HL Deb 30 March 1998 vol 588 cc1-4

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to encourage British enterprises of all sizes to exploit more fully the new opportunities arising from the single European market.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that United Kingdom enterprises make the most of the opportunities offered by the single market. After all, eight of our top 10 markets are in the single market. To assist business, in the past few days my noble friend the Minister for Trade announced the launch of the Export Explorer service, offered through Business Links and trade associations in association with the DTI and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office commercial sections. This should assist businesses to export.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that piece of information. However, will my noble friend tell the House exactly how such visits associated with the Export Explorer service will help firms to export? Bearing in mind the complexities and difficulties of exporting, is he happy that the level of support and assistance that SMEs receive from the scheme will be sufficient to increase substantially exports from this country?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the scheme seeks to give new exporters the opportunity to visit markets. Research undertaken after we came to power indicated that many companies were nervous of going abroad. The Export Explorer service offers a visit to one of the more accessible markets—Ireland, the Benelux countries or the Nordic markets—or a support visit to one of the key international trade fairs in Germany, France, Italy or Spain. The service is to be delivered mainly by Business Links or trade associations by means of support from an experienced exporter, a sector expert, a tailored market or sector report, and general help while overseas. I am convinced that this is of assistance to companies. Further means of assisting companies will be announced in the next few months.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the Minister on an Answer which was so clear that he could not have done better if he had had prior notice of the Question. Are not the benefits which he outlined those which one would expect from any sophisticated regional trading bloc? Can the noble Lord give the House any indication why those wholly admirable objectives are achieved in, to give one example, NAFTA, with far, far less cost in terms of fraud and bureaucracy?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I am not sure of the relevance of the last sentence. The cost is quite small. It is £90 per company for the service; and firms pay for their own travel and accommodation.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, is the Minister aware that for the past five years there has been a single market in plants—in which I declare an interest. Is he aware that the export of plants has increased dramatically over that period? What use can the horticultural industry make of the measures he outlined?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that there has been so much success in the plants industry. However, the measures are designed to help first time exporters to gain experience of the market: to encourage them to go to a market, to analyse it, if necessary to exhibit at an exhibition, and, generally, to get into the way of exporting.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, is there not a severe danger in encouraging businessmen to visit the European Union at this time—since, if they do so, they will find that the major problem for their exports is, "3 deutschmarks 8 pfennigs to the pound"? What do the Government intend to do about that?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the Government cannot do much about the exchange rate. What the Government can do is encourage companies to be more competitive. Price is not the only aspect of selling one's product. The Government encourage companies to be more competitive by improving their productivity, sales techniques and management, and by doing all the things that make up the mix of running a business.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House the Government's views on the necessity for removing a whole series of petty regulations that have been imposed by the Commission, via the bureaucrats of the United Kingdom, which have borne very heavily—and still bear heavily—on British business? When will the promise that was made by the former Prime Minister on returning from Maastricht— namely, to embark upon a scheme of mass deregulation of unnecessary rules imposed—be honoured by this Government?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the DTI's Action Single Market unit exists to help UK businesses when they encounter trade barriers or other factors that inhibit trade. The Government are committed to reducing regulations, but where those regulations inhibit trade that department of the DTI is specially committed to doing that.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I recognise that English is the international language of business. However, will the noble Lord agree that it is extremely valuable for exporters to be able to speak the language of the country with which they wish to do business?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, will the noble Lord give the accent to the British computer industry, given the Prime Minister's recent announcement on millennium bug funding, and ensure that British experts are in the European Union doing their very best to help conquer the millennium bug, since English is the international computer language?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the Government are certainly intending to do so. It formed part of the Prime Minister's statement. The computer industry is a global business. As the noble Baroness says, English is the international language of cyber trade. That is why it is so important.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's intention that through the national minimum wage they will make British companies more competitive?

Lord Haskel

Yes, my Lords.

Back to