HC Deb 08 December 1988 vol 143 cc429-30
11. Mr. Jack

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer by how much in percentage terms company profitability has changed in the north-west of England in the last five years.

Mr. Major

The net rate of return of non-North sea industrial and commercial companies in 1987 was two and a half times its level in 1982. I am glad to say that the north-west of England has fully participated in the economy's strong growth over the past six years.

Mr. Jack

My right hon. Friend's answer will bring enlightenment and knowledge to the dark recesses of the Opposition Benches. Will he confirm that the growth in profitability has enabled Fox's Biscuits in my constituency to invest £14.5 million in a new factory which will create 400 jobs in the next five years? Will he further confirm that improved profitability has benefited company liquidity in the north-west with continuous extra investment?

Mr. Major

I am delighted to hear of that particular investment by Fox's Biscuits. I had the opportunity of visiting United Biscuits at Stockport and was delighted to see how well that company was doing. It is true to say that there is a substantial degree of capital investment, most noticeably in manufacturing industry. That has contributed substantially to the fall in unemployment.

Mr. Ashton

The Government have been in power for nine and a half years, not five years. For how much longer are we to see this charade of staged Conservative party political broadcasts using the best figures and the best times? Is it not a fact that if a company in the north-west made £1 profit in 1982, and now makes £2 profit, the Government would say that it had doubled its profits or increased its profits by 100 per cent.? For how much longer will we have to put up with phoney figures being trotted out in the House? Give us the figures since 1979.

Mr. Major

I shall do better than that. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that private-sector investment in 1988 as a percentage of GDP is at the highest level since statistics were first collected.

Mr. Goodlad

Has my right hon. Friend read the latest regional survey of the chambers of commerce of Manchester and Merseyside, showing the high level of confidence in future profitability? Is that not indicative of the state of the economy throughout the north-west?

Mr. Major

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I have seen the survey and it shows, among other things, that expectations have risen in the third quarter over the second quarter.