HC Deb 25 January 1982 vol 16 cc724-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Gummer.]

11.41 pm
Mr. Tom McNally (Stockport, South)

In asking to debate the siting of the European Community trade marks office, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I realised that you and many other hon. Members might believe that this was yet another example of a Member wanting to advance special pleading for a constituency interest, but I hope that the House will think of the matter in broader terms.

We must now start making civil servants and, more important, pro tem Ministers think about what they will do on the subject. I hope to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Trade about use of the EEC, of which I have been a long standing supporter, as an instrument of industrial and regional policy.

I have raised the matter not because I want to pit Greater Manchester against Greater London, or even Stockport against Hammersmith, but because I believe that the Minister has missed an opportunity to use EEC policy to develop the idea of industrial and regional policy in this country as part of overall EEC policy. That is where I accuse him of failing.

The Minister should observe that the hon. Members for Stockport, North, (Mr. Bennett), Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Morton), Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) and Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) are present. Although there is no opportunity to cover the whole range of issues involved, since this is a cramped debate at the end of a day's sitting, they are here because they suspect that yet again the old London idea is being applied that if the site is not to be London it will be nowhere in this country—the idea that the country stops at Watford.

Over the last few years in Greater Manchester, there has been a commitment to the Manchester international airport, which is a most impressive piece of public authority enterprise. It is the fastest growing international airport in Europe. In Greater Manchester there is the best developed road system anywhere in Britain. The Minister must know those statistics, too. He must know that in Greater Manchester there is an investment in office development that is as good as anywhere in the Metropolis.

The glossy brochure that has been published is paid for not by the Minister's Department, but by the Greater London Council, which is a little saving on public spending. It shows the Old Lady in her most attractive garb, but does not explain that if one has a regional policy and wants to develop opportunities for industry, one must have the courage, which the Department of Trade has never had, to look to the North.

In the brochure, arguments are put forward on subjects such as housing. The Department knows that that argument does not stand up. Airports are referred to. As I have already said, Manchester is the fastest growing airport in Europe.

I should like to know from the Minister what is better in London than in Greater Manchester. I should like to put into his mind and the minds of his officials the idea that we will not let him sell us out once again. Will he put forward two alternatives to Europe? What has been suggested in Europe cannot compete with London and Manchester.

I am not here to blackguard London, as I came to London as a simple North country lad 20 years ago. I enjoyed London, and spent 20 happy years here. However, I am not always willing to hear the Department of Trade say "London, London, London."

The Minister should have the courage to say that there is a London opportunity, but there is a city to the North of London that can serve as a site, and has many, if not more, of the qualities mentioned in the brochure. Why does he not have the courage to say that the challenge of his Department is that it will sell somewhere other than London? That is a view that the Minister will hear more than once tonight.

11.48 pm
Mr. Tom Normanton (Cheadle)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. McNally) on having raised this issue as a subject for the Adjournment debate. It is matter of tremendous importance, of far greater importance to the North-West than some hon. Members may assess.

It would not be appropriate for me, in the short time available, to concentrate on adding to any eulogy that would make the siting of the trade marks office in Manchester more promising and more worth while. I shall therefore concentrate on making two brief comments.

First, I believe that when the Council of Ministers makes a decision on an institutional matter of this kind, which is in itself a major policy decision, it will be heavily influenced by two factors. First, I believe that the more Members of Parliament, both within and outside the House, clamour for Britain to withdraw from the Community, the more certain will be the Council's decision to site the institution elsewhere. If I were member of the Council, I would expect consistent demonstrations of unwillingness to remain a member of the Community to lead the Council to reject out of hand any question of siting the institution in Britain.

Secondly—and perhaps the Minister will make some observations on this—history shows that Community decisions in matters of this kind are almost invariably made within the framework of a package or deal. I hope that when the Minister takes part in the Council's proceedings he will have in mind the nature of a package on the basis of which he is prepared to negotiate. History has shown that the merit of the case is not the main raison d'être and does not necessarily guarantee a decision based on merit alone. It is the nature of the package and the way in which it is negotiated that is important. I should be interested to hear some brief comment from my hon. Friend the Minister on that point.

11.52 pm
Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

With the permission of the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. McNally), I should like to add just one and a half minutes to the debate.

The Minister knows my view, as I have already been to see him with the chamber of commerce. I shall not go into it in detail, except to make two points. First, this situation is not really the Minister's fault, as I understand that the original decision was made in 1973.

