HC Deb 24 January 1983 vol 35 cc654-5
18. Mr. Woolmer

asked the Minister for Trade what was the balance of visible trade in goods other than oil in 1978, and in the latest 12-month period.

20. Mr. Foster

asked the Minister for Trade if he will state separately the balance of non-oil and of oil visible trade for the latest 12-month period.

Mr. Peter Rees

In 1978 the non-oil balance was in surplus by £442 million and the oil balance was in deficit by £1,984 million. The non-oil balance for the 12 months to November 1982 was in deficit by £2,390 million, while the oil balance was in surplus by £4,283 million.

Mr. Woolmer

Do not those figures show the enormous benefit that the Government have derived from oil and the devastation that the country and industry have suffered as a result of the total mismanagement by the Government of the benefit that oil should have given our industry and economy? How have the Government managed to squander a national asset of oil and to so devastate our manufacturing industry that it will not be there to rescue the economy when the oil begins to run out?

Mr. Rees

I would be the last to underestimate the contribution made by oil to the fortunes of this country, but to talk about the devastation of British industry is to underestimate the volume of British exports, which demonstrates that we still have a sound, leaner and more competitive industry to face the years ahead.

Mr. Dorrell

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that some of the fastest growing markets for manufactures in the world are to be found in the newly industrialising countries in the Far East, precisely the countries from which the Opposition are so keen to insulate this country?

Mr. Rees

I entirely agree that the growth rate of the ASEAN countries is enviable, and they are markets in which British exporters distinguish themselves.

Mr. Stoddart

Does the Mininster realise that he is guilty of an attitude of disgraceful complacency towards British manufacturing industry? Is he aware that North Sea oil has a finite life and that by the time the Government have finished, and North Sea oil begins to run out, British manufacturing industry will be completely destroyed?

Mr. Rees

I do not know on what possible evidence the hon. Gentleman could make that assertion.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the majority of manufacturers in this country want us to remain in Europe, where our biggest market is, and that despite the roughness of conditions they do not want us to drift towards trade protectionism, because they know that their future lies in free trade?

Mr. Rees

As a country that exports 30 per cent. of its gross domestic product, we certainly believe in a free but firm market.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Minister agree that although exports of services and oil add considerably to the surplus that he announced just now, in terms of manpower costs and employment per £1,000 of exports they are very small indeed compared with manufactured goods, and that the deficit in manufactures which he also announced is therefore related to unemployment in this country?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman's proposition might be true of our oil exports but it is certainly not true of our invisible export service industries, which are labour-intensive.