Friday, 27 February 2015

Rifkind: good riddance

This critical piece is published today on openDemocracy

Rifkind: good riddance
Malcolm Rifkind has faced public rage this week. He deserves every decibel of it.
Malcolm Rifkind/Wikipedia
Let me declare an interest. I don’t like Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the pompous and sneering politician who has thankfully fallen sword after the excellent sting operation by Channel Four Dispatches, exposing his avaricious and arrogant attitude to being an elected Member of Parliament.
Last year Sir Malcolm co-chaired a press launch at the House of Commons of the Trident Commission. I asked from the floor how he and his fellow co-chair on the Commission, Lib Dem grandee Sir Menzies Campbell, as international lawyers, could support renewing Trident? Its procurement from the United States was in breach of the UK’s legal obligations under both Article 1 (prohibiting the transfer of nuclear explosive devices to any recipient whatsoever, directly or indirectly) and Article 6 (requiring all member states, including nuclear weapons states, and to enter into negotiations to halt the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament in good faith and at an early date, ie from 1968) of the 189-member state Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Sir Malcolm looked at me as if he had stepped in something nasty and smelly on the pavement, ignored my question, and let Ming Campbell attempt an answer.
That is the measure of Sir Malcolm: pompously arrogant and loquacious, until struck dumb by somebody knowledgeable prepared to challenge him on his own area of supposed expertise!
In December 2008, he became a leading spokesman of the Global Zero movement, which includes over 300 eminent leaders and over 400,000 citizens from around the world working toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons by multilateral negotiation. In backing Trident’s renewal, he seemed to be directly contradicting this organisation.
Amongst the jaw dropping comments he made to the Channel Four undercover reporters, was the claim that he did not receive a salary – even though he is paid over £67,000 a year to be an MP. Trying to extricate himself from the hole he had dug for himself, he actually made this worse by letting slip he considered a salary of £67,000 was insufficient for a man of his background; he was entitled to much more, he opined.
On his own constituency web site he states: “Members of Parliament are elected to the House of Commons to represent the interests and concerns of all the people who live in their constituency, whether they voted for them at the General Election or not. They are only able to deal with issues raised by people who live in their constituency, called constituents.”
Apparently this "only dealing with issues raised by constituents" rule did not apply to meeting with lobbyists offering money to him to ask questions of ministers, officials or serving ambassadors, for a fat fee of £5,000-to £8,000 a day, as he told the undercover reporters. That would be about a third of the annual income for a day’s work for many of the constituents in the north of his constituency. Many erroneously think his entire Kensington seat in west London is super affluent; maybe Sir Malcolm did too, and never ventured too far north to see the real poverty there.
That restraint, however, has not stopped him from as an MP venturing into very valuable, well-remunerated consultancies and directorships, earning £69,610 last year according to his latest entry in the Register of Members financial interests, published by Parliament on 2 February. As he told the undercover reporters, he had plenty of free time to undertake extra-parliamentary fee earning, as well as walking and reading.
Also, if you look at his record as an MP, it's hard to find evidence of him paying much attention to its role, which includes keeping the government of the day to account. He boasted to the undercover reporters, "there is an awful lot of which is not secret which if you ask the right questions you'll get an answer." But either he was insufficiently curious or all knowing, as since the formation of the coalition government nearly five years ago he asked just one written question to government on behalf of his constituents.
But Sir Malcolm knows how to be active when he wants to be. Here is an extract from the Independent nine years ago:
“Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, undertook to lobby the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, in an attempt to land a lucrative oil contract in Iraq for BHP Billiton, according to evidence given to a public inquiry in Australia.

“In the most blatant evidence to so far emerge about Western businesses jockeying for a slice of Iraq's oil wealth, the Anglo-Australian group BHP Billiton drew up a plan for getting access to the huge Iraqi Halfayah oilfield just weeks after outbreak of war in 2003.
"BHP Billiton held a secret meeting in May 2003 in London with Sir Malcolm - who has worked as a consultant to the company since 1997 - and Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, to discuss how best to convince the Americans that BHP Billiton should be handed the Halfayah field in southern Iraq.
“The evidence came to light as part of a Royal Commission inquiry started late last year in Australia to examine any involvement of the country's businesses in breaching the sanctions that were in place against Iraq before the war. According to the minutes of the meeting, Shell, the oil giant, and Tigris Petroleum, a joint venture set up by BHP Billiton and some of its former executives, were also interested in "securing the Halfayah field investment".

“The minutes, which were taken by Australian government officials and labelled "Confidential", note: "Sir Malcolm emphasised that it was critical to register the BHP Billiton/British Dutch [Shell]/Tigris interest early with the US administration... It was a good claim and required lobbying - including from the Australian government - in Washington."

The document said that BHP Billiton had briefed the office of Australia's Prime Minister adding, "it has only just started lobbying in the UK but intended to approach Downing Street and the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry]".

"The minutes said "Sir Malcolm would be seeking an appointment with Vice-President Cheney when the opportunity arose". And Mr Downer, who is still Foreign Minister, "agreed he would raise the matter both in Washington and in Baghdad with Paul Bremer [the US administrator of Iraq]".
Last year Sir Malcolm was appointed Chairman of the World Economic Forum's Nuclear Security Council. Just last month, he was appointed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as a member of their Eminent Persons Panel on European Security. Let’s hope he has been un-appointed from both.
Laughably, five years ago he was considered an eminent enough MP to chair the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons until the dissolution of the House of Commons in April 2010. To think he was considered fit to chair Parliament’s “Intelligence” Committee too.
There is an excellent book, published 24 years ago, written by Mark Hollingsworth, called MPs for Hire. He dubs the type of behaviour exhibited by Sir Malcolm as “pork-barrel politics”. Veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn told the BBC this week that some MPs have got their body so far into the trough, all you can see is the soles of their Gucci shoes. Bye, bye Sir Malcolm.
Now he is gone for good, unless the Tories dare nominate him for a peerage. Surely they wouldn’t, would they?

