Sales at UK retailer Marks and Spencer rose slightly in the first three months of 2013, as good trading from its food business offset a fall in clothing sales.

The company said that like-for-like sales in the UK were 0.6% higher for the three months to the end of March compared with a year ago. Overall sales, including its international business, were up 3.1% in the quarter.

M&S said that its UK food sales were 4% higher than a year ago, but general merchandising - which includes sales of clothing - was down by 3.8%.

However, the drop in general merchandise sales was not as bad as some had forecast, with some analysts having predicted falls of up to 6%.

The company said that despite the macro-economic issues in some of its markets, its performance in Europe improved in the quarter. ''Our franchise business in the Middle East delivered a good performance and, in Asia, our key markets in India and China continued to trade strongly,'' it added.

"We are working hard on improving our performance in general merchandise, and despite difficult trading conditions, we made progress in our operational execution,'' the company's chief executive Mark Bolland said.

The company said it remained ''cautious'' about the outlook for the year ahead.