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Column 1300today. It is important that the Government, research councils and industry work together, provide the funds, to work on specific projects of interest to all of them.
A second problem was identified in the Select Committee's report last year, and it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). The problem is also exposed in Will Hutton's new book entitled, "The State We're In"--short-termism. Giles Coren's article in The Times this week tells the story of the British inventor and designer, James Dyson. Mr. Dyson is the man who invented the ballbarrow. I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have one of these at home, but it is a wheelbarrow based on a ball, which never gets stuck in the mud and does not make marks on the lawn. He also invented the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner. His inventions have achieved worldwide sales of more than £1 billion. But despite the success of his inventions, Mr. Dyson could find no one at home to back his efforts with cash, which is a perennial problem for British inventors. The article says:
"Instead he sold licences to America and Japan".
James Dyson says:
"British industry's attitude to development and designers is blighted by short-termism . . . You have to show a quick turn-around and immediate profit. Engineering is not about that--it's a long-term way of regenerating a company,"--
and a country.
"If the City-boys and the banks . . . demand an instant return we just sell our products better, we don't improve them. Advertising is the British answer to everything. But that is the way to a fast buck, not real money."
Mr. Dyson went on to point out that
"The best . . . business is one where you can sell a product at a high price with a large margin . . . and make an enormous amount of money,"--
Here's to that.
"For that you have to develop a product that works better and looks better than existing ones. That kind of investment is long-term, high-risk and not very British."
A third problem is that of the gap between the skills that we have and the skills that we need. Cuts in education, about which we talked yesterday, are the greatest betrayal of our young people. Throughout the country, school budgets are being cut.
We have talked about a proper career structure for scientists. I fear that the Government will put short-term political considerations before the long -term goal of providing for Britain an adequate research base to keep our brightest brains in Britain and to maintain and improve our quality of life. The Government's strategy seems to be to cut back on investment in key services now to create enough elbow room for a cut in income tax before the next election. That is not only short-termism but cynical short- termism, because one person's tax cut in 1996 could result in that same person's job loss in 1998-99.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will be able to provide some answers to the questions raised in the debate. I wish him and the Chancellor well in the task of persuading his colleagues of the importance of research in this country. If they can persuade the Government to invest more in the future, they will receive enthusiastic support from me and from my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Column 1301me, is a supporter of Swindon town football club, but I do not agree with his latter remarks. I believe that the Government's proposals this year, following, as they do, the White Paper on science and technology, show that the Government are indeed looking to a long-term future for science, and are approaching the need to avoid short- termism in a positive way.
I welcome what I hope is now an annual debate. It has been held on 2 February 1994 and on 2 February 1995. I put it to my right hon. Friend that if the next debate occurs on 2 February 1996--a Friday--we could have a five-hour instead of a two and three quarter hour debate on science.
I welcome the opportunity to say something about science, particularly the science research councils--five of the six of which are located in my constituency. They have been through a substantial sea change over the past 12 months as a result of what I believe were right decisions taken on the reorganisation of some of them. I pay tribute to the efforts made by the management and staff of the research councils in bringing those changes to fruition, working them out and making them effective. I am pleased to tell the House that, in general, things have settled down well and the research councils are now getting on with the job of administrating British science. At the time of the White Paper's publication in 1993, and again in the debate a year ago, I asked for assurances from my right hon. Friend's predecessor as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the position of staff of the research councils. Those assurances--that the changes would not lead to significant alterations in staff--were given to me and they have been kept.
However, since that time, a decision has been made to undertake a review of staffing levels in the research councils and that has led to some concern among my constituents who work at the research councils. Once again, reassurance has been offered by Sir John Cadogan in a letter to staff representatives and it would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply to the debate, would reiterate the reassurance that what is looked for is improvements in efficiency but not the drastic reductions in staff number that were suggested by union representatives in Swindon at the end of last year. Staff in the research councils have a strong commitment and they deserve our support. I trust that my hon. Friend will feel the same and be able to give further assurances to my constituents tonight.
