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Column 1274Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Social Security (Incapacity Benefit) (Transitional) Regulations 1995, which were laid before this House on 30th January, be approved.
That the draft Social Security (Incapacity for Work) (General) Regulations 1995, which were laid before this House on 30th January, be approved.-- [Mr. Wells.]
[Relevant documents: The Second Report of Session 1993-94 from the Science and Technology Committee on the Forward Look of Government-Funded Science, Engineering and Technology 1994 (HC 422), the First Report of Session 1994-95 on the Efficiency Unit Scrutiny of Public Sector Research Establishments (HC 19) and European Community Document No. 10564/94, relating to co-ordination of research and development]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wells.]
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. David Hunt): The date 2 February is fast becoming an important day in the science calendar. On this day last year, we debated the orders creating the new research councils. This year, again, we have a welcome opportunity to focus on the Government's science policy. Today we announce a science budget that is a blueprint for the future--£1.3 billion, which will keep Britain in the premier league for research and ensure that British scientists and engineers remain some of the best in the world.
Today also gives me the chance to pay tribute to the work of the Science and Technology Select Committee, under the admirable chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw). The Committee has made a prominent contribution to debate on science policy, not least through its report on "First Forward Look", to which the Government responded earlier this week.
Last November, the Government demonstrated yet again that science and engineering were among our highest priorities when we were able to maintain the science budget at its current record level, despite the pressures on public spending. In allocating that budget now, I plan to build on the principles of the 1993 White Paper "Realising our Potential".
When I became Cabinet Minister with responsibility for science, I said that I wanted to build on the work of my predecessor, who performed such an outstanding job in putting science and engineering at the top of the United Kingdom political agenda. In doing that, we must ensure that we sustain the excellence of our science base, that our intellectual resources are harnessed to improving the country's economic performance and quality of life and that we promote partnership between the science base, industry and Government. We must also retain our strong commitment to curiosity-driven research. We do not want university departments to become short-term problem-solvers for industry. The science base must concentrate on its proper role, which is the training of highly skilled men and women and research at the frontiers of knowledge, but those frontiers are expanding and we cannot possibly cover everything. We need to focus our efforts on the areas that we judge most likely to bear fruit. That is what the UK's first technology foresight programme is all about. It has provided a unique opportunity for Government, industry and the science base to pool their best people and to ensure that we pull together. Overall, some 10,000 people have had the opportunity to take part.
Column 1276The outcomes of the programme will be published this spring. I believe that they will set a challenging agenda for the future. We also need to work across national boundaries. We cannot maintain high standards by working in isolation. We are committed to effective international co-operation in appropriate areas. That is why we have worked so hard to ensure that the individual programme lines within the fourth European framework programme reflect British priorities. That is why we worked so hard in negotiations on the large hadron collider at CERN to secure British involvement in the world's leading particle physics experiment and a budgetary framework that reflects our commitment to efficiency and value for money.
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey): On the point about funding for the LHC, has any progress has been made on shared funding between other European states to enable that project to proceed correctly?
Mr. Hunt: Thanks to the tremendous efforts of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, we were--at last--able to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations with an effective stand for a much more cost -effective regime, which will save considerable sums of money for the United Kingdom over the next 15 years. It will also mean that there is much more effective participation in an exciting programme that is affordable and can give good value for money.
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): The right hon. Gentleman says that he has saved a considerable amount of money. Is that a saving to the Government or will it be redistributed within the science budget?
Mr. Hunt: It is a saving to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. Our subscription to CERN is paid through that research council, as is our subscription to the science programme of the European Space Agency. I cannot predict what will happen in future public expenditure rounds, but it is a substantive saving of £5 million a year for 15 years. That will very much strengthen our ability to focus on the right priorities. I cannot predict what the exact global figure will be, but some guideline figures were announced last November. The project will release additional funds in the PPARC budget.
Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East): Will my right hon. Friend expand a little more on what he means by effective participation in the European science scene?
Mr. Hunt: Probably the most effective result of the negotiations is that we know that the project will be completed and will happen. I was delighted with the agreement that was reached. As a result, the UK and other member states will benefit from an overall reduction of some 1 billion Swiss francs in the cost of the project over its lifetime from 1998 to 2008. That is worth some £70 million to UK science.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Has not the considerable delay in reaching agreement on the funding of the CERN project possibly damaged the prospect of involvement from other international concerns in Japan and the United States of America?
