Aircraft Industry (Exports)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will publish the export figures for the aircraft industry in the years 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Net exports of aerospace products were £201 million in 1970, £221 million in 1971, £287 million in 1972 and £343 million in 1973. Figures are not yet available for 1974. All of these figures exclude guided weapons which were not separately distinguished in the trade statistics prior to 1973. The figures quoted are net exports as they exclude the imported value of re-exports.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he recognise that exports by the aerospace industry represents about 50 per cent. of its output? Does he believe that this fine performance will improve under the Government's proposals for nationalisation?
The answer to that question is "Yes". On the details of what nationalisation will involve, I ask the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to await the announcement that is expected fairly soon by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that constitutes failure to the nation, in the terms that he usually uses when making the case for nationalisation?
No. I am well aware that failure to the nation is only one of the reasons for nationalisation. This industry, which has a good export record, is also highly dependent on Government assistance.
Eec Trade Deficit
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the trade deficit with the EEC for 1974 to the last convenient date.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the trade deficit with the EEC in 1974 up to the latest date available compared with the equivalent period in 1973.
On a balance of payments basis, the visible trade deficit with the EEC in the first nine months of 1974 was £1,368 million, seasonally adjusted, compared with £768 million in the corresponding period of 1973.
Will the Secretary of State tell us, on a balance of payments basis again, what percentage that represents of our total non-oil deficit on trade? If the figure is somewhat similar to what it was last month—that is, 96 per cent.—may I ask how long this country can go on at such a rake's progress before the myth is finally exploded that it was to our trading advantage to go into the Common Market?
The proportion of our non-oil deficit on trade, accounted for on a balance of payments basis by our deficit with the EEC, is 96 per cent.
I did not mislead the hon. Gentleman last time. With my usual and characteristic understatement, I used a slightly different basis of figures which gave a more favourable result.The whole matter of the EEC and our continued membership will, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know, be brought to the people of this country, I hope, within the next few months.
Will my right hon. Friend explain why he misled the House, no doubt unwittingly, a few weeks ago? This point was emphasised in the Observer which gave my right hon. Friend a chance to reply to its counterproposal, which he refused. Why did he do that and why did he mislead the House in the way that he did?
I have not misled the House either wittingly or unwittingly, except in this one small particular when I understated the reality of the situation. Frankly, it is no use my hon. Friend's seeking to bolster his case by drawing upon the statistical department of the Observer newspaper—
No. It was my right hon. Friend's Department.
—when Her Majesty's Government have rather better statistics at their command.
On the subject of myths, will the Secretary of State lay the myth that joining the EEC has somehow been detrimental to our overall visible balance of trade pattern? Does he acknowledge that for many of the products that we wish to import, particularly foodstuffs, the EEC now represents a cheaper market for us than the rest of the world, and therefore it is only prudent that our imports from that market should increase?Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman regret the lowering of tariff barriers which has taken place between us and the remainder of the Community?
Whether or not the membership of the EEC has been detrimental to our trade is something which can be judged only by the actual outcome of our trading relations with the EEC. The onus of analysis and explanation certainly lies upon the advocates of membership rather than on those who have persistently warned against the dangers to this country's economy that could follow from our own membership of the Community. As for foodstuffs, it is true that during 1974 some foodstuffs in the EEC were cheaper than world prices—and that has been true, I should think, of about one other year in the past 30 years. But what we have to consider, surely, as a House—and certainly what the Government will consider—is not the advantage that there may or may not be in one particular year but what the expected advantages are over a longer period.
If we take selective restrictive measures to try to put right this disastrous deficit and the Common Market takes umbrage at that, will my right hon. Friend ensure that less strong-willed members of the Government do not retreat from that situation if it should make our renegotiation that much more difficult?
I do not think that my hon. Friend need be concerned about this. This is a matter of judgment, of where our interest lies. If we did come to such a view, we should of course act accordingly. But, as the House will know, my view and that of my colleagues is that we must, in this very difficult year for international trade, be guided by the pledge that we gave at the OECD not to restrict trade in any artificial way
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has certainly given the impression consistently that it is his view that the overall deficit is significantly larger as a result of EEC membership and that we are therefore very glad to have his retraction this afternoon and his statement that we cannot draw that conclusion from the figures? Does he further accept that, contrary to what he has said in correspondence, it is not the case that his officials' views and the official statistics support the view that the overall deficit is greater as a result? If he has any evidence to that effect, will he publish it as early as possible?