It has been reaffirmed many times since then, because whichever Government are in power we are up against the same inevitable cycle. Because certain resources have been concentrated in London, one then makes the case that the resources around which one has to concentrate are in London, and so it goes on like a merry-go-round. To my disappointment, we did not receive the support that we expected from the Institute of Trade Mark Agents, whose letter to the chamber of commerce was a classic example of the same argument.

I know that we shall not get far with the Minister tonight, but I must tell him that I believe that the Government have missed an opportunity, for this reason. I understand that the other contenders in Europe are Strasbourg, The Hague and Brussels. As has been said, much of this will be done through a deal in any case. I believe that the regional argument advanced so cogently today and on other occasions might have carried considerable weight. We are dealing with one of the last EEC institutions available for placing outside Brussels. I believe that the claims of Brussels and Strasbourg would in fact turn out to be rather weak, but that the claim of The Hague would be very strong.

The Government have missed a golden opportunity to add a new dimension, which is currently much in fashion in the EEC, in establishing the claim for this country.

11.55 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Reginald Eyre)

Let me say at the outset, in reply to the strong plea developed by the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. NcNally), that I fully support the need to give the regions every help and encouragement to redress the imbalance between different parts of the country. Indeed, I have repeatedly given my support to regional projects. I am glad to say that as a Birmingham man and as a Birmingham Member of Parliament. I would gladly do so on this occasion if I thought that it would lead to a successful outcome for the United Kingdom. That is the question that I want to keep in mind during this debate.

If the European Council proposed, come what may, to site a Community trade marks office in the United Kingdom, we might be free to put forward any number of sites other than London. But that is not the position. We are in an intensely competitive situation.

The French want the office in Strasbourg. The Dutch want the office in The Hague. The Belgians want the office in Brussels. They have made formal offers to receive the office. I was interested in the assessment of the relative value of the claims by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Sylvester). I shall not comment on his judgment, but I agree that The Hague is a strong contender in the competition.

I hear that the Italians and the Irish are contemplating offering a site. There is keen competition to secure the office, even before the necessary framework for establishing an office has been agreed. I recognise the knowledge of European affairs that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) possesses but when there are competitive applications by member States it is not possible to present a package of the type that he suggests.

If we were not too concerned about the eventual location of this office in the Community and were not too serious in our bid, we might adopt a different approach on a possible site in the United Kingdom. But again, that is not the position. We are deeply concerned to secure the office for this country. The Government attach the highest importance to their wish to have the Community trade marks office here in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom has always been at the forefront of industrial property matters—and rightly so, given the crucial part that international trade plays in our economy. But already we see a movement of industrial property work away from this country, following the opening of the European patent office in Munich. This trend could accelerate if the Community trade marks office were located elsewhere than in the United Kingdom. So we are deeply concerned about the location of this new office and believe that the national interest demands that we offer our strongest candidate. It is not a question of offering a site as good as our rivals, but of offering a site that is demonstrably better.

I have mentioned the European patent office. One reason why we did not succeed in attracting the European patent office was the lateness of our bid consequent upon our lateness in joining the EEC. We were not late in our bid for the Community trade marks office. We first made our offer of London as long ago as 1973. Successive Governments repeated the offer of London in 1976, 1978, 1980 and, most recently, earlier in January of this year.

In reaching that decision in 1973 to offer London as a site for the proposed office, the Government carefully weighed the needs of the regions against the need to secure this office in the United Kingdom and concluded that the need to secure the office in the United Kingdom meant that we had to offer our most advantageous location, the location most likely to succeed with our Community partners. This means London, and the reasons for choosing London are reflected quite forcefully in the early-day motion laid before this House in 1978. If I may remind the House of that motion, it read: That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to consider with urgency the siting of the European Community trade mark office and to make strong representations to the Governments of the other member States to the effect that London is the best and the most appropriate site for the said office having regard to all material considerations and in particular the size and vast experience of the London registry over a period of 100 years in decision-making, the expertise and support facilities of British trade mark practitioners, the advantage of English-speaking practice deriving from the fact that the majority of world trade is conducted in English, and London's accessibility in respect of communications, and thereby ensure the provision of the best possible service for practitioners and for the Community as a whole". That motion was supported by over 50 hon. Members, by no means drawn exclusively from the South-East, and that says a great deal. London would ensure the provision of the best possible service for practitioners and for the Community as a whole.

