HC Deb 17 February 1993 vol 219 cc312-3
11. Ms. Coffey

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to meet the Association of British Chambers of Commerce to outline his industrial strategy.

Mr. Heseltine

I and my officials regularly meet the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. We share the same interests in providing quality service to business. The association has involved my Department closely in the progress of its five-year development plan, and we are also working together on my one-stop shops initiative.

Ms. Coffey

I wonder whether the President of the Board of Trade is aware of increasing concern about the disadvantages faced by British businesses—small, medium and large—in competing against industries from other countries for export contracts, because of higher levels of support given by their Governments? That support is shown in a variety of ways. What proposals does the right hon. Gentleman have to rectify the situation for the benefit of British business?

Mr. Heseltine

It is extraordinary that, at every Question Time, Opposition Members seek to misrepresent the achievements of British industry in the export market. The hon. Lady' s question is simply not compatible with the fact that exports of manufactured goods, excluding erratics, are now at a record level–5 per cent. higher than in the last quarter, and 6.5 per cent. higher than a year ago. Why cannot the Labour party say how well Britain is doing, rather than run it down?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend accept that I have considerable sympathy with the views that have just been expressed by the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms. Coffey), who, with me, is a panel member of the new manufacturing and construction industries alliance, which is to be launched in just under a fortnight's time on 2 March? Does not my right hon. Friend accept that the national chambers of commerce believe that the country needs a new strategy to regenerate our manufacturing base? Will he therefore continue to advance the interests of this sector, which generates the only non-inflationary growth—the type of growth that this country needs?

Mr. Heseltine

I have come increasingly to recognise that my hon. Friend often finds himself in agreement with the views expressed by Opposition Members. I notice that, in his support for our manufacturing base, he seems to be prepared to vote more often against than with the Government whom he was elected to support.

Mr. Robin Cook

Why does not the President of the Board of Trade admit that his response to the collapse of DAF has shown up his lack of industrial strategy and the contrast with the industrial strategies of the countries of Europe? Is he aware that the Dutch and Belgian Governments are actively intervening to save jobs in their countries by agreeing to invest in the factories there? Can he explain why, when I met the Dutch Minister for Finance as recently as last week, there had been no ministerial contact from Britain in the nine weeks during which the Dutch had been working on a rescue package? Does not he understand that if Leyland DAF goes down, it will take with it scores of suppliers and thousands of skilled jobs? Cannot he see that if he does not even talk to the Dutch Government he will make it more likely that the axe will fall on British jobs?

Mr. Heseltine

Last week the hon. Gentleman was trying to undermine the British banks; now he is undermining the credibility of what the British Government are doing in these circumstances. He must know full well that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has been in touch with his opposite number in the Dutch Government. He must know that we are in constant touch with the receiver and that we have kept in touch with the banks involved. If he searches his conscience he will find that he is aware that the best way to save parts of Leyland DAF is to give all possible support to the receiver, who is trying to do exactly that.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Is it part of my right hon. Friend's industrial strategy to put an end to the iniquitous Arab trade boycott? If so, can he explain to the House why he did not raise that very important matter at his important meeting yesterday with the Middle East Association?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. and learned Friend will realise, from his knowledge of the issue, that it is extremely complex and controversial. It is a matter of which the British Government are very conscious, but I did not think that it would be appropriate to bring it up in my speech yesterday.