HC Deb 13 February 1985 vol 73 cc176-8W
Mr. Ian Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) whether he will make a statement describing the expenditure so far incurred on and the results achieved from the fibre optics scheme and the joint optoelectronics research scheme;

(2) whether he is satisfied that the fibre optics scheme and the joint optoelectronics research scheme are creating an adequate supply infrastructure within British industry;

(3) whether he is satisfied that the firms involved in the fibre optics scheme and joint optoelectronics research scheme have succeeded in creating a set of targeted markets;

(4) whether he is satisfied that the lessons learnt from the failure of British industry to exploit liquid crystal technology have been successfully applied by those involved in the fibre optics scheme and joint optoelectronics research scheme.

Mr. Butcher

Under the fibre optics and optoelectronics scheme £44 million has been committed to 128 projects in 40 companies involving research and development and production investment of £188 million. Most of the projects have yet to be completed, but major successes can already be identified, such asthe establishment of advanced production capacity for optical fibre and cable to meet the needs of the home telecommunications market and export markets; the creation of a United Kingdom capability in fibre optic-based under-sea communications; the establishment of Europe's foremost capability in semiconductor lasers; the building up of a wide variety of infrastructure activities —special optical fibres, process equipment, instrumentation, lasers, detectors, connectors, and other components; support for the development of several successful optoelectronic products, eg liquid crystal displays for airports, infra-red imagers for emergency services, intruder alarms; assistance to a variety of small companies (including four start-ups) many of which have become well established on world markets; encouragement of several large groups to diversify into optoelectronics.

In the area of display technology, the United Kingdom is a major world supplier of base material. Under FOS, several projects for the development of displays are being supported, most of which lead to commercially successful products, for example, airport displays, large TV displays for outdoor public events. However, I am disappointed that United Kingdom industry has generally not been more successful in world markets. A further initiative on basic research in solid state displays under the joint optoelectronics research scheme, in conjunction with the Alvey programme, has recently been launched and proposals are currently being considered.

Under JOERS £25 million has been made available for pre-competitive, collaborative research. There has been a rapid take up of funds and £9.5 million of DTI's allocation of £10 million has been committed, with industry matching this sum; the Science and Engineering research council has already had to extend its allocation of £5 million to allow a commitment of £5.3 million. Twenty-one projects are being supported involving 15 companies and 26 universities.

Most projects have been running for over a year, but it is too early to assess the results. However, it is clear that considerable momentum has been generated and the very high quality of the proposals indicates that the United Kingdom's research capability in optoelectronics has been substantially strengthened.

As far as the market orientation of the scheme is concerned, under FOS only those projects with a definite market focus and promise of exploitation are considered for support. On the other hand, JOERS involves basic research of a type which it is generally too early to identify the precise products and markets in which the results will be exploited. However, as far as possible, support is tied to evidence of the intention to exploit and the prospects for exploitation have been maximised by giving companies the ownership of the resulting intellectual property.