Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Seear: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for repeating the Statement. Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Peston—I shall not repeat everything that he said, partly because I do not agree with all of it—I regret that we have not had an opportunity to see the White Paper. It is disgusting that we should have a Statement about a White Paper which obviously contains matters of the greatest importance when we cannot see that White Paper and do not have any reasonable prospect of being able to discuss it for some considerable time.

I was also depressed to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, if I heard him correctly, that similar confusion is likely to arise if and when we get a Labour Government. He said, "No doubt we shall have the same sort of trouble". I do not think that that message was conveyed as the noble Lord had intended that it should be—

Lord Peston: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. It was just me behaving badly as always and allowing my normal cynicism to overcome me. I am sure that the next Labour Government will be so perfect that one need have no worry about anything.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, I now understand that the noble Lord was, and is, simply joking.

The Statement contains a great deal of information about information that we are likely to receive in the future rather than about information that we are receiving this afternoon. A plethora of White Papers is apparently

22 May 1995 : Column 822

to come to us, falling like confetti. I am particularly interested in the one that I see we shall receive tomorrow about the Government's conclusions on media ownership issues. Plainly, we are not talking about that today although the subject has been mentioned. It is a matter to which a great many of us attach the greatest possible importance. We hope that when we get that White Paper it will be in such a form so as to enable these Benches, who have expressed a great deal of concern about the matter, to give it more wholehearted agreement than we are able to give to this afternoon's Statement.

The Statement contains a great deal of trumpeting about the Government's successes. It would be churlish not to agree that there have been successes—of course there have—and some progress, which we welcome. However, I think that the Government are overdoing their claims a bit when they talk about how great things have been. Indeed, I should like to raise certain qualifications. We are told, for example, that we have stabilised our share of world trade. Since it fell to 6 per cent. of overall world trade, merely stabilising it at 6 per cent. is not exactly a reason for running up the flags, as it were, although that is, of course, a great deal better than seeing our share fall further and further, as happened under previous Administrations.

In the same way, the Government claim great credit for having, as they put it,

    "put strikes into the history books".

But the statistical evidence shows that strikes always diminish markedly when there is a high level of unemployment. Instead of being quite so complacent about the disappearance of strikes what is the Government's thinking, and is it discussed in the White Paper, about the kind of industrial relations system that they would like to see and will help to bring into being as the economy improves and as unemployment falls? We know that the Government want both of those things to happen but, in the circumstances, questions of industrial relations are bound to arise which require the kind of proper trade union representation to which the Government appear to have paid no attention whatsoever in the past. We would hope to see such a matter discussed in any consideration of the sort of industrial system that we should have in this country and to which we are all looking forward.

The Government also refer to the increase in investment. However, I am sure that they will agree that, although there has been an increase, we are still far behind the level of investment that we need. Does the noble Lord agree—is it in the White Paper?—that any future recovery must be not a consumer-led recovery but an investment-led and export-led recovery? I do not know whether that is discussed in the White Paper, but I very much hope that it is.

The Statement also points out that there is a great need to improve the performance of the many firms which are not contributing at all to the export drive. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, pointed out that only 100,000 of our firms actually export. A great many of the firms which are not competing are small firms. Small firms have a bad record for exports. On the other hand, we know that the future recovery is likely to be accompanied by an increase, rather than a decrease, in the number of small firms and

22 May 1995 : Column 823

that the position of the larger firms is not likely to improve. That being so, is there not far more urgency needed than has been expressed in the Statement today to do something about the position of small firms? That ties in closely with the issue of education and training.

We have talked boringly often from these Benches about the importance of education and training. The Statement said that the Government hoped to bring it up to be the best in Europe—that must be a joke. We are so outstandingly the worst among the industrialised countries of the European Union that the prospect of bringing it up to the best is, of course, a pious hope. It does not represent anything remotely like reality. It is not just that we have failed, we still are failing. I agree that the situation has improved, and that nothing was done by the Government's predecessors.

