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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have given you and the Secretary of State for Employment notice of the matter that I intend to raise. It arises from the ethyl chloride leak and subsequent flash fire at the Associated Octel company in Ellesmere Port in my constituency. Have you, Madam Speaker, had any request from the Secretary of State to make a statement on the health and safety implications of that serious incident, which could have had dire effects on my constituents and those of the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad)? Had the wind changed, it would also have affected the constituents of the Secretary of State himself and those of the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter).

In raising the point of order, I am sure that the House would want to congratulate the Cheshire fire service on the bravery and skill of the work it did, as well as the efforts of the emergency services and emergency planning team, who carried out splendid work last night.

Madam Speaker : The latter comments of the hon. Gentleman are not a matter for the Chair, nor are they a point of order.

I have not heard from the Secretary of State that he is seeking to make a statement on that matter. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, it has been referred to the Health and Safety Executive. He may like to find other methods of pursuing it in the House.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I draw your attention to the Votes and Proceedings of the House, which are published in the House papers today? On Monday, the Secretary of

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State for Transport tabled the important Draft Channel Tunnel (Security) Order 1994, only to withdraw it on Tuesday and replace it with another order. I have tried to ascertain from the Department of Transport what were the differences between the orders and what were the errors which, I assume, existed in the first order, and it was unable to tell me. I went to the House of Commons Library to see whether any communication had been made, and still found no explanation of the alterations.

Do you have any capacity to require the Secretary of State to withdraw the second order and get it right? Even the second order is altered manuscript, and it seems indicative of the sloppy nature of the way in which the Secretary of State is handling the channel tunnel business. He should be given 5 minus for effort. I hope that the matter can be taken away and looked at again.

Madam Speaker : As I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises, that is not a matter for the Chair. Had he pursued his inquiries a little further, he would have found that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments exists to look into such matters.


Professions Supplementary to Medicine (Amendment)

Mr. Alfred Morris, supported by Sir John Hannam, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Dr. Lewis Moonie, Sir Trevor Skeet, Ms Liz Lynne, Sir James Kilfedder, Mr. Barry Sheerman, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Ms Angela Eagle, Sir Richard Body and Mr. Ken Livingstone, presented a Bill to amend the Professions Supplementary to Medicine Act 1960 for the purpose of permitting the title of podiatrist to be used as an alternative to that of state registered chiropodist under the terms of that Act : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 4 February, and to be printed. [Bill 41.]

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Registration of Small Children's Homes


Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the registration of a children's home where accommodation is provided for one or more children, and for connected purposes.

At the moment, private children's homes that accommodate four or more children are required to register with local authorities under the Children Act 1989 and are subject to regular inspection by the local independent inspection unit. Where minimum standards are not being met, registration can be withdrawn so that no children can be placed in the unit in question. Where three or fewer children are accommodated in an establishment, it cannot be registered under the Children Act. Moreover, the fostering regulations do not apply because staff are employed on a rotational basis.

Although the Arrangement for the Placement of Children Regulations and the Review of Children's Cases Regulations apply, providing placement, representation and review procedures, children placed in such homes do not enjoy the additional protection that registration and regular inspection provide.

My involvement in the issue arises from a constituency problem brought to my attention by Dr. and Mrs. Lloyd, who had sublet their house and who found out, after thousands of pounds' worth of vandalism and damage had been done, that it had been used as a small children's home by an organisation called Parallel Parents. Some excellent investigative journalism by the local paper, the Stockport Express, and an in-depth documentary on BBC Manchester's "Close Up North" programme uncovered serious causes for concern.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and I saw the Minister at the time, and expressed our concern. A study by the social service inspectorate was requested by the then Under-Secretary of State in March 1993. The conclusions of that report were placed in the Library earlier this month.

The report looked at 17 authorities in the north-west, of which only six used unregistered children's homes. Those undertaking the study had difficulty in identifying the number of homes in existence ; there is no way of knowing how many of those homes are in existence or of monitoring their standards of care or quality, because there is no requirement to register.

Given the recommendation of the Warner report that there should be a national directorate of children's homes with a national code of practice laying down minimum standards, it is incredible that a loophole in the law allows small children's homes to operate with no means of enforcing a consistent minimum standard of care something demanded of larger homes.

The SSI study said that there was cause for concern about unregistered homes run by organisations such as Parallel Parents. It made the point that children placed in such homes were very difficult children and young people, who had failed to respond in local authority establishments : children with extensive criminal records : children with personality disorders ; disturbed children ; abused and abusing children ; and children with drug and alcohol problems.

