HC Deb 09 February 1994 vol 237 cc267-8
1. Mr. Henderson

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he last met leaders of the engineering industry to discuss assistance for investment for small businesses.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Technology (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

There are frequent contacts between the Government and the engineering industry. The best incentives for increased investment are low inflation, low interest rates and a growing economy, all of which are in place.

Mr. Henderson

Will the Minister confirm that in his talks with the engineering industry its representatives have told him of the industry's deep commitment to an investment-led recovery, which would not only help companies that want to retool British industry but bring stable growth and help the companies that want to compete in export markets to invest? In that connection, will he also confirm that the industry sees deregulation of health and safety as at best an irrelevance and that what it wants are capital allowances to help companies throughout the industry and, specifically, investment grants to help companies in the small business sector to invest in new technology?

Mr. McLoughlin

When we talk to industry we are continually told of the requirement to bring some deregulation to some of the forms and regulations with which it has to comply. I wholly agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about investment; in his region there has been more than £3 billion worth of inward investment, which was attracted by a Conservative Government. It would never have been attracted by a Labour Government committed to the social contract.

Mr. Ward

On the subject of investment in small businesses, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important not only that the investment be used productively, but that debts can be collected promptly? Will my hon. Friend do all in his power to ensure that all Government Departments pay their bills promptly, especially to small businesses?

Mr. McLoughlin

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget some time ago that the Government were consulting on the whole question of small business debts. Moreover, in the previous Budget a commitment was given that all Government contractors and subcontractors would be paid within an acceptable timescale.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Minister realise that 90 per cent. of small engineering companies employ fewer than 20 people and have special difficulty in meeting the exacting new standards on zero defects and quality control? Why have the Government decided to scrap in April their cash help to small engineering companies to meet those quality control standards?

Mr. McLoughlin

The simple fact is that what industry and small businesses want are fewer regulations. They understand that quality is important for attracting their customers—and that is exactly what they are doing.