|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 394President of the Board of Trade took his post so as to be sure that the Department of Trade and Industry did not gain any pre-eminence over the Treasury.
Labour Members are happy to go along with trade union reform. We are happy to accept those reforms that have been put on the statute book by the Government over the years and which are accepted by the trade unions themselves. We will reform the relationship with the trade unions by putting into that relationship a package of rights for part-time workers.
The Minister also referred to the subject of a national minimum wage, so I will move it up a little on my agenda. It was a travesty for the right hon. Gentleman to use his experience as a Northern Ireland Minister to threaten those who work in the shirt factories of Derry with our national minimum wage as he has perceived it, conceived it and interpreted it, and to say that they will lose their jobs. The onus is on the Opposition in the two to three years ahead to consider the concept of a national minimum wage to help the low-paid workers and those who are sweated labour in our society and to give them a proper minimum wage. How we do that is a matter for us to work on so that it does not not put low-paid workers out of work and does not affect piece-rate workers adversely. We can do it and we will do it.
The Minister said that we had maintained our level of world trade, but he did not mention the fact that the French have increased their share of world trade--and they have both a national minimum wage and the social chapter. We shall not have such a diversity of interpretation
Mr. Needham : The point that I was making--and I should like the hon. Gentleman's view on it--was that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said that one of the ways in which he wanted to reduce public expenditure was through employers taking up the minimum wage costs, which would reduce the costs of family credit. The introduction of the minimum wage, which would minimise family credit, would inevitably put the lower paid out of work. There is no question about that.
Mr. Bell : I understand the Minister's point. I did not see the programme to which he referred earlier, but I was told that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was the best of all the candidates for the leadership of the Labour party. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has made it clear that our minimum wage will be worked out on a common-sense basis. There is no question of its threatening the jobs of the low paid or of piece workers and it will not interfere with training schemes. Between now and the general election, we shall not allow the Conservative Government-- who will then become the Conservative Opposition--to dictate and define what Labour's national minimum wage will be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), whom I am glad to see in the Chamber, mentioned exchange rate policy. We could discuss that for some time. There was a devaluation on 15 September two years ago and the value of the pound has been modified. The exchange rate policy between 1979 and 1981 pushed
Column 395up the pound's value to $2.50. That decimated our industry. We have not heard from the Minister, in his first revolution, about how 1 million jobs were lost between 1979 and 1981 as a consequence of an exchange rate policy which damaged our exports and destroyed or almost destroyed many of our manufacturing companies. It left us at the end of the recession not leaner and fitter, but worse off and, years on, still struggling to achieve anything.
The Minister was carried away by his own enthusiasm, saying that the Labour party was like something from 1780. I remind him that that was even before the time of Napoleon.
Mr. Donald Anderson : Another major deterrent to our exporters is the discordant note being sounded by the Cabinet and members of the Conservative party on European policy. One thing is crystal clear : the Americans and the Japanese view Europe as one market, but they are not sure whether Britain wants to be part of that single market or not. While diverse voices come from the Government because of their internal contradictions, that will be a major constraint on our export efforts.
Mr. Bell : I am always grateful for my hon. Friend's interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has spoken of drift and we see it in the Government's position on Europe. On the one hand, Britain is in the heart of Europe ; on the other, it supports a two-speed Europe. The Government speak with one voice in this House and with another in Brussels. The Foreign Secretary must be seriously depressed when he has to say one thing at an international conference and then return here and say something different. On the last occasion, he simply said that he would leave it to the Cabinet to decide. That smacks of really firm government. It is certainly evidence of the drift referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield.
The Minister for Trade was happy to refer to 1780, but he failed to refer to the trade balance in manufactures in 1979 compared with 1993. The Minister knows that I have the utmost respect for him both as an individual and as a Minister. We are pleased that 90 people from the private sector are working at the Department of Trade and Industry. We welcome the sector by sector approach. The Minister's use of the term "godfather" was possibly a little out of place in relation to staff at the DTI, but we can get over that. We welcome grandfathering, which is better than godfathering
Mr. Stephen : The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said that he feared for Britain's position as a destination for foreign investment. Does the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) accept that Britain attracts more inward investment than any other Community country ? The over-bureaucratised, over-centralised, over-socialised Europe that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends foresee is certainly not the kind of place where our Japanese, American or other friends would wish to invest.
