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Paper And Board Quota Consultations

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 11 December 1980

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the negotiations with the EFTA non-candidate countries for paper and board quotas have been concluded and whether they will make a statement.

My Lords, consultations with all interests including the EFTA countries have now been concluded. For 1981 supplies of paper and board from EFTA countries we intend to open duty-free quotas 15,000 tonnes, or 1·06 per cent., larger than this year. An order setting out the detailed allocation of the proposed new quotas was laid in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade on 9th December.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that these increases have been greeted with incredulity by the industry? The word "incredulity" is theirs, not mine. Some of their other language is harsher. Is it not clear that, despite continuous appeals to Ministers, the industry is again being sacrificed to its overseas competitors? Is the Minister also aware that the largest increases have been in the areas of greatest difficulty and greatest sensitivity—for example, case liners and uncoated, wood free paper? Is it not time therefore that our home industry was supported and not put under further grave disadvantage in relation to its overseas competitors?

Yes, my Lords, but the difficulty is that more than one industry is involved. While the paper producing industry is the most important in this context, we also have to take into account the interests of the paper consuming industries—the printing and publishing industries—and also the interests of our trading partners.

My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that the demand for paper and pulp is at its lowest ebb since 1974? Therefore it is the paper and board industry which needs the Government's support.

My Lords, of course it has our support within the limits of what we can do in the consultations which we have recently completed.

My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government have any views about the export of British timber to Scandinavian countries to be pulped over there and brought back here at very great expense? Is not this a most extraordinary economic situation which has an adverse effect upon the balance of trade and, worse still in the long run, a very adverse effect on the confidence of private growers of timber?

My Lords, that is another question; but I cannot imagine that the firms would do it if it did not make economic sense.

My Lords, yesterday a Statement was made by the Government about support for the development of domestic forestry as a supplier to the paper and pulp industry. Is not the noble Lord's Answer today inconsistent with the Statement made yesterday?

Certainly not, my Lords. As I said earlier, when we reach our decision on the size of these quotas we have to take into account the interests of all the parties concerned.