Friday, 20 February 2015

Fallon's fallacy


Today's press widely reports hawkish Defence Secretary Michael Fallon's claim that Russia is a “clear and present danger” to Baltic States

Last year our far from dovish House of Commons Defence Select Committee published a 54 page report on 31 July entitled:  Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two-NATO. (

In the section headed the UK and NATO's capacity to respond: The conventional military threat, in discussing the conventional vulnerabilities of the ‘Baltic theatre’, the report notes: “Our witnesses consistently emphasised that there was a low likelihood of a Russian conventional attack on a Baltic State.

Yet on 20 February in a longer 120 page report from peers, The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine (, it asserts in a section on Rights of Ethnic Russians and Russian Speakers that “ All three Baltic countries are state parties to the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (adopted in 1994). The Framework sets out a number of principles according to which signatory States are to protect the rights of minorities.”

And concludes in paragraph 123 “The historical grievance of the rights of ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia offers the Russian government a convenient pretext which could be used to justify further destabilising actions in those states. On the basis of the evidence we have taken, there does, prima facie, seem to be a question to be investigated, in particular whether more steps could be taken to facilitate access to citizenship for ethnic Russians who have long-established residency in these states, but limited ability in the official language.

So which set of expert evidence to Parliament on the potential vulnerabilities of the Baltic States should we believe?


Monday, 16 February 2015

Boris bumbles into nuclear disarmament debate

This letter  was submitted to the Daily Telegraph today:
Your columnist Boris Johnson, who doubles as London Mayor, attacked what he asserts is Miliband’s Labour going soft on the nation’s defence, in arguing in his latest column (“If we want to be taken seriously, we have to defend ourselves: Britain must remain a credible military force if the Special Relationship is to survive,” Daily Telegraph, 16 Feb.):

If a Labour-SNP coalition were to junk Trident, Britain would be vulnerable to nuclear blackmail; but it is worse than that. We would suffer a public and visible diminution of global authority; we would be sending a signal that we no longer wished to be taken seriously; that we were perfectly happy to abandon our seat on the UN Security Council to some suit from Brussels; that we were becoming a kind of military capon. Yes, the nukes are expensive – but so is all defence spending, these days.”

He adds to the argument drawing attention to a currently belligerent Russia, which is currently, he says, increasing defence spending by 35 per cent, and building huge new drones capable of long-range bombing.

As Boris is fighting to regain his Parliamentary seat in the General Election campaign, 190 nations will be meeting at the United Nations in New York, at the latest five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty (NPT) to discuss steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Just before Boris left London for the US visit he mentions in his article,  the Foreign Office hosted a major diplomatic conference of the UN Security Council Permanent Five (P5) in London preparing for this NPT review, which included  high-level diplomatic delegates: the FCO’s top disarmament diplomat, Peter Jones, Director for Defence and International Security met with Wang Qun, Director General, Department of Arms Control and Disarmament for China; Hélène Duchêne, Director for Strategic Affairs for France; Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security for the United States; and, as  Boris might find interesting, Grigory Berdennikov, Ambassador-at-Large for Russia.

After their meeting on 6 February the P5 diplomats issued a joint statement through the Foreign Office  which included a very interesting passage, considering it is co-signed by Russia, stating: 

At their 2015 Conference the P5 restated their belief that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remains the essential cornerstone for the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, and is an essential contribution to international security and stability.” 
Indeed, less than a month ago in a Parliamentary debate (on 20 January) on the Trident nuclear weapons system, Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs

"we also share the vision of a world that is without nuclear weapons, achieved through multilateral disarmament.”

So while most British people would agree with Boris thatour Armed Forces are not a luxury,” and that “They are indispensable to our lives,” that does not have to mean possession of nuclear weapons. Please note, Boris!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Highly Suspicious British Company better known as HSBC


The Treasury Select Committee launched an  inquiry into Offshore Financial Centres on 30 April 2008 ( ) On1st July, it took oral evidence from two senior banking executives, Catherine Weir, of Citi Private Bank, and Chris Meares, of HSBC Private Bank.

The following exchange is extremely interesting in light of this week’s revelations of the activities  of HSBC Private Bank in Geneva..

Q68 John Thurso (Liberal Democrat): How much of your work as a private bank is about keeping your clients informed as to where the best place is? Or is that coming back to the start of the process?


Mr Meares: More the start of the process, rather than evaluating each jurisdiction as time goes on.


John Thurso I presume that you have a duty from a regulatory standpoint to ensure that tax evasion is prevented when you are dealing with your clients and with oVshore financial centres. Can you confirm that? How do you give it effect?

Mr Meares: Correct. We prohibit our bankers from encouraging or being involved in tax evasion.

Q70 John Thurso: What do you do?

Mr Meares: If our bankers, say, sitting here in the UK, get any hint that there is tax evasion, then under the legal and regulatory system they have to file a suspicious transaction report. That is the main way. If they have a suspicion that it is happening, then we file a suspicion transaction report to the authorities.

John Thurso: Thank you.

Q71 Chairman: Have you filed quite a number of suspicious transaction reports?

Mr Meares: Not huge numbers, I am pleased to say, but there are a few and they all get dealt with. ……For the large global institutions, like ourselves, it has to be self-policing. Our reputation is the first thing. In running our business, I can assure you, the Chairman and the Chief Executive would not want us to have anything that would affect our reputation.

Chris Meares was hired by Bridgepoint to join Quilter Cheviot in May 2012 to be Chairman of the Board and the Audit & Risk Committee. He has over 30 years experience in financial services working with the HSBC Group both overseas and in the UK, and was Group General Manager and CEO of Global Private Banking for HSBC for the last 5 years of his career. - See more at:;

