HC Deb 14 July 1980 vol 988 cc1037-9
8. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will give further consideration, in view of the decline in manufacturing industry, to introducing selective import controls.

Mr. Parkinson

I already give very careful consideration to all representations made to me for import controls in selected areas. A generally greater resort to such controls would not however be in the national interest.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not obvious to Trade Ministers that without selective import controls a number of manufacturing firms will not survive? When will Ministers be rather less dogmatic and begin to act in the interests of British industry and the British work force?

Mr. Parkinson

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question when he bothers to find out exactly what is being done, which embodies a considerable number of things, for the range of threatened industries which, within the rules of world trade, are entitled to help. Where they fit into those rules they get help.

Mr. Dorrell

Is it not a fact that 30 per cent. of this country's gross domestic product is exported and that 30 per cent. of our jobs depend upon exports? Is it not also a fact that import controls will do nothing whatever to improve the job security of that 30 per cent of the population? Would it not be better if British industry concentrated on improving its competitiveness? Should not Government action be directed to that end rather than towards the imposition of import controls?

Mr. Parkinson

I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. A huge proportion of jobs in British industry depend on exports, and the moment our exports leave this shore they become someone else's imports. If we begin the argument for general import controls, we stand to be the big loser.

Mr. John Smith

Is the Minister aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was asking not for general import controls, but for the Government to look more carefully at selective import controls? Given the difficulties now facing British industry, caused largely by the excessive value of the pound, will the Minister undertake to study more comprehensively the case for selective import controls, properly applied?

Mr. Parkinson

We look at every case very carefully. Where it fits in with the rules of world trade and it is possible to take action, we do so. That is why we have controls on footwear, steels and monochrome television, as well as on a range of other products, because they all fit within the rules. We must not begin imposing controls where the circumstances do not justify it. That will only open us up to retaliation, and if the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that he should look at the way in which the Americans have reacted to controls on synthetic fibres.

Mr. Chapman

Will my hon. Friend confirm that this country is in substantial surplus in its balance of payments with industrialising non-OPEC countries? If that is the case, and if my hon. Friend were minded to introduce controls, on what goods could he put them that would not either damage our wider trading interests or break international or multilateral trading agreements entered into by successive Governments?

Mr. Parkinson

My hon. Friend is right. We run a surplus with the non-oil developing countries of about £2.8 billion a year. One of the least attractive features of the Labour Party is that it constantly argues about the dangers of low-cost imports and at the same time constantly demands an increase in our aid programme. Labour Members demand discrimination against the very people about whom they claim to care.