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National Prosperity

13. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on trends in the United Kingdom's position relative to other world economies in respect of prosperity since 1979. [538]

Mr. Lang: The Government have halted a relative decline in Britain's gross domestic product per head, which had taken place over several decades. That has been achieved through our policies of free enterprise and encouraging competition.

Mr. Gunnell: Is the Secretary of State not a little complacent about our achievements? We have fallen from 13th to 18th in the world prosperity league, we are ninth in the European prosperity league, and a large and increasing number of people live in poverty. Surely that should concern the Government. They should not be complacent about economic progress.

Is it not time that the Government, instead of reciting the litany of success that they claim, sought to make this country a real enterprise country and to improve our economic prosperity? I should have thought that the Minister would not be so complacent.

Mr. Lang: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Between 1970 and 1979, the United Kingdom fell from 11th to 15th place in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the basis of GDP per head. Some further fall took place immediately after that as the Conservative Government cleared up the mess that we inherited from the Labour party, but over the last international cycle, from 1982 to 1993, only Japan among G7 countries outpaced the United Kingdom in terms of GDP per capita growth. The United Kingdom significantly outpaced France, Italy, Canada and the EU average. I think that the hon. Gentleman should be less complacent.

Ferry Services (Merger)

14. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what role his Department is undertaking in respect of the impact on the Dover and Deal area in relation to the proposed merger of P and O and Stena Sealink's ferry services. [540]

Mr. Ian Taylor: The proposed merger between P and O and Stena is still under examination by the competition authorities. Meanwhile, on 31 October, I hosted a meeting of local public and private sector organisations and companies to discuss effective co-operation to tackle the economic challenges facing the Dover area.

Mr. Shaw: I thank my hon. Friend for the meeting that he hosted last week; it was enormously helpful to those of us from Dover and Deal who attended. We felt that he had really addressed the issues. The message which he was able to give, that retraining can begin immediately, will be of enormous help to the people of Dover and Deal.

May I also say to my hon. Friend that it will be extremely helpful if he has anything further to say on the point about English Partnerships coming in to help in

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Dover and Deal? Several other matters were discussed that will affect my constituency, for which I am extremely grateful to him.

Madam Speaker: Order. I think that, if one wants to give thanks, perhaps one should do so in an Adjournment debate, when they can be reciprocated, but I have not yet really heard a question from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Shaw: Madam Speaker, I was hoping to get out the point that my hon. Friend the Minister made several other suggestions that were enormously helpful to Dover and Deal, and I was going to ask if he could make any further comments on those suggestions now.

Mr. Taylor: Madam Speaker, I recognise our mutual role in trying to restrain the natural enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) on behalf of his constituents; he fights very hard on their behalf.

I can confirm that the local training and enterprise council will declare Dover and Deal to be an area of large-scale unemployment, which will give immediate access to training courses rather than the usual six-month wait. I have asked English Partnerships to look very closely at the sites in Dover to discover whether further progress may be made. The Ministry of Defence is moving rapidly; it has issued invitations to tender on some seven sites that it has there.

We well understand the worries in the local community about a merger. I cannot comment on that, because of competition implications, but I can, as south coast sponsor Minister, study the implications carefully.

Currency Exchange Charges

15. Mr. Dykes: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will undertake an interdepartmental investigation with Her Majesty's Treasury on the charges levied for exchanging currencies on consumers using exchange bureaux and banks. [542]

Mr. John M. Taylor: I have no plans to initiate such an investigation.

Mr. Dykes: Will my hon. Friend please look at that again? When I complained about an effective commission rate of nearly 10 per cent. at the monopoly currency exchange service at Heathrow airport when I exchanged French francs back into sterling in September, I was told by the service provider that the currency exchange service was just charging the rates that the high street banks do, and in fact was slightly cheaper. Would it not be right for the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry to look into that matter to stop that outrageous rip-off of customers at foreign currency exchanges, and does that not also show that the single currency in future will be not only for the central banking elites but for ordinary members of the public, avoiding such unnecessary charges and making greater deregulation possible?

Mr. Taylor: I should be surprised if there was a monopoly in bureaux de change at Heathrow. I thought that there was more than one outlet for exchanging foreign currency at Heathrow; but if there is any evidence of anti-competitive behaviour or breach of competition law,

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it should be referred to the Director General of Fair Trading, who has the responsibility to keep the operation of markets under review, and powers to act where he believes that to be necessary.

Fireworks

16. Mr. French: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the balance of payments position in the fireworks industry. [543]

Mr. John M. Taylor: The crude deficit with all countries for 1995 was £11.6 million.

Mr. French: Does my hon. Friend accept that Britain is exporting an increasing number of fireworks that are safe and reliable products, but importing an increasing number that turn out not to be safe and reliable? Notwithstanding the safety checks about which my hon. Friend spoke in answer to an earlier question, will he consider increasing the sanctions against importing companies that do not satisfy themselves adequately about the quality of the products that they import?

Mr. Taylor: In the spirit of the root-and-branch review that I am conducting, the answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes.

Trade Surplus

17. Mr. Jon Owen Jones: To ask the President of the Board of Trade when UK trade in goods is to be in surplus on current trends. [544]

Mr. Ian Taylor: My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will set out his latest estimate of the balance of trade in goods in his financial statement on 26 November. The latest data show the trend deficit narrowing.

Mr. Jones: Although we welcome the recent short-lived improvement, the Government's own forecasts show that the UK is in deficit by £13.5 billion in its goods exports for this year. That is £2.5 billion more than last year and £3 billion more than the year before. Do not those figures--as opposed to the Government's propaganda--prove the Government's record of economic mismanagement over the past few years?

Mr. Taylor: They prove nothing of the sort. They show the vibrancy of British manufacturers in an expanding global trade position. The deficit is merely a netting off of imports and exports across the board. Look at how exports have been doubling. Look at how we have penetrated markets more successfully than the French and Germans in competition with us. Look at how new technologies have been applied by British industries. Look at how we have attracted inward investment, because of our high skills base. Those are all extremely positive developments. The Confederation of British Industry predicts a 4 per cent. increase in manufacturing output next year and a 7.5 per cent. increase in manufacturing investment.

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Industrial Support

18. Mr. Foulkes: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will carry out an examination of the relative cost-effectiveness of Government support for indigenous and inward investment in industry. [545]

Mr. Greg Knight: In 1993, the Department of Trade and Industry, in conjunction with the Scottish and Welsh Offices, published a report of an evaluation of regional selective assistance. The three Departments will shortly be commissioning further work to evaluate the continuing cost-effectiveness of the scheme.

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful for that answer. Of course we all welcome inward investment by companies such as Toyota, Chunghwa and Lucky Goldstar from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. That raises an interesting question, however. Why can British companies no longer manufacture cars, picture tubes and electronics for the European market? Is that because of some deficiency in British industry, or because there is a bias in the Department of Trade and Industry in favour of inward investment and against indigenous industries?

Mr. Knight: The hon. Gentleman is working under a misapprehension. The availability of regional selective assistance does not depend on the ownership of the company; it is available to British companies, as well as to foreign companies.

Mr. Beggs: When the Minister is further considering regional assistance for inward investment, will he make representations to the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Northern Ireland with respect to increasing investment in the A75 in Scotland and the A8 in Northern Ireland, thereby increasing the free flow of passengers and freight and the success of tourism in those areas?

Mr. Knight: I will certainly pass on those comments to my right hon. Friends.


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