§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. MacKay.]
§ 5.2 pm
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave)
The Government have requested a debate on science and technology today for two important reasons. I hope that the first one does not need stating. I know that I shall have the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) with me when I say that science is, or at least should be, an essential and central part of the national life. Apart from the select band of which he is a distinguished member, the House has not done enough to emphasise that. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the debate. I should also mention two former Members, Sir Ian Lloyd and Sir David Price, who were among that select band that kept alive the flame of science, together with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and others.
The second reason for the debate is that the Government have recently made important changes to the way in which they handle science and technology issues in Whitehall. The objective of the change is to give science and technology a higher profile at the centre of government. As my right hon. Friend the noble Lord Hailsham, the last Minister to hold the post that I now hold, said:Scientists need a senior Minister to look after their affairs, not in the sense of running after them, but in the sense of being a friend at court.That is how I define my task, and it is one that I shall relish. That is why the Prime Minister decided that an office of science and technology should be set up at the heart of Government.
I am grateful to the noble Lord Sherfield, whose voice has carried considerable weight on these matters for a number of decades, who said in another place last week that, in his view,the outlook for policy making in science and technology is better now than it ever has been."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 June 1992; Vol. 537, c. 977.]He believes that we have got the institutions right.
I hope that the Office of Science and Technology will provide a powerful central focus for science and technology. It has a budget of more than £1 billion. It is responsible for the science budget and the five research councils. It is headed by the chief scientific adviser, Professor Stewart, Fellow of the Royal Society, who is known to many in the House and is widely admired.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Will the Minister clarify, at the beginning, what the new position of Professor Stewart is in relation to Sir Peter Kemp and others? Is it true that his position is downgraded? What is his position in relation to those who have grade 1A, like Sir Mark Richmond?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
There is no question of Professor Stewart's position being downgraded. I was just about to go on to say—I hope that this will make the position clear to the hon. Gentleman—that Professor Stewart retains his right to personal access to the Prime Minister, a right that chief scientific advisers have always had. I hope that that makes it clear that his national position, as chief scientific 475 adviser to the Government, remains what it was. Sir Peter Kemp is the permanent secretary to my office and is administrative head of the Department.
I am glad to say—this relates to what might be another anxiety of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) —that the Prime Minister will continue to chair the ministerial committee on science and technology. The new office melds together the science branch of the former Department of Education and Science and the former science and technology secretariat of the Cabinet Office into a strong science policy unit. It is responsible for the Advisory Board for the Research Councils and the Advisory Council on Science and Technology. I also have the ministerial support of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has wide knowledge of science issues from his time at the Department of Education and Science, and from his constituency.
Science and technology issues cut right across government, and it is only sensible for the Government to take a central perspective on these issues. Above all, we need to focus on the output of our research and development programmes. Government funding in this, as in other areas, is necessarily limited. Therefore, the policy would benefit from an across-the-board look. What is important is not the individual interest of one programme, one Government Department or one pressure group. The real strength of the new Office of Science and Technology is the ability to bring together all Government support for science and technology in a way that maximises the national interest.
As a nation, we must ensure that we produce the people whom we need both to sustain that science base and to contribute to the wider economy. To this end, I shall be working closely with colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, whose Department will continue to be responsible for its schemes to promote technology transfer and innovation. I shall be looking at how we can provide maximum benefit from the substantial resources that Departments devote to research and development without falling into the trap, long ago identified by the late Lord Rothschild, of trying to direct from the centre, throughout the Departments, an integrated jumbo plan for science, which would be unachievable and would lead to far too much centralisation. There may be some, like the hon. Member for Linlithgow, who will be aware of the fact that I feel the shade of the late Lord Rothschild, for whom I worked when he produced his report, sometimes peering over my shoulder. That is not always a reassuring arrangement.
My job is to see that arrangements for applying science in Departments are properly carried out. My responsibility is to scan the arrangements in the Departments and, if necessary, engage in dialogue with Departments where I think that there may be weaknesses, or where I believe that priorities are not being identified properly. I shall not give them an excuse to slough off their responsibilities for science and technology on to the centre. That would be a step backwards.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to his new job and the creation of his new Department. In considering how the Government can receive the best advice on how to ensure that all Departments work together to advance the cause of science, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the time has come to set up a standing Royal Commission on science, such as that on environmental pollution, or that the Government should consider whether the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, which has done a good and well-respected job, could have its remit widened to encompass all matters of scientific advice and be charged with the permanent responsibility of deciding what should be considered and making public recommendations to the Government, Parliament and society?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I shall come later to my proposals in terms of analysis and the generation of new proposals and new policies on a Government-wide basis. Before the House goes into the area that the hon. Gentleman raises —not that it is a matter for me—it may wish to consider its arrangements for Select Committees. That is not the Government's responsibility, but anything that the House does to help raise the profile of science and technology will be welcome.
The establishment of the new Office of Science and Technology provides a valuable opportunity to shape science and technology policy in the United Kingdom for the years to come. As I have already seen, the arrangements make sense from an international perspective. For the first time for many years we have a Minister who can meet on an equal footing other European and international representatives of science and technology in their countries. I had an opportunity to do exactly that at a meeting of the G7 science Ministers at Leeds castle recently, the so-called Carnegie group. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry for being here today to represent his great Department's important responsibilities for technology transfer and innovation—
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I am sure that the House will want to wish my hon. Friend well and many happy returns on his birthday.
It was, with all respect to my hon. Friend and other Ministers, including my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, somewhat confusing that at practically every international gathering a different middle-ranking or junior Minister represented British science. Therefore, representatives from other countries got to know a wide range of British Ministers, but were somewhat confused by our idiosyncratic approach to the matter.
That is brought into sharp focus because we are about to assume the presidency of the EC Research Council. I attended a meeting of the Council in Luxembourg at the end of April and look forward to chairing meetings of the Research Council during our presidency, during which time my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will lead the British delegation.
That brings me to the EC research and development framework programme, which now involves annual commitments of some 2 billion ecu, which will take centre stage at the Council. The Office of Science and Technology will take the leading role in developing the United 477 Kingdom's negotiating strategy to ensure that the programmes have clear objectives, are properly evaluated and meet the United Kingdom's needs.
In particular, we shall soon be discussing with our European partners the shape and content of the fourth research and development framework programme. The United Kingdom is playing an active role in influencing the preparation of the debate. We were one of the first member states to submit a paper to the Commission on what the fourth framework programme should look like. I followed that up at the first meeting that I attended in April. I said that the emphasis should be on developing generic technologies with a broad range of applications in several industrial sectors, rather than subsidising research and development in specific industries.
That is not a call for an expansion of the EC research budget: that is already considerable and has grown rapidly in recent years. It is an attempt to introduce a more systematic and objective approach to deciding what the priorities for support within the funds available should be. Of particular importance is the need to scrutinise programmes to see what their outputs and benefits are. As with our domestic expenditure, we have to ensure that we are getting proper value for money and that the Community will benefit to the maximum possible extent. It will not be a secret to some hon. Members that we and other Ministers have in the past questioned the management of some EC programmes. Those views received an encouraging measure of support at the Council from a wide range of other countries.
We are taking a lead in developing those ideas within Europe and I shall be meeting Vice-President Pandolfi later this month. Professor Stewart has proposed to the Commission that the Community should develop criteria to help us identify the generic technologies that will be important for European industry during the next 10 years or so. That initiative should complement the United Kingdom's research activities. That will be discussed by the Commission and member states next month. Pursuing that theme will be a key objective during our presidency.
The United Kingdom can rightly take pride in its fine tradition of excellence in science and technology, a tradition which retains it full vigour. United Kingdom scientists continue to carry out science of world class. We are all aware of Stephen Hawking's outstanding work on the evolution of the universe and the nature of time. It was surely encouraging to those of us such as the hon. Member for Motherwell, South who, in his interesting open letter to me, emphasised the importance of raising the profile of science more generally throughout Britain—which I strongly support—that Stephen Hawking's book sold such a phenomenal number of copies, giving the lie to those who say that there is no interest in science in Britain. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and I both read the book and found it straightforward and rather easy.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
Has the right hon. Gentleman observed that Stephen Hawking's ability to communicate depends on a sophisticated machine, the cleverest part of which is a transputer which was designed in Britain and is manufactured in Britain? How does he react to the news that an irrevocable decision has been taken and from next Tuesday the transputer will be manufactured in France and Italy?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing his particular interest on such an effective side wind. The headquarters of INMOS is in my constituency, so I am well aware that that French-owned company is having to make some difficult decisions. However, it is clear that those decisions must be taken on a European-wide basis. Such a worldwide facility must base its decisions on the miantenance of a European facility for such production. I would not want to intervene in that decision, but I hope that the result is acceptable to the hon. Gentleman and to me. It would he wrong of us, when we are, as I hope many will say during the debate, seeking further integration of the European science based industry, to look too parochially at some of the decisions that then have to be taken.
I have referred to Stephen Hawking, but admirable work has also been done by others. Michael Green's superstring theories shed new light on the composition of matter and there is Alec Jeffrey's work on DNA fingerprinting. The United Kingdom has also made major contributions to work on gene therapy, which may in time offer a better quality of life to many people whose lives are at present marred, often tragically, as I used to see in my previous job, by diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
I was delighted to see that a recent authoritative study put the Medical Research Council's laboratory of molecular biology at Cambridge second of all such facilities in the world and first on some significant measures. That is quite a tribute.
As the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development draws to a close in Rio, we should also remember the important contribution that United Kingdom science has made to environmental research. I remember well that it was the British team in Antarctica who did the original work which discovered the ozone hole that appears over the Antarctic each spring. Subsequent work with European colleagues on the similar phenomenon over the Arctic had a major British content. British scientists are in the van in climate research. That has been consolidated by the establishment of the Meteorological Office's Hadley centre and the Natural Environment Research Council's James Rennell centre at Southampton. The United Kingdom also has a commendable reputation for underpinning work in the area of biodiversity with such institutions as the natural history museum and the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Chancellor will recollect that I had two Adjournment debates on the natural history museum. Is he satisfied that the maintenance of the collection of 25.5 million specimens, going back to the time of Captain Cook's voyage, is now adequately financed?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The funding for the natural history museum still comes from the Department of National Heritage. The museum is happy with that arrangement, although I do not say that it could not spend more money. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the importance of systematic biology and taxonomy which, although perhaps not as eye-catching as some other science, underpin a great deal of work and are relevant to many of the biodiversity concerns which have been discussed in Rio.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)
Does the research work carried out at the natural history museum come 479 under my right hon. Friend's sphere of influence? Basic research goes on there into, for example, tropical diseases and marine biology.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
It depends. There are two ways in which my responsibilities can be fulfilled. I have responsibility for the research council budgets. If project funding came from a research council, it would come through my budget, although it would be validated by scientists and not by me. The chief scientific adviser will want to take into account the broad priorities of science as part of the general picture of the work done.
The credit for the work I have mentioned goes to the scientists concerned and I know that the House will want to applaud them. The Government's role is to help to establish the conditions in which such achievement can flourish. The Government have sought to do that, both in their education policies and in their funding of the science base. There have been some major and beneficial changes in recent years, of which we have yet to see the benefit. All people up to the age of 16 in maintained schools now study science, mathematics and technology. Since 1979, there has been a huge increase in science and engineering graduates coming out of the higher education institutions. Substantial resources for science have been made available by the Government in recent years, consistent with meeting our other priorities.
I do not want to bandy statistics with the House, but I point out that over the past decade there has been an increase of roughly 25 per cent., after inflation, in the United Kingdom's science budget—the specific budget for which I am now responsible. Government funding for higher education has increased in real terms since 1989–90. The rising profile of the science budget over the next three years will, importantly, give the research councils an excellent basis for the planning and management of their research programmes, which they welcome. By 1994–95, the Government plan to spend about £3.5 billion on civil science and technology, an increase of a useful 3 per cent. in real terms over spending in 1991–92.
Scientific achievement is not simply a matter of spending. The key, as ever, is how to achieve the best results from the resources available. A study by the Institute for Scientific Information in the United States —I know that there are other ways in which to measure scientific achievement, but bibliometrics, as I have learnt to call the study of publications, is one way—shows that, during the 1980s, the United Kingdom remained second only to the United States in the number of scientific papers published and their citation by scientists. That shows that the output and quality of the United Kingdom science and technology base remains extremely high. However, the picture is not all rosy.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
The Chancellor has made an interesting observation about the output from our scientific community. In my constituency, there are two important establishments which are part of Liverpool university. One is extremely well known to the President of the Board of Trade, because he takes advice there from time to time on matters relating to trees, and the other is an important veterinary school. The academics at that institution have bombarded me recently with pleas 480 for help. Questions have been passed to the Department for Education about their working conditions and the deterioration of morale in the institution.
That does not seem to square with the picture of the future that the Chancellor has elaborated. I should be grateful if he would pass on those observations to his colleagues in the Department for Education, with the added weight of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade has a direct interest in one of the establishments.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for intervening. I know a little about the veterinary side, because one of the other three centres, after the reorganisation of the veterinary schools, is in Bristol. Although that reorganisation was painful, it was right. Support for science involves making difficult decisions which sometimes involve concentration. As a Member of Parliament who represents a university seat, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) is, I am aware that there is a question of morale in the science community and I hope that a great deal of my speech today will address that.
I was going on to say that there are problems. Some of the issues we shall have to face in the period ahead will concern the question whether, as well as very much increasing the output of science and technology graduates, we have clear enough institutional arrangements for developing a career structure for those whom we need to keep within science. At the same time, we must make it clear to many of those who will not find a full-time career in academic or research science that they are extremely valuable members of the community who should find more senior posts in industry, in the City and in the House where we could do with a few more scientists. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston for bringing his expertise to our debates, which will be a benefit.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I agree that there is a lack of scientific knowledge in the House. May we assume from my right hon. Friend's remarks that he welcomes what the Select Committee on Procedure recommends—that there should be a departmental Select Committee working with his Department? We could then further a greater knowledge of science and technology in the House with a degree of criticism—I am sorry, I mean not with a degree of criticism. We could work with his Department to further a greater knowledge of science and technology, which all hon. Members would like.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
My hon. Friend's intervention was much improved by the insertion of the word "not". This is a matter for the House, for the usual channels and for those other mysterious and scientific bodies. I hope that the House will take some steps to reflect the change in departmental organisation. Anything that Parliament does to raise the profile of science must be welcomed by all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Dalyell
How does the Secretary of State respond to the Royal Society of Chemistry, which, incidentally, has a very valuable pairing arrangement with Members of Parliament? It said that 20 per cent. of chemistry A-level students were found to be taught by people who were not directly qualified in the subject and that one in 20 school science teachers have no higher education qualification in science. Is that not a serious point?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, although it is not directly within my responsibility. Surely the very fact that we are now increasing the output of graduates in the science subjects gives us the opportunity to correct the long-standing imbalance. I remember that the position was roughly the same 10 years ago when I worked in the Department of Education and Science. We now at least have the manpower and womanpower to correct the situation if those graduates can be found jobs in the teaching profession.
§ Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)
Does the Chancellor intend to recommend that a Select Committee should be set up?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I must tread carefully. I should not be thanked either by the House or by others who are more experienced in these matters than I if I were to recommend that the House should set up a Select Committee. Points of order might be raised in all parts of the House. Nevertheless, I look forward to having a productive dialogue, however the House may organise it. I should be surprised if a Select Committee were to be set up. If, however, the House comes to that conclusion, I hope that it will bear in mind that there is a powerful Select Committee on Science and Technology in another place. My Department is very small. If there should be two Select Committees, I hope that they would organise their work in a co-ordinated way so that not all the time of my officials was spent upon dealing with them.
I am grateful for those interventions, because I was about to deal with those areas where the picture is not so rosy. Hon. Members seemed to be anxious to keep me off that part of my speech, which is unusual. It is not enough just to invent. The key is to translate the invention into innovation, where it really counts—in the marketplace. It is in that area that we have undoubtedly been less successful than our competitors. Collaborative programmes such as LINK and EUREKA have grown and are contributing to the commercialisation of long-term research. There are now 30 LINK programmess involving a considerable sum of money—£350 million, of which half comes from the Government. Some results seem to be winning through.
In the case of EUREKA, which encourages European collaboration closer to the market, the United Kingdom had the highest number of new projects announced at the recent ministerial conference—43 projects. That is considerably more than either France or Germany. That is encouraging. However, we need to consider carefully what more can be done. Ultimately, it is the success of our companies in innovating and competing successfully that will provide the wealth that is required, not just for them but for Governments to plough back into research. Without the successful commercialisation of innovation, we shall inevitably slip further behind our competitors.
My party's election manifesto said that we would encourage the establishment of centres of technological excellence linking industrial research organisations with universities and polytechnics. Officials are examining how that might best be achieved—for example, taking into account the proposals from the working group on the Prince of Wales's innovation initiative for the establishment of intermediate Faraday centres.
My Department and the Department of Trade and Industry, working together, have already addressed one 482 aspect. Last week the Government announced five pilot partnerships between higher education institutions and industrial research organisations which will enable postgraduate students to undertake their studies on work of direct interest to industry in organisations that deal with a wide range of industrial problems.
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
There will be a broad welcome in all parts of the House for the Faraday centres, but how does the Chancellor relate to the Scottish Office in this respect? Of the five establishments that were announced, none was in Scotland. It is a source of mystery to me how his new office relates to the Scottish Office and how innovation would take place in Scotland within this framework.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I am responsible for the research councils' budget. That is a national budget. The research councils place project money with the higher education and other institutions throughout the United Kingdom. In that sense, I have a national responsibility. On a lighter note, the chief scientific adviser comes from the island of Islay in the western Hebrides, so I am not allowed to go very far wrong. My responsibility is to co-ordinate these matters with the territorial Ministers.
I believe that the improved arrangements will help. Coupled with the co-operative awards in science and engineering studentships, the new engineering doctorate and the teaching company scheme, there is now a range of opportunities for students to be directly involved with industry at a formative stage in their careers.
Proposals for intermediate centres go further than that. They embrace a partnership seeking to encourage more industrially relevant research and to help the two-way flow of ideas as well as people through the innovation chain. Such technology transfer is, of course, very important. We recognise, however, that the creation of intermediate centres of excellence would not be the whole answer. It is necessary to ensure that all levels of industry have ready access to sources of advice and help appropriate to their needs.
This must be seen in a local and regional as well as a national context. The needs differ between types and sizes of firms and, as well as access to new technology, there is much current proven technology which can be transferred with advantage between sectors and from larger firms to their smaller counterparts. We are also examining how this technology transfer can be improved and ways in which other mechanisms can be linked to the intermediate institute concept.
The United Kingdom has a commendable record of achievement on science and technology, but we need to build on our strengths and also learn from those of our competitors. In the months to come, I shall be carrying out consultations with the scientific community and with industry on how the United Kingdom's fine record on science and technology can be further improved. In this area, as in others, there are clear advantages in exchanges of views, pooling of priorities and wide consultation. I have already seen a number of the key players in the scientific community, such as Sir Michael Atiyah, president of the Royal Society and a number of scientists eminent in their own fields. I have also had a useful and constructive meeting with representatives of Save British Science. In this consultation there will be a crucially important input from Government Departments with 483 strong interests in science and technology, above all the Department of Trade and Industry but also other Departments such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health. We shall continue to consult widely to help form views on the way forward.
Over the coming months, we shall be seeking the views of a wide range of individuals, companies and other groups. Today's debate is the first important stage in this consultation process and I look forward to listening to what hon. Members have to say.
The questions that we shall be asking of the science community, of industry, of this House and of another place, and of informed commentators must include these: do the Government have the right advisory structures at the centre? The Advisory Board for the Research Councils and the Advisory Council on Science and Technology play important advisory roles respectively on the science budget and on science and technology generally. There are also my own advisers in the Office of Science and Technology.
Next, do we have the right links between academia and industry to encourage to the optimum exploitation of the science base? I have already mentioned that we are examining initiatives to bridge the gap between the higher education institutes and industry, as proposed in our election manifesto.
