asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he is taking to encourage British manufacturers to make more effective use of his Department's export services and the Exports Credits Guarantee Department and to sell sufficient goods abroad.
Is the right hon. Gentleman relying purely on words? Is he satisfied that his commercial staff overseas is adequate to provide proper advice to our exporters, and does he intend to do anything material in the way of financial inducements for certain kinds of exports so that we have the best sort of exports with the best sort of effect on the economy?
The commercial officers of the Government overseas are extremely good in general, and I should be very happy to receive advice or suggestions. As regards financial inducements, we have always taken the line that export subsidies in any form are bad because, if we enter into competition with other countries in export subsidies, we are almost certain to lose.
Does my right hon. Friend feel that the disappointing performance of British exports in the first six months of the year demonstrates clearly that this is the major economic danger spot for a forthcoming economic crisis? Has my right hon. Friend perused the correspondence columns of the Financial Times and The Times, and has he noted the feeling expressed in many quarters that the official facilities provided by the Department are not entirely satisfactory? Will he consider again whether the official facilities utilised by the Dollar Exports Council in the official sphere could be put on a wider basis to spread the advantage of its benefits?
I would not talk about an economic crisis—I think that that would be wrong—but I agree that the expansion of our exports is necessary if we are to do all the things we wait to do in the world. The correspondence in the newspapers is being followed very closely by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, and we are taking careful note of every point made in the columns of the newspapers. I think that the facilities available at the Board of Trade are as good as they are in any other country, although, obviously, they can always be improved. I am considering whether there could be advantage in extending the Dollar Exports Council system to other areas.
Is not the real truth of the matter that, apart from the measures to which reference has been made, which have only a minor or marginal effect, the Government have no policy at all for increasing exports and, like Mr. Micawber, they are just waiting for something to turn up?
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
asked the President of the Board of Trade what proportion of our export trade is accounted for by the large firms, details of which have been sent to him by the hon. Member for Twickenham; and whether he will suggest further measures for spreading the burden of exports more widely among smaller firms.
No official statistics are available about the proportion of export trade done by large companies. An unofficial study suggests that it is high. Many small firms conduct a thriving direct export trade, and many more contribute essential components to the exports of large concerns. The Government's aim is to bring the attention of all businessmen, large and small, to the need for exports, the range of opportunities open in overseas markets, and the Government services available to help them.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
Has my right hon. Friend seen the statement that 30 per cent. of our exports are made by only forty firms—the large ones—and that there are hundreds of small firms making finished products which are not making any exports at all? Has not the time arrived when there ought to be some system of guarantees or incentives to encourage smaller firms to go out into the world and export?
I am not sure about a special scheme of guarantees and incentives, but, as my hon. Friend says, there is no doubt that there is scope for a much greater export effort by many of our smaller and medium-sized firms.
While paying a tribute to the most excellent services provided by the Export Services Branch of the Board of Trade, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the time has not come when there should be a large reinforcement of the commercial element in our missions abroad so as to deal not merely with commercial inquiries but with specific commercial problems which arise for small firms which possibly do not understand local business psychology?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for what he said about the services provided by the Board of Trade because, whatever political view we take about Government Ministers, I am sure that we all agree that the officials do an extremely good job. I should like to consider his suggestion. I am grateful for his suggestion and any other suggestions about ways in which our services can be improved for the benefit of exporters.