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Mr. Sainsbury : The hon. Gentleman will be aware from the reply that I just gave that the Government have given consistent and very substantial support to that industry through a number of programmes. The Royal Air Force's choice of aircraft is a matter for my right hon. and
Column 278learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. However, I can give an assurance that my Department is keeping a close eye on the alternatives and on their importance for the British aerospace industry.
Mr. Mans : Does my hon. Friend agree that the sale of Rover to BMW will allow British Aerospace to concentrate on its core activities--in particular, its aerospace activities in the north-west? Does he agree also that it is still important that Government launch aid is available for long -term civilian projects in the aviation industry?
Mr. Sainsbury : I am glad that my hon. Friend draws attention to the advantages to the British aerospace industry of BAe's recent sale of Rover to BMW. That matter was rather overlooked by the carping critics of the Opposition. BAe emphasised the advantage when, in its letter to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, it drew attention to the fact that this arrangement enabled it to progress plans for the turbo-prop and regional jet businesses based at Prestwick and Manchester.
Mr. Fatchett : During the past six weeks, more than 1,000 jobs have been lost in the aerospace industry in the north-west of England. The people affected will be leaving British Aerospace with a small redundancy payment after many years of service. What sort of leadership is British Aerospace giving to the industry when its chairman, John Cahill--a tax exile for nine months of the year--is to receive a golden handshake of £10 million? Would not it be better for British Aerospace to improve its business practices? Does not the Minister agree that such behaviour is totally unacceptable and totally wrong for Britain's aerospace industry?
Mr. Sainsbury : I suppose that it would be too much to expect the hon. Gentleman to recognise the benefits to British Aerospace's aircraft interests that have been brought about by the sale which I mentioned, but perhaps even he will recognise that the figures to which he has referred-- figures that he, like me, will have seen in the press--arise from the very significant increase in the value of BAe's shares. That increase reflects the market-- [Interruption.] That is a typical reaction from the Labour party. A company is successful--it increases its profits and its value--and the Labour party complains. Labour Members want to see failure, not success.
9. Mr. Steen : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement as to the progress of his deregulation unit in reducing the number of rules and regulations affecting small businesses.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Neil Hamilton) : We announced about 450 deregulation measures o19 January. Many of these will substantially benefit small businesses--for example, the abolition of the statutory audit, which will remove a useless cost from tens of thousands of small companies ; and the rise in the value added tax threshold, which will free up to 75,000 small businesses from the tentacles of VAT. In future, we shall judge regulatory proposals first by the results of a small business litmus test.
Mr. Steen : In view of the tremendous commitment by the President yesterday and by the Minister responsible for deregulation, which is supported by both sides of the House, will the Minister instruct the deregulation unit to alter the individual divisional objectives that apply to the working practices of the 11,389 officials in his Department? Will he provide an incentive-related pay scheme so that the more rules and regulations his officials get rid of, the more they will be paid?
Mr. Hamilton : I hope that if we were to introduce such a scheme, it would apply to Ministers, too. All officials in the Department of Trade and Industry are fully committed to deregulation, as we well understand that that goes to the very heart of the competitiveness of British industry. It is the wealth that industry produces which pays the wages of all of us.
Mr. Loyden : Is the Minister aware that most people will see this latest gimmick of the Government as a very thinly disguised means of reducing the protection of workers in industry in order to maximise profit? Is not that the sole intention of the legislation?
Mr. Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman, who, as a union wrecker and a keen supporter of the dock labour scheme, had an important part to play in the destruction of the port of Liverpool, knows quite well the consequences of absurd regulations for the jobs of British workers. I am happy to say that, as a result of our getting rid of the dock labour scheme, British ports are expanding again. The port of Liverpool is doing more trade today than it did in its heyday in the 1950s.
Mrs. Browning : Is my hon. Friend aware that the announcement made this week to modify rules on portable electrical appliances will be warmly welcomed, particularly by hoteliers in my constituency? They say that the burden on their businesses caused by regulations, especially those relating to testing electrical appliances, has been onerous and has affected their profitability.
Mr. Hamilton : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are keenly aware of the advantages that will accrue to smaller businesses and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) said, particularly to tourist businesses in the west country, if we continue to take an imaginative approach to deregulation.
Mrs. Roche : Will the Minister take this opportunity to explain why the Government have done nothing to protect consumers from rogue cowboy firms such as those that install double glazing, carry out car repairs or service household appliances?
Mr. McLoughlin : The simple fact is that the hon. Lady's question referred to the Trade Descriptions Act and she asked whether it would embrace services as well as goods. I have explained that it does. Under section 14 of
Column 280that Act, there were 171 prosecutions in 1991-92 and 238 in 1992-93. On conviction in a magistrates court, a person is liable to a fine of up to £5,000 or, in a Crown court, an unlimited fine or two years' imprisonment.
