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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 984: debated on Monday 12 May 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

First, I remind hon. Members that those who are called for supplementary questions should ask only one question. Ministers need not feel obliged to answer more than one. Secondly, it is quite unfair for an hon. Member to try to argue a case put forward as a supplementary question, because that changes the whole character of Question Time.




asked the Secretary of State for Trade, what is the United Kingdom's likely balance of trade with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics over the next 12 months.

In the 12 months ended March 1980, the crude deficit on trade with the Soviet Union was £418 million. The development of trade over the next 12 months depends on commercial and other factors which I am not in a position to forecast.

When the Minister referred to "other factors" was he referring to the treatment of minorities by the Soviet Union, and to cases such as the awful tragedy of the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who disappeared? For the last 17 years the Soviets have refused to speak about him or reveal his whereabouts.

The hon. and learned Member has earned himself the reputation of being "the scourge of the Soviets". On this occasion I join him in deploring this appalling incident. As long as the Russians continue to persecute their minorities, as they have, they will continue to have criticism heaped upon them which they deserve.

Does the pound sterling float against the rouble? If not, how is its value determined?

I would have welcomed notice of that question. If the right hon. Gentleman puts it on the Order Paper I shall make arrangements to answer it.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the imbalance of trade between this country and Russia has been consistently to the advantage of the Russians? Are there not good political and economic reasons why that imbalance should be reduced, if not eliminated?

The crude trade figures are a little misleading. About 80 per cent. of our imports from the Soviet Union are of raw materials and a substantial proportion of those are subsequently re-exported by us at a profit. It would probably damage us more than the Soviet Union if we were to act as my hon. Friend suggests.

Would it not help our trade deficit, crude and otherwise, if manufactured goods from the Soviet Union bore the clear mark of their country of origin? Is the Minister aware that I have recently written to his right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister for Consumer Affairs drawing attention to Russian-produced greeting and Christmas cards which are dumped in this country to the severe disadvantage of a firm in my constituency?

We are helping the printing industry to mount an anti-dumping action in this case In fact a couple of weeks ago I wrote to the industry and urged it to get a move on and produce evidence. I offered the services of the Government. We are also looking at the question of origin marking of those cards.

Safety Of Life At Sea Convention


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the requirements of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention to come into force.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 will enter into force on 25 May, and represents an important step forward in our continuing endeavours, nationally and internationally, to promote maritime safety.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the risks which communities such as Canvey Island, with its heavy concentration of high risk industry on the waterfront, face from unsafe vessels carrying hazardous cargoes and from bad navigation practices? Is he aware of our anxiety about delays in fully implementing conventions of this kind? By what date can we be completely assured of the banning of tankers, not fitted with inert gas systems, from ports such as London?

I could hardly be unaware of the anxieties about Canvey Island while my hon. Friend is a Member of this House. He constantly brings them to my attention. I said on 24 April that we will introduce the convention on inert gas system requirements for foreign ships earlier than would be required by the 1974 convention. I assure him that we are taking a lead in introducing requirements for the special qualification for the masters and officers of such vessels because of the very dangers to which he draws our attention.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answers on both counts are satisfactory to the Opposition? Is he also aware that about one-third of total losses relate to ships that are less than 10 years old? Can he give us some indication of the timetable that he envisages for the ratification and coming into effect of the convention on training, certification and watch-keeping? There is deep concern about inadequate international standards of management and crewing.

That will not be an easy matter, but, in line with the conventions, the United Kingdom will be introducing new certification requirements in 1981 and I hope that other countries will rapidly follow our example. I am encouraged by the fact that these measures have the support of both sides of the House.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many United Kingdom firms have won contracts with Iran in fair and open competition with firms in all parts of the world; how many of those firms would be affected if Her Majesty's Government decided to apply econnomic sanctions against Iran; and how many workers he estimates would lose their jobs as a result of such sanctions being implemented.

The effort of sanctions would depend on their precise scope and on the extent to which exports to Iran can be diverted to other markets.

Is the Minister aware that President Carter has lifted the ban on the export of United States-produced wheat to the Soviet Union? Is he also aware that if we apply sanctions against Iran it is possible that American firms will be waiting to jump in and capture our markets?

The hon. Gentleman's concern is unnecessary, because we shall be moving in concert with the Americans on sanctions against Iran. Any trade banned to us will certainly be banned to them.

My hon. Friend is well aware that we are taking sanctions to help the United States—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must put his remarks in the form of a question.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we are taking sanctions to help the United States and that today the Americans have said that they intend to impose sanctions against 30 British products? Will those products be excluded from our list of products on which the sanctions against Iran are to be imposed?

I think that my hon. Friend is confusing two separate issues. One is the American retaliation as a result of our action against their synthetic fibres. The other is the question of possible sanctions against Iran. The House has to discuss later today the enabling measure for sanctions and perhaps that will be a more sensible occasion on which to deal with such details.

Does not the Minister thing it a piece of effrontery on the part of the Government to introduce sanctions, since those who carried on illegal trading with Rhodesia were not only not prosecuted but were relieved of all fears that they would ever be prosecuted? In view of that, are not the proposed sanctions on Iran a complete charade?

I never thought that I would live to see the day when the right hon. Gentleman became a mere echo of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who raised that point in the House last week.

Air Traffic Control Radar Systems


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether a decision has been made on the acquisition of a new radar for the Civil Aviation Authority; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he now expects the Civil Aviation Authority to come to a decision on the purchase of a new radar system for air traffic control.

The Civil Aviation Authority announced its decision on 2 May 1980. The CAA radar replacement scheme is expected to cost some £24·5 million and Cossor Marconi from Britain, and HSA of the Netherlands have won significant electronic contracts whilst AEG Telefunken will provide aerials and turning gear. More than half of the value of the whole project will be spent in the United Kingdom, including, I expect, half of the HSA contract.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the American firm Westinghouse which was, at one time, boasting that it had the contract sewn up, was eliminated from the competition because its offer was found to be seriously misleading? If that is so, will he make sure that those facts are known to every other British authority that may be contemplating a purchase from that company?

My hon. Friend is right to say that Westinghouse appeared at one time to be the front runner for the contract, but on closer examination it was found that the capabilities of the equipment on offer fell far short of the claims of the company's salesmen and produced a lower performance than the equipment offered by HSA, which was also offered at a lower price. I am sure that the lesson will be learnt by other prospective customers.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the CAA decision will cause much disappointment to the Marconi-Plessey group? Can he confirm that the price quoted by that group was competitive against that of Hollandse Signaal and that the group's specification for the equipment was just what the CAA required?

I should prefer not to go into the details of pricing and specifications, not least because it would not be in the best interests of any of the contenders concerned. The prime reason why the contract went abroad was that the CAA was not able to convince itself that British equipment could be delivered on time. I hope that those who are engaged in supporting the buffoonery in industry that is proposed for Wednesday will remember that such idiocy can only damage the chances of British industry.

Does my hon. Friend not find it rather sad that no British company can strike a deal with the CAA on the radar replacement? Does not that perhaps call for an overhaul of the working arrangements between the CAA and industry?

I am sure that the arrangements can be improved, but it is not true to say that the CAA has not been able to buy from British industry. Cossor and Marconi are extensive suppliers. Equally, if one were a Dutchman, one might think it a pity that Marconi gets the contracts for communications equipment for the Dutch Navy and that Ferranti gets the contracts for their airborne radar.

Is not the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the workers involved in British industry carry the responsibility for the fact that the contract did not go to a British company entirely disgraceful? Is not the idiocv of the Government in dismantling British industry and putting more and more people out of work the cardinal sin being committed in this country?

I am not blaming the loss of the contract with the CAA on events that have not yet taken place, but at a time when the prime criticism of our exports is that they are not delivered on time, I regard it as a combination of Luddism, idiocy and buffoonery further to delay British industry in support of an idiotic political gesture on Wednesday.

Will the Minister have a care in his remarks, because he indicated in the body of his main reply that a substantial amount of the equipment and labour concerned will be provided from the United Kingdom and, in particular, from my constituency?

I am delighted that that is so and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will advise the workers in his constituency that it is in their best interests to keep at work and to make sure that the equipment is delivered on time.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will take action to ensure that in practice United Kingdom exports to Japan are treated no less favourably than Japanese exports to the United Kingdom.

We will continue to press, directly and through the European Commission, for removal of obstacles which concern British exporters and for the further opening up of the Japanese market to United Kingdom exports.

Since the trade gap between Britain and Japan continues to widen, so that the Japanese are exporting to us more than £2 of goods for every £1 worth that we send to them, and since exhortation of the sort that the Secretary of State tried in Tokyo in January appears no longer to be working, is it not time for the Government to get tough with the Japanese and to impose countervailing duties and non-tariff barriers until the Japanese start to play fair in world trade markets?

