§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave)
I beg to move,That the draft Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following motions:That the draft Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.That the draft Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The draft orders declare three new bodies to be research councils for the purposes of the Science and Technology Act 1965. The orders were laid before the House on 17 December.
I am delighted that the House has this opportunity to focus on the Government's policy for science, engineering and technology, and in particular on the restructuring of the research councils system. Science is central to our culture and heritage, and the foundation for our future success as an advanced manufacturing and trading nation.
Today is something of a science day for Britain. First, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been underlining at the annual lunch of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee the fundamental importance of science and engineering for the wealth and well being of the country. As my right hon. Friend said in Japan in September:perhaps we have undervalued science and the application of science in the United Kingdom over the last 20 or 30 years … it's my determination to make sure that British science remains first class".Today the Prime Minister repeated that commitment, urging that we must root out what he described as the traditional bias against science which persists in some parts of our culture, and emphasising that, even against the absolute necessity of restraining public science, science will remain in future a high priority.
Secondly, the debate is being held in prime parliamentary time. I understand that that is a result of the usual co-operative arrangements between the usual channels at the present time. Thirdly, the BBC, The Daily Telegraph and my office have launched an excellent joint initiative to encourage participation in and enthusiasm for science called "Megalab UK", which, among other things, offers the prospect of being able to use my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), as an object for experimentation, a role for which he volunteered after a relatively small number of hours of persuasion.
When I took this job as the first Minister in charge of the new Office of Science and Technology and Britain's first Cabinet Minister for Science since the noble Lord Hailsham, it seemed to me that we needed a shift in thinking. We needed to close the gap between science and technology—between academically driven research and the wealth-creating sector of the United Kingdom economy.
That was the fundamental issue that the Government addresed in our May 1993 White Paper, "Realising our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology". It was about how to maintain the 897 independence of our researchers and the excellence of British science while at the same time creating a real partnership and common sense of purpose among all the funders, purveyors, beneficiaries and users of research in Government, the universities, commerce and industry. In other words, it was about how to harness our excellence in science and engineering more systemically to the creation of wealth throughout the United Kingdom.
The White Paper set out a strategy to bring this partnership about. It was widely welcomed by industry, academia and commentators. Good progress is being made with this implementation, and these orders represent one part of the story. I shall briefly recap the rest of the new policy framework. We intend to publish a new "Forward Look" on Government-funded science and technology, and that will appear for the first time in April. It will be a clear and up-to-date statement of strategy throughout Government, with a five to 10 year perspective.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
What is the hitch in appointing a chief executive for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
That is the new council. I shall be entirely frank, because it is always wise to be so with the hon. Gentleman: we have not yet found anyone good enough for the role. After discussion with my senior officials, I have asked that we should go out and find more candidates for the post, because, although distinguished people applied for it, we have not yet found anyone with whom we feel entirely comfortable. As the hon. Gentleman above all hon. Members will understand, it is a crucial job.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
I know that my right hon. Friend accepts that the formation of the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council has been warmly welcomed. That is because of the emphasis that will be placed on wealth creation. Will he ensure that the new chief executive has not only high-quality experience of research but experience of wealth creation and industry as well?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The person appointed must carry the confidence of the engineering and physics communities and the chemical communities. Ideally, he will also have experience in industry, but we are begining to describe a paragon. We need somebody who will carry some weight, and, although we have had some distinguished candidates, we have not yet found someone entirely right.
However, the new part-time chairman, Mr. Alan Rudge, a distinguished man, is already working hard with the new council and the existing committees, so there is no problem in waiting a little longer.
To continue, the strategy we shall set out in "Forward Look", to be well-founded, will need some foresight. That is why we announced for the first time in the White Paper a British technology foresight programme. Preparations for this are going well, and I shall announce the shape of the programme at the end of the month. The programme will take markets as well as technology fully into account.
Our strategy must be based on innovation in all sectors of the economy. The industry departments are working to promote best practice by industry in research and development and industry's awareness of and access to science and technology.
898 The strategy must address issues of education and training, and must increase the general public's awareness and understanding of science. Young people are obviously the most crucial target. I launched the Government's new campagin to promote the public understanding of science on 11 January.
Preparations for the first ever National Week of Science, engineering and technology set7, which begins on 18 March, are well in hand and more than 1,000 events have been organised around the country through the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
On a nationwide level, I have already mentioned the launch of Megalab UK, the result of collaboration between the Office of Science and Technology, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC in the shape of Radio 1 and "Tomorrow's World". It was launched today in The Daily Telegraph and on Radio 1.
All the themes—strategy, quality, partnership, foresight innovation, education and training and understanding—bear directly on the key roles of our research councils. The research council system is the essential vehicle for channelling much of the United Kingdom's support for high-quality scientific research and post-graduate training. I intend, however, to remodel that vehicle from 1 April this year, while building on the undoubted solidity of the existing design. That is what the orders are all about.
In some respects, change is already well under way. The research councils are now under the general direction of Sir John Cadogan, former director of research at BP, who took up the new post of Director General of the Research Councils within the Office of Science and Technology at the beginning of January. He is now helping me in my task of ensuring that the research council system works to its full potential, developing new mechanisms for creating partnerships between the science and engineering base and industry and commerce.
I am delighted to report to the House that he has thrown himself with characteristic vigour—a number of hon. Members know him—into the task ahead of him. His role is to work with the councils so that their output, be it research findings or highly trained people, is excellent and also useful. The two are not mutually exclusive, and we shall have achieved our purposes when both objectives are seen as valuable and complementary.
In the short time that he has been in post, Sir John has been working with the chief executives of the research councils to ensure that the best possible use is made of the enhanced science budget that I was able to announce in November. As a result, I am pleased to report to the House that he has been able to double the funds available for distribution among the six new research councils in the coming financial year.
He has persuaded each council to contribute resources to a central fund by means of efficiency savings, which can now be devoted to front-line science and postgraduate training. It is critical that resources for science should fund top-class research and training to the greatest possible extent.
The fact that such a redistribution proved possible so early in the tenure of the new DGRC augurs well for the new system of setting clear priorities and the increased efficiency that we are looking for.
I invited the director general to come forward with a strategy for use of the resultant £15.5 million, about half of which comes from new money and about half from efficiency gains, but all of which is new money for 899 front-line science. I am, as a result, able to announce today the launch of some significant new intiatives, and the expansion of relevant existing programmes, which demonstrably put into practice our White Paper commitment to reorientate our research and postgraduate training effort so that it supports wealth creation and the quality of life. I hope that I will be able to show that those innovations demonstrate that there is no contradiction at all between doing that and supporting good, curiosity-driven research.
I shall be giving details of the allocations to the research councils and other bodies from the science budget in a written statement to the House, and I have deposited further details of the new programmes in the Library. But I want briefly to sketch out the major elements of the new and expanded activities.
First, I plan to launch a new competitive scheme to encourage researchers to collaborate with industry, making available grants that are complementary to the funding provided by industry for strategic research. That will be a pilot scheme-—£3.5 million for the academic half year which falls in 1994–95—involving the Medical Research Council, the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. I propose to name the awards made under the scheme ROPAs after the White Paper "Realising our Potential".
The funds will allow researchers to work on a topic related to the work for which industry is paying, but of the researchers' own choosing. Unlike existing joint funding schemes, such as LINK, the topic should not be part of the programme supported by the industrial funding, but should be related research in which the aim should be to carry it forward to the stage at which it becomes accessible for exploitation.
The unique feature of that approach is that the conventional peer review system will not be used. Instead, we shall take industry's recognition of the researcher as an indicator of his or her quality and commitment, although, of course, the researcher's proposals will need to be properly refereed, monitored and evaluated.
In a parallel move on the postgraduate training front, I plan to drive some of the collaborative awards in science and engineering—the CASE awards—from the industrial end, so that the studentships are available to firms that have demonstrated their ability to provide the right environment for postgraduate training. There will be at least 100 additional awards to industry, giving industry the opportunity to select its own academic partner and topic. That is an important innovation. We see the need for training to respond to the needs of all potential employers.
Continuing the theme of interaction with industry, an additional £2 million is being provided to complement funds already set aside by the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to launch an innovative manufacturing programme which will also engage the research community of the Economic and Social Research Council. I expect to expand that programme next year to the biotechnology sector through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and perhaps later to other councils.
Priority in the distribution of research funds is being given to areas identified by industry as being of strategic importance. For example, I shall be putting extra funds into the human and animal genome programmes and 900 immunology, £3.4 million, and chemistry, £4.5 million. In all cases, the selection of general research areas will take careful account of the long-term interests of the users.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think that members of the Civil Service attended the recent conference in Cambridge on rare breeds of cattle and biodiversity. Is the Minister's Department involved in that important work, because not only the human genome project is important, but the animal genome and the botanical genome projects are potentially important?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I shall consult the chief scientific adviser, whose own field lies in this area, about that. I am sure that the Department is in touch with that. I hope that I shall not offend any of the other powerful centres around the country if I say that Cambridge is becoming not only a European but a world centre in that work.
I have said before that people are the single most important element in our research effort. I am therefore delighted to announce funds for some 40 additional Royal Society research fellowships. Those are prestigious five-year research fellowships, at a generous stipend, aimed at giving security to our best researchers.
I have also allocated funds to expand the Royal Academy of Engineering programme of visiting industrial professorships to boost the design component of engineering undergraduate courses, and to make a start to their new professional development scheme based on modular part-time courses.
Those new initiatives represent an important start to the process of re-orientating the research councils towards the aims and policies set out in the White Paper. Over the next six months or so, the director general will be examining the research council programme in great depth, including the arrangements that will need to be put in place to take forward the emerging results of our technology foresight programme.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)
What are the total funds involved in those initiatives? Will that be new money, or will it come from the existing science budget?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I said that, of the total of about £15.5 million, about half has been found by the director general through efficiency savings, and about half is new, additional money to the science base. All of it is new money for science.
The White Paper "Realising our Potential" also announced our intention to undertake a scrutiny of public sector research establishments to review their future status, sector by sector—looking in depth at privatisation, rationalisation and different options for ownership.
As I informed the House in a written answer on 16 June 1993, that scrutiny is being conducted by a team from the efficiency unit of the Office of Public Service and Science. Members are drawn from other Government Departments and the private sector. The team started work on 13 December and will make recommendations to Sir Peter Levene, the Prime Minister's efficiency adviser, by the end of April 1994. Sir Peter will submit a report to me. It is normal for efficiency unit reports to be published.
The team's terms of reference are to examine research establishments sector by sector, to identify those where privatisation is feasible and desirable. Where that is not the case, it will identify and make recommendations on the potential for rationalisation of facilities and capabilities. 901 The scrutiny will also examine current ownership and financing arrangements, and will recommend alternative models where that would lead to more effective operation of the customer-contractor principle and better value for money.
It is essential that Britain does not waste resources on out-of-date structures, when it is vital for our future that our output of good science is increased. I look forward to receiving the scrutiny report.
This debate heralds a new chapter in a genuine and enduring British success story. I do not want to look back in time, but rather to focus on a key element of the Government's approach to the challenge that lies before us, as this country strives to compete ever more effectively in the high-tech world in which we live. I want briefly to set in its historical context the reasoning behind the changes the Government are making to the research council system.
The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research —the DSIR—and the University Grants Committee were established in 1915 and 1919 respectively, as a way of channelling Government funds into important activities that the Government had no wish directly to control. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) may recall, the University Grants Committee was established primarily to stop Lloyd-George diverting all the funds to the University College of Wales.
That arm's-length principle was also embodied in the Haldane recommendations of 1918, which represent the real foundation of our science research system. Haldane's recommendations set out the principles that governed the operation of our first research councils—the Medical Research Council, founded in 1920, and the original Agricultural Research Council, founded in 1931. Both councils, Haldane's principles and the research system that stemmed from them are all alive and well today. Government, then as now, held the purse strings—but those with central policy responsibilities, then as now, do not tell scientists which projects to undertake.
The same governing principles continued to apply when, following the Trend report of 1963, three more research councils came into being as a result of the Science and Technology Act 1965. The DSIR ceased to exist and the two historic councils—the ARC and MRC—joined three new councils in a new structure, reporting then to the Secretary of State for Education and Science rather than to Privy Council committees. That five-council system has also generally served us well, for the best part of 30 years.
If there is a criticism of the reform of the research council system that occurred in the 1960s, it is that it entailed too much administrative tidying up, and too little strategic direction. Science was joined with education in an academic camp, and technology was given its own separate Ministry. Overall strategic thinking arguably moved the wrong way.
The unfortunate result was a widening of the gap between science and technology, when the opposite was needed. The strategies set out in the Government's 1993 White Paper shifted the direction, to minimise that gap.
In correcting that imbalance, however, the Government have taken care not to overthrow a research council system that has functioned well for many years. To make a clean break with such a distinguished past would have been an unnecessary gamble. Rather, the Government are set on a 902 path of evolution, building on past successes, in the light of a clear emphasis on the economic and technological partnership between industry and academia, without threatening the excellence of the research itself.
Today, the Government seek the House's approval for draft Orders in Council which declare three new bodies to be research councils for the purposes of the Science and Technology Act 1965. They are: the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council—BBSRC; the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council—EPSRC; and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council—PPARC.
