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Mr. Sainsbury : Regional selective assistance is expected to continue to contribute to job creation and the safeguarding of jobs in the north-east.

Mr. Devlin : Quite aside from the fact that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) is entirely wrong in his history, may I ask my hon. Friend to confirm that his view of the future is also wrong, inasmuch as regional selective assistance is now creating up to 16,000 jobs in the northern region and 175 companies currently have an offer of regional enterprise grant ? Is he aware that one of the 40 companies that have successfully obtained that assistance from his Department is today expanding its number of employees from two to five ? Surely that shows the seed corn of future prosperity in the region and in the United Kingdom generally ?

Mr. Sainsbury : I am happy to confirm the figure that my hon. Friend quoted. It is a remarkable tribute to the success of the regional selective assistance programme that there are 16,000 jobs in the north-east in current RSA projects. It is not irrelevant to the question asked by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) that, since 1979, 36,000 jobs in the north-east have been associated with inward investment. I suppose that if they were in Dutch companies, the hon. Gentleman would not have allowed them in.

Mr. Milburn : Is not the Minister aware that the level of industrial assistance to the north-east has almost halved since 1979 under his Government ? How on earth does he expect the potential of regions such as the north or towns such as Darlington, to be realised when his Government are actively disinvesting from them ? When will he realise that spreading economic prosperity to all the regions and all the nations of the United Kingdom relies on active Government ?

Mr. Sainsbury : The most important factors for the economic success of the north-east, and of the whole country, are having a sensible tax climate and sensible industrial relations and avoiding the social chapter-- all of which the Labour party would not do. May I perhaps remind the hon. Gentleman that £1.5 billion of Government money in the form of regional aid has gone into the north-east since 1979 ?

Non-wage Employment Costs --

11. Mr. Paice : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what are the average non-wage employment costs for manufacturers in Britain, France and Germany.

Mr. Heseltine : In 1992, non-wage costs as a proportion of total labour costs were 29 per cent. in France, 23 per cent. in Germany and 17 per cent. in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Paice : Those figures demonstrate beyond all shadow of a doubt the competitive position in which Britain finds herself. Does it not show that it is not the actual wages that matter in competitiveness, but the costs loaded on to employers by Governments, over which employers have no control ? Is not that why German and French employers know that Britain was right to resist the social chapter and that their Governments were wrong, and is not that why Britain, alone in Europe, is experiencing economic growth on all fronts ?

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Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The certain message of the campaign that the country is about to see waged is that the Labour party and the Liberal party, with their proposals for adding social costs to our industrial costs, are hell-bent on the destruction of jobs in this country.

Mr. Purchase : Is not it the case, however, that, while our labour costs, direct and indirect, are one fifth lower than those of Germany and France, and while their productivity is two fifths higher and their unit labour costs are more than 15 per cent. lower, labour costs, both direct and indirect, are not at all the best guide to competitiveness ?

Mr. Heseltine : They are just one guide. The vital issue is the level of productivity that goes with wage costs. The Labour party must ask itself just what it has been doing by encouraging the overmanning and restrictive practices of the trade unions that have done so much to undermine those matters down the years.

Competitiveness --

12. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he will issue his White Paper on competitiveness.

Mr. Heseltine : The White Paper on competitiveness will be published on 16 May 1994.

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Does he agree that the key markets in which Britain will have to compete in the future are those in the far east, and that we shall not have to compete just in Europe ? Does he agree that the European idea that markets somehow require a level playing field is the antithesis of what we need, which is the development of this country's comparative advantages ? This will require us to keep control not only of the regulatory structure under which our industries work but of the way in which we deal with and handle our labour.

Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend will understand that if we are to have a market that is free and fair, there must be a regulatory system that is common to all parts of it. She can be very sure that if we are not able to influence the regulatory system in other parts of the market it will be rigged against the interests of British exporters.

Dr. Bray : Before the President publishes his White Paper on competitiveness will he read the unanimous reports of the Select Committees on Science and Technology and on Trade and Industry that were published recently ? These point out that there are a great many factors other than price competitiveness in the overall national competitiveness scene. Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the Committees' many recommendations on precisely the question he has raised--how to increase productivity ?

Mr. Heseltine : I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has particular knowledge of, and a particular interest in, this matter. He will find that our White Paper on competitiveness does address the much wider horizon that he has in mind.

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British Exports (Promotion) --

13. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what recent representations he has received about the promotion of British exports overseas.

