HC Deb 14 February 1978 vol 944 cc223-4
5. Mr. Macfarlane

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science why the Advisory Board for Research Councils has had its budget reduced for the two years after 1979.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

So far from reducing the science budget, the recent public expenditure White Paper, Cmnd. 7049, increased it by £4 million in each year from 1978–79 above the level projected a year ago in Cmnd. 6721. The further special addition of £4.5 million for capital expenditure which has been made in 1978–79 explains why the figure for that year is higher than the figures for 1980–81 and 1981–82.

Mr. Macfarlane

Is not the Secretary of State aware that those statistics for the ensuing two years from now will only take care of the rate of inflation? I draw to her attention the fact that there is a very serious fall in the morale of those who work in the science research councils. They are also concerned that expenditure has dropped over the past four years in real terms. At a time when the country should be expecting more wealth from North Sea oil revenue, from 1980–81 onwards, should not some of the profit from the North Sea be used to increase expenditure in the science area?

Mrs. Williams

No, the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. This is the first increase in real terms. If the hon. Gentleman will cease shaking his finger, I will tell him the facts. The year 1978–79 reflects the first increase in real terms in the past four years. That increase will continue onwards. What the hon. Gentleman has not allowed for is that next year's budget reflects the emergency construction programme, and I cannot say what the capital programme will be in the continuing years. In revenue terms there has been a turn-up, allowing for the effects of inflation.

I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman said in the second part of his question. I believe that we get very good value for money from our research councils and could usefully spend rather more in this area.

Mr. Hooley

But how far do these increases simply compensate for the extra payments across the exchanges to international bodies which resulted from the decline in the value of sterling?

Mrs. Williams

In 1977–78 that was true, in the sense that the fall in the value of sterling increased the real proportion which had to go to international subscriptions, but in the light of the improved performance of sterling, for which the Government take credit, I do not believe that that will be the case in the coming budget, to which the question is addressed.

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