HC Deb 06 December 1989 vol 163 cc299-300
3. Mr. Norris

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to expand the role of his Department.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

None, Sir.

Mr. Norris

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving exactly the sort of reply that I wanted; it was excellent. Does he agree that although from time to time his Department has an excellent role to play as an enabler, it has been an unmitigated disaster whenever it has tried to act as an intervener?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on the latter point. I note that the Labour party policy review says: The DTI's role will be to develop strategies, to identify priorities and provide the assistance, resources and organising capacity which industry will need. Is not that the very policy that east European countries have been following until now?

Mr. Vaz

Will the Minister consider establishing a specialist unit in his Department to monitor and support the work of the British textile and footwear industries? Is he aware that in the past 10 years 380,000 jobs have been lost in those two industries? The Minister for Industry came to Leicester last Friday and was made aware of the deep concern felt by textile and footwear manufacturers about the future of their industry. May we have a unit to support that vital sector of the British economy?

Mr. Ridley

We do indeed monitor the operations of all industries, including the textile industry. It is for the industries themselves to become competitive if they are to preserve their positions, and there are encouraging signs in the textile industry. The industries have benefited from the multi-fibre arrangement over the years. People in the industry have had time to adjust and in many cases have done so successfully.

Sir Anthony Grant

Has my right hon. Friend any plans to reduce his Department's role?

Mr. Ridley

We have certain problems in our industrial performance at the moment in parts of our industrial effort where the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, the policies of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and intervention generally left some deep holes.

Mr. Gordon Brown

With regard to one expanded role for the Secretary of State's Department—that of providing hidden subsidies—and given that the Secretary of State said last week that there was no need to inform the European Commission, will he tell us now whether there were any discussions between British Aerospace and the Government about failing to inform Parliament and the Commission and the risks associated with that? Are there any other matters in addition to hidden subsidies that he now feels that he should disclose to the House?

Mr. Ridley

For the hon. Gentleman's benefit, I would make a distinction between hidden ongoing subsidies or even overt ongoing subsidies and the necessary deal which has to be struck to end the tyranny of state ownership of a loss-making public corporation. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the acquisition of MBB by Daimler-Benz, which involved the privatisation of a loss-making German nationalised industry. The hon. Gentleman will discover that there, too, a deal had to be struck which was well worth it in the interests of the taxpayer to get rid of that loss-maker.

Mr. Oppenheim

Are not the Opposition guilty of trying to have it both ways on this? If the Government had tried to sell the Rover Group to the highest bidder, we would have been accused of putting the group up for a free for all instead of looking after the interests of that company. That is precisely the accusation which the Labour party levelled against us in 1976 when we tried to sell the Rover Group.

Mr. Ridley

I well remember the extraordinary commotion on the Opposition Benches when it seemed possible that the Ford Motor Company might try to buy Rover. That was not a very propitious curtain-raiser for a possible public auction of that company.