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I have listened to the debate with enormous interest and agree with a great deal of what has been said. Indeed, I agreed with my noble friend Lord Freeman when he said that he could not find anything in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, with which he disagreed. I shall want to read it very carefully, but my impression was much the same, and we are much indebted to him for launching the debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, who made a very interesting speech, referred to the Science Media Centre. As I shall have something to say about the question of communication, I should like to pay tribute to her for her initiative in getting that immensely valuable organisation set up and for appointing Fiona Fox to run it. It really has been hugely successful.
I do not want to repeat what other speakers have said at this stage of the debate. However, I should like to refer to a very interesting event that took place just before the Recess, namely a seminar organised by the Lord Speaker on 12 May. This was the second in a series of seminars launched by the noble Baroness intended to bring together noble Lords and outside commentators, entitled Science, Policy and Ethics: Potential Future Flashpoints. Three of our most distinguished scientists, the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord May, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, addressed us at the outset, and their speeches were very interesting and informative. That was followed by a discussion. In my 10 minutes I cannot hope to cover all the subjects that were discussed. For me, the really interesting outcome of that seminar was the reaction of the 11 invited senior science journalists. I am familiar with the expertise of my noble colleagues, but this was a very interesting exposure of what has been referred to by other noble Lords as an interaction between science, politics and the media.
In passing, I might say that one of the very early points that arose was how in an all-elected House of Lords you are going to keep these distinguished scientists available. I hope without embarrassing the noble Baroness, I would like to say that she dealt with that extremely robustly. The result was that no other journalist raised the matter during the course of the discussion. Her view was that there are alternative methods of accountability to elections and that, as an expert House with a different role from another place, this House must be able to secure the expertise that gives us our distinctive role in our constitution.
I turn to the issues that are relevant to the debate. I was struck once again by the journalists insistence on the need for good communication. That point came back repeatedly. It has been a subject close to my own heart ever since the House issued our Select Committee report,Science and Society, to which the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, referred; an inquiry which I had the honour to chair. If, indeed, science and technology are essentialI believe that they areto meeting the challenges with which we as a world are faced, particularly in this nation, those engaged in promoting this must secure and retain the trust of the public. This was a key point in that report and is widely accepted. Scientists and engineers practise with an implicit consent of the public. If that is forfeited, the damage that could be done is huge.
Much has been achieved. Almost all major professional organisations in this field now have their science in society committees and activities, not least the Royal Society; it is good to know that I shall be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. In passing, I particularly commend the work of the Royal Society of Chemistry, which really has made a notable contribution to this whole business of explaining the importance of sciencenot just chemical science, but all scienceand to solving the many problems with which we are faced. It has put this aspect at the centre of its activities, and deserves praise for that.
Is the Minister, who I am pleased to see in his place, satisfied that this is now sufficiently recognised in universities? In particular, is the research assessment exercise, even after its review, still an obstacle to recognising the credit that should be given to scientists who successfully engage with the public? This point was raised with us 10 years ago in the science and society inquiry. I am not convinced that there has been sufficient change.
There was much talk at the seminar about important challenges such as climate change, food security, energy security and so on. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, gave us a disturbing account of the effect of the small screen on childrens minds and attitudes. However, something was also said about the often malign influence of the green lobby, which seems to oppose so many of the solutions to these problems, like nuclear energy, GM technology and so on. Noble Lords asked why the media seem to give these voices such prominence in their coverage. One explanation that was offered, which I suppose one has been aware of in a sense but it was stated very clearly, was that these bodies operated,
One sometimes gets the impression from reading the media about their activities that the media still think that they are tree-huggers in sandals. They are not. They are extremely well organised and their motives need to be ruthlessly exposed. They are often very damaging to the solutions to the problems that we all face.
inevitably raising public fears that these scientists themselves do not understand what they are doing. A huge amount of science is known. It must be part of the scientific communitys role constantly to reassure people that this is known and certain science. We are on the way to solving the problem of nuclear waste, but it has been a long, hard battle. That is just one example; there are many others.
