policies of the Labour party ? One of its policies is to support trans-European networks in transport and telecommunications. Trans-European networks are enormously expensive and costly and mean that British taxpayers' money would be used to improve Greek and Portuguese roads. It would not do not anything here.
The second part of the Labour party's policy is to establish a network of regional development agencies to empower local business and community leaders to take local decisions that shape their regional economy. Is that Dolly Kiffin ? Is that Mr. Stafford ? Who are those community leaders who shall determine the regional economy ? Is that the best that Labour party can do ? I am sorry if it upsets the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), but I am not going to sit here and say that the criticisms that the Opposition Members make, the knocking comedy that they write and the policies that they come up with are anything other than amateur. That is the nicest thing that I can say.
We are in a position where we can take advantage. Since 1981, the volume of manufactured exports in Britain has grown faster than in France, Germany, Italy or Japan. Our share of world trade has now stabilised. We are exporting 20 per cent. per head more than Japan and 85 per cent. more than the United States. Our visible deficit has improved since the start of 1993. Our exports for the quarter ending May 1994 are 9.5 per cent. up by value in comparison to May 1993. Over the past 15 years, the Conservative party has put in place the revolutionary changes that give us the platform from which British exports can take off in the 1990s. The only party that has any concept of how to do it and any plan for doing it is the one that forms the Government, and we intend to ensure that it stays that way.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : I am grateful to see you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the Chair again. One of the great difficulties in debates that deal with subjects which are important but, nevertheless technical is the tendency to try to make them lively rather than like a funeral oration. One can hardly say that the speech of the Minister for Trade was anything like a funeral oration. As Charlie Chaplin once said, "Enthusiasm is the thing." We have long admired the Minister's enthusiasm and we witnessed a great example of it again today.
The Minister mentioned a number of issues, such as hope, opportunity, and the two revolutionary changes. He also managed to bring in the subject of the railway strike. Opposition Members are constantly peppered and bombarded with views on the railway strike. I can give the Minister a view clearly, simply and without hesitation. After all the changes in the Thatcher years, after all the changes and reforms in the trade unions, the management of a company is unable to avoid a strike, and after 13, 14 or 15 years, we have a Government who intervene. Then they ask us who is to blame and where we stand. Honestly and categorically, the management has failed if it has got
Column 393itself into a strike situation under the legislation of the Thatcherite years. The failure is a failure of management ; my hon. Friends and I clearly state that.
Mr. Jacques Arnold rose
Mr. Bell : I do not intend to give way to the hon. Gentleman at this point and I will tell him why. I have sat with him during many debates on Fridays, Mondays, and so on and he begins to intervene about one minute into a speech and he continues to intervene throughout the debate. I am sure that he will find another point in my speech when he may intervene and I shall be glad at that stage to give way to him.
The Minister talks about the dawn of a new era--a statement made by Bill Jordan, for whom I have a great deal of sympathy, respect and support. The great dawn of a new era, which is frightening the wits out of the Conservatives in the House and in the country, and even Conservative central office, is the possible election of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) as leader of the Labour party. At business questions time earlier, we heard questions about the education of my hon. Friend's children. It shows how deeply the fear runs through the Conservative party when it has to try to score a point by bringing in the children of a future leader of the Labour party in that way. The dawn of a new era, to which Bill Jordan referred, will come about quickly with the election of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield as the leader of the Labour party. The changes that will come about as a result of his leadership will be every reason for concern to the Conservatives.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Bell : I shall go through the points made by the Minister for Trade on an ad hoc basis, if the Minister and the House do not mind. Later in my speech, I shall be glad to give way to Conservative Members.
The Minister for Trade mentioned trade union leaders running the country. There was beer and sandwiches at No. 10 Downing street on just one occasion --in 1965, when there was a railway strike. There was only one occasion, and it was nearly 30 years ago. The Conservatives have had wonderful mileage out of that over the years. We may talk about trade unions leaders running the country, but now we have nobody running the country. That is one of the consequences of 15 years of Conservative rule.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Technology (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : The hon. Member is rewriting history
Mr. Bell : I am not rewriting it at all ; I am responding to the Minister for Trade. I shall make my own comments later.
The Minister talked of the first revolutionary change, which was to deal with trade union reform and trade union law. It was my noble Friend Lady Castle who tried to reform the trade unions with the document "In Place of Strife" way back in the 1960s. We have sought constantly to change trade union relationships with Government. The President of the Board of Trade, in his book entitled "Where there's a Will", supported the concept of the National Economic Development Office--a relationship between trade unions, Government and management. It was his concept and he wanted to support it, but the former Chancellor of the Exchequer abolished it as soon as the