HC Deb 01 August 1984 vol 65 cc339-40
22. Mr. Park

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the balance of trade in manufactures for the first six months of 1984.

Mr. Fletcher

There was a deficit of £1.6 billion, within the context of a current account surplus of £285 million in the same period.

Mr. Park

Does the Minister agree that these figures give the lie to all the euphoria Which we heard yesterday and which we have heard today about the recovery of the United Kingdom? Does he accept that the deficit warrants the most vigorous action on the part of the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments, to give British industry an opportunity fairly to compete in world markets?

Mr. Fletcher

That is precisely what the Government are doing. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that our export performance in manufactures improved significantly in the second half of last year and in volume terms is now 8.5 per cent. higher than a year ago.

Mr. Forth

I agree that the manufacturing sector is and will always be of the greatest importance, but does my hon. Friend agree that the most likely growth area for the economy and employment is in the service sector? Does he further agree that we should not become obsessed with manufacturing performance and that we should concentrate equally on the success of the service sector, which will provide our exports and jobs in future?

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The service sector is making a significant contribution to our balance of trade.

Mr. Ashdown

No doubt the Minister will agree that our future balance of trade in manufactures will depend on the speed at which we adopt new technologies. Will he explain why his Department has, at two days' notice, withdrawn the Government's computer consultancy scheme and replaced it with a less well-funded scheme? Does he realise that this has created disruption within computer consultancy? Does he understand that it will result inevitably in a slower take-up of the new technologies that we need so badly?

Mr. Fletcher

No, Sir. This is part of a repackaging scheme which the Department has introduced, and the programmes have been taken up very well.

Mr. Shore

Are these not appalling figures and do they not give the lie to all the boasts about the economy being in good shape? Is it not the case that our manufacturing trade is in deficit, it being about 60 per cent. above what it was last year and running at about £3,000 million a year, and that our total visible trade, including oil, is running at a deficit of £3,000 million a year? Is this not a disgrace?

Mr. Fletcher

The economy is in surplus overall.