HL Deb 03 March 1997 vol 578 cc1570-86

7.21 p.m.

Lord Palumbo rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to encourage industry to recognise and make full use of the wealth of talent available in this country in matters of design; and what steps they are taking to discourage such talent from seeking employment abroad.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Design Museum, the brainchild of Sir Terence Conran, who has done as much as any man in this country to further design. Next, in putting this Question, I hoped that it might be helpful to the House to be able to consider the importance of design in shaping the environment we inhabit, the products we use, the communications we make, the national talent we encourage and the wealth we generate.

The fact is that design touches the lives of every man, woman and child in this country, and indeed the world, every single day of their lives. There are many definitions of design. One I particularly enjoy is that of Le Corbusier, "Intelligence made visible", counterpointed by one I equally enjoy of Jimmy Knapp, Design is the creative force by which we realise our hopes for a better environment". Design is about the planning of man-made things, the reconciliation of practical needs and aesthetic taste. Where it is recognised and understood, the benefits are striking.

My purpose in raising this Question is to concentrate upon the necessity to encourage good design and open up a debate about it. My Question seeks both to ask Her Majesty's Government how industry and every aspect of our society is encouraged to make full use of the talent available, and what steps are being taken to be sure that such talent flourishes here. That is in no way to discourage our designers from seeking experience and spreading their influence elsewhere, but let us aim to be sure that the fulfilment of that talent takes place here. Once done, that talent can in its maturity, spread the excellence of our talented designers world-wide.

Your Lordships will be familiar with the successes of the last century: the railways in South America; shipping in Japan. Invariably it was a Scottish engineer who was responsible. British designers nowadays are like the itinerant philosopher-soldiers of the Middle Ages, ranging the globe from court to court. Two of Paris's oldest established fashion houses now star young Englishmen. Volvo's chief designer is not a Swede, but a Briton. We have more expertise in advertising and graphics than any other country anywhere. Like the Scottish engineers of yore, British designers are fundamental to international industry and commerce. Britain once led the world in promoting design. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a highly profitable showcase for British manufacturers demonstrating their astonishing attainments; demonstrating, too, the powerful confidence of our Victorian forebears, to which, incidentally, this magnificent Chamber bears witness. I should like to think that we could, in the year 2001, create a like exhibition to celebrate our contemporary achievements.

In analysing the Question that is put in this debate, perhaps I may now urge upon your Lordships the following matters. First, design is a global industry in which the United Kingdom is a world leader. Secondly, the design consultancy market in the United Kingdom is larger than in any other European country. There are around 3,000 British companies employing 40,000 to 50,000 designers. Much of the growth in the United Kingdom is fuelled by the expansion in corporate identity, packaging, publishing, retail and leisure design. We should be proud that the United Kingdom design industry makes an enormous contribution to invisible exports. The design consultancies in the United Kingdom are increasingly developing interests abroad. The response is a demand for that British design which has established so high a reputation.

However, I would suggest that businesses in this country can make much greater use of our country's design resource, and every effort must be made to focus that aim. The effective use of design is fundamental to the creation of innovative projects, processes and services. It is amply demonstrated that good design adds significantly to the value of projects, leads to growth in sales and enables both the exploitation of new markets and the consolidation of existing ones.

The Design Council has created a voluntary network of designers under the title "Designer Links" to ensure that design counsellors can bring their special skills to the companies open to the effect of good design. Above all it is essential to have the designer involved in the early stages.

What of Britain's image abroad? That image is critical to the long-term success and promotion of exports, tourism, and the attraction of inward investment. The overwhelming majority of companies in the United Kingdom assert that national image directly influences their purchasing decision. "Made in the UK", is still a significant badge in the purchasing decisions of the vast majority of the world's leading companies. However, almost six out of 10 companies in the UK say they are not influenced by that label. It is evident that industry in this country fails to communicate success to the world. There is the national tendency to talk down success which only reduces the attraction of the United Kingdom as a place for investment, joint ventures or partnerships. There is an urgent need for Britain to communicate its strengths and successes more positively.

We must do everything to promote, both here and abroad, our national strengths in design and innovation. It is not a party political matter and assertions of support are to be found in the leadership of all major parties. But we must show that design makes a difference; that where that is applied, where excellence in design is insisted upon, the results are visible. There is a measurable effect upon profitability where companies differentiate themselves on the basis of three design matters: the quality of the product; superiority of service; and the product's appearance.

