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Column 874dividing the universities into R, T and X categories. I rejected that in a speech I made in Oxford last October, but we wish to achieve greater selectivity by different means. It also asked us to concentrate and improve the management of our research councils. We are doing that and they will receive £37 million in this settlement.
Later this year I envisage bringing out a paper reporting on all those developments. It will also deal with matters that are still under discussion, the proposal to divide research and teaching in universities so that we know how much is being spent on research and how much is being spent on teaching, not only in sciences but throughout the universities. It will also deal with proposals about the future organisation of the research councils, which raise very important matters indeed. The past few years have seen considerable changes in the organisation of science and we should be considering again the organisation within Government and the organisation of the research councils.
Mr. Straw : Since the Secretary of State promised that the policy document would be produced last year, and would be available by last November at the latest, what accounts for the delay of eight or nine months?
Mr. Baker : Several of the matters with which I have already dealt. The hon. Gentleman could not have been listening to me. Part and parcel of the delay are the extra funding, the selectivity of R, T and X, the organisation of the research councils, the separation of research and teaching in universities and one outstanding matter--how much money should be transferred from the UGC to the research councils, and current proposals about the reorganisation of the research councils. Those important matters need to be considered. In conclusion, since 1979 there has been a substantial rise in real resources of 26 per cent. in the basic science budget. As I said, that compares with no increase whatsoever when the Labour party was in power. There was absolutely no increase in real terms between 1976 and 1980.
Mr. Straw rose --
Mr. Straw rose --
Mr. Baker : The hon. Gentleman should look at the figures from 1976 when the IMF said that there should be no more spending. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to say that there was an increase in real terms, I say to him, look what you did to the universities when you were in office. You cut the spending in the universities--
Mr. Baker : You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had no hand in such villainy and destruction. It was them. They did it. They cut the spending on the universities by 18 per cent. in real terms. Where do all the scientists work? They work in the universities. The Opposition cut university spending by 18 per cent. and we have increased it by 17 per cent. in real terms. The reason is that we run the economy successfully
Column 875and we can afford it. They ran the economy hopelessly and as a result spending on everything, including good things, was cut. It was said earlier that people are not attracted by tax rates and that people will not come back. Many people will be coming back to a Britain with a standard rate of tax of 25p in the pound and a top rate of tax of 40p in the pound. When the Opposition left office the top rate of tax was 98p in the pound. Their present policies would take them back to it. As Conservative Members will recognise, the success which we are celebrating tonight of the increase in the science budget is based on the economic success of the country and the increased profitability of British industry which has allowed us to expand and develop the scientific base in our country. That is why the House should reject this footling motion.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : One could comment on any specific element of the motion, but I wish to concentrate on the need for organisation and funding to tackle the vital problems of the global environment. The Government's failure in this respect is highlighted by their attack on environmental research in Wales. The Secretary of State's tributes to the success of scientists and research workers are well deserved, but they come ill from the representative of a Government who have failed to support that work. At present we are experiencing the asset- stripping of environmental research in Wales. That is bad for Wales, bad for the United Kingdom and bad for the international community. It gives the lie to any suggestion that the Government have any real interest in scientific research or in the environment.
In Wales we deplore the Government's neglect. I will give three illustrations of our worries. Two of them are important in an international context as well as in Wales. Research Vessel Services at Barry and the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology research station at Bangor have shared the experience of seeing their share of any research council money decline during the years of Conservative government. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and I have failed to get sensible answers from Ministers, especially about the situation at Barry, or any answer at all from the Prime Minister. Written answers today show something of the budgetary decline that we are experiencing. In 1979 Bangor took 0.69 per cent. of the budget. By last year it was 0.54 per cent. and the Minister is not sure how much it will be this year. In the case of Barry, it is 0.44 per cent. of the budget. By 1988 it was down to 5.88 per cent. and in 1989- 90 it will be 5.31 per cent.