Baron Green of Hurspierpoint, who  over the weekend resigned as co-chair of business lobbyists TheCityUK’s advisory council with immediate effect, after a week of political turmoil over his role as a Tory Trade minister as appointed by David Cameron in 2012, was another former HSBC big  hitter, as a previous chairman  of HSBC. Here is a selection of his bons mots on banking ethics when he was a minister:
“(That) means ensuring that our tax regime is attractive, that we minimise unnecessary red tape…” (House of Lords Official Report, 5 July 2012: Column 837)
“More generally on business banking, there is a clear need to reinvest properly in business banking. In some ways I am better placed than many to say this.” (House of Lords Official Report, 9 October 2012: Column GC422)
“…the skill base of business banking in high street banks has been deteriorating. This has happened partly because average career bankers with a reasonable dose of ambition have wanted to head either for the excitements of corporate and investment banking or for the sexy end of the retail banking market and did not see themselves spending the rest of their career in a relationship management role in, let us say, Rotherham. ….., it is that all the CEOs with whom I have regular dialogue and the heads of commercial banking are focused on this and are determined to address the problem. I hold regular round tables with the banks under the auspices of the British Bankers’ Association. The general problem, I have described. In international trade, in particular, there is even more of a problem with the skill base. They are focused on that. The challenge is that it will simply take time to turn the supertankers…I do not believe that those other financing sources can ever be an adequate alternative to, or substitute for, a properly run business banking presence on our high streets." (.” (House of Lords Official Report 26 June 2013: Column 830)
A third HSBC bigwig, Douglas Flint, Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings plc,  told a House Of Lords Economic affairs committee hearing on  21 October last year: “Importantly too, the banking system is heavily regulated, and therefore there is a massive line of sight through the supervisory mechanisms, which are much more intensive than they were historically, to see what is going on and what is happening in the economy.”
In another observation, he said: “It is entirely right that people talk about the culture of our industry; it is deeply depressing that people believe that the culture six years after the crisis is still flawed. There may be elements, but if the people running banks today are not the right people, that is a shameful reflection on the regulatory apparatus not to have replaced those who do not get it. I believe the people in the industry today do get it, because it is not much fun rebuilding from where we have come from.”
He also shared this insight into banking practice: “The analogy I use is that the financial system is a bit like a big jigsaw box and the regulatory reforms are effectively pieces thrown into the jigsaw box, but no one is given the lid with the picture on it. There are an awful lot of pieces that are really important and they all have a function, but until you know what you are trying to create it is very difficult to make the picture.” in asserting “I am a simple fellow.”
(published in the Committee report, The post-crisis EU financial regulatory framework: do the pieces fit?, on 2 February 2015)
In a House of Lords debate on overseas tax havens held in March 2009, Tory peer Baroness Noakes, a Director, Royal Bank of Scotland Group as well as a shareholder in  amongst other companies, Barclays plc, JP Morgan American Investment Trust plc (United States), JP Morgan Chinese Investment Trust plc, JP Morgan Indian Investment Trust plc, Standard Chartered Bank plc, Aberdeen Japan Investment Trust,  Legal & General plc , as well as HSBC, recalled a quotation from Lord Clyde said in the 1929 Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services case:
“No man in this country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or to his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel into his stores”.
(Lords Official Report, 26 March 2009: Column 782)
Her selection of a quotation dating from 86 years ago to justifying the minimising of the payment of tax sums up an all too prevalent attitude of the rich and politically powerful in Britain today.
As the now late multi-millionairess, Leonora Helmsley, owner of the Empire State Building - and dubbed ’Queen of the Mean’ - once notoriously asserted when being prosecuted for tax evasion in 1989 ( for which she was jailed):  “Only the little people pay taxes.” (


Thursday, 12 February 2015

HSBC and tax evasion: how Labour’s front bench has laundered the history of its fêting Britain’s biggest bank



"I do not believe that those other financing sources can ever be an adequate alternative to, or substitute for, a properly run business banking presence on our high streets." -
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint

As the row over rich people using HSBC’s private bank in Switzerland to avoid and evade paying tax in the UK has hit the headlines, Labour front benchers have tried to dump the political blame for the mess in the lap of the Tories, because they made ex-HSBC boss, Stephen Green, a peer, as Baron Green of Hurstpierpoint, and a government trade minister, and also because the Conservative Party took substantial donations rich backers who held unregistered offshore bank accounts in Switzerland and other jurisdictions, such as the Channel Islands.
But when New Labour was elected in its 1997 General Election landslide, following several years of assiduous smooching with big business in its infamous ‘prawn cocktail offensive’  led by Tony “I’m a pretty straight sort of guy” Blair as Labour leader and Prime Minister, the new Labour administration started turning friendships made in opposition into paybacks in Government.
Generally, Labour made it clear it would be applying a light regulatory touch to the banking and financial services sector, while new Trade and Industry secretary Peter ( now Lord) Mandelson, during a visit to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and academics in California in October 1998, a year after the triumphant  election, observed he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” (

Sleeping with the bankers

So how did New Labour incorporate its new friends from the big banks into its governance of the nation? Let’s take the case, for example, of HSBC

A  few months into the New Labour administration, Margaret Beckett, as Trade and industry Secretary, told Michael Fallon, a shadow Conservative business spokesman     ( now Coalition Defence Secretary)

