HC Deb 14 February 1996 vol 271 cc996-7
5. Mr. Olner

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what was the trade deficit with non-EU countries in 1995. [13507]

Mr. Oppenheim

The trade deficit with non-EU countries in 1995 was £7.5 billion.

Mr. Olner

Does that figure not show that manufacturing industry has been grossly inadequately looked after during the Government's stewardship? Is the Minister aware that the United Kingdom's deficit in manufactured goods is almost the worst in the world? The Government should do something about that.

Mr. Oppenheim

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that we also show a massive surplus on our invisible trade with non-EU countries. Those are important industries, not to be sneered at. If we factor them into the equation, the result is a massive surplus with non-EU countries.

Mr. Dunn

How would our trade with overseas countries be liable to be helped by the imposition of a minimum wage, which would cost jobs, and by the imposition of the social chapter, which would put the trade unions back in control?

Mr. Oppenheim

I entirely agree with the drift of my hon. Friend's point. The Opposition are very good at producing political escalator muzak—motherhood and apple pie, which sound good—but if they ever came to power we would have a tax on wages and jobs.

Mr. Sheerman

The Minister must know that we have had a deficit in manufactured products since 1983—let us get the record straight. It relates directly to the fact that, since 1979, there has been a 10 per cent. decline in investment in manufacturing industry. When the Minister talks to people, will he talk to them about long-term investment in our manufacturing sector—of the kind that has not taken place in recent years under the Conservative Government?

Mr. Oppenheim

I must take issue with the hon. Gentleman about one thing: there was only one year under the last Labour Government when our trade was in surplus—it was in deficit for all the other years. Secondly, the position of our manufacturing industry has been dramatically transformed. Our manufacturing productivity growth in the 1960s and 1970s was bottom of the league of major industrialised countries. Since 1980, we have been top of that league. That is reflected in the enhanced performance of our manufactured exports, which are now 90 per cent. higher in volume than in 1979.