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's diagnosis of the situation. Our exports to Japan are not growing as quickly as we should like, though they amount to more than £600 million and are not to be written off lightly. In addition to exhortation, we have arrangements which, in one way or another, already control more than one-third of Japan's exports to this country.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Japanese car industry voluntarily limited exports of cars to this country and that those who took advantage were Continental manufacturers rather than British manufacturers? Will he confirm that many of the restrictions and regulations applying to goods imported into Japan apply equally to domestically produced goods?

I agree with the first and second parts of my hon. Friend's question. He is right. In the last three months of 1978, when the Japanese sent in no cars, the net result was that the British share of the market remained absolutely static and that German, French and Italian cars took up the strain. If that happened, Opposition Members would immediately start complaining about the increase in our deficit with the EEC.

Monopolies Commission (Referrals Policy)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will make a statement of policy guidelines for referral of bids to the Monopolies Commission; and if he is satisfied with the manner and timing in which these referrals are announced.

My right hon. Friend refers a bid where, in the light of the Director General's advice, he considers that the public interest issues involved are sufficient to merit doing so. His decision is published as early as practicable in the course of the bid, and he has no plans at present to alter this procedure.

I am disappointed with my right hon. Friends reply in view of the long delay that took place in the Armitage Shanks—Blue Circle bid earlier this year. This resulted in over a month's delay in opportunities to take the matter further and, therefore, a long, protracted period of uncertainty for management, workers and investors. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the matter should be speeded up in the interests of everyone concerned?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed. As he will be aware, my right hon. Friend is required by the Act to make a determination as soon as practicable. His usual aim is to announce a decision before the first closing date of the final bid offer, as this is a reasonable target which has wide support in the financial community. However, fresh developments may arise during a period when the offer is open. In such cases, it is not normally practicable to reach a final decision any earlier, as in the case of Blue Circle-Armitage Shanks. Both the Department and the Office of Fair Trading make every effort to announce decisions on a merger by the first closing date.

Anti-Dumping Procedures


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will take new initiatives on anti-dumping.

The existing antidumping procedures provide an adequate framework for dealing with well-founded complaints of dumping. The European Commission is well aware of my concern that speedy and effective action must be taken to protect industry when dumping is causing injury. The Department of Trade retains an anti-dumping unit to help British industry in preparing complaints.

Does the Minister recall that the balance of trade deficit in textile goods for 1979 was nearly £700 million and that it is currently running at a higher rate? This is caused partly through dumping of cheap imports and is also a contributory factor to the massive number of jobs being lost in the textile industry. Is not the hon. Gentleman standing truth on its head when he says that the position is satisfactory? Is not the truth that the EEC is slow and unwieldy, and it appears to be totally indifferent to the needs of the British textile industry?

I am afraid that I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says. The procedures exist. They are there to be used. The industry is often much better at making allegations than establishing them with facts. We retain the anti-dumping unit precisely to help British industry prepare its cases. Where there is a well-founded case, we get action.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that procedures are working adequately with regard to alleged dumping from behind the Iron Curtain? It is difficult to get evidence of the genuine cost structure of the home market within those countries.

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why there is a wide range of goods subject to quota and control in trade with Iron Curtain countries. In those agreements, there is a price clause—aptly named considering who asked the supplementary question—that allows us to take action on grounds other than dumping grounds. We have, therefore, two opportunities. We have dumping and the price clause mechanism. We have used the price clause, for example, on Romanian suits.

Following the imposition by this country of generous quotas on United States exports of yarn to this country a few weeks ago, will the Minister confirm that the United States Government are threatening to impose further restrictions on exports of woollen textile products from this country to that country? As the West Yorkshire wool textile industry sees virtually no benefit from the quotas on yarn imports, will the Minister assure the wool textile industry that he will reject totally such measures? Will he have consultations with the industry urgently with a view to presenting a full case?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw the reported remark by an American official, who described American action on wool textiles, were it to be taken, as the equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot. In other words, we think that action on wool textiles would be a totally futile gesture. There are negotiations going on between the EEC and the Americans about compensation for our action under article 19 on polyester filament yarn. We shall do what we can to make sure that this does not apply to wool textiles.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the protectionism advocated by Opposition Members, which goes well beyond anti-dumping restrictions will lead to much higher prices for the consumer in this country—a matter to which Opposition Members do not often refer?