The Design Council, created by the Board of Trade in 1934 as a Council for Art and Industry, promoted the Design in Business Week, which last year held events in 22 different cities throughout the United Kingdom involving 39 separate organisations. This month, the Council is promoting Design in Education Week in order to raise the profile of design across the United Kingdom and focus upon all the issues to which I have alluded.

There is no doubt that we have both great opportunities and an obligation to exploit those opportunities in the shape of the astonishing resource of talent in design in this country. We should apply that talent in order to improve every aspect of the environment we inhabit—street furniture, signage, public buildings. Why should not we have the most beautiful and the most useful railway stations? Why should not items of everyday function—chairs, tables, cups—be a delight? Why should we be obliged to accept the proliferation of ghastly telephone booths and boxes that have supplanted the magnificent architect-designed red telephone box of 1924 which became a veritable symbol of Great Britain? Why should the liveries of privatised rail services be a rash of kitsch? And why should a visit to a motorway service area be such a lowering experience?

Perhaps I may suggest some practical ways in which we can grasp the opportunities that I have attempted to describe. In the public sector, the estimate of central government spending on goods and services—all of which must be designed—is around £40 billion each year. There are moves afoot to train Civil Service purchasers in how to apply good design in central government commissioning processes. That is welcome. Imagine the opportunities if there was that concentration on the imaginative possibilities in the excellence of design and equipment in every public building. Our crowded environment would be transformed; our international reputation boosted; our attraction to inward investors enhanced.

Should there not be a Minister in each department of government championing design and responsible for its application? Should not industrial and commercial companies ensure that there is upon their board a design director? I commend for your Lordships' consideration, as I have suggested already, an exhibition in the year 2001, 150 years after the Great Exhibition and 50 years after the Festival of Britain. Let us forswear our tendency to play down our talents, display our confidence in the talent that is ours in such abundance and show ourselves confident in the approaching millennium.

In putting this Question before your Lordships' House, I hope that a debate can be ignited, with a firm focus upon the effectiveness of good design, the benefits of which can be fully assessed, understood and promoted. Something as apparently slight as a single five-minute daily slot in prime-time television, describing the quality of a single design object, may do more to create awareness and promote confidence than many a debate.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that this is a subject which is not only worthy of our attention but is of calculable importance in the shaping of the world around us; in how we see ourselves; in how we promote ourselves; and as regards the natural talent we have the privilege to enjoy.

7.31 p.m.

Lord Currie of Marylebone

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, on introducing the debate this evening. As he has rightly argued, Britain has an international pre-eminence in the field of design, appreciably ahead of its standing in other areas of industry and commerce. That pre-eminence is a source of strength and competitive advantage to other sectors which draw on that expertise.

The significance of the design industry to wealth creation in the British economy is greater than is widely appreciated and its importance for innovation and new product development is often under-estimated.

I feel that I should explain how it is that a partially colour-blind, business school economist, devoid of design sense feels able to contribute to the debate. There are two reasons, one personal and one professional. The personal reason is that I am linked to the design business through marriage and, despite my best efforts, some knowledge has rubbed off. The professional reason is that two of my colleagues at the London Business School, Andrew Sentence and James Clark, of the Centre for Economic Forecasting, have recently completed a major and, I think, path-breaking research report commissioned by the Design Council on the contribution of design to the UK economy. It is based on a new and comprehensive survey of some 800 companies, undertaken through the CBI, of design activity in British manufacturing industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, mentioned two definitions of design. Perhaps I may mention another from an OECD report which suggests that: design is the very core of innovation, the moment when a new object is imagined, devised and shaped into prototype form". That definition emphasises that design involves not just designers and not just those working for design consultancies but also engineers, scientists and all those including senior management and—dare I mention it?—finance directors and accountants who contribute and influence the process of innovation and new product development. It is a multi-skilled, multi-disciplinary function which is easy to get wrong but can be the key to business success.

