Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Newton : Again, I not only note my hon. Friend's remarks, but very much wish to echo them, not least by paying tribute to the work of those who helped to cope with the incidents and to keep the harm done by them to the lowest possible level.

Ms. Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 981 which


Column 406

was placed on the Order Paper yesterday following the announcement by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. that it intended to close Cammel Laird shipyard after 60 years of shipbuilding on Merseyside.

[That this House, mindful that Cammell Lairds was bought from taxpayers for £1, by VSEL, calls upon the owners, who have announced that they see no future for Lairds, to hand back this industrial asset so that others with drive and vision can begin planning a successful future for Lairds and so help safeguard the manufacturing base of Britain.]

That disgraceful decision threatens to put 900 people directly out of work and will withdraw £30 million of expenditure from the local economy and affect 5,000 other jobs. In the light of that economic holocaust which is threatened on Merseyside, will the Leader of the House allow time for us to debate the issue next week ?

Mr. Newton : It is very clear that the issue raised by the hon. Lady, which manifestly relates to employment problems, could be included in the debate that is to take place on Tuesday. The Government and I personally very much regret the closure of Cammell Laird which reflects the worldwide reduction in the demand for warships. The Government are participating in activities designed to develop a redevelopment strategy for the site with the aim of creating new employment and give very substantial aid to the Merseyside development corporation.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : Am I right in thinking that, on the timetable that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given us, we are likely to have only one more day's debate on the Maastricht Bill before the Christmas recess ? Given the enormous majorities in the House last night, which must have warmed the cockles of my right hon. Friend's heart and those of the Patronage Secretary and of everyone else on the Government Front Bench, why do we not get on with it rather more quickly ? We are aware that there are other things to debate in the House, but surely we can get on with the Maastricht Bill, get it out of the way, and then continue.

Mr. Newton : I would not want to mislead my hon. Friend. In the business that I announced until Monday 14 December, I did not announce another day on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, but there is a substantial amount of important business in the programme that I announced which the House also needs to get through, including the discussions on fisheries matters which are of interest in several quarters of the House. However, I note with approval the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbshire, South (Mrs. Currie) for making progress on the Bill which will certainly be shared in some, if not all, quarters of the House.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : The House will share the sympathy that I extend from the people of Northern Ireland to the people of Manchester, especially during a week when the people of Belfast have suffered continuously.

May I ask the Lord President whether we can have an urgent statement next week from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to clarify the situation whereby there seem to be conflicting comments from the Minister of State and the Northern Ireland Office vis-a-vis meetings with councillors from Sinn Fein, the protagonists of the IRA, at a time when councillors in Northern Ireland are asked to


Column 407

sit with them and when Northern Ireland courts are saying that they must be on sub-committees in the city hall when we know that even in this House, minority parties are not necessarily guaranteed places on committees--and they are certainly not guaranteed that in local government throughout the nation? I press for a statement, especially in view of the possibility--the Leader of the House may wish to consult the Attorney-General--that the next court case might oblige Ministers of the Crown to consort with them.

Mr. Newton : In view of the suggestion in the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I will certainly have a conversation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and will draw the remarks generally to the attention of the Attorney-General and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The whole House--and certainly those hon. Members who represent Manchester and the people of Manchester--will be grateful for the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expressed at the beginning of his remarks.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on value added tax? The bloodstock industry and fine arts, antiques and charity shops are staggering under the imposition of VAT. The whole issue must be totally reviewed in the new era of directives on VAT from Brussels.

Mr. Newton : I note what my hon. Friend says and I know that the Treasury Ministers are aware of the concerns being expressed, but I cannot promise that we can have a debate on this next week.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : As part of its inquiry into the unemployment effects of pit closures, the Select Committee on Employment is due tomorrow to go down a pit at Silverdale and the pit at Thentham. As the chairman of British Coal at first refused permission for my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) to descend the pit in her constituency and, I am informed, has today reinforced and restated his ban on the media entering the colliery premises during that visit, could we have a debate, because it is surely important that Select Committees of this House should receive full co-operation from British Coal and from all other employers causing major unemployment by their decisions?

Mr. Newton : I sense from what the hon. and learned Gentleman says-- that the chairman of British Coal at first refused permission--that that implies some change.

Mr. Janner : Yes, the hon. Lady will be coming down the pit with us, but there is no change in the banning of the media entering the colliery premises.

