§ Mr. J. H. Osborn
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the British computer industry is in a position to take advantage of the opportunities which would be opened up by entry into the Common Market.
§ Mr. Corfield
The Government fully recognise the key importance of the computer industry and the vital part it has to play in the industrial economic and social life of the country, and believe that the British industry would gain considerable advantage from close co-operation with the European industry within the Common Market. The starting point for this co-operation, however, is a competitive British industry, and within it a strong British-owned element in which I.C.L. will have the major part to play.
The Government recognise the importance to the economy of the continued growth of I.C.L., and will continue to adopt a range of measures in support of its activities. As we have already stated, we shall pursue a procurement policy for computers for Government use which is deliberately designed to strengthen I.C.L.'s position in the market-place, and we have urged the nationalised industries and other bodies in the public sector to follow a similar policy. We shall retain our shareholding in the company, and will pay the outstanding balance of the share price next year when it is due. We have also decided to continue the Advanced Computer Technology Project, which has been an important re-enforcement to the industry's research and development programme, and will additionally be prepared to place contracts to assist the development of new products and applications. I.C.L. will be a major beneficiary of both these forms of support. The Government are considering whether, in the light of the financial assistance being given to their computer industries by other Governments, any further measures of support for the company's research and development are desirable.
Another important matter is the continued availability of adequate finance to Computer Leasings Ltd. for leasing I.C.L. computers in the home market. The company is at present at an advanced stage 197W in discussion of the renewal of the agreement for these facilities with the institutions concerned. I have authorised the company to make it clear to the institutions that in this it has the full support of the Government, which would be prepared to assist I.C.L. in fulfilling its obligations under the agreement.
By these measures, and with the continuing support which the company has from E.C.G.D. in the financing of its overseas business, the Government believe that I.C.L., the largest and most successful nationally owned computer company outside the United States, will further strengthen its position.
In Europe, the company has already established close links with the French company, Companie Internationale pour l'Informatique through the medium of Multinational Data in which Control Data Corporation of the United States is also a valuable partner. The Government welcome initiatives of this kind and will support this and similar arrangements in Europe. They recognise that the Government have an important part to play in creating the conditions conducive to collaborative ventures of this kind, and are already discussing these issues with several European Governments.