Biotechnology Clusters

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 2000.

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Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North 12:00 am, 30th November 2000

If he will make a statement on the development of biotechnology clusters. [139533]

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My noble Friend Lord Sainsbury led a team to look at the development of biotechnology clusters. Its report was published in August last year and the Government have acted on all its recommendations.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

In a recent high-profile debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said: Biotechnology is the next wave of the knowledge economy. This is an industry whose market in Europe alone is expected to be worth over £70 billion by 2005. The number of people employed in biotech, or who depend on its uses, could be as high as three million, as we catch up with the American industry—currently eight times the size of Europe's.

My right hon. Friend said that we would catch up, but how is that possible when Americans measure the establishment of new companies by the hour, week or month, and we measure it by the year? Why are we not ensuring that biotechnology companies progress in areas such as the west midlands and Bolsover, where new and exciting talents and industry are desperately needed?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend is right about the importance and potential of the biotechnology industry. He will have welcomed my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's announcement last week of a £725 million increase in the science budget. Of that increase, £110 million is earmarked for genomics. My hon. Friend will also welcome the fact that we are investing during the next three years a further £165 million through the regional development agencies, including those in the east of England and in the west midlands, to support cluster development, including biotechnology clusters.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Does the Minister understand that the reason why new companies form every week in the United States is that it has a low-tax, low-regulation economy? Will not the £32 billion of additional regulation introduced by the Government drive the clusters to other countries around the world?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

It is typical of the hon. Gentleman to talk down the United Kingdom. The fact of the matter is that we have the second-largest and most mature biotechnology sector in the world. We remain the biotechnology leader within the European Union. Three quarters of the new drugs developed in the European Union are developed here in the UK, which has excellent companies. By investing in the science base, as we are doing, and by helping science institutions more effectively to commercialise their research, we will get many more new companies. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on the announcement made by Conservative Front Benchers yesterday, stating that the Tories would cut the funding that we are investing in those new companies.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I welcome Lord Sainsbury's report, but what steps will the Government take specifically to assist industrial biotechnology? Bearing in mind the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been doing along with others in the north-west, will my hon. Friend consider carefully the fantastic successes in industrial biotechnology in the north west and urge the Government to inject more support into the projects going to our academic institutions there, thus helping our industrial partners?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am glad to say that, as a result of the north-west science review competition, we have already invested more than £26 million from the science budget in the north-west's science base. Earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set up the north-west science and Daresbury development group, which includes a wide range of local partners, to consider how further to build upon the north-west's considerable science strength, and that group will report shortly.