HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc726-7
13. Dr. Bray

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to improve support for research in the arts and humanities.

Mr. Alan Howarth

The Government provide grant in aid for the British Academy to support postgraduate research in the humanities and social sciences. New financial arrangements introduced this year give the academy greater control over its resources, and enhance its discretion and determine spending priorities across the range of its activities. The Universities Funding Council provides substantial funding on research-based criteria for the humanities.

Dr. Bray

Is the Minister aware that, while the science research councils have fared badly under the present Government, the humanities have fared a good deal worse under the direct rule of his Department? Is he aware of the part played by the humanities in preserving and developing our national heritage? Why is the Department pussyfooting around, extending the role of the Economic and Social Research Council—which does an entirely different job—instead of accepting the original recommendation of the British Academy for a humanities research council?

Mr. Howarth

Public provision for the research councils in support of the science budget has already increased by 23 per cent., and will have increased by more than 25 per cent. next year. I therefore cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's opening proposition. Like him, I attach enormous importance to humanities research. I regard the existence of flourishing humanities research as an index to the civilisation of our society; Labour, however, has committed itself prematurely to the establishment of a humanities research council.

A debate is in progress among scholars in the arts and humanities about whether it would be right to establish a humanities research council or a humanities, economic and social research council, or to continue with no research council at all. Such issues must be considered thoroughly and carefully; every scheme has its pros and cons.

The British Academy and the ESRC have agreed to establish a working party. I think that it would be best to listen to what it has to say before reaching a decision.