Mr. Hunt: I do not think so, although I understand why the hon. Lady puts that point. We have now achieved
Column 1277a much stronger project. It was essential to establish a realistic, fair and sustainable financial and planning framework for the project. Let us not forget that we are talking about a total cost of £1.5 billion. With costs at that level, it would have been irresponsible of the Government to give approval to the LHC without that necessary framework. CERN, like all other institutions that are competing for the limited resources that are available to science, must demonstrate that it is providing the best value for money. To be assured that the LHC would be completed within the resources that are likely to be available, tight cost control was essential. I expect that the anticipated additional contributions from non-member states will enable the LHC project to be accelerated. The current timetable, however, would still enable world -leading science to be carried out from the year 2004. In many ways, we now have a much stronger project as a result of all that has happened. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Technology led a trade delegation to CERN and a great deal of progress has been made, especially for British interests, now that the budget has been agreed.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen): Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the issue of international collaboration, does he agree that the position does not seem quite as rosy for working scientists? I refer, for example, to the integral project led by the astronomy department at Southampton university. Over three or four years of close technical assessment, that project has been developed in collaboration with other countries, and the European Space Agency has agreed that it is a priority project; yet PPARC has been unable to guarantee the funds to enable that international collaboration to continue. Despite the Minister's words, from the working scientists' point of view, it seems that a major opportunity for Britain to contribute to an important international science project may be lost. I fear that the problem faces scientists working in other sectors as well.
Mr. Hunt: We have moved from CERN to the ESA, but we are dealing with subscriptions and with the ability to fund those subscriptions. I shall make an announcement in a moment on making that possible. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I know that he is in correspondence with my parliamentary secretary about it. The Government have found the resources to fund a real terms increase in science spending in this financial year, and to maintain it in the next, but budgetary constraints require difficult decisions to be taken all the time on funding priorities.
We already devote considerable resources to astronomy. The astronomy community has no less duty to demonstrate that it is securing best value for money than any other community. Real opportunities exist to make the necessary savings in the ESA, which would improve the balance between domestic and subscription spend. There is every encouragement to ensure that we achieve the best value for money in all these programmes.
Mr. Denham: Is the Minister saying that, if savings in ESA subscriptions can be achieved, money would be recycled back into the programme to enable projects such as the integral project in Southampton to continue?
Mr. Hunt: It is for PPARC to decide how best to deploy the resources available to it. If it decides not to fund UK participation in such an integral project, it will be because it believes that other research opportunities offer better scientific value for money.
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will continue its strongest support for the space agency, which is such an important ingredient in ensuring that British space policy is focused, and that a proper balance exists between science and other commercial programmes that are run in the space community?
Mr. Hunt: My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, whose responsibility this is, has heard what my hon. Friend said. I am sure that the agency will work with all the others involved to ensure that we maintain a viable programme. I expect PPARC, in association with the British National Space Centre, to make strenuous efforts to obtain the best possible efficiency savings from the ESA's science budget. We have demonstrated already that PPARC has benefited to a substantial degree from the excellent deal struck with CERN on the LHC, which will result in those financial savings. It is possible, therefore, to reduce mandatory subscriptions to the ESA by as much as £10 million a year. That gives opportunities to achieve spend at the right level. We must achieve the right balance between the domestic and the subscription spend.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): So that I am absolutely clear on this issue, will the right hon. Gentleman explain whether the Government will top slice international subscriptions from PPARC's budget so that the whole cost does not fall on PPARC, half of whose budget has been taken up with paying those subscriptions? If that happens, will any benefits gained be distributed across the whole sector or will they go back to PPARC?
Mr. Hunt: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important new point. As I have already explained, our subscription to CERN is paid through PPARC. Taken together with our subscription to the science programme of the European Space Agency, those subscriptions cost some £100 million a year, but they are determined in foreign currency. Modest changes in exchange rates and in the relative economic performance of organisations' member states can have a significant effect on the sterling cost. Of course, the Government's tremendous success in putting Britain on top of the premier league for growth in Europe also has an impact. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to demonstrate one of the consequences of the Government's successful economic policy, but difficulties exist for PPARC.
I am pleased to be able to inform the House that, in announcing the allocation of the science budgets, we have agreed with the chief executives of all the research councils that, where such fluctuations occur, the cost will be taken as a first charge on the scientific budget. In 1995, the cost is estimated at around £8 million, but that will
Column 1279not fall solely on PPARC. Because of the agreement reached right across research councils, it is taken as a first charge on the science budget.
Mr. Battle: Is the Minister saying that any surplus created as a result of fluctuation is the cost that will be shared but not the initial subscription, which will still be borne by PPARC? Is that correct?
