HC Deb 12 December 1977 vol 941 cc8-10
8. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement about Anglo-Polish trade.

13. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what calculations his Department has made of the long-term effect on the British balance of payments of the recent shipbuilding deal with Poland.

Mr. Dell

Poland is our second most important export market in Eastern Europe with a consistently favourable trade balance to the United Kingdom. Trade has continued to expand during 1977.

No detailed calculations have been made by my Department on the overall effect of the shipbuilding deal on the balance of payments, but I would expect it to be positive.

Mr. Blaker

Does the Secretary of State accept that he is responsible for looking after the interests of British shipping lines? Are not their interests and those of the people who work for them likely to be affected adversely by the proposed British-Polish shipbuilding deal? In view of the practice of Communist countries of competing at unfair rates, and of the large subsidies which the British taxpayers will apparently have to pay towards the construction of the ships, what provision will there be that they will not compete in the cross-shipping trade between third countries?

Mr. Dell

As the hon. Gentleman says, I have a responsibility for British shipping. On the other hand, the rest of the hon. Gentleman's question is posited on the premise, which is totally untrue, that if we had not accepted the orders no one else would have built the ships.

Mr. Higgins

How many British cars have been exported to Poland, compared with the number of Polish cars imported into this country? What barriers are there to the export of British cars to Poland?

Mr. Dell

I do not have the figures on the trade in cars. I shall look them up and communicate them to the hon. Gentleman.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Has the right hon. Gentleman received any undertaking that the Polish Government will not do with the ships precisely what the Soviet Government are doing with theirs?

Mr. Dell

I have received no such undertaking. However, once again, the question is posited on the premise that if we did not build the ships no one else would. That premise is totally false.

Mr. Parkinson

Can the Secretary of State tell us at what stage he was brought into the negotiations and whether, in fact, he was ever consulted about the terms before the Prime Minister's statement to the Labour Party Conference?

Mr. Dell

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the order has a long history, including discussions last December between the Polish and British Prime Ministers. I have been aware of the facts all along.

Mr. Renton

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether ECGD was forced to increase its limit per country vis-á-vis Poland in order to accommodate the shipping contract? Has ECGD gone beyond the normal, prudent, commercial insurance limit for the contract to be taken on?

Mr. Dell

The hon. Gentleman knows that Polish credit is good, and the ECGD terms are within the terms of the OECD arrangements.