HC Deb 16 January 1992 vol 201 c1088
8. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the trend in United Kingdom export performance over the past five years.

Mr. Mellor

United Kingdom exports have grown 23 per cent. over the past five years, and reached record levels during 1991. I am pleased to say that after decades of decline, the United Kingdom's share of world trade in manufactures flattened out in the mid-1980s, increased in 1989 and 1990, and looks most likely to have increased again in 1991.

Mr. Pawsey

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that extremely encouraging response. Does he agree that much of our country's undoubted export success has been due to competitive premium Export Credits Guarantee Department rates? Is he aware that many industrialists are concerned that we shall be unable to maintain our export performance due to uncompetitive rates, particularly vis-à-vis our principal competitors such as Germany, France and Japan? Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore have a meeting with his opposite number at the Department of Trade and Industry and endeavour to bring ECGD rates down to a level which would be more favourable to British exporters?

Mr. Mellor

We regularly discuss such matters, which I recognise are important, but, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, ECGD premiums must reflect the risk for the taxpayer in export credits. He will be aware that losses by ECGD of £3 billion, which have already been disclosed, with the possibility of a similar sum in the pipeline, suggest that we cannot afford to underestimate the possible losses to the nation if we get the ECGD judgments wrong.

One key way of protecting ourselves in future is to ensure that the premiums charged fully reflect the risks that the country has to take on in allowing such cover to go forward. I acknowledge that we must have an eye to the international experience, and our work internationally is to try to ensure that other countries, too, put up their premiums in a way that sensibly recognises the problems of such cover throughout the world.

Mr. Tom Clarke

If export performance is as impressive as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, when will unemployment levels return at least to those that the Government inherited in 1979?

Mr. Mellor

I have already told the House that the export performance of United Kingdom industry has been extremely good, with an increase of nearly 25 per cent. over five years, and an increase in manufacturing exports even during the past year of recession, in excess of 3 per cent. The question that the hon. Gentleman has to answer is what nostrums put forward by his Front-Bench spokesmen would make such a record possible under a Labour Government.