Mr. Bell : The hon. Gentleman illustrates one of the difficulties of believing one's own propaganda. It is often said that inward investment from countries such as Japan and the United States is greater in Britain than in other Community countries, but that is not so. There is massive investment in France and there will be massive investment
Column 396in Finland and other countries-- [Interruption.] We shall not fall for the myths and shibboleths of Conservative Members.
The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) referred to the socialisation of Europe, the social chapter and social laws. Can he explain why Germany has the strongest economy in Europe although it has the social chapter ? Why is France doing so well when it has both a national minimum wage and the social chapter ? It is because the framework is right. Those who are in work invest their time in their place of work and they understand the need for productivity, output and security.
The Minister for Trade gave us welcome information about India and the £2 billion worth of orders coming from 15 different sectors. We welcome the fact that the export credit guarantees are being used. I almost made a trip to Bangalore with the Minister. The programme was extremely strenuous. He spent a day there, but that was obviously sufficient for him to build it up as the city of the next century. We welcome the use of Concorde to carry 100 British business men to India and to carry 100 Indian business men back. We also welcome the programme for the capital goods sector, seeking to move orders from £9,000 million to £27,000 million by the year 2000.
The Minister referred to UK plc. When he looks again at "Winning for Britain" he will see a number of paragraphs on that. He spoke of Britain competing on level terms with Germany, France, Japan and America. We must ask whether the packages are the same. Do we have the right package to enable us to compete with the French and the Germans ? Our exporters tell us that that is not the case and that the French and the Germans have better packages.
The Minister comes to the House and pleases his Back Benchers and I wish him well. However, exporters still tell us that Britain's package is not so good as
Mr. Bell : I have not reached my speech yet, so I will not give way. The debate is about the opportunities for exporters, but the Minister spent at least 25 minutes making a political attack on the Opposition. I intend to respond to every point of his attack before I get to my speech on the opportunities for exporters.
Mr. Donald Anderson : There is some concern about export promotion agencies. France and Germany are organised differently in terms of chambers of commerce and so on. Is my hon. Friend aware that there is now a real danger of a substantial cut in the number of our overseas diplomatic posts due to Government policy failures ? That is bound to have adverse repercussions on the ability of our exporters to continue to get the assistance to which they have become accustomed.
Mr. Bell : Such cuts also have an impact on the country where they are made. When I visited Australia last summer, I heard it said that past cuts had sent a signal to the Australian Government that we were not so enthusiastic about Australia as we might have been. It is the language of the Minister to support our exports, but it is the language of the Treasury to cut back. We have yet to hear what will be the impact of the latest spending plans which were discussed at No. 10 Downing street today. How will they affect export credit guarantees and export posts ?
The hon. Gentleman said that he does not believe Tory party propaganda on inward investment. Does he accept the United States survey which showed that of current business prepared by MITI more than 39 per cent. of all inward investment into European Community countries from Japan comes to the United Kingdom ? We also enjoy a similar proportion of US investment. The nearest country to the UK in this respect is Germany, where inward investment from Japan is well under 20 per cent. The hon. Gentleman may accept that information from an independent source.
Mr. Bell : I am always grateful to hear from the hon. Lady, but she did not distinguish between manufacturing and service investment. She had better take a good look at those figures and establish whether financial services are included. One thinks, for instance, of the Paris and Frankfurt exchanges. Using sound bite figures on the Floor of the House is dangerous.
The Minister referred to the nuclear industry
Mr. Bell : If the hon. Gentleman will listen, he may learn something. If he insists on making sedentary interventions, he will learn nothing. The House may find that I am writing Labour party policy as I go along, much to the benefit of the House and the country. The hon. Gentleman must be patient.
