HC Deb 02 December 1992 vol 215 cc259-60
10. Mr. Mudie

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to meet representatives of the Confederation of British Industry to discuss future prospects for the manufacturing sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Heseltine

Ministers and officials from my Department are in frequent contact with the Confederation of British Industry on a range of issues. I addressed the CBI national conference on 10 November.

Mr. Mudie

Given that in the 1980s, 1,752,000 jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector and in the 1990s, 668,000 jobs have already disappeared in manufacturing, will the President confirm that he is aware of the CBI projection, backed up by other sources, that those job losses will continue at least until 1994? Will he agree that unless those losses are stopped and reversed, there will be no possibility of a sustained economic recovery?

Mr. Heseltine

I agree that the CBI welcomed the Government's autumn statement, which was made with just the same intentions in mind that the hon. Member has referred to. The CBI welcomed the fact that we got rid of the car tax; that we increased capital allowances and reduced interest rates to the lowest level for 15 years, saving something like £10 billion a year from the costs of industry; that we preserved the capital programmes; and that we increased Export Credits Guarantee Department cover by £700 million. Those actions were a very considerable, determined step by the Government to help the policies the CBI wanted.

Mrs. Chaplin

Does my right hon. Friend share my irritation at the constant denigration of manufacturing industry in this country by Labour Members who ignore the fact that £90 billion of exports from manufacturing industry will go out this year? Will he agree with me that the lower pound means not only that the industry can increase exports, but that it can recapture home markets?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend puts the case extremely well. The fact is that there is now considerable opportunity in export markets for British manufactures. Exports already are at an all-time high and they are set to increase further as a result of the opportunity. I also agree with my hon. Friend that Labour Members seek every opportunity to run down success, not only in manufacturing industry but anywhere they can find it.

Mr. Orme

Will the Secretary of State have a look at the Engineering Employers Federation's devastating critique of the Government's policy and the failure of the Government to provide for manufacturing industry? Has he discussed it with the federation? Has he discussed it with the CBI? Does he not think that it is about time he did?

Mr. Heseltine

I spent some time last night reading the Engineering Employers Federation publication and I was delighted to see upon how many of their suggestions the Government have already acted.

Mr. Riddick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the chattering classes, both in the media and the universities and sometimes on the Opposition Benches, talk about the importance of manufacturing industry, but one thing, for sure, that they do not want is for their children to go to work in manufacturing industry? Indeed it is fair to point out that very few Opposition Members have ever worked in manufacturing industry themselves, as I did.

Can my right hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government have taken to bring home to schoolchildren and students the importance of working in manufacturing and the fact that a good career can be had in manufacturing industry?

Mr. Heseltine

I agree with my hon. Friend, and the Government have taken significant measures during the 1980s to draw together manufacturing industry and the educational establishments in order to create just the improved atmosphere which he suggests.

Mr. Robin Cook

Does the President recall telling the "Today" programme in October that he was putting in place the basis of a strategy for industry? While he was reading the Engineering Employers Federation document, did he notice that the federation produced its strategy in six weeks? As it is now seven weeks since the broadcast, eight months since he took the job and nearly 14 years since the Government took office, just when will the right hon. Gentleman produce a strategy for industry?

Mr. Heseltine

The very successful conclusion of the EEF publication is that we have done so many of the things that it wanted us to do. We have done them because we had considered, perhaps even before the federation began to draft its report, the needs of manufacturing industry. I was delighted to see the warm reception that the autumn statement received from the CBI.