Draft Science and Technology Facilities Council Order 2007

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Malcolm Wicks: This is about the betterment of our society as well as about ensuring that science has a societal purpose and that it is good for the economy in the broadest sense. I am not sure whether to say that the board is science led might be too narrow in the same way as to say it is commercially led would be too narrow, but I will reflect on that point. This issue is about betterment, technology transfer and ensuring that our best science supports the wider economy.
The hon. Gentleman talked about blue skies research and it is very important that, in Britain, the Government and the research councils spend large proportions of their budgets on what some people call pure or basic research. We do not want a situation in which everything must have a commercial pay-off within a few years and there are numerous examples of ways in which society has gained when we have enabled our best scientists to undertake basic or pure research. I am still within a month of my appointment and I am happy to confirm that as it is an important fact.
Members will be appointed to the board by the Secretary of State, which is a common procedure. The draft charter states that a majority of members will be appointed to the board by reason of their knowledge and experience of science and technology, and their concerns about business.
I confirm to the Liberal Democrat spokesman that money will not be taken from other research councils to fund the new board; the money will be allocated in the normal way by the DTI. However, we are, of course, anxious to ensure that research councils work together where appropriate—regardless of which research council we are looking at. Indeed, there have been significant strides on that in recent years.
I was perfectly properly asked about the difference between a reference to £750 million and £900 million. We accounted for this difference by a recent call for collaboration on research and development grant proposals. Prior to that call, 500 projects worth £750 million had been supported, but with this new call that rises to 600 projects and £900 million.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, asked about the appointment of the chairman. As we have said, the chairman has wide experience of business, a commitment to innovation and a distinguished career at IBM. Salaries for the STFC will be £15,000 per annum for the chairman, and members of the board will receive some £6,000. Those seem appropriate figures for the work that people take on because of their commitment to our country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith made a change from talking about wind turbines. He was anxious to remind me, not that I needed reminding, that this is a united kingdom, and that much of the new board’s work will benefit all parts of the UK. Given Scotland’s great track record of innovation in science and engineering, I did not need him to remind me of that point, but I was pleased that he did so.
I was asked when the chairman’s appointment will start. Of course, he is already the chairman of the advisory board, but he will take up his appointment as soon as the new board is formally established. I have already discussed salaries.
The Liberal Democrat spokesman asked about business simplification, and I am sorry to move around on these issues. May I simply say that the management statement of the new board will ensure that its activities are in line with the Government’s ongoing and ambitious programme of business support simplification?
I apologise for the fact that I probably have not answered every question. I need to think further about one or two and take advice on them, but I welcome the Committee’s general and, I believe, enthusiastic support for the establishment of the new board. Britain is very good at science. We are getting better at knowledge transfer and innovation, but we need to improve on our record and will do so in many ways. The establishment of the new board is a major focal point for that activity in the years to come.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Science and Technology Facilities Council Order 2007.


That the Committee has considered the draft Technology Strategy Board Order 2007.—[Malcolm Wicks.]
Committee rose at twenty-seven minutes past Five o’clock.
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Prepared 12 December 2006