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Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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European Economic Community (Council Of Ministers)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects to meet his European Economic Community colleagues.

The next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council will be on 17–18 March and either my hon. Friend or I will attend.

When the Minister attends the meeting with his EEC colleagues, will he explain to them that the arguments in favour of protecting certain key British industries by means of selective import controls are growing apace? Will he emphasise that unless those arguments are recognised, grave consequences will follow that will affect the future of the EEC?

The arguments for selective import controls are not growing apace, although the demand may be increasing.

When my right hon. Friend sees his colleagues in the Community, will he mention the unfairness that arises from Britain's contribution to the European development fund? Will he bear in mind that Britain contributes 18 per cent. of the fund in return for 7 per cent. of the contracts, while the French contribute 18 per cent. but succeed in obtaining more than 30 per cent. of the contracts.

I think that perhaps that question should be answered by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, I shall endeavour to answer it. The distribution of the European development fund is very unsatisfactory. We receive about half of the amount that we put in. The French receive double, and the Germans come out about neutral. I am unhappy about the way in which the funds are deployed. However, in the last resort British industry must bid for those funds as part of its export effort. I agree with the sentiments behind my hon. Friend's remark.

Has the Secretary of State noticed that even The Guardian, with its liberal traditions, has come out more or less in favour of some form of import control for manufacturing industry? Is it not true that if there is to be any long-term future for our manufacturing base some form of selective import control is vital?

I would not necessarily define the sentiments expressed by The Guardian as "liberal". Some of its sentiments are illiberal. To a certain extent liberalism stems from the Manchester school I am not sure that all the attitudes expressed by The Guardian stem from that. Selective import controls do not have anything to offer this country. About one-third of our GNP is derived from exports. We should not follow the route of selective import controls.

When my right hon. Friend meets his European colleagues, will he bear in mind the incontestable fact that in 1970 we had a surplus of £150 million in trade on manufactured goods, but that last year we had a deficit of £2½ billion? Does he not agree that whoever may be benefiting from this trade, it certainly is not us?

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the European Community. We expanded our exports to the EEC last year at approximately double the rate at which we expanded exports to the rest of the world. That is a useful achievement. Trade is multilateral. Of course, we shall have deficits with some parts of the world and surpluses with others. We must improve our performance with our trading partners in the EEC.

Advertising And Price (Relationship)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what conclusions emerged from the study initiated by the last Administration and the Advertising Association into the relationship between advertising and price.

The Advertising Association commissioned and published a study on advertising and price in May 1979, which has now been largely overtaken by the proposals in the Competition Bill for strengthening competition and reducing Government intervention.

Does my hon. Friend agree that investment in advertising is no different in principle from investment in production and distribution? Does he further agree that goods and services can benefit their producers only when they are sold, and that advertising is therefore an important and often essential part of that process?

My hon. Friend is right in many cases. Advertising may well play an important part in increasing competitiveness. That is not to say that all advertising is either effective or good, but it should not necessarily be seen as bad.

Advertising Control


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what action he intends to take in the light of the working party's report on advertising control.

My right hon. Friend is considering carefully the domestic, international and legal implications of the report's recommendations in consultation with interested ministerial colleagues.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the principle of self-regulatory control in advertising is probably good? Is he certain that there is a need to alter the present practice, apart from the requirement to comply with a particularly meddlesome EEC directive? Why do we not merely veto it?

I am not certain that we need to alter the self-regulatory control arrangements in the United Kingdom. The report's principal recommendations claim to strengthen and maintain the ASA arrangements rather than undermine them. We shall consider the report carefully, but we have no intention of moving suddenly to the projected European system of heavy-handed statutory control.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in essence, all the recommendations are for a statutory back-up of the self-regulatory system? Will he accept that we could easily accommodate the domestic demand for a back-up system and an amended directive in the same piece of legislation? Will that be forthcoming in the next Session?

As I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), we are considering the implications of the report. The hon. Gentleman is correct. It would be possible to consider the Commission's proposals' which can be reconciled with the present United Kingdom legal and institutional arrangements in advertising in the light of a statutory back-up to the ASA approach, and we are doing that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the report essentially gives a clean bill of health to the self-regulatory system of the advertising industry and that the proposals for change are quite slight? Will he inform the House of the cost of the working party and the report?

I cannot tell my hon. Friend how much it cost. He is correct that, in general, the report is not excessively critical of the present position, although, as ever, there may be room for improvement. I shall try to discover a clear figure for the cost and let my hon. Friend know.

