Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I hope that we will be brief in our contributions, but pungent in making strong points. It is a lovely day and we ought to be out there getting some vitamin D in our system to revivify us for events coming up in the next few weeks. I am very pleased to introduce to the House the subject of the use of science in United Kingdom international development policy, and I welcome colleagues from all parties to the debate.
In July 2003, we decided to conduct an inquiry into how science and technology were informing decisions on the spending of our aid budget, how research was being used to underpin policy making in international development and how the UK was supporting science and technology in developing countries. This led us to examine predominantly the work of the Department for International Development, which had about £3.8 billion of the aid budget in 2004–05—no insignificant sum. This is the first time that the Science and Technology Committee has addressed the work of DFID; the International Development Committee has, of course, produced many reports considering DFID's performance and activities.
We received 100 submissions of evidence and held seven evidence sessions, involving DFID officials, organisations working in capacity building in the developing world, organisations involved in agriculture, forestry and environmental research and development, and those involved in engineering and health research and development. We talked to the chief scientific adviser to the Government, officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Trade and Investment, the British Council and the Secretary of State for International Development.
We visited the Overseas Development Institute for discussions with the fellows and directors there, and we travelled to Malawi, where we visited agriculture and health projects and met the President of Malawi, Members of Parliament and senior officials. This is a high-flying report that took wide-ranging evidence.
We are very grateful for the assistance of our specialist advisers: Andrew Barnett, the managing director of Sussex Research Associates Ltd.; Professor Anne Mills, professor of health economics and policy and head of the health, economics and financing programme at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and Professor Michael Elves, the vice-chairman of Rothamsted Research Institute.
I do not want to go into all the definitions in this area, which can cloud the debate, but I shall just say that development science appeared in our report as shorthand to refer to the spectrum of social and natural sciences, engineering and technology, undertaken for the purpose of informing, supporting or promoting our international development programme. We should not confuse that with the phrase "development studies", which usually refers to a branch of social science concerned with international development. The point of me saying that will become clear in my remarks and those of others.
International development is big news at the moment, and science and technology, and indeed engineering, are featuring increasingly in the aid debate. We have heard about the Commission for Africa and tsunami warning systems; people are recognising from such things the fact that science and technology and engineering are essential for international development. Indeed, everyone seems to be getting in on the act, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said this week of tackling climate change:
"If our economies are to flourish, if global poverty is to be banished, and the well-being of the world's people enhanced, we must make sure we take care of the natural environment and resources on which our economic activity depends".
There is a growing emphasis on science and technology, and engineering, in international development. Recently, they have come up front, which is a very welcome development. Our report makes that clear.
When we first announced the inquiry, science and technology and international development were hardly ever mentioned in the same breath, and DFID had the reputation of being a Department that did not really do science as such. We decided in 2003 that it was time for our Committee to take a good, hard look at DFID. Indeed, it is true to say that international development is far too important to be left to economists and social workers. We have to work with them, but science and technology must be alongside.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he brings so much expertise to the subject. Is there not a certain historical irony here in that half a century ago, when there was a colonial situation rather than international development, science played a major role? Doctors were key figures in that administration and large numbers of diseases were wiped out, many in areas to which they have since returned. In some respects, science was more prominent then than it is now.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is absolutely true that things come round, and round again, but our knowledge of science, technology and engineering is much greater now than in those days. It has to feature to a greater extent than it did then, which is what our report urges.
Our inquiry generated huge interest in the development community in the UK. People were clamouring at our gates to tell us of their concerns about DFID's approach to science. There is no doubt that DFID does a lot of excellent work around the world—we saw that at first hand in Malawi—but we found evidence that science had been somewhat sidelined within DFID.
Science and technology should play a central role in international development policy. Why? Because scientific capability is essential for improving agricultural productivity, generating new medicines and systems to deliver them, developing water and sanitation facilities, identifying and exploiting sustainable energy, and conserving the natural environment—no mean agenda. Time and again, we heard that this message had not got through to enough DFID staff, and the Department needs to ensure that science comes out of its box and plays a major role in the determination of our international development policy.
We are pleased that Professor Gordon Conway, who is here today, has been given the job of looking into this area, which immediately shows the value of Select Committees as we got a response before the report was even published. That decision is welcome, and it is further welcome that Gordon Conway is a scientist—a real, bona fide, hard scientist, unlike the soft social scientists. I say that, of course, with my tongue in my cheek. It is so important to have that information in the Department.
We are interviewing Professor Conway in the Committee next week, and we shall be asking some short, sharp questions about the support he is getting, how long his job might last and what he is going to do with the rest of his life, particularly in his current job. There will be lots of ugly questions to ask, but we want to ensure that this initiative has a significant influence on our policy. That is very important. I hope that he will be able to engage the permanent secretary, who is an elusive character, and ensure that he or she—whoever it is at the minute—plays a major part in developing the initiative. There may be one chief scientific adviser, but there are many permanent, grey secretaries around, and we hope that they will work together and mainstream this work in the Department.
We visited Malawi to see how DFID is supporting people in developing countries in identifying and meeting their science, technology and engineering needs. We saw some wonderful enterprises there that have been funded by DFID: a particular bridge was sterling, and some work in relation to agriculture was excellent, but much more could be done in a strategic way.
We were impressed by the quality of the staff and the work that they were doing, and we extend our thanks to our hosts, who made the trip so informative and very enjoyable. I believe that the man who showed us around was called Harry Potter; it seemed hard to take that there is another Harry Potter in the world. He was obviously big in the communities of Malawi and well-respected, which is a credit to the work of the Department and the British Government.
The trip drove home to us just how basic science and technology infrastructures are in these developing countries. We noted the brain drain of Malawi's skilled health workers and teachers, which was having a serious effect on the ability to support science, research and health services in Malawi. I am sure that many other members of our delegation who saw that at first hand will want to refer to it.
Our report calls on the Government to boost significantly the funding available for building capacity in science, technology and engineering in developing countries. We want DFID to carry on emphasising the need for developing countries to identify their own priorities instead of always having to follow a donor-driven agenda. That is extremely important. How can a country identify its own needs for sanitation, disease prevention or research unless it has indigenous science, technology and engineering capacity? How will science, technology and research be represented in national policies if scientists and researchers have no voice at the policy-making table? Other Members might pick up on that point.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the need to ensure that recipient countries can decide their own priorities, but I hope he acknowledges the fact that there is a tension between that and a recommendation of the Committee, which is that a condition of the provision of direct budgetary support must be that the recipient country does not have discretion on whether to invest in scientific and technological support. The Government have some difficulty with that recommendation on those grounds. How does he square the circle between those two principles?
There is no easy blueprint for that process; there has to be co-operation on an item-by-item basis. We should not try to lay down a blueprint, but take up the issues as we talk to people in particular countries. The situation will be different in different countries, and in different parts of those countries. There is no blueprint, and we should start to move our way through gradually, taking on the problems issue by issue. We called on the Government to boost significantly that work in developing countries.
When we visited the Overseas Development Institute and met people at the coal face, as it were, struggling to find sustainable sources of funding for their institutes and research groups, we found that DFID was perhaps not taking responsibility for looking after UK scientists. We should always remember the excellent work of developmental scientists in the UK and how they have been instrumental in building the UK's reputation in international development. We took evidence from individuals at the Overseas Development Institute who were involved in that.
Developmental science does not usually involve the sexy research that gets people fancy, Watson and Crick-type papers in Nature, but it makes a real difference in the fight against poverty and disease in developing countries. We must ensure in this country that we do not inhibit that work by having research assessment exercises that do not include such innovative and exploratory activity. These are difficult areas, as Dr. Harris said in his intervention, but we must ensure that such issues are recognised by research councils. Again, I am sure that that point will be taken up in more detail.
We called for the Government to set up a development sciences research board with an initial budget of some £100 million, which would fund research partnerships between groups in the UK and in developing countries. There is a lot of activity going on, but it must be boosted. The board would help to stop the erosion of the UK's development sciences skills and research base, and provide a much needed boost to the research effort to underpin international development policy making.
The Government's response promises to set up an "advisory" development sciences research board, whatever that might mean. Perhaps the Minister will explain what "advisory" means in such a structure. What is the point of having such a board if there is no funding? Indeed, £100 million is a drop in the ocean compared with this country's £4 billion aid budget. I look forward to hearing his explanation, and I am sure that others will return to the point.
I conclude by commending DFID for the constructive way in which it engaged with us during this inquiry. I have mentioned the appointment of Professor Gordon Conway, and the Department has increased its research budget from £80 million to £136 million per annum. It is beginning to work more closely with colleagues at the Office of Science and Technology and the research councils. Perhaps the real problem involves achieving a cultural change at DFID. We wish Professor Conway well in trying to institute some ideas that no doubt he and many others in this country have to support the developing world.
We are supporters of DFID and the work that it does. We hope that these changes will initiate in DFID's treatment of science and technology a higher-quality basis for its work and for the support it gives to developing countries.
I am proud to have been a member of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in this Parliament. We have produced more reports than has been the norm in recent years, and many have been on important subjects—not least the one that we are dealing with this afternoon. Some of our reports have been controversial, and there is more controversy to come from the Committee. Other reports have had a clear influence on Government policy, as we believe this report on international development and science has done.
I pay tribute to our Chairman, my hon. Friend Dr. Gibson, who has driven the Committee forward mercilessly in this Parliament, sometimes during difficult times for him and the Committee. I also pay tribute to other Committee members for their commitment, and a special tribute to those who do not come from a science and technology background. Furthermore, we have been supported by some excellent staff, who have produced some extremely well written reports.
When we started this investigation, there was clearly not a scientific culture in the Department for International Development. As our Committee's Chairman has explained, such a culture is beginning to develop now, and the House should be grateful for that. The Government's clear advice was to appoint a chief scientific adviser in all the state Departments to work with Professor Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, as well as with individual Secretaries of State, and to ensure that each Department was aware of the scientific advances—indeed, scientific controversies—that might affect it.
"Horizon scanning" has become an important phrase; the Government are now looking 10 and even 20 years into the future, at where science and technology might take us and where controversies might arise. I do not think that this country and this Parliament have necessarily been very good at that in the past.
I am pleased that the launch of our investigation appeared to be influential in persuading DFID to appoint a chief scientific adviser. The recent refocusing of DFID on the role that science, engineering and technology can play in developing the millennium development goals and last week's announcement by the Secretary of State for International Development that even more money is being made available to support that change of policy are very welcome developments. I am sure that they will bear fruit in the not-too-distant future.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North said, science, engineering and technology tend to have a low priority in developing countries. Recently, our Government have concentrated on ensuring that many such countries are developing good governance. That has been high on their list of priorities, and rightly so. Occasionally, I visit regions such as Palestine and Kashmir, where it is very difficult to find anyone studying science, engineering or technology—even in school, never mind at the further and higher education levels. Of course I accept that it is important to develop good governance to build the structures before high-tech science is brought into such countries. However, other countries are now ready for development, as I shall try to explain.