We accept the Minister's point that a strong, viable and expanding UK nuclear industry can link with technology which helps to increase exports. We are aware also that Sizewell C would create 10,000 jobs. However, we are still waiting for the Government's nuclear review. It is a bit hard to ask the Labour party for its policy when there is no Government policy. It is difficult to give answers when the Government have not yet stated their own policy.
I shall now move on to my own speech.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that he has been making a speech for the last 20 minutes. I presume that he was referring to the way in which his speech was prepared-- off the cuff or prepackaged.
Mr. Bell : At least the package is my own work. I do not have four civil servants in the Box behind me. When we debated insurance the other day, there were 12 civil servants in the Box. My speech in answer to the Minister is my own work, but it was also partly prepared earlier. Nevertheless, it will refer to many of the points made by the Minister.
We have twice debated exports and the Minister was absent on both occasions. We saw this afternoon the fervour and enthusiasm that we missed. His speech today was enthusiastic and critical of the Opposition, and I hope that it will serve to keep him in his job. However, I can reveal that the Minister need not worry so much. He does not have to attack the Opposition to keep his job as Minister for Trade. The reshuffle has already happened and the names are already decided. They have all been put in a safe at No. 10, and they will be taken out at the appropriate time. If the number of Government seats in the
Column 398European elections had fallen to seven or eight, those names would have been produced the next day and Ministers would have been put out of their misery. As it is, they will probably hang on until July. I have said publicly--I put my two pennyworth on the table-- that I hope that the Minister will keep his job because of his enthusiasm, energy and attacking approach to exports.
It was not always thus. The Minister said that the word "exports" appeared only twice in our document, "Winning for Britain," which is about 40 pages long. I invite him to read Lord Lawson's book, "The View from No. 11," which runs to about 1,100 pages. He will not find the word "exports" anywhere in its index. The book by the President of the Board of Trade, "Where There's a Will," shows in its index entries for "Eggar", "energy", "English Development Agency" and "environment"--but none for "exports". We welcome the Government's change of attitude since 1992 with the appointment of the Minister for Trade, but what were they doing in the 13 years before that ? The view was never held in the last Parliament or the penultimate one that emphasis must be placed on exports. They were seen as important, but not that important, and the same applied to industry. The prevalent view was that our balance of payments was not a constraint on macro- economic policy. The Government were able to take that view because of North sea oil and a drop in demand for imports. The current account stayed in surplus until 1986, even though unemployment was rising throughout that time, reflecting a drop in gross domestic product. The current account went into deficit as a consequence of the Lawson-induced boom to win the 1987 general election.
I add in parentheses that our North sea oil account is again in surplus. In the first five months of this year, there was a £36 million oil surplus, compared with a £1.38 billion deficit in the 1993 calendar year. North sea oil masked the progressive deterioration in our trade balance in manufactures throughout the 1980s. When the Minister spoke of his two revolutions, he did not mention the two revolutions of the recessions of 1979-1981 and of 1991. Those were difficult times for business men trying to stay in business during a recession.
Regardless of the Minister's energy, which we applaud, and his commitment to improving Britain's export performance, the lack of overall Government policy means that while our share of world trade remains the same, that of France increases--notwithstanding that country's social chapter and its continued presence in the exchange rate mechanism. France is still part of that mechanism in Europe and Britain is not. The failure of the 1980s remains the most persistent obstacle when the Minister seeks to improve Britain's share of world trade.
We have seen a failure to pay sufficient attention to investment and the encouragement of excessive dividends even in time of recession, as opposed to investment. We have seen a failure to pay sufficient attention to training, and to create a framework for research and development. What kind of economy must we have to provide the wherewithal for our exporters ? The Minister did not say that we have a lopsided and destabilised economy which survives on a wing and a prayer. It has external deficits, is debt ridden and has slow growth and high unemployment. That is what the Government describe as a success story. If the economy is as it should be in accordance with the gospel according to the Minister, why has it not been
Column 399perceived as such by the electorate ? Why have the Government lost both local government and European elections ?
