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House of Commons

Wednesday 15 March 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Associated British Ports (

No. 2) Bill--

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 16 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


Hearing Aids

1. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is his estimate of the numbers of hearing aid dispensers making use of home visits to sell hearing aids.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth) : I understand that some 80,000 hearing aids a year are dispensed by the private sector. There are no statistics available to indicate what proportion of those are as a result of a home visit, but it is likely that a significant proportion will have involved a call by a hearing aid dispenser.

Mr. Wigley : Does the Minister accept that although the vast majority of visits arranged and made by private companies are perfectly reputable and of a high standard, a significant minority of those selling private hearing aids use disreputable tactics and make home visits that are neither wanted nor acceptable to the patient? Will the Government make a statement to the effect that they believe that there should be no home visits to people needing hearing aids unless they are requested by the patient?

Mr. Forth : I recognise the hon. Gentleman's point and it has come up frequently, especially recently, as we have been considering a Bill which will be in Committee shortly. The number of complaints received, for example, by the Hearing Aid Council, which is responsible for such matters and to which such complaints should be made, is running at about 70 per year and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, which has recently given us its latest figures, has recorded about 260 complaints in the past four months covering all matters to do with hearing aids. We recognise that there may be a problem, but the correct course for individuals who have been adversely affected is to raise the matter with the Hearing Aid Council, which then has responsibility for dealing with it and, so far as we know, is prepared and able to deal with such matters effectively.

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Ms. Quin : Does the Minister agree that in view of the unfortunate examples which have occurred there is good reason to consider tightening up the code of practice of the Hearing Aid Council and increasing the number of consumers on the council to ensure that people who need hearing aids are able to obtain them in the best conditions and at the best price possible?

Mr. Forth : I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment and on her debut at the Dispatch Box. I look forward to seeing and listening to her in future. I acknowledge that this is an important matter, but I can only repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). The effectiveness of the code of practice is the responsibility of the Hearing Aid Council which, so far as we are aware, has always been able and prepared to review the code of practice and when necessary, to change it. The hon. Lady will also be aware that a private Member's Bill--the Hearing Aid Council (Amendment) Bill--will shortly be in Committee. I have had dealings with the promoter of that Bill, the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones). We shall seek, with him, to produce the best possible Bill which will bring us up to date in these matters and allow us to have the most effective and representative council. On the basis of conversations so far, I am optimistic that we shall be able to achieve that objective.

Enterprise Initiative

2. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many applications have so far been received for consultancy support under the enterprise initiative.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry (Mr. Tony Newton) : More than 20,000 applications for assisted consultancy have been received since the launch of the scheme in January 1988.

Mr. Nicholson : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the scheme, with the measures announced yesterday, will be of great help in the coming year, especially to smaller firms? Can my right hon. Friend give the House any idea of the target for the coming year and the evidence showing that the scheme is especially used by smaller firms?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. We are well on course and the evidence is that we have already achieved the 1,000 per month target for applications which was set for last year. We expect to be able to achieve the 1,250 per month target in the forthcoming year. About 90 per cent. of applications come from firms with fewer than 100 employees. There is no doubt that the response from those firms and the benefit to them has been considerable.

Trade Deficit

3. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is his latest estimate of the deficit in trade in manufactured goods for the last 12 months in respect of which figures are available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Robert Atkins) : In the 12 months ended January 1989, trade in maufactured goods is provisionally estimated to have been in deficit by £14.9 billion.

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Mr. Wallace : Until recently the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to be saying that the impact of his policies would be to reduce that trade deficit, but yesterday he said that he did not expect to see it come down from its present record level. Can the Under-Secretary of State say what has changed, and is he concerned about it?

Mr. Atkins : It is not for me to make judgments at the Dispatch Box about what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday as my right hon. Friend is in a better position than anyone to be in control of the facts. He said that the deficit this year would be much the same as last year and suggested again this morning that the deficit would fall. It is, however, nothing like the kind of deficit that we have had in the past as most of the imports are of components, semi-manufactured goods and other capital equipment--very much the sort of things that Opposition Members have been urging us to encourage industry to use.

