Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-171)|
23 FEBRUARY 2009
Q160 Chairman: We do not want to
get too bogged down with this but I think it is the beginning
of a slippery slope. President Sarkozy uses exactly the same argument
to justify subsidies to French car makers with French taxpayers'
money, to justify explicitly protectionist measures in his subsidy
package. The French and German governments use scrappage allowances
because they know they will go for German cars; the Germans buy
German cars. These are all protectionist measures and you are
beginning on the slippery slope. You are giving them permission
by saying British ministers, which I would agree with you about,
should drive British cars. That is the trouble. The battle to
protect free trade is difficult because we all make little compromises
to suit domestic audiences.
Lord Jones of Birmingham: I think
it is a valid point.
Q161 Miss Kirkbride: Are we compromising
on that one then?
Lord Jones of Birmingham: I think
he has made a valid point.
Q162 Miss Kirkbride: So Obama is
very naughty but we will still buy British from the British Government
as long as it is not put in legislation? Is that a rough summary
of what it is all about?
Lord Jones of Birmingham: By the
way, the President of the United States of America, from, I think,
the middle of this yearwhen you see him wave as he gets
on to his helicopter on the White House lawn, that helicopter
will be made in Somerset.
Q163 Chairman: They may rescind the
contract, actually. They are not so sure. They are looking at
it again because they are unhappy about it.
Lord Jones of Birmingham: There
you are: protectionist again. Do not upset me on this Monday afternoon,
Q164 Miss Kirkbride: So if we have
a bit of difficulty when it comes to goods and services and free
Lord Jones of Birmingham: You
Q165 Miss Kirkbride: Between us,
I would say.
Lord Jones of Birmingham: Do not
Miss Kirkbride: "We"
in terms of reconciling how
Mark Oaten: You are both Bromsgrove.
Q166 Miss Kirkbride: Yes, exactly,
but I mean "we" in terms of reconciling what emotionally
we might like to do with a policy that would be fair and reasonable
with regard to free trade. What about when it comes to British
jobs for British workers?
Lord Jones of Birmingham: I should
think the Prime Ministerand I have not spoken to him about
it so this is just a personal viewregrets the day he said
it. One of the things that this country has excelled at over hundreds
of years, not the last five or ten but hundreds of years, is getting
quality people, skilled people, from all over the world to, yes,
okay, enrich us socially and culturally but really to add to the
GDP of the country. We have done it for hundreds of years incredibly
well. We have even got a royal family that every time we run out
of people we have gone off to Europe and got another lot. We have
done it for hundreds of years, so I think, rightly, that if there
are unemployed construction workers in Britain who think, "Two
years down in the Gulf, two years in eastern Europe is what I'll
do because I can't get a job here", the Auf Wiedersehen
Pet argument, I think that is a good thing, but it hardly
becomes us to turn round and say to others, "You can't come
here and do the same thing". What I would say is welcome
to competition because some of you might remember in 2006, just
after I finished at the CBI, I took the Dispatches cameras
on a tour and made a programme about Polish workers in Britain.
This was at a time when you could not get a plumber for love nor
money. I remember there finding out so often that people were
saying, "Oh, these Poles have nicked our jobs", and
with the camera there I used to challenge them. I would say, "You
do the job then". "I'm not doing that job". "Why
not?". One guy said, "I've got to get up early".
Another guy said, "They don't pay enough". I do not
blame the Polish workers for coming here, and I know the argument
is that in the refineries and all that it was not Poles but the
concept is the same. Please do not tell me that if we can get
a more productive nature from people who are prepared to come
here and work for a wageand I hope there is no abuse; I
do not want breaching of minimum wage; I do not want breaching
of any health and safety or employment regulations; that is despicable,
I do not want that, but if it is purely competitionthen
at the end of the day we have a history of welcoming people here
to work hard, bring their skills and deliver for this country.
It will be one of the elements by which we get ourselves out of
this. I would love to take this opportunity in public to say this,
Chairman. If we allow protectionism, and we have agreed a compromise
on one or two areas, to get hold of the major nations of this
world you will find nationalism follows very quickly behind it,
and the moment you get nationalism you get extreme parties playing
to populism and it will be the easiest thing in the world to get
people who are worried about their jobs, worried about their future,
to turn on certain ethnic minorities in this country, and indeed
sometimes not even minorities. I would just say to us all that
we have to kill that at birth, strangle it at birth, because I
do not think it is too emotive to say look what happened when
the 1930s went that way.