The amount spent on research and development in industry funded by industry rose by 37 per cent. between 1983 and 1990. None the less, it is still in industry's research and development contribution that we lag internationally behind some of our competitors. How can industry be encouraged to match the best of our international competitors in terms of the resources it devotes to R and D? Why are there such huge differences between the R and D committed by different industries?
We have very good basic science in Britain. We seem to have a rather poor record, with some notable exceptions, in the transfer of science to the marketplace. Is this because we are working in basic science areas which have turned out to have less marketable derivatives than those pursued by our rivals?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The ABRC's position is as it was, except that it is now responsible to me rather than to the Secretary of State for Education. It is the advisory body, though not with a statutory base, which advises me on the distribution of money to the research councils.
Is it because we have been less good at support for whatever we like to call the science in between basic and applied—strategic, or generic, or whatever? Should there be more, or less, Government leadership in that area? Are our training opportunities in science and technology for our industral work force—which have steadily improved —yet good enough? Is my own instinct—that the status of our engineers and scientists is not high enough—correct? If it is, what can be done about it?
Next, we need to pay full attention to the international dimension of science. Do we get enough out of international co-operation, particularly in the European 484 Community? Could we do more to help us secure the optimum R and D for our money and the best useful fit with our national programmes?
Do we get the very best value for money out of the substantial expenditure we devote to science and technology? We need to ensure that there are adequate systems in place for concentrating resources on those areas that merit priority. Are we tough enough in facing down existing lobbies which may represent past priorities, whose pressure may prevent new developments which do not yet have effective lobbies?
I have learnt already that there are several answers to each of these, and other, questions, all offered with equal vigour. I propose to listen and think about the answers and I hope to talk to as many people as possible before I come to conclusions. This debate is indeed a start in the discussion I want to take place, but in due course we must reach some conclusions on which to base a strategy that will stand for a number of years, as chopping and changing policy in those areas is demoralising and wasteful.
Accordingly, the Government intend to publish a White Paper, probably in the early part of 1993, setting out ideas about the future of science and technology in this country—to be, of course, informed by what we shall have heard and what people will have told us. At present I feel that that may be largely organisational, although it will, I hope, discuss ideas about the exploitation of science and the application of technology. It will offer no panaceas, nor hold out promises that cannot be fulfilled. Very considerable resources are already available—resources to be measured, incidentally, not just in money but in terms of tradition, bricks and mortar, equipment and, above all, dedicated individuals. What we need to look at is how we can maximise the effectiveness of our arrangements so as to give the country the best value we can from those resources.
In taking this work forward, I shall be working closely with my colleagues across Government, and especially with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, given his Department's important research and development programmes and wider responsibility for industrial innovation, and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, whose role in relation to the supply of scientists and engineers and in the management of research facilities in universities is crucial.
My aim will be to take stock of our achievements thus far in science and technology and see how we can build on them. The establishment of the Office of Science and Technology provides an excellent opportunity for doing so.
The creation of the Office of Science and Technology has been widely welcomed. I am grateful to those Opposition Members who have been generous enough to greet the changes in a positive way, and especially the hon. Member for Motherwell, South. Doubtless we will argue about the institutions, the priorities and the money. However, I hope that we can make common cause in the House about one matter: I believe that in spite of the efforts made in the past by the select band of friends of science in the House—I referred to some of them earlier and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) is another—there is still far too much ignorance of and even hostility to science in our country. It is becoming fashionable again to sneer at scientists and to blame them for ills which are in part the result of choices made by electorates and political systems. 485 Britain, of all countries, cannot afford an anti-science culture. We need to live by our wits as traders and manufacturers. Science and technology represent the application of those wits in their highest form. Part of my job is a normal ministerial one—to get the institutions and decisions reasonably right—but part of it is wider and can be achieved only with the help of the House and Parliament, of the media, of the schools, of indeed every thinking person in our country. It is to beat the drum for science and technology in Britain. We are one of the greatest of science nations. Rural, pre-scientific bliss—if it ever existed—is not an option now. We need to maintain our tremendous scientific strength and we need to use it even better. That, I hope, can unite us all.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)
I welcome this first speech by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his capacity as science Minister and I congratulate him on his appointment as Minister responsible for the Office of Science and Technology. It is right to bring together in the Cabinet Office the responsibility across Government for science and technology issues, and the specific responsibility for the research councils.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his good sense in adopting the Labour party's proposals. I hope that the new consensus will extend further to the content of science policy. That is certainly the overwhelming wish of the science and technology community in both industry and academia. However, that consensus will last only if the Minister can develop a coherent strategy and secure the resources to carry it out, in so far as those resources come from Government. That coherent strategy must cover, most importantly, industrial research, but also the science base, medical, social, economic, environmental and defence research.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said, and I very much welcome the scope of his ideas and the direction on which he has embarked. He referred to forward plans for the science budget. He is aware that, in the normal course of events, those plans will be reviewed and the outcome will be examined with intense concern by a great many people in industry and in the scientific world.
I welcome the Minister's emphasis on output. I am sure that he has already read Edwin Mansfield's paper in Research Policy in February 1991, in which he estimated that the annual rate of return from academic and scientific research in the United States is no less than 28 per cent. per annum. No comparable estimate has been made for the United Kingdom, for the simple reason that the data do not exist on which it could be made. That is another area where the Minister needs to improve the basis of policy-making.
The Minister ended his speech with a number of questions that he is putting, and will continue to put, to the science community. Those are questions that I have been putting to the science community for a number of years. I hope that it will be of some assistance to the House, and perhaps to the Minister, if I cite some of the replies that I have received.
The Minister asked whether the Government needed a new advisory structure; whether we had the right links between academia and industry; and how industry could be encouraged to match the performance of our competitors overseas. He promised a White Paper in early 486 1993, which is probably about right, because it will allow time for consultation. I hope that he will extend the scope of its contents beyond the organisational, to include quite a substantial part of policy and strategy.
As the Minister said, the OST will need to work closely with other Departments, especially the Department of Trade and Industry—and, I would add, the Treasury. The Minister emphasised that link in other aspects of the work of his office, and it is equally important in the scientific area. He must positively encourage other Departments to take responsibility for research in their own areas. The OST can play a useful and acceptable role in stimulating effective departmental research, providing common research services, developing a science base and encouraging the adoption and transfer of new technology. It cannot expect to get the resources for the science base unless it makes that wider contribution throughout Government.
To play that wider role, the OST and the chief scientific adviser and his staff must be appropriately recognised. It was ludicrous that, before the election, the chief scientific officer was only a grade 2 post, whereas the Minstry of Defence chief scientist and the heads of the science and engineering and medical research councils were all grade 1A. In Whitehall terms, I understand from MOD sources, that meant that its chief scientist did not attend the chief scientific adviser's meetings. I hope that the Minister can confirm that he is either making or has made the chief scientific adviser a grade 1 post. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the present incumbent of the post came from Islay; I always understood that he came from Barra. There is a deep and stormy sea between those two lovely islands.
The Minister and the chief scientific adviser will have to join in the submission of public expenditure bids for the research councils. However, they will also—as the chief scientific officer has already been doing—need to discuss with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury the research and development budgets of all Departments.
The apparent conflict of interest between being specifically responsible for the research councils while having the task of advising the Treasury on the distribution of research and development across the whole of Government and in particular Departments can be removed if it is recognised that, although the science budget has probably to lead total civil research and development in the short term, within two or three years the reality is that, without a coherent strategy, the science budget will lag behind the total civil research and development. The two are inextricably linked.
The weakness of advice and advocacy on the science budget in recent years, as pursued both inside and outside the Government, has been that it has been isolated from the mainstream economic and industrial policy-making of the Government. The OST has available, through the research that it supports, the information and analytical capability to present a more coherent case for science. If the Minister were to use that resource simply for the benefit of the science budget, his arguments would not be well received by his colleagues. He has to enable and encourage Government as a whole to use the information and analytical methods that the research community has developed without overselling or exaggerating its capabilities.
The reality, if we think in hard economic and industrial terms, that the Government must face is that, without a 487 sustained improvement in non-price technological competitiveness, there is a substantial risk that the country will face acute balance of payment difficulties around 1996, forcing major increases in taxation, cuts in expenditure, and another major recession in the run-up to European monetary union. If Maastricht or EMU does not go ahead, the risk, of course, is likely to be greater because of the added uncertainty. [Interruption.] Have we resolved the question relating to Barra?
§ Dr. Bray
How easy it is for matches to be made across even those stormy seas. The right hon. Gentleman has interrupted my chain of thought about the likely difficulties that we will get into if the improvement in technological competitiveness, which I accept has been making some progress in recent years, does not make much faster progress in the next few years.
To reduce the risk to more acceptable levels, the improvement in technological competitiveness needs to be sufficient to increase exports of manufactures at a compound rate around 2 per cent. per annum or £2 billion per annum faster than would be achieved by the growth in world trade and in relative prices. Some encouragement can be drawn from the recent improvement in exports of manufactures, to which all Ministers frequently refer, but at least as fast a pace as that needs to be maintained for a decade to see us out of the wood.
The OST, directly and through the research that it supports in the Economic and Social Research Council, is able to join the DTI and the Treasury in monitoring the improvement in technological competitiveness and following through its policy implications. That kind of economic assessment is hazardous, but it is an unavoidable undertaking. The Treasury does not regard the medium-term financial strategy and its short-term forecasts as a reliable guide to the medium term in general or to supply side effects. But it has no other way of treating them, and it is not putting any effort into developing any way of treating them.
The OST and the DTI are inescapably concerned with the medium term and with the supply side. Unless they are able to argue such matters, they will not get anywhere with the Treasury. They can succeed in their task only if they equip themselves to handle microeconomic policy and the links between it and macroeconomic policy at least as well as the Treasury handles macroeconomic policy. While the OST and the DTI are building their in-house capability in that respect—I have mentioned, for example, the ability to do exercises such as Mansfield's in the United States—they will need to use external capacity which, in any case, should be built up to service industry in general and company strategies.
§ Sir Peter Emery
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a further problem? With the cut in defence expenditure, there is likely to be a further decrease in R and D which has been going into industry, which has increased the percentage of Government R and D expenditure across the board. That money should go into civilian R and D and not just be lost or gobbled up by the Treasury.
§ Dr. Bray
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but information on the extent to which that is happening is simply not available at the moment. I do not see how the Government can formulate a coherent policy on that matter unless they are able to follow the rates of technology transfer, the present state of technology in use and so on.
§ Dr. Bray
Indeed, that would help.
More widely, the Government need to find a big bang in manufacturing—some measure which would have a bigger and better effect on manufacturing industry in the 1990s than deregulation and the big bang had on financial services in the 1980s—not a black hole, but still less a white dwarf. The Government will wish to look in the same direction as they looked in respect of financial services, working through competition and the market rather than through subsidy.
The President of the Board of Trade is very sensibly talking systematically, as the Chancellor is doing, to a lot of people in different industries. I gather that, on Tuesday, he saw the chief executive officers of major chemical companies, and yesterday he saw City analysts who specialise in the chemical industry, and chemical industry trade associations. They have important roles, and often they have strong opinions, but the Minister's job is not to second-guess them. He has a different role. It is to ensure that the whole works effectively as a competitive system. The Minister has to carry industry with him, but if he is to succeed, sometimes industrialists will have to take a deep breath and take the plunge.
Competition works through information and disclosure. Firms do not always like either, but they are essential in an efficient market. The DTI, in its pursuit of that holy grail or big bang for manufacturing, could give notice that disclosure requirements will be greatly increased in, say, four years. That could include a requirement on firms to disclose costs and profitability on each product and market area, not only to competitors but to shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers.
That would give firms time to get their technology improved and get their costs down to globally competitive levels. New tertiary information businesses would develop a modern information economy—closer to that which exists in the United States, for example—to process that information into operationally useful forms that would sharpen competition and increase efficiency.
There is much current interest, growing fastest, as usual, in the United States, in the roles of information and strategic behaviour in industry. It is impressive to see how they operate in practical, down-to-earth ways in firms and industries which are rapidly improving their performance. For the United Kingdom, that somewhat cerebral approach would have to be packaged and sold—compare, compete and win strategies, perhaps—but Ministers and their consultants are good at that sort of thing.
Most firms pursuing effective strategies to increase their technological competitiveness have a number of requirements from the environment in which they operate. In this country, they are undoubtedly greatly handicapped by high interest rates. Firms borrow for other purposes than to invest in plant and machinery, but that is critical in improving technological competitiveness. 489 The high level of German interest rates, which is likely to continue for the next few years, was not anticipated when investment allowances were run down to reduce the rate of corporation tax. We may be able to reduce interest rates to a little below German rates but if we are to create a climate more favourable to competitiveness-improving investment, the case for increasing allowances for investment in manufacturing plant and machinery should be re-examined. The micro-to-macroeconomic case must be made by the DTI, with the support of the OST.
Training is also critical. The OST can give important support to the Department of Employment by ensuring that the local training and manpower policies of training and enterprise councils and local enterprise councils are well informed about the emerging technologies and skill requirements of local industry. That is a key area of information disclosure and micro-to-macro analysis in which steps could be taken immediately.
The strategy of a firm must be specific, operational and as simple as possible.
§ Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is a 100 per cent. tax allowance in the first year for research expenditure? Surely that is the greatest possible help that can be given to firms.
§ Dr. Bray
I shall talk about research and development tax incentives specifically in a moment. I was referring to the ordinary investment allowances in plant and machinery.
A firm's research expenditure must be seen in the context of its overall strategy and innovation policies. It is useless to treat R and D expenditure on its own. The National Economic Development Council innovation working party did a useful job in producing a model innovative company and providing a tool kit which companies can use to develop their own strategy for innovation. Research and development and technology transfer have to fit into the wider framework.
Research and development are, however, of particular interest to the Chancellor, so I shall deal with that and technology transfer. International comparisons at the economy and industry level suggest that the minimum increase in civil research and development, consistent with the increase in technological competitiveness that we should seek, should be from its present level of 1.7 or 1.8 per cent. to 2.5 per cent. in five years.
Most of the increase needs to be in industrial research and development, with increases elsewhere to maintain a sustainable scientific effort. The effect would be to bring United Kingdom civil research and development in 1997 near the levels reached in Germany and Japan in 1987, from which they have since moved on. Put like that, it does not sound very ambitious, but it will take a great deal of work.
The point that the Chancellor made about the inadequacy of industrial research and development was illustrated dramatically by the research and development scoreboard published in The Independent on Tuesday. The ranking of companies by total research and development spend is sobering enough. ICI, the biggest United Kingdom spender, comes only 35th in the world league. Only 22 British companies spend more than £50 million a year on research and development.
However, when one looks more closely and chooses matching pairs of companies, looking at research and 490 development as a percentage of sales to correct for differences in size, Britain certainly does well in chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Let us compare the percentage of sales spent on research and development: ICI 4.77 per cent. compared with Du Pont 3.36 per cent.; Glaxo 13.98 per cent., compared with Merck 11.48 per cent.; Wellcome 14.30 per cent., compared with Schering 15.16 per cent. But then things begin to slip: GEC 7.20 per cent. and Siemens 10.81 per cent.; British Aerospace 2.49 per cent. and Boeing 4.83 per cent.; BP 0.94 per cent. and Elf 1.94 per cent.; Unilever 1.84 per cent. and Procter and Gamble 2.91 per cent.; British Telecom 1.95 per cent. and AT&T 4.94 per cent.
Certainly there are qualifications to be made, but, equally certainly, the general picture is inescapable. How can British industry expect to compete technologically when it spends so much less on research and development than its overseas competitors?
§ Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)
Will my hon. Friend give the House the benefit of a comparison between ICI and Hanson, which wished to take over ICI? Hanson's expenditure on research and development seems to tell the story of British industry in one, yet that company wanted to take over ICI.
§ Dr. Bray
Thankfully, that argument played an important part in fighting off Hanson and stopping it from pursuing its interests in making a bid for ICI. Mercifully, that danger has been removed for the time being. I agree with my hon. Friend that the behaviour of the conglomerates in supporting research and development needs careful examination.
A way of reducing the inadequacy of the general level of research and development in industry is to introduce a tax credit. It is a neutral and efficient way of achieving that aim. Previous Government rejections of research and development incentives seem to have been based on the out-of-date Inland Revenue survey "Fiscal Incentives for R&D Spending" published in March 1987. The literature that was reviewed in that survey led to the redesigning of fiscal incentives on more effective lines, especially in the United States and Australia.
The Opposition's proposal is for a 25 per cent. tax credit. It is not a tax allowance. It is on top of the current 100 per cent. tax allowance which a normal business expects. A 25 per cent. tax credit should be introduced for the increment of research and development over a base year. That is close to the current United States scheme, and we are informed that it would be allowable within European Community rules.
According to estimates in a Brookings paper, the effect would be modest but useful, perhaps increasing business expenditure on research and development in industry by some £600 million, or 10 per cent., at a cost in tax revenues forgone of £100 million. Combined with other influences, the effect would, of course, be larger.
The introduction of a tax credit is an important step which I hope that the Government will consider much more carefully than they have done so far. There is also a good case for examining the general structure of technology transfer programmes, to which the Chancellor referred when he considered the Faraday programme. Certainly, the proposals made by the Prince of Wales working party on innovation would build wider bridges between basic science nd industrial development. A 491 comprehensive network of intermediate institutions would be established, linked to universities and developed from the former research associations, other contract research firms and Government laboratories.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) referred to the absence of any Scottish element in the proposals, but a good bid was put in by the national engineering laboratory of the Department of Trade and Industry and the university of Strathclyde. That was only one of many worthwhile proposals which were not brought into the scope of the pilot scheme.
Many of the intermediate centres would specialise in one industry or technology. The essential element of the Prince of Wales's working party's proposal is that, if the centres effectively combined contract research and postgraduate training, they would qualify for Government support for their own programmes of strategic research to underpin their contract research. That is not an element of the present pilot scheme being run in a few particular institutes.
If we take together all the ways of increasing industrial research to which I referred, and with natural growth, the expansion that normally takes place within a company, the research and development tax incentive and the Faraday and other DTI programmes, the total increase in research and development intensity would still leave British industry a long way behind our industrial competitors. The extra has to come from increased efficiency, competitive stimulus from increased disclosure, and synergy from the interaction of all the initiatives that the Government take and industry pursues. Those wider influences must therefore be taken seriously.
With a new dynamism in industrial research, and with new networks enabling the economy and society to innovate more sensitively, the need to strengthen the science base becomes inescapable. It has to produce the necessary flow of well-trained researchers and give access to the advances in the international science community on which industry and society depend. Japan, Korea and Singapore have learnt that—can we not learn it?
The dominant size of the science base in the United States and the more comparable efforts in France and Germany are relevant. The latest estimates are that, in 1987, academic and academically related research was 0.398 per cent. of GDP in the United Kingdom, whereas it was 0.496 per cent. in Germany and 0.453 per cent. in France. The declining trend in the past 20 years in the relative position of the United Kingdom science effort underlies the present deeply felt malaise in United Kingdom academic and academically related research.
Expenditure on the science base, as a share of GDP, needs to increase by 20 per cent. in the next five years, to the level in Germany and France in 1987. I urge the Chancellor of the Duchy to consider that measure, because it measures the number of scientists. Our performance during the past 12 years, and projected in the current Government expenditure plans, maintains the science budget as a constant share of GDP.
Support in research and funding council channels for a dual support system need to be increased. If the 492 Chancellor of the Duchy is to get anywhere near the target that I set for five years hence, it will mean a £150 million cash increase in the science budget next year.
If the country embarks on that increase in research intensity and that major effort to improve the technological competitiveness of industry, we may well ask whether we will be run into a road block due to a lack of scientific manpower. The education system certainly needs to be improved, but there are sufficient reserves from the rundown of research and development and the rundown in defence research to maintain a high rate of growth in civil research and development.
We need to pay special attention to the professional development schemes launched by the Engineering Council, which need to be developed for research scientists. That is normal practice in good firms, but it is not pursued in the research community, the research councils or the universities. Such a systematic approach is needed to provide scientists with an attractive career structure.
