HC Deb 05 June 1991 vol 192 cc269-71
11. Mr. Cummings

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he last met representatives of the European Commission to discuss industrial policy.

Mr. Lilley

I met representatives of the Commission at the ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris yesterday and we discussed various issues related to trade and industry.

Mr. Cummings

Has the Minister recently considered the vast differences between the aid given to respective countries within the EC for research and development? Is it not rather foolish for us to be out of step with our competitors? Does he agree with the Prime Minister's constituent, Mr. Bill Abbotts, whose machine tool company is having real problems because of the Government's economic policies, that there really is nothing wrong with the country, only with its daft policies?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. In Britain, a higher proportion of research and development is financed by the Government than in most other countries and our research and development on civil matters financed by the Government is a slightly higher proportion of GDP than that financed by the Japanese Government. But the most successful research and development is often that carried out by private companies in a competitive environment because it is competition which stimulates innovation and growth and it is on that that we most rely. It is significant that during the last decade, when we returned to a competitive environment, for the first time for more than a century in peace time the British economy grew faster than that of France and Germany.

Sir Anthony Durant

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the CBI's new report "Competing in the New Europe" endorses the Government's policies on inflation, industrial relations and competition?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only that, but it condemns the Opposition's policies. It says that they are not wanted by industry, and it is right. When I go round the country, the Labour party is condemned because it has no strategy for defeating inflation. The country does not want to return to intervention, subsidies, controls and penal taxation with the trade unions back in the driving seat.

Ms. Quin

Would the Secretary of State care to explain to his European counterparts some of the crazy industrial policy decisions that the Government have taken? For example, can he defend the scandal of the closure of the Sunderland shipyards recently highlighted by "Panorama", the failure to support shipbuilding orders at Appledore shipbuilders in Devon or the failure to allow bidders for Ravenscraig to put forward their proposals? Is it not the case that far from the Opposition running down industry, it is the Government who are intent on closing facilities and turning away orders?

Mr. Lilley

That is absolute nonsense. Most of the policies to which the hon. Lady refers had a European dimension and we were acting within the constraints imposed by the European Commission and European law. I know that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) finds that distasteful, but none the less it is a fact. What I do find, and what I found yesterday at the OECD, is complete amazement that there still exists one country in Europe with a party which still believes in socialism, and it is not east of the iron curtain, it is there on the Opposition Benches.

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