Does my right hon. Friend agree that reasonably stable exchange rates are particularly important for the manufacturing sector? Is he concerned about the effects of the recent rise in the value of the pound on manufacturing industry?
The rise in the pound is clearly a reflection of the world's perception of the strength of our economy and currency. A strong currency reduces input costs for manufacturing industry when importing from abroad. Manufacturing is now at an all-time high. It has increased by 9 per cent. since the recovery began. Given the high quality of productivity and the prospects for order books, I believe that the capacity exists to maintain that level.
Is the Minister aware of the widespread concern and dismay among trade associations about the Governments's proposals to turn the trade fairs and missions budget into a competition, at the behest of the Deputy Prime Minister? Does the Minister realise that that will prevent necessary long-term planning and will jeopardise future success? Why does he not tell the Deputy Prime Minister to get the tanks off his lawn?
It is the policy of the Government, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, to which all Ministers subscribe. It is important to use Government funds as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The broad thrust of our policies—creating challenge schemes, getting the best value for the taxpayer—has been welcomed by industry, and that is reflected in its success in using the resources that we provide.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in 1979, it took five men to produce a tonne of steel in this country compared with one man in Japan? Production output per man in the two countries is now equal, if not better in this country. Is that not a matter for great congratulation and a complete condemnation of a Labour Government and socialism?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the success of the steel industry, which is partly the result of privatisation and the release from the shackles of state ownership to which the Labour party subjected it. That success in productivity applies right across the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing productivity has risen by 80 per cent. since the Conservative Government came to power. We have largely closed the productivity gap with Germany and France, which widened under the last Labour Government. Whereas the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development table put the United Kingdom in 14th place in productivity growth under the last Labour Government, we are now top of the table.
Will the President of the Board of Trade join me in drawing the attention of the Confederation of British Industry and the international business community to the fact that west Cumbria has hundreds of thousands of square feet of modern industrial space waiting to be occupied by industries that we want to grow and make successful? We have a flexible, able and capable work force who want to work, and a development agency equipped to put together effective packages to help industries to come to our area. Will he help us now in this major effort to bring jobs to my under-employed community?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the success of Conservative policies, which have delivered precisely the qualities to which he drew attention. I am sure that his reference to the available manufacturing space in Cumbria will have been noted, and as the manufacturing sector is expanding—it is up by 130,000 jobs in the past three years, which was never experienced under a Labour Government—the potential of Cumbria will no doubt come to the attention of expanding manufacturers before long.