HC Deb 28 October 1987 vol 121 cc285-6
4. Mr. Robertson

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what support the United Kingdom is giving to the framework programme of research and development in the European Community.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I made clear our support for the framework programme at the Council of Ministers on 28 September when it was adopted. Thanks in large measure to our encouragement, the programme concentrates on the priority task of improving Europe's industrial competitiveness. The British research contribution to this European research effort is second to none.

Mr. Robertson

The Minister knows that that is ludicrously complacent and that the delays and obstructionist actions of the Government since they originally put the spanner in the works of the framework programme have led to damaging delays and the break-up of new groups and has allowed the Japanese and the Americans to take advantage of the scarcity of research.

Will he undertake to fight the short-sightedness of the Prime Minister on this issue and make sure that the £289 million that was taken out of the European framework research programme is put back into it right away?

Mr. Clarke

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's description of our role. The main contribution that we made to the discussions was to try to make the programme focus more clearly on genuine industrial priorities. We had very much in mind the need to compete with Japanese and American business on a European scale. I believe that we were principally responsible for improved targeting on key areas, such as information technology, industrial technology and telecommunications. The withholding of £289 million, which is pending settlement of the EC's overall budgetary decisions, will be reconsidered in the light of progress at the Copenhagen summit. It is not possible to go forward with any of these European programmes without having some regard to the overall budgetary disciplines of the European Community and the budget as a whole.

Mr. Barry Field

I recognise the importance that the Government place upon research efforts, including those of the EEC. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that British industry needs to make much more effort in investing in future technology? For example, in my consituency Westland Aerospace has invested substantially in composite material technology, which has enabled it to price competitively to enter the Ariane 5 project.

Mr. Clarke

I accept my hon. Friend's basic premise. There is a case for saying that British industry as a whole should make a greater contribution to its research and development programmes. I acknowledge the excellent record of Westland.

Dr. Bray

Is the Minister aware that the consequence of Britain's opposition to the proposal in the framework programme, as originally advanced, has been that the worst features of it in the Government's eyes, such as joint research centre funding, have gone ahead, while the parts that have caught the rap are those that the Government would have liked to support, which have been the subject of delays, such as RACE and ESPRIT II?

Mr. Clarke

The joint research centres have gone ahead because they have always been there. We have arrived at an understanding in the Council that we must seriously tackle the use of resources by the JRCs and ensure that, for example, more of their work is done for customers outside so that we ensure also the relevance and quality of what they are doing. I do not accept that we have caused damaging delays to the other programmes. The key ones, such as ESPRIT and RACE, are now going ahead with greatly enhanced budgets.