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15. Mr. Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proposals he has to improve the flexibility of personal pensions in retirement.
Mr. Arbuthnot: We propose to introduce two measures: age-related rebates, which will make appropriate personal pensions attractive across a wider age range; and more flexible use of personal pensions savings, which will allow personal pension holders to draw an income from their fund each year and defer annuity purchase until a time of their choosing up to the age of 75.
Mr. Duncan: I welcome those measures. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he has no intention of introducing the so-called minimum pension guarantee, as advocated by the Commission on Social Justice and the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)? Does he agree that a Government would never be able to deliver such a guarantee in 20 years' time? That proposal would stop people taking out flexible personal pensions, yet such pensions offer people the real guarantee of being able to provide for themselves in their old age.
Mr. Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend is right. The Labour party's proposals amount to further means testing.
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Is it not the case that, as well as making personal pensions more attractive, the Government are making the state earnings-related pension scheme less attractive by adjusting the outcome in the adjusted formula proposed in the Pensions Bill? People will still have to contribute the same amount of money to SERPS, but, eventually, they will receive £2.50 less as the outcome.
Mr. Arbuthnot: The amount is not £2.50 for every pensioner. As this is the first time that he has raised the subject, the hon. Gentleman has apparently only just discovered the change to the annualisation of SERPS, which was announced in June. That change is necessary to restore the original intention behind the SERPS calculation, which provided that SERPS should be uprated in line with earnings. For various technical reasons, SERPS has gone up even faster than earnings since 1979.
18. Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what measures the Government are taking to help disabled people.
Mr. Hague: On 12 January, the Government introduced the Disability Discrimination Bill, which will outlaw discrimination against disabled people in employment and in access to goods and services. It will create a National Disability Council, which will be a powerful voice on matters relating to discrimination.
We have also announced a series of measures to combat discrimination against disabled people in transport and in education.
Mr. Hawkins: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he join me in congratulating those organisations that worked so hard in consultation with the Government on their proposals, including Action for Better Access for the Disabled, which does valuable work in my constituency
Column 12and in the surrounding area? Will he also confirm that the proposals contained in the Bill go much further than those contained in the consultation document?
Mr. Hague: Yes. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating those organisations--more than 1,000 of them--which responded to the Government's consultation document, which was published in July. Many of them asked us to do things which we have, in the light of those representations, decided to do--for example, to include financial services within the legal framework that we propose and to require alterations to be made to existing premises to end discrimination against disabled people.
Mr. Corbett: Does the Minister understand that the Bill is not mainly about services and benefits, important as they are, but about the civil rights of people with disabilities? Does he therefore agree that, although it is proposed to exclude firms with fewer than 20 employees from the need to implement the new employment rights, that threshold should be lowered over a defined period so that all job discrimination can be ended?
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman must understand that 83 per cent. of employees work for firms with 20 or more employees, so the proposed new arrangements on employment law will cover the vast majority of the work force. Of course we must have regard to the difficulties that would confront small businesses in implementing complex new legislation. We must not get into a position whereby we drive small businesses out of business to help one part of the community; that is absolutely not the intention of the legislation. However, we shall cover the vast majority of the work force and make a lasting change in the way in which disabled people are treated.
Mr. Thurnham: Does my hon. Friend agree that, by proposing sensible, practical and fair measures, the Government's Bill will gain much wider acceptance than would be gained by proposals that have not been properly considered or consulted upon?
Mr. Hague: Yes. It is vital that we carry the whole country with us in ending discrimination against disabled people. It is not simply a matter of changing legislation and changing rules; it is also a question of changing attitudes and changing the psychology of millions of people throughout the country. That is why it is so important to carry people with us, as my hon. Friend says.
27. Mr. Ian Bruce: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is his estimate of the total amount spent on science and research in the United Kingdom; and if he will list the proportions paid for by Government and by other sources of funding.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. David Hunt): Approximately £13,000 million, of which 35 per cent. is paid for by Government.
Mr. Bruce: I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging reply about the amount spent on research and development. Can he confirm that the Government proportion is greater than the average of our competitor nations, and that, unfortunately, the business proportion is slightly less than the average of our competitor nations?
Column 13What can he do to encourage businesses to realise that research and development is the cornerstone of their future prosperity?
