|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Rix: My Lords, I welcome this Statement, and in particular the additional references to education, financial services and transport. The journey that the Government have travelled on this issue has been marathon. I am certain that the degree of shift in their position and the most welcome acknowledgement of the need for wide-ranging legislation could not have been achieved without great efforts and strong arguments on behalf of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. Therefore, congratulations are due to the Minister, to Members in another place and to Members of your Lordships' House. But above all,
But, not unnaturally, the Statement indicates a number of areas where the Bill may need to be improved when it eventually comes before us. As already hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, of grave concern to MENCAP is the suggested abolition of the employment quota, at least for the time being, for I must stress that our Pathway scheme, which has placed thousands of people with a learning disability into employment, relies heavily on the quota as a mechanism to persuade companies to consider employing people with learning disabilities. What reassurance can the Minister offer that the new proposals for employment will address the particular needs of people with learning disabilities?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work with MENCAP and other disability organisations. I understand what he says about the abolition of the quota scheme but we really do think that it is unworkable. I am sure that the new council will take a special interest in those people who have a mental handicap or learning disability. I have absolutely no doubt that, if there is any faltering, MENCAP will put enormous pressure on the Government.
Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend on the Statement that she has made. I remind her that the largest group of disabled people are those who suffer from various kinds of mental impairment. In that context, following what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, will she bear in mind that there must be some flexibility in the administration of the employment provisions of the scheme? There are those who are utterly unemployable and then there are a very large number, some of whom have been trained by MENCAP, who can do a wide range of unskilled jobs which nevertheless require a bit of training. They do those jobs well and continue to do them.
Will the Minister bear in mind that it would be a mistake to write into the Bill too great an emphasis on integration of those who are mentally handicapped into ordinary schools? It can be a disadvantage to them and to other pupils of those schools.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend, who I know has had very close associations with MENCAP and other organisations. With regard to flexibility in employment, perhaps we should leave that until we have the policy statement. I am sure that my noble friend will wish to comment on that. When the Bill is published, I am sure that he will put forward his views very strongly.
With regard to integration into ordinary schools, it has been our policy to integrate as many young children, teenagers and students, when they go to college, into normal schools and colleges. But we take the point that there are some children and young people who do not thrive when they are taught in mainstream institutions.
Viscount Tonypandy: My Lords, we have listened to noble Lords who have spent a lifetime fighting for the disabled. I believe that the conscience of the country has been disturbed. But, at the beginning of the Minister's Statement, she paid a quiet but gracious tribute to the right honourable Member for Chelsea and I wish to underline that. He fell victim because he was the spokesman at a difficult time but I believe that he had fought within the administration to the utmost of his ability for disabled people and I am very glad that the Minister paid that tribute.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I was very interested to hear what the Minister said and welcomed what she had to tell us. Local authorities up and down the country are doing a good deal to try to ensure that disabled people have access to various forms of transport. Therefore, I was interested in her remarks about access to the rail network. In Surrey we know that it would cost about £2 million in order to make the 20 busiest stations fully accessible. Upon whom would those costs fall? Would they fall upon the newly privatised Railtrack?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I do not believe that I can fully answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. The whole question of costing will be addressed when we come to the cost compliance assessment which the Government will run, so we shall be looking at the detail of that.
I pay tribute to those transport undertakings which have already taken that very seriously. One can see the Docklands Light Railway and the tram systems in Manchester and Sheffield, where already there is total accessibility, and, of course, British Rail has its 125 system throughout the country.
I believe that transport is absolutely crucial. It is everything for disabled people in terms of independence. Seven thousand London taxis are now accessible to disabled people. We are getting there--a true British Rail term, I believe.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I welcome the Statement. Will my noble friend tell us when we can expect the proposals by the Secretary of State for the Environment on new domestic dwellings? Will the changes which he is to put forward be made by a straightforward change to the building regulations or will there be a specialist discussion document beforehand?
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I asked whether the matter would be dealt with by changing the building regulations or whether there would be a discussion document which builders, who will have to put the proposals into effect, will have an opportunity to consider beforehand.
Lord Nickson: My Lords, I rise to my feet for the first time in your Lordships' House with feelings of privilege and occasion which I comfort myself will have been shared at one time or another by all your Lordships. I am indeed grateful for this opportunity to speak so early from these Benches on the gracious Speech, following my noble friend Lord Ferrers. He started the cricketing analogies. The first test in Brisbane starts in just under six hours' time so perhaps I may continue them. I have sat for some time in the pavilion, as it were, waiting with my pads on to go to the wicket and I am quite glad to be here now.
I am very pleased to be able to speak for the first time on industry. I have spent 40 years of my life in various industries, the past 20 with a foot, or sometimes not much more than a toe, in the public sector as well. I was disappointed to miss the opportunity to speak in the important debate in June in your Lordships' House on job creation and technology which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Caldecote and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth. I read it in Hansard with agreement and a great admiration for the clarity of the views expressed.
I flirted with the idea of speaking, if the opportunity occurred, on other subjects. I thought that I might talk about the single European market and some of its implications. However, I felt that that would be unwise for a maiden speaker at the present time. I also thought that I might speak about the environment; but, if so, I would have taken the opportunity to do so yesterday. Similarly, I thought that I might talk about top pay and escalation of top pay in the private sector. But I thought that that would be too delicate a subject for a maiden speech. Moreover, as chairman of the Senior Salaries Review Body, I would also have had to abide by the Addison Rules.
