§ [Relevant documents: Fifth Report from the Science and Technology Committee Session 2003–04 HC56-I and Sixth Special Report Session 2003–04 HC650 (Government Reply)]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Charlotte Atkins.]2.30 pm
§ Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab)
Thank you, Mr. Caton. It is a pleasure to be under your jurisdiction and we look forward to a debate that will, no doubt, supplant Wimbledon on televisions all over the country.
The Science and Technology Committee has been considering nanotechnology for some time. The first occasion on which anybody in the country heard about it was when Prince Charles spoke of his concerns. Overnight, it replaced the technology of genetic modification as the danger that we faced. There was talk of runaway self-replicating machines, or grey goo, as the prince calmly called it. The planet was in danger. There was a skewed public debate on the issue that diverted attention from the serious concepts involved in nanotechnology. Those are, of course, the strategic and imperative issues facing the country in relation to other nations and how to extend our research pathways into the industrial developments that the technology makes possible.
I do not want to define nanotechnology, because to do that is a final year question in universities. Nobody has ever found a way of defining it properly. It covers things that are very small, such as 10-9—the atomic, rather than the molecular, level. Eric Drexler introduced the term in the book "Engines of Creation" in 1986 to describe the physicist Richard Feynman's vision of nanomechanics, creating atomically precise products, and started the ball rolling. It was associated with new cures for cancers and new drugs at atomic level that harnessed themselves to small tissue areas, overcoming the pressures that people in the world of chemistry faced over big molecules and thinking about smaller molecule development. It is an exciting field and I shall say more about it later.
Nanotechnology caused problems in the beginning, however, because although there were, on the one hand, the positive aspects of what might develop from the research and extending that research, on the other, there were the inherent dangers, as presented by His Royal Highness. There was talk about replicating weapons, and people became confused and more concerned about the potential risks than about the potential developments. There was a polarisation, in other words, and that has hindered research and discussion across the planet on the advances that can be made for the benefit of humanity. The idea of replicating molecules taking over the planet, which Radio 4 loved as a story at low prime time—about 7.20 in the morning—could not be seriously defended.
440WH We have a new, powerful technology in the world and we must consider how it can be used to replenish scarce resources and develop new drugs and new technologies. I was heartened by one aspect of the Government's response—although not by much of it, because many of the answers were one-word answers and I suspected that there were two-word answers waiting in the wings; there was a single word for most of the implications of our study. The response talks of interesting developments associated with the regional development agencies. What was heartening was to learn that the country has developed new technologies under the umbrella of nanotechnology.
The Select Committee held many sessions, visited Germany and talked to companies in Bristol and to academics. We were well served by two eminent advisers, Professor John Ryan from the Oxford interdisciplinary research collaboration in bio-nanotechnology and Professor Paul Atherton, president of the European Society for Precision Engineering and Nanotechnology, both of whom were on the national strategy advisory group. Our friend Professor Michael Elves, who used to work at Glaxo Wellcome, also supported us.
We held five oral evidence sessions. We talked to research councils, regional development agencies, small and large companies, academic researchers and scientific learned societies. The Royal Society is also doing a study on this aspect of nanotechnology and has privately welcomed our report. We received a lot of written submissions and had an informal meeting with the previous director general of the research councils, John Taylor, in his later days as a member. He had developed a strategy for Government and took the lid off some of the problems that he had had in making the nanotechnology project in this country come forward.
We were heartened to talk to people in Europe—in Germany in particular, when we went to Dresden and Berlin—about how they were developing nanotechnology. It is interesting that nanotechnology is being taught in the international community by business, academics, research councils and so on. It is an international prospect for new technology that has many potential benefits. It has been hailed as the next industrial revolution. Millions of dollars and yen are being spent in an effort to get ahead of the game on research and development.
We wanted our inquiry to uncover what the UK was doing. There are some interesting projects in certain parts of this country that get good support from regional development agencies. In other parts of the country, the situation is not so vibrant. The question is: are we going to let the revolution pass us by and watch other countries inside and outside Europe stride ahead as they have in other areas over the years—in electronics, computing and so on? We have the talent, we have the will and we have to ensure that the Government join with that creativity.
§ Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend share my sense of déjàvu? In many ways, the inquiry took us back to one that we carried out five years ago into the innovation process and its effectiveness in Great Britain. We were saddened to find several deficiencies that kept Britain back. One was the failure of the venture capital market to bring companies 441WH through certain stages of development and another the timidity of the Department of Trade and Industry in providing capital support for small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly when they were getting close to market. That was when it became acutely difficult. This inquiry found that that was still the case, which was saddening, because I do not think that any of us want to see nanotechnology joining the other technologies on which Britain has done the initial work but has missed out on the benefits.
§ Dr. Gibson
I agree with my hon. Friend that that was the substance of a large part of our report. We looked at the ability of the UK science base, as perpetrated through the DTI, to turn research brass into commercial gold. In the report, we mentioned taking a lead and recommended dedicated proof of concept funds, as they have in Scotland, to be allocated in loans to high-tech companies proving the move to the next stage of innovation. It is sad to say that the DTI replied:
Not accepted. There is no evidence at present to justify such an intervention.We have heard that before about giving companies the ability to move from the initial stage to commercial exploitation. We asked what the DTI had done to assist that in the years that we have been banging on about it. We asked what research underpinned such a complacent attitude—which is what it seems. Many people want to develop nanotechnology, but find it difficult to access that particular funding mechanism. There may be too many or too few, but if one has a new idea in the nanotechnology arena, it is very difficult to find out how to push it forward. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The story is very familiar. Something seems to happen only in California and certainly in Germany because of the Fraunhöfer institutes. There is a mechanism there, in which, for example, if someone receives money from local industry to support an idea, the Government put in the same money to help it.
We talked in our report about tax credits. Again, there have been welcome and amazing moves in terms of research and development tax credits. However, we must re-examine that area if we are to make happen what my hon. Friend wants. We have the ability and the creativity, but there is still frustration, which requires a positive response from the DTI in terms of tax credits and moving into proof of concept.
We have heard only positive comments about our report from the scientific community. I shall select just one quote from the Institute of Physics. When we asked the question, "Too little, too late?", they said, "Too true." As I mentioned, the Taylor report was a really epic move by the DTI, which has picked up the issue and now knows that it is important. Our criticism is that it has not invested fast enough. John Taylor, the last director general of the research councils, provoked a reaction in the DTI by his report on a strategy for commercialisation of nanotechnology. Lord Sainsbury, who is very well respected in the scientific community, announced in July a package of £90 million over six years. It was said that that would be supplemented by an investment from industry, the regional development agencies and the research councils to make a total of 442WH some £540 million over six years from 2003. That is not insignificant, but the question is: is it enough to take us forward in a very competitive world? What do people out there think about that?
Germany, for example, is spending £200 million in 2005 alone. The US, as always, is spending more—£2 billion over the next four years—and Japan will have spent an incredible £2,000 billion by 2010. It is not that we do not have the ideas or the creativity, but we must create the political will to join in the process. In the last month or so, during the European strategy for nanotechnology talks, there was talk about tripling the investment in nanotechnology in Europe, so that we can keep pace with Japan and the USA. However, I do not think that that is currently on the agenda and I invite the Minister to tell us how we are responding to that European initiative. We must wake up to the reality that nanotechnology is important and either we play with the big boys and girls or we fall far behind.
However, there is a blue horizon. Next week, there will be a scientific investment in this country, which will be channelled through the Treasury and the DTI. That will put lots of money into scientific progress, which will relate to the economy and jobs and put us up there in the top league of players I am really looking forward to hearing from the Chancellor, or whoever speaks about the issue, that nanotechnology will be a major feature. One reads all the time about how we are going to be up there, but nanotechnology is the up and coming thing, as biotechnology was once the up and coming thing—albeit with an odd fluctuation about winning the argument over genetic modification. It is happening and we are still developing research in the field.
If we do not currently have the spending power of other countries, we must focus our investment on one or two world-class centres of excellence; that was the Committee's decision. Those centres can be a magnet for international research and commercial activity. We said that that was how to compete, and the European strategy also recommended that. We should put excellence into one centre, rather than scatter it all in a diluted way across the country. That was the view of the Taylor report, as John Taylor told us when we spoke to him in his latter days as research director. Yet the Government have watered down the funding and are going to establish a network that will scatter the Government's £90 million funding throughout the country. They think that they are just adjusting and widening the Taylor report, but they reject the main conclusions of that report, which were that two world-class nanofabrication facilities are necessary. That could also happen with European money from framework 6 or elsewhere, to ensure that we are part of a European network.
The arguments this week about Europe are not reflected by the collaboration between professionals at this level, such as CERN and a project developed by physicists in Geneva. Successful work is going on across European barriers. This is another arena in which we could score and ensure that European interaction plays an important part in developing scientific creativity, job creation and new technologies and products. We will have trouble with some countries that will not want to get involved. That is why we must engage at a European level in direct argument about the science and technology of which this country is at the forefront. We 443WH must persuade, cajole or enthuse other countries to get involved. What is the Government's reaction to the European creativity that came from the recent report to the commissioners?
