Will my hon. Friend confirm that a substantial part of British manufacturing is accounted for by small firms? What are the Government doing to assist the vital part of the economy that they represent?
My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the important contribution made by small and medium enterprises—the proverbial acorns from which we hope oaks will grow, which contribute 25 per cent. to our gross domestic product. As my right hon. Friend the President just said, 200 business links have been created, which will give business men a single coherent signpost to advice, market research and other necessary services to help them expand. That will prevent them from being pushed from pillar to post. Most important of all is a proper, stable economic climate with low inflation and low interest rates, which gives the best basis for British business.
Is it not pathetic that Conservative Members ask questions about expanding British manufacturing, given that a Conservative Government wiped out one third of Britain's manufacturing base in the 1980s? As things hot up as the consequence of an undervalued pound, capacity is insufficient to meet export demand. The Government preach their record, and it gives us no pleasure to make the other argument. The Government are wholly responsible for wiping out one third of this country's manufacturing capacity, particularly in the west midlands.
The hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear my answer to the hon. Member for Thurrock, in which I said that investment, exports, productivity and manufacturing were up. The hon. Gentleman seems to be ignoring the huge success of the Invest in Britain Bureau, which has brought into the country more than 300 companies in the manufacturing sector and created about 84,000 jobs. It is certainly helping to fulfil and expand Britain's manufacturing base.
Does my hon. Friend recall the frequent references of Labour Members to reports made by the Engineering Employer Federation a year or two ago, when those reports contained fairly depressing news? Has he noted the silence on the Opposition Benches since the Engineering Employers Federation began to report that orders, investment and manufacturing output were up? Is there not something wrong when Opposition Members talk only about bad news for Britain?
I can only agree with my hon. Friend. The Labour party seems to ignore the forecast that is being produced by the CBI, which suggests that in its view manufacturing investment will be up by about 8 per cent. this year. The London business school is saying that it will be up by about 15 per cent. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research is forecasting 9 per cent. Not all of them will be right, but they are all pointing in the right way. That shows that success is with us. It is all good news.
Does the Minister not realise the offence that it causes to the public when they hear the self-congratulatory nonsense to which we have been listening and compare it with their experience of life? The people of Scotland have witnessed under this Government a reduction in the number of manufacturing units from more than 4,500 to 3,000. Manufacturing employment has been reduced from 563,000 jobs to 300,000. Does the Minister not realise that it is that sort of experience that will contribute tomorrow to the slaughter of the Tories in the Scottish local government elections, and next month in the English and Welsh local government elections? Even if his colleague, the President of the Board of Trade, succeeds to the position that he covets, such statistics will be hung round the neck of the Government for many years to come.
If the BBC were here, it would be banning that broadcast. It would be against the rules. Investment in Scotland has been at record levels. In the manufacturing sector, there has been an increase of about 25,000 jobs throughout the country. We can see the results overall. Every day, 1,000 jobs are being created. Unemployment has been decreasing by 1,000 a day over the past two years. These are enormous successes that should not be left on one side.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is evidence of a growing success of manufacturing industry, and not merely through the Engineering Employers Federation, where even small firms are starting to recruit? There is news from the Machine Tool Technologies Association to the effect that the machine tool industry is operating on a considerable balance of trade surplus, and has been for some time. Is that not a knock in the eye for Opposition Members, who seem always to see their duty to write down and write off British industry as much as possible purely for party political reasons?
My hon. Friend produces the Machine Tool Technologies Association as a classic example. I can only agree with him. I hope to be travelling with a delegation to Milan to try to increase export potential in the next few months.