I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about manufacturing, as I come from an industrial area. I am concerned about the human misery of unemployment—the sheer waste of people, many of whom are running out of hope.
A third of my constituents receive some form of income benefit. That should be set against Bradford's proud industrial heritage. The town must now create 700 new jobs a year just to retain its present employment level. In the early 1980s, we lost 22,000 jobs in four years, and we have never recovered. Companies such as GEC, International Harvesters and Baird Television, employing thousands, have completely gone; other major employers have drastically reduced their work forces. Hepworth and Grandage, a leading engineering company that employed 5,000 in its prime, now employs fewer than 250.
Bradford is not unique, however. Britain's industrial regions have been devastated by the growing cancer of long-term unemployment. We hear today that Britain has slipped to 18th in the league table of world prosperity; it is bottom of the league in terms of investment and job creation. I know that other hon. Members will want to share their experiences of the failure of Tory economic policy.
The history of Britain over the past 150 years could be portrayed as the inevitable effect of the decline of manufacturing industry. In the Great Exhibition of 1851, Britain was clearly seen as the strongest and most dynamic economy in the world, whose strength was based entirely on the success of manufacturing. Our competitors then were Germany, France and the United States—which long ago outstripped us, along with many other countries.
There are many reasons for our decline, but one of the most significant is the fact that in certain parts of the establishment there is still a feeling that to work in manufacturing is somehow inferior, confining employees to the tradesmen's entrance for life. There is a snobbish attitude to the industry. That attitude must be consigned to the dustbin. We are still a manufacturing nationjust—but we have a whole new series of challenges to face.
The Conservative Government have presided over the two deepest recessions since the second world war. Our economy has not the capacity for strong growth. In August, a survey conducted by the Business and Technology Education Council showed that more than half the firms employing more than 100 people thought that their profitability would be affected by skill shortages among young workers. We heard yesterday that the Deputy Prime Minister is to call for a job skills audit: he, too, recognises that Britain is way behind other countries in terms of competitiveness.
The rate of growth has been slowing seriously. Between 1979 and 1993, the economy grew at an average annual rate of only 1.7 per cent.; that is the slowest rate of growth in the United Kingdom since the 1930s. The Treasury forecast implies that the average growth rate between 1988 and 1998 will also be only 1.7 per cent., as against a pre-1979 post-war rate of 2.7 per cent. The United Kingdom's average growth between 1979 and 1993 has been the slowest in the 18 countries in the G7 and the European Union.
Manufacturing output rose by 0.5 per cent. in the first quarter, to a level less than 1 per cent. above that before the recession. Manufacturing output in 1993 was less than 1 per cent. higher than it was in 1973. In 1979, manufacturing output accounted for 30 per cent. of the economy, and more than 7 million people were employed in the industry; by 1993 the figure had fallen to around 20 per cent., and 4.3 million people were employed. Millions were unemployed in areas such as mine.
It could and should have been different. Let us consider the Pacific rim countries. There is no suggestion in Japan, South Korea or Malaysia that manufacturing is inferior: it is seen as essential to the development and prosperity of those countries, whose financial policies are directed towards efficiency. They have decided what they are good at, and they pursue policies that maximise their effectiveness with complete dedication.
The Asian tigers, as they are known, are increasingly involved in higher technology production, firmly based on a deliberate industrial policy. South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have established domestic semiconductor industries. A recent study carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development concluded that that was encouraged by Government support for start-up costs and research as well as by protection. In South Korea, the Government identified semiconductors as a strategic industry in 1983. They provided a $400 million support package, and the industry has now become the largest outside the OECD area.
A planned economy can work. We must do the same: we must recognise that we can never compete with the emerging nations on a basis of low-added-value, low-pay processes. If we are to grow and develop as a nation, we must concentrate on what we are good at. We must realise that high-added-value, high-quality manufacturing is our future. If we try to compete by forcing wages and conditions down, we shall end up competing with Somalia and Bangladesh—and we shall lose.
That is why Labour's policy of introducing a national minimum wage will help parts of industry that are committed to planning for the future on a realistic basis. They know that to pay their workers the rate for the job is not a waste of money, but an investment. They also know that training their staff is the most important investment of all.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am a manufacturer in the north of England. The policy of a large manufacturer in my area—a food processing company—is to produce and sell goods in the area that it supplies: if it wants to supply food products in England, it will build a factory there. It wanted to do the same in France, but because of the excessive costs—the minimum wage and other social costs—imposed by the social chapter, it could not afford to build a factory there; instead, it doubled the production line in Scarborough. Does that not prove the hon. Gentleman wrong?
I do not think that it does. It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should mention France: we should be competing with France, Germany and the other industrialised countries, rather than with third-world countries.
There is a good deal of hype about what a national minimum wage should be. I hope that there will be sensible, planned discussion between the social partners— employers and trade unions—to arrive at realistic figures that can be managed by industry. A good industrial strategy would ensure that the minimum wage set standards and promoted high self-esteem among the work force; it would not opt for a low-wage economy in which people competed for jobs priced at around £1 per hour. That would be totally unacceptable. I am convinced that a national minimum wage will boost Britain and its manufacturing base.
The unskilled and the poorly educated have suffered most from the rise in unemployment. The Tories have failed to invest not only in new technology and industry, but in the skills of the work force. In an internationally competitive global economy in which investment capital is mobile, the key factor in competition is a highly skilled work force.
Among the 21 countries in the OECD, the United Kingdom lags behind all but Turkey in terms of the proportion of 17 and 18-year-olds in education. Currently, 180,000 17 and 18-year-olds are not receiving education, work or training: that is a national disgrace. The Government have slashed the training for work budget by 29 per cent. since 1992. In 1994, the economic adviser to Lloyds bank warned that Britain was in danger of becoming a low-skill economy unless investment in training for manufacturing jobs was increased.
Low skills will discourage industry from adopting better technology, further increasing the need for better training. That downward spiral is probably the greatest threat to the opportunities now facing the United Kingdom's manufacturing industry. All good companies know that working with their employees is important. That is why 47 of the top 50 manufacturing companies in the United Kingdom are trade union organised: good industrial relations set the scene and the environment for success, and we should try to help work forces to develop them.
We must concentrate on innovation and design, yet the amount of money that we as a nation spend on research and development has consistently gone down. Today's research is tomorrow's product and, increasingly, major players throughout the world are committed to long-term development priorities as they realise that new products have longer and longer lead times and need more and more development.
Britain is doing just the opposite. In 1990, our industrial investment in research and design as a percentage of industrial production was almost the same as it was 20 years before. In the same period, comparable spending on R and D in Germany, Japan and France had doubled, and in the United States of America it had increased by one third.