Mr Newton : Now I am slightly confused about what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, but the basic thrust of his point is clear and it would be the hope and expectation of the Government that proper co- operation would be given to a Select Committee of this House on a visit. On the other hand it must also be acknowledged--this is a problem that sometimes occurs when visits are made to DSS offices, as I well know--that it is necessarily a matter for management to decide whether there should be access by the media and I do not think that it necessarily


Column 408

follows from co-operation with the Select Committee that the media should be allowed access to the site. That has to be a matter for the management.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Would my right hon. Friend reconsider the business for next Thursday and would he, instead of that business, arrange a debate on foreign affairs on the Adjournment of the House, so that, before the Edinburgh summit, the House can consider, among other things, the destruction and devastation of an internationally recognised sovereign state and the progressive slaughter of a large number of its people, because many of my hon. Friends were much encouraged by the more positive noises coming from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday and hope that the Community will be able to adopt a firmer policy towards Serbia, which is undoubtedly the aggressor ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend's concern with these matters is very well known and he will have heard what the Prime Minister said during Question Time an hour or so ago. I cannot promise a debate of the kind he seeks next week, but I will ensure that his concern is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The Guardian newspaper has special links with Manchester, having been at one time The Manchester Guardian. It is therefore unfortunate that on 23 November it published an article by Ronan Bennett almost eulogising the activities of the IRA which is now seen to be particularly inappropriate to the situation which has developed in Manchester. I am sorry that we are not to have a statement today on Manchester, but perhaps at least the Leader of the House could support those people who intend to hold a vigil against this in Manchester on Saturday. Vigils are now being held persistently in London, Belfast, Manchester and wherever violence takes place, the peace movement is there.

Mr. Newton : I note the hon. Gentleman's comments on a particular newspaper article, which I am sure will be noted by the newspaper as well. On the subject of the vigils, I express my sympathetic support for anything which can contribute to preventing this sort of violence.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) : Will my right hon. Friend please find time in next week's business for either a debate or a statement on the future of the Stoke Mandeville hospital, which is of enormous concern to my constituents in Aylesbury? In particular, will he find an occasion for his colleagues from the Department of Health to assure both the House and my constituents that the £20 million capital programme now in preparation for that hospital will be given urgent and sympathetic consideration when it gets to that Department?

Mr. Newton : Having visited the hospital when I was Minister for Health about four or five years ago, I am conscious of the strong support that it has in the community and of the excellent work done there. Beyond that, I can help my hon. Friend by telling him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and her fellow Ministers are due to be here on Tuesday next week to answer questions.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : Will the Leader of the House consider a debate next week, because, as numerous organisations and traders have accepted the Home


Column 409

Secretary's decision to allow trading on Sunday and will open on the Sundays before Christmas, shop workers could be compelled to work on Sundays? Can I draw his attention to early-day motion 989, which was put down yesterday and signed by 67 hon. Members, dealing with the sacking of 89 persons who refused to work on Sundays?

[That this House roundly condemns the actions of Middlebrook Mushrooms and its parent company Booker Plc in sacking 89 of its part time staff and replacing them with casual labour at lower rates of pay ; congratulates the Transport and General Worker's Union on its attempts to negotiate with both Middlebrook Mushrooms and ACAS ; expresses its grave concern that this situation has developed as a direct result of supermarket chains such as ASDA and Sainsbury's decision to open on Sundays ; believes that the 89 sacked are amongst the first casualties of Sunday trading ; and urges proper protection of pay and conditions not only for retail workers but for those who supply and transport goods in any new legislation on Sunday trading.]

That is an escalation of what is happening throughout the country, when workers refuse to work in shops and other establishments on Sundays. It is a direct result of the Home Secretary's failure to ensure that the Shops Act 1950 is complied with by all the people in this country. I ask for an early debate next week, so that the matter can be resolved.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman has tabled a private Member's Bill on the subject, which we are due to see and to hear more of in the new year. He is very well informed about the matter and knows that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made a full statement on the position and the Government's intentions last week. The Government have outlined how they will proceed, once the uncertainty caused by the present European Court of Justice hearing is resolved.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) : May I press my right hon. Friend on the same matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) mentioned--for a debate next week on the banks? It is required not merely because of the shocking report from the banking ombudsman, which showed a 62 per cent. increase in complaints received this year, on top of a 60 per cent. rise last year, but also following the creation of the Banking Action Group--an organisation looking after the interests of small businesses, which have faced high interest charges, over-charging and high commission charges, as well as the short term approach of some banks in their lending policies towards small businesses.

