In view of that characteristic piece of masterly inactivity on the part of the Secretary of State and with Britain's trade deficit about to enter the "Guinness Book of Records", is it not true that only a lunatic or the Secretary of State, or perhaps both at the same time, would think of monkeying around with those essential support services for exporters? In particular, will he give attention to the fact that any monkeying about of the kind that he may have in mind would affect 770 jobs in Cardiff where essential services are provided for small and medium-sized export businesses—support which is vital as we approach 1992?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman awaits the Government's decision about the Kemp report instead of trying to come to conclusions before the Government have given it the attention that it deserves. The purpose of the operation is to improve the services provided to our exporters and there is no threat to ECGD in such a course.
Does my hon. Friend agree that as 70 per cent. of British firms do not export we need to give them maximum help and encouragement to be bold and go into the world markets to export? Is he aware that while other countries offer export credit guarantees, British firms, especially small firms, need the services of ECGD? Will he bear that in mind when he makes his decision?
I shall most certainly bear that important point in mind. There is no question of withdrawing services for exports of goods, from large, small or medium-sized enterprises. It is a question of the status of the ECGD and its duty to perform that function.
While I understand that the Secretary of State has still to make a final decision on the matter, will he give a clear statement to the House that he does not accept the ludicrous suggestion put forward by his hon. Friends in the Treasury that the projects division of ECGD be closed down? Will he further undertake to listen carefully to industry and those who work in ECGD before making a final decision? Does he agree that, with a £20 billion trade deficit, our export efforts need to be increased, not reduced?
I cannot respond to both parts of the hon. Lady's supplementary question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] She asked me not to foreclose my eventual decision on the matter and at the same time to foreclose on the question of the projects group by deciding against the zero option. I promise the House that I shall make a decision abundantly clear as soon as possible, and I hope that that will be before long.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that considerable disquiet has been caused by the Government's delay in coming to a decision? In coming to a decision, will he consult the recent important study by Northern Engineering Industries which shows the effect down the line of project finance, which we now hear that the Treasury is against?
We have not had the working group's report for long. My hon. Friend will find that the delay in giving the House a decision on the matter is not at all long. I fully understand and hear what he says about the projects group and the importance of capital goods industries to the north-east. It is certainly one of the factors that we shall take into account.