Britain has no representative in the top 25 companies in the international table of research and development spending. That is partly because British companies pay out an increasing proportion of company profits in dividends, rather than use them for reinvestment. We need to ensure that the strength of our financial sector also becomes a source of strength for our industrial sector because, as a whole, investment has greatly decreased as well. From 1979 to 1993, the average investment level, as a share of the UK economy, was the lowest of the 18 countries in the G7 and European Community. As the Bank of England pointed out in its August 1995 inflation report, investment is 20 per cent. below its level in previous recoveries.
In Britain, investment per worker in manufacturing is 30 per cent. below that in Germany and the United States, and only one quarter of that in Japan. In its recent summer forecast, the Treasury revised down its forecast for growth in business investment from 10.75 per cent. in 1995 to 4.75 per cent. On OECD figures, in 1994, the United Kingdom had the lowest level of investment as a share of the economy at 15 per cent., compared with Germany at 22 per cent. That leaves the UK with an investment gap of £46 billion relative to the investment share in Germany.
If we consider the past 150 years, every time it was possible for us to take the wrong decision, we did so. We have consistently placed barriers against manufacturing and, even worse, successive Governments have moved the goalposts at depressingly regular intervals. I think that we have had 12 Secretaries of State since 1979. We must create a level playing field by introducing policies that help with the consistent development of a sound manufacturing base and discourage the speculator, the dawn raider and the asset stripper.
All the key players, especially financiers and industrialists, have roles to play in reversing Britain's consistent under-investment. We should shift the onus of proof in a hostile takeover bid and require the company seeking control to demonstrate that its success will be in the public interest. We could launch a business development bank for small businesses which would specialise in providing direct long-term investment in the expansion of the productive economy. When we have those policies, we must leave them in place so that businesses can plan ahead. Planning is vital for all businesses.
The Government claim to understand and support business, yet everywhere I go in my constituency I meet businesses, small and large, that are depressed and outraged by the lack of understanding shown of their concerns at all levels of Government and of the civil service. An example of that was the business rate in Bradford, which went up by 40 per cent. The local authority would never have imposed such an increased burden on local business, but the Government, who have total control over the business rate level, showed no signs of understanding the potentially disastrous effect that such a rise would have.
One measure that virtually every business person I meet advocates is the introduction of fiscal measures to reduce tax on profit retained in businesses, so that investment can be stimulated. It is not just businesses that want that. Every trade union with members in manufacturing wants such growth, as do all academic economists. I am proud of Labour's investment budget for Britain because it contains manufacturing investment incentives. It shows an ambition for the country that the Government do not seem to share.
The only people who are against incentives are those at the Treasury, which perhaps comes as no surprise. The Treasury has never understood manufacturing and never will so long as recruitment and promotion is based on such a narrow and prescribed basin.
There are many things that any Government should do to ensure that manufacturers can do their job effectively. Efficient transport policies must be pursued. In my region, improvement of the A650 is desperately needed. Such work has been on and off for the past 25 years. Throughout that time, lorries have been sitting in traffic queues in residential areas while the firms they have been delivering to waited in angry frustration. According to the Automobile Association, one mile in every seven in our motorway network, and more than 4,000 miles of our primary roads, need urgent repair.
The electrification programme has cost hundreds of millions of pounds. When it is finished, the Government will have created such a disastrous shambles in the railway industry that no one will want to run mainline trains on it. The example of the channel tunnel rail link sums up how Britain lags behind. French trains travelling at 185 mph from Paris on some of the newest track are forced to travel at little more than 50 or 60 mph from Dover to London. As ex-President Mitterrand said, the channel tunnel opens up two worlds of travel: high-speed through France, followed by a leisurely look at the English countryside.
My constituency is even further disadvantaged by the increasingly poor links to London. Without a modern, integrated transport system, Britain's manufacturing industry is at a disadvantage as soon as the product leaves the factory gates.
There must be a national ambition for Britain and a visionary economic plan to promote key industries, because no country of Britain's size can hope to survive without a strong home manufacturing base. Every opportunity that has presented itself in the past 16 years has been wasted. North sea oil was viewed as a great opportunity, and it should have been, but consider what happened. Because of short-term attitudes and incompetent financial management, the oil forced exchange rates up, which inevitably meant that the price of manufacturing goods rose in comparison with our competitors. The Government stuck their head in the sand and hoped that the problem would go away. The only thing that went away was a large chunk of our manufacturing base.
The Government have always been driven by their relationship with the City, which has never genuinely supported manufacturing industry. That relationship has been the most damaging in modern British history. It has created a short-term approach that looks for the quick fix of privatisation, rather than the consistent support of manufacturing, which creates wealth and prosperity in the long term. The Tories have not understood manufacturing industry and in some sectors they have welcomed its decline.
As we enter the 21st century, Labour recognises that the working environment has changed. New technology and new information networks need to be harnessed to promote an industrial development policy that uses the population's skills to their maximum, rather than allowing hopelessness and disadvantage to damage the fabric of society. Britain has a great history of manufacturing and, if we are not to sink into oblivion, it must be our future as well.
In the past 16 years, we have had an industrial policy, or rather lack of one, characterised by incompetence, indecision and the short-term view. Two million unemployed people is unacceptable, in terms of the cost of unemployment both financially and socially. Regions such as Bradford, which I represent, do not deserve to be treated in the way that they have been. What are the Government doing about facing that challenge? They are looking to have tax reductions of 1 p and 2p.
The countries that will succeed in this new global marketplace are not only those that have sound public finances, but those that invest in the skills and technologies of the future. Many partnerships have been established between the public and private sectors and at our party conference I was happy to see the relationship with British Telecom. The fact that we are going to have laptop computers on every desk in the education sector is superb.
Britain still has world-class companies, but few of them. We need manufacturing policies that are dynamic, thoughtful and consistent. Within 18 months, the Labour Government will deliver those. This debate is about not talking Britain down, but making certain that we develop and expand our economy so that manufacturing can regain its rightful place as part of Britain's future.
I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye. It is a pleasure to be able to follow the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe). I agreed with one or two of his points. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will deal with the rest of the hon. Gentleman's speech in his usual robust fashion.
Where I beg to differ in particular with the hon. Member for Bradford, South is in his remarks on a minimum wage. In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes), who brings so much experience to debates on these subjects, referred to the experiences of his company. I welcome his presence and hope that he will speak in the debate shortly.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South thought that a national minimum wage would be a boost for Britain. It would be a boost only for costs and unemployment.
As right hon. and hon. Members know, I represent Southport, which is a seaside resort. It is not known for its heavy industry. It is a tourist resort and a major part of the local economy is the residential and nursing home sector.
I recently had the pleasure of inviting my hon. Friend the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs to Southport. When he visited my constituency, he had the opportunity to meet, over lunch, more than 100 local business men and women. He heard of their experiences, their concerns and their wish to see red tape cut further. He heard about their successes and we were able to draw attention, even in a seaside resort, to what is often called in Southport back-street development—it is that sort of town and that is where industry has to thrive.
