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Volume 894: debated on Monday 23 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a state- ment on the renegotiation of the Anglo-Russian trade agreement when it ends in December.

Notice of termination of the 1969 Long-Term Trade Agreement with the Soviet Union will have to be given by the end of September 1975.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the fact that the Russians tried so hard to save his job for him after the referendum, because they thought that the Anglo-Russian trade agreement was in the interests of Russia, gives further strength to the view held by many of us that in the past Anglo-Russian trade has been far more to the advantage of Russia than of this country? Will he submit to the independent group of persons a study whether Anglo-Russian trade has been worth while, when export credits and other things are taken into account, before concluding a further agreement?

I take it that the hon. Gentleman will expect me to ignore the first and slightly unworthy introductory part of his question——

—and I turn to the more serious part about the benefit to Britain of the Anglo-Russion trade agreement. I take the view, and I believe that other hon. Members would, that we have had an unsatisfactory level of trade and an unsatisfactory balance of trade with the Soviet Union, and my concern, which I hope would be the concern of any Secretary of State for Trade, is to improve the volume of our trade with the Soviet Union, to improve our balance of trade, and to make sure at the same time that there is mutual advantage. I believe that that can be achieved.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our trade deficit with the EEC is about 20 times as large as our trade deficit with the Soviet Union?

I am aware of that, but our trade with the Soviet Union is a very small part—in my view, an unnecessarily small part—of our total trade.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that what is important is not only exporting but being paid for exports? Is it not a fact that the arrangements recently negotiated by the Prime Minister with the Russian Government enable the Russians to equip their industry on far better terms—given the rates of interest, the protection against inflation and likely changes in the exchange rate—than competitive industries in this country can have for their investment? That being so, and, in particular, given the difficulty of having any firm criterion regarding dumping from the Soviet Union into this country, is it not clear that on balance this agreement was not in Britain's favour?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises already that British concerns would not conclude agreements on a firm basis unless they thought that it was broadly in their interest to do so. That is how they normally make decisions in trade matters. Second, on the question of whatever credit arrangements are made with the Soviet Union, the principal factor here, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is what is internationally available to the Soviet Union, and our only aim in these matters is to see that British exporters are not put at a disadvantage.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent negotiations he has had with the Government of the USSR on the development of trade.

I led the British delegation to the meeting of the Anglo-Soviet Joint Commission in Moscow last month. My discussions at that time with Soviet Ministers clearly indicated that there are good prospects for a significant improvement in our trade with the Soviet Union.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with the onward march of inflation and the continuing deterioration in the exchange rate, to go on supplying goods on traditional terms means that we are effectively giving our goods away and subsidising the Russian economy? Are we not coming perilously close to the situation in which we are involved in free exports to Russia with love?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. The problem of inflation is undoubtedly real, but it is not so much a question of subsidising the Soviet Union through our inflation. The difficulty is that if we cannot contain our export prices more rigorously we will simply not get the business which is undoubtedly available with the Soviet Union. I hope that we are all interested in avoiding such a situation.

Can my right hon. Friend explain to the Conservative Front Bench that British industrialists are in the main pleased about the new trading arrangements with the Soviet Union?

I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I thought that there was an uncharacteristically surly note in the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). Surely the House welcomes expansion on reasonable terms of our trade with the Soviet Union. It is certainly the case that the CBI is very anxious that British firms should have a much larger share of the expanding Soviet market, and that is what I, too, want to see.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to the House to give a progress report on the Russian trade deal made earlier this year?

I am happy to report to the House from time to time on the progress of our trade with the Soviet Union and I hope that this year, 1975, the figures will show a significant increase over those of last year and previous years.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in October a trade mission will be going from the north of England under the auspices of his Department and the North of England Development Council and that it is already over subscribed by business men from the North-East who are anxious to trade with Soviet Russia? Would he not agree that if there were a more pugnacious approach by British industry to this vast market, we should do far better than will result from the sniping that we have just heard from the Opposition Front Bench?

I am glad to hear of this trade mission from the North-East. I know that many trade missions are planned by British industry for the course of the coming year. Because I should not like there to be any doubt about it, I should like to emphasise that there is now a very good atmosphere in Anglo-Soviet relations and, therefore, opportunities for doing business on a more satisfactory scale than we have had hitherto