Mr. Neil Hamilton : Does my hon. Friend agree that people buy goods from abroad because they find them cheaper and of better quality than goods from this country, so the answer to our trade deficit is in the hands of British industry? Does he further agree that the panaceas suggested by the Confederation of British Industry to keep the exchange rate down are not likely to succeed? Is my hon. Friend aware that the Japanese yen has appreciated against other currencies by almost 100 per cent. in the past two years, yet Japan's trade surplus is increasing?

Mr. Atkins : With his usual perspicacity, my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. He is right that this provides an opportunity for British industry to fulfil the requirements of those consumers, both commercial and private, who wish to buy equipment or material. At present, such consumers have to buy from abroad. It would clearly be better and in everyone's interests if they were to buy from home, giving British companies the opportunity to make such products.

Mr. Rees : With the manufacturing trade deficit in mind, I looked around Leeds last weekend and this morning. The centre of the city is booming--with banking, commerce and distribution. New buildings are being erected in which nothing is manufactured but from which goods from the rest of the world are distributed. Yet Leeds was once a proud manufacturing city. I do not say that the decline has occurred only in the past 10 years, but it has certainly got worse in the past 10 years. It is a long-term problem. Will it ever end? Is there anything that the Government can do, or think that they can do, to help manufacturing in our once-great northern manufacturing cities?

Mr. Atkins : The right hon. Gentleman is a fair man and he knows that there have been changes in the manufacturing capacity of western industrialised countries compared with what is happening in parts of the far east and the Third world. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that that change will continue. By the same token, the Government have tried, like many other Governments of European countries, to ensure that in the future high technology manufactured goods and other areas of activity are improved and given attention. The right hon. Gentleman will know, as I do, that when one travels abroad one sees that the impact of British

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manufactured goods is great and that we are doing well. Of course, change is always difficult to bear, and we must ensure that that change is carried through in the most efficient way, both for the consumers and for those who manufacture the goods.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the trade deficit results from imports which enter other than on a level playing field--for instance, supposedly duty-free imports of manufactured goods from the so-called Third world? Is my hon. Friend aware that China manufactures 30 million bicycles per year and EEC rules allow Chinese bicycles to be imported with the result that imports to this country have increased from 600,000 units to 1.3 million units, which is not good news for my constituency which has Raleigh in its centre?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend knows that Raleigh has recently increased its work force by about 300 people and that the company is doing exceptionally well. That is a tribute largely to the work that has been put in and to the quality of the cycles produced. I had always understood that Raleigh itself encouraged the import of some Chinese bicycles because they are sold in this country at a price level at which Raleigh does not compete. In those circumstances, the imports fit in with Raleigh's own range. If my hon. Friend has any further information or evidence of an adverse impact on Raleigh, perhaps he will write or come to see me so that we can pursue the matter.

Mr. John Garrett : According to yesterday's Red Book, growth in domestic demand from last year to next year is forecast to fall by 75 per cent., so why is the trade deficit forecast to be only slightly lower next year? Does not that tell us something about the Government's view of our competitiveness?

Mr. Atkins : If the hon. Gentleman will wait a little longer, he will be able to put that question to Treasury Ministers who discussed that matter yesterday.

Textile Industry

4. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he last met representatives of the wool textiles industry ; and if he will make a statement.

8. Mr. Tredinnick : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he last met representatives of the British Clothing Industry Association, the Knitting Industries Federation and the British Textile Confederation ; what was discussed ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade last met representatives of the British Clothing Industry Association, the Knitting Industries Federation and the British Textile Confederation on 31 October, when a wide range of textile trade issues was discussed. He met representatives of the National Wool Textile Export Corporation on 9 January to discuss the future of the statutory wool textile industry-- export promotion--levy.

I also met several representatives of the textile industry during a visit to Manchester and at a luncheon in Bolton on 8 February.

Mr. Riddick : Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the wool textile industry on record exports last year, especially as trading conditions were not at all easy? Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the challenges

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facing the textile industry is to attract enough school leavers into the industry? Does he share my surprise and disappointment that only four schools out of well over 40 were represented at a recent open day of the Huddersfield Textile Trading Group when a large number of trainees, managing directors and senior company executives were there ready and prepared to talk to teachers and, indeed, to potential new recruits? Does my hon. Friend agree that that was an appalling missed opportunity and possibly a reflection on the career teachers in the schools which did not attend?

