§ [Relevant documents: The Second Report of Session 1993-94 from the Science and Technology Committee on the Forward Look of Government-Funded Science, Engineering and Technology 1994 (HC 422), the First Report of Session 1994-95 on the Efficiency Unit Scrutiny of Public Sector Research Establishments (HC 19) and European Community Document No. 10564/94, relating to co-ordination of research and development]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wells.]7.12 pm
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. David Hunt)
The date 2 February is fast becoming an important day in the science calendar. On this day last year, we debated the orders creating the new research councils. This year, again, we have a welcome opportunity to focus on the Government's science policy. Today we announce a science budget that is a blueprint for the future—£1.3 billion, which will keep Britain in the premier league for research and ensure that British scientists and engineers remain some of the best in the world.
Today also gives me the chance to pay tribute to the work of the Science and Technology Select Committee, under the admirable chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw). The Committee has made a prominent contribution to debate on science policy, not least through its report on "First Forward Look", to which the Government responded earlier this week.
Last November, the Government demonstrated yet again that science and engineering were among our highest priorities when we were able to maintain the science budget at its current record level, despite the pressures on public spending. In allocating that budget now, I plan to build on the principles of the 1993 White Paper "Realising our Potential".
When I became Cabinet Minister with responsibility for science, I said that I wanted to build on the work of my predecessor, who performed such an outstanding job in putting science and engineering at the top of the United Kingdom political agenda. In doing that, we must ensure that we sustain the excellence of our science base, that our intellectual resources are harnessed to improving the country's economic performance and quality of life and that we promote partnership between the science base, industry and Government.
We must also retain our strong commitment to curiosity-driven research. We do not want university departments to become short-term problem-solvers for industry. The science base must concentrate on its proper role, which is the training of highly skilled men and women and research at the frontiers of knowledge, but those frontiers are expanding and we cannot possibly cover everything. We need to focus our efforts on the areas that we judge most likely to bear fruit. That is what the UK's first technology foresight programme is all about. It has provided a unique opportunity for Government, industry and the science base to pool their best people and to ensure that we pull together. Overall, some 10,000 people have had the opportunity to take part. 1276 The outcomes of the programme will be published this spring. I believe that they will set a challenging agenda for the future.
We also need to work across national boundaries. We cannot maintain high standards by working in isolation. We are committed to effective international co-operation in appropriate areas. That is why we have worked so hard to ensure that the individual programme lines within the fourth European framework programme reflect British priorities. That is why we worked so hard in negotiations on the large hadron collider at CERN to secure British involvement in the world's leading particle physics experiment and a budgetary framework that reflects our commitment to efficiency and value for money.
§ Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
On the point about funding for the LHC, has any progress has been made on shared funding between other European states to enable that project to proceed correctly?
§ Mr. Hunt
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, we were—at last—able to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations with an effective stand for a much more cost-effective regime, which will save considerable sums of money for the United Kingdom over the next 15 years. It will also mean that there is much more effective participation in an exciting programme that is affordable and can give good value for money.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
The right hon. Gentleman says that he has saved a considerable amount of money. Is that a saving to the Government or will it be redistributed within the science budget?
§ Mr. Hunt
It is a saving to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. Our subscription to CERN is paid through that research council, as is our subscription to the science programme of the European Space Agency. I cannot predict what will happen in future public expenditure rounds, but it is a substantive saving of £5 million a year for 15 years. That will very much strengthen our ability to focus on the right priorities. I cannot predict what the exact global figure will be, but some guideline figures were announced last November. The project will release additional funds in the PPARC budget.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)
Will my right hon. Friend expand a little more on what he means by effective participation in the European science scene?
§ Mr. Hunt
Probably the most effective result of the negotiations is that we know that the project will be completed and will happen. I was delighted with the agreement that was reached. As a result, the UK and other member states will benefit from an overall reduction of some 1 billion Swiss francs in the cost of the project over its lifetime from 1998 to 2008. That is worth some £70 million to UK science.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
Has not the considerable delay in reaching agreement on the funding of the CERN project possibly damaged the prospect of involvement from other international concerns in Japan and the United States of America?
§ Mr. Hunt
I do not think so, although I understand why the hon. Lady puts that point. We have now achieved 1277 a much stronger project. It was essential to establish a realistic, fair and sustainable financial and planning framework for the project. Let us not forget that we are talking about a total cost of £1.5 billion. With costs at that level, it would have been irresponsible of the Government to give approval to the LHC without that necessary framework. CERN, like all other institutions that are competing for the limited resources that are available to science, must demonstrate that it is providing the best value for money. To be assured that the LHC would be completed within the resources that are likely to be available, tight cost control was essential.
I expect that the anticipated additional contributions from non-member states will enable the LHC project to be accelerated. The current timetable, however, would still enable world-leading science to be carried out from the year 2004. In many ways, we now have a much stronger project as a result of all that has happened. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Technology led a trade delegation to CERN and a great deal of progress has been made, especially for British interests, now that the budget has been agreed.
§ Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the issue of international collaboration, does he agree that the position does not seem quite as rosy for working scientists? I refer, for example, to the integral project led by the astronomy department at Southampton university. Over three or four years of close technical assessment, that project has been developed in collaboration with other countries, and the European Space Agency has agreed that it is a priority project; yet PPARC has been unable to guarantee the funds to enable that international collaboration to continue. Despite the Minister's words, from the working scientists' point of view, it seems that a major opportunity for Britain to contribute to an important international science project may be lost. I fear that the problem faces scientists working in other sectors as well.
§ Mr. Hunt
We have moved from CERN to the ESA, but we are dealing with subscriptions and with the ability to fund those subscriptions. I shall make an announcement in a moment on making that possible. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I know that he is in correspondence with my parliamentary secretary about it. The Government have found the resources to fund a real terms increase in science spending in this financial year, and to maintain it in the next, but budgetary constraints require difficult decisions to be taken all the time on funding priorities.
We already devote considerable resources to astronomy. The astronomy community has no less duty to demonstrate that it is securing best value for money than any other community. Real opportunities exist to make the necessary savings in the ESA, which would improve the balance between domestic and subscription spend. There is every encouragement to ensure that we achieve the best value for money in all these programmes.
§ Mr. Denham
Is the Minister saying that, if savings in ESA subscriptions can be achieved, money would be recycled back into the programme to enable projects such as the integral project in Southampton to continue?
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will continue its strongest support for the space agency, which is such an important ingredient in ensuring that British space policy is focused, and that a proper balance exists between science and other commercial programmes that are run in the space community?
§ Mr. Hunt
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, whose responsibility this is, has heard what my hon. Friend said. I am sure that the agency will work with all the others involved to ensure that we maintain a viable programme. I expect PPARC, in association with the British National Space Centre, to make strenuous efforts to obtain the best possible efficiency savings from the ESA's science budget.
We have demonstrated already that PPARC has benefited to a substantial degree from the excellent deal struck with CERN on the LHC, which will result in those financial savings. It is possible, therefore, to reduce mandatory subscriptions to the ESA by as much as £10 million a year. That gives opportunities to achieve spend at the right level. We must achieve the right balance between the domestic and the subscription spend.
§ Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)
So that I am absolutely clear on this issue, will the right hon. Gentleman explain whether the Government will top slice international subscriptions from PPARC's budget so that the whole cost does not fall on PPARC, half of whose budget has been taken up with paying those subscriptions? If that happens, will any benefits gained be distributed across the whole sector or will they go back to PPARC?
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important new point. As I have already explained, our subscription to CERN is paid through PPARC. Taken together with our subscription to the science programme of the European Space Agency, those subscriptions cost some £100 million a year, but they are determined in foreign currency. Modest changes in exchange rates and in the relative economic performance of organisations' member states can have a significant effect on the sterling cost. Of course, the Government's tremendous success in putting Britain on top of the premier league for growth in Europe also has an impact. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to demonstrate one of the consequences of the Government's successful economic policy, but difficulties exist for PPARC.
I am pleased to be able to inform the House that, in announcing the allocation of the science budgets, we have agreed with the chief executives of all the research councils that, where such fluctuations occur, the cost will be taken as a first charge on the scientific budget. In 1995, the cost is estimated at around £8 million, but that will 1279 not fall solely on PPARC. Because of the agreement reached right across research councils, it is taken as a first charge on the science budget.
§ Mr. Battle
Is the Minister saying that any surplus created as a result of fluctuation is the cost that will be shared but not the initial subscription, which will still be borne by PPARC? Is that correct?
§ Mr. Hunt
Yes, it is. To make it quite clear, we are talking about the fluctuations which presented such a problem for the research councils, but I hope that we have now dealt adequately with that matter. I congratulate Sir John Cadogan and all those responsible in all the research councils on having reached an agreement that removes the difficulties caused by the fluctuations.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
If costs escalate during the construction phase of the LHC and it is found to be 20 per cent, or 50 per cent, more expensive than currently estimated, what guarantees are there in the agreement that it will not be an extra cost to be taken out of the research councils' budget?
§ Mr. Hunt
There are some very tight guarantees within the very satisfactory agreement. I have all the details here but, rather than taking up further time, I am happy to supply them to the hon. Gentleman later.
Let me put it around the other way. There are prospects for other countries to contribute to the LHC project. I look forward to key non-member states, especially the United States, Japan and Canada, participating scientifically and financially in the LHC project because I feel that they have much to offer. The agreement reached provides the best possible incentives to those nations to join the LHC project. CERN member states have made a clear commitment to build the LHC and any non-member states' contributions will be used to accelerate and enhance the project. I understand that CERN management has already initiated discussions with potential partners, and the United Kingdom remains ready and willing to offer every possible assistance. I understand that the prospects are encouraging, and I greatly welcome that.
I have today provided a written statement on the overall allocation of the science budget for 1995–96.
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
While my right hon. Friend is talking about particle physics, may I remind him that molecular chemistry is also very important? The Royal Society of Chemistry is concerned that, as large sums of money are spent on expensive physics experiments, some of the more basic needs of chemistry departments in universities are ignored. Will he assure the House and the Royal Society of Chemistry that he has taken note of those needs?
§ Mr. Hunt
I have had a fascinating time visiting key chemistry departments across the country. I visited a number of those operating at the leading edge of chemistry and I hope that they will take from today's announcement a clear message that we are committed to maintaining our leading edge in chemistry.
In the past week, I managed to visit Imperial college and—I have to think carefully about where I was every day of the week—on Monday I was in Sheffield. Last week I was in Warwick, and I have also been to Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Loughborough and Durham. I have found it fascinating that the original divide between 1280 chemistry, physics and biology is fast becoming flexible. We have to capture the imagination of the moment when looking ahead, and to some extent the old disciplines are becoming increasingly out of date. Although they are important in certain material respects, we have to raise our sights, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr Clark) said, to highlight the important of key areas. I hope that when my hon. Friend has a chance to read the booklet that deals with the science budget, a copy of which I have placed in the Library and which is also available on Internet through the CCTA Government information service, he will appreciate the priority that we attach to science.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
My right hon. Friend mentioned the CCTA, which has just established its new headquarters in my constituency. While he is touring the country, will he visit CCTA in Norwich before too long, and the university of East Anglia, which is doing excellent science research?
