Skip to main content


Volume 23: debated on Monday 10 May 1982

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



asked the Minister for Trade if he will give the change in value and volume in exports, and the movement in the visible balance of trade, over the last three years.

In the three years ending 1980, which was the last year for which complete data are available, exports rose by 49 per cent. in value and 8 per cent. in volume. The visible balance of trade moved from a deficit of £2·3 billion to a surplus of £1·2 billion. With permission, I shall circulate the detailed figures in the Official Report.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for those figures. Does he agree that they are especially encouraging in view of the deep world

Exports and the Visible Balance

Balance of Payments Basis


Visible balance


Percentage increase

Volume Index

Percentage increase

Value increase

£ million

(year on year)

1975 = 100

(year on year)

£ million


Special Steels (Exports)


asked the Minister for Trade what is the value of special steels exported from the United Kingdom to the United States of America in the first quarter of 1982.

This information is not yet available. In the last quarter of 1981 exports to the United States of tool steel, high-speed steel, and stainless steel bars and rods were valued at £1 million fob. Exports of stainless steel sheets, plates and strip were valued at nearly £3 million fob.

What representations have been made by the Government to the United States' Government about the impact of any restrictions on our export of special steels to the United States? Is the Minister aware that

recession? Does he also agree that, with our increased competitiveness in world markets, as measured by recent output per man-hour trends, this augurs well for the future, particularly when the world recession ends and expansion takes place?

I certainly agree that the figures demonstrate the enterprise of British business and emphasise the considerable increase in competitiveness over the past two or three years.

Is the Minister aware that the April report of the CBI predicts that non-oil exports will decline by 4 per cent. this year over the 1979 level, which is after three years of the present Government? The same report predicts an increase in those who are pessmistic about future export prospects. Is not the CBI's evidence a more accurate picture of what is happening to our overseas trade under this Government?

The right hon. Gentleman describes it as a factual position. As he will readily appreciate, those are speculative figures which may well be falsified by events.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we do not make enough of our great success in our export endeavour, which, I believe, is higher per head of the population than almost any other country? Can we not somehow use the lessons of this success to improve our share of trade in the home market?

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that Great Britain, at least by one test, is one of the most successful exporting nations in the world, whether it be measured by the proportion of the gross domestic product or by the proportion of exports per head of the population. As regards the internal market, I have no doubt that British industry will seek to improve its position, but my hon. Friend will appreciate that trade is a two-way operation.

Following is the information:

although the volume is small, the value is very high and that severe restrictions would have a damaging impact on the BSC?

I am well aware of the importance of our special steels exports, particularly to the private steel making sector, although certain areas are a matter of concern for the British Steel Corporation. As the House will know, there is the possibility of action against exports of steel from the European Community. I can assure the House that the British Government have looked closely, so far as they have been able to do so, at the basis of these cases. Both the Government and the European Commission have made strong representations in Washington about the basis of these possible cases.

Multi-Fibre Arrangement


asked the Minister for Trade if he will report on the state of negotiations on the renewal of the bilateral agreements within the multi-fibre arrangement.

So far, the Commission has held only informal exploratory consultations with the supplying countries. Formal negotiations are scheduled to commence this week in Brussels.

Since any increased access to our markets by smaller supplying countries could be achieved only on the basis of cutbacks from the so-called dominant countries, how does the Minister justify starting negotiations with the dominant countries before he has successfully concluded the position with them to enable him to make concessions to the smaller countries?

The whole House will know that the European Commission has been given a fairly strict mandate to negotiate bilateral agreements under the MFA and with the Mediterranean countries outside the arrangement. We have made it clear that we expect cutbacks of 10 per cent. from the dominant countries, perhaps compensated in certain cases by outward processing. Against that background, I feel sure that it will be possible for the Commission to negotiate satisfactory bilaterals, although we must wait until the autumn to hear the outcome.

Is the Minister aware that some of our partners have been weak sisters in negotiating textile arrangements? Do we have a veto on the negotiations, and if we do will the Government use it if the result of the negotiations is not satisfactory to British textile interests?

It is not for me to comment on the position of individual members of the Community. Each country has a slightly different perception of the interests of its textile industry. However, I have told the House previously that a common Community position was evolved which attracted the support of every member of the EEC. The Commission will have to negotiate within the confines of that position.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the concern that he has shown for the textile industry so far. In the run-up to the negotiation of the bilaterals, will he continue to listen to the strong case put to him by the British textile industry and disregard the representations of the British Consumers Association and the German Government?