I am sure that that is right. There is a streak of opinion in this country that the world will be a better place only if we all put on hair shirts. It simply does not work like that. I was present at a foundation seminar last night on science in the cities, where much the same point was made by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, talking about better homes and building insulation: if you want to secure your objectives, the public must know that it will pay them to do it. This is regarded in some circles as somehow immoral, which is not right. That is the way you achieve your objectives and that is the way you get the attitude change.
One of the points that came through at the seminar and last night is the importance of the social sciences in this. They have much to offer and they need to be listened to and consulted more frequently on how to get these changes. Of course, if we are to meet the many challenges that confront the world we must support, applaud and reward the scientists and engineers who are doing this work. Like others, I am not always satisfied that that is done. Recognition is hugely important, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie, said. I warmly support the Motion and thank the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for introducing it.
Lord Rees of Ludlow: My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for initiating this debate and for his speech. In the current febrile political atmosphere, it would be especially ungracious not to acclaim the Governments sustained support for science and to acknowledge the dynamism and commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who fought hard for the ring-fencing of the science budget.
In science, engineering and medicine, the pay-off for R&D sometimes takes decades. The tap cannot be turned off and then back on. It would be tragic if we lost the momentum developed during the past 12 years. Indeed, to retain our international competitiveness, we must raise our game. That is because the Obama Administration have given Americas scientific community a massive boost in morale and in substance. The new President has eased the ban on stem cell research and has appointed a dream team of science advisers. Moreover, his economic stimulus package includes new, one-off investments in federal R&D worth more than $13 billion for the NSF and NIH, and a much
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As a scientific nation, the UK is, by many indicators, second only to the US. It is important to recognise why this is so. It is largely because of our strong research universities. We are the only country outside the US to have several in the premier league. I should at this stage declare an interest as a Cambridge professor and as president of the Royal Society, and I want to speak from these perspectives. The Royal Society aims to promote excellence in science and technology for its own sake and for enhancing human welfare. One of my predecessors, Lord Porter of Luddenham, averred that there are two kinds of science: applied and not yet applied.
The most readily measurable economic benefit of academic research is direct knowledge transfer from university labs to industry. But that is only a small part of the total. Research universities fulfil other key roles that are harder to quantify. They are networked with the whole worlds research. Their graduates spread expertise throughout the private and public sectors. That is more important than direct knowledge transfer.
There is a strong correlation between the research quality of a university and the strength of the commercial cluster that is attracted around it. Talent attracts talent and big companies, too. Success breeds success and, just as important, failure is accepted as a step towards later success. In places such as Cambridge, a dynamic and interactive high-tech community has developed that offers, in the words of a Financial Times article, a,
Academics are often derided as living self-indulgently in ivory towers but I strongly contest that. Excellent universities are of immense social and economic value. The global challenges that confront us cannot be effectively tackled without the expertise in them.
I am fortunate to know most of the leading UK scientiststhose who have won Nobel prizes or the equivalent. They are all individualists, but there is one thing that they would all agree on: they would highlight the long-term nature of their work, the unpredictability of its outcome and the need for a supportive environment. To ensure that our universities stay internationally competitive, it is crucial that they continue to offer this environment, relative autonomy and the prospect, without undue hassle, of gaining responsive mode funding for the research to which they are prepared to dedicate their lives. That is a fair expectation if you are at Harvard, Stanford or Berkeley; it must be so here if we are to compete for mobile talent at the highest academic level. In research, it is the top quality that counts; there is no virtue in coming second.
It is in this context that there have been concerns about some signals sent by research councils. For instance, applicants are required to state what the impact of their research will be. This cannot be more than a guess. Even the wizards of venture capital find it hard to assess the viability of a commercial proposal involving research that has already been done, so it
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Another concern is a possibly undue focus on so-called priority areas. Again, that might stifle the most original or cross-disciplinary workthe biggest breakthroughs are the least predictable. Indeed, it seems topsy-turvy that a Government who are rightly reluctant to pick winners in industrial policy should aspire to do that upstream, as it were, in the field of research.
