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Column 887problem which is deep-seated and even cultural. That was highlighted in a recent survey carried out by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. The study shows that Britain's children at age 10 came 12th out of 15 countries in their scientific knowledge. In other words, at the age of 10, only a ninth of British children know what makes the moon shine--that light is reflected off the sun.
The survey shows that 70 per cent. of Swedish children knew that fact at age 10. At the age of 14, the British children surveyed came 11th out of 17 countries, yet by the age of 17 British children were second out of 30 countries.
The survey shows that our sixth formers are as good as those anywhere. The major problem is that only 20 per cent. of our young people go through to sixth forms, while the proportion doing so in Japan is 63 per cent. and it is 90 per cent in the United States. That is why the Government are absolutely right to concentrate their attention in framing the national curriculum on increasing the participation of children in science to the age of 16, so that they will continue with it until the age of 18,--albeit that at present about 300,000 children annually take biology GCSE, 210,000 take chemistry, and 244,000 take physics. Grades are criterion rather than norm-referenced, and the numbers of those notified as achieving A, B and C in those subjects are as high as for others. It is vital that we ensure that 100 per cent. of children up to age 16 continue with science.
It is also right of the Government to insist that balanced science forms an important part of the scientific curriculum. I am happy that, although 20 per cent. of the curriculum is allocated to children wishing to take two subjects, 12.5 per cent. of it will be accounted for by less able children following an integrated science curriculum. That type of course is more likely to be attractive and relevant to pupils of lower attainment, whom we need to attract to maintain their scientific education. Also, an integrated curriculum is, in educational terms, more rigorous. As evidence of that, I quote Professor Paul Black, chairman of the Government's assessment group, who was educational consultant to the Nuffield Chelsea Curriculum Trust :
"One of the deficiencies of the separate sciences was that pupils learned one concept of energy in physics and another in biology, and a different language again in technology. Teachers did not get their act together and left the pupils to sort it out."
That is professional criticism of the separate, three-subject science curriculum, and it is why the Nuffield co-ordinated scheme offers one of the leading integrated science curricula, trying to persuade more people to maintain their scientific education--at least to GCSE O level and, it is to be hoped, to A level. If more of them can achieve A levels, there will be a larger field of potential science teachers for the future.
The Government are right to ensure that more is done in respect of primary science. I am pleased that, over the next three years, the Government will spend £25 million extra on extra advisory teachers for primary education. It is equally vital to improve schools' industry links. One of
Column 888the problems in encouraging people to take an interest in science, and to go on to engineering, is the culture gap between schools and industry. Schemes such as UVI, Trident, SATRO, and enterprise projects, all of which have been pioneered by the Government, can improve relationships between schools and industry, and thereby enhance the climate in which business and science is taught in schools, and improve their popularity.
It will be difficult to improve science standards in schools unless the problem of teacher shortages is addressed. At present, there is a shortage of 2,000 physics teachers, and about 70 per cent. of local education authorities recently notified shortages of mathematics teachers. It is not a problem that is experienced only in the United Kingdom, and it did not happen overnight. It is the result of policies stretching over the last 20 or 30 years, including the anti-industry, anti-science culture I mentioned. The Government are right to attack it with initiatives such as the teachers' career unit, which visits universities encouraging people to take up science teaching, the £1,300 per annum tax-free bursaries given to probationary science teachers, and by encouraging girls to enter science. At present, only 16 per cent. of physics graduates are women. There is encouragement also for an increase in the number of licensed teachers, which ought to attract more older scientists--who may feel that their industrial careers are at an end, but whose expertise can be applied to teaching science in schools.
The problem will not be tackled at a fundamental level, and the situation in which 34 per cent. of physics teachers who have a teaching qualification decline to enter the teaching profession will not be resolved unless we improve the archaic method of paying our teachers that this country has historically enforced. It takes the form of an insistence that teachers on the same grade should all be paid the same, wherever they may work in the country--outside London, whatever may be the shortage of their skills, whatever subject they happen to teach, and irrespective of how many unskilled people teach subjects in which they are not qualified, and of how much staff turnover there is in particular subjects. We notice, for instance, that there is a 50 per cent. staff turnover in London among computer teachers. Irrespective of all those labour market factors, teachers are paid the same in each grade, wherever they are and whatever their skill.