11. Mr. Burden : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will set out the procedures established by his Department to determine whether a particular regulation is a burden to business ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Neil Hamilton : If Parliament is to take rational decisions, hon. Members must be informed in advance of debates of the costs that proposed legislation would impose on business. In future, a compliance cost assessment will be published with all such regulations put before Parliament. The procedures for preparing CCAs are set out in a guide which I have placed in the Library of the House.
Mr. Burden : Is the Minister aware that, although existing statute allows Ministers to replace health and safety regulations if they are out of date, the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which received a Second Reading last night, gives Ministers the power to repeal health and safety legislation without replacing it? On the day when it has been reported that accidents and ill-health at work will cost employers between £4 billion and £6 billion, will the Minister tell the House of one health and safety regulation or law which Ministers would not have the power to repeal if the Bill becomes law?
Mr. Hamilton : All that we seek to do by that provision in the deregulation Bill is to repeal legislation that is wholly redundant ; we already have that power under legislation passed since 1974. The Health and Safety Commission has requested that change because it recognises that its cause is not assisted by all sorts of nonsense cluttering up the statute book. The Agricultural (Ladders) Regulations 1957, for instance, which regulates the number of nails that must be put in wooden ladders, and all sorts of unnecessary restrictions have been replaced by new British standards and more modern legislation.
Sir Michael Neubert : Is it not less than satisfactory that the only safeguard against ministerial misjudgment in the exercise of delegated powers of deregulation is the consideration of a 90-minute debate on statutory instruments that are unamendable by the House? My hon. Friend may argue that there is consultation before the orders are drafted. In the case of the proposal to abolish charter market franchises, the representations were 10 : 1 against, but the Government are still going ahead with it. What confidence, therefore, can people have in consultation?
Mr. Hamilton : It comes as no surprise that the majority of those who responded to that consultation exercise possessed the monopoly privileges which we propose to abolish. Of course they were against taking away from themselves an undesirable privilege which they now possess, but I am satisfied, as a result of consultation, that the British public generally will benefit from the removal of antique, mediaeval restrictions which have no place in the modern age.
Column 281particularly in relation to small lorry firms which, in future, will be able to park lorries under six tonnes wherever they wish and, once they receive licences, will no longer be monitored by the Department of Transport? Will he ensure that he consults the Department about the safety of our constituents before he goes ahead and abolishes rules that protect them?
Mr. Hamilton : I make it absolutely clear that we neither need nor desire to reduce public protection in health and safety or in other areas. In the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, as the hon. Lady will know if she has read it, there is a requirement that necessary protection should not be removed if the order-making power that we seek will be used. I do not know the details of the case that the hon. Lady mentioned, but if she would like to write to me about it, I should be happy to look into it.
Mr. Gallie : Is my hon. Friend aware of reports that the European Commission is intent on banning through regulation the use of the United Kingdom standard 240-volt plug? Is he further aware that the intention is to replace it with the inferior European two-pin model? How does he anticipate that that would affect the United Kingdom electrical market? What can be done about that?
Mr. Hamilton : I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that no such proposal is before the Commission. If it were, I am sure that we would pay the greatest possible regard to the criticisms that he has made.
nutrition-related infant mortality that some of us have seen in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, with rows and rows of babies expiring ; the ambiguities of policy, those grey areas highlighted not least by Sir Robin Butler in front of the Scott inquiry this morning ; and the profound doubts as to whether the Libyan state was the prime mover in the Lockerbie crime-- God knows that was awful, because it was the police in my area who had to clear it up--could not the Government at least consider whether this sanctions policy is justified and whether they have to go the whole way with Washington? After all, Iraq and Libya were traditionally British markets, not American markets. Let us not be American led.
Mr. Needham : I know the hon. Gentleman's depth of feeling on this subject, but it is not going along with Washington--it is going along with the sanctions that were approved and imposed through the United Nations. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the consequences were Britain to be the only one out of 187 countries to opt out of the sanctions arrangements that were agreed and accepted through the United Nations Security Council. I cannot imagine that that would find more favour with Opposition Members than with Conservative Members.
Column 282The fact is that the problems in Iraq are the problems of its regime. The blame can hardly be placed at the door of the Governments who are imposing the sanctions. United Nations sanctions have been specifically designed, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, to try to ensure that medical assistance and help get through to the people who need it. Let us be clear that the problems of the people who are suffering in Libya and Iraq come from the fact that they are governed by barbarians.
13. Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what study he plans to conduct of the competitiveness of British manufacturing with particular reference to (a) exchange rate competitiveness, (b) investment and (c) labour productivity ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Mitchell : Before the President of the Board of Trade rushes to print, perhaps I can help him. Is not it correct that, in a market economy, the chief determinant of manufacturing success is price competitiveness and that that, in turn, is largely determined by exchange rate competitiveness? Cannot that be demonstrated by looking at the increase in manufactured exports since White Wednesday, which is four times greater to those non-EEC markets against which our devaluation was greatest than it is to EEC markets? That being so, is not it crazy to allow the Bank of England to sabotage an historic opportunity to recover the manufacturing base of this country by encouraging the pound back up against the deutschmark?
Mr. Heseltine : The hon. Gentleman will have his own views on what constitutes competitiveness ; but he may well wish to apply the test provided by today's CBI survey, which reveals that all regions report strong growth in both business and export optimism. That is excellent news for British industry, the economy and the country, and disastrous news for Labour.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson : Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, although we are competitive at present and the dollar-pound exchange rate is good for British industry, over recent months--since White Wednesday--the pound has been in danger of appreciating against the deutschmark? Not only is that bad for our position in Europe but we have come up against German manufacturers which are reducing prices like mad in other markets throughout the world. While we await a report that
Column 283will be of great interest to all hon. Members, is it not vital to maintain exchange competitiveness with the deutschmark in Europe and elsewhere?
Mr. Heseltine : I accept at once that it is necessary to remain competitive amid all the current factors. The Labour party should bear in mind the effect that the imposition of the social charter would have on British industry.
Mr. Butcher : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the terms of trade and the internal position of British industry have never been better than they are now? We have a real chance to flatten the international competition both inside and outside Europe. Will my right hon. Friend use this opportunity to scotch the myth that ours is a low-wage, sweatshop economy? It is our total payroll costs that are lower ; we are not a low- wage economy. We are beginning to achieve high productivity, which will enable us to afford high wages.
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a remarkable set of economic statistics behind us and our productivity has risen very sharply. That is another reason for us to cling on to our advantages, rather than frittering them away in the manner threatened by so many of Labour's policies.
Mr. Robin Cook : Does the President of the Board of Trade really believe that we can compete with other nations when we invest less than they do? Is he aware that last week's figures show investment in manufacturing industry to be 12 per cent. down on the 1979 figure? They also show that under the Conservatives, manufacturing investment, as a percentage of gross domestic product, has in no year matched any year's investment under Labour. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to give us good news, will he tell us in what year the Government will return manufacturing investment to where it was before they ran it down?
Mr. Heseltine : The hon. Gentleman will, of course, be preoccupied with the results obtained from investment. He doubtless includes in his figures our investment in a range of nationalised industries that then lost money. The real test lies in the fact that British exports are at an all- time high, in a real market with real products and profits earned by real people--as opposed to phoney policies from a phoney party.
Mr. Sainsbury : In addition to the substantial help available to redundant workers from the Department of Employment, areas that are adversely affected by defence changes have benefited from the European Community Konver initiative, which was worth some £15.5 million to the United Kingdom. As a result, a regional technology centre in my hon. Friend's constituency will receive £300,000 and Essex training and enterprise council will receive £125,000.
Mr. Burns : I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he appreciate the sense of pleasure and relief that was felt when the Essex bid was found to have been successful, before Christmas? Does he recognise the pleasure and surprise that Chelmsford will feel today on learning that the amount provided to assist the training of redundant defence workers will be £125,000, rather than the £54,000 that was expected?
I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me, and will not feel that I am pushing it too much, if I ask whether companies in Chelmsford, or elsewhere in the industry, might qualify for any other assistance.
Mr. Sainsbury : I apologise to my hon. Friend for the fact that he and his constituents were misinformed about the scale of the assistance for Essex TEC. That was due to a minor administrative slip-up--"a bank error in your favour", as they say.
As my hon. Friend will know, the Commission's Green Paper on Community initiatives states an intention to continue with Konver as a multi-annual programme. Now that we have succeeded, as a result of British efforts, in making sure that Konver is available outside areas covered by objectives 2 and 5(b), we must wait to see the outcome of the considerations of the suggestions in the Green Paper and whether there is a successor scheme that would help companies and employees in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. Denham : I welcome the successful Hampshire bid for the Konver programme, but will the Minister explain why the unanimous feeling in the Hampshire area among local authorities, business people and trade unions is that local councils and Europe care about jobs for defence workers, but they cannot point to any tangible initiative by the British Government to provide for them?
Mr. Sainsbury : I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a wide range of schemes to help workers who, unfortunately, have lost their jobs in an area. We have, however, given specific help by changing tack seminars and changing tack manuals, and through a range of DTI schemes for companies in the defence sector, to help them adapt their output so that they can adapt to the changing demand for defence equipment. It would be unrealistic not to recognise that we do not want to reverse the reasons for that change of demand.
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