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Commons Chamber

Volume 13: debated on Friday 27 November 1981

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House Of Commons

Friday 27 November 1981

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Information Technology

9.34 am

I beg to move,

That this House recognises that the information technology industries which already employ over 500,000 people will be the major source of prosperity and employment in the 1980s and welcomes the initiatives which the Government have taken to stimulate the growth of this important 'sunrise industry'.
I am extremely fortunate to have come first in the ballot for Private Members' motions today. It gives me great pleasure to discuss a subject which has not been discussed in depth since July 1980. It is perhaps instructive to recall that almost the same right hon. and hon. Members are here today as were present on that occasion. Many of them will recall that the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), moved the motion with great expertise and knowledge, and that my hon. Friend the present Minister for Industry and Information Technology made the major speech on the subject, after that of the Minister. I am grateful that they are both here today to continue the discussion on this subject.

This subject is not given enough attention, except by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd), who has always shown great interest in this industry and who has repeatedly put the spotlight on it in the House. I am glad that he, too, is here today, and I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

I am sorry that not many hon. Members are here today, but I hope that they will read Hansard, not because of the brilliance of my eloquence, or even that of my colleagues, but because this is one of the most crucial areas of development in British industry and in the British economy. This is an opportunity to discuss the matter and consider what progress has been made since our debate in July 1980. The Government have taken many initiatives, but there is still much to do.

What is information technology? Already the jargon barrier that surrounds sophisticated technology has begun to take hold. I hope that my colleagues will try to use what I shall call ordinary English, and not jargon, so that those who listen to and read it may understand more easily what we are discussing.

The Department of Industry's booklet contains a definition of information technology. It is:
"The acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics -based combination of computing and telecommunications."
That is a good bit of jargon to start with, although I imagine that it is fairly well understood by most people.

The hardware, the equipment involved in this industry, concerns items such as typewriters, whether they be ordinary electric typewriters, memory typewriters, video typewriters or even automatic typewriters. It concerns computers, visual display units, and television screens on which there is computer information. In computers, it involves computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture. In parts of the motor industry machines put cars together. The hardware also includes computers in education. Children now are far more familiar with computers and how they operate than I was—and I suspect the same applies to many older hon. Members. It concerns telephones, whether they be ordinary telephones, those involved in satellite communications, those involved in teleprinters, or even facsimile. Again, information technology plays a part.

Teletext is an innovation. Hon. Members will know that it involves the use of a television screen to present information on a changing and continually updated basis. There is a Prestel operation in the Library, and those hon. Members who have not had a chance to use it should take the opportunity. It is instructive, in a comfortable environment, to see how it works. Perhaps we should spread the message more widely. It is a British achievement of which we should all be proud.

Teledata also uses a television screen. The BBC runs Ceefax, and Oracle is the independent service. Copiers at all levels of capability are involved in information technology. Robotics is the making of pieces of equipment by automated equipment. I am sure that hon. Members will wish to speak about microbiological techniques and fibre optics. Even Citizen Band, which has recently achieved much publicity, can be deemed part of the information technology explosion. That is some of the equipment involved, although I am sure that I have left out some aspects which other hon. Members will mention. All those pieces of equipment are interrelated at all levels and in all types of industry—education, health care, communications and the public service. As many hon. Members know, they are increasingly centred on the manufacture of the silicon chip.

My interest in information technology is threefold. First, before being a Member of Parliament, I used to work for IBM—a computer company—and Rank Xerox, the British operation of the Xerox corporation. From about 1970 I was a sales executive, first with IBM and then with Rank Xerox. Therefore, I was involved in the market for about 10 years. I was in at the early stages of word processing and copying developments. Although many aspects of typewriters and copiers have changed over the years, the explosion started at the latter end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s. I was fortunate enough to be involved in it.

Those two companies dominated the technology world in the office, and perhaps print environment. I was involved in two particular sales to local authorities when I worked for IBM. One sale was to the borough of Broxbourne, as it then was, which is, I believe, represented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). The borough recognised that it had a problem with paper work and believed that there was room for developing an automated system to cope with the problem. The borough had a fairly advanced approach, and I played a small part in that. I do not know how successful the operation has been or how far it has developed. For several years, I was a member of the council of the London borough of Haringey. That borough was far-sighted in its decision to use an automatic typewriter to cope with its electoral register. It was a fairly simple operation, but at least the borough showed an interest in the field.

There is room for more to be done. Above all, when I worked for those companies, I was given the opportunity to visit a wide variety of large and small companies and to see for myself—whether in manufacturing or service industries—the great potential for changing their operations to bring them up to date with future developments. In many cases, their equipment was outdated beyond belief, and in some cases even antediluvian. It was almost a case of people sitting on tall stools.

I saw the potential for introducing information technology into offices. Those most interested in information technology were the small companies or one-man bands that were starting up. They realised that it might not be worth taking on extra staff, with all the problems involved, when they could use a typewriter, copier or telephone link.

Perhaps it is heartening that the innovators and entrepreneurs are the most interested in information technology. If we are to make a major impact on the British economy, the large industries and companies must adopt the same attitude. At the time, many of them thought information technology was just gimmickry. Many larger companies thought that, although copying was a convenience industry, it produced more paper work and cost more money. They did not see its great potential.

The second reason for my interest is my membership of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs. The union is, in many respects, extremely advanced in its attitudes and in the number of those who work in up-to-date industries. However, it and many other trade unions are potentially, and understandably, the new Luddites. I do not mean that unkindly. They are required to protect their members' jobs at all costs. By the very nature of some of the proposals that must follow the introduction of information technology, those jobs may be at risk. However, the risks of unemployment increasing in the long term will be much greater if we fail to adopt new technology. My hon. Friend the Minister has often used the analogy of the ostler, who is put out of business by new improved stage coaches and the introduction of automobiles.

The third reason for my interest is that I became involved with Preston first as a candidate and then as a Member of Parliament. British Aerospace and the defence and aerospace industries play an enormous part in that area. I saw at first hand how important such technology was to that industry. The industry is more interested in production technology, although it incorporates a fair degree of information to technology. In many areas, it is the world leader. Perhaps the industry's satellite involvement is of most interest. Equally, it is an advanced manufacturer of aeroplanes and other defence electronic equipment and uses more and more sophisticated machinery and equipment in its manufacturing processes.

I spoke earlier of computer-aided design and manufacture. British Aerospace recently wrote to me saying that it was particularly concerned about the problems that it faced with production technology and the equipment that it required to make more sophisticated aeroplanes. One of the local directors wrote to me about aeronautical information research:
"This shows that in 1970 the UK was investing one fifth of that invested in the USA whereas in 1978 our investment had dropped to only one tenth of that of the USA. To make matters worse our investment in 1978 is less than that in either France or Germany, our primary European competitors … In spite of the difficulties it is vital that something is done, and quickly, or production technology developments in the USA, Germany and Japan … will destroy the competitiveness of the aerospace industry in Britain, which will then suffer the same fate as many of our manufacturing industries."
That shows British Aerospace's concern about the developments and how they are to be paid for.

I have given the three chief reasons for my involvement and interest in such an increasingly important subject. Indeed, 1982 has been designated Information Technology Year. I am not sure who designated it as such. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on that later. In itself, that shows the importance of information technology. It will become increasingly important during the year as a result of the activities undertaken, not only because of the effects of information technology but because of its enormous potential for Britain. I need only mention such words as growth, jobs, export orders, productivity and profitability to give hon. Members some idea of what I am talking about.

What are the specific objectives of Information Technology Year? First, we shall focus on the general public. In some ways, they are the most important aspect. We shall focus particularly on children, and we have already seen evidence in the "micros in schools" scheme of the Government's commitment. We shall also focus on young people and on the working population. All that happens in ITY will involve media coverage, including teletext and viewdata. There will be displays and demonstrations in most towns. I understand that the Design Council will use a mobile exhibition to travel the country. There will also be some activity at the Ideal Home exhibition and various other activities.

Companies will be encouraged to open their doors so that the public can see the developments that are taking place. Perhaps we shall see the office of the future, about which so much has been said. Designated organisations are revamping their offices to encompass the newest techniques. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on something that the general public talk about, but are perhaps not clear about. I refer to the fact that, as a nation, we are suspicious of ticketing and docketing and of being put into little compartments. There is concern about the possible threat to individual liberty by the data bank. That concern can be answered, but, in the interest of the public's peace of mind, we should not ignore it.

Secondly, the focus will be on industry, both private and public, building on the success of the microprocessor application project, which has been supported so well by industry and of which the microtrain is a particularly good part.

I had the good fortune to see the microtrain recently at the invitation of the Minister for Industry and Information Technology. It is a train with five or six coaches which has been travelling the country. It is full of equipment which shows industry and schools how much potential there is in information technology. I congratulate the Government. I enjoyed my visit. I saw some of the new toys which are based on computers. I went straight from the train to a distinguished large toyshop in the centre of London and bought a couple of the toys as Christmas presents for my children. I shall probably play with them myself. They are remarkably sophisticated.

I am sorry that the TUC liaison sessions have not been as good as I would wish. I hope that trade unions at all levels will adopt an open-minded approach to that important matter, although I understand their anxiety. The Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians and the National Association of Theatrical, Television and Kine Employees are involved in television and filming. With the increased use of videotapes, their attitude is crucial to developments.

Why is information technology so important at this moment? Developments in education highlight how quickly we can move. Many of us know how familiar young children are becoming with the use of computers, tapes and television. The Minister, in his last speech from these Benches, referred to the digital expertise of his children. My children are not as old as his, but I am sure that they will develop the same expertise. In our schools children are doing things that were space-age fantasies when we were at school. We only read about such techniques in Eagle. It is important to continue to encourage the appreciation of information technology because some children will be responsible for designing and developing it when they grow up.

Other countries are using information technology in increasing quantities, and not only in the West. The information technology industry and all leading industries have an interest.

I have referred to the views of British Aerospace on the need to invest in information technology. It is interesting to draw out one simple statistic. The United States, West Germany and Japan are net information technology exporters in a market which is worth about £50 billion and which is rising at a rate of about 10 per cent. per annum. The United Kingdom is a net importer of information technology and about £300 million a year is involved. If nothing is done the information technology trade gap will treble by 1990.

The opportunity is there. It is pertinent to quote from a book which has recently had some publicity and in which I had a part. In our chapter on industry policy in "Changing Gear" we say:
"Conservatives should support carefully selective assistance to industry, especially to those sectors with positive growth and profitability prospects—what the Japanese call 'sunrise industries'. Some of the horses we back will fail: but it takes no great visionary power to see that the tentative moves already made to support microbiology, information technology and microprocessor applications must be right. Having identified promising areas, all Government Departments—led by the Treasury and the Departments of Trade and Industry but not excluding any agency of Government which spends money—should join in a concerted and relentless effort to support and develop them."
I support those words. They are crucial to the future of our industry generally.

In an article in The Guardian the Minister said that the Government had to
"put its own house in order."
He said that it was
"a sad reflection that so little office technology was used in the Civil Service, in improving the service to the public."
That is no criticism of the Civil Service but, because it is involved so much in a great administrative and bureaucratic, in the literal sense of the word, operation, radical improvements could be made by the introduction of new equipment which could cut the delays and perhaps even that mythical red tape.

I am not ashamed to say that I believe that an aggresive public procurement policy for British equipment is in the country's interests. Many other countries have such a policy. There is no reason why we should not. One has only to think of France to appreciate how strongly some nations feel about the matter.

What have the Government set out to do and what have they achieved? The Government's objectives in the area are fourfold. The first is to provide a national telecommunications network capable of stimulating and creating demands for new services. The second is to develop a statutory and regulatory framework in the United Kingdom which will favour the growth of information technology products. The third is to raise the awareness of all potential users of the possibilities of the technology. The fourth is to encourage the development of new products and techniques through direct support and enlightened public purchasing.

It is amazing how much has been done in so short a time. The Government made a quick and detailed response to the Acard report, which followed, or perhaps preceded, the appointment of a Minister responsible for information technology. The Minister is now known as "Mr. Fizz" in the corridors of power because he is working so hard to generate interest and activity in the subject.

I warn the Minister about an article in the New Standard in which he is reported to have said that British Aerospace possibly made better satellites than aeroplanes. He should be cautious about saying such things, particularly if he comes to Preston where, as everybody knows, all products made by British Aerospace are of equal excellence. No one product is better than the other.

The Minister has given a great lead. He has experience of the industry and that is important. He has a firm commitment to what he is doing. As a result, the informed and technical press continually feature the initiatives that he and his Department are taking. That must be good news, not only for the Government but for the country as a whole.

In another article, the Minister said that he was addicted to cutting hedges. I assume that that explains his commitment to "privetisation". I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) who has recently joined the Department. The Ministers and the Department have been involved in the liberalisation of British telecommunications. I do not intend to be partisan, but I believe that the Government have taken an initiative which perhaps would not have been taken by a Labour Government. It is in the interests of industry and the country that such a stance be taken.

I now quote from a letter that I received only this morning from a person involved in the computer industry. He says that the liberalisation of British Telecom
"could alter the structure of British industry by both improving communications within and between companies and by enabling any business or organisation to have minute-by-minute control over its affairs".
I also know of the especially firm grasp that the Minister had of the problems faced by ICL. Many hon. Members must be aware of the difficulties faced by ICL, but none the less its future is brighter because of the Minister's decision to try to get it into a competitive market on a firmer basis. In the same letter, the gentleman involved in the industry said:
"I would commend the efforts of the new management team who have, in the space of a few months, brought ICL from a relatively backward state with regard to its net working capabilities to the very forefront of this technology."
I spoke earlier about the "micros in schools" project. What a good idea that was. The children of Britain will owe an enormous amount to the initiative taken by the Minister—encouraged so strongly by the Prime Minister—in installing computers in every school. I am sure that many hon. Members agree with that.

I also talked earlier about the achievements of the microprocessor application project and the microtrain. Central in my speech was the decision to designate next year Information Technology Year, with all that that will entail. There is also £80 million of direct support from the Government to help research and development, and the MAP and MISP schemes. Information technology centres are being set up around Britain, which will have an effect on publicity and education.

All in all, the acorns have been planted and the roots nurtured. It is up to the information technology industry to react to the challenge of an ever-increasing market. It is up to the industry as a whole to use such developments as a means to an end to capture markets with existing and new products, and to radicalise their approach to office and factory in the interests of the work force, shareholders and the country. It is up to schools and colleges to provide children with an awareness from a young age of the capabilities and the potential of information technology. It is up to employers and trade unions in harness to approach the introduction of sophisticated technology with an open mind and a spirit of co-operation.

It is up to the Government to build on the lead that has so excellently been given. It is up to hon. Members and the general public to learn, support, encourage or demand where necessary. We must do whatever is necessary to ensure that in this vital, burgeoning, new world of information and production technology Britain is up with the leaders. The markets are there to conquer. Let us go out and do it.

10.4 am

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) on bringing before the House such an overwhelmingly important subject. It is perhaps a little disappointing that there is such a poor turnout for the debate.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the major growth in this area was in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps I am much older than the hon. Gentleman, but I remember that those of us who fiddled with the original Pegasus computers in the 1950s were aware, even at that stage, that there were some signs of growth in this area. However, I accept that the real growth was in the 1960s and 1970s. The growth that we have seen is nothing compared with the growth that is about to descend upon us, because we are only now entering into the era of information technology.

I start by disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman on a few minor points, so that I can agree with him later. I do not agree with his view about the attitude of the trade union movement to the arrival of information technology. For some time I have felt that trade union leaders have been well aware—I do not mean the great mass of membership of the trade union movement, which is a different matter—of the impact that such technology will have on our pattern of life. As many hon. Members will know, the TUC has produced a comprehensive report on the impact of some of those techniques.

Another matter about which I am slightly doubtful is the hon. Gentleman's global acceptance—perhaps the Minister agrees with his hon. Friend about this—of the wonders of the system to children. He described it as space-age fantasy. That is important, but it also has dangers. One can never replace basic mathematical techniques and understanding. There is a danger—I say this as a humble mathematician—that the fundamental mathematical techniques will be lost in the wonders of the machine. Having said that, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general argument about the importance of the technology and the fact that it is arriving rapidly.

I also congratulate the Labour Government and this Government on the work that they have done on this matter, especially the present Government, who have rapidly accepted the Acard report. They have appointed a Minister and introduced a wide range of financial support, both in industry and education. Despite my doubts about education, I agree that it is important that youngsters should meet such technology at an early age. Even if we do not fully understand the implications, it is important that, to them, it should become a normal part and parcel of life.

A matter about which I am concerned—it was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—is the definition of information technology. How does one define it? We have been too much obsessed with the collection and processing of data, and not enough the application of it. I do not believe that the Government have laid enough stress on the application of data in terms of automation systems and systems that produce the goods in industrial terms.

If information technology is to revolutionise Britain not only our form of living as individuals, but our economic base, about which I am even more concerned—clearly the industrial changes and systems are important. During the term of the previous Government we had the Inmos project, of which, as many hon. Members will know, I was not greatly enamoured. I felt that it was not an area in which we could successfully compete. Under the present Government the stress has been laid almost exclusively on such things as office equipment, the office of the future, computers, telecommunications and even space. Too little emphasis has perhaps been put on systems. The Minister may point out what has been done with robots, and that is a step in the right direction, but automated systems go beyond the robot industry and have a wider impact.

The hon. Member for Preston, North referred to our imbalance of trade in information technology, but there is no imbalance of trade in systems. We are well behind in computers, the office side of the technology, and in the chip project, to which I referred. We are struggling at the back. We cannot compete with the Americans or the Japanese in the computer market, but in automation systems and the application of information technology in industry we are well ahead of almost any other country. We sell our systems in competition with the Germans, Japanese, Americans and so on. Many of our leading firms sell their systems world-wide.

Incidentally, the industry believes that the Government should do something about the Iron Curtain embargo. People come here to see our automation systems, but they cannot buy them because of an outdated embargo list.

More emphasis should be placed on the usage of systems. The recession and recessionary policies in recent years have caused problems. Like other industries, many major systems manufacturers are greatly dependent upon a large home market. Public sector purchasing is all important. The recession has affected the purchasing policy of, for instance, British Steel and the CEGB, which were leading users and therefore, indirectly, leading systems developers. Consequently, the serious effect on private industry, which has depended upon the public sector which has gone in for more and more advanced systems. Now vital developments are being held up.

The Government should also consider using advanced technology to stimulate economic growth. One argument for the Inmos project was that it would provide a nucleus for growth in a depressed area. Increasingly over the next decade economic growth will be more and more tied to high technology. Whether in the public or private sector, high technology research can act as a nucleus. The research personnel who come to the units stimulate additional growth and development.

Our economic advance is linked to technological growth, and the nucleus effect is important. We must face the implications of technological change. It is often argued from the Opposition Benches that large increases in public expenditure would greatly reduce unemployment, but the new technology will have detrimental long-term effects on unemployment. As technological change speeds up—as I said, it will move ahead much more rapidly in the next decade—the average number of hours of work per individual will decrease.

We should welcome that fact, but there may be difficulties in doing so. Old attitudes need to be changed. Among the Tories we can think of the traditional old colonels who come off the golf course bemoaning the fact that miners take a few hours off in the afternoon. On the Opposition Benches, the work ethic is ingrained in us. My family had a poster for Keir Hardie in Merthyr Burroughs in 1910, which, in addition to stating "Vote for Keir Hardie", in huge letters underneath had the words "The glory of work". The obsession with work prevails on both sides of the House.

The gift of information technology to the mass of working people in the 1990s will, for the first time, be real leisure. As in the old Chinese maxim, the growth in information technology that we have seen will rapidly accelerate. We shall have for the first time the opportunity to enhance the philosophy that man does not live by bread alone. We should discuss the new technology in the House and move with it. It will give the great mass of people the opportunity to lead a decent and more abundant life.

10.18 am

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts), who is a parliamentary adviser to a significant part of the engineering industry. We always listen to him with great interest. He made a number of valid points, and I do not disagree with the general tenor of his speech. I wish to develop his point about the role of trade unions, which can be constructive. In addition, his point about the application of information technology is well taken.