I want to make brief reference to one or two of the issues that were raised at the beginning of the debate in exchanges between my right hon. Friend and several hon. Members. The reference to the international subscriptions which fall within the remit of PPARC strikes a strong chord with me. I have raised the matter on many occasions in the past in the House. I look forward to the announcement of the mechanism--in section 6 of the White Paper--to be established to protect PPARC's budget, now a little under £200 million, but more than half of it devoted to the two subscriptions to CERN and ESA.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said tonight that the fluctuations in those two subscriptions will be a first charge upon the totality of the science budget and that is obviously good news. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could tell me,
Column 1302either at the end of the debate or, because I appreciate that he will have many things to do at that stage, perhaps later in a written reply, whether there will be a pro rata allocation of the £8 million between all the research councils budgets on the basis of their share of the total expenditure on science. That would mean that PPARC would still have to find about £1.5 million in addition as part of its contribution to the fluctuations element.
We welcome the improvement that has been made possible in the overall cost to Britain of the LHC at CERN. I have a figure of about £70 million over 10 or 12 years, which is a substantial sum. That money should be fed back directly into domestic programmes, which support the international projects. Again at some stage, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that he agrees with that. Furthermore, savings are now being talked about on the administration costs of ESA. It would be helpful to know whether the intention is to recycle those to UK science in general terms or specifically to PPARC projects, so that they may be the direct beneficiaries, bearing in mind that over the years first CERN and now PPARC have had to bear the total cost of the subscriptions, which have been a large drain on their respective budgets.
The two subscriptions buy only the scientific infrastructure in those overseas locations. The real value of our membership of CERN and ESA comes from the domestic research that we then undertake and that has to be separately funded. It is not clear to me at this stage whether the allocations announced by my right hon. Friend today will provide adequate funding for the domestic science base to enable Britain to obtain full value from continuing membership of those two European projects. Again, it would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could clarify that point.
It was brought to my attention that ESA is concerned about the integral astronomy mission. It was made clear by my right hon. Friend that that was a matter for PPARC, but I hope that he will continue to support the belief that the UK is strong in the subject of astronomy. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made that point in an intervention. We must stress how good we are at astronomy, and the fact that we lead Europe in that subject. It is vital for PPARC to finance the mission; failure to participate would deal a serious blow to those abroad.
I welcome the general increase in funds for this year, which is above the inflation rate. It recognises the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House for more to be spent on science. I particularly welcome two projects. The first is cognitive engineering: an additional £1.2 million is to go to the Economic and Social Research Council. Interaction between humans and computers strikes me as one of the most crucial areas of advance for the country: I would hazard a guess that it will provide Nobel prizes here in years to come. Major breakthroughs may not be far away, and I am very pleased that support for cognitive engineering is continuing and increasing. I also welcome the additional allocation of £2 million to the Natural Environment Research Council for environmental diagnostics, on which a number of hon. Members have commented. It is all very well for the Government to hit industry with the principle that the polluter pays, but it is equally right for us to give what help we can to industry to enable it to deal with such pollution problems as waste management.
Column 1303I am pleased to learn that a new research council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is to be given generous funds for a number of new projects. The council will welcome those funds, and I look forward to visiting it before long to hear more about its plans.
Finally, I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has agreed to visit Swindon soon. That is an exercise organised by my hon. Friend and me--unlike the sub-plot of which we heard earlier, involving my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be very welcome in Swindon, and I hope that he will arrive there in the next couple of months to see for himself the excellent work being done in the research councils. That work is leading British science towards a future which I believe is very bright, as a result of the allocation and all that has gone before it.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I must declare an interest: I am a non-executive director of the Welding Institute, an independent research and technology organisation that will benefit from some of the new schemes announced by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The Chancellor has made promising sounds about real increases in the science budgets, and if we did not know the whole picture it would look very rosy. I do not want to sound sour, but I feel that the true picture of science and technology spending should be shown. Between 1986 and 1992, spending by the Office of Public Service and Science increased by 21 per cent., but in the same period spending by the Higher Education Funding Council fell by 7 per cent.; civil Departments' spending fell by 29 per cent.; Ministry of Defence spending fell by 20 per cent.; and total Government science and technology spending fell by 13 per cent. Moreover, if we take into account projected spending to 1995-96, we find that total Government expenditure has fallen by 23 per cent. in real terms in the 10 years since 1985-86.
