HL Deb 31 January 1989 vol 503 cc987-90

2.56 p.m.

Lord Reilly asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to take any action over the proposal to privatise the Design Centre.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, as a member of the Design Council the noble Lord, Lord Reilly, will know that the council is an independent body to which the Design Centre premises are leased. In the circumstances a decision on the proposal to privatise the Design Centre is one for the council alone to take.

Lord Reilly

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I believe that I should declare an interest. For many years—this was some time ago—I was a director of the Design Council. At that time I should have been very pleased by the Answer. However, I gather that the Design Council not only receives a much larger grant in aid now than it did but that it is also much more dependent on the goodwill of the DTI. I therefore ask the Government to reveal a little more about its relationship with the Design Council.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the Department of Trade and Industry supports the Design Council at around £6 million a year. However, that is about half of the council's income which also comprises income from differing activities; namely, from contract work and sponsorship. The decision to close the shop and to privatise it is for the Design Council alone. It has recently decided that its main objectives should be to promote better attention to design by industry and to ensure that design is adequately covered by all levels of education. It felt that the maintenance of the design shop was detracting from those activities.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, will my noble friend make clear on behalf of the Government that they fully appreciate the invaluable work which has been done by the council and very particularly the example shown by the noble Lord who asked the Question?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, yes, I am happy to assure my noble friend that the Government are very well aware of the good work which has been done by the Design Council. However, all those in the design sphere today, and it is a billion pounds a year activity, will pay testimony to the way in which the Government have supported design throughout this decade. I suspect that we have done more for design than any government previously through our recognition of its importance in helping to restore British industry.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, will the Minister agree that over the years the Design Council has played a very important part in trade promotion? If that part of the council's activities is to cease, it will leave London as the only major capital city in the world without a permanent standing exhibition of the best of its products. Can the Minister assure us that his department will look favourably upon and encourage alternative arrangements to promote British exports in such ways?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I appreciate what my noble friend tells me, but it seems to me that the best way to help to expand British exports is by having British manufactured goods which are properly designed, properly made, sold at the right price and delivered on time. Design is a very important element in that. The Design Council, which is charged with the conduct of its work, has decided that the retailing and marketing activities—the Design Centre label scheme—has caused confusion and does not help in carrying out its main activities. It considers its main activities to be promoting better attention to design by industry and covering that at all levels of education. Those are the sort of judgments which it is best placed to make.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I agree that it is vitally important to encourage first-class British design throughout British industry. Given that the Design Centre was once a marvellous showcase for the best of British design, can the noble Lord say why the conclusion has been reached that we do not need such a showcase? Can he offer your Lordships any explanation as to why we no longer need a design centre?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we have a design centre whose work is continuing. The Design Council has decided that it does not require a shop. It is no good having one centre of excellence to show off products in the centre of London. The council has decided quite rightly that good design belongs out in industry enabling British products to be properly designed and so sell all the better.

Lord Peston

My Lords, that is not an anwer to my question. Simply to say that it is no good is not an explanation of why other nations feel that such showcases are so important and why, to repeat the point, in its heyday the Design Council gave enormous leadership not only to industry but to many of us as consumers by educating us into design. I should still like an explanation of why the shop is not needed any more.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord is telling me that in its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s the Design Council did such a good job. When I go round the world now I hear nothing but congratulations to British industry for having got out of the time of the 1960s and 1970s when design and quality were so poor. Today we are seeing a resurgence of British industry. It is about time that Ministers left industry to get on with its job, and that is precisely what we are doing.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, is the Minister aware that several of us go round the world, visiting other countries, and for many generations we have been proud of the work of the Design Council and the way that British design has led us, and not just at the present time?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I was not referring to the work of the British Design Council but to the quality of design which was evident in British goods exported in the 1960s and 1970s. If the noble Lord is not aware of that, then he has not travelled as extensively as I know he has.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the 1960s and 1970s, when many of us were engaged in industry, British industry was highly successful in many parts of the world? Its share of world trade was considerably greater than it is now. The balance of trade on manufactures was very positive. While I am not arguing with my noble friend about the great improvements in quality and efficiency in the past few years, is it really helpful to denigrate what was done in the past? That was greatly helped, as I and many others know, by the leadership given within the Design Council by the noble Lord who asked the Question and by the display of the results of that leadership, which was a symbol—in fact, more than a symbol—in the pursuit of better design throughout manufacturing industry in Britain and in the world, which was much enjoyed by many people all over the world.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I must assure my noble friend and noble Lords opposite that they should not confuse the two matters. No government have been more to the fore than the present one in promoting design and in bringing home to industry the necessity for design. It is not merely myself as a member of that Government who is saying so: it is repeated to me by all those concerned with design.

However, we are talking about a shop in the middle of the Design Centre—a centre which will continue to exist—a shop which sells articles chosen for their design value. It is much better that we bring to industry itself, and indeed to all levels of education, the real value of design, which includes much more than the appearance of objects so that British industry as a whole will benefit.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to set aside his prejudices for a while, listen to the excellent factual intervention of his noble friend and keep the shop open?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition but I will not interfere with the Design Council. The Design Council, under the leadership of Sir Simon Hornby, is well equipped to decide the best way to promote good design in this country. We should leave it that way. Surely it is not for people like me to tell the Design Centre how to do its job.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether the design and advisory service will continue to be available to industry? Further, will the grant-in-aid to the Design Council continue at its present level in real terms in the next financial year?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, our support for the Design Council continues unabated. In this Question we are referring to a small part of the Design Council and considering whether it feels that the best use of that space in a valuable part of London is to be achieved by running a shop. It is a matter for the Design Council. The work of the Design Council continues. The exhibition continues. We are talking now merely about a shop.