The London Business School report which I mentioned estimates that British manufacturing industry spends about £10 billion on product development and design, rather more than 2.5 per cent. of its turnover and employing about 4.5 per cent. of the workforce. A little more than half of that takes the form of bought-in services, but nearly as much is provided by in-house design activities. Expenditure on design by manufacturing companies exceeds its R&D spend. Design makes a direct contribution to the balance of payments: about one-quarter of export earnings from consultancy activities come from design consultancies. But the indirect contribution to exports is much more significant than the direct contribution. Design-intensive industries and firms are much more active than others in export markets. Sectors which invest heavily in product development and design are those in which the UK enjoys a trade surplus.

A very important finding of the London Business School report is that design has a positive and significant impact on growth. It states that, devoting an additional 1% of turnover to product development and design appears to raise turnover and profits by 3–4% over 5 years". On the whole, that impact is larger for product development and design activities carried out in-house than from bought-in design. That is possibly because good management is better able to integrate the multi-functional aspects to which I referred before of the process of new product development when it is all carried out within the firm.

The estimated impact of in-house design on growth is found to be similar to that of R&D expenditure, emphasising the importance of design alongside fundamental research and development in the process of innovation and new product development. But because of the difficulties of managing the multi-functional, multi-skill process of new product development, the effectiveness of design varies appreciably across companies. That suggests a need for management training in our business schools—and here I must declare an interest—to put much greater emphasis on the development of skills for managing the process of new product development.

So far, I have said little about the second part of the Motion to ensure that the best design skills remain here in the UK. The best way to do that is not through artificial aids or subsidies for the design sector but by the rest of industry appreciating the importance of design to new product development and innovation and to find better ways of harnessing design capabilities to those ends. The Government can help by raising awareness, perhaps by benchmarking best management practice in that area and by placing greater emphasis on the value of design spending by encouraging companies to publicise that.

However, fundamentally, it is the effective use of design capabilities which will retain the skill base here. The best outcome is for design skills to be used here so that there is no need to seek employment overseas. As I have suggested, there is a lot more that British management can do to improve its use of design skills for the benefit of the design industry, the rest of British industry and the growth performance of the economy as a whole.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Freyberg

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, for his initiative in asking this Question about the dynamic field of British design and how it can best be encouraged in industry.

First, it may be relevant to examine how the Government can do their bit to promote British design. The Design Council tells me, as has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, that central government alone spend around £40 billion per year on goods and services, all of which have to be designed by someone. It points out that, wisely spent, that purchasing power can have an enormous impact on the quality of goods and services produced by companies competing for government contracts, which are also the companies competing in international markets.

Excellence of design can make an enormous difference to the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a product. For example, until a few years ago, a huge 87 per cent. of Royal Mail redirection forms were filled out incorrectly, costing more than £10,000 per week to rectify. Also, the poor service reflected badly on the image of the Royal Mail. When in 1994 a new form was designed professionally, the design fee of £30,000 was recouped in only 17 days. Some £500,000 was saved in the first six months alone, with a projected saving of £3.5 million over five years. Further, the completion error rate fell to a manageable 3 per cent. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister what steps Her Majesty's Government take to monitor and continually streamline the way that they go about their own business.

The Government should be setting an example in the effective use of design, demonstrating the benefits of innovation, and encouraging the private sector to follow that example. I was encouraged to hear that 14 government departments met representatives of the Design Council on 29th January of this year and agreed on a programme of training and design championing in large organisations. I hope that that will lead to a real change in the way that design is used in central government, though that can only be achieved if the initiative has active political support from the highest levels in government and in all departments. It should perhaps be stated that design is also about improving well-being and not just prosperity. The public sector finances many things which directly affect UK citizens—such as hospitals and old people's homes. Effective design can help provide services and environments which are pleasant for the users as well as cost-effective.

What then are the benefits for industry in encouraging design? A 1991 Open University study of more than 220 manufacturing companies which undertook product, engineering or graphic design showed that 90 per cent. of implemented projects made a profit, the average pay-back period being 15 months from launch. Sales increased by an average of 41 per cent.

The term "design" includes a wide range of disciplines, from engineering, product and industrial design to fashion, textiles, graphics, interiors, exhibitions and architecture. These should not be underestimated. For example, the textile and fashion industries employ 410,000 people, and their output represents 6.1 per cent. of all manufacturing in the UK. It is exceeded in Europe only by Italy.

