HC Deb 21 June 1965 vol 714 cc1181-3
14. Mr. Bence

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what further steps he is taking to improve the commercial services of British embassies.

Mr. George Thomson

With the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on 27th January and 1st June last, the range of official services to exporters is now more comprehensive than ever before. We are continually seeking to improve the services provided by our embassies and consular posts. Recent steps include the revision of the system of training for officers entering commercial work, improved terms of service for locally engaged officers, provision of more office equipment and the institution of a standard filing system for all commercial departments.

Mr. Bence

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to consider the fact that American Government agencies and embassies do not merely use their commercial attachés as sources of information? Their commercial attachés and embassies—it is the same with German embassies—are active protagonists for American and German interests. Will my hon. Friend see that our attachés are not merely officers waiting to give information to these people who call but are active in propagating the commercial interests of Britain because of our difficult balance of payments situation?

Mr. Thomson

I will take careful account of what my hon. Friend has said. My impression is that our commercial officers overseas are at least as good as their competitors in other countries. It is the job of the Diplomatic Service officer overseas to help the exporter to sell goods. It is not the job of the officer to sell the goods himself.

Sir G. de Freitas

Apart from improving the service, is my hon. Friend aware that one of the problems facing many of our High Commissioners and Ambassadors is that British businessmen do not appear to be aware of the extent and range of the commercial services available? Will the Minister once again remind organisations such as the F.B.I. of the existence of these services?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to a very important aspect of the matter. To meet this problem an extensive advertising campaign to inform businessmen of the services is being undertaken.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I was glad to hear the hon. Member speak of his desire to improve the training of officers in commercial matters. Will he accept that in many cases the Foreign Office, sometimes due to lack of staff, sometimes finds it necessary to place in commercial posts people who have had almost no training at all in that direction? Will the hon. Gentleman take steps to see that the training that he spoke of is pressed through urgently?

Mr. Thomson

We are very conscious of the importance of training in this matter. We have some difficulties with regard to staff. We do not have as many people in the Diplomatic Service as we should like, but within the limits of manpower we are giving increasing attention to the problem of providing adequate training in these courses.