Another aspect of the policy that deeply worried the Committee was the ability of regional development agencies to provide the money to play a part in the development of regional strategies. Several people from nanotechnology centres said that regional development agencies were off-beam and had not engaged with nanotechnology. It was felt that they did not know what it all meant and were still in the grey gooey area—they did not see what the new technology might lead to. It was also felt that regional development agencies—although not in every part of the country—had not engaged with science and technology at all. In my region, the East of England Development Agency has just set up its council after a bit of agitation. Time moves on and we have got to move fast in this game. The north-west and north-east have moved ahead very fast and developed new green chemistries based on nanotechnology. They have moved with alacrity and ensured that there is interaction between universities and industry. The Government must get stuck into the regional policy and examine why science and innovation are moving at different speeds in different areas. How will the Minister address any conflicts that have arisen?
I do not want to go into technical details about microsystems and nanosystems, but there is a mixture of different types of technology at different levels, and it seems that nanotechnology does not rate as highly as microtechnology in the Department of Trade and Industry frontiers. The long-term funding of enterprises in different structures is novel and challenging to British industry, the British scientific community and certainly to regional development agencies. It is a good that the Government have recognised the challenge and invested money.
Our report states that the Government have been muddled in their handling of the issue. We accuse them of announcing the main elements of a strategy before appointing a strategic advisory group to provide expert advice—they have put the cart before the horse. The Government deny that and talk of the strategy being developed. The division of £90 million into a £40 million strand for capital projects and a £50 million strand for applied research was announced in January 2003. The nanotechnology strategic advisory board met for the first time in June 2003 and a network director was not appointed until January 2004. I hope that the Minister will not dispute those facts. We can see that a decision on how much money to put in was made before there was a strategic advisory board to think about how to use the money. The DTI responses were all of one word. I do not think that that is particularly a result of laziness or arrogance; rather, the issue simply needs a champion in the DTI to make progress. However, it certainly did not help us that we found the decision-making process difficult to understand.
UK industry has not been quick to respond to the potential of nanotechnology either. It will not necessarily be about small companies. Big companies, such as Unilever, can take on board this type of technology, and such companies should have been galvanised much earlier. They should have been brought 444WH together and their heads knocked together, so that they saw that the technology was available and engaged with it.
The Government complained about the lack of industrial interest, but now that funding has been announced, the research and capital projects proposals have been massively oversubscribed. The point is that the interest already existed, so the Government have, if anything, been dilatory in this arena. The industrial interest has always been there. We must simply find a better way to establish common ground, so that we can work together to develop British industry.
In summary, the DTI has handled nanotechnology pretty badly. In reflective or private moments, many of the Ministers might admit that. We would not expect them to do so in public, but I imagine that in general they think that we have been slow in starting the process. We need leadership, focus and support for the areas in which Britain can excel. We might not be leading the world in the nanotechnology revolution, but let us be part of it.
§ Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, on securing yet another debate on one of our reports. The report, the fifth of the Session, is entitled "Too little too late? Government Investment in Nanotechnology". Its bottom line, or final conclusion, to which the Chairman referred, is that Government investment probably is too little too late, but it is not too late for the Government to accelerate that investment and to catch up with some of our major competitors. I shall develop that theme later.
This year, I was privileged to be invited to be chairman of a new venture: the Bolton Technical Innovation Centre Ltd. It is the first junior incubator of its type in the United Kingdom—perhaps in the world; we are trying to find that out. The keys to our new £2.2 million building, which was funded by the Northwest Development Agency, were handed over just two or three weeks ago.
Bolton TIC will provide an out-of-school experience for all Bolton's nine to 19-year-olds in science, engineering and technology, using state-of-the-art equipment—not second-hand or thrown out equipment—purchased, loaned or given by local and regional industry. Pupils will innovate, design and produce in that innovative building. I have written an article on Bolton TIC for a future edition of Science in Parliament. I will also seek an Adjournment debate to give that innovative project some publicity, because it is a model that could be repeated by regional development agencies throughout the country.
Earlier this year, Bolton TIC had a taster day at which a number of presentations were made to excite people into contributing money, materials and human resources to the venture. We are looking for many volunteers and volunteer financing. Attending that day was a gentleman called Bob Mehalso of Microteca Associates, who gave an extremely stimulating presentation during which he described the nature of nanotechnology. His company is about to set up production facilities in the north-west—on the old 445WH Plessey site in Liverpool, I think. It produces inkjet printers for Hewlett-Packard, for example, and fuel injection systems for all Ford cars produced worldwide.
Bob Mehalso described traditional engineering as negative engineering: this report describes it as top-down engineering. For example, holes can be drilled in metals, which removes metal from the original block or sheet of material. That is a loss of material, so it is negative engineering. However, that type of engineering cannot produce holes fine enough for the inkjet printers that we require these days, nor can it produce the fine fuel injection systems required for today's fuel efficiency needs. In the latter case, the finer the hole for the fuel injector, the more efficient the car engine will become, with a huge consequent saving in fuel costs, which helps the environment and reduces climate change.
Using nanotechnology, however, holes are built up using individual atoms or molecules. The addition of material to a template creates a new type of engineering, called positive engineering or bottom-up engineering, as our report describes it. Other applications of nanotechnology already exist: in sunscreens, in self-cleaning windows for skyscrapers or even for homes in this country—those were invented by Pilkington Glass—and in nanotubes to produce lighter and extremely strong materials for the fabrication of objects such as tennis racquets. A company called Babolat is already manufacturing them.
Carbon nanotubes are 100 times stronger than steel and extremely light, even compared with aluminium. Providing that they can be mass-produced—a large hurdle that we have yet to overcome—they have tremendous potential in a new area of engineering. Nanotubes are tiny rolled-up sheets of graphitic carbon which can encapsulate other atoms, such as metal atoms, which bestow electronic properties on nanotubes, enabling them to be used in new electronic devices.
Scientists in the Netherlands have recently demonstrated a new type of logic gates, which are the basis of the modern computer. These are based on single nanotubes and are therefore extremely miniature, compared with existing logic gates. That leads to the idea of further shrinking highly miniaturised electronic devices.
So what is nanotechnology? The Japanese scientist, Norio Taniguchi, who was interested in making extremely thin films of very exact dimensions, first defined the word "nanotechnology" in 1971 as
the production technology that aims to achieve precision and fineness of structure on the scale of a nanometre.
The word "nanotechnology" is derived from the Greek word "nanos", meaning "dwarf", and is the construction of materials using individual atoms or molecules. Since the size of atoms and molecules is measured in nanometres, that is nanotechnology. It covers a range of scale from 0.1 to 100 nanometres. A nanometre is one billionth of a metre, or approximately 10 hydrogen molecules lying end to end. To give an idea of the scale of the science that we are considering, a human hair is approximately 80,000 to 100,000 nanometres in diameter.
446WH One of the most powerful tools underpinning nanotechnology is the family of scanning probe microscopes, which were first developed in the 1980s. Britain played a leading part in those developments. They operate through physical interactions between an extremely ultra-fine tip on the microscope and individual atoms on a surface, whatever that might be. They can reveal some remarkable images of surfaces. Don Eigler of IBM gave us the most dramatic illustration of what those microscopes can do when he spelled out "IBM" in individual atoms and revealed it to the world using a scanning, tunnelling microscope. It was a dramatic scientific illustration of the power of nanotechnology.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, nanotechnology is different from microtechnology, but the Government do not seem to have realised that. The two are often confused, but a micrometre is one thousandth of a millimetre or one thousand nanometres, so there is a huge difference in scale. Of course, microtechnology is already well developed, and there is a danger that investment in the research and development of nanotechnology will end up as investment in microtechnology. Lord Sainsbury did not separate the two when he gave evidence to the Select Committee. He said thatit really does not make any sense commercially to make a distinction between them.
The Government's response to our report, which was published this month, confirms that they believe that nanotechnologies will emerge from microtechnologies. The Committee begs to disagree. We believe that if that distinction is not made, there will be an inadequate focus on this new industrial revolution of nanotechnology. Lord Sainsbury seems to believe that the microtechnology industry will evolve into a nanotechnology industry, but evolutions can be slow. The Committee's message is that by the time that evolution happens, Britain will have been left behind yet again in a rapidly emerging technological revolution.
The application of microtechnology has allowed the miniaturisation of electronic devices, to which I referred. However, as we found out on a visit to a large silicon chip production plant that employs 5,000 people in the city of Dresden, we are getting close to the limits of miniaturisation, which uses silicon as a material, and alternatives are urgently needed if we are to miniaturise electronic devices further. Of course, there is a huge cost saving in miniaturisation. Fewer materials are used, which is also good for the environment. One of the strong messages that I want to put across is that environmental savings could be made if nanotechnology is given investment.
The new technology is already having, and will continue to have, a major impact on electronics, on the IT industry and on medical techniques in particular. It is expected to render some of our traditional production methods obsolete, which is why we refer to it as a new industrial revolution. Britain, including Bolton, has always been at the forefront of industrial revolutions, and it is important that the Government invest in this one, otherwise we will be left behind. Our competitors are already ahead of us in this rapid race.
