§ 3.6 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, having regard to the recommendations of the Flowers Committee, nearly a year ago, for a further governmental contribution towards the cost of the Atlas Computer at London University for academic research, and the fact that the University has been trying to obtain a favourable decision on this matter for two and a half years, they will now give an assurance that funds will be provided for the use of the computer for research for the 75 per cent. of the time which is not used for commercial purposes.]
§ THE MINISTER OF DEFENCE FOR THE ROYAL AIR FORCE (LORD SHACKLETON)
My Lords, this has been considered as part of a general review of London's requirements for computer time in the light of the Flowers Report. Until the regional centre recommended by the Flowers Report comes into use, there will be some shortfall between stated needs of the colleges and schools of London University and the available capacity, including one quarter of the Atlas computer, which would justify an interim grant to enable the University to purchase further computer time. But I am sorry to say that, while in principle we and the University Grants Committee would wish to see additions to the computing power available to London University, it has not so far been possible to provide an additional grant for this purpose in the current year within available resources.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for answering this Question, may I ask him exactly what his Answer means? Does it mean that the University must now go round touting for commercial contracts in order to pay for the time on the computer which it could put to good use itself? If this is so, does that not give the lie to the claim by the Government to be interested in advanced technology?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I should have thought that the noble Lord knew the history of this computer just as well as I do, and that he knows perfectly well that the original intention was that a large proportion of the time would be sold commercially. I share the noble Lord's anxieties, but the position is simply that, within the resources available, we cannot yet see what can be done this year. I should add that there are certain other proposals, including the early introduction of an IBM machine to University College, and it is hoped that this may ameliorate the situation.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, may I press the noble Lord? If the Government are not prepared to take a grip on a relatively small problem like this, is it any wonder that there is frustration in these circles which want to use their computers for research? This is contributing to the brain-drain. Does the noble Lord remember that three or four months ago, in the debate on the Flowers Report, he said that clearly something must be done? That was in the last Parliament.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
Consideration is being given to this, but there is only a limited amount of resources available. The Government have adopted the Flowers Report. There is a very imaginative and extensive development scheme for the introduction of computers into universities—including London—but we cannot do everything at once. I am very sorry.