HC Deb 09 February 1976 vol 905 cc6-8
3. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what further action is proposed to promote exports and to restrict imports.

18. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he now proposes to take further measures to control imports.

20. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will undertake not to introduce import controls.

Mr. Shore

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained the Government's policy on import controls in the House on 17th December. As regards exports, the Government and the British Overseas Trade Board will continue to give their full support to the efforts of British exporters.

Mr. Evans

As, despite the world economic recession, we are improving our share of world trade, what action will the Government take to stimulate exports now that the long-term objective of export-led growth seems possible in the near future?

Mr. Shore

The Government have taken both general and specific measures to increase the movement of resources into exports. That, after all, is the primary aim of the Government's economic policy. As my hon. Friend is aware, in the last 12 months we have introduced, especially through the ECGD, a whole range of facilities designed to assist British exporters in important and developing markets.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the continuing problems of the textile industry? Is he further aware that it has one of the finest records of output per head of all manufacturing concerns? Because of the continuing crisis in the industry, will he give further consideration to quantitative controls and the long-term regulator that the industry so desperately requires?

Mr. Shore

I am very conscious of the problems of the textile industry. Indeed, Members on both sides of the House who represent textile areas have spoken most strongly, and continue to do so, in the interests of that industry. But we have taken certain measures to help deal with the serious growth of imports, particularly in relation to yarn imports from Spain and Portugal. At last we have got into place the extensive quantitative control of exports from most of the low-cost producing countries under the Multi-fibre Agreement.

Mr. Canavan

Following the meeting in December with trade unionists from the Scottish chipboard industry, including those from Cowie, in my constituency, and in view of the concern expressed about jobs, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to control imports of chipboard?

Mr. Shore

There have been continuing discussions on the problem of chipboard. My hon. Friend has taken part, with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, in a recent discussion about the matter. There is not at present an antidumping proposal before us. What we have advised the industry to do—and I gather that it has had some success in this—is to reach agreement with suppliers from some of the countries from which the pressure is greatest in order to regulate any unnecessary or excessive flow of exports to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Higgins

Is it not absurdly shortsighted of the Government to pursue a trade policy in relation to the Soviet Union and other Communist countries whereby exports from this country are provided to them on financial terms far more favourable than our own industries can obtain, and then to take no action against dumped exports from those countries, which then arrive here and further jeopardise our own industries? I refer in particular to the export of textile machinery and the dumping of textile products.

Mr. Shore

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has put his question in that way. As he knows, in the case of chipboard the strongest pressure on the British industry arises from Belgian exports. In so far as there is an East European export problem, we have got both a price and a volume undertaking and an understanding with the Romanians in this sector.

On the more general question, I put it to the hon. Gentleman that we really cannot simply consider problems of imports from Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, without also considering the large opportunities that exist for us to sell our exports to them. I expect that as many hon. Members would be anxious for me to press for particular export opportunities in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as are now worried about imports from those countries. We have to keep the matter in balance. Our credit terms have to be competitive with those of other countries which are doing business with Eastern Europe.

Mr. Speaker

I remind both Front Benches that this is not debating time and that they ought to make their points more briefly.

Mr. Crawford

What discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with the Scotch Whisky Association about import restrictions? Does he not agree that too much import restriction may lead to retaliatory action, which would damage the industry and its employees?

Mr. Shore

I shall bear that point in mind, but I have not had recent discussions with the Scotch Whisky Association on export-import problems.