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Inward Investors

Volume 201: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will make a statement on the impact of the Maastricht agreement on the attractiveness of the United Kingdom to inward investors from the United States.

The United Kingdom has for many years been the preferred location for United States investment in Europe. The Maastricht agreement will help us to maintain that privileged position.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents fully recognise the enormous benefits of inward investment from the United States and elsewhere, from which my constituency has benefited greatly? Business men in my constituency believe that the Maastricht agreement set exactly the right tone for business in the 1990s. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the splendid announcement of a multi-million pound investment in my constituency this week by Smith Kline Beecham?

I am happy to welcome that investment, and I imagine that it owes much to the climate and environment that the Government have created and which might have been threatened by an alternative settlement at Maastricht such as the Opposition would have supported and implemented if they were ever elected. That is why we shall continue to pursue our policies. Our success in attracting more investment from the United States than has been attracted by all the countries of western Europe put together is proof that we have created a more attractive climate for investment than anywhere else in Europe.

Which aspect of this industrial investment paradise does the Secretary of State think is most attractive to inward investors? Is it that they will not be bothered by maximum working hours or minimum wages, or is it just that the trade union movement in this country has been crippled by repressive legislation over the past 12 years?

We have carried out surveys to determine what aspects of the environment in this country are most attractive to inward investors. They are, first, the reforms of industrial relations which have created harmonious working practices, all of which were opposed and many of which would be reversed by a Labour Government. Secondly, this country has a lower burden of tax than many of our European partners, but the Opposition are determined to reverse that. The third reason is the end of nationalisation and the introduction of privatisation, which is being opposed by the Labour party. Finally, inward investors find attractive the measures that we have taken to improve training and skills, almost every one of which has been opposed by Labour.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the message goes out from British trade missions throughout the United States to American firms contemplating investing in Britain that we operate an open free market economy with low taxation and that we have no intention of introducing unnecessary social costs which would make business less competitive? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that that message is made known throughout the American business community?

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating my hon. Friend on the recognition of his distinction, not least in defending the business and small business communities in this country. I entirely endorse what he said: we need to maintain a liberal, open, free market society. That is what attracts investment from abroad and makes it profitable for domestic industry to invest as well.

Order. We are making rather slow progress today. I now propose to move on more rapidly, and would ask for brief questions and answers, please.