HC Deb 14 March 1990 vol 169 cc474-5
12. Mr. Roy Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he last met the director-general of the National Economic Development Council; and what was discussed.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My Department has frequent contacts with the director-general of NEDO and his staff on a wide range of business matters and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State looks forward to continuing those when he chairs the council on 4 April.

Mr. Hughes

Has the Minister discussed with the director general Britain's disastrous balance of trade figures, which show a £14.4 billion deficit with the EC for 1989? Did the Government consider a joint approach to the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggesting that an interest rate of more than 15 per cent. is hardly conducive to increasing trade and investment and thus reducing that tremendous deficit?

Mr. Hogg

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will wish to talk about exports because he will find the position rather encouraging. In the three months to January 1990, excluding erratics and oil, the volume of exports was up 4 per cent. over the previous three months and by no less than 11 per cent. on the previous year. Those are encouraging figures. I am also pleased to note that between January last year and January this year unemployment in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) has fallen by 22 per cent.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

What does my hon. Friend think that the prospects of the British economy would be if we renationalised most of our industries, increased income tax and national insurance, put a levy on training and increased corporation tax, all of which are policies that have been put forward by the Opposition?

Mr. Hogg

Experience has shown that the Labour party has not a clue how to manage the economy. Two things would happen. First, the competitiveness of British industry would plummet—let us not forget that the competitiveness of British industry plummeted by 25 per cent. when the Labour party was in office. Secondly, inflation would escalate—let us not forget either that it reached a high point of 26 per cent. or thereabouts in August 1975. That would be the inevitable consequences of the Labour party's policy.

Mr. Caborn

I hope that if the director general ever meets the Minister he will get more sense out of him than we do. That apart, can the Minister say whether there will be discussions about the economy of the west midlands? As my hon. Friend said, the level of manufacturing investment has fallen and there has been a 70 per cent. fall in apprenticeships in the engineering industry from 1979 to date. That is a serious problem for the engine of the British economy—the midlands—so what does the Minister intend to do about it?

Mr. Hogg

The director general might be a little upset by the hon. Gentleman's offensive words. As usual, the Labour party has got it wrong. The west midlands has been extremely prosperous and is the chief magnet for inward investment. As we are discussing the west midlands, I shall mention manufactured exports, which rose by 3.5 per cent. in the past three months. That is jolly good news and it is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not refer to that.

Sir Ian Lloyd

May I divert my hon. Friend's attention to a more fundamental matter? Has he discussed with the National Economic Development Council the acute and dangerous dependence on the Japanese semi-conductor industry, not only in this country but in western Europe and America? If not, will he show the NEDC the recent advisory report to the President of the United States, highlighting the grave consequences if that dependence is not reduced?

Mr. Hogg

I have not discussed the matter with the director-general, but I may find an appropriate occasion to do so, as I would welcome his views on the European programmes that we have in place, particularly on this matter. I think that they are the proper way forward and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support of them.