The 1988 legislation dealing with teachers' pay and conditions introduced a wider scale of five merit points to reward good teachers and teachers with skills in short supply. Local financial management will give schools more flexibility with which to operate that. Nevertheless, they will still be weighed down by the archaic dead weight of the incremental system, which means that even in the first year fully 70 per cent. of the money going to incentive posts must be based on the old incremental system. Only £257 million of the £7 billion annual teachers' bill can be spent on incentives which could go towards attracting people with skills in short supply, while £2, 000 million goes to rewarding mere longevity, more length of service, irrespective of grade, skill or ability.
If, either from schools or centrally, we can get even a part of that incremental bill, that £2 billion a year, pushed through into incentive payments to those who have skills of which there is a shortage, who are high-fliers, who are particularly talented, we shall be going some way towards being able to pay the increased salaries in respect of the local labour markets for those science subject shortages
Column 889that we see today. If we do that, we ought to be able to go some way towards increasing the number of science teachers in schools without increasing unduly the burden on ratepayers and taxpayers of the teachers' pay bill. That step alone would do more than any other to improve standards of scientific education in this country. 9.6 pm
Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) : I hope that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) will, after the speech he has just made, proceed instantly to his nearest university and deliver his homily on the importance of monetary rewards in stimulating effort. I hope that he will particularly seek out scientists working on short-term contracts and deliver to them his thoughts on the labour market structure and monetary rewards in encouraging endeavour.
The Secretary of State came into this debate tonight woofing like an old, wet dog off the lead, excited by the money he had to put in front of us, but his case has been entirely shot down by his hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) very rightly pointed out that, lost in the public expenditure White Paper, in other chapters than the chapter to which the Secretary of State drew our attention, is the fact that there are cuts in research expenditure. He drew to our attention in particular the significance of the withdrawal of the Government from so-called near market research expenditure, which, of course, has financed the apparent gains that the Secretary of State had to offer tonight.
The hon. Member for Wyre Forest gave the game away even more comprehensively when he drew to our attention the very low level of research expenditure in this country when it is not associated with defence and with Government spending. He very rightly pointed out, and I hope what he had to say was taken to heart by those on the Government Front Bench, that industry fails to support science in this country through its own expenditure. There are one or two industries--the pharmaceutical industry stands out--which make an honourable effort in that respect. The others do not. We live in a scientific disaster world for British science.
Again, the hon. Member for Wyre Forest pointed out the failure of science in our schools, the declining numbers of people who are even applying to do A-level physics and chemistry, and the linkage between that and the labour market because of the world outside the school that children can perceive.
The Secretary of State paints a picture, honest and genuine enough in its own way, of a handful of world-class research teams still based in Britain. But the base on which those teams stand is crumbling. The Secretary of State only emphasises what has been true in Britain for many years and unfortunately is still true : that while we may be successful at invention, we are poor at innovation and disastrous at spreading that innovation through our industries. The fact is that top management in British industry is the least well-educated, the least well-trained and the least scientifically sophisticated in the world. The problem in British science is the lack of connection between the world-class research teams and what really happens to the future of our industries.
Column 890It is significant that, apart from the brief appearance of another Minister, the work of tonight's debate has been left to the education team. As we all know, science is a jumble of responsibilities throughout Government. But the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has been pondering whether he can bring himself to require companies to certify the level of research and development spending in their accounts, perhaps as a way of stimulating greater interest in the science base on the part of industry.
In the debates on the Companies Bill in the other place the noble Lord has been promising to consider that, but we are still waiting. How happy we would be tonight if a Minister could tell us, "Yes, the Government will require companies to declare their research and development spending in their accounts." Then we would be sure of a science-based commitment that was not merely based on a handful of research teams, but would be a product of industry as a whole. How nice it would be if the Secretary of State for the Environment--given all the expenditure for which he is
responsible--would come and talk to us occasionally about his commitments to research, in the subjects that have been mentioned and in others. He could make an enormous contribution to turning such cities as mine--the city of Newcastle--into science cities by binding together urban development corporations, bringing in higher education institutions and linking hospitals to the process. He is in a position to take such initiatives, but we hear nothing of them : we simply hear from the Secretary of State the story that he is protecting, on their reservations, that handful of at-risk animals, top-level British scientists.
All that that tells us is that the Government have stopped asking the wrong questions. They have still to tell us that they have found the right answers.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) : I always enjoy following the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins), because at one stage we found ourselves at college together. I have to say, however, that I disagree with many of his conclusions--and with the somewhat doom-laden atmosphere that his speech produced.
