HC Deb 01 November 1989 vol 159 cc303-5
3. Mr. Bill Michie

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he next plans to meet his EEC counterparts; and what matters will be discussed.

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

I intend to maintain close contact with all my European Community counterparts, and a whole range of matters will be discussed.

Mr. Michie

When the Secretary of State meets his EC counterparts, will he be communicating the views of the Prime Minister or those of the deputy Prime Minister on Britain's entry into the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system?

Mr. Ridley

I firmly believe—as, I think, do both my right hon. Friends to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred—that the right position is the one enunciated at the Madrid summit.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

I do not think that my right hon. Friend has any counterpart in the European Community —he is unique. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I mean that in a nice way. When my right hon. Friend meets his colleagues in the European Community, does he discuss with them the Labour party's plans for an industrial investment bank to make dud investments with unlimited supplies of subsidy from taxpayers in this country, and does he think that those plans would meet with the European Commission's approval?

Mr. Ridley

As always, my hon. Friend is right in all that he has said. The industrial development bank proposed by the Labour party would, I am convinced, be entirely against the spirit of the single market and the state aid rules of the Community. Indeed, now that we have an efficient industry which is not subsidised, one of the greatest disabilites of British industry is caused by the behaviour of European countries which continue to subsidise their industries, distorting the competition and costing British firms jobs when they do not win contracts. The policy of competitive subsidisation to which the Labour party tends to seek to return would spell absolute disaster for the health of British industry.

Mr. Ron Brown

Although, for obvious reasons, I disagree with the EEC, will the Secretary of State make it clear to his counterparts in Europe that he and the Government believe that it is in the public interest that public ownership of Ferranti should be supported, preferably with workers' control? Is not that an extension of democracy for which he and others must argue?

Mr. Ridley

As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), nationalised industries in competitive environments which make losses and then recoup them from the taxpayer are a great device for avoiding fair competition. That device, which the hon. Gentleman advocates, is costing us jobs and orders and is damaging the British economy.

Mr. Grylls

Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to reinforce the message to our EEC partners that the British Government take a dim view of the social charter put forward by the EEC, that British business on the whole regards it as a disaster, that Britain has created 2.5 million additional jobs in the past 10 years by deregulating and operating free markets and that we do not intend to reverse that trend?

Mr. Ridley

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but I could not do nearly as well as he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment did when they attended the relevant council. My right hon. Friend's rebuttal of the principles of the social charter won the argument but, I am afraid, not the vote.

Mr. Gould

Where does the Secretary of State stand on the vexed question of our membership of the exchange rate mechanism? I hope that he will not hide his light under a bushel. Why can he not tell us whether he agrees with the Prime Minister that, "You cannot buck the markets" or whether he supports the view of the deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and the CBI that we should join straight away? Could it be that, as on so many other issues, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry shies away from responsibility and has no view whatever?

Mr. Ridley

On the contrary, I take full responsibility for my view, which is that the principles put forward in the Madrid summit are correct and the whole Government agree with them.

Mr. Gow

Will my right hon. Friend cause to be translated into many languages the transcript of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's interview with Mr. Brian Walden on Sunday? Will he then cause it to be circulated to everyone in Europe, particularly those involved in the ERM?

Mr. Ridley

I shall be happy to bring that suggestion to my right hon. Friend's attention, but I must point out that I have some responsibility in the matter. Until broadcasting is liberalised in the Community, the transcript may not reach all the parts thereof.