The White Paper announced the intention to create the three new councils from 1 April this year. The orders would, from 1 April, bring the new Councils within the scope of the primary legislation that governs the United Kingdom's research councils; most importantly, the orders will give me power to fund the new councils.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
I am very much encouraged by what my right hon. Friend has been saying. I think that this is good for the research councils, but I hope that the boundaries are not fixed for ever. I hope that the overlap will be considered realistically, bearing in mind the fact that biotechnology and chemistry could be subdivided into two or three parts. That would not be healthy for either industry.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point. Part of the purpose of appointing a director general for research councils is to go some way towards the recommendation of the Morris committee and the House of Lords Select Committee, which argued for a single research council, to avoid the problem of having boundaries.
I came to the conclusion that such a huge structure would end up being more bureaucratic than the single-tier research councils. However, with a director general specifically charged to oversee the boundaries and to ensure that anything that may lie across them or outside the current categories does not escape, we shall address the extremely important problem that my hon. Friend rightly raises.
The new councils were incorporated by royal charter on 16 December. The object of each charter makes explicit the obligations on each council to work to meet the needs of the users of its research and training outputs, and to contribute to the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom and—this is new—the work for the public understanding of science, in line with the mission statements set out in the White Paper.
It is fair that, in cases in which there are large research grants—not in every case—there should be some obligation on those who are receiving public money to demonstrate if possible the importance of what they are doing to the wider community who are paying for it.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
As my right hon. Friend knows, I have a long-standing interest in the pharmaceutical industry. It is perhaps an industry which, more than any other, through such co-operation can be got across to the public, because of the eventual outcome of new medicines and new lifesaving devices. From what my right hon. Friend has said today, it seems that, although the research council has worked well in the past, there is a better opportunity for further co-operation in that respect.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I am well aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing interest and expertise in these matters. I believe that the strong support that we have received from what is, after all, one of Britain's most powerful and successful industries is a sign that we are on the right lines. We have received support and detailed co-operation from the pharmaceutical and chemical industries in this country in the work that we have been doing and are continuing to do.
The clearly defined objects, which are set out in the mission statements which lie before the House and which are reproduced in the schedule to each draft order, give us, for the first time, a clear yardstick against which to measure the overall performance of the research councils, and the degree to which they have introduced appropriate structures and mechanisms to deliver what we are asking of them. That is not empty managerial jargon. The objects articulate clear national purposes.
The councils also throw out a challenge to industry. A partnership clearly needs wholehearted commitment from all the partners; the recent excellent report of the House of Lords Select Committee—which welcomed the broad thrust of what we have done—made the fair point that it is now up to industry to respond if the system is to work properly.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
They differ because we have engaged in further consultation, which I would expect the hon. Gentleman to welcome. The principle on which I have been operating is that, unless we work broadly with the grain of what the scientific and engineering communities want, we will not achieve the success that we want.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House would probably agree that we need more from industry than the warm words with which it has greeted the White Paper and the direction of our policy. I am gratified by the piles of responses from leading industrialists and academics, from which I am able to quote; but if the potential is to be genuinely achieved, we need investment, partnership and a more long-term view. The achievements of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries must be matched with those of a wider section of industrial life.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman as concerned as I was to learn that the British Technology Group—which handles one third of the patents resulting from university research—receives 85 per cent. of its income from licences from foreign companies? It says that the British industry is doing nothing to take this up voluntarily. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing to make industry take that step more formally? At present it is just a wish, which currently seems to be failing.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The statistic that the hon. Gentleman quoted is rather a good indicator of the direction in which we must move. I do not think that the present position is cause for congratulation. The whole thrust of our policy is to build a partnership which we hope will improve that position.
It is because this is very much more than a wish that we are building new partnerships, and—after only a few weeks—beginning to redirect the research councils' 904 priorities towards forming close working partnerships with industry. It is easy for us to blame industry, but the fault is not all on one side; it also lies with the classic British separation of academia and wealth creation.
The other day, a distinguished scientist told me that there was nowadays not much point in talking about C. P. Snow's "two cultures", arts and sciences. The real cultural division is now between the academic sciences and the sciences connected with manufacture and wealth creation. We now need to reverse what I have described as the division between science and technology, which was somewhat widened by the instutitional structures established in the 1960s. That is an all-party point; I am not being party political.
We used to talk of technology transfer as though it were a linear process, but it is not like that: progress and co-operation must be much more intimately linked, and that is what we are endeavouring to achieve. Along with my colleagues in other Departments, I find that our partners in industry are co-operating wholeheartedly to make the partnerships real; and the new initiatives that I announced earlier are a concrete step towards that end.
There is, however, another side to the coin. Industry does not want Government-funded research to gear itself up simply to meet short-term needs. One of the best ways of protecting long-term research is to gain support from the best and most far-sighted industries. We must sustain our traditional excellence and innovativeness in the core disciplines of biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics. One of the additional amounts that Sir John Cadogan has managed to find is intended to finance the not immediately applied subject of stochastic mathematics.
I should make it clear that the objects of all the councils also reflect the White Paper mission statements in requiring each council to support basic as well as strategic and applied research, with a strong emphasis on quality. I make no apology for stressing that emphasis again. We must have top-quality research; supporting second-rate research is completely wasteful. In this area above all, we must have the courage to close things down when they lose their quality, and to shift money back to excellence.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the topic of closing down, may I ask the Chancellor about JET? What is happening in the dispute between personnel paid United Kingdom rates and those paid EC rates?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
That is the responsibility not of my Department but of the European Community, which has been negotiating with the staff on those matters. My Department has not been directly involved. It is for the Commissioner and JET to negotiate directly.
§ Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)
Will the Chancellor comment on the future of the Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton laboratories? I am worried that Daresbury, the leader in the world of nuclear physics, will close down, and I hope that the Chancellor will reassure me this afternoon that that excellent facility in my constituency has a future under the new arrangements that he has announced to the House today.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
Because of the change in the structure of SERC, the Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton laboratories need new structures, which are now being considered. In the meantime, those laboratories are being managed as a unity, which is sensible. An option for the 905 future is that they become a unified research facility, which could be at the service of research universities and the country as a whole. Some universities are interested in managing them. A number of options are being considered.
The hon. Gentleman, who is assiduous on behalf of his constituents and the nation concerning that important facility, will know that decisions must be taken in due course about new facilities for synchrotron radiation at Daresbury. Those decisions have not yet been made but the important facilities that remain at Daresbury will be approaching the end of their life in the next decade, and we must decide what will follow.
Under the Research Council restructuring, two of the five existing councils—the Agricultural and Food Research Council and the Science and Engineering Research Council—will cease to exist in their present form from 1 April. There are pragmatic as well as strategic reasons for that. In its present form, SERC receives about half of the total funds allocated under the science budget and simply has too great a span of research.
The majority of SERC's portfolio will therefore be divided between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. That split builds on the logic of SERC's own recent reorganisation of its internal board structure.
The EPSRC will support research in chemistry, mathematics, physics and engineering, and will develop close links with the industries underpinned by the physical sciences and engineering. That council will have an especially prominent role in developing partnerships between scientists and engineers, and industrial and commercial users of research, building on the good work already done by SERC in that area. I pay a warm tribute to the work undertaken by Sir Mark Richmond, the last head of SERC in its old form.
The PPARC will fund research and post-graduate training in particle physics and astronomy. That council will, almost exclusively, support basic research, although it too will have a responsibility to consider its potential contribution to wealth creation, particularly in high quality engineering. The quality of the engineering in many of those great facilities is extremely high.
Important developments are taking place in those sciences. Since the American abdication from the superconducting collider, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, CERN, now stands as the pre-eminent world resource in that area. Decisions must soon be taken about the next generation of particle accelerator, known as the large hadron collider. The creation of PPARC within the research council system will provide a clear focus for consideration of the United Kingdom's approach to such large programmes.
A new council is being created to recognise the increasing importance of research in the life sciences. That council is the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The BBSRC will, to a significant extent, combine the current work in biology and biotechnology of the AFRC and the SERC. It will also develop close links with biologically based industries, in line with its mission statement.
The creation of a dedicated council for these areas of research will make sure that we have the capacity to respond quickly to the many opportunities arising in the 906 life sciences. It will help us to build on the considerable achievements of United Kingdom researchers in these fields—supporting, for example, the development of disease-resistant crops, or the formulation of new pharmaceutical products.
The three new councils will join the Medical Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, all of which now have revised charters conforming in all respects to the model of the new councils.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
This is a technical and complex arrangement. What are the special responsibilities of the Director General of the Research Councils, and how do they fit in with those of the chief scientific adviser?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The director general advises me on the distribution of money to the research councils and on the matter—one that my hon. Friend and I discussed in the Chamber earlier today—of keeping an eye on the boundaries and ensuring proper flexibility and cooperation in the work of the councils. The chief scientific adviser has much wider responsibilities, running across the whole of government. He is, of course, the Prime Minister's chief adviser—not mine, although he works in my Department.
The troika of senior people at the head of my Department—the permanent secretary, Mr. Richard Mottram, the chief scientific adviser and the director general—work together to co-ordinate and provide a sense of direction in the Government's entire science and technology effort.
The revised charters conform to the new model, in a system where each council has a clear focus to meet the needs of the users of its research—a system that will continue to support basic as well as strategic and applied research but will help to ensure that relevance to the country's needs, alongside excellence, is a clear criterion in selecting research proposals for support; and a system committing the councils to promotion of and support for related post-graduate training.
There will be some other significant adjustments in the new system. The Natural Environment Research Council will take over from SERC responsibility for research in earth observation, atmospheric chemistry and science-based archaeology. The Economic and Social Research Council will take the lead in setting up and running a joint committee on the management of innovation, which will have the active participation of all the other councils. In making these changes, I have followed the advice, above all, of Sir David Phillips, the retiring chiarman of ABRC and one of the finest of our post-war public servants in the administration of science.
From 1 April, all councils will have a part-time chairman, selected with a view to securing representation for research users and to bringing in relevant industrial or commercial experience. I am pleased to say that we have very good people for these roles.
Sir David Plastow of Inchcape plc will continue as chairman of the Medical Research Council, and Sir Alistair Grant of the Argyll group, who is the current chairman of AFRC, will become the BBSRC's first part-time chairman. Mr. Robert Malpas of the Cookson group took up the chairmanship of the Natural Environment Research Council last year. AT EPSRC we shall have British 907 Telecom's Dr. Alan Rudge, and at PPARC Dr. Peter Williams of Oxford Instruments. I shall announce the part-time chairman of ESRC shortly.
It is very encouraging for the future of science and engineering in this country that such a strong team of top-flight people from industry and commerce is in place and that our leading science-based firms have shown themselves willing to support the new system in this most important respect.
We are also assembling a very powerful team of chief executives. Sir Dai Rees FRS carries on at MRC. Professor Tom Blundell FRS will move from AFRC to BBSRC. Vacant posts are being tilled through open competition. Professor John Krebs FRS will be chief executive of NERC from 1 April, and in the case of PPARC we have Professor Ken Pounds FRS.
The White Paper on science and technology has been widely welcomed in the scientific and industrial communities. At lunch time today we heard from Lord Flowers a generous tribute to that document. We took a strategic look at what scientific research and post-graduate training should be funded, and we have resolved to build on existing strengths to create a closer and more systematic partnership between the science and engineering base and industry and commerce.
The creation of the new research councils is a key step in that process. Accordingly, I commend to the House the draft orders, which enable the next building blocks of our strategy to be put in place.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
I begin with the admission that prior to the debate I had not heard of Megalab UK, but I had the good fortune to be given the Cabinet Office handout. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who never knowingly understates his exploits, described it in a byline as "the biggest experiment in the world". Underneath were the words, "The search for the mass experiment". Unfortunately, in the course of his long speech, he did not tell us what it was and the mind boggles as to what he was thinking of. Perhaps it is a lie detector for the Scott inquiry, perhaps the manufacture of a bullet-proof vest for the Prime Minister, which would certainly come in useful, or even the discovery of a definition of "back to basics". Perhaps what the right hon. Gentleman really had in mind when he used the words "mass experiment" is something that we all want—a general election as soon as possible.
I can at least share the right hon. Gentleman's surprise that we are debating three relatively non-controversial orders on the Floor of the House at peak time for three and a half hours. I agree that there are apparently no limits to the perversities of business management in this place. However, we have the unaccustomed opportunity to debate what we all agree is a key issue for the future of this country but which is rarely given the political attention that it deserves. I refer, of course, to the role of research in Britain's science base. In that context, let me say immediately that we would not wish to dispute the principle of the establishment of the three research councils, but some questions still need to be answered. Although I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that he answered them.
First, the Science and Engineering Research Council has been split into the Engineering and Physical Sciences 908 Research Council and PPARC, or the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council because, in the past, currency fluctuations affecting foreign commitments of the latter side, such as those involving CERN or the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, have severely squeezed the budget of the former side. Now that the split has been made, how will the PPARC budget be guaranteed against excessive fluctuations in sterling? Two years ago, Ministers had a ready answer and said that the problem would be cured by the exchange rate mechanism, but that fell apart.
Secondly, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is to replace the Agriculture and Food Research Council. The new emphasis on biotechnology, genetics and other abstract theories sounds fine but the AFRC has historically had a mission to support farming efficiency and food safety. How can we be sure that those important roles will be protected in the priorities of the new organisation?