I have mentioned Palestine, and we must not forget that the Palestinians live cheek by jowl with the Israelis. Israel is one of the most developed countries in the world for science, engineering and technology. Unfortunately, the Palestinians who live next door, across the artificial border, are not benefiting from that at all—in fact, they are going backwards rapidly, while the Israelis are going forward.
As one who once shared an office with a Palestinian engineer, I should like to put on record how much I support what the hon. Gentleman has said. The problem that he mentions has nothing to do with native intelligence, nor with the old educational system for the Palestinians, some of which used to be very good; it has everything to do with the sorry political situation in the region.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have many highly educated Palestinian friends. The education system in Palestine is excellent and would be even better without the closures there.
Although changing the culture towards science, engineering and technology in DFID in the UK is important, it is even more important that that change in culture is felt in the country offices. After all, it is at that level that the changing culture towards science, engineering and technology can have the greatest benefit to the citizens of developing countries. DFID will, of course, need to recruit more scientists, engineers and technologists if that culture is to permeate through the entire structure, from London to all the important developing countries. I accept that it will take time for that change of culture to permeate down to the digits of the organisation's body.
There are eight millennium development goals, which are listed on page 8 of our report. In my opinion, science, engineering and technology policy can influence nearly all of them; that is evident from the headings. For example, if we are to
"Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger", developing countries have not only to produce enough food to support their own people in an often adverse environment, but to bring in foreign currency by exporting agricultural products. Most of those countries rely predominantly on agriculture for sustainability.
Regulations on the import of food into developed countries are an immense problem for developing countries; our supermarkets and, indeed, our own Parliaments are expecting better and better quality food to appear on the shelves of our shops and on the plates of our dinner tables. That produces an enormous burden for developing countries to overcome. Protectionist trade barriers also have to be overcome if such countries are to be successful in exporting their agricultural products.
Child mortality rates and the levels of disease in developing countries are totally unacceptable in the 21st century. Frankly, I am embarrassed when I visit such countries. It is a great tragedy that they train so many professionals—at such a considerable cost, relative to their economies—yet almost within a few years of training, those professionals die of infectious diseases. At the moment, that happens more rapidly than ever before, because of HIV/AIDS. That cannot be right; countries lose a lot of their professional expertise in that way.
During our trip to Malawi, we broke into two groups: health and agriculture. I was on the health team. My longest-lasting memory of the trip is of touring the Lilongwe Central hospital, where the conditions were horrific. There was one nurse for 80 patients. People, even those in the terminal stages of various diseases, were sleeping everywhere: in the corridors, on the floors in the wards, underneath beds—even out on the verandas, where temperatures plummeted to freezing at night.
When I had been to Africa before, the climate had been oppressive. However, on this visit, I was stunned at Malawi's climate at that time of the year: it was literally freezing, and I felt very sorry for the patients with very serious illnesses whom I saw sleeping outdoors. Tuberculosis was killing AIDS patients before the HIV virus killed them. I suppose I should have realised that before my visit, although subconsciously I already knew it. Lilongwe Central hospital—a large hospital—was even short of anti-TB drugs. There were not enough supplies available. Consequently, patients were dying of what is, after all, a curable disease in the west. Thanks to this Government, the antiretroviral drugs were just arriving in Malawi during our visit, although unfortunately much too late for hundreds of thousands of Malawi citizens. However, hope is there for the future.
As one of our leading newspapers highlighted a few days ago, the west has taken its eye off another killer disease; I mean malaria, of course. When I was a university lecturer, I used to give lectures on the development of antimalarial drugs, from Jesuit's powder—quinine, as it is better known—onwards to the more recently discovered drugs. I also lectured on other ways of keeping malaria under control in continents such as Africa. At that time, I was quoting a death rate of 4 million people per annum worldwide. Tragically, that death rate is even higher today and is rising rapidly, because, I think, we have taken our eyes off the ball on malaria. The situation has also been exacerbated by the fact that many of the drugs become redundant as the malaria bug mutates.
In Blantyre, we visited Professor David Molyneaux from the School of Tropical Medicine at Liverpool university. I was very impressed with him. He said that the focus of health policy makers on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa—partially as a result of the millennium development goals—is detracting attention and resources from other infectious diseases in Africa, such as leprosy and river blindness: debilitating diseases that have such deleterious effects on some of the poorest communities throughout Africa.
It is important that DFID should ensure that the pursuit of the eight millennium development goals does not take resources away from already existing programmes that deal with very necessary projects such as the supply of clean water and effective and safe sanitation, the health care projects to which I have referred, the development of good infrastructure and even the development of sustainable energy.
Millennium development goal No. 7 is "Ensure environmental sustainability". That, also, can be achieved only by the application of science, engineering and technology. For example, most rural villagers in Africa burn local wood—either directly, or by turning it into charcoal first—for all their cooking. On television the other evening, I saw a successful project that allowed people in a remote African village to cook their food using the energy of the sun instead of having to burn wood. That was a simple, basic application of science that cost the villagers next to nothing. It was also saving the environment, because Africans often take trees down without bothering to replant, as they do not have time for that kind of thing.
I mentioned our visit to Lilongwe Central hospital and the shortage of nurses. It is not as if Malawi is not doing its best to train professionals such as nurses. Many of them cannot afford to work on the wages that they are paid by the national health service in Malawi, so they have been leaving the country. Many of them have been coming to Britain. Some, however, have been siphoned off into international development programmes that have been started in Malawi, often with no benefit to the country.
For example, foreign drug companies might launch a project on tropical diseases in Africa with the intention, obviously, of making a profit from the discovery of a new drug. However, that discovery might not be aimed at benefiting the citizens of the country that the company is using for the research project. Many soldiers and other troops alike fight throughout the world in tropical theatres of war. It is a well known fact that during world war two, troops were dying or becoming debilitated from infectious diseases in tropical theatres of war faster than bullets or bombs were putting them out of action. Often the research projects in developing countries are not set up for the benefit of the citizens of the countries, but for the benefit of the countries themselves.
I am glad to say that there is a voluntary code of practice that discourages NHS employers from actively recruiting health care professionals from developing countries. However, it has unfortunately been possible to get around that code by using private-sector recruitment agencies. I therefore welcome the proposal, made by the Department of Health on
The proposal mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, which we discussed in Malawi, is interesting. I have always had a question in my mind about what research underpins the view that the policy of doubling—as opposed to tripling or multiplying by 1.5—is right. It was not clear to me when I was in Malawi that that was anything other than a figure plucked from the air in the hope that it might work. It would be possible to carry out research to find out whether that would be an appropriate policy and what the scale of support should be.
I accept that, but something had to be done and it had to be done quickly. I am pleased that DFID took immediate action, even if it did not have the basic research to cover the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.
I have another simple example of what we are doing wrong in continents such as Africa. The British high commissioner held a reception for us and a lot of the country's leading scientists, engineers and technologists while we were in Lilongwe. It was quite an interesting evening; I certainly met a lot of interesting people. One was a scientist, who I believe is a geologist and he told me something quite simple. They drill for water all over Malawi, as has to be done to sustain life in any country. However, the problem is that wells are being drilled to varying depths and possibly, or even probably, penetrating the base of the aquifers—large underground lakes where that extremely useful water lies. When an aquifer is penetrated, a leak is created.
The geologist pointed out to me that what is needed in Malawi is an up-to-date, in-depth geological survey of the country and regulation to prevent people from drilling water wells willy-nilly or doing anything else that might upset the geological structure of the country.
How does my hon. Friend square that excellent observation with the laid-back approach in paragraph f on page 26 of the Government's response, which discusses the Natural Environment Research Council? Apparently, the Government are concerned about the reduction in UK expertise, but no details are given. They continue:
"Nevertheless, activity is maintained in those areas, often with international finance institutions or EU funding."
Does my hon. Friend not agree that that is an appallingly laid-back approach to the huge and important problem that he has just raised?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and the answer to his question will come in a few minutes.
Corruption is a big problem in underdeveloped countries, and one that the President of Malawi seems determined to tackle, thank goodness. We visited Ntcheu district hospital, halfway between Lilongwe and Blantyre, and heard about its problems. Drugs are ordered from the central medical supplies unit in Lilongwe but many simply fall off the back of the wagon before they arrive at the district hospital. As a result, people either suffer longer or die in the hospital. The pilfered drugs are either sold on the black market or parallel traded back into their countries of origin for huge profits.
I wish the President of Malawi well, but the President alone cannot solve the problems of corruption. The management of those problems will have to go through the governing structure of the country. However, even more simple things were a problem. We discovered that the hospital, sadly, was short of microscopes—basic pieces of equipment in any hospital.
Much of the science, engineering and technology required by the developing world, such as microscopes, is very basic. However, it needs to be adapted to local circumstances. We saw excellent examples of such projects in Blantyre, where people from the university of Strathclyde were working with local villagers, asking what their problems were and developing basic scientific solutions to those problems.
As I said, I have been to Africa before, and to other developing countries. Occasionally, one visits a remote village and has to go to the toilet. Frankly, I have not enjoyed such experiences in past decades. However, I was caught out in one small remote African village and was absolutely amazed: there was no smell, and it was extremely clean. It had a clay floor, and was in a mud hut, but had none of the problems that I have experienced in the past. The reason for that was revealed on our visit to Blantyre, where a special filter has been developed to plug into the sanitation system of such remote villages. Hundreds are produced quite cheaply in that African country. That is another example of basic science that can be applied in Africa.
Surprisingly, even some of our most advanced technology can have the greatest impact in such countries. I saw a programme on the television the other evening about the satellites that are used to track big game. Big game migrate hundreds of miles across Africa, particularly in the Rift valley, and occasionally get near villages and trample crops. That can cause havoc when the crop is the only sustainable means of life in a small village. An advanced form of technology is now helping to sustain people in one African country in a basic manner.
When I was a university lecturer, we used to send the textbooks and journals that we no longer required to such countries. They were extremely out of date, but at the time they were welcome for teaching subjects such as chemistry in remote parts of the world. We were not really doing them a favour in terms of modern technology. How much better it would be if people learning in Africa had laptop computers in front of them and were able to download information from all over the world. Indeed, people are beginning to do that in remote parts of the world.
What is the point of sending extinct journals and textbooks to Africa any longer? They can all be made available on a computer and even the most up-to-date science can be transmitted anywhere in the world, theoretically, and downloaded for the benefit of the citizens of that country. The Committee has just completed a report on open access publications, where the author pays to publish and people all over the world have free access to those publications. The Committee has been fighting—although, unfortunately, the Government are not yet convinced—for open access publications so that people in developing countries do not have to pay to access the most up-to-date scientific and medical information produced throughout the rest of the world.
Many years ago, I visited several developing countries. The contrasts were plain to see. It was clear despite all the poverty that I saw throughout the length and breadth of India that their successive Governments knew what they had to do: train as many professional scientists, engineers, technologists and medics as possible. Even though I saw people dying from infectious diseases and starvation, the Indian Government ploughed ahead with a policy that seemed mad to their own people. Let us consider India today. We export some of our jobs to India because Governments have been so successful in using SET to forward the development of the country. They are still doing that. They believe in education as a saviour of the lives of their people.
