HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc843-4
8. Mr. