Don't believe the Mail on Sunday
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Don't believe the Mail on Sunday

Dear Constituents,

I have just returned from a short visit to the Gulf region with my select committee; while I was there the Mail on Sunday printed a prominent, short but seriously inaccurate piece in its "Black Dog" column. I know many local people read this, so I thought you would like to see the letter I have sent to the editor. Incidentally, at least one local manufacturing business (Taylors at Elmley Lovett) is doing very well in the Gulf, and particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Peter Wright
The Mail on Sunday,
Northcliffe House,
2 Derry Street,
London W8 5TT

5th May 2009

Dear Mr Wright,

On 26th April Black Dog reported in sarcastic tones:

“As you read this our MPs are away ‘investigating’ the economic problems in sunny Dubai. The Commons Business Committee, chaired by Tory MP Peter Luff, flew out yesterday to spend four agreeable days looking at how to ‘export our way out of recession’. “

I suspect that you and I will disagree about the inherent value of any travel by MPs – I take the view that there are many things that MPs in general and members of select committees in particular need to know and which can be learnt only by travel – but I will not seek to persuade you of the merits of this argument. I hope, though, that we share a high regard for the facts – something largely ignored in this unfortunate and sloppy piece of journalism.

If only someone from your paper had had the simple courtesy to give me a call to check the facts – but there again, this is the second time in a year I have had this treatment from the Mail on Sunday, so a pattern is beginning to emerge.

Our visit was indeed looking at how British exports might be encouraged - which hardly seems a foolish or flippant task for my committee given current economic circumstances. We did not just visit Dubai – in fact we spent less then 24 hours there – but also in the UAE, Abu Dhabi, and then went on to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The four days we spent in these three places were extremely informative and valuable, but could only be described as "agreeable" if you like giving up your entire weekend for work, and appreciate working days of 12 hours or more. (As a matter of fact, I do – but I don’t expect you to believe me.)

All those we met, including all the many British taxpayers and business people, welcomed our visit unreservedly and spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities for British businesses of all sizes and all sectors to boost exports to the Gulf region. However, they also consistently complained about two things.

First, the need for more UK political delegations to promote trade in the Middle East; our visit was seen as a direct benefit to the UK effort in markets where we are very well placed, but where building relationships - and government-to-government relationships in particular - are very important. Many of them urged us to come back as soon as possible to assist their commercial interests by demonstrating continuing interest by the British Parliament in the region.

Second, we heard frequent criticisms from many of our interlocutors, both local nationals and British expatriates, especially in Dubai and Riyadh, about the damage done to our bilateral relations by the British press. The negative and unbalanced nature of much reporting of events in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia definitely does harm to the prospects for enhancing British trade; it both deters many UK businesses from exploring the market and poisons the atmosphere in the markets themselves. Indeed, one British business person who had travelled out to the UAE on the Sunday of our visit gave me the cutting from your paper I am complaining about and said it was a small but good example of the damage British journalism was doing.

For the record, the outline programme of our visit was as follows:

Saturday: All day - travel to Dubai (My wife kindly drove me to Heathrow from Worcestershire, leaving home just after 8am and I arrived at Dubai around midnight.)

Sunday: Dubai; working breakfast with Consul General and staff; meetings with Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority, working lunch with British officials and businessmen; meetings with retailers (inc. local rep. for Debenhams, H&K Mothercare etc); meeting with a British company (Aggreko) supplying generators across the world and using Dubai as a hub; travel to Abu Dhabi.

Monday: Abu Dhabi; working breakfast with Ambassador; meeting with Abu Dhabi Federal National Council (equivalent of Parliament); visit to the Tourism Development Investment Company; working lunch with British businesses; meeting with Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research; working dinner with British business people.

Tuesday: Abu Dhabi; meeting with the Director General of the Minister of the Economy; visit to Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company and examination of plans for carbon neutral city. Transfer to Riyadh. Afternoon briefing with Ambassador and working dinner with British business people.

Wednesday: Riyadh; meeting with UK Trade and Investment officials at the Embassy; meeting with members of Economic and Energy committee of the Majalis Ash Shura (equivalent of Parliament); meeting at the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority; working lunch with the financial community; meeting with HSBC; meeting with BAE Systems; evening reception talking to members of the British business community.

Thursday: Return to London on the 0105 flight from Riyadh, arriving Heathrow at six in the morning and straight back to the Commons, ready for work.

In all that time we had one dinner off duty, and a three hour break one afternoon. Yes it was sunny all the time, but stuck largely in meeting rooms, a small coach or an aeroplane, you would hardly have known.

I hope you will at least agree that our visit had a serious purpose, contrary to the simply inaccurate report that has prompted me to write. It would be nice to think that either your paper or your daily stable mate will give our report, when it is published later in the year, some coverage. This would encourage the many directors and managers of SMEs who I know read the two papers to think about taking advantage of the growing opportunities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf region.

I am copying this letter to the Chairman of the Commons Liaison Committee.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Luff MP, Chairman, Business and Enterprise Committee

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