Clause 3 - Expenses of Council

Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 10 February 2004.

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Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport) 10:15, 10 February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 212, in

clause 3, page 2, line 11, at end insert—

'(1A) Sums may not be paid under subsection (1) unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the principle of distribution set out in section [distribution principle for funding by research councils] will be adhered to.'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 5—Distribution principle for funding by research councils—

'(1) In distributing funding, the research councils to which this section applies shall have regard to the distribution principle in this section.

(2) That principle is that, in any period of twelve months, 10 per cent. of funds to be distributed shall be awarded to those institutions that have benefited the least from the distribution of the other 90 per cent. of funds.

(3) This section applies to—

(a) the Arts and Humanities and Research Council,

(b) the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council,

(c) the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council,

(d) the Natural Environment Research Council,

(e) the Medical Research Council,

(f) the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council,

(g) the Economic and Social Research Council, and

(h) the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils.'.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

I am looking forward to working with you on the Committee, Mr. Gale, to see how we can possibly improve this dreadful Bill.

However, I welcome this part of the Bill because I completely agree with the establishment of the arts and humanities research council. The purpose of the amendment is to probe some of the ideas that were mentioned in the debates on the two previous clauses, especially what may happen under the dual support mechanism when the Bill's proposals on variable tuition fees—top-up fees—come into play.

I tabled the amendment because I am worried that a two-tier system of higher education—teaching universities and colleges, and research institutions—will develop in the United Kingdom. The current meld of the two from which we benefit so much in terms of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching will be

undermined and weakened in many parts of the country and, over time, will decline. Instead, there will be a concentration of research money, institutions and expertise in certain areas; for example, the golden triangle around Oxford, Cambridge and the Thames valley. The amendment was tabled to try to ensure that the Government do not achieve what they want in that respect. We will see how far we get.

The amendment would change the funding of the research councils, assuming that the arts and humanities research council is established by royal charter. I remind hon. Members that at present the dual support mechanism means that there is a payment from the funding councils in Wales and England. Two different funding councils make payments to fund the general cost of the basic research infrastructure, including laboratories and equipment. Arts and humanities do not need laboratories and equipment, but they need offices, IT and so on, from the general funding councils. I assume that that will continue.

The other element is provided by the research councils and depends on the research assessment exercise, which is much cursed by academics, certainly those in Aberystwyth and Lampeter. Every department is assessed on the basis of its research capabilities and excellence and those that achieve a five or five-star assessment are eligible to apply for grants from the research councils, although they do not necessarily get them. As the Minister said, the way that the application system works is that proposals are made; I think an awful lot are recycled.

Under the Royal Society exchange scheme between parliamentarians and scientists, I have had the opportunity to spend some interesting times in the last couple of months with a scientist in Aberystwyth called Dr. Gareth Griffith. As an arts and humanities graduate, I found it an eye opener to visit the laboratories and the infrastructure, good and bad, where Dr. Griffith works and to try to appreciate the immense time and effort that he spends in making applications to research councils and for external research. For example, he is applying to carry out research on a type of cocoa fungus, which could be useful for the Department for International Development in overcoming the problem that the fungus causes in developing countries such as Brazil and on the west coast of Africa.

All sorts of interesting work is going on in our universities, as we well know. It is interesting to be directly exposed to that, and to have an idea of the immense amount of administrative time and effort that goes in to so much academic work nowadays. Much work is done on applying for money and trying to get extra bits of resources to patch together a decent research department in order to attract the best students and lecturers and to build success. The problem is that if a department cannot quite get there and is drowning at the shoreline, as we Welsh say, it will never be good enough to make an application to the research councils; it will always be able to get

something from its funding council and to maintain some level of infrastructure, but it will not be able to break through.

The Government have tried to do something with student support and access in the Bill, which we will debate later. It is interesting that they have recognised that some institutions cream off the best students, and that some students may be prevented from attending some institutions by barriers other than academic ability. Through the Office for Fair Access, the Government seek a different way to ensure that there is a spread of ability throughout the higher education institutions of England and Wales, without artificial barriers.

With these amendments, we are trying to do much the same for the research councils, at least in principle. We recognise that there are good departments that undertake interesting lines of research that could benefit the economic development and cultural welfare of this country. They are not quite able to access the research council funding because they are caught in the double bind of not being able to get the good research in order to get funding and a five-star grading and, therefore, never quite break through.