That contrasts with another country that I visited at about the same time: Tanzania, in east Africa, where I taught chemistry at the university of Dar es Salaam on two visits. At that time—admittedly about two decades ago—the Government were struggling with similar problems to those found in India, but the culture was completely different. The Government were not progressive about science, engineering and technology, corruption was rampant and there was no movement at all. Such contrasts can be found throughout the world.
As a chemist, I find it extremely different to do chemistry in the tropics. In my laboratory in Salford, I used diethyl ether to extract new molecules that I had synthesised in reaction mixtures. I naively thought that I could do the same in Africa. I started to do some basic research and showed how to handle the basic equipment. I then said, "Where's the ether bottle?" That was a crazy question to ask, because ether boils in Africa and, in the right proportions with air, it can cause explosions. I gave that idea up.
I have a friend in Dar es Salaam called Jim Harvey. He is from Bolton, which is why I have kept in touch, and he is a supporter of Bolton Wanderers, so I have to keep him informed about them. Jim has stayed in Malawi for several decades. He is married to a Malawian woman and they have a Malawian family. I am sorry. For "Malawi" read "Tanzania"; I am still talking about Tanzania. He imports basic chemicals. When I went, all chemicals had to be flown in, and the cost was prohibitive. Today, Jim is helping to start that market. When I visited for the first time, Tanzania was not producing its own soap, but was importing it from the large countries. I hope that Tanzania is beginning or has started to produce its own soap.
When I was in Tanzania, a lot of foreign aid money went in. I saw it wasted. Specialists went in, told the local population what they should be doing and did not ask what the problems were or what help was needed. A lot of the projects were extremely short term. Clearly, over several decades countries, such as Britain and the other aid countries across the world, have realised that what we were doing was wrong. Even providing a basic piece of scientific equipment is probably not the right thing to do. If the equipment breaks down, there will be no technician to fix it and, in any case, where will the spare parts come from and who will pay? Those are all basic questions to ask when dealing with the developing world.
The developing world needs professional people, but where should we train them? We have brought them out of their own countries and trained them in the UK, in Germany and in America in their hundreds and thousands. Unfortunately, great numbers have not returned, which has been rather sad. With the advent of long-distance learning packages, satellites and computers, we can train people much better in-country than out-of-country. I hope that we can start to do that in an even bigger way.
I pay respect to the British Council, which does an excellent job in encouraging exchanges of academic staff between countries in the developed and undeveloped worlds. That is still important. I have benefited from exchanges myself, and after I went to Tanzania and India, I kept up the relationship with those people and have analysed the samples that they sent me in the post, run nuclear magnetic resonance spectra for them because they have never had the instrument, and helped them to examine MSc and PhD theses.
It is important that such relationships are continued. The British Council science sector has a global budget of £8 million, with dedicated science programmes in 62 countries, including 12 developing countries. That is not enough, and I hope that the council will consider those countries and increase the number in the programme.
I am pleased that this country, along with others, is involved in capacity building in individual countries despite all the problems, and I believe that it is the way forward. However, it seems that countries are in competition with one another and are not actually working together. I implore DFID to try to organise things like the Commission for Africa, where countries are brought together for the common good. In the past, I have heard many civil servants and professional people say that it is good to go to such countries because that builds up confidence so that they will begin to trade with us. That is a reasonable reason to deal with a developing country, but not the real reason, which is to try to give them the same standards of living as we have had in the past.
Direct budgetary control has been referred to. Despite the high level of corruption, the British Government seem set on giving direct budgetary support to developing Governments. The Centre for Land Use and Water Resources Research has said that the
"shift within DFID to direct budgetary support to countries . . . is diminishing the donor agency's ability to provide direct technical guidance to development projects".
When we challenged Mr. Paul Spray, head of the central research department at DFID, who is here today, about the impact of that policy shift on existing SET projects in the developing world, I do not think that we got a clear answer. That worried the Committee. It is extremely important, and I say it in a constructive way, that DFID carries out an analysis of shifting policy in the way that I have explained.
My hon. Friend Mr. McWalter has mentioned the National Commission for Science and Technology in Malawi. I was impressed by its vision, its plans and the professionalism of its members. Unfortunately, they receive only a fraction of the official budget awarded to them. As a result, they cannot involve themselves even in high-level policy making, and they certainly cannot implement many of the excellent policies that they have developed on paper. The commission did not appear to have any overview of the work being carried out by international donors, and it had no way of ensuring that the donors complied with the regulations laid down for research papers in Malawi.
The UK is committed to achieving the UN expenditure target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product on international aid, at least by 2013. As a member of my party, I am very proud of that. That is the only way—especially if every country follows suit—that we will be able to develop the undeveloped world.
In conclusion, I am pleased that the Committee launched the inquiry, because it seems to have focused minds in DFID, and it seems to have been influential in the appointment of the chief scientific adviser to that Department. I look forward to DFID's ongoing shift in policy having a beneficial effect on countries such as those that I have mentioned in the under-developed world.
The Select Committee's investigation was a fascinating one to undertake. It started for me with the basic question of whether we were looking to use the appropriate science and technology for development work. Clearly, as the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend Dr. Gibson, has said, there is not much scope for glamorous, leading-edge, Nobel prize-winning research. There is not much scope for applying high-tech solutions to problems in the developing world, but there is an awful lot of scope for the intelligent use of basic pieces of technology—preferably extremely low-cost but easily deployed and used by local people, and in which it is easy to train them.
When we started the inquiry it immediately became evident that there were two trends in the Department for International Development, including the downgrading of the importance of science and technology. That was evidenced by the fact that DFID had discarded its scientific adviser and was breaking up its scientific directorate. That does not send out a strong message about the importance of science and technology in development work. It left two important questions. First, was DFID left with sufficient scientific capacity to be an intelligent client of the work of other people in science and technology, upon which it might want to draw?
Secondly, there was the question of a policy shift from programme work in countries towards direct budgetary support, which has already been explored. If direct budgetary support is to be successful, the recipient country must have the capacity to take advantage of it properly. It must also have the quality of governance to ensure that the budget is spent on development work and that the money does not disappear through corruption.
The first question, about the scientific capability of DFID, was addressed early in our investigation. We heard evidence from a wide range of expert witnesses who were all worried about the trend towards downgrading science and technology and the takeover by social scientists, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North has referred. That is putting it rather crudely, but as hard scientists we have a certain prejudice against social scientists.
We were gratified when, before we had even finished the inquiry, the Government saw the light and DFID appointed a new chief scientific officer. It is gratifying to see him present. He is an old acquaintance of mine, formerly the vice-chancellor of one of my local universities and a scientist of international—
The Government's having appointed a person of international repute to the post, it is clear that whether it is entirely down to the Committee's good advice or for whatever reason, they have seen the error of past ways and set out on the right path. That sends the positive message to all involved in development work that science and technology will get their proper place in development work.
The second question, about whether the recipient countries have the necessary capacity or governance, was vividly illustrated by our visit to Malawi. My hon. Friend Dr. Iddon has already referred to our visit to the central hospital in Lilongwe, and that really was an eye-opener. I have seen some pretty rough hospitals, but nothing quite like that. Anyone who wants to complain about conditions in a national health service hospital, and sometimes they are not perfect, should see that hospital. They would probably never want to complain again. It was something out of a picture of hell.
The capacity was simply not there: there was one nurse for 80 beds—beds full of people dying of AIDS-related diseases. The hospital facilities were not only basic but in many cases practically non-existent. The pathology labs had hardly any equipment, and there was a paucity of trained technicians. They were capable of only the most basic diagnostic tests and then, because of corruption, only if the reagents or equipment were working. The hospital's drugs order and laboratory reagents, and everything else it wanted, had to come from the central supply depot, and 50 per cent. of it disappeared en route.
In the world's 13th poorest country, the capacity and governance were simply not there. Direct budgetary aid in a country where the infrastructure is so poor is clearly not a workable proposition.
Order. Would you resume your seat once again, Dr. Turner? I am sorry to interrupt you a second time, but you are turning away from your microphone, and I regret to say that your words of wisdom are not being picked up, so you have to look at the microphone.
There were massive capacity problems. The capacity problems for nurses alone were extraordinary. The country trains 480 nurses a year, but regrettably they do not stay in Malawi. Sadly, some 400 nurses a year leave the country, and most end up working in the UK. That is not deliberate NHS recruitment policy; the nurses often go to private institutions, but subsequently find their way into the NHS. That is a major problem; it extends to everybody. Whether they are technicians, scientists or whoever, the country needs them all.
We were impressed with DFID's programme work in Malawi, and we saw a good example with its work on AIDS. That also relates to capacity building, because the supply of antiretroviral drugs to Malawi had just arrived when we were there. ARV drugs on their own are no use; trained personnel are needed to use them properly and ensure that patients follow the correct regime. There was a total lack of health personnel in Malawi who were able to do that. DFID was setting up centres, and when we were there the first three had been set up. It was DFID work using DFID workers. The three centres could deal with only a few thousand patients, so the first thing DFID did was set up a chain of centres and train the workers throughout the country, because literally millions of people in the Malawian population are HIV-positive.
The programme will take time, but that work was absolutely essential. Nothing could have been done with those ARV drugs to any useful effect without it. It was quite clear from that case that in countries at a low level of development, it is unwise to focus on direct budgetary input. Instead there should be sensible collaboration, with programme work reflecting the priorities of Governments in the recipient countries. Simply pouring in cash is no answer to the problem.
Likewise, the capacity difficulties of the higher education system in Malawi made an undoubted impression. There is not an awful lot of higher education there, but we visited one institution in Blantyre. It was very much dependent on its British Council-provided HE link with the university of Strathclyde. Without that, it would not have been able to pursue the again not high-flying but basic and practical research that it was carrying out with the university's help. That included absolutely essential work—in the African context—on ways of dealing with protozoan parasites in the water supply.
There was concern that that British Council programme might be coming to an end, and I do not think the Committee addressed that in its report. Rather than ending such programmes, the British Council, with Government funding, should be enhancing them, because they are valuable and the work that they do relates directly to DFID's input in those countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North referred to the joy of meeting the real Harry Potter. It was very sad that he was about to retire, because I imagine that he was one of the best people that DFID has ever had on its books. I hope that DFID has managed to find an agronomist of equal calibre to lead that part of its programme in Malawi.
Another thing that worries me slightly is the part of DFID's budget—it is, unfortunately, a large part—that is not spent directly by the Department but is our contribution to the European Union's international development aid. In the past, I have seen the grossest possible misuse of EU international development aid, in Peru. A few years ago, shortly before President Fujimori was expelled, EU food aid was being unpackaged, bagged up again, labelled as a gift from the president and distributed only to those poor people in the barrios who were guaranteed to vote for him. Some of that money was obviously British. I therefore advocate strongly that DFID take a close look, to ensure that such abuse has been stopped. That example was appalling and did nobody any good whatever.
