Scientific Publications: Free for all?

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 15th December 2005.

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[Relevant documents: Tenth and Fourteenth Reports of the Science and Technology Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 399-I and –II and HC 1200, and the responses thereto, Third Special Report, Session 2004–05, HC 249.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee 2:30 pm, 15th December 2005

I welcome the opportunity to debate the Science and Technology Committee's 10th report of Session 2003–04, "Scientific Publications: Free for all?"

I am delighted that the former Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Gibson, is present. I want to put on record my thanks and that of the Committee for all the work that the hon. Gentlemen did on this report. We shall see by the end of the debate whether the people in the Gallery think that his work on this report is noteworthy. I am also delighted that other former members of the Committee are here to debate the report.

I confess that the market for scientific journals did not feature prominently either in my postbag or on my radar before I became the Chairman of the Committee. It soon did. Of all the issues that I have been involved with in the past six months, this is the one that has created the most heat, and sometimes the most light. I hope that there will be more light than heat today.

I have been staggered at the level of interest and the intensity of feeling on the subject, which tends to divide both the academic and publishing communities and which sees Ministers running for cover, although I hope that that will not be the case today.

Only last week, 40 fellows of the Royal Society, which is not noted for its protests, wrote to protest at the position that the Royal Society had recently adopted on open access publishing. My task is to put the issue of scientific publications into context, to provide an overview of what the Committee's report did and did not say, to trace significant developments since the Committee reported and the Government replied, and to ask the Minister where we go next.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his position as Chairman of this important Committee. Can he put scientific publications in context? Scientific publications will not be top of everyone's agenda this Christmas, but it is an important subject, especially in an increasingly globalised world. There is growing recognition that we all share problems and that we must ensure that the poorer countries in particular have access to the world's scientific database so that they can respond appropriately to problems that must be tackled, such as major natural disasters, avian flu, AIDS and malaria. Scientific publications may not be at the forefront of Radio 4's political agenda at present, but it is a very important issue, and I congratulate the previous Committee Chairman on adopting it as an inquiry.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. I echo everything that he said. I hope that my remarks will indicate that, although I came to the topic fairly new, I understand its seriousness and why it interests so many people in the scientific and publishing communities. I hear strongly the words he says about third world science.

All Committee members who are present are grateful for the briefings that they received from various learned societies, such as Research Councils UK, to prepare for the debate. The Committee launched the inquiry in December 2003 for several reasons.

First, there was a recognition that digitisation had led to a transformation in the way in which scientific knowledge is stored and disseminated. The potential for infinitely faster internet access to scientific knowledge was forcing changes to the traditional ways in which scientific publishing operated. In exactly the same way, digital communication is transforming the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in all areas of society. Web technologies, from blogs to electronic laboratory notebooks, are transforming the way in which the internet is being used. The internet is not just a giant library, as many people think; it is increasingly used in many scientific establishments as a collaborative laboratory.

The second reason was that the open access movement was just beginning to gather momentum in 2003. When I use the term "open access", I refer to two basic strands: self-archiving by authors in institutional repositories and the "author pays" model, with which authors or their funders pay for the cost of publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals that are then disseminated for free. When I talk about open access in this debate, I am referring in broad terms to the principle that the published output of research should be available to everyone without charge.

The third reason why the Committee went into this subject was that libraries had begun to complain that they were struggling to meet the cost of providing the journals that they needed for their students, including research fellows and post-doctorate students. The average price of academic journals rose by 58 per cent. between 1998 and 2003, compared with the UK retail prices index increase of 11 per cent. Libraries were concerned by some of the policies of the major publishers, such as big deals and bundling—whereby they are required to accept the whole output of the publisher rather than being able to pick titles—and wanted to take co-ordinated action.

The fourth reason was that increased attention was being drawn to the profits of the scientific, technical and medical publishers, which appeared to the Committee to be excessively high. Reed Elsevier told the Committee that it made an operating profit of 34 per cent. on its scientific publications, with profits amounting to 17 per cent. after tax. The Committee was rightly concerned that too high a proportion of the financial benefits from the Government's substantial investment in research was ending up with publishers' shareholders.

The Committee's inquiry attracted over 120 written evidence submissions, and there were four well-attended oral sessions. Indeed, on two occasions a larger room had to be hired to get everyone in.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

Well, they come for free; unlike in Oxford, where nothing is free.

The report, which was published in July 2004, received praise and criticism in almost equal measure for things that it did and did not say. Let me try to dispel a few myths by outlining what were, for me, some of the key recommendations. First, the Committee expressed support for institutional digital repositories with its recommendation that research councils and other Government funders should mandate the researchers who they fund to deposit a copy of their articles in an institutional repository within a reasonable period from the time of publication so that researchers would be able to research all UK-based repositories from one single site, with the Government acting as an advocate of those repositories at a global level in order to maximise their benefits.

The second key recommendation was that the Government should support further experimentation with the author pays publishing model by, for example, making available a portion of research council grants for authors to experiment in that way. It also recommended that the Government should conduct research into the viability of that model, particularly into whether some of the unresolved problems with it can be overcome.

A key justification for those recommendations—for me, one of the most compelling arguments for greater involvement with open access recommendations—was the potential for developing countries, which Bob Spink mentioned. Institutions in many developing countries cannot hope to keep their researchers up to date with all relevant research by paying the necessary subscriptions. Free access on a global scale has huge attractions for the third world. I know that my hon. Friend Dr. Harris wants to address that issue later.

It is fair to say that the Government's response was curious. Dr. Gibson said so in press releases, though his language was perhaps more graphic than describing it as interesting. The report did not recommend the immediate and wholesale transition to the author pays model, but that appears to have been the common misconception, not least in the Government. Indeed, in a commentary in The Guardian of 9 November 2004 about the Government's response Richard Wray wrote:

"The government is, of course, within its rights to ignore select committees, but it could at least have properly read the report".

I think that that Committee did feel that the report had not been read properly.

The Government's response of October 2004 seemed to argue against and reject the author pays model as if it was what the Committee proposed, when it palpably was not. In fact, the Committee report highlighted some problems with that model. One was the free-rider issue—the prospect of industry gaining free access to journals for which it currently pays. Another was the impact on learned societies that derive a significant proportion of their income from publishing journals that would be threatened by the new model. The rigour of peer review in the new model was unproven and there was also a question of the financial disadvantage that the UK would suffer internationally by making a unilateral commitment to the author pays model without getting international agreement. The Committee accepted that all those issues needed to be dealt with before any massive roll-out of and investment in the free access proposals.

The Government's response was also negative in that it did nothing to support or co-ordinate the establishment of institutional repositories. The Government did not oppose them in principle and on page 27 of the 14th report it is noted that they recognised them as

"a significant development worthy of encouragement".

However, rather than take a co-ordinating role as the Committee suggested, the Government preferred to leave it to each institution to make its own decisions. Of course the recommendation relies on some central guidance. A laissez-faire approach, in which individual institutions have their own repositories, with no co-ordination, was a recipe that would not take us much further. Few authors, certainly, would be prepared to participate. By doing nothing the Government effectively rejected a key recommendation.

An even more remarkable feature of the Government's response was their complacency about the state of scientific publishing in the UK. Their policy of

"facilitating a level playing field" amounted to non-intervention in a market that many complained was already tilted against libraries and in favour of the major scientific publishers. It was that complacent response from the Government that prompted the Committee to take the relatively unusual step of publishing the Government's response with further comments in the 14th report of the 2003–04 Session, published in November 2004. The Committee was not unduly concerned that the Government had rejected the thrust of the recommendations. There is nothing new in that, as I am sure you would vouch, Mrs. Dean. It was the way in which the response had been assembled that caused concern.

Of course many different arms of Government fed into the response; the Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of Science and Technology, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Skills all had an interest. However, certain key voices seemed to be ignored, particularly that of the joint information systems committee, the Government-funded advisory body responsible for providing leadership in the innovative use of information and communications technology to support education and research. That very body, which should have been at the heart of the response, was initially left out. Indeed, the impression was given to the Committee that the voice of the DTI had overridden the advice of the relevant advisory bodies such as the joint information systems committee. It appeared to many that the DTI had done a good job of defending the interests of the successful UK publishing industry at the expense of innovation in the market that might benefit the wider academic community.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government's response was highly coloured by the previous Office of Fair Trading report and that they probably adopted their wait-and-see attitude because the European Commission has also undertaken an investigation into the matter?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

I am grateful for that remark. It is quite clear that the Department of Trade and Industry was somehow leant on for it to have produced such an ambivalent response to the Committee's report. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is right about the European connection, but perhaps I shall leave him to further his argument when he makes his comments later.

In the context of our current inquiry into scientific advice to Government, into evidence-based policy making, and into how the process works in practice, it is interesting to note that this episode is not a great example of the way in which the Government take advice and use it to formulate policy. Perhaps it will make a good case study.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

While the hon. Gentleman is talking about the Government's response to the inquiry, would he care to comment on what the Government did not say in their response? They did not, for example, offer to remove VAT on the provision of electronic versions of printed works, or offer any help at all to set up a national site licence arrangement for the UK, which would benefit higher education institutions and, quite possibly, further educational establishments and libraries.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

Having got into the whole subject late, and having read the evidence that has been made available, I am more and more confused about why the Government responded as they did. They failed to address the report's core recommendations, but they also failed to seize the opportunity to consider the wider issues such as publishing and the way in which universities gain access to information. I was particularly concerned about the way in which the repositories issue was swept under the table, as dealing with it would have addressed many of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned.

In their next response, the Government denied seeking to neutralise the views of JISC, as we would expect. Again, the response referred to not wanting to force a premature transition to an author pays model, as if that was what was being asked for in the first place. The recommendation was actively to explore the possibility of a new model by gathering and analysing evidence, not to express immediate support. The Government did, however, undertake to consider all the evidence as it became available, including the results of some experiments and initiatives that are currently under way. That is a welcome commitment to evidence-based policy making. We will see what it means in practice when the Minister responds later this afternoon.

Although the Government were unwilling to make any commitment to open access publishing, other key players were responding to what they saw as a very important issue. In November 2004, the Wellcome Trust announced a new policy and a significant step towards an open access environment. It plans to establish UK PubMed Central, a new repository for biomedical research similar to the existing PubMed Central in the United States.

The process of establishment will begin early next year. Under the new policy, researchers funded by Wellcome are required from 1 October 2005 to deposit an electronic copy of their peer-reviewed articles that are accepted for publication in PubMed Central, which will be UK PubMed Central when it is established, within six months of publication. The trust will fund all costs associated with that move.

In February 2005, the National Institutes of Health in the US announced a new policy, under which its funded researchers will have to deposit a copy of all their published papers on a central archive that is managed by the National Library of Medicine within 12 months of publication.

A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study found evidence of a shift towards direct access to primary data sources that was having a significant impact on scientific publishers, many of whom have invested heavily in online publishing. The study anticipated a period of experimentation using different types of open access models, but concluded that national and international co-ordination was required to broaden access to data from publicly funded research and to contribute to the advancement of scientific research and innovation.

In short, the open access movement is progressing and is fast becoming a serious option in the field of scientific publications. Unsurprisingly, a slightly different picture emerges if one talks to the publishers. Reed Elsevier, the largest scientific publisher in the UK, which publishes more than 1,800 journals and 2,200 new books each year, claims that the number of new open access journals peaked in 2001 and has since declined. It described 41 per cent. of them as loss-making; it must have been talking to Lord Sainsbury, because he told the Committee exactly the same thing on 19 October, when he said that

"we have seen a peak in the enthusiasm for open access publishing and a fall-off in people putting forward proposals for it".

It is not clear what he means by a peak. Does he mean that the number of open-access journals is declining or simply that the rate of increase has slowed since 2001? I should be grateful if the Minister addressed this specific issue. Do the Government still believe that open access publishing is in decline or is it on the increase?

The publishers raise a serious point, which needs to be addressed; is there a need to duplicate what already exists? They have taken steps to improve access to their own publications, and several pilots are already running. For example, CrossRef, is running a pilot involving 45 publishers, in partnership with Google, to determine the value to the scholarly community of a free inter-disciplinary, inter-publisher search of peer-reviewed scholarly literature.

Publishers would argue that access is not a problem. Reed Elsevier says that 90 per cent. of all UK researchers now have access to more than 95 per cent. of its articles, although only if they subscribe, and they will not get access otherwise. There is no doubt that publishers are investing considerable sums in improving the accessibility of their material and maintaining it on a database. In that respect, there are real questions for the Minister to answer. Should public money be spent on establishing a similar facility through institutional repositories? Is he concerned about duplication?

The evolution of open access is taking place almost as we speak. I am sure that this is pure coincidence, but it was announced only this morning that three major publishers—Blackwell, Oxford University Press and Springer—will ensure that research published in their journals is immediately made available online without charge to the reader. The costs are being met by research funding bodies. That seems a significant development, and I hope that the Minister will comment on it. Does he stick to the Science Minister's view that the open access movement has peaked or does he see such moves by publishers as evidence of a growing trend? If so, what are the implications for Government policy? At what point do the Government embrace the new model and plan accordingly?

