§ Mr. Waller
To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the results of the bids for trade fair and overseas seminar support for 1997–89. 
§ Mr. Nelson
I am pleased to announce that, under the trade fairs support scheme, about 260 groups of firms will be offered support totalling £17 million for exhibitions world-wide in 1997–98. This will be a major fillip, especially to small and medium firms which otherwise would not exhibit their products to potential customers in this way. In addition, this year, for the first time, similar export promotion activities will be eligible for the sector challenge competition, the results of which will be announced in March. I am pleased to report that a number of such applications have been invited to prepare full bids under the challenge.
Of the 260 exhibitions being announced now, nearly half will be in Europe, about one fifth in the Asia Pacific and another fifth in the Americas. The full programme will be published in my Department's overseas promotions guide later this week. Copies will be sent to business links and trade associations and copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House.
Against a background of considerable demand for this support and in order to maintain a substantial programme while containing public expenditure, I have decided to reduce the rate of grant on the approved cost of renting space and constructing stands at trade fairs from 50 per cent. to 45 per cent. I have also decided not to revalue the price levels on which construction grants are based. These changes will apply to all events for which my Department announces support from today. Offers of grant and firm announcements of support already made will continue to attract grant at current rates. I am not yet in a position to take decisions on supporting some events which would involve new expenditure in 1998–99.
Inclusion of the trade fairs programme in the sector challenge should bring significant benefits to exporters by allowing new and more flexible approaches to exhibiting. I will be reviewing the way that we support trade fairs after the first sector challenge but my intention is to make all support for the trade fairs after this round available through the sector challenge. Consequently, the existing understanding to support automatically a core programme of events will continue only up to 31 March 1999.393W
In the meantime, with the aim of making the current scheme more customer-friendly, I have decided to streamline its administration. My Department will be reducing the number of forms, simplifying those forms still needed and asking intermediaries to be more accountable to their customers and less to my Department. This will apply routinely to the events for which I am announcing support from today and, where practicable, to offers already made.
In addition, under the related overseas seminar scheme, my Department plans to support 31 events in 1997–98. Details of these too will be included in the overseas promotion guide.