HC Deb 20 May 1946 vol 423 cc153-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)

For one or two years our British industry has before it a seller's market. During this time goods will sell, however ill-designed they may be. But what of the attitude of our customers when more choice is possible and more goods available? The phrase "Made in Britain" has an honest ring about it, suggesting sound materials and honest craftsmanship. But these alone will not sell goods if they are unattractive or unsuitable for the buyer's purpose. A large range of our consumer goods and machines will be unsuitable unless we act now and remove the indifference to good design and aesthetic value. British manufacturers have slowly appreciated the value of scientific research, of efficiency in industry and the need for good management. In these fields of endeavour, the Government are taking a lead in fostering progress.

The Board of Trade have formed a business efficiency service and a business management service. But what of design, which is probably the most important of them all? What has been done by the Government for industrial design? In 1944 the then President of the Board of Trade set up the Council for Industrial Design. The purpose of this Council is to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry. Its main functions are to help industry to set up designs centres on a cooperative basis—the Cotton Board Design Centre, York Street, Manchester, is a very good example of an industrial design centre and is doing good work—to hold and take part in exhibitions; to give publicity to design by a variety of means; to cooperate with education authorities and others in the training of industrial designers; to advise Government Departments on the design of goods they purchase; to have a centre of advice and information on all matters of industrial design for industry, Government Departments and interested bodies.

It was set up by a man with vision, who could see the need for good design, not only in the products of industry but in the lives of the common people of this country. Some of the people who found themselves on the Board were of the pedantic type who float into these jobs when they are going. Despite this fact, it is ably directed and is doing a good job of work, within the limits of voluntary cooperation with industry. It has a well thought out programme for the improvement of design in industry providing that individual companies are prepared to cooperate. The Council is prepared to go to industry not cap it hand but hand in pocket. The promise of the Treasury grant in aid shows clearly how serious the Board of Trade and the Treasury are in their intentions. I understand that the grant in aid is in the region of £1 per £1.

The question I would like to put is, Can the change that is desired be accomplished by voluntary means in the time that we have at our disposal? Let me deal with one of their functions which has to do with the cooperation of education authorities in the training of industrial designers. It is no use extolling the benefits that industry can obtain by employing industrial designers if there are no designers available. The right type of industrial designer is desperately needed over the whole field of the production of consumer goods, yet very few designers are being trained. In a typical year's intake at one of our largest schools of art in the country only 6 per cent. of the students chose to become designers for industry. Ninety-four per cent. elected to become teachers, architects, commercial artists, etc. This failure to attract design students can be put under two headings: (1), there is no Government syllabus or diploma of qualification; and, (2), generally because of the failure of industry to formulate its design training requirements. Because of industries' lack of recognition of diplomas of any type, it is usual for parents of potential students to avoid design training in favour of art teaching or architectural courses at the end of which the student receives professional status and remuneration. Design ability, badly needed by the country, tends to be diverted to the art teaching profession when it expends itself in the teaching of teachers of the next generation with an indirect effect only on industrial design. The Government spend large sums of money with little practical effect.

A lead from the Government is essential, in which should be set out a syllabus for training with a view to the award of a diploma. Means must be found to promote the closest relationship between schools of technology and art schools. The antagonism of the technologist to the art school is well known. There are many instances where the principal of the school of technology is not on speaking terms with the principal of the art school in the same town. This need for the close relationship of technology to design was first emphasised by Professor Gropius when he founded the Bauhaus School in Germany. Professor Gropius is now in America, where his teaching has had its effect on American products. Industrial design training is established in America and the manufacturer of goods and machinery in which 'technology is linked with art is an accomplished fact. The industrial designer in America synthesises the result. In England we have little or no cooperation at all between the technical and the art school. Technical colleges maintain isolation and guard their technical facilities from the art school. The art schools are very often unable to obtain the raw materials or machines of an experimental type which are necessary for the training of an industrial designer.

The training should be (1) technology; (2) the use of materials; (3) ability to appraise new materials; and (4) ability to appreciate suitability to purpose with sensitiveness to form, colour, and texture through art training. In the use of materials comes the knowledge of alloyed steels, reinforced laminated compounds, light alloys, aluminium and magnesium group of metals, timber and plastics. In short, what is required is a marriage of technology and art in schools, with a syllabus similar to that I have outlined. I hope the Minister when he replies will be able to indicate what steps are being taken to effect this very desirable end.

There is another aspect of the matter which I would like to raise, and that is the question of industrial design on machines. Industry needs machines that will humanise jobs, but, nominally, the Council of Industrial Design is concerned with consumer goods industries which come directly under the Board of Trade, and the scope of the Council does not go far enough in this connection. Its main function should apply also to the machines which produce consumer goods, as well as the goods themselves, and these functions could eventually be extended to cover part of our heavy industry. Machinery makers have been on war work for six years, and their designers were taken away from them and they have had difficulty in getting them back. They need assistance from the Government at the present time.

