§ 12. Miss Boothroyd
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will increase the recruitment to the quality assurance and standards division with the object of enabling British manufacturers submitting specifications and designs to obtain final approval within six months.
§ Miss Sally Oppenheim
The numbers of engineering posts in the national weights and measures laboratory of the metrology, quality assurance, safety and standards division has already been increased with the aim of reaching a decision on new designs of weighing or measuring equipment within a few months of submission. Following a shortage of engineers that led to delays, recruiting to fill the extra posts has been pressed vigorously over the past two and a half years and as a result I hope that the last post will be filled shortly. Furthermore, new examination procedures, agreed with manufacturers, were introduced on 1 January 1982. Among other things, they will help to speed up the approval process.
§ Miss Boothroyd
Does the right hon. Lady accept that a delay of two years before a Government Department can examine a specification submitted by industry is an indictment of that Department's proper functioning? Is she aware that delays have had an adverse effect on British manufacturing industry, with losses in productivity, export markets and jobs? May we have a firm assurance for the manufacturing sector that any specification submitted for approval will not be subject to a delay of longer than six months before a ruling is made?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
In reply to a written question by the hon. Member today I have explained that the case that she referred to me and that took two years was not by any means straightforward. The hon. Lady can read why it was not a straightforward case.
The record already shows a considerable improvement. There is no indictment of the Department in relation to the case which the hon. Lady brought to my attention. A total of 21 cases were awaiting examination, or under examination for final approval, between January and June 1981, and only five between July and December 1981. Already in the last year that there has been a notable improvement. I hope that it will continue.
Is it not a fact that British goods are not only being delivered on time but are being delivered at the right price? Does my right hon. Friend accept that British goods now reflect an improvement in quality? Does that not mean that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) was exaggerating the case in relation to quality, because once again British quality is becoming exceptionally good?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) was referring to a specific case about which we have had considerable correspondence. My hon. Friend is right. Anything that improves the competitive standards of British industry will result in more British goods being sold, not only abroad but at home. That can only be good for industry, jobs and the country.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
While I welcome any progress in speeding up the process, may I ask the right hon. Lady to answer the specific question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd)? May we have a catagoric guarantee that the process will involve no more than a six-month delay, because that is still of great concern to British industry?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
I had hoped to avoid giving a specific answer. I now see no alternative. The firm that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West referred to me was subject to delay originally because of a shortage of examiners. That delay was common to all patterns in that period.
The examination began in November 1980, but it was hampered because the equipment did not work properly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not implying that consumers should be on the receiving end of weighing or measuring equipment which does not work properly. The firm was told that, and meetings with the company were held in March, April and June 1981 to try to resolve the problems. Unfortunately, the equipment had to be rejected as being unsuitable for trade in August 1981. The firm was given the opportunity to resubmit a modified version within three months to avoid further delay. This it did. There have been further problems of performance by the machinery, but the examination should be completed by the end of February.