HC Deb 01 March 1995 vol 255 cc1040-1
17. Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action his Department is taking to create new posts overseas and to reinforce United Kingdom commercial efforts abroad.

Mr. Hurd

With the help of efficiency savings and reductions in work of lower priority, I am planning a significant strengthening of the FCO's support for British overseas interests. This will involve more than 100 new commercial staff abroad and the creation of 14 new posts in the former Soviet Union and in emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. These comprise four new embassies, three new consulates and seven new trade offices with locally engaged staff. The reductions that I mentioned include the replacement of three consuls in Italy by honorary consuls and completion of the programme begun in 1994 to abolish more than 500 support staff over three years. Full details of these changes are being placed in the Library of the House.

Mrs. Lait

I thank my right hon. Friend. for that statement, most of which will be of great interest to our exporters. Will he confirm that the staff who will be in place to help our exporters will be highly trained and experienced in commercial work and that there will be close co-ordination between our export promotion in this country and that in other countries?

Mr. Hurd

That is exactly the point. The announcement that I have made means an increase of more than 9 per cent. in front-line commercial staff to match the increased activity of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and all those under his command, to stimulate exports from home. We are in an export-led recovery. Our embassies, consulates and trade offices can help to stimulate and sustain that recovery. What I have announced today is a redirection of our overseas effort to enable them to do that.

Mr. Dalyell

The Foreign Secretary does support, does he not, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in his recent support for the British trade delegation to Baghdad?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that it was a British trade delegation. It was a number of people going to see how the land lay. They did not go there on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in any way.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his answer is very welcome indeed? Does he accept also that an increase in commercial representation abroad can be justified in its own right and that it does not have to be funded out of efficiency savings, as he put it, because staff can earn very much more than the cost of their salaries and overheads overseas? Will he take on board the fact that it is important that posts be extended, rather than staff being moved away, when staff are in the middle of a successful commercial posting?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with both my hon. Friend's points. On his second point, I am against moving people around too fast. There has been rather too much of that in recent years. My hon. Friend's first point is an argument that I have used with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not always successfully; perhaps my hon. Friend will help me.