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Mr. Gunnell: The Minister's answer is not quite satisfactory. Many projects will be started as a result of the funds available through the national lottery. When they get going, some will meet consequences that were not foreseen and were not in their business plans. The need for revenue funding will be much greater than the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Should not some lottery money be put into a trust to generate revenue funding? Many organisations working in the national heritage area are already short of revenue.
Mr. Dorrell: We have said that, in exceptional cases, the model which the hon. Gentleman anticipates--a fund-generating revenue to look after the capital asset--can be envisaged. It would not be right for us to create a fund at large to cover the generality of risk in the projects that are being backed because the responsibility for covering that risk and making viable business plans, with an element of flexibility to cover the unknown, rests on the people who sponsor the projects. I would not wish to do anything that would create among them the impression that events that were unforeseeable when the project started would be covered by an emergency fund of the kind anticipated by the hon. Gentleman. That would not be a sensible way forward. The responsibility for managing flexibility within the future life of a project must rest unambiguously on the project's sponsor.
18. Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if it is Government policy to use proceeds from the national lottery to support opera in its London centres as well as in the regions; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Dorrell: Decisions on the allocation of lottery funds will be entirely for distributing bodies to make, within the framework of the directions issued to them under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. The Arts Council will make the funding decisions in response to the applications it receives. It has recently issued guidelines for applicants which give details of its funding strategy.
Mr. Jenkin: Does my right hon. Friend agree that our opera centres in London provide extremely good value for money compared with national centres in other major countries? Would it not therefore be worth while to tip the Arts Council the wink and encourage it to push some money in that direction?
Mr. Dorrell: I do not engage in tipping winks. I engage in giving policy guidelines, which I have done.
27. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement about preparations for National Science Week.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert G. Hughes): Preparations are well advanced for the second science week, starting on 17 March 1995. It will be bigger and more comprehensive than this year's.
Mr. Marshall: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as part of National Science Week, it will be necessary to emphasise the quality of science teaching? Does he agree that science teaching has improved since the introduction of the national curriculum, especially in grant-maintained schools.
Mr. Hughes: Indeed, science teaching is improving. The fact that the national curriculum requires pupils to learn about science for so many years is a big improvement. Improvements in facilities are also important, but so is the excitement of science. Therefore, schools' participation in science week--I urge all schools to do so--is an important part of the public's understanding of the science curriculum.
Mr. Battle: While I welcome the Government's National Science Week initiatives, we cannot let the Minister get away with trying to con us into believing that that is all that is needed. Can he confirm that, although the Office of Science and Technology budget was not cut last week, the budgets of every other Department--the Department for Education and the Departments of Trade and Industry, Health, Transport and the Environment-- all had their research and development spending reduced in the recent Budget. Is it not a classic case of a teaspoon of aid for National Science Week while, with the other hand, the Treasury is firmly grasping the windpipe of every other Department's science spending? It was not a Budget for science, was it?
Mr. Hughes: It was a Budget for science. The Labour party apparently finds it impossible to welcome good news. Labour Members do not understand good news when it gets up and hits them. The science budget is at a record level and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy protected and increased it, which has been warmly welcomed in the science community.
Mr. Dykes: I wish my hon. Friend well because at the end of March he will be the Minister in charge of that programme for schools throughout the country. Can he confirm that we shall have a major programme throughout the borough of Harrow and that, although it is early days, schools are already responding well to that initiative?
Mr. Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I know from the work which my hon. Friend and I have been doing that there will be a large programme in Harrow. Indeed, our work has been mirrored by other hon. Members of all parties who have responded warmly to the letter that I sent all hon. Members. They have been
Column 608contacting their schools and companies in their constituencies, so that everyone concerned in the subject will make a large input to National Science Week.
28. Mr. Cohen: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what consideration was given to animal experimentation in his sponsorship of the recent National Science Week.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes: We welcome contributions to the week from any bona fide organisation that seeks to promote greater public understanding and appreciation of science, engineering and technology. No area of research, including medical research, is excluded.
Mr. Cohen: Surely the Minister does not pretend to be neutral on the issue of animal experiments. Millions of animals are destroyed unnecessarily each year in the so-called interests of science. Why do not the Government take the opportunity provided by the week to listen to the public's views on unreliable, unethical and inhumane treatment of animals in experiments, and to promote the genuinely scientific alternatives to those awful experiments?
