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Manufactured Goods

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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asked the Minister for Trade what was the value of exports of manufactured goods from the United Kingdom in the past six months.

In the past six months, exports of manufactured goods amounted to £18·4 billion.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the figure would have been higher if exchange rates had been more stable? What action do the Government intend to take to reduce the fluctuations in exchange rates in the EC and the wider world?

My hon. Friend makes assumptions, and I do not know whether I am qualified to follow him into that uncertain area. My hon. Friend and the House will recognise that, at the end of the day, the stability of exchange rates is determined by market forces and that the Government's role can only be marginal.

Does the Minister accept that the figures that he has quoted represent a deterioration in the annual balance of payments on manufactured goods since 1979 of about £2 billion? Does he view that with complacency or alarm? Will he take the opportunity to say where he stands in the controversy between the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Industry as to whether exchange rates are to be added to the list of matters for which the Government abdicate all responsibility?

This is the first occasion on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has appeared at the Dispatch Box in his new role. I congratulate him on his new responsibilities. I am sure that he will make a distinguished contribution to our debates.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman becomes more closely acquainted with these matters he will find that this year, taken with the past two years, will show a record surplus in our current account. Therefore, he is taking an unduly gloomy view of Britain's trading position.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the terms of trade on which we attempt to export our goods to Spain are grossly inequitable? When will the talks about renegotiation and doing meaningful things in the Community end and when will some serious action be reported to the House?

I know of my hon. Friend's deep concern about these matters. I know he feels that they have a particular effect on the area of which he is a distinguished representative.

It is undoubtedly true that there is a gross disproportion between the tariffs imposed by Spain on imports from the entire European Community—not only the United Kingdom—and those imposed on Spanish imports entering European Community countries. This is a matter of deep concern to the Government and to the European Commission. At my request the issue was placed on the agenda of the most recent Foreign Affairs Council meeting. I hope that we shall soon have an urgent report from the European Commission on the full implementation of the 1970 agreement, to which the United Kingdom was a party, and on how tariff disproportions can be redressed.