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Column 1287We are supporting tremendous leading-edge developments, with huge potential benefits for all of us. I want that to be more widely understood. We must encourage appreciation of the contribution of science and engineering to our economic and social well-being. I am therefore very pleased to be able to announce an increase in the central public understanding of the science budget. Thanks in large part to the work of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the first national science week last spring was a huge success, and I intend to make it an annual event. This year's science week will run from 17 to 26 March. I remind hon. Members that they have until only next Monday to suggest experiments, for which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has volunteered to be a human guinea-pig. May I express the hope that all hon. Members will make a particular effort to support events taking place in their constituencies?
The Government are willing to devote substantial funds in support of our excellent scientists and engineers. We are determined to do so in ways deliberately designed to bring good returns to the economy and people of the United Kingdom. That is the philosophy underlying the allocation of the science budget, which I commend to the House. 8.4 pm
Many people who work in technology, science and engineering will be pleased that this debate is taking place at all. We can discuss the science budget which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has announced, but also the direction which policy in this area should be taking.
The debate is important because science is not always at the centre of our political debates. It is an issue which tends to intimidate people and put them off. It can sometimes get pushed to the sidelines, because many of us do not have the scientific grounding that might be necessary to participate in such a debate. I absolve all my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber this evening from that charge, but some of us who are lay persons may feel that, on occasion, jargon can dominate these debates.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Will the hon. Lady confirm that science has not always been at the centre of debates within the Labour party? Did not the Labour party propose at the last general election that the science Minister should be demoted from Cabinet rank?
Mrs. Taylor: I am sorry that the hon. Lady has chosen to intervene right at the beginning of my speech on such a note. I must perhaps give my age away by saying that I first became interested in politics at school in the early 1960s when, with a general election pending, Harold Wilson excited many people with talk of the "white heat" of the technological revolution.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South) rose --
Column 1288the future. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) has chosen to try to make this a partisan issue, as that was not the spirit in which the Minister spoke.
Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Lady may be interested to know that I, too, recall the days of the 1960s, when both my parents were research scientists. Many of those scientists of the 1960s and 1970s remember the extent to which the promises of the white heat of the technological revolution were so badly betrayed by every Labour Government.
Mrs. Taylor: I shall give the hon. Gentleman an example later which will show that many opportunities which were taken up under previous Labour Governments have been missed recently. Government assistance to industry was very productive under Labour Governments, and that is something of which we can be proud. As someone who has spent many years studying or teaching economic history, I have no doubt of the importance to our future of investment in science, technology and engineering.
The Chancellor of the Duchy mentioned economic development and medical research, and he also referred to the vital area--which I think still does not get sufficient attention--of environmental protection, which does affect the quality of life for us all. We all have the responsibility to make sure that decisions in this area are made on a long-term basis, so that we get the full benefit of all the decisions that we are talking about this evening.
We must emphasise the need to get away from the short-termism that has dogged so much of British politics, and the British economy, in recent years. While there was much in what the Chancellor said with which I agreed and welcomed, there is something of that short-termism that is endemic to the Government's attitude to science. The right hon. Gentleman, who wants to look ahead, must be wary of that. The Chancellor gave us some details-- great detail in some areas--about the proposals for the science budget that he announced today. There may be other questions, such as whether the factor for inflation is as high as it should be, but I welcome some of the questions that he mentioned.
For example, the Chancellor referred to the improvement in spending on environmental diagnostics, which I very much welcome. It is important, however, that research in that area should not merely focus on waste management, but on a range of environmental protection issues that will be important as a way of improving the quality of our environment and will have important economic benefits. The amount of environmental regulation will intensify, at a European and an international level, and the countries that get ahead with monitoring equipment and technological development in that field will have significant markets on which to draw, and there could be some important economic benefits. I welcome some aspects of the Minister's proposals.
