HC Deb 06 November 1996 vol 284 cc1232-4
12. Mr. Riddick

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to encourage inward investment. [537]

Mr. Greg Knight

The Department's Invest in Britain Bureau will continue to promote the attractions of the United Kingdom for mobile international investment to consolidate our position as the No. 1 location in Europe for such investment, especially from countries such as Japan, the United States and Korea.

Mr. Riddick

Is it not the case that almost 40 per cent. of the inward investment into the European Union comes to the United Kingdom? Is it not also true that, since 1979, inward investment has helped to create or safeguard almost 1 million jobs? Has not that tremendous success been achieved because, thanks to this Conservative Government, we have economic stability, moderate taxation and a willing and skilled work force and we have not signed up to those job destroyers, the social chapter and the minimum wage?

Mr. Knight

My hon. Friend is certainly right to say that 1995–96 has been the best year yet for record inward investment.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister recognise that little of that mobile industrial investment goes to the traditional industrial areas of this country or into research and development, which is absolutely crucial to the future? Will he ensure that such investment is made according to those essential criteria?

Mr. Knight

I am sorry, but do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question. Indeed, on my way to the Chamber today, I happened to see the television set in the Library switched to Ceefax, on which the Department of the Environment had announced a £1 billion regeneration programme that would create 55,000 new jobs in areas of former coal mines in the north-east, north-west, Yorkshire and the midlands.

Mr. Bell

I add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on reaching the exalted rank of Minister. We had a period of silence from him when he was in the Whips Office and, given the Government's programme, I can see that that will continue until the general election.

Is it not strange that all that inward investment pours into our country, year in and year out, despite four years of Labour party opinion polls showing that we have a 25 to 30 per cent. lead? Is it not a fact that the question of the social chapter and the national minimum wage holds no fear for those inward investors? Should not the Minister come to the Dispatch Box now, in deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), and tell us what studies his Department has done into the question of inward investment if we were to have a single currency?

Mr. Knight

First, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind opening remarks, although I am not sure that everyone who has served in the Whips Office would necessarily regard my position as a promotion.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should widen his reading and that, instead of merely picking off articles from the Walworth road approved list, he should speak to business men and the Institute of Directors and also read the IOD's annual reports. He will see that one of the major factors in inward investment is that we have lower production costs—not that we have lower wages, but that we do not have the job-destroying minimum wage or the social chapter. That is, indeed, a factor in many of those decisions.