“My Ministers have, of course, met a wide range of business people at meetings in the office, on overseas visits, conferences, trade shows, luncheons, dinners, receptions and constituency engagements. In addition, my Ministers and I have visited the following businesses since being appointed (including):  HSBC Holdings, London, 10 June  1997” (HC Deb 23 July 1997 vol 298 cc675-6W 675W )
Months later, Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill, the widow of former  Labour Leader, John Smith – who had initiated the prawn cocktail offensive as shadow chancellor in the early 1990s, and who died of a heart attack in his political prime in May 1994 – asked in the Lords whether there would be an increase in the number of businessmen on short-term attachments at posts overseas.
Foreign Office minister, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, responded “We made a commitment in our Business Manifesto to improve the focus of our efforts to back British business selling abroad, to enhance the co-ordination of government trade and investment promotion, and to promote business secondments with this department.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was pleased to announce that we have secured a commitment from a number of leading companies to lend members of their staff to this department to work on specific promotions or projects overseas for periods of a few months. These people will provide valuable expertise to support and promote the activities of the commercial sections of our overseas posts. Each attachment will have a specific focus, such as privatisation projects, inward investment promotion, management of commercial promotions, marketing of UK financial services, or identifying market opportunities in specific sectors.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs welcomed the wholehearted support for this initiative of the CBI. They have encouraged a number of their members to participate from the outset, including British Airways, BOC, ICL, Wimpey, British Aerospace, BT, British Steel, BNFL, BUPA, HSBC and Glaxo Wellcome. Other companies have expressed a strong interest, and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is confident that more attachments will be arranged in the coming months.
This is a commitment to a rolling programme of attachments to strengthen our partnership with business. In the longer term we hope that companies will be able to second suitable staff to serve as part of the established commercial teams in overseas posts, and in return provide opportunities for this department's staff to hone their business skills by hosting secondments.” (HL Deb 14 October 1997 vol 582 cc180-1WA 180WA)
In July the next year, Lord Kennet, the Labour and later SDP peer,  who has since died, asked
Whether any of the firms lending members of staff to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are wholly or in part foreign-owned; and, if they are in part foreign-owned, in which country that ownership is legally based?
He was given a list of 13 companies, including these banks: Barclays Bank plc—subsidiary of Barclays plc; Midland Bank plc—subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc
HSBC Holdings plc; National Westminster Bank plc and Standard Chartered plc.
(HL Deb 24 July 1998 vol 592 c143WA)
In  the following October, Tory  back bench MP, Sir Richard Body, asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what criteria would  be used to select non-civil servants serving on the EMU preparation unit in his Department? Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Patricia Hewitt, later to hold several full Cabinet posts, said: “ The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in November last year that the Euro Preparations Unit would be set up to raise awareness and encourage preparatory activity across the UK economy. The unit is staffed by officials from DTI, DfEE and HM Treasury as well as a secondee from HSBC Midland with extensive small business experience.(HC Deb 19 October 1998 vol 317 c923W)
Recently resigned Lib Dem minister, Norman Baker, in March 1999, asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he would list the biotechnological companies which have placed staff(a) on secondment and (b) on placement within his Department since 1 May 1997, to be told by industry minister, John Battle: “Secondments and attachments are part of the Interchange Initiative which promotes the exchange of people and good practice between the Civil Service and other organisations. All sectors of the economy are involved: Voluntary, Education, Health, Public and Private.” He also referred to an earlier Parliamentary answer ( 11 February 1999, columns 405–10) , which provided a long list of over 100 companies which had staff on secondment in DTI - and the DTI directorate in which they have been placed - which included over 100 companies, comprising several from the nuclear industry, the financial services and these banks:  NatWest and HSBC Holdings plc.
(HC Deb 12 March 1999 vol 327 cc403-5W )
Export Credits
In January the next year, Lib Dem luminary Dr Vince Cable - now Coalition Business secretary - asked the New Labour government to publish a list of  each member of the Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD) Advisory Committee how much ECGD business had been undertaken in respect of which the member has a declared financial interest. Responding for the DTI, Richard Caborn - who later left Government to work as an industry advisor and consultant – provided the following details.
The amount of business for which ECGD has provided cover for companies or banks in which EGAC members have declared a financial interest is as follows:
Date of entry
Company in which interest held
Business since date of entry £ million
David Harrison
January 1997
Lloyds TSB plc
Liz Airey
March 1998
Alan Brown
September 1998
Barclays plc
Stuart Doughty
January 1997
Kennedy Construction Ltd.
A-C Mac Ltd.
Paramount Performance
Geoffrey Lynch
May 1993
Hiscox plc
Date of entry
Company in which interest held
Business since date of entry £ million
Peter Mason
March 1998
AMEC plc
Witchingham Development Ltd.
HSBC plc
Nat West plc
1 The figures are for finance provided by the banks either as sole lender or member of a lending syndicate (principal amounts only).
(HC Deb 24 January 2000 vol 343 cc41-3W)
But HSBC did not only advise on export credits, it has been actively involved in such financing. Caborn  responded to Vince Cable’s question asking which British (i) banks and (ii) companies are involved in the following ECGD supported projects: (a) ACESITA stainless steel strip mill in Timoteo, (b) the nuclear power project in Qinshan, China, (c) the coal handling export terminal in Tianjin, China, (d) the coal fired power station in Manjung, Malaysia, (e) the Janamanjung Plant in Malaysia, (f) the development loan to the Korean Development Bank and (g) the seventh Airbus A330-200 to the United Arab Emirates. , with the

ECGD supported project
Name of bank
Name of company(1)

ACESITA stainless steel strip mill in Timoteo, Brazil
(a) Annealing and Pickling Line
Kleinwort Benson Ltd.
VAI (formerly Davy McKee (Poole) Ltd. trading as Davy International)
(b) Hot Mill
Lloyds TSB (formerly Lloyds Bank plc)
VAI (formerly Davy McKee (Sheffield) Ltd. trading as (Davy International)

The nuclear power project in Qinshan, China

(a) Qinshan Phase II
Standard Chartered Bank
Weir Pumps Ltd.
(b) Qinshan Phase III
Midland Bank plc
Bechtel Ltd.(2)

The Coal handling export terminal in Tianjin, China
Midland Bank plc and Bank of China, London
ALSTOM Automation International Ltd.

The coal fired power station in Manjung Malaysia(3)
Midland Bank plc
ALSTOM Power Plants Ltd.

