Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown yesterday committed his party to boosting the science budget to levels last seen in 1979.
Giving the Save British Science Society annual lecture at Imperial College, London, he said this would mean spending 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product on the science base. An immediate injection of an extra Pounds 200 million to make good some of the cuts over the past 15 years was also proposed in the party's science strategy document published this week.
The bulk of the additional funds would be farmed out by the funding councils and more support would be given to curiosity-led science and engineering.
Mr Ashdown also called for a more imaginative approach to tackling industry's reluctance to invest. He said that private sector investment in research and development was "appalling" and blamed the pressure on firms to farm out profits in high dividend payouts.
The Liberal Democratic Party had so far rejected the idea of tax incentives for R&D. "But given the desperate need for industry to put more into R&D we will certainly be revisiting the issue," he said.
One option that will be looked at is the policy in the United States of giving tax breaks on R&D by firms. Mr Ashdown said there was evidence that the initiative had stimulated R&D in US firms.
Mr Ashdown said that much more needs to be done to emphasise the importance of the science community to Britain.
Measures to promote this include broadening A levels and the introduction of a modular curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds offering vocational and academic routes.
There would be incentives for business to invest in training and two days a week guaranteed education and training for all 16-19 year olds.