I was invited by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to draw just such a conclusion when this matter was raised on the last occasion. What I said was that I remained genuinely puzzled at the extent of our trade collapse in relation to the EEC, but I have also said that I should be surprised if, at the end of the day, when we have analysed these things thoroughly, there were not some obvious relationship between membership and the trade out-turn.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what estimate he has made of the effect of United Kingdom membership of the EEC on the deterioration in our visible trade balance at current prices between the first half of 1973 and the first half of 1974.
The crude trade deficit doubled between these six months' periods from £481 million to £964 million, a development brought about by a number of factors. I do not wish to reach any hasty conclusion about the effects of membership, but I am greatly concerned at the magnitude of the deterioration in our trade balance with the EEC.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the House on 18th December his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary expressed the view that our membership of the EEC had made very little difference to our trading deficit with the EEC countries, one way or another? Does he agree with that view? As I understand that his own preference is for a free trade area, what improvement would that make in the position?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is entirely right to emphasise that whether our future relationship with the EEC is that of member or one of free trade association, we have to improve very considerably on our economic performance in relation to trade with the Community. Of that there can be no doubt whatever.The essence of the difference is simply that whereas under the EEC membership arrangement we have what I consider to be the ongoing and general disadvantages of having to import EEC food at the expense of food which is normally available at a lower price in other parts of the world, this would not be the case if we had a free trade area arrangement. Secondly, we should not have the same problem, about which we are now renegotiating, of having to make a large net contribution to the EEC budget and also to sustain very unwelcome capital flows.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the visible trade deficit of the United Kingdom with the previous EEC Six in 1974.
Estimates on a balance of payments basis are not available. The "crude" trade deficit—that is, the difference between exports value fob and imports value cif—in the first 11 months of 1974 was £1,914 million, or £2,088 million at an annual rate.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this huge deficit with the EEC, accounting for almost the whole of our trade deficit in 1974, contrasts with a negligible deficit with the Commonwealth preference area for the same period, and that this result is wholly contrary to the wild promises we had of a great trade surplus with the so-called great home market of the EEC?
I hope the House will take note of what the figures really are. We can have disagreements among ourselves about the way in which we interpret these figures and about the explanation of the figures, but we shall get nowhere unless we face the facts. The facts are as I have given them to the House and as my right hon. Friend has stated them. They account not for the whole of our non-oil deficit but really for by far the greater part of our non-oil deficit in our trade with the whole of the world. This is, therefore, a matter of the greatest concern to the Government, as it should be to the whole House, regardless of what view one takes on the wider question of membership.
Does the Minister appreciate that in a recent survey taken by the CBI amongst its members, 84 per cent. believed that they would gain long-term advantages by our being in the EEC, but—what is more significant—78 per cent. believed that it would be disastrous if we were to pull out?
While we should take seriously the views of business men—and I think it was the views of business men which the hon. Gentleman was quoting—and listen to them, as indeed we do on many occasions, we should bear in mind that in matters of this kind those views are not necessarily correct. Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. Businessmen generally in Norway and Sweden were in favour of those two countries joining the EEC. I think the hon. Gentlemen will agree with me that the present outlook of both those countries is very strong indeed—and they have pursued policies of dealing commercially with the EEC but without membership.
Is my hon. Friend aware that when the discussions about entry into the EEC were going on, those who were in favour of our so doing said that membership would be immediately to our benefit? That has now been forgotten. Will my right hon. Friend ask Sir Christopher Soames, who is acting as a Tory propagandist and is holding a series of meetings—paid for by Brussels—in his propaganda drive, to ensure that these facts and figures are truly put over, instead of the false propaganda from Brussels and the Tory Central Office?
