HC Deb 20 March 1952 vol 497 cc2689-92

Again considered in Committee.

[Colonel Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 15, to leave out "fifty," and to insert "thirty."—[Mr. Bottomley.]

10.8 p.m.

Mr. Bing

By a curious coincidence it happens that on both occasions that this Bill has been interrupted I have found myself addressing the Committee at the time of the interruption. I do not want to detain the Committee for any length of time, but I want to complete the few remarks I was addressing to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade when we were interrupted.

I am glad that the Patronage Secretary suspended the Rule today and that my hon. Friends were agreeable to that course so that at least we should have a reasonable amount of time to discuss the country's export trade. It was very important and desirable that that course should have been taken. I was on the question of what these special guarantees were required for, and I was suggesting that I would use such influence as I possessed on my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester (Mr. Bottomley) to withdraw the Amendment if we received certain undertakings from the Secretary for Overseas Trade.

I was on the point of asking for what purpose he intends to use this extra cover. Does he intend it to be used for covering, not only in the North American continent but all over the world, the type of activities that are now covered by a special cover in the North American continent? He and the Secretary for Overseas Trade have told us that the special covers are used, for example, for insuring a man who goes out and works on a project, for insuring the supply of goods and the supply of spares; but so far as one can see, those things are mainly restricted to the Western Hemisphere.

The question that some of my hon. Friends would like answered is this: In view of all that has happened, in view of the Australian position that we have discussed earlier and in view of all these questions, is it not now time that we should look again at the whole pattern of British trade? Is this not a time when special guarantees will be required to assist exporters to open up in new fields, and when the right hon. Gentleman should give the Committee some idea of what those new fields are?

I was suggesting to the Committee, and I will suggest again, very shortly, that perhaps there is no better field than that of trade in the Far East and trade behind what is generally called the Iron Curtain, or East-West trade. Those are types of trade which, if the other types of trade fail us, ought to be developed. Does not the President of the Board of Trade think that the time has come to make a new endeavour along these lines?

I mentioned in the Second Reading speech—which, owing to technicalities, I cannot go into now—that it was desirable that we should reconsider our attitude towards the conference in Moscow; but I do not want to labour that point unduly. What I would suggest is that the right hon. Gentleman should give us some indication that we are now going to make a determined effort not only in the markets in which, up to now, we have been making efforts—the dollar markets—but in markets everywhere, and that we are going to approach this problem with a new idea of flexibility.

I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the question I asked him: What are the special credits for as compared with the ordinary ones? He has told us of Cuban buses, herrings in Poland and one or two other things. Can we have a little more detail than that?

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

If I might reply shortly to the points which have been made by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), as well as the points raised by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley). The right hon. Gentleman repeated a request that he had made previously, namely, whether I could give him some details about the success of this scheme in the dollar area. I shall be very happy to do that. It has been a very successful venture.

The guarantees given to date total some 367 covering more than 500 exporters. There has been an increased dollar turnover equivalent to some £5¼ million. Payments in respect of losses to date have been approximately £4,000; earned premium income amounts to about £250,000, and the current liabilities on 31st December were £9,300,000. I think we can say—and we can all share the credit; there is no party issue involved—that the hopes which my predecessor the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) had of this scheme have been fulfilled.

The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch asked me—and it is a perfectly proper request—to justify the demand for the extra £50 million of cover for which I am asking in this Bill. He will understand that it is not our practice to divulge details of individual contracts, because obviously that would lead to considerable confusion and a good deal of criticism by other people who might think that they ought to have precisely the same treatment and so forth. But I can say that we have run up to well over £70 million, and at one time we were discussing business which would have taken us to something like £85 million or £90 million, which is coming very close to the limit which we have at the present time. We would, in fact, have got to a stage where, to cover any large scale commodity contracts, we might well have gone right over the £100 million limit.

10.15 p.m.

The range of guarantees of this character, as I said earlier, cover very wide extremes. I think they cover the extremes which would appeal to hon. Members in all quarters. There is the North American market, which I need not elaborate again because I have dealt with it already. It has been generally agreed on all sides that we should do what we can to encourage traders to break into that difficult market. Equally, we cover today no less than 51 per cent. of the trade with Russia—which is a very high figure, indeed—and 21 per cent. of the trade with other Iron Curtain countries; so there is no discrimination here.

But I seek to extend these facilities as widely as possible, to cover exporters in whatever quarter of the world they may happen to be carrying on their trade. I hope this will satisfy the Committee that our request for this extension of another £50 million is necessary and will be helpful in the circumstances.

Mr. Bottomley

In view of the Minister's explanation I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.