Mr. Newton : I appreciate why my hon. Friend has thought it right to press me further on that matter, but perhaps he will understand that I cannot add to the answers that I have given on two previous occasions. I do not think that it would be beyond his ingenuity to devise a speech in next Tuesday's debate which could relate to some of those matters.

Mr. Hain : First, is it in order, Madam Speaker, to ask for an apology from the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who gave me no notice of his statement?

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Teignbridge said that he had put a letter on the board. I am


Column 410

afraid that the hon. Member for Neath cannot seek an apology through me. He must find some other method. I ask him to respond to the business statement.

Mr. Hain : Could we have a Government statement next week on the massive job cuts announced today in the Post Office? More than 16,000 jobs are due to go in Post Office Counters and the Royal Mail letters divisions. Why has the President of the Board of Trade sanctioned those job cuts, and the wholesale reorganisation of the Post Office involved without first getting Parliament's approval? In July, he announced a review of the Post Office, but he has pre-empted it before reporting back to Parliament, by allowing the cuts together. Surely they are a dress rehearsal for Post Office privatisation.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will have noted that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is here and will have heard what he said, although he is present to deal with other business. While I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, the decisions are primarily operational matters for Post Office management and are certainly not directly related to the review of its structure and ownership, nor do they require my right hon. Friend's permission.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I wonder whether time could be allocated for a debate on the new rules for the Register of Members' Interests. It has been outstanding for many months. Indeed, the report was presented in the last Parliament, not this. If the debate had been undertaken and conclusions reached, it would have helped answer the question raised in early-day motion 988, tabled by my hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), in which a question is raised as to whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have registered the £19,000 which had been given to him as a gift, because that would have clarified the rules.

[That this House urges the Chancellor of the Exchequer to register through the Register of Members' Interests the source of the £19,000 paid on his behalf in settlement of the balance of a personal legal bill and to indicate if, under section 153 of the Income and Corporate Taxes Act 1988, he has paid income tax on the total amount involved.]

I realise that the Chancellor is confused about the economy, about his position and about this gift, but he is setting a very bad example of non- registration of business interests by failing to declare a huge gift such as that.

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend would not have been in a position to declare the source of this payment because he had no knowledge of the source, as he made clear earlier in the week.

On the principal point of the hon. Gentleman's question--the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) I know has a close interest in these matters--I said last week that we have now achieved the setting up of the new Select Committee on Members' Interests, which I think has now had its first meeting. That should pave the way for publishing the Register for the new Parliament. I hope that the Chairman of the Committee will not mind my saying that I have already had an informal discussion with him with a view to identifying the appropriate way to proceed on the matters which the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Can the Leader of the House focus on the debate on fishing next


Column 411

Wednesday? I accept that it is probably correct to have the common fisheries policy debate and the Lords amendments to the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill on the same day, but will he ensure that the timetabling for the CFP debate will be such as to allow the huge numbers of hon. Members with fishing interests to contribute to that debate on what is an absolutely vital change in a fundamental policy affecting many tens of thousands of people?

When it comes to the conservation Bill, will he consider the possibility of a free vote on the Lords amendments, because he will be aware that many of his hon. Friends have had to choose between their constituents and their party on that issue. It would be nice, just for a change, to allow hon. Gentlemen representing fishing communities to vote with their consciences rather than for their careers.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he will get a very cautious answer to the latter part of that question, since among the things that are certainly not my responsibility is the advice that is offered to my hon. Friends about how they should approach these or any other votes. There may be somebody else in the Chamber who has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, however. With regard to the timing of the debate, the Common Fisheries Policy debate allocation is a full day. I cannot, of course, promise at this stage that there will not be any statements or anything else that may eat into the time a bit, but it is a full day's debate and there should be ample opportunity for all those who wish to speak, provided that they do so reasonably succinctly.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Would it be possible for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement early next week on what steps are being taken by the Government to draw the attention of other European countries and, in particular, the United States to the death and destruction committed by the Provisional IRA, so that they may understand the terror campaign being waged on the mainland and, as we saw again tragically during the week, the destruction of much of a centre in Belfast, with many severe injuries? Should not people abroad, therefore, understand that we are dealing with

murderers--people who, as was demonstrated in the recent Irish general election, have no electoral support whatsoever among the Irish people? That is the message that we should get across internationally, and as soon as possible.