Thirdly, there is what I may perhaps refer to as the missing research council, the dog that did not bark in the night, or the one that the Government are not creating—the humanities research council. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that there is some support for that view from Conservative Members. Why has the right hon. Gentleman ignored the advice of the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy which conducted a joint study of the problem, chaired by Sir Brian Follett who is the vice-chancellor of Warwick university? As the House knows, the study concluded that a group was needed to protect research in humanities in British universities. I think that I am right in saying that the academy has been forced to establish its own pretend group, so why has the right hon. Gentleman omitted to set up one? Is it perhaps because it does not fit in with the Government's well-known economic market prejudices? If there is some other reason, we should like to know.
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), who has left the Chamber, mentioned the important subject of the role and accountability of the Director General of the Research Councils, Sir John Cadogan. He has been in post for a month only. It is still not clear what right he has to tell organisations with their own royal charters what to do. What will be his relationship with the heads of the research councils and with the chief scientific adviser at the Office of Science and Technology? The right hon. Gentleman was asked that question. He gave a smooth answer which, I think, conceals a problem of considerable overlap and potential tension, but we shall see what happens.
We know that Sir John Cadogan will not be the accounting officer for the science budget. He will not be the line manager for the heads of the research councils, but he will have, as was said, direct access to the right hon. Gentleman and he will not have to pass his advice on the science budget through the chief scientific adviser. Even so, the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology was worried that he still might not be able to command sufficient authority; the right hon. Gentleman did not mention that. It suggested, therefore, that he should be given the right to publish his advice to the right hon. Gentleman—I wonder what he feels about that—and the right himself to dispose of a slice of the science budget, perhaps 1 or 2 per cent. or something of that order, andto touch the tiller of the science base in ways which could make an important difference over a number of years909 —to use the Committee's phrase. That is an important proposal and we should like to know the Government's response to it.
In contrast, the Opposition argue that to entrench the director general's authority in that way could risk vesting too much control in OST or the Office of Public Service and Science when at the same time there was not enough control over other Departments' research and development. That is already a sector in which the discrepancy produces perverse effects on the overall output of Government research.
The right hon. Gentleman likes to tell us—he did so again today—that OST spending on the research councils is to be maintained, and in some ways increased, during the next two years. What he does not tell us is that the spending on research by other Departments will decrease for the second year in succession. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for example, has already announced a 6 per cent. cut in its research budget and other Departments are announcing reductions. If we consider the situation overall during the next three years, the Government will cut their spending on science by more than £400 million.
According to the latest issue of their "Annual Review of Government-funded Research and Development" in 1993, the Government spent £5.6 billion on science in 1991. By 1995, that will have decreased to £5.2 billion. Contrary to the right hon. Gentleman's assurances, or in addition to those assurances about protecting his own research council budgets, it is one of the great tragedies of the recession that Government Departments have responded to the general call for spending cuts by targeting their research budgets. In spite of all the fine words in the White Paper, the Government, when it comes to the economic pinch, do not believe in investing in research.
The annual review also shows that, of the G7 leading industrial countries, only Britain and Germany cut their research in 1991. As a percentage of gross domestic product, Britain spent 2.19 per cent. on research in 1990 and only 2.08 per cent. in 1991, which is the latest year for which we have the figures.
I am fully aware that the Government argue that they spend on R and D an amount that is comparable with the amounts spent by other members of the G7 overall, but that is because the United Kingdom's figure is inflated by unduly high military R and D expenditure. If one combines the comparison to civil research and development—that is basically what we are discussing today—Britain spends little more than half what Germany and France spend. That telling statistic is mapped clearly in that excellent report.
As for civil R and D—I am now referring to the dual support system—Britain's research council budgets have to be substantially supplemented by the higher education funding councils, and it is precisely there that the resource switch into teaching caused by the pressures of student numbers and cuts in Government funding has put the greatest squeeze on research budgets. That is the development that has had the sharpest impact on university research. Moreover, the Government also plan to shed thousands of scientific staff over the next few years. By 1995 the number of people employed by the Government in research is forecast to fall by about 6,00—16 per cent.
910 That is not the only source of insecurity among the scientific community. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned again today that the future of up to 30 research council institutes was being sketched out by a panel of so-called efficiency experts who had been sent around the country looking for candidates for privatisation—or, as we learnt today, if not privatisation, then contractorisation or some other model. The right hon. Gentleman asked: can we afford to have the wrong structures? I ask: can we afford to have the constant undermining of professional morale involved in uprooting the institutes for such purposes?
There is also a real fear in the scientific community that long-term research, and research that is not commercially profitable, will gradually be phased out. I know that that is a sensitive area and that the Government deny the possibility, but one must ask what is meant by a switch towards wealth creation. What exactly are the Government trying to achieve? Fears are generated by such language. One might conclude that that atmosphere is hardly likely to be conducive to the right hon. Gentleman's admirable desire for a partnership, which we would endorse, between science, the Government and industry.
Indeed, that whole idea was roundly attacked by the House of Lords Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman was somewhat selective in his references to its report. Yes, much of the White Paper is applauded in it, but there is much criticism, too. In this case, the ground was that Britain's traditional scientific strengths could be undermined. Those are not my words but those of the House of Lords Select Committee, which said that the right hon. Gentleman's "predilection for wealth creation"—
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The words that the hon. Gentleman has quoted are not those of the Select Committee but come from the account in the New Scientist. I had a word with Lord Flowers at lunch, and he authorised me to say that the account in Nature is much more accurate in that matter than the account in the New Scientist.
§ Mr. Meacher
I am glad to hear that, but I am not entirely satisfied. We would still like to know exactly what is meant by the right hon. Gentleman's predilection for wealth creation. In what precise ways does he expect to change the direction and funding of research budgets? Exactly how will that affect what happens on the ground? There is a certain mysticism about the idea, and that is a source of considerable concern.
The Lords Select Committee says that if universities and research councils are forced to spend more of their scarce funds on research for industry, in the long term that would be bad for science, and bad for industry too. The Committee insists, rightly, that the needs of user communities should be interpreted in the broadest fashion. The whole idea should not be confined to the short-term need for answers to specific questions. If companies want that, they can perfectly well get it for themselves, from their own laboratories, or they can pay for it if they need to use the science base.
The Select Committee continues—I quote this passage because I agree with it—[Laughter.] Let me put that another way. The passage expresses a view which I share, which I am glad to see strongly and eloquently expressed by the Lords Select Committee:The priorities for the Science Base ought to be longer-term needs".911 It is precisely that feeling that causes ripples of uncertainty when we hear phrases such as "wealth creation". Is that really a longer-term need, or will it be translated in a very different way? The report says that the priorities should belonger-term needs, for a resource of fundamental knowledge and a source of researchers trained to international standards.That is absolutely right.
Indeed, there must be real concern about whether basic and fundamental research in mathematics, physics and chemistry is being put at risk by the shift towards wealth creation. Such research is also threatened by another change that the Government are making, to which the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North referred—the abolition of the Science and Engineering Research Council. One of that body's predecessor's functions was to fund research that fell in the gaps between other councils. That responsibility will cease to exist when SERC is wound up in April. Some researchers can then expect to find that no council will fund their worthwhile research. That is the risk.
The Minister's view is that the director general will be concerned with flexibility and with filling gaps. We shall have to see, but there certainly is a problem. I suppose that the Minister may reply that if such work falls outside the new overview—I believe that he prefers that terminology to the word "strategy"—it has no place in his national framework. However, any suggestion of a top-down approach is widely seen as running counter to the essence of scientific research, which depends heavily on the enthusiasm and inspiration of individuals.
The Lords Select Committee was well aware of that, saying:If the Government's new strategy for the Science Base is so directive that it leaves no space for a keen young scientist with a new idea, then it will defeat its own object, by starving the Science Base at its roots.The right hon. Gentleman seems to be nodding; how far is he really aware of that danger? How far does he intend to press the strategic emphasis on wealth creation? That is probably the single most important question that we want answered in the debate.
The uncertainty, and the reason why we are so concerned about it, is illustrated by the technology foresight programme. The Minister is right to say that the OST may see that as a long-term affair, with programmes looking up to 15 years ahead, and only loosely connected with current spending plans. However, the Department of Trade and Industry sees it in a different light, as directing funding for research in the near future. That is a serious problem, because the right hon. Gentleman has failed to win over his ministerial colleagues to an agreed Government strategy. He continues to influence science only via OST funding, with no remit whatever over other departmental expenditure. The Department of Trade and Industry has just announced that it is to scrap the post of chief scientist, without the chief scientific adviser in the OST being given any authority over the science spending plans of other Departments, such as the DTI. So much for the Government's commitment to science. The interdepartmental confusion of objectives is a major serious flaw in their strategy.
There is at least one good thing to be said for the right hon. Gentleman's latest plans—I am sure that he will be relieved to hear me say that. At least he is now backing away from his daft idea of reducing the number of PhDs, by insisting that all postgraduate students must take a master's degree first. He should be far more concerned about the lack of a proper academic career structure, 912 because nearly half of the United Kingdom academic research scientists are now on short-term contracts running for less than three years. When those contracts run out, often they cannot get further jobs, and they leave research altogether.
The science base of the country is, as we all agree, an absolutely key national resource. It is also one which, sadly, has declined and has not been nurtured to the extent that it deserves. I think that I am right in saying that, in the 1950s, King's college, Cambridge displayed more Nobel prize winners than the whole of France.
§ Mr. Meacher
It may have been King's or it may have been another university. I readily accept that the right hon. Gentleman has more knowledge than me on that matter. One Cambridge college had more Nobel prize winners than the whole country of one of our major industrial competitors. Virtually no Nobel prizes have been awarded to British scientists working in Britain since 1978. That is a clear mark of our decline and it is matched by the plummeting of the United Kingdom in the science citation index in the 1980s.
The orders may well set out a new structure for the research councils, but I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Meacher
It is well below second place, but I shall check on that. Whereas we were only just behind the United States, we have now fallen a long way behind. I believe that we have been overtaken by other countries. The right hon. Gentleman is far from producing a convincing strategy which will reverse that sharp decline and, until that science base is strengthened, the future of our manufacturing industry and the standard of living of our people will not be securely underpinned.
§ Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
I welcome the motions, although I am rather saddened that there is not a larger attendance to debate matters affecting science, technology, innovation and the entire creative output of British industry. I am saddened even further that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now departs. There are six members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology present and I shall therefore be brief in the hope that all of them will be able to present their views.
I welcome the creation of the new research councils. I also welcome what the Chancellor said about funding. Even if the decisions taken in November implied that there might be a modest increase in funding for science, the announcement is virtually in line with inflation and maintains the status quo. That is not unreasonable in such difficult times.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that it is a little sad that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor saw fit not to publish the distribution of the money between the research councils before the debate or to make them known during the debate. If he had done so, that would have allowed us to discuss how the distribution of the 913 funding would affect the three councils that we are discussing and the others in the group. However, that is a matter of small import against the long-term importance of what is being debated today.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) raised a number of queries as to whether the council will have a significant long-term and stable interest in the science sector and the innovative technology that must be drawn out of the science base. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will know that it is essential in financing, whether of the councils or of the science base as a whole, that we arrange to have a stable cash flow. That cash may increase, but if we are to maintain the necessary rhythm of science development in each of the sectors covered by the councils, to begin decreasing the expenditure that is fed to those councils in their new form would cause difficulties.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is the core issue on which I wish to spend most of my time. As Sir William Barlow of the Royal Academy of Engineering says:Of the new councils the ESPRC, as reflected in its mission statement, probably has the most important role.I endorse that because we have been looking for a way to isolate such research from our major competitors and from those from whom it currently requires a transfusion of scientific endeavour, but also at least to give the council a remit that is related to the basic requirements of manufacturing. In that case, the Royal Academy of Engineering is right to regard it as the most important council and that is no doubt why Sir William Barlow also says:We warmly welcome the establishment of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. We hope that this will reinforce the importance of engineering in industrial wealth creation.That is one of the themes that has engaged the Select Committee on Science and Technology during its current research. There should be a requirement to ensure that in Britain there is not only a deep and clear commitment to scientific endeavour that has the possibility of lifting our industrial base and of lifting the industrial culture but a recognition of engineering and the development of engineering as crucial elements that affect out competitiveness and success as an economic nation and the success of our academic institutions as a source of excellence. In that cause, I believe that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will play an important role and I hope that we see that developed soon.
One of the objects of the council, set out in the order, is that it hasto provide advice, disseminate knowledge, and promote public understanding in the fields of engineering and the physical sciences.I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the Director General of the Research Councils, when he is fully acquanted with his new remit, will consider the dissemination of knowledge among British industry as a crucial issue. That was patently exposed when examining witnesses in Committee. It contrasts massively with the knowledge, integration and acceptance of innovation in the other economies against which we are able to meassure ourselves, albeit in a peripheral sense.
In Germany, right down to small and medium-size enterprises, the knowledge of, the need for, and the ability 914 to inform and develop, innovation is widespread. It is equally true in Japan, although our own research did not show many such enterprises there. However, we know that all Japanese industry is widely aware of what technology means and how to get it, to use it and to profit by it.
