HC Deb 18 June 1998 vol 314 cc503-4
13. Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

What assessment she has made of which Government policies have had the greatest impact on the balance of trade position since 1 May 1997. [45064]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The Government want to create the right environment to ensure that British business can thrive in both domestic and overseas markets. The most important steps that we have taken to create that framework are those to implement a new framework for macro-economic policy to secure long-term stability on the basis of low inflation and sound public finances. That should generate growth, provide employment and help trade.

Mr. St. Aubyn

The fact is that, since the Government came to power, the balance of trade has suffered a sharp and steepening decline. Does the hon. Lady not realise that the Government's high taxes have been the spur to higher wage costs and the Government's higher interest rates have cut the sort of investment that raises productivity? Will she at least concede, in the climate that the Labour Government have created, that this is no time to be implementing the minimum wage proposals; and that those who wanted to implement the proposals of the Low Pay Commission in full were extremely foolish?

Mrs. Roche

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his well-considered diatribe, but he appears to have forgotten a few things. The first is that about four fifths of sterling's appreciation occurred under the previous Government. I know that the hon. Gentleman was not a Member of the House then, so perhaps that passed him by.

The picture that the hon. Gentleman paints is not one with which industry would agree. Large and small businesses alike know that this Government are good for business, unlike the previous Government, who went from boom to bust. We are trying to establish a climate of stability and certainty—unlike the one created by the Tories.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Resisting the temptation to launch into a diatribe, may I ask the Minister to consider putting in the Library an assessment of the impact on British trade of American-led sanctions against Libya and Iran?

Mrs. Roche

I thank my hon. Friend, whom no one would ever accuse of launching diatribes—he is one of the most courteous Members in the House. I also note what he has to say. We shall accept any recommendations from him and carefully consider them.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

In assessing the impact of Government policies, has the hon. Lady looked at the 3i enterprise barometer, seven tenths of whose respondents are exporters? It is now negative for the first time since the end of 1992. The companies surveyed say that the climate is now less favourable to starting a new business or expanding existing business activity than it was a year ago.

Mrs. Roche

I do not know what it is about the Conservative party, but Tory Members seem to have terribly selective memories for facts. They forget that the CBI still expects extra volume growth. Barclays' start-up figures for the first three months of this year are more encouraging than ever; and the Lloyds bank survey has found that most businesses and new businesses say that they have enjoyed a much better macro-economic climate under this Government. I do not know what is happening to the Tory party, but I am certain that some medical expertise would come in useful.