Mr. Atkins : As usual, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to such problems. He was also right about the success of the wool textile industry, with record exports worth £613 million last year. We should be proud of that record.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of education links and the need to get people into the industry. We should capture youngsters--not just at secondary but at primary school level--to make them appreciate that making things is of crucial importance to the future of our manufacturing base. In my experience of industry, I have found that the problems do not come from children but from the teachers. I urge my hon. Friend to encourage the teachers in his area to recognise the importance of youngsters developing an interest in manufacturing. To ensure that teachers take more interest in the career opportunities offered, perhaps my hon. Friend will take the matter up with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to see what can be done.

Mr. Tredinnick : Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the British Clothing Industry Association, the Knitting Industries Federation and the British Textile Confederation on the formation of the new Apparel Knitting and Textiles Alliance, which is a great step forward in providing a unified response? Does my hon. Friend share with me and many of my constituents the deep concern felt about the recent agreement negotiated between the EEC and China in relation to textiles and the 20 per cent. increase in imports that will follow? Will my hon. Friend also consider the import of acrylic yarn from Turkey, which is of particular concern at this time as it can come in at below production costs in this country?

Mr. Atkins : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right to offer congratulations to those bodies and I join him in doing so. My hon. Friend will be aware that our hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has been discussing matters relating to Turkey and China on a regular basis. Were there to be any doubt about that, I should point out that he has been defending the interests of my hon. Friend's constituents and other companies in this country with the assiduity that we have come to expect of him. In the circumstances, my hon. Friend will understand that the agreement with China, for instance, although perhaps not so good as we in the United Kingdom might have wished, is nonetheless better than the alternative. We can exercise some control over imports from China. My hon. Friend's point about Turkey is also well taken. We have done an enormous amount about that, and Turkey's exports to this country have fallen in recent months. I repeat that my hon. Friend the Minister

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for Trade has those matters in hand and will continue to fight Britain's corner as strongly as we have come to expect of him.

Mr. Madden : Will the Minister guard against being carried away with too much self-congratulation? A large part of Britain's balance of trade deficit is made up of imported textiles and clothing, representing unfair competition. Does the Minister recognise that the combination of high interest rates, high exchange rates and unfair competition creates in the British textile and clothing industry the fear of a return to the closures, increasing short-time working and large-scale redundancies experienced in the early 1980s? Will the Minister give a clear assurance that Government policy is a renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement and a commitment to take other action in support of the British textile and clothing industry?

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman talks as though he is the only person who understands the textile industry. [Hon. Members :-- "He is."] He represents a point of view, but he must recognise that many Conservative Members--not least my hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) and for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) and myself--have parts of the textile industry in our constituencies and are fully aware of the concerns being expressed. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about unfair imports. As I said earlier, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has been working extremely hard to ensure that Britain's position is protected. It was obvious from the debate on 9 December, in which the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members participated, that much is being done by the Government to defend the interests of the textile industry. As for interest rates, all right hon. and hon. Members must surely recognise that an increase in interest rates is far better than an equivalent increase in the rate of inflation. It is common sense to take action to get rid of inflation by taking action on interest rates. Even the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends must recognise that.

Mr. Vaz : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that from 31 October last year until now is far too long to wait before meeting the federation? The Minister should urgently seek a meeting with representatives of the wool and textile industries. When I and other hon. Members met them a fortnight ago, representatives of those industries gave the Government a very rough ride and criticised the lack of Government action. Is the Minister aware that in the past year Leicestershire has lost 2,891 jobs out of a county work force of 40,000? That is the proof sought by the Minister for Trade that the industry is being damaged. When will the Government start protecting British jobs and British industry?

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman is on record from the 9 December debate as being someone who wishes to break international agreements. That is something to which Conservatives and, I hope, the Opposition Front Bench would not wish to be a party, although we recognise that there are problems at various levels in the textile industry. My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is on record as saying both in the House and outside that he is prepared to defend British interests within the limitations of the

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EEC and our own legislation. The hon. Gentleman must make clear whether he is still in favour of breaking international agreements.

Mr. Vaz : Yes, and of standing up for British interests.

Mr. Atkins : Now we know exactly where we stand. It is on the record.