Mr. Hunt: I agree with my hon. Friend's assessment of the present position, but today's gross domestic product figures show that the UK is truly top of the premier league for growth in Europe, and we intend to stay there. The best way to ensure that we do so is to invest in the future, and to urge industry to do the same. Investing in the future means investing in research and development, and it is good news that industry's investment in R and D has increased, according to the latest figures, by 3 per cent. in real terms.
Mr. Nigel Jones: Bearing in mind the fact that Britain invests less, as a proportion of GDP, than do our major competitors--France, Germany, Japan and the United States of America--what plans does the Chancellor have to help Britain do better?
Mr. Hunt: In comparison with other G7 countries, we do reasonably well, but of course we can do better. Our approach, through the technology foresight programme and through the forward look, following up the policies set out in the science White Paper, is to continue to urge the greatest possible investment in research and development, to set an example in Government, which we have done by ensuring that the science budget is now at record levels, and to maintain those record levels in the next financial year.
Mr. Rathbone: Will my right hon. Friend give us some idea of the way in which the Government give greater accent to developmental expenditure as opposed to pure research expenditure?
Mr. Hunt: Yes. We have increased the science budget by 32 per cent. in real terms in the past 15 years. My hon. Friend is right that we want an increasing emphasis on a partnership between the public sector and the private sector, especially to enable that basic research, which has always been fundamental in the United Kingdom to the strength of our science base, to be translated by proper investment, in partnership with the private sector, into the developmental stage. I completely agree with my hon. Friend.
Mr. Battle: The Minister spoke of us doing reasonably well in comparison with our competitors. Will the Minister then explain why, in spite of an overall budget cut in Japan recently, Japan's science and technology spending, through the Science and Technology Agency, was increased by 7 per cent., there was a 26 per cent. increase in funding of the human genome project and a 20.5 per cent. increase in the real world computing project, yet Britain continues to slip further behind, with overall real terms cuts in research and development this year? Does that not demonstrate that the Conservative Government only pay lip-service to science as an aid to wealth generation, and that, effectively, Ministers sit on the sidelines, while the science budget withers away?
Mr. Hunt: I am not often driven to say, "What a load of rubbish!"; I shall not be tempted to do so on this occasion. The hon. Gentleman, however, is not comparing like with like. We compare very favourably with investment in Japan. The hon. Gentleman talked about the science budget "wilting away". The science budget is at
Column 14a record level in this financial year-- [Hon. Members:-- "Overall?"] I am quoting the hon. Gentleman; he said, "the science budget is wilting away." The science budget is at a record high level; it is up by 32 per cent. in real terms. I shall take the hon. Gentleman more seriously when he comes armed with the correct information.
Mr. Alan Howarth: Bearing in mind the amount spent on research and development in the United Kingdom and how it is spent, will my right hon. Friend think carefully, before he makes a visit to South Africa, about whether it would be appropriate for our Government to encourage, let alone assist, the South Africans to make a further major commitment to developing their arms industry? Surely that is not what we really wish for them or for the other countries that would suffer as a result.
Mr. Hunt: As my hon. Friend knows, we have devoted an increasing proportion of our research and development budget to civil research. I welcome the opportunity to go to South Africa and to encourage it to develop the sort of policies, which we have seen in the United Kingdom, that foster an ever-closer partnership between the public and private sectors. Similarly, I have recently been to other countries, seeking to set up important relationships between our leading scientists and theirs. I hope that my hon. Friend shares my wish to see that relationship grow stronger.
28. Ms Glenda Jackson: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proportion of research council funds in 1993-94 was allocated to the 12 institutions which are the largest consumers of those funds.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert G. Hughes): The amount allocated was £319 million, whicis 50 per cent. of total grant awards.
Ms Jackson: What justification can there be for allocating half the research council funds to a mere handful of institutions? Is that not a return to the, surely discredited, binary system which favoured research- based over teaching-based institutions? What plans do the Government have to ensure that future research council funds will be more widely and evenly distributed?
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Lady is utterly wrong. The awards are made on the basis of merit, which is something that I do not expect the Labour party particularly to understand. Awards are made on the basis of a full and fair external peer review, not political diktat. That is the way in which to do it and that is the way in which we shall continue to do it.
