Prior Options Review

Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons am 6:45 pm ar 11 Mehefin 1996.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 6:45, 11 Mehefin 1996

I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East 7:14, 11 Mehefin 1996

I beg to move, That this House believes that Government support for science and technology is vital to the United Kingdom's future; recognises the crucial long-term contribution which the public sector research establishments make to the economy and to extending the boundaries of knowledge; regrets the rationalisation and fragmentation of these establishments in recent years and opposes the dogma-driven privatisation objectives of the Prior Options Review. The Opposition have initiated the debate because we are deeply concerned about the Government's policy towards public science in general and towards Government research establishments in particular. We are concerned about the Government's policy of short-termism, including the encouragement of short-term contracts; we are concerned about the review after review after review to which the establishments are subjected; and we are concerned about the Government's obsession with privatisation.

Perhaps I should preface my remarks by making a statement that I think would command general support in the House: that science is good for us. There is general support for the view that we should invest as much as we can reasonably afford in science, engineering and technology and in research and development. Of course, when I say "science" I refer not only to the public sector but to the private sector. Indeed, in "forward look" 1996 the Government's chief scientific adviser reminds us that there is still concern about the level of investment in research and development by some private industry sectors. He points out that there was an increase in real terms last year; indeed, there has been an increase three years in a row. I take it as common ground across the House that we want to encourage more investment by business in science, engineering and technology.

This debate is about public science. I want to set out the case for the Government research establishments and public science. There are at least four reasons why public science is important. First, it is in the long-term interests of our people that we carry out long-term basic research. It extends the boundaries of our knowledge, but sometimes—and this is often wholly unpredicted—it leads to unexpected practical applications and to the development of new products for the benefit of business. By its very nature, basic long-term research is very costly. It is especially suited to the public sector.

Secondly, the Government need as broad a science base as we can afford to provide advice to various Departments on the development and implementation of policy, but also to ensure that we are able to respond to unpredictable national emergencies, such as a new infectious disease in the human population or in our livestock or crops—for example BSE, which may have human implications, or another oil spill disaster like those off the west coast of Wales and off Shetland. We need that broad scientific base to make it easier for the Government to respond intelligently to a national emergency.

Thirdly, we need Government research establishments to provide advice to industry and business. When I talk to business representatives, I am impressed by how highly they speak of independent Government research, which is how they see it. That is how farmers, business men and industry generally see Government research establishments. They think of them as being independent, in a way that they do not think of research or science in the private sector. So those research establishments are a valuable resource for advice and information, and often for collaboration, with private business.

Fourthly, those establishments also provide highly skilled scientists, technicians and engineers for our industry. If one talks to people in business, one will again find that they regard that matter as very important. A tremendous level of expertise and experience is built up in those establishments, and those highly trained people are free to move on at will into business and industry.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I think that he is making a very important case very well. He will know that we have our share of marine laboratories in my constituency in the form of the Rowett Research Institute and, in Aberdeen, the Macaulay Institute. On the basis of what he has just said, does he agree that Government require independent advice that is not and cannot be commercially compromised, and that industry requires independent advice that is not politically motivated? In those circumstances—for public policy purposes—those institutes must be publicly funded and independent. Does he believe that the scientific advice on which the Government depend in the BSE crisis would be credible if it depended on institutions that required commercial contracts for their bread and butter?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful for his support. I pay tribute to the Rowett Research Institute, which is an excellent institution with a tremendous history and a tremendous record in research. I have frequently had the pleasure and privilege over the years of talking to scientists from the Rowett.

Those are four reasons—among others; I shall confine myself to four—why I believe that public science, and particularly Government research establishments, are a vital national resource that we should support and encourage.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

I was rather alarmed by what the hon. Gentleman said about scientists in the private sector. The natural conclusion of his allegations against scientists in the private sector is that they are bent and that the only scientists who tell the truth are those funded by the Government.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

It is absolutely true. The hon. Gentleman said that we want straight and untainted scientific advice, and that that could not be obtained other than from a Government-funded source.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

The hon. Gentleman does himself an injustice. I do not think that any other hon. Member believes that I intended to malign or criticise scientists in the private sector. If scientists work for a fertiliser company and go to farms to give farmers advice, especially about fertiliser application levels, it would be regarded as less independent than advice from an independent, Government-funded establishment, such as the Agriculture Development Advisory Service. That is only common sense, and it is not meant to criticise those scientists.

Right after the 1992 general election, for the first time in almost 30 years, the Government appointed a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for science—the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), who was the predecessor of the current Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As the current Agriculture Minister may know, his father was—almost 30 years before—the Cabinet Minister responsible for science.

In 1993, the then Minister with responsibility for science produced an important White Paper entitled "Realising our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology." I do not propose to quote from that document, but it argued that many services and functions in Government research establishments should be provided by private industry. That has been the starting point for this dreadful saga.

A back-up paper was published along with that White Paper, which was entitled "Review of allocation, management and use of Government expenditure on science and technology". I shall quote from four successive paragraphs in it because they illustrate how determined the Government were to push on with privatisation. The first paragraph states: The first option for consideration is the scope for privatisation. The next paragraph states: In some cases, getting the GRE's"— the Government research establishments— into shape for privatisation will take time, nevertheless, we believe it should be seriously considered as the first option. The next paragraph states: The impetus required to achieve widespread GRE privatisation will not occur so long as there are no incentives for establishments or their personnel to market themselves more widely and aim their work towards commercial applications. The fourth paragraph states: We believe that the flexibility of the GREs and their progress towards privatisation would be assisted by the introduction of term contracts for new recruits. That, sadly, gave impetus to the growth of short-term contracts in Government research establishments, which is something that we deeply regret.

Following that study, the Government produced the "Multi-departmental scrutiny of public sector research establishments". Even while it was being produced, they announced that some establishments would be privatised, one of which was the National Engineering Laboratory— which will be dealt with in closing by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), because he has a particular interest and is particularly knowledgable in it. The Scrutiny Committee recommended that the Building Research Establishment and the Agriculture Development Advisory Service be considered as likely candidates for privatisation.

As many hon. Members will be aware, that report did not receive a very good response from the scientific community. It certainly did not receive plaudits from our Select Committees. In the first paragraph of its conclusions, the Select Committee on Science and Technology quoted the Institute of Biology as stating The [Scrutiny Report] refers to 'substantial rationalisation of civil research establishments over the last ten years or so,' and certainly research institutes have been subjected to frequent structural changes, many of them reversing the main thrust of the previous one. Whether this can be regarded as 'rational' or not it has reduced research capacity and demoralised scientists. The Science and Technology Committee in the other place stated in its summary of conclusions: We are concerned that the Scrutiny team were from the outset restricted by their terms of reference, which placed a higher priority on privatisation than on any other model or reorganisation which could be achieved …We do not believe that sufficient attention has been paid to the question of the effectiveness of public sector science in the pursuit of wealth creation and quality of life as laid down by the White Paper". What was the Government's response to all that? It was to embark on a further attempt at privatisation and to announce that the prior options review would be extended to cover all those Government research establishments.

In case any hon. Member is under any illusions, I shall quote one prior options review guideline. It states: In considering appropriateness, the presumption is to privatise; in other words, there is a need to turn the question around, so that it represents a judgment as to the appropriateness of keeping the body in the public sector. It is not just a question of the private sector, nor is the issue purely one of saving money. Of course the question is not one of saving money, because, as we have found out, implementing those privatisations very often costs the Exchequer substantial sums of money.

We had the Scrutiny Committee report. We then had the prior options review, and we were asked to examine that. Last month, we received the results of the first tranche of the prior options review.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller , Ellesmere Port and Neston

Does not my hon. Friend think it ironic that, although they say that they regard the objectivity of scientists as a particularly important issue, the Government, as reported in the New Scientist, are being accused by those very scientists, following the Royal Society meeting, of plugging away at the evidence until they get the answer that they want? The Government are not being objective; they are simply taking an ideological stand.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. If I am taking a little time on this matter, it is precisely to spell out that fact. In my opinion, it is incredible that we should have review after review—but what was the outcome?

In one of the first written answers given after the prior options reviews, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said in relation to the agriculture and plant sciences institutes: Prior options reviews have been completed of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, the Institute of Grassland and Environment Research, the John Innes Centre and the Selsoe Research Institute. I am satisfied that the functions of these Institutes are needed and that they should maintain their separate existence … I have concluded that full independence from the public sector, with the greater freedom this will provide the Institutes to direct their own affairs, would be a desirable option which merits further consideration. This will therefore be the subject of further work led by the Prime Minister's adviser on efficiency, Sir Peter Levene."—[Official Report, 22 May 1996; Vol. 278, c. 270.] How on earth can the Government justify that?

We have had review after review, but the threat of privatisation is still hanging over those research establishments. What sort of effect does the Minister think that has on their morale? Of course, those establishments are not the only ones affected: the Scottish Crop Research Institute and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute are candidates for privatisation, as are a number of others about which no indication was given, although they could include the Horticultural Research Institute and the Central Science Laboratory. Of course, we know that ADAS is to be privatised.

Photo of Mike Hall Mike Hall , Warrington South

My hon. Friend mentioned the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, which controls the Daresbury and the Rutherford and Appleton laboratories. The Daresbury laboratory is in my constituency. It has undergone two reviews, and it has now been determined that it will stay as a non-departmental public body in the public sector, accountable to the Department of Trade and Industry. Most important, Daresbury runs a synchrotron radiation source, which involves premier physics research.

However, Daresbury has to plan now for its replacement. That replacement, which is called Diamond, will cost about £100 million. Rather than continual reviews, we need long-term planning and investment by Government so that the Daresbury laboratory can continue its first-class physics research.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to him for the representations that he has made on behalf of that laboratory. He rightly points out that long-term investment is needed there.

As I said, Government policy has meant the continued demoralisation of scientists. When I made the case for public science earlier, I said that one of the reasons for these Government research establishments was so that the Government could respond to the unexpected. Let us consider what has happened with BSE in cattle, something that was certainly not expected when it was found in 1985 and identified in 1986.

Every year, in the annual debate on agriculture, I have criticised the Government for their cuts in food and agricultural science. Indeed, Government-funded food and agricultural science has suffered proportionally greater cuts than other research. On 22 May, The Independent wrote: The Government's chief scientific adviser yesterday conceded that spending cuts had damaged the Ministry of Agriculture's … scientific capacity at the time when public concern had grown over mad cow disease in Britain.Over the past 10 years, Government spending on research and development across all departments has fallen by £1.6bn in real terms—about a quarter. Maff s spending has been cut slightly more than the average.Sir Robert May, the chief scientific adviser, said that over the past decade Maff had focused narrowly on research and development which touched its central policy objectives, with the result that it was now less able to respond to new challenges like BSE.He added: 'I think Maff might now recognise that decreasing veterinary expenditure is something to be reconsidered.''' In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the cuts were severe. The Meat Research Institute at Bristol, which was concerned with meat safety and conditions in abattoirs, was closed during that time.

On 20 March, a date that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will always remember because that was when he and the Secretary of State for Health made their important announcements about a possible link between BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the director of the Institute of Animal Health announced that 60 posts would go. That institute includes the neuropathogenesis unit which employs the Government scientists who are at the forefront of the work being done on BSE and the possibility of a link between it and CJD.

In 1982, the Institute of Animal Health employed 842 people; it now employs 489, more than 40 per cent. of whom have temporary appointments. The institute has sought to protect BSE research, but it has meant cuts in other areas. Of course, this institute is concerned with animal diseases generally and is a centre of excellence.

The Minister will of course tell us that the Government have increased spending on BSE research—I should hope so, as it was identified only in 1986 and has increased significantly. Much of the increased spending has, sadly, been at the expense of expenditure on other Government research. That is the point—we have to have a broad base of scientific capability in the Government so that the Government can respond to the unexpected. We do not know what the next infectious disease or problem will be in our livestock.

Having slashed expenditure and many of the posts at the Institute of Animal Health, that institute is now a candidate for privatisation. It is in the second tranche now being considered under the prior options review. The same is true of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which is also in the forefront of work on BSE.

