My noble Friend the industry Minister has recently invited the Machine Tools Technologies Association to a meeting. I hope that it will take up that offer. I am sure that there is much to talk about.
When the Minister meets the MTTA, will he take into account its 1991 spring report in which it expresses fears about the Government's tough, monetary policy, which has thrown an unnecessary burden onto the manufacture of machine tools? That will have an effect on the future upturn that may take place in British industry. Will that mean that the British machine tools industry will be incapable of meeting the demand? Will the Secretary of State take into account the number of changes in the Department of Trade and Industry which mean that manufacturing industry has no great influence on or interest in the Government's attitude?
The Government are most interested in the future performance of manufacturing industry and give it every sensible support to achieve good performance. I have the report to which, I think, the hon. Gentleman referred. I am pleased to see that it says that in 1990 exports reached 50 per cent. of total production, which shows how much more competitive the industry is now than it was some years ago. It goes on to say that British machine tool technology leads the world in many important sectors and lists a series of important spares in which it does so. The Government welcome that and will give the industry support. The Minister for Trade met the industry's association at the end of last year to encourage the industry to export more. That is the sort of support that we shall continue to give the industry.
Is the Minister aware of the other report of the Machine Tools Technologies Association on industrial trends, which shows that we are investing less in manufacturing and machine tools than we were in 1979, that the manufacturing base is being eroded and that orders for that industry are decreasing faster than at any time since the second world war? At its meeting with the Government, the industry's association will want to know what positive steps the Government will take to help the industry. Will the Minister tell the House now?
As I have already mentioned, the Government are keen to help the industry with the promotion of exports, which is its biggest sales sector and is, I believe, extremely competitive. The value of industrial advice from a former chief executive of Meriden is not so sure. Naturally, the MTTA will discuss a wide range of issues with my noble Friend the Minister for Industry, who will do whatever he can within our policies to provide the necessary assistance. We are not returning to backing winners because that would mean backing the wrong ones and, losing a lot of money for the taxpayer, which would make the economy worse, not better.
Bearing in mind that today there are more jobs in manufacturing in Britain than in France and Italy, does my hon. Friend agree that talk of our manufacturing industry's decline and death is premature? Will he and other Ministers in the Department do their best to ensure, both by rhetoric and conduct, that people who work in manufacturing industry believe that they and their companies are as important to the Government as anyone who works in the City?
I agree. I, too, was proud to work in manufacturing industry for a period and I know what an important contribution it makes to our wealth generation. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are many manufacturing success stories of which we should be proud. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about the revival of the motor industry in answer to an earlier question. The machine tools industry is doing great things in changing its design, pattern of sales and products. That is true of many other manufacturing industries, and we intend to create the conditions in which that revival can take place.
These trade associations are important in respect of exports, but does my hon. Friend agree that if they are to prosper abroad it would have been more encouraging for British industry if the new Moscow trade centre had been built by a British firm, not a French one? Does he think that the French or the Germans would have allowed their trade centres in Moscow to be built by the British? I think not. That is one of the reasons why they are more successful than we are: they support their people while we sometimes throw ours to the wolves.
It is also necessary to submit the lowest bid to win competitions. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade would have been delighted if the lower bid had come from a British company and I will ensure that he writes to my hon. Friend about any other matters that may be relevant in this case.
The machine tool industry will be pleased to know that the Minister has read its recent report, but has he read yesterday's announcement that new orders in that industry are down 46 per cent. in the first quarter of this year compared with last year? Does he accept that the machine tool industry is an accurate barometer of what is happening in the rest of the economy? If so, does he agree that this is yet more damning evidence of the industrial damage being done to this country?
Manufacturing investment was very high in the 1980s, particularly in the latter years of that decade. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right: there was some decline in orders at the beginning of this year, for domestic purposes, because the economy is weak at the moment, as he well knows. That is why I stress the importance of export markets accounting now for more than half the sales of the industry. We can give considerable support for that effort, and as the recovery gets under way in the United Kingdom domestic orders will of course increase.