HC Deb 17 January 1996 vol 269 cc729-30
7. Mr. Dunn

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the balance of trade between the United Kingdom and Japan. [7891]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Philip Oppenheim)

In 1994, the last full year for which figures are available, the UK had a balance of trade deficit with Japan of £5.9 billion. In the first 11 months of 1995, UK exports to Japan rose 25 per cent. while imports rose 9 per cent. in the same period.

Mr. Dunn

Although I welcome those figures, to what extent would our trade with Japan grow if we reintroduced the closed shop and had worker councils, the minimum wage, union-only labour and all the policies to which the deceitful bunch opposite would sign up if given the chance?

Madam Speaker

Order. Did I hear the hon. Gentleman use the word "deceitful" in referring to hon. Members? If so, I am sure that he will wish to rephrase his question.

Mr. Dunn

Of course I withdraw the remark, Madam Speaker. I did not mean it, in the heat of the moment.

Mr. Oppenheim

I can give my hon. Friend a graphic example of what happened to British industry when Labour implemented those policies. Triumph was a world leader in motor cycle manufacturing in the 1950s. By the 1970s, after Government meddling and bad industrial relations, Triumph was bankrupt and the Japanese took over the market. That was the reality of British manufacturing under Labour. Triumph motor cycles started up again in the 1980s. It is now competitive and producing high-quality bikes. It exports world wide, including to Japan, and jobs and production are expanding. That is the reality of the high-quality manufacturing that Britain has under the present Government.

Mr. Sheerman

Is the Minister not aware that under a Labour Government, at least in manufactured exports, this country had a surplus against Europe and against the rest of the world, including Japan? The Secretary of State did not answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). This country's economy will not be right until it starts manufacturing the products wanted abroad and selling them in greater numbers.

Mr. Oppenheim

It might surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I entirely agree that we shall get the economy right when we manage to sell our goods to the world. That is precisely what did not happen under Labour, when the surplus fell sharply and Britain's productivity growth was bottom of the group of industrialised nations. I will tell the hon. Gentleman about two important figures. Since 1980, British manufacturing productivity growth has been top of the major industrialised nations, and this country has closed no less than three quarters of the productivity gap with Germany. We may not be back in the first division of industrialised nations, but we are getting there, which is far better than in the 1970s under Labour.

Mr. Atkins

Is my hon. Friend aware of the contract that has just been made between Leyland Trucks Ltd. in my constituency and Isuzu of Japan to manufacture and assemble 1,000 trucks over the next few months? The two specific reasons that Japan gave for the contract were the excellence of my constituents' manufacturing ability and its belief that the British economy is the best in the western world.

Mr. Oppenheim

My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Opposition Members will recall the situation in the 1970s, when multinational car manufacturers such as General Motors and Ford were falling over themselves to push capacity out of Britain and foreigners would not buy GM or Ford cars if they were made in this country. Today, General Motors, Vauxhall, Isuzu and other Japanese manufacturers are investing massive amounts of money in car manufacturing in Britain and are exporting those vehicles. That stark comparison illustrates how much more competitive and efficient British manufacturing is now, compared with the dark days of the 1970s.