HC Deb 11 March 1992 vol 205 cc840-2
8. Mr. Bill Michie

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

13. Mr. Austin Mitchell

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

Mr. Lilley

Ministers and officials of my Department keep in touch with the CBI on a wide range of matters.

Mr. Michie

Does the Secretary of State recall that in answer to an earlier question of mine to his colleague at the Department of Employment, I was told that 25,000 manufacturing jobs had been lost in the past 12 months in Yorkshire and Humberside? Has it occurred to the Secretary of State to discuss that with the CBI and perhaps also to nudge his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to try to change that trend?

Mr. Lilley

If the hon. Gentleman is in contact with the CBI on Humberside, I am sure that he will have noticed its comments on the Budget. It especially welcomed the measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to encourage late payment of bills—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—to encourage early payment of bills, and to overcome late payment of bills. The regional CBI believed that that would be of great benefit and was grateful for my right hon. Friend's measures to alleviate the uniform business rate. I do not think that any business men whom I know support the Labour party's policy of unleashing local authorities to raise the poundage for the uniform business rate without capping. During the 1980s, local authorities raised business rates by 37 per cent. more than inflation. We have frozen them, but the Labour party intends to unleash them again.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

With the Government, it is more a question of the late delivery of policies. The Secretary of State will be aware how crucial the textiles and clothing industries are to Yorkshire, Humberside and, indeed, Grimsby. Is he also aware that those industries have been losing 2,000 jobs per month in addition to the 60,000 jobs already lost and the 7 per cent. fall in production since the recession began? It is too late now to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he intends to do about that, as he will lose his job over it on 9 April, but can he tell me of any other Government who have allowed their textile industry to bleed to death in that fashion without helping it?

Mr. Lilley

The textile industry is and remains important to this country. That is why we have taken up the position that we have over GATT, a position which is widely welcomed by that industry. The hon. Gentleman's region has benefited greatly from diversification, not least because we have encouraged inward investment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, condemns the Trades Union Congress motion which rejected "alien investment" in this country, as the TUC saw it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as amazed as I am that Labour Front-Bench spokesmen refuse to dissociate themselves from that position, and therefore stand to reject "alien investment". That is one reason why they will be rejected by the electorate.

Mr. Batiste

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in many parts of the Yorkshire and Humberside region unemployment is significantly lower than it was at the time of the previous election, and that what the regional CBI fears above all else is the havoc that would be caused by a Labour Government, with their commitment to a statutory minimum wage, which would wipe out so many jobs, and to the European Community social chapter, which would make British industry uncompetitive in world terms?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is right. I receive a great many representations from business men worried about the threat of a minimum wage and about the social chapter. Business men find it especially odd that the Labour party intends to introduce a minimum wage with one hand while with the other hand it would remove our tax cuts for the lowest paid. Thus its Budget—if it ever got the chance—would hit the lowest paid disproportionately.

Mr. Michael Brown

Will my right hon. Friend totally reject what the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has just said, bearing in mind that only four days ago my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was in my constituency, which adjoins Great Grimsby, to announce that Kimberly-Clark from America was to build a factory at Barton-upon-Humber involving 770 new jobs, thanks to the Government's industrial policy and a large Government grant to that company?

Mr. Lilley

Indeed, I was especially delighted that we won that contract for this country. The investment will create 750 jobs directly and a great many more indirectly. We pulled out all the stops and gave the company a response in record time.

Mr. Henderson

After 13 years of so-called Tory economic miracle, how does the Secretary of State explain to industrialists in Yorkshire and Humberside why manufacturing investment there is now below the 1979 level, and why there were no measures in the Budget for manufacturers and manufacturing investment?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Gentleman knows that if we compare the position now with that of 10 years ago—at the same stage of the economic cycle—we see that manufacturing output is up by a quarter, manufacturing investment is up by a third, manufacturing productivity is up by more than a half, and manufactured exports are up by almost three quarters. Industrialists do not want to return to Labour party policies because they know full well that that would mean Front-Bench Labour Members taking decisions instead of them. They know that the Opposition team consists of a television producer, a psychiatrist, a social anthropologist, a trade union official and a charity worker—and that is about it. Not one of them has a day's experience of working in British industry.

Mr. Riddick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a survey conducted recently among the top 200 companies in this country, many based in the north of England and in Yorkshire, showed that 86 per cent. of industrialists believed that a Labour victory at the next election would be bad for the economy? They believed that inflation would go up and that interest rates would go up, which would clearly lead to higher unemployment in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Mr. Lilley

Yes. I am sure that, following the Budget, support among business and industry will be even higher than the 86 per cent. recorded beforehand. The fact is that industrialists are scared stiff of a Labour Government and are determined to do all that they can to ensure that we achieve, as we shall, a resounding and decisive Conservative victory. That is the best thing for industry and for a strong recovery from the recession.