HC Deb 24 January 1983 vol 35 cc653-4
17. Mr. Alton

asked the Minister for Trade what is the latest available monthly figure for the United Kingdom balance of trade and the corresponding figure 12 months ago.

Mr. Peter Rees

The current account of the balance of payments in November 1982 was in surplus by £700 million, compared with £108 million in November 1981.

Mr. Alton

Will the Minister confirm that that increase is due primarily to our increased oil revenue and that during the past 12 months the balance in manufacturing industry has declined by one-third?

Mr. Rees

No, I will not confirm that, but I will confirm that the increase was due to rather low figures in November 1982. Perhaps that provides a rather unusual answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, which he may not have expected.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there is a difference between planned trade and the unilateral introduction of protectionist policies, which are the last stand of the free trader?

Mr. Rees

I have never understood either of those two formulations, which I suspect come from the fevered minds of those in the Labour research department.

Mr. Adley

As the Opposition seem keen to remind my hon. and learned Friend of past events, may I draw his attention to the 1964 general election and the fact that the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) fought it on the slogan of "An £800 million deficit"? Will my hon. and learned Friend ask the Opposition what they would produce as a slogan for a Government who have been able to produce a £700 million surplus in one year?

Mr. Rees

I suspect that their slogan would be a 30 per cent. devaluation.

Dr. John Cunningham

Is the Minister aware that, in spite of his bluster from the Dispatch Box today, the CBI is forecasting a fall in new orders, particularly in new export orders? Against that background, and of evidence from firms that have improved their efficiency, cut their costs to the bone and paid wage increases below the rate of inflation, how does he expect British exporting manufacturing industry to survive?

Mr. Rees

As I said at an earlier point in these exchanges, I am not here to trade forecasts with the Opposition Benches, because there are many and various such forecasts. I have noted the CBI's figures. I have also noted the Industry Act figures for November. The House will recall that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has access to the best possible information, thinks that possibly the Industry Act figures in November were a little gloomy.

Mr. Marlow

Is it not right that the CBI figures were put forward before the change in the exchange rate, particularly against the franc and the deutschmark, and, since that change has come about, are not the prospects for our manufacturing industry with regard to exports much healthier than they were before?

Mr. Rees

It is possible that with its renewed competitiveness, British industry will be able to take advantage of the depreciation of the pound. The Opposition Front Bench may not have noticed that there has been a depreciation against the yen of about 18 per cent., which may possibly make a difference to our prospects in Japan.