The employment of staff in those vital establishments has also shown a dramatic fall. In 1979, there were 44 full-time staff at Bangor, but that was reduced to 34 in 1988 and in 1989 there are only 26 staff. In the case of Research Vessel Services at Barry, in 1981 there were 206 staff and in 1988 the number had been reduced to 165. No significant change is expected in 1989, but it can expect some significant change as a result of the announcement made today that the services are to be closed down.
The implications for Welsh universities are dramatic. Taken together, they represent the destruction of two viable and internationally recognised centres of environmental research at a cost to Wales of reduced academic
Column 876capabilities and job losses in areas of high unemployment. The university of Wales is already in a desperate financial state which is being paid for with cuts in course options, job losses and amalgamations. The establishment of the new unit at Bangor must be seen in the context of the botanical and zoological departments at that university "amalgamating" into a smaller department of biology, and the long-term plans to begin the amalgamation of departments at Bangor and Aberystwyth along the lines of the reorganisation at Cardiff. Those plans can only have the same effect of reducing student places and course options and will have effects on the scientific activities and the ethos and environment around those towns.
The head of the new biology department at the university college of North Wales complained that environmental research in Wales has now been put back to the position that it occupied in the 1950s. Is that not truly deplorable? It is now already a year since the staff of the research station at Bangor were informed that the Natural Environment Research Council was closing the station and setting up a small unit.
The situation at Bangor has unfortunate parallels with the situation in other parts of the country, such as the treatment of staff at the Institute of Marine Biology at Aberdeen. The Natural Environment Research Council decided to move the group to the Scottish marine station at Oban and prepared accommodation there costing £100,000. Months passed, but no decision was made to move the staff and in October the remaining nine staff at Aberdeen were made redundant.
At Bangor, no agreement has been signed with the university college of North Wales and there is little communication between management and staff, although promises were made. Building costs are estimated at £90,000 and will possibly reach £130,000, although the Natural Environment Research Council has only £30,000 available. The staff are becoming concerned that, because of the delays, NERC will repeat what it has done at Aberdeen and make all the staff redundant. The future--far from being a new start--is bleak for the staff and, more importantly, for environmental research.
The situation at Bangor has to be linked with that developing in Barry, where the Research Vessel Services base is also threatened with closure. Today that threat became actuality. The base was opened in 1972 with just 15 staff. The Secretary of State seems amused at that news. The announcement was made in a way typical of the Government, who announce only what they want the public to hear and when they want the public to hear it. The press heard about the future of RVS Barry at 11 am, but the staff were not told until 3 pm. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West and I are still waiting for a reply from the Prime Minister and others on these matters and, no doubt, we shall wait a long time for a satisfactory one. The decision must be changed because it is irrational and wrong. The base employs almost 200 staff and on the vessel whose research voyages it supports there is a range of disciplines such as navigation, communications, data-logging, processing, biology, geology, geophysics and physical oceanography. Its clients include 14 British and two American universities, eight institutes and Government Departments and three American institutes. Over the years, it has developed a coherent package of ocean-going and shore-based research skills personnel and equipment, and the staff are proud of that achievement.
Column 877Yet the Secretary of State wants to close it down. There are strategic considerations too. The vessels leaving Barry have immediate access to open water, which is not the case at Southampton, where the Government apparently wish to relocate the base. According to a written answer that I received today, the cost of creating the relevant new facility at Southampton is about £21 million over four years, at 1988- 89 prices. The savings offset are assumed--only assumed--to reach £11 million. That is a waste of at least £10 million which could be given to the essential work of environmental research. I appeal to the Secretary of State and to Ministers to leave the RVS at Barry in south Wales where it is doing a good job.
