We, and the Department of Trade and Industry, are implementing the recommendations of the export forum. This includes a new internet-based sales leads service; the export explorer scheme for new and inexperienced exporters wanting to do business in western Europe; the largest ever programme of trade fairs and missions for 1998–99; and the new support for exhibitions and seminars abroad initiative.
In addition, we have introduced a new scheme of short-term attachments of business people to our overseas posts, and 37 senior business leaders have agreed to act as ambassadors for British business.
I congratulate the Minister on the measures that have been taken. We all understand the difficult export conditions that we face at the moment. Can he announce today what plans he has to build on the successful work of his private sector advisers, and say whether he intends to recruit more?
We are very much enjoying our relationship with the private sector through the business ambassador scheme. It is in its early days, but all the signs are that it will be a great success. Indeed, those from the private sector who have been involved in the scheme see the value of it and wish to continue to participate actively and effectively in future.
Is it not pretty pointless trying to encourage exports when the British export industry is being crucified by the value of sterling? Much of British industry and agriculture is already on the verge of recession. Is not it time that the Government said loudly and clearly that it is not in the interests of those who will be in the single currency, or those who will be outside it, that the entry criteria should be fudged in the way intended?
It has not taken the Conservative party long in opposition to start to run down the efforts of British exporters. It is about time that Conservative Members recognised the success of British exports and started to work out their own policy. They have to tell the country whether they are in favour of the boom and bust that existed under their stewardship of the economy or whether they do not want the Bank of England to have the independence that it currently enjoys. I want to hear exactly what their policy is.
May I remind my hon. Friend that every time he walks to the Chamber from Central Lobby, he does so by stepping on tiles manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent? I draw his attention to the importance of giving support to ceramic industry exports. Can he give any encouragement to visits from business people across north Staffordshire to promote our local exports?
We recognise the importance of the industry to which my hon. Friend refers, and we will continue to give substantial support. My earlier point about extensive support in terms of trade missions and seminars will be helpful to the industry. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend will find Opposition Members' comments about the plight of Britain's manufacturing industry rather strange when during their stewardship, millions of jobs were lost in British manufacturing industry. They have to answer for their own record, and it is about time that they did so.
The truth is that Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers are now competing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see who can do maximum damage to British exporting. Can the Minister confirm that the export control organisation in the Department of Trade and Industry has suffered an administrative nightmare since the Government came into office? However commendable the objective of the proposed European code of conduct on arms sales, will not the code as drafted simply hand on a plate to other countries the orders for which this country has refused a licence? Under the draft code, will not we be obliged to tell other countries when we have refused a licence, but be powerless to prevent them from fulfilling the same order?
The hon. Gentleman's question tells us a great deal about the Conservative party. The fact is that it has not learnt from the years of the Scott report. All he is saying is that Conservative Members want to get rid of all the restrictions on licensing arms exports. They would sell to anybody at any time, without any moral or foreign policy guidance. The hon. Gentleman's question has told us exactly where the Conservative party stands.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we must strike a balance between the needs of British exporters and human rights? In Hong Kong, for instance, although the transition has proceeded reasonably smoothly, human rights issues still exist. The elections that will take place on 24 May will not be held under a system of straightforward universal suffrage. Does my hon. Friend agree that the importance of exports to China should not be allowed to overshadow our on-going moral responsibility to the people of Hong Kong?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I have no doubt that she will endorse the Government's policy. It can be demonstrated that, in our relations with China and with Hong Kong, we have been able to promote both a trade agenda and a human rights agenda. My hon. Friend can catch up with what we have done by referring to the list of human rights achievements that I gave in the House last week. We have made a number of substantial achievements in the human rights dialogue with China, and we will continue to do so. One important achievement is that China has agreed to report directly to the United Nations on human rights in Hong Kong.