HC Deb 14 June 1985 vol 80 cc1125-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Boscawen.]

9.41 am
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

Today I shall concentrate on the utilitarian aspects of civil science. However, I first recognise and pay tribute to the noble function of scientific research in expanding our understanding of the world in which we live and, indeed, our understanding of the universe. I also realise the excitement, slog, frustration and satisfaction that those who devote their lives to scientific research face.

The Government spend about £2 billion a year on civil scientific research and development, ranging from pure or fundamental science at one end of the spectrum to the most applied work—for example, product development—at the other. I am responsible for about half of that expenditure — rather more than £1 billion — which supports research and the related training of highly qualified manpower in the universities, the polytechnics, in other institutions of higher education and in and through the five research councils.

This system is known as the nation's science base: it provides our national research capability and trains the highly qualified manpower essential for our increasingly science-based society.

In parallel with that, and interacting with the science base, the Government spend as much again—about £1 billion—on applied civil research, as set out in table 2.1 of the annual review of Government-funded research and development for 1984, which is directed to solving specific practical problems or to supporting the development of specific policies. About one tenth of this research is contracted out to research council establishments, and additionally some is commissioned direct from universities and polytechnics. In addition to all that taxpayers' money for civil research, huge sums are devoted by business to civil research, and there are significant additional resources which are given by charities, most of which are medicine-oriented.

In 1971 Lord Rothschild drew a distinction between applied research for which, by definition in his analysis, there had to be a non-scientist customer, and basic research where he acknowledged the choice of lines of research had to be left to scientists. Lord Rothschild's review led of course to the transfer of control for some applied work—and the money that went with it—from the research councils to Government Departments which stand as customers or proxy customers for this work under the post-Rothschild arrangements.

Lord Rothschild recognised, however, that there was a grey area between basic and applied work, which he called "general" research: this is research with clear potentioal for wide-ranging applications in industry, medicine, and so on, but where it is too early in the development of the work for specific applications and products to have been clearly specified. Lord Rothschild left responsibility for this kind of research to the research councils. These days it is usually called "strategic" research. Some 40 per cent. of the research supported by the research councils is strategic research; a further 20 per cent. is applied; the remaining 40 per cent. is basic pure research as conventionally understood.

I mentioned those statistics to counter the impression which seems to have gained ground in some quarters since Lord Rothschild's report that civil science in the universities and the research councils, because it is largely not applied research or development, is somehow irrelevant to and remote from the practical world No one reading the latest advice to me from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils entitled "Science and Public Expenditure" published yesterday could labour under that impression for long In its advice the board points to many examples of strategic work being undertaken by the research councils, in many cases in collaboration with industry, which is clearly of the greatest potential importance for the British economy

I shall pick out a few examples the work of the Science and Engineering Research Council on chemical sensors, the development of which could revolutionise the monitoring and controlling of industrial processes, and on low-dimensional structures, precisely tailored materials with novel properties and with a wide range of potential industrial applications, the Natural Environment Research Council's deep geology programme, relevant to the location and extraction of the United Kingdom's natural resources, the Medical Research Council's pioneering work in clinical molecular biology which could revolutionise medical practice, and the Agricultural and Food Research Council's expanding food research programe which is exploiting advances in molecular biology, biochemistry and biophysics to improve our understanding and control of micro-organisms

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will the Secretary of State undertake to look at the proposed dispersal of the national yeast culture collection? I do not expect an answer from him in the middle of his speech, but, as it is a serious matter, will he consider it?

Sir Keith Joseph

I shall certainly inform myself, and write to the hon. Gentleman However, the research councils are treated as autonomous bodies that make their own decisions as to how to spend the taxpayers' money which I, under advice, distribute to them Subject to that, I shall look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman

One of the themes which the Advisory Board for the Research Councils develops in its recent advice to me is the close interdependence of strategic and applied research, and of basic and strategic research Although it is convenient for some purposes to define research using these terms, we must not forget that the different kinds of research feed off each other, that progress in applied and strategic research depends on advances in fundamental understanding in the related basic sciences The advisory board advises caution in the use of the strategic and basic labels because it suggests erroneously that a clear boundary can be drawn between relevant and curiosity orientated research. But, as the board goes on to say in its report: Most branches of physics and chemistry are of strategic importance in relation to the engineering and chemical industries, and almost all fields of biology from molecular genetics to mathematical ecology are potential contributors to medicine, agriculture, food processing and environmental management Science is now so pervasive and the application so widespread that most basic science is relevant to the practical needs of society More than ever in the past, scientific research is now the essential basis for industrial innovation. As the advisory board argues cogently in its report, technological innovation in our traditional industries and the development of new high technology industries is essential if we are to maintain and, moreover, improve our prosperity. It might be argued — and I believe some people have argued—that the urgent priority for national energies and expenditure is industrial innovation and that scientific research should in the meantime take a back seat. But industrial innovation without an underpinning research capability is not a realistic option. As the advisory board says in its report, the pace and sophistication of scientific and technological advance is now such that to introduce the technology, one needs trained people, including active researchers in the corresponding basic science. Additionally, it may in future become more difficult to borrow technology developed overseas, because the increasing awareness of scientists and industry the world over of the commercial potential of research seems likely to inhibit the free circulation, to which we have become used, of the results of scientific endeavour.

Therefore, I view with some concern reports that increasing numbers of our brightest scientists are leaving this country, perhaps for good, to take up research appointments overseas. I stress that the healthy interchange of scientific skills across the world is entirely to be desired. What is not so healthy is if it tends to be a one-way traffic. The impression is that the loss of our brightest scientists is not being balanced either by the return of British scientists or by immigration into Britain of overseas scientists. In other words, there is a net brain drain.

That opinion has not been reached on firm evidence. The advisory board is conducting a quick survey of university research groups to collect hard information about the net brain drain, and it hopes to give me its results at the end of August.

It is not sufficient for the Government to invest money in civil science—

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Bearing in mind his remarks, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be in order and a good idea for the Government to consider encouraging repatriation of British scientists to this country?

Sir Keith Joseph

I well remember that in the 1950s we asked a civil servant—I cannot remember his name; I think it was C. P. Snow, was it not?

Dame Judith Hart (Clydesdale)

It was C. P. Snow and Mr. Harry Hoff.

Sir Keith Joseph

Indeed it was. We asked them to try to persuade British scientists to return, and that had some success. I do not know whether the current position demands similar action or how effective it would be. However, I note my hon. Friend's comments.

It is well known that this country's track record in exploiting the commercial potential of our scientists' inventions has been poor. A number of factors are essential for successful exploitation. First, there must be a climate —almost a culture—within our society that encourages enterprise. There must be a receptive attitude by industry, embodying enterprise; there must be availability of risk capital; there must be links between academic researchers and industry; and there must be awareness by academic researchers of the commercial potential of their work.

Great strides have been made in recent years in building bridges between academic research and business. A considerable amount of the credit here must go to the research councils which have developed collaborative programmes of research with industry, commerce and business.

For example, since 1977, the Science and Engineering Research Council has established special programmes with industry in areas of technology such as polymer engineering, biotechnology and the application of computers to manufacturing engineering. Its teaching company scheme, supported jointly with the Department of Trade and Industry, has been notably successful in helping to develop active partnerships between higher education institutions and manufacturing companies and encouraging able graduates to train for careers in manufacturing.

The Science and Engineering Research Council's co-operative awards in science and engineering scheme— CASE—offers a type of research studentship where an industrial organisation joins with the university in defining a project and supervising student's progress.

The Medical Research Council currently has some 100 inventions licensed or under exploitation by the British Technology Group and some 50 exploitation agreements made directly with commercial organizations. It is planning to set up a new collaborative centre for research that will offer a consultancy and advisory service for industry.

The Natural Environment Research Council works closely with British industry to secure overseas contracts, especially in the environmental consultancy and resource survey areas.

The Natural Environment Research Council's institute of oceanographic sciences has developed a device — GLORIA—which allows researchers for the first time to survey the ocean floor—vital for the siting of offshore structures and the laying of submarine cables and pipelines. Shortly before Christmas, the council signed a £12 million agreement with the United States geological survey to use the device to survey the entire US coastal waters.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

The right hon. Gentleman is outlining a survey that is of very great interest. There is an emphasis on the industrial aspecl— the application of science Will he consider where that must originate? Surely it must come from our universities. Yet there is a tremendous problem in our universities because our young scientists find it difficult to obtain established posts. That is a relatively new position; it did not occur a few years ago. I am talking from personal experience because my son is a scientist. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, if he does not obtain a post of that description in this country within the next year or so, he will go abroad.

Sir Keith Joseph

I certainly acknowledge the problem, but to some extent it has been mitigated by the Government's new blood scheme, which has been welcomed by the universities. I note that the number of appointments that they would like to make significantly, though not dramatically, exceeds the number of vacancies that they expect during the equivalent time. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's valid point.

I was giving some examples of the research councils' work. The Agricultural and Food Research Council has recently developed a sophisticated new technique for chilling meat carcases which will save the country £12 million a year in energy costs, and a new technique for controlling the amount of nitrogen fertiliser used by farmers which will save British horticulture £7 million per annum and reduce environmental pollution from excess use of nitrogen fertiliser.

Progress is also being made in increasing the links between researchers in the universities and industry, though here there is further to go. The Government, for their part, have confirmed that universities' earnings from collaboration with industry will not be penalised in the determination of allocation of University Grants Committee block grant. We have ended the British Technology Group's monopoly of first refusal on research council-funded inventions and endorsed the proposed transfer of responsibility for promoting commercial exploitation from the research councils to universities, with delegation of responsibility wherever possible to the individual researcher. We are also working with the university directors of industrial liaison and others to develop a national database of academic expertise and facilities in universities and polytechnics for use by industry.

As for industry, the Government's recent Green Paper "Development of Higher Education into the 1990s" emphasised that business should take advantage, in its own interest, of what higher education has to offer through research, technology transfer, business start-up facilities and consultancy. Firms in the United Kingdom need to be as aware—I emphasise, in their own interests—as many of their foreign competitors of the potential of our higher education institutions, particularly as vital partners in product innovation. In its recent advice to me, the Advisory Board for the Research Councils — and it is encouraging—says that it now see a clear trend in which more science-based industry is being promoted actively in this country. It is becoming a significant industrial sector in its own right and is also assisting in the modernisation of more traditional industries". But there is still a considerable way to go.

I wish to acknowledge the very large research spending and excellent work of some of our big chemical, oil, pharmaceutical, aerospace, communications, electrical and electronic companies. Their contribution to our national capability is very significant. Nevertheless, British industry as a whole still seems less interested in research than industry in other countries.

One sign of changing attitudes in industry may be that the status of our engineers and scientists within industry is improving and more young people with qualifications at first degree level in engineering and science are now entering industry. Many of our largest and most successful enterprises accord high status and provide good salaries to their top engineers and scientists. However, there is still a significant number of other British companies where engineers and scientists have a lowly position compared with their counterparts in countries that are our main industrial competitors. To succeed in an international technological environment, it is important that our best engineers and scientists receive adequate rewards and incentives not only in financial terms but in terms of their involvement in shaping the strategy of their enterprise in a highly competitive world.

The potential and excitement of science are such that demands for resources for science will always outstrip what can be afforded That is true even in the wealthiest of countries and particularly so in the United Kingdom because of our relatively poor economic performance in recent decades None the less, the Government have given science some priority in public spending decisions Measured against average inflation, the science vote has grown by 8 per cent since 1979–80—hardly negligible At a considerable cost, I found an additional £55 million for science in the research councils and universities from the last public expenditure settlement—20 per cent less than I had originally hoped for, but still a valuable reinforcement to the science base The extra money is being used, highly selectively, to buy new equipment in universities for some of our best research groups, to fund more top quality research projects in the research councils and to assist the Agricultural and Food Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council in restructuring their programmes better to reflect current priorities.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I should like to believe what the Secretary of State is saying, but how can he square it with a note in one of the reference sheets from the Library, which quotes Nature of 26 July 1984, which states By parsimony, indolence and indifference, the British Government is killing off imaginative research."? I should like to believe what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but it is difficult.

Sir Keith Joseph

I can best answer the hon. Gentleman by referring to the leading article in Nature of 13 June, in which a more balanced picture is given It gives credit to the Government for what they have done and makes relatively constructive suggestions about what the Government should do Therefore, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the current Nature leader.

Despite that recent financial reinforcement, the Advisory Board for the Research Councils is still able to make a powerful case for more money It wants an additional £85 million for the research councils over the next three years It accepts that the Government have honoured their pledge to protect the science budget in gross terms, but it emphasises that a small but significant fraction of public money within the science budget is not available for science because of increasing expenditure on overheads such as international subscriptions in sterling terms, the cost of redeployment and the cost of superannuation.

Two main arguments underlie the board's bid. First, the costs of undertaking science and of certain overheads, to which I have just referred, have increased faster than general inflation Secondly, the rapid development of science and technology is opening up new research opportunities, which the research councils have difficulty responding to quickly enough within, at best, level and, in some cases, contracting budgets The case that the advisory board makes is powerful, and I shall be considering it further with my colleagues during this year's public expenditure survey Of course, at this stage, I cannot even guess what the outcome of those deliberations might be.

What I can do now is pay warm tribute to the way in which the research councils are responding to the challenge of reviewing and adjusting the balance of their programmes to reflect the latest priorities. Of course I recognise the difficulties involved in making choices, in deciding to reduce support for one area in order to build up another that merits higher priority; the pain in closing down establishments and cutting jobs. But that process is necessary to secure the most effective use of resources available, by running down work that is less promising in favour of more promising work. The current redeployment in the research councils is also necessary to increase their flexibility—to reduce the proportion of their resources tied up in long-term commitments so that in future they can respond more rapidly and effectively as scientific priorities change.

The advisory board argues in its report that research in the universities, funded through the University Grants Committee, has come under pressure because of the 8 per cent. overall reduction in Government funds for universities since 1981–82, and that in consequence the well-found laboratory no longer exists. That is the board's judgment. It was because of my concern about that that I redeployed additional money—£18 million over the next three years out of the extra £55 million at the end of last year, for university equipment. In the Green Paper on higher education, I said that the Government intended that the contribution of the higher education system to the nation's research capability should continue on the present scale, but there was also a need for closer and better work with industry and commerce and the public services, more funding from private sources and better management, yielding greater value for money.

The University Grants Committee's plan to introduce new selective planning and allocation arrangements for its resources for research should lead to better value for money in due course. In the meantime, the picture from the universities is not all bare. On certain indicators, notably income from research contracts, the scale of research activity in the universities appears to be growing. The Government hope that the UGC's new selective arrangements for allocating resources for research can be formulated and begin to operate by the academic year 1986–87.

I have to acknowledge that it can be no simple matter to pick out areas of research on which resources should be concentrated — and by implication other areas from which resources should be withdrawn or reduced. It is a truism that some of the main breakthroughs of science have been made in areas which, up to that point, had not seemed particularly promising, and by individuals the significance of whose work had not been fully understood.

It is therefore necessary for us to ensure that resources are available to support the work of really brilliant individuals in whatever areas, and to enable the United Kingdom to maintain at least the nucleus of a research capacity across a range of areas of research. But that is not inconsistent with some concentration on centres of excellence. Nor does it mean that the United Kingdom should seek to lead the rest of the world in all areas of research. That would be totally impracticable. As the Advisory Board for the Research Councils advised me last December: it is unrealistic …to expect the UK to keep in the forefront of all fields of scientific research". We must remember that the United Kingdom's share of world research activity accounts for only about 5 per cent. of the total, and that proportion is unlikely to be significantly affected by even the largest imaginable increase in our domestic expenditure. Rather, the way forward must be to scrutinise carefully the priorities implicit in the present balance of funding between subject areas and to consider whether some adjustments may be needed better to serve the national interest.

As part of the process of scrutinising priorities, the Advisory Board for the Research Councils jointly with the Science and Engineering Research Council last year established an independent review of United Kingdom involvement in high energy particle physics. Total annual expenditure on high energy particle physics is some £55 million or 10 per cent. of the research councils' total expenditure. Two thirds of that expenditure goes on Britain's subscription to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research—CERN. The review group, which is chaired by Sir John Kendrew, in addition to reviewing United Kingdom participation in high energy particle physics. has considered the implications for other areas of British science and for international scientific co-operation of the reallocation of resources from high energy particle physics in whole or in part to other areas of science.

I understand that the Kendrew group's report is to be published next Tuesday. Copies will be placed in the Library. I cannot anticipate what the report will say. The report is addressed not to me or to the Government but to the chairmen of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils and the Science and Engineering Research Council. I look forward to receiving their advice on Sir John Kendrew's recommendations later in the year.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

My right hon. Friend rightly says that he cannot anticipate the Kendrew report, but when he considers that report will he bear in mind the comment of one of our greatest scientists, Lord Rutherford, that physics is the only science and all the rest mere stamp collecting?

Sir Keith Joseph

I have no doubt that that and other points of view will emerge clearly, whatever is in the report.

Science and scientists make an essential contribution to society— to its material prosperity, its comforts and convenience, and to the general well-being and health of the community. Their work can and does have far-reaching consequences for society. Scientific and technological advance is probably the most potent force for change that there is. Sometimes the public will be rightly concerned about the social or ethical implications of a particular line of research, but I believe that on the whole the scientific community is aware of the moral implications of its work and has a good track record of self-regulation in this respect. From time to time, however, there will be a difference of views within the population as to where a particular line should be drawn and here, as elsewhere, it is essential to balance the moral and ethical arguments against the utilitarian ones. I am not sure that the scientific community has always been very good or very successful at presenting its side of the case in this kind of debate, perhaps because its members are scientists and not theologians or philosophers. However, I think that they may be improving in this respect and I urge them to give even more attention not just to taking the moral dimension into account but to being seen to do so.

I am grateful for the patience of the House and I should like to take this opportunity to remind hon. Members that an exhibition of the work of the Science and Engineering Research Council is to be held from 17 to 21 June in the Upper Waiting Hall of this House. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will make a little time available to visit the exhibition, which promises to be full of interest.

10.12 am
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

The parlous state of science in Britain means that it is high time that we debated science policy. The Government have tucked this debate away to a Friday when many Members on both sides are fulfilling constituency engagements postponed from last Friday when they felt obliged to be present for the Bill relating to experiments on embryos, which was of major interest to scientists, Members of Parliament and constituents. Attendance in the Chamber today, however, shows that Nature was wrong in its comment this week that science has lost its political friends. Many of my hon. Friends wish to speak on this vital area of policy and I hope that they will be able to do so. I draw attention especially to the interest of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose interest in science policy has been continuous since the early 1960s, long before most of the people now leading the scientific establishment had engaged in debates on science policy at all.

