Previous Section Home Page

Column 432

place on the Front Bench. Yesterday, he was good enough to answer my question on when a statement would be made about the privatisation of AEA Technology, to set it free. He replied that

"we hope to be able to make an announcement . . . shortly."--[ Official Report , 22 June 1994 ; Vol. 245, c. 222.]

It is worth repeating that the strides being made by that company in terms of environmental science, neural networks and environmental safety mean that it is ready to be set free. I hope that he hears my remark that the sooner it is set free, the better.

We are the fifth largest exporter in the world, and I believe that, at last, the Government seem to be getting their act together with a policy on trade and industry which is benefiting our industry. Coupled with the excellent work now being done by the Office of Science and Technology, particularly on research and development, our businesses are beginning to find that the Government can create the environment in which they can be allowed to build their share of the world market.

With what I can only describe as renewed commercial aggression, set against a background of low interest rates and lean production, British business is in a position to compete against the Americas and the Pacific rim countries.

No debate on exports could take place without reference to the White Paper on competitiveness, which was issued recently by the President of the Board of Trade. Competitiveness is at the heart of ensuring our industrial success. I particularly welcome the emphasis that my right hon. Friend has placed on the dialogue with industry. That affects not only our present position but future policies, which will now be properly influenced by the wealth creators who run our industrial concerns.

I do not believe that anyone would disagree that the Tory Government had a great deal to do in the early 1980s. They had to move from subsidising inefficient nationalised industries to creating efficient, contributing organisations. They also had to reduce the unreasonable influence of the unions. We had a reminder of such influence--it has been spoken about at length in the Chamber today--by the RMT strike. Yesterday's strike shows that eternal vigilance is still necessary from Conservative Members. I must mention that, during that strike, the Chiltern line, which serves my constituency of Chesham and Amersham, kept on running. It took three signalmen and the millions of pounds that we invested in that signalling system. My constituents were extremely pleased that they could get to work. It is difficult to understand how my colleagues on the Opposition Benches can talk about the success of our businesses at home and abroad while supporting industrial action that sends appalling messages to foreign investors and buyers alike that the unions still have a grip and a force, which is ultimately damaging to trade and business. Success in world markets and strikes do not go together. London is undoubtedly the leading financial city in Europe and, together with centres in different time zones such as New York and Tokyo, it stands out as one of the commercial centres of the world. It is vital that its infrastructure and facilities reflect its position. Therefore, it was with great sorrow that I attended the meeting to announce the failure of the Crossrail Bill at Committee stage. That project is of great significance not only to my constituency but to the business and financial community,


Column 433

which is, after all, responsible for one of the largest contributors to our wealth through the invisibles sector of our economy.

The Opposition always pay lip service to the need to get people out of cars and on the railways, but the two Opposition Members who served on that Committee voted down the crossrail project. I believe that that decision will greatly hinder the City's development. I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Benches to continue to seek a way in which that project can be revived, as it would provide the necessary infrastructure for the success of our City in the next century. I am a consultant to the Chartered Institute of Marketing and I am proud to speak for it in the House. While I declare my interest, I must also declare my disappointment with the White Paper, because it made so little direct reference to marketing per se. The fortunes of some of our most successful exporters are based on marketing. Yes, their products were high-quality ones, but those products were refined chiefly from the sales and marketing forces, which identified customers' needs and the way in which to satisfy them profitably. Two great weaknesses of the past are still apparent today--lack of middle management training and lack of education in marketing.

I make no apology for emphasising the importance of marketing training in a debate on exports and highlighting the wide choice of course and education available through the Chartered Institute of Marketing. This is a commercial, because the institute's facilities at Moor Hall are excellent. It tailors its courses to suit busy managers who may only be able to take a limited time off from their employment to further their knowledge. Yes, this is a commercial because I am a marketing person, but so are our competitors. Last year, while I was in Taiwan, it did not surprise me to learn of the emphasis that businesses and business leaders placed on marketing. The head of the trade centre in Taipei took a great deal of trouble to explain to me the efforts and expenditure that were being put into marketing training.

I hope that the Department of Trade and Industry will register this small protest at the apparent exclusion of specific reference to marketing in the White Paper. Now that measurements of marketing effectiveness are becoming more widespread, I hope that the DTI will join me and those business men who already have a greater appreciation of the role and value of this discipline to our industries. Understanding a product or a service is not enough ; one must also understand marketing and marketing techniques to exploit that product or service.