In Britain there is a growing gap. If we are to improve the importance of our manufacturing and our manufacturing base, and if the objects of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council are to be fully met, we must find ways in which to stimulate the spread of information on technology and innovation among small companies. Our economy will return to growth through the seedcorn of small companies—such as those in the science parks of Cambridge—that are willing to innovate and, in many cases, have ideas how they can achieve it, but perhaps lack contact with the engineering that would enable them to succeed, and through funding. We should not rely on massive investments made by the GECs of this world.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the main problems that our small and medium-sized enterprises face, especially those in Cambridge, is not so much their contact with the science base, but their difficulty in getting funds for their research and development efforts?
§ Sir Giles Shaw
The hon. Lady is quite right, that was the case. To rely on the clearing banks in their wisdom is insufficient to ensure that many smaller companies succeed in the competitive world in which they endeavour.
The establishment of the councils is a potent part of the new look that the Office of Science and Technology is giving to the arrangements within which science and, one hopes, innovation and technology can flourish. I welcome the fact that we shall shortly be having the first forward look—as I understand it, in April. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be persuaded by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy that another debate should be held on that issue. That will allow us to have the next phase of our discussion on the development of the new OST plans as they unfold.
We must consider the question of efficiency and the success of the councils in fulfilling the roles that we all hope that they will fulfil. I believe that the efficiency and success of those councils and others will depend on how clearly they are targeted to the national interest. I do not share the concern of the hon. Member for Oldham, West about the importance of defining what they do at this stage, although the hon. Gentleman will certainly have a point if we later find that there is overlap and confusion rather than serious targeting of national effort and resources. We are focusing important national resources in the three separate directions for national ends.
I trust that—through either the mechanism of the Director General of the Research Councils or the influence of the chief scientific adviser or the Chancellor himself —we can have a clear and long-term range of vision statements that will lead to a proper sense of national priorities. It is that above all that distinguishes the post of Minister for Science in other Governments from the arrangements that we have here. As my right hon. Friend knows, I hope that, in due course, we shall have a fully fledged Minister for Science with the kind of national priorities established—through forward look, technological foresight or whatever—to enable a real relationship to 915 be established and between research councils and central Government. We need to identify those priorities and the role of the OST must be such that they can develop.
I note that paragraph 3.28 at page 33 of the White Paper "Realising our Potential" lists among the director general's responsibilitiesensuring that Councils work together to achieve a common approach and take advantage of the possibilities for improved efficiency through joint working".I welcome that. I hope that it will mean that the difficulties of overlap and the problems of establishing a co-ordinated and clear set of priorities can be overcome, to enable the councils to be efficient rather than riven with academic bickering or scientific confusion—both of which we can do without with the new look of science and endeavour that my right hon. Friend is introducing.
It is essential that our research and technological policies should be fashioned by consent—between Government and industry, the main consumers of scientific endeavour; between Government and the academic and scientific establishments; and between the OST and other Departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence. The hon. Member for Oldham, West was perfectly right to point to the fact that that is an important missing element in the DST's current remit. I hope that it will not be too long before that omission is rectified and before co-ordinated scientific policy and priorities are assumed right across the board —wherever publicly funded national scientific endeavour is taking place.
The largest potential problems and the largest potential benefits are to be found in research for military purposes. I must acknowledge that much MOD research has massive spin-off into civilian applications and wider applications in British industry. We must also recognise, however, the large number of smaller firms and contractors and sub-contractors within the defence industry, which tend to bear the brunt of reductions when changes in defence planning or substantial reductions in defence needs occur. We must ensure that those high-tech smaller companies have access to civilian opportunities and assistance if necessary to establish themselves in other markets. We must also consider the wider implication of the transfer of technology and research, especially from defence to civil uses. That should be one of the DST's priorities in due course.
The research councils are essential vehicles for the creation of new wealth, although I accept that they must not be seen as in hock to industrial need. Let us say that wealth creation is essential for economic growth and then say that the councils should become the engines of economic growth. They should provide centres of excellence and quality and should ensure—if they are adequately funded and correctly targeted—that their contribution as a whole improves the lives of all our fellow citizens. The three new councils are now in place. I am sure that the House will wish them well in the new order of things in which research and technology, inspired by the OST' s development and by the Government, will surely be one of the main objectives of public policy for many years ahead.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Those called early in the debate have a duty to be succinct.
First, I want to ask a question on the subject on which I interrupted the Minister: what is the hitch about the appointment of the chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council? Why is that bill so difficult to fill? I understand that a number of distinguished academics have been interviewed, but that the result of the interviews was not satisfactory. So who exactly are the Government looking for? Is it someone different from the kind of heavyweight academic who most of us thought would fill the position of chief executive? There may be a perfectly satisfactory answer to that question, but I put it none the less.
Secondly, on the subject of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, may I air a problem that greatly concerns my colleagues on the Biological Sciences Advisory Committee of the University of Edinburgh? I refer to the sticky question of work on animals. Twenty or 30 years ago, it was taken as axiomatic that there would be work on animals in school and undergraduate classes. Now there is a different attitude —that the work can be done using computers. At its recent world meeting in Glasgow—my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) was there—the Institute of Physiologists made it very clear that work on instrumentation, however sophisticated, is really no substitute for practice on animals. Are there Government guidelines on that, or is everything so difficult in view of the animal rights lobbies and the general climate of opinion in which we are now operating? I do not know the answer to that question, but it is a nettle that will have to be grasped.
Finally, on the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, I should like to ask two questions.
First, what is the attitude to the funding of CERN, the European nuclear research centre? I hope that there will be no drawing back from our international obligations. The closure decisions in California and elsewhere have greatly hurt distinguished American scientists. Some of us hope sincerely that the opportunity will be seized—on terms of dignity and in no way berating them—to say to the Americans, "At this moment the western world has a real opportunity to co-operate on super-colliders. Act with us on an equal basis. That does not refect on science programmes in the United States. Can we not do this important work on particle physics together?" What are the Government saying to the United States Government? Is the matter being urgently tackled?
I should like to return to the issue of the JET project, on which I interrupted the Minister. There are many responsibilities for JET, but he said, "Well, it was not our Department." In that case, whose Department is it? I should like to put on the record the contents of a letter sent to me by the Prime Minister, dated 1 February 1994. It states:Thank you for your letter of 14 December, in which you asked about the handling of any decision to extend JET after 1996.The JET Project is technically a Joint Undertaking under the Euratom treaty. Any extension would require an amendment to the terms of the JET Statutes, and would need to be agreed by the Council of Ministers, probably by qualified majority. This was the procedure followed under previous extensions.917There has been informal discussion within Europe of the idea of a further extension, but no formal proposal has yet been tabled.Do they have a formal proposal in mind? The letter continues:Some people beleive that closure of JET in 1996 would be premature, given that it could continue to do good scientific work on the unresolved problems relating to the operation of JET-style fusion machines, and hence of the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project. Others believe that JET should close in 1996 as planned, so that funding can be made available to other projects. (JET accounts for roughly half of the Commission's current annual spending of about 200 mecu on fusion.)So far as the substance of this issue is concerned, we have an open mind on extension, and we are prepared to look at the question on its merits. In considering any proposal, we shall be concerned to ensure that its scientific value is commensurate with the costs involved.I passionately believe that JET should continue. I have been to Culham and have been involved in the project ever since, as a Member of the European Parliament, my colleagues and I nagged Guido Bruner, who was then European Commissioner, to send JET to Culham rather than to Ispra or to the Munich region.
I argue that the prize is high. If fusion can be developed, it will provide energy without undesirable environmental consequences.
The chances of achieving success are zero if the money is cut off now. The chances are low if funding continues at the present level. There is an argument for extended funding of JET. To combine with the United States Tokamak project, and thereby devote more skills to a common end, is a sensible policy.
I promised to be brief. Those were the questions that I wanted to put to the House.
§ Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)
I begin by picking up on the remarks that were made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about Culham. Although I do not represent Culham, which is on the other side of the river from my constituency, I represent many of the scientists who work on the JET project.
The Government should realise that, when JET was set up, a grave injustice was done to British employees. I must say, without wishing to make a party political point, that the Minister responsible for that decision was the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).
That injustice has been long standing and it is coming to a head in a combination of industrial action, protests and court cases brought by employees of JET and pressure being applied by the European Parliament through its Budgets Committee. I have had extensive correspondence with Ministers who have responsibility for energy in the Department of Trade and Industry, the lead Ministry. The Government will have to recognise that this problem needs to be sorted out and canot be a pass-the-parcel operation between AEA Technology, the Department of Trade and Industry's energy department, the European Commission and the European Parliament. I gently suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the Office of Public Service and Science, with its overall remit for science, has a responsibility in this matter. I hope that it will assume that responsibility.
918 I welcome the orders and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on reaching this important stage in the implementation of his vision for science policy. I would like to join him in the thanks that he has extended to Sir David Phillips, who is retiring from Government service and who has acted as the midwife for the new research councils. That is only the last act in a long and distinguished career in the service of Government science. Sir David Phillips is a distinguished scientist and all hon. Members will wish him well as he returns to his academic work.
I welcome Sir John Cadogan, Sir David Phillips' successor, to his new role as Director General for the Research Councils. He has a hard act to follow after Sir David Phillips' distinguished chairmanship of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils.
I welcome the new structure for the research councils, but I join the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), the Opposition spokesman, in regretting the absence of an order to establish a new research council for the humanities. The proposal for such a research council, which was supported by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and, indeed, by me at the OPSS, was not given the serious attention and consideration that it merited by the Department for Education, not least in the light of the strength and weight of the support that the proposal received from the British Academy and from universities. Sir Brian Follett, who comes from outside the humanities community, made a particularly notable contribution to thinking through the proposal for a new humanities research council.
I know that Ministers in the Department for Education have attempted to make up, in some small measure, for their mistaken rejection of the proposal and I hope that the new arrangements that they have negotiated with the British Academy will help to deal with at least a few of the problems that a humanities research council would have addressed. There are serious implications for good scholars in the humanities in some of the universities, where overall research performance is relatively less impressive and which are losing research funding from the higher education funding councils.
The moral of this story, as of so many in government, is that Ministers must take the trouble to listen to what is being said to them by serious and informed people who know what they are talking about. It should be obvious to Conservative Ministers that having the power and the right to decide is not always the same thing as knowing best.
I do not include my right hon. Friend the Minister in my strictures. His remarks today about the arm's-length principle showed that he has a proper sense of these matters. Today, he announced some welcome initiatives and he has explained clearly his philosophy of promoting a greater convergence between academic science and technological applications. All the same, I know that he will not take it amiss if I underline his point that there is value in the decentralised, pluralistic approach that is embodied in the research council tradition, which goes back to the establishment of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research just after the first world war.
The Science and Technology Act 1965 empowers the Minister tospecify the objects, or principal objectsof a research council. That power has now been expanded into a ministerial promulgation of mission statements for research councils. At the same time, the independent 919 Advisory Board for the Research Councils, which stood between the Minister and research councils, has been abolished and replaced by a ministerial adviser. I hope that those changes will bring about improvements, but my right hon. Friend knows that, for better or for worse, they represent a considerable shift of power to Ministers and officials. Not only the hon. Member for Oldham, West but all hon. Members will look with close interest at the first results of the technology foresight arrangements as they are brought to bear on the exercise of the new powers.
The Government must remember that a wisdom underlies the limits that the 1965 Act sets on ministerial powers and that it could he at risk in the hands of a less careful and less scrupulous Minister. That wisdom recognises that knowledge is best expanded and increased in conditions of academic self-government and intellectual autonomy.
There are intrinsic features of academic inquiry connected with the inherent unpredictability of its outcomes which make it peculiarly unsuitable for the close attentions of politicians and planners. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would like to ask the new Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to carry out some research into how it is possible, by excessive and inappropriate attentions, to kill the geese which lay the golden eggs.
A crucial aspect of the future of the research councils, which is not dealt with by the orders, concerns the application to them of the currently fashionable Whitehall doctrine—I will not for the moment call it a dogma—which insists on the separation, in as many areas of government work as possible, of purchasers from providers. On the whole, that is a sound doctrine, but, like all doctrines of government, it must always be pursued with discretion and with close attention to consequences.
One possible consequence of regarding the research councils as purchasers of research, detached from the provision of research—it would be very serious if it came to pass—was explored in the recent House of Lords report on priorities for the science base. Paragraph 4.73 of the report states:The SERC is already funding work conducted in the institutes of other Councils; its successors are now obliged, in Sir Mark's view, to receive applications from Government research laboratories, and other laboratories of a public nature including privatised ones, though probably not from the out-and-out private sector. The DTI favours this development. Sir Mark accepts the consequence that, overall, the universities are bound to get less.The conclusion of the House of Lords report, at paragraph 4.86, states:In this climate, it would be the final straw if the Science Base were forced to share the Science Budget with the private or semi-private sector … It might be possible to 'buy' research more cheaply from institutions without the university overheads relating to teaching and research training; but this would be an altogether false economy, and would further undermine the capacity of the Science Base".I agree with the House of Lords report on that point, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science, will make clear the Government's position on it.
