Research Spending

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th October 1990.

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Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East 12:00 am, 18th October 1990

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much he expects to spend in the current year on agriculture and food research at current prices.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My Department plans to spend £100 million on research and development in the areas of agriculture and food in this current year.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Does the Minister acknowledge the important contribution made by Government-funded agricultural research in the huge increases in self-sufficiency achieved by the industry in the past 20 years? Does he recognise that when it comes to some of the modern health and environmental problems of intensive agriculture, Government-funded research, as opposed to commercially-funded research, is more important then ever? Against that background, is it not time that the Government reversed their policy of cutting agricultural research, as the Minister knows not only that the figure that he announced this afternoon is less in real terms than what the Government spent last year but that the Government have cut spending by 30 per cent. in the past 10 years?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I agree entirely with the purpose of Government spending in this matter. We are spending the necessary money on the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am not prepared to spend money on matters that should be paid for by those who will get immediate commercial results from it. The industry should pay that. I am paying money for food safety, food protection and the development of less harmful pesticides, for example—the kinds of things that we can use to improve the environment. All those things have a public interest, such as medium and long-term research. That is what I should be spending money on. In those matters I have been able to increase our spending. That seems to be a proper use of Government money.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Hind Mr Kenneth Hind , West Lancashire

Will my right hon. Friend spend a small amount of the money that he has allocated for research on behalf of small arable farmers and growers who feel that the five major supermarkets in this country are using their dominant position to repress the prices of horticultural products to the detriment of farmers, with a particular view to referring the results to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for consideration?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I am not sure whether that would be a proper use of our research money. If my hon. Friend is concerned about particular points, I shall certainly look at them and see whether action is required.

Mr. Robert Hughes:

Will the Minister conduct an urgent inquiry into the widespread use of the flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate? Clear evidence is now coming forward that it produces severe allergies in people who eat meat pies and processed foods as well as in those who eat in restaurants. Is the Minister aware that the symptoms not only include the condition described earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) but can lead to severe dizziness and loss of memory? This matter is now reaching proportions which must be urgently investigated, and I hope that that will be done.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I am sure that, if there is any concern about this matter, we can ask the committee on toxicity to look at it. I am very ready to take any information that the hon. Gentleman or anyone else has on this matter. The way in which we operate is to take all information and look at it immediately. I ask the hon. Gentleman to let me know.