Earlier, the Secretary of State claimed credit on behalf of the Government for the Antarctic survey, but he failed to mention the money being double- counted because it is in the NERC budget and ring-fenced by the Government, so it is hardly disposable income available for use in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State confirmed to me yesterday that the total cost of a major and vital refit for the RRS Discovery is about £10 million at current prices. He added :
"It will be for the NERC to determine its priorities, both in 1989 and later years, in the light of available resources."--[ Official Report, 6 February 1989 ; Vol. 146, c. 464. ]
The Government are responsible for resources and the Government are responsible for the pattern of work and it is misleading and irresponsible to suggest that an outside body or quango rather than the Government is taking the decision. It is cowardice on the part of the Government not to accept responsibility for their decisions. Asked how many jobs would be shed at the NERC establishment in 1989, the Minister said that 160 posts, the majority in marine sciences, are to be shed in the financial year to March 1989. Thirty-eight staff will be made compulsorily redundant, the remainder having been shed through voluntary redundancy. The Minister said that he understands that further posts will be lost in the next financial year, although it is hoped to limit those to 60 ; the locations of the posts concerned are not yet known. What an admission of failure that is.
My third example is the need for research and action in respect of low- level radiation and safe means of disposal of radioactive waste. That research should be acted upon for the protection of the public. The Secretary of State for Wales, who is neither present nor represented this evening, has unaccountably decided to allow low-level radioactive waste from a local firm to be dumped on a council tip in my constituency. Previously such waste had to be taken to British Nuclear Fuels' disposal site at Drigg because safety processes were considered important. Now, without apparent justification or argument, the Secretary of State for Wales has changed his mind. I should make it clear that the firm concerned is well respected and responsible and has gone out of its way to give access to information to local authorities and other interested parties. My criticism is reserved entirely for the Secretary of State for Wales, who appears to be acting irresponsibly. He is irresponsible in ignoring the views of the local authority, which deplores his decision. The authority's reservations are based not on high-flown theory but on simple practicalities and common sense. It fears that the many scavengers who gain unauthorised entry to the refuse site--including children--may be affected and that the parameters for low-level
Column 878radioactive waste disposal could be exceeded in tissue handled by children. It believes that special disposal procedures should be adopted and fears that the health risk to employees could lead to a serious situation arising if the work force refused to handle the waste. It also points out the need to provide adequate monitoring of every load arriving at the tip. Is the Welsh Office prepared to meet the cost as we expect and believe that it should?
Those are just three examples. One could also draw attention to early-day motion 271 and the information given by a former US submarine commander about discharges of radioactive coolant into British waters. Questions asked have received no proper answers and there seems to be no intention on the part of the Government to undertake proper research or to tell people the truth about these matters.
What a year we have already seen in 1989. 1988 was bad enough. We saw a year of mounting concern over the international effects of a series of shocking incidents of pollution and bad waste disposal. Now in 1989 we appear to be set for an even worse picture. We are about to see an expansion of the disposal of toxic waste at ReChem in Torfaen. The plant has long caused immense local opposition, passionately voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and other Welsh Members of Parliament. We are now in a year when the Water Bill threatens our environment, health and water supply. It is a disastrous Bill, inadequately supported either with words or resources. We are also in a year in which the carriage of radioactive material in aeroplanes has caused outrage.
Why will the Government not accept their responsibilities to ensure that environmental research is well funded, effective, well directed and acted upon? This Government are afraid of research, afraid of the facts, afraid of exposure and afraid to admit that they do not care about the environment locally, nationally or globally. They are willing to accept praise for the success of our scientists, but not willing to give them the support, encouragement and resources that they need. The Government do not care about those who work to protect our environment or, ultimately, about the interests of the British public.
Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant) : The governance of great countries such as this is always and inevitably an immensely complex and difficult task. No one who has been in the House for any length of time would expect the Government to admit anything other than that at times they make errors of judgment or mistakes and that at times they do things that are not in the national interest. That is what this House is here to check and what we are about.
However, when I listen to speeches such as the one that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael)--which was interesting in its way--my reaction is that neither he nor many of his colleagues ever seems to allow that over a broad area of Government activity the Government may possibly get it right some of the time, in some places, on some issues-- [Hon. Members :-- "And wrong."] Yes and wrong, but the general tenor of many speeches is that the Government never do anything right at any time. The House is diminished by speeches that never make any allowance for reality.