Mr. Fabricant: With the exciting news today that Britain may soon have the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, with the possible merger of Glaxo and Wellcome, can my hon. Friend tell us the extent to which the research councils, especially since the publication of the science White Paper, are being encouraged to co-operate with industry in research and development?
Mr. Hughes: We always encourage full co-operation. Indeed, through the technology foresight process, there has been unprecedented co-operation between business, academics and scientists. That is very much to be
Column 15welcomed. As my hon. Friend says, the strength of Britain's pharmaceutical industry and, indeed, of all our chemical industry is impressive. It is important that we should spread that drive and enthusiasm to the rest of our science and engineering industries.
29. Mr. Merchant: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in what ways efficiencies in public services are being achieved.
Mr. Merchant: In the light of the success of the "Competing for Quality" programme and the recent report by the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, which stressed that the pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness in the civil service was never-ending, does my right hon. Friend agree that the programme should continue and that it is in the interests of the taxpayer that it should do so because it not only ensures that maximum benefit is returned from finite resources but ensures high- quality services at the same time?
Mr. Hunt: Yes, we shall certainly do everything that we can to redouble our efforts under that very important programme, the strategic importance of which was recognised in the recent report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. The programme is producing savings of more than £400 million per year against an outlay of £23 million per year, which is very good value for money.
Mr. McNamara: Given that, when the civil service was allowed to make in-house tenders it was successful in work to the value of 73 per cent., will the Minister lift his blanket objection to in-house tenders for all available work so that the civil service can make in-house bids? Does his savings account include the EDS contract and the Aldermaston atomic weapons agency establishment? Finally, are the more than 10,000 posts which are yet to be lost additional to, or included in, the losses that were announced by the Chancellor in his Budget statement?
Mr. Hunt: My reply to the hon. Gentleman is that I am satisfied with the present policy. Obviously, in-house tenders should be encouraged where appropriate and they should compete on an equal basis. We shall endeavour to ensure that that occurs, but in certain cases that is not possible.
When we have put out to open tender, it has been an extremely successful operation. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detailed analysis that we produced on the day that we announced the very impressive results of the "Competing for Quality" programme, he will find the answers to the questions that he has raised.
31. Mr. Ottaway: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many public service units have been awarded a charter mark to date.
Mr. Ottaway: Is my right hon. Friend aware that three of those public service units are located in the London borough of Croydon--the consumer advisory service, the environmental health department and the continuing
Column 16education and training service? Does he agree that winning the mark is recognition of the high quality of those organisations and that members of the public should be encouraged to nominate those departments which provide services that deserve the charter mark?
Mr. Hunt: I join my hon. Friend in his pride over what has been achieved in his local area. As he will know, we have decided that, as the initiative for the honours system met with a warm public response with nominations for recognising suitable people, we would now like to open up the charter mark procedure to public nominations. We will announce the detail of how we propose to proceed in due course. I welcome my hon. Friend's support for that policy.
Mrs. Roche: Does the Secretary of State agree that the charter mark awarded to British Gas should be withdrawn immediately, given today's disgraceful news that it is considering charging £25 for home visits to elderly and disabled people?
Mr. Hunt: I am afraid that the hon. Lady is engaging in scaremongering. With regard to the second part of her question, I am very happy to make it clear that British Gas has confirmed today that there will be no service cuts to elderly, blind or disabled customers. I am also happy to confirm that the Government are determined that all suppliers of gas will have to offer special services for elderly, disabled or blind persons.
In relation to the first part of the question, I have received a letter from the Gas Consumers Council--which I have before me--dated 18 January. It says:
"we have faith in British Gas as a company that puts safety first and deservedly earned the Charter Mark, for past performance, in 1993".
The letter goes on to raise some current concerns. I am very happy to confirm that I will consider any specific concerns and seek to establish the facts before deciding on any further action.
32. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he expects to announce the organisations which will be expected to apply for research council funds.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes: As soon as possible.
Mrs. Campbell: When will the Minister honour his promise, made in the White Paper, that organisations other than universities and research council institutes will be eligible to apply for those funds? When he honours that promise, will he ensure that additional funds are transferred into research council budgets to cover the cost of the applications, or will university research funding be depleted yet again?