I have already made clear to Sir Christopher, and publicly, my own views on his participation in the internal debate in this country. I do not believe that in the longer-term sense, even from the point of view that he takes, he will add to the prestige of being a Commissioner by taking part in what is going to be a very strong and vehement debate in this country, and I very much wish that he would desist.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while, of course, we accept the figure which he provides, we object to the superficial selection of statistics in order to draw certain conclusions? Will he study very carefully what his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said when answering Questions just before Christmas, which gave a totally different impression from the one which the Secretary of State himself had given a few days before? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend who asked the original Question not to go round making wild unattributable remarks as to what was claimed before entry but, rather, to consider what was said in this House and by responsible commentators outside, which gives a very different picture?
The Foreign Secretary and I are in very close touch with each other. We study each other's speeches and remarks with the interest and attention that the House would expect.I am afraid I have forgotten the other point in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question.
The right hon. Gentleman who asked the original Question quoted statements alleged to have been made before the debate took place. Will the right hon. Gentleman discourage this approach—because the statements made in this House and outside by responsible commentators did not reflect the views which are now being stated?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I myself played some part in the debate. My recollection is that people whom we thought were very responsible on the then Government Front Bench gave very clear indications that, in their view, prosperity and security were secure only if this country joined the EEC. If the hon. Gentleman wants to look at the most authoritative statement of all, let him read what was said in the White Paper of July 1971—the key document which was put to this House in the debate in the following October—and see what it said about the effects upon members and their prosperity.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he has any proposals designed to improve the United Kingdom's balance of trade within the EEC.
Her Majesty's Government's economic and commercial policy is directed to the improvement of United Kingdom's total balance of trade including trade with the EEC. The British Overseas Trade Board has the advice of the European Trade Committee and provides a wide range of services, in addition to those of ECGD, to assist British exporters. Particular proposals designed to improve our trade balance with the EEC would, of course, have to be consistent with our international obligations.
As the Government proposals appear to be singularly ineffective in relation to the EEC, and as the Secretary of State has agreed this afternoon that the food deficit is over 50 per cent. of the balance of trade deficit, would it not be in the interests of this country to have some specific proposals geared to the EEC very much along the lines of the suggestion that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) made earlier?
The question of specific proposals, in terms of proposals that might directly operate upon exports and, indeed, upon imports in trade with the EEC, as the hon. Gentleman must know, are inevitably limited by the terms of the Treaty of Accession and, in turn, by the Treaty of Rome. Therefore the room for manoeuvre may not be as great as the hon. Gentleman expects.
Is it not a fact that the main reason for the increased deficit with the EEC is that we are now able to obtain from the EEC food and raw materials much more cheaply than from anywhere else? Is it not also a fact that the alternative which has been widely proposed by those who are opposed to membership of the Common Market—that is, a European free trade area—would leave us with exactly the same deficit with the Common Market as we have today?
My hon. Friend may have missed the reply that I gave a few minutes ago to a similar question. I will make just one essential point to him, namely, that the difference between a free trade area and membership of the EEC is that the ability to buy food in the markets of the world would be far greater than it is now. Further, we should not have the balance of payments burdens of the Community budget contribution, together with certain obligations in respect of capital movements.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he is satisfied with the way in which his Department is discharging its statutory obligations regarding insurance companies.
Yes, Sir, although we shall all be happier when more of the detailed regulations provided for under the 1974 Act have been made and are fully effective. As regards particular companies, I cannot, for reasons of confidence, mention names, but the Department has been instrumental in protecting many thousands of policy holders in the unprecedented circumstances of the last year.
In view of the regulations under the 1974 Act, which are being published by the right hon. Gentleman's Department to prevent any further failures of insurance companies, does he not agree that it might be sensible to see how the existing regulations take effect before launching new legislation to establish a statutory fund, which could well put up the premiums of those who have made a prudent investment in their insurance?
I should certainly like a longer period to operate in full the powers provided by this House in the 1974 Act. My own assessment of the situation is that we now need an additional resource not provided by that Act and that we should bring it into play as soon as we can.
Will my right hon. Friend give special consideration to the sad plight of the many thousands of unfortunate policy holders who insured with the Nation Life Insurance Company Limited of Teddington, Middlesex, about which I have recently written to him?
