HC Deb 11 May 1988 vol 133 cc305-7
4. Mr. Darling

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what recent representations he has received on the United Kingdom's spending on research and development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. John Butcher)

Ministers of this Department receive representations regularly on all aspects of Britain"s research and development activities, including spending, from a variety of interested individuals and organisations.

Mr. Darling

Why does this country spend the lowest proportion of GDP on research and development of all our major competitors? Will not our balance of payments continue to deteriorate unless something is done about that? What do the Government intend to do to ensure increased spending on research and development?

Mr. Butcher

The hon. Gentleman has raised two points. He referred to the performance and spending from the private sector and industry, and to the level of spending sponsored by public funds. I shall answer his questions very clearly. If we consider Government-funded research and development as a percentage of GDP in 1985, we find that the figure for the United Kingdom is 1.3 per cent. for France 1.5 per cent., for West Germany 1.1 per cent., for Japan at 0.5 per cent., and for the United States 1.3 per cent. We compare quite favourably with the middle ground of the leading industrial nations.

However, the hon. Gentleman has a point when he refers to the performance of our industry in matching its competitors in other parts of the world. We are significantly below the international average in that respect. Given that the private sector and industry are now making excellent profits, we should ensure that they are doing their job and increasing the proportion of spending on research and development.

Sir Ian Lloyd

My hon. Friend will be aware from the reports made by our science attaché in Washington that the United States has recently allocated $200 million to research into the human genome. What representations has my hon. Friend received from our scientific community on that subject? What importance do the Government attach to it, and how much are we proposing to spend on it?

Mr. Butcher

No representations on that subject have come to my office from our scientific community. I suspect that in the first instance those representations might go to another Department as the sponsoring Department. However, I shall examine the position to discover whether representations have been made to another Department and write to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Bray

Is the Minister not aware that a paper on the support for the international project to map the human genome has been submitted to and considered by the advisory council on science and technology? Is there no liaison between Government Departments on these matters? Is he aware that it is a very important programme which has technological applications, and applications in the treatment of disease and perhaps, most important of all, in basic research? Will he confirm that there is no danger of funds being diverted from the basic research budget to make up the deficiencies in support for industrial research from the Minister's Department?

Mr. Butcher

As I explained very clearly, there are different sponsoring Departments for different types of research. In the final analysis, bids from different Departments will, of course, eventually go through to the advisory council on science and technology, and if they are of major importance they may go to a sub-committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which also considers those issues. Any major enabling technology or technique of that nature will receive the fullest consideration.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We are making very slow progress today. I ask the House for brief questions and we will then receive shorter answers.