It is surely in our own interests to support real excellence across the board. That is affordable, even in these straitened times; I refer to funds inside the so-called ring-fence for academic research. Funds administered by the research councils and the HEFCE QE funds are the main source. When we confront more costly developments, funded outside the ring-fence, of course the UK needs to focus. Strategic criteria should certainly become priorities then, as they did in Obamas stimulus package.
We should plainly do all that we can to sustain and exploit our excellence in biotechnology. The pharmaceutical industrys success has been grounded in the UKs strong research base in biomedical science, which is strong because governmental support for biomedical sciences has been massively supplemented by the Wellcome Trust, the major cancer charities and, of course, the heavy R&D spend of the industry itself.
But what about other sectors? A broad constituency in academia and business is now urging the need for sustained public support for the physical sciencesmathematics, all of physics, material science, chemistry and engineeringand perhaps even for a slight rebalancing of public funding to allow a catch-up by those subjects after the prioritising of medical research in recent years. The advocates for breadth in basic science include biomedical researchers themselves. Sir Paul Nurse had a fine letter to the Times urging that point, and the heads of the MRC and Wellcome Trust have spoken in similar vein. Cross-disciplinary expertise, spanning physical and biological sciences, is now at a premium. Peter Mansfields Nobel prize-winning work on MRI was done in Nottinghams physics department. The exciting new field of synthetic biology involves physics and engineering, and computer science now pervades all of biology. The physical sciences in our universities are vulnerable because they cannot draw on supplementary sources of private funding that parallel the Wellcome Trust and the medical charities, or on industrial support to match that of the pharmaceutical industry.
The earlier ministerial stint of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, at the MoD, where he oversaw procurement of high-tech equipment, will have convinced him that our manufacturing sector in physics-based industry is patchy. There is a paucity of major high-tech manufacturing companies in the UK. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, reminded us, the weakness of our electronics industry stems from short-sighted policies and lost opportunities in the 1970s and 1980s, from which lessons can surely be learnt. At a time when we need to rebalance our economy away from finance and towards high-tech manufacturing and services, we should invest in efforts to recover our strength in the industries based on the physical sciences.
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Finally, I would like to engage in a bit of positive thinking, taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, in the previous debate. Britain has a great scientific tradition and great scientific strength today; we must build on it and aspire to be the best place in the world to do science. If we can, benign positive feedbacks come into play; the law of increasing returns applies; talent attracts talent. We do not know what will be the 21st-century counterparts of quantum theory, the double helix and the computer, or where the great innovators of the future will get their formative training and inspiration. However, one thing seems a near certainty: unless we in this country get smarter, we will get poorer. The UKs relative standing will sink unless we keep our competitive edge as discoverers and innovators and unless some of the key creative ideas of the 21st century germinate and, even more importantly, are exploited here in the UK.
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to take part in this debate and, like others, I thank my noble friend Lord Haskel for creating this opportunity. Before I move on to my contribution, I should say how impressed I was by the interesting speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, whom I had not previously heard. Her commitment was evident in the enthusiasm with which she spoke. I wish, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, that I had cleared my diary to go to the event that he went to. He recalledagain, with excitementwhat happened that evening. I am sure that I could have learnt a lot, too.
I want briefly to mention how science and engineering support the wider manufacturing sectormany noble Lords talked about itbefore looking to the future and at how science and engineering will continue to have a positive impact on all our lives and every sector in the UK economy.
This Government have proved themselves to be committed to manufacturing and have supported it well. The recent publication of the manufacturing strategy, New Industry, New Jobs, gives us all a chance to boost and boast about manufacturing in the UK. The document describes the importance of industrial activism in safeguarding the UKs global position in manufacturing, which is on everyones agenda. All of us, no matter what our background or politics, have been influenced by these industries. We owe much of this countrys historical influence and current global position to their contribution.