Market Entry Guarantee Scheme

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the total sum the British Overseas Trade Board has agreed to contribute towards eligible costs under the market entry guarantee scheme; how much of this has been recovered; and what proportion of the difference he estimates will be recovered in future years.

As at 29 February the British Overseas Trade Board has agreed to advance up to £3·5 million under the market entry guarantee scheme to help finance eligible overhead costs associated with ventures to develop export markets. So far £915,000 has been paid out and £188,000 recovered in levy and guarantee payments. I am hopeful that the balance will be recovered in due course.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but can he indicate to the House when he expects to be in a position to make an announcement about the long-term future of the scheme? Does he accept that it is a valuable weapon in our fight to win export orders, and that the relatively slight cost is even smaller when compared with the export support given to competing industries in other developed countries?

I believe that my hon. Friend is right. It is a valuable scheme. As he knows, the Government's entire export promotion services are under investigation. We hope to make an announcement about the future of the scheme in the very near future.

Import Controls


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will consult the Trades Union Congress about the necessity to regulate imports into the United Kingdom.

I am always willing to have discussions with the TUC, but there is no question of introducing any general regulation of imports into the United Kingdom.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the majority of trade unions in manufacturing industry conclude that it is necessary to introduce a planned regulation of world trade in order to increase its volume? Is he further aware that if the Government refuse to intervene the trade unions will be compelled to take action, because of the rate of destruction of jobs in the country, and introduce selective industrial embargoes on certain goods coming into the country? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer and introduce planned regulations in order not to force trade unions to take action?

I am not sure how the hon. Gentleman or the TUC will set about planning world trade, as he puts it, from London. The selective controls which the hon. Gentleman mentions would put up prices and thereby raise costs. They would divert goods from the export market to the home market, which would damage our balance of payments. If they succeeded, which I do not believe they would, they would further strengthen the pound and erode profit margins. They would also provoke retaliation from other countries. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's proposed policy stands up to serious argument.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I agree with all the arguments that he put forward and believe that the suggestions of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) are lunatic and self-defeating? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the American response to tentative efforts by the EEC over synthetic fibres indicates the dangers of retaliation, even among allied nations?

As I understand it, Labour Members are advancing the argument that we should identify core industries and impose controls to protect them. The single greatest core industry in this country is food, but I understand that the Labour Party and the TUC want a completely open market there. Apart from anything else, the proposed policy is not consistent.

With regard to synthetic fibres, we have throughout said that we believe in the open trading system. However, where there is a sudden surge of imports which come within article 19 of the GATT we are prepared to act, which is what we did for two textile products.

Is the Secretary of State aware that a most effective way of limiting manufactured imports is to have a realistic exchange rate so that the price is increased and not reduced, as appears to be the Government's policy? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the main argument that the Government use for not intervening in the exchange rate market is that it would affect monetary aggregates? Will he accept that a high price is being paid by British industry to maintain our monetary position?

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) wishes to plan world trade and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) wishes to plan international exchange rates. In my view, there is no way in which the Government, at present, could successfully hold down the price of sterling, which I understand is what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting, for anything more than a short time. Such a policy would be utterly self-defeating.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most business men would agree that putting a great barrier around this country would in no way make industry more efficient? However, will my right hon. Friend make certain that imports are not dumped? Will he look into the question of black and white television sets from Thailand, which are virtually being dumped?

I entirely agree that we we must act vigorously through the EEC Commission wherever dumping arises. This is now under the direct authority of the Community, but we must give every assistance that we can to as speedy action as possible under the regulations set out in the GATT.

I followed my hon. Friend's question about monochrome sets from Thailand. I am aware of the suggestion that about 200,000 such sets are about to arrive. However, this is a prediction of what one firm in Thailand might do, and so far it has not done so. The sets have not appeared yet, but we shall investigate the danger of their coming here.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he spent months attempting to get a Community solution to the problem of unfair trading in textiles by the United States and ended up by getting pathetic quotas? For example, for nylon carpet yarn the quotas were 30 per cent. higher in 1980 than the total imports of 1979 which he considered disruptive. Is that the way to protect British trading interests?

In my view, the quota for nylon carpet yarn was appropriate to the circumstances. In settling the quota I was particularly concerned not to damage the downstream carpet industry. Had we set those quotas too low it might have helped those who were producing nylon yarn, but it would have damaged an even greater number of firms which were producing the downstream products—the carpets themselves. Therefore, in employment terms there was an argument for a relatively high, rather than a very low quota.

