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Electronics Industry

Volume 131: debated on Wednesday 13 April 1988

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To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what was the output of the electronics industry at the latest date for which figures are available; and what was the comparable figure in 1979.

The index of production for the electronics and information technology industries was 170 in 1987 based on 1980 being equal to 100. This compares with 97 in 1979.

As imports of electrical goods have more than trebled since 1979, is there not a case for retaining the voluntary restraint agreements with regard to imports of electrical goods from the far east? Will not those imports pose a serious threat to our television tube and set manufacturers, as there is a surplus of production in Japan and a growing surplus of capacity in South Korea?

No. The increase in voluntary restraint agreements would cause immediate and long-term damage to the British economy. I want to stress to the hon. Gentleman that, if we consider the OECD group of countries as a whole, only Japan is improving its export-import ratio. Virtually all the others are falling. The export-import ratio in the United Kingdom fell by 17 per cent. It was also 17 per cent. in Germany. In France it was 21 per cent. and in the United States of America it was 40 per cent. There is a healthy increase in our electronic engineering output. If current trends continue, we can start to attack import penetration.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the growing use of electronic systems in companies such as British Aerospace in my constituency. Will he do all he can to communicate to his Government colleagues the need for the availability of trained manpower to exploit fully that important growth in our industrial world?

I chaired a skills shortage committee three years ago which was targeted on improving the level and supply of skills in those disciplines which my hon. Friend is anxious to see enhanced—electronic engineering and manufacturing systems engineering. Within the trade figures for the electronics sector, aerospace is excluded yet we export a lot of electronics within aerospace, whereas there is a huge Japanese surplus in consumer electronics. The situation in information technology as a whole is not as bad as the overall figures would appear to show.