The problems of the advisory structure, which the Minister mentioned, have to be seen against what he wants it to achieve. Does he want it to point the way to achieving the necessary improvement in technological competitiveness, or does he merely want it as a housekeeping operation, to maintain present levels of efficiency and improve them where possible, with the present resource use that industry is able to provide? He will come up with different answers as to what the advisory structure should be.
I agree with Conservative Members that, now that science and technology issues have been put under the responsibility of a single Minister and office, it is high time that we had a Commons Select Committee on science and technology. The Lords wish to continue with their Select Committee. It has been suggested that there might be some way to combine the two Committees, but while they could share common services, it is the view in both Houses that the Committees would need to function independently.
A different purpose is served by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology—a commendable initiative by Members from both sides of the House. A motion on the Order Paper requires the House to approve the use of Commons funds for its future development. However, the office is not a Select Committee and will not function like one—it will not report to the House or make recommendations on policy.
Another question concerns fundamental and baffling scientific problems, which are beyond the scope of laymen, where one needs to go to the best informed peer group to get an honest, unbiased view, in so far as that can be secured. I refer to such problems as the epidemiology of Aids, determining how fast the BSE epidemic is growing and whether it can cross species boundaries, and global warming. The Government, Parliament and the public are entitled to hear the scientific peer group's judgment, as free as possible from departmental and political interests.
The Chancellor referred to his conversation with the president of the Royal Society. I am sure that it would not be breaking a confidence if I were to point out that our proposal to the Royal Society that it should be invited by the Government to give wholly independent advice on scientific issues of major public importance was suggested to the Chancellor by the president, and I hope that he will give that careful consideration.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I thank the hon. Member for giving way, as I want to comment on that matter immediately —perhaps I should have done so in my speech. Sir Michael Atiyah put his proposals to me for bringing together the Fellowship of Engineering and the royal colleges to advise the Government and the nation on such important issues, and I was able to tell him that I welcomed his initiative.
§ Dr. Bray
I welcome that, and hope that the Chancellor will follow through the expenditure implications. Continuing support will clearly be required to do the job properly and set the process free of day-to-day interference by Ministers or officials, which would bias the outcome of the work. I certainly welcome the suggestion that the Fellowship of Engineering should be included—we shall soon learn to call it the Royal Academy of Engineering —as well as the medical field.
In addition, the Government will need their own central advisory council. Surely the Prime Minister should preside over its annual review and special meetings, but in his absence the Chancellor of the Duchy should preside.
Scientists need to talk directly to the political system and to be engaged within it. There will have to be a committee structure, which can accommodate the role fulfilled at present by the Advisory Board for the Research Councils on many other matters. It is important to get the appropriate people, in the prime of their careers, who are able to give the time needed for such work, which is of such great importance for the Government.
I also hope that this structure would enable the Minister to get himself out of the somewhat Orwellian position of suppressing advice from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, while being responsible for open government. His predecessor Lord Joseph published that advice when he was in office, at the request of the Opposition, and it was only discontinued a couple of years ago.
The research councils should act individually in their funding and relationships with Government and outside bodies, seeking support from client groups and making funding recommendations public. There will still be a need for them to meet the Minister and his advisers, and that is the business of the successor to the ABRC. Within that process, it is possible to combine clearly spelling out the research councils' views about their funding needs and the balance of judgment that the Minister, the Chief Secretary and the Government need to make decisions about levels of funding. The science community needs to know that its view is clearly put to and understood by the Government.
For the next decade, the primary measure of success in science policy will be that sustained increase in technological competitiveness, to which the Chancellor referred as the most glaring deficiency today. That can be achieved only by a balanced science and technology policy serving industrial innovation, social and cultural needs and the science base. We hope that the Chancellor will report regularly to the House on progress. He will appreciate that our continuing support and the support of the science community will depend on sufficient progress being made. For the sake of the country and the future of science, we wish the Chancellor every success.
§ Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
I declare an interest as non-executive chairman of GEC-Marconi, but it is in my capacity as vice-chairman international of the 494 Conservative party that I should like to make some brief remarks in this debate. First, I welcome the creation of the new post and in particular the accession of my right hon. Friend the Minister to his position, to which he brings formidable intellectual power which certainly should ensure that the Government have a better reception in Oxford than the previous Prime Minister received some little time ago.
As Minister of State for industry and information some time ago, I can testify to the importance of co-ordinating the Government's involvement in science and technology. In my ministerial capacity I had the privilege and opportunity of working with two of Professor Stewart's distinguished predecessors as chief scientific adviser, Sir Robin Nicholson and Sir John Fairclough. Both gave extremely good public service. I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend's news of the progress of the Link scheme and Eureka programme, both of which commenced during my tenure of office at the Department of Trade and Industry.
I should like briefly to turn the attention of the House away from the United Kingdom, surprising though that may be. It is part of the work of the Government to take an interest in science and technology generally, bearing in mind the thesis that science, if it is anything, is universal. Therefore, we have to take note of the needs of other countries. I should like to make some comments about the countries of the former Soviet Union and of central and easten Europe.
There is a serious situation relating to the academies of science in the former Soviet Union. I am indebted to the Royal Society for providing me with an appraisal dated January this year, on which I shall draw extensively. It lists eight problems in the former Soviet Union experienced by the scientific academies.
First, the old Stalinist model of massive and wasteful use of manpower still exists, with a bureaucracy to match and autocratic rule by directors of institutes. Secondly, no republic can continue funding to previous levels, given that economic crisis measures must take priority. Thirdly, the bleak outlook for basic researchers on state salaries forces many to seek alternative outlets in other sectors at home or opportunities to employ their talents overseas. It is estimated that 20 per cent. of top level researchers have accepted contracts to work in foreign institutions. Fourthly, the academies do not have hard currency resources available to them to alleviate temporary shortages of consumables, to subscribe to western scientific journals, to purchase necessary equipment or to fly to foreign destinations. Fifthly, only a few republics publish information of the kind that the west takes for granted, such as lists of institutes, directors, and organigrams, all of which are necessary to take sound decisions on closer co-operation. Knowledge of western science is often scanty or incomplete.
A legal framework for scientific activity in areas such as patent protection is needed to give a proper basis for collaboration. The existing Russian or, more correctly, Soviet law on inventions and discoveries puts the interest of the state before that of individual scientists. The current economic crisis, together with social unrest and potential political instability, may supervene in any attempt to reorganise science. That is all against a background of political and economic disintegration which in many republics has led to a breakdown of law and order. 495 The Royal Society is working extremely hard to do what it can to address many of those problems. Its report describes the brainpower of scientists and engineers as one of the most valuable assets of the former constituent republics and a resource which will be vitally needed in their future development. Among basic factors which need to be addressed in Russia and the Ukraine in particular are the need to identify the best science, the need to manage the task carefully and closely, and the need to integrate Russian science with that of the western world.
I have spoken about the former Soviet Union but, as the House will accept, the parlous condition of science obtains throughout all the former communist countries in central and eastern Europe to a greater or lesser degree. I therefore commend to my right hon. Friend the responsibility of his new Department to take account of the needs of science in the various aid programmes being developed and generated in relation to those countries.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will the right hon. Gentleman also commend the efforts of Scottish Nuclear to twin with a nuclear power station outside Smolensk and to send great help to the vulnerable Bulgarian power station of Kozloduy?
§ Sir Geoffrey Pattie
Indeed I will. That is an example of the precise sort of co-operation that both sides of the House would welcome.
Finally, on a separate but related matter, there is a real need for scholarships for first degree courses to be provided to students from the countries to which I have referred. I am thinking of students who already have the qualifications to cope with places at British universities but who, not surprisingly, have no funds to pay for such courses.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan
Does my right hon. Friend recall that last year we had a delegation of Russian scientists, that other delegations are coming and that they are asking about bursaries and suggesting exchange visits with, for example, Kazakhstan where the space operation is carried out?
§ Sir Geoffrey Pattie
I should make it clear that, important and essential though doctoral visits and exchanges are, I am commenting on first degree courses. We have a responsibility to help young people take first degree courses. I hope that a scheme can be launched soon. It could be funded by industry. Our industry could show a mixture of altruism and self-interest, which is always rather an acceptable cocktail. When industry feels good, it could agree to support some of these people from central and eastern Europe on bursaries and then perhaps employ them afterwards. The Government could support that, but need not fund it.
I make no apology for focusing the attention of the House outside the shores of the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, if science is anything, it is universal and all of us who are interested in this subject should be aware of the problems experienced elsewhere on the continent of Europe.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)
The right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) will forgive me if I do not follow the theme of his speech. He is absolutely right, however, to draw the attention of the House to two important points—that science is international and that tremendous reserves of highly skilled scientists exist in the Soviet Union and the other former communist countries. The defence industries of those countries took the scientific cream of the cream, but those scientists are now wasted to the world when they could be given useful productive work within the international scientific community.
I join with the right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton in welcoming the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to his post, which has particular responsibility for science. I especially liked the Minister's remarks at the end of his speech, when he said that he wanted not only to run a Department but to beat the drum for science. That is desperately needed in the government of the country. When I was a Minister, in the far-off days of the Labour Government, I was Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science. I, too, wanted to beat the drum for science, but I found myself beating my head against a wall. The main interest in science was directed at the funding councils, the research councils and higher academic institutions. I wanted to co-ordinate that interest with the tremendous amount of research taking place in industry and in other Departments of State, especially the Ministry of Defence, but no such co-ordination arose. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be up against it if he attempts to beat the drum for science and to get it clearly heard within the ranks of the civil service and the House.
I welcome the fact that we are holding a debate on science. I remind the House that it is the first debate on science that we have had in Government time since 1985—seven years ago. I admit that there have been other debates on science, but this is the first debate for which we can thank the Government. I am tempted to wonder whether the Government have been so munificent because of the gaping black hole in the legislative programme created by the population of Denmark.
I am glad that science has been given its own Minister and that it will be given a higher profile. I am delighted that that Minister is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I remind him that half of my constituency, Widnes, is within the Duchy. He could kill two birds with one stone early in his new career by visiting some industries in my constituency which have made highly important technological advances and by visiting the only museum for the chemical industry in the world—the Catalyst museum, of which I am proud and honoured to be a founder trustee. The previous ministerial visit to the museum was made by Sir David Trippier, who we were delighted to welcome. I was glad to hear that he had been rightly honoured by the Queen in the honours list. Whatever one's party political views, he was a first-rate Minister.
There is no doubt that science receives a bad press from the media, which often regard it as a bogey man. At the current conference in Rio, most of the criticism is directed towards science and its products. The truth is that only science and technology can save the planet, if we are to continue to live in the way to which we have become accustomed, and, even more importantly, if we are to give 497 a full and proper life to the 90 per cent. of the world's people who face the prospect of a life of nothing but famine, starvation, disease and grinding poverty. Only science and technology can render assistance not just to this country, but to the world. Such is the importance of the subject. There must be greater public awareness—in the House, in the media, and especially in our schools—of the importance of science to the world. It is not the bad boy, but the good boy. Until comparatively recently—certainly when I was at school—it was axiomatic that science and progress were good things. Now, the tendency is to believe the opposite.
I will give an example of the way in which private industry can help to solve problems posed by the warming of the atmosphere, chlorofluorocarbons and their effect on the ozone layer. In my constituency, ICI has spent £250 million on research to find a substitute for CFCs, and it has succeeded—the first company in the world to do so. It developed a product called KLEA 134a, which does everything that CFCs do but, because it does not contain chlorine, it is ozone friendly and does not deplete the ozone layer. Since then, ICI has been investigating a product called KLEA 32 and much more money is being spent on it. The pilot plant for that new product will open in my constituency next month. Tremendous progress has been made since the Montreal protocol and industry has shown that it can develop a substitute for CFCs. Admittedly the expenditure was enormous, but it can be done. KLEA 32 has enormous potential for use in refrigeration—the refrigerated transport of food, supermarket refrigeration and air conditioning. The most dangerous use of CFCs was not in aerosols, but when the gases were used in refrigeration. When those machines were scrapped, the gases were released into the atmosphere. That is an example of the way in which industry is co-operating.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) that our chemical industry has a particularly good record of research and development, in which it invests 6 per cent. of its turnover —a high proportion compared with that invested by the rest of industry. It is a good example to other industries. A similar industry, which we do not praise sufficiently in the House, is the pharmaceutical industry. Is the House aware—very few people are—that four of the 10 top-selling medicines in the world are the discoveries of British companies, including the world's best-selling medicine? Britain produces more than a quarter of the world's top 50 best-selling medicines. That is on a par with those produced in the United States and the rest of Europe combined, and twice the figure for Japan. The pharmaceutical industry's exports earn more than £2 billion a year for the United Kingdom and we are the world's third largest exporter of medicines after Germany and the United States.
The pharmaceutical industry is worried—it has confessed its worries to hon. Members on both sides of the House many times—about the way in which the Government have hitherto acted upon short-term financial considerations, rather than on the long-term needs of our scientific base. I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will seek to correct the Government's attitude, which seriously threatens the environment in which the pharmaceutical industry has thrived until now to the benefit of our country.
498 The industry is worried for three reasons—the inadequate support for science education in schools, the continuing lack of proper support for the academic infrastructure and the difficulties in collaboration between industry and academia. When one of the best industries in this country, which exports so much and has been almost recession-proof, is expressing such concerns, the Government must sit up and take notice.
Education goes to the root of the problem. I listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said about science teachers. Let us not kid ourselves about what is happening in primary and secondary schools and sometimes also in sixth-form colleges.
Because of the shortage of scientists, one finds anyone with any sort of scientific base teaching a scientific subject. That often means that the teacher is only a couple of pages ahead of the brightest pupil in the class. That is not fair on the teacher or the pupil. A graduate in biology teaching physics in a school will not communicate the degree of enthusiasm to the pupils as he would if he were teaching biology because, by definition, biology is his chosen subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow was right to draw attention to that because it happens so often in our schools.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
Having been a science teacher in schools for many years, I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. Does he agree that we must continue as far as possible to encourage the teaching of single science as well as combined science so as to maintain standards?
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan
Figures have been put to me suggesting that sixth form pupils—the older teenagers—are showing less interest in maths and science and that the numbers taking those subjects have been falling. That is very bad news indeed.
§ Mr. Oakes
I think that the hon. Gentleman is right. I must decline, if I am asked, to give way further, bearing in mind Madam Speaker's comments about the number of hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate. I agree with the need to teach single subjects. We must do that with enthusiasm.
How do we get out of the present situation? One difficulty is that we in this country have a poor record in mathematics. It is imperative that we have proper teaching of maths from the primary, let alone the secondary, school level, because one cannot have an innumerate scientist. Whatever his or her discipline—from astronomy to zoology, throughout the alphabet—every scientist must be numerate. Nobody can qualify in science without having numeracy.
I am indebted to the Royal Society of Chemistry for providing me with figures which go to the root of the problem—let us not have an airy-fairy academic discussion—which is pay. I knew that the situation was bad, but I did not realise that it was as bad as the society tells me. The first figures apply to chemistry teachers, though I am sure that the same is true for mathematics and physics teachers and others who could otherwise get jobs in industry.
The average chemistry school teacher aged 39, at the peak of his career, earns about £20,000 per annum. The 499 median grade salary for all members of the society aged 39 is more than £24,000. Those in the upper quartile in industry are earning £29,400—half as much again as a teacher.
The situation becomes worse as we look into it more. It is not a case of it being bad at the start and getting better. By the age of 59, the average wage for the chemistry teacher has hardly improved at all. It is about £23,000. The median figure for all members of the society—chemists working in industry and throughout the rest of the profession—is £30,000 per annum, and for the upper quartile it is £39,000.
Those are the stark facts that the Chancellor must face when talking about the recruitment of scientists into schools. Let us also not forget those valuable people who want to move from industry into teaching. They may have a desire to teach, but they must take a hell of a drop in salary to indulge that desire, for it involves losing half the money that they have been used to earning, and a lifestyle to match.
I am not suggesting that scientists outside education —for example, in Government research institutions—are well paid in this country. We have the ludicrous situation now that at Culham, British research scientists and technicians working on the most important development the world has ever known—fusion, how to get energy that would solve all our present problems, as we worry about pollution from hydro-carbons and so on—are going on strike to be paid the same rate as their German, Swiss and French colleagues doing the same job alongside them.
That is typical of the way in which we regard science and of the double standards which exist in Britain. I hope that the Chancellor will look into those problems and take action to resolve them. [Interruption.] I accept that a similar state of affairs existed at the time of the last Labour Government, but it has become far worse. It was wrong then, just as it is wrong now. I am fighting for science. I am not fighting party political battles here, and I remind Conservative Members that the election campaign is over.
I was delighted at what the Minister said about beating the drum for science. One way he can do that is to get more scientists and engineers in influential positions on boards, rather than having accountants running companies. Let us have more scientists, rather than accountants, in those jobs.
The media must recognise the achievements of science and stop knocking them. They must try to understand them and not put out in television programmes the sort of pseudo-science that does not exist in reality. We are being fed that at present and it makes the discussion in Rio meaningless, not just to the ordinary citizen but to me and to hon. Members generally.
We live at a time when we get an honours list almost weekly; we had one last week and we shall get another tomorrow. Can scientists be given more recognition, with fewer honours being given to the stereotyped civil servant or Member of Parliament? Let us give more honours to scientists, who have benefited the world and medical science far more than many of those who at present receive honours ever dreamt of doing. Indeed, let us consider a separate order for scientists, with the Queen giving them separate recognition of the value of their achievements to the nation and the world.
500 We do not have an academy such as the French Academy or the Soviet Academy of Scientists. We have the Royal Society, but that tends to be academic-based. We need the sort of recognition that other countries show to the greatest and most eminent of their citizens who happen to be scientists. By such an uncostly means, the Chancellor of the Duchy might examine possible ways to advance science in Britain.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)
The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes), probably unconsciously, made me feel at home by saying that this was our first debate on science since 1985, because that was the last time that I had any involvement in the subject.
In other respects, I cannot feel wholly at home. My brother, when a silk, was approached by the Treasury Solicitor to serve as counsel to the Sizewell inquiry. He explained in reply to the invitation that there was a generation in Britain who had never had a lesson in science in their lives, and that he was a member of it. I am his elder brother, and must plead guilty to the same charge. Any remarks that I make in the debate will thus be more parliamentary than scientific.
It was said of Robert Boyle that he was the father of chemistry and the brother of the Earl of Cork. My remarks, owing more to Cork than to chemistry, will follow the tradition of the Greek chorus, familiar to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. They will not be profound, but I hope that they will be apposite to the present moment in our play, and I avoid any temptation to categorise the latter as a tragedy.
I welcome my right hon. Friends in government—including my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science—as those responsible for such matters, and I join in the welcome that has been given to the procedural steps that have been taken.
My brevity will have three parts. The first is to express sympathy to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for the scale and breadth of science and its demands compared with the resources available to any late 20th-century Government. It is commonplace that no European country can keep up evenly across the face of science, yet there is also the haunting knowledge that the unfashionable subject of today may be the essential subject tomorrow, and that neglect in this debate may mortgage the next. One thinks of the years before biotechnology, and of the relative state of virology here on the eve of AIDS. No doubt others in the House more learned than I could produce more striking examples. The Chancellor of the Duchy faces a dilemma for which he deserves our sympathy. We shall watch to see how its resolution evolves.
The second part of my brevity relates to the Government's relative allocation of resources to those categories of research beloved of anatomisers—basic, strategic and applied. Of course, I recognise that some of those distinctions may be more apparent than real. During the Administrations of Mrs. Thatcher, there was a perception that if there was a spectrum there was a greater emphasis on the applied than on the basic end, on the ground that by that route we were more likely to see a more immediate return on our investment. 501 However, the spectrum is also a continuum, and in the fulness of time, the more immediate return diminishes unless the longer-term return is also primed. If, at least in the early years of the Thatcher Administrations, the emphasis was prompted by misgivings about the British ability to capitalise economically on scientific research, we now have to bend our minds collectively to how to cure our tradition—to which the Chancellor of the Duchy referred—of being spectacular inventors yet generally incompetent exploiters.
