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Column 860

Roe, Mrs Marion

Rossi, Sir Hugh

Rost, Peter

Rowe, Andrew

Rumbold, Mrs Angela

Sackville, Hon Tom

Sainsbury, Hon Tim

Sayeed, Jonathan

Scott, Nicholas

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')

Shelton, Sir William (Streatham)

Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)

Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Shersby, Michael

Sims, Roger

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)

Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

Soames, Hon Nicholas

Speller, Tony

Squire, Robin

Stanbrook, Ivor

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Steen, Anthony

Stern, Michael

Stevens, Lewis

Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)

Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)

Stradling Thomas, Sir John

Sumberg, David

Summerson, Hugo

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thorne, Neil

Thornton, Malcolm

Thurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)

Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)

Tracey, Richard

Tredinnick, David

Trippier, David

Twinn, Dr Ian

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Viggers, Peter

Waddington, Rt Hon David

Wakeham, Rt Hon John

Waldegrave, Hon William

Walden, George

Walker, Bill (T'side North)

Waller, Gary

Walters, Sir Dennis

Ward, John

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Warren, Kenneth

Watts, John

Wells, Bowen

Wheeler, John

Whitney, Ray

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Jerry

Wilshire, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann

Winterton, Nicholas

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

Woodcock, Mike

Yeo, Tim

Young, Sir George (Acton)

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Stephen Dorrell and

Mr. John M. Taylor.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House expresses its deep concern at the transport tragedies of the last two years of the Herald of Free Enterprise', King's Cross, Clapham, Lockerbie, the M1 air disaster and the daily toll of deaths and injuries on our roads, and extends its sympathy to all those affected ; applauds the Government's determination that safety and security must remain paramount, and welcomes the urgent steps it has taken to that end ; congratulates the Government for bringing about an economic revival which has resulted in record levels of investment in roads and railways, and for recognising that the only way to provide customers with an efficient and safe public transport system is to set demanding objectives for quality of service and performance ; welcomes the Government's record of approving every investment scheme put to it by British Rail and London Regional Transport, and its radical proposals to extend the public transport system in London ; congratulates the Government for having recognised the limitations of central planning ; and calls on the Opposition to acknowledge the legacy of neglect and under-investment which this Government inherited.

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Science and Scientific Research

7.16 pm

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Government's failures properly to support Britiain's science base, to secure adequate time in the science curriculum and to overcome the crisis in the supply of science teachers, to stem the loss of so many of our ablest scientists by giving teachers in higher education adequate status, pay and research resources, to increase or even to sustain planned levels of expenditure on the science budget after 1989, and to provide the organisation and funding needed to tackle the vital problems of the global environment, the quality of life, and the technological competitiveness of British industry.

Mr. Speaker : I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister. Mr. Straw : Science is central to the quality of life in Britain and to our survival as a leading industrial nation. But we spend less of our national income on science, as other countries spend more. We have fewer scientists and engineers. We value and honour them less than do other countries. The consequences are stark.

The sharpest decline of all in our ability to compete with other nations has occurred in our overseas trade in science-based goods. In 1979, we ran a surplus on such trade of over £3 billion. By 1987, it had turned into a deficit of £2 billion. Last year--in one year--the deficit had trebled to over £6.5 billion.

The distinguished American economist Robert Solow won the 1987 Nobel prize for his work on the essential link between science and technology and the growth of the economic and social welfare of a nation. His thesis has sadly and dramatically been proved by the British Government's neglect of the science base and by the dramatic relative decline in our share of world trade and in our international competitiveness.

The superficial stance of the Government is that of

self-congratulation and complacency, well illustrated by their amendment today, but the reality is shown by the Secretary of State's failure to publish a long-promised policy statement on a strategy for British science and by the Government's refusal for more than three and half years to provide any Government time in the House of Commons to debate science policy.

The last Government debate on science, in June 1985, predated by over a year the Secretary of State's incarnation as Secretary of State for Education and Science. Today's debate on science, like last year's, has been provided by the Opposition out of its scarce Supply time. But the announcement of this debate brought one modest success, even before its start. It forced the Secretary of State to make up his mind about the allocations to the research councils under the science budget which were announced three months ago in the Chancellor's statement.

In a panic, the Secretary of State would have nothing to say. He rushed out a letter to Sir David Phillips, chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, last Thursday, a parliamentary question was planted yesterday and a press conference was called this morning to give the news that the pain would not be quite as bad as it had been in previous years.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : If the hon. Gentleman's claim is that

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announced the science allocations as a result of the pressure of the debate this evening--that is the charge, I believe--let me answer it. Last year, I announced the allocations on 13 February and the previous year I announced them on 9 February, so it is quite normal that this year I should announce them on 7 February. The fact that the hon. Gentleman uses that as an argument to attack the Government shows that his criticism of the Government's scientific policy is pettifogging, puerile and pedantic.

Mr. Straw : The Secretary of State is damned by what he did not say. He stood up to deny our charge but failed to do so--he simply gave a series of dates. He called his press conference this morning because we called the debate and he was forced into making his announcement today. The coincidence is too acute for even the Secretary of State to deny. That is by no means the gravamen of our charges ; it is merely one of them. It is an illustration that the Government are ashamed of their own record, as is shown by the fact that they have refused to debate it for about four years. Those of us who chart the Secretary of State's progress know that, although he might be an elegant user of language, he murders statistics when it suits him. He has claimed that there has been a substantial increase in resources for the science budget. He said that it was 26 per cent. more in real terms than in 1979-80, and 10 per cent. more than in 1988-89.

There has, we accept, and as we welcomed at the time, been an increase over previous plans for next year's science budget. Without it there would, in the words of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils last May, have been :

"very substantial reductions in the volume of scientific activity funded by the research councils".

At the time, the board said that it viewed the "relative decline"--its words--of British science with "considerable concern", and called for an injection of a minimum of almost £380 million over three years.

Even with some double-counting and juggling, the most that the Secretary of State can identify is £300 million over three years. Next year, because of prior earmarking, only £75 million will be available to the science base compared with the minimum of £97 million sought by the ABRC.

In the following years, the picture is more dismal. No wonder that the Secretary of State has been trying to hide away from debate. The Daily Telegraph, of all papers, on the day after the public expenditure White Paper was announced, together with another press notice from the Secretary of State claiming an increase in the science budget, reported that

"cuts in the science budget"

were disclosed in the plans for the Department of Education and Science. If the Secretary of State could not even convince his friends in The Daly Telegraph, it is not surprising that he has wholly failed to convince the scientific community.

The point emphasised by the ABRC in its latest pronouncement is that the Secretary of State's figures imply a 3 per cent. reduction in real terms, after allowing for inflation. As the ABRC states in a document published today, those figures

"imply a significant reduction in the volume of science which the Councils can support".

Those are the figures that the Secretary of State was bragging about this morning.

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