One of the things that the DTI seems to have lacked for many years is continuity. In common with many of my hon. Friends, I congratulate the President of the Board of Trade and his colleagues at the DTI on the progress that they have made with an impressive team. If it is not too late, I should like to put in a plea for relatively minor, if any, changes at the DTI. Whatever the motives that may be attached to the media reports about my right hon. Friend's own career preferences, I believe that the exporting community fully endorses the view that there have been too many ministerial changes at the Department since 1979. I believe that the trade team should stay where it is. There has been a transformation in the Government's input to the trade scene and they have been extremely receptive to the views of exporters. The Government have been keen to find solutions and imaginative in the way that they have collected information and set about resolving


Column 434

key issues. We now have a situation in which for the most important markets for British exporters, the Export Credits Guarantee Department's premiums are at a realistic and competitive level. I realise that the ECGD premiums may be out of line with the competition in some markets, but they cannot all be tackled at once. Perhaps the most challenging issue that presents itself to the ECGD is how to address cover for privatised projects. The central features of such a project, as opposed to a conventional one, is that the project is looked at by the underwriter in the ECGD on its own merits and viability and the returns that it will generate, and not on the basis of a guarantee from an overseas Government. Such projects are off a Government's balance sheet and the ECGD and Ministers should consider those projects with substantive private sector input. The American export credit agency, Exim, has hired three outside specialists to cover such underwriting, which is different from current underwriting. Coface, the French agency, has also hired a specialist for between the next six to 12 months. Even if it is a costly exercise, I believe that it would be a worthwhile investment. We would be able to look in depth at the ways in which the ECGD should respond to the underwriting needs of such privatised projects.

I am grateful for advice and information from Banque Paribas in London, which is supporting the activities of many British companies in their exporting endeavours. More importantly, it has given me up-to-date information on the success of travelling with a British Minister in a trade delegation which, it said brings the market into sharp focus. Journalists writing about the Minister in Export Today said :

"when accompanying with him one should not expect a holiday. It is hard work all the way even when it is social. However, one can expect to bring back the orders and that is what the Minister's travels have been about."

We should congratulate my right hon. Friend on his initiative in visiting the far east no fewer than 10 times in the past 18 months. As Latin America is his next target, I fully expect further good results from his travels there. I believe that he is visiting Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, and we wish him and our businesses good fortune.

I do not wish to refer just to the Minister leading the trade delegations. I want to say a word of praise about DTI officials who staff some of our embassies and consulates. Businesses in my constituency have noticed a marked improvement in the services being provided from our embassies, not by Foreign Office officials but by officials from the Department of Trade and Industry.

One of our most successful exports--indeed, our leading export--in recent years has been privatisation, which has been touched upon in a different context. British companies such as Ernst and Young are selling their experience abroad following successfully advising on the privatisation of British Telecom, Jaguar, Royal Ordnance, British Gas and many others. That expertise is opening up the economies of central and eastern Europe to home and overseas investors. As has been said, extensive knowledge and experience of the former Soviet Union are needed, but when coupled with privatisation expertise, the combination is bringing home contracts from virtually all the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Ernst and Young is just one of a series of companies involved in the exporting of Conservative privatisation principles. It has successfully advised on the first offers for


Column 435

sale in Poland and Romania and has pioneered mass privatisation in the Czech and Slovak republics and in St Petersburg in Russia. More and more Governments and more and more countries are adopting privatisation programmes. For example, such programmes are beginning in Argentina, Hungary, Latvia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and, nearer to home, Denmark.

There has been a sea change in the Department of Trade and Industry and in the services that the Department is providing to British business to help it export successfully. It is up to Government to create the framework and it is up to our businesses to go out there and sell the goods.

We have an excellent Minister leading the team. I should like to end by quoting from Export Today , an excellent magazine, which said, in article written by Carol Debell :

"There's nothing random about where he goes or when he goes. It is part, he says, of a carefully planned strategy to use his Ministerial clout where it can make most impact."

I am proud to be on the Benches of a Government who use their ministerial clout to make our exporting businesses more successful. 8.33 pm

Mr. Bell : With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). It is my first opportunity to follow her in a debate. I appreciated her remarks and her knowledge and lucidity in the various subjects she covered. We have heard a number of quotations. Oscar Wilde was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland). I managed to mention Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill and the hon. Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) got Benjamin Franklin in on the act. Years ago, Lloyd George used to say that one can make a good name for oneself in Friday speeches ; the tradition has now moved to Thursday evening.