To assist the House, I asked the Secretary of State to publish the advice that he received from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils on next year's science budget, and I am grateful to him for having done so. I hope that he will also publish the further studies promised by September, which will be a very helpful addition to the board's findings so far.

I am sorry that we do not have the Kendrew report on nuclear physics, to be published next Tuesday, as that is a vital part of the picture. I hope that the House will find time to discuss that report specifically before the summer recess, so that it can be taken into account in the coming public expenditure round.

We listened carefully to the Secretary of State for any inkling of developments in science policy to remedy the present situation, but the advisory board is clearly fully justified in complaining that the Government, Parliament and the country as a whole are complacent about the current financial straits of science. We shall seek to dispel that complacency. The advisory board points out that the Government have planned a 10 per cent. reduction in the volume of research activity in the 1980s, contrary to the trend in other countries, and warns the Government that the economic and industrial effects on the United Kingdom are likely to be grave and effectively irreversible. The least that the Government can do is to grant in the next three years the recommended £15 million, £30 million and £40 million increases above the levels planned for a zero-growth science budget, which now stands at about £600 million. That should be matched by agreeing the bid for £45 million over the next three years put to the Secretary of State by the University Grants Committee to strengthen the science base in the universities.

The Secretary of State explained the problems, spelt out some of the arguments and gave a selective account of the record, but he offered no policy and no promise to fight on the beaches—not even a sprat to catch the headlines. It will be no excuse for the right hon. Gentleman to wring his hands and say that of course he agrees, but there is no money An increase in the science budget paid for out of a general increase in taxation would make everyone better off in both macroeconomic and microeconomic terms The only loss would be a political loss for the Secretary of State, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, because it would be a further dent in the eccentnc fiscal calculus with which they have hijacked the Tory party The Secretary of State is putting his own personal convenience above the interests of science, the country and even the Tory party.

With science and technology now an all-pervasive influence in society, the Government are cutting the total number of qualified scientists and engineers whom they employ on research and development by 10 per cent in the five years to 1986 They are mutilating the Natural Environment Research Council and the Agricultural and Food Research Council and they are destroying the prospect of a reasonable career structure for research scientists and technicians Manufacturing industry, too, has cut research and development Meanwhile, all our major industrial competitors are increasing their efforts.

I assume that the Secretary of State has sought this debate because, after the fiasco over his attempt to supplement science by cuts in student grants. he wants to build up support on the Conservative Benches for the battle that he will be waging with his Cabinet colleagues in the coming public expenditure round for a much-needed increase in the science budget.

Sir Keith Joseph

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can justify the word "fiasco" It may have been a very unpleasant experience for me, but it resulted in the transfer of £55 million to basic science.

Dr. Bray

As the right hon. Gentleman says, it was not a great tribute to his judgment, but the result was to make it clear to scientists that the Tory party was more concerned about well-heeled constituents than about safeguarding the scientific future of this country.

Sir Keith Joseph

I accept that what I originally asked for and had to reduce by 20 per cent. was probably too rapid and abrupt a change, but the people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers accepted a £55 million switch from their resources to basic science.

Dr. Bray

That is a story to which we shall return many times in the future, especially when we see what further steps the Government will take in this public expenditure round.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Bray

I have given way many times I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be called

To win the further battles more convincingly, the Secretary of State must have a reply to his colleagues, especially to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, when they say, "You led us into this deflationary hole You had overall responsibility for policy and research at the start How will you get us out?" It is from within science that the right hon. Gentleman can find an answer to that argument Whether he has the insight and the courage to use it, we shall see If his record of Damascene conversions is anything to go by, anything is possible.

Restoring science to a state in which it can play its necessary role in modern society will probably need a new Government, less dogmatic in their philosophy, and so less hostile to the whole spirit of science. There must be change. It takes a century—in Britain it has taken two or three centuries—to build up a scientific tradition such as we have enjoyed in the past. With modern science, however, such a tradition can be destroyed in a decade of parsimony if the essential links are broken between teacher and student in their seminal years, between ideas and their testing on expensive modern apparatus accessible only abroad, and between basic research and its application in the entrancing synergy of intellect truly linked with social concern.

Let us make no mistake where Britain's scientific strength has come from — a tradition of free inquiry, following where the arguments have led. In Germany the primacy of research is unquestioned, with no mere Government prepared to deny the scientists the resources which they say are needed to pursue their research. But the authoritarian stuctures of German institutions, with the student unable to escape from the control of Herr Professor Doktor until his thirties, are inimical to originality, though strong on exploitation within fields once established.

In France, by contrast, science is part of central Government, caught up in the aspirations and so also in the chauvinism of the moment, able quickly to take new initiatives, but not always able to deliver according to a political timetable, or to take wing on a new idea that does not come from the Government.

In Britain, our tradition of free inquiry, debate, peer group judgment, and ultimate respect for democratic demands and decision have given us world-class universities and a fine scientific tradition at an absurdly cheap price, yet the Government are destroying that by parsimony, misunderstanding, abuse, and hostility. Just when the Robbins wave of expansion should be leading on to access to that tradition by far more working-class children, as was traced so carefully by Professor Halsey, the Government are cutting back on student numbers and on the overall funding of science through the dual support system.

The Secretary of State is also confused about the links between teaching and research. The academic who publishes a paper on queueing theory, the polytechnic lecturer who sends his students out to record the timing of buses, the research student who helps commission the computer programme which transfers work between machine tools in a flexible manufacturing system, and the economist who consults for American banks on the financial futures market, are all doing essentially the same thing. They are all building the bridges between similar pieces of mathematics in the lecture room and the outside world, carrying from one to the other the experience and material which helps keep each alive.

So we have the Secretary of State questioning whether all institutions and departments have to do research, yet urging all to undertake consultancy and industry support. He is cutting off one hand because he wants to make the other hand work better. He takes no account of how he has reduced the flexibility and efficiency of higher education and research, by starving them of resources. It is now far more difficult for the fertile researcher to have his teaching load eased, for the good facilitator who is content to leave research to others to take on the heavier administrative tasks, and for the good communicator to concentrate on passing on the lessons he has learned by teaching the next generation Because there is not the movement, the informal efficiency of the whole suffers It cannot be replaced by formal edicts and demarcations, least of all from Whitehall.

The Secretary of State must understand and insist on keeping alive and healthy the traditions and institutions of a free society, and the scientific discourse which has been one of its finest products Today, that science is all-pervasive, and as relevant to the management of the economy and the funding of resources for education and science as it is to the working of the Secretary of State's brain, and the Secretary of State is crucifying it.

Pick up Nature any week Last weekend's copy had on the cover the best electron microscope pictures yet of the structure of acetylcholine receptors in synapses — the mechanism which makes nerve cells fire The Secretary of State can relax It is not from his brain It is from the electric organ of the electric ray torpedo marmorata, by which it knocks out its victims with a 500 volt punch by firing all its nerve cells at once Come to think of it, perhaps the Secretary of State's brain might be organised on a similar principle.

The resolution at different depths is excellent, enabling researchers to match the size of the receptor to the messenger protein molecules that bind to them and trigger the firing of the cell The electron microscope is an essential tool in this and a wide range of other research, covering biology, metallurgy, material science, solid state physics, microelectronics and other sciences In 1948 the best electron microscope in the world could be bought for about £3,000—the price of a Rolls Royce car. Twenty years later the best cost £12,000 — the price of two Rolls-Royces Today, the best costs between £250,000 and £1.5 millon depending on the type — the cost of about 10 Rolls-Royce cars.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

It depends on the Rolls-Royce.

Dr. Bray

Rolls-Royces do just the same job today and are based on very much the same engineering principles as in 1948 The difference lies in the power, sophistication and cost of the electron microscope.

There is a sophistication factor To look at individual molecules, a magnification of 1 million or more is needed High voltages are required to look deep into specimens, and chemical analyses of the elements present in the object can be presented These are the necessary tools of modern research Without them it is not possible to work at the frontiers of science.

The work is not of purely scientific interest Dr Leslie Iversen, the former head of the MRC Neurochemical Pharmacology unit at Cambridge, has had set up for him by the American pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp and Dohme a new £25 million laboratory at Harlow to design drugs based on a knowledge of neuro-receptor sites of the kind illustrated in the Nature article The immediate target is semle dementia, or Alzheimer's disease, which causes great distress and affects some 20 per cent of the rapidly growing number of 80-year-olds and above.

It is a huge world market Many scientists feel that the results of Dr Iversen's work should be available to science generally and for exploitation by British pharmaceutical companies, instead of having been pre-empted by an American company It is better that the work should be done, and be done in Britain but, in the present climate, it has taken the Medical Research Council three years to decide whether, among many competing claims, Dr. Iversen's unit can be replaced in this most promising area of clinical research.

Dr. Iversen is among the more fortunate. The authors of the article, Brisson and Unwin, are at Grenoble and Stanford. Dr. Nigel Unwin was in the Cambridge MRC labs before he was enticed to Stanford. The equipment that he used was supplied by Dr. Peter Gatan, who was professor of metallurgy at Imperial College before he went to America, because in Britain there was not the market or finance to set up his company for making equipment for use with electronic microscopes.

In British research laboratories there are six high-voltage electron microscopes, purchased in 1971. The recent UGC money for equipment will bring us nowhere near the 40 high-voltage electron microscopes of more recent vintage used in Japan.

Material science is a heavy user of electron microscopes. In the US, the National Critical Materials Act 1984 set up a council within the executive office of the President to co-ordinate Government policies and oversee the $1 billion per annum Government funding of research in materials. In the United Kingdom, the SERC budget for materials research is £4 million per annum. When the Collyear report recommended a serious material science programme in the United Kingdom, the Minister for Information Technology, the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), said that industry would have to fund it. It is pathetic.

When Dr. Colin Humphreys of Oxford, the newly appointed professor of metallurgy at Liverpool, sought Department of Trade and Industry support for a new materials centre at Liverpool, the Minister of State turned him down flat earlier this month. It would be difficult to think of any development at the price likely to contribute more to the redevelopment of Merseyside and the industrial future of Britain.

The Government must fund science. As I said in the House on 15 May when we were debating industry and new technology, there is no inherent competitive incentive in a market economy for private or public commercial organisations to undertake pre-competitive research. Basic science and pre-competitive applied research, including research into enabling technologies, and in public concerns such as health, safety and the environment, will not be done unless they are done by the Government. Charity, whether from individuals or industry, plays a useful part in the more popular bits of medical research but elsewhere their contribution is marginal, and will remain so, however much industrialists are lectured by the Prime Minister. Sometimes even pre-competitive research, which is essential to the survival of an industry, is not undertaken by firms on their own because the benefits of the research cannot be used to strengthen one firm against its competitors.

When we debated new technology policy on 15 May, there was a deplorable response from the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows that most of the support for innovation schemes that he began to build up when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry have now been dismantled, because, despite the overall increase of Government support for industrial research and development, there was no increase in overall research and development in manufacturing industry, and most of the money was just going into research-intensive firms which were already doing well out of Government defence research and development contracts. The Secretary of State did not adopt policies which would ensure additionally.

Today we are concerned with science, basic science and mainly pre-competitive research. Just as with technology, the needs and opportunities vary so much, and the position is moving so fast, that international comparisons at a particular time are no longer an appropriate guide.

Let us consider the international comparisons. The Reagan Administration cut development programmes on the new energy technologies left over from the Carter Administration which had been initiated before the oil glut. But President Reagan has increased, and is still increasing, federal funding for basic science. Federal funding for basic research in physical and life sciences and engineering in universities and colleges has been increased by 30 per cent. in real terms from 1981 to 1985. As the office of science and technology policy in the executive office of the President explains: Government has a responsibility to help our colleges and universities create an environment for attracting and retaining faculty of the highest quality. That means improving the climate for research on campus so that ambitious scientists and engineers won't feel compelled to take jobs in industry if they want to be competitive in research. This is the American President's office talking. It goes on: In the long run an academic brain drain is devastating for universities and industry alike, because universities simply won't have enough faculty to teach students, particularly in the fastest moving areas of science and engineering. And without newly trained talent, industrial technology will surely dry up. With these priorities, Reagan's America is a million miles away from Thatcher's Britain.

France is planning to increase civil research and development expenditure by 4 per cent. per annum in real terms for the next three years, making it a 40 per cent. increase in eight years, bringing research and development expenditure to 2.6 per cent. of the GDP. Government-funded civil research and development in 1981, according to OECD figures quoted in the Government's latest review, was 0.81 per cent. of the GDP in France, 1.05 per cent. in Germany and 0..64 per cent in the United Kingdom. In absolute terms, their civil research and development expenditure is higher still, and increasing, while Britain's remains frozen.

What should we spend, and why? Research and development does not, by itself, secure economic growth. On the supply side, there need also to be comprehensive and related programmes for investment and training in an overall policy of support for innovation, which is a necessary element in overall competitiveness. On the demand side, the economy must be so managed that there is an adequate level of effective demand at home and abroad, with a monetary policy aimed at securing a stable level of price competitiveness.

If the Secretary of State wants to know how that can be managed better than it is being managed at present, I invite him to come to the international conference of the Society of Economic Dynamics and Control at Imperial college later this month, where he will see, among many interesting papers, United Kingdom Treasury officials demonstrating methods that were developed with Social Science Research Council support before the barbarous attack that the Secretary of State made on that institution.

It is an interesting and potentially important cross-fertilisation between economics and engineering. I do not see how the Secretary of State can crib at that. He will argue that the market will produce the investment and a greater element of applied research, development and training than I believe it is likely to do in Britain. It is not simply that the Secretary of State is asking for too much too quickly from a weakened industry. The problem is inherent in the role of research and development in competitive markets.

The problem — as taught not in Leftish British economic departments but in solid Ivy League economics departments and capitalist business schools in the States, even in those monetarist holy of holies, the economics department at Chicago and the Hoover institute at Stanford — is not that the invisible hand is like the emperor's new clothes—simply not there—but, as Professor Joe Stiglitz of Princeton and All Souls, who pioneered so much of this work, puts it—that the invisible hand is slightly palsied.

If we write down what people will buy and sell with the information available to them, we will find that, to work a market, information costs money, as any other production cost costs money. Wherever there are information problems, there are Government interventions which can make everyone better off. Either information is not generated because it is too costly or it cannot be witheld from competitors, or if it is generated it is better for the economy if it is shared. The arguments are rigorous — so rigorous that I doubt whether the Secretary of State could follow them in full because they are rather mathematical—but the Secretary of State and his right hon. Friends are giving a spectacular and appalling demonstration of what ignoring those arguments means in practice. It means the dereliction of a modern industrial economy.

I should like to see a doubling of research and development in manufacturing over three or four years, which is possible and which is needed to secure the technological competitiveness for the re-industrialisation of Britain.

The Secretary of State believes that the market will determine the research and development needed in industry, but he would surely agree that the basic science must be there to support it. Why, even Korea and Taiwan have this year decided to establish research programmes and institutes in materials science and microelectronics because they see that branch factories such as they now have—and such as we have in Silicon glen in Scotland —offer no secure future. Alvey is not enough. Korea and Taiwan will match that.

The economic argument for basic science is that if we do not practise it we will not be able to understand, still less apply, the new technology that it generates. A scientist who gives up working and reading at the frontiers of a rapidly moving subject will find that within a year he can no longer understand his former colleagues.

Much of science at its most applied and applicable is now moving with unprecedented speed — molecular biology, genetics, material science, electronics, system theory — I hesitate to mention more in case some scientists feel that I have deliberately left their subject out of a comprehensive list.

When there is such a rapid and such a comprehensive dependence of new technology on basic science, an) medium-sized industrial country has an interest in fostering its basic science, to understand what is going on to have the facility to apply it as applications appear possible, and to train the applied scientists and technologists on the science that they will be applying

It is true that earlier in this century scientific discoveries often preceded by 20 or 30 years the new technology products and processes that they made possible 1 hat lag is now falling In areas such as molecular biology and microelectronics it is under 10 years So in Britain, where we have had a fine tradition of basic science, it is only common sense to keep it alive and healthy Yet it is declining, whether measured by citations in papers and patents, in patent registration, in papers produced, or in Nobel prizes The Secretary of State does not need to wait for the evidence It is there The causes of decline have been greatly increased since the squeeze on the universities in 1980–81 tightened the pressures on science.

It is not a motivation for science that the Opposition would favour, but I have difficult in understanding why the right hon. Gentleman and his friends do not accord to science the same priority as they accord to defence, law and order, national prestige and social privilege Scientist' are no angels, and there are plenty who would respond to a chauvinistic lead from the Government, such as President Reagan gave in the United States A boost for science even now would be a cheap and effective way of boosting the kind of Britain which the Prime Minister seeks If it will help the Secretary of State with his colleagues, I am even prepared to say that it would be embarrassing to the Opposition.

However, I suspect that the Government are incapable of making a move because they are so hag-ridden by the anti- science brew served up by the combination of that weird trio, the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer If ever there were an argument for the cultural contribution needed from science, it is embodied in the background of those three the aging gru, believing that whatever he cannot think out for himself is not knowledge, yet incapable of reading the language of science, the financial journalist, product of Oxford PPE—philosophy, politics and economics—from its slickest, most superficial and arrogant period, when its detachment from modern economics was yet to become a public scandal, and the second-class chemist, for whom her science was merely a channel through which she could pass to the indulgence of her political obsessions.

The openness of mind, the readiness to listen, the concern with objective reality, the acceptance of democratic and hence peer group review, which are fostered by science are not the prerogatives of science, but they are essential in any Government who are going successfully to foster science and win for the country the fruits that it can offer Because those qualities are absent from the inner councils of this Government, the right hon. Gentleman will not, I believe, win for science the increased resources which he knows are needed.

Mr. Crouch


Dr. Bray

I shall not give way I have already spoken for too long The hon. Gentleman will be able to make his speech.

I find useful the distinction within basic science between pure research and strategic research, introduced by Irvine and Martin into the OECD Frascati definitions of research and development. Indeed, their study "Foresight in Science for the Government's Advisory Council on Applied Research and Development" is a valuable contribution to science policy. I hope that the Secretary of State has read it.

I do not like the term curiosity-oriented research because it attributes a motivation to the researchers far short of the great aspirations that often drive their pursuit of knowledge. The economic and social benefits from it may not be formulated or agreed, and their cultural dimension may not be emphasised, because the actual content of the questions asked in their research marks it out as of significance for mankind, for those who have eyes to see, but the nature of the scientific venture is such that it is often only the researcher himself or the little village of researchers in the peer group who at that stage have the eyes to see. I shall come to the subject of the criteria by which research resources should be allocated for this kind of work.

There is a clear area of strategic research carried out with the expectation that it will form the background to the solution of recognised practical problems, as the Secretary of State said. While large science-based companies may devote 5 to 10 per cent. of their research and development to such strategic research to be able to follow it, the bulk of it is publicly financed in this and other countries in universities and laboratories.