I accept that there is a real case for cutting MOD research expenditure, but why is the money not going into civil research? Instead, civil Departments' expenditure is being cut by an even greater amount than defence research spending.
I quote from a letter I have received from the head of a science department at Cambridge university. He said:
"In the USA there have been large cuts in the defence research budget but a substantial amount of these funds have been transferred to civil research, i.e. there has been a real peace dividend. In the UK there has been no peace dividend. You could ask why not. In aerospace, for example, I have been told by senior officials in the USA that not a dollar of the research budget has been lost: all the cuts in the defence aerospace budget have been transferred to the civil aerospace side. This is not a direct civil aerospace subsidy . . . but is a clearly constructed indirect subsidy via . . . joint university-industry aerospace projects, etc. In the UK, both the defence and the civil aerospace government R & D budget have been cut and hence British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, etc., are really suffering (hence the recent Rolls-Royce redundancies in Scotland and there are more aerospace redundancies to come). The savings from defence research cuts should be transferred to the civil sector, and joint industry-university research, with the university side funded by EPSRC, would help to restore a level playing field and would help to save our aerospace industry."
Column 1304Unfortunately, many British companies follow the British Government on research and defence spending. The Central Statistical Office review of industrial research in 1992 shows that funding for civil research has reached an all-time high of £7.8 billion. That is good news, but it is still only just over 1.25 per cent. of gross domestic product. France's 1.4 per cent., Germany's 1.7 per cent., the USA's 1.8 per cent. and Japan's 2.1 per cent. make British business expenditure on research and development look pathetic.
Long-term industrial competitiveness depends on our ability to use our scientific inventiveness to make new and improved products. A lead from the Government is needed to convince our industrial companies that investment in research and development is important, not only for their own competitiveness but for the future prosperity of the country.
Another head of a science department at Cambridge university has expressed concern about the way in which the Government are providing funds for industrial research and development. He wrote:
"All of us here appreciate the over-riding importance of a healthy industrial base. Government needs to provide encouragement for industrial investment in research and for Universities to collaborate in the projects. So far however, most of the funds for this endeavour seem to have been produced from the Research Council budget and not from the DTI budget or the MOD budget."
It is true that the cuts in the DTI budget have meant cuts in the advanced technology programme to which the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) referred. That money has not been replaced. It would be helpful for the independent research and technology organisations to know whether they will be able to apply for funds from the research councils. Perhaps the Minister could tell us, when he replies, whether that money will be available.
My constituents are concerned about a number of other points. I refer to the short-term goals, especially the short-termism within the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. That is a matter that comes up again and again in conversation with research scientists in my constituency.
Yet another head of a science department at Cambridge university wrote saying that he was worried about the short-term goals being pursued by the EPSRC
"in contravention of the Minister's own pronouncements and of frequent warning from the House of Lords Select Committee. This is particularly annoying, as many parts of the remit of EPSRC . . . are involved with fundamental science just as much as the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. Yet there is a repeated confirmation of the idea that EPSRC is concerned with wealth creation and the quality of life, and fundamental science of the blue skies kind must be pursued through PPARC."
He is asking the Minister to assure the country that vigorous support for high-quality fundamental science will continue to be provided, not just by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, but by all research councils. He asks:
"can the Research Councils--all of them--be again required by the Minister to take a long-term view of such things as the applicability of research?"
