HL Deb 20 December 1983 vol 446 cc591-4

2.55 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will draw the attention of Government departments and agencies, including those engaged in procurement for the armed forces, public corporations including nationalised industries, local authorities, private industry and individual citizens, to the need to "buy British" whenever feasible, and to ensure that their agents, employees and sub contractors do so.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have made it clear that they expect and hope that British goods will be bought whenever they are the best, the most competitive and offer value for money. For the past three and a half years we have been vigorously pursuing a major policy initiative aimed at encouraging the public sector to use its purchasing power in a positive manner to help develop and maintain suppliers' competitiveness.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that most helpful and encouraging reply. Does he agree that, if we show confidence in our own products when the price and quality are right, people overseas are more likely to follow our example and buy British, and thereby help the export trade?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. The answer is, Yes.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the nationalised industries have achieved a remarkable success in purchasing on a competitive basis from this country the vast bulk of their supplies, averaging over 90 per cent? In the case of the National Coal Board, which I had the honour of serving together with the noble Lord, Lord Gormley, the industry achieved even more than that. Would the noble Lord kindly indicate to us, in percentage terms, what success has been achieved by Government departments and agencies directly responsible to Government in the purchase of goods produced in this country?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the noble Lord shot my fox because I, too, have the figure of 96 per cent. for the industry which he served with such distinction. On the noble Lord's second question, about the percentage of British goods bought by the private sector, I understand that it is in the region of 90 per cent.

Lord Blease

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the "Buy British" campaign, initiative or appeal also includes goods and manufactured products produced in Northern Ireland? Given the elements of price, delivery, quality and the statutory requirements, will he not agree that there is an urgent need to have some sort of appeal mechanism at ministerial level, so that enterprises that have tendered for products or goods and have been overlooked, or which consider that they have been overlooked or bypassed in favour of some foreign product, may appeal at ministerial level for their goods to be reconsidered?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I shall see whether I can obtain any information about the percentage of orders that are placed in Northern Ireland. However, the noble Lord will be aware that the Government are indeed monitoring the situation, and are very aware of the efforts which are made by British industry to sell to nationalised industries. Indeed, the public purchasing initiative is one of the arms of the Government in this particular area.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, in the privatisation measures which the Government are now proposing, are they taking into account the outstanding record of the nationalised industries in supporting British industry?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord's question is a little wide of the answers that I have been giving.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, recently I ordered some peat for my garden and was astonished to find that it came from Moscow. Would it not be better if it came from Northern Ireland?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very valid point. If she will give me the details, I shall see what substitute can be arranged for Moscow peat.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, would the noble Lord be good enough to address his mind to the question put to him by my noble friend, which was not about the private sector but was about the percentage of goods purchased from British sources by Government departments and other agencies for which the Government are responsible? Can the Government say what that percentage is?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am sorry, but I should have said in my original Answer that other nationalised industries were in the region of 90 per cent. If I can obtain any further information on a detailed basis, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Renton

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that, just as my Question was intended to cover goods made in Northern Ireland, so also does his Answer?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am very grateful for my noble friend's assistance.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the supplementary question put by my noble friend Lord Taylor was perfectly in line with the Question on the Order Paper, because it says quite distinctly: including nationalised industries, local authorities, private industry and individual citizens"? Will the noble Lord now answer the question?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, my noble neighbour is, I think, making a mountain out of a molehill. His noble friend asked about privatisation, not about private industry.

Earl Alexander of Tunis

My Lords, could Her Majesty's Government encourage the police forces to purchase British cars instead of German cars, which I understand they do?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, that, I would think, is a matter for the police forces concerned, and of course the police forces must make their own decision on that.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is important not only that people should buy British but that we should all be able to say, as we did before the war, that British is best? Is he aware that the only way that that can be done is for the Government to change course and to stimulate the economy and find jobs for people who will produce the best?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, on the contrary, the Government's policy is to encourage British industry to see that things are the best on quality; and on delivery, technology and international competitiveness—D, T and I, which spells out the department for which I answer.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, would the noble Minister care to go upstairs and see in one of the corridors a duplicating machine upon which there are piles of paper indicating that it was made abroad?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I should be interested to see the corridor afterwards at the noble Lord's behest.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, may I refer back to the question of my late noble friend who asked, if I understood him properly, what would be the effect of privatisation of nationalised industries which are at the present moment buying British? Surely that is something to do with the Question?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I cannot see that privatisation would have any adverse effect upon their purchasing policies.