HC Deb 23 June 1994 vol 245 cc345-6
6. Sir John Gorst

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment she has made of the part science is to play in the future competitiveness of British agriculture.

Mr. Soames

We regularly review our research programme and in February we published a research strategy, which describes how science will contribute to the Ministry's aim of improving the economic performance of the agriculture, food and fishing industries.

Sir John Gorst

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that everything possible is being done to foster a productive relationship among industry, the Government and the academic world?

Mr. Soames

I am happy to give my hon. Friend such an assurance and I am grateful to him for the phrasing of his question. We foster that relationship through the adoption of clear and foresighted technology and research, largely through the link programmes—the institution through which we seek to improve relationships between industry, academia and Government. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has seven link programmes—three in food and four in agriculture—involving almost £25 million a year. We take seriously our obligation in that matter and I assure my hon. Friend that the situation is exactly as he would wish it to be.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Minister agree that, if science is not properly harnessed, it can work both ways? Is he aware that, this morning, on the M1 near Bolsover, not far from the Coalite factory, once again, a chemical cloud resulted in danger to motorists and problems for the agriculture in the area? Will he contact the senior inspector of pollution to ensure that he has all the facts and that the incident is dealt with, and that all possible steps are taken to ensure that it does not happen again? It is not the first time.

Mr. Soames

Of course I will certainly undertake exactly what the hon. Gentleman asks. He and I have already been round this course once together as a result of Coalite and I very much hope, and I am sure, that that incident will not be anything like as serious as the previous one, but I shall report to him as soon as I have made inquiries.

Mr. Paice

Does my hon. Friend agree that British competitiveness is seriously affected by whether decisions are made on the strength of genuine scientific knowledge or on emotional claptrap? Will he congratulate the Commission on using scientific evidence, correctly, to prevent the Germans taking further their attack on British beef? Will he encourage it also to use precisely the same scientific approach to such issues as nitrates in lettuce and pesticides in water?

Mr. Soames

As we would expect, my hon. Friend goes to the very core of the problem for the future of science in that sector, which is becoming more and more sophisticated and complex. More and more profound ethical and scientific decisions must be taken with clear-headed foresight and by using the clearly laid down rules that have served us and the Community extremely well. If we move away from science and allow politics to hijack the issue, we will be on a rocky road indeed.

Mr. Alton

Will the Minister ask his departmental scientists to reconsider the use of anabolic steroids for cattle, especially as new evidence from gynaecologists and obstetricians shows that the emission of oestrogen from those substances is causing male infertility? It is one of the major reasons why there has been a 50 per cent. reduction in male fertility over the past 40 years.

Mr. Soames

I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of our scientists. The use of hormones and residues in meat is strictly governed. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, Britain has one of the most sophisticated surveillance programmes in the world. I assure him that, if there is any wrongdoing, we clamp down on it quickly. He has asked a straight scientific question; we shall investigate his remarks and I shall report back to him.

Mr. Hawkins

Will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department is contributing to the technology foresight programme? Will not the partnership among agriculture, industry and the Department be crucial, especially for constituencies such as mine that are heavily involved in both food and confectionary manufacture? Will he further confirm that his Department is happy to work with the Food and Drink Federation in studying the involvement of science in both agriculture and food production?

Mr. Soames

I am happy to give my hon. Friend the categorical assurances that he seeks. His constituency includes an impressive array of companies that would be concerned about such research. The link programme is studying food processing sciences and advanced and hygienic food manufacturing techniques, all of which are critical to the competitiveness of the food and farming industries. We should be proud of those industries which do best of all, and in which we are genuinely world leaders.

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