(No. 2) Bill--
Order for Third Reading read.
Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.
Read the Third time, and passed.
[Lords] Read the Third time and passed, with amendments.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Edward Leigh) : The average monthly output of tinplate in the first five months of 1990 was 72,000 tonnes. All British production of tinplate is based in Wales.
Mr. Wigley : The Minister will be aware of the importance to Wales of the tinplate industry, which in its heyday employed some 7,000 people. In view of the loss of jobs at Velindre, will he give an assurance that there is now certainty for the future of that industry? As £120 million worth of tinplate is to be imported into Britain this year, will the Minister examine the matter to see how we can maximise our own output and the jobs that depend on it?
Mr. Leigh : As the hon. Gentleman may know, there has been a very gradual decline in the production of tinplate due to competition from aluminium. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's other question, now that British Steel is privatised, profitable and successful, I do not think that it is down to a Department of Trade and Industry Minister to comment in detail on the company's commercial operations and I have no intention of doing so.
Mr. Quentin Davies : Does my hon. Friend agree that British Steel is already one of the most positive examples of the benefits of privatisation? In 1979-80 it lost £1.7 billion, but in the past year it made a profit of £700 million. That example is being followed with interest throughout the world and one can only hope that it will be followed with interest and understanding by Opposition Members.
Mr. Leigh : I fear that my hon. Friend will receive no reassurance from Opposition Members, who still seem not to accept the benefits that have accrued to British Steel as a result of privatisation. The whole world knows that we have one of the most successful and profitable steel companies in the world and we at the DTI intend to leave it well alone.
Dr. Reid : Would the Minister like to make that claim to the 370 employees at the Ravenscraig hot strip mill who lost their jobs last week, the 400 workers at Ravenscraig who will lose their jobs at the end of the month, the 1,200 people at the Clydesdale tube works who face the sack within the next three months or the 3,500 and the rest at Ravenscraig and the 2,000 connected with them who are liable to lose their jobs? How can he possibly regard a company that throws away the most productive steel plant in Britain and, indeed, in Europe as a shining example to the rest of British industry?
Mr. Leigh : As regards Ravenscraig, the hon. Gentleman knows full well that certain undertakings were given to the Government by British Steel, and the Secretary of State for Scotland is pursuing that matter. As regards the hon. Gentleman's general points about British Steel, we return as always to the original fact that in 1979 the industry was making a loss of £1 billion and now it is making a profit of £600 million.
2. Mr. Dykes : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will outline the progress being made by his Department in negotiating the capital adequacy revised directive with our EC counterparts in the Trade and Industry Council.
The Minister for Corporate Affairs (Mr. John Redwood) : In June 1990 the Commission tabled a proposal on capital adequacy. More recently, it tabled a position paper on equity risk and interest rate risk. We are negotiating on those proposals together. I am consulting widely with the industry concerned and we wish to see the principle established that capital should be related to the risks being run.
Mr. Dykes : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and wish him well in the work on the revised draft text. Is he now confident that that will give a level playing field, a single-market basis and a fair opportunity for competition by British financial intermediaries?
Mr. Redwood : No, I am not yet fully satisfied on that point. A number of issues relating to independent financial advisers still need to be discussed and brought to a satisfactory conclusion. I am pleased that the Commission is now a partner and is listening carefully to our argument that IFAs should be distinguished by the amount of risk being run, that different levels of capital should apply to them and that in some cases exemptions should apply to them. I should like to see rather more exemptions than are currently proposed, but getting agreement on that will obviously be difficult as it involves a qualified majority vote.
Column 259swindle at Harrods, the Blue Arrow fiasco and all the rest of the City frauds? They will certainly not achieve a level playing field like that.
Mr. Redwood : It is typical of the Opposition always to try to run down the City of London and this country's financial services. It is high time that the Opposition got behind those services and realised that they create hundreds of thousands of jobs and do a very good job for this country in Europe.
Mr. Michael Irvine : Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposed capital adequacy requirements as they stand, could all too easily restrict choice, reduce competition and thus damage the interests of the financial consumers whom they are intended to assist?