My hon. Friend's concern for the textile industry, particularly in North-East Lancashire, is well known to the House and I have had the privilege of meeting some of its representatives in his company. I assure him that the Community position has been clearly defined and, although it may not have attracted the universal support of the textile industry, I hope that there is grudging recognition that it could lead to a tougher MFA than the preceding arrangement. It is certainly the Government's intention that that should be the eventual outcome of the negotiations.

Do the Government remain committed to the negotiation of a tough and effective MFA bilateral agreement, as the Minister has claimed in the past, and will the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the EEC will withdraw from the MFA if the outcome of the negotiations is unsatisfactory? If so, why does he continually refuse to take immediate steps to prepare an alternative trading policy in case the negotiations fail?

As I have reported to the House, it is the Community's intention to withdraw from the MFA if the bilaterals negotiated under it do not, in total, measure up to the guidelines agreed in Brussels and reported to the House. As regards the possibility of failure, it would be a little premature for the United Kingdom in isolation to devise an alternative regime for textiles. It would be an unnattractive position for the world if the EEC could not remain an adherent signatory of the MFA, and it is wrong to speculate too deeply at present on the consequences of failure. I hope that such speculation will prove to be unnecessary.

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind in the negotiations the interests of the consumer and of poorer countries which are trying to trade with us? The textile industry in this country needs a certain amount of protection, but it is essential for our general trade and for the benefit of our consumers that low-income countries are able to trade with us in low-price textiles.

The Government are very conscious of the consumer interest, and a delicate balance has to be struck in the negotiations between the interests of the textile industry, which is important, of the consumers and, as my hon. Friend points out, of the developing nations. It was thought right in the mandate given to the Commission to cut back on some of the dominant suppliers, who are economically stronger, and perhaps to give a little more leeway to the developing nations.

Will the Minister think again about the answers that he has given to my hon. Friends? A new MFA is of paramount importance to our textile industry. In view of the many thousands who have been made redundant and will never find work again in the industry, will the hon. and learned Gentleman look at the matter again and consider using the veto, if necessary, against any country that tries to foist on us an agreement that will cause further unemployment here?

I reassure the house that the Government are conscious of the 150,000 jobs shed by the United Kingdom textile industry over the past 18 months. I also assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no need for a veto, because the decision of the EEC is that if successful bilaterals cannot be negotiated within the outline of the MFA, which the EEC has signed only on that tentative basis, the Community will withdraw. There is no need for a veto. I merely suggested to the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) that I preferred not to speculate on the consequences of failure, which would be damaging to consumers and the textile industry of this country.

Manufactures (Balance Of Trade)


asked the Minister for Trade whether he will make a statement on trends in the balance of trade in manufactures with the European Economic Community.


asked the Minister for Trade whether he is satisfied with the existing balance of imports and exports with the European Economic Community.

The balance has fluctuated as our trade with the European Community has expanded. In 1980 the crude deficit fell to £1·8 billion from £3·1 billion the year before. This is not unsatisfactory in view of the large volume of trade involved and the large surplus on the United Kingdom's overall balance of payments.

Since our Community partners, instead of giving us wholehearted support over our problems with the Falklands, have now decided to put us on probation, will my hon. and learned Friend remind them that if they continue to wet their knickers at the first whiff of unvalidated Argentine propaganda, a lot of the trade benefit that they are getting from our membership of the Community will be put at risk?

I do not think that it is necessary for me to comment on the sartorial position of the Community. My hon. Friend is showing too much concern. It was not intended that any decision should be taken on the extension of sanctions at the weekend meeting near Liege. The Government hope and expect that the EEC's common position on sanctions will be extended. My hon. Friend is right to point out that the United Kingdom market is important to the Continental European members of the Community, just as the European Continental market is important to our exporters.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that in the second part of last year we showed a specific increase in our manufactured exports to the EEC, which I am sure the whole House welcomes, and that to the extent that our manufacturing performance may still be less than we wish it is because of poor productivity in many of our manufacturing areas, which would only worsen our position in the unlikely event of our coming out of the Common Market?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that the EEC is Britain's fastest growing export market. If I may inflict a statistic on the House, 39 per cent. of our exports of manufactures in 1980 went to the Continental European countries of the Community, campared with 29 per cent. in 1972. Echoing the point made by my hon. Friend, there is certainly scope for a further increase in British exports to the EEC and my Department has recently had an "Export to Europe" drive, which I hope will yield good results in the years to come.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman's Department keep separate trade statistics for Great Britain as opposed to the United Kingdom? If not, will he kindly apply the proper description to this country?