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Asked on "Close Up North" about his child care approach, Sean Fitzpatrick, the proprietor of Parallel Parents, said :

"We say, Tell us your dreams, and we'll make your dreams come true.' "

What on earth does that mean?

As for what it means in practice, the SSI study stated tellingly that, in small homes, the most difficult and vulnerable young people were receiving care from staff with the least experience, the least skill and the least training. It expressed concern about young untrained staff undertaking therapy with very difficult children, and about the fact that those staff received little supervision, support or training.

Staff turnover was high and recruitment haphazard. Poor material standards were identified in some of the homes. There was evidence that proprietors were operating with fewer than four children to evade the stringencies of registration, particularly in relation to fire safety. For example, inspectors were appalled to find young people living in a unit that had been refused registration for six children because of a substantial fire risk.

The agencies concerned had clearly moved into providing services in unregistered homes because it had been simpler to set them up than to go through the process of registration. Some agencies were operating satellite unregistered homes in addition to a registered home, and children were being moved from home to home without the local authority being notified. I am sure that the House will agree that that is an unacceptable form of subcontracting.

It is little wonder that there have been concerns about children left unsupervised, and about control being absent, with children allowed to get up when they like and do what they like, and with disturbed childern being a risk to themselves and to others. Children have been placed in homes where the proprietor's expressed philosophy constitutes a total abdication of responsibility for care and control.

Nor can local authorities escape their responsibilities in this matter. The SSI report said that difficult-to-place children, in crisis at the time of the placement, were placed in unregistered homes--an "any port in a storm" approach--at a cost of £500 to £1,500 per week.

The report said that many authorities had taken the publicity of the providing agency at face value and had been disinclined to question providers closely about the details of the provision on offer. Very few asked for information about the outcome.

That damning study concludes that there is a need to ensure that the Arrangements for the Placement of Children (General) Regulations 1991 and the Review of Children's Cases Regulations 1991 are applied as required.

Since then, a circular has been issued to local authorities with notes of guidance on the standards that are appropriate. That guidance reminds local authorities that inquiries into standards should treat the placement as if it were in a larger home. It clearly states that the Department of Health does not intend the standard of care to be lower than in a larger home. In that case, why not regulate for registration, and in so doing provide for regular independent inspection to ensure that those minimal standards are adhered to?

The study was confined to the north-west, but the problem is not restricted to that region, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), a co -sponsor of the Bill, made clear in his excellent speech in an Adjournment

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debate on 20 January 1994, in which he raised concerns about children's homes in his constituency. This is a national problem and a national scandal.

The Bill seeks to make all children's homes subject to registration and independent inspection, which ensures basic standards and an independent assessment of those standards in all homes.

All inquiries into children's deaths have clearly shown that checks have to be made in the placement of children. Those checks do not apply in the placement of children in small children's homes. Only compulsory registration will ensure that, and ensure inspection other than that of the placing social worker.

It is insane to allow the situation to continue. From April this year, small homes for adults will be required to register. Why should not children's homes be required to do so?

Some proprietors provide poorer standards of care than are acceptable, yet local authorities place children in those situations. The House has an obligation to protect vulnerable children from those who would exploit them and from those who do not care enough adequately to protect them.

Only by making registration of all children's homes compulsory can our duty of care to desperate, disturbed young people begin to be fulfilled. Only the House has the power to achieve that. I ask that that power be exercised. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.41 pm

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Superficially, the Bill purports to give children who are already in care some additional protection. At first glance, it would appear that there is a national scandal, with widespread abuse of the existing law. Curiously, however, the only evidence that the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) has been able to produce is a single landlord who has complained that his house was damaged. Apart from the civil remedy that is available in that example, she has not alleged that any of the children in that establishment suffered any damage, which, of course, would be contrary to existing law.

There is a knee-jerk reaction and a socialist tendency to regulate, inspect and, where possible, to provide and extend to NALGO a monopoly in the care of children. I should like to draw attention to the work of several small children's homes in my constituency, where dedicated teams of professionals, who have all the qualifications, provide care on an emergency and respite basis to a small group of disturbed young children. Incidentally, those children are invariably already the subject of care orders, so if they are not being visited regularly by social workers, and if the premises in which they are accommodated are not regularly inspected, local authorities are already abandoning their responsibilities.

