The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): My Department provides a range of support services through UK Trade and Investment for British firms interested in reconstruction work in Iraq. That includes providing commercially relevant information and advising on tender procedures for the main reconstruction agencies. Our advice takes full account of the security situation in Iraq and the terms of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.
At Nuremberg in 1945, some very wicked men were put on trial. Does the former secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties think that she, as a senior member of the Cabinet, should be pressing, for trade and other reasons, for Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein and others at least to get a trial? I have given her the names and numbers of Emile Ludot and Mathieu Faupin, lawyers who are trying to represent a client whom they have not been allowed to see for more than a year. If Hermann Goering and Josef Goebbels could get a trial, is it not about time that the Iraqis did?
I have checked the position of Tariq Aziz and other war criminals awaiting trial in Iraq. Tariq Aziz has a named counsel of record registered with the Iraq special tribunal, and I understand that he has seen him twice already. Mr. Ludot and Mr. Faupin, the other lawyers in question, are not registered as co-counsel with the Iraq special tribunal. Furthermore, my understanding is that although they claim Mr. Aziz as their client, they have not requested the tribunal's permission to visit him. Both Tariq Aziz and Saddam Hussein have seen their lawyers.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Because of the security situation in Iraq, one of the biggest trade fairs had to take place in Jordan. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many officials from her Department attended and what support they gave to British companies?
We have been supporting British companies and helping British companies to work with Iraqi companies since the end of the conflict. Although I cannot give the hon. Gentleman detailed information about the Jordan trade fair, perhaps I can write to him this afternoon. In 2003, we set up a business facility in Baghdad. We are working with the chamber of commerce, and we have helped a number of British firms in their successful efforts to obtain contracts to help with the reconstruction process. A number of British companies and their trade associations have thanked my
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1568
officials and ministerial colleagues for our support. I hope that all hon. Members welcome the creation of a democratic Iraqi Government and the fact that the reconstruction process, difficult though it is, is well under way. The British Government and British companies will continue to support the reconstruction process.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): May I remind my right hon. Friend that we used to support the Baghdad trade fairsat least, the Conservatives didthroughout the time when Saddam Hussein was killing the Shi'a and the Kurds?
Continuing the process of the reconstruction of Iraq, the inauguration of the new President of Iraq is taking place at this moment. He is Jalal Talabani, who for 60 years struggled against various regimes in Iraq, fought Saddam Hussein, and fled to the mountains in 1991 when helicopter gunships were being used against the Kurds and others. I think that we will all want to send congratulations to him today. He is not only a democrat but from a minority group in Iraq, which shows that minorities can become as important even in that country as they can in this country.
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope that the whole House will want to join me in sending our congratulations to President Talabani, who assumes office today. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on her stalwart efforts over a very long period to support the oppressed people of Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime and since the end of the conflict. I very much hope that despite the divisions within this House on the conflict itself we can all now unite in supporting the people of Iraq, who showed enormous courage in defying the terrorists to come out and vote, in their work to reconstruct their own country on peaceful and democratic lines.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): As a somewhat younger retiring Member than the distinguished Father of the House, may I, on a suitably non-partisan note, echo what the Secretary of State just said? May I also to ask her to join me in commending the bravery of those who work for British companies, and indeed for companies throughout the western world, who are prepared, at great personal risk, to go to take part in the reconstruction work in Iraq?
Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman makes a correct and important point. It is, if I may say so, a very good note on which to end his parliamentary career. The courage of many such peoplenot only the staff working directly for British and other western firms, but many of my own officials who voluntarily went out to Iraq to help in the aftermath of the conflict, and above all the Iraqi people, particularly when working with western firms and therefore likely to be a target for terrorist attackis to be admired unreservedly on both sides of the House.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)
(Lab/Co-op): Is the Secretary of State prepared to agree that one of the key elements of a successful bidding process is a ready access to high standards, and that BSIformerly known as the British Standards
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1569
Institutionand the International Organisation for Standardisation, or ISO, are brand leaders in this field and should give European companies a competitive edge? Is she aware, though, that the Americans have been playing a very hard-sell game with standards since the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, and have stepped up their efforts since then, in trying to impose American standards on all work across the whole country? Will she assure the House that she will stand foursquare with BSI in ensuring that we resist the Americanisation of components and construction work in Iraq?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is right and I am delighted to say that we have been doing exactly what he asks since the end of the conflict. Indeed, the American Administration made an early attempt to impose American standards for mobile telephone technology even though European standards had been in use throughout the middle east for a long time. I am delighted to say that that proposal did not get any further.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): How many contracts have been awarded to British companies up to now? What is their total value? What are the Secretary of State and the Department doing to ensure that all possible contracts are drawn to the attention of British companies?