I should like to say a few words about the Rutherford Appleton laboratory, which is an important constituency interest for me and a vital national and international scientific resource. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I know how thoroughly the National Audit Office and the Comptroller and Auditor General do their work, which is why I am delighted to have the National 920 Audit Office's positive report which it has just published on the Rutherford Appleton laboratory. Paragraph 11, one of its overall conclusions, states:The very positive response to the National Audit Office survey demonstrates that to a great extent the facilities and services provided by the Laboratory meet the needs of their users, and that they are highly valued by most users.I have come to know the Rutherford Appleton laboratory very well over the past 10 years as its Member of Parliament, and indeed over the previous four years as its Member in the European Parliament. It offers wide coverage of science and engineering matters, such as materials science, earth observation, information technology, energy research, astronomy and particle physics, and supercomputing. According to the Frascati definitions, 30 per cent. of its work is classified as basic, 50 per cent. is applied strategic work and 20 per cent. is applied specific work.
The laboratory operates world-class facilities supporting university research; it supports about 8,500 users, the majority being researchers from British universities; its staff have won many prizes; and it has close links with the academic community. In 1992, it also had contracts or agreements with 100 industrial companies, most of them involving technology transfer. It is a very significant operation.
I know that my right hon. Friend is fully alive to the importance of the Rutherford Appleton laboratory and that he is determined to safeguard its future. He showed that in response to an intervention by the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall). At the moment, the future of the Rutherford Appleton laboratory is slightly uncertain —I put it no higher than that—as a consequence of the abolition of its owner and sponsoring organisation, SERC. As has been said, a wide range of options are being considered for the future of the Rutherford Appleton laboratory, and they are all premised on an acknowledgement of its excellence and its value for money.
At this stage, I do not wish to press any particular option, but I shall mention three considerations which the Government should bear in mind. First, the Rutherford Appleton laboratory is big enough and strong enough to stand on its own as a supplier of research services to a wide range of users, so I hope that it will be accorded substantial self-management as a unified entity.
Secondly, the importance of the Rutherford Appleton laboratory as a national and international scientific asset should be reflected in the way in which its users and customers relate to it. The Government have a role to ensure that that occurs. One of the great problems of the purchaser-provider split is that purchasers might turn out to be extremely piecemeal and short term in their thinking. There is evidence that Departments are often in that mode. The Government must address that problem right across the board in relation to the purchaser-provider split.
The long-term future of the Rutherford Appleton laboratory as a centre of scientific excellence—like that of many other great institutions that are caught up in the new purchaser-provider philosophy—must be safeguarded by the purchasing decisions of its principal users. In that connection, I am not at all impressed by the recent decision of the expiring SERC on the location, not at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory but elsewhere, of important new computer facilities.
Thirdly, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity of the abolition of the SERC and the 921 emergence of a stand-alone Rutherford Appleton laboratory to involve leading research universities more closely in the overall direction of the laboratory. Such arrangements work very well in the United States in relation to significant research laboratories. They would help to ensure that the customers for Rutherford Appleton laboratory, most of them necessarily in universities, are kept closely in touch with the effects of their purchasing decisions on the Rutherford Appleton laboratory as a research provider. There would also be a spin-off benefit of providing a focus for the close collaboration of our leading research universities, which must work hard to strengthen their voice and influence in today's difficult research policy environment.
The orders set up a range of new bodies whose work might be somewhat esoteric by parliamentary standards —perhaps that is reflected in hon. Members' attendance —but which is crucial for the future well-being of Britain. I am sure that the whole House will wish them and their new members and officials all success in the important and difficult tasks that they face.
§ Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)
I declare an interest in ICL computers.
The Liberal Democrats support the draft orders, although we share the concerns—we would like answers to them—that were expressed clearly by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). For almost 15 years, we have had a Government who, according to Nature of 30 September 1993, havedealt insensitively, even foolishly, with British science, substituting for what previously have been unfounded optimism a general demoralisation.One of the reasons I am a Member of this House is that, after spending more than 20 years in the information technology industry, I could see the way in which other countries were catching up with and overtaking Britain in their standards of living.
§ Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)
As the hon. Member is a regular reader of Nature and has quoted its September edition, he will be aware that, more recently, in the January edition, it comments:The Government's White Paper on science and technology proved … to be a turning point in the country's approach to the organisation of science. It was seen as an exclusive acknowledgement of the practical importance of research in a competitive global economy.The Government are possibly doing a little better than the hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Mr. Jones
I have read that article as well as the one from which I quoted. I hope that the White Paper is a turning point in this country's treatment of science.
As I explained, I am in the House because I was aware that other countries were overtaking Britain. They did that by investing not short term but long term, researching and developing products that would produce tangible results not immediately but in five, 10 or 15 years or even further ahead. If Britain is to survive as a modern industrial nation whose people enjoy a high standard of living, we too must invest, and the research councils have a role in making sure that the research is well targeted.
Whole swathes of our industry are contracting. The nation must identify some potential winners and invest in 922 them now for the wealth that they will create in future. I welcome the orders, because reorganising the research councils along the lines that have been suggested should help to give a sharper focus on areas of potential wealth creation.
I welcome the Minister's efforts to listen positively to the wishes of people in science. I also welcome the serious way in which he approached this important subject without the usual party bickering that brings us into such disrepute with people outside. The Minister has a monumental task, because his colleagues do not seem to take science and research and development, and especially their funding, as seriously as they should.
It cannot be stressed often enough that, for the future wealth of the nation, science policy must be high on the Government's agenda. Without properly funded research, even more time will be spent in the House debating—or, perhaps, because of guillotine motions, not debating—further cuts in the social programmes on health, education, the police and social services.
I do not dispute the objectives of the research councils as outlined in the orders. Who could argue against the promotion and support of high quality basic research, the advancement of knowledge and technology and the promotion of public understanding of science? Such objectives must be right, but I fear that they may turn out to be daydreams in terms of reality and the amount of money that the Government are prepared to commit to the research councils.
I am also concerned about the Government's overriding emphasis on wealth creation. It is intrinsically right as a goal that scientists should be aware that, without wealth creation, there would be no funds for their work. However, I question the White Paper's overriding statement that research grants should be linked to wealth creation. Are those members of the research community who fail to demonstrate a potential for wealth creation in their field in 1994 to be automatically starved of all resources in 1995? That would not be sensible.
Will research grant applications be tied to the rigid goals of wealth creation? Is it not the nature of such an area that basic research often needs to be done without a specified profit margin? To back that argument, I call upon a notable scientist, no less a person than the noble Baroness Thatcher, who once said:Transistors were not discovered by the entertainment industry seeking new ways of marketing pop music, but rather by people working on wave mechanics and solid-state physics".I fear that the Government may put short-term financial issues before the long-term goal of providing for Britain an adequate research base to maintain and improve our quality of life.
One of the problems is a lack of understanding by Ministers about the nature of research. Research is necessary not just to produce a more sophisticated television set, which is a wealth-creating achievement: it is also vital to learn about problem solving itself. Many of the skills that are learned in research are those of identifying and better understanding problems—providing basic knowledge to be used in the future. Further, a potential wealth-creating area may be identified, but will there be the resources to make anything of it?
One key area, regarded by some as likely to have bigger world market potential than information technology and communications combined, is biotechnology. Some hon. Members may have seen Dr. Chris Evans of Chiroscience 923 in "The Money Programme" on BBC2 last Sunday bemoaning the fact that Britain was likely to miss the biotechnology revolution because research and venture capital were so difficult to get. I welcome the new research council that will be devoted to biotechnology, and I hope that it will be successful.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House are seriously concerned about advances in genetic engineering. That is why it is vital for the Government to realise that scientific research is not carried out for its own sake. Once proven, and in certain areas approved by Parliament, it should permeate beyond the remit of the Minister to the Departments of Trade and Industry and of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture.
When he commented on the White Paper, my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) pinpointed the problem when he said:We have seen no clear leadership; rather it has been a matter of laissez faire, in the sense of 'by default'".As all hon. Members know, the reality is that funding could be limitless.
I am sure that between them the new research councils will find projects worthy of investment that will far outstrip the budget of any of the parties in the House. But there is a shortfall now, and it is damaging Britain's future. That is why, in our autumn Budget submission, the Liberal Democrats proposed an immediate injection of £400 million into science policy and a return to spending of 0.35 per cent. of GDP on the science base, a percentage that the Government sadly let lapse to 0.28 per cent. between 1979 and 1991. We are committed to raising investment over five years to 0.4 per cent. of GDP, which is in line with the percentage invested by Britain's major competitors.
The Minister announced additional support of £15.5 million. That is welcome, but it is not enough. Although broadly welcoming the White Paper "Realising our Potential", the science community is fed up with Government indecision and time wasting.
The president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Sir William Barlow, about whom we have heard and who was present at the lunch today at which the Prime Minister spoke about science, sent a letter to hon. Members this week. In it, he particularly welcomes the establishment of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. However, Sir William states:It is vital that after its separation from Astronomy and Particle Physics and from Biology and Biotechnology it does not simply remain the rump of the SERC. The Council has a new mission and this must be widely recognised and respected".William is right, and his letter also states:Following the reorganisation of the Research Councils and the redistribution of responsibilities there should follow a period where they are able to pursue their missions without excessive interference or change".As an example of ill-thought-out interference by the Government, I cite the example of physics degrees. David Ko, a lecturer in the department of physics at Oxford university, says that undergraduate degrees do not allow for critical analysis of problems, that that is achieved at postgraduate level. What is the Government's overall strategy for encouraging higher levels of research? Academia is faced with indecision and changing decisions by the Government.
For a physics degree, a three-year course does not allow a student to develop in-depth skills of research. That means that British graduates are not competitive in Europe where 924 the standard degree is to masters level. There is still considerable confusion and uncertainty in our universities about what will happen to physics degrees to bridge that gap. A four-year degree was accepted by the Department of Education, but the White Paper suggests a "three plus one" system.
It is ludicrous that universities are unable to specify in their prospectuses how long a student is likely to remain at university. It appears that the fourth year is to be funded by the research councils rather than by local authorities. Where will the money come from?
A report issued in November by the National Commission on Education stated that, since the Government do not intend to provide any more money for the revised research degrees, the number of students taking doctoral courses will inevitably fall. The orders are a help, a step forward, but we must value our scientists in the same way as scientists are valued in Germany, France, Japan, the United States and, increasingly, the Pacific basin.
I hope that, when the Minister replies to the debate, he will provide answers to some of the questions that have been raised. I wish him well in the task of persuading his colleagues of the importance of research in Britain. If, as I suspect, he is unable to persuade them to invest more now, it will become just another example of why Britain needs a fresh start, under a new Government.
§ Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)
I welcome the opportunity for the House to debate science, as science debates do not occur as often as many of us would like. Although we are debating the relative narrowness of orders setting up the new research councils, the debate gives some of us the chance to raise wider issues in the House.
I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the fact that we are meeting to discuss science today on the same day as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee's annual lunch. I am delighted to see the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan), in his place for this important debate. He will know the great importance that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attaches to science and the need for the Government to play a positive part in the stimulation of scientific endeavour in Britain.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised the key bases for our scientific programme for the future: excellence, recognition of the contribution of science to the quality of life in Britain and the development of the prosperity of all this country's people. The framework for all this was created last year in the White Paper "Realising our Potential", and today we are putting another of the building blocks in place in creating the new research councils.
Hon. Members will be aware that five of the six research councils that will come into effect on 1 April are headquartered in my constituency in Swindon. I am therefore delighted to have the opportunity to make one or two points in the debate on behalf of many of my constituents in the scientific community. They, together with Sir John Cadogan, the new Director General of the Research Councils, whom I warmly welcome as a new arrival to this part of the scientific scene, will play the most vital role in the development of our scientific effort over the next few years.
925 I do not agree with the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) who said that the Government are failing in their long-term vision for science. Everything I have read on the subject in recent weeks and months suggests that, for the first time, the Government are trying to take a long-term view of the importance of science in Britain, and they should be commended for that.
I have four points to make on particular matters of concern to the scientific community within the research councils in my constituency. The first one may be a small point, but it is important to my constituents. It concerns the uncertainty that remains about the future pension arrangements for staff of the research councils.
I appreciate that the matter is very much under consideration, but I am sure that the Minister will understand that, as long as there is uncertainty, there is also some fear. I urge him, if he can, to give us some assurance at the end of the debate or, if he cannot, to ensure that staff are made aware of their future pension arrangements at the earliest possible opportunity. I am optimistic that the Minister will be able to say that there will be no detriment and no cause for concern among the staff, but the concern remains, and I hope that he will be able to address himself briefly to it before the end of the debate.
Secondly, I must mention the point raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). We are all concerned that, as yet, there is no appointment of a chief executive for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. I would not in any way suggest anything less than the paragon that the Secretary of State said he was looking for, if such a person is to be found, but I would stress that Dr. Alan Rudge, whose appointment I warmly welcome, is not expected to take up his position fully until August this year.
There is therefore a distinct possibility that, for the first four months of the new research council, there will be neither a part-time chairman nor a full-time chief executive in post. That raises some doubt about the confidence with which the new council can establish its direction and identity. I therefore ask my hon. Friend to give his best endeavours to an early resolution of that important issue.
Thirdly, I want to comment on the advantages that spring from the reorganisation. I warmly welcome the creation of the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It is well placed to develop existing programmes, collaboration with industry, the CASE studentships, the teaching company scheme, innovative manufacturing and others. I have no doubt that the new council will carry forward the work of the Science and Engineering Research Council in those and other ways, and that that will be only to the benefit of industry and the scientific community.