§ Mr. Hunt
I shall be in Norwich next Friday on my tour of the United Kingdom. I am primarily going to look at the work of the John Innes centre which is doing pioneering work. I must talk to my hon. Friend about visiting CCTA, which was opened by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and about seeing the interesting work being done by the university of East Anglia.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I have also been able to make a visit, but to somewhere even more exotic than Norwich. I visited the Faraday base in the Antarctic last week. The base is due to close in 1995-96. What guarantee can the Chancellor give that the very valuable research into the ozone layer will not be lost when it closes? When was the decision taken to hand over the Faraday base to the Ukraine?
§ Mr. Banks
Indeed, but I was talking to the scientists based there. I think that there might be a divergence of opinion between the BAS in Cambridge and the scientists on the Faraday base. I understand that the Chancellor is not able to answer my question now, but will he perhaps consider it and let me have a response so that I can pass on the information?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to come to the House in the course of his world tour. If he has a little more time, I would be happy to see him and hear his report from the front line.
Let me recap. We have now made available £1,281.675 million for distribution. That very high figure demonstrates the priority that the Government attach to science, but that priority can never be taken for granted. There are always other deserving calls on public expenditure, so we have to use whatever funding we have to the best possible effect.
I am delighted to have Sir John Cadogan, the first Director General of the Research Councils, to advise me. He has carried out a detailed review of research council activities. He of course wanted to hear a wide range of opinion, to hear the voice of scientists at the bench and the voice of the user community, so he visited a total of 1281 76 scientific groups in receipt of research council funding. Users' views were explored in a series of informal discussions, and Sir John has also had meetings with the chief executives of the research councils, who are themselves highly eminent scientists. In total, he listened personally to the views of around 300 people, as well as being a member of the foresight steering group.
The White Paper anticipated that the director general would be aided by a small advisory group, a sort of inner circle. I believe that my predecessor, now the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, shared the view that that was perhaps not the best way forward. Sir John has demonstrated that we can improve on my right hon. Friend's prediction. He has created not an inner circle but an open circle, into which people from right across industry and the science base have been able to feed their views. Sir John has also worked with the chief executives to establish a set of high-priority initiatives, for which I am pleased to announce that we have been able to make available £67 million from the science budget. Those programmes will be targeted on three main areas.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan
Does my right hon. Friend agree that he has effectively answered the recent criticism in the New Scientist about the openness of the consultation and what Sir John has been doing?
§ Mr. Hunt
I shall first tell the House that the three main areas identified as targets for the programmes are support for interaction with industry, the maintenance of top-class people, and strategic and underpinning science. I shall go through each in turn, but first I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Dr. Bray
The document outlining the allocation of the science budget is similar to what has appeared in previous years, but any account of the process is missing. The right hon. Gentleman has just outlined what Sir John has being doing and I am sure that it has been very thorough, but there is no public record of it. In particular, there is no advice from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils. Would it not make much more sense if we had a public record of that consultative process? For example, do the priority initiatives, which were allocated some 5 per cent, of the science budget—not a large percentage— represent initiatives that the research councils would not have taken, but were, in some way, imposed by the right hon. Gentleman on the advice of Sir John, or do they represent shifts from some consensus process? Research councils are bodies with their own royal charters, they have a statutory basis and they are bound to report. What is their advice and what is the advice of the advisers to the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Hunt
I was not in post when the decision to abolish the ABRC was taken, although I strongly 1282 supported it. As I understood, it was supported by the former Labour spokesperson, the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), who said that the Labour party happily acknowledged that the ABRC needed to be abolished. Having made that decision, the White Paper then trailed the notion that there should be an inner circle.
§ Mr. Hunt
I would answer the hon. Gentleman's point if he could contain himself. We moved on to the process which I have outlined. The public record of that will be found in the work of the research councils. They have discussed with Sir John the way in which they saw their priorities. Of course, it will also be revealed in the work of the technology foresight panels. I make it clear that I intend to publish the reports of the 15 panels, which contain work on identifying key priority areas. That has been a tremendous exercise in consultation and I undertake that those reports will be published. They will give hon. Members the opportunity to see processes through which we have been able to identify priorities.
We fed the emerging conclusions from the technology foresight panels into the consideration, too. The private discussions between Sir John Cadogan and the scientists in the laboratory are not a matter of public record. However, in a debate of this nature, I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to ask questions and we will do our best to answer them. The great strength in the science, engineering and technology base lies in consensus and extensive consultation; we just need to build on that.
§ Dr. Bray
There may be greater agreement, but there cannot be consensus unless the views of other people are clearly stated. Although I do not know the precise source of the Opposition statement to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, it was nevertheless the Government who combined the roles of the two advisory bodies in a single council. The right hon. Gentleman has not dispensed with the advisory council altogether. What is that council's role in the allocation?
§ Mr. Hunt
The Director General of Research Councils advises me on overall priorities for the best application of the science budget. In reaching his conclusions, he does many things. Perhaps the most important work that he does is to consult with the research councils. He has been conducting a review of research council activity, and his report of the review will be included in the forward look document, which we shall publish in May. His report will then be available for debate and discussion.
The priority initiatives, I am advised, are, in the main, those of the individual research councils. I understand that, last year, the 5 per cent, figure, to which I referred, was 1 per cent., so there has been a substantial increase. That means, as the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) said, that 95 per cent, of the budget is still very much linked to the research councils decision-making process. The initiatives have been allocated money, but the decisions on who won support on which projects were supported were still a matter for the research councils.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
Would not it have been much more useful to hon. Members if the research councils' advice to Sir John Cadogan, on which today's decisions 1283 are based, had been published before the debate, instead of our having to wait until May when the decisions will have been enacted?
§ Mr. Hunt
I do not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman. I was talking about the Director General of Research Councils' review of research council activity, on which he will report later this year. The hon. Gentleman is referring to the internal advice that I receive as Cabinet Minister responsible for science, to which I pay attention and which, of course, has never been published. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I am explaining, as best I can, the detailed process behind Sir John giving me his advice.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am talking about the internal advice, which has never been published. The internal advice comes to the chief scientific adviser, Sir William Stewart, and me. We deliberate on it and reach our decisions. Our decision is based on conclusions from several sources, including those from the technology foresight panels and their final report will be published. Consultations are conducted in the research councils, in which Sir John is of course involved. The way in which research councils view their priorities will be published in their reports, and there is a range of considerations in the Director General's review of research councils. He will make his report available to me and I shall publish it in the "Forward Look" document.
There are a number of different aspects to consider. I think that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) was referring to the internal advice, which, of course, as Ministers know, is not published.
§ Mr. Hunt
I should like to make a little progress, or Madam Deputy Speaker will disapprove of the length of my speech.
The first of the three themes to which I have referred, interaction with industry, means not getting the science base to do industry's work for it but working to ensure that the science base and industry have a better idea of each other's strengths and needs and determine where co-operation may be to their mutual advantage.
My top priority is to build on our tremendous response to the scheme initiated by my predecessor known as the ROPAs—the "Realising our Potential" awards. Under that scheme, 239 projects have been funded by three research councils. I am pleased to announce that the ROPA scheme will be extended to cover all the research councils. I have decided to allocate additional funding of almost £15 million in the next financial year, implying a full-year spend of £35 million.
Let me remind hon. Members briefly of how the scheme works. Our premise is that industry has already identified many good researchers in the science base and is funding them to carry out basic or strategic research. Researchers in receipt of appropriate funding from industry can apply, for a ROPA if they would like to pursue original research completely of their own choosing—true curiosity-driven research.
1284 "Realising our Potential" awards are not subject to conventional peer review, but proposals must be practical and original. Such awards will not replace the traditional grant award, but should serve to refresh the parts the peer review system sometimes fails to reach.
The LINK scheme is altogether different. It provides an excellent framework for jointly funded research between the public and private sectors. To date, more than 550 projects worth nearly £300 million have been supported, many of which have led to new products being marketed by United Kingdom companies.
The LINK scheme will be an important vehicle for implementing the foresight outcomes and I am therefore setting aside £3 million to stimulate new programmes in priority areas. Contributions from LINK partners should result overall in an additional £12 million being spent on new programmes in 1995–96.
The second theme is support of top-class people, which is another clear priority. We announced an expansion last year of the Royal Society's prestigious university research fellowship scheme from 200 to 240 places, and we shall expand that scheme still further to 255 appointments.
The Royal Society also plans to launch a pilot fellowship scheme for top-class younger scientists who are trying to get on to the research career ladder. I am delighted to announce additional Government support for those fellowships, which will be known as the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships. They will be targeted at scientists who have just completed their PhDs.
§ Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I am sure that those schemes are very laudable and I am pleased that the Government recognise the importance of encouraging top-class scientists and attracting more good people into science, but is not the Chancellor concerned about the general poor career prospects for Government scientists and, in particular, the large increase in the number of workers on short-term contracts and the low salaries of Government-funded scientists?
The Chancellor recently took credit for several people returning from abroad to work in this country, but they have done so largely as a result of work by charities such as the Wellcome Trust, which have identified the problem and have attempted to provide better career structures for research scientists? Should not the Chancellor be considering the matter to discover whether such schemes could be introduced into the generality of Government-funded science in this country?
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Lady is right. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I visited the Wellcome Foundation, we met several scientists who had been attracted back—in a brain-gain dimension—to the United Kingdom to work here as a result of a combination of factors. We discussed those factors with the scientists.
The factors included issues such as a free enterprise society, a society that takes scientists seriously and a society in which scientists can work among the best in the world. I vividly recall a series of reasons. Quite often, scientists had taken a drop in earnings to work among the best in the world. They explained that money was not a consideration because they were forgoing money. They could perhaps earn more money elsewhere, but they wanted to work beside the best in the world. That carries with it an obligation on all of us who are involved with 1285 the science base to ensure that there is adequate remuneration for the people involved in leading-edge research.
I have been considering ways in which we can improve the situation and I will refer to them in a moment. However, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) should be aware that remuneration and contracts are matters for the research councils, which take the decisions that they believe result in the best targeting of resources.
When I visited the laboratories, I found that there was much concern about the £400 grant for laboratory equipment. I am therefore pleased to announce that I shall increase that by 50 per cent, so that £600 will be available. I will consider how I can help to get money through to the laboratories and to the people who need the money to purchase equipment.
Remuneration is a matter for the research councils. Of course we give guidance, but ultimately remuneration is a matter for the research councils.
