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Nanotechnology

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether her Department has made a recent assessment of the economic benefits of developing nanotechnology in the UK. [117008]

The latest assessment was made in June 2002 by the UK Advisory Group on Nanotechnology Applications led by Dr. John Taylor, Director-General of the Research Councils, and is contained in his report to my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Innovation titled "New Dimensions for Manufacturing—A UK Strategy for Nanotechnology'". The report concluded that it is too soon to produce reliable figures for the global market for nanotechnology. It is simply too early to say where markets and applications will come, and when. So it is important to treat all numbers with caution. However, existing forecasts do hint at the growth that we can expect. Various separate predictions when taken together point to the expectation of a rapid take off in the latter part of the decade.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what inward investment the UK has received in the last 12 months as a result of nanotechnology. [117026]

Invest UK is focusing its efforts on high value, knowledge driven direct investment projects, including in the area of nanotechnology, to ensure that the UK moves up the value chain and remains the number one location in Europe for inward investment.A number of inward investors are supporting nanotechnology work in the UK, including Johnson and Johnson, Smith and Nephew, Epson, Toshiba, Hitachi and SDL/JDS Uniphase.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the total Government spending is on nanotechnology. [117027]

The vast majority of Government spending has been made by the Research Councils in particular the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. This amounts to a current portfolio of research grants on nanotechnology of £91 million.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether her Department has drawn up a public education strategy for nanotechnology. [117010]

I am pleased to inform the hon. Member that the Government has today commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to undertake an important new study in this area.Nanotechnologies could provide immense benefits for all of us. But Government also recognises that there are public concerns. The debate risks confusion. We need to understand first what we mean by nanotechnologies, and then to establish whether there are aspects which should concern us. And if so, we need to look at how well these activities are regulated or whether further regulation is required. The study we are commissioning is intended to help answer these questions. Our approach underlines the Government's desire to acknowledge uncertainties openly and to engage with the public and stakeholders, and reflects our response to recommendations by the Better Regulation Task Force in its report 'Scientific Research: Innovation with Controls', published in January this year. The Task Force's report and the Government response can be found on the BRTF website at http://www.brtf.gov.uk/ taskforce/pastreports.htmThe Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering will solicit widely for input among stakeholders—including the academic community, relevant industry, policy makers, regulatory bodies, NGOs, other special interest groups and the general public. The work will begin with an open call to the various stakeholders to register their interests and key concerns. Formal evidence sessions will then be held with the key stakeholders to explore their views in more detail.The study will be overseen by a working group chaired by Ann Dowling, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Membership of the working group has yet to be finalised but will include those with an understanding of ethical, social and regulatory issues, as well as scientists and engineers. The working group will reflect the range of disciplines and views associated with nanotechnology.A number of aspects have been built into the study in order to engage the general public; independent and representative focus groups will be convened, a questionnaire survey undertaken and an online discussion forum established to ensure that any general concerns are addressed. The final report of the study will of course be in the public domain and freely available on the Royal Society website.The study is expected to be completed in late Spring 2004.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if her Department will assess the benefits of developing pooled financing for nanotechnology with other Government Departments. [117021]

The Department has established a group of officials from all relevant Government Departments, which will take forward the possibility of pooled financing for nanotechnology.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if the DTI, OST and the research councils will form a joint strategy on nanotechnology. [117022]

The Research councils will be invited to join a Nanotechnolgoy Strategy Group that the Department is establishing.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action her Department is taking to foster closer links between academic institutions involved in nanotechnology research and industry. [117023]

DTI is working with various research councils, particularly Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the UK Regional and National Development Agencies (RDAs) to foster closer links between industry and academe. The RDAs are establishing an asset register of nanotechnology capabilities in the UK, which includes both academic and industrial facilities which might be made available to a wider range of users.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many people in her Department are employed to deal with nanotechnology. [117024]

The Department employs the equivalent of eight full time officials working on nanotechnology. However, due to the broad spectrum of potential applications of nanotechnology there is a wide range of officials across DTI and other Government Departments who deal with nanotechnology as part of their work.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether her Department has drawn up a plan for developing the nanotechnology industry in the UK. [117025]

The latest roadmap for nanotechnology is contained in Annex B of "New Dimensions for Manufacturing—A UK Strategy for Nanotechnology" (the Taylor Report). This report recommends further roadmapping activity, which will be directed by the National Strategy Group.