Mr. Redwood : I have already said that the United Kingdom Government wish to see capital related directly to risk. If we succeed in that, my hon. Friend's fears will be confounded. I accept his intention and that we still need to make more progress over the definition of categories for various types of independent financial adviser. One of my main objectives is to try to avoid independent financial advisers being squeezed by European directives.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Lilley) : I have no present plans to meet the board of the Northern Development Company. Its plans and grant application for its inward investment activities for 1991-92 are currently being given careful consideration, along with those of the other four regional development organisations. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs will be announcing the level of grant for all the regional development organisations in early March.
Mr. Cousins : The Secretary of State will know that the Northern Development Company was created by people in the north to promote inward investment. Given the spirit of his speech yesterday, does he now regard it as a fully fledged regional development agency and, if so, will he give it the resources to promote inward investment from the south into the north so that, as the puff of credit which floated to the south sinks, people can move to the north where opportunity is greater and life is better?
Mr. Lilley : The Northern Development Company is doing an excellent job. It has a good record of attracting companies into the north-east-- about 31,000 jobs have been created by inward investment in the north-east and the northern region--and it will receive the largest grant of any of the regional development organisations.
Mr. Trotter : As the Northern Development Company has all-party support, is a bright example of success in the north-east in terms of its economic promotion and has contributed significantly to the resilience of our region, will my right hon. Friend therefore maximise support for its future and for that success?
Mr. Lilley : I shall certainly do so. As I have said, the company will receive the largest grant of all the regional development organisations. It has an excellent record. In addition, English Estates is planning 600,000 sq ft of extra factory space in the region.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Does the Secretary of State recognise that there has never been a more important time than right now to reverse the Government's damaging industrial strategy in the northern region? Why do the Government not reopen the door that they so firmly locked in 1979 when Labour left office and restore to our region the levels of industrial assistance that were available at that time, which brought tens of thousands of jobs to the north of England?
Mr. Lilley : The hon. Gentleman should ask his own Front Bench. As I understand it, his right hon. and hon. Friends have no intention of restoring regional development grants. If they have, they had better tell us where they intend to get the money from.
5. Mr. Butterfill : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the tax burden, including employers' social security contributions and payroll taxes, on British, French and west German companies, expressed as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Mr. Lilley : In 1988, the latest year for which figures are available, direct taxes on corporations and employers' payroll social security contributions were 8.9 per cent. of gross national product in the United Kingdom ; 10.5 per cent. in west Germany and 17.2 per cent. in France.
Mr. Butterfill : Does my right hon. Friend agree that those gratifying figures go some way to explaining why business investment in the United Kingdom since 1979 has been higher than in either France or Germany? Does he further agree that we must keep those burdens down and reduce them further if we are to have continuing long-term investment in the United Kingdom?
Mr. Lilley : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The lower burden on taxation on industry in Britain goes a long way to explaining why we have three times as much inward investment as France and six times as much as Germany. I cannot pre-empt the Budget judgments of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I agree that it is important to keep the burden of tax low. We remember all too well that the Labour party voted against a reduction in the corporation tax rate.
Mr. Alex Carlile : Does the Secretary of State agree that many industrialists complain justifiably about the amount of bureaucracy involved in collecting the taxes that they pay? Does he believe that we should make progress towards a unified tax and benefits system? Does he also agree that the reintroduction of enhanced capital allowances would enable industry to invest in itself in a more useful way?
Column 261because the two were on different time scales and had different purposes. It would make the bureaucracy far worse if we unified taxation and social security benefits.
Sir Anthony Grant : Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the most tedious tax burdens on very small firms is the absurdly low level at which they become responsible for value added tax? Will he continue, perhaps in conjuction with his colleagues and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to make representations to the European Community to raise the level?
Mr. Lilley : I agree with my hon. Friend. He makes a good point. We have consistently argued with the EC that we should be allowed to raise the level further. We have set the level as high as possible under Community law, but there is a proposal in the works that would raise the level higher. That proposal has been made basically on our initiative, but it is grinding exceeding slow.
6. Mr. McCartney : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further representations he has made to the European Commission to ensure that legislation concerning the flammability of furniture and furnishings meets the highest safety standards pertaining for British consumers.
Mr. Leigh : The Commission has held three consultative meetings with member states about its proposals for a directive on the fire behaviour of upholstered furniture. In these discussions we have made it clear to the Commission that the United Kingdom could not support any proposals that would reduce the level of fire safety provided in the United Kingdom by the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. This view was confirmed in a position paper sent to the Commission in September 1990 and reinforced in a bilateral meeting with the Commission last November.
