HL Deb 01 July 1988 vol 498 cc1827-9

11.13 a.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy with regard to increasing trade with Latin America and improving the teaching of Spanish in the United Kingdom.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, we wish to increase our trade with Latin America as with other markets. The Department of Trade and Industry makes available its full range of services and our embassies provide support on the ground for companies wishing to trade with the region. The Government attach high priority to the teaching of modern languages, including of course Spanish, both in our schools, colleges and universities and through training for businessmen and the wider adult public.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, but is he aware that the Latin American countries involved are about six times the size of Europe? People with detailed and intimate knowledge of those countries take the view that the Government, and indeed private endeavour, are not doing enough. They say that there is a vast amount of good will towards the British in those Latin American countries and that it would enhance our reputation if we had more people who could speak Spanish. If those two matters were put together Britain could only improve its trade and general relationship with Latin America.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Latin America covers a considerable area. There are some difficulties in trading with parts of Latin America owing to indebtedness, which limits credit availability in some countries. The DTI has been concentrating work on specific sectors selected for their prospects of day-to-day trade without the need for long-term credit and in which UK industry is competitive; namely, chemicals, instrumentation, off-shore oil, mining and textile equipment. I should also say that during the last year there have been four ministerial visits to the region and 1 am sure that there will be more during the coming months.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Spanish is spoken as a first language by more countries than any other language in the world apart from English and as such Spanish as a modern language should not only be included in the teaching of modern languages but should take the van in the teaching of modern languages?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, yes. Spanish is very widely spoken in the world and the Government attach great importance to Spanish becoming more widely taught in our educational establishments.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as regards the teaching of Spanish there is a parliamentary course in the language which began a few weeks ago and which will continue in the autumn? I ask that with interest because I am one of the students.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I wish my noble friend better luck with his language studies than I had with mine at school.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that regrettably there is concern both in industry and in the financial services about the standards of service that various governmental organisations—the DTI and our embassies—are offering in Latin America? Have the Government, in the form of the DTI, conducted any sort of review on those standards of service? If so, are they satisfied that they are performing as well as the noble Lord says? If not, is it not time that that was done?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, the DTI works closely with the Foreign Office in promoting trade in all parts of the world, not just in Latin America. I am not aware of any particular problems in Latin America but I shall look into the matter to see whether there is anything which I can find out and I shall let the noble Lord know.

Lord McNair

My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord said about the teaching of Spanish, does he regret that when I moved an amendment which would have had the effect of encouraging schools to teach more than one foreign language his noble friend Lady Hooper dismissed it in an almost perfunctory manner?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I am not sure that I was present during the debate on the noble Lord's amendment. However, I understand that under the Education Reform Bill the Secretary of State is to specify by order the choice of modern foreign languages which will qualify as a foundation subject in the national curriculum. That will allow wide scope for schools which wish to do so to offer a first language other than French instead of or as well as French. There are plenty of teachers with languages other than French and the Government will be assisting diversification projects with education support grants.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, have we given up all hope of teaching Esperanto?

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm whether the Government are seeking to improve trade with those countries which are signatories to the Guatemala Peace Accord of 1987? Is he aware that Nicaragua was one of those countries, and can he confirm that the Government are seeking improved trade with Nicaragua, taking account of the desperate economic situation in that war torn country? When he referred to the trade representatives of Her Majesty's Government visiting Latin America, can he confirm that they visited Nicaragua?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, taking the last point of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I cannot confirm what the exact itineraries were. However, I shall look into the matter and let him know. We are represented in all Latin American countries apart from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Argentina, where of course the Swiss represent us. We should indeed like to do as much business as possible, particularly with Nicaragua. We are aware of the difficult economic problems which exist in that country, and, as I said, we are hampered somewhat by the absence of credit availability. However, wherever possible we try to trade with such countries on the basis of day-to-day trade, as I said earlier.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in addition to the DTI and the Foreign Office there are other well-known organisations in Britain which have massive knowledge, a good understanding and exceptional relationships with the countries involved; for example, the Hispanic & Luso Brazilian Council? That organisation has great knowledge which would assist businessmen and perhaps the departments mentioned by the noble Lord.

In addition, the Royal Geographical Society is soon to send delegations and have investigations carried out in the more remote parts of this country. That is of great interest to these nations and they are very grateful to Britain for it. Could not all the departments of state and voluntary organisations get together? The result could only be better relationships with such countries, and that could be exceptionally good for Britain.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, my department is of course only too pleased to co-operate with such organisations so that we can increase the level of our trade with Latin America. I shall draw the noble Lord's remarks closely to the attention of the Secretary of State and personally make sure that we are in constructive touch with those organisations.