Mr. Needham : I have received many representations praising the successful partnership between the Department of Trade and Industry and British exporters in overseas markets.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Does my hon. Friend agree that, rightly or wrongly, there is among British business men a widespread perception that too many of our embassies are better equipped to promote genteel diplomacy and cultural relations than aggressively to pursue British commercial interests ? Can my hon. Friend, knowing the commitment of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to putting British interests first, expand on what further steps might be taken to make a profound cultural change ?

Mr. Needham : I do not agree with my hon. Friend, in that I think that the commercial posts overseas are professional, dedicated and extremely well run. I spend most of my life visiting them. As I thought that my hon. Friend might raise such a question, I have here 16 examples of letters written within the last month by companies praising the work of the commercial sections of our embassies. Of course, not every one of them is perfect, but 16 letters in a month is not a bad record. The partnership between the export promoters, the Department of Trade and Industry market branches and the commercial posts overseas that now exists is providing our exporters with an unrivalled service. In 1992, the Brooking Institute said : "Perhaps the most clearly presented and coherently marketed package of export assistance programmes is that of the United Kingdom."

Mr. Tony Banks : As this question is about exports can the Minister tell us what is the current visible trade deficit ? When was our trade last in surplus ?

Mr. Needham : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the exact figures. However, I can say that the current trade deficit is about 1.5 per cent. of gross domestic product. When trade was in surplus, the maximum under the last Labour administration was about 1.25 per cent. It is a very small percentage of our total trade. The fact is that we export 20 per cent. per head more than the Japanese and 80 per cent. per head more than the Americans. In export performance, we have the fifth highest figures on earth, with 1 per cent. of the world's population. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will start giving our exporters some praise.

Mr. Nigel Evans : An area in which we hope to do well in future will be that of aerospace exports. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the skilled work force in Lancashire that is employed by British Aerospace and by many small contractors and which is involved in the production of the Eurofighter 2000, which had its international debut at Warton in Lancashire last week ?

Mr. Needham : I would be delighted to do what my hon. Friend asks.

Mr. Bell : The House will welcome the Minister's statement about trade with Vietnam and the fact that he has encouraged our exporters to penetrate that market. What

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about that other tiger economy of Malaysia ? Have we reminded the Malaysians that they have a £1.3 billion surplus with our country ? Have these matters been taken up with the European Union ? Have they been taken up with GATT negotiators ? Where are we with the Malaysian Government ?

Mr. Needham : I can say to the hon. Gentleman--not to him personally --that one of the major causes of getting into disputes with Malaysia are the comments and activities of some of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Forman : Is not one of the best ways to promote British exports to draw attention to some startling and positive facts that have emerged recently, including the fact that the UK machine tool industry was in surplus in 1993 on its balance of trade and that machine tool exports to the United States increased by nearly two fifths over the previous year ?

Mr. Needham : My hon. Friend is correct in asserting that there are many sectors of British industry that are not merely world competitors but world beating. The only thing that stands between them and their continuing success is the possibility of Opposition Members being put in charge of our economy.

16. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what arrangements he has made to recruit the expertise of exporters in the private sector to assist his Department to promote generally British exports.

Mr. Needham : The President and I have invited leading United Kingdom companies and business organisations to second to our Department high-calibre senior managers with export expertise. These companies have responded very positively. We have recruited nearly 80 of these people and more are on the way. We are confident that some companies that have not yet seconded an export promoter will do so shortly.

Mr. Fabricant : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. It demonstrates, possibly, why there has been such an improvement in recent years in the promotion of exports by our embassies overseas. Is my hon. Friend aware, however, that one of the major industries in my constituency of Mid-Staffordshire is the pottery industry ? He will be aware that Wedgwood has its headquarters in Barlaston, and that the well-known sanitary ware manufacturer of the name of Shanks in the town of Armitage

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Member might save his descriptions for a debate on trade and industry and put his question now.

Mr. Fabricant : So what is my hon. Friend doing to promote sanitary ware and china ware overseas ?

Mr. Needham : If my hon. Friend went to the countries round the world that I have visited he would not have to worry about the promotion of sanitary ware. As for fine china, we have established within the Department of Trade and Industry a group of tabletop manufacturers under the chairmanship of Royal Doulton to examine exactly how we can bring linen, cutlery, glass and china companies together to promote our exports across the world, and not least to ensure that all our embassies have the very best of British when anyone visits them.

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Mr. John Evans : Given the enormous amount of fence building that the Tory Government and Tory Ministers will have to undertake with the African National Congress, what steps has the Minister taken to improve and increase Britain's trading links with the new Government of South Africa ?

Mr. Needham : My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be leading in the near future a major delegation of British companies to South Africa. The South African market has enormous opportunities for us. We are in the process of completing a strategic market plan for South Africa. We are analysising those sectors in which British companies can offer the best product, the best services and the best consultancies. The South African market will be a major target market for the Department of Trade and Industry, in partnership with British industry.

