HC Deb 15 March 1989 vol 149 cc399-401
5. Mr. Amess

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the latest export figures.

Mr. Newton

In the 12 months ended January 1989, the value of exports is provisionally estimated to have been £81.2 billion.

Mr. Amess

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the many businesses in Basildon which are currently enjoying record exports as a result of their enterprise initiative and the Government's excellent policies? Will he note our contribution to trade with the launch of the "Buy British in Basildon for Export" campaign?

Mr. Newton

I happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating the business men of Basildon on the way in which they have taken advantage of the excellent climate that the Government have created for business. I hope that in the true spirit of reciprocal good will between hon. Members representing Essex, my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating the business men of Braintree on their slogan, "Braintree means Business".

Mr. Win Griffiths

When does the Minister expect the value of our exports to equal the value of our imports? What influence does he think that high interest rates and inflation are having in impeding the growth of exports?

Mr. Newton

Against the background of Britain's historic position in world trade, it would be a rash man who predicted the balance that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The question shows the hon. Gentleman's lack of knowledge about the way in which the economy has worked historically. Our trading has always been significantly assisted by invisibles. The way in which Opposition Members persistently consider only part of our national accounts is not the least of the disservices that they do to sensible economic discussion.

Mr. Baldry

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the strength of our exports covers the whole sector, including not only services but manufacturing goods? Is he aware that last night the president of the British Constructional Steelwork Association announced that last year was its best for steel construction, with a 20 per cent. increase in the fabrication of steel compared with 1987, a record market share and record investment, much of which is being exported? Is it not sad that the only trade and industry news that the Opposition enjoy is bad news?

Mr. Newton

The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is that it is indeed sad. As to his earlier observation, it is a striking example of the improved performance of many sectors of British industry.

Mr. Gould

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the forecast that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in last year's Budget that exports would grow by 3 per cent.? He will know that in the outturn they fell by 1 per cent. Does he recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer's forecast that the balance of payments deficit would be £4 billion? He will know that the outturn was a deficit of £14.7 billion. Given that our current deficit is running at an annual rate of £20 billion, what faith does the right hon. Gentleman think that we should have in the Chancellor's current forecast that exports will grow by 5 per cent. in 1989? Is this not just another piece of ludicrous self-delusion? What is the basis for such a forecast, and what advice did the Department of Trade and Industry give the Chancellor on the subject?

Mr. Newton

The evidence to back up the expectations that the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed yesterday about our export position is twofold. First, the trend remains upward. Indeed, over the latest three months the volume of exports, excluding oil and what are charmingly known as erratics, was the highest ever recorded. Secondly, and perhaps more important, the overseas investment in the country is an indication of its growing attractiveness as a manufacturing base. In addition, there is the greater strength of those manufacturing and other industries from which we can expect to see rising exports, not least on the basis of rising investment.

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