Line of Credit for Korean Development Bank(4)
HSBC Investment Bank plc

The seventh Airbus A330-200 to United Arab Emirates(6)
HSBC Bank plc
BAE Systems (formerly BAE) and Rolls-Royce
(1) Companies listed are the known lead contractors but there will be many sub-contractors involved on which records are not routinely held by ECGD--for example in the Airbus case typically, some 400 in the BAE Systems supply chain and some 250 in the Rolls-Royce supply chain.
(2) Bechtel Ltd. is acting as procurement agents to procure equipment from a number of British firms (including Weir Pumps and ALSTOM) who have won valuable sub-contract work.
(3) The coal fired power station in Manjung, Malaysia '(d)' and the Janamanjung Plan in Malaysia '(e)' are one and the same project.
(4) A Supplier Credit Finance Facility (SCFLOC) to support the purchase of UK Capital and Semi-Capital UK Goods and UK Services. It is an export credit loan and not a 'development loan'.
(5) No contracts have yet been placed.
(6) Delivered on 28 January 2000--the seventh of seventeen aircraft ordered under a Purchase Agreement dated 18 October 1996.
(3 March 2000 : Column: 423W)
And if things went awry, HSBC ensured it got its money back: the DTI provided this detail of the payments by the UK Government in respect of loans underwritten through the ECGD to the companies listed.
“Only one of the loans listed has so far given rise to claims payments, namely the loan made by HSBC to finance the Cairo Waste Water project in Egypt. On a closer examination of records, it is regretted that the value of this loan was incorrectly shown as £32.0 million in the answer provided to my hon Friend's earlier question on 22 June 2000, Official Report, column 236W. The total value of this loan was, in fact, £142.8 million. Claims including interest of the value of £190.8 million have been paid to the lending bank following a series of defaults under this loan of which some £43 million has been recovered to date. The balance of the debt has been rescheduled under debt rescheduling arrangements with Egypt.”
 (HC Deb 07 July 2000 vol 353 cc319-20W)
Corporate secondees to New Labour departments
In February 2000, junior trade minister, Dr Kim Howells published long list of companies from which staff were seconded from the private sector to his Department from (a) May 1997 to April 1998, (b) May 1998 to April 1999 and (c) May 1999 to the latest date for which figures are available, giving a massive insight into the degree to which industry and the financial services and banking sectors were influencing and helping to deliver New Labour  policies.
1 May 1997–30 April 1998
Number of secondments—63
Company names
  • HSBC Holdings plc
  • The Export Association
  • North Cape (Scotland) Ltd.
  • Bank of Ireland
  • Rover Group Ltd.
  • Reyrolle Projects Ltd.
  • Grant Thornton
  • Drinks Marketing Consortium
  • European Gas Turbines—GEC Alstrom
  • Ericsson Ltd.
  • Prince Associates
  • British Telecom plc (x2)
  • Littlejohn Frazer
  • The Institute of Export (x2)
  • Arthur Andersen (x2)
  • Deloitte and Touche
  • NHS Supplies
  • British Nuclear Fuel plc
  • Herbert Smith
  • Mobil
  • Hyder plc
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • (x2)ERTL Europe Ltd.
  • BT International Business
  • Nuclear Electric plc
  • Frank Roberts and Sons Ltd.
  • Barclays Bank plc
  • Silver Altman
  • Guinness Brewing Worldwide Ltd.
  • Pricewaterhouse Coopers
  • Anglian Water International UK
  • Hambros Bank Ltd.
  • General Accident/CGU Insurance
  • Beaumont Colson Ltd.
  • AWE plc
  • Epinet Communications plc
  • Matra Marconi Space
  • Barclays Bank plc
  • Reuters Ltd.
  • Lee and Allen Consulting plc
  • CERN
  • University of Greenwich
  • Toyoboshi UK Ltd.
  • Westcountry Development Corporation
  • Hydro Technologies Ltd.
  • Crown Agents Overseas Government and Administration
  • ICI Chemicals and Polymers Ltd.
  • Cable and Wireless plc
  • GEC Marconi Avionics Ltd.
  • Cookstown Enterprise Centre Ltd.
  • Sonic Communications
  • Unipart International
  • Natural Animal Feeds Ltd.
  • Russo-British Chamber of Commerce
  • Eschmann Brothers and Walsh Ltd.
  • The Hosiery Manufacturing Company Ltd.
  • Delamore Associates Ltd.
  • Lockstair Ltd.
1 May 1998–30 April 1999
Number of secondments—55
Company names
  • The British Petroleum Company plc (x2)
  • British-Israel Chamber of Commerce
  • Matheson and Company Ltd.
  • Lloyds TSB Group plc
  • The Hosiery Manufacturing Company Ltd.
  • ICL (x2)
  • East European Trade Council
  • British Aerospace plc
  • British Telecom plc (x2)
  • British Marine Equipment Council Ltd.
  • E. A. Technology Ltd.
  • Slaughter and May
  • Glaxo Wellcome Research and Development
  • Knight Piesold Ltd. (x2)
  • AEA Technology plc (x3)
  • PWR (Electrical Supplies) Ltd.
  • British Nuclear Fuels plc
  • Hewlett-Packard Ltd.
  • East Europe Trade Council
  • Enterprise Ayrshire
  • Herbert Smith
  • British Consulate General Osaka
  • Polish Social and Cultural Association Ltd
  • Moody Cashmere Ltd.
  • Abercairn of Scotland Ltd.
  • Grant Thornton
  • Financial Service Authority
  • GK Communications Group Ltd.
  • British American Tobacco Company
  • Aspen Waite Chartered Accountants
  • ICI Group
  • Masters International (UK) Ltd.
  • GKN Westland Helicopters
  • Gardenex
  • British Aerospace Aviation
  • Trade Development Ltd.
  • ACO Technologies plc
  • Independent Power Corporation plc
  • Freeman Rich Chartered Accountants
  • SMMT Ltd.
  • Ernst and Young Services Ltd.
  • Reuters Ltd.
  • Elizabeth Emanuel Enterprises Ltd.
  • East European Trade Council
  • Simmons and Simmons
  • Oracle Corporation UK Ltd.
  • Brown and Root AOC
  • LGC Ltd.
1 May 1999–8 February 2000
Number of secondments—47
Company names
  • Rover Group Ltd.
  • Moy Park Ltd.
  • Robson Rhodes
  • The Building Centre Ltd.
  • Newbrook Engineering Company Ltd.
  • Medical Research Council
  • Mott MacDonald Group Ltd.
  • Darwin Instruments Ltd.
  • MacAlister Elliott and Partners Ltd.
  • The Beaver Housing Society Ltd.
On the same day the Foreign Office provided similar details on its own secondees, with Peter Hain, later to become a Cabinet minister, answering: “ My department has an active Interchange Programme with the private sector. The Modernising Government White Paper has committed us to increasing this activity. Details of staff seconded from the Private Sector to the FCO including British Trade International are as follows:
(a) May 1997 to April 1998
Number of secondees: 23 Organisations: AMEC; Bank of England (2); BP Amoco (2); China British Trade Group; Civil Aviation Authority; European Investment Bank; HSBC; Halcrow, Independent Consultants (2); Keele University (2); Rolls-Royce; Levit Bernstein Associates, Midland Bank, National Westminster Bank; Price WaterhouseCoopers; Quantel; Standard Chartered Bank (2).