I join the hon. Gentleman in applauding the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) in raising the issue. It is nearly 18 months since the House had the opportunity to cover the whole spectrum of information technology. It is, indeed, a vast canvas, so there is a problem for those of us who wish to contribute to the debate to select the part of that great subject in which we hope to make our impact.

My hon. Friend gave the House a good start in painting the broad canvas, and he was kind enough to refer to my hon. Friend the Minister of State and me in a former capacity. I warned my hon. Friend the Minister of State that I would look up his speech of 18 months ago and remind him of the 10-point programme that he then urged on the Government as represented by myself at that time.

It is salutary and rewarding thought that all Back Benchers should feel that they have an opportunity to make speeches of the power, range and vision of my hon. Friend, with the direct result that within six months he was Minister of State in the Department of Industry with responsibility for information technology, and was working for him. It was a very happy period. Now that he is here in this capacity, I know that he would wish, and would feel he could do no less than, to give us an account of what he has achieved in carrying out his 10-point programme. For that reason I shall not unduly press the points made at that time, but merely comment on one or two aspects of the proposals that he put forward then because they are just as relevant today.

For example, the greater selling effort by the Department of Trade and Industry is an important aspect in which my hon. Friend has taken an active part. I think a progress report would be useful. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North touched on Government procurement, which is also worthy of an updated report, to judge the progress in that regard. I draw a veil over some of the arguments that my hon. Friend deployed 18 months ago about urging the Treasury to look at the ways in which tax worked against the service industries. I recognise that he may not give a definitive answer on that today, but, nevertheless, I believe that what he said then is still true.

The question of technology agreements, involving the Government as an employer, fits squarely with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Cannock about the relationship with trade unions. I pay tribute to some of the thinking that has gone on, for example in the Post Office Engineering Union, which has been far-sighted and has recognised the positive advantages offered by new technology. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are people in the TUC who recognise the great importance of this in terms of additional jobs and, indeed, the leisure aspects he described.

The wider question of educational aspects of information technology is a crucial area. My hon. Friend has reminded the House again about what I believe may be almost the single most important purchasing decision made by the Government, which is to facilitate the introduction of microcomputers in schools. My hon. Friend's objective is to have one microcomputer in every secondary school by the end of 1982. That decision has wider significance if we consider in the context of youth unemployment the whole new and numerate generation that that decision is likely to bring forward. I visited, not long ago, one of the EMI training schools where school leavers—not necessarily with high academic attainments—were recruited and given the opportunity to work with microcomputers. It was a remarkable experience to see that these young children—representing a cross-section of British society—were clearly so enormously enthused with the opportunity. The problem for the instructor was literally to get them to go home at night. It was interesting that those who had started from absolutely no base quickly began to show considerable dexterity. Therefore, I believe this is a very important area.

In my general argument about information technology, I shall concentrate on two aspects which were raised in the debate 18 months ago which are especially relevant today. On the general subject of public awareness of information technology, the whole House is fully aware of what has been going on in the microtrain, MAP, MISP and so on. As I said in the debate on the Queen's Speech, I was a little disappointed that it contained no reference to Information Technology Year. This fundamental change which is likely to affect our lives for the rest of this century and beyond deserves far greater prominence than the words:
"Other measures will be laid before you."
My hon. Friend has an excellent opportunity today to spell out in some detail how he envisages the programme. Information Technology Year has already started. I believe that my hon. Friend actually declared that it had started, and that is good enough for me and, no doubt, for most hon. Members. It would be helpful to hear in rather more detail how the programme will run, up to and including the conference to be chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a year's time.

I should also be interested to hear my hon. Friend's response on certain special questions which arise in Information Technology Year. First, what role does my hon. Friend envisage for the new engineering council in the coming 12 months? Perhaps he can also tell us when he hopes to make the composition of the council known to the House. Clearly this is the kind of aspect which should feature in the Government's thinking early in the formation of the new body upon which so many hopes in the engineering profession rest.

Secondly, what is the present thinking on the proposal for a national centre for information technology? I know that my hon. Friend has given serious attention to this.

Thirdly—here I turn to an area in which a number of important points arise in relation to the debate—what does my hon. Friend see as the role of the Design Council during Information Technology Year?

Perhaps I may expand a little on the question of design as it affects technology. There are three key aspects to this. There are the design aspects of hardware, of software, and of what must be described, for want of simpler words, as the ergonomic and environmental factors of information technology as they affect users, a point that I think the hon. Member for Cannock had in mind.

Taking the last aspect first, I wonder whether enough consideration is being given to the ways in which conditions may be improved for those who work with hardware, particularly visual display units, for long periods. This is an important area in which design aspects will be of the greatest significance.

On hardware more generally, the Design Council, as the Government's chosen instrument for establishing the best possible standards of design, is in a good position to play a key part. What proposals are there to recognise outstanding examples of design in information technology? Hon. Members who have followed Design Council awards for industry, presented annually by his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, will have noted even in the past 12 months the increasing emphasis upon industrial products in the technological sense to which most of us are addressing ourselves today. I am thinking of the awards, for example, to the Metro, the Fiesta, for pneumatic pumps and for equipment to assist the disabled, all of which reflect a strong technological leaning in the Design Council's approach to these matters as opposed, perhaps, to the more traditional concerns with glass, china and so on.

With regard to hardware and software, it is important to consider what the Design Council's general promotion work can do to assist in this programme. The council's magazines and exhibitions and the use of its prime site in Piccadilly seem particularly relevant. I wonder to what extent exhibitions at those premises may come into play, and how far can the very successful retail outlet play a part, perhaps by putting on sale pocket calculators and possibly the information technology toys to which my hon. Friend referred, all of which will help to increase public awareness of these matters. Furthermore, what use will be made of the Design Council's advisory services and seminars?

Those of us who have had dealings with the Design Council over the years have been impressed by its ability to attract substantial voluntary support from leading figures in industry as well as by its dedicated staff. I think it is fair to say that it has survived all the economic pressures laid upon it by successive Governments about its budget and so on. It has put industrial design on the map. Under its current chairman Sir William Barlow it is continuing to do good work. I believe that it has a special role to play in Information Technology Year.

I should like now to turn to the area of space technology in which I have a special interest. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology described it 18 months ago as an area in which we could not afford to lose any tricks. He was right. The challenges today are just as great, but the opportunities even greater. A fair account can be given of progress over the past one and a half years. At the time of the debate in July 1980, the Government announced that there was to be a CPRS study, the setting-up of an inter-departmental group of officials to be chaired by a Department of Industry Minister, and a programme of work that would report directly through the Department of Industry to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The work that has occurred since that time is revealing. It is, perhaps, helpful to examine what might be called the fruits of that organisational tree.

Our policy on the European Space Agency is clear. Since we joined in 1972, the organisation has clearly given great benefit to this country in respect of the sharing of design costs and research. Every pound that we have contributed has been matched by other members within the agency. I am one of those who fervently believe that if we were mad enough to consider withdrawal from the European Community the very future of all these kinds of organisations would be put in peril, together with the jobs involved.

Our policy in the European Space Agency stems from the important decision announced by my hon. Friend recently of a contribution of £77 million towards the new L=SAT generation of large satellites. That was an important decision, made following many months of careful study. It raised wider questions of whether the construction of the largest satellites in the world involving work at the front edge of technology was the right course for the agency and this country. This, in turn, had implications for possible bilateral agreements with France and Germany which decided to follow their own more independent line while collaborating with other ESA programmes. This had to be resolved, and I am glad that it now has been. It is important not only for this country but also in a wider context.

It is already clear that, stemming from this new generation of technology, the Italians are our major partners in the L=SAT development, where British Aerospace has the contractual lead, together with other British companies, and other partners, such as the Canadians, are already pursuing feasibility studies with the United Kingdom to consider how the programme might be utilised beyond the experimental stage that is presently envisaged. All this augurs well.

Looking ahead to some other programmes, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to comment on the European Space Agency's remote sensing programme in which he has taken a close interest. The identification of fishing, sea patterns, crop control and flood control is becoming increasingly important in the commercial as opposed to the experimental area. It is clear that there is a growing convergence with the work of the Science and Engineering Research Council, the Department of Industry and other Government Departments through the European Space Agency, above all, in seeking progressively to draw upon private money and so reduce the call on the taxpayer in doing things that are worth while both from the national and the investors' view.

United Kingdom domestic developments are highlighted by a number of immediate satellite projects. In speaking of satellite projects, I refer to them in the sense of the tip of the iceberg. It is the ground segment that brings in the heavy investment and the opportunities for United Kingdom suppliers. Nevertheless, the satellites themselves are a multi-million pound business of the greatest significance. The United Kingdom defence satellite is well known to the House as a project already agreed in principle. I am concerned that during recent rounds of examination of public expenditure the decision formally to go ahead with the project appears to be in the pending tray. I hope that the Minister will today be able to give news relating to the time when the project will be given the go-ahead. My hon. Friend, I am sure, will be the first to accept that it is significant to maintain not simply momentum on one particular project, but a convergence of all projects over the same time scale to achieve effective manning, work-loading and cost reduction, and so enable us to play a full part in world markets.

I would also urge my hon. Friend to press for the development of the United Kingdom television satellite proposal, the Home Office report having given a welcome to some limited United Kingdom domestic activity. I am pleased that this has happened. It is well known from reports in the press that one proposal, the so-called Brit-sat proposal, has been put before the Home Office. I hope that momentum will be maintained. I welcome the fact, too, that British private investors, with the assistance of the Department of Industry and the Home Office, have obtained the opportunity to broadcast television, through the use of the OTS ESA satellite, beaming from this country with a footprint based on Malta.

There is a great deal happening in the domestic sphere. However, the bottle needs uncorking to make the flow constant and, indeed, achieve full velocity to gain full benefit. Domestic issues are also relevant to wider international aspects. There are a number of international projects in which the United Kingdom has a direct interest. I am thinking especially of Intelsat, the traditional form of telecommunication satellite coverage. At present, Intelsat VI is under negotiation.

United Kingdom manufacturing industries have vital stakes in competing bids with American partners. It is important that we try to see these matters resolved and to use the United Kingdom's undoubted authority as a leading partner in Intelsat to ensure that British industrial interests are well protected.

A related project that we might have tended to forget is the Arab-sat project. The United States Congress is blocking the proposal by which the contract was to be awarded to a French-American partnership because of Ford's significant stake in the project. Over half of the project, I understand, was to be supplied by Ford. It has been blocked. This raises the question of whether the Arab-sat project, for which I think I am right in saving the United Kingdom submitted the lowest tender, can be examined again. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to refer to the matter.

I have mentioned the Science Engineering Research Council. Part of its key role in bringing together work in this country and in NASA is continuing. A number of scientific projects are in hand. It is, however, revealing that this country has a direct role not only in the space shuttle launch but also in British Aerospace construction of the pallet. Ferranti, Marconi and others are also involved, through Ariane, in aspects of the other launching capacity.

All this presents a picture of intense activity and substantial opportunities in the world at large. The Government, as user, regulator and customer, have a key role. It is important that the relationship within Government should be clear. The progress made through the inter-departmental group is significant. Government Departments such as the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Departments of Education and Science, of Industry, and others, are brought together under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend. I hope that the House will forgive me if I add a personal note. Having had responsibility for that task during the last year and a half, I should like to pay tribute to two groups who do not usually receive widespread praise from the House.

The first group are the civil servants involved in the committee, which represents, across Government, people from several different Departments. It is salutary for anyone who has to chair that type of committee to see the degree to which there is not only the highest degree of dedication and expertise, but a great willingness to subsume departmental interest when the national interest is clearly envisaged. For me, that has been the absolute rebuttal of the "Yes, Minister" syndrome, and it may be that my words today will be heard by some who have responsibility for these matters. Within the Department of Industry in my time no Minister could have been better served on information technology, and I know that my hon. Friend the new Minister of State will feel the same.

It is unusual but I should like to single out one particular civil servant, Mr. Reay Atkinson, who has now moved to the northern region. Its gain is Whitehall's loss, because Mr. Atkinson has done an outstanding job over a number of years. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North, in speaking on this matter about 18 months ago, also paid tribute to the help on information technology made available to Members of Parliament by Mr. Atkinson.

My second group contains hon. Members of the House—including yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker—for their patience in listening to my review of what I think are important issues. The key factor in the debate of 18 months ago was the constructive tone of hon. Members in all parts of the House who saw the role of information technology as vital for our future. It is a good thing that, from time to time, the House can reveal its concern in that broader way.

I look to the official Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), to carry on the good work of his right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). Even within the House, in the way in which we use information technology there is opportunity for us to be practical and down to earth and to consider ways in which we can further this cause.

One example is the information technology facilities available to this House because of interest expressed in all parts of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Norwich, South will lend his weight, as I shall, to the notion that we should look more specifically at information technology—for example, through our Select Committee system. There are opportunities here for a broader view which is of great significance. I am one of those—as I have said on other occasions—who have come a little late in life to an enthusiasm for information technology. Some of our colleagues, like others outside, are a little reluctant to embrace this great technology.

Initial resistance must be overcome. All of us have a part to play in fostering the Information Technology Year. In this role, above all, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, with his tremendous enthusiasm and the pioneering zeal that he has brought to this task, deserves every support from all parts of the House. I believe that he will get it.

10.44 am

I welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) in bringing the topic of information technology to the House for discussion. It enables us to discuss how dilatory and complacent the Government have been in encouraging the development of that industry.

We last debated information technology four weeks ago, when only one hon. Member, other than the two on the Front Bench, spoke, and he was from the Opposition Benches. At least today's attendance shows an exponential growth of interest in this crucial subject, although we need a few more points on the graph to be absolutely sure.

We then discussed the EEC's policy on information technology. When all the verbiage had been cleared away, it was shown that the EEC considered information technology to be worth a support programme of £32 million, spread over four years. That must represent a couple of days of EEC spending on agriculture support. It shows that at Community level we cannot count on much help or attention for information technology.

Since that debate, ICL—our largest single national presence in information technology—has announced that it is to shed a further 1,500 workers and to close facilities. Apart from the disaster that this must be for the people concerned and their local communities, we strongly regret the retrenchment in an industry to which Britain has to look for growth. ICL has a difficult period of reconstruction ahead and is attempting to move down at the same time into microcomputing equipment and services, and to expand the top end of its range by agreements with a Japanese producer.

I should like to establish from the Minister what new research and development support ICL is to receive from the Government. We understood, at the time of the £200 million Government guarantee for ICL, that new research and development funds were likely to be forthcoming from the Government. ICL must be a central element of an information technology strategy in Britain, and it is now clearly the Government's responsibility to see that ICL survives and grows.

The selling off of the Government stake in ICL, and its rescue by the Government shortly afterwards, shows how ill-prepared the Government were. We hope that the Government now have a consistent and coherent policy towards the company after that costly and damaging experience. I understand that the Minister reviews the progress of the company from time to time. Perhaps he will briefly report in the House today on his latest review of the company's progress.

The Government are heavily involved in information technology as a user and not only as overseeing the development of the industry or collection of industries. In this regard, criticisms of the Government are commonplace in the industry. It is said that the British Government as a customer do not serve the industry well in new technology in pilot schemes. I understand that our Departments tend to order a pilot application, and that this is done on a single tender basis. They then examine the results, often for a lengthy period, change the specification and then allow tenders from a number of other companies. Thus we lose time and waste effort and let in foreign competition.

The French, as usual, do these things much better with their technologically literate Civil Service. They employ what I understand is known as a vanguard approach. They place a single tender with a French company which calls for a large production commitment at the outset. That gives the French both time and a technology lead over us. Five months ago, the French Government placed a large tender with CII, the French national computer company, to put video disc equipment into their museum service, to operate throughout France. Why can we not use their approach and be as single-minded in our national interest? Are our Government planning such major schemes here?

Cash limits and public expenditure cuts in our Departments tend to fall exceptionally heavily on equipment spending, even when the equipment is labour-saving. Information technology budgets are bearing the brunt of cuts in the Government's own spending. Many people in the industry have referred this issue to me. The result is that our Government Departments are not vanguard or leading edge users. They do not push the technology forward; they lag behind. They do not provide reference applications for the manufacturer so as to show off new systems to the potential buyers of British systems.

The criticism of Government for being in the rearguard is common in the industry. We shall be even more in the rearguard now that the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency has been cut out of the Civil Service Department and put into the Treasury. At least, for all its faults, the CSD was in the business of promoting modern management ideas and developing techniques. The Treasury is not in the business of promoting anything, apart from reducing the size of public spending whether in low or high technology. It was the inability of the Treasury to apply modern management techniques that led, in the first place, to the setting up of CSD.

I spent 15 years, inside and outside the House, trying to get Government Departments to install management information systems. I have even devised some for Government Departments. Each of those has been met by blank intransigence on the part of the Treasury establishment, a refusal to install, and a failure to understand. Our Governments do not yet have even budgetary control, which was invented in 1919. One of the most recent innovations to get information technology into a Government Department was the movement to trading accounts by HMSO which has taken seven years to install and still does not work properly. Management information is one area in which the British Civil Service is wholly inadequate. I seem to remember that when the Minister was in the Civil Service Department he used to agree with me on that point.

It was because of the concern about Government purchasing policy that the United Kingdom Information Technology Organisation of hardware and software suppliers was set up. In its introductory document it pointed out that the world information technology market is severely distorted with over 75 per cent. of the market being taken by United States-based suppliers, and that if the United Kingdom and other European public sector markets were thrown open to competition the United Kingdom industry
"cannot operate freely and fairly".
It is said that there is acceptance in many countries, notably the United States, Japan, Germany and France, that it is
"the health of the indigenous information technology sector which is most crucial to national economic well-being."
The document pointed out that the Japanese Government had chosen their native information technology industry as one of the vehicles for national resurgence and had enabled it to compete with the United States industry through a massive programme of support. It concluded that
"unless the United Kingdom industry is to be placed at a severe disadvantage it is essential that the United Kingdom Government follows policies at least as supportive as those of other countries."
It specifically proposed an applications-based research and development programme as the most worthwhile formula for Government sponsored development. Such a programme would call for
"funded development contracts for research and development in the areas of hardware and software needed for identified applications and data bases of strategic, economic and/or social importance or for key facilities required over, say, the next 2–5 years, leading to prototype implementation of systems following such development work … All of this to be supported on financial terms that are at least equal to those offered by other Governments."
What is the Government's response to that set of requests for an applications-based research and development programme?

While on the subject of Government support for research and development in information technology, I must ask the Minister one or two specific questions on so-called fifth-generation technology using large-scale integrated circuits, the so-called machine intelligence generation. A recent report in The Times drew attention to the
"awesomely ambitious Government-sponsored project to develop a fifth generation of computers"
in Japan and the Government's interest in the work of research groups at Imperial College, the University of Manchester and the machine intelligence research unit at the University of Edinburgh. These and other university groups in Britain are waiting with growing impatience, it was said, for the Department of Industry and the Science and Engineering Research Council
"to answer their appeals to respond to the Japanese project and to give them some guidance."
The British Computer Society wrote to these bodies five months ago asking for the Government's policy on developing a British response to the fifth generation technology, and it has received no answer.

Dr. Kowalski, of Imperial College, was reported as saying that the ball was in the Department of Industry's court. It is far from clear whether the Department of Industry will ever make a response or, as the report said,
"has serious plans for harnessing the talents of isolated groups working on different facets of what the Japanese have brought together."
Will the Department sponsor or fund a coherent approach to this problem? If not, why not? What impact will the cuts in university budgets have on this work?

It is all well and good for the Minister to hold seminars and other publicity stunts up and down the country, but where is the strategy for the future? The product cycle in this business is three or four years, and if research budgets are being cut and there is no attempt to draw together what is being done we shall again miss out on the next evolution of information technology—not for the first time either. After all, the first commercial computer in the world was British, and yet within five years of its introduction we had thrown away the lead to the Americans.