Column 879In the whole sphere of Government, if there is any one area in which it is possible to make serious, responsible and measured criticisms of Government--such criticisms go way back through successive Governments as far as science is concerned and have been made ever since I have been in the House--without antagonising Conservative Members by sweeping condemnations of everything that the Government do, it is in science. Therefore, I very much regret that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and others who speak like him never seem to acquire the minimum degree of responsibility that would so enhance our debates and make them relevant to the profound issues that we should be addressing.
I very much agree with the views of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about Professor Sir George Porter, who is an old friend of mine. I have great respect for him as a scientist--and who would not? He is president of the Royal Society and stands on a pinnacle of science, recognised not only in this country, but throughout the world. The magnificent structure of British science upon which so much world science has been built remains profoundly and basically in pretty good shape. Of course, it can be improved and could always have more resources. However, I should be astonished if in 10, 15 or 20 years' time an hon. Member were to say that in the past two decades we have had no Nobel prizes, that there have been no new fellows of the Royal Society and that no outstanding new British science has appeared on the horizon to lift the plateau upon which so much world science is built above its present level. I do not believe that such an argument is credible. For that reason, I fully support my right hon. Friend and disagree with the analysis, even if it was conditional, of Sir George Porter.
It seems that sometimes the Opposition are more interested in the circulation of dogma than in the circulation of Carbon.
My purpose this evening is limited. I wish to consider the scope of the analysis of science policy, permitted by the expenditure White Paper--all 19 volumes of it--which I have been looking at this afternoon. I want to ask whether the analysis of science and research in that expenditure White Paper is balanced and whether we in Parliament have the necessary material to facilitate an analysis of the nation's science policy and priorities. I suggest that it is an area for improvement.
I warmly welcome the increased funding in real terms which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a few months ago and which was emphasised this evening by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Naturally, I share the Opposition's hope that that will continue and that it will not be cut. If the success of the economy is based on science, the success of our science is, in the long run, based on the success of the economy. There is a symbiosis between the two that the House must never neglect.
The Opposition's motion seems fatally flawed by its excessive use of the ill-defined word "adequate". What is "adequate"? We talk about adequate this, adequate that and adequate the other. The late President Kennedy once summed up the argument beautifully when he said that enough is a function of what else is important. It is that consideration of priorities which neither the Opposition motion nor, in frankness and fairness, the Government amendment addresses. Both are deficient and both fail to suggest --
Mr. Straw : What we mean by "adequate" is the test that the hon. Gentleman used this time last year in a debate on British science, when he quoted the conclusions of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, that the then expenditure plans
" do not provide the means to move our nation's scientific capability towards the 21st century',".--[ Official Report, 29 February 1988 ; Vol. 128, c. 740.]
The ABRC was right then and, in my judgment, it is right now.
Sir Ian Lloyd : That may be so, but I should like to see a more precise definition of "adequate" over a much broader range of considerations. We should be able to make judgments between, for example, defence and civil research ; nuclear and non-nuclear research ; fundamental science and the application of science ; pure chemistry and biology ; fibreoptics and semi-conductors ; metrology or measurement and other claims on the scientific budget ; space science and terrestrial science ; big astronomy and fundamental particle physics ; and between agricultural DNA and human DNA. As I understand it, we cannot make such judgments now in the House of Commons.
However, can it be done? If we look at the analysis of expenditure in the latest White Paper--all 19 volumes of it--we find an interesting set of figures. Only five Departments of State are together responsible for a total of £5,178 million out of a total expenditure on research and development in the United Kingdom of £5,500 million. I repeat that five Departments are responsible for 90 per cent. of our R and D.