Mr. Hughes: As the whole House and the science community know, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor achieved stunning success in increasing the science budget. We will announce soon how that money will be used. We consulted widely on recommendations arising from the efficiency scrutiny of public sector research establishments and we will announce the outcome as soon as possible. It has not been possible to
Column 17do so yet because we agreed to include some representations that were made late--as I believe the House would have wanted us to do.
Sir Peter Emery: Will my hon. Friend consider the case of charitable organisations, particularly in the medical sector, that raise considerable amounts of money for research? I declare an interest in the National Asthma Campaign. Would my hon. Friend consider encouraging larger donations to research by adopting a formula whereby the Medical Research Council might back by a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 the money raised by charities and spent specifically on research into the medical problems with which they are concerned?
Mr. Hughes: The money that comes from charities for scientific research and development is absolutely vital. We welcome it, as does the scientific community. It is important that the interrelationship between Government money, other money going into higher education institutions and funding from charities, as well as money from the private sector, is integrated and that there is no duplication. All should work together to achieve better results. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's remarks.
33. Sir Thomas Arnold: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what further plans he has to make the citizens charter justiciable.
Mr. David Hunt: The citizens charter has already raised the quality of public services right across the board. Where necessary, specific provisions set out in specific charters are backed by legislation.
Sir Thomas Arnold: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there would be greater confidence in the citizens charter if more remedies were available in the courts?
Mr. Hunt: I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. As he probably knows, the citizens charter complaints task force is, as part of its work, examining fairness and independence in the public service complaints system. It published a discussion paper on fairness last September, and it will report to me this summer on the findings of the two- year review of public service handling of complaints. Perhaps we may hold further discussions when I receive that report.
Mr. O'Hara: Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that is precisely the point? I do not decry the citizens charter. As a teacher in the old days, I used to give gold stars to my pupils, and merits may act as incentives to the organisations that win them. However, does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that, among the people whom I represent, the citizens charter has no credibility or currency? People are more concerned with the collapse of services that they see all around them, and the citizens charter is not an adequate substitute.
Mr. Hunt: It was clever of the hon. Gentleman to cover both extremes of view. I agree with members of the Opposition Front Bench that the citizens charter is here to stay, but I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that it must
Column 18have credibility. There is a series of complaints procedures. It is important that public services not only handle complaints fairly but are seen to do so.
34. Mr. Heald: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how the foresight programme is now developing.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes: It is developing very well. The Government are grateful for the active support of business, academics and the wider science and technology communities. Reports on the progress will be published in the spring, and the 1995 forward look will outline the Government's initial responses.
Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain has established a lead in high-speed fibre optic networks, which will provide great opportunities for British commerce? Can he tell the House what is being done by the foresight policy panels to take that forward?
Mr. Hughes: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many aspects of work done in Britain are the envy of the rest of the world. First, some people say that we have 30 per cent. of all the fibre optic laid in the world. We also have the fastest broad-band communications system--the so-called SuperJANET system--linking many of our universities. We shall be making more use of it. As for the foresight panels, the communications panel has been giving us invaluable advice on how quickly to put in place broad-band services for United Kingdom schools. We want them linked up to the system, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education announced earlier this month.
35. Mr. Miller: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what percentage of scientific equipment used in Government laboratories is manufactured in the United Kingdom.
Mr. David Hunt: I regret to inform the hon. Gentleman that the information that he has requested is not collected centrally in that form.
Mr. Miller: I thought that that might be the Minister's answer. He ought to keep his eyes open as he goes around Government laboratories. If he did, he would notice that a huge amount of sophisticated equipment which used to be manufactured in the United Kingdom is now imported. Does he agree that that reflects one of our problems--the fact that, although we have quite a powerful science base, our innovation is failing? What is he going to do about that?
Mr. Hunt: I want our manufacturers of scientific equipment to compete successfully right across the world. About 80 per cent. of this country's production of scientific equipment is for export--that is a high- quality export market. Instrumentation and control is a major export industry earner for Britain which produces a positive balance of payment. In the last year for which figures were available, 1992, that industry accounted for £2.1 billion. That is a success story which the hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge.
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