Here, decisions on the allocation of resources have to be made. Irvine and Martin make out a persuasive case, based on the experience of the United States, Germany, France and Japan as well as Britain, for a systematic effort to identify promising areas of basic science, given the increasing speed and pervasiveness of its effects on technology. The experience should be organised by the Government, but it should involve the whole scientific community and lead to the broad allocation of resources.

Not only must the research councils and the Advisory Board for the Research Councils be involved, as they are already, but also the universities, the University Grants Committee, the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education, the Departments of Education and Science, Trade and Industry, and Defence, and industry and the unions.

This is a task for the machinery of government for science which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition outlined in the current issue of Link-Up. A Cabinet Minister designated to speak for science, a chief scientific adviser with a proper staff, and a council on science and technology, are needed. The management of science budgets should remain with Departments acting within a comprehensive strategy. Democratic planning of the economy generally, with its wider spread of responsibility for decision-making, requires a modern information system, widely accessible in government and out. It is an area of information technology totally neglected by this Government, who are not even conducting a survey of annual research and development within industry.

A Cabinet Minister, says my right hon. Friend, with a brief to create the information system needed for democratic planning, not as an overlord but as a coordinator working closely with colleagues, could be the driving force needed for science and technology also. Within such an arrangement, science and technology could play their full part both as resources and as claims in the management of the economy.

The three claims — support for research and development in industry, support for strategic research, and support for pure research — should be settled by different but overlapping considerations. Support for research and development in industry, with the emphasis on fairly short-term development for the re-industrialisation of Britain, should be pitched at the level needed to lead and to match progress towards that objective. Support for strategic research would depend on the number and scope of strategic areas chosen, and support for pure research would be set to encompass those opportunities for support of excellence in basic science that were not encompassed by the strategic programmes. Both skilled manpower supply and expenditure would of course, be constraints, but not within pre-set target ceilings and cash limits set irrespective of effectiveness and cost.

The absence of such machinery has allowed uncoordinated and short-term considerations to mutilate the Agricultural and Food Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council. It has led to cuts in the support for innovation schemes expanded by the Secretary of State. It has left nuclear physics to be reviewed on its own by the Kendrew committee, whose report we have yet to see. It has sold out on medical research opportunities. It has left engineers as uncertain of their role as ever. It has left defence research as remote as ever from civil applications. It has positively invited our best scientists to leave the country, and the country's service, and has bogged down those who remain in increased effort to get their share of diminishing real resources in the dual support system.

As the leading article in Nature said yesterday—in a part which the Secretary of State did not quote—the erosion of morale is too rapid to wait until the next election, for there may be little left by then. The least that the Government can do is to grant in full the ABRC and UGC bids to strengthen science, and set up sensible machinery of government for science and technology to secure the technological foundations of recovery.

We call upon the Government to nurture the science and technology on which the future of this country depends, instead of so wantonly destroying it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, the House will wish to know that no fewer than 20 right hon. and hon. Members hope to contribute to the debate. Therefore, I appeal for short speeches.

10.53 am
Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

At the beginning of this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had the privilege of being entertained—I believe that it was entertaining—by Lord Flowers and others at Imperial college. He brought together several of his friends, including Sir David Phillips, Sir Ronald Mason, John Ashworth and Sir John Kingman, to review the problems of science in Britain. My right hon. Friend will not be surprised if I say that, having launched a personal study during the succeeding months into the well-being of science, I shall have a small contest with him today, which I hope that he will accept from a previous and loyal Parliamentary Private Secretary.

I believe that the Government should move resources towards science rather than look for ways of economising on its expenditure. My right hon. Friend will know that no one believes more strongly than me in trying to reduce the burdens on taxpayers. I do not advance a move towards higher taxation. However, the time has come when we can no longer take the risks that we are running in the well-being of the country for which we are responsible.

The first of my findings is slightly audacious, but I hope that it will be acceptable to my right hon. Friend. I believe that science should be driven by market demand, and that the demand-pull of markets should reach backwards towards the science-push of which we are conscious and which is being funded. That means that we must define objectives. Governments do not usually like defining objectives, even if Oppositions do. The market-pull is to meet competition on an increasing scale from many major industrial countries and we cannot ignore that. We must examine the means available to forecast how we should move forward in science. That will require a gathering of knowledge, ideas and information from our competitors to try to determine what will be the products of the future, and then to back-track those to the strands of science that we now have. That is not a mathematical or philosophical difficulty particularly for politicians, who have the benefit of hindsight at their instant command.

There is no doubt that the present position, with each Department of State setting its objectives in the light of its priorities and programmes, is not the sort of objective that should result in statements such as the one from the science board of the Science and Engineering Research Council, responding to the requirements of four sciences — physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. The board reported that those sciences could not find the money to finance about one third of their alpha-rated projects— those of the highest merit that should be funded at all costs.

My right hon. Friend will recall that, at the conference at Imperial college, Sir John Kingman said that only 74 per cent. of his alpha projects could be funded, and that the figure could drop to 60 per cent. Sir James Gowans, secretary of the Medical Research Council, has said that, whereas in 1982–83 85 per cent. of his projects were funded, in 1983–84 the figure had dropped to 53 per cent. Sir David Phillips, the Oxford biophysicist, has said that the volume of science will be about 25 per cent. less in 10 years' time than it is now. He was sounding a warning bell, as a fellow of the Royal Society and a biophysicist of world renown, that we cannot ignore.

What will be the result of all this? If one examines the document "Charter for Jobs" published by that strange organisation which came above ground last month but which seems to have disappeared, one finds information that looks into the past specifying how growth rates of real national product per worker hour and real national product over five-year moving averages have all declined. But the arguments deployed by such organisations do not contain real solutions, other than the Government spending more money. If one considers matters to which that organisation drew no deductive attention in its document, one sees that the key factor, which illustrates the way in which our scientific ability is declining and will continue to decline is that, during the past 20 years, the percentage of manufacturing firms working at capacity has decreased from about half to about 30 per cent. That has nothing to do with the oil crisis or the world recession during the past decade. The fact is that Britain has declined in competitiveness at an unacceptable rate that must not be tolerated.

The science policy research unit at Sussex university —a university of whose court I am delighted to be a member — has considered how competitiveness will move forward in the 1980s and 1990s. It has done some startling work, to which the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) referred, relating to Britain's share of scientific publications worldwide, our share of citations worldwide and the number of foreign patents taken out in the United States. In all those areas, Britain's share has declined unacceptably. The share of the United States, the Soviet Union and France has also declined, to the benefit of West Germany, which has had a small increase, and Japan, which has had a startling 30 per cent. increase during the past decade. As for citations, the Japanese have taken over the reference base on which so many scientists rely for their publications. They now refer to Japanese publications 50 per cent. more than they did 10 years ago. The Japanese have now soaked up from the West all the science it has and are moving forward into an era of innovation which is well funded and devoted to strategic tasks which have been identified.

In considering the ways in which various countries determine how to use their scientific resources, there is no better example than that which the Japanese provide in the deployment of their science and technology agency. The agency has been functioning since 1956. In the past 15 years it has brought together in five-year programmes the opinions of those in industry, the universities and Government. About 4,000 to 5,000 people at a time have been invited to distil their opinions on where the country should be going with its science, technology and industry. This analysis, which results in consensus, is something which we should be able to achieve.

Success does not lie merely in the amount of money which is spent. The United States spends more than Japan on higher education—$8 billion a year compared with $5 billion. We spend about one fifth of that which Japans expends. The number of researchers, scientists and engineers in higher education is not the sole crieterion. The United States and Japan have about the same number. The clue lies in the research and development which is carried on in higher education as a percentage of all national research and development.

It is true that in Japan 75 per cent. of all research is funded by industry. However, the key figure is the number of people working in higher education as a percentage of all national research and development. There lies a clue to the success of the Japanese and the danger for us in future. We employ about 11 per cent. of our researchers, scientists and engineers in higher education. The United States, West Germany and France employ about 15 per cent. but the Japanese are employing 28 per cent. They are putting their best men at the sharp end. The rapid advances that they are making are such that it will not be a matter merely of trying to erect trade barriers against their products as a solution. We must not fail to understand that it is in investing in the brightest people that we can compete. The only way in which we can compete with Japan and other far eastern countries is by moving up the scale of industrial competitiveness.

A third factor in an area in which Government policy should be developed is the co-ordination of information. There seems to be no way at present in which we can bring together knowledge of what is happening in universities, research councils, industry, Government and research establishments. There are organisations which meet in an ad hoc fashion but that are not akin to the scale of co-ordination that we must achieve.

We must come to some conclusions about our economic and social needs. We must examine all the areas of sciencee and technology which have the potential to meet those needs. We must establish priorities and certainly we must establish forecasts. At present, our objectives are not clear to our scientists. Too many industrialists are not aware of what the scientists are doing. We can achieve a great deal by setting objectives, giving leadership and co-ordinating the knowledge that is available. The Government are the only agency available to carry out that co-ordination.

We have a broad and deep basis of good science in the United Kingdom but its real value has yet to be recognised and used. Our task and our duty must be to mobilise these human resources to improve the well-being of our people.

11.4 am

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

It is not my intention to add to the Government's embarrassments by joining in the general demand for a more or less massive increase in expenditure. I want instead to warn the Government of an imminent embarrassment towards which they are drifting in an area related to the topic before the House and to indicate to them the way in which they could avoid it.

The key document in this matter is a letter which was issued from the office of the Leader of the House to the many members of the public who had written to him with the plea that the Government should find time for the completion of a Bill in the present Session on the subject on which the Warnock committee reported, namely the creation and use of human embryos for scientific experiment.

In the course of his letter to the Leader of the House wrote: the Government has not thought it appropriate to form a collective view on the merits of this legislation, believing that it raises issues best left to the individual consciences of Members of Parliament. That is an important declaration of Government intention. The issues which such legislation raises are those which are inseparable from the conclusions put forward by the Warnock committee. The Government have therefore committed themselves to ensuring that when in due course they come forward, as they must, with legislation, that part at any rate of the legislation will be "left to the individual consciences of Members of Parliament" and no collective view of the Government will be formed upon it.

The Government have said frequently in debates upon this subject that they are neutral. It is not possible to be neutral as between what was proposed in that legislation and the proposals of the Warnock committee. But two things have happened in these past months which are relevant to the Government's considerations. First, they have learnt upon what lines the House will support legislation if the issue is "left to the individual consciences of Members" Secondly, the recommendations of the Warnock committee have begun to come to pieces in the course of debate and of the examination to which they have been subjected, so that they can form no longer a satisfactory base on which any Government can frame legislation

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Powell

No, I shall not give way I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I continue It is part of my habit to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I have, in a debate in which a number of hon. Members wish to speak, a substantial speech to make and I hope that he will allow me to pursue it.

Several times already in the course of the debate, quotations have been offered from Nature It was on 7 March that Nature published a leading article of which, so far as I know, there has not subsequently been any rebuttal, nor has there been an arrangement made for an apologetic leading article to follow it in a later issue. In the course of a leading article on the subject of the proposed legislation, the editor of Nature wrote: The missing ingredient in the debate"— that was the debate of 15 February— was the clear statement of what exactly are the benefits of investigations with human embryos He continued with this staggering sentence: That is not surprising, for as yet there have been no such investigations I saw no reports of angry crowds gathering outside the office of Nature demanding that the editor withdraw a statement which put a foot straight through the allegations and recommendations of the Warnock report On the contrary, so convinced was he of the correctness of what he was saying that he went to the length of offering a prize for those who could suggest what investigations there might in future be within this area.

Being naturally inquisitive, I corresponded with the editor of Nature in due course to inquire how he was getting on I did not receive an answer from him until 8 May because in the meantime he had been away at the Hanover fair He replied: The position is that we have had about a dozen proposals, some detailed, some vague I hope that we shall have opinions on these in a month or so I have not yet decided how we shall publish them, but I shall make sure that you have a sight of what we plan to publish before it actually appears I am much obliged to the editor of Nature for his candour in reporting upon the response to his desperate plea to those concerned "While no investigations are in progress at the moment, kindly let me know what investigations might be put forward to make up something of a case"

However, I did not think that it was good enough to go on waiting to hear from the editor of Nature I said to myself, "This is too important to be left to correspondence with a periodical, however distinguished I will go to the fountainhead I will go to the Minister for Health because he is personally—not as Minister in his official capacity —opposed to the contents of the legislation He must have thought deeply upon the subject Moreover, his Department has been concerned in studying the legislation in great detail and advising upon the consequences if it were to be passed So I cannot do better than to address myself to the Minister himself "Therefore, I asked the Minister, in a written question, if he will list the establishments in which he is aware of human embryos being currently possessed tor purposes which would be outside the terms of the authority defined in the Unborn Children (Proteclion) Bill". The reply which I received will be instantly recognisable by all students of that handbook of politics known as "Yes Minister". Mr. Hacker's—I am sorry, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's—written answer was: We do not have sufficient detailed information to enable us to speculate on the effects of the Bill as precisely as the question asks."— [Official Report, 17 April 1985; Vol. 77, c. 410-11. ]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

A good answer.

Mr. Powell

It was a very good answer. He said he did not know. He said that his Department did not know. So here all this agitation was going on, and yet the Minister was quite unable to draw attention to any establishment in which anything happening was incompatible with terms of the legislation to which he was personally opposed.

Therefore, I was not altogether surprised when, in the couple of articles, which many hon. Members will have read, in the Sunday Telegraph on 19 and 26 May 1985, Mr. Graham Turner, the author, said of one of the persons whom he had interviewed: So far, he hadn't done the sort of work on human embryos which the Powell Bill would have banned, but very much wanted to. Nor was I surprised by the general conclusion at which Mr. Turner arrived, from the people he had interviewed in the course of his investigations: Too many have become scientist-politicians concerned with putting up a good public relations case for embryo experiments, but a few are genuinely concerned with truth, even to the extent of admitting that their own case is not watertight. Since it has been alleged that I take no interest in the relevant establishments, I should add that I was careful to inquire of Professor Craft at the Cromwell hospital and of Messrs Steptoe and Edwards at Bourn Hall, to whom I express at once my gratitude to them for the great courtesy and hospitality they showed me. I asked them point blank, "Are you conducting any experiments which are incompatible with the terms of this legislation?" In each case the answer was no—a negative which has been confirmed publicly by both in the course of television interviews.

So here is a pretty pickle. We have Baroness Warnock in an article in The Times—opinions may differ as to the good taste or otherwise of the illustration—asserting: without continued research in vitro fertilization would come to an end", yet in the very establishments where vast sums of money are being paid for the continuance of this process, we find that such research was not taking place and is not taking place—nor anywhere else, apparently. There is also the greatest difficulty in envisaging what it might be or, to quote the editor of Nature again, "what exactly are the benefits" it might produce.

I felt, however, that it was my duty to do what the Warnock committee had not done in its shoddy investigations, and to ask some pertinent questions, questions as to what were the purposes and the benefits for which it was indispensable for the experiments to be conducted on human embryos. I am much obliged to Dr. Lieberman of the regional IVF unit in Manchester for his correspondence with me and for his assistance to me in this respect. I am not certain that at all stages in the correspondence Dr Lieberman knew exactly what had hit him, but at any rate it has been an enjoyable correspondence on both sides.

When I asked Dr Lieberman what were the purposes for which it was indispensable to conduct experiments incompatible with the terms of the legislation, he kindly referred me to an article by Dr Anne McLaren published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in April of this year. Naturally, I examined it with great interest and eagerness I found that it contained four separate suggestions Two of them I set on one side at once as they were compatible with the terms of the Bill, being concerned not with embryos but with gametes That left two propositions The first was that such experiments were necessary lor testing male fertility I quite understand that it was probably not possible for the Minister for Health to be present at this debate, but he will have been advised by his Department—as I was advised by his Department, in writing—that there are other methods of producing that result which do not involve those experiments So that leaves us with the residual fourth proposition Dr McLaren put forward I hope that I may spend a few more moments upon that, because it is of great importance, for it has been the cause of great misunderstanding, and of great avoidable distress occasioned to large numbers of people in the course of the debates which have taken place in preceding months I refer to the elimination of embryos containing genetic defects.

I will spend a moment or two on the theory which underlies the proposition It is that if parents known to be liable to transmit a genetic disease will have their children by in vitro fertilisation, and if, before insertion, the embryos can be tested to be cleared of otherwise of those diseases, it should be possible to ensure that those parents do not have children who will carry forward those diseases That is the underlying theory of the whole proposition It was contended by Dr McLaren that for that purpose, "because of species differences between human beings and the objects of the previous trials which had pointed to the conclusion that the remainder of an embryo of which one or two cells had been biopsied in order to test for genetic disease was viable it inserted — or, as the terminology goes, was totipotential— the last step can never be omitted if a procedure is to be used in clinical practice — in other words, that it was necessary to experiment upon human embryos in order to clear the totipotentiality of byopsied embryos for insertion That is a very logical proposition if it is correct, but I am advised that there are strong grounds for taking it to be incorrect.

I was advised on the matter by Dr McLean of the department of anatomy of the university of Manchester, who assured me that the only way in which the viability of the embryo from which the biopsy is taken can be assessed is by insertion, with subsequent monitoring of the pregnancy". He assumes that that was what must be meant by' the last step" referred to in Dr McLaren's paper to which I was referred by Dr Lieberman.

So we arrive at a second conclusion Not only has the current practice of these experiments not been demon-strated, though their continuance is supposed to be vital to the continuance of the fertility procedures, but it is extremely difficult and controversial to identify the benefits which it is alleged they might produce — a whole field of inquiry into which there is no evidence that the Warnock committee entered in the course of arriving at its foregone conclusion that it was necessary to make provision by legislation for such experiments to be made.

Right hon. and hon. Members may feel that up to this point I have only discharged part of the task on which I set out. They would be entitled to say, "If anything, you have proved too much. You have shown evidence that experiments incompatible with the legislation are not in progress. You have argued that such experiments are necessary. How, then, comes it that pressure is so strong for such experiments to be authorised? How is it that there is such violent, though concentrated and orchestrated, opposition to legislation which would be incompatible with them?"

It is necessary to answer that question, and again I am indebted to Dr. McLaren for supplying the answer. Among the objects which she mentioned, there was a fifth which I now bring to the attention to the House. She wrote: Research on new methods of contraception also requires the use of IVF test systems. I believe that there she laid her finger upon part, though only part, of the answer to the legitimate question of the House: why is it that such pressures have been exerted in order to secure legalisation permitting the use of the human embryo as an object of scientific experiment?

