§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Eccles
This Clause deals with the Export Credits Guarantee Department itself and its relation to the Board of Trade. This seems the right place to ask the President whether he is satisfied that this Department is adequately staffed. I am not one who wishes to see an increase in the number of civil servants but, on the other hand, I like to see a service carried out with the maximum speed and efficiency.
§ Mr. Wilson
I was not quite clear when the hon. Gentleman said that he was not sure whether this Department was adequately staffed whether he meant the Export Credits Department or the Department of the Board of Trade referred to in the Clause.
§ Mr. Eccles
I mean the Export Credits Guarantee Department itself. One is constantly hearing from traders that the staff of the Department is so short that they 267 cannot even issue cover notes, and a long time elapses before answers are given to inquiries as to whether risks perhaps of a rather novel nature can be underwritten. I am told that they have a rigid rule that one may only deal with the branch office nearest to one's business. Supposing a Birmingham firm does its insurance through a broker in London, it writes to the broker in London and says, "Will you get us a policy for this," and the London brokers cannot deal with E.C.G.D. in London but have to write back to Birmingham because the business has been placed in Birmingham. There are a number of small things of that sort which need looking into and tidying up. Before we part with this Clause, I should like an assurance from the President that the adequacy of the staff and the general speed and efficiency of the business will be reviewed.
§ Mr. Wilson
Like the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) I certainly do not want to see one more official in any Department greater than the minimum required for carrying out its essential functions. So far from the Export Credits Guarantee Department having in any sense an extravagant staffing, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is not so. I have not seen the complaints to which he refers, either as to slowness in doing its work or excessive stiffness in the matter of the various regional offices. All the letters that I get, many coming from hon. Members, contain tributes to the speed and efficiency with which the Department is doing its work. If the hon. Gentleman has any case which he would like me to look at, I shall be very glad to take it up with the Guarantee Department. The growing decentralisation of the work of the Department will speed up its activities and make its services more generally available to traders in all parts of the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clauses 7, 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported without Amendment.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilson
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
This Bill has had a very speedy and friendly passage through all its 268 stages since the Second Reading was passed without a Division rather less than a week ago. I want to thank the right hon. Member for Aldershort (Mr. Lyttelton) and all his hon. Friends, as well as my hon. Friends, for the welcome which they have given to the Bill. I think the fact that they have given this welcome and have allowed the Bill to go through without Amendment, apart from the few difficulties there were on one part of the Bill, is itself a very fine tribute to the work of the Export Credits Guarantee Department.
As I said quite frankly on Second Reading, this Measure provides not only a greater amount of money at the disposal of the Export Credits Guarantee Department, but also provides much more elasticity and discretion in its working. The fact that the House has given such a welcome to the Bill must be taken as a tribute to the Department, to its director, and to all those on the Advisory Council, both now and during the many years since the Council was first established nearly 30 years ago. I think that the House on the Second Reading agreed, and I am sure they will confirm this tonight, that with the great expansion which is going on in our exports there is a growing need for the services of the Department. In saying that, I am not trying to express the view that the services of the Department are entirely a function of the growing volume of trade because, as I said on Second Reading—and the right hon. Member for Aldershot agreed with me—one of the principal reasons was the unsettled state of world trading conditions.
We have seen trade expanding rapidly recently and there are one or two figures which I should like to give to the House now which will, I think, show the need for the extension of the lending powers of the Department. I am sure that the House will recall that in November and December we reached something like 50 per cent. by volume above the 1938 exports and the total value of our trade in those months was an all-time record in the trading history of this country.
I am sure that the House will be glad to know that the provisional figures which I have just had of exports in January show not only an improvement in January, which was badly affected by the Christmas holidays, over November and 269 December, but a very substantial improvement indeed. Exports in January were 8 per cent. greater in value than they were in November. This is not only far and away the highest figure by value which we have had, but it shows a big increase in volume over the 1938 exports. We have not the volume figures, but I can tell the House that it looks as though the figures for January are not very far short, if at all short, of the figure of 160 per cent. of the 1938 volume, which is, I think, a remarkable performance, and a tribute not only to the workers and management, the technicians and salesmen, in spite of great selling difficulties abroad, but also a tribute to the Export Credits Guarantee Department which has made so much of this possible.
§ Mr. Wilson
We have no figures available for particular areas. I do not think there is much more that I need say about the Bill as I commend it to the House. We have gone through it carefully, and the House is rightly desirous of having the fullest report on the working of the Department with the new freedom which has been given to it. I think that I have given to the House the assurances that have been asked for. As new techniques are evolved, if there are to be new techniques in the guaranteeing of overseas trade, I should certainly wish to report these to the House in the fullest form, and as quickly as possible. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be very vigilant in watching the use of the powers which have been given to me in this Bill, and it is therefore with every confidence that I ask the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The reason why this Bill has had such a good reception is, of course, because it is recognised in this country that exports are our lifeblood. That is a thing not always understood abroad. There are many countries whose economic position is such that they regard exports as a convenient manner of balancing surpluses, and so on. That is not the case with the United Kingdom, 270 and it is for that reason that although this is obviously legislation which errs on the side of being risky it should nevertheless receive our acceptance if it is designed to expand our export trade.
The preliminary figures which the President of the Board of Trade has given for January are very heartening and will be greatly appreciated in every part of the House. I only want to make this one point: that the demand in the world is quite abnormal at present, and the difficulties which face us are not generally those of selling the goods but of producing them. We must have ready at hand well tried machinery, which has now been expanded by this Bill, in order that when that demand becomes weaker we can continue to maintain at least the level of exports which we have now reached.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Granville
The President of the Board of Trade has, quite rightly, had a very easy passage for this Bill. As he said, it not only gives the Department more money, but it gives them greater power and greater elasticity of action. I am sure that hon. Members on all sides welcome the preliminary figures he has given us this evening of a further increase in our export trade. It is extremely important that the increase should be made to the hard currency area, and the right hon. Gentleman has said that these figures will be available and classified later on. At the same time, I hope that we shall not be complacent, because I believe that we are moving into a buyers' market, a very highly competitive market abroad. We have to face this new form of hybrid competition, perhaps such as we have never known before. As the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) has said, this elasticity is given to the Department because not only is the export trade changing from capital goods to consumer goods, but the markets themselves are changing, and this power in the hands of the Department will allow for a loose arrangement to direct our exports at the best place at the best time
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.