As the October 1981 report of the National Economic Development Office electronics sector working party said, Government research and development funding in this field
"demonstrates a lower national commitment to electronics research and development than in any of our major international competitors."
It went on to say that in Japan, France and West Germany expenditure on research and development had been significantly higher than in the United Kingdom.

In information technology, our spending is now a piffling £20 million a year in direct support and £110 million in total for the microprocessor applications project and the microelectronics industry support programme, both inherited from the Labour Government.

The publication of the report by the Cabinet Office and the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development showed that the French Government are spending £270 million a year on information technology, plus support of £141 million a year for the national computer company, plus £94 million a year in support for computer peripherals, plus £70 million for the components industry.

That paper, which was partly published by the Cabinet Office, said:
"We look for projects in (Britain) that will bring the significance of information technology home to the public like the French electronic telephone directory service."
It suggested a number of Government-funded applications of information technology—in optoelectronics, to which the Japanese are devoting 10 times our resources; in pattern recognition; in the organisation of large data bases; and in novel sensors and transducers.

We all recognise that Britain cannot take a lead in all these fields, but the industry expects the Government to make their priorities clear. What we get at present are pamphlets telling us that information technology is important and that the Government are very concerned about it all. It is policy making by press release. Meanwhile, imported equipment, as the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) pointed out, accounts for between 45 per cent. and 50 per cent. of our home market, and this year's trade deficit in this equipment is now £300 million and is forecast to treble by 1990.

The consultancy report for the National Enterprise Board on information technology, in August of this year, drew attention to our low world standing in this field. It said that no British company had the world scale or breadth of commitment to information technology of leading Japanese or United States companies or of European companies such as Siemens or Phillips. The British industry, it said, is weakest in the highest growth areas and strongest in traditional areas. It proposed a number of Government initiatives on which, as far as I can see, virtually no action has been taken.

It is this awful flummery of image polishing that depresses me about the present Government's industrial policies. Last week we had a debate about the small firms campaign, which simply showed that small firms are being created at about the same rate as in the 1970s, but that they were dying at four times the rate. This week we shall have another speech from a Minister puffing up the Government's efforts in information technology while ignoring our constant national slippage in this field.

Let us take, for example, the "micros in schools" project. In principle, this is a thoroughly good idea. But what is the point of putting microcomputers in schools if the parents are having to hold jumble sales to pay for a duplicator, or if the children are sharing books or if the school, because of cuts, cannot afford to lose a teacher to be trained how to use the equipment? That is a very common problem.

In The Guardian of 29 October, Dr. Ray Curnow, a distinguished authority in this field, said that one comprehensive school had had a computer delivered, unannounced, unasked for, and unaccompanied. The cost of the computer was greater than the school budget for books, equipment and other essential requirements. What was unforgivable, he said, was that the only teacher on the staff with computer experience has so far been offered no help in locating suitable programmes. But, he pointed out, the only way to attract the interest of the pupils is through imaginative, well-designed programmes.

There is wholly inadequate software back-up for the "micros in schools" project, but the Government are not interested, just so long as they can say that they have dropped tons of hardware on the school system. Again—action as a substitute for thought.

We have an energetic Minister for Industry and Information Technology; all the newspapers say so—just as we are said to have an energetic Minister responsible for small businesses. What worries me is whether, in a couple of years, either of them will be seen to have been effective.

In so many other areas, the Government's policies are inhibiting the development of information technology. There is the depression of overall demand by monetarism, for a start. A fall in gross domestic product, and a fall in investment and output of 20 per cent. in the last two years, is not an environment conducive to innovation. That is why the growth in the information technology market in Britain is at 5 per cent. a year, when in Western Europe it is 14 per cent. a year and in the United States it is 48 per cent. a year.

No one can innovate in a society that is de-industrialising. In the public sector, new applications in local authorities, the Health Service or water authorities cannot take place when those authorities' capital budgets are being cut to a mere care and maintenance basis.

British Telecom, at the centre of the development of the national information technology strategy, had £200 million less last year than it needed for investment because of a loony system of national accounts which treats investment by nationalised industries as a burden to be reduced in order to achieve a balanced budget. Last year's investment by British Telecom, as its new chairman recently pointed out, represented £18 per head of the population compared with £30 in West Germany, £36 in the United States and £51 in France.

Capital investment in other public sector industries which was also reduced, could boost purchases of information technology equipment. The National Enterprise Board could carry on its work of constructing a less fragmented software industry. The public sector and the Government can determine the environment in which growth and development of private industry in this area can take place. But we have no growth in the public sector. We have a public sector-led investment famine.

We all agree that Britain must have a rapidly developing information technology industry if we are to survive as a manufacturing nation, but in order to achieve that there must be a coherent Government strategy, not a series of ad hoc initiatives which look good in the newspapers. The European Commission's economic and social committee made this point in its report on the British economy only last week. It recommended a national strategy in telecommunications and information technology as a means of improving this country's competitive standing.

We see a lot of Government activity in information technology, but no strategy. How could there be one when the main determinant of industrial policy is the forlorn attempt to squeeze out inflation by ineffective monetary controls? The country cannot innovate in such an economic environment. We are lagging well behind the United States, France and Germany in information technology because ours is the only Government who reject any attempt to plan, intervene, and create the conditions for innovation.

11.2 am

I apologise to the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) for missing part of his speech. I am afraid that not only is it a personal habit, but his opening words gave me an overwhelming desire for coffee.

Much of what the hon. Gentleman said introduced a jarring note into a well-informed debate. I was astonished by what he said about the "micros in schools" project. I am sure that when the teacher to whom he referred explained how difficult it was to find programmes——

Let us get this straight. I was referring to an article in The Guardian by Dr. Ray Curnow, who has professorial status and long experience. He quoted that example to support his case that there was insufficient back-up for a computer delivered to a secondary school and that the school had simply had the computer dumped on it. The hon. Gentleman can read the reference for himself.

I have read that article, and one or two other similar rather poorly-informed articles. I have also read the responses that people concerned with these programmes have made to those articles. It was disappointing that that other side of the record was not given by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman.

I can only speak in terms of what I have seen and heard, having taken an interest in the "micros in schools" project. For example, in my constituency one secondary school already has a library of programmes of considerable size devised by the students themselves, in addition to what is available generally on the merest inquiry.

We can thank the hon. Gentleman for introducing an element of argument into the debate. It is a thin House, but if we had been discussing unemployment, the lack of economic growth, regional problems, or declining industries, as the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) said, we would have had a much fuller house, with hon. Members jostling for the opportunity to speak. I believe that the topics that we are discussing could supply the answers to many of those problems.

It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman has not been supported by the presence of more of his right hon. and hon. Friends so that he might bring to their attention how the opportunities presented by information technology could help resolve a great many of the problems confronting the nation. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Cannock for making that clear. I listened to him with interest, bearing in mind his knowledge of the subject. I also listened to him with respect as he is vice-chairman of the parliamentary Information Technology Committee, of which I am a humble member.

I also listened with great pleasure to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall). I sat behind him during the greater part of the proceedings in Standing Committee on the British Telecommunications Bill. His courtesy and knowledge, and the way in which he presented his arguments, played an important part in the smooth passage of that controversial Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of that Committee were extremely well informed, and my hon. Friend's contributions were an essential element in securing the passage of what has been the most important Bill of this Parliament and possibly of the decade.

Earlier this week I attended a meeting in Coventry of the Telecommunications Managers Association, at which my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology made an extremely inspiring speech. There are about 400 members of that organisation. I am told that they account for about two-thirds of the revenue of British Telecom. That is quite a thought, and no doubt it accounted for the presence at the meeting of so many senior executives of British Telecom.

At that meeting, I was struck by the liveliness, the buoyancy and the feeling that we were at the start of something new. I was reminded of my early days in the computer industry, about 10 years before my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), who has given us an opportunity again to debate these very important topics.

In the early days of the computer industry there was the same sense of new and exciting developments that would be of great significance in the world, especially in economic terms. I was very fortunate to be in on the ground floor of that operation. But if I were advising a young man today, I should not suggest to him that he went into the computer industry. It was very worth while in my young days, but today it would be more fruitful for such a person to turn his mind to the tremendous opportunities in information technology.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel said, there are so many aspects of this subject that one could highlight in the course of a speech in this debate. I thought that it might be helpful if I concentrated on what the House of Commons should be doing about the use of information technology. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North reminded the House that the Minister had accepted that the Government should put their own house in order. I submit that the House of Commons should put its house in order in the use of information technology.

I have been chairing a working party of PITCOM for a short time with a view to discovering whether there are sensible suggestions that might be made in that direction. I do not ascribe the views that I am about to express to the working party.

Our first step was to find out what use the House of Commons was making of information technology. We discovered that there had been a proposal before the House for some time for a new telephone exchange In that connection I refer to the first report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in the Session 1980–81. It was published on 15 July 1981 as Commons Paper No. 428.

The Committee concluded that
"it would be wrong to delay any further a final decision on the future of Parliament's telephone services. Unless the necessary authorisations are given before the end of 1981, thus allowing detailed plans to be formulated, there is a danger that the present system—already unsatisfactory—will break down in the mid-1980's."
When one looks at the background and considerations that the Committee took into account, one cannot but believe that the House should address itself urgently to the matter. The issue has rumbled on since 1966. It was reviewed in January 1978, and further reappraisal of the scheme that was approved in 1978 led to this proposal.

The Committee reached its conclusion purely and simply on the basic fundamental premise that the system would break down in the mid-1980s because of the capacity of the present exchange. The quality of the facilities available should have led the Committee to that conclusion, even without taking into account the quality of the service provided by the exchange. The Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) reached that conclusion, and I hope that the authorities of the House will ensure that the House has an opportunity to cause the report to be implemented soon.

It is worth considering the tools that a Member of Parliament and his secretary use in normal circumstances. Typically, they will use what we may refer to in a debate such as this as a printer and keyboard, but what is more commonly referred to as a typewriter. A telephone is available to most of us, and an annunciator screen, for which there is a great deal of coaxial cabling around the building in order to provide that simple information. Some hon. Members have other tools, such as dictating machines.

I understood from a recent conversation with a colleague that only two Conservative Members have anything more advanced than an ordinary electric typewriter, so my hon. Friend's point about the potential for Members to use more advanced technology in their offices is very great.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There has been an increase in interest, certainly since 1974, in these matters. Having talked to hon. Members on both sides of the House within the last few weeks, I am struck by the number of people who are now seeking to enhance the facilities. That is not restricted to one side of the House. One Labour Member is producing some interesting developments using microcomputers, and I know that some of my hon. Friends are using word processing machines. There has been a marked advance, although it has not been on a great scale. There is no reason why those basic facilities of printer, keyboard and annunciator-type television set could not be put together in a neat package and called a work station, with access to many services.

My hon. Friend touches on an important matter that I should have raised. Many hon. Members are considering the possibility of using Prestel sets in their offices. I hope that my hon. Friend will comment on that aspect and perhaps even invite my hon. Friend the Minister to act as a bulk purchaser, so that we may get a special rate.

I intend to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for a lot more than that.

I appreciate that many hon. Members do not want changes of any sort from the Victorian club. I understand that, and there is much in the House that I should not like to see changed. I recently met the man who installed the present annunciator system. His story of the early specification of requirements was that nothing that need not be changed should be changed. That was many years ago. He was not a young man. He recalled that part of the early specification, which is not now on the annunciator system, was that there should still be the "clack, clack, clack" of the old annunciator system. That was confirmed in the House today.

That was the extent of the determination that nothing should be allowed to change. There is much good here, and I should not for a moment wish to change any of it, particularly the personal relations that exist in and around the House, but there is a need for change if we are to make our work here more effective. Moreover, there is an enormous new opportunity for change in a practical way.

I should like to give two quotations, the first from the head of one of the biggest businesses in the world, not from a bright young whiz kid. He said:
"The microprocessor has revolutionised telecommunications systems and equipment. Computing, text handling and telecommunications have now converged into a single information technology leading to important structural changes in markets and the industry which supplies them … There is now a wide range of products covering voice, data and text."
That was said by Sir George Jefferson, chairman of British Telecom. I share the view that, whatever one may feel about British Telecom, it has reacted with energy and ability to the liberalisation opportunities that have arisen through the British Telecommunications Act 1980. There we have the head of an immense corporation drawing attention to the rapid changes that are taking place.

The second quotation is from someone who manages a company that did not exist a short time ago, but which is now on an enormous growth path. He said:
"The business market appreciated that the videotext could not be seen in isolation to the concurrent developments of other technologies, particularly telecommunications, personal computers, videocassette recorders and videodisk. These technologies have now been packaged together to operate as a single system and dubbed `teleputer'. The teleputer has been designed to provide an all-purpose work station"—
perhaps hon. Members will remember what I said about the tools available to hon. Members being brought together in a work station—
"that can provide videotext, colour television, personal computing with the full range of informatics from word processing to database management, a computer terminal to connect to most computers, a computer graphics system, an inter-active video system for computer-aided learning"—
that might be helpful to the hon. Member for Norwich, South—
"and an inter-active publishing system using videocassette and videodisk. This is all in one unit."
That was said by Dr. Michael Aldrich, the managing director of Rediffusion Computers.

Some hon. Members are already making attempts to find their own ways of providing themselves with some of those facilities, but it is extremely difficult for the individual Member to justify that sort of even limited facility. It would be difficult to justify it even for a group of Members for a single purpose. If many hon. Members were able to use a work station for a variety of purposes, the cost-benefit justifications would change dramatically.

It is in that context that I come to the matter on which I shall ask the Minister for help. To enable hon. Members to have a work station with access to a wide variety of services, which could be provided on either a specifically cost-justified basis by the House or on a commercial basis by others, we need a new cabling system for information to draw the whole lot together around the parliamentary buildings.

The coaxial—which I gather is a four-part twin cable—already runs around the parliamentary buildings. I do not know whether that cable could be modified to provide the kind of cabling that I am seeking. Certainly, a coaxial or a fibre optic cable—either would do, because it is a question of cost justification and what is appropriate—could provide a series of local networks throughout the buildings. Hon. Members would be able to plug into a range of access devices, and a range of services could be provided on a pay-as-you-go basis on the other side of the network. That would bring together the telephone system, which is to be changed anyway, and combinations of the network. It would become the base facility on which all else could develop and the House would have the possibility, as new technology evolved, to take full advantage of it.

In Information Technology Year, it would be a fruitful investment by the House. I hope that the Minister will use the funds available and will feel that it would be a particularly worthwhile project to combine the network with the proposed new telephone exchange. The network would be invaluable to the House, its departments and hon. Members and would also provide a shop window for the world to see the range of goods and services in which Britain excels to a remarkable degree. If we grasp the opportunity that is unfolding in information technology we will have one of the most potent cures for many of the ills that confront the United Kingdom. I hope that the House will shortly make those key decisions.

11.24 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) on initiating the debate and I am sorry that I was not present to listen to his speech. I intend to intervene briefly, largely because I am Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, which produced a report last year on information storage and retrieval in the British library service, which is the area of information technology for which the Committee is responsible. The Committee probably went a little wider than its brief, simply because its job is to ensure that there is co-ordination in Government Departments, where so often there is not.

I shall say a brief word about the machinery of government, but before doing that I shall deal with two other matters that have been raised. On balance, the microcomputer programme in schools has been of benefit and has brought a welcome new breath of fresh air. However, I assure the Government and the Minister that there are real problems with the programme which cannot be brushed under the carpet. The Department of Education and Science cannot directly fund schools but has to put everything through the rate support grant, in such a way that the Department of Industry puts in the hardware and hopes that the resources will be available to back them up. If there are further cuts next year and if resources are available for the microcomputers, there will be fewer resources for crucial areas in schools. If resources are not cut in those areas they will not be available for the microcomputers. There must be co-ordination between capital and current expenditure.

Another problem that I hope that the Minister will take on board is the danger of turning our mathematics teachers in schools into heads of computer mathematics departments. They may play around with the toys and not get on with the basic grind of mathematics teaching which must continue even if the playing with toys gets neglected.

Some of the most skilled basic mathematics teachers leave for more exciting jobs with computers. That is not a criticism, but if the Minister puts computers into schools he must also engage in discussions with the Cabinet—I was about to say how sorry I am that he is not in the Cabinet, but I will leave that until later—to ensure that there are sufficient resources in schools to make the computers work.

My hon. Friend may not be aware that earlier I made a similar point to the one that he has just made. Does he agree that there is an additional problem in the lack of co-ordination on hardware equipment within schools? Does he not feel that there is a need, despite the independence of education authorities, for more ministerial co-operation on the whole programme?

My personal opinion—I do not know whether it is the opinion of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts—is that the law should be chaged to allow the Department of Education to coordinate the whole project. It is only because of the flaw in the 1944 Act, which was meant to preserve local authority independence—a poor and tattered creature now that it has been got at by the Secretary of State for the Environment—that we face the present problem. I believe that the Department of Education and Science should fund the whole programme and co-ordinate it.

I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) about the application of information technology for Parliament. The parliamentary question system, now that it is computer-typeset, could run through on the same system from parliamentary questions being put down to the answer being received and it could be retrieved from the Library within seconds, instead of hon. Members having to carry out ponderous searches that have had to be made over the years. There are problems with the print unions, but I am sure that, with patient negotiation, they might be overcome. I declare an interest, although not a financial one, as the parliamentary adviser to the National Graphical Association. If help were needed I would do what I could to iron things out.

As I understand it, one of the problems of the telephone system is the grey and whispy body called the House of Commons Commission, which considers matters sub umbra and does not tell us much about what it does. It has said "We are not putting in a new telephone system until the Services Committee report has been debated in the House." I do not see any members of the Commission here, but I hope that, now that the hon. Member for Fife, East and I have mentioned it, the Commission will consider this debate to be a debate on the House's telephone system, to get a move on and lift its block on the new system going ahead. I hope that the Minister can put the boot in to the Commission, although that is not an easy thing to do, and do something in that regard.

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the debate is to tell the Commission to get on with it, I hope that he will agree that one thing should be added, and that is to ensure that the decision is not just to replace the basic exchange, but to ensure that it will have the character and specifications which lend themselves to the type of developments that we both seek.

I have asked questions in the House in an endeavour to make the Commission more open and accountable to the House. We should know what it discusses at its meetings and when it meets. We should be able to put pressure on it, as we do on Ministers and other Committees.

The main recommendation of our Select Committee report was that the Government should appoint as soon as possible a Minister with Cabinet rank to take responsibility for information policy. The Government's response was: "We shall not do that, because a number of Departments are involved, including the Department of Industry, where the Prime Minister has designated a Minister of State to be responsible for information technology". As the Minister knows, I hold him in considerable regard, and in my view he is doing a very reasonable job where he is. However, his post in the Department of Industry is not a substitute for a Minister in the Cabinet with specific overall responsibility for information policy.

If a Minister is a member of the Cabinet, his involvement in everything else that goes on at Cabinet level may preclude him from paying the attention that I know my hon. Friend the Minister pays wholly to this subject. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the pressures that might thereby result?

The intention of my speech is not particularly to promote the Minister to the Cabinet. Every Conservative Member, after a month or two, seems to get immediately promoted to ministerial rank to stop him participating in a programme on which the hon. Gentleman and I co-operated—"Party Pieces" on Capital Radio at 7.30 on Fridays.

It is my opinion that we have missed the bus in manufacturing microchips and are in real danger of missing the bus on biochips and biotechnology because Cabinet Ministers think in out-of-date departmental terms and are incapable of the kind of lateral thinking that is necessary in Government, applying the sort of concepts of information technology that have been mentioned in this debate, and convincing their Cabinet colleagues in this regard. I know that Cabinet Ministers have too much to do, but I still believe that we need someone of Cabinet rank.

I recall the Select Committee's disappointment that that request was not acceded to, and I give notice that the Committee will come back to the machinery of government issue during this Parliament. We are pleased that the Minister for the Arts has been made responsible for all the other aspects of information policy that are not the responsibility of the Minister who is present. However, it is not a satisfactory system, and we shall certainly return to the matter.

