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Mr. Forth : The RNID's fair hearing campaign made a number of suggestions for amendments to the Hearing Aid Council Act. The Secretary of State for Health and I are considering the RNID's proposals. The Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) would make changes to the Hearing Aid Council Act.
Mr. Ashley : Is the Minister aware that the membership and composition of a Hearing Aid Council which favours the industry that it is supposed to supervise is an absurdity and should be changed in such a way that the consumers and the medical profession predominate? I hope that that change comes about shortly. Is the Minister further aware that even when that change has been made, the Secretary of State should take reserve powers to amend any code of practice or standard put forward by that council so that he can keep a watch on future developments?
Mr. Forth : The right hon. Gentleman is aware, because he will be a member of the Committee that will consider the Bill, that the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n covers those matters to which he has referred and which have concerned many people. Proposals in the Bill and, I believe, amendments to be considered by the Committee, will alter the council's composition to make it more representative and effective. I am optimistic that the Committee will conclude that the council may well be rearranged to ensure that representation is better and more effective. Together with the other changes proposed in the Bill, that will make the council more effective and allow better representation of the interests that are vital to people with hearing impairments.
Mr. Newton : The bid by GEC/Siemens for the Plessey company is being examined by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission which is due to submit its report to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State by 10 April. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the bid in advance of the publication of the commission's report.
Mr. Colvin : Is my right hon. Friend aware that GEC has a history of growth through takeover rather than through research into and development of its own products? Therefore, the prospect for the workers and output of the company's two research centres at Roke Manor in my constituency and at Caswell near Daventry--I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) in the Chamber--is very much worse under a Plessey carve-up than it would be under the existing management and ownership of that company.
Mr. Tim Smith : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, because GEC and Plessey are major suppliers to the Ministry of Defence and because such competition is vital, the taxpayer has a major interest in this matter? Will he confirm that when decisions are taken, the taxpayers' interest is taken fully into account?
Mr. Newton : I can confirm that when my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State considers these matters he will take account of everything in the commission's report and the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading. I am not willing to be drawn beyond that.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : If the Secretary of State is to take these matters into account, will he, in the taxpayer's interest, ask Peter Levene, who is in charge of defence procurement, and all the people responsible in the contracts division of the Ministry of Defence, what they think, especially as that Department is trying to move more contracts over to a competitive-based system? If that takeover move were made in the form in which some people think it should be made, that may well act counter to this proposition.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Has the Minister read the book "The City Sharepushers" by Mr. Davidson? If so, has he noted the comments about Harvard Securities--a company which we have effectively managed to close-- Afcor Investments, IDB and Tudorbury Securities? In so far as Tudorbury Securities is still trading and, in effect, conning the public, does the right hon. Gentleman think that he should make a statement to Parliament? Is it true that Department inspectors have been investigating that company?
Mr. Ian Taylor : Does my right hon. Friend recognise the invaluable work of the British Invisible Exports Council which is encouraging the continued progress of the City in earning income for this country? Will he note in particular the latest figures, which show that invisible exports may have been under-recorded by up to £4 billion in last year's balance of trade figures?
Column 407the strengths of our economy. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who have contributed to our performance in that regard.
Mr. Stott : When the right hon. Gentleman had discussions with City institutions, did he discuss the possible future funding of the sale of Girobank? If so, did he tell them that he has told the chairman of the Post Office board that he has altered the terms of reference laid down by his predecessor for the sale of Girobank? Did he tell them that he has done that because he, the Secretary of State and the Department, are having a great deal of trouble in selling Girobank? In view of that predictable difficulty, is it not time that the Secretary of State cancelled the sale of Girobank and stopped this nonsense, to lift the veil of uncertainty that has hung over those who work for Girobank and its customers for the past nine months?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman was present during the Adjournment debate before Christmas when I said that the Government had not changed the criteria set out at an earlier stage for the sale of Girobank. Had the hon. Gentleman attended the Select Committee the week before last, he would have heard me reaffirm that point. Quite simply, he is wrong.
Mr. Forth : My Department has a keen interest in promoting partnership between business and schools. Last year we launched the enterprise and education initiative, which is an ambitious programme that will extend the benefits of partnership activity to all schools. Working with organisations already active in the partnership area, DTI's 145 local advisers on enterprise and education will approach employers to ensure that there are places for all pupils to have at least two weeks' work experience before leaving school. In addition, we are setting up a programme under which 10 per cent. of teachers will each year be given the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the world of business. My Department also supports much other partnership activity, including initial teacher training, both on a national basis and through our regional office network.
Mr. Stevens : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he will appreciate that in constituencies which, like mine, are sharing in the resurgence of business prospects in the west midlands, we are very conscious that the future of business and of students depends on understanding and contact between them. In particular, it is important that the links between industry and education should start, not at secondary school, but at primary school. In that context, would my hon. Friend care to say a little more about the teacher placement programme, which has an important contribution to make?