We have heard some quite good speeches. I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) on nuclear energy. I shall read it with interest tomorrow. After the effervescence and turbulence of the opening speeches, it has been a good and constructive debate. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire pleased me enormously, not that he got "privatisation" right, but he got the gender right. It is masculine, not feminine.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to various privatisations throughout the world. Her mention of Hungary reminded me of a little joke I heard in Hungary recently. They are saying, "What has capitalism done that 40 years of communism could not do ?" The answer is to make socialism popular. There may be lessons in all this for us.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to

competitiveness ; indeed, she made more references to it than the Minister, but no doubt the Under-Secretary's homologue in closing will rectify that. She referred also to the rail strike. It is a little desperate of the Government to blame a future Labour Government for the rail strike and to come back to it time and again.

The Minister showed his disregard--or should I say "contempt"--for European networks, whether they be rail or road. He dismissed them out of hand and said that all


Column 436

that would happen would be that taxpayers' money would be used to build such networks. In fact, the money comes from the European investment bank and, if Mr. Delors has his way, from a new European bond. So the British taxpayer will not have to pay for the European networks when they get going.

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West referred to recycling. I shall not go down that road. I found his remarks interesting, but not in my particular bailiwick. He took me up on the lack of formulation of Labour party policy. He will be happy to know that at 8.36 pm, with a good hour before me, I am able to deal with more Labour party policy than I could earlier.

The Minister made great play of comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), touching upon output and productivity. The Minister referred to our document, "Winning for Britain". He made great play of the fact that we had not covered Northern Ireland. Of course, it is part of the United Kingdom and we have a separate document to cover that. It is a fact--and it is in the document--that, until 1980, investment in manufacturing never fell below 3 per cent. of GDP. Since 1980, it has always been below 3 per cent. and is now barely over 2 per cent. Even in the best year of the 1980s, manufacturing investment was still below the percentage of GDP invested in the worst year of the 1970s or 1960s.

Mr. Stephen : Is not there a problem of definition in seeking to draw a distinction between manufacturing and services ? For example, in the computer industry, we might say that manufacturing is making the hardware. But is making the software manufacturing as well ? Sometimes the software is of higher value than the hardware.

Mr. Bell : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We make that point in our document. The Minister touched on the fact that software can be involved in both services and manufacturing. The point that we were trying to make in our document, which was dismissed by the Minister, is that the distinction between services and manufacturing should no longer exist. We have a way of creating wealth in our country. If it comes from services, so be it and if it comes from manufacturing, so be it. The two are not, as we lawyers say, mutually exclusive.

Our document says that manufacturing output in Britain is barely above its 1979 level. I referred to the Minister's speech and his two so-called revolutions, which we call recessions. In the recent recession, more than 80,000 companies went into liquidation. The fact to remember is that that is a permanent loss to our economy. One of the most valuable contributions that the Government can make to sustained industrial recovery is to maintain policies of macro-economic management which promote sustainable demand growth with low inflation. I tried to point out earlier that the Government's policies would not lead us to sustained growth or low inflation.

Britain now invests less of its GDP in manufacturing than all bar two of the 24 nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire made several references to the OECD, but did not cite that fact. Under the Conservatives, the proportion of profits taken out of business in dividends has increased from about half of net profit to almost three quarters, a fact which concerns the Financial Secretary to the Treasury as well as my colleagues. British companies now invest in their business


Column 437

about half the proportion of profits retained by their German and Japanese competitors. We believe that the loss in price competitiveness against nations with newer machine tools, better- designed factories and more advanced transport and communications systems will inevitably mean that, in the long run, there will be a failure to invest in innovation.

In reply to the Minister's earlier statement, I have to say that the first objective of any serious industrial strategy must be to raise the proportion of the economy invested in industry. Why has not the success of Britain's financial sector been expressed in better performance in industrial investment ? I am trying to put on the record some of our refutations of the Minister's arguments. Britain has accumulated the world's second largest portfolio of overseas equity while running the second poorest level of investment in manufacturing among OECD countries. With reference to the European network, which I mentioned earlier, an important part of competitiveness is the provision of an efficient transport system that eliminates delay in the movement of goods and provides reliable travel for the work force, a point touched on by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham.

