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Non-Departmental Public Bodies

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the Export Guarantees Advisory Council in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

The continuing existence of the Export Guarantees Advisory Council is specifically required by the Export Guarantees and Overseas Investment Act 1978. Each of its members serves for a period of normally five years. The composition and operation of the council are reviewed annually and no changes are envisaged. Its members act in an honorary capacity and the administration cost to the Export Credits Guarantee Department is minimal.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the standing advisory committee on carriage of dangerous goods in ships, in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

The last review of the standing advisory committee on the carriage of dangerous goods in ships was conducted in July 1982 in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments". It was concluded that a formal body was necessary because of the relationship of its reports to the Merchant Shipping (Dangerous Goods) Regulations 1982. These regulations include references to the "Blue Book", which is defined in regulation 1 as the 1978 report of the standing advisory committee on the carriage of dangerous goods in ships, and which must be updated regularly in line with current developments. It would not be appropriate to rely on informal advice for this purpose.No significant changes are proposed in the composition and operation of the committee, which includes representatives of the shipping and chemical industries and harbour authorities. The frequency of its meetings is tailored to the need for its assistance to my Department in updating the "Blue Book" and in formulating the Government's position at the International Maritime Organisation to safeguard British interests.Departmental costs are already low: no fees are paid to members of the committee, and secretarial support from within my Department could not be reduced without affecting the effectiveness of the committee.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the standing advisory committee on trade marks in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the standing advisory committee on patents in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

The standing advisory committee on patents was last reviewed in July 1982. The committee was established in 1967 for the purpose of consulting interested organisations on matters of direct concern to them. It consists of 12 members including the chairman. The members are unpaid and have been consulted in correspondence on six occasions this year.The committee provides established points of contact and therefore offers a quick and effective means of obtaining a balanced view from users and practitioners. I have no plans to change the composition or operation of the committee; it works well and only costs the Department its support and secretarial expenses of £5,000 per annum. These costs would not be reduced by relying on ad hoc consultations.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the advisory committee on historic wreck sites in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

The latest review was conducted in July 1982. My right hon. and noble Friend is required by section 1(4) of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 to consult with such persons as he considers appropriate before making designation orders for the protection of sites of historic wrecks. If the present body did not exist, a wide range of expert advice would need to be sought every time a designation order was considered.It is more efficient and cost-effective for such applications to be referred for advice to a committee in which all the interests concerned are represented. Following a parliamentary question from my hon. Friend on 9 December 1981, I decided to cut the size of the committee from seventeen members to twelve with effect from 1 January 1982.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the Overseas Projects Board in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the advisory committee on the safety of household electrical equipment, in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

The work of the advisory committee on the safety of household electrical equipment was reviewed earlier this year. I am actively considering whether the committee is still necessary.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the Cinematograph Films Council in accordance with the requirements laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

In April 1982. Balanced authoritative advice on an industry facing rapid technological change and where there are complex regulations could not be achieved by an ad hoc body. The Film Act 1960 laid down the constitution of the council so that it represented all the major interests of the film industry. However, I am now examining the entire structure of the relationship between my Department and the film industry; I shall be further examining its role in the course of this wide-ranging review.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last conducted an overall review of the company law advisory panel in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments"; on what grounds he decided that a formal body was necessary for its general purpose; and what changes he proposes to make in the composition and operation of the body to streamline its work and reduce departmental costs.

The work of this panel is kept under review. It is designed to provide informed but informal advice on possible changes in company law.The panel last met—for its ninth meeting—on 27 September this year. There are nine members and three alternates.Its terms of reference are as follows:

"To assist the Department of Trade, as and when so requested, in reviewing the desirable development of company law and proposals for change; similarly to advise the Department on changes designed to improve the operations of the Companies and related Acts in the light of modern conditions and practices; and to advise on such other particular matters concerning company law as the Department may refer to them from time to time."

When the panel meets it gives its advice orally. In addition individual members give written advice when required.

asked the Minister for Trade (1) when he last conducted an overall review of the British Overseas Trade Board in accordance with requirement laid down in section 7 of 'Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments'; on what grounds he decided to retain the body; and what areas for savings in finance and manpower were identified;(2) what practical steps he has taken to establish that the British Overseas Trade Board is doing its work effectively, efficiently, and with economy, and that it continues to fulfil a useful purpose in accordance with the requirement stated in "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments."

