HC Deb 11 May 1988 vol 133 cc308-10
7. Mr. Oppenheim

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he last met the director general of the Confederation of British Industry; and what matters were discussed.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

My last meeting with the director general of the CBI was on 25 January. Our discussions on that occasion were mainly concerned with inner-city issues.

Mr. Oppenheim

Did my right hon. Friend have an opportunity to discuss with members of the CBI the latest issue of Fortune magazine? If so, did they notice the article entitled, "Britain is Back" about the British economic miracle? While there is no place for complacency, and though it may be that Fortune slightly overstated the case, is not that article further proof that the Government's industrial policies are working, and should not the Opposition accept that fact?

Mr. Clarke

I do not recall any opportunity to discuss the Fortune article, but passing reference may have been made to the praise that we received from the retiring Japanese ambassador about the British economic miracle. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must sustain our achievement, and the CBI takes an optimistic view of the future prospects of British industry in its latest survey. We must continue all the good work, which is now earning such praise from all around the world.

Mr. Salmond

Did the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster take the opportunity to explain to the director general of the CBI the developing mystery of United Kingdom competition policy, whereby takeover bids for companies with golden shares are not referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission but the minority holdings of companies without golden shares are referred to the MMC? Is it not the case that competition policy is such that only companies with headquarters in London are afforded any protection?

Mr. Clarke

If there is a certain amount of mystery about our competition policy, it is because not enough Members have read the document that we recently published on mergers policy. It clearly states the criteria that we think ought to be applied. We believe that one should look mainly at the effects of competition on the British economy in protecting the interests of the British consumer. There are also powers taking account of the wider public interest. All those matters are considered consistently and sensibly by the Government on the advice of the director general as well.

Mr. John Marshall

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the director general of the CBI, will he discuss the view, with which many of us are in sympathy, that if the United Kingdom is the only EEC country to allow hostile bids from outside its shores, there is a risk that we shall become a branch factory economy? Will my right hon. and learned Friend also discuss the view that there should be reciprocity in takeover bids between this country and Switzerland?

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that we are not the only European country allowing bids from outside its shores. Within the European Community we are aiming for free movement of capital, from which I am sure the Community will benefit. As I explained in the exchanges on this subject yesterday, if there is no reciprocity between countries, that factor can he taken into account when considering whether to refer a bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. We are awaiting the director general's advice on the particular case which I know concerns my hon. Friend.

Mr. Blair

As the Minister referred to the White Paper on mergers policy, I may tell him that it stated: As for the suggestion that the competition authorities are too parochial in their approach and should take a wider European or indeed global view of markets, the Government believe the criticism to be based on a misunderstanding. Is that still the Government's view? If not, and if competition policy is changing, will the Minister ensure that any changes are first notified to the House and do not escape in dribs and drabs of ministerial speeches?

Mr. Clarke

The quotation that the hon. Gentleman gave is entirely accurate, but it deals with a separate point. There are many areas of manufacturing and service industry where, if one looks at the market, it is found to be an international market. In 1992 we shall be looking to a single market within the European Community, so one must consider the impact of competition within that new market. It would be a mistake to confine one's view to the United Kingdom market, which would lead one into examining too much of a microcosm of the whole picture.

Yesterday, the Opposition—or at least the hon. Gentleman—seemed to be taking an extremely parochial view. As I see it, their policy is that no foreigner should be encouraged to invest in this country and that no English man should be encouraged to invest abroad. That is completely out of date and untenable in modern economic conditions.