Does any hon. Member really believe that the British people will thank the Government for privatising BSE research? It is incredible that the Government can even contemplate taking that road.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I shall give way in a moment.

It is not only the Veterinary Laboratories Agency that is threatened with privatisation, because the third tranche includes the Norwich food research institute, the Rowett Institute, which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) mentioned, and the other food research establishment.

I now give way to the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait), but this is the last intervention that I shall take.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait , Hastings and Rye

The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of scientists on short-term contracts. He is now mentioning with absolute horror the fact that some research institutes may go into the private sector. Would his party be prepared to take them back into the public sector? If so, how much would it cost the public purse?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that we shall judge the situation if and when we inherit power. The reality is that the Conservatives have to defend their policy of privatisation, but, in terms of BSE research and long-term basic research, they are attempting to defend the indefensible.

There are three lessons that we can learn already from the BSE experience. First, we need a strong research base, a large basic capability among agricultural scientists within the Government sector. Secondly, there is no place for deregulation of food safety. Thirdly, food safety regulations have to be enforced. They have to be enforced by public servants, which is why it is tragic that the Government have reorganised, rationalised and demoralised the state veterinary service to the extent that they have. Of course, on top of all that, we know that they are going to press ahead with the privatisation of ADAS.

I would like to refer to a number of the research establishments threatened with privatisation and spell out to the House just how valuable and important their basic, long-term research is and why it should stay in the public sector, but time does not allow me to do that. Government science is of huge importance and the Government research establishments have a crucial role to play.

We are against the growth of short-term contracts and the threat of privatisation—what an appalling way to manage Government science. For three years, those scientists have been under the threat of privatisation and, as I have pointed out, that threat is going to continue for many establishments. We support public science, we support the Government research establishments and we want an end to that uncertainty. That is why I ask hon. Members to vote for our motion tonight.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 7:39, 11 Mehefin 1996

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to science, engineering and technology, as reaffirmed in the Forward Look 1996 (Command 3257-I); and endorses the programme of prior options reviews of public sector research establishments, which aims to secure the best possible quality science and technology for the United Kingdom with the best value for money from the substantial public resources spent on science.' I very much welcome the opportunity that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) has given the House to outline the Government's position on the issues to which he referred and to respond to questions that he raised. I shall concentrate primarily on those issues for which I have a departmental responsibility and, in his reply to the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister for Science and Technology will respond to a range of the other issues that I am sure will be articulated in the debate.

I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East will forgive me if I say that one of the themes that seemed to underlie his speech to the House was a profound disapproval of the process of privatisation. I detected in his speech a basic hostility to the process of transferring functions and activities from the public sector to the private sector.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My hon. Friend has articulated the precise point. Much as I like and respect the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, none the less, in a very real sense, he represents the articulate but traditional voice of old Labour, and he sits on the Opposition Front Bench making policy.

The hon. Gentleman's general observations sit uneasily with the huge benefits that have flowed from the process of privatisation. In real terms, telecom prices have fallen by 35 per cent., domestic gas prices by 18 per cent. and domestic electricity prices by 8 per cent. All those industries were in the public sector at one stage. Those huge benefits flowed to the consumer through the process of privatisation. I know that the hon. Gentleman reads the Evening Standard. He will see today the huge benefits that flow to consumers of electricity, gas and the telephone through the process of privatisation.

Let me make another point which is quite funny. The hon. Gentleman is basically against privatisation, he says, yet when—not very often, I should add—I read the house magazine of the Labour party, The Guardian, which I assume is fairly well informed on these matters, I find that the Labour party proposes to privatise certain parts of the Foreign Office. On the one hand, it displays a deep-rooted hostility to the concept of privatisation, yet on the other hand, although the hon. Gentleman may not know it, his colleagues propose to privatise some of the top ambassadorial posts in the Foreign Office. So there is a certain mismatch of ideas.

I should like to make some general points and then to turn to the particular. First, the Government are committed to science. Our objectives are to maintain a strong and dynamic science and engineering base in the United Kingdom, to have access to the best scientific advice and to secure a strong underpinning of basic and strategic science and the supply of high-quality scientists. Those considerations have caused us to ring-fence and defend the science budget, which has risen in real terms by some 10 per cent. in the past 10 years.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

Does the Minister accept, however, that in the past 10 years there has been a reduction in science spending by the Government of £1 billion in real terms? This is plain for all to see in the "forward look" statistical supplement. The Minister does us a disservice by assuming that we are looking only at the amount that is spent by the Office of Science and Technology, as that represents a very small part of the Government's budget.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The science budget to which I have referred is designed primarily to maintain the strategic science base. Therefore, an important part of the research capacity is reflected in the expenditure committed to that. It is perfectly true that Departments have reduced expenditure. There are a variety of reasons for that. The first is the important need to move Departments away from near-market expenditure and into more strategic expenditure. That process was put in place in the mid-1980s, and it is extremely important.

Secondly, it is right to inform private sector organisations that they have an important responsibility to fund research from which they themselves are the beneficiaries. Thirdly, any Government who intend to reduce public spending have to look critically at all heads of expenditure. It is difficult to say that, as a matter of definition, the science budget within any Government Department should be excluded from any economies. That is certainly not my view.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I am grateful to the Minister. Will he address himself to a slightly wider issue and a genuine dilemma that all Governments now face? The greater complexity of the scientific problems with which they have to grapple—BSE is a classic example— means that few people who advise the Minister do not have some direct commercial experience. Indeed, they may be inculcated with direct commercial experience. So the Minister is dependent for advice on a group of scientists whose background is in the particular industry and commercial undertaking that may well be affected by his decisions. He has to recruit his advice from a group of reformed poachers—perhaps only marginally reformed poachers—in undertaking his gamekeeper role.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the only advice worth having is that from public sector research establishments. That is absolutely not my view.

I should like to go through the points that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East was making in support of his arguments for the public sector research facilities. He produced four important arguments and I do not find myself dissenting from them as general propositions. Indeed, they have great deal of force. My Ministry, being scientifically based, is as heavily reliant on science in all aspects of its work as any Government Department, and rather than more than most. For that considered reason, we invest about £125 million in scientific research. No doubt the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) will say that we have reduced the amount. We have indeed made a small reduction over last year as part of a process of making economies that are justified and necessary if we are to reduce the volume of public expenditure.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I shall make some progress.

In the context of agriculture, we have shifted the main focus of research. I imagine that when the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East began his professional career, he was concerned primarily with expanding food production, as that was the principal concern in the 1970s. That has changed somewhat. We are now seeking to make more effective use of resources by reducing inputs, trying to ensure that agriculture is truly sustainable and having regard to a range of environmental matters that were probably not sufficiently addressed some time ago.

The Ministry has other important functions to perform for which it relies directly on scientific guidance— protection of the public and ensuring that food is safe and, of course, investigation into animal and plant diseases. All those functions have to be carried out effectively—in a cost-effective way. It is perfectly true that one has to be satisfied about the integrity of the advice that one receives, but I do not accept that one can be satisfied about it only if it comes from public sector research establishments.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I shall make some progress, then I shall give way.

This is where the prior options review comes into play. It is part of a process that we have put in place to determine where research is best undertaken. The prior options review involves a serious consideration of whether the research undertaken by an establishment continues to be required; whether it should be funded by the public sector; whether the research needs to be undertaken by a public sector body or whether it could be as well undertaken by a private sector body; whether there is scope for rationalisation with other public sector research establishments working in similar areas; and how the functions could be managed in future. Those are all proper questions to ask.

As I understood him, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East said, fairly, that the asking of such questions was not driven primarily by a desire to make economies. Indeed, he argued that economies would not be made. He said that the review was a dogmatic approach to the process of providing the functions. Surely it is right from time to time to ask such questions of those departments so that we can ensure that the functions are performed in the best possible way.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

The Minister is absolutely right to say that such questions should be asked. What would he recommend in relation to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

The recommendations are advice to Ministers. When we have come to our conclusions—I shall turn to the departments for which I have responsibility in a moment—we will have to announce them swiftly. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East is quite right about staff morale. It is important that decisions are announced with all possible speed. We shall also have to explain the considerations that have led us to those conclusions, and we shall do that by way of a memorandum to the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I am going to make some progress.

I turn to the prior options review in the areas for which I have departmental responsibility. Five Ministry organisations are involved: the research and development arm of ADAS, the Central Science Laboratory, Horticulture Research International, the Directorate of Fisheries Research and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. The reviews of ADAS's R and D, the Central Science Laboratory, Horticulture Research International and the Directorate of Fisheries Research began in October. The review of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency started in February.

The reviews are important and it is important that we carry them through thoroughly. The points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East—the need to ensure continuity in contracts, the need to ensure the availability of high-class scientific advice and the other considerations to which he drew our attention—clearly have to be addressed in the reviews.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that I represent a substantial number of growers. Doubtless I will represent more as time goes on. They are very successful, make use of research information from Horticulture Research International and are concerned not so much about whether HRI will be privatised as about whether smaller growers—as many of them are—will have access to information on much the same terms in future. They are fearful of a major company taking over HRI, using the research for its own information and thus depriving smaller growers of access to it. Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to comment on that?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My right hon. Friend's points are important. He has represented the interests of horticulturists in his constituency with considerable force and success over many years. I note from what he has said, and agree, that the horticulturists are not opposed to privatisation. They want to ensure that contracts are constructed in such a way as to ensure that horticulturists continue to receive a similar kind of advice on the same broad terms. Those are important considerations and we shall have to reflect on what my right hon. Friend has said.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones , Birmingham, Selly Oak

I am grateful that the Minister has eventually given way. He said a few moments ago that the review's advice was given directly to Ministers, yet the press release that announced the decision on 22 May specifically stated that the review found that the functions carried out by the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils should remain in the public sector. The press release omitted to mention what the review found in respect of other institutions. Why was that? What did the review find? Is it not a fact that the Government are determined to privatise those institutions and will continue with endless reviews until they get the answer they want?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

No, I do not agree with that. As I am the most pragmatic of men, I do not start from any dogmatic position on such matters. There may be dogmatic positions that I would assert, but they do not apply in this area of policy. I assure the hon. Lady of that. On disclosing information, we shall, as I have said, submit memorandums to the Science and Technology Committee in respect of any decisions that, ultimately, we make and explain our reasons that way.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

The Minister said that he would "reflect" on the problems raised by HRI. Is he— or at least one of his junior Ministers—prepared to meet Dr. Flegg and his colleagues to discuss the matter in depth?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Any request for a meeting would clearly be seriously considered. I shall not give a commitment, because I do not know the gentleman in question and would like to reserve my position. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), who I suspect is articulating just the points that the hon. Gentleman has in mind, will want a meeting with Ministers. Should that be so, I look forward to seeing him. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is the way in which the House tends to operate. Members ask to see Ministers and Ministers are well advised to see Members promptly. The hon. Gentleman and I have had many such meetings, and no doubt there are many more to come.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Horticulture Research International is in the now socialist-occupied constituency of Stratford-on-Avon, but a fair number of people who work there live in my constituency next door. I am very concerned about their future. Many are skilled people who have a great deal of expertise. I support privatisation—there is no question about that—but I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not leave those good people in limbo for too long and will make a fair and considered judgment, bearing in mind the human element besides the best way in which to proceed.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My hon. Friend makes his point clearly and well. It is important that, in respect of any review that affects people's livelihood and way of life, we come to a decision as speedily as possible and that such a decision is based on good judgment, sound science and considerations that we can defend in the House. I tell my hon. Friend that we shall do just that. We have demonstrated our commitment to the research that HRI undertakes by a substantial investment of about £40 million in recent years. Clearly, it is important for us to ask in an orderly way what is the best way, in the national interest, to provide the kind of service that it provides. We will come to a decision as soon as we can.

