HC Deb 12 February 1992 vol 203 cc966-7
8. Mr. Orme

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received from businesses in the north-west concerning the effects of the recession in industry.

Mr. Redwood

My right hon. Friend receives considerable correspondence about the state of northwestern business.

Mr. Orme

Will the Minister confirm that since 1979 there has been a 37 per cent. reduction in manufacturing industry in the north-west—a larger proportion than in any other region in the United Kingdom—that last year 16,800 jobs in the manufacturing and engineering industries were lost and that, unfortunately, we foresee more jobs being lost as a result of the statement made by British Aerospace today? Faced with those facts, what action will the Government take? Why do they stand aside as British manufacturing industry is reduced, whereas our main competitors in other countries support their industries?

Mr. Redwood

My right hon. Friend set out the Government's policies some time ago in a clear document that was fully backed by the CBI, which believes that we have the right policies to improve our competitiveness and to take advantage of lower inflation and of business conditions around the world as they improve. In the 1980s, north-western output expanded, as it did nationwide. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier that manufacturing output was up by more than one fifth, and productivity, investment, and exports by much more impressive figures. The CBI stated recently that matters will improve and the Bank of England says that the leading indicator measures point firmly to an upturn in output in 1992.

Sir Peter Blaker

As to British Aerospace, will my hon. Friend give a firm assurance that the Government will continue vigorously to support exports of military aircraft—something which is strongly opposed by many Opposition Members? What is the Government's attitude to Labour's proposal for a defence diversification agency, bearing in mind that if it were so easy to create jobs through a Government agency, it is surprising that Labour has always left behind more unemployed than when it took office.

Mr. Redwood

My right hon. Friend is right. The Government will offer all assistance under our policies and programmes to help British Aerospace to export its products. After all, it is orders that businesses need to provide jobs and to guarantee employment. The large defence cuts that Labour proposes would be ruinous to job prospects, and its ham-fisted intervention plans would not work. It would not be easy to effect the transition that Labour suggests by Government sleight of hand. What is required is careful business planning by the managers and directors of the companies concerned.

Mr. Hoyle

Yes, but if the Minister will come into the real world, he will find that redundancies are still occurring. Many of the redundancies at British Aerospace involve white-collar workers, including professional engineers—many of whom are graduates. What future will they have in the recession that continues under the present Government?

Mr. Redwood

The worldwide recession will lift. It is doing so in many parts of the world, and that provides export and job opportunities. Skilled people always have opportunities ahead of them, and I am sure that they will continue to do so under this Government, who have the right economic policies. Those opportunities would be wrecked by the Opposition's policies for commerce and industry.