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Trade

Volume 978: debated on Monday 4 February 1980

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Statistical Information

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade to what extent he has alleviated the burden of providing information for statistics for which his Department is responsible.

The Government are determined to reduce, so far as possible, the number of statistical forms sent out to industry and commerce, particularly to small firms. The number of such forms to be sent out this year, in the inquiries for which my right hon. Friend is responsible, will be 15,000 fewer than last year. I am personally reviewing all inquiries and I expect to make substantial further savings.

I am impressed by my hon. Friend's determination. Among the forms that were sent out, did he notice a reduction in those relating to the 1978 retailing inquiry, which was such a pest to my constituent, Mr. Archer?

I was impressed by the strong representations my hon. Friend made on behalf of her constituent. We have cut the number of forms sent to retailers in the annual retailing inquiry from 24,900 in 1979 to 19,900 this year. Moreover, no independent retailer with an annual turnover of less than £25,000 will be required to fill in a form. That may well be of benefit to my hon. Friend. In addition, simplified forms are being sent to retailers with a turnover of £150,000 or less.

Import Regulations

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will now reconsider the early introduction of multilateral import regulations as a means of assisting world-wide growth in manufacturing industries.

Does the Minister appreciate that over the period from 1968 to 1978, import penetration, in terms of ratio between imports and home demand, rose from 17 per cent. to 25 per cent? We are now within 3 or 4 per cent. of a disaster in manufacturing industry. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whole sections of the industry will go out of business unless the Minister takes some action?

I accept that import penetration increased substantially over that period, but we have to look at the export side as well. Nearly one-third of our gross national product is represented by exports. We have to maintain a balance between the need to keep open our overseas markets and preserve the jobs which depend on them, and the problems faced by British industry arising from imports. The best way to safeguard the trading system is to abide by the rules of GATT and not to erect new multilateral controls of the sort the hon. Gentleman sugests.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British carpet yarn processing industry has been almost totally destroyed by American imports within the last 12 months? Only two firms are still working. As the reason for that is almost entirely because American oil is30 per cent. cheaper than ours, should not an immediate import ban be considered as a matter of urgency?

I examined the figures for a number of carpet firms this morning and I am surprised to hear my hon. Friend say that only two are working. With respect, there are rather more firms than that which are concerned with imports of yarn. As my hon. Friend knows, we have been pressing for action on this matter within the Community. I shall be attending the Council meeting at the Commission tomorrow. We await the report of the Commission on this and other matters, and I hope that, by the end of the week, there will be more to tell my hon. Friend and the whole House.

May I say that I share the view of the Secretary of State in that I, too, am not enamoured of import controls? Will the Minister consider trying to assist the man-made fibre industry, for example, by looking at the question of fair trading, which was an important aspect of negotiations in Japan?

I agree that we must maintain a balance between protecting our industry from disruptive imports—I am concerned to do that—and the need to promote our exports. One-third of our manufacturing industry depends on exports. I accept that the Government must take firm and decisive action against unfair trading practices. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that we must now act through the Community.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is little point in adhering strictly to GATT if we are constantly in deficit in our overall trading account? Has the Department of Trade made any detailed study of the national origin of exports and imports and the likely effect of retaliation on sectors such as unemployment, production, the public sector borrowing requirement and so on?

I spend my whole time studying these figures. It happens to be my job. The figures are published. As soon as Question Time is over, I shall immediately present a document to my hon. Friend setting out import penetration figures in almost every major product. All those figures are available and I shall be happy to discuss them with my hon. Friend.

Will the Secretary of State tell us precisely what he will ask for as regards protection for the manmade fibre industry when he attends the Council of Ministers tomorrow? Is it a countervailing duty or an import ban? When the meeting has concluded, will the Secretary of State make a statement, thereby giving the House an opportunity to ask him about the real meaning of the Council's decision?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I always wish to be helpful towards him. I shall be negotiating tomorrow and it will be more helpful if the matter is not negotiated now across the Floor. I am prepared to ensure that a full statement is made. Whether I am allowed to make an oral statement depends upon my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I shall ensure that the House is fully informed by, written or oral statement by the end of the week, and I shall let it know what arose during the discussions at the Council of Ministers meeting.

