HC Deb 25 February 1987 vol 111 cc260-2
8. Mr. Brandon-Bravo

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received concerning spending by his Department on support for research and development in the current year.

Mr. Channon

My Department has received a number of representatives, including from the technology requirements board which was set up to advise me on the development and implementation of policy for industrial research and development.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I know my right hon. Friend will agree that no one underestimates, or should underestimate, the role of research and development. Can he give us any figures today on how current R and D compares with the position five or 10 years ago? Can he also comment on the co-ordination that exists in R and D between his Department of State and others? I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that there can be no more vital a subject for the welfare of the nation.

Mr. Channon

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is frequent co-ordination and the very closest collaboration between my Department and other Departments involved in research and development. That collaboration has never been greater than it is at present. With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, my Department's support for R and D has trebled in cash terms and doubled in real terms since 1979. It will further increase from £383 million in the current year to £445 million in 1989–90.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Can the Secretary of State explain why his Department refused to finance research and development into the oil and gas engine industry, especially when that development would lead to the creation of a new manufacturing base in the north of England for the next 50 years? Is he aware that the information that he has been given by his departmental officers is wrong and that, as a consequence of his Department refusing to finance that R and D, the Japanese are willing to finance it provided that the manufacturing base is created in Japan and not in this country? Why does the Minister refuse to meet me on this matter? Why does he refuse to meet my constituents who have an interest in this issue?

Mr. Channon

I think that there is a misunderstanding here. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman feels that we have not offered to meet him. We suggested that when the matters have been clarified—and I have written to the hon. Gentleman and the company about these matters—we shall be delighted to have a meeting at which either one of my hon. Friends or I will discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman will understand that the project to which he has referred must offer exceptional national benefits, and the evidence from boiler and burner manufacturers is now being provided. When that arrives, we shall be delighted to look at the matter again.

Viscount Cranborne

Would not British industry be more likely to produce more saleable goods if the Government encouraged it to do a little more of its own research and development instead of relying purely on Government sources?

Mr. Channon

We need both, and my hon. Friend made a good point when he said that expenditure by industry on research and development is, with many shining exceptions, nevertheless still inadequate. I believe that more should be done.

Mr. O'Brien

Will the Secretary of State take note of the representations that he has received from the west Yorkshire area about the need for more research and development following the rundown of the textile and clothing industry and the mining industry? Will he also take note of the representations that he has received, especially from the Wakefield and Dewsbury travel-to-work area, which covers my constituency, where unemployment is now in the region of 16 per cent.? Will he accept that there is a need for further research and development, and will he act to ensure that there is an industrial base in the area to ensure job opportunities?

Mr. Channon

I shall certainly consider the points that the hon. Gentleman has referred to, and any others that he may care to raise with me. It is common ground on both sides of the House that there should be more expenditure by industry on research and development.

Dr. Hampson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that because of the decline of traditional industries in the Yorkshire and Humberside region there has been a fall of about 35 per cent. in employment in six years, whereas the business expansion scheme seems to have gone to service industries in London and the south-east to the tune of more than 60 per cent.? Will he give an undertaking that his Department will look at the impact of the various schemes on the north and its industries at and particularly the eligibility of Yorkshire and Humberside for the new EEC Comett scheme— the Community action programme for education and training in technology?

Mr. Channon

Of course I shall look at that, as my hon. Friend asks me to do so. I have seen the figures for the amount of money going to the south as opposed to the north. One must also consider what applications have been received. This is a complex matter which we are studying in detail.

Mr. Williams

Does the Secretary of State accept that not only do we have a smaller GDP than Japan, Germany and the United States of America, but that we spend a smaller proportion of it on research and development, with the inevitable and inexorable result that we are slipping further behind in our competitiveness in high technology? Does he also accept that an even more insidious and dangerous consequence is the accelerating brain drain, which is demonstrated by the fact that 20 per cent. of elected fellows of the Royal Society who were educated in Britain are permanently resident abroad?

Mr. Channon

I am extremely surprised that any member of the Labour party dares to talk about the brain drain. The Labour Government's policies of high taxation, which the party promises to introduce, caused the brain drain of the past. If the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) had his way, the brain drain would become a brain flood. That must be common ground.

As for the proportion of national output spent on research and development, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave some specific examples of this in questions last Thursday. It is more complex than the right hon. Gentleman suggests.