Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


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.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I have heard the noble Lord's comments.

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

22 May 1995 : Column 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.

22 May 1995 : Column 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

22 May 1995 : Column 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?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page