There are many businesses that employ only a few people; I can count them on several hands, not just on a few fingers. There are businesses in my constituency that employ just a few people, but which export to more than 30 countries. For too long, Conservatives have had to listen to Opposition Members claiming that British manufacturing industry is in decline.
I said that 22,000 jobs had been lost in Bradford in four years. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that those jobs have not been lost and that we have not suffered from a large rise in unemployment in the area? Could the situation have been altered? Are the figures that show how far down the prosperity league table Britain is accurate? If not, why not?
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, he would know that I was not referring to Bradford or to job losses. If he is kind enough to pay attention over the next few minutes, he will hear me make a number of my own points. The House is a good judge of character. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is battling for his constituency this morning and I know that he will not mind if I battle for mine too.
I return to the so-called decline of manufacturing industry. It is a myth; nothing could be further from the truth. The myth of manufacturing decline has been expounded by those who take no account of qualitative economic indicators and who are unable to escape from their old socialist methods of measuring everything in terms of quantity. The percentage of our gross domestic product and employment accounted for by manufacturing industry has certainly decreased over several decades. That feature is, however, mirrored in other major economies and it is mainly a result of productivity increases and efficiency gains.
It is true that, until the Conservative Government came to power in 1979, our manufacturing performance was poor. During the 20 years up to 1982, Britain's share of world manufacturing exports fell by half and our major industries were propped up by nationalisation and riven by strikes. For various reasons, on which I shall expand in a moment, the trend has been reversed. Not only did the number of manufacturing companies increase by 27,000 in the 1980s, but manufacturing exports increased by 66 per cent. in the decade, and the growth in import penetration was slower than in any of the other six major economies.
The United Kingdom has also received far more inward investment, a third of which has benefited our manufacturing sector alone, than any other country in the European Union. The United Kingdom has attracted more than 40 per cent. of Japanese and United States investment into the European Union as a whole. Some 434 new investment decisions have been made in 1994–95 alone—we are barely into the 1995–96 financial year—creating or safeguarding almost 90,000 jobs. Companies such as Lexmark, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Jaguar did not have to invest in the United Kingdom. They did so in no small measure because of what a Conservative Government have achieved.
As a result of inward investment, we are already, for example, a net exporter of televisions. I confidently predict that we shall shortly become a net exporter of cars. The basis of this turnaround has been the promotion of genuine competition, which has been achieved by winding down import restriction arrangements and exposing our manufacturing to the rigours of the international market.
If the turnaround is due to the rigours of world competition, why did the Government feel it necessary to give a £80 million bribe or subsidy to Ford to keep Jaguar production in the west midlands? Without that massive Government subsidy, Ford would have moved Jaguar production to the United States. Is that an example of the competitive market?
I am delighted by, and support, the Government's action in that respect. I have no doubt that, if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and decries the Government's action, the employees of the company will listen to what he says and wonder whether he speaks for new Labour, old Labour or himself.
I return to the inefficient practices which, I hope, have been banished as a result of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The promotion of competition is still being carried forward relentlessly in the form of the second competitiveness White Paper. In addition, successive Conservative Governments have implemented a combination of policies which have created the right economic framework in which our companies can compete abroad and in which foreign firms can locate here.
Privatisation, deregulation, the reform of over-powerful trade unions, investment in skills and training and tax reform have all contributed to the success story to which I am referring. The United Kingdom has low interest rates, low inflation and low taxation. We have a fairly sound transport infrastructure, we have skilled and hard-working labour and a work force unhindered, in comparison to the 1970s, by repressive trade union power. Let us not forget that we also have rapidly rising productivity. The only thing that we do not have is the social chapter, which would impose unnecessary costs and burdens on all British industry, not just manufacturing industry.
In 1979, it cost the taxpayer £50 million a week to prop up the nationalised industries. I shall take British Aerospace as an example. Since privatisation, productivity has risen by 150 per cent., and it has become our largest manufacturing exporter. British Steel has at least doubled its sales over the past decade to become one of our largest exporters. We could also consider what has happened at Rover, Short Brothers, Rolls-Royce, Amersham International, Vosper Thornycroft and many others. It was the courage of the Conservative Government that made privatisation possible and, because of their work forces, those companies have been able to take advantage of the economic conditions to which I have referred.
My hon. Friend mentioned British Steel. Stones Bitter wanted to do a television advertisement in Sheffield which extolled the virtues of the steel and the beer. The company sent a team up to Sheffield to film what people might think of as a normal steelworks, but it found that there were no grimy men doing the work because the modern steelworks were automated and efficient. The film crew had to go to Czechoslovakia to film a steelworks where there were grimy men and things were done in the old-fashioned way. I make the point because British Steel is a completely revolutionised firm, although the policies that the Labour party is trying to introduce would destroy British Steel before one could say Jack Robinson.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making a powerful point. He underlines what I was saying about improved efficiency and productivity.
It is clear, though, that the recession has taken its toll in terms of lost capacity. To underline the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough, that loss does not reflect poorly on our manufacturers. Lack of demand was largely the cause of it, not incapacity to supply. Indeed, sharp falls in manufacturing output have been mirrored abroad, especially in Germany and Japan.
Recession can, of course, cause permanent damage, but the success of what the Government have done for manufacturing since 1979 in the United Kingdom can be measured by how well the industry has recovered after recession. Manufacturing output is back to record levels. The production of cars for export, for example, has almost trebled since 1988, and business surveys suggest that output and exports remain good.
In the light of that achievement, I listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Bradford, South said and I shall listen to what other Opposition Members say later in the debate if they catch your eye, Madam Speaker.
Trying to decide what the Opposition stand for depends of course on to whom one is listening; whether it is the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and his backroom boys or one or two of his hon. Friends on the Back Benches. It seems that all Opposition Members hanker after a sort of ludicrous Utopia, where manufacturing is everything and other sectors of the economy are overlooked. Their answer to improving manufacturing industry is to subsidise—they have no qualms about that word. They are antiquated—I am referring to subsidies, of course, not Opposition Members.
Although it is an honest pronouncement of their party's policy, subsidy has no place in the new Labour vocabulary—just like "socialist" or any phrase with the words "pips" or "squeak" in it. No, the Labour party now likes to refer to assistance, or aid, or investment. I fail to see how throwing money at manufacturing industry, or at anything else, without a hope of ever seeing a return can be labelled an investment.
Every policy which the Labour party recommends ought to be stamped with a sort of health warning. Imposing the social chapter on our firms, a minimum wage, opposing privatisation: such policies can seriously damage our manufacturing industry. Those policies may appease Opposition Members' sponsors in the trade unions, but they utterly fail to offer any help or hope to our manufacturing industry.
The competitive position of British manufacturing will be improved by competitive exchange rates and the fruits of major inward investment projects. Combined with the promising economic outlook, it is likely that Britain's manufacturing base will continue to show growth and not a diminishing trend. It is typical of Opposition Members to run down British manufacturing industry. The real question in 1995, or as we move towards the 21st century, is whether manufacturing industry can survive without a Conservative Government. I ask it, I doubt it, and I sincerely hope that the sector never has to find out.