For example—I can only give examples from Wales, the area I know best—I contacted the research councils and asked, ''What sort of allocation is there between England and Wales, because Wales has about 5 per cent. of the population, but about 6 per cent. of the students?'' We have always educated a lot of students in Wales. I wanted to know what proportion of research council money was generally being spent in Wales and in England.

About ten years ago, an eminent politician and physicist who will be known to the Welsh members of the Committee, Dr. Phil Williams—sadly, he died last year—found that Wales was being short-changed by the research councils. He found that about 2 or 3 per cent. of funding was coming to Wales, even though it had 5 per cent. of the population and 6 per cent. of students. I understand that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs is looking into that and that the research councils are gathering information for that Committee, but they do not have that information yet. I am concerned that we may be creating systems when we should be collecting relevant information about where the money will be allocated in order to ensure that it will not feed those institutions that other parts of the Bill, and OFFA, are trying to change.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the HEFCE will provide a capacity fund of £20 million to support research in emerging subject areas in which the research base is not strong and established? Does not that answer some of his concerns about the need to pump-prime areas that we want to progress?

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

Yes, it does. I am aware of the initiative. My amendment is simply a probing amendment to elicit an explanation of how this pans out. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is exactly what he said it was; pump-priming. In principle, my amendment is an ongoing mechanism,

which, over time, could change the funding system. The system the hon. Gentleman describes attempts to get people on to a springboard so that they can attain that research council funding. There is no principle at stake here about whether we go down this or that route, but it is important that we recognise the current lack of equity in research council funding.

That lack of equity is due to the fact that some institutions started from a lower base. They received less funding than the more established institutions. They have always struggled to attract lecturers, teachers, staff and students to hit those gradings of five and more within the research evaluation exercise. The hon. Gentleman will know what institutions I am talking about because they have featured in other parts of our discussion on the Bill. The more historic institutions also find it easier to attract private money to match-fund. It is much harder for a tiny university such as Lampeter to attract private funding. It is interesting to look at a university like that because its research into ethics precisely reflects what the Minister was saying earlier about biotechnology, genetic engineering, human fertilisation and so on.

In conclusion, I should like to look at a couple of the research councils, but as I said earlier, I do not want to criticise them per se. My amendment recognises that they will give money to the best research. I am concerned that that is a bit of self-perpetuating mechanism that can go against what we are trying to achieve, at least in the better parts of the Bill. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has managed to fund eight postgraduates at the university of Wales, the lowest figure for any university. The university of Wales is a collegiate university, made up of five or six different colleges. In other universities such as York the figure is 83, in Cambridge it is 210 and in Oxford it is 86. I do not want to continue with those numbers. There is a discrepancy; I say no more than that.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council is supporting only 19 grants in Wales. That brings to mind the history of the Diamond synchrotron. Many of us hoped for sentimental reasons that it would come to Aberystwyth as the theory of synchrotron radiation was developed by George Schott in Aberystwyth itself. But it did not go to Aberystwyth, which is an objective 1 area, and neither did it go to Liverpool and the Wirral, which was also in the running as an objective 1 area. It went to an area that is already quite well off with such institutions.

Finally, the Medical Research Council does not support any major centres in Wales. We have a well-advanced school of medicine in Cardiff and developments in Bangor and Swansea, too. There is obviously a need to get those developments up and give them a boost so that they can compete for medical research council money. I hope that the amendments will spark a response from the Minister and perhaps a debate about the purpose of the research councils.

This Bill replaces the Arts and Humanities Research Board with an arts and humanities research council. We must ask a wider question about the research councils' purpose and ensure that research money does not go to the same institutions time and time again. All institutions should have fair access, just as the Bill tries to ensure that students have the same level of access. We should think of innovative ways—either pump-priming or within the funding system—to ensure that. Research councils can and will enrich an even wider range of institutions. In doing so, we shall ensure that neither the other measures in the Bill nor this narrow aspect of it will help to create a two-tier level of education. There should always be the potential for every institution in England and Wales to undertake serious and highly regarded research. We all want to see that; I hope that the Minister does too, and that he will talk about how the research council can achieve that.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education) 10:30, 10 February 2004

I followed the hon. Gentleman's remarks with interest, but I disagree. I understand where he is coming from; I understand smaller and regional institutions' concerns about the direction and support of research funding. However, I do not believe that his amendments would provide an adequate solution to those concerns, and I shall explain why.

