The index of manufacturing output in the first quarter of 1991 was 113·4. This was 1 per cent. lower than the previous quarter, but 17 per cent. higher than the average for 1980.
Is the Minister aware that 100,000 manufacturing jobs in Britain are dependent on ICI? Is he aware that 4,000 people, including many of my constituents, are directly employed by ICI, and that last year Hanson spent £34 million on research, while ICI spent £500 million? Is the Minister aware of any other European Government who would stand idly by while the fate of such a company was determined by the rules of the casino?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a matter of great concern that manufacturing output has risen by only 3 per cent. since March 1973—18 years ago? Will he confirm that in the 18 years prior to that date manufacturing output rose by about 70 per cent? How does he account for the poor performance in recent years?
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that performance has been poor in recent years. Indeed, the performance of manufacturing industry during the 1980s was outstanding compared with its rather dismal performance during the 1970s. Manufacturing output in the first quarter of this year was 17 per cent. higher than in 1980 and productivity was 56 per cent. higher. That is commendable.
Is it the Department's view, as well as that of the Prime Minister, that small manufacturing firms are getting a raw deal from the banks? If so, why is the Minister's Department not taking the initiative by referring the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, instead of simply bringing in bank chairmen for a chat?
Is my hon. Friend aware that Britain's biggest manufacturing company, British Aerospace, is based in my constituency? In view of the tripe that we sometimes hear from the Opposition on the subject of manufacturing, will my hon. Friend explain to them why British Aerospace had a record year last year in terms of profits which amounted to £376 million, a record year in terms of turnover with new orders amounting to £10·8 billion, and why this year's order book is also at the record level of £11·8 billion?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on praising the performance of a particular British firm, because all too often we hear nothing from the Labour party but the running down and denigrating of industry and complaints about its performance. Perhaps the reasons for the success of British Aerospace, to which my hon. Friend referred, are related to its increases in productivity during the 1980s, to which I referred in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox).
Does the Minister now accept that, in addition to all the other problems that British manufacturing industry faces, any possible takeover of ICI will have huge consequences because every year ICI spends 17 times as much on research and development as the Hanson Trust? Will the Minister now stop evading the question and make the Conservative party's view clear? Is it opposed to a hostile Hanson takeover of ICI?
The hon. Gentleman is for once jumping to conclusions instead of rattling off statistics. Perhaps he should have regard to the Government's legal responsibilities and wait until something happens that could give rise to a reference.