I should like to go over the reasons that led us to propose London rather than some other site. I ask the hon. Member for Stockport, South to believe me when I say that I appreciate fully the sincerity of his view. London is the site of the United Kingdom trade marks registry. This inevitably means that the expertise and support facilities for trade mark practitioners centres on London. Even where there are practitioners located outside the London area, they will already have London on their itineraries as a result of their work before the United Kingdom office. If the decision were taken to locate the Community trade marks office outside London, the profession would face some disruption and might be faced with difficult location problems.

It is true that Manchester houses a small branch of the trade marks registry. However, we are talking about a regional office employing a handful of people compared with 200 people at the head registry in London. The figures for trade mark practitioners are of a similar order, say 50 in Manchester compared with 500 in London. This fact is fully recognised by the Institute of Trade Mark Agents, which has recently written to me giving its full backing to the Government's choice of London.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Withington. I understand his devotion to Manchester and his support—together with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle—for the Manchester case. My hon. Friend the Member for Withington was fair when he referred to the meeting held with the Institute of Trade Mark Agents on the important question of the siting of the office. I wish to emphasise that the institute has given full backing to the Government's choice of London.

Next, there is the question of travel connections. It is true that Manchester and some other regions have good air connections with Europe and some other parts of the world. My Department is proud of the contribution it has made to the success of Manchester airport in that respect. But none of the travel connections compares with London. Over 85 per cent. of applications for Community trade marks are expected to arise from abroad. In fact, it is expected that over 50 per cent. of applications will originate from outside the Community itself. So, in my view, the Community trade marks office will need to be located in a town that has good air connections with all parts of the world.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Does not the Minister realise that there are sites around Manchester airport which, if one enters this country via Heathrow and flies on to Manchester, can be reached quicker than by arriving at Heathrow and then having to travel into London?

Mr. Eyre

I do not say that Manchester is not an absolutely splendid travel centre. I am glad that it is, and I hope that it will contribute substantially to the success of Manchester in the future. I believe that it will. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider all the points that I am making, of which travel is one, and an important point. Despite what the hon. Gentleman says, the fact is that the facilities at Gatwick and Heathrow cannot be matched in their international connections by any other airport in the United Kingdom.

Next, London offers unrivalled facilities to the foreign staff who would be required to settle in this country and work in the office—probably 100 out of the 200 total staff involved in the office; a very important consideration in seeking to attract foreign votes—which are necessary—for the siting of the office in London.

So, for all these reasons, the Government settled on London in 1973. London remains our choice, and I can turn to our Community partners and tell them frankly that a decision to establish the Community trade marks office in London would contribute substantially to the very success of the office itself.

Finally, I would like to remind the House of my written answer on 18 January to the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith).

In my reply, I stated that the Department of Trade had joined with the Greater London Council in the production of a brochure putting the case for London. A copy of this brochure was placed in the Library on 13 January, and it is currently being sent to the European Council, the Commission, Members of the European Parliament, and to professional and commercial organisations throughout the Community. I am glad that the hon. Member referred to the brochure in his speech.

I know that this is disappointing news for hon. Members who represent constituencies in and near Manchester. I have tried to explain the overwhelmingly strong reasons which impel us to put forward the bid for the office to be sited in London. I genuinely believe that we cannot succeed in our competitive bid unless we put forward our strongest case in this way.

It is in the national interest to bring this organisation to the United Kingdom, and I therefore hope that the various interests concerned can combine to present a united front to our Community partners.

12.8 am

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

As there are a few minutes left, may 1 say how disappointed I ant by the Minister's news. I am particularly disappointed that he did not respond to the points that were made. If he does not offer this office to Manchester, what else can he offer?

If the Minister wants to convince people in this country that the Common Market has something to offer this country, he should explain how he will stop the Common Market from dragging everything into the triangle between London, Paris and Brussels. This was an opportunity for the Minister to put the argument within the Common Market that we want a regional policy that will influence the placing of its institutions, but he has allowed another institution to be dragged into that triangle.

Many people become disillusioned when they see resources drained from their area. Why should the people of Manchester support this sort of centre, as they will do through their taxes, when they get nothing back into their area? The Minister should think hard and bring forward firm proposals to provide benefits for the regions within the Common Market, particularly the North-West, where everyone accepts that we have first-class facilities. Civil servants and Ministers should have confidence in us and sell us in the way that they are prepared to sell London.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes past Twelve o'clock.