In the case of the Directorate of Fisheries Research, the Government announced on 22 May that we had decided, following the review, that this marine research centre would become an executive agency of MAFF. We believe that that will lead to greater freedom to manage its own affairs and improve performance within a framework of targets. Decisions have not yet been taken in the case of other MAFF laboratories, and we are still considering the cases of ADAS research and development, the Central Science Laboratory and Horticulture Research International. We hope to announce our conclusions as soon as we can.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait , Hastings and Rye

I welcomed the announcement on 22 May on the Directorate of Fisheries Research, but fisheries research is an inexact science. What progress does my right hon. and learned Friend expect the new agency to make in terms of reaching an agreement with the fishermen on the science of fish movements and stocks?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My hon. Friend's question is so broad that to try to condense it into a few lines would not do justice to the issue.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East referred to BSE, an important issue which has concerned the House for some months. He will know that we have substantially increased the amount spent on BSE research in the current year to more than £10 million, an increase of almost 50 per cent. on the previous year. I am anxious to ensure that we have enough resources dedicated to work on BSE.

I have taken the opportunity from time to time to ask Professor Pattison, the chairman of the advisory committee, whether he thinks that the Government are devoting sufficient resources to the problem. His answer has been yes. Should that change, the Government will be anxious to respond to any demand from Professor Pattison or his Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee colleagues. The fact that we are spending more than 50 per cent. more than last year is an important sign of the significance that we attach to research in this field.

Photo of Mr John Garrett Mr John Garrett , Norwich South

Until 1991, 350 BSE-infected carcases were lobbed into an open landfill site not far from the river that supplies the city of Norwich with its drinking water. Later studies put down boreholes around that site and discovered the transmission through the water table of pesticides, herbicides and chlorides. I have been told by the Environment Agency that there has been no test for the transmissibility of BSE-infected material via leachate from such a site. MAFF gave permission for the dumping of those carcases. Who is responsible for establishing the transmissibility of BSE-infected material that might end up in a river that supplies a great city with its water?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Before giving a considered reply, one would have to look much more closely than the hon. Gentleman and I would have time to do in order to discover the detailed facts of the matter. We are now satisfied that we have identified appropriate ways of disposing of all the specified bovine material and the carcases destroyed under the 30-month rule. We believe that we have addressed all the environmental and health issues that arise out of the regime that we have in place.

The Government are wholly committed to having a proper scientific base for this country. We realise the importance of having access to proper scientific advice, based on expert knowledge that is given with full integrity, but we do not necessarily accept that that can be provided only from within the public research facilities.

When one is spending a considerable sum of public money, it is surely right to ask whether there are better or different ways of providing that quality of advice. Sometimes the conclusion will be that no change should be made, but sometimes it will be that privatisation or contractorisation is appropriate; but to deny oneself the ability to ask that question—as seems to be the position of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East—is surely casting away the responsibility imposed on us.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge 8:05, 11 Mehefin 1996

I begin by declaring an interest, in that I am a non-executive director of the Welding Institute, a research and technology organisation.

It is obvious why the prior options review is being conducted. We have only to look at the projections for science spending for the next few years to realise that the Government are determined to save a great deal of money on the science budget. A headline in the New Scientist said: The fall and fall of Britain's research funding. The science budget has fallen by £1 billion in real terms during the past decade, and it is due to fall by a further £500 million in the next four years. If that cut is not to be achieved by privatisation, I should like to know what other method will be used. How can the Government make those savings, except by selling off or privatising the public sector research establishments?

There have been constant reviews since the Government came to office. I remember the Rayner reviews in the early 1980s, and there were reviews of near-market research in the late 1980s. They continued until Sir Peter Levene's efficiency scrutiny in the 1990s, and we now have the prior options review. There has been an inconclusive response from the Government, which to me suggests a Cabinet split. The Cabinet were determined to make a decision, but found that they were unable to do so. I suspect that the Deputy Prime Minister disagreed with the views of his colleagues and told them to go away and do their work again. That will mean further reviews by the Department, leading to yet more confusion, indecision and doubt.

The result of those thousands of person years of effort is that a great deal of money has been wasted. In that time, we have seen outright privatisation of institutions such as the National Engineering Laboratory, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, the Hydraulics Research Station, the Transport Research Laboratory, the National Resources Institute and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. There is a huge number of other institutions that I could mention. The prior options review is the latest in this catastrophic cutting exercise. Some 43 public sector research establishments, employing more than 20,000 staff, with a turnover of about £800 million a year, are involved. That is a huge exercise in privatisation. We are talking about something that is the size of one of our privatised utilities.

I am pleased that the Opposition have selected this subject for debate. It is terribly important that the issues should be aired and not swept under the carpet, as the Government are determined to do. The questions that the prior options review is asking include: is the function needed? Must the public sector be responsible? Must the public sector provide the function? What is the scope for rationalisation? How will the function be managed? Such questions can lead only to the further question: is the institute ripe for privatisation? The Minister admitted that earlier. The Government's question is, "Can we privatise the function and get it as far away from Government as possible?"

Only two years ago, Sir Peter Levene's efficiency scrutiny concluded that only ADAS—the Agricultural Development Advisory Service—and the Building Research Establishment were ripe for privatisation, yet the Government are putting scientists through an appalling exercise that is causing demoralisation. Scientists are leaving because of the uncertainty. The institutes' efficiency is being much reduced because they cannot work effectively when they are constantly being reviewed.

A more important question concerns the role of Government research establishments. The Government need certain scientific functions to be performed. It has been interesting, during the BSE debate, to hear even the Prime Minister say, for the first time, that he is relying on scientific expertise and advice. We would have to look back over many years of Hansard to find senior Ministers making such statements. There has been a realisation that scientists have an important role to play in advising politicians and that it is important that we listen to them.

How can independent scientific and technological advice, which the BSE crisis has proved to be necessary, be made available to the Government? What is the best way of doing public interest research to improve quality of life, health and safety and the environment? Such research will not be undertaken by commercial organisations. It will be funded only by the public sector. How can the Government respond quickly to the emergencies mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), such as oil spills? Such disasters require input from a range of Government Departments.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

Would my hon. Friend like to add to her list the functions of the public health laboratory service? It has to respond to emergencies and must have the capacity to do so. It has to study disease and the best way to control it. Its scientists are worried about the Government's attitude to its functions.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

My hon. Friend picks an excellent example from the many public sector research establishments that are under threat. Ministers should pay close attention to that. The general public will be deeply concerned when they realise that the important functions of the public health service laboratories are under threat because they are no longer to be carried out by independent scientists.

How can independent scientific advice be made available to policy makers? How can Government scientists' representational role best be performed? When I was working in a non-departmental public body, an important part of my role was to represent the UK Government and to advise them on scientific policy. Scientists in the UK have a reputation for integrity and impartiality. That is important, and should not be let go of easily.

We need to ask how we can improve the flow of high calibre scientists into policy making. Too few scientifically qualified people have gone into senior civil service positions. Some improvements have been made in recent years, and it would be a pity if the flow of scientists into policy making was stopped by privatisations.

Finally, we must ask what public sector research establishments contribute to the national economic effort and our quality of life. The Royal Society expressed its concern by saying: We are concerned that the first tranche of reviews is already well advanced, without adequate time having been allowed for prior consultation with the scientific community. It was concerned about the haste and apparent secrecy with which the review was conducted.

Professor Blundell, the head of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, chaired one of the three steering committees set up to review the sell-off plan. He is concerned that the Government may be overlooking the hidden costs of privatisation. He reckons that BBSRC pensions could cost £137 million. From my copy of Laboratory News, I understand that the total cost of pensions from all the institutes under consideration could be as high as £200 million. That explains why universities are not keen to take over some institutes. They are worried about being landed with the high costs of pension provision.

Many scientists are uneasy about the Government's intentions. It has been said several times already that it is feared that, if the Government do not get the answer they want with one review, they will carry out more until they get the answer they want: that the institutes concerned should be sold off.

We must also consider how constant reviews hit the institutes that are on the receiving end. The time and resource commitment of senior scientists during the reviews has to be borne in mind. It is difficult to conduct high-quality research, whether basic or applied, if it is constantly being interrupted by requests for information and a demand to defend the status quo and undergo review.

There are doubts about privatisation. Jasper Wall, the head of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Cambridge said: I am surprised to hear that you can go to the market place for skills that took 300 years to put together. If the Minister has not already visited the observatory, I suggest that he goes to see the amazing effort and the technical expertise in the organisation. That expertise is specific to the observatory and not to be found anywhere in the private sector—certainly not in the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, which is one of the suggestions that has been made for the contracting out of that work.

Why is all this being done secretly? I would like a commitment from the Minister to publish the review report and the associated evidence. We have a right, as Members of Parliament, to see them. The scientific research institutes also want them published.

How can the focus of the institutes be retained as a source of scientific advice to the Government if they are privatised, and therefore have very different commercial objectives? Would there have been any funds for specialists working on scrapie, which was described as a quaint disease of museum interest a few years ago, before its connection with BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was discovered? Why continue with this? The decision is based on political dogma rather than scientific necessity.

There are four BBSRC institutes. The independent prior options review teams have recommended that the status quo is the preferred option, yet the signals from the Government suggest that that will not be the option that they adopt. One of the most important questions is whether funding from public sources will continue if the institutes are made even a little more independent than they are at present. The prior options review says that the function is needed, certainly in respect of the BBSRC institutes, but in the view of one director of a research council institute, that function cannot be delivered without underpinning finance, provided in the form of a rolling programme grant.

Core research funding is vital to an institution—a fact that Ministers do not seem to have understood properly. It is recognised in the university sector that research organisations need infrastructure and core funding. It is also recognised by the dual funding support system, with the higher education funding councils supplying money for research infrastructure and core work, and the research councils providing money for specific research projects. One of my constituents has written to me to say: High quality research requires a reasonable amount of stability, continuity and long-term planning. That cannot be achieved when scientists have to apply to research councils for grants for every project.

Without an assurance of guaranteed long-term support, there is no way a young doctor or research scientist will commit the rest of his or her life to long-term studies. Without such a commitment, we shall never deliver the crucial information that is so important to the betterment of scientific research.

As a non-executive director of a research and technology organisation, I know at first hand how vital core funding is to any such organisation. Scientists have to be free to pursue areas of inquiry before they are ready to submit a full research application. Without core funding, that becomes increasingly difficult. They need to be able to close gaps in their collective knowledge and to pursue objectives that appear important for scientific, not commercial, reasons.

The lack of core research will lead in the long term to increasing impoverishment of the work that scientists do. I hope that the Minister will deal with that problem when he replies to this debate.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay 8:21, 11 Mehefin 1996

I strongly support the Government's intention to look into how scientific material is garnered by the state for the better information of Government policies. I believe that there is far too much reliance on Government-funded research and scientific bodies at the moment. They all have a vested interest in keeping Government funds—they are very large—flowing their way. Last year, more than £14 billion was spent on such research—a massive amount of public money. The Government are therefore right to evaluate the work of these institutions from the point of view of value for money.

I declare a minor vested interest, in as much as I have worked in science all my working life—as a teacher and researcher, and afterwards developing scientific products which I marketed around the world. In the course of my long working life I have come into contact with a great many people and institutions involved in producing scientific advice and offering scientific opinions.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does the hon. Lady accept the contention in the 1995 document "Forward Look"—that research is a long-term investment? How does she think these proposals will ensure stable investment in basic research; and does she think that the public will be reassured by advice or statements from Ministers, knowing that that advice has come from the private sector, with its vested interests?

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

I agree with the hon. Lady to this extent: it is essential to do our best to find independent sources of research. Where I quarrel with her is over her belief that it is likely to come from Government-funded institutions. They are not independent, since they rely on Government grants and support for the work that they do. We need evidence that is not tainted by political expediency on the one hand or by the interests of commercial ventures which may rely on the research in question on the other. A great deal of excellent research, however, comes out of the pharmaceutical industry in the shape of the development of new products.

