HL Deb 09 April 1986 vol 473 cc198-200

3 p.m.

Lord Rodney

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 contribution has been made to Britain's export earnings by top companies, and how the most recent figures compare with previous years.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the available evidence suggests that between 50 and 100 companies account for about one half of UK exports of goods, and that this has changed little in recent years. On the last survey available to me the top seven companies all exported more than £1 billion worth of goods. Of the top 100 exporting companies, about one-third exported more than half their turnover.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that Answer, which is very encouraging as far as the larger companies are concerned. However, would my noble friend agree that the contribution made by the smaller companies is also very important? Could my noble friend say what assistance and encouragement the Government are giving them?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I would agree with my noble friend that small companies also have a very valuable part to play in this, and the Government assist through the Exports to Europe Branch, for instance, which was set up to help firms in their exporting to the European Community and the rest of Western Europe. The British Overseas Trade Board, diplomatic posts overseas and the Export Credits Guarantee Department also provide a wide range of services to exporters. It should not be forgotten that non-government sources also assist in the form of trade associations, and, of course, the banks.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that Britian's top companies might make an even greater contribution to export earnings if we were able to join the European monetary system and thus achieve more stability in sterling exchange rates, particularly in relation to the German mark?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that membership of the EMS is continually under review. I think that as recently as his Budget speech my right honourable friend the Chancellor said that he did not feel the time was quite right at the moment to do so, but that indeed the situation was being kept under review.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that we have had that answer every time the queston has been raised over the last three years, and that we are getting a little tired of it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I would agree. But, on the other hand, had we joined three years ago, when it was first suggested, we would have joined on considerably worse terms than might be available to us now.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, may I press the noble Lord a little further? Is he aware that the top companies, to which he has referred and which are mentioned in the Question, normally plan ahead for some two and a half years as part of the normal planning operation of any large company? What assurance can the noble Lord give to these companies, and also to the small companies mentioned by his noble friend, that the Government will seek actively to stabilise the rate of exchange at an economic rate? This is of vital importance to the whole of British industry.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am well aware of the importance of the rate of exchange. In a few minutes' time, in answer to the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, I shall be having rather more to say about it. Perhaps I should reserve my remarks until then.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, has my noble friend taken note of the part played by invisible exports, particularly in insurance and banking? Has he any figures as to how they are contributing within the terms of this Question?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, invisible balances indeed give us an extremely favourable balance of payments surplus. In 1985 there was a surplus on invisibles of some £5 billion. For the first two months of this year there has been a balance of £1.6 billion.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the noble Lord rightly agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Rodney, that it was important to stimulate smaller companies in exporting. Would the noble Lord indicate to us whether additional resources have been made available to the British Overseas Trade Board for this purpose?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not have figures for the resources available to the British Overseas Trade Board at hand. If I can find the answer to the noble Lord's question, I shall write to him.

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