HC Deb 16 March 1993 vol 221 cc152-3
2. Dr. Wright

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if she will give figures on employment levels in manufacturing industry in each year since 1979.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

Employment in manufacturing in Britain was 4,593,000 in September 1992 compared with 7,253,000 in June 1979. Information for the intervening years can be obtained from the NOMIS database in the House Library.

Dr. Wright

Does not the Secretary of State understand that those figures tell the whole story about what has been happening to this economy since 1979? Three million jobs have been lost in manufacturing industry and half a million jobs have been lost in manufacturing in the west midlands alone. Does she not understand that it is an economic disaster because, when we get a competitive devaluation, we do not have a competitive base to take advantage of it? It is a social disaster because it destroys lives, families and communities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] Finally, the question to the Secretary of State is this: when she spoke to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this morning, did she say, "Come on: the Prime Minister has told us we made a mistake. The time now is for jobs, jobs and more jobs"? Or did she say, "Let's have"—

Madam Speaker

Order. I call the Secretary of State.

Mrs. Shephard

As for what transpired this morning, the hon. Gentleman will have to possess his soul in patience—if he is capable of doing that. Instead of doing what the Labour party usually does and talk down British achievements, the hon. Gentleman should be congratulating British manufacturers on their highest ever export levels and on their outstanding improvements in productivity and profitability over the past decade. Or perhaps the hon. Gentleman advocates a return to Labour's manufacturing policy: overmanning, millions of working days lost through strikes and Red Robbo.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is not employment in manufacturing declining in most major industrialised countries, even in Germany, whose workers are now the most expensive in the world? Is it not extraordinary that, with its commitment to the statutory minimum wage and support for the social chapter, the Labour party wants to take us down that uncompetitive path?

Mrs. Shephard

Yes, that is indeed extraordinary. As my hon. Friend has said, manufacturing employment peaked in this country in the mid-1960s, and there has been a steady decline under all Governments since, as there has been in all other major industrialised countries. However, if we followed the policies of the Labour party, we would quickly cease to be competitive.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Lady know that, in my constituency, 500 of the best kind of manufacturing jobs have been lost at British Aerospace, Broughton, on the airbus project? Is she aware that it is feared that very soon more jobs will be lost in the same factory on the production line of the world-beating executive jet, the 125 series? May I have her assurance that she will tell the Cabinet that development area status should not be taken from my constituency? Does she understand that manufacturing jobs and regional policy go together? We want a national strategy for manufacturing.

Mrs. Shephard

I am reminded of the hon. Gentleman's passionate advocacy of free trade in our employment debate last week. I note what he says about the status of his constituency. As he will know, that is not a matter for me: the potiential job losses that he mentions are a matter of commercial decisions for the company concerned. However, whatever, happens, my Department in the form of TECs and the Employment Service, stand ready to help wherever people face unemployment.