HC Deb 03 July 1985 vol 82 cc320-1
6. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the value of exports to other member countries of the European Community in the most recent year for which figures are available; and how this compares with the value in 1978, at constant prices.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alex Fletcher)

In the year to May, United Kingdom exports to the other members of the European Community amounted to £35 billion compared with £13.5 billion in 1978. Those figures are at current prices. Constant price figures are not available, but a rough estimate of the increase in volume would be about 40 per cent.

Mr. Knox

Although there has been a satisfactory and commendable increase in British exports to the Community since 1978, does my hon. Friend agree that the increase would have been greater if British exporters had enjoyed the exchange rate stability that membership of the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system would have given them?

Mr. Fletcher

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We should not forget that the substantial increase in our exports, to which I have referred, has taken place without our being a member of the EMS, and that all countries, whether in or out of the EMS, are affected by exchange rate fluctuations.

Mr. Fatchett

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the balance of payments situation between Britain and the other members of the Community is likely to continue to deteriorate if what is happening, for example, in Halifax in West Yorkshire continues? The Philips factory there, which is efficient, where there has been a major improvement in productivity, where wages are low—an aspect which the Government claim leads to job security —and where not one day has been lost as the result of industrial action in the last 13 years, has been closed down, with Philips having transferred production to Naples in Italy. Does the Minister agree that that is a scandal in relation to manufacturing industry in Britain? What do the Government intend to do about that? Will they just sit back and allow jobs to be lost in such circumstances?

Mr. Fletcher

I am, of course, sympathetic to the constituency problem that the hon. Gentleman raises. Although he refers to a deteriorating balance with the EEC, in the first quarter of this year our total visible trade with the Community was roughly in balance.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Those figures show how important a market the EEC now is to our manufacturing industries. However, would not our relationship with the Common Market be that much better if we had free trade in the service industries? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a major area where we could have considerable success by using our initiative?

Mr. Fletcher

I agree with my hon. Friend, and that point was stressed by the Prime Minister at the conference last weekend in Milan.

Mr. Gould

Are not the figures made to look much better than they are by the inclusion of oil exports to the EC, which were virtually non-existent in 1978 and are now worth about £12 billion a year? Is it not a fact that in manufactured trade, which is what really counts, our share of the EC market has fallen sharply since 1978 and that we now have an enormous deficit of £9 billion? That is the true measure of the damage that the Conservatives have done to British industry.

Mr. Fletcher

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman and I am amazed that the Labour party should constantly pick out Britain for criticism. Many other countries export oil. Why should we not do so?