I do not know whether hon. Members have studied at all carefully the terms of reference of the so-called voluntary authority which has been set up between the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to exercise those functions of control which the Warnock committee suggested should be vested in a quango. But even in setting out at this stage the objects, they said: The aim of any research must be clearly defined and relevant to clinical problems such as the diagnosis and treatment of infertility or of genetic disorders"— and note— or for the development of safe and more effective contraceptive measures. This bears out what Sir John Dewhurst said in a letter of great importance which was published in the Daily Telegraph on 6 June—a letter signed by some of the most eminent obstetricians and gynaecologists in the country: we must uderstand that enthusiasm for IVF is now only incidentally concerned with relief of infertility.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Will the right hon. Gentleman go a bit further with the voluntary code between the Medical Research Council—

Mr. Powell

Yes. I will go further. I am in the middle of it.

Dr. Miller

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that this body which has suggested the voluntary code now has a more scientific attitude, I think, to determining the pre-embryo stage in order to differentiate between that stage and the embryo after 14 days? Will he go further and say that it depends on the development of the primitive streak? The Medical Research Council and the Royal College are very much in favour of experimentation so long as it does not occur after the primitive streak has appeared.

Mr. Powell

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was aware of the views officially put forward on behalf of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, although they are not shared by many of the most distinguished members of that college or by many distinguished members of the medical profession.

I was drawing the attention of the House to what Sir John Dewhurst wrote, namely What is more important (to some) is that there should be a plentiful supply of disposable human embryos in the laboratories for testing drugs (and especially in developing abortifacients) Some of us who have been interested in this matter for a series of months have been struck by the nature of the pressures which lay behind the opposition to legislation The presence of commercial motivation, the existence of large potential profits in the background, was unmistakable Here lies one of the central points By research upon human embryos, the means—

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Powell

No I am finishing my speech If the hon. Member is called, he can make his comments then.

The motivation behind much of the demand to have embryos available for experiment is a commercial motivation based upon the possibility and prospect of developing highly saleable and profitable contraceptives and other drugs.

Mrs. Renee Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Is that not better than abortion?

Mr. Powell

Sir John Dewhurst continues: This is not scare- mongering This is what the pro-IVF lobby itself tells us, and we may suspect that much more is already happening inside some laboratories than we are told This then is the answer to the legitimate question Why is it that, in the absence of current experiments relevant to IVF, and in the absence of logical and rational justification of the need for human embryos for some future experiments, we have not had disclosed the real, effective ground and the real purposes for which that use was to be indispensable?

It is a curious reflection that some of the most incorruptible Members of the House, such as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr Hamilton), have found themselves ingenuously accepting, no doubt largely as a result of the careless and inadequate work done by the Warnock committee, the case put forward by those who wish to make major profits out of the exploitation of experiment upon the human embryo.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr Dobson) on the Opposition Front Bench, because I have noted with satisfaction and sympathy his growing interest in the exploitation of medicine by capitalist investment, especially from the United States He will share with me a sense of the sardonic irony that hon. Members whom no one would suspect of any underhand motives should have been enlisted innocently in the service of the interests I have described.

So I have this last advice for the Government It is that the background to legislation on this subject is changing with astonishing rapidity It is not only that the work of the Warnock committee is being unpicked and shown to be the shoddy stuff it always was It is that opinions in the profession are changing in a direction which should facilitate legislation that will be acceptable to the House.

At the end of last month I received a letter from Dr. Edwards of Bourn Hall, and again I express my gratitude to him for the patience with which he has sustained a correspondence with me on the subject. His letter contains a most important and considered statement by a person who perhaps more than anyone else is famous and eminent in this branch of medicine. He wrote: I would stress that we do not wish to create 'research embryos', but to use those which are known to be genetically or otherwise abnormal and those embryos which are considered unfit for replacement or frozen storage. That declaration by one of the leading figures in this field is light years away from the recommendations of the Warnock committee, with its acceptance of the creation of embryos for experiment and the use of surplus normal embryos for experiment. That is an illustration, coming from the quarter that it does, of the speed with which public debate on this matter has brought about a reconsideration on the part of the medical profession and particularly of those who are in the forefront of advances in fertility treatment.

The Government will find when they come to frame their legislation that it will need to be framed closely upon the lines that have already proved acceptable to an overwhelming majority of the House. The Warnock committee recommendations no longer offer a basis upon which tenable or defensible legislation can be founded. The Government will have to bring forward legislation on grounds which the House has already pioneered and explored. They will find in doing so that they are also in line not only with the bulk of opinion and sentiment outside the House but with the bulk of opinion and sentiment in the medical profession itself.

Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Both sides of the House must be concerned about what I would consider, although I respect the views of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and his friends, to be an abuse of parliamentary time. I think that I am known as a Member of Parliament who can honestly and truthfully say that in the 20 years I have been here I have never abused the use of parliamentary time. The motion before the House was rigidly adhered to in the first two speeches, but 20 Members of Parliament who have some known scientific and technological interest in a matter that is of great concern to the country have had their chance to speak delayed. I urge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to have a word with Mr. Speaker to see how we can end the serious abuses that are continuing to pile up day after day. It must end, in the interests of all Back Benchers. I am sorry that I have taken so much time.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In advance I intimated to Mr. Speaker the subject on which I intended to intervene in the debate, in case he should see fit to warn me against doing so or say that it was unacceptable.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and he has answered the point. This is a wide debate on the Government's policy for science. Had there been an abuse of our procedures, I would have taken action.

11.32 am
Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) has taken away the first paragraph of what I was going to say. It was the point that the House rarely has opportunities to debate the thrust and organisation of the Government's science policy. It is my view and that of many other hon. Members that we should debate it more intensively and more often. Although the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) is passionately concerned about the important issue on which he spoke with great authority, it is right that it should occupy a comparatively minor proportion of today's debate and not, as it could easily do, the whole of it.

The right hon. Member referred to the publication of an article in Nature. Some 70 years ago, give or take a few years, there appeared in one of the major scientific journals— I believe that it could have been Nature, although I am speaking from memory as I have not had a chance to verify this—a simple equation published by a man called Albert Einstein. It was E= ½MC2. At that time, about four or five physicists in the whole world appreciated the significance of that announcement. The anti-nuclear lobby could easily say, with the benefit of hindsight, what a good thing it would have been if the formula had disappeared from sight. It could be asked whether we could know what research was being done into nuclear power and nuclear weapons, or what research was likely to be done, for example, into nuclear magnetic resonance scanners, and the benefit of that to the human race. We did not know, and we could not know, and that is the answer to the right hon. Member for South Down.

Alfred North Whitehead, a considerable scientist, was asked about the scope of science and whether we would ever know it all. The argument then was that perhaps we were reaching the stage where the ultimate boundaries could be seen. He said that no, we would never know it all. It was like the branches of a great tree—it keeps on growing, but the space between the branches will always be greater than that occupied by the tree. That is why responsible rsearch, properly conducted, should know no man-imposed limits. That is the most fundamental thing that one can say about the history of science in the last three centuries, and I expect for the next three. That is why we must approach this matter with the greatest possible care. The right hon. Member has made my case in an entirely different context, and he will see why in a minute.

Some very interesting points were made by the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray). He and I share a considerable and long-standing interest in science, and that of the Government in science, and we share many conclusions. His speech was profoundly interesting and is one that will have to be re-read to rediscover the interesting parts. We went wrong in one way, although I do not blame him for this. I know the pressures, under which we all are, in looking to see whether a case can be made for or against the failure of the Government in science. The hon. Gentleman referred to a document in the Library, which contains a catalogue of articles, the headings of which imply that things are not well. The House of Lords report in 1981 implied the same thing, and many other statements have said so as well.

Would it not be so much more constructive if, in this debate and in this House, we sought to focus our attention to discover what it is, under all Governments since the second world war, that has allowed this deterioration? If it can be proved to have continued under successive Administrations, what are the common factors? Can we isolate and identify them, and get some agreement about them? If we can, there is possibility, hope and scope for a constructive change, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be the first to accept and carry out. I hope that in the rest of the debate we shall go down that road, rather than down the sterile road of attempting to allocate immediate blame for the past 18 months, two or three years, or whatever.

This year's "Annual Review of Government-funded R and D", produced by the Cabinet Office, is a great improvement on that of last year. It is moving forward the general quality of discussion in these matters and is making more information available. This is welcome progress, and the Government are to be congratulated. We must hope that the progress will continue.

A number of issues are raised in the report which deserve some attention. The first is the old argument of pure versus applied science. Increasingly, I am impressed by the falsity of this antithesis. As I see it, curiosity, to which the right hon. Member for South Down referred somewhat disparagingly, and which can be called fundamental scientific interest, is a seamless robe. Our trouble is that our technological imagination, the grasp of scientific implications and potential, has been declining. I refer not to the absence of curiosity or of the fundamental spirit of scientific inquiry, but to the rather more difficult to define attribute of technological imagination which allows some people to say, immediately on seeing some scientific work, that it has implications and that we can use it or do something with it. We must encourage that quality.

It is sometimes argued that too much is spent on defence research and development. That proportion of expenditure is certainly high. However, as the Secretary-General of NATO reminded us only recently, if we do not maintain the highest standards of research and keep up on the critical frontiers, we may as well pack everything in and buy our weapons systems from those who do. We all know what has happened throughout history to those who have bought their weapons systems, and particularly to those who have bought them from their enemies.

I was struck by the coincidence that the hon. Member for Motherwell, South should have used the example of electron microscopes, as I had intended to comment on technological inflation. That inflation lies behind many of the resource allocation problems involved in scientific research. The electron microscope has not yet reached its limit. Next year's will cost about 10 times as much as this year's, and in a decade's time, the next electron microscope will probably cost about 10 times as much as the one now on the drawing board. That is an inescapable development. Such technological inflation is built into the very structure of advanced science, and we must accept it. But it nevertheless imposes a need to concentrate our research ever more skillfully on the areas in which we do best.

The need for an electron microscope was clearly foreseen. It is one of the most powerful tools of science, yet I believe that the best made are now to be found in Japan. I believe that they have been made in Japan for only the past 10 to 15 years. Why do we not seize such opportunities? Why is our technological imagination deficient, and how can we recreate it in the pattern of social attitudes about which we talk so much? What is to be done?

My next point takes me directly back to an aspect of the speech made by the right hon. Member for South Down. Where is Parliament's vision? Does the House review at length, and annually, the things that really matter? The answer is that in a way it does For example, we review defence at length and publish a three-volume Blue Paper on it We debate defence for three days, and that is only proper and correct After all, where there is no defence, there is no civil state We debate finance for weeks on end, which is only right and proper, and produce massive documents We debate the organisation and distribution of social welfare, which is again a proper preoccupation of a parliamentary system Attached to that is the familiar group of health, law, housing, transport, industry and education Last, least and almost lost comes science.

We need an annual review of the sort published by the Cabinet Office, although it would need to be much more complete, covering the whole of civil science and not just that aspect funded by the Government As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr Warren) pointed out, such things are done effectively in Japan Indeed, I have seen how the Japanese do them To some extent, that lies at the heart of their industrial and national success But we are quite capable of learning lessons and of making even more interesting innovations at the appropriate stage One of the most remarkable strengths of the Japanese, not least in technology, science and administrative matters, is that they do not suffer from the "not invented here" factor, whereas we do.

Is Parliament equipped to carry out the annual review of scientific policy that it should be undertaking?I believe that the answer is no It is significant that we discover from the document that the state rightly spends £525 million, through its Government Departments, on supporting the formulation of policy But what does the House spend on the examination of the formulation of policy? Select Committee expenditure probably amounts to about £2 5 million a year, and that is just about it Consequently, we are desperately ill-equipped to pass judgment on the performance or proposals of the Government, where they are dependent upon or influenced by, scientific and technological practice That takes me back to the case made by the right hon. Member for South Down There are other examples such as nuclear power, acid rain, supersonic transport, the defence technology options, and the commercial implications of biotechnology — which is, incidentally, a much wider subject than that raised by the right hon. Gentleman However, we do not have the apparatus.

The United States Congress recognised the problem some 20 years ago, in 1962, and discussed it at length over three or four years In 1972 it set up an organisation known as the Office of Technology Assessment I believe that that is what we need Twenty-three Governments have since sent representatives to examine it in Washington, and I understand that several in Europe are now establishing their own OTAs We need one, but what is it? It is an independent, separate arm of Congress It serves both Houses and is controlled by a joint committee of six Senators and six Members of Congress It is bipartisan, or non-political It costs the United States $15 million per annum, which works out at about $500,000 per project, and employs a staff of 139.

Given our scale of resources, the 5 per cent of the world's research and development that we do, and the significance of our science technology, we urgently need to establish a similar organisation in this Parliament which serves, and is controlled by, both Houses It could be a "think tank" for the House of Commons and the House of Lords Such an organisation could address fundamentally the problems that have been presented to us by the right hon. Member for South Down in his Bill, and by the Warnock report. We need an independent assessment to be made by completely objective and impartial people, whose sole responsibility is not to the Government, to the right hon. Member for South Down or to anyone else, but to Parliament and to those who send us here. In that way, we can exercise a more intelligent, effective and discriminating judgment over such matters.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the new anti-fouling provisions, which are the subject of Government regulation. We know absolutely nothing about that matter. We are dependent on taking either the opinion of the Government Laboratory, which is no doubt valid, objective and honest, or that of the organisations which say that the material that we put on the surface of boats is safe and does not kill oysters. Which hon. Member can honestly say that he can make an independent judgment on that? I doubt whether even my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister — whom the hon. Member for Motherwell, South regrettably referred to as a second-class chemist — can say that. Incidentally, we do not need first-class chemists in Parliament, because they would be wasted. In any event, I do not think that they would come here.

Hon. Members should look at the reports which the OTA has produced on acid rain, on the commercial implications of biotechnology and, most recently, on the strategic defence initiative. They are so clear that they are useful to the legislator. They say that something can or cannot be scientifically proved, and they identify areas of doubt and certainty. They say that on the basis of such and such a scientific structure, the legislator has the following options: he can do this and it will cost that, or he should do nothing as there is not enough information to sustain any legislation. We lack such analyses in Westminster, and we will not discharge the duties of this or subsequent Parliaments unless we take action comparatively quickly.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the Nature Conservancy Council reports to Parliament, not to the Government? Therefore, we are entitled to go to the Nature Conservancy Council for independent opinions.

Mr. Lloyd

I was not aware of that. However, I do not think that it disqualifies my argument. We must strengthen input to the House of Commons.

I am glad that the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee has established a Sub-Committee which has agreed to examine the whole proposition and to make recommendations to the House. I have only one request of the Government, which I make earnestly because when I put this point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during Question Time she was sceptical—perhaps it was a fast ball—and said that she did not feel that a case was made on the basis of my argument. If the Committee, on examining all these matters, recommends that we should equip Parliament with its own office of technology assessment, appropriate to our resources and the scale of our activities, will the Government give that a fair wind? It is important that we should have that facility.

11.51 am
Dame Judith Hart (Clydesdale)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd) who has a wealth of knowledge and experience of these matters. He was somewhat reproachful of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr Bray) and said that we should not be so conscious of party differences There is a good deal in that, but there have been points in time when we could clearly see whether things were going well or going badly.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the problem in the early 1950s was not that there were not enough scientists with enough money to do enough good work, it was that British private investment was not putting in the money to exploit what was being revealed to us An example is microelectronics— the chip The great complaint was that British industry was not prepared to use the knowledge being given to it by British scientists.

There was a period of considerable decline winch led to the brain drain referred to by the Secretary of State because there were not enough posts, not enough money, not enough activity in science and not enough interest shown by Government That then led to the expeditions to the United States and Canada in an attempt to bring back those who had gone there with the brain drain The reason that the efforts to recapture those who had gone 10 work in the United States and Canada proved relatively successful was that they were needed in this country Posts were not being lost through lack of money in the research councils Posts in university research departments were not being cut because of lack of money The posts existed and the people were needed At that time we spoke of the white heat of the technological revolution It did not last long enough.

I welcome the debate I agree with other hon. Members that it is scandalous that we have not had a proper discussion about science policy for so long Indeed, the subject has been left to the other place, whose debates make devastating reading I shall not run into the hazard of quoting from the other place, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it emerged clearly from those debates involving eminent scientists and scientific administrators that even then restrained language and admirable civility could not conceal their anger and distress about one simple point —that more money is needed, but it is not coming from the Government That was the central theme of then remarks, and it is something on which we should concentrate today.

Of course, we can all make claims in various areas of Government expenditure that we should be exempted from cuts and the economies of Government—whether it be welfare, social services, housing, the National Health Service or overseas aid. Therefore, there is a certain duty upon us to ensure that if we seek more money for basic research—which is the general tenor of the debate—we must be ready to say where that should be found We must also say why we wish that to be given a high priority.

The answer to the second question is evident. Basic research is the very foundation of future national success We are at a time when we must look ahead and it will not be long before the oil runs out We have been hung on oil for the past seven or eight years As it runs out, the fact that there has been such a desperate decline in our manufacturing industry and the lack of competitiveness in the new technologies of manufacturing industry will matter desperately.

Our manufacturing decline will continue apace unless we can change the momentum of what is happening in basic research and its application in industry Agair, basic research can actually help Governments to save a great deal of money Let us consider an example from the Medical Research Council. It is estimated that some 700,000 elderly and other people suffer from senile dementia. More money needs to be spent on research. But, my goodness, if we can cut down the number of people suffering from senile dementia surely the Secretary of State can get financial support from the Secretary of State for Social Services. It is obvious that money could be saved.

I accept that an additional £55 million has been made available and that the Secretary of State has contrived to put a little here and a little there, but the overall response of the Government has been and still is appalling.

Mr. Dalyell

I want to reinforce my right hon. Friend's point about senile dementia. A fortnight ago I visited the neuropathogens unit at Edinburgh university. Its most senior staff told me that they had to do the most simple tasks, which should have been done by school leavers, because they were so short of funds.

Dame Judith Hart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining that point.

I wish to quote from the 1984 report of the advisory board. I understand that the 1985 report has just arrived in the Library, and The Guardian has provided the opportunity to read a great deal of it. Indeed, I understand that the 1985 report pitches the case even more strongly than the 1984 report.

The 1984 report referred to the financial prospects in the longer term, having drawn attention to the points made by the Secretary of State in his opening remarks—the problems of international commitment related to exchange rates, the problem of cash limits for increased pay and superannuation commitments and so on. The report states: We draw attention to the cost increases discussed above because without continued additional funding they will inexorably reduce the resources available for research. We would urge the Government to reflect most carefully before resuming a decline that will seriously prejudice our national capacity not merely to sustain our historic role in the advance of scientific understanding but to develop the science-based industry upon which our future depends. Those are very strong words.

Mention has been made of the Medical Research Council's last annual report, and the advisory board said: the percentage of alpha-rated research grant applications which MRC was able to fund in 1983–84… fell to 53 per cent. Again, that is a devastating point.

