HL Deb 07 June 1982 vol 431 cc92-4WA
Lord Henley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What policy they propose to raise the status of standards in the United Kingdom in order to strengthen the competitiveness of United Kingdom products both at home and in world markets.

Lord Cockfield

Her Majesty's Government are convinced that standards supported by quality assurance have a central role to play in the international competitiveness of British industry. Good standards that reflect the requirements of the international market place encourage the application of sound technologies. They help firms to achieve the levels of quality reliability and safety in design and manufacture which increasingly are a prerequisite of successful competition in world markets. By eliminating unnecessary variety, they can reduce manufacturing cost and increase productivity, keeping our prices keen.

A strong standards system does not emerge of its own accord. Nor is it just a matter of creating the right institutional and legal framework. Principally, it is now a question of attitudes. Manufacturers and users in the public and private sectors and those who use standards, many of which are international in origin, for regulatory purposes in central and local government must each give their full support to the system. The Government, for their part, are committed to enhancing the status of standards in the United Kingdom and are therefore developing proposals to this end. I will publish these shortly in a consultative document.

A central feature of the Government's proposals will be an agreement with the British Standards Institution (BSI), as the national standards-making body. BSI would be asked to review through its committees the corpus of national standards to verify that these are appropriate for use in legislation, public procurement and overseas trade. The Government for their part would pursue two major objectives. First, to make much wider use of standards and independent certification and approval in its regulatory functions. This does not mean an extension of areas covered by mandatory standards but generally that those who comply with standards should have greater certainty of where they stand, especially in the matter of legal proceedings. Second, to rely more on standards and independent certification and approval in its procurement activities. In some areas practice and policy are already moving in this direction. Among other questions to be considered will be the feasibility of a scheme for giving official recognition to certification and approval bodies, possibly backed up by a new national mark.

The Government will also be asking other public regulatory and purchasing authorities, the nationalised industries and the public corporations, to help to promote wider industrial efficiency by relating their requirements to standards. They will also be asked to consider whether more of their standards requirements could not be met within the national standards-making process, thus contributing to a stronger body of national standards.

The status of standards in the United Kingdom reflects and is reflected in the participants in the standards-making process. Users, whose views are of particular importance, tend to be under-represented. As a consequence of the greater weight it intends to give to standards, the Government have reorganised their own machinery for dealing with standards-related issues and will be strengthening their contribution to the BSI committees responsible for writing standards. The consultative document will seek a commensurate response from other participants, reflecting their own intention to use the standards concerned. I am confident that BSI is managed and organised in such a way as to be well able to nurture the new approach.

The Government believe that a strong national standards policy will enhance the reputation for quality of British goods and thereby support the efforts of British industry in world markets. The forthcoming consultative document will propose means of achieving this end. The Government hope that it will command the widespread support in all sectors of the economy which will ensure its success.

The House adjourned at eleven minutes before nine o'clock.