With your permission, Mr. Cran, I shall digress slightly from our report. My hon. Friend the Minister and I share an obsession with renewable energy, which is an aspect of science and technology that will become increasingly relevant to international development. We have already heard references to the practice of using wood for cooking. I am quite sure that the steady quarter of a mile a year advance of the Sahara desert south towards the rest of Africa is not helped by the clearing of brushwood for use in cooking fires.
One of the most important things that can be done for the developing world is to give it renewable, cheap and robust energy that does not detract from our efforts to ameliorate climate change. We cannot just say to the developing world, "Sorry, you cannot have carbon-based energy", when we have spent centuries polluting the world with carbon emissions and enjoying our standard of living. We have an obligation to provide the developing world with renewable energy that it can actually use.
Fortunately, I am happy to say, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has already initiated a programme called REEEP—the renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership—to disseminate a renewable energy kit that can be used in villages. Photovoltaic energy is used—the obvious starting point—but there are other possibilities, such as small, cheap wind turbines, or indeed anything that is renewable, cheap and robust.
There is another possibility that I find attractive. I am obsessed with tidal stream energy in particular, and should perhaps declare an interest: I am associated with a company that is involved in its development. Nonetheless, the technology can in principle be applied to an awful lot of the developing world, not only on coasts, but on rivers.
One of the most devastating things that happens from time to time is the building of enormous dams in order to produce electricity, which create a great deal of environmental damage behind them and can deprive countries below them of water supplies. Alternative technologies are being developed that can produce hydroelectric power without massive dams, or the huge capital cost or environmental damage. As such technology matures and becomes available in smaller and cheaper forms, I hope that agencies such as DFID will adopt it and help its dissemination in the developing world, where appropriate. Doing so would make an enormous contribution not only to the developing world, but to the rest of the world, because it would help with our campaign to ameliorate climate change.
Perhaps hon. Members read a recent account in The Observer of a project on the Congo, involving massive dams, to supply electricity to most of Africa. That is not the only way—technology can deliver something much better.
The main message, which, I am happy to say, DFID is receiving loud and clear, is that science and technology can play a vital role in the developing world. If they are used successfully, that will be to the good of everybody, and not only the developing world, but the rest of us, too.
I shall try to ensure that the microphone is near enough. Also, I know that the Minister has to leave briefly, so I shall mention one thing to him before he goes.
I am proud of the report. Quite often in Parliament, we get things done only because we secure the support of lots and lots of people. So, if 500 people are involved, one of us has only a five-hundredth of the action. In quite a few meetings of the Committee, I wanted us to take the issues covered in the report on board, but I was in a minority of one. Slowly, that became a minority of two, three and four, so I regard myself as perhaps the originator of the report and I feel very proud of that.
I thank my hon. Friend. The Minister also played a role in that. I was once sitting with him on the Back Benches—he might not recall those far-off days now—when he asked the then Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend Clare Short, a question about renewable energy, for which my hon. Friend Dr. Turner has indicated his enthusiasm. The Minister asked a question that I can only describe as scientifically well informed. However, the response was so dusty and negative that I turned to him and said, "Something must be done about that."
My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State did a hugely good job in many ways, but science was not her forte and as a result a lot of the policies that the Department developed lacked that ingredient in a major way. I would therefore like to thank the Minister for playing his role in developing that consciousness—although he did not know he was doing it—in the Committee.
The report has another origin. In 1999, I had the good fortune to go to Malawi. I am sorry; I have the same disease as my hon. Friend Dr. Iddon, as I am getting my African countries muddled up. I went to Mozambique to monitor an election on behalf of the European Union. As well as having some exciting adventures, I saw a harbour at Beira, where seven or eight rotting hulks had completely devastated what used to be one of the most beautiful seaside resorts in Africa. Far from being a seaside resort, the harbour was a rotting and polluted tip.
That deposit raises a number of questions. Who will ever remove those rotting hulks? What capacity does Mozambique have to avail itself of the expertise of marine biologists? Who with the necessary skills in chemistry is around to try to ensure that, in the end, an environment to which tourists may be invited will be safe for them to enjoy? In a sense, the whole African problem was encapsulated in the poverty, misery and lack of jobs and of capacity represented by those rotting hulks.
When I came back, I asked questions, questions and more questions, but I never found anybody who could give me anything remotely like an assurance that someone somewhere would ever do something about the problem. As a result, I formed the strong view that we should press for our inquiry, particularly as the first part of addressing the problem involved high engineering skills.
We have reached the stage where the lack of scientific interest in the Department has definitely changed. On almost every issue, the Government response says, "We agree, we agree, we agree." Indeed, I never have read a Government response that agrees with so many Select Committee recommendations. I thank them for that, as it is a real step forward. Despite that, however, the agreement is often—how can I put it?—rather thin. It is not wholehearted and it does not embrace the problem; it is only a kind of agreement with the words. The Committee still feels that the required change of culture—so that the words come from the heart and have a huge depth of understanding, commitment and work behind them—has not yet happened.
I intervened earlier on my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East, in connection with what the Department has said about the Natural Environment Research Council, or NERC—we are in alphabet soup now, I am afraid. NERC has the capacity to do geological surveys of the sort that would really address the water table issue that my hon. Friend talked about. I do not yet feel that the problem is fully grasped by the author of a report that says, "Well, activity is maintained." Somebody somewhere does not seem to understand the issue, which is the destruction of water resources in parts of the world where people are dying of thirst. Just one accident, piece of stupidity or under-informed piece of drilling can have that effect.
We are moving in the right direction, but DFID is still suffering from "departmentitis", if I may put it that way. It has a sense of what it can do within its own resources, which are limited, as all resources are, and thinks, "Well, what do you want to do? Quadruple our budget? Multiply it by 50? We don't do badly with what we're given. We're well on the way to hitting all sorts of targets and we've changed the culture." However, the report has a strong look at one thing: where the Department cannot do something itself, it should get serious about what other Departments are doing. It must be aggressive, and get angry and square-jawed. It must get other people off their backsides and make them take the issues seriously.
As the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend Dr. Gibson, said, when we talk about the research assessment exercise, for instance, we are told that it is with another Department—the Department for Education and Skills. Research councils are covered by another Department—the Department of Trade and Industry. When we talk about educational needs, the issue, in part, is whether the Department for International Development is going to push those other Departments, with their much bigger budgets, to reconfigure appropriately so that they are empowered to deal with the problems in international development, and ultimately the problem of those rotting hulks in the harbour in Mozambique.
That is the issue, but every time our report moves into that territory, the Government response shrinks back. For instance, a key recommendation is to have a development sciences research board, and not just, say, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. The Committee often considers that research council, which does extraordinarily important and interesting work, but if there is a research council for particle physics and astronomy, is it not strange that there is no research council for dealing with this problem, which is the biggest problem in the world?
What is going on? Somehow or other, we can get people to become deeply involved in particle physics and astronomy, but those who are working in development sciences must wait for the crumbs that drop from the table of the other research councils and hope to catch on to a bit of the action if they are lucky. That really is not good enough. I hope that, given the strong ministerial team at the Department for International Development, the general attitude of not taking seriously the brief to change the way that other Departments act will change.
That culture is not easy to tackle. Mr. Brazier, who temporarily is not in his place, talked about the amount of work done 50 years ago by our engineers, doctors and economists in addressing third world issues, as they were then called. He omitted to say that, often, that work was premised on the idea that there was a match between what we wanted to do and what was wanted, and we then gifted that to the developing country. For instance, we are quite excited by the idea of hydroelectric power, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown said. So, where do people get a chance to put up a really big structure and do some really exciting work on a scale that they would never get a chance to tackle anywhere else? Try Africa. Where can people flood valleys and villages without too much furore? Try Africa. In that example, our civil engineers had a really interesting project and somewhere to do it. That was the technology transfer we engaged in.
Such projects, which involved cutting-edge engineering, are no longer available to us on anything like the same scale, but the response of our engineers has not been to try to use their expertise to carry out other projects that might have a greater synergy with the countries and economies they are working with. It has been to withdraw.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council told us, "We don't really do that kind of thing," because its concept is that it wants to do cutting-edge research—that is what it gets its bread and butter for—and there is no cutting-edge research that can sensibly be done in that field in Africa. I think the research council is wrong, but that is by the way.
The synergy still exists in the case of the Medical Research Council, which is still involved in a lot of interesting stuff that can be done only by people who are strongly in touch with the developing world. A lot of that valuable work goes on both in this country and in the developing country.
In the case of economics, people are excited by the capacity to do experiments in countries overseas in a way that they could not do them here. So, there is still continuing and extreme interest and excitement among medical and economic researchers, but that was all premised—the hon. Member for Canterbury, whose remarks I have been discussing, is back in his seat—on having a match between what we did here and what the other countries might be able to use or might like. That relationship is over. Now, in most contexts, although we still say it in some, we do not say, "We've got this. Would you like it?" Indeed, in some circumstances—as with things such as the smallpox vaccine—it was clearly right to say it. However, in general, the model is not impositional, but co-operative.
A co-operative relationship means that we need first to develop more appropriate technologies in this country, informed by—in the case of Africa—the African dimension. In developing those more appropriate technologies in this country, we need more work to be done in the African country as well. That is quite an expensive model. If we just do things here and ship them out, and we develop the expertise in doing so and get a product and a market, that makes a lot of economic sense for the UK. If, instead, we tried to tailor more of what we are doing to the needs of African countries, things might not run quite as well in terms of world markets. However, that is what those countries need, and sometimes it is also what we need.
The expertise, such as it is, that I bring to the Science and Technology Committee is in mathematics and information technology. I am struck by what happened 50 years ago when a mathematician from Cambridge went out to try to teach people in Uganda some mathematics. He did not take out the mathematics and ram it down people's throats. He came back with a conception of how to teach mathematics that, in my view, has enriched the world ever since.
The books by W.W. Sawyer, "Mathematician's Delight" and "Prelude to Mathematics", are still in print all this time later. Anyone who wants to understand something of the delight and beauty of mathematics will see how the challenge of taking those ideas about mathematics and trying to get the Ugandan students to understand them gave a richness to the subject and to that professor's work that they would never have had without it.
Let us be clear on this matter. That is only one example, but I am trying to make a point to those who think that we should just do things here, and then take them abroad and give people these gifts. This is not a relationship between donor and recipient. It is a co-operative, two-way relationship. We have a hell of a lot to learn and a hell of a lot to improve through having such a relationship with other countries.
As part of that, the report tries to take very seriously the plight of countries that lack capacity. One of the things that we seek to do is change the conception of science and engineering that young people in this country have. I gave a talk to a sixth form the other day and I asked 80 students how many of them were interested in going into the sciences or wanted to do a scientific subject at university. Three hands went up. The others all wanted to do other things. The conception of science among those students was—to a boy and girl, to a man and woman—that it was boring and hard and that it would not enhance their lives or the lives of others. The three who put their hands up were black and female, and they all wanted to be nurses.
