HC Deb 15 February 1989 vol 147 cc300-2
4. Mr. Boswell

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what has been the growth in Britain's manufacturing productivity since 1979; and what information he has on the figures for other major industrial countries.

8. Mr. Cran

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by what amount productivity in the United Kingdom manufacturing industry has increased over the last 10 years; and what has been the comparable increase among the United Kingdom's main industrial competitors.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Robert Atkins)

Comparable figures for major industrial countries are available only up to the third quarter of 1988. These show that in the 12 months ending September 1988 manufacturing productivity, as measured by output per person employed, in Italy increased by 38 per cent., in the United States by 37 per cent., in Japan by 31 per cent., in Canada by 27 per cent., in France by 25 per cent. and in Germany by 20 per cent. In the United Kingdom, it was 46 per cent. higher.

Mr. Boswell

Do not those excellent comparative figures, linked as they probably are with the low corporate tax rate, show that other countries will simply have to try harder? Should not the strong financial position of our companies give them adequate scope for further investment, training, research and development?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is right. I am not sure that I agree entirely with his invitation to our competitors to try harder, but the statistics prove that the other countries to which I referred have a lesson to learn from our success.

Mr. Cran

Despite the considerable progress since 1979, does not a great deal remain to be done, as evidenced by the fact that recent OECD figures show that we still have a productivity gap of 30 per cent. vis-a-vis the United States and 25 per cent. compared with the rest of Europe?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend speaks with authority on these matters—[Interruption.] Opposition Members may laugh, but my hon. Friend is regional director of the Confederation of British Industry and knows what he is talking about. In those circumstances, they should pay attention to what he says. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that, while we have improved, we can always do better.

Mr. Hoyle

Should not the Minister, too, pay attention to the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) as the hon. Gentleman was talking about OECD figures which show that we are 16th out of 21 in the productivity league tables and are ahead only of countries such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey? Far from being a success story, is that not a story of failure?

Mr. Atkins

I am fascinated as to why the hon. Gentleman always insists on bringing doom and gloom to all our discussions about the successful statistics that I offer to the House, which are a demonstration of what this country has achieved in 10 years of Conservative Government.

Mrs. Mahon

Does the Minister accept that those figures are no use at all to my constituents because 300 job losses have been announced since Christmas, and 650 jobs were lost last year after the KP closure? When will he accept that certain industries are under dire threat and that his figures mean nothing to the textile industries and the engineering and machine tool works in my constituency, all of which are under threat because the Government do not seem to have a coherent policy?

Mr. Atkins

I must take issue with the hon. Lady largely because, as she knows, I represent a northern constituency. In the north-west the signs are that while, of course, there are always problems in a competitive economy, none the less we have tried our best to ensure that the future for industry is bright. The statistics, facts and views that I have received from business men the length and breadth of the country seem to confirm that.

Mr. Batiste

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the best response by companies across the country to the challenges of 1992 is to improve productivity in the future in line with past increases so that they can face European competition not merely on equal terms but as leaders in important areas such as productivity?

Mr. Atkins

Yes, Sir.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister accept that the recent figures from the P and A management consultancy, which show a decline in jobs in manufacturing and in the service industry in Northern Ireland, are a cause for concern? As we approach 1992, what can the Government do to improve the situation?

Mr. Atkins

Matters relating to Northern Ireland are dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman's concern is brought to my right hon. Friend's attention.

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