The foreword to the Medical Research Council report states: funds available to it for medical research have‖ fallen by £2 million. A further cause for concern is the plan to 'tax' the Council by substantial amounts in the next two years to provide a fund to aid restructuring in other Councils. We know that the Medical Research Council has received a little from the £55 million. But the report states: Against this financial background, the Council has had to contend with an unprecedented demand for the support of first-rate research in the universities. In addition, there are first-rate opportunities to set up new teams in its own institutes and research units. However, it is now finding difficulty in maintaining even current commitments, and in order to balance income and expenditure in the current year, damaging cuts have been made to recurrent expenditure in all its existing units. That was the matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), when he referred to the Edinburgh unit. The report goes on to say: The amount of extra money needed‖is small", but it is of desperate importance.

One of the absurdities is that in so many research councils and university departments concepts and ideas are crying out for money to be spent on them There is no shortage of them, there is a desperate proliferation of ideas and further prospects in every area of science On the one hand, finance has come from the direct science budget, and, on the other hand, it has come from grants to the University Grants Committee The UGC has made all its anxieties clearly known about the cuts in its expenditure, but basic research has been squeezed at both ends.

I am afraid that research has been squeezed even more in another area, by the inexorable Government policy of privatisation I take my figures from the Cabinet Office report In British Gas, which is about to be privatised, 5 5 per cent of its capital expenditure — a sum of £45 million — was spent on research in the last year for which figures are available In British Telecom, which has been privatised, the figure is 12 8 per cent, amounting to £172 million I am not sure what guarantees we have that that proportion of immensely valuable research and development work will be carried out by privatised companies, or for what purposes research and development money will be used It is one thing to develop system X, as British Telecom did, but it is another to develop new types of Mickey Mouse consumer telephones We have no guarantee that the privatisation of public sector industries will not lead to a diminution in that area of industry-funded research and development Nor is it likely that research in the research councils and university departments will be rescued by the private sector.

The Secretary of State said that he would talk a little more about this, but he did not He mentioned huge amounts being given by business What are those huge amounts? Let us look again at the Cabinet Office report Last year, the figure was £42 million That is not a huge amount from British industry Some United Kingdom companies, such as GEC, have large surpluses If the Secretary of State was right that huge amounts were being given by British industry, and if even 1 per cent of those surpluses were put into research and development, the financial prospects for basic research in the university and research councils would be transformed But that is not so, and it is not likely to be so One of my friends, who is a fellow of the Royal Society professor of theoretical physics, said that a group of industrialists told him: We pay our taxes: it' s the role of government to pay for basic research. I fear that that attitude is, sadly, endemic in British industry, and should not be so No one can look to industry, in the present state of play, to rescue basic research from the neglect of Government.

In the other place, that matter has been described as a cause for serious anxiety I believe that we must be blunt A crisis is facing science and the scientists I have claimed that it is one of the priority areas in which more money is needed Therefore, if more money is needed, where is it to be found? I said that it was irresponsible not to suggest where money could be found One could argue the case in the context of the general policies of the Labour party for expansion, reflation, growth and so on I shall not do that I shall argue within the context of this Government's policies I shall argue in the context of dry, not wet, Conservative policies.

The Secretary of State referred in passing to defence expenditure If the right hon. Gentleman is indeed arguing the toss with the Secretary of State for Defence, let me take the House through the following figures. Again according to the Cabinet Office report, in 1985-86 total civil research and development is £2,033 million. In the same year total defence research and development is £2,077 million— more. In cost terms, taking an index of 100 for 1983-84 compared with 1985-86, we have the following figures. The figure for all civil departments is 109; for all research councils it is 100. Within that the figure for the Medical Research Council drops to 96. The figure for the UGC is 97; for Ministry of Defence development it is 105 and for Ministry of Defence research it is 108. Therefore, slightly more than half of research and development is within the province of the Secretary of State for Defence, and less than half — a declining proportion — is within civil research and development.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that a few years ago, when a former colleague of ours, Arthur Palmer, who represented Bristol, North-East, was chairman of the Select Committee, there were 174 research and development defence projects, which were outdated and thus continued by old momentum?

Dame Judith Hart

I was going to examine the problems of cutting down research and development in defence. I could argue in the context of Labour party policy and say that, as we shall no longer have nuclear weapons, we could cut out that research. However, I shall not do that. I shall argue in the context of this Government's policy. They want Trident. They are replacing British Polaris by American Trident. If they are to do that, they do not need the research and development that has been necessary to support a British-manufactured deterrent, so a large chunk goes out there.

As my hon. Friend suggests, an enormous amount could be saved on pure economy. I doubt whether the Rayner-type economy efficiency drive has been rigorously applied by the generals and admirals to everything in their little corners. I am certain that, say, 2 per cent. of defence expenditure could be saved simply by ruthlessly pruning things that are no longer needed, wholly irrelevant, outdated or being done inefficiently. I do not believe that that would cause a revolution in defence.

Let us consider another aspect. What will be the effect of the strategic defence initiative? There will be some spin-off from British participation in research on that, in optics, energy transmission and communictions, but it will be under United States control and will help American rather than British companies. It is also likely to distort the distribution of scientific resources.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Dame Judith Hart

In view of the time, I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not.

The distribution of scientific resources will be distorted, increasing defence-oriented research at the expense of basic research by the research councils and the universities. One per cent. of defence research and development would be £20 million. Two per cent. would be £40 million. A 2 per cent. reduction in defence research and development would give an increase of more than 10 per cent. for the research councils or 5 per cent. for the research councils and 5 per cent. to the University Grants Committee for university-sponsored research. A 2 per cent. transfer from defence research and development to civil basic research in the next five years would not merely meet the minimum that the advisory board has laid down this week, which is the least that we are entitled to expect from the Government this year, but would completely transform the position and prospects of the research councils and of basic research in the universities.

I strongly urge the Secretary of State to take that on board in the coming public expenditure exercise and to fight his corner against the Secretary of State for Defence. He should also fight his corner a little more publicly. All those in the universities, the research councils, the scientific press and the community as a whole who share the deep concern that something is very wrong with the British approach to the development of opportunities for basic research could then make it clear to the Secretary of State that he has an enormous number of people on his side in fighting his corner in that way, and I think that he might be able to win his case.

12.12 pm
Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Befordshire, North)

The right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) made a most interesting point about the effect of privatisation on research and development. I understand that the Advisory Board for the Research Councils has set up a working party under the chairmanship of Professor Mathias to examine the funding of research by the private sector and to consider how it can be extended. That group is due to report in September 1985, but perhaps the Secretary of State will comment briefly on it today as it is extremely important.

The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) made the important point that this debate is being held on a Friday when fewer Members than usual are present in the House. I have examined the position in depth and studied the way in which scientific subjects have been raised in the House in the past year. We had a debate on acid rain. Three debates arose out of EEC documents on air pollution from industrial plants, a programme for industrial technology and information technology. There were two debates under the Consolidated Fund Bill on environmental pollution and the science policy formula That is not good enough. Science is being brought in on a side wind.

The Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts is considering the vital matter of the science budget and I understand that it will be reporting in mid-July. This major debate should have been deferred until that report was available, so that we could discuss the matter in depth.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the importance of science is illlustrated by the fact that so many Members have attended this debate on a Friday and hope to participate in it?

Mr. Skeet

That is certainly true. The Government will have to take the matter much more seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd) referred to the Office of Technical Assessment, and I have invited him to make a presentation to the working party of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. I see some prospect of such an idea coming to fruition. The Government may take up the strategy—only they have the money to do so—or it may be funded by the Royal Society. Certainly the matter will have to be examined in considerable depth.

The Secretary of State has pointed out that there are several sources of Government funds for research and development—that which goes through the University Grants Committee and the research councils and the work that is commissioned by the Departments, especially the Ministry of Defence. The overview required for a general perspective is provided by two bodies—the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development and the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, under Sir Henry Chilver and Sir David Phillips respectively. That seems a very complicated approach, and when there is a shortage of finance the system may come under considerable strain.

There is a surfeit of money in the United Kingdom and there is no shortage of ideas. Could not they join forces in the national interest? Simply the rate of return on investment in research is too low to be attractive compared with other ventures, hence the growth of capital-rich giants such as GEC, Shell and BP and, at the other end of the scale, Joseph Rothschild (Holdings), which prefer to keep their reserves inviolate. Further, Britain is not accustomed to commercialise innovation and to export the products of its intellectual wealth. The flotation of Abbey Life yesterday brought in about £2.6 billion, but when it comes to Government research we cannot find sufficient funds even to cover fully the alpha projects.

ACARD and the ABRC could provide the beacon light. Jointly and severally, they have provided some fine reports and I pay tribute to their initiative, but those reports simply lie around on the shelves in Whitehall and little has become of them. The most recent ACARD report was published in 1983. The concept of Commonwealth certainly got Britain moving, but the age of technology has scarcely stimulated a generation which regards it as somewhat vulgar and materialistic. Attitudes must change if the United Kingdom is not to be reduced to a European slum. Sir Robin Nicholson will have to stir the dormant ACARD and give the lead that the country so urgently needs.

In evidence to the Select Committee on 19 June 1984, Dr. Roberts of the ABRC said: I believe that we really ought to address what our objectives are, then what our strategy to achieve them is, then face up to tactical issues and organisational issues. But all these aims remain to be achieved.

Let us consider what others are doing to achieve those objectives. Several references have been made to the Japanese. ACARD produced a very good document entitled "New Opportunities in Manufacturing: The Management of Technology." Annex B states: Japan began by importing and applying the best foreign technologies reinforced by a strong and consistent Government policy, implemented effectively by a single organisation, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, (MITI), to support and pursue advanced manufacturing technology and to encourage its widespread practical implementation. MITI was the organism that that country used. I shall make a few random quotations from the same document. Japan's acknowledged lead in robotics… MITI plans to spend £125 million in its own laboratories to conduct research into new types of material such as high performance ceramics, synthetic membranes for new osmotic techniques, electrically conductive polymeric materials, high performance engineering plastics … MITI provides the risk capital… MITI also seeks to provide infra-structures… The main purpose of Japanese universities is to provide graduates and personnel capable of applying advanced technology in industry… The vast majority of engineering graduates — more than 70,000 annually as against 7,000 in the UK". I have quoted at random, but it is important to draw attantion to the fact that ACARD's ideas have not percolated through to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. Perhaps there is no fault in either case, but such ideas have not been implemented in the United Kingdom and it is apparent that we do not have that essential drive in science.

It is also worth considering what happens in Europe. The Federal Republic of Germany has a Ministry of Research and Technology. France has a similar Ministry and an expanding budget. It has been argued that science should be detached from education and transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry or to a separate Ministry. That would at last give it an identity and be in line with developments in Japan, the Federal Republic and France, all of which have achieved considerable success in the past decade.

Nobody welcomes central planning as opposed to devolved control, but the public may wish to ask, "What are the profitable lines' of research that should be supported?" They should be given correct answers and the Government should show determination to proceed. The United Kingdom could gain from a simplified structure for funding the science budget. The several integral contributors are subject to a variety of problems. In an expenditure crisis, roads, houses and the science budget are among the first to be subject to abatement. The research councils have been persuaded that state resources will diminish. As recently as January, the ABRC reported: we consider that a realistic and long term view should take account of the probability of a sustained decline in the volume of resources that can be brought from the science vote. Including defence, Government research and development is expected to total £4.4 billion in 1985–86. That figure is only about 3 per cent. of total planned national expenditure, which is £131 billion. It should be remembered that health and social security absorb about £56.6 billion a year. As today's technology is the basis for tomorrow's prosperity, and one of the keys to solving the employment problem, it is surprising that, in the case of SERC, for instance, 20 to 30 per cent. of alpha projects cannot be taken up because of a shortage of funds. Something must be wrong. It is perfectly right that social security should be provided in full, but it does not create wealth. It is technology that creates wealth and provides jobs in consequence.

It can be argued that basic, strategic and applied research are part of the country's capital investment as opposed to income account, and should be significantly expanded and protected. North sea revenues, which are running at between £11 billion and £12 billion a year, could be subjected to an annual charge to build up the resources, equipment and intellectual wealth of the nation.

In his report to the ABRC, Sir Ronald Mason remarked on the dearth of strategic research being undertaken. If the United States, Japan, France, West Germany and the Soviet Union agree that that is the right line of approach, and if it is hinted that ACARD has considerable sympathy with that view, why is such little impact being made on the Treasury?

There are some anomalies which should be considered and removed. First, should salary increases, redundancy payments, superannuation and fluctuations in the exchange rate be paid for out of the scientific budget? Should it also be accountable for the restructuring costs? If such matters fall to the charge of the scientific budget, there must be less money for science. Secondly, is the fiscal system appropriate, bearing in mind the nation's problems? Does it provide inducements to science? Thirdly, who should be responsible for the full cost of sophisticated equipment? The case of the electron microscope has been illustrated today. It is not enough to have a man in a laboratory— he must have suitable equipment to complete his project. Fourthly, should research councils constantly be exposed to the chill wind of Government Departments terminating work sent out on commission and be expected to bear the brunt of sustained losses?

Sir David Phillips, who is chairman of the ABRC and a resourceful man, observed in today's Daily Telegraph: The board is under the firm impression that we are losing our brighter scientists at an increasing rate and it was very distressing to find that other countries were beginning to capitalise on the investment in our education and our training. We have produced more Nobel prize winners than any other country. The British are the people of innovation and of ideas. London is the financial centre of the world. It is surprising that we make such a poor result of our potential when it comes to treating the basic requirements of science.

12.28 pm
Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

It is a pleasure for me to speak following the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet), who has recently succeeded me as chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. As he will be aware, when I was chairman, I was keen to see that the House had more contact with the presidents of the royal colleges of medicine so that we could inform ourselves about what they were doing in medical research.

It was a pleasure for us to welcome Lady Warnock, together with two other distinguished members of her committee, to address one of our well-attended meetings. In view of the extraordinary intervention of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who is no longer in his place, it was a pity that he did not take the trouble to attend that meeting. He would have learned much about the painstaking work done by the Warnock committee and its members. He would then have been able to put to Lady Warnock the views that he expressed today although possibly he had not at that point been put up to the ideas that he expressed today.

Mr. Thurnham

Perhaps the hon. Lady will agree that we live in an imperfect world. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) criticised the Warnock committee for what he called an imperfect report. It was a report on an issue about which there are many imperfections, including the large number of handicapped children who are born into the world and whom he seemed completely to ignore in his disgraceful speech.

Mrs. Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and the other aspect is that the right hon. Member for South Down, who is a campaigner against abortion law, should know that the alternative to failed contraception is an increase in the number of abortions. One does not know where he stands on these matters.

I am pleased, too, to be speaking following the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd), with whom I have worked closely in the House on scientific matters. I endorse warmly his suggestion that there should be a joint committee of both Houses to overview the development and results of science policy.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition, there should be an organisation designed to combat the anti-science attitude and atmosphere that has been engendered in Britain by people who have an axe to grind and who combine with various aspects of the mass media to inculcate into the public mind the conception that scientists are never to be trusted and should not be allowed to undertake activities even for the benefit of humanity?

Mrs. Short

I agree with that, as any sensible person must, and the suggestion of the hon. Member for Havant could provide a powerful organ to counter the type of anti-science policies and ideas to which my hon. Friend refers.

The debate has shown that hon. Members on both sides of the House have great concern over the present state of science in Britain. I believe that our problems stem in large measure from the way in which science is taught, particularly in secondary schools, where, because of the present lack of resources, the situation is serious I regularly visit comprehensive schools in my constituency, when I am at pains to listen to science being taught I find the standard and range of subjects meager.

The HMI report says that there is a wide range of ability in some teaching groups, that science is frequently badly taught—I am sure that all hon. Members agree with that —and that we need more qualified graduate teachers of science, we have been saying that for many years Can the Secretary of State say with hand on heart that every school has enough qualified teachers able to teach science? If not, no wonder he says that our performance has been disappointing.

A considerable responsibility rests on the right hon. Gentleman to see that we have adequately trained qualified science teachers in our schools, not just in comprehensive but in primary schools, too He cannot expect our best science graduates to go into teaching in schools that are badly equipped and are in a constant state of upheaval, and where their career and income prospects are so poor The right hon. Gentleman's meanness towards the teachers' legitimate salary claim is appalling, and the children are suffering because of the intransigence of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government.

The Secretary of State in the Green Paper points his finger in the wrong direction He puts the blame on the universities in saying that they are not producing the graduates that industry needs There are too many accountants and lawyers in the top jobs in industry Science graduates have little chance of reaching the highest echelons of British industry, and that is largely the responsibility of industry rather than of the universities.

Many of our good graduates go to America. The brain drain across the Atlantic is worrying. Those graduate are highly valued in America In the largest British public companies, less than about 5 per cent of board members have any experience, qualification or knowledge of the technical matters in which their companies are interested. That is an appalling reflection on the present state of industrial management.

The boards are not competent to judge the capability of science graduates who may apply to them for posts. Consequently, they do not appoint them They prefer lawyers and accountants. The banks and financial institutions that control the investment policies of large companies are also badly fitted to judge anything but the companies' accounts, and cannot judge the technical ability and calibre of the people whom they appoint to manage those companies, or assess the prospects of the policy decisions that they undertake or initiate. That is where the difficulty with our industry lies today.

We must consider the problem of the quality of graduates. Few science or technology graduates can go straight into industry from university and make an impact. They must first obtain experience. There are two aspects in which our training and education differ unfavourably and consistently from those of our more successful competitors. First, we specialise far too early in our secondary schools, and, consequently, our science, technical and engineering students have a rather one-sided background with much less general education than their European counterparts to back them up in the tough world of business and the Civil Service.

Secondly, that early specialisation enables the universities to provide standardised three-year courses for most disciplines, excluding medicine, compared with the four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half-year courses in con-tinental universities. In Holland, it takes seven years to qualify as an engineer. That gives the graduates a much better grounding, a broader outlook, greater flexibility and more maturity than our engineering graduates.

It is essential that we lengthen the period of study for science, technology and engineering. That costs money. There, we are up against a difficulty. The Green Paper mentioned the possibility of shortening courses, and the Government appear to be willing to accept the proposal contained on page 26 that two-year degree courses could become "highly coveted". I wonder why they think that they would be. They would be regarded as a waste of time and resources. Their holders would be regarded as poor substitutes for what is needed.

That suggestion appears to be a pale imitation of the French system of grandes ecoles where, in a number of colleges of higher education, short one or two-year high pressure courses are offered to people who pass a highly competitive examination, and where less than 1 per cent. of the students—I emphasise this—who have previously undergone a five-year preparatory course for the examination are admitted. Those are postgraduate courses. The students are 23 or 24 years of age when they take that examination. That is in stark contrast to our unprepared undergraduates who go to university at the age of 18.