Let us look at how that is presented in the national expenditure analysis. The biggest is, of course, the Ministry of Defence, which spends £2,545 million. The analysis of defence expenditure in the White Paper is summarised by one line of text. There is no analysis between the R and D carried out in each of the three services which, I imagine, could have been done without disclosing secrets to the enemy, which is obviously the primary and overriding consideration in defence research. However, let us leave the question of defence because it may have special considerations.
I move now to the Department of Education and Science. It is second on the list, with a total expenditure in this area of £1,739 million. Out of the total volume, it has two pages. The Department of Trade and industry is down at £510 million. It has three pages of rather mixed analysis. I am glad to be able to say that I give the Department of Energy a clean bill of health because its £219 million on R and D enjoys a full, considered and vigorous 12-page analysis. That is an example which other Departments should be more willing to follow. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spends £165 million, and its research and development is analysed in two paragraphs.
I put those facts before the House, because, as I said earlier, there are responsible and realistic grounds on which we can criticise the way in which we provide Parliament with information as a basis on which we can conduct these debates.
Nowhere is any attempt made to consider, describe or discuss the major departmental priorities except for energy. I believe, however, that there are a number of broader issues with which the House should deal. In a fascinating paper which was recently published in the
Column 881Economic and Social Research Council Newsletter 56 of January 1986, a Dr. Kenneth Prewitt of the Rockefeller Foundation said this about democracy and science :
"The question stems from a concern that the institutions of democracy may not be robust enough to contend with the range of issues being brought to the political agenda by the rapidly accelerating development of 20th century science and technology." He went on to say :
"There is a high degree of concern, certainly in the United States"--
I believe that there is a high degree of concern here, too "that citizens not be disenfranchised because of their scientific illiteracy in the face of a really enormously growing technical agenda".
I shall continue quoting from this paper because I believe it to be of importance and Dr. Prewitt's analysis is so outstanding. The paper said :
"Science brings truth to bear on the exercise of power . When science is doing its task, sovereignty is constrained to act within the boundaries set by demonstrable facts and probable outcomes. Science puts partial but significant restraints on the exercise of power ; it constrains the arbitrary decision of either the high officials or of mass opinions ; it weakens the hold of ideology on opinions by demonstrating the complexity of issues, the stubbornness of the factual constraints on their solution."
I do not believe that I could have put that better myself. That brings me to the statement in the White Paper on the response to the first report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, published in July 1987. Mention is made in the White Paper of the welcome development of a science and techology assessment office within the Cabinet Office at No. 10. The White Paper says :
"The Assessment Office will build up a picture of the relative contribution of the different R & D expenditures to the United Kingdom economy and will contribute advice on these matters, to the new, strengthened central structure."
Recently I put a series of questions to the Prime Minister asking what technology assessments had in fact been carried out by the new unit at No. 10. I received an answer telling me to refer to this document, because there I would see what it was all about. In fact, the unit has carried out no such assessment itself, but, apparently, has fulfilled its general responsibility of encouraging the other Departments of State to carry out such assessments.
Paragraph 12 of the White Paper reads :
"The Select Committee recommend that approximately one per cent. of all Government R & D expenditure should be devoted to evaluation The Assessment Office will discuss with all bodies involved in the public funding of R & D the need for adequate resources"-- there is that lovely word "adequate" again--
"to be devoted to the various stages of the assessment process". That raises a number of simple questions which I should like to leave with my right hon. Friend. One per cent. of the nation's research and development expenditure is 1 per cent. of £5,500 million, which gives the respectable sum of £55 million.
What are the technical assessments which have been carried out by the new unit at No. 10 as a result of the direct stimulus of other Government Departments? Has it been done and, if so, where? Secondly, how much has been spent directly as a result of this initiative and as a result of the statement made in the White Paper? Thirdly, have any results been published, especially in those areas outside defence where, as I understand the situation, there is no reason why such results should not be published? The
Column 882entire purpose of technology assessment is to enable this House and the nation to make their judgment in such an area. I suggest that at present we are almost incapable of doing that.