It seems to me, both from what the hon. Gentleman said and from the Opposition motion, that the Opposition barometer is stuck permanently at "stormy". The motion contains a number of important misconceptions which I should like to clear up at the outset. The first, essential misconception is that the process of Government spending on any particular item is in some way divorced from the general course and strength of the economy. It would be the easiest thing in the world to bump up the proportion of gross national product spent on science, overseas aid or anything else by the simple device of ensuring that the growth of the rest of GNP was zero.
The second, related misconception is to divorce spending in the public sector from what is available and will come forward from the private sector. Here I perhaps agreed with the hon. Gentleman : I too would like to see a surge forward in private sector expenditure. A long period of low profits is now changing into a period of rather higher profits, and I hope that that will be accomplished, not necessarily through compulsion, but through a readiness on the part of private firms to declare their research and development spending. There is in this
Column 891country a prevailing sin by which we measure the quality of output as a function of the state-financed input into any activity. I feel that I must, though it is unusual to do so, refer to my curriculum vitae. I admit frankly that I have no science O-level. That is a function of the past and it would be less likely to happen now. I have been attempting to claw my position back from that state of affairs for a number of years, in practical application as a farmer ; by participating as a council member in a private sector agricultural research trust for over 20 years and as its chairman for five years ; and recently, and with diffidence in view of my past record, as a newly nominated member of the Agricultural and Food Research Council.
That story of myself developed strongly my support for the national curriculum requirement that everyone shall study science until school leaving age. That will create the broad base of scientific interest and, I hope, sympathy on which the higher points of the pyramid may rest.
As for Higginson and A-levels, there will have to be changes in this area. Not enough is made of the practical problems involved in changing timetables to accommodate a variety of subjects. I am equally conscious of the importance of some academic rigour and depth, and I would favour the retention of one or two traditional A-levels, with subjects being gone into in detail. But there must be some generality and a broader spread than the sort of education that many of us may have enjoyed in the past.
I shall now concentrate my remarks on science as such, with particular reference to the Agricultural and Food Research Council and what I have seen of that. Several hon. Members have referred to the need to improve the information and decision-making structure. It is, for example, difficult to say what the AFRC is spending, from where it is getting its money and the areas to which it is going. We are aware that it has DES and MAFF money and that it is in receipt of outside funds, but when Scotland is added along with other bits and pieces and adjustments are made for various financial years, it is difficult to come up with a single figure. We need a matrix-- where from and where going to--to improve the quality of decision-making. I am not ashamed of drawing an analogy with the National Health Service. We can proclaim that we have higher real spending on the science budget. We must, equally, face infinite demand ; one cannot have too much science. We also have all the strains and stresses of the necessary management inputs, with the reorganisation and rationalisation of the vehicles for delivering that science which are now taking place.
That is happening nowhere more clearly than in agriculture, where the historic legacy has been over 25 establishments within the remit of the AFRC, now rationalised down to eight main institutes with two or three centres. This has meant a reduction in staff of 25 per cent. since 1983, a third of those by compulsory redundancy. There has also been--I would defend this--some shift towards activity within the university sector rather than within state institutes.
All this has meant many changes and much apprehension and concern among personnel. We need to complete this process as soon as we decently can. There is, and must be, scope for a number of centres of world excellence within the AFRC, although there is not scope for one in every one of its sites. Let us continue the process
Column 892and also remember, as the debate has shown, the obligation of Government to ensure that there are adequate salaries and pay structures to safeguard the personnel who work for us on the sites. It is difficult to divide up the spectrum--from blue-skies research, through innovation and invention, to research and development. The second order but equally important world of supportive science must in future be collaborative.
My attitude towards the Health Service would be that, provided we did not prejudice ethical standards and maintained the central core of funding, the more outside funding we could add, the better. I have the same attitude to science. That was the context in which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food carried out its celebrated, if not notorious, Barnes review and the promotion of near market funding. I am sure that the concept of the review is excellent. However, I have some concern about the speed with which it has been carried out because it has meant a rapid phasing-- which is different from the central science point that I was making earlier. I am also concerned about the large cuts in funding, although I appreciate that they are not within the direct purview of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I am sure that there are already encouraging signs that the industry will pick itself up and come to terms with the final conclusions of the review but I must emphasise the importance of collaborative activities. I have some indirect experience of the funding of the university of Essex, which enjoys a high level of self-financing.