Science and engineering companies provide the invention and innovation to drive the manufacturing process, as well as producing the manufactured goods.
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As for science, the pharmaceutical industry, to which other noble Lords have referred, is a wonderful example of how companies bring together pure science and mass manufacturing. In developing medicines, vaccines, and treatments that are ever more effective, pharmaceutical companies begin the process with the purest of scientific research. After, in some cases, years of applied research into efficacy, a great idea becomes a mass-produced product, manufactured to the very highest specifications that we require. By working beyond scientific boundaries into manufacturing processes, pharmaceutical companies demonstrate how modern industry is not constrained by arbitrary sectoral definitions; instead, it brings together all the skills and processes necessary for success.
Science and engineering companies can provide the excitement to attract and engage young people with learning. We all need that to happen. The young person sufficiently excited by the latest Formula 1 car to keep studying science and mathematics will find a whole world of careers open across the manufacturing sector and beyond. However, we can be confident that the future of these key industries is safe only when young people are convinced that these skills and subjects are what they aspire to. We need to do more to build understanding by young people of the links between these important industries and how science, engineering and manufacturing coexist in the modern economy.
To understand this modern situation, it is worth looking back at how science and engineering have been the cornerstone of British economic success for many years, although I could not do that with half the humour that my noble friend Lord Howie used when he described some of the major constructions around this wonderful city and others. However, there can be no doubt that the engineering sector is embedded in the British landscape, both physically and psychologically. It provided the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, which in turn laid the foundations for the UKs continuing place in global innovation. We might say that the entire history of the UK over the past 200 years has been coloured by industrial reform, invention and mass production. The seismic changes in British society can be linked to the earliest technology and the breakthroughs that ensued.
I now turn to the contribution that science and engineering have made to the country as a whole. They have already given the UK a standard of living that surely surpasses the dreams of those early pioneers and inventors. Mass transportation gives individuals the freedom to explore the world as never before. Modern communications technology has brought businesses and people closer together. There are daily scientific breakthroughs in the fight against diseases
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Many of your Lordships will know that the value of skills in science and engineering to British industry is incredibly high. People with these skills not only work for companies in the science and engineering sectors but are much in demand across all sectors. A report from the ETB last year found that, of the engineering and technology graduates who entered employment, a quarter joined companies that did not have engineering and technology as their primary activity, but only 11 per cent of all engineering and technology graduates were employed in non-engineering and technology jobs. This means that non-technology companies are employing many engineering graduates in engineering roles. Engineering and technology occupations permeate all sectors, and the skills of these people help to make companies successful across the economy.
Companies in all sectors want to employ science, engineering and technology specialists and they want to employ them right across the piece in their organisations. For England, we hope that the new diplomas in engineering, manufacturing, product design and science will help young people to experience the excitement of these subjects at a very much earlier age. With these diplomas, which are designed to help students to progress into employment, higher education and work-based learning, we have a real opportunity to boost the volume and quality of these skills in the workforce.
Of course, science and engineering contribute a great deal to the economic wealth and well-being of the UK, as many speakers have said. I ask myself and all noble Lords, including the Minister: what of the future for science and engineering? If we succeed in raising performance and competitiveness, what will the science and engineering sectors be able to contribute in the future? I suggest that, in addition to a direct contribution to the economy through the sale of goods and services, these sectors can improve all our lives in ways that we can only begin to imagine. As the UK faces challenges such as disease control, the ongoing fight against terrorism, and an ageing population, science and engineering can provide the tools and skills to ensure that we face the future with more confidence. Many other noble Lords have referred to that issue.
I received a helpful briefing for this debate from the Royal Society of Chemistry, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred. It is very encouraging to see the work that it is doing to identify opportunities where in the future chemistry, and science generally, can make a crucial contribution towards tackling the major challenges of our timeissues such as climate change, food security, energy, water and healthand help to build a strong UK economy. I hope that my noble friend Lord Drayson will agree with the RSC that UK science will be crucial in enabling us to emerge from this recession.
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