§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"A year ago, the Government published the White Paper, Competitiveness: Helping Business to Win, the first comprehensive audit of the UK's industrial and commercial competitiveness. That White Paper was widely welcomed by business. Today, we publish our second report on competitiveness.
"This year's White Paper is designed to report on changes in our performance over the past year; to describe the action government have taken to improve 816 UK competitiveness over that period; and to set out our plans for further progress, making a number of significant announcements today. The White Paper contains new, more extensive analysis of our competitive position. It looks at the competitiveness of key sectors, at regional developments and to the future, as well as reporting on changes in our performance over the past year in each of the main factors of competitiveness we identified last year. It reports in detail on the progress the Government have made in fulfilling the commitments—well over 300 of them—in the 1994 White Paper. It shows promises kept and action taken. For the future, it contains 70 new initiatives and commits more than £240 million extra, of which £165 million is additional government expenditure.
"In addition, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is announcing today, in response to a question from my honourable friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, that he is publishing the report of the Technology Foresight Steering Group and the 1995 Forward Look of Government Funded Science, Engineering and Technology. He is also publishing the Efficiency Scrutiny's report on resource management systems in government. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is today publishing a White Paper on Public Procurement. And when the markets open tomorrow morning, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will be announcing the Government's conclusions on media ownership issues, followed by a Statement to this House in the afternoon.
"Madam Speaker, this White Paper reports good news. Last year, output rose by 4 per cent., manufacturing productivity by more than 4 per cent., exports by 11 per cent.—increasing our share of world trade—and unemployment fell by 300,000. In the last quarter of the year, investment surged by 8 per cent. and is set to increase still further this year. The balance of payments deficit fell sharply and underlying inflation was at the lowest sustained level for 30 years.
"This year-on-year performance is impressive. It maintains the turnaround in our economic performance started in 1979. But the competitiveness agenda is ongoing and long-term. Our task is to reverse more than a century of relative decline.
"Last year's White Paper showed how, during the 1980s, we stopped falling behind the rest of the world. We closed the productivity gap with our main competitors, put strikes into the history books and stabilised the decline in our share of world trade in manufacturing.
"Today's White Paper takes the analysis forward. Overall manufacturing productivity is now close to that in Germany and France and continues to catch up the United States and Japan. At the same time, British companies have regained their reputation for world-class quality in manufacturing and services.
"The competitiveness of the UK economy is nowhere better illustrated than in our ability to attract inward Investment. The UK accounts for one-third of all inward investment in the European Union— 817 investment worth more than £130 billion; investment which has created and safeguarded nearly 700,000 jobs since 1979.
"Our exports too are a huge success. They reached record levels last year, and the CBI reports that orders are growing at their fastest ever rate. Last year, Ministers led more than 80 trade promotion missions, accompanied by more than 1,000 business people, to more than 50 countries. I am delighted to tell the House that the businessmen who accompanied me to China last week were able to strike deals totalling more than £1 billion.
"Madam Speaker, I said that competitiveness was ongoing. This White Paper makes clear our determination to seek continued improvement. Improvement in management—we have as many world-class firms as Germany, but we have a higher proportion of poor performers. Among a raft of new measures to help companies, particularly small and medium-sized ones, learn from the experience of the best, the Government will make available nearly £100 million extra through Business Links for locally designed business development programmes. Improvement in exports—despite the success I have just described, only 100,000 of our 2.8 million UK firms export. We can do better. We are therefore setting out today a target of introducing 30,000 new exporting firms to foreign markets by the year 2000. To achieve this, my department will spend nearly £40 million extra on support for exporters over the next four years. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has already announced a significant strengthening of its support for commercial work overseas, involving over 100 new commercial officers, particularly in key emerging markets.
"Improvement in education and training: this Government's reforms—the national curriculum, publication of schools' performance, devolution of management to local level—have already transformed our education system. One-third of our young people now go on into higher education.