Moreover, when evidence or advice emerges from the private sector, that sector is held responsible for the advice if it goes wrong. The development of thalidomide is a case in point. The organisation concerned is still being held responsible for the problems that that product caused. By contrast, the Government fund, endorse and then often insist on the use of pesticides. The fact that the Government have given these substances such strong backing often rules out any independent judgment by Ministers when they have to decide whether certain pesticides may give rise to serious side effects. There is even one theory suggesting that pesticides may be involved in the BSE problem.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen

With respect, I do not think that the hon. Lady has answered the question about where this independent advice is to come from.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my arguments I will get to the answer.

I do not question the need for the Government to act in loco parentis on behalf of the public when it comes to matters of public health and requiring advice on them. The question concerns where that advice should come from. I do not think we should rely exclusively on quasi-Government organisations such as the public health laboratory service, ADAS and the myriad other such institutions for that advice.

The scientists working in such institutions are just the same as people in other organisations, commercial or Government-run. They are sometimes wrong; they are sometimes influenced by the need to keep their grants flowing, particularly when their grants are running out. I know of several examples of institutions rushing to publish evidence when a longer period of cogitation about their hypotheses might have been advisable—

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment which has been evaluated and in use since the 1940s. It has remarkable effects, of which I am but one example.

We tend to respond too hastily to what are thought to be emergencies. There is a distinction between genuine emergencies such as plane crashes or disasters at sea and scares generated by hypotheses that are published by groups of scientists who may be shroud waving so as to ensure that their grants come through again. Their intention is not to scare the public but to maintain their own positions by putting evidence in the public domain before it has been evaluated by their peer groups—an essential component of scientific progress.

I believe, for example, that the salmonella scare—I have written the world's most authoritative book on it, called "Chickengate"—was partly caused by pressure from the PHLS laboratory near Bristol to keep its premises going. There had been a suggestion that a number of laboratories were to be closed down, and it was from that very laboratory that the salmonella scare emanated. Its diagnosis linked the infection to eggs, which was bogus science. I have done a great deal of research on eggs and infections in eggs, and I can tell the House that they are hermetically sealed by nature specifically to keep bugs out. What is more, bugs that do get in cannot, in that environment, reproduce enough to make anyone ill.

The salmonella scare was nothing to do with farmyards; it was to do with kitchen hygiene. The people using the materials were not using them in clean vessels or in a clean environment. I shall not go into the background of that situation, but the Government rushed to do something as a result of evidence that eventually proved to be faulty. The Government eventually ditched the regulations that brought about the slaughter of almost 4 million chickens, approximately 10,000 small egg production businesses going down the pan and goodness knows how many hundreds of millions of eggs being smashed in an orgy of public recrimination against the industry. The problem originated as a result of poor hygiene conditions in places that produce food, such as sandwich bars and hospital kitchens.

That is just one example of a scare that was exacerbated, if not generated entirely, by a report from a Government health organisation. I urge the Government to bear in mind that scientists, just like the rest of humanity, are interested in their own survival—and sometimes that survival prompts them to do things that they might not do in other circumstances or if their lifeblood did not depend on it. There are mad scientists as well as mad cows. I urge the Government to keep an eye on the people who put out this research.

I draw the attention of hon. Members to the organisation that deals with our environment—the IPCC—another Government-funded organisation. The organisation has not so much dreamed up, but it has given weight to and endorsed, the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is one of these scares that has generated all sorts of Government regulations—affecting the motor industry, for example. We have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and we have to look at the way in which we dispose of scientific and industrial materials. That scare has led to the IPCC's interference in other industries, quite separately from the original idea of keeping an eye on what was happening with our climate.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

The hon. Lady needs to bear in mind that the IPCC's findings were verified through a rigorous process of peer review involving scientists from around the world. It is not as though one Government are funding one Government institute and producing inaccurate results—there has been exhaustive research over a long period.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that much of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's research and observations on the environment and on environmental changes contradicts a lot of the research of the IPCC. In fact, to have an institution called the International Panel for Climate Control is ludicrous—the idea that human beings, with our puny efforts, can control the climate is ludicrous.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

It does not matter whether it is "change" or "control"—the institution has a vested interest in promulgating the idea that we, through our industrial processes, are causing terrible changes in our climate. NASA, another source of information in this regard, has made observations from outside our planet and it refutes that argument. I am inclined to take a balanced view. We should not impose regulations on industries—for example, the car industry in relation to carbon dioxide emissions—that may damage people's livelihoods rather than their health. We should not rush to judgment on the basis of research from institutions of that sort.

I am calling for a much wider level of consultation when the Government have some kind of problem that the public may be concerned about. We have to remember that a lot of these so-called problems are not generated by the public, or by people within the Ministry, but by many of these institutions. My point is that there is no independent evaluation of these institutions at the moment.

I agree with Government funding of basic science, which includes some of the work carried out at Greenwich and Kew. Such work is valuable and useful, and it is difficult to say where they would get their money if not from the Government. However, I believe that that money could be better spent elsewhere. There is a difference between basic science and science that is based on what are considered to be rather immediate problems, and that is mostly what these Government scientific institutions are involved in.

I believe that the mere fact that these organisations are Government-funded and endorsed gives them a degree of status and credibility that they may not deserve, but which people tend not to question. They are seen to produce Government information and therefore they have a degree of credibility that they may not deserve. The Government should use a number of research organisations—independent organisations that may be generated by groups of scientists currently working in state-funded institutions.

When the Government are presented with a problem—such as cows dying from a disease which at present appears to have no clear origin—they should put out to contract, perhaps with more than one institute, the need to investigate it. The Government would then receive different advice—a number of hypotheses. BSE is in this situation at the moment. We have accepted the views of a group of people, the Edinburgh group, who have come up with a particular hypothesis that there could be a link—and we have instituted draconian measures as a result.

I believe that an article in the Daily Telegraph this week will challenge the whole thesis that the foodstuffs that cows were eating are responsible for BSE. There are theories that BSE could be caused and transmitted by mites—many diseases are transmitted by insects or small crustacea. An example is malaria—no one has tested that route of investigation yet, but there is scientific evidence.

As there is very little independent review, scientific evidence that is lying around in the archives could be introduced into the debate, but it is often ignored. Again, I refer to the BSE scare. Dr. Clive Bruton, who is working in my constituency, is one of the curators of the department of neuropathology's brain bank. Apparently, some little while ago, he published a paper—he did not make assertions that this was the last word—on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. He pointed out that there was plenty of old evidence about this so-called new strain of CJD, which is believed to be the problem. It is believed that this new strain is causing the problem in younger people. We all know that CJD has been around for a long time. It is a rare disease and the number of people in this country dying from it is reducing—I think there were 50 cases last year and 49 the year before.

There is no impetus in an institution that has come up with an hypothesis to spend an adequate amount of time to research the views of its peers by looking through the literature. This is how scientists work: they examine publications from a variety of institutions to test their hypotheses. Scientists who come up with an idea are under psychological pressure to prove their point and to make their hypotheses stand up. That is what has happened with the Edinburgh group.

I am making the case for a longer period of investigation, particularly when the Government are responding with a knee-jerk reaction because of a scare that is being generated from a single quasi-governmental institution that is dependent on Government funding and support. If we did a little research, we might find a link between the scares and the proximity of the next round of grant allocations. Like everyone else, scientists wish it to appear that their services are vital and are essential to the maintenance of the Government's programmes.

Therefore, I urge the Government not to rely on a single, Government-funded source, but to look instead at stimulating independent institutions that may arise out of the state organisations—as has occurred with other privatisations. The Government could commission them to investigate the problems with which they are presented.

Such institutions may have a data bank to which they could refer to discover the views of other experts in the field. The Government could then refer to those views before reacting. When the Government react against a body of relatively untested evidence, they create the kind of hysteria that surrounded the salmonella crisis and that we are seeing again in the BSE crisis. That has huge knock-on costs in other industries—in this case, the £4 billion beef industry. The Government must now deal with the problems that their response has created in relation to rendering plants, for example. That is an on-going dilemma: one problem generates another. It is a very disruptive process and not how science should assist Government or the community.

I believe that the Government have a strong responsibility to do what they can to establish independent institutions. They should not rely on a single source of evidence on which to base their view. The Government must balance the views of different institutions. That is how science works: people from different fields compare their results and arrive at a conclusion on which the Government can base policy decisions.

On the basis of my examination of two cases—the egg scare and the beef crisis—I do not believe that the Government are obtaining good, independent scientific evidence. I am sure that papers yet to be published will conclude that the tenuous links that we are led to believe exist between Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle have no factual basis. They may find that BSE is not connected with contaminated food and may offer another scientific explanation. One can make a balanced judgment only when one has considered all aspects of the problem. At present we are rushing to judgment because we are relying too heavily on limited areas of investigation.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. The hon. Lady is getting rather repetitive and she is straying from the subject of the debate.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

I accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the advice being that I should shut up fairly soon.

The Government often turn to special scientific advisers for assistance. Those advisers are attached to all Ministries and the Government obviously rely heavily on their judgment in reaching their conclusions. I put it to the Government that those advisers must be vetted very carefully in order to confirm their independence.

I draw the attention of the House to the special adviser in the Department of the Environment, Mr. Tom Burke—who I am sure is an honourable man and all the rest of it. He was formerly associated with the Greenpeace organisation and I believe that he has a tainted or biased view about the way in which the Government should handle environmental issues. As a consequence, the Ministry may not receive an independent view.

Therefore, I return to my thesis that the Government could refer to basic science in universities as a source of advice. That might be better than seeking the views of special scientific advisers within Ministries.

Finally, some scares have been generated by scientists. I refer to the Lacey and Lang combination, which was largely responsible for hyping the salmonella scare. Professor Lacey is always ready to offer an hysterical opinion. The newspapers also bear a responsibility for hyping the scares. The Government should seek an unbiased source of advice when taking decisions that have a profound effect on our economy. I believe that that is the right course of action.

