asked the Secretary of State for Trade what action he is taking to promote the sale of British books in overseas markets.
The industry's sales promotion efforts overseas are encouraged and helped by the extensive range of export services provided by my Department.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that the considerable support given by the Government to book exports has been completely nullified by the enormous increase in the overseas postal charges? For the first time, our book exporters are now paying much higher postal rates than any of their foreign competitors.
Of course, I regret very much that the increase in postal charges has had to be passed on to those who export books, magazines and so on from the United Kingdom. However, it would be quite wrong to assume that the export trade in British books would be damaged over any period of time by the present increase in charges.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that the increase in overseas postal rates will produce a relatively marginal increase in revenue for the Post Office but will significantly jeopardise £150 million to £200 million of exports? In these circumstances, should not the trading consideration have prior claim?
I do not think that the purchase of British books is crucially affected by the increase in postal rates.
Will my right hon. Friend please do something about the whole postal question including the effect on book exports? There has been an 1,800 per cent. increase in charges over those imposed 30 years ago and about a 300 per cent. increase in the efficiency of postal deliveries. Surely we should be able to get some improvement, if only to restore us to the position attained 30 or 40 years ago.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. This is a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.
Will the Secretary of State consider the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) that we are now at a disadvantage in overseas markets compared with our chief competitors? If that is so, surely something should be done to redress the balance.
If a case of that kind can be seriously put to me, I will of course discuss it further with my colleagues in the Department of Industry.