HC Deb 22 June 1994 vol 245 cc229-30
14. Mr. Bellingham

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what recent initiatives he has brought in to encourage more competition.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

The White Paper on competitiveness reaffirmed the Government's commitment to maintaining competition and introducing it into new areas wherever possible.

Mr. Bellingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that although part of our future lies in Europe, much of it lies in the Pacific basin, Latin America and South Africa? Those are the areas from which competition will come. If we are to compete with those emerging markets, would it not be disastrous if Brussels allowed the social charter into this country by the back door? Does my hon. Friend agree that some key directives should be renegotiated as soon as possible?

Mr. Hamilton

I entirely agree. As the internal market Minister, I miss no opportunity in the Council of Ministers to put those points to our partners. In recent years, Europe has clearly exported jobs to other parts of the world outside the Community, including those that my hon. Friend named. It is vital that all European countries grasp the nettle of improving competitiveness. On-costs for employers in the United Kingdom are 25 per cent. lower than in Germany, which is a matter of increasing concern to the German Government.

Mr. Flynn

Does the Minister agree that the competitiveness of British industry has been aided greatly by the efficiency improvements at Companies House and the Patent Office, which have been supported enthusiastically by the trade unions at those two agencies? Will the Minister deny a scurrilous report in The Guardian today suggesting that the President of the Board of Trade said that the trade unions at those two agencies are always against change? Will the Minister confirm that the President of the Board of Trade would never make a statement so insensitive, so untrue and so stupid?

Mr. Hamilton

Denying a scurrilous report in The Guardian would be an act of supererogation on my part. However, I can certainly confirm that efficiency has improved greatly at Companies House under this Government and we look forward to future efficiency gains as well.

Mr. Gallie

Has my hon. Friend seen a recent Scottish engineering report which shows that output volumes are up, capacity utilisation is up, recruitment is up and orders are up? Does that not suggest that Scottish engineering is competitive and is it not welcome news which Opposition Members would rather deny than proclaim?

Mr. Hamilton

I have not seen the report, but I have just heard it.

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