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Civil Service

Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service what change he has in mind on his Department's procurement policy on computers.

The Government's present policy of acquiring large computers by single tender from ICL, subject to satisfactory price, performance and delivery date, will continue until the end of 1980. The Government are examining the consequences for the domestic computer industry of the EEC supplies directive and the GATT government procurement code after that date.

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the United Kingdom's ability to compete will be fully protected in any review?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry about it.

Is the Minister aware that there will be considerable interest in those changes and in the attitude of the Government to the derogation from the Common Market harmonisation policy with regard to future procurement policy? Will he bear in mind that any change in policy might put at risk the continuance of the ICL capacity in main frame computer manufacturing?

I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's experience and treat anything that he says with care. He must bear in mind that the GATT rules now require a change in the policy, but I shall study what he has said.

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will go out to open competitive tender for the fast expanding small computer industry?

Yes, Sir. That has been the practice of successive Governments with computers which are smaller than the ICL 2960.

Will the hon. Gentleman given an assurance to the House that he will maintain Government preference for computer procurement to ICL, and that while working with the EEC for a common policy after 1980 he will not tolerate EEC interference with this Government's right to buy from ICL by preference, as they do now?

I am not sure that I can give the assurance for which the right hon. Gentleman asks. We are bound not only by EEC rules but by the new GATT rules, as I told his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Open Shaw (Mr. Morris), but I shall bear in mind what he has said.

Does my hon. Friend and his Department have an anti-IBM policy, or will they still encourage other people to buy what is best, without guidance?

No, Sir. What I have said is that we shall review our policy in the light of the new situation at the end of 1980. We shall bear all these relevant points in mind.

Is the Minister aware that the EEC also needs new computers? Will he support the application by ICL that there should be extensive use of ICL computers by the European Commission?