According to evidence about the pattern of our share of world trade now emerging from a team of economists in Scotland, we now derive a larger share than we did a decade ago from the sale of sophisticated products to sophisticated markets. That suggests that we have begun to rectify the imbalance between invention and exploitation.
However, there is still plenty of anecdotal evidence. I learned of a vivid case at the university of Dundee, in the company of the present chief scientific adviser to the Cabinet, in his previous Dundonian incarnation, which showed that other countries are better than we are at monitoring, culling, and exploiting the new news of our own scientific breakthroughs, let alone the breakthroughs in other countries.
Because our general comparative failure in that area is a century old, and apparently endemic, I wish to express hope about a particular matter. I have been less apocalyptically concerned than have some others that accountants may have had a disproportionate role in British general management, in comparison with, for instance, engineers. But we have had a glaring management lacuna in that developmental thread which stretches from research through development to product and market planning, to costing and design, to pilot and mass production and marketing. That concerns the individual manager at the heart and fulcrum of that process, who needs to control, and thus necessarily to understand, the whole skein—a role which demands a generalist, but one with a multidisciplinary background.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The right hon. Gentleman was, in my opinion, an effective and certainly a courteous and helpful Minister. Taking up the Dundee example, concerning Professor Phil Cohen and the distinguished department of biochemistry there, is not part of the trouble the fact that we do not have, as part of our system of patent law in this country, intellectual property rights, regulations and laws, such as exist in some other countries? Are we not seriously disadvantaged—the most dramatic example of that being the story of Cesar Milstein and the monoclonal antibodies?
§ Mr. Brooke
I have had exchanges with the hon. Gentleman on such subjects before, and what he says is well worth my right hon. Friend's consideration; it is one of the issues that enters into the question, but I am not sure whether in this instance it is the central issue.
Returning to the idea of the central manager, I do not regard the master of business administration qualification as an automatic realisation of that need. However, many MBAs with backgrounds in different undergraduate disciplines who enter on a business school postgraduate degree will contribute to filling that gap. It is gratifying that their numbers in this country are accelerating so 502 rapidly. In the context of earlier speeches, I note how auspicious it is that in Brussels the EUREKA programme is located in the rue Archimede.
My third point, as befits a Greek chorus, has a touch of threnody about it, and is typically apposite to the Earth summit. I refer to the tendency of lobbyists in general and the media in particular to press the Government, in ways such as those referred to by the right hon. Member for Halton, to take scientific decisions in the face of real or imagined ills— whether those are, for example, environmental or medical—before the scientific community can pronounce authoritavely with any certainty on the diagnosis of and prescription for those ills.
I realise that it was probably ever thus and that the boot is not on a single foot—the scientific community may always want more time. However, one of the potential benefits of the greater scientific emphasis both in government and in the House may be a growing appreciation in the country that many such matters are very complex, and that hurrying a decision may not be in our overall best interests. Of course, the best is sometimes the enemy of the good, but the pressurised can be the enemy of the good also.
As has been said, our debate is accompanied by a motion on the Order Paper concerning the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster implied, such a reference must necessarily prompt grateful memories of our erstwhile hon. Friend, Sir Ian Lloyd, who did so much to bring that about. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology was perhaps a King Charles's head to Sir Ian, but there are King Charles's heads and King Charles's heads, and Sir Ian's was a wholly beneficial one.
I finish with a different institutional question. The European Commission has published a proposal for a Council decision establishing a multiannual programme for the development of Community statistics on research, development and innovation. Knowing the Government's earlier aversion to extending the Community's economic and business statistical barrage, I would be genuinely and open-mindedly interested in what the Government's response is or will be to that proposal. I was not clear whether what my right hon. Friend said about the EC included our reaction to it.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
Like many other Members, I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) on his appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I also very much welcome the establishment of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
Hon. Members may not be aware that, although I live close to my constituency of Bath, I do not live in it but in Bristol, so the Chancellor of the Duchy has the dubious privilege of representing me in the House. I shall therefore take particular notice of his speeches here. On the subject of science, I was encouraged by the speech with which he opened the debate.
I should also point out that I am a member of the Institute of Physics, a former science teacher—I stress the word "science", in view of the dialogue that took place earlier about separate sciences—and a former trainer of science teachers. However, I confess that I have been much humbled by what I have heard so far today, especially by 503 the knowledge that both the Chancellor of the Duchy and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) have managed to read to the end of, and to understand, Stephen Hawking's book. That is something that I do not claim to be able to do.
§ Mr. Foster
That is right; I retract my remark—but at least both admitted that they had got to the end of the book. I would far prefer to have debated with them the way in which Tycho Brahe lost his nose or the activities of James Prescott Joule on his honeymoon—both make interesting stories.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray). It was constructive and I learnt much from it. In my first outing in a science debate —I fear that if I am to believe what I hear about the number of such debates held in the Chamber, it may be some time before I participate in another one—I do not intend to be as discursive as the hon. Member for Motherwell, South.
The Liberal Democrats have welcomed the way in which science is to be given a higher profile in the House. I am also conscious of the low status of science and technology, and engineering in this country and—as evidenced by today's turnout—the House. I have looked at the records and understand that when what was probably the most important engineering report—the Finniston report—was debated in the Chamber in 1980, there was an attendance of a maximum of 10 Members. It took a further eight years before there was another discussion of engineering in the House. We can be pleased at today's attendance rate which, by my count, is more than three times that for the debate on the Finniston report. That is not to imply that there have not been other science debates in the Chamber.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has gone to great pains to stress that he initiated a debate, on a Supply day, on the exciting topic of interactive fibre-optic telecommunication networks reaching into every household in Britain. I am sure that that debate fascinated the few hon. Members present for it. I understand that during the debate he explained the vital importance of gallium arsenide and other mysteries. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) is beside me, as I understand that he knows about gallium arsenide. If hon. Members wish to know more, they should ask him after the debate.
Science and technology in this country is in a comparatively parlous state and we are not best placed to move forward to meet the challenges of the next century. If we listen to the debate currently raging in Rio, we must accept that it is on the scientists, technologists and engineers that the future of this country and, indeed, the world will depend. It was all very well for the Chancellor of the Duchy to say that, in looking at the way forward, we should take stock of our achievements. It is also important to take stock of the difficulties that we have faced and try to analyse the reasons for them.
The evidence shows that our universities face problems after a decade of underfunding. More teachers of science and maths are leaving the teaching profession than joining it. Of the engineers that qualify, only 50 per cent. join 504 engineering-related professions and others move on to seek better pay, better opportunities, increased responsibility, wider futures and increased recognition and respect.
One of our biggest failings has been our failure to invest in innovation. As the Chancellor of the Duchy admitted, to reverse that trend, science, industry, the education service and the Government must all play a part. Today's speech by the Chancellor of the Duchy may mark a turning point, but for too many years the Government have shown an inadequate commitment to supporting and encouraging science and engineering. The consequences of that failure for this country are related to its economic position.
Fewer and fewer patents are being awarded to people in this country, while those in our competitor nations are receiving more and more patents. Despite what has been said about the increased number of references to scientific papers produced in this country, there is growing evidence that our British research publications are having less of an impact in the world. We are faced with a stark choice and one which I think the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was beginning to pick up in his speech.
We must consider investment in research and development; we must reflect on the past and some of the problems that we have faced. There is a range of statistics giving the expenditure on various types of research. Someone else could give another set of figures to contradict some of my comments. One of our biggest problems is that we simply do not have an adequate database from which to progress. There is evidence in some of the figures to show that our civil research and development expenditure, when compared to that of other European countries, Japan and the United States, has fallen. We have slipped down the league table of expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product, from about seventh to about 11th place. There are problems relating to the various mechanisms by which money is raised for research and development in higher education. Those methods are frequently changed. The evidence suggests, that since 1979, expenditure as a percentage of GDP has fallen from about 0.35 per cent. to about 0.32 per cent.
The Chancellor of the Duchy said, as has the Prime Minister, that the amount of money intended for expenditure on research and development in our higher education institutions is increasing, and various figures have been given. However, the problem is that we must consider those increased figures in the light of various inflation factors. I think that we would all accept that inflation in relation to aspects of research and development rises more rapidly than inflation in other spheres. Certainly, the Save British Science Society argues that the increases in cash terms that have been mentioned will mean a reduction in buying power for scientific research in future.
I said that it was possible to obtain a set of figures on the increased or reduced investment in research and development in both the public and private sector, but perhaps it is more important to consider the concerns expressed by a wide range of organisations. The Chancellor of the Duchy has already met representatives of the Save British Science Society, and has agreed to have future meetings with them. I have also received submissions—as I am sure he has—from representatives in higher education, including those from the Committee of 505 Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics. All the submissions showed a deep concern about the future of scientific and technological research in this country.
There is evidence of people involved in the profession wanting to move abroad and of low morale within our institutions, with recent graduates starting to think that research is not an attractive career. Research contracts are frequently terminated due to shortage of funds and many promising ideas and projects either remain unfinished or the ideas behind them are sold overseas.
There are problems in obtaining backing for any blue-sky research. One of my constituents has conducted lengthy blue-sky research and translated his findings into a piece of educational technology that may well revolutionise language teaching in this country. Unfortunately, he is unable to get the resources to support him and will now almost certainly take his idea overseas.
§ Mr. Knapman
Can the hon. Gentleman give examples of projects that have terminated because of a lack of research council finance?
§ Mr. Foster
People in the faculty of engineering in the university in the Chancellor of the Duchy's constituency have problems about the continuity of research funds. I do not claim to be an expert, but I understand that one of the problems is that research council funding cannot be continued for more than a year. There is also a problem about carrying forward deficits and surpluses. I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy will address that.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
The nuclear structure facility was one good project for which funds ceased. Perhaps that answers the question by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman).
§ Mr. Foster
I am grateful for that example.
The Chancellor of the Duchy spoke about initiatives that he proposes. I am glad that he is to implement a commitment in the Conservative manifesto about the intermediate centres. That was dealt with in the Liberal Democrat manifesto in slightly different language. We call them regional technology transfer centres, but the principle is the same. I hope that he will discuss the possibility of greater autonomy for the research councils. He said that he will speak to industry with a view to finding other ways of developing greater links between the academic world and industry. I hope that he will expand the SMART scheme and consider the reintroduction of the support for innovation scheme. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has already had many representations about such ideas.
In view of my interest and background in science teaching, I was interested to hear the Chancellor of the Duchy say that he would work with his colleagues in the Cabinet. He mentioned some of them and spoke in particular about the Secretary of State for Education. I hope that he will work closely with the Secretary of State to ameliorate some of the growing problems in science and technology education. As the Chancellor of the Duchy knows, the Secretary of State has ordered an urgent review of technology in the national curriculum following the damning reports from Her Majesty's inspectorate and the Engineering Council. In the words of Denis Filer, the director of the Engineering Council, the review is intended,to put an end to the Mickey Mouse technology that has manifested itself in schools.506 It seems that, not before time, Mickey is being sent back to the drawing board.
Many of our newspapers have said that our children are being forced into a Blue Peter, paper and sticky-back plastic approach to technology. Perhaps some of the headlines are a little over the top, but comparisons with competitor countries are worrying. The report of Her Majesty's inspectorate that led the Secretary of State to ask for the review showed that 40 per cent. of technology lessons in secondary schools and more than a third in primary schools were less than satisfactory. The report also condemned too little initial and in-service training. One reason for that is funding.
The constituency of the Chancellor of the Duchy is within the area of Avon education authority. Because of the fear of poll-tax capping, there have been significant reductions in expenditure. The cuts have led to the closure of technology centres, thus removing some of the support for people who are trying to develop technology in schools throughout the county. Nationally, there has been a cut in the number of science advisers and science centres. There is evidence in the report to show that about 50 per cent. of information technology equipment in our schools has been bought by parents. Tesco has got in on the act because people can now get school computers using vouchers obtained with purchases in Tesco stores. The Government squeeze on expenditure on education is, in part, responsible for the concern about technological education.
HMI regularly reports on the teaching of science. In its most recent report on science key stages 1, 2 and 3, the inspectorate said that there had been improvements in science education, but that it was still concerned about some areas. It said that teachers' lack of scientific knowledge at key stage 2 had restricted children's progress. On key stage 3, HMI said that pupils were less good at planning investigations and interpreting evidence, and it spoke about the burden of the current assessment procedure. The report states:Assessment recording and reporting have continued to create heavy workloads for teachers and to cause them anxiety … The provision of resources for science showed improvement from last year but shortages continued to restrict the quality of work in a significant minority of schools.It added:The proportion of secondary schools with too little specialist accommodation was higher than last year and many primary school classes work in less than ideal conditions for science.
Those problems in our schools do not bode well for the future of science and technology in our society. I hope that, when the Chancellor of the Duchy speaks to the Secretary of State for Education, he will mention the need for increased investment in science and technology education and in education generally.
The Government are mainly responsible for the decline in science and technology and have a major responsibility for reversing the trend. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's new post and his encouraging speech signal a willingness to take the necessary action. I wish him well.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) on his thoughtful and constructive speech, most of which I agreed with. It is early days for the Chancellor of the Duchy and his able colleague the Parliamentary Secretary, 507 Office of Public Service and Science. It is not surprising that high expectations have been raised in the scientific and technological community. I am worried that my right hon. Friend will find it difficult to sustain those expectations because many frustrations have developed over the years. At long last we have what our competitors in Germany, France and of course Japan have benefited from and used for many years—a Minister of science at the centre of government.
We have heard much about low morale in the scientific community and about the poor image of scientists in the eyes of many people. In an article in The Daily Telegraph today, my right hon. Friend referred to the very real fears and anxieties that the public have about science. I have been sensitive to people'ss anxieties about biotechnology, genetic engineering and foetal experiments—all matters that we have debated. On a previous occasion, I spoke about how many nuclear scientists were unaware of the long-term implications of what they were doing, until the power of decision was taken out of their hands. Many matters worry people in the community, not least those being discussed in Rio. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see it as within his wide remit and responsibilities to keep a watch on the ethics, the purposes and the meaningfulness of much of the scientific work research that is carried out. Perhaps we need a citizens charter against scientists.
A whole range of matters cause concern. I shall touch on three. The first is the need for a Select Committee. It is good for a Department and for the House to have a parliamentary procedure for examining what the Department is doing, and only a Select Committee can examine it in detail and fully. I am gratified that the early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Motherwell, South and me will, by tomorrow morning, have been signed by 182 right hon. and hon. Members. More signatures come in every day. We cannot discuss science policy adequately, in this Chamber or in the Select Committee, however, unless we have a clear science policy to discuss. Here, too, is one of the failures of Government in recent years. I know that my right hon. Friends will be looking at this and coming hack to us with what I hope will be a much more coherent science policy than we have so far had.
The second thing that bothers me is the relationship between original science and industry. We need to remind ourselves over and over again that a thriving science research base means innovative industrial development, which in turn leads to increased prosperity both nationally and individually. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy take up a point first suggested by Sir John Fairclough, a previous chief scientific adviser, that we look at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, which integrates scientific research and the industrial parts of the German economy? I was pleased that the last Parliament saw the successsful privatisation of the British Technology Group, and I hope that that, in a small way, will help in this sector.
Thirdly, and lastly, I am deeply concerned about the structure within the Department. The Advisory Council on Science and Technology needs to be looked at, and I am glad that the Prime Minister is to chair this, but the Advisory Board for the Research Councils also needs to be examined. I have been concerned about the relationship 508 between the ABRC and the Universities Funding Council. I understand that they rarely talk to each other. Now, there will be one Minister for the research councils and another for higher education. I should like to know, because this is a matter of urgency, how the two Ministers will relate to each other and whether there will be a link to bring together the priorities of the two Departments.
When the Select Committee on Education and Science tried to see who allocated priorities for the funding of research, we found that we had to deal with five different Government Departments, with the Treasury sitting over them. I hope that, with his new appointment, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy will be able to exercise real leadership, and avoid that quagmire of different committees and responsibilities.
§ Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)
We must welcome the fact that the debate is being held and that science has been given a much higher profile within Government. I join the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) in welcoming the fact that, on the Order Paper today, we have support for the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, in which I declare a small, non-financial interest as a member of the board. I hope that this will increase the profile of science in the House and strengthen the case for the Select Committee.
I am much less sanguine, however, about the outcome of the project of the Chancellor of the Duchy's Department, first because, within that Department, the affairs of the citizens charter are much more substantial, in numbers and resources, and are likely to be more politically pressing than his responsibility for science. Secondly, the Advisory Council on Science and Technology has been mentioned, but the Chancellor of the Duchy did not refer to the work that it has done recently, and I find that alarming. He did not refer to the report on the environment which came out only last month. He did not refer to its existing, and very exciting, work programme. I was therefore worried when, at the end of his speech, he said that he would be issuing a White Paper at the beginning of next year on work programmes and institutional structures. Much of the work programme and its objectives are already present in the existing work of ACOST, which has been absorbed into his Department.
I am anxious about another matter. What is to be the relationship between the Office of Science and Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry? In his speech to The Sunday Times development conference a little over a week ago, the soi disant President of the Board of Trade said that the responsibilities of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Office of Science and Technology would be limited to the co-ordination of public resources in science. The inference was that responsibility for the interface between industry and science, which has widely occupied so many in this debate, would not form part of the responsibilities of the Office of Science and Technology. Such Balkanisation within Government would give rise to great concern. Much of the Chancellor's speech was directed at a problem that the President of the Board of Trade regards as being his responsibility and that of his Department. That matter must be resolved quickly. 509 We cannot be sanguine about the position of British science. It is no good looking back at past triumphs and successes—we must look forward. The Department of Trade and Industry, in a publication which came out a little over a fortnight ago, revealed some alarming facts. One third of all the patents taken out in the world in 1991 were taken out by Japan, and 25 per cent. of the human resources available in the world in scientific research are Japanese.
My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) rightly compared this country with France and Germany, but Japanese manpower, human resources, in scientific research exceeds the human resources of France, Germany, Italy and this country combined, and if we are not careful we shall be economically and intellectually overwhelmed by those resources. It is perfectly understandable that the Japanese should roll down to Rio rather than totter down as we have done and say, in effect, "We can underpin the whole show. Give us biodiversity. We will pay for it and make it work for you." They have the intellectual and financial resources to do that—we have not.
I wish briefly to mention three particular topics. The first—the importance of regional affairs in science—has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). In my region in the north we have some important world-class higher education institutions, but we do not have the linkage with science and technology in industry. What worries me is that, of the 170 Government research establishments in England and Wales, 75 are in the south-east and only 10 are in the north of England. When one compares not just the institutions but the numbers, quality, repute and power within their departments and the people who work in those institutions, the disparity is greater still. If the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is responsible for the co-ordination of public resources in science, he will have to ensure a much stronger presence in the regions of the scientific resources which are at present concentrated far too heavily in the south-east.
My second point has already been mentioned in an intervention by the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), and that is the key importance of defence. There was no mention of the Chancellor of the Duchy's relationship with the Ministry of Defence in his speech even though, by a happy coincidence, Sir Peter Levene is on his staff. I should have thought that that was something to which the Chancellor would refer when almost half the Government's spending on science and technology goes into defence. We have some profound and difficult decisions to take about defence. If we cannot have sensible programmes of conversion of defence technological expertise into civil use, we shall face problems. The Defence Research Agency is projecting a 40 per cent. cut in its manpower. Defence technological enterprises, one of the Government's initiatives, has virtually collapsed. We see the industrial impact of cuts in defence spending. It is vital that we make the link between what are now programmes of expenditure purely in defence and things that can service the technological reconstruction of our industry as a whole.
The Royal Society report on science in Russia was mentioned earlier, and another important point needs to be made about that. That report says that a top Russian nuclear physicist can be bought for $60 a month. If we do not attend to the career prospects and livelihoods or such 510 people, heaven only knows what nuclear, chemical and biological warfare proliferation we shall lay in train. I should have thought that the Government would give high priority to that matter.