Of course, the most significant player in determining a shift in thinking on open access is the RCUK, which has been consulting on the issue since the summer. Under its proposal, researchers would be allowed to continue choosing where best to publish their research. However, the RCUK proposal would also introduce a requirement that

"subject to copyright and licensing arrangements, a copy of any resultant published journal articles or conference proceedings should be deposited in an appropriate e-print repository . . . wherever such a repository is available to the award-holder."

Even the most ardent open access supporter would agree that there might be different time lags for different disciplines, but the need for access to the latest research in mediaeval history is not quite as acute as it is in the field of, say, genetics.

The RCUK's proposal also states that councils would agree to applicants including the predicted costs of publishing in an author pays journal in their grant applications, subject to the justification of cost-effectiveness. That could be a significant development, although I say "could" because it is unclear whether the RCUK remains supportive of that proposal.

The RCUK's proposal would affect the 15,000 academics who are in receipt of a research council grant at any one time and whose work represents 60 per cent. of research findings in the UK. It also goes a long way towards implementing the recommendations in the Select Committee's original report. Importantly, it is also supported in broad terms by Universities UK, although that body, too, flags up one or two issues that need resolving. However, it has to be accepted that if the research councils are going to pay for researchers who want to publish in author pays journals, a considerable shift will have to take place because money that would normally go towards research will be going towards publication costs instead. Can the Minister tell us whether that is still envisaged? If so, what would he regard as the consequences for research council budgets?

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

Does my hon. Friend accept that in those circumstances, provided that there was a shift to author pays and the funding for it was substantial, one might expect savings in library budgets? Many higher education institutions are Government-funded, and it should not be beyond the wit of Government to track the flow and make the budgetary adjustments necessary to diminish the impact on budgets of such a move.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

One of the confusing things about the Government's two responses to the original report and the Committee's response to the Government's response to the original report is that they have not grasped those issues. They need to consider what research is needed in order to verify a cost base for this type of publishing. To be fair to both the publishing houses and the learned societies, that cannot happen until one does an analysis and makes comparisons with some of the models in the United States, where it is free to publish and free to access, and the whole system is underpinned either by grants or by donations. We need a commercial model that stacks up against the existing system. That can be achieved only by means of trials and proper research. The lack of research and of engagement with the issue is a worry.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

Perhaps the Minister, who is shaking his head, will come up with some superb ideas before the end of the afternoon. I am sure that that will make my hon. Friend very pleased.

Not surprisingly, there is some opposition. The moves by Wellcome, the RCUK and others continue to be largely opposed by those involved in publishing. The Royal Society supports the principles that underlie the proposals, but not the policy. It is concerned that mandated self-archiving will threaten to undermine established methods; in particular, it notes that many learned societies can conduct their full ranges of activities only through the profits that they currently make from publishing. It also reports concerns in the community that biomedicine might lend itself more readily to open access publishing than other disciplines such as mathematics, chemistry and physics, although that position was attacked last week by 40 fellows of the Royal Society.

It would be wrong to characterise the concerns of the learned societies as simply preserving vested interests. I certainly would not want to say that. The learned societies are not-for-profit organisations, whose very reason for being is the promotion of scientific research in their respective communities and the dissemination of the results of that research to the public. Some, though not all, of them are heavily reliant on income from their publications. If there is a move to an author pays model, the affected learned societies will have either to find an alternative income stream or scale down their activities. We need to consider the issue, and the position of the learned societies very carefully before there is a wholesale change.

Reed Elsevier also supports in principle the aims of the RCUK proposals, but describes the results of their implementation as

"chaotic, costly and detrimental for British research."

Institutional repositories are opposed on the grounds that they provide an unnecessary parallel distribution channel for published journal articles and Reed Elsevier also says that it would destroy the publishing system whose output the RCUK seeks. I hope that other hon. Members will address all these real issues and concerns head on.

The matter of copyright also needs to be resolved. Traditionally, publishers have looked after the copyright on behalf of authors, and few authors have complained—they have not noted any significant problem with that arrangement. The Committee viewed the issue as being crucial to the success of self-archiving, and the Government have expressed support for a flexible approach to copyright. Can the Minister give us a general update on that work? The RCUK initiative is significant because it will be viewed, to some extent, as that body flexing its muscles and testing how much room for manoeuvre it is being allowed by the Government.

The DTI has been thought to be lukewarm, at best, on the proposal. That was confirmed when the Minister, Lord Sainsbury, last appeared before the Committee in October when he told us that the policy required some further development. He asked RCUK to go back and negotiate with publishers on timing, rather than leaving that matter to individual researchers. I hope that the Minister will be able to update hon. Members on the progress of those negotiations, and to tell us how closely the DTI has been involved. Is Lord Sainsbury breathing down the neck of the RCUK at the negotiating table, or does it have a free hand?

It would be wrong for me to paint a picture of conflict in the world of scientific publishing. There are many encouraging moves by both traditionalists and open access enthusiasts to find the most effective way of getting high-quality scientific research published. The RCUK and the Royal Society, with the collaboration of publishers, have set up a study to examine the impact that self-publishing and self-archiving will have. That study will take place over the next two years, by which time the impact of the RCUK proposals may start to be felt. I welcome that study and I am sure that the Committee does too. That will go some way towards establishing an evidence base on which Government and funders of research can make further decisions. It is a great pity that the Government did not commit to such a move in their initial response to the Select Committee report.

Publishers are also responding to demands for greater access and for allowing authors greater scope to submit their articles to repositories or publish them on a website. I understand that some learned societies are conducting their own limited experiments with different publishing models, and other hon. Members will refer to those later. However, I and former members of the Science and Technology Committee remain to be convinced that the Government have made a serious effort to get all the key players together to discuss the development of this policy. I understand that the DTI has recently established a research communications forum, and I would like to ask the Minister for further details about who is involved in that and what he is seeking to achieve.

This is a complex and rapidly evolving market involving many interests that share common aims but are often in sharp conflict over delivery. The Government, with all their different internal interests, must establish their priorities. It seems bizarre that the Government are pumping very large sums into research, but should be content to leave the market to determine how that publicly funded research is disseminated.

The Government have wisely identified scientific research as the key driver of economic prosperity. If the pace of research is accelerated significantly by the rapid and universal access to research findings, surely the Government have a responsibility to pursue that and to maximise the return on the investment in science at an international level, even if that has some impact on some other commercial interests in the UK.

If one method or other demonstrably serves the interests of the UK and the worldwide research community better, the Government might be faced with a decision. In simple terms, do the Government seek to protect the interests of the highly successful publishing industry and the position of some learned societies over and above any potential gains to the scientific community and to the economy as a whole? The Office of Science and Technology may be a small part of the DTI, but is this a case of the tail wagging the dog? We are not yet at the stage when decisions can be reached.

The open access model has many weaknesses, but they should be explored rather than used to dismiss the case at this early stage. The Government should take a lead in gathering the evidence, supporting experimentation, and evaluating the evidence to see what works and what does not.

On institutional repositories, I am inclined to disagree with Lord Sainsbury, who sees a role for them only in rather specific circumstances. My instinct is that if it is worth doing, it should be done properly in a co-ordinated and well-regulated manner. To have real value, it must be comprehensive; all articles must be available, with minimal constraints. The publishers are absolutely right that an unreliable and half-hearted network would be pointless. The Government should take a lead, especially as the financial costs are likely to be minimal, and this is one policy area in which a little bit of boldness would not go amiss. We await developments, and also wait to see whether this is the beginning of a breakthrough in evidence-based policy.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North 3:05 pm, 15th December 2005

It is a pleasure to be speaking under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean; I hope that you will keep me in order if I move off the subject. It was a delight to chair the inquiry, among hundreds of others, and I congratulate the members of the Committee on all the hard work that they put into it. I also congratulate the people who helped, including the Clerks. I want to mention one in particular; a young woman called Emily Commander, who was brilliant in terms of her penetration of the field.

The Committee not only went to meetings of librarians, but into the depths of the City of London to meet venture capitalists who were rather worried about the possible implications for the publishing industry. That demonstrates the importance of this subject, which to most people is dull, boring and irrelevant. It is certainly not the kind of thing that one would find football fans talking about in terms of three-five-two systems or whether Alex Ferguson has gone a bit wonky at the top; like some politicians, I might add. I also congratulate the new Chairman of the Committee; I hope that he can now spend some time worrying about the leadership in his party, as we all do, of course.

Emily Commander was brilliant in guiding us, in helping us, and in getting the right people together to ask the questions. One could tell by the number of people in the gallery in all our sessions how much interest there was.

I shall briefly say why the subject was so interesting. However, I shall say first that the Committee was not going to be domineering about the matter. It was a new area for us in which we reflected on the problems and how we might address them. Some members of the Committee who had experience of the publishing of academic journals knew how the problems had grown over the years and how, as in most things scientific and technological, the science and technology had moved on faster than regulation and faster than the communication of some of the discoveries that had been made. We considered the explosion of research and the absolute necessity to keep up our citation indexes in the international academic research community, which we do very well. We realised the importance of this issue, dull as it may be to most people.

Getting three or four years' work published and out there for people to read and understand is a magnificent thing. Sometimes that can be a lifetime's work, and enabling people to see and understand it is all part of building our great scientific international community. The work must be accessible to people; not just scholars and academics, but the public.

We know that the public may not want to read chemistry journals—neither do I, in some ways—but sometimes interesting articles are published in publications such as The Lancet, for example on subjects such as MMR, and people want to see for themselves what is being said, rather than what the Daily Mail tells them has been said. It is important that such material be openly accessible to people. It is also interesting to read how the work was done, what was found out, what we do not know, and what we need to know.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. It is a strange world that we live in, in which what is accessible to the public is that which is not peer reviewed and where, often, the research that is peer reviewed and carefully examined before being published is not available to the public free of charge on the internet. That is the dilemma; it creates real problems for policy makers and for public engagement with science.


Publishing houses have, for a long time, made much money from printing the descriptions of researchers' intellectual property. This was because printing and distribution was very expensive and complex. Driven by a simple rule, "What is publicly funded should be...

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Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I shall come to that point later.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

On that very point, is it not important that if scientific information, or any other information, is given on the internet, we need to develop a system such as the kite mark, which is what the Committee recommended, to show whether the paper has been peer reviewed?

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I absolutely agree. Peer review is acknowledged to be the best way for people to find out whether something has been reviewed. Many papers get turned down. Prestigious journals turn down between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of papers, so it is important to handle that issue.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

Dr. Harris raised a conundrum. The difficulty is that if one goes for an open access system, the likelihood is that papers in this great new future are unlikely to have been peer reviewed. As the former Chairman, can the hon. Gentleman say whether the Committee made any estimate of the number of people who feel that they do not have access to the latest scientific research?

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I suspect that most people do not understand what peer review means. They would not know a kite mark from a Chelsea football flag. It is impossible. I would recommend that the Committee thinks seriously about whether the peer review system is right. We have been using the system for a long time, and often serious criticisms are made of it, especially that one's pals referee the papers and allow them to be published. Even under the current system, that makes peer review not all that it might be. We need a proper inquiry into how to prevent falsehoods and bad papers entering the public domain.

An inquiry is important also because policy is now made on evidence-based information, which has become the mantra for major policy decisions; perhaps not entirely, but it is a large feature. How many times have we heard "good science" or "science-based"? I shall not go on about how often such phrases are abused. They are certainly abused by committees in the United States; the Republican party has managed to use them and has perverted information that has been properly reviewed. There is a real problem making evidence available to those who make the excellent policies that we need. We generally pick up such issues; we know what causes AIDS and what causes avian flu. We can learn an awful lot, but it is important that that information be communicated to the scientific community.

Mention has been made of developing countries. During another inquiry, the Committee had an amazing trip to Malawi. We talked to academics and people working in the university system there who would welcome the opportunity of using such information. I note that a document from the Royal Society of Chemistry makes pertinent criticisms that reflect our worries; however, it also says that it would be patronising to give the developing world that sort of information. I can tell the Royal Society that it is patronising to think that the public would not want to access some of its chemical papers, particularly if they are looking to see whether a chemical has side effects on the environment and other such issues.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

I am surprised to hear that the Royal Society of Chemistry has made such remarks. I have been told that many publishers, including not-for-profit publishers, provide research and journals to the third world either freely or heavily subsidised through a variety of programmes.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Yes, that happens, but not to the extent that we would wish. In interacting with the developing world, we are creating a research capacity that will allow them to do things for themselves; we will help build it up, giving grants and so on. That is all part of the process. They have to access the hard information that allows them not only to use those drugs in the best manner, but to have the facilities through which they can understand them. Computers are not restricted to this part of the hemisphere. They are present everywhere and people can access such information through them.