Mr. Hughes: I know that the hon. Gentleman is seriously concerned about the issue and pursues it with equal seriousness. I am sure that he accepts that my voting record in the House indicates that I also take a serious view of it. The Government share public concern that animals should not suffer unnecessarily. We are committed to finding alternatives and the Home Office funds research to that end. The British Association's declaration on the use of animals in medical research is an important contribution, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that thousands of eminent doctors and scientists, including 31 Nobel prize winners, signed that declaration.
29. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will transfer responsibility for the disbursement of moneys from the Duchy benevolent fund to Lancashire county council.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. David Hunt): No.
Mr. Prentice: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the way that the fund's decisions are made is opaque? Last year, three of my constituents received just over £700, yet figures for each of the past five years show that one school alone--the Royal grammar school in Lancaster--receives money from the fund year after year. Should not responsibility for disbursing those funds be transferred to a democratically accountable body, rather than be vested in the few people who advise the Chancellor of the Duchy?
Mr. Hunt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to announce that over the past 10 years, the Duchy has donated more than £1 million to charitable causes. I am not one of the trustees, so I cannot comment on their deliberations and decisions--but all three Duchy Lords Lieutenant are trustees and they comment on requests for support from their respective areas. That seems quite satisfactory.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: I assure my right hon. Friend that transferring to Lancaster county council responsibility for allocating any money would be frowned upon by my constituents. Is he aware that the county council has never been fair in funding Lancaster schools, including the Royal Lancaster, and could not be trusted to be fair with Duchy money? How much money has Pendle received from the fund?
Mr. Hunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supplying the correct background to the question by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). This year grants totalling £2,600 have been made by the fund to charities and individuals in his constituency, from a total of £168,000.
30. Mr. Brandreth: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what measures his Department is taking to encourage partnerships between different sectors of the economy in the areas of science and technology.
Mr. Brandreth: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the work of Campus, the campaign for Salford university--one of the leading universities in the north-west? It involves 150 different businesses from large multinationals to small local firms, who have formed a partnership with the university to develop research and research funding. Is not that a perfect example of the way forward, and should it not serve as a model for other universities and businesses in the north-west?
Mr. Hunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The answers to his questions are yes, yes and yes.
I am impressed by the work that Salford university has done in partnership with industry, particularly the work done by Campus. Into my hands has fallen a brochure produced by the campaign to promote the university of Salford: it fell into my hands because my chief scientific adviser visited the university last October and was most impressed by all that my hon. Friend has described.
Mr. Miller: The Minister will know that I approve of the idea of increasing the number of partnerships in the science communities, especially on university campuses, but how will he avoid the potential conflict between the interests of science and those of the private sector in subjects such as genetic research?
Mr. Hunt: It is important for us to seek a positive partnership between industry and science. That is why my predecessor set up the technology foresight panels, which enable leaders of private industry to sit down with some of the country's leading scientists to discuss genetics and many other subjects right across the spectrum, and to try to look five, 10, 15 and 20 years into the future. The results achieved by the panels will emerge next spring, and will be reflected in the "Forward Look" that my Department will publish next year.
Mr. Streeter: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the partnership between the university of Plymouth and various private sector companies which are setting up the science park at Derriford, making Plymouth a centre of
Column 610scientific excellence? Is not that exactly the kind of initiative that the Government should support? I shall send my right hon. Friend a brochure in tonight's post.
Mr. Hunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I look forward to reading the brochure, and to hearing more about Plymouth's efforts. They reflect the record amount of money that is being spent through the science budget, which will be more than 30 per cent. higher in real terms next year than it was 15 years ago.
The most important way ahead, however, must lie in a more positive partnership between science and industry. That is reflected in many of the efforts mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House in letters to me.
Mrs. Ann Taylor: Is not the Minister aware that it is extremely foolish to be complacent about the issue, especially when Britain's industrial base has shrunk so badly over the past 15 years? Surely the most urgent need for better partnerships between different sectors of the economy, and in science and technology, is in the development of information super-highways. Will the Minister acknowledge that unless the Government change direction in that vital regard, Britain will be left behind again?
Mr. Hunt: The hon. Lady should recognise that the United States has followed our example in developing the super-highway in many important and material respects. As for her general point, I am very proud of the fact that the United Kingdom is in the premier research league. Again, the science budget shows our commitment to staying in that league.
31. Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what consideration he has given to the report of the working group under the chairmanship of Professor Roger Whittenbury, commissioned by the Office of Science and Technology, into the safeguarding for the nation of the collection of the 42,500 cultures and microbes used by the country's science research bodies and institutes; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes: We are grateful to Professor Whittenbury for his report, and we are considering it carefully.