"But there is no room for complacency. Our aim is for Britain to have the best qualified workforce in Europe. The White Paper sets the steps we are taking to achieve that aim. Today, the Government are endorsing new targets for achievement in education and training drawn up by the National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets. These set new, challenging standards. To ensure that we meet them, we will conduct a major review of our education and training effort, benchmarking it against our leading competitors and identifying where improvement is necessary.
"Improvement in innovation: we match the best in inventiveness but not in bringing products to market. Some of the best ideas are born here. We must make sure more are exploited here. To help, the Government will spend an extra £70 million over four years to support innovation and technology. In addition, today's report on the technology foresight programme identifies areas which we need to develop in order to 818 stay in the top league of industrial nations. The Government's initial response is given in this year's Forward Look. Foresight will influence spending priorities in government and the universities. The Government will also encourage industry to respond through a foresight challenge, which will provide £80 million for collaborative projects over the next three years, half from industry, half from government.
"Madam Speaker, British businesses have already benefited from the huge structural reforms undertaken by this Government since 1979. We shall build on our programme of radical reform. Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear are to be privatised; the gas supply industry is to be liberalised; and I am announcing today over 100 deregulatory proposals on which we shall take early action and new measures to make enforcement procedures more business friendly. In terms of regulations alone, over 1,000 have now been identified for amendment or repeal.
"Madam Speaker, the White Paper today adds up to a comprehensive agenda for action: action which will help business extend its growing success: action to improve the support which government can give to the wealth creating sector: action to equip our companies with the skills, resources and entrepreneurial drive to challenge the best in the world in the century ahead.
"Madam Speaker, I commend this White Paper to the House".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. Perhaps I may also say how much I agree with him and the Government about the importance of competitiveness, which is not an issue before us, and how much I look forward to reading the White Paper. I cannot comment on it because I have not seen even its cover let alone the whole document.
I make my usual complaint in responding to Statements. Once again, we shall have a White Paper of, I would guess, considerable importance, as we did last year. Again, as last year, we shall not see it in time to talk about it on this occasion and there will be no time in the succeeding 12 months to debate it. Unless my memory fails me, we have not debated last year's White Paper and there is no reason to believe that we shall debate this one. It is boring, but I have to make the remark that your Lordships' House contains so many people with knowledge, understanding and experience of these matters. It is a gross waste of parliamentary time that we have no opportunity whatever to hear the business men in your Lordships' House speak on competitiveness or others of us who believe that they know something about the subject. The noble Lord is aware that I always make this complaint. When we exchange places in the not too distant future and introduce our White Papers, no doubt he will be making exactly the same complaint. I hope not.
As I say, we believe that competitiveness is important. We should not misunderstand the concept. We are talking about the ability of British firms to compete. We often refer to UK competitiveness, but the UK is not an entity 819 in that sense; it consists of firms that do these things. We are concerned as to how well they can compete with their foreign counterparts. There is nothing between us on that. Again, there is nothing between us on the fact that our economic future depends on all the activities in which we engage. It is partly true of manufacturing, but it is also true of the service sector. It is, of course, important that we are efficient in the private sector, but as the Government themselves have recognised, it is important that we are also efficient in the public sector.
I believe that the only reason why we emphasise manufacturing is that, for technical reasons, it is the area in which innovation and technical progress are most likely to occur. It is where we get the economies of large-scale production on which our standard of living depends so much. Overwhelmingly we emphasise manufacturing because as we grow generally we demand manufactured goods. To a considerable extent it would be better for balance of payments purposes if we made them here rather than running an enormous manufacturing deficit on the foreign account. We all know that the essence of our history is that until very recently we ran a manufacturing balance of trade surplus. It is the unique achievement of this Government that in the course of their activities they have generated a manufacturing deficit. We still hope that that will be reversed.
I believe that we also agree that the way in which we wish to be competitive is by improving efficiency. What we do not wish to see happen—but regrettably it has been happening continuously since this Government came to power —is the opiate of sterling devaluation to be the way in which we have to compete with our foreign counterparts. It is true that sterling has been devalued continuously since this Government came to power.