Price Commission


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects next to meet the chairman of the Price Commission.

In view of the various economic reports published today predicting further increases in the rate of inflation to well over 20 per cent., and in view of the growing number of people within the Tory Party itself, and even within the Cabinet who are beginning to realise that extreme doctrinaire monetarism is not the cure for inflation, will the Government, even at this late date, abandon their plans to abolish the Price Commission, because people are calling for more price control, not less?

The hon. Member is obsessed with the Price Commission, which has only a few weeks of life left. I would gladly make him the chairman of the Price Commission if it were in my power to do so.

On the serious point, I am not sure what some of the forecasters are proposing. I read today that some were recommending measured reflation. I am not sure what that means in present circumstances. There are only two questions to be asked at present: first, can we finance the deficit without intolerably high interest rates; secondly, is private sector credit growing too fast in relation to output? Those are simple questions, and the answers to both will be given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement.

Does the Secretary of State consider that Government changes in competition policy have had or will have an effect on the level of prices?

I hope that the Competition Bill will have some marginal influence on prices, but I have never made any claim that it will transform our economic environment, unlike Labour Members, who claimed that the Price Commission would substantially change the course of inflation. The hon. Member is confusing the symptoms of inflation with its causes.

My right hon. Friend has posed two questions, may I put a third? How does he think that a 17 per cent. minimum lending rate has helped to contain inflation?

My right hon. and learned Friend must understand that when the Government inherited a prospective borrowing requirement of £11·5 billion—which we succeeded in bringing down to a prospective requirement of £8·5 billion—we inherited a substantial deficit which we had to finance in a non-inflationary way. Interest rates will have to be at whatever level is necessary to finance that deficit.

Will the Secretary of State answer a fourth question, and tell us what very high rates of VAT do to inflation?

High rates of VAT have nothing whatever to do with inflation. The rate of VAT, which was increased by the Chancellor in his first Budget, was offset by an equal reduction in income tax. Therefore, the rate of VAT has nothing whatever to do with inflation.

Companies (Winding-Up Procedure)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will investigate means of simplifying the winding-up procedure and the conversion of companies into unincorporated bodies in order to assist smaller companies.

The Insolvency Review Committee has been asked to consider possible less formal procedures as alternatives to company winding-up proceedings in appropriate circumstances. I await its report with interest.

Will my hon. Friend consult the Chancellor to see whether there is a means of reducing the tax disadvantages of taking such action?

Yes, of course. Consultations of that kind go on constantly. I note that my hon. Friend is concerned about the position of small businesses, and in that connection I draw his attention to the Green Paper on company accounting and disclosures, published last year. There are a number of helpful proposals in that, and we are now studying the comments on those proposals with the aim of preparing legislation for next Session.

As the Minister has said previously that he hopes to receive the Cork report by the end of this year, can he predict when he hopes to introduce legislation to reform the insolvency law? Is it likely to be in this Parliament?

Our intention is that it will be within the lifetime of this Parliament. The hon. Member is right in saying that the Cork report is expected towards the end of this year, and we are anxious to bring forward legislation as soon as possible thereafter.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the winding-up procedure of companies and bankruptcy petitions are multiplied these days because of the failure of the normal debt-collecting process? Will he take that into account in any consideration to reform winding-up and bankruptcy proceedings?

Certainly I shall take account of the points that my hon. and learned Friend makes. I know that he is aware that responsibility for the debt-collecting procedures which are followed through the courts is that of the Lord Chancellor.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the progress currently being made towards metrication.

Yes. The voluntary approach will enable industries to complete the change to metric working as and when it is most appropriate for them to do so.

Does the Minister agree that the lack of decisiveness on the part of the Government means that we are having the worst of both worlds? Does he not realise that we shall be half metric and half non-metric for years to come, and that, except for the schools that have changed to metric working, we shall have a mixed system? Do the Government really want to go down in history as the first Government who tried to work out how many centimetres there were in a rod, pole or perch?

The Government's policy is clear. There is no impediment to any firm changing to metric working when it chooses. That decision is a matter for its commercial judgment, taking estimated costs and benefits into account. Costs are often critically dependent on the timetable adopted, because machines, equipment and working practices have to be altered or scrapped.

