HC Deb 27 February 1985 vol 74 cc331-2
14. Mr. Grylls

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he is proposing to solve the problems of skill shortages in the information technology industries.

Mr. Butcher

My Department already supports a number of training initiatives in information technology. In addition, the information technology skill shortages committee, which I chair, will shortly be publishing its final report. That will sum up progress made in implementing recommendations already made by the committee, and will provide signposts for future action.

Mr. Grylls

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Obviously the Government have a real interest, but what are Ministers doing to persuade the industry that it should provide training to help provide the people needed?

Mr. Butcher

The first major result of our initial report on skill shortages has already been delivered, and that is the setting up of an information technology skills agency within the education foundation of the CBI. That will specifically charge itself with the channelling of private sector resources into our higher education sector. I hope that the new partnership, which is a market-driven link between industry and academia, will shortly be in place.

Mr. Hoyle

What steps will the Minister take about the £2 billion deficit in our trade and information technology? That was supposed to be one of the industries of the future. Will it now be another Government failure?

Mr. Butcher

The information technology industry in the United Kingdom, in terms of both hardware and software, is coming back strongly. There is not a pure deficit in information technology products if consumer electronics such as videos are excluded. But it is the case that the Government will do something about the skills shortage factor, which many of our electronics companies are saying is a major constraint on further development.

Mr. Michael Marshall

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not to be regretted that in one hour this afternoon we have covered only some 13 questions? Would the process of achieving greater productivity, which would be appropriate for trade and industry questions, be improved if two Opposition Front Bench spokesmen had not spoken on question 12?

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that some of us feel that the recent doctrine that you have introduced of calling two Front Bench spokesmen from the Labour Opposition during the course of statements and other such proceedings in the House is intolerable to Back Benchers who wish to speak. May we have an assurance that we will not now have a further extension of that doctrine, with two Labour Front Bench spokesmen being called on individual questions during Question Time?

Mr. Speaker

The Liberal and SDP alliance had no fewer than five questions called this afternoon. In relation to the numbers in the Chamber that is a fair measure.

Our productivity was not very high this afternoon, but the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) and the House know that I try to call hon. Members who have later questions on the Order Paper and no fewer than 12 of them were called this afternoon.

Mr. Barron

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) a bit ambiguous? As only one SDP Member is present, there has been no opportunity to call two of them.


Mr. Haynes

Further to a point of order raised earlier Mr. Speaker. You obviously did not see me sitting in the corner of the Chamber. A short time ago the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) raised a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Have not we dealt with that?

Mr. Haynes

No. This is a serious point. From time to time there are complaints and points of order from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House about the length of time taken by supplementary questions to Ministers and their replies. I think you will agree that there needs to be a hurrying up of questions and answers—[HON. MEMBERS: "And points of order."] The real problem is at the Government Dispatch Box. Today we have had the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry spending far too much time attacking the Labour party when he should have been answering questions.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If I may deal with the hon. Gentleman's general proposition, I think that both Front Benches will understand when I say that I am anxious to ensure that more Back Benchers are called. The longer the time taken by Front Benchers on both sides of the House, the less time there is for Back Benchers.