The hon. Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) and some of my hon. Friends mentioned the report in today's issue of the New Scientist headed, "Former science adviser slams secret carve-up". In his answer, the
Column 1289Minister did not take the charges as seriously as he should. They were the comments of someone who served as the chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils for 11 years, who was close to decision making and who knew the pressures on Ministers and what had been promised, for example, in the 1993 White Paper.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is responsible for science policy and for open government. He has a responsibility to consult and I agree with what he said about consulting a wider circle than the inner circle, but he has to be seen to be making his decisions as openly as possible. I trust that, when he has been in the job longer and is not bound by decisions made some time ago, his
responsibilities as a science Minister will not conflict with his responsibilities as the Minister for open government. It is important that we establish the principle that there should be as much openness as possible.
On the specifics of the science budget, the Minister outlined the ways in which the departmental budget has been increased this year. He should not adopt such a blinkered attitude, or regard the science budget as simply the budget that goes through his Department. I understand that he cannot say so publicly this evening, but I hope that he shares my concern about the fact that, while his departmental science budget has increased, albeit temporarily, the total of the science budgets in all Government Departments has decreased, which is causing much concern.
I could go into detail and give the figures for the Department of Trade and Industry, or state what has happened to the research and development budget in defence--the fact that no one is taking up the opportunities that exist for defence diversification. Before the Minister boasts too much about his departmental successes, he should consider what has happened to science budgets overall.
I do not want to spend the whole evening bandying about figures that relate to the Chancellor's announcement. I hope that he will acknowledge what his Cabinet Office press release said at the end of November. It made it clear that the science budget for 1994-95 has increased by 1.9 per cent., but that it will be frozen in cash terms next year and that, between 1994-95 and 1997-98, his departmental science budget will decrease by 1.1 per cent. I am sure that the Minister will understand that any welcome with which we greet the fact that his departmental budget has increased this year must be muted because we know what is in the pipeline.
I hope that the Minister will share my concern about the figures published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. As has been said, it produced an effective briefing for the debate. Its figures show that research and development expenditure in the United Kingdom has declined in the past five years and that Government spending on research and development has declined as a proportion of all that spending. The figures in "The Forward Look of Government-funded Science, Engineering and Technology 1994" look show that the Government provided £5 billion out of £11 billion spent on research and development in 1985-86, but the figure was down to £4.3 billion out of £12.2 billion in 1992-93. I do not for one moment say that all research and development should be Government-funded, but that is a worrying trend and one that the Minister glossed over.
Column 1290Although we welcome aspects of the Minister's statement, such as the fact that his departmental budget has improved this year, it is not good enough to look at one narrow departmental budget alone. We must consider the Government's attitude across all Departments. Ministers and Departments are clearly pulling in different directions. Also, the chopping and changing is worrying to all people involved in scientific research and development. The fact that the Minister's budget is increasing this year, but will be frozen next and then reduced is sending the wrong signals to those involved in scientific investigation.
An obsession with market forces or market-based research should not blinker the Government, when it comes to investing in this country's future. The Minister mentioned his discussions with scientists--as he toured research laboratories--about the free enterprise society. Many other countries regard themselves as free-enterprise models, but they do not ignore or marginalise the critical importance of Government investment. They regard Government spending in that field not simply as expenditure, but as investment in the future. That thinking is essential as part of the longer- term perspective. Even the Minister's figures in the forward look prove the need to think in that way. I mentioned short-termism, which is a major problem that should concern all of us. Short-term funding, whether by Government, industry or in universities, can threaten and lead to the break -up of research teams. We have witnessed much uncertainty, and university programmes have been cut. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) mentioned one important problem at university level--the rapid and incredible growth in the number of short-term contracts, which should worry hon. Members on both sides of the House. That feature is very worrying. Ten years ago, 11,000 people were on short-term contracts, recently the figure was 22,000 and it is growing all the time. Clearly, that is no good for the staff concerned. It worries them greatly. Nor can it be good if research projects and those working on them are under a cloud as regards future funding. The Minister could have dealt with those difficulties in his speech this evening.
Short termism has jeopardised the benefit to the British economy of British inventions. We could all give long lists of items, such as liquid crystal displays, developed in Britain but manufactured abroad so that the benefits have gone to other countries. Another item that was mentioned is transputers. The advanced microprocessor chip, which was developed by a British company, INMOS, is a good example of co-operation between Government and industry. Some of us remember that INMOS was supported by the last Labour Government through the National Enterprise Board. The Conservative Government sold INMOS to Thorn EMI, which quickly sold it on to a French-Italian group. That was clearly a missed chance for Britain and it did us a great deal of harm.
