HC Deb 16 November 1981 vol 13 cc10-1
8. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Trade which Japanese exports to the United Kingdom currently are subject to voluntary restraint.

Mr. Biffen

Motor vehicles, television sets, music centres, pottery, stainless steel tableware and a wide range of steel products.

Mr. Morris

Despite that long list, is my right hon. Friend aware that the balance of trade deficit with Japan stands at an all-time record? Does that not show the futility of voluntary agreements? Therefore, has not the time come for us to move forward to some form of unilateral quota system until there is a fairer balance of trade with Japan?

Mr. Biffen

I think that we should recognise that voluntary arrangements have failed to secure their objectives. We should also recognise clearly that this is not an area in which we can undertake unilateral action. Whilst I appreciate my hon. Friend's anxiety on this point, I would not disparage what has been secured by voluntary arrangements.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the Secretary of State aware of the profound concern in parts of the small engineering industry, making component parts for cars and subcontracting to the large manufacturers, about the importation of such parts from Japan? Will he take action to safeguard firms such as Glacier Metals in my constituency?

Mr. Biffen

Most certainly. If the hon. Gentleman can furnish the Department of Trade with any evidence that he thinks constitutes evidence of dumping, it will be referred to the European Commission for action.

Mr. McNally

Is the Secretary of State aware that the sort of replies that he has been giving have been trotted out for years and years by successive Secretaries of State for Trade without any discernible change of attitude on the part of Japan? Is not the only way to stop the Japanese exporting from fortress Japan to take positive actions against them?

Mr. Biffen

Coming from a Social Democrat, those remarks immediately invite one to wonder whether the Social Democrats are in favour of Britain taking unilateral action in trade negotiations against the Japanese irrespective of our commitments under the Treaty of Rome. When the hon. Gentleman can answer that question, I shall be more disposed to listen to his question.

Mr. Hal Miller

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the voluntary industry-to-industry arrangements have given our motor industry a much needed breathing space, although there is now increasing concern about possible misunderstandings in respect of light commercial vehicles?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend neatly anticipates a question in his own name later on the Order Paper. He is correct in saying that the voluntary arrangement has been observed much more effectively in respect of motor cars than of light commercial vehicles. The Government are deeply concerned about this matter.

Mr. John Smith

In respect of light commercial vehicles and some other products, will the Secretary of State take account of the Japanese negotiating technique of keeping talking and talking to postpone almost for ever the day of action, and that it seems that they respond only in the face of tough talking or proposed tough action by either the British Government or the European Community?

Mr. Biffen

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I hope that they will convey to the outside world, particularly to the Japanese, that this matter binds both sides of the House.