Emergency and respite care provides one-to-one security not just for children but for the public, who often need protection from such youngsters, who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. I accept that, if there were a dramatic loophole, and if there had been a catalogue of cases of abuse, the House would be anxious to intervene immediately. But the proposal to extend the control of all those establishments to local authorities and

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to the muesli-munching, open-toed sandal brigade of social services in those errant county councils would be a very great mistake. The hon. Lady failed to mention that the problem of providing accommodation certainly for those who have been in conflict with the criminal law is already provided for in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Later this year, secure training orders will be introduced, and satisfactory accommodation will be provided for those youngsters to ensure that they do not continue to reoffend. The existing law is perfectly adequate to deal with any complaint. As the hon. Lady mentioned, the Children Act 1989 is in force, and any single case of abuse would be a breach of the existing law. There is no possible reason for extending registration to smaller units that provide an extremely important service.

Some of the homes in my constituency that provide such a service come into conflict with the local authority, which of course is always keen to extend -- [Interruption.] Opposition Members sneer and jibe, as though there is something wrong with providing care for those youngsters, who are often young offenders from very difficult backgrounds. I challenge Opposition Members to find better care anywhere else in the country. Torbay has a long and fine tradition of providing such care for very difficult youngsters.

To change the law on the basis of a single complaint from a single landlord would be a waste of the time of the House, and I certainly urge the House to oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No.19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business)--

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a convention of the House that, when hon. Members oppose a ten-minute Bill, their voices are followed by their vote. The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), who opposed the Bill in a five-minute, rather squalid, speech, never opened his mouth to express opposition to the vote. That is against the conventions of the House, and I hope that you deprecate it, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) acted quite correctly. He opposed by saying, "No." [Interruption.] Order. I heard the hon. Gentleman say, "No." He does not have to cause a Division, he has only to signify no, and the House understands that. Therefore, I am able to declare that the Ayes have it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. You are a bit nearer to the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason). There is not much in it, but you are a shade nearer than we are. I know that the hon. Gentleman has different names. He goes under the name of Rupert Allason, and sometimes under the name of Nigel West. When the Tory Whips could not find him, he had another name, and he now turns out to be a ventriloquist.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has cheered me up on a very gloomy day.

Question agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Ann Coffey, Mr. Keith Hill, Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Alun Michael, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Bridget Prentice, Mr. Kevin Hughes, Mr. Alan Milburn, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and Mr. Neil Gerrard.

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Registration of Small Children's Homes

Ms Ann Coffey accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the registration of a children's home where accommodation is provided for one or more children, and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 March, and to be printed. [Bill 42.]

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Scientific Research

3.48 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave) : I beg to move,

That the draft Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.

I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following motions :

That the draft Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.

That the draft Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.

Mr. Waldegrave : The draft orders declare three new bodies to be research councils for the purposes of the Science and Technology Act 1965. The orders were laid before the House on 17 December. I am delighted that the House has this opportunity to focus on the Government's policy for science, engineering and technology, and in particular on the restructuring of the research councils system. Science is central to our culture and heritage, and the foundation for our future success as an advanced manufacturing and trading nation.

Today is something of a science day for Britain. First, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been underlining at the annual lunch of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee the fundamental importance of science and engineering for the wealth and well being of the country. As my right hon. Friend said in Japan in September : "perhaps we have undervalued science and the application of science in the United Kingdom over the last 20 or 30 years it's my determination to make sure that British science remains first class".

Today the Prime Minister repeated that commitment, urging that we must root out what he described as the traditional bias against science which persists in some parts of our culture, and emphasising that, even against the absolute necessity of restraining public science, science will remain in future a high priority.

Secondly, the debate is being held in prime parliamentary time. I understand that that is a result of the usual co-operative arrangements between the usual channels at the present time. Thirdly, the BBC, The Daily Telegraph and my office have launched an excellent joint initiative to encourage participation in and enthusiasm for science called "Megalab UK", which, among other things, offers the prospect of being able to use my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), as an object for experimentation, a role for which he volunteered after a relatively small number of hours of persuasion.

When I took this job as the first Minister in charge of the new Office of Science and Technology and Britain's first Cabinet Minister for Science since the noble Lord Hailsham, it seemed to me that we needed a shift in thinking. We needed to close the gap between science and technology-- between academically driven research and the wealth-creating sector of the United Kingdom economy.

That was the fundamental issue that the Government addresed in our May 1993 White Paper, "Realising our Potential : A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology". It was about how to maintain the

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independence of our researchers and the excellence of British science while at the same time creating a real partnership and common sense of purpose among all the funders, purveyors, beneficiaries and users of research in Government, the universities, commerce and industry. In other words, it was about how to harness our excellence in science and engineering more systemically to the creation of wealth throughout the United Kingdom.