The reality is that something is happening in education in our country—the Science and Technology Committee has given extensive evidence of this in another report—that means that the kids do not think that they are empowered to help those in desperate poverty if they do sciences at university. Who has broken that link? What kind of education is it that means that people who are educated come out with A-levels, but do not understand that a peasant in Rwanda might find it helpful to have access to someone who understands something of how water can be delivered so that it is clean and fresh, or something about human functions and toiletry so that they can ensure that the capacity of human beings to despoil their own water supply is addressed?
When we were in Malawi, I was part of the agriculture group, but, inevitably, we also dealt with health issues. One involved a polluted water supply. The chromium level in a particular well had been assessed—the technology was available to do that, which was good—as being 16 times the normal level that human beings can tolerate. Obviously, there was an issue about how to try to address that—an issue that only somebody who has graduated in chemistry can address. Kids are being poisoned because, somehow or other, those in the world who could have learned how to address that problem never even thought of doing so.
As a by-product of the visit, on my return I wrote to a company in my constituency that deals with mining technology. It has an office in South Africa. I wanted something else to happen as a result of that knowledge. After all, if water contains 16 times the level of chromium that it should, presumably there are some chromium salts in the vicinity. There could be chromium ore that could be mined. That is potentially very valuable. Let us face it, Malawi has precious little in that respect. However, it is difficult to get anybody to see the potential implications of such a decision.
The people who knew about the issue had it down as a health problem. They had "departmentitis" too. Nor did they see the problem as something that could give them information that might be used to develop the economy of Malawi. That did not occur to them at all. That is the sort of problem that we are used to in this country, but it is not the sort of problem that is always understood in our own Government or in other countries.
I want to conclude by talking about not just the Committee's report, but the evidence it took. I have been very harsh on engineers, not least because the Royal Academy of Engineering could not be bothered to give us any evidence. However, it was kind enough to invite me to address its members at a lecture, which I did at considerable length. I was very grateful for that invitation, and they listened very carefully to some fairly harsh criticisms.
In the body of evidence is a memorandum from the Institution of Civil Engineers, and if Members are interested in reading only one memorandum, they should read that one, because it contains so much that is relevant to our essential problem. I was particularly interested in it because the department of civil engineering in my local university in Hertfordshire has shut. Like other members of the Committee, I regard such contraction of opportunity as a major source of concern. I want DFID to take note of this issue and to do some badgering on our behalf.
Reference is made in the memorandum to how all the various problems come together. For example, it states that
"health depends on access to safe water, water depends on engineering; health depends on education, education on communication, communication on technology; food depends on markets, markets on transportation, transportation on access, access on engineering; health centres need buildings, buildings need energy supplies, all need construction and technology."
If someone has "departmentitis", they are going to be a bit fuddled by that list, because it transcends any particular Department at each stage.
We in this country need an understanding of how to manage technological and scientific projects, so that we can use that knowledge and expertise to break down departmental barriers and to break through the "it's not my problem" tendency. We need to understand that, if DFID is to be really effective, it has to kick a lot of other people into action as well, and to take seriously the range of problems that we have articulated in this report.
The report has the capacity to make the world a better place. Members of the Committee can only argue the points that have been put so persuasively to you, Mr. Cran, by my colleagues. However, I hope that out of this debate will come a determination on DFID's part properly to found a development sciences research board, to break through the tendency to ignore what is going on in other Departments and instead to make strident recommendations to them on a regular and scientifically well-informed basis.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to follow that "cri de coeur" from Mr. McWalter. I am wearing two hats, in a sense, in contributing to this debate, because I speak not only as a Liberal Democrat Front Bencher but as a member of the Science and Technology Committee that conducted this inquiry. That double position should not create a problem, because this issue is not that party political. Indeed, all members of the Committee, regardless of party, have shown a willingness to recognise the excellent work that DFID is doing.
I note that, in turn, DFID and the Secretary of State in particular have been willing to recognise the report's importance and the validity of many of its recommendations. Indeed, the Secretary of State has publicly quoted the Committee's report, work and recommendations in respect of certain policies. It is always welcome when Select Committees achieve such recognition. As I know from my experience with other such Committees, although we can draw attention to a particular issue, it is often forgotten. That said, there are disagreements between the Government and the Science and Technology Committee on the specifics, which I hope to explore. Because I went on the trip to Malawi and participated to a significant extent in drawing up the report, I do not want to talk generally about this topic—as Front Benchers often do—but to consider some of the specific recommendations in the Government response.
As has been said, it was a fascinating inquiry and one that was somewhat different from the more home-based inquiries that we have undertaken. It enabled us to think more broadly—indeed, globally—about the importance of science, engineering and technology, and of research in general. That contrasts with many of our other inquiries, which have focused instead on issues relating to UK science. I would like to thank whichever Committee member it was who recommended that we conduct this inquiry, and I think that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead played a big part in that regard, as he said. Indeed, the Committee had already agreed before I joined it in November 2003 that the inquiry should take place.
I want to echo the thanks of the Chairman of the Committee and of Dr. Iddon for those who helped us with the report, including the Clerks and the specialist advisers. Because this was a new issue for me—and, I suspect, even for those with more Select Committee and scientific experience than me—their role was crucial. Putting together any visit to Malawi was never going to be straightforward, but that was especially true of one involving some rather free-thinking—if not freewheeling—Members of Parliament.
Malawi was a good example to focus on because it has dreadful problems, and it was right that we looked at both agriculture and health. Progress has been made with governance, but no one is convinced that the Malawi Government have entirely sorted out such problems. Indeed, it is sad to note that Malawi was in the news because its recently elected President—I think that he took office while we were there—was concerned about ghosts haunting his residence. That is unfortunate, because there are many highly competent and intelligent people in the Malawi Administration—indeed, such people are to be found not only in Government positions but in public service—who are keen to do the right thing in terms of governance and policy.
Malawi was also a good example to focus on because there is no doubt that the work that DFID has done there over the years has been good, valuable and welcomed. Indeed, such work is a good example of what DFID can do. Very few people had a harsh word to say about DFID, but that does not mean that we did not have criticisms of its policy. That said, it was very satisfying to see the difference that DFID has made, and has attempted to make, in that country. Some DFID people were extremely helpful with our inquiry, an example being Paul Spray, who came with us to Malawi and gave evidence twice. He seems hard to avoid: I have met him since—in fact, he is a constituent of mine—and perhaps he is even listening to this debate in real time. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to his assiduousness in ensuring that we were offered guidance, even if we did not always take it.
There are many things that strike a visitor to Malawi, but on the drive from the airport to our first destination, we all remarked on the huge number of coffin shops at the roadside. Words cannot describe the impact on Malawi of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, as a result, of malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases.
One issue that I want to discuss is capacity in the health care setting. Health care professionals in Malawi are migrating to the developed world and to other developing countries, but those in developing countries are also migrating to the developed world, thereby causing a domino effect. However, we need to bear it in mind that health care professionals are also dying in large numbers, so there is a "double whammy" effect, as one of the Members present described it during an evidence session.
I want to discuss evidence-based policy—I am particularly keen on that issue, about which there is more that the Government can do—capacity building and what we should do about UK capacity specifically. It is hard to do justice in a short contribution to the extensiveness of the recommendations or, indeed, to the extensiveness and variation in quality of the Government's responses to them, some of which have been excellent. None the less, I shall seek to do them justice.
Our report clearly recommended the establishment of a development sciences research board. Paragraph 198 of the report states:
"We propose that a cross-cutting Development Sciences Research Board be established with a mandate to award grants for development sciences R&D to UK-based institutions."
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the excellent facility at Warwick university that carries out research into engineering specifically related to developing countries is having huge difficulty in securing a research assessment exercise rating and the support that it needs to carry out its frontier-breaking and excellent work?
Indeed, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me because I am going to discuss what the Committee said about the RAE's impact, along with the Government's response.
The Government's response to our report states that they wish
"to avoid duplication of existing administrative mechanisms, including those of the Research Councils for addressing interdisciplinary issues and for managing cross-Council programmes."
So in effect, they were saying that they were not going to create a development sciences research board with grant-giving powers. However, in an albeit somewhat cheeky attempt to be helpful, they said that they intended
"to adopt the Select Committee's suggestion (paragraph 202)"— in fact, it is not a listed recommendation—
"of establishing a small working group of representatives from the Research Councils, OST and DFID, plus others, to assess what objectives an 'advisory'"— we should note the Government's use of inverted commas—
"Development Sciences Research Board might fulfil."
In so far as paragraph 202 of our report talked about a small working group, it was preparatory not to an "advisory" development sciences research board, but to a proper version of such a board. If the Government intend to adopt another approach, so be it, but they should not claim that the Select Committee recommended that approach.
I would be interested to learn what progress has been made in respect of an "advisory" development sciences research board. What would such a board do, and how would it avoid the problems of duplication that the Government cited as their reason for not implementing our recommendation? Who is on the working group, what is the time scale for reporting back, and what were the reactions of the Treasury and of the Office of Science and Technology? DFID might well be very keen on this proposal, but it is not clear that those departments share that keenness.
We should also note that duplication is a very strange reason for not going ahead with this proposal, given that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council says that it does not do such work. So anything involving engineering is, in fact, not being duplicated; rather, it is not being done at all.
Indeed, and this issue relates both to the RAE and to investment in UK research capacity. One of the report's recommendations expresses our concern about the erosion of the UK development sciences research base. In it, we ask the Government to be proactive, and not to
"sit back and watch this happen, never mind contribute to the process of erosion."
In that, we were referring to the problems created by the issue of untying research contracts in this country. I have some sympathy with the Government's position, and the Government response to our criticism of the impact of the untying approach was robust—from my role on the Front Bench, at least, I recognise that the Government have a point. If we have done it ourselves, it is easier to coerce and cajole other countries to do what is necessary in respect of untying, which gives us a position of moral responsibility.
I am prepared to accept that the Government may have been right to resist sticking their hands up and saying, "We wish that we had not done it", but I hope that the Minister will nevertheless accept the onus on the Government to be proactive. One of our general questions is whether the responses were the research councils' views or whether they were a Government statement of the research councils' views. The research councils recognise the concern, and they have some measures in place, but I am not convinced that they are doing enough to solve that problem, which is one of the reasons why the Committee said that a new research board with grant-giving powers is necessary.
The other issue is the difficulty caused by the research assessment exercise. The report makes it clear that the RAE did not give enough credit to development research, but the Government response stated that the Government do not think that there is a problem with the RAE. Whatever one says about the RAE, there are clearly perceived problems, and it remains a controversial enterprise. I ask the Minister to think again about whether he can argue to the responsible Department that the RAE contains distorting factors—whenever anything is measured or assessed there are distorting factors—that tend to underplay the value of development research in a field that is under pressure because of the question of untying.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on three occasions. Both the Government response and many of the contributions from those who work in the field do not accept that there are difficult problems in development matters. The memorandum from the Institution of Civil Engineers, which I quoted earlier, states that
"there must be a way of controlling this process to ensure that difficult problems impacting on the most vulnerable sectors are not ignored in favour of those problems easiest to reach merely to achieve targets."
