HC Deb 28 July 1975 vol 896 cc1287-8
18. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if there is any discernible improvement in the balance of trade with the EEC; and if he will make a statement on the impact of steel and food in this context.

Mr. Shore

The crude deficit, seasonally adjusted, on our trade with the EEC averaged £171 million a month in the four months March to June 1975, compared with £225 million a month in the preceding three months. Between these periods the crude trade deficit in food and live animals was little changed and the deficit in iron and steel was reduced by half.

Mr. Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the true balance concerning goods other than food and steel is showing a slight reduction compared with 1974? Will he give us a more specific answer on steel imports in view of the parlous plight of the steel industry in this country? Why are we continuing to import so much steel when our own industry is capable of meeting the demand in this country?

May I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your birthday and hope that those felicitations might help me to catch your eye in future debates?

Mr. Shore

There has been a lower level of imports of iron and steel. In our judgment, this reflects the easing of capacity constraint and reduction of demand in the United Kingdom. That has been helpful in terms of the balance of trade with the EEC in iron and steel.

As for the overall improvement, this is probably the first time in 16 months that I have been able to report to the House that there has been a slight reversal, which I welcome, in the trend. However, the House must be aware that what I am talking about on the basis of the past three months is an annual deficit of £2,000 million as distinct from a crude deficit of £2,500 million which previously obtained.

Mr. Dykes

The Secretary of State has now admitted that there has been an improvement in the three months to June. During the referendum campaign he categorically said that the situation was getting worse. Should he now apologise for misleading the public?

Mr. Shore

I do not think so. The referendum campaign ended, as I recall, a month ago. Indeed, the campaign was fought in the main two months ago, and the trend in the figures then was precisely as I described.