In the 1980s, British scientists held the lead in nanotechnology research, but the Government of the day failed to stimulate its potential. I do not blame them 447WH for that; I blame the universities and particularly industry for not being stimulated by the money that the Government made available in the 1980s through, for example, the LINK nanotechnology programme, which they set up to stimulate industrial interest. There has been a lack of sustained investment since, although support for nanotechnology continued to be given by the research councils and through the basic technology programme and SMART. Sadly, most universities are failing to see the potential, as is most of British industry with the exception of Unilever, QinetiQ, which has set up QinetiQ Nanomaterials Ltd., and a few others.
In 2001, the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, commissioned the Taylor report, which John Taylor presented to the Government in June 2002. That resulted in the announcement by the Department of Trade and Industry of the £90 million investment over six years to which the Committee Chairman has already referred. It also established the DTI's micro and nanotechnology manufacturing initiative. Industry applicants for DTI funding are expected to provide match funding. If industry takes enough interest, that should lever in another £90 million. bringing the total available to £180 million. Apart from the DTI, other Departments, with the possible exception of the Ministry of Defence, unfortunately do not yet appear to have realised the significant potential for developments in nanotechnology. They include state Departments that, like the MOD, could benefit from the technology, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, in particular, the Department of Health.
Fortunately, the Government agree with our recommendation thatthe Government Chief Scientific Adviser liaises with the MNT Network and relevant Government departments to encourage the commitment of resources from departments its to potentially useful nanotechnology research, as appropriate.The Taylor report recommended that one or two nanofabrication units should be set up to stimulate the technology. The Select Committee does not believe that that scale of investment is adequate to enable Britain to compete in the world growth of interest in the subject. I hope that the comprehensive spending review will soon be announced and that it will change the current state of affairs significantly.
The DTI seems to have interpreted the Taylor report's recommendation to crate at least two nanotechnology fabrication centres as meaning greenfield, new-build options However, the recommendation was based on the idea of expanding existing facilities, taking into account—and this is important—a geographical spread. Not everything should be in the golden triangle of the south.
Excellent facilities are already being developed jointly by Imperial college and University college London, in London and at Cambridge. The Rutherford Appleton laboratory near Oxford already has world-class facilities that could be developed. Such developments, if expanded, would allow British nanotechnologists to compete with other world-class centres, such as Minatec at Grenoble and IMEC in Belgium. Germany has developed six nanotechnology competence centres. If Britain does not develop world-class centres soon, with a critical mass that can compete in a world market, the brain drain for nanotechnologists will accelerate.
448WH The Government commissioned the Institute of Nanotechnology to carry out an industrial survey of companies interested in the development of nanotechnology—ironically, three months after the Taylor report was published. The institute had already made the picture clear in its report "Nanotechnology in the UK", published in 2001.
The Government are using the regional development agencies to channel research and development moneys into the science base in all our regions. In particular, an extra £180 million is being channelled into nanotechnology. The devolved Administrations will contribute another £20 million. It is expected that in the next few years Britain will invest well in excess of £540 million as a result of current initiatives.
§ Dr. Gibson
Will my hon. Friend say something about an issue that I know he is concerned about—the closure of chemistry and physics departments? Nanotechnology depends on good, sound physics and chemistry in universities, so are we doing enough to develop undergraduates in those fields, under the umbrella of nanotechnology? Would that not be a winner as a way of attracting young people from school into the study of chemistry, physics and related subjects at university? Without chemistry, nanotechnology cannot move forward.
§ Dr. Iddon
My hon. Friend has hit on a good point, which I shall shortly develop. He is right to say that the development of nanotechnology will be inhibited if science departments continue to close.
I shall provide some comparisons: France has committed £500 million to this type of work over four years; Japan has committed £500 million for 2003–04 alone; the United States has committed £1 billion annually between 2003 and 2006; and South Korea has committed £80 million per year for the next 10 years. Witnesses examined by the Committee feel that the money committed by the UK Government to nanotechnology will not allow us even to catch up with those major competitors—they are well ahead of us. In writing the report, we attempted to alert the Government to that fact as well as others.
As I represent a north-west town, I am proud of the fact that the Northwest Development Agency was the first to establish a regional science council, under the able chairmanship of Sir Tom McKillop, the chief executive of Astra Zeneca. The north-west was followed closely by the north-east, and I am pleased that, according to the Chairman of the Committee, the eastern region is also setting up a science and technology council. However, RDAs have to date been slow to follow the example set by the north-west and north-east. There is therefore a question mark over the current ability of most other RDAs to deliver a science strategy in their regions. Do they have the in-house scientific expertise to achieve that? Perhaps the existing research councils provide a better mechanism for rapidly delivering a strategy to kick-start research and development in nanotechnology throughout the UK.
We are told that all the RDAs will have to have a science and industry council by December 2004. That is good news, but it will take time to build up their scientific capacity, and by then it will be too late in the 449WH nanotechnology race. Lord Sainsbury of Turville said in his evidence to the Committee that the RDAs' role will be to forward projects to the national strategy advisory group, which has been set up to advise on the strategic direction of the network group of the MNT manufacturing initiative. The network director, Dr. Hugh Clare, was appointed only in January 2004.
As the Committee Chairman said, the Committee was critical of the way in which the organisation of the distribution and management of the money allocated to nanotechnology has been established. Much confusion has been created over who does what within the MNT network. In the Committee's opinion, the DTI is not taking a back seat, as it claimed in evidence to us, and the RDAs will perform a much greater role than recommending projects to the network. We recommended that the MNT network be given strengthened leadership and that its director be given real powers, so that he is not constantly looking over his shoulder.
The DTI has required match funding for its projects under the capital projects programme of the MNT network, which will last for three years. Three years is rather a short term. Those requirements are likely to lead to the funding of near-market project only, which will probably be in microtechnology rather than nanotechnology. Longer-term funding is required if nanotechnology projects are to be given a chance to develop properly. They cannot develop in a period of only three years.
Moreover, the requirement for match funding is unlikely to attract small and medium-sized enterprises, but those enterprises, some of which are spin-offs from universities, are the ones that are carrying out most of the cutting-edge research in the nanotechnology field. That, too, will inhibit progress.
The research councils also fund nanotechnology research. In order to undertake such research, institutes must be interdisciplinary, bringing together chemists, physicists, statisticians, biologists and biochemists, preferably all in the same building. An interdisciplinary research collaboration is led by the university of Cambridge, with core partners that include University college London and the university of Bristol. An IRC in bio-nanotechnology is led by the university of Oxford, with core partners that include the university of Glasgow and the Medical Research Council's National Institute of Medical Research. Funding of those two IRCs is worth £18 million over six years.
There is also an interdisciplinary nanotechnology research and technology centre at Newcastle university. In addition, a £33 million building is being built on the site of the university of Manchester institute of science and technology, which is shortly to combine with Manchester university. A few months ago I visited the Manchester interdisciplinary biocentre. The MIB—I have the brochure with me—is a fantastic £32 million development, which is bringing many different disciplines from those two universities into the same building. I am pleased to say that Professor Stan Roberts, who is a friend of mine and one of the country's leading organic chemists, now at Liverpool university, will lead the new venture. Interdisciplinary research to 450WH remove the silos that separate chemistry, physics and biology, and to bring people together to interact in the same building, is precisely what we need in Britain.
§ Dr. Gibson
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the research councils are not only interacting to look at the health and environmental impacts of the same technologies, but actively engaged in getting the message across to the public that the grey goo hypothesis is a load of old nonsense?
§ Dr. Iddon
The situation is getting better, but it is by no means perfect. The Committee has been critical of the "silo" effect of relationships among the existing research councils, although they are now attempting, perhaps a little too ate, to interact on a grander scale. We have made suggestions to them as to how things could be improved.
To follow on from my points about the interdisciplinary centres, six of nine projects in a recent round of funding under the research councils' basic technologies programme are in areas related to nanotechnology. The academic community has been slow to see the value of research in that area, but fortunately interest is beginning to grow. All the research councils fund facilities; for example, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funds facilities at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory near Oxford. The central microstructures facility is a recognised centre of expertise for the top-down fabrication of devices on the nano scale. Unfortunately, however, to date the facility has failed to attract industrial-volume usage and its capacity is unfilled. There appears to be little co-ordination between the awards that the DTI makes for nanotechnology research through the MNT network, and the research councils' development work and awards. Again, to answer to my hon. Friend's question, that could be improved.
An estimated 1,500 researchers are involved in nanotechnology in the UK. Some are in the universities that I have already mentioned, but according to the Taylor report—I have already mentioned this, but I re-emphasise it—we lack a centre with the critical mass that can compete with some of the critical mass establishments in our competitor countries. One of the problems is that universities in the UK have not been fast enough in establishing the interdisciplinary centres that nanotechnology requires; they are coming, but slowly. The research assessment exercise has not helped, because it has not taken full cognisance of interdisciplinary work. However, I understand that an attempt is being made to take that criticism into account in the new round of research assessment exercises.
Only 10 universities in this country offer courses with "nanotechnology" in the title, four of which are at undergraduate level only. One of the barriers to expansion of R and D in nanotechnology is the lack of interested and trained researchers. If we do not have them, even down at the technician level, we will not make progress. I hope that the Government will pay some attention to that point, too.