My last point relates to biology and the environment, in which Britain has traditionally and in recent times led the world. A Government who have treated the Brogdale fruit farm so badly are in no position to claim that as a success for themselves. If the Government cannot respect the Victoria plum, I doubt whether they can do much for the rain forest. Britain leads in those areas, but the recent ACOST report said that the priority now is to convert the long-range long-run programmes of research and intellectual exploration into programmes that will affect the food production and waste management in the short to medium future. I hope that the Government will take that on board.
When we talk about climate change and all the biology and physics that go with that, we are talking about things which provide the key to entirely new industries in food, waste management and health which will be at the centre of the industrial world in the early 21st century. We must maintain our leadership in those areas.
§ Mr. Dalyell
When the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and I were campaigning to save Brogdale, one of the worrying things was how ill-informed the Government were. It was proposed to transplant delicate fruit plants into a frost area where they would almost certainly die.
§ Mr. Cousins
My hon. Friend makes a good point. A Government who almost literally cannot respect biodiversity in their own back yard cannot have much claim to be the protector of biodiversity across the planet.
I come now to what is at the centre of a great many problems, some of which have already been mentioned. The Government must make their priority a thorough world-wide reform of the intellectual property system. We are entering a patents crisis. The Medical Research Council is already saying that we face the prospect of patent wars—that the intellectual property system and the laws that go with it in this country, across Europe and in north America, are a major obstruction to innovation, particularly in biotechnology. It must be the Government's priority to establish international conventions in those areas which would permit such developments to come on stream early.
One particular point which must be the focus of concern is the fact that in the United States the National Institute of Health has patented part of the human genome. How on earth can we go to Rio and make the claims for biodiversity that we and the United States are making when we are already preparing to patent parts of nature itself? These are not products in any sense of the term, but things which bear no immediate utility and are simply a way of seeking the intellectual capture of future industrial areas. That is disgraceful.
The fact that the Government have encouraged the Medical Research Council to follow the example of the United States National Institute of Health and to prepare to patent our bits of the human genome is an utter disgrace. In theory, the countries of the third world, with their forests heaving with species, could patent on the same basis. That is a matter of enormous concern.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)
As the hon. Gentleman describes the situation as an utter disgrace, I should say that the position was made clear in press statements by the Medical Research Council. The line that it is taking in respect of the patents is entirely protective. It has been stimulated by the American action. We are seeking to persuade the Americans, in consort with our European partners, to back away from that position, but meanwhile we are protecting our position in that context.
§ Mr. Cousins
That is what is said, of course, but the Government have followed down the main road. How can the Government go to Rio and talk about biodiversity and saving the species of the rain forests and wherever else when they have already begun to start patenting parts of the human body and the human biological system? We and the Americans have begun to do that. It is a fatal first step which the Government and the Medical Research Council should not have taken.
We all know about past anxieties resulting from the failure to patent DNA and the echo that that has had, but this is a new situation. The Government should be seeking to achieve an international convention on the way in which we work the intellectual property of the new biological developments which will be at the centre of so many industrial elements in future. We face a second scientific revolution, coming from the biological area, in which we shall not attempt to conquer nature as we did in the past but rather to echo it, adapt it, change it, run with its grain. The implications of that for our way of life and for many of our industries are revolutionary and substantial. I find it disappointing that no trace of that intellectual excitement appeared in the speech by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and that all that we are to expect is a White Paper next January or February which, once again, will drag us back to organisational change within the British scientific establishment.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
There is a wide welcome in the House for this debate on science and technology. Such debates are of greater significance than those that we often have on matters concerning economic policy and structure. I agree with other hon. Members who have spoken that this is a debate of great significance and that we have such debates all too infrequently. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to our debate on engineering some years ago, which I led as it was on a private Member's motion. It was a similar debate in the sense that there was a great deal of agreement across the House on the importance of the debate and on the main points of it.
It is right that we should have this opportunity to highlight the importance of science and technology. I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) that we should look forward in this debate rather than living on our grand scientific past. As an ex-science teacher, no one knows better than I that we have a great scientific past. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not continually look back at that. We should look forward, and I was able to share that sentiment at least with him.
There must be a debate about science itself. Science is the application of rational analysis and thought to problems. Science requires high-level intellectual effort 512 and self-discipline. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) made clear, science is international and unifying. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred to the anti-science campaign. We do not want to overstate the strength of that campaign, but I was pleased that it was referred to by several hon. Members.
This is a good moment for those of us who believe strongly in science to say how much we deplore "scientophobes"—those who seem to hate science, such as Brian Appleyard and Fay Weldon. Such people play on the fears of those who lack the moral courage to face the challenges of true science. Those woolly thinkers would leave us stuck with necromancers, the astrologers and the alchemists of the middle ages rather than with the mathematicians, the physicists, the chemists and the engineers of the present. I welcome the way in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced that thought and I hope that we shall have more opportunity to debate that view and the way in which the media treat science. I do not have time to go into detail on that at present.
I will link science, mathematics and engineering in my speech because this is a debate on science and technology, so we must include engineering in our remarks. The Prime Minister made a pledge when he spoke recently at the national final of the young engineers of Britain competition which was held under the auspices of the Engineering Council. He said that we must change the culture of Britainso that the British engineer enjoys the same status as the German engineer.Other hon. Members have referred to the question of status. The view of the status of engineers is partly a matter of education. It is, therefore, good that recent Government reforms have led to a greater emphasis on good science and technology in our curriculum. I welcome the Government's role in that.
Other hon. Members have referred to recent criticism of technology in schools. I join in welcoming the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Education that there would be a review of technology courses in schools. That announcement has also been welcomed by the Engineering Council. There is a suggestion, which I support, that the Engineering Council can and should be involved in giving assistance to inspectors in monitoring the new technology courses and seeing how they develop so that they will improve in future.
§ Mr. Dalyell
After the buffeting that the hon. Gentleman and I suffered at University college, London, where we went as guests of Women in Science, does he agree that more must be done to attract women into science and to give them better conditions?
§ Mr. Thompson
I recall that vigorous debate and I recall that the hon. Gentleman and I took a similar line on nuclear power which meant that we found ourselves in a minority. It was a very enjoyable occasion. I wholly support the hon. Gentleman's remarks about getting more women involved in engineering and science, which is an important point.
The Government's willingness to adapt policy, as shown in the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Education, is a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness.
I highlighted the success of a school in my constituency. Heartsease high school recently won an award in the 513 design and build competition organised by the Machine Tool Trades Association. Other schools win awards, of course, but I have highlighted this one. A lot of good work in technology goes on in many schools and we must give credit where it is due. I pay tribute to the teachers and everyone involved at that school.
There has been a recent encouraging survey which seems to contradict some of the earlier remarks about what is happening in schools and among young people. Professor Bridges of the school of education at the university of East Anglia has found in a recent survey linked with the Engineering Council that young people are now beginning to develop a better image of engineering. That is very good news. Some of the remarks made in response to the survey included:They travel the world and earn lots of money",They work with three dimensional computer imagingandEngineers are like doctors, lawyers and accountants".We seem to be getting fewer of the comments that people might have expected, such as the comment by one young person who said:I didn't expect them to work in an office … I thought they worked outside mending things".The good news is that the survey showed that the image of engineering in schools has undoubtedly improved in recent years, and that may be a tribute to the neighbourhood engineers scheme which is run under the auspices of the Engineering Council with financial support from the Department of Trade and Industry. The scheme is obviously beginning to have a good effect and I hope that that work can continue. I gather that it is intended that every school will have been involved in the neighbourhood engineers scheme by 1995 at the latest. That is the kind of urgency which we need to inject into the proceedings.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who is now on the Treasury Bench—in spite of the remarks towards the end of his speech, I admired and agreed with almost every word of it—that we should have a greater sense of urgency. I get a little nervous when we talk about White Papers in 1993 and about having a long discussion. I agree with hon. Members who have said that the points being put in this debate are matters of high urgency which this country should have thought about and addressed many years ago.
My main message to my right hon. Friend is to stress the urgency of our debate this evening and the need, without making mistakes, to progress with speed and with purpose. I find myself otherwise very much in agreement with what he said.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's appointment to a post in which he will oversee science policy. When I have been to the Institute of Physics and when I hear from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, I continually get messages of welcome for the new appointment. It is marvellous that we have been able to begin the new arrangement of Government Departments with such a positive response from outside. I hope that we can reinforce that in future years.
I now come to the Campaign for Physics. One aspect of the campaign is that attention has been drawn to the economic contribution of physics-based industry. Evidence has been assembled that shows that physics-based industries outperform the manufacturing sector of the United Kingdom economy as a whole, that sales in these industries rose by 116 per cent. between 1980 and 514 1989, compared with 88 per cent. for the sector as a whole, and that these figures help to explain the growth in the United Kingdom's share of the export market in physics-based products. The 22 per cent. increase in the Government's science budget, in real terms, over the last decade has paid dividends. It is good that there has been a significant growth in Government funding, in research funded by industry and in research funded by other bodies and charities.
A clear lead from the Government will set the policy objectives for the rest of this Parliament and beyond. It is vital that such a lead should be given urgently.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
It is a pleasure to speak in a debate in which all hon. Members have welcomed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to his new office. He will play an important role. His constructive spirit will benefit science and technology in this country.
Before I deal with two aspects of science policy in particular, I intend to refer to three points that often plague both its formulation and its application. First, its formulation and application are always difficult, because our scientific knowledge exists, by definition, in the present— at a particular point in time. For example, if we had known about the environmental problems associated with polychlorinated biphenyls, I am certain that Monsanto would not have manufactured them at Newport. I am even more certain that the then Purle waste disposal company would not have been allowed to bury PCB waste in three quarries—at Ty-Llwyd and Brofiskin quarries in Gwent and in the Maendy quarry in Mid Glamorgan.
Secondly, if no effort is made to look for evidence, we shall find none. It is easy to follow the adage: seek not and ye shall find not. For example, if the Government funded a large research project, on a much larger scale than that carried out by Dr. David Kay of University college, Lampeter, into the relationship between human health and bathing in grossly polluted sea water, it is possible that the conventional wisdom would have to be radically altered. Additions may have to be made to the conjunctivitis and travellers' diarrhoea, identified in the tenth report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, that result from bathing in such waters. What is even more important, our water bills may have to rise even further as a consequence of such an investigation.
It would be far better, therefore, to respond in the way that the Department of the Environment responded to the European Community's bathing waters directive of 1976—to buy time and use an artful dodge, to define a bathing beach in such a way that, for example, for many years after 1976 Wales did not possess such an item. By definition, therefore, the directive did not apply to Wales. Environmental organisations were able to claim that every beach in Wales was filthy. The Welsh Office and the Department of the Environment could equally claim that every beach in Wales was clean. That problem frequently arises when Departments bend the rules and use terminology and interpretation to their own advantage.
Thirdly, there is the danger of basing one's views on political advantage, because it is thought that that is more important than the evidence. I was taken in by that. For many years I took part in the campaign that attempted to prevent fluoride being added to drinking water. How foolish I felt when I read the evidence. I could not find a 515 single scientific study published anywhere in the world that demonstrated that fluoride had harmful effects if added to drinking water at the permitted level. The literature abounds with examples of its benefits.
I am pleased that Professor Lennon, one of the leading professors of preventive dentistry in Britain, was able to confirm in a letter that he wrote to me on 4 February 1992 that fluoridation has been recognised for over 40 years as the single most effective public health measure that is available to reduce dental caries.
I received today a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales in which he said:The Government is also very much aware of the particular sensitivities surrounding the issue of fluoridation.The Government ought to go further and accept that scientific evidence shows unanimously that fluoridation is of enormous benefit in reducing dental caries. Instead of trying to claw back 7 per cent. of the money that dentists received last year for the work that they carried out, which has benefited the people of this country, it would be far better if the Government carried out a fluoridation programme that prevented dental caries. The services of dental surgeons would then be needed far less than they are now.
The first of my two main points is that the Government need actively to encourage in-service courses for Members of Parliament. They are essential if we are to keep abreast of the rapid changes in science. Why should we be exempted from in-service training courses? Secondly, the British Government should again become a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
On my first point, I shall confine my remarks to the new biotechnology as it affects human genes. Incredible opportunities for good are opening up with the new biotechnology, but they bring two problems in their wake. Diagnostic advances, which will increase the number of diseases that are capable of early detection, pose massive problems as to the legal protection that is necessary to ensure that such information is not used to discriminate against individuals in their place of work or in obtaining insurance cover. There is also the huge personal problem of coping with such information. Dr. Steve Jones, reader in genetics at University college, London, in his excellent Reith lectures last year, asked:Do we really want to know that we may die of a disease about which we can do nothing?There is, however, a second issue. If gene replacement therapy takes place in the somatic cells, this seems to be an admirable way forward for the treatment of human diseases. The problem becomes acute only when one looks for the extension of gene therapy to the reproductive cells, the so-called germline cells. Would it not be marvellous to be able to eliminate, for example, cystic fibrosis in future generations? Would that not, however, carry with it the risk of moving away from the eradication of inherited disease to the genetic enhancement of beauty, athletic prowess, intelligence or any other attribute deemed to be worthy of attention at any particular time? I accept that germline therapy is unlikely to be possible in humans for the foreseeable future, for purely technical reasons. However, it is a matter too vital to be largely ignored by Members of Parliament. We have a leading part to play in the debate.
516 If there is a glaring gap in this House, it is the absence of trained scientists to grace our Benches. I am pleased to note that the attendance this evening fills that gap to a larger degree than hitherto. We have a number of organisations that do their best to assist us, in addition to the superhuman efforts of our excellent Library staff. There is the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, the Foundation for Science and Technology, the Royal Society, the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry—all of which are very helpful.
The Centre for Science and Technology publishes excellent studies on our relative competitive strength in science and technology. The Industry and Parliamentary Trust has begun its first postgraduate programme in a specialist area of science—biotechnology. As a trustee and fellow of the IPT, I am grateful to ICI for the honour for being the first person to take part in ICI's programme in biotechnology.
The Minister could make a tremendous contribution to the efficacy of the formulation of Government policy, and my plea to him is to draw together the different organisations, not only to enable Members of Parliament to be fully informed of the radical changes in areas such as biotechnology, but to enable them to have hands-on experience in the laboratory and find out what scientists are doing at the sharp end. That would ensure that the ethical issues and the legal framework are debated meaningfully in the House.
My second point is the need for Britain to renew its membership of UNESCO. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for his untiring efforts to that end. His most recent plea came in the New Scientist on 30 May. I have had correspondence with a number of people, especially a constituent of mine, Professor Ager. He is emeritus professor of geology at University college, Swansea, and formerly an eminent member of one of UNESCO's committees—the international geological correlation programme.
The approved projects of that programme were all useful and desirable, ranging from the academic—such as the correlation of pre-Cambrian rocks between west Africa and Brazil—to the purely economic, such as the tin and tungsten resources of south-east Asia. They included such matters as the mutual collaboration of neighbouring countries on the development of particular resources, such as the vital phosphorates and the synthesis of data on particular parts of the geological record. An interesting proposal was to use satellites to monitor rising heat in the crust under the Andes to give advance warning of volcanic eruptions.
In conclusion, I wish to reiterate my two main points. The first is the desperate need for Members of Parliament to play a far greater role in the formulation of Government policy on science and technology. Perhaps the Minister, in his new job, could envisage a new educative role for some of his officials. Currently, Members of Parliament are in a weak position in trying to answer some of the questions that the Chancellor of the Duchy posed at the end of his speech. Secondly, we lose a great deal by not being part of UNESCO. We need to rejoin it quickly so that we do not lose any more time in becoming part of that organisation and in contributing to it. We need UNESCO perhaps more than UNESCO needs us.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), who was right to highlight the generally constructive tone of the debate. It was useful that, in the examples he cited, although I would not necessarily underwrite them in every particular, he showed the wide range of expectation that the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy and my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) to the Office of Science and Technology has raised in the House. The hon. Gentleman touched on departmental interests that he hopes will be streamed through my right hon. Friend, affecting health, foreign affairs, industry and so on. I will deal directly with that matter when I discuss the question of satellites in a moment.
I join right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming both my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend to their appointments, and I welcome their commitment to consultation. They need to consider the way in which state-funded research operates in universities, Government Departments and research councils. It is my plea that they will not overlook the contribution that can be made from a number of other sources, and I wish to highlight two in particular. The first is professional bodies, and the second is Parliament.
On the first source, I do not want to run through the shopping list but instead will pick up a theme which has already been mentioned tonight, about the role of the engineer as a key figure in the application of science and technology. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to discussion on Finniston. As, at the time, I was the Minister responsible for considering Finniston, I feel a moral obligation 10 years on to look at the position today. I must say that we are still well short of where I believe we would wish to be in raising the status of engineers and, perhaps even more importantly, in ensuring that engineering plays its full part in directing research and development to practical and measurable success.
We are all familiar with the old criticism—it has come out tonight—that our skills in invention are not sufficiently carried through into application. I agree with what Sir William Barlow, president of the Fellowship of Engineering, said in a timely comment this week—that it was regrettable that the Earth summit in Brazil had no engineering dimension. I note that, writing in The Daily Telegraph today, my right hon. Friend referred to environmentalists reinventing guilt. Sir William rightly said that engineers are blamed for environmental problems, but we should recognise that they alone can solve them. I hope that that is a dimension that my hon. Friend the Minister will take on board in the work of his Department.
On the role of Parliament, I add my voice to those who have welcomed the motion on the Order Paper relating to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and who have called for a Select Committee on science and technology. If we are to continue the tradition of shadowing Government Departments, it would not be sensible to have an obvious omission for a major Department of State.
I also welcome the opportunity to explore in other directions. The hon. Member for Gower touched on a number of other parliamentary and allied committees that have a real part to play in what, in many senses, we want 518 to be a partnership between this House, the other place and the Departments concerned. The two committees that I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister are two that I really do not need to spell out because he has played an active part in the dialogue with the parliamentary information technology committee and is certainly not unaware also of the work of the parliamentary space committee.
The key element in both Committees that I commend to the House is the widespread industrial partnership with parliamentarians. Meetings of PITCOM bring together about 100 industrial members and about 100 parliamentary members. It is therefore in the widest sense of looking at our future in science and technology in Europe that I should like to highlight some of the work and thinking within that committee. In doing so, of course, I make it plain that I am not expressing any corporate view, because that is not the way of such committees, but I can say without fear of contradiction that certain trends are evident in that committee, and they should commend themselves to the Government.
There are certain aspects of what is happening in Europe today which are already making it well nigh impossible for us to keep up with the pace of progress. I refer, for example, to the way in which transnational partnerships are altering the face of what we can either legislate for or expect to carry through in any ordered consideration of science and technology. I recite only the Siemens and Fujitsu merger, Bull of France with IBM in the United States, and now ICL is owned by Japan but maintaining, I trust, important research and manufacturing facilities in this country.
On defence technology, I join those who have pointed to the obvious problem in seeing a substantial reduction in defence research and development, which one must hope to see in many ways transferred across in terms of Government research and development to the civil sector. Even within defence, there are still important technologies which can greatly affect the pattern of what we are discussing. For example, I refer to the European fighter aircraft. I hope that our German colleagues will think long and hard before they surrender a vital part of defence technology which, once lost, would be extremely difficult to replace and would put us in a position of facing, inevitably, a virtually sole supplier from the United States, with the financial penalties that that could entail.
I now refer to information technology. We have heard about EUREKA, but I should like to talk about ESPRIT. As hon. Members know, it seeks to make breakthroughs in micro-electronics, software, business systems for offices, the so-called intelligent homes, and the whole sector of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture. There is inevitably a pragmatic point that we must examine. I see no point in arguing at the moment about intervention as opposed to the free market, because we have in place, as I have said, the commercial dynamism of transnational mergers and so on and, already, the fourth framework programme, about which my right hon. Friend spoke.
