HC Deb 11 March 1992 vol 205 cc834-6
2. Mr. Eadie

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he next plans to meet representatives of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce to discuss industrial policy.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Lilley)

I meet representatives of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce from time to time to discuss a range of policies.

Mr. Eadie

The Secretary of State must be aware that 125,000 jobs were lost in the first 10 weeks of 1992. If the projection is to be believed, another 400,000 jobs are a t risk unless there is a change in industrial policy. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most scathing indictment of the Chancellor's Budget judgment was his admission that unemployment would increase? What kind of Government would plan the economy on the basis of increasing unemployment?

Mr. Lilley

I am afraid that that is not the view of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, about which the hon. Gentleman asks. It welcomes my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's brilliant Budget for its changes in the uniform business rate, which it says are of enormous help to business, a great deal of assistance to growing firms and just what businesses have requested. It also welcomes the changes in VAT, which are clearly of benefit to commerce, and the measures to encourage prompt payment of VAT, the delays in which it says are a vital factor affecting a great number of firms.

Mr. Charles Wardle

Will not the control of inflation continue to be the cornerstone of industrial policy, because it will allow Britain to become more competitive in world markets? Did not the remarks made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reinforce that policy?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. That point has been made by many business organisations: Sir John Banham, for instance, welcomed my right hon. Friend's prudent Budget and the priority that he gives to reducing inflation, while the Institute of Directors said that the Budget was prudent and correct in every way.

Mr. Gordon Brown

In what will be his final appearance at Question Time as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the facts of the Budget statement? Will he confirm that investment will fall in 1992; that business investment will fall by 3 per cent; and, that hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country are in danger of losing their jobs if the Government continue in office?

Given that the Prime Minister told us in January that a recovery had started when patently it had not, will he now apologise, tell us when a recovery will happen under Tory policies and agree with the country that the first step towards saving the jobs of thousands of people is for the Government to lose theirs?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Gentleman's response to the Budget is as empty as that of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, whose comments yesterday, I thought were proof positive that the Michelangelo virus was alive and operating inside the Labour party. It has wiped Labour Members' minds clean. What we want to hear from them is what they plan to do about the tax proposals in the Budget: will they vote against them, or will they support them? I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) if Mr. Speaker will allow him to answer that question.

Mr. Squire

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no serious argument about the fact that the members of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce are fearful about a possible change of Government, and that the only question open to debate is whether higher taxation is worse than higher interest rates, and whether either is worse than higher inflation?

Mr. Lilley

Indeed: that is absolutely true. A recent study by James Capel and Co. showed that, of 105 leading businesses in this country, 86 per cent. believe that Labour policies would make the economic position dramatically worse. I have no doubt that, after the Budget, an even higher proportion will prefer our policies to those of the Opposition.

3. Mr. Turner

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he will next meet representatives of the West Midlands chambers of commerce to discuss industrial policy.

Mr. Lilley

Together with the hon. Gentleman, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting with the Wolverhampton chamber of commerce last Friday.

Mr. Turner

The Secretary of State is right. He was well wined and dined by the Wolverhampton chamber of commerce last Friday. Why, then, did the Department of Trade and Industry try to gag its president and not allow him to deliver a part of his speech that was mildly critical of Her Majesty's Government? Will the Secretary of State answer that question truthfully because it strikes at the very heart of democracy?

Mr. Lilley

The president of the Wolverhampton chamber of commerce delivered precisely the same speech as the one of which he sent me a copy beforehand and I have it here. He called for a reduction in the special car tax, and I am sure that he will be delighted that it has been halved. He also called for measures to favour lower-paid employees in respect of income tax, and for measures to help small businesses. I have no doubt that the Wolverhampton chamber of commerce will give a warm welcome to the Budget, as it did to my speech last Friday.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the measures introduced yesterday by our right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the harmonious industrial relations restored by the Government and the substantial investment from home and overseas mean that manufacturing in the heart of England is deeply grateful for all that the Government have done in the past 13 years? The last thing that manufacturing wants is a Government who adopt the European social charter which would destroy the advantage that we have in the west midlands.

Mr. Lilley

That is absolutely right. A study of leading businesses shows that a vast majority of British firms believe that if we had a Labour Government there would be slower growth, less investment, higher inflation and worse unemployment. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) has spent much of his time over the past few months telling industry about his policies. It has clearly listened and understood.

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