However, that is in the past. The serious point is that this country is still missing opportunities for the future, particularly in terms of potential for developing information super highways. Those present enormous opportunities for Britain in terms of potential for educational programmes, which would give our children access to information and new experiences in education that were never dreamed of in our youth. The
Column 1291development of information super-highways would also bring enormous economic development and benefits, were Britain to get ahead. Britain possesses some fantastic advantages. We have some of the world's leading talents in television and film production, and outstanding talents in educational publishing and writing, animation and computer games programming. Wonderful opportunities exist, not least because 80 per cent. of electronic information stored in the world is in English. We have hardware and software industries; we are a small island that could easily be cabled; and our private sector is eager to invest. So what is holding us back?
The report of the all-party Department of Trade and Industry Select Committee said:
"There is concern that government policies could be hindering or not sufficiently encouraging the development of the most advanced infrastructure and services, and that this could result in the UK falling behind other countries, with damaging consequences." The danger is that, instead of grasping the opportunity to become the world's leader with all the consequential economic and educational benefits, unless the Government change their policy, Britain will fall further behind. The Minister has shown that he takes those matters seriously. I hope that he will lobby and talk to his right hon. Friends to get a change of direction in some crucial areas.
We also need a change of direction on post-16 qualifications in education. The number of young people taking science A-levels has decreased, yet more people than ever are taking and succeeding at GCSE. We must reform A-levels and have a broader educational base post-16, as other countries do. If we moved in that direction, it would strengthen our educational base and scientific awareness. In the long term, that would benefit everyone.
I should have liked to raise many more points. I hope that the Chancellor accepts that the temporary increase in his science budget, welcome though it is, should not allow him to become complacent. He still has much work to do, especially to counter the problems in so many areas and other Departments. I hope that he will take on board in particular the points that I have made about information super-highways and the need for change in education.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, may I point out that there is a great deal of interest in this short debate. I therefore make a plea for short speeches.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, not only on how he handled the introduction to the debate, giving way with such generosity that little time is available for the rest of us, but on the fact that he has achieved, in an extremely difficult year, an increase--albeit modest--in the science budget. We must restrain ourselves from believing that we are discussing the tenth year of a long- term plan for science and development. Sadly, that is not the case. We are in the early stages of a significant shift in how we organise, handle, fund and distribute a new sense of direction for science and investment. We are all committed to the
Column 1292general objective of raising our total investment in science and technology to ensure our competitive place in the world. The Select Committee and the House agree that the long-term future for UK plc depends on that, so anything that my right hon. Friend can do to increase the commitment, even if his Department has been unable to break free from the problems of public expenditure restraints, should be welcomed. What we are and must remain concerned about is the long-term directions which the Government have planned through the active work in my right hon. Friend's Department.
On the specific proposals, I shall leave on one side the flak which Lord Phillips raised on the consultative process. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr Bray) is heavily engaged in that matter. On distribution, I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has secured an increase of £14.95 million for the competitive scheme under the ROPA initiative. That is particularly welcome because, as my right hon. Friend said, it helps to improve interaction with industry, which must be right. The shorter time span between scientific research and innovative technology in any of the industrial sectors contacted must be welcomed. I trust that that increase means that many more researchers will qualify to be funded for strategic research in industry, which will help to alleviate some of the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor).
I am particularly glad to note that, in the section entitled "Enhancement and Underpinning of Strategic Science",
the Medical Research Council is to be awarded an additional £4 million for research into the genome project. The Select Committee is currently engaged in that issue, and this is a suitable time for my right hon. Friend to decide that that vital international research should have a boost in funding.
