HC Deb 20 June 1990 vol 174 cc907-9
1. Mr. Leadbitter

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what proportion of the components of computers assembled in the United Kingdom are of (a) British and (b) European Economic Community origin.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth)

Official statistics do not show the end uses of electronic components produced in the United Kingdom or the European Community. It is not possible, therefore, to give the information requested by the hon. Member.

Mr. Leadbitter

The Minister's reply is not encouraging, bearing in mind the known fact that neither the United Kingdom nor the Common Market produces any major computer components. Our share of computer components production thus reveals our low skills and damages our balance of payments. What will the Minister do to redress and reverse that damaging situation, bearing in mind the fact that research and development, and its funding, is going on apace in both Japan and America?

Mr. Forth

I regret that the hon. Gentleman wants to portray the industry in such a negative way. The House should know that the truth is that all the major countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, except Japan, have trade deficits in information technology. Another truth is that the United Kingdom has a large trade surplus in information technology with the rest of the European Community, which amounted to £900 million last year. Therefore, although it is unreasonable to pick on any one sector of the economy and to identify the trade flows within that sector, I should like the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to see the industry for what it is—a successful and growing industry, which is attracting inward investment, creating employment and generally being a great success.

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend will be aware that the aerospace industry is a major user of electronic and computer components. In the light of Monday's announcement about the cancellation of 33 Tornado aircraft, will my hon. Friend ensure that both the aerospace and electronics companies in Lancashire, which are so effective, are given the help of his Department's excellent enterprise scheme to support the workers who may lose their jobs?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is correct to identify that the task that now faces all of us is to ensure that the employment that was previously provided by defence sector work is switched as quickly and effectively as possible to alternative work. My hon. Friend is also right to point out that we manufacture, export and re-export considerable quantities of both defence and civil equipment that contains a significant element of electronics componentry and information technology. I am sure that we all want that to continue. I note that, as ever, my hon. Friend is active in those matters and I can assure him that the Department of Trade and Industry will be helping to discover every possible way in which we can switch our efforts from defence to civil activities.

Dr. Moonie

I found the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) somewhat surprising because I am aware—and I thought that he would be—that his Department conducted a survey of computer manufacturers in this country over the past year, which identified a shortage of local suppliers for those components. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case and tell us what his Department wall do to improve that position?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman claims knowledge beyond that which I possess—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Forth.

Mr. Forth

I can confirm that the hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the Department has commissioned and is undertaking the survey to which he referred. That work is as yet incomplete. The hon. Gentleman may be prepared to jump to conclusions on the basis of incomplete information, but neither I nor my colleages are prepared to do so. The hon. Gentleman will have to contain himself, be a bit patient and wait for the full results to emerge before we jump to any conclusions.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will my hon. Friend confirm that computer companies do not know what proportion of components are manufactured in the United Kingdom? The computer companies are keenly interested in what I sense is the underlying purpose of the question, which is to discover the quantity of components that come here from Japan. As yet there are no answers, and I do not believe that the Department will be able to find them at this stage.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) may be inaccurate in his statement that few hardware components are manufactured in the United Kingdom? I am delighted to say that hard disc manufacturing takes place in West Germany and in Denmark, for example. That is the central story of component manufacturing—

Hon. Members

Too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that that is enough.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is renowned for her knowledge of the industry. I am grateful to her for her assistance in clarification. An important point has been made and it is one of which we should not lose sight. We are talking of a global industry in which components move freely across international boundaries. Goods are assembled and manufactured in a variety of different ways. To seek to identify whether components flow one way or another is probably a futile exercise. I doubt whether we could base any policy initiatives on such information.

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