HC Deb 10 December 1973 vol 866 cc20-1
17. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on Great Britain's current balance of trade situation.

Mr. Peter Walker

The changing terms of trade and the increase in imports of machinery, industrial materials and fuels have resulted in a substantial deficit in our balance of trade.

Mr. Carter

Is not the prime reason for the expected £2,000 million balance of payments deficit next year the Government's appalling economic policies? Will the Secretary of State now tell us what course he will be urging upon his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to reverse this situation?

Mr. Walker

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is "No, Sir", and the answer to the second part also is "No, Sir".

Mr. Skeet

Will my right hon. Friend give his estimate of the trend in commodity prices?

Mr. Walker

think that my hon. Friend will realise that in present circumstances it is impossible to do that. For one thing, if oil prices substantially increase and oil supplies diminish there could be a large reduction in world trade, which could result in a substantial fall in commodity prices. It is, therefore, quite impossible to predict.

Mr. Benn

But is it not clear that in this matter, as in the oil situation, what the country wants is that the Minister shall tell us the facts—that is all, just the facts—and the best prospects which can be made available to the country as a whole? Although very gloomy estimates are undesirable, does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the foolish optimism which he has shown has done, if anything, much more damage than the gloomy forecasts? Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that what the Government are ready to tell the special NEDC meeting on 21st December will be made available also to Parliament before it rises for the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Walker

Having read over the weekend the right hon. Gentleman's confessions of how, taking note of the experts, his Government ran down the coal industry, the railways and other industries, I can understand his concern. If he wants facts I can readily give him one. Imports of industrial materials, fuel and machinery over the first 10 months of this year are running at a total increase of £2,500 million over the same period last year.

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