Mr. Forth : My hon. Friend has put the matter in context. Arguably, one of the most important challenges that we face is to set up a dialogue and an understanding between those involved in education and those involved in wealth creation, for the obvious reason that we want to motivate teachers and pupils alike to understand the world
Column 408of business and to want participate in it. The initiative that we have launched will be a major step in that direction. On the teacher placement project, I can report to my hon. Friend that a recent very favourable report on a pilot scheme that we have been conducting has suggested mechanisms that we might develop to bring us closer to the ambitious target that we have set for encouraging participation by teachers in the business world.
Mr. Frank Haynes : Is the Minister aware that there used to be a first-class link between the mining industry and schools in my constituency? Is he aware that that link has been cut and will he go with me to Hobart house and kick the backside of Sir Robert Haslam to get that link restored, in the interest of young people who want to work in the mining industry?
Mr. Forth : The hon. Gentleman has made a valuable point. I hope that all those involved in the coal industry and every other industry will become increasingly aware of how important it is to educate both teachers and pupils throughout the education system in the importance of industries such as the coal mining industry. It will be in the interests of everyone for people to talk to one another, for those in the mining industry to visit schools and for those in education to visit mines so that that understanding can be maximised and the talent, skills and enthusiasm of young people will be attracted into that important industry.
Mr. Atkins : According to the figures known to the Invest in Britain Bureau, since 1979 more than 186,000 jobs have been created and since 1983, when records were started, more than 100,000 jobs have been maintained.
Mr. Coombs : Will my hon. Friend confirm that far from being the pariah of the international investment community, as Britain was 10 years ago, we now attract nearly one third of American investment in Europe and nearly half Japanese investment in Europe? Does he agree that this is because of the enterprise policies adopted by the Government and because industrial relations in Britain have been transformed so that British managers have far greater freedom to manage than those in any other country in Europe? Will he resist any impulse by the European Commission to make that more difficult?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is quite right. As inward investment is one of my responsibilities, I see an enormous number of representatives from foreign companies and countries, all of whom are very keen to invest in Britain. They recognise the strength of our economy, the beneficial effects of our industrial relations legislation, and a wide variety of other factors, the most important in my opinion being the quality of the work force that they can utilise in various parts of the country. My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to that and he can rest assured that we will endeavour to maintain that position for as long as possible.
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade announced the launch of the export initiative on 17 January. Services provided under the initiative are available at all sectors of industry including those engaged in the production of cycles.
My officials in the east midlands regional office of the Department are available to provide advice and assistance to all east midlands firms with an interest in exporting.
Mr. Allen : The Secretary of State and the Minister will be aware that one of his predecessors, the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), said, in one of his more cynical moods, that the unemployed youngsters in Britain should get on their bikes. Is it not ironic that the companies which produced those British bikes have lost thousands of jobs, many of them in my constituency? Will he make serious representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that interest rates are brought down to a manageable level and that the inflation rate is reduced considerably so that the exports of those cycles can increase and more people can get on their bikes and work in the cycle factories?
Mr. Atkins : I am tempted to suggest that this is a cyclical problem, but the House may not appreciate that. The hon. Gentleman makes a point about interest rates to which we have already devoted some time this afternoon. If a rise in interest rates will solve the problem of inflation we would prefer that policy to increased inflation. As the hon. Gentleman may recall, although he was not here at the time, the Labour Government forced inflation up to levels that we had to reduce when we came to office.
In regard to the cycle industry, the hon. Gentleman will have heard my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon- Bravo) in whose constituency the Raleigh factory is situated and who never ceases to make representations to me about the interests of his constituents at Raleigh. None the less, my reply applies
Column 410just as much to the hon. Gentleman. Jobs are increasing in Raleigh in Nottingham because of the achievements of the bicycle company, and we want that to continue.
18. Mr. Hind : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will give comparable figures for the growth of manufacturing productivity in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries between 1979 and 1987.
Mr. Atkins : Those countries for which figures are readily available showed the following increases in manufacturing productivity between 1979 and 1987 : Greece 0 per cent., Australia 6 per cent., Canada 9 per cent., Germany 14 per cent., Switzerland 19 per cent., France 20 per cent., Japan and Norway 21 per cent., the Netherlands 25 per cent., Sweden 26 per cent., Austria and Belgium 29 per cent., Spain 32 per cent., Italy and the USA 33 per cent., the United Kingdom 37 per cent. Only three countries out of the member states--Finland with 43 per cent., Portugal with 54 per cent. and Ireland with 81 per cent. have higher increases than the United Kingdom.
Mr. Hind : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's answer. Has he noted from the labour force survey that, in the months to June 1988, manufacturing employment has increased, along with the momentous increases in productivity already mentioned? Will he also confirm that German companies operating through subsidiaries in the United Kingdom are finding that productivity in Britain is higher than in West Germany?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is right. That is certainly the case with West German companies. He will also know, as I do, of a company-- Leyland DAF--which employs many people in our respective constituencies. As a direct result of a deal with that company, productivity has increased 100 per cent. over the past 18 months. That is a measure of the productivity in British industry, which, may I yet again dare to remind the Opposition, is a great success story of which we should be proud.
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