HC Deb 08 July 1992 vol 211 cc330-1
15. Mr. Mullin

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what estimate he has of the size of the manufacturing trade deficit for the current financial year.

Mr. Needham

In the Financial Statement and Budget Report 1992–93, the manufacturing trade deficit for 1992 was forecast to be £5 billion.

Mr. Mullin

How is that possible after 12 years of Conservative government?

Mr. Needham

As I said earlier, the percentage deficit on visible trade, at 4.7 per cent., is .7 per cent. higher than it was in 1979.

Mr. Dickens

Faced with a world recession, British companies have had to take a close look at their management and work forces, as well as their overheads, other costs and production techniques. As a result of this, am I right in saying that our businesses and manufacturing industries are streamlined and efficient, and well ready to take off now that the world recession is starting to ease?

Mr. Needham

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the past three years the volume of United Kingdom trade has increased, rather than decreased as it did year after year when Labour was in power.

Mr. Skinner

As we have had a recession for about three years and as it is accepted that when consumer demand is much lower the balance of trade falls, is it not remarkable and dangerous to have to accept that our balance of trade deficit will probably be about £9 billion when we get the autumn statement? If that is correct and if there is an upturn in the economy, which I doubt, the danger is that the balance of payments deficit will soar well above £20 billion. Included in that deficit is £1 billion worth of coal coming into this country, when we ought to be exporting coal. We have 300 years of coal, so why is it not mined instead of the industry being run down?

Mr. Needham

Industry is hardly being run down when our volume of exports is at an all-time high. As to the balance of payments deficit, as a percentage of gross domestic product it is not very different from that of many other industrial countries which are also in recession.

Mrs. Angela Knight

Is my hon. Friend aware that the report published this week by the Institute of Directors shows that business volume is up and optimism is good?

Does he agree that that survey of people who are involved in business paints a far more realistic picture than that which the gloom merchants opposite like to portray?

Mr. Needham

I agree. We have heard speaker after speaker on the Opposition Benches continue to run British exporting down instead of promoting it.

Mr. Henderson

If everything is so rosy in Britain, can the Minister explain why the trade deficit as a proportion of gross domestic product is the highest of all the G7 countries?

Mr. Needham

I did not for one moment say that everything was rosy in Britain, because we are part of a worldwide recession. What I did say, and what I continue to say, is that British exporting performance ranks alongside that of any other country in the world. So long as we promote and advertise that fact, we shall restore confidence instead of knocking it, as Opposition Members try to do.

Mr. Ian Bruce

My hon. Friend will know that the telecommunications industry has benefited greatly from the deregulation and denationalisation of our industries. Industries throughout the world have benefited from Britain's freeing up. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that European and other countries free up their telecommunications industries so that we can sell our excellent products to them?

Mr. Needham

My hon. Friend knows that one of the foremost objectives of our presidency is to ensure that in the Internal Market Council we obtain enforcement and compliance in opening up the markets of Europe, particularly the public sector markets, to the sort of competition which has benefited our consumers here and has benefited suppliers in the telecommunications industry in this country.