Hairdressing Council

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will seek an early meeting with the chairman of the Hairdressing Council, in view of the withdrawal of part of the membership of that body.

I have no power under the Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964 to intervene in the running of the council but if either the chairman of the Hairdressing council or my hon. Friend wishes to get in touch with me I shall gladly arrange for a meeting to take place.

I hope that that invitation will be taken up by Mr. Ledger. Is my hon. Friend aware that last December the Hairdressing Council resolved to wind up, and to set up a new body, although it gave no clear indication as regards what would happen to its existing finances, although fees for 1980 were still coming into its accounts? Is that not extremely unsatisfactory? Is it not time that a new Hairdressing Council was set up, answerable to the Department and to the House?

Those who remain on the Hairdressing Council are seeking legal advice as to what steps may be taken to resolve the outstanding problems that have been referred to. I repeat that under the terms of the 1964 Act the Government have no standing on this issue. I shall gladly meet the representatives of the various parts of the hairdressing profession should they wish to discuss those problems with me.

Trade And Development Programmes

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what initiatives are being taken in the negotiation of individual or collective trade and development programmes to absorb an increased share of the surpluses of oil exporting countries in British exports.

With the full support of our posts overseas and export services at home, British exporters are participating actively in the trade and development programmes of all the oil exporting countries. Although performance in individual countries varies, United Kingdom exporters have generally been increasing their share of these markets in recent years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that, after his recent highly successful visit to the Far East, the time is now right for a similar trade visit to be made to the Middle East, to promote British trade?

I made an equally successful—although perhaps not so well publi- cised—visit to the Middle East only two months before going to the Far East. That was worth doing. I visited Saudi Arabia and Iraq and I spent a fair amount of time in both countries. Perhaps I shall have the opportunity of returning to the Middle East before the year is over. However, I have only just been there.

Inflation

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the latest annual increase in the rate of price inflation.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade by what percentage the rate of price inflation has increased since May.

The retail prices index increased by 17·2 per cent over the last 12 months and by 10·3 per cent. over the 12 months to last May.

As the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection has now been absorbed by the Secretary of State's Department, who is responsible for keeping prices down? Most Ministers are increasing prices. There has been an increase in VAT, MLR and several other increases. Who is responsible for keeping prices down?

The hon. Gentleman will remember those unhappy times when his Government had a Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and a Department, yet prices doubled during that period. The sooner that the hon. Gentleman realises that having a Department that keeps records and reports on prices does not provide a way of controlling them, the better.

Does not the Minister agree that most of the components that make up that considerable increase across the board are a deliberate result of Government policy? They are not due to the intervention of outside forces. How does he relate that to the promises made to the electorate last May to the effect that the Government would solve the problems of prices, mortgages and so on? Does he not think that the general election was won on a completely false premise?

I shall not bore the House by quoting from the speeches of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the former Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. At the time of the election they both confirmed that inflation was on an upward trend and that the figures were bound to rise during the year.

Is it not a fact that under the previous Labour Government prices more than doubled? The Opposition have an absolute cheek to lecture my hon. Friend on this subject.

Once again, my hon. Friend has put his finger on the problem. It is bad conscience.

Has the Minister examined the crippling effect of 15 per cent. VAT upon our hospital services and upon all supplies? Is it not nonsense? Will he arrange that one Department does not have to pay for another Department's increased costs?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the change in the rate of VAT, and the consequent increases, were part of a major switch from direct to indirect taxation. That switch is, and was, necessary. However, it gives rise to certain problems, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. The overall long-term effect should be beneficial.

Will the Minister explain what contribution the doubling of VAT, the increase in minimum lending rate, the 10 per cent. increase in gas prices above that asked for by the BGC, and all the other increases in the public and private sectors, make to the Government's counter-inflation policy? All those increases have been allowed to go ahead unchecked. Should there not be a Minister who is responsible? Is there any counter-inflation policy? When do the Government expect to see inflation in single figures, as it was when they took office?

It may be disappointing news to the right hon. Gentleman, but the only time that the previous Labour Government showed any sign of gaining control over inflation was when they cut public spending and started to take control of the money supply in accordance with the instructions of the IMF. That is the long-term direction in which the country must move.