There is a further point about information technology which applies to other areas of technology, particularly biotechnology, which the Select Committee will study and report on next year. The real danger of present Government policy is that, although the Government are trying to take the industrial side seriously, British industry in these areas simply cannot succeed unless the basic research takes place within our universities and research institutes. If the money for that research and training is not available, industry will be unable to deliver the goods because it does not have the manpower to do so.

I realise that the Minister is not responsible for the Science Research Council budget and other research council budgets, but I want to put to him one real problem in this connection. Creditably the Government have protected the science budget over the past two years since they came to power. However, there is a strong rumour this year that that protection will cease in an endeavour to find the money to pay for academic redundancies in the universities. If that protection were to cease, it would be calamitous, not just for the education budget of the universities, but for any chance of Britain, as it were, catching the next bus in the new technologies, having already missed the last few buses.

I make this strong plea to the Government, if interdepartmental consultations mean anything at all and if, even at this late hour, the Minister has any influence in these matters, that, whatever else happens, the research council budgets be allowed to survive at the same levels in real terms at which they have survived during the past two years. The substantial cut this year that is widely rumoured under the new Secretary of State for Education and Science would result in lasting damage to the whole educational and industrial fabric of Britain.

11.34 am

I always hesitate to quote scripture in the House, as I always used to get probably the lowest marks in class at school in that subject, but I recall a remark by St. Paul, who said that the late Christians were almost more welcome than the early Christians. When it comes to information technology, it is the early Christians who are present in the Chamber. Where are the late Christians? We do not know. Presumably they are preparing to fight the next general election.

Those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who take a particular interest in this subject, most of whom are present today, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) on giving us another opportunity, of which there are none too many, to debate the broad and deep implications of this subject. I am grateful to him for the generous tribute that he paid to me. Certainly I did start beating this drum in the House—I think it was as long ago as 1965—but I used a very small drumstick on a very small kettle drum.

Perhaps I might be permitted a brief personal recollection. Shortly after the Second World War I interviewed an air marshal of immense distiction who had a lot of information which he was prepared to give me about a book that I was writing at that time. He made a remark on which I have since had many occasions to reflect. He said "Young man, there is nothing that a man cannot achieve in life, provided that he is prepared to allow others to take the credit". I give that advice and warning to other hon. Members who have pursued these and possibly other equally important and original subjects. I thought at the time that he was referring to a consolation prize, but I can only say that as the years go on the consolation prize seems to get bigger and bigger and more and more satisfactory.

When the Prime Minister took up a suggestion that I made—I may not have been the only one to do so—that a Minister should be appointed, I was delighted when the present Minister for Industry and Information Technology was appointed to this exceptionally important post, because he brings to it a dedication, knowledge and enthusiasm that are rare in this sphere, and which are possibly rare anyway. If enthusiasm and knowledge are needed anywhere, they are needed on this subject.

The hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) said something to which I should like to refer. As he and others have said, if we had been debating employment the House would have been full. Yet, in a sense, we are debating employment, because this technology possibly lies at the heart of the employment dilemma today. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we as a society should adapt to the possibility of increasing leisure. That is a popular view, even for those who are familiar with information technology.

The underlying argument holds great weight. However, I am a little sceptical, because even societies with double our standard of living still do not supply those who are enjoying that standard of living with appreciably more leisure than we have. We should agree with the hon. Gentleman in one respect. Information technology will destroy—not a moment too soon—all those dehumanising occupations of which we find all too many examples in the industries of the Western world. Humans will no longer have to do such tasks. The microchips will do them. That is a jolly good thing.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), in an interesting speech, referred to the lack of lateral thinking in the Cabinet. I am not sure that it would be easy to create such thinking quickly, but he reminded me of a remark made some time ago by, I believe, Sir Dennis Robertson of Cambridge. He said that God did not devise human problems in the way that man had devised university departments. One can make an equally valid observation about national problems and State Departments. Information technology will have a corrosive and solvent effect on many areas, and I fully expect that effect to apply to the manner and form in which we structure our processes of government and, even more fundamentally, our philosophy of government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) made an interesting contribution. I profoundly believe—and have said before—that the House must set an example to the country if we want it to accelerate its response to the Government's lead. We could do even better than that. Parliamentary assemblies all over the world look to this Parliament for a lead. If we could demonstrate effective and valid ways of bringing information technology to bear on the parliamentary processes of government, that would be followed widely throughout the Western world, or throughout those parts of the world in which parliamentary assemblies play a useful and important role. In addition, those countries might come to Britain to buy our systems. That would have a considerable commercial advantage, which the Government should recognise.

The Government have already, deservedly, been congratulated on the acceptance of the importance of information technology, on the appointment of a Minister for Industry and Information Technology, on information technology centres, the microtrain, on "micros in schools" and so on. I fully endorse such steps. However, I regret that I was unable to attend the exceptionally interesting conference that the Prime Minister held at No. 10 a fortnight ago on this subject. She revealed her personal interest in the subject and the importance that she attaches to it.

I thank my hon Friend the Minister for the initiative that the Government have taken in response to a personal request that I made on behalf of the schools in my constituency. As he knows, we are making an effort to create, in a sense, a centre of excellence and to deploy information technology more rapidly than might otherwise be the case. The Government have generously agreed to support the additional expenditure needed on a pound for pound basis. That will act as a great stimulus and there will be national benefits. If the project shows that it deserves to be followed, I am sure that that gratitude will be extended more widely.

The idea of one computer per school—however necessary and important that may be—only scratches the surface. That is confirmed by a report that I recently read, compiled by two young men from the BBC, who went round the world looking at the application by other countries of computer literacy and education. It has rightly been accepted that our target should be that every schoolchild has effective exposure to information technology. Information technology will invade every aspect of the working world in which these schoolchildren will live. It is not good enough to make such technology available only to mathematics specialists, sixth formers or to those who show a particular aptitude or interest. Everyone must be given an opportunity to make his own assessment and acquire experience. That will require more than one small microcomputer per school. That is a good start, but we have a long way to go.

I turn to the question of "Buy British", because it applies to school computing equipment. The arguments in favour are simple. It has been said that all the other countries do it, that local firms are encouraged, and the balance of payments and our trade are improved. Those are the familiar arguments of protectionism. None of them is new, particularly convincing, or applicable to information technology. The arguments against are a particular version of the general case.

It is essential that our schools should use the best hardware or software available, irrespective of where it is made. It is essential that where we choose to compete—whether in hardware or software, and whether in education or elsewhere—we should do so by producing the best competitively. Emphasis must be placed on the word "competitively". Protectionism diminishes that essential criterion. We should produce competitively and not by means of subsidies.

I do not necessarily accept that we have fallen behind. Indeed, we have certainly not fallen behind on software. However, if we have fallen behind, the catching-up process must be accelerated. We should not obscure, bias or distort the processes that otherwise encourage our economy to specialise in the most highly productive areas. Success in the application of new technology is much more important, because it will affect a far wider spectrum of our national industrial performance.

However extraordinarily richly endowed Britain may be with science, and even with industry—despite all the criticism—it must be borne in mind that we have a population of nearly 55 million, which represents one-sixth of the population of Western Europe and perhaps one-tenth of the population of the developed world. It would be folly to attempt to produce the whole range of information technology products. Therefore, the choice is inescapable. High-risk choice is inescapable. A rapid response to change requires flexibility, imagination and a deep technical commitment.

Is the hon. Gentleman giving the House some coded message that the Government should not favour ICL against IBM, and that we should withdraw almost entirely in the face of that juggernaut and simply produce software?

I should not go as far as that. I am aware of the important balance of argument when considering whether to buy from IBM or from ICL.

However, that brings me to my next point, which I describe as the "porous frontier". I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop it. It is particularly valid for information technology. Let us consider why the concept of a national frontier can be damaging. Let us take computer languages such as Pascal, Cobol, APL, Basic and so on. They are often international in origin and are certainly international in their application. Let us consider communication and information technology. Satellites, radio and television cable all cross or eliminate frontiers. Satellite television will eliminate the frontier more rapidly than any other device or institution that has tried to attack it in the past three centuries. We should watch out, because that will happen. Governments will not be able to stop it, any more than they can prevent the ordinary citizen from tuning in to any radio station in the world. That citizen should, and will, be able to tune into any television broadcast anywhere in the world. That will profoundly diminish the significance of the national frontier.

Will not the impediment be, not the technical problems—which can easily be overcome—but the political problems? Will we be able to overcome the problems of control and supervision of television on such a scale?

The hon. Gentleman is right. There are no technical problems. Problems of acceptance are entirely institutional. They are not to be dismissed. They are not insignificant. We shall have to consider how appropriate controls—a word that I do not like—can be established so that there is no abuse and so that that the citizenry of the world do not suffer, but benefit, from the change. That is a legitimate preoccupation of Governments, if not of international institutions.

Data banks represent a significant aspect of information technology. Data can be collected in one country, stored in another and used by a third. The data can be transmitted by a satellite that is owned by a fourth country and launched by a fifth. Any attempt to claim that such a system is British, American or French will fail, because the logic cannot be followed through.

Let us face the matter realistically and realise that we are moving into a new age when new criteria of judgment must be applied if we are to reach sane and intelligent conclusions. To force the subject into the old bottle of national thinking could be damaging.

Inmos is an example. I have visited its factories in Colorado, where calmaplotters take design information across the Atlantic by satellite from Bristol. The product was developed in Colorado, and information is transmitted back to Bristol. Is that a British or an American project? The attempt to force such a product into narrow restricted definitions will fail. It must fail. Obviously it is Anglo-American, but even that term can be misleading. That is the answer to the question about IBM and many of the British large employment-creating developments here that have an American institutional or commercial flavour. We have similar projects in the United States, France and Germany. The frontier is losing its significance, and, in many ways, not a moment too soon.

I have explained what we have done. I shall now discuss briefly what we have left undone. Reference has been made to the fifth generation computer. Few people in Britain realise its significance or how important it is that Britain should play a role in its development.

I ask the Minister to pay close attention to the considerable British expertise in artificial intelligence and expert systems. I was privileged to attend a conference organised by a computer company in the South of France. Many of our distinguished contributors were present. They left a vivid impression that we were missing a trick that could be of the greatest importance to Britain. It would take far too long to endeavour to define expert systems or artificial intelligence. Suffice it to say that all the knowledge that Mr. Speaker and his Clerks have of "Erskine May", plus all his experience, can be codified and put into a computer if certain steps are taken.

It is astonishing that in medicine and geology a computer can reveal criteria. The knowledge of experts can be tapped without their realising it. If Britain can take a lead it cannot but be good, because there is probably no more important area in the whole sphere of information technology.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East referred to the cable in the House and how important it is to move rapidly in that connection. The general view is that we need as soon as possible a wide-banded cable system throughout the United Kingdom. That will make possible the expansion and extension of information technology, because the devices need main transmission facilities.

James Madison said:
"A society without information is but the prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both."
He said that 150 or more years ago. Our civilisation is now fundamentally an information processing organism. An academic in the United States has said that 50 per cent. or more of economic, leisure and social activities in that country can be associated with the production, handling, distribution and dissemination of information of one kind or another. There is an important and significant correlation between economic poverty and information poverty. Therefore, effective political privilege and participation, and access to good information, go together.

The sooner that hon. Members realise the significance of what has happened across the Atlantic in the small town of Columbus, Ohio, the better. There, information technology in the form of interactive television has in effect recreated the agora of Athens where democracy began. Great speakers of Greek history were able to address the populace in the morning, get reactions and then take decisions. From that developed the distinguished history of what is now parliamentary democracy.

Television alone is a one-way device. It has provided no particular defence against the demagogue, except through the use of the on-off switch. A device known as Qube, which is used in Columbus and a number of other American cities where cable television is spreading rapidly, has changed all that for ever. A recent journal said that
"Qube, a two-way interactive television service, records viewer votes on political issues, accepts purchase orders for purchase merchandise displayed on the viewer's TV receiver administers transactions. Older citizens in Reading, Pennsylvania, have used their local cable TV system to originate their own programs or entertainment, to talk with local political figures or to discuss issues with other members of the population".
In a sense, the system is the instant electronic referendum. Is it compatible, with democracy? Is it compatible with parliamentary democracy? Is it compatible with good government? Is it compatible with political stability? If it exists, can the Government ignore it? If people realise that the Americans have it and wish to use it, what will the. Government say? What will Parliament say? What authority should public opinion enjoy in that context, and on what issues? Who should have the right to argue the issues, put the question, count the replies, measure the assent or dissent or decide when the question should be put—early in the evening or late, at the beginning of the week or at the end, depending on which programme has gone before or which follows after? Who will decide for how long the issue should be discussed on interactive cable television?

The instinct of every true parliamentarian would be to reject the system and its authority, but will we be allowed to do so? The much more important question is: should we be allowed to do so?

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are already subject to that? Throughout the media we are subject to polls on almost every subject under the sun, which are controlled by the media operator, whether press or television, and from which Opposition Members often suffer.

I agree up to a point with the hon. Gentleman that there is a feedback of a somewhat remote, diffuse and far less effectual nature than that. It is an immediate feedback.

The mayor o: Columbus, Ohio, has gone on Qube and asked the citizens of that town whether they wished the additional snow that fell at a weekend to be cleared the next day—which would mean that more people would have to be hired to do it—or whether it could be left until the next week without an increase in the rates being necessary. The citizens gave their answer, which carried authority. So it has been used as an instrument of government.

Then they will have to have interaction at a higher level.

That presents an immense challenge to political leadership at all levels. If it does not present a challenge immediately, it will certainly do so in the future. That is why I felt obliged to draw the attention of the House to it today.

A distinguished British advocate, Mr. Paul Sieghart, has posed the problem well. He said that if electronic referendums could be held—which they can—
"the public might vote overwhelmingly for an accelerated nuclear power programme following an Iranian revolution on Monday—only to reverse that decision following a Harrisburg incident on Tuesday."
That poses the problem: if issues of great complexity or importance are to be excluded from the electronic agora, who will decide which, and will that decision be accepted?

12.2 pm

I too regret that there are not more hon. Members in the House today to take an interest in this crucial debate. We spend much time discussing the expenditure of relatively small amounts of money compared with those that we are talking about today.

I remind the House that the American company IBM will, by the end of this year, have spent $1·5 billion on research and development. The same company now has a stake in a consortium that has launched two privately funded, fixed orbit communication satellites.

I shall follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) and other hon. Members in talking about the information technology industry as it is today and also about some of the social implications and challenges that face us in the near future. It is many years since Britain underwent the trauma of the industrial revolution and the impact of steam power on a rural nation. Today our principal challenge is to adjust as painlessly as possible to the age of microelectronic technology while gaining as many of the benefits as we can.

Since I started to take an interest in the subject a decade ago, there have been many changes and great progress. Ten years ago I found it difficult to persuade my audiences that I was not talking about pure science fiction, yet now many of the advances that I talked about then have created products that are accepted as part of our everyday life. When I talk now about the implications of the information technology revolution—one cannot describe it in any other way—the response is immediate.

Most people wish to know about its impact on employment. Certainly it is a fact—about which I know because in West Yorkshire we rely to a large extent on traditional industry—that large numbers of jobs are disappearing. At the same time, there is a potential for the creation of a myriad of new jobs as change creates new demands and acts as a spur towards their expansion.

I returned from Japan a week ago. As well as discussing our trade imbalance, I visited various factories. The one that I remember most vividly is the Fanuc factory in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Its flexible manufacturing system utilises robots and computers, computerised numerical control machine tools and automatic warehouses to produce a wide variety of machine-tool automating systems, such as CNC systems, servo and spindle motors and complete electronic machine systems, including industrial robots and machine tools of various kinds. Robots are producing robots.

The factory has 98 employees. It has one shift, working daytime hours, finishing at 5.30 pm. Outside those hours the factory works by itself, with only one person to supervise it. An automatic warehouse provides the raw materials. Unmanned carriers provide automatic transportation to carry the raw materials to where they are machined. The completed parts are carried to another part of the factory for assembly, which incorporates further automatic warehouses that introduce the parts and subassemblies made elsewhere. Although the unmanned system works only at night, it is possible to operate it for up to 60 hours. Malfunctions are detected by a central monitoring system, with high resolution cameras linked to the machines. I repeat that the operation is monitored by only one man.

About 45 per cent. of the factory's output is exported, with the United States being the company's best market. It is interesting to note that construction of the factory started in July of last year. It was completed in November and operating in December. The added value per man per annum is £1 million.

People will ask what the employment consequences are of such an operation. Japanese companies have a policy of lifetime employment. When a company introduces automation it does not get rid of people. It finds new enterprises in which to employ them. That continuing impetus is perhaps a reason for the growth in Japan and certainly a reason why unemployment stands at only 2 per cent.

If anyone is in doubt about the impact that computers and microelectronics are having they should examine the relative ratios of size, power and cost over the past 20 years. Today a hand-held calculator, which may be bought for £15, can perform tasks which 20 years ago would have required a computer the size of the average living room, probably costing millions rather than hundreds of thousands of pounds. It would also have required an air-conditioned environment in which to work.

The ability of a computer to store data today is greater and, of particular significance, we can have access from vast distances. Through the use of remote terminals, distance is far less significant. Energy costs are rising fast, so it could become increasingly difficult for people to travel long distances, but the wire and the electronic modem are overcoming that obstacle.

Although we may differ about the extent of aid, we all recognise the need for Government encouragement. The Japanese industry has greatly benefited from Government encouragement. I believe that the appointment of my hon. Friend as Minister for Industry and Information Technology shows the Government's recognition of the importance of this technology, especially for Britain's industrial future.

Nevertheless, one is bound to agree with those who have said that in many respects this country lags behind its competitors. Far too great a proportion of companies have failed to recognise the potential of the new technology in their own industrial activities. I believe that there are very few companies in this country which could not improve their performance in some way through the application of these processes.

All hon. Members present today will recognise the need to encourage this industry. It was therefore with hope that I turned to a Labour Party discussion document entitled "Microelectronics". My spirits rose when I read the early part of the foreword by Mr. Ron Hayward, general secretary of the Labour Party. Mr. Hayward stated:
"Microelectronic technology…can be an economic success story for Britain. It can give new enrichment and opportunities to the lives of our people."
So far, so good.

As I read on, however, my doubts began to grow. I already felt some concern when I read on page 24:
"The essence of the matter is that the need for Socialist economic and social policies is underlined a hundred-fold by the chip."
I was already quite worried when I read on page 39:
"The laws of the market place are particularly unsuited to encouraging the development of science and technology."
For some reason, reactionary that I am, I could not put out of my mind what I had seen in Japan. Clearly I needed a spell of Socialist re-education to eradicate the memory of free enterprise unencumbered by industrial relations problems and enthusiastically supported by the entire work force as well as by the Japanese Government.

If the hon. Gentleman believes that Japanese success is based on free enterprise without Government intervention, he is wasting his time going to Japan. Anyone who has been to Japan, as I have, knows that industrial success there is based, first, upon a very high level of protectionism, and, secondly, upon direct intervention, objective-setting and support from the Japanese Government for what are known as sunrise or growth industries. In this country, such a prescription is considered extremely Left-wing, but it works very well in Japan. It has absolutely nothing to do with the free play of private enterprise.

I must disagree. The key difference is that between interventionism and support. Certainly, the Japanese Government give enormous support to and pursue a very active purchasing policy from the new sunrise industries, but that is very different from the kind of interventionism that the Labour Party apparently wishes to introduce.

Could not my hon. Friend's argument be summed up by saying that we are in favour of trade, not aid, in assistance to industry? The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) has therefore missed the point of my hon. Friend's argument.

Yes, indeed. The point is well made in the document entitled "Changing Gear", to which my hon. Friend referred and to which he contributed.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that legislation was passed in Japan 12 or 14 years ago whereby the Japanese Government gave direction to the entire development of the electronics industry? Is not that the key to the matter?

The Japanese Government were certainly well aware of the importance of the industry at an early stage, but I would in no way describe the kind of support that they have given as "direction".

I have given way several times. I must continue my speech. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall give way a little later.

Nothing could be further from the concept of the great success story of Japanese technological industry than what is proposed by the Labour Party. Nothing could be more damaging to technological enterprise in Britain. Nothing could more adequately reveal the failure of the Opposition to understand the needs of our country if it is to succeed in the international market place of the world tomorrow.