I hope that the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships will assist scientists who have just completed their PhDs. I recall that "The Rising Tide" report showed that that was a point at which women tended to drop out of science. By targeting the fellowships, I hope that we can find ways of enabling women to continue in science so that they have real equality of opportunity with men in the science world. The hon. Member for Selly Oak may be aware that I have asked Lynda Sharp to head a special unit in the Office of Science and Technology to ensure that we have a broad cross-section of women and men giving their talents to science.
§ Mr. Hunt
I would like to make a little more progress. I have been speaking for nearly 45 minutes and I have a few more points to cover.
I am pleased to announce funding to enable the Royal Academy of Engineering to introduce a programme of secondments to industry for academic engineers. Greater interaction between our universities and industry is just as important for engineers as it is for pure scientists. I look forward to real benefits deriving from that programme.
The third theme is basic and strategic science. Last year, we announced additional support for chemistry. I am now extending support to mainstream physics, mathematics and medicine. I will be launching a pilot programme to provide, through three of the research councils, additional funding to universities for equipment to match funding from industrial partners. As I have already said, I intend to increase the research training support grant from £400 to £600 a year for 11,000 students. That includes the increase in grant from £75 to £125 for social science and economics students.
We have identified several areas where additional support for first-class strategic science should make us better placed to respond to new opportunities. Details of that are set out in the allocations booklet. However, I would like to give the House a flavour of some of the work that we are supporting because I believe that it is work that will make a real contribution to wealth creation and the quality of life and a real difference to our lives and to the lives of our children.
1286 I am allocating additional funding to the Medical and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Councils for the genome initiative. They are doing ground-breaking work, which will result in a comprehensive understanding of our genetic make-up, which in turn will provide the platform for a step-change in the quality of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease as we move into the 21st century. The gene responsible for cystic fibrosis has already been identified, and new treatments are being pursued in Edinburgh and at the Royal Brompton hospital.
The Medical Research Council has developed an effective partnership with the Wellcome Trust. Individually, these organisations have a very strong track record, but together they make an even bigger impact. I was delighted to hear a few moments ago that, following my announcement earlier today, the Wellcome Trust is planning to increase its own commitment to genome research.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I recently visited the Wellcome Trust to meet a number of the top medical scientists who have been attracted to work in this country by our outstanding reputation for medical research. We have also visited the Institute of Psychiatry, which is attached to the Maudsley hospital in south London and which was voted by its peers in a survey last year to be the best of its kind in the world.
My right hon. Friend and I are absolutely committed to maintaining the highest possible standards in medical research, and to ensuring that the results feed effectively into day-to-day practice in the national health service.
The NHS R and D strategy is the first of its kind in the world. The Cochrane Centre, which performs systematic reviews of health research, was highly praised this week in the report by the Health Select Committee. My right hon. Friend has announced that she will implement the key recommendations of the Culyer report, which will place the funding of medical research in this country on a secure and stable footing for the future.
Medicine is advancing at lightning speed. It is vital that the NHS keeps up with the pace and that the treatment it provides is as effective as possible, based on the most up-to-date knowledge. Our policies are working successfully towards that objective as well as boosting the UK's deserved international reputation in this field.
I intend to provide additional funds for the Natural Environment Research Council's work in environmental diagnostics. This will enable the council to carry out further comprehensive environmental audits, and help to develop sustainable business strategies for waste management in manufacturing industry in close co-operation with users and the regulators. That will bring benefits for business and local people.
We are putting additional money into the work of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council on producing industrial materials from plants. That will meet with approval from my hon. Friends.
I have, of course, been necessarily selective. Indeed, there was much more that I wanted to say, but I wanted to follow the practice of giving way to interventions. [HON. MEMBERS: "GO on."] I am being tempted to continue, but I will not. I want to hear what other hon. Members have to say.
1287 We are supporting tremendous leading-edge developments, with huge potential benefits for all of us. I want that to be more widely understood. We must encourage appreciation of the contribution of science and engineering to our economic and social well-being.
I am therefore very pleased to be able to announce an increase in the central public understanding of the science budget. Thanks in large part to the work of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the first national science week last spring was a huge success, and I intend to make it an annual event. This year's science week will run from 17 to 26 March. I remind hon. Members that they have until only next Monday to suggest experiments, for which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has volunteered to be a human guinea-pig. May I express the hope that all hon. Members will make a particular effort to support events taking place in their constituencies?
The Government are willing to devote substantial funds in support of our excellent scientists and engineers. We are determined to do so in ways deliberately designed to bring good returns to the economy and people of the United Kingdom. That is the philosophy underlying the allocation of the science budget, which I commend to the House.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
I am pleased to be able to take part in this short debate and I shall try to keep my remarks brief, as I know that a number of hon. Members want to contribute.
Many people who work in technology, science and engineering will be pleased that this debate is taking place at all. We can discuss the science budget which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has announced, but also the direction which policy in this area should be taking.
The debate is important because science is not always at the centre of our political debates. It is an issue which tends to intimidate people and put them off. It can sometimes get pushed to the sidelines, because many of us do not have the scientific grounding that might be necessary to participate in such a debate. I absolve all my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber this evening from that charge, but some of us who are lay persons may feel that, on occasion, jargon can dominate these debates.
§ Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)
Will the hon. Lady confirm that science has not always been at the centre of debates within the Labour party? Did not the Labour party propose at the last general election that the science Minister should be demoted from Cabinet rank?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has chosen to intervene right at the beginning of my speech on such a note. I must perhaps give my age away by saying that I first became interested in politics at school in the early 1960s when, with a general election pending, Harold Wilson excited many people with talk of the "white heat" of the technological revolution.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I do not want to labour this point, as I want to be brief. All of us have the responsibility for generating not only interest in science, but some hope for 1288 the future. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) has chosen to try to make this a partisan issue, as that was not the spirit in which the Minister spoke.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The hon. Lady may be interested to know that I, too, recall the days of the 1960s, when both my parents were research scientists. Many of those scientists of the 1960s and 1970s remember the extent to which the promises of the white heat of the technological revolution were so badly betrayed by every Labour Government.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I shall give the hon. Gentleman an example later which will show that many opportunities which were taken up under previous Labour Governments have been missed recently. Government assistance to industry was very productive under Labour Governments, and that is something of which we can be proud. As someone who has spent many years studying or teaching economic history, I have no doubt of the importance to our future of investment in science, technology and engineering.
The Chancellor of the Duchy mentioned economic development and medical research, and he also referred to the vital area—which I think still does not get sufficient attention—of environmental protection, which does affect the quality of life for us all. We all have the responsibility to make sure that decisions in this area are made on a long-term basis, so that we get the full benefit of all the decisions that we are talking about this evening.
We must emphasise the need to get away from the short-termism that has dogged so much of British politics, and the British economy, in recent years. While there was much in what the Chancellor said with which I agreed and welcomed, there is something of that short-termism that is endemic to the Government's attitude to science. The right hon. Gentleman, who wants to look ahead, must be wary of that.
The Chancellor gave us some details—great detail in some areas—about the proposals for the science budget that he announced today. There may be other questions, such as whether the factor for inflation is as high as it should be, but I welcome some of the questions that he mentioned.
For example, the Chancellor referred to the improvement in spending on environmental diagnostics, which I very much welcome. It is important, however, that research in that area should not merely focus on waste management, but on a range of environmental protection issues that will be important as a way of improving the quality of our environment and will have important economic benefits. The amount of environmental regulation will intensify, at a European and an international level, and the countries that get ahead with monitoring equipment and technological development in that field will have significant markets on which to draw, and there could be some important economic benefits. I welcome some aspects of the Minister's proposals.
The hon. Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) and some of my hon. Friends mentioned the report in today's issue of the New Scientist headed, "Former science adviser slams secret carve-up". In his answer, the 1289 Minister did not take the charges as seriously as he should. They were the comments of someone who served as the chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils for 11 years, who was close to decision making and who knew the pressures on Ministers and what had been promised, for example, in the 1993 White Paper.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is responsible for science policy and for open government. He has a responsibility to consult and I agree with what he said about consulting a wider circle than the inner circle, but he has to be seen to be making his decisions as openly as possible. I trust that, when he has been in the job longer and is not bound by decisions made some time ago, his responsibilities as a science Minister will not conflict with his responsibilities as the Minister for open government. It is important that we establish the principle that there should be as much openness as possible.
On the specifics of the science budget, the Minister outlined the ways in which the departmental budget has been increased this year. He should not adopt such a blinkered attitude, or regard the science budget as simply the budget that goes through his Department. I understand that he cannot say so publicly this evening, but I hope that he shares my concern about the fact that, while his departmental science budget has increased, albeit temporarily, the total of the science budgets in all Government Departments has decreased, which is causing much concern.
I could go into detail and give the figures for the Department of Trade and Industry, or state what has happened to the research and development budget in defence—the fact that no one is taking up the opportunities that exist for defence diversification. Before the Minister boasts too much about his departmental successes, he should consider what has happened to science budgets overall.
I do not want to spend the whole evening bandying about figures that relate to the Chancellor's announcement. I hope that he will acknowledge what his Cabinet Office press release said at the end of November. It made it clear that the science budget for 1994–95 has increased by 1.9 per cent., but that it will be frozen in cash terms next year and that, between 1994–95 and 1997–98, his departmental science budget will decrease by 1.1 per cent. I am sure that the Minister will understand that any welcome with which we greet the fact that his departmental budget has increased this year must be muted because we know what is in the pipeline.
I hope that the Minister will share my concern about the figures published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. As has been said, it produced an effective briefing for the debate. Its figures show that research and development expenditure in the United Kingdom has declined in the past five years and that Government spending on research and development has declined as a proportion of all that spending. The figures in "The Forward Look of Government-funded Science, Engineering and Technology 1994" look show that the Government provided £5 billion out of £11 billion spent on research and development in 1985–86, but the figure was down to £4.3 billion out of £12.2 billion in 199293. I do not for one moment say that all research –and development should be Government-funded, but that is a worrying trend and one that the Minister glossed over.
1290 Although we welcome aspects of the Minister's statement, such as the fact that his departmental budget has improved this year, it is not good enough to look at one narrow departmental budget alone. We must consider the Government's attitude across all Departments. Ministers and Departments are clearly pulling in different directions. Also, the chopping and changing is worrying to all people involved in scientific research and development. The fact that the Minister's budget is increasing this year, but will be frozen next and then reduced is sending the wrong signals to those involved in scientific investigation.
An obsession with market forces or market-based research should not blinker the Government, when it comes to investing in this country's future. The Minister mentioned his discussions with scientists—as he toured research laboratories—about the free enterprise society. Many other countries regard themselves as free-enterprise models, but they do not ignore or marginalise the critical importance of Government investment. They regard Government spending in that field not simply as expenditure, but as investment in the future. That thinking is essential as part of the longer-term perspective. Even the Minister's figures in the forward look prove the need to think in that way.
