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Caroline Flint: My right hon. Friend may be aware that there is a lobby of Parliament today by textile workers. In relation to textiles and his argument about Europe, will his Department consider encouraging innovation in our small and medium textile enterprises?

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Italy, for example, supports its textiles and clothing industry. This country has 350,000 workers in that industry, but many are in small and medium enterprises which need the thrust of the Government to support innovation and competition. I hope that we can learn something from our European neighbours.

Mr. Mandelson: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend about the importance and the potential of that industry. I am glad to tell the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Industry only yesterday met representatives of the employers and of the trade unions, all of whom share that strong commitment to the future of the textiles industry. My Department stands by to assist them in all their efforts and to do everything that it can to make sure that the industry has a successful and prosperous future.

When we took office, we apparently inherited a golden economic legacy. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members never tire of cheering that. They tell us that they left us a Ferrari of an economy--some Ferrari.

Mr. Redwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson: The Conservatives had put the economy up on blocks, stuck it in reverse and taken a large number of miles off the clock.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. In 1995, BMW-Rover said that Britain was the best place, bar none, in Europe for investment in the motor industry. When the Conservatives left office, the investment was proceeding and the company was profitable. Why is it now losing heavily? Why is there a crisis at Longbridge? Have not the Government's mistakes caused that?

Mr. Mandelson: The right hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that the Government do not own or run Rover; Rover owns and runs Rover, and that is how it will remain. I am sorry about what has happened to Rover, because it is an excellent company with great potential, but its slide in relative productivity did not start on 2 May 1997. It has its roots in lack of strategic grip and poor management decision making. Management decision making should have got on top of the situation a long time ago, before it created the difficult circumstances and conditions that now face the company.

I am glad that management and work force at Rover are now joined in a firm commitment to achieve changes and restructuring in the company to make sure that it has a future. The Government have stood by and helped to facilitate those important discussions within Rover, and we shall continue to do so. We shall give whatever support it is sensible and appropriate for us to give to ensure that those changes take place.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mandelson: Well, I--[Hon. Members: "No."] I give the casting vote to the Speaker, who has given me the nod.

Mr. Bercow: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reluctantly giving way.

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If the Minister is as concerned about competitiveness and regulation as he claimed earlier in his speech, why did he have the brass neck, on 4 November, to dismiss the CBI's estimate of an annual cost of £200 million for the parental leave directive as "a tiny fraction" of business costs? Why was he unaware that his Department had produced an alternative estimate of £55 million a year? Why was he so palpably ignorant of the matters for which he is ministerially responsible to this House?

Mr. Mandelson: That is a very important question, and it was well worth waiting for. I do not dismiss £200 million lightly, without coupling it with the observation--as I did--that employers and their representatives in Europe joined hands with trade union representatives in agreeing that the measures be adopted.

Mr. Bercow indicated dissent.

Mr. Mandelson: I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman cannot agree, but that is his Euro-sceptic privilege. He agrees with nothing that comes within a million miles of the European Commission. An agreed measure was proposed, and this country would do well to implement it.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham is doubtless about to leap to his feet to disown the previous Government's record in office, as he spent our last debate doing, and say, "Not my fault, guv. All the others' doing. I was nowhere near the clot when the decisions were taken." I do not know what the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who is lurking on the Back Benches ready to intervene, will have to say about that. Incidentally, the entire House will join me in offering him our sincere congratulations on his new honour.

I for one am sick of the Tories disowning their record: macro-economic instability; a relentless cycle of boom and bust, which cost a million jobs every time they had to slam on the brakes; a huge productivity gap; a real performance shortfall, with no statistical fiddle, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham asserts; and a culture of social exclusion, with millions throughout the land cast aside with no skills, education, jobs or hope. Those people had a vote, and they used it at the last election. We started immediately to put things back together again.

