HC Deb 17 January 1996 vol 269 cc724-5
2. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the current level of United Kingdom exports to the European Union, to north America and to the rest of the world.[7886]

Mr. Lang

In the year to October 1995, UK visible exports to the European Union were worth £88 billion. In the year to November 1995, exports to north America were valued at £20 billion, while the rest of the world accounted for £42 billion.

Mr. Pawsey

I am grateful for that full reply, especially as it emphasises the success of British exporters compared with that of our principal competitors in the European Union. To what extent would that success be jeopardised if the social chapter were introduced to the United Kingdom, as Opposition Members would like, and what would be the implications for British jobs?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the dangers of signing on for the social chapter, in accordance with Labour party policy. One of the great competitive advantages that the British economy undoubtedly enjoys is the flexibility of our labour market and our relatively low non-wage costs. Although average production worker take-home pay is higher than in most countries in Europe, and equal to that in Germany, non-wage additional labour costs are much lower in the United Kingdom than elsewhere. That is what gives us our competitive advantage, enabling our exports to do so well.

Mrs. Beckett

Surely a Government who claim to understand business recognise that no business and no country ever prospers by giving its attention solely to one side of the balance sheet and ignoring the whole picture. Although we all welcome the strength of British exports, surely the Secretary of State does not deny that our problem is that imports to this country have risen even faster. As a result, we still have a trade deficit, not just with the rest of Europe, including France and Germany, but with north America and the rest of the world. Do the Government not recognise that those continuing problems will never be resolved unless we engage in and press for a great united national effort of the kind that the Labour party is urging on the country?

Mr. Lang

The right hon. Lady will be aware that many imports come to this country in a semi-manufactured state to be converted into fully manufactured exports, so the increased economic activity represented by imports is also reflected in these record-breaking export figures. The leader of the Labour party was in Singapore recently, where I hope that he had time to listen and to appreciate the successes of Singapore and not just to make speeches there. Had he done so, he would have recognised that the value of our exports to Singapore in the year to last June rose by 60 per cent.

Since that time, Rolls-Royce has secured a major £1 billion contract for its Trent engines with Singapore Airlines.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Do not the figures that my right hon. Friend has just given—exports to the EU of £88 billion and to the rest of the world of £62 billion—reinforce the enormous importance to this country's economy of the single market? Will he therefore take this opportunity to pay tribute to the single market, and to Baroness Thatcher, whose initiative in introducing the Single European Act and providing for qualified majority voting established the essential precondition for the success of the single market programme?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. United Kingdom exports are doing extremely well. In 1994 the UK increased its exports faster than the United States and Japan, and faster than our European competitors.