Q167 Miss Kirkbride: Okay, so we
are clear about workers.
Lord Jones of Birmingham: But
not buying a British motor car.
Q168 Miss Kirkbride: What about your
general view of the protectionist sentiment that is rising around
the world, whether it is coming from America or whether it is
the French up to their usual tricks? Are you concerned that in
the present political climate we are going to have some difficulties
on this front?
Lord Jones of Birmingham: We have
always had difficulties as a nation preaching the free trade gospel
around the world. On balance, if you look at it over a cycle,
our free trade stance, I agree, is bent at the edges but it has
made this country richer. It is very difficult to sell that story
to someone who has just lost their job and your democratically
elected politician has to explain that he or she has just voted
for them to lose their job. That is a pretty difficult call in
a democracy, I fully understand that, but over a cycle you tend
to make more money as a country if you are free trade. At this
moment we are seeing a challenge to democratic capitalism, are
we not, and when that happens the different voices that come to
challenge that do not all come from people who are inherently
nasty or anything else. A lot of them come from people who are
just very worried, very insecure. It is a very difficult path
to walk to keep the free trade mantra going but if this nation
does not have a world that by and large is free trading we will
never pay our way in the world and we certainly will not trade
our way out of this.
Q169 Chairman: This has been how
I knew it would be, a wide-ranging session, perhaps a little more
wide-ranging even than I had expected, but nevertheless a helpful
one. The principal purpose of it was to draw on your time as a
minister and to understand what changes, if any, you think need
to be made to the public policy environment that surrounds our
export promotion effort. That was the principal purpose: to make
sure we can trade out of a recession and make use of a weakened
sterling, for example. Is there anythingand this is a dangerous
question to ask Digby Jonesyou have not had an opportunity
to say in that specific context that you would like to put on
the record before we draw the session to a conclusion?
Lord Jones of Birmingham: I would
hope that as the Government of the nationand this is not
about a Labour Government or a Tory Government or a Liberal Government;
it is nothing like that at allfaces the next 15 years of
pulling in one's horns and raising taxation, and both of those
two things are going to have to happen whoever is in charge because
of the nature of the national debt, I just hope that they do not
say, "We have got to cut things so that means less on trade
promotion, fewer nurses, fewer teachers, fewer policemen".
By all means start looking at the back office, all those sorts
of things of which I spoke in a former committee. By all means
look at streamlining systems, look at changing the way that you
produce public services for sure, but please do not cut at the
coalface. That goes for a teacher, it goes for a policeman and
it goes for a nurse. I want to see in the same breath as those
important people in our society those who work in the trade promotion
and investment promotion side of this nation. We have to see them,
whether they are working on the ground in an emerging market or
whether they are working in a regional country of the UK getting
businesses to do it. They are as important to this country as
a nurse and a teacher and a policeman because if they do not do
the job and businesses do not earn the money they will not pay
the taxes and you will not get any nurses and teachers and policemen.
More than anything else, therefore, I would ask,and I have
got representatives of all three parties herewhen the call
comes (and it will) to cut services and raise taxation, please
put the work of UKTI up there with the work of a teacher.
Q170 Chairman: And you would say
that broadly the UKTI structure and model is working quite well?
It could be improved, everything needs to be improved, but you
would not change the basic model?
Lord Jones of Birmingham: I would
not. I would put more resource into it, especially on the ground
in overseas markets, especially into other sectors than they are
allowed to do because of the money at their disposal. I would
not change it. The ability to get people to follow an understood
vision and be led forward happened before I or Andrew Cahn. It
happened with me there. I understand, although it is second-hand,
that Lord Davies is doing exactly the same. What we should do
is not chop and change and have people going forward. There will
be some places in the world where they could do with a few more
people. By the way, if that means that you are going to say, "Those
people can come but they have to come off a head count in London",
change the system. There is nothing wrong with that, but do not
just cut people at the coalface.
Q171 Chairman: Thank you very much
indeed. We are very grateful for your time.
Lord Jones of Birmingham: My pleasure.