Ussr

6.

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.

Reports (Deletions)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what are his criteria for determining the public interest regarding major deletions from official reports.

The public interest is not defined in the relevant legislation for which my right hon. Friend is responsible. He has to take a view of the public interest according to the circumstances of each report.

How can it be in the public interest for the Secretary of State to delete from the Price Commission report on car components a finding that the cost to the car owner of replacement sparking plugs is 10 times the original price charged to car manufacturers? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that leaving out such information can only be in the interests of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and definitely not those of the public? Does he further agree that it is an abuse of the powers of the Secretary of State to cover up private exploitation from public view?

I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman is guessing about the precise content of that confidential report. The report was extremely detailed. In making deletions, my right hon. Friend had regard to the commercial interests of companies, where they are justifiably part of the wider public interest. An obvious example is where the disclosure of detailed information would be of considerable aid to foreign competitors.

Does the Minister appreciate that the question is misleading, and that for a number of years in order to popularise their sparking plugs, the manufacturers gave them away?

How does the Minister justify a profit margin where the retail price is 10 times the wholesale price?

It is a speculative discussion, and I am not able to comment on the details.

Is it possible to use some of the money that my right hon. Friend did not use in publishing the Price Commission report to publish the Underhill report?

Air Traffic (South-East)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will seek to regulate the operation of charter and part-charter air traffic to and from Heathrow and Gatwick as part of his plans to control the growth of air traffic in South-East England; and what cities in other countries operate scheduled air services from three separate airports serving the same city.

Whole plane charters have not been allowed to use Heathrow since 1 April 1978. The Government would like to see more effective use being made of airports other than Heathrow and Gatwick, but my right hon. Friend has no plans artificially to restrict leisure traffic in the South-East. New York has three airports operating scheduled services.

What does my hon. Friend mean by "artificially to restrict"? Is the night ban at Heathrow not proper action by the Government, taken for environmental reasons? Does he contemplate with equanimity tour operators continuing to bring coach loads of people down the motorway from Newcastle, Manchester and Birmingham to fly to Majorca, because it is cheaper than using regional airports? What are the Government's views?

The night ban applies to all classes of traffic. It is extremely difficult to draw a line between leisure traffic being a bad thing and some other form of traffic being a good thing. The customer—the passenger—demands the cheapest possible air transport, and I understood that we were interested in giving it to him.

Does the Minister agree that there is inertia among airlines and tour operators about using London's airports? The hon. Gentleman is being too casual. Would not ministerial activity benefit airports such as Manchester, which have the will and capacity to take such passengers?

The hon. Gentleman appears to expect me to do the job of tour operators. If Manchester is a good airport for that purpose—and I believe that it is—it is up to the management of Manchester airport to persuade tour operators and passengers that that is so. We are not in the business of directing people to airports.

Are we not in the business of trying to minimise the impact on the environment of an unlimited buildup of airport capacity in the South-East? Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that it is entirely reasonable to balance the views of tour operators with those of the country as a whole, to ensure the best overall result?

We are in the business of protecting the environment, and we have recommended that Stansted be expanded rather than have further expansion beyond terminal 4 at Heathrow. An aeroplane landing at Stansted will disturb about 17,000 people as opposed to 1½ million at Heathrow.

Footwear (Exports)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what action is being taken to counter the effect of Canadian import controls which restrict opportunities for British exports such as footwear.

The EEC Commission has had extensive discussions with the Canadian Government, and both they and the United Kingdom Government have repeatedly stressed the harm done to our footwear manufacturers by Canadian restrictions on footwear imports. I am not aware of any other quantitative Canadian import controls which cause concern to United Kingdom exporters.

What action are the Government taking to ensure that footwear imported into this country does not come in at below the cost of production? Further, is my hon. Friend satisfied that that action is adequate and, if not, what further steps does he intend to take?

We have an extensive range of controls, especially on footwear from low-cost countries. If my hon. Friend can suggest ways of strengthening those controls, I shall be happy to hear from him. They are extensive and they are in operation. However, we propose to press the Canadian Government to stand by their assurance that their restrictions will be removed in November.

