HL Deb 27 January 1993 vol 541 cc1257-9

The Earl of Buchan asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that one day per year is adequate for Treasury officials to acquaint themselves with the exact needs of British industry and commerce.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, no.

The Earl of Buchan

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his fulsome and lengthy Answer. We might have expected a little more from the noble Earl bearing in mind his experiences in dealing with the subtleties of the Orient in Hong Kong. We may still wish him well over his problems in the murky waters of privatisation.

Will the Minister arrange for parties of people who have suffered from the incompetence of the Treasury, in particular from the long period of high interest rates, which ended only by accident in September, to visit the Treasury on what might be called a reciprocal basis? I refer to businessmen who have been made bankrupt, mortgagees who have been dispossessed, zookeepers, businessmen and many others who have been put to great inconvenience.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I thought that my Answer to the noble Earl was succinct, accurate and covered the remit of his Question exactly. I take note of what he says. I shall put it to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, did not the Treasury demonstrate yesterday that it had received the most important message from British industry loud and clear?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, certainly my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had many discussions with British industry. He acted promptly and decisively yesterday.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, if the Treasury is sufficiently well in touch with industry and commerce, why did it wait until yesterday? The Treasury must have known that industry wanted such a reduction in interest rates a long time ago. Was the reason that the green shoots were in danger of turning brown?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I thoroughly enjoy questions from the noble Lord. As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury he will know that those matters are kept continuously under review.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, will the Minister agree that if the Treasury were to spend two days doing what is referred to on the Order Paper, it would be twice as wrong as it usually is?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, what my noble friend says contradicts what the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, wanted initially. Perhaps the Treasury might have it about right.

Lord Richard

My Lords, if one day is insufficient for Treasury officials to acquaint themselves with the exact needs of British industry and commerce, will the noble Earl comment on how long it might take Ministers to so acquaint themselves?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition knows full well, Ministers keep in regular touch with industry, both big and small, private and public.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I refer to the original Question and Answer. Does the Minister agree that while Treasury officials are probably the ablest in Whitehall, they are the least streetwise? Their lack of understanding of how the real economy works limits the value of the advice that they can give to Ministers and therefore is a limiting factor on economic policy. Will he consider discussing with the Head of the Civil Service the possibility that Treasury officials who are going to the top might spend a period of one or two years, perhaps twice in their careers, in the real economy? I suggest that that period might be in their late 30s or early 40s. They might then be better equipped.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I agree with the first part of my noble friend's question. Treasury officials are very able and extremely competent and they keep in touch with business on a regular basis. The initiative that has been put forward is to make sure that that aim is fulfilled to the best advantage.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in 1968 the Committee on the Civil Service, under Lord Fulton, recommended that engineers and scientists in the Civil Service should be given greater responsibilities and wider career opportunities? Does he agree that it is now most unsatisfactory that, when industry depends so much on scientists and engineers, there is not a single Permanent Secretary with qualifications in science or engineering? Will he draw this point to the attention of his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is also in the Office of Public Service and Science?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I give full credit to my noble friend for the way in which he managed to get that question in under the main Question on the Order Paper. However, of course, I shall do what he asks.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, if Treasury officials take a day, to acquaint themselves with the exact needs of British industry and commerce", how long do they take to consider the far more important needs of the man in the street?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord refers to the Question on the Order Paper and it was to that Question that I said "No", because it is an ongoing process.

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