There is no doubt that the Government are consciously channelling funding in to a smaller number of institutions. The structure of the research assessment exercise, the focus on five-star departments and the gradual erosion of resources for departments that have a lower level of achievement have significant implications for the education system in the regions. There is no question that that will cause significant problems for many universities and other higher education institutions. The provisions that create an arts and humanities research council are a counterbalance to that. They will channel funds to smaller institutions so as to maintain their research capability. The strong message coming from the smaller institutions is that they are concerned that without a research dimension to what they do, they may find it much more difficult to maintain the quality and substance of teaching staff. The Government must consider that carefully. The Minister, in making changes to the four-star institutions, clearly has the issue on his mind.

I recently visited Coventry university, which described its research support work for the motor industry in the midlands as extremely important both to the institution and to industry in that area. There is no doubt that many regional universities have strong links in research and teaching with key local industries. If the Government's approach to research finding makes it more difficult to carry out such research, that has implications for our regional economies, industries and the institutions themselves. The Government's balanced approach to the distribution of funding to research centres is important; we must ensure that we have strong international centres of research excellence at the forefront of their field on the global stage.

There are also areas where focus on the smaller number of research centres has a direct, adverse effect on services. A specific example is the health service. The research assessment exercise has concentrated medical research in individual disciplines in a smaller number of departments. The problem is that if a medical school loses a department researching a specific clinical area, the potential consequence is that if the area disappears, so do the consultants, who spread their time between research work, teaching and providing clinical care in the adjoining NHS hospital. The patients may suffer if that happens, so it is important to find a balance.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) takes us in the wrong direction. It takes away the ability of the research councils to channel their funding to those projects they deem the best and most effective. The peer review system that says—regardless of the institution or where it is situated in the country—that funding for a research project will be provided based on merit, on the assessment of peers and on their judgement of the quality of the work, has to be the right way to go. For us, effectively, to bottom-slice part of the funding allocation and say where it must go—regardless of whether those institutions have projects of merit or departments with the critical mass to carry out those projects—would be the wrong way to sort out this problem.

The councils are doing a good job of channelling funding. I am not sure I agree with the assessment of the hon. Member for Ceredigion. For example, the Arts and Humanities Research Board has provided grants for work done by the university of Wales in Aberystwyth, or in Cardiff. More particularly, it is providing funding across a wide range of institutions. There are projects for Anglia polytechnic university and the university of Central Lancashire, as well as for the Russell group of universities, our most successful universities.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises that I was trying to raise the debate rather than put an argument one way or another. Nevertheless, he has raised an important point. I think one thing we need to bear in mind is that although research in arts and humanities is labour-intensive—the best staff and students and so forth need to be attracted—science research is also capital-intensive, in a different way from much arts and humanities research. We need to bear in mind not only what the Arts and Humanities Research Board has been achieving, but also the concentration of science-based research in specific institutions. He acknowledged that at the start of his remarks.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I accept that situation and would anticipate, in the current climate, individual institutions focusing their research efforts more on specific areas where they have a unique selling point, a particular local or regional need or an industry into which that research can feed. It is important that those

regional centres remain, and it is excellent that they deliver high-quality research to meet the needs of their area.

I would not wish to see an engineering by politicians in the allocation of grants. Ultimately, if we move away from a system of peer review and from a system that says that if a university is excellent in an area, it will be funded—if funding, instead, is by formula—we risk, given the trends in funding council channels, having an engineered system through the research council funding channels as well. We are well served by letting the academic world take decisions about the best projects to fund. I hope the Minister will have some comments about the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I do not think that these amendments do the job that he hoped they would.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion for raising this issue. It is right that we should have a debate although, like my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell, probably in the end my head has to rule my heart. I can see substantial reservations in the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. It may be of some aid and consolation to him to know that a research charity in the biological sciences that I used to chair and of which I am still a member—it preceded my membership of the research council—gave a significant number of its grants to the university of Wales, in particular, for projects that appealed to it. It is by no means barred or impossible to obtain private or not-for-profit funding in that area.

As the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) said, there is also a degree of sensitivity in the traditional funding for development work, in terms of the HEFCE fund. Back when the new universities came on stream after 1992, we put aside £50 million as a special fund for development work in them.