I have given my right hon. Friend enough questions to answer, but I ask him finally when we should expect to reach the target figure of £55 million.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I shall encourage the hon. Member for Havant (Sir Ian Lloyd) a little by first acknowledging that this year the Government have substantially increased the amount of money given to science. It would be foolish to do otherwise. Therefore, when looking at both the Labour motion and the amendment, one has to conclude that there is truth in both. The Labour motion is largely valid and points out the deficiencies in the Government's programme and position, but the Government's claims are also partly true, although I believe that the message from the House must be that they should not be complacent.
Like the hon. Member for Havant, before coming to a debate such as this, I go first to the general handbook provided in the House--the Government's Expenditure Plans. Interestingly, if one compares the breakdown given last month of the science budget expenditure in real terms, projected backwards and forwards--starting from a base point in this year's paper of 1982-83-- one sees that, if one takes that as 100, the projection is that in the coming year for the first time since then there will be a substantial increase. We know that that was the import of the Chancellor's announcement in November. Indeed, it was reinforced by the detailed breakdown of figures this year and the Secretary of State's announcement this morning. However, we have seen that the pattern is consistently one that suggests that if we are not careful the increase will be what the Chancellor would call a blip rather than a fundamental change in direction.
As I put to the Secretary of State in my intervention, beyond the forthcoming financial year there is a tailing off in real terms--a decrease --of investment projected in the Government spending plan. I couple that expression of fact--on the basis of the Government's evidence--with a concern which stems from looking at the relative importance that we as a country still give to investment in science. Again, I follow the area of comment of the hon. Member for Havant. If one looks at what are now 21 volumes of the Government's Expenditure Plans, in the slim volume 12 which is the education and science volume, there are only a few paragraphs on science--paragraphs 57 to 70. That is the sum total of analyses of what is, in effect, the necessary base to sustain the whole of our country's economic, manufacturing, competitive, productive and future technological activity. The relatively little importance given to science is reflected in the way in which it is expressed, solely in the context of inputs of finance, in the presentation of the Government's economic programme.
That is not a politician's comment without justification. Until the announcement of the increase for the forthcoming year to £824 million- -£94 million up on this year--that was the general tenor of the commentary by all eminent scientists in this country. We are spending far too little in the important places.
One could quote presidents of all the august and learned bodies, societies and associations. I shall quote one
Column 883who has not been mentioned so far--Sir Walter Bodmer, last year's president of the British Association. In the last paragraph of his presidential address in September last year he said :
"My frustration, shared I believe by most scientists, is that now when science is better placed than ever before to contribute to a better future, we are having to struggle increasingly hard to prevent a damaging decline in the government support for fundamental science and to encourage industry to increase its support in scientific research and development."
Only this morning I received an invitation from Manpower 2000, a project of the southern science and technology forum at Southampton university, to speak at a conference in April which says : "It is no exaggeration to say that the resurgence of industry and the doubtful benefits to be gained from privatisation and modernisation of UK's basic services are wholly at risk because of the potential shortage of technically literate people needed to manage and operate them. This shortage will not be due so much to the Demographic Gap as to the wholesale movement of young people away from engineering, science and maths to other less demanding disciplines."
I want briefly to refer to what seems to be the fundamental problem. I am concerned, as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was rightly concerned, that nearly 10 years after the Government took office there is still no strategy for science in Britain. That is an extraordinary state of affairs. Even when encouraged to produce a strategy as they were in 1987 by the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, and even having promised to do so, they still have not done so. I hope that the Minister will come clean and tell the House that the Government still do not have a strategy rather than making excuses. We should have had a strategy long ago. The Government are responsible for such matters and I hope that they will now produce a proper scientific strategy without further delay.
