HC Deb 12 March 1991 vol 187 cc800-2
2. Dr. Twinn

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proportion of gross domestic product the Government spend on civil scientific research; and what are the comparable figures in Japan and the United States of America.

Mr. Alan Howarth

In 1988 the United Kingdom Government spent 0.55 per cent. of gross domestic product on civil scientific research. The corresponding figures for Japan and the USA were 0.45 and 0.39 per cent.

Dr. Twinn

Does my hon. Friend agree that those real increases in spending on scientific research are matters for praise and not the criticism that we hear from the Opposition Benches? Does he agree that, by any measurable criteria, scientific output in this country, as a result of that increased spending, is a matter for considerable satisfaction?

Mr. Howarth

I thank my hon. Friend. Certainly, the 23 per cent. increase in real terms in the science budget that the Government have achieved is evidence of the high priority that we give to basic and strategic science. I also agree that it is important not to concentrate exclusively on inputs. We are just as concerned with output, where our scientists excel. For example, if one considers papers published in the main scientific journals one sees that, between 1981 and 1986, the United Kingdom share of world output remained constant at 8.3 per cent., while that of Germany declined from 6.3 to 5.9 per cent. and France's output fell from 5.1 to 4.8 per cent. By that measure, the United Kingdom remains second only to the United States of America.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Minister recognise that the problem of research funded by the British Government is that it is not inspired by any industrial strategy and is not worked out in collaboration with industry? Does not industry spend far too little of its own resources in support of civil research? Why do not the Government address these problems? Or is the thought of a weekend with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry too much for these people?

Mr. Howarth

The Labour party is itchy-fingered, as always. It wants a political strategy for science. It wants bureaucratic, political determination of the way in which resources devoted to science are spent. The Labour party's science strategy would be every bit as disastrous as its industrial strategy.

Sir Ian Lloyd

My hon. Friend will know that I want a scientific strategy, not a political strategy, for science. May I ask him whether, in drafting his reply and including the figures that he has given, his officials advised him on the analysis of this matter in the definitions of research and development in the House of Lords report on science and technology? As it happens, I was looking at that report this morning. Is he aware that those figures, together with figures in the 1988 analysis of scientific research in Germany, plus OECD and "Eurostat" figures, fail to support the view that, in this field, we are doing better than Japan?

Mr. Howarth

The whole House has enormous respect for my hon. Friend's knowledge and expertise in this area and for his very serious dedication to supporting British science. His attitude contrasts with the rather frivolous attitude of the Opposition, which persists in rubbishing British science. On the statistics furnished by the OECD, it is correct to say that we are spending a larger proportion of GDP on civil science than are Germany and Japan. One can certainly look at definitions, but the important point is that the British Government are fully committed to the provision of responsible and proper support for British science, which is of an excellent standard.

Dr. Bray

Is the Minister aware that in the United States a great deal of basic research is financed from the defence budget, and that Japanese industry spends twice as much on research and development as British industry? A more relevant comparison would be with France and Germany, where Government spending, in GDP terms, is 30 per cent. higher than in the United Kingdom. Has the Minister digested the House of Lords report, to which the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) referred? That report points out that the United Kingdom is the only industrial country in which total expenditure on research and development, as a percentage of GDP, actually fell between 1981 and 1988, largely as a result of the reduction in Government expenditure.

Mr. Howarth

The Government's expenditure on science, as a proportion of GDP, did not fall between 1979 and the present year. It is very easy to be selective with statistics, but I am not sure that doing so gets us very far. I agree that the Japanese spend proportionately much more on research and development. We ought to emulate them, and that is what Government policy encourages.

I do not agree with the implication behind the hon. Gentleman's question. It is not true to say that leading-edge science can derive tremendous benefit from proportionately high expenditure on defence. It seems to me that defence benefits from civil science much more than civil science benefits from defence. The Germans have been reducing the proportion of GDP that is spent on science.

Mr. Butler

Is my hon. Friend yet in a position to say whether the Advisory Board for the Research Councils has released a small amount of GDP to keep open the nuclear structure facility at Daresbury?

Mr. Howarth

I appreciate my hon. Friend's commitment to keeping open the nuclear structure facility at Daresbury and his concern for the welfare of his constituents there. No one could have fought more effectively on their behalf than he. The decision on the allocation of public funding for science must be made by scientists themselves. No further decisions on that matter have yet been announced, but such decisions will be made by the scientific community, rather than by the Government.