HC Deb 16 May 1990 vol 172 cc883-4
16. Mr. Wigley

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has received any correspondence from the Statistics Users Council on the availability of indicators on import penetration, export performance productivity, market share and home demand since the publication of the Armstrong-Rees report.

Mr. Ridley

Yes, I received a letter from the chairman of the Statistics Users Council on that topic on 4 May 1990, 12 months after the publication of the Armstrong-Rees report.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the correspondence that he has received is critical of the present availability of indicators? Does he accept that there must be a proper, full background of statistical information if those involved in that sphere are to improve their performance? In view of our present balance of payments it is vital that all those tools should be available.

Mr. Ridley

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that an appropriate amount of information should be available to businesses, especially when they cannot get it from sources within the industry. Against that we must weigh the burden, cost and disadvantage of excessive form-filling on the part of businesses. However, in the light of representations from the chairman of the Statistic Users Council, I am prepared to consider with industry circumstances in which businesses want to fill in the forms so that they can obtain information when there is no other source of supply. In those circumstances, it would be right to go a little further than we have in the past.

Mr. Foreman

My right hon. Friend has spoken about meeting the requirements of industry. Would not we know more about that large balancing item in our external trade statistics, and about the real state of our economy, if we had more information? Is it not time that we improved the quality of our official statistics for precisely that purpose, as it would improve the quality of our economic governance?

Mr. Ridley

While the statistics that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) asked about are totally different from what my hon. Friend inquires about, I am all for having good statistics relating to the effects of economic policy. The difficulty with the figures that my hon. Friend mentions— which are really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer— is that, while the figures for exports and imports tend to be accurate, what is not so clearly defined is how the captial account is made up— from what elements and in what proportions. How best to rectify that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.