HC Deb 15 February 1989 vol 147 cc307-8
11. Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what are the latest figures he has for the productivity levels in manufacturing industry.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth)

Productivity in manufacturing industry, as measured by output per person employed, in the three months to November 1988 averaged 121.4, based on 1985 equal to 100. Productivity has grown by 7½ per cent. in the last year and by 52 per cent. since 1979.

Mr. Brown

In view of that answer, will my hon. Friend confirm that Britain now has the fastest-growing manufacturing output? Will he speculate on how that compares with where Britain was in the two decades prior to 1979?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend, with his usual perspicacity, has put his finger on the comparison. The truth is that productivity in this country is growing and has been growing at record levels. We are now outstripping all our major competitors. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s the position was quite the reverse—we were then a picture of miserable failure. We are now a gigantic success.

Mr. Haynes

When will the Minister realise that in my constituency the hosiery and knitwear industry could increase its productivity if the Government did something about the massive imports? Those imports are crucifying that industry. When will the Government do something about it?

Mr. Forth

I do not know when the hon. Gentleman last consulted the consumers in his constituency on whether they would appreciate his removal of their freedom of choice in what they purchase. The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that he would arbitrarily deny people the right to choose freely what they purchase. It is a matter of some regret that the hon. Gentleman undervalues the contribution being made by the workers and management in his constituency in their efforts to make their industry more competitive.

Mr. Devlin

Will the Minister confirm that in the north of England—where there is a significant part of our manufacturing industry—confidence is at an all-time high? The productivity gains that he has mentioned have been higher there than the national average.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is correct. My colleagues and I often visit companies in the north and throughout the country and we find nothing but confidence in the present and in the future. I believe that that is something from which we should take great heart, and we can be confident that it will continue.