The Secretary of State might do better to study more closely the Swiss and German university system which enables highly successful industrial organisations and companies to man their management teams and boards almost entirely with scientifically and technically qualified people, who know about science and technology and the developments in those subjects, and not with accountants and lawyers who know nothing about those matters.

Our polytechnics, which have great potential if they are treated properly—they are not being treated properly at present — rely on local authority funding. Under the policies of the Government, local authorities are being denied the means of providing sufficient resources to our polytechnics. It is dishonest of the Government to demand more output of technologists and scientists to match in number and quality the output of our competitors while, at the same time, they are purposely and consciously depriving polytechnics and universities of the resources that they need to fulfil the requirements that the Government and the country expect of them.

As to research policy, our universities and polytechnics have an excellent record of co-operation with industry in projecting and pursuing important research They are less successful in co-operating with public sector institutions Will the Secretary of State disclose how many qualified scientists there are, and their ranks, in the Civil Service staff that his Department employs to administer and adjudicate on applications for grants for research projects? I am sure that we would be surprised by his answer, which, if he cannot give it today, I hope he will give me as soon as possible.

Co-operation between universities and polytechnics and Government research organisations leaves much to be desired That has happened because of the consistent downgrading by the Government of the staff and activities of our famous Government research establishments, which leads inevitably to the loss of many qualified staff to industry, to the consequent serious decline in morale and to the loss of resources Where recruitment is contemplated and then approved by a Department, after much haggling, most of the qualified people, even after they have been appointed and offered the jobs that have been advertised, refuse to take up the posts, because promotion prospects in Government research establishments are so poor.

That is a serious development in Government science, of which the Department of the Environment is a prime example Its scientists have played an important role in developing codes of practice for the construction industry, but unfortunately, under this Government, scientists employed by the Department are prevented from taking part, as they should, in international conferences at which their proposals are incorporated into the codes of practice of and are discussed by representatives of European countries and the science departments of European Governments Britain cannot send its full complement of delegates because of the expense Therefore, instead of four of five eminent scientists, who have been involved in developing the work, presenting their reports and attending the conferences to defend their position, only one person is allowed to attend That is an untenable position, and I hope that the Government will reconsider it.

I hope that the Secretary of State will give us some information about this parlous position, and will let us know his proposals for creating a general improvement in the funding, and therefore the status, of science in Government.

12.44 pm
Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

I hope that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs Short) will forgive me if I do not follow her line of argument I wish to concentrate on two matters which I believe are central to the debate The first question is are the Government spending enough on science? Secondly, is our spending as well directed as it should be?

There is no technically correct answer to the question of how much we should spend on research and development I do not believe that the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr Bray) has found the magic formula when he says quite simply that it should be doubled. In spite of the counter-example of Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, and that of newly industrialised countries today, it is widely believed—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, there is good evidence for the belief—that there is a general long-term correlation between a nation's scientific prowess and its economic progress. But it is, unfortunately, impossible to establish specific correlations between research costs and economic benefits that might enable us to arrive at an economist's answer to our question. As this year's annual review of Government-funded research and development states in summing up its fourth chapter: The relationship between R&D expenditure and commercial success is not straightforward. I shall return to that.

Therefore, in addressing ourselves to the question of how much to spend on science, we find ourselves driven back to two non-economic criteria. The first criterion is the historical comparison between our present efforts and the efforts that we have made in the past. The second is the comparison between our level of spending on science and that which is maintained by other comparable countries. The historical criterion is important, because it is the explicit basis of the Government's policy for the funding of science. The official guideline has been "level funding" since 1979. This concept has served as a steel breastplate for the Government over recent years against the Opposition, who were of course responsible for the level of funding in that year.

The crude figures appear to conform with the Government's doctrine. In terms of 1984 pounds, the Government spent £520 million in 1984 through the research councils, compared with £460 million in 1979. They spent £1,070 million in 1984 of R and D in civil departments, compared with £1,010 million in 1979. It is estimated that in 1984 £570 million was spent on university research, compared with an estimated £590 million in 1979.

But when we examine more closely the realities expressed by these figures, we are bound to conclude that "level funding" does not mean "level value". The rise in public sector salaries has been more rapid than that provided for in the Government's annual planning. There have been fluctuations in international subscriptions. There is the notorious "sophistication factor" in equipment costs, and also the implications of university cuts for research overheads. All these factors have played their part in bringing about a substantial reduction in the real purchasing power of the funds provided by the Government for science.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State understands this—hence his gallant and partially successful attempt to increase provision for science at the end of last year. However, I am not sure that some of his ministerial colleagues equally understand the scope and scale of these problems; otherwise, dare I say, the view would not have been taken last year that more money for science could be found only within the Vote of the Department of Education and Science.

I hope that the debate will contribute to a change of heart in these august quarters of the Government. Of course, nothing would help to concentrate the mind of the Government more wonderfully than the row that would break out in the House and abroad if there were any question of Britain following the wholly unacceptable course of withdrawal from CERN.

It is reasonable for the Government, in the absence of any economic logic on which to base a decision to seek to allocate resources for science on historical criterion based on 1979 levels of funding. However, the application of that criterion should not be purely formal as it is at present. The Government should pay more regard to the real value of their science spending, which has quite simply not been kept level since 1979.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should consider transferring responsibility for CERN financing to the Foreign Office Vote, as is done in other countries?

Mr. Jackson

That is a suggestion that should be examined, although it is important to ensure that decisions about scientific resource allocation enable all projects to be assessed on an equal basis.

There is another way of judging the sufficiency of our national scientific effort. That is by comparing our performance with that of other comparable countries. It is difficult to make such comparisons, as the recent dispute about relative spending on agricultural research has demonstrated, but I draw three conclusions from the international comparisons presented in the current annual review.

First, the proportion of the gross domestic product going to Government science in Britain is higher than in either West Germany or France. Secondly, in absolute terms Britain's Government-funded research and develop-ment compares well with that of France and West Germany. So far so good, but I am afraid that there is a major fly in the ointment, because the third point that stands out from international comparisons—it has been referred to previously in the debate—is the strikingly higher proportion of British Government research and development which is dedicated to defence science. It is worth recording the figures which are set out in the Government's own annual report.

In 1981 we spent $3,000 million on civil R and D, compared with $3,256 million on defence science. The comparable figures for France—a country with similar ambitions to our own—are $4,370 million on civil science and only $2,591 million on military science. For West Germany, most remarkably, the figures are $6,698 million on civil R and D and only $646 million on military science.

In the light of those figures I must add my voice to the long catalogue of those who over the years have complained about an imbalance which affects not only the allocation of financial resources, as the figures show, but the allocation of scarce scientific and technical manpower. In that respect I have no hesitation in associating myself with a recent speech by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), and with the basic thrust of what was said earlier today by the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart). But I hope that they will both forgive me if I observe that the position was just as bad during the period when their party was in office. I could apply the same sricture to the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who has just appeared, three quarters of the way through the debate, and is the solitary representative of the alliance in the debate.

As the House knows, it is usually argued that the relatively high level of defence R and D spending in Britain reflects a national choice, with behind it—at least in the past—a national consensus, of a relatively ambitious set of defence missions: the choice, in a phrase, to be the smallest of the great powers rather than the biggest of the small. I confess that I am one of those who are sceptical about whether that ambition is still a sensible one for a country whose total GDP and comparative GDP per capita both now rank a long way below those of West Germany and Japan, some way below those of France, and only just ahead of those of Italy.

I do not think, however, that in order to make my case it is necessary for me to stray into the realm of high politics. I simply ask how far a heavy national military R and D effort is necessary to sustain an ambitious choice of defence missions. It is arguable that the indigenous research and procurement of weapons confers an extra margin of independence. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd) put great stress on that point. On the other hand, many countries have concluded that the purchase of that extra margin is not worth while.

Indeed, it would be interesting to know whether the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury, or perhaps the Foreign Office planning staff, have ever made a seious study of the cost benefit of the probably rather small increase in military and political freedom of manoeuvre which comes from national procurement as opposed to the purchase of weaponry "off the shelf". If that study were made, I suspect that it would yield some disconcerting conclusions.

There is a further set of disturbing questions to be asked about defence science. They concern the economic and industrial opportunity costs of our heavy concentration in that area. Some hon. Membes will have read the interesting and courageous statement on "Defence Expenditure and Employment" put out in 1983 by the Society of Civil and Public Servants. It may be that the studies which it cites exaggerate the negative correlations that it asserts between military spending and economic performance. We must also be tentative about those interesting studies which suggest that British arms exports, which yield at least some economic return, are dominated by types of weaponry which do not absorb great amounts of research and development funds. Between 1975 and 1979, for instance, aircraft and helicopters absorbed 55.4 per cent. of military R and D spending, but accounted for only 1.68 per cent. of exports.

However, we do not have to rely exclusively on these academic sources. I notice, for instance, that the Government's own annual report on R and D records that aerospace, a large part of whose output is for military purposes, is heavily supported by Government R and D funds… but does not have a particularly high gross value added per employee. I notice also the Government's recent studies of skills shortages in information technology, which project a shortfall of 5,000 graduates by 1988. I ask myself what proportion of that shortfall can be accounted for by the huge and growing demand of the defence industries and of military R and D for information technology specialists. It may be that this manpower is most productively employed in these areas, but I doubt it.

As the House knows, the argument of last resort relates to the employment consequences of a change of policy. There are always problems of employment when industries require to be restructured and resources redirected. All I say is that in most other areas of the economy the Government have shown an admirable awareness of opportunity costs and a commendably resolute approach to "crowding out." The time has come to look at military R and D and the defence industries in the same spirit, and I hope that the annual report will continue to seek to deepen our understanding of the problem.

I urge the Government to think again about their policy for science. The central theme of much of their thinking, quite rightly, is to seek to improve the translation of scientific ideas into profitable business. I do not seek to criticise this emphasis, but I do not believe that it makes resources irrelevant — whether the total quantum of resources or the pattern of its distribution.

If we are to have "level value" as well as "level funding", there must be more money for Government civil science. At the same time, let us at last take hold of the nettle of our excessive national commitment to defence science.

12 58 pm

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Jackson) and I agreed with 90 per cent of his speech. He pointed out correctly that too much of our R and D effort at present was spent on defence—to the nation's cost, in that not enough R and D was finding its way into civil applications.

I am worried about the level of Government funding for science and for R and D. I am especially worried that in recent years there has been a move towards any R and D having to have an immediate or fairly immediate industrial spin-off or application. If that philosophy gains ground, very soon science will suffer catastrophically. It is already beginning to suffer, and the Government have to give it urgent attention. If it is allowed to go on for much longer, we shall not be able to put it right as quickly as we have been able to destroy it.

I am also worried about research council funding. The Government tell us that the science budget has not been cut in cash terms, but funds to the University Grants Committee have been cut, so much of the research done in universities has suffered. The Government may be right in saying that the science budget has not been cut in cash terms, but that does not represent the true position, as the hon. Member for Wantage has pointed out. I give a little credit to the Secretary of State because I think that he realises this, as his actions in getting extra money for the science budget showed. I hope that he will say that it is not enough, and that he should get much more because much more is needed because of the problems. For example, equipment has an increasing price over and above inflation. Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr Bray), have referred to electron microscopes. I do not wish to pursue that line, although I have several good examples, because I think that the point has been made.

Some research develops into new sectors, which suddenly open up with the increasing pace of research and as a result demand much more money than would have been required if funding were simply on the basis of the rate of inflation. These arguments are well understood and have to be got across to everybody in the Cabinet, and not just to the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

High energy physics is a subject about which one cannot say whether its research will have an application in the short term, or even in the long term. That is not the argument. The argument is that, as a total, the research must be supported for various reasons, one of which is that some of it will have applications that will benefit mankind tremendously.

As other hon. Members have said, it is important that we do not withdraw from SERC. An enormous amount of money is being spent on it, but it is a joint European effort and I should be sad if a philistine Cabinet decided that we should no longer continue as members of that body.

The hon. Member for Wantage gave figures for the money being spent on research and development in defence rather than in the civil sector. However, he did not give the figures of what has happened to the science budget. Although the Government say that it has not been cut in real terms, it has. My figures come from Nature of 23 May this year. It talks about the first submission of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils to the Government, which the Secretary of State has placed in the Library. It talks about the amount of science funding made available by the Government over the past three or four years.

Part of the ABRC's difficulty, in this as in previous years, is that the Government appear to have kept the Prime Minister's promise in 1980 that the research budget would be protected. If one uses the retail price index as a measure of inflation, the science budget has increased by 6.4 per cent. since 1981–82. However, even allowing for the decline of the research councils' other income, mostly by way of research commissions from Government Departments amounting to roughly 7 per cent. on one sixth of the total science budget during the same period, the total income of the research councils has increased by roughly 4 per cent. Nobody would argue with those figures, but they do not show the true position.

Nature reports: The board says that (his simple arithmetic is misleading partly because the retail price index is not a good measure of the increased cost of research. Rather, the board calculates that the real volume of research supported with the funds within its purview has declined by 5 percent. over four years. Matters have been made worse…. by the 8 per cent. reduction (in real terms) of the budget of the University Grants Committee. I think that I have shown how misleading it is to say that the science budget has been protected. Nature says: The case is sustained by a harrowing account of the changes which have been brought about within the research council system in the past few years. The total staff of the five research councils has declined by a fifth, by 2,000. Such a cut represents not a minor but a major change in the way in which research is done and funded in this country.

Mr. Maurice Shop, the chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, issued a press release on 21 May which states: The Government's policies on finance and student numbers are incompatible with the emphasis on excellence with which the Green Paper"— on the development of higher education into the 1990s— is liberally larded and will undermine the chance of achieving such admirable aims as raising research standards and ensuring an adequate supply of scientists and engineers. Such chairmen do not say things like that in press releases every two or three months. Indeed, I part company with Conservative Members on this point, because, although they have all regretted the lack of money going into science, they have sought to say that such shortages also occurred under the previous Administration I admit that certain cuts were made under the Labour Government, but there is a difference in the emphasis placed, and in the amount of cuts that have had to be borne in the past three years They go far beyond any cuts made in the past 30 years.

I do not believe that the chairmen of prestigious bodies such as the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals would have made such statements in the 1950s or the 1960s, in 1973–74 or 1976–77 or in 1978, but they are doing so now, and that underlines the point that something has gone wrong with science policy over the past three or four years.

The most recent cuts to be applied to the Agricultural and Food Research Council amount to £10 million Next year they will amount to £20 million Those are enormous cuts They have not been made as a result of any long or detailed study into what research should be done, how it should be done and whether it is necessary, they have been dictated by the Treasury However, with all respect to the Treasury, it is not an expert on agricultural research, and it should not decide by how much research programmes are to be cut.

At present, ADAS costs the country about £122 million By 1987, the Government intend to reduce that sum by £23.5 million Indeed, £7 million is to be knocked off research and development That is in addition to the 15 per cent cuts of the past three years Such cuts must be catastrophic for research.

The Welsh Affairs Committee took evidence on the Welsh plant breeding station on Wednesday 14 March 1984 I refer to House of Commons Paper 326 I asked those appearing before the Committee about the Fl hybrid programme at the Welsh plant breeding station and why it was being abandoned I shall not quote the answer in full, but Dr Jamieson, the assistant secretary of the AFRC, said in reply: There is no question that elements of that programme represent good science but, unfortunately, the position that the Council is in is that with the budget reductions that we have sustained and are anticipating in the coming years, good science is having to stop at institutes throughout the United Kingdom. Good science is being abandoned, yet that programme is the only one being carried out in western Europe, although there is something similar in east Germany It is not being abandoned because of a planned, well-documented and detailed programme of what sort of science we should be doing, cuts have simply been put upon us and there is nothing we can do We have to behave like a mad butcher in a butcher's shop and lash out in every direction— whatever the knife reaches is cut.

Mr. Dalyell

Six months ago, I saw something of the work on protosynthesis and related problems at the Aberystwyth station I wish to echo all that my hon. Friend has said The same problems are faced by the Scottish College of Agriculture, which wrote to me on 10 June.

Dr. Marek

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is quite right I hope that even at this late stage those in the Government who know something about what will happen if science is decimated will ensure that their voices are heard If there are to be cuts, they must be rational There must be a consensus on what should be cut.

Of course, I do not want any cuts to be made If we are to have the general level of funding that the Government want, they should realise that, because of the increases in costs over and above inflation, there must be a little extra money for science.

The Government's claim rings hollow, but they have a chance to put it right. Cuts have fallen heavily on research. Indeed, whole research groups within departments and universities will stop. They will either be enticed to the United States or will be given jobs in different areas where their aptitudes and excellent skills will not be used to their full potential. A new brain drain is developing.

In 1979, research councils reported that all alpha-rated proposals were supported. Now, 25 per cent. fail to get that support and in some councils the figure is as high as 50 per cent. That is serious. However, I shall not labour the point other than to say that I hope that hon. Members will give it serious consideration and urge the Government to do something about it. We have built up our science tradition over the past two or three centuries. That tradition could be thrown away easily in a few years, and it would take a long time to get it back.

What must be done? We must reverse the cuts. All alpha-rated projects must be supported. We need to provide sufficient funding for science so that we do not receive letters like the one I received from the chairman of the CVCP. I could cite other examples, but time is short. We need to provide funds so that, by and large, people in responsible positions — those on various committees, the researchers in universities and so on— can say, "Times may not be as easy as in the 1950s or the 1960s, but we are not having to cut into good science".

Research and development cannot be left to industry alone. That would be a fatal flaw in any Government's policy. I should like to see the Government do more for research and development in the enabling technologies, information technologies, biotechnologies, engineering and manufacturing technologies. It is important to do that. For example, we could allow industrial companies to write off against tax all research and development carried out in previous years, and provide some incentive for companies to innovate. That should be done on the industrial side of research and development. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South, I should like to see research and development doubled in the next three or four years.

On the pure research side, we need to reverse all the cuts in the research councils, and accept what the Advisory Board for the Research Councils is requesting this year. That is the minimum that could be done. There is a place for contract research in universities. The university of Salford has managed to find a modus vivendi with its new financial discipline, but there is no place for pure research simply to be relegated to a philosophy that it can be carried out only if there is an industrial or immediate benefit or spin-off in the near future.

Therefore, I urge the Government to think carefully. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed serious concern about the lack of finance for research. There is a special problem, and special finance must be provided. It is not a special case for a sectional interest in the country. That would be wrong. Hon. Members would misunderstand what I am saying if they thought that that was what I believed. If we do not get it right now, if we do not keep our tradition of pure research, and if we do not spend money on research and development as other countries do, the whole country and every succeeding generation will be affected.

1.16 pm
Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I am acutely aware of the shortage of time and the number of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who wish to speak I should like to say without any criticism of any individual that in the first two hours of the debate there were only three speakers, and this is meant to be a private Members' day Surely we should have been given more opportunity to speak.

