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British Computer Manufacture: Government Aid

Volume 413: debated on Tuesday 14 October 1980

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2.53 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider what encouragement could be given for the production of a British designed and manufactured small computer, already at the prototype stage, in order to help relatively small firms to increase their productivity and to benefit from the availability of a British computer costing between £1,500 and £4,000.

My Lords, the development of new and successful products is crucial to the future prosperity of British industry. Her Majesty's Government are anxious to encourage this process, particularly in high technology areas such as computing. In appropriate cases, financial assistance may be available under various schemes which are administered by the Department of Industry.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for that helpful reply. It only remains for me to speak to him outside the Chamber. I will give him particulars about the firm I have in mind which I do not think would be appropriate at the present time.

My Lords, will the noble Lord reassure the House that any firm which receives assistance from the Government will not be badgered by political organisations for contributions to party funds, as has happened in the case of firms in the North-East which have been badgered for funds on behalf of the Conservative Party? Will the Government use their good offices to try to prevent this?

My Lords, I would not agree with the first part of the noble Lord's question. The establishment of manufacturing facilities for computers in a special development area would be eligible for regional development grants. In addition, regional selective assistance under Section 7 of the Industry Act could be available throughout the assisted areas. The Government find that computers are a vital industry at this moment and are only too interested to get this product moving. At the moment we do not have all the information underlying the noble Viscount's Question.

My Lords, will the noble Lord try to make quite sure that the names of firms receiving assistance are kept strictly secret so that political parties do not abuse their position?

My Lords, it is up to the Government to encourage and not discourage. Therefore if any company comes forward with an idea or a new product, it is for the Department of Industry to help in all ways that they can.

My Lords, may I put a question which I hope will be helpful to the noble Viscount? If a company which receives a grant of money from the taxpayers also makes a contribution to Conservative Party funds, may we take it that that is purely a coincidence?

My Lords, I thought I was talking about an inquiry about a computer, not party political broadcasts.