[pursuant to his replies, 29 November 1982, c. 60 and 3 December 1982, c. 328]: The British Overseas Trade Board advises the Department on overseas trade matters and on behalf of my right hon. and noble Friend directs and develops the Government export services. This arrangement ensures that the resources provided by Parliament for export promotion are devoted to those services which industry and commerce consider to be of most value. While the board itself is a non-departmental public body its executive arm consists of the overseas trade divisions of the Department of Trade.The Department's export services under the guidance of the board were the subject of a review by Sir Derek Rayner and, following his report, an action document was published on 30 April 1980. A copy was placed in the Library. Action has been taken in accordance with this document and the Departmental savings identified have been achieved. The report also raised the question of the organisation of the export promotion work of the Department and a major reorganisation was successfully completed earlier this year.In view of this recent in-depth review of the board and the export promotion services provided by the Department of Trade under its guidance, my right hon. and noble Friend does not propose to hold a further full review of the board as a non-departmental public body until 1985. In the meantime normal Departmental management consideration of functions will continue. As part of our continuing review of export promotion we considered the activities of the British overseas trade advisory council, another non-departmental public body, and this was disbanded in July of this year.

asked the Minister for Trade (1) when he last conducted an overall review of the Civil Aviation Authority in accordance with the requirement laid down in section 7 of 'Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments'; on what grounds he decided to retain the body; and what areas for savings in finance and manpower were identified;(2) what practical steps he has taken to establish that the Civil Aviation Authority is doing its work effectively, efficiently, and with economy, and that it continues to fulfil a useful purpose in accordance with the requirement stated in "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments."

[pursuant to the replies, 29 November 1982, c. 62 and 3 December 1982, c. 327]: I have asked the chairman of the authority to carry out a review of all aspects of the authority's activities, including its manning levels, the charges and amount of paperwork it imposes on its clients, and its own cost-effectiveness in general, and to report to me before the end of the year. In addition, aspects of the CAA are to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, under terms of reference which are expected to be announced shortly.

asked the Minister for Trade when he last received written advice from the Export Guarantees Advisory Council; and what action he has taken as a result.

[pursuant to the reply, 1 December 1982, c. 204]: The Export Guarantees Advisory Council gives most of its advice in informal contacts with officials. These contacts are frequent and continuing. As to written advice, the council in 1981 submitted to my predecessor a report on some wider issues; he and I have since met the council to discuss these and other issues, most recently in April this year. We have taken action on nearly all the recommendations, largely detailed and technical, which were made.

asked the Minister for Trade what practical steps he has taken to establish that the National Film Finance Corporation is doing its work effectively, efficiently, and with economy, and that it continues to fulfil a useful purpose in accordance with the requirement stated in "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments."

[pursuant to the reply, 3 December 1982, c. 327]: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply he received to a similar question on 30 November, c. 152.

asked the Minister for Trade what practical steps he has taken to establish that the British Film Fund Agency is doing its work effectively, efficiently, and with economy, and that it continues to fulfil a useful purpose in accordance with the requirement stated in "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments."

[pursuant to the reply, 3 December 1982, c. 327]: I shall be looking closely at the agency in the context of my review of film matters, which I am currently conducting.

asked the Minister for Trade what practical steps he has taken to establish that the Air Travel Reserve Fund Agency is doing its work effectively, efficiently, and with economy, and that it continues to fulfil a useful purpose in accordance with the requirement stated in "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments."

[pursuant to the reply, 3 December 1982, c. 327]: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given in reply to his question of 29 November, c. 60.

asked the Minister for Trade what practical steps he has taken to establish that the Simplification of International Trade Procedures Board is doing its work effectively, efficiently, and with economy, and that it continues to fulfil a useful purpose in accordance with the requirement stated in "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments."

[pursuant to the reply, 3 December 1982, c. 328]: The simplification of International Trade Procedures Board (SITPRO) receives a grant-in-aid from the British Overseas Trade Board and its activities, as reflected in its revenue and expenditure budget, are examined annually by the British Overseas Trade Board before the grant-in-aid is renewed. My Department is represented on the SITPRO Board and on its Budget steering committee. I have encouraged SITPRO's own efforts to finance proportionately less of its expenditure from grant-in-aid and more from the sale of its products and services. I have extended its terms of reference to permit revenue earning from consultancy work.Trade facilitation at the international level and especially within the European Community is important.

United Kingdom trade in Manufactures* with the European Community
£ million OTS basis
ExportsAs percentage of Total Exports per centImportsAs percentage of Total Imports per cent
November 1972 to October 19732,183222,87435
November 1981 to October 198211,2653016,94846

Note:

* Taken as standard international trade classification, sections 5 to 8.

Original six member States.

Source: Overseas Trade Statistics.

asked the Minister for Trade what was the ratio of exports to imports of manufactured goods for the original six European Economic Commission members and for the rest of the European Economic Community respectively, in the most recent annual period for which figures are available.

[pursuant to the reply, 2 December 1982, c. 240]: For the 12 months ending October 1982 the percentage export/import ratio for United Kingdom trade in manufactured goods with the original six members of the European Community was 66; the equivalent figure for trade with the Irish Republic, Denmark and Greece was 140.

I am satisfied that the simplification of trade procedures and the documentation associated with them continues to require active attention by SITPRO, not least because of the benefits such work provides for United Kingdom exporters, freight forwarders and shippers.