HC Deb 10 December 1986 vol 107 cc333-4
9. Mr. Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will indicate the nature and size of the current deficit in the balance of trade in manufactured goods.

Mr. Alan Clark

In October there was a deficit of £0.5 billion.

Mr. Evans

In view of the appalling figure that the Minister has announced to the House, will he acknowledge that one company that has always made a positive contribution to Britain's balance of trade is Pilkington Brothers of St. Helens, a world leader in the manufacture of glass? Does the Minister agree that there is no industrial logic in BTR's bid for Pilkington? Does he further agree that it is in the best interests of the work force, customers, the community of St. Helens as well as the shareholders that Pilkington Brothers remains an independent company?

Mr. Clark

It is impossible for me to comment on that matter until we receive the recommendation of the Director General of Fair Trading.

Mr. Roger King

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the ways that we can close the export-import gap is to produce goods of the right quality, at the right price and delivered on time? Will he therefore join me in congratulating all sections of the Rover Group on showing incredibly increased export potential? Will he further join me in congratulating the work force at the factory in Longbridge in Birmingham on drawing the first quality bonus issued under the present payment scheme? Is this not the way to expand into markets such as Japan and France, where the Mini sells so well?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the exploits of the Rover Group. Of course, it is quality, price, delivery and after sales service in the manufacturing area that will allow us to increase the rate of expansion. Our manufacturing exports are increasing in volume and value, and that will allow the increase to be maintained and will close the gap.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that those of us representing constituencies that are heavily dependent on manufacturing industries want to know when the Government will get our trade in the manufacturing industries into surplus? Does he not think that the EEC regulations affecting country of origin labelling will have detrimental effects if introduced in this country?

Mr. Clark

It is not the Government's business or responsibility to get manufacturing trade into surplus. Exports of manufacturers have increased in volume and value for the past three years. The gap is accounted for by the vast increase in the level of imports. Imports are the sum of about 25 million individual decisions and preferences by the British people as consumers and business men, based on an assessment of the factors that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) drew attention to earlier—quality, price, delivery and the many factors that add up to individual choice in these matters.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Will my hon. Friend again emphasise the fact that, if they are to export successfully, businesses must have the right price, quality and delivery? It is no good for Governments to try to think that they achieve that success. It is up to the individual firm. In this respect, will my hon. Friend care to examine the success of Ruston Gas Turbines in my constituency? That company exports over 19 per cent. of its products because it meets these high specifications. There is one thing I should like to ask—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has asked a question.

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The record of Ruston Turbines is exemplary. I know that that company continues to sell in extremely difficult markets around the world.

Mr. John Smith

Given that it is the unique contribution of the Government that put Britain's balance of trade in manufactured goods into serious deficit for the first time in economic history, and given that we are heading for a deficit in excess of £5 billion in the balance of trade in manufactured goods this year, what action will the Government take to tackle this serious problem?

Mr. Clark

I am amazed at the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman continues to ascribe responsibility to Government and to Government policy. [Interruption.] Very well. Does he attribute blame to the United States Government and to their fiscal policy, which is the very reverse of our own? Their deficit in manufacturing is over £100 billion and has increased over the past four years. They are two totally different Governments with totally different policies. In each case, are the Government responsible?

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