Telecommunications Technology

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 7:34 pm on 22nd July 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil 7:34 pm, 22nd July 1987

I see the hon. Gentleman nodding. He is right.

The British firms include those that one would expect to be involved, such as GEC, Plessey, STC, Thorn EMI, British Telecom, and firms that one would not expect to be involved, such as the BBC, the IBA, MARI and Pilkington, which have gained a significant amount of work from this programme. But the Government have been the chief instrument in reducing the amount of money going into the programme. University college, London, the university of Strathclyde, Imperial Software Technology and so on have been involved. Meanwhile, other firms have had parallel technologies and developments from which they too have benefited. Developing test systems for communications standards has been the work of bodies such as ICL, Olivetti and BAe.

In short, the United Kingdom has a lead and could have benefited enormously from a more progressive Government view. Instead, in this matter as in so much else, we have a Government who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. If they had invested a little more progressively, we could have got this programme off the ground in a way that would have benefited Europe and at least ensured that we kept pace with the competition. It would have returned to Britain a direct benefit in economic costs, monetary terms, jobs and opportunities for the future.

According to the rhetoric of the Government, that appears to be what they would have liked to do. The former Minister for Information Technology, the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), spoke at the Esprit conference in Brussels on 1 October 1986. He said: I have no doubt that our success in the industrial exploitation of information technology is a basic requirement for achieving more competitive European industries. That is correct, but it is a pity that he did not follow those words with some action.

On 1 July 1986, the Minister spoke to British companies. He said: I do not regard support for international collaboration as a substitute for supporting research and development at home. As we know, research and development in Britain has been cut and damaged. Its future has been put in jeopardy. Research and development in Britain is now facing a crisis on a broader scale. This is at a time when the Government gave away £3 billion in the Budget. The research and development that was being carried out by the research councils in Britain was brought to a grinding halt due to the lack of about £9 million to £18 million. A thousand scientists a year are leaving Britain's shores because the opportunities for research in this country are not as good as those elsewhere.

The Government are removing resources from universities. One wonders whether the Government have a policy on information technologies, other than one that ensures that in the long run those technologies will continue to decline. British high technology industry is growing at a rate which is half that of the world average. In the future we will face a massive balance of payments crisis in new technologies due to the narrow-minded, mean-spirited attitude that the Government have so clearly displayed.

We had another example of that attitude very recently. The National Economic Development Office unit which was dealing with information technology has been abolished. Some Neddies have been retained. It is interesting to note that the Neddy that deals with knitting has been retained, yet the one that deals with information technology has been abolished. Perhaps that is a reasonable comment on how the Government see the future of Britain. They do not need assistance with information technology, but they will keep the knitting committee going. Britain is allowed to knit in the future, but it cannot develop a decent high-technology industry.