HC Deb 22 June 1994 vol 245 cc218-9
2. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next proposes to meet representatives from the Confederation of British Industry to discuss industrial prospects.

The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

My right hon. Friend maintains close contact with the CBI on a wide range of issues, including the prospects of UK industry.

Mr. Arnold

Bearing in mind recent reports that British industry's confidence is now at a five-year high and that the British economy is growing faster than any other in the European Community, is not it tragic that, at this moment, our lines of distribution and supply should be disrupted by the selfish behaviour of the rail union?

Mr. Eggar

I agree with my hon. Friend. The rail strike is bad for business, bad for employees, a number of whom are losing wages because they cannot get to work, and bad for Britain's image overseas. What contributes to all that is the obfuscation of the Opposition, who are not prepared to condemn irresponsible action by trade unions.

Mr. Hardy

In the discussions, did the Minister deal with the problem of industries, such as the engineering and steel industry, which face grossly unfair competition from our European partners? If so, will he tell the House what he told them? What urgent action is being taken to remedy that unsatisfactory position?

Mr. Eggar

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has discussed that issue with leaders of industry and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry is now discussing it in the European Union.

Mr. Sykes

Does my hon. Friend agree that British prospects are immeasurably enhanced by the competitiveness of British industry today? Will he remark on the prospects for competitiveness in the rail industry as a result of today's strike? While he is about it, will he try to find out what the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) thinks about today's rail strike?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is a belated moderniser within the Labour party. He seems to mix up obfuscation with modernisation.

Mr. Cousins

Let me take that question off on a different track. Now that the aims of clause 4 have been achieved and every British company has majority shareholdings which are common owners, does the Minister agree with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that the relationship between those common owners and the people responsible for running industry is not the right one on which to secure a long-term basis for investment and finance?

Mr. Eggar

That question may make sense within the arcane intricacies of the Labour party's leadership contest and the various complications with regard to whether the modernising arm or acting leader of the Labour party wishes to do away with clause 4, but it makes no sense to the rest of the House or to the country.

Mr. Butcher

I welcome Britain's almost unique position in Europe and its industrial prospects. Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why world stock markets have been falling is the growing realisation that there is a worldwide shortage of capital because Governments are syphoning off too much money to fund their deficits? Given the excellent work that his Department has done on competitiveness, would we not have a conspicuous competitive edge if we were to provide the most attractive taxation regime for capital taxation in the western hemisphere? Will he champion that cause?

Mr. Eggar

I agree that Government deficits are bound to influence worldwide interest rates. I have taken careful note of my hon. Friend's preference on capital taxation and shall ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor is aware of what he said.