HC Deb 06 March 1995 vol 256 cc15-7
35. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement about science week.

Mr. Horam

The national week of science, engineering and technology—SET 95—will begin on Friday 17 March. There will be more than 3,000 events in every part of the United Kingdom—twice as many as last year. I expect it to be a great success.

Mr. Marshall

I join with those who have congratulated my hon. Friend on his promotion. May I ask him in turn to congratulate Christ's college in my constituency on its ingenuity in finding a project that has won the support of the Sir John Cass foundation and local firms and at the same time has given children the excitement that comes with practical problem solving?

Mr. Horam

Yes, I am happy to congratulate Christ's college in my hon. Friend's constituency. I know from my experience in Orpington, where a similar week was held by the Priory school, of the sheer enthusiasm of young people when they are exposed to engineering, talent and people coming in from outside and arousing that instinct that we used to develop. That is the essence of the SET week.

Mr. Miller

I welcome the Minister to his position on the Government Front Bench. I hope that he now has some sympathy with those Government laboratories that are being market-tested. That is surely what is happening to him.

In the light of the national week of science, engineering and technology, does the Minister agree that while the British Association has done remarkably well in developing the programme, there has been a disappointing response from the private sector? Will he, in time for future years of national science weeks—that is, if the Government are in office—ensure that there are urgent consultations with the science-based private sector organisations that ought to have participated in this year's exercise?

Mr. Horam

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but at the same time, I am slightly surprised. Why are there twice as many events as there were last year? I shall examine his point most carefully. We shall make every effort to encourage private sector organisations.

36. Mrs. Angela Knight

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proposals he has to increase public awareness of the importance of science.

Mr. David Hunt

I attach the greatest importance to increasing public awareness of science, engineering and technology.

Mrs. Knight

My right hon. Friend will know that my qualifications are in science. Does he agree that one of the reasons why young people are put off pursuing science as a career is that it is a harder subject than arts at school? An equal deterrent is the widespread and erroneous belief that the only career for scientists is in laboratories. With that in mind, will he tell me how much he proposes to spend in promoting science, and public awareness of it?

Mr. Hunt

First, I have much sympathy with the points that my hon. Friend has raised. We must ensure that we make the prospect of science education as exciting as possible so that youngsters can see the opportunities that lie ahead in science, engineering and technology. Secondly, we have decided to increase the public understanding budget within the science budget by 25 per cent. for the coming year, to £1.25 million.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Given that flat-screen television technology has huge potential implications for the balance of payments of the United Kingdom, should its development be left to the marketplace?

Mr. Hunt

I have, on several occasions, referred to what I describe as the development gap, which I define as meaning a gap between a good research idea and a marketable product. We must find better ways of overcoming that gap.

A great deal of work has been done in our universities and research institutions on television technology. That work has been carried forward by many firms within the United Kingdom.