HC Deb 19 July 1983 vol 46 cc109-10W
Mr. Woodall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will provide information on the current uses of computers within his Department and plans for their further introduction and extension.

Mr. Jopling

The Ministry uses mainframe, mini and microcomputers and word processors to support a wide range of applications. Two ICL 1904s mainframe computers have been in operation since the mid 1970s and are mainly used to process agricultural census data and to produce payments—and statistical information—relating to approved applications for grants and subsidies. This configuration is also used to provide for various types of scientific analyses, forecasting, survey analyses, internal accounting and, via terminal access to selected users, for on-line interrogation and processing. The Ministry is currently undertaking a detailed review of its needs for replacement mainframe computers.

Where mainframe computing is either inappropriate or unavailable the Ministry has installed free-standing mini or microcomputers. There are approximately 70 of these systems installed in both professional and administrative offices and their uses include on-line process control, data logging, information retrieval, modelling, stock control, analyses and data processing. To assist the Ministry in the management of typing resources, some 25 word processors have been installed in typing pools at headquarter's offices and in regional offices.

Apart from these internal facilities the Ministry makes use of a number of commercial bureaux offering specialist services on information retrieval and is a user of, and a major provider to, the Prestel service.

Based on a recent review of computing requirements, the Ministry is in the process of installing a network of distributed minicomputers; six minicomputers are currently being intalled at five separate locations to provide computing facilities for administrative and scientific staff. This network will allow the rationalisation of otherwise disparate ADP activities and augmented as necessary is likely to be the basis of future developments. The Ministry has developed plans to set up a computerised management accounting information system and a team of staff is currently investigating information flows between headquarters and regional offices with a view to improving communications with the aid of new technology. The Ministry is also about to begin a major trial of office automation, which will permit word processing, electronic filing, electronic mail, electronic diaries and so on, linked into the wider Ministry network.