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question is "No". We shall certainly see if we can be more exact in our use of nomenclature.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), when he has finished providing The Sun with headlines, might reflect on the fact that this country requires markets for its exports and that it is for those who are constantly asserting the damage that results from our membership of the European Community to explain how a free trade area would resolve any of the problems that we face in our trade with the EEC or how, by sheltering behind a tariff wall, we could possibly find an outlet for our export industries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the perils of protectionism, particularly if protectionism were applied by this country to the other countries of the European Community. I have emphasised that our fastest growing and, indeed, our largest, export market is Germany. One can reflect long and hard on the disadvantages to this country if we were on the outside of a free trade area of those dimensions.

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware of statements by Ministers representing other countries in the European Community to the effect that there should be a linking between the Community support for Britain over the Falkland Islands and other issues within the Community. Does he agree that it is wrong for such a linking to be made? Surely the Economic Community is supporting the United Kingdom because its stand is correct in terms of international law. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman undertake that there will be no linking of any kind with the basis of support that we receive from the Community?

The right hon. Gentleman cannot have heard the contribution of the French Foreign Minister on "World at One" today when he demonstrated clearly that France sought no such linkage and gave us unstinted support in our defence of an important principle in the South Atlantic.

British Airways


asked the Minister for Trade when he expects to receive the annual report of British Airways on its accounts for the year ended 31 March 1982.

Have not British Airways' subsidiary companies contributed £20 million profit a year to British Airways as well as an important cash flow throughout the financial year? As these are well-run and profitable nationalised concerns, will the Minister confirm a report in The Guardian on 29 April that there is no intention to sell off profitable subsidiaries such as British Airways Helicopters and International Air Radio?

No, Sir. I shall not confirm any report in The Guardian newspaper. I shall, however, tell the hon. Gentleman that if the board of British Airways decides that it wants to sell off the subsidiaries, that is its decision and we shall not stand in its way.

In expressing my full confidence in the chairman of British Airways, may I ask what discussions my hon. Friend has had with him about deregulating air fares between this country and Europe? It now costs more in terms of seat pence per mile to fly economy to any capital city of Europe than to fly Concorde across the Atlantic.

I have had extensive discussions with Sir John King and other members of British Airways about the position in Western Europe. I assure my hon. Friend that it remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government to introduce much greater liberalisation into the European regime.

Have the Minister's discussions with the chairman included any examination of the position whereby first-class, senior officials of British Airways are now being made redundant? Is he taking any steps to make sure that their expertise is not lost to an important sector of industry?

That is mainly a matter for the board of British Airways. I am certain that the hon. Gentleman's point will be well taken by the board.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the accounts of British Airways would be greatly improved and the service to the travelling public greatly enhanced if such activities as retail shops, building maintenance, aircraft cleaning and, above all, catering, were hived off to private enterprise—none of these services is at the moment profitable—leaving British Airways to conduct its proper business of running aircraft.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely interesting point which will be noted, I am sure, by the board of British Airways. Among the main objectives of Sir John King and his board are restoring British Airways to profit and giving a better service to the travelling public.

Will the Minister recognise that most airlines are going through difficult times? Will he ensure that no Government pressure is applied on British Airways to break up and sell off various parts of the airline? Does he realise that we have already lost Laker Airways and that other airlines may go bankrupt if British Airways are not maintained?

I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that there will be no improper pressure from the Government for British Airways to sell off subsidiaries. But, if that is the decision of the British Airways board, we shall not stand in its way. It is our wish to see British Airways profitable as soon as possible and privatised as soon as possible.

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will do nothing by their policies to impede progress by British Airways towards the profitability that we all seek? In this regard, will my hon. Friend facilitate the concentration of British Airways scheduled services at Heathrow airport, enabling them, especially, to transfer from Gatwick to Heathrow their scheduled services to the Iberian peninsula?

In regard to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I cannot give him any such assurance at this time. As he knows, complicated and intricate discussions are taking place. On the first part of his question, my hon. Friend can be certain that no Government in the history of this country will do less than this one will to stand in the way of British Airways returning to profitability.

