HC Deb 17 April 1996 vol 275 cc702-3
8. Mr. Garnier

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next plans to visit Leicestershire for discussions with representatives of the manufacturing sector about Government policies to encourage exports and inward investment from and into the east midlands. [23923]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Phillip Oppenheim)

Ministers in the Department keep in touch with all regions on a regular basis to stress the Government's commitment to competitiveness. The latest available figures show that the east midlands has the highest proportion of manufacturing gross domestic product of all the regions.

Mr. Garnier

Is my hon. Friend aware of just how successful the manufacturing sector of the east midlands and Leicestershire is in exporting not only to the European Union but to the wider world? Does he agree that one of the reasons for that is the highly useful role that the business links offices in Leicester and Market Harborough, which cover my constituency, have played? Does my hon. Friend also agree that the reason why we attract so much inward investment into those business regions is that we do not have a statutory minimum wage?

Mr. Oppenheim

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend, and it is not just the east midlands that has benefited. A recent survey showed that while the manufacturing productivity gap with Germany expanded to its widest margin by 1979, we in Britain have closed three quarters of that manufacturing productivity and competitiveness gap with Germany since 1979. That is quite an achievement and it shows that the period when Britain was in danger of becoming a second-rate, non-manufacturing, skivvy, low-wage economy was not under the Government but in the heroic days of Labour's industrial strategy.

Mr. Purchase

Is it not true that the majority of our productivity gains have been caused by loss of labour in key manufacturing areas? Is it not also true that, in the face of Tory complacency, manufacturing as a fraction of GDP fell by more than a third in the years of Tory control? How does the Minister explain that away?

Mr. Oppenheim

First, the manufacturing sector in relation to GDP in Britain is at about the same level as in other European countries, such as France and Italy. Secondly—[Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen would listen, they would hear that the number of manufacturing jobs has fallen in virtually every industrialised country. It has risen slightly in this country recently. What matters is not just the jobs in manufacturing but manufacturing productivity, which has risen because of organisational and efficiency improvements and manufacturing output. The key point is that whereas manufacturing output fell under the last Labour Government, it has risen sharply under this Government.