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Mr. Mandelson: May I explain? It was arranged only last Wednesday that Trade and Industry questions would take place slap bang in the middle of the visit. Of course I had to cancel; if I had not, I would not have been here to answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions.

Mr. Redwood: I find it touching that the right hon. Gentleman takes his duties to the House so seriously. However, it is in the Government's power to choose the schedule for questions; I would have been amenable to any proposal to move questions to another day to accommodate the Secretary of State's important trade trip to Brazil. We need to know what meetings he had to cancel and what business is at risk, as we had been told that the trip represented a very necessary expenditure of public money.

Such rudeness to an overseas country is perhaps not surprising given the Government's appalling record in promoting British exports--they have thrown away millions of pounds of orders from Chile by their cack-handed handling of the Pinochet case. Like the Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman is a walking disaster when it comes to diplomacy in Britain's commercial interest. On his most recent visit to Brazil, he sparked an unfortunate political row when he criticised the Workers party.

The right hon. Gentleman has, of course, insulted many others, including the horny-handed sons of toil, as he calls them, in his constituency. He has also condemned most of his Cabinet colleagues as cowards. Looking at today's press, I think that the charge of cowardice would be more fairly levelled at him than at many of those with whom he tries to work.

The Guardian today reports that it has been told by sources close to the right hon. Gentleman that the Confederation of British Industry has been rebuffed over the fairness at work Bill. We are told authoritatively that the Bill will represent a decisive shift of direction in favour of the trade unions. Meanwhile, The Times is told equally authoritatively that the Secretary of State

The master of spin is caught red-handed--or is it blue-handed? A newspaper that inclines to the unions is told that he is the friend of the full trade union monty, whereas a newspaper with unhappy memories of trade union activity is told that he is a friend of business, valiantly trying to stifle the baser instincts of his predecessor and some of his colleagues.

Is not the House owed some straight talking? I remember the Secretary of State's promise: "No more spin, honest." Is he backing the unions or the CBI? In a

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debate with me on television today, the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Makerfield, was unable to answer, as he still had not had his instructions from the Secretary of State. A Bill is to be introduced, but we still do not know who has won and what the decision will be on crucial issues.

Will there be automatic trade union recognition if 50 per cent. or more of the work force in a firm or place of employment are already members of the union? If so, that will be, as I assumed, a victory for the trade unions. Will he raise or abolish the ceiling on unfair dismissal compensation? He seems to say yes--at last, after all the spinning, an honest nod from the Secretary of State, saying that the unions have won after all. What a surprise.

The Secretary of State must be dizzy from so much spinning, but eventually the spinning must stop. He must decide not only those issues, but how the minimum wage legislation will work and how the competition mess--a Bill in search of a policy--will be sorted out. He must also sort out the Post Office, energy policy and all the other things heaped on his desk that he seems unable to determine.

The right hon. Gentleman prides himself on being a man of great influence on the press. For the most part, he has little need to worry about unfriendly stories. He can call proprietors and editors--with a few brave exceptions--and have a journalist dealt with if a story is not to his liking.

The Secretary of State should remember that the issue before the British people at the next election will not be who has been the best spin master, but what is the reality. They will know the reality--whether we have more strikes or fewer and more manufacturing jobs or fewer, and whether people are investing here in new factories or closing factories down. They will have rumbled the Secretary of State, however good the spin. Today, the spin has gone horribly wrong, because he has been caught, through his agents, saying different things to different audiences about the same subject. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) wish to intervene? Obviously not. He thought better of it, because he realises that the Secretary of State cannot be defended.

The Secretary of State should remember Wapping. He should remember the damage that union action did to the newspaper industry. He should remember the terrible scenes of unions set against management. He should remember worker set against worker, and the picket lines and strife that characterised the bad old days of the 1970s and early 1980s before the Conservative Government reformed industrial relations. We do not want to see that again, and we fear that disrupting the settlement that we left the Government could bring back those dreadful old ways.

Now, the Secretary of State has decided to gum up the works in the exciting world of the internet and electronic communications. Perhaps he is so worried that the new media will not be on clean feed from Millbank tower that he wants to legislate to make sure that he can crack all their codes. Clearly, he wants to know what is going on in this new world. As I have explained, we have strong reservations about giving the Secretary of State this power, and about the wisdom of trying to freeze the technology while it is developing so rapidly. We are worried that the Secretary of State's wish to legislate on signatures and authority is a back-door way for the Government to damage our freedom.