To stand back from the debate and make a general point, I think that the dilemma that the hon. Member for Ceredigion exposed with his amendment is similar to that which we will discuss on student admissions. The dilemma is whether one supports merit or potential that may not have been realised in meritorious performance. That is a rather wide philosophical issue, which I will perhaps keep for a later date.

I would like the Minister to comment on two specific points. One point relates to my experience of research funding. It was said that the process of peer review was semi-exclusive, because people who were on either research councils or assessment and grants panels working to inform and advise research councils on their decisions tended to be from a particular coterie. It is difficult to break into that.

My second specific point is on arts and humanities research. It was always said that there was something of a famous triangle centred on London, Oxford and Cambridge, and no further, and that was a concern to me in my time as a Minister although it may recently have dissipated slightly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell rightly showed in

reading out a list of grants, the AHRB has made grants outside that triangle. It has also made progress in what I might call softening the edges of the triangle. It would be helpful if the Minister commented on that.

I also have two general points. First, it is clear that we need a viable and vibrant higher education system that is available throughout the country. It is important that students can access regional centres of excellence, which as my hon. Friend said is also true of the national health service, and that we ensure that higher education does not have any no-go areas in this country. Secondly, the system must be open to people of excellence, who can enter the system, get support and have their potential turned into meritorious performance.

I conclude with a quotation from Napoleon. I think that he said that every private has to have a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. Every researcher, be they in Aberystwyth, Bangor or somewhere in Cumbria—if we can set up a Cumbrian university—should have the opportunity to get into the system. That means the full Monty: access to the research councils and to HEFCE money under the dual system of funding through research assessment. It is important that the Minister should deliver. I know that he wants to, and I look forward to his comments.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford 10:45, 10 February 2004

I want to make some brief remarks about research funding, which the Select Committee on Education and Skills looked into in considerable detail. When the White Paper was published, much of the focus was understandably on student finance, but the Select Committee quickly understood that research funding was an important issue. We talk about the number of students going to university and the debt that they may or may not incur after university, but the quality of the product is essential to students while they are at university. The research base is important to maintain quality. We had many concerns in the Select Committee, given that 75 per cent. of research funding goes to 25 universities. We were further concerned when HEFCE wanted to increase the funding going to four star-rated departments by £10 million. However, Ministers intervened and, according to Sir Howard Newbury, required HEFCE to reduce that. The proposed figure of £148 million for 2003-04 was reduced to £118 million. The Government need to bear that in mind if the expansion that I support passionately is to occur. It is important that level four research universities should be able to develop those specialisms so that they may go on to five and six star level.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, in order to inform the argument, Universities UK has made available to the Select Committee and subsequently compelling evidence that many of the highest-rated research projects and departments have developed from a comparatively low rating—from three to five stars, say—in a short time?

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford

The hon. Gentleman will remember the Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on the issue in which the two of us and two other hon.

Members participated while Iraq was being debated on the Floor of the House. Westminster Hall, as you can imagine, Mr. Gale, was packed to the gunnels, but it was a good and well-informed debate, and the hon. Gentleman made some useful contributions. He is right; I quoted an example from my area. Greenwich university developed important fire and evacuation modelling, which has now won a Queen's award. That began at level three and it is now level five. It is important for the Government to recognise that one has to build up infrastructure over a number of years. In this case, infrastructure is people. If the funding is not there, the professors will leave, and what will happen to the rest of the staff?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills, Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the key components of any research university—particularly those new universities that are struggling to get into the research programme—is having post-graduate students who wish to stay on and to engage in research? By racking up the level of debt that students will have by the time they graduate, the idea of attracting them into research, often on a relatively low stipend—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. I have a sneaking feeling that these are issues that we might debate later.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford

The hon. Gentleman could not resist it, could he?

It is important that staff in universities should be paid at a reasonable level. The measures that the Government are introducing will allow pay to increase, and that is an important part of the infrastructure to which I referred. I shall conclude by saying that the Select Committee was very concerned about how that will affect emerging research, such as the examples that I have quoted from my constituency.