I was rather surprised to note that the Minister spent more time on the Opposition document, "Winning for Britain" than on the White Paper, "Competitiveness : Helping Business to Win".
The White Paper attempts to mask the Government's massive failure. It attempts to scatter its shot far and wide. It seeks to mask the fact that if we are to improve our ability to sell goods and services abroad, a change in economic policy is required. We need a policy that provides more skills and training, is designed for the long term rather than the short term, creates a proper and more appropriate balance between investment and dividends, directs itself through training to the problem of skill shortages, and which believes in Britain rather than hoping for the best for Britain. I remind the Minister that Charles Dickens and Mr. Micawber are dead : hoping for something to turn up does not represent the best economic policy on which to create our so-called opportunities for exporters. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) revealed his concern for environmental protection when he pointed out that the White Paper cost £600 per page. He hit the nail on the head equally well when he said that it contained
"no new ideas on investment, research and development or training, and no strategy to restore the strength of Britain's manufacturing industry"--[ Official Report , 22 June 1994 ; Vol. 245, c. 226.] The Labour party has argued that there is a theoretical case for free trade in that it is meant to provide the most efficient producers with access to world markets. That creates lower prices and forces domestic producers to be more efficient. Consumers and the most efficient companies benefit and therefore there is a public interest in offering choice through free trade. I was interested to note that the White Paper calls for "fair and open markets". That is a better definition than free trade. The Opposition and the Government are almost in agreement on that because fair and balanced trade is not far removed from "fair and open markets".
Mr. Jacques Arnold : How would it help free trade if we pursued the Labour party's calls for action against what it describes as social dumping, which means the export from the third world of products produced more cheaply than the developed world can produce them ? Surely if we block such social dumping we shall be doing a disservice to the developing world. Will the hon. Gentleman explain Labour party policy on that ?
Column 400to do with workers' rights and I shall make that distinction when I get to that part of my speech. The hon. Member will not be forgotten.
A section of the White Paper refers to trade, but the Minister for Trade did not refer to it. I have read the entire document and consigned it to my heart. It refers to trade policy, export promotion, measures to combat unfair subsidies, state aid and inward and outward investment. It is all there. We welcome the emphasis that is placed on those considerations. No doubt the other half of the team--two Ministers are here, in tandem--will refer to them in replying to the debate.
We also welcome the initiatives that are referred to in the document--but which, once again, the Minister failed to mention--to link the Department of Trade and Industry with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide United Kingdom business with help overseas.
We welcome the Treasury's grudging admission that trade might matter after all--that it is not simply a matter of financing deficits across the exchanges--and its involvement in attempts to win overseas contracts. We welcome the fact that Overseas Trade Services has reached thousands of small firms through the publicity about new opportunities for business with India. I noted what the Minister said about the initiatives listed in the White Paper for trade with India in 1994, including plans for a major promotional event in Delhi in November focusing on smaller firms producing high-technology products. I assume that that is what the Minister had in mind when he referred to Concorde flying back and forth to India.
The Opposition have noted that the United Kingdom is the second biggest foreign investor in the United States and accounts for more than 20 per cent. of the $419 billion invested by foreign enterprises. I do not get around as much as the Minister, but I managed to get to Australia last year and I was in Washington recently. I can testify to the seriousness that the commercial section at our embassy attaches to trade. I note that within the manufacturing sector United Kingdom investment stands at more than $40 billion, making it the biggest foreign investor in the United States.