Through my work in the trust that I mentioned, I also have some direct experience of the work of Sheffield university's commercial and industrial development bureau, which has worked tremendously hard to draw in the benefits of intellectual property. For example, it has introduced my foundation to the prescription for a commercial confidentiality agreement.
The commercial sector makes a major contribution. Agricultural food companies are already putting in about £100 million a year--and that should be more. There is more scope for outside trust funding, to which I have referred, and for collaboration with Europe. I welcome what AFRC is doing about that. Management savings can also be made from, for example, the co-location of institutes at Swindon. It is clearly useful if managements can work together, particularly in biological sciences.
The Government must keep faith by maintaining the tax-funded core of the science budget and an adequate level of remuneration for workers. Equally, the science sector and the research councils have an obligation to obtain the best possible results from their budgets and to explore all sensible increases in outside funding. The Government have set forward a basis for a balanced contract for operating effectively in the science sector. I shall support the Government amendment.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : In the few minutes remaining, I shall tell the House about the strong objections felt in south Wales about paragraph 20 of the report of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, which has been accepted by the Secretary of State and which refers to this morning's announcement of the
Column 893closure of the Research Vessel Services base at Barry and its removal to Southampton. That totally contradicts paragraph 34 of the report.
Paragraph 20 refers to the Natural Environment Research Council placing a high priority on its plans to relocate the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences from Wormley in Surrey and its Research Vessel Services base from Barry to a single site co-located with the oceanography department of Southampton university. That will cost £17.2 million over three years, though I understand that the full figure for the commitment is twice that-- some £35 million over five years--when the costs of relocating the civil servants involved are thrown in with the capital costs. So this is a £35 million, five-year commitment that the Secretary of State has entered into today. If we turn to paragraph 34 we see a reference to the NERC's proposals for additional funds to support the biogeochemical ocean flux study. That caused the Secretary of State some verbal difficulty earlier tonight, though I am sure that all he was trying to do was indicate to everybody that 50 per cent. is the pass mark in the national curriculum from here on in. Paragraph 34 says :
"NERC's proposals for additional funds for the biogeochemical ocean flux study and its North sea programme are warmly endorsed by the board on scientific grounds. Their importance has been highlighted by recent Government concern about the greenhouse effect and marine pollution."
Therefore, what I am making tonight is not a constituency point. This institution is, in fact, just outside my constituency, though many of my constituents work at RVS Barry, and they are quite apoplectic with rage today about the nature of the decision that has been imposed on them. It is not a constituency point, and it is not particularly a Welsh point ; it is a British point, a point about the whole structure of this document. Is this document putting raw science first, or is it putting bricks and mortar first?
In this decision, whatever the Secretary of State may have said about wanting to put more money into the scientists doing the science, what he has actually done is to commit himself to a colossal programme of capital expenditure which will give him bricks and mortar but will starve the raw science half of the oceanography effort and will not enable Britain to play its full part in research into the greenhouse effect and the ozone layer, in which the Prime Minister has invested a great deal of her prestige, and the Secretary of State a great deal of his. He is spending £35 million. That is very generous, but the money is being spent on the wrong things. If the Secretary of State had listened to the scientists who work in the field and not merely to the wheelers and dealers on the ABRC, who have gone past the live science field and are into negotiations in the corridors of power, he would have been told that the important thing is to refit HMS Discovery. That would cost some £10 million. That should have been the priority because the condition of HMS Discovery is dreadful. It is the flagship, the mainstay, of British oceanographic research, yet in the national newspapers, before a gag was put on them during the past month leading up to the announcement today, its superstructure was described as "rotting", and its
Column 894hydraulics as hopelessly out of date. If the hydraulics of a deep-sea oceanography vessel are out of date, it cannot use its winches properly to do deep water sampling.
Being British scientists, they will muddle through. We have this "sealing wax and string" tradition. They will make an effort to hold their heads high when they are working on these new and wonderful collaborative ventures, about which the Secretary of State has talked tonight. They will hold Britain's head high as best they can, but the Secretary of State is not giving them the tools to do the job. The boat is the important thing. If he were to spend £10 million on the boat and halved the money he is allocating to new laboratories and the relocation of civil servants who do not want to be relocated, for supposed benefits of co-location with a university department of oceanography--a very shadowy concept of more efficient management of science--he would be spending the nation's money in a far more practical way, a way he probably approves of himself except that he has had the wool pulled over his eyes by the operators in the ABRC and the NERC.