Yes, I am well aware of the difficulties and worries that the policy holders of Nation Life are experiencing. We are, within the complex law affecting insurance and liquidations, doing our best to get as speedy an answer as we can for them.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects to introduce legislation to compensate those members of the public who have lost deposits as a result of the collapse of travel firms, in accordance with his undertaking following the financial failure of Court Line.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what proposals he has to increase safeguards for holidaymakers; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if his proposals for the protection of holidaymakers are ready; and if he will make a statement.
I expect to be able to introduce a Bill very shortly, and I would ask hon. Members to await the submission of my proposals to the House.
As the Government have admitted liability to compensate those Court Line holidaymakers who were deceived by the Government's inept intervention, will the Secretary of State now say where the money will come from?
The hon. Gentleman knows that no such liability has been admitted or even implied. He will also know that the rôle of Government in the affair is being investigated, and no doubt will be thoroughly investigated, and that the House will, before very long, I hope, get a full report on it. But leaving that aside and turning to the question of the proposed Bill, it would be better, instead of my trying to anticipate major features of the scheme, if we waited until the details were published.
Is there not an embarrassing contrast between the alacrity with which the Government promised action before the General Election and the delay to which their proposals have since been subject? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as a result, retail travel companies are outbidding one another in desperate attempts to secure the public's confidence by promising to refund within 24 hours, and then being trumped by further promises to refund within 12 hours, and so on? As we are now at the peak of the booking season, can the Minister at least tell us from what date the scheme will operate?
I cannot take it upon myself to make specific commitments in advance of the agreement of this House, but when the Bill has been published I hope that it will be found possible on both sides to make speedy progress with it, so that we can assist holidaymakers, including those who lost their holiday last year.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that it would be better to take these travel firms into public ownership, instead of propping them up? Will he explain when the Labour Party's promise to take back into public ownership those sections which were hived off by the previous Tory administration will be put into effect?
I should certainly hesitate to give any priority to the air travel industry, in terms of public ownership, if I were to decide that that was the right thing to do. But in the air travel business there is, of course, a substantial public sector, represented by the extensive holiday activities of British Airways.
Contrary to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), is the right hon. Gentleman fully convinced that legislation for the future protection of holidaymakers is still the answer? Has he not seen the growing number of voluntary arrangements within the travel industry since the unfortunate Court Line situation? Would he not be better advised to have some consultations with the industry to see whether the public can be given security without the cumbersome legislation which he may be envisaging?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the scheme which we have discussed and to which we are hoping to give legislative form in the near future was discussed very extensively with the travel organisations, and particularly with ABTA. Although it is true that one or two specially well placed travel firms can offer very generous and secure facilities to their customers, this is not something that can be reasonably expected of the great majority of travel firms.
As future holidaymakers now booking holidays will want to know where they stand, will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that they will not have to contribute any part of the cost of holidays lost by Court Line customers?
The contribution which the travelling public will be asked to make will depend entirely on the date of the coming into effect of the levies proposal.
Industrial Equipment (Export Contracts)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will discuss with the Export Credits Guarantee Department the possibility of providing cost escalation insurance for export contracts secured by British firms producing large scale industrial equipment.
This matter is already under discussion following representations from industry.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that this industry is involved in multimillion pound contracts which by their nature cannot be fulfilled in less than a period of years, and that the lack of an insurance against cost escalation is causing the industry difficulties vis-à-vis its competitors in France and Italy which are operating such schemes?
I am well aware of the difficulties facing a number of British exporters because of the problem of inflation, but we could not provide for such a scheme on an insurance basis. It is also important not to take any action which would discourage our exporters from resisting inflation and, indeed, discourage the acceptance by overseas buyers of reasonable price increases. These are all factors which we must take into account.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the total value of the export of British-made hovercraft in 1974; and how this compares with the previous three years.
The figures, which are published, show exports for civil purposes valued at £1·5 million fob during January-November 1974, and £2·3 million and £0·9 million respectively for 1972 and 1973. Hovercraft were not separately distinguished in 1971.
Does the Minister agree that those figures show the importance of the British hovercraft industry? What proposals has he for helping the further development of the industry and protecting it from unfair competition from a highly subsidised Russian hydrofoil?
On the first point, aid to British industry is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. On the second point, a Russian hydrofoil is operating on the Thames and there are allegations that it is being unfairly subsidised. My Department is willing to look at any allegation of dumping in respect of this service on the Thames, and so far no application has been received.
