HC Deb 26 October 1988 vol 139 cc291-3
17. Mr. Pike

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the most recent quarterly figure for investment in manufacturing; and what percentage change this represents since the second quarter in 1979.

19. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what are the latest figures he has for investment by manufacturing industry; and what were the comparable figures one year ago.

Mr. Forth

In the second quarter of 1988, investment in manufacturing industry, including leased assets, is estimated to have been £2.9 billion at 1985 prices and seasonally adjusted. That represents an increase of 13 per cent. over the figure of £2.6 billion for the corresponding quarter of 1987 and increases of 3 per cent. and 56 per cent. respectively over the second quarter figures for 1979 and 1983. The figure of £2.9 billion is the highest ever recorded for manufacturing investment in a single quarter.

Mr. Pike

Is not the true picture very different from the one painted by the Minister, as in constant figures the investment has only just reached nationally what it was in 1979? Is it not a fact that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs said last week that since 1979 investment in constant terms is 38 per cent. down in the north-west region? Is not most of the investment going to the south-east and the London area? What will the Government do for the regions, and what will high interest rates do for the future of investment?

Mr. Forth

I would rather look to the future than to the past, which is what the hon. Gentleman is in the habit of doing. I draw his attention to the fact that the recent Confederation of British Industry quarterly industrial trends survey shows that of 1,200 manufacturing companies, 40 per cent. plan to increase spending on plant and machinery over the next 12 months. That does not suggest to me that there is a problem. It is clear to all that, given the record levels of profitability of United Kingdom industry, the levels of investment are not only at record levels, but are likely to remain so. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concede that we have liberated regional policy from the groove of automaticity where it has been stuck—to which Opposition Members are so devoted—by giving it a new impetus through our consultancy initiatives, which are spread throughout the regions.

Mr. Hayes

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. Will he remind the whingers and prophets of doom on the Opposition Benches that if they want a good example of international confidence in manufacturing industry in this country they should look to Ford in Wales?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words and for bringing to the attention of the House the fact that, such is the continuing confidence of major businesses such as the Ford Motor company in the future of the United Kingdom, and such is their confidence in our economic stability and the productivity improvements that we have seen recently, that they—unlike Opposition Members—are continuing to express confidence about the future of our economy and continuing to invest at record levels.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that whereas manufacturing investment may certainly have brought down unemployment in counties such as Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, where the unemployment rate is about 3 per cent., in areas such as north-west Wales unemployment still approaches 20 per cent.? When are we going to see some of the manufacturing investment which is apparently working such miracles?

Mr. Forth

I am disappointed, as ever, that Opposition Members persist in wanting to point out the difficulties rather than the opportunities. Unemployment throughout the country has been falling now for a record period. It is falling in all regions of the country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in trying to attract investment to his area as well as to the rest of the country, so that everyone can benefit in the boom in the economy and the boom in investment.

Mr. David Shaw

My hon. Friend makes his points well. Does he agree that since 1979 investment has been productive, which is shown by the fact that we are producing more in manufactures today than in 1979, and that that increased production is being achieved by a labour force of 5 million instead of 7 million, helping Britain to become more competitive and successful in the world economy?

Mr. Forth

Yes, indeed. It is a welcome change to hear from the Conservative Benches—something that is positive and encouraging. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Such interruptions are hardly fair to other hon. Members with questions on the Order Paper.

Mr. Forth

When what I just said is punctuated in Hansard it will make a lot more sense.

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. He pointed out correctly that the record improvements in productivity, linked to those in investment, mean a much better future for Britain than we have often seen in the past.

Mr. Blair

As we are talking about investment in manufacturing, will the Minister consider the plight of those who invested unintentionally in various dubious manufacturing activities through Barlow Clowes? Does he agree that it is shameful that Conservative Members are prepared to issue press releases about that, but are not prepared to have their Minister questioned in the House of Commons?

Mr. Forth

As you pointed out, Mr. Speaker, it is always entirely up to hon. Members whether to put their questions. If the hon. Gentleman were to examine today's Order Paper in more calm than excitement, he would see that for varying reasons many hon. Members have not been in a position to put their questions. Therefore, to single out any one from the Order Paper is invidious. [HON. MEMBERS: "They were absent."]

On Barlow Clowes, I refer the hon. Gentlemen to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in answer to a question yesterday. I believe that that is the position.