HC Deb 10 December 1986 vol 107 cc327-9
5. Mr. Livsey

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has recently received on Government support for exporters.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

I receive frequent representations from industry about specific business opportunities overseas, and about services provided by the Government through the British Overseas Trade Board, which also advises the Government on these matters.

Mr. Livsey

Will the Minister look carefully at the CBI's "Business Manifesto", which expressly states that foreign Governments give their manufaturers far more support in relation to exports than is the case in this country?

Mr. Clarke

The budget of the British Overseas Trade Board will rise next year and the year after to more than £28 million. In addition, some £100 million has been spent by the Foreign Office in the past two years through its commercial councellors in overseas posts.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Has my hon. Friend heard the news from the British Footwear Manufacturers Federation that exports in the third quarter of this year were 20 per cent. up on last year and are now at an all-time record? Although the Opposition may have their own reasons for running down those achievements, is it not a fact that important sections of British industry are now competing very well in the world markets? The best thing for my hon. Friend's Department would be to stay well clear of those industries.

Mr. Clark

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his advice. If that is the wish of the footwear industry, I am sure that my Department, whose resources are necessarily limited, will be only too glad to comply.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Is the Minister aware that no industrial sector has tried harder in the export field than the British power plant industry? As the Department of Trade and Industry is its sponsoring Department, what discussions does the Minister have with his right hon. Friend at the Department of Energy about securing a base domestic work load for that industrial sector?

Mr. Clark

I have periodic consultations with my right hon. Friend at the Department of Energy.

Mr. Conway

Bearing in mind the success of my hon. Friend's Department in supporting the British Overseas Trade Board, the regional development councils and the chambers of trade in helping, assisting and advising exporters, will he tell the House what steps the Department could take to assist those exporters based in areas that are not in receipt of such Government largesse, especially those in rural areas?

Mr. Clark

All the facilities of the British Overseas Trade Board are available, and they are especially geared towards assisting smaller firms—such as those in my hon. Friend's constituency—which might not have full first-hand experience of exporting but are none the less well placed by reason of their products and their competitiveness to penetrate overseas markets. It is precisely those sectors that the BOTB is geared to assist.

Mr. Ron Brown

Has the Minister received any representations from NEI, bearing in mind that company's fine achievement in exporting submarine lifting gear to Libya? May I remind the Minister that that company is one of the biggest contributors to Tory party funds? It is also significant in the north-east of England and in Scotland. Has the Minister heard from that company?

Mr. Clark

I have frequent consulations with NEI. I am glad to pay tribute to the role that it plays in our whole overseas projects business. I am sure that it would reciprocate by acknowledging the help that it receives under the aid and trade provision.

Mr. Hirst

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Weir group of Glasgow, which has been making considerable efforts to develop its pump exports in Asia, and which was recently visited by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, has expressed considerable gratitude for the support and encouragement the Department has given it in developing these exports? Is that not precisely the role that his Department should be undertaking?

Mr. Clark

I am happy to receive my hon. Friend's endorsement. As he said, the Weir group was recently visited by my right hon. Friend. I am glad that it is satisfied with the assistance that it is receiving, which is precisely along this lines that we hope to advance.

Mr. Robin Cook

Is the Minister aware that during the time of the Government the number of staff in his Department working in exports has fallen from 1,200 to 700, that the number of overseas trade fairs has fallen by one seventh, the number of trade missions by a third, and the number of commercial counsellors attached to the Foreign Office by one sixth? Is not the outcome of that record that, having inherited a £3 billion surplus in manufacturing trade, the Government have successfully managed to convert it into a deficit of £4 billion? Why does the Minister not face that fact and admit that his Department's cuts have cut our exports?

Mr. Clark

I have already told the House that the budget is increasing for this year, next year and the year following. The hon. Gentleman referred to the decline in our manufacturing exports, but—as I hope to explain in answer to a later question, if we reach it—manufacturing exports have increased. The trend continues to be upwards.