HC Deb 15 February 1989 vol 147 cc299-300
3. Mr. Macdonald

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proposals he has to ensure that regions other than London and the south-east benefit from the European internal market after 1992.

Mr. Maude

The completion of the single European market by the end of 1992 will affect all regions, directly or indirectly. Our Europe-Open for Business campaign is therefore aimed at encouraging all firms, wherever they are located, to take action now to ensure that they benefit from the opportunities that the single market will bring.

Mr. Macdonald

Does the Minister agree that the loss to a Dutch fabrication yard of a British Aerospace order worth £10 million, to construct six platforms in the North sea as part of an air combat training facility, is an absolute disgrace when fabrication yards in the regions, and especially in my constituency, are crying out for such orders? Does the Minister agree that that shows that the Government have done nothing to prepare Britain for the single European market? Will he undertake to consult his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and ensure that they will not make any commitment to utilise that British Aerospace facility until they have had the time to discuss in detail with British Aerospace how elements of that order may still be subcontracted to British yards?

Mr. Maude

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I am aware of his local concern in this matter. However, this is a decision for British Aerospace to take in the context of the most competitive and suitable tender offered. It is not for the Government to comment or interfere in the commercial decisions of companies. As I understand it, the contract was put out to tender and, in the ordinary commercial way, the best tender was accepted.

Mr. William Powell

Does not the prospect of completion of the internal market by 1992 offer a powerful incentive for inward investment into the Community from third countries? Does my hon. Friend agree that half the current inward investment in the Community is in Britain and that that is having a powerful stimulus on the economic growth of the regions of our country?

Mr. Maude

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There is a great deal of investment from overseas companies in the United Kingdom, partly for reasons connected with Europe, but principally because the United Kingdom is now the most hospitable and one of the most successful environments for manufacturing business.

Mr. John Garrett

Is it not the case that so far we have not done very well out of Europe, but Europe has done very well out of Britain? Does the Minister agree that official EEC statistics show that after 1992 manufacturing will decline in Britain in nearly every sector and that our manufacturing regions will lose out? Does he also agree that the Secretary of State's recent inept briefing of journalists showed that the Government had not taken on board the regional implications of 1992?

Mr. Maude

The hon. Gentleman could scarcely be more wrong. Britain has done and is doing extremely well in Europe, and will continue to do so because manufacturing industry is now more competitive, more profitable and has a sharper competitive edge than at any time for a generation.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Does my hon. Friend agree that, far from the south-east alone benefiting from 1992, the areas that will benefit most are those areas such as the west midlands where unemployment is falling fastest, manufacturing investment is growing fast and infrastructure investments, such as the national convention centre, are taking place, and which attract nearly one third of manufacturing investment from overseas?

Mr. Maude

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the considerable amounts of investment taking place in the west midlands, in which both he and I have a close constituency interest. The benefits of this massive investment boom are being felt in every part of the United Kingdom, and he is right to draw attention to that as well.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister not understand the concern in the north-west that the south-east, which already has a bloated and overheated economy, will be the beneficiary of 1992? Well he therefore do everything possible to support the north-west regional TUC and the Merseyside chamber of commerce proposals for the Landbridge development so that the north-west may take advantage of the internal market when it is created?

Mr. Maude

I understand the concerns that are expressed, but I believe that they are mistaken. I visited Merseyside not long ago and was most encouraged by the great and widespread optimism there. The optimism and confidence coming from increased prosperity, increased investment and increased economic growth are by no means limited to London and the south-east. They are spread throughout the country. Landbridge is not a matter for me directly, but I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I shall pass on his concerns.