The European framework programmes also support nanotechnology research. Some €17.5 billion, to which the UK contributes—I apologise for changing the 451WH currency—£110 million, is available under the sixth programme, which includes €1.3 billion to target nanotechnology materials and production technologies. The problem is that although that extra money is available for research into nanotechnology, the barrier to applying for that money is so bureaucratic that British academics have been switched off. We need to get the message across to Strasbourg and Brussels that the applications system must be streamlined. Our scientists do not have time to sit for weeks on end telephoning those international collaborations, on top of which they have to write grant applications. I have done it; it takes a lot of time, and it is extremely frustrating when one gets a negative answer.
Professor Sir Harry Kroto, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, said in evidence to the Committee:
If you take my viewpoint that anyone who looks at things in terms of atoms and molecules actually is doing nanotechnology then the subject is 200 years old, it goes back to Dalton".Indeed, when I was lecturing in chemistry at the university of Salford I was teaching nanotechnology, but I did not realise it. What was I doing? I was teaching that nature uses templates such as RNA and DNA to build molecules; assembling smaller molecules on those templates by molecular or atomic assembly causes them to form physical bonds or, more especially, chemical bonds.
From RNA we can spin off proteins. In biochemical systems, that is done by molecular assembly. Large, naturally occurring molecules made in that way are so large that they do not exist as long, linear molecules. The ionic interactions present—charges interacting with one another across the length of the molecule—cause those molecules to wind and bind, and roll up like balls of wool. That is what proteins do when they develop a tertiary structure. They are fragile structures, however, and can be easily destroyed. When boiling an egg, we can cause a water soluble tertiary-structured protein to precipitate. As a result, the egg becomes opaque—and it is time to eat it.
§ Dr. Iddon
I would have to carry out an experiment. It depends whether it is a hen's egg, a duck's egg or some other kind of egg.
Eye cataracts are caused by the precipitation of protein as a result of age, and they are worse for those who spend a lot of time in sunlight That, too, is caused by the unravelling of complex tertiary structures. Little balls of protein in the eye unravel and precipitate, because their tertiary structure is water-soluble. We then lose our sight. Fortunately the problem can be corrected.
A recognition of how those naturally occurring molecules are put together—we should also know how they function—has stimulated chemists for decades to synthesise complex molecules that perform various functions. At the molecular level, such molecules can emulate various engineering devices. I used to have a research interest in that aspect. Chemists are interested in building template molecules that, like RNA, have the 452WH power to bring individual atoms and molecules together, attract them to the sites on the template and then cause those simple molecules to link together. It is now being done. A professor at the university of Sheffield greatly stimulated my interest in molecular assembly. With synthetic molecules, we are trying to build larger molecules in exactly the same way as nature. However, we have to find out how nature does it and how the molecules function before we can replicate it in the laboratory. That is nanotechnology.
Molecules are now being built that can emulate switches in electrical circuits. That technology can even be used in turnstiles—the gates that let us into the football ground. Molecules can be made to spin when a little pressure is put on them. For decades, chemists have been thinking about mechanical devices and trying to replicate them at molecular level. Those devices, and the fantastic world of electrically conducting organic polymers, will miniaturise electronic devices in the future. We will probably still not be able to find our mobile telephones—I sometimes have to ring mine from the land line to discover where I have left it—as these miniaturised electronic devices may be so small that they can fit into the ear, and that will make them even harder to find when they are mislaid. It is important that we invest in this fascinating field of research, which is opening up a new industrial revolution.
Richard Freyman gave a lecture entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" to the American Physical Society as long ago as 1959, in which he described the possibility of constructing minute machines and circuits atom by atom, molecule by molecule. I do not think Richard Freyman ever realised that today we would be doing that in nanotechnology.
I want to finish by speaking about health risks, which have not been mentioned before and are important. Whenever a new technology comes along the science fiction writers, and some journalists—with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), who was a journalist—get in on the act. Although the idea of nanobots or nano-robots creating grey goo that puts all human life at risk, an idea emanating from the work of futurologist Eric Drexler at MIT, is far-fetched, the potential for harm should not be ignored. We should remember the precautionary principle, but that should not prevent our being brave and trying things out to see what happens.
It is the same with the development of all new technologies, not just nanotechnology. We need to study the impact of nano-particles on human health and on the environment; fortunately, the Health and Safety Executive is already monitoring that field and investing in it. The public should be kept informed about the new developments so that the public debate does not get out of hand, as it has in the development of other technologies, such as genetically modified organisms.
Nano-particles are so small that they can readily penetrate tissues such as the epithelium that lines the lungs. They can evade man-made filters and natural filters within the body. In addition, they have a fantastic surface area relative to the mass of the material, which may give them unexpected properties and might lead to a health risk; we just do not know.
I welcome the significant report, commissioned by Greenpeace, into the potential dangers of nanotechnology, which recognised that there are 453WH potential benefits as well as risks with this new technology. I am pleased that the green organisations are beginning to balance risks and benefits; they have seen only risks in the past, but they should also regard the benefits as important.
A major problem for knowledge transfer in the UK is that although Government sources will fund projects to the tune of about £250,000, venture capital companies in the UK, which are risk averse, will start funding only at the £1 million to £2 million level. That funding gap is a huge problem in this country, preventing the development of many new and exciting technologies such as nanotechnology. The venture capital companies deny that there is a funding gap and put the lack of knowledge transfer between the universities and the spin-out companies down to a shortage of propositions being put to them. I do not believe that, and I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee find it hard to believe, too. Fortunately, the Government, through the Treasury, have recognised the difficulty and are beginning, perhaps a little too late, to put programmes in place to deal with that important funding gap, which is preventing the transfer of knowledge into the market in this country.
The RDAs, too, have venture capital funds, which total £270 million. They are used to invest in SMEs, which are supported by a further £80 million of direct Government money. Again, however, investment is restricted to £250,000, and although there is admittedly the possibility of another £250,000 after six months' proof of concept, there is still a funding gap. The report recommends that the Government address the problem with the investment programme with a little more haste so that high-tech companies can bring products to market.
Investment by larger companies in all sectors increased by only 11 per cent. between 1995 and 2001—well below the figures for SMEs and our international competitors. Large organisations in the UK and other countries are no longer prepared to take the initial risk and have begun relying on SMEs to do so. As a result, many SMEs go out of business, while those that are successful are soon bought out, and their products bought up, by larger companies. That is how business has begun to operate in this high-tech area.
To conclude, I hope that reports such as that of the Committee and the one recently published by the Royal Society will allow us to make nanotechnology the important focus that it needs to be in Britain's technological development. We want Britain to regain the position that it had in the 1980s and at the beginning of this century so that it can take nanotechnology further and become one of the main countries in the world with an interest in the subject.
§ Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
I am delighted to be able to take part in the debate. I am a member of the Science and Technology Committee, although I am speaking in a Front-Bench capacity today. I became a member of the Committee only after it started its inquiry, so I chose to take no part in its deliberations on the subject.
454WH I certainly find being a member of the Committee enjoyable, and it is a pleasure to follow the two learned doctors who have already spoken—the hon. Members for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). I am always at pains to point out that I am only a medical doctor, not a proper doctor. Those of us on the Committee who are lay people or medical doctors learn a great deal from those with PhDs, and I have certainly learned a great deal more from the two contributions that we have had so far.
The Committee's decision to tackle the subject of nanotechnology demonstrates yet again that there is no subject of which it is afeared. It is currently carrying out a number of inquiries, which will lead to reports that are just as incisive and, where appropriate, as acerbic as the one before us.
The Committee's key function, which it performs in a constructive, cross-party way, on the basis of its deliberations on the evidence that it receives, is probably to point out where it believes the Government have gone wrong, and that is just what it has done in the present report. I want briefly to reflect on what we have heard today and to raise a few of the issues that I gleaned from reading the report and the Government's response.
Normally when I am asked to speak from the Front Bench, I look to see what the existing Liberal Democrat policy is. We have lot s of policy on all sorts of things, but when it came to nanotechnology, the policy unit was stumped for the first time. I am therefore free to say what I wish—
§ The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Jacqui Smith)
That never stopped the hon. Gentleman before.
§ Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab)
In that case, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Liberal Democrat policy on nanotechnology is probably clearer than it is on any other policy issue?
§ Dr. Harris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that the policy that I am going to announce will indeed be clear. I say to the hon. Member for Norwich, North that at least I will be in a position to support my party's policy. That is something that I know he will be keen to do for his own party's policy when given the chance.
In his typical style, our esteemed Chairman clearly set out the key issues that the report addresses. First, he was right to lead with the need to ensure that there is public confidence in technology, to puncture the myth that has been built around so called grey goo and—unless there is a clear and present danger, scientific consensus or evidence for stuff based mainly on science fiction—to concentrate on the benefits. Otherwise we risk repeating the mistakes that have been made surrounding other technologies.
We are grateful to the Chairman for giving us the history of nanotechnology. It was very helpful of him to set out the contrasts between this country's record and those of our competitors in Europe and throughout the world. Now that we are, as the Government keep reminding us, the fourth largest economy in the world, it would be of concern if we were to fall significantly behind our competitors, such as Germany, in that field.