What did the Minister mean by saying that no "improper" pressure will be brought to bear on British Airways? Will he bring any pressure to bear on British Airways to sell off subsidiaries? Will he say whether the Price Waterhouse report proposed a major reconstruction of British Airways, whether it considered the possible injection of £600 million into British Airways and whether it considered the possible sale of subsidiaries? Is it not disgraceful that a British nationalised industry should be treated in such a cavalier fashion by the Minister, who will not even publish a major report of significance to a national institution?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I plead guilty to tautology in talking about improper pressure. No pressure that I brought to bear would ever be improper. I need to bring no pressure on British Airways to restore itself to profitability. Sir John King has the airline on the right lines towards exactly that end.

The Price Waterhouse report was commissioned by British Airways. It is for British Airways to decide whether they want to publish the report. British Airways have decided that they do not want to publish it. I shall not quarrel with that decision.

Trade Statistics


asked the Minister for Trade to what factors he attributes the state of the latest trade figures.

Export and import levels at the turn of the year were far higher than those reached in early 1981. This reflects the recovery in economic activity and the achievements of our exporters.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that during the long, hard struggle of recent years, especially in regard to high levels of unemployment, many people have tended to overlook the great successes that we have enjoyed, particularly in trade? Does he agree that there are good prospects of improving still further on our current position from the firmer base that we now enjoy?

The whole House, I am sure, agrees with my hon. Friend that the performance of British exporters has been notably successful in the last three years and that businesses, as a result, have maintained a higher level of employment. The House will have noticed the relish with which the Opposition Front Bench suggest that our export performance over the years to come might not be so successful, presumably because they are deeply conscious of the export figures achieved under the previous Administration.

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that it will be difficult to improve upon our latest trade figures with Spain in motors cars and components, because of the adverse differential tariffs raised by the Spanish Government which prevent our exporters from achieving their full potential there? Will he look into a matter that has dragged on for far too long while it was hoped that Spain would one day accede to the Community? Action appears to be continually postponed.

We do not look forward to an indefinite postponement of Spain's accession to the European Community. One of the benefits to the United Kingdom of Spain's accession will be the full opening up of the Spanish internal market.

Falkland Islands


asked the Minister for Trade what his Department is doing to ensure the long-term future of Anglo-Argentine trade after a successful outcome of the present situation in the Falkland Islands has been achieved; and if he will make a statement.

Action to promote the future development of Anglo-Argentine trade must await the settlement of the present conflict.

The Minister will be aware that major British trade and investment interests are at stake. May we have an assurance that when the diplomatic and military aspects of the problem have been settled steps will be taken to safeguard our legitimate and substantial commercial interests, which may have been put at risk?

Neither I nor any Government spokesmen have concealed the fact that the present conflict cannot be costless. However, I intend to take every opportunity to secure a resumption of trade when relations are put on a normal and satisfactory footing.

I must emphasise that the solution of this present unhappy conflict is prevented by the intransigence of the Argentine Government, not of her Majesty's Government.

Will the Minister confirm that the last British Minister to visit the Argentine to promote British exports was the right hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson), who is now a member of the War Cabinet?

I am not entirely certain, but I think that the hon. Gentleman may be wrong. It may have been my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The conclusions to be drawn are matters for speculation.

Textile And Clothing Imports


asked the Minister for Trade what progress has been made on the negotiations regarding textiles and clothing imports from the preferential countries.

Voluntary restraint arrangements have now been concluded with Egypt and Spain, and negotiations are continuing with the other preferential suppliers.

Does the Minister recognise that the quotas for trousers and jeans are consistently the most fully utilised and that, under MFA3, they will suffer from the higher growth rate of group 1 imports? Will the Minister ensure that pressure from some Mediterranean preferential countries for substantially increased quotas for trouser and jeans are decisively rejected?

I cannot ensure that they will be decisively rejected. I assure the hon. Gentleman that whatever bilateral arrangements are concluded with the Mediterranean suppliers should be reconciled with those concluded with MFA participants and should be firmly comprised within the overall limits that have been set by the Council of Ministers of the European Community.

Will my hon. and learned Friend help the understanding of the House in this matter by commenting on the fact that, during the period of MFA2, whereas imports of clothing and textiles from developed countries have grown exceedingly, limits have been placed on the so-called developing countries and other less benefited suppliers? If so, would it not be more sensible either to impose overall control, if that is thought necessary, or to free a greater area of trade for competition than to seek continually to benefit the developed countries?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, the underlying principle of the MFA is to provide a period of readjustment for the textile industries of the developed world, particularly the United Kingdom, to adjust to competition from low-cost countries. That is the theme of the MFA, and it is a theme that has commanded the respect of the House over the years.

