HC Deb 15 January 1992 vol 201 cc957-9
12. Mr. Turner

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he will next meet representatives of the west midlands regional CBI to discuss industrial policy.

Mr. Lilley

I shall be visiting a number of companies in the west midlands in March.

Mr. Turner

Does the Secretary of State accept that urgent action is needed in the west midlands if we are to halt the worst fall in manufacturing investment in history? What are the Government doing about the investment gap, the technology gap, the skills gap and the regional gap in the west midlands? I will tell the Minister what his Government have done; by their policies they have turned the west midlands from a productive landscape into an industrial desert.

Mr. Lilley

That is not the view of local industrial leaders as expressed in an article in The Economist this month. It quotes the Confederation of British Industry in the west midlands as talking of the tremendous potential for the medium and long-term future of the region". It talks of Chris Tillett, a Birmingham-based economist, saying that the 1990s 'will be the decade of the resurgence of manufacturing regions'. Sir David Lees, chairman of … GKN, says there are 'great opportunities ahead'. David Boole of Jaguar Cars describes the medium-term as 'healthier than for a long time'. Some Opposition Members have been talking down the region. Indeed, we recently saw that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has taken actions to run down the region and its potential. We believe that its potential is enomous and we have every confidence that the people of the west midlands will achieve that potential under our policies.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks

May I take the opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for accepting my invitation to address Wolverhampton chamber of commerce at its annual dinner, where he will meet many members of the west midlands region of the CBI? When he comes, will he take the opportunity to listen to them—the business men on the ground—rather than to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner)? If things are as bad as the hon. Gentleman says, will my right hon. Friend ask the business men why the west midlands has managed to attract so much investment in manufacturing from abroad, why foreign countries have chosen to locate in the United Kingdom and whether they believe that those people would stay if they had to experience the burden of heavy taxation, job losses and days lost in strikes that would occur with the return of a Labour Government?

Mr. Lilley

I am very much looking forward to meeting my hon. Friend's constituents on that occasion. She is right in saying that the west midlands has benefited from a vast increase both in the amount and the share of inward investment into this country. Ten years ago only 6 per cent. of inward investment went to the west midlands. [Interruption.] I am responding to the supplementary from my hon. Friend. Now 24 per cent. of inward investment goes to the west midlands. I very much hope that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner), as well as my hon. Friend, will welcome the fact that whereas in 1979, 4 million working days were lost in the west midlands, recently days lost total little more than 100,000 a year.

Mr. Gordon Brown

Given that 100 companies are going under every week in the west midlands and that 1,000 companies are going under in England, Scotland and Wales, will the Secretary of State apologise to business and to the unemployed for the false promise throughout 1991 of a recovery which never materalised? Will he explain why he and the Chancellor have ruled out a manufacturing investment incentive as demanded by the CBI and other organisations? Will he explain why he is cutting the industry budget even as manufacturing investment and employment are falling and are predicted to fall further throughout 1992? Will he tell us how many thousands more people will lose their jobs while the Prime Minister tries to hang on to his?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Gentleman—a Scottish Member—refused to take the opportunity to tell us what he would do about his Scottish problem at Ravenscraig, but he has views about the west midlands. What the west midlands would like to know is whether he will now do what he has not already done, that is, repudiate the motion of the TUC to reject alien investment—as it describes Japanese investment—in this country. The west midlands, like the rest of the country, welcomes investment into the country. People there want to see more of it and they wonder why the Labour party will not repudiate measures which are designed to repel that investment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend accept that when he next meets representatives of the west midlands CBI or any other CBI—the north-west is my area—they are likely to raise the fact that the most powerful economies of the world, especially Germany and Japan are based on a substantial manufacturing base? Therefore, will he use all the influence of his Department to expand the shrinking manufacturing base of Britain? Manufacturing industry produces the only non-inflationary substantial economic growth—growth that is so necessary for Britain.

Mr. Lilley

I entirely agree with the importance that my hon. Friend attaches to manufacturing. We cannot have a successful economy without a vigorous manufacturing sector. However, I refer him to the recent report on our manufacturing performance produced by the CBI entitled "Competing with the World's Best". It refers to the resurgence of manufacturing during the 1980s and the mistaken but widespread belief that manufacturing is still shrinking. Of course, it was shrinking when Labour policies applied and afflicted the manufacturing sector more than anything else. Manufacturing suffered from poorer industrial relations as a result of Labour's union policies, from nationalisation and from a lack of incentives. We will build up all the policies that have reversed that. We will bring about a resurgence of manufacturing. That is what we want to achieve in the 1990s.