§ 13. Mr. Fabricant
To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to promote services available to British exporters.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Technology (Mr. Edward Leigh)
In support of the comprehensive and high-quality package of export 279 services that my Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office offer to British exporters, we undertake a wide range of ongoing promotional activity.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Will my hon. Friend take it from me, as one who has exported to all four corners of the world over the last few years, that in the past we have suffered some small disadvantage against the Japanese and the Germans because of inadequate export credit guarantees? Will he join me in congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his excellent move in adding £1.3 billion to the resources of the Export Credits Guarantee Department? Does he agree that this is a victory for common sense and perhaps a victory of the Department of Trade and Industry over the Treasury?
§ Mr. Leigh
No, I could not possibly say that. It is a victory for Britain. I am sure the House will agree that it shows that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade's efforts in ensuring that the DTI is an effective voice of business within government have been proved right. It used to be said of some people that they had a good war. My President had a good Budget yesterday. Whether on advance corporation tax, small firms or ECGD, I do not think that £1,300 million worth of extra cover is bad for one day.
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce
Representing an area with a high number of exporting businesses, I welcome the increase in export credit guarantee support. Will the Minister recognise that he can help exporters by ensuring that Britain becomes clearly and unequivocally a fully-integrated member of the single market and the European Community, that we ratify Maastricht and that he stops accusing Opposition parties of the failure of his own party to get its act together?
§ Mr. Quentin Davies
The improvement announced yesterday will be a tremendous and most welcome boost to morale and the performance of capital goods exporting and contracting industries. Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that ECGD is offering competitive premium rates will enable us to negotiate with governmental export credit agencies in other countries a concerted de-escalation of some of the cut-throat competition which has existed over the last few years so that we can avoid making again the mistakes that we made in that area in the early 1980s?
§ Mr. Hardy
The dreadful balance of payments position certainly justifies the modest action to which the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) referred, but does not the Minister accept that if the Government make unwise decisions in regard to the coal industry, the cost of additional imported energy—which would increase dramatically after the next four or five years—would eat away at any export achievements that the Government might secure?
§ Mr. Leigh
To put the matter in context, the value of our exports is at a record level. Over the 1980s, it increased 280 faster than that of our major competitors. Although import penetration has been an increasing problem for all major industrialised countries, it has been less of a problem in this country than in major competitor countries since 1981—less than in France, Germany, Italy or the United States. Yesterday's announcement will ensure that our exporters will be even more successful in future than they have been in the past.