HC Deb 10 December 1986 vol 107 cc339-40
14. Mr. George Howarth

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he next intends to meet the Trades Union Congress to discuss investment in manufacturing industry.

Mr. Giles Shaw

My right hon. Friend and I meet the TUC regularly at the National Economic Development Council, where matters relevant to improving industrial performance are discussed. I have no plans for a separate meeting on this subject.

Mr. Howarth

If and when the Minister has a separate meeting on the subject, will he discuss the loss of manufacturing jobs at BICC in my constituency, especially the 55 jobs that have been lost in the high technology fibre optics unit—a unit which has a fine record of quality, price and delivery?

Mr. Shaw

I suspect that that is the hon. Gentleman's first question in the House, and I welcome him warmly to Question Time. I note what he said about BICC and I fully recognise its substantial record of quality and delivery of excellent merchandise. I shall have to examine the details of the point that he makes and I shall write to him about it.

Mr. Allan Stewart

If my hon. Friend meets the TUC, will he point out that, among other things, only yesterday the Secretary of State for Scotland announced a substantial increase in the provision for regional development grants? That is a direct consequence of manufacturing investment being much higher than was forecast. Does that not demonstrate how misleading is much of the nonsense talked about deindustrialisation?

Mr. Shaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right. Investment decisions are essentially for industry itself. The real rate of return of 7 per cent. on manufacturing investment last year was the highest since 1973. The growth in manufacturing output has resumed and next year it is forecast to increase by 4 per cent.

Mr. Janner

When the Minister discusses matters with the TUC, will he inquire why an area such as Leicester, where industrial relations have always been very good, is still in the throes of industrial misery in manufacturing, especially in the traditional industries? Why does the Secretary of State say that it is not the Government's business to promote British industry when the revival of industry lies in the hands of the Government, who must decide how, when and where they will put money into it? Unfortunately, they are not doing that now.

Mr. Shaw

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's anxiety about the traditional industries in Leicester, in which hosiery and clothing have played a large part. In the first six months of 1986, the export performance of the hosiery and knitwear industry has shown a significant growth over the same period last year. The hon. and learned Gentleman will also recognise the Government's achievement in renegotiating, largely through the efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, a multi-fibre arrangement for a further five years. Those are the strategic changes necessary to help the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents to resume their industrial growth.

Mr. Cash

Will my hon. Friend note that he could reasonably advise the TUC to ensure that the trustees of the pension fund of the trade union movement play their part in investing properly in British manufacturing and commercial interests?

Mr. Shaw

I should very much welcome further investment by the TUC in British industry, but I also welcome some of the decisions that it took at its recent conference. My hon. Friend will no doubt share with me the joy that the secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, Mr. Ray Buckton, has now been replaced on the executive by the secretary of the Musicians Union.

Mr. Williams

During the recent insider debate the Under-Secretary of State said that it was unfair to judge the failure of the Government's manufacturing investment programme by the 6 per cent. fall in the last quarter. A few moments later he also said that it was unfair to judge the Government's policy and failures by the fact that, in the long term, manufacturing investment remains 17 per cent. below the level that the Government inherited. Therefore, may I ask the Minister, in the spirit of good will that exists immediately before Christmas, to take his pick? Would he like to quote to the House any 12-month period since 1979 in which manufacturing investment has been even within 15 per cent. of the level which the Government inherited?

Mr. Shaw

I shall respond to the right hon. Gentleman's yuletide thoughts, but I think he will recognise that all investment moves in cycles. The pattern of industrial investment is cyclical. All I would say is that the present climate, created largely by the Government's policies, has meant that industrial investment is now flowing into more fertile areas with a profitable and reasonable rate of return on it.