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Volume 975: debated on Monday 10 December 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will introduce incentives for British industry to adopt robots.

It is important that British firms should consider urgently what benefits robotics may offer them and take an early interest where these are likely to be crucial, even in the longer term. Support of novel applications is possible through existing arrangements, for example the microprocessor applications project.

As that sounds a bit like misplaced timidity, if I may say so, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that we have had the need in this area for the past 15 years but that, as usual, those who want to develop robots have been deprived of resources? Is he further aware that our main competitor in this area—Germany—is investing greatly? What does he intend to do about it?

As I said to the hon. Lady, it is possible to support novel applications through existing arrangements, for example the microprocessor applications project. We shall, of course, help support and develop robotics in the United Kingdom where such support is essential and can be found within existing provisions.

Is my hon. Friend aware that of far greater potential benefit to the United Kingdom economy than the manufacture of silicon chips is the application of these devices to British industry? Is he satisfied in this connection that those British firms which are tailor-making equipment to provide for the automation of British industry, are showing the necessary ingenuity and flexibility?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the benefits which come from the application rather than from the original main invention. We should like to see—and seek to create—an environment in which we encourage British industry to take more advantage of new processes of this kind.

Will the Minister always keep his eyes to the future and to modernisation? Will he also bear in mind such schemes as that which has been brought into operation by Mr. Len Ferns, I think, in the North-West, who has decided to pay the income tax of his employees and has therefore cut out the squabbles and enmity that is created by employees having to pay income tax on their wages? Will he look into that scheme and see whether he can enlarge it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to that particular scheme. I visited the factory and saw for myself the dynamic effects it has had on the pace of the work of those employed there. There may well be wider applications, but the lesson from it, surely, is that lower tax is a major incentive and that we should not fail to take note of that.