The White Paper set out a strategy to bring this partnership about. It was widely welcomed by industry, academia and commentators. Good progress is being made with this implementation, and these orders represent one part of the story. I shall briefly recap the rest of the new policy framework. We intend to publish a new "Forward Look" on Government-funded science and technology, and that will appear for the first time in April. It will be a clear and up-to-date statement of strategy throughout Government, with a five to 10 year perspective.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : What is the hitch in appointing a chief executive for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council?

Mr. Waldegrave : That is the new council. I shall be entirely frank, because it is always wise to be so with the hon. Gentleman : we have not yet found anyone good enough for the role. After discussion with my senior officials, I have asked that we should go out and find more candidates for the post, because, although distinguished people applied for it, we have not yet found anyone with whom we feel entirely comfortable. As the hon. Gentleman above all hon. Members will understand, it is a crucial job.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : I know that my right hon. Friend accepts that the formation of the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council has been warmly welcomed. That is because of the emphasis that will be placed on wealth creation. Will he ensure that the new chief executive has not only high-quality experience of research but experience of wealth creation and industry as well?

Mr. Waldegrave : The person appointed must carry the confidence of the engineering and physics communities and the chemical communities. Ideally, he will also have experience in industry, but we are begining to describe a paragon. We need somebody who will carry some weight, and, although we have had some distinguished candidates, we have not yet found someone entirely right.

However, the new part-time chairman, Mr. Alan Rudge, a distinguished man, is already working hard with the new council and the existing committees, so there is no problem in waiting a little longer.

To continue, the strategy we shall set out in "Forward Look", to be well- founded, will need some foresight. That is why we announced for the first time in the White Paper a British technology foresight programme. Preparations for this are going well, and I shall announce the shape of the programme at the end of the month. The programme will take markets as well as technology fully into account. Our strategy must be based on innovation in all sectors of the economy. The industry departments are working to promote best practice by industry in research and development and industry's awareness of and access to science and technology.

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The strategy must address issues of education and training, and must increase the general public's awareness and understanding of science. Young people are obviously the most crucial target. I launched the Government's new campagin to promote the public understanding of science on 11 January.

Preparations for the first ever National Week of Science, engineering and technology set , which begins on 18 March, are well in hand and more than 1,000 events have been organised around the country through the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

On a nationwide level, I have already mentioned the launch of Megalab UK, the result of collaboration between the Office of Science and Technology, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC in the shape of Radio 1 and "Tomorrow's World". It was launched today in The Daily Telegraph and on Radio 1.

All the themes--strategy, quality, partnership, foresight innovation, education and training and understanding--bear directly on the key roles of our research councils. The research council system is the essential vehicle for channelling much of the United Kingdom's support for high-quality scientific research and post-graduate training. I intend, however, to remodel that vehicle from 1 April this year, while building on the undoubted solidity of the existing design. That is what the orders are all about.

In some respects, change is already well under way. The research councils are now under the general direction of Sir John Cadogan, former director of research at BP, who took up the new post of Director General of the Research Councils within the Office of Science and Technology at the beginning of January. He is now helping me in my task of ensuring that the research council system works to its full potential, developing new mechanisms for creating partnerships between the science and engineering base and industry and commerce.

I am delighted to report to the House that he has thrown himself with characteristic vigour--a number of hon. Members know him--into the task ahead of him. His role is to work with the councils so that their output, be it research findings or highly trained people, is excellent and also useful. The two are not mutually exclusive, and we shall have achieved our purposes when both objectives are seen as valuable and complementary.

In the short time that he has been in post, Sir John has been working with the chief executives of the research councils to ensure that the best possible use is made of the enhanced science budget that I was able to announce in November. As a result, I am pleased to report to the House that he has been able to double the funds available for distribution among the six new research councils in the coming financial year.

He has persuaded each council to contribute resources to a central fund by means of efficiency savings, which can now be devoted to front-line science and postgraduate training. It is critical that resources for science should fund top-class research and training to the greatest possible extent.

The fact that such a redistribution proved possible so early in the tenure of the new DGRC augurs well for the new system of setting clear priorities and the increased efficiency that we are looking for.