Mr. Steen : I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to ask the Minister whether he is aware that exports will not be helped if we adopt the European Community circular of directive 92/58 which insists that, by 24 June, all exit signs for fire safety are replaced by those depicting a little man running downstairs, because they will create additional costs for all our manufacturing industries, our town halls, the House of Commons and every library and information centre in the country.

Mr. Needham : I think that I can safely leave that question to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs who is very good at finding signs of little men running downstairs.

Brewing Industry --

17. Mr. Wareing : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what recent representations he has received about the activities of Inntrepreneur Estates Ltd in the brewery industry ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Neil Hamilton) : Since the beginning of the year, my right hon.Friend and I have received three letters from or on behalf of IEL lessees. They were largely concerned with the rents charged by IEL for its pubs, the treatment of tenants and the compatibility of the IEL lease with European Community competition law. I also answered a written question from the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) on 21 March.

Mr. Wareing : Is the Minister aware of the fact that, in the building at the moment, there are several hundred tenants of Inntrepreneur who are lobbying Parliament in Committee Room 14 ? Will he see those people and, when he sees them, will he tell them that although the beer orders may have been legally adhered to by Inntrepreneur, it has drifted away from the spirit of those beer orders ? Would he further explain to them why it is that, although the Inntrepreneur lease is in contravention of article 85 of the European constitution of the treaty of Rome, the Government continue to take no action against Inntrepreneur ?

Mr. Neil Hamilton : I am afraid that, in the course of my busy day, I will not have the opportunity to meet those who the hon. Gentleman tells me are in Committee Room

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14. Had I had notice of their being here today, I might have been able to arrange it. As the hon. Gentleman will know, because we have had several meetings on such matters, I take seriously the points that he and others make and I will always be prepared to take up with companies such points in future, as I have in the past. As regards allegations that the lease is in contravention of EC law, that is, of course, a matter for the European Commission and not for me.

Electricity Generation --

18. Mr. Beith : To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about progress on his proposals to privatise the remaining Government stake in electricity generation.

Mr. Eggar : My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced his intention to sell, subject to market conditions, some or all of his share holdings in National Power plc and PowerGen plc in the financial year 1994-95.

Mr. Beith : Will the Minister tell us whether the forthcoming sale of shares has in any way influenced the Government in opposing the Energy Conservation Bill or in any way influenced them in their decision to table 216 amendments to the Bill ? Before he formulates his answer, will he bear in mind the fact that it is not a good idea inadvertently to mislead the House in tactics for private Members' Bills ?

Mr. Eggar : As the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, the decision is taken by my right hon. and learned Friend and I cannot answer for him.

Mr. Moss : As Nuclear Electric is still in public ownership, does my hon. Friend agree that privatisation of that industry is crucial to the future of the nuclear industry ?

Mr. Eggar : I am aware that Nuclear Electric wishes to be privatised and I am aware that a number of my hon. Friends support that aspiration. As my hon. Friend knows, we have to await the Government's decision on the terms of reference of the nuclear review and then the outcome of the nuclear review before I can make any announcement on the Government's policy on that matter.

Mr. Dafis : May we now take it that we all understand the real reason why the Energy Conservation Bill was blocked ? Does not that tell us what a short-sighted understanding of matters the Government have because they are not able to recognise the enormous economic and financial gains that would come from an energy efficiency programme ? Why on earth cannot they understand that it is disgraceful to think that the promotion of privatisation will be successful--according to their terms--to the extent that they will encourage waste and unnecessary over-consumption of electricity ? What a reflection that is on the bankruptcy of our economic system as well as the Government's privatisation programme.

Mr. Eggar : No. Neither the House nor the country can come to that conclusion from my previous answer. I must say to the hon. Gentleman, whose dedication to the whole cause of energy conservation I recognise and, indeed, share, that I am surprised if he wished to bring up that particular subject, that he did not comment on the suggestions in the consultation paper, which I published with the Director General of Ofgas, which is important in

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the gas market with regard to promoting energy conservation. He may like to consider that and I will be very happy to discuss it with him.

Electricity Prices --

19. Mr. Miller : To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he will meet the Director General of Electricity Supply to discuss electricity prices.

Mr. Eggar : I meet the Director General of Electricity Supply regularly.

Mr. Miller : Given the disquiet on both sides of the House about rumours of differential pricing of utilities, and particularly of gas, as we heard earlier, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not allow differential pricing of electricity ? Does he agree that such differential pricing would be a huge disadvantage to people, particularly those in rural communities ? He has an opportunity to give a clear commitment here and now.