It is not only that promise which has been broken. I was looking through the Hansard of the other place for the day when the statement on the Health Service review was made last week. There was much criticism by peers of the fact that in that review a response was promised to the Griffiths report on community care and to the report of the Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology on priorities in medical research. I do not know whether hon. Members have yet looked at the part of the White Paper entitled "Working for Patients" which deals with that matter. There are two bland paragraphs on pages 37 and 38 on training and research. Responses were promised, but they have not been delivered. In spite of much encouragement from hon. Members and with the best expert evidence on all specific areas of science and research, we have still had an inadequate response. The Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology produced its third report of the parliamentary Session 1987-88 on priorities in medical research, making several recommendations, but that report has not yet been responded to or adequately implemented.
The same Select Committee in its first report in this parliamentary Session, 1988-89, on agricultural and food research said : "the need for a firm commitment to agricultural and food research cannot be too strongly emphasised."
On basic research the report said :
"Scientific advances will depend on basic studies--in agriculture and food it will be essential to improve understanding of the basic biological processes underlying production Basic research is a scientific investment and such an asset should be protected and used productively."
Column 884On levels of funding the Committee concluded :
"The Committee share the concern of witnesses at the effects in Government funding for agricultural research in recent years." Later, and typically, the report says :
"Another, particularly topical, example of public good' research which Government must fund is that on salmonella."
If anything is now likely to receive funding, I suppose that that is. The report then says :
"The Committee do not share the Government's belief that research, once discontinued, can be easily re-started."
There have been many encouragements for the Government to act, but in reality their performance has been poor.
I shall not go at length into global environmental matters, although that is one of my interests, as the House knows, but it is sad to record that when I asked a parliamentary question in the summer about the amount of money spent on environmental protection research across the sectors the answer showed that there had been a decrease from £22.4 million at 1987-88 prices in 1985-86 to £21.3 million at the same prices in 1987- 88. If we are to be taken seriously in caring for the global environment, we must demonstrate our commitment.
The substantive point about where research investment should be placed has been made. It has to be in basic research because that is the fount of all scientific progress. At the moment we are in a state of profound national scientific crisis. There is insufficient money for basic research. Nor are sufficient people being brought into science at school or university as students or teachers. Moreover, education is continually losing scientists to the private sector, whether at home or abroad. Some go abroad and some do not. University salaries are now down to three quarters of what they were 10 years ago in real terms and we shall lose good people from our universities. Chairs are unfilled. They are being filled not by professors but by lecturers acting up in subjects that are not their speciality. There are not enough lecturers because there are not enough postgraduate students. There are not enough postgraduate students because there is more money to be gained from training in industry than from postgraduate work at university. We do not keep overseas students because they go back to their own countries with their knowledge. Britain has done less basic research for the past 10 years than ever before.
All the time the Science and Engineering Research Council directorate, for example, will not accept projects without industrial backing. But industry is not interested in results 10 years hence. Industry wants what is of interest to it in the short term. We pay for industrial development in universities which should be done by industry when we should be paying for research. What is now done may be "near market place" research--I think that that is the phrase--and it may be more strategic, but it is at the expense of basic research. The trend is clear. The figures show that in 1978-79 the division between strategic and basic research was 42 per cent. to 56 per cent. That position has now reversed and the figures are 55 per cent. to 46 per cent. That is a worrying trend which should be reversed. Other countries do not fall into that trap. For example, Japan has a pre- competitive research element in its universities. When the ideas are far enough developed, the Government back out and industry takes over along with the competitive market. We also apply performance
Column 885indicators that are invalid. For example, the number of papers that a department produces, including the number of pages in a paper, is not necessarily a measure of a meritorious project. The number of chapters in a book or the number of lectures given are no evidence of the best form of research.
We also fail to fund our national research if we think money is available from the EEC. The trouble is that that is often not forthcoming and, if it is, it takes a long time to work through the bureaucracy. I say that as a pro-European, not as a critic in general terms of the Community. Therefore, the money is not forthcoming from either source.
The Government should respond with increasing urgency to the lack of funding for basic resources in universities. Industry is becoming increasingly fed up with being asked for cash, and the neglect of basic research means that only those areas in which industry is most interested are funded.