It should also be remembered that our skill at designing is one of the UK's greatest assets. As Sir Terence Conran put it: We won't make things cheaper than the Far Eastern nations, but we can make things better through design and innovation". It is astonishing how little Britain values its own contribution in design compared to other European countries. A 1991 survey of attitudes to design among senior managers from 200 British, French and German companies showed that, by their own admission, the majority of British companies place a lower value on design than do their French or German competitors.

What is needed now is to educate industry; to see design as the all-embracing subject that it is. Every business is involved in design at some level: even the most non-design-oriented will benefit from services that designers and design consultants offer, from the best logos and presentation to the most creative ways of maximising office layout and creating a work-friendly environment.

If we are to create the right climate for designers to flourish in, there does, however, need to be a greater awareness of the benefits that good design can bring. That will only happen if it is implemented at the most fundamental level; if there is a drive to increase children's visual awareness at an early age. The benefits—pleasures—of such an education will be enormous: if people are taught to respond to design in a positive way, they will be able to take an active role in its implementation and promotion.

The Government, too, must be educated in the importance of the arts, not just culturally but also practically. No doubt the Minister will tell us how highly the arts are valued, but over the past decade or so his Government have been responsible for running down art colleges—the powerhouses of design training—and allowing the teaching of art in schools to decline.

Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, there has been a wilful policy of downgrading the visual arts at a tertiary level, as I myself witnessed when a student at Camberwell College of Art. In my specialisation—ceramics—there was a significant decrease in the funding over several years and a forced increase of students by more than a third. As a result, we worked in a seriously cramped space, with inadequate facilities. That created a depressing and discouraging, rather than positive and productive, climate. The Government have made it quite plain that they do not rate art and design. For their own and for the country's sake, they must reverse this policy and attitude. If they do not, we will continue to create a vacuum of people who might otherwise have been tempted into taking a career in the arts and making a useful contribution to design in industry.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Currie, I, too, am an economist. I may not be colour-blind but I am sure that I do not have very great taste in these matters. I rise to speak only because when I read the Question on the Order Paper tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo—to whom we are most grateful—I had but two complaints. I should say, first, that I do not like the second half of the Question; namely, what steps [the Government] are taking to discourage such talent from seeking employment abroad". I shall return to that in a moment. The only other regret that I have is that this is not a full debate. Indeed, we could have done this on Wednesday instead of the futile debate that we are to have on the subject of the economy.

I return now to the Question. Perhaps I may quote what my honourable friend the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, Mark Fisher, the Shadow Minister, said in a Social Market Foundation pamphlet called, Design Decisions: Improving the Effectiveness of Public Purchasing: It is a credit to British design training that other countries poach the best of our products. In itself this is not a matter for great concern. Many young designers come back later, and an international flow of ideas is important; but Britain has to encourage them to come back and bring with them the knowledge and excitement they have gained from their international experience. However, if people are going to work internationally, it should be through choice rather than just because they are not being picked up in Britain. There should be policies to promote British design abroad, using the Foreign Office and the British Council more positively to promote a more radical and innovative image. There is too much concentrating on heritage, rather than the creativity of British design". I quoted that because I believe that design should be a global concept; in other words, there should be no national boundaries. It is quite true to say that we have some of the best designers. Design is not just the beautiful; it is also cost-effective. If a product is designed first, it will save a lot of money later when it will prove to be something that works.

I turn now to the case of the British Library. This matter arose in another Social Market Foundation memorandum which I read. It seems that the British Library had not been properly designed beforehand. If it had, the cost overrun would have been much less than it finally turned out to be. I do not know whether that is true, but it seems to make sense to me that by not investing properly in design beforehand, you not only get things which are ugly; you also get things which do not work. For example, much public housing is badly designed.

As I said, design is not really expensive; indeed, it is quite the most cost-efficient measure that we have. I welcome the debate sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo. However, the other day we had a debate on the possibility of having a strategic authority for London. I pointed out then that we must not forget the contribution that the Inner London Education Authority made by establishing the London Institute which brought together many art schools—and I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, said in that respect from his experience as a student at the Camberwell School of Art. I believe that it is British design education which has created the stars who are right now in Paris and elsewhere. Porsche apparently has a designer team of 10, out of which six are British. That is the kind of thing of which we should be proud.

