HC Deb 06 June 1984 vol 61 cc296-7
5. Mr. Hayes

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many factories in the United Kingdom are now manufacturing microprocessors; and how this compares with 1982 and 1980, respectively.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Companies manufacturing integrated circuits, including microprocessors, in the United Kingdom rose from nine in 1980 and 1982 to 10 in 1984. We are aware of investment proposals in that sector which total about £700 million. There is a prospect of three more companies going into manufacture in the near future.

Mr. Hayes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I welcome that encouraging news, and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on an imaginative initiative? This concerns the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), so if he keeps quiet it might help him. My hon. Friend has taken an imaginative initiative in providing computers to an organisation called DIAL, whose headquarters happen to be in Bolsover. That organisation, particularly in Harlow and Bolsover, will be able to help disabled people claim their benefits, and the officers of the DIAL branch in Harlow have asked me to thank my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Baker

I doubt whether any initiative that I can take will help the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). In this case, we supported a group giving advice to handicapped people. I am glad that we were able to make that contribution, because communicating technologies can significantly improve the lot of all handicapped people.

Dr. David Clark

Is Plessey involved in any microcircuit jobs? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Plessey is closing a factory in my constituency, with 600 redundancies, yet only a few hours ago it announced that a new factory would be opened in Plymouth, creating 600 new jobs? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that not a penny of regional grant goes to Plessey, in view of its deceitful and underhand manner in my constituency?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have been dealing with that matter in his constituency. I would not associate myself with the language that he used about Plessey. It is a major developer of microintegrated circuits. Recently it announced an investment of about £50 million. However, even in the advanced industries there are adjustments in the range of microelectronics. I would not knock Plessey in the way that the hon. Gentleman did. It is a progressive company, of which Britain should be proud.

Mr. Henderson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that microprocessors help most with job creation when they are incorporated in products rather than production processes? Does he feel that British manufacturers should give more attention to the way in which their products could be enhanced by the use of microprocessors?

Mr. Baker

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. It is no good just having companies making silicon chips and integrated circuits; they have to be applied. I believe that they must be applied by the traditional, older industries in Britain, because if they do not use the new technologies they will not be in business over the next five years.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that although the Tory Government, over the past few years, have closed nine pits in my constituency——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman's question about microprocessors?

Mr. Skinner

Yes, I am coming to that. During that period, despite all the assurances given about alternative industry, the Tory Government have not managed to get one single microprocessor plant into the whole constituency.

Mr. Baker

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should try to sell the advantages of his constituency in a more positive way.

Mr. Philip Oppenheim

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Public Accounts Committee report on the Nexos company, which was set up by the Labour Government to develop the British office equipment industry, proves convincingly that the NEB and the BTG ran that company with an abandon that verged on the fraudulent? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that that report proves something which the NEB has denied for over two years—that 800 Japanese facsimile machines costing more than £1 million were sold back to the middle man importers for no more than £1? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a just cause for a ministerial investigation?

Mr. Baker

The PAC has reported on that case, and we are examining it. The lesson which the Government can learn from that investment is that they should not dabble in things in which they are not expert.

Mr. Shore

Do the Minister's figures in his original reply take into account the reported closure last week of three microcomputer firms — Dragon Data, Tycom, about which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware and concerned as it serves the Conservative party, its headquarters and offices, and, thirdly, Camputers? What is the outlook for the microcomputer industry in Britain this year? Is there any evidence that the big boys, including IBM, are using unfair pricing as a means of securing a market share?

Mr. Baker

The answer to the latter question is, not as far as we know, but we are making a survey of it. With regard to the question of microcomputer activity—the question was about microprocessors and silicon chips—I accept that they must be put into equipment. During the past few years there has been a tremendous boom in the manufacturing of electronic equipment. In 1983, for example, we in Britain consumed 29 per cent. of all microcircuits in Europe, which was the largest rate of any European country. Therefore, we have the fastest growing electronics industry in Europe.