Bearing in mind the difficulty of ensuring restraint on imports, if no voluntary arrangements are reached with Portugal, Tunisia and Morocco, and those countries are informed by the EEC of the import levels that will be applied by the European Community, how will those levels be enforced?

They will be enforced by the individual Governments of the member countries and the United Kingdom, in conformity with the levels that will be agreed through the Council of Ministers and notified to member countries by the European Commission.

British Airways


asked the Minister for Trade if he expects British Airways to make a profit in the current financial year.

I expect British Airways to make a big improvement in their financial performance this year over the two previous years. I hope that they will make a profit.

With the reconstruction of British Airways into three operating divisions, will the Minister give an absolute assurance that no division will be sold off until the three individual divisions are all profitable?

I thought that I should be able to agree easily to that question by saying that it is not the present intention of Sir John King to sell off any of those three divisions piecemeal, but it is not dependent on when those individual profit centres become profitable. Privatisation of British Airways will go ahead as fast as possible in overall profit.

Does my hon. Friend agree that British Airways are unlikely to make a profit if they are plagued by idiotic strikes, such as that by the baggage handlers, and by practices such as flying empty aircraft from Belfast to Glasgow every evening? Would it not be better to take the example of the Scottish division, which shows the way forward to making a profit?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to the attention of the House the satisfactory conclusion that has been reached in Scotland, where a predicted £6 million deficit has been turned into a predicted £1½ million profit. I hope that British Airways as a whole may benefit from that.

The Minister will be aware that there have been repeated press reports that the Government may write off £600 million of British Airways indebtedness to facilitate the floating of shares on the private market. Will he give a clear undertaking to the House that the Government will contemplate no such thing, which would be a gross fraud on the British taxpayer.

The right hon. Gentleman is always inviting me to comment on either press reports or hypotheses. That is a profitless hypothesis. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman waits to see what happens. Privatisation cannot come soon enough for me, and I hope that the same is true for him.


asked the Minister for Trade whether it is still his intention to sell shares in British Airways.

Does my hon. Friend realise that that is welcome news to a large number of my constituents who work for British Airways and who would much rather work for a private concern than for a nationalised one? Do I understand that previous exchanges across the Floor of the House mean that reorganisation within British Airways, which has been touched on, will not of itself hold up the Minister's medium and long-term intentions?

The formation of a number of new profit centres will enable the British Airways management to obtain a far tighter grip on British Airways, thus enabling an even quicker return to profitability. I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks in support of the Government's policy of privatising British Airways. It is our intention to make British Airways into a profitable private sector company that can be looked on with pride by its staff and shareholders and by members of the public.

My hon. Friend, the chairman of British Airways, Sir John King, the board of British Airways and its staff should be congratulated on making what is a long overdue change to bring back continental and inter-continental departments in the routes that British Airways operate. It was a mistake in the past when BOAC and BEA were joined. Does my hon. Friend agree that British Airways should now be on a glide path to profitability? Will he help them in any way that he can so that they can re-equip with Boeing 757s and 767s as soon as possible?

I shall certainly do everything that I can to encourage British Airways to get back to profit as soon as possible. I welcome my hon. Friend's suport for the measures that Sir John King has recently taken to get a tight grip on the management and future profitability of British Airways. I especially welcome it coming from a former member of the old corporation.

Will the Minister make it crystal clear that there can be no question of the Government writing off British Airways' debt liabilities to facilitate the sale of shares? Will that option be in no way considered?

I do not know how often I must answer these questions from the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman must wait for details of the privatisation of British Airways. When the time comes, he will see what we hope to do, and we hope to have his support.

I welcome the Government's policy of privatisation, but will not prospective shareholders wish to know whether the craven refusal of British Airways's crews to stay overnight in Northern Ireland, which has cost thousands of pounds, has ended?

Investors will wish to know that nearer the time. They will be told nearer the time. The exact details of the Belfast flights are a matter for the board of British Airways.

Laker Airways


asked the Minister for Trade what assessment has now been made of the total moneys owing to the creditors of Laker Airways at the time of its collapse.


asked the Minister for Trade what assessment he has now made of the total sums owed to creditors of Laker Airways.

I am informed that total liabilities are estimated at £260 million.

Just under 17,000 people held scheduled tickets on Skytrain with a total value estimated at £3·85 million. Some of them were able to use their return coupons with other airlines. How many remain with unused coupons is not yet known.

A further 139,000 people had paid in part or in full for a package holiday. Total liabilities are about £6 million, which can be met in full out of bonding arrangements and the air travel reserve fund.