Exports And Imports
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the ratio of the percentage increase in exports to that in imports to and from the EEC for all goods for the following periods: (a) 1970–73, and (b) between the first half of 1973 and the first half of 1974; and what were the ratios over the same periods for Great Britain's trade with the rest of the world.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will publish comparable statistics showing, since the United Kingdom joined the Common Market, the movement in the United Kingdom's export and import ratio, first, with the EEC and, secondly, in the rest of the world.
Between 1970 and 1973 the percentage increase in exports fob to the EEC(Six) was 58 per cent. of the percentage increase in imports cif; for the rest of the world it was 79 per cent. Between the first halves of 1973 and 1974 the corresponding figures were 75 per cent. and 52 per cent. for all commodities. With respect to trade with the EEC(Six) the ratios of exports fob to imports cif were 82 per cent., 73 per cent. and 67 per cent. in 1972, 1973 and the first 11 months of 1974; corresponding figures for trade with the rest of the world were 89 per cent., 80 per cent. and 72 per cent.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although trade with the Community and the rest of the world has been on a downward trend, the decrease so far as the Community is concerned is much less? Will he therefore now admit that our trade with the Community is encouraging, and clearly shows the benefits of British membership in terms of both exports and employment?
I wondered what could possibly be the real meaning of this extraordinarily complicated Question, but if I have understood it correctly, the figures suggest the precisely opposite conclusion to that which the hon. Gentleman has so assiduously laboured to draw. I find no such conclusion inherent in the figures. I can only suggest that we both put on wet towels tonight and see whether we can examine them and find good sense in them.
Irrespective of the merits of the figures themselves, does my right hon. Friend agree that the ratio of percentage increase depends a great deal on the base on which one starts, and that that is a very tenuous principle on which to base any argument, wherever it may lead? In relation to the total trade with the EEC, will my right hon. Friend say whether there are any trends in any particular commodities which have caused the imbalance to which he drew the attention of the House on an earlier Question?
Leaving the statistical point on one side, on the question of the particular commodities or groups in our trade with the EEC where there has been a considerable deterioration which I would think stands out in the past two years—although there has been a fairly broad deterioration—is, first and obviously, the food trade, where we are now paying a very much larger sum for food imported from the EEC, and, second, imports of steel from the EEC.
Does the Secretary of State's inability to read these trend figures correctly show his opposition to our continued membership of the EEC on any terms? Has he concluded his consultations with his conscience, on the question whether he can remain a member of a Government who recommend the continued membership of the EEC? If so, will he advise the House of the outcome of those consultations?
The hon. Gentleman has drawn even more labyrinthine inferences from these obscure figures. I suggest again what I suggested earlier—that we should look very carefully at these figures. I should be very surprised indeed if they supported the point that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make.
Laker Airways (Skytrain Service)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he now expects permission to be given for the inception of the Laker Airways Skytrain service to the United States of America.
I cannot anticipate the outcome of the review of Laker Airways' Skytrain licence which the Civil Aviation Authority has undertaken.
Setting aside the delay that is now being caused by British Airways' attempt to enforce the IATA cartel on the North Atlantic, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the United States Government have been in breach of the Bermuda Agreement for about two years by refusing to allow services to operate? In the event that the CAA does approve it, will the hon. Gentleman say whether the Government will take firm action—if necessary, retaliatory action—against the Americans until they give permission?
The hon. Gentleman has, somewhat characteristically, distorted the position of British Airways, but in respect of delay on the part of the United States administration we have on a number of occasions made both formal and informal representations. The situation is now in the hands of the CAA and it would be quite improper for me, having regard always to the fact that my right hon. Friend may be the final arbiter of this matter under the appeals procedure—if an appeal is eventually launched—to make any comment along the line suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
Can my hon. Friend tell the House of any possible justification for allowing this Johnny-come-lately airline to cream off this part of the market at the expense of British Airways?
I must resist any temptation I may have to be drawn into this argument, having regard to the procedures now being invoked.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether, and by what amount, the United Kingdom is in trade imbalance with Japan; and what was the extent of the imbalance in each quarter of 1972, 1973 and 1974.
