Foresight Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1997.

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Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East 12:00 am, 18th December 1997

What mechanisms she will employ to improve co-ordination across Departments in implementing the foresight programme. [19878]

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I commissioned an audit of the foresight programme across Government within four weeks of taking office. On 22 October, I published the findings and announced that a ministerial foresight group was being established under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry to provide top-level co-ordination of the foresight programme across Whitehall. That group met for the first time last week and will take regular progress reports from the Whitehall foresight group, which co-ordinates departmental participation at official level. Those actions demonstrate the Government's commitment to foresight and our determination to drive it forward.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Obviously, regional involvement will play a key part in the success of the foresight programme. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's decision to allocate £7.5 million for foresight-related research in Scotland over the next three years?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Indeed, I shall. I am aware of that allocation and warmly welcome it. My hon. Friend is entirely right that, in taking forward the foresight programme, we need both to develop its regional impact and initiative and to use the supply chain to spread awareness of its work and the contribution that it can make down to small and medium businesses across the country. We are continuing to do exactly that.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Will the President of the Board of Trade join me in welcoming the commitment by the private sector to advances in technology over the years? I am thinking particularly of companies such as Bombardier Shorts in Belfast. How much are the Government prepared to commit to the foresight programme, in terms of financial support for that vital industry? When will that support be forthcoming?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

We have already announced up to £10 million for the future of the foresight link programme, and £5 million for the foresight vehicle link programme. We are committed to the development and advancement of that programme, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that we are also engaged in a comprehensive spending review, right across the Government. I am therefore not in a position to tell him how we shall be placed in future years, but I can assure him that that is an important priority for the Department—all the more so because it draws in the wider business community, which is making a valuable contribution to the work.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a high proportion of the foresight programme depends on biotechnology, and that Britain may not reap the full benefits of its position in biotechnology unless active steps are taken to alleviate public anxiety about the application of that technology?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My hon. Friend is entirely right—those issues do need to be addressed. We are engaging in public consultation on them, but we believe it vital that there should be a wide spread of information and sensibly encouraged thorough debate. People must be aware of the impact of the decisions that can be made, and of the market potential for creative British scientists and companies.