In view of the fact that Ministers had drawn to their attention the shortcomings in the financial arrangements of Laker Airways before Christmas, that they decided to take no action, and that advertising by Laker continued after that time without any proper or improper pressure from Ministers to bring it to an end, will the Minister tell us what proportion of those massive liabilities the Government intend to bear, and will individual Ministers be held personally responsible?

The answer to the latter part of the question is "Certainly not". The hon. Gentleman has not thought through the implications of his question, or he would not have asked it in that form.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I believe that the Civil Aviation Authority used its powers sensibly. It would not have been right for that body to have stepped in earlier, because a hasty or premature intervention at that time could have brought matters to the very head to which they eventually came. The Government have no funds available for reimbursing the ticket holders.

Is it not clear that the sums owed by Laker Airways to travellers and to commercial concerns is much more than was admitted at the time of the company's collapse? Is the Minister really saying that he is satisfied that the Civil Aviation Authority effectively supervised the affairs of Laker Airways? Should not the whole matter be investigated and made public?

The Government considered carefully whether they should appoint an inspector under section 165 of the Companies Act 1948. However, the CAA, the Bank of England and the receivers advised that they were not aware of anything that would fall within the provisions of that section. I do not believe that the collapse of a major airline, such as Laker, can of itself justify an inquiry of the sort suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

In dealing with the sad collapse of Laker Airways, what immediate steps did the Government take to ensure that the routes operated by Laker were transferred to British companies? Could not the use of some of Laker's equipment have realised large sums of money for the creditors and been of considerable use to the British aviation industry in ensuring that those routes did not fall into the hands of overseas airlines?

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that matter. Great credit goes to other airlines for the way in which they assisted stranded passengers. The Los Angeles route has been taken over temporarily by British Caledonian. We are sympathetic to the position of those who hold scheduled air tickets which are not covered by the bonding and air travel reserve fund. As my hon. Friend will know, on 1 March the Government set up a review to consider any future provisions that might be made. We hope to have its report in June.

Does the Minister believe that Laker Airways was a good example of a private enterprise flying company? What assurance do we have that British Airways will not go the same way? Does the Prime Minister still believe that she is a Freddie Laker man?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have great confidence in our private enterprises. The hon. Gentleman has no right to cast reflections on other private enterprises simply because one airline runs into economic difficulties.

Does my hon. Friend agree that very few major airlines make profits and that, if precipitate action were taken, few of those airlines, including British Airways, would be flying the North Atlantic?

My hon. Friend knows that the number of airlines not making profits is not as large as he suggests. Some companies make profits. That emphasises what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said about ensuring that our airlines make profits as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that, bit by bit, more information is corning out about the way in which the affairs of Laker Airways were handled by the Government and the CAA in the months before the collapse? In view of the staggering figure of £260 million, which has been confirmed by the Minister today, is it not clear that there should be a full inquiry—judicial or otherwise—into the CAA's handling of the Laker affair and the handling of it by complacent Ministers at the Department of Trade?

The right hon. Gentleman is trying very hard to make political points with the wisdom of hindsight. I wonder whether he would have had the same attitude some months ago when none of those matters were known. We must await the receiver's full report.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's answer, I shall take the earliest opportunity to try to raise this matter on the Adjournment.



asked the Minister for Trade whether he will make a statement about the efficacy of the operation of trade sanctions against Argentina.

While the efficacy of sanctions can never be precisely measured, it is already clear that the measures adopted by the European Community and others have put considerable pressure on the Argentine economy and undermined international confidence in it.

Will the Minister order an inquiry into how the merchant bankers Schroder Wagg secretly transferred their entire Argentine loan book from London to Zurich on the day before the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands? In view of the fact that a complete economic boycott would be far more effective than military action, why are the Government not bringing pressure to bear on unpatriotic, greedy, British bankers who are using their overseas subsidiaries to prop up the Argentine junta, or do the Tory Goverment prefer to send young men to their deaths than to offend their friends in the City?

The hon. Gentleman speaks from a position of invincible prejudice. Even assuming that the facts outlined by him relating to a well-known City merchant bank are true, they obviously occurred before any measures were introduced by the Government.

The Argentine Government have complained, within the terms of the GATT, about the effctiveness of the measures and the damage that they are likely to do to the Argentine economy in the long run. That suggests that the measures have been well designed and are achieving their objective.

Has my hon. and learned Friend any assessment of the value of trade that has taken place between the Soviet Union and Argentina since the commencement of hostilities?

No. We would welcome any information that my hon. Friend can give on that matter.