The future of manufacturing industry is crucial to Dudley's future. Two out of every five people of working age in my constituency rely on the manufacturing sector for their jobs—almost double the national average. They cannot all work at Merry Hill, one of the biggest retail complexes in Europe. Nor can they all work at the Child Support Agency, also located in my constituency—although judging from the time that that agency takes to reply to letters from Members of Parliament, a few more employees might help.
We have a proud manufacturing tradition in Dudley and in the west midlands generally, and we mean and need to keep it. The country needs us to keep it and needs our manufacturing industries to grow and to succeed in world markets. There are some positive signs: the expansion at Rover, Fords's decision to build the new model Jaguar at Coventry, and plans for expansion at Toyota, to cite but a few.
More west midlands companies have become world class, and I fully acknowledge that. The Japanese "transplants" have had a significant effect in bringing that about, not only in the automotive components supply industry, but in the manufacturing sector generally, through the demonstration effect that their modern manufacturing techniques have had. Company de-layering, cell manufacturing, the continuous improvement philosophy and benchmarking, for instance, have all produced benefits for British companies that have gone down that route.
Nevertheless, we still do not have nearly enough world-class companies, and, according to the most recent quarterly survey by the Confederation of British Industry, manufacturers in the west midlands are gloomier than all others in the country about economic prospects. It is a salient fact that manufacturing investment in the second quarter of this year is still 15 per cent. lower than it was at the beginning of 1990. My local training and enterprise council is telling me that labour shortages are already affecting manufacturing industry in the black country.
Only yesterday, the National Federation of Building Trades Employers warned that there would be 100,000 job losses over the next two years, and the Engineering Employers Federation reported that 8,000 engineering jobs were likely to be axed across the country over the next year.
I acknowledge that Ministers are concerned about the manufacturing sector and are starting to say some of the right things, but they still have to do the right things. Since 1979, the manufacturing sector has seen its share of gross domestic product fall from 29 per cent. to 22 per cent. It has also lost 2.9 million jobs. That is a greater percentage of the work force than that lost in the United States, and the sector has lost jobs at a rate three times faster than in Germany. Research for the Government's second White Paper on competitiveness, published earlier this year, revealed that British companies are failing to match the productivity of United States firms in any of 12 key sectors of industry, and in only one are we exceeding German levels.
After 16 years of Conservative Governments, views from the boardrooms of British businesses reveal a damning indictment of Government policy. An Association of British Chambers of Commerce survey in 1994 found that more than one company in five reported that red tape had inhibited growth and prevented them from taking on people. This year, an Institute of Export survey shows that 47 per cent. of companies expressed the view that banks did not meet their needs.
The Labour party is fully committed to the principle of deregulation, but we do not believe in the way the Government have been going about it. If I may, I should like to make progress.
The CBI surveys have consistently reported that more than one in 10 firms employing fewer than 500 people consider late payment to be a problem. The chambers of commerce told the Select Committee on Trade and Industry that there was a
patchwork quilt of provision
of business support and that firms
perceive themselves to be at a disadvantage compared to their international competitors where different structures of business support exist.
Small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency, of which I talk to many, confirm all of that evidence and more. They tell me that they want a stable macro-economic climate to give them the confidence to invest and to make sensible decisions. They want access to finance on appropriate terms, the ability to get their goods to market efficiently, to be free from unnecessary regulation and red tape, to have an effective business advice and support network if they need it, and otherwise to be left to get on with running their businesses and making profits.
That does not seem too much to ask, but most of those businesses feel badly let down; they feel that the Government have not delivered the goods. They blame the Government for the recession. They still have problems with the banks. For more than a decade people have been waiting for the Government to put their hand in their pocket for the Dudley southern by-pass and the extension of the A4036—and they are still waiting. None of the business people to whom I talk believe that there is less red tape now than three years ago, and most, although they think that the business links scheme is a step in the right direction, are sceptical about whether that initiative could ever be of any use to them.
Dudley's manufacturing companies, like those in the rest of Britain, deserve better than that from the Government, and I shall outline how a different approach could be taken. I shall then highlight three areas in which action is needed. Clearly there are more such areas, but other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
At its heart, a new approach needs to take on board the facts pointed out by the business academic Michael Porter, who said:
while national government has a role in upgrading industry the role of state and local governments is potentially as great or greater".
The Government need to recast regional policy completely. Competitiveness must run through it, with the Government recognising that in future the regions and cities across Europe will compete with each other as much as co-operate with each other to attract, develop and maintain high quality companies and industries.
That is already happening now, and it will rapidly intensify. In the west midlands we compete head to head with Baden-Württemberg in Germany and Emilia Romagna in Italy. In terms of gross domestic product per head, recently published OECD figures rank those areas eighth and 10th respectively in the EU, while the west midlands is 46th.
Regional selective assistance needs to be transformed into a strategic tool for assisting companies to upgrade their competitive positions. Regions should be required to produce clear statements of their aims and objectives, and of their strategies for development based on improving competitiveness. For most regions, those strategies should focus more on developing and supporting indigenous manufacturing business than on attracting inward investment. They should look to broadening and expanding industrial clusters, harnessing new technologies and helping more companies to understand what it takes to be world class.
The three areas that I intend to highlight are accessing finance, dealing with red tape, and late payment. I remain convinced that Britain needs a vehicle for channelling long-term loans to companies at reasonable rates of interest. Companies in Germany and Japan have been able to benefit from such arrangements for years, and we need something similar here.
Simplification of tax legislation would be a major step towards cutting red tape, as anyone who has served on the Finance Bill Committee will recognise. The Government need to grasp the nettle firmly, as they do with tax collection, by forming a unified agency and merging the Inland Revenue, the Contributions Agency and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise.
On late payment, I know that there are arguments both for and against the introduction of a statutory right to interest. On balance, I favour a statutory right on overdue commercial debt. I do not imagine that it would be used extensively, but if the Government and their agencies led the way by paying promptly, that could, over time, help to change the payment culture in business. Here one may cite the drink-driving legislation as an instance in which the law has played a part in changing attitudes. With the move to self-assessment of income tax, the Inland Revenue will have a legal right to interest on late payments: what is good enough for the business of government should surely be good enough for business itself.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on his success in obtaining the debate and on his excellent speech, which set out the tragic decline of British manufacturing, especially over the past 16 years, and eloquently described the steps that we need to take to reverse that decline. I am also pleased follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Pearson) and during my speech I shall reinforce some of what he said.
There is some scope for agreement across the Chamber in that we all agree that a strong manufacturing sector is vital to the British economy. We have not always been able to agree about that. In the early 1980s the Government seemed happy to see swathes of British manufacturing shut down as a necessary price for some greater economic benefit. In 1983 our national manufacturing trade balance went into deficit for the first time, but the Government did not appear unduly perturbed.
