Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman, who is experienced in the ways of the House, of the importance of referring to the office rather than naming the individual. I would not like any of our newer Members to think that it was acceptable to refer to Ministers in that way.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: May I say, Madam Deputy Speaker, how courteous you are and how appropriate it is for you to reprimand me for failing to use the right language, particularly when Mr. Speaker only recently issued a wonderful letter about the conventions and courtesies of the House?
I am saying that our country's economy is not in the state that many people would have us believe. With the country increasingly living beyond its means, the Government will have to face a day of reckoning in the near future.
Before I finish, I want to emphasise the important role of manufacturing industry. I said earlier that I would refer briefly to the problems of MG Rover, which broke out just as the country went into the general election campaign. I am deeply worried, as are Members on both sides of the House, that a group of four people who inherited and took over huge industrial capital assets
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could end up so remarkably wealthy, when many thousands of people in the west midlands ended up without a job. There is something fundamentally wrong with our system when failure can result in the people who created it walking away with a huge package of money and assets, while those who have actually created the wealth and been part of an important manufacturing sector of the UK have lost their jobs.
I am pleased to hear that the economy is, as the Government state, doing so well and that businesses will seek to employ some of those who lost their jobs in the MG Rover plant at Longbridge. However, will the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs tell us in her reply what action the Government will take against those who were responsible for bringing about the collapse of that plant, particularly as they have walked away from this sad saga with millions of pounds? If we are to believe in capitalism, as I do, it must be an acceptable form of capitalism whereby profits are shared not only by those who take executive decisions, but by those who do the work on the shop floor to produce the goods that the country needs. I believe that the Government have a duty to do so and I hope that the Secretary of State will deal with the sad circumstances of MG Rover. I must say, as a long-serving Member, that I am surprised that those problems did not feature more strongly in the election campaign.
It is important to view the subject in a wider context. Many people work hard to generate wealth, but if a company fails, perhaps through bad management or bad executive decisions, those at the top often walk away with huge packages totalling more than the average working man and woman in this country earn in a lifetime, while those who hew the coal at the coal face walk away with very little. Increasingly, people are beginning to have doubts about the effectiveness of capitalism. As I said, I am a Conservative who believes in the generation of wealth, but I want it to be fairly distributed.
Before I finish, I want to raise another subject that is relevant to industry. So many people in private industry are finding that the purchasing power of their pension is being dramatically reduced. Part of the reason for thatI hope that the Government will be prepared to admit their responsibilityis the way in which the pension funds were depleted in 1997, and have continued to be so to the tune of more than £5 billion a year. In eight years, more than £40 billion has been removed from this country's pension fundsa situation exacerbated by the fall in the stock market. Tens of thousands of people throughout the country are now looking forward to a much less prosperous retirement than would otherwise have been the case. Will there be any meaningful move to try to help those people? Will the Government introduce measures to provide meaningful, real incentives for people to save for their retirement and to prevent companies from abusing their pension funds, often to assist their cash-flow problems?
As the Secretary of State knows, just over the border in Derbyshire, Ferodo faces a crisis over pension provision. I have constituents who work there and they raised the matter with me. I believe that the success of industry is essential to the success of pensions, but we should not allow people to be deprived of the pension
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for which they have saved for so many years of their working lives to ensure that they retire with a decent standard of life.
This debate is important. We can range widely, as I have, and we should never forget that manufacturing industry is the only sustainable source of non-inflationary economic growth. We should ensure that before any measure introduced in this place reaches the statute book, its impact on industry and the productive sector of our economy is properly understood.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): I am pleased to follow a fellow officer of the all-party clothing, textiles and footwear group and I hope that we shall have at least one new recruit in my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), who gave us a wonderful description of the mills in her area. I often contest claims that the north-west was the sole source of the industrial heartland, as Derbyshire has world heritage status for the Derwent valley with the amazing mills of Arkwright and the growth of the textiles sector.
Though reluctant to disagree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), I have to say that I do not recognise the golden picture that he painted of the years under the last Conservative Government. I seem to recall that over that period the textile industry had a very difficult time and that 500,000 jobs were lost in that sector alone. When the Tories were last in power, about 1,000 businesses went bust every week. I also remember that 3 million people were unemployed and interest rates stood at 15 per cent., so I do not look back to that period as the golden age that he portrayed.
I should like to touch on a few key themes relating to the Department of Trade and Industry: manufacturing industry, climate change, which crosses over with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and equalities. I welcome the general thrust of the Queen's Speech and its emphasis on continuing our wonderful investment in and improvement of public services, tackling child and pensioner poverty, addressing the international agenda on development and putting climate change and poverty in Africa at the top of our priorities for the G8 summit, our provision of greater support for working families, promoting opportunity and fairness. But at its heart is the question of economic stability and the need to entrench it while also promoting long-term growth and prosperity. That was where the Queen's Speech started. It is important that manufacturing is at the heart of what we do on the economy and I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that it is a priority for him.