So much for background. I have a number of questions and comments on the White Paper. One thing missing from it, which I hope is an oversight, is that in last year's White Paper the Government emphasised partnership. They referred to the partnership between government and business. In this Statement the word "partnership" does not appear. It is overwhelmingly right that we view our problems in terms of partnership.
I assume that the second omission is also an oversight. In the White Paper—I am sorry, I keep referring to the "White Paper" when I mean the Statement, because I have not seen the White Paper—the words "European Union" do not appear once. Is there some reason why there is no European dimension in the Government's mind to the competitive question, either positively or negatively, depending where one stands on these debates? I should have thought that it would have been central to any view that the Government took about the future of our economic performance to say something about our relationship with Europe, but the words do not appear.
I say with regret that parts of the Statement seem to be rather party political. I cannot imagine why the right honourable gentleman in another place felt that he needed to be party political. As is my practice, I shall not make any party political remarks at all. One has worries about the detail. For example, the Statement refers to an improvement in the balance of payments deficit and says that it "fell sharply". In fact, the largest cause of that had nothing to do with competitiveness, but was due simply to 820 the improvement on the invisibles account which resulted largely from the devaluation of sterling following our debacle in leaving the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. Why has that not been mentioned?
The Statement refers to exports being a huge success. I do not believe that it is helpful to rational argument to say that exports reached record levels last year and somehow not remember to add that imports also reached record levels. If one is a sign of how well we are doing, presumably the other is a sign of how badly we are doing. Why do the Government find it impossible to present a balanced view?
Speaking as an economist, there is one thing that I do not understand and perhaps the noble Lord can explain it to me. The Statement says:The competitiveness of the UK economy is nowhere better illustrated than in our ability to attract inward investment".I have heard that statement from the Government Benches previously, but no one has ever said why that is such a good measure. In particular, given the enormous scale of UK outward investment, which is inward investment for those to whom we send it, why is not that a measure of our lack of competitiveness? Why is there such asymmetry? There could be political reasons for that, but I could not possibly allow such remarks to cross my lips.
I turn now to one or two other matters on which I agree with the Government although I am slightly at a loss about the leverage in terms of government action. To start with, I did not know that only 100,000 of our 2.8 million firms export, so that is a fact of enormous interest to me. Have the Government conducted any studies to tell them why only 100,000 of our firms export? That figure does not seem a lot to me. I agree that we could do better, but have we done the work to tell us how to do better? I should be interested to know.
For donkeys years we have been making the point about investing in education and training. We have done so independent of party and have always said that there is no room for complacency. I should like us to have the best qualified workforce in Europe, but the fact is that we have one of the worst qualified workforces and, after 16 years of this Government saying that we must do something about it, I am bound to say that setting targets and setting challenging standards is not necessarily the best way to achieve that. I should have thought that we needed something specific by way of action rather than remarks such as, "We shall conduct a major review" et cetera, et cetera. I am getting quite fed up with Statements that refer to "major reviews".
I am in overwhelming agreement with the Government about the fact that we are remarkable as inventors. Our achievements in fundamental science stand second to none. We have said for many years that we are great on the ideas side, but bad on the applications side. I do not see in the Statement—but again, perhaps the White Paper will tell me—anything to tell us precisely what we are going to do about that.
I should like to make just three or four other remarks and then I think that that will be enough from me. The Statement refers to Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear being privatised. I am slightly surprised that the Statement does not say what the nuclear power White Paper says, 821 which is that we shall have no more nuclear power stations. That would be a much more interesting proposition than a Statement about privatisation.
The Statement refers to deregulatory proposals, of which there are 100, although 1,000 more regulations are identified for amendment or repeal. Am I right that the Government propose to deal with that by the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act which Parliament passed last year? I should be interested to know how many of the 1,000 regulations that we are to get rid of were introduced by this Government. Does that simply represent a change of mind on such matters?
There is not a word in the Statement about what was called the Private Finance Initiative. Are we to be told something about that in due course? That is an important point.
