HC Deb 23 January 1991 vol 184 cc308-9
4. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what are the latest trade figures between Britain and Germany; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Sainsbury

In the first 11 months of 1990, United Kingdom visible exports to Germany were valued at £12 billion; imports from Germany were £18.5 billion. Compared with the similar period in 1989, exports are up by 18.5 per cent., while imports are virtually unchanged..

Mr. Skinner

Why does not the Minister have the guts to tell us what the deficit was in 1979? Is he aware that the deficit between Britain and Germany was £1.6 billion when the Tories took over and that when the Government announce the figures on Friday, it will be £7.1 billion? No wonder the Germans told the Governor of the Bank of England to get lost yesterday. Is not it a sad reflection on this country that, after 1945 when everyone was throwing their caps in the air, the Government are now going cap in hand to the Germans? We know who the top dogs are now.

Mr. Sainsbury

It appears that the hon. Gentleman has some reservations about the Government's economic policy. I should like to hear him pay tribute to the success of those parts of our industry that are exporting to Germany so effectively. Clothing industry exports have gone up 40 per cent. and medical and pharmaceutical exports are up 41 per cent. in the first II months of this year.

Mr. William Powell

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are immense opportunities for British companies in the former Soviet sector of Germany, now eastern Germany, particularly for the infrastructural industries of transport, telecommunications energy and water? Will my hon. Friend use the full resources of his Department to draw those opportunities for trade and investment to the attention of British companies?

Mr. Sainsbury

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. He will be aware that an extremely successful seminar was held last week, jointly sponsored by my Department and the CBI, with the Treuhandanstalt. That seminar drew the attention of British industries to investment and trade opportunities with the former East German territories.

Mr. Hoyle

But in relation to the deficit with Germany does the Minister ever go out and talk to manufacturers? If he does, what have they told him about going into the ERM at 2.9—almost 3—deutschmarks to the pound? [HON. MEMBERS: "You wanted it."' We did not want it at that figure. Those manufacturers would tell the Minister that it is not possible to be competitive at that rate. What is the Minister and the miserable team that he has round him doing about that? I know that none of them has any experience of industry—the Minister for Trade was kept in the back office of the family firm. The Minister and his team should at least get out and, in the words of the former Prime Minister, back British industry, and tell the Treasury that it was wrong.

Mr. Sainsbury

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I make it my purpose to have contacts with industry nearly as close as those which I had when I spent 20 years in industry. I also assure the hon. Gentleman that, although it is sometimes suggested that a lower exchange rate would be helpful for exports, I frequently hear it suggested that a stable exchange rate and lower inflation are much more to be welcomed.