HC Deb 28 October 1987 vol 121 cc289-91
9. Mr. Knox

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the most recent figure for output in manufacturing industry; and how this compares with the figure for the same month 14 years ago.

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend will appreciate that monthly data can be erratic. However, since the trough of the recession in 1981 manufacturing output has increased by over 20 per cent. to reach a level of 111.5 in August 1987, based on 1980 equal to 100. This was about 3 per cent. lower than the level of output in August 1973.

Mr. Knox

I welcome the recent improvement in manufacturing output, but is it satisfactory that manufacturing output is still lower than it was in August 1973, 14 years ago?

Mr. Atkins

No. Of course, I would accept that that is a disappointing factor, but it reflects the poor performance of manufacturing industry in the 1970s. I should prefer to agree with the earlier part of my hon. Friend's question, which is that at the moment industrial activity in Britain is in fine fettle. If one talks to industries the length and breadth of the country, as I am now doing, one finds that they are extremely bullish about prospects and are looking forward to the future with a great deal of excitement and interest.

Mr. Hoyle

The Minister talks of confidence, but what will now happen to manufacturing industry as a result of the collapse of shares, which shows that there is no confidence in the economy under the Government?

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman betrays his ignorance by the tone of his question. As he will know, coming from an industrial constituency as I do, that if he were to talk to his local companies, big and small, they would tell him that no matter what is happening on the stock market they are doing very well and want to do better.

Mr. Oppenheim

Should not Opposition Members temper their righteous indignation by bearing in mind that manufacturing output in 1979 was rather lower than it was in 1974?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is right. I am not even sure whether the Opposition's indignation is righteous.

Mr. Bruce

I and my colleagues disassociate ourselves from the official Opposition's apparent wish to will Britain into economic recession, but will the Minister accept that any sustained industrial recovery in Britain is dependent on international trade and confidence and industry's ability to obtain funds from the City? In those circumstances, will not pressing ahead with the BP share flotation tomorrow be likely to depress the City and make it more difficult for British industry to obtain funds to sustain its future investment?

Mr. Atkins

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman, representing all his hon. Friends present today, takes a view which is at least contrary to that of the official Opposition. However, it is not for me to comment on the BP deal, which is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mrs. Peacock

Does not the investment in manufacturing that is now taking place in Yorkshire suggest that many companies are confident about Britain's economic future?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is right. As a Lancashire Member as well, I can confirm that the north is doing exceptionally well.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Does the Minister accept that manufacturing output is not only lower than it was in 1973, but lower than it was in the second quarter of 1979? That abysmal performance has been matched only by those great manufacturing powers of Barbados, Fiji, Greece, Malawi, South Africa and Zambia. With that record from the years of oil opportunity, what does he expect now when industry is bring crucified by record high interest rates and a pound which has appreciated 18 per cent. in real terms since last September? Why does he not take his right hon. Friend the Chancellor by the elbow and say, "Look Nigel, enough is enough. Get interest rates down"?

Mr. Atkins

The Opposition are struggling to find bad news when the fact is that if one travels, as many hon. Members should do and have done during the recess, among British industry, talking to companies and listening to what they have to say—[Interruption.] The CBI said only recently that things have been going exceptionally well. Anyone who flies in the face of that information is clearly trying to knock Britain instead of talk us up.

Mr. Bowen Wells

What is my hon. Friend going to do about a part of manufacturing industry for which his Ministry is responsible, namely, Land Rover? When will Land Rover increase its production and competitiveness in the world market?

Mr. Atkins

I suspect that that is slightly outside the terms of the question. None the less, it is a matter to which the company should pay considerable attention, which it is doing. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), who is sitting behind me but is prevented from contributing to the debate on this question, knows better than most what a success story Land Rover is and continues to be.