(b) May 1998 to April 1999
Number of secondees: 20 Organisations: BBC; BNFL, Bank of England; BP Amoco (2); Brown and Root; China British Trade Group; Civil Aviation Authority; Coopers and Lybrand; European Investment Bank; Gifford and Partners; Greater London Enterprise; Hyder; Independent Consultant; MTL Instruments Group; Mouchel; Moscow Narodny Bank; PricewaterhouseCoopers; Standard Chartered Bank; Taylor Woodrow;
(c) May 1999 to date
Number of secondees: 26 Organisations: AEA; Argo Interactive; BNFL (2); BP Amoco (2); Baker Hughes International; Barrow International; Barclys; CBI (2); China British Trade Group; Civil Aviation Authority; Electric Switch; European Investment Bank; Independent Consultants (4); Linklaters & Alliance, MTL Instruments Group; Ove Arup; PriceWaterhouseCoopers; Rolls-Royce; Standard Chartered Bank; Wirea Sussex.
( Deb 11 February 2000 vol 344 cc337-8W)
Staff Secondments and revolving doors
Later that year, Don Foster, later to become a  Coalition communities department minister, asked the Treasury  how many staff from his Department were seconded to private sector companies in(a) May 1997 to April 1998, (b) May 1998 to April 1999 and (c) May 1999 to April 2000; and if he will list in each case the companies to which staff were sent, the names and ranks of the staff involved and the duration of the secondment- to be provided with the following answer: “Secondments and attachments are part of the Interchange Initiative which promotes the exchange of people and good practice between the Civil Service and other organisations. All sectors of the economy are involved: Voluntary, Education, Health, Public and Private. Interchange is a key component of the reform agenda. The Modernising Government White Paper committed us to increasing interchange, in particular by bringing in more people on secondment and sending more of our people out.
1 May 1997 to 30 April 1998
1 May 1998 to 30 April 1999
1 May 1999 to 30 April 2000
Numbers and grades:
Range D x 5
Range D x 4
Range D x 2
Range E x 6
Range E x 4
Range E x 5
Organisations to whom secondments were made.
Business Incubators
Business Incubators Panel
UK Business Incubation
Price Waterhouse
Price Waterhouse
SIB (now FSA)
PIA (now FSA)
PIA (now FSA)
Ockham Holdings
SIB (now FSA)
SIB (now FSA) British
Cement Association
Amerada Hess
HSBC Holdings
Council of Mortgage
Amerada Hess
Ockham Holdings
Ockham Holdings
British Cement Association
British Cement Association
(HC Deb 5 June 2000 vol 351 c69W )
Education engagement too
Junior education and employment minister- later to become Education Secretary, Estelle (later Baroness) Morris, asked to list the businesses involved in the leadership of each education action zone, provided the following:  
Each EAZ is led by a forum made up of the main partners in the zone. In all cases this includes business partners.
The following EAZ forums are chaired by business people: Barnsley (Non-Executive Director for a number of local companies), Barrow (Furness Building Society), Bedford (Chamber of Commerce), Blackburn and Darwen (MTM Associates), Brighton (KPMG), Bristol (HSBC), Corby (Grant Thornton), Dingle, Granby and Toxteth (ICI), Easington and Seaham (Seaward Electronics), East Cleveland (Cleveland Potash Mining), Grimsby (Tioxide UK), Hastings and St. Leonards (Marshall Tufflex), Lambeth (Shell), North East Sheffield (Yorkshire Water), Salford and Trafford (Kellogs), Wednesbury (Spring), Weston-super-Mare (Ron Fowler Communications), Wigan (North West Water), Wythenshawe (Manchester Airport). Some of the new EAZs have not yet elected their Chair.
(HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 c508W )
Tessa Jowell, later to become a Cabinet minister, later told Parliament “The following companies provided funds via the New Deal Taskforce to Wildcat Corporation”:
3 July 2000
Credit Suisse First Boston
28 July 2000
3 August 2000
3 August 2000
The Rockefeller Foundation
September 2000
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
114 September 2000
12 October 2000
Deloitte and Touche
17 October 2000
13 December 2000
Salomon Brothers
15 March 2001
1Sent directly to Wildcat
(HC Deb 21 March 2001 vol 365 c261W)
Post Office and the Universal bank
In November 2000, Steven Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary- who would later be suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party for his involvement in dodgy lobbying for business before stepping down from Parliament in 2010 – said in a debate on the Post Office: “I welcome the announcement by HSBC earlier this week of its broad support for the concept of a universal bank—a post office-based solution. ..and I hope that an agreement will be concluded in the not-too-distant future, so that we can provide banking services through the post office network.
(HC Deb 30 November 2000 vol 357 cc1126-8)
Shortly after, in the Lords, business minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville, told peers: “Agreement in principle was reached on 20 December 2000 with the following six banks, Barclays, Lloyds TSB Ltd, RBS/Nat West, HSBC, Abbey National and the Halifax, to contribute towards universal banking services at the Post Office. Discussions continue with other banks and building societies to examine what contributions they can make.” (HL Deb 15 January 2001 vol 620 cc95-6WA)
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will list the United Kingdom companies that received support from the Export Credits Guarantee Department in the(a) last and (b) current financial year to date. [145471]
However, Lord Green insisted in an interview with Sky News, he had "no case to answer" over the money laundering scandal,” adding “ As and when issues were drawn to our attention, as we were seeking to grapple with the issues, we took action. I think we must acknowledge there were some failures of implementation. HSBC has expressed its regret for that. I share that regret."
In a letter to Chris Leslie, the shadow Treasury minister, Lord Green added: "With regards to the bank's efforts to address its AML (anti-money laundering) and OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) compliance issues, HSBC has expressed its regret that there were failures of implementation in these areas, and I share that regret." He added "HSBC have always sought to do the right thing and, when things go wrong, worked hard to put them right…I have sought to embody these values in my own work and to react appropriately to emerging issues both as CEO (chief executive officer) and chairman of HSBC."