I welcome the recent change in tone in Government statements about manufacturing—for example, last year's announcement of the London manufacturing initiative—and I hope that it heralds a real change in substance that will become apparent in the months ahead. It would be wonderful to see the imaginative proposals about encouraging manufacturing investment made this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), the shadow Chancellor, taken up by the Government.
In London, manufacturing employment has halved in the past 15 years, while the overall level of production has remained steady. That startling conjunction illustrates success in improving productivity but highlights the dismal stagnation in the volume of London's manufacturing. Manufacturing has fared badly in comparison with services, and since the mid-1980s London has de-industrialised more than any comparable city in the OECD countries.
The effects of that decline have been devastating in the area of east London that I represent, especially through persistent sky-high levels of unemployment. None the less, manufacturing levels in east London are still twice the London average. East London, especially the Lea valley and the Thames gateway, remains London's manufacturing centre, and east London will be a key barometer for assessing the success of the London manufacturing initiative.
In making my proposals, I want to be constructive and, I hope, optimistic about the future, without hiding the scale of the challenges that we face. There are four key areas in which Government action can support renewal of the manufacturing sector in east London.
First, regeneration activity and support for manufacturing need bringing together. In the past—in the early days of docklands, for example—regeneration and property development initiatives combined to displace industry, by boosting land values and encouraging manufacturers to sell up and leave. Industrial land was developed for housing or offices, because those brought the fastest profits.
It is time for us all to be clear that successful regeneration needs manufacturing, and that property development which sweeps away manufacturing is inimical to regeneration. Three quarters of London's development land is in the north-east quadrant, concentrated in the Lea valley and the Thames gateway, and the Government have identified those areas for targeted support. I warmly welcome that.
The task now must be redevelopment for high-grade industrial purposes such as technology parks and modern manufacturing plants—modern locations for modern industries. English Partnerships should be instructed to invest strategically to support manufacturing regeneration. I welcome the new development being undertaken by the docklands development corporation in the royal docks, which will promote an international exhibition centre, a university college, a technology centre and high-technology manufacturing. Among the projects now being considered for single regeneration budget funding by the Government office for London is the royal docks technology centre, which would provide vital research and development support for east London manufacturing, in partnership with universities.
Partnership between public and private sectors, as exemplified in that bid, is the key to attracting and creating the "patient money" that alone can achieve the long-term economic success that London needs. The result could be high quality locations for companies in the new and growing sectors, such as electronics, pharmaceuticals, information technology, biotechnology and environmental technology.
The Government's existing regeneration programmes can be used to achieve in east London the high-quality sites that those new sectors demand. It is astonishing that London has only 7 per cent. of the technology park floor space that Birmingham has. Elsewhere, technology parks have been developed by universities on their vacant land, but London's universities do not have that vacant land. It is not physically possible for them to follow the successful examples of Cambridge, Surrey and Heriot-Watt universities.
Land is, however, available in east London. City challenge, assisted area status, urban development corporations, English Partnerships and regional challenge should all point in the same direction to achieve locations for modern manufacturing. As yet, they do not. There is no need for extra money, but there is a need for a more strategic application of the existing money. There are single regeneration budget bids before Ministers at present which aim—like the royal docks—to strengthen east London's manufacturing. Those bids deserve support.
I also welcome the recognition of the importance of improving the links between industry and universities. That is obviously right. If the next industrial era is to be an information age, the extension and exploitation of the knowledge base is critical. Strong industry is best organised in clusters, whether in the potteries or in silicon valley. They allow firms to sharpen each other's competitiveness and pull in the skills and support services that firms need. In turn, that strengthens the cluster.
In an information age, higher education is vital in enabling industry and clusters to develop. This is not just about providing links to research, but about investing to produce entrepreneurial graduates and young people whose study turns into business ideas and who are then actively encouraged to found new companies.
Clusters are regional, as are the strongest industry-university links. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West referred to the changes that are needed in regional policy, and he has drawn Members' attention to the increasingly impressive contribution of agencies such as Greater London Enterprise and others around the country. Colleges and universities must rediscover their regional roles inside society and the economy.
The technology foresight programme and the White Paper on competitiveness—to which reference has been made—are right to envisage better bridges between universities and industry. A partnership between universities and innovative small and medium-sized companies will be especially important, as few smaller companies on their own have the resources for long-term research. Their well-being—and a large slice of our future prosperity—will depend on their ability to establish and sustain long-term partnerships with universities.
Universities can stimulate the creation of the new companies of the information age as well. If we overlay the different trends in east London, we discover a high density of manufacturing employment and a high density of unemployment. We also discover that there are low levels of post-16 education take-up and low levels of jobs in the modern information-based economy. Those trends are accompanied by the highest birth rate in the United Kingdom, which portends a troubled future unless the relationship between education and training on the one hand, and manufacturing expansion on the other, is developed a long way beyond its current state.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the importance of linking education to industry, and the dismantling of the binary divides certainly helped in that direction. If the hon. Gentleman is so committed to the right kind of technical education, why would his party—given half a chance—abolish city technology colleges?
I see precious little evidence that city technology colleges are tackling any of the issues that I have raised in the debate. They are irrelevant, and they are not addressing the key issues.
Local collaborations are emerging with enormous potential for good. The Government are still not focused and do not act to give incentives to such collaborations—no matter which Department or Minister is involved. That fundamental problem has not yet been tackled successfully, despite the establishment of the regional Government offices and the overarching persona of the Deputy Prime Minister.
We need to create the right infrastructure, particularly in transport and communications. I start with a compliment. Much has been achieved in east London. In transport infrastructure, the docklands road system, the light railway and the Jubilee line extension are major and positive achievements. I was intrigued by the phrase used by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks)—a "fairly sound transport infrastructure"—to describe the position in the United Kingdom, but the key element in the transport infrastructure in east London remains uncertain.
I very much hope that crossrail will go ahead, and I believe that it will.
The key element in the transport infrastructure in east London is what is to happen to the channel tunnel rail link. When the Government announced in 1991 that the channel tunnel rail link was to be routed through east London, they said that the link would be welcomed in east London for the economic regeneration that it would bring. That was correct. I was leader of Newham council at the time, and we welcomed the announcement for that very reason.
Four years later, however, we still do not know for sure if there will be a station in east London. The Transport Select Committee rightly said that the station at Stratford was needed in the national interest, as well as in the interest of regenerating east London. We need the Government to confirm that they will allow the east London station to go ahead. East London faces Europe. It is the place where Europe reaches London, and the Government should join local authorities, training and enterprise councils and universities in exploiting it as an asset. We need both the east London international passenger station and a proper channel tunnel rail freight strategy.