I mentioned short-termism, which is a major problem that should concern all of us. Short-term funding, whether by Government, industry or in universities, can threaten and lead to the break-up of research teams. We have witnessed much uncertainty, and university programmes have been cut. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) mentioned one important problem at university level—the rapid and incredible growth in the number of short-term contracts, which should worry hon. Members on both sides of the House. That feature is very worrying. Ten years ago, 11,000 people were on short-term contracts, recently the figure was 22,000 and it is growing all the time. Clearly, that is no good for the staff concerned. It worries them greatly. Nor can it be good if research projects and those working on them are under a cloud as regards future funding. The Minister could have dealt with those difficulties in his speech this evening.
Short termism has jeopardised the benefit to the British economy of British inventions. We could all give long lists of items, such as liquid crystal displays, developed in Britain but manufactured abroad so that the benefits have gone to other countries. Another item that was mentioned is transputers. The advanced microprocessor chip, which was developed by a British company, INMOS, is a good example of co-operation between Government and industry. Some of us remember that INMOS was supported by the last Labour Government through the National Enterprise Board. The Conservative Government sold INMOS to Thorn EMI, which quickly sold it on to a French-Italian group. That was clearly a missed chance for Britain and it did us a great deal of harm.
However, that is in the past. The serious point is that this country is still missing opportunities for the future, particularly in terms of potential for developing information super highways. Those present enormous opportunities for Britain in terms of potential for educational programmes, which would give our children access to information and new experiences in education that were never dreamed of in our youth. The 1291 development of information super-highways would also bring enormous economic development and benefits, were Britain to get ahead.
Britain possesses some fantastic advantages. We have some of the world's leading talents in television and film production, and outstanding talents in educational publishing and writing, animation and computer games programming. Wonderful opportunities exist, not least because 80 per cent, of electronic information stored in the world is in English. We have hardware and software industries; we are a small island that could easily be cabled; and our private sector is eager to invest. So what is holding us back?
The report of the all-party Department of Trade and Industry Select Committee said:There is concern that government policies could be hindering or not sufficiently encouraging the development of the most advanced infrastructure and services, and that this could result in the UK falling behind other countries, with damaging consequences.The danger is that, instead of grasping the opportunity to become the world's leader with all the consequential economic and educational benefits, unless the Government change their policy, Britain will fall further behind. The Minister has shown that he takes those matters seriously. I hope that he will lobby and talk to his right hon. Friends to get a change of direction in some crucial areas.
We also need a change of direction on post-16 qualifications in education. The number of young people taking science A-levels has decreased, yet more people than ever are taking and succeeding at GCSE. We must reform A-levels and have a broader educational base post-16, as other countries do. If we moved in that direction, it would strengthen our educational base and scientific awareness. In the long term, that would benefit everyone.
I should have liked to raise many more points. I hope that the Chancellor accepts that the temporary increase in his science budget, welcome though it is, should not allow him to become complacent. He still has much work to do, especially to counter the problems in so many areas and other Departments. I hope that he will take on board in particular the points that I have made about information super-highways and the need for change in education.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, may I point out that there is a great deal of interest in this short debate. I therefore make a plea for short speeches.
§ Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
In that case, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall get rid of my first page for a start.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, not only on how he handled the introduction to the debate, giving way with such generosity that little time is available for the rest of us, but on the fact that he has achieved, in an extremely difficult year, an increase—albeit modest—in the science budget.
We must restrain ourselves from believing that we are discussing the tenth year of a long-term plan for science and development. Sadly, that is not the case. We are in the early stages of a significant shift in how we organise, handle, fund and distribute a new sense of direction for science and investment. We are all committed to the 1292 general objective of raising our total investment in science and technology to ensure our competitive place in the world. The Select Committee and the House agree that the long-term future for UK pic depends on that, so anything that my right hon. Friend can do to increase the commitment, even if his Department has been unable to break free from the problems of public expenditure restraints, should be welcomed. What we are and must remain concerned about is the long-term directions which the Government have planned through the active work in my right hon. Friend's Department.
On the specific proposals, I shall leave on one side the flak which Lord Phillips raised on the consultative process. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr Bray) is heavily engaged in that matter.
On distribution, I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has secured an increase of £14.95 million for the competitive scheme under the ROPA initiative. That is particularly welcome because, as my right hon. Friend said, it helps to improve interaction with industry, which must be right. The shorter time span between scientific research and innovative technology in any of the industrial sectors contacted must be welcomed. I trust that that increase means that many more researchers will qualify to be funded for strategic research in industry, which will help to alleviate some of the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor).
I am particularly glad to note that, in the section entitledEnhancement and Underpinning of Strategic Science",the Medical Research Council is to be awarded an additional £4 million for research into the genome project. The Select Committee is currently engaged in that issue, and this is a suitable time for my right hon. Friend to decide that that vital international research should have a boost in funding.
I welcome, too, the additional funding for the bio-processing industries, which, as far as I can understand them—it is a complicated industrial activity— are at the leading edge of international competitiveness. They have been Cinderellas in their part of the industry. I am glad to see that that has been acknowledged and that they, too, are receiving a further increase.
It is clear that the increased amount available from a lower-than-forecast inflation factor have, by and large, benefited all the research councils in some way. Equally, I am absolutely clear that although research councils' chief executives have had the good grace to welcome the modest addition, the total expenditure must be of concern to the House.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury mentioned science spending by other Departments. The core role of the Office of Science and Technology is to re-organise the mission, composition and chairmanship of the research councils. In the barely 12 months in which that has been done, it has achieved a major breakthrough in the structural organisation of science. "Realising our Potential", the White Paper on which all those initiatives are based, made it clear that science funding should be largely directed to projects thatimprove our national competitiveness and the quality of life.That means science funding throughout and beyond Government into industry and the world at large. I am anxious that the direction of OST policy in helping that 1293 enormous objective to go forward must include more influence on departmental budgets and how they enter the Government's priority.
I suspect that we shall battle it out when we come to the first technology recommendations that my right hon. Friend said would be introduced in due course from the 15 panels. If the four sites initiative means anything, it must mean that there should emerge from the assessment an agreed national series of objectives that should lead to the prioritising of scientific endeavour and, thus, scientific expenditure. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have that firmly in his eye. When we discuss total scientific objectives, we must mean a complete science base— Government, all Departments, industry, the Confederation of British Industry and other organisations. The engineers are always active in such matters and I am sure that Sir William Barlow will be glad to hear of the small amounts that my right hon. Friend has been able to offer today. That is where the crunch will come.
I hope that later in the year we shall have more time than is available now. As I recall, the Select Committee's report, "The Forward Look of Government-Funded Science, Engineering and Technology 1994" recommended that we should have an annual debate. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend has now responded to the report and it looks as though he is prepared to use what he encouragingly describes as his best endeavours. I wish to see my right hon. Friend's best endeavours deliver a full debate on science when the "Forward Look" report is published in May.
I welcome the initiatives taking place in the research councils to ensure that industry's views are represented on the councils, which must be helpful. That is one reason why we are keen to know how the priorities in the council budgets were chosen. We must also encourage the initiative manufacturing programme which was launched in July 1944 and the ROPAs—"Realising our Potential" awards—to which my right hon. Friend referred.
I shall skip much of the next two pages of my speech and mention one or two other aspects of general science. One of the problems touched on in the exchange of questions on the LHC was the issue of attribution and European Union funding. Although the exercise conducted on the LHC was to discover how to recover our money from fluctuation, the Select Committees of both Houses have criticised the practice of attribution of European Union receipts to domestic budgets.
The Parliamentary Secretary may not be able to comment on that subject today, but it is worth further examination by the OST. The Department appears to show that receipts from the EU are, in some cases, attributed to the science budget, which is consequently adjusted so that overall spending remains as planned. We cannot welcome that as an old Chinese custom continuing when talking about the new priorities that we attach to science. I think that in the current year, £12.5 million of such provision comes from the EU, although the future year's figure is slightly lower. If .he has the time, the Parliamentary Secretary might say how much EU money is generally additional to the science budget. In its first report the Select Committee commented on that.
The efficiency unit scrutiny has also exercised the Select Committee recently. The Government have set in place measures to encourage the science base in the 1294 desired direction, while leaving research councils the autonomy to determine how to spend the funds allocated to them. That is welcome, but the inclusion of research council institutes in the recent efficiency scrutiny of public sector research establishments was regrettable. Such institutes are funded by research councils because they perceive a need for them—it is not for the Government to try and second-guess those directly involved. There has been some duplication and it is no doubt wise to try to restrict it. But if there is a desire to avoid duplication at all costs, research councils should have their entrepreneurial instincts restrained rather than encouraged.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has agreed to respond to many of the recommendations in the Select Committee's report. I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel that it is consistent with our view that there should be a comprehensive statement of all the scientific investments being made and all the scientific endeavours to match the investment. We require plenty of information. We look forward to the time when the Office of Science and Technology fulfils the Select Committee's long-term objective to become the Government Department for all science, however funded.
I am glad that the Government will keep under consideration the extent to which additional information on university research should also be included in the "Forward Look". In the section on my right hon. Friend's response, dealing with the reduction in Government spending on civil research and development, the Department states that the fall of expenditure on civil research and development is largely due to the fast breeder research being wound down. I am not certain that that equates entirely with the position of the advanced technology programme in the Department of Trade and Industry. I suspect that changes in that are not adequately matched by the receipts from the DTI's launch aid initiative. I should be grateful to receive any information on that.
I note that the Government agree with the Select Committee's view on the development of output measures, the effectiveness of research and development and the co-ordinating role of the OST as the effective guardian of the Government's science policy. We anticipate seeing that role positively developing in the "Forward Look" report due out in May. I believe that the Select Committee will welcome a wide range of agreement with the recommendations in our report.
The main theme, which no debate on science and technology can avoid, is that it is essential that we lift the total national investment in the nation's science base and the nation's competitive technology. The OST is to be congratulated on the efforts that it has made in a relatively short time to start gathering in all the structural information necessary to lay the foundations for future development. The Department is becoming, not only an important custodian, but a generator of our science expenditure and the way in which it should be spent— although I accept that that is primarily related to Government expenditure. Ways must be found to broaden the initiative and I welcome anything that the Department can do to stimulate, if not to be responsible for, new scientific endeavour on a larger scale.
The new-look research councils are flourishing. They are now able to make recommendations to the OST. Sir John has done admirable work in trying to co-ordinate 1295 that policy in a way that leads to effective leadership. The "Forward Look" and technology foresight will develop in the future.