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall keep the pint, the yard and the mile?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that Parliament need not make further decisions on these important matters until 1989.

Does not industry take the view that a voluntary change to metrication is best accompanied by an order made by the Government, with the agreement of industry and consumers setting a date so that the whole of trade or industry can work together towards an orderly and planned change?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is necessary for industry itself to agree that date. As I understand it, there is no legal impediment to prevent industry from coming forward with voluntary proposals, choosing whatever date it wishes to adopt.

Does that mean that if industry agrees a date the Government will make the appropriate order?

If there is agreement, and if industry works within that agreement, that will solve the problem.

Steel Imports


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what tonnage of (a) bulk steel and (b) special steel was imported in the first six weeks of this year; and from which countries.

Statistics of overseas trade are compiled on a monthly basis. In January 24,000 tonnes of alloy steel and 233,000 tonnes of other steel were imported. Details by country are not yet available.

Does not the Minister realise that the importation of these steels at a time when massive closures in the steel industry are under way—53,000 men are to lose their jobs—is causing an attitude of embittered determination by the steelworkers to continue with the strike? Will he, together with his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, intervene and put more money on the table? If he had seen the massive demonstrations in Rotherham and Sheffield yesterday he would realise how intense is the strike and the determination of the steelworkers to achieve 20 per cent., with no strings attached.

The United Kingdom is, traditionally, a net exporter of steel. In 1979 the export of surplus steel amounted to 637,000 tonnes. The result of the present dispute, which I deplore as much as the hon. Gentleman does, is that imports are now bound to increase, and exports will suffer. The dispute has done no good for anybody working in the industry.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the leaders of the unions in the steel industry that there is enough money on the table to justify a settlement of the strike? Will he make it clear also that if they do not settle the strike imports will increase and those selling the imports to Britain will achieve a firm market here, which will have disastrous consequences for the industry and the workers?

I am tempted to be drawn into a debate on the matter, but there are enough people trying to solve the steel dispute without my intervening in the responsibilities of the BSC and the unions involved. Much as I should like to debate the matter with my hon. Friend, it would not help the present position if I were to do so.

Is the Minister aware that many steel stockholders, especially importing stockholders, are demanding particularly aggressive terms from buying manufacturing industry? Is he aware that in some cases they are demanding a price which has risen by as much as 20 per cent. to 25 per cent., and are demanding also that contracts are signed for a year's supply? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the result will be heavy imports? Does he not feel that he should intervene and ask those stockholders to operate in the national interest, as everyone else is trying to do?

I am afraid that the shortage of supply of a product normally tends to raise its price. That is not an unusual thing to happen. There is no evidence that there has been, to use the hon. Gentleman's expression, any profiteering by the steel stockholders at the present time. If there is a shortage of a product, one would naturally expect its price to rise.

Leaving aside the industrial relations aspects, will not the only economic result of a continuance of the strike be to make British industry less competitive increase imports, and decrease the numbers working in the industry?

I fear that the result of the dispute will lead to lower exports in the immediate future, which will inevitably lead to higher imports. That cannot be avoided.

Merger Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects to publish his new proposals on merger policy.

The Government are committed to a strong and effective competition policy. It is too soon to say whether this requires any changes in the legislation on mergers.

May we take it that the referral of Blue Circle's bid for Armitage Shanks to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is a signal from my right hon. Friend that he recognises that the British economy tends to be over-concentrated, that the urge to merge in recent years has not always shown unquestionable benefits, and that the policy which tended to encourage small but more competitive companies might, in many cases, be preferable?

Some of those features may have led to the recommendation to me by the Director General of Fair Trading for a reference to the Monopolies Commission. I must make it clear that my powers enable me to overturn a recommendation by the Director General, but I seek not to do that unless there are overriding political reasons for so doing. In this case the Director General recommended that the case should be referred to the Monopolies Commission, and I saw no overriding political reason why I should interfere with that recommendation.

In view of the Secretary of State's earlier admission that the Government's policy on competition will have only a marginal effect on the level of prices, will he stop indicating to the British people that competition is an effective means of holding down prices? Will he seek to strengthen competition policy from the steps that he has announced already, to make it more effective?

The principal new element in the Competition Bill, a firmer policy on anti-competitive practices, is one which, interestingly enough, stems from the now Opposition's Green Paper, which no doubt the hon. Gentleman helped to draft. I expect him to welcome the new Bill. I am making no brave prophecies for the Bill. We wish to build up and strengthen competition policy. We shall proceed step by step. I shall not make any brave, great prophecies for it. I believe that the measures contained in the Bill will prove helpful.