I welcomed the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley, who made clear how important manufacturing is in her constituency. Like others have done, I note the excellence of her maiden speech and the good picture that she gave us of her constituency. We have some wonderful new additions to the Labour Benches and I know that some of them wish to contribute to the debate. Our new Members are all excellent, but I am especially pleased that the majority of them are wonderful new women Members to add to our ranks. It is appropriate that, when our new Deputy Minister for Women is here representing one of the Departments under discussion today, so many of our new women Members should seek to make their maiden speeches.
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My constituency has one of the highest proportions of jobs in manufacturingsome 30 per cent. People work outside the constituency at Toyota in South Derbyshire. We have all heard about the horrors that happened at Rover. I endorse the comments about the unfair contrast between what happened to those who managed the debacle and those who have suffered through losing their jobs. I hope that the successful taskforce set up after 9/11 for Rolls-Royce and its supply chain can be a model for trying to get new jobs for Rover workers. However, Toyota is a car company that is doing well and expanding. Indeed, anyone who wants to know about productivity should go and look at the Toyota production line and observe the steps that the staff take to cut an extra hundredth of a second off the production process and the teamwork at the plant that has led to some of its success.
My constituency is also home to people who work at Rolls-Royce and in its supply chain. It heartens me when I travel by plane to know that every single rotor blade on the engine is so carefully looked after when it comes back to my constituency. That happens on one of the small industrial estates that were set up after the closure of the pitsone reason why we have so much diverse manufacturing. We have large employers, such as Thorntons chocolates and Denby pottery, as well as a range of smaller companies that do everything from making jigsaws to providing the high-tech composite materials for Formula 1 cars and our Olympic gold medal winning bicycle. We also have the headquarters of the largest private construction company in the country, whose boss is the chair of our learning and skills council in Derbyshire.
The constituency has lost many textile jobs, but that industry is still an important part of our local economy. In the future, the textiles industry may expand in new technical areas. Indeed, when I visited the company that makes the composite materials for Formula 1 cars, I was surprised to learn that it is actually a textile-based technology. The racing drivers might feel a bit nervous if they knew that.
We have had job losses in textiles and other industries, but unemployment in Amber Valley has fallen by 1,000 under this Labour Government. Long-term unemployment has fallen by 82 per cent. and youth unemployment by 77 per cent. It is appalling that the Opposition parties proposed to do away with some of the programmesincluding the new deal, which has been so importantthat have helped us to achieve those figures. Opposition parties have also proposed cuts to the Small Business Service and getting rid of regional selective assistance, but that would not assist them to promote manufacturing and industry.
I welcome the steps that have been taken by our Government to promote manufacturing. Strong macro-economic stability is at the base of that, but the changes to taxation to support manufacturing investmentregional venture capital funds, capital allowances for small firms and the establishment of the manufacturing advisory servicehave been a great help. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) mentioned the amazing amount of investment that we are putting into our science base, which had been shamefully neglected, and that is critical
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for manufacturing. I would also single out the work the Government have done to promote modern apprenticeship programmes. However, from my experience on the Trade and Industry Committee, I can see some areas in which we could take more action to improve the focus of some of our initiatives. We have done a great deal, but we need a commitment that manufacturing will continue to be one of the major priorities for the Department.
As I have talked to people in my constituency and in my work on the Trade and Industry Committee, I have realised what we need to do to change our manufacturing sector into the highly skilled, high-value, knowledge-intensive one that will enable us to compete. We need to ensure that the initiatives we take and the support we provide are clearly focused to make the most of them. Industrialists still sometimes perceive that we have a plethora of business support initiatives at regional and sub-regional level. I know that efforts have been made to streamline that support, but we need to ensure that our initiatives are easily understood and that business people know about them, because that is not always the case. Confusion still exists about the roles of different bodies. The structure might seem clear to us when we set it up, but it is not necessarily always clear to those seeking to access support whether they should go to Business Link, the manufacturing advisory service, the regional development agency or another body. It is not always clear what the learning and skills councils do and what the sector skills councils do. All those are important initiatives, but we need to do everything we can to ensure that industrialists know what help is available.
Public procurement is also a source of continuing concern for business. It is strongly believed that other EU countries somehow find a way to favour their own interests. That point was made in my area in relation to Bombardier and certain textile contracts. I hope that we will see what we can do to assist our own industries, without breaking the rules.