Mr. Hunt: Yes, it is. To make it quite clear, we are talking about the fluctuations which presented such a problem for the research councils, but I hope that we have now dealt adequately with that matter. I congratulate Sir John Cadogan and all those responsible in all the research councils on having reached an agreement that removes the difficulties caused by the fluctuations.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen): If costs escalate during the construction phase of the LHC and it is found to be 20 per cent. or 50 per cent. more expensive than currently estimated, what guarantees are there in the agreement that it will not be an extra cost to be taken out of the research councils' budget?
Mr. Hunt: There are some very tight guarantees within the very satisfactory agreement. I have all the details here but, rather than taking up further time, I am happy to supply them to the hon. Gentleman later.
Let me put it around the other way. There are prospects for other countries to contribute to the LHC project. I look forward to key non-member states, especially the United States, Japan and Canada, participating scientifically and financially in the LHC project because I feel that they have much to offer. The agreement reached provides the best possible incentives to those nations to join the LHC project. CERN member states have made a clear commitment to build the LHC and any non-member states' contributions will be used to accelerate and enhance the project. I understand that CERN management has already initiated discussions with potential partners, and the United Kingdom remains ready and willing to offer every possible assistance. I understand that the prospects are encouraging, and I greatly welcome that.
I have today provided a written statement on the overall allocation of the science budget for 1995-96.
Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford): While my right hon. Friend is talking about particle physics, may I remind him that molecular chemistry is also very important? The Royal Society of Chemistry is concerned that, as large sums of money are spent on expensive physics experiments, some of the more basic needs of chemistry departments in universities are ignored. Will he assure the House and the Royal Society of Chemistry that he has taken note of those needs?
Mr. Hunt: I have had a fascinating time visiting key chemistry departments across the country. I visited a number of those operating at the leading edge of chemistry and I hope that they will take from today's announcement a clear message that we are committed to maintaining our leading edge in chemistry.
In the past week, I managed to visit Imperial college and--I have to think carefully about where I was every day of the week--on Monday I was in Sheffield. Last week I was in Warwick, and I have also been to Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Loughborough and Durham. I have found it fascinating that the original divide between
Column 1280chemistry, physics and biology is fast becoming flexible. We have to capture the imagination of the moment when looking ahead, and to some extent the old disciplines are becoming increasingly out of date. Although they are important in certain material respects, we have to raise our sights, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr Clark) said, to highlight the important of key areas. I hope that when my hon. Friend has a chance to read the booklet that deals with the science budget, a copy of which I have placed in the Library and which is also available on Internet through the CCTA Government information service, he will appreciate the priority that we attach to science.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North): My right hon. Friend mentioned the CCTA, which has just established its new headquarters in my constituency. While he is touring the country, will he visit CCTA in Norwich before too long, and the university of East Anglia, which is doing excellent science research?
Mr. Hunt: I shall be in Norwich next Friday on my tour of the United Kingdom. I am primarily going to look at the work of the John Innes centre which is doing pioneering work. I must talk to my hon. Friend about visiting CCTA, which was opened by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and about seeing the interesting work being done by the university of East Anglia.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): I have also been able to make a visit, but to somewhere even more exotic than Norwich. I visited the Faraday base in the Antarctic last week. The base is due to close in 1995- 96. What guarantee can the Chancellor give that the very valuable research into the ozone layer will not be lost when it closes? When was the decision taken to hand over the Faraday base to the Ukraine?
Mr. Hunt: I hope that when the hon. Gentleman was on the Faraday base, he was able to talk to the British Antarctic Survey, because it decided to close the base. He can obtain all the information that he needs from the BAS.
Mr. Banks: Indeed, but I was talking to the scientists based there. I think that there might be a divergence of opinion between the BAS in Cambridge and the scientists on the Faraday base. I understand that the Chancellor is not able to answer my question now, but will he perhaps consider it and let me have a response so that I can pass on the information?
Mr. Hunt: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to come to the House in the course of his world tour. If he has a little more time, I would be happy to see him and hear his report from the front line.
Let me recap. We have now made available £1,281.675 million for distribution. That very high figure demonstrates the priority that the Government attach to science, but that priority can never be taken for granted. There are always other deserving calls on public expenditure, so we have to use whatever funding we have to the best possible effect.
