HC Deb 27 October 1980 vol 991 cc6-8
4. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the current overall level of import penetration of manufactured goods; and in how many sectors import penetration exceeds 50 per cent.

The Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. John Nott)

For the 12 months ended March 1980, import penetration of the products of manufacturing industry in total was 26 per cent. This can be compared with the 25 per cent. share of total manufacturing output which was exported. An import penetration of greater than 50 per cent. was recorded in only one broad sector of industry—instrument engineering—where the figure was 58 per cent., but exports in this sector in the same period were 59 per cent. of sales.

Mr. Meacher

But, given that under the present Government the surplus in trade in manufactured goods has dwindled to almost nothing, and is now moving into deficit, and given that under this Government's policies any reflation of the economy is bound to lead to a huge surge in imports, in what precise circumstances can this Government ever take the country out of deepening slump?

Mr. Nott

In the first nine months of this year, compared with the first nine months of last year, the export-import penetration figures of British manufacturing industry improved—rather the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. John Page

Would my right hon. Friend care to hazard a guess as to why people import goods instead of buying goods that are manufactured in the home market?

Mr. Nott

I think that it is sometimes because imported goods are cheaper, sometimes because they are better, arid sometimes because people need to buy imported goods because there are no domestically produced goods to take their place. That is what trade is all about. Everyone benefits from it.

Mr. John Smith

In view of the disastrous levels of import penetration in the man-made fibres industry, which to a great extent arise from United States energy pricing policy and the unfair advantage that it gives to United States manufacturers, and which has caused disasters to ICI, Courtaulds and other major British companies and the people who work for them, will the Secretary of State urgently consider what action can be taken unilaterally or within the European Community to obtain better protection for British industry against blatantly unfair trading?

Mr. Nott

I consider this difficult matter the whole time. There is a question on the Order Paper about this subject. We should reach it, and I would rather go into the full details then. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question is, of course, "Yes". We shall review the matter; we are reviewing it now, and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Gummer

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why people sometimes buy imports is that they do not know that they are imports? Is it not very important now to proceed faster with origin marking, so that we know when we are buying British?

Mr. Nott

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs has a programme for the origin marking of a whole range of products. We are still in the statutory consultation period, but as soon as it is over we shall table the necessary orders, and we shall be going straight ahead with origin marking. We intend to do that for a range of products.

Mr. Cryer

What benefits does the Secretary of State think trade has brought to the 6,000-plus people made redundant in the first six months of this year in the wool textile industry? More specifically, what provision will he make to ensure that imports from Portugal, the second low-cost importer, are curtailed preparatory to, and during, her entry into the Common Market? At present, they are losing the industry many thousands of jobs.

Mr. Nott

I am aware of the current severe difficulties in the textile industry, but the wool textile industry would not have employed the number of people that it employs now had it not been so successful throughout history in exporting. Indeed, the industry has built up its reputation, its skills and its success, on exports.