That point is not made as often as it ought to be made. It is interesting that the Consumers Association and the Retail Consortium have started forcefully to make this point. It should be taken into account in discussion on import controls.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a further statement on trade with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and with particular reference to the continuing massive imbalance between British exports to and imports from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Government's view remains that trade with the Soviet Union should continue to be pursued on the basis of mutual advantage. As my hon. Friend will know, a very large proportion of our imports consists of raw materials valuable to our economy and of goods which are subsequently re-exported at a profit to the United Kingdom.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that so long as the trade imbalance stands at about the £480 million figure he has given, many people in this country will find it highly offensive that such an imbalance continues in the light of recent political events, not least the Russian invasion of Afghanistan? Will the Government take fresh initiatives to reduce substantially, if not eliminate, that imbalance?

I pointed out earlier to my hon. Friend that a very substantial part of our imports—more than 40 per cent.—are diamonds. Those diamonds are the basis of the London diamond market. A substantial number are re-exported at a good profit for Britain. By doing what my hon. Friend suggests, we would probably be damaging ourselves more than we would be damaging the Soviet Union. I suggest to my hon. Friend that this would not be sensible.

In the light of the Government's attempts to co-ordinate their trade policy in some areas of the world with the United States, have the Government sought an explanation of why the United States is proposing to lift the ban on the export of wheat to the Soviet Union?

It is not true to say that we co-ordinate entirely our actions with those of the Americans. The Americans deal substantially in some products to an extent that we do not. To say that we should try to co-ordinate our trade policy on all fronts, not only Iran, is not sensible. It would produce no gain for us.

While realising the need to export, is my hon. Friend aware of the impact of his statement on the Olympic and Afghanistan situations, when he praised the GKN contract for a factory in Russia producing heavy lorry bodies that can be used for war purposes?

I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that his facts are not right. The contract was in East Germany for the production of lorries that will be re-exported to third markets other than this one.

Will not the Minister take credit for the truly magnificent way in which the Government took action immediately following the Afghanistan invasion? In answer to a question that I tabled, it was revealed that the Government had stopped importing £1,100 worth of vodka for the Government hospitality fund. Did that not take great courage?

Exchange Rate


asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many individuals, and how many bodies, have made representations to him about the effect of the exchange rate on trade.

About two dozen representations have concentrated on the effect the exchange rate has on trade.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the current unrealistically high level of the exchange rate is pricing some British manufacturers out of export markets? Does he not think that the Government should do something to bring about a decrease in the exchange rate? Does he agree that if that does not happen there is a danger that the demand for import controls will become irresistible?

I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxieties, but inflation remains the main threat to our economic success, and the strength of sterling has advantages in helping to contain inflation.

Have any of these representations referred to the sterling-rouble rate?

I appreciate the overriding need to contain inflation, but is my hon. Friend aware that the present exchange rate and interest rates are increasingly oppressing a great number of exporters? Will he and his Department, since they are responsible for exports, be urging the Treasury not to be dogmatic but to seek lower interest rates at the earliest possible moment?

The Government want interest rates to come down as soon as possible, but not if that means sabotaging our economic policy.

To what extent is the high exchange rate due to the high level of interest rates? Do not the two high rates impose a double penalty? Is it not implicit in the Minister's reply that the only reason why he is not to act upon the exchange rate is that he has made such a mess of inflation?

Interest rates have a bearing on the level of sterling, but to reduce interest rates before the money supply and the rate of inflation are properly under control would simply be a short-term palliative which would subsequently give a further boost to inflation?

Airports Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will update those sanctions of the 1978 White Paper on airports policy dealing with general aviation requirements in the South-East in view of the subsequent changes in the pattern of road and airport developments in the area.

No, Sir. I do not think that there have been sufficient changes to justify another study of the situation being made at the present time.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the apprehension felt by the Bromley residents federation and by a number of my constituents at the proposed intensification of business flying at Biggin Hill? As the M25 has been constructed in the two years since the White Paper—one of several new factors—would it not make sense to think increasingly in terms of West Mailing as an alternative airport for at least some of these business jets?

My hon. Friend keeps me well aware of the anxiety of his constituents. I met members of the Bromley residents federation in mid-March. Although the M25 has progressed since 1978, its completion was envisaged then. There is nothing new about that. In my opinion, there are substantial environmental advantages for residents in the area around Biggin Hill in having a well-managed business airfield rather than leisure and club flying taking place at its present level.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is not casting covetous eyes on Biggin Hill airport and that he will not allow the British Airports Authority to do so either? Will he support the continued retention of the airport by Bromley council?

