Examination of witness (Questions 40-47)|
TUESDAY 24 APRIL 2001
40. A Scots/French connection.
(Viscount Weir) The auld alliance between Scotland
41. Can I pick up on Germany, Germany has a
green SPD alliance, are you saying they do not enforce their environmental
(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 Damall
dams are a red rag to green people, if I can use the phrasethe
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,
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 languageI know because my son used
to work thereI 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,
(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.