The Department has to take the lead in the promotion of science and technology to the public. Clearly, the Department for Education has now accepted that science has a significant role to play in the curriculum, which is beginning to make its mark in our schools. But universities, industry and industrial associations should recognise that they must play their part in lifting the national level of knowledge so that, in time, we may reap the reward of improved technology and improved competitiveness in all the markets of the world.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I am grateful for the chance to make a few remarks on today's debate on science. While preparing for the debate I read the briefing from the Royal Society of Chemistry—I was at one time a chemist. It gave a sobering account of the feeling in chemistry laboratories in our universities and institutes of higher education, particularly among the staff. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) earlier mentioned the number of short-term contracts. The lecturers at higher education institutes on short-term contracts have doubled in number in the past 10 years—from 11,500 to 21,500.
The briefing also mentioned the structure of buildings. Many chemistry laboratories were built in the 1960s, when universities were expanding and new universities were being built. The fabric of many of those buildings is in disrepair and needs refurbishment. The numbers in higher education have expanded enormously in the past 10 years, for which I pay tribute to the Government. But, unfortunately, the staff and equipment have not increased pro rata. The figures given show that the spending on equipment per academic has fallen from £1,850 in 1987–88 to £1,193 per academic in 1992–93. Equipment has been cut by one third per staff member despite the fact that there are more students.
Any briefing on science research contains figures on the country's expenditure on research and development and it shows how we lag behind our industrial competitors. The most recent figures that I have are for 1992 when 2.12 per cent, of our gross domestic product was spent on research and development compared with Japan at 2.8 per cent., the United States at 2.68 per cent., Germany at 2.53 per cent, and France at 2.36 per cent. When we discount the part of the budget which goes on defence, we are lagging 1 per cent behind Germany and Japan in our expenditure on civil research and development. All the members of the Science and Technology Committee know, as do all scientists and engineers this country, that we should devote substantially more resources to research and development.
I think that my colleagues are being a little generous in congratulating the Minister on an increase in the science budget. My understanding of his letter of 29 November is that in this financial year the budget is £1,217 million at 1993 prices, in the coming financial year it will be £1,217 million, and it will drop to £1,205 million and £1,204 million in subsequent years. Over a three-year period, the Department's budget at 1993 prices will fall by 1 per cent.
Added to that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) pointed out, are the cuts in research in the Department of Defence, the Department of 1296 Trade and Industry, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and so on. Across the board it is a picture of continual belt-tightening and of a very difficult time for research scientists.
In the interests of allowing other hon. Members to participate in the debate, I will skip a few pages of my speech, as the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) did earlier.
I turn now to a matter that is outside the science budget. I know that the Glaxo-Wellcome bid is strictly a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry, but I think that it is of interest to the Office of Science and Technology. I invite the Minister to give us his Department's view on the takeover when he replies to the debate. Perhaps it does not have a view on the matter.
In a takeover bid worth £8.9 billion, the world's second largest pharmaceutical company is seeking to take over the world's 20th largest company. It would form not only the largest company in Britain, but the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, with a turnover of £28 billion. Britain has an excellent record in the pharmaceutical industry; it is the one industry sector where Britain is a world leader. We invest heavily in research and development and the industry's primary customer is the national health service, which provides a very large home market.
Glaxo and Wellcome invest about 15 per cent, of their yearly sales in research and development. In commenting on the takeover, a newspaper article has said that there certainly will be job cuts in research and development if the bid goes through. I know that the Wellcome Trust supports the takeover as it could mean an increase in research. Combining the two companies would mean a rationalisation of facilities and production and a rationalisation of large areas of research.
In the New Scientist of 26 January, Sir Richard Sykes, the chief executive of Glaxo and its former research director, admits:the planned 'rationalization' and streamlining of the research teams of the two companies, one of the main factors being used to generate support for the take-over among shareholders, will inevitably lead to job losses among researchers.If that is true, we will lose PhDs and post-doctorate research workers from our industry to the United States. More importantly, it will have an adverse effect on the morale of scientists working in that sector, in higher education and throughout the scientific community. Any job losses in production and research which result from the takeover will hit morale hard in our leading industry sector.
I ask the Office of Science and Technology to look at the takeover bid very carefully. Is it in the interests of British science and our pharmaceutical industry for the bid go ahead? I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on that in his reply. It is not good enough for the Government to sit back and say, "No, this is a free market and that is the way it operates; it is not for us to comment or have a view about it", when research and the morale of many of our best people may be affected by the takeover.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I am mindful of the time and your call for short speeches, I will make only a comment or two. I will 1297 also refrain from reminding my right hon. Friend that he is welcome to visit Reading university in my constituency whenever he wishes.
§ Mr. David Hunt
I arranged today to visit Reading university. I shall suggest a number of dates to my hon. Friend so that I can ensure that the visit takes place at his convenience as well as mine.
§ Sir Gerard Vaughan
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should explain that I did not raise that point by prior arrangement with my right hon. Friend. I could easily make a whole speech congratulating him not only on his success in raising extra money for the science budget, but on the enthusiasm and clarity with which he presented the situation tonight.
I was glad that he referred to the "Realising our Potential" awards scheme and the excellent work performed by the Royal Academy of Engineering. I also pay tribute to the work that has been done by the Office of Science and Technology. I believe that the briefing notes which it has produced for hon. Members have resulted in a greater understanding of the subject.
I shall pick up on two points which are not meant to be viewed as criticism. First, I agree entirely with the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones): it is a very serious situation. I think that part of the problem is our culture in this country which makes it difficult for us to appreciate the feeling of those in the science field. We have to raise the general image and standard of science and engineering throughout the whole community. It begins in our schools where I am afraid that the standard of science teaching and interest remains deplorable in many cases. It is an urgent situation with which we must deal immediately.
I am very pleased that extra money is to be allocated to the LINK programme. However, I ask my right hon. Friend to look seriously at some of the LINK programmes. While the concept of the programmes is welcomed by all, some of them appear to be over-bureaucratic and they are not producing effective results—in fact, I think that some of them are a total waste of money. That does not mean that the concept is at fault; it is a very good idea.
I realise that there are difficulties, but I ask my right hon. Friend to examine ways in which long-term development facilities could be made available for research and development in this country. Other countries, such as Japan and Germany, have achieved it very successfully and I think that we should re-examine the issue.
§ Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)
I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy for the way in which he presented the report and for his announcements. He clearly acknowledges that investment in the science base is money well spent—there is no difference between any of us in that respect. We may differ on the scale of investment required if British people are to enjoy a decent standard of living now and in the next century.
Britain is good at invention. On a visit to the science museum last year its director, Sir Neil Cussons, told me that more than half the exhibits and papers it 1298 contains are associated with the inventions of British scientists. Dr. Richard Roberts, one of two Nobel prizewinners in 1993, described Britain as anunbelievably fertile ground for ideas.Given the flooding in some parts of the country, that may be due to our weather—it keeps us indoors many months of the year.
Sadly, Dr. Roberts left Britain with a PhD in his twenties, for North America. He commented at that time that in Britainfunding for research is really quite appalling and scientists are undervalued.Those are strong words from a Nobel prizewinner.
An article in The Independent on 8 November 1994 stated:Britain's best chance of again winning Nobel prizes in science would be for the Germans and Japanese to take over some of our high-tech industries.That is a radical proposal, and not one that we should adopt.
There have been two Nobel prizes for British-based research in the past 10 years, compared with 11 the preceding decade. Over the years, Britain has suffered from the brain drain. Andy Coghlan of New Scientist pointed out thatmany of those who leave are high fliers, and their departure is depriving Britain of its top talent.Typically, overseas researchers tend to enter Britain on short-term contracts, while British emigrants leave this country for ever. I welcome the allocation report's section on enhancement of people-related programmes, and the recognition—I nearly intervened on the Chancellor on this point, but he made it eventually— that more women must be encouraged to enter science, and to remain after completing their PhDs. As members of this House, we ought to know that women have just as much to offer as men. As a nation, we must make use of all our talent, and women are a vital part of our future.
When the Prime Minister visited Japan in 1993, he said:We have undervalued science and the application of science in the United Kingdom over the past 20 or 30 years.He was right. Since 1981, Government spending on research and development has fallen by one third and is now a lower proportion of gross domestic product in the UK than in the competitor countries of France, Germany, Japan and the United States. Departmental spending has fallen and is expected to continue doing so.
Figures released by the Department of Trade and Industry last December and published in the Financial Times show that its research and development expenditure will fall to £245 million in the present financial year, from £310 in 1993–94 and £500 million a year in the late 1980s.
Britain cannot compete with the low-wage economies of the Pacific rim, but it can through technology. That was recognised as early as the 1930s. A year ago, the eminent journalist Will Hutton wrote:It is common knowledge that the British economy has been in relative decline for more than a century, but what is less remarked upon is that had Britain stayed wedded to its textile, coal and heavy engineering economy of the 1920s, the decline would have been even more marked. Yet from the early 1930s 1299 to the early 1950s, there was a transformation in the country's economic base. This was led by technology and, in particular, by state support of science.Since then, we have seen the squandering of this inheritance through the insistence that a free financial system and reduction of state support will be enough to drive innovation.I hope that that is changing, and I know from the comments by Conservative Members that they want change as much as I do. The best way to secure Britain's survival as a modern, industrialised nation whose people enjoy a high standard of living is to invest in the future.
I congratulate the Minister on listening positively to the wishes of the science community. I welcome the allocation paper's reference also to public understanding of science. It is no use pretending that we are not technical. This week, I attended an interesting meeting of the all—party group on cable and satellite, of which the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) is chairman. As I left, I heard one hon. Member—who I am glad is not present—say to his researcher, "You put that on the computer, because I'm not very technical." We must change that attitude. British people are good at invention and technical innovation; we should be proud of that and shout it from the rooftops.
Last year's science week was worth while, and I am pleased that it is to become an annual event. I remember being at the science museum at the crack of dawn with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), to give a live interview on BBC breakfast television. A 1920s steamship engine was working behind us. It is fitting that that hon. Gentleman went on to become shadow Secretary of State for Transport.
One cannot overemphasise the importance to the nation of placing science policy high on the Government's agenda. Without properly funded research, there will be more debates of the sort that we heard yesterday, concerning further cutbacks in the country's social, education, health and police services.
Can the Minister say the extent to which research grant applications will be tied to the rigid goals of wealth creation? Is not it the nature of pure research that it must often be undertaken without achieving a specified profit? Sometimes there is no product—or if there is, that is serendipity and long into the future. How will the Government ensure that total research is maintained when departmental budgets rise and fall? It seems likely that money spent on military research will further decrease.
Baroness Thatcher 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.That shows the value of the basic research that was done in inventing transistors in those days. The reality of the problem—I think all hon. Members know this— is that funding could be limitless. I am sure that, between them, research councils could dream up projects worthy of investment that would far outstrip the budget of any party in the House but I believe that there is a shortfall now that is damaging Britain's future.
