HC Deb 15 May 1996 vol 277 cc946-7
19. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on trends in manufacturing industry. [28376]

Mr. Lang

In the current recovery, output in manufacturing has risen by more than 8 per cent., exports have risen by a quarter to record levels, and investment in plant and machinery has risen by 16 per cent.

Mr. Winterton

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but, in the light of the sad and regrettable redundancies in the clothing and textile industry, which is an important part of the United Kingdom's manufacturing economy, has he received from the industry any estimate of the cost on its wage bill of the minimum wage? It advises me that as much as 30 per cent. could be put on its wage bill, which would make it uncompetitive internationally and could lead to many hundreds of redundancies in textile and clothing constituencies.

Will my right hon. Friend perhaps give me an update on progress in opening export markets since the conclusion of the Uruguay round, and in validation of the tariff reductions that have been claimed?

Mr. Lang

I am naturally sorry to hear about the loss of jobs in my hon. Friend's constituency, but I am sure that he will welcome the fact that, since the beginning of 1994, overall employment in manufacturing industry has risen by about 50,000. He is right to identify the national minimum wage as a particular danger to the textile industry. A recent survey showed that, at a rate of some £4 per hour, 139,975 jobs would be lost in north-west England. That illustrates the vulnerability of employment that would derive from a national minimum wage, especially in the UK's regions.

Mr. Pearson

Did the Secretary of State read in the Financial Times yesterday an article called "The ills of manufacturing", which quoted a study that said that, between 1973 and 1992, output grew by more than 50 per cent. in the United States of America and by more than by two thirds in Italy and Japan, but by only a miserly 1.3 per cent. in the UK? Is not the problem as much one of stagnant output in the past 20 years as poor productivity? What are the Government going to do about it?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman did not hear the figures that I gave in answer to the main question. I said that, since the beginning of the recovery, output in manufacturing industry had risen by 8 per cent. If he contrasts that with what happened under the last Labour Government, when output fell by an average of 0.5 per cent. per annum, he will reflect on the considerable progress that has been made. Since 1979, manufacturing industry exports have risen by 90 per cent. and productivity has risen by 80 per cent. That is a measure of the turnround that is leading to record exports and to record inward investment.