HC Deb 27 July 1965 vol 717 cc217-9
18. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Minister of Technology what co-operation he has been able to achieve between the British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways in the use and purchase of British computers.

20. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Minister of Technology what steps he is taking to ensure that the computer to be purchased by the British Overseas Airways Corporation will be compatible with that already in use by British European Airways.

Mr. Cousins

Both Corporations have at different times from 1963 onwards satisfied the Government of the day that the computer systems of their choice were the best technical and commercial solutions to their requirements. The computer systems of the Corporations already intercommunicate, but the new equipment which B.O.A.C. are ordering will make this easier. It is important that each Corporation should have the system which meets its requirements, and these are not necessarily identical.

Mr. Lewis

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to put the British computer industry on its feet, surely he could use his influence with nationalised Corporations such as B.O.A.C. to buy a British computer system, because this is the one Corporation which could assist the British computer industry in its developments.

Mr. Cousins

Yes, Sir, I agree that this should have been the position. However, I would remind the hon. Member of the point I made, namely, that since 1963 both Corporations have made it clear to the Government and had the Government's endorsement that they should purchase the computers which they require. They put forward the reasoning—it was put to me in the technological debate—that I ought not to interfere if the Corporations were satisfied that they were getting the best piece of equipment. I happen to hold different views about this, but the facts were as I stated.

Mr. Griffiths

While accepting at once that it is in the interests of both Corporations that they should buy the computers best fitted to their own services, would the Minister not agree that it is wrong that B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. should not have reciprocity; that they are not able to programme one another's passenger information so as to pass it on to one another? Is this not the same as building one railway line with a 4 ft. 8in. gauge and another with a 5 ft. 2 in. gauge? They must be compatible.

Mr. Cousins

It is not the same. The particular operations which these computers are doing are ticket and passenger checking and documentation. These were the aspects in which they were making themselves compatible with American lines which use the international airways. The B.E.A. machine is compatible, to a degree, with the new machine which is being ordered. Therefore, it is not worsening the situation. It is, if anything, easing it. The Corporations, although entitled to have advice and guidance from us—they had it from our Computer Advisory Unit—have been given a wide degree of freedom from Ministerial control in the past, and they exercise this—all the nationalised industries do.

Dr. Bray

Is the Minister aware that this illustrates the need for continuity in such complex systems and that, if we are to avoid such quandaries arising in the future, all the work of his Programming Centre and Computer Advisory Unit is needed to lay the foundations of a healthy industry in future?

Mr. Cousins

That is obviously correct, and we are hoping that the unit will be of value to people who want to purchase computers before they place orders.

Mr. Marples

In view of the importance of compatibility in these computer systems, would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what the advice of the unit was?

Mr. Cousins

On the advice of the unit, we saw no justifiable reason at this stage for preventing B.O.A.C. putting the order where it went.