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Updated Lord Sainsbury has stepped down as science and technology minister, saying he wants to spend more time with his businesses and charities.

The minister has dismissed suggestions that his resignation is connected with the investigation into the cash-for-peerages row, or with a £2m loan to Labour that he had failed to disclose. He was interviewed by police as a witness in the cash-for-peerages investigation.

Sainsbury was also cleared of breaching the ministerial code over the loan. He explained that he had confused it with a declared donation he had made to the party, and apologised for not making it public. He is one of the party's biggest donors, and has supported Labour to the tune of £6.5m since 2002.

He told the BBC: "I've had a peerage for eight or nine years, so there is no question of buying a peerage."

He added that he was a supporter of more public funding of political parties because it would deal with the issue of governments having to raise cash to support themselves.

Commenting on his reasons for leaving his post, Lord Sainsbury said the time was right to move on. "I've achieved most of what I can achieve, and I think now is the time really to get back to all my other business and charitable activities, which of course I've not been able to do during the last eight years."

Sainsbury was in some ways a controversial ministerial appointment, since he is not an elected representative of the people. However, he is widely regarded as having been a successful minister and is respected and well-liked by the scientific community.

Tony Blair said Sainsbury left the country's science base in better shape than he had found it, and that the impact of his contribution would continue to be felt for decades.

Update

Malcolm Wicks has been appointed as the new Science Minister. Phil Willis MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said he welcomed the appointment because it means "we now have a Science Minister in the Commons".

Wicks was formerly minister for energy in the Department for Trade and Industry. Alistair "eyebrows" Darling is set to take over in that role. ®

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