§ 11. Mr. Strang
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will revise his estimate of the likely deficit in the current year to take account of the Central Statistical Office's recently published figures of the balance of payments current account for the first quarter of 1991.
§ Mr. Maples
First estimates of invisibles are liable to substantial revision, but the next forecast of the current account is due with the autumn statement.
§ Mr. Strang
I put it to the Minister that in the medium to long term we cannot depend on an invisible surplus to offset a visible deficit of £12 billion, which is the Chancellor's estimate for the current year. Among other things, is not the huge gap between our imports and exports a reflection of the extent to which huge swathes of our productive industry have been wiped out by Government policies?
§ Mr. Maples
I do not think that that is true. For most of this century this country has run a visible deficit, which has been counterbalanced by a surplus on invisibles, and we think that that surplus will continue. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. If he studies the performance of manufacturing exports, and exports in general, he will find that what he is saying is not true. Exports have been rising faster than imports for three years. He may find it interesting to know that during the last Labour Government manufacturing exports grew at an average of 2 per cent. per year while under the present Government they have grown at an average of 4 per cent. per year.
§ Sir Peter Tapsell
Is it not a fact that there have been a number of examples in the past when the original figures for the balance of payments and for invisible earnings subsequently proved less good than the reality? Is anything being done to avoid those unnecessarily pessimistic statements in the first instance?
§ Mr. Maples
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. First estimates of invisibles are liable to substantial revision and in the past few years have nearly always been revised upwards. The initial monthly projection is based on very little information and it is unwise to pay any attention to it. We are taking considerable steps to try to improve early estimates of invisibles, which are published quarterly. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Chancellor, he introduced a programme of reforms which are being put into place by the Central Statistical Office and we believe that they will soon start to show some improvement. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to measure.