HC Deb 12 July 1995 vol 263 c944
16. Mr. Gapes

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to improve the international competitiveness of British industry. [32136]

Mr. Lang

The wide range of measures that the Government are taking to promote the competitiveness of UK industry at home and abroad is set out in the recent White Paper, "Competitiveness: Forging Ahead", which has been so well received by industry.

Mr. Gapes

Given the international weakness of the pound and of the British economy, and the fact that this country's growth is the lowest in the G7 and the second lowest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, does the President of the Board of Trade agree that, if we were to stay out of a single European currency, massive speculation would take place against the pound, necessitating an increase in interest rates?

Mr. Lang

I wonder whether all the hon. Gentleman's colleagues and hon. Friends agree with him in that sentiment, but I wish he and his hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches would desist from talking down the British economy, which is one of the best performing economies in the industrialised world. Since his party left office in 1979, exports have risen by over 90 per cent. thanks in large measure to the remarkable efforts of the former Minister for Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham). On inward investment and mobile projects, this country has attracted more manufacturing projects than Germany and France combined.

Mr. Batiste

Given the importance of science and technology to industrial competitiveness, and the new functions of my right hon. Friend's Department, can he confirm that the functions of the Office of Science and Technology will be ring-fenced within his Department and that it will continue its strategic overview of Government research and development conducted across the board?

Mr. Lang

I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend that, by placing responsibility for these matters entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor), who will be the Minister with responsibility for science and technology, I am clearly signalling the specific and separate importance that I attach to science in its own right and as an adjunct to the Department of Trade and Industry, where so much benefit can be derived for industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) will be reassured when we are able to let him have more details on the future of the Office of Science and Technology, the technology foresight programme and other projects with which the Government are associated. I think that he will find that his answer is satisfactory.