HC Deb 11 March 1992 vol 205 cc836-8
4. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he expects exports to reach the same level as imports.

The Minister for Corporate Affairs (Mr. John Redwood)

My Department does not forecast the balance of payments. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that last year saw record levels of exports from this country and that our share of manufactured exports in world trade has been rising since 1984.

Mr. Cohen

Is not the truthful answer to my question, "Sometime never", because the Government have not invested in British manufacturing? To achieve an export-import balance under current Tory policies would mean an even worse slump than we have at present because the only thing made in Britain under the Tories is a Tory-made recession.

Mr. Redwood

The hon. Gentleman is wide of the mark. There have been good levels of investment for business and manufacturing in recent years, as the hon. Gentleman should know. It is way above the levels when the Labour party was last in control and understandably so, because Britain is now a good home for investors with much better labour relations, much better quality, much better business management and much better relations between employees and management.

Mr. Norris

How much more quickly does my hon. Friend think that we might achieve a balance between exports and imports when we introduce a minimum wage, increase taxes on investment, increase personal taxes and allow the trade unions to ride rough shod once again?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. Those policies would be ruinous. They would drive away inward investors, make manufacturing investment much more difficult and defer the day when we improve our balance of trade in televisions, cars and all the other things that are now improving so strongly uncler the Government's policies. That is why it is important that those policies should continue.

Mr. Hoyle

Yes, but will the Minister say how he could ever expect to balance exports and imports when the Chancellor has forecast growth of only 1 per cent; when we have rising unemployment, falling investment and companies going bankrupt? Is not that a terrible record on which to fight a general election, in which the Government will be defeated?

Mr. Redwood

The trading performance of many sectors is very good, and that trading performance has been strengthening in recent months, as the hon. Gentleman should know. I draw his attention to the fact that we are now net exporters of televisions whereas we were net importers under the Labour party and to the fact that motor output has been expanding in recent years whereas it was declining under Labour. That is the heart of British manufacturing and it needs our policies to carry on its renaissance.

Mr. Roger King

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way in which we can cut down imports is to buy British? Will he extend warmhearted support to the Labour party, which advocates such a policy, but dissociate himself from the actions of the shadow Home Secretary and the Leader of the Labour party who buy foreign cars?

Mr. Redwood

I agree entirely. What humbug it is for some Opposition Members to say that one should buy British and then travel around in foreign cars. I bought a British car and I am proud of it. It works extremely well. Many of my hon. Friends have done the same. That is the best way to back Britain and British industry.

Ms. Quin

Has the Minister had time to have a look at the table published in European Economy, which clearly shows that in terms of the annual change in the volume of exports of goods and services between 1979 and 1990, the United Kingdom had a worse record than any other European Community country? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Budget statement envisages a widening trade deficit over the next few years, especially in manufacturing products? The honest answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) is that under this Government there will never be a balance between exports and imports.

Mr. Redwood

That last statement was wild and silly. The hon. Lady should know that in the past 10 years exports of British manufactured goods have grown faster than those of France, Germany, America and even Japan, because manufacturing is doing so much better and needs our policies. She might like to know that the imports of manufactured goods amount to 17 per cent. of our national income—the same proportion as Germany.

Mr. Warren

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is appalling that the Opposition whinge on about the failure of this country to export, when we know that what we need from both sides of the House is unanimity to help exporters and not complaints about them?

Mr. Redwood

I agree and go further: let us congratulate them. They have achieved much in recent years, but the Labour party never gives them any credit and is always moaning. There have been fine achievements in the export of cars, televisions and other consumer durables. Let us hear some praise for a change and congratulate exporters.