In the past two years, one of the changes in funding has hit Oxford university and Cambridge university, in particular, very badly. I refer to the dual support transfer system, which has been a uniform disaster for the major research universities. It was supposed to be an overall
Column 1305neutral operation, solely connected with research. How the best research universities could be so badly damaged must be questioned. I have learnt that another department is in deficit to the tune of £500,000 this year because the funding in the transfer system has not been replaced in the way that it was supposed to have been. Oxford university has compiled a dossier on the ways in which the research councils have failed to do what was required of them, and have failed to apply the funds transferred to them from funding councils to the support of specific costs associated with research grants. Research council panels have memberships from around the country. They naturally seek to make the money go as far as possible and they are inclined to say, in particular, that the major research universities are well enough resourced anyhow, and that this or that direct-cost request can be deleted in favour of giving another research grant somewhere else. Each of the major research universities has suffered a loss of several million pounds from that, and the country should be told that the shift of funding, allegedly to make the costs of support research more transparent, has been a disaster. I hope that the Minister will take that on board. I know that he recently announced a review of that system, but it is extremely important that those serious concerns are dealt with. Difficulties are being experienced by some of the research institutes. A director of a research institute associated with crop research complains that he has already received
"two letters from BBSRC in the last few months . . . asking how we would deal with funding cuts because the Director General of Research Councils . . . wants the money for a range of short-term funding schemes."
I know that additional funding of £15 million has been announced today. That is not new money. It is coming from the fundamental and basic infrastructure of some of our best research institutes. If that is allowed to continue, it will seriously damage the research institutes because they need leading scientists, not only to find short-term contract money on which they depend, but as a basic structure for them to continue. I hope that the Minister will take that into consideration.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North): I shall try to be as brief as possible so that it is possible for the Front-Bench spokesmen to allow further speeches in the debate. This debate is of interest to all parties. I do not regard the support for science as a matter of political controversy. After all, it is well known that we need to support science as much as possible.
In a sense, therefore, I follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) in that she referred to what has turned out to be the theme of the debate--the new concept about which we have all obviously been reading in our briefs from various sources. That theme is short-termism, a phrase which has cropped up in speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have been fascinated by the number of times reference has been made to short-termism. I have been most encouraged by the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I have also been encouraged by the fact that he
Column 1306will visit Norwich on 10 February, and I know that he will enjoy that visit very much. I was encouraged by his remarks when he dealt with the problem of short-termism. Although he may need a little more pressure from those of us who are keen on scientific research, I have a feeling that he is on the right track. I was certainly very encouraged by his opening speech.
At a recent meeting of the new Council for Science and Technology, the Prime Minister said that science was at the heart of government. Of course, it was the Prime Minister who provided us with the new Office of Science and Technology, so there is no doubt about the Government's commitment to science, which I support.
We could have a lengthy debate about figures and the sums of money provided for science. The trouble with such debates is that they depend on which figures are cited. I shall not enter into that argument, but it is at least of some encouragement to me as a physicist that the Royal Society of Chemistry has given some welcome to the Government's statement on science funding. It seems that the message is getting through that we need to continue to provide substantial sums for scientific research.
I am one of those who will always want more resources for such research, and that should not be a matter of controversy. However, the mechanisms applied to funding are often controversial. Members of the Opposition Front Bench will be disappointed to learn that I shall not go into more detail because that would take too much time, but, clearly, we want more resources and the Royal Society of Chemistry has been encouraged by the Government's announcement, which is good news.
There is a tradition of pure research in this country. I remember my time at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge when I was struggling to get a degree in physics. Of course, that was where Rutherford and other great scientists split the atom--to use very simple terminology--using basic equipment. They had no idea that it would lead directly to such things as nuclear power. This week, Lord Wakeham came to East Anglia to start up the new Sizewell B nuclear power station. That is an example of a direct application of pure research, although originally no one had any idea to what it might lead. I pay tribute to all those in Suffolk, Norfolk and elsewhere who were involved in the Sizewell B project. It is a great success and I hope that it will run successfully after its opening this week.