I want to say something about the history of the problem, which did not just come out of the air. I remember looking for hours through the current contents of journals. One would have to comb all the way through them, send off a request to get the papers and then get about 1 per cent. of the papers back, if any at all. It was quite costly. Otherwise, one would have to photocopy and would build up huge photocopying bills in order to get such international information. We can move on from that and, to a large extent, we have. I only say that because that was what it was like for many of us as we grew through the scientific movement and were being trained. I welcome anything that will improve the situation.

The digitisation that is taking place and the role of the British Library are so important. The British Library has more scientific information locked inside it than any other organisation that I know of, apart perhaps from the Vatican. We need to ensure that that information is available to everybody. Many small businesses go to the British Library to get such information. It is a fount of information and we have to encourage that. It is part of the process.

I openly tell the Chamber that the whole inquiry started with me talking to Lord Eatwell in the House of Lords Bar about the problem of the British Library and getting the information out there. From then on, it spread like wildfire. I am pleased that the British Library has welcomed our report on the long-term storage of information.

So, why did we start the inquiry? It was not just about Lord Eatwell buying me a drink in the House of Lords. Some of us knew that some publishers seemed to have a monopoly on a small number of prestige journals. I say "prestige journals" because of an important exercise in universities called the research assessment exercise. Research that is published scores more points if it is published in the right places. Some journals, such as Nature, give high points. They are very expensive and increasing in price. Librarians in universities and other environments—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—


Dr. John F.S. Stone...

Submitted by John Denke Continue reading

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North 3:31 pm, 15th December 2005

As I was saying, there is no problem with acknowledging that prestige journals are very important. They will continue. The Committee had no intention of suppressing the publication of data in the form of pamphlets, books or whatever. That point is extremely important. At the same time, it thought that information should be openly available to many more people.

Many librarians told us, and it was the personal experience of some of us, that subscriptions in libraries were decreasing. I know why and what we should be doing about it. More funding is needed, not just through the local university, which has more commitments now, but from central sources. Every year, everyone who worked at a university was given a list of all the publications with the number of people who had accessed them over the last year; they had to pick their favourite. "The Marine Biology of New Zealand" might then disappear from the shelves, which I can understand, but sometimes subscriptions to very prestigious journals were stopped because of the increasing costs.

The only way to handle that is to increase the budget into universities alongside the open access facility to recognise that this dual approach, with open access, is here to stay. More and more people are beginning to get involved in that across the world. It has been gaining momentum and influence. The political message, which is reflected by the Wellcome Trust, is that publicly funded research out of the taxpayers' pocket should be available for the public to see—whether it is complicated chemistry, physics or whatever. Yes, it may be a problem, but many of the other works that are published are there and open for the public who pay for them to see and understand. One cannot talk about openness and transparency without having that facility.

Lots of public money feeds into the scientific publishing process. If we want this literate public, we have to give that facility a real chance to shine and develop. I absolutely agree with Mr. Willis that universities should be mandated to self-archive their research papers. I welcome the fact that so many people are doing that now. Institutionally based repositories are being set up. We have to get away from the individual silo mentality. We have regional development agencies. Why do they not set up some kind of network between centres such as Cambridge, Essex, Ipswich and Norwich and so on, so that the costs can be kept down? Why is there no interaction and co-operation at that level?

There is a real opportunity to think out of the box and think of new ways around the competitive environment that has been set up in our higher education system. If we want the knowledge to be generally shared with the world, the universe or whatever, it ought to be available through some kind of site. The Government have a responsibility—the report made that clear—to fund the creation of networker repositories to allow people to access all the UK-based repositories from a single site and to provide that shop-front for UK-based research, which is becoming so important.

The amount being put into research means that more research, of all types, will do done in this country, and that research must be openly available. If we do not have a system that allows that, we will get what we had in the past. I remember from my time teaching PhD students that they would never publish their work because they could not be bothered. We must get out of that mentality of students and others at university who think, "What for?" The research assessment exercise, if it has done nothing else—and many of us do not favour it—has sharpened people up to publish things; we must give them the facility to do that, and make them proud of their work, so that more people can get in touch with it.

The author pays publishing model is not one that we say is absolutely correct, and that everybody should operate. All that we ask is that people investigate it, for goodness' sake. That is all we want: it is an opportunity. There has been a vicious campaign suggesting that poor people doing research are going to have to find the money for publication from their own back pockets. We never said that, but we said that it should be part of the research councils' budgets to universities to allow that to happen. If we agree the principle that all publicly funded research should be published in journals and that all access to it should be open, the money for that should be provided. That is a sticking point for Government Departments: they would have to increase the science budget still further. And why not? We have doubled it in the last four years. I remember the debate when we asked for it to be doubled, and the mistake was that we should have asked for it to be quadrupled. More and more, science is playing a major part, and the science journals are playing a part.

The author pays model has its problems, one of which is the free-riders. Pharmaceutical companies publish a lot of stuff, on which people cannot get their hands—many of us fight that on other avenues—but if universities do that, it takes the onus off them to pay for the research. They can use the data in their facility. I do not have a blueprint solution for that, but I know that people need to talk honestly to universities about the matter because they need that science base. How they make a contribution to it is worthy of negotiation. I do not think that it is the job of a Select Committee to go into that kind of detail, but the businesses in existence—and not just those who have carried out the research and have trained—would receive the advantages gained by the research being reported.

We have considered all the problems, because our report realised that we needed to address them. We were saying, "Come on, get together and start to address those problems, and do something about them." There has been a move in the right direction, but not enough of one. I mentioned the rigour of peer review, which certainly needs examination, and we should explore ways of how that is handled in this country.

It has been said that the Government's response was negative—there is nothing new there, as it is their job not to respond immediately. However, whatever a Select Committee does, nobody will ever get any credit for it, believe you me. It will have been the Government's idea first; I have seen it so often. Hon. Members should wait until the human embryology report comes out and the Department of Health comes up with ideas. I bet that we shall be able to take them across to the Select Committee report and say, "That's interesting. I've seen that written up before." That is how it works. There is no harm in that, but as long as the process moves forward, we should all be happy with it.

The attitude that there is no problem was not reflected in our report: there is a problem. There are problems that need seriously to be addressed. When we talked to the librarians' annual conference, they were absolutely over the moon about seeing something done about repositories. If the report does nothing else, it will have awoken people to tackling the question seriously. People have talked about the issues before—there is nothing new there—but I think that the report has helped to focus on those sort of questions. My final word to the Government is, "Come on, get off your knees. If you believe in science, support some of the ideas in this report."

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage 3:40 pm, 15th December 2005

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. Mr. Willis started by saying that a debate on the future of scientific publishing was unlikely to feature on many people's radars. I wholeheartedly agree; it is an esoteric issue for most, but not for those of us who represent constituencies in Oxfordshire. Scientific publishing is a huge industry in the United Kingdom, and is particularly focused in Oxfordshire. We have Reed Elsevier in the constituency of Dr. Harris and publishers such as Blackwell, Macmillan and the Oxford University Press in and around Oxford. For the sake of clarity, I should point out that Nigel Blackwell lives in my constituency and is a patron of my association.

In my constituency, I have Informa, formerly Taylor and Francis, at Milton park in Didcot, and the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International, the former Commonwealth agricultural board, based technically in the land of Boris, Henley-upon-Thames, but literally 100 yd beyond my border. Hence I have many constituents employed in the industry. It is estimated that the companies that I have mentioned employ directly some 2,500 people, and if we take into account the freelance designers, editors and printers who are associated with the industry, we could probably say that twice that number depend on scientific publishing in and around Oxfordshire. It is also estimated that the industry generates some £100 million in revenues from overseas. We have in the United Kingdom a world-beating industry. On that basis, the debate should be on everybody's radars and it should feature heavily on the "Today" programme; I hope that it will tomorrow.

The recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee are based on two arguments, both of which were addressed by Dr. Gibson. The first is a practical one. It is asserted that a small number of powerful publishers are pushing up prices and limiting access, and that cash-starved libraries are no longer able to provide the sort of access to academic research that they used to give. The second is a moral argument and, again, was articulated with a creditable degree of force by the hon. Gentleman. It is said—I wrote this before I heard the hon. Gentleman speaking, but it is almost exactly what he did say—that if the Government, or in other words the taxpayer, is funding the research on which these articles are based, morally it is wrong for companies to make a profit by selling that research and for access to be denied to people simply on the grounds of cost.

I take issue with both of those arguments and with the conclusions of the report. I hasten to add that that is no criticism of Mrs. Commander, the excellent Clerk to the Select Committee, who was also the excellent Clerk on the Consumer Credit Bill on which I was lucky enough to be a small foot soldier. First, I do not accept that the problem lies with the publishers. They have made significant changes to take account of the new technology and to increase access, and I do not accept that there is an access crisis. Secondly, I do not accept that the alternative being proposed—the author pays model and the creation of university repositories—is well thought through. Rather, I think that those alternatives have been pushed forward far too fast, without proper analysis and discussion of the additional problems that they may bring with them.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Will the hon. Gentleman give his interpretation of the events referred to by Mr. Willis concerning companies that today reflect differently in terms of copyright? Has that anything to do with this debate?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

I am not sure that I understand the intervention, so I shall continue with my remarks and hope that they will cover the hon. Gentleman's question about copyright.

Let me talk briefly about the state of the industry. As I understand it, the scientific, technical and medical publishing industry is well established and highly diverse. There are more than 2,000 publishers worldwide producing more than 1.5 million articles in more than 20,000 journals. Those publishers range from large, international businesses, such as Reed Elsevier and Informa, to well-established companies such as Blackwell and on to not-for-profit but highly prestigious organisations such as the Royal Society, which effectively started scientific publishing.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

Perhaps I could just help with regard to the question from Mr. Gibson. Mr. Vaizey has mentioned Blackwell Publishing twice now, and its president, Mr. Bob Campbell, said today that if customers wanted to pay for open access, publishers should offer them the appropriate services. Is that not really what the Committee's report is asking for? There is a variety of models from which we could choose; it is not just a choice between the publishers' current model and a complete move to open access.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

On that basis, the hon. Gentleman is rapidly moving the debate towards a consensus, because I agree that there should be a variety of models. However, I do not agree that one new model should be imposed on top of the old one or that the Government should somehow have to intervene to ensure that the new model gains ground; the market in scientific research will do that, and I shall explain later how I think that that will happen.

As I said earlier, if we are to understand the importance of scientific research publishing in the United Kingdom, it is important to realise that this country publishes about half of all commercial journals, about 5,000 in all. It is also important to understand that there has been huge growth in the scientific publishing industry in the past few years, which means that much more scientific research is available to many more people. For example, the average library stocks 6,500 titles, as opposed to 4,000 just a decade ago, in the mid-1990s. The average number of articles read by academic researchers has increased from about 150 a year to well over 200 a year today.

City university commissioned a survey of 4,000 academics in 97 countries, and I am sure that hon. Members are fully aware of it. Three quarters of the academics who responded said that they had better access to journals than they did five years ago. According to a briefing that I have seen from Reed Elsevier, 90 per cent. of UK researchers now have access to 100 per cent. of its journals. Just 5 million Reed Elsevier articles were downloaded in 2001, but 25 million are now downloaded every year. My first assertion, therefore, is that, far from declining, access to scientific research is actually increasing.

Furthermore, commercial and not-for-profit companies recognise their responsibilities to the developing world, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon will have more to say on that. Many companies work through schemes such as the programme for the enhancement of research information and with organisations such as the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative and Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture to provide free or low-cost access to journals. If none of that work were being done, the moral case for open access would be far stronger. However, I have been to CABI and seen the CD-ROMs that it produces and makes available at very low cost to the developing world. They are extremely useful to not only academic researchers, but farmers growing crops in the third world. We should recognise the commitment that scientific publishers are making to the developing world.

Overall, therefore, publishers are doubling access to scientific journals every year, the cost per head of using articles is falling, the cost of subscriptions is falling and publishers are increasing output. However, they are not profiteering, because their profit margins remain broadly the same.

On the moral point that all research is funded by the Government and should therefore be free, I have seen a briefing document from Reed Elsevier saying that €89 million a year is paid in subscriptions, but only €2.7 million a year relates directly to research published on the basis of Government research, about 3 per cent. of the total.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

I am a little confused by the term "Government research". Does the hon. Gentleman mean publicly funded research or research done by Departments?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

It means Research Councils UK research, not specifically departmental research.

Furthermore, one third of all journals are published by not-for-profit organisations, which as hon. Members know, plough all their profits back into research, effectively subsidising Government research. Again, CABI is a good example of that. The organisation publishes 16 journals at a cost of £1.5 million a year and ploughs all profits back into further research.

