asked the President of the Board of Trade how far the fall in exports is responsible for the short-time working in the machine tool industry; the main causes of the fall in export orders; and what steps Her Majesty's Government propose to take to encourage the foreigner to buy British machines.
This decrease was primarily caused by a fall in industrial expansion in certain important markets.
Her Majesty's Government have consistently urged on Commonwealth and other overseas countries the need to maintain and increase international trade. The Commonwealth Assistance Loans are an example of the practical steps we are taking ourselves.
Could my right hon. Friend say how far the fall of one-third in this important export is due to supplies coming from Iron Curtain countries, especially Czechoslovakia, into third world markets? Would my right hon. Friend also make it clear to both sides of the House that no Government can compel foreigners to buy British?
I cannot answer the first part of that supplementary question without notice, but the answer to the second part is that it is impossible for us to compel any foreign buyer to buy anything.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the situation has become worse and since last year the number of unemployed in the machine tool industry has increased by nearly three and a half times? Is he also not aware that the orders in hand since last year have decreased from £78 million to £58 million and, in these circum- stances, will he do something to save this great national industry from decay?
I do not accept that the machine tool industry is in decay. On the contrary, I think it is an efficient industry which is doing well against the background of the recession in* world trade, and if that recession passes, as we hope it soon will, the machine tool industry will benefit.
Is not the President of the Board of Trade aware that production of machine tools has fallen by something like 28 per cent, in the last year, and that the industry has always been reckoned as a pilot industry both for prosperity and recession? Is not the recession in this industry really and truly alarming?
I would like to see orders increase and I think that they will, but it is not reasonable to expect people to install machine tools if they think that their present capacity is adequate.