I am delighted to have Sir John Cadogan, the first Director General of the Research Councils, to advise me. He has carried out a detailed review of research council activities. He of course wanted to hear a wide range of opinion, to hear the voice of scientists at the bench and the voice of the user community, so he visited a total of
Column 128176 scientific groups in receipt of research council funding. Users' views were explored in a series of informal discussions, and Sir John has also had meetings with the chief executives of the research councils, who are themselves highly eminent scientists. In total, he listened personally to the views of around 300 people, as well as being a member of the foresight steering group.
The White Paper anticipated that the director general would be aided by a small advisory group, a sort of inner circle. I believe that my predecessor, now the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, shared the view that that was perhaps not the best way forward. Sir John has demonstrated that we can improve on my right hon. Friend's prediction. He has created not an inner circle but an open circle, into which people from right across industry and the science base have been able to feed their views. Sir John has also worked with the chief executives to establish a set of high-priority initiatives, for which I am pleased to announce that we have been able to make available £67 million from the science budget. Those programmes will be targeted on three main areas.
Sir Gerard Vaughan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that he has effectively answered the recent criticism in the New Scientist about the openness of the consultation and what Sir John has been doing?
Mr. Hunt: Indeed, there has been some misunderstanding. I did my best to clear it up when I was giving evidence in another place. My effective answer is, as my hon. Friend says, the immense amount of work that Sir John has done in consulting such a wide group of people.
The three main areas--
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hunt: I shall first tell the House that the three main areas identified as targets for the programmes are support for interaction with industry, the maintenance of top-class people, and strategic and underpinning science. I shall go through each in turn, but first I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Dr. Bray: The document outlining the allocation of the science budget is similar to what has appeared in previous years, but any account of the process is missing. The right hon. Gentleman has just outlined what Sir John has being doing and I am sure that it has been very thorough, but there is no public record of it. In particular, there is no advice from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils. Would it not make much more sense if we had a public record of that consultative process? For example, do the priority initiatives, which were allocated some 5 per cent. of the science budget--not a large percentage--represent initiatives that the research councils would not have taken, but were, in some way, imposed by the right hon. Gentleman on the advice of Sir John, or do they represent shifts from some consensus process? Research councils are bodies with their own royal charters, they have a statutory basis and they are bound to report. What is their advice and what is the advice of the advisers to the right hon. Gentleman?
Mr. Hunt: I was not in post when the decision to abolish the ABRC was taken, although I strongly
Column 1282supported it. As I understood, it was supported by the former Labour spokesperson, the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), who said that the Labour party happily acknowledged that the ABRC needed to be abolished. Having made that decision, the White Paper then trailed the notion that there should be an inner circle.
Dr. Bray rose --
Mr. Hunt: I would answer the hon. Gentleman's point if he could contain himself. We moved on to the process which I have outlined. The public record of that will be found in the work of the research councils. They have discussed with Sir John the way in which they saw their priorities. Of course, it will also be revealed in the work of the technology foresight panels. I make it clear that I intend to publish the reports of the 15 panels, which contain work on identifying key priority areas. That has been a tremendous exercise in consultation and I undertake that those reports will be published. They will give hon. Members the opportunity to see processes through which we have been able to identify priorities.
We fed the emerging conclusions from the technology foresight panels into the consideration, too. The private discussions between Sir John Cadogan and the scientists in the laboratory are not a matter of public record. However, in a debate of this nature, I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to ask questions and we will do our best to answer them. The great strength in the science, engineering and technology base lies in consensus and extensive consultation; we just need to build on that.
Dr. Bray: There may be greater agreement, but there cannot be consensus unless the views of other people are clearly stated. Although I do not know the precise source of the Opposition statement to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, it was nevertheless the Government who combined the roles of the two advisory bodies in a single council. The right hon. Gentleman has not dispensed with the advisory council altogether. What is that council's role in the allocation?
Mr. Hunt: The Director General of Research Councils advises me on overall priorities for the best application of the science budget. In reaching his conclusions, he does many things. Perhaps the most important work that he does is to consult with the research councils. He has been conducting a review of research council activity, and his report of the review will be included in the forward look document, which we shall publish in May. His report will then be available for debate and discussion.
The priority initiatives, I am advised, are, in the main, those of the individual research councils. I understand that, last year, the 5 per cent. figure, to which I referred, was 1 per cent., so there has been a substantial increase. That means, as the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) said, that 95 per cent. of the budget is still very much linked to the research councils decision-making process. The initiatives have been allocated money, but the decisions on who won support on which projects were supported were still a matter for the research councils.