Is the Minister aware that the dumping of leather cloth from Canada and elsewhere has undermined the leather cloth manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom to the extent that there is now asset stripping and factories are collapsing with resulting unemployment?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, anti-dumping action is now for the EEC. We have an anti-dumping unit in the Department that is available to help industries with information that establishes dumping. If the hon. Gentleman will put the leather cloth manufacturers in touch with me I shall do what I can to help.

Price Commission

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the Price Commission to have been wound up.

The Commission will be formally wound up shortly after the Competition Bill receives the Royal Assent.

Will the Minister ask the chairman to publish a report showing how much this Government's disastrous policies have contributed to inflation by increasing VAT, mortgages and rents, bus fares, petrol, gas and electricity prices and the prices of bread and many other essential foodstuffs? Would not such a report show that we should retain the Price Commission instead of abolishing it?

The hon. Member should remember with humility that the retail price index doubled during the life of the previous Government. The Price Commission was entirely ineffective in dealing with this and merely operated to delay price increases. This had the effect of storing up large increases for the consumer at a later date.

May I ask my hon. Friend a rather more constructive question? Will he consider introducing legislation to give those whose jobs were destroyed by the Price Commission—that is, those in the bread industry, the brewing industry and elsewhere—an opportunity to sue the members of that Commission for damages?

That is an interesting suggestion which would be of particular interest to members of the legal profession.

Will the Under-Secretary ask the Secretary of State to consider answering a question on prices and inflation at least once during his tenure of office? Is he aware that his right hon. Friend has answered none since he took office? Also, will he explain why his right hon. Friend and other Ministers in his Department seek to evade responsibility for a counter-inflation policy by a change in ministerial responsibility for questions? What is the sense in asking Members of this House to direct questions about the retail price index to the Secretary of State for Employment?

The right hon. Member is not being fair. My right hon. Friend has twice answered a substantial number of questions about prices. The arrangements that are to be made for the future will be an improvement, yet again, because questions on prices will be answered by the Minister responsible for the policies concerned.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Price Commission is to write another report before it is closed down, it might find it very difficult to write one listing those commodities in which prices have been permanently kept down by its actions? Indeed, would it not be so short a report that he would be able to afford to publish it?

I am sure my hon. Friend is right. All these interesting suggestions will be put to the part-time chairman of the Price Commission.

Civil Aviation Authority

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects next to meet the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority.

My right hon. Friend and I expect to meet the chairman of the authority on 25 February.

When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman will he suggest to him that he should end the nonsense of duty-free shops at international airports? Is my hon. Friend aware that in the cabin of a wide-bodied aircraft today on an international flight, literally hundreds of bottles of liquor and scent are being carted from country to country, creating an additional hazard to passengers in the event of an accident, and an unknown amount of weight in the aircraft? May I suggest that the time has come for vouchers to be issued at the airport of embarkation which could be cashed at a duty-free shop at the home base of the passenger?

I have often thought it slightly bizarre that we freight millions of bottles of Scotch across the Atlantic so that they can come back again to Scotland carried by passengers as duty-free liquor. However, that is part of the tradition and the way in which these things are now conducted. Hon. Members may find that rather amusing, but I suggest they ask their constituents whether they want to give up the privilege of buying duty-free or cheap liquor on the flight from one place to another. I note what my hon. Friend said about the safety hazard, but I do not believe that there is an unacceptable safety hazard if the liquor is properly stowed. However, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the Civil Aviation Authority.

Would not the problem of duty-free goods and the absence of real turnover be overcome if those purveying so-called duty-free goods offered a genuine price to the travelling public? Is it not a fact that the words "duty-free" are merely a cloak for privileged traders to make excessive profits? Is it not a rip-off?

It is, in fact, a cloak for the way in which airport charges are held down to acceptable levels. The major profit goes to the airport authorities and thereby holds down the other service and landing charges. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) can smile—he obviously does not know that about 30 per cent. of the British Airports Authority's revenue comes from concessionary sales.

Will my hon. Friend get the chairman to obtain an explanation, for the information of this House, why British Airways staff refuse to stay over in Belfast, thus adding to the costs of their airline and sometimes leaving passengers stranded? Does this not contrast with the more courageous behaviour of the staff of other airlines?