I welcome, too, the additional funding for the bio-processing industries, which, as far as I can understand them--it is a complicated industrial activity--are at the leading edge of international competitiveness. They have been Cinderellas in their part of the industry. I am glad to see that that has been acknowledged and that they, too, are receiving a further increase. It is clear that the increased amount available from a lower-than -forecast inflation factor have, by and large, benefited all the research councils in some way. Equally, I am absolutely clear that although research councils' chief executives have had the good grace to welcome the modest addition, the total expenditure must be of concern to the House.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury mentioned science spending by other Departments. The core role of the Office of Science and Technology is to re -organise the mission, composition and chairmanship of the research councils. In the barely 12 months in which that has been done, it has achieved a major breakthrough in the structural organisation of science. "Realising our Potential", the White Paper on which all those initiatives are based, made it clear that science funding should be largely directed to projects that
"improve our national competitiveness and the quality of life." That means science funding throughout and beyond Government into industry and the world at large. I am anxious that the direction of OST policy in helping that
Column 1293enormous objective to go forward must include more influence on departmental budgets and how they enter the Government's priority. I suspect that we shall battle it out when we come to the first technology recommendations that my right hon. Friend said would be introduced in due course from the 15 panels. If the four sites initiative means anything, it must mean that there should emerge from the assessment an agreed national series of objectives that should lead to the prioritising of scientific endeavour and, thus, scientific expenditure. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have that firmly in his eye. When we discuss total scientific objectives, we must mean a complete science base-- Government, all Departments, industry, the Confederation of British Industry and other organisations. The engineers are always active in such matters and I am sure that Sir William Barlow will be glad to hear of the small amounts that my right hon. Friend has been able to offer today. That is where the crunch will come.
I hope that later in the year we shall have more time than is available now. As I recall, the Select Committee's report, "The Forward Look of Government-Funded Science, Engineering and Technology 1994" recommended that we should have an annual debate. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend has now responded to the report and it looks as though he is prepared to use what he encouragingly describes as his best endeavours. I wish to see my right hon. Friend's best endeavours deliver a full debate on science when the "Forward Look" report is published in May.
I welcome the initiatives taking place in the research councils to ensure that industry's views are represented on the councils, which must be helpful. That is one reason why we are keen to know how the priorities in the council budgets were chosen. We must also encourage the initiative manufacturing programme which was launched in July 1944 and the ROPAs-- "Realising our Potential" awards--to which my right hon. Friend referred.
I shall skip much of the next two pages of my speech and mention one or two other aspects of general science. One of the problems touched on in the exchange of questions on the LHC was the issue of attribution and European Union funding. Although the exercise conducted on the LHC was to discover how to recover our money from fluctuation, the Select Committees of both Houses have criticised the practice of attribution of European Union receipts to domestic budgets.
The Parliamentary Secretary may not be able to comment on that subject today, but it is worth further examination by the OST. The Department appears to show that receipts from the EU are, in some cases, attributed to the science budget, which is consequently adjusted so that overall spending remains as planned. We cannot welcome that as an old Chinese custom continuing when talking about the new priorities that we attach to science. I think that in the current year, £12.5 million of such provision comes from the EU, although the future year's figure is slightly lower. If he has the time, the Parliamentary Secretary might say how much EU money is generally additional to the science budget. In its first report the Select Committee commented on that.
The efficiency unit scrutiny has also exercised the Select Committee recently. The Government have set in place measures to encourage the science base in the
Column 1294desired direction, while leaving research councils the autonomy to determine how to spend the funds allocated to them. That is welcome, but the inclusion of research council institutes in the recent efficiency scrutiny of public sector research establishments was regrettable. Such institutes are funded by research councils because they perceive a need for them--it is not for the Government to try and second- guess those directly involved. There has been some duplication and it is no doubt wise to try to restrict it. But if there is a desire to avoid duplication at all costs, research councils should have their entrepreneurial instincts restrained rather than encouraged.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has agreed to respond to many of the recommendations in the Select Committee's report. I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel that it is consistent with our view that there should be a comprehensive statement of all the scientific investments being made and all the scientific endeavours to match the investment. We require plenty of information. We look forward to the time when the Office of Science and Technology fulfils the Select Committee's long-term objective to become the Government Department for all science, however funded.
I am glad that the Government will keep under consideration the extent to which additional information on university research should also be included in the "Forward Look". In the section on my right hon. Friend's response, dealing with the reduction in Government spending on civil research and development, the Department states that the fall of expenditure on civil research and development is largely due to the fast breeder research being wound down. I am not certain that that equates entirely with the position of the advanced technology programme in the Department of Trade and Industry. I suspect that changes in that are not adequately matched by the receipts from the DTI's launch aid initiative. I should be grateful to receive any information on that.
