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Technology Assessment

Volume 12: debated on Monday 9 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will establish a public office of technology assessment.

Is there not a strong case for a permanent scientific and technical secretariat to give an early warning assessment of major technological innovations such as computer-based information systems and microprocessor applications? Does the Minister agree that, however well the work of ACARD and CPRS is done, given the limited resources, that work needs to be built on by a far more systematic, on-going and profound analysis if this country is to make the adjustments that are needed?

I think that the hon. Gentleman understates the very important role played by CPRS and ACARD in these matters. As the hon. Gentleman follows these matters carefully, he will have read the admirable series of a dozen or so reports that ACARD has produced and the Government have published in the last year or two dealing with major areas of new technology. This work is supplemented by the five requirements boards in my Department that oversee research amd development and provide strategic advice on the development of science and technology and the need for research and development. I think, therefore, that we are fairly well served in this area. What we need to do is to turn this work into cash in the bank. To my mind, that is our most important task. I do not think that the kind of technology assessment body suggested by the hon. Gentleman would make very much contribution to that.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that before answering that question he did not have to look up what the Conservative Party conference said about it, as the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) would expect a Socialist Minister to do?

I pay great attention to what is said at party conferences, but we have a rather different approach to them from that of the Labour Party.

If the Secretary of State is so satisfied, why has his Department done so little in response to the ACARD report on biotechnology?

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is meeting my right hon. Friend the Lord President shortly. I have offered to be present at the meeting, if that would be welcome. I can assure him that we are giving a great deal of thought to the advance of biotechnology. There is an industrial group advising on biotechnology and there are a number of centres of advice within the Government. I fully share the hon. Gentleman's concern that this is an extremely important area of modern technology. I wish to see what further needs to be done to yield the industrial progress that I am sure is there to be won.