HC Deb 10 December 1998 vol 322 cc475-6
12. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

What estimate he has made of the level of manufacturing employment in Britain in the current year and in the next two years. [61756]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

In line with the convention adopted by previous Administrations, the Government do not publish employment forecasts.

Mr. Syms

That is very sad. Given the—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Mr. McNulty, you are not in a public meeting now. You have been making comments continually from a sedentary position throughout Question Time. They are unwanted and unnecessary.

Mr. Syms

Given the sad announcements of further redundancies today following a number of such announcements over the past several months, and with many workers facing unemployment and a hard Christmas, does the Minister not consider that, for workers, the Prime Minister's recent comments that economic stability is sexy was both insensitive and in very poor taste?

Ms Hewitt

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Government—this applies to all Ministers—are extremely concerned about every job lost. That is why we are investing so much—£5 billion—in the new deal to counter unemployment, and why we have put in place a rapid response task force to deal with large-scale redundancies when they arise.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that since the general election employment has risen by 400,000—that is one more person in a job every two minutes. Business fears most of all a return to the boom and bust of the Conservative years, to which we are putting an end.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

May I assure my hon. Friend that the view of manufacturing employers in a manufacturing constituency such as Burnley is that the most serious threat to the future of manufacturing stability and jobs in manufacturing is the present attitude of the Opposition to Europe and to the euro? Will the Government continue to recognise the need for, and give support to, research and development, which is crucial if Britain is to remain at the sharp end of manufacturing and be able to retain jobs in manufacturing, not only for the next two years but for the years beyond?

Ms Hewitt

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is high time that Conservative Members stopped talking the economy down. However, given the competitive challenges that every sector of the economy faces in the modern world, and especially given the global conditions that we face at present, it is essential that we take every step possible to improve productivity. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer devoted the pre-Budget report particularly to a discussion of the measures that we can take to improve productivity through, for example, R and D, to which my hon. Friend referred.