My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what was the volume of retail sales in the United Kingdom during 1983 and what was the corresponding figure for 1982.
My Lords, the index of the volume of retail sales in Great Britain in 1983 was 114.4, which was 5½, per cent. higher than the index of 108.2 for 1982. These index numbers are based on the year 1978 being 100.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Would it be true to say that these figures indicate the increasingly healthy state of the British economy?
Yes, my Lords.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether, when he refers to the volume of trade, he refers to money or tonnes?
The second, my Lords.
My Lords, can the noble Lord give the House some indication how these increased retail sales are reflected in the imports into this country of the goods that are sold in our shops? Will he also give the House an assurance that when his right honourable friend comes to consider his Budget he will remove the VAT disadvantage which gives a cash flow advantage to importers into this country of some thousands of millions of pounds for a period of between 11 and 13 weeks?
My Lords, I shall certainly pass on the interest of the noble Lord in VAT and cash flow to my right honourable friend. I am sure he will give close attention to the views expressed. As far as the noble Lord's first question is concerned, I could not give him exact figures. Perhaps I may write to him. I can tell the noble Lord, however, and I can tell your Lordships, that exports increased by 9½ per cent. in the last quarter of last year, which was a much faster rise than the rise in imports.
My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the figures he has just quoted are a reflection of the increased use of credit cards and of instalment credit generally, and not a reflection of any basic economic recovery?
Not entirely, my Lords. The noble Lord will know perfectly well that credit cards and other forms of credit are a reflection of the increase in consumer spending.
My Lords, can the noble Lord say what percentage of this increase in retail sales came from the nearly four million people unemployed?
No, my Lords.
My Lords, can the noble Lord say what the corresponding figures for savings were over the same period?
My Lords, I think that is another question.
My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to reconsider that answer, because it is exactly the same question? Many Members of your Lordships' House know that the increase in the volume of sales derives from the fall in savings, and the noble Lord should come to the House prepared to give that information.
My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. I believe that the issue is not necessarily relevant to the Question on the Order Paper, but I shall study with great interest the remarks of the noble Lord—and with great gratitude, too.