HL Deb 04 February 1986 vol 470 cc1006-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

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 what support they are giving to the campaign "Industrial Year 1986".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)

My Lords, the Government fully support, both morally and financially, the designation of 1986 as Industry Year initiated by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. We have provided half the total central administrative costs of the initiative and have provided or funded secondees. This direct assistance is supplemented by funding and support of Industry Year activities run by other organizations. The Government have launched new projects for Industry Year and linked and enhanced existing ones.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that since his Government came to office one-third of the trained engineers in the North-West have not been replaced? What will be the result when this recession ends?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I recognise that there are in a number of industries skill shortages not totally related to the recession. One of the objectives of Industry Year is to stimulate engineers and other entrants into industry. With regard to the noble Lord's second question, perhaps I may remind him of the reply I gave last month to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, when I said that 1981 was the trough of the recession. Industry has steadily been moving out of that trough and signs are very encouraging.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, do not the Government think that it would be a somewhat unfortunate contribution to Industry Year if they take the opportunity to sell off the whole of the British motor industry?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, it may very well be in the long term a significant contribution to sustaining an industry and those who work in it rather than letting it proceed in the manner in which it is now proceeding.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, speaking as one who strongly supports the campaign and the principles behind it, may I ask the Minister this question? Is he aware that a number of borough councils, particularly in London, have declared (I suppose for party political reasons) that they are not going to have anything whatever to do with the campaign? Would he like to make a comment on their stupidity?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, it is extremely unfortunate that any authority or institution should take such a narrow viewpoint when one recognises, as I am sure your Lordships recognise, that industry is a great contributor not only to the nation's profitability but also to the wealth and wellbeing of the country as a whole.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House support the efforts of those quite disinterested people who are trying to make industry in the United Kingdom of greater importance to the population at large? Is the noble Lord further aware that one of the greatest services that the Government can perform is not by words of support but by actions in support of British industry? Is he aware also that the problems of British industry, far from being spoken about in the long term, are immediate and urgent? When will the Government take steps such as, for example, reducing interest rates, that are greatly in the interests of British industry and its competitiveness?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful for the noble Lord's first comment when he expressed his gratitude for the initiative. So far as his second point is concerned, manufacturing industry is participating in the recovery. Output is well into its fifth year of growth and is now 13 per cent. above the 1981 first-quarter trough.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, 1979.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I repeat, the 1981 first-quarter trough. As the noble Lord will know, interest rates are but one of a number of factors with which industry has to contend. The Government's policies are working, as my remarks have demonstrated.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that Industry Year (and I welcome the Government's great support for it) is really the start of a campaign to get industry and engineering properly appreciated in this country, and that it is not just a one-off, one-year event? I hope that my noble friend will support me in that view.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The initiative that the RSA has taken in launching Industry Year is to draw attention to the opportunities and the need for industry. It is accepted, certainly by industrialists with whom I have spoken, that it is the start of an ongoing campaign.

Lord Somers

My Lords, if 1986 is to be Industry Year, does the Minister not agree that industry consists of management and designers as well as workers, and that therefore the selling of our motor industry to America is not a very good start?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, industry embraces all people, whether they are in management or are workers. Design of course makes an important contribution. I can tell noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Trade and Industry opened the design commitment conference a few days ago, on 28th January, to draw attention to the importance of design in industry.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the North-West of England as referred to by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Blackburn, was traditionally the largest employer of engineers in the whole of Europe? Does he not understand that the disposal of British Leyland to companies outside our own country may well further exacerbate the decline of the areas concerned, which have almost become an industrial desert? Will he ask the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to reflect on the Government's decision to sell off British Leyland?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as the noble Lord's question seems to centre on comments that were made in your Lordships' House yesterday, I can only add that at this time no decision has been taken by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I thought that I had made that point clear yesterday afternoon.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, in the light of the Minister's comments, can he tell the House when he expects the output of industry to be higher than it was in 1975?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

No, my Lords.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that one of the most important aspects of Industry Year is the strengthening of links between industry and schools? Are the Government taking specific action within their powers to stimulate that process?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the initiative is designed specifically to draw schools, education and industry more closely together. It is the aim of the Royal Society of Arts, supported by the Department of Trade and Industry, to encourage schools' interest in industry. That is being done by the mini enterprise project in schools, whereby we hope to operate a mini commercial or industrial enterprise in every secondary school before this year is out. There has been much success already in that area of activity.