Mr. Waller : Is my hon. Friend aware that the industry is still very concerned about imports from countries which erect blatant barriers against the entry of British goods? With the multi-fibre arrangement looming on the horizon, does my hon. Friend fully appreciate that the wool textile industry in particular does not seek protection but seeks reciprocity so that it may compete fairly?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is yet another of my right hon. and hon. Friends who understands the industry and speaks about it with authority. He makes a very fair point. He will know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is fighting that battle as strongly as he is fighting the others.

Mr. Henderson : What advice does the Minister have for Courtauld, which right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will recognise as a high-productivity company with good industrial relations, following its announcement of a further 780 redundancies in the cotton industry in Lancashire, bringing the total number of redundancies in the textile industry since October to 10,000? Following the Financial Times forecast the day before yesterday of further output cuts and exchange rate policy changes, does the Minister blame Courtauld and companies like it or does he blame his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely fair point about Courtauld. I understand and get no pleasure from the closures that Courtauld and other mills have announced. I understand all too well, because I had been a Member of Parliament for only one month when 2, 400 Courtauld workers were put out of work in my constituency. Courtauld has had to retrench, reinvest, re-equip and change its attitudes. The hon. Gentleman will know, even from his base in the north-east, that the textile industry has had its difficulties and has come through them but is currently facing further difficulties, which have been discussed in this question. I will bring the hon. Gentleman's concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends may have an opportunity to discuss these matters later this afternoon.


5. Mr. Amess : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the latest export figures.

Mr. Newton : In the 12 months ended January 1989, the value of exports is provisionally estimated to have been £81.2 billion.

Mr. Amess : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the many businesses in Basildon which are currently enjoying record exports as a result of their enterprise initiative and the Government's excellent

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policies? Will he note our contribution to trade with the launch of the "Buy British in Basildon for Export" campaign?

Mr. Newton : I happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating the business men of Basildon on the way in which they have taken advantage of the excellent climate that the Government have created for business. I hope that in the true spirit of reciprocal good will between hon. Members representing Essex, my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating the business men of Braintree on their slogan, "Braintree means Business".

Mr. Win Griffiths : When does the Minister expect the value of our exports to equal the value of our imports? What influence does he think that high interest rates and inflation are having in impeding the growth of exports?

Mr. Newton : Against the background of Britain's historic position in world trade, it would be a rash man who predicted the balance that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The question shows the hon. Gentleman's lack of knowledge about the way in which the economy has worked historically. Our trading has always been significantly assisted by invisibles. The way in which Opposition Members persistently consider only part of our national accounts is not the least of the disservices that they do to sensible economic discussion.

Mr. Baldry : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the strength of our exports covers the whole sector, including not only services but manufacturing goods? Is he aware that last night the president of the British Constructional Steelwork Association announced that last year was its best for steel construction, with a 20 per cent. increase in the fabrication of steel compared with 1987, a record market share and record investment, much of which is being exported? Is it not sad that the only trade and industry news that the Opposition enjoy is bad news?

Mr. Newton : The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is that it is indeed sad. As to his earlier observation, it is a striking example of the improved performance of many sectors of British industry.

Mr. Gould : Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the forecast that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in last year's Budget that exports would grow by 3 per cent.? He will know that in the outturn they fell by 1 per cent. Does he recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer's forecast that the balance of payments deficit would be £4 billion? He will know that the outturn was a deficit of £14.7 billion. Given that our current deficit is running at an annual rate of £20 billion, what faith does the right hon. Gentleman think that we should have in the Chancellor's current forecast that exports will grow by 5 per cent. in 1989? Is this not just another piece of ludicrous self-delusion? What is the basis for such a forecast, and what advice did the Department of Trade and Industry give the Chancellor on the subject?

Mr. Newton : The evidence to back up the expectations that the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed yesterday about our export position is twofold. First, the trend remains upward. Indeed, over the latest three months the volume of exports, excluding oil and what are charmingly known as erratics, was the highest ever recorded. Secondly, and perhaps more important, the overseas investment in the country is an indication of its growing

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attractiveness as a manufacturing base. In addition, there is the greater strength of those manufacturing and other industries from which we can expect to see rising exports, not least on the basis of rising investment.