I invited the director general to come forward with a strategy for use of the resultant £15.5 million, about half of which comes from new money and about half from efficiency gains, but all of which is new money for

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front-line science. I am, as a result, able to announce today the launch of some significant new intiatives, and the expansion of relevant existing programmes, which demonstrably put into practice our White Paper commitment to reorientate our research and postgraduate training effort so that it supports wealth creation and the quality of life. I hope that I will be able to show that those innovations demonstrate that there is no contradiction at all between doing that and supporting good, curiosity-driven research. I shall be giving details of the allocations to the research councils and other bodies from the science budget in a written statement to the House, and I have deposited further details of the new programmes in the Library. But I want briefly to sketch out the major elements of the new and expanded activities.

First, I plan to launch a new competitive scheme to encourage researchers to collaborate with industry, making available grants that are complementary to the funding provided by industry for strategic research. That will be a pilot scheme--£3.5 million for the academic half year which falls in 1994-95--involving the Medical Research Council, the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. I propose to name the awards made under the scheme ROPAs after the White Paper "Realising our Potential".

The funds will allow researchers to work on a topic related to the work for which industry is paying, but of the researchers' own choosing. Unlike existing joint funding schemes, such as LINK, the topic should not be part of the programme supported by the industrial funding, but should be related research in which the aim should be to carry it forward to the stage at which it becomes accessible for exploitation.

The unique feature of that approach is that the conventional peer review system will not be used. Instead, we shall take industry's recognition of the researcher as an indicator of his or her quality and commitment, although, of course, the researcher's proposals will need to be properly refereed, monitored and evaluated.

In a parallel move on the postgraduate training front, I plan to drive some of the collaborative awards in science and engineering--the CASE awards-- from the industrial end, so that the studentships are available to firms that have demonstrated their ability to provide the right environment for postgraduate training. There will be at least 100 additional awards to industry, giving industry the opportunity to select its own academic partner and topic. That is an important innovation. We see the need for training to respond to the needs of all potential employers.

Continuing the theme of interaction with industry, an additional £2 million is being provided to complement funds already set aside by the new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to launch an innovative manufacturing programme which will also engage the research community of the Economic and Social Research Council. I expect to expand that programme next year to the biotechnology sector through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and perhaps later to other councils.

Priority in the distribution of research funds is being given to areas identified by industry as being of strategic importance. For example, I shall be putting extra funds into the human and animal genome programmes and

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immunology, £3.4 million, and chemistry, £4.5 million. In all cases, the selection of general research areas will take careful account of the long-term interests of the users.

Mr. Dalyell : I think that members of the Civil Service attended the recent conference in Cambridge on rare breeds of cattle and biodiversity. Is the Minister's Department involved in that important work, because not only the human genome project is important, but the animal genome and the botanical genome projects are potentially important?

Mr. Waldegrave : I shall consult the chief scientific adviser, whose own field lies in this area, about that. I am sure that the Department is in touch with that. I hope that I shall not offend any of the other powerful centres around the country if I say that Cambridge is becoming not only a European but a world centre in that work.

I have said before that people are the single most important element in our research effort. I am therefore delighted to announce funds for some 40 additional Royal Society research fellowships. Those are prestigious five- year research fellowships, at a generous stipend, aimed at giving security to our best researchers. I have also allocated funds to expand the Royal Academy of Engineering programme of visiting industrial professorships to boost the design component of engineering undergraduate courses, and to make a start to their new professional development scheme based on modular part-time courses.

Those new initiatives represent an important start to the process of re- orientating the research councils towards the aims and policies set out in the White Paper. Over the next six months or so, the director general will be examining the research council programme in great depth, including the arrangements that will need to be put in place to take forward the emerging results of our technology foresight programme.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) : What are the total funds involved in those initiatives? Will that be new money, or will it come from the existing science budget?

Mr. Waldegrave : I said that, of the total of about £15.5 million, about half has been found by the director general through efficiency savings, and about half is new, additional money to the science base. All of it is new money for science.

The White Paper "Realising our Potential" also announced our intention to undertake a scrutiny of public sector research establishments to review their future status, sector by sector--looking in depth at privatisation, rationalisation and different options for ownership.

As I informed the House in a written answer on 16 June 1993, that scrutiny is being conducted by a team from the efficiency unit of the Office of Public Service and Science. Members are drawn from other Government Departments and the private sector. The team started work on 13 December and will make recommendations to Sir Peter Levene, the Prime Minister's efficiency adviser, by the end of April 1994. Sir Peter will submit a report to me. It is normal for efficiency unit reports to be published.

The team's terms of reference are to examine research establishments sector by sector, to identify those where privatisation is feasible and desirable. Where that is not the case, it will identify and make recommendations on the potential for rationalisation of facilities and capabilities.

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