Orders of the Day — British Advertisements, Russia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 December 1944.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , Oxford 12:00, 1 December 1944

After the wide Debate to which we have listened, I have to ask this House to come down to a very small piece of detail. I think it would be readily agreed that the question of our export trade after the war is one of the most important that we have to face, and, for some time past, some of us have been patting down a series of Questions to the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade—whom I am glad to see in his place—to ascertain what plans the Government have for this purpose. It is not my purpose this evening to say anything on general issues, but one of these Questions elicited a most unsatisfactory answer. On 16th November I asked the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade a Question which was answered by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The Question was as follows: To ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he is aware that America has already booked £60,000 worth of advertisements in Russian trade journals; and why of £35,000 worth of applications by British firms, £31,000 has been forbidden by the British Government. Now, the position in regard to that Question was as stated in those facts. The Americans have booked £60,000 worth of advertisements in Russian technical journals. British manufacturers and would-be exporters applied for advertisements to the value of £35,000. Of this, the Treasury permitted only £4,000 worth to be inserted in the Russian Press, and has forbidden the remaining £31,000, with the result that Russian trade journals will carry £60,000 worth of American advertising matter in due course, while British exporters are still only to be allowed £4,000. To that Question, I was given the following reply by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury: I have seen reports which have appeared in the American Press regarding expenditure of $250,000 in this connection. The requests by individual United Kingdom firms in connection with advertising in trade papers in the Soviet Union have been kept under constant review, and, as was stated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade on 26th October, a certain number of applications were in fact allowed while the general position was under examination by the Treasury in connection with that Department. Both Departments are, of course, anxious to take the most effective steps to stimulate United Kingdom trade with the Soviet Union, and have been, and will be, prepared to consider sympathetically any proposals which take into account the special conditions under which such trade is carried on. But, in view of the system under which Soviet orders are placed, it is obvious that appeals to individual consumers by means of advertisement can have but limited, if any, effect on the orders placed, and in the light of this factor, expenditure of foreign currency for this purpose must be restricted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 2135–6.] From that reply, I understand that, not merely did my right hon. Friend seek to justify the refusal of £31,000 out of £35,000 worth of applications for advertising by British exporters, but one must assume that of that £4,000, which was granted, the greater part was granted whilst the general position was under examination by the Treasury, and in future we must assume and expect a very much less generous policy towards these applications even than that which was incorporated in my Question. I beg to submit that my right hon. Friend is wrong on a number of counts. In the first place, it is wrong to think that the Treasury ought to be the deciding factor as to whether advertisements ought to appear in Russian trade journals or not. It is true, no doubt, that whether any foreign advertisements can be permitted at all may be a question, like other questions affecting the use of foreign currency, which comes within the purview of the Treasury, but to suggest that the Treasury is in a position to advise exporters whether advertising matter in Russian newspapers is likely to be useful or not is, I should have thought, a very different question.

My right hon. Friend has no technical advisers to qualify him to give advice of that kind. The Department of Overseas Trade ought to have taken a very much more prominent part in this matter. It is extremely unlikely that American business firms spend £60,000 on advertising for no purpose at all. They are not pure philanthropists, anxious to support trade journals in the Soviet Union. They know what they are about. They put in their advertisements because they know it will help to sell their goods. It is very unlikely that my right hon. Friend knows their business better than they do themselves, better in fact than not only American business men know it, but than British business men know it, because they have applied for £35,000 worth of advertisements, and it is my right hon. Friend who says "It is not good for you to spend the money; it would not be to your interest and would have little or no effect." My right hon. Friend perhaps does not share the views on some matters which I myself advocate. I should doubt whether he belongs to the same section of Conservative opinion that I do myself, but I should have thought there was one matter upon which we should both be agreed, and that was that it was extremely undesirable for the Government to tell British manufacturers and exporters what was good for them; that it was extremely undesirable in principle that, if British manufacturers and exporters thought they could sell their goods in Russia by advertising in trade papers, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, of all officials, should say "No, we do not think that it is good for you to do it. We are not going to allow it." I should have thought that both my right hon. Friend and myself and all Members of the Conservative Party would at least have been united in restricting the functions of the Government on an issue like that.