HC Deb 05 July 1984 vol 63 cc449-50
5. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will reconsider his decision to cut back on resources devoted to research and development in the horticultural sector.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

No. The Ministry's expenditure on externally commissioned horticultural research and development in 1983–84 showed a substantial increase over that in 1982–83; the expenditure planned for this year will merely restore the programme in real terms to the 1982–83 level.

Mr. Ross

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is an urgent need for greater research into horticulture, particularly the top fruit and vegetable sectors, which could yield substantial dividends? The Minister has already half answered my question, but can he say what criteria will be used for considering how much research and development will be allocated to horticulture in future?

Mr. MacGregor

The increase last year was temporary. It was not intended to be continued. It was always planned that expenditure would be reduced in real terms to the earlier level. Priorities in horticultural research and development change, and a substantial and worthwhile programme of research and development in horticulture remains. Of our externally commissioned research, 20 per cent. is in horticulture. With regard to future priorities, Ministry scientists are discussing with the AFRC institutes possible changes in horticultural research and development to be commissioned next year.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be no delay in drawing research funds away from high-input farming towards low-input farming, and that we should ensure that contributions from the farmers and horticulturists themselves increase?

Mr. MacGregor

Farmers and horticulturists—for instance, there is the research done by ADAS and the experimental farms—have always played an important part in contributing to research and in deciding priorities, as I have seen for myself. My hon. Friend refers to a move towards low-input farming. That will be among the matters to be considered. We must consider changing priorities in research expenditure—some of which is very long term—as conditions change. This year, for instance, we have switched more of the expenditure for research and development to the food industry. Such matters are monitored very closely.

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