HC Deb 21 July 1993 vol 229 cc335-7
3. Mr. Pickles

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what has been the change in total exports from the United Kingdom in the first quarter of 1993 relative to the first quarter of 1992.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Neil Hamilton

The volume of United Kingdom exports rose by 6.6 per cent. between the first quarter of 1992 and the first quarter of 1993. Thanks to the efforts of our exporters, exports grew faster than imports over this period, despite poor economic conditions in our main markets. I trust that the whole House will join me in congratulating our exporters on that impressive achievement.

Mr. Pickles

My hon. Friend will be aware that the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company is in my constituency. Is he aware that Ford has played an important part in exports and that, in particular, 37 per cent. of its production of transit vans now goes for export? Does he agree that that is a remarkable achievement, considering that Ford now has half the market for that type of good in Britain? Will he congratulate the work force and the management on clearly demonstrating that if Britain produces the right goods at the right price, they will sell anywhere?

Mr. Hamilton

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It shows what a good place the United Kingdom is to do business. I certainly congratulate the Ford management and the work force on the shop floor on their contribution to the success of that company, which has recently received a Queen's award for export.

Mr. Purchase

Is not the Minister aware that, although the Government have recently admitted their long-term lack of interest in manufacturing, and have only just awakened to the real importance of that sector of the economy, our manufacturers in the west midlands and elsewhere have made heroic efforts in an increased export drive? Does not the Minister know that, for finished goods in the high street in the 12 months to May of this year, imports increased by 23 per cent. and exports by 15 per cent? Is that not a case of too little effort too late from the Government? When will they wake up to the question of our manufacturing sector?

Mr. Hamilton

It is a pity that the Labour party can never welcome good news when it hears it. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, although exports have gone up by nearly 7 per cent. in the most recent quarter, imports have not increased at all, so the trade gap has narrowed. That shows that the Conservative party recognises the advantage of a competitive industry that exports goods. The Labour party wants to load extra costs on business so that we can export jobs.

Mr. Dunn

Whatever shape, form or colour the new Government of the Empire of Japan assumes, will the Minister undertake to make the strongest representations to them about the barriers to British goods entering the Japanese market, which are currently in place and ought to be eliminated as soon as possible?

Mr. Hamilton

I can tell my hon. Friend that there has been significant liberalisation in Japan in recent years, but no doubt there is always scope to do more. I am certainly a vigorous exponent of free trade; if other countries expect access to our markets, they must also expect to give us access to theirs.

Mr. Fatchett

Has the Minister seen the evidence given to the Scott inquiry by Mark Higson, the former Iraq desk officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who told the inquiry that the Government deliberately misled the public and Parliament about their decision to circumvent the arms embargo on Saddam Hussein? Will the Minister confirm the accuracy of that evidence, and is not it clear from Mr. Higson's statement that, yet again, on arms to Iraq and other issues, the Government will deliberately mislead the public and Parliament just to save their own skins?

Mr. Hamilton

Scaremongering to get a headline in the newspaper may be justifiable to the hon. Gentleman, but that is a matter for the Scott inquiry and I shall leave it to the inquiry.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

I welcome the fact that the Minister can report some improvement in our export performance, but will he acknowledge that a short-term adjustment to the balance of payments deficit does not deny the fact that Britain has an underlying inability to compete and overcome our balance of payments deficit, and that that will be achieved only if we have a long-term strategy to build up our manufacturing industry? Will the Minister make a positive statement on how the Government propose to achieve that?

Mr. Hamilton

The Liberal party has had a long-term inability to compete with other political parties, so I can well understand the hon. Gentleman's concern for such an issue. It is a great mistake of Opposition Members to seek to sell Britain short at every opportunity: after all, we have a good story to tell. Manufacturing output is up by 3 per cent., retail sales are up by 3 per cent., exports are up by 7 per cent., for the fifth month in a row unemployment is down, we have the lowest inflation for 30 years. and manufacturing wages costs are down by 3.5 per cent. this year. That is not evidence of an underlying inability to compete, but solid evidence of recovery and the improvement of our economic position.