The Times wrote about "1,188 MW per day", but that is wrong-- The Times gets a lot wrong. Any scientists here will know that "megawatts" is power, so one refers simply to "megawatts", not "megawatts per day". In any event, it is an enormous amount of power, which will probably be good for the environment given the carbon dioxide emissions that will be prevented.
Many hon. Members have spoken about short-termism in terms of not only finance but research. I do not have time to develop that theme, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will understand that I appreciate that an important debate is going on in the background.
I especially congratulate the Government on their support for initiatives to raise public interest in science--that is good news and has been welcomed by hon. Members of all parties--including the national week of science, engineering and technology. I was rather surprised that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has
Column 1307delegated the guinea pig idea to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but perhaps I can find out more about it later. Many organisations in East Anglia are involved in national science week. There are many projects in Cambridge, Suffolk and Essex, but I am disappointed to learn that there is only one project in Norfolk, unless I am out of date. I put it on record that that is not good enough and I shall be getting in touch with my constituents and others to see whether we can improve the situation. The engineering education scheme in Norwich is to be commended on its work, but I hope that we can do better in Norfolk by the time of the great event in March.
Once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Parliamentary Secretary and their colleagues on their clear commitment to science, although, like other hon. Members, I would push them a little further and a little faster.
I praise the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, even though he may think that that is a little odd, coming from a constituency neighbour. I praise the Government's development of national science week--an excellent initiative which needs pushing harder. In our area--that represented by the right hon. Gentleman and by me--a number of exciting projects include one involving our respective borough councils of Ellesmere Port, Wirral and Chester and the Natural Environment Research Council. Many exciting projects at Ness gardens have received a staggering response and I hope that the Minister notes the commitment there.
My disappointment is aimed not at the Government but at the private sector. I am extremely disappointed at the lack of response by some of the major science players in the private sector in relation to the Cheshire and Wirral areas. If the Parliamentary Secretary wants something to do in the next few days to promote national science week, he should get hold of private sector research laboratories and science-based companies and ask them what they are doing. Nonetheless, the House ought to congratulate the British Association for the Advancement of Science on its work to ensure the success of national science week.
Several hon. Members have referred to short-termism and relative expenditure and to whether the budget has been increased. I bring to the attention of the House the document in the Vote Office under the signature of Karel van Miert, which I found extremely interesting, although I had too little time to read it. Pages 55 and 64 draw comparisons between expenditure on science research in the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany. The most staggering comparison is of the number of scientists and engineers engaged in research and development per thousand of the labour force. In the United Kingdom, it is 4.5, yet in Germany it is 6--an extraordinarily large gap. Some of the figures are extremely worrying.
The percentage of gross domestic expenditure spent on research and development financed by industry in the UK is 49.7 per cent., yet in Germany it is 59 per cent. The only area in which we seem to be ahead is in comparisons
Column 1308of military expenditure. I know that that creates all sorts of confusions in the figures, but the two countries are worth comparing. They illustrate the fact that, while the right hon. Gentleman, with his specific responsibilities for science and technology, is trying to do well with a limited budget, the overall commitment of the Government and the private sector is not as good as it is in Germany, one of our key comparators. That positive message should be sent from this debate.
The documents include an bemusing reference to subsidiarity which includes the sentence:
"Greater transparency in the research policies and activities of Member States would also enable individual States to develop their policies in the light of others' experience."
That is an interesting point.
Page 9 of Karel van Miert's document includes a sentence which reads:
"The Union must speak with a single voice on international bodies in order to participate in worldwide programmes."
If the Government are serious in that regard, they must get their act together in terms of the way in which they conduct themselves in European affairs and, in particular, the role of their own Back Benchers.
