HC Deb 04 November 1992 vol 213 cc268-70
5. Mr. Pike

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what new initiatives he now proposes to introduce to increase diversification in those industries losing work as a result of the reduction in demand for armaments.

Mr. Heseltine

The Government believe that decisions about diversification are essentially matters for companies themselves. Nevertheless, they encourage such diversification—for example, through their regional seminars, which have drawn attention to Government assistance and to opportunities in other markets.

Mr. Pike

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that both the management and the work force in industries that are heavily dependent on defence-oriented products —which is very much the case in the north-west and Lancashire—will be concerned about his answer? Is he aware that they believe that he and the Government have a duty to help diversification and to ensure that the industries and the skills of the work force are preserved within civil manufacture? Should not those jobs be secured to preserve the nation's manufacturing industry?

Mr. Heseltine

The House has rarely heard such hypocrisy from a member of the Opposition, who in the 1980s threatened to close one third of our defence industries to pander to nuclear disarmers and mobs on the street.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that less diversification would be needed if we in this country did not open our contracts to tender to those European countries that do not reciprocate with our arms industries? May I ask my right hon. Friend when he believes that the single market will be implemented and policed in every member state? Is not that the way forward to a better Europe for trading?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for her continuing interest in these matters. I hope that she will feel able to support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Lobby tonight in his determination to achieve more effective policing of the European Community.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Does the President of the Board of Trade accept that his first answer was unsatisfactory? Does he accept that more than half of Britain's research and development industry is in the aerospace and defence sectors, which are being savagely cut? Organising regional seminars will not ensure that Britain leads the way in technology in either the single European market or world markets. Does he not need to do more to ensure that we diversify our high-tech industries?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman displays a remarkable naivety. No companies are coming to my Department to ask my civil servants for advice on how to run their businesses. Diversification will take place in British industry as a result of the entrepreneurial skills of industry managers, and no one else.

Mr. Sykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree with voters in Scarborough and Whitby who say that the social chapter would suffocate jobs and enterprise?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has hit a bull's eye. It is precisely because the Labour party wishes to enshrine the social chapter in the Maastricht treaty that it would impose intolerable costs, willy-nilly, on British industry.

Mr. Byers

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that Swan Hunter Shipbuilders on Tyneside wishes to diversify into the merchant shipbuilding sector but, in so doing, will be in direct competition with German shipyards that presently receive a 36 per cent. subsidy from the European Commission? In the light of that, will the President agree to make intervention funding available? Will he also consider using the provisions of article 4.5 of the seventh shipbuilding directive to protect Swan Hunter from unfair competition? Does he accept that Government action is essential if we are to win those orders and keep jobs on Tyneside?

Mr. Heseltine

I have great sympathy with the difficult position of the Swan Hunter company, which we have considered carefully. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, that grant mechanism was denied to the warship builders as a consequence of arrangements provided for merchant shipbuilders, not warship builders. It is not intended that we should widen the arrangement. There are understandings that preclude the east Germans from competing unfairly with British shipyard products.

Mr. Tracey

Will my right hon. Friend lend his support to the case of training and enterprise councils, particularly the TEC for my district of Kingston and south-west London, which is battling to provide jobs for British Aerospace workers who have been made redundant or are in danger of losing their jobs because of the loss of the Harrier?

Mr. Heseltine

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The role of the TECs is widely admired. I share responsibility for the TECs with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I hope to make further announcements in the near future about the positive opportunities for TECs.

Mr. Cousins

Does the President accept that his seminars were held many months ago and 250,000 workers in aerospace, shipbuilding, electronics and engineering are still waiting for a response? If not, can he simply confirm that he has drawn no conclusions, formed no policy, taken no action and his cupboard is bare?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman is ill-informed. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry attended such a seminar in the north-east only 10 days ago. The companies know full well that civil servants in the Department of Trade and Industry do not and should not have the skills to explain to British management how to diversify product range. That is a management responsibility, which we should not blur.

Mr. Gallie

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the 500 extra jobs that have been created by British Aerospace at Prestwick? Will he also take note of a letter that has been circulated today by the chief executive of British Aerospace urging that the Maastricht treaty must be progressed? Will he join me in urging Opposition Members from Ayrshire to vote with us in the Lobby tonight in support of the chief executive of British Aerospace?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend makes an impassioned plea, but I have never seen the Labour party vote in the interests of British industry one way or another.

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