Public Sector Research Establishments

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 22nd January 1997.

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Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge 1:47 pm, 22nd January 1997

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the progress of the Government's prior options reviews of public sector research establishments. [10598]

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

The Government are considering the prior options review reports. We are determined to achieve the greatest possible benefit from the substantial resources devoted to public sector research establishments. We expect to make further announcements about outstanding decisions in the near future.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

Has the Minister read the comments of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which described the scale and conduct of the reviews as profoundly unsatisfactory? Is he aware of the disruption that has been caused? Does he plan to make a further announcement before the general election?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I always treat with great respect the views of the Science and Technology Committee and always look forward to appearing before it. There have been misunderstandings about the objectives of the prior options reviews. As the Government consider that £690 million of expenditure on R and D through the research departments should be undertaken efficiently, prior options are clearly important. However, we are nearing the end of the process in the current round, and in the very near future—certainly before the general election—I expect to make an announcement concerning those institutes on which we have not yet made any public statement. I draw attention to the announcements that are already on record. Some of the research departments have stayed in the public sector, some have undergone management adjustments and some have been moved into the private sector.

Photo of Mr Patrick Thompson Mr Patrick Thompson , Norwich North

Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the people working in the public sector research laboratories in Norwich? Will he confirm that the Ministry of Agriculture's Central Science Laboratory will stay in Norwich? It would be very good news if it did. Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend has just said, how much longer will people in Norwich who are working in the other research laboratories have to wait for final decisions affecting their future?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I am delighted to say that on 9 December my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced the future of the Central Science Laboratory as an agency with various management tasks ahead of it. The new facilities in York are of great importance—I shall be visiting the York region this weekend—but I am pleased to say that the excellent work on food science will remain in Norwich. I intend to make other announcements as soon as possible.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram , East Kilbride

One of the central questions that the Minister must answer is what cost-benefit analysis he is using to justify the Government's continued obsession with the privatisation of large swathes of the nation's public sector research establishments. Have not millions of pounds from a hard-pressed science budget been wasted, and thousands of scientists demoralised in pursuit of the Government's flawed policy? The Government should provide encouragement and support for the PSREs, not uncertainty and continuing confusion about their future.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I do not recognise that situation. A review process is not always enjoyable, but some of the research establishments report that the review has given them a more tightly defined mission statement, and they welcome the opportunities that have emerged from the prior options process. I challenge the hon. Gentleman, who has forlorn hopes of his party one day occupying the Government Benches. His question shows that he is not prepared for that transition. If £690 million is to be spent on research establishments, it is the duty of any Minister for Science and Technology to ensure that the money is spent efficiently. We are doing that. We have found new ways of delivering quality in science. I am certain that, as a responsible Minister, I had to undertake that process.