Scientific Research too……
In spring 2002, Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe, told peers as chief executive of Universities UK. “ Tomorrow, at the headquarters of HSBC, Universities UK launches a report which shows how much knowledge transfer takes place between universities and industry.”
(HL Deb 13 May 2002 vol 635 cc6-9)
Nuclear nouce
HSBC has also put its financial fingers into the lucrative nuclear industry pie. Responding to a question by Labour MP Llew Smith, who asked if the minister responsible would both those bodies which provided the independent advice on BNFL liabilities and also the contracts entered into with those advising the Department, the strongly pro-nuclear energy ministdr, Brian Wilson said: “The Department received advice on BNFL's liabilities from Andersen, Arthur D Little, Credit Suisse First Boston, Deloitte and Touche, HSBC, Slaughter and May and Lane Clark and Peacock. With the exception of the contract entered into with Arthur D Little, which asked the firm specifically to review the methods used by BNFL when quantifying its liabilities, the contracts entered into with the remaining firms sought advice on a number of issues, including liabilities. These contracts were awarded following best departmental practice which involved obtaining competitive tenders and, where applicable, following EU procurement rules.”
(HC Deb 12 February 2002 vol 380 c292W)
Eleven years on, in autumn 2013, Lord Green, speaking, as a business department minister, told peers, demonstrating continued love affair with nuclear power, said”  
"We also welcome the deal announced by EDF in respect of Hinkley Point C, which is a good deal for this country. The entire nuclear industry, irrespective of who is investing in it and who is building it, needs to be properly regulated, for all the obvious reasons, but we are committed to the importance of nuclear as part of the energy mix. We have to invest substantially over the next 10 to 20 years in nuclear rebuild and we should welcome the involvement of foreign direct investment—including from China—so long as it is properly regulated and overseen." (Lords Official Report, 7 Nov 2013 : Column 373)
Trains as well…
Railway Rolling Stock
David Jamieson, a junior transport minister, told Parliament in December 2002
There are 1,741 Mark 1 railway rolling stock vehicles leased through 19 leases as follows:
  • ROSCO: Angel Trains
  • Number of vehicles: 600
  • Number of leases: 5
  • Allocation to lessee: South West Trains (0), South Central Trains (324), Connex South Eastern (276)
  • ROSCO: Portebrook Leasing
  • Number of vehicles: 621
  • Number of leases: 10
  • Allocation to lessee: South West Trains (195), South Central Trains (224), Connex South Eastern (202)
  • Number of Vehicles: 520
  • Number of leases: 4
  • Allocation to lessee: South West Trains (380), South Central Trains (60), Connex South Eastern (80)
But, he admitted, further details were being kept secret, saying “ The dates to which train operating companies are committed to leasing the vehicles are commercially confidential. “
(HC Deb 16 December 2002 vol 396 cc658-9W)
It seemed HSBC could do no wrong. Another strong supporter of the nuclear industry, Labour MP for Glasgow, Anniesland, John Robertson, currently chair of the All Party Nuclear Energy Group on Parliament, observed in a debate on funded pension: “I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this excellent debate. A vast number of companies have closed their final salary schemes to new employees, citing the aforementioned factors individually or collectively. BT closed its pension scheme—as a member of that scheme, I declare an interest—to new employees on 1 April. I do not know whether the fact that it was April Fool's day was a coincidence. Many others, such as HSBC, Marks and Spencer, Abbey National and Barclays—all reputable companies—have also closed their schemes.
(HC Deb 02 July 2002 vol 388 cc90-196)
Later that year, HSBC had become so influential, it even had its own Act of Parliament, as is evidenced by this extract from the Parliament’s Official Report for  7 November 2002!
I have to acquaint the House that the House has been to the House of Peers, where a Commission under the Great Seal was read, authorising the Royal Assent to the following Acts:
(HC Deb 07 November 2002 vol 392 c480)