I want simply to draw on the experience of ESPRIT so far and to urge my hon. Friend the Minister to recognise that two problems are clearly demonstrated. There is still a substantial trade deficit in IT within Europe, and I hope that we can address that through our attempts to support research and development. Perhaps nearer to home, there 519 is a considerable problem of delay—the delay which arises from the bureaucratic process and which I very much hope can be tackled by my hon. Friend and his Department.
The classic case at the moment might be related to high-definition television. Hon. Members will recall that, years ago, we were well advanced through the IBA's research at Winchester and in the BBC to carry forward that process. The commission has moved in that matter and has set a standard and an agenda. The resulting delay and arguments over. standards and over bringing the product to market mean a real danger that Japan may be able to drive on the process and scoop the pool.
I now refer to the separate matter of space activities and, in particular, the work within the European Space Agency. Again, I am drawing on my experience in the parliamentary space committee. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) is present, as he is a member of that Committee and has played a valuable part in its work. There is a process at which we should look more widely. Our £150 million space budget, modest though that may be, is matched many times over by other members of the European Space Agency. We, as the fourth largest contributor after France, Germany and Italy, are seeing a far greater spread for our R and D expenditure than in almost any other industry with public financing of that kind.
What has been achieved? We have been able to become the project leaders in communications satellites in and outside the United States. However, I am bound to say that we are now suffering at the hands not only of American competition, which still draws extensively on underwriting from defence expenditure, but perhaps of a miscalculation of what is near market development. The cut in funding in that regard has meant that we are seeing the market slipping away and the substantial redundancies at British Aerospace in Stevenage, which of course are much to be regretted. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that our concentration within ESA on remote sensing and earth observation has proved fruitful.
I am greatly encouraged by our committee's correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier this year. He indicated his enthusiasm for using earth observation from satellites for global environmental control. He regarded that as a natural subject for international action at the Earth summit. In the pressure of other matters, I feel that this subject may not have been given the full attention in Rio that it deserves, but I welcome the advice that I have received from my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, which suggests that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's initiative has been followed up. I am glad to see the DTI and the Office of Public Service and Science acting together, along with No. 10. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade can fairly claim to be one of the founders of the European Space Agency. There is every prospect of that process being carried further forward.
There has recently been in this country a meeting of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, which brought together space agencies around the world, including agencies from Russia and China, and international environment officials. That has helped to sensitise Earth summit participants to the unique vantage 520 point that space provides in tackling the problems of drought, flooding, deforestation and pollution. I have no doubt that those matters will be followed up in due course, but I want particularly to encourage my hon. Friend the Minister and the OPSS to begin to think about the common threads, how the peace dividend or the convergence between civil and military technology in space as in other sectors can be more fully utilised. That matter would have to go across Departments. Much as I respect the British National Space Centre, the fact that it does not have its own budget and has had essentially a co-ordinating role has not enabled us to exploit some technologies in the way that I would wish.
I am conscious of the needs of hon. Members who would like to speak. I am sorry that I cannot develop a little more fully some of the arguments that I would wish to develop. However, I hope that I have been able to show the House and my hon. Friend that, in the emergence of the Office of Science and Technology, many of us hope that there will be an opportunity to pull together the common threads across the public and private sectors and military and civil sectors to the greater advantage not only of our country but of Europe and of the wider world.
§ Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)
In making my first contribution, I crave the customary indulgence of the House to say something of my constituency of Plymouth, Devonport and of those who served the constituency before me. As though making my maiden speech were not difficult enough, I shall contrive to make my observations relevant to science and technology. With no disrespect to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was rather sad that Madam Deputy Speaker left the Chair, as we were adversaries in the 1987 election. I had intended to recall that I graciously permitted her to win and that that would give her good cause to call me regularly in the House.
The constituency of Devonport, which I am proud to represent, lies to the west of Plymouth. Its boundary to the north borders on our national park of Dartmoor and to the south is the Plymouth sound. It is one of the most beautiful ports in Britain. Its links to the west over the River Tamar to Cornwall are made by two fine examples of the success of British technology. In 1859 Prince Albert opened the Royal Albert bridge, the greatest triumph of our most celebrated engineer—Isambard Kingdom Brunel—and in the late 1960s the road suspension bridge was opened, completing the link with Cornwall.
Originally, the area was rather unflatteringly known as Plymouth dock. The name was resented by local people, who not only had a fierce sense of independence but grew larger in number than the people of Plymouth, so the status of the area was elevated from dock to port. To confer on it its true sense of significance, it became the port of Devon—hence Devonport.
Devonport Royal Naval dockyard has served our Navy over the centuries from the time of wooden ships to the present day. The unfaltering service that the work force of the dockyard has given to the country in times of war is beyond measure. It gave service not only in the two world wars but more recently in the Falklands and Gulf wars. It is particularly sad to note that the role of Devonport dockyard has been severely reduced. Even in the past five years, the work force has been reduced from 13,000 to little 521 more than 5,000. Most seriously of all, engineering and technological skills are being lost to the local economy. The number of young men and women being trained in those skills has been massively curtailed.
It will not surprise hon. Members to note that Plymouth has one of the fastest rates of unemployment growth in Britain. I see a major part of my work in the House as being to help sustain those who are in work and vigorously to champion the cause of those who are not. I shall argue in the months and years ahead that Devonport dockyard has an essential role to play in the maintenance of our fleet.
I should like to turn my attention to my predecessors, as is the tradition. My last four predecessors have been varied, most able and extremely interesting. Each in their own way has made a special contribution to the House, and indeed to British politics. I may be able to claim a unique feature for my constituency in that all three of its former Members of Parliament since 1945 are still alive.
From 1923. Devonport was represented by Leslie Hore-Belisha, a Liberal and a man of prodigious energy and superb eloquence. He was best known for the introduction of the highway code and, of course, the Belisha beacon—a simple but useful piece of technology. Rather less well known but more important were his efforts as Secretary of State for War, without which Britain might not have been ready for action in 1939.
Leslie Hore-Belisha was followed by Michael Foot, who served Devonport with great distinction between 1945 and 1955. This was a most challenging time of profound difficulty for the city of Plymouth after it was so badly bombed, leaving thousands of people homeless. I am disappointed that, as he has declined to take a peerage, I shall not be able to visit the other place to hear his matchless oratory. As ever, he is faithful to long-held principle in advance of personal elevation.
Michael Foot was temporarily relieved of his place on these Benches by the energetic Dame Joan Vickers, who served Devonport with vigour. She is remembered by older constituents and older Members of Parliament with considerable affection. Michael Foot fought tirelessly for the homeless of Plymouth, and Dame Joan Vickers spoke at length on the subject in her maiden speech in 1955. I wonder whether either of them imagined that a new Member of Parliament in 1992 would need to speak for the homeless just as strongly. I intend to fight the cause of the 6,000 people on the Plymouth city council waiting list with the same vigour.
The three Members of Parliament to whom I have referred were elected from three different political parties. Now I can claim a unique feature for my constituency without any fear of contradiction. During his 13 years as Member of Parliament for Devonport, David Owen single-handedly managed to give his support to four different parties. That is a record which I have no intention of emulating. Nor do I have any intention of forming my own party.
I believe that David Owen is threatening to publish a book of his verse, so I thought that it might be appropriate if I quoted a little poetry. It is as though Dryden, 300 years before, predicted David Owen's coming in his poem, "Absalom and Achitophel":A man so various that he seemed to beNot one, but all mankind's epitome:Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,Was everything by starts and nothing long".522 I wish him well in the other place.
I shall restrict my comments about science and technology to the place where it is kindled in people's minds—in the schools. That is a matter of which I have some experience, after 22 years of teaching mathematics in comprehensive schools. Science changes our lives. It has become a determining factor in many aspects of our lives. Huge advances have been made in our living standards in recent decades through the appliance of scientific knowledge. But just as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who built the great Royal Albert bridge which straddles the Tamar taking the trains from Devonport to Cornwall, did not receive public recognition of his genius as an engineer, so today society does not hold people who make things in the same esteem as those who make money.
Many strides forward have been made in school science since the war, but we must always remember that the quality of learning never exceeds the quality of teaching. The quality of teaching in science and technology is closely related to the enthusiasm of the teacher and the quality of the resources, and implementation of the national curriculum has done nothing to enhance either. A doctor seeks a cure for a disease, but the national curriculum is the cure for which there is no known disease. Its only service has been to prove that the Government are the least appropriate body to provide detailed instructions on how to teach children.
Recent education policy has left us with several unresolved paradoxes. Schools were supposed to be locally managed, yet the Government are deciding every last detail of the curriculum, not least in science and technology. The national curriculum is supposed to be efficacious for state schools yet is not required in the private sector, where those who promote it send their children. Opted-out schools and city technology colleges have been given millions of pounds for new buildings, while local authority schools crumble.
Children used to be taught science. Now we are told that the curriculum is delivered. Once one accepts the market culture that is permeating our schools, one can easily make a prognosis of the use to which the results of testing will be put. Schools will be placed in performance tables, which will put increasing pressure on the schools to deliver that which can be tested. That will jeopardise exciting and challenging projects and work of intrinsic interest to children because such work leads to the course work—which is so much disliked by our Prime Minister. That is an extraordinarily myopic view of education. It not only drags us back to the failed payment by results of the Victorian era but constitutes a shabby preparation for life in the 21st century. The spirit that drove Brunei's genius was not kindled by dreary standard assessment tests of the kind carried out this week, working within the straitjacket of a national curriculum.
The Government's proposals for initial teacher training leave little room for optimism. Her Majesty's inspectors have identified ad nauseam the shortage of science and technology teachers in our schools, especially our primary schools, yet the responsibility for training future science teachers is to be placed in those schools. If that policy is seen through, it will guarantee that science remains in the shade. Teacher training in science and technology has to balance the need to learn teaching skills with the need for exciting new ideas to come out of our institutes of higher education. 523 A recent survey in Devon showed that 26 per cent. of all pupils were being taught in temporary buildings—a record that is probably shared by many other authorities. While many of those buildings may be in good condition and of good quality, they further depress good science and technology teaching. In such buildings storage space is seldom more than minimal, power points and basic services are lacking, and security is poor so that expensive equipment such as computers is rarely found. That is one feature of our schooling system which is depressing our ability to teach complex subjects demanding much equipment.
I have touched on the fact that problems exist in science and technology education and many other hon. Members have mentioned it in the debate. The House will be in no doubt that I believe that present policies are inadequate. There is still great willingness and energy in our schools. There is an overwhelming need for young scientists to help to rejuvenate our faltering economy, but they will not emerge in the quantity and of the quality that our country demands unless we create an environment for success. That success will come to our schools and colleges only if we allow a spirit of adventure to prevail, if we encourage new ideas and differences of approach, and if we acknowledge the achievements of our engineers and scientists.
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
It is always a great pleasure to follow a maiden speech, and it is a special pleasure to follow that of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who spoke with great humour, knowledge and passion. He knows his area well and speaks of it with great love and affection. He summarised the history of its previous incumbents and perhaps he will be as colourful a Member of the House as his predecessors —we shall be the richer for it if he is.
I was especially taken by the hon. Gentleman's championing of Isambard Kingdom Brunel— an engineer and a successful capitalist, although that was perhaps not the thread that the hon. Member wished most to draw upon. However, it demonstrated how success in society and in industry depended then on the blend of engineer and business man, and perhaps we should bear that in mind today. I am sure that we shall all look forward to the hon. Gentleman's future contributions to debates.
May I join colleagues who earlier congratulated the Government on the appointment of the Office of Science and of my right hon. and hon. Friends as the two Ministers in charge of it. I shall mention some of the practical implications of that appointment, but we should also recognise that the changes have considerable symbolic importance. I hope that we may now mark, once and for all, the end of the myth that the United Kingdom can prosper on service industries alone. I hope that we can now acknowledge that the science and technology base and the prosperity of the country go hand in hand. We must now recognise that success in virtually all the industries of the 21st century will be knowledge-based. Investment in knowledge, research and technology will make those industries successful.
The higher profile of science and technology in public life and in politics, which has been brought about by the 524 changes, is typified by the fact that this is one of the first debates on the subject in Government time, by the large amount of interest in the debate, by the high quality of speeches and by the inclusion on the Order Paper later this evening of a motion seeking approval for support for the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. I was on the Information Committee that produced the report and I believe that it will be a valuable adjunct to the knowledge and research facilities available to Members of the House.
Inevitably, the creation of the Office of Science has been well received and has raised great expectations, and it is important that those should be based in reality, because a new pot of gold will not be readily available. This year, we face a tough public expenditure round, and it is essential that public expenditure is brought under control and inflation forced even lower, as much for science and technology as for many other aspects of our society.
The relatively high cost of capital has been one of the prime causes of short termism in industry, and science and technology have suffered particularly from it. Against that background, the Government's research and development budget compares well with that of our competitor countries. The increases planned between now and 1995 do the Government great credit.
Leaving funding elements aside, vital strategic and structural issues have to be tackled. I shall devote my comments to raising questions to add to those asked by my right hon. Friend in opening the debate and to responses to some of his questions. Perhaps I should first declare an interest, as my law firm acts for several institutions of higher education and companies involved in high technology.
One of the key problems perpetually besetting research and development in this country is that it crosses so many departmental boundaries and budgets. It causes the greatest difficulty in strategic decision making, it makes it difficult to assess priorities between the research and development programmes of different departments, and getting cross-departmental budget contributions is like getting blood out of a stone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) mentioned the space industry and it is perhaps one of the best examples of a vital industry where so many science and technology issues are at the sharp end of development, but which covers the range of interests of so many different departments—Trade and Industry, Defence, Education, the Environment and the Home Office all have a spoke in that industry. We did not begin to get a coherent voice until all those interests were brought together within the British National Space Centre. My hon. Friend said how successful the BNSC has been in co-ordinating Britain's approach to the European Space Agency, in developing proper programmes within the agency and suggesting priorities for Britain's expenditure., which have stood us in good stead. It has been successful, but with more muscle it could have been more successful.
I look to the Office of Science to take a strategic overview of science and technology, perhaps on the model in microcosm that BNSC has been. In so doing, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to beware of rejection symptoms from other Departments, which have so often in the past stifled changes in the governmental system.
My hon. Friend's first task is to mark out his Department's territory practically. Inevitably, there must be an overlap between research and development 525 functions of his and of other Departments. During the next few months he will produce a White Paper, and many people will look carefully at the details of how it tackles those overlaps. The Office of Science must not be seen to be trying to build empires for their own sakes, because other Departments are closer to their needs and, as customers, may be able to identify their research and development requirements most effectively.
The Office of Science must have a key voice in policy making and prioritising and should use its budget to fill gaps in basic and strategic research and development. It must avoid buck passing by other Departments, which are trying to shift some of their research and development on to another Department's budget. As several hon. Members have said, the Office of Science's most urgent priority is to ensure that money that has gone into the Ministry of Defence's research and development budget is not lost as MOD expenditure is cut, but is transferred to civil research and development.
Another key problem that flows freely from that is how and where to distribute research and development funds from the Government. The Committee of Directors of Polytechnics is concerned that the new Higher Education Funding Council structure and remit will hit the new universities adversely compared with the established universities. Most of their research and development is much closer to the marketplace and their existing research and development infrastructure is much less developed than that of the established universities and will take time to develop to the point where they may be more able to compete on equal terms under peer group assessment. On the other side, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals is concerned about the way in which the Office of Science will interact with the Department for Education and, in particular, how shifts of focus on science and technology will affect funding for research in the humanities. Those questions must be answered carefully.
I recognise the need for centres of research excellence and for large-scale interdepartmental collaboration in depth. It is difficult to predict where advances in science and technology will come from or which building blocks of knowledge will have to be combined to make a particular advance. Obviously, there is an advantage in operating within a large centre of excellence. Equally, there must be a mechanism for evolution and change. Young, bright academics and new universities must have their chance, too. Strategic funding judgments may be made in the Office of Science but peer group assessment must be the best way of choosing between individual projects within those priorities. I hope that the system as a whole will not operate within too rigid a straitjacket.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster must take a strong lead also in our European involvement. Clearly, strong science ministries in other member states have given those countries an edge in the implementation of their policies and the way in which the take-up of European programmes by their domestic industries has developed. It is not before time that he is in there pitching for Britain.
I add my voice to those that have commented on the need for a science and technology Select Committee. It is a vital adjunct to the work of the Department. A Department without a Select Committee stimulating it and supporting both it and science and technology will be that much poorer. The experiment with the Office of Science may well founder unless there is a strong Select Committee supporting it.
526 I move from the problems of structure in government to the problems in industry and academia. I shall draw attention to several specific points, albeit briefly. The problem of short-termism in industry cannot be ignored when considering science and technology. Different people will attribute different causes to it. High inflation and high interest rates make the cost of capital so high that long-term pay-backs have become difficult in our economy in recent years. I hope that inflation and interest rates will come down to such a level that we will not be at a relative disadvantage to our industrial competitors.
That is a core problem which my right hon. Friend must address. Equally, he must address the relatively low esteem and pay for engineers that has been traditional in this country. Other countries hold engineers in the highest esteem, in particular Germany and the United States. It is one of our great weaknesses that we have a curious cultural block that prevents us from doing the same.
There has been a patchy use of universities by industry and variable technology transfer. Before I came to the House I was involved in technology transfer from the legal viewpoint and I have seen considerable advances being made. Nevertheless, we must be aware of the use that countries such as the United States and Japan make of their universities. Their links between universities and industries are much more profound than ours. Moreover, others are not standing still while we improve our perfomance.
There is a funding gap between the research in universities and the development stage at which British companies are prepared to pick up the work and carry it forward. The Office of Science must address that gap. Equally, it must address the problem that, in seeking funding from industry, universities are being driven too much towards near-market activities, rather than being able to focus on long-range, basic research and development that is fundamental to the long-term prosperity and health of our scientific base.
Industry is improving its performance steadily. A recent report by Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte shows that there is a much more frequent launch of new products and many more staff working on new technology in Britain than three years ago. That is a vindication of the Government's shift of funding to basic research and development in the hope that industry will draw in some of the research and development that is closer to the marketplace.
Others wish to speak, so I shall be brief. One of the great problems facing us is that on the whole people in the House and in industry, and people in the civil service who make decisions, do not have a scientific background against which to assess the projects and problems that they must deal with. Therefore, I welcome the decision to broaden the curriculum up to GCSE level, so that more people have a base in science and can understand at least the language of the papers put up to them.
I am sceptical whether one can both broaden and deepen the curriculum at the same time, without it having a profound impact further upstream in the universities. A-levels have been a bulwark of protection against the erosion of excellence in our academic system. If that bulwark is eroded, we shall have to face up to the consequence of at least four-year courses in universities in science and technology. That would be the inevitable conclusion.
Our science and technology graduates are a vital national resource. They will become increasingly 527 important as this century fades into the next, because it is upon their knowledge and training that our economic success and prosperity will depend. We do extremely well in international comparisons. Only the United States does better than us in terms of graduates in science and technology. We stand international comparison well, particularly against our European Community competitors.
My hon. Friend the Minister must consider whether we do well in providing a career structure in the academic world for our science graduates. The prevalence of short-term contracts is a great problem in higher education. A key issue that must be addressed is the development of a career structure in the academic world that will encourage the brightest academics to stay in it.
I am not trying to offer solutions to these problems. My right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks that he was taking in questions and ideas. It is in that spirit that I put forward these comments to him. I recognise that the success of the Department will be crucial to the success of our country and its industrial endeavours in the years to come. I wish him and his Department the best of good fortune. We have a great deal riding upon its success.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I congratulate the Government on setting up the Office of Public Service and Science, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on his appointment. I am sure that the office is a major step forward for science and scientific research.
Once upon a time I was a research chemist. Then I lectured in chemistry at a college of higher education. Over the years I diversified first into environmental science and now into my present career. Throughout those years I have maintained my interest in scientific research. I have never ceased to be fascinated by new discoveries. I have two younger brothers who throughout the 1980s have been involved in medical research. I hear from them of the difficulties in funding medical research and the poor morale of the people involved in it.