Good telecommunications are also vital, and we need a rapid development by the private sector of the new national communications networks mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. Britain can become Europe's knowledge capital, but manufacturing requires high-capacity communications for computer-aided design. The networks will provide new highways for partnerships between companies, and between companies and universities. The Government need to provide the right framework and the leadership to ensure that the investment that is needed is quickly achieved.
Finally, the Government need to ensure the availability of high-quality research data. The absence today of a clear picture of the condition of London's industry in a European context is becoming a critical problem. The standard industrial classification fails to show how the industrial sectors are converging and new ones emerging. Small and medium-sized companies need market data to understand how to expand into Europe, where 60 per cent. of our trade is now carried out.
We have tremendous needs in east London. Newham, with just over 200,000 inhabitants, has lost 50,000 jobs in the past 25 years. The Government have acknowledged that the regeneration of east London is a national priority, and manufacturing industry will be central to the success of that regeneration. Without it, we shall never create the decent long-term jobs that we need.
Manufacturing regeneration will happen only with targeted support for new business locations which are fitting for modern manufacturing companies, with creative partnerships between universities and industry, with a world-class transport and communications infrastructure and with high quality market data. Those do not require immense Government spending, but they do require Government action. Inaction will mean decline, a rapid worsening of the already severe deprivation that we face in east London and the unforgivable loss of an opportunity to provide enormous benefits to the whole nation. I do not say that the Government have done nothing—I have made it clear that I welcome a number of their initiatives—but much more needs to be done, as we cannot afford to miss these opportunities.
I shall try to keep my remarks brief, as I am looking forward to the winding-up speeches—particularly that of my old friend, the Under-Secretary. While preparing my thoughts on my short speech, I looked for some coherent policy—[Interruption.] [HON. MEMBERS: "She is walking out."] The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) can read my speech in Hansard tomorrow. Now I can say what I really think!
We are seeing in effect the devaluation "boomlet" following our exit from the exchange rate mechanism petering out. The latest CBI industrial trends survey reveals that business investment is down, and previous speakers have identified a loss of confidence and job losses. There has also been a rise in unit labour costs, a far more important measure than productivity.
What worries me as a British Member of Parliament is that, when we talk about British manufacturing, we are talking more and more about foreign firms which happen to manufacture in this country. I have no objection in principle to that, but there is a problem that, for every pound of profit that Ford, Samsung or whoever makes in the United Kingdom, about 50p goes away to America, Korea or Japan.
I invite the Minister to name a single car or computer manufacturer—they are still the key component industries for our future—that is in British hands. That is why we are 18th in the world ranking of relative gross domestic product. We are out of the premier division and the first division. We have a third-rate Government, consisting of Ministers who, for the most part, are queuing up to join the National Westminster bank or GEC. When Amber Valley turns red at the next election, I wish the Under-Secretary good luck on his future job promotion prospects.
The hon. Gentleman is a well-known pan-European Member. Can he tell me why this country, of all European countries, has attracted 40 per cent. of Japan's inward investment in Europe? Is it because of our deregulated market or the socialist policies followed here?
The answer is simple—other European countries invest far more in themselves than we do. Investment per capita in Austria stands at 79.6 per cent.; in Belgium, 35 per cent.; and in Germany, 59 per cent. The equivalent investment in the United Kingdom is zero per cent. Even more alarming than the OECD's GDP per capita report is the report published in the summer by the World Economic Forum, which ranked the United Kingdom 35th out of 48 countries in terms of education and training in the world's manufacturing economy.
Yesterday, we read that the Deputy Prime Minister has announced that he intends to set up a committee to consider why our industrial training is so poor. Frankly, he need only look in the mirror, because he and his Cabinet colleagues have presided over the destruction of apprenticeship schemes, the de-industrialisation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) referred and the de-skilling and de-waging of our society. He and his successor at the Department of Trade and Industry seem to think that McDonalds and Burger King can replace the sinews of British manufacturing.
Do we have an identifiable industrial policy? That is certainly not evident at the Ministry of Defence. Its equivalent in other countries is a lead ministry in supporting the manufacturing sector. We have a Secretary of State for Defence who is so puffed up with his hatred of Europe, and so full of contempt for the necessary politics of international partnership, that he will sell Britain's defence manufacturing sector down the river. He will turn the British armed forces into demonstration teams for American arms dealers. The letters SAS on his office wall actually stand for "sell-off and scrap" what remains of the United Kingdom's defence industry.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) referred to subsidies. The haphazard policy of subsidisation, which does not seem to follow any coherent—
We all know that £80 million has been given to Ford to keep Jaguar production in the west midlands and that £10 million was given to Samsung to expand in the north-east. I have no objection in principle to such funding, but such massive subsidies—more than £150 million offered to firms under the regional selective assistance scheme in the first three months of this year alone—make a mockery of the Government's efforts to outlaw the subsidies that are paid to certain companies in other European countries.
In common with other Opposition Members with an interest in steel, I have always supported the efforts of British Steel and Ministers to bring pressure to bear on the European Community to stamp out such subsidies. When our own Government send multi-million pound cheques to Ford at Detroit and Samsung in Korea that makes us look foolish and hypocritical as we campaign against European subsidies.
The Under-Secretary may like to know that Samsung is a Korean firm.
This country has been offered the possibility of using European structural funds for the regeneration of steel regions such as my own, Rotherham. The European Commission steel area regeneration programme, known as RESIDER, had a budget of £224 million for 1988 to 1992. Because of Government inefficiency, we got only £4.14 million of that, despite the fact that our steel industry suffered the biggest job losses in Europe. The second stage of that initiative, known as RESIDER II, has been allotted reduced funds for 1997–99.
That programme, together with initiatives on the textile and coal industries, and those concerning military conversions, have been allocated £394 million for 1994–97, and £315 million for 1997–99. We will get £50 million for those industries, but so far the Government have not said that that money from Brussels will be used to support the steel, textile and coal industries and the military conversion sector. Many in the steel industry fear that that money will be used to buy votes in marginal seats in the south rather than to support the conversion and re-industrialisation of the steel sector.
I want to hear the Under-Secretary pledge that European cash for steel under the RESIDER II programme will be allocated to help conversion programmes in Rotherham and other steel communities. It would be the most cynical corruption of that programme's money were it to be used for any other purpose.
I look for some balance and equilibrium. We need a service industry and a healthy financial services sector, but we also need a new industrial programme. That is why I welcome the proposals announced this morning by the shadow Chancellor. Under Labour again, we need a one-nation manufacturing policy in which industry and manufacturing will once again be given their rightful place.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on initiating this debate. I am sure that my congratulations reflect the admiration felt for him by everyone in the Chamber.
We have had a good debate. I was especially glad that my hon. Friend saw fit to begin his speech by highlighting the cultural problem from which we still seem to suffer concerning the status of the manufacturing sector. I know from his previous speeches that the Under-Secretary is also concerned about that. I hope that he will address that issue today and tell us whether he has any new ideas to reward those employed in that sector; they would then receive the recognition that they deserve for their central role in our economy and society.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will also address the critical questions raised by my hon. Friend about the extremely worrying slump in industrial investment. We have great firms—there is no question about that—and we should celebrate them a lot more than we do.
