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Link Programme Collaboration

Volume 129: debated on Wednesday 9 March 1988

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6.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how much the Government expect to spend on Link collaborations over the next five years.

The Government expect to contribute about £210 million to Link over the next five years, provided industry matches Government funding.

Do not both partners benefit from such arrangements — the researchers, who see their projects come to fruition, and industry, which benefits from the research of universities and colleges? If that is the case, why are some universities and colleges not taking advantage of such opportunities, or not taking advantage of them in such a big way? What does my hon. Friend intend to do to encourage them?

We should like to see far more use of the research base currently inside our higher education institutions. If one compares our experience with that of the United States, one finds that we have an under-utilised national asset. If the Link programme can help to build more bridges between industrial and commercial research-based companies and the higher education sector, we would welcome it. To a certain extent the programmes are demand-led and on their merits. Five have come forward which are worthy of support. If some universities are not tuned into this yet, it is their own fault. The resource is there. It is demand-led and it is up to them to bid for it.

Does this not represent a restriction on the way that already committed money is to be spent? It is in no sense an addition to research and development spending in Britain. Will the Minister acknowledge that a large number of industrial research directors are already warning that the attrition of the science base is threatening the viability of Britain as a base for applied industrial research? Finally, does he agree that the real need is for a proper incentive to industry to increase its support for research and development?

The DTI's role is to encourage partnerships between the public and the private sector and to see that the critical mass of research is enhanced and applied with relevance to the market at large. The hon. Gentleman has been an observer, commentator and practitioner in this area for a long time and I should have thought that he would welcome the fact that our budget for the totality of research, development and innovation effort is now running at about £500 million. That represents a major shift over the past five or six years, and we are beginning to see the benefit of it. Perhaps I may write to the hon. Gentleman about the industrial research directors' point. As he knows, there has been a complex build-up to this in terms of how it will apply. We are now through that and some of the sources of confusion and alleged over-complexity may now have been eliminated.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the investment of private industry in projects such as Link is a vital ingredient to their success? Is it not the case that unless one ensures that, for example, pharmaceutical companies, such as those involved in the eukaryotic project, find that research is encouraged by the repeal of the full licences of right, they may feel that it is not in their interests to proceed with such research?

I admire my hon. Friend's ingenuity in bringing the licence of right issue into this question. As he knows, we shall be addressing this matter at great length in Committee on the Bill that will come before the House after Easter. There is a eukaryotic genetic engineering programme within the five programmes that have been approved, and I hope that the pharmaceutical industry in particular will derive great benefit from that.