Photo of Mr Nigel Jones Mr Nigel Jones , Cheltenham 8:44, 11 Mehefin 1996

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), as her remarks are always controversial and well worth listening to—even if one does not agree with them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I may have tested your patience during the sports debate last Friday, when I got rather carried away and spoke for 22 minutes. I know that several hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, so I shall be brief.
The prior options review reminds me of the reorganisation of local government—the Government set up the review, obtain a reply, they do not like that reply, so they conduct another review. That is what has happened with the scientific research councils.
I welcome the debate, and I am grateful to the Labour party for finding time to raise the subject on an Opposition day. We have not debated scientific issues for some time and on the last occasion hon. Members complained that, as it was a Friday, few hon. Members were present. Few hon. Members are present for tonight's debate—hon. Members may be attending the 60th birthday celebrations of Lord Holme of Cheltenham, but I suspect that their absence has more to do with the annual dinner of the parliamentary beer club.
The challenges facing science today are legion. Appalling levels of pollution mean that solutions to environmental problems are vital for the survival of the planet. In the past 200 years, scientific breakthroughs have led to enormous improvements in health care. This year marks the bicentenary of the discovery of the smallpox vaccine by Edward Jenner, who spent much of his life in my constituency. That was an important breakthrough, and there have been many others since then.
I shall refer tonight to the Medical Research Council units that form part of the prior options review. The MRC is funded mainly by Government grant in aid through the Office of Science and Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry. The grant in aid for 1994–95 was £270 million, which was supplemented by£26 million from external sources, including industry, the national health service and the European Union.
Five MRC units are included in the third tranche of the prior options review from July to December 1996, although there are implications for all 40 MRC units. The units currently included are the toxicology unit at the university of Leicester, the Dunn nutrition unit at the university of Cambridge, the reproductive biology unit at the university of Edinburgh, the radiobiology unit at Harwell and the virology unit at Glasgow. The people who work in those five units do not know how the units were selected for inclusion in the original scrutiny of public sector research establishments, or for the current round of the review. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us.
The MRC's mission is to support high-quality research with the aim of improving and maintaining human health. Most MRC units and institutes are integrated within universities; most staff are employed by the MRC, and the director is accountable to the MRC chief executive. Units provide a special research environment that gives the MRC director and staff freedom to commit themselves to full-time research on a long-term basis.
Health-related research develops as a continuum to basic strategic and applied research. Units are required to—and do—exploit the fruits of their research for the benefit of national health and wealth, but their primary purpose is to carry out the highest-quality basic research that the 1993 White Paper "Realising our Potential" acknowledged should be supported by Government.
Given the inclusion of those private units in the current round, the MRC is now required to devote resources to prior options reviews and to consider other models for ownership and management of its units. The recent announcement in the House about the first tranche of prior options reviews suggests that decisions are being made on the basis that the establishments reviewed so far would benefit from the greater freedom they would have if they were fully in the private sector, whether managed by companies limited by guarantee or by universities that would, for the purposes of the exercise, be seen as being in the private sector.
The primary purpose of most of the public sector research establishments involved in the exercise is to deliver services to Government. The primary function of MRC units is to carry out research relevant to health. If MRC units were turned into companies limited by guarantee, their mission to provide an infrastructure for research into areas relevant to health would change dramatically, as the objective of raising income would become paramount. Similarly, transfer to university ownership where management has other objectives related to teaching, student numbers and income generation would create difficulties in the maintaining of the necessary stability and focus.
The freedom of units to pursue basic research does not mean that they become uncompetitive or ossified. Each programme in their portfolio must compete for support from the council against other claims on its funds, such as grants to universities. If unit programmes fail to win support at peer review level, there are procedures for terminating work, and closing units where necessary. For example, 15 units have been closed in the past 10 years. That has led to staff redundancies where skills cannot be accommodated elsewhere in the council's service.
In the last round of reviews of the five units carried out in the original scrutiny exercise in 1994, many of the units' non-academic customers—for example, industry and the national health service—expressed concern that any change of ownership to the private sector would alter the nature of the well informed and independent policy advice that the units are able to provide: for example, the consultancy service to the food industry offered by the Dunn nutrition unit. The views of those customers will be sought again in the coming round of reviews, but there is no evidence that their position will have changed.
MRC units provide essential freedom for the conduct of long-term basic research that benefits national health and wealth. Unlike that of most PSREs included in prior options reviews, their primary purpose is not to provide Government with services.
"Realising our Potential" confirmed Government's role in funding basic research; it has never been clear why MRC units—which are already rigorously reviewed through independent peer review involving user input—were included in the exercise. Transfer to universities, or to other private sector management, could threaten their freedom rather than increasing it, and would require them to focus attention on activities that would divert them from their mission to improve and maintain human health.
The units' present freedom does not mean absence of competition. They compete for MRC funds against grant proposals, and are closed if peer review standards are not met. Nor does it mean that they are not responsive to customer needs; indeed, customers such as industry and the NHS appear to value their present status and the quality of their independent advice in a range of sensitive policy areas, including the effects on human health of air pollution, radiation and nutrition—to name but a few.
It was always likely that the debate would be hijacked by concerns about BSE. I do not want to go into those concerns, and I will shut up shortly. However, the effects of good scientific and technological developments on our quality of life are enormous. It should be the role of Members of Parliament, including Ministers, to make the public aware of what is going on and of the importance of scientific investment. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) drew attention to the cuts in investment in the scientific budget in recent years. Without proper funding, Britain will fall behind its major competitors—and we in this place must do all in our power to prevent that.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston 8:55, 11 Mehefin 1996

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) seems to have joined Labour speakers in the Luddite tendency. Agricultural research must move on. I was very disappointed by the speech by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), who has probably been immersed in agricultural research for longer than any other hon. Member present. Many years ago, I learned to listen with respect to what he said on this subject. I must not allude to him further, because he is not in the Chamber; I will merely say that, when he began his career in agricultural research, the raison d'etre was quite different from what it is now.

I have had the good fortune to visit—at least once, and in some cases two or three times—all the agricultural research establishments for which my right hon. Friend the Minister is responsible. Most were established—certainly expanded—when their raison d'etre was to increase agricultural production: in other words, to induce our stock and soil to yield more, more and still more. The results have been fabulous, verging on the miraculous.

On a farm that I have known since I was a child, yields of wheat used to be only 17 cwt per acre; now they are 3 tonnes per acre. That represents a fourfold increase in my lifetime—rather a long lifetime, admittedly—achieved largely as a result of expenditure, both private and public, on agricultural research over a comparatively short period. Similar marvels can be attributed to what has been done in livestock production. Our cows can now produce almost twice as much milk as they could at the end of the war.

We must now put our farmers and growers on to a lower input-output ratio. We must cool it down, as it were. I do not believe that that can be done without considerable research, and I accept that much of that research must be undertaken in the public sector. That research should be publicly funded in our universities, because that is the proper place.

I am much more sceptical about the public sector than some Opposition Members are. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) will be familiar with Babraham on the outskirts of her constituency. The last time I visited that establishment I saw goats with their udders removed from their nether regions, where they normally are, and transplanted to the goats' necks to see whether they would yield more milk in that position. On the previous occasion I visited that establishment—no doubt I met some of the hon. Lady's constituents—the scientists had carried out an experiment with a buck rabbit to find out how many times it could copulate in 24 hours. I have great difficulty in believing it, but I think the answer was 127.

Your money, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and mine should not be spent in that way, but that is what happens to public expenditure in that area. Clever scientists—I take my hat off to the ability and brain power of our scientists in those establishments—do such experiments when they get public money. We must recognise that £125 million a year is spent on agricultural research, and we must ensure that we get our money's worth. We will not get our money's worth if the research establishments try to find ways and means by which farmers and growers can produce more and more, with high-tech methods, using ever more pesticides, nitrates and hormones.

Some establishments are taking the opposite approach. In particular, I wish to mention Wellesbourne. Some years ago, I went there for the first time, and I have now been three times. The previous director so inspired me with Wellesbourne's approach that I went away and wrote a book of some 50,000 words about what Wellesbourne and similar establishments were trying to achieve. They are doing invaluable work, but it would be wholly wrong for that establishment to be privatised.

Wellesbourne's research is enabling growers of vegetables to stop using excessive pesticide. If that establishment were sold to the highest bidder, I can imagine that ICI or some other pesticide manufacturer would be only too pleased to buy it up and inhibit the type of research that is undertaken there. Such establishments should continue to be publicly funded.

I also hope that Wellesbourne will have a closer association with Birmingham university. It might be taken over by Birmingham university so that public money could be spent on its research. I would be angry, and my constituents who are vegetable growers would be concerned and angry, if Wellesbourne were to change its role or have its work inhibited in any way. I therefore entirely support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) on the subject.

Other establishments, not only Babraham, are being extravagant. I know Compton well, because it is close to where I live. At Compton, they are engaged in research into animal health. Some of that research is very important, but it is all directed towards helping intensive animal production to be more intensive and towards overcoming the diseases that affect intensive farms. That research should not be carried out at public expense: it should be done in the private sector. It is also wrong that that establishment should have nearly 2,000 acres of agricultural land, which is quite unnecessary for its research.

I applaud what the Government are doing. We are right to reconsider this research. Much of it is valuable and must go on, because it would be quite wrong for it to be inhibited in the future. Much of it, however, is out of date and is no longer the kind of research that we farmers and growers need now. We want different research that will enable us to come down to a lower input-output ratio—as I have already called it—which needs much research that must be publicly funded.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture will know that it is almost impossible for a Minister of Agriculture to please the farmer, the taxpayer and the consumer at once, but on this occasion he deserves the support of all three.

Photo of Mr John Garrett Mr John Garrett , Norwich South 9:03, 11 Mehefin 1996

I shall make a few brief remarks about the threat to science and scientifically informed government posed by the prior options review—brief because of the inordinate time taken by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who managed to speak longer than the Front Benchers, and who selfishly rambled on about the same old thing.

Photo of Mr John Garrett Mr John Garrett , Norwich South

Yes, I know.

One of my concerns is the future of the Institute of Food Research, which employs 350 staff on the outskirts of Norwich—many of them my constituents. Its fate is to be decided by the end of this year, and my constituents are greatly concerned about their futures. The Ministry of Agriculture central science laboratory, which employs 200 staff, and the John Innes Institute, with more than 400 staff, are located in the same science park—which makes it the site of one of the biggest concentrations of bioscientists in Europe.

The IFR's work is of considerable public importance to fundamental research and nearer to market. The institute's food safety work includes working with salmonella, listeria, clostridium botulinum and campylobacter. It also undertakes wide-ranging research into many aspects of nutrition as it affects health. That independent work is performed by highly skilled multi-discipline teams of scientists, many of international repute. It takes years to establish such research groups, and once they were broken up, they would be lost to British science. That is the real risk posed to the three great research institutions located on the edge of my constituency.

The stability of the support that the IFR's core work receives is vital. The provision of independent scientific information and advice must derive from the continuity that can only come from public funding, which allows the institute to attract funds from the European Union—where, in the case of the IFR, the United Kingdom is a net beneficiary—and Departments, in the form of short-term contracts, some of which are industry-linked. The Norwich research park contributes some £2 million a year to the UK's balance of trade.

Severe problems will arise from the Government's preferred option. A break in the close relationship between the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and its supported institutes would inevitably put their future at risk. Furthermore, perhaps the Minister will refer to the cost of meeting the BBSRC's pension scheme and of any restructuring, which will require a Treasury commitment of several hundred million pounds. The IFR's staff are concerned about not only their future but that of independent research in Britain.

To summarise, the institute is Britain's major independent base for all aspects of food research, including safety, nutrition, diet and health—and it provides independent research of significant public good and has multi-discipline teams of scientists of international repute. Stability and continuity are crucial to maintaining the IFR's independence and multidiscipline research teams. Significant public cost would be involved in making the changes outlined by the President of the Board of Trade.

The John Innes Institute is equally distinguished in horticultural research. It was in the first tranche of prior options examinations, but the institute's 400 scientists and support staff have been told only that more work is needed—to prove, I imagine, that the institute must be privatised.

I am concerned about the Government's policy of privatising as many public sector research establishments as they can, and about the damage that will do to the continuity, independence and integrity of the science base as a provider of information and advice in the public interests. The Government, by privatising and hiving off laboratories, are denuding themselves of people in the civil service, particularly in senior decision-making structures, who have a scientific and technical background, can provide intelligent customers for science, can interpret technically complex developments, and can advise on technically and scientifically complex policies—a need that the bovine spongiform encephalopathy issue has clearly highlighted.

The Government have made it clear that the presumption will be to privatise or contract out, and that there will have to be strong reasons to prevent that happening. They have made it clear also that, if a private sector competitor is available, public sector bodies will not be allowed to compete for work—which is loading the decision against the Government establishment from the outset.

That can be compared with what the Select Committee said in its comments on the efficiency study: no major re-organisation should be undertaken unless there are clear benefits which outweigh the costs, both the financial and in terms of disruption to scientific activity. if it is impossible to identify a structure for government science which is clearly better than the current model, then the aim should be to encourage gradual evolution in response to changing priorities. In other words, these are successful institutions, which have been built up over a long period. They are centres of excellence with a fund of experience relating to nutrition, health, horticulture and agriculture. It is pure vandalism to split them up and put them at risk of being flogged off to some private organisation which will not be able to provide the continuity and independence that is required.

In their response, the Government said; In the rapidly changing world of science and technology, the Government must have access to the best scientific and technological expertise and advice and must secure the availability of a supply of high quality scientists and a strong underpinning of basic and strategic science to industrial users. What is being carried out is just a whim of ideology. These important, successful, long-established and deeply serious organisations with international reputations are being put at risk to satisfy some ideological whim. That is the basis for the proposed policy. If it is private it is good, if it is public, no matter how good it has been in the past, it is bad, according to the Government's view. The scientists in my constituency will not forgive the Government for this act of vandalism.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West 9:11, 11 Mehefin 1996

This debate is astonishing. The attitude of Labour Members has been that anything in the private sector is bad and anything that is publicly funded is excellent. The entire nation has grown sick and tired of that ideology from the Labour party. I approve of this review, and all other reviews of Government expenditure. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said, it is right that we should have the facilities to undertake these reviews and that the Government should carry them out. There is not a taxpayer in the country who does not want to ensure that the Government are getting the best value for the money that is handed over in taxation and that the spending is cost-effective. It is the Government's duty to ensure that that happens.

