HC Deb 19 February 1963 vol 672 cc217-21
12. Dr. Bray

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he proposes to take to secure the implementation of the recommendations in the Report of the Working Group on Export Merchants published in the Board of Trade Journal on 1st February, 1963.

Mr. Green

The Report by this informal Working Group suggests a number of ways in which export houses themselves and the national industrial organisations can help co-operation between manufacturers and merchants. The rôle of the Board of Trade has been to bring the group together, and to publicise its findings.

Dr. Bray

Does not the Minister of State feel that something a little more active is called for from the Board of Trade? The recommendations are modest enough in all conscience. Does not he feel that if there were any delay in implementing them it would be utterly disastrous? Is not he prepared that the State should play an active rôle in promoting exports by selling directly abroad through a State export house?

Mr. Green

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, within the limits of the reply I have given to his Question, there are certain actions which I can take. I do take them. I am very interested in the rôle of export houses, and I hope that the export houses and their merchants know that.


13. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he has studied the representations sent to him by the Boilermakers, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers, Salford branch, regarding the refusal of the Russian delegation offer to order ships worth £20 million because 10 per cent. of the payment had to be in Russian oil; and what reply he has sent.

Mr. Green

I would refer the hon. Member to my statement on 12th February.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not a fact that we are the only major country in Europe at present refusing Russian oil? Would not its acceptance immediately help to secure for us orders worth £35 million, not just for ships but for heavy engineering products as well? Who comes first—the unemployed, or a handful of American and British oil magnates?

Mr. Green

I wonder whether it is possible to get the hon. Gentleman to believe that no specific proposal has in fact been made to us. Therefore, to comment on a hypothetical one would not be helpful.

Mr. Skeet

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the oil companies have spent about £2,600 million on equipment, including £800 million on shipping, in the United Kingdom since 1946? Is not this providing employment in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Green: Yes, Sir.

14. Sir C. Osborne

asked the President of the Board of Trade why he will not accept the Soviet proposals to increase oil exports to Britain, in view of their offer to take in exchange consumer goods, which would provide increased employment in this country; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Green

My right hon. Friend is not aware of any Soviet offer to buy consumer goods in exchange for oil exports.

Sir C. Osborne

My hon. Friend says that he knows of no offer. If I bring him evidence that seven years ago this type of offer was made and that I handed it to his predecessor at the Board of Trade, will he try to do something about it? Whatever my hon. Friend says, there is a feeling in the country that we could have more employment if we would take only a reasonable amount of oil from the Soviet Government.

Mr. Green

I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish me to do my best to safeguard the interests of the country by not commenting upon hypothetical matters of this kind. Any specific proposals that are made to us will, of course, be considered.

Mr. Dugdale

When such an offer is made, will the hon. Gentleman consider that last year we bought £8 million worth of oil from the United States of America and £19 million worth from Saudi Arabia, neither of which, to the best of my knowledge, is directly dependent upon Her Majesty's Government? Will he bear this in mind?

Mr. Green

We will bear all relevant considerations in mind.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that large quantities of Soviet oil are being sold to the Italians, who are refining it and reselling it in the sterling area, in return for which the Italian yards, such as Ansaldo, are deriving from Russia large orders for capital equipment? Are we not thus obtaining the worst of all worlds?

Mr. Green

I can only repeat to my hon. Friend, whose interest in this matter I fully understand, that we have no specific proposals yet before us to consider.

Mr. Speaker

Sir Cyril Osborne.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, for the hon. Gentleman to put this country in the position where we are excepted from all the orders—

Mr. Speaker

Order. In the last Session, with the aid of the House in general, we put an end to the practice of asking bogus points of order because everybody knows that it is only cheating.

31. Mr. Rankin

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the recent orders for tankers, floating cranes and fishing vessels amounting to over £30 million placed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with Japanese shipbuilders; and what steps he proposes taking to improve credit terms and liberalise import restrictions to enable British shipyards to obtain a comparable share of Soviet business.

Mr. Green

My right hon. Friend is aware of this order. The facilities which the Export Credits Guarantee Department already offers in respect of ships, and which take full account of officially-backed credit from other countries, should be such as to enable shipbuilders to offer competitive terms in this as in other markets.

Mr. Rankin

The hon. Gentleman has been telling us earlier that he is not aware that this sort of business is being conducted throughout Europe and the world.

Mr. Green indicated dissent.

Mr. Rankin

That is the impression he has left with me. Is he now saying that he is fully aware of it and that it is being conducted with quite a number of countries? Can he say why it is that we are excluding Russia from any trading arrangements on shipbuilding, for example, into which we are now prepared to enter?

Mr. Green

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are making no such exclusion of Russian shipping requirements. If they wish to place orders with us, our shipyards and the Government will be exceedingly glad to see them doing so.

Mr. Rankin

Can I take it, then, from the hon. Gentleman that shipyards in this country, particularly in my division, will be encouraged by his Department if they are prepared to enter this sort of business?

Mr. Green

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to long-term credit facilities. I assure him that our ability to offer to our own builders long-term credit facilities is as good as any I know in the world.

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman keeps telling us that no specific orders have come from the Russians. Can be say whether any discussions have been held with Russian representatives here to try to invite orders?

Mr. Green

We are always seeking trade within the trading agreements we conduct with the Soviet Union. The hon. Gentleman is referring to a previous Question. Perhaps it would be safer, and in the interests of everybody, if he read my previous answers and made sure of their terms.

Mr. P. Williams

The gist of a number of my hon. Friend's answers on this subject has been that the Government have been waiting for something to come to us. This is National Productivity Year—a year when selling means more than anything else. Is not the Government's approach particularly haphazard? Should there not be a more positive approach?

Mr. Green

I hope that I have misheard my hon. Friend. I hope that he is not suggesting that the Board of Trade should actually take upon itself the job of a State selling agency. I want him to appreciate, as I believe he does, that shipyards, amongst other industrial undertakings, from time to time receive inquiries from the Russians. We seek to encourage them and put them in a position to meet any orders which result. That I promise him is what we seek to do.

Mr. Jay

As there has been all this discussion in the Press and elsewhere about possible orders of this kind, surely the Board of Trade might approach the Soviet authorities and find out what possibilities there are.

Mr. Green

I am not responsible for what appears in the Press.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, it is a real one. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.