We used to be known as "the workshop of the world" but today we are "the design studio of the world". That is a good change. I say that because these are the products that are now selling; and, indeed, these are the products which bring greater advantages. They are abstract, not solid, concrete products. It is not only the question of metal bashing that we should be worried about; we should be worried about things like design which involve a lot of expertise and skills. It is not concrete and it is not something that we can actually see. As I said, it is abstract, beautiful and very profitable.

Perhaps I may conclude by adding just one more definition of design. As I said before, this comes from a Social Market Foundation memorandum written by Katharine Raymond and Marc Shaw and it quotes an Open University Study, The Benefits and Costs of Investment in Design. It says that design involves, creating concepts, plans and instructions, usually in response to a brief provided by a firm or client, that enable a two or three-dimensional object that did not exist previously to be made. Everything from an aircraft to wallpaper has to be designed and the design of the object is the specific configuration of elements, materials and components that give it its particular attributes of function, looks, etc., and determine how it is to be made. Design therefore affects not just non-price factors such as the product's performance, reliability, appearance, safety, ease of use etc., but if affects price factors also, through its influence on how easy the product is to manufacture and its life cycle cost to the user". I end by posing an examination question to the Minister. Who said, Design is important; it is unavoidable. Everything that is made has to be designed first and the way in which it is made has to be designed too, in the process as well as the product. Many world-class British companies will well understand the benefits of using good design. Such companies should be an inspiration to us all"? I expect an answer from the Minister.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Lawrence

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, for comprehensively introducing this Question. I should like to ask a question about three interrelated points. The first is about fashion schools; the second is about designing for industry; and the third is about the need for help and encouragement for high fashion in the home and overseas market.

First, British fashion schools are the most successful in the world. Foreign students know that with a British fashion degree they can go home and get a job easily. But for the British student life is different and hard. Whether it was a good idea to have made art and design schools universities is a moot point. The introduction of American modular and unit schemes tends to make the student a jack of all trades rather than a specialist.

The untimely demise of the CNAA has certainly had an effect as regards lowering overall standards and the overall supervision of academic standards in design education. The second point concerning young designers is that British fashion is dominated by the retailer. This has the effect that the high street shop buyer tells the designer what he wants. What is even worse, the central buyer tells the designer what he wants. That has the effect of producing goods for the largest and lowest market.

My third point concerns high fashion. This end of the market is left to designer brand names; I refer on the Continent to Armani, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. In order to pick up the most lucrative worldwide sales these designer names are pushed in a way that is no longer possible with high street names. In England we have a number of good, struggling high fashion designers who do exceedingly well. They receive little help from the Government but they endeavour to survive with virtually no help from the City. The fashion industry was Britain's second largest industry and is now its fifth. It seems a shame that our talented designers in the high fashion end of the industry receive so little help.

My question boils down to this: instead of designers being dominated by a nation of shopkeepers, should not the world market be offered the products of a talented group of British trained designers, with all the help, expertise and investment that the City and the Government can muster?

7.54 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I find this an almost unique debate in my experience in that I believe the first three speakers all referred to engineering. Usually it is only myself who does that, to the annoyance of everyone else. It is important to mention engineering because it is a part of design that is often overlooked.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, has initiated this debate because I was one of those who were extremely disappointed and grieved when he was unable to get his skyscraper built in the City of London. I was a little surprised that his design sensitivities permitted him to change fairly abruptly from the austere classicism of Mies van der Rohe to the exuberance—I shall not say exhibitionism—of Sir James Stirling. I am glad he is getting something built and I hope he will derive pleasure from that.

I support this Question with the same reservation that my noble friend Lord Desai has expressed; namely, that I do not believe we should discourage people from going abroad. I suppose one might consider that they would go abroad as neo-colonialists, as it were, in the design world to bring civilisation to the under-civilised world. We should not discourage them. However, that is not, of course, what the noble Lord meant. We know what he meant and we support what he meant rather than what he said.

I wish to say a few words about the nature of design because I think that is largely misunderstood in the media and even in this Chamber in the sense that the media in particular think of design in the sense of appearance and of style. We all know that that is not the whole of it. Appearance and style are part of design but they are by no means the most important part. Some designers think that they are the most important part and some of the critics of design are of the same opinion, but they are mistaken.

