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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In my constituency, there are many manufacturing units in very real trouble. I had hoped that we would be debating that today. Lobby companies are not known for manufacturing a great deal, except rather more heat than light.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that the House has examined the motion carefully, but we should also look at the amendment, which

That is clearly germane to the partnership that the Government now have with the lobbyists and the cronies.

Madam Speaker: I accept that that is mentioned, but the debate has been going on for 32 minutes and we have not yet heard about manufacturing. I represent a vast area that is closely interested in manufacturing. My black country towns will be very interested in this debate. I shall see that my manufacturers have a copy of the Hansard report.

Mr. Redwood: I think that I have asked the questions that I wanted to ask about that group of companies, but the Government must answer them, given the width of their amendment and the fact that, like it or not, lobbying is now part of our business culture. Businesses need to be told, fair and square from the Dispatch Box, that the Government intend to go back to the old system: if business has a problem, it lobbies its Member of Parliament, who lobbies the Minister. That is how it should be done. It should not be done through the back door via exotic companies and strange holdings, including Jersey trusts. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade agrees that that is an odd way to behave. The old parliamentary way is the best.

Mr. MacShane: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a firm has the third option of hiring an hon. Member from the Tory Front Bench, just as Murray Financial has done in his own case? Nineteen other Tory Front Benchers have extensive outside interests. That is the real sleaze and corruption that worries the people of this country.

Mr. Redwood: Madam Speaker, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his disgraceful allegation.

Madam Speaker: Order. I was distracted, and did not hear all that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said. Would he repeat it precisely so that I can make a judgment?

Mr. MacShane: I said that what worries people outside the House is the record of Conservative hon. Members in government and in opposition being hired by outside firms to represent their interests. That sleaze and corruption--

Madam Speaker: Order. I have heard enough. The debate should be about policies and principles, not about

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individuals. The sooner we get on to the policies and principles of manufacturing and industry, the better it will be for the House. The way this debate is turning out is a disgrace.

Mr. Redwood: Labour Members should understand that there is nothing wrong with a Member who is not in the Government holding a directorship that is properly declared, so long as the House is not used to further the interests of the company concerned. If the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) is suggesting that any of my right hon. and hon. Friends has done otherwise, he should make a proper allegation, giving them the right to reply. I can assure him that it is not so. He is just trying to put up a smokescreen to hide the dreadful business culture that the Government are encouraging or allowing to occur.

I turn now to positive conclusions on what we should do to help manufacturing industry.

Mr. Sheerman: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are getting to the heart of a principle important to a debating chamber such as Parliament. When someone speaks here, does he or she speak for his or her constituents, or does he or she speak for a particular interest that probably pays more than a parliamentary salary? It is important that--

Madam Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is speaking on behalf of the Opposition. He has just announced that he is getting to the substance of what he has to say.

Mr. Redwood: I want to make six points about how to help industry out of the terrible position it is in while services and other companies are booming.

First, the Government should promote savings, not tax them. They should change their minds on taxing pension funds, and on replacing personal equity plans and tax-exempt special savings accounts with something that is less satisfactory and generous. They should think up new policies to promote savings. It is better to save more than to put manufacturing and exporting into a vice.

Secondly, there is social legislation. We all want people to have decent conditions at work and good health and safety protection. However, does not some of the Government's legislation go too far? It will destroy jobs, and remove opportunities for the young and unskilled people who most desperately need a first step on the ladder. That is not kindness; it is callousness of the first order.

Thirdly, we need stable policies, and statements from the Government of their policies on crucial industries and nationalised companies. We need a policy on financing the tube network, and a resolution of the strikes. We need a policy on energy, so that the gas and coal industries know where they stand. We need a policy on the Post Office, so that it can grow and expand abroad to improve its competitive position there and at home. We need a policy on water competition--we have been waiting for that for a long time--which could generate new jobs and new business. We need a proper policy on competition after a sham of a Bill that is full of holes and errors. The Government have been unwilling to tell companies where they stand.

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Fourthly, we need a monetary policy that makes sense. The experiment of handing policy to the Bank of England has led to a monthly debate being leaked and discussed in the newspapers. It is a kind of soap opera, with the Government looking on and saying that it is nothing to do with them. They should take some responsibility for our interest rates. They should at least have the courtesy to back the Bank of England, rather than going occasionally around the back to brief against the Bank.

Fifthly, we need to know the truth about the Government's wish to enter economic and monetary union. Will they confess that all the other countries are going in at their exchange rate mechanism mid-rates? Does the President agree that no separate deal was negotiated for Britain, which must mean that what the Prime Minister brought home for British business was entry at DM2.95, our ERM mid-rate? Will the Government devalue the rate or negotiate a special deal? Will the Government tell business the truth: they let business down on this, as on everything else, and it has the opportunity only to enter EMU at a crippling rate?

Sixthly, will the Government set out proper, fair rules of disclosure for lobbying companies? Will they return to the old system, whereby the House speaks for manufacturing and exporting? The Government have a duty to listen, for a change, to what the House is saying. We do not want a culture whereby one must know someone or pay someone in order to make one's point. People must speak through their Members of Parliament and, above all, the Government must take the House of Commons seriously.

4.9 pm

The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

From the outset, I must say that I fear that I am likely to disappoint the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who asked me a string of questions about a string of issues--about which he has raised questions and made speeches elsewhere--that are not related to the subject of today's debate. Unfortunately for the right hon. Gentleman, I plan to speak about the subject of the debate, which the Opposition called. I got the distinct impression from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that, after he called it, he thought better of it, because he did not say much about the subject.

The motion tabled by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends creates the impression that they think that this is somehow year zero. They talk about the

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Government's creating a "boom and bust economy" and about the "growth of industrial unrest". I suspect that the second charge is thrown in just to make up the numbers, so it might be wise to deal with and dispose of it first.

Mention has been made of today's London Underground strike and a couple of other minor industrial disputes, which, of course, we regret very much. However, far from being a signal that the Government's policy is creating unprecedented unrest, tube and rail strikes were not only common under the previous Government but a feature of their last year in office. The denial of investment in rail and underground and the neglect of public transport as a whole eroded morale and trust, and that erosion is part of our inheritance from the previous Government.

We have already taken steps to reverse that investment backlog. In March, the Deputy Prime Minister announced radical and innovative proposals for a public-private partnership for the underground in which it will remain in public ownership but will benefit from the investment so long denied it. The fact that there is still concern about the long-term implications of the programme says more about that inheritance of mistrust and insecurity than it does about any flaws in the policies that the Government are pursuing.

The motion does not refer to the tube strike as such; instead, it expresses

In roughly the last year before Labour came to office, 1.3 million days were lost through industrial action. In the first full year of this Government, 183,000 days were lost through industrial action. That is seven times lower than the figure for the last year of the previous Government and about 40 times lower than the annual average for the 1980s. That is a record--in fact, it is the lowest figure ever recorded for days lost in industrial action, and the records go back to 1891. I will repeat that in order to avoid doubt: the records date back not to 1991, but to 1891.

Of course, it is perfectly legitimate for the Opposition to comment on and, if they can, make political capital from any industrial relations problems. However, it is a bit damn silly to talk about the growth of industrial unrest in what has been the best year of industrial peace for more than 100 years.

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