HC Deb 21 February 1983 vol 37 cc645-7
1. Dr. John Cunningham

asked the Minister for Trade whether he has conducted any recent studies into the export performance of different sectors of the economy over the last decade.

3. Mr. Cunliffe

asked the Minister for Trade whether he has conducted any recent studies into the degree of import penetration in different sectors of the economy over the last decade.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Peter Rees)

The statistical services of the Departments of Industry and Trade regularly collect and publish statistics on export performance and import penetration. A study of these covering the last decade was published in the June 1980 issue of Economic Trends. More recent data were published in the issue of British Business dated 21 January 1983. Both publications are available in the Library.

Dr. Cunningham

Is the Minister aware that our trade balance in manufactured goods has fallen from more than £5,000 million in 1977 to only £225 million last year? Is he further aware that rising imports coming into either static or falling home markets are devastating British manufacturing industry, where 1.5 million jobs have been lost since this Government came to office? Given that industrial—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is too long. It is not fair to the House.

Dr. Cunningham

Given that disastrous decline—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have just said that it is not fair to the House. The hon. Gentleman has asked a question, and two further questions.

Dr. Cunningham

I want to ask the Minister what he proposes to do about it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is the only way to control it.

Mr. Rees

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has misread the statistics. If he had fastened on to the fact that exports, for example, increased last year by 8 per cent. in value and 1 per cent. in volume, against a background of contracting world trade, he would know that his fears were completely unfounded.

Mr. Cunliffe

I have examined the figures that are available in the Library. Is it not manifestly clear that other countries do not now abide by the British Queensberry rules when it comes to fair trading? Is it not time that they accepted that retaliatory measures will be taken against countries that are guilty of unfair trade practices? Is it not an act of criminal folly for the Minister to ignore such practices at the expense of the wholesale decimation of our textile, engineering and motor industries?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman and the House should take comfort from the fact that textile exports are worth £2 billion a year. In any case, when other countries have discriminated unfairly against our exports we have taken and are ready to take, action in these cases. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make specific allegations rather than wild general statements, so that we may assess their validity.

Mr. Sims

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that one of the best export performances over the past decade has been that of the Scotch whisky industry? Does he accept that that industry can maintain its performance in the present difficult overseas conditions only if it has a firm home market base? If so, will he mention that fact to his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, lest he be tempted to add to the industry's burdens?

Mr. Rees

I pay tribute to the export performance of the whisky industry. The House may be interested to know that between January and November last year total exports were worth £800 million, of which £188 million went to the European Community and £64 million to Japan. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will take full account of what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Archer

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise the need to identify those sectors of industry with prospects for growth and where the spin-off may stimulate the economy? Has he had an opportunity to study the recent paper by Mr. Geoffrey Chandler, the director general of NEDO? On reflection, does his noble Friend the Secretary of State now regret his outburst at the February meeting of NEDC in response to this serious and sensible initiative?

Mr. Rees

Mr. Chandler's paper was interesting, and I believe that it gave rise to a stimulating discussion. However, the record is confidential. I do not know how the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows about the detailed contributions of individual members. Perhaps he will explain in due course.

Mr. Marlow

The questions refer to "different sectors". Did not British Leyland increase its exports by about 25 per cent. last year—its best performance for five years? Is that not some measure of the success that is now taking place in the heartland of British industry and being built on at the moment?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to British successes instead of dwelling overlong on false stories of gloom. In addition, the exports of British automotive products are strongly in surplus.

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