HC Deb 17 July 1986 vol 101 cc1166-7
12. Mr. Nellist

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he next intends to meet the Trades Union Congress general council to discuss manufacturing output; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend has no plans as such to meet the Trades Union Congress general council but, of course, he regularly meets the Trades Union Congress general secretary and other members of the general council at the National Economic Development Council.

Mr. Nellist

If the Chancellor were to meet the TUC general council, would he explain how, if this is the sixth successive year of successful economic growth, the Central Statistical Office in the past few days can admit that manufacturing production has fallen again by a further 1 per cent. over the past 12 months? Is it not the case that private ownership under the Government is manifestly incapable of providing decent living standards or full employment for the majority of the population?

Mr. MacGregor

That is pretty rich coming from the hon. Gentleman. It was those of a militant nature who think and act as he does who did more harm to large parts of British manufacturing industry, and hence jobs, in the 1970s than anything else. The hon. Gentleman clearly has not noticed that, since June 1983, manufacturing output is up 81 per cent., manufacturing investment is up 8½ per cent., manufacturing exports are up in volume terms by 22½ per cent., and manufacturing productivity is up by 3¼ per cent. What is more, the biggest threat to jobs and the competitiveness of industry is the way in which our unit labour costs are rising faster than those of many of our competitors. The hon. Gentleman's contribution to that problem, given his philosophy, would be nothing short of disastrous.

Mrs. Currie

If my right hon. Friend meets the TUC, will he ask it to take note of the recent numerous votes against strikes in manufacturing industry, such as the vote in British Rail Engineering Ltd., for which many of my constituents work? Is it not time that the TUC ruled out strikes, as they are the most negative, destructive and pointless way in which to negotiate in an industrial dispute?

Mr. MacGregor

The climate is different now, and not one that those such as the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) could exploit, as was done in the 1970s, with such harmful results to the British economy. My hon. Friend is right. The record on strikes is one of the most successful aspects of the British economy.

Dr. McDonald

If the British economy is so good, given the litany of statistics that the Chief Secretary has just cited, why did he say earlier that the British economy was in a precarious state due to falling oil prices?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to make clear what I said. The problem is that we now live in a precarious world where there are substantial fluctuations in economic conditions. One clear sign of the strength of the British economy is the fact that we have managed to come through a 12-monthlong coal strike and a period of fast falling oil prices. We have been able to do so because we have an increasingly strong economy and the world can see that. If the policies advocated by the hon. Lady's party were pursued, with an expenditure of £24,000 million, we would move into a precarious state.