I remember when housing associations were introduced and the responsibility for constructing houses was virtually taken away from local authorities. We heard a great deal of whining from the Labour party that it would be impossible and that house building would grind to a halt. It has not happened.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

No, it has not. In fact, I am going to the opening of a housing association building project in my constituency next week. Building has not stopped.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. We are not debating housing.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

I accept the reprimand, but I am looking back at what has happened in the past and at how the Labour party, joined by the Liberal Democrats, has been so completely and utterly wrong. We will probably witness another U-turn in a few minutes.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones , Birmingham, Selly Oak

On housing associations, it was a Labour Government who funded publicly—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. That is enough about housing and the policies of Labour and Conservative Governments. I want to return to the subject of the debate.

Photo of Mr Paul Marland Mr Paul Marland , Gloucestershire West

I will not give way again. The hon. Lady has been ruled out of order and I refuse to give way. I have the Floor now and I intend to take advantage of that.

It is realistic for the Government to see how much duplication is taking place in research in Government establishments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) said, there is no doubt that those involved in Government research want to keep their establishment going.

The Labour party will not be interested in any food research stations that have been privatised, but in Chipping Camden there is the Camden food and research Station in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown). I know it well because I was brought up in Chipping Camden. It used to be in the public sector, but it has now moved into the private sector and it is flourishing. We must be forward-looking. It is wrong simply to look back, as the Labour party does. Indeed, that is the attitude of all the Opposition parties.

I accept that we must carefully consider the people who will be affected by any changes the Government may introduce. It is right to focus attention on that point. I hope that when any decision is made in that respect the people involved will be dealt with carefully and fairly. It is quite clear that the Labour party rejects any thought of rationalisation. Indeed, its amendment actually states that. How on earth it can stand on that platform in any debate, on any issue, quite defeats me.

When ADAS—the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service—grew out of an enterprise called NAAS—the National Agriculture Advisory Service—I remember the whingeing we heard from Labour Members about that. In fact, it has been a great success. When veterinary laboratories were set up as an agency and many of the stations were closed, we were told that it heralded disaster. One station just outside Gloucester was closed and I was told that it was the end of the world for some of the farmers in the district, but it has not turned out that way. In fact, there has been no deterioration in the service because use has been made of modern techniques and technology.

On the question of current research and Government policy, I believe it absolutely right that the Government should not become involved in near-market research. They should create the conditions in which industry can flourish—something that they have been very successful in doing—and industry should pay for that research. Near-market research, on which the wealth creators will capitalise and cash in, should be funded by business. We should introduce a tax regime that encourages business to do that and create the trading conditions in which business can make a success of its research.

Some blue-sky research should be financed by the Government—[Interruption.] Yes, it should be financed, but that should be limited. As hon. Members have said, there is no reason why the Government should not contract with the private sector to do that research. It is not the Conservative party that is biased against the private sector, it is old Labour. We have heard a great deal today about what old Labour thinks. The old attitudes have been paraded in the Chamber. The wealth creators must be encouraged to carry out research.

It is wrong to say that there are now fewer jobs in research because of changes in Government policy. In 1986, 134,000 people were employed in research; in 1993—the latest year for which figures are available—the number was 140,000. Therefore, the number of people employed in research has risen, despite the arrival of improved technology to help them with their jobs.

On the question of BSE, I do not see what is wrong with the Government buying in the research they need. This is where the Labour party is parading its dogma—something that it always accuses the Conservative party of doing. I know that I am repeating myself, but I say again that the attitude of the Labour party is that anything that is financed by the private sector is bad, whereas anything that is financed by the Government and the poor old taxpayer is right and without bias. The reason why so many of the old Government-run enterprises were so unsuccessful was that they were badly managed. I again refer hon. Members to the Camden research station, which relished going into the private sector.

We are getting on top of BSE and there has been no shortage of money spent in that cause. It has been a Government priority, and so far £30 million has been spent. Today, that has been increased to £10.4 million this year alone. We have always stood firm on the fact that the advice that we have received has been the best scientific advice available.

It is a great shame that our European partners will not take notice of that advice, much of which—to the great joy of the Labour party—has come from Government—funded research stations. It is a pity that, together, we cannot persuade the Germans to take a bit more notice of that information because, as Professor Pattison—the chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee—said, there has been no lack of resources for BSE research. The research is the best that is available, and we should be proud to stand by that.

I am astonished that the Opposition have chosen to have this debate in their time. They have made it perfectly obvious that they do not want progress. In their speeches, Labour Members have emphasised that the attitude of old Labour lives on. That attitude has flowed over into the attitude of the Liberal party—which is the trouble with sitting so close to Labour Members. My good friend the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) has caught the attitude, and it has flowed over into his thinking.

The Labour party has been wrong on every major issue for the past 17 years, and it is wrong on this issue as well. It will not be very long before we see them doing another humiliating U-turn on this issue. I support the initiative, and I urge every hon. Member to do the same.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth , Stratford-on-Avon 9:20, 11 Mehefin 1996

Horticulture Research International, which is in my constituency, has been mentioned several times in the debate. I very much appreciate the support that has been expressed for that institution. There is certainly no case for destabilising it.

The National Farmers Union describes HRI as a highly efficient and effective organisation which provides a high quality service to the industry. Last year, the Select Committee on Agriculture reported: Horticulture Research International received almost unqualified support for its work from those who gave evidence to us". Growers, the food industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are thoroughly happy with the way in which HRI serves them.

It is one thing to ask the questions that are asked under the prior options review, but it is another to ask those questions repeatedly and continually, engendering permanent insecurity and permanent instability in the institutions that are affected by it. It is yet another thing to ask those questions while insisting, as do the Government, that they should receive only the answers that they want to hear. The Government seem determined to privatise wherever they can.

Last November, it was indicated that the findings of the prior options review of institutions sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council would be provided by this March. On 22 May, however, the Minister for Rural Affairs said: the future status of HRI is now to be considered by the Prime Minister's advisor on efficiency, Sir Peter Levene."—[Official Report, 22 May 1996; Vol. 278, c. 210.] In his closing, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House what are Sir Peter Levene's terms of reference in relation to HRI, and when he is expected to report. If the Minister cannot answer those questions today, I should be grateful if he or a ministerial colleague will write to me. May I also have an assurance that the outcome of this review will not be vouchsafed during the summer recess, when it will not be possible for hon. Members to question it.

If the Government do not get the answer they want, they simply ask the question again. The director of Imperial college is reported to have observed that there are only four answers that the Government are willing to receive in the prior options review: abolition, privatisation, contracting out or rationalisation. All the public sector research establishments that are in the current review were included in the scrutiny review two years ago. If that is not evidence of dogmatism, I do not know what is. The Government's dogmatism certainly alarms the National Farmers Union in relation to HRI. It has stated: Privatisation or further rationalisation will result in a reduction in the breadth of research carried out and the loss of critical staff, facilities and expertise. I remind Ministers that HRI, as it now is, is a product of rationalisation. Horticultural research was endlessly reorganised and restructured during the 1980s. While there was unhappiness at the continuing instability at that time, certainly there has been widespread satisfaction with the manner in which HRI was eventually established in 1990. The customers are happy, and independent consultants have advised that it is not a suitable candidate for privatisation. Nor, of course, is it suitable for rationalisation, which means cuts.

The unfortunate scientists at Wellesbourne are caught in the Government's pincer of the prior options review and the public expenditure survey round, with the cuts in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's research funding that that has entailed. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced a £1.2 million cut in funding for HRI while, at the same time, the threat of privatisation was held over the institution.

As I have suggested, there is a history of destabilisation and starvation of funding at Wellesbourne. I secured an Adjournment debate on 20 March 1985, at a time when 28 posts had been lost at Wellesbourne in the previous two years and when it was anticipated that the cuts in the funding available to the Agriculture and Food Research Council between 1982 and 1987 would be of the order of 15 per cent. to 20 per cent.

I said in that Adjournment debate; What the NVRS"— or the national vegetable research station, as the establishment at Wellesbourne was then called— would ask for—and I only endorse its plea—is level funding and a settled financial environment …Will Ministers accept that research needs a stable framework of finance and needs to be rescued from the hurly burly of politics? Will my hon. Friend"— the Minister— acknowledge that, apart from the personal difficulties and distress that career disruption causes, research is a fragile, creative enterprise? Will he acknowledge that successful research depends upon complete and enthusiastic concentration and that present uncertainties and anxieties are demoralising and likely to be damaging to the quality of research?"—[Official Report, 20 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 960–3.] That is what I said in 1985.

In March this year, the Royal Society, with vastly greater authority, said, in effect, exactly the same. It stated: The continuing ongoing reviews of PSREs"— public sector research establishments— are damaging to morale and are currently affecting adversely the ability of those concerned to get on with their scientific research, to the detriment of the nation's R+D base". "Plus ca change", as members of the Council of Ministers perhaps say to themselves when they listen to the Minister.

There is a maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I greatly fear that HRI will be broken—not absolutely, but grievously damaged—by the combination of funding cuts and the threat of restructuring. As I said, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has announced a reduction in support for HRI of £1.2 million, despite having invested more than £40 million of taxpayers' money in improved facilities on the site.

The effect of the cut is that up to 90 people will lose their jobs. That is twice as many as it might have been because the Government announced the cut so late in the 1995–96 financial year that savings on staff costs had to be made in six months instead of 12. More than 70 staff who have recently transferred to Wellesbourne face possible redundancy within 12 months of their transfer—what a way to treat those scientists who, in the public interest, have moved their homes and jobs to Wellesbourne. My constituents might echo the words of Lear: As flies to wanton boys are we to Ministers. What a way to manage.

Sir Peter Levene should really investigate Whitehall and the relationship between the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The way to get better value for money from public research is for the Government to be efficient and to be an intelligent commissioner and customer and take a coherent view of their strategic responsibility to sustain the science that we need. Instead, we have randomness.

The cuts at HRI form no part of any long-term strategy relevant to improving research or British horticulture. There has been no cost-benefit analysis. It beggars belief that the Government could invest £40 million of taxpayers' money in facilities, some of which have never been used, and then propose to pay more than £4 million in redundancy costs so as not to have those facilities used.

By their failure to fund HRI, the Government have scuppered their own strategy for privatisation. Were HRI ever to succeed outside the public sector—I believe that it would not be wise to try to cause it to do so—it could do so only over time and provided that it had a sufficiently stable revenue stream to sustain the range of its basic and strategic research. That would require long-term Government support through guaranteed funding arrangements, but the volatility of Government funding and the latest reductions in MAFF commitments mean that such a Government policy is a pipe dream. Basic research cannot be managed profitably and there is no point in HRI if it does not undertake the full spectrum. The Government should be willing to underwrite that infrastructural research support for a valuable, innovative and successful industry.

So why are the Government doing this? There will be no proceeds for tax cuts—certainly not this side of the general election. It is a piece of dogmatism. I believe that HRI and public sector research establishments are victims of a baleful dynamic of modern Government—the itch of newly appointed Ministers and officials to meddle in order to make their mark. The mischievous would say that the Deputy Prime Minister wants to win brownie points for privatisation with the right of the Tory party as he looks forward to open season for another leadership contest in the party, perhaps this summer and certainly by next summer. Happily, by next summer the Government will no longer be in office to inflict their dogma on the nation.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram , East Kilbride 9:30, 11 Mehefin 1996

We have had an interesting and far-reaching debate and it has shown that there can be no question about the importance of public sector research establishments to Britain's science, engineering and technology base.

As hon. Members have stated, the PSREs represent a considerable national resource employing some 30,000 people and constitute a significant proportion of total Government expenditure on the nation's research and development effort.

