HC Deb 27 March 1995 vol 257 cc690-1
33. Mr. Miller

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what estimates he has made of the total number of children involved in National Science Week; what proportion were girls; and if he will make a statement. [14212]

Mr. David Hunt

At least 1.5 million, of whom I understand that approximately 50 per cent. were girls.

Mr. Miller

I am grateful for that response. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that we pin down those figures accurately and that we analyse why, even though a large proportion of girls participated in National Science Week, as they did last year, we still have not broken through and persuaded more girls to participate in science at A-level and beyond? Will the Chancellor ensure, with his colleagues at the Department for Education, that urgent research is undertaken to correct that huge anomaly?

Mr. Hunt

First, I pay tribute to the many organisations which put on events during National Science Week to increase public understanding of science, engineering and technology. Many of those were directed at boys and girls. I understand that at least 1.5 million people watched children's television such as "Blue Peter" and "Newsround", which carried many items. As for the hon. Gentleman's point about girls, we want to see equality of opportunity. Indeed, the Royal Society's new Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships, for which I recently announced support, should help retain young women in post-doctoral research. The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to start at the earliest possible age by attracting more boys and girls into science as a career.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, following the success of "Realising our Potential" in 1993—the first White Paper on science for more than 20 years—we have seen a continuing concentration on science education and that the success of National Science Week last week was proof positive of that? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that the success of Conservative policies in the past 15 years derived from one of the best lady scientists ever?

Mr. Hunt

I completely agree with my hon. Friend's comments about Baroness Thatcher. As for the future, much of the strength in our science and engineering base is due to our free enterprise system, and we have a reputation throughout the world as a centre of free enterprise. We published today the reports of the Technology Foresight exercise, which contain examples of what must happen in the future, including a more positive partnership between industry, Government and our best brains.

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