6. Mr. Cran : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the estimated volume of United Kingdom exports facilitated by the activities of the Export Credits Guarantee Department over the past five years.

Mr. Forth : In the five years to 31 March 1988--the latest date for which figures are available--the total volume of United Kingdom exports for which guarantees have been issued by ECGD was £78.25 billion.

Mr. Cran : I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that the ECGD has been outstandingly successful in facilitating exports from the United Kingdom. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the ECGD has traded--if that is the right word--successfully for 60 out of its 69 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as with all institutions that have been affected by Third world and other debt problems, there is at least a case for looking at the ECGD's balance sheet to distinguish those debts that can be recovered from those that patently can not?

Mr. Forth : I welcome very much what my hon. Friend says about the ECGD's invaluable contribution to the trading performance of this country. We are very confident that, in spite of some very difficult trading circumstances recently, it will continue to provide an excellent service to exporters. However, it has to be examined, and we are currently looking at its flow and at the way in which it operates to ensure that it will continue to provide the best possible service against the most secure financial background.

Mr. Cousins : Can the Minister give the House an assurance that the present arrangements for the Export Credits Guarantee Department will survive the introduction of the single market in 1992, and that there will not be a reduction in the scale of its activities or, alternatively, entirely new arrangements opening it up to other Common Market countries?

Mr. Forth : The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We all recognise that the current role of the ECGD will have to be looked at, both by Her Majesty's Government and by the Commission of the European Community, in the light of developments up to and beyond 1992. This is being done. One cannot prejudge the outcome, but it is fair to say that we expect to see the ECGD's role in this country continuing to be fully comparable with that of its opposite numbers in other countries of the Community, and its role vis-a-vis countries outside the Community, if anything, being strengthened.

Balance of Trade

7. Mr. Wray : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what studies the Department of Trade and Industry is carrying out regarding the effect on the balance of trade of oil production and exports (a) falling by 50 per cent., and (b) ceasing completely.

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Mr. Newton : The latest estimates indicate that the United Kingdom will remain self-sufficient in oil until at least the end of the century, and that the level of output is likely to decline only gradually. My Department is therefore not carrying out any studies based on such hypothetical propositions as the hon. Member suggests.

Mr. Wray : Does the Minister agree that people in this country are concerned when they consider what has happened in spite of the rise in exports--from £2.9 billion to a peak of £6.5 billion in 1986-87? Why have this Government turned a surplus of £1.6 billion in 1981 into a deficit of £20 billion in 1989?

Mr. Newton : It is difficult to understand what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to say. It seems to me that in any commentary on these matters it is necessary, apart from anything else, to consider what has happened to oil prices over the period.

Mr. Grylls : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is evidence that British manufacturing industry is investing very heavily at the present time, and that that will not only improve its competitiveness, but increase its capacity to supply the home market and to export? Is it not the case, therefore, that the prospects are very good?

Mr. Newton : Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend makes very much the point that I was seeking to make a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould).

Mr. Kennedy : The Minister will be aware that the quality of bids that the Department of Energy has received so far for the next licensing round is encouraging news for anyone interested in future oil production, but, although it may not be his direct responsibility, will he note that in terms of 1992 the oil-related sector is concerned about the offshore supplies office and its remit to ensure as much United Kingdom content as possible in fabrication work? What discussion has the Department had here, and, more crucially, with the European Commission, to secure some base under the Single European Act for an OSO-type unit?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman is right about the encouraging response in the latest round in respect of oil exploration and extraction, which is one reason why I am not prepared to speculate on the highly hypothetical and pessimistic basis of the original question, and I am grateful to him for making that point. The best single guarantee of participation by the offshore industry in the opportunities that remain in the North sea, and a healthy return for British industry, whether before or after 1992, is the growing strength and efficiency of British industry and its competitiveness in that area.

Mr. Tony Banks : The Minister just said that there was a great deal of investment in British manufacturing industry. If that is so, why is the manufacturing deficit going up all the time? When shall we see some beef on this economic miracle?

Mr. Newton : It is an undoubted fact that there has been a substantial increase in manufacturing investment, which in turn is part of a striking rise in overall investment in Britain in recent years--about twice as fast as consumption. That is a dramatic contrast to the position when the Labour Administration was in office, and it is a clear sign of the continued strengthening of the British economy.