Finally, are we to have such a White Paper every year? Is this to be the Department of Trade and Industry's equivalent of the Budget Statement? Let me add that if that is the case, I strongly approve. I think that we should have such a Statement. However, it ought to be akin to the Budget Statement and state, "We said this last year. We said that we would do certain specific things last year. These are those that we have done". It should also state, "These are the ones that we have not done". In other words, if we are to have such a Statement every year, rather than have a new lot of blab to replace last year's blah, I should like to have some practicalities so that we know how we are getting on. It may well be that all that information is in the White Paper and that I shall have an opportunity to read it. However, I shall then be frustrated because I shall not have an opportunity to talk about it.
§ 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 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 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 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.
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?
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I was talking about the major industrialised countries in the European Union—Germany and France, in particular. The noble Lord will realise that at the end of the 1970s we had turned out over 40 per cent. of our youngsters into jobs or into unemployment with no training. In Germany they were training 91 per cent. We were training fewer than half. That is why we are so behind. That is why my criticisms were justified.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining her comment. The problem that we found when we came into office at the end of the 1970s has been the driving force behind our wish to improve training in this country so that we ultimately achieve our target of having the best trained workforce in Europe. By definition, that will probably take a generation to achieve. As I said, new targets have been announced today by NACET to try to improve that process and to get us to where we eventually want to be, both in terms of young people's training achievements and life time training achievements.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked whether this White Paper was going to be an annual event. It is intended that the publication of a competitive White Paper will be an annual occasion. We expect there to be a similar publication at approximately this time next year.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it follows logically that we should, as a matter of course, debate such a White Paper as we would a Finance Bill or something like that? It should not be left to a Back Bench debate or the usual "usual channels" remarks, or anything of that kind. It should be built into our procedures.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the Government and in particular to the firms concerned on their achievement of increased exports although I must say, having been in Europe during the past two weeks, it would be difficult not to export with the currency devalued to the extent that the pound has been devalued in relation to the Swiss franc, the deutschmark and so on. Nevertheless, exporting is a difficult business and some of our firms are remarkably good at it. I do not see any reference in the Statement or in the document, of which I have a copy, to the other side of the balance of payments. I refer to import saving. That seems to me just as important economically as export performance. Perhaps the Minister will say a few words about the absence of any reference to import savings.
Perhaps I may quote one example which will be familiar to the Minister. The total import bill for timber and timber products is £6.3 billion per annum. There is a 826 vast opportunity for import saving. However, the Government have cut the planting programme of the Forestry Commission from 20,000 hectares only a few years ago to fewer than 1,000 hectares this year. It occurs to me that in addition to the emphasis placed on exporting, the Government should look very seriously at the areas which exist for import saving.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for that intervention. Of course, he is a well-known authority on forestry matters which are slightly wide of the subject we are debating. However, two points seem to arise from what the noble Lord said. First, if it is relatively easy to export because of the value of the pound, conversely it will be equally difficult for those abroad to import. That provides a wonderful opportunity for British business to reclaim part of the domestic market which may have been lost in earlier times.
That is the corollary to my second point. A successful exporting firm will be in a very good position, by definition, because it is competitive, to compete with those with whom it is competing abroad within its domestic market. We return to the general proposition that in a competitive world the ability to compete is the crucial factor and it matters not whether the competition is abroad or at home.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made some comments about the proportion of world trade. It is crucial to remember that world trade is increasing and in such a world, if one manages to retain one's proportion of world trade, one is significantly increasing the amount of exports. Therefore, one must not be misled by the figures.
The noble Baroness continued with some remarks which related to labour relations. The Government are clear in that regard. We believe that the best interests of the British people depend on having a flexible labour market. We do not believe that the kind of continental corporatist tradition of labour relations is to the benefit of the British people. We have turned our back on going down that road because, when looked at in the round, we do not believe that that delivers what is best for us.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, spoke about a consumer-led recovery being desirable and added that we did not want some kind of artificial boom leading us out of recession. It is of enormous credit to the Government that time and time again they have resisted that temptation. I sense that much of the criticism levelled at the Government is out of frustration because we have adopted those wise and sensible policies which are delivering probably the most satisfactory economic conditions we have seen in this country since the end of the war.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, will my noble friend give a firm undertaking that there will be a full opportunity for this House to debate the Statement in a full-length debate? I ask him not to reply by saying that that will be arranged by the usual channels because many of us have absolutely no confidence in the attitude of the usual channels to debating such matters. We want an undertaking from the Government that that will be done.