I note that the Government agree with the Select Committee's view on the development of output measures, the effectiveness of research and development and the co-ordinating role of the OST as the effective guardian of the Government's science policy. We anticipate seeing that role positively developing in the "Forward Look" report due out in May. I believe that the Select Committee will welcome a wide range of agreement with the recommendations in our report. The main theme, which no debate on science and technology can avoid, is that it is essential that we lift the total national investment in the nation's science base and the nation's competitive technology. The OST is to be congratulated on the efforts that it has made in a relatively short time to start gathering in all the structural information necessary to lay the foundations for future development. The Department is becoming, not only an important custodian, but a generator of our science expenditure and the way in which it should be spent--although I accept that that is primarily related to Government expenditure. Ways must be found to broaden the initiative and I welcome anything that the Department can do to stimulate, if not to be responsible for, new scientific endeavour on a larger scale.
The new-look research councils are flourishing. They are now able to make recommendations to the OST. Sir John has done admirable work in trying to co-ordinate
Column 1295that policy in a way that leads to effective leadership. The "Forward Look" and technology foresight will develop in the future. The Department has to take the lead in the promotion of science and technology to the public. Clearly, the Department for Education has now accepted that science has a significant role to play in the curriculum, which is beginning to make its mark in our schools. But universities, industry and industrial associations should recognise that they must play their part in lifting the national level of knowledge so that, in time, we may reap the reward of improved technology and improved competitiveness in all the markets of the world.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen): I am grateful for the chance to make a few remarks on today's debate on science. While preparing for the debate I read the briefing from the Royal Society of Chemistry--I was at one time a chemist. It gave a sobering account of the feeling in chemistry laboratories in our universities and institutes of higher education, particularly among the staff. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) earlier mentioned the number of short-term contracts. The lecturers at higher education institutes on short-term contracts have doubled in number in the past 10 years--from 11,500 to 21,500.
The briefing also mentioned the structure of buildings. Many chemistry laboratories were built in the 1960s, when universities were expanding and new universities were being built. The fabric of many of those buildings is in disrepair and needs refurbishment. The numbers in higher education have expanded enormously in the past 10 years, for which I pay tribute to the Government. But, unfortunately, the staff and equipment have not increased pro rata. The figures given show that the spending on equipment per academic has fallen from £1,850 in 1987-88 to £1,193 per academic in 1992-93. Equipment has been cut by one third per staff member despite the fact that there are more students.
Any briefing on science research contains figures on the country's expenditure on research and development and it shows how we lag behind our industrial competitors. The most recent figures that I have are for 1992 when 2.12 per cent. of our gross domestic product was spent on research and development compared with Japan at 2.8 per cent., the United States at 2.68 per cent., Germany at 2.53 per cent. and France at 2.36 per cent. When we discount the part of the budget which goes on defence, we are lagging 1 per cent behind Germany and Japan in our expenditure on civil research and development. All the members of the Science and Technology Committee know, as do all scientists and engineers in this country, that we should devote substantially more resources to research and development. I think that my colleagues are being a little generous in congratulating the Minister on an increase in the science budget. My understanding of his letter of 29 November is that in this financial year the budget is £1,217 million at 1993 prices, in the coming financial year it will be £1,217 million, and it will drop to £1,205 million and £1,204 million in subsequent years. Over a three-year period, the Department's budget at 1993 prices will fall by 1 per cent.
Added to that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) pointed out, are the cuts in research in the Department of Defence, the Department of
Column 1296Trade and Industry, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and so on. Across the board it is a picture of continual belt-tightening and of a very difficult time for research scientists.
In the interests of allowing other hon. Members to participate in the debate, I will skip a few pages of my speech, as the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) did earlier.
I turn now to a matter that is outside the science budget. I know that the Glaxo-Wellcome bid is strictly a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry, but I think that it is of interest to the Office of Science and Technology. I invite the Minister to give us his Department's view on the takeover when he replies to the debate. Perhaps it does not have a view on the matter.
