The figures for the past 12 months will not be available until those for the last quarter of 1996 are published next month. However, the conditions for investment are extremely favourable and the Confederation of British Industry expects manufacturing investment to grow by 8 per cent. this year and next year.
Like other Opposition Members, the hon. Gentleman never knowingly misses an opportunity to talk Britain down. Business investment grew by 5 per cent. last year and whole economy investment is six times higher than under Labour. Instead of decrying our excellent performance on the manufacturing front, he would do better to celebrate some of the excellent investment in manufacturing industry in his constituency. For example, Omega Engineering recently established a 250,000 sq ft European manufacturing plant in his constituency. Is that not better news than his question suggests?
Is not the CBI's forecast of an 8 per cent. increase in manufacturing investment this year and next year one of the best results to be found in the European Union? What does my hon. Friend think would happen if industry were hit by windfall and other corporate taxes, as proposed by the Opposition this year?
Yes. The performance of industry—particularly of manufacturing industry—would be severely prejudiced by such factors. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the CBI's studies in that respect. In the past 24 hours, its quarterly survey has confirmed that confidence in manufacturing industry has risen and that output is up. The number of jobs in manufacturing industry has increased by 130,000 in the past three years. That is good news on the manufacturing front, and it reflects the success of Conservative policies in government.
The important statistic is the investment in business as a whole. Those who produce computer games or sell computer software services will find that the distinction between the two in terms of employment and investment is becoming increasingly artificial. Whole business economic investment is growing substantially. Our output and exports are at record levels. International confidence, as reflected in investment, is also at a record level. That speaks well of the performance of our industry and of Government policies in action.
Has my hon. Friend assessed the effect on jobs of taking £10 billion from the publicly owned utilities, which invest in manufactured goods from British industry? How many jobs would be lost if £10 billion were removed from their investment and devoted to £10 billion-worth of make-work schemes, such as those offered by the socialists opposite?
The Opposition have not accounted for any significant losses in employment resulting from their plans, which would wreak havoc with investment, activity, profitability and the future of many utility companies. They have led the way with investment in recent years. Let us not forget that, during the difficult years of the recession, those utilities maintained high investment and employment. The price of their success is the prospect of a Labour Government introducing a swingeing tax thereon. That would be disastrous for their prospects, for consumer prices and, most of all, for the many people employed in those industries.
Is it not true that just over a year ago in the Budget the Government predicted a 10 per cent. increase in manufacturing investment this year, whereas the most recent figures show a decline of 16 per cent. for the same quarter? The Government claimed that an increase would be an indicator of success, but they have said nothing about the decline. Will the Minister confirm that the most recent figures for this quarter compared with the last show a decline not only in manufacturing investment, but in business investment and in whole economy investment? The Minister cited the CBI's prediction for manufacturing investment, but the Government have not predicted what will happen to manufacturing investment. Can the Minister make such a prediction today? Does it not appear that, according to the latest information—whether it be on investment, output, which is static or which is going down, or the forecast export levels in the CBI survey—we are reaping the rewards of this Government's utter neglect of manufacturing over many years?
No. The right hon. Lady is wrong on just about every count. She should update her briefing before she reads it out. She did not refer—[Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. Lady will give me a chance to reply to her question. The CBI quarterly survey became available yesterday. She may not always believe what the Government say, but she should not deride what the CBI says. It states:
Manufacturers' optimism grew for the third consecutive quarter. Manufacturing output growth is expected to accelerate over the next four months.
The predictions are that it will rise by 8 per cent. this year and next year. Average unit costs and prices have fallen. For the past year, manufacturing output has risen significantly. That is one reflection of the huge improvements in productivity that have taken place within that sector, which have been fuelled by inward investment. It is a great success story for Britain and Conservative policies. The Labour party should not and must not deride it.