Although we are improving the position of young people, what are the Government doing about the grossly undertrained and underskilled adult labour force which, after all, still makes up the great mass? There must be improvement there. Nothing short of a dramatic increase in effort and resources to change that position will have any substantial effect.

The Government talked about the importance of applied research. While of course we agree with the importance of applied research, we must underline the fact that applied research cannot be successful unless there is a corresponding increase in basic research. Applied research draws on the discoveries of basic research. To emphasise applied research while neglecting basic research is to take the all to short-term view which has characterised so much of what has been done by the Government.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for the general agreement that they have given to the White Paper and what we are endeavouring to do. That is satisfactory. It is satisfactory not least from the country's perspective. I am delighted that the Benches opposite find that the White Paper is something with which they can agree. As I said, it is good for the country and it appears also to be good for the Labour Party. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that the next Labour Government would be perfect. In this fallen world, nothing is perfect, so that puts a timescale onto this.

Reference was made to debating the White Paper in more detail on another occasion. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that he did not have a good opportunity to debate the previous White Paper. A debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Prior covered much of this area. There will be opportunities through the usual channels if that is what is wanted.

A number of points were made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. One of them related to manufacturing research and the relationship to applied research, and so on. It is important that we focus on the announcement about the Foresight Programme being made today by my honourable friend Mr. David Hunt. The point of the Foresight Programme in its new manifestation is that the Government will co-ordinate a national programme to spread awareness of Foresight findings between industry and technology. It is intended to retain the existing

22 May 1995 : Column 824

Foresight panels to disseminate and promote implementation of their findings and to do that on a sector-by-sector basis.

There will be a first progress report on the implementation of Foresight at the end of the year. There will be a new link programme sponsored on Foresight priority areas following a combined DTI/Office of Public Service and Science commitment of an additional £6 million for 1995-96. A second Foresight link programme on recycling technologies to reduce waste in manufacturing industry is launched today.

In addition, there will be a launch of a major information society initiative to encourage business to develop products and services for the information society. One of the key messages from Foresight is that it is rapid development in information and communication technologies which will create many opportunities. It is an important development that is being announced today. It will be for the benefit of everyone in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that partnership was not mentioned in the Statement. I can assure him that it is mentioned on a considerable number of occasions in the White Paper.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I take it from what the noble Lord is telling me that he has a copy of the White Paper?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, yes, and I have read some of it—that part.

Equally he said that there was no specific mention of Europe in the Statement. Not merely is our economy integrated into that of Europe, but Europe has a role to play throughout this country's entire commercial sector. We cannot analyse Britain's economic performance without also having a proper analysis of its place in Europe. In that context, it is also important to be aware that we are not merely in Europe, we are also part of the global economy. It is important that our industry is competitive in the world at large—the Far East and the emerging markets, and wherever they might be.

As the noble Lord said, we are the most successful member state in the Community in acquiring inward investment, because this is the country to which enterprises outside the Community wish to come to trade within Europe. That is for a variety of reasons to do with our labour market, and so on and so forth.

The noble Lord asked about outward investment. The world is a large place. There are many markets in it. We as a nation have been exploiting the opportunities that exist to be exploited. We have a proud record in that regard. Of course they are not alternatives. They are complementary aspects of a sound economy.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about the number of firms that are exporting. They asked why there are only 100,000. In any economy there will be a considerable number of small firms. After all, most firms are small firms which, by their very nature, will not be exporters. For example, the people who cut my hair are unlikely to be in the export business, but they count as a firm for the purpose of the figures.

The Government propose to have 30,000 more firms exporting by the end of century than there are now. That will be to everyone's advantage. Just because a firm is small does not mean that it cannot export.

22 May 1995 : Column 825

Some questions were asked about education and training. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was frankly being a trifle disingenuous in her comments about the labour force and training in this country. Is she trying to tell the House, for example, that training in this country is less good than it is in Spain and Greece?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page