I will be the last man under your eyes, Mr. Speaker, to confess to the sin of covetousness. I certainly do not covet Biggin Hill; and neither does the British Airports Authority. I am very happy with the way in which the borough is going about the business of managing it.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are insufficient facilities for business aviation in the London area? Is he further aware that of the London airports only Gatwick and Stansted have all-weather 24-hour facilities? Will he try to ensure that even more services are made available for business flying in London?

Yes, it would be my objective to ensure that there is a major all-weather business aviation terminal on the north and south sides of London to serve the city.

Saudi Arabia


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is his latest view of the prospects for British trade in Saudi Arabia.

I hope that our close trading links with Saudi Arabia, which is one of our most important markets, will not be harmed as the result of the recent television film.

How many jobs does my hon. Friend think will have been lost in British industry as a result of the showing of the film "Death of a Princess"? Will my hon. Friend arrange an early meeting between the directors of ATV and those finding themselves unemployed so that those directors can explain their action to the people made redundant?

It is far too early to say what effects the showing of that film will have, but I hope that those in the media who make such films will in future, before they show them, reflect on the fact that they could damage British interests by showing them. I hope that they will reflect on the fact that there are 30,000 British people in Saudi Arabia whose jobs are less secure as a result of that film.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the anxiety in the British aerospace industry that over £1,000 million of exports will be lost as a result of the showing of that film in this country?

My hon. Friend very properly underlines the importance to us of Saudi Arabia as a market. It is our biggest market outside Europe and America and our exports to it last year totalled nearly £1,000 million.

Regional Water Authorities (Monopoly Situation)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he has any plans to refer any of the regional water authorities to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission under section 11 of the Competition Act.

Yes, Sir. Because there is widespread consumer concern about the charges levied by water authorities it would, I believe, be appropriate for the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to examine their costs and efficiency. I therefore made an announcement on 29 April that the Severn-Trent water authority will be among future references to the Commission.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. Is she aware that the commonest complaint about water authorities is that their charges are related to the rateable value of a property, not to the amount of water used in it? Is she further aware that that is grossly unfair to people living alone, to pensioners and to those with small families?

My hon. Friend has raised a point of great importance to consumers. I am extremely pleased to tell him that I learnt that after my announcement that a reference would be made of the Severn-Trent water authority, resolutions appeared calling for that authority to adopt a water metering option for its consumers. I know that a great many consumers believe that it is most unfair that their water rates should be assessed on the basis of the rateable values of their homes. I hope, therefore, that in reaching its decision, the Severn-Trent water authority will take full account of that.

What does the Minister hope to achieve by a reference to the Monopolies Commission? Does she not accept that she stands there naked of any powers of price control after the abolition of the Price Commission?

Any reference under section 11 of the Competition Act implies, as is correct in this case, that a monopoly exists and that therefore consumers need special protection. The purposes of these references, which vary from reference to reference, is to ensure that there are no elements of cost which are passed on in higher prices which may represent inefficiency or overmanning or are passed on in higher prices because of an abuse of a monopoly.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for announcing this reference, but did she not make a mistake in announcing that the reference was of the Severn water authority? Should it not have been the Southern water authority which has increased its rates by just under 30 per cent. in a year? Will my right hon. Friend think about that again?

I can understand the concern of my hon. Friend. The Severn-Trent water authority was chosen for reference because it is the second largest water authority in the country. It therefore seemed appropriate for reference. Naturally I shall bear in mind the remarks of my hon. Friend about the Southern water authority when we consider future references.

If concern for the consumer is to be one of the criteria for references, when will the right hon. Lady make a reference from the private sector? Let us take, for example, the price of bread, bank profits and oil profits. When will she use that part of the Competition Act?

The question refers to references under section 11 of the Competition Act. The kind of references referred to by the hon. Gentleman are not apposite in relation to this question.

European Community (Competition Policy)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government regarding the development of European Economic Community competition policy so as to reduce the number and extent of inter-Community non-tariff barriers to trade.

The Government actively support and encourage work within the Community to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade. Our aim is the removal of all barriers which adversely affect our exporters. We seize every opportunity to press the Commission, which has primary responsibility for administering the competition rules of the Treaty, to this end.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many ways in which the export of British products to the Community can be discriminated against? In my constituency alone I can name two products—Tapchangers and Lamp Standards—both of which our EEC partners successfully export to this country. Will my right hon. Friend list products which are successfully imported into this country to discover whether there are any non-tariff barriers to our trading similar to those of our EEC partners?

