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6. Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): What impact Government investment in the UK's science base is having on British industry. [42851]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson): The Government are providing a strong framework for scientists and business to work together to drive innovation, and are encouraging collaboration between universities and business to ensure that scientific breakthroughs are turned into commercial success and benefit the UK economy.

There has been rapid progress in generating businesses from the science base, with 199 new companies spun out from universities in 1999-2000, compared with 338 in the previous five years.

Joan Ryan: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer.

The London business innovation centre is based in the Innova science park in my constituency. The centre provides incubator units for developing innovative ideas as well as business advice and support. My hon. Friend is welcome to visit that facility to see its success. However, it demonstrates the need for practical advice on the ground to ensure that "Invented in Britain" becomes "Made in Britain". Will my hon. Friend tell us what further measures the Government will be taking to ensure that higher education institutions that do not currently provide incubator units can do so?

Miss Johnson: I am delighted to hear of the success of the centre in my hon. Friend's constituency, and I should be pleased to try to visit it in the not-too-distant future. The successful exploitation of new ideas is a crucial component for our productivity growth, a topic about which I know my hon. Friend is concerned, as am I. In the knowledge economy it will not be enough for us to generate research—we need to make the most of it too. As my hon. Friend said, we need to ensure that there is a spin-off from the world class research in universities and the private sector, and we need to develop the ability to capitalise on the innovations that research produces.

My hon. Friend will be interested to hear of the success of our policies compared with those in north America. In 1999-2000, UK universities identified one spin-off firm for every £8.6 million of research expenditure; in Canadian universities, the spin-off in 1999 was one firm for every £13.9 million, and in the USA the rate was one

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firm for every £53 million. That shows the success of UK universities and businesses, and of the support given by the Government.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I should be delighted to meet the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) in her constituency to see if her incubators are as good as mine at Porton Down.

Does the Minister agree that we all have a responsibility to encourage a pro-science culture in this country, starting with more and better science education in schools? What regular meetings occur between her or her Department and the Department for Education and Skills to discuss the need to encourage science education?

Miss Johnson: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we invest in science, including science in schools. Our whole aim has been to commit additional money to investment in the science base; for example, a £1 billion package has been invested in the science and engineering base in partnership with the Wellcome Trust and the funding councils. In addition, we have given a £100 million boost to the science budget to build on universities' potential as drivers of growth in the knowledge economy. There has also been a £252 million boost to research in key areas that will shape life in the 21st century, such as understanding the genome, developing the next generation of e-science and creating new basic technology capabilities. All those things are very important.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the work that is done with our young people is important too, as is the development of science in the primary and secondary school curriculum. I assure him that my hon. Friends and myself have regular contacts with the DFES to ensure that we make the most of science education and the UK's science potential.

Small Businesses

8. Gillian Merron (Lincoln): What assessment she has made of the impact of the Employment Bill on small businesses. [42854]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): The Government consulted extensively on the proposals in the Employment Bill to ensure, among other things, that the impact on small businesses was taken into account.

Gillian Merron: I thank the Minister for his reply. I particularly welcome the measures in the Employment Bill to allow small businesses easily to give paid time off to parents welcoming a new child into the family. However, having heard the continuing concern of my local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, may I ask my hon. Friend to outline the action that he is taking to relieve the burden of red tape? What steps is he taking to outline to small businesses the implications of the Employment Bill?

Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend rightly points out how improved statutory maternity pay provisions from April will aid even more small businesses with 105 per cent. refunds, which will help 60 per cent. of affected small

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and medium-sized enterprises, compared with 44 per cent. beforehand. The Government have accepted all but eight of the 294 recommendations from the better regulation taskforce. Our Regulatory Reform Act 2001 is making it easier and quicker to repeal out-of-date legislation. Our Small Business Service is working in partnership with the Federation of Small Businesses, the Forum of Private Business, the chambers of commerce and others to identify the impact of the Employment Bill on SMEs in particular, and how that might be dealt with.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): Is it true, and can the Minister confirm, that the cost of the Employment Bill rose during Committee stage from about £200 million to £500 million, that cost falling on businesses, in particular small businesses? Will he reflect on those costs and listen to and understand the concerns expressed by small business organisations, which believe that what they were originally promised when the Bill was introduced in the House has changed substantially?

Nigel Griffiths: We have listened with care to the representations that we have received from small businesses, but we are firm in our support for proper standards in the workplace. That is why we are for the minimum wage, increased maternity and paternity leave, and the flexible working that is so essential to the 21st-century economy. What is important is that the benefits of the legislation to many millions of workers far outweigh the costs involved.


The Minister was asked—

Women's Unit

29. Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): If she will make a statement on the work of the women's unit within the DTI with specific reference to the promotion of science, engineering and technology. [42880]

The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The DTI's unit promoting SET for women is doing excellent work on the recruitment and retention of women in science, engineering and technology and ensuring that women contribute to scientific policy making. I recently launched a report commissioned by the unit on maximising returns to science, engineering and technology careers.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I suspect that my right hon. Friend shared the delight I felt to hear so many questions relating to science today. It is an opportune moment to remind the House that the Government have invested £1.7 billion in academic science provision in this country. Focusing on women in science, I understand that my colleague Susan Greenfield, now Baroness Greenfield, is currently producing a report on women and their opportunities to re-enter science and engineering activities. Is my right hon. Friend in a position to provide an update on that report?

Ms Hewitt: I recently met Baroness Greenfield to discuss the approach she is to take to the issue of how to

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get more women into science and engineering. I am delighted to say that she has already established three working groups, which will consider the three key stages of a career in technology and science: early stage, mid-career and management, and then going right through to the top. She is to consult women already working in SET, as well as women who would like to return to the field but have not yet done so. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend is looking forward to Baroness Greenfield's report, which I expect to receive in June.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I am beginning to feel that I am living in a parallel universe—[Hon. Members: "You are."] Part of the problem is women's uptake of science and engineering A-levels and degrees: of those embarking on an engineering degree, only 14.5 per cent. are women. Is not an indictment of the Government's performance provided by the "Women in ITEC Courses and Careers in 2001" report, which shows that the proportion of women employed in ITEC—information technology, electronics and communications—jobs decreased from 16 per cent. in 1999 to 13 per cent. in 2000? That suggests to me that employment of women in science has decreased, not increased as the Minister suggested. Other aspects of the problem have been identified as: problems with part-time working and with—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Will the hon. Lady resume her seat? She has finished.

Ms Hewitt: I am sorry that the hon. Lady finds the Liberal Benches to be a parallel universe. She might be more comfortable on the Government Benches—we would be delighted to welcome her.

The hon. Lady makes an important point: the proportion of women employed in information and communications technology jobs has indeed been falling. The absolute numbers have risen as the total sector has increased, but the proportion of women has been falling. We have a very real problem in that the image of engineering, computing, and science and technology careers is deeply off-putting to many girls and many young women. That is why we are putting such emphasis on getting women role models and women ambassadors, especially into schools, so that we encourage more women to enter the extraordinarily exciting field of science and technology that offers such wonderful and well-paid job opportunities.

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