§ Mr. Woodall
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will provide information on the current uses of computers within his Department and plans for their further introduction and extension.
§ Mr. Butler
There are mainframe computers, minicomputers and microcomputers used in a wide range of activities. The Department of Finance and Personnel provides a centralised computing service to the Northern Ireland Office and all the Northern Ireland Departments and also processes work for certain statutory bodies and United Kingdom Departments. In addition, the Department is the focal point for computer policy, and authorises all computer equipment and services purchased for Northern Ireland Departments.
The Department of Finance and Personnel installation processes the payment of social security benefits on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Services, except the payment of unemployment benefit which is currently under development. Other applications include payroll systems for civil servants, teachers, police and Health Service employees, the payment of agricultural subsidies, rent and rate rebates, the production of the annual electoral register and the 1981 population census. The Department of Health and Social Services provides a service for health and the personal social services, including computers in hospitals for patient support and research. The Department of the Environment uses minicomputers and microcomputers for such applications as the collection of rates and highway design and research. The Department of Agriculture has links with computers in Northern Ireland and Great Britain for statistical and research projects; microcomputers are used extensively for several applications, particularly in agricultural education and training.
A consultancy review of computing in the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Departments has just been completed and will be studied by Ministers. It embraced a strategy for the development of information technology and the organisational and other changes which would be needed to implement it.