My hon. Friend has a fair point, but he is addressing it to the wrong chairman. I have already addressed this question to the chairman of British Airways.

Will the Minister discuss with the chairman of the CAA the impending fantastic increase in landing and passenger dues—400 per cent. in my constituency, and even higher elsewhere? Since not even this Government's increases have come anywhere near that figure, will he advise the chairman that they are totally unacceptable and should be reversed?

The Civil Aviation Authority has a statutory obligation to balance its books and not be a charge on the taxpayer. It is clear that the operating deficit and the accrued interest of the Scottish Highlands and Islands airports will be higher this year, even after increases in the charges. Therefore, the right hon. Member is really asking me to ask the taxpayer to underwrite larger losses. It would have been helpful had their rates not gone up so much as they did this year.

Price Restraint (Competition)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will undertake a study to measure the effectiveness of competition in restraining prices.

No, Sir. There is no doubt that competition restrains prices substantially, but the effect is difficult to isolate in terms of precise figures and varies from industry to industry—[Interruption.] Labour Members should go out shopping. They might find out. The extent to which the absence or distortion of competition causes prices to be higher than they would otherwise be can be taken into account by the Director General of Fair Trading in deciding whether to refer anti-competitive practices or to make a monopoly reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and by the Commission in its investigations.

Is the Minister aware that that is a disappointing reply, as well as a long one? Even without such a study, does not the Minister agree that it is obvious that competition does not restrain prices? Does he not agree that, although competition has a role to play, it is totally inadequate in a modern economic system? Therefore, will he agree to reinstate some controls similar to those exercised by the previous Government in an attempt to restrain the present roaring inflation?

Obviously the sort of controls that the hon. Member has in mind are those which put one of the major bread suppliers out of business and led to a loss of competition in that industry. No doubt that has something to do with the fact that bread prices have gone up somewhat higher than they would otherwise have done.

Is there not a wealth of evidence that competition brings about more competitive prices—for example, with refrigerators and television sets? Is it not also the case that the Government's new Competition Bill will strengthen the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the Office of Fair Trading, to the advantage of consumers?

My hon. Friend is right on all grounds. I suggest that those hon. Members who do not believe that competition holds down prices might care to look at the newspapers and the news tapes today and see that one grocery chain, under the pressure of competition, has again reduced its prices and estimates that this will save the average housewife about 50p a week.

Reverting to the question of references to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. is the hon. Member aware that, if the GEC bid for Decca is successful, a monopoly will be created there? Is it his intention to refer this matter to the Commission?

That is an interesting question and, no doubt if the hon. Member tables it, he will get a reply when we have considered the matter.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is not the Government's policy in any way to encourage any of the nationalised industries to create a State monopoly for any of the products that they manufacture?

South Korea (Imports)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will forbid the import of dangerous dolls from South Korea.

The Toys (Safety) Regulations 1974 impose requirements relating to the main hazards likely to be presented by toys. These regulations do not prohibit the importation of non-complying toys, but it is an offence under the Consumer Protection Act 1961 for any person, including any importer, to sell or possess for sale any toy which does not meet the requirements of the regulations. Importers are, therefore, generally careful to ensure that the toys which they import comply with the regulations.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he say whether dolls, known as "Cutie" dolls, imported from Korea, fall within these regulations?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that there has been a successful prosecution of an importer who brings in these dolls. Other prosecutions are pending. This would suggest that any- one who is importing them should prepare to be prosecuted.

In view of the ambition of South Korea to become the world's largest textile exporter within the next five years, will the Minister consider reciprocating its treatment of British textiles? South Korea creates enormous difficulties over the admission of our textiles and imposes an 80 per cent. import duty on some of them. Why do we not reciprocate?

When my right hon. Friend was in Korea last week he made a speech on this subject, pointing out that unless the Koreans opened up their markets to other people's goods they would inevitably invite strong retaliation.

In view of the Government's general policy of inadequate consumer protection, combined with their attack on living standards, is it not a fact that the most dangerous doll in this country is the one in No. 10 Downing Street together with her puppets at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons?