My hon. Friend will no doubt be pleased to learn that, far from being regarded as—dare I say it—"Wet" in our attitude to unfair competition from abroad, we are regarded by other countries—which sometimes complain of it—as being particularly tough in defence of British industry if it appears to be threatened by unfair competition. My Department is at present vigorously pursuing a number of cases—some of them successfully. If my hon. Friend has specific information which he would like to pass to my Department we will be pleased to receive it and act on it where appropriate.

How does EEC competition policy apply to the common agricultural policy where we are giving £1,000 million to Europe primarily because of the CAP? That means dearer foodstuffs for housewives because we must buy from Europe instead of from elsewhere.

If the Government have been tough, how does the right hon. Lady explain that the balance of trade in manufactured goods between this country and the EEC has changed from a £300 million balance in our favour in 1970 to a £2½ billion deficit—which is getting much worse—in 1978? Does not the right hon. Lady agree that that points to the disaster of our membership of the Common Market in relation not only to agriculture but to manufacturing industry?

What that points to is that British industry in the main—there will be exceptions—is not sufficiently competitive in relation to our EEC partners. Where there are non-tariff barriers and where there is unfair competition, it is right and proper for the Government to intervene. It is not in the interests of competition, of consumers or of our efforts to strengthen British industry for the Government to intervene where there is fair competition.

United Kingdom-Ussr (Air Services)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will take action to bring about a better balance in commercial air services between the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Yes Sir. United Kingdom officials went to Moscow last month to negotiate new air service arrangements with the objective of securing a better balance. A second round is contemplated in the next few months.

I am grateful for that answer. Is it not true that Aeroflot has sales offices in Britain but that British Airways cannot have sales offices in Russia?

My hon. Friend is right, and that is one of the contributory factors to the imbalance. Aeroflot has offices here and is being allowed to open more offices in the United Kingdom. British Airways is not allowed to open offices for the sale of its tickets in Russia.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he intends to meet the Director General of Fair Trading to discuss refusal-to-supply activities.

It is for the Director General to decide whether refusal-to-supply constitutes a breach of the Resale Prices Act warranting action on behalf of the Crown in the courts. It would be improper for me to seek to influence his decision in individual cases.

When the Minister next meets the Director General of Fair Trading, will she raise with him the refusal to supply by major hi-fi and white goods manufacturers to Tesco and Argos and ask the Director General when he intends to take action to resolve that problem?

I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that I meet the Director General of Fair Trading frequently. Although we may discuss individual cases, I do not seek, as I pointed out in my earlier reply, to influence the Director General in individual cases. There are a number of ways in which action can be taken in such instances—on the part of the individuals concerned in civil proceedings, under the Resale Prices Act—which again would be a matter for the Director General of Fair Trading—or under the new, swifter and more flexible powers in the Competition Act which complement existing powers. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will welcome these new powers which will make it more difficult for the practices to which he has referred to prevail in future.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that refusal to supply is being used by newspaper wholesalers in London who are attempting to make themselves into monopolies in particular areas? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that this particular technique, which is totally against the interests of the consumer and the retailer, is brought to the attention of the Director General of Fair Trading who has said nothing about this matter up to now?

My hon. Friend has raised a matter about which I know there is considerable concern on both sides of the House. There is a registered agreement under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act in relation to the supply of newspapers which makes it impossible for certain people to obtain a supply of these newspapers if it is refused by the wholesaler. I, along with my hon. Friend, am not satisfied with this situation; and I shall discuss it with the Director General of Fair Trading.

Consumer Education


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what plans he has for consumer education.

Consumer education is important if consumers are to be properly equipped to wield their own considerable influence in the market place. Indeed, I recently announced my plan to compile a consumer education teaching pack for distribution to local education authorities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but does she recognise that it is most important that consumers are fully informed of their rights? Will my right hon. Friend say when the education pack to which she has referred will be distributed?

I hope that it will be ready for distribution some time next year. The purpose of this pack is to enable a new generation of consumers to emerge from school with some idea of their rights and obligations. As a result of this they can become as effective and powerful in the market place as they should be. They will need less recourse to advice from other sources.

Is it not a fact that the Government have cut consumer services in the high street in collaboration with Tory-controlled county councils? Is it not the reality that consumers need speedy, if not immediate, access where false information is provided by traders or if they need to obtain further information? Should not the Government come clean and state clearly that they are not interested in the consumer and admit that they have been attacking consumer protection services nationwide?

