I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. Is he aware of the threat to the British footwear manufacturing industry's export drive of the reported decision of the American Government to restrict shoe imports into that country? Does he agree that that would have a damaging effect on our footwear industry?
I understand that the American Government have taken no decision on that matter. However, I entirely share my hon. Friend's view that that would be an extremely regrettable step. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be in the United States next week, and I am sure that that could be one of the topics that he would want to raise.
Does the Minister agree that Britain's export position would be much healthier if industry were able to take advantage of what happened late last summer when aluminium prices escalated on the American market? Would not a strong domestic base in that industry be able to take advantage of such an escalation? Does not the fact that the Government stood by and allowed the Invergordon smelter, which is in my constituency, to close mean that we have lost the advantage of such a base? Does not that closure highlight the Government's shortsightedness with regard to export policy?
The Invergordon smelter is not one of my responsibilities, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that the evidence is that businesses are much more confident that exports will improve. There is much more domestic confidence on all fronts and evidence that exports will do extremely well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the textile and clothing industry, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry rightly paid tribute a moment ago, could make a greater contribution to Britain's exports if the Department responded promptly to the report "Plan for Action"—which was sent to the Department by the British Textile Confederation in March last year—which includes a request that a scheme similar to the small engineering firms investment scheme be applied to the textile industry?
Yes. An answer to that report will be given shortly. I share my hon. Friend's views of the textile industry's achievements. He will be aware of the great help that the Government have given to the textile industry under the multi-fibre arrangement.
As the Minister ought to know, last year, for the first time in our history, we had a major deficit in trade in manufactured goods. The Minister said that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State forecasts an increase in British exports next year. Does that forecast specify an increase in British manufactured goods? If the right hon. Gentleman can give us that answer, can he also tell us what the forecast is for next year's imports?
The pattern of the British economy has been changing for several years. It is changing and it will continue to change. There is nothing wrong with that. We have large surpluses on oil and on services. We cannot conceivably hope to have a surplus on every item. I am sure the House will be glad to learn that, in the last quarter, manufactured exports increased by 7 per cent. over the previous quarter. That is an extremely encouraging sign.