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Inward Investment

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 1:49 pm on 19th March 1997.

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Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones , Cardiff Central 1:49 pm, 19th March 1997

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what has been the level of inward investment into (a) France and (b) the United Kingdom since 1991. [19452]

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development "International Direct Investment Statistics Yearbook 1996" and the United Nations world investment report respectively, inward investment flows into the United Kingdom from 1991 to 1994 exceeded £33 billion while France received just under £32 billion. For 1995, inflows of investment into the United Kingdom were nearly £19 billion and into France nearly £13 billion.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones , Cardiff Central

The Secretary of State cites the statistics in a way that is helpful to him, but the truth is that the average amount of inward investment going to France in those years was £19 billion, and the average going to Britain £17 billion. Do not those statistics nail the lie, which the Secretary of State has used again twice today, that inward investment is discouraged by the social chapter and the minimum wage, which have obviously not succeeded in stopping inward investment going to France?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. Gentleman obviously asked the question thinking that he knew the answer. I am sorry if he found my answer disappointing and unhelpful, but the fact is that the United Kingdom has been doing extremely well. I shall give him some more figures: between 1990 and 1994, the stock of inward investment into the United Kingdom from outside Europe was 30 per cent; the comparable stock going into France was 10 per cent. I could cite many more figures.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the social chapter. That, of course, would skew the figures against Britain if we ever had to face the burden that it, or indeed the working time directive, would impose. I quote what the American chamber of commerce said to the Irish about that directive: It is no exaggeration to say that the lack of flexibility in this Bill could represent the single most negative change in Ireland's flexibility to win US direct foreign investment that has happened in the past 20 years". That is one of the reasons why we are so opposed to the working time directive that the Labour party wants to impose on us.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the flow of inward investment to the Scottish electronics industry has been a story of success? Does he further agree that the industry depends on the movement of components and products, and that that could be helped if fifth freedom rights were granted to Prestwick airport? Will he have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's opening points. I know how hard he has worked to help encourage inward investment to Scotland and to encourage the prospects for Prestwick airport in his constituency. I take careful note of his comments and will give the matter close attention from my DTI office after the general election.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs , East Antrim

I congratulate the Government on their policies, which continue to attract inward investment from overseas. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we in Northern Ireland have benefited month on month from falling unemployment, as have other regions of the United Kingdom? Will he give an assurance that, although Northern Ireland is a peripheral area, the excellence of our education system and the high achievement and excellent output of both Ulster university and Queen's university will be brought to the attention of potential investors so that they can take up highly qualified people?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am glad to agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of that point. Conservative Members believe in maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom. No one knows better than I do the importance of the links between Great Britain and Northern Ireland; my constituency has a substantial interest in the maintenance and development of transport links between Stranraer and his constituency.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the United Kingdom's success on inward investment depends partly on the image of our country, which is symbolised by our national flag, the Union Jack? Will he join me in deploring the conduct of the Scottish Liberal party in seeking to drop the use of the Union flag?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I agree with my hon. Friend. Nothing could be more damaging to the prospects of maintaining our economic success than the internal constitutional upheaval that would flow from the proposals of the Labour and Liberal parties and of the two nationalist parties. I was as horrified and appalled as my hon. Friend by the proposals of senior Liberal Members to abolish the Union Jack and the national anthem. That shows where the Liberal party stands. It believes in the break-up of the United Kingdom and turning this country into a set of regions run from Brussels.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett , Derby South

Does the Secretary of State deny that the latest international figures show that France, with the social chapter, gets more inward investment than Britain, that British companies invest in the rest of Europe—with the social chapter—more than twice as much as European countries invest in Britain, that Ford is sourcing its new Escort in Spain and Germany, and that despite his earlier remarks, Toyota is considering a huge new investment in France that was described yesterday as a potential major coup? Does not the real damage to British investment and jobs come from the Government's divisions over Europe, their dishonesty and the danger of a fifth Tory term to the 3.5 million people whose jobs depend on Europe?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I welcome the right hon. Lady to our question and answer session, even if she is wrong on almost every point. I hope that she accepts my invitation to debate such matters during the coming general election campaign. We can then let the country judge who is right on trade and industry policies. On the United Kingdom's record in comparison with France, France claimed last year to have created 23,000 jobs from inward investment, the United Kingdom 62,000. In 1995, according to the United Nations, the United Kingdom received nearly 50 per cent. more inward investment than France, accounting for 9 per cent. of world stock compared with 6 per cent. for France. Between 1990 and 1994, the United Kingdom's stock of non-EU inward investment amounted to 30 per cent., compared with France's 10 per cent.