There is the question of exactly what the Secretary of State's own powers of interaction are. What kind of Secretary of State do we want to manage our science? Do we want a hands-on Secretary of State who will look at the decisions that are proposed to him by the advisory boards and say, "Is there something wrong with this? Why are we spending money on a new laboratory? Are we sure we have got the priorities right?" Can he really defend his hands-off attitude, saying, "Oh, well, it looks all right. There will be some nice new laboratories to open in a couple of years. I can still say we are taking part, and wrap the question of the greenhouse effect and the ozone layer in a nice red, white and blue ribbon and say that Britain is in the lead, that it discovered the ozone layer, and that we are spending money in the Antarctic as well"?
When it comes to the choice of priorities, the right hon. Gentleman has failed to exercise his decision-making power and to make the judgment of priorities which is the job of the Secretary of State. He is paid by the taxpayers to decide what we should spend money on. There is a reasonable increase in his budget, but he has failed to examine that budget to see whether the right expenditure is being made on raw science rather than on bricks and mortar. By his failure he has shown a dereliction of duty and that he is not fit to run the scientific budget.
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) : My hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) have brought out specifically some of the fundamental errors of Britain's science and industrial policy. The combination of research facilities, universities and industrial applications will provide the new jobs for the future and create economic growth, but those facilities are being drained from Wales, from the north and from Scotland by moves such as that of the Research Vessel Services base from Barry which has been announced today. The advisory committees on which the Secretary of State relies take the academically easy course by concentrating the services at Southampton, but that is not the total picture that the Government should consider.
The hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) made the important point
Column 895about science in schools which justified this as a necessary debate. It has been a useful debate. If the Government are so confident about their science policy, I hope that in future they will find time for a debate on it.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) stressed the necessity for university science and of producing the scientists in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) dispelled the complacency that the Secretary of State brought into the debate and took out to dinner with him in the middle, as indeed he took out most of the Government Back Benchers who rallied to hear his speech but were unable to stay the course through dinner, leaving my hon. Friends in a majority for most of the debate.
To please the Secretary of State, I shall try to deal mainly with the important issues of outputs rather than inputs, and with organisation and management rather than just expenditure. To please the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) I shall acknowledge a real achievement by the Government. First, however, I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State elaborates on the point that he made about the reorganisation of the research councils and the unfinished business in a science policy statement. These are important issues and we should know more about the state of play on them.
The Government, and the Prime Minister in particular in her Royal Society speech, have acknowledged that we face a potentially serious problem in global warming and the greenhouse effect. But the problem has caught them on the wrong foot and they do not seem to know how to tackle it. The additional costs of the research are not great. Indeed, they are tiny by comparison with the cost of what would otherwise be ill-informed policies. Ministers have reduced the scientific establishment to a state in which it needs the courage of an Oliver Twist to ask for more, and with the same fear of the consequences if it does. Through ignorance and prejudice, the Government are in danger of creating problems in the environment as big as those they seek to remedy.
The greenhouse effect is a new kind of scientific problem. Weather forecasters are used to having a check on their forecasts within a day, a week or a month. Astronomers and particle physicists who cannot experiment on the universe can make predictions which can be checked by further observations and experiments. Doctors' patients either recover or they do not. Engineers design structures which either stand up or fall down. In every case there is a feedback which checks the theories and designs of the scientists. But with the global environment the feedback may come too late, in 50 or 100 years' time, long after irreparable damage may have been done. We may only get one chance to get the answers sufficiently right. At the same time as science faces these problems, scientific research and analysis has been organised to tackle systems of unprecedented complexity. These methods are those which have been used to identify the problem of global warming and will need to be developed to still higher orders of complexity to solve them. The carbon cycle in the oceans and atmosphere controls the greenhouse effect and keeps temperatures on earth tolerable to life in all its forms. Research into just the physical aspects of the carbon cycle requires new combinations of chemistry, atmospheric physics, fluid
Column 896dynamics, solar physics, marine biology, ecology, agricultural sciences, remote satellite and direct observation, ocean survey and computer science, which all have to be brought together.