455WH A report from the United States by Robert Service in the Financial Times on 18 June talked about the experience of such technology in the United States. It stated:
In just five years, nanotechnology has catapulted from being a specialty of a few physicists and chemists into a worldwide scientific and industrial enterprise. Word-wide, government-funded nano research has grown seven-fold, from less than $500m in 1997 to more than $3.5bn in 2004.The March/April issue of Small Times a US-based nanotech industry magazine, noted that venture capital funding in the nano area rose from virtually nothing in 1997 to $300m in 2003, accounting for more than 5 per cent. of all VC funds distributed in the US. The list of big businesses pursuing nano research includes General Electric, Lucent, Philips, Matsushita, Intel, Advanced Microdevices and Merck."
The report also stated that
according to US Government estimates, the nanotech economy will be worth $1,000 billion by 2012.This is a global economy, and even if it were not, where the US goes we always follow. The key thing is that we do not follow so far behind that our economy loses the ability to benefit and we suffer from the brain drain that has already been mentioned. The US is not far to go for UK scientists to pursue their careers, and our competitor countries in Europe are certainly not far away.
In an intervention, the hon. Member for Norwich, North made a point about chemistry and physics departments closing. His point was reiterated at the excellent Royal Society of Chemistry parliamentary links day, co-hosted by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), when the Nobel prize-winning chemist, Harry Kroto, argued very strongly that the closure of the chemistry department at Swansea university was a destructive decision. The reason given by the vice chancellor—that chemistry students are simply too expensive to teach—was a shocking admission because it might apply to many science departments throughout the country. I hope that, although the matter is not in the Minister's portfolio, she can give some reassurance.
§ Dr. Iddon
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the council and senate of University college Swansea are closing down a chemistry department that has won accolades? It is a world centre of excellence in mass spectrometry, and Professor Keith Smith, a friend of mine who is head of department there, has won awards for green chemistry—something for which there is a great need. York and Swansea, and perhaps one or two others, are the only universities investing in green chemistry and we are about to see one of their departments closed down.
§ Dr. Harris
I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I should add that it was not a case of the department's failing to recruit students: the number of applications was up, and needs to be if we are to have enough chemistry graduates at a time when people are likely to be deterred from working in research because of the prospect of postgraduate debt. It is vital that we keep open for students the option of studying chemistry in their home cities, where their costs will be lower.
The hon. Gentleman is a great advocate of all things Bolton, and of all things scientific, as he proved with his advocacy of the innovation centre to which he referred. 456WH He gave a very helpful explanation of some of the applications of nanotechnology, such as scanning microscopes, whether electron, probe or tunnelling. He also made the important point that we cannot rely on improvements, developments and innovations in nanotechnology in this country simply evolving from microtechnology in time for us to keep up.
Yes, I am sure that there will be low-level spin-offs from investment in microtechnology, but the report is very clear about our need for a separate strategy or approach to fast-track the funding for nanotechnology, so that we do not rely on the intervention from microtechnology, which will be far too slow. The report is also clear, as have been the contributions that we have heard so far, that there is a place for match-funded projects and schemes where the DTI and the research councils might offer money if such match funding were available. However, in growth areas such as this, where long-termism is needed, we cannot rely on the willingness of British industry—which has notoriously not been long-term enough—to provide the necessary match funding.
The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East rightly pointed out that the Taylor report advocated at least two centres for nanotechnology, and, as the MP for Oxford, West and Abingdon, I remember that the centralisation of the synchrotron project in Oxfordshire was seen as damaging to the science base in the north-west, which has universities with very good science departments that need to be encouraged. The point is made in the Taylor report that a geographical spread of such centres is important. That is why at least two are required. I hope that the Minister can give us some encouragement in that regard.
The hon. Gentleman also reminded us that it is vital that we do not fall behind our competitors. If South Korea is investing the equivalent of £80 million a year for 10 years, it knows something that the UK does not. It is incumbent on our Government, through the DTI, to ensure that we do not make the mistake that we have made in respect of other technologies.
I turn to what Prince Charles said about grey goo. I have heard it rumoured that there are rules about what we can say in Parliament about the heir to the throne, so I seek your advice, Mr. Caton, if I stray. I shall quote mainly from press coverage of what he said. He was described in The Guardian of 23 December 2003 as
a natural advocate of the precautionary 'if in doubt, don't' approach to development.
His message was that we ought to be careful about this technology. If there is no evidence to support that, it is entirely the wrong message to send out. The same article describes how Prince Charles
wrote a letter to the Royal Society raising the spectre of the 'grey goo' disaster scenario of nanotechnology, where mini machines self-replicate and take over the world, which had been the basis for Michael Crichton's thriller, Prey.
Dr. Phil Moriarty, reader in experimental physics at Nottingham university, is quoted as saying:
The notion of grey goo was first raised"—
as we have heard in this debate—
by Eric Drexler back in the 80s, but we're nowhere near having the ability to make these nano-machines. They still belong in the realms of science fiction.457WHThere is a genuine debate to be had about the future of nanotechnology, but grey goo isn't it…It has to be said that very few scientists working in nanotechnology take the prince seriously.We have a responsibility as politicians to respect the precautionary approach, but not to use the sort of language liable to undermine faith in new technologies if there is no clear evidence of harm. We must not undermine the prospect of investment in this country by our own industry and by firms with a choice of where to invest.
The article goes on to quote the hon. Member for Norwich, North. It states that
Ian Gibson, who also serves on the House of Commons science and technology committee, unsurprisingly aligns himself with mainstream academia against the prince's intellectual dabblings".He is quoted as saying:
At best the jury is out on much of what he says, and at worse he has done science a significant disservice. He should either shut up about things he doesn't understand or sign up for a science course at one of our elite universities. If he'll pay the top-up fees.I hope thatHansard, if notThe Guardian, is read in the appropriate places, and that people with the advantage of using their position to get press coverage on issues other than architecture, where I do not claim to be able to contradict the prince, exercise appropriate judgment and responsibility.
I return to the report. Even though we have not had a huge number of contributions to the debate, there is not time to go through all the Government's responses to the recommendations, but I shall pick out three. It will be useful to hear what the Minister says in response to the comments that we have heard. Recommendation 1 partly underlines what we have heard about the danger of short-termism. It expresses concern about the absence of a successor programme to the LINK nanotechnology programme. In their response, the Government reiterate their evidence to the Committee:The LINK Nanotechnology Programme failed to attract sufficient industry interest to justify follow-on activity.However, that is our point about new technology: if the Government are to show true foresight, we need them to be more long-term than industry. They should not withdraw a programme just because industry does not respond appropriately, because that proves the point that more Government support is needed to kick-start these initiatives. We do not have a good tradition in this country of sufficient long-termism in venture capital or industry R and D. The Chancellor has recognised that with some of the reviews that he has sought to initiate.
The Taylor report is referred to in the Committee's recommendations. Recommendation 2 is effectively the evidence that Taylor gave to the Committee, which is found in volume 2 of the report. That evidence is illuminating because it is unusual for someone in his position to speak so strongly in written evidence of his concerns about how his report was acted on. In his evidence he expressed disappointment—this is picked up in the report—that the strategy group had done little so far and that there was no road-mapping activity at the time when he sent his evidence; that the
initial call to provide access to facilities has only just happened";458WH and that there was no website, apparently because of a lack of DTI resources. If the DTI is so hard-up that it cannot set up a website, that is of great concern. Sir John states that he is disappointed that non-academic access to some of the best facilities may be hampered by lack of funding from the less well-off RDAs and that future DTI funding for nanotechnology is uncertain, and so, therefore, is any planning for the programme.
Sir John quotes the Government as saying:'Nano will have to compete with other demands for technology support"',and comments that although that is true,if DTI cannot make some level of allocation in principle for high risk exploration of applications for the next 5 years then it will be hard to get industry to do the same.Those feelings are echoed by the Committee in its report, and I have heard members of the Committee of all parties, including the Conservatives, make the same point.
Is the Minister worried by the lack of nanotechnology-specific technology? Sir John Taylor reports that he can see that there is a chicken-and-egg problem for the DTI. However, neither he nor the Select Committee consider the DTI's response, alluded to by other hon. Members, of constantly initiating new reviews, to be right, and nor do I. Now is the time for action.
The Government' response to recommendation 5 is remarkable and a little bizarre. The recommendation states:
The sums of money currently committed by Government and other agencies, spent in line with current strategy, will ensure that the UK continues to fall behind our major competitors. We recommend that in its ten year investment framework for science and innovation the Government gives a clear commitment to funding nanotechnology research and development at least over the next ten years at levels significantly in excess of current spending plans.The Government response states that they
think that decisions about the allocation of funds to specific areas of research and development should be taken by the Research Councils and the new Technology Strategy Board.Surely the whole point of the strategy is to identify key areas for investment. It is disappointing that the Government answer is simply that that should be left to the strategy board and research councils, rather than forming part of a wider strategic approach.