The importance, of encouraging industry to invest cannot be over—emphasised. I am pleased to see the description of the multiplier idea in the paper released 1300 today. It is important that the Government, research councils and industry work together, provide the funds, to work on specific projects of interest to all of them.
A second problem was identified in the Select Committee's report last year, and it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). The problem is also exposed in Will Hutton's new book entitled, "The State We're In"—short—termism. Giles Coren's article inThe Times this week tells the story of the British inventor and designer, James Dyson. Mr. Dyson is the man who invented the ballbarrow. I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have one of these at home, but it is a wheelbarrow based on a ball, which never gets stuck in the mud and does not make marks on the lawn. He also invented the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner. His inventions have achieved worldwide sales of more than £1 billion. But despite the success of his inventions, Mr. Dyson could find no one at home to back his efforts with cash, which is a perennial problem for British inventors. The article says:Instead he sold licences to America and Japan".James Dyson says:British industry's attitude to development and designers is blighted by short-termism … You have to show a quick turn—around and immediate profit. Engineering is not about that—it's a long—term way of regenerating a company,"—and a country.If the City—boys and the banks… demand an instant return we just sell our products better, we don't improve them. Advertising is the British answer to everything. But that is the way to a fast buck, not real money.Mr. Dyson went on to point out thatThe best…. business is one where you can sell a product at a high price with a large margin… and make an enormous amount of money,"—Here's to that.For that you have to develop a product that works better and looks better than existing ones. That kind of investment is long—term, high-risk and not very British.A third problem is that of the gap between the skills that we have and the skills that we need. Cuts in education, about which we talked yesterday, are the greatest betrayal of our young people. Throughout the country, school budgets are being cut.
We have talked about a proper career structure for scientists. I fear that the Government will put shor-term political considerations before the long-term goal of providing for Britain an adequate research base to keep our brightest brains in Britain and to maintain and improve our quality of life. The Government's strategy seems to be to cut back on investment in key services now to create enough elbow room for a cut in income tax before the next election. That is not only shor-termism but cynical shor-termism, because one person's tax cut in 1996 could result in that same person's job loss in 1998–99.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will be able to provide some answers to the questions raised in the debate. I wish him and the Chancellor well in the task of persuading his colleagues of the importance of research in this country. If they can persuade the Government to invest more in the future, they will receive enthusiastic support from me and from my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones), who, like 1301 me, is a supporter of Swindon town football club, but I do not agree with his latter remarks. I believe that the Government's proposals this year, following, as they do, the White Paper on science and technology, show that the Government are indeed looking to a long-term future for science, and are approaching the need to avoid short-termism in a positive way.
I welcome what I hope is now an annual debate. It has been held on 2 February 1994 and on 2 February 1995.I put it to my right hon. Friend that if the next debate occurs on 2 February 1996—a Friday—we could have a five—hour instead of a two and three quarter hour debate on science.
I welcome the opportunity to say something about science, particularly the science research councils—five of the six of which are located in my constituency. They have been through a substantial sea change over the past 12 months as a result of what I believe were right decisions taken on the reorganisation of some of them. I pay tribute to the efforts made by the management and staff of the research councils in bringing those changes to fruition, working them out and making them effective, I am pleased to tell the House that, in general, things have settled down well and the research councils are now getting on with the job of administrating British science.
At the time of the White Paper's publication in 1993, and again in the debate a year ago, I asked for assurances from my right hon. Friend's predecessor as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the position of staff of the research councils. Those assurances—that the changes would not lead to significant alterations in staff—were given to me and they have been kept.
However, since that time, a decision has been made to undertake a review of staffing levels in the research councils and that has led to some concern among my constituents who work at the research councils. Once again, reassurance has been offered by Sir John Cadogan in a letter to staff representatives and it would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply to the debate, would reiterate the reassurance that what is looked for is improvements in efficiency but not the drastic reductions in staff number that were suggested by union representatives in Swindon at the end of last year. Staff in the research councils have a strong commitment and they deserve our support. I trust that my hon. Friend will feel the same and be able to give further assurances to my constituents tonight.
I want to make brief reference to one or two of the issues that were raised at the beginning of the debate in exchanges between my right hon. Friend and several hon. Members. The reference to the international subscriptions which fall within the remit of PPARC strikes a strong chord with me. I have raised the matter on many occasions in the past in the House. I look forward to the announcement of the mechanism—in section 6 of the White Paper—to be established to protect PPARC's budget, now a little under £200 million, but more than half of it devoted to the two subscriptions to CERN and ESA.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said tonight that the fluctuations in those two subscriptions will be a first charge upon the totality of the science budget and that is obviously good news. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could tell me, 1302 either at the end of the debate or, because I appreciate that he will have many things to do at that stage, perhaps later in a written reply, whether there will be a pro rata allocation of the £8 million between all the research councils budgets on the basis of their share of the total expenditure on science. That would mean that PPARC would still have to find about £1.5 million in addition as part of its contribution to the fluctuations element.
We welcome the improvement that has been made possible in the overall cost to Britain of the LHC at CERN. I have a figure of about £70 million over 10 or 12 years, which is a substantial sum. That money should be fed back directly into domestic programmes, which support the international projects. Again at some stage, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that he agrees with that.
Furthermore, savings are now being talked about on the administration costs of ESA. It would be helpful to know whether the intention is to recycle those to UK science in general terms or specifically to PPARC projects, so that they may be the direct beneficiaries, bearing in mind that over the years first CERN and now PPARC have had to bear the total cost of the subscriptions, which have been a large drain on their respective budgets.
The two subscriptions buy only the scientific infrastructure in those overseas locations. The real value of our membership of CERN and ESA comes from the domestic research that we then undertake and that has to be separately funded. It is not clear to me at this stage whether the allocations announced by my right hon. Friend today will provide adequate funding for the domestic science base to enable Britain to obtain full value from continuing membership of those two European projects. Again, it would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could clarify that point.
It was brought to my attention that ESA is concerned about the integral astronomy mission. It was made clear by my right hon. Friend that that was a matter for PPARC, but I hope that he will continue to support the belief that the UK is strong in the subject of astronomy. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made that point in an intervention. We must stress how good we are at astronomy, and the fact that we lead Europe in that subject. It is vital for PPARC to finance the mission; failure to participate would deal a serious blow to those abroad.
I welcome the general increase in funds for this year, which is above the inflation rate. It recognises the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House for more to be spent on science. I particularly welcome two projects. The first is cognitive engineering: an additional £1.2 million is to go to the Economic and Social Research Council. Interaction between humans and computers strikes me as one of the most crucial areas of advance for the country: I would hazard a guess that it will provide Nobel prizes here in years to come. Major breakthroughs may not be far away, and I am very pleased that support for cognitive engineering is continuing and increasing.
I also welcome the additional allocation of £2 million to the Natural Environment Research Council for environmental diagnostics, on which a number of hon. Members have commented. It is all very well for the Government to hit industry with the principle that the polluter pays, but it is equally right for us to give what help we can to industry to enable it to deal with such pollution problems as waste management.
1303 I am pleased to learn that a new research council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is to be given generous funds for a number of new projects. The council will welcome those funds, and I look forward to visiting it before long to hear more about its plans.
Finally, I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has agreed to visit Swindon soon. That is an exercise organised by my hon. Friend and me— unlike the sub—plot of which we heard earlier, involving my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be very welcome in Swindon, and I hope that he will arrive there in the next couple of months to see for himself the excellent work being done in the research councils. That work is leading British science towards a future which I believe is very bright, as a result of the allocation and all that has gone before it.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I must declare an interest: I am a non-executive director of the Welding Institute, an independent research and technology organisation that will benefit from some of the new schemes announced by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The Chancellor has made promising sounds about real increases in the science budgets, and if we did not know the whole picture it would look very rosy. I do not want to sound sour, but I feel that the true picture of science and technology spending should be shown. Between 1986 and 1992, spending by the Office of Public Service and Science increased by 21 per cent., but in the same period spending by the Higher Education Funding Council fell by 7 per cent.; civil Departments' spending fell by 29 per cent.; Ministry of Defence spending fell by 20 per cent.; and total Government science and technology spending fell by 13 per cent. Moreover, if we take into account projected spending to 1995–96, we find that total Government expenditure has fallen by 23 per cent. in real terms in the 10 years since 1985–86.
I accept that there is a real case for cutting MOD research expenditure, but why is the money not going into civil research? Instead, civil Departments' expenditure is being cut by an even greater amount than defence research spending.
I quote from a letter I have received from the head of a science department at Cambridge university. He said:In the USA there have been large cuts in the defence research budget but a substantial amount of these funds have been transferred to civil research, i.e. there has been a real peace dividend. In the UK there has been no peace dividend. You could ask why not. In aerospace, for example, I have been told by senior officials in the USA that not a dollar of the research budget has been lost: all the cuts in the defence aerospace budget have been transferred to the civil aerospace side. This is not a direct civil aerospace subsidy… but is a clearly constructed indirect subsidy via… joint university-industry aerospace projects, etc. In the UK, both the defence and the civil aerospace government R & D budget have been cut and hence British Aerospace, Rolls—Royce, etc., are really suffering (hence the recent Rolls-Royce redundancies in Scotland and there are more aerospace redundancies to come). The savings from defence research cuts should be transferred to the civil sector, and joint industry—university research, with the university side funded by EPSRC, would help to restore a level playing field and would help to save our aerospace industry.1304 Unfortunately, many British companies follow the British Government on research and defence spending. The Central Statistical Office review of industrial research in 1992 shows that funding for civil research has reached an all—time high of £7.8 billion. That is good news, but it is still only just over 1.25 per cent. of gross domestic product. France's 1.4 per cent., Germany's 1.7 per cent., the USA's 1.8 per cent. and Japan's 2.1 per cent. make British business expenditure on research and development look pathetic.
Long-term industrial competitiveness depends on our ability to use our scientific inventiveness to make new and improved products. A lead from the Government is needed to convince our industrial companies that investment in research and development is important, not only for their own competitiveness but for the future prosperity of the country.
Another head of a science department at Cambridge university has expressed concern about the way in which the Government are providing funds for industrial research and development. He wrote:All of us here appreciate the over-riding importance of a healthy industrial base. Government needs to provide encouragement for industrial investment in research and for Universities to collaborate in the projects. So far however, most of the funds for this endeavour seem to have been produced from the Research Council budget and not from the DTI budget or the MOD budget.It is true that the cuts in the DTI budget have meant cuts in the advanced technology programme to which the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) referred. That money has not been replaced.
It would be helpful for the independent research and technology organisations to know whether they will be able to apply for funds from the research councils. Perhaps the Minister could tell us, when he replies, whether that money will be available.
My constituents are concerned about a number of other points. I refer to the short-term goals, especially the short-termism within the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. That is a matter that comes up again and again in conversation with research scientists in my constituency.
