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Industrial Policy

Volume 201: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he will next meet representatives of the north-east regional CBI to discuss industrial policy.

Ministers and officials of my Department keep in touch with the CBI on a wide range of business matters. I shall be visiting the north-east again on 19 February.

Business failures are now running at 57 per cent. in the north-east and 65 per cent. nationally. Will the Secretary of State admit that the Government have made a right mess of the economy and of businesses of the north-east?

The north-east has been transformed for the better, not least by the flow of inward investment and the diversification that has taken place. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman runs his region down instead of talking up its successes. Nissan is to employ 4,000 people by August 1992 and Fujitsu is creating 1,500 extra jobs. The Department of Trade and Industry alone has spent £1·5 billion in the past 10 years in the hon. Gentleman's region, the success of which is shown by the success of local businesses and industry. The hon. Gentleman should pay tribute to them.

When my right hon. Friend meets the CBI in the north-east, will he try to explain away the inconsistency that has occurred in the Labour party? Last week it announced a "Made in Britain" campaign; yet its deputy leader is a Birmingham Member of Parliament who drives a top of the range French Citroen motor car.

I thought that that was interesting news. It shows—we are not allowed to use the word hypocrisy, are we? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Then it shows the hypocrisy of the Labour party, which claims "Made in Britain" as its slogan while its Members of Parliament drive around in French motor cars and spend most of their time denigrating British industry.

Does the Secretary of State agree that trade and industry in the north-east need good communications and that the existence of direct rail links to the channel tunnel and a much better Al between the north-east and Scotland are extremely important to trade and industry? He has a legitimate voice in governmental discussions. Will he use that voice to get such projects approved?

In many respects, the hon. Gentleman is right. I have to be the voice of industry within the Government, arguing the case for the needs of business, and I do. The Government have given renewed priority to improvements in the infrastructure—in roads and railways and other transport. That shows through in many ways. We have harnessed the private sector. The channel tunnel is entirely privately financed. Had we relied on public sector finance, it would have been another century before we had such an opportunity for British industry, with all the infrastructure back-up that will flow from it.

Mr. Karl Watkin, the chairman and managing director of Crabtree, an engineering company employing 270 people in Gateshead, whom the Secretary of State knows, as he visited the plant last year, was last week voted north-east business man of the year. In his acceptance speech, he said that the Government's economic policy was damaging business in the north-east. Does the Secretary of State dismiss him as a dismal Jimmy, or does he agree with me that Mr. Watkin knows what he is talking about?

I have met Mr. Watkin, and found him a lively and stimulating character. Last time I met him, he said that words attributed to him in the House had not been words that he had uttered. Perhaps the same is true again.