HC Deb 01 November 1995 vol 265 cc296-8
12. Dr. Lynne Jones

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what estimate he has made of the likely date by which manufacturing output will be at least 3 per cent. higher than in 1990. [38660]

Mr. Oppenheim

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be publishing a new forecast for manufacturing output later this month.

Dr. Jones

I was—[Interruption.] I was taken aback by the fact that the Minister was not prepared to give any kind of estimate. Is not our manufacturing production only just about where it was before the recession began? It is no wonder, then, now that the competitive advantage of the devalued pound has faded away—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."]—that we are back in the red with our balance of payments in manufacturing, which never occurred before the Conservative Government came to power. [Interruption.] What mark out of 10—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The more the House calls the hon. Lady to put a question, the longer it will take her. Will the hon. Lady come to her question now?

Dr. Jones

Yes, Madam Speaker. What mark out of 10 would the Minister give the Government for that performance?

Mr. Oppenheim

If I could give them 11 out of 10, I would. Manufacturing output grew by 4 per cent. last year and it is forecast by the Confederation of British Industry to grow by 4 per cent. this year. It is at record levels. When the Labour party was in charge of the commanding heights of British industry, British Steel was the world's largest loss maker and British Leyland made cars that were the butt of music hall jokes. Manufacturing output fell under the last Labour Government and growth in manufacturing productivity was bottom of all the main industrial countries.

Since 1979, not only have we got record manufacturing output, but the growth in our manufacturing productivity and in our manufacturing exports has been 80 per cent. Manufacturing has done very well under the Conservative Government.

Mr. Dover

Does my hon. Friend agree that it will reach the 3 per cent. extra above the boom times provided that the country is sensible enough to re-elect a Conservative Government? We are the only party that understands the needs of manufacturing industry.

Mr. Oppenheim

The proof of the pudding is very much in the performance. In the 1960s and 1970s, Britain was bottom of the Group of Seven league of major industrial countries in terms of manufacturing output growth and growth in productivity. In the 1980s and 1990s, we were top in the growth of manufacturing productivity and ahead of Japan and equal to the average of the G7 countries in growth of manufacturing output. As I have said, manufacturing has done very well indeed under the Conservative Government, in stark contrast with the disastrous state in which the last Labour Government left it.

Mr. Purchase

Did we not lose 350,000 jobs in manufacturing during the reign of the Conservatives in the 1980s? Did not imports of manufactured goods exceed exports in 1984 for the first time in Britain's industrial history? Is not manufacturing investment now lower than it was five years ago under the present Government? What has the Minister to say to that?

Mr. Oppenheim

There is one very big difference between our trading performance and that of the last Labour Government. Under the Labour Government, there was a period of surplus, but it was declining very rapidly. Under the Conservative Government, the performance has improved and, for the first time in many decades, we have maintained our share of world exports in manufactures. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that under the Labour Government jobs in manufacturing fell at the rate of 700,000 a year, output fell and productivity was stagnant. Under the Conservative Government, output has risen and productivity is at record levels.

Mr. Day

Is my hon. Friend aware that part of the improvement in manufacturing output in this country has been due to companies such as Avro International, which is based at Woodford in my constituency of Cheadle and has just recently made a marvellous export sale to Australia? Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to congratulate the management and work force of Avro International on that breakthrough in the Australian market?

Mr. Oppenheim

I will indeed take that opportunity. The performance of British Aerospace is indicative of the improved performance of British manufacturing since 1979. Looking back to the 1970s, companies such as BAe, British Steel, British Leyland—all the nationalised, monopoly industries—were almost dead on their feet; they were industrial basket cases, whereas now they are highly successful, exporting all over the world. Rolls-Royce has trebled its share of the civil aero engine market, BAe is profitable again, and British Steel, which was the world's largest loss maker, is now one of the most profitable steel companies in the world—it exports 40 per cent. of its output, accounts for 80 per cent. of the domestic market and is once more a highly efficient industry. That is the story of what has happened to British manufacturing in the past 15 years.