Having run away from all those subjects, I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I speak on a subject that I probably know best, even if it is equally well known to all your Lordships and if what I have to say is somewhat threadbare. However, unlike the radio programme "Just a Minute", I believe that it bears repetition because it is fundamentally and absolutely important.
There has been a spate of White Papers, reports and initiatives in recent months on industry--especially manufacturing industry--on science and technology, on competitiveness, which so vitally affects both our economy, and, most significantly, on employment. I shall not catalogue them because noble Lords will be familiar with them. They come from the Government, Committees of your Lordships' House, from the Trade and Industry Select Committee of another place and from the Confederation of British Industry, to name just a few.
Each of the latter is individually important; but, collectively, they spearhead a tide of informed opinion that brings to the forefront of our national agenda--and, it is to be hoped, to the consciousness of public opinion--the single most important topic for the future prosperity of our people: wealth creation, or--to pick up a phrase that my noble friend used--our ability to earn this country's living in the world.
For too many decades attitudes to industry, and especially to manufacturing industry, have been somewhat negative. For too long people who perhaps should have known better have peddled the notion that manufacturing did not matter and that Britain could survive as some sort of upmarket service station. That is nonsense and noble Lords know it. Manufacturing industry plays a great role in our economic activity. It is responsible for 70 per cent. of the exports of goods and services. It is responsible for about 50 per cent. of consumer expenditure and it employs over 4 million people. There are at least another 4 million employed by the service industries that are dependent upon and supply that manufacturing industry. Yet, the Victorian image of dark satanic mills--that is, grubby, noisy, confrontational, boring, unglamorous and relatively poorly paid--persists.
The attitudes of the professions--perhaps, most significantly, the teaching profession--and that of parents seeking a career for their children, sometimes seem to reflect those views. "Don't, Mrs. Worthington, put your son or daughter on the factory floor". The City, law, medicine, science, the public service (both civil and military) the Church, accountancy and politics have all been the preferred career choices of our best brains and of our best graduates for some time. Your Lordships' Benches testify to that fact very eloquently.
The desire to be of service in all those ways is both admirable and absolutely necessary. Noble Lords must not think for one single moment that I am denigrating any of those great and essential callings. My point is very simple. All of us have spent, and still do every day, too much time talking about how to divide the national cake instead of how to increase its size. We all know that the National Health Service, education, the environment, local government, defence, the Civil Service, the police, the judiciary and even politicians in the Houses of Parliament must all be paid for out of the earnings of UK plc, the wealth creating sector.
I turn now to the introductory speech made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. Of course, I completely agree with him about the need for competitiveness. I very much welcome the continued, sustained recovery and the reduction in the trade deficit. I also welcome the increase in employment. Above all, I welcome the continued low inflation rate. UK industry is more competitive than at any time in the recent past, even if our productivity is still 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. below that of our competition.
Perhaps I may turn for a moment to the first Starred Question on the Order Paper today. I was most struck by what was said. It is true that we need a level playing field. It is also true that some other governments in Europe are less fastidious than our own in ensuring that European legislation is complied with. If I may use the
I am absolutely delighted by the new strategic alliance between the DTI and industry. I am delighted that the Government's attitude is so publicly positive to industry and that, to quote from ministerial statements,
In the Business Links that were announced, and in all such matters, that is very important. Indeed, I believe that it is more important than government throwing money at the problem. Attitudes are most important. Partnerships are also important at local level. In Scotland, the Scottish Development Agency and Scottish Enterprise--though, perhaps, noble Lords will say that I would say this anyway having been responsible for both those bodies--have been successful. But why? It was because we had partnership. We had partnership with the private sector as the engine for entrepreneurial growth, but we also had partnership with local government and local authorities. That is absolutely vital. One needs that because those in the public sector have to be the active facilitators for the private sector to develop.
I was very pleased to hear my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie say, when referring, I believe, to Section 171A of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act, that local government would have a continuing role to play in economic development under the new legislation. That is important. I believe that we have seen success as regards partnerships in the way that my noble and learned friend outlined.
I should like to conclude where the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, left off and concentrate on investment. I believe that we have been extremely successful on inward investment. Certainly, we are quite proud of what has happened in Scotland. My noble friend quoted the figures that I had intended to use for the United States and Japan over the past decade. But I believe that our record on investment as a nation against that of our competitors has been less good. I may not agree with the noble Lord's recipes for it--and perhaps he would not expect me to do so totally--but I do agree with his diagnosis.
I should like to concentrate on one final matter. Technology is globally transportable. Europe's wage rates can never compete with the NICS in the Far East, far less with India and China. So where must we go for success? We must invest. We must invest in innovation, in product design and development and in skills. Since the war, the Japanese estimate that 50 per cent. of all the most important inventions in the world have been British. We file more patent applications every year than our competitors, yet the Germans and the Japanese seem more successful than we are in turning the twinkle in a researcher's eye into world-class products that sell.
We have excellent businessmen who know what will sell and who know how to market; but, somehow, they do not meet in the middle. We need to close the research push/demand pull gap and we can do that, I would
Thirdly, and lastly, I believe that our great institutions who own 75 per cent. of British industry might direct some of the spotlight that they focus on short-term performance, and which they have turned on corporate governance lately, towards ensuring that long-term investment is sustained, even through economic downturns and even at the expense of lower dividend distributions in order to ensure that investment is maintained. I have said all I want to say. I would only just add that wealth creation and the need to earn this country's living is once again at the top of the agenda, and long may it remain so.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page