HC Deb 02 March 2000 vol 345 cc537-9
4. Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

What action he is taking to ensure that the UK's manufacturing sector improves its performance relative to overseas competitors in the area of information and communication technologies. [111533]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers)

The Government's policies on new ICT are based on ensuring business success in the new knowledge-based economy. That applies to manufacturing as to other sectors of industry.

Mr. Plaskitt

Many of the thriving small and medium enterprises in my constituency are manufacturing companies and owe their success to operating at the leading edge to information technology. What steps can my right hon. Friend take to encourage the spread of that technology into traditional manufacturing sectors?

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is clearly a deficit in some traditional manufacturing sectors in embracing new technologies. Just before Christmas, my Department published a document that showed by example how traditional manufacturing sectors could benefit from new technologies. By best practice, benchmarking and demonstrating how manufacturing can benefit from new technologies, we will make the case and ensure that more manufacturing sectors embrace them.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

What arrangements are the Government making to measure the loss of mobile IT skills through IR35—especially as their loss will immediately accrue to the advantage of the overseas competitors mentioned in the original question?

Mr. Byers

There are no indications that skilled people are leaving the United Kingdom as a result of the introduction of IR35, which was introduced to clamp down on tax evasion. I am confident that it will be successful in achieving that and that it will not have the detrimental effects to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

How will my right hon. Friend encourage schools, universities and colleges to work with industry, so that companies such as ABB Alstom in Lincoln can meet their needs in terms of the people and skills they desperately need to improve their performance in the manufacturing sector?

Mr. Byers

There is no doubt that we need to break down the divide that all too often exists between a child's experience in school and the world of work. Many companies have exciting and attractive programmes that demonstrate what the world of work is actually like. The more we encourage such links, that will benefit not only individual children but companies and the UK economy.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

I welcome the Government's recent announcement of increased competition in the telecommunications sector. It will clearly benefit both manufacturing and residential users. I have two specific follow-up questions. The Government have announced their intention of accelerating the phasing out of the British Telecom monopoly on local loop. When will that happen? Secondly, since announcements were made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could the Secretary of State set out the respective roles of the Chancellor and himself in determining policy in this area, as it is causing considerable confusion in the industry?

Mr. Byers

The Government have a view, shared by the Chancellor and myself, about the importance of opening up access to the internet. By July 2001, we will have established competition. The regulator at Oftel will be responsible for the discussions that take place. It is a policy that the Government agree with, and it is important that it is delivered because it will be one of the most positive ways of ensuring that the country and individuals benefit from the new technologies that are available.

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