I shall give three examples before concluding. We have pretended in the past that we could do well by funding basic research sufficiently to the stage where industry could take it up. Yet the head of the Ariane space programme research group resigned after two or three years because the Government would not put in money to complete the programme. The airbus is another example of the Government blowing hot and cold so that we have lost credibility with our partners. Perhaps the best example is the APT--the advanced passenger train, which the House will remember as the tilting train. It would increase speeds in the north and was expected to increase revenue by drawing people away from motorways, and even from airlines. Indeed, in France the equivalent train has done just that. British Rail was pushed by the Government far too hard and too quickly to produce results. The train broke down during a very premature test drive with Ministers and public relations officials on board and the Government then pulled out, although British Rail said that only another £10 million was required to finish the project as the problem was only superficial. Now one of the trains has gone to the train museum in Crewe and the rest have been scrapped.
What has happened since? Our suppliers from Sweden, ASEA, are building the trains in Sweden and the first one will be ready for delivery in the autumn. They are expected to sell well. We are likely to buy our own idea from the Swedes because we never got far enough to sell, patent or use it ourselves. Far too often we judge what we should do by what is necessary to please the City and accountants rather than going to the fundamentals of what science and research need.
I welcome the increase announced by the Government although it is worrying that there will not be the same commitment in the second and third years. But, first, science and research needs planning, and planning needs a continuity of funding. The increase needs to be sustained rather than being made available for only this year. Secondly it is no good just funding research councils when we do not also fund our universities to the same extent.
Thirdly, and most important of all, the Government still do not appreciate, and certainly do not show that they
Column 886appreciate, the skills gap, which is the most unappreciated economic crisis of all, and the lack of scientists, engineers and technologists for the future.
We know about the demography of the future, but because of underpayment of university lecturers and insufficient funding of staff in schools, and the Government's compromise that only 12 per cent. rather than 20 per cent. of the national curriculum can relate to science, these people are not likely to be available. If we do not invest in the people, we shall not have the science or research. The Government must not be complacent. They have begun to put some money into science, but very much more is needed.
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : In supporting the amendment, I want to concentrate on science in schools. Before I do that, I shall refer to an article in The Times Educational Supplement which quoted Sir Herman Bondi reminding the writer that the rise of the German dye industry to world prominence and the great strides subsequently made in organic chemistry occurred when there was no chemistry teaching in German schools and very little in German universities. That extreme example shows that much of the most valuable research is through application in industry meeting the demands of the market, driven by the demands of those who need to put it to work commercially in the private sector.
The Japanese electronics industry, the German petrochemical industry and the United States aerospace industry are good examples of that principle. That is why the Government are correct to increase the science research budget by 15 per cent. since 1979, and again today, and to increase total science spending by 11 per cent. since 1979 to £1.4 billion this year, yet encourage rationalisation of scientific departments in universities, to ensure that research is better targeted and to concentrate resources more effectively. It also encourages collaborative research through, for instance, the Link initiative. I understand that the Government are spending £210 million on that initiative over five years, and it should elicit from industry a pound-for-pound response of another £210 million. The project has enabled some universities to rely for as much as 30 to 40 per cent. of their income on the funds they gain from collaborative projects with industry.
It is absolutely right for the Government to say that when profit levels show a 7 to 11 per cent. return on capital for industry, and investment is up 16 per cent. as it was last year, and profitability levels are the best for 20 years, it is correct for United Kingdom private industry to fund more of its own basic research. At present, as a proportion of GNP, United Kingdom private research is only 1 per cent., or 60 per cent. less than in Germany, and a third less than in the United States and 80 per cent. less than in Japan. Incidentally, the Japanese Government's civil research and development funding is lower as a proportion of GNP than it is in the United Kingdom. That gives an indication of the strides needed from an increasingly profitable private sector in this country to improve its basic research spending.
I want to concentrate now on science in schools. Although there have been significant improvements recently in the standards achieved in science by schoolchildren, nevertheless over the long term there is a