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Volume 750: debated on Wednesday 8 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage more United Kingdom businesses to export goods and services.

My Lords, the Government have significantly increased their support for exporters. UKTI expects to assist 40,000 businesses in this fiscal year, an increase of 50% over the past two years. The Government have also provided additional funding to increase support for exporters in key fast-growing markets such as India and China. In addition, the Chancellor recently announced a significant increase in UK Export Finance’s capacity to support our exporters.

My Lords, I welcome that. In particular, I welcome what my noble friend said just before Christmas about consulting medium-sized companies on what further help they might need. When he does that, will he have in mind the additional support that can and should be provided by chambers of commerce and other business organisations? Will he also look carefully at what lessons we can learn in that regard from other successful exporting countries such as Germany?

My noble friend makes a very good point. We have indeed looked at successful exporting countries such as Germany, Japan and the US. One feature in a number of them is, and has been over the past 20 or 30 years, the use of chambers to assist companies in overseas markets; we are indeed adopting this model. We have targeted 41 more-difficult-to-reach markets where chambers will assist us in providing support for particularly our smaller exporters, as well as the large companies that are often represented. In addition, we are looking at the success of middle-sized companies in Germany, where the UK does not do as well, and there will be a number of initiatives with them. In addition to the chambers, we are working closely with the Institute of Directors, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses—to name three organisations.

My Lords, we are in the early stages of some of the greatest transformations possibly ever to affect manufacturing and even service industries, with the advent of digital production. By that I mean 3D printing, what has come to be called by some 4D printing and beyond. As a result, it may be possible for us not only to make many things here that are at the moment made abroad but to export them to other countries. What are the Government doing to ensure that the UK is in the forefront of these extraordinary possible transformations?

The noble Lord is indeed correct that we are seeing much change in manufacturing capability. The Government are investing significantly and have ring-fenced a science budget to assist in many UK projects. We have the “eight great technologies” that we will be investing in, and we are increasing the links between companies and universities; I commend the universities on that. We are certainly supporting the advanced manufacturing capabilities as well as a number of other technologies that we believe will really help the UK to go forward, investing in the right industries that will grow in the future.

Is the Minister aware that the extra resources being put into exports are enormously welcome, but that the weakness is still the marketing of those resources and the facilities that they provide, particularly on export finance to the SME market in general? Secondly, the Queen’s award for exports is looking exceedingly tired and is long overdue a revamp. Finally, if we are sending and attending conferences overseas on exports, can we please appoint a Minister early in the process and not turn up at the last moment, as my poor noble friend Lord Marland had to do in Colombo? He still did a very good job, but it was late in the day.

There are a number of questions there. At this point, I am probably not looking to rebrand the Queen’s award for exports, as the Queen does seem to be the right person to award it. In terms of UK Export Finance, my noble friend does make a good point; UK Export Finance has predominately supported larger companies. We have, however, doubled the number of regional advisers for UK Export Finance, and we have launched a new product aimed at assisting smaller companies. In fact, I was at the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on this issue, and I heard a number of small and medium-sized businesses commending the work of UK Export Finance, but there is more work to be done.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his Front-Bench appearance and look forward to working with him in future. He will be aware of the publication of Good Business in September 2013, which is welcome because it puts into effect the Government’s commitment to implement the UN guiding principles on human rights. It is somewhat long on rhetoric, and a bit short on action, but one of the commitments it makes is to adjust government rules to allow human rights-related matters to be reflected in the procurement of public goods, works and services. Will he explain what is happening on this matter?

In terms of procurement rules—and I will talk in relation to exports, as procurement within the UK will be a different matter—we absolutely look at human rights, and discuss the subject regularly with many of the NGOs involved. We look at the relevant UN guidelines, and we will of course look to and abide by the appropriate and relevant guidelines from the UN. Government procurement is another matter and perhaps should be left for a different question.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is wrong to talk about encouraging businesses to export without drawing attention to the worldwide resource provided by the Diplomatic Service? It is very anxious to do everything it can to help both businesses and chambers of commerce wherever they want that help.

That is an excellent point. I commend the ambassadorial network; I have seen its work both as a Minister and as an exporter. Its enthusiasm and positivity to assist the UK in increasing exports is to be commended. In fact, the work of the FCO and its focus on our export efforts has been excellent. We will continue to work very closely; of course, as a Minister I am part of FCO as well as being part of BIS, and that reflects the important role that the Foreign Office has in exports.

The Government have set out a system of trade ambassadors to promote exports in particular countries, involving a number of Members of this House. Has an assessment been made of the effectiveness of this system and initiative, and what plans are there for its future expansion?

Trade envoys have been established to assist in countries to which government Ministers do not make regular visits. I commend the various Members of the House who act as trade envoys and thank them for their hard work. We are reviewing the success of the trade envoy programme, and how we could perhaps expand it slightly into new areas. When it works well, it is certainly helpful. We combine enthusiasm, expertise and knowledge in particular countries to assist us in increasing our overall exports and relationships with those countries.