To assess their interaction, all these effects have to be brought together in computer models of the general circulation in the atmosphere and oceans. There are at present five such general circulation models in the world-- four in the United States, in three different, fiercely competing federal agencies, and a university, and one in our own Met Office, which is of course under the Ministry of Defence. While the modellers meet, compare notes and agree comparative exercises, the models are each run by the handful of scientists in the teams which construct them. The smallest team is in the British Met Office--one and a half men are running our only model of the global environment, there is no exchange of models, no independent testing or comparison, no access by outside researchers and no work on new computer developments such as massively parallel computers, which will transform the approach that can be taken. It is outrageous, but that is the research on which the future of the globe depends. It is managed by a number of researchers who would fit into a small interview room in the House of Commons. Their latest estimates of the effects of doubling carbon dioxide on global mean surface air temperature vary from 5.2 C by the Met Office to 2.8 C by Schlesinger in the university of Oregon, but the estimates change dramatically as new factors, such as cloud cover at different altitudes, are brought into the equations. The effects forecast in particular regions are, of course, still more variable, with at present differences of forecasts between the models of 4 in summer and 10 in winter, as they forecast prospects in parts of Siberia and China. As yet, none of the models is treating land use or agricultural yields, let alone economic and industrial activity generally.
Weather forecasters are used to attaching error margins to their forecasts ; they are not used to calculating the policy adjustments needed to modify rather uncertain weather and climate changes, particularly as those policy adjustments must work with long and uncertain lags through economic, social and political behaviour. If it comes to seeking effective international agreements to limit such sensitive questions as fossil fuel burn by conservation and to deal with such difficult issues as nuclear power, many countries will not even be able to tell the direction in which their interests lie. It may be difficult to persuade the Soviet Union and China to undertake policies which will save Leningrad, Shanghai, London, Calcutta, and the estuaries of Bangladesh and China from being flooded by melted ice from the polar caps if they felt that the new climate quite transformed the possibilities of growing wheat in the more northern latitudes of Siberia and Mongolia.
Earlier precedents in the politics of modelling global problems--the Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth" study and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis study, "Energy in a Finite World"--are not encouraging. Very serious criticisms were made by the scientific community and were fully justified, using precisely the methods of technology assessment that the hon. Member for Havant emphasised. It is essential to make the scientific basis--the theoretical, empirical, and statistical basis--of the work on global modelling and global research generally as sound, open, transparent and
Column 897accessible as possible to different interests, sciences and methodologies. They should be open to independent as well as competitive checking.
Our scientists, including Joe Forman of the British Antarctic Survey, Richard Wayne on the photochemistry of ozone and John Mitchell in the Meteorological Office, have done an outstanding job, but the organisation and resources available are inadequate. The work has no coherence. It is divided between different Departments and there is no follow through to policy. With the leadership that our working scientists have given us, a centre should be set up to test, compare and make generally available the key global general circulation models and their extensions to cover other aspects of the global environment such as land use, agricultural, economic and industrial activity which will now proliferate. The United Nations environmental programme might well be the appropriate body to invite competitive proposals which should be judged by the highest peer group standards relevant to undertaking such vital work.
Within the United Kingdom, the Natural Environment Research Council covers the Arctic, the Antarctic and the oceans. The Science and Engineering Research Council covers most of the atmosphere and satellites and the Ministry of Defence looks after the Met Office while in the Departments responsible for action and research the Department of the Environment looks over its spectacles at all this puzzling scientific stuff and the Department of Education and Science cannot even teach children science in schools. To put together and manage a coherent research programme in the United Kingdom, and United Kingdom participation in essential international programmes, a joint research council directorate should be set up on the global environment, with control of the substantial funds needed for urgent, sustained, well-integrated applied strategic research.
The additional costs of the research are tiny by comparison with the avoidable costs of errors in what otherwise would be necessarily ill- informed policies. The Science and Engineering, Natural Environment, Agricultural and Food and Economic and Social Research Councils should all be involved. The present organisation of research into the global environment, with individual scientists and teams, who have done invaluable work in identifying the problem, and who have sensible plans for continuing it in the manner appropriate to background research, is a quite inappropriate organisation for the goal-directed research of global importance which is now needed. The nature of the problem and the research required is such that the research must be managed at one remove from Government--in the research councils and not from within the Ministry of Defence, as the Met Office is managed, and not within the Department of Education and Science or the Department of the Environment. The research must be seen as objective at home and abroad. By all means let industry and the defence budget contribute, but they must not manage or direct. At the same time, as recent experience has shown, individual research councils and the individual scientists and teams that they support must be adequately supported because from their discoveries important results may emerge in new and unexpected directions.
Column 898Many problems that will arise from climatic change are extremely relevant in the world today. Desertification, arid agriculture and the flooding of low-lying land are not just problems of the future, but problems to which the research councils are and should be addressing effort where such problems occur in the world today. We not only meet a vital current need by tackling them, but we learn invaluable lessons for the bigger problems that may arise in the future.
