HC Deb 09 March 1981 vol 1000 cc610-1
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 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. Baker

That is a question of regional policy rather than of robots and robotics. It was answered effectively, I thought, by my hon. Friend earlier.

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. Baker

I assure my hon. Friend that there are certain human activities that are not applicable to robotics.

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?

Mr. Baker

I agree broadly with the hon. Gentleman. I am anxious to increase this programme. What one lacks more than anything are ideas. Japan has as many robots or robotic machines in use today as has the rest of the world put together. We cannot afford to be complacent about this situation.