HC Deb 02 May 1984 vol 59 cc344-5
17. Mr. Beaumont-Dark

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the levels of business confidence in British industry.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Surveys of business opinion show that confidence in industry is at its highest level for many years. Output, investment, profits and exports are expected to increase strongly this year. This confidence has now extended from consumer industries right through to intermediate and capital goods industries.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my hon. Friend agree that, at long last, that is good news, particularly for the west midlands, where productivity is at its highest for about seven years? However, does he agree that one danger is that if the miners' dispute — which is so politically motivated — continues, it may damage the recovery which the Government have worked so hard to bring about?

Mr. Lamont

My hon. Friend is right. The recovery is moving from the economy in general to manufacturing in particular. That is illustrated by manufacturing output being 4 per cent. higher than it was a year ago. A recovery is taking place. The CBI surveys show that confidence and expectation in manufacturing are now high, but that could certainly be endangered by a prolonged miners' strike.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Minister explain the so-called confidence in manufacturing industries in the light of yesterday's Department of Trade figures, which show a £200 million increase in imports of manufactures? Does that not illustrate that the Government's policy on manufactures is totally bankrupt?

Mr. Lamont

The hon. Gentleman may be disappointed and angry that business men are confident. He may be puzzled and want me to explain why they are confident. The fact remains that they are confident.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the Minister take it from me that the Minister's optimism is not shared by the Scottish people? Is he aware that when we talk to individual members of the CBI they tell us in no uncertain fashion that there is no upsurge? Unemployment figures for Scotland, particularly for Lanarkshire, do not bear out the Minister's optimism.

Mr. Lamont

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that I am talking about the CBI survey of business opinion, which shows not just what the Government think, but what business men think about the economy. Unfortunately, I do not have it here, but I shall send the hon. Gentleman a report that I read in one of this morning's newspapers about business confidence in Scotland, which is also increasing. It should be increasing in Scotland, because the performance of the Scottish economy has been improving considerably.

Mr. Ewing

Is the Minister aware that during the period to which he referred Britain had the highest number of bankruptcies in the history of business? If business confidence is so buoyant, whether in Scotland or in any other part of the United Kingdom, when will it have an effect on our high and increasing unemployment? When will we get back at least to the unemployment level of 1979?

Mr. Lamont

I did not refer to a period, but to business surveys now. The hon. Gentleman chose to talk about a period in order to make the point that he wished. He asked when the business recovery would affect employment. We can already see new jobs being created on a large scale, especially in the service sector. That will continue to increase.

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