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Column 328yesterday. It is clear that business men are beginning not only to recognise but to seize the opportunities represented by the growth in industry in the north.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the Minister discuss with the CBI the high level of imports of footwear from south-east Asia? They have risen from 54.5 million pairs in 1982 to 88 million pairs last year. Does he not understand that that is leading to the closure of footwear factories throughout the United Kingdom? The footwear industry is in a desperate state, and that includes Millers in my constituency. What is the Minister going to do about Reebok, the firm that puts the Union Jack on the side of its sports gear and sends it all over the world for example? Its products appear in shops throughout the United States. If one lifts the tongue of a shoe and looks inside one finds "Made in South Korea". Will he stop that practice?
Mr. Newton : I have not looked inside the tongue of any shoes recently. I undertake to consider the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. As for the first part of his question, he knows that the European Commission is considering the matters he has raised.
Mr. Hind : When my right hon. Friend the Minister has discussions with representatives of the CBI, will he emphasise the importance to the construction section of the CBI of the need to build factories in the north of England? He will be aware that, because of the resurgence of northern industry, there is little vacant factory space available. If growth is to be sustained, the construction industry must be robust in its approach to that problem.
Mr. Newton : Yes. That is very much a part of the opportunities that exist for industry, and of the resurgence in the north. During my visit to Sunderland yesterday, I was pleased to be able to give some further details of English Estates plan to build 45,000 sq ft of factory space in Sunderland.
Mr. Gould : Has the Chancellor had the chance to discuss with the CBI the mess that his Department is making of competition policy? Such is now the confusion that no one knows which way the Secretary of State will jump from one case to another. Does the Minister recognise that in cases such as Cons Gold and GEC, reliance on narrow but somewhat specious competition grounds, highlights the absence of strategic thinking? In the case of the House of Fraser, the unexplained mystery of the Secretary of State's refusal to publish the DTI's report or refer the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission fully justifies the High Court judgment that the policy is "irrational and unreasonable". Will he clear up that mystery and tell us the basis of competition policy?
Mr. Newton : There is no mystery about the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the report. It is being considered by the serious fraud office and my right hon. Friend's view, which I think is widely shared, is that it would be inappropriate to publish the report while that consideration continues. As to whether I have discussed with the CBI "the mess", as the hon. Gentleman puts it, of the Government's competition policy, the answer is no, because there is no mess.
Mr. Forth : I have no current plans to do so, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is considering the feasibility of a scheme for the centralised recording of car mileages, as suggested by a working party under the chairmanship of the Director General of Fair Trading. I understand that a considered response to the suggestion will be made soon.
Mr. Atkinson : Does my hon. Friend accept that the existing laws and deterrents are proving insufficient in protecting consumers from unscrupulous second-hand car dealers who fail to resist the temptation to turn their clocks back, and are giving their trade a bad name? Will he suggest to the Department of Transport the reintroduction of a modern form of the old-style log book containing a complete history of the ownership and mileage of every car as a legal document for the greater protection of consumers?
Mr. Forth : My hon. Friend's suggestion is interesting, and I am sure that he will have let our hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic know about it. I shall certainly draw it to his attention. Existing laws on consumer protection already deal with this matter. Car clocking, as it is commonly called, is a criminal offence under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and carries a maximum penalty on conviction of two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine. In 1987, the last year for which figures are available, there were 556 successful prosecutions for misdescribed cars, mostly for the offence of clocking. The penalties are already in place. I think that a scheme similar to that which my hon. Friend has suggested is being looked at, and I am sure that he will do his best to promote it with my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic.
Mr. Morgan : Does the Minister not agree that the moral authority with which the Government can attack the problem of fiddling the clocks of cars is greatly weakened by the fact that the Government have been doing the same thing with the unemployment statistics for the last nine years?
Mr. Forth : The hon. Gentleman tried hard and almost succeeded in making a point that amused his colleagues. Whether what he has said will help people who suffer from the serious problem of the clocking of cars is for others to decide. We take these matters seriously and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) made a serious and considered suggestion. I should like to see the Opposition doing the same.
Mr. Latham : Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister for Roads and Traffic to deal with this matter with tremendous urgency? Leicestershire council is very concerned about it. Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the people involved in this activity make Mr. Arthur Daley look as honest as St. Francis of Assisi?