In a takeover bid worth £8.9 billion, the world's second largest pharmaceutical company is seeking to take over the world's 20th largest company. It would form not only the largest company in Britain, but the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, with a turnover of £28 billion. Britain has an excellent record in the pharmaceutical industry; it is the one industry sector where Britain is a world leader. We invest heavily in research and development and the industry's primary customer is the national health service, which provides a very large home market.
Glaxo and Wellcome invest about 15 per cent. of their yearly sales in research and development. In commenting on the takeover, a newspaper article has said that there certainly will be job cuts in research and development if the bid goes through. I know that the Wellcome Trust supports the takeover as it could mean an increase in research. Combining the two companies would mean a rationalisation of facilities and production and a rationalisation of large areas of research.
In the New Scientist of 26 January, Sir Richard Sykes, the chief executive of Glaxo and its former research director, admits: "the planned `rationalization' and streamlining of the research teams of the two companies, one of the main factors being used to generate support for the take-over among shareholders, will inevitably lead to job losses among researchers."
If that is true, we will lose PhDs and post-doctorate research workers from our industry to the United States. More importantly, it will have an adverse effect on the morale of scientists working in that sector, in higher education and throughout the scientific community. Any job losses in production and research which result from the takeover will hit morale hard in our leading industry sector.
I ask the Office of Science and Technology to look at the takeover bid very carefully. Is it in the interests of British science and our pharmaceutical industry for the bid go ahead? I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on that in his reply. It is not good enough for the Government to sit back and say, "No, this is a free market and that is the way it operates; it is not for us to comment or have a view about it", when research and the morale of many of our best people may be affected by the takeover.
Column 1297also refrain from reminding my right hon. Friend that he is welcome to visit Reading university in my constituency whenever he wishes.
Sir Gerard Vaughan: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should explain that I did not raise that point by prior arrangement with my right hon. Friend. I could easily make a whole speech congratulating him not only on his success in raising extra money for the science budget, but on the enthusiasm and clarity with which he presented the situation tonight.
I was glad that he referred to the "Realising our Potential" awards scheme and the excellent work performed by the Royal Academy of Engineering. I also pay tribute to the work that has been done by the Office of Science and Technology. I believe that the briefing notes which it has produced for hon. Members have resulted in a greater understanding of the subject.
I shall pick up on two points which are not meant to be viewed as criticism. First, I agree entirely with the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones): it is a very serious situation. I think that part of the problem is our culture in this country which makes it difficult for us to appreciate the feeling of those in the science field. We have to raise the general image and standard of science and engineering throughout the whole community. It begins in our schools where I am afraid that the standard of science teaching and interest remains deplorable in many cases. It is an urgent situation with which we must deal immediately.
I am very pleased that extra money is to be allocated to the LINK programme. However, I ask my right hon. Friend to look seriously at some of the LINK programmes. While the concept of the programmes is welcomed by all, some of them appear to be over-bureaucratic and they are not producing effective results--in fact, I think that some of them are a total waste of money. That does not mean that the concept is at fault; it is a very good idea.
I realise that there are difficulties, but I ask my right hon. Friend to examine ways in which long-term development facilities could be made available for research and development in this country. Other countries, such as Japan and Germany, have achieved it very successfully and I think that we should re-examine the issue. 8.49 pm
Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham): I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy for the way in which he presented the report and for his announcements. He clearly acknowledges that investment in the science base is money well spent--there is no difference between any of us in that respect. We may differ on the scale of investment required if British people are to enjoy a decent standard of living now and in the next century.
Britain is good at invention. On a visit to the science museum last year its director, Sir Neil Cussons, told me that more than half the exhibits and papers it
Column 1298contains are associated with the inventions of British scientists. Dr. Richard Roberts, one of two Nobel prizewinners in 1993, described Britain as an
"unbelievably fertile ground for ideas."
Given the flooding in some parts of the country, that may be due to our weather--it keeps us indoors many months of the year.
Sadly, Dr. Roberts left Britain with a PhD in his twenties, for North America. He commented at that time that in Britain
"funding for research is really quite appalling and scientists are undervalued."
Those are strong words from a Nobel prizewinner.
