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Machine Tool Industry

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 16 May 1961

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30.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science what action he is taking to apply scientific development to the machine tool industry in England and Wales.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research supports the Machine Tool Industry Research Association, which was set up last year following negotiations between D.S.I.R. and the industry, and the Production Engineering Research Association, both of which carry out scientific development work. Research of direct value to scientific development of the machine tool industry in all parts of the country is carried out at the National Engineering Laboratory, and also in the National Physical Laboratory. In addition, twelve grants totalling over £170,000 have been awarded in the last two years to six universities and two colleges of technology in England and Wales for research and development work in this field.

That, again, is an excellent reply. But our difficulty is that in the last five years the British producers of consumer durables have been forced, to an increasing extent, to buy their machine tools abroad. The imports of machine tools are rising tremendously rapidly. Money is being spent on research and development, but it is obvious that the British machine tool industry is not expanding scientifically to the extent that it should do in order to compete with foreign manufacturers. Will the Minister do something about this?

If I attempted to answer that supplementary question I should be trespassing upon my answer to Question No. 33.

33.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science if he will make a statement on the Government plans to further research into the machine tool industry.

The Machine Tool Advisory Council, which is fully representative of the industry and is under Board of Trade chairmanship, meets regularly to examine all matters affecting the machine tool industry other than labour matters. In particular, the Council is reviewing the progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Mitchell Sub-Committee, the full report of which was published last November.

Are we ever likely to reach a position in which the importation of special-purpose tools will be prevented, and when those tools can be made in this country? What is the position of the smaller type of firm, with particular reference to the sub-contract firms? Do they seek advice? If so, how do they receive it?

Only at the end of last year we set up the new Machine Tool Industry Research Association, and the volume of research now is definitely improving.

That is not the answer to my supplementary question. May I persist, Mr. Speaker?

When are we likely to reach a position when the importation of special-purpose machines into this country will stop, and we are able to manufacture them ourselves? I take it that that would be the point of research. When are we going to reach that position?

When we start research we can never say when we are going to reach a final conclusion. The hon. Member must remember that if other nations are working hard on research into machine tools, from time to time one nation will have the benefit of a new discovery, but it may be that other nations will make similar new discoveries in relation to different types of machine tools. The state of affairs which the hon. Member postulates may be impracticable on a world-wide basis.