Column 412

Mr. Newton : It is very clear that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will warmly welcome those remarks by the hon. Gentleman. I will draw them to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends concerned, because they make persistent efforts to ensure that the nature of the incidents that happen here is properly understood abroad.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. We must now move on. Before I call the Secretary of State--

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. I have to take points of order, as the hon. Gentleman knows, after--

Mr. Eastham : I am a Manchester Member and I would like to say something about what happened in Manchester.

Madam Speaker : I am sorry. It was most remiss of me. I will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity. I call Mr. Ken Eastham.

Mr. Eastham : Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I am sure that I speak for all the people of Manchester when I say that, following the atrocity that occurred there, we are grateful for the sympathy that has been expressed in the House.

Is the Leader of the House aware that, within the last 10 days, I have passed to the Home Office a petition signed by a good number of Manchester citizens complaining about inadequate police provision? Yesterday I received a letter from Lord Ferris saying that there would be no extra funding this year or next year to allow for the provision of more police. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that instead of just sympathy, the people should be offered more protection through the police?

Mr. Newton : I appreciate why the hon. Gentleman felt it right to make that point, and I shall ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend is made aware of it. But I think it has been right to put the main emphasis this afternoon on expressing our distaste for what has happened. Indeed, that is a very mild word to use. It is right to express distress and offer our sympathy to the people involved, including the police, and at the same time congratulate the police on their work in that connection.


Column 413

Consolidated Fund Bill

4.30 pm

Madam Speaker : I have a short statement to make about arrangements for the debate on the Motion for the Adjournment which will follow the passing of the Consolidated Fund Bill on Monday 14 December. Hon. Members should submit their subjects to my office not later than 10 pm on Wednesday 9 December. A list showing the subjects and times will be published the following day.

Normally, the time allotted will not exceed one and a half hours, but I propose to exercise discretion and allow one or two debates to continue for rather longer, up to a maximum of three hours. Where identical or similar subjects have been entered by different hon. Members whose names are drawn in the ballot, only the first name will be shown on the list.

As some debates may not last the full time allotted to them, it will, of course, be the responsibility of hon. Members to keep in touch with developments if they are not to miss their turn.


Column 414

One-stop Shops

4.31 pm

The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Heseltine) : With permission, I should like to make a statement about a major new strategy to establish one-stop shops for the delivery of business advisory services.

I have been reviewing Government support services for business, in conjunction with a steering group consisting of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, my noble Friend Baroness Denton, the Small Firms Minister, and representatives of chambers of commerce, training and enterprise councils, the Confederation of British Industry, local authorities, the National Training Task Force and Business in the Community.

We have looked particularly at the needs of established small and medium firms. We all wish to ensure that those firms have access to world class support in the areas of information, advice, counselling, development of business skills, exporting, technology transfer, innovation, design and other services.

There are already numerous schemes to help business provided by Government and other organisations. Those schemes are run by a wide variety of bodies. Some are excellent, others less good, but they all suffer from three main weaknesses : first, the profusion of advice of varying quality makes it difficult for business to know what is available and where ; secondly, many schemes are narrowly defined and more supplier than customer driven ; and thirdly, many businesses which could benefit from the help available are not even aware of its existence. We need to tackle all those problems.

That is why I have decided to establish a number of pilot one-stop shops for business. I have today published a prospectus seeking competitive bids to establish up to 15 such shops in England. I have arranged for a copy to be sent to all hon. Members. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office.

A key aim of the one-stop shops is to simplify the present confusing array of support services. To win, a bid must demonstrate a real and effective partnership to which all the main local providers of business support services are committed. I am asking the training and enterprise councils to draw together bids, but it is a requirement that other key providers, such as the chambers of commerce, enterprise agencies and the local authorities where they are active in support activities, should be fully involved. I am confident that private sector companies will wish to demonstrate their support.

Each bid for a one-stop shop must show how it will provide a wide range of high quality services, both those available locally and, using modern technology, those provided in other parts of the country or even outside this country.