In order for our universities to compete with America—the top 14 universities are there, and the fifteenth is in Britain—we need the critical mass that is so important in science-based universities. Those—Warwick is a good example—must develop if we are to continue to nurture world-class universities.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Before I invite the Minister to respond, might I gently remind him that the clause deals with research funding, not other matters? I am sure that he will not wish to stray into other areas at this point.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

You are absolutely right, Mr. Gale.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion on raising the issue; we have had a fair debate about research funding. The Bill would be truly dreadful if his amendment were made. I realise that it is a probing amendment, but it would not only deal with the arts and humanities research council, but would change the basis for funding all research councils, which have been 90 per cent. successful for the last 40 years. We would be taking a dangerous step if we went down the route suggested by the hon. Gentleman. However, he raised some important points and that gives me an opportunity to respond.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was kind enough to send me a note explaining that he had to leave because he had to take his wife to hospital, but his contribution was absolutely right, as were those of the hon. Member for Daventry and my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. We must fund the best research. We have a world-class research infrastructure second only to, but a long way behind, that of the United States of America. It would be a forlorn ambition to catch up with the USA, but to stay in second place is crucially important, particularly considering the huge advances and investment in research in countries such as India in China.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

On the arts and humanities, it would be fair to claim that we can punch our weight equally with the Americans, if not excel them.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is why it is important to continue that development through this Bill.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford

I agree with my right hon. Friend about the US. However, during the proceedings of the Select Committee, we learned that the Government's proposals would mean that our funding is even more concentrated than that in the US.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

I will come to that point later because it must be dealt with.

Points were raised about HEFCE's allocation of QR money, rather than the allocation of the research council. However, the point is important, and particularly its effect on Wales. It is important to establish that research is currently considered on a national basis by the research councils. The money is not distributed to institutions, which is the wording of the amendment of the hon. Member for Ceredigion, but is awarded primarily to individual researchers and collaborations. The research council funding goes primarily to institutions. In that further respect, his probing amendment should remain probing and not be made.

There has been a lot of misrepresentation of the Government's actions a year ago. What was meant as a shock to the system ended up purely as a shock. However, the context must be remembered. We are investing another £1.25 billion in research—roughly a 34 per cent. increase in our research base. We cannot distribute that money on the usual basis. We must ensure that we fund excellent research, including emerging research, and make the best use of taxpayers' money.

Last year at our bidding the Higher Education Funding Council for England, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford pointed out from the evidence submitted to the Select Committee, redistributed 2 per cent. of the total research budget—£20 million. That created a fair degree of concern but, as the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and others pointed out, that concern expressed by the research establishment a year ago has calmed down to a certain extent. We patently do not intend to concentrate all

resources on the famous golden triangle, or as Lord Dearing described it ''a rugby ball'', in the south-east. Last year, some 43 institutions received more than £5 million-worth of funding, and that allocation was spread fairly throughout the country.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge 11:00, 10 February 2004

The Government's policy has my unqualified support, especially as I represent an area with one of the country's top universities. Would the Minister agree that it is important that researchers and teaching staff do not feel excluded from research? It is important that all universities have the infrastructure to allow people with top research qualifications to pursue their interests.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

I agree, although it might not necessarily be in the same institution. There is a clear link between scholarship, teaching and research, as we have repeated over and over again.

Let me deal now with the concerns that were expressed last year. Hon. Members will now know that the funding councils—indeed, today, they will announce the result of the latest round of consultation on the research assessment exercise—have stabilised the amounts going into four-rated departments at £118 million and have made that funding real by linking it to inflation. On top of that, we have set up the research forum, which gives everybody involved—the National Union of Students, Universities UK and the royal societies—an opportunity to discuss common objectives and establish a common analysis of how research should proceed in the future.

On the specific points raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion, he is mistaken that departments must have a five-star rating to qualify for research council funding. Research councils allocate funds on the basis of research excellence not simply of the RAE assessment of the institution.

There is an issue in Wales. By and large, Welsh applications are successful; indeed, they do very well. The problem is that institutions do not get enough applications in to research councils. Recent research showed that Wales, which has 5 per cent. of the UK's population, receives 3.3 per cent. of UK funding, and Welsh higher education institutions have agreed a target of 4.5 per cent. to reflect the subject mix at Welsh universities. A lot of work is being done to reach the desired level, but ring-fencing and preferential treatment will not help. It is not too difficult, in judging the amendments, and particularly new clause 5, to let one's head rule one's heart, as the hon. Member for Daventry said.

There is consensus among all political parties about the need to ensure that we fund excellent research and that we do not put taxpayers' money into research that is less than excellent. That involves another level of funding. We have talked about dual support, but there is also triple support in the form of the higher education innovation fund, which will allocate another £90 million. HEFCE and the funding councils

for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are specifically allocating money to excellent, emerging research at three and three A rated departments.

