HC Deb 18 June 1998 vol 314 cc495-6
6. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North)

What progress is being made on the foresight programme. [45057]

The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle)

The aim of the foresight programme is to develop a practical vision of the future challenges, opportunities and needs and identify means of reaching them. It was set up by the previous Administration and we are working with the grain of the programme to use it as a catalyst for action. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade initiated a full audit of foresight activities across Government. In response, I called together a group of Ministers responsible for foresight from all Departments to provide top-level co-ordination throughout Whitehall and to drive the programme forward in Government.

Dr. Gibson

The foresight programme is clearly important for driving bridges between industry and the science base. How are Government Departments using the results of foresight to form their strategies in relation to research programmes?

Mr. Battle

Previously, the purpose of the foresight panels, which were set up in 1994, was to tackle the relationship between industry and academia. We have moved the programme in-house and, on 16 June, the President of the Board of Trade published the first full interdepartmental progress report, spelling out how each Department is getting involved in the programme. I referred earlier to the cleaner vehicles project, which is headed up by our colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and is one example of the way in which foresight will be carried into Departments to knit into the themes that are their concerns. There is a connection between Departments through the ministerial foresight group, so that the theme of foresight can be brought into our principles, practices and ideas for future action as a Government.

Rev. Martin Smyth(Belfast, South

): Does the Minister accept that there have in the past been complaints from industry that, although it was moving forward, the Government were lagging? Does the recent audit state that the Government are keeping pace with industry in the foresight plans?

Mr. Battle

The idea is to work together. In March, we launched a full consultation on the next stage of foresight, to find out where it would go. We spelled out key themes, including sustainable development, future cities, crime control, skills training and the shortages emerging there, as well as consideration of aging. We have put those topics forward for consultation with industry to ensure that the Government and industry keep together. That is part of an exercise to tackle the themes together, listening to the needs of industry, recognising the potential of academic research and ensuring that we translate ideas into practical action—into products and processes that deliver an improved quality of life and new jobs, as well as generating wealth.