§ 1. Sir Trevor Skeet
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the number of science parks that have been established since 1979.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Edward Leigh)
Only two science parks existed in 1979; now there are 41.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures speak for themselves, and that this is a great achievement for the Conservative Government? Universities and industry are being utilised and scientific ideas are being converted into new products and processes. Will my hon. Friend give us his ideas about the course of development ahead? Is it likely to be by way of the Link scheme and other audits, so that the science parks which have been so successful in past years can be developed?
§ Mr. Leigh
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In fact, 20 more science parks are already planned. I believe that it is a major achievement to have increased the number from just two to 41 in the past 12 years.
The Department of Trade and Industry spent some £100 million on technology transfer last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State takes a particularly close interest in all innovation matters and has announced a number of new schemes—most recently the technology audit —to try to encourage universities to take an active interest in the commercial exploitation of their undoubted academic achievements.
§ Dr. Bray
We welcome the development of science parks, but will the Minister talk to the occupants and potential occupants of the science parks and ask them whether they would like the business expansion scheme to be replaced by a scheme to encourage investment in high-tech manufacturing industry and high technology development to be set in the context of policies, with access given to finance, tax credits for research and development and regional support? In short, will he ask them whether they would prefer the Opposition's science and technology development policies to those of the Government?
§ Mr. Leigh
That is extremely unlikely. The success of science parks is that they have been market led. It is true that in the assisted areas the Department of Trade and Industry's English Estates has taken an interest in and has helped with the establishment of science parks. What is important, though, is that the DTI uses its innovation budget—some £100 million —to encourage technology transfer and that it does not seek to pick winners. We tried that policy before and it failed lamentably.