My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they normally take to acquaint British firms, or the associations of which they are members, of early warning intelligence from the European Economic Community institutions about business projects at an early stage prior to the formal display of such information.
My Lords, early warning intelligence about business projects supported by Community finance is monitored by the world aid section of the projects and export policy division of the Department of Trade. Most advance projects information is disseminated to British firms and trade associations through the Export Intelligence Service. Close contact is maintained with the office of the United Kingdom Permanent Representative in Brussels, whose staff provide assistance to businessmen and advise them on contacts in the Commission.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is a widespread opinion in industrial and commercial circles that the competitors of British industry in EEC countries have an undue advantage over them, in that when the projects are first mooted they seem to get, via their respective Governments, to their own traders and their own trade associations, and that, so far, we in this country seem to have adopted, possibly quite correctly, a policy of greater rectitude whereby only when the contracts are displayed is the information given to our trade associations and industrialists here? Will he agree that we really ought to be on the same basis, and that, since there is not very much security inside the European Commission itself, it might be wise to take steps to ensure that the British firms get the same advance warnings as Continental firms do?
My Lords, I believe that British firms are at no disadvantage compared with their Continental comptitors in this matter. As I said, the world aid section of the projects and export policy division of the Department of Trade monitors information about aid funded projects and disseminates this in good time to the Export Intelligence Service.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, whether it is true or false, there is a feeling abroad in Europe that we do not seem to get on as well in having our share of what is going in Europe as many of our competitor countries? When this point has been put on many occasions we have had the answer that the noble Lord has just given; but it would give a lot of satisfaction if he could say that they will look again, and continually, to see whether or not we are as alert as our competitors because of the important possibilities that exist in Europe.
My Lords, it is certainly the case that British firms are not always as successful as some of their European competitors in this matter. For example, I understand that we contribute about 18 per cent. of total funds to the European Development Fund, and to the period up to June, 1979, secured only 11·2 per cent. of the work that flowed from that fund. Ministers have, indeed, expressed concern about the lack of interest shown by United Kingdom exporters in pursuing EDF business, and they, and officials, take every opportunity to impress on businessmen the opportunities available.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that my original Question was not limited to aid funded projects, to which the noble Lord's reply was confined? I was dealing with the whole question of commercial contracts in Europe that are out under EEC auspices, and they go far beyond aided projects.
My Lords, it is true that there are certain categories of other business available to British firms from the Commission—for example, technical research projects—and these are promoted in this country at least by the sponsoring departments; namely, the Department of Industry and the Department of Energy, or such other department as may be appropriate.
My Lords, would the noble Lord please confirm that if Lord Bruce's friends had their way and we were to withdraw from the EEC manufacturers would then get even less information?
I fear that is true, my Lords.