In responding to the comments of the Select Committee on Science and Technology with regard to "Forward Look", the Chancellor included a sentence that is perhaps in line with the definition of subsidiarity to which I have referred, and I welcome it. In his letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), the Chancellor stated:
"Finally, `Realising our potential' intended that the Forward Look would open up for public scrutiny and debate the current plans and priorities for publicly-funded science, engineering and technology."
I hope that that is a conversion to the definition of subsidiarity as far as it applies to science. I hope that the Chancellor recognises that, in the spirit of this debate, which has been quite supportive of Britain's need to develop a proper science policy, there is still room for improvement in some areas.
With regard to comparisons with other European countries, one obviously comes very rapidly to the issue of short-termism. It is important to consider the figures and then stand back and say, "Well, it is not really solely the responsibility of the banks and the financial institutions. If the infrastructure of support for science and research and development from the Government is not there, is it reasonable for the banks and financial institutions to take more than a short-term view?" Such issues must be part of a jigsaw. All the parts must be brought together and we will then see the explosion that we would all welcome.
I will conclude my rapid run through what was going to be a lengthy speech by referring to defence expenditure. Clearly, some of the important areas of research conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence will result in potential for activities in the civilian sector. We should encourage the whole principle of diversification.
I challenge the Chancellor to look very carefully at page 17 of the Select Committee's second report. He should consider the exchange between his predecessor and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), who is not renowned for being a left winger on the Select Committee. The Chancellor will see from the language of
Column 1309that exchange that his predecessor was extremely muddled about the relationship between the Office of Science and Technology and the MOD.
There must be clarity because, without it, we will not have a structured transition from areas of research expertise in the MOD which could, in the post cold-war era, translate into civilian activities. That needs a carefully thought-out strategy, and I hope that, in the months and years to come, the Government--it will not be the present Government in the years to come--will engage in that debate seriously. That will give us the potential to release moneys to allow us to get on to the same league table as the Germans. Together with other constructive changes, that will create an initiative that will move the private sector and the financial institutions in parallel and help us to generate a science base in the interests of Great Britain plc in the longer term.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): This brief, but important, debate has proved to be more of a Government statement on the allocation of funding for science than anything else. Science has suffered some neglect in the House since the Science and Technology Act 1965 aroused such great interest, and we all ought to welcome the fact that it is moving up the political agenda.
This is not the annual debate on science--we have that to come on "Forward Look"--but we do need an overall debate on the Government's budgets for research and development and future policy. Part of the frustration of hon. Members taking part in the debate this evening has been caused by the lack of time, and let us hope that more hon. Members join in when we have a full debate.
Although the emphasis of this debate has been on the science Budget, we must keep the debate in the context of the Government's overall spending, and I hope to refer to that during my brief remarks. A briefing based on "Forward Look" figures which I received from the Library on 1 December after the November Budget stated:
"The 1994-5 total Government spending on science and technology was planned to be £6,106.5 million . . . This was lower than the estimate for 1993 -4 by some £160.3 million . . . As you suspected this planned reduction in last year's plans, last year, is greater in size than the increase in the science budget announced in the budget statement."
In other words, the science budget has effectively been undermined by other Departments' spending cuts. The Chancellor of the Duchy may claim to be holding his science budget, but it has been dramatically undermined by falls in departmental spending elsewhere. Departmental spending equals only 63 per cent. of the Government's total spending for science.
The Government's record is not good. Publicly funded research and development fell from 43 per cent. of the UK total in 1989 to 35 per cent. in 1992. In 1992, the UK spent 2.12 per cent. of GDP on research and development--lower than Japan, America, France and Germany. Hon. Members have referred to the dramatic reduction in civil expenditure, which is mostly attributable to the Department of Trade and Industry.
DTI expenditure has fallen in real terms from £900 million in 1984-85 to £245 million in 1994-95, and it is planned to go down further to £237.5 million in 1996-97.
