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Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012: Trade and Investment

Volume 739: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what trade and investment successes were achieved as a result of contacts with representatives of Governments attending the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

My Lords, during the 2012 Games, UK Trade and Investment ran an extensive business programme at the British Business Embassy at Lancaster House. The programme specifically targeted UK and international companies and is expected to deliver £1 billion of additional sales to the UK companies that attended the British Business Embassy. We will report progress in April 2013. The Olympics also gave an opportunity for Ministers to build good relationships intergovernmentally with our cross-party people to benefit trade.

My Lords, that is a very welcome and encouraging response. However, does the Minister share my concern and alarm at reports today that the consulate in Basra is to be closed? It is a centre of British influence that is vital for British investment. Will he inform the House whether these reports are true and, if they are, will he seek to have that very unwise decision reversed as quickly as possible?

I can confirm that reports about that decision are true. The decision was made after a lot of business plan reviews, which one would expect from any government organisation. Things have improved dramatically out there. It used to take 48 hours to get from Baghdad to Basra; it now takes an hour by plane, so it is much easier to get to. As regards the future in that part of the world, we believe that we should have an office in Erbil for the Kurdistan region and boost our office in Baghdad. This is being done with great consideration and I think that the noble Lord will be able to see the effects of it later.

My Lords, bearing in mind the criticism generated against the department that the noble Lord has recently joined, will the Minister take the opportunity to explain to the House the efforts that he and others have been making to improve trade and investment?

I am very grateful for that question because it opens up an extremely nice opportunity. Bringing this matter back to the Olympics, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Green and even I have been to Rio. We have also all been to Qatar, and two or three people have been to Russia to ensure that we fully benefit from the wonderful warm glow of the Olympics. I myself am catching a plane to sub-Saharan Africa tonight.

I am just trying to keep the sun tan up. My noble friend Lord Green is in Europe as we speak, and everything that the Prime Minister does when he goes abroad is with the aim of incentivising trade.

My Lords, is there not a case for a coherent policy? Much has been done in terms of the Olympics and the follow-up to them, yet we are now closing the office in Basra. Surely the Minister must realise that it is ease and quickness of access that gets business, not waiting for somebody to phone the office in Baghdad and say, “Can you get on a plane and come and see us?”. The Chinese are not going to do that.

The noble Lord provokes a couple of questions. The first is: what did the Olympics do for British business? I believe it is true that it showed Britain to be safe and secure, it showed us to be an engaging nation and it showed us to be a nation capable of delivery, of which we should be proud. Having been in business all my life, I can say that those are three criteria that are attractive for businesses. If we add to that the rule of law, transparency, our place in the global world and the fact that we speak English, to my mind that makes Britain an absolute global centre. How will we benefit from it? In relation to the noble Lord’s question about the office in Basra being closed, we have announced that a new visa entry programme will be enhanced out there to allow Iraqi people to come to Britain, whereas before they would have had to get their visas from places such as Jordan. A lot of prosperity initiatives are going on and that is just one of them.

My Lords, in view of the enormous success brought by the Olympics and the fantastic advert around the world for Britain, is my noble friend not surprised that we have had such churlish supplementaries in response to his excellent Answer?

I shall be bathing in sunshine tomorrow and I am now bathing in sunshine here, so I thank the noble Lord for that kind remark.

I declare an interest as a chairman and an adviser to many of the exporters who benefited from UK Trade and Investment at Lancaster House during the Olympics. I start by congratulating Her Majesty’s Government on a very good business programme linked to the Olympic Games. Can the Minister give three assurances? First, will the business club, started at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and promulgated through Lancaster House during the Olympics and Paralympics, be continued in Glasgow in 2014, notwithstanding all the efforts of certain people who might think to the contrary? Secondly, will the Minister, as all Ministers and parliamentarians of all parties should, fly the flag around the world to generate jobs and tax-generating profit in this nation? Thirdly, will the Minister follow up on all the contacts made at Lancaster House with taxpayers’ money to generate jobs?

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his supplementary on his supplementary on his supplementary question. Time will allow me to deal with only one of them, but I thank him for everything that he did, and of course I thank people for everything that they did cross-party to promote British business. I am leading something called the GREAT campaign, which I hope has been well advertised in this country and abroad. That is a good platform for showing people our great country.

My Lords, there has been welcome news and we on this side congratulate all those concerned. Will the Minister please give us some facts? What proportion of the sales or trade that took place at those meetings is arms-related? Will he also give a sense of what proportion of what was left went to SMEs in this country?

The noble Lord will know that arms-related sales do not happen overnight. There are long congestion periods. If we look at the activity on Typhoon, decisions about such huge amounts of money are not made quickly. Clearly, we have a remarkable defence industry, of which we are proud and which is at the cutting edge of world technology. I have no doubt that it will be making sales throughout the world. On the defence front, I can say that I was privileged to lead a mission advising people on cybersecurity around the Middle East and orders are coming in thick and fast.