Ms Hewitt: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the information that he requests for the simple reason that there is no obligation on British companies to tell us when they win a contract. However, as I said earlier, we have helped many companies to win contracts, including AMEC. They have expressed their appreciation for the help that we have given them. By ensuring that we remain close to the tendering processinitially with the coalition provisional authority and now the Iraqi Governmentwe can make the information directly available to contractors here. We have supported them through contractors' conferences, trade fairs and the work that I mentioned earlier.
The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The UK Government fully support the efforts of the European Union to negotiate commitments on opening financial services markets in World Trade Organisation countries, including India and China, as part of the Doha development agenda. The recent visits of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to India and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to China have stressed the message from industry that a liberalised and transparent financial services sector brings huge benefits, including increased foreign direct investment and the transfer of skills.
I am glad to hear my hon. Friend's comments. The insurance company Aviva is an important employer in York. It has a subsidiary in India
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1570
that sells life assurance policies and that helps to safeguard jobs in the UK. However, Aviva's general insurance business cannot sell policies in India because the Government of India will not allow foreign companies to compete with Indian insurers. Will my hon. Friend ensure that our Government continue to press the Indian and Chinese Governments to allow UK companies to compete on a level playing field in their countries, where there is a growing middle class that wants insurance because of the security that it brings them?
Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the subject, on which he has worked tirelessly. I understand that, in India, foreign underwriters have set an equity cap of 26 per cent. Of course, that is a matter of concern to us and it is why officials of UK Trade and Investment and our high commissioner in Delhi have already raised the matter with the Indian Government. I assure hon. Members that that work will continue to ensure that we can give the best opportunities to the British companies that my hon. Friend described.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The Minister claims to support exports and opportunities for our companies abroad, but why is the Department reducing support under the support for exhibitions and seminars abroadSESAscheme for companies that want to attend trade fairs and open up markets abroad? Why has the Department resisted the representations that have been made to improve the conditions under that scheme and not restrict them, as the Government are doing?
Mr. Alexander: I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's brass neck in raising SESA funding given the Conservative party's approach to funding support for UK exports. On his substantive point, there is a genuine challenge to ensure that resources are used effectively. We believe that the best use of public money is, especially where market failure has occurred, to help those companies that are new to export. That is why we established the passport to export scheme. In the past, several companies secured public support and subsidy sequentially for some years. Labour Members believe that the best use of public money is to use it for those companies that have never previously exported, thus giving them the opportunity to export to new markets for the first time. I am sure that many people in industry agree with us.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister knows that, in the past few weeks, the Treasury Committee visited Beijing and Shanghai, where we witnessed one of the most rapid changes in global trading patterns, with China exporting more than Britain, France and Italy combined. We were pleased to note the presence of insurance companies such as Prudential and Standard Life Assurance. However, in a weak and immature banking system, there was an absence of the large retail banks in the market. What encouragement can the Minister and the Government give to such companies to embed themselves in a rapidly growing market?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue, which draws on the point that I was
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1571
making earlier. There is a great deal of work being done by UKTI in China and about 100 missions supported by UKTI will take place there in 2005 and 2006. On the specific issue of access to British financial servicesan area in which we have a great deal of expertiseI can assure the House that lobbying by UKTI has helped to secure operating licences for Prudential, Standard Life and Aviva. The China-Britain Business Council is working with UKTI to secure a further 220 licences, targeted for the years 2005 and 2006.