At a time when the United Kingdom is struggling to maintain its place at the bottom end of the international competitiveness league tables, one would have thought that, if any effort were to be expended on redefining our national science and technology needs, it would have resulted in the promotion of the PSREs, not their dismemberment. Instead, in recent years, those establishments have been subjected to rationalisation, fragmentation and privatisation. The morale of the people employed in those establishments has been seriously undermined, and a damaging air of uncertainty hangs over each of the establishments affected by the Government's manic and destructive drive towards privatisation.

It is little wonder, therefore, that Britain's science and research community has universally condemned what the Government are doing to the science base of the nation in this as in other sectors. It is also little wonder that our international competitors are rubbing their hands with glee at the chaos that is being created by the Government's approach. They know that, if a nation's scientific and research community is demoralised because of lack of Government support, the capacity of that vital component in achieving truly international competitiveness is seriously handicapped. That is what constant reviews of the public sector research establishments are doing to the United Kingdom. They are disabling us, not helping us.

The Government are clearly unwilling to accept the important role played by the PSREs in the overall fabric of the science and technology structures of the United Kingdom. The June 1994 publication by the efficiency unit of the Cabinet Office on multi-departmental scrutiny of public sector research establishments stated: PSREs exist for two main reasons: to provide support for the policy, statutory and regulatory activities of government departments; and to undertake research aimed more generally at improving wealth creation or enhancing quality of life; thus contributing to the maintenance of a strong science and technology base for the UK. That is probably the best description of what should be the overriding mission of PSREs. It is a great pity, therefore, that the Government are not prepared to accept the principle contained within that statement and are actively looking for ways to depart from it.

The Government's statement of the specific stages of the prior options process made no mention of those essential functions of the PSREs. Instead, it focused purely on the extent to which they can be shunted out of the public sector. That stark and dogmatic attitude is all too symptomatic of the Government's overall approach to the country's science and research base.

Before I deal in detail with the debate, it is worth placing on record worrying trends in the way in which the Government are undermining other key elements of our national science and research resources. I refer to the university research base, which works closely with public sector research establishments and is also under severe strain from a lack of Government commitment.

I shall refer specifically to the report published last week by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the higher education funding councils on their survey of research equipment in United Kingdom universities. It is a detailed report and alarming in its conclusions. I shall give three extracts from a letter about the report written by Professor Gareth Roberts, chairman of the CVCP, which was sent to the Minister for Science and Technology, the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor).

The first comment that Professor Roberts makes is: The report concludes that there has not been a significant improvement in the UK's academic research equipment since the first survey undertaken by PREST"— the agency that was used to undertake the study— for the ABRC in 1987. Nearly 80 per cent. of departments continue to be unable to perform critical experiments because of a lack of funding for equipment. Professor Roberts' second point is: UK universities rank second among G7 countries in attracting income from industry. However, industry is telling us through this report that the cuts announced last year will put UK universities at an international disadvantage through under-investment. His third point is: There are indications that multinational companies are beginning to switch their university research to other countries as a direct consequence of decay in the academic infrastructure. Firms already make a substantial contribution and stress that this does not absolve the Government of its responsibilities for supporting the infrastructure. I refer to that letter and the report because of the close working relationship between universities and public sector research establishments. I shall give one example of what I am driving at.

This morning, I met the director of the Institute of Food Research. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) spoke in some detail about the work conducted by that institute. He rightly said that the institute provides much of the research knowledge for the food industry in this country. It works closely with the university of Reading, the university of East Anglia and other universities elsewhere in the country.

The food industry is important to the United Kingdom economy with annual sales of £60 billion—almost 4 per cent. gross domestic product. Of the top 25 food companies in Europe, 15 are located in the United Kingdom. They are located here for a number of reasons—but the publicly available science expertise in food safety ranks high among them. There is a real threat to the delivery of that service to the food industry. Research equipment in universities is in a sorry state, as the CVCP's report shows, and there is the added prospect of an unwanted privatisation being imposed on the Institute of Food Research.

The Food and Drink Federation accurately summed up the situation when it said in a document: A strong and relevant science and engineering base is essential to the technical development of the UK food and drink industry and hence to its future competitiveness. A programme of 'public good' research is also essential to continue to build consumer confidence in the food supply chain. The food and drink industry devotes substantial resources to R and B but it is not in the nature of short reaction-time industry to be able to sustain the necessary underpinning programme of long-term, multi-disciplinary basic research. The detailed document also refers to the technology foresight programme, the research councils and some of the helpful developments that have taken place. It says: Consultation within the food and drink industry reveals, however, a serious concern that the outcome of the current prior options reviews may undo that progress. That is a worrying message from a very important trade association.

What the CVCP report tells us and what the Government are doing through the repeated reviews can be described only as a headlong retreat from publicly funded science, which has already damaged the country and will prove devastating in the long run unless there is a change of direction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) graphically highlighted the outrageous approach of the Government to the public sector research establishments. Other Opposition Members have made telling criticisms of the Government, including my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), for Norwich, South and for that old Labour bastion of Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). I hope that, in the time available, the Minister will not duck the issues that they have raised, and he does not usually do that.

My involvement in this issue goes back to 1988 when the Government made their first attempt to privatise the National Engineering Laboratory in my constituency. At that time, more than 650 people were employed there. The laboratory was recognised as a research establishment of international renown. It had facilities which are unique in this country and, in some respects, in the world, for large-scale mechanical testing of structures and components, earthquake simulation, and … the world's most comprehensive facilities for measuring the flows and pressures of oil, air and water and mixtures of them."—[Official Report, 25 May 1989; Vol. 153, c. 1232.] In case anyone thinks that that is a local Member of Parliament's hyperbole, those were the words used to describe the laboratory by the then Minister responsible for the Government laboratories in the DTI, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), during a debate on 25 May 1989.

I do not have time to go into full and sad history of the privatisation of the laboratory, but what happened provides a salutary lesson for every establishment affected by the prior options review. Although the Government were prepared to recognise the uniqueness of the research work undertaken by this national resource, considerable efforts were made to sell it off to a French-owned company, backed by promises of massive state aid. However, the company pulled out of the deal. Within weeks of that decision, the Government appointed the firm of Touche Ross—at a cost calculated to be in excess of £100,000—to carry out a further evaluation of the laboratory.

Following discussions with the laboratory's private sector customers, the Touche Ross report concluded: Much of the work currently carried out is dependent in whole or in part on the Laboratory being seen to be independent. A number of potential buyers might also be seen as competitors to other potential customers. There is a view in some quarters that it would be inappropriate for national standards to be in the hands of a commercial organisation that might be interested in acquiring knowledge of any equipment being calibrated against primary standards. Those are not the words of old Labour, but of Touche Ross—the Government's consultants on the privatisation of the National Engineering Laboratory.

The Government did not heed that message and announced 200 redundancies. In the run-up to the eventual privatisation of the laboratory, another 200 eminent scientists—some of the best in their field—left the facility. The whole sorry saga led to the resignation of the DTI's chief scientific adviser because of a disagreement with the President of the Board of Trade about the way in which the DTI was forcing privatisation on the laboratory.

The laboratory was eventually sold in August last year to Assessment Services Ltd., a part of the Siemens group of companies. However, "sold" is undoubtedly the wrong expression, as the Minister for Science and Technology described it as being disposed of for "a negative £1.95 million". What does that mean? In effect, we gave that company £1. 95 million of public money to take this national and unique resource off our hands. Similar cash bounties were applied to the disposal of the National Physics Laboratory and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. Clearly, all of us wish the purchasers of those facilities every success in the future—unlike the Government, they have the confidence to invest in the future of those facilities.

A number of points were made in the debate about the disposal of the national public sector research assets. The Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists has described this as the "mad options approach". That is an accurate description of the way in which the Government are handling the issue.

The House must consider what benefits will accrue to the nation from such an approach and in what way it will advance the delivery of the nation's science research and development activity. The scientific community and the industries that are dependent on the services provided by the establishments have a clear answer. They find no benefits flowing from the Government's approach and think that the nation's science and research base will suffer as a consequence.

That view has been expressed right across the scientific community, by directors of national institutes, foreign-based scientists who use the institutes, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society and a range of other eminent people. Even the Government's supporters in the other place have been known to criticise their actions. Lord Selborne, the Chairman of the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, has described the prior options review as a "pointless exercise" and said that it was an incompetent way in which to operate.

Unfortunately, we do not have enough time to debate at length many of the points that must be made. It is sad that a debate on a major issue affecting the country's national science and technology base had to be in Opposition time. There are many warning signals about what the Government are doing to that base. I have touched on only some of them. I hope that the Government will allow a detailed debate in their time on this issue and the wider ones around it.

There are too many important matters associated with the matter for it to be ignored, swept away and kept in secret as the Government have done with the prior options review on public sector research establishments. We have to find solutions that can enhance our science and technology base and not undermine it in the way that the Government's approach has.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher 9:46, 11 Mehefin 1996

We have had a useful debate. I acknowledge the comment by the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) that it was in Opposition time. Some revealing comments were made by Opposition Members, but we share a genuine appreciation of the quality of research being done in the research establishments. I do not think that it would be in any way undermined if the status of the establishments changed.

We have a science base of which we can be proud. Our universities are performing research of the highest quality, which, as the hon. Member for East Kilbride said, is recognised by the inward investors who come to Britain. There are a variety of reasons why they come, but the accessibility of the science base, both in our research establishments and in our universities, is a key factor to which often we do not pay enough credit. I regularly hear suggestions that things are better in Germany. If one talks to German enterprises that want to invest in Britain, one gets a different picture of their views about why they come and about the excellence of our research

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

On Germany, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the tragedies of BSE is that the scientific data have been thrown out by a veterinary committee of scientists in favour of a German view of what is necessary for their marketing endeavour? Does he agree that, although we endorse the quality of British science, any prior options review must protect basic science and the integrity of what is being done and that, if there has to be competition, it must not be at the risk of affecting the present high quality of British scientists?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I agree with my hon. Friend, who is the distinguished Chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee. The debate in Germany is far removed from scientific principles and is based more on emotion. We must deal with that in direct discussions with our German friends. The way in which Germany is reconsidering its research establishments is important. In discussions with me, the German Science Minister has openly identified the fact that the German Government will have to consider closely the way in which they distribute Government money. A similar process will take place there. Neither of us, however, has any intention of undermining the importance of the science base.

Because of the shortage of time this evening, I will not have a chance to give credit to all who have made important points during the debate. The subject of Horticulture Research International, however, was raised by several of them—by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), who mentioned its location in his constituency. It should be borne in mind that HRI was the subject of a rationalisation some years ago. We need continually to review the requirements of such institutions; they must therefore be continually assessed.

I hear what has been said, but the review clearly shows that further work on the reorganised status of HRI must take place. That is why Sir Peter Levene's committee is taking a look at the details now. That is in no way intended to undermine the importance of its work or to suggest a diminution of MAFF's interest in it. Of course, like many other Government Departments' programmes, some cuts in its research have had to be made by MAFF; but it still provides about £10 million of contracted research out of a total income of £22 million. So HRI is already used to diversifying the sources of its research, and I am certainly not saying that we should conclude that MAFF's relationship with HRI, should its status change, would necessarily be a consequence of that change. In short, I recognise the importance of HRI and I see no reason why it should not continue.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), a noted botanist herself, made several interesting points. I do not believe that the Royal Society was justified in talking about haste. Indeed, there need be no argument between our parties on this subject—let us get on with the review. The Royal Society may, for once, not have been accurate.

If all the pensions mentioned by the hon. Lady crystallised there would certainly be considerable liabilities, which is why Sir Peter Levene is examining the extent to which that problem can be mitigated. But the figure arrived at by Professor Blundell would not be reached unless they all crystallised at the same time. Nevertheless, it is worth looking into the matter, because flexibility when dealing with research establishments will mean at some point that we will have to recognise any liabilities that may arise.

I should like to tackle head on another point raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge, as I do not want the myth to be perpetuated. She is right to say that about £1 billion was removed by the Government from gross expenditure on research between 1986–87 and 1994–95, but most of that shortfall has come under defence spending. The hon. Lady's party would have cut that spending a great deal more savagely than anything the Government have proposed. Defence research is changing; much more research now spins into defence from the civilian sector, rather than the other way around. Spending on the science base during the period that I mentioned actually increased by £260 million, so the picture is much more positive than the hon. Lady suggested.