I wish to deal with one aspect of the information technology industry that is most apparent to the average person or will become so in the near future. I refer to the world of microcomputers. It is easy to see that the next consumer boom will occur in that sphere. Already, the numbers sold run into hundreds of thousands. Many people are forecasting that the figure for next year will be double that for this year. Early next year, the BBC will transmit a series of programmes on the subject. It will itself market a small computer. This will be produced by a young but growing British manufacturer. There will be books and tapes to accompany the series. This development will prove a great impetus to interest and sales potential, especially with more powerful machines on the way.

Many people believe that the growth of the market during the next few years will amount to at least 50 per cent. a year. I do not think that there is any comparable product of which one could say the same. A feature of considerable interest is the involvement of IBM in this fast-growing field. Olivetti also now has a system ready. It should not be forgotten that Japanese manufacturers are following the lead taken by Sharp and more recently by Nippon Electric. The personal computer, regarded not long ago perhaps as a toy, is now seen as something with long-term and lucrative potential of its own. In the United States, there are already more than one million personal computers. Some people believe that by 1985 the figure will have multiplied tenfold.

Everyone should be aware of the Japanese involvement. At present, United States companies have nearly all the market to themselves. A British company, Sinclair, is starting to do well in a very tough market, selling over 6,000 units a month of its own microcomputers. However, with Nippon Electric, Hitachi and Fujitsu, all preparing to sell personal computers in the United States and in Britain, the invasion is well and truly on its way. It is possible that by the middle of the present decade the Japanese could have 45 per cent. of the United States market and perhaps a similar figure in this country. No hon. Member should ignore that possibility.

There are exciting developments on the horizon. The high level language that closely resembles English will open up computers to a much larger number of people, and 1985 is seen as the time when computers will cope reliably with the human voice. One Japanese company has already exhibited a system for sale at about £8,000. It is a feature of the fifth generation computers to which my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) referred that they are user-friendly. This is the key to computers and information technology. Once they become user-friendly, they will be available to a much wider group of people than today.

While in Japan, I had the opportunity to visit a software exhibition organised by British producers in Tokyo. It has been said that the Japanese still have a great deal to learn from us in this field. The feeling expressed to me was that the Japanese are catching up rapidly. Although they have previously lagged, they are, as ever, learning quickly. Japanese software is, in many ways, more advanced, although Britain still has a great deal to teach in relation to its application.

I was most impressed by a small stand at the exhibition. It was manned by two people from Bradford University Research Limited which, with its own resources, had taken the stand in order to sell its products in Japan. Curiously, it was finding more interest among business men in Japan than in Britain. I shall send a copy of the letter which I subsequently received from the exhibitor to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, as it has some important points to make.

The need for data legislation has not received much attention. In March this year, the Home Secretary announced the Government's intention to introduce data legislation. I was disappointed that it was not mentioned in the programme for this Session, and I urge my hon. Friend to do everything in his power to ensure that data legislation is introduced in the Government's programme at the earliest possible moment.

We should not underestimate the power of information. Those who have, read George Orwell's book "Nineteen Eighty Four"—and that date is only three years away—will recall that the Government of the state referred to in the book enjoyed enormous power because of the information that it possessed. George Orwell could not have anticipated the computer as it exists today. He saw the camera as the means whereby the State kept an eye on its citizens.

I am not suggesting that today the State would want to keep an eye on its citizens for malevolent reasons. It might want to do so for benevolent reasons. There are good arguments for knowing what people are doing in order to serve them better. There is a narrow dividing line between that state and the state in "Nineteen Eighty Four". It would be advantageous to have legislation introduced at an early date.

I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I remind the House that the two greatest dictators of this century—Hitler and Stalin—depended on their information networks for the power they enjoyed. I am not suggesting that in Britain we shall have anything like those dictatorships in the foreseeable future. However, for benevolent reasons the jigsaw puzzle pieces of information can be put together by the computer so that the State, or private companies, can theoretically serve their citizens or customers better.

Several hon. Members have referred to the use of computers in education, and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said that we aim to put a microcomputer in every school. In America, there is no doubt that, outside business, the most important market for microcomputers is education. Many schools in America already have as many as seven computers. Unfortunately, our problem is not only a lack of resources to place so many computers in schools but a shortage of fully-qualified teachers.

The number of children studying computing as an examination subject rose from 11,000 in 1975 to 37,000 in 1980, but that is still far from adequate. There is certainly a core of enthusiastic teachers who voluntarily give their time to imbue pupils and students with knowledge of computers and information technology, but it needs to be done on a much more institutional basis.

Computers are also important in medicine, and many advantages and benefits have flowed from their use. For example, if a person were to collapse in Parliament Square it would be possible for a passing doctor to have access to a computer data bank to discover that person's medical history. The doctor would be able to treat the patient more effectively and possibly even save his or her life.

Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, privacy is of prime importance. The Department of Health and Social Security has been involved in computers. I understand that attempts to computerise the activities of the National Health Service have virtually collapsed. There have been forecasts of complete chaos. The fact that there is no centralisation has been severely criticised.

In the United States there are 500 private hospitals which are run on computers. They have succeeded because patients in the United States need billing. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should go down that precise path, but there is a lesson for us there. Perhaps we could learn something from the way in which the private sector in the United States has operated.

The motion refers to
"a major source of prosperity and employment in the 1980s."
Regrettably, that applies also to the criminal fraternity. Computers are being used extensively in crime. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly to what extent they are being used. With most types of crime, one knows that a crime has been committed. The problem is to find the perpetrator of the crime. But with computer crime, if one knows that it has been committed, one almost certainly knows who has perpetrated it. The many cases brought to notice could be just the tip of the iceberg that is above the water. Who knows how many crimes are perpetrated by the more sophisticated criminals?

The police should fight back by using computers of their own. During the inquiries into the Yorkshire ripper case, had the police used a computer rather than the several manual systems that were used, it might have been possible to bring the Yorkshire ripper to justice much earlier. There is some doubt as to how much of the Yorkshire ripper inquiry report will be made public, but I hope that as a result of the inquiry the police will consider what benefits could accrue from the use of computers in fighting crime.

For some time the Thames Valley police have been operating a sophisticated computerised filing system. The data bank includes the names of people who have committed no crime but have perhaps reported a crime to the police. A senior officer has been reported as having said "The majority of the information is on criminals—you have to trust us". We do, on the whole, trust the police, but I do not think that we should be prepared to accept such a statement, and it is essential that there should be independent control and supervision of that kind of computer facility.

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that it is particularly worrying that the Thames Valley computer at Kidlington is reported to be installing new capacity to increase tenfold the present capacity? Since there could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be that many criminals in Britain—even with the present rise in the crime rate—it is particularly important that the safeguards mentioned by the hon. Gentleman should be introduced.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Home Office should do everything in its power to introduce legislation much earlier than is planned.

Above everything, it is essential that the community at large should be aware of what computers can and cannot do. There is bound to be a core of people who use computers every day, but there should be a much wider number who are aware of the capabilities of computers.

It would be worth considering the concept of community computing as it has developed in California. It started two years ago when four micro-computers were put into a local library, and it has expanded since then. Apart from Computertown in California, there is the Japanese experiment with wired towns, including computer-run burglar and fire alarms connected to the police and fire stations. This is also a pointer to the future.

I believe that we should already be considering how we can have remote readings of electricity and gas meters using computers and remote modems. By the time we institute that, I think that the home computer will probably be linked to the viewdata system, as has already happened in Ohio. This will give the householder access to vast amounts of information.

Electronic offices will be a reality by then, but there are also inertia factors, not only political but human. I have talked with pools companies about using Prestel, for instance, to complete pools coupons. It is very easy to see that this could be done electronically much more effectively and with much less labour than the present system of an army of people going out every Wednesday night to collect pools coupons. The pools companies point out that the very fact of a collector calling provides a spur for people to fill in the coupons, which they otherwise would not have if they only had to press a few buttons on their machines.

The electronic office, bearing in mind the breakdown of distance which comes about by remote terminals, does not need to be at an office; it could be in the individual's home. However, I think that there is something in the individual psyche which requires him to go out and to separate his work from his home life, to come into contact with other people. If we did not bear that in mind, we would have to consider the psychological problems which might arise as a result.

I have pointed out to my secretary that there already exists a Japanese system whereby a typewriter accepts dictation without the intervention of a typist. She knows that I probably would not swap her unless such a machine could answer back, as she does, in an Aberdonian accent.

I make no apology for returning from possible concepts of the reality of tomorrow to the situation facing industry and businesses today. Some small businesses need advice because they are often disappointed when, having put in hardware, they find that the cost of software is higher than they expected. We should recognise the value of the work done by the National Computing Centre in establishing a microsystems centre, which has been described as a citizens' advice bureau for potential users and which has enjoyed a £250,000 grant from the Department of Industry.

Incidentally, putting in a small plug again for my home area of West Yorkshire, I regret that the microtrain, excellent though it was, did not stop in West Yorkshire, an area which has lost an enormous number of jobs because of the reduction of the textile industry and other industries and which desperately needs the impetus which would be given by this new development. I realise that many areas will make the same claim, but I believe that West Yorkshire has a particularly strong claim.

The Japanese are coming. They have destroyed our motor cycle industry. They have made great inroads with cars. Their objective is to match IBM in world-wide sales. My belief is that we should collaborate as well as compete and that that is probably the way that we can succeed. I welcome the collaboration expected next year between Fujitsu and ICL.

There exists in this House the all-party parliamentary Information Technology Committee, under the excellent chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo. I am delighted to be an officer of that Committee. But, in view of the social implications of this new technology, there arises the question whether Parliament will in future be able to amend legislation quickly enough to adapt to changes sufficiently rapidly. I believe that the abolition of the Select Committee on Science and Technology is something that we should regret. It is sadly missed. We should consider bringing it back, despite the problems that that would cause for the departmental breakdown of such Committees.

The information technology industries know that in my hon. Friend they have a Minister who understands the problems, even though sometimes he finds it difficult to persuade his ministerial colleagues that they are as he describes them. There is much to be done, but there is an enhanced appreciation of information technology, and that gives me great encouragement for the future.

12.35 pm

I have enjoyed the debate greatly. It has been interesting and lively. Those hon. Members who have taken part in it are extremely well informed, and their speeches have stimulated a great deal of thought.

As the years have gone by and this new technology has developed, we have become aware of the all-pervading influence that it will have in almost every aspect of our business and private lives. Different hon. Members have spoken of its influence on education, commerce, industry, entertainment and home life. All will be affected. The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) should be congratulated on raising the subject again, because it is of great importance.

It is also an exciting subject, and I hope that the House and the country will respond to it by showing some confidence that these frontiers of new technology will provide opportunities for job creation, higher education, leisure, and a better understanding of the environment and the lives that we lead. It is stimulating and exciting to view the prospects which the information technology breakthrough is bringing throughout the developed world, and already we see it beginning even in the Third world.

I refer to an aspect touched on by the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) where we in the House have a specific responsibility. It is a matter for concern that our political institutions internationally have not developed as rapidly as businesses and technologies in the world. I hope that the House will give a loud and clear message to the Government that they should be pressing other Governments to develop this technology as quickly as they can, bearing in mind the help that it will bring to our inhabitants.

The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) spoke about satellite television, but we have to consider not only its supervision and control—which I agree is not a good word to use. I hope that that framework can be worked out, but I hope, too, that the House will tell the Minister that we want to see co-operation between British and overseas firms. I want to see it especially across our European frontiers, with partnerships and ventures with European companies so that we can build up a European industry. I do not suggest that we should not have co-operation with the Japanese and the Americans, but our home market in Europe is there for all to see, and I hope that we can co-operate with other European countries and that. through the EEC, the Government will provide some impetus.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we do not want to see Governments intervening or pumping in money directly? We hope to see the creation of circumstances in which state monopolies no longer control this business. We need to get rid of the monopolies and thereby create an environment in which these great developments can go ahead anyway.

I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough brought up again—as did the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett)—the old hoary battle between the Conservative and Labour Parties about what degree of intervention there should be in the industry, whether or not there should be nationalisation, interventionist support, or whatever. That debate, which has continued over 30 years, has done enormous damage to British industry and I hope that the two major parties will not start the same ping-pong battle over the information technology industry that we had over the steel industry and other important sectors of the economy.

We have before us proposals for the future of the whole of British telecommunications. It is regrettable that British Telecom, which is so fundamental to the development of information technology, stands at risk of becoming a subject of party political strife and dogma. I hope that the two major parties will refrain from attacking that corporation or suggesting that it should be broken up and challenged in a way that is damaging to the development of new technology, efficiency and competitive services.

I hope that the Labour Party will refrain from threatening to renationalise every organisation that has been denationalised and to put the monopoly back into operation where industry has been opened up to competition. The information technology industry needs considerable stability and certainty so that the massive investment that must be put into it over the next decade or more can be put in without the risk of nationalisation, denationalisation or becoming the subject of ping-pong political debates.

Is the hon. Gentleman's party—conveniently situated, as he would like us to believe, in the centre—agreeing or disagreeing with what has been done? Surely that is important to the future stability of the industry. If the hon. Gentleman is in favour of what the Opposition are suggesting, that clearly puts him on one side of the road, but, if he is in favour of what is being done by my hon. Friend the Minister, that puts him on the other side. He cannot stay in the middle for ever.

If the Government denationalised or remove the monopoly in parts of British Telecom, an SDP Government after the next election would keep that position. We shall not give the commitments that the Opposition have given that the organisation will be wound down and put back. On the other hand, there is a crucial decision that the Government are presently considering about whether alternative trunk and switching facilities should be allowed to operate in competition with British Telecom. On that, we await the Government's proposals with interest and we shall then make clear our position whether we agree or not. What has racked large sectors of British industry for too long is the dreadful ping-pong battle—the threats and the counter-threats.

I and most of my colleagues welcome the appointment of the present Minister for Industry and Information Technology because he adopts an attitude towards industry that represents a pragmatic approach—an approach of wanting to encourage and not impede progress in a way that Conservative Members could not claim was their manifesto policy before the Government came to power.

The hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson t made proposals for introducing an information system with new facilities for hon. Members. I support his proposal; I go further and suggest that, rather than leave it to the Government, he might have a word with hon. Members who are keen to see such a development in the House and who might keep the pressure on the Government, unless the Minister responds favourably, to get such facilities.

I am delighted to do what I can to help. When I first came into the House, seven or eight years ago, I asked whether we could have "bleeps" so that, instead of having the ridiculous system of pieces of paper being marched around the House—along two miles of corridors, 100 staircases and thousands of rooms—trying to get a telephone message to us, we might have something more modern so that we could be called immediately, as doctors and others already are.

We have made progress and I understand that some Doorkeepers now have bleeps. Although that is a little progress, I hope that we can make more rapid progress on this proposal than we had on that minor suggestion, which I was not the first to make all those years ago. It depends what facilities are proposed. We do not know what the future holds for the Bridge Street site and whether we will keep the offices by Westminster Abbey and other outlying buildings. If a cable system were laid, hon. Members would want to know what the accommodation facilities would be.

I support the hon. Member for Fife, East and agree that the House could give a lead in this vital sphere. Doing what the hon. Gentleman proposes would show that we are in 'the second half of the twentieth century and not back in the age of quill pens and swords with which the House is too often associated.

12.47 pm

I add my congratulations to those offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) on using the opportunity of his good fortune in the ballot to initiate a debate on information technoloy. The House does not have many opportunities to debate the subject, and that is regrettable.

Although the attendance is greater than it has been on other occasions, it is none the less thin. I have no doubt that if I were announcing a factory closure, or if we were debating the decline of a great industry, the House would be packed and hon. Members would be angry and cross, and an enormous amount of effort would be devoted to discussing the past, but we are discussing the future and it is regrettable that politicians are more assiduous in attending memorial services than christenings.

Today's attendance reflects some of the problems faced by the country. If Britain is to succeed economically in the next decade, it has to move up the technological learning curve very quickly. However, in every society there is also a forgetting curve and the difficulty for Britain under successive Governments over the past 20 or 30 years has been to move down the forgetting curve quickly enough and to gather the momentum to move up the learning curve. There have been endless analyses of why Britain has done badly in the past, and not enough concentration on what we should be doing in the future. The whole range of industry described as information technology—which ranges from launching and using space satellites to playing space invaders on television sets at home—is the fastest-growing industry in the world and, according to the Pactel report, is growing at a compound rate of over 14 per cent a year.

No other industry or group of industries could possibly grow at that rate over the next decade. It is already an enormous world-wide business of over £50 billion. As the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) said, it is pervasive. We are dealing with not only the office of the future, but, as the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) said, the factory of the future and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) said, the home of the future. It would be superfluous to welcome my hon. Friend to this debate, because over the years he has pioneered the cause of the new technologies. He said that he felt like one of the apostles preaching to the early Christians—a lone voice in the wilderness. Like St. Paul, who was stoned in the coliseum at Ephesus, he has had abuse hurled at him from time to time because of his enthusiasm.

I had hoped that the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), who is the Opposition spokesman on these matters, would make some positive proposals and outline Opposition policy on the whole subject of the sunrise industries. However, he contented himself with attacking the various steps that I have taken. In my view, that is regrettable. A party that does not have a series of policies or strategy in this connection has nothing to offer the basic economic thinking in our country.

I am glad to welcome the spokesman of the Social Democratic Party, the hon. Member for Thornaby. As far as I know, he has not attended debates on this matter in the past, although I know of his interest in it. I realise that it must have been tempting for him to spend most of this morning with his colleagues sharing out the portfolios that they all expect to have after the next election, but such activity would have been fruitless. He spent his morning much better in attending this debate, and now listening to my speech.

As far as I could understand the Social Democratic policy from what he said, I am glad that he agreed with the policies that I have followed and pioneered. He did not put forward any specific proposals, but I know that he will do so with the passage of time. He does not want a vacuum to exist for ever in the policy formation of the Social Democratic Party. After all, that would be a hollow centre, and, like all vacuums, it would collapse in on itself.

On that minor point, would not the Minister be surprised if the Social Democratic Party produced policies in this connection? Surely that party's whole philosophy is not to have a policy on anything—or, indeed, to have a leader.

I resist the temptation to indulge in yesterday's battles. We await with interest the policies that will emerge. At least an SDP spokesman has attended this debate.

I have committed about £80 million to be spent specifically on information technology over the next four years, but that is in addition to a whole range of other supports and expenditure in this connection. First, I must emphasise how wide is the range of these industries. From the point of view of organisation, the Government have got their act together. The various parts of the Department which previously answered to other Ministers now answer to me. I am responsible for the information technology division, the electronic industry, and the electronic division. I am responsible for British Telecom and the Post Office, and I am responsible for space policy and the whole of the Government's research and development.

No other Government have co-ordinated those responsibilities in one Department answerable to one Minister. When I meet my counterparts in Europe and other parts of the world, invariably I meet, first, the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications—our old Postmaster General—who is either a very hopeful young Minister or a very old and hopeless Minister. Then I meet the Minister for Industry. Sometimes I meet the Minister for Research and Development.

It has been said repeatedly this morning that the covergence of the technologies and the pervasiveness of the use of all these things means that one has to concentrate administrative and ministerial responsibility in the way that we have done in this country. I also have a unit in the Cabinet Office, which is headed by an under-secretary, which advises me on co-ordination between Government Departments, which is another important aspect of the subject. Thus, I commend to the House that reorganisation within the Government.

We are fashioning a series of policies for the different industries. A short while ago I announced support for robotic development. The House may be aware that I launched a programme of about £10 million. I emphasise that that is not a limit. The programme is demand-led. The money in the programme is available to British industry, which can apply to my Department for grants of 25 per cent., or in some cases 50 per cent., to introduce robots or robotic devices into their factories.

We put money into the Robot Advisory Service, which is run by the Production Engineering Research Association. We made grants available. The Science and Engineering Research Council provides funds for robots and research projects jointly undertaken. Under the scheme, which I announced in May 1981, 80 projects have either been approved or are in the pipeline. The installation projects that have come forward cover a wide range of manufacturing industry, including confectionery, chemicals and ceramics, as well as the more traditional areas of engineering.

