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That is the context in which we said in our response to the Committee that we felt that some of its comments were unhelpful and damaging. We thought that they undermined the efforts of individual researchers who
quite rightly give a lot of their valuable time to participate in what is, overall, an internationally well recognised and respected process.
Dr. Evan Harris: It is important that the Minister should deal with peer review, and I am grateful to him for doing so. He said in his response that the Committee ought to be careful in what we say when we criticise the peer review process, because it might make it difficult to attract internationally renowned scientists to participate, but is that not a lose-lose situation? The Minister has accepted that there are problems with peer review. Surely it is the right of a Select Committee to say so too, even if that has the effect of deterring people.
Ian Pearson: Let us be clear about what I said. I said that no system was perfect. I am sure that the peer review process has scope for improvement, and that is something that research councils look at regularly to ensure that the structures are right. However, I shall say something more on that in a moment.
The key point is that the Government understand clearly why those whose work is not funded may question those who gave it a lower priority. However, that is all the more likely in a scientifically strong nation, which thankfully we are in the United Kingdom, where rejected research proposals are of real scientific quality. We have heard mention this evening of a number of detailed projects, some of which have been regarded as a low priority. In an excellent research nation, there will have to be winners and losers. However, it is hard to conceive of an alternative that does not shift responsibility for making detailed decisions away from scientists.
I reject the comments of those, not least the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who say that Ministers should intervene and take the detailed decisions on which areas of science should be funded. That would involve scientists spending their time lobbying Ministers to get funding, instead of those decisions being made through peer group research. The Government do not want to see the success or failure of detailed lines of research being determined by political lobbying, and we will not intervene to take decisions that should properly be taken after peer review by the scientists in the research councils.
A number of projects have been mentioned, including e-MERLIN, ALICE and EMMA. This refers directly to a comment made by the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). It is not the Governments responsibility to take decisions on such projects. It is the responsibility of individual research councils to do so, and that is what they have done through the comprehensive spending review process.
Adam Afriyie: Will the Minister categorically confirm here and now that he and his Department had no involvement in the decisions that were made last week by the STFC? Will he also release the information on the discussions that took place between the STFC and his Department as the draft plans were going backwards and forwards?
I shall talk about delivery plans in a moment[ Interruption.] What I can say in response to the hon. Gentleman is that, through our officials, the Government want to work closely with the research councils. That level of communication is exactly what
hon. Members would expect, but it is ultimately up to the research councils to make detailed decisions on projects. It is simply not right for the Government to interfere in those detailed decisions, and we do not do so.
I should like briefly to talk about the detailed draft delivery plan process. The rationale was to ensure that each council undertook a rigorous prioritisation process. We did not wish to second-guess or take decisions for the research councils. We wanted to ensure that a robust process was followed.
The STFC has been referred to by many hon. Members this evening, and the first thing that I want to do is acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed in the particle physics and astronomy community about the science budget allocations. Those concerns were reflected in the Select Committees report. Hon. Members will be aware that, last Thursday, the STFC announced the results of a programmatic review. It will be holding a meeting tomorrow at which the outcome will be discussed with scientists themselves.
The Department considered that the final delivery plan drawn up by the STFC, following the receipt of its allocation in October 2007, raised two strategic issues that merited further independent advice. That is why we asked Sir Tom McKillop to extend his work with the Northwest Regional Development Agency to advise on the future development of the Daresbury campus, and asked Research Councils UK to initiate a review of the health of physics as a whole, given the interest of a number of research councils in this subject. People sometimes forget that physics is funded by a number of the research councils, to the tune of more than £500 million a year at the momentand that is on a rising profile over the CSR period.
The Government are working with the STFC to review the way in which its allocation was handled, and to ensure that all the relevant lessons are learned for the future. In particular, the STFC has recognised that it could have communicated its plans better, and it is taking steps to address that. The STFC will take account of these lessons as it takes forward the organisational review, which will cover strategy and planning, customer and stakeholder engagement, governance and risk-management processes, delivery, value for money and the management of change.
Before I conclude, I should like to respond to some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley on science policy. We have a clear 10-year framework that provides a statement on the Governments science policy. We say very clearly that public funding of research is dedicated to supporting excellence, irrespective of its UK location. That policy remains firmly in place. My response to him is that investment in the development of Daresburyto which I am very committedand Harwell will take place on the basis of their being world-class campuses for science and innovation, not on the basis of their geographic location. He will be aware that I have a long-standing interest in regional policy, and I hope that we will have the opportunity to discuss science cities and clusters. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) mentioned his desire to develop Norwich as a science cluster. There is great potential there, and it is a subject on which we can have further discussions.
It being Ten oclock, Mr. Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates )
That, for the year ending with 31st March 2009, for expenditure by the Department for Transport
(1) further resources, not exceeding £8,777,927,000, be authorised for use as set out in HC 479,
(2) a further sum, not exceeding £7,136,325,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to meet the costs as so set out, and
(3) limits as so set out be set on appropriations in aid.
That, for the year ending with 31st March 2009, for expenditure by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
(1) further resources, not exceeding £11,040,399,000, be authorised for use as set out in HC 479,
(2) a further sum, not exceeding £12,519,763,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to meet the costs as so set out, and
(3) limits as so set out be set on appropriations in aid.
That, for the year ending with 31st March 2009
(1) further resources, not exceeding £233,217,986,000, be authorised for use for defence and civil services as set out in HC 479, HC 486, HC 487, HC 488, and HC 621,
(2) a further sum, not exceeding £230,753,553,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to meet the costs of defence and civil services as so set out, and
(3) limits as set out in HC 479, HC 487, HC 488 and HC 621 be set on appropriations in aid.
That a Bill be brought in on the foregoing resolutions: And the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Kitty Ussher and Jane Kennedy do prepare and bring it in.
Jane Kennedy accordingly presented a Bill to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of years ending on 31 March 2008 and 2009: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 130].
That the draft Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 14th May, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
That the draft Double Taxation Relief and International Tax Enforcement (Taxes on Income and Capital) (Saudi Arabia) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 19th May, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
That the draft International Tax Enforcement (Bermuda) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 19th May, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
That the draft Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 4th June, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
That the draft Representation of the People (Amendment) Regulations 2008, which were laid before this House on 11th June, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
That the draft London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved. [Mr. Blizzard.]
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I have a petition from the residents of Teesside and others. The petitioners declare a serious concern about the possible deportation of John and Stella Park to the Republic of Korea with their mother.
John and Stella Park are two young South Koreans who live with their mother in my constituency. They are being educated at Yarm School and are highly talented if not brilliant musicians. The request of the petitioners is that they be allowed to remain in Britain, in Yarm, to continue and finish their education with the support of their mother.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department to use her powers to prevent John and Stellas removal from the UK taking place, at least until they have been able to finish their school education.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department to use her powers to prevent John and Stella's removal from the UK taking place, at least until they have been able to finish their school education.
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