Britain's largest clothing retailer, Marks & Spencer Plc, on Tuesday announced a better-than-expected rise in first half pre-tax profit on the back of a modest rise in sales.

The company said pre-tax profit before items in the 26 weeks ended September 27 rose 7.4 per cent to £311.5 million from £290.1m last year, with turnover up three per cent year-on-year to just over £3.8 billion.

Apparel and footwear sales rose 2.5 per cent year-on-year it added in a news release, with demand for its fashions higher in the first quarter than the second quarter, although margins improved in the most recent 13 week period.

Chief executive Roger Holmes said: "In clothing, we delivered modest overall sales growth of 2.5 per cent in a period of limited space expansion, holding market share.

"We performed well in casualwear, both in women's and men's wear, notably in 'per una', which delivered strong like-for-like sales in its second year. However, knitwear was affected by the hot weather and we have more work to do in women's tailoring.

In lingerie, we achieved a 0.7 per cent gain in market share. We have seen early signs of stabilisation within our childrenswear business, supported by a pleasing performance in schoolwear.