I regret the speech made by the right hon. Member for South Down, (Mr. Powell), not simply because much of the research—it is not experimentation, but research—is done in my constituency It is not a constituency interest of mine, but a genuine opposition to his Bill However, we debated that before, and today we are debating science.

I entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) about CERN I also agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who made a fundamental and important point I regret that the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr Bray) ruined an outstanding speech by personal offensiveness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State We are all aging gurus, and what is wrong with that?

As the House knows, in the eight years that I have had the honour to represent Cambridge, I have emphasised beyond anything else the vital link between higher education, jobs and industry On Wednesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I gave the Churchill college prizes, which are given to graduates who go into business That represents one small part of the encouragement that we give, and should give, to emphasise that link between higher education and what is called the real world.

I should like to ask one crucial question what is the purpose of higher education and research? Let me give my answer It is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake It is the love of learning for its own sake In any institution of higher learning, the important thing is balance When Prince Albert created the modern university of Cambridge, he did not just introduce the natural sciences He also introduced the humanities — languages, history and classics The importance of balance cannot be too heavily stressed There is often confusion between science and technology, the latter being currently very fashionable, just as there is an absurd differentiation between pure and applied science.

The Green Paper states at the outset: The Government believes that it is vital for our higher education to contribute more effectively to the improvement of the performance of the economy. That is a sentiment with which many of us would wholeheartedly agree It continues: The Government is particularly concerned by the evidence that the societies of our competitors are producing, and plan in the future to produce, more qualified scientists, engineers, technologists and technicians than the United Kingdom. One agrees with that, too, but the Government's reposnse has been to provide less rather than more Having correctly defined how we are going wrong, the resolution is negative and the Green Paper is afflicted with a consistently negative and depressing view, when it should be positive.

I cite just one example Hatfield polytechnic is doing virtually everything that the Government wish, and 70 per cent. of its work and its students are in science, technology and engineering. It receives substantial contracts from British Aerospace, Plessey, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and various companies. Yet every year it is cut and cut again. The day before I visited the college, four members of the computer staff had resigned, not just because the salaries offered to them by industry were far greater, but because of a much deeper feeling that higher education no longer had the priority that it deserved.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done a great deal to help higher education and we are profoundly grateful to him for that. He is not just one of my oldest friends but one of the finest ever Secretaries of State for Education and Science. Nevertheless, I believe that we overlook not only the national but the international aspect of scientific research. Yesterday Cambridge university rightly gave an honorary degree to the founder and director of the United Nations institute in Trieste. That body has exactly 50 per cent. scientists from the developed world and 50 per cent. from the developing world in a highly successful attempt to recognise the international dimension. Our problems may be difficult, but compared with those of the developing world they appear insignificant.

I make one final comment which I hope will not be misinterpreted in any way. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), is one of the most deeply respected and liked Members of the House and we all feel for him acutely in his recent personal tragedy. In my view, however, there is a great deal to be said for status and I do not believe that the Minister in charge of higher education, and science should be an Under-Secretary of State. At the very least, he or she should be a Minister of State. That would at least make clear to the world, and especially to the world of higher education, the gravity with which the Governmet recognise the unique role of higher education, and especially of science.

1.24 pm
Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)

With one notable exception, the Secretary of State must have been impressed by the quality of today's debate. All hon. Members have put a great deal of thought into their speeches. The right hon. Gentleman should be heartened by the increase of knowledge of scientific matters in the House. There has been a steady increase of awareness since he and I first came to the House. Some of us recall science debates when it was difficult to get a quorum. Slowly and painfully we are moving in the right direction.

Scientific organisations have recently been more helpful in enabling hon. Members to understand their problems. The Secretary of State said that we were a science-based society. I wish that he had gone on to say that the vast majority of people have no idea how science and the benefits of it affect the quality of their lives.

I spent most of my industrial career in Imperial Chemical Industries pic, as have four other hon. Members who have spoken. We are lucky, in that we saw science, technology and the application of both to products which were used by mankind. The abysmal lack of knowledge about how science affects our lives is still prevalent.

The Secretary of State said that research feeds off itself. That is true but, unfortunately, in a freely competitive society there are inhibitions because of competition and the need for scientific secrecy. I am referring not to defence research, but to purely industrial research There has been a regression in the amount of knowledge which is freely available, because of competitive pressures. Will the right hon. Gentleman see whether it is possible to share more scientific knowledge? I know that society is imperfect and that that might not be possible, but it is worth striving for.

It has been said that industrial innovation is Britain's life-blood George Stephenson, Swan and Faraday were scientists and technologists and understood that their brains could be used They faced little opposition compared with what their counterparts face today Because we have industrial innovation, we have had restrictions on the development of industry, projects and commerce through the sheer weight and power of post-war Governments We must make the public more aware of the benefits of scientific research and development.

Regrettably, we are still sterile in the way in which we apply the fruits of scientific research and development done in this country to overseas commercial markets Indeed, we are lazy in that respect and often allow other countries to develop the fruits of much of that research.

Because of the shortage of time I shall not raise many of the subjects with which I should like to deal I must, however, agree with those who have referred to the brain drain One cannot blame scientists for leaving the country If we had first-class degrees in science subjects, we might do likewise if we thought that we could secure good salaries and a better standard of living for our families.

Unfortunately, Britain has always adopted a low salary approach to those in science and technology I fear that that attitude will continue, simply because our society does not recognise their skills We admire wordsmiths, of whom there are many in the House, but we do not begin to understand the motivation of the scientists Our education system is not geared to enhance that understanding, despite mammoth efforts that have been made to alter some of our teaching methods.

I am glad that this issue has been raised today Indeed, we were lucky to obtain parliamentary time on a Friday for this subject It has been a worthwhile exercise and I look forward to more parliamentary time being allocated to debates such as this, for only by this means can we begin properly to understand the issues involved Many hon. Members can draw on their experiences to contribute to debates on science and allied matters.

1.32 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

It is a relief after four hours of debate to discover that much has been left unsaid There has been some wild talk in the debate about science being decimated I shall follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr Rhodes James) and be positive and specific, but not uncritical.

An enormous amount of research is done in Britain, and science is perceived by the electorate as an important priority This pre-emptive strike by the Government on the Select Committee's report which will be published next month is an ingenious move, and hon Members who have spoken today would be advised to read that report when it comes out.

I could not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Jackson), though I hope that all is peaceful in his home this weekend I suspect that he has been depriving his wife, my Member of the European Parliament, of a large number of votes because of the many thousands of defence workers in research and development establishments in my constituency and that of his wife.

The funding of science in Britain appears effectively to be determined by the whim of the Treasury rather than by Parliament or even by the Government. What the Treasury describes as "level funding" is, in the words of a distinguished scientist, an increase from the previous year by a percentage which is plucked out of the air, and which represents the wildest optimism in estimating the true rate of inflation. Are the Government telling us that we can no longer maintain our place in the world scientific community and that the time has come for us to target our research on a narrow range of requirements, perhaps commercially led?

Of the amount spent on civil research and development, half is on basic research, and that adds to our fundamental scientific knowledge and contributes to the welfare of the whole economy. But cuts in university funding have fallen more heavily on research capacity than on teaching. There was a 20 per cent. reduction in departmental and laboratory expenditure by universities in the three years after 1981.I am not surprised by the experience of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in Edinburgh recently.

Universities, which receive over 80 per cent. of their income from public funds, have not been slow to seek new sources of finance, but the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has said that only a small proportion of the 14 per cent. of university income which comes from research grants and contracts can be described as free money, without strings.

Science parks have been another welcome development under this Government. There are now over 40 of them, and more are appearing. Some are successful. Some are well known, but geographical proximity to universities does not always lead to intellectual proximity.

I said that I would be specific, so I must refer to some of the successes at the Porton Down centre for applied microbiology and research, which is administered by the public health laboratory service. A substantial proportion of its work has generated products and processes which are commercially exploitable, and importance has been attached to maximising CAMR's income generation potential.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned his anxiety about culture collections. Recent developments at Porton have included a new building for a national collection of animal cell cultures, funded by the Department of Trade and Industry. This will provide an internationally recognised patent deposition facility for tissue cultures, for which formal international recognition is being sought.

There are nine constituent laboratories at CAMR pursuing a great deal of important research — the microbial technology laboratory, the vaccine research and production laboratory, laboratories for pathogenic microbes, therapeutic products, experimental pathology, bacterial metabolism research and an experimental microbiology and safety reference library, the molecular genetics laboratory and the special pathogens reference laboratory and, of course, all the usual support services such as electron microscopy, computing and engineering facilities.

Recently, the public health laboratory service has entered into an agreement with Porton International Limited to handle the marketing and distribution of CAMR products and processes worldwide Porton International has also undertaken to build a new fermentation plant on site at Porton If that plant had been funded by the DHSS it would have cost the public sector an estimated £16 million The jobs and the future of that part of the Porton establishment are secure and will grow.

New sources of finance are being sought all the time, and only last week my right hon Friend the Minister for Overseas Development announced his new Overseas Development Administration special scholarship scheme —a partnership between the ODA and the universities— to provide 400 new university places for outstanding students from Commonwealth developing countries The universities will have to find new money for that in partnership with or sponsorship by local industry and commercial interests within the community.

That is all well and good, but the country is not spending enough on its science budget I urge the Government to reorder their priorities I am critical because I want to strengthen the hand of my hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Cabinet He will have the support of both sides of the House if he seeks to search for more money from the Cabinet It will not do to reply with the tired old jibe that there is no money with which to spend our way out of trouble Even the meanest Poujadist would have to admit that occasionally one has to restock the shelves with new products before opening the shop.

I invite the House to read the words of Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer of the Royal Society and chairman of the UGC, who said in evidence to the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, of which I am a member, on 27 November: We are, in effect, in the Red Queen's world—in this country you have to run very fast to stay in the same place The science budget has an additional snag beyond the difference between the Treasury's assessment of inflation and the truth, which is that by the conventions of accountancy it has to carry an increasing amount of non-productive expenditure—pensions and all that sort of thing—and so the proportion of the science budget that is spent on producing science is slowly going down. Sir Peter told the Committee the effect of this: We have moved from a system in which the amount of research which the universities could do was controlled by the supply of talent to a system in which it is controlled by the amount of money More research could be done with the same brains if there were more money Even level funding is not wholly adequate Essentially, the proportion of good research which this country does is governed by the proportion of world expenditure on research which is spent in this country Most other advanced countries are actively increasing in real terms the amount of money they are spending on scientific research— some of them by quite substantial percentages We are not He continued: The proportion of the world's science that we do is steadily declining. There is another side to this I said earlier that cuts in university funding had fallen more heavily on research capacity than on teaching, and had fallen especially heavily on researchers on fixed-term contracts We are talking about 10,000 researchers who completely lack career structures or even reasonable security That has grave implications for the continued success of scientific and medical research in our universities The people involved are graduates, often of post-doctoral level, who devote themselves full time to scientific and medical research They are a highly motivated, industrious and socially responsible group. They are employed on contracts which vary in duration from a few months to five years. Recent cuts in academic staffing in universities have resulted in an increased teaching load on the remaining staff, who have had less time for research and have become increasingly dependent upon contract research staff to pursue their research for them.

I ask the Government whether it is in the national interest to pursue the line with contract researchers. Is it sensible? Was it foreseen or planned, or did it just happen?

I should mention briefly Britain's threatened with-drawal from UNESCO. So far, the public debate—there has been precious little of it—has been long on emotion and short on facts or evidence. I have the honour to be a member of the United Kingdom national commission for UNESCO, which has given me the opportunity to look beyond some of the emotional arguments and to speak to scientists, who make up much of the national commission and who are worried about the lack of public interest in the proposal that we might withdraw from UNESCO. We should stop identifying that organisation with one individual and consider the effects of our withdrawal on the scientific community.

Mr. Dalyell

Not just public interest, but press interest is lacking. I thoroughly support the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Key

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Press interest is lacking, although I believe that some interest is now being shown. The timing is becoming crucial, because if the Government decide on the matter in the autumn they will have the entire summer in which to consider it, a period during which Parliament will not be sitting and will be in no position to advise them.

UNESCO is close to the heart of the Royal Society, which was closely associated with the discussions that led to its foundation in 1946. It was strongly in favour of including science in UNESCO's brief. Indeed, Sir Julian Huxley, the first director-general of UNESCO, strengthened that association from its early beginnings.

It is not generally known, but I am sure that the House would wish to know, that UNESCO has collaborated with many countries and their scientific communities, and with the unions and committees of the International Council of Scientific Unions. That collaboration has been especially beneficial, because it has created strong scientific leadership and much more voluntary work by scientists and non-governmental organisations. Many political problems have been overcome; for example, by ensuring the participation of the most appropriate scientists in projects—including scientists from Israel, South Africa and Taiwan—whatever their nationality. From the point of view of non-governmental organisations, with which the Royal Society has always been closely associated, the collaboration of UNESCO has provided benefits, including the involvement of Governments in scientific programmes, extending contacts in developing countries and providing educational and training activities in support of scientific projects.

Almost no financial case has been made by either side of the argument. That is not surprising, because it is difficult to obtain figures. The figures are such that the Government cannot claim that withdrawal would save money. Nor can the proponents claim that Britain is a net beneficiary. It is much more complicated than that. On its face, it seems simple. In the full two-year accounting period of 1982 and 1983, Britain contributed $17,565,912.

We "received" $38,081,700. This can be broken down in a number of ways. Of the money that we received during the two-year accounting period, United Kingdom nationals at UNESCO headquarters accounted for S19 million. United Kingdom nationals serving as UNESCO experts in the field received over $2 million. United Kingdom nationals serving as consultants received nearly $3 million. There were fellowships for study in the United Kingdom and equipment was procured in the United Kingdom. There were subcontracts with firms in. the United Kingdom and fees were paid to the External Auditor, which is a British company. There were allocations to the United Kingdom under the participation programme. Meetings were held in the United Kingdom and insurance was bought in the United Kingdom All these moneys amounted to the enormous total of $38,081,700.

Our contributions to UNESCO are more complicated, because we claim repayments under currency fluctuations. As the dollar and the pound have fluctuated, so the value of our contributions has changed. In 1984 we should have contributed $4,763,853, but we contributed only $386,664 because of currency fluctuations. There are other problems in calculating the financial benefits and disbenefits, because of staff numbers. It can be said that in the past we have been lucky enough to win on this wicket, but it cannot be said that this will continue, because of the effect of currency fluctuations.

There is the mighty issue of politicisation. The Royal Society said that it considered the Government to be entirely right in drawing attention to the shortcomings of UNESCO, especially those relating to management and undue politicisation. What form does this politicisation take? Do we know? Do we know what the relevant figures are? In subprogramme IV.2, subparagraph 4(b), we see that UNESCO internationally is spending on its total drug abuse prevention programme only $43,000. If we turn to subprogramme II.6, we find that, under Education and training activities for national liberation movements", the granting of fellowships to students sponsored by African national liberation movements and students presented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation led to the allocation of $193,000. We find that the publication of African poems and other activities to be decided upon with those responsible for education in African national liberation movements with a view to helping them preserve cultural identity involved the allocation of $60,000, a sum considerably larger than that given to fund UNESCO's drug abuse prevention programme. Is this a correct ordering of proceedings within UNESCO?

The Royal Society has drawn my attention to another factor. If the United States withdraws from UNESCO, the organisation will be gravely impaired. The impairment will not be limited to a substantial reduction of funding and the withdrawal of United States staff. If United States funds are switched from UNESCO to other international scientific projects, including those of non-governmental organisations, considerable rivalry could be created. It could be that the action of the United States in withdrawing from UNESCO and the switching of its financial support will be, in a manner unbalanced by other countries, regarded widely as just the sort of politicisation which no one wishes to see in international scientific projects. That is a danger which may face the United Kingdom as well if we withdraw from UNESCO.

I ask that a great deal more attention be paid to the arguments about withdrawing from UNESCO. There should be much more public debate on the issue. The Government are faced with a major decision that will have a profound effect on Britain's scientific community.

1.49 pm
Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

I think that it is not an overstatement to say—

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us—not only myself but my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) and other hon. Members — have been sitting here since 9.30 am, and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Several hon. Members will be disappointed, but that is in part due to the length of earlier speeches, and I have no control over that.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

I was saying that it is not an overstatement to say, as one distinguished academic scientist did at the time of the controversy over the Prime Minister's honorary degree at Oxford, that this may be the last chance for any serious academic institution to stop the catastrophe that we face as a scientific and educational nation". In that respect the debate is timely, for clearly the whole future of our research and development and our standing as a scientific nation are in doubt.

The Government's unwillingness adequately to fund scientific research and development could indeed sever the sinews of our economic strength which is so necessary to sustain our economy as the oil revenues begin to decline. Increasingly, industry is expected—this was reflected in the Secretary of State's speech at the beginning of the debate—to make good the lack of provision of funds for research when its resources are already being stretched by the Government who are asking industry to meet most of the cost of the expanded youth training scheme, and now to make additional contributions to private pension schemes in the wake of the abolition of the state earnings-related pension scheme.

In setting our science budget, the needs of industry are crucial, but they are not absolutely paramount. There must be a proper balance between the investment for society through producing better trained men and women scientists for industry and discoveries which can be exploited for producing new products or breaking into new markets. There is a need also to undertake the kind of pure research the benefits of which cannot be easily quantified.

It is certainly not clear that the Government have got the balance right. Under present academic policies, Galileo may well have been forced to confine his telescope experiments to spotting returning merchant ships rather than discovering the truth about the sun and the earth. We should not go down the road that some have suggested of making massive cuts in basic scientific research in favour of exploiting the inventions of others. That would be a retrograde step akin to winding up many basic manufacturing functions, such as building car engines— recently discussed in this Chamber—in favour of a strategy of assembling already manufactured kits.

Is there sufficient Government commitment and finance behind a policy of strengthening the connection between basic scientific research and industrial innovation? As other hon. Members have said, the value of basic science spending is not easy to quantify, but two statistics strike me particularly forcibly and are most disquieting.

Between 1973 and 1980, the number of publications and citations credited to British scientists fell by 9 .9 per cent compared with rises in West Germany of 3. 1 per cent and in Japan of 29. 9 per cent The number of alpha-rated projects for research funding fell from 85 per cent in 1979 to less than three quarters of that in 1984. Those figures suggest that there has been a relative decline, at any rate in the recent past, and that is reflected by the Government's failure in reality to maintain their commitment to level funding, as hon. Members have said in the debate.

The projections in the Government's White Paper on public expenditure, taken together with an 8. 2 per cent real fall in spending on higher education since 1980, make the Government's commitment a very hollow one Research budgets are affected by the general provision for higher education in terms of continued laboratory overheads, a failure to update and replace equipment, vacancies left unfilled, and increased teaching and administrative commitments which staff have to undertake at the expense of research time.

