HC Deb 03 July 1991 vol 194 cc313-4
15. Mr. McMaster

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he next expects to meet his European counterparts in the EC Industry Council to discuss support for manufacturing industry.

Mr. Redwood

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Technology will be attending the meeting of the Industry Council on 18 November. The agenda for this meeting has not yet been fixed.

Mr. McMaster

Will the Minister explain to his European counterparts why, at this time of huge trade deficit, the Government provide less support to British exporters, especially in terms of export credits, than many other European countries provide for their exporters? Is he prepared to sit back, to watch that happening and to let our trading position get worse and worse, or will he do something to help British exporters?

Mr. Redwood

As the hon. Gentleman should know, Britain's trade position has been improving over the past year. Exports have been rising and have been at record levels in many sectors in recent months. That is welcome. There is a comprehensive series of services to exporters from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Export Credits Guarantee Department. My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is active in promoting the interests of all our exporters.

Mr. Forman

In all future meetings with his EC counterparts, will my hon. Friend the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State take steps to ensure that the things that deserve protection in Britain are protected? I am thinking of the valiant stance that has already been taken to safeguard the mile, the acre and the pint.

Mr. Redwood

Willingly I pledge that. I assure the House that Ministers in the DTI are extremely keen to stand up for British interests in the EC and we do so regularly.

Dr. Moonie

One subject that does not appear to have exercised the Minister's mind in his discussions with his European counterparts is the Scottish steel industry. Given that he has had the report of the Select Committee for several months, given that he has done nothing in that time and given his refusal to meet hon. Members whose constituencies are affected by the closures, will he tell the House how many lost jobs in the steel industry in Scotland are acceptable to him? What does the "Department of Enterprise" intend to do about it?

Mr. Redwood

I do not like the loss of any jobs, but I want a competitive and vigorous industry, run by people who know what they are doing—the managers and directors of that business. There will be an opportunity to discuss that issue in the House later this week when I am sure that hon. Members will be able to put their points more clearly.

Mr. Tim Smith

When my hon. Friend meets his counterparts in the Industry Council, will he make it clear that the support that the French Government have given to their nationalised industries is totally unacceptable? Is not it time that we had an EC directive on privatisation, requiring countries to denationalise companies that have no place in the public sector?

Mr. Redwood

That is a delightful idea, but there might be a few difficulties in negotiating it with some of our partners. As to subsidies and state involvement in nationalised industries, and the pursuit of anti-competitive practices, of course the Government regularly take up those matters with the Commission. There is an active Commissioner in Brussels who is exercised about those concerns. Indeed, recent cases have raised the issue of French intervention and subsidy for industry. The French Government are finding that some of their practices are not legal under the treaty and are being asked to roll them back.