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Buy British Campaign

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 18 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent representations he has received in favour of a "buy British" campaign.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Industry and Consumer Affairs
(Mr. Eric Forth)

My Department has received a number of such representations. We recognise the advantages of purchasing British products when they are competitive in design, quality and price.

Is my hon. Friend aware that our hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs will be visiting my constituency of Basildon next Wednesday to launch the "buy British goods from Basildon" campaign? Will he join me in congratulating local businesses on their initiative? Does he agree that the success that I am sure the campaign will enjoy will make a valuable contribution to Britain's balance of payments?

I am sure that the sense of delight and honour is shared equally between Basildon and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I am sure that everyone is looking forward to the visit. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) has made the important point that it is right that individual areas such as his constituency should take the initiative in ensuring that local companies buy from each other wherever that is possible and justifiable. That will stimulate the local economy and the use of British goods by the British industrial sector. All of that will assist the recovery of Britain's claim in that sector, which we all want.

Has the Minister recently taken the opportunity to shop in C and A, British Home Stores or Littlewoods, and has he tried to find anything British among their stocks of shirts, underwear and suits? Is he aware that it is difficult to buy British, even if one wants to do so? With the possible exception of Marks and Spencer, almost every multiple store makes it easy for our competitors to bring foreign textiles into Britain.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I can speak only for myself, and I stand before the House in my British-made suit—

It is for each individual to exercise consumer choice and decide whether to buy British goods. If more of us did that, all retail outlets would have to reconsider their sales policies to meet our requirements, but it must be driven by the consumer.

Does my hon. Friend agree that although "buy British" is a well-intentioned campaign, it might be better to advocate "sell British" because the quality is best and the price most competitive? People should not be forced to buy something that is not the best. No doubt my hon. Friend made his judgment on his smart suit because it was the best and had the most competitive price.

It is worth recording that more than 90 per cent. of the goods and services bought by the Government are from United Kingdom sources. That shows that it is possible, both at the public level and in private purchasing, to strike a balance between value and cost and patriotism. Those ideals are quite consistent and not in contradiction.

Does the Minister acknowledge that the policies that the Government have pursued have brought about the worst manufacturing trade deficit in history? Will he assure the House that the change of Secretary of State will result in new policies at the Department of Trade and Industry which will set us back on the road to success?

There is no reason why that should be so. I have every confidence that the new Secretary of State will wish to pursue the excellent policies of his predecessors, and so he should. It is well known to all hon. Members—except, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman—that the Department of Trade and Industry, under successive Secretaries of State, has created an economic and industrial climate in which British industry can fight back against an increasingly competitive world trading position and, indeed, improve Britain's trading position. It is only against the background of our taxation policies, our industrial relations policies and our concentration on improvement of management that we can do that. I am confident that the future will lead us further in that direction.