HC Deb 06 November 1968 vol 772 cc863-6
6. Mr. Jopling

asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent it is his policy to give preference to industries which contribute to exports rather than those which make a similar contribution to import saving.

Mr. Crosland

The Government's policy is to encourage and assist all industries to make the best contribution they can both in export markets and in competition with imports at home.

Mr. Jopling

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 12th June one of his senior officials came to the Select Committee on Agriculture and, in reply to Question No. 918, said specifically that his Department's policy was to give preference to industries involved in exporting rather than those involved in import saving? Is that not an extraordinary statement of policy?

Mr. Crosland

I confess that I was not aware of the answer to Question No. 918 on that occasion. However, whatever he said, my view is that in the short run we should give encouragement to both export promotion and import saving. But I agree with whoever gave the answer to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that, taking the longer view, export promotion is the more valuable, partly because the world market is larger than the domestic market, partly because world trade in manufactures is growing faster than the British national income is growing, and partly because the exporting industries are typically industries with a considerable reserve of productivity increase whose expansion can significantly affect the rate of growth.

Mr. Maxwell

As balance of payments considerations are of highest importance at least for the next three years, does not my right hon. Friend agree that import savings could make an immediate and much faster contribution than exports since we have to give such long credit terms?

Mr. Crosland

I said that, in the immediate outlook, we ought to support both equally. As regards import saving, the Government have been extremely active, for example, in relation to the aluminium smelters, the agricultural expansion programme, the encourage- ment. of North Sea gas production and in many other ways.

Mr. Jopling

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

7. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will state the estimated deficit in the United Kingdom overseas trade during 12 months ended 31st October, 1968; what proposals he now has to make for improving the terms of trade by increasing exports and by diminishing imports by home production to substitute for imports, respectively; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Crosland

Figures of the United Kingdom's trade up to 31st October are not yet available. The Government are pursuing, and will continue to pursue, a wide range of measures designed to improve the trade balance.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while endorsing the view that exports have performed creditably since devaluation, express renewed anxiety about the level of imports; and is not this largely due to the total failure of the Government's policy of import substitution in the context of British agriculture?

Mr. Crosland

I listened with pleasure to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday. I profoundly regret that I missed the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I heard the moving tribute paid to it by the Leader of the House, and I am sure that it was very good. On the point of substance about imports, as we have made clear again and again imports are running at a higher level than we should like. There are a variety of reasons for this. As regards the point which the hon. Gentleman made about the agricultural expansion programme, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture hopes to make a statement to the House on the subject in the very near future.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have many Questions on the Order Paper.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

How does the President of the Board of Trade reconcile the bullish tone of the Chancellor yesterday with his own much more cautious assessment when he spoke to the International Chamber of Commerce?

Mr. Crosland

No doubt there are differences of temperament here, as there are, I imagine, everywhere else. On the substance of the matter, as I recollect my right hon. Friend's speech and my own speech, we were in complete harmony.

8 and 9. Mr. Blaker

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) if he will give the percentage increase in the volume of imports and exports, respectively, between the third quarter of 1968 and the average for the second and third quarters of last year before devaluation;

(2) if he will give the percentage increase in the value of imports and exports, respectively, between the third quarter of 1968 and the average for the second and third quarters of last year before devalution.

Mr. Crosland

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the volume of United Kingdom imports increased by 11 per cent. and of exports by 14 per cent.; the increases in value were 26 and 25 per cent., respectively.

Mr. Blaker

Is not the significant fact revealed by those figures that the value of imports has risen in the periods concerned even faster than the value of exports, and does not that give rise to concern?

Mr. Crosland

It was always clear that devaluation would have the effect—and this was the intention—of raising import prices by more than export prices, and so there was bound to be the trend to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention. But what is important as regards the outlook now is not the figures for the whole nine months of this year but the trend of the trade balance, and all those hon. Members who have been following that trend will have noted a very marked improvement in the past two months.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the imports of foreign steel into South Wales and to the fact that those imports doubled in the period up to 20th October this year as compared with the corresponding period last year? Will he give an undertaking to watch that unfavourable trend very closely?

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend draws attention to a fact of which he is well aware, that there is a surplus of steel at present, which leads to great balance of payment problems not only for this country but for others. I shall continue to give very close attention to the point my hon. Friend mentioned.

Sir K. Joseph

Since imports have risen in both value and volume either at just about the same rate as exports, or a bit more, since devaluation, what reason has the right hon. Gentleman for thinking that exports can pull ahead in the future without pulling up imports after them?

Mr. Crosland

Just to make sure that we are in agreement about the facts, exports have increased significantly faster than imports by volume—14 per cent. as compared with 11 per cent. On value, they are almost identical—26 per cent. and 25 per cent.

13. Mr. Bessell

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will arange to publish with the import-export figures each month sufficient detail to enable industry to identify those markets where imports are rising.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Edmund Dell)

Extensive information is published in the Overseas Trade Accounts and more detailed monthly statistics are available to industry from the Bill of Entry Section of Customs and Excise.

Mr. Bessell

Is the Minister aware that these figures arrive much later, and do not enable British manufacturers to identify the imports quickly enough, and that it is important that these figures should be available at the earliest opportunity to prevent panic reactions to the Board of Trade figures?

Mr. Dell

It is important that people should have these figures, but figures are available to manufacturers—both exporters and import-savers—in very large quantity from a number of sources, such as the Overseas Trade Accounts, which give commodities by main countries, H.M. Customs and Excise Bill of Entry Service, and the facilities available under Section 3 of the 1967 Finance Act. There is a limit to what one can usefully and economically provide, but we are providing a very good service in this respect.