Overseas Commerce

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 7th June 1995.

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Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry , High Peak 2:16 pm, 7th June 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans his Department has to strengthen overseas commercial activities. [25436]

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

On 1 March my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced plans to strengthen commercial activity overseas by opening 14 new posts and creating over 100 additional commercial staff slots. New export promotion targets and programmes, many of which will involve our posts overseas, are also included in the second competitiveness White Paper, launched on 22 May.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry , High Peak

Given that we are experiencing an export-led recovery and that firms in my constituency and elsewhere are actively seeking new markets overseas, will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that our diplomats around the world see it as an ever more important part of their role to actively support British industry? Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what he sees as the key priority in that area?

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Helping British companies to win business is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's largest single activity overseas, and accounts for 30 per cent. of front-line staff. We have 205 commercial sections in post world wide, and shortly there will be 217. The priorities for the commercial services are to provide market intelligence, to help find overseas business contacts, to support overseas market research, to provide information on overseas companies, to help promote products and services, to organise seminars and briefings and to give political and economic advice on overseas markets. They also provide a door-opening service for United Kingdom companies. I am confident that that work is being done professionally.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

Does the Minister acknowledge that the size, scale and—to some extent—the status of our overseas embassies often reflects times past rather than changing patterns in the world? What steps are being made within the Foreign Office to review the strength of our overseas representation in different countries to ensure that it reflects new and emerging patterns in the world and is not frozen in the past?

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

There is a constant process of inspection; the Foreign Office is probably the most heavily inspected and reviewed part of the public service. That is reflected by the fact that we are continually closing posts where they are no longer needed, reducing them in size and opening them where there are new challenges and opportunities. We are going through a fundamental expenditure review. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he looks for, as the list of embassies is updated on a continuous basis.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his positive response to that question. Does he accept that the major growth in the world in the next 10 to 15 years is likely to take place, not in over-regulated Europe, but in the middle east, the Indian sub-continent, the Pacific rim and south-east Asia? How many of the additional posts which he has announced will fall within the middle east, the Indian sub-continent, the Pacific rim, south-east Asia and China?

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The short answer to my hon. Friend is a lot. Information on the new posts has been placed in the Library. The list includes Australia, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Mexico, Georgia, Laos and Armenia, and includes the very areas which my hon. Friend mentioned.