HC Deb 22 January 2004 vol 416 cc1463-4
8. Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab)

What plans she has to reduce the regulatory burdens on British manufacturing companies to enable them to compete successfully for Government contracts. [149738]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

The Government are committed to British manufacturing and in particular to helping British manufacturers to compete successfully for public procurement. That is why, in the pre-Budget report, we set out what we are doing on public procurement, including making sure that British businesses can compete on a level playing field in Europe.

Mr. Foster

First, on behalf of the 3,000 workers at GUS Home Shopping in Worcester, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the announcement she made earlier. Does she agree that it is about time we got businesses, trade unions and other interested parties together to take forward the procurement agenda that is in the best interests of UK manufacturers?

Ms Hewitt

I thank my hon. Friend for his first point. On the second point, I entirely agree. I very much welcome the fact that the CBI and the TUC have been working together and working with Government on the crucial issue of public procurement. We put in place in 2002 a new defence industrial policy, which was the context for the decision to award the contract for Hawk. That was hugely important in securing jobs in many parts of our country. Last September I brought together a number of the unions and business, the Office of Government Commerce and other Departments to focus on that, and since then we have done a great deal more to make sure that our manufacturers are working closely with Government Departments responsible for procurement worth £109 billion a year. We need to make sure that our businesses are geared up to win those competitions and create more jobs here in Britain.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con)

At a time when manufacturing profitability in the latest quarter is a miserable 7 per cent. and investment in manufacturing is at very low levels, does the right hon. Lady accept that the awarding of Government contracts is extremely important? Does she further agree that it would be a disaster for British manufacturing competing for overseas Government contracts if Export Credits Guarantee Department cover were withdrawn from defence contracts, as the Liberal Democrats propose?

Ms Hewitt

I am very happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman on that last point. The Export Credits Guarantee Department has a very important role to play in supporting British manufacturers and other exporters in a number of different world markets. I am glad to say that we have recently appointed a new chairman of the board of the ECGD, and we are in the process of recruiting a new chief executive. I have no doubt that the ECGD will go from strength to strength in supporting aerospace and other parts of British manufacturing.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that her department will continue to examine ways of reducing burdens by using the regulatory reform procedure? Here I refer to the Regulatory Reform Committee, which I chair. Is she not surprised that Conservative Members put in almost zero attendance? They are very rarely seen in the Committee.

May I, on behalf of the 800 workers at GUS/Reality in Burnley, welcome the announcement that my right hon. Friend made earlier?

Ms Hewitt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and thank him in turn for his work on the Committee responsible for regulatory reform orders. They are a very important part of the reforms that we have put in place to simplify some of the out-of-date regulation that we inherited. I share my hon. Friend's surprise and disappointment that Opposition Members are not doing more to contribute to that work.

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