HL Deb 11 February 1985 vol 460 cc5-6

2.41 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what opportunities there are at present for British firms to increase the business they do with the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)

My Lords, the growth in the Canadian economy offers significant opportunities for British industry to increase their sales throughout Canada, including in the Atlantic provinces.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. Bearing in mind that there are now significant developments in the field of oil and natural gas offshore of Atlantic Canada and that it was described recently by the chairman of Shell (Canada) as a new and rapidly rising area of activity in which potential opportunities are abundant, and also bearing in mind that the rate of exchange has now made opportunities for British exporters much better and that there are many firms in this country which have expertise and experience in relation to the North Sea which are particularly relevant to these opportunities, will the noble Lord ask his right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary to reconsider the decision to close the small and highly cost-effective consulate at Halifax, which was announced at the end of last year?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I very much regret that I have to tell the noble Lord that I am not really prepared to do as he asks since the British High Commission in Ottawa, which pays close attention to the oil industry, including offshore, will assume responsibility for commercial coverage of the Atlantic provinces. The consul in Halifax is being transferred to Ottawa, and we see no diminution in the opportunities available to our industries by virtue of that closure.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, would the Government not consider a drive to improve trade generally with the Commonwealth as a whole?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, we are continuing through a number of offices to support our drive to export more of our manufactured invisibles.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether any help is being given to invisible exports to Canada? Can he say that, in the event of any delegation sponsored by the Government going out to these provinces, it will include representatives of the invisible export industries, such as insurance and banking?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the British Overseas Trade Board, an arm of my own department, gives assistance to a number of overseas missions that help both invisible industries and manufacturing industries.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is it not the case that the Institute of Marketing have already emphasised that there are serious deficiencies in the way in which many sections of British industry market their products abroad, and that a very considerable effort is required not only in marketing techniques by the firms involved but also in providing a far better after-sales service?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I believe that British manufacturing industry is aware of some deficiencies that have occurred in recent years and is making great strides to close the gap between effectiveness and opportunity.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would the noble Lord be prepared to consider that it might very well be worthwhile producing some form of informative document showing how British businessmen, industrialists and those in commerce might be able to contact our high commissioners directly and, indeed, for that matter, our ambassadors overseas, and where they could receive the sort of guidance and help for which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked in his supplementary question?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, that information is available through the British Overseas Trade Board and other agencies.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would be kind enough to reconsider his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and also to discuss the matter with his right honourable and learned friend. Is he aware that the noble Lord speaks with considerable authority in this particular field and in relation to this particular country, and that when he asks that the commercial representation on the eastern seaboard of Canada should be strengthened he does so with great authority? Is the noble Lord further aware that there is a considerable potential, as Mr. Desmond Watkins, the Shell manager in Canada, said in his article, for British manufacturers at a time when British manufacturers could very well do with jobs in view of the high unemployment in this country? I realise that the noble Lord is limited in what he can say today, but will he be kind enough to tell the House that he will discuss this very carefully with his right honourable and learned friend?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right honourable and learned friend the comments that the noble Lord makes, but I have to remind him that Halifax is but one and a half hours away from Ottawa, where there is adequate coverage. The inclusion of the consul from Halifax in the commission at Ottawa will certainly strengthen that representation. I find it odd that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition should talk in this vein when my right honourable and learned friend has announced the closure of ten of the smaller missions whereas his own Administration closed 22 in a shorter period.