It is remarkable that, during the 1980s, the Government said that manufacturing and the balance of payments did not really matter. In an earlier debate on this topic, the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) took me to task, but I was able to refer him to a number of statements made by Ministers in the 1980s. The Select Committee on Overseas Trade in another place produced a famous report in 1985. It made it clear that, unless

"the climate is changed so that steps could be taken to enlarge the manufacturing base, combat import penetration and stimulate exports of manufactured goods, as oil revenues diminish the country will experience adverse effects which include . . . an adverse balance of payments of such proportions that severely deflationary measures would be needed".

That was exactly what happened.

The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) referred to social dumping both in an intervention and in his speech, giving me the opportunity to put on record the Opposition's views on what he describes as social dumping. It is right and proper that the wealthier trading nations of the world should accept competition from those that are less wealthy, but not on the backs of impoverished people who will stay impoverished in order to maintain their competitiveness. There should be economic growth in the world as well as human development so that, as internal markets expand and wealth increases, there can be more trade with industrialised nations both in imports and exports. The hon. Gentleman also referred to a speech made yesterday by a Foreign Office Minister.

We believe that there should be a balance between those who are working and the sale of goods for export. There could be mechanisms to assist development so that, as a country ceases to be one of the very poorest and acquires higher living standards, it would be expected to meet a new set of obligations on workers' rights under a new social chapter for the WTO. I want it clearly on the record that we are talking not about social dumping but about raising the living standards of exporting countries.

I referred earlier to a document from the Institute of Export and NCM Credit Insurance Ltd. It mentioned the fact that the banks were not as helpful as they might be in our export drive. It might help to put on record two or three other points made in that document. It stated that 53 per


Column 438

cent. of exporters use credit insurance and only one in four respondents realised that it can be used for purposes other than credit protection. Its summary states :

"Unfortunately, too many British exporters still feel that they can invoice in sterling, insist on letters of credit and ignore the crucial need to train staff to respond to international cultures. Although there has been a marginal improvement since the 1993 Survey, many areas of support for exporters still fall below what is needed."

I appreciated the speech of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page). He and I tramped the wrong side of the streets together in Workington back in 1976, but he had a remarkable by-election victory. When he looks back on that and compares it with the Conservatives' present by- election defeats, he will realise that every coin has two sides. He mentioned a variety of measures that were taken in the 1960s. He referred to the National Enterprise Board which, of course, saved Leyland and Rover and made it possible for Rover ultimately to be taken over by BMW.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) said that the competitiveness document was music to his ears. However, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham admitted that it did not place enough emphasis on marketing. We would also claim that it does not place enough emphasis on quality and high technology rather than low technology. It seems that the Government believe that price is the only element in competitiveness-- keeping wages down and being competitive in that way. That will not work in low-technology goods because there will always be other countries that can produce the same goods more cheaply than we can.

The hon. Member for Gravesham made an interesting and erudite speech. His knowledge of Portuguese is equal to my knowledge of French. We could have a debate in two different languages if the House would allow--we would probably have more of a meeting of minds than we do in English. He referred to GATT and the poorer countries and used phrases such as " the begging bowl". One thing that is clear is that GATT is incomplete at present. It needs a social chapter, an enhanced platform for the environment and a better relationship with the third world. They could be arranged over time. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if there were proper trade with third- world countries, they could improve their standard of living and not be a burden on the industrialised world as we know it.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire knows that I have a great affection for him. He mentioned Red Robbo and Lame Duck. I can remember Red Robbo but not Lame Duck--perhaps I missed that particular cartoon. In the 1970s, the trade unions were supposedly rampant--at least that was the impression that the Conservatives like to give--but the Minister and the hon. Gentleman failed to ask, "Where was the management ? What were they doing ?" It was a Labour Government who brought in Michael Edwardes to manage the British Motor Corporation or British Leyland as it became, because we saw the difficulties. We saw that management was not managing.

Mr. McLoughlin : Will the hon. Gentleman remind me whom the Labour Government brought in as vice-chairman of British Leyland ?

Mr. Bell : I should like to be reminded by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McLoughlin : It was Sir Ian MacGregor.


Column 439

Mr. Bell : I am glad to have brought Mr. MacGregor into the debate. I listened to the diaries of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) on the radio and he was talking about the day when Mr. MacGregor asked Mr. McGahey to play golf. One can imagine the conversation between Mr. McGahey the Scotsman and Mr. MacGregor the Canadian, with Mr. McGahey saying, "I have never played golf in my life," and the other gentlemen saying, "It is a wonderful game and we can do business on the golf course.".