My general impression throughout the past decade has been that there is a deep malaise in science which permeates every level—schools, universities and research departments. In schools, there is a major shortage of qualified science teachers—28 per cent. of chemistry teachers have no post-A-level qualifications. As we heard earlier, 20 per cent. of those teaching chemistry to A-level and 30 per cent. of physics teachers have not been trained appropriately. Clearly, it is not good enough for other subject teachers to teach physics, chemistry or biology.
Another problem in schools is the lack of science equipment. A recent study conducted by Her Majesty's inspectorate of education concluded that spending on science equipment in state schools averages £5.62p per pupil per year. That is a fifth of that spent in the independent sector. If private schools think that such a level of investment in equipment is needed, surely it is needed throughout the education system. That lack of equipment is another handicap facing those in the younger generation who want a career in science.
Last year, when the A-level results were published, those for science generally were good. However, the number of students studying A-level mathematics was 528 down, nationally, by 5.9 per cent., while the numbers studying A-level physics and A-level chemistry were down by 4.3 per cent. and 3.8 per cent respectively. That is unhealthy for the future of our manufacturing base and for our future prosperity. The following week I read an article in The Times Educational Supplement, which said that 1991 was not an isolated year. Under the headlineScience A-level entry falls for the 10th yearthe article began:The number of students taking A-level science exams has fallen for the 10th year running, according to figures published this week by GCE boards.There has been a disturbing swing away from the study of science. Last month, the Institute of Physics published a report on the importance of physics to the United Kingdom economy. It said that 29 per cent. of all manufacturing jobs are in physics-based industries. Curiously, it is a growth industry thanks to the computer, electronics and similar industries in which output, in cash terms, has doubled in the past 10 years.
The section on education contains some disturbing statistics, which show that the number of science graduates has dropped from 2,510 in 1983 to 2,286 in 1991. That is equivalent to a drop of 10 per cent. in the number of physics graduates at a time when the total number of all graduates is increasing. As a proportion of the total number of graduates, the number of physics graduates has dropped from 2.16 to 1.78 per cent. That is at a time when the number of physics graduates has increased by 15 per cent. in Germany and by 61 per cent. in Japan. We will be unable to compete internationally unless we train scientists at home.
Why has there been a swing away from the study of science? When I started my university work in science, the Dainton report had just been published on such a swing. I do not know whether things improved during the 1970s, but 25 years on it seems as though we are back where we started. The problems caused by teachers' qualifications and the lack of equipment may have led to the drift from science, but another fundamental reason is that pupils specialise far too early. They have to choose between science or arts at the age of 14 or 15, and, by that age, the amount of useful science that one understands is rather limited. We need a broader A-level curriculum so that the study of science is compulsory until the age of 18.
The study of science presents special difficulties. When I examine the chemistry syllabuses for O-level and A-level and compare them with those that I studied, I see that A-level work now forms part of the O-level syllabus and that the A-level syllabus contains some of the material that I studied at university. From year to year, A-level examinations in science have become progressively more difficult. I do not believe that English literature, history and economics have become progressively more difficult to study. However, the demands made on our 15 and 17-year-olds studying for science GCEs and A-levels are greater now than they were a generation ago. Although we should not lower standards, perhaps we should consider narrowing the curriculum or introducing longer courses in higher education.
Some other hon. Members, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes), referred to the bad image that science now has. The public image has been dented by the environmental crisis of the past 20 years. I accept that there is some truth in that argument. For example, pollution may have given chemistry a bad 529 reputation, and nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors have presented physicists with a public relations problem. As we have seen from the Earth summit in Rio, the paradox is that to solve the world's environmental problems we need scientists to develop clean technologies and renewable sources of energy.
Throughout the past decade, the university research budget has been cut and rationalised. I am concerned about the new funding mechanisms for university research, by which money is directed towards the bigger universities. As a result, some universities will be dedicated to research, some to teaching and some will combine both functions. It is important to have a wide research base in all our universities, because that will improve the work of lecturers and professors and their teaching will be more stimulating if they are involved in research.
The Government's investment in civil research and development has dropped from 0.72 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1981 to 0.52 per cent. in 1990. The Government are cutting their contribution to research and we are falling behind other countries. The Government, by establishing the OPSS, have, in a sense, adopted Labour party policy. May I suggest that they look to the funding of science and consider the targets that we set at the election to increase total funding in research and development to 2.5 per cent. of GDP, which includes an increased Government contribution of 0.8 per cent.? That money is desperately needed for science research and the future prosperity of Britain. We must find it.
§ Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I welcome the establishment of a Government Department which has at its core the principles of encouraging science and technology. It seems only a few weeks ago that the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry proclaimed how he wanted his Department to disappear. I gain much encouragement from the speed at which the political winds can change. The very idea that a Secretary of State for Trade and Industry might wish to see his role and his Department disappear must have given our industrial competitors the belief that we had a death wish about any idea of competing on the world stage.
While science is at the start of the process that eventually delivers usable goods to the consumer, the problem we face as a nation embraces the whole process.all the way from scientific breakthrough, via commercial adaptation, to consumer utilisation. Our relative failure to deliver is encapsulated by the unsatisfactory relationship on finance that industry has with the City. The circle is continuous, with the financial institutions arguing that market forces dictate their actions and industry complaining that short-termism prevents it having a long-term future. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) referred to that. Time permits me to expand on it only slightly.
The current debate argues that takeovers are a reaction to market forces. That, in isolation, is correct, but it conveniently ignores the fact that the chances are that, when a takeover occurs, the company in question has been abandoned by its financial backers—the institutional investors—for the quick buck.
The individual aspects of financial support are self-sustaining in their argument. But only when one examines the system as a whole does one begin to 530 understand the scale of the economic disaster that our industrial financing system leaves in its wake. A glance at investment percentages, research and training, as against profits, GNP or any other criteria, shows how we lag behind our major industrial competitors, and the results are only too apparent.
The largest 100 companies follow a dividend policy that pays two or three times as much as our foreign competitors, particularly Germany. Indeed, the Germans recognise the debilitating effect of large dividend payments year after year, resulting from a policy of giving tax relief on dividend payments up to 20 per cent. of company profits, and then no more.
Those pressures push companies into strategies that maintain profits and dividends for today. Hon. Members may say that that is satisfactory because we like to see safe corporate strategies, away from organic growth. Sadly, the same picture emerges in manufacturing investment, where, the figures show, we are near the bottom of the G7 league table. They show that our culture pushes us away from areas of international risk and help to explain our low investment, in world terms, as a percentage of research and development financed by industry.
In contrast, business investment has rocketed over the past few years, with record figures of growth in areas such as financial services, property, distribution and hotels, all protected from international competition by property-based assets directed into this country.
That lack of long-term vision starts with our banking system, and it is interesting to make comparisons with our competitors. Between 1985 and 1990, the National Westminster bank increased its United Kingdom lending by three times. More than half of it was lending for one year or less. In 1990, the Deutschebank lent more than half the money that it made available, for over four years.
That is the basis on which British manufacturers and business men must try to invest. Banks in the United Kingdom are lenders of money. In the German system, like the Japanese, much depends on confidence between investors. The German banks not only provide the finance but invest direct. They hold seats on company boards. In the top 100 German companies, 179 seats are held by banks, an involvement unheard of in Britain.
A contested takeover in Germany is not unknown, but it is exceedingly rare. Here, it is the order of the day. I am led to the inevitable conclusion that long-term investment plans lead to long-term growth and ensure that the company stays the course, with decisions being made by directors without the spectre of a takeover dominating the board room.
In the previous Session of Parliament, two industrial knights of the realm came to speak to a certain Committee with which I am involved, and I asked them about concern over takeovers, and the problems of maintaining dividend levels and long-term investment. One of them agreed with me, and one said that it did not worry him. Two weeks later, the one who was not worried was furiously increasing his dividend to try to fight off a takeover bid which had suddenly been launched upon him out of the blue.
I am convinced that the House should consider the financial changes necessary to try to encourage the long-term investment view. For example, should the financial bodies which lend money lose their creditor position if their shareholding goes over 5 per cent? But I must leave that subject and make my last two points. 531 I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said about the LINK projects, and how we need to build on Britain's fine record in basic science. That has not always been perceived to be the case, as is illustrated by some comments by the vice-chancellor of Queen's university, Belfast:Direct approaches from companies seeking technology were rare, and in every technology transfer agreement with industry, the university has made the first move.That was endorsed by Dr. Webb, of the physics department in Oxford university, who said:My research group is frequently visited—typically, twice a year—by trade delegations of up to 20 Japanese industrial scientists; the number of similar visits I get from research scientists in British industry is negligible.Therefore, I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about trying to promote that link.
Lastly, I declare an interest in that I am the honorary treasurer of the leukaemia research fund—a charity which donates about £10 million a year to research in connection with blood disorder diseases, to try to bring about a cure. Concern is rising in many of the medical charities which give hundreds of millions of pounds a year towards research, and that, against some of the research projects, charities are being asked to contribute to the overheads of the institution where the funds are going, to research chosen projects.
I put it to my right hon. Friend that that is a dangerous precedent being pushed by some institutions. I do not blame them for asking for money, but it would be exceedingly difficult for charities asking for contributions to be told, "I do not think that I would like to give money, because my donation will pay for the upkeep of the bricks and mortar of an institution." The generous people of this country want to give their money for specific research and projects that they can see and can identify with a particular charity.
I am aware that I have concentrated rather too much on finance rather than science in my few words, but I shall finish, as I started, by welcoming the creation of the new Department and the appointment of my right hon. Friend to his position. In the fulness of time, I shall look for a smoother passage, from basic science through all the processes that lead to the use of a particular product by the consumer—and, obviously, eventually to the benefit of the British economy.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
This has been a surrealist debate. The horror of what is taking place in reality in my constituency and in many others mocks what is happening in the Chamber, where we have heard a range of views, many of which are flaccid and flatulent.
Hon. Members have expressed precisely the same sentiments as those heard in the debate of 1985—I invite hon. Members to read the report of that debate—and the debates of 1975, 1965 and 1955. They have repeated the old mantras about the great tragedy of Britain —that we invent things but we do not manufacture them. They have again asked the question: why is there no link between academia and industry?
What is happening in Newport? The Chancellor of the Duchy said that INMOS was in trouble. It is not, but he might have thought so had he been in my constituency five weeks ago and seen the stepper machine—worth £1 million 532 —being dumped in a rubbish skip. He might have thought INMOS was in trouble if he had been in Newport four months ago and had seen similar equipment being shipped to Singapore, Malaysia, France and Italy.
INMOS is not in trouble, but is on the brink of having the greatest success of its remarkable 13-year history. The success is to come with the semiconductor, an issue on which so many companies have fallen by the wayside. The tragedy is the direct fault of the Government. INMOS was set up as a Government initiative to give Britain a stake in the sector. Over the years, it has gone through horrendous periods, but has survived.
One of my hon. Friends suggested that one day we might introduce an honour for scientists. It might well be the Order of the Transputer, but I fear that it may be the Chevalier du Transputeur or L'Ordinaire del Trasputo, as we are robbed of the honour. The transputer is an enormous success: 50,000 were sold in 1990 at a cost of £ 15 million, and they are already used in laser printing machines in hon. Members' offices, as well as in video telephones.
In addition, the new transputer T9000 will be produced in great numbers in combination with IBM, which has a guaranteed market. It will be used at the forefront of technology, on the exciting horizon of those miraculous virtual reality machines which have marvellous, almost three-dimensional definition, and it will also be used in colour fax machines. It has a hundred and one new uses, and was used in the smart weapons of the Gulf war, which were life-saving. The loss of life occurred due to the old-fashioned, cruder weapons, such as the multi-launch rocket systems and cluster bombs.
There is a marvellous future for the transputer. Why is it going abroad? We have six days in which to save it. The decision to send INMOS abroad and siphon the jobs from here will be irrevocable by early next week. I have appealed to the Department, and written to the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Trade and Industry many times without receiving any intelligent response.
We could have negotiated a deal to obtain investment, which is what is needed. The French and Italian Governments are investing in the transputer. Baroness Thatcher hated the idea of INMOS, and did not like the notion of a nationalised company. She also spurned the concept of a partnership between Government and industry—a view not shared by our immediate competitors in Italy and France. The Italians are so enthusiastic about the future of the transputer that they are providing 80 per cent. of the investment, while the French are providing a similar amount. The former French Prime Minister, Edith Cresson, took a personal interest in the transputer and knows a great deal about it, but we have not seen such interest here.
INMOS was set up by the Government and sold off—virtually given away—by them, first to the private sector and then to a nationalised company in which the primary shareholders are the French and Italian Governments. We know that, when political muscle has to be flexed, the French and Italian Governments will do so, and jobs will be stolen from us.
Many accurate statements have been made tonight. All of us with a science background rejoice in the developments that have taken place and in the appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy in his wider role. We hope that those changes will result in greater 533 prominence for science and scientific ideas. We have passed through the dark age of Thatcherism, an age in which the Government were riven by a bias against intelligence and science. Anything must be better than that.
I beg the Government to act swiftly to ensure that some partnership deal can be struck between INMOS, a large private British company, and the Government so that technology and jobs remain in Britain. Some will say that the company will remain European. These marvellous products are not made in Osaka or California; they are designed in Bristol and manufactured in Newport and are entirely British. Not only the transputer but the technology and skill will be lost, because they are in the genius of the people who invented the transputer and the technicians who work on it. They will be off to France and Italy unless the Government make a quick decision.
§ Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on his excellent maiden speech and look forward to hearing him again. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) for cutting his speech to allow a couple of extra Opposition Members to speak in this important debate.
When I left school at 16, I went to work as a scientific assistant in research and development for a prominent chemical company and saw the benefits of investment in research and development. I did not spend a great deal of time with the company, but my experiences there have remained with me. Our competitors have already recognised the benefit of investment in research and development. After 13 years of neglect of science and of research and development, Britain now looks forward to some light at the end of the tunnel.
Britain occupies 10th place in the OECD list of countries investing in civil research and development. Over the past 10 years, there has been a cut, from 0.72 to 0.52 per cent., in the proportion of GDP spent on civil research. I hope that that trend will be reversed. I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy and his vice-chancellor, the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science, to the Dispatch Box and hope that the winding-up speech will be positive. We have heard about a change in approach. I hope that it is not just a cosmetic change of responsibility but that the Government will invest in science and technology.
I hope that we shall be told that the £28 million cut in the Science and Engineering Research Council grant for last year is to be reversed. That would enable the Daresbury laboratory in my constituency to continue as a centre of excellence, because £5 million of that cut led to the closure this year of a nuclear construction facility there. The laboratory has a worldwide reputation for nuclear physics, and its excellence is recognised by Allan Bromley, the adviser on science to President Bush. It is also recognised by the Danish professor Ben Mottleson and by the chairman of the research council, Sir Mark Richmond.
There was consternation in the scientific community when the cut was announced, because the decision was taken without a scientific review. There was dismay when it was found that the closure would not save any money, and there was outrage when it was discovered that such 534 research will now have to be conducted abroad, probably in Strasbourg on the vivitron facility, which is not yet complete and is being staffed by physicists from the Daresbury laboratory.
The Chancellor of the Duchy has the opportunity to tell the House that the closure will not take place. When a facility is closed, we lose research, not just for the current generation of scientists and physicists but for the generations to come. The Daresbury laboratory is at the forefront of science, and little money is required to keep it going. It would make good sense for the Chancellor of the Duchy to provide it.
I look forward to that announcement for the simple reason that it will not only save 250 jobs in my constituency but will mean that generations of undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates who want to use this nuclear physical research facility can find it in their country.
The Chancellor may wish to address himself to another folly—the linear accelerator at the Daresbury laboratory, set up at a cost of £3.7 million and opened by Sir Mark Richmond, that has never been switched on and is now to be sold to Australia. That means that our scientists will have to go there if they want to use it.
If we are to hear the Chancellor beat the drum for science and technology, I hope that it is not a side drum but a big bass drum.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate, partly because I am honoured to have as my constituents many of the eminent scientists who have been mentioned this evening. I am sorry that no other women Members have spoken in the debate. If we are to send the right message to women to encourage them to become involved in science and technology, we must take the lead in the House.
I congratulate the Chancellor on his appointment and, like everyone else, I welcome the creation of a separate portfolio for science and technology. For the sake of brevity, I shall confine myself to four brief points.
First, there is confusion about the overlapping roles of the new Office of Public Service and Science and the Advisory Board for the Research Councils. They both appear to have responsibility for advising the Chancellor on scientific priorities. I hope he can tell us what will happen if they give him conflicting advice.
Secondly, I am concerned not so much about the level of funding as about its unpredictability, which creates difficulties. Last year, the projected level of funds for the Medical Research Council led its grants committee radically to prune those highly rated projects that it was able to fund. However, more funds later materialised, with the result that projects of a lower rating, although still highly rated, were funded in full without pruning. Had the grants committee known the level of the funding in advance, it would have allocated its resources differently. We should take on board the fact that this is not the right way to do things.
Thirdly, lack of continuity leads talented research workers to spend more time justifying continued funding of imaginative and highly valuable projects and less time doing the research. There is no job security for research workers, who are funded on an annual basis, with the 535 result that many of our talented people move into non-scientific sectors, with the resulting waste of their talents.
I am sure that Ministers long to boast about growth rates in scientific funding, exports, the number of science graduates and so on, but they should be ashamed of the growth rate in the brain drain. The proportion of fellows of the Royal Society living in the United States in the early 1960s was 4 per cent.; in 1984, it was 13 per cent.; in 1991, it was 20 per cent.; and in 1992, it is estimated to be 30 per cent. That is disgraceful, because it shows how the scientific community is expressing its frustration with funding mechanisms and the lack of resources here.
Fourthly, I shall deal with the Link programme, which was launched in 1986 to promote collaboration between academic institutions and industry. Companies are slow to come forward, the rules of entry to the scheme are cumbersome, and applications are processed slowly. DTI figures show that only £30 million of the £210 million originally allocated to Link have been spent. The DTI will fund only up to 50 per cent. of a programme and any support for a university is regarded as Government funding. The Link programme was designed to encourage collaboration betweeen universities and industry, but the terms and bureaucracy are such that several industrialists have said that the last thing they want is a Link programme. There is no incentive for firms to take up such programmes, and they appear to be underused.
The trouble is that industry will only fund programmes which will show a profit in two or three years, and the Department of Trade and Industry will only fund projects that industry will fund. All other projects must be funded by the SERC, which means that they are in direct competition for a much smaller fund with the whole scientific community, and the projects are assessed on scientific content rather than practical applications. A great mass of projects transfer technology from universities to industry. The pay-off may be great, but it is uncertain and several years in the future. I hope that the Minister will take that on board, beecause there are great problems with the Link programme which I hope can be sorted out.
Finally, I welcome the new structures and, in agreement with most hon. Members who have spoken tonight, I hope that a Select Committee on science and technology will be established.
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
I am slightly surprised to be called, having waited throughout the debate to speak but then thinking that I would not be called.
We are creating a vast underclass of young people who are recruited to scientific research, the cream of our society, who are being paid totally inadequate salaries. Sir Mark Richmond said that we could surely pay those young people at rates which did not involve the complete abandonment of rationality. To pay someone with a first class degree only about £4,000 per annum is to induce him to leave the country.
For example, Heriot-Watt university found that during the past 10 years out of about 124 PhD students 55 had gone to the United States. We have created a group of 536 people who are being badly rewarded. One of the things that the Under-Secretary of State should have on his conscience—apparently we are to call him the vicechancellor— is the stain on his character resulting from the introduction of student loans. They have made matters even worse for those researchers. Having acquired a debt of £2,000, our best young scientists are then asked to work for £4,000 a year. That is not sensible.
I hope that the Chancellor, in his difficult task of steering a course between the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Education and many other Departments, will be bold when he sees that things are not working. The abolition of the binary divide was welcomed on both sides of the House, but the way in which it is being carried out will damage science and the higher education sector. The dual support mechanism was a pillar of research funding in Britain and that is being weakened. The eight traditional established universities of Scotland used to receive research funding as of right, depending on the numbers in the university.