Mr. Eggar : I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. He should know perfectly well that there is already considerable regional differential pricing.

Mr. Oppenheim : How seriously can we take Opposition Members when they express concern about electricity prices or the interests of consumers ? If they had had their way, would not they have insisted that

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is aware that we are dealing with Government policy and not with activities or policies of the Opposition. Will the hon. Gentleman transpose his question ?

Mr. Oppenheim : Did not the Opposition oppose Government policy to ensure that we had competition in electricity generation so that consumers' interests were paramount ? Do not they always put the interests of producers and vested interests first ?

Mr. Eggar : Yes, as so frequently, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a result of the privatisation of the electricity industry, there has been a 7 per cent. real-terms reduction in the price of electricity to domestic consumers. I have to say again to Opposition Front-Bench Members that if they do not realise that there have been long-established regional pricing differentials on electricity, they really need to use their Short money more effectively.

Mr. Beggs : When the Minister next has a meeting to discuss electricity prices, will he bear in mind the fact that the successful intervention of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and of Ministers in attracting companies such as Hualon to Northern Ireland, could be threatened because of the very high cost of electricity in Northern Ireland and the need for Northern Ireland consumers, both domestic and industrial, to have access to cheaper electricity ?

Mr. Eggar : I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's concern about that issue. He and I have discussed it in the past. I will again bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Matthew Banks : In advance of my hon. Friend's next meeting with the director general, will he join me in

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congratulating the Merseyside and North- Western electri-city board which has announced not just a reduction in its electricity tariff, as have other boards, but a £10 rebate to every consumer in the north-west which will do most for those in greatest need ?

Mr. Eggar : I will indeed congratulate MANWEB on its £10 rebate and its 1 per cent. reduction. In addition, the Midlands board has reduced its prices by 2 per cent. The North Western electricity board has announced a 6 per cent. reduction from April 1994. The South Eastern electricity board has made a 2 per cent. reduction and given a £8 rebate. Time and again, the success of privatisation is recognised in the way in which regional electricity companies are bringing down their prices to domestic consumers.

Research And Development --

21. Mr. Clapham : To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to increase expenditure on civil research and development.

Mr. McLoughlin : Information about my Department's planned expenditure on civil research and development up to 1996-97 was given in the recently published "Forward Look of Government-Funded Science, Engineering and Technology".

Mr. Clapham : There was not a great deal of factual information there. The Minister will be aware that, in per capita and absolute terms, Britain spends less on civil research and development than our major competitors. Is he aware that a recent study by the Trade and Industry Select Committee on the competitiveness of British industry states that one of the reasons for that is short-termism ? What is the Minister doing to overcome the short-termist culture that is holding back British industry ?

Mr. McLoughlin : The hon. Gentleman makes several points. As my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has already said, we will be addressing some of those issues in the White Paper that will be published next week.

Mr. Batiste : Does my hon. Friend agree that the real relative shortfall in research and development spend in Britain is in the private sector ? If companies do not maintain an adequate research and development capacity of their own, they are less likely to be able to implement innovative change. Will that be one of the issues that will be addressed in the competition White Paper ?

Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend touches on an important point which needs to be addressed by private companies. A number of companies that I see are spending significant amounts on research and development. That is very important, and it is also important to create the right framework which enables companies to put their investments to one side. That is certainly something which we shall consider.

Pit Closures --

22. Mr. Skinner : To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next expects to meet the chair of British Coal to discuss pit closures.

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Mr. Eggar : Both my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I meet the chairman of British Coal as necessary to discuss a variety of coal industry matters.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Minister aware that it adds insult to injury for miners who have recently lost their jobs--there are no pits left in north Derbyshire now--to be told that they did not want the coal for the nation, when they are having to suffer massive imports and opencast coal mining on a massive production line ? Is there anything more sickening for communities than to see bulldozers tearing up the countryside in areas where pits have been closed ? The bulldozers will be there for 10 years, digging big holes and dumping toxic waste. Will the Minister tell British

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Coal to stop these developments and will he tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to stop planning applications for opencast developments ?

Mr. Eggar : As occurs so frequently nowadays, the hon. Gentleman is wrong, wrong and wrong again. Coal imports are down.

With regard to opencast developments, the hon. Gentleman should know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is at the moment consulting about a revision to MPG3. I seem to remember that the last time that the hon. Gentleman spoke to me about coal he argued for the protection of his own constituents, or nearby inhabitants, in relation to the opencast procedures which were to be followed by British Coal. He cannot have it both ways.

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