Autumn Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:10 pm on 12th January 1989.

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Photo of Mr Stuart Holland Mr Stuart Holland , Vauxhall 9:10 pm, 12th January 1989

The balance of payments crisis is a very long-term problem. It certainly goes back to the 1970s, but it is very little affected by macroeconomic policies and demand management. We simply have not invested enough. Certainly in the decade during which the Government have been in power there has not been sufficient long-term, technology-embodying investment to improve our competitiveness vis-a-vis other countries in Europe and vis-a-vis Japan. The hon. Gentleman should know that. The so-called recovery of manufacturing investment lauded by Conservative Members is simply a recovery from the depths to which the Government had allowed the economy to sink by 1981. We are still hardly back to the manufacturing output level that we had reached in 1979.

Of course, the Chancellor is not confident of sustaining his miracle. He might be praying for his miracle. I am not sure of his fiscal stance on this. It appears that his fiscal stance—with interest rates where they are—is horizontal rather than vertical, but there is certainly a problem for the Chancellor. Let us be sympathetic. The statistics which we have are a problem for the Chancellor. That was put brilliantly by Bill Martin, the adviser to the Select Committee, in the following words: the junk-data which these days pass for official statistics make it impossible to get anything but the most tenuous appreciation of recent economic behaviour, let alone predict its future course. Consequently, forecasters who have been collectively burnt to a crisp by economic developments this year are still in no position to write a happy ending to Britain's overheating saga. Further on in his memorandum to the report, he says: Worse still, the holes in the official statistics have left forecasters with only the foggiest appreciation of why the economy accelerated.