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I wonder whether the Secretary of State is in the mood to answer one more question. Has he decided that he has to ditch Labour's pre-election policy on this very issue? Before the election, Labour said:

Labour went on to say, in an unusually vivid phrase, that there was

    "no fundamental difference between an encrypted file and a locked safe."

Exactly, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Would Houdini like to get out of that one? Is that not a dramatic change of policy? Is not the truth that the Secretary of Stare is so ashamed of what is going on in manufacturing that he wishes to claim the credit for internet and cyberspace technology, and has decided that the only way to do that is to put through a Bill? Now, having decided that he must try to invent something to go in the Bill, he has latched on to what Governments always latch on to in these circumstances--the wish to regulate, control and interfere in people's private business.

The Secretary of State is in grave danger of running up against all those who believe in freedom and liberty in our country--people who are very worried about this dramatic 180 deg U-turn on this crucial policy by the Labour Administration.

The new Government in Germany are waking up to the problems of their social models at exactly the same time as the British Government are bringing in the old German model to this country. The new Chancellor of Germany has stated:

Meanwhile, the British Government claim that Europe is coming our way.

The Government say that there will not be more or higher taxes, but that there will be more flexible labour markets. They say that getting people back to work across Europe is the new number one priority. Yet everything we see from their deliberations in Europe is pointing in the other direction. According to Mr. Santer--who should know--the Government have signed up to more and higher taxes from Brussels.

As recently as 1997, the Government signed up to a document which said:

I agree that that is not as clearly drafted as we might like, but it means in effect that the Government have signed up to higher taxation in the name of banning so-called unfair taxation. There it is, lock on the door, in a Commission document, clearly understood by Mr. Santer, who has translated it into better English than the original document.

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The new European document, to which the Europeans signed up only last month, goes even further. It says:

That is crystal clear: unfair tax competition is having lower taxes than one's neighbours. Britain had lower taxes, thanks to the two previous Prime Ministers. As a result, we have considerably lower unemployment than on the continent, which is another welcome divergence engineered by Conservative Ministers.

Labour wants to destroy both competitive advantages at a stroke, with a policy that drives up manufacturing unemployment and takes away some of our business tax advantages. The Government say maybe to another savings tax from Europe and to more VAT. [Laughter.]

Government Back Benchers find this so uncomfortable that they are behaving in a silly way. They well know that the Government have blown it on common taxation and they do not know how to defend the position, so they will not intervene or contribute to the debate, but merely try to disrupt it in a rather juvenile way.

The Government say maybe to more VAT. Indeed, the directive proposed in June says:

The proposal is to negotiate on that directive to create a uniform and high savings tax throughout Europe, which will damage savers and especially the City of London.

The Government say that they are out to modernise this country. They should have said that they are out to demolish it. They claimed that they would keep Scotland in the Union, but devolution is threatening that Union. They said that devolution would crush Scottish nationalism overnight, but it has given it a great new strength. They claimed that they wanted a strong Parliament, but they are out to abolish the second Chamber in all but name, because it dared to disagree, and they like to stifle debate in this Chamber whenever possible.

The Government told the Liberals that they would be important if they went on to Labour pagers, but Labour Back Benchers could have told them that it does not quite work like that. They claimed that they would transfer power to people, but they are taking it away from them. They said that they would stand up for Britain in Europe, but they have sold us out in Europe on taxation and labour market regulation. They said that they would encourage manufacturing, but they are closing it down. They said that they believed in freedom of information, but in practice they believe in secrecy.

I see that the Secretary of State does not believe that he should listen to these important charges against the Government. He knows that they have broken yet another crucial promise on freedom of information.

Far from modernising our democracy, the Government are undermining it, boosting Scottish nationalism and fuelling a false English patriotism. They are trying to do to Parliament what Guy Fawkes was prevented from doing. Their constitutional gunpowder is exploding dangerously. They are doing untold damage. Conservative

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Members will fight for the industry that we want to protect, for the democracy that we love and for the country that we serve.

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