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Mr. McLoughlin : I can think of no part of that question with which I agree. The hon. Gentleman talks about capital investment. Between 1976 and 1979, capital investment was some £89 million, compared with £900 million over the next three years. Under the last five years of a Labour Government, postal charges increased 122 per cent.--compared with 31 per cent. over the last five years of this Government.

Mr. Jenkin : Will my hon. Friend confirm that BT contributes substantially more to the Exchequer as a result of being privatised and able to develop its services? Could not the same principles be applied to the Post Office, or at least to part of it?

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Mr. McLoughlin : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's views. The Government are conducting a wide-ranging review of the Post Office and will bear in mind my hon. Friend's representations.

Mr. Robin Cook : Is the Minister aware that that wide-ranging review has been going on for 18 months while the Government dither over what to do with the Post Office? Does he have any idea of the damage done by that prolonged delay? Has he seen the statement by the chairman of the Post Office that that delay has already caused a sense of crisis and may cause a spiral of decline? Why does the Minister not admit today--and thus end the uncertainty--that the Government cannot find a way of privatising the Post Office which would not place at risk thousands of Post Office branches, and that the best way of keeping the Post Office successful is to retain it in the public sector where it can provide a public service?

Mr. McLoughlin : The hon. Gentleman must be patient. No doubt he will attack whatever conclusions we reach as a result of the review. As to post office closures, 19,000 of the country's 20,000 post offices are already private businesses.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : My hon. Friend will be aware that electronic mail is a fast-growing business world wide. What discussions has he had with the Post Office to ensure that it develops a share of that business?

Mr. McLoughlin : A number of matters are continually being discussed with the Post Office. One aspect being taken into account in the review is the way in which the Post Office may want to compete in other markets and the best way for it to do so.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Does the Minister accept that it is Government humbug to impose strict external financing limits on public bodies and then to argue that because they are so restricted those bodies must be privatised? Is not the reality that the Post Office is and will continue to be an essential public service which requires a monopoly to enable it to deliver mail to every household in the land? It needs relaxed external financing limits, to enable it to compete internationally, rather than more Government restrictions.

Mr. McLoughlin : I will not take any lessons in humbug from the hon. Gentleman. No doubt he would have made the same argument in respect of BT and all the other privatisations that this Government took forward. They have been most successful, bringing expansion and better markets, leading to benefits for the consumer.

Coal Industry

11. Mr. Skinner : To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many coal mines were in production in June 1979, June 1992 and 31 December 1993.

Mr. Eggar : I have been informed by British Coal that there were 223 producing coal mines at the end of the financial year 1978-79, 50 in June 1992, and 22 on 31 December 1993.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Minister aware that when I was made redundant in Derbyshire, I had a choice of about five different pits offering work within a radious of five miles? In 1979, people made redundant in the mining industry in

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Derbyshire had a choice of only two or three pits within a radius of 10 miles. Today, under a Conservative Government, every pit that is closed means that the miners are, almost without exception, thrown on the scrap heap of redundancy. There is no longer any choice. The answer is to stop imports of coal--especially that produced by slave labour in South Africa and Colombia. Any right hon. or hon. Member who wants evidence of that should view the film to be shown in the Grand Committee Room at 7.30 pm today about coal being produced by child labour in Colombia. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will attend.

Mr. Eggar : I had no idea that the hon. Gentleman was so keen on getting a marketing job when he retires from the House. He also forgets that in March 1964 there were 576 pits in the country, and that six years later there were 299 pits. In other words, in six years the Labour Government closed more than 270 pits. The hon. Gentleman is also plainly incorrect : no underground miners have been made compulsorily redundant by British Coal.

Mr. Oppenheim : Has not the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) got a cheek to complain about pit closures? Why did he not resign the Whip in the 1970s when the Labour party was closing pits by the score

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that has nothing whatever to do with the Minister. Let us deal with policy matters.

Mr. Oppenheim : Should the hon. Gentleman not spend more of his time being concerned about those industries which use energy and about the gas industry, in which jobs would be lost if we extended further the 40 years of protection from competition from gas and imported coal which British Coal has had since the war?

Mr. Eggar : I agree with my hon. Friend. What is more, I wish that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would study the statistics more closely. He would find that there has been a significant fall in steam coal imports in the past year over the previous year.

Mr. Barron : Does the Minister accept that if any remaining market- tested pits are currently selling all the coal that they produce, they should not close?

Mr. Eggar : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the pit in his constituency is currently under development. British Coal is in active discussion with a number of private companies about the leasing and licensing of pits that it has already closed. The Government have made it clear, and the British Coal board has agreed, that it will make the pits that it closes available to the private sector.