As the answer involves several figures I will, with permission, place a table in the Official Report. This shows that our "crude" trade deficit with Japan averaged £36 million a quarter in 1972, £43 million in 1973, and £57 million in the first three quarters of 1974.
Does not my hon. Friend regard that imbalance as very serious? Does he agree that there seem to be some grounds for suspicion that Japanese competition in Britain is not entirely fair? Will he look at the matter urgently?
We have had a number of representations about Japanese imports, particularly motor cars, but allegations of unfairness are completely unfounded. Our general trade with Japan is expanding very fast. This is one of our major priority markets. Japanese exports to this country have risen substantially, but, so, equally, have our exports to Japan. We believe in multilateral trade, and the fact that we may have a deficit on current account with one country does not necessarily mean that we should seek means in our power to restrict imports merely on that ground alone.
Why have West German exports of motor cars to Japan expanded by 20 times the amount that ours have? What was the reason in 1974 for extra imports from Japan of over £20 million worth of iron and steel?
I take it that the extra imports of iron and steel from Japan must have been because of a shortage of steel production in this country. Japan has, indeed, been exporting a great deal of iron and steel to the rest of the world. That helps to account for the way in which it has managed to overcome its balance of payments deficit on account of the oil price rise.Japanese imports of motor cars have risen substantially, which shows that, in fact, there are no import restrictions on motor cars sent to Japan. It is sad that we have not been able to do rather better in comparison with Germany and the United States in terms of exporting whole vehicles to Japan, which is a growing market for motor cars.
Following are the figures:
|UNITED KINGDOM TRADE WITH JAPAN|
Overseas. Trade Statistics basis, not seasonally adjusted
London And Counties Securities Group Limited
asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether the investigation by his Department into the affairs of the London and Counties Securities Group Limited has been completed; and if he will make a statement.
The inspectors have reached the concluding stages of their inquiries and I hope to receive their report soon. I am not in a position at present to make a statement.
Would my hon. Friend care to inform us whether the report is being held up because of the failure, as yet, to interview the Leader of the Liberal Party, as one of the directors of London and Counties Securities? In view of the recent revelations about the difficulties of another secondary bank—indeed, many others, for that matter—will he also say whether there is any truth in the widely reported comments that 30 secondary banks are receiving aid from the Government, and thus from the taxpayer, and whether this fits in with Government policy of wealthy directors scooping the pool?
There is no reason to attribute the fact that the report has not yet been provided for us to any failure to interview anybody. As I have indicated to my hon. Friend in my answer today, and, indeed, as I have said on previous occasions, we are hoping to get this report quite shortly now, and it will be for my Department to consider what steps should then be taken.My hon. Friend should table a specific Question on the wider ranging points he has made if he expects to receive a proper reply to them.
Will the Minister expedite the publication of this report, because the Leader of the Liberal Party will no doubt gain considerable electoral advantage from the personal sympathy which these monotonous and malicious attacks upon him are bound to engender?
The question of the publication of the report is one that we have to consider in the light of our findings about the report itself. If we, as a Department, consider that the situation could lead to prosecution, it could well be that we would then take the view that publication of the report should be deferred. This is in accordance with the usual practice.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that London and Counties Securities was the first of many, and many to come? Will he say how many other companies are being investigated by his Department at present?
I am surprised that someone of the hon. Gentleman's experience apparently does not know that if he wants a detailed answer to a question of that character he should table a specific Question. I could not possibly answer that question here and now.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will pay an official visit to the Christchurch and Lymington constituency to address a meeting of leading business men and industrialists on Her Majesty's Government's trade policies.
I cannot promise to make such a visit at the present time.
Is the Secretary of State aware that I have reserved 21st March for him should he decide to come? If he does come, will he please tell my constituents whether he fully supports the views expressed in the last few days by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the need for a slightly more realistic look at the state of the economy in 1975?
I am entirely at one with my colleagues, and, indeed, with a very large body of opinion in the country, in thinking that in this most difficult year on which we are now embarking we need to have the utmost realism in all our economic policies, and that we must face, above all, the very serious problems which we know about and which we have not yet done enough to solve. I am thinking particularly of the continuing balance of payments deficit, on which this country must make greater progress, as well as the general success of our policy to maintain employment and curtail inflation.