Unless a research programme of the highest calibre is undertaken into the global environment, there will not exist the evidence or consent on which political agreement can be reached within this country and with other countries on the major policy initiatives that may be required to pass on to our children a global environment that they can enjoy. The Government must set up a programme without delay. The inadequacy of the Government's management of research into the global environment reflects their lack of understanding and competence in science policy generally. For that reason, we urge the House to vote for our motion tonight.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : As with our previous debate on sciencat this time last year, this has been an interesting and--from Conservative Members --a sober discussion that has helped to illuminate the issues. That it has done so is, alas, no tribute to the Opposition because, more than anything else, this debate has revealed the intellectual poverty of the Labour party. We are all accustomed to the airy persiflage and fourth-form humour of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).
For all the undoubted sincerity and worthiness of the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), I am afraid that it is clear that his thinking has, once again, failed to rise to the level of his subject. His policy for the funding of science is simply to add £100 million or so to whatever figure the Government provide and his policy for the organisation and management of the science base is simply to parrot the panaceas of the latest scientific pressure group--or pressure group among his colleagues--which catches his attention.
In reply to the hon. Member for Blackburn, may I say that it is not enough for him, yet again, to traverse the barren ground of international comparisons of Government financial inputs into science. We had that debate last year. I remind him that it was the central issue of that debate and was firmly settled in favour of the Government's modest self-assessment that, as I put it last year, "our financial inputs, as a percentage of GDP, are broadly in line with those of our competitors". The hon. Gentleman was on new ground when he talked about spending on higher education as distinct from spending on the science base. He is on even more unprofitable ground there from his point of view. The percentage of GDP spent by the Government on higher education in Britain is at the top of the European league and is second only to that of the Netherlands. To grasp the strategy that the Government have been pursuing in science, it is necessary to recall the position from which we started in 1979. In science and technology, that position was marked by three striking features. First, British academic science was excellent and remains so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd)
Column 899clearly and convincingly pointed out. With every respect to my esteemed friend Sir George Porter, the fact is that our national contribution to the world's basic science was, and remains, second only to that of the United States ; and it is marked by a range of strengths in depth that is remarkable for a country of our size and economic weight.
The second feature of the science scene in 1979 was that, in acute contrast with our strength in basic science, British science-based industry, like British industry in general, was in a bad way. Profitability was the lowest in the western world and management and work force alike were demoralised, pessimistic and intensively focused on short-term crisis management. That was the environment in which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) pointed out, investment by British industry in research and development was steadily falling behind that of the countries with which we compete.
A third feature of the scene, and one of the key contributory causes of that weakness in British industry, was that British science was separated by an invisible wall of culture and attitudes from British industry. At the same time, within the world of British science, a similar invisible wall of culture and attitudes ran along the striking vertical divisions between the research councils and Government Departments ; between the research councils, the Government and the universities ; and between and within the research councils and even within the Government's own machinery for directing science policy.
The first of those features of the scene in 1979--the excellence of British basic science--was a consequence of the historical dominance of Britain's position in science, built up by generations of British scientists since the 17th century. However, the second and third features--the weakness of British industry and the institutionalised divisions between industry and science and within the scientific world--were part of the sad harvest of 30 years of Labour-dominated thinking about the role of the state and the way in which it should be organised.
The Government's strategy for science has flowed logically from our analysis of the position that confronted us at the beginning of the decade. The overwhelming aim has been to restore the profitability and confidence of British industry so that among other things it is in a position, both intellectually and financially, to expand its commitment to research and development.
A key element in that drive has been the reduction in the burden of taxation and consequently of public expenditure. Science and higher education have shared in the rigorous scrutiny of priorities and programmes which has gone on across the whole gamut of public expenditure under this Government. That rigorous scrutiny has accompanied a 26 per cent. increase in real terms in Government spending on science between 1979 and 1989, compared with the level funding under the Labour Government--supported by the Liberals--between 1975 and 1979. I assure the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that our support for science will continue on this trend which is rather better than that achieved by the Government whom his party supported in the 1970s.
Our strategy for encouraging industry is paying off. In the course of this decade, the profitability of British industry has been restored to the point at which it ranks among the highest in the world. I must advise the hon.
Column 900Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central, who made a powerful and effective speech, that among the results of that has been a strong rise in industry's investment in its in-house research and development. The most recent figures relate to 1986 and 1987 and show that between those years industry's investment in intra-mural research and development rose by 3 per cent., while in the chemical industry, for example, research spending rose by no less than 20 per cent.
