HC Deb 30 March 2000 vol 347 cc482-3
4. Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

What assessment he has made of the impact the internet will have on overall levels of productivity in the next two years. [115663]

The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

All the indications are that e-commerce will help to drive up productivity, but we have in hand a programme of research to measure its impact, including the impact on productivity.

Mr. Davies

I welcome my hon. Friend's response. She will be aware that United States productivity in leading manufacturing sectors, such as steel instrument production and the manufacture of electronic goods, increased by 5.7 per annum between 1990 and 1996. Does she think that that evidence points towards a renaissance in productivity in British manufacturing? Is she, like me, concerned about a possible digital divide between the haves and the have nots? Individuals, sectors and regions should have access to new technology so that we are able to boost productivity across the industrial base and so that all of us in Britain can benefit from the new prosperity that such technology promises.

Ms Hewitt

My hon. Friend is right on both points. I am certain that the impact of e-commerce will help to create this country's 21st century manufacturing base in all sectors. On Tuesday, I published the Government's strategy for countering the digital divide and for ensuring that, in every part of our community, children and adults will have access to the internet and the skills and confidence to use it.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Has the Minister noted that Three Corn, which supplies equipment to the Department of Social Security, the Ministry of Defence and many other Departments, has announced that it will no longer be supporting the products that it has sold to the Government? What effect will that have on the productivity of computer systems that are already under pressure and not working properly? Will the Minister make a statement on that? The Government may need to have urgent talks with Three Corn about the future of government computing and its productivity.

Ms Hewitt

I am not aware of the specific announcement or the contracts to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but next week we shall publish our strategy for e-government. We are also undertaking a review of IT procurement within government to learn the lessons of what were, frankly, disastrous IT procurement projects undertaken by the previous Government.