My assertion is that there is no access crisis and no profiteering. We get value for money and benefit from the subsidies that the publishing industry provides to the developing world and to research. We have a thriving, world-beating, innovative and diverse industry. It is not complacent or tilted against public libraries. It is not waiting to see how things develop, but is pushing forward.

The alternative model is author pays and institutional repositories. It is untried and untested, although I acknowledge that, as the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said, it is fast gaining ground. I applaud that. I certainly would applaud models that entailed greater open access. I should like to see how they would develop and I should like them to develop from the ground up, not as part of a top-down, Government-sponsored plan. The current model, the peer review model, has been around for 340 years. It is well established and well developed and we do not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The hon. Gentleman contrasts the current model, which he calls the peer review model, with the author pays model, which he has twice implied does not involve peer review. Is that his view? Has he been briefed by the publishers to that effect, or has he inadvertently assumed that the author pays arrangement would not and could not include peer review?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

I do not assume that, but I assume that author pays is less likely to involve peer review than the current model. My concerns about the Select Committee's findings are both general and specific. Generally, I have enormous concern, as I have said, about the prospect of the Government suddenly coming up with a top-down model for the universities. That would be a completely wrong-headed way of going about it. For example, I do not know what the cost would be of the Committee's recommendation that we should have a central body to oversee the implementation of repositories. It strikes me as another bureaucratic organisation and another opportunity for the Government to run something when, at the moment, scientific publishing is being run perfectly well by commercial and not-for-profit organisations.

The tone of the report also misrepresents the reason why libraries struggle to meet the cost of journals. What has filtered through to the non-peer-reviewed press, so to speak, is that the fault lies with profiteering publishers. In fact, as I shall explain, it is partly the fault of the huge boom in research. The feast that researchers are enjoying has also led, potentially, to the famine in access to research.

I shall outline specific reasons why the author pays model will encounter problems, which should be ironed out over time, not in a headlong rush. First, on the author pays model, it is likely that wealthy authors or those based at wealthy institutions are the most likely to get published. It is far less likely that those at poor institutions, or in developing countries, will be published. Secondly, the author pays model could create a conflict of interest. At the moment the relationship is between the publisher and the reader. When the relationship is between the publisher and the author there will, to pick up on the hon. Gentleman's intervention, be a conflict of interest, perhaps without such clear dividing lines.

Thirdly, part of the title of the Select Committee report, "Free for all?" is highly misleading. Publishing scientific research is not free. Huge costs are involved for items such as peer review, proof reading and cross-referencing. At the moment it costs about $3,500 to publish the average scientific article. There is no evidence that those costs would decline and if they did I suspect it would lead to a reduction in the quality of the articles. The internet and digitisation provide a fantastically important new platform for the dissemination of research, but nothing can get us away from the fact that making that research ready for publication still involves significant upfront costs, which will not go away.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The hon. Gentleman talks about the title. Can I ask him whether he has seen the question mark at the end of the expression, "Free for all?", and whether he understands that that sometimes lends some irony to a statement? In other words, it might not be free.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for accepting the point that the publishing of scientific research will always cost money. That is an essential part of this debate. As for his earlier intervention, I believe that the author pays model severely undermines the prospect of peer review. How can the advocates of change guarantee that we will not rapidly move to a model of who pays most gets published fastest? If there is a free-for-all, how can we monitor the quality of contributions as we do now, both by peer review and by the quality of journals in which they are published? The new model will not simply reduce the costs of disseminating scientific research to the benefit of the research community; it will transfer those costs somewhere else within the scientific community.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Under the current system, authors must pay for certain parts of a paper—for example, if it contains a plate or a colour picture. That can be very expensive and one often must get a charity or someone else to pay for it. Therefore, there is already a restriction on authors. It can be quite expensive to publish a paper.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

It certainly can be expensive to publish a paper. However, I do not want a system that transfers that expense wholesale. That is why we all agree that there should be diverse publishing systems and models. We should not rush headlong into a situation in which author pays is the mainstream norm.

The new model will simply transfer costs because while universities and their libraries must currently pay for access to journals, in future they will have to pay for their authors to get published. That means that the cost will fall most heavily on leading universities, many of which are in the UK. Cornell university in New York has already stated that it would see its expenditure rise significantly under an author pays model.

The author pays model is not a panacea or a scientific nirvana. It brings with it some very significant problems. In the UK, there is a particular need to address this issue. In his closing remarks, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said that the choice was between protecting the interests of the UK scientific industry or the interests of the research community as a whole. That is a false dichotomy. Potentially, those interests are one and the same. The Government's role is to protect the UK scientific community, not to intervene by, in effect, nationalising research publishing when it is so successful, employs so many people and is such a world-beater.

The real problem is the boom in research. Britain, the developed world and, indeed, the developing world are all putting money into research, which is hugely welcome. However, with the increase in funding for research comes more product. That means fatter journals, more peer review, and more available information. It is estimated that the increase in research and development funding will cause an increase of about 1 million papers a year over the next decade, almost doubling the output. The problem is that library budgets have not kept up with that explosion in information growth.

In searching for a solution to the problem, I ask the Minister to look at the research and development budget in the round, and to think of libraries as part of that budget. That would be a way of saying that research and development is not simply about the creation of knowledge; it is also about its dissemination. If we do not have mechanisms in place to disseminate knowledge, we will all be the poorer.

Britain is recognised as an international centre for journal publishing. I have gone so far as to say that we are a world leader. I believe that, and much of that leadership is based in Oxfordshire. Many of the people who work in that industry live in my constituency. It would be wrong to undermine the industry by a headlong rush into untried and untested models. Instead, we should allow the publishing industry to adapt and to change in the face of that challenge.

The Wellcome Trust initiative is an enormous opportunity, not a threat. The trust is, in effect, a private institution that is perfectly free to set up its own distribution model based on its own charitable principles. I applaud it, not least because it is also a constituent of mine, as it funds the vast majority of the costs of the Diamond synchrotron project at Hull university. That is not the result of a Government solution imposed from above, but a private organisation taking a decision based on its own funding.

As I said, the publishing industry is moving to increase access to its output, and advances are already being made that suggest that an open access system will evolve within the current scenario. Surely it makes sense to allow the system to develop in a viable and sustainable way.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

What does the hon. Gentleman think about the RCUK decision on publicly funded research?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

That decision was for the RCUK to take, but I have great concerns about it, not only because wanting to fund international repositories will end up increasing its costs and the cost of access, but because that will have a wider impact on the publishing industry. The RCUK should have thought more carefully before taking that decision.

As the Royal Society says:

"the worst case scenario is that funders could force a rapid change in practice which encourages the introduction of new journals, archives and repositories that cannot be sustained in the long-term but simultaneously forces the closure of existing peer-reviewed journals".

That is the nub of the argument; the problems that arise when people run hell for leather to the new system without any regard to the effect on the current system.

As the chairman of CABI Publishing rightly said to me:

"for information to be freely available, it cannot be available for free".

Distributing knowledge will always cost money, and we must ask whether there is an overwhelming case for the Government to put more money into the distribution of knowledge. In my view, there is no case for the Government to do that.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East 4:02 pm, 15th December 2005

First, I congratulate you on being elevated to the Chairmen's Panel, Mrs. Dean. It is a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon.

As a mere northerner, I have always regarded the golden triangle as having all the research. As we have now heard, it also has much of the publishing ability. It was a great privilege to listen to Mr. Vaizey, and I welcome his contribution to the debate.

Mr. Willis said in his introduction that this is a controversial topic. He is, of course, absolutely right, but he ain't seen nothing yet. The previous Committee produced quite a lot of interesting reports, some of which caused controversy, like this one, but we will really see the sparks flying when the subject of human reproductive technologies and the law reaches the Floor of this Chamber or the main Chamber.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on scientific publications, especially in the light of rapid developments and the publication of the Government's response to our report, which has caused some difficulties. Given that I will mention learned societies, I should declare a registered interest in that I am a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and one of its two honorary advisers in the House.

The ideal would be to make all scientific publications available to everyone on the internet at no cost either to the user or to the author, which would, as hon. Members have said, be of enormous benefit to those working in developing countries who do not have access to many of these publications in either hard copy format or in e-publication format because of their excessive costs.

It is the policy of learned societies such as the RSC to make all their publications freely available to those in developing nations, as the hon. Member for Wantage said. Every article published in RSC journals that are more than two subscription years old, but unfortunately dating back only to 1997, is already freely available in digital format. However, the RSC intends to digitalise as far back as it can go. That will cost, however. As hon. Members have said, nothing is for free; somebody must pay for it.

There are those who believe that open access publishing would put at risk the future of learned societies and even commercial publishing houses, especially if neither the user nor the author pays. There is considerable profit to be made from scientific publishing in the commercial field. As has been said, up to half of the world's peer-reviewed journals are published by or on behalf of learned societies and other not-for-profit organisations.

Peer-reviewed journals are much less expensive and are cited more often by other authors than most, but not all, commercial journals. I agree that the publication of journals—with an estimated turnover of £2 billion—contributes significantly to the UK economy. That figure represents 25 to 30 per cent. of the world market. In other words, we are punching well above our weight. Sixty to 80 per cent. of that £2 billion turnover comes from export earnings. The hon. Member for Wantage said that export earnings total £100 million, but I think that the figure is closer to £750 million. Scientific journals are a considerable export earner for the United Kingdom economy.

Some 85 per cent. of the Royal Society of Chemistry's authors and 90 per cent. of its customers live outside the UK. In that case, as in the case of other learned societies, profits are used for several charitable functions. The Royal Society of Chemistry comes second only to the Government in providing educational facilities for chemistry teachers in schools and in higher and further education. The user pays model for journal publications is still by far the most common model used, although many journals charge both for the author to publish and for the user to read a journal. Individual members of learned societies benefit from a considerably cheaper subscription than non-members and libraries, which probably pay the highest subscription cost.

I want to go off-piste for a minute, Mrs. Dean. As a student and teacher in universities for 39 years, I saw many changes in the way in which we published our research findings. Incidentally, I am one of only two scientists who have published as an elected Member of the House of the Commons, the other being a scientist called Roscoe, who did much of his work in Manchester. It took me a long time to persuade the Royal Society of Chemistry to allow me to put MP after my name when I published two or three papers after I was elected in 1997.

When I started to study chemistry seriously in the 1960s, there were few journals to choose from in which to publish. Most were published by learned societies. It was advantageous to become a member of organisations such as the Royal Society of Chemistry because that allowed me to publish free of charge. There were other benefits, too. I began my career by publishing in the Journal of the Chemical Society.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

For the record, I published in Nature after I had become an MP. How does that rate in the citation index against the Royal Society of Chemistry publication?

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

My hon. Friend is trying to get one up on me, because Nature is one of the highest-impact journals. I cannot compete with him. I shall change "two MPs" to "three MPs" in future.

As the number of universities expanded in the UK post-Robbins, and worldwide as well, the number of publications in each subject increased logarithmically. The learned society journals sub-divided and became more specialist. The Journal of the Chemical Society was no exception—it fragmented, too. I started to publish in the Journal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions I, which was named after Henry Perkin. He discovered mauveine, the first synthetic dye. As the number of publications increased, so the cost to libraries began to rise steeply.

Unfortunately, the learned societies were not moving with the times, and long periods elapsed between submission of a paper and publication. The commercial publishing houses saw the chance and made available journals that not only published rapidly in camera-ready copy, but reduced publication times significantly. That was a huge attraction for scientists to start publishing in commercial rather than learned journals. That was a watershed in the field. Chemists began to publish in journals such as Tetrahedron and Tetrahedron Letters, which are today owned by Reed Elsevier. Library costs soared again. The commercial publishing houses had to make a profit, of course.

The preparation of camera-ready copy was made easier for chemists by the introduction of computer packages that would draw complex molecular formulae and integrate them straight into the text so that the paper could be published direct almost without any alteration. Incidentally, Tetrahedron and Tetrahedron Letters started life at Oxford, at Headington Hill hall, and the gentleman who started those and many other scientific publications—the hon. Member for Wantage is ahead of me, and is smiling—was the great, late entrepreneur, Robert Maxwell. Pergamon press eventually came into the ownership of Reed Elsevier.

A further factor was that the kudos and extra income from being the academic editor of a journal further multiplied the number of journals available from the commercial publishing houses. It seemed that every professor wanted a share of the profits to add to his academic salary because academic salaries were, and always have been, rather poor. In my opinion, academics partly created the problems that we are debating this afternoon. Each journal became more specialised in its coverage. It seemed at one time that there might be a journal for every element in the periodic classification. We had the journals of fluorine chemistry, selenium chemistry, phosphorus chemistry and sulphur chemistry, and it went on and on. Even developing countries started to publish. It became almost impossible for me and many other chemists to keep up with the chemical literature. We had to rely heavily on abstracting services, the most important of which is and was the manual search facility provided by the American Chemical Society in Ohio, Chemical Abstracts. The cost of Chemical Abstracts went through the ceiling. Members have already mentioned the soaring cost of journals. One source has told me that the cost of journals increased by 57 per cent. between 1998 and 2003, just five years.