That growth is not yet fast enough or large enough, but it represents a great improvement, which the Government are determined to speed by reducing their commitment to the support of near-market research as industry's capacity to fund its own research continues to grow. At this point I should like to say how much I welcome the emphasis placed by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on the need for industry--and especially agriculture, which he knows so well--to respond to that challenge.
Mr. Jackson : There are various ways in which one could measure the effectiveness of industry. The fact is that the profits and productivity of British industry have soared. The question of the balance of payments is a different one and it involves all sorts of other considerations, for example, of oil, exchange rates, and financial flows which are quite distinct.
Rebuilding industry's commitment to research and development is the first limb of the Government's strategy for science. The second limb has been to dismantle the strong vertical divisons of culture and attitude that have marked relations between Government, industry and science, and the organisation of science itself in Britain. Here again, our strategy has been marked by an encouraging if still insufficient measure of success. On the crucial interface between industry and academic science, there has been a striking shift of attitude on both sides of the divide, which is reflected in the increased earnings by universities from research contracts with industry. They have risen from £27 million in 1982 to £78 million in 1987--a rise of 129 per cent.
At the same time, the past 10 years have seen a powerful development of the machinery for co-ordinating our national scientific effort. My hon. Friends the Members for Havant and for Daventry were right to emphasise the importance of this. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Havant that the basis of our entire approach is to strengthen the machinery for evaluation and for priority-setting in Government science policy. That is the thinking which lies behind the range of recent developments--the strengthening of the Cabinet Office in the heart of Government, with its "Annual Review of Government funded Research and Development", the creation of new machinery for collective ministerial consideration of science and technology matters, the creation of ACOST--the Advisory Committee on Science and Technology-- and the strengthening of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, the internal reorganisation and restructuring within the research council of which my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry spoke, the creation of the interdisciplinary research centres and the
Column 901growing focus on improving research management in the universities. All of those developments are helping to address some of the weaknesses in the way in which we have organised science in Britain compared with the way in which science is organised in other countries.
It is in that context that I shall briefly deal with what the hon. Member for Motherwell, South said about the co-ordination of environmental research. Research related to the environment touches many different areas of science and many different areas of practical activity affecting all the research councils and almost every Government Department. It is certainly important to keep policies and priorities in this area, as elsewhere, under constant review, because the deployment of resources simply cannot be frozen in a fixed pattern, whether financially or geographically. That, briefly, is the answer to the complaints of the hon. Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth and for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) about the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Bangor and the removal of Research Vessel Services from Barry.
With regard to what the hon. Member for Motherwell, South said, there is certainly a case for stronger measures of co-ordination, but at the same time there is a danger of detaching environmental research from cognate research in associated areas and detaching it from the diversified contexts in which environmental research is necessarily conducted. Those questions are being addressed by ACOST and by the ABRC and we await their advice.
Part of the common ground in this debate--and there is common ground--is that basic science is important. I think especially of the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey and the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant. The Government recognise the fundamental importance of basic science. It is our concern that lies behind the 16 per cent. increase in science funding which the Government have just announced for this year.
Our strategy can be summed up in four brief points. We are promoting a closer relationship between academic science and industry. We are promoting the growth of industry's commitment to research and development. We are promoting a more coherent approach to the management and the purposeful direction of the science base. We are continuing and strengthening the Government support for basic science.
Those policies are part of a successful strategy for continuing excellence in British science and for the revival of British industry. All of us in this House recognise that those two matters are linked. The point has been effectively made by a number of hon. Members. It is on that basis that I commend the Government's amendment to the House.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I would like to take up a matter that was completely unanswered by the Secretary of State, which is the problem that will be created in the future because of the reduced number of scientists entering the teaching profession. The Department of Education and Science, in its submission to the Select Committee on Education, said that there would be a shortfall of 1,000 physicists by 1995. However, there has been a report, entitled "Securing our Future", sponsored by the
Column 902Headmasters' Conference, the Secondary Heads Association and the Engineering Council, which estimated that there would be a shortfall of 2,000 physicists by 1995 and an optimistic shortfall of more than 4,000 mathematicians and, using a pessimistic figure, a shortfall of more than 12,000. It is a pity that the Minister did not deal with that issue.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question :--
The House divided : Ayes 212, Noes 279.
Division No. 80] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)