HC Deb 02 March 1994 vol 238 cc927-9
4. Mr. Burns

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what help is given to British industry and commerce by British embassies and high commissions to promote British goods and services in the export market; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd

Our posts concentrate hard on promoting British exports. We now have 201 commercial sections overseas and 20 new posts have been opened or reopened since 1990. Those posts provide a wide variety of help to British companies. They seek out export opportunities, advise companies on the business to be won in their markets, lobby on their behalf for major contracts and against discrimination and organise visits by trade missions and Ministers to win business. Research shows that 70 per cent. of our customers are satisfied with our service and 90 per cent. said that they would use those services again. The value of British exports world wide rose by £3.3 billion in the past year compared with 1992.

Mr. Burns

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the role played by the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry in securing export orders and jobs for the country is disgracefully undermined by the naive, sanctimonious and dishonest campaign waged by certain newspapers and Opposition parties with regard to Malaysia? Does he accept that it will mean the loss of British exports and British jobs and that the only outcome will be that we will become the laughing stock of our major competitors, which will step in and pick up the jobs that British workers should be doing?

Mr. Hurd

I spent two and a half happy hours on that subject this morning. What emerged is that, since June 1988, we have followed two policies of facilitating and building up defence sales to Malaysia and getting our share of civil contracts with the help of aid and trade provision under the rules. Those have been separately and successfully followed. The grave accusation that my hon. Friend and I are under is that we have done too much to help British business and protect British jobs.

Mr. Enright

Notwithstanding that reply, will the Foreign Secretary give an absolute guarantee that not only will he not encourage the sale of land mines but he will forbid their export to anywhere else in the world?

Mr. Hurd

I should like to write to the hon. Gentleman on that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, because there are various types of land mine and, as the hon. Gentleman certainly knows, an intricate international discussion is going on at the moment about how that area of arms sales can be limited and reduced. So, rather than chance my arm, I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Alexander

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Department of Trade and Industry is seconding 100 business men with export expertise to that Department? Will he arrange for some of those people to be used in the high commissions and embassies abroad so that we can beef up our export strategies there?

Mr. Hurd

We are doing that and I am in close touch with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I should like to draw the attention of the House to a letter in The Independent today from Sir Derek Hornby, chairman of the British Overseas Trade Board, and others bearing out what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said, and what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) implies, about the substantial improvement in recent years in how the Foreign Office helps British exports.

Mr. Rogers

Regardless of the synthetic bluster of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), does the Foreign Secretary agree that, whatever embassies and officials do, their work is undermined when a Government are prepared to abuse and distort trade negotiations and overseas aid provisions? In the case of Malaysia, are not the Government putting jobs in this country at risk by their shady, behind-the-door deals?

Mr. Hurd

There has been a great deal of bluster on that subject and we can now see the harm that Opposition spokesmen and others have done to British interests. I am glad that the Select Committee concentrated on the core of the matter and went into it steadily. It was not beguiled into believing the nonsense spoken by the spokesman for the Liberals and the spokesman for the Labour party. They tried to bring completely unrelated and extraneous matters into the argument—the bluster, to use the hon. Gentleman's word, which has done so much harm to British interests in the past few weeks.

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