I can come completely clean by telling the hon. Gentleman that my main concern is for consumers. I am satisfied that the kind of advice to which he referred is available to consumers through the CABs and through local trading standards offices. The greater the number of consumers who emerge from school with some idea of their rights and obligations, the fewer consumers will need to go to centres to ask for help upon matters which they have never pursued with the companies themselves in the first place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable increase in the number of inquiries received by CABs since that function was dropped by the county councils? Is my right hon. Friend further aware of the effective way in which CABs have met their new responsibilities? Will she give sufficient support to the CABs to enable them to continue that function?

I am very grateful for the way in which the CABs have responded. I am not surprised that they have done so because the quality of the service they have provided in the past is renowned. I have given a great deal of support by doubling the grant to their national unit.

Is not the right hon. Lady talking nonsense if she says she believes that an education pack for schools is any substitute for detailed advice about problems faced by consumers every day? Is it not a fact that the CAB movement opposed her wholesale slaughter of consumer advice centres?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the education pack and that he says that it is not a substitute. He introduced a safety pack for schools which did not replace anything whatsoever. The consumer education pack is not meant to be a replacement. It is a more constructive and consistent way of ensuring that consumers are armed with the necessary information in the market place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her activities in this direction are far more valuable than setting up a whole new plethora of consumer quangos which only confuse people and provide jobs for the boys?

Stansted Airport


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what progress has been made in planning the enlargement of Stansted airport; and if he will make a statement.

Planning the development of Stansted airport is a matter for the British Airports Authority, not my Department. On 22 April, the authority announced the boundaries of the proposed development and the measures which it is to take to relieve blight. The Department of the Environment has now initiated discussions with the BAA and the local planning authorities on the procedures to be adopted.

Does my hon. Friend think that it is fair and reasonable that the British Airports Authority, with the power of the public purse behind it, should distribute to every home in my constituency a publication called "Development of Stansted Airport" which presents a one-sided version of events? Will he provide assistance to the organisations which have a different view so that they can circulate households in a similar fashion?

The Secretary of State has come to a conclusion which he announced to the House on the recommendations which we should make. It would seem distinctly odd if we were to give our help and support to undermining those proposals. What is more, I invite my hon. Friend to consider what our colleagues who represent constituencies near other potential sites would say if the Government reversed their position.

Overseas Development

Aid Programme


asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in the light of the Brandt report, he will review his decision to make substantial cuts in the aid programme.

Is it not somewhat hypocritical for Ministers to pay tribute to the Brandt report while at the same time sabotaging its chances of success by making a 14 per cent. cut in real terms in the aid programme for the next four years? Is it not hypocritical for the Lord Chancellor, at the Scottish Tory Party conference on Saturday, to question the morality of trade unionists when the Government are guilty of immorality in cutting the aid programme in order to give tax hand-outs to rich taxpayers? Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Does the Minister accept that the Government can do something to restore their tattered image in the Third world by using a small percentage of the £4,000 million they will receive this year from North Sea oil to save the lives of some of the 8 million people who are living and dying in poverty?

Order. Those who were here at the beginning of Question Time will know that I asked hon. Members to ask one supplementary question and not to try to argue a case, because that prevents other questions from being called.

The Government have already paid tribute to the Brandt report. They are considering the proposals, but consideration is not yet complete. The Government hope to publish their views before the Venice summit on 22 June. If I might answer a second supplementary question—the cuts are due to the appalling economic state which the Government inherited.

Apart from the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), how many people does my hon. Friend know who want to pay more in tax so that the money can be given to the underdeveloped countries to produce goods which threaten the jobs of British workers? Does it not make more sense to use overseas aid money to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of British industry?

In relation to the Lord Chancellor's pontification about morality, is the Minister aware of the growing concern, particularly in the British Council of Churches, at the fact that the Government have turned their backs on the obligation and responsibility that we have for the Third world? Does he agree, not only that money spent on overseas aid is a moral obligation, but that it is in our interests to spend in that way instead of pursuing the costly arms race?

With great respect, that is absolute nonsense. If the right hon. Gentleman could inform the Churches of that, I should be grateful.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Brandt report said that two of the greatest contributions that Britain can make to Third world development are the promotion of overseas investment and the expansion of manufactured imports—policies which are rigorously opposed by the Opposition?

That is correct. They would be of great help to developing countries. The specific recommendations of the Brandt report must be balanced against the economic realities facing the country. Proposals for increasing aid or accelerating the transfer of resources raise obvious difficulties.

