HL Deb 11 March 1986 vol 472 cc502-5

2.39 p.m.

Lord Rodney

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 active support is being given to the "Think British" and "Better Made in Britain" campaigns.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister chaired a seminar organised by the "Better Made in Britain" campaign last month. My noble friend Lord Young of Graffham is to open the third "Better Made in Britain" exhibition on 25th March. The "Think British" campaign is discussing with the Department of Trade and Industry ways of promoting British goods which are of good quality and well designed.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that quite encouraging Answer. Does he agree that import substitution is just as conducive to job creation as exports? Her Majesty's Government, through the BOTB, give support to British exporters. Can they not devise a scheme financially to support United Kingdom-based exhibitions such as the "Better Made in Britain" exhibition?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, yes, indeed; import substitution is a valuable aim, just as much as exports. However, the Government have to remember that by reason of our obligations under the Treaty of Rome (I think that it is Article 30) we have to be careful when giving financial support to such action.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that nationalised industries buy British to the extent of over 90 per cent., and that businesses which have now been privatised recognise no similar commitment? Does that cause him concern?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I can confirm that 90 per cent. of the goods and services bought by the Government in any case are from United Kingdom sources. As to the purchasing policies of recently privatised companies, that must be a matter for them. One would hope that British companies can and will produce satisfactory goods for them to buy.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, is the Minister seriously suggesting that the Government think "British best" and "Better Made in Britain"?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Yes, my Lords, I am seriously suggesting that. I would certainly say that to the noble Lord.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the emphasis of the "Think British" campaign on the careful analysis of what is available before choice is made is a discipline upon British industry to raise its standards, and that under the leadership of the chairman, now Mr. David Jacob, that positive contribution to our thinking has been very important indeed?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Lord. I am also aware that he is a member of, I think it is, the council of the "Think British" campaign. We would agree entirely with what he said.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that under the previous Labour Government there was initiated a similar campaign of buying British led by none other than Mr. Robert Maxwell, who is well known, I gather, as a newspaper proprietor? Is he further aware that it came to absolutely nothing for the simple reason that the weakness of British industry at that time—I hope that there has since been a great improvement—was delivery dates and quality of spares? Would he care to say something about that?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am interested in what the noble Lord says about the origins of this campaign. At the end of the day, so long as British industry can produce goods at a price and of a specification that people want, which it is now in a very good position to be able to do, then people should think carefully before choosing foreign imports.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Britain is importing 31.5 per cent. of the GDP? Can he say how that compares with imports by Germany, the United States and Japan? Has he done a survey of the car parks at the Houses of Parliament? If so, he will know that comparatively few Peers or Members of Parliament are buying British goods and British cars. Is there anything that we can do on that front?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's first question, I am afraid that I do not have comparative figures of imports by other countries. As to motor cars, my noble friend will no doubt be aware that the import penetration of the private car market is something over 50 per cent. at the moment. It is obviously up to British manufacturers to produce cars that people want to buy. At the end of the day, it must be for people to decide how to spend their own money and not be dictated to by the Government. In any case, the Government are in no position to do that dictating.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the "Think British" campaign would be considerably encouraged if the Government gave some evidence that they themselves were thinking British, bearing in mind that they have a duty, not to a particular section in Britain but to the entire British population, to think British and, if possible, to prefer British?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I have already answered, I believe, the question that the noble Lord put to me in saying that government purchases are 90 per cent. British. If the noble Lord is trying to imply that overseas companies which manufacture goods in Britain are not welcome here, he should think again.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the growing and horrendous imbalance of trade in computers and peripherals? Will the Government take steps to encourage the manufacture of high technology equipment in the United Kingdom by Japanese and American manufacturers? Will they also encourage nationalised industries and local authorities to look at the manufactures of those foreign companies where the goods concerned are made in Britain with equal favour to those made by British companies?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord has, I believe, a good point. As to how I should go about it, I am not sure, but certainly I take note of what the noble Lord says.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the noble Lord consider whether we should not be reversing a bad habit of ours of splendidly inventing things and then failing to develop them? Should we not be helping those particular lines where we now have a powerful lead? One is the building of small airships and another the development of hot sulphur batteries. In those lines, we have a lead in the world. Surely those are the directions in which we should be pushing. Can the noble Lord make any comment?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Viscount asks me a couple of specific questions which at the moment I am afraid I cannot answer. I would, however, say in general terms that the development and production of a range of goods receive quite a lot of support from the Government.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that a great deal of future development, if it is to be successful, needs to be on a European scale and that a narrowly nationalistic approach to it will not help us in the longer run?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that I have not tried to be totally nationalistic in my approach to this Question. I have said that we would wish, obviously, to encourage people to buy British where the product is competitive, where it is priced right and where the quality is up to scratch. But, as I have already said, it is up to people to spend their money how they wish. If they happen to choose British goods, the more the better.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is not so easy to distinguish articles when you are buying British? For instance, I bought some sound equipment recently from a well-known British firm—at least, its name was that of a British firm—and then found that it was manufactured in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord has a very good point. So far as the promotion of British goods is concerned, the "Think British" campaign has, I gather, a label which can be attached to goods. Noble Lords should also look out for articles with the Design Council label on them.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, has the noble Lord given further thought to ways in which major purchasers can assist their suppliers to become more competitive and therefore to replace imported goods?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, this is indeed a matter to which the Government give thought. That is why we are in close touch with both organisations, the "Better Made in Britain" campaign and the "Think British" campaign.