HC Deb 23 November 1995 vol 267 cc782-3
5. Mr. Barry Jones

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the balance of trade. [694]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. William Waldegrave)

The balance of visible trade in the first half of 1995 was a deficit of £5.1 billion: lower than the deficits recorded in either half of 1994, and as low a deficit as at any time since the first half of 1987. Of course, invisible receipts now account for more than half the United Kingdom's overseas earnings.

Mr. Jones

Would not the best boost for Britain's balance of trade be a general election?

Mr. Waldegrave

No. As a great campaigner on behalf of his constituents in the steel industry, for example, the hon. Gentleman will know that since 1983 we have had surpluses in our iron and steel exports every single year thanks to the work of his constituents and our reorganisation of the iron and steel industry.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our visible trade figures with the far east are impressive and demonstrate the growth of our trade with those countries? Will he also consider other emerging markets such as Russia and its former republics and the fact that Korea is the second largest exporter to Azerbaijan? Will he redouble our efforts to export into those emerging markets, otherwise they will be taken by the far east and Pacific rim countries?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend refers to the good performance of our exports in the far east. If we count invisible earnings, we have a surplus with the fast growing economies of the far east. He makes a good point about the emerging economies of the former Soviet Union. Some British companies have a position in Azerbaijan, for example, and that is to be welcomed.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

The Minister cannot get away with that. Why have the Government allowed Britain to be hobbled by a trade deficit? Is not the Government's failure to deal with that the reason why British people have suffered a 7p in the pound tax rise from this Chancellor? Before the cameras come on, why does he not tell us? Perhaps he will whisper it. Do the Government admit that the country has fallen from 13th to 18th place in the international prosperity league?

Mr. Waldegrave

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and congratulate him on getting both the week's soundbites into his first question, which is most impressive. The truth is that over the whole of the last year and in the first half of this year, our exports grew to record levels, outpacing the growth in imports. That performance was seldom matched by Labour any year that it was in office.