That suggests that there are major intellectual difficulties in that area that should attract research council or research board status. Perhaps the Government and many governmental agencies do not properly understand that point.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has put his case well, and I am happy to give way to him or others, while we have time.
"The DfES does not however accept that the RAE has done less than could reasonably be expected to give recognition to research in development sciences."
I think—I cannot speak for the rest of the Committee—that that is a rather formulaic response, and evidence must be produced that a justification for that rather relaxed approach to the problem has been sought.
I want to move on to the key question, which I raised earlier, whether Government policy in that field, and indeed in other fields, is properly evidence based. The Government have said that they want to see an evidence-based response. The Committee's first recommendation stated that
"a scientific, or evidence-based, approach to policy making is an integral component of good governance."
The first two words of the Government response were, "We agree." I wonder what they are doing to assure themselves that their policies are evidence based. I do not know how they can be certain that that is the case, when they do not have external, peer-reviewed research into the evidence of the effectiveness of their policies, either before or after those policies' implementation.
The Government response gave me the impression that a lot of the consideration of whether those measures work and whether evidence exists in the first place is done in-house. If consideration is conducted by people of competence who are acting in good faith and who believe in what they are doing, part of the problem is that that system includes an in-built bias.
I hope that the Minister accepts that it is at least worth considering whether, for example, the Economic and Social Research Council should examine the extent to which Government policy making is evidence based. The Committee made that recommendation in our recent report on the ESRC, and I was disappointed that the Government response, which was published recently, said, "No". Although the ESRC said, "Yes, we want to do that", the Government—perhaps on their own behalf or perhaps on behalf of the ESRC—said, "No, it is not necessary", because the chief scientific adviser is assessing the evidence-based policy in the field of science and technology. For a start, there are other policy areas that do not have a chief scientific adviser.
A good research programme that can be peer reviewed and that can be published is the way forward, because we have a moral obligation to ensure that taxpayers' funds, of which, I am pleased to say, the Government are spending increasing amounts, are well spent and that we do not go down blind alleys. We do not want to make the same mistake that the US Government are making on policies with regard to condoms. In Malawi, it was sad to see that funding could not be spent in the most efficient way, because of political policies based on very little evidence.
On the hon. Gentleman's specific point about peer review by the ESRC, one additional difficulty is that we are about to start a new joint programme of research with the ESRC, so a conflict of interest might arise. I will, however, reflect on his wider point, which is outside this particular debate, and write to him in due course, once we have had a chance to think about the matter.
I am grateful to the Minister. Conflicts of interest must clearly be avoided when anyone reviews the effectiveness, and especially the cost-effectiveness, of work. His point is valid, but it also applies to the evaluation of DFID policy. I am looking for the ESRC to allocate funds to independent researchers and to evaluate other research, policy or actions.
On the question of where policy is flawed, we visited an HIV testing and treatment centre in Malawi, which has multiple sources of funding—it is partly funded by the American National Institutes of Health and it receives Catholic funding. It does several things, such as testing, post-test counselling and providing people, whether they are HIV negative or HIV positive, with advice on sexual health. It was interesting to note that because the NIH says that its funding cannot be used to distribute condoms—it is rigorous in ensuring that its money is not spent in that way—the clinic must use funding from a Catholic charity in order to distribute condoms. That is not because the Catholic hierarchy agrees with that policy, but because the workers from the charity take a practical approach on the ground and because the charity's hierarchy is perhaps less precise about seeing exactly how the money is spent.
If the Government have any influence with the US Administration—I hope that they do, because one might hope that more influence is a side effect of other controversial policy areas—pressure should be brought to bear on the US Administration, who should have a rational, scientific and humane policy, rather than one based on, I believe, religious fundamentalism, which is so damaging and which goes against a balanced approach.
The brain drain is clearly an important issue on which other members of the Committee have already commented, and I have been concerned about it for some time. The Government must address a number of points. First, we need good data and, more importantly, information on the extent of the brain drain and on the various push-pull factors. In the evidence sessions with both DFID and the Secretary of State, I raised those questions, and the Secretary of State indicated that some work is occurring on a global level. I feel that some of the work reported in the Government response to our recommendation 59 is not only global—and therefore not UK-specific—but not health care sector specific.
It is hard to view the Government response to our recommendation as having much credence when it only discusses highly skilled migration from developing countries. It argues that some of the studies show, and I have no doubt that they do, that there may well be a net benefit in terms of the flow back—the Government call it "a positive feedback effect"—of remittances to such countries. Financially, that may be correct. However, even if nurses from Lilongwe hospital in Malawi sent back thousands of pounds from hugely well paid NHS nursing jobs—I question whether that is the case—what can that money be spent on, if that country contains no health care professionals? Although the Government's point might apply to workers such as IT technicians from India, I simply cannot believe that there is a financial price worth paying in net remittances back to such countries for the depletion of precious health care workers who have themselves survived those illnesses. It is a dreadful situation, which has been well described by other hon. Members and which I will not repeat.
I have argued—to a certain extent, the Committee's report suggests this—that one way round that problem is to encourage NHS workers to go to those countries on NHS salaries to replace that manpower loss, on a numbers-for-numbers basis. The Nursing and Midwifery Council keeps records of the countries of origin of nurses working in the health service, so we know exactly how many Malawian nurses are registered to nurse in this country. That figure is countable, and we can offer NHS workers—there are hundreds and thousands of NHS workers, and I think that a sufficient number of them would be willing to do this—the chance to replace those nurses on secondment and on their NHS salaries. We have a moral obligation not to benefit financially from such migration.
I accept that the Government cannot stop people moving without discriminating against people from certain countries. Except where bilateral agreements exist, they say that the NHS should not recruit from such countries, but bilateral agreements appear to exist with other Governments to supply us with nurses, and then those countries take nurses from Zimbabwe and Malawi. We must look beyond whether foreign countries agree in their own terms that that is a good thing, and be a bit cleverer. As I said in an earlier intervention, I also question whether the strategy of doubling nurses' salaries will be sufficient and whether it will work at all. We need to find out exactly what will work, and research is needed on that.
This has been an excellent debate. We have heard four fascinating and different contributions from Members who have seen the situation on the ground and taken evidence from a large number of people. We owe a special tribute to the Chairman of our Select Committee, not only for introducing this debate in the manner in which he did, but for the way in which he has steered a busy Committee to do an awful lot of work at a point in the electoral cycle when people are busy. I offer him my personal thanks for the way in which he has chaired this inquiry and others. I look forward to the Minister's response to the points that I have made, which I hope that he accepts have been constructive.
I, too, think that we have had an excellent debate, and I also want to congratulate Dr. Gibson and the whole Committee on a fascinating report.
As I listened to members of the Committee who have spoken mention, implicitly, their high-powered qualifications, I felt a ghastly confession coming: I won a scholarship to read natural sciences at Oxford, but I bottled out and read maths and philosophy instead. I am ashamed to say that the only thing that those two syllabuses had in common were that they contained almost nothing that had practical application, although I very much enjoyed the excellent teaching. I am not sure how much I benefited from it.
The remarks of Mr. McWalter have emboldened me to make a few wider points about the scientific base in the country before dealing with the heart of the report. I am appalled at what is happening to our science and engineering base. I come from a family of engineers—my father and grandfather were both engineers.
One of the most valuable research organisations in the world, which is extremely relevant to international development, is just next door to my constituency, and is one of the seven main research centres of Pfizer, the world's biggest pharmaceutical company, all but two of which are in America, the others being in Japan and east Kent. During the past three years, successive Departments, other than the Department for International Development, have taken actions that, in conjunction, have left Pfizer with the impression that it is not wanted.
First, the Department of Health has run down our local acute hospital, and an extremely expensive and valuable facility funded entirely by Pfizer, and of considerable value to the local community, has been abandoned as a result. Secondly, the university of Kent, after a brave rearguard action, lost its chemistry department, not through any wish of the university or its hard-working chemistry dons. It was the only chemistry department within 50 miles of the Pfizer facility. It was lost partly because of decisions on research grants, partly because of declining numbers, and above all because no one in central Government was willing to say that the facility must be kept. Thirdly, and incredibly, just a few months ago, the Department for Education and Skills decided that the local grammar school in Sandwich, only a mile or two from the research facility—
Order. I am beginning to think that the hon. Gentleman is wandering wider than the reports under discussion. It is a long time since I have heard the words "international development" or "science and technology" linked together.
Indeed, Mr. Cran, you are quite right to reprove me. Pharmaceuticals are of course behind a large part of the science relevant to international development, which is why many of us were amazed to discover that that local school had been designated as a language school.
As you rightly restrain me, Mr. Cran, let me come to the report. At no point does it question the motives of the Department for International Development, and I am certain that no one here today wishes to do so. It ponders at considerable length and in great detail, however, the wisdom of several of that Department's decisions. Again and again, we read in the report of actions that tend towards undermining the scientific community in this country and that do not help the development of science and engineering in the countries that we seek to help.
We would all agree on the fundamental, implicit premise of the report that science is an essential tool in the battle against global poverty. All Members who have contributed to the debate have given concrete examples. We would also agree that much of the United Kingdom's reputation in the international development field is due to its pre-eminence in the scientific community. It has co-ordinated many projects that have revolutionised the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet, such as the Medicines for Malaria Venture. Malaria was prevalent in the part of Africa in which my grandfather served, which was then northern Rhodesia and is now Zambia. Currently, the project is trying to produce one new anti-malarial drug every five years. A different example is the creation by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre of a range of new maize varieties, which are grown on more than 2 million acres worldwide. Those new seeds are much healthier and have a nutritive value almost equivalent to cow's milk. Such projects are making a huge difference to the lives of many people in developing countries, and are essential to any effort to lift them out of poverty.
Given comments about pharmaceutical companies in the third world pursuing profits for their own ends, sometimes at the expense of the economy, it is also appropriate, at this point, to say that a great deal of scientific research is done by pharmaceutical companies for the benefit of people in the third world, sometimes with no prospect of a return. River fever has also been mentioned, and Merck, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, and the world's largest charitable donor—if products in kind are included, it exceeds Bill Gates in that respect—developed the cure for river fever and has saved hundreds of thousands of people from the sheer grinding misery and agony of river fever. It did so knowing that it was unlikely to get paid for it, and its drugs are distributed free in many countries.
I gave examples a moment ago of DFID using its science wisely, and it is acknowledged as doing so in the report. In fact, at a number of points, the report praises the work of DFID, praise in which I am only too happy to join. As one goes through the report, one is left with twin conclusions, which are really two sides of the same coin. The first is that DFID gives far too little thought to the sciences. The second is that when it has given thought to them, it simply does not have enough scientifically minded people in key positions to be able to think about the issue properly.