My Department is committed to playing its full part in the one-stop shops. The shops will be the main local point of access to and promotion of all DTI services. I am ready to consider imaginative ideas about how that might be achieved, including proposals for co-location and, subject to any legal constraints, sub-contracting of services.

I cannot anticipate the nature of the bids I shall receive or the scale of the resources that local organisations will offer to put behind them. I can, however, say that I have


Column 415

made provision within my own budget for an initial sum of up to £3.5 million to fund the winning bids in the first year. I look to local contributions to augment that figure. I hope to see a move to a position of self-sufficiency as rapidly as possible.

My Department will also be working with the pilot one-stop shops to develop a new diagnostic service, as promised in our manifesto. That will help businesses to analyse in depth their strengths and weaknesses, and the options open to them, and to identify the help that they need. That will be a new and important service to be provided by one-stop shops.

Bids must be submitted by 29 January. Winners will be announced in mid- March, and the pilots will get under way as soon as possible thereafter. If the pilots are as successful as I expect, it is my intention to develop a national network of one-stop shops across England.

The publication of the one-stop shop prospectus marks an important further step in our long-term strategy to improve the support that we provide to business in this country. We must have a single point of access to services which must be of the highest calibre. One-stop shops will achieve that and pave the way for a radical overhaul of business support arrangements in each area of the country. That will improve the competitiveness of our companies and provide a springboard for the development of our local and national economies.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central) : In the past 24 hours, Cammell Laird has made 900 people redundant, the Post Office has announced redundancies for 16,000 people, Royal Ordnance have announced redundancies for more than 1,000 people, and Ford is talking about further job losses. The House will be surprised that the President of the Board of Trade made no statement on that further decline in the British manufacturing industry.

There is a widespread recognition of the need to provide more co-ordinated advice to small businesses which frequently, as the President of the Board of Trade rightly said, do not have the time or resources to deal with the range of departments and schemes available from the Government. However, there will be disappointment among business people about the size of the Government's contribution. Can the President of the Board of Trade clarify his comments that his nationwide scheme will apply only to England? Is it not the intention at a later stage to cover Wales and Scotland? Why are Wales and Scotland excluded at an early stage? Can the President acknowledge that his statement today will offer little immediate help to those small businesses that are faced with punitive interest rates imposed by the banks or to those businesses that face severe cash flow problems because of late payment? Can the President confirm that his statement will offer no help at all to the tens of thousands of small and medium businesses which have already gone to the wall during the recession caused by the Government, and the 120 small businesses which today alone will go bankrupt?

Above all, does the President of the Board of Trade understand that the economic policies of his Government are the root cause of the problems faced by small businesses in Britain? Does he recognise that, when a shipyard such as Cammell Laird on Merseyside or a plant such as British Aerospace in Hatfield closes, or when the


Column 416

Post Office announces 16,000 redundancies, the effects are felt by not only the workers who lose their jobs but by the local small firms which supply those plants and the corner shops which sell to the local families?

Although we welcome today's statement, Labour Members, together with organisations such as the Engineering Employers Federation and many other people outside the House, including the thousands who have lost their jobs today, will wonder why the Government have not made a statement on industrial policy for the manufacturing future of Great Britain. After seven months as President of the Board of Trade, all that the right hon. Gentleman has announced today is a pilot scheme, not an industrial strategy for Britain's future.

Mr. Heseltine : I am sad that the hon. Gentleman should seek to widen the subject of the statement in order to hide what is an overdue Government proposal that will be widely welcomed--but his attitude is characteristic of the Labour party. Of course the news from Cammell Laird is deeply disappointing after so much has been done to try to help that company. I also recognise the concern that has been expressed about the redundancies in the Post Office. However, it is important to state that 170,000 people work for the Post Office. It has been announced today that, over five years, there will be 15,000 fewer jobs--about 3,000 a year, when about 7,000 a year go through natural wastage. The Post Office has made it clear that it expects the redundancies to be voluntary and to come from a process of natural wastage.

To return to the issues in the statement, I do not think that there will be disappointment about the size of the Government's contribution. I think that the figure of 15 shops announced today is of the order of magnitude expected by those with whom I have discussed the matter. It forms the basis to which others, locally, will add the resources at their command and make imaginative bids within the process that I have outlined.