10 years later, and HSBC boss Stephen Green, now fêted as Tory supporter, had now become the grander Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint. Here are some of his on-the-record views:

24 Sep 2012 : Column WA305
House of Lords: Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint
Asked by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint is authorised to speak on all matters relating to his department.[HL2071]
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint): As Minister of State for Trade and Investment, I am responsible for the development and implementation of cross-government strategy for trade and inward investment. I am Minister of State in both the department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office providing advice on trade and investment to the Foreign Secretary and the Business Secretary.
I am spokesman for the Government on trade and investment matters in the House of Lords.
5 July 2012 : Column 837
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint):It is important that we remain an attractive destination for FDI, which means ensuring that our tax regime is attractive, that we minimise unnecessary red tape and that we have a planning regime that is fit for purpose. I know that the whole House will agree with me when I say that a lot of work needs to be done, and is in hand, under those three headings. The headline rate of corporation tax is the most visible sign of how competitive a country is and we are cutting that to 22% by 2014. That will be the lowest in the G7. We are supporting innovation through the patent box and R and D tax credits, and high-growth companies with programmes such as the enterprise investment scheme.
A crucial area where we need to attract FDI is not only in productive activity but in the public economic infrastructure. A number of noble Lords have referred to that issue. The kindest friends of this country would not accuse it of having a world-class public economic infrastructure. Infrastructure UK, a body started by the previous Administration and continued and developed by this one, has been developing increasingly specific project-based plans for investment in transport, energy, water and broadband networks which we will need if we are to compete effectively in the 21st century. It is estimated that around £250 billion of investment will be required between now and 2015, the bulk of which will, of course, have to come from private sector capital working in harness with the Government. That capital will come from foreign institutions, from domestic institutions and also from sovereign wealth funds. A lot of work is being done on that. This is a long-term programme that we have to keep at.
Our regulatory environment is another important signal for overseas investors in this country. We are often, quite rightly, very critical of ourselves, but actually we have a strong reputation overseas for transparency, predictability and the rule of law, and we must never lose this. According to the World Bank, the UK ranks seventh in the world for the ease of doing business and second only to Denmark in the EU. The UK has the fewest barriers to entrepreneurship of any country in the world. It takes 13 days to set up a business here, which is two days fewer than in Germany and almost a third fewer than the international average and a fraction of the time that it takes in some of the fastest-growing, emerging markets around the world.
We have to do much more especially to tackle bureaucracy that is holding businesses back. I note the point made by a number of noble Lords that this bears down particularly on SMEs. It is a continuous challenge. I suspect that if we are standing here in 10 years’ time we will still be pleading for an attack on unnecessary regulatory bureaucracy on behalf of small businesses. But we are working on it. That is why we have introduced the Red Tape Challenge and are seeking to simplify planning procedures—one in, one out on red tape; and the new National Planning Policy Framework creates a presumption in favour of sustainable investment, reducing some 1,000 pages of planning guidelines to just 52.
Moreover, we know that exporting helps companies to grow. We know that businesses that export do better with the help of UKTI and UKEF. We know that on average companies that work with UKTI go on to win overseas sales of over £100,000 within 18 months. We know that this is value for money from the point of view of the taxpayer.
9 Oct 2012 : Column GC422
UK Trade and Investment
Question for Short Debate
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint):I am conscious that my time is running out fast so I will just say a word on finance. The finance issue is quite complex. It is about venture capitalists and seed money. The noble Lord’s comments about the enterprise investment scheme resonated very strongly with me. I will take them away and we will see what we can do, but we are very clear that this is an important scheme.
More generally on business banking, there is a clear need to reinvest properly in business banking. In some ways I am better placed than many to say this. The banks have disinvested—unintentionally, but none the less in fact—in their business banking capabilities over
9 Oct 2012 : Column GC438
the past 20 years. We need to turn that around. We need to reskill the banks. The good news is that the CEOs are all very committed to this. The challenge is that it is going to be a bit like turning around an oil tanker—I am afraid that it will take some time and we have some work to do on that. But I can assure noble Lords that I hold regular round tables with the banks, at both CEO and head of commercial banking level. I and the Secretary of State are on this case.
I am very conscious that I have run out of time. I thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate and noble Lords for participating. This is a challenge that I care passionately about, as I hope noble Lords can tell. We have a great deal to do but I believe that we can be successful as long as we stick at it.
6 May 2014 : Column 1447
Businesses: Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
5.38 pm
Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint (Con):
Finally, much, though not all, of exporting requires effective financial support. The Government have begun over the past couple of years to rejuvenate UKEF, broaden its project range, make it better known to SMEs, strengthen its marketing, strengthen its presence around the country, and provide advice to banks—I am sorry that it has to provide advice to banks, but it is none the less there and it does and should do so—and, of course, to its clients. Anecdotal evidence is that progress is being made but I am sure we all recognise that there is a long way to go. Again, I ask my noble friend to comment on progress in developing UKEF’s offering to small businesses up and down the land.
16 Jan 2014 : Column GC213
Business: International Competitiveness
3.15 pm
Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint (Con):
A challenge for both the Government and the business community is to encourage and support more companies to get into the international arena: first, because we need it from the balance of payments perspective; and, secondly, because it is good for their productivity and we thereby strengthen the backbone of the whole economy.
What do we need to do to encourage and support this? There is the role of the Government themselves of course, and we have already talked about the importance of the tax and regulatory framework. I want to dwell briefly on the role of trade promotion. I might be regarded as parti pris in so saying, but I think that the role of UKTI and UKEF is important. The key themes of work in progress in both cases are obvious to us all—more private sector experience in their leadership, more ability to operate flexibly and to market their services to British companies up and down the land, and adequate budgetary resourcing. Can the Minister assure us that the work that has been put in hand over the last two to three years will be continued? This is, I might add, a marathon and not a sprint. We need to continue it, not merely through the next spending review, but probably for the next 10 to 20 years, if we are to put this right.
7 Nov 2013 : Column 373
United Kingdom and China
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint) (Con):
"We also welcome the deal announced by EDF in respect of Hinkley Point C, which is a good deal for this country. The entire nuclear industry, irrespective of who is investing in it and who is building it, needs to be properly regulated, for all the obvious reasons, but we are committed to the importance of nuclear as part of the energy mix. We have to invest substantially over the next 10 to 20 years in nuclear rebuild and we should welcome the involvement of foreign direct investment—including from China—so long as it is properly regulated and overseen."
26 Jun 2013 : Column 830
Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
Finance is quite properly of concern to a number of noble Lords. The noble Baronesses, Lady Coussins and Lady Drake, made a detailed analysis of some of the issues that we face. Given my former career, I am perhaps better placed than many to reflect on the weaknesses of commercial and business banking in this country. From that experience and from my experience going round this country in the past two and a half years and meeting businesses of all shapes and sizes, there is indeed an issue. It is quite plain that there are circumstances where companies with legitimate financing requirements cannot get financing because the normal templates are being required and inadequate imagination is being applied to the topic.
What I think has happened over not just the past three or four years of the financial and economic crisis but over the past 20 years is that the skill base of business banking in high street banks has been deteriorating. This has happened partly because average career bankers with a reasonable dose of ambition have wanted to head either for the excitements of corporate and investment banking or for the sexy end of the retail banking market and did not see themselves spending the rest of their career in a relationship management role in, let us say, Rotherham. The central functions have responded by disempowering those relationship managers, so we have the result that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, commented on. If I have some good news, it is that all the CEOs with whom I have regular dialogue and the heads of commercial banking are focused on this and are determined to address the problem. I hold regular round tables with the banks under the auspices of the British Bankers’ Association. The general problem, I have described. In international trade, in particular, there is even more of a problem with the skill base. They are focused on that. The challenge is that it will simply take time to turn the supertankers.
In the mean time, we need to be doing two things—first, to ensure that as it gets going the business bank is able to challenge them on the way in which business lending is provided and, secondly, to encourage new challengers. There are some new challengers. There are a number of new challenger banks, and a number of noble Lords referred to the various other techniques for financing that are gaining some traction, although I do not believe that those other financing sources can ever be an adequate alternative to, or substitute for, a properly run business banking presence on our high streets. This is an important issue, and we will continue working at it.
I find myself saying regularly to my ministerial colleagues, to my official colleagues, to the media and to anyone who will listen, that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to stick at this as a national collective effort over at least the next 20 years. The good news is that we can do it. I mentioned that I travel round this country a great deal—I visit each English region and the three devolved Administrations at least twice a year. I have seen businesses from every sector, of every shape and size—some of them the mid-cap companies—and I see companies that are taking on the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, said, it is fun to do that. If you are not the kind of person who finds other countries and cultures fun and interesting, you will never be a successful exporter. You find these people across the range of the sectors of our economy. This is not just about high-tech or manufacturing but about all sectors.