The full range of overseas trade services is available for companies wishing to export to Scandinavia. More specifically, my Department regularly undertakes special initiatives in relation to those markets.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that the north-east exports a greater proportion of its manufacturing output than almost any other region and that an increasing amount of that trade is with Scandinavian countries, especially that involving the development of the extensive North sea oil arid gas reserves, in which about 22,000 people in the north-east are already employed? Does my hon. Friend agree that those trading links with Scandinavia would be given a significant boost by the early inclusion of the Scandinavian countries in the single European market?
I agree with my hon. Friend arid the sooner that we can get Maastricht out of the way, the sooner we can enlarge the Community. As my hon. Friend says, the oil and gas industry in the north-east is of paramount importance. The story is one of immense success and I have no doubt that it will continue. Last year, exports to the nordic countries grew by more than 5 per cent. and imports by only 2 per cent., so I am delighted to say that we are closing the gap, with the help of companies from the north-east.
Will the Minister take an early opportunity to remind our Norwegian trading partners that if they insist on slaughtering minke whales in the north Atlantic, they will imperil both imports from and exports to this country, because many people feel that the Norwegians should desist from the obscenity of whaling?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings on that subject, but I assure the House that the Government will continue to do everything that they can to promote and increase trade with the nordic countries, including Norway.
Does my hon. Friend agree that our sales into Scandinavia will be improved not only by the recent increases in Export Credits Guarantee Department cover, but by the fact that the pound is more competitive against the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish kroners? The fact that we have low inflation also improves our ability to sell abroad. If the high-spending, high-taxation, high-inflation policies of the Labour party were followed, we would be unable to sell not only to Scandinavia but to the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.
Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend. Another difference between us and the Labour party is that whereas we have a strategy for backing winners, the Labour party, as I know because I have just read the strategy of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), is returning to a strategy for picking losers.