Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 13:47 GMT
Licence to thrill
Ms Croft: On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The Uzi-toting cyberbabe from the Tomb Raider computer games is so tough, cool and go-ahead that ministers want her to be an ambassador for UK science and technology.
Britain needed to show it was the home of people like Professor Stephen Hawking and vacuum cleaner pioneer Dyson, and discoveries including Dolly the cloned sheep and optical fibres, he told the Social Market Foundation in London.
"I want people when they think of this country to think of such scientific achievements as Thrust, the first supersonic car, and the Psion palmtop computer rather than Stephenson or Faraday.
"I want Lara Croft to be an ambassador for British scientific excellence."
The minister recognised that some people might have a problem with a scantily-clad, violent, young woman as a front for the best in British research and development.
"I use her as an example of one of the great success stories in this country. We have a quarter of the world's market for computer games produced in this country, and I think we should be proud of that."
Core Design, the company behind Tomb Raider, are delighted by Ms Croft's new status.
Managing director Jeremy Smith said they were consulted by the government before the minister's announcement.
"It's just another tremendous move in the popularity of Lara Croft," he said. Mr Smith predicted that she would be around for many years to come.
"Currently, she is almost part of the establishment as is 007, and providing we, as a company, don't decimate her character, there is no reason why she shouldn't go on for a long time."
Lord Sainsbury also rejected arguments that the government should establish a Ministry of Science, or move science policy into an Office of Science and Technology based in the Cabinet Office to co-ordinate science across Whitehall.
The White Paper on Competitiveness, due to be published in two weeks, will include the Government's view on exploiting high-tech developments.