§ 7. Mr. Jim Cunningham
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what assessment she has made of employment prospects in the manufacturing sector in the west midlands. 
§ Mr. Cunningham
Given that answer, is the Minister aware of, and would he like to comment on, the Confederation of British Industry survey and the Department of Trade and Industry survey, which state that 16,000 jobs so far have been lost in the manufacturing sector this quarter and which project that another 5,000 will go by June? Is that not in sharp contrast to the Government's earlier boasting about the jobs that they were creating? Yet we do not have a social chapter.
§ Mr. Forth
The more relevant figures can be obtained by looking at a longer period. One then sees that the number of people employed in manufacturing generally, as in the west midlands, is going up. The snapshot figure that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is not representative. The reality is that the proportion of the work force involved in manufacturing in this country is broadly similar to the proportion in France and in Italy, for example. It is greater than the proportion in north America—the United States and Canada.
The reality is that our manufacturing sector is proving to be extraordinarily successful in that productivity, production and exports are continuing to go up. However, manufacturing does not need to employ the same number of people as in the past. That is a record of success, not failure, and we should recognise it as such.
§ Sir Norman Fowler
Is it not the case that, in a survey published today, the west midlands chambers of commerce forecast that, over the next 12 months, there will be an increase in profitability and turnover in manufacturing industry in the west midlands? Is it not the case that the only thing that can prevent that from flowing through into more jobs is the old Labour policies of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher)?
§ Mr. Forth
Yes, indeed. My right hon. Friend and I are right to celebrate the success of the west midlands and the effect that that has on our constituents. We can see the vigour of the west midlands manufacturing industry. It is enjoying the environment created by the Government which has enabled industry to increase its output and to increase exports. The automobile industry in particular is now a spectacular success story in the west midlands, enabling more and more people to be employed in meaningful manufacturing industry. That should be recognised and celebrated, as it is by Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Ian McCartney
The Minister's response is incredible only a few days after a 22 per cent. swing against the Conservatives in South-East Staffordshire, which is in the midlands. That swing was due entirely to the Government's economic record of job insecurity. Across the midlands as a whole, 96,000 young people are still unemployed. Across the midlands, there were more people unemployed in March 1996 than there were in March 1991. There have been 50,000 job losses in manufacturing since—
§ Mr. McCartney
I apologise, Madam Speaker; I was just trying to cheer the Minister up. In fact, I shall cheer him up—
§ Mr. McCartney
Yes. Will the Minister tell us clearly whether he agrees with the analysis in a letter sent by the President of the Board of Trade to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in which the right hon. Gentleman says that he expects further job losses in manufacturing over the next few months?
§ Mr. Forth
Yes indeed; there will be further job losses in manufacturing over the next few months—but almost certainly there will be a greater number of job gains in that sector over the same period. That is the economic reality that we recognise. Unfortunately, Opposition Members still seem to live in some dim and distant past in which they think that jobs can be made permanent and protected.
Regrettably, in a modern, flexible, competitive economy, jobs are lost in some sectors—but they are gained in others. This country attracts more than one third of the total inward investment into the European Union, which signifies that overseas investors have full confidence in our economy and in our management of it. We shall continue to see an increase in the number of manufacturing jobs, but those will not necessarily be the same jobs as they were yesterday, last year or the last decade.