HC Deb 25 November 1987 vol 123 cc242-3
2. Mr. Cummings

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the most recently available monthly figure for the United Kingdom balance of trade in manufactures.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

For the month of October there was a deficit of £0.7 billion in trade in manufactures.

Mr. Cummings

According to recent figures, we are heading for a £7.5 billion deficit this year. Is it true that the deficit is not just in traditional industries but in high technology new industries? Does the Minister agree with the Chancellor's statement that the deficit is neither here nor there? Will the hon. Gentleman direct his attention away from the City and concentrate on those parts of the economy that are creating wealth and providing and selling goods and services?

Mr. Clark

The deficit estimate has already been revised downwards twice. The estimate by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement was already a downward revision from the estimate in the March Budget review. I believe that the figures will undershoot that estimate when the whole year is assessed.

Mr. Oppenheim

Is it true that under the Labour Government and, indeed, for most of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s our balance of trade in manufactured goods moved rapidly towards deficit, but that in the past four years, for the first time in many years, not only has that deterioration stopped but our share of world trade in manufactures has increased?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend is right. Plainly, I have no responsibility for the direction of events under the Labour Government. The important point is that the quality of new manufacturing in terms of productivity and commercial resilience is now quite different.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the Minister know that, according to answers given by his colleagues, since 1980 about 22 million tonnes of hot-rolled steel have been imported? Does he also know that last year £1.1 billion worth of hot-rolled steel was imported? What will the hon. Gentleman do about this ruinous situation? Privatisation will not help.

Mr. Clark

The traffic, both inward and outward, in steel is, to a large extent, a function of our obligations under the treaty of Rome as a member of the European Community.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the outrageous position whereby British manufacturers of shoes and leather goods are handicapped when seeking to enter the Japanese market, not only by levies but by quotas? To add insult to injury, no one can find out who owns those quotas. Will my hon. Friend see whether he can knock some sense into the Japanese?

Mr. Clark

I am always delighted when the House returns to the subject of our trade relations with Japan. In fact, the shoe and leather section is one of the least satisfactory in that regard. However, I must say in all honesty—I hope that the House may take some credit for this improvement having expressed its indignation so forcefully last July—that our manufactured exports to Japan have increased by 30 per cent. over the past year.

Mr. Kennedy

What analysis is the Department making of the effect of the Governments regional policy — particularly the cuts in regional grants that the Government have made over the past three years—on our ability to contribute towards manufacturing output, not least from the Scottish economy.

Mr. Clark

The question refers to the balance of trade in manufactures. However, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a short answer, I understand that there have been no cuts in regional development grants.

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