The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

Chief Secretary (1987-1989)

Mr Major’s Parliamentary Answer on Interest Rates – 6 July 1989

Below is the text of Mr Major’s response on Interest Rates on 6th July 1989 in the House of Commons.

Ms. Quin To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received from small businesses on the current level of interest rates.

Mr. Major My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations on this subject.

Ms. Quin Have the Government studied the recent survey by the Forum of Private Business, which shows that small firms are rapidly becoming the victims of high interest rate policies? Are the Government aware of the CBI’s industrial survey showing the weakness of small firms’ export orders? What advice are the Government now giving to small firms?

Mr. Major I have seen those reports. There is no doubt that interest rates are uncomfortable. But inflation would be more uncomfortable, would last longer and would be far more damaging. Monetary policy is specifically geared to bear down on inflation and so bring it down. That is in the interests of all business, particularly small business.

Mr. Gow Is it not the case that excessive monetary growth caused, and diminished monetary growth will cure, the monetary evil of inflation? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will maintain interest rates at such a level as to persevere in the abatement of inflation until we achieve his declared target of stable prices?

Mr. Major I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we have no intention of relaxing on monetary policy until it begins to bear fruit.

Mr. Haynes When the Prime Minister comes in to the Chamber in a moment or two, will Treasury Ministers have a word with her and tell her to get rid of the Chancellor and farm him off back to the beautiful green fields of Blaby, because he has been a complete failure? He promised that the Government would help small businesses because that was where the jobs would come from and said that that would sort out the problems of the economy.

Mr. Major I disagree with what I could hear of what the hon. Gentleman said. We cherish the Chancellor and hope to keep him for a long time.

Mr. Bellingham Is the Chief Secretary aware that in west Norfolk unemployment has come down from a peak of 18 per cent. to less than 6 per cent.? The main reason for that is the success of the small firms sector, which has prospered under the Chancellor’s policies. However, is my right hon. Friend aware that that sector is worried about the increase in inflation and supports policies that will bring inflation down?

Mr. Major I entirely agree. Unemployment has fallen in each and every region of the United Kingdom – without exception – and that has been happening for a considerable period of time. That is a direct result of the policies that my right hon. Friend has been following.

Mr. Chris Smith Is the Chief Secretary aware that bankruptcies among self-employed sole traders in London and the south-east have risen by 28 per cent. in the past year, as a direct result of the Government’s high interest rate policy? Does he show no concern for the small businesses throughout the country that are being forced to abandon re-equipping and investment decisions and, in many cases, being forced to lay off staff? Has he heard the verdict of the small business man in Gosport, who said that high interest rates were squeezing his business to choking point? Why does he not change his policy before it is too late?

Mr. Major The hon. Gentleman can rattle his chains all he likes, but the creation of new businesses is now running at an unprecedented rate of 1,300 new businesses every week. The hon. Gentleman can never tell us when that happened under any Labour Government.

Mr. Oppenheim Does my right hon. Friend agree that the effect of high interest rates on business is substantially mitigated because long-term rates are several points below the level of short-term rates? In addition, does he agree that the long-term interests of all business, the economy and the people of Britain are best served by having high interest rates now, rather than allowing problems to build up for the future, as other Governments would have allowed?

Mr. Major That is right. It is also pertinent that the profitability of small businesses is at the highest level for 20 years. That means that firms are much less reliant on borrowing and therefore much less sensitive to short-term interest rate changes.