There is another question about it. In many cases, we are very badly behind some of our continental competitors in the realm of machinery design. A recent visit to Switzerland confirmed me in this opinion, and made it clear to me how the Swiss engineers are closely following Professor Gropius in his teaching on linking technology with art. We need weaving machines without heavy superstructures, low-built, which will enable the operative to see her work without eye strain, and, in this connection, some of us well remember what happened to Lancashire weavers if, one day, they turned up at their work wearing spectacles. These looms have an oiling system which enables them to be run on maple or birch floors instead of concrete swimming in oil, and this is one of the vital things which is affecting recruitment to the cotton industry.

I am sorry I cannot develop the point further, but I would say that this matter is clearly a question of team work between designers, technologists, research workers and users, the users to say what they want, the technologists and research workers to supply the technical means. and the industrial designers to crystalise it. To effect this result, Government intervention is necessary, and if the Government find the money to rehabilitate old industries, we should see to it that they are equipped with the best designed machinery that can be produced. A design Renaissance is now due, and there is no doubt that technologists and industrialists, dominated the life of this country for a hundred years, and produced ugly environment, empty elaborations, monotony, and inhuman conditions against which the lowliest citizen now protests. A change of philosophy and outlook must be speedily effected if we are to play our full part in the modern world.

10.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for raising this subject this evening, and I am only sorry that he had not the time to develop the speech he has made. It follows that I have not sufficient time to say all I had hoped to say on this important subject, and that I can only deal with one or two of the points which have been raised. My hon. Friend suggested that it was not possible adequately to see that design played its full part in British industry by voluntary means, but he did not suggest how we should do it in any other way. I believe myself that, whatever may have been the failure of British industry in the past—and I agree that there has been ample room for criticism of British industry in the past in this direction—there is, to a very considerable extent, a difference today, and, in so far as there is not yet recognition by industries or industrialists of the need for up to date and scientific design in industry, the activities of the Board of Trade in appointing working parties to inquire into industries will have some appreciable effect in this direction. There are some industries at the present moment which are considering design centres, and they are precisely those industries in which design plays an important part—silk, rayon, jewellery, linen, leather, printing, aluminium, cast iron, pottery and so on —all industries in which design plays a most important part.

I know that the working parties set up by the Board of Trade have this problem well in mind and that among their recommendations will be the suggestion that a different approach by industry to this subject will yield good results. My hon. Friend suggested that there are insufficient designers already trained or in the process of being trained. I quite agree that hitherto there has not been the encouragement given to prospective designers that one would like to see. But, again, it is the fact that the Ministry of Education under the new powers conferred by the 1944 Act will make it possible for positive action to be taken for improving the situation so far as educational facilities are concerned. The art examinations of the Ministry of Education have been revised and efforts are being made to improve them by broadening the scope at the intermediate stage and allowing specialisation in design at the final stage. It was considered, after two years of study, that it was essential to specialise. But the whole question of examination in design is under consideration by the Council of Design and the Ministry of Education, I am advised, is quite prepared to revise its system again if there is clear evidence of a need for revision.

My hon. Friend suggested that perhaps the services of the council are not sufficiently known. I think that is quite probable, but towards the end of this year there will be an exhibition—a "Britain Can Make It" exhibition— which has already received a considerable amount of publicity. Its basis is an improvement in the design of British goods in order to show that Britain can compete with any other country as to the quality and artistic nature of the goods she produces.

I thought the hon. Member made a very important point when he referred to the possibility of the extension of better design from consumer goods to machinery. I could not agree more wholeheartedly. It is important, particularly in industries like the cotton and linen industries, that not only should we produce consumer goods which are attractive because of their design, but that the operatives should operate machines which inspire the people using them to higher craftsmanship. Although the Council, so far, has contented itself with inquiry into consumer goods, I am sure that it will be prepared to go further and see if it is possible to extend a better design to machines. As the hon. Member probably knows, while there are no Government representatives as such sitting on the Council, representatives of various Government Departments concerned, including the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Supply, do sit with the Council as assessors. There is a Ministry of Supply representative there. It is primarily the function of the Ministry of Supply to look after the machine-producing industries, and I have no doubt that the Ministry's representative will be only too pleased to cooperate with the Council in extending up to date modern design to the machines which are going to produce consumer goods, as well as to the goods themselves. I should like to have had more time to develop the subject I wish to thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter this evening, and to assure him that, in so far as it is possible for the Government to give assistance in the matter, they will be only too glad to do so.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'Clock.