I think sometimes that the hon. Gentleman is some sort of hazard. I await the day when he finally explodes in this House.

Japan

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what progress he made in his recent meetings in Tokyo with regard to developing trade between the United Kingdom and Japan; and if he will make a statement.

During my recent visit to Japan, I met Ministers of the Japanese Government, senior representatives of Japanese industry and commerce and members of the British business community in Japan. Our talks covered a broad range of economic and trade matters.

I am grateful to my right hon Friend for his reply and for the efforts that he and the Minister of State have made to develop trade between this country and Japan. Was he able, when in Japan, to raise the question of the structure of the liquor tax, to which I have referred on a previous occasion? Was he able to point out that, with the change in the rate of exchange, it is likely that Scotch whisky will shortly attract a much higher rate of tax? This is bound to affect sales. Was he able to persuade the authorities to adjust the tax?

While in Japan I raised this important matter with the Minister of Finance and with the Minister of Trade and Industry. I asked, particularly, that the threshold should be raised. I pointed out that this was our single largest export to Japan. But it is a budgetary matter. Just as my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not keen to disclose the contents of his Budget in advance, neither is the Minister of Finance in Japan. I did, however, make strong representations.

Was my right hon. Friend able to make any assessment, while in Japan, of the immense efforts that the Japanese are putting into industrial robotics?

I have to confess that I do not know what industrial robotics are. If I did, I am sure that I would have made representations about them.

Inflation

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the price inflation rate to return to single figures.

No one can predict this. Inflation depends on many factors, but, above all, on the Government's success in bringing down the rate of growth in the money supply and the wisdom of wage bargainers in avoiding pay settlements that cannot be financed.

Is not part of this strategy, if strategy it be, that the Government are asking every worker in the public sector to take a real cut in their standard of living?

The only time that Governments of this country have shown signs, in the past five years, of getting control of inflation is when they have followed a policy of controlling their own expenditure and controlling the money supply. The previous Government were forced to do so by the IMF—and it worked. We are determined to follow that policy as the only long-term strategy that will work.

How does a pay settlement that cannot be financed contribute to inflation?

The Government can do two things. They can either inflate the money supply to accommodate the pay settlement, in which case, the right hon. Gentleman will agree, it would contribute to inflation, or they can hold the money supply, in which case unemployment will increase. In either case, unearned wage increases not covered by productivity will produce no benefit to anyone.

Is it not the case that inflation will be kept down if workers accept the fact that they must not continue to ask for increases in wages without increases in productivity? Is it not the case that they must put their full effort into production?

I have already said that wage increases that are not brought about by increases in productivity will eventually result—if the Government maintain a strong monetary policy, as they mean to—in increased unemployment. Wage negotiators asking for unearned increases must take that into account.

Will the Minister now answer the question that he has been asked repeatedly at this and other Question Times? What contribution have recent Government policies, namely the doubling of VAT, the increase in MLR and the increase in gas prices, made to counter-inflation?

The right hon. Gentleman does not listen to the answers. It is, therefore, hardly worth giving them. I repeat that the move to increased indirect taxes—so that reductions in direct taxation could take place—was voted on by the people of this country. They voted in favour of it. The Government's long-term policies of not holding down prices artificially in areas where they can only hold them down for a short time, but of allowing the market to find its own level—a sound monetary and fiscal policy—is the only way to control inflation.

Multi-Fibre Arrangement

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he intends next to meet the Council of Ministers with regard to the renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement.

There are no meetings arranged at the present time to discuss the renewal of the MFA, but I shall be attending tomorrow's meeting of the Council of Ministers to discuss another important question on textiles.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. I thank him for the efforts that he is making, particularly, this week, on behalf of the British textile industry. May I respectfully remind him that there would be a revival of confidence in the textile industry if negotiations for the renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement in 1981 were completed as quickly as possible?

Preliminary discussions are taking place on this subject. I must ask my hon. Friend to cast his mind back to the time when the present MFA was established and to accept that the conditions that we face today are very different from those that existed when the MFA was first entered into. While I have always accepted that orderly marketing arrangements are bound to continue when the present MFA expires, I am anxious not to arrive at any premature conclusions when world trade in textiles and general economic conditions are changing so rapidly. I am aware of my hon. Friend's view and that of the industry. I shall take those views fully into account.