Remarkably few staff in DFID, as all Members who have contributed have remarked, have a background in sciences or research. Dr. Harris, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, made the point that we should all sign up strongly to the view that the best approach in international development, as in other areas, is an evidence-based one. Sadly, my brushes with the social sciences in this country have often suggested to me that they do not necessarily always work on an evidence-based approach. I do not want to test your patience by giving a lot of examples, Mr. Cran, but I shall give just one from the all-party adoption group, on which I do a lot of work: it is astonishing how little the treatment of desperately needy children is based on a proper analysis of trials, including trials done in other countries that have used particular approaches.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of admiration and who is very nice. On the question of an evidence-based approach and the developing world, however, will he at least acknowledge that if there is no evidence base to suggest that his party's recently announced policy on screening migrants for tuberculosis will make any difference whatever in a cost-effective way to the issue of TB in this country, which is microscopic compared with that in the developing world, as is the case with HIV, that raises questions about his party's policy in a contentious area? I have not heard any evidence supporting the policy, and all the scientifically based evidence that I have seen suggests that it would be pointless in practical terms.
I am happy to correspond with the hon. Gentleman if he wants to set out his evidence. That policy was first proposed by a colleague who is a medical doctor, and it is the practice in many other countries. Perhaps all those countries have departed from the evidence base, but I would be interested to see what evidence the hon. Gentleman can produce.
The report states:
"We believe that the current levels of scientific and technical expertise are insufficient to ensure that DFID can behave as an intelligent customer for science, technology and research. There is a pressing need for DFID to increase the number of in-house staff with a research background, particularly in the natural sciences."
The report points to institutional disregard for the sciences.
Of course, we all welcome the appointment of a chief scientific adviser, and Professor Conway seems an excellent choice. It is sad, however, that the Department has taken so long when it has been pressed for several years to appoint someone to the post, and that the Department's research strategy, it seems, was drawn up before Professor Conway was appointed. Another piece of evidence is that all the chief advisers on individual scientific topics in the Department have been downgraded to the rank of head of group. The report also points to the fact that DFID made "only a cursory contribution" to the 10-year scientific investment framework. All that has not gone unnoticed in the scientific community in this country. I hope that my earlier examples, which you kindly allowed me to put on the record, Mr. Cran, illustrated what an unhappy community it is in many respects, not least in my part of the world.
The Department depends on the science community's good will. It expects to be able to use British research organisations, often for free, and to be able to benefit from their activities. Time and again, however, it has taken actions that, at best, could alienate the community and, at worse, actively handicap it. Too often owing, one fears, to a lack of interest in scientific matters, the Department has failed to evaluate fully the research that it has sponsored, meaning that it is neither properly valued nor properly utilised. The Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene gave one example:
"Satellite-based monitoring of rainfall is the only feasible way of obtaining an overview of the large-scale rainfall pattern in Africa. Governments and NGOs could use such information to feed into flood and famine warning systems and crop yield modelling. However little emphasis is placed on this research, as it is not of direct use to individual farmers".
All too often, because country-based DFID staff have so little scientific expertise, the excellent material developed at DFID's expense, or even given to DFID for free in some cases, simply does not receive proper appreciation in the field. That is a genuine grievance of the scientific community, and it is reflected many times in this report. Ultimately, the Committee concluded that good intentions and increased resources would not improve the situation on their own, and that a "culture change" was needed. The Department's policy shift from supporting major programmes and projects to direct funding of a nation's budget is a case in point. While that is based on the best of motives—I understand the thinking behind it—the consequence has all too often been seriously negative for science and technology projects in the recipient countries. The report quotes Professor Julian Evans:
"It requires a sophisticated Government to appreciate what research can do for development, or a sophisticated donor to promote that idea".
He also remarked that
"DFID used to have that capability", which implies heavily that the Department no longer does. I would therefore differ slightly in emphasis from the last two Members who spoke. Of course we must listen to the recipient countries and see how they want to use such research. However, there is a role for the developed world. When, to use the earlier example, we are dealing with the countries that are struggling most, we must say that although particular information may not be useful to their farmers, if they can structure their Ministries so that such information can be used and understood, the advance warning of problems ahead would be hugely useful to those countries as a whole. There is scope to offer some leadership, but we are simply whistling in the wind if we believe that we can do that unless DFID has enough scientifically trained people in post.
The Government's policy on conditionality—that they will not dictate the budgetary policies of another country, nor make aid conditional on such policies—has all too often meant that they cannot insist that aid previously directed towards such projects will still go there. As the report puts it:
"If DFID is not minded to 'push' science and technology by illustrating the medium and longer-term benefits they can yield, it is highly likely that the understandably short-term perspectives of developing countries will result in science and technology being overlooked."
I do not see anything patronising in that. Dr. Iddon made a very good point earlier about India looking ahead and benefiting enormously from doing so. It is sometimes difficult for people, with the best will in the world and the widest of understanding, to look past people who are actually dying and see what the impact will be on the next generation. A balance must be struck, and the report is right to say that we have a role in that regard. However, we need scientific staff to be able to help countries to do that.
Even when developing countries decide to spend money on their scientific communities, the report is concerned that DFID is unable to give adequate advice. Professor Evans is quoted in the report:
"With a very few exceptions, the DFID in-country offices are not staffed or charged with giving special attention to weak national research capabilities. Nor do they seem to have a role in suggesting redirection of rather academic national research programmes towards solution of the urgent problems faced by the poor."
There are, as every speaker has said, too few people on the DFID payroll with a concrete understanding of science, so how can the Government expect people on the ground to take scientific matters seriously when they employ so few people with backgrounds in the hard sciences? Is it really appropriate for an English graduate, for example, to be in charge of assessing a new malarial treatment? Of course not.
One of the worst recent decisions, in my view, was to untie DFID grants to the scientific community. That was made with the purest of motives at heart: obviously, it allows the best people in the world to work on a particular problem and gives the prospect of improving scientific capacity in developing countries. Furthermore, it can lower the cost of goods in principle, saving money for the Department. However, unfortunately, there is a parallel here with other areas of Government purchasing: other countries do not appear to have followed suit. That means that the research departments of UK universities are at a distinct disadvantage compared with their counterparts abroad, who can sometimes now call on UK funds and money from home.
DFID's decision has come under attack, not least from Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser. The report quotes him, and I agree with the Committee's conclusion:
"The current situation poses a threat to the sustainability of the UK development science research base and has therefore resulted in feelings of distress and disappointment towards DFID in the research community."
I must return—the relevance is so obvious—to our eroding scientific base. Had there been more money available for research grants, some of the chemistry and other physical sciences departments that we have lost would have survived. Can anyone seriously imagine that the French Government would allow research money to go abroad for an international development research programme? We must think the matter through in the round. Those departments will be needed to provide young scientists, not only for all the other areas in which the British economy needs them, but for good scientific recruits to DFID. What better pre-career path for a DFID member of staff than to come through a university whose department is engaged in research for DFID?
The Department has sadly had too little interest in the scientific community in recent years, and it has come under considerable fire in an extremely well-written and perceptive report. To their credit, Ministers have responded rapidly. We now have a chief scientific adviser in post, and more money is being switched towards the research department. However, the Department must go further. The Government should make the appointment of the chief scientific adviser just the beginning of restructuring far more of the Department towards considering the role that science can play in international development.
The report is an excellent piece of work, and I pay tribute to the Chairman and members of the Committee, including my hon. Friend Mr. Key, who could join us today but who, I know, played a major role in it. It is an example of a parliamentary Committee in the House of Commons at its very best, producing a hard-hitting impartial report, and I am glad that the Government have made a start in responding to it.
I, too, am grateful to the Select Committee for its inquiry and for the report that it produced. As my hon. Friend Dr. Gibson, who chairs the Committee, said, the subsequent discussions between his Committee and the Government are a model of the value of interaction between Select Committees and Departments. I am conscious that I am the only non-hard scientist present, and as such, after the excellent contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, North, for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), and the similarly effective and probing contributions from the hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), I am conscious that I have had, in a sense, a tutorial in science, and I am better for the experience.
I wish to begin with what may seem a controversial comment, by attempting to rebut the notion that before the Committee's inquiry, DFID simply did not do science and had no scientists in its ranks. I am grateful for the Committee's comments about the staff that it met, including Mr. Paul Spray, who heads our research department. Among the many excellent and talented people in DFID are agricultural scientists, fisheries experts, veterinary scientists, entomologists and engineers, some of whom are in senior positions. No one can pull together an HIV/AIDS strategy without recognising the importance of scientists in stepping up the effort to find an HIV/AIDS vaccine or an effective microbicide, or to consider the effectiveness of antiretroviral treatments available.
I recognise that there was a perception that we did not do science well enough and that we needed to step up our work and our engagement on science. In that sense, the galvanising impact of the focus that a Select Committee inquiry gave to the issue was enormously helpful. The Committee's report pointed to various shortcomings, and I am pleased to say that things are moving on. We have had a good debate, and a number of hon. Members have made further comments, on which I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State shall reflect. I know that the Committee will have a specific discussion next week with our new chief scientific adviser, which, I am sure, will help further to inform our work.
We believe in the importance of science, and I know that the Committee welcomed the four main elements of our research strategy: sustainable agriculture, especially in Africa; the killer diseases of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV; climate change; and what to do where states do not work in the interests of the poor. Hon. Members have referred to my right hon. Friend's announcement last week of what we shall spend to implement the strategy. We have announced an extra £50 million a year, which is a 58 per cent. increase, up from £86 million last year to £136 million in 2007. That is further proof of our belief in the importance of science.
One of the strongest messages that the Committee delivered was the need for a chief scientific adviser, and I welcome the appointment of Professor Gordon Conway, a fellow of the Royal Society who, as other hon. Members have rightly recognised, has unrivalled expertise in applying science to development. He joined us in January and has already made an impact in helping us to consider the impact of the tsunami, where the Department has been feeding into the panel of experts that Sir David King was asked by the Prime Minister to bring together. His first task will be to draw together for Ministers a science and innovation strategy for the Department.
The initial thoughts on the purposes and elements of such a strategy—I qualify that by saying that they are very initial, and there will be a proper consultation process—are that such a strategy needs to incorporate an overview of the science and innovation work that the Department already has under way. We need to identify any key gaps in science and innovation in international development work. We need to ask how we might address such gaps. There is the issue of capacity building for science, engineering, technology and innovation, particularly in Africa, and we need to explore further the concept of centres for excellence, and to look at in-house resources already available in the Department. I am sure that Professor Conway will outline his and the Department's thinking on those areas to the Committee next week.
One other element of the science and innovation strategy will be to consider how to provide better advice to our country officers on how to handle science and technology issues, to which my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, South-East and for Norwich, North referred. Last week, Professor Conway was in South Africa at the invitation of that country's Minister of Science, discussing science, not just in the context of South Africa but of the whole continent. We recognise the importance of raising with Governments areas in which science and technology can play a major role. Poverty reduction strategies do not have to focus only on the short term, the immediate, or next year.
