Economy (North-West England)
§ 4. Mr. Elletson
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement about the economy in the north-west of England. 
§ Mrs. Angela Knight
The north-west is sharing fully in the success of the British economy, which is enjoying a combination of low inflation, falling unemployment, low mortgage rates and rising living standards not seen for a generation.
§ Mr. Elletson
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does it not show that, thanks to the Government's economic policy, north-west England is now one of the most competitive and successful economies in the most competitive and successful country in western Europe? Would it not be crazy to throw all that away on new Labour, new failure?
§ Mrs. Knight
My hon. Friend is correct. Unemployment in the north-west has fallen to its lowest level for more than six years and average weekly pay is the second highest in the country. May I turn my hon. Friend's attention to some of the figures relating to Blackpool? It is, as he knows, the country's premier tourist resort, with more visitors per year than Portugal and more hotel beds than the whole of Greece. The Labour party's recipe of a minimum wage, the social chapter and more red tape would damage jobs in my hon. Friend's constituency and would damage the United Kingdom's tourist industry.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Is the hon. Lady aware that chambers of commerce in the north-west have stated that they are more concerned about the level of interest rates and a competitive pound than about anything else? Although I welcome the decision by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to overcome the fears of the Governor of the Bank of England, will the hon. Lady ensure that my points about the competitive pound are fully taken into account, bearing in mind the need for manufacturing industry in the north-west of England?
§ Mrs. Knight
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is one of the factors that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor takes into account when setting interest rates. The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that we receive many representations from business, commerce and individuals about all aspects of the British economy. I can assure him that they are delighted by our inflation performance. They are also delighted that our interest rates are low, mortgage rates are at their lowest level for almost 30 years, more people are in work and we have a lower unemployment rate than any other major European country. That is the sort of economy that we have created in this country—one in which companies can prosper and thrive and individuals can expect jobs and achieve improved living standards.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I welcome the influence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his resistance to the blandishments of the Governor of the Bank of England when urging him to increase interest rates. Such resistance has made a direct contribution to the healthy economic situation in 442 north-west England. In my constituency of Macclesfield, unemployment is down to 3.2 per cent. and we have recently had the fine announcement of the second runway at Manchester airport. Only last October, Vauxhall announced investment of more than £300 million in Merseyside, which I hope will go some way to offset today's unfortunate announcement by Ford at Halewood—a decision that I deeply regret.
§ Mrs. Knight
I agree with my hon. Friend that any job losses are regrettable. In its statement today, Ford says that it is improving the plant's competitiveness to secure its long-term future, but the future for everyone in this country is a stable economy—an economy and economic policies that ensure the job creation that we are currently witnessing. Recently published figures show that we are creating about 10,000 jobs a week; we are prepared to continue to do so. It is vital for everyone in the country.
§ Mr. Milburn
Will the hon. Lady confirm that earlier today the Chancellor described the loss of jobs in the north-west at Ford's Halewood plant as a case ofYou can't win them all"?How can she defend such complacency when the loss of quality manufacturing employment is such a devastating blow, not only to the north-west but to the whole British economy?
Instead of sitting back and doing nothing, will the Minister agree to make a statement to the House on the impact of those job losses on the people of the north-west and the economy of that region?
§ Mrs. Knight
That question was uniquely silly, especially the quotation that the hon. Gentleman attributed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As I said, all job losses are regrettable. I find them regrettable, as do my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support Ford's measures to improve the plant's competitiveness to ensure its future, and that he will be pleased by the enormous investment that Ford has made in this country. I look forward to his supporting the economic policies that have created and continue to create jobs in this country; unemployment is falling here, but is rising in every other major European country. That ability to create jobs results in this country's success and provides big opportunities for everyone, including people on Merseyside.