Science Base

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 1:49 pm on 19th March 1997.

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Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge 1:49 pm, 19th March 1997

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what recent representations he has received from British industry on the organisation of the United Kingdom science base. [19451]

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I frequently meet representatives of industry to discuss the science and engineering base, not least in connection with the Year of Engineering Success and the current Science Engineering and Technology Week.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

Is the Minister aware that, according to the Pharmaceutical Industries Council, the infrastructure and equipment in many of our universities are seriously eroded and science graduates no longer have the practical skills that industry needs? Is that not an appalling indictment of 18 years of Tory neglect?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

It might be an appalling indictment if it were true, but as George Poste of SmithKline Beecham, who had dinner with me on Monday evening and is now better briefed, will admit, the problem in our universities, particularly for the pharmaceutical industry, is that students have to deal with such rapid technological change that not only the universities, but the companies that those students will eventually enter, have difficulty keeping up.

I have suggested virtual centres of excellence and much more work in companies for some of our finest undergraduates and postgraduates. That collaborative spirit will underpin the excellence of the scholarship in our universities and our research. We are in it together, and must look for solutions together.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

Will my hon. Friend confirm that much scientific research and development of the best quality is also done in industry? Contrary to what the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) said, some of it is done by firms that have invested in this country: for example, the Hewlett-Packard laboratories on the edge of my constituency are the only laboratories that that world-class firm has outside the United States.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Hewlett-Packard is at the forefront of research and development in this country, and my namesake there, John Taylor

Mr. John M. Taylor:

My namesake.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

My hon. Friend can take the credit if he so wishes. Our namesake—to be scientifically accurate— has done a remarkable job in chairing our information technology foresight panel. There are many other examples: Motorola in Scotland has done research in this country that was not done originally in the United States; Nortel has done work here that is original and has not been done in Canada; and Ericsson and many others have done likewise—the list is too long for me to go through.

We are sending an appropriate signal to those foreign companies, in the Year of Engineering Success, when the excellence of what is going on in our industries as well as our universities needs to be signalled. In Science Engineering and Technology Week we are paying especial tribute to engineering; in this week we need skill and vision, and the courage to wear ties such as the one that I am sporting at the moment.