A year or so ago the United Kingdom's robot population was estimated to be about 370. It is now approaching 500, That is tiny, compared with the 6,000 or 7,000 robots and robotic devices used in Japan, but we have made some progress. However, our major international competitors are still ahead and we cannot afford to let up the pace.

The hon. Member for Cannock mentioned that it is not only robots that are involved. We also support flexible manufacturing systems through the requirements boards. We shall spend about £28 million during the next three years. About a month ago I launched a programme for CADCAM, computer-aided design. I committed £6 million to companies to use computers to design their products. Some exceptionally good work is being done in Britain. I visited the laboratory at Cambridge that the Department runs—the CAD centre—about two months ago. I saw a sophisticated television screen that had been developed to design shoes. It was possible to draw every shape and style of shoe on the screen in about 250 different colours. The computer can design shoes——

It is impossible to bowl a half volley, but I know what my hon. Friend means. However, let us Leave the subject of cricket, as it is so far immune from information technology.

The hon. Gentleman asked what had happened to the shoe industry in Britain. It is only by using modern technology that the shoe, ceramic, and biscuit tin industries—or any other industries—will remain in business in five or 10 years' time. As the hon. Gentleman should recognise, companies must automate or liquidate.

The hon. Gentleman has led with his chin this time. Does he not realise that yesterday the footwear Economic Development Committee issued a report strongly criticising the Government for their lack of support and, in particular, for cutting off the Labour Government's scheme of assistance halfway through?

The schemes of assistance that I am talking about for the automation of plant and the design of equipment are still available to the footwear industry and to other industries. Those schemes are vital to Britain's industrial success. Next year I shall bring forward other proposals to increase our support for the modernisation of British industry. About three months ago I launched a scheme to support fibre optics. I have committed about £25 million over five years. Hon. Members will be familiar with fibre optics. They are a British invention. The original paper, from which the fibre optic industry developed, was written by a British mathematician working in Essex in 1966.

The purpose of the scheme that I launched was to build on the United Kingdom's technical competence and industrial base in optical fibres and optoelectronic technologies. The purpose was also to stimulate their use in the widest range of applications. Under the scheme, particular encouragement will be given to the exploitation of optical fibres in local networks and industrial plant and to flat-screen displays.

Already the industrial response to the scheme has been encouraging. Ten project propsals have been agreed, at a cost of £6 million. A further 14 projects are being assessed or are known to the Department. If they all go ahead the cost will be about £66 million. I think that that is only a beginning. It is a vital technology, which is now beginning to burgeon in industry. British Telecom has plans for installing optical fibres for long-haul telecommunications. It is as advanced in those plans as any PTT in the world. More kilometres of optical fibre will be laid in Britain by 1984–85 than in any other European country.

Project Mercury, which we intend to license, will provide additional trunk capacity with fibre optics. None of the schemes extends the potential of fibre optics to its limit. The enormous band width, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo referred, is able to carry many television channels as well as data channels. By reducing the size by the use of fibre optics the facility can be brought into the home to provide better communications telephonically and better television. There is a wide variety of other uses, such as banking. remote retailing, searching through a catalogue, and security. One of the channels in a wide band could be used for burglar alarm systems. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) mentioned remote meter reading, which is also a possibility.

Access to the potential requires a massive investment in new cables to replace our large but outdated copper cable system. We are now discussing with industry the next steps in a most exciting development. I have referred in the past to recabling the country. There is no doubt that we are talking about the largest investment programme facing the country for the next 10 to 20 years. I have set up various study groups in the Department. They have been asked to report urgently. There are enormous implications. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo referred to some of the social implications and what can be done with an interactive terminal through which messages can be sent back. There are enormous investment implications. There are implications for public broadcasting and for the role of the television industry. I am convinced that a large investment programme is before us for the next 10 to 20 years.

In addition to specific programmes, we have continued to take the microelectronic message to a wider regional audience through the microprocessor awareness programme and the microtrain. Some hon. Members visited the train as it travelled the country this year. It has been a success. Over 35,000 business men, teachers and schoolchildren, and other members of the public, have visited it. I have extended the tour in London by five weeks. Hon. Members who did not see the microtrain on its provincial tour are welcome to visit it at Marylebone station in my constituency next week or the week after.

The microtrain has been well received. The idea is to persuade business men to use the new technologies in whatever industry they are engaged. Research shows that 50 per cent. of British companies do not use microtechnology in any way, shape or form. Often the most modern piece of equipment that they have is an electric typewriter. If that is so, they will not be in business in five or 10 years.

Next year we shall not use the train, but we shall equip six large trailers and vans with microprocessors, word processors and modern office equipment. We shall take them to the car parks of factories and small businesses and to school playgrounds to show that such equipment is not weird magic of which they should be suspicious, but helpful technology which can help their businesses to be more profitable and successful and their lives more interesting.

Under the general MAP scheme launched by the previous Government—we have not changed policy but developed the programme—£55 million will be spent during the next few years. That programme has been succesful. In addition to supporting feasibility studies and awareness activities, such as the train, 34,000 extra places have been created on short retraining courses. We have helped 2,250 companies to embark upon feasibility studies and assisted 600 development projects.

I was asked some questions about the position of ICL. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North mentioned it, as did the hon. Member for Norwich, South. The House will be familiar with the measures that we took earlier this year to help ICL in its difficulties. Britain has been fortunate to have found such a capable team as Mr. Laidlaw and Mr. Wilmot, and one can only admire the sheer professionalism of the managing director, Mr. Robert Wilmot. Their object, in dealing with the affairs of ICL, has been to reverse the decline in the company's fortunes, to restore morale among customers and staff and to revitalise and strengthen the product line. They have had to indulge in a large cost-cutting programme. I know how deeply they regret the need for major redundancies, but they have concluded that they are essential to ensure ICL's long-term future.

ICL has also started to expand, develop and make more comprehensive the production line, with three interesting co-operative ventures. At the bottom end of the scale, it is developing with Perq a minicomputer. Further up the scale, it has an arrangement with the Mitel Corporation, a Canadian company founded by a Welsh engineer who used to work for the Post Office. It is one of the world's brightest and most expanding telephone companies. That is an important strategic link, because it emphasises how computing and telecommunications are coming together. They have been large separate industries in the past, but they are now coming together through the switching equipment.

ICL also has an important link with Fujitsu. Mr. Wilmot has secured a deal with Fujitsu that will allow ICL access to the most advanced technology and computing in the world, but it is a two-way street. Fujitsu wants the strength of ICL to help it to market their joint products and their jointly developed projects in the world's markets. By the end of the decade, ICL could be one of the strongest computer and communications companies in Europe.

Following those collaborative arrangements and other measures, ICL made representations to the Government and its principal bankers about the need to ensure a smooth transition to normal financial arrangements in the longer term. We have accordingly agreed to extend the two-year term of the Government's guarantee, but on a reducing basis.

My right hon. Friend is answering a question today, the details of which are as follows. He has informed ICL's chairman that the guarantee will be reduced to £150 million on 31 March 1983, to £100 million on 31 March 1984, to £50 million on 31 March 1985, and will end on 31 March 1986. He has also informed the chairman that, with this tapered extension of the guarantee in place, the company must draw up its corporate plan on the basis that no further Government support of that sort will be forthcoming. Mr. Laidlaw has assured us that the arrangement should be appropriate for the company's needs as it consolidates its recovery. We have advised the European Commission of our intention.

I am pleased to announce that, as in the case of the original two-year guarantee, ICL's four principal bankers have agreed to continue to provide significant committed borrowing facilities over and above the sum guaranteed. For the first year of the extension, to the end of March 1984, the £70 million that is currently available from them to ICL will be maintained.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) has had to leave for his constituency. I thank him for the work that he did in the Department in pulling together the policy for space, which is one of our unsung successes. Our budget is about £60 million a year, most of which goes through the European Space Agency, which I commend to the House as an excellent example of international co-operation. Indeed, it is one of the most effective. Without it, I do not believe that Europe would have had the space industry that it has today. The industry could easily have been dominated by America, as it has been outside Europe. The agency has paid off, certainly for Britain.

We have several companies with a remarkable capability to make space equipment. The big ones are British Aerospace and Marconi. There is also the Science and Engineering Research Council and Ferranti, Plessey, Sperry, ERA and Logica, which contribute either products or systems planning to our space effort. British Aerospace is making seven satellites. The industry is now more than embryonic, and in it we see a considerable success story.

About a month ago I announced that the Government's commitment to L-SAT, which we are making jointly primarily with Italy, but also with other European countries. It will be launched in 1986 and will be the most advanced television and telecommunications satellite in the world. Our contribution to the programme is £77 million in a total cost of about £210 million. Once again British Aerospace will be the prime contractor, and Marconi will provide the specialised business systems.

Just before Christmas, the first MARECS satellite will be launched, which is an important development for Britain. It will be used for almost instantaneous automatic telephone and telecommunications links between ship and shore and ship and ship. It is 50 per cent. United Kingdom funded. The decision was taken seven years ago, so the lead time is long. It is again a project of which we should be proud. The second satellite will be launched in April. Each of them will have been made primarily by British companies and are the only example of where we have business outside Europe with an international body such as INMARSAT.

Not all hon. Members will know what remote sensing is. It is using satellites as super telescopes to sense what is happening on the sea or under the ground. They make vivid and clear images rather than photographs. It is probably the next most important development to space. It assists not only on geological surveys, but to chart the flow of tides. It has enormous scientific and practical use.

On 28 October the member States of ESA agreed to a continuing programme of satellite remote sensing. It will commence with an ocean and coastal mission—ERS—now being made ready for a decision. The Government have given considerable support to the proposals, and we are in the van. I have agreed in principle that we should participate. We expect our European partners to support and to extend the programme to land sensing and other important areas.

In the past 10 years the United Kingdom space industry has progressed from the stage of being able to produce spacecraft under the management of the Ministry of Defence to the present position where our leading firms are about to embark in competition with international companies for commercial contracts. One of the most interesting developments is that we have now reached a stage where it will be possible in the next year or two to attract substantial private money into investment in satellites. I am actively involved in ensuring that British companies do not suffer.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Norwich, South about work on fifth generation computers. He asked whether the Department of Industry would sponsor and support that work. A Department of Industry—led delegation visited Japan last month as a result of the meeting that I had in April with Mr. Tanaka, the Minister for Industry and Trade in Japan, with whom I signed a technological exchange agreement. The Department participated in multilateral discussions about the possibility of identifying an international collaborative programme in this area. Other participants included the United States, France and Germany.

The general feeling is that the early stages of research for the next generation of computers—which my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo rightly said is different from this generation in that such computers are able to diagnose and, as it were, to make qualitative judgments—involve a completely new, innovative type of thinking. They cannot be developed from existing computers. Probably only a handful of people in the world—most of them either in Europe or America—are actualy capable of thinking through the conceptual ideas that make such a generation of computers possible.

As a result of the seminar in Japan we are arranging, a meeting at the end of January, which will involve my Department, the Science and Engineering Research Council, industry and academics, to discuss what action will be needed by Britain to develop a work programme on this subject. Work is going on in laboratories in Britain on various aspects of this subject. For example, the Science and Engineering Research Council supports work on distributive computing. Intersting work is also being carried out in the United Kingdom on artificial intelligence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) waxed eloquent about the need for the House to embrace the new technologies. I have heard my hon. Friend speak about our telephone system. I have heard him refer to the inadequacies of the office equipment available to hon. Members. I have immense sympathy with all that he said, but I know to my cost that trying to reform the House is rather like stirring porridge with a cardboard spoon.

More than nine years ago I tried to persuade the Officers of the House to put the process of tabling questions on to what were then embryonic word processors, so that the procedure of tabling questions—the preparation of the Order Paper with questions, putting them in order, answering Members' queries about when a question was last asked, providing answers immediately a Member enters the Table Office—could be carried out without depending upon the personal knowledge of the very intelligent Clerks.

I got absolutely nowhere, and I was then the junior Minister at the Civil Service Department. Therefore, I wish my hon. Friend well. I am a friend at court, but it would be inappropriate for me as a member of the Executive to thrust money upon Members of the legislature. They must decide their own priorities. I am a very generous soul, and if I can act as a catalyst I stand ready to do so.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that if there are not to be expensive blunders it is essential for the House to define a strategy now?

Yes, I think that the House should do that. I agree with all that my hon. Friend has said about the inadequacy of the telephone system and the lack of modern equipment for Members. It is disgraceful. I am sure that my hon. Friend would like a word processor—a VDU with a typewriter—attached by a telephonic link to a VDU terminal in his constituency office so that his constituents could send messages direct to him. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as a good constituency Member, would welcome that close link with his constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough asked about data legislation. I agree that that is important. Again, my hon. Friend is preaching to the converted. When I first came to the House, in 1968, I put forward a data surveillance Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule to set up a system of securing records and allowing people to check their records on computers. I am therefore most sympathetic, as are the Government, and we are committed to legislation. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office in May of this year signed the European convention, by which we shall abide, and we shall shortly publish a White Paper with our proposals.

Several hon. Members raised the subject of "micros in schools". The programme has been an outstanding success. We decided that we must try to have at least one microcomputer in every secondary school by the end of 1982. Half of Britain's secondary schools now have microcomputers—often a room or a bank of them—but half have none. I am not an Education Minister, but I felt that in this context I could act as a catalyst and help by providing the hardware. Under the scheme, I provide from my budget 50 per cent. of the cost of two microcomputers. They happen to be British microcomputers, which again is a useful way to help British industry by public purchasing, and they are both very good. We have been very evenhanded—one is made in Oxford and the other in Cambridge. I am glad to say that since the scheme was launched in June more than 2,200 computers have been ordered. That is very good for the schools and for the companies.

It has been pointed out in the debate that it is no use my providing the hardware for the schools if the teachers cannot teach the pupils. The Department of Education and Science has a programme to train teachers and is committing about £9 million to it. I should like every teacher to take a course in computer use as part of the normal teacher training course. Where the use of computers in schools has been followed up, it is interesting to note that the pupils often out-distance the teachers quite quickly, because today's children have a willingness and a capacity to learn these new techniques on new equipment. That, I claim, is one of the outstanding successes of the attempt to bring our schools up to date.

In addition, within the next two or three weeks I shall be launching a national system of information technology centres. The Prime Minister announced in July that these would be set up. They stem from the example that I saw at the Notting Dale centre in Hammersmith in June of this year. Mr. Webb has been running that centre for 18 months with a little money from the local authority, a little from the Government and a little from wherever else he can obtain it. He has converted an old vicarage and taken in 16 to 19-year-old boys who are unemployed and for the most part unqualified. There is not an O-level among them. I do not think that there is even a CSE. They all happen to be black, but that is due to the ethnic composition of that area of London.

Over a period of nine months he has trained boys in simple computing and simple electronic assembly. I was greatly impressed with the motivation of those youngsters and the great success that had been achieved. Between 60 and 70 per cent. of those youngsters went on to find jobs, having come to the centre straight from the dole queue. They were not people from privileged backgrounds or academic high fliers, but people whom the new technologies cannot ignore or allow to drop through the net.

That is why I persuaded the MSC and the Prime Minister to support a scheme for information technology centres. The first 20 will be announced shortly. They are more than just training centres. They are also small workshops. I have asked a leading company in the technology industry to adopt these centres so that it can act as a guiding hand. I am not principally asking for much money from the company, but it is important that the centres should be under the umbrella and have the support and knowledge of a private company in this industry.

There has been reference to the BBC project, which the Government have supported. A series of programmes, to be launched by the BBC in January, will explain how to run a microcomputer. I am sure that this will be an enormous success. I have seen some of the work. I have played around with the computer that is to be promoted with the series. It is a British microcomputer made in Cambridge. It will be available to those who want to take the course. When an organisation like the BBC decides to major in this sort of area, one has a quantum jump in the appreciation and acceptance of new technologies.

I am sympathetic, as the Minister knows, to the installation of microcomputers in schools. It is important that youngsters should have an interface with computers. Does the hon. Gentleman think that to avoid some of the problems, such as lack of cohesion, that hon. Members have mentioned, it is important to have as many schools as possible connected by terminal to major computers, where a wider range of computing operations can be amassed?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. This happens in several education authorities. Hertford is one that comes to mind, but there are many others. No microcomputer goes to a school unless two teachers have been trained in the use of microtechnology. We are trying to find a reference to the school that was quoted in the article in The Guardian, but so far we have been unsuccessful. As the hon. Gentleman read the article, he can perhaps discover where it is. We would like hard evidence.

I come now to the job implications. Will the new technologies add to or reduce unemployment? I realise that there is enormous anxiety about this question. At almost every meeting that I address, the question is raised. I am fairly confident that the new technologies in the office, the factory and the home will create many jobs.

There is some statistical evidence to support what I say. One has only to study the use of computers in the United States in the period between 1960 and 1980. In 1960, before computers really hit the office environment in the United States, there were 10 million clerical workers, representing 15 per cent. of total employment. By 1980, following the enormous revolution in the use of computers, the number of clerical workers had risen to 18 million, representing 19 per cent. of clerical employment. One finds the same thing in office automation in Britain.

There is undoubtedly a correlation between high productivity growth and increased employment. It is an important correlation. The evidence of successive reports issued by the Department of Employment is that the industries—not just this industry but others, too—that achieve high productivity rates grow and then create more employment. This is the virtuous circle. I have no doubt that we have to embrace the new technologies, because technological stagnation is the one sure way to massive unemployment. British industry has to adapt and adopt whether in the office or the factory.

The hon. Member for Norwich, South was rather disparaging about the initiatives that I have been talking about. He implied that they were not enough and asked "Where is the success story in British industry?".

I can see that the Minister is coming to his peroration. I should like some answers to the specific questions that I raised. The first was on Government support for research and development projects in ICL The second was on the methods of commissioning pilot applications in the Government, particularly when compared with the French methods, which I described. Thirdly, I should like him to comment on the applications for research and development support asked for by the United Kingdom Information Technology Organisation. Finally, I should like him to mention the effects of university cuts on research on information technology. The Minister cannot get away with standing at the Dispatch Box oozing charm and not answering the difficult questions.

I shall answer those specific questions. The proposals that were put forward by the University Grants Committee will, as the hon. Gentleman knows, readjust the balance between the arts and science faculties. By 1985 there w ill be more students than there are at the moment studying in engineering and science faculties. [Interruption.] Taking all the universities together, what I have said is correct.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about ICL's research and development. The amount that has been provided since 1968 for that purpose is about £65 million. We are looking at various schemes now, and ICL is submitting proposals under a wide variety of schemes. The sums under consideration are between £12 million and £16 million. The sum will depend upon whether ICL carries forward certain projects.

We have, in a growing number of industries, substantial success stories. Some hon. Members may be surprised to know that the computing company that makes the largest number of computers today is a British company, Sinclair. It makes 1,000 microcomputers a day and is now selling in America. Mr. Sinclair rose from the NEB like the phoenix out of the ashes. His company is undoubtedly one of the great triumphs in the new area of microcomputing.

The Acorn company in Cambridge, which makes the BBC microcomputer, will be making 2,000 microcomputers a week by the spring. These are real success stories.

We have all said that the British software industry is good, but have wondered where the investment was for the hardware industry, where the big money is to be made. It is now coming through with successes such as Sinclair and Acorn. There is a company in Bradford, Microvitec Ltd., which makes coloured VDUs. It did not exist in 1979, but it is now making 500 coloured VDUs a month, and by this time next year it plans to make 2,000 a month.

This week I visited the numerically controlled lathes part of Albert Herbert. It has been saved from liquidation, and now employs 800 and has a turnover of £25 million per annum. It is profitable and making 23 numerically controlled lathes at a rate of 23 a month, which will increase to 32 a month in the spring.