Industrial designers do not make that mistake; they understand quite clearly what they are about. I am not sure about graphic designers and people of that kind who are a shade on the "arty" side, but industrial designers know what they are about. They are not indifferent to style of course, and nor should they be, but they realise that the essence of design is to produce an ultimately usable product. The usable bit is the target at which they aim. A good design works and it conserves materials. It is economical and it also looks good, which is part, but only part, of the total package.

There is another point which I believe my noble friend Lord Desai mentioned; namely, there is a life cycle cost element. A good design has the qualities I have just mentioned, it looks good and lasts. The Pompidou Centre has most of those characteristics but has lasted only moderately well. No doubt it will be pulled together and it will last for a long time. I sincerely hope that it does.

What I liked about the introductory speech of the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, is that he mentioned two matters close to my heart. He mentioned railway engineers and Scottish railway engineers. They were not all Scottish of course; there were English ones too. The English ones comprised a fairly small number but they were good in their own way.

Noble Lords


Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, there were some good English engineers. There were some Indian ones too, although not too many. That brings me to the subject I really wanted to mention; namely, the design of bridges. I think that is within the ambit of the Question. A year or so ago the report of the Royal Fine Art Commission mentioned the appearance of bridges and how they could be improved if architects were made the prime movers and the lead designers of bridges. I dissent from that a little. The Forth Bridge is not too had and an architect did not go near it. The best looking bridge in London is Waterloo Bridge. The architect's part in that has been dispensed with. His elaborate handrail was discarded in favour of the temporary handrail which was put in as an economy measure during the war. The ceremonial arches which he wished, for some architectural reason, to put at either end were also dropped. The bridge is one of the best constructions in the country. I have spoken often in this House in defence of architects. Everyone who knows me, including the young Minister who sits on the Front Bench beaming at me—we have had many exchanges on this point—will realise that. Architects tend to make a statement; and a statement is not necessarily what is wanted.

I wish to conclude merely by asking the Minister a question about which I have given quasi-notice. I do not wish him to reply tonight. I merely ask him to ponder upon it. We recognise the importance of the Design Council in design work; we have also recognised the importance of engineering in design. Under the Government's policies, how is it that the Design Council receives an annual subvention or subsidy from the Government whereas the Engineering Council has none? It does similar work although not the same. There should be an answer somewhere. I have asked a similar question several times over the years. I ask the question again. I do not expect an answer.

8 p.m.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, on so enthusiastically introducing the Motion, especially just after London Fashion Week in which we have seen again what a strong tradition we have in Britain for good design. And each year at this time the question is asked: why do we not celebrate this talent, and why does it have to go abroad?

The noble Lord, Lord Lawrence, spoke of the clothing industry. He is right. The retailing of clothing in Britain is largely in the hands of half a dozen chains led by Marks & Spencer, which naturally promotes its own brands. Years ago these retailers would copy designer clothing. Today, quite rightly, they employ their own designers as well as working with known independent designers whose labels they incorporate with their own. Most importantly, they tell designers what customers want to buy, but not what to design. They also tell them to which price points they have to design.

In most other countries the sale of clothing is much more fragmented, and in those markets, such as Japan, highly promoted designer labels help the retailer to sell stock. The noble Lord, Lord Lawrence, mentioned designer labels such as Armani, Yves St. Laurent and Calvin Klein. They have a large and sophisticated marketing machine to support the retailer. Others, like Benetton, set retailers up in business and give them a franchise to sell the company's products.

Designers have to find a niche in all this. The European textile manufacturing industry today largely consists of small and medium-sized, privately owned businesses that exist on quick response and flexibility through lean manufacturing and design flair. They are close to their customers, and indeed have to be logged on to their customers' computer networks. In today's business world, designing skills are, therefore, not enough. Business skills are also important. My noble friend Lord Currie touched on that.

The answer is to provide designers with some understanding of business skills. What do designers and inventors need to make a success of their talents? They need to understand their industry, commercially and technically; how to protect their intellectual property; where to go for funding; they need personal development to give them confidence to project the excitement and advantages of their designs, and to be able to sell their designs and their knowledge.