The Labour party accepts that we are in a global economy, as the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) made plain. We accept that large-scale investment in the United States is necessary as part of that global economy. The Opposition accept that other considerations must be taken into account over and beyond simply investing in our country. Those considerations are important to outward investment and such investment is linked to inward investment, as the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said. In turn, it is ultimately linked to fair and open trade in fair and open markets. The Minister was kind enough to refer to my attempts to involve myself, as a member of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, with his office. He has been courteous enough to invite me over to explain many of the Government
Column 401initiatives. He has also given me various documents about those initiatives to study. I thank him for his gracious behaviour. The Minister said that he had a strategy, but we cannot discern where it is. We understand where he wants to go and how he wants to do that, but where is that over-arching strategy ? The efforts of the Minister and his Department must be considered against the fact that our non-oil trade deficit is likely to increase. This is when we come to the facts, not the myths--the reality, rather than the perception of it in which the hon. Member for Gravesham seems to like to live. Our exports will not benefit fully from an increase in world trade. Even the devaluation of the pound will not prevent our trade position from deteriorating. Even the benefits that arose from the competitive devaluation in September 1992 are already fading. If our exports are to pick up in relation to imports, our growth rate will have to be slower than that of our overseas competitors.
Conservative Members should listen carefully to this part of my speech because, given the rosy description of our exports and our economy, they must wonder why the Governor of the Bank of England is talking about raising interest rates. If things are looking so good, surely they must wonder why interest rates may have to go up. That is the dilemma that the Government face, because they cannot create sustainable and non- inflationary growth through their policies. They cannot break out of the stop-go cycle. We are already suffering from the threat of slower growth or at least growth being curtailed--that will mean that it cannot reduce our unemployment rate--because of the threat of interest rate rises.
At least the Governor of the Bank of England is no longer saying that if interest rates are increased it will all be because of the workers. In the past, the workers got the blame for everything. In this case, he has said that it is not a question of pay rises, but the fact that the economy is over-heating. The fact that the Government cannot even sustain modest growth in the economy without running into balance of payments constraints and having to talk about increasing interest rates is a measure of the failure of their policies overall. I am not talking about the Minister, but about his right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury. I am not alone in that view. Nomura Research Institute Europe Ltd. points out clearly what the Opposition have known all along, which is that the current account does matter. A current account deficit can be financed--that is obvious--but it can be financed only by leading to slower growth, higher inflation, weaker exchange rates and higher short and long-term interest rates. That will happen in our country, but not in countries with current account surpluses. The proof of the pudding is Germany.
The Minister was right to touch, albeit briefly, on the emphasis on opportunities for exports. He was right to exhort those in the export business to more effort. He knows in his heart of hearts that if the United Kingdom Government cannot bridge or reduce the current account gap, the economy will remain unstable.The Minister is right to bring to the attention of the House the opportunities that he is making available through the Government. He is right, by implication, to distance himself from the so-called Thatcher years.
Is it not truly astonishing, even at this time, that more help is not available to our exporters from our banks ? I pray in aid, if not in comfort, the second survey of international services provided to exporters commissioned
Column 402by the Institute of Export and NCM Credit Insurance Ltd. The 1994 survey of exporters shows that one in four businesses does not use banks to finance its export business. It shows that banks remain the initial source of general advice for exporters, but that the quality of service provided has improved only marginally. It shows that 49 per cent. of those surveyed remain unhappy with the attitude of the banks and that three out of four companies with turnovers below £10 million fail to receive an advance from their bankers.
The failure by banks to finance overseas debts was commented on by many companies. The banks have lost their identity, if not their soul. They have certainly lost the focus of their business, which has been destroyed--like so much else in the Thatcher years--so that they look to profits from the capital markets rather than assisting small businesses. It is that lackadaisical approach to exports that the Department of Trade and Industry must tackle if the Minister wishes to maintain the impetus of his initiative.
I must tell the Minister that there is some unease about the creation of 11 regional offices with 185 staff. The plethora of export information in the past has caused some confusion among companies and they are wondering where it will all lead with the reorganisation of regional centres. Small businesses do not like confusion, especially when it relates to a Government Department or affects export potential. The existing regional offices of the Department of Trade and Industry receive commendations and are used by two out of three existing companies. However, some effort of communication, information and even reassurance will be needed to maintain that confidence in the new regional centres.
