Lord McFall’s speech on the EU economy, manufacturing and jobs

Lord McFall’s speech in the House of Lords, 3rd November 2011
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John McFall, Lord McFall of Alcluith, speaks in the House of Lords Chamber

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on securing this hugely important debate. My contribution has two themes: honesty and clarity. Honesty refers to the fact that this is part of the global financial crisis, which started in August 2007 with BNP Paribas stating that it had suspended three funds related to subprime. At the time, I said that we had a banking crisis; that went on to become an economic crisis, which became a political crisis and a social crisis. The latter two now have equal resonance with the former. The political crisis that we see in Greece, where the Prime Minister has lost his nerve, is now a straight choice between in or out, and the sooner that choice is made the better, so that we can get on with business.

The big question is how to maintain the integrity of the eurozone and stop contagion. We must remember that Italy’s bond yields are almost 6.5 per cent compared with Germany’s at 0.3 per cent. That is unsustainable and cannot go on. If you remember, Portugal and Ireland went to the fund for help when their bond yields were around that price.

On the social side, the International Labour Organisation undertook a study and stated very clearly recently that the world economy is on the verge of a new jobs recession. In 45 out of the 118 countries that were examined, the risks of social unrest were there. When the leaders meet at the G20 today, that social dimension should be in the background.

On the issue of honesty, our own Government have to be honest. The Prime Minister has said that he is not going to contribute to a eurozone bailout, and the Chancellor has said that he is not going to contribute to an IMF bailout if it is to be used for Europe. Given that £130 billion of exports are made to Europe every year, that is a false choice and the sooner the Government are honest with the people and say, “We support the IMF because it is in the interests of the larger global community”, the better.

There is a growth crisis in Europe at the moment. In the last year, unemployment has increased in Germany, which has not happened for two years, and its manufacturing sector has contracted as a result. We must remember that Europe as a whole is heading for a recession. In a sovereign debt crisis, where private debt has been transferred to government debt, slow growth and deflation are the biggest risks for solving debt and it will exacerbate the situation if we do not have growth.

The issue facing us today is a lack of demand. My successor as chairman of the Treasury Committee, Andrew Tyrie, put it quite clearly and succinctly when he said that the Government lack a “coherent and credible” plan for growth. If that is the case, we need clarity on that.

Yesterday, along with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and others, we looked at the issue of a national investment bank, which would invest in large infrastructure projects here. By the way, such a bank would serve the interests of the country, because as far back as 1931 there was what was identified as the Macmillan gap. The Macmillan commission said that there was not adequate resources for British industry and small businesses. We have still to tackle that, and the present crisis is crying out for that. Adam Posen, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee, says that the UK lacks a “spare tyre” and that we have to get on with that issue.

Why do I say that manufacturing industry is in such a serious situation? In the past three or four years, we have seen devaluation of the currency by about 30 per cent. In a normal situation, that would lead to an export-led manufacturing boom. It has not done so, and therefore we need to ensure that we have organisations and facilities that mirror those of the German Mittelstand. A time of cheap capital, real negative interest rates and spare capacity in employment is when to invest in growth so that we come out of recession in the proper way.

When I talk about employment and capacity, that capacity is available not least among young people. There are 991,000 unemployed 16 to 24 year-olds. I know from when I was a school teacher in Glasgow what the decimation was like in society when jobs were not available for young people. It is very important that we take on that issue. Today, a very depressing report from Barnardo’s says that,

“49 per cent … agree that children … behave like animals”,

and that society views children in a negative way. That message is wrong in fact and in principle. If we give out the message that society has given up on young people, young people will certainly give up on us. It is an overwhelming economic need, as well as a humanitarian need, for society to treasure young people.

Let us show that today, with increased urgency, by factoring young people into our economic stability and growth agenda.

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