HC Deb 16 November 1983 vol 48 cc831-2
1. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the surplus in 1979 of the value of agricultural machinery exports over imports; and what is the position at the latest available date.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. John Butcher)

The surplus in 1979 was £524 million and in 1982 was £298 million. Those figures include agricultural tractors as well as agricultural machinery.

Mr. Farr

As there have been many imports of machinery since 1970, when formerly that machinery was exported from Britain, and as the import trend is increasing, which is disturbing, will ray hon. Friend consider whether the progress of the state-backed research associations can be redirected and whether additional finance is needed?

Mr. Butcher

Our weapon is support for the innovation head of account. Thus far, about £2.3 million under support for innovation has gone into the agricultural machinery industry. It is a demand-led scheme. We should be pleased to entertain further projects in that context, provided that they are viable and meaningful. I take my hon. Friend's point and look forward to further applications from the companies that are under such pressure at the moment.

Sir Kenneth Lewis

I support what the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has said. Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that whenever I go to an agricultural show and look at the machinery section all I can find are machines that are made outside this country? I am beginning to wonder how much ability we have left to manufacture agricultural machinery. It is extraordinary that, though we have the best agriculture industry in the world, we are buying so much machinery from overseas.

Mr. Butcher

We are still the largest exporter of tractors in the world. However, I think that my hon. Friend is concerned about agricultural machinery in general. He will know that our industry looks enviously at the product certification schemes in Europe, particularly in Denmark, Holland and Germany. We are examining those schemes. I assure my hon. Friend that the industry's case is not going by default and that we are concerned to see that our companies fight back, preferably using the innovation route.

Mr. Williams

Does the Minister not recognise that the figures he has given represent an appalling decline over the past few years? Are not the already poor prospects for the section of the industry, like those for all industry, worse this week than they were last week? The Confederation of British Industry made that forecast as a result of the Government's announcement unnecessarily to increase gas and electricity prices. Is it not about time that the Government stopped vindictively beating industry about the head with their doctrinal deflationary clubs?

Mr. Butcher

I cannot accept the central assertion in the right hon. Gentleman's question. The Government are concerned to see that our existing and established manufacturers fight back in international markets. We believe that the best way to do so is by giving them a lower rate of inflation and allowing our recovery to emerge, as it is, gradually. We believe that the industry has a good future. We are still exporting £298 million worth more equipment than we import.

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