Mr. Alan W. Williams: Would not it have been much more useful to hon. Members if the research councils' advice to Sir John Cadogan, on which today's decisions
Column 1283are based, had been published before the debate, instead of our having to wait until May when the decisions will have been enacted?
Mr. Hunt: I do not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman. I was talking about the Director General of Research Councils' review of research council activity, on which he will report later this year. The hon. Gentleman is referring to the internal advice that I receive as Cabinet Minister responsible for science, to which I pay attention and which, of course, has never been published. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I am explaining, as best I can, the detailed process behind Sir John giving me his advice.
Mr. Alan W. Williams rose --
Mr. Hunt: I am talking about the internal advice, which has never been published. The internal advice comes to the chief scientific adviser, Sir William Stewart, and me. We deliberate on it and reach our decisions. Our decision is based on conclusions from several sources, including those from the technology foresight panels and their final report will be published. Consultations are conducted in the research councils, in which Sir John is of course involved. The way in which research councils view their priorities will be published in their reports, and there is a range of considerations in the Director General's review of research councils. He will make his report available to me and I shall publish it in the "Forward Look" document.
There are a number of different aspects to consider. I think that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) was referring to the internal advice, which, of course, as Ministers know, is not published.
Dr. Bray: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Hunt: I should like to make a little progress, or Madam Deputy Speaker will disapprove of the length of my speech.
The first of the three themes to which I have referred, interaction with industry, means not getting the science base to do industry's work for it but working to ensure that the science base and industry have a better idea of each other's strengths and needs and determine where co-operation may be to their mutual advantage.
My top priority is to build on our tremendous response to the scheme initiated by my predecessor known as the ROPAs--the "Realising our Potential" awards. Under that scheme, 239 projects have been funded by three research councils. I am pleased to announce that the ROPA scheme will be extended to cover all the research councils. I have decided to allocate additional funding of almost £15 million in the next financial year, implying a full-year spend of £35 million. Let me remind hon. Members briefly of how the scheme works. Our premise is that industry has already identified many good researchers in the science base and is funding them to carry out basic or strategic research. Researchers in receipt of appropriate funding from industry can apply for a ROPA if they would like to pursue original research completely of their own choosing--true curiosity-driven research.
Column 1284"Realising our Potential" awards are not subject to conventional peer review, but proposals must be practical and original. Such awards will not replace the traditional grant award, but should serve to refresh the parts the peer review system sometimes fails to reach.
The LINK scheme is altogether different. It provides an excellent framework for jointly funded research between the public and private sectors. To date, more than 550 projects worth nearly £300 million have been supported, many of which have led to new products being marketed by United Kingdom companies.
The LINK scheme will be an important vehicle for implementing the foresight outcomes and I am therefore setting aside £3 million to stimulate new programmes in priority areas. Contributions from LINK partners should result overall in an additional £12 million being spent on new programmes in 1995-96.
The second theme is support of top-class people, which is another clear priority. We announced an expansion last year of the Royal Society's prestigious university research fellowship scheme from 200 to 240 places, and we shall expand that scheme still further to 255 appointments.
The Royal Society also plans to launch a pilot fellowship scheme for top- class younger scientists who are trying to get on to the research career ladder. I am delighted to announce additional Government support for those fellowships, which will be known as the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships. They will be targeted at scientists who have just completed their PhDs.
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I am sure that those schemes are very laudable and I am pleased that the Government recognise the importance of encouraging top-class scientists and attracting more good people into science, but is not the Chancellor concerned about the general poor career prospects for Government scientists and, in particular, the large increase in the number of workers on short-term contracts and the low salaries of Government-funded scientists?
The Chancellor recently took credit for several people returning from abroad to work in this country, but they have done so largely as a result of work by charities such as the Wellcome Trust, which have identified the problem and have attempted to provide better career structures for research scientists? Should not the Chancellor be considering the matter to discover whether such schemes could be introduced into the generality of Government- funded science in this country?
Mr. Hunt: The hon. Lady is right. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I visited the Wellcome Foundation, we met several scientists who had been attracted back--in a brain-gain dimension-- to the United Kingdom to work here as a result of a combination of factors. We discussed those factors with the scientists.
The factors included issues such as a free enterprise society, a society that takes scientists seriously and a society in which scientists can work among the best in the world. I vividly recall a series of reasons. Quite often, scientists had taken a drop in earnings to work among the best in the world. They explained that money was not a consideration because they were forgoing money. They could perhaps earn more money elsewhere, but they wanted to work beside the best in the world. That carries with it an obligation on all of us who are involved with
Column 1285the science base to ensure that there is adequate remuneration for the people involved in leading-edge research.
