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Information Technology Advisory Panel (Report)

Volume 22: debated on Monday 26 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry what action the Government have taken following the publication of the Information Technology Advisory Panel report.

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at the beginning of the debate on direct broadcasting by satellite and cable systems on 20 April 1982 and to my own speech in the same debate.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. How long will consideration of the ITAP report take?

Our aim—it is ambitious—is to conclude all discussions and consultations by the end of the summer and for Lord Hunt to report by 30 September. If we keep to that ambitious timetable we hope that, by the end of the year, we can announce the technical, regulatory and commercial framework that will allow cabling to become a reality.

Is the Minister aware that the Post Office Engineering Union has been disturbed to read of leaks that the Home Office intends to ignore the Department of Industry's desire to provide a modern system of cable and will patch up instead, in the interests of Visionhire and Rediffusion?

If the union has heard that, it has been listening to unfounded rumours. The technical nature of the cable system is very much in the hands of my Department. A committee is deciding whether it should be a copper or fibre optic system and I made our position clear during the debate. Some people have said that the Home Office is dragging its feet, but I do not agree with that assessment. The Home Secretary has given a clear steer to the Home Office and the decision on direct broadcasting by satellite shows the remarkable speed with which the Home Office is moving.

What steps is my hon. Friend taking in relation to information and production technology to discuss, for example, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence how he might best assist the British aerospace industry?

That question goes wider than the question that we are discussing. As regards the industrial input into the new cabling system, I made it clear to the House before that that will be the most exciting and important economic programme before the country over the next 10 to 15 years. We are discussing with British industry and with those who make cable and attachments that are put on to the cable system how they can plan and make arrangements so that British industry will benefit.

Is the Minister completely satisfied that a report made by a panel of interested parties can be a sufficiently realistic and objective report on which to base future progress?

People have schizophrenic attitudes towards the report. We could have done one of two things. We could have gone to business men and asked them to produce a report—which we have done—which is imaginative and challenging, but the report is essentially a consultative document. We could have gone to the Government and asked for a report that put half a dozen reasons on one side and half a dozen on the other, only to be rightly criticised as being dull and unimaginative. We have produced a discussion document which we hope will allow cabling to start in this country in the reasonably near future.

Is the Minister aware that his decision on timing will be welcomed, but does he expect that there will be legislation in the next Session, or will it be delayed until the subsequent Session?

It is probable that, in order to establish a cable framework that will involve broadcasting as well as narrowcasting all the extra services—I emphasise that cable television is much more than extra television channels—legislation will be required.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we in Havering are looking forward to welcoming him to Romford this Wednesday morning when he opens the Havering information technology exhibition? Will he take the opportunity then to reconfirm that innovative industries such as information technology provide the opportunity for increased new employment rather than act as a source of increased unemployment, as is commonly feared?

I am looking forward to my visit to Romford on Wednesday morning. I hope that the citizens will be there in their numbers to greet me. I assure my hon. Friend that one of my main purposes in my various activities in information technology is to release and create job opportunities in Britain for that range of activity in electronics, computing, cable and telecommunications. It will be the fastest-growing area of economic activity for the next 10 years. We cannot afford to lose out on that.

By his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), has not the Minister conceded that the report is written by people with a narrow, vested interest and that it is a prejudiced report? Is not that the sort of evidence that is being put to the Government by wider representatives of British industry? On a practical note, if the report is so important, will the Minister arrange for it to be placed in the Vote Office so that hon. Members can have easier access to it?

Hon. Members have access to the report. It is a public document and has already gone into a second printing. I shall see whether it can be provided in the Vote Office. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The report was written by people who wanted something to happen. Therefore, there is an urgency about it. We have not accepted all its recommendations. The report is essentially a consultative document. I believe that it will he looked upon as historically important in the future.