HC Deb 17 May 1989 vol 153 cc306-7
7. Mr. Nicholas Brown

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what was the United Kingdom trade deficit in information technology products in 1988.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

The United Kingdom trade deficit in the products of the electronic and information technology sector was £2.3 billion in the 12 months to September 1988.

Mr. Brown

The Conservative party enthusiastically closed down the traditional industrial base of the north-east of England on the promise that new sunrise industries would be set up. Why then is there a balance of trade deficit in the sunrise industries and why are no British sunrise employers going to the provincial centres of England?

Mr. Clark

The overall value of the business is £16 billion. The high tech sector of international trade is an extremely complex subject. The hon. Gentleman and the House will be interested to know that the United Kingdom is in surplus with the European community to the tune of some £600 million. France, Italy and Germany are all in deficit in sum vastly greater than ours. Even the United States is in deficit in information technology. It is a western problem and the solution is elusive.

Sir Ian Lloyd

In view of their immense importance to the performance of British science and technology, can my hon. Friend say what proportion of the deficit is accounted for by supercomputers since that is a proportion of the deficit about which no one should have any complaint?

Mr. Clark

No, supercomputers are sourced only in the United States. They are essential. My hon. Friend is right. As he will know, in the United Kingdom the system of a harmonised array of secondary computers is much cheaper and in some cases gives the same results.

Mr. Kennedy

When the DTI is attempting to find an answer to Britain leading the way and pioneering much of information technology, why does it end up with such a woeful deficit in terms of trade, not with Europe but with other parts of the globe? What has the DTI done to try to find the answer that the Minister thinks is so elusive?

Mr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman is completely mistaken. Our exports are worth £11 billion. The deficit accounts for less than 5 per cent. of the total.

Mr. Oppenheim

Surely the elusive answer to the trying problem should not include the type of protectionist measures being erected by the European Community, including quotas, voluntary restraint agreements and spurious anti-dumping duties. Such moves not only put off the evil day when the European industry has to sort out its own act but substantially raise prices to European consumers of the products. Should not our Government, of all Governments, should be fighting harder in the European Community to stop such nonsense?

Mr. Clark

However they may be drafted, the protectionist measures cannot be effective as the Community has an overall deficit of £7 billion.