HC Deb 14 December 1983 vol 50 cc988-90
13. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what has been the level of Government financial support to the computer industry over each of the past five years.

Mr. Butcher

Over the past five years £83 million of selective assistance has been provided to the information technology industry rising from £5 million in 1979–80 to £26 million in 1982–83. I have arranged for detailed figures for each of these years to be placed in the Official Report.

Since 1981 the Government have also provided a loan guarantee for ICL. In 1981 and 1982 this stood at £200 million; it now stands at £150 million and will taper away completely by 1 April 1986.

Mr. Greenway

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great success of the Department's computer programme in schools? One computer provided by his Department has led to 20 or 30 computers in many primary, secondary and special schools that I have visited, and to excellent programmes for pupils. However, what is the Department doing to ensure that there are job opportunities for school leavers in the industry, thus making use of the excellent added resources going into the industry, including the help given to ICL?

Mr. Butcher

The schools programme at secondary and primary level has been a great success and I am delighted to report that the three items of equipment in the "micros in schools" programme are of British manufacture. It is also interesting to note that there has been an increase in jobs in the information technology industries. The United Kingdom is now the largest consumer of the industrial and commercial applications of integrated circuits. Those two factors together point the way to a new and burgeoning industry that is aimed at wealth creation for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Stott

The Minister in answer to his hon. Friend mentioned the loan guarantee to ICL. I wonder whether the Minister saw The Sunday Times Business News of 4 December this year, in which Mr. Richard Brooks indicates that secret documents have been revealed about the fears of ICL. He goes on to say that they also warn that IBM, the world's largest computer firm, is intent on strangling ICL. Given the fact that his Government, rightly, have put a great deal of public money into ICL, it is very important that Britain continues to maintain the capacity to he able to build computers in the United Kingdom. Is his Department, therefore, monitoring the situation in ICL and will he be prepared to come to the House and make a statement if further developments take place?

Mr. Butcher

In answer to the hon. Gentlman's first question, I should point out that ICL's future is much better than it was some two or three years ago. ICL's borrowing was 1000 per cent. of funds employed in 1981. It is now 27 per cent., and its recovery in that regard is continuing.

On the second aspect of the hon. Gentleman's question, again this is a sensitive and relevant point. He will know that under my chairmanship a committee called Focus is anxious to produce objective standards against which no dominant supplier should be able to set de facto standards that could drive others out of business. We are anxious to see that there remains a free and open market in software and hardware and we are also anxious to see, for example, that our public purchasing initiative gives genuine opportunities to ICL.

following are the figures:

Year £ million
1978–79 5.3
1979–80 9.2
1980–81 14.8
1981–82 15.6
1982–83 25.9
1983–84 to date 12.3

Forward to