Commonwealth Development Corporation


asked the Lord Privy Seal when he will be able to report the results of his review of the Commonwealth Development Corporation; and if he will make a statement.

We are undertaking a review of the activities of the Commonwealth Development Corporation in the light of the statement on aid policy which I made to the House on 20 February. Officials of the corporation are participating fully in the work being done. I am not yet able to say when it is likely to be completed.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. When does he expect the review to be completed? Is he aware that urgent decisions must be taken in relation to the Commonwealth Development Corporation investment programme and manning, and the chairmanship of the corporation, within the next few months.

I recognise the need for urgency in completing the review. I cannot say precisely at this stage when that will be. Whenever it is, the House will be informed of the conclusions reached by Ministers. Any change of policy in relation to the CDC as a result of the review will be the subject of a statement to the House.

Can the Minister confirm that the CDC has a future under the Government's new aid policies?

Is the Minister aware that the CDC is doing a brilliant job in developing countries by carrying out projects which are fully commercially viable and which, at the same time, make important contributions to the economies of the countries in which they are operating?

That is true. There has been no review of the CDC since 1975 and it is time for another.

Overseas Aid Policy

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, when considering payments of overseas aid, he will take into account losses caused to British companies owing to the failure of foreign governments to honour guarantees.

All relevant factors are taken into account when considering allocations of overseas aid.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the correspondence that I have had with him and other Ministers about the failure of the Government of Nepal to ensure that a debt owed to a British company is paid? Does my hon. Friend accept that in such circumstances British companies are entitled to look for support from the British Government and that our aid programme should take account of any failure to honour obligations?

My hon. Friend should recognise that the British Government have given the firm all support that they can through diplomatic channels. It is doubtful whether the proposal to cut off aid would help because aid improves the economy and makes it more possible for Governments to settle commercial claims. One of the problems is that the firm obtained a guarantee from the Nepal Government for the repayment of capital but failed to get it for the repayment of interest. It is that which is outstanding.

As it is a subject close to my hon. Friend's heart, can he say whether any progress is being made in developing European Community credit guarantees to cover mineral developments in the Third world? If they can be developed, would not that be of great assistance to the Third world and to mining companies in Britain?



asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement concerning his plans for assistance to Zimbabwe.


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will increase the amount of aid available to Zimbabwe.

I refer the hon. members to the statement which my right hon. Friend made on 15 April. The amount of British aid available to Zimbabwe remains as stated then.

Does the Minister agree that, although there were different views about the amount, there was general comment on the tardiness of response? Does he not agree that this country has a specific responsibility for the former tribal trust areas, where there was no infrastructure of administration for some time? Will we be able to help if requests are made in that area?

The requests for help will come from the Zimbabwe Government. They will discuss those requests with us, and we shall allocate the aid that we have promised already according to the joint wishes of the Zimbabwe Government and ourselves.

Although there was a general welcome for the decision to grant £75 million over three years, is the Minister aware that some assessments indicate that Zimbabwe may need up to 10 times that amount? Will the hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming and give some indication of the possibility of further aid from Britain, and also from some of the richer member States of the Common Market, which have benefited for so long from the excessive generosity of Britain towards the Common Market, budget?

I shall communicate the latter point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who will be dealing with the matter at the Council of Ministers. In our figure of £75 million we have allocated all that we can for the moment. It is for the other countries—and many are already pledging sums—to fill the balance of the amount that Zimbabwe will need. We are still pressing many countries to help Zimbabwe.

As the first step in that process, will the Government transfer aid that is at present allocated to Tanzania to Zimbabwe, as the former country does nothing but kick Britain in the teeth?

While taking the point made by my hon. Friend, I am afraid that the aid for Tanzania is committed already, and has been for some time. We cannot go back on Government commitments.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been trying to catch your eye.

I am sorry. I did not realise that the right hon. Lady had tried to catch my eye.

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to ask a short, but double, supplementary. What did Mr. Mugabe have to say to the Prime Minister on Friday about his need for increased aid, especially increased technological assistance? Why is the aid mission still not going to Zimbabwe two months after independence? What proportion of the £7 million reconstruction aid is expected to be spent during the next few months?

On the latter part of the right hon. Lady's question, I expect that quite a lot of the £7 million will be spent this year. It is a question of its being ready, available, and they can spend it.

I have not yet heard about the contents of conversations which took place between the Prime Minister and Mr. Mugabe.