HC Deb 09 February 1981 vol 998 cc596-7
17. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will carry out a study of the impact of public expenditure cuts on the efficiency and production capability of high technology firms; what plans he has to stimulate further investment in high technology; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The Government will continue to pursue their policy of support for technology through financial assistance under schemes such as product process development scheme, the microelectronics support programme and the microprocessor-applications project programme and by positive public purchasing. However successful, high technology enterprise cannot be created simply by doling out the taxpayers' money.

Mr. Roberts

I am sure that, with his usual honesty, the Minister will admit that the greatest indictment of the Government's industrial policies is that productivity is falling rapidly. Does he accept that many high technology firms depend on public sector contracts and that many of those firms have been seriously damaged by the Government's public expenditure cuts?

Mr. Baker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the comments in the first part of his question. I am sure that he meant them to be a general commendation and not a specific one. I agree, generally, with what the hon. Gentleman said about productivity, but productivity in high technology industries is not falling. If the hon. Gentleman has in mind specific high technology projects where investment funds are not forthcoming, will he please let me know?

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Is my hon. Friend convinced that planned savings in Government expenditure as a result of the proposed reform in the payment of sickness benefits will not put further pressure on the finances of high technology businesses and business generally?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend is ingenious, but that is a wider question.

Mr. Orme

Returning to the question of ICL, what will the Minister do to save that British company, which is so important at present?

Mr. Baker

As I said earlier, I deprecate the use of such language. There has been no specific and formal request from the company for assistance, but we are in touch on the future of its research and development programme. I wish that hon. Members, particularly Labour Members, would remember the considerable strengths of ICL. It has 35 per cent, of the United Kingdom market, its export sales last year were £300 million and it has an installed overseas base of £2 million.