Equally, I recognise the logic of the Natural Environment Research Council taking over responsibility for earth observation from space atmospheric chemistry and science-based archaeology, or carbon dating.
I am less sure about the prospects for the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. I am concerned that it may find difficulty in sustaining its flexibility of approach to various programmes in the face of certain future difficulties with currency fluctuations as they relate to the subscriptions to CERN and ESA. Those subscriptions are £55 million to CERN and £30 million to 926 the European Space Agency. The new research council, taken out of the body of SERC, has a total budget of £180 million, compared with £600 million for SERC.
While accepting the logic of the case made by my right hon. Friend that SERC had too wide a responsibility for research, I envisage the opposite problem occurring when more than half the budget of the PPARC will be dominated by those two subscriptions over which it has no control, in terms of its ability to achieve efficiencies of scale or any other method of controlling the costs.
If the Minister says that I am wrong in making that point, I will be delighted to hear him say so, but I fear that he will promise only to double and redouble his efforts with the Treasury in future and ensure that any fluctuations will not be prejudice other programmes under the remit of the PPARC.
My final point is in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson). There is some uncertainty about the future of the laboratories at Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton. Neither needs support from right hon. and hon. Members in terms of the quality and excellence of their contribution to scientific effort in Britain, but they need us to speak up on their behalf in urging my right hon. Friend to ensure that whatever decisions are taken about their future are made soon.
There is uncertainty and concern among the staff of those two laboratories. If the Government introduce independent status, the staff will want to know that their jobs will be secure, their future will be bright and that the commitment to excellence that has always been achieved in those laboratories in the past will continue.
I welcome the clear mission statements for each of the research councils—three of which are covered by the orders that we are debating this afternoon—coupled with careful scrutiny of the systems and structures that have been put in place by the research councils until now. I have no doubt that that work will continue.
I welcome the maintenance of the present staff complement during this period of change. The publication of the White Paper brought further uncertainty. The Minister will remember that, when the White Paper was presented to the House last year, my first question concerned its implications for staff who are my constituents.
On that occasion, I was given an assurance that there would be no serious implications for staff, and I am delighted to be able to report to the House that that has been the case, and that staff are now aware to which research council they will be moving on 1 April and what their responsibilities will be. I welcome the honouring of that pledge made to me last year.
The new system of appointing part-time chairmen and full-time chief executives will be helpful. It is quite common in British industry, and it is an experiment well worth trying in the case of the research councils. Subject to the appointment of all those chairmen and chief executives —a point to which I have already referred—I have no doubt that the system will be successful in the future.
I particularly emphasise the need to preserve the commitment to basic science. I welcome the industry-based procedures that have been outlined today and in the White Paper, but I hope that we will never lose sight of the need for people to be able to mess around in a laboratory and do something that no one else thought possible. That is what I understand by basic science, and I hope that it will 927 always have a part to play in Britain's scientific effort. In that respect, I particularly welcome my right hon. Friend's earlier remarks.
I appreciate that questions are raining in on the Minister from every direction during this debate, so he might find it necessary to answer them in some other forum than the House this afternoon, but I would find it helpful to know how he sees the future involvement of the research councils in the technology foresight exercise, which is of considerable importance to our future scientific effort and in which I hope that the research councils will be able to play the fullest part.
I have not yet said anything about the establishment of the new Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to speak on that matter on which he is an expert, so I shall simply say that I welcome the sensible combination of the Agricultural and Food Research Council and those elements of SERC involved with biotechnology and biological sciences to produce synergies which must be extremely valuable in future.
In that respect, I agree with the hon. Member for Cheltenham that it is right for us to find by every means possible the way forward to promote greater investment in biotechnology in Britain. This could be the latest hovercraft—Britain's latest missed opportunity, if we are not careful. I hope that, as a result of the setting up of the new research council, we shall not miss such opportunities in the future.
This debate has not involved any particular mention of the Natural Environment Research Council or the Economic and Social Research Council, to whose work in the past 25 years I pay tribute.
In particular, I want to say thank you to Professor Howard Newby, who has been at the head of the Economic and Social Research Council for the past few years and who will be leaving to become vice chancellor of Southampton university later this year. I declare an interest as one of the first to receive a grant from what was then the Social Sciences Research Council 25 years ago. I have therefore taken an interest in the work of the council ever since, and I wish it and Professor Newby well in the future.
Lastly, I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement this afternoon of the new resources which have been made available for a variety of programmes within the scientific sphere and which come partly from efficiency savings. The fact that half the money is from new resources is also to be welcomed. It is important that the emphasis on new programmes should be on industry-led initiatives.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his stewardship of science in the past 21 months. We have made substantial progress in that direction under his leadership, and I have no doubt that, with the establishment of the new research councils on I April, that good work will continue in future.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
The stark problem that faces us in Britain is our position vis-a-vis that of other countries. In the most recent year, Japanese industry registered 350,000 patents, one third of the world total, and the United Kingdom only one seventh; yet we know that we are a country of inventive genius because this century we have won 61 Nobel prizes, while Japan has scored just four.
928 The international situation in biotechnology has been described by the President of the Board of Trade as sobering, but many feel that it is desperate. The prizes are there. Biotechnology is relatively new and on the verge of an enormous expansion. Since 1980, 54 biotechnology companies have sprouted and they already employ a significant number of people—5,000. It is forecast that, by the year 2000, the world market for biotechnology will be worth between £30 billion and £60 billion a year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) raised one of the most serious problems ahead of us—the perception of the mass of the public. Unfortunately, many people see the spectre of mutant organisms stalking the countryside, a fear which has a good basis, although much of it is irrational. There already exists the mouse which has been specially bred to be sensitive to cancer and the pig, produced in the United States, which was meant to be larger than normal but which suffered from blindness, ulcers and arthritis. Such monsters, which many people consider to be similar to Frankenstein's monster, do exist. We must guard against possible great advances for humankind being held back by that perception.
My hon. Friend also referred to objections to the use of live animals in research. No substitute, such as computer models, is as good or as reliable for research purposes as a slaughtered animal. But there is a new sensitivity about the way in which we treat animals. We see them not as a mass of unfeeling cells but as sentient creatures. That is an advance in our whole approach to humankind and other species. We cannot deny that. If animals have to be used and if scientists are to win respect, such experiments must be essential.
Last year we received a report from the other place which greatly added to our knowledge of the subject. It pointed out clearly that regulations within Europe pose a formidable problem which must be addressed. Much of the problem coming from Europe arises from the perception there that this is an unknown aspect of science which will lead us down a path that people greatly fear. We must recognise that.
However, there are other problems, which cause even greater concern. One is our position vis-a-vis other countries. The best evidence for that was a study conducted last year which compared spending on research by 336 British companies with similar investment by the world's 200 top spenders. The results were alarming. The Edinburgh company that undertook the survey placed only II British firms in the top 200—two fewer than in the previous year. One of them, ICI, was the highest-ranked British company but was placed only 47th—12 down on its record position the previous year.
The reasons for that are complex. British companies spent on average only 1.6 per cent. of their income on research and development, compared with an average of 4.6 per cent. for the world's top 200 companies. Spending by the 11 British companies in the top 200 averaged just 2.5 per cent., compared with between 4 per cent. and 6 per cent. by everyone else. That situation is worsening.
The survey's most damning figures demonstrate the generosity of British companies towards their shareholders, which spent on average twice as much on dividends as they did on research and development. Companies in the world's top 200 invest more in a future return on R and D, 929 whereas British companies believe that they must pay their shareholders five times more than their international competitors.
Even the high quality of United Kingdom university research has not been translated into commercial success. Technology transfer is meant to overcome that problem, but central to it are patents for biological inventions. The London stock exchange requires patents before it allows a full company listing and venture capital is usually invested in patented products. Traditionally, scientists at British universities have not applied for patents before publishing their results. They must be urged to act far more commercially and to register patents rapidly. In my constituency, they must get motor bikes going down the M4.
Industrial sponsorship of university research has improved to some extent as spending per student has fallen. The Government's policy of research funding on the basis of research assessment exercises means that some university research departments are losing out badly. Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester universities are doing well, but others are not.
Britain is being overtaken by other countries in the struggle to ensure that the glittering prizes of biotechnology will be ours in future. If Britain does not change and act, it will lose the race for those glittering prizes.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)
It seems extraordinary that, when we debate yesterday's interests—such as closing a colliery because it cannot sell its coal, or a shipyard because it cannot sell its ships—the House is crowded and noisy, but when we debate research among tomorrow's generation of industries, on which Britain's wealth and prosperity depend, the House is fairly subdued and not many right hon. and hon. Members are in their places.
Approving the orders is vital to successful implementation of the reforms set out in last summer's White Paper, which was welcomed in many quarters. In an intervention, I drew attention to a comment made by Nature. Another publication, Laboratory News, remarked:We therefore welcomed the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement in his Budget speech that the spending on science will be fully protected next year. Mr. Waldegrave's promise has been kept.Sir William Barlow, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:By creating a research council specifically for engineering and physical sciences it should be possible for the Government to fund the research projects which relate to real markets and will aid the nation's future prosperity.The Times Higher Education Supplement carried the headline:Science White Paper is good news.Anyone thinking of voting against the orders cannot understand much about the subject.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) thought that Britain would be hobbling into the future with an underfunded science base, yet this afternoon I heard the most extraordinary speech in the seven years since I entered the House. I refer to that by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) in which, to my certain knowledge, he did not promise any increased expenditure 930 if a Labour Government came to power. There must be great fear among members of Labour's Front Bench about the power and influence of the shadow Chancellor. In those circumstances, if anyone is hobbling into the future, it must be the Labour party rather than the research councils.
I have the privilege to sit on the Agricultural and Food Research Council, and I greatly welcome the reappointment of Sir Alistair Grant as its part-time chairman. He commands the admiration of all connected with the council —and Professor Tom Blundell's energy and enthusiasm are infectious. I am sure that he will enjoy success at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, as he did at the AFRC.
Perhaps it is a good thing—my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) is not in his place—that the AFRC's prestigious premises in Swindon can be used for the new councils, not least because of their reasonable proximity to Swindon railway station's up platform, which is convenient to a number of us from time to time.
The new council is created by combining the AFRC, with its £110 million science budget, with biotechnology and biological sciences from the SERC, with its £50 million science budget. That must be a sensible and forward-looking policy. I suppose that the new BBSRC is bound to be known before long as the "back to basics" science research council. It has a broad and well-balanced base of fundamental science—from bimolecular science, through genetics and physiology to complex biological and engineering systems. There is no doubt that there are synergies between research projects previously supported by the separate councils.
The industrial user community of agriculture, food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology also has a coherence that was not achieved when those interests were the responsibility of separate councils. For example, technologies for non-food users of farm produce will have to be adopted by the chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries to make plastics, fibres and therapeutics. Through the directorates for agriculture, food, and chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the BBSRC will fund research responding to market pull from those industries.
Following the wealth creation emphasis of last year's science and technology White Paper, the new council will have fresh policies for increasing interaction with industry and other users of research and training. Although my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is not short of questions to answer, I must ask whether it is right and reasonable to expect about half the council's members to be industrial and Government users. Last Sunday's "Money Programme" on BBC2 focused on the many opportunities that business and commerce may now have with regard to such research.
The BBSR's draft royal charter gives the council responsibility for supporting research and postgraduate training, meeting the needs of users and increasing public understanding of science. In pursuit of that last objective, the council will support a Danish-style consensus conference on plant biotechnology later this year, organised by the Science museum.
The new council's research and postgraduate training funds will flow in almost equal amounts to universities and its world-famous research institutes. In the temporary absence of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, I will ask only one question. Is he aware that the council members of the AFRC have expressed concern about the need for adequate representation of the agriculture and 931 food industries on the expert panels that are to be set up in line with the technology foresight programme? If my hon. Friend is able to make an announcement on that matter, it would be appreciated.
I believe that two hon. Members still wish to speak; I have therefore somewhat précised my remarks. I hope that these debates on tomorrow's industries, without which we cannot expect to achieve a good standard of living, will increasingly attract more hon. Members into the Chamber, and that some of the debates on yesterday's industries—even about subsidising stagecoaches—will create a little less noise in future.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I shall start by welcoming these statutory instruments and the new division of responsibility of the research councils, because they will do a great deal to make them more effective. We should perhaps particularly welcome the separation of particle physics from the rest of the science and engineering work, because, undoubtedly, it has often been a drain on resources.
As the exchange rate of the pound has changed, our international contributions to research have become a great deal more expensive than expected. As particle physics has been a drain on the other science and engineering research work, and therefore damaging, I am pleased to see them separated.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) about the lack of overall direction of Government science policy. We must remember that the research councils represent only a small part of Government spending on research.
It appears that the Chancellor of the Duchy has totally failed to win over his colleagues to the concept of a Government strategy rather than just an Office of Science and Technology strategy. If we compare the £1.2 billion that is spent on the research councils to the £12 billion that is spent by the Ministry of Defence on development and procurement, we can see that it is merely a drop in the great ocean of Government research spending.
