HC Deb 09 March 1981 vol 1000 cc602-3
5. Mr. Peter Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what action the Government are taking to encourage both the public and the private sectors of industry to buy British.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Both sectors can do much to stimulate the competitiveness of their suppliers so that British goods are well designed, competitively priced and reliable. The Government have taken an initiative, which my Department is responsible for co-ordinating, to encourage public sector purchasers to discuss in advance their requirements with suppliers, most of whom are in the private sector.

Mr. Fraser

Does my hon. Friend agree that the purpose of a"Buy British" campaign must not just be to provide a home market, but to underpin our export effort? Surely it would be desirable if major purchasers, both in the public and private sectors, so set their specifications that British goods would be not only competitive in the world market but extremely marketable?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Too often in the past, public purchasing—not just by the Government but by public agencies as well—has been too concerned with producing a specific and particular product that is available for a specific purpose. In fact, there has been too much emphasis on the tailor-made when there should have been rather more emphasis on buying something ready to wear. Part of the effort of my Department is concerned with that.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister concede that part of the question refers to the private sector? Will he look at situations—for example, home orders credit for ships—where the Government allow 80 per cent. and where the additional 20 per cent. may be purchased abroad? Will he find ways of persuading organisations which seek to buy the 20 per cent. elsewhere to devote themselves to buying in the United Kingdom because they are getting extensive credit from the Government?

Mr. Baker

That is a rather wider question which deals with a specific industry. I shall certainly look at what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Budgen

Will my hon. Friend explain how this important initiative is compatible with the Government's desire, first, to maintain competitive forces within our home economy and, secondly, to bring down the sterling exchange rate?

Mr. Baker

We are proposing action in many areas which is not much different from that of our international competitors. With regard to competitiveness and value for money, I emphasise that in the public sector we are trying to establish the sort of relationship that exists in the private sector, where a customer and supplier are close together, work on a particular project and as a result design something that can be sold generally. That is the normal way of doing things in the private sector. That is how the private sector gets value for money. For example, let us consider the purchasing policy of Marks and Spencer. There is a close relationship between the supplier and the customer, and no one can say that Marks and Spencer does not get value for money from its suppliers.

Mr. John Garrett

Does the Minister agree that there could hardly be a more important sector of industry than the production of data processing equipment? Will he undertake to place the development contracts with ICL for sophisticated, advanced data processing equipment—for which ICL has asked—before that industry, like so many others, is decimated by competition from Japan and the United States?

Mr. Baker

That is a broader subject than development contracts for ICL. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that. This is an area where Government purchasing can be extremely effective. I take on board the point made by the hon. Gentleman.