Along came the Conservative Government in 1979 and higher education, I am sad to say, was starved of money. I remember lists of journals being sent to me on an annual basis by the librarian of the university of Salford, where I worked, and him asking me to put the list in priority order. Every year, journals fell off the bottom of the list at an accelerating rate. That was a sad time.

That is the background that has led to today's debate. One of the greatest changes is access to the world's literature on the worldwide web. It is no longer necessary to dive across the campus, search through the journals on the dusty shelves, find the one wanted and read the paper in often cluttered conditions. The papers can be read at home and at a desk in an office. What a boon that has been to scientists.

Probably the most prolific scientific author of all time happens to be a friend of mine. He is called Professor Alan Katritzky, and he left the university of East Anglia many years ago for the university of Florida at Gainesville. He is such a prolific scientific publisher that his name is in the "Guinness Book of Records". Like me, he is an organic chemist; more specifically we are both heterocyclic organic chemists. In the year 2000, Alan launched a truly open access journal, ARKIVOC for short, or archive for organic chemistry. His motivation was

"to alleviate a number of adverse trends in the practise and publication of organic chemistry, which are particularly acute in countries of the second and third world".

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned Professor Katritzky. I knew him quite well and we used to exchange views at meetings. Is it not true that chemists tend to publish every experiment that they do?

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

That is not true. I will refer to the reasons why in a moment.

To advance their careers, academics compete with each other for a place to publish in the journals with greatest impact—the journals that are most read and most cross-referenced by others in their profession. That drives the cost of those journals higher and higher. The research assessment exercise has not helped with that problem. That sort of competition is most intensive in the science, engineering and technological areas, including the medical sciences.

In the light of those facts, Professor Katritzky launched a not-for-profit organisation called ARKAT-USA Inc. Foundation, which, in January 2000, launched the internet version of the journal to which I have just referred. That was made possible—as I said earlier, nothing is for free—through an initial donation from a benefactor, and it is self-generating today by the generosity of people who want to support it. In the past few months, the innovation has gone one step further, because a hard-copy issue is now available, just at the cost of production—$20 per issue—and it is circulated by the famous internet company, Amazon.

Today, that journal is self-supporting, partly due to the benefactors but also due to the fact that scores of organic chemists contribute towards editing it, peer- reviewing its papers, and providing the technical editorship that is necessary for it to appear in that high quality format. It is a high quality journal; journals will not survive unless they are produced to a high quality, with good peer reviews and with few bad papers in them for that reason.

The author pays online model is growing in acceptability, otherwise we would not be having this debate. However, as has already been pointed out, that loads costs on to funding organisations. The hon. Member for Wantage said that it loads costs on to the authors, but I should like to knock that idea on the head straight away. Very few authors of scientific publications pay out of their own pockets. It is the funding organisations that pay: organisations such as the research councils. However, as the hon. Gentleman implied, it does shift costs away from libraries on to research budgets. Research Councils UK does not appear to have the money to allow that shift to occur. I also doubt that universities will shift costs away from hard-pressed libraries on to equally hard-pressed research departments.

Researchers supported by charities cannot currently meet all the costs of their academic research and so the author pays model is bad for people who use charitable money to carry out their research. There is some controversy about whether that model—the author pays model—is cheaper than the most common subscriber pays model. The Wellcome Trust claims that it is 30 per cent. cheaper, and others agree, but a number of people strongly disagree with that, among which the Royal Society has been mentioned. Of course, wherever money is charged for doing something, there must be quite a number of administrators to collect the money. Therefore, in my opinion, it does not significantly reduce the costs compared with subscriber pays models.

The Government are also not convinced that the author pays model is superior to the current subscriber pays model. They say that they want to provide a level playing field so that market forces can provide a solution to the problem. The Committee, of which I am a member, does not agree with that statement by the Government—I agree with the Committee, and perhaps will explain why later.

The author pays model is probably not acceptable to scientists working in developing countries either, because they will not be able to find the money unless the journal concerned waives the costs. Someone in the debate has already said that that is a rather patronising attitude.

In the past, the costs of hard-copy journals were kept down by the author pays model, but that model still incurs the costs of printing and distribution of the journals, or of setting up and maintaining a website. The higher the rejection rates for papers, the higher the publication costs. Nature Publishing Group rejects some 90 per cent. of the papers submitted to it. That is a phenomenal cost to be loaded on to the publication of that high-impact journal, in which my hon. Friend Dr. Gibson has had the pleasure of publishing. It claims that the author pays model would entail a cost of between £5,500 and £16,500 per article, depending on length. That is a phenomenal publication cost.

Some scientists also feel that the author pays model will lower the quality of published papers, especially in commercially produced journals. Obviously, to maximise profits it is in their interest to publish as many papers as possible under that model. That would be a backward step.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman was just making about the potentially high cost, under the author pays system, of publishing a paper where there is a high rejection rate, because of the cost of reviewing and peer reviewing those papers, but would not the problem be solved, to a certain extent, by a charge for submission, which would also deter speculative submissions to high-impact journals by those whose research was not of appropriate quality or whose results were not of appropriate interest?

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

It would if that approach were universal, but if some journals charged a submission charge and others did not where would an author prefer to publish? The answer is pretty obvious.

Online access to journals would be very welcome to people taking career breaks, such as women who were taking time off to have a child, for example. They could keep up with the literature if they were lucky enough to have a computer at home, or, even if they did not, in the library. That would be an advantage.

The Government's response was wrong. I must reiterate that, because I, too, feel strongly about it. We were not recommending the author pays model in our conclusions. All that we were doing was to suggest to the Government that they should pay attention to it, and perhaps undertake some research and give guidance to publicly funded researchers, so that some indication of the future would be available.

I am pleased to see from today's very welcome Wellcome Trust press release, which was embargoed until today, that the Committee's work has had an impact. The trust will pay for its authors—who are undertaking its research—to publish on three online services: Blackwell Online Open, Oxford University Press's Oxford Open and Springer Open Choice Services. The trust claims that that would cost 1 per cent. of its total annual spend, which seems quite a small amount. Today's announcement has given the open access movement a huge boost and drives the debate a step forward.

The research councils' policy on institutional repositories has been mentioned, and it is one that I welcome, although it has not been finalised. The Committee Chairman and I met Professor Ian Diamond a few days ago, and it is hoped that the details of the policy will be finalised towards the end of spring. The RCUK is about to reach agreements with a large number of commercial publishing houses, which will allow papers published in their commercial journals to go online in institutional repositories.

However, there are difficulties, one of which is the delay. We have not worked out what the delay will be yet, but it will be at least six months, and 12 months for some journals. Of course, commercial publishing houses will allow only the text to be published, which for scientists—such as chemists like me who want to see spectroscopic data—will, frankly, be a severe hindrance. I ask commercial publishing houses to reconsider that policy and allow whole papers, not just the text, to be published online.

It is not only the Wellcome Trust and the RCUK that are involved. The open access movement is worldwide, and one of its big supporters is the National Institutes of Health in the United States. All three organisations have considerable clout in publishing. When the details of the RCUK's policy are announced, it will undoubtedly incentivise academics to deposit research papers in institutional repositories for the benefit of all worldwide. It will also incentivise those universities that have not already done so to set up such repositories. I know that the university of Liverpool has set one up, because I am a visiting professor there.

Institutional repositories will be of benefit only if academics support them and if their funders insist on self-archiving in addition to publication in a reputable journal. In my opinion, they will never replace open access to the journals, particularly the high-impact journals in which everyone wants to be published. However, much research is conducted and published outside the academic environment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North said, the Committee recommended that the British Library be made responsible for operating a central repository.

A third requirement is needed to make institutional repositories successful. All publishers must allow their authors to self-archive in their repositories—without constraint, as I said earlier. Eventually, of course, the repositories will have to be international in scale. That will bring the problem of searching institutional repositories worldwide. Someone has to bite the bullet and provide the search engines. Perhaps it could be Google; perhaps it will be another similar commercial house. At this stage, we do not know.

In answer to my hon. Friend, not all work is published. I know that scores of works still lie unpublished on university library shelves. Indeed, I have one such thesis on my bookshelf; I published a letter, but the full details of the experiments have never been published, and I could not even persuade my research student, who went into industry, to find the time to publish his excellent work. There are scores of unpublished theses throughout the world. I urge universities to deposit them in full in the institutional repositories. That would be a great advantage to science. Theses are littered with negative results, but no journal will publish them. If they are deposited, the negative results arising from hundreds of thousands of experiments will become available. That will help other scientists to avoid repeating those experiments—although when experiments are repeated, they often have different results.

I shall briefly mention VAT. The Committee recommended that the Government consider not charging VAT on e-publications. I challenge the Minister. The Government want a level playing field. They said so to the Committee time after time. How can we have a level playing field if hard-copy publications are zero-rated for VAT and e-publications are rated at 17.5 per cent? The Government say that it is impossible not to charge VAT. Nothing is impossible.

Publishing scientific papers is not only a European problem; it is a worldwide problem. However, VAT is special to Europe. We could raise the issue with the right director general, and try to persuade the European Parliament to zero rate e-publications. Only then will we have a truly level playing field. If that cannot be done, it could be possible to reduce VAT on e-publications to 5 per cent.

The advent of e-publications has brought the world's publishing industry to a watershed. It is likely that more than one publishing model will be available for several years to come before market forces and our academic interests determine the preferred model. Some call for Government intervention and guidance. Indeed, the New Zealand Government have already determined their policy to support the open access movement. Some Governments already support the movement. Others, however, are content to allow the market to determine the future; that is where the Government appear to lie. One thing is for sure, the publishing business is in a state of turmoil. During the transitional period, the cost of accessing scientific publications is likely to rise even more, which will cause many difficulties, particularly for academia and public libraries. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Janet Dean Janet Dean Labour, Burton

Dr. Brian Iddon—sorry, Dr. Evan Harris; there are too many doctors around here.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities 4:30 pm, 15th December 2005

I hate to disagree with you as soon as I rise to my feet, Mrs. Dean—it is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair—but I should say that there are not enough doctors around. I refer of course to proper doctors, and not medical doctors such as myself. My hon. Friend Mr. Willis looks at me quizzically; proper doctors are those with PhDs, of whom there are thousands in my constituency. It is right, in the spirit of what Mr. Vaizey said, to make that clear from the beginning.

I wear two hats in this debate; as the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman on science and as a member of both the current Science and Technology Committee and the previous Committee, which conducted the inquiry. It was a real pleasure serving on that Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Norwich—

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

Norwich, North; it is important to get that distinction right. In his service to the Committee, the hon. Gentleman did a huge amount to raise the profiles of the Committee and of science and technology, and I am convinced that he will continue to do so as a Member of the House. The way in which he spoke today showed the passion and expertise that he brought to bear on many of the subjects into which we inquired. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has a hard act to follow, but with his mixture of intelligence and a mischievous sense of humour he will continue to build on the strong start that he has made and will make the Committee just as incisive and as pleasurable to serve on as it was before.

I suppose that the third hat that I, and all other hon. Members present, wear is that of a Member who is prepared to stay and debate on a Thursday afternoon near to Christmas. The fact that this is such an important subject is one reason why we are here—not just out of duty. I share the views of my hon. Friend; when I first came to serve on the Committee, I did not think that the subject was one to fill the seats. I had not heard a huge amount about the debate and was surprised that every oral evidence session had a packed gallery and that the inquiry was followed closely in the scientific and academic worlds and press. I should have realised that the stakes were high when we were subjected to a huge amount of lobbying from both sides of the argument; from the open access advocates to the publishers, as is entirely their right.

Our report struck a good balance between those two arguments. We did not fall victim to taking on trust some of the optimism and idealism of the open access campaigners. Neither would we read into the record briefings from the publishers without subjecting them to careful scrutiny. I had many heated discussions—even arguments—with publishers from my constituency and elsewhere, which were useful in helping me to clarify the key issues. One such publisher, Bob Campbell, who was mentioned by the hon. Member for Wantage, is a very clever man. I mean that as a compliment; that is not always the case in this House. He brought a dimension to the debate, even from the publishers' side, that was important.

The report was right to strike the balance that it did, and I share the concern of those who regret that it was apparently misinterpreted, to an extent, by the Government, at least in relation to the response. On reflection, I do not necessarily agree with every recommendation in the report, which failed to stress certain matters on which I will touch. This is not a party political matter, so much of what I say will represent not the position of a political party, but my reflections on the issue.

Let us be clear; when the Royal Society puts out a position statement, tens of its most eminent members write in protest and e-mails scurry backwards and forwards, we know that this is a highly contentious and controversial matter. Although one cannot guarantee this, the lack of research about the scope for an alternative model, which would work by means of encouragement and evolution, or by mandating public-funded funders of research, probably makes the correspondence and exchanges on this issue more heated. One of the Committee's recommendations was for the Government not to conduct, but to commission research on this key matter.