I now come to the point made by the hon. Member for Gravesham. The Government have not achieved all that they might have done through financial services and the general agreement on tariffs and trade. That was the point that I wanted to make to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. It is convenient to base the investment on manufacturing investment, but as hon. Members know, investment in the service industries is equally important. We had a canter around that paddock earlier in the week when we debated GATT. At that time, we were reminded that 23 per cent. of our exports come from services, which amounts to about £23,000 million a year. We were also reminded that we are the fourth exporter of invisibles in the world. We had a little bit of that yesterday when we were told by the Minister that the President of the Board of Trade is in the land of the midnight sun".--[ Official Report , 22 June 1994 ; Vol. 245, c. 217.] We are happy for him to be there to discuss invisible exports. Why were we not able to make greater progress in financial services in the latest round of GATT negotiations ? Why did not the Minister refer to that ? Perhaps his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will refer to it later. What were the Government up to ? What representations did they make to Sir Leon Brittan ? What representations were made by the City of London- -that great bastion of enterprise ? I am glad to see the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) in his place. I hope that he will make a contribution.
Why did we not make a greater point about financial services ? Why did we fail to make greater leeway in the GATT accord on a matter that touches 23 per cent. of our exports ? We have been told often enough in the Chamber that Sir Leon Brittan is running for the presidency of the
Column 403European Commission. As a former Member of the House we wish him well. But where was our case on financial services ? What were we afraid of ? Where are we going now ? Perhaps we shall get to that when we learn from the President of the Board of Trade
Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I require your guidance. I commend the brave attempt by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) to speak alone for the Labour party. However, you will have noticed that there are many Conservative Members who wish to make a brief contribution to the debate. Would it not be advisable if, unusually, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough were allowed to speak again halfway through the proceedings to give us the second half of his speech ? Then, instead of having to speak with a modular expandable speech which may go on for two hours to compensate for the total of one and a half hours of speeches from Conservative Members, we would have a more orderly debate and a wider variety of contributions. I say this in all sincerity and flattery for the hon. Gentleman. He should get a medal for what he is doing tonight. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will send a memo to the leader of the Labour party to say that, unsupported, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough has done a sterling job. However, in the interests of the House, could we have an unorthodox procedure in terms of calling people to speak ?
Mr. Bell : I am always grateful for an intervention from the hon. Gentleman, even though it was on a point of order. I know that he works well and closely with the Institute of Directors and I have had dealings with him on that subject. I simply wish to remind him of the maiden speech of Benjamin Disraeli, who was also heard by an almost empty House. He ended his speech by saying, "You will remember me." I am sure that when we fight the general election in 1997, Conservative Members will be astonished and, I hope, pleasantly surprised to see how much Labour party policy they find in my speech tonight. To return to the pre-packaged part of my speech, financial services are important. During the GATT debate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), in his second speech in the Chamber, referred to the Minister for Industry who had been to Marrakesh to sign the GATT agreement. My hon. Friend asked why the Government had sent a grocer to Marrakesh. I found that amusing.
Mr. Bell : It was not offensive ; it was amusing. It reminded me of what Winston Churchill once said : some chicken, some neck--it takes a lot of gall for an Opposition Member to refer to Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill in the same speech--and I thought : some grocer, some Minister.
The Minister for Industry was right in his speech the other night to refer to the benefits that come from the GATT round. The Government will need to pursue vigorously the question of financial services. They will need to pursue the issues of banking, insurance, securities,
Column 404telecommunications, maritime services, aerospace and steel. Attention will have to paid to these matters in relation to GATT for some time, certainly for the next two to three years.
We often hear the question--and we shall hear it increasingly in relation to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield--"Where's the beef ?" The beef is, of course, in the hamburger. During the GATT negotiations, did the Government know what they wanted in terms of exports ? Where was the overarching strategy ? Where was the beef in the Government's policy ? The document entitled, "Competitiveness : Helping Business to Win" is not a policy document--it is pious aspiration dressed up as a policy document.
