HC Deb 09 December 1999 vol 340 cc983-4
11. Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

What research he has undertaken into the prospects for a successful manufacturing sector in the knowledge-driven economy. [100535]

The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

Last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry published "Manufacturing in the Knowledge Driven Economy", which celebrates the success of some of our leading manufacturing companies and sets out our strategy for further increasing the competitiveness and productivity of our manufacturing industry.

Mr. Reed

I thank the Minister for that reply and for the Government's commitment to manufacturing industry, perhaps particularly to the textile sector. Does she acknowledge that a knowledge-based economy and manufacturing are not opposites, but that development of such an economy is the only way in which British manufacturing will be able to survive?

Does the Minister also recognise the severe problems facing the textile sector? When the report is produced next week, will she consider ways of ensuring that—particularly in Leicestershire, where the textile sector is suffering because of the changes that Marks and Spencer is making in its sourcing policies—those textile jobs are protected for the future? Does she also acknowledge that successful companies such as Datalink—which will open tomorrow in my constituency—are examples of manufacturing companies that invest in the knowledge-based economy?

Ms Hewitt

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I look forward to visiting his constituency tomorrow and opening Datalink Electronics. However, as an east midlands Member of Parliament, I also share his concern about conditions in the textile industry. Recently, I visited Richard Roberts, whose headquarters is in my constituency and who is directly affected by the decision at Marks and Spencer.

As my hon. Friend said, next week we shall receive the draft report of the textiles industry strategy group. I look forward to discussing with employers and unions how we can further support the textile industry in making the necessary investments to ensure that it remains competitive in an increasingly competitive market.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Further to the truly risible response earlier to my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), does the Minister agree that crucial to the future success of the manufacturing sector in a knowledge-driven economy is a light-touch regulatory environment? To that end, will the hon. Lady tell us what assessment she has made of the American model, in the form of the Regulatory Flexibility Act 1980 and of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act 1996, and will she immediately announce the conclusions of her assessment—or is she just another part-time Minister?

Ms Hewitt

I understand that the hon. Gentleman's favourite word, at least for this week, is "risible", and I have no doubt that he will be able to explain why. I also know that he is a great fan of sunset clauses, and therefore hope that he will welcome the fact that I have included a sunset clause in the Electronic Communications Bill, which recently received its Second Reading. The new small business service which I am in the process of establishing will have a particular responsibility for helping to streamline United Kingdom regulations and for ensuring that burdens on small businesses are kept to the necessary minimum.