The Government are right that it is not a matter just for this country and that we must see ourselves in a global perspective. The National Institutes of Health has taken a lead in the United States, but the negotiations with the publishing sector, which is equally commercially minded and is, I suspect, as effective as a lobbyist as the sector in this country, were not straightforward. The NIH did not have an easy ride mandating better free access to publicly funded and NIH-funded research.

My first point, therefore, is that this issue is crying out for research. There is a role, if not for the Government, then for social science research funders, to look at the matter and perhaps agree the terms of reference.

My hon. Friend introduced the debate fairly and was right to stress the points that he did in respect of the report. I shall not repeat them, but I look forward to the Government's response.

On the comments of the hon. Member for Norwich, North and his appropriate praise for Emily Commander, we have probably broken all the rules in the House about not embarrassing Clerks of Committees. I shall not pursue the issue further, save by deepening the sin and agreeing wholeheartedly with what has been said.

The hon. Member for Wantage did us a service by stating clearly the publishers' perspective, and his comments deserve a great deal of scrutiny for their own sake and because they represent the view of many publishers. He is right that there are many employees of publishing companies in my constituency, which contains the headquarters of several publishers, including Reed Elsevier, Oxford University Press and many others. Many of those people—this is a general problem in the publishing world—tell me that the rates of pay in commercial publishing are not great. The work force is female-dominated, and the relatively low rates of pay in the publishing world are one reason for the continuing pay gap for female graduates. That is hard to equate with the significant profits that some organisations make. I am not criticising employers, but simply making the point that there are several issues that concern those from the publishing world, and the low pay of women, particularly women editors, is one of which I am aware. Those women object to the fact that they are in their late 20s and 30s and have to live in shared houses in a high-cost area in Oxfordshire, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the problem.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

The first point is that I felt I was giving the views not only of the publishers, but of members of the academic community and learned societies. Dr. Iddon made it clear that a great debate is raging; it is not simply a case of the commercial publishers on one side and their opponents on the other. It is insidious to suggest that the commercial publishers are paying slave wages. There are many people on low wages in academia as well, and in many other industries.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The hon. Gentleman is right, and I did not mean to imply anything untoward. The interests of those working in publishing go far wider than the open access debate, as he will acknowledge. The same applies to science. A large number of my constituents work in that world and in libraries. They have concerns about high costs and the demands on their budgets when it comes to purchasing journals. I have heard the debates about whether the costs per article downloaded and per article bought are going up or down. However, people who work in libraries tell me that they feel that they are being squeezed. It is important to recognise that.

There is disagreement in the science world about whether open access is good or bad or something that does not matter to individuals. I shall explore that in a moment. Because commercial publishers make profits, that does not mean that they do not have a valid interest in ensuring that we have a healthy scientific publications world. The not-for-profit organisations that create surpluses that they reinvest should not claim too much of the moral high ground; they, too, have self interest. For the record, I do not consider that there is anything wrong with that, or with commercial publishers making profits out of publicly-funded research. I have greater disdain for some commercial enterprises, such as tobacco companies, and no such problem with publishing companies. There is a difference between making money by legitimate means and making money by peddling disease to developing countries. We should give a cheer for the healthy world of commercial publishing that we have in this country, led by innovative publishing organisations. The profiteering argument is not a good one.

The second point made by the hon. Gentleman concerned the argument, which he was correct to query, that because something is publicly funded, it has to be publicly available free of charge regardless of the impact that that might have on the publishing world. It is not right to be so absolute. We can say that it would be a good thing for something that is publicly funded to be widely available, and for no charge to be made for access to it. However, it does not necessarily follow that it ought to be; that would have to be balanced against the viability of the publishing model and the continuing health of the UK publishing industry. Again, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Where I began to depart from his point of view was on the important question of peer review. He said that an author pays model would result in journals that were less likely to be peer reviewed. Rightly, he did not say that open access or author pays means no peer review. However, it is fair to say that many in the field who promote open access and author pays are extremely sensitive about the allegation that just because the author pays model might seem to create a conflict of interest there is any evidence in established author pays, open access journals that peer review is any less strong. It is vital, as the Select Committee report made clear, that any move to open access should take with it the strongest possible element of peer review, and that a crystal clear distinction should be made between post-print, post-peer-reviewed work in institutional repositories and work that has not been peer reviewed.

Neither I, as an individual, nor my party would have any truck with anything that took away from the importance of peer review. As the hon. Member for Norwich, North wisely said, however, there are problems with peer review. It is not perfect. Sometimes it does not work. We saw the example of the Wakefield paper in The Lancet. I am pleased to say that, although The Lancet is published by Elsevier, the separation that has to exist between editorial policy and publisher did exist in that case. I do not question that. It is absolutely right to cast no blame on the publisher for the fact that the paper was published in an inadequate form—I think that some of the authors were responsible for those problems—or for the fact that it has not been fully retracted. In my view, it should have been fully retracted, but I do not think that that has anything to do with the publisher.

The same Chinese walls must exist in an open access or author pays model of publishing to ensure that there is no question of the requirements of peer review being reduced simply to attract authors, who are paying, to submit their papers. I do not think that any journal that wanted to be taken seriously and to ensure that it attracted good-quality research from responsible authors could afford, in commercial and reputational terms, to give any indication that the requirements for quality assurance were reduced in that model.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that this is not just a matter of producing high-quality papers? Today, it is becoming even more relevant to avoid plagiarism.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

Absolutely. I say gently to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough that there is an inquiry to be had on the dangers of plagiarism, research ethics and similar problems and overall peer review issues.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Does the hon. Gentleman think that people who peer review should be paid for doing so? They are not paid, apart from perhaps the chief of the editorial board, who has to run the whole show. Most people do it as part of their tenure.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

I do not want to dodge the issue, but that is a very interesting question. There is an argument for the issue to be inquired into. I recognise—I think that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East made this point—that there is a cost to peer review and clearly, the more filleting that has to be done because journals of high reputation attract many submissions, the higher those costs will be.

The point that I made earlier was that, in order not to transfer the cost in an author pays model on to the good researchers or the best researchers who pass peer review, journals that publish only 5 per cent. of papers received ensure that the submission fee covers the cost only of peer review. Clearly, not all journals may wish to do that, but that is what a market involves. Some will say, "We will have a submission cost." People take a gamble, but at least that means that people who are successful in getting through will not pay the costs relating to all the people who speculatively submit. I think that a submission fee is a good thing, but some journals may not want to have one in order to have that as their selling point. That is what markets do, and scientists and authors are capable of making such choices. I am in favour of choice, even in that way, in marketplaces.

Something needs to be said about the position of learned societies, because they have expressed concerns. I am aware of concerns expressed not only by the Royal Society—which has an axe to grind, not unreasonably, in respect of the journal that it produces, in effect, as a learned society—but by the Royal Society of Chemistry and others. They are concerned that a system of publishing in institutional repositories at the time when or shortly after an article is published in their journal might mean that their subscription income drops, and they rely on that income and the surplus that they get from it to do all the other good things that they do, which are so important. It is right that regard should be paid to those concerns. I believe that in a mature market, learned societies can run successful author pays systems of publishing. That means that they will have the same ability to generate surpluses that they presently have for their other activities. That is why I have concerns, which I have expressed before, about a headlong rush into the use of institutional repositories. That represents neither the straightforward publishing model that we have now, nor the full-blooded author pays access that provides an income stream for publishers, but from a different source. We must be careful not to choose one or the other.

The journals that are most vulnerable to a small drop in subscriptions will be those most liable to fold, perhaps because some people will wait to find them in a repository, especially if those facilities are linked to make them easily accessible. It is likely that the large publishers will be able to cope with that in a way that small publishers would not. I am sensitive to that matter, which is why I question whether the report has got the balance right. We must be very careful that we do not choose an option for full access if that means that no one is getting funding, no one is getting an income stream and no one is able to generate surplus.

The importance of publishing negative results has already been mentioned. That is particularly the case in the health care sector. However we deal with the question of which model to choose, we must have a publishing system that enables negative results to be published. That especially applies to clinical trials through which individuals—patients and healthy controls—have put themselves as a favour to society. Otherwise, we shall suffer from a publication bias that makes it difficult to know what the evidence base really is. We must find a way to do that, perhaps through rules that stipulate that trials must be published even if they are negative and not very interesting.

Much has been said about the developing world. The question is whether a change to an author pays system will disadvantage the developing world. As the hon. Member for Wantage said, that sector benefits from schemes organised by commercial publishers and others that are publicly funded from free or subsidised access to research findings. That is not a question of whether it is an author pays model or not. If there are to be subsidies and support for researchers and readers in the developing world, it does not necessarily matter which model is in place. Whatever the model, we must ensure support for information technology in the developing world. There must also be sufficient bandwidth for research findings to be accessed. As the hon. Member for Norwich, North said, another report of the Select Committee dealt with that matter.

In summary, this was a very important report. The Government must address any doubt as to whether they are playing with a straight bat on this matter. The Government have said that research councils—and, therefore, the RCUK—are independent of policy, even if they are in receipt of Government funding. There is concern that, because of the commercial interests of the DTI, which has a role in promoting commerce, the Government have influenced the RCUK in an effort to persuade it to reconsider or delay publications. An assurance from the Minister that that has not been the case would be extremely helpful.

The Minister will be aware that, under freedom of information, it was revealed that, since February 2004, Lord Sainsbury has twice met and had one telephone call with Sir Crispin Davis, the chief executive of Reed Elsevier. The Minister has also once met the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers and has once met Harold Varmus, the leading advocate of open access.

There is concern that there should be a level playing field on which people are free to lobby. People on one side of the debate have lobbied much more successfully than have people on the other, and it would be helpful if the Government reassured us that they believe there is a need for a level playing field and that they are speaking not only for those on one side of the debate but for those on the other.

A level playing field will require the Government to commission research in the way that has been described. I argue, however, that we must proceed with care so that we do not undermine the viability of one publishing model, or the viability of both models if they can live together, as I believe they can, by rushing to have institutional repository publishing without sorting out a system of kite marking and without reassuring people that it will be clear that material has been peer reviewed.

We do need to proceed with caution. The inquiry and the report were both excellent, and it was right that the Select Committee took the unusual step of drawing attention to the Government's inadequate response to the main thrust of its report.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) 4:56 pm, 15th December 2005

Mr. Willis said in his opening remarks that he had not expected to become an expert on scientific publishing. One of the great aspects of this place is that it is a voyage of discovery in which many things come before us in which we do not expect to become experts, and we end up realising how fascinating they are and how much subject matter there is to be considered. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the very thorough and measured way in which he introduced the debate, and the very clear way in which he set out the findings of the Select Committee's report.

If anyone can make a dry subject interesting, it is Dr. Gibson, who has the ability to bring a great sense of fun, enthusiasm and excitement to everything that he does. That will have been evident in the work of the Committee in this area and more broadly. It is notable that when he received a politics charity award for his contribution to health last week or the week before, of all the people who received awards, his was the one that brought pleasure to all parties because of the genuine respect for the expertise and excellence that he brings to his subject.

Throughout the debate, we have heard thoughtful and well-prepared speeches that presumably were written with the intention of publishing them at some time in some learned journal for future generations to read. Whether we will be prepared to pay to have them published is another subject for debate. We have all learned a great deal more.

A week ago, as I was languishing in my sick bed with scarlet fever, the thought of speaking today on scientific publications was not an immediate aid to recovery, and at times a relapse seemed almost attractive. The more that I have looked into the subject, however, the more truly fascinating I have found it to be, and it is worthy of the debate this afternoon.

We have also been taken by the fascinating undercurrent of biology v. chemistry, on which there is clearly an even greater rift between old Labour and new Labour.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

As my hon. Friend pointed out, this is a UK success story. We lead the world in academic publishing. The major players in the field are British, as are the most respected journals, such as The Lancet and International Affairs. Some 5 per cent.—60,000—of the 1.2 million articles published each year are from the UK. That shows the extent to which having a vibrant publishing sector has enabled us to hit above our weight in carrying out and publishing academic research. We also have a global reputation for academic rigour.

The first question we must ask ourselves is whether the current system is failing. There are three strands to the system: the for-profit sector, the not-for-profit sector and the learned societies. Many people have spoken eloquently about the need to ensure that nothing that we do undermines the work of those learned societies.

We have ended up with a system of academic rigour that is probably second to none. Dr. Iddon) spoke of Nature rejecting nine in 10 articles that are submitted to it, and 97 per cent. of the articles that are submitted to The Lancet being rejected. It should be seen as a tremendous strength that we have enormous diversity and a great range of publications, so that those at the very top are seen as being of world importance, whereas everybody at a different level still gets a chance to have their views and research published. That has led to a tremendous dissemination of knowledge.