What has happened is that a substantial sum has been transferred to the research councils. The money that is to remain with the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is to be competed for. It is not to be competed for only by the eight existing universities which received research money, but by 25 institutions—eight existing universities and 17 former central institutions.
There is a mix of messages. We are getting rid of the binary divide, but the former central institutions are not to change their mission. They are to remain as they were. That cannot happen because research in the academic world is top of the heap; research is the means by which one gets prestige. If one is a teacher, one's reputation stays in the classroom. If one is a researcher, one's reputation travels across the world. It is through publication and research that one will get promotion and prestige.
The way in which the binary divide is being abolished will be deeply damaging to the universities and to research. I hope that when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster looks at the way in which the binary divide is being abolished he will consider that problem. If he decides that the mix between research council money and the money which comes from the funding councils is not right, I hope that he will be bold enough to say so.
§ Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)
Such is life. Having prepared an hour-long speech just in case nobody turned up to keep the debate going, I find myself reduced to a truncated version of what I intended to say. Most of it has already been said, if not by Opposition Members, by Conservative Members. That is probably just as well.
I shall refer briefly to speeches by Labour Members and I am sure that the Minister will do likewise to speeches by Conservative Members. I am not downgrading my respect for the views expressed by Conservative Members. I found that little, if anything, was said with which I disagreed.
Many of my hon. Friends have spoken, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) and my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins), for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington). I am sure that all of them will contribute greatly to our debates on science and technology in the future. 537 I listened with great enjoyment to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell). When he talked about the dangers of genetic enhancement, I had a vision of a sea of blonde-haired, blue-suited women with handbags sitting on the Conservative Benches in 30 years' time. That would not, of course, be genetic enhancement. I think that hon. Members get the picture. The Minister winced visibly when people started talking about the big bang. I welcome him to his position. I believe that it is the second occasion on which he has represented science in the House and I am sure that he will defend it as vigorously as he has in other activities in the House. I know that he has an interest in the history of science and 1 sincerely hope that his future will have a history as well.
It was a pleasure to be on the Front Bench when my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) made his maiden speech. I know his constituents and the area especially well because I was twinned with the constituency in the general election. We won one of the Plymouth seats. Sadly, we did not win the other, which may be fortunate for Madam Deputy Speaker, who was in the Chair earlier. Her gain is our loss. My hon. Friend made an excellent speech, full of humour and passion. I am glad to say that it was far more reminiscent of Michael Foot than of his immediate predecessor, to whom I listened with respect on occasions, but whom I rarely heard electrifying the House in the way Michael could.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will represent the constituency for many years. Like his colleagues who have spoken today, he brings an expertise in scientific subjects which has been sorely lacking in the House until now. It is nice to feel that there are a few more of us here now facing the serried ranks of lawyers, accountants and graduates. I mean no offence to those who are here this evening. It was a great speech; I enjoyed listening to it. I am glad that I was here when my hon. Friend made it.
This is a manufacturing economy. We have little else upon which to depend. To succeed in a competitive world we must sell our goods and increase our share of world trade. To do that, we must bring in new ideas and new processes, materials and products. If that is to happen, we have to ensure that there is a sound and growing research base. There must be expansion of research in university departments and in the many excellent independent research and technology organisations, as well as in industry. Our overall objective must be— preferably, within the lifetime of this Parliament, but if not, within little more than its lifetime—to increase the share of our gross domestic product that is devoted to research. We must increase it to the extent that it equals the amount devoted to research by our competitors in Japan and Germany.
There can be little doubt that British science is in difficulties. It is not just a question of quoting from what has been said by the Save British Science campaign, although its synopsis, which I am sure that Ministers have read, is excellent. Although science is now taught to younger pupils, the fact remains that last year the number of A-level presentations in maths, physics and chemistry fell. That cannot be allowed to continue. Our seed corn is drying up.
With little or no sign of an end to the recession, our manufacturing base is in equally serious difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) spoke passionately about the problems facing INMOS. A 538 multinational company is trying to relocate elsewhere because other European Community Governments provide more help for companies than we do. I realise that this is not a direct responsibility of Office of Public Service and Science Ministers, but it is high time that their colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry realised that if we do not match the research efforts of our European competitors, more and more INMOSes will leave this country, set up elsewhere and provide more jobs in those areas. They will be lost to the United Kingdom for ever more. Our technological base will contract. It will follow those companies into Europe. The time for action is now, if we are not to fall further behind as the world-wide cession lifts.
I do not expect Office of Public Service and Science Ministers to provide a prescription for recovery today— their time in office has been too short—but there is no shortage of scientific advice available to them. I am glad that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster referred to the open letter sent to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray). It was sent in a spirit of co-operation and good-will, a spirit that we hope will prevail, and we hope that the Chancellor will take that advice.
The advice of Sir William Barlow is equally relevant in relation to engineering. The advice sent to the Chancellor by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals is also relevant and will, I hope, be taken on board. The Chancellor of the Duchy has his advisers in ACOST. He also has the ABRC. However, if he is to obtain a full picture of what has to be done in science, he needs a wider base of advice. I hope that reports that the right hon. Gentleman is against the setting up of a Select Committee on science and technology is without foundation. Having listened to the excellent contributions to this debate from both sides of the House, I hope that he will realise that, as well as being a bit of a burden for him to bear, the Select Committee could be of great help in providing the advice that he needs.
There are many priorities for the Chancellor to consider. There are areas of research which span the whole gamut of scientific understanding, all of which will be clamouring for more and more resources. I back up the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) for reconsideration of the closure of the Daresbury facility. At a time when research into nuclear structure and fundamental particles is growing and becoming of increasing importance, it is tragic that we should be disposing of some of the world's most renowned facilities. That is a bad start, but there are brighter spots on the horizon. There is Culham, with its direct work on the joint European Torus project, and the spin-offs that will come through the application of plasmas in industry. There are so many needs and so many demands on resources which we know are limited.
If we are to have a science Ministry, it must put the case for science clearly. The Ministers must make it plain to their colleagues in other Departments that if they want economic success in this country over the next decade and into the next century, science must be given priority. Without the seed corn there is no harvest. Without the seed corn of science, we shall not expand our industrial base and make the products that we need to sell in the next century.
There is a need for technological support for industry and I sincerely believe that it must be regionally based and 539 taken close to industries in their own areas. Industry must be given the full range of facilities of technological audit, full information and the links with local universities that they need to develop, to innovate and to allow technology to percolate through to industry.
Given the spirit in which the debate has been conducted, I hope that the Ministers will accept that they will have our support if they vigorously press the case for science with their colleagues, especially those in the Treasury in the coming round of public expenditure bids, to ensure that science does not suffer as it has so often in the past. The time for action is now.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)
When opening this valuable debate, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy said that we in the new Office of Science and Technology are in a listening mode. I think it fair to say that there has been much to listen to in the debate. The creation of the new office, with a Cabinet Minister at its head, constitutes a departure in British science and technology policy. As has been said on both sides of the House tonight, it represents a major opportunity to deal with our science and technology problems on a more coherent basis.
As my right hon. Friend said, to do that, it has been agreed that there should be a wide-ranging White Paper in due course. Our work on that has got off to a good start tonight with this debate, which has raised so many of the interesting and important issues with which we shall have to come to grips. I shall try to deal with as many of the issues as I can at this stage. I am sure that hon. Members recognise that this is an early stage in our thinking. I shall try to respond to each speaker in turn.
I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) for his open letter to my right hon. Friend. It was a constructive and thoughtful contribution on which we shall draw in our thinking. We are grateful to him and to others who have spoken tonight for their positive response to the creation of the Office of Science and Technology and the new Department. I thank them for the overall tone of their remarks.
The hon. Gentleman made a party point, so I must tell him that the significant difference between the Labour party's proposals for science and the Government's decisions is that the Labour party envisaged a Minister outside Cabinet whereas we have introduced a Cabinet Minister—accompanied, as we have now learnt, by a "vice-chancellor". I noted what the hon. Gentleman and others, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste), said about the need for the OST to have a genuine capability for taking a cross-Whitehall view of science and technology. That is what we intend to do. As my right hon. Friend said, the organisational modalities for doing that are still being developed, but this debate has contributed many constructive suggestions which we shall try to take on board.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, South developed one of his favourite themes—those of us who have listened to him on many occasions over the years will recognise it—about the need for better economic forecasting and for more Government investment in technology on the basis 540 of such forecasting. What he said deserves careful examination, and it will get it. However, I am doubtful about the quality, availability and level of aggregation of most of the data on which his forecasts and his expenditure plans necessarily depend.
There can sometimes be a spurious precision about international comparisons. I say that as one who, to some extent, has indulged in using them in the past and no doubt will use them again in future, but we need a bit of a health warning if we are being intellectually honest, as hon. Members have tried to be.
The hon. Gentleman has a fair point about the need to try to improve the quality of data, especially about industrial R and D policies, and we will need to examine his point. I noted also what he said about investment allowances. It is good that the hon. Gentleman has taken on board the problem of dead weight in relation to tax reliefs. That is what lies behind the shift in the Labour party's thinking to the idea of tax credits. The problem —this ties in with what I said about data—is that it is very difficult to establish a base line against which increased R and D can be measured. It remains to be seen whether recent developments in France and the United States will enable them to crack the problem or whether they will simply create a new device for accountancy with mirrors. Meanwhile, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech, capital allowances continue to be carefully reviewed in the Treasury.
§ Dr. Moonie
Does the Minister agree, though, that the dead weight of a blanket cut in corporation tax is far less efficient than promoting research and development?
§ Mr. Jackson
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: this is a question which needs to be thought about. It was last reviewed in 1987—perhaps we need to review it again, as it is certainly an important subject.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, South referred to organisation. Of course, that subject was dealt with by several hon. Members. I have found the hon. Gentleman's suggestions in his speech and in his open letter to be characteristically thoughtful and constructive. We shall think seriously about them in the preparation of the White Paper to which my right hon. Friend referred.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) told me that, unfortunately, he could not be present for my winding-up speech. I very much appreciated his welcome of the OST. That endorsement is especially welcome from my right hon. Friend who has such knowledge and experience in these matters. I notice particularly what he and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) said about the need for help for science in eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union. The Government are taking a hand. We have announced a sum of £670,000 through the Royal Society, and of course we are contributing £2.4 million to the £14 million programme to help to redeploy former Soviet weapons scientists. We shall follow that matter very closely because, as my right hon. Friend said, it is important.
The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) shared a theme with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) about the need to bang the drum for science. I cannot help pausing for a moment to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the balanced way in which he recognised the achievements of British 541 science and of British technology-based companies. It is against that constructive background that his more critical points about science education are well taken. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to his remarks and to other remarks relating to school education, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson). All of them made penetrating remarks about the subject.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) for his brief but significant choral interlude. Although he admits to scientific ignorance, he has had the benefit of experience of dealing with science in the former Department of Education and Science and of being a Treasury Minister. It is against his Treasury background that I particularly welcomed his remarks about the importance of fundamental science, coupled with the need to promote stronger interactions between the science base and the whole range of technology-based economic activities. My right hon. Friend recognised that fundamental and important point.
The hon. Member for Bath was quite right to remark in passing that statistics, especially for international comparisons, are difficult to interpret but are easy to use selectively. For example, he and several other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Carmarthen and the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall), remarked about the falling proportion of GDP devoted to science. The simple fact is that if GDP increases, as it did in the 1980s, a falling proportion of GDP can nevertheless produce an increasing sum of money. During the 1980s, there was an increase in real terms of some 22 per cent. in the science vote. Both ways of presenting the picture are accurate, but I prefer the second way.
§ Mr. Jackson
There was a 22 per cent. increase over the period. There was a substantial increase—I do not have the percentage figure in my head—in the SERC budget. I can certainly send the hon. Gentleman the figure. I speak as one who has substantial research council facilities in his constituency. It is necessary and desirable that the research councils should constantly reappraise the balance of their commitments. Those of us who have constituencies in which such activities take place must be prepared, of course, to take a constructive interest in them, but to recognise that from time to time it will be appropriate to close facilities just as from time to time it will be necessary to open facilities.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does the Minister recognise that Daresbury transcends constituencies? People such as Professor Alan Shotter of the physics department at Edinburgh and people in the physics department at Liverpool and in many other places are deeply worried by the ridiculous closure of Daresbury.
§ Mr. Jackson
It is entirely appropriate that hon. Members should raise such questions in the House, but it 542 is perfectly appropriate for me to make the point that the system by which we operate in Britain—it is a good system; it is not fundamentally challenged by anyone—is that decisions about scientific priorities are made by scientists. The hon. Gentleman knows so much about the subject that he will be aware that there is a great debate about the balance of commitments in the SERC between physics, chemistry, biology, and other branches of knowledge. I see the Daresbury decision against the background of that debate, which is fundamentally properly a debate among the scientists.
§ Mr. Jackson
The hon. Gentleman prefers to describe it as a prejudice. I trust our scientific advisers on that point.
I wish to answer other points made in the debate, so if the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) does not mind, I will pass on. Another point about statistics was raised in the speech by the hon. Member for Bath. He made a particular point about the numbers of United Kingdom patents granted in the United States. But the figures are different from those which he gave. The number of patents increased by more than a quarter in the period 1984–88. The figure for that period was 368,000 compared with 300,000 in the previous period of 1979–83. We could bandy statistics back and forth across the Floor of the House, and no doubt we shall, for I welcome the hon. Gentleman as spokesman for the Liberal Democrats on this issue, but we need to watch statistics carefully because they do not always necessarily tell the whole story.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) for his wise words about the difficulties that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I may face in terms of exaggerated expectations. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet also made that point. We shall certainly do our best, but we must all recognise that science and technology policy is a long haul. It will have to be addressed steadily over several years.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East that good fundamental science needs to be both maintained and healthily integrated with the development of technology. That point was also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central made a thoughtful and significant speech which I shall read tomorrow. He referred to a possible lack of balance within the Department between our work on public service and on science. That is a point which we ought to address. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall strive hard to ensure that no such imbalance arises. The hon. Gentleman was simply wrong when he talked about the balance of funding of the Office of Public Service and Science. The overwhelming bulk of the money of which my Department disposes is constituted by the science vote.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central made some penetrating remarks about the relationship between the OPSS and the other Whitehall Departments. I agree with his assessment of the importance of that agenda. There is also much for us to reflect on in what he said about intellectual property. However, I hope that he will take 543 note of the correction that I made when I intervened in his speech about the position of the Medical Research Council on the patenting of elements in the human genome.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Devonport on his elegant and witty maiden speech and also on his perspicacity in choosing this debate to make it, which shows taste and discrimination, and an appreciation of the really important issues. As he said, he follows in distinguished footsteps, and I hope that his political career will be as interesting and distinguished, if not as varied and colourful, as that of his immediate predecessor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet made a characteristically sagacious speech and I appreciated his remarks about governmental structures—I have already commented on them—about the views in higher education on recent research, which is important and fundamental, about the need for better links between higher education institutions and industry, and the problem of career structures in academe and of the pathways between the academy and industry. Those are important topics which we must follow up and which will all be relevant.
My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) stressed the importance of contact between my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy and myself in the OST, and the professional bodies—and I agree. We shall listen hard to them, in general and in the context of the White Paper that we shall be working on. As my hon. Friend said, I know from personal experience about the value of bodies such as PITCOM in bringing together parliamentarians, scientists and business people. Meanwhile, I noted what he said about space—a topic that my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet also picked up—which encompasses an important set of issues that the OST will consider, although, as has been said, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is in the lead on those topics.
I noted what the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) had to say about in-service training in science matters for Members of Parliament. That is primarily a matter for the House, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the research councils, which may be interested. As a trustee of the Industry and Parliament Trust, he may be able to take that matter up with science-based companies associated with it.
On the hon. Member for Gower's second point about UNESCO, the Foreign Secretary has said that that is under review, and I shall draw his attention to those remarks.
I welcome the change of tone in this debate compared with the previous debate on the subject in February 1991. Perhaps that is a consequence of the fact that a general election has intervened. In all events, this debate was more thoughtful and constructive and I hope that a larger measure of common ground will emerge on which we can all build. I shall try to spell out some of its features.
First, we recognise the importance of beating the drum for science, which was emphasised by several hon. Members. Science is one of the glories of our culture. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy has written an excellent article in The Daily Telegraph today on that theme, and we shall continue as he has begun.
544 Secondly, it follows that it is time to put behind us the exaggerated talk of Britain's demise as a big player in science and as a technology-based economy.
§ Mr. Jackson
No, I must continue.
That talk was always wildly overdone. Frankly, it did more damage to the image of British science than to the Government's image, at which it was in some part aimed. Having said that, I must admit that the British science and technology scene is not without its problems and we must all recognise that. That recognition is implicit in the creation of the new Department.
Our basic science has continued to be fundamentally healthy, but, as the debate has shown, there are problems which have to be tackled. For example, there is the question of the implications for basic research of the enormous and welcome expansion in teaching, in universities and polytechnics. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) made a good point about that in his brief intervention.
Also, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) said, we must recognise the issues concerning the effectiveness of the Government's policy to promote desirable interaction between scientists and users of technology—in jargon, between strategic science and generic technologies. At the same time we must recognise issues concerning the balance between different areas of Government-supported science and technology.
There is important common ground on the fact that industry needs to think more seriously about the level of investment in science and technology. The Government have focused attention on that issue through the requirement to publish details of research and development policies in company reports and through our annual reviews of science and technology. We must not try to second-guess industry. The fundamental principle must be that the customer is king, but we need to ask ourselves how well focused are the arrangements in industry for acting as an intelligent customer and investor in science and technology.
This has been a valuable and interesting debate. Everybody who has been here will recognise that. More than that, it has been a timely debate. My right hon. Friend and I have listened to it carefully and I can assure the House that we will draw ideas and inspiration from it.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ 10 pm
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will acquit me of in any way being disappointed not to be called. I thoroughly enjoyed the contributions of my colleagues on both sides of the House and I had not asked or wished to be called. I raise a serious point of order about what happened earlier today. I am not criticising your judgment; it is a basic question of precedents.
I have consulted my records of 25 years ago when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Leader of the House, R.H.S. Crossman. On several occasions he was clearly told, "The Speaker won't wear it. No, you cannot have a statement today." That was a Speaker's judgment. I vividly remember an earlier occasion when the same man 545 Was Minister of Housing and was backed by the late Dame Evelyn Sharp, but they could not get a statement on rent rebates because Mr. Speaker King would not have it.
My point of order is this: has the relationship between the Speaker and the Leader of the House as representative of the Government changed? Is it not finally up to the judgment of the Speaker whether to accept a statement, whoever asks for it, just as for a private notice question?
Today was deeply unsatisfactory in the sense that some of my colleagues had their speeches curtailed because there was a statement on transport in London. I do not doubt that the statement was important, but it could have been taken on another day of the week. Have things changed for Thursdays? Has the balance between the Speaker and the Leader of the House changed in any way? Have custom and convention changed?
The learned Clerks will find in their records that the late Sir Barnett Cocks certainly made it clear on behalf of the Speaker to the Leader of the House that the Speaker was not having extra statements on Thursdays. Some of us think that the House of Commons elected a Speaker to have the final say on these matters—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. That is a very long point of order, and I have already dealt with it today. The Speaker's relationship with the Leader of the House is a good one.
I am indeed the boss. The hon. Gentleman must know that the Speaker has no authority to determine whether statements are made; the Speaker is told that the Government wish to make a statement and it is the Speaker's duty to hear that statement. I have no doubt that the Members who asked questions on the statement on transport in London were grateful to be able to do so. As 1 have already explained to the hon. Gentleman, during the past two Sessions of Parliament more than 30 statements have been made on Thursdays when we have business questions. I am sure that he realises that the Speaker exercises discretion over how long business questions last. Each Thursday I go into the matter thoroughly. It is my duty to ensure that Back Benchers can question Ministers. I did that today, as I have done every Thursday and will continue to do while I hold the office of Speaker.