HC Deb 15 December 1949 vol 470 cc2899-901
24. Mr. J. Langford-Holt

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he intends to take to offset the adverse effect on the price of export goods resulting from the increase in transport costs.

Mr. H. Wilson

The hon. Member is presumably referring to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on 28th November about the application made by the British Transport Commission for authority to increase certain of their charges. The hon. Member will be aware that my right hon. Friend has, in conformity with Section 82 of the Transport Act, 1947, decided to consult with, and consider the advice of, the permanent members of the Transport Tribunal, acting in this matter as a consultative committee. I cannot anticipate their advice to my right hon. Friend, or his decision in this matter.

Mr. Langford-Holt

When this application is—as the right hon. Gentleman and I both know it will be—accepted, can he assure the House that the resulting increase in costs from this increase in transport costs will in no way affect the export trade?

Mr. Wilson

As I have said, I cannot anticipate the advice given to my right hon. Friend, or to his decision; but whatever changes there may, or may not be, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will realise the difficulty and the extent to which international obligations will be breached if there were an attempt to subsidise the export trade as compared with the home trade by differential railway rates.

Mr. Harrison

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear, or will he agree, that the increased cost of transport on prices is very moderate and no recent increases have taken place in respect of exports as suggested in the Question?

Mr. W. Shepherd

How does the President expect private manufacturers to meet world competition if all the time they have to contend with the increasing costs of nationalised services?

Mr. Wilson

So far as the Question put by his hon. Friend is concerned, I think the supplementary question which the hon. Gentleman has put is a hypothetical one; but I would certainly say that I do not expect a lot of our exporters to increase their exports until they start looking for the export markets, and doing something about it.

Mr. Edward Davies

Is it not true, if the increase is accepted in this nationalised undertaking, that the price of transport will in fact be very much less than the price obtaining under the private sector of the industry, namely, in the region of 80 per cent. above prewar?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Would not the right hon. Gentleman consider it more desirable to advise his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport of the Board of Trade point of view before a decision is come to, instead of afterwards when it may be too late?

Mr. Wilson

My right hon. Friend is fully aware—I think all my right hon. Friends are fully aware—of the need to take all possible steps to increase exports.

Mr. Scollan

In view of the importance of the export drive for this country, is not it about time that some of the Departments were getting together for the purpose of arranging a uniform freightage rate from any part of this Island to the seaboard to enable works and factories in outlandish places to get an equal chance with those on the coast?

Mr. Wilson

That is an entirely separate question which I think should be put to the Ministry of Transport.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that it is not sufficient to rely on the intelligence of his right hon. Friend? Has he, in point of fact, made his views, and the views of his Department, known to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport?

Mr. J. Lewis

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that those people who are actually engaged in industry know full well that it is possible to bear an increased cost of transport out of the profits of the export trade?

Mr. Wilson

I have said on a number of occasions that, at least since devaluation, prices and costs in this country on their present level do not in any way provide the limiting factor to a very great increase in dollar exports which it lies within the opportunity of British industry to achieve.