Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons speech on Economic and Monetarist Policies, made on 15th January 1981.
Mr. John Major (Huntingdonshire) As a number of other hon. Gentlemen still wish to speak, I shall shorten my remarks as much as I can.
There is one aspect of the debate and the asides within it that worry me considerably. So far as I can gather from what has been said, appear to be the only Member in the Chamber who has received a letter from the leader of the Liberal Party in the past week. If the right hon. Gentleman would care to write to me again and explain why I am so signally honoured and what I have done to deserve that honour, I shall seek never to do it again.
The charge that the Opposition have sought to sustain this afternoon is serious. It does not call for any degree of flippancy. I have listened to the debate throughout and I do not believe that they have substantiated that charge in the fashion that they would wish.
The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) spoke with his usual charm but with startling simplicity about many of the underlying causes of what has happened. He spoke with greater simplicity and, in some cases, omission when it came to alternative policies that the Opposition would promote. Many of those omissions have been referred to by my hon. Friends and I shall therefore elaborate on only one.
A remarkable speech was made at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in 1976 by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who was then Chancellor. It is correct to paraphrase the right hon. Gentleman as saying that there is a substantial time lag between economic cause and effect. He put that time lag at 18 months and possibly longer. If we are to have a mature debate on the problems we face we must accept that, if the right hon. Gentleman was right then –
The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar spoke about lack of demand in the economy. There will be much sympathy for that outside. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has just touched on it. How would the Opposition expand demand in the economy, however? They certainly would not do it, judging from their present rhetoric and past history, by cutting taxes. They have never promised to do that. It would be credible for them to promise to expand Government investment, to let loose the printing presses yet again, and to borrow money with an expanding public sector borrowing requirement. It would not be credible, however, for them to advance a policy of expanding public investment by enlarging the borrowing requirement while promising to reduce the level of MLR at the same time.
Shortly before the leadership election translated the right hon. Member for Leeds, East to other responsibilities –
From what we have heard from the Opposition today, it is clear that they oppose what is happening, that they deny logic, and that they seem to deny reality as well. The Opposition also seem to ask us to believe that, if they were in charge, it would be all right on the night. “I will fill in the details later”, said the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar, implying that it would be all right on the night. I recall the expression “It will be all right on the night” being referred to as the bridegroom’s plea. I am bound to say –
I do not deride the genuine anxiety that many Opposition Members feel about unemployment. I resent, however, the way in which they seem to regard Conservative Members as having no care and simply paying lip service to the need to resolve this problem. I concede immediately that my constituency does not have the unemployment problem faced in many hon. Members’ constituencies week in and week out. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate in the northern part of my constituency is about 9 per cent. and in the southern part 6 per cent. In both, it is rising dramatically. Another 150 jobs have been lost in the last week at Samuel Jones, an excellently run and managed firm.
Hon. Members on the Conservative Benches have a practical and realistic understanding of what is happening. I hope that the Opposition will not charge us again with being neither knowledgeable nor concerned about current events. We can differ and argue about the relative importance of the causes of the unemployment and inflation and the industrial decline seen in recent years. In the round, the causes are clearly identifiable –
I should like to illustrate with some figures the enormous deflation in the whole of the industrial West created by the change in oil prices. The current account surplus of the OPEC countries in 1973-
I should like to mention one point to which I hope the Minister will direct himself. I do not believe that any Government will be able unilaterally to take sufficient initiatives to encourage a greater recycling of the oil surpluses. I should like to know, however, what initiatives the Government have in mind, in company with our partners in Europe or other trading nations, collectively to seek a greater recycling of these funds. Unless we are successful, I doubt whether we shall attain the increased demand that most hon. Members recognise that we need and without which the regeneration of manufacturing industry is unlikely to take place on the scale that we believe necessary in the foreseeable future,
I believe that the Government will be right if they decide selectively –
Where I would not wish to see the Government spending taxpayers’ money is in those industries and areas that we believe –
Many tens of thousands of workers today know that they are working in jobs that do not really exist and that may vanish at any time. It will be no help to the next generation to leave those jobs for them to inherit. It may perhaps be a short-
Mr. Nicholas Winterton What industries?
Mr. Major My hon. Friend asks from a sedentary position “What industries”? Specifically, if I may give one example, it would be a great mistake if we were not to permit the steel industry to find its relevant level in this country, where it is producing a sufficient quantity of goods to meet the demand that exists. We cannot continue over-
What I hope that my right hon. Friend can direct his speech to when he replies is, first, the question of what initiatives the Government will be taking over recycling the oil surpluses. Secondly and equally important, what proposals do the Government have for seeking over a period of years the provision and growth of new industries and employment in those areas where industries can be identified as being in terminal decline? That will be an ongoing problem and policy for Government after Government in the years to come. The sooner that we can direct our minds to it with a positive plan for what is proposed, the sooner we can encourage those who are working in declining industries to recognise that there will be a future for their area, even if the industries in which they are working are at present in decline. I will end on that point, as I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak.
Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-
Mr. Major The hon. Gentleman tempts me to follow him. Contrary to tradition, this Government have brought in at least two people from outside who are experts in their field to advise them on precisely such matters. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to support that.
Let me deal with one final matter that the hon. Gentleman may agree with, so he may care to listen for just one moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield said that he had visited many factories and areas during the parliamentary recess. I did, too. There is one matter to which I hope that we can direct concern and expenditure in the foreseeable future, which I do not believe will involve large sums. Archaic and appalling conditions exist in many unemployment offices.
I attended one such unemployment office recently on a Monday morning, and found a large number of middle-