We have to accept that excellence cannot be achieved on the cheap. It is not just the research, it is the assessment, the peer group work, the editing, the publishing and the marketing. All in all, it ends up as an extremely expensive exercise. For different publications costs of $2,000 to $3,000 per article published are not uncommon. If we want to see that excellence maintained, we must be prepared to invest in it.

Our current system has significant benefits. It means that copyright is protected. There is the legal system and the might of those publishing companies and learned societies that can protect copyright legally if that is required. The quality of the articles is maintained. The hon. Gentleman spoke of his friend the prolific writer Professor Katritzky, who has been given the opportunity to contribute so many articles and so much research in this way. Whether he would have been prepared to do that at $3,000 dollars a pop if he had been paying for it himself or his institution had been paying for it is another matter.

We have seen great strides towards interoperability and a willingness to make sure that research is shared through the use of the internet, so that people can not only access the information that has been published by that journal or by journals from the same publishing house, but can link through to other research that has been published by different publishing houses. That is a tremendous benefit for students and people carrying out research. In recent years, all back copies of publications have been scanned, so every edition of The Lancet is now available digitally for people to access. There has probably never been more research work more generally available than there is today. It is against that background that we need to decide whether fundamental reform is required.

The concept of open access is a misnomer. The concept of author pays is more accurate. My concern about going down this route—some of the issues were so well set out by my hon. Friend—is that there could be a loss of academic rigour. Some articles will simply not be submitted if authors have to pay to do it. That is an issue to which the Royal Society drew attention in its position statement on open access. It said:

"Among the potential dangers are that researchers will stop submitting papers or subscribing to existing journals, particularly if they choose only to deposit papers in repositories and archives. If many journals cease to exist, without any guarantee that open access alternatives will offer the same range of options, for instance in terms of serving all sub-disciplines, the opportunities for publishing research results might diminish."

We have discussed the needs of developing countries. The hon. Member for Norwich, North spoke about Malawi. If one went down the route of the author paying, would it open up the opportunities for people in Malawi to contribute research or would it, as I believe, start to close them down because they and their institutions would find that they simply could not pay the charges? There is another dimension to this. As the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East said, it is not the author who pays but the institutions behind him or her. What we will then see is the potential for abuse because of the people who are prepared to fund publication.

Before I came to the House I worked, I am almost ashamed to say, in the public relations industry. It used to amaze me how many people could be found to write an academic research paper on virtually everything saying, for example "Fat is good for you," "Smoke is good for you," "More butter is important," "More alcohol is vital" and so on. Someone could be found, funded quite often by an organisation or a company with a vested interest in that area, to produce a piece of doubtless well researched academic work that came to the conclusions that they wanted.

If we go down the author pays route, we will open up the possibility that the people who are prepared to fund publication because of commercial advantage will come that much more to the fore. We have to question whether under that principle the same rigour would be given to choosing articles based on their academic merit. If a publication is trying to fill the final article or two before it goes to print, and it has an article with a cheque for $3,000 attached, it may be prepared to relax its standards. The Royal Society drew attention to that. It said:

"One consequence might be that the primary criterion for publication of results may become whether they are produced by researchers who can pay, rather than whether they are of wide interest to the rest of the research community. A move towards a system that relies mainly on ability to pay rather than quality would profoundly undermine the exchange of knowledge."

We have also discussed peer review. If there is a conflict between funding and the quality of the publication, the concept of peer review is inevitably undermined to some extent. It is also possible that we could end up subsidising large corporations. I believe that 40 per cent. of the subscriptions to publications are from large corporations—companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Ford. Do we really want the research to be available free to major corporations, which can afford to pay for it, yet charge the academic institutions and academics who provided the work in the first place? I am not even persuaded that that is a sustainable direction. The German company Springer has decided to offer choice, saying that people can go down the author pays route or the traditional way. Of some 200,000 articles published by Springer last year, only 24 were submitted on the author pays basis. Although I applaud and encourage diversity, we can see that there is no tremendous enthusiasm in the research community for going down that route.

Dr. Evan Harris spoke about charging for submissions in order to stop people putting forward too many articles. That fills me with horror. It strikes me as an attack on inspiration at a time when we should be encouraging people to submit the best research that they can to the best publications available. We should not start taxing people and putting charges on their work because they have dared to aim higher than might seem appropriate.

The hon. Member for Norwich, North introduced the concept that because the state has paid for it, the research should be accessible to all. That sounds like a wonderful motherhood and apple pie concept, but it would cause some fundamental problems. It would be a massive extension of state involvement. Do we really want a sector that has worked so well to be run as efficiently as the Child Support Agency or the working family tax credit system?

When the Government start to become involved in such matters, particularly if complicated computer systems and research engines are required, they do not necessarily do it as well as those in the private and the not-for-profit sectors. There would be no measure of quality. The temptation would be to publish everything; the concept of peer review would again be undermined.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that people who want things published do not want rubbish to be published because it creates problems, with people criticising their work? The community has some self-discipline, with papers being assessed by friends, who discuss where it might go before they get to the peer review system. The hon. Gentleman underestimates the fact that people in this field want to ensure that their work is of good quality, otherwise their kudos and respect plummets. They want a paper published so that people can say, "That was interesting work. Will you come and address a meeting?" The self-discipline of the community is hard to measure.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I understand what he says. The most effective measure of peer review is people examining the work and then asking whether others would be prepared to pay for it. When people come to decide whether to renew a subscription, they must be certain that they are getting the most thorough and best-quality research. The present system is rather better at guaranteeing that at the highest level.

We talk about the costs of funding research, but we have not taken account of the significant additional costs of publishing, marketing and bringing the research to wider attention. Unless the state is prepared to fund all that—that would represent a major extension of its funding in this area—we need to think carefully about taking that approach. The market is generally working well, choice is growing and new people are entering the market with new approaches, as we have heard. We do not, therefore, need to consider fundamental root-and-branch reform.

I would be grateful if the Minister could pick up on the issue of VAT on digital publications, which a few hon. Members have mentioned. The Government expect to make VAT gains from such publications over time because more will be done digitally than on a paper basis. As a result, the area that has been VAT exempt will decline and the area that is subject to VAT will grow. It is worrying that the Government should look to make money out of this, and I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurances on the issue.

We have heard that profits in the sector are high. However, the overall cost to universities of the present arrangements remains low—at one half of 1 per cent. of their total budget.

The best way to end is to quote again from the Royal Society's publication and its conclusions. The Royal Society ends by saying:

"Careful forethought, informed by proper investigation of the costs and benefits, is required before introducing new models that amount to the biggest change in the way that knowledge is exchanged since the invention of the peer-reviewed scientific journal 340 years ago. Otherwise the exchange of knowledge could be severely disrupted, and researchers and wider society will suffer the resulting consequences."

We are all committed to maintaining that exchange: it is a beacon of excellence and the hallmark of the research that has been carried out in this country and propagated throughout the world. I hope that the Minister can answer some of the many points that have been raised in the debate.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency) 5:12 pm, 15th December 2005

This afternoon has taken me back 25 years or more to a seminar on the philosophy of science, which I attended not as a scientist, but as a philosopher. The speaker was going to expostulate on quantum physics and explained that it was highly unlikely that we would be able to maintain our concentration throughout the afternoon, because the two people he would be telling us most about were called Plank and Bore. We have not had Plank or Bore this afternoon and we have managed to maintain our concentration throughout. However, whatever conclusions the House or the Government reach on whether the author should pay to publish, this afternoon has taught us one thing. Given that we have had three hours of debate, even though few hon. Members have spoken, politicians should perhaps pay to speak; that might keep speeches a little shorter.

The Government's position on open access is that research funding authorities should have the discretion to provide the funds if the author prefers an open access route. The Government's aim is to allow the market to develop without institutional barriers being put in the way of any particular publishing model. As we made clear in our response to the Science and Technology Committee, we are happy to see publishers developing several business models, including subscriber pays, open access and hybrid approaches. That option will encourage competition and innovation in the publishing industry and in publishing models, as well as retaining freedom of choice for authors. It is in the long-term interest of a sustainable scientific publications market.

I must congratulate Mr. Willis, who now chairs the Select Committee. He laid down several challenges and made several interesting points, to which I shall try to respond in my remarks. In particular, he said that it was essential for the Government to take the lead in funding and setting up open access because it would never get off the ground if they did not. I find it extremely refreshing to find a Liberal adopting such good old-fashioned socialist, centralist policies.

The Committee's inquiry was valuable. It highlighted an important area for discussion, which is the need to ensure that as wide an audience as possible can avail itself of the results of publicly funded research. The debate also threw up the fact that there is a complicated range of interrelated issues for which no one solution is likely to be ideal. The Government must take that into account when they develop their policy on scientific publications. The issues that the Government must tackle include the archiving of electronic material, because we must ensure that digital material is preserved for future generations; quality assurance, for which peer review is vital; and value for money. Most press interest has centred on what is commonly referred to as open access publication.

Publication of science is a key part of the scientific process. At present, with the dominant business model, a subscription payment is required, usually from a university or institutional library or from the commercial and industrial sectors, which the Committee acknowledged in "Scientific Publications: Free for all?"

"contribute significant funds to the publishing process".

However, is that the most cost-effective, or fairest, way to distribute scientific knowledge? An alternative model, which is known as open access, requires the author to pay to publish an article in a scientific journal. In practice, however, the institution or a research council would probably pay, not the author. The article would then be free to view on the internet.

There has been much debate about the current subscription model. Hon. Members have spoken about the perceived dominance of publishers and about diminishing library budgets. Proponents of the current subscription model argue that open access would ensure that scientific publications would be available to all as soon as they were published. That would be useful for people who are on career breaks, for example. However, opponents argue that many journals already provide such access and that the current open access business models are unproven and unsustainable.

The Government's position on open access is that we need to ensure, as we have heard from many quarters, a level playing field in order that research funding authorities can have the discretion to provide the funds if the author prefers an open access route. Given the uncertainty with current business models, that position is the most appropriate in order to encourage competition and innovation in publishing models and to retain freedom of choice for authors.

It was not only instructive but enlightening—as is usual with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North—to find that this debate came about as a result of a bar-side chat that he had with Lord Eatwell that focused on the unsupportable cost of scientific journals. There was, however, a lacuna somewhere in the argument that was made that publishing journals and learned societies were charging too much. The other assertion that my hon. Friend made was that the reason that the Government did not want to go down the open access route was because it would cost more.

While on some points that my hon. Friend made, I shall challenge one calumny that he may have perpetrated on the Royal Society of Chemistry, albeit unwittingly. Hansard will show that he considered the RSC's position to be that poor countries did not wish to be patronised by the RSC making available its information free of charge. In fact, the RSC does make its information available free of charge but considers that developing countries' scientists may not wish to be patronised by having author fees waived in an author pays system. That was conveyed to me before this debate. Scientists in developing countries would want to have their work received on merit and on an equal basis. Although the UK's research budget may be able to pay for authors in this country, as Charles Hendry remarked, it may be much more difficult for a scientist in Malawi, or in another developing country, to receive the same support.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

Does the Minister accept that an important part of overseas development aid might be to do exactly what Research Councils UK or other organisations do in the UK? They underpin the author pays model as part of their development aid project. Would that not be an excellent way of bringing together science and development in one pot?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

I fear that I am being led into a system of Copernican epicycles, whereby we try to correct the problem by using ever more remote systems in order to right the original wrong.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The Minister was right to try to clarify the position of the Royal Society of Chemistry, but it would be wrong to argue what developing world scientists might think without asking them and doing some research. Such scientists, rightly, already receive help to attend conferences and the problem of how to fund author pays will apply to those who are not funded by wealthy people or countries. That might also apply, as has been said, to charities in this country. They would probably be willing to accept payment or help in kind in terms of author pays fees. We cannot assume that they would not.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

I do not wish to challenge the hon. Gentleman. I sought to clarify what I understood to be the position of the Royal Society of Chemistry, rather than to develop any of his points further.

Let me return to publications. The Government need to consider a number of important issues with regard to scientific publications. Hon. Members will be aware that different disciplines, ranging from social sciences to astrophysics, have different needs, so a one-size solution would not necessarily fit all. We have to take into account the specific needs of many very different disciplines when formulating policy. Much has been said about the vital issue of peer review. Researchers need to be confident that the article that they are reading has been vigorously and rigorously peer reviewed, whatever the business model might be. Peer review is crucial for quality control, whether in print format or in an electronic journal, whether using open access or traditional subscription approaches.

It is imperative that the quality of research articles be maintained and not compromised by financial considerations or hasty changes to business models. As has been said, the leading journals have significant rejection rates, and it is that that drives up the quality of the articles. If a non-scientist may be allowed to introduce a classical note into the debate, "Male verum examinat omnis corruptus judex". Horace's point was that a poor way to establish the truth was to pay the judge.

