British National Export Council

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 1964.

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Reading

To ask the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development whether he will make a statement about arrangements for co-operation between industry and Government in regard to the promotion of British exports overseas.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. 64.

Following on the decision to dissolve the Western Hemisphere Export Council at the end of March, the Government, in consultation with the principal national bodies concerned, have reviewed the present arrangements for fostering collectively the further expansion of the British export trade. As a result, it has been decided to establish a new organisation comprising a number of different components.

At the centre there will be a body to be known as the British National Export Council. Its tasks will be to initiate, guide and inspire export efforts in all markets; to advise upon the formation of bodies to foster British exports in particular areas of the world; to provide a means of co-ordination between such bodies and of the country's export effort generally; and to provide the necessary finance and services for this purpose.

A number of bodies operating in particular areas of the world will be linked with the Council. Two of these, the Export Council for Europe and the Council for Middle East Trade, are already in existence and will continue to operate on their present basis. I am also in touch with the Sino-British Trade Council. Three new bodies will be formed to continue and develop the work formerly carried out in Canada, the United States and Latin America by the Western Hemisphere Export Council. Other new bodies will be formed as the need arises. The chairmen of these five bodies will be members of the British National Export Council.

The sponsors of the British National Export Council will be the Federation of British Industries, National Association of British Manufacturers, Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Trades Union Congress and the City Financial Advisory Panel on Exports. I am glad to announce that Sir William McFadzean, who has served with such distinction and success as Chairman of the Export Council for Europe, has accepted my invitation to become chairman of the new Council and to undertake its formation, in consultation with the sponsoring bodies and the Board of Trade.

I am also glad to announce that the following have accepted my invitation to form the three new bodies, work on which will begin immediately:

Captain A. R. Glen, C.B.E., R.N.R., who has been a member of the Export Council for Europe from the beginning and a Deputy Chairman since September, 1962, has accepted my invitation to succeed Sir William McFadzean as Chairman of the Council for Europe from 1st November, 1964.

I am glad that his services will continue to be available to Her Majesty's Government as Chairman of the new Council and I am confident that the Council and the linked bodies will effectively stimulate and co-ordinate the numerous activities in the field of export promotion.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Lichfield and Tamworth

Is the Secretary of State aware that in so far as this new body is certainly worthy of investigation, there will be some disappointment that there is no specific body responsible for South-East Asia? The Sino-British trading organisation, an excellent body in itself, cannot hope to compete for the vast opportunities that exist in South-East Asia, where, at this moment, we are not only confronted with great possibilities with China, but are very vulnerable indeed in other areas where trade could be promoted? Is he further aware that half of our trouble over exports is the possibility that reports about exports do not reach many hundreds of potential exporters because the channelling back of potentials does not reach many small potential manufacturers?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I said in my statement that other bodies can be formed as required. I should expect the Council to advise me about the formation of other bodies which it considered necessary to deal with exports in other parts of the world.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Reading

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Exports may not worry the other side, but they do this.

Will my right hon. Friend allow this Council to make financial recommendations to Her Majesty's Government in any way it considers appropriate for the promotion of exports? Further, will he see that the Council has the necessary powers—and, indeed, the scope—to ensure that all the new problems that arise in regard to exports can be dealt with because, however efficient an organisation may be, new problems are perpetually cropping up?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Financial arrangements are a matter jointly for Government and industry. The Government will make grants in aid on the basis that industry provides a similar amount. The British National Export Council is there to make recommendations on all matters, either new or existing, that may come before it.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Battersea North

As, I think, the House had no particular warning that this statement was to be made today, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can make one or two points clear. Is the whole of the Commonwealth covered by this new organisation? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Canada and the United States, and one or two areas, but can he make clear the geographical scope?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

This body can cover the whole world. At present, it is dealing with the five particular councils I have mentioned, and it may get into touch with other existing bodies. That, I am leaving to the central Council to deal with itself, and to advise me.

As to other parts of the Commonwealth, as I explained during our debate on Commonwealth trade, there are particular organisations of the Commonwealth chambers of commerce that deal with particular areas, and I now leave it to the chairmen of the new bodies to get into contact with them and advise us on what action to take.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

Arising out of that reply, will this most valuable new organisation be given a directive to examine the possibility of an export council for the sterling Commonwealth area, so that, with the Canadian Export Council, the Commonwealth may be covered?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I want this Council to advise me about bodies to be formed for other parts of the world, and the arrangements to be made with bodies that already cover the Commonwealth. The one that I have set up with a new chairman is to deal with Canada. Part of the advantage of the organisation is that it will be more flexible than the former body and will be able to focus on particular markets of the world as required. I therefore hope that these bodies will advise me about any further arrangements that should be made about Commonwealth countries or Commonwealth areas. But I would not like to give them a directive that they must deal with our whole sterling Commonwealth as one block.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Am I right in assuming from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that the Government are willing to match by grant in aid any expenditure incurred by industry? If so, is there any limit, or has any estimate been made of the cost?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The right hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that we will match the amount paid by industry. There is no specific limit at the moment, but this, naturally, will be settled by the chairman of the Council in consultation with myself and the Board of Trade.