Sir Michael Grylls : How many new jobs have been created in the coal closure areas in the past few years?

Mr. Eggar : Very large numbers of jobs have been created in that period : 84 per cent. of all people who are registered with British Coal Enterprise have found a job or a training opportunity within a year to 18 months of being registered. British Coal Enterprise has an excellent record and Opposition Members who represent mining constituencies know from their experience that that is so. It would be nice occasionally to hear some praise for British Coal Enterprise from the Opposition.

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Mr. O'Neill : Will the Minister congratulate the miners and management of the Castlebridge mine in my constituency, who have just signed a four-year extension to the contract to provide coal for Longannet power station? Is that not evidence that when a generator is also responsible for distributing electricity, it is a more rational system of electricity provision in the country and a commitment to coal? The dreadful figures that the Minister has rehearsed today are in large measure due to the fact that generation and distribution of electricity have been separated and there is a dash for gas, which in Scotland has mainly not taken place, because of the close links between the coal industry and the generators and the customers for electricity.

Mr. Eggar : The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that there is a major gas-based electricity generating station not far from his constituency. Of course I congratulate the people, the workers and the management of Longannet on succeeding in securing that contract. We need to ensure that coal is produced throughout the United Kingdom at competitive prices and is therefore able to increase its market share and compete effectively against gas and other fuels. On that we can agree.


12. Mr. Dykes : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the GATT agreement concluded last month within the Uruguay round.

Mr. Heseltine : The conclusion of the GATT negotiations on 15 December is a large step towards more free and open international trade. It will bring more trade within GATT and strengthen the GATT rules. This will mean improved economic efficiency, increased growth, more jobs and lower prices, as well as wider choice for consumers.

Mr. Dykes : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. If he has not done so already, will he send Commissioner Leon Brittan warm congratulations on the work that he did during the negotiations, on behalf of the entire Community? Incidentally, he also defended European media culture--television, films, theatre and art--from a wall-to-wall invasion by dubious American material, but received little credit in the British press.

Will my right hon. Friend note another agreeable development? Having tussled with each other, Leon Brittan and Trade Commissioner Kantor are now working together to get the Japanese to open up their markets. Is my right hon. Friend confident that the Japanese will co-operate on this occasion?

Mr. Heseltine : I assure my hon. Friend that I have conveyed warm good wishes to Commissioner Brittan. I share my hon. Friend's view of his work.

I was in Tokyo on Monday and had extensive conversations with senior Ministers in the Japanese Government. I believe that they welcome the GATT round as much as we do, and that they are working to introduce changes-- involving access to services and to their domestic markets--of which Britain is now well placed to take advantage.

Mr. Grocott : Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to discuss with his French counterpart the importance attached by the French to the protection and

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preservation of their film and television industry? Will he reflect on the fact that in this country, under his stewardship and that of his predecessor, the balance of trade in television production has moved from surplus to deficit in the space of some seven years? Moreover, the proportion of British television programmes made and produced in this country has declined dramatically, especially since the passing of the Broadcasting Act 1990. When will the right hon. Gentleman start doing as much for television and films in this country as his French counterpart does in France?

Mr. Heseltine : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that those industries are not directly sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry. I am sure, however, that he will welcome the wide-ranging reviews already announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage as much as I do.

Mrs. Peacock : We all welcome the signing of the GATT agreement. Is my right hon. Friend aware, however, of the great concern in our wool, textile and clothing industries about the lack of agreement on tariffs? He will know of the huge amount that must be paid for many of our goods to enter other countries ; is he aware that if the matter is not resolved quickly and satisfactorily many jobs may be under threat?

Mr. Heseltine : I share my hon. Friend's concern for the textile industries. The round will include a reduction in tariffs in the United Kingdom's main market for textiles. For example, American textile tariffs will be reduced by an average of 27 per cent.

Mr. Bell : The House will welcome the fact that the President of the Board of Trade went to Japan and spoke to Japanese Ministers. It is very important for the Japanese to open their markets to a greater extent than they have done in the past few years.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although the Uruguay accords represent a highway to greater trade liberalisation, they constitute only one stage of the process? The creation of the World Trade Organisation will be extremely important, but is the right hon. Gentleman not a little concerned that the ambitious programme that the organisation is setting itself may turn this highway to trade liberalisation into a bureaucratic nightmare?

Mr. Heseltine : I thank the hon. Gentleman for the kind remarks with which he prefaced his question. I believe that it is generally recognised that the establishment of the WTO in the GATT round is potentially a major step forward in the policing, monitoring and facilitation of the GATT agreement. I think it wrong at this early stage to anticipate its deterioration into a "bureaucratic nightmare". Let us hope that it will be able to do its job effectively and efficiently.

