HC Deb 26 November 1987 vol 123 cc371-2
10. Mr. Clelland

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met the director general of the CBI; and what was discussed.

Mr. Major

My right hon. Friend last met the director general of the Confederation of British Industry on 17 November, when a wide range of issues were discussed.

Mr. Clelland

Was there any discussion on the needs of British industry in the areas of education, investment, research and development and our poor record in that area when compared with other industrial countries? What initiatives will the Minister announce to help British industry catch up and compete with our European neighbours?

Mr. Major

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman precisely what was discussed at the meeting between the director general and my right hon. Friend. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that over recent months there has been a substantial fall in the level of unemployment, reflecting substantially the fact that British industry is doing so well.

Mr. Oppenheim

Bearing in mind the views of the CBI, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be manifest poppycock to suggest that central bank intervention in support of a weak currency such as the dollar would not end in a manifestation of that instability being transferred on to another market such as the bond market, thus affecting interest rates? Would he like to comment on the cost of the support of the American dollar to the British economy? What effect has that cost had on interest rates in Britain?

Mr. Major

I cannot immediately recall who coined the phrase "manifest poppycock" to describe those circumstances, but whoever it was he was clearly a wise man.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

I understand the argument for leaving a reduction in interest rates until after the G7 meeting. However, is it not clear that the likelihood of that meeting is receding week by week? Indeed, the Chancellor said that it would not be much before Christmas. If the meeting is much later, will the right hon. Gentleman adhere to the argument put forward by the CBI that there should be an interest rate cut earlier than that to help industry and to help to keep the value of the pound at a more competitive level?

Mr. Major

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor still hopes that there will be a meeting of G7 before Christmas. However, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, there have been two cuts in interest rates in recent weeks.

Mr. John M. Taylor

Did the CBI make any representation to my right hon. Friend to the effect that it would be more logical and sensible to levy VAT on everything but at a much lower rate than 15 per cent.?

Mr. Major

I am certainly not aware that such a representation was made.