We must also address the serious problem of under-investment, which was the theme of much of today's debate. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the average level of investment in the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1993 as a share of the economy was the lowest of the G7 countries. The August inflation report from the Bank of England noted that investment is now 20 per cent. below the level that it was in previous recoveries. That is a significant indicator, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will pay careful attention to it.
The statistics quoted by my hon. Friend reinforced vividly the case made this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who called for urgent Government action to arrest this country's relative decline in the league table of national income per head, which was published by the OECD. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary will want to explain why the United Kingdom has slumped from 13th to 18th place in the league table.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South mentioned that in 1851 Britain had the most dynamic economy in the world. Like me and hundreds of thousands other others in this country, he bitterly regrets our relative decline as a manufacturing country. We are proud of our industrial heritage. Those who try to pour scorn on what we argue should realise that that is where we come from.
When I read tables that chart our continuing relative decline, it offends me. I do not want Britain to be outstripped in the prosperity league table by countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Austria, Hong Kong and Singapore—countries that have never enjoyed a fraction of the benefits that we have enjoyed of mighty natural resources of coal, gas and oil and our wonderful geographical location as one of the great trading nodes of the Atlantic and European economies.
The Under-Secretary must tell us why we have slumped under his Government's management and why, with some of the world's finest scientists and greatest educational traditions, we continue to invest less in our manufacturing industries than do our competitors. He might try to explain how we can begin to educate and train our people and to modernise our welfare state so that it provides new incentives for employment and skills and the opportunity for Britain to tap the enormous creative potential of the 2 million people, many of them young, who are trying to find a pathway from welfare into work.
Most important of all, perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us when and how the Government intend to construct a modern competition policy capable of tackling the sort of monopolies and market rigging by vested interests that is holding the country back. He must know that competitiveness abroad depends on greater competition at home. It also depends, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) said, on recognising the urgent need for the Government to be proactive and infinitely more energetic in transforming potential business locations such as Newham—and scores of other places the length and breadth of the country—where old industries have died and where there remains a crying need for properly targeted support for new business locations and, as my hon. Friend put it so well, for creative partnerships to be developed between universities and industries.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East said, the need to encourage high-quality research, and to collect and disseminate accurate data on that research, is of central importance if our universities, training and enterprise councils, business links, local authorities and all the other agencies operating in and around the sector are to succeed in playing a part in the transformation of our manufacturing industry.
The great success of co-ordinated ventures, where they have occurred, should be replicated across the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Pearson) stressed the need for the regions of England to have a greater say in shaping the economies of the regions in the way that we in Wales and Scotland have done through our development agencies. That would help to encourage that sense of belonging, identity and pride that was such an important component of industrial success a century ago right across these islands.
As all my hon. Friends emphasised, there must be a sane and urgent assessment of our transportation and telecommunications infrastructure if we are to maintain our position as manufacturing producers and world traders. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South observed, congestion, whether in our airports or on our roads, railways or telecommunications highways can only waste our resources and energy as manufacturers. Let the Government be under no illusion: the Labour party has no higher priority than to address the problem of how to arrest the trend of relative decline in investment and prosperity.
As one who has been associated in various capacities with the coal mining industry in this country on and off over 20 years, I have few illusions about the performance and nature of publicly owned enterprises and what can happen as a result of overcentralised planning and management. I witnessed the meddling hands of Whitehall combined with the half-witted prejudices and dogmas of those on the Government Benches strangle what little spirit of initiative remained in the industry by the early 1980s. Nor do I doubt that, perhaps even by the late 1960s, the National Coal Board's management mechanisms for deciding production and investment policy were wholly incapable of responding to the demands of rapidly changing markets and energy technologies.
Those short histories apply more or less equally to a range of industries, including key ones such as car and motor cycle manufacture. For those who were born and raised in communities that depended on those enterprises, the experience of the past couple of decades has been painful in the extreme. As we heard in the debate, no one understands that experience better than my hon. Friends.
Labour has every wish to ensure that never again will our communities be forced to endure the rates of unemployment and social deprivation that resulted in no small part from the inability of those charged with managing our economy to understand the changing demands of the market, to help ease the pains of transition and to provide the infrastructure required by modern manufacturing.
I recognise the strengths and benefits of a market economy but also the need to guard against market failure where the market is not delivering a solution that benefits consumers and customers. Where that happens, we should be able to design a minimum amount of intervention as a corrective so that the market works for the benefit of the many and not the few, if Government economic and industrial policy is to be designed to produce a better, more equitable and more prosperous society.
We have had a helpful debate today. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) could not give us the benefit of his great experience by telling us how we should run the economy. I am sure that his interventions have been helpful.
More helpful, however, have been the contributions of my hon. Friends. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take them seriously and give us some answers.
I thank the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) for the spirit of his comments. He will be disappointed to learn that I agree with some of them and with some of the comments of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), whose choice of debate I welcome. It is an important issue.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South mentioned that too often in Britain manufacturing is regarded as a second-rate option. We have a cultural aversion to manufacturing. Britain must be the only country in the developed world where, if people say that they are engineers, it is thought that they have come to mend the washing machine. That is not the job of an engineer—not that there is anything wrong with people who mend washing machines.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South is also right to believe—this has pervaded the debate—that our manufacturing decline started not in 1979, as some people have liked to try and make out over the past 15 years, but in the 1850s or 1860s. We have had a long period of relative decline in manufacturing.
That is probably why they have not turned up, not that there are many of them. There is a difference between Whigs and Liberals. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) should read his 19th-century history.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South about the idea that the decline has somehow continued. In fact, as I hope to show, we have shown some improvement, not necessarily since 1979 but certainly since the early 1980s, and tribute should be paid to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) mentioned some other points on which I disagreed with the hon. Member for Bradford, South.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South talked about the ascent of the Asian tigers as being largely the result of protection and industrial policy. That is a little simplistic. For one thing, Hong Kong and Singapore have been very open markets, relatively speaking, and have had little in the way of industrial strategy. Between 1982 and 1994, those countries increased their imports four times but Britain's exports to those countries increased by five times. That shows that the picture is not only of decline; there are areas where we have done very well indeed.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South also mentioned that we had to have a visionary industrial plan. Visionary industrial plans are rather easier to talk about than implement. I seem to recollect from my childhood and student days that we had a visionary industrial plan in Britain the 1960s and 1970s; I shall return to its results later.
The hon. Member for Rotherham seems to want a policy of guns, not butter, and to believe that Britain should somehow pour money into an industrial strategy to encourage the arms industry, which sets him at odds with many members of his party. He also seems to think that inward investment is not a totally good thing because we lose control, and he said that the investment in this country by Samsung and by Ford was a mixed blessing. Inward investment has gone on for many years. In fact, one of the few successes in inward investment under the last Labour Government was a huge Ford engine plant in Bridgend that was financed from the United States.