For the benefit of research as a whole, a clear distinction must be made between those articles that have been published after rigorous peer review and those that have not. A key requirement of any published article is that it should be absolutely clear to researchers which version they are looking at. There must be no room for ambiguity. Journal impact and research assessment exercise is a key determinant of where an author publishes. The current RAE position in some disciplines, whereby journal impact is used when considering quality, could deter authors from publishing in open-access journals that are not established.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

On the same basis, does the Minister accept that there would be no market for any journal that had a reputation for not doing adequate peer review in an open access model, because it would have no credibility? Nobody would want to publish there if there were any question that quality assurance was not high. That is how the market would work under that system. People do not buy cars that break down.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

The hon. Gentleman has a low estimation of how desperate some people are to get in to print. In the Government's view, flexible copyright arrangements are part of the basis of competitiveness on which publishers market their journals. Publishers, both commercial and not for profit, use flexible copyright arrangements to compete for the services of authors. Model licences are available through trade associations representing the scientific, technological and medical sector, including the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, which represents the not-for-profit sector, and the Publishers Association, which represents commercial publishers.

In 2004, trade associations covering both commercial and non-commercial publishers jointly drafted a statement of practices and principles relating to the publication of primary research supported by public funding within a learned journal. The Government welcome such efforts by publishers to identify a consistent approach to copyright agreements.

As we stated in our response to the Select Committee, we believe that the data underpinning the results of publicly funded research should be made available as widely and rapidly as possible along with the results. We also acknowledge that effective research depends upon researchers having access to the results and findings of their colleagues in the research community. We have no difficulty with that in principle.

The archiving and preservation of scientific information for future generations is important. The Government recognise the potential benefits of institutional repositories and see them as a significant development worthy of encouragement, but they believe that each institution has to make its own decision about institutional repositories depending on its circumstances. Institutional repositories and journals need to run in parallel to ensure that rigorous peer review of research findings is not compromised. Peer review is crucial for quality control, whether in print or electronic format, and whether using the author pays or subscription approach.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

If the Minister is saying that the Government are happy for there to be individual institutional repositories or organisations that have them, will he explain what he will do to encourage those to speak to one another? I think that he would accept that having silos throughout the country that do not speak to one another seems rather a foolish way to move forward. The Committee's report said that in setting up these repositories, it was important that the Government should encourage the repositories to speak together—not fund or organise them, nor become a monopoly provider. What will the Minister do to encourage that, if he supports the idea of individual repositories?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

I will be addressing those points.

As I have said, the archiving and preservation of scientific information for future generations is critical. The legal deposit system in the UK is one of the key means of achieving that, and deposit libraries such as the British Library have a vital part to play. The rapid rise of digital publishing has shown how important it is that the deposit system can respond to new forms of publishing. The Government have recognised that through the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, which will allow us to regulate for the legal deposit of different forms of non-print material.

We are making good progress. The Legal Deposit Advisory Panel was established in September and is expected to make it first recommendations to the Government early next year. It is important to remember that the introduction of digital legal deposit is primarily about the creation and preservation of a national archive for future generations, not about widening access. Deposited material in any form will be available only to people physically present in a deposit library in order to protect the interests of publishers.

There has been much debate on the merits of open access, which has often produced contradictory views. Criticism has been aimed at the Government that they are too preoccupied with supporting publishers to the detriment of the research process, and also that they are unwilling to support the open access or author pays model because it will reduce revenues for publishing companies. That is simply not the case. The Government are looking to get the best sustainable system to communicate information from researchers to those interested in the research. The Government should be supporting the best and most cost-effective way possible to disseminate the outputs of scientific research, and at the moment there is insufficient evidence that the author pays model is the better system.

A successful and sustainable scientific publications market is vital to the research process, and to strongly endorse or reject the author pays approach would not be in the interests of allowing the market to evolve to meet the needs of authors. The Government have not decided against the author pays model but do not want to force a premature transition to a different system. It is not obvious that the author pays business model will give better value for money than the current one, and the Government have said that they will require clear evidence, on the basis of current trials, before supporting it further.

In the Government's view it is too early to make judgments about the viability of the author pays model. There are already a number of author pays journals, but in many cases the costs of open-access publishing models still are not clear and transparent. There is also the significant issue of how to address the shortfall in revenue that would be caused by widespread transition to the author pays model. As I said, the commercial and industrial sectors contribute a substantial amount of money to the publishing process by subscribing to journals, but that would be lost if the publishing process moved to an author pays system. I thank the Committee for acknowledging that key issue in its report and for highlighting that there is currently no solution to that problem.

The estimated cost of producing an article can vary as much as from £300 to £2,500, taking into account several factors, such as the number of articles rejected. Those figures are likely to change as the market develops. The true cost of any STM publication needs to include the costs of capital investment requirements, peer group evaluation, formatting, linking, and the profiling and archiving of information. A number of open-access journals are currently being published, but the robustness of the business models is still unclear, with many initiatives relying on public funding or charitable contributions. So far, we have seen no convincing evidence that the author pays model would be cheaper to operate than traditional publishing models.

It is clear that the Government need to take into account financial and business considerations in this debate. Publishing is an international business; the majority of revenue from STM publishing comes from exports rather than UK sales. Current estimates are that the global market for STM publishing and information services grew by 7 per cent. from £4.97 billion in 2003 to £5.31 billion in 2004. The UK is a major contributor to the provision of STM publications, and the UK STM journal market alone is worth £129 million. It is therefore important not to put the UK at a financial disadvantage internationally. Of course, that consideration needs to be balanced with the needs of the UK research community.

The interests of the research community, the taxpayer and the publishing industry, whether commercial or not-for-profit firms, are closely intertwined. The continuation of widely disseminated, accessible, top-quality, peer-reviewed research that is produced efficiently and at competitive prices is in everyone's interests. There is a wide diversity of products and publishers in the STM market. Authors can choose to have their research published free of charge by a particular publisher or journal, taking into account factors such as the prestige and reach of a publication. The Government believe that it is right to allow authors to make that choice.

It is also important that revenue is generated to finance developments in new technologies that will benefit the whole scientific community. It is only through the profits generated from current products that publishers and learned societies can afford to develop new technologies that will benefit the whole of the academic community. The Government will continue to encourage the publishing community to develop its products to meet the needs of that community. The STM segment of professional publishing was one of the early adopters of internet-based technologies and business models. Substantial investments over a number of years have facilitated the migration of revenue streams from traditional channels to e-commerce. It is not yet fully clear how the open-access model with a one-off payment for publication would generate sufficient revenue to finance the high investment needed in relation to producing new technologies.

I turn to the issue of VAT, which was raised by several hon. Members. The issue of differential treatment of print and digital publications for tax purposes was raised in the Committee's report. As the Government said in its response to the Committee:

"The DTI, DCMS and Customs and Excise have discussed the VAT treatment of digital publications on a number of occasions. Customs are aware of the concerns expressed in submissions to the Select Committee's inquiry. However, the removal of VAT on digital publications is not possible. Under long standing European agreements the UK can retain its existing zero rates but cannot extend them or introduce any new ones. This is the case for all Member States that retain VAT zero rate derogations. There is no realistic prospect of the Commission proposing, or all other Member States agreeing to, any change in that position. The only way to equalise the VAT treatment of print and digital publications would be to levy VAT on printed publications. The Government is committed to retaining the zero rate of VAT on books and newspapers.

The EU list of permitted VAT reduced rates (Annex H of the Sixth VAT Directive) does not include digital publications. A review of the reduced rate provisions is currently underway, but the prospects for significant agreed change presently remain remote and the Government is not persuaded of the case for the inclusion of digital publications on the list. Whereas printed matter is clearly well defined, e-publications are closely related to a wide range of material that is capable of being downloaded, including films, music and software. The current rules for determining in which Member State VAT is due on digital publications, and their mode of delivery also makes them inappropriate for inclusion in the list of permitted reduced rates. This is because the VAT is paid to the Member State where the publisher is legally established rather than where they are purchased.

It is not possible, under long-standing agreements with our European partners to exempt or zero-rate supplies of digital publications to libraries. Libraries are liable to pay VAT on many goods and services that they purchase in the same way as any other purchaser. The normal VAT rules do, however, allow institutions that are undertaking taxable business activities to recover the VAT they incur. In addition, local authorities are refunded the VAT incurred on goods and services (including digital publications) purchased in connection with their statutory public duties, including the provision of public library services. This refund scheme is achieved by section 33 of the VAT Act 1994, and is designed to ensure that VAT does not become a cost borne by local taxation.

Where VAT is not recoverable under section 33 or the normal VAT rules, it is established practice that publicly funded institutions should reflect this irrecoverable VAT in their bids for funding."

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that it is difficult to establish a level playing field between e-publishing and currently acceptable publishing, which is what the Government say that they want?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

Of course I recognise the discrepancy between the two modes of publishing and the VAT levied on each. That is an unassailable fact.

I know that some will argue that some publishers are making too much profit at the expense of the taxpayer. Normal profits are necessary to lead to a healthy level of investment, for example in new technology and value-added services. Journal pricing should reflect the costs of ongoing capital investment, production—including peer review—editorial issues, marketing and administration, and the level of demand. If there is evidence that financially powerful scientific, technical and medical publishers are using their strength to increase prices or make excessive profits, that would be a matter for investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.

In arriving at the position that I have outlined, I would like to emphasise the important part that cross-Government working has played. The Government did not arrive at this position alone and, as I have already stated, at every step of the way, the Office of Science and Technology collaborated with colleagues in business relations in the Department of Trade and Industry, Research Councils UK, the Higher Education Funding Council, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for International Development to provide a response to the Select Committee report. There was constant consultation, discussion and all views were taken into account. Government officials have met a wide range of stakeholders to develop our thinking about the Government response and policy.

Hon. Members will no doubt be aware of the particular criticism levelled by the Committee last year that the OST exerted undue pressure on the Joint Information Systems Committee to seek to neutralise its views. I would like to take this opportunity to repeat that that was not the case. The OST worked closely with both the JISC and the RCUK.

The Government have been extremely proactive in the scientific communications area. We have been continually reviewing our policy based on the limited evidence that is available, and Ministers and officials have engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, including those at European level.

In describing the Government's view, I hope that I have made it clear that the Government do not favour one part of the value chain over another. We have in our sights the long-term interests of a sustainable UK publications market. We are happy to speak to all elements of the community, whether they be publishers, funding bodies or academics, to promote an understanding of each other's needs.

Hon. Members will be familiar with the RCUK's position. However, I will recap the main features because our perceived attitude to that matter has attracted much attention and created some misunderstanding and because the issue is germane to the debate. The position is based on four principles. First, ideas and knowledge derived from publicly funded research must be made available and accessible for public use, interrogation and scrutiny, as widely, rapidly and effectively as practicable. Secondly, effective mechanisms must be in place to ensure that published research outputs are subject to rigorous quality assurance through peer review. Thirdly, the models and mechanisms for publication and access to research results must be both efficient and cost effective in the use of public funds. Lastly, the outputs from current and future research must be preserved and remain accessible not only for the next few years, but for future generations.

The RCUK developed its position statement in consultation with stakeholders and submitted it to the Government. The RCUK was encouraged to disseminate information widely and received many constructive comments. A further consultation exercise was undertaken, which closed at the end of August. The RCUK is working closely with all interested parties to examine all concerns and endeavour to clarify and refine its position.

When the Government responded to the Select Committee report, we said that we would take into account any points raised in the EU study. The Government await with interest the publication of that paper, and officials are in contact with the Commission. The DTI will continue to promote dialogue on this important matter at a European level.

In conclusion, the issue of open access requires much more debate. The DTI is encouraging that debate by facilitating the work of the research communications forum, where funding bodies, libraries and the publishing industry can meet regularly to exchange views and develop a better understanding of one another's needs and views.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

As there are four minutes remaining, could I ask the Minister to respond to my earlier question about what the Government are doing to link individual repositories? If the RCUK agrees to support author pays with grants, will the Government support that?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

I did not catch the second part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

If the RCUK agrees, as part of its next funding round, to support author pays with grants, will the Government support that?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

I am not in any position to start writing blank cheques. However, if the RCUK were to arrive at that position, the Government would have to consider that very seriously. We would examine and assess that matter at the appropriate time. As for joining up repositories, I shall not fall prey to any manoeuvring. The Government are addressing that issue by engaging in the debate, facilitating the research communications forum and examining what can be done. That is not a commitment to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets what he wants.

I confirm that the Government's position on open access is that we must secure a level playing field so that research funding authorities have the discretion to provide funds if the author prefers an open access route. That position is the most appropriate to encourage competition and innovation in publishing models and retain freedom of choice for authors. We will continue to meet stakeholders from all parts of the industry, and we will keep our position under review. Finally, may I congratulate the Committee—

It being sixteen minutes to Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.