HC Deb 28 October 1987 vol 121 c293
11. Dr. Bray

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the latest figures for expenditure on research and development in British industry.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The most recent estimates for expenditure on research and development performed in British industry are for 1985. Between 1981 and 1985 there was an increase in real terms of 12 per cent. in research financed by industry. I welcome this rise. The main responsibility for spending more on civil research and development should continue to rest with industry, as the House of Lords Select Committee on Civil Research and Development recognised in its recent report.

Dr. Bray

I welcome the increase in research and development in chemicals, electronics and motor vehicles, in particular since 1981, but does the Minister not agree that it is a matter of concern that since 1981 overall research and development in industry as a proportion of national income has fallen? With industry funding of research and development still so far behind that of our industrial competitors, is not the Government's attitude in response to the House of Lords Select Committee report still far too complacent? Are the Government not aware of the desperate state of science and technology in this country?

Mr. Clarke

I agree in part with the hon. Gentleman's diagnosis of the problem. We should still like there to be increased investment in well-judged research and development by British industry. I am glad to say that the latest figures show that there has been a very welcome real terms increase. It may be that our figures are out of date and that we are still commenting on the position in the depths of the recession, whereas now it is very much better. We have promised to report back to the House of Lords and to the House when we have completed our review of the Government's research and development priorities.

Dr. Hampson

Is it not the case that private companies that are involved in space research and development have said that they will pay their own whack but that they expect the Government to provide proper investment so as to increase the research and development technological base. We cannot be in something like the European Space Agency — a British initiative — by simply paying our basic membership fees and then expecting to take advantage of all its facilities.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend that some companies have continued to contribute and have contributed even more since August towards the preparatory work on some of the optional programmes of the space agency. It is also fair to say that most of the industries concerned share our concern about the way in which the European Space Agency produces its programmes and the limited acknowledgement that that agency sometimes gives to the part that industry and commerce have to play and ought to play in guiding priorities. I want to continue discussions with British industry to make sure that we have a much clearer strategy about where UK Limited ought to be going.