HC Deb 18 December 1997 vol 303 cc467-8
1. Mr. Gareth Thomas

What priority her Department attaches to improving the competitiveness of British industry in respect of the export market. [19867]

The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

We attach high priority to strengthening support for British industry in overseas markets. One of our first actions in government was to set up the export forum in partnership with the private sector. The Department is now giving attention to its detailed recommendations.

Mr. Thomas

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments. Her efforts and those of her Department to promote British industry abroad will be much welcomed by exporters in my constituency. Can she tell us when her Department will act on the export forum's report?

Mrs. Beckett

One of the first things that we did was to reinstate the trade fairs support scheme, which was widely welcomed by industry, especially exporters. We have now announced the first part of the largest ever programme of trade fairs and missions. That first part alone will support 372 groups at trade fairs, 159 trade missions and 32 overseas seminars. Of course, all my Ministers are involved in supporting the export drive with a programme of visits to overseas markets.

We are also working to step up the successful programme of export promotions. Last night at Lancaster house I hosted a reception for current and, we hope, prospective export promoters, and we are working to consider the recommendations of the export forum on how we can organise our support for exports even better across Departments.

Mr. Beggs

Does the President of the Board of Trade agree that a company's ability to deliver speedily high-value goods to its international customers increases its competitiveness in the marketplace? Will she enter into discussions with those who provide air freight services, to advise them that regular competitively priced services would greatly assist British industry with exports?

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and am certainly mindful that that is one of the pieces of advice that we often received from British business before the election. Part of people's concern was that we should have a proper, soundly working transport infrastructure, so that they could get their goods to market. I certainly bear in mind the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Redwood

May I wish the right hon. Lady and her Front-Bench team every compliment of the Christmas season and hope that they have a happy and enjoyable Christmas break with their families? Now, given that industry needs fair and firm enforcement of the rules to be able to compete, will she tell us why she has granted an extension to the New Statesman, a Labour publication connected with the Paymaster General, for late filing of accounts? What action does she propose to take on the continued failure to file? Will the United Kingdom tax authorities co-operate with the Belgian tax authorities in the investigation into the affairs connected with the estate of Madame Bourgeois? We need fair and firm enforcement of the rules, whoever may be involved with the businesses.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his Christmas wishes, which I return—although I had a feeling that there would be a "but" following them, as turned out to be the case. The issues that he raises concerning the personal affairs of my hon. Friend the Paymaster General have been extensively discussed in the House.

Mr. Bercow

The New Statesman?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman raised that as well. The hon. Gentleman should have been listening to his right hon. Friend. The House has dealt with the issues extensively and there is nothing to add.

As for the New Statesman, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware, it is not a part of my daily duties to consider personally the handling of the accounts of individual companies. I will make inquiries about the matter, but it is not one with which I am familiar.