Balance of Trade

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th April 1995.

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Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin 2:30 pm, 5th April 1995

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the current deficit in the balance of trade for manufactured goods. [16438]

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

In 1994, United Kingdom exports rose to all-time highs, reducing the trade deficit in manufactures by £500 million to £7.5 billion.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

I am not sure whether the Minister is proud of that answer, but will he take this opportunity to remind the House of some salutary economic statistics? In the second quarter of 1979, under Labour, there was a surplus in manufacturing trade of £1 billion, whereas in the fourth quarter of 1994, under the Conservatives, there was a deficit of £2 billion. Are not those figures a reflection of the vandalism perpetrated on our manufacturing base, especially in my region, the west midlands? Will the Minister in a spirit of humility initiate urgent talks with those who were Ministers in the Labour Government to discover how Labour succeeded with manufacturing trade where the Tories have failed?

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

May I, in all humility, spell out to the hon. Gentleman the record of his party? I refer not to the second quarter of 1979 but to the fact that between 1974 and 1979 manufacturing output went down by 3 per cent. Between 1979 and 1994, manufacturing output went up by 9.5 per cent. Between 1974 and 1979, manufacturing exports went up by 11 per cent., and between 1979 and 1994 they went up by 80 per cent. Between 1974 and 1979, manufacturing productivity went up by 5.5 per cent. whereas between 1979 and 1994 it went up by 73.5 per cent. I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking such a helpful planted question.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke , City of London and Westminster South

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the shift from the third world to the first world in the direction of exports between 1979 and today? Does not that expansion into high-tech exports bode extremely well for the future?

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

In 1979, it appeared that British industry was in long-term, irreversible decline, helped by the Labour party. Since 1985, the share of Britain's trade has stabilised and is now, if anything, going up. That is an enormous credit to our private sector, which has been set free by the Conservative Government and is now competing throughout the length and breadth of the world at the most competitive edges of technology.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

After 15 years of failure, we need not merely a temporary miracle, but a sustained one. Is there any prospect of that being maintained by a Government who, in the case of the steel industry, have deliberately allowed unfair competition to go unchallenged and have created a situation in which unfair competitors in Europe will take much more advantage of their protection when the going gets a bit more difficult, as it is bound to do if this Government stay in office much longer?

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire

We need no lectures from the Opposition about looking after our industries in Europe. We need no lectures from a party which knows little about industry and would succumb to the first blow that it received from Europe. The hon. Gentleman referred to British Steel. In 1979, nationalised industries cost the taxpayer £50 million per week. Those now privatised industries currently contribute £50 million per week to the Exchequer. That is a miracle which even the Opposition could not reverse.