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Exports And Imports

Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the value of exports from and imports into the United Kingdom in the most recent month for which figures are available.

In January 1980 exports from the United Kingdom were valued at £3,879 million and imports into the United Kingdom at £4,225 million.

Does my hon. Friend agree that exports would have been much higher and imports much lower if the exchange rate of sterling had been more realistic? Has he drawn the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the damage that is being done to British trade by the current high level of the exchange rate?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that point earlier when he pointed out that one must get out of the habit of thinking that the Government can fine-tune exchange rates. The rate of exchange, and the level at which it stands, is not within the gift of the Government.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the past week 630 workers in North-East Lancashire have lost their jobs because of the crazy exchange rate policies being pursued by the Government and their abject failure to impose proper protection against low-cost imports and imports from the United States against our textile industry? Is the Secretary of State willing to take further action to give proper protection to our vital industry?

The textile industry receives far more protection than any other. A total of 95 per cent. of all imports from low-cost countries arrive under quota and are closely controlled. On the exchange rate, I think that the hon. Gentleman is grossly oversimplifying, as he usually does, the causes of the decline of the business to which he refers.

Will my hon. Friend indicate to the House what effect he thinks a 17 per cent. minimum lending rate has on the exchange rate?

Very little, indeed. What the 17 per cent. interest rate reflects is the fact that we have a high inflation rate and that if money is not to be lent by depositors to banks at an unfair rate of return and borrowed at a low rate of interest which does not reflect its real value, changing that circumstance would not help at all.

This is a very revealing day for Ministers in the Department of Trade to display their ignorance about the economic consequences of their policies. Will the Minister explain how British exports can possibly succeed when the exchange rate is so high, buoyed up by North Sea oil and not by underlying productivity? Is it not open to the Government to influence exchange rate policy so that our exporters get a reasonable chance in world markets?

The right hon. Gentleman learnt little during his time at the Department. He obviously never studied the performance of Switzerland, Germany and Japan, which, against a background of a firm, high exchange rate, contrived to improve their productivity their competitiveness and their industrial performance.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order relating to trade questions.

If the hon. Gentleman's point of order relates to his question being transferred, will he wait until the end of Question Time? I shall allow one minute extra for questions to the Lord Privy Seal.