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Volume 978: debated on Monday 4 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the current balance of trade between the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and whether Her Majesty's Government have yet decided whether to renew the current credit arrangements with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics when they expire.

Provisional figures for 1979 show a deficit on our visible trade with the Soviet Union of approximately £410 million. On the separate question of credit, the Governrment have decided not to renew the Anglo-Soviet credit agreement when this expires.

When the Government converse with the Soviet Union regarding our trade with them, or the renewal of credit arrangements, will they emphasise the deep concern that is felt in the House and the country on the questions of human rights and the exile of people such as Sakharov, Ida Nudel and Vladimir Slepak? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if and when the Soviet Union comply with the rights and duties of the Helsinki agreement, we shall be more likely to engage in trade, as we did before?

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is right. We should lose no opportunity to bring our strong views home to the Soviet Union. Their contempt for the dignity of the individual and for human rights are repugnant to the whole House. We must take every opportunity to make that view known.

In the light of that answer, and in view of recent events, will my right hon. Friend urgently consider the dumping of Russian Christmas cards in this country and the possible dumping of general greetings cards and other stationery?

We have a recognised procedure for dealing with dumping. Christmas cards will not have much of a market for a few months, but if my hon. Friend can tell me of other specific items that are being dumped, we shall look into the matter and take speedy action.

Has there been an increase in cargoes carried by British shipping in trade with the Soviet Union since the right hon. Gentleman's Government came to power? What discussions has he had with the Soviet authorities on this topic?

I confess that we have not made a great deal of progress. We have had nine months to try to deal with the problem. The hon. Gentleman had several years, and I do not believe that he would claim that he was particularly successful, either. Discussions are continuing with the Soviet Union. It is a serious matter. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will agree that effective action can properly be taken only through the Community. If we acted alone—and we have the right to do so under the Merchant Shipping Act—it would be much less effective than persuading some of our Community partners to join us.