HC Deb 04 November 1992 vol 213 cc266-8
4. Mr. Tony Lloyd

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is his policy with respect to enlarging the manufacturing base.

The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

We shall give whatever help is appropriate and affordable in support of the manufacturing sector.

Mr. Lloyd

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is a pathetic answer? He is the man who told the Tory party conference that he would intervene all day, every day, if necessary. Manufacturing industry is still continuing to shed jobs at an horrendous rate. Manufacturers—not those on the Labour party's side of the political debate—are now afraid that their base has shrunk and that it is not sustainable. What will the right hon. Gentleman do about that? What will he do about putting public money into schemes that will create manufacturing excellence for the future? For example, when will we see the Jubilee line project and investment in British Rail come on stream?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman realises that many of his supplementary questions can be answered only in the context of the "Autumn Statement" by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, let me help the hon. Gentleman specifically. I have no doubt that he is delighted that we have seen industry save £9 billion in interest charges as a result of the recent reduction in interest rates. He will be delighted to know also that the United Kingdom attracted one third of all inward investment into the European Community in 1990–91. He will understand that there is no base except one of low inflation from which we can see an expanding economy.

Mr. Couchman

My right hon. Friend will know that my constituency has attracted three Japanese companies to its industrial park, which will bring 300 or 400 jobs to the area. How much damage does he think that an adverse vote tonight at the end of the debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill might cause to inward investment in my constituency?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has asked a central question. I shall give the House the figures as an indication of the scale of the success of the United Kingdom in attracting inward investment. In 1991–92, the Invest in Britain Bureau recorded 332 direct investment projects by foreign companies in the United Kingdom, which will create or safeguard 50,000 jobs. The United Kingdom has 36.1 per cent. of American and 40.9 per cent. of Japanese direct investment in the EC. It is critical that we do nothing to prejudice the certainty of these companies that the United Kingdom is a part of the single market and that it intends to remain so.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British industry has shown considerable resolution in weathering a vicious recession, the longest in the post-war period? Is he further aware that industry had hoped that when he came to office there would be, at long last, personal leadership and a strategy for the manufacturing sector? Unless a clear lead and strategy are forthcoming shortly, the right hon. Gentleman will he seen to be like other Ministers—a do-nothing President.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman has considerable experience of Britain's manufacturing economy. He knows that a policy of direct subsidy by the public sector has been a disaster in terms of advancing the manufacturing base. No man has greater personal experience of how that happens.

Mr. Moate

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the largest manufacturing industries—I refer especially to the intensive energy users—are being crippled by increasing electricity prices? One company in my constituency has had a 50 per cent. price increase in four years and is paying almost £2 million in nuclear levy. Despite many representations, we are making no progress in this matter. Will my right hon. Friend take a personal interest and try to lift the burden off intensive energy users?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has spoken to my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy about that matter, so I am fully aware of his concern and that of a number of colleagues. I assure him that we will take a considerable personal interest in this matter in the review that is under way.

Mr. Robin Cook

Does the President recall that, during his years in the wilderness, he identified steel, cars and aerospace as the three key industries in our manufacturing base? Is he aware that, during the past month, British Steel has cut output by one fifth, Ford has suspended production and British Aerospace has been exporting jobs to Taiwan?

The right hon. Gentleman promised that he would intervene before breakfast, before lunch and before dinner. If I bought him lunch, would he intervene to save at least one of those industries? If not, can he name just one specific job that he has saved during the seven months since he took office?

Mr. Heseltine

If I were invited to sup with the hon. Gentleman, I would take the longest spoon that I could find. He knows that British Steel is now exporting successfully. He knows that Japanese inward investment in our car industry is likely to turn a deficit into a surplus. He knows that aerospace is one of our major exporting industries.

Sir Peter Tapsell

On the subject of Japanese inward investment, is my right hon. Friend aware that what attracts Japan is our access to the European single market? Is he further aware that, for reasons that I shall explain if I am successful in catching your eye, Madam Speaker, the Japanese would prefer that we did not ratify the Maastricht treaty? They are certainly strongly opposed to monetary union for Britain and for Europe.

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has as much knowledge as any in the House about the inward investment arguments. However, his view is not that put to me by the significant number of Japanese who visit my Department.