HC Deb 12 March 1986 vol 93 cc923-5
4. Mr. Lightbown

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his forecast for manufacturing output in 1986.

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

A new forecast for the increase in manufacturing output between 1985 and 1986 will be published in the Industry Act forecasts at the time of the Budget next week. The recent CBI industrial trends survey suggests that short-term prospects for manufacturing output can be viewed optimistically.

Mr. Lightbown

While welcoming that forecast, may I ask my hon. Friend to confirm that that would give industry its longest sustained period of growth since 1971? Can he give me some idea of the areas of growth?

Mr. Butcher

There is clear evidence that the manufacturing sector is enjoying sustained growth and a trend of increased output. I know that my hon. Friend is a great expert in such matters. Last year, within the growth in manufacturing output, the mechanical engineering sector, which is at the heart of manufacturing, increased its output by 6 per cent. That was a magnificent achievement, and I should have thought that Opposition Members would join us in celebrating that recovery.

Mr. Ashdown

Is it true that no amount of projected growth in manufacturing output will make good the devastation caused to the industrial base since 1979, that during the past 10 years Britain has lost for ever one sixth of its industrial base, and that British manufacturing has lost 1.7 million jobs? In the light of those figures, why do the Government have no strategy for the regeneration of British industry?

Mr. Butcher

The hon. Gentleman posed his question in the context of the past 10 years. Therefore, he will agree that it is highly significant that between 1973 and 1979 productivity in the manufacturing sector increased by the appalling figure of only 4 per cent. That was an awful legacy with which to enter the world recession. By contrast, between 1979 and 1985 productivity increased by more than 30 per cent. In reply to the hon. Gentleman's philosophical question, I should say that, as a trading nation, we must manufacture goods to survive.

Mr. Sackville

Is my hon. Friend aware that a high proportion of manufacturing output in Bolton and its surrounding areas depends on the textile industry and that jobs and future investment are at risk in the absence of an orderly development of the world textile trade through a strong multi-fibre arrangement?

Mr. Butcher

My hon. Friend will be aware that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has been tackling that problem with great vigour in the Council of Ministers in Europe. In due course he will deliver a regime which safeguards our international requirements for free trade, while looking after the legitimate interests of the British textile industry.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that his answers this afternoon reflect the Government's complacent attitude to manufacturing industries? Will he assure the House that the Government will take steps to encourage the growth of our manufacturing industries? Will they also encourage a "Think British" campaign aimed at consumers buying products in the market?

Mr. Butcher

On many occasions I and my colleagues have urged British consumers to take another look at British products. It is interesting that those who complain the most about the performance of British industry search the least to find well-designed British products, which are coming on to the market and which are tackling the inroads that imports have made into our economy. Much of the decision-making process lies legitimately with our consumers, who should do precisely what the hon. Gentleman recommends.

Mr. Hanley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent performance in manufacturing production and the creation of greater confidence in the manufacturing world has released funds from the private sector and from abroad, and that the demand for dependence on Government money, about which we hear so much from the Labour party, is largely brought about from nostalgia, a desire for state power, or a deliberate ignorance of our own success?

Mr. Butcher

Sometimes when I listen to the arguments from the Labour Benches I cannot help but think that those arguments have more to do with an affection for public funding of any description than with anything else. Therefore, their philosophical preoccupations are more important to them than are the practical requirements of industrial policy.

Mr. Williams

Does the Minister agree with his hon. Friend the Minister of State that the fall in manufacturing output under this Government has been alarming?

Mr. Butcher

My hon. Friend and I celebrate the fact that at long last we have a period of growth that has not been funded by inflation or by bogus demand management.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether it was alarming. The answer is no, it is not alarming, to the extent that the trends are moving in the right direction.

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