HC Deb 12 March 1992 vol 205 cc957-8
3. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the average level of manufacturing investment between 1974 and 1979 and between 1979 and 1991.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. David Mellor)

The average level was £9.8 billion at constant prices, in both periods. Between the same two periods, total plant and machinery investment at constant prices rose by more than 38 per cent.

Mr. Williams

As investment in manufacturing industry was slashed by 14 per cent. during the past year and as Britain is the only country in the European Community where investment is lower than it was in 1979, why did the Budget provide nothing to encourage investment, upon which industry could build, rather than bribing the electorate?

Mr. Mellor

There are two points to make about that. First, it would be more reliable as a criticism of the Budget, from the point of view of business, to listen to what representatives of business and industry have said rather than to the hon. Gentleman's somewhat partial account. They have been extremely supportive. Secondly, Labour always concentrates on manufacturing investment because it thinks that that is the one that allows it to see that figures are not so good. [Interruption.] Oh, yes.

If we look at total business investment in the economy, we find that in 1990 it was 55 per cent. higher, in real terms, than it was in 1979 and that, even in 1991, it was 37 per cent. higher. If we look at investment in plant and machinery, where the definition has not changed, as it has for manufacturing investment, we find that in 1990 the increase in real terms over 1979 was 65 per cent. and that even in 1991, a year of recession, the improvement in investment in our economy was such that it was nearly 50 per cent. higher than it was in 1979. That is the whole economy picture on which the hon. Gentleman should focus.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that when setting up businesses in a capitalist society there will always be failures and that at a time of worldwide recession there will be more failures than usual? Is not it a fact, however, that there are still 1.2 million more people registered as VAT traders in industry and all commerce than there were when we came to office? Is not that what really matters—people can still venture and they can still prosper?

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are many more businesses in this country today than there were in 1979. There are over 1 million more jobs in the British economy today than there were in 1979. A greater proportion of adults in the United Kingdom are in employment than in any other European Community country, except Denmark. That is the reality' of our position today.

Mr. John Smith

However the Chief Secretary handles the figures, is not it remarkable that investment in the manufacturing sector is less now than it was in 1979? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, I see; it is not remarkable! If the Chief Secretary looks at the economy all around, can he explain why, in the past 13 years, with a growth record of 1!7 per cent. a year, this Administration has the worst growth record of any Government of any party since the war?

Mr. Mellor

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's statistics are dodgy—[HoN. MEMBERS: "No"] Oh, yes. He knows only too well that the proper comparison is with the growth in non-oil GDP, which has been substantially higher under this Government. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman now says GDP. When he is trying to make the point that the country has been in recession for six successive quarters, he says that one cannot include the oil industry when looking at economic growth. When he wants his growth statistics to be right, he thinks it is right to do the opposite and stand on his head. It does not work like that.

Mrs. Peacock

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that even in the past few years when there have been some problems, even in places such as Yorkshire, we still have entrepreneurs who are investing in manufacturing, new processes and new technology to equip them to have confidence in the future and to compete not only in this country and Europe but worldwide?

Mr. Mellor

The Labour party's constant belittling of the manufacturing sector will not do. The Labour party might like to bear in mind the massive investment from Britain in manufacturing as well as the massive investment from overseas. A total of 50 per cent. of the inward investment from the United States and Japan into the European Community comes to Britain. The Labour party might also like to know how much more effectively that investment is being used in the Britain of the 1990s than in the Britain of the 1970s. Manufacturing output since the election of the Conservative Government has increased by more than 25 per cent. Under Labour, it fell by 2½ per cent.