I know of only one institution offering a course covering all of those aspects. I know about the course because it is near where I live—Richmond-uponThames College. It certainly fills a need. This course does not teach people to design or invent. It teaches them what to do with their designs and inventions. Certainly much design and invention work is done in large laboratories and studios; but the argument for supporting those individuals is the same as the argument for supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, on which I know the Minister is very keen.

In preparing for the debate, I spoke to the organiser of the course and discovered that the real motivation for it is environmental sustainability. If we are to stick to Agenda 21 we shall have to reinvent and redesign many things. It is already happening in the way that we design and build our new buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Howie, touched upon that. Our medicine has to be redesigned. The way we handle and manage energy will need redesigning. Many products and processes will have to be redesigned with environmental sustainability in mind.

Perhaps this is the area where design will become most important. These products and processes have to be redesigned and reinvented remembering the needs of modern lean manufacturing and environmental sustainability.

Here I should like also to salute the work of the Design Council in making business and industry aware of precisely these needs. Their Design in Business Week, their Design Councillors in Business Links, and their benchmarking and networking have all helped to make business and the public aware of the importance not only of the way things look but also of how they are put together and how they perform. My noble friend Lord Currie and the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, told us that that attitude is the way in which successful businesses now think. They take the broader view of design.

If we have to redesign many of the things we use in everyday life, we need to keep our designers in this country. We should be honouring them, supporting them with training courses, and valuing them. That will help them to get their designs and inventions to the market on their own merits. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to tell us on how the Government plan to do that. I also look forward to the Minister being able to answer the examination question put by my noble friend Lord Desai.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, like all who contributed to this short debate, I warmly welcome it. The Government have long recognised that the better and wider use of design is fundamental to improving Britain's ability to compete in the international marketplace. Indeed, if I may say so, last Thursday evening I was at an exhibition in Bahrain of British design excellence. If I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, I should like to express my congratulations to the Design Museum upon the excellence of its organisation of that exhibition; and to congratulate those who participated, showing the quality of British design to a wide audience. And, stumbling on to an aircraft at 2.30 in the morning, I particularly welcomed the design of the new British Airways horizontal bed highlighted in the briefing for the debate given to us all by the Design Council.

Definitions of what design is are legion and I shall not attempt to add a new definition. All I will say is that design is not simply a prettying up process that can happen at the end of the development of a product.

Properly understood and used, design should be embedded in all processes that lead to the creation of goods and—I am glad that it was emphasised in the debate—of services. This fact is well understood by many world-class British companies, whether British Airways that I mentioned, or Dyson. Design permeates their culture and underpins their international success.

And yet we puzzle. Why is it that Britain produces so many world-class designers of all disciplines—the noble Lord, Lord Lawrence, was right to make that point—who operate successfully for clients all around the world and yet much of British industry seems to ignore the design talent on its own doorstep? Why is it that so many of the things we buy from abroad, be it French cars and toasters, German inhalers, or Finnish mobile phones, are actually the work of British designers?

Part of the answer is, I believe, that design is all too often seen by too many British companies as an "add-on", a costly luxury that can be dispensed with when times are hard. So the challenge is to persuade the owners and managers of our companies that design is not a luxury but an essential.

Since its inception, the Design Council has done, and continues to do, much to raise awareness of design in both industry and commerce. As the noble Lord, Lord Currie, said, raising that awareness undoubtedly plays a crucial part. The council has done much to raise awareness, not only in industry and commerce, but among the general public as well. Over the years it has evolved to meet the changing needs of our nation, including the direct delivery of sound advice to companies through a regional network in England and operations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Design is important. But it is not a magic wand to solve all our problems. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. Our industries need also to improve many other aspects of their performance if they and the United Kingdom are to prosper in the increasingly competitive and complex global market-place.

To encourage and help our companies to become world class is a central aim of government policy. Bringing encouragement and support to British industry in a variety of areas—quality, innovation, technology transfer, the exploitation of multi-media, financial planning, and management best practice—is as important as encouraging and supporting the effective use of design.

Until recently, the Design Council itself delivered advice and help on design issues to industry. In a sense, this tended to isolate design as a business issue. After all, why go to the Design Council for help unless you think you have a design problem?

The Government's decision to set up Business Links provided the opportunity to do two things for design—first, and for the first time, to integrate design into the delivery of a wide range of business improvement services and secondly to bring design much closer to small and medium-sized companies than the Design Council had managed to do.

