|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend speaks with passion on behalf of his constituents, and I intend shortly to speak about Corus specifically. He mentioned the £8 million cost to Corus of the climate change levy, referred to by the right hon. Member for Wells as though it were the foundation of the company's problems. My hon. Friend was right to call it peanuts. The right hon. Gentleman should be aware of the fact that every 1 pfennig movement in currency between the pound and the deutschmark costs Corus £8 million. When it comes to investment and currency stability, his policy of ruling out for ever joining a single European currency would be the worst policy for manufacturing in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Byers: I can confirm that. As with the steel industry, I want to outline the help that the Government can give to the textiles industry, which is going through restructuring and faces challenges as a result of competition from overseas. I will shortly address those points in detail.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): The Secretary of State rightly underlined the significance of currency fluctuations, not only for the steel industry but for manufacturing generally, and the way in which instability militates against long-term development. That being so, should not the Government give much clearer signs of a commitment to enter the euro and to create the circumstances, as a deliberate target of policy, to enable that to happen?
Mr. Byers: Our policy is very clear. We can see the benefits of joining the single European currency. Transparency of costs, improvements in trade and currency stability are probably the three prime benefits of membership. However, the economic conditions have to be right. That is why we have the five economic tests laid down by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. When those have been met, it will be for Government, for Parliament and for the people to decide. That is a policy that business understands. Business tells me that the worst possible policy would be the one adopted by the Conservative party: to rule out joining a single currency for the lifetime of the next Parliament. It is a policy dictated by dogma. It does not consider the economic prospects of industry and of manufacturing in particular.
That should not surprise us, however, given the Conservative party's record in regard to manufacturing. The right hon. Member for Wells was very selective about the years that he chose to give as examples. We should look at what happened to manufacturing at the beginning of the 1990s.
In 1992, there were 7,500 job losses at British Aerospace, including the closure of the firm's Hatfield plant. More than 4,000 jobs were lost with the 1992 closure of the Ravenscraig steel works. There were 6,000 jobs lost with the closure of Rolls-Royce aeroengines in the same year. In 1991-92, 13,000 jobs were lost at GEC, and more than 20,000 were lost at Ferranti in the early 1990s. In 1992 alone, 1,600 metal and engineering companies went bankrupt, as did more than 1,000 textile and clothing manufacturers.
The manufacturing sector has told the Government clearly that companies need confidence to invest, and that that requires the right economic climate and stability. That is why, on coming to office, the Government took immediate and decisive action to ensure economic stability and low inflation. Inflation remains around or below the target of 2.5 per cent., and long-term interest rates are at their lowest level for 35 years.
Our benchmark shows the United Kingdom as being the country that overall provides the most entrepreneur-friendly environment. We can see that the UK nurtures growth through tax incentives.
Mr. Byers: I have been in touch with the company to see whether it will reconsider the decision, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the decision also affects plants in Germany and north America. It was not just a United
General Motors has a responsibility to the work force at Luton. I think that the House understands the anger felt by the workers in that plant, who entered into a partnership with the company, a partnership that the company has now torn up unilaterally. The Government understand the workers' concern and share the anger and frustration felt by the work force in Luton. We shall continue, in the appropriate way, to make representations to the company to try to get that decision changed.
Mr. Miller: It is not just the work force who are angry. Many in this House are extremely angry over the way in which General Motors has treated the work force at both Luton and Ellesmere Port. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend said that he would continue to put pressure on the company. I urge him to make representations at a very early date, because we are now coming to the stage at which, if the company does not shift its position soon, it will be too late. It is very urgent that the Government bring the maximum pressure to bear on the company.
Mr. Byers: Ultimately that will be a commercial decision for General Motors to take. Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of that. What we can do is to make the case. That is exactly what the Government have been doing, and we shall continue to do it.
The right hon. Member for Wells accused the Government of inaction. I can say that, in relation to Nissan and many other sectors of manufacturing, we are doing all we can to ensure that when companies take important commercial decisions they are aware of the benefits that will come from investing in the United Kingdom. We secured European approval for the £40 million grant aid to Nissan in record time. When I met the chief executive of Nissan just 10 days ago in
With regard to textiles, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a difficult time for parts of the textile industry. Owing to globalisation, new technology and restructuring, the textile industry in particular is under significant pressure. That is why the Government have introduced a package of measures worth over £10 million for the industry as a whole to assist it through this period. It includes measures to help exporters, to support design talent and to promote and develop new technological developments for the industry.
The plan is designed to enable the industry to adapt to the challenges of the knowledge economy. It includes Government support for the development and exploitation of technical textile materials. It provides programmes to help retrain workers who might be affected by decisions that have been taken on closures.