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Manufacturing Output

9. Mr. Pike : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on his assessment of the causes of the relative performance of each region in terms of constant value manufacturing output since 1979.

Mr. Atkins : There are many factors underlying regional performance, including the state of the world economy and regional industrial structure. I am happy to say that recent indices show a continuing strong growth in manufacturing output in the regions.

Mr. Pike : When the Minister next returns to his constituency in the north-west, will he look at the real situation there instead of accepting what his civil servants tell him? Is it true that there is 38 per cent. less investment in manufacturing industry in the north-west now than there was in 1979? Is that why there are fewer jobs and 20 per cent. less output? Have not the Government failed manufacturing industry and the regions?

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman should know that no Minister receives much advice from his civil servants on constituency matters. He uses his own eyes, as I do. Representing the north-west as he does, the hon. Gentleman will know just how well the north-west is doing at the moment.

Mr. Pike : Rubbish.

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman does not serve his region well by talking it down and suggesting that things are so bad. We are doing extremely well and that is largely due to the Government's economic policy.

Mr. Dykes : Is it correct that in the past 10 years, taking all the regions together, total manufacturing industry output rose by 9.8 per cent. --less than per cent. compound per annum? Britain's investment in the private sector is the lowest of all those on the OECD official list of countries with populations of more than 50 million. What are we to do to change that fundamental weakness?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that there is always room for improvement. It is the Government's policy to ensure that that improvement continues. If my hon. Friend remains long enough, he will learn from an answer on OECD productivity figures that Britain's productivity is one of the highest within the OECD in terms of percentages.

Mr. Caborn : I congratulate the Minister on presenting an almost convincing fairy-tale this afternoon. The allocation of objective 2 of the new EEC structural fund is based upon unemployment and industrial decline. The EEC decided that from the 50 million people covered by that definition, 20 million are in the United Kingdom. To put it another way, 36 per cent. of objective 2 money will, under the new criteria of the structural fund, come to the United Kingdom. Is the Minister aware, therefore, that in the objective assessment of the Commission, the regions of this country are in greater industrial decline than any other areas in the EEC?

Mr. Atkins : It might interest the hon. Gentleman to know that as a result of pressure that we have been able to impose, we have managed to obtain objective 2 status for Burnley borough council, about which the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) questioned me. That is an

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indication of the fight that we have put up against the Commissioner who, the hon. Gentleman will recall, was a Member of the Opposition and who is making life a little more difficult than we would wish it to be.

Export Promotion

10. Mr. Knapman : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the progress of recent initiatives on export promotion.

Mr. Newton : It is just two months since the Minister for Trade launched the Department's export initiative. Since then, we have received some 2,000 inquiries in response to our advertisements in the national press alone. We expect the campaign to be very successful in introducing companies with significant export potential to the benefits of exporting.

Mr. Knapman : I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful reply. Will he bear in mind the problems of constituents such as mine, and particularly the Stroud valleys, where there are many small companies, employing 50, 100 or 200 people, always requiring up to date information about a large number of export markets? Is he aware that they will be unable to gain export orders unless they are aware of the tendering opportunities?

Mr. Newton : Yes, of course, and that is very much a purpose of the enhanced range of DTI services to exporters--not least to small companies which are potential exporters--to improve the range of intelligence and information about which my hon. Friend speaks.

Mr. Allen : Was there anything in yesterday's Budget to increase exports?

Mr. Newton : The entire tenor and purpose of the Budget was to maintain and develop the strength of the British economy, and the confidence in it which has led to an increase in investment, including manufacturing investment, and has given us such a strong export performance.

Mr. Gould : The right hon. Gentleman's answers are totally at variance with the experience of British industry on the ground. How does he square those answers with the fact, well known to him, that a group of major British exporters is bitterly critical of Government policy on export promotion?

Mr. Newton : If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the tenor of his remarks and questions in the House this afternoon, and on a number of previous occasions, reflect the mood of British industry, it is he who is not getting around on the ground.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to promote exports is to defeat inflation, which is much more likely to be defeated by the policies of the Budget than by the inherently expansionary and inflationary policies put forward by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday afternoon?

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