I do not pretend that all is rosy in the economy. Anyone with half an eye on the world economy, a quarter of which is now experiencing recession, knows that all is not rosy. However, despite the Asian crisis, Britain's exports to Europe and the United States continue to grow in both value and volume. Employment rose by 124,000 in the three months to September, and we continue to attract record inward investment. This week, the Economist intelligence unit--not Millbank--announced that we remain one of the most favourable locations for investment in the world. The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that it cited, in particular, Labour Britain's business-friendly climate, the sophistication of our capital markets and the fact that our labour market will remain one of the most flexible in the world as the reasons for our continuing to be a number one target for inward investment.

We have made it clear in the legislative plans announced in the Gracious Speech that this country's future depends on realising the potential of our people. It is no longer acceptable to write off one third of the

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population through sheer neglect. They deserve better. We began to provide that on 2 May 1997, and we shall continue to do so in the coming Session.

4.25 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): We are thrice blessed in this debate. We are blessed with the presence of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who is listening attentively. The Spectator named him a parliamentarian of the year in the award ceremony earlier today. I am sure that we all want to congratulate him. He may need our commiserations, because I understand that he is the "Minister to Watch". Some Ministers who are watched too closely never recover from the experience, but it is perhaps the Secretary of State who should watch out, because the Minister of State has shown himself to be a formidable performer over the years.

Our second blessing is the participation of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I am not surprised that the Secretary of State was so reluctant to take his interventions, because he won the award of "Back Bencher to Watch". I have been watching him for a long time, and I like what I see. He is not afraid to tell the truth and to threaten the Government. [Interruption.] Before Labour Members get too excited, I should point out that they were part of the conspiracy to close my hon. Friend down in this important debate. They knew that he would put the Secretary of State on the spot, so they had to give him some cover and protection.

Our third blessing is that we are honoured with the presence of the Secretary of State, on his most recent visit from cyberspace. He delivered a virtual speech. I wondered whether the parade of platitudes would ever end, and whether he would mention British industry. We had to drag it out of him by interventions and questions. He even seemed tired of his own monotonous tone of voice. It was a dreadful performance from the Secretary of State, and it will not go unnoticed in the industrial heartlands of this country.

The Minister for Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle): It says here.

Mr. Redwood: The Minister of State believes that my remarks are scripted. How could they possibly be scripted when I am responding to the debate from notes I made during the Secretary of State's speech, so that I do him no conceivable injustice? When I have finished with this sheet, the Minister is welcome to inspect it to see that I came, I listened and I discovered that the speech was sadly lacking in any substance, any hope for British industry or any sign that the Secretary of State understands why British manufacturers are struggling.

The shadow Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), said in a debate the other day that what we see of the Government's attitude to manufacturing industry is

Once again, the Secretary of State came to the House to perform the last rites. So worried is he about the state of manufacturing industry, that he can get through an entire script--although not all the interventions--without mentioning British manufacturing or British industry.

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There was no mention of the textile workers on a lobby, and no mention of the plight of British steel. [Interruption.] I just said that there were interventions on these matters, but there was no mention in the Secretary of State's text of the textile and steel industries, and his only reference to the motor car industry was an attempted joke at the expense of the previous Government.

The Secretary of State does not care about basic manufacturing industry, about closures or about the damage that his policies are doing. He said that the Opposition have no policies to modernise Britain. That is grossly unfair. In the area over which the Secretary of State and I spar, the Opposition are coming up with imaginative ideas that could make a difference and improve life. Why is the Secretary of State still unable to say whether he will introduce competition into the water industry? We have set out a way of doing that. That important monopoly industry needs the competitive challenge. If he is so keen on competition, why will he not answer our question, and why will he not back our plan?

When will the right hon. Gentleman respond to our plans for the Post Office? Why must we wait for month after month, with our Post Office unable to compete properly because its hands are tied behind its back by the Secretary of State's lack of a policy? When will his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions produce policies aimed at raising significant private finance for the tube system, which desperately needs new investment and has been starved of cash by this miserable Government?

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