Mr. John M. Taylor:
Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry regularly receive representations about the impact of Government policies on businesses, including those in the north-west. I look forward to hearing more views from north-west business people when I visit Bolton early next month.
When the Minister visits Bolton town hall in 12 days' time, I hope that he will enjoy a good helping of Bolton's excellent black pudding with his breakfast. Will he welcome the proposal to set up a national museum of food in Bolton, which is famous not only for its black puddings but for its excellent bakeries?
Is the Minister aware that the effect of Government policies on the north-west and on Lancashire in particular has been to bring about an enormous increase in the number of small businesses there? In my own patch, there are 6,000 and that number is rising every month. Over the past 14 years, that has helped to bring down unemployment from 11 per cent. to only 4.5 per cent.
My hon. Friend is right. The north-west has experienced a net increase of 35,000 jobs in two years and regional selective assistance of £31 million has, by itself, created 6,500 jobs. The north-west has excellent communications, high value-added, high investment and tremendous tourist potential.
The Minister will be aware that the Ford Motor Company has announced plans to shed 1,300 jobs at the factory at Halewood in my constituency in order to concentrate production of the new Ford Escort in Spain and Germany. Can he explain how it makes sense to export 1,300 jobs from my constituency to Germany and Spain in order to produce for import into this country the car that is the second-best seller in this country, that sells more here than in any other market and that costs £500 to £1,000 less to produce here than on the continent? Will he meet a deputation comprising my colleagues and me to talk about this serious matter?
Those decisions are made by the Ford Motor Company and they are based on its commercial judgment. Ford is taking those measures to improve the plant's competitiveness with the aim of securing its long-term future. The Government are committed to assisting Halewood to meet Ford's competitiveness agenda.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Government policies have greatly increased prosperity in my constituency, not least in Garstang? Unfortunately, in contrast, Labour-controlled Wyre borough council's vicious policy of imposing parking charges in Garstang, where hitherto parking was free, will ruin the economy.
How can the Minister be so complacent, given that small businesses in the north-west will be faced with the catastrophic effects of the closure of Ford in Halewood? According to the Department's figures, there are one in 20 fewer VAT-registered small businesses in the Wirral than there were in 1992. Does not that show why businesses in the north-west and elsewhere are saying that enough is enough with this failing Government?
That is as absurd a question as one is likely to hear. Small businesses thrive in the north-west because of its competitiveness. The hon. Lady mentions Halewood, about which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry said he would receive a delegation. Ford is not closing the plant, but is making adjustments in the light of its judgment. We shall assist in securing Halewood's long-term future.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour party ignores all the good news in the north-west? He mentioned the 35,000 jobs that have been created over the past two years, but, as a result of inward investment since 1985, 17,334 jobs have been either created or safeguarded. One important industry is the aerospace industry—not just British Aerospace but the Consortium for Lancashire Aerospace, which comprises more than 130 smaller companies with a turnover of more than £4 billion. It would damage those industries and jobs in the north-west greatly if the Labour party were elected and slashed defence expenditure, bearing in mind the fact that it would have to get the money from somewhere.
Like my hon. Friend, whose remarks I endorse, I do not understand why the Labour party always wants to sell the north-west down the river. I presume that Labour Members would take the same attitude if they were in government. I want them to know that the north-west has high morale. Lancashire, Cumbria, Cheshire and Merseyside are wonderful counties and they are all in good heart—much better heart than I see on the Opposition Benches.