All Business Links in England are required to provide design counselling services. The Government are providing funds to enable them to employ design counsellors. Today, 50 Business Link partnerships are providing design services. We expect the network to be completed in the next few months. At the same time, the Design Council has been revamped to become the high profile and proactive advocate for design. Its mission has been restated thus: to inspire the best use of design by the UK, in the world context, to improve prosperity and well being". The "new" Design Council is a lean organisation which, since its relaunch in November 1994, has put in place a new team of people, new strategies and new programmes of research and development. The council operates at the national level.

The Design Council supports the work of the Business Link design counsellors and reports to the President of the Board of Trade on how effectively design services are being delivered by Business Links. The latest report, received at the turn of the year, reported that the design counselling services are working well and that their clients reported a high level of satisfaction.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, asked about the image of Britain overseas and how it needed to be improved. There have been some interesting studies of Britain as a brand. They inform the work of promoting Britain overseas by the DTI, the British Council and the Foreign Office. It is important to build on our traditional strengths, which bring us considerable business and exports, inward investment and tourism. However, presenting Britain as a progressive and successful industrial nation with which it is good to do business is equally important. That thought is very much at the forefront when overseas promotions such as those under the Commercial Excellence programme are being designed.

The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, asked why government does not use design better. Government procurement does indeed take account of design. There are a number of shining examples where design has been deployed to ensure efficiency. The brief of the Design Council includes the very interesting example of forms prepared for the Royal Mail. An excellent example of securing efficiency and value for money is that of the Ministry of Defence Abbeywood facilities. But I recognise, as does the noble Lord, that there is always room for improvement. The Design Council works with all departments across government including—dare I say it?—the Treasury.

The noble Lords, Lord Lawrence and Lord Freyberg, asked about design education in the United Kingdom. The evidence is that Britain's reputation and the reputation of individual colleges for design education remain particularly high. The courses attract high numbers of students from overseas—as many as 40 per cent. in some cases. However, again, there should be no complacency about the need to maintain and improve high standards. I look to the Design Council, the national authority for design, to alert government if there are perceived to be any problems in this area.

In the 21st century, Britain will have to make its way in the world by exploiting to the fullest all its resources of mind, ingenuity and creativity. The world has never owed anyone a living and it certainly does not do so now. And, while the world is opening up increasingly to free trade, new and hungry players are coming to the market-place. Most, and probably all, understand how important design is and send students to Britain to be educated and trained as designers or as managers of the design process.

Britain produces world class designers. That is because we are an inventive people. But it is also because we have a world class design education system. Design is included with technology in the national curriculum. Our design colleges and institutions attract students from around the world and they return to their home countries to design goods and services that we here may end up buying.

The second part of the Question related to what steps we are taking to discourage design talent from seeking employment abroad. It is very seldom that in this House we find two economists agreeing with each other. On this occasion they not only agreed with each other but had an engineer in support—an even more unusual combination. I add my agreement as well.

In the past, as will be the case in the future, talented young people will go where their talent is appreciated and rewarded. In the long run I do not consider that as necessarily being to our disbenefit. Indeed, as the economy becomes more globalised we shall probably benefit from their experience of other cultures and other design traditions when they return home, as they very frequently do. Their understanding of other cultures and traditions is important to British companies looking to design products for the international market-place.

As a number of noble Lords emphasised, what we are really trying to determine is not whether they should come and go but whether something more should be done to improve awareness of the calibre of those young designers in the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that there is more to be done to create an understanding of their worth. We certainly wish to do all that we can to encourage major companies and small and medium-sized firms to appreciate design for what it is—an essential tool for business excellence and success. That is what we are trying to do, as I have sought to explain, through the work of the Design Council and with the new and improved design services at Business Links. As many noble Lords said, design is a British strength which British industry ignores at its peril. The Government remain firmly committed to encouraging and helping British companies to understand that and to exploit that talent.

I thought the quotation by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, an exceptionally apt one with which to conclude any debate. Like his excellent piece in the Sun newspaper recently, it was a quotation that might have been made by the Prime Minister himself. I believe that in answering that question I have scored 100 per cent.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.22 p.m.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.19 to 8.22 p.m.]