I am a little confused by the Government responses to recommendations 6 and 7. Recommendation 6 points out:
The impact of a decision to develop world class centres in the UK"—and there is the implied alternative, "or not to do so"—on the number of top quality researchers remaining in or coming to the UK should not be underestimated.The Government state that they agree with that observation. However, recommendation 7, following on from that, states:We are convinced that, had it wished to, the DTI had the necessary resources to sponsor at least one nanofabrication facility for the short term We believe that the UK's industrial and academic strength and its international competitiveness in nanotechnology would have been better served by the establishment of one. if not two, nanofabrication facilities to give 459WH nanotechnology in the UK a distinctive focus. The rejection of this option appears to have been based more on regional political than economic factors.The Government's response says:
The Committee has rightly acknowledged the diversity of opportunity offered by nanotechnology. We agree and therefore do not think it right that the bulk of the available resources should be sunk in one centre.Taken with the response to recommendation 6, does not that mean that the Government accept that there may well be an impact on the feared brain drain?
Concerns have already been raised about the fact that the £90 million does not appear to have been allocated, or the relevant decisions do not appear to have been made, on the basis of the report that was received or the strategy that was devised; the decision was announced before that. I hope that there is time for the Government to revisit the issue.
To finish where I started, there is a fear that this country will, for lack of a kick-start, again miss out on a technology or fall behind our major competitors. I pay tribute to the members of the Committee who took part in the inquiry. They have done this House and the country a service, and if the DTI is prepared even now to reconsider its position on some of the recommendations in the report they will have done the DTI a service, even if it does not recognise it. The Minister for Science and Innovation is widely respected by Members in this House, including myself. No one doubts his personal commitment, but I hope that the Minister who is here today can give us some encouragement about the policy in this area beyond what was, in parts, a disappointing response to this important report.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con)
I cannot now remember whether, when I was Opposition Chief Whip, I was sad or sorry that the chairmanship of the Science and Technology Committee went to the Labour party instead of the Conservative party. However, experience has suggested ever since that we have been well served by the Chairman of the Committee and by the Committee in general. I pay tribute to the Chairman, the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and to the way in which he introduced both the debate and, as he so frequently does, stimulating and interesting topics—not only to the House, but to the country. We should express our gratitude to him, and to the Committee, because we have all learned a great deal from the report. It is fascinating, and a fascinating debate has followed it.
We have heard a number of interesting examples of the importance of nanotechnology from the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). The Pilkington glass example that he gave is an important one. He also described how molecules are used to build up all sorts of different materials in a way that was fascinating for us. The people he lectured when he was in that business must have been extremely well served. I wonder whether his suggestion for having mobile telephones in the ears of Members of Parliament will be taken up by the Whips Office immediately. It would solve a number of the problems caused by the Chairman of the Committee.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Indeed—probably a good deal more.
One of the issues that we have heard about is the limits on our understanding of what precisely is involved in nanotechnology. The hon. Member for Norwich, North suggested that much of that is down to His Royal Highness, Prince Charles. That was a bit unfair, because, as we have heard, Eric Drexler introduced the possibility of grey goo. Michael Crichton then took up the issue in a novel about a swarm of nanobots, so it is a little unfair to put too much blame on the Prince of Wales.
When the Prince of Wales took up the issue, more people noticed what had already been said. However, it was Eric Drexler who suggested that nanobots built from scratch atom by atom could replicate out of control using natural materials as building blocks. In less than a day, they would weigh a tonne. In less than two days, they would outweigh the earth—they would probably fall off, so that would not matter too much.
Eric Drexler recently said in a paper that a grey goo scenario is unlikely:All risk of accidental runaway replication can be avoided.Of course it can, but only if we recognise the risks in the first place. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East was right to point to the need for the precautionary principle. So long as we recognise the risks, we can, and I am sure that we will, avoid them.
Our understanding of nanotechnology is very limited. The Committee Chairman referred to things the size of 10-9—yes, but 10-9 whats? The moment that we begin to talk about 10 to the minus, people begin to wonder quite what we are talking about. It gives us an idea of something very, very small, but it does not tell us that much. I recently asked what nanotechnology really means, and I was told this about a nanometre, which is, as we know, a small amount. Let us imagine that someone is shaving and they draw their hand down from the top of their ear to their chin. A nanometre is the amount by which the hair grows at the top of the ear in the time in which the hand goes from the top of the ear down to the chin. I understand that if someone clicks their fingers, that is 500 nanoseconds gone out of their life. We are talking about very small amounts. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East said that a human hair is 80,000 nanometres in diameter—my hair is getting significantly thinner than that—but once we get into the realm of 80,000 nanometres, we no longer understand it.
It is therefore not surprising that in a recent survey to find out what people think nanotechnology is all about, only 29 per cent. of the public claimed even to have heard of it. Only 19 per cent. would attempt a definition, and some of the definitions were wrong. It is not hugely surprising that the public do not necessarily know the answers to such questions. The worrying thing, though, is that that failure to understand is carried through to business. Too few companies in this country are aware of what nanotechnology can do, simply because it is a very difficult subject. It is well suited to the doctors who have spoken—I am afraid that I am not a doctor of any description—but it is not necessarily grasped by the companies that could take advantage of it. However, nanotechnology is an exceedingly important area in which we should be investing.
The British economy is one of those economies that is highly developed. Our unique selling point is our innovation, research, skills and inventiveness, which can 461WH make a difference and really drive our economy. Many skills centres are being taken offshore, because other, less developed economies can pay their work force less than we need to. We must therefore concentrate on innovation, research, inventiveness, science and skills. That is one reason why we should be concentrating heavily on nanotechnology.
At the Lisbon summit in 2000—[Interruption.] I am not talking about football, and I shall finish speaking before this evening's match begins. At that summit, the European Council of Ministers said that the European Union was meant to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. Of course it should do so, but unfortunately we are going in the wrong direction. In 1998, Britain was fourth in the league of competitive countries; by 2003, we had fallen to 15th. We must reverse that if we are to be as competitive as was decided at Lisbon.
Innovation is important, not just for the good of our economy, but, in nanotechnology terms, for the good of mankind. There are advances in the technology that could be dramatically helpful in reducing illness, tackling viruses and helping crops, and in respect of all manner of different technologies that have been mentioned briefly in the debate.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) helpfully set out—and, I think, created—the Liberal Democrat policy on nanotechnology. He gave an outstanding analysis of the Government's response to the report and took us through areas in which it is not as constructive and helpful as is necessary.
The report complains of a general lack of focus by the Department of Trade and Industry in this area, and it is a pity that the Government's response fails to appreciate quite what is being said. The report mentions that the Taylor report required more focus, for example, on building nanotechnology facilities. The Government response to the second recommendation says:The emerging strategy widens the scope of Taylor"—that is precisely the point; the initial scope of Taylor is widened to the extent that it loses all focus—
without significantly departing from its core recommendations.I am afraid that I disagree with that conclusion. The Chairman of the Committee said that the Government, in reporting some evidence that had been given to the Committee, had swatted us down.
This debate will not attract huge interest, which is a shame, because the subject is very important. However, the fact that it does not yet attract huge interest gives the Government the opportunity to respond more constructively to this important report than they did in their rather defensive response.
The report has been published and it is a shame that the Government's response was published only the day before the debate. If possible, it would have been preferable to give the scientific community the opportunity to consider the Government's response so that it could comment on it in some detail. [Interruption.] It says on the front of the response:Published on 23 June 2004".
The subject is not one that can just be picked up and commented on by the scientific community at the drop of a hat. It would therefore have been helpful if the 462WH Government had responded more quickly. It may be that the trouble with the Department of Trade and Industry is that it has to respond to the Treasury, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has always said, "The Treasury works for the Russians." There is something in that. Nevertheless, if the Minister cannot find the money, I ask her seriously to find the focus that the response that she has issued to the report does not seem to provide.
This has been a very interesting debate indeed, and some important things have been said. The hon. Member for Norwich, North said that the RDAs were off beam, that the Government were muddled, that the DTI had handled things pretty badly, that the Government had swatted us down and that he had been heartened by not much of the response. The hon. Member for Bolton. South-East, who, as we heard, is a practitioner in nanotechnology and knows what he is talking about, spoke about the barriers regarding grants from Strasbourg being bureaucratic. He talked about the many concerns over our losing the battle with our competitors and said that we needed centres of excellence with critical mass.
The hon. Gentleman also discussed the Government's failure to appreciate the difference between microtechnology and nanotechnology, which is a key issue that has come up in this debate. Finally, he talked about our need to regain our previous position of pre-eminence. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) mentioned the DTI's timidity when getting close to market and the venture capital funding gap, while the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon said that constant reviews were not the answer.
There is, however, the hope that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East expressed. He noted that the Committee's report is entitled "Too little too late?"—I wonder how much debate there was in the Committee about whether that question mark should be included—but he also said that there is still time to get things right. I hope the Minister reassures us that she will use that time and use it well.
§ The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Jacqui Smith)
I start by joining others in congratulating the Committee and its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), on such a well considered and valuable report on Government support for nanotechnology. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on securing time for this important debate, about which I hold the same views as the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot). Although we have not had many contributions, they have been high-class contributions, which have added to my education, as well as that of other hon. Members, I am sure.
