HC Deb 22 June 1981 vol 7 cc1-3
1. Mr. Forman

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he is taking to ensure that British industry is made sufficiently aware of the benefits obtainable by the use of information technology.

The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The Government have designated 1982 as Information Technology Year. Information Technology Year will form part of the Government's strategy to promote a wider appreciation in industry and among the general public of the opportunities offered by the new technologies. There will be a wide range of activities, including a two-day conference and exhibition at the Barbican centre in London in December 1982, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has agreed to open.

Mr. Forman

Although I warmly appreciate the great efforts of my hon. Friend and his Department in this important area, can he give the necessary assurances to me and my constituents that all manufacturers of this kind of equipment—Mullard of Mitcham, in my constituency, and many others throughout the country—will receive the maximum possible support from the Government both by public sector purchasing and by using the public sector, particularly the Civil Service, as a showcase for the demonstration of appropriate equipment?

Mr. Baker

Yes, Sir. I can give that assurance. I visited the Mullard factory in my hon. Friend's constituency, and I pay tribute to the business, which is making many chips for the Teletext and Viewdate sets and is contributing to our efforts in that part of the industry, where we have a world lead.

As for the use of the public purse, I announced last week a scheme to have eight prototype offices of the future in parts of the public sector. I hope that they will be operating by the early part of next year. This is clear evidence of the Government's intention to persuade the public sector and Whitehall to use these new technologies.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Is it not paradoxical, when we are thinking about Information Technology Year, to have such a massive closedown of so many ICL plants and establishments? Will the hon. Gentleman see what can be done to bring forward the public purchasing of ICL computers and revoke the extension of the life of computers in the public service, which was recently, I believe, increased from seven to 10 years?

Mr. Baker

I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. I shall look into both those points. There will be a debate about ICL in the House later this week on the Adjournment. I re-emphasise what I have said before in the House, that the British computer industry is much more than simply ICL. Many medium and small companies are increasing employment and increasing their output. The problem for the hardware companies is that throughout the world there is a shift away from hardware to software, and no company can be entirely immune.

Mr. McNally

No company can be immune, but should not the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues be giving far clearer support to the survival of ICL, rather than making that kind of equivocal statement, which will have an impact on its sales abroad, where ICL has done very well? May we have from Ministers a clear declaration of faith in ICL?

Mr. Baker

I have said at the Dispatch Box in the past, and I shall say it again this week, that the Government are very concerned about ICL's future. That is why we have provided it, as a major supplier to the Government, with a guarantee of £200 million. Whenever I have spoken about ICL, I have always emphasised that half its business is overseas and that it is one of the major exporters of hardware around the world.

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