HL Deb 12 July 1985 vol 466 cc424-6

11.17 a.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why they have withdrawn their grant to the United Kingdom Council for Computing Development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)

My Lords, for its first three years the Department of Trade and Industry provided funds to help the council become established. It was never our intention to provide support on a permanent basis and the time has now come for the council to convince industry of its usefulness and attract funding from that source.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is it not the case that the Government assisted in setting up this council some three years ago with great fanfares for the purpose of assisting the British computing industry to sell its wares in the third world? Is it not the case also that this is a matter of only £20,000 a year; and is it not mean at this stage to withdraw it in view of the fact that the French pay out 10 times as much as we do for the same purpose and the Japanese 100 times as much?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the Government did not in fact assist in the setting up of this charitable, educational, advisory body. They made a subscription for one year of £20,000 which they continued for a second year and then for a third, and then gave notice of their intention not to continue. It is not a question of selling the computer industry's products. A comparison with either France or Japan is not fair or true because international comparisons of this nature do not start from the same base. Secondly, the noble Lord opposite fails to recognise the considerable aid given to the industry through other sources, notably the British Council and our foreign posts overseas.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord reconsider his Answer to the Question addressed to him by my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby? Is it not true that, regardless of any kind of statistical base in which the noble Lord seeks mathematical refuge, in fact other countries in the world, our competitors, are contributing towards their particular industries in this field on a massive scale which makes any puny mathematical calculation to a decimal point absolutely pointless? Will the noble Lord address himself again to the Question and report to his right honourable friend?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I will not reconsider my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. That is the truthful Answer to his perfectly proper Question. I remind your Lordships that the DTI alone gives over £200 million worth of assistance to the IT industry.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord said about France, do the Government intend to make any response to the call made by President Mitterrand during his State visit to this country and his address to both Houses of Parliament for a developing European computer industry so that Europe could be less dependent on the United States and Japan? How does that square with what the Government have just done?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, that really is a very different question, but both the Government and the industry are in very close collaborative contact with other firms in that industry in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I make another appeal to the Minister? When this is such a paltry sum, £20,000 a year, is it not symbolic of the Government's assistance to the computer industry in attempting to export its wares and train people to use them in the third world? If the noble Lord wishes to make comparisons, is he not aware that if he makes them with France and Japan (the two countries I mentioned) on the basis of commercial diplomatic representation abroad or subsidies from the DTI, both France and Japan can demonstrably be shown to put a great deal more Government money into the support of such industries than this Government do?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, asks exactly the same question but in a different way. I do think that I have answered his Question.