Column 1310The DTI has withdrawn its joint programmes with what was formerly the Science and Engineering Research Council. The Department ended the advance technology programmes in high temperature
superconductivity research. DTI money was lost from the joint framework for information technology, and from the advanced manufacturing technology committee's research into advanced robotics and computer-aided engineering. Even the smaller scale
computer-integrated manufacturing was chopped by the DTI. I put it to the Chancellor that that cannot be helpful when he is trying to co-ordinate a Government-wide strategy. There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm from the President of the Board of Trade; indeed, on the very day in June 1993 when the Chancellor's predecessor was launching the White Paper on science, the President of the Board of Trade ended the DTI's collaborative research programmes, and effectively withdrew the joint funding programmes with what was then SERC. It was a loss of an estimated £40 million, which the Government withdrew from science support. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that in his reply, and tell us how much has been lost from research programmes that were jointly funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and the research councils. Is it not about £40 million, which would wipe out any claimed increase in the support for the science base?
Will the Office of Science and Technology, via the research councils, be the main source of all Government funding for the support of research in industry and elsewhere? Will the OST guarantee to replace what has been lost by reductions in other Departments? As we all know, it is not merely a case of reductions in the Department of Trade and Industry. That same downward trend, although less marked, is evident in other Government Departments. They are all forecasting reductions in expenditure for 1996-97 of between 8 and 17 per cent., compared with 1992-93. The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are forecasting reductions. The Department of Transport is forecasting a £2.5 million cut in expenditure on engineering policy by the end of this financial year, compared with 1992-93. That cannot contribute to an integrated, co- ordinated departmental policy.
We need a strategy of interdepartmental thinking and action from the Government--some transdepartmental action and co-ordination, so that there is a thrust for a science policy throughout all Government Departments.
We have heard international comparisons. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) asked whether the private sector would fill the gap. Paragraph 3.2 of "Forward Look" states: "with private sector contributions growing commensurately." That implies that if the Government withdrew support, it would be matched by the private sector, but that is not happening. In 1991, British companies funded only 69 per cent. of their research, which is a lower proportion than in any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country, bar France. Research and development by British industry is a lower percentage of the gross domestic product than that of our competitors and we are losing ground. Employment in industrial research fell by 46,000 between 1986 and 1992.
Column 1311As Dr. John Mulvey said in a letter in Physics World in August 1994:
"Compared to Germany and Japan, where expenditure by industry per head of the labour force is at least twice the UK level, the gap has widened to nearly 1 per cent. of GDP or about £6 billion per year. It is indeed asking rather a lot of the science base to compensate for this enormous deficit by providing better value for money." In September, the Prime Minister promised the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee:
"Despite the absolute necessity of restraining public expenditure we expect spending on the science base to rise in real terms next year and science will remain a high priority in future."
There seems to have been a decline in real terms even in this year's figure. It seems to be up £13.9 million, but with inflation at 2.4 per cent., it ought to have increased by £28.9 million. On page 2 of the Minister's press release, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council claims that the budget has increased by £4.5 million, but compared with last year's figures, it has been reduced by £10.2 million from £171.8 million. Perhaps the Minister can explain that. Obviously, tonight we are discussing not new money but the earmarking and sharing out of a fragment--5 per cent.--of the science budget.
It is good to see that the underpinning of strategic science is underlined in the report and we wholeheartedly welcome that. I was especially glad to see the reference to work on protein structure, which is to be supported. We all remember the observations of Sir John Kendrew, when he was speaking of his early work at Cambridge with Max Perutz, which led to the first identification of a protein structure. He said that they had achieved no results in more than 10 years of research and that experts claimed that they were doomed to fail. The message is clear to all of us: we should support the science base.
Let us not get the debate out of perspective. The Government have spent nearly a quarter of a million pounds simply on the citizens charter for British Rail. That sum is equivalent to what they spent this year on the public understanding of science. Is science a real priority when the Government spend £208 million simply to advertise the sale of British Rail? We are forced to ask whether the Government have put science, and spending on the science base, at the heart of their agenda. Savings could be made elsewhere and that money spent on the science base.