HC Deb 18 November 1986 vol 105 cc425-6
7. Mr. Evans

asked the Paymaster General how many people are currently employed in manufacturing industries; and how many were employed in manufacturing in June 1979.

Mr. Lee

In September 1986 there were 5,554,000 employees in employment and self-employed people in manufacturing industries in Great Britain. In June 1979 there were 7,267,000.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister acknowledge that as a result of the Government's policies nearly 2 million jobs in manufacturing industry have been lost since 1979? That is an absolute disgrace. Is it not time that the Government recognised that manufacturing industry is the lifeblood of Britain and started doing something about improving that sector instead of spending so much time fiddling the unemployment figures?

Mr. Lee

The hon. Gentleman knows the situation full well. Employment in manufacturing industry has been falling for the last 20 years. We have about 23 per cent. of our working population in manufacturing, while in the United States it is only 19 per cent. May I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments of his leader, which appeared in The Guardian on 1 November. The headline says: "Kinnock cools hopes for jobs in manufacturing." The article by John Carvel reports what the Leader of the Opposition told Welsh industrialists.

He said: the Labour party does not expect its plans to revive manufacturing industry to produce any substantial increase in manufacturing jobs.

Mr. Roger King

Does my hon. Friend agree with the trade union movement that one way of establishing how successful British industry is to look not at the number of people employed in it, but at the number of robots used?

Mr. Lee

My hon. Friend is right. One of the reasons for the reduction in manufacturing employment is clearly the increasing use of robotics and automation, and more especially the increase in efficiency that has been achieved during the lifetime of this Government.

Mr. O'Brien

Does the Minister accept that a large part of the increase in the loss of jobs in manufacturing industry has been among people in my constituency and in the travel-to-work area which covers the Hemsworth and Wakefield constituencies? Unemployment is now bordering on 16 per cent. Will the Minister press for assisted area status for the travel-to-work area that covers my constituency and those of my hon. Friends so that something is done to improve manufacturing industry and reduce unemployment?

Mr. Lee

I am conscious of the fact that there are depressingly high unemployment figures in a number of regions. I fully accept that. Particular area status is a matter not for the Department of Employment but for the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the success of British Coal Enterprise. Recently its funds have been doubled to about £40 million, which has been beneficial in part in helping to create new jobs in areas such as the hon. Gentleman's.