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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.