We accepted many of the recommendations in our response. Although not wanting to be over-defensive, I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that we produced our response on 12 June, I believe, and the Committee published it on 23 June. We responded in a reasonably timely manner. I should like to update hon. Members on progress in the Government's support for nanotechnology. As I respond to the slight chiding from my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, I hope that my response is both full and helpful.
463WH Several hon. Members referred to my ministerial colleague, Lord Sainsbury, and rightly emphasised his championing of science and innovation more broadly and nanotechnology in particular. I believe that it was he who coined the joke that nanotechnology is going to be huge. That is the ongoing joke that is used to describe the advances that we can expect from the collection of science and technology called nanotechnology. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, I do not intend to be as brave as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and attempt a definition, but it is clear that the impact of nanotechnology on our economy will be dramatic. My hon. Friend spelled out, in a lively manner, the wide range of applications. However, it would be easier to list those sectors of the economy that nanotechnology will not affect than to attempt to catalogue all possible areas of use.
All are agreed that there is great potential. I agree with the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire that the significance is very great for our business and economy, so it is the job of us all to ensure that nanotechnology potential is recognised as fully as it can be for the sake of our economy and our future.
In a sense, it can be argued that nanotechnology does not really exist and that it is only a fashion label. As the Committee says, many advances now credited to nanotechnology would have been described in the not-so-distant past as advances in chemistry, physics, engineering, medicine or another more traditional subject. Indeed, a great deal of work at the nanoscale continues in those traditional disciplines without attracting the nanotechnology label.
However, one of the great changes is the massive growth in co-operation between traditional disciplines, or interdisciplinarity, which is fundamental to the way in which we need to develop the research, the application of that research and our support. The Government recognised that and, in 2001, set up the interdisciplinary research collaboration in nanotechnology, which the Committee investigated in the course of its inquiry and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East referred. I shall say more about that later.
The Committee, and hon. Members today, including the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), have criticised the DTI for not following up our original investment in nanotechnology, which we made in the 1980s and early 1990 through the LINK scheme. As we intimated in our evidence to the Committee, that is not the only support for nanotechnology that we have been able to offer. Much good work in nanotechnology has since been funded successfully under a range of schemes, including the SMART scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises, research council funding for academics, which is now up to £70 million a year, and several schemes for industry. We recognised, however, that nanotechnology was growing in stature as a subject in its own right. We also recognised that the lack of interest from industry could not be ignored. We understand the calls made by some hon. Members today for a proactive approach to be taken, which is why, in 2001, Lord Sainsbury asked the head of Research Councils UK, Dr. John Taylor, what would need to be done to help the UK position.
464WH One of the main recommendations made by Dr. Taylor's team was for the creation of at least two nanofabrication facilities to build up UK capability in some of six key application areas. I shall give the Government's response to that recommendation in a moment. Other recommendations included the formation of an independent strategic body to direct the Government's work in this area, which we have now set up; the generation of a road map for nanotechnology, which is now under way; the creation of access portals, which are now up and running; and awareness raising and networking, which are also up and running. I reassure the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon that we have the resources and the ability to create a website. I believe that we now have four websites dedicated to this area. Other recommendations included improving the supply of trained people through a training and education campaign, which I shall talk about later, and the promotion of international collaboration and inward investment.
In July 2003, Lord Sainsbury announced the DTI micro and nanotechnology manufacturing initiative and pledged £90 million of DTI support to begin to address those recommendations. The first tranche of that money is the £40 million that has been earmarked for the creation of a UK micro and nanotechnology network through support for new and existing fabrication facilities. The ideal model for the MNT network of facilities is world-class distributed manufacturing centres with a focus on strategic areas for the UK—such as nano-particles, nanobiotechnology, micro/nanometrology and packaging—with one or two strategically placed major centres having open access, catering for a wide range of techniques and technologies to provide incubators for companies, access to expertise and training facilities. They will be important for small and medium-sized enterprises.
There is a recognition of the need, which was identified by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, for a range of facilities, building on what exists, and for the ability to focus in one or two major centres on the type of activity that I described. I am sorry if my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North felt swatted down. I genuinely believe, as the Government have argued, that that is not a significant departure from the Taylor report, although it may be a different approach to arriving at an appropriate development of those facilities.
It is vital to get the structure of those major centres right, with good skill levels, appropriate equipment to meet the needs of industry, a strong industry product focus, an identified business plan and strong management. One of the reasons why we must be careful is that there are examples in the world where such centres have been built in haste without those attributes and have not been effectively utilised. For example, Chalmers university in Sweden has built a first-rate facility, but has experienced real difficulty in obtaining industrial utilisation of the resource.
We have had, to date, two calls for proposals for facilities to be funded by the £40 million, and are currently working with bidders to develop them into sustainable centres for the long term. That is an important point: we have not adopted a passive approach to the development of those expressions of interest. We have worked with those who have come 465WH forward, to ensure that they are appropriate to help develop the business case. The second call has just closed and we have received 33 proposals. As they are now being assessed by independent experts, I cannot give great details about the bids at present. However, I can say that we are examining bids in the following technology areas: bio-nanotechnology; characterisation and metrology; fabrication of polymer and glass components; nanomaterials, including nanocomposites and nanostructured materials; nano-particles; silicon devices; micro-electronic and mechanical systems, and medical devices. There are at least two strong bids in each of those areas, which are based on the Taylor report's recommendations, and supported and developed by advice from the national strategic advisory group. We expect to have awarded most of the funding—around £30 million—for the successful centres by November. I believe, therefore, that we shall see some significant progress this year in developing those centres.
§ Paul Farrelly
We have heard that the Taylor report stressed that the regional dimension should be considered in terms of developing expertise, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) said that, ideally, we would not wish to have any centres co-located on the golden triangle—Oxford, Cambridge and London—in order to facilitate that dimension. Can the Minister give an indication of where those centres might be located?
§ Jacqui Smith
Frankly, I could not give hon. Members a list of where the centres are to be located. Although it is not the pre-eminent criterion, the way in which we have addressed the matter—aiming for a larger number of centres, as well as one or two major centres—is enabling us to ensure that we do not have that concentration in a particular part of the country. Of course, the contribution of the regional development agencies, to which I shall refer later, is an important means of securing the ability to access nanotechnology expertise throughout the country. The recent joint report by the French academies of science and technology recommended building a network of local and regional centres, which sounds very similar to the structure that is being put in place in the UK.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East raised the development of the interdisciplinary research collaborations in nanotechnology, which are already up and running. We discussed with those involved how to take full advantage of previous Government investments, which are likely to lead to important developments. For example, the IRC involving the universities of Cambridge and Bristol and University college London, was created in 2002. The Research Council award of £9 million established a six-year programme of research into nanoscience and nanotechnology at the three universities, and has essentially funded more than 30 research projects in disparate areas. In addition, all three universities have secured further funding to establish new buildings and equipment dedicated to nanotechnology research. The total investment in those three facilities to date in 466WH addition to the original IRC grant is in excess of £45 million. The combination of facilities and expertise is the largest in Europe.
The other arm of the DTI MNT initiative consists of £50 million for collaborative research and development to meet the current needs of industry to develop new ideas. Although I want to respond later to the points about the supply of finance, that goes some way towards recognising hon. Members' concerns about the need to develop basic research, and to ensure that it can be applied and brought through to industry. It will help to stimulate demand for the fabrication facilities that we are helping to create.
We expect to be able to announce the outcome of the first call by the end of July. Some 148 outline proposals worth £169 million and involving 400 separate organisations have been assessed, and 62 seeking about £34 million of public funds have been invited to submit full proposals. We expect to support around 30 projects with the £15 million that we have made available for this call. As hon. Members said, that shows a strong demand from industry and to respond to it, we will be bringing forward the next two calls ahead of schedule to meet that demand. While the first call was open to all the areas identified in the Taylor report, future calls will be more directed by the national strategic advisory group and the network director, following the establishment of the MNT network.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North repeated the Committee's criticism about whether the money came before the strategy. It is a difficult issue, but my hon. Friend might also rightly have criticised us had we been slow in finding the money and asking for expressions of interest. It is important to note that we will now ensure that the strategic direction offered by the group and by the director will help to inform us in respect of the second call of expressions of interest in the fund; it will ensure that the gaps are filled and that development goes ahead in a strategic way. The strategy is designed to capture the diversity of industrial interest and to channel it to create a critical mass of research and prototype development.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, and, indeed, the Committee, raised the issue of the relative focus on microtechnology compared with nanotechnology. As we stated in our evidence, the Government expect the earliest commercial returns to come from the relatively mature area of microsystems. That is not the same thing as focusing our strategy on it. For example, I hope that hon. Members will find it reassuring that only 17 per cent. of the outlined proposals for the R and D programme were microsystems-based proposals, which does not support the concern that we have focused our strategy too much on microtechnology.
However, it is clear from our international comparisons that it is not possible to leapfrog microsystems technology and go straight to nanotechnology. Much of the fabrication machinery and characterisation processes are similar to both microsystems and nanotechnology fabrication. All the major centres abroad have at their heart a well developed set of facilities based around microsystem technology. If there is a criticism to be made of the UK, 467WH it is that we have lagged considerably, so we must put right that key infrastructure deficiency if we are to exploit the potential of nanotechnology successfully.
