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Manufacturing Industry

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 18 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he last met representatives from the Confederation of British Industry to discuss the performance of British manufacturing industry; and if he will make a statement.

Ministers and officials of my Department keep in touch with the CBI on a wide range of business matters. Manufacturing industry is stronger today than at any time in the past. Output, investment, productivity and exports were all at record levels in 1989 and have risen yet further this year.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that exports were up 55 per cent. in volume in 1989 compared with 1981? Do not those figures reflect the efficiency of British industry and the effectiveness of Government policy? Do not they also give the lie to the constant bleating of the Labour party that manufacturing industry is doing less well than it is?

The figures given by my hon. Friend are wholly right, as are his conclusions, but the figures are even better than he suggested. As he will know, in the three months to May this year, exports of manufactures, excluding oil and erratics, were 14 per cent. higher in volume terms than in the same period last year.

What representations has the Minister received from the CBI about the effect of high interest rates on industry? Will he put on record the fact that although our exports may have grown, imports have grown more rapidly and that by the end of the year we shall have a record deficit in our balance of trade? Is not that a failure by the Government?

As the hon. Gentleman would know if he studied these things, the CBI is bullish about the prospects of the British economy. It is concerned about the high levels of inflation that it enjoyed under a Labour Government, which it would certainly enjoy under a future Labour Government were there ever to be one, and it is firmly behind Government policy to use interest rates as a mechanism for reducing inflationary pressures.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the increasing number of small companies that are going into receivership, partially due to high interest rates being used as the sole weapon against inflation? Does he consider that that further damages our manufacturing base?

A dynamic economy implies that businesses both start and end. I am happy to say that the net increase in businesses has been high. Between the end of 1981 and the end of 1988, business starts exceeded stops by 238,000 or, using the current figures based on VAT registration, 1,600 more new companies start each week than close.

Will the Minister confirm that between 1979 and 1987 the annual growth of exports was lower in Britain than in any other European country? Is he prepared to meet industrialists and to discuss further the concerns that they expressed to the Department at the recent conference on short-termism because they were worried about the future of manufacturing in this country?

It is always a pleasure to talk to industrialists and indeed to anyone else who cares to talk to me or my right hon. Friend. I do not understand why the Labour party continues to poor-mouth industry. Why does not the hon. Lady concentrate on economic growth, which between 1981 and 1989 increased at an average of 3·2 per cent., while in a similar period in West Germany it increased by 2·2 per cent. only and in France by 2·1 per cent. only. Labour should concentrate on the main facts, I say.