We have an opportunity to resolve the problem that the hon. Gentleman raised in respect of Wales and, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has said, the Government recognise the issue. Although this is a White Paper matter rather than a Bill matter, taking forward our proposals to ensure that we maintain our excellent, world-class research base is crucial to this country's economy and that, I am afraid, is one reason why the Committee should reject the amendment.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

I want to respond briefly to one or two points. The amendment did not find much favour, and I am glad that my arguments had a slightly better reception.

It is important to recognise that some research departments need to build capacity so that they can compete for the money. I accept that they do not necessarily need a five rating to do so, but that is the case in Wales, and few departments with a rating of four or below get much of the money. That exacerbates the situation, and institutions that feel that they are not being looked on favourably do not try to compete, thus falling into a vicious circle. That is true not only of Wales but of regions in England. Indeed, the amendments were about all of England and Wales and sought to ensure that we did not concentrate research moneys only in one area.

Before withdrawing the amendment, I want to clarify one point. On the whole, I welcomed the comments by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, but he said that the amendments were an example of engineering by politicians. To be frank, however, the Minister has explained that there is an awful lot of engineering going on anyway. The amendment would have ensured that the research councils themselves would take that bottom-slicing—probably an apt term—and be responsible for the spending of that money, rather than politicians or Ministers.

The hon. Member for Daventry made an important point when he talked about a coterie, with like appointing like. We have seen examples of that—recent discussions about new fellows of the Royal Society, for instance—in which certain people were not seen as suitable types for joining the club. We have seen all too many such incidents in the past and it is important to break through that.

The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford made an important point about staff pay. I met somebody during the Royal Society exchange who had been on a continuous research contract for 12 years, but who had never received security of tenure and was now being paid less than some postgrad students, simply because the research money coming in from that avenue was particularly well-endowed. That person was not receiving that money, despite being there for more than a decade. We should bear in mind such examples when we consider how bad pay levels are for some research staff and fellows.

We have had a worthwhile debate about what research councils are about and how they work in the context of the rest of the Bill. I suspect that the rest of

the debate on the Bill will be about undergrads, but it is important to consider the enrichment that the money in question brings to all our institutions and the contribution that that makes to our cultural and economic life. Given the replies and the nature of the debate, which I found encouraging, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

I beg to move amendment No. 125, in

clause 3, page 2, line 12, leave out subsection (2).

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 8 stand part.

I should explain to the Committee that both the amendment and clause 8 deal with extra-territorial activities. The amendment will be taken now; clause 8 will be debated now, but will be voted on at the appropriate time in the course of our proceedings.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

I begin by immediately reassuring both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry that the amendment is, of course, probing. Subject to reassurances that I hope and expect the Minister will be able to give us, we shall not press it to a vote.

The amendment and clause 8 relate to activities by the arts and humanities research council outside the UK. I am sure that we all recognise that research in those fields needs to be done outside the UK. Perhaps significantly—given my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry's point about the internet—such research is also highly likely to involve academics and researchers who are based outside the UK. However, it would be helpful if the Minister reassured us on two points.

First, we are talking about the expenditure of UK taxpayer resources. Given that, would the Minister say whether, in a normal year, he expected the preponderance of arts and humanities research that the UK taxpayer would support through funding to be conducted either by UK citizens or within the UK, or both? I am not expecting the Minister to give percentages or precise figures on that, but some comment would be helpful.

Secondly, we need to address duplication that might otherwise arise. I am sure that the Minister and other members of the Committee are familiar with the already considerable panoply of institutions that have a role in the field. Those include the UK Research Office, which has a role in representing research work that is in part conducted overseas, and, increasingly, the European Union. At the end of 2002, the European Commission officially launched the sixth research framework programme, which, for the first time, specifically provides for inputs from all relevant academic subjects, including the humanities. In 2003, the Arts and Humanities Research Board was admitted as a member of the European science foundation. There is also a continuing debate about the possible creation of a European research council.

We would like a reassurance that the Government are alive to the dangers of possible duplication and that excessive amounts of the money that taxpayers

provide through Parliament for academic research work will not be consumed by more liaison committees or by attempts to identify separate funding streams.

