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Import Controls

Volume 974: debated on Monday 19 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the Government's present policy in regard to import controls; and what controls have been introduced during the last six months.

The Government are completely opposed to general import controls, since they would destroy jobs and diminish our competitiveness. But they are always prepared to consider the imposition of temporary import restraints where special circumstances apply.

Does the Secretary of State recall that on earlier occasions Conservative Members have frequently and loudly complained that the special steel interests of south Yorkshire were being severely harmed by unfair overseas competition, despite the helpful action taken by the last Government? Is their silence today evidence of the fact that the Government have done anything to help? Have they done anything at all?

Since the Government came to power they have acted in very many instances where it has been shown that unfair trading practices are being indulged in by our overseas competitors. I have been to the EEC in Brussels in order to discuss this with the Commission.

There is, I think, a great misunderstanding of the anti-dumping powers that we have in this country, and I am anxious to make the procedures more generally known.

If the hon. Gentleman has examples of unfair trading practices in the industry with regard to dumping, we shall be only too ready to help the industry and the hon. Gentleman in trying to deal with them.

Is it not a fact that the total import bill for steel last year was over £1,000 million, and that in the same year the total number of motor cars imported was 800,000? Does not this gravely impair the viability of two basic industries in Britain as well as leading, incidentally, to steel closures?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the motor industry and, indeed, the steel industry, are both very substantial exporters. We not only import steel; we also export it. When one-third of our gross national product finds its way into export markets, we have to be extremely careful about imposing import restraints on products in regard to which we benefit greatly in export markets.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's antipathy towards unfair trading practices, but will he consider the relationship between the British Rail pension fund and Sotheby's auction house, in particular in the context of the Ojjeh sale in Monte Carlo in June or July this year, when there were strong rumours of a price being guaranteed by Sotheby's auction house to the British Rail pension fund and to the sellers of the particular goods involved?

I have to say to my hon. Friend, in the most friendly spirit, that there are a number of matters for which I am responsible, but that fortunately I am not responsible for British Rail or for its pension fund. The way in which the investment manager of the British Rail pension fund behaves is ultimately a matter for the trustees of that fund. If my hon. Friend wishes to put further questions on this matter, I suggest that he put them to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.