It is nice to hear mention of Mr. MacGregor and to know that he is not entirely forgotten. The Conservatives brought him into the mining industry for a specific task, which was unworthy of them and did our coal industry no good. We will reach the ultimate conclusion on that on Tuesday night. I shall not go too far down that road, but on Tuesday night we shall see the culmination of 50 years of vendetta by Conservative Administrations against a specific industry which they consider to be the vanguard of socialism. But that is another debate.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire mentioned Radio Moscow. I remember how, when I was the candidate at Hexham, travelling over the hills and dales at night, I was able to listen to Radio Moscow and be appraised of the latest production of pig iron in the various Soviet states.

I shall end on the point raised by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham about the number of debates on subjects such as exports. They are our better debates, because knowledge can be brought forward and put on the record.

We all agree that Britain as a nation state must export. We are an island economy, part of the European Union and full-time, fully paid-up members of GATT and we consider the expansion of world trade and our part in that as important to us, but we have to get away from the ideology and develop a strategy. We have to get away from believing that, simply by producing a document on competitiveness, we have changed the world ; we have not and we have a difficult role to play.

I said earlier that the French are increasing their share of the world market. Ours has stabilised following years of decline. That may be good enough in the short term ; it is not good enough in the long term. The Opposition will be vigilant--though the serried ranks behind me may not demonstrate that at the moment--in holding the Government to account and seeing where the export drive actually goes.

8.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Technology (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : Perhaps I should start by congratulating the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). It is fair to say that today, the Labour party has spoken with one voice. I can honestly say that we have not had the divergence of opinion that we sometimes hear from the Labour party. I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that we have heard only one voice from the Labour Benches, apart from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). However, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough has made up for it by the length of his speeches, and I do not intend to follow his example.

After speaking for some 20 minutes, the hon. Gentleman said, "I am just about coming to my speech." Perhaps he was so surprised by the speech made by my


Column 440

right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade that he had to rewrite his own. That is why, after speaking for 20 minutes, he told us that he was coming to his speech.

I am not quite sure what happened in those first 20 minutes, but the hon. Gentleman made some interesting justifications, because he talked about the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and the education policy that he may wish to follow for his own children. I say to the hon. Gentleman here and now that nobody objects, or has any intention of objecting, to whatever school the hon. Member for Sedgefield wishes to send his children to, but we welcome the fact that he has chosen a grant-maintained school. The Government pursued that policy because we believed it to be right, and that point was made earlier.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West) : Why do Ministers not send their children to grant-maintained schools ?

Mr. McLoughlin : The Labour Whip asks why Ministers do not send our children to grant-maintained schools. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I do, and I am proud of it. William Gilbert is an excellent school, yet Derbyshire county council tried to stop it becoming grant-maintained. I will not take lectures from the hon. Member. Perhaps he should be more careful about choosing his targets before he lets off.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough also said a number of other interesting things. When I tried to intervene on him, and he would not give way, he was saying that the Labour party would look at the effects of the minimum wage and carefully consider how to implement it so as not to put people out of work. The hon. Gentleman is nodding his head in agreement.

It is fascinating to remind him that the Labour party fought the last general election on the introduction of a minimum wage. One would have thought that they might have worked out the policies they were pursuing then. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He accused my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade of not turning sufficient attention to the competitiveness White Paper, which has been broadly welcomed by John Monk, the TEC leaders and a number of other bodies. Yesterday, we had questions to the Department of Trade and Industry, and we heard Opposition Member after Opposition Member attacking the Government on their trade and industry policy, yet today, when the House is given the opportunity of a full-scale debate on the whole subject, only the hon. Member for Linlithgow has taken part. The score sheet shows that there were nine speakers from the Conservative party, two from the Labour party and one from the Liberal party. My hon. Friends covered a number of interesting points. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) referred to the problems that he feels have been faced by the scrap metal industry. He told us that it is not waste, and he is absolutely right ; it is an important component. He is also right about the importance of recycling those materials. They are not waste ; they are materials.

The Government recognise the valuable contribution that recycling industries make to the economy and the environment. The Department of the Environment is working with my Department, and we will continue to monitor the new legislation to ensure that it imposes minimum burdens on the industry.