Between 1985–86 and 1987–88, the Government's latest expenditure plans show a reduction of £6. 4 million, or 3 per cent. in real terms, in the science budget In real terms there is an even bigger cut of about £10 million in the budgets of the five research councils and support for the fellowship of engineering Those cuts, which have been rehearsed by other hon. Members, will have an enormous impact on Britain's capacity in those areas.

As I want to provide an opportunity for other hon. Members to speak, I shall curtail my comments on the scale of the cuts and go on to say that, at a time when the Japanese and American Governments, with other Western countries, are giving much higher priority to research and development, and when other commercial organisations are massively increasing their expenditure in those areas, it is a great pity that Britain cannot do the same.

As a matter of priority, therefore, in my view the Government should establish a new council for science policy combining the current Advisory Board for the Research Councils with the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development — to be chaired, to ensure that it has the priority that should be accorded to it, by the Prime Minister This body would guide, monitor and advise on the development of science policy.

There may also be a case for considering whether science should not be removed from the Department of Education and Science into the Department of Trade and Industry, with a Minister of science and technology responsible for these matters in that Department In my view, that should be considered by the Government.

Resources for science should be expanded to restore the cuts in the real level of activity in our institutions, and expenditure could be determined by the new council that had been established.

The Government should encourage new collaborative ventures between universities and industry, and we also need much greater collaboration with other European countries—for example, in the application of robotics in manufacturing industry following the recommendations of the working group on technology growth set up at the 1984 London Summit. Nothing has been done to act on that recommendation, and that, plus the other collaborative ventures, should be supported by the Government. I add my voice to those of other hon. Members in support of both the CERN nuclear reactor project and ESPRIT— the European strategic programme for research and development in information technology — which the Government have supported in the past.

I support the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who spoke about the need to switch much more of our research and development from the military side of the budget to the civil side. Expenditure on military research and development masks the lack of investment in the civil side, and too many of our resources, especially in terms of manpower, are tied up in that area without an adequate spin-off to the rest of the community.

Our difficulty is that, yet again, we are discussing the problems of trying to run a Rolls-Royce system on a pedal-powered economy. This is not the occasion on which to stray down the road of determining what should be the right economic policy, but until the resources are available to the Government we shall not be able to spend anything like the money on research and development and on science that our major competitors in Germany, Japan and the United States are spending at the moment.

1.58 pm
Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

I realise that I have very little time, which is a great shame, because I speak as a scientist and, as far as I have been able to determine, no scientist has spoken in the debate so far. I spent seven years at university studying science and I thought that I had a contribution to make to the debate, but unfortunately it appears that I shall not be able to do so.

I progressed to being a scientist in a very traditional way. I entered a local grammar school where I studied science. Then I went on to university and later to industry. When I look at the schools in my constituency and see their condition, I come to the reluctant conclusion that we shall not be able to produce good scientists in the future.

I refer to the school that I visited last week—King Edmund's school in Rochford — where demountable classrooms installed 19 years ago as a temporary measure still exist, where flat roofs leak, where ceilings remain broken, where floor tiles will not be replaced and where there is little concern about making the right provision for the children who attend the school. I ask my right hon. Friend how children can be expected to open their eyes wide to the wonders of science and to turn a blind eye to the conditions in which they have to learn.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are concerned not only to hear what he says but even more about the desperate shortage of physics and mathematics teachers in our schools and that we must address ourselves to those problems as well?

Dr. Clark

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am delighted that another scientist has managed to scrape in just before the end of the debate. He is right, and it is not just a question of physics, a subject in which he is an expert, but chemistry, my subject, mathematics, and the subjects of some of the Labour Members who have: spoken today. Unless we do something to ensure that education is attractive to scientists and methematicians, we can write off any contribution that the next generation of youngsters from school might make.

Science is vital to the country and it is amazing that science is tagged off as a small part of the Department of Education and Science. That Department has only three Ministers — the Secretary of State and two Undersecretaries of State. They are busy enough looking after education. Therefore, I call for science to be given its right place and for there to be a separate Department for science within the Government.

2 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Paneras)

I apologise to those hon. Members who did not manage to speak, and I particularly sympathise with those who have sat through all the debate and not got in, unlike some who have got in although they have not been here all through.

I do not wish to spend a great deal of time dealing in detail with the points made by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). It is now getting to the stage where, every Friday, we debate embryos and one or two ancillary activities. There will be time to go through rebutting in detail all his points. However, nobody has yet claimed that research on human embryos to combat inherited disease is already under way.

Mr. Thurnham

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that no embryo has been kept alive in a test tube for longer than nine days and that the 14 days recommended by the Warnock committee is beyond any work that has been done?

Mr. Dobson

That is true. We should point out to the right hon. Member for South Down that people have been talking only about the prospects for research on human embryos that would counter, and we hope eliminate, a number of inherited diseases. The right hon. Gentleman needs to get things into a proper time scale. It was a long time ago that scientists first managed in vitro fertilisation. There was an enormously long time between that and the first successful impregnation of a woman who finally gave birth to a live child. If people had been asked in the mid-1960s whether worthwhile work could be done on in vitro fertilisation to combat infertility, the answer would have been the same as that which the right hon. Gentleman has been getting from those whom he has asked whether they are undertaking such research. The answer is that they are not, but that they are thinking about it or are drawing up programmes of research for such investigation on other animal embryos. That is the way they go about such things.

There is an element of illogicality in the right hon. Gentleman's position. He is saying that the Bill will not do any harm because there is no such research going on, and we cannot plead the possibility of such research in opposition to the Bill. At the same time, he pleads the threat of that research as the justification for his bill. He cannot have it all ways.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to speak as though he was, for the first time, disclosing the real reason— contraception — for people's concern about the inhibitions on research that might result from the Bill. However, there is nothing new about contraception. Most of the opponents of his Bill have publicly stated that they hope that the research into embryos will make it possible to come up with better, safer and more reasonable forms of contraception. He has not disclosed any deathly secret to an unsuspecting world. This has been talked about in Committee, as he should remember, and it has been talked about in a number of articles in learned journals and not so learned newspapers.

I agree that commercial pressures will be brought to bear—although I am not sure whether they are now— because we live in a commercial society. The way to combat commercial pressures is to recognise that they exist and to do something about them, rather than to abandon all the research. That would be like saying that because some companies may have made a lot of money out of penicillin, pencillin research should not have been pursued because of the commercial threat. However, I agree that we need to keep commercialism out of British medicine and research.

The Secretary of State's speech was almost as infinitely complacent as the recent speech of the Minister for Overseas Development. I know that a basic part of the Secretary of State's political philosophy is that the role of the Government should be extremely limited, and no one could claim that in general his actions are contrary to that belief. Indeed, he seems to have abandoned any responsibility for the fact that there is a brain drain. He said that it was rather sad that many highly intelligent big brains had gone abroad because they could do better, and could carry out better funded research there, but he does not seem to want to do anything about it. He is a bit like the prisoner in the dock who says, "It was not my fault, your Honour, I was just minding it for a friend." One would think that the right hon. Gentleman had no responsibility for positive policies to persuade people to stay in this country or to return to this country from abroad.

The hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) gave examples from his constituency. If we are to have a successful science policy, and if science is to be used successfully in our society, we must look not only at research but at developing a background that is sympathetic to science, to its application, and to a population who have scientific potential. But we are simply not producing enough people with scientific backgrounds—

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it will take us years to recover from the damage done to our educational system and, in particular, to the quality of science education, by the Labour party's headlong rush into comprehensive schooling?

Mr. Dobson

First, I do not accept that, and, secondly, there was a considerable burst of comprehensivisation when the Prime Minister was Secretary of State for Education and Science. The hon. Gentleman can chew what bones he likes out of that.

Damage has been done to our scientific potential in our schools. We need look no further than the latest report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools, which states: The main problem affecting equipment is the cost of replacing ageing capital items, particularly in the practical subjects, and providing sufficient new technological equipment … in about two-fifths of the lessons where the quality of the work was less than satisfactory the supply of books was considered to be inadequate. The inspectorate gave the example of a school which said that its supply of textbooks was so inadequate that some pupils passed through the fifth form without ever being able to take a textbook home.

Of lessons in both primary and secondary schools that involved the use of equipment the inspectorate said: nine-tenths of the lessons judged satisfactory had adequate supplies of appropriate equipment, while of those lessons assessed as less than satisfactory nearly two-fifths lacked such adequate provision In secondary schools the most serious problem was the replacement of ageing, costly equipment in science". Those are the facts of the education system for which the Secretary of State is responsible They do not represent a sound basis on which to develop a scientifically based society As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, there is concern about increasing the number of women scientists, but we can do that only if more girls begin to take science at school Those authonties — especially the Inner London education authority — which are taking initiatives to recruit more girls into science, thereby making them more useful in a scientific society, are being inhibited by rate capping from taking such action.

Medical research has suffered seriously from various Government policies Let us put the matter in perspective. The MRC's budget this year is about £120 million; a new frigate is to cost £170 million. I am not sure that the priorities are right The Government talk about it as level funding It might seem level, but the MRC funds have certain special features which are outstripping inflation, so it is far from level funding, indeed, its funding is going down..

That point was proved in a parliamentary answer from the Secretary of State as recently as 7 June It showed that the MRC assesses projects and gives them an alpha rating if they are top notch and approved as high quality grant applications In 1981–82, all approved long-term applications received funding Of the approved short-term applications, 66 were not funded In 1982–83, approved long-term applications not funded were two, while approved short-term applications not funded were 25 In 1983–84, 22 approved long-term applications— recognised as meritorious—were not funded, and no fewer than 199 approved short-term applications were not funded

What suffers because of that? One example is important for the 25,000 families—not individuals—affected by the inherited eye disease retinitis pigmentosa. Previously, the MRC had granted £500,000 to Moorfields hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology jointly for a five-year project—£100,000 a year That ran out in April this year It is to be replaced by a three-year grant totalling only £74,000 That measly amount of money, resulting from Government policies, must be compared with the £150,000 that the voluntary organisation, the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society, is putting into research into the disease.

The Institute of Ophthalmology is one of 12 institutions in the British Post-Graduate Medical Federation. Of the others, the most famous is probably the Institute of Child Health at the Great Ormond street hospital In 1979–80, those institutes received £9.1 million from the University Grants Committee This year, in 1979–80 figures, they will receive only £6.3 million In current prices, during the past six years they have lost £23.5 million for basic, vital research into child health neurology and so on.

The federation tells me that the institute can still obtain money for particular projects, but that their capacity to take them on is being severely undermined because the central core funding from the UGC is no longer available. They cannot run the projects, and that is totally absurd. Senior staff devote a great deal of time to raising money for projects instead of supervising research and carrying out clinical work in the associated hospitals. The institutes are faced with a flight abroad of top flight researchers. They are also faced with the break-up of basic skilled teams of technicians, without whom such institutes cannot prosper. They are also losing money for equipment from the UGC grant.

It is worth adding that those institutes also suffered severely as an accidental result of the Government's policy on overseas student fees. They are so renowned worldwide that they attracted large numbers of overseas students who did a great deal of work here, made a great contribution to those institutions' reputation and spread that reputation abroad, but they are now being turned away and sent to other places abroad.

In all, the Government's record on science policy at all levels is appalling, and it is nowhere more so than in medical research.

2.15 pm
Sir Keith Joseph


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the Secretary of State have the leave of the House to speak again?

Hon. Members


Sir Keith Joseph

I pay tribute to the large number of hon. Members who chose to come here today for the debate. On both sides of the House, there seems to be a universal recognition of the relevance of science to prosperity and the standard of living. The Advisory Board for the Reseach Councils has made a strong case in its advice to me, from which I quoted, and which was published yesterday. The Government and their predecessor have protected the science budget in gross terms, but it is true that a significant diversion of some of the budget has had to go to expenditure other than science research.

Dr. Michael Clark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that over the past 15 years Japan has been increasing its science budget by 17 per cent.., West Germany by 14 per cent. and France and Russia by 8 per cent., while we have been increasing it by 3 per cent.? If that continues, by 1990 Japan will be spending 16 times as much on science research as we are.

Sir Keith Joseph

I was about to come to that point.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren), for Havant (Mr. Lloyd), for Rochford (Dr. Clark) and for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet), and the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), spoke directly or indirectly of the economic background. We should recognise what lies behind what they were saying, and what the problem is for any Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford has just emphasised that point. While our productivity remains so far below that of even our neighbours in north-west Europe, let alone America and Japan, our standard of living will be low compared with theirs, what it might be, and what we would like it to be. That goes for public services and social services.

Hon. Members can put the blame for our low productivity and resulting lack of competitiveness on any combination that they wish, on Governments of either or both parties, on management, trade unions or the culture of our times. But let them recognise that until productivity and, with it, competitiveness rise sharply, we shall be in danger of the sort of comparison to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford referred. While the proportion of our gross national product devoted to research is not far distant from, and, indeed, above that of some of our competitors, the fact is that many of our competitors' GNP is so much higher that the buying power of the proportion that they devote to research is beyond ours.

We have a real problem in this country. Hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke of the readiness of business to take advantage of scientiic invention. Indeed, that goes to the heart of our difficulty. The function of the entrepreneur has not been recognised enough as being crucial to our standard of living. The culture encouraged to some extent by the Labour party is much to blame for that. I welcome the change in its tone. Labour Members may recognise the importance of business today, but too often in the past they have treated business as if it were in some way discreditable and immoral.

Mr. Thurnham

Could not the Government be more entrepreneurial and put their money where their mouth is by making provision for more specialist teachers, not just to train more engineers and technologists but to ensure better information for the public, so many of whom have followed the ways of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) whose Bill would take us back to the middle ages?

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government do not have any money. We already try to put taxpayers' money to the best use, and this debate is a valuable help in that process. The right hon. Member for Clydeside (Dame J. Hart) asked the key question. We would all like more money for science, but where is it to come from? My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), in an excellent speech, and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) asked the same question, and in this context several hon. Members raised the subject of expenditure on defence research and development.

Mr. Dalyell

The Government coughed up £430 million for an airport.

Sir Keith Joseph

I must emphasise that, of the approximately £2 billion classified as defence research and development, only about 15 per cent. goes to research. Opposition Members referred to the United States President's increase of civil research by 30 per cent., but they did not allow for inflation. That was the nominal increase. The increase in real terms was 15 per cent.

Dr. Bray


Sir Keith Joseph

I shall not give way because I am right.

Dr. Bray

That is not true. Look at the figure for the universities and colleges.

Sir Keith Joseph

I do not have that. I am referring to general civil research.

I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has in mind two schemes which would increase collaboration with academic institutions in strategic research. The introduction of those schemes is likely to increase MOD expenditure in higher education. I do not pretend for one moment that that will solve all our problems, but it is a move in the direction urged by hon. Members.

I note the various comments about the decision-making machinery in connection with science. I remind the House that Whitehall Departments co-operate effectively in a number of areas of scientific interest. The House will have noted that contributions were made by several different Whitehall Departments to the expenditure recently announced for the space agency and the switch to larger numbers of science, technology and engineering places in higher education.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), in a powerful speech, laid strong emphasis on the need for more money for higher education generally, and I sympathise with the view that he expressed.

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) —I speak neutrally in terms of the merits of his Bill— told us of his correspondence with various leading figures in the relevant sphere of activity, and I do not contradict what he said. It will not surprise the right hon. Gentleman or the House to know, however, that if his Bill had been law some years ago those specialists could not have undertaken the work that they now carry out therapeutic-ally. Moreover, if the right hon. Gentleman's Bill became law it might inhibit research which experts might wish to put to similar use in the future. I do not comment on the merits of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill but I was surprised that in making, as always, a very effective case he found it necessary to use the phraseology that he did and to refer to a profit-hungry conspiracy. I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I agree that the pursuit of profit within the law, subject to competition and any ethical code which is agreed to, is the driving force behind enterprise and prosperity.

I am also surprised that the right hon. Gentleman thought that his argument needed the denigration not of the judgments and conclusions but of the analysis in the Warnock report. I was further surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who seldom descends to denigration, thought it right to attack the integrity, as I think he did, of the Medical Research Council and of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

My hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and for Bedfordshire, North spoke of the Government's ingenuity in choosing today for the debate. It was not like that. It was essential that I grasped the chance for a debate on science when it was offered because there is no certainty of getting another date at any time.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford, rightly emphasised the difficulties of successive Governments in getting suitable teachers in some subjects, especially in the sciences. I ask them both to read carefully my letter of 21 May, copies of which I shall send them, which opened up new possibilities.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) quoted selectively from the inspectors' annual report on the effects of public spending on education Her Majesty's inspectorate said what he quoted, but it also emphasised that management decisions by several local education authorities meant that money was being wasted in secondary aspects of education, and was thus not available for key education spending in the classroom.

I accept the importance of scientific teaching and believe that, in the Associaion for Scientific Education, we are lucky to have a constructive and effective teaching group What the Government are introducing by way of a new examination system, the transformation of the curriculum, the improvement of teacher education and the publication of HMI reports—

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Is my hon. Friend aware that, to date, there is only one candidate in the whole country applying to be admitted to a bachelor of education course in physics, compared with 1,454 applicants in physical education9 Does he realise the magnitude of the problem that we have discussed this morning?

Sir Keith Joseph

I know only too sadly I shall send my hon. Friend a copy of my 21 May letter so that he may see the new possibilities

The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) based his judgment that all is not well with science on a familiar report which was based largely on citations We live in a world that has been transformed from the days when we were pioneers in science—and we have to welcome this—there are many countries whose businesses and public services are aspiring to the heights of scientific excellence We can no longer dominate as we once did when we were pioneers, so it is bound to follow that our record of citations, for example, will diminish.

The ABRC has invited the Royal Society to examine the state of science in Britain today The Royal Society has accepted the remit and is about to undertake an inquiry into two broad parts of the world of science. When that report is published, taken with the report which the hon. Member for Stockton, South quoted, we shall be able to make a judgment about whether the quality of science in Britain has declined.

Meanwhile, I repeat that I am seriously worried by such evidence as there is of a loss of scientific skills. We do not know the extent to which some British scientists are returning to this country and the degree to which talented scientists from other countries are coming here A report is pending, and that will tell us more—

It being half past Two o'clock, the motion for the adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish it to be on the record that at least three Conservative Members and three Opposition Members stayed to the end of the debate, would have liked to speak and resent the implication that is often heaped on us that the House of Commons is not interested in science. That allegation at least, can be nailed by the attendance of hon. Members today and by the number who have wanted to take part in the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member has made the point, but he will appreciate that it is not a point of order for me. It is not unusual for right hon. and hon. Members to suffer disappointment because there is not sufficient time for them to be called to speak.