§ 10. Mr. Gwilym Roberts
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he is taking to encourage the introduction of automation systems in United Kingdom industry; and what progress has already been made.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
Under the Department's robotics programme, grants of over £2.6 million have been approved. In June I announced a new £35 million Industry Act scheme to assist the introduction of flexible manufacturing systems. This will supplement £25 million available under the Science and Technology Act 1965 for a continuing programme of related research and development. That is a total of about £60 million. The maximum grant has been raised to one-third to stimulate companies to action this year.
§ Mr. Roberts
Does the Minister accept that, despite his Department's efforts, progress is lamentably slow? Will he remind his colleagues that major technological investments will take place only when the purchasing power of the public sector and of the economy generally is greatly increased.
§ Mr. Baker
I do not necessarily agree with the latter point. One can stimulate investment in the manufacturing sector by other means, as the schemes are showing. The robotics scheme and the small engineering firms investment scheme have been a great success. I am sure that the flexible manufacturing scheme—some £60 million—will be equally successful. In fact, we have already had applications for assistance under that scheme.
§ Mr. Foster
Does the Minister agree that the success of his policies has been so great that the flexibility of manufacturing in the North East has been tremendous? Indeed, companies have almost gone out of existence, so flexible has the manufacturing system become. How much of the money to which he referred has been spent in the North East? Is the Minister aware that the new industries and the magnificent revolution in entrepreneurship promised by the Government have resulted in a loss of jobs, not a gain, in the North of England? Is he further aware that we are in a worse competitive position now than—
§ Mr. Baker
I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about support for the North East and give him the figures. The general thesis of his supplementary question was that we should not automate because it led to a loss of jobs. I have refuted that argument from this Dispatch Box on many occasions. The choice for British industry is to automate or to liquidate.