HC Deb 14 February 1990 vol 167 cc257-9
12. Mr. Snape

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what response he will be making to the report produced for the European Commission by the university of Louvain with respect to its assessment of the United Kingdom's technological standards; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the nature of the report. The Government are well aware of the challenge of 1992, and we have policies in place to help firms in all regions to rise to it.

Mr. Snape

I thought that it was for the Opposition to ask supplementary questions. Does the Minister agree that the report places the United Kingdom, with Spain, at the bottom of the technology and training league? Does he agree that any further reduction in the industry budget will make it even less likely that the regions, particularly the west midlands, will be able to recover from the collapse of manufacturing industry brought about by the Government's disastrous policies?

Mr. Hogg

As might be expected, I have two pieces of good news for the hon. Gentleman. First, as regards technology, the hon. Gentleman will be very pleased to know that between 1983 and 1987 research and development investment in the United Kingdom rose by 27 per cent. in real terms. Secondly, the main lesson to be learnt from the report is the need to diversify the economies of traditional industrial regions, such as South Yorkshire. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have been pursuing that policy vigorously—often, I may say, opposed by the Labour party—and we have achieved very considerable success with it.

Mr. Dykes

As the Right-wing economic ideologues in this country persist in saying that we misunderstand Germany—which, apparently, is bureaucratic, overregulated, subsidised, corporatist and inefficient—could we send a DTI task force to Germany to acquire some of its bad habits?

Mr. Hogg

In many respects we could give the Germans some very good lessons indeed. For instance, we could give them a lesson in how to reduce unemployment in areas that have suffered economic deprivation. The House will be pleased to know, for a start, that the rate of unemployment in this country is now two thirds of the European Community average. To take Sheffield as an example, in December 1989 the rate of unemployment there was 9.6 per cent., whereas in March 1986 it was 16 per cent. That is a remarkable transformation, and it is due to this Government's policies—not those of the German Government.

Mr. Caborn

It seems as though there are two Louvain reports—the one that the Government have read, and the one that other people have read. Looking to the competition that there will be in 1992, the report shows clearly that there are major structural weaknesses in the regions of the United Kingdom. Will the Minister re-read the report and consider the first survey of state aid in the European Community? He will see that the average investment per head in manufacturing industry, apart from steel and shipbuilding, is £1,050. The United Kingdom comes at the bottom of the league with £448 and the Germans are well ahead. As for investment in research and development, training and infrastructure, the Louvain report shows clearly that that is where we are weakest.

Mr. Hogg

It would help if the hon. Gentleman were a little more candid. He has not read the report. It is in French and the hon. Gentleman does not read French.

Mr. Donald Thompson

Has my hon. Friend read the British textile industry's report? Is he aware that that industry, which is worried about training in this country, sent a delegation to Germany where it found that training in the German textile industry is inefficient, expensive, out of date and no good at all for young people or re-entrants?

Mr. Hogg

I am very well aware of the German textile industry's shortcomings. More broadly speaking, we think—and most sensible people also think—that the textile industry must be brought back within the general agreement on tariffs and trade. That is the only sensible way forward. The proper way forward for the textile industry is to focus on products that add value to what the industry is already doing.

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