The Government are committed to promoting enterprise and to minimising and reducing burdens on business. As part of the new enterprise initiative announced yesterday, the Department's export services will be made more attractive and more accessible to firms, particularly smaller firms.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that, whatever the Government do, the most important thing for exporters is free and fair trade? To that extent I welcome his earlier answer about the improvement in sales to Japan, but does he agree that, however much the Government may help now, more must be done to ensure free and fair trade throughout the world, including the Japanese economy?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is on his way back from Japan. The House has long recognised his gifts in combining courtesy and firmness, which he will have deployed in Japan. However cordial the atmosphere at those meetings, he will have told his hosts that we shall judge them by the results in the aftermath.
Does that answer mean that the Government now recognise the importance of getting manufacturing industries into export surplus? On 10 December 1986 the Minister told me from the Dispatch Box that it it was neither the business nor the responsibility of the Government to get manufacturing industries into export surplus.
The Government have a role to play, principally in an advisory capacity. The Government must help manufacturers, especially small firms which have not yet broken into export markets, with guidance and encouragement on how to break into those markets, how to cope with form-filling, how to assess the possibilities of different markets and how to maintain themselves in the difficult early periods. In all those categories the new enterprise initiative will be extremely helpful, beamed as it is on smaller businesses.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the recent excellent export figures announced by the British Textile Confederation, which show that last year British exports to most major European countries increased by 15 to 20 per cent. and exports to Japan increased by 23 per cent.? Is he equally aware of the grave disquiet of many carpet manufacturers about the illegal subsidies given by one of our major competitors—Belgium—to its carpet manufacturers? I have in mind especially the payment by the Belgian Government of £3·5 million to Beaulieu, the biggest carpet manufacturer in the world, which, despite a recent European Court ruling, has not been repaid. Will my hon. Friend make representations at the highest level to make sure that it is repaid and that similar practices do not recur?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the achievements of the textile industry, which has made a notable recovery from its serious difficulties — a recovery in no small measure due to our maintenance of the multi-fibre arrangement, which I hope will continue to exist for some years.
As my hon. Friend said, there has been an especially flagrant breach of the understandings, with the Belgians subsidising their carpet industry. We continue to pursue the matter. Recently, we made representations to the Belgian Government. So far there appears to have been no response to the judgment of the European Court, but I assure my hon. Friend that we treat the matter with the utmost gravity and will continue to maintain pressure until satisfaction is achieved.
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has not yet surfaced during this Question Time, so we must be content with the repetitious performance of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). He has mentioned the matter several times. The fact that there is no additional money may upset Opposition Members, but it is a source of satisfaction to Conservative Members that we are achieving those results without additional expenditure. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said, we must adapt to changed circumstances and introduce more sophistication and selectivity. We believe that the results will justify our actions.