Is the Minister aware of research carried out recently by Bath university—not least on behalf of the Thames Valley economic partnership—which suggests that 60 per cent. of Thames Valley businesses are now trading with Europe, and that half those businesses find that their greatest problem is exchange rate fluctuation? What measures is the Minister taking to ensure that the number and extent of such fluctuations that his Government's economic incompetence has caused will be reduced in the future?
I am aware of the report. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are numerous exporting companies—some 3,000, in fact—in the Thames Valley area. Half those companies are exporting to Europe, and are doing extremely well. Their success is reflected in the fact that a considerable number of American technology companies have set up in Newbury and Bracknell in particular, all as a result of Government policies. The hon. Gentleman laughs, but that is a fact. It is happening in his own constituency.
As for the future, the macro-economic stability of our economy is the surest guarantee that our export performance will continue, that the competitiveness of British goods and services abroad will continue to increase and that the substantial confidence in this country's capabilities—not least in the Thames Valley—that is demonstrated by investment from abroad will be maintained. All that is a good-news story.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the trading competitiveness of small and medium enterprises throughout the Thames Valley would be gravely damaged if the minimum wage and social chapter were introduced, as advocated by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) and his party? Is it not true that Liberal Democrat policies would mean longer dole queues in Newbury and throughout the Thames Valley region?
My hon. Friend is right: the Liberal Democrats never knowingly undertax either. Whether through tax or through regulation, they would certainly propound policies that would damage the export prospects of numerous businesses, particularly small businesses. Many small businesses cannot afford to export at long distance, and tend to go to our doorstep markets in Europe. They would be the most severely affected by such policies. The hon. Member for Newbury nods in support; I hope that his constituents will understand the employment and investment implications that would be involved if those policies were ever pursued.