An article in The Independent on 8 November 1994 stated: "Britain's best chance of again winning Nobel prizes in science would be for the Germans and Japanese to take over some of our high-tech industries."
That is a radical proposal, and not one that we should adopt. There have been two Nobel prizes for British-based research in the past 10 years, compared with 11 the preceding decade. Over the years, Britain has suffered from the brain drain. Andy Coghlan of New Scientist pointed out that
"many of those who leave are high fliers, and their departure is depriving Britain of its top talent."
Typically, overseas researchers tend to enter Britain on short-term contracts, while British emigrants leave this country for ever. I welcome the allocation report's section on enhancement of people-related programmes, and the recognition--I nearly intervened on the Chancellor on this point, but he made it eventually--that more women must be encouraged to enter science, and to remain after completing their PhDs. As members of this House, we ought to know that women have just as much to offer as men. As a nation, we must make use of all our talent, and women are a vital part of our future.
When the Prime Minister visited Japan in 1993, he said:
"We have undervalued science and the application of science in the United Kingdom over the past 20 or 30 years."
He was right. Since 1981, Government spending on research and development has fallen by one third and is now a lower proportion of gross domestic product in the UK than in the competitor countries of France, Germany, Japan and the United States. Departmental spending has fallen and is expected to continue doing so.
Figures released by the Department of Trade and Industry last December and published in the Financial Times show that its research and development expenditure will fall to £245 million in the present financial year, from £310 in 1993-94 and £500 million a year in the late 1980s.
Britain cannot compete with the low-wage economies of the Pacific rim, but it can through technology. That was recognised as early as the 1930s. A year ago, the eminent journalist Will Hutton wrote: "It is common knowledge that the British economy has been in relative decline for more than a century, but what is less remarked upon is that had Britain stayed wedded to its textile, coal and heavy engineering economy of the 1920s, the decline would have been even more marked. Yet from the early 1930s
Column 1299to the early 1950s, there was a transformation in the country's economic base. This was led by technology and, in particular, by state support of science.
Since then, we have seen the squandering of this inheritance through the insistence that a free financial system and reduction of state support will be enough to drive innovation."
I hope that that is changing, and I know from the comments by Conservative Members that they want change as much as I do. The best way to secure Britain's survival as a modern, industrialised nation whose people enjoy a high standard of living is to invest in the future.
I congratulate the Minister on listening positively to the wishes of the science community. I welcome the allocation paper's reference also to public understanding of science. It is no use pretending that we are not technical. This week, I attended an interesting meeting of the all-party group on cable and satellite, of which the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) is chairman. As I left, I heard one hon. Member--who I am glad is not present--say to his researcher, "You put that on the computer, because I'm not very technical." We must change that attitude. British people are good at invention and technical innovation; we should be proud of that and shout it from the rooftops.
Last year's science week was worth while, and I am pleased that it is to become an annual event. I remember being at the science museum at the crack of dawn with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), to give a live interview on BBC breakfast television. A 1920s steamship engine was working behind us. It is fitting that that hon. Gentleman went on to become shadow Secretary of State for Transport.
One cannot overemphasise the importance to the nation of placing science policy high on the Government's agenda. Without properly funded research, there will be more debates of the sort that we heard yesterday, concerning further cutbacks in the country's social, education, health and police services.
Can the Minister say the extent to which research grant applications will be tied to the rigid goals of wealth creation? Is not it the nature of pure research that it must often be undertaken without achieving a specified profit? Sometimes there is no product--or if there is, that is serendipity and long into the future. How will the Government ensure that total research is maintained when departmental budgets rise and fall? It seems likely that money spent on military research will further decrease.
Baroness Thatcher once said:
"Transistors were not discovered by the entertainment industry seeking new ways of marketing pop music, but rather by people working on wave mechanics and solid-state physics."
That shows the value of the basic research that was done in inventing transistors in those days. The reality of the problem--I think all hon. Members know this--is that funding could be limitless. I am sure that, between them, research councils could dream up projects worthy of investment that would far outstrip the budget of any party in the House but I believe that there is a shortfall now that is damaging Britain's future.
The importance of encouraging industry to invest cannot be over-emphasised. I am pleased to see the description of the multiplier idea in the paper released