HC Deb 25 January 1982 vol 16 cc607-8
16. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied, from the most recent figures for labour productivity in manufacturing industry, that the Government's industrial strategy is on target.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The latest figures suggest that productivity in manufacturing industry was 9 to 10 per cent. higher in the third quarter of 1981 than at the end of 1980. Partly because of this remarkable achievement, unit labour cost rises in the United Kingdom were among the lowest of our competitors. British industry is beginning to get into better shape to beat the competition.

Mr. Knox

Did not the output per head in manufacturing industry rise by less than 1 per cent. between the second quarter of 1979, when the Government came to office, and the third quarter of last year, which is the most recent period for which figures are available? Can that be a satisfactory situation over the longer period?

Mr. Jenkin

I am not sure that I recognise my hon. Friend's figures. The figures that we have for manufacturing industry show that output per head rose by about 10 per cent. and output per hour rose by about 7½ per cent. over the year. Unit labour costs over the past 12 months in this country have risen more slowly than in all our main industrial competitor countries, which is good news. We have begun to recover some of the lost competitiveness of earlier years.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

The question suggests that the Government have an industrial strategy. Can the Secretary of State tell us what it is?

Mr. Jenkin

I will send the hon. Gentleman copies of some of my recent speeches.

Mr. Adley

In the absence of any helpful or sensible contributions from the Opposition, will my right hon. Friend accept congratulations, not on behalf of the Government, but on behalf of the managements and work forces, on what appears to be good news, with the country going in the right direction for once?

Mr. Jenkin

I am glad that my right hon. Friend gives credit where it primarily belongs, which is to the managements and those who work in industry, who have made what is, by any standards, a remarkable improvement in productivity at a time of considerable industrial difficulty.

Mr. Foster

Was it a target of the Government's industrial strategy for manufacturing industry to lose 800, 000 people in 18 months and lose 20 per cent. of its output in the greatest slump of the past 50 years? With so many firms having gone out of business, is it not clear that those that remain must be more efficient, and does that not inevitably increase average productivity?

Mr. Jenkin

But of course. The hon. Gentleman is right in the final part of his question. It is because we have had a great deal of concealed unemployment, and because of overmanning and inefficient and restrictive work practices, that many sectors of British industry were not competitive. Under the pressure of the recession, firms throughout the country and right across industry have had to become more efficient in order to survive. They have shown themselves able to do so, and it is about time.