§ 8. Mr. Trotter
asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will introduce new proposals to stimulate the use of robots in industry.
§ The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)
There has been an encouraging response to the Government's robot support programme which I launched last year. The effectiveness of this programme is kept under constant review, and I will introduce additional measures when required.
§ Mr. Trotter
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative. How much money has been made available and what are the main headings under which it is being allocated to develop this essential programme?
§ Mr. Crowther
The need for such development is widely accepted, but does the Minister agree that it has serious social consequences, as robots put men and women out of work? Should not such development be part of a broader plan which includes, for example, a reduction in the length of the working week and measures to create new jobs for people put out of work?
§ Mr. Baker
I do not entirely agree that robots put men and women out of work. British companies are automating and thereby staying in business and preserving their position. Many businesses, if they did not use the new technologies, would go out business, and unemployment would rise even more sharply. There is a stark choice for British industry—automate or liquidate.
§ Mr. Forman
I warmly welcome the start that the Government have made in supporting robotics and other forms of new technology. None the less, is my hon. Friend not concerned that only a quarter of the Department's budget for the support of industry is going to new technologies and three-quarters is going to regional policy and the old industries?
§ Mr. John Garrett
Does the Minister agree that the Government's policy for robotics depends heavily on applied research in university departments, which are being heavily cut by the University Grants Committee? Is this not yet another case—it applies also to information technology—where the efforts of the Department of Industry are being badly affected by the cuts in university spending?
§ Mr. Baker
I understand that the numbers studying the sciences and engineering in 1983–84—I think that I have the right year—will be more than in 1980–81. I will check that. We give significant support, totalling several million pounds a year, to the work of the Production Engineering Research Association. That is one of the main bodies, together with Cranfield, working on robotics.