My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), in a trenchant speech making it clear that she is in favour of independent research conducted outside Government circles, was still able briefly to refer to her book "Chickengate", and found time to juxtapose her authorship of it with the word "orgy". Doubtless that will boost sales, perhaps to the point where they rival the sales of books by our hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs. Currie). However, I would not go quite as far as my hon. Friend and insist that independent research cannot be undertaken in the Government sector.

I believe that the debate has been characterised by over-simplification—perhaps because of a desire for brevity. Research is not compromised because it is undertaken by the private sector, nor is it compromised because it is undertaken by the public sector. The research undertaken in both sectors is excellent. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston said that we need to have a careful assessment of where research would be best undertaken in every case. In a sense, that is what we are trying to do in the prior options reviews.

Research is a continuing process: the conditions of research change, the objectives of the research change and research bodies sometimes need to change their relationships with each other. It would be foolish of the Government if they did not say from time to time, "We need to have a structured review right across the sector and we need to look at all the research establishments that are available." I am astonished that Opposition Members, in the new Labour context, are now such devotees of tight financial controls that they do not share my motivation in trying to get the best quality research and value for money for what the Government are trying to do.

Departments and research councils spend approximately £1.3 billion in civil research establishments, which is one fifth of total Government expenditure on science and technology—it totals about £6.2 billion. That is a significant amount, and it is not something for which I want to apologise. I emphasise that we have a considerable interest in ensuring that, when we spend that money, we spend it in the proper way and that the research establishments that provide the research are doing it in the most effective and considered manner. The sponsoring department—swhether they be Government Departments or research councils—also have a vested view, which is why they have been intimately involved in the research that has been carried out.

Developments in science have obviously influenced our thinking in that regard. We are now moving into genetic, biological and biotechnological research, which needs to be taken into account in the way in which we work with the research establishments and the priority that we give to different areas of research.

I refute the comments that have been made about the way in which the research establishments—including the National Engineering Laboratory—have been handled. Liabilities are attached to those establishments that crystallise at the point of transfer. The hon. Member for East Kilbride will be glad to hear that the National Engineering Laboratory has increased its employment in his constituency since the transfer to Assessment Services Ltd. The National Physical Laboratory—which is now managed as a Government company by Serco—is increasing the number of its scientists and the range of its work.

Labour Members have not recognised that the reviews enable us to look more closely at some of the advantages of having the establishments in the private sector or at arm's length from Government. I do not accept that the prior options process means that privatisation will always be the result. One of the councils at which am looking—the Council of the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, which employs 1,800 people—still remains as it was, which is possible under the prior options review.

We should not underestimate the potential benefits of the prior options review: it frees establishments from the constraints of public sector status, it encourages them to build links with a wider range of customers, it frees them from the constraints of ownership and it gives them greater freedom to commission or to support research from a wider range of suppliers. It does not free the Government from our responsibility to support the best quality science, but it gives us more freedom to determine how best to do it. Those are important objectives and, by themselves, they would justify the reviews that are taking place.

I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate—I will not have the time to mention them all in my reply. I listened to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) make his points. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) and the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) mentioned the Institute of Food Research. I have heard all the points that were raised and I shall try to take them into consideration, although I cannot refer to them in my winding-up speech.

I conclude with a clear observation. Labour's motion refers to the dogma-driven privatisation objectives of the Prior Options Review". There is no dogma associated with the prior options review, and the status quo can be a part of it. The dogma is on the Opposition Benches. Opposition Members are so obsessed with their dislike of the private sector that they are not prepared to come to the House and admit that quality science can be conducted in that sector.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth Opposition Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 243, Noes 281.

Division No. 141][10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms DianeDarling, Alistair
Adams, Mrs IreneDavies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Ainger, NickDavies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Allen, GrahamDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Alton, DavidDavis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Denham, John
Armstrong, HilaryDixon, Don
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyDobson, Frank
Ashton, JoeDonohoe, Brian H
Austin-Walker, JohnDowd, Jim
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Barnes, HarryEagle, Ms Angela
Barron, KevinEastham, Ken
Battle, JohnEtherington, Bill
Bayley, HughEvans, John (St Helens N)
Bell, StuartFatchett, Derek
Benn, Rt Hon TonyField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bennett, Andrew FFisher, Mark
Benton, JoeForsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Bermingham, GeraldFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Berry, RogerFoster, Don (Bath)
Betts, CliveFoulkes, George
Blunkett, DavidFraser, John
Boateng, PaulFyfe, Maria
Bradley, KeithGalbraith, Sam
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Galloway, George
Burden, RichardGapes, Mike
Caborn, RichardGarrett, John
Callaghan, JimGeorge, Bruce
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Godman, Dr Norman A
Campbell-Savours, D NGodsiff, Roger
Canavan, DennisGraham, Thomas
Cann, JamieGrant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Chidgey, DavidGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chisholm, MalcolmGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Church, JudithGrocott, Bruce
Clapham, MichaelHall, Mike
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Hardy, Peter
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Harvey, Nick
Clelland, DavidHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHenderson, Doug
Coffey, AnnHeppell, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Corbett, RobinHinchliffe, David
Corbyn, JeremyHodge, Margaret
Corston, JeanHoey, Kate
Cox, TomHogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Cummings, JohnHome Robertson, John
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Hoon, Geoffrey
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JohnHowarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Dalyell, TamHowarth, George (Knowsley North)
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)Olner, Bill
Hoyle, DougO'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Parry, Robert
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Pearson, Ian
Hutton, JohnPickthall, Colin
Illsley, EricPike, Peter L
Ingram, AdamPope, Greg
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jamieson, DavidPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Janner, GrevillePrimarolo, Dawn
Jenkins, Brian (SE Staff)Purchase, Ken
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Randall, Stuart
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Reid, Dr John
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)Rendel, David
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRogers, Allan
Keen, AlanRooker, Jeff
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)Rooney, Terry
Khabra, Piara SRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kilfoyle, PeterRowlands, Ted
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Sedgemore, Brian
Lewis, TerrySheerman, Barry
Liddell, Mrs HelenSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Litherland, RobertShort, Clare
Livingstone, KenSimpson, Alan
Llwyd, ElfynSkinner, Dennis
Loyden, EddieSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lynne, Ms LizSmith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
McAllion, JohnSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McAvoy, ThomasSnape, Peter
McFall, JohnSoley, Clive
McKelvey, WilliamSpearing, Nigel
McLeish, HenrySpellar, John
Maclennan, RobertSquire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McNamara, KevinStevenson, George
MacShane, DenisStott, Roger
McWilliam, JohnStrang, Dr. Gavin
Madden, MaxStraw, Jack
Mahon, AliceSutcliffe, Gerry
Mandelson, PeterTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Marek, Dr JohnThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Timms Stephen
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Tipping,Paddy
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)Touhig, Don
Martin, Michael J (Springburn)Trickett, Jon
Martlew, EricTurner, Dennis
Maxton, JohnTyler, Paul
Meacher, MichaelVaz, Keith
Meale, AlanWalker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Michael, AlunWallace, James
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Walley, Joan
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Wareing, Robert N
Milburn, AlanWelsh, Andrew
Miller, AndrewWicks, Malcolm
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Wigley, Dafydd
Moonie, Dr LewisWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Morley, ElliotWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Wilson, Brian
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Winnick, David
Mowlam, MarjorieWise, Audrey
Mudie, GeorgeWorthington, Tony
Mullin, ChrisYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Murphy, Paul
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)Tellers for the Ayes:
O'Brien, William (Normanton)Mr. Peter Hain and Mr. Eric Clarke.
O'Hara, Edward
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Amess, David
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanArbuthnot, James
Alexander, RichardArnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Ashby, David
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertFishburn, Dudley
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Forman, Nigel
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Forth, Eric
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bates, MichaelFox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Batiste, SpencerFreeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bellingham, HenryFrench, Douglas
Bendall, VivianFry, Sir Peter
Beresford, Sir PaulGale, Roger
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGallie, Phil
Body, Sir RichardGardiner, Sir George
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGill, Christopher
Boswell, TimGillan, Cheryl
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bowis, JohnGorman, Mrs Teresa
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesGorst, Sir John
Brandreth, GylesGrant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Brazier, JulianGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bright, Sir GrahamGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Grylls, Sir Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bruce, Ian (South Dorset)Hague, Rt Hon William
Budgen, NicholasHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Burns, SimonHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Burt, AlistairHampson, Dr Keith
Butcher, JohnHanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Butler, PeterHannam, Sir John
Butterfill, JohnHargreaves, Andrew
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Hawkins, Nick
Carrington, MatthewHawksley, Warren
Carttiss, MichaelHayes, Jerry
Cash, WilliamHeald, Oliver
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Churchill, MrHendry, Charles
Clappison, JamesHiggins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHoram, John
Coe, SebastianHordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Colvin, MichaelHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Congdon, DavidHowell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Couchman, JamesHunter, Andrew
Cran, JamesJack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)Jenkin, Bernard
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Jessel, Toby
Day, StephenJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Deva, Nirj JosephJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Devlin, TimJones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Dicks, TerryJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKey, Robert
Dover, DenKing, Rt Hon Tom
Duncan, AlanKirkhope, Timothy
Duncan Smith, IainKnapman, Roger
Dunn, BobKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Durant, Sir AnthonyKnight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Elletson, HaroldKnox, Sir David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterKynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evennett, DavidLegg, Barry
Faber, DavidLeigh, Edward
Fabricant, MichaelLennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Fenner, Dame PeggyLester, Sir James (Broxtowe)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lidington, David
Lord, MichaelShephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Luff, PeterShepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
MacKay, AndrewSims, Roger
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidSkeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Madel, Sir DavidSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maitland, Lady OlgaSoames, Nicholas
Major, Rt Hon JohnSpeed, Sir Keith
Malone, GeraldSpencer, Sir Derek
Mans, KeithSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Marland, PaulSpicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Marlow, TonySpink, Dr Robert
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Sproat, Iain
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mates, MichaelStephen, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianStern, Michael
Mellor, Rt Hon DavidStewart, Allan
Mills, IainStreeter, Gary
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Sumberg, David
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)Sweeney, Walter
Moate, Sir RogerSykes, John
Monro, Rt Hon Sir HectorTapsell, Sir Peter
Montgomery, Sir FergusTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Needham, Rt Hon RichardTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Nelson, AnthonyTaylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Neubert, Sir MichaelTemple-Morris, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon TonyThomason, Roy
Nicholls, PatrickThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Norris, SteveThurnham, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir CranleyTownend, John (Bridlington)
Oppenheim, PhillipTownsend, Cyril D (Bexil'yh'th)
Ottaway, RichardTracey, Richard
Page, RichardTrend, Michael
Paice, JamesTrotter, Neville
Patnick, Sir IrvineTwinn, Dr Ian
Patten, Rt Hon JohnVaughan, Sir Gerard
Viggers, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Pawsey, JamesWalden, George
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Pickles, EricWard, John
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Porter, David (Waveney)Waterson, Nigel
Portillo, Rt Hon MichaelWatts, John
Powell, William (Corby)Wells, Bowen
Rathbone, TimWhitney, Ray
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnWhittingdale, John
Richards, RodWiddecombe, Ann
Riddick, GrahamWilletts, David
Robathan, AndrewWilshire, David
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir WynWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Wolfson, Mark
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Wood, Timothy
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)Yeo, Tim
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame AngelaYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Sackville, Tom
Scott, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTellers for the Noes:
Shaw, David (Dover)Mr. Derek Conway and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to science, engineering and technology, as reaffirmed in the Forward Look 1996 (Command 3257-I); and endorses the programme of prior options reviews of public sector research establishments, which aims to secure the best possible quality science and technology for the United Kingdom with the best value for money from the substantial public resources spent on science.