HC Deb 07 December 1988 vol 143 cc302-4
8. Mr. Robert Hughes

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how much Britain's share of world trade has changed since 1979.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

Since the beginning of the decade our share of world trade in manufactures has held steady. Our share of trade in invisibles continues to increase.

Mr. Hughes

Is not the true state of affairs that Britain's share of world trade has dropped from 9.1 per cent. in 1979 to 7.9 per cent. in the first quarter of this year? Whatever twisted logic the Minister may use, he cannot disguise his failure. What does he intend to do to improve British competitiveness?

Mr. Clark

I do not need twisted logic, because the hon. Gentleman circulated the text of the supplementary question that he has just declaimed fairly widely. It begins "Dear Bob" and is headed "Your question 11 tomorrow." It is signed by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), and says exactly what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) should do. I tried to get hold of the hon. Gentleman to help him with his figures because I did not think that the House would consider that a fall from 8.1 to 7.9 per cent. was of seismic proportions. The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the figure has now gone up from 7.9 to 8.2 per cent.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can make inquiries about whether the Minister has been reading private correspondence which has not been properly handed on.

Mr. Clark

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is presumably not aware that he shares both Christian name and surname with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). Due to over-profligacy, I assume, in circulating the text, it was sent to everyone who carries his name—or was it?

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great problems that we face in world trade is the fact that the pound continues to go higher? If the pound is allowed to continue its rise against the currencies of our competitor countries, is it not possible that we may return to the position of 1979 to 1981, which would be hugely damaging to manufacturing industry? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend has his view, which seems to be widely shared by Opposition Members. The paradox is that Opposition Members and others declare simultaneously that the balance of payments deficit will lead to a sterling crisis, by which I assume they mean that the value of sterling will fall, not rise. That paradox may benefit from the attention of Lady Antonia Fraser's think tank.

Mr. John Garrett

Will the Minister confirm that the Chancellor's Autumn Statement forecast that this year British non-oil exports would increase by less than the growth in world trade and that we would continue to lose our market share? What representations have he or his colleagues made to the Chancellor about his policy of forcing up interest rates and thus further damaging our international competitiveness in manufacturing?

Mr. Clark

Industry is largely united in its view that it prefers increased interest rates to increased inflation. I did not know that my right hon. Friend had forecast that in his Autumn Statement, but I draw to his and to the hon. Gentleman's attention the fact that, as I told the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, in the first six months of this year our share increased from 7.9 to 8.2 per cent.

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