Mr. McCartney : I thank the Minister for that reply. The whole House will welcome the Government's opposition to attempts by our European partners to reduce fire safety standards to a level that will put us back 20 years. The House should understand that the Commission's proposals affect furnishings not only at home but in public places. Is the Minister prepared to meet the officers of the all-party home safety committee to discuss with them the need to inform the public and others that we are not prepared to see fire safety standards traded off by the Commission for the purposes of 1992? Will he welcome the reduction for the first time in 20 years in deaths from fires at home in Britain, which has been brought about by the new legislation?
Mr. Leigh : I pay tribute to the knowledge that the hon. Gentleman brings to these matters. We are aware of his deep interest in them. I fully agree with what he says. Of course, I shall meet any delegation. I take these matters seriously, not least because I am a father of young children. So long as I am the Minister responsible for consumer affairs, I shall fight any proposals that in any way weaken our regulations--which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are some of the strongest in Europe.
Column 262Only today we issued a leaflet entitled "Making furniture safer" on the Department of Trade and Industry's lead in Europe in making furniture as safe as possible.
Mrs. Currie : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the number of deaths in domestic fires, particularly among women and children, has dropped sharply in Britain since we introduced much stricter rules about the foams and fire retardant materials to be used in furniture? Does my hon. Friend accept that this is serious and that it is preposterous for the European Commissioner to suggest that there are no satisfactory tests which could be introduced? Why does not my hon. Friend simply show him what we do in Britain and how well it works?
Mr. Leigh : That is precisely what we are doing in discussion with the European Commission. To set this matter in context, I should say that the proposals are at an early stage and the Commisison has not come back with any proposals to the Council. However, we are not satisfied with the way in which the proposals are drafted and we intend to toughen them up. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) has said, we have good, tough regulations and the number of deaths is coming down. We must keep up the good work.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths : Why does the Government leaflet published today not alert the public to the threat to British safety standards? Why has the Minister failed to support and defend British firms which have invested £20 million in developing safer foam products? Will he give an assurance that his Department will fight the disastrous draft directive and ensure that dangerous foam products which do not meet the highest British standards are stopped at Dover?
Mr. Leigh : That is an absurd contribution, unlike those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South and the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). Tens of thousands of copies of the leaflet have been issued and it relates to regulations on the statute book now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not listening, but I have already explained that the proposals from the Commission are at a draft stage and that we intend to resist them. To start talking about regulations that might or might not be made in the future and putting them in a leaflet going out to ordinary members of the public would be absolutely absurd.
Mr. Holt : Given the DTI's outstanding record in the past few years on the Barlow Clowes affair, the Iraqi supergun affair and on the jewel in the crown, the MMC, and its fiasco over the brewers, its complete and utter
Column 263inexplicable decision on British Satellite Broadcasting and Sky and, latterly, its refusal to allow ICI to dispose of its fertiliser interest to Kemira, can my right hon. Friend say when he will start to listen less to the civil servants surrounding him, who know nothing, and take a little more interest in what is told to him by his friends on the Back Benches who represent the relevant areas?
Mr. Lilley : My hon. Friend is as vigorous a defender of the interests of his constituents as he is of my Department. I appreciate his concern about the MMC report and the possible effects on Cleveland Potash Limited in his constituency about which we have spoken. There is no certainty that, as a result of that report, ICI will close its plant and I very much hope that it will not. There is no certainty that ICI will be unable to find another buyer, should it decide to seek one, as I hope that it will. There is no certainty that if the Kemira sale had gone through, it would have safeguarded indefinitely the potash plant in my hon. Friend's constituency. My hon. Friend should remember that there is almost no precedent, at least since 1982, for a Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to turn down and fail to implement the recommendations of an MMC report of that kind.
Mr. Michael J. Martin : The Minister must be extremely worried about the mergers taking place, because they are just an excuse for asset stripping. I highlight the problem in Glasgow concerning the tobacco industry, which has created wealth in that city for many centuries. Imperial was taken over by Hanson. There were good industrial relations, a hard-working work force and profits in the industry, but the factory is to be closed down and the work taken to Bristol. The factory will then be sold off to the highest bidder and Hanson even has the cheek to intimate that he is looking for a grant from the Scottish Development Agency to do his dirty work.