In that context, in April last year, the AHRB hosted a conference at Carlton house terrace, purely on European funding. If we are not careful, there will be more meetings and seminars incurring more expense; not to discuss research work or even to meet other researchers, but to discuss how to gain access to more funding, partly to pay for the meetings to talk about access to funding.

That concern is confined not just to those in academic research. There is growing anxiety in local, national and even European Government that more effort is being devoted to liaison between different levels of decision makers than to getting things done.

I seek two straightforward assurances from the Minister, which I hope he will be able to give, in which case I will not press the amendment to a Division.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

I support my hon. Friend. I, too, have some concerns about European funding. In respect of the research framework programmes and student exchanges, Britain has not taken its traditional stance on matters European, and has, properly, been in the forefront in terms of traffic and the receipt of grants. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is right to put down a marker to say that we do not want money taken to an international level if it can be sensibly administered nationally. I draw the analogy with overseas aid, where it is clear that bilateral programmes from the UK are more successful than some of the multilateral programmes delivered through other institutions.

Secondly, as the Minister knows, I am a supporter of the international activities in arts and humanities research. I do not row back from that, but there is an important accountancy point; if moneys are being spent abroad on behalf of the British taxpayer it may not be easy to capture or control them to the satisfaction of the Public Accounts Committee, for example. The Minister may need to reflect on that. I am making a general point, because it will save my making a speech later. The matter arises from the council's expenses. Whether the new council is run by the DTI or by the interests of the Minister's Department, it is important that Ministers keep a friendly grip—perhaps I should say an interest—on the council's running costs to ensure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, that taxpayers' money goes into research and not into meetings to discuss whether research should take place.

I do not suggest in any sense that either the research councils or the AHRB has been profligate, but it is terribly important that Ministers should satisfy themselves on a continuing basis that things are being done with a strict regard to economy, with the money going to delivery and not to the process.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education) 11:15, 10 February 2004

Hon. Members will be aware of the increasing importance of collaboration in research projects. That is why I will ask the Committee to resist amendment No. 125, which I accept is a probing amendment, and to support clause 8, because we are dealing with its proposals in this debate.

I give the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale the two assurances that he seeks. Yes, the funding will be predominantly for UK-based activity. In terms of duplication, I will take an even more personal interest in the matter than usual, as the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue. However, some UK research bodies will access European money, so there may be duplication, but it is not our money that pays for the duplication. Indeed, there is cost-effectiveness in that respect. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's points and I assure him that we will try to avoid duplication whenever possible.

I was asked about the percentage and although I do not have the exact figure for what is being spent on international collaboration, 3.76 per cent. of the research funding allocated by the AHRB was for collaborative projects; I am sure that the lion's share of that will be international collaboration.

Such collaboration is extremely important, and needs to be continued. The research councils are actively engaged in funding international scientific priorities through subscriptions to international organisations such as the European Space Agency and the European southern observatory; through support for facilities outside the United Kingdom, including the British Antarctic Survey and oceanographic research ships; and through research programmes such as those in the Gambia, where we are studying a variety of diseases including HIV/AIDS, measles and malaria. The amendment would remove the certainty that expenses associated with such activities were provided for by the Secretary of State.

Clause 8 largely duplicates provisions in the Science and Technology Act 1965, which provides the legal basis for ensuring that nothing in this part of the Bill restricts the activities of the arts and humanities research council to the UK or to any part of it. The council would thus be able to fund research that involved collaboration of the sort that I have described with researchers and academics across national boundaries, as well as at a European and wider international level.

I hope that the Committee will agree that we are dealing with an important facet of the work of the research council, reject the amendment and agree that clause 8 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

I am most grateful to the Minister. He has given precisely the assurances that I sought. Indeed, many hon. Members may have thought that he made a powerful case for more than 3.76 per cent. to be devoted to international collaboration. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 199, in

clause 3, page 2, line 14, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 200, in

clause 3, page 2, line 16, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 201, in

clause 3, page 2, line 19, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 202, in

clause 3, page 2, line 20, at end insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 203, in

clause 4, page 2, line 24, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 204, in

clause 4, page 2, line 26, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 205, in

clause 4, page 2, line 31, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 206, in

clause 6, page 3, line 8, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 207, in

clause 6, page 3, line 11, after 'State', insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

No. 208, in

clause 6, page 3, line 12, at end insert

'and each of the devolved administrations'.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

I hope that we will be able to deal with these amendments in much the same way as the previous group.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)


The background to the amendments is the relationship between the new research council and the devolved Administrations. Earlier, the Minister noted that we are legislating for matters that are devolved to Scotland and that a similar motion will have to be debated by the Scottish Parliament. That leads me to ask what we should do with regard to Wales and Northern Ireland. They are not quite the same constitutionally, but the matter is relevant and real when dealing with their relationship with the councils. We have already debated the funding gap for research councils in Wales. The aspiration of the National Assembly for Wales is to see the amount increase to 4.5 per cent. My aspiration is a little higher again. Nevertheless, people have an expectation.

