HL Deb 08 June 1993 vol 546 cc703-5

Lord Benson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of an interview given by the President of the Board of Trade to a newspaper in April 1993 outlining industrial strategy, they believe it would be prudent for that strategy to be laid before Parliament for its consideration.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade and I have made many comments and statements to Parliament detailing the Government's industrial strategy. It was because of the importance of sharing information with those the strategy aims to help that we took the message to the media.

Lord Benson

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give the House some guidance? Is the real difficulty that there is not an industrial strategy which is fit to put before Parliament?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to assure the noble Lord that there is an industrial strategy which, as I have detailed, has a number of elements. It aims to provide UK industry with an economic climate in which it can prosper and compete. I believe that that strategy is working and I am pleased to have endorsement from the OECD that this country will lead growth in Europe in the next two years.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Government's industrial strategy appears to be a planned rundown of industry? The manufacturing industrial base has been eroded. The coal industry has been run down. There will probably be only 12 pits in five years' time. And the steel and shipbuilding industries have almost gone, as have textiles. Does the Minister recognise that the Government's industrial strategy appears to be to salvage what they can from the wrecks they have created?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mason, appears to assume that industry, unlike the rest of the world, stands still. It is important that we should register change. Manufactured exports are now at a record level. Since 1981 the volume of UK manufactured exports has grown faster than in France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Japan. In the three months to March manufacturing output was 2 per cent. higher than a year earlier and 25 per cent. higher than in 1981. Those figures do not seem to me to suggest that industry is in trouble.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, bearing in mind the very successful environmental White Paper which was issued in 1990 and the equally important White Paper on science and technology which was issued last month, perhaps I may ask this question. Why are the Government so reluctant to issue a companion White Paper on industrial strategy? In such a document they could set out all the views that they hold and make a proper analysis of the situation, and it would enable us to have a full debate on the subject.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that recently we had a very full and successful debate on manufacturing industry in this House which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. A White Paper is usually issued to stimulate discussion; we seem to have no lack of discussion of this subject.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, much as I retain my unbounded admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Benson, who returns to this subject from time to time at Question Time, would not my noble friend agree on reflection that the expression "industrial strategy" is one of the most imprecise and misleading that has ever been invented? Should we not return to the expression "policy" or "policies"?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to take on board my noble and learned friend's comments, while endorsing his support and admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Benson. We believe that we should be acting and not talking.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade has promised in the most uncompromising terms to intervene three times a day before breakfast in order to accomplish an industrial strategy? Surely the noble Baroness has no reason to be coy about this. Why cannot the strategy be disclosed and the nature of the interventions discussed? There is nothing unreasonable about that.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to tell the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that the interventions by the Government on behalf of industry are very visible. For example, the European fighter programme is an instance where we intervened very successfully for the benefit of industry. There is absolutely no secrecy about the matter. However, when individual industries need help and support is a relevant factor. It is not our job to pick winners. It is certainly our job to back winners, and that is what we are doing.

Lord Renton

My Lords, whatever "industrial strategy" may or may not mean, can my noble friend confirm that it encourages decentralisation and the minimum of interference from Whitehall and Brussels?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am delighted to tell my noble friend that deregulation is a crucial part of our industrial policy.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, before my noble friend is asked to answer this Question again, will she perhaps dust down previous efforts at industrial strategies and national plans, particularly those for the 1960s? Does she recall that in that national strategy the region of Grampian in Scotland was predicted to be about to go into slow, steady and gradual decline? In fact, very shortly afterwards oil was found in the North Sea, and that region of Scotland has been the most vibrant and economically dynamic region of the United Kingdom over the past 20 to 30 years. Does that not show the folly of going down the collectivist road of having national strategies and national plans?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I bet you are!

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am indeed grateful to my noble friend for pointing out that the issue is deeds rather than words. I am not surprised that that point comes from sensibilities north of the Border.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am most envious of the noble Baroness's right honourable friend if he is still able to intervene three times a day before breakfast. However, the point of the Question was not that the Government did not have an industrial strategy, but that her right honourable friend might have found it opportune to introduce his views to Parliament rather than to the Financial Times. We have had a useful debate, but it was one that I had to introduce. Since her right honourable friend has something to say, one would hope that he would find an occasion to state it in Parliament. One hopes, too, that the noble Baroness will find an occasion—I hope soon—to state those views in this Chamber.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord that there are seven Ministers at the DTI intervening before breakfast. I believe that I hold a record for answering the same Question in different guises and pointing out the nature of the Government's industrial policy.

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