HC Deb 15 May 1996 vol 277 cc941-3
12. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the current value of British exports; what it was in (a) 1979 and (b) 1989; what are the United Kingdom's principal markets; and what they were in (i) 1979 and (ii) 1989. [28367]

Mr. Nelson

In 1995, the value of United Kingdom visible exports was £153 billion. United Kingdom visible exports were worth £40 billion in 1979 and £92 billion in 1989. In 1995, the United Kingdom's top four export markets were Germany, the United States of America, France and the Netherlands, the same countries as in 1979 and 1989.

Mr. Pawsey

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures underline the success of the Government's policy in promoting exports? Does he further agree that that success is based on a combination of low interest rates and low inflation, and that all that success would be placed at risk if we introduced the social chapter, a move that is urged by Opposition Members?

Mr. Nelson

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. This is a success story which I hope will be proclaimed in all parts of the House. It has not just happened against stiff international competition; it has happened because of distinctly Conservative Government policies—tough policies over a number of years—to improve the competitiveness of British industry. Also exciting is their effect on a range of industries. Manufacturing, about which we have heard a great deal today, has been a major beneficiary. Manufactured exports are up by 11 per cent. over the past year. About 10 years ago, oil was our biggest export; now, electrical machinery is. That says something about the competitiveness and success of the United Kingdom's manufactured exports.

Mrs. Ewing

In view of the significant contribution made by the Scotch whisky industry to exports, especially to the European Union, is any progress being made with harmonising tax regimes?

Mr. Nelson

I hear what the hon. Lady says and I welcome the fact that she speaks up for the Scotch whisky industry. I also claim to be its champion worldwide. The other matter that the hon. Lady mentions is one for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I shall ensure that her representation is drawn to his attention.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will my hon. Friend confirm that our volume of manufactured exports since 1981 has vastly exceeded those of France and Germany? Does he agree that that is because we are not fettered by the social chapter and a minimum wage and are able to compete at a real and competitive rate?

Mr. Nelson

Those are significant influences on our export performance. We are now exporting more per head than the United States or Japan, and much of that is due to the reduced cost base and the more competitive situation that obtains here. However, a good part of it is also due to the much lower, and sustained, plateaux of inflation and interest rates to which my hon. Friend—and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)referred. We must follow the tough policies that will make that endure. The major beneficiaries will be our exporting and employing industries.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister confirm that India remains a foremost export market for United Kingdom companies? Will he also confirm that, as a result of the recent elections there, there is grave concern about the political instability which clearly now exists and about the growing tension between India and Pakistan, not least over the issue of Kashmir? Will he press British Aerospace to cancel the deal for the sale of 23 Hawk 100 aircraft to India and the transfer of technology that would enable India to produce Hawk aircraft? Will he arrange for export credits and export guarantees to be withdrawn and press for this irresponsible deal to be cancelled immediately?

Mr. Nelson

No, I will not. However, I join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating the fact that our exports to India and our trade with that country have increased exponentially. They are up by some 80 per cent. over the past three years. That is a tremendous tribute to the Indo-British partnership that our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of India instigated. I hope that the result of the recent Indian elections will not in any way interrupt our excellent trading relations with India. If defence is part of that, I am very pleased, and I do not think that it will influence in any way the outcome or resolution of the extremely unhappy situation in Kashmir about which the hon. Gentleman has spoken in the House on more than one occasion.