Is it not clear from the wording of the original Question that the leading business men and industrialists in Christchurch and Lymington have no confidence in the ability of their own Member to explain the Government's trade policies or anything else?
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what meetings he has had with members of the European Commission.
I have had frequent meetings, both formal and informal, with members of the European Commission.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that when, after each of these meetings, he goes out of his way to make clear that it is his hope and intention that we should leave the EEC, it is directly discouraging to the mounting of the export drive towards Europe which he says is needed, and that he is contributing to the collapse of industrial investment and rising unemployment? We recognise the sincerity and strength of the right hon. Gentleman's views, but may I ask whether he finds this attitude possible to reconcile with his responsibilities as sponsoring Minister for trade and his need to give confidence to industry in a time of crisis?
I am, along with my colleagues, embarked upon a fundamental renegotiation of our terms of entry to the EEC, and the matter is to be put to our own people for decision. That, if you like, brings an element of uncertainty about the future of the formal relationship between Britain and the EEC. As long as the present Government—who have every intention of living up to their word—are in power the decision will be for the British people. If that causes uncertainty to British industry I can do nothing about it, but I say—as I say on all possible occasions—that whether we are in or out we shall have a very substantial continuing trading relationship with the EEC. I shall, therefore, find no difficulty in urging British industry to bend every possible effort to improving its trading performance with the EEC.
Is it not patently obvious, since we were trading much better with the EEC as it existed before we entered, that it would be far better if we got out, so that we could restore our trading position with those countries? In view of the October deadline and the serious economic situation facing this country, would it not be better if my right hon. Friend had a word with his Cabinet colleagues, perhaps this week, and suggested that we should hurry the matter along by several months—perhaps getting the Leader of the House to organise an all-night sitting, as was done on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill—so that we could get out quickly?
The issue whether it is better to get out is not to be judged solely in terms of the trading context. There are wider considerations, and I think it right that the whole business should be brought together and presented to our people for their decision. As for hurrying it along, I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no delay on our side, and I do not believe that there is now any wish to delay on the side of the EEC, either. I am, therefore, very hopeful that we shall be able to resolve the matter soon—certainly before the summer.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what discussions he is having about trading arrangements after the decision has been taken about Great Britain's membership of the European Economic Community.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) on 6th December.
Does my right hon. Friend see the need for contingency plans based on whatever decision may be made, especially in the light of the appalling figures which he gave this afternoon about our trade deficit in relation to the EEC?
I certainly accept the need for forward planning to cover all kinds of situations, and not just the situation which could be expected if our people were to decide against continuing British membership of the EEC. We have to keep all possibilities and all available action under review, and that we are doing.
Civil Aviation (Review)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will now make a statement about his review of civil aviation.
The review is continuing, and I hope that it will be completed in the spring.
Will the Minister say a little more about the constitution of the review board, about the way in which the airlines are to be consulted, and on the question whether Parliament is to receive any sort of Green Paper about the future of the airlines?
The consultations will be very wide, covering the whole of the industry. My right hon. Friend will consider the report when it is available, in order to determine whether the whole of the report should be published and what action we should take. Parliament will therefore be fully consulted on the matter.
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us on the Government side are still opposed to the whole concept of a second force private enterprise airline? Will he bear in mind also that many of us strongly opposed the way in which British Overseas Airways Corporation's routes were handed over to British Caledonian without compensation, and will he recognise that merely handing those routes back will only mean the collapse of an airline and, perhaps, about 5,000 redundancies? Does my hon. Friend now accept that the most sensible way out of this rather stupid dilemma is the nationalisation of British Caledonian?
We are looking carefully into the matters about which my hon. Friend and many others of my hon. Friends have expressed strong views in the past. But that goes to the very heart of the review, and it would be impossible for me at this stage to comment upon the points which my hon. Friend has raised. The question of nationalisation, of course, is a much wider issue.
Will the Under-Secretary of State give three undertakings: first, that as much as possible of the evidence which is given and of the report of the inquiry will be published; second, that we shall have it, if at all possible, in the form of a Green Paper, so that the House may discuss it without being pressurised on the issues one way or another; and third, that the whole business will be carried out as quickly as possible, in order to end some of the present uncertainty in the industry?