Britain is becoming an attractive place for investment by overseas companies. In the course of the last few months £70 million has been invested in the Motorola microchip plant in East Kilbride, which has created 800 jobs. There are now 1,300 jobs in the Hewlett-Packard disc memory plant at Bristol. The £32 million Mitel telecommunications equipment plant in South Wales provides 1,700 jobs. That is a direct result of the liberalisation of British Telecom. There is a £40 million microchip plant by Nippon Electric at Livingston. These companies are investing in the new technologies in this country. Does the hon. Member for Norwich, South think that we would have had any of that investment if the Labour Party had been returned to power and Britain had left the EEC? All those jobs would have gone out of the window.

No, I shall not give way any more.

We have had an interesting debate. The Prime Minister has designated 1982 as Information Technology Year. The purpose is to focus attention on the range of industries that we have discussed and to highlight the importance of British companies using the new technologies to overcome suspicion and hostility.

In this area we have a clear strategy. Part of it is the ending of the British telecommunications monopoly. If the whole industry can be driven forward by competition and the market, rather than being dominated by monopoly, that is the surest way to growth.

The second strand of the strategy is to stimulate awareness and use on the applications side. The third strand is to sponsor and support products. The fourth strand is to use Government purchasing imaginatively. The fifth strand is to increase the investment programme of British Telecom. The first call on the contingency reserve this year was an increase of £200 million in the investment programme of British Telecom.

All that adds up to a significant shift of Government resources. In this area we have a clear strategy. In this area we are increasing Government expenditure and will continue to do so.

1.36 pm

We have had a particularly interesting and informed debate, and I preface my brief remarks by saying how grateful I am to all those who have contributed to it. With one possible exception, it has been friendly and progressive, and I am grateful, as I am sure the House is, for the measure of the contributions.

I particularly enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson), who brought us back home by talking about what we need to do in this House. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House, whatever their views may be on information technology and its progress or otherwise, will take to heart what he said about the development that we need here if we are to move into the twenty-first century and maintain the level of activity and commitment to our constituents that is commensurate with the developments in technology.

Hon. Members will be particularly grateful for the contribution, as informed as ever, from my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd)—the doyen in these matters. I had not realised that he had raised them so long ago. But he improves, as claret does, as time passes, and I am grateful to him for the weight that he gave to the debate.

I thank the Minister for Industry and Information Technology for his comments and his continuing commitment to this extremely important area. I am particularly grateful for the stance that he has taken, and for the fizz that he has given to it. I strongly disagree with the attitude taken to the Minister's commitment by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett).

I thank once again all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House recognises that the information technology industries which already employ over 500,000 people will be the major source of prosperity and employment in the 1980s and welcomes the initiatives which the Government has taken to stimulate the growth of this important "sunrise industry".

Civil Defence

1.38 pm

I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the recent publication of the pamphlet 'Civil Defence—why we need it' which draws atention to the provisions of civil defence made by Switzerland and Sweden notwithstanding that those countries follow a policy of neutrality; and believes that, while the risk of war is slight so long as the United Kingdom maintains its deterrent capability, there is a humanitarian duty upon central and local government to provide for civil defence.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise briefly the question of civil defence generally, and in particular to draw attention to the pamphlet "Civil Defence—why we need it". I commend it respectfully as a beautifully written and expertly produced publication, and express my appreciation of the attendance of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who has special responsibility for these matters in the Home Office.

I wish at the start to set the leaflet and the subject of civil defence in a general context. It so happens that 36 years ago I was a young Army officer ready to embark from a port in India for what was to have been the invasion of the country then known as Malaya. It was perfectly clear that that would be a bloody business. At almost exactly that moment we learned from our radios—there was no television there in those days—that a new and hideous weapon had been dropped on Japan.

I do not think that any of us had grasped the measure of these weapons—to which this pamphlet and others refer. It will not surprise you to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that as a young man in my early twenties I did not view that event as being an unmitigated disaster. My ability to stand here at all may in part have turned upon that event.

At that time, I came to two conclusions. In one I think that I was profoundly right, and in the other I was profoundly wrong.

I concluded, almost at once, that if on that occasion the Japanese had had the ability to retaliate and to drop a bomb on us, we should never have taken that action in the first place. That is why I so warmly approve, as this pamphlet makes clear, that the continuing thrust of Government policy is to prevent war, and to prevent the happenings in respect of which this pamphlet has been produced.

The people of Britain accept that by ceaseless diplomatic activity Her Majesty's Government will strive towards supervised multilateral disarmament. But I believe that the vast majority of British people know that those efforts are more likely to succeed, not less likely to succeed, if we keep up our defences. Civil defence may be small, but it is part of those defences, and it is important to set it in the context of the whole.

I repeat, a young man's contemplation of the dropping of such a hideous weapon all those 36 years ago was that we would never have dared to do it if we had known that the Japanese possessed such a weapon. I think that I got that lesson right.

I concede now that the second conclusion to which I came was profoundly wrong, although I think that it was perhaps understandable in my young twenties, and in 1945, that I might have come to that conclusion, because I thought that we were seeing the run-up to an inevitable third World War. That is what I thought, and I looked at it gloomily.

To understand that misunderstanding, however, it is important to remember that my generation felt considerable bitterness that the generation before us had permitted our defences to be run down, including our civil defences. We felt that we never need have added those dread years 1939 to 1945 to our war memorials if in the years between the two wars we had shown ourselves resolutely ready, if necessary, to defend ourselves—not aggressively, of course.

No more than a minuscule number of the British people have aggressive intentions in respect of any other nation; but we needed to demonstrate, and we did not do so until perilously close to 1939, that we were, in civil defence or in any other measure, prepared to defend ourselves.

Furthermore, in mitigation of my misapprehension of the position, it is as well to remember that the end of the 1914–18 war was as close to the outbreak of the next one in 1939 as 1960 is to today. It is as though today the previous war had ended in 1960, and sometimes when I speak of these matters in universities and elsewhere I find that that is the best way of bringing home to young people the close proximity and therefore the feeling of almost inevitability of a third war.

Although I was born in 1924, well clear of the end of the first war, it hung like a cloud over my boyhood. In my mother's family, every eligible male life had been slaughtered. Later today I shall be going to a small but loved cottage home only because my namesake took four days to die on the wire at Gallipoli when he was 20.

It is small wonder, therefore, that my generation thought that we were in for an inevitable rerun. There, we were profoundly wrong. It is the very existence of these hideous weapons of destruction that has kept us free from an active war. It has not kept peace. I do not say that there has been peace. I do not ignore those parts of the world where there has been trouble and bloodshed. I served for a short time in the Northern Ireland Office, and I know a little about it. I am saying that we were wrong and that the possession of these massive weapons of destruction has avoided the outbreak of a major war between the two great powers.

The moral for me is clear. In civil defence, as in other aspects of our defence, we are more likely to keep the peace which we all desire if we maintain our defences.

Civil defence has its detractors, of course. There are those who laugh at it. But people did exactly the same before the Second World War. I am told—this pamphlet deals with the argument admirably—that there is no effective defence, so there is no point in having a civil defence programme. We were told the same before 1939. I invite hon. Members to turn up some of the great speeches of those days and to look at the way in which what was called "aerial bombardment", never before experienced, was thought to be so severe and so hideous that there was no possible defence. Hon. Members need only turn back the pages to see how those who nobly pioneered some civil defences for our people in those days were laughed at and how later their detractors were thankful that preparations had been made.

The scale has grown, but so has the scale of the defence required. That is the problem. For example, one of the new factors in our cavil defence today is radiation—I describe it as new in that it is different from the Second World War, though I repeal that the Government's policy is to ensure that it never happens. There is a great deal of evidence and there are admirable publications from my hon. and learned Friend's Department showing the sensible precautions that ordinary people can take and about which, in case of need, we could be even better instructed.

Further, there is always the possibility, in the hideous event of which I speak—I repeat that the whole objective is to prevent it—that another war might start without the use of nuclear weapons. There was a period of what is now called conventional warfare, when the great and other powers came to their senses before the use of nuclear weapons. If there were another such period, we know from bitter experience what a great contribution can be made by conventional civil defence.

Because the scale has grown, so it has outstripped, for example, our ability to provide shelters for all. Perhaps, in an ideal world, if one had all the additional resources at one's command, one would embark upon a massive programme of providing deep shelter cover for all. However, one does not have to be an expert to see the vast expenditure programme that that would involve and how unrealistic it is to suggest, at least for the foreseeable future. The Government have shown that, while they are prudent in matters of expenditure, more is being spent on civil defence than ever before. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will speak authoritatively on this, but I believe that by 1983–84 the expenditure will be running at £45 million a year.

I know that some people would measure the intention and sincerity of the Government by whether or not they would re-create a corps, remembered by people of my age with respect and affection, exclusively and expressly for civil defence. The tasks of those involved in civil defence today spread right across our people. In the hideous event of which I speak—I repeat that the intention is to prevent it—it will be essential to provide information.

The leaflet to which I refer is express and clear about the requirements of making information available to all our people and about the methods by which it would be done, allowing for the fact that it is not an instruction manual but a leaflet that is written in simple terms for all to understand. Such is the scale of the task that people in voluntary organisations such as the Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the special constabulary—everyone in a civil defence corps—and others would take part in defensive operations.

I do not accept the charge that by making that sort of provision the Government are warmongering. There is at least one other major example in the world. I, like other hon. Members, make regular visits to Switzerland. It is a country that people enjoy immensely. We think of it as a place with glorious lakes and mountains that beckon us. Switzerland has agreeable food and delicious wines, which, unfortunately, do not travel well, and people who are kindly and welcoming. It has something else: it is a neutral country with a higher standard of preparedness and self-defence than any similar nation, as can be seen from the training requirements for Swiss men, unless they are unfit, per year.

The building regulations in Switzerland require that any new building, whether residential or office, must have a deep shelter provision. For example, I recently visited a young married couple, with a young family, whom I knew for some years before they married, at their new flat in Basle. They had a deep shelter provision, which is used for other purposes but would also be used in the deadly circumstances of which we are speaking. No one says that the Swiss are potential aggressors or warmongers because they have those essential defensive postures. They care for their own people and, like Britain, deeply abhor the possibility of nuclear war.

The person who strives hardest to prevent war is he who has experienced it. I cannot believe that more than a minuscule number of those who have seen their contemporaries killed or maimed would want to go through that experience again. It has left me and many others with a determination to do anything we can to ensure that that never happens to the generation in Britain who are now in their prime.

There are some, as there were in pre-1939, who are trivialising and sloganising. Great issues have been reduced and movements, in part politically motivated and numerically, though not intellectually, strong, have arisen, comprising people whose objectives are not disarmament, but the destruction of a society which gives them the freedom to demonstrate while they are blessed by the unemployed monsignori.

The pre-1939 counterparts of those people were as responsible as anyone for the misunderstandings of Britain's position which led to the outbreak of the Second World War. We must be certain that the misunderstanding is never allowed to happen again. Civil defence may be but a small part of our defences as a whole, but it is a vital part and I am happy to have been able briefly to draw attention to it.

2 pm

With one reservation, to which I shall return later, I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on the excellent layout and content of "Civil Defence—why we need it". I hope that it will soon be followed by another edition "Civil Defence—what to do about it".

There are those who believe in the ostrich approach—ignore the problem and, with luck, it might go away. I do not hold with that approach. It reminds me of the religious groups that one hears of from time to time, who sell up and give away everything because they are convinced that the world will end on a certain day, and then meet to await the event. How long they wait and how they cope with the future, I am not sure. Perhaps they fall back on a kindly Welfare State to get them over the immediate problems.

There are always those who say, whatever the catastrophe—the flooding of the Thames basin, a Flixborough-type disaster, or a nuclear bomb—that it is too horrible to contemplate, or impossible to take avoiding action. That, of course, is nonsense. I remember my father arguing with friends at the outbreak of war in 1939 that, with the developments of the weapons of modern warfare over those that were available in the 1914–18 war, the war could only possibly last between six weeks and six months. In the event, it lasted six years. How wrong it would have been to give in without a struggle, and thank God for those who, against public opinion at the time, still prepared for our defence. There is no doubt that another world war would be a terrible event, but at the same time how wrong we would be to ignore the basic right of man to protect his family against such an awful possibility.

My only regret about by hon. and learned Friend's pamphlet is its statement that the civil defence volunteers should not be revived. In my view, it is essential to have an emergency management to back up the fire, ambulance and police services, in addition to those provided by the local authorities, because I do not believe that they alone could cope.

I realise that in these difficult economic times it is not easy to call for expansion. However, I draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to one source that he should look at closely. Every year a number of officers, warrant officers and other senior ranks complete their service with the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. They leave to make way for others and, because of the limit on ranks that can be achieved in a part-time Service, they are usually men and women in their forties who have given 20 or more years part-time service. The officers then go on the unposted list for a year, as I did, before being transferred to the reserve of officers, where their records are consigned to the vaults.

During their last few years of service, they tend to look round for another interest to take up on completion of their reserve commitments. Obviously, they apply more time to leisure pursuits and other worthy causes. In my opinion, however, more use could be made of those on the unposted list. While they are on that list, they can attend courses or other training, but they are not on any unit strength. Here is a wonderful opportunity, and at little cost, to consolidate the emergency management that would be essential at such a time. The sort of people I have in mind have considerable experience in such matters as stores provision, engineering, communications and other essential skills that would be required at these times. By introducing, perhaps, a camp of five days, with two weekends a year, they would be able to maintain and update their skills. That would provide an essential component for any emergency service that could arise on a national scale.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) on introducing such an important subject. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will strengthen and enlarge civil defence, which has been left neglected for too many years.

2.5 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) has done the House a great service by providing us with an opportunity to debate a question of immense national importance—the need for civil defence. I am extremely grateful to him for having drawn attention to the pamphlet that my Department recently published. In addition, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) for the kind things that he said about it. We tried to take half a dozen of the questions that are most commonly asked by those who are genuinely bewildered about civil defence issues, and to give truthful answers to those questions in simple terms that could be understood by all. I am extremely grateful to both my hon. Friends for their encouraging remarks about that publication.

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham for the most perceptive, wise—and in parts moving—speech with which he moved the motion. My hon. Friend has long experience of our affairs, particularly in Government. His words will have reassured many people and will have given great encouragement to the thousands of dedicated men and women who—whether in local government, the Royal Observer Corps or other organisations—serve the community through civil defence. Their important work is generally unsung, yet it is vital that they should continue it. On their behalf and on behalf of the Government I thank my hon. Friend for his speech.

These days, it is not difficult to understand why a discussion about civil defence often becomes caught up in a mushroom cloud of emotion. Perhaps the world is more dangerous today than at any time since the conclusion of the war in which my hon. Friend served and from which he has drawn such apposite and compelling lessons. The super-powers and other powers hold many fearsome nuclear weapons. Rightly, there is revulsion at the very thought of modern warfare. Many honourable people almost instinctively reject anything to do with it. Would that, by the very rejection of war, we could make all risk of it disappear.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, drawing upon his experience and his recollection of his boyhood in the years between the two World Wars, no amount of wishing that the risk of war would go away, and no amount of closing one's mind to the possibility of war could ensure the safety that all humane, decent people desire. Therefore, the greatest benefit of my hon. Friend's speech is that he spoke with reason, while not overlooking the enormous forces of emotion that the subject engenders.

Once reason is brought to bear on the subject it becomes plain that two groups of questions must be asked if any serious disucussion is to take place. First, is Western defence policy right, does it lessen the risk of war and should we continue to play our part in it?

The second group of questions includes whether our civil defence is relevant only if we say "Yes" to the first group of questions. We must also ask whether in this dangerous world we need civil defence in any event. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham powerfully and compellingly expressed his belief that our policies of deterrence and membership of the NATO Alliance, and the policy of the Alliance, are right. I entirely agree with him. Like so many with recollections of the pre-war days, my hon. Friend believes that if we had had anything like the commitment to deterrence in those days that we have had for the last 35 years the Second World War probably would not have occurred.

As my hon. Friend demonstrated so clearly, we need civil defence in any event. I shall develop my hon. Friend's argument. That argument represents the theme of the pamphlet to which he referred. That theme is in the foreword message from the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland which states:
"For over 30 years our country, with our allies, has sought to avoid war by deterring potential aggressors. Some disagree as to the means we should use. But whatever view we take, we should surely all recognise the need—and indeed the duty—to protect our civil population if an attack were to be made upon us; and therefore to prepare accordingly."
Perhaps the key concept is the duty to protect our civil population if an attack were to be made upon us.

I emphasise that the likelihood of such an attack is at present very slight because the likelihood of war in Europe is very slight. As long as NATO and the Alliance remain strong and coherent and while the United Kingdom maintains its own powerful contributon to it, I believe that the peace of the last 35 years will continue. There is no reason to suppose that the Soviet Union would, in those circumstances, have any intention of starting an armed confrontation with the West. The consequences of such a war would be so incalculable that no aggressor could judge that the objects that he hoped to achieve warranted the scale of damage which he would be certain to sustain.

The risk of attack upon us is very slight, but my next proposition is that that risk, slight though it is, cannot be ignored by any responsible Government. No responsible Government can gamble with the lives of our people in the hope that it is a safe bet to do so.

There is a one in a hundred chance only each year that a surge tide will flood London. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South referred to that. Nevertheless, it is enough to warrant the huge Thames barrage project. The risk cannot effectively be diminished, let alone be made to disappear, in any imaginable set of future circumstances, as long at the Soviet Union maintains its present posture and policies.

Even if unilaterally we were to give up our nuclear deterrent and even if we were to secure the removal of all nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom, we would still live in a world in which enormous numbers of nuclear weapons exist. We would still remain a member of the NATO Alliance which is pledged to defend the West against attack. That is why even such members of the Alliance as Canada, Norway and Denmark, which neither possess nuclear weapons nor have them based upon their soil, maintain effective civil defence organisations and plans.

Let us suppose—however unrealistic it may he—that a United Kingdom gesture in the form of unilateral nuclear disarmament would lead eventually to complete multilateral nuclear disarmament. Even then we would still have a confrontation between the conflicting ideologies of East and West, with the respective states still organised into powerful military alliances armed with a range of what are called conventional weapons of war of a nature and on a scale far beyond anything known 40 years ago.

To induce the British people to suppose that conventional non-nuclear attacks are a thing of the past is to mislead them profoundly, a point which was made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham. However, they are so mislead by people who should know better because it is convenient to them to create the belief that any future attack must be on the maximum imaginable scale of horror.

That is why I believe that the following passage in the Home Office Pamphlet is so important. It answers the proposition that surely there is no real protection aganst a nuclear attack with the words:
"Millions of lives could be saved by safeguards against radiation especially. But civil defence is not just protection against a nuclear attack. It is protection against any sort of attack. NATO experts reckon that any war involving the United Kingdom is likely at least to start with non-nuclear weapons. Indeed, while no war is likely so long as we maintain a credible deterrent, the likelihood of a nuclear war is less than that of a conventional one."
I do not believe that we should be forgiven, or would have any claim to be forgiven, if, in that knowledge, we none the less neglected to plan for warning of attacks, immediate response to attacks or recovery from attacks of that nature. An unknowable degree of human suffering that could have been avoided would not have been avoided and for that we should be responsible.

Of course, there are those who seek safety in withdrawal from NATO altogether and the abandonment of our Western partners, perhaps resorting to the stance of the Swiss or the Swedes, which is one of armed neutrality. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has spoken appositely about the many civil defence precautions that the neutral Swiss believe to be necessary.

The resort to neutrality is an intellectually respectable position. When we examine it, we could pass over the unpromising precedents of Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway in the Second World War, whose neutrality did little to save them. We could even overlook the recent episode of the Russian submarine in enclosed Swedish waters. The Swedes and the Swiss maintain, notwithstanding their neutrality, civil defence organisations of a high standard. They do that because they perceive risks against which they believe it wise to take precautions. There is no reason to suppose that, by adopting a similar neutrality, the United Kingdom would somehow render itself immune to the same risks and thereby make it justifiable to have no provision for the civil defence of its population.

Nor do those risks presuppose an attack being made upon Britain or any neutral country, although neutrality—as the history of Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway makes clear—is no protection against an attack.

