Manufacturing Base

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th April 1995.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock 2:30 pm, 5th April 1995

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what measures he proposes to regenerate Britain's manufacturing base. [16437]

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page , South West Hertfordshire

The latest figures show manufacturing output up 4.3 per cent., productivity up 4.6 per cent. and exports up 14 per cent. on a year earlier, The Government's policies to help manufacturing and other businesses to win are set out in last year's "Competitiveness: Helping Business to Win" White Paper. We will publish a second White Paper containing further initiatives soon.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

We have all those "ups", but what are they up on? Is it not a fact that the country's manufacturing has not increased substantially for 20 years? How can the Government claim to take pride in the nation when they have presided over a haemorrhaging of our manufacturing base? Why are their friends—employer and industry representatives and the banks—pointing to the country's great skills shortage? Are not the Government selling the country short in all sectors, especially manufacturing?

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page , South West Hertfordshire

The hon. Gentleman shows all the dangers of coming to the House with a rigidly prepared supplementary question. Three years ago, in the middle of the recession, his comments might have had some validity, but I remind him of my answer—manufacturing up, exports up on last year, productivity up, investment up. The only thing that is down is unemployment. It is all good news.

Photo of Mr Roger Knapman Mr Roger Knapman , Stroud

Is my hon. Friend aware that the export-led recovery is becoming apparent even to a few of the more thoughtful Opposition Members? Will not that awareness be assisted by the recent £1 billion export order won by Lucas Industries in my constituency?

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page , South West Hertfordshire

I can but agree with my hon. Friend. The growth that we are seeing in the United Kingdom can only be regarded as miraculous. For the first time, we have stability in world trade and we have arrested a decline which has been going on for decades. The sort of order to which my hon. Friend referred is good news.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield

Is the Minister aware that, in terms of gross domestic product, our manufacturing base is well below that of France and Germany and is still not recovering at the right speed? Should not there be more co-ordination between the Exchequer and the Department of Employment? Is it not strange that, while the Department of Trade and Industry is trying to do one thing, the Department of Employment is cutting the enterprise allowance scheme and the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to believe that 35 per cent. of people in this country work for small and medium-sized firms which need finance and help?

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page , South West Hertfordshire

There is a philosophical divide between our two parties. We do not believe in such centralised plans. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the success of the National Enterprise Board set up by Labour to try to help British industry: it cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds. I must also point out that the White Paper entitled "Competitiveness: Helping Business to Win" is the most positive way to help British industry take forward a wide range of best practice benchmarks and develop its export potential.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

Does my hon. Friend agree that the British silverware industry is rightly renowned throughout the world for the quality of its work and that that quality is synonymous with the British hallmark? May I congratulate him and his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry on their robust and successful defence of the British hallmark last week in Brussels against determined attempts by the Germans and Italians to consign it to the dustbin of history?

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page , South West Hertfordshire

My hon. Friend's position has always been very clear and I thank him on behalf of the Department for his robust support in producing such a successful result.