Is not devastating damage being done to the man-made fibre industry by subsidised American imports, which now account for 25 per cent. of British sales? What urgent action does the right hon. Gentleman intend to take? Will he bear in mind that in my constituency, at the Deeside Mill at Flint, some 500 jobs depend on him taking urgent action?

Great damage is being done to sections of the fibre industry at present. I fully accept that. The matter will be discussed at the Council of Ministers' meeting tomorrow. I have already said during Question Time that I hope that we shall be able to make some statement by the end of the week.

Does the Secretary of State agree that trade questions are largely becoming a farce? When hon. Members seek safeguards for constituencies against imports from EEC countries, the Secretary of State says that we are bound by treaty obligations. If the imports, or dumping, stem from any other country, the right hon. Gentleman says that he must discuss the matter with the Commission, which does nothing. The right hon. Gentleman has no powers. Does he not agree that those were given up when we signed the European Communities Act?

Ninety-five per cent. of all imports from low-cost producers of textiles coming into this country are now under some form of restraint. The hon. Gentleman is not right to claim that there is no protection against low-cost imports. The present problem that we face is imports from developed countries and that is the subject of tomorrow's meeting. Of our six leading trading partners, particularly those to whom we export, five are Community partners and nothing could be gained from taking action against countries that take the overwhelming proportion of our exports.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the deep anger among textile employers and trade unions in Lancashire about the remarks of the Minister of State on regional television on Thursday to the effect that the problems faced by the industry in Lancashire must largely be sorted out by the industry itself? Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that the problems of a high exchange rate, imports from the United States and Mediterranean associates are problems over which the industry has virtually no control, and that they require firm and immediate Government action?

Apart from the extensive range of restraints on imported textiles that existed when we came into office, we have imposed 14 new quotas under the basket extractor mechanism, taken safeguard action against Turkey and entered into new agreements with China, Malta, Cyprus and Mauritius. We are also seeking transitional arrangements on textiles for the accession of Spain and Portugal.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State was correct. It is for the textile industry to sort out its problems. We shall do our best to support it in some of the ways that I have described, but changes of fashion and technology are taking place all the time and the British textile industry must respond to them. That is not something which politicians can do. We cannot run the textile industry on behalf of the directors of the companies.

Will the Secretary of State understand that the multi-fibre arrangement, which has been successful, is a necessary development on which the Government can take action? Their prevarication in making a statement of policy for the future is causing widespread uncertainty throughout the industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman say that he wants to have another MFA and then argue about the details? At least that will settle the principle.

In Opposition I supported the right hon. Gentleman's Government when they negotiated the MFA. Nothing that I have ever said would suggest that I do not support the arrangement. However, the bilaterals still have nearly another three years to run and the MFA has two years to run. At the moment, there is nothing to negotiate about.

Second-Hand Cars

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he has considered the suggestions of the Office of Fair Trading for dealing with the fraudulent practice of second-hand car salesmen who misrepresent the mileage to the detriment of the consumer.

The director general is now considering the comments of interested parties on his consultative paper. I shall await his report with interest, since I share my hon. Friend's anxiety about mal-practices in the used car trade.

I understand that there must be consultations, but, in view of the widespread practices that they are designed to try to deal with, can my hon. Friend give any indication of how long he thinks the consultations may take?

I cannot be specific, but the report is expected soon and we shall certainly give urgent attention to the director general's recommendations.

Airports Policy

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what representations he has received since his statement on airports policy.

Following the statement by my right hon. Friend on 17 December, my Department has received about 100 letters concerning airports policy.

Will my hon. Friend take early action to assist those people whose properties have been blighted by the Government's decision and which run the risk of being blighted for perhaps another two years until the public inquiry has been completed? Does he agree that some people have been placed in a most unfortunate position and that there ought to be some help from the Government in the meantime?