Comment has been made in the Select Committee report and in this debate about the role and function of the network and its director. I am pleased that we have appointed network director, Dr. Hugh Clare, to lead the development of the MNT network. He will lead the work of the network in developing a road map for nanotechnology, benchmarking UK progress against international competition and promoting UK facilities abroad.
The Taylor report identified the need for international promotion and we already have in place the GlobalWatch service to facilitate that. We also have good contacts with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office science and technology network, which provides useful information about our international competitors and nanotechnology activities and helps with international technology missions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East raised the point about the role of the MNT director. In the light of the Committee's concern about that role, we will review his powers and responsibilities to guarantee that he has the authority to discharge his duty to ensure an MNT capability in the UK that stands up well to international comparison.
Several hon. Members also raised the issue of the EU framework programme and, more broadly in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, the benefits of the European emphasis on research and development. I agree with him. Although the Government are arguing strongly for a prudent approach to future EU spending, research and development, and in particular the framework programme, is one area where we can see value added and where we do see the benefit of European spending and increased UK contributions. It will also be important in helping us to meet the Lisbon objectives that the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire outlined.
The Committee rightly recommends that the network director should take a proactive role to promote the opportunities under the EU framework programme. I quite agree. It is one thing to have the framework in place; it is another to ensure that our industry and researchers get access to that money. We are on track to take part in projects with a net worth to UK participants of around 14 per cent. of the budget—roughly £140 million. As we contribute 11 per cent. of the budget, we have been successful in obtaining a fair return.
Competition for those projects is increasing, however, and we cannot be complacent. That is why we have included relevant and useful material in all of our public briefings for potential applicants to the MNT initiative and established web links to the main UK contact point for the nanotechnology, materials and production priority area of framework programme 6, which is run by the National Physical Laboratory for the Department of Trade and Industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East made some important points about ensuring that the programme is accessible. In fact, the FP6 nano programme is learning from the way in which the DTI 468WH runs its R and D programme and will be adopting some of our techniques, including online application, fast decisions on outline proposals and a short outline proposal format to minimise wasted effort. That came about because we play an active role on the management committee of the FP6 nano programme.
The Committee expressed its reservations about the role of the RDAs and their counterparts in the devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is worth putting on record that from the outset, those bodies saw significant advantages in working together and with central Government to ensure that regional and national agendas were properly aligned and did not work against each other. If they had stuck to a rigid role, only looking for regional advantage, we could all have wasted a great deal of time, effort and money in unnecessary competitive processes.
Those bodies have substantial funds at their disposal to invest in nanotechnology and they have already been used to create facilities. One NorthEast has supported INEX in Newcastle, Invest Northern Ireland has supported Nanotech Northern Ireland in Belfast, and Scottish Enterprise is supporting the Kelvin Nanotechnology centre in Glasgow. To respond to some of the concerns that hon. Members have raised, no one pretends that those involved have all the necessary skills at present; indeed, they would be supermen and superwomen if they did. However, it is clear which areas—for example, technical expertise in nanotechnology—need improvement, and co-operation will help to fill some of the gaps.
As hon. Members have said, the RDAs' development of science and industry councils by the end of 2004 will be important. It will allow them to contribute more broadly to ensuring that our science base benefits our businesses in the way that the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire identified.
§ Dr. Gibson
Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether the money for nanotechnology in the regions was ring-fenced? If so, was it monitored to ensure that it was spent on nanotechnology?
§ Jacqui Smith
The answer, I think, is that it was not ring-fenced—not least because RDAs rightly argued for the ability to focus on priorities. However, as regards the science and industry councils, it is clear that the RDAs are tasked with doing more to enable innovation.
The RDAs and their counterparts elsewhere are fully committed to working within a national strategy and in partnership to ensure that we have a nationally coherent MNT network that serves regional and national needs, and acts as a clear focal point for international collaboration. In fact, they have recognised that the prize to be gained is not necessarily the location of any given centre, but easy access to a national network for companies in their regions.
§ Paul Farrelly
I was grateful to hear the important new information about the 33 bids and the progress on the two manufacturing centres. However, I share many of the concerns about the RDAs—not only because we might spread the jam too thinly. I have a lot of experience of the RDA in my region and I am not often 469WH complimentary about how it reacts to things. My concern is that the principal reaction of many RDAs will be to say, "We must be seen to be doing something." They will commission reports, which will include great chunks of the Taylor report and perhaps of the Government's response and of this debate. The consultants will charge for producing such reports, which will come at great expense and spawn more consultants' reports. At the end of the day, we shall have been of great benefit to the consultancy industry, but achieved the square nano root of precisely nothing at all—all at the cost of large amounts of public money.
§ Jacqui Smith
I disagree with my hon. Friend's overall interpretation of the RDA approach. Regional development agencies are new organisations and the development of their input into science and innovation is also relatively new. I agree that we need development, whether at national or regional level. We do not need more reports; we need delivery of both research and development, and facilities. That is what we are focusing on in partnership with RDAs.
§ Jacqui Smith
Despite the fact that I am not a doctor but an economist, I agree with my hon. Friend. That is one area in which we understand that there is a need to develop technical expertise.
Another area that hon. Members have identified is that of skills, and the Committee recommends that the network director report back to the DTI, research councils and the Department for Education and Skills on the types of skills being demanded by industry. The director will be well placed to undertake that task. We need a clear picture of demand because, as the Committee heard in its evidence sessions, there are widely differing views of what is required. Large companies are looking for graduates with good degrees in the basic sciences and engineering disciplines, while small and medium-sized enterprises need more specific skills. Academics seem divided on the best way forward. The evidence that the network director will gather will be valuable to all.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North that chemistry, biology and physics courses should include nanotechnology modules. That would be an appropriate way forward. Once we have clear evidence of the need, we will work with education suppliers to ensure the provision of properly trained people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East raised the emerging issue of the international shortage of graduate-level technicians to operate advanced facilities. We will explore with MNT facilities, once they are established, how that crucial skills gap can be closed. In fact, the MNT director is already working with a university that wants to develop industry-facing degree courses to provide graduate operators of advanced nanofabrication equipment.
470WH My hon. Friend has been championing the Bolton technical innovation centre and it certainly sounds impressive. In fact, this is the second time that I have heard him talk about it. It sounds like an innovative and important development, which is very much part of helping to ensure that young people have an understanding and interest that may be converted into academic study and further development. That is a good step forward.
There has been discussion about supply of capital or funding. Unsurprisingly, many people look to Government to provide funding at all stages of the innovation chain, up to and including equity investments. When dealing with the expenditure of public money, we must be clear where the market failure is. Where are the gaps that need filling? From the evidence supplied to the Committee by the capital supply sector—this is where I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East—there does not appear to be a shortage of available funds to justify any market failure. The main shortfall appears to be in the supply of sound business cases.
There is not a case for using public funds to support poor business cases. In fact, unwise investments of that type by Governments can have catastrophic effects, as demonstrated by the German biotech industry crash caused by the withdrawal of soft money support.
This is not to say that Government do not see a role for themselves, but the role needs to be focused where there is a market failure. The grant for R and D, for example, gives important cash injections to SMEs for prototype development and the regional venture capital funds also help to foster start-ups. We are also developing the UK high-technology fund—a fund of funds—that will work through venture capital companies, who will make investments in specifically technology-based companies throughout the UK. I do not dispute the fact that there are gaps, but we must clearly identify where they are and focus our funding on them.
All hon. Members talked about public awareness and public understanding—sometimes misunderstanding—of the nature of nanotechnology, and the need to develop the right regulatory framework for the development of this important technology. My ministerial colleague Lord Sainsbury should be proud that in June 2003 he commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to carry out an independent study to ensure that we can benefit from the advances that nanotechnology promises with the right regulatory safeguards and protections in place. Our approach to that issue underlines the Government's desire to acknowledge uncertainties openly and to engage with the public and stakeholders in all areas of science and technology.
Sensationalist scenarios, such as fears about grey goo, are in the realms of science fiction, but we are aware that there are other concerns about releases into the environment, possible threats to health and the unknown properties of materials at the nanoscale. It is important that genuine public concerns about the technology are addressed and unfounded fears dispelled. Existing legislation and regulations already provide safeguards to protect people and the environment. The Health and Safety Executive, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency and the Medicines and 471WH Healthcare products Regulatory Agency are the key bodies. The outcome of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering study will be used to inform policy on what safeguards might be required over and above existing legislation and guidance. It is a forward-looking approach to ensure both that we invest time and knowledge now in considering the future implications, and that we can make the sort of developments in this technology that will benefit the economy and about which the public are confident. The study is the first of its kind internationally and has attracted attention from the United States and Japan. It is one area in which we are leading the way.
472WH We have had a good debate. I recognise hon. Members' concerns about future funding and I hope I have explained how we have been and are addressing the funding issues in a way that is likely to be of most benefit in achieving the objective that all hon. Members share: to help us make the most of the technology's potential for people and for businesses and to ensure our place in the international economy.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Five o'clock.