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Science and Research

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 18 November 2010

1. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on the economy of maintaining his Department’s science and research budget at present levels. (24721)

Investment in science and research attracts inward investment, drives innovation and delivers highly skilled people to the economy, which is why we are protecting the cash budget for science and research at £4.6 billion and ring-fencing it.

The Government are right to protect the science budget in cash terms, which is a decision that will reap dividends for our economy in the future. Does the Minister agree that the world-leading Daresbury science and innovation campus in my constituency should continue to receive the funding it needs so that it may play an important role in future economic growth?

My hon. Friend has campaigned effectively for Daresbury, and I can tell the House today that we have agreed that the public sector bodies can sign the joint venture agreement with their preferred private sector partner. That means that Daresbury now has excellent prospects as a national science and innovation campus, and I look forward to visiting in the new year.

If the science budget is to be protected in the way the Minister describes, it is important that the right people are taking the right decisions. Since 1993, the post of the director general responsible for the science budget has been occupied by a senior scientist. Lord Krebs and I, in our respective roles as Chairs of the two Science and Technology Select Committees, have written to the Secretary of State asking for a guarantee that that will be maintained. Will the Minister give that guarantee now?

The Secretary of State and I have seen this correspondence, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman, whose close interest in these matters I recognise, that a very satisfactory solution can be found.

The Government speak of their support for science—support that has seen the science budget cut by 10% in real terms, stripped away the £400 million of annual science spend by the regional development agencies and exposed science capital expenditure to cuts of up to one third. Now the Minister is abolishing the top scientific post in his Department without even discussing it with the scientific community, which is a move that the former chief scientific adviser, Lord May, described as

“stupid, ignorant and politically foolish”.

So the science community has neither proper funding nor real influence. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s support for science is only skin deep?

We believe that it is possible to deliver the efficiency savings that mean that the science budget will be protected in real terms, and we are also, of course, committed to making efficiency savings within the Department. We make no apologies, therefore, for reducing the number of civil service posts in the Department. That is the right way to save money. However, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), I am confident that the specific concerns raised by the science community about that post can be addressed.