Mr. Waller : Does my right hon. Friend accept that at the end of the 10-year period to come, the United States will still be erecting barriers to our exports of textiles and clothing which will be very much higher than the barriers to its exports to the European Union? In the negotiations about the details of the GATT agreement that will take place in the coming months, will my right hon. Friend urge Sir Leon Brittan and his colleagues to press for genuinely free trade?

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Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend will know that it is the Government's policy, wherever possible, to do precisely that. However, I must be realistic and say that a complex and time-consuming round has now been virtually concluded and it would be unrealistic to think that there will be a major change in the structure of that round in the next year or so while details are being finalised and explored. We all hope that this round is the precursor to the next round where the issues will again be visited and, we hope, more satisfactorily resolved.

Post Office Closures

13. Mr. Parry : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to order a review of the programme of post office closures in inner-city areas.

Mr. McLoughlin : There is no such programme.

Mr. Parry : My question relates to the closure of Granby street post office in my constituency. The Minister will be aware that that has been opposed by the local city council, church leaders, pensioners and other organisations. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the chairman of the committee opposed to the closure to discuss this matter?

Mr. McLoughlin : Of course I agree to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue. However, operational matters are matters for the Post Office. As the hon. Gentleman will know, plans to close Granby street post office in January 1992 were reversed because adjacent sub-post offices were not big enough to accommodate additional users. Since then, the pattern of robberies at Granby street post office has continued. The sub-postmaster and his staff have, understandably, been frightened and demoralised by the attacks and the sub-postmaster has repeatedly sought to resign. Post Office Counters has received no serious or viable applications to take over the Granby street site. In the absence of other options, Post Office Counters has decided to relocate to the neighbouring Lodge lane post office, which has larger premises 400 or 500 yd away. As I have said, however, I will meet the hon. Gentleman.


14. Ms Coffey : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what monitoring his Department undertakes of the performance and effectiveness of managers in the United Kingdom manufacturing industry.

Mr. Sainsbury : My Department is continually monitoring the performance of British industry. Management skills are one of the many factors influencing that performance.

Ms Coffey : The Minister will be aware that much concern has been expressed to the Trade and Industry Select Committee by witnesses in relation to the quality and standard of British managers. I understand that those concerns were also expressed in the report prepared by the Department of Trade and Industry competitiveness unit, which has not been published. In view of the crucial importance of good management in ensuring that people work to the best of their ability, achieve job satisfaction and increase the competitiveness of British industry, and in view of the fact that the British worker has been much

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abused for the industrial ills of this country, what positive steps does the Minister intend to take to ensure that British management is of the highest quality and pulls its finger out?

Mr. Sainsbury : I share the hon. Lady's belief that management has a major contribution to make to the competitiveness of British industry in every sector and in every size of industry. That is why I welcome the fact that the level of management training in the United Kingdom is increasing. One statistic that demonstrates that fact is that in 1992 almost 6,000 students graduated with the qualification of master of business administration, compared with just over 1,000 in 1980.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend accept that those sectors of British industry that have seen the greatest increases in productivity and investment are those that have been privatised by the Government? Does that not illustrate the fact that we are helping manufacturing industry while the Opposition parties are seeking to depress it?

Mr. Sainsbury : I agree with my hon. Friend wholeheartedly. One of the damping effects of public ownership has been to deter management from the sort of initiatives that improve competitiveness and identify export opportunities for their businesses. The success of privatised industry, not only in improving its competitiveness and the service given to customers, but in improving its exports, demonstrates the value of that programme.

Mr. Purchase : Notwithstanding the welcome increase in the number of graduates from the MBA programme, is the Minister aware that a little time ago John Harvey-Jones

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remarked that, never mind our managers achieving MBAs, it would be welcome if many of them could even read a simple balance sheet? That was from someone who is seen as an expert in business in this country. It is a reflection of the poor professional level of management in British industry over the past 20 years and there is room for much improvement.

Mr. Sainsbury : Indeed, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade recently drew it to the attention of the Institute of Directors that perhaps British managers have rather too fulsome an opinion of their own performance. He said that that was a challenge--one to which I am happy to say that British management is broadly responding. The management charter initiative shows that that response is to be found in small companies as well as in the larger ones.

Mr. Heald : Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the work of the Chemical Industries Association and other bodies in that industry which have done a great deal in terms of management training? Does he agree that the results can be seen in the fact that the industry's exports have risen by 25 per cent. in the past five years? Does he agree that training for management is the future?

Mr. Sainsbury : I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend that that industry has been remarkably successful and that its trade association has made a major contribution to that success. Indeed, I repeat what my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has said many times--trade associations have an important role to play in encouraging competitiveness and improving management in their member companies.

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