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Consultancy (Foreign Earnings)

Volume 13: debated on Monday 16 November 1981

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12.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the total, for the last 12 months for which figures are available, of British consultancy earnings abroad.

The latest generally available estimates for the overseas earnings of British consultants relate to 1980. The earnings of some of these groups are separately identified in the "United Kingdom Balance of Payments", 1980 edition. From the figures given in that publication, an estimated total of £891 million was earned by British consultants in 1980, of which consulting engineers earned £425 million, consulting services within the nationalised industries £335 million, architects and quantity surveyers £71 million, and management consultants and others £60 million.

Does my hon. Friend agree that these figures of nearly £900 million in 1980, and probably nearly £1 billion for the last 12 months, represent a tremendous achievement for Britain abroad, and that tribute should be paid to those British consultants, engineers and architects in the private and public sectors who do so much to maintain our reputation abroad?

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that all his ministerial colleagues are aware of the need to involve British consultants whenever possible in all project and promotional work abroad?

I gladly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the considerable efforts made by British consultants and to the important contribution they make in their own right. I offer them my congratulations. Their efforts can pave the way for further British exports. I am sure that the consultants are conscious of the importance of this work. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall do everything possible to support and encourage consultants. If he has any further specific views on the question, I shall be glad to hear them.

To what extent are these figures due to the fact that, in the past, overseas students have been able to study here at a relatively low cost? To what extent will this trade be affected by the suicidal level of fees now being charged to overseas students?

I think the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the presence of students from abroad has helped the continuing relationship. But it is easy to exaggerate the effect of the reduction in the number of students which, as he knows, has been brought about by our economic circumstances. We are conscious of all the implications.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the vital need to involve our embassies and consulates in seeking opportunities and backing for British consultants? Will he continue to ensure that those who are doing a good job are given every encouragement, and that those who are not always as keen as some of their better colleagues are pressed to improve?

My hon. Friend has made an important practical point. British posts abroad are conscious of their responsibilities in this area. The reports that we receive show that they are responding well and positively to these needs.