Yet another head of a science department at Cambridge university wrote saying that he was worried about the short-term goals being pursued by the EPSRCin contravention of the Minister's own pronouncements and of frequent warning from the House of Lords Select Committee. This is particularly annoying, as many parts of the remit of EPSRC … are involved with fundamental science just as much as the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. Yet there is a repeated confirmation of the idea that EPSRC is concerned with wealth creation and the quality of life, and fundamental science of the blue sides kind must be pursued through PPARC.He is asking the Minister to assure the country that vigorous support for high-quality fundamental science will continue to be provided, not just by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, but by all research councils. He asks:can the Research Councils—all of..them—be again required by the Minister to take a long-term view of such things as the applicability of research?In the past two years, one of the changes in funding has hit Oxford university and Cambridge university, in particular, very badly. I refer to the dual support transfer system, which has been a uniform disaster for the major research universities. It was supposed to be an overall 1305 neutral operation, solely connected with research. How the best research universities could be so badly damaged must be questioned.
I have learnt that another department is in deficit to the tune of £500,000 this year because the funding in the transfer system has not been replaced in the way that it was supposed to have been. Oxford university has compiled a dossier on the ways in which the research councils have failed to do what was required of them, and have failed to apply the funds transferred to them from funding councils to the support of specific costs associated with research grants.
Research council panels have memberships from around the country. They naturally seek to make the money go as far as possible and they are inclined to say, in particular, that the major research universities are well enough resourced anyhow, and that this or that direct-cost request can be deleted in favour of giving another research grant somewhere else. Each of the major research universities has suffered a loss of several million pounds from that, and the country should be told that the shift of funding, allegedly to make the costs of support research more transparent, has been a disaster. I hope that the Minister will take that on board. I know that he recently announced a review of that system, but it is extremely important that those serious concerns are dealt with.
Difficulties are being experienced by some of the research institutes. A director of a research institute associated with crop research complains that he has already receivedtwo letters from BBSRC in the last few months… asking how we would deal with funding cuts because the Director General of Research Councils … wants the..money for a range of short-term funding schemes.I know that additional funding of £15 million has been announced today. That is not new money. It is coming from the fundamental and basic infrastructure of some of our best research institutes. If that is allowed to continue, it will seriously damage the research institutes because they need leading scientists, not only to find short-term contract money on which they depend, but as a basic structure for them to continue. I hope that the Minister will take that into consideration.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
I shall try to be as brief as possible so that it is possible for the FrontBench spokesmen to allow further speeches in the debate. This debate is of interest to all parties. I do not regard the support for science as a matter of political controversy. After all, it is well known that we need to support science as much as possible.
In a sense, therefore, I follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) in that she referred to what has turned out to be the theme of the debate—the new concept about which we have all obviously been reading in our briefs from various sources. That theme is short-termism, a phrase which has cropped up in speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have been fascinated by the number of times reference has been made to short-termism.
I have been most encouraged by the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I have also been encouraged by the fact that he 1306 will visit Norwich on 10 February, and I know that he will enjoy that visit very much. I was encouraged by his remarks when he dealt with the problem of short-termism. Although he may need a little more pressure from those of us who are keen on scientific research, I have a feeling that he is on the right track. I was certainly very encouraged by his opening speech.
At a recent meeting of the new Council for Science and Technology, the Prime Minister said that science was at the heart of government. Of course, it was the Prime Minister who provided us with the new Office of Science and Technology, so there is no doubt about the Government's commitment to science, which I support.
We could have a lengthy debate about figures and the sums of money provided for science. The trouble with such debates is that they depend on which figures are cited. I shall not enter into that argument, but it is at least of some encouragement to me as a physicist that the Royal Society of Chemistry has given some welcome to the Government's statement on science funding. It seems that the message is getting through that we need to continue to provide substantial sums for scientific research.
I am one of those who will always want more resources for such research, and that should not be a matter of controversy. However, the mechanisms applied to funding are often controversial. Members of the Opposition Front Bench will be disappointed to learn that I shall not go into more detail because that would take too much time, but, clearly, we want more resources and the Royal Society of Chemistry has been encouraged by the Government's announcement, which is good news.
There is a tradition of pure research in this country. I remember my time at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge when I was struggling to get a degree in physics. Of course, that was where Rutherford and other great scientists split the atom—to use very simple terminology—using basic equipment. They had no idea that it would lead directly to such things as nuclear power. This week, Lord Wakeham came to East Anglia to start up the new Sizewell B nuclear power station. That is an example of a direct application of pure research, although originally no one had any idea to what it might lead. I pay tribute to all those in Suffolk, Norfolk and elsewhere who were involved in the Sizewell B project. It is a great success and I hope that it will run successfully after its opening this week.
The Times wrote about "1,188 MW per day", but that is wrong—The Times gets a lot wrong. Any scientists here will know that "megawatts" is power, so one refers simply to "megawatts", not "megawatts per day". In any event, it is an enormous amount of power, which will probably be good for the environment given the carbon dioxide emissions that will be prevented.
Many hon. Members have spoken about short-termism in terms of not only finance but research. I do not have time to develop that theme, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will understand that I appreciate that an important debate is going on in the background.
I especially congratulate the Government on their support for initiatives to raise public interest in science— that is good news and has been welcomed by hon. Members of all parties—including the national week of science, engineering and technology. I was rather surprised that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has 1307 delegated the guinea pig idea to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but perhaps I can find out more about it later.
Many organisations in East Anglia are involved in national science week. There are many projects in Cambridge, Suffolk and Essex, but I am disappointed to learn that there is only one project in Norfolk, unless I am out of date. I put it on record that that is not good enough and I shall be getting in touch with my constituents and others to see whether we can improve the situation. The engineering education scheme in Norwich is to be commended on its work, but I hope that we can do better in Norfolk by the time of the great event in March.
Once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Parliamentary Secretary and their colleagues on their clear commitment to science, although, like other hon. Members, I would push them a little further and a little faster.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for squeezing their speeches and enabling me to be the last Back Bencher to speak in this debate.
I praise the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, even though he may think that that is a little odd, coming from a constituency neighbour. I praise the Government's development of national science week—an excellent initiative which needs pushing harder. In our area—that represented by the right hon. Gentleman and by me—a number of exciting projects include one involving our respective borough councils of Ellesmere Port, Wirral and Chester and the Natural Environment Research Council. Many exciting projects at Ness gardens have received a staggering response and I hope that the Minister notes the commitment there.
My disappointment is aimed not at the Government but at the private sector. I am extremely disappointed at the lack of response by some of the major science players in the private sector in relation to the Cheshire and Wirral areas. If the Parliamentary Secretary wants something to do in the next few days to promote national science week, he should get hold of private sector research laboratories and science-based companies and ask them what they are doing. Nonetheless, the House ought to congratulate the British Association for the Advancement of Science on its work to ensure the success of national science week.
Several hon. Members have referred to short-termism and relative expenditure and to whether the budget has been increased. I bring to the attention of the House the document in the Vote Office under the signature of Karel van Miert, which I found extremely interesting, although I had too little time to read it. Pages 55 and 64 draw comparisons between expenditure on science research in the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany. The most staggering comparison is of the number of scientists and engineers engaged in research and development per thousand of the labour force. In the United Kingdom, it is 4.5, yet in Germany it is 6—an extraordinarily large gap. Some of the figures are extremely worrying.
The percentage of gross domestic expenditure spent on research and development financed by industry in the UK is 49.7 per cent., yet in Germany it is 59 per cent. The only area in which we seem to be ahead is in comparisons 1308 of military expenditure. I know that that creates all sorts of confusions in the figures, but the two countries are worth comparing. They illustrate the fact that, while the right hon. Gentleman, with his specific responsibilities for science and technology, is trying to do well with a limited budget, the overall commitment of the Government and the private sector is not as good as it is in Germany, one of our key comparators. That positive message should be sent from this debate.
The documents include an bemusing reference to subsidiarity which includes the sentence:Greater transparency in the research policies and activities of Member States would also enable individual States to develop their policies in the light of others' experience.That is an interesting point.
Page 9 of Karel van Miert's document includes a sentence which reads:The Union must speak with a single voice on international bodies in order to participate in worldwide programmes.If the Government are serious in that regard, they must get their act together in terms of the way in which they conduct themselves in European affairs and, in particular, the role of their own Back Benchers.
In responding to the comments of the Select Committee on Science and Technology with regard to "Forward Look", the Chancellor included a sentence that is perhaps in line with the definition of subsidiarity to which I have referred, and I welcome it. In his letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), the Chancellor stated:Finally, 'Realising our potential' intended that the Forward Look would open up for public scrutiny and debate the current plans and priorities for publicly-funded science, engineering and technology.I hope that that is a conversion to the definition of subsidiarity as far as it applies to science. I hope that the Chancellor recognises that, in the spirit of this debate, which has been quite supportive of Britain's need to develop a proper science policy, there is still room for improvement in some areas.
With regard to comparisons with other European countries, one obviously comes very rapidly to the issue of short-termism. It is important to consider the figures and then stand back and say, "Well, it is not really solely the responsibility of the banks and the financial institutions. If the infrastructure of support for science and research and development from the Government is not there, is it reasonable for the banks and financial institutions to take more than a short-term view?" Such issues must be part of a jigsaw. All the parts must be brought together and we will then see the explosion that we would all welcome.
I will conclude my rapid run through what was going to be a lengthy speech by referring to defence expenditure. Clearly, some of the important areas of research conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence will result in potential for activities in the civilian sector. We should encourage the whole principle of diversification.
I challenge the Chancellor to look very carefully at page 17 of the Select Committee's second report. He should consider the exchange between his predecessor and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), who is not renowned for being a left winger on the Select Committee. The Chancellor will see from the language of 1309 that exchange that his predecessor was extremely muddled about the relationship between the Office of Science and Technology and the MOD.
There must be clarity because, without it, we will not have a structured transition from areas of research expertise in the MOD which could, in the post cold-war era, translate into civilian activities. That needs a carefully thought-out strategy, and I hope that, in the months and years to come, the Government—it will not be the present Government in the years to come—will engage in that debate seriously. That will give us the potential to release moneys to allow us to get on to the same league table as the Germans. Together with other constructive changes, that will create an initiative that will move the private sector and the financial institutions in parallel and help us to generate a science base in the interests of Great Britain plc in the longer term.
§ Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)
This brief, but important, debate has proved to be more of a Government statement on the allocation of funding for science than anything else. Science has suffered some neglect in the House since the Science and Technology Act 1965 aroused such great interest, and we all ought to welcome the fact that it is moving up the political agenda.
This is not the annual debate on science—we have that to come on "Forward Look"—but we do need an overall debate on the Government's budgets for research and development and future policy. Part of the frustration of hon. Members taking part in the debate this evening has been caused by the lack of time, and let us hope that more hon. Members join in when we have a full debate.