Another alarming feature is the way in which the DTI appears to be continuing to close and merge its laboratories. A number of them have been mentioned this afternoon, but I should like to mention Warren Spring laboratory near Stevenage. I uderstand that there will be an announcement in the next two or three weeks about other laboratories that are either becoming totally independent or being merged with other laboratories.
The Department of the Environment, too, has closed down laboratories. The closure of the National Rivers Authority laboratory near Peterborough will affect some of the members in my constituency who work there. They appear not to be closed down for any useful or practical reason, but simply because of Treasury cuts, or perhaps an ideological reason that will leave the DTI and the Department of the Environment with few facilities.
Those cuts will undermine and undervalue the important work that is done by scientists. Certainly, many scientists feel demoralised at present with the way in which the Government are carrying out their fairly ruthless cutting exercise. The scientific world was rather shocked when the DTI decided not to reappoint its chief scientific adviser, following the departure of Geoffrey Robinson, who has returned to his old job at IBM.
932 I draw the Chancellor's attention to a course at Cambridge university, in my constituency, that is partly funded by SERC and the Gatsby Foundation. It is an advanced course in design and manufacturing engineering and is run by Professor Colin Andrew. It is achieving a great many of the Government's objectives, because it takes a number of graduate students and, for most of the course, sends them into industries for fairly short periods, not only to observe but actively participate and undertake projects that improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process of those industries.
By the time the students have completed their course, they have experienced 20 or 30 firms and come out well equipped to start a productive job in industry, as well as having a good sound basic scientific knowledge and a good sound knowledge of manufacturing.
Such a course is beneficial not only to students, but to the firms as well. They know that, having spoken to one or two of the managing directors of those firms, their contribution is valued enormously. It is rather a shame, therefore, that SERC could not find enough money to fund the 30 extra students that Professor Andrew was hoping he would be able to take this year. There was certainly no shortage of applications. In fact, the course is over-subscribed many times.
I believe that that is the sort of project that the Government should encourage, and hope that the Chancellor, or perhaps the Minister, will investigate why that course cannot be expanded.
I shall briefly mention academic push and market pull, because in the debate we are trying—it is certainly the job of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—to ensure that academic push is pushing scientific knowledge into the marketplace.
Unless industry is prepared to pick up that expertise and those skills and knowledge, we will not benefit in the way we should. The managing director of the Welding Institute at Abingdon, near Cambridge, has said that he believes that firms are in one of four states: the first is complete ignorance about innovation or scientific progression; the second is awareness; the third is continuous improvement; and the fourth is best practice. He told me that he believes that, unfortunately, about 90 per cent. of British firms fall into the first category.
A number of firms, such as the Welding Institute, Camden Food Industry Research Association, which some members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology were able to visit recently, and the Flour Millers and Bakers Research Association, which I have visited, do an excellent job in transferring scientific knowlege, often with the help of research council money, from the science base often into small firms—firms that do not often benefit from the innovation and invention of British scientists.
I think that we should encourage those technology transfer organisations. If the Government have finally decided that Faraday centres are not the way they want to progress, ways of encouraging those organisations, through Government grants and perhaps research council grants, would be helpful.
Finally, I know that time is short, but I would like to spend a little time talking about the difficulties that many women face in trying to pursue academic careers. I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy set up a working party to consider the participation of women in science. Many of us welcomed that, but, although we were promised that a 933 report would be published in the autumn, we are still waiting for it. We looked for it in September, October and November; I was then told that it would appear in January. However, it has not appeared yet.
The establishment of the working party was, I think, prompted by the realisation that, although many women were receiving a good education and a sound training in science, they were still not using their skills to the full. Much of that expensive training is being wasted—through no fault of the women concerned, who want to work but are encountering the various structural difficulties inherent in the present system.
It must be said that the Government did not set a very good example. Despite equal opportunities guidelines issued within the OST, which were intended to encourage women to return to science and technology, the Chancellor of the Duchy did not see fit to appoint any women to the Foresight technology steering committee. That is a great pity, and it was also a major mistake: women, after all, are largely responsible for consumer spending.
We should look to the future. When we consider wealth creation, we must also consider the areas in which we shall want to spend our wealth; women make many decisions in that connection, and a female appointment to the committee could have made a valuable contribution to the effort to predict the sectors in which wealth creation will be important.
The Prime Minister told us today that girls had achieved better science results this year. We all welcome that news; however, we do not want to wait for 30 or 40 years for those girls to occupy the top positions. In the meantime, many women will feel frustrated about their failure to make the progress that they should be making.
At least one research council head has recognised the problem. Laboratory News quotes Professor Blundell, the new head of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences research council, as saying:One important challenge is to keep women in science after the age of 30, when they have to be rather competitive to make progress up the career ladder, but when they have a major and unfair share of the responsibilities at home, especially if there are children".That encapsulates the problems experienced by women —not only in the domestic sphere, in persuading men to take their full share of responsibilities in the home, but in the scientific sphere, where they are often competing for short-term contracts that may involve work some distance from their homes. Alternatively, they may be competing for permanent jobs in universities or research council laboratories, which may be complicated by child care responsibilities.
Many of those difficulties are, of course, faced by women in all professions: many female professionals would be helped by an increase in the availability of affordable child care facilities, for instance. Moreover, the lack of a proper scientific career structure poses many problems, as does the need to move to different locations to take advantage of research vacancies.
Much still needs to be done. I hope that, when the report on women in science is eventually published, it will not lie dormant on a shelf, but will be a basis for discussion. I also hope that its ideas will be implemented, even if that means extra Government spending on this important subject.
§ Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)
I welcome today's announcements. In these times of economic austerity, to find nearly £8 million of new money is no mean feat. Along with many colleagues on both sides of the House, I look forward to the details in regard to ROPA—"Realising Our Potential Awards"—and the postgraduate schemes; I especially look forward to hearing more about the extra funds for industry-identified research projects.
I echo all that has been said about the reorganisation of the research councils, which will refocus their aims and enable them to deal with their tasks more coherently. That applies particularly to their fulfilment of the White Paper's much-emphasised requirements in regard to wealth creation. I have been impressed by the many favourable comments made by witnesses to the Select Committee on Science and Technology; it has also been encouraging to hear of the many commitments made by those on all sides of the debate to the future improvement of university research and their co-operation with industry. These orders are part of that process, and I therefore welcome them.
Fundamental research is an important part of our research activities. Because we have always been good at this in the United Kingdom, I think it right at this time to place more emphasis on wealth creation: we have been less successful there, and we should try to improve. I especially welcome the creation of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, which is concerned with what is affectionately known as "big science". These two subjects have been uncomfortable bedfellows—in the Science and Engineering Research Council—placed together with a wide range of less expensive scientific endeavours which have felt deprived by the large financial demands of particle physics and astronomy.
Our distinguished scientists in those fields have a well-earned international reputation: we should never forget that the United Kingdom was a pioneer in particle physics, space and astronomy. We remain world leaders, much respected and I believe sought after as partners in collaboration. The United Kingdom will, for instance, play an active role in all the coming European Space Agency space science missions; the triumphs of the Giotto mission to Halley's comet, with the involvement of British Aerospace, and the United Kingdom contribution to the design of one of the Hubble telescope's cameras—now working perfectly—are just two examples of successes.
I welcome the separation of these two areas of science, which enables the finance to be isolated from other areas and will—I hope—enable the Treasury to deal with the vulnerability of their international subscriptions to fluctuating exchange rates more equitably than in the past. At the very least, I wish my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy well in his future battles with the Treasury on exchange rates. Government should recognise that the United Kingdom can participate in world-leading "big science" only by being part of international programmes, which require long-term funding stability.
The PPARC's primary function is the pursuit of intellectual knowledge, but it also has a role in helping industrial competitiveness. For example, it influences the employment of trained manpower: space and particle physics is a subject that attracts young people into science, and the experience that they gain in international projects is prized by manufacturing industry. Young scientists with 935 experience in space, astronomy and particle physics—many of whom will be women, judging by last year's exam results—are valued by employers because they have learned to work in teams, to deadlines and in international consortia.
"Big science" also requires technology at the cutting edge, and industry in general values the experience of those who have worked in space and on major projects connected with it. The astronomy, space and particle physics programmes already interact with industry to a considerable extent. Under its chairman, the PPARC will want to build on that, and—in the spirit of the White Paper —to maximise the potential of its programmes.
I believe that the success of the new councils will depend on the individuals who are appointed. I echo the welcome extended to Peter Williams, chairman and chief executive of Oxford Instruments, which is one of the United Kingdom's top companies in terms of turning science into profit. I also welcome the appointment of Professor Ken Pounds, a leading space scientist in both national and international terms. These appointments bode well for the industry-science interface.
Turning to my interest in space, we shall now have three research councils interested in and funding space activities. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council will fund space science; the Natural Environment Research Council will take responsibility for earth observation and remote sensing from space; and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will, I hope, be interested in future technologies required for space, which are also relevant down here on earth.
The European Space Agency has a crucial role to play in that area. Although ESA is going through a difficult transitional phase, it is important to preserve the good features of its mandatory space-science programme, to which the United Kingdom is a major contributor. That programme is now the most stable element in ESA and, although we must continue to press for greater cost effectiveness in ESA programmes, we must not forget that the issue of subscriptions to ESA and CERN, the European nuclear research centre, will be central to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.
I am concerned, however, that space expenditure will be divided between the three research councils. That will mean increasing importance for the British National Space Centre's role in co-ordinating space expenditure in the United Kingdom. With the creation of the Office of Science and Technology, the Government should look again at the organisation of the BNSC within the Department of Trade and Industry. Can a case now be made for transferring it into the OST, which I believe is its natural home? I hope that the Minister will comment on that, if not today, in the near future.
There is now a positive feeling in the scientific area, engendered by the Government's innovative response to the need to produce a policy on science. We responded with the first White Paper in 20 years and the results of the research councils are further evidence before us. I wish the operations of the new research councils well.
§ Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)
This has been an interesting debate, and I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to it, 936 particularly my hon. Friends. I shall leave it to the Minister to congratulate his hon. Friends and comment on their speeches—after all, that is his job.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised a point that must be answered, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), on the subject of women and science. The Minister said absolutely nothing about that subject in his extremely long —albeit interesting—speech.
In general, we welcome both the opportunity for debate—twice in a year is really something, and we may have a third opportunity if we debate the "forward look" proposals in April—and the proposals. We support the general thrust of splitting up the research councils into more logical groups. The Science and Engineering Research Council, SERC, had become too unwieldy, although it had the singular advantage of being easier to say than PPARC and EPSRC.
I am happy, too, that the Government have said that, in the light of experience, they are prepared to modify and rethink the objectives contained in last year's White Paper. There have been some particularly welcome signs on the subject of masters degrees and the extent to which they should be introduced.
The Royal Society of Chemistry would like to know the Government's assessment of the relative merits of a four-year degree course followed by a three-year PhD. It runs a three-year degree course followed by a one-year MSc and a three-year PhD. In defining that issue, it would be grateful to know what role the Office of Science and Technology and the Department for Education will play in attempting to resolve it.
It also wants the Chancellor to say what steps will be taken by the new research councils to ensure full interdepartmental co-operation between the OST, the DFE and DTI to develop the highest possible standards of research training. I hope that, broadly speaking, that is the line the Chancellor intends to follow.
I notice from the report of the Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology that there has been much revision and toing and froing in the technology foresight programme. At one time, the debate was described as "acrimonious". I am sure that it was not too acrimonious, but, once again, there may have been a sign of some flexibility.
I hope that, despite all this effusive praise, the Government recognise that many problems remain unanswered. It will come as no surprise that I intend to mention a few. For example, I hope that the Government will give clear guidance on their thinking in the development of the chosen methods of assessment of scientific and technical needs and in securing tangible support from other Departments. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will contribute more to the "forward look" programme than it did to the White Paper. Its contribution consisted of one mean paragraph.
§ Dr. Moonie
It was a pretty short chapter. I should not like to define it as a chapter.
In the light of recent behaviour, the DTI needs convincing about what is happening. Other Departments often mouth support for what we in science are trying to do, but they are less convincing when it comes to doing 937 something about it. The closing down of the advanced technology programme was good timing, coming on the same day as the announcement of the White Paper.
Before this debate, the DTI said that it would not replace the chief scientist. That may convince the Chancellor, but it does not convince me about the DTI's ability to co-operate in what we are trying to achieve for science. I hope that he will forgive me if, until I see a change, I maintain a healthy scepticism about the Government's overall true intentions. Promises are easily made, but concrete support is more difficult to establish in their wake.
If the director general has no direct-line responsibility for the research councils, as seems likely, it would be a misnomer to refer to him as a "director general". His title should therefore be changed to reflect what he will do. He will not direct the work of the research councils but will advise the Secretary of State. Do the Government intend to publish his advice? Will they publish the advice given to him, in turn, by the Committee? After all, this is the Department of open government, and I want a tangible assurance that the process will be transparent.
I welcome the role of the Committee for Science and Technology, but some concern has been expressed about the placement of two chairs of research councils on that Committee. If we are to have a proper purchaser-provider split, taking the purchaser role into the Department, it is illogical that only two of the providers of the chairs of the research councils will serve on that Committee.
That concern was also expressed in the excellent report by the Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. The Chancellor should take cognisance of that. I have nothing against the two people concerned. They are excellent choices as chairs for the research councils, but there is confusion over their roles. As the Committee will advise the Minister, will its advice be published? Will it be subject to scrutiny by the Select Committee in this House?
