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Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alan Johnson defended the Blair government's record on science at a Royal Society bash today to mark National Science Week.

His colleage, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, chimed in to trumpet the growth in the number of science, engineering and technology graduates under Labour.

Committed Blairite Johnson claimed Labour's 1997 election victory heralded a "step change in government approach to science." He described the 10-year investment framework the government set out in 2004 as "a minimum". With annual funding rising from £1.3bn to more than £3bn he claimed: "The government's committment to science is not in doubt."

With Chinese companies' wage bill just 5 per cent of UK firms', outsourcing is inevitable, the Secretary of State said, and Britain's only way to compete would be to concentrate on innovation. He added, "Protection has a false allure," perhaps an allusion to recent EU controversy around "economic nationalism".

Johnson made the comments at the Royal Society in London, at its Celebrating British Science event, the centrepiece of the society's National Science Week activities.

He was backed up at the event by Sainsbury, who reeled off a slew of statistics to the effect that Britain is producing more science, engineering and technology graduates than ever before.

Their bullishness was tempered by concerns over the fall in applications to study subjects that are seen by young people as 'old economy'; chemistry, physics and engineering. Sainsbury tried to counter the negative news of Sussex University's plans to shutter its chemistry department with details of an upsurge in applications at Surrey. The senate at Sussex will consider the fate of the chemistry department on Friday.

The pair said their would be a raft of announcements over the next couple of months regarding the government's science strategy, including a paper to "stimulate discussion" and an initiative to involve more universities in school teaching.®

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