Mr. Forth : The problem concerns people, because they are making one of the larger purchases that they are likely to make. If they fall prey to those involved in such practices it can cause great distress. The right thing to do
Column 330is to find the most effective way to deal with it. If we take a combination of what is already being looked at by my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic and the idea that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East suggested we are likely to find a solution.
15. Mr. Hanley : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps his Department has taken to encourage the British civil aerospace companies to participate in the Boeing airborne warning and control system offset arrangements.
Mr. Atkins : During the course of 1988 my Department organised a series of seminars on the United States civil aerospace market. The scope for selling to Boeing and participating in the AWACS offset arrangements figured prominently in these.
Mr. Hanley : Does my hon. Friend not agree that following the great success of the provision of Harriers for the US forces by British Aerospace, his Department should encourage further co-operation for the benefit of the economies and the defence of these two nations?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is right. The Harrier has been one of the most successful programmes involving both military and civil aerospace companies in this country. It is worth reminding the House, in case it has forgotten, that the positive trade balance in aerospace products is about £2.4 billion per annum. That makes it an extremely successful industry.
Mr. Madden : Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful to good industrial relations in the electronics industry if Plessey and GEC took the opportunity to announce publicly that they intend to sever their links with the secret blacklisting organisation, the Economic League, and will stop using its secret and often illegal services?
Mr. Atkins : As my hon. Friend is perfectly well aware, these are predominantly matters for the Ministry of Defence. I can tell him that to date over 900 United Kingdom firms have made contact with Boeing through the AWACS offset office. Of those, 200 have visited Boeing plants, and Boeing claims that competitive opportunities have been made available to more than 100 British companies. There is stilll much evaluation being carried out by the Ministry of Defence which has already accepted about £150 million as offset, has rejected £77 million, and is still examining £403 million. When those figures are clear, my hon. Friend will be able to ascertain, as will I and the Ministry of Defence, how successful the offset agreement has been.
Mr. Atkins : The White Paper "DTI--the department for Enterprise" (Cm. 278), published in January 1988, outlines a number of changes in the grants available to business. They simplify the range and reduce the complexity of DTI grants.
Mr. Gill : I welcome that reply, but I ask my hon. Friend to consider that there is still a proliferation of grants, and that they represent an intervention in, and a distortion of, market forces. Does he agree that one man's grant is another man's tax burden?
Mr. Atkins : Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have some sympathy with the point expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill). However, where areas of exceptionally high social or industrial need have required assistance, Governments of all political persuasions have always provided grants to help. Only a day or two ago, we published the third reprint of a document relating to the enterprise initiative, which includes a further export initiative, as well as another item on managing for the 1990s--all of which clarify what is available under, for example, the enterprise initiative, which is being extremely well received by industry.
Mr. Hardy : Does the Minister accept that although the clarification to which he refers is commendable, the Government's lower priority for, and cuts in, regional aid have gone far enough, and that he should resist the blandishments of his marketeering hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill)?
Mr. Atkins : Although the hon. Gentleman makes well for his constituency a case with which I am familiar, he is wrong. We have said that we are committed to providing the same sort of money for the regions as we have in the past, and we hope to meet that objective.
Mr. William Powell : Does my hon. Friend accept that, notwithstanding the complexity of the grants for many people, they have proved of significant benefit to the assisted area of Corby during the last eight or nine years? They have contributed to reducing the unemployment level there from being among the highest in Europe, when the Conservative Government came to office, to the situation where, in not many months from now, it will be one of the lowest.
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend never fails to draw the right conclusions about the effort that has been put into Corby. It is a classic case of a town given a resource that was needed at the time, and which has since become very successful--so much so, that Corby has the common sense regularly to return a Conservative Member of Parliament. As long as Corby continues doing so, my hon. Friend will be able to represent its success story as often as may be necessary.
Mr. Pike : Will the Minister accept that a surprisingly high number of large firms and a considerable number of small firms do not know the sources of grants and assistance? Will the Government take urgent steps to
Column 332review that aspect yet again, to ensure that industry receives the help and assistance that is essential if the current balance of trade problem is to be reversed?
Mr. Atkins : In that case, the hon. Gentleman and his party cannot be critical of the advertising employed by the Department to get across exactly that message to the people who need to know it. If the hon. Gentleman, who I know to be an assiduous constituency Member, needs a telephone number or contact, he has only to tell me. I shall ensure that he is given one.
Mr. Forth : Commerce and industry will function most efficiently in an economy where inflation is under control, markets are open, and individual enterprise is encouraged and rewarded. The overriding aim of the Department's policy is to create such a climate.
