Science and Innovation

Oral Answers to Questions — Innovation, Universities and Skills – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 26th July 2007.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods PPS (Rt Hon Des Browne, Secretary of State), Ministry of Defence, PPS (Rt Hon Des Browne, Secretary of State), Scotland Office 10:30 am, 26th July 2007

If he will make a statement on the progress made on the Government's 10-year strategy on science and innovation published in 2004.

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Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

If he will make a statement on the progress made on the Government's 10-year strategy on science and innovation published in 2004.

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

It is a pleasure to open the first Question Time on the work of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The Government published their third annual report on the science and innovation investment framework on Monday. The report shows that over the past year there has been continued good progress in implementing the Government's challenging vision for science and innovation.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods PPS (Rt Hon Des Browne, Secretary of State), Ministry of Defence, PPS (Rt Hon Des Browne, Secretary of State), Scotland Office

I, too, welcome the appointment of the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to the new Department and to its first Question Time. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to ensure that the expertise in British universities, such as the excellent Durham university in my constituency, is applied by industries so that jobs can be created in Durham and elsewhere? Does he accept that the proposed energy technologies institute provides a good model for that, and that the institute should come to the north-east?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

There has been a massive change in the links between our universities and the business community over the past decade. As a Government, we have more than doubled the science budget and we have invested heavily in encouraging university-business links. I applaud Durham university for the work that it does. The energy technologies institute is important for the future of the United Kingdom. If we are to tackle climate change successfully, we need to invest in low carbon technologies for the future. The decisions about its location will be taken in due course by the board. My hon. Friend will know that five shortlisted consortiums have been bidding to host the hub of the energy technologies institute. We expect that decisions on its location will be taken in September.

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Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

I welcome the new ministerial team to their positions. My hon. Friend is aware that when the science and innovation paper was published in 2004, the objective was to increase investment in research and development over 10 years, from 1.9 per cent. of gross domestic product to 2.5 per cent. so that we would be second only to America in the world. From what he said, it sounds as if we are on track, but can he confirm that we will reach that point by 2014, and can he say whether the private sector is fulfilling its commitment to match the investment by the public sector? If we are to compete in the global economy, we need a substantial science-based economy.

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

My hon. Friend raises an important point about targets. The 2.5 per cent. R and D target remains. It is very much an input measure, and I am at least as interested in the quality of R and D as I am in its quantity. The figures are improving. Business R and D was £13.5 billion in 2005. It has been increasing in real terms, but as our GDP has been increasing as well, the situation has become quite stationary. It is important that we continue to invest in the science base. The Government can rightly be proud of the investment that we have put into science and scientific research over the past 10 years. Making sure that we maximise the benefits of that for the economy and for society is a key priority for us and will remain so over the next months and years.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Trade & Industry Committee, Chair, Trade & Industry Committee

Although it is encouraging to see the science and innovation portfolio in such competent hands, does the Minister understand my concern as Chairman of the Trade and Industry Committee—that is still its name for a few more weeks—that changes to the machinery of Government risk breaking some of the important links between science and innovation and business, owing to the portfolio being moved away from the business-facing Department? What reassurance can he give me that those links will be maintained?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He knows me well, and he knows that I will never forget the importance of the links between universities, science and business. I categorically assure him that the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will work closely with the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that we have a successful economy in the future. Competitive advantage is, in part, down to our ability to translate our world-class research into new products and processes and to achieve the maximum commercial advantage from that. It is vital that we work closely with industry, and we will do exactly that.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills

May I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to his new post, as I did when I saw him in the Select Committee? Have the Government had any further thoughts about how to encourage for the science and innovation framework the promotion of careers in science for young people, especially given the relatively poor salary progression that afflicts researchers and the problems faced by indebted graduates, especially women, seeking to make their way in science careers?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question and for his comments; he has highlighted an important issue. The Government are keen to promote the message that there is a valuable career in research. Over the past 10 years, the number of researchers has increased significantly. Applications for science, technology, engineering and mathematics at undergraduate level have recently increased by more than 10 per cent., which is an encouraging sign that more people are applying to study those subjects at university. Making sure that people continue with and progress in careers in research and science is also important, if we are going to make sure that we have a research community that supports our business community and that achieves high growth for the future, which we all want to see.

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Photo of Doug Naysmith Doug Naysmith Labour, Bristol North West

What actions have the Government taken to improve and generate new business links with my local university, the university of the West of England, and my neighbouring university, the university of Bristol?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Both the university of the West of England and Bristol university have benefited from the higher education innovation fund, which is one of the initiatives that the Government have introduced to promote innovation and university business links. There has been a massive change in our universities from 10 years ago in terms of technology transfer, the number of people working in the area and the number of academics who are working closely with business. That is one of our key strengths, and I believe that the Government can do more to encourage university business links not only in universities in my hon. Friend's area, but more broadly. That must be part of our mission as a new Department.

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Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Shadow Minister (Science and Innovation)

I welcome the Minister to his new role. I understand the urge for Ministers to focus only on Government successes by quoting figures selectively, but we have faith, and we hope that the new Minister will resist that urge in his reply. The Government consistently tell us how well they are doing in achieving their goals on science and innovation in society, but equally consistently, despite the many targets, schemes, reviews, reports, initiatives and interventions over their long period in office, the evidence shows a continued decline in the number of STEM graduates—why?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

We always have to select statistics, because we cannot use all of them. The hon. Gentleman might want me to read out a few pages of statistics, virtually all of which point in the right direction—that of progress and improvements as regards links between universities and business, research and development, numbers of citations, spin-out companies, and licensing of intellectual property. That is all good news. Yes, he is right that we want more people to do science subjects at A-level and in our universities. That is something on which we will continue to work closely with the new Department, DCSF, and it will be a priority for us for the future. I apologise for the use of acronyms, Mr. Speaker, but I had forgotten exactly what the Department was called.

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