As my hon. Friend made vividly clear, we now have to face the development since the end of the last war of nuclear fallout. Nuclear fallout from attacks elsewhere cannot be ordered to halt in its downwind progress at the borders of a neutral country. It is right for the pamphlet to make that clear in its concluding paragraph:
"The case for civil defence stands regardless of whether a nuclear deterrent is necessary or not. Radioactive fallout is no respecter of neutrality. Even if the United Kingdom were not itself at war, we would be as powerless to prevent fallout from a nuclear explosion crossing the sea as was King Canute to stop the tide. This is why countries with a long tradition of neutrality (such as Switzerland and Sweden) are foremost in their civil defence precautions."
Therefore, my hon. Friend is surely right to refer to the duty to provide for civil defence as a humanitarian one. It is totally unnecessary—although it can be done with great effect—to divert the argument into a discussion on the merits of a deterrent policy, nuclear or otherwise, whether pursued in alliance with others or alone. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary states in his foreword message:
"Even the strongest supporter of unilateral disarmament can consistently give equal support to civil defence, since its purpose and effect are essentially humane."
Civil defence is a humanitarian activity. It is not specific to a nuclear strike on this country. It has relevance to any form of attack that we might face in a future war. It exists solely to mitigate the consequences for the civil population of hostile action against this country, to ensure that essential services and supplies can continue to be provided by government at all levels, despite the disruption of attack, and to provide the means for survival and recovery after the war. Is it to be said that no steps are to be taken for that essentially humane purpose in the event of the unspeakable actually occurring? How right my hon. Friend was to insist time and again that the thrust and purpose of Government policies are to ensure that war should not break out.

The duty to provide for civil defence rests on central Government and local government, as the motion makes clear. The central Government must provide funds and central organisation. They will naturally judge or calculate the scale of provision by reference to their assessment of the likelihood of war. As my hon. Friend will recall, in 1937, 1938 and 1939, all with eyes to see and ears to hear reckoned that war was inevitable. Inadequate though it then was, by reason of the imminent onset of war, the scale of provision for civil defence was higher than we now believe to be necessary. A higher likelihood of war would justify and induce higher expenditure than we consider it right to allot at present.

Following his review of civil defence in August 1980, my right hon. Friend judged it right—and Parliament approved—to increase over three years the sum annually spent on civil defence by 60 per cent. to £45 million annually. It is important to remember that under the previous Administration and for some years before civil defence was unjustifiably neglected. By far the most important contribution of the Government is the provision of arrangements for warning of impending attack and monitoring the consequences of an attack, whether nuclear or conventional.

The attack warning and fallout monitoring capability of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation is being brought to a higher state of readiness. This is being achieved through improvements in communications, the application of computer technology to the various systems and by way of better conditions of service for the volunteer warning officers and 10,000 members of the Royal Observer Corps, to all of whom I pay tribute today. They form a dedicated and highly efficient organisation, as I had the opportunity to observe personally during a weekend exercise on 1 November this year.

Next, further information and guidance will be given to the general public about civil defence so that in peace time there is greater awareness of what might be the nature of any future attack on this country and of the measures which government at all levels and people themselves can take to improve their protection and survival prospects.

Central Government Departments are improving their own plans, designating public officials for war-time responsibilities and providing the necessary training and exercising. The plans of the emergency services, of the health and medical services and of public utilities and plans for the provision of essential supplies and services are being brought up to date. Planning for the provision of a measure of public shelter is in hand.

Much more needs to be done, of course. In paying my tribute to the volunteers, I take particular note of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South about the reservoir of trained and mature former members of the reserve and territorial services. I take especial note of his point about the use which might be made of them when they are on the unposted list towards the end of their volunteer service. I am grateful to him for that suggestion.

Parliament has imposed upon local authorities the duty to plan for the continuation of essential local services in war. Local authorities will best know the needs and special circumstances of their localities. The Government attach great importance to maintaining the local authorities' relationship as agents for the implementation of central Government policies for civil defence.

I recognise the problems which face local authorities in diverting scarce resources from important peace-time public servies to planning for what seems a remote contingency. The Government consider it vital that they do so. The Government provide, and will continue to provide, 75 per cent. of all relevant expenditure. We believe that the resources now available are sufficient to encourage local authorities to follow the lead given by the Home Secretary last year. I hope that they will bear in mind that it is by no means only nuclear hazards to which the statutory obligations imposed upon them by Parliament are relevant.

Local authorities need to strengthen their emergency planning teams, to bring their plans at all levels to a higher state of readiness and to give particular attention to the development of plans which would enable small communities to help each other in the event of war. In this respect, the use of volunteers is of the utmost importance. They already serve valuably in national voluntary organisations. One thinks of the Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, members of the Home Office and local authority scientific advisory services and the thousands of volunteer civil defence workers in organisations such as Civil Aid and the many important local groups such as the Devon Emergency Volunteers, the Wiltshire Community Advisers and many more. To all of them, I express the Government's appreciation of their services and our confidence that their work will continue to grow in importance and in public recognition.

The Government have appointed Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mayor as the co-ordinator of civil defence voluntary effort in England and Wales and Mr. Armstrong to a similar post in Scotland. They are ready to help local authorities in the development of voluntary civil defence effort in any way. I hope that their services will be used.

The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham ranged widely over the arguments for a sensibly judged measure of civil defence. He said that we are more likely to maintain the peace if we keep up our defences and that civil defence, perhaps in a small way, is a part of those defences. He is right. There are those who say with varying sincerity and with varying motivation that all civil defence is futility. If so, they should say what it is that impels hundreds of scientists, many of great distinction, to serve as volunteers in the United Kingdom civil defence organisation. They do so because they know that millions of lives can be saved. They recognise that the provision of civil defence is a humanitarian duty. It is rightly stated to be so in the motion, valuably put before the House by my hon. Friend. It is a duty that the Government are determined to discharge.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House welcomes the recent publication of the pamphlet 'Civil Defence—why we need it' which draws attention to the provisions of civil defence made by Switzerland and Sweden notwithstanding that those countries follow a policy of neutrality; and believes that, while the risk of war is slight so long as the United Kingdom maintains its deterrent capability, there is a humanitarian duty upon central and local government to provide for civil defence.

Secondary Education (Bournemouth)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Newton.]

2.30 pm

I welcome this opportunity to say something about the organisation of secondary education in Bournemouth. The present organisation that has served the town so well for so long is being called into question by proposals advanced by the local education authority. A series of meetings is now taking place throughout Bournemouth at which school governors, parents and teachers are being invited to say which of three schemes for reorganisation of secondary education they prefer. All would involve considerable expenditure. All would involve the closure of some schools and the radical alteration of the character of others.

While one must take account of economic factors and population trends, I cannot accept that it is necessary to go so far as is proposed. I have great faith in the Bournemouth system of secondary education and nothing that I have heard or seen leads me to believe that there is any need for fundamental change. I hold most strongly to the view that the present selective system should be maintained and existing schools kept on.

The local education authority does not appear to me to have made out the case for change. The physical upheaval proposed, whichever of the three schemes may be favoured, would be considerable and costly. It is better, in my view, to keep to the existing structure, making such adjustments and improvements as may become necessary to meet changing circumstances.

In its consultative document, the authority has fairly summarised the benefits of the present selective system, based on two single-sex grammar schools and nine bilateral schools, together with a college of further education. This provides ample opportunity for any child showing academic promise, even if this is discernible only after the 11-plus procedures have been completed, to have access to a wide range of O and A-level courses.

The authority's case for change is mainly financial. There are no educational arguments of any substance that can be fairly brought against the present selective system. The main justification for change is clearly seen to be the urgent need to contain public expenditure by reducing the number of surplus places in the schools. The authority's view is that this cannot be accomplished without closing schools. The authority states its objective as being
"to reduce the over-provision of school places as quickly as possible to match the Government's targets and to avoid damaging reductions in expenditure on teachers, books, materials and equipment."
The responsibility for this exercise, which has aroused widespread hostility and anxiety in Bournemouth, appears to be placed by the authority on the Government. The authority says that it is supporting Government objectives. Is that, I wonder, how my hon. Friend the Minister sees it? Does he go around the country presenting parents with a stark alternative—either that schools should be closed or damaging cuts incurred in spending on teachers, books, materials and equipment?

I accept the need for economies, but I do not accept that these cannot be found within the existing structure. I acknowledge that there are surplus school places and I note that these could increase substantially over the next few years. The authority estimates that by the end of the decade there may be about 2,000 pupils fewer than at the beginning of this year, but these figures are being challenged.

The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys shows that the transfer of an increasing size age group to secondary schools will begin in 1986, and that by 1991 the total secondary school population will be increasing and is likely to do so until at least the year 2008.

In the authority schemes, the change-overs involving many of the schools in the secondary system are to be phased and would not be completed before 1991. I see no sense in spending about £4 million—which seems to be the mean cost for any of the schemes apparently preferred by the authority—because current conditions appear to require changes of that order of magnitude, and ending up by creating a structure which might well prove to be inadequate in the future.

Certainly some work needs to be done. Porchester school, for example, has to be completed. Expenditure on the Winton school is urgent and long overdue. It is a problem with which we have had to live for many years. An immediate start could be made in eliminating all temporary hutments and in making such consequential improvements to existing schools as may be necessary. I know that that would cost money. I am advised, however, that that sort of work could be done at a much cheaper cost than appears in the authority's estimates. It seems to be working to a figure of £66 per sq ft building cost, whereas I am told that building work is now being done at the rate of £40 per sq ft.

The authority claims, in one section of its document, that to make improvements and increase the size of the school rolls in one place would cost more than the complete replacement of another school. I find that hard to accept. I cannot see exactly where the truth lies.

I am sure that the cost estimates have been most carefully calculated, and I do not question the fairness or objectivity with which the various alternatives are being presented by officials and by members of the authority to the public meetings now being held. But I learn that the whole basis of the authority's financial costing—on which its case seems to rest—is increasingly being opened to challenge.

The people of Bournemouth are highly suspicious of the authority's motives in bringing the whole issue to the fore once again. These suspicions are given added weight by the presentation of a consultative document which claims that easily the most expensive route would be to keep to the present structure, and which invites parents, governors and teachers—most invidiously, in my view—to choose between one school or another or to risk severe cutback in essential educational facilities.

I hope that it will be possible later in the debate for my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If he does so, I am sure that he will endorse and add to what I have been saying. He will undoubtedly put, in his words and based on his experience, his views about the education system in Bournemouth.

I know that I can speak for my hon. Friend as well as for myself when I say that both of us have come to know and admire the quite outstanding achievements of our two grammar schools in Bournemouth. It would be an act of criminal folly were any step to be taken by the authority which would damage or destroy these two fine schools.

I hope that the Minister, whose presence in the Chamber I welcome, will be able to show that he at least recognises and appreciates the quality of education provided in Bournemouth throughout the whole of our secondary schools there. Will he also, at the same time, make absolutely clear the procedures which could be followed in the event of this exercise being taken any further? Will he also underline the fact that one of the options still available to the people of Bournemouth is to keep to the status quo and to maintain the present selective system of tried and proven success?

2.42 pm

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) for allowing me time, during his debate, to record my total and uncompromising support for the maintenance of Bournemouth's existing secondary school system and, in so doing, to express to him the appreciation of the vast majority of Bournemouth's parents and all our constituents for conveying their views so clearly to the House.

There is no room for any misinterpretation or misunderstanding by anyone about this matter. The almost universal message from Bournemouth is "Hands off our schools." That was the clear message that emerged when the present system was last threatened with abolition in favour of reorganisation along comprehensive lines. At that time, the now newly elected right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), as Secretary of State for Education and Science, wanted the end of all of our grammar schools and made a mockery of any consultation process. She has clearly not changed her clothes—I mean that figuratively—and she has made it fairly clear that she and her party, the Social Democratic Party—and presumably the Liberals in alliance with that party—continue to place Socialist aims before parental choice.

I was extremely surprised and rather disappointed to see a Conservative-elected education authority, freed from Labour's threat of compulsory reorganisation, giving serious and wasteful consideration to a comprehensive system for Bournemouth. That was not just because it must surely be obvious to all, as we learn more and more from the experience of comprehensive schools, that they leave much to be desired in terms of achievement, and especialy in comparison with those schools that they have replaced, but also because it must surely be clear that the Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole area, being the largest non-industrial conurbation in the country in terms of population, can support with ease a secondary school system which can provide the widest possible choice for parents.

I share the suspicions of my right hon. Friend that once again it is those Socialist egalitarian levellers who are to be found in our teaching professions and education offices who are using reorganisation to attempt to impose a comprehensive system on unwilling parents.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will say that he and the Secretary of State acknowledge and appreciate the achievements of Bournemouth's existing bilateral school system—not just the two fine grammar schools but also those of the many bilateral schools such as Avonbourne and Beaufort in my constituency, and those mentioned by my right hon. Friend in his—and that it would be folly beyond belief to destroy a system that works so well.

When the county council's final decision comes before the Department for approval, I hope that my hon. Friend will consider seriously whether schools in Bournemouth need to close, taking into careful account the rising birth rate of the last decade, the numerous temporary buildings which should go first, and the ultimate cost in due course of providing new schools for what is proving to be one of the fastest growing areas in the country.

2.46 pm

I begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) for raising this subject, and I appreciate the concern similarly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson). My right hon. Friend has a long contact with education. He has the reputation not only of being a first-class constituency Member of Parliament, but also, as I know, having visited some years ago an institution with which he has certain contacts, of having a long link with the education system. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East has been linked with constituency groups with an interest in education matters, and I know how well he is respected in representing the views of his constituents.

It is gratifying to hear right hon. and hon. Members paying tribute to the standards of the schools in their constituencies. It is good to hear those tributes at a time when people in different areas wonder about the standards in their schools.

There has been a long history to the current consultations on the reorganisation of Bournemouth's secondary schools. The Education Act 1976 was a typical example of the Labour Party's dogmatic approach to complex matters. I shared with my right hon. and hon. Friends the opposition that we expressed at the time, and we should do the same in the future were there any attempt to create a compulsory comprehensive system throughout the country by means of a statutory diktat from here. It is well to remember that when people talk, as they do these days, about liberty and a libertarian society. Many people who, in the past, were involved in politics are today becoming involved again, and I have in mind one individual who was closely linked with the Education Act 1976.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have pointed out, whatever happens in Bournemouth, they wish it to be with the agreement of the people in the area. The 1976 Act compelled local authorities to put forward plans for comprehensive reorganisation, ignoring the views of local people and the suitability of the local geography and existing school buildings, and regardless of whether there should be any assessment afterwards of the success or otherwise in areas in which comprehensive schools had already been introduced. Put in theological terms, it was salvation by faith and not by works that was desired by another political party at the time.

I am proud to have been a member of the Conservative Government who amended that legislation, as I am sure all my right hon. and hon. Friends present are, although, judging by the attendance in the Chamber, there does not seem to be much concern at the moment about education in Bournemouth or anywhere else.

I am proud that on taking office the Government immediately took action and placed on the statute book the Education Act 1979. I took the Bill through Committee and at least one of my hon. Friends here today was involved with it. There are many heroes here today. Mr. Deputy Speaker, including yourself. We enabled those local education authorities that were being forced against their will to submit proposals for comprehensive reorganisation to withdraw those proposals. Not only did we say that schools would no longer be compelled to become comprehensive, but that areas that had the shotgun of the Labour Party pointed at them could withdraw the proposals.

That was the position in the Bournemouth area. After the passing of the 1979 Act, people in Bournemouth were probably dancing in the streets. I know that my hon. Friends are distinguished dancers as well as educationists, and they probably danced in the streets that night. Their area was free to decide whether it wanted to retain the status quo. We believe that there is no one solution for the whole country. We believe in a free society, which means that there are many avenues to truth and to the best way to organise education or anything else.

The Dorset county council was one of the education authorities that was compelled under the 1976 Act to submit comprehensive proposals for Bournemouth and Poole. It did so in 1978, but it was one of the first to take advantage of the 1979 Act to withdraw the proposals that it had submitted under threat from the previous Labour Government.

Reference was made to the birth rate. I am not a great expert on the birth rate, but I am sure that, with two distinguished Members of Parliament, the birth rate has been increasing in Bournemouth. By that I mean that with two such distinguished MPs many people would wish to live in Bournemouth. Indeed, they would flock to Bournemouth and breed when they arrived because they would like to bring up their children there.

There has been a fall in the birth rate and I understand that in Bournemouth secondary school pupil numbers are projected to decline from the level of about 8,900 in January 1980 to 6,400 by 1990. That is a fall of about 30 per cent., which means that there would be about 2,400 spare places in secondary schools in Bournemouth. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West queried those figures today. If a request is made to us under section 12 of the 1980 Education Act, there will be an opportunity to query the figures, and I know that my right hon. Friend will be in the lead in doing so.

My right hon. Friend asked me about the statutory provisions and what the people of Bournemouth should do if they do not agree with the proposals put forward by Dorset county council. The procedures are laid down in the Education Act 1980 and they are designed to ensure that no local education authority can simply ride roughshod over the wishes of local people.

If a LEA proposes to establish, close or significantly change the character of a maintained school it must publish its proposals and submit them to the Secretary of State. Once it has done so, there is a two-month period during which objections may be submitted. A statutory objection is one made by 10 local electors, the governors of any voluntary school affected by the proposals or any other LEA concerned.

If objections are received, the proposals automatically fall to be decided by the Secretary of State, who may, in any case, call in the proposals for decision if that seems appropriate, and that has been done from time to time. All voluntary school proposals are decided by the Secretary of State.

That is why I cannot comment in detail on the options being canvassed in Bournemouth. If the Dorset authorities decide to proceed with reorganisation proposals for Bournemouth, it is likely that the proposals will come to the Secretary of State for decision. He has a quasi-judicial role in the process and, despite the powerful oratory of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend, I must take care not to be seen to be prejudicing his decision.

It might be helpful if I mention the sorts of considerations that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State bears in mind when reaching a decision on proposals for secondary reorganisation. First, we recognise the tremendous difficulties presented by the sharp fall in the number of pupils. There is no question of projections here. The problem has arrived in schools. Many authorities find themselves with too many schools, and if we leave things as they are we may find that classrooms are half empty, that teaching groups are uneconomically small and that schools with few pupils cannot afford enough teachers to offer a balanced curriculum with a sufficient range of specialist subjects, such as sciences and modem languages.

Rationalising provision by removing places that are surplus to present requirements offers an opportunity to maintain the quality of education in two ways—by making it easier to protect the broad curriculum, and by releasing scarce resources that can be better used on books and teachers than on heating, lighting and cleaning half-empty buildings. We issued a circular on that subject earlier this year.

We make it clear in the Manchester decision and in the draft circular on which we have asked local authorities and others to comment that the Secretary of State will take account of certain factors when deciding on the future of schools under the section 12 procedure.

Most prominent among those factors is the need to retain what has proved its worth in the existing system of secondary education. The Secretary of State will not normally approve proposals that would result in the closure or a significant change in the character of schools that have demonstrated their success in providing for sixth-form education and which, in his judgment, should continue to do so.

The exception that we make is where the prima facie case for retaining such a school is displaced by other compelling educational reasons. The draft circular also makes clear the Secretary of State's view that proposals should have particular regard to parental preference, on religious or other grounds, for maintaining opportunities for the education of pupils in single-sex schools.

The draft circular also emphasises the need to allow sufficient time for proposals to be implemented. We are thinking not only of the pupils who will experience a reorganised system when it is fully in operation, but of those caught up in the process of reorganisation. It is vital that LEAs plan to avoid disruption to the education of those pupils.

The draft circular has been sent out. Comments have been sought and a copy of the draft circular has been placed in the Library. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend may look at it on Monday, if not today. We have asked for comments from interested bodies by the end of January and the draft circular has been welcomed by many people.

The debate has been important, not only for Bournemouth, but because it has enabled me to give an idea of Government priorities in the rest of the country. When section 12 cases come to us, we shall consider carefully not only the proposals, but the objections. If the people of Bournemouth feel that the proposals for the future are wrong they should object to the Department, and my right hon. Friend and I will look at them impartially, with a view only to maintaining high educational standards.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.