HC Deb 19 January 1981 vol 997 cc9-10
12. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the United Kingdom balance of trade for 1980.

Mr. Parkinson

In 1980 the United Kingdom had a visible trade surplus of £1,039 million. The current account as a whole was in surplus by £2,281 million.

Mr. Chapman

I welcome those figures, but will my hon. Friend confirm that our trade with the industrialising non-OPEC countries is broadly in balance? If that is so, should we not be wary about trying to introduce import controls, as to do so would mean that many exporting industries in this country would suffer as a result of our efforts to overcome the problems that certain industries suffer at the moment?

Mr. Parkinson

My hon. Friend is right. We had a small surplus with the countries about which he questioned me, but we had a substantial surplus on manufactures. They had a surplus with us on raw materials. It is a two-way trade, of strong benefit to us.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Do not these figures show that this country should be importing more rather than less? Will the Government consider advising Her Majesty to institute a new award for services to importing, to counterbalance and ridicule the award for services to exporting?

Mr. Parkinson

I very rarely hear the right hon. Gentleman make a remark that is not original. That suggestion was floated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) a few years ago—

Mr. Powell

He got it from me.

Mr. Parkinson

I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend did not reveal that fact when he reduced to laughter a Committee considering the Bill upstairs.

The right hon. Gentleman is right. This year our imports fell very substantially, and our exports more or less maintained themselves. Those who keep shouting for an extension of import controls should recognise that we would be the big sufferers if people outside this country took their advice.

Mr. Bulmer

Does my hon. Friend agree that our balance of trade with the United States would be more favourable if that country were not subsidising its energy costs? Has he any reason to think that the situation will change? If not, does he propose to take any fresh initiative on behalf of the British carpet industry?

Mr. Parkinson

As my hon. Friend knows, I made a statement in the House in December. The following day, I went to Brussels and persuaded the Council of Ministers to instruct the Commission to take up this matter with the Americans with a view to finding an answer to the problem. The Commission is committed to making a first report back at the February Council of Ministers. I shall keep the House in touch with developments.

Mr. John Smith

Is the Minister aware that there is outrage in many sections of British industry about the continued capacity of the United States to gain a cheap, unfair trading advantage by artificially low energy prices? This has reached the dimensions of a scandal, and it is time that the United Kingdom, with or without the co-operation of other countries in Western Europe that are affected, took a stand on the matter. Is the Minister aware that it is ominous that he used the words "first report" to the next Council of Ministers. Does he not feel that this matter will drag on for months, with no remedy for British industry, which is suffering as a result of an unfair policy?

Mr. Parkinson

It would have been unrealistic to expect a full and final report to be made to Council Ministers in February. President-elect Reagan and his Administration take office tomorrow. They will need time to consider the range of problems that they face. The Commission accepts the urgency of this matter and will press hard for an answer. One of the items that we seek is a deregulation of energy prices.

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