Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 40-47)



  40. A Scots/French connection.
  (Viscount Weir) The auld alliance between Scotland and France.

Dr Starkey

  41. Can I pick up on Germany, Germany has a green SPD alliance, are you saying they do not enforce their environmental rules?
  (Viscount Weir) Well I give you—

  42. Now, not in the past when they might have had a CGD government.
  (Viscount Weir) I will give you an example, although I am not sure I ought to, if you take the Illisu Dam—all dams are a red rag to green people, if I can use the phrase—the Minister for the Environment, I cannot remember exactly what the ministry was called in Germany, they had agreed a charge and they said, "No, the government should not give support to the dam" because not part of our bit of the dam, but actually the hydroelectric equipment, some of that was going to be built in Germany, however, they just got overruled by the Cabinet. There are some places where they are quite tough, the United States is quite tough on environmental matters, but if you have a sensible case then they are fairly flexible. They do not like losing business, you know.

  43. You said we compare sometimes unfavourably on soft loans, on ECGD cover, credit and interests rates, and so on, when we did our report on South America one startling set of figures that came up was the actual sheer size of the diplomatic force in Brazil and in most of South America compared with the Germans and the French, we were feeding about half of the diplomatic troops, as it were. You have been very complimentary about the nature of our diplomatic representation, do you keep on falling over French and German diplomats when do you business in these parts of the world compared to the leaner outfits we have. Do you think we are either too thin or they are over-manned. We kept trying to find this out.
  (Viscount Weir) What matters is the quality, let me give you one example, this goes back donkeys years, I do not know what the situation is now, I can remember being out in Japan and I had a very difficult licensing agreement that I needed to negotiate with a big Japanese company and I was, therefore, very much involved with our embassy at that time and I remember, just generally, saying one day to the ambassador, "By the way, how many of your people in the embassy speak Japanese fluently", quite a reasonable question, and when he said, "21" given it is a very difficult language—I know because my son used to work there—I thought that was pretty good. I said, "How many of the French can?" He said, "two". Maybe it does sort of answer your question.

  44. It does in some way.
  (Viscount Weir) It is not the number of diplomats we feel, it is the quality of them. I have to say that I understand that the recruiting net is spread a bit wider nowadays than it may have been at one time, but I cannot say that I have noticed any decline in the quality, although I suppose at the end of the day one has to be rather careful not to underpay them. I think you have to make it a good career. Like anything else, if you want to attract good people you have to pay them properly. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. I think the rather unattractive chipping away and saying, "Why does the Ambassador have to have a car like this", or that sort of thing, "their entertainment allowance is too much, they should stay in cheaper hotels", I do not think you attract the best people if you chip away at that. In terms of overall government finance it is peanuts, as it were.

  45. We are not taking evidence from them this time because we have done before, did you favour this new creation, the BTI?
  (Viscount Weir) Yes, I did. I am not sure that in its current form it should necessarily stay like that. I think, you know, it should be looked at very carefully and very regularly and we should say, "What have we learned from this so far?" I think it is a much better approach than there was in the past and a much more coherent one. I also think that in the shape of Sir David Wright we have an outstanding person at the top of the BTI Trade Partners United Kingdom. He is first class. He proved it on the ground with what he did on trade promotion in the Far East, he was absolutely excellent. Somebody said earlier the point about taking people from industry and putting them in embassies, and so on, well, I would rather have him there than most people I have ever met in industry.


  46. You would employ him. Viscount Weir, you have clearly been a very satisfied customer, is there any message you would like to leave us with as to where, in your judgment, they could do better?
  (Viscount Weir) I tried at the beginning to say that we cannot afford not to cover some of those markets which in the future have a lot of potential, one being CIS and another being South America. I would like to see more resources being put in there, but not at the expense of the resources that we deploy in other areas. If you can persuade Mr Brown to loosen up for a bob or two I think the better the Foreign Office we get the better our trade will do.

  47. You have been extremely helpful. Your evidence has been valuable, many thanks indeed.
  (Viscount Weir) Thank you very much for your courtesy and inviting me.

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