827 Also, I invite my noble friend's attention to the fact that, no doubt because of the intervention of the noble Lord opposite, the timescale for questions on this Statement has started to run, although I thought he had not finished his remarks to the Front Bench spokesmen until just now. Therefore, I hope that there will be a full opportunity within the very limited 20 minutes permitted under Standing Orders for questions to be raised with him. Will he please give a clear undertaking that we shall have an opportunity to debate in full this Statement because of its very great importance?
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, as regards the second point, when I responded earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, we were still dealing with the Front Bench element of the discussion. I note what is said on the clock but I do not believe that we have embarked on the second phase of the debate.
As regards the first point made by my noble friend, I am not in a position to give the reply my noble friend seeks; in the Latin maxim nemo dat qui non habet. However, I have sitting beside me my noble friend the Leader of the House. I have no doubt that he heard everything my noble friend said and will ponder on it very carefully.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, while joining other noble Lords in welcoming the general thrust of the Statement, I feel sure my noble friend will not be surprised if I press him further on a point put by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, which is the relationship between our membership of the European Communities and our national competitiveness. If I may, I will also put a suggestion to him in the field of education which I fancy he may find a little more helpful.
On the matter of our membership of the European Communities which, as many of your Lordships will know, some of us regard as the least competitive aspect of the national scene, is my noble friend aware that the three leading trade associations in this country have recently expressed considerable doubts about our continued membership of the. European Communities precisely on the basis of the lack of competitiveness which it forces upon us? For instance, is my noble friend aware that the Federation of Small Businesses has just conducted a survey among its members in which some 70 per cent. of them opined that membership of the European Communities had led only to increased red tape and cost, and less than 6 per cent. opined that it had led to an increase in business opportunities for their members? Bearing in mind everything that has been said about small businesses and their acknowledged importance to the economy, I would be very interested to hear any comments my noble friend may have on those facts.
Likewise, he will doubtless be aware that the Institute of Directors is getting steadily more realistic and therefore more sceptical about our membership of the Communities. I have no doubt that my noble friend may quote in reply the recent survey conducted by the CBI but he will be aware that the interpretation of that survey is highly controversial.
Finally, on this aspect, I thought I heard my noble friend say that we cannot analyse Britain's place in the world economically and commercially without analysing the benefits of our place in Europe. If that is so, did I 828 understand him to say that a cost-benefit analysis, which as far as I am aware has not been attempted by the Government, is to be undertaken? If so, will it be objective because if it were, it would be very welcome to all of us?
I welcome the statement by my noble friend that the Government are to conduct a major review of our education and training effort, benchmarking it against our leading competitors and identifying where improvement is necessary. My noble friend joined the general consensus that the fact that a third of our young people go on to higher education and training is a good thing. But I have to ask my noble friend: is it? Is he convinced of the quality of our higher education and training? He will be aware that there are considerable question marks at the moment on our vocational education and training. Can I therefore recommend that the Government look at the amendments I tabled consistently throughout the progress of the 1992 higher education Bill and possibly bear those amendments in mind, which were not put to the House and were not carried, when they conduct this major review, which I am sure we all welcome on these Benches?
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remarks about the training and especially those welcoming the advent of the bench-marking initiative. One of the reasons why we are taking so much trouble in the matter is that, in order to achieve the best trained workforce in Europe, we are concerned that we actually get there. While it is not perfect, we believe that we are on the right road to achieve that aim.
My noble friend raised the point about the relationship between this country's economy and that of the European Union. He also asked whether we were concerned about competitiveness within the Union. That is not merely causing anxiety to those in this country, but also to those abroad. One has only to look, for example, at the conclusions of the Essen Summit or study some of the recent remarks made by M. Santer to realise that. It is crucial to be clear on the matter.
