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There is a very important element here that people lose sight of. Because the textile industry is made up of many relatively small factories and plants, the level of support that the Government give to individual factories or individual companies is often seen as quite small compared with very large grants such as the one I have just mentioned in relation to Nissan in the north-east of England.
I have looked back at the support that we have given since we took office in May 1997 specifically for the textile industry, by way of regional selective assistance. That support has been in small amounts of money but given to a large number of companies. In total, more than £40 million has been given to textile companies. That has safeguarded or created 10,000 jobs in the sector and has led to investment by the companies of a further £250 million. That is a good example of how Government support of £40 million to the textile industry has triggered investment of £250 million in the sector, thereby safeguarding or creating 10,000 jobs.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud): The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) did not, of course, mention the Conservative party's aim of abolishing regional development agencies. My right hon. Friend knows that, in Dursley in my constituency, Lister-Petter has been kept going by the intervention of the South West regional development agency. Thanks to the help of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Deputy Prime Minister, that is indicative of how supply-side changes are as important as demand-side changes. However, the Conservative party is pledged to remove regional development agencies. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend makes a good and important point about the role that RDAs can play. That is an exceptionally good example of a positive and proactive approach that has led to employment opportunities for
Mr. Bercow: The Secretary of State's earlier remarks about the euro were woefully inadequate. Given that the governing council of the European central bank comprises three Germans, two Dutchmen, two Finns, two Frenchmen, two Italians, two Spaniards, a Belgian, an Irishman, a Luxembourger and a Portuguese, and that the European treaties as drafted specifically prohibit national Governments or Parliaments from seeking to influence its decisions, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why he is so eager to hand over power for the running of the British economy to people whom we do not elect, whom we cannot remove and whom it would be illegal to seek to persuade of the British point of view?
Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman has just made what I am sure he considers is a powerful argument for never joining the single European currency. Of course, that is not his party's policy. The Conservatives say that it does not agree with the structure but that they will rule it out for only five years and then we might join. They cannot have it both ways. Our party believes in joining a successful single currency, provided the economic conditions are right. That is the clear policy of the Labour party and of the Government, and I happen to believe that it is the right policy.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of his interest in intervention when large-scale job losses are forecast. Does he agree that there is also a problem with smaller-scale job losses, such as the closure of Cuprinol in Frome? It is a successful brand, acquired by ICI, now relocated to Slough. The closure of another company, Bussmann and Cooper, means 430 job losses. In a town the size of Frome, that has a huge impact. Does he agree that large national and multinational companies should have some regard for the loyalty of the work forces who built their factories and made their brands a success when they make their strategic decisions?
Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman touches on two important points. One is the important role that relatively small factories in the grand scale of things can play within particular communities. He is right that the loss of a few hundred jobs in a small town can have a devastating impact, and we need to be acutely aware of that. Secondly, it is short-termism at its worst when multinationals, almost as a kneejerk reaction, close down smaller subsidiaries. Long-term planning is often the best way forward, and sometimes short-term decisions are taken which are not in the companies' long-term interests.
I should like to address the point about Corus raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). As we meet this afternoon to discuss manufacturing, we are all acutely aware that thousands of workers in the steel industry are extremely concerned about their prospects. Last year, Corus replaced its joint chief executives because the two of them were not prepared to adopt a short-term approach to the problems faced by the company and the industry. They were not prepared to embark on plant closures and cuts in capacity. There is no doubt that Corus faces a challenging period.
In the first nine months of trading as Corus, there was an operating loss of £96 million--clearly a state of affairs that any company could not ignore, but Corus is particularly affected by movements in exchange rates. Its operating profits closely track the sterling-deutschmark exchange. Little wonder that that is the case, when a 10 pfennig movement in the exchange rate with the pound affects operating profits by £80 million one way or the other.
The House needs to consider, as does Corus, what has happened over the past two months. In November, the pound was trading at DM3.26. Yesterday, the rate closed at DM3.06, or a fall of more than 20 pfennigs--resulting, by Corus' own calculations, in a saving to the company of some £160 million in just two months. The £8 million climate change levy pales into insignificance beside that. The Tory party is trying to play politics with the futures of a crucial industry, communities and thousands of workers.
Mr. Llew Smith: Earlier, the Minister accepted that the £8 million climate change levy was peanuts compared with what Corus has done to the company. Does he accept that £96 million is also peanuts compared with the £1.5 billion that Corus has asset-stripped from the company in different ways over the past two years?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend has an early-day motion on the Order Paper that makes highly effective points about the way the company has been operating. Over the next few days, many people will be turning their attention to the way in which Corus has been conducting itself in recent times.
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): I am most grateful for the work being done by my right hon. Friend for steelworkers. Does he agree that Britain's manufacturing capability could be hugely impeded if Corus continues to dismantle its capability in Britain? I cannot see how a nation can be great when a company such as Corus takes away one of its foundation industries. Steel is greatness and a strategic industry.
Mr. Byers: My right hon. Friend has been a great champion of the steel industry in general and of the Shotton works in particular over more years than I should remind him of. Starting in 1973, he brought delegations to the House to argue strongly the case for the steel industry. My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point about the industry's significance, which makes it important that Corus should not take short-term decisions over the next few days but look to the long term.
My right hon. and hon. Friends believe that this country's steel industry has a long-term viable future. Its workers have shown a long-term commitment by improving productivity dramatically in recent years. Steelworkers and the Government call on Corus to deliver the same level of commitment to the industry at this time. Corus should not be defeatist. It should not embark on a
There is no doubt in the Government's mind that manufacturing has an important role. We have done much already to support manufacturing by providing economic stability and we continue to do so. Manufacturing matters to this Government and to our country. Once the cradle of the industrial revolution, we can now be at the heart of the knowledge economy at the beginning of the 21st century. Manufacturing faces considerable change, driven by globalisation and the spread of new technology. That calls for an active Government who work positively with industry to ensure that our people can manage the process of change and seize the new opportunities that will come from it.
There will be difficult decisions, but we will face them, working with the communities and the industries affected to build a new future where that is necessary. That is the challenge. To meet it, we need stability, not a return to boom and bust, and full employment, not mass unemployment; we need to invest in the building blocks for a dynamic industry--not the cuts proposed by the Opposition. We have a commitment to build strong communities, not a belief that there is no such thing as society. We are a Government on the side of the people, not a Government who leave them to the market to fend for themselves.