Mr. Adley : Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be marginal disappointment that he did not mention transport? Does he agree that first- class transport links with the regions are of the highest priority if commerce and industry is to succeed? Does he further agree that the opening of the Channel tunnel presents a tremendous opportunity to industrialists, particularly in the distant regions, and that the provision of first-class rail facilities to the west and north-west, and to Scotland, are also of the highest priority? The proposals in a recent booklet, "Tunnel Vision", published by the Conservative Political Centre can be commended to his Department. Will he please read it, and then discuss its proposals with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport?
Mr. Forth : I seem to recall that my hon. Friend kindly gave me a copy of the booklet to which he refers, which I read with interest and enthusiasm. It was probably one of the most excellent booklets that I can recall emanating from the Conservative Political Centre. While I acknowledge my hon. Friend's involvement and his enthusiasm for the infrastructure. I hope that he will accept that investment in railways has been running at a high level and continues to do so. My colleagues in the Department of Transport have turned down no railway investment projects since 1979. I believe that the plans for the connections with the Channel tunnel are in excellent hands with British Rail, and--supported by my hon. Friend, as I know that they are--I am sure that they will be turned out correctly, in the right form and at the right time.
Mr. Skinner : The Minister said earlier that there should be no interference with the free flow of market forces if industries are to function effectively. One of his colleagues has said the opposite : he believes in grants being allowed to various firms.
May I make a suggestion? Will the Minister tell hon. Members who do not want the grants in their constituencies to hand them over to the areas-- especially Labour areas--where people can be encouraged to take intermediate grants, such as Bradford, Bolsover and Bassetlaw? If Conservative Members do not want the grants, we will have them.
Mr. Forth : The essential difference between the hon. Gentleman's approach and ours is that under his party's Government, money was thrown indiscriminately at areas and companies that often did not need it. The present Government, however, have targeted available resources accurately and have achieved a much better result for it. Successive elections have shown that the people of this country well understand that the approach taken by the hon. Gentleman's party was a failure, and that the approach taken by my party is a success.
18. Mr. Kirkhope : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress has been made by his Department in making British business men aware of the opportunities presented by the completion of the internal market in 1992.
Mr. Alan Clark : Over 90 per cent. of the firms are aware of the single market challenge. My Department's "Europe Open for Business" campaign is concentrating on encouraging action by firms throughout the country.
Mr. Kirkhope : Does my hon. Friend share my concern at the remarks of the deputy director general of the CBI, who has said that he believes that British business men are sleepwalking towards the 1992 opportunities? A recent CBI survey has shown that very few of the largest companies in the country have been doing what is necessary to improve their training facilities and sales organisations, and that only one in five has been reviewing its strategy towards Europe. Does not that suggest that more must be done by businesses themselves?
Mr. Clark : Certainly there is always scope for businesses to raise their levels of activity in that regard. My Department, however, carries out a weekly survey of 100 companies with 10 or more employees, and we are now
Column 334finding that reaction is at least 60 per cent. favourable--that is, at least 60 per cent. of those interviewed are considering what action they should be taking. The CBI itself is staging a number of conferences and seminars, one of which my hon. Friend will be attending tomorrow.
Mr. Henderson : In the course of the Minister's campaign for enlightenment, has he warned the sub-contractors to Ford at Dagenham of the danger to their businesses of the move of the Sierra production line from Dagenham to Belgium? Is that a sign of things to come for much of British business in 1992?
Mr. Clark : The commercial decision of the Ford Motor Company is based on such matters as productivity, cost and efficiency. If it judges that an appropriate step, it should be seen in the context of Ford's other investment decisions, notably the investment of £700 million in Bridgend, and it must reflect--to some extent, at any rate--the work practices at the factory from which the line is being moved.
Mr. Grylls : Does my hon. Friend agree that most business men would consider one of the most important parts of the 1992 market the opening up of opportunities to sell to continental Ministries of Defence, Post Offices and telecommunications businesses? What progress is being made in opening up Europeanwide procurement so that everyone can have a go at selling to everyone else?
Mr. Clark : The public procurement directive is one of the most important of all the single market measures. It will certainly be in place in full by 1992. I emphasise that the inherent dangers are of the same dimension as the opportunities. British companies that have comfortable relationships with, for example, their local authorities may find that they are faced with competition from European firms. They should put themselves in a position in which they are able to compete for public procurement contracts in the Community.
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