HC Deb 22 December 1964 vol 704 cc1029-30
8. Mr. Orme

asked the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, as representing the Minister of Technology, whether, in view of the drain on sterling because of the importation of machine tools, he will take steps to set up an experimental and development centre for machine tools and the facilities for manufacturing these tools to be publicly owned and in a position to compete with private industry.

Mr. Boyden

The right hon. Gentleman is making an urgent study of the problems of the machine tool industry with a view to assessing what is the best contribution he can make to their solution.

Mr. Orme

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to impress upon the Minister the fact that some of us on this side see the failure of the machine tool industry to meet the requirements of the nation at present as a problem requiring urgent action?

Mr. Boyden

Yes, Sir.

Sir A. E. Meyer

Is the Under-Secretary aware that this Question betrays a truly terrifying misunderstanding of what trade and industry are all about and that this misunderstanding is very prevalent amongst hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Boyden

Certainly nobody on this side is trying to damn the trade, if that is the impression given in the Question. My right hon. Friend will do his best to assist the trade in assisting the nation in its export drive and in other ways.

Mr. Snow

Is my hon. Friend aware that if terror is to be introduced into this discussion it is terror on the part of those who are watching the interests of our economy? Is he further aware that a technical examination of this industry should be accompanied by an examination of the distribution system in this country whereby distributors of domestically produced machine tools are also substantial importers of machine tools from abroad, for no better reason than pure profit, of course?

Mr. Boyden

Yes. The Minister is well aware of these facts. I should have thought that the assistance that he will be giving to this industry would have nothing to do with terror, but would be appreciated.

Mr. Woodnutt

Would the Under-Secretary make it clear to his hon. Friends that in 1963 the machine tool industry reached an all-time record for exports and this year will increase them even further? If they should feel more help should be given, would it not be appropriate to make an increased subscription to the Machine Tool Industry Research Association at Macclesfield rather than set up a Government institution of the type suggested in the Question.

Mr. Boyden

Consideration will be given to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion in the second part of his supplementary question. As to the trade statistics, imports of machine tools in 1963 were £26.3 million. The estimate for 1964 is £35 million. Exports are about the same this year as they were last year, so the situation is very serious.