Mr. Lilley : My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) was talking about a merger that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission did not allow to take place. It is right to have an organisation such as the MCC which uses competition as the principal criterion on which to decide whether a merger should or should not go ahead.
Mr. Norris : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is determined to draw even more closely to the attention of the MMC the real danger of nationalisation by the back door of companies in Britain when they are subject to the attentions of overseas companies that are either nationalised or semi-nationalised? I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the tough stand that he has taken so far and urge him to ensure that the MMC always has that principle firmly in mind.
Mr. Lilley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. I shall consider each case on its merits and take into account the degree of state ownership when considering whether to refer a proposed merger to the MMC. In the past few years, about a quarter of takeovers in this country have been by foreign, state-owned companies. Since I announced my decision, I believe that the rate has become lower.
Column 264grid by those producing from small hydroelectric turbines? Many more economy sites could be developed throughout the United Kingdom if those who generate from hydroelectric turbines were awarded a fair price for the electricity that they generate.
Mr. Redwood : My Department and I argue strongly for independent financial advisers in Europe, particularly in respect of the investment services directive and the capital adequacy directive. We should like them to take advantage of the passports in that directive, but only if the capital requirements are sensible.
Mr. Stewart : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government believe that independent financial advisers have a role to play in the single European market? Will he confirm that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that such advisers can play such a role?
Mr. Redwood : Yes, I hope that they will have a role to play. I should like it if they would have a passport, through the investment services directive, to carry out cross-border business, but that would depend on getting the right answer about capital, which is important to them.
Mr. Tom Clarke : Will the advisers have a role in explaining away the neglect by the present Government of the British film industry in Europe? Will they explain why the Government have reneged on their fairly miserable commitment to give £5 million to the European co-production fund? If that is to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Europe, will the Minister accept that the advisers will have an almighty job to explain away the once-thriving British film industry?
Mr. Redwood : That has nothing to do with the main question and is symptomatic of Opposition Members' attitude to the important issue of IFAs. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) is not present today. She has been alleging in the press that FIMBRA--the Financial Intermediaries, Managers and Brokers Regulatory Organisation--is in danger of becoming bankrupt. I hope that she will withdraw that allegation. Another way in which we are helping IFAs is to show the true financial position of FIMBRA, which told me yesterday that it now has net cash in the bank and a budget plan for next year which will mean that its costs will not be greater than its revenues if all goes according to plan. I hope that Opposition Members will concentrate on IFAs, the matter in hand, which have no role to play in the film industry.
9. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the value of acquisitions and mergers by United Kingdom companies of United Kingdom companies in each year from 1984 to 1989.
Column 265Mr. Lilley : The value of acquisitions and mergers by United Kingdom industrial and commercial companies within the United Kingdom rose steadily from £5 billion to £27 billion between 1984 and 1989, I will publish the annual figures in the Official Report.
Mr. Cran : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm his confidence in the takeover panel and takeover code, and acknowledge that there is concern in the City and elsewhere about the effect on the panel of the 13th draft EC directive, or whatever it is called, which substitutes a more legalistic approach for the highly pragmatic approach that we take in the United Kingdom? Will he confirm that he will make every endeavour to ensure that that EC beast is not foisted upon us?
Mr. Lilley : My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is much concern in the United Kingdom about this. Our voluntary takeover panel works very well. The bulk of takeover activity occurs in this country, so we have a right to a major say in any legislation that will bear on the United Kingdom and we shall vigorously uphold British interests in discussions in Brussels. It is, however, a matter for majority voting, so we cannot be absolutely sure that we will get our way ; but we have quite a good track record of persuading our partners of the rightness of our cause.
Mr. Batiste : Does my right hon. Friend agree that what is needed in mergers is consistency, speed of determination and lack of duplication by Government agencies? Therefore, when the mergers directive is in place, will he prevent the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the Director General of Fair Trading from making any attempts at empire building?
Following is the information :
|£ million ------------------------------ 1984 |5,474 1985 |7,090 1986 |15,370 1987 |16,539 1988 |22,836 1989 |27,253
Mr. Leigh : The defeat of inflation is the only sure way to achieve sustainable economic growth. Business in the north-west is well placed to weather the current downturn and to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the 1990s.