I have concentrated on the arts and humanities research council. Having been criticised on a previous amendment for including everyone, I hope that I will not be criticised for including only one body in these amendments. I want to find out what will be the reporting mechanism between the arts and humanities research council—and, by implication, the other research councils—and the devolved Administrations.

The most important amendment, I suggest, is amendment No. 204, which would ensure that the new research council gave a report on its functions during the previous year to the devolved Administrations as well as to the Secretary of State. If the Bill goes through in its present shape, higher education as a whole will be further devolved to the National Assembly, and it is vital that the Assembly has a grip on what is happening in the research councils, that it knows what sort of expenditure is going on and that it has a good relationship with them.

It could be argued that that will happen naturally, and that the research council will want to talk to its stakeholders and to the National Assembly, the other co-funding partner that will be giving money to HEFCW. A natural relationship will emerge. However, it is always best when going through such things in Committee that we probe and tease out whether what we assume will happen is what Ministers want to happen.

That is the purpose of the amendments, and their aims are pretty self-explanatory. In a nutshell, the amendments will ensure that the arts and humanities research council gives the Assembly an idea of its programmes and expenditure in advance, takes account of what the Assembly has to say about those estimates and those programmes and then reports formally to the Assembly at the end of the year in a formal way, in the same way as it would report to the Secretary of State for Wales. The same would apply to the Scottish Parliament and the potential is there for the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that the Minister can say something positive about the relationship between the new research council and the devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

As the hon. Gentleman predicted I cannot accept the amendments. They are probing amendments and I believe that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he seeks. The AHRC will be required to report annually on the research that it commissions in territorially specific subjects as well as on the regional distribution of its research funding. Further, it will send copies of its formal annual report and accounts to the relevant Ministers across the UK who would then be free to place them in their respective parliamentary assembly libraries and research centres.

A new UK-wide forum of Ministers, shadowed by an officials group, now plays an important role in monitoring the effectiveness of the research funding system and will provide the devolved Administrations with a valuable opportunity to pursue and discuss the performance of the AHRC with the DTI and the Office of Science and Technology. The draft royal charter—the hon. Gentleman may not have had a chance to absorb it all as it is a bit wordy—takes account of the need to support cultural and territorial research in different parts of the UK. We have given a commitment that the quinquennial review of the AHRC will examine its performance in dealing with such research.

To reassure the hon. Gentleman further, let me remind him and other hon. Members that we are not starting from scratch when we set up the AHRC. It will join a family of existing research councils with which the devolved nations already have a well-established and constructive relationship. I expect that relationship to continue when the AHRC is established.

Members of the Committee may not be aware of the detailed recommendation of the review of the AHRB. It concluded that the current system of four-way reporting and accountability to the funding councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was unsatisfactory and that the inherent instability in the AHRB led to awkwardness in the arrangements for funding, accounting and governance. It led the review to conclude that the current arrangements could not continue indefinitely. Those recommendations were endorsed by Ministers in each of the devolved Administrations. Bearing in mind these points and the safeguards that I have explained, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

It is useful to have that explanation on the record and it will inform the AHRC. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Just before we come to amendment No. 9, I have told the Clerk that Mr. Hood should be informed that, subject to the debate on the amendment, there will be no need for a clause stand part debate.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in

clause 3, page 2, line 18, leave out subsection (5).

Subsection (5) states:

''Programmes and estimates under subsection (4) must be given—(a) in the form required by the Secretary of State, and (b) at the times required by the Secretary of State.''

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

Laxton, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Mountford, Kali Mudie, Mr. Plaskitt, Mr. Purnell, James Rendel, Mr. Shaw, Jonathan Thomas, Mr. Touhig, Mr. Twigg, Derek Willis, Mr.