§ 15. Mr. Iain Mills
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what action Her Majesty's Government is taking to encourage the use of robots in industry.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
My Department provides support for awareness, research, use and manufacture of robots. In addition, the Science Research Council looks ahead to the next generation of robots with its recently launched academic-industrial partnerships programme. Altogether, current Government support is running at approximately £1.3 million per annum.
§ Mr. Mills
My hon. Friend may realise that constituents in the West Midlands and elsewhere will be reassured by what he has said. Does he accept however, that the introduction of robotics, not only in the car manufacturing industry, but in the components industries, is so vital a matter that he should consider making direct grants for the purchase of such robots, especially in the West Midlands?
§ Mr. Baker
I assure my hon. Friend that such support is available from my Department. Grants are available for the trial purchase of robots and robotic equipment, especially in the engineering industries, which are common in my hon. Friend's constituency. Unless Britain adapts and uses this sort of equipment, we shall lose in the competitiveness race.
§ Mr. Park
Does the Minister agree that it would hardly make sense if Nissan-Datsun, assuming that it is located 611 in an assisted area, were to receive 40 per cent. grants towards the cost of automation, while such assistance is denied to companies in the constituency of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) and in mine which will be competing with Nissan-Datsun? That sort of approach does not add up.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
In view of what is happening today in the public sector, will my hon. Friend tell me when it is proposed to introduce robotics or robots into the Civil Service at Government level? Does he agree that if that were to happen it might result in the giving of better advice than has been proferred in the last year or so.
§ Mr. John Garrett
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that much of the pioneering work in the development of robotics was carried out in this country, yet we lag behind similar countries in their application? Does he agree also that it is often the case that British inventions are not developed in Britain beyond the innovative stage? Does he further agree that his reply, which suggests that £1.3 million is being devoted by the Government to this activity, is trifling compared with what the Japanese and the French are doing?