HC Deb 20 November 1997 vol 301 cc435-7
1. Mr. Goggins

What measures her Department is taking to support British companies in respect of export promotion. [15389]

7. Mr. Barry Jones

What new policies she will initiate to improve the prospects of those industries which export abroad. [15396]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

Madam Speaker, I apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who is currently fulfilling an important engagement in Australia, where she will open the "UK Now" exhibition and promote United Kingdom companies.

My right hon. Friend announced on 4 November the publication of the Export Forum's report, "Towards an Export Initiative". We welcome the thrust of the forum's recommendations, and are looking forward to responding positively in a number of areas identified by the report.

Mr. Goggins

An increasing number of small local companies are beginning to look abroad for markets for their products and services. LE-AL Furniture in my constituency recently fitted out the parliamentary buildings in Bratislava. What are the Government doing to support and encourage such companies?

Mrs. Roche

We very much encourage small companies. On behalf of the House, I warmly congratulate the company in my hon. Friend's constituency on its fine efforts. Such companies can truly win for Britain.

My recently launched "Vision for Business Links" should raise the quality of help and advice given to exporters, including first-time exporters. It will encourage all businesses to make contact with their local business link for expert help and advice.

Mr. Jones

Does my hon. Friend agree that, at £4 billion per annum, British Aerospace is a magnificent exporter? Does she also agree that £120 million launch aid investment in the proposed A340–600 project will add to British exporting success, create jobs and maintain our leadership in wing design over our German competitors? Even at this late stage, will she ensure that her Department seeks launch aid for that project, bearing it in mind that 2,800 of my constituents who make the Airbus wings deserve that vote of confidence?

Mrs. Roche

I know of the strong interest that my hon. Friend takes in this matter. He led a delegation from the Broughton site to a meeting on 30 October. The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry was impressed by the quality of the presentation given by that delegation. No final decision on the provision of launch aid has been made, and discussions between British Aerospace and the Government continue.

Mrs. May

Is the Minister happy with the current level of the exchange rate? What representations have she and other Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry made on this issue to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister on behalf of British industry, especially British exporters? Is she aware that all the appearances under the sun by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry at export exhibitions will not make up for the severe damage that is being done to United Kingdom exporters by the Government's exchange rate policy, and by the inordinate delay in granting export licences owing to problems in the DTI?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Lady has asked me a number of questions. I shall be as courteous to her as I can, because she is that most important of parliamentary institutions, my pair.

We ascribe great value to our exporters, and our most important aim is long-term macro-economic stability. The Government are absolutely committed to helping exporters, as is illustrated by what we did in regard to trade fairs at the beginning of our administration. The best thing that we can do for our exporters is move away from the bust-and-boom policies of the last Government.

Mr. Swayne

May I point out to the Minister that the pairing system is not particularly valuable, given the shift system that appears to be in operation on the Government Benches and in her Department?

What action does the Department propose to defend British chocolate manufacturers against protectionism in Europe, and the activities of British Labour MEPs?

Mrs. Roche

This Government and this party are determined to bat for Britain in any way that we can. Let me also tell the hon. Gentleman that the party of which he is a member, and which formed the previous Government, did a great deal of harm to our business interests by taking the attitude that it took on Europe. We are now reversing that, and making sure that we put British interests at the top of our agenda in order to help British business.

Mr. Mackinlay

Will my hon. Friend raise with the President of the Board of Trade the urgent need for an initiative to attract British investment in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia? Compared with its German counterparts, United Kingdom Ltd. is very sluggish and tardy in investing in that market of some 60 million to 70 million people. Some leadership and initiative from the Department would be welcome, and it would also pay enormous dividends if we could show the way and demonstrate that central Europe is not on the other side of the moon.

Mrs. Roche

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made an important point. He will be pleased to learn that we have had meetings with our opposite numbers in some of those countries. We see great opportunities for British companies of all sizes there.