Dyestuffs (Imports)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the European Community agreement with the Republic of China, which will allow dyestuffs to be imported without duty.

China was admitted to the European Communities generalised scheme of preferences on 1 January this year. The duty-free treatment which as a result is enjoyed by industrial goods imported from China is subject in the case of some products to limitations. United Kingdom industry was consulted when these limitations were under discussion, but dyestuffs were not then mentioned as a sensitive area. It would be open to us to seek to have a ceiling applied to duty-free imports of the dyestuffs concerned, and we are in touch with the United Kingdom industry to see whether there is a case for action.

Is the Minister aware that that statement will be welcomed if it is an earnest of good intention? Is he aware also that many manufacturers in my constituency wish me to ask him to ensure that early action is taken to prevent yet another sector of the textile industry from being hit? Many people in West Yorkshire believe that the Department of Trade is helping the problem not one whit in any areas of the textile industry.

The hon. Gentleman's rather general assertion is not borne out by my experience when I vistited Yorkshire a week ago and spoke to those in the industry. However, there is a possibility of action now that the problem has been brought to our attention. When the chemical industry was consulted before the agreement was reached, no mention was made of dyestuffs.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent representations he has received about trade with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

I have received representations both supporting and opposing the development of trade with the Soviet Union. The Government will continue to encourage mutually beneficial trade between our two countries.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the imbalance of trade between our two countries is running at a proportion of 2:1, with a deficit for us of £400 million annually? Does he not think that the Government ought to promote more energetic policies to balance our trade and that the matter assumes a political significance if we are ever to make an effective response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan?

We should like to see the imbalance in our trade reduced, and we are taking steps to encourage our exporters to seek mutually beneficial commercial opportunities for themselves. However, many of the things that we buy from Russia, such as diamonds, are subsequently resold and exported, and therefore the bare figures are slightly misleading.

If it is the Government's policy to encourage exports to the Soviet Union, what is the logic of saying to our athletes "But you cannot go"?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has listened carefully to the arguments. We believe that the Olympic Games are a gigantic political publicity act, and we do not believe that British athletes should take part in propagating the few attractive features of a country which invades others without cause.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable tonnage of chromium and chromium oxide that we import from the Soviet Union and of the considerable reserves of that mineral in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia? Will he assure us that he will encourage trade in that mineral with Zimbabwe-Rhodesia rather than with the Soviet Union?

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall seek to promote trade with Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in every way open to us.

Is it not sheer hypocrisy for the Government to talk about encouraging trade with the Soviet Union and, at the same time, to try to discourage athletes from going to Moscow? Would it not be better for the Government to abandon the pressure which they are bringing to bear on athletes and, if we are to encourage trade at the same time, to say that they ought to go? If the Minister's argument is that we should not go to the Moscow Olympics because Russia has invaded Afganistan, will he confirm that most countries which go to the Olympics have supported invasions of one sort or another?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman listened to my reply about mutually beneficial trade. Perhaps he will be able to tell me later what is mutually beneficial about going to the Olympic Games and taking part in a gigantic propaganda exercise.

Will the Minister recall how he and his colleagues pontificated, when in opposition, about the disgraceful share of bilateral trade carried in British ships between the Soviet Union and this country? What have his Government done about that? Perhaps he would like to take instructions.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, any action on that front would have to be EEC-wide in order to be effective, and we are pressing for such EEC action.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the situation regarding imports and exports between this country and the Soviet Union? Bearing in mind that what I have said before about Russian Christmas cards applies now to the greetings card industry as a whole, is my hon. Friend aware that hon. Members on both sides recognise the difficulties posed by the continual dumping of Russian greetings cards throughout the year?

I only hope that my hon. Friend received at Christmas the number of greetings cards to which his efforts on behalf of the industry would entitle him. He has brought a problem to our attention, and he knows that we are looking into the possibility of anti-dumping action.

European Economic Community


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the present balance of trade between the United Kingdom and the European Economic Community.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the development of United Kingdom manufactured exports to the other European Economic Community countries in the last six months.

No, Sir. I look for improvement in our trade performance with the European Community in both manufactured goods and overall.

