HC Deb 07 December 1988 vol 143 cc301-2
7. Ms. Quin

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the prospects for British engineering, in the light of the proposals to complete the European internal market in 1992.

Mr. Newton

The creation of the single European market is opening up opportunities for all sectors of United Kingdom industry, including engineering. Our "Europe Open for Business" campaign is designed to assist firms of all kinds to take advantage of those opportunities.

Ms. Quin

Given the importance of engineering to areas such as the north-east, and the enormous trade deficit in manufactured goods between the United Kingdom and the rest of the EEC, will the Government take every measure to ensure that British engineering derives some advantage from 1992? Or will engineering be allowed to go the way of so many other older industries, especially those in the north-east at this time?

Mr. Newton

There is no question of our allowing the engineering industry, or any other, to go into decline for want of anything that the Government can do to help it to have a competitive and viable future. The range of our policies has greatly contributed to an overall increase in the competitiveness of British industry, and the engineering industry, amongst others, is gaining from that.

Mr. Dickens

Does my right hon. Friend agree that British industry has a chance of walking tall in 1992 when we move into the single European market? Has this chance not been based on the marvellous training schemes that we have introduced? People have been given new skills that can lead towards meaningful jobs. We no longer have the stupid overmanning that was to be found under the Labour Government. Is it not a fact that industry now delivers goods on time, of the the right quality, at competitive prices, with good after-sales service?

Mr. Newton

I think that the answer to all those questions is yes. I only wish that I could imitate the style with which my hon. Friend put the points.

Mr. George Howarth

Does the Minister accept that even with expansion of opportunity in the engineering industry there will be a severe skill shortage, which will create difficulties?

Mr. Newton

There are problems of skill shortages in that and other industries, including the construction industry. The proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment earlier this week are directed at precisely such problems.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that for engineering firms to do well in 1992 and beyond there is a great need for more young people to come into engineering? Will he encourage firms to keep close to the world of education—schools, colleges and higher education—so that, in particular, more women come into the industry and more poeple take joint courses in engineering and modern languages?

Mr. Newton

Yes, those are among the objectives of the industry education compacts, which we are taking a number of steps to encourage, and very much in line with the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment brought forward a couple of days ago.

Mr. Henderson

How does the Minister explain the deterioration in the trade gap with the EEC in engineering products from £350 million in 1979 to a deficit of £2 billion in 1988? What specific steps will he take to prevent a further deterioration by 1992 and beyond?

Mr. Newton

I attribute much of that problem to the economic policies that were pursued prior to 1979, and I expect there to be continuing advantage to the engineering industry, as to others, from the policies that have been pursued since then.

Mr. Riddick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the prospects for British engineering will be further improved with the privatisation of British Steel? With a privatised steel industry, we can expect prices to be stabilised, or even reduced, as the industry becomes more efficient and competitive.

Mr. Newton

I hope that that forecast is right. I am certain that my hon. Friend's analysis that the prospects for British Steel have been improved is correct.

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