As the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) has said, Systime was founded in Leeds in the early 1970s. A vigorous and entrepreneurial approach to the market for integrated computer solutions brought it early success and rapid growth. By 1981 it had built up a turnover of more than £30 million and was employing some 1,200 people. Continued growth required expansion, so the company embarked on a major development at Millshaw park in Leeds to provide the room and the facilities to accommodate the very ambitious growth targets it had set itself.
Sadly, the completion of this development coincided with the onset of financial difficulties of the kind which can all too easily beset companies set on rapid growth. In short, the company found itself caught in the bind of a serious financial crisis requiring the injection of substantial new funds to keep it afloat. Fortunately, such funds were forthcoming from a number of sources, including Control Data Corporation, which took a substantial minority stake in Systime in 1983. It increased this to over 90 per cent. early in 1985 in the face of continuing financial difficulties, exacerbated by the downturn in the computer market generally. Since that time, CDC has continued to stand by the company while plans were put in place for a restructuring to match Systime's activities more closely to its available resources.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the broad lines of that restructuring were announced last November. Inevitably, it involves some cutbacks, which I regret as much as anyone else. But I believe that the plan represents a constructive response to the problems of the past few years and I am encouraged that there now appear to be good prospects of Systime continuing as a computer manufacturer in Leeds, with a sound in-house designed and developed product range. The opportunity is there, if all goes according to plan, for Systime to build on its strengths and experience in the market place to become once more a strong and growing force in the United Kingdom computer market.
I would not want to pretend that from this point everything will automatically be plain sailing. There is much work to be done to ensure that the signs of hope for the future which I have just described turn into real results. That will require all the company 's energies, and I am sure it is something to which the hon. Gentleman would want to give every support.
In this context, while I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the grave issues which he has brought before the House tonight, I hope that he will agree that it is very much in Systime's interest, and the interests of job prospects in Leeds, that we should not let the events of the past become a preoccupation or a drag on the major task that needs to be done to assure the future for the company. The hon. Gentleman must decide whether he will put the interest of his constituents first in this matter.
I turn now to the substance of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I listened to what he had to say with great care. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to send me a draft copy of his speech which I very much appreciate. He said at the beginning of his speech that he had been "overwhelmed with evidence". That is precisely what I want to see. The hon. Gentleman has the right to raise any matter that he chooses in the House and I am perfectly happy to respond to it. I ask him whether he believes—he does not want me to put it in the terms of the best interests of his constituents—that in the best interests of the serious matters he has raised we should be considering them in the 29 minutes and 30 seconds that we have tonight. That is his decision.
The hon. Gentleman will agree that we had a brief conversation in which he said that he would wish to see me about this matter. He will recall that I said that I would be happy to see him, as I am. I must say—this is the most fundamental point that I can make on his speech—that I need evidence. The hon. Gentleman has made serious allegations about an American company, DEC, and about various named officials in the United States Government and about officials and Ministers, unnamed, in the British Government.
I should like to deal in the limited time I have available with DEC and the so-called "Kill Systime campaign". Systime is not the first company to have got into financial difficulties in going for rapid expansion.