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New Products (Overseas Demonstrations)

Volume 934: debated on Monday 27 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will review arrangements for the assistance of new British products being demonstrated abroad.

The British Overseas Trade Board has a number of schemes which are designed to assist firms to exhibit and demonstrate their products overseas and which are kept under constant review.

Will my right hon. Friend look again at the Department's policy of helping small firms with particular products of greater investment potential which are trying to break into the American market? Will he look in particular at the firm of Dare Hydrahone Ltd., in my constituency? This firm wanted to go to the Investment Castings Convention in Denver in October. It was told that it could not be fitted into anything until January. Is not the well-known saying about horses for courses vitiated if we persist in putting our horses on the wrong course?

No. I am well aware of the case of Dare Hydrahone. The point about this firm is that it wanted to demonstrate its water-jetting equipment at the Denver exhibition, because that was the most suitable forum. I accept that. But the firm wanted the Government to assist it on an individual basis, pound for pound, and I have to tell my hon. Friend that we are certainly not permitted to do that. We can assist only on a joint venture basis, otherwise, quite apart from the question of breaking international obligations, we should merely be starting an international race over credit which would not redound to our interests or those of anyone else. We therefore gave the firm the first opportunity that we could.

Will the Minister also take note of the problems of old products, as opposed to new, and in particular the reduction of the British Overseas Trade Advisory Council's help for exhibitions? Is he aware that the wool textile industry believes that the cost of £675 a unit of exhibition space—an increase of 600 per cent.—will seriously deter British exporters of wool textiles from exhibiting in Germany? Is this a good thing?

The BOTB has been obliged to make reductions amounting to several thousand pounds out of a budget of £19 million for 1977– 78. This has involved a reduction in joint ventures from just under 400 to about 300. I point out that the number of joint ventures—nothing else has been touched in the programme—put out by the French and Germans is in each case about 50, and in the case of the Americans about 120. Therefore, we shall still provide a much better service than is provided by any of our main international competitors. But we have tried to ensure that the cuts will be concentrated in areas which will do the least damage to industry.

Will my hon. Friend study carefully the document which has been provided to him by the British Wool Textile Export Corporation, which suggests other means of distributing the savings in this respect?

I am certainly perfectly prepared to look at any proposal, because we are talking about 1977–78 and the cuts have not yet been made. In our view, this was the best way, the most cost-effective way, of making the cuts, but if we can find other ways of making equivalent cuts we shall look at them closely.

Referring specifically to the question by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), may I ask the Minister to make a deliberate point of establishing contact with Oil Recovery International in my constituency, which has received a lot of help from the Department of Industry in developing a product to pick up oil from polluted water? The only other competitor is an American company. Given maximum assistance from the hon. Gentleman's Department and everyone else, does he not agree that there is a real winner here for British industry?

I shall look at the particular project. I understand that the proposal is at the present time being evaluated at Warren Springs Laboratory.