HC Deb 05 December 2002 vol 395 cc1034-6
5. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

If she will make a statement on the place of science and innovation in the Government's industrial policy. [83606]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

Science and innovation are at the heart of the Government's industrial policy.

Dr. Starkey

Part of the justification for the very large sums of money that the Government have put into scientific research is that scientific research can be exploited for job and wealth creation, but small businesses are notoriously poor at picking up those results and turning them into extra jobs. What is the Department doing to try to encourage co-operation between small and medium-sized enterprises and university science and technology departments?

Ms Hewitt

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point because, despite the outstanding record of some smaller firms, the average performance in introducing a new product on which competitiveness depends is really quite inadequate. Last week, I announced a wide-ranging review of the UK's innovation performance and the results of that review will help us further to strengthen performance. What we are already doing through the LINK programme and through investment in the science base and, for instance, the centres of manufacturing excellence, is to make it much easier for small firms in particular to work far more closely with the science and technology base, and thus to introduce the new products and processes on which their future success will depend.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the commercialisation of science and technology and innovation is crucial to areas such as my constituency in the north-east? Will she therefore congratulate the north-east centre for scientific enterprise, which is based at Durham university, on its success and perhaps even beef up the amount of Government money that it can obtain?

Ms Hewitt

I am delighted to have this opportunity to congratulate that centre on the investment it is making and on its success. I am very pleased to say that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for small business will be visiting it in a fortnight. We have already in the past few years more than doubled the rate of spin-off companies coming out of the university science base, and I am sure that the centre in my hon. Friend's constituency will be just as successful in future.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

In seeking to foster a climate for the growth of science and innovation and in recognising that regulation can be onerous and debilitating on the one hand, or enabling and protective on the other, can the right hon. Lady tell me and the House what assessment she has made of the benefits of the Regulatory Flexibility Act 1980 and the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act 1996 in the United States?

Ms Hewitt

That was a long way of getting to an interesting point about regulation. I take some comfort, though not too much, from the recent report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which investigated the climate for regulatory reform across all industrialised countries. It found that the UK has a much better set of policy levers for bearing down on unnecessary and over-complicated regulation than almost any other country in the world. We have in particular looked at the example of the United States and drawn on the lessons from that and from other countries, including the Netherlands, to ensure that we remain at the forefront of good regulation, because we are determined to sustain the position that the The Economist intelligence unit recently identified of having one of the best regulatory and entrepreneurial environments for business in the world.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West)

Given that one aspect of science and innovation for which there is huge potential in Britain is the sustainable energy industry, does my right hon. Friend accept that a bolder and more ambitious target—such as 25 per cent.—is appropriate beyond 2010 for renewable technologies?

Ms Hewitt

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend, in general terms, about the importance of setting ambitious targets for sustainable energy. We shall of course be setting those targets in the energy White Paper, to which I know he is looking forward with great interest.