HC Deb 24 November 1953 vol 521 cc184-6
42. Mr. Gower

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about certain engineering contracts in Commonwealth and other countries recently awarded to foreign firms in competition with British firms; and what steps he will take to enable British firms to compete for such contracts upon an equal and fair basis.

Mr. Amory

I am aware that certain engineering contracts abroad have recently been awarded to foreign competitors. Circumstances differ from case to case, but the main cause appears to have been the ability of our competitors to quote lower prices. The Government will do all they can to ensure that our manufacturers compete on equal terms. But the decisive factor is our competitive power and the major responsibility rests upon everyone in industry to keep down costs and improve productivity.

Mr. Gower

Will the Minister tell the House if he can estimate to what extent the success of our foreign competitors has been due to Government subsidies, or others forms of special assistance, given to firms in those countries?

Mr. Amory

My hon. Friend will realise that it is extraordinarily difficult to get to the bottom of this. On the whole, we think that this influence has been exaggerated, but if my hon. Friend or anyone else has any definite evidence, we should like to have it. In the meantime, through O.E.E.C. and other inter-Governmental organisations, we are taking up the question of export incentives and quasi-subsidies, I think not without some encouraging progress.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the biggest single factor causing the loss of contracts, both in the Commonwealth and elsewhere, is the long delivery dates which many of our manufacturers quote in comparison with those of other countries, and that a further serious effect is caused by the fact that the Treasury in this country will not allow the same credit terms to some of these traders as are allowed by the treasuries of some other countries?

Mr. Amory

Again I say to the right hon. Gentleman that whilst I agree that delivery dates come into this, and have accounted in some cases for the loss of contracts, we should like to have definite evidence where that is the trouble. Even more important than long delivery dates is our failure in some cases to keep to the delivery dates that have been given.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a big order for locomotives has been lost to Scotland and that there is great concern about India for the first time placing that order in other countries?

Mr. Amory

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We are concerned about the loss of that locomotive order also but, if he looks into it, I think he will find that the main reason, though not the only reason, was the substantial difference in prices.

Mr. Lee

Since the Minister gave as the main reason the ability of our foreign competitors to quote lower prices than we do, will he not inform his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the slash in food subsidies has deliberately pushed up food prices in this country?