HC Deb 01 April 1993 vol 222 cc489-90
11. Mr. Patrick Thompson

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the growth in unit wage costs in (a) the United Kingdom and (b) other EC countries over the past year.

Mr. Portillo

While over the latest year manufacturing unit wage costs in Germany rose by more than 9 per cent. in Britain they fell by 1 per cent. That is excellent news for British jobs.

Mr. Thompson

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, which confirms that manufacturing productivity in Britain is better than it is in Germany—and also, I believe, in Japan. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has never been a better opportunity for manufacturing firms in Norwich and throughout the country to exploit opportunities in world markets and in the single market, and that it is bad news that there are those in this country at this time who are willing to encourage strike action in any part of the economy?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend is right. We expect competitiveness to be about 20 per cent. better during the year ahead than in the year gone by. Strikes are the worst possible advertisement to those thinking of investing in this country. Those who are thinking of investing in this country will want to hear clearly from the Labour party that it condemns the strikes and sees that strikes are pointless and self-defeating. They will also want the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) to get up now and condemn the strikes.

Mr. Flynn

Will the Minister confirm that we have some of the lowest unit wage costs in Europe, which accounts for some of our attraction to overseas industry, but that a major part of the budget of pensioners and others on low incomes will be the standing charges on their fuel bills? Those standing charges will amount sometimes to 50 per cent. and sometimes to three quarters of their fuel bills. That has nothing to do with fuel consumption. Do the Government believe that it is sensible to tackle global warming by increasing the number of deaths from hypothermia?

Mr. Portillo

The Labour party is not very good at listening. It has heard the answer to that point time after time. The hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not believe in flexibility, that he does not believe in competition, that he does not believe in attracting jobs to this country. I am pleased to say that Bosch, which recently decided to move a plant from Stuttgart to Cardiff, knows the scene. The Federation of German Industry has said that at the Cardiff plant there is "strong motivation" and a "flexibility unknown in Germany". Why does the hon. Gentleman not welcome that?

Mr. Oppenheim

Will my right hon. Friend cast his mind back to the late 1970s, when companies such as Ford and Vauxhall were falling over themselves to move production from Britain, and compare that with the current situation, in which, for the first time in 20 years, Vauxhall and Ford are exporting substantial numbers of cars? Those companies are moving the production of engines and components back to Britain and, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, companies such as Bosch are coming to this country, not because of low wages but because of high productivity, quality manufacturing and an environment that is good for business. Do not Opposition Members have an absolute cheek to complain about the Government's record, bearing in mind that when their party was in power manufacturing output fell and productivity was appaling, whereas under the present Government manufacturing output has risen and productivity is at record levels?

Mr. Portillo

Manufacturing productivity is at record levels, as are manufacturing exports. We are a net exporter of television sets, and we are improving our position in relation to motor cars. Close to my hon. Friend's constituency in Derbyshire, Toyota is investing £750 million at Burnaston and thereby creating 3,000 new jobs. The Labour party, by shouting, demonstrates that it has no interest in new jobs, that it is interested only in running Britain down. Luckily, it will not be in power in the foreseeable future. Luckily, too, its position will not put people off who are thinking of investing in Britain.