Exporting out of recession - Business and Enterprise Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)


23 FEBRUARY 2009

  Q40  Chairman: And he has been to India, I think, on one successful trip this year, but now you have been replaced. Mervyn Davies is there.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I am thrilled to bits. He comes with the credentials of having chaired one of only two banks—HSBC being the other—what a surprise that I have said that—that are more globally aspected of the British banking system and that have more successfully weathered this crisis in a better way, and so he is coming with a degree of street cred. Secondly, he is a real live, business-engaged person. Thirdly, because he is in the Lords he is going to have more time to go and do the job. I think it was an inspired choice. I am thrilled to bits and he will have all the support in the world from me.

  Q41  Chairman: Is your conclusion that the trade minister should always be in the Lords?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: When I said about the civil servants and "half" and everything else—of course it was taken out of context, but I said it and I will stand by it—it is if you have the current system. If you have the current system of policy delivery and if you have the current system of ministerial representation, then I do believe you need a minister for trade promotion—not trade policy, that is different, but trade promotion—who, frankly, can be spared from what you would call the normal duties in Westminster, to get out around the world and sell your nation. As we speak, that person is going to have more time if they are in the Lords. But if you had a different system, you might do two things: you might be able to do it differently and also have a different level of support.

  Q42  Chairman: Changing the system implies a rather radical restructuring of our democratic process to achieve a very unusual object.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: For sure.

  Q43  Chairman: It could be done more simply. This Committee previously has recommended that the whips simply have an understanding that the trade minister will not be called back for important votes. It could be done very easily if the willingness was there to do it.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: You could have some form of electronic voting with—

  Q44  Chairman: No, do not go there. You surely are misunderstanding the process.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I am so sorry.

  Chairman: That is going well beyond.

  Mr Hoyle: It is very hard when you are not a democrat.

  Q45  Chairman: Yes. He is an autocrat, we know that.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: By the way, you say I am not a democrat. I am. The trouble is I am disenfranchised: I do not get a vote any more.

  Q46  Mr Hoyle: Quite right too.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I am not saying it is wrong. I am merely telling you—

  Q47  Chairman: He gets lots of votes in the House of Lords.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Could I say one other thing, because you did level one point at me, Chairman, and I would like to deal with it. UKTI as currently constituted is doing a very, very good job. It is following its five-year plan. Its people have, I hope, got their tails up and realise—

  Q48  Chairman: Mick is going to ask you in more detail later—

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: But I would not want you for one minute to put the words in my mouth that I think half of them should be sacked. That is not what I said.

  Q49  Chairman: I have one specific question on UKTI. You have said there are too many civil servants but you have said that UKTI provides stunning value for the taxpayer.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I do.

  Q50  Chairman: And you still believe it provides stunning value for the taxpayer.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I do.

  Q51  Mr Hoyle: So the answer is: sack half the Foreign Office and increase the number in UKTI.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Or change the accent of what the Foreign Office do a little bit more. If I may say something else, it is not just the Foreign Office. Our higher education system can be sold around the world better, so why do we not have promotional sales people in the Department of Education? Our environmental engineering companies in the country are first class. They are doing some fabulous stuff in China and in India and in Latin America, making money for the country. It is enlightened self-interest. Why do we not have trade promotion people at the Department of Environment? Energy is another one. It should not just be put into a box called "Trade Promotion UK and a bit of Foreign Office, thank you very much". The whole ability for this nation to trade itself out of its current problems is something the entire government department, Civil Service, regions and countries in the UK should espouse and praise, not, "Oh, it's over there, we'll let those people do it. What are they called? UKTI. They can do it". It should be a common purpose of the Government.

  Q52  Mr Hoyle: Fewer mandarins/more experts.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Yes. Fewer mandarins/more experts, but more important than both of those, more people on the ground in the country doing the business.

  Q53  Mr Clapham: Promoting trade and branding the UK is very important and the DTI reference tended to be a brand for the British trade. Do you feel that changing to that terrible acronym "DBERR" had a detrimental impact to the branding of UK business abroad?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I do not think DTI was seen abroad in the same way as you and I would have seen it here, actually. I do not think that was the brand that was recognised. I think the brand UKTI was beginning to get recognised, but that was early as well. That is very new. That is only five/six years. I think the Foreign Office would be the brand overseas, and the companies themselves. There are some amazingly big companies that are associated with Britain. DTI was certainly seen at home. When the name was changed—I will put my hand up here—I was asked my opinion before it was announced, what did I think, and I wanted the word "business" in it and I wanted the word "enterprise" in it. I did not have the final say—nor should I, that should be for other people far more important than me—but I was pleased to see that the word "industry" went, because "industry", to me, conjures up ideas of dirty factories and cobblestones and things that kids do not want to do—the old cliche of a teacher saying, "Work hard and you will end up in a place like this" and all that stuff. I think you and I would agree that our vision of manufacturing is that it is quality, clean, innovative. It is business. I am glad that industry went. I wish "trade" had been kept for all the reasons we are discussing. It would be wrong of me just to say that I thought BERR was completely wrong. The words "business" and "enterprise" I was very pleased to see.

  Chairman: We will ask some questions about the structure in which you operate in BERR, because you are still playing a role for the Government now, and then move on to questions of UKTI.

  Q54  Mr Oaten: You talk passionately about what you think needs to be done and you talk passionately and proudly about your period as a trade minister. Do you miss it? Do you regret not being in that post at the moment?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: No. I miss the people sometimes because they are first-class people with a wish to do the job. Interestingly, I miss the ability to stand up overseas—I am proud of my country—and sell it, but the business ambassadorial role, which we might discuss in a minute, gives me that opportunity. I do not miss thinking, when I say things, "I'm going to have Number 10's press office on the phone in about 30 seconds" when I sit down. I do not miss that.

  Q55  Chairman: What were they asking you about, the press office at Number 10?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Usually?

  Q56  Chairman: Yes.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Well, because I did not have a political career and I had no political ambition, it enabled me, of course, to do the job in a different way, positively. It also meant I spoke my mind a little bit more than most would, so that is an interesting time. I do not miss the red boxes on a Saturday morning, no. But I would miss it desperately if I did not still have the chance to bang the drum for the country.

  Q57  Mr Oaten: You are doing that at the moment through two roles, as far as I can understand. I am a bit confused about them, but you have the National Economic Council.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: No, I have not.

  Q58  Mr Oaten: You are not on the National Economic Council.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: No. Do you know, perhaps this could go on whatever record this is for ever. On the day when that reshuffle came about, October 4, the Prime Minister formed the National Economic Council. I think the Prime Minister chairs it, but the idea was that Lord Mandelson came in—

  Q59  Mr Oaten: It is a full Cabinet Committee in its own right.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Sure. That was one thing, the National Economic Council. Then another thing was this group of 17 Business Ambassadors for UKTI.

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