Although the emphasis of this debate has been on the science Budget, we must keep the debate in the context of the Government's overall spending, and I hope to refer to that during my brief remarks. A briefing based on "Forward Look" figures which I received from the Library on 1 December after the November Budget stated:The 1994–5 total Government spending on science and technology was planned to be £6,106.5 million… This was lower than the estimate for 1993–4 by some £160.3 million… As you suspected this planned reduction in last year's plans, last year, is greater in size than the increase in the science budget announced in the budget statement.In other words, the science budget has effectively been undermined by other Departments' spending cuts. The Chancellor of the Duchy may claim to be holding his science budget, but it has been dramatically undermined by falls in departmental spending elsewhere. Departmental spending equals only 63 per cent. of the Government's total spending for science.
The Government's record is not good. Publicly funded research and development fell from 43 per cent. of the UK total in 1989 to 35 per cent. in 1992. In 1992, the UK spent 2.12 per cent. of GDP on research and development—lower than Japan, America, France and Germany. Hon. Members have referred to the dramatic reduction in civil expenditure, which is mostly attributable to the Department of Trade and Industry.
DTI expenditure, has fallen in real terms from £900 million in 1984–85 to £245 million in 1994–95, and it is planned to go down further to £237.5 million in 1996–97. 1310 The DTI has withdrawn its joint programmes with what was formerly the Science and Engineering Research Council. The Department ended the advance technology programmes in high temperature superconductivity research. DTI money was lost from the joint framework for information technology, and from the advanced manufacturing technology committee's research into advanced robotics and computer-aided engineering. Even the smaller scale computer-integrated manufacturing was chopped by the DTI.
I put it to the Chancellor that that cannot be helpful when he is trying to co-ordinate a Government-wide strategy. There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm from the President of the Board of Trade; indeed, on the very day in June 1993 when the Chancellor's predecessor was launching the White Paper on science, the President of the Board of Trade ended the DTI's collaborative research programmes, and effectively withdrew the joint funding programmes with what was then SERC. It was a loss of an estimated £40 million, which the Government withdrew from science support. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that in his reply, and tell us how much has been lost from research programmes that were jointly funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and the research councils. Is it not about £40 million, which would wipe out any claimed increase in the support for the science base?
Will the Office of Science and Technology, via the research councils, be the main source of all Government funding for the support of research in industry and elsewhere? Will the OST guarantee to replace what has been lost by reductions in other Departments?
As we all know, it is not merely a case of reductions in the Department of Trade and Industry. That same downward trend, although less marked, is evident in other Government Departments. They are all forecasting reductions in expenditure for 1996–97 of between 8 and 17 per cent., compared with 1992–93. The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are forecasting reductions. The Department of Transport is forecasting a £2.5 million cut in expenditure on engineering policy by the end of this financial year, compared with 1992–93. That cannot contribute to an integrated, co-ordinated departmental policy.
We need a strategy of interdepartmental thinking and action from the Government—some transdepartmental action and co-ordination, so that there is a thrust for a science policy throughout all Government Departments.
We have heard international comparisons. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) asked whether the private sector would fill the gap. Paragraph 3.2 of "Forward Look" states:with private sector contributions growing commensurately.That implies that if the Government withdrew support, it would be matched by the private sector, but that is not happening. In 1991, British companies funded only 69 per cent. of their research, which is a lower proportion than in any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country, bar France. Research and development by British industry is a lower percentage of the gross domestic product than that of our competitors and we are losing ground. Employment in industrial research fell by 46,000 between 1986 and 1992.
1311 As Dr. John Mulvey said in a letter in Physics World in August 1994:Compared to Germany and Japan, where expenditure by industry per head of the labour force is at least twice the UK level, the gap has widened to nearly 1 per cent. of GDP or about £6 billion per year. It is indeed asking rather a lot of the science base to compensate for this enormous deficit by providing better value for money.In September, the Prime Minister promised the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee:Despite the absolute necessity of restraining public expenditure we expect spending on the science base to rise in real terms next year and science will remain a high priority in future.There seems to have been a decline in real terms even in this year's figure. It seems to be up £13.9 million, but with inflation at 2.4 per cent., it ought to have increased by £28.9 million. On page 2 of the Minister's press release, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council claims that the budget has increased by £4.5 million, but compared with last year's figures, it has been reduced by £10.2 million from £171.8 million. Perhaps the Minister can explain that. Obviously, tonight we are discussing not new money but the earmarking and sharing out of a fragment—5 per cent.—of the science budget.
It is good to see that the underpinning of strategic science is underlined in the report and we wholeheartedly welcome that. I was especially glad to see the reference to work on protein structure, which is to be supported. We all remember the observations of Sir John Kendrew, when he was speaking of his early work at Cambridge with Max Perutz, which led to the first identification of a protein structure. He said that they had achieved no results in more than 10 years of research and that experts claimed that they were doomed to fail. The message is clear to all of us: we should support the science base.
Let us not get the debate out of perspective. The Government have spent nearly a quarter of a million pounds simply on the citizens charter for British Rail. That sum is equivalent to what they spent this year on the public understanding of science. Is science a real priority when the Government spend £208 million simply to advertise the sale of British Rail? We are forced to ask whether the Government have put science, and spending on the science base, at the heart of their agenda. Savings could be made elsewhere and that money spent on the science base.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service..and..Science..(Mr...Robert..G...Hughes)
I enormously welcomed the eight Back-Bench contributions to the debate. I welcomed not necessarily their content but the fact that so many hon. Members wanted to take part in this important debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House may be disappointed to know that, although I have agreed to become a guinea pig in the Megalab 95 competition, I stipulated that testing should be non—destructive. I should add that it was not my idea but that of Roger Highfield, who did not ask me but just put my name in print. But I am happy to go along with it.
Many hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, concentrated on money. Although it is important to discuss every aspect of Government research and development programmes, hon. Members must be patient 1312 and wait for the publication of "Forward Look", in which the Government will detail where we are going, what we want to do, the sums that will be spent and the process by which we have reached those conclusions. "Forward Look" is the largest explanation that a British Government have ever given about what they seek to do, so it is yet another example of the open government policies for which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy is responsible.
§ Mr. Battle
It might be in affection, but I should prefer a guarantee from the Minister that the Government will set aside time for a full day's debate on "Forward Look" in June or July.
That is a matter for the Leader of the House, but my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), who represents the Patronage Secretary, will have heard the hon. Gentleman's request and will no doubt report it in the right places.
We have heard a few Jeremiahs in the debate. The speech by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) was somewhat lugubrious. I do not know what makes him happy, but today's science budget should have done so because it has been maintained at a record level. I remind hon. Members that, in real terms, it is 30 per cent. above its value in 1979–80 and that the revision of the GDP deflator—the accurate forecast of what the money is worth—has increased the value of this year's science budget by about 2 per cent. That is good news.
We can all bandy figures about. If one is in Opposition—I have served in opposition on councils— one tries to find the worst figures, while if one is in Government or in charge, one tries to find the best figures. Let us not forget that the UK is an average spender among G7 nations. Government funding for research and development in the UK is higher than in Japan, Italy and Canada and our spending on high-technology industries stands up well to international comparison. So we are doing well by international standards and this year's figure for the basic science budget, which is, after all, the subject of tonight's debate, stands up extremely well. The figure for total Government spending on research and development will be contained in "Forward Look".
At the beginning of her speech, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) spoke about environmental protection. I am glad that she did so because this is a tremendous opportunity. If we are to have high environmental standards, it is vital that they be science– based. A distinct fear came through from the research councils, scientists and industrialists that much of what they were being asked to do was not based firmly enough on good science. The money that we are making available will ensure that it is based on good science. That is good for all of us—it is good for the economy, the country, industrialists and the environment. If we are to lay down a strict regime, it is important that it should be the right regime and that we do not think, in a few years' time, that if only we had had better science, we could have done a better job. I look forward to the results.
Hon. Members suggested that there had been a secret carve-up. But the Director General of Research Councils has consulted widely. He has had extensive discussions 1313 with all the research council chief executives. He consulted more than 300 science practitioners before he reached the recommendations that he made to my right hon. Friend and me. Of course, my right hon. Friend listened carefully to what people said to him when he visited the universities.
If I give way to the hon. Lady I shall not even reach the points that she made in her speech. I normally give way when hon. Members ask me, but I think it will be more courteous to answer as many questions as I can.
Sir John Cadogan, the Director General of Research Councils, is a civil servant and it has not been the practice to publish the advice of civil servants to Ministers under any Government. We are at pains to say that plans will be published in the allocation booklet announcing the basis on which we arrived at the decisions that we took.
Several hon. Members spoke about short-term contracts for researchers. That is an important point and the research councils, with the OST, are developing a concordat on contract researchers. They will soon be discussing it with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which represents the universities and the employers of contract staff. New initiatives have been introduced and the Royal Society has increased the number of long—term personal fellowships. Warwick university has introduced 50 six-year fellowships.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), the Chairman of the Select Committee, mentioned ROPA. I am glad that he did so as I think that ROPA answers the question raised by the hon. Members for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones)—on behalf of the Liberal party— and for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), on behalf of the Labour party, about blue skies research. I do not mind if the Labour party calls it red dawn research—we know what we mean. We mean research that has no direct industrial application at the time—not making widgets for industry and not necessarily knowing what one will get out of the research. That is precisely what the ROPA scheme does.
1314 We should remind ourselves of the success of ROPA. Some 239 awards worth £5 million have been made in the past year and the scheme has been viewed favourably. We had to find extra money in the existing year and, together with the figures announced by my right hon. Friend, the money will be spread across all the research councils.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey spoke of the European Community money and receipts. The science research councils received£12 million from the European Community in 1994–1995 and none of it is deducted from the science provision. I commend to the House a piece that appeared in the current edition of Director magazine. Michael Kenward, former editor of the New Scientist, said that £9.6 billion over the next four years would be spent on the fourth framework programme. He kindly says that, because of the negotiations that we carried out, the figure accurately reflects the United Kingdom's competence in a number of sectors. He says that it gives United Kingdom companies a distinct edge over their European competitors when meeting the European Union's needs. We received more than our just returns on the third framework, and I am confident that British industry and academics will take up the challenge and do at least as well this time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), who is the host Member of Parliament for most of the research councils—I look forward to visiting them with him—sought an assurance that we are looking for efficiency and not drastic cuts. I am happy to be able to give him that assurance. We are not pursuing job cuts for their own sake and we are committed to ensuring that as much of the science budget as possible goes into science. I think that the whole House will welcome that.
We do not want money to go to administration; we want it to go to the sharp end for good scientific research. It is the Government's duty to ensure that the research councils remain fit to fulfil their future purpose and we remain committed to that duty. The hon. Member for Cambridge asked whether independent research organisations can apply for grants. I will get back to the hon. Lady on that point—
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.