Mr. H. Wilson:

Since the Western Hemisphere Exports Council, originally the Dollar Exports Board, was set up on Government initiative, and I think that I am right in saying that the Western European one was also set up on Government initiative, may I ask why, after all these years, there has been no Government initiative to set up a similar one for exports to the Commonwealth with which our trade has declined so gravely in the last four or five years?

Will the right hon. Gentleman set one up without waiting passively for a recommendation from this body and express the desire of the whole House that there should be urgently set up a body dealing with Commonwealth trade comparable to those dealing with the areas which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The central Council is being set up on Government initiative, and it is this body which will co-ordinate all the activities and will be invaluable in advising the Government about setting up individual bodies for the rest of the world. Already a body for Canada is being set up, as I have announced. As for the other areas, there are other bodies, working through chambers of commerce, already active at the moment. The British National Export Council will advise about these and whether there should be closer links and what arrangements they want. In much of the Commonwealth the Government are already concentrating great efforts.

Mr. Wilson:

Where?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

This year, in Australia—if the right hon. Gentleman does not know of the efforts already being made. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman thinking that he can just talk about additional efforts in the Commonwealth without recognising what is already being done.

Photo of Mr Paul Williams Mr Paul Williams , Sunderland South

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that a slightly more forthcoming approach to Commonwealth trade would have been somewhat more gratifying? While we on this side of the House, and probably hon. Members on both sides, welcome the success of the Export Council for Europe, one would have thought that an approach similar to this could well have been made in the case of the Commonwealth. Is there any particular reason why more positive directive or suggestion could not have been made to this new body perhaps in association with a new, successfully established Commonwealth Secretariat?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

We are already dealing with Canada in this particular organisation. The reason why separate bodies have not been set up for Commonwealth countries is that work is already being done over large areas of the Commonwealth by Commonwealth chambers of commerce. It now remains for this Council to advise on this aspect.

Mr. H. Wilson:

This, Mr. Speaker, is daft. Surely, in 1949, there were already very powerful chambers of commerce which were handling trade between Britain and North America, but we needed the Dollar Exports Board. In view of the fact that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, trade with the Commonwealth has fallen, on the Treasury's own figures, from 36 per cent. of our total in 1959 to 30 per cent. today, why have the Government not specifically set up an export organisation for the Commonwealth instead of leaving it to the chambers of commerce?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The right hon. Gentleman himself, when he set up the Export Council, did nothing about setting up an export council for the Commonwealth. What I have done is to set up a central organisation which will deal with the three new bodies to take the place of the Western Hemisphere Export Council, including Canada, and to deal with the Export Council for Europe and the Council for Middle East Trade, which are already in operation, and with the central Council, which has on it representatives of sponsoring bodies, including the T.U.C. and Government Departments. This organisation will also carry matters a stage further and advise about any additional machinery wanted for the Commonwealth. This is much the most satisfactory way of going about it in order to enlist the wholehearted support of industry and the T.U.C.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

The right hon. Gentleman's slip is showing.

Mr. Gresham Cooke:

Will the chairman of the councils be paid or will they be volunteers?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The chairmen of all these bodies and the members carry out their work as a voluntary public service.

Photo of Mr John Stonehouse Mr John Stonehouse , Wednesbury

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that Commonwealth trade has increased since 1951 by £3,000 million, but that this country has been able to secure only £100 million of that? Is not this a deplorable development? Does not the right hon. Gentleman know that our share of trade with Commonwealth countries has been reduced from 25 per cent. to 19 per cent. and that this trade with the Commonwealth has been lost to Germany, Japan and France? Is not it time that we had something more effective to build up this trade?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that since we were alarmed by his speech last Friday, showing the current trend in British exports, his statement today, coming as it does almost in the last week of a dying Parliament, has all the signs of window-dressing just before an election? Why was the statement not made three years, or even three months, ago?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

This statement was made because of a change in the position of the Western Hemisphere Export Council; and as a result of the resignation of Lord Rootes, to whom we have already paid tribute, it was necessary to reorganise the machinery for dealing with North and South America. Therefore, this gave an opportunity for the creation of a British National Export Council and linking other bodies with it and forming it from the chairmen and representatives of those bodies.

As for Commonwealth trade, it is because of this position that we have been making efforts in Canada which have resulted in a change in the Canadian Custom procedure for whisky, which is beneficial to us, and the undertaking of the Canadian Minister of Finance, on behalf of his Government, to deal with the question of valuation in Canada—of utmost importance to us. Hence, also, the reason why we have been concentrating on Australia as a market.

The hon. Member will also recall the impact on Commonwealth trade of the extent of aid devoted by other members of the Commonwealth which is tied aid and, therefore, affects our freedom of trade with the Commonwealth itself. These are obstacles with which we have to battle. It is necessary that British businessmen should do their utmost and we encourage them to do it.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

We cannot debate this now without a Question before the House.