HC Deb 14 February 1983 vol 37 cc2-3
2. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what has been the percentage fall in manufacturing output since May 1979; and what is the average change for the other European Community countries in the same period.

The Under-Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. John Butcher)

Between 1979 and the third quarter of 1982, the latest period for which comparable figures are available, the index of manufacturing production in the United Kingdom fell by 15 per cent. Between the same two periods the index for the European Community as a whole fell by some 7½ per cent.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Minister aware that the considerable difference in the drop in manufacturing output since May 1979 between Britain and other EC countries shows only too clearly the disastrous effect on British industry of the Government's economic policies? Is the Minister further aware, as he should be, bearing in mind his constituency, that the drop in manufacturing output, which is probably now nearer 20 per cent., shows only too clearly the reason for the massive redundancies and the factory closures in the west midlands and the crisis facing that region, as unemployment there is now among the highest in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Butcher

I believe that to be an over-simplistic analysis. If the hon. Gentleman considers the period 1970 to 1980, he will note that the inflation rate in total during that period was 360 per cent., that wages went up by 424 per cent. and that output went up by 17 per cent. That is an awful score within which to face the vagaries of a world recession. I particularly take the hon. Gentleman's point on industrial production, but I ask him again to consider the trends. With regard to increases in productivity, we are now outpacing our European competitors in the main. Of our major competitors, only the Japanese continue to beat us on a world scale.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. Friend accept that he have taken the very words out of my mouth? I was about to ask him to confirm that now that we have overcome the problems created by the Labour Government, to which he referred, our productivity is outstripping that of our EC competitors?

Mr. Butcher

The evidence, which is based on the trends, is quite encouraging. Production fell over the year ending the third quarter of 1982 by 1½ per cent. It fell by 3½ per cent. in France, 4½ per cent. in Germany and 9½ per cent. in the United States. The trend is to be welcomed. The basis of the benign telepathy that exists between my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and myself, and the consequent concord, is one that will surely be recognised in the House.

Mr. Orme

The Minister has not said why we are at the bottom of the OECD league. The manufacturing sector now employs only 27 per cent. of those who are in employment. Does the Minister agree that that is reaching a dangerously low level? What will the Government do about it?

Mr. Butcher

Undoubtedly, our future prosperity will depend on the maintenance of a healthy, productive and competitive manufacturing base. We have defects in our economy that will take a long time to overcome. We have been producing goods for which there is low demand and we have not been producing enough goods for which there is high demand. We have been operating and developing a mismatched economy, and it will take a long time to put things right.