HC Deb 07 December 1964 vol 703 cc1057-9
31. Mr. Maxwell

asked the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the fact that British diplomatic representatives abroad are not doing enough to promote British exports, he will take steps to relate their salaries and expenses directly to the achievement of a rapid and sustained increase in British exports.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)

No, Sir. I do not accept that British diplomatic representatives are not doing enough to promote British exports. This is one of their most important tasks and they treat it as such. But actual orders have to be won by exporting firms and organisations.

Mr. Maxwell

As my hon. Friend knows, foreign affairs is about war or trade. Would he not agree that a great deal more of the Department's resources and manpower should be devoted to obtaining increased orders? Would he not further agree that there is a need to increase the status and emoluments of commercial and marketing officers? Finally, would he not also agree that there is a considerable need for market research officers in appropriate cases where our country can achieve a considerable increase in exports?

Mr. Thomson

Commercial officers of the Foreign Office are members of the Diplomatic Service and their salaries and allowances are, as recently agreed under the recommendations of the Plowden Committee, the same as for other members of the Service. Active steps have been taken in recent years to give diplomatic officers doing commercial work the fullest opportunity to train in that work in this country.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, starting with the Labour Government after the war, diplomatic representatives have been playing an increasingly important and effective part in our export trade? Will he point out to them that the implications in the Question and the supplementary question do not represent the opinion of either side of the House of those who are doing this work?

Mr. Thomson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to the commercial work of our diplomatic representatives. My Department receives many compliments from exporters about the kind of help that they have received from our commercial officers overseas.

Mr. Loughlin

Whilst not wishing to criticise any members of the existing diplomatic staff, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he does not agree that there is urgent need for an expansion of our staffs abroad on both the technical and the sales sides?

Mr. Thomson

We are always ready to expand the work we do to help British commercial interests overseas but my hon. Friend's supplementary question might be better addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. G. Campbell

Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Government, before they increase their own salaries, not to make our diplomatists' tasks more difficult by surcharges and other irritations which have antagonised almost every other country?

Mr. Thomson

That is quite another question. There are questions on that subject on the Order Paper later.