Mr. Mackinlay: Does the Minister accept that that will not reassure scientists who greatly value the preservation of those cultures and microbes, which are the product of 100 years of research? It really is in the interests of the British research and scientific community for the Government to take an initiative to ensure that the microbes are preserved for the nation, and for British scientific research.
Mr. Hughes: That is the whole point of the report. The history is as follows: the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report on systematic biology research expressed a number of concerns, and in our response, to meet those concerns, we set up an independent study. We now have its report, and are considering its recommendations carefully. We consider building on United Kingdom strengths in systematic biology a very important part of overall Government plans.
Column 611Let me set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. Three years ago, we commissioned similar studies examining the conservation of plants in culture collections. That has worked well, and I believe that the current project will also work well.
32. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what new proposals he has to improve the job security of civil servants.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes: Our public service reforms, which the Select Committee recently endorsed, mean that the civil service continues to offer rewarding careers and job security which compares well with other sectors.
Mr. Flynn: Is the Minister aware that I and my constituents who work at the Patent Office were told that a decision would be made and published by Christmas--Christmas 1993? Was not that prediction as reliable as that made by the Home Secretary today that the Conservatives would win the Dudley, West by-election? Is he aware that the staff of Companies House in Cardiff, at the Accounts Services Agency in my constituency, at the Passport Office, the Central Statistical Office and the Patent Office in my constituency have the sword of Damocles in the form of possible job losses hanging over their heads for another Christmas? Will he guarantee that, if the Government privatise the agencies, the jobs involved will be secure in Wales and not moved to other parts of the United Kingdom, Europe or the far east?
Mr. Hughes: Just to fill in the background for the hon. Gentleman, the next steps agencies represent a significant improvement in the organisation of government. Although I understand that prior options reviews are unsettling for staff, and prolonged reviews are even more difficult, the Government are still considering the review of the Patent Office to which he referred. An announcement will be made as soon as the review is complete. As for the Accounts Services Agency, a decision has been made to contract out its work. It may be valuable to the hon. Gentleman's constituents who work there to know that it is expected that the staff and assets of the agency will transfer with the work.
Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend will be aware that the civil service is an extremely significant employer in Blackpool and on the Fylde coast, as many parts of the civil service are based there. Does he agree that job security for those civil servants will be best assured by a high quality of service to customers as exemplified by that offered by the Information Technology Services Agency, the new headquarters of which is on the outskirts of my constituency and which employs many of my constituents? Does he further agree that civil service job
Column 612security will not be improved by the type of scare stories manufactured by civil service unions of which we hear far too many?
Mr. Hughes: My hon. Friend is right. It is because of the high quality of work done by many of the agencies that so many bids have been won in house. The fact remains that people employed in agencies are there to deliver a public service; that is their primary function and it is the delivery of a high quality public service that we should all have in the forefront of our minds.
33. Mr. Hain: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to reconsider a citizens charter for the Post Office.
Mr. David Hunt: The Post Office publication, "Putting the Customer First" sets out the Post Office's commitment to charter standards.
Mr. Hain: Will the Chancellor join me in congratulating the post office workers who took a day of action today to defend the public who do not want their local high street post offices closed or dumped in the back of supermarkets? Is he aware that a MORI poll published this morning shows that 79 per cent. of the public support the strike, which is an unusually high percentage for a public service strike? Does not that show that the people of this country have no confidence in Government policies?
Mr. Hunt: No, it does not. Ninety-five per cent. of all post offices are already successfully run as private sector businesses. They offer their customers a substantial and excellent range of services. I feel strongly that today's action has no justification and I am sad that it should have taken place against the background of the most recent figures, which show that, in the past 12 months, the United Kingdom had the lowest number of strikes on record and the lowest number of working days lost on record. I am sad that today Post Office workers are seeking to add another strike to the incredibly low total. That low figure demonstrates the commitment of the vast majority of people who continue to put the customer first.
Mr. Waterson: Is my right hon. Friend aware that sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses in my constituency are very happy with the Government's commitment to securing their future? They need no advice about running their businesses from Labour Members who are sponsored by the postal workers.
Mr. Hunt: Yes, I agree. It is evident that the service in post offices has improved tremendously. More than 95 per cent. of post office customers are now served within five minutes. In the past 10 years tariffs have risen less than the rate of inflation. Thanks to the commitment of all those who work in post offices, the quality of customer service has improved beyond recognition.
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