The best help that can be given to such people is to get the inquiry over, so that the result is known one way or the other, as soon as possible. As my right hon. Friend said on 17 December, it is our aim that owners of property that will be required for the development should have the opportunity of selling to the British Airports Authority at an unblighted price. We are considering how that could be achieved, but it is a matter that will be relevant after the inquiry, rather than before it.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people who were prepared to support a moderate increase in traffic at Stansted believe that the Government's decision is disastrous, since it provides for a much greater expansion? Is there any possibility that, even after the inquiry, the Government will consider carefully the possibility of putting a ceiling on the development of Stansted, at something like 4 million passengers a year?

I understand well enough the problems faced by the constituents of the hon. Member and of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), but the hon. Gentleman is asking that we should abandon the policy that we have put to the House and find another site for an airfield, in which case, no doubt, we would find just as many hon. Members and local residents saying "Please take it somewhere else".

As 1½ million people live under the noise shadow of Heathrow, will the Government definitely stand by the decision announced on 17 December not to permit the construction of a fifth terminal at Heathrow, despite the campaigns to the contrary by British Airways, the Civil Aviation Authority and other interests?

We have heard all those arguments. We heard them before we came to our conclusion that it would not be right to go ahead with a fifth terminal. Nothing that we have heard in the 100 or so letters that we have had since then causes us to change our minds.

World Commodities Centre

22.

asked the Secretary of Trade whether there have been any further developments concerning the proposed world commodities centre: and if he will make a statement.

The Government have decided that, in view of the need for further reductions in public expenditure, they cannot provide finance for the building of new premises in London for the existing commodity organisations already established here and the associated conference centre. The Government are still prepared to consider any future proposal for establishing the common fund in London.

Is that not a rather shortsighted decision? Is my hon. Friend aware that it places in jeopardy the continued presence of those commodity organisations already in the United Kingdom? Does he not think that a world commodities centre in the United Kingdom would be a good investment and a good way of spending the revenue from North Sea oil?

I know that my hon. Friend has put a great deal of work into the proposal, but the cost to the Government would be considerable and all that we would have would be new offices for the existing organisations and a place to hold conferences. The cost to the taxpayer would be considerable and would involve a running subsidy of at least £1 million a year in addition to the capital cost. That simply could not be afforded.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that other Governments think it worth while, in their national interest, to offer considerable inducements to the establishment of such centres and to enable commodity associations to be centred in their capitals? Does he not recognise that there would be a considerable benefit to our balance of payments from such a centre?

When the Government came to power we inherited a borrowing requirement which was too large and a public expenditure programme which was out of control. There are many desirable projects which we might like to have but which we simply cannot afford.

Provincial Airports

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what assessment he has made of the extra employment opportunities which result from the operation of provincial airports.

I have not made such an assessment. However, air transport is a flourishing sector of the economy which is likely to offer valuable new employment opportunities in the future. This is one of the considerations the Government had in mind in deciding to encourage the growth of traffic at provincial airports

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that the abolition of categories A, B and C for airports would give even more employment opportunities, especially at provincial airports?

I am not sure that my hon. Friend is right. It is vital that we get at least one major international gateway airport firmly established outside the South-East of England. In my view, that airport must be Manchester, and, therefore, we should do everything that we can to encourage that airport to offer a full range of services to all destinations in the world.

Is the Minister aware that, because of the high and unacceptable rate of unemployment in the Liverpool and Merseyside areas, some development of Liverpool airport could bring some advantages to those leaving school and looking for jobs?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and that is why I have been pleased that Liverpool has developed to such a great extent in the past year and has been so successful in attracting a wide range of traffic. One contributing factor to the improvement of services, and the improvement of employment, is that there is now a private enterprise airline improving the service that, regrettably, our nationalised airline felt it had to give up.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of passengers passing through Liverpool airport has doubled in the past year? Is he further aware that there is more freight passing through Liverpool than through Stanstead? Will he upgrade the airport from C to B category and allow private enterprise to move ahead?

My hon. Friend quotes impressive figures. I have to remind him that during part of that period there were extensive runway repairs at Manchester which forced traffic away from that airport. None the less, it was a creditable achievement. We shall do what we can to help Liverpool to expand but, basically, it is a matter of whether the traffic wishes to go there, rather than whether we can push it there.