On the research councils, I am worried about several points. I accept that what is being done in science should relate to what we hope to do ultimately with it in industry, but it should never be seen as taking over what should be done by industry or what the DTI should support. Although I welcome the initiatives announced today and the extra funding that will go to valuable areas, in the past few years the loss in funds for support for research in industry by the DTI amounts to more than £100 million. Getting £15 million of that back through the science budget is no substitute.
Our views on the role of science spending are supported by industry. The role of the Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry is to maintain and strengthen the excellent contribution of United Kingdom scientists and engineers to the overall knowledge and cultural base of the world community.
From Thorn EMI we have the words:enhancing future options for mankind, improving our understanding of nature and natural phenomena and our place in the scheme of things",and from the Confederation of British Industry:an immense, largely unquantifiable contribution to Britain's literary, artistic and cultural fabricWe still need an assurance that money intended for science expenditure will be spent on science and not misdirected 938 into areas in which industry itself ought to be spending. I am sure that there will be no great disagreement about this.
If there are to be changes in the balance of spending within the science budget, there will be losers as well as winners. As yet, we have had no indication as to who will lose. That is the way of things. It is clear that, if we are to move into new areas—if, for example, we are to direct money into some of our new universities that currently lack research departments—unless there is a substantial increase in the budget, which is not yet forthcoming although we wait in hope, there will be losers. I hope that, in the course of the Minister's winding-up speech, we shall be given some indication whether there has been thinking along these lines.
I am glad to say that the report on the allocation of resources was placed in the Library today. May I have confirmation that what it contains merely represents a pro rata division of what would have been the budget based on last year's historic costs, or has there been a substantial change in the emphasis in spending? It is important that this information be provided. Apart from anything else, it would save me from having to go back to last year's figures and work things out.
I should like, in conclusion, to make some specific points about the individual research councils. There is no doubt that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has a very important role to play in wealth creation —indeed, that applies to all the councils. But the Government must sort out their technology foresight programme. There is continuing debate about whether the programme should be market-sector-led or technology-led. This is an important difference when it comes to attaching importance to objectives. Is technology foresight intended to be used to change the balance of the science budget? If so, in what way?
§ Dr. Moonie
I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way. If it is possible to do so later, I shall.
The House of Lords Select Committee has suggested that the technology foresight exercise should be used to help the "Forward Look" programme. In other words, the perspective should be five to 10 years, as opposed to the Public Expenditure Survey Committee round of one to three years. This is a very important distinction, and I should like to be made aware of the Government's thinking on the subject. The Department of Trade and Industry must not be allowed to palm off its responsibilities for applied technology and for research and development closely related to industry.
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council is a subject close to my own heart. Here, I intend to concentrate on one issue—the large hadron collider. Apart from all the other arguments that I intend to adduce in my personal support for this worthy project—I am grateful for the letter that I received today from the Chancellor, in which the right hon. Gentleman answered some of the questions that I put to him—I have to say that no Higgs Boson, to which he has committed himself—[Interruption.] This may rather pass over the heads of many hon. Members. Unless the right hon. Gentleman delivers on this matter, his visit to the annual meeting of the Physical Society, which I think takes place in March, 939 may well be punctuated by empty champagne bottles rather than by the plaudits that he would receive if he were to come out in support.
Let us be very clear about this matter. The Americans have stopped work on the superconducting super-collider —SSC. The large hadron collider is the only viable replacement for it. We must first persuade the Americans and the Japanese to join in the funding, as the project is expensive. We must ensure continuity of funding of our commitment to CERN so that work may continue. If necessary, we must provide bridging loans so that work which must be done before funds would normally be allocated may be properly financed.
We must work out the level of access, but, above all—and I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House want the project to go ahead—the Government must make a clear statement to that effect. It must be made clear to the world at large that we are not dragging our feet, as the Germans appear to be doing. Understandably, the Americans are at sixes and sevens. If particle physics and astronomy are to move forward, we must continue to advance the boundaries of science. At present, the only way to do that is through the large hadron collider.
The biological side has been covered very adequately by my hon. Friends. I do not propose to add anything to what they have said, except by way of an expression of my own concern about the increased number of interfaces and the problems that we have in deciding into which category of research specialties like chemical engineering should fall. These are very important specialties, and they are particularly relevant to wealth creation. It would be very sad indeed if they were to fall between the interests in the new set-up.
I think that I have exhausted the time allocated to me. No doubt the Minister would need more than the remaining 15 minutes to reply adequately to the many questions that have been raised.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. David Davis)
At the outset, I must convey the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to those who have taken part in the debate for his departure from the Chamber. He had to meet the chairman of the European Parliamentary Science Committee, Mr. Claude Desama.
The purpose of the orders is to put the research councils in place as part of the machinery for delivering the strategy outlined in the White Paper, "Realising Our Potential". One of the oblique advantages of the White Paper is that it has proved to be a catalyst for a series of very high quality debates, here and elsewhere, on the role of science. Indeed, this has been not the least of those debates. We have heard some complaints about the number of hon. Members present, but there is no doubt about the quality of the contributions from both sides of the House. I refer in particular to the formidable contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) and to the contribution of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), whose subleties the Department misses from time to time. I shall return to some of the issues that my predecessor raised. I refer also to the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), as well as to those 940 of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and other Opposition Members. Many issues were raised, and I shall deal with as many of them as possible.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) referred to the role of the Director General of the Research Councils —in particular, his relationship with the councils. In essence, this is a relationship of general direction. The research councils' missions are spelt out very clearly in the White Paper and are set out in these orders. Indeed, some of the consultations are being taken on board. It is for the director general to work with the council chief executives to keep to the agreed strategy. The relationship is by nature a co-operative one.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy also asked about openness. We shall seek, as far as possible, to make the process transparent. As a first symbol of that—something that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—we have deposited in the Library information about the allocation of funding between the research councils and the logic behind it. The £15.5 million strategic allocation is included in the change, so we do not have just a pro rata figure.
The hon. Gentleman referred to what he described as a conflict of interests on the Council for Science and Technology. This is not strictly a purchaser-provider relationship and there is no obvious conflict of interests. The CST is dealing in overall science strategy—at what one might describe as the stratospheric level, rather than at the level of differential funding between councils. The people in question—Alan Rudge and Peter Williams, I think—were chosen for the CST because of their wide experience. Incidentally, they were appointed as non-executive chairmen of councils for the very same reasons. We understand the hon. Member's point. What is most important is that we get the very best people, and the hon. Gentleman himself has said that those people are very capable.
With regard to animal experiments, an issue raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow, I hate palming off such matters to other Departments but the use of animals in experiments is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 which makes it the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The research councils have been active in promoting good practice in respect of animals used in the work that they fund and I am sure that the BBSRC will continue to build on the AFRC's good work.
I am not sure which hon. Member mentioned the more general question of ethics guidance. En passant, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy said that I had volunteered to be a subject in the Megalab experiment. During the persuasion process through which my Department put me I was taken aback by the final comment, "Don't worry—we have the technology, we can rebuild you." That brings me to the question of guidance on genetic engineering. A Government body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, has a specific remit in that respect and there is also an independent body, the Nuffield Council. As we are all aware, the process involves the development of consensus and we expect the research councils to observe and live by that consensus.
§ Dr. Moonie
On the question of guidelines, I forgot to mention the patenting of genetic material. That is not covered by the present guidelines, which deal solely with ethics.
§ Mr. Davis
I suspect that that will fall to the Department of Trade and Industry but we, too, will consider it. It is a matter of obvious and international interest, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) asked when we expect the report on women in science to be published. Without seeking to redefine the autumn, I shall say that the target date for the report is now 24 February. I have no reason to believe that that target will not be met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage and others raised specific and detailed concerns about Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton laboratories. Following the end of SERC, they will come together under common management and for an interim period become the responsibility of the new EPSRC. The separate identities of the two laboratories will, however, be preserved. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said, a review is now under way to consider the options for the running of the laboratories as a self-standing institution after an interim period. No conclusion has yet been reached, but I understand the wish for a rapid conclusion.
My right hon. Friend has already stated clearly how much we value the laboratories. There is no doubt that they are first-class institutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage presented a persuasive case which will, of course, be considered carefully. He also made a more subtle point about the role of the research councils in that connection. It follows from the new missions of the research councils that they should support research where appropriate for the fulfilment of missions, but the maintenance of the overall health of the science and engineering base is also part of that mission together with the effective use of funds.
The White Paper, "Realising Our Potential", recognised that science and technology provide the fundamental underpinning of the United Kingdom's ability to compete in international markets. It is given in the House that competitiveness is a fundamental theme in all that we debate. The White Paper set out a strategy, the bare bones of which are an emphasis on quality and relevance of research, an emphasis on partnership between industry and academia and the use of Technology Foresight and the "Forward Look" in guidance, and I am referring to long-term guidance.
We have introduced, or are introducing, new structures to permit such a strategy: the Office of Science and Technology was already set up before the White Paper was published; the DGRC, Sir John Cadogan, has recently been appointed; and the Council for Science and Technology is now established, as is the Science and Engineering Base Co-ordinating Committee, a body about which I should like to speak at length and will perhaps have the opportunity to do so during a "Forward Look" debate. In addition, we are now reorganising the research councils.
The creation of the three new research councils encompassed in the orders is an imortant step. The BBSRC will have an important role to play in underpinning life sciences where we are beginning to see radical new developments. I shall try to deal quickly with the points raised in this connection by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud asked about representation for agriculture in the Foresight process.
Of course, agriculture is not explicitly represented on the Foresight steering group, but that institution is not 942 intended to be representative. It consists of 10 expert members selected solely with a view to Foresight expertise. However, there will be an agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector panel, so the interests of agriculture will be properly represented.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West wondered how agricultural efficiency and food safety would be dealt with. That will be part of MAFF's role but the new BBSRC will take over the AFRC's responsibility for food and agriculture, as specifically outlined in one of the orders. I hope that my comments have helped the hon. Gentleman.
As everyone has said, the EPSRC will have close links with industries underpinned by the physical sciences and engineering and building on good work already done by SERC.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon mentioned the appointment of the chief executive of the EPSRC. The hon. Gentleman is very well informed. We shall be making an announcement soon. We have gone about the selection in the same way as we proceeded in the appointment of the chief executives of the NERC and the PPARC. It was the method used by previous Labour Governments. They are important posts so it is important to get the right people but we shall be making an announcement soon.
The PPARC involves special commitments and special problems, involving foreign currency subscriptions and long-planning timetables. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy mentioned international commitments. The United Kingdom is a signatory of the treaty governing CERN and there is no question of our reneging on our commitments. The United Kingdom supports a globalisation of CERN and the involvement of the United States, Canada and Japan in the LHC—the large hadron collider—following the demise of the roughly equivalent superconducting super-collider, or SSC.
We believe that the new British Director General of CERN, Professor Llewellyn Smith, will work with member states and non-member states to come up with a sound scientific and financial package to enable the LHC to go ahead, but the formal decision comes before the CERN council in June and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not wish us to pre-empt it at this stage.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What discussions are taking place with the Americans on the LHC? It is an urgent and important matter.
§ Mr. Davis
As I have intimated, my belief is that the director general has been having discussions on the matter but I cannot go further than that at the moment.
The PPARC pays subscriptions to CERN and to the European Space Agency as part of its mandatory science programme. As has been said, they are affected by currency fluctuations. One of the roles of the DGRC is to ensure that the fluctuations are absorbed by more than just the small budget of the PPARC. I shall have to leave it at that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon raised a specific constituency interest about the reform of the research councils in general. We hope to take the opportunity offered by the reorganisation to streamline pension arrangements, introducing a single pension scheme for all Swindon-based research councils. It is purely an administrative change and will not affect the pension or redundancy entitlements of staff.
943 The new research council structure and the new council mission statements, with their commitment to contribute to wealth creation and the quality of life, are key elements in delivering the new partnership which is at the heart of the White Paper. I want to make it clear that we intend to maintain basic research, and the White Paper contains our clear commitment to do so. Research councils will have the responsibility of ensuring an increased emphasis on the relevance of research to the users of that research, but their missions also refer unambiguously to the support of high quality basic research. We do not believe that those are mutually exclusive.
Industrialists have given us the clear message that they value greatly the basic research produced by our science and engineering base. They will wish that to be maintained. In the words of Richard Sykes of Glaxo Holdings plc, what he wants from the country in which he invests arewell-trained people and good basic research.The strategy designed in the White Paper and the structures that we are discussing today are already leading to real actions. The new Director General of the Research Councils is already introducing pilot mechanisms to develop real partnership between the science base and industry. Money squeezed out by improved efficiency is being devoted to the "Realising Our Potential" awards that we have heard about. Other efficiency-generated research funds will go to areas identified by industry as being of strategic importance and further cash for Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering fellowships. The system is already beginning to work.
It has been a truism for a long time that Britain is brilliant at generating good basic science—perhaps the best in the world—but for many decades it has not been as good as its competitors at translating that scientific dominance into technological excellence.
§ It being Seven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion, pursuant to order [28 January].
§ Question agreed to.
That the draft Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.
That the draft Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.
That the draft Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.