There is a difference between membership of the European Union and the single market, though that is undoubtedly a good thing. For example, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said relatively recently, an estimated 2.5 million jobs in this country are dependent on British membership. The fact is that some characteristics of the way that the European Community works could be damaging. It is because we are worried in that respect that we have not participated in the social chapter of the Maastricht Treaty. At the end of the day, the European Union now takes 60 per cent. of our visible exports, compared with 40 per cent. in 1973. I should like to make just one small point. It is intended that this question session should be short. It is not an occasion for making too-developed speeches.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, in declaring that I am a companion to the Institute of Exporters I support the moves to create a new, national export training centre in north Nottinghamshire. It appears that the White Paper accepts that professional education and training of exporters is not just necessary but that it is vital for the future economic health and well-being of the United 829 Kingdom. I add my support to that already expressed. Further, will the Minister please emphasise to his right honourable friend the cross-party call for clear government initiatives to support such a critical area?
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, we recognise the points made by the noble Viscount. For example, that is why we have announced today that we are introducing what is known as "Export Challenge" which is designed to part fund innovative projects with trade associations. Ten successful associations will receive awards this year of up to £50,000 each. I referred earlier to the aim of 30,000 new exporters to foreign markets by the year 2000. Moreover, we are proposing to announce today our intention to introduce export vouchers which will be for use by small and medium-sized enterprises through business links to enable them to obtain advice for export services. I also made reference to the increased support for exporters jointly by the DTI and the Foreign Office. All those projects are intended to assist in that direction.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I rise to express support for the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for a special debate to be organised by the Government through the usual channels. I also have two questions for the Minister. First, in preparation for that debate, will the Government make public the authentic statistics which they have in their possession relating to the degree of import penetration into the United Kingdom? That is a very important consideration in economic terms regarding the degree to which our home industries are now capable of satisfying domestic demand, even at its reduced level. In any event, it is a most important series of statistics, without which we cannot make objective judgments.
Secondly, I should like to endorse the request by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch; namely, that the various statements about the benefits, or otherwise, of our membership of the European Community as it stands, as distinct from what it was meant to be, are also extremely important. I believe that we ought to have, on the lines proposed by the noble Lord and in good time for any debate we may have, a cost benefit analysis of exactly how much we gain and how much we lose as a result of our membership of the Community as it now is as distinct from what it was meant to be.
It may well be that statistics are not available except to the nearest £1 billion or even £2 billion. But, in so far as they are available, they ought to be capable of statistical quantification and presentation to the House and to the country so that, within the context of the 235-page document, at a cost of £19.50, we are capable of making an informed and, I sincerely hope, objective and impartial examination of such matters to the benefit not only of your Lordships' House but also the country at large.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. So far as concerns statistics, I believe that it would be appropriate if the noble Lord were to table a Question so that we may endeavour to do our best to make available the information he requires.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, perhaps I may respond to that immediately. Whenever I table such Questions, the invariable reply is that the information cannot be obtained, save at a disproportionate cost.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, if that is the reply the noble Lord has received, then that would appear to be the case. I do not feel that I can very usefully add a great deal more in that respect. So far as concerns any analysis, it is appropriate to consider both the information and the techniques used to analyse what one has. On many occasions, that can be rather subjective. Needless to say, the Government always endeavour to do that in the most appropriate manner.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkwood
My Lords, as the Minister knows, I am an innocent in such matters. However, my parliamentary experience in another place reminds me that when so many White Papers, and so on, appear—for example, the White Paper announced by Mr. Michael Heseltine, Statements, the launch of initiatives by Mr. David Hunt today, and, as we understand it, another White Paper to follow tomorrow—that is usually followed fairly quickly by a general election. When is the date?
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, even if I had any idea about that, I would not be in a position to divulge the information to your Lordships.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, with the leave of the House, as there are either two minutes or seven minutes left on the Clock—
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
It is a question of whether we started at zero or minus five. Does the fact that my noble friend the Minister was not able to answer my brief questions on the Federation of Small Businesses and on the Institute of Directors underline the point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that we should really have time for an adequate debate on the subject?