HC Deb 10 February 1988 vol 127 c342
6. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what has been the increase in dollar export prices in the United Kingdom and in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in the latest year for which figures are available.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

In the year to June 1987 United Kingdom dollar export prices increased by 6 per cent., compared with an increase of almost 11 per cent. for the industrial countries of the OECD taken together.

Mr. Martlew

Does the Minister agree that the rise he has described has been a major disincentive to British industry and has reduced our competitiveness? Does he agree also that, because of these policies, British industry is becoming less competitive under this Government than it was in previous times? Is that not a major reason for the crisis in the balance of payments, which showed a record deficit in 1987?

Mr. Clark

If the hon. Gentleman has a research assistant, I suggest that he sacks him, because the facts are precisely the opposite. In fact, our exports to the United States rose by 7 per cent. in sterling terms—and by 19 per cent. in dollar terms. That was achieved against an appreciation of the currency of 14 per cent.

Mr. Gould

Will the Minister confirm that every one of the commonly used indices of competitiveness shows a loss of competitiveness of British industry under this Government? Will he accordingly refrain from repeating the false claims made by the Prime Minister on this front, and will he advise his ministerial colleagues to do likewise? What is the point of producing Government statistics and then systematically misrepresenting them?

Mr. Clark

With the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, I think that you were extremely tolerant to allow the hon. Gentleman's question, which had nothing to do with exchange rates. However, I am quite prepared to tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not subscribe to the view that British exports are best served by a steadily depreciating currency. He should know that the two countries with the largest trade surpluses are those with the hardest and fastest appreciating currencies. The country with the largest deficit is the one whose currency has depreciated by one third in the past 18 months.