What the Government should do but are not doing is arrest the decline in our exports. They cannot increase exports, only maintain them. GATT might be said to provide an opportunity, and that opportunity will come through the World Trade Organisation. The Minister did not refer to our trade dispute with Malaysia, although he has been there. I hope that such disputes in future will be handled through the new WTO. Incidentally, we are pleased to note that in May our exports to Malaysia were £161 million ; in April they were £110 million and in January £78 million. We shall, however, need to examine ways of democratising the WTO and how we can make it more accountable.
The President of the Board of Trade's visit yesterday to Helsinki has already been mentioned. We shall be looking for an early statement from him and we shall be asking whether his meeting there was consultative or indicative, whether it affected the WTO, whether it arose out of the Uruguay round of GATT, whether it affects bilateral trading in services between nations and, indeed, whether financial services such as banking, insurance and securities were topics of discussion. We know how the President of the Board of Trade respects the House and his Department's Question Time, and we shall be anxious to hear his views at an early date-- not too early, however, as I shall not be here on Monday.
The hon. Member for Gravesham has been very patient in waiting for a response for his comment on social dumping. This is rather like a television series where one has to wait until after the advertisements--we are getting there now. We need to strengthen the environmental aspects of GATT, although that is not a matter dear to the Government's heart. Over the years, we shall write into GATT an appropriate chapter or clause on workers' rights. The hon. Member for Gravesham seems to confuse social dumping with workers' rights, but there is no comparison between the two.
The Labour party, the Americans, the French and the Government--I shall deal with them in a moment--are saying that a nation's economy can be developed within a framework of workers' rights which not only assists that nation's exports, but improves its standards of living and makes it a nation of consumers, as well as producers, so that it can import goods that we manufacture. The hon. Gentleman should therefore get away from the idea of social dumping and consider a proper framework of workers' rights going hand in hand with fair and balanced trade.
Column 405When he wound up our recent debate on GATT, the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs revealed something that I, however, knew already because the American Administration had told me. If they had not done so, I do not know how long I should have had to wait to hear it from the Government, but, in any event, I heard it from the Government on Monday night. I heard that the Government have agreed to promote proper analytical work by the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development to examine workers' rights and ascertain where there are problems that need to be dealt with. That means that the Government are examining workers' rights in relation to trade and that we are beginning to move towards the position held by France and the United States, no matter how the Government dress it up. Over and above the practical opportunities for exporters, which we welcome as a change from the so-called Thatcher years, the Department will have to work harder on a strategy. They cannot simply hope that this document represents a strategy. It places little importance on the difference between high and low technology. The Government appear to believe that competitiveness is a matter of price, not quality. They will have to work much harder on a strategy if they want to persuade us that they know where they are going.
As I have already said, we accept that there has been a change in attitude since 1992, since the Minister took on his portfolio. It is now accepted that exports count, that the external deficit counts, that manufacturing counts and that the economy cannot for ever continue on a wing and a prayer. His own vigorous efforts should be matched by a properly thought out, overarching strategy as well as tactics.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), who is taking such an interest in the length of my speech, might like to know that I am on the last page of the first instalment. With the leave of the House, I shall later wind up on behalf of the Opposition.
When I was preparing my contribution to the debate on GATT, I referred to the line :
"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small".
Most Conservatives recognised the line, but did not, of course, know the following line, of which I am happy to remind them. The poem continues :
"Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all".
The Minister can have tactics and initiatives. but at the end of the day he still has to face the voters and when he and his party do so he will meet the same fate because, with patience, the public and the electorate stand waiting and with exactness they will grind all.
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) : The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) is held in very high regard by Conservative Members. There was therefore a tingle of anticipation on this side of the House when he said that he was going to talk about Labour party policy and make up much of it on the hoof. He told us several times and with pride that it was all his own work--my speech, too, is all my own work--but we were disappointed to hear so little about Labour party policy.
The only thing that we managed to prise out of the hon. Gentleman was something about social dumping, a line
Column 406that he was thrown by one of my colleagues. It was a disappointing speech, because it did not tell us more about what the Labour party has in mind for us.