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Information Technology Year

Volume 431: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1982

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2.50 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 what has been achieved so far in Information Technology Year.

My Lords, the acceleration of Government encouragement for information technology continues; but the main purpose of the Year is to increase awareness of information technology, and that is not easily measured. Many events and exhibitions have been organised nationally and regionally, and these have attracted large numbers of visitors. Her Majesty's Government believe that most visitors gain a clearer understanding of the nature and importance of information technology from their visits, which should lead to an increasing determination to seek the benefits of information technology.

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for that useful reply, may I ask him whether it is not very encouraging that the Government, the Manpower Services Commission and the industry are all co-operating to train the young of age and the young of heart in these new technologies; and could he tell me how the money spent is shared as between industry and the taxpayer? Secondly, can he tell me what progress has been made in providing microcomputers in every secondary school in this country?

My Lords, as far as Information Technology Year 1982 is concerned, there is a joint committee of the private sector of industry and Government that has funded a budget of £3¾ million for the awareness part of Information Technology Year. The expenditure of the Government in this financial year on schemes, some of which started some time ago but many of which have started very recently, will be £134 million. As far as the accent on youth is concerned, yes, indeed, I would say to my noble friend, this is certainly a primary objective of my honourable friend the Minister of Information Technology, and during the Year there is an exhibition at the Science Museum from April to August to which we hope a million people, possibly many of them children, will go. The scheme to provide micro-computers in schools has reached nearly two-thirds of schools, and by the end of 1982 my honourable friend hopes that every secondary school will have a micro-computer. Training at the new information technology centres is another plank of the youth scheme, together with a scheme that he is now developing for summer camps.

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount the Minister for what he has said. I believe it is an important statement, and could well provide the basis for a White Paper. Is he aware that we have always agreed on the importance of micro-technology? I remember that I brought into being ACARD, which was very successful. I should like to know if ACARD is still progressing, and I hope the noble Viscount will be able to give me a positive answer. May I say to the noble Lord who asked the Question—

My Lords, I was going to refer to the noble Lord who asked the Question, and say that for the first time I agreed with him.

My Lords, I deliberately mentioned that many of the schemes had been started before but my honourable friend has accelerated them, as I mentioned in the Answer, and has started many new ones as well. ACARD is in existence, and the continued response to the last ACARD report in this area goes on.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount whether, before 1982 disappears as Information Technology Year, the Government will perhaps consider producing a Green Paper on technology and all that is associated with it, with particular reference to the National Health Service?

My Lords, that is a wider question, but as far as the National Health Service is concerned it gives me the opportunity to say that one of the new applications of my honourable friend is to encourage the use of micro-computers in surgeries throughout the health service, and that this, too, is showing an encouraging start.

My Lords, would the Minister confirm that a course is already running for Members of both Houses of Parliament, and is advertised in the House Magazine?

I am terribly sorry, my Lords, but I was trying to listen to two questions at the same time. Will the noble Baroness repeat what she said, please?

My Lords, would the noble Viscount the Minister confirm that a course is now running, or is just about to be opened, for 15 Members only at present, but Members of either House of Parliament; and that an advertisement is appearing in the House Magazine and, I believe, is being circulated with the Whips? There is also a notice on the all-party notice board.

My Lords, I am told that this is correct information but, personally, I have no information on the subject.

My Lords, as British technology is an important export earner for this country, may I ask my noble friend what is being done to promote British technology overseas in this important endeavour?

My Lords, mainly this is of course left to our industry, whose efforts are being supported to a very considerable degree. For instance, some of the new schemes following the need for the development of fibre optics are deliberately designed to put our industry in a stronger position. I think another area where the Government are strengthening the base of industry is in the teletext and viewdata area, where progress is being made and where the Government are making essential co-ordinating and promotion effort and are endeavouring to help exports.

My Lords, will the noble Viscount the Minister not agree with me that his honourable friend in the other place, the Minister in charge of technology, should be congratulated on the initiative he has taken and his enthusiasm in bringing to the notice of British industry the great importance of information technology? In asking this question I should declare an interest in that I am a founder member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Information Technology.

My Lords, I will convey that sentiment to my honourable friend, and it is all the more important for the fact that it is expressed by a Member who has studied the subject.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether in every other respect our achievements in the recent Falklands affair, and the efforts of our forces, backed by the Ministry of Defence, are worthy of the highest praise, but would the Minister not agree that as regards technological skill we did not seem to reach complete perfection?

My Lords, I think the noble Lord tempts me to go wider than the Question, but certainly one of the most important fields for the application of electronics is the defence field, and I think I would say to him that when we are able to give a full report, after a post-mortem of the campaign, it will be seen that while perfection is perhaps an elusive objective, nevertheless the vast majority of our equipment and our weapons systems performed extremely well.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he is aware that the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee is arranging an exhibition for the Telecommunication Engineering and Manufacturing Association in the Upper Waiting Hall of the Palace of Westminster between 12th and 16th July?

My Lords, I know the House will be pleased to have had that announcement.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that one of the most useful by-products of the Information Technology Year has been the great increase in industrial studies in secondary schools? By that I mean studies aimed at enabling pupils to understand industry, its methods, its structure and so on. But there is a great need to train teachers for this work. The Oxford Delegacy have instituted an 0-level in industrial studies, I understand, but there are very few teachers who have such training. The College of Preceptors is leading the way by instituting a diploma in industrial studies, but would the noble Viscount encourage colleges of education and university departments of education to institute diplomas for teachers, taken after they have completed their normal training, in industrial studies?

My Lords, I know that under previous Administrations and under this one much encouragement has been given to the objective which the noble Lord has outlined. I will draw his further and specific remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.