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6.32 pm

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made great play of his concern about, and even approval of, "honest failure"

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in the workplace. Having considered the measures proposed in the Queen's Speech--as well as those that the Labour party has already said it intends to produce--I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that there will be much more failure in the business world because of the burdens that the Government are heaping on the business man and woman.

Let us be clear about one thing: businesses do not exist to provide social services. Social services result from the decisions of politicians, and politicians should be prepared to administer them at their own expense--at the expense of the taxpayer--rather than expecting proprietors of firms, especially small firms, to take on an added burden of work.

It should also be acknowledged that firms do not exist to promote happy families. A reasonable case could be made for the view that the Government have some interest in that, because of the social consequences that flow from unhappy families; nevertheless, it is not the purpose of a business man running a company, large or small. Businesses exist to make profits: only by doing so can they provide the jobs that we all want people to have, and pay their taxes. Ultimately, all the tax that Government receive comes from the profits of business and commerce. Firms can do what is required of them only by concentrating on running their business, rather than running Government social policies, family-friendly policies or trade union-friendly policies.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman: No, I will not. I want to be brief, because others wish to speak.

The purpose of a business is to make profits, and to run its own affairs. I find it chilling that so much of the legislation proposed in the Queen's Speech takes us back to the past, giving trade unions much more power and authority in the workplace and meaning that taxation must inevitably increase to cope with, for example, the working time directive, increased maternity leave and increased holiday time. All that will add to the cost of running a business, and, most important, will add to the paperwork and intervention that the business community will have to administer.

For instance, Labour intends to introduce new family credit arrangements, which will mean much more administration for employers. Those arrangements will involve people earning about £39,000 a year--presumably, well over half the work force. Some large organisations may well cope, because they can put up more reserves from their profits.

According to the managing director of Fiat in the United Kingdom, although larger corporations can probably cope with the legislation, smaller firms are in "a very difficult position". He says that they are

who will be given much more power and authority in the workplace through the re-establishment of their right to form and operate trade unions, regardless of whether employers want that to happen.

We lived through all this in the 1970s, when there was chaos in the workplace. There were strikes of monumental proportions almost every other week, which were

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extremely destructive of our economy. Only the Conservative Government's action in bringing some sense into that chaos produced the tranquillity that we now enjoy in the workplace and take for granted, but which will end as a result of the Government's proposals.

Two female Opposition Members found that quite amusing, but we currently live in a world in which we no longer experience major national strikes. Perhaps they do not recall those days, but I do. I ran a company then, and it was hell.

Charlotte Atkins: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman: I will, briefly.

Charlotte Atkins: Surely what has replaced the alleged abuse by trade unions is fear in the workplace. Would the hon. Lady condone the actions of one of my local textile firms, which requires, at 24 hours' notice, all staff to be available from 6 am until 10 or 11 pm? Will that not completely destroy family life?

Mrs. Gorman: The hon. Lady makes a point that I took up earlier. The concept of what families do with themselves is not one for which employers are primarily responsible. If people are losing their jobs, in the hon. Lady's constituency or anywhere else, they must thank the Government for the policies that they are operating--in particular, the policies involving more regulation, which are making our businesses less competitive. Even companies such as Marks and Spencer, which has a reputation for compassion, tell us that they cannot compete in the circumstances that the Government have created.

The hon. Lady should ask her question of her own Front Benchers. The situation did not arise under the previous Government, for the simple reason that there was flexibility in the workplace. People could find jobs when an old industry died and new industries were established. That is the answer to unemployment, rather than trying to pressurise the employer to accept more responsibility.

Of all the measures that the Government are proposing, many of which will be extremely damaging to industry, I shall refer to two. One is the working time directive, under which--allegedly--individuals cannot be asked to work for more than 48 hours a week. Many Labour Members may say, "Jolly good job, too; don't let employers grind the faces of the poor." The directive will cause great problems for the Royal Mail, for example, which employs thousands of people, because its staff often work more than 48 hours a week in order to process an irregular source of material. Apparently, the post does not arrive evenly over a seven-day period. A 48-hour maximum may sound wonderful on paper, but it will interfere with the natural working patterns of large as well as small firms, the health service and other major industries.

The other item that should be mentioned in this debate is the Government proposal to remove the cap on compensation that is awarded in industrial tribunals. Such tribunals are one of the most discouraging elements of regulation with which small firms must cope. Not only do small business men have to take time off and pay for lawyers to put their case: they must find the compensation. In proposing to remove the cap, the Labour party could quite easily turn small firms into what the Secretary of State described as honest failures.

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The cumulative effect of the new measures that the Government are proposing will add enormously to burdens on employers--not just small employers--and will inevitably contribute to an increase in unemployment. I am sure that Labour Members will do their very best to compensate people with higher welfare benefits, but that is not what people want. People want jobs in flourishing firms. If we are to encourage our small firms to grow and allow our large firms to survive in a competitive international market, we must stop imposing extra burdens on them.

Not surprisingly, all Labour Members who have spoken have welcomed the increasing burdens--whether they be an extension of trade union rights, an increase in time off, an extension of public holidays or a rise in the amount of compensation or damages that can be awarded against a business. Every one of those changes will make jobs more difficult to come by.

As for things such as the new deal, which Government Members trumpet whenever they get the opportunity, we all know that Government intervention--whether Conservative or Labour--in business activity invariably leads to a reduction in the amount of time, energy and money a firm is able to spend on producing a profit. Without that, without the creation of jobs and without encouraging small businesses and new entrepreneurs, jobs will be lost, which will not be replaced by artificial schemes that the Government concoct.

I realise that the Opposition think that all the measures are socially desirable, and even likely to improve--

Mr. David Jamieson (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury): The hon. Lady is a member of the Opposition.

Mrs. Gorman: I accept the hon. Gentleman's reprimand of my slight confusion. It is very difficult to believe that the sensible measures that we introduced will not be continued under this Administration.

All the proposed measures will have a harmful effect in the workplace. People will not thank the Government for introducing regulations, which ostensibly will be sold to them as an improvement in protection, when they find that they no longer have jobs.

6.45 pm

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): A major delegation from the textile industry lobbied Parliament today. Hundreds of people joined us from all over the country, and members of the industry and employees made speeches. That is not the first time that they have lobbied this Parliament; several months ago, representatives from the regions came down to London. Such action shows the anxiety felt in Britain's textile industry. I welcomed the Secretary of State's statement that a meeting had taken place yesterday with the employers. I hope that some good will come from it.

I did not, however, welcome the statement of the shadow Secretary of State, who seems, all of a sudden, to be pretending to show concern for the textile industry. Those of us who represent towns such as Bolton, where the textile industry is very strong and important to its economy, remember decline and decline during 18 years

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of Tory government. Whenever Parliament was lobbied when the Tories were in power, all we ever heard was that they would not support lame ducks. When leading industries which are important to the economies of Italy, Germany, Japan and many other countries got themselves into temporary difficulty for whatever reason, why did their Governments deem it important to support them?

We know that the textile industry has been in decline for a long time. I shall address issues concerning that in a moment. I remind Opposition Members that, in the north-west, where the textile industry is so strong, their policies have resulted in being able to count Conservative Members for the region on only one hand. When I go to the "NorthWestminster" regional television studios, I find it humorous that those working there wonder which of the four or five Conservative Members to invite on the programme the following week. They might even consider dressing them up in different uniforms so that they look different when they appear on television.

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