I have been considering ways in which we can improve the situation and I will refer to them in a moment. However, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) should be aware that remuneration and contracts are matters for the research councils, which take the decisions that they believe result in the best targeting of resources.
When I visited the laboratories, I found that there was much concern about the £400 grant for laboratory equipment. I am therefore pleased to announce that I shall increase that by 50 per cent. so that £600 will be available. I will consider how I can help to get money through to the laboratories and to the people who need the money to purchase equipment.
Remuneration is a matter for the research councils. Of course we give guidance, but ultimately remuneration is a matter for the research councils.
I hope that the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships will assist scientists who have just completed their PhDs. I recall that "The Rising Tide" report showed that that was a point at which women tended to drop out of science. By targeting the fellowships, I hope that we can find ways of enabling women to continue in science so that they have real equality of opportunity with men in the science world. The hon. Member for Selly Oak may be aware that I have asked Lynda Sharp to head a special unit in the Office of Science and Technology to ensure that we have a broad cross-section of women and men giving their talents to science.
Dr. Lynne Jones: Will the Chancellor give way?
Mr. Hunt: I would like to make a little more progress. I have been speaking for nearly 45 minutes and I have a few more points to cover.
I am pleased to announce funding to enable the Royal Academy of Engineering to introduce a programme of secondments to industry for academic engineers. Greater interaction between our universities and industry is just as important for engineers as it is for pure scientists. I look forward to real benefits deriving from that programme.
The third theme is basic and strategic science. Last year, we announced additional support for chemistry. I am now extending support to mainstream physics, mathematics and medicine. I will be launching a pilot programme to provide, through three of the research councils, additional funding to universities for equipment to match funding from industrial partners. As I have already said, I intend to increase the research training support grant from £400 to £600 a year for 11,000 students. That includes the increase in grant from £75 to £125 for social science and economics students.
We have identified several areas where additional support for first-class strategic science should make us better placed to respond to new opportunities. Details of that are set out in the allocations booklet. However, I would like to give the House a flavour of some of the work that we are supporting because I believe that it is work that will make a real contribution to wealth creation and the quality of life and a real difference to our lives and to the lives of our children.
Column 1286I am allocating additional funding to the Medical and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Councils for the genome initiative. They are doing ground-breaking work, which will result in a comprehensive understanding of our genetic make-up, which in turn will provide the platform for a step-change in the quality of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease as we move into the 21st century. The gene responsible for cystic fibrosis has already been identified, and new treatments are being pursued in Edinburgh and at the Royal Brompton hospital.
The Medical Research Council has developed an effective partnership with the Wellcome Trust. Individually, these organisations have a very strong track record, but together they make an even bigger impact. I was delighted to hear a few moments ago that, following my announcement earlier today, the Wellcome Trust is planning to increase its own commitment to genome research.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I recently visited the Wellcome Trust to meet a number of the top medical scientists who have been attracted to work in this country by our outstanding reputation for medical research. We have also visited the Institute of Psychiatry, which is attached to the Maudsley hospital in south London and which was voted by its peers in a survey last year to be the best of its kind in the world.
My right hon. Friend and I are absolutely committed to maintaining the highest possible standards in medical research, and to ensuring that the results feed effectively into day-to-day practice in the national health service.
The NHS R and D strategy is the first of its kind in the world. The Cochrane Centre, which performs systematic reviews of health research, was highly praised this week in the report by the Health Select Committee. My right hon. Friend has announced that she will implement the key recommendations of the Culyer report, which will place the funding of medical research in this country on a secure and stable footing for the future.
Medicine is advancing at lightning speed. It is vital that the NHS keeps up with the pace and that the treatment it provides is as effective as possible, based on the most up-to-date knowledge. Our policies are working successfully towards that objective as well as boosting the UK's deserved international reputation in this field. I intend to provide additional funds for the Natural Environment Research Council's work in environmental diagnostics. This will enable the council to carry out further comprehensive environmental audits, and help to develop sustainable business strategies for waste management in manufacturing industry in close co-operation with users and the regulators. That will bring benefits for business and local people.
We are putting additional money into the work of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council on producing industrial materials from plants. That will meet with approval from my hon. Friends.
I have, of course, been necessarily selective. Indeed, there was much more that I wanted to say, but I wanted to follow the practice of giving way to interventions. [Hon. Members:-- "Go on."] I am being tempted to continue, but I will not. I want to hear what other hon. Members have to say.