HC Deb 04 November 1998 vol 318 cc855-7
2. Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

If he will make a statement about the number of recent business start-ups in Wales. [56577]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

As measured by VAT registrations, there were 6,240 business start-ups in Wales in 1997.

Mr. Green

The Minister will be aware that business start-ups in Wales have fallen sharply in 1998, as compared with 1997. Given that the Welsh economy is more dependent on manufacturing industry than the United Kingdom economy as a whole and that manufacturing has borne the brunt of the Government's economic mismanagement, which has led to interest rates being higher for longer than they need be, what measures does the Minister hope to take to improve the situation and persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to stop crucifying Welsh manufacturing industry?

Mr. Hain

That question comes from a member of a party which presided over record interest rates, record bankruptcies and record job losses, including those in manufacturing in Wales. As for the hon. Gentleman's specific question about what action we are taking, if he took an active interest in Wales, he would know that we have been working closely with businesses throughout Wales to create opportunities for expansion and growth.

I recently attended the Confederation of British Industry conference as a Welsh Office Minister. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) appeared on the stage there, blinking like a gormless alien, as we in Wales have seen him. All the Labour Ministers on the CBI platform were greeted enthusiastically, because they were preaching partnership with business—

Madam Speaker

Order. The Minister should withdraw the slur that he has just cast against another Member of Parliament.

Mr. Hain

I happily withdraw the remark, which was certainly meant not as an insult, but as an example of humour.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Will the Minister take the opportunity of changes in the Welsh Office to look critically at the policy of refusing help and support to indigenous companies, either to start up or to expand, while giving seemingly endless grants to companies to come in from, say, Japan or Korea? Indigenous companies in south Wales provide a great number of jobs and they need the support of the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency.

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend makes a strong point about the need for indigenous businesses in Wales to receive proper support. It is important that we redress the balance between support for inward investors and support for home-grown businesses. That is precisely why we have given the WDA new targets to achieve exactly that.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Minister accept that, for every one step forward taken after a lot of work by the WDA, the Welsh Office and others, we find ourselves taking two steps backward as a result of the overvalued pound undermining manufacturing industry and leading to the loss of countless hundreds of jobs in every part of Wales and every sector, including agriculture and tourism? Please will he get the message across to the Treasury that, while the pound remains at an unrealistically high level, it will be impossible for us to overcome the economic problems of our country?

Mr. Hain

The right hon. Gentleman speaks with passion about businesses in Wales and I realise that, at the level at which it has been, the pound has caused difficulties for business in Wales. However, the fact is that the pound is coming down: it is now below the level that we inherited from the Conservatives after the last election. The programme of stability set out yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will create conditions in future in which businesses can expand and export with greater vigour and success.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, leading his ministerial team, and I look forward to having a long and constructive dialogue with him over many months to come, without any distractions. Irrespective of where Downing street might wish to send him, I know that he will concentrate on the serious job in hand.

The Secretary of State will know that Barclays bank has just revealed new figures showing that start-ups in the last quarter are 13 per cent down on last year's figure. He will know that there will be no new start-ups in farming. He will know that unemployment in Wales is rising. He will know that exporters find it difficult to export because of the uncompetitive pound and high interest rates. Therefore, will he use his position at the Cabinet table to persuade his colleagues to reverse their policies, which are doing so much damage to businesses in Wales and to the people of Wales?

Mr. Hain

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is grateful for the sincere congratulations on achieving his new position, if not for the rest of the question. The Government are presiding over a business climate in Wales that is based on more partnerships between Government and business than ever before. The hon. Member need only talk to small businesses and others throughout Wales to confirm that. The record of the previous Conservative Government— there was an average of 7,689 closures per year during that period—will not occur under the Labour Government, because we are determined to support small businesses.