HC Deb 02 March 1965 vol 707 cc1117-9
10. Mr. David Price

asked the Minister of Technology by what methods he intends to sponsor technological advance in the computer industry.

35. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Minister of Technology what steps he proposes to take to further technological progress in the computer industry.

42. Sir H. Legge-Bourke

asked the Minister of Technology what steps he proposes to take to encourage British computer manufacturers.

Mr. Cousins

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement about computers which I made yesterday.

Mr. Price

We all welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement yesterday as being helpful, but is he aware that the determining factor for success or failure in the British computer industry, with its heavy development costs, is the quantum of orders for hardware? Has the right hon. Gentleman any proposals as yet to put to the House by which, through possible commercial arrangements with some of the European countries, we can make the British home market larger?

Mr. Cousins

This is the purpose of the total exercise. We are designing our efforts to encourage the creation of a suitable type of computer for the home market, with the possibility of it having export value, too.

Mr. Atkinson

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that these questions were put down before we had knowledge of his intention to issue a statement, but now that he has published a statement in some detail, and in particular with reference to setting up of a computer tape bank, will he consider investigating the possible use of microfilm techniques to aid what he proposed in his statement so that we can really get down to the job of having a technologically efficient computer industry in this country?

Mr. Cousins

Nothing will be excluded from the review. It is as well for my hon. Friend to recall that we are talking about establishing a national computer programme centre. This is now in the process of preliminary discussions. This is a complicated problem which must have the good will of manufacturers, programmers, and industry before one can make a success of it.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Arising from the right hon. Gentleman's statement yesterday, which I also welcome, may I ask whether we should assume from it that from now on no Government Department will order computers from America? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is said that the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance is about to order one?

Mr. Cousins

It would be improper to assume, because of my statement, that no American computers would be ordered. Our purpose will be to create the most efficient British computer industry possible in order to do away with the inevitable fact that in many cases computers have been ordered from America because there has been no suitable British computer available in this country.

Mr. Marples

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what criteria Government Departments, and perhaps local authorities, use when purchasing computers?

Mr. Cousins

It would be a little difficult to make a hypothetical assessment of the criteria which will be used. What was determined in the computer statement yesterday was that there would be a computer advisory unit to which we would ask people to come for guidance, and through which we would give them the benefit of our objective survey and encourage them to use British computers if this was a feasible proposition. But at the same time it must be recognised that we shall be talking to many bodies which have their own authorities. We can give them advice, but that is all, unless hon. Gentlemen opposite are suggesting that we should take more than advisory powers.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Will my right hon. Friend consider how to meet the unfair competition, particularly in the supply of computers to universities, where the terms offered by firms competing with British computer firms are often of a non-commercial kind?

Mr. Cousins

This is one of the most complicated aspects of the approach to the universities. We have cases—and they must be known to all hon. Members—of computers offered almost at give-away prices to encourage the use of them. We have said openly from our Department that we think that if people are trained on American computers it tends to make them believe that they are the only ones in existence. There are good American computers. We want good British computers so that the universities can take these instead.