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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) because he and I represent constituencies in the same county. I am not sure whether he is aware that for a time I was associated with a major employer in his constituency, known then as the Bridgewater Paper Co. As a past non-executive director of that company—fully declared in the Register of Members' Interests—I know that the company played its full part in the green agenda. It extracted water from the local river and returned it to the watercourse a lot cleaner. In addition, it had a magnificent, but very expensive, combined heat and power system to generate the electricity that it required. It was highly efficient and, again, very much part of the green economy.
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I am sorry that the hon. Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) has left her place because I intended to pay tribute to her maiden speech. She painted an attractive picture of Burnley and its immediate environment. Knowing the town and the area well, I agree that it is a lovely area in many ways. I also know it because historically I have taken a huge interest in the textile and clothing industry. That area of Lancashire has been involved over hundreds of years in the production of textiles and clothing.

I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Lady's immediate predecessor, Peter Pike, with whom I worked closely in this place over a number of years. He and I served on the Modernisation Committee and he left that Committee only when he left the House at the end of the last Parliament. We shall watch with interest to see whether the new Leader of the House will reappoint that Committee or take my advice and merge the Modernisation Committee with the Procedure Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing during the past two Parliaments. I am not looking to him to do that and appoint me—or, indeed, for the Committee to appoint me—as Chairman; I just believe that there is a great deal of common ground between the two Committees. They cross over in many areas and they trespass into each other's preserves, and I believe that it would be better to have a Back-Bench Member chairing that Committee. Having a Cabinet Minister as Chairman undermines the independence and integrity of a House Committee. It is the only Select Committee that is chaired by a Cabinet Minister.

Although she is no longer here, may I say to the hon. Member for Burnley that I was privileged to serve in the House with her predecessor's predecessor, Dan Jones, who was a truly magnificent man. He was a coal miner who never lost his roots, but took to this place and represented Burnley with huge distinction. He and I worked together on textiles, mainly. I remember going to British Home Stores to see some of the leading executives of that company to persuade them that because it was called British Home Stores they should stock and sell more goods that had some connection with Great Britain and the United Kingdom as a whole. He was a fearless campaigner, and Burnley in both Dan Jones and Peter Pike had two magnificent representatives.

In the House, we frequently hear one of the Chancellor's boasts about his management of the economy—that the economy has experienced 50 quarters of consecutive growth. I admit from the Opposition Benches that that is true, but the Chancellor does not tell us that 20 of those quarters—from the third quarter of 1992 to the second quarter of 1997—were under a Conservative Government and Prime Minister John Major, when the economy was performing extremely well. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Michael Jack), who is sitting close to me, was well aware as a Treasury Minister of the success of our Chancellor at that time and of the Conservative Government.

The Chancellor was fortunate to inherit an economy from the previous Government that was in such fantastic shape. According to his biographer, one Tom Bower, when the Chancellor entered the Treasury in 1997, Treasury officials told him that the economic figures for the United Kingdom were fantastically good and that the state of the economy was much better than
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predicted. I remind the House that this was the same economy, incidentally, that the Chancellor claimed was a complete Tory mess. He went on to say that the economy needed to be cleared up. The truth is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer inherited a tremendous golden legacy from the then Conservative Government.

I want to touch on matters relating to MG Rover. Labour's recently acquired reputation for sound economic management has withstood news—we know this, having come through a general election—which in another period of our history would have seriously damaged the governing party. Even before the MG Rover job losses are taken into account—in the 1960s and 1970s this would have been an unthinkable calamity—1 million manufacturing jobs have been lost under this Labour Government since 1997. While overall unemployment has fallen over much of the Government's term of office, it is now sadly—I say this with deep regret—rising again. It rose some 29,000 in March this year to reach 1.43 million. That figure—I say this to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), whom I congratulate on his new role—would be much higher still had it not been for the creation of 583,000 public sector jobs by the Government since 1997. Some 146,000 of those were created in the last year alone. I welcome the fact that people are in work, but although those jobs have kept people from the dole queue, they are what I describe as unproductive jobs. That is not to cast aspersions on the ability of those who hold those jobs. The Centre for Policy Studies calculates that, in the year to the first quarter of 2004, productivity in the economy as a whole grew by 1.2 per cent., yet in the public sector it shrank by 1.3 per cent. That draws attention to the true state of the economy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset held the important portfolio of shadow Chancellor leading up to and during the election campaign. I regret that more time was not devoted during that campaign to the economy, employment, pensions, taxation and the impact of the European Union on the economy. I believe that the non-jobs being created by the Government have been doubly damaging. They add to the taxation burden and at the same time create scarcity in more important sectors of the job market, making it harder for the wealth-creating sector to recruit. That is important. While I welcome many of the improvements that have been made in employment, the Government should give more attention to the impact that such measures have on the competitiveness of United Kingdom industry.

Much was said by the Secretary of State in his opening speech about the improvements provided for those in employment. It reminds me that tomorrow I am due to attend a celebration with a company in my constituency called Complete Medical Communications, which has been given a work-life balance award—something for which I know the Government will take credit. The company provides its employees with greater flexibility in balancing their lives and their work. Of course, many companies manage to do that, but many small companies would find it extremely difficult.
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I wish to look briefly at the trade figures. In 2004, according to the impeccable Office for National Statistics, our country imported £58 billion-worth of goods: more than it exported. If we take account of invisibles—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, in his history and pedigree, contributed to invisibles in his work in the City—such as banking and financial services, the figures are little better. We have a net deficit of £39 billion compared with a small surplus that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer inherited from the Conservative Administration in 1997.

To paraphrase an article that I read in The Sunday Telegraph at the beginning of the election campaign, in 1970 Harold Wilson's unexpected defeat was partially put down to one month's bad trading figures, which the Government blamed, believe it or not, on the purchase of two jumbo jets by British Airways—yet last year's far more dramatic trade deficit was hardly reported outside the business pages and technical business press.

I find that extraordinary, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset why the matter was not discussed at much greater length during the general election campaign. The governing Labour party, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are extremely vulnerable. As the months pass us by, we shall see much more evidence of what I am talking about now.

Bad trade figures, of course, are not so urgent in 2005 as they were in the 1970s, when memories of the 1967 devaluation were still fresh in the mind and there were worries about a run on the pound. They are indicative, however, of the general direction of Labour's economic policy. In 1997, Gordon Brown inherited a strong economy in which growth was export-led, but in the subsequent eight years he has turned our economy into one driven by Government borrowing and consumer debt, which is sucking in imports and burdening industry with taxes to pay the wages of those in the public sector—

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