We must ensure that our wonderful training and skills agenda continues to keep education and skills at the heart of what we are doing. We must do that to ensure that manufacturers can take the high-quality competitive path. The skills and training that we provide must be genuinely linked to the industrial needs of our manufacturing businesses. For example, in our textiles industry we have wonderful young designers, but they have problems bringing their ideas to market. But we need the structures to provide people with skills in technical textiles manufacturing, which has amazing potential, including bandages that mend wounds, protective clothing and items used in the construction industry. Technical textiles have so many potential uses, but we must provide the courses to enable people to improve their skills in that area, rather than just the fashion end of the market.
During the election campaign, I made some wonderful visits relating to education and training. Pupils at a secondary school in my constituency, Aldercar, take both vocational and academic qualifications. The school is at the forefront of our programme for ensuring that proper vocational education is available in schools. It has talked to local business people and others who want to take on students with such vocational qualifications and is conscious that
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the students must also have basic academic skills. Staff ensure that students have the necessary academic skills and that students who are going on to an academic career have an understanding of other forms of qualification. I was heartened to see their work.
I also visited a distribution centre that has set up its own learning centre on site, run jointly by USDAW and management, to enable people working there to enhance their skills and engage in lifelong learning. In the last Parliament, when we discussed support for union learning representatives in Committee, I was shocked at the Conservative opposition to a measure that would enable initiatives such as the one in my constituency to be set up. Through the union learning fund, union learning reps encourage other members of the work force to enhance their skills. That has to be the way forward for our economy. That a major political party could oppose something that is so helpful and important in promoting skills and training is beyond me.
I have touched on a few items for the promotion of our manufacturing and skills agenda that I hope Ministers will keep firmly in their sights and I want to talk briefly about two more items. The first is energy.
I was interested by the sudden spewing out of articles on nuclear energy since the election. It is clear that we must have a debate about where we are going and that obviously involves both Departments represented in the Chamber today. We need to consider how to maintain sustainable energy sources. We must deal with the climate change problem and ensure that we have secure and affordable energy supplies. That will clearly be a major debate in the months to come.
From what I read and see, I am unclear about the real figures on energyas, I suspect, are many others. We need to do sufficient work on energy efficiency, clean coal technology and promoting renewables, all of which need extra impetus. I shall not go through the arguments again but we need to do much more. Indeed, I am looking forward to meeting a retired farmer in my constituency who is completely into biofuels and will show us the wonderful plants that we should be using to develop energy sources. I am looking forward to my house being fuelled by such energy. There is great enthusiasm about those ideas, but I am still unclear about whether, even if we concentrate on all those things, there will still be an energy gap.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry showed deft skill in picking up the difficult proposals on tuition fees and steering them and their amendments towards proposals that were more acceptable to some of us on the Labour Benches. I hope that he will use all those skills in the energy debate. I hope that the argument that somehow there is a huge energy gap that cannot be covered without a new generation of nuclear power stations is not put in aspic so that, by default, that is felt to be inevitable, although I feel that some people may be trying to portray the situation in that way. We need a major debate on the economics of nuclear power and about who pays the price.
We must also consider the disposal of nuclear waste, something about which I am conscious as we have experienced difficulties with the disposal of low-level radioactive waste from Rolls-Royce at Hilts quarry in Crich in my constituency. My right hon. Friend the
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Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is well aware of that situation because the material comes from Rolls-Royce in Derby. It is traumatic and people are hugely upset and concerned even though only low-level waste is involved. That has been an issue in my constituency for several years and the waste is now going to Drigg. I am well aware of all the difficulties in disposing of radioactive waste, but I hope that we do not rush into things pell-mell and that guidelines being set out at present will not automatically take us towards that form of energy generation.
My final remarks are about the equalities agenda. I am delighted at the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) as Deputy Minister for Women and Equality. I hope that the Secretary of State in whose Department she resides will give her complete support in dealing with the difficult job of putting pressure on every Department to take on board equalities and gender equality issues. That is the most difficult part of her job and she will need complete support from Cabinet Ministers to press that agenda. I realise that her job may be even more difficult because she reports to one Secretary of State on gender and another on the overall equalities agenda. That is ironic given that the equalities Bill, which I very much welcome, will bring together equality and human rights, and, at last, put a positive duty on public authorities to promote gender equality. A recent report from the DTI on the income gap between men and women shows how such matters range across Departmentspensions, tax credits, pay and so on; none can be dealt with in isolation. On behalf of my hon. Friend, who will, I know do an excellent job, I appeal to her senior Ministers to back her in putting pressure on other Departments and agencies to promote the equalities agenda.
I particularly welcome the work and families Bill on working life and child care. When the Trade and Industry Committee produced its report on employment regulation we quizzed witnesses about flexible working and the application of current provisions. We received a favourable response and I am pleased that that provision will be extended.
I very much welcome those items in the Queen's Speech and our future programme, and hope that Ministers will do everything they can to help us carry out the difficult agenda before us. I welcome the Queen's Speech and commend it to the House.