I have already undertaken that my right hon. Friend or I will report to the House fully on this matter once the report is in our hands. On the second point, the hon. Gentleman should not be so impatient. We shall consider the request for a Green Paper, and we shall make our decision at the appropriate time. It is not possible for us to make that decision now. I certainly undertake that the inquiry will be conducted as rapidly as possible, but it must be a thorough inquiry, and that is how it will be done.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was Great Britain's visible trading surplus or deficit with South Africa in the most recent annual period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement.
The "crude" balance of trade with South Africa, that is, the difference between exports fob and imports cif, was in surplus by £47 million in the 12 months ended November 1974. In recent years, our "crude" trade balance has generally been in surplus, although in 1973 there was, unusually a deficit. The improvement in 1974 owes much to a sharp rise in our exports to the South African market.
Do not those encouraging figures show once again that South Africa is one of our most valuable and reliable trading partners? Will the Secretary of State make it clear that it is his policy to encourage the expansion of trade with South Africa?
That question was answered in plain and unambiguous terms by the Foreign Secretary just before Christmas. South Africa is a major trading market for this country, but I should add that many other countries are now strongly entrenched in the South African market.
Aircraft Noise (Mole Valley)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what action he is now taking in relation to the so-called Mole Valley minimum noise route.
Evaluation by the Civil Aviation Authority and my Department from the operational and other points of view of the various routeing proposals prompted by the Department's consultation document is nearing completion. I shall circulate a further document giving the results of this work as soon as possible. Thereafter, hon. Members, local authorities and others involved will be invited to a meeting to discuss the matter.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that minimum noise routes are maximum noise routes for those who have the misfortune to live under them? Has the body to which he referred considered splitting the route, and, if it has, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the route is split widely enough to ensure that people living within the split are not disturbed by noise from both sides of it?
Every time he speaks on this matter the hon. Gentleman makes the same comment about minimum noise routes. I am well aware of the difficulties imposed on certain people who happen to be affected by noise. I cannot anticipate the result of the inquiry. In my original answer I indicated the nature of the consultation which is to be undertaken, and I should have thought that that would satisfy the hon. Gentleman.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is his policy towards the supply of computers to foreign Governments.
Subject to our international obligations, we encourage the export of computers to both public and private purchasers.
Is the Minister satisfied with the advice which he received from the Defence Department and the Foreign Office in the case of the supply of computer specialists to aid the installation of a Univac computer for the Turkish Defence Ministry? Does the hon. Gentleman think that this is in accordance with our policy of fairness of treatment for all people in the island of Cyprus, when that installation was being used for the disposition of Turkish troops there?
The case to which the hon. Gentleman refers involved the sale of an American computer and not a British one. Her Majesty's Government were not involved, and the computer will not be supplied from the United Kingdom.
Trawlers (Safety Devices)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he has yet reached a decision regarding the use of the EPIRB, or any similar safety device for fishing trawlers; and if he will make a statement regarding the promulgation of regulations in this matter.
There is a good case for some trawlers carrying these devices, and we are inviting the fishing industry to discuss with us the classes of vessel and the fishing areas for which they would be appropriate. We have also launched a research and development project covering alerting and locating devices related to maritime casualties.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his answer, but is he aware that the last time he spoke in the House—18th November, I think—was two days before we had the findings of Commissioner Barry Sheen on the "Gaul" disaster, and on that very day a demonstration was held in St. Andrew's Dock, in Hull, by Marine Electronics, showing the working of one of these new radio buoys —I shall not give the full name—with his officials present? Will my hon. Friend comment on their opinions on the efficacy of this buoy, since all others there—deckhands, union officials, vessel owners and skippers—felt that it was a huge success and would be of enormous help in avoiding such disasters as the awful loss of the "Gaul" last year?
We are always anxious, as I am sure the whole House is, to take whatever precautions we can to avoid the sort of disaster that occurred with the "Gaul" and other ships. However, it woud be wrong if I were to suggest that any one demonstration would produce a complete answer to these problems. We have undertaken profound research into the development of this sort of alerting and locating equipment. IMCO is looking very carefully at the matter and has made certain recommendations, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are giving the highest priority to this research.