Column 441

My hon. Friend referred to the meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside. He was pleased there had been a postponement in part of the implementation of the regulations--a longer delay in registering. I certainly take on board what he said and, in the light of his speech, I will carefully consider the calls that he made on the Government. I will examine the matter closely and see whether we can help him in some way. I cannot give him a commitment at this stage, but I will certainly look into the matter.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised six items ; the fact that this is an Adjournment debate allowed him to range fairly widely. Local government reform in Scotland, which he raised, is an issue which has been fully dealt with. There is a valid point to make, but it has been fully dealt with in debates at various times. The hon. Member for Linlithgow also mentioned Motorola, which based in his constituency, or on the edge of it. Not long ago, I was there, and I agree with him about the investment there, and the confidence of the workers both in the jobs that they were doing and in the expansion taking place there.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say that more should be done for the quarrying industry, and suggested that import substitution could take place. When he talks about the quarrying industry, he hits on a raw nerve in some areas of the country, because quarrying is not usually welcomed by local people--but his points were valid.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of markets ouverts with me in Committee on the Sale of Goods (Amendment) Bill. Earl Ferrers, the Minister of State, Home Office, responded to the hon. Gentleman on 17 June and dealt with some of the points that he made then. The hon. Gentleman also asked about Iran, Iraq and Libya, and the Minister for Trade will respond to his questions in more detail in due course. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) made an interesting contribution which will make interesting reading in the record of our proceedings. I will certainly consider the points that he made.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) spoke about telecommunications, but I disagreed with quite a lot of what he said. We must acknowledge that the cable television companies are making huge investments in this country, and I do not believe that that would have happened if they had believed that BT or Mercury could enter the entertainment market. There is nothing to stop either BT or Mercury providing cable television companies, but that has to be done in the same way as the cable television companies act. That is important.

BT still has 97 or 98 per cent. of the domestic market for telephones. It is important to bring about competition, and the White Paper that set out our policies in 1991 has led to huge investment in this country by cable television companies. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

The hon. Gentleman said that the cable television companies would serve only about 10 per cent. of the population, but he is wrong. The current cable licences will serve about 60 per cent. of the population--a substantial percentage. Of course, there are greater problems with rural areas and some of the more remote areas, but that is true even now of some terrestrial transmissions in certain parts of the country. The situation is not exactly as the hon.


Column 442

Gentleman painted it, and I am convinced that the investment would not have come about without the policies set out in the White Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) made a speech which mirrored several of the objectives for which the President of the Board of Trade called. I wholly agree with what he said about trade associations, and the need for them to combine in certain areas so as to speak for their trade with one concerted voice. My hon. Friend gave examples of trade associations that do an effective job.

That follows a speech that my right hon. Friend gave last year--to a CBI dinner, I believe--in which he urged trade associations to get their act together. He said that some of them should combine so as to speak with a more united voice. What my hon. Friend has said on that subject tonight is absolutely correct.

My hon. Friend also talked about changes taking place at the Department of Trade and Industry. I do not want to comment on that subject at this stage in the parliamentary year, but my hon. Friend will have heard from various other people more important than I that they may share his view about continuity being a good thing for the Department.

My hon. Friend also described how we have pushed the export promoters and brought them in. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) talked about that, too. That is a welcome change, and has brought a dramatic new input on exports into the Department, which has produced the important line on that subject taken under the leadership of the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister for Trade.

My hon. Friend also referred to the nuclear review, and when I deal with the nuclear issue I shall deal with what he said and also with what my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) said. That subject took up a major part of my hon. Friend's speech, and I listened with great interest to what both my hon. Friends said about it. I will certainly draw the attention of the Minister for Energy to their remarks and to the matters that they raised. They were both thoughtful and interesting speeches, and I will ask the Minister for Energy to respond to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold)--it seems odd to refer only to Conservative Members, but, as no other Opposition Member has spoken, all I can do is to respond to my hon. Friends-- made some important points about the importance of south American markets. I was in Brazil last year. I am glad that we have managed to restore some Export Credits Guarantee Department cover in relation to Brazil, which is important. He referred to the visit by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to Brazil, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade intends to go there.

Comments were made about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In recent years, the Foreign Office has been working increasingly closely in partnership with the DTI to help exporters. That is a key priority of the Foreign Office, which devotes more resources to supporting exporters than to any other activity. Industry often compliments it on the valuable help that it provides--a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). Our embassies are helping our industries, which is essential. Time and again, we receive the message from industry that it is grateful to our embassies around the world for the help they give in getting them to understand


Column 443

and capture markets. Some of the slight criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire were perhaps out of date and not relevant, because there has been a substantial change. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire reviewed some of the changes that have taken place and have allowed British industry to become successful and profitable and to look for export markets. Exporting is difficult, but its rewards are important. It involves finding new and challenging markets.

