HC Deb 30 April 1969 vol 782 cc1426-8
30. Mr. Biffen

asked the President of the Board Trade what is the percentage change in British exports to South Africa for the year to date compared with the corresponding period in 1968; and what is the estimated British share of total South African imports.

32. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the President of the Board of Trade what was the percentage increase in British exports comparing 1968 with 1965; and what was the comparable increase in exports to South Africa.

Mr. Crosland

The value of United Kingdom exports increased by 31 per cent. between 1965 and 1968; there was virtually no change in the value of our exports to South Africa between 1965 and 1968, or between the first quarters of 1968 and 1969. Our share of South African imports in 1968 was 24 per cent. This was less than in 1967, and not greater, as I inadvertently stated on 19th March. The trend is broadly in line with our experience in overseas sterling area markets generally.

Mr. Biffen

Even so, do not these figures reveal that South Africa remains a major market for British goods? Would the right hon. Gentleman take this occasion to underline his own anxieties that our trade with South Africa shall continue to proceed at a buoyant level and, indeed, to increase?

Mr. Crosland

South Africa remains a most important market, and I repeat what I have said many times in public; that our policy, on the one hand, is faithfully to carry out the United Nations Resolution on the arms ban and, on the other, otherwise to encourage civilian trade to the greatest possible extent.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that at a time when trade in this market could have increased by an additional 31 per cent., our record of exports to South Africa has been disappointing? Is he satisfied that his Department is doing everything possible to encourage trade with South Africa? In particular, will he give advice to local authorities to provide every help and encouragement to South African goodwill and trade missions coming to this country?

Mr. Crosland

To answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, about the decline in our share of this trade, I remind him that our share of South African trade was declining even under the Conservative Administration before the arms ban was introduced. This decline is roughly in line with what is happening in other developed sterling countries as a result of the shift away from traditional markets towards markets in Western Europe and the United States. Our policy in this matter is perfectly plain. It is to maintain the arms ban but, subject to that, to increase trade.

Mr. Hastings

Do the Government consider it advantageous that the South African Government should be buying French submarines and fighters? Is he in a position to give an estimate of the sums that are being lost to us as a result of the policy that we are following?

Mr. Crosland

There is no clear evidence—none has been submitted to me by hon. Gentlemen opposite or others—to show that our trade in non-military goods is suffering as a result of the ban. As to the ban itself, I believe that it is in the general interest of the world that the United Nations should have imposed it and that the United Kingdom should uphold it.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his last comment is very welcome on this side of the House? Would he agree that rather than our exporting arms to South Africa being a help, such a step would place a tremendous strain on the supply of arms to our own Forces? Is he aware that in the constituency of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) it is being found difficult, despite what was said last year and has since been shown in the local Press, to obtain skilled labour to build up the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Crosland

I agree with my hon. Friend. At this stage I will only add a point which is consistently ignored by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the great majority of advanced industrial countries are pursuing exactly the same policy on arms as we are.

Mr. Wall

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to give notice that in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's Answer I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.