My Lords, this is a very important debate about the future of our nation’s economy. I would like to commend my noble friend Baroness Wilcox for introducing the subject and for her excellent speech.
Without seeking to rebalance our economy we will struggle to secure the long-lasting recovery that we seek. It was the manufacturing sector that made our country great and it can do so again. In recent years our economy has relied too much on services and too little on goods. I say that despite coming from a background in financial services. We must of course promote our services industry, but it is also imperative that we manufacture and export specialist products. We have the resources to produce and export such goods, as well as the expertise of our people. We must begin to make things again and reactivate our manufacturing capabilities.
I am pleased that the Government have improved our infrastructure, and that they will make further improving it a priority. Strong infrastructure is important to enable goods to be transported throughout the country and overseas. As noble Lords will be aware, specialisation leads to division of labour; as a result of this many products are manufactured in a variety of places. We must therefore provide businesses with the means to get things from place to place as quickly as possible.
Manufacturing declined massively under the previous Government. In addition, they allowed our skill base to drop considerably. I agree with the Government’s policy of taking robust action and improving our system of training and education, particularly in relation to apprenticeships and vocational training. I am very pleased that, under the Conservative Government, we have created more than 1.7 million apprenticeships. This will enhance our manufacturing base and help in our recovery.
We must also enhance our work with universities to bolster our manufacturing capabilities. Much of what is manufactured in this country requires very advanced skills, and while our academic institutions do great things, I feel that the two do not work alongside one another as well as they should. We need a joined-up approach that will allow academia to feed into industry and vice versa. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on this matter, and on what the Government are doing to ensure that it will happen.
We need to encourage the bright thinking that will further promote our manufacturing sector, but we must also protect the ideas that we as a nation produce. In my professional role, I have worked on the insurance of copyrights and patents. I welcomed the Intellectual Property Act, which was introduced by this Government.
Output in our manufacturing sector declined sharply in 2008-09 and, after a short period of growth, it declined again in early 2012. Then 2013 saw something of a recovery, and indeed things do seem to be moving in the right direction in certain sectors. The UK is traditionally a base for high-quality pharmaceutical manufacturing, particularly of innovative medicinal products and delivery systems.
Another area where a revival has been seen is in our motor industry. This is one area where Britain fares very well on exports. Last year, 82% of all cars made in the United Kingdom were exported overseas. Unfortunately, across the board the picture is not that good. More needs to be done to increase our manufacturing capabilities. In this regard, I feel that we need to give assistance to SMEs, which are the backbone of manufacturing and other business activities. They are resilient and certainly determined to do well in whatever they undertake. I am a great supporter of SMEs and in my business life have rendered them support, with the result that my company has flourished and the SMEs, too, have done well.
On many occasions in your Lordships’ House, I have stressed the importance of placing a greater focus on trade, and particularly exports. From more overseas trade comes growth, and from growth will come prosperity and stability. It will also enhance our manufacturing sector and stimulate investment and innovation in new technologies.
We also have much work to do if we are to hit the Government’s target of doubling UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020. The continuing efforts of UK Trade & Investment must be acknowledged, and I applaud the Chancellor for expanding the resources available for exports. Doubling the amount of lending available to exporters and cutting interest rates on this lending will be welcomed across the board, but the fact that exports are still stalling suggests that more should be done. Do the Government plan any further measures to give a shot in the arm to exports?
In this regard, we also need to do more to target emerging markets, particularly those such as India, Brazil, China and Africa. We also need our embassies to take on a more commercial role, opening doors for our businesses and assisting them by pushing the brand of UK plc. They can also assist our business and political leaders in organising more trade missions. I ask my noble friend to comment on those points.
I end by saying that the United Kingdom is doing well financially on its path to recovery. The Government’s achievements can be summarised as follows: the deficit has been cut by a third; more than 1.5 million new jobs have been created; more than 1.7 million apprenticeships have been set up; and our growth, which is expected to be about 3% this year, will be the highest of the G7 countries. We cannot be complacent; we must continue our efforts to improve our financial health and achieve success in every way. More manufacturing will certainly play a vital part in achieving this.