HC Deb 24 November 1993 vol 233 cc437-8
4. Mr. Maxton

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans his Department has to assist with technology transfer from defence-related activities; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

A number of schemes in my Department assist technology transfer, including transfer from defence-related activities.

Mr. Maxton

When the United States Government are planning to spend $19.5 billion over the next five years on retraining programmes, investment programmes and incentive schemes to deal with the problem of technology transfer from defence industries, is not the Government's attitude to this problem irresponsible and dangerously complacent? Is the Minister prepared to see the skills of thousands of highly qualified and trained workers lost to our economy for ever? When will the Government come up with the same sort of package as that of the Clinton Administration?

Mr. Sainsbury

The most important factor in encouraging technology transfer from the defence industries is to have the right climate to encourage innovation. That is what the Government are determined to support and the Opposition persistently oppose. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman of some of the schemes we have. Apart from the budget for industrial revolution [Interruption.] sorry, innovation—innovation often needs satisfactory revolution—we have the pathfinder programme, the dual use technology centres, the defence research information centre and the changing tack seminars, all of which have been strongly welcomed by industry.

Mr. Mans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to develop defence technology for commercial use is for direct links to be established between the companies involved and the Ministry of Defence? That would produce a partnership and bring research and development forward, and the commercial and military use of such research could be equally exploited.

Mr. Sainsbury

I strongly agree with what my hon,. Friend says from his specialist knowledge. My Department is working closely with the Ministry of Defence. The identification of civilian applications for defence research technology is steadily improving to the benefit of industry.

Mr. Caborn

I am not asking the Minister for a revolution, but does he acknowledge that there is great concern, particularly in the aerospace industry, about the question of technology transfer? What steps will his Department take to rearrange and reorganise that, as requested in the recent Select Committee report on the aerospace industry? The industry and the Select Committee are concerned about the lack of action from the Minister's Department and the Ministry of Defence. We are not getting the best out of our industry, and we are not assisting firms to stay at the competitive edge of leading technologies.

Mr. Sainsbury

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we work closely with the aircraft industry in our civil aircraft research and development programme, known as CARAD. The directions in which we spend the money in that programme have been identified by the industry as being the most important. That is the most effective way that we can continue to benefit the industry from our research and development programmes.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most effective and efficient ways of transferring technology is to ensure that the present companies involved in the supply of defence equipment continue to receive the orders already committed, such as those committed to Babcock Thorn at Rosyth, which has demonstrated very clearly how technology transfer can be operated in practice?

Mr. Sainsbury

The matter to which my hon. Friend refers is primarily one for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but one way in which to strengthen defence companies and thus enable them to have the resources to look for methods to transfer their technology to civilian uses is by the successful sale of defence equipment overseas. I take this opportunity to congratulate defence industries on their success in that respect.

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