HC Deb 22 June 1994 vol 245 cc230-2
16. Mr. Kynoch

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next proposes to meet the Institute of Directors to discuss industrial competitiveness.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

I maintain close contact with the Institute of Directors and discuss a wide range of issues, including industrial competitiveness.

Mr. Kynoch

Does my hon. Friend agree that British industry needs a stable economy with low interest rates, low inflation and a stable currency, particularly for exporting, alongside a flexible labour market? Does he further agree that the proposal to reintroduce secondary picketing or to sign up to the social chapter, as proposed by Labour Front-Bench Members in their fight to gain leadership of their party, would be a total disaster for the competitiveness of British industry?

Mr. Hamilton

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Certainly, one of the greatest advantages that British industry has derived from the Conservative Government in the past 15 years is the vastly improved state of industrial relations which has been the essential concomitant of the legislation that we have put through the House. We have better industrial relations figures today than at any time since the 1870s, but in many respects it is the 1870s to which the Labour party wishes to return in terms of legislation on industrial relations and trade unions.

Mr. Dalyell

As a Scot and a guinea pig for the poll tax, now that directors in Scotland say that they are horrified at the costs of local government reform which are coming through to them, what discussions have the Government had with directors and industrialists in England about their proposals for English local government reform? Let them be warned by what happened on the poll tax.

Mr. Hamilton

I think that the hon. Gentleman is labouring under the illusion that I am an Environment Minister.

Sir Michael Grylls

When does my hon. Friend expect to see completion of the internal market for telecommunications, gas and electricity? Britain could do extremely well if those markets were freed up.

Mr. Hamilton

That is one of the items at the top of our agenda in the European Community. At the Internal Market Council in Luxembourg last week, I participated in discussions which aimed to open up those markets. As my hon. Friend says, they offer huge opportunities for British business and we are well placed to take advantage of them; all that we need is the opportunity. I am pleased to say that this is one of the instances in which we and the Commission are at one.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the ludicrous nature of the Minister's reply, I wish to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Madam Speaker

As it was not the hon. Gentleman's substantive question, I cannot accept that point of order.

17. Ms Armstrong

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has received following the publication of his White Paper on competitiveness.

Mr. McLoughlin

The White Paper on competitiveness has been well received by a wide range of companies and trade associations.

Ms Armstrong

Is not the Minister expressing some complacency today, given yesterday's figures which show that the trade deficit between this country and countries outside the EC has doubled? Does that not demonstrate that the Government's policies of pushing skills down, opting for a low-skill economy and going from—[Interruption.] I wish to goodness that Conservative Members would tell the truth. A low-skill economy is not the way to make this country properly competitive. Does the Minister agree that we need a highly skilled work force to ensure that we really can compete effectively?

Mr. McLoughlin

The hon. Lady says that she wishes that Conservative Members would reflect more truthfully what is going on. The hon. Lady has not reflected very well what is going on. This country has been exceedingly successful in attracting huge inward investment which is providing jobs—jobs which have also gone to the north-east. I should have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome that. [Interruption.] Apparently if it is not going to her constituency it does not matter—it is irrelevant. We are seeing huge inward investment into this country. If the hon. Lady's constituency cannot attract it, perhaps she should ask what her local authority is doing.

Mr. Jenkin

Does my hon. Friend think that a single European currency would make Britain more competitive, given that a single European currency as proposed by the Commission would require consequential increases in Community expenditure in terms of transfer payments between the richer and the poorer member states? As we have already learnt that a single monetary policy, as implemented through the exchange rate mechanism, made Britain uncompetitive, does my hon. Friend agree that a single currency would make Britain less competitive rather than more competitive?

Mr. McLoughlin

Not surprisingly, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in saying that the time to discuss that matter is when it is a proposition or even, possibly, a reality.