I thought that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) made many very valid points about the link between education and industrial performance. I shall return to that issue later. Many people are hung up on the idea of industrial strategy and Governments doing this, that or the other. We can assist industry by improving education and training. The hon. Gentleman should probably have given the Government some credit for the fact that the number of people in higher education has increased from 10 per cent. to 30 per cent. Although they need some fine tuning, the launch of national vocational qualifications is a huge step toward improving vocational education.
The hon. Member for Rotherham or the hon. Member for Bradford, South—I forget which—referred to the British Telecom agreement as a great example of the way forward in leading edge industrial strategy. BT has pulled a fast one over the Opposition, and it will be laughing all the way to the bank. It appears that, in return for cabling hospitals and schools—many of which are cabled anyway—it will have a virtual monopoly over the provision of cable services nationwide. I must inform the hon. Gentlemen that cabling is free. However, the subscriptions paid afterwards are not free, and BT has not agreed to waive those charges. That is a classic example of the naivety of the Labour party when it comes to negotiating with organisations such as BT. It is the consumer who will suffer from carve-ups of the market by vested interests.
I conclude my canter over the territory covered by Labour speeches by mentioning an advertisement that appeared this morning in The Times and possibly in some other lesser journals. It purported to show that Britain has slipped from 13th to 18th in terms of gross domestic product per head. There was one glaring mistake in the advertisement: it claimed that France had overtaken us, whereas in fact France overtook us during the period of the previous Labour Government.
The hon. Member for Rotherham might also be interested to learn that the figures in the advertisement have been achieved by inserting Hong Kong and Singapore, which were not included in previous tables. It is true that Hong Kong and Singapore produce more per head than we do. They are great paragons of the relatively open market and low taxation. According to the World bank, Hong Kong and Singapore also rank above Germany, Japan and France—so we are not in bad company in that respect.
Many Labour speeches have the pervading theme that markets are imperfect, and that therefore Governments should step in to perfect what Labour Members call "market failures". I am a free marketeer who agrees that markets are imperfect—very few things in this world are perfect. I am afraid that the idea that politicians and civil servants can step in and resolve market imperfections has been disproved by a long litany of failed interventions on the part of politicians and civil servants. Markets are imperfect, but unfortunately the decisions made by politicians and civil servants to try to correct market failures are even more imperfect.
Politicians are at a disadvantage in that regard. The market is an aggregate of thousands, sometimes millions, of decisions by the people most concerned with it: investors, consumers, shareholders and workers. Their aggregate decisions are likely to be better than those decisions made by politicians and civil servants who almost invariably do not have access to the same information.
Even if they did have such access, as hon. Members who remember the 1970s will know all too well, the decisions of politicians and civil servants are distorted by vested interests. Politicians and civil servants are influenced by vested interests, and the most politically powerful vested interests will receive most of the money.
Labour Members seemed to think that British manufacturing has done particularly badly in the past 15 years. The 1960s and 1970s were probably the nadir of British manufacturing under Governments of all political persuasions, not just Labour Governments. The performance of British industry during that period was so poor that many foreign observers genuinely wondered whether Britain had a real future as an industrial nation. Poor labour relations and low productivity in huge swathes of our manufacturing industry led to Britain's falling further and further behind our main competitors and to a steady decline in our share of the world market for manufactured goods.
In the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Britain was bottom of the G7 countries when it came to growth in manufacturing productivity and output. Growth in manufacturing output actually fell between 1974 and 1979. Let us not forget that those were the days of grandiose state-sponsored industrial strategies, when British Steel was the world's largest loss maker and British Leyland cars were, sadly, the butt of musical hall jokes—that is when the nightshift was not asleep or on strike.
That is right.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd correctly pointed out that the decline in manufacturing in the early 1980s proved very painful for many communities. Conservative Members must recognise that fact. Mining areas in my constituency suffered not just in the early 1980s but in the 1960s and 1970s when Labour Governments closed many pits. We must realise that mining communities underwent a painful transformation.
However, Labour Members should also recognise that manufacturing output has expanded rapidly since the early 1980s to make up the lost ground. I think that Labour Members know in their heart of hearts that much of the industry that was lost in the early 1980s was inefficient and unsustainable capacity, which was kept alive on a drip-feed of Government subsidies and protection from foreign competition.
Since then, the growth in Britain's manufacturing output has not only made up all that lost ground, and more, but put us on the G7 manufacturing output average. We have moved from the bottom to the middle of the league. A much more important figure is the growth in productivity. During the 1960s and 1970s, we were bottom of the tables for productivity growth in manufacturing. During the 1980s and 1990s, we moved to the top of that league. British manufacturing productivity was higher than that of Japan, Germany, France and Italy during the 1980s and 1990s.
A recent independent report has shown that we have made up three quarters of the productivity gap between Britain and Germany. In every decade since the war until the early 1980s, the productivity gap between Britain and Germany widened. Since 1980, we have made up three quarters of that lost ground. Labour Members should recognise that there have been some successes as a result of factors such as increased competition and privatisation.
Companies such as British Steel, that were almost basket cases are now highly successful. British Steel is the fourth largest steel producer in the world. It is highly profitable, it exports half of its output and it supplies 80 per cent. of the domestic market. The Rolls-Royce aero-engines company, which was almost written off in the 1970s, doubled its share of the market for civil aero engines following privatisation. Privatisation and the hands-off approach has had an effect. I also believe that sounder monetary policy and lower taxes and inflation have created a more stable environment.
We must improve our standards of education if we are to close the remaining gap between Britain and the best economies, such as Germany and Japan. We have not overtaken those countries; we have caught up a lot of lost ground, but we still have some to make up. Hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that education has been our Achilles' heel since the middle of the 19th century. I hope that we are about to reach some sort of consensus on the issue. We must improve vocational education and ensure high standards in education.
In the past, Labour Members have opposed many of our education reforms. However, in their heart of hearts, I believe that they accept that many, if not all, of the reforms were necessary and worth while. Conservative Members accept that those reforms take some time to bed down. It takes time to change the culture of an education system that has been in place for 30 or 40 years. We must recognise that some disruption will occur.
However, there are no magic solutions that will improve manufacturing performance. We must improve education and training, and ensure a stable monetary policy that maintains low inflation, which will allow manufacturing industry to invest for the long term and get away from short-termism. We must have a low-tax regime that does not crowd out the manufacturing sector.
Although we continue to have differences, the opinions of Conservative Members and Labour Members about those issues are a great deal closer together than they were 15 years ago. I recognise that we have not done everything right, but I hope that Opposition Members will acknowledge that we have made significant progress in making our manufacturing industry more competitive and productive and increasing output since 1989.