HC Deb 24 April 1968 vol 763 cc201-2
4. Mr. Hordern

asked the President of the Board of Trade by how much imports of finished manufactures increased in 1967 compared with 1966.

Mr. Crosland

The information is available at Table 15 of the articles on United Kingdom Trade in 1967 published in the Board of Trade Journal on 9th February, 1968 (page 394).

Mr. Hordern

Does this information not show, loosely, a very sharp increase in manufactured imports? Does the Minister appreciate that this increase occurred last year at a time when production scarcely rose at all? Does he not think that this is a firm indication of the lack of confidence existing in industry and the disastrous effect of the Government's economic policy?

Mr. Crosland

If the hon. Member knew that that was what the information showed, I do not quite see why he put down the Question. As to the facts of the case, it is well known that in 1967 there were two special influences at work. One was the removal of the import surcharge at the end of the previous year, the other was the effect of devaluation on import prices in the last two months of the year. These were the two special factors making imports exceptionally high in that year. They were much too high for the long-term good of the economy, and this was one of a number of reasons which caused the Government to take the decision about devaluation.

Mr. Dickens

Would my right hon. Friend agree that so far this year the trend shows a quite alarming rise in the import of finished manufactured goods, and if so why does he not reintroduce selective short-term import controls? Have we given some private undertaking to the I.M.F. or the O.E.C.D. not to do so?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. This is not a matter of undertakings. My hon. Friend is quite right when he says that the trend is not yet going the way we want, but he must remember, and the House knows, that of these imports of finished manufactures two-thirds consist of capital goods, not consumer goods, and capital goods orders cannot be switched from imported sources of supply to home sources at all quickly.