A good poverty reduction strategy should also take into account the long-run investment needed to help countries to move out of poverty, including science, technology and engineering. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North said, that is not simply a question of imposing British ideas. The Commission for Africa got it right when it said:
"History has shown that development does not work if it is driven from outside. Africans must lead and the rich world must give support."
Our science and innovation strategy will be a tool to give support to African countries' lead.
A number of hon. Members touched on budget support. I make no apology—nor does the Government's response to the report—for using budget support. I draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that the Commission for Africa affirmed its importance where Governments are strong enough. I would, however, point out to Members who are concerned about budget support that country offices discuss growth strategies and how to tackle poverty with other countries—with civil servants in a range of Government Departments, as well as with Ministers in those countries—in order to help them to develop and improve their policy and analysis. That is a key entry point for dealing with issues to do with the role of science and technology. The science and innovation strategy will address how we can take such work forward.
I also accept that capacity building in science and technology is necessary, and we must expand the work we do in that regard. We currently work alongside and support a number of organisations and institutions in Africa and elsewhere which might already be identified as centres of excellence, such as the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management and the biotech business incubator at the International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad in India.
In addition to budget support and support for recognised centres of excellence, may I make a plea for support for what might be called blue-skies science and blue-skies thinking? Three years ago, the Department for International Development supported a project to improve cultivation of a plant called Artemisia annua, which now produces some of the most promising cures and treatments for malaria. A constituent of mine, Mr. Jeremy Lefroy, pays tribute to DFID for backing that project, which he describes as being at that time:
"Frankly a motley collection of motivated individuals with a concern for attacking malaria".
Jeremy Lefroy is not only a constituent of mine; he is the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Newcastle-under-Lyme. I have no hesitation in paying tribute on a cross-party basis to the work that he has done in conjunction with DFID. I ask the Minister to listen to representations on blue-skies thinking, and to consider setting aside a small portion of future budgets for such projects.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Paul Farrelly for that intervention. We have set aside a very small amount of money that will be available to the chief scientist for what is known as horizon scanning, which is the same thing as blue-skies thinking. That will help to promote work that we will be able to incorporate in our science and innovation strategy.
My hon. Friend referred to malaria. World tuberculosis day is one day next week, and the Department hopes to publish a consultation paper on that day on what further we can do, in addition to what we are already doing, on the two key diseases of TB and malaria. There has been concern that focus on them has been eclipsed by the great focus that there has been on HIV/AIDS, and that insufficient attention has been paid to them. I hope that the consultation paper that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will publish next week will help to alleviate some of those concerns, and will provide a further opportunity for the hard-science community to engage in research on those two key killer diseases.
What contribution does the Minister think that forcing poor countries to screen migrant populations for tuberculosis will make with regard to the impact of that disease in such countries? So far as he is aware, is there any evidence base for there being any efficacy whatever in screening migrant populations for TB in our country with the detection tools that we currently have, as well as in terms of the worldwide problem of TB?
There is a case for screening for TB in certain circumstances. Incidence of TB is rising, and we need to step up our work on it, and on malaria, in a variety of ways. I share the hon. Gentleman's aversion to the policy suggested by the Conservative Opposition. However, some screening is done, and that is appropriate in the right circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman has concerns, or wants to make further comments, the consultation paper that we will publish next week will provide an opportunity for him to do so.
I want to move on to how we promote UK capacity in development sciences. A number of Members have focused on that, and the Select Committee report addressed it in detail. It recommended that the substantial increases in the aid budget, which are now carried through in the substantial increase in our research budget, should be complemented by increased funding for development science research in the UK as a whole. In particular, it suggested that a development science research board should be established to oversee the use of those funds and that that should be closely linked to the work of the research councils. That is an important issue, and the Government's response to it shows that some progress has been made.
In an intervention on the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, I mentioned that the Department has agreed with the Economic and Social Research Council that both of them will contribute to a new three-year £13 million programme for researches that propose ideas that will have a positive impact on world poverty. I recognise that that is only a small step in the direction in which the Select Committee wants us to travel.
The Government's response acknowledged the report's recommendation for additional funds alongside the aid budget. In our response, we announced the establishment of a working group, chaired by Sir David King, to consider that recommendation and to feed its conclusions into the 2006 spending review. That working group is also charged with assessing the form that a development science research board might take; Sir David King has already met with Professor Conway and Sir Keith O'Nions to prepare the ground for further consultation, and we look forward to learning of their further deliberations.
I am listening to what my hon. Friend the Minister is saying with considerable glee, and I hope that those discussions will result in us getting much closer to the Select Committee recommendations than the initial Government report might have suggested.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am sure that he will understand that I cannot comment further at this stage on how those deliberations will pan out, but I have no doubt that he will continue to follow with interest what the outcome in the 2006 spending review might be and other aspects of this issue.
The Commission for Africa presented its report last Friday. It makes four main recommendations on science and technology. We are keen to learn of the African response to those ideas before we decide how to respond. First, the report called for a long-term investment programme to revitalise African universities and to support the development of centres of excellence in science, engineering and technology. To back that up, it proposes that $3 billion should be invested over 10 years to develop those centres of excellence.
That was one of the topics for discussion in Professor Conway's meeting in South Africa last week with the New Partnership for Africa's Development. NEPAD is already committed to the agenda of examining how we can develop centres of excellence. It has undertaken five regional workshops to discuss relevant issues—examining what work is currently being done across the continent, what further work is needed, what its priorities should be, and what collaborative work might add value to what is happening at national and regional level. The intention is that the results of those workshops will be brought together in a series of proposals for the NEPAD science and technology ministerial meeting, which will take place in Senegal in June.
The Commission for Africa's second recommendation was on health. It called both for more direct funding of research, and for incentives such as advanced purchase contracts to stimulate research. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has focused on that. The Government are ready to work with G8 partners and others to enter into agreements in this area, not least with regard to malaria vaccines. We plan to increase health spending by our research department by at least £20 million a year, in order to fund new drugs and vaccines, and to research the key questions of culture, behaviour and health systems that explain why some countries have done so much better than others in reducing HIV transmission.
The Commission for Africa report called for increased research on agriculture; the Select Committee's visit to Malawi addressed that. Sustainable agriculture, especially in the context of Africa, is the first of the four priorities for DFID's research programme. We are also contributing to the major international study led by the World Bank—the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, that is—on the role of science and technology in agriculture over the next 25 years.
The Commission for Africa also called for a co-ordinated capacity-building programme on climate change between donor and African research institutions. In the spirit of that recommendation, we have asked a network of developing country research institutes to scope out what further research on climate change might be appropriate. Climate change is one of our G8 priorities.
I wish to respond to some specific questions asked by Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East touched on the specific problems that the people of Malawi face in dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in their country and on the severe shortage of nurses and doctors there.
The Minister mentioned four priority areas. Obviously, agricultural initiatives can be locally led; I saw a successful example of that in Papua New Guinea. However, is the Minister really suggesting that there can be local leadership in areas such as the development of HIV drugs and the analysis of climate change, which involves one of the most difficult modelling processes?
That depends on the nature of the research. If what is being studied is the effect of climate change on a specific African country, that research programme will need to take into account the ideas and contributions of scientists in that country. On the other hand, the science of climate change more generally requires an international piece of work. The Commission for Africa was rightly saying that research institutes in countries that already have considerable expertise on climate change or HIV/AIDS need to continue to work with researchers and scientists in developing countries and to do so much more closely so that they can better understand the impact of the particular issues in those countries. As I have said, the Commission for Africa report was published on Friday, and we want to learn of the response to it of African countries and scientists before we decide what our response will be to those four recommendations.
To return to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East, he may be aware that there is a £100 million programme of assistance to Malawi, which is focusing specifically on the capacity of its health service and how it responds. We are seeking to increase significantly the number of doctors and nurses by raising their pay and making further investment into the wider health sector.
In the past, high drug prices were the biggest factor in hindering an effective scaling up of the response to HIV/AIDS. I hope that prices can fall still further, but the key issue is capacity on the ground, in terms of nurses and doctors being able to support people in rural areas as well as in urban areas as they start to receive treatment. In that context, the World Health Organisation initiative of getting 3 million people on to antiretroviral drug treatment by 2005 is hugely important and has galvanised a considerable response; the number of people with access to such drugs has increased.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East may be aware that the Department for International Development, and the UK Government more generally, will host a financing conference on AIDS in September. That conference will incorporate the replenishment conference for the global fund. It will also consider the financing needs of a range of other UN and multilateral organisations that work on HIV/AIDS. I am sure that it will address the issue of health sector capacity.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would like to pay tribute to the work being done by Banja LA Mtsogolo. We visited its clinic at Ntcheu, which is near to the district hospital that I mentioned in my speech. The work that it is doing is extremely impressive, and it is partially funded by DFID. So, as other hon. Members said, we saw good work on HIV/AIDS throughout Malawi.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to that work. As he said in his broader remarks, we need to build on the lessons of that work and the information that is being pulled together. I hope that our broader work on HIV/AIDS, and the science and innovation strategy that Ministers have asked Professor Conway to draw up, will allow us to do those things.
The last point that needs to be made on HIV/AIDS is that, as a result of the G8 summit that took place on Sea island last year, the UK is tasked to take forward work on stepping up progress towards getting a workable vaccine into operation. Development Ministers in Europe have met the European Commission to consider how we can allocate more funding and how to pull together more effectively our scientists who work on vaccines and microbicides. We need to work more effectively with American scientists who, until now, have made much of the running on a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
One does not often have the opportunity to take part in a debate in which one can talk about both HIV/AIDS and sustainable energy. They are two passions of mine. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown for raising the issue of sustainable energy. I pay tribute to his continuing work on the issue, not least through the excellent all-party group on renewable and sustainable energy. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East alluded to wood-burning in stoves and how we can find sustainable alternatives to that. I am sure that both my hon. Friends would join me in paying tribute to the work of the Intermediate Technology Development Group, which, as I am sure they will be pleased to hear, is getting consistent funding from DFID to take forward that work and work on sustainable energy more generally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown will also be delighted to know that the Commission on Sustainable Development will focus on access to energy in its work programme for the next year but one. I hope that that will provide a catalyst for work throughout the international community on increasing access to energy in Africa and other developing countries, but doing so in a sustainable way. My hon. Friend will also be pleased to hear that, at the Bonn conference on renewables last year, the World Bank announced that it was going to increase substantially its funding programme for investment in renewables and other forms of sustainable energy.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon asked about the impact of the way in which we have untied our aid programme. We have been in discussion with the Higher Education Funding Council and with the UK research councils to explore areas of mutual interest, not least the importance of global issues to their agendas, including the research assessment exercise, which was the focus of the hon. Gentleman's concerns. We plan to establish an international development research funding forum to discuss UK research funding. HEFC and the research councils will be among the participants.
I hope that I have done justice to the excellent contributions of other hon. Members. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Norwich, North, and to his Committee, for an extremely helpful report. I look forward to having discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and our officials on how we take forward the ideas it contains.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes past Five o'clock.