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Biotechnology (Jobs)

10. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): What estimate his Department has made of the number of jobs in the United Kingdom dependent on biotechnology. [90018]

The Minister for Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle): Although that information is not available from official sources because biotechnology cuts across traditional standard industrial classification categories, a report published earlier this year by the BioIndustry Association, entitled "Industrial markets for UK biotechnology--trends and issues", estimates that dedicated bioscience companies employ between 35,000 and 40,000 highly skilled people.

Dr. Starkey: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that the latest Ernst and Young European life sciences report revealed that this country is home to the largest number of biotech companies in the European Union, and that those companies are largely focused around Oxford and Cambridge and in Scotland? What is his Department doing to ensure that we build on those regional concentrations? May I point out that my constituency is midway between Oxford and Cambridge and is well placed to be part of a biotech innovation corridor?

Mr. Battle: My hon. Friend had much experience in her former life in that sector and brings wisdom to the House in her campaigning for and championing of it. Ernst and Young estimates that the number of UK specialist biotechnology small and medium-sized enterprises has increased from 135 in 1995 to more than 270 in 1999. The sector is burgeoning. We are leading in Europe in that sector with our top-quality expertise.

We ought to remember that the industry contributes to agriculture, health, manufacturing and new clean-up environmental processes. In the future, there will be much work to be won on the greening agenda, using biotechnology techniques. We aim to encourage the development of biotechnology. The Department's work is to focus on the natural clusters that are emerging and to ensure that the whole sector gets an underpinning boost. It is vital to the future of our economy, and it will be vital to the quality of life in the 21st century.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): From this side of the House I wish the Minister well, but, in seeking to increase the number of jobs in the important biotechnology sector, he should focus not only on the areas referred to by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), but on Macclesfield. The town boasts an extremely go-ahead biotechnology company called Proteus International plc, which is based at the Lyme Green business park in Macclesfield. What help and advice would the Minister give Proteus, which has developed a BSE diagnostic testing technology which could prove of very great benefit to this country, to help the company to market and develop that technology, to the advantage of our beef and cattle industry and of the whole country?

Mr. Battle: I should tell the hon. Gentleman that biotechnology companies are developing in practically

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every constituency. Biotechnology really is an industry of the future. It is the engineering of the future, and it will be not a small niche but a major segment of our economy in the 21st century.

With regard to the use of the science that has developed, in January we launched the Bio-wise project, to encourage technology transfer and the take-up of that science and research by all sectors of industry, ensuring that the economic and environmental benefits of the research are realised by a widespread application throughout industry and commerce. We have put about £13 million into that scheme over four years, to help companies such as the one in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Does my hon. Friend agree that the term "biotechnology" is widely misused? The agricultural component, involving genetically modified foods, is highly controversial and does not receive the support of the general public, but much the larger component consists of applications to medicine--to health. In that sphere--the design of new drugs, taking a molecular approach to medicine--the prospects for the 21st century are extremely promising, and Britain, given the record of our excellent pharmaceutical companies, is very well placed to exploit those applications.

Mr. Battle: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important to emphasise the full range of biotechnologies in the plural. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) asked about the number of jobs. The number of jobs in diagnostics--the medical area that my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams) refers to--is estimated to be about 9,000. There are about 6,000 jobs in environmental clean-up, using what is called bio-remediation. There are 4,500 jobs in food biotechnology. It is important that we keep a sense of proportion while appreciating the full range of the sector, which can improve health and revitalise some of the traditional manufacturing sectors of our economy.

Electronic Communications

11. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): What representations he has received about the Government's proposed legislation on electronic communications. [90019]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Wills): I am delighted to tell the House that our recent consultation--"Building Confidence in Electronic Commerce"--announced by my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 5 March, resulted in more than 240 responses from industry and other interested parties.

In addition, both my right hon. Friend and I have frequent meetings with senior industry representatives. The Government's proposed legislation on electronic communications features in those discussions from time to time.

Mr. Bruce: I am surprised that the Minister cannot tell us yet that he is going to publish his electronic communications Bill, at least in draft, because he knows that the last time that the Government produced a draft

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Bill on electronic commerce, the comments of industry and the Opposition enabled them to modify it enormously. He knows that, in the Queen's Speech, the Government announced that they would introduce a Bill that would become an Act in this Parliament. I hope that he will take the opportunity to publish the draft Bill, which is in a rather unformed state at the moment, so that industry can comment on it during the summer, thus enabling the Government to fulfil in the next Queen's Speech the intentions that they stated in the last Queen's Speech.

Mr. Wills: I recognise the hon. Gentleman's keen interest in the matter. As he is probably aware, discussions are under way through the usual channels about the best way of bringing that measure forward. It will be brought forward as soon as possible.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Not for the first time, the Tories seem to be putting party advantage ahead of the country's interests. However, the Minister will be aware that biotechnology is a very fast-moving industry, in which six months' delay is the equivalent of two years' delay in any other industry. Given the need to keep Britain ahead in this industry, we cannot afford a six-month delay. Will the Minister outline what steps he will take over the summer, such as consultations with Oftel, to advance measures that will keep Britain ahead in e-commerce? If the price that the Tories want is just digital signatures, may we just have those now and the rest of the Bill in the next Queen's Speech?

Mr. Wills: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. We are moving ahead on the Bill as quickly as possible. From his keen interest in and in-depth knowledge of the subject, my hon. Friend will be well aware that we are moving ahead on a range of measures to promote e-commerce in Britain. In the past six months we have laid the foundations for a world-class infrastructure. We have announced a consultation on the introduction of broad-band wireless through making available two large packages of spectrum at 28 and 40 GHz. A few days ago, Oftel announced the results of its consultation on unbundling the local loop, which will be a crucial plank in building the access to broad-band that this country will need for effective e-commerce.

We are moving ahead in other areas as well. We have launched the adviser skills initiative to make sure that small businesses get the help and support that they need to use the opportunities that are available to them through e-commerce. We have created Trust UK, which is an industry-led body to boost confidence in internet shopping through an on-line hallmark. We have done more, and I can reassure my hon. Friend that there is much more still to come.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I fear that the Minister rather evaded the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce). Does the Minister accept that we want a short, simple Bill to establish the law of electronic signature and contract? It seems that he is to publish a long, cumbersome blancmange of a Bill, which risks being a drag anchor on e-business. Will he drop his proposed voluntary licensing scheme for encryption service providers in favour of a

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voluntary code? Will he put clauses dealing with interception in a different Bill? Above all, as my hon. Friend asked earlier, will he publish the Bill now, albeit only in draft form, so that he can hear representations over the summer? Regardless of any carry-over procedure, that would be the speediest way of getting good e-communications law onto the statute book for the benefit of Britain's position in this important commercial sector.

Mr. Wills: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not seriously expect me to discuss the content of the Bill before it is introduced in the House. I am sure that you would not appreciate that, Madam Speaker. I have already given my answer on the publication. The hon. Gentleman will just have to be patient a few days longer.

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