Mr. Hoyle : That was a very complacent reply. In British Rail Engineering Ltd. and Rolls-Royce alone, 1,000 jobs will be lost ; 30 per cent. of manufacturing industry has been destroyed by the Government since they came to office ; one in three manufacturing jobs in the north-west has been lost ; Lewis's, the retail giant, is going into bankruptcy ; bankruptcies are running at record
Column 266levels ; and investment is falling. Even though the Minister may have been a car-boot salesman in the past, will he visit the north-west, get out of his limousine and meet real people, who will explain the position there to him? Does he realise that they will tell him that it is time this fag-end Government of weary Willies and tired Tims resigned?
Mr. Leigh : In that long litany the hon. Gentleman wholly failed, as one might expect, to give us any good news about his constituency. Perhaps I can help the good people of Warrington by announcing that recently, Digital Equipment Company, one of the largest computer manufacturers in the world, revealed plans for a £20 million investment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is a pity that he does not speak up more for Warrington, where unemployment is below the national average. But it is not nearly as low as in Clitheroe, in the Ribble Valley constituency, where it is 2.8 per cent.
Mr. Leigh : My hon. Friend is right. We all know that there has been an increase in employment in the north-west, although we should see it in the context of the fact that more people are in work nationwide than ever before--and in all sectors of the economy. We should also recognise, as I said in my original answer, that the only way to get rid of unemployment in the long run and to ensure that British industry is competitive is to lick inflation. That is the purpose of our policies.
Mr. Henderson : As 25,000 jobs have been lost in recent months in the textile industry, many of them in the north-west, and now that the GATT talks have been resumed and there is an understanding in Europe that no conclusion will be reached before July this year, by when the multi-fibre arrangement will have run out, will the Minister assure the House today that the Government will, without delay, discuss the multi-fibre arrangement at the Council of Ministers and seek its renewal after July, at least for an interim period until the GATT talks are concluded?
Mr. Leigh : The arrangements will continue to the end of the year and there will be a transitional arrangement. It is particularly in the interests of industry, including industry in the north-west, that we obtain a settlement in the GATT negotiations and we intend to do so. If a settlement is achieved the considerable benefit to consumers has been calculated at about £1 billion.
Mr. Redwood : Business investment grew by 8 per cent. in 1989 and by 43 per cent. over the three years to 1989. Since 1980 business investment in the United Kingdom has grown faster than in any of our major industrial competitors except Japan.
Column 267Mr. Redwood : I agree that reducing inflation is very important to business confidence and investment. The House may like to remember that investment was running at well over £55 billion in 1989, compared with a level under the Labour Administration that never got anywhere near £40 billion in real terms.
Mr. Haynes : Where was the Minister yesterday when my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) made a marvellous speech at the Dispatch Box about trade and industry? It is a shocking state of affairs when we have a Minister standing at that Dispatch Box talking about how much the Government have invested in British industry when those Conservative organisations, the CBI and the chambers of commerce, do not agree with what he is saying. Will the Minister get up and tell us what he is going to do about it?
Mr. Redwood : I was present for the first part of the speech by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). Then I went off to make a speech to a group of business men and hear for myself what is happening in British business.
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) asked what we are going to do about it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs made it clear : having a sound economic policy is vital to investment confidence.
Mr. Hill : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very difficult for a British company to compete against overseas companies in this country when it comes to investment? There are not enough offsets for the investor, who is tempted to leave his money on deposit rather than risk it. We need a fresh impetus from the Treasury to make sure that British investors will invest in this country.
Mr. Redwood : In the early 1980s corporation tax was cut substantially and investment allowances were withdrawn. The result was a surge in investment, taking it to levels much higher than any achieved in the 1970s and early 1980s. I will, however, make sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer hears of my hon. Friend's ideas because he will regard them as important in the run-up to the Budget, although he will want to make his own decisions on that and other matters that come before him.
Ms. Abbott : Do not current interest rate levels make it very difficult for business to invest? Should not Trade and Industry Ministers be pressing their colleagues in the Treasury to call for a realignment in the exchange rate mechanism?
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I acknowledge that the Government cannot play nanny, nor can they always protect people from their own folly, but there are measures that we can and should take. Will the Minister comment on some of the techniques of inertia and cold selling which offer people all sorts of things on credit, using simple forms on which one must tick a little box if one does not want them? These are techniques which many simple people do not understand and which cause them to get themselves into unnecessary difficulties.