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Economy: Growth

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010


Asked By

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what measures he has put in place to encourage economic growth.

My Lords, the Government last week set out in Going for Growth: Our Future Prosperity the public support for the economic capabilities that will underpin future growth in the UK as we emerge from the global recession. That growth will be based on a combination of targeted government investment which supports our competitive strengths in new technologies and innovation and continued investment in the educational talents and skills of our people.

My Lords, why should we have any confidence in the Government’s prediction about the future given their record over the past 10 years? Have not the past 10 years seen the lowest growth and the highest decline in manufacturing output of any decade since the Second World War? Why is that? Can the Secretary of State explain to us how this has happened?

As it happens, although employment in the manufacturing sector has fallen, in terms of value and volume over the past 10 years, the manufacturing sector has maintained its strength and presence in the UK economy as a whole. But I would ask the noble Lord in return what he thinks his own ideas and approach would do for manufacturing in this country. I see from the newspapers this morning that he is calling for annual cuts of £75 billion a year from public expenditure. He has inadvertently or otherwise lifted the lid on what his party is really thinking. Cuts on this scale—

Noble Lords may not like this debate but I am afraid that they have to listen to the facts. Cuts on this scale could not be achieved without eating deeply into front-line services. They would also virtually remove at a stroke all government capital spending and support for industry, including the manufacturing sector. In other words, the ideas that come from the noble Lord would strangle our restoration of growth at its birth.

Can my noble friend say what effect on growth the Kraft takeover of Cadbury’s will have? What discussions is he having with Kraft in relation to investment in this country and securing British jobs?

I strongly share my noble friend’s concern about the future, a concern that seems to be shared by none other than Mr Warren Buffett, according to remarks of his which are cited in the Financial Times today. All that I can say is that I have received a written assurance, an undertaking, from the chief executive of Kraft making clear Kraft's intentions towards Cadbury, which are to respect its production, its legacy and its workforce. I have asked to meet the chief executive as soon as possible in order to get further detail about those undertakings.

I warmly welcome the First Secretary of State’s conversion to the value of inward investment, but instead of trying to talk out this experiment in Question Time, could he provide some answers and explain to this House why it is that 3,000 more companies have gone bust or become insolvent in Labour's recession than, say, the recession in the 1990s? What answers is he going to provide? Can he just tell us when the next general election is, as he seems to think that it has started? Is it true that he proposes that the campaign will start on Maundy Thursday? Is he aware that that is April Fools' Day, and that in view of his answers today, it would be highly appropriate?

When the noble Lord has quite recovered, perhaps I can point out to him that, contrary to the facts that he has just put to the House, in the recession of the 1990s, when, I remind the House, the noble Lord was in government, business failure and insolvency was twice what it has been in this recession. If we had seen the same job losses as we saw in the recession of the 1990s, four times as many people would have lost their jobs in the recession that we have just gone through, and housing repossessions are now running at around half the rate that they were in the recession of the 1990s.

This achievement is due not least to the measures and interventions made by this Government. The actions demanded even now by the noble Lord and his party would make matters even worse. In the Tory dash for cuts, the recovery under way now would be wrecked. That is the last thing that the people of this country need and expect, which is why I am sure that that stark choice will be influencing their decisions when the time comes later this year for them to put their votes in the ballot box.