Since the balance of our trade with the EEC can hardly be called "mutually beneficial"—to use the Minister's own words—because it is overwhelmingly in favour of the EEC, will he undertake to draw the attention of his right hon. Friends in the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who are engaged in negotiations with the EEC to this important bargaining counter for use by us in those negotiations?

From time to time the hon. Gentleman should put aside his anti-EEC prejudices and look at the facts. Our exports to the EEC last year amounted to £18,000 million. Our exports of manufactures grew by 21 per cent. last year—far faster with the EEC than with any other part of the world. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we would help ourselves by cutting ourselves off from those markets?

Would my hon. Friend think it prudent to ask his officials to start a formal investigation into trading alternatives to the EEC for the United Kingdom, because if the rest of the countries prove to be as intransigent as the French are at present, we may need those alternatives?

That would be a fairly fruitless exercise. We do 42 per cent. of all our trade with the EEC, and searching around for trading partners to replace that 42 per cent. would seem to me to be a waste of time. We should concentrate on improving our own performance.

Does not the Minister recognise that while this massive imbalance in the import and export of manufactured goods between this country and the EEC continues we are, in effect, financing the modernisation of French German and Italian industries from North Sea oil?

The hon. Gentleman's thought processes always intrigue me, and his assertion is a particularly interesting production of those unusual thought processes.

Holiday Caravan Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement about the code of practice being negotiated with the holiday caravan industry.

My right hon. Friend is awaiting the reactions of the site operators to the changes which she has suggested to the draft code of practice. Meanwhile, as my hon. Friend may be aware, Government amendments to the Competition Bill which have been accepted in the other place will extend the provisions of the Competition Bill and of the Fair Trading Act to holiday caravan sites.

What steps does my hon. Friend propose to take about some of the malpractices on caravan sites and similar places of which the general public complain?

As I explained, a draft code of practice has been put by the trade to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs. She, in turn, has suggested changes that might be made to deal with the complaints. The ball is in the court of the trade, and I hope that we shall shortly receive its proposals. In the meantime, the Competition Bill will extend the rights of customers on caravan sites.

Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Director General of Fair Trading to investigate some of the worst practices when the Competition Bill becomes law?

We have not yet arrived at that point, but certainly my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. However, I think that it would be best to wait until the Bill becomes law.

Exports And Imports


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the value of exports from and imports into the United Kingdom in the most recent month for which figures are available.

In January 1980 exports from the United Kingdom were valued at £3,879 million and imports into the United Kingdom at £4,225 million.

Does my hon. Friend agree that exports would have been much higher and imports much lower if the exchange rate of sterling had been more realistic? Has he drawn the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the damage that is being done to British trade by the current high level of the exchange rate?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that point earlier when he pointed out that one must get out of the habit of thinking that the Government can fine-tune exchange rates. The rate of exchange, and the level at which it stands, is not within the gift of the Government.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the past week 630 workers in North-East Lancashire have lost their jobs because of the crazy exchange rate policies being pursued by the Government and their abject failure to impose proper protection against low-cost imports and imports from the United States against our textile industry? Is the Secretary of State willing to take further action to give proper protection to our vital industry?

The textile industry receives far more protection than any other. A total of 95 per cent. of all imports from low-cost countries arrive under quota and are closely controlled. On the exchange rate, I think that the hon. Gentleman is grossly oversimplifying, as he usually does, the causes of the decline of the business to which he refers.

Will my hon. Friend indicate to the House what effect he thinks a 17 per cent. minimum lending rate has on the exchange rate?

Very little, indeed. What the 17 per cent. interest rate reflects is the fact that we have a high inflation rate and that if money is not to be lent by depositors to banks at an unfair rate of return and borrowed at a low rate of interest which does not reflect its real value, changing that circumstance would not help at all.

This is a very revealing day for Ministers in the Department of Trade to display their ignorance about the economic consequences of their policies. Will the Minister explain how British exports can possibly succeed when the exchange rate is so high, buoyed up by North Sea oil and not by underlying productivity? Is it not open to the Government to influence exchange rate policy so that our exporters get a reasonable chance in world markets?

The right hon. Gentleman learnt little during his time at the Department. He obviously never studied the performance of Switzerland, Germany and Japan, which, against a background of a firm, high exchange rate, contrived to improve their productivity their competitiveness and their industrial performance.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order relating to trade questions.

If the hon. Gentleman's point of order relates to his question being transferred, will he wait until the end of Question Time? I shall allow one minute extra for questions to the Lord Privy Seal.