I know my hon. Friend's constituency well. I served on a district council in that constituency for quite some time before I entered the House. His constituency is spread across a large distance, and the middle part of it is an industrial heartland. It is essential that companies always have their eye on exporting and the way in which exports can be won.

My hon. Friend the Member Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) rightly paid tribute to the achievements of the university of Buckingham's export drive. She made a point about AEA Technology, which she raised yesterday during oral questions. That is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, and I will draw his attention to her strong feelings on the subject.

I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham who said that privatisation was one of our most successful exports, which is partly true. Without doubt, privatised companies are winning world markets. Time and again, they were constrained from doing so because of Treasury rules and the fact that they were in the public sector and taxpayers had to underwrite commitments. The BT/MCI deal is important in relation to winning world markets. The hon. Member for Cheltenham talked about world markets, British Telecom and the technology and software industry. I agree with him on most of those matters, although I disagree about domestic BT policy. It is essential that our companies win world markets and privatisation of companies has achieved that. They have started to export some of their technologies and knowledge to other countries. More than ever, the Government are committed to helping United Kingdom companies win overseas markets. To achieve that, we are developing a long-term export strategy involving increased partnership between Government and industry. The United Kingdom has always been a great trading nation. We export 25 per cent. of what we produce and, per head of population, we export more than the United States of America and even Japan.

In the three months to April 1994, the volume of non-EC exports rose by 11 per cent. Since 1981, the volume of UK exports has grown faster than that of France, Germany, Italy and Japan, yet all the Opposition do is carp, complain and bemoan our achievements. On a subject such as this, I should have thought that they could give British industry a little credit for what it has achieved, instead of talking it down.

We have recently seen dramatic increases in exports to markets as diverse as Hong Kong, South Korea and the United States. In 1993, the value of our visible exports exceeded £121 billion and our visible earnings passed


Column 444

£114 billion--an increase of more than 10 per cent. on 1992, despite the recession hitting hard in many overseas markets.

Our competitive advantage lies in the quality of our products, delivered at the right price and with quality service, but in this ever more competitive world we must fight even harder merely to keep our share of the market. Foreign markets provide a stern test of our products and services. World trade is set to grow between 5 and 10 per cent., helped by the successful completion of the GATT round. Everyone is keen to get a piece of the action. There are many great opportunities, but threats are posed by industries abroad. To meet those challenges, it is crucial that more firms treat exporting as an integral part of their business strategy, meeting and beating the world's best in overseas markets.

Competitiveness is a continuing challenge. The Government have a key role to play in increasing our competitive edge by providing good-quality information, advice and support for exporters. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, along with the Prime Minister, is leading the most important export drive that this country has seen for decades.

The Government are harnessing and driving this export initiative across the private and public sectors, involving all Government Departments. As many of my hon. Friends have said, exporting is not merely a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office ; all Departments with a sponsor role have a part to play.

Mr. Stephen : Does my hon. Friend recognise the tremendous effort that the royal family make in promoting British exports ?

Mr. McLoughlin : That is absolutely true. The royal family play an important part in our export drive.

The DTI and the Foreign Office jointly provide a first-class information and advice service for the United Kingdom's exporters under the banner of overseas trade services. Overall, the Government spend about £170 million on overseas trade services, and that amount becomes larger when all the help offered by Government Departments is taken into account.

Business plays a vital part in our strategy. The Government's principal adviser on trade promotion and activity is British business, in the form of the British Overseas Trade Board. Under the chairmanship of Sir Derek Hornby, the BOTB is made up of a dozen senior business people, who freely give their time and experience to help and determine the best use of our export promotion funds. DTI and Foreign Office Ministers attach much weight to the board's advice.

In addition to the board, there is a network of more than 200 business people with experience of markets around the world who help through 14 geographical area advisory groups. They ensure that the needs of business are reflected in the overseas trade services operation and help to formulate specific initiatives to increase trade, such as the "North America Now Campaign" and the "Indo-British Partnership".

Our business faces great challenges in a fiercely competitive world, but there are also great opportunities, not least in the fast-growing markets of the far east and elsewhere. We have made significant improvements to our export services to enhance the export drive. We will


Next Section

  Home Page