Science and Technology

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1992.

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Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South 12:00 am, 2nd November 1992

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he hopes to publish a White Paper on science and technology.

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

We hope to publish our White Paper on science and technology in the early part of next year. I am delighted to say that there has been an excellent response from the public to the White Paper consultation exercise, which ends on 30 November.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

May I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and join him in welcoming the news that the White Paper will be published shortly, in 1993? May I have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the White Paper will place substantial emphasis on the role of engineering?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Many believe that if there is criticism to be made of the skills that have been invested over the years in this area, it is perhaps that we have not been strong enough in application. In comparison with some other countries, we do not, for example, give a high enough status to engineers. If we can find ways of rectifying that, we shall do so.

Photo of Dr Jeremy Bray Dr Jeremy Bray , Motherwell South

Is the Minister aware that there are very few scientists who would expect him to go into a policy purdah for a year while he mulls over the questions of organisation? Is he aware that if he does not establish his own leadership and that of his office on science policy before the White Paper is published, he will have great difficulty in doing so afterwards?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I certainly do not intend to go into any sort of purdah. The new Select Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member, had a good discussion on these matters, to which I hope I contributed something, only recently. We are deliberately flying several kites, some of which he and his colleagues have been examining. Before we set down policy in the White Paper, we must discuss widely the various options. I shall not come down on any of the great issues before we come to final conclusions, partly because it would be discourteous to the Select Committee so to do.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that account is taken in the White Paper of the pure and applied research that was previously carried out by the Ministry of Defence, which in future is unlikely to be undertaken by that Ministry?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

It is set policy now—the policy was set some years ago—that the extent of defence-related research and development should decline somewhat over the next years. The figures overall on Government spending on R and D are good. Recent work undertaken by my Department shows that we are in the middle of the pack of comparable countries. As resources come to be released from defence-related expenditure there will be those—especially good young scientists—who will be taken up as they are needed by the civil defence effort.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

Is not the assurance that the Minister gives about his concern for engineering negated by the fact that because of Government policy 70,000 people will be made redundant—largely in the engineering industry—as a result of the Government's disgraceful decision to sack 30,000 miners at 31 pits? Is it not true that many of the 70,000 will he from the engineering sector, and that this is a body-blow to the industry from which it will not recover, no matter how lengthy and how learned the White Paper on science and technology?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

The hon. Gentleman knows well that the Government are reviewing the decisions to which he has referred. I do not believe that any of the countries that are gaining a world trading share in engineering products are increasing the size of their coal mining industries.

Photo of Dr Lewis Moonie Dr Lewis Moonie , Kirkcaldy

May I focus the attention of the Minister on a particular kite by asking him, when he is considering what to include in the White Paper, to accept the advice of the Royal Society that some changes must be made to the methods of paying international subscriptions, given that the Government's incompetence in the recent devaluation led to an increase of many millions of pounds in the cost of subscriptions which will have to be borne by domestic research?

Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West

I welcome the hon. Gentleman and the other members of the Opposition Front Bench team on their first outing.

The argument put by the Royal Society and others is that the foreign exchange element of foreign subscriptions should be taken out of the research councils' budget and put in some central budget. We will consider that. However, there is a strong counter argument that if the research councils wish to conduct some part of their research abroad, the risk of exchange movements is one matter which they must take into account.

On a party political point, it ill becomes the Opposition to criticise devaluation. If the hon. Gentleman looks back over the years, he will find that the Opposition's share of devaluations goes against his argument.