The hon. Gentleman's question about Scotland and Wales is properly a matter for my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales, who are interested in and fully informed about today's announcement. However, they have a different--some would argue, a more co-ordinated--set of arrangements, originally based on the proposals of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. Therefore, they have not had to deal with the problem that I faced due to the unco-ordinated approach that had been taken to the issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the small industrial sector. He failed to say that Barclays bank estimates that, in the first three quarters of 1992, there were more than 300,000 new starts in that sector.

Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people, listening to today's statement in a less jaundiced way than the Opposition, will welcome it as a progressive move that will improve the flow of information that is so vital for the success of small and medium firms, which are expanding rapidly despite the recession? As my right hon. Friend acknowledged, the provision of export information is important. About 70 per cent. of smaller firms do not export, and with the arrival of the internal market, it is vital that more small firms should be able to export. The


Column 417

provision of proper information near the place of work, perhaps through computer terminals, could be useful and improve the number of exports.

Mr. Heseltine : No one knows more about the problems of small firms than my hon. Friend. He has drawn our attention to important aspects of our proposals. Of course it is important to improve the quality of export advice available, which is certainly at the forefront of our intentions. We hope to do so by improving the quality of staff available and the access to databases nationally and internationally.

I understand my hon. Friend's view that not enough small firms export. A significant number of small firms are not, perhaps, aware of how many of their products find their way into the export market through the clients to whom they provide the products. My hon. Friend will also be aware that I have invited 100 of our largest companies to second to my Department a member of staff with experience in exports in order significantly to enhance our export drive, which is so timely in view of the competitive value of our currency.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) : Is the President aware that Liberal Democrats genuinely congratulate him on the initiative, not least because it contains the idea of one-stop advice shops, which featured in our manifesto, but not the Conservative party's? However, we are concerned that the limited number of pilots may not lead on to the necessary network throughout the country. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the pilots are geographically spread to represent regions of high unemployment and high business failures, such as the south-west, particularly Cornwall? In what sort of areas does he anticipate placing the pilots--regions with assisted area status or shire counties? Will they necessarily be the same size as the districts covered by the training and enterprise councils? The timing is important, as a review of the assisted area status and geography is currently under way, and local government reorganisation is under review. Can we be assured in the House that, as soon as the evidence of the hoped-for success of the pilots is available, it will be fed into the processes of the assisted area and local government reorganisation reviews?

Mr. Heseltine : I am very aware that a proposal along similar lines to the one that I announced today featured in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, a copy of which I have in front of me. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the initiative, and glad that it will make it easier for him to vote for the Conservative party in the next election.

The hon. Gentleman asked interesting questions about how the judgments will be made. The choice of pilot schemes will be made as a result of competitive bids, and the test will be one of quality, not regional policy or high unemployment. It is critical that the 15 are seen as pace setters, even if that results in districts that might have the most immediate need having to wait for a period in order to follow the quality. We do not want to take inadequate standards from districts with pressing needs and so debase the process. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the competition is to show the standards that can be achieved and to initiate one-stop shops where people come


Column 418

forward with the most impressive schemes. That is our intention, which we hope to fulfil in the early part of next year.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend, and I think that the rather mean welcome from the Opposition does them no credit, and it seems odd, as they say that they want to help small businesses. My right hon. Friend will realise that small businesses in the south-west have probably been more adversely affected than those anywhere else. My right hon. Friend spoke of the siting of the pilots based purely on quality. Will he ensure that his Department sets out ideal specifications so that those tendering bids have an idea of the quality required to enable them to ensure that Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol or wherever are able to obtain the quality necessary? It is important that we do not consider that Bristol is able to cope with the south-west, when it is further away from most of the south-west than it is from London. There is a need for geographical consideration when making judgments.

Mr. Heseltine : I very much respect the voice that my hon. Friend brings to the cause of small businesses generally, and particularly in the south-west. The House will appreciate that, whenever one launches a scheme designed to reflect local needs, there is always a temptation for people to say, "Lay down centrally what you think should happen." We very much want to avoid taking a prescriptive approach, see what local people want, and allow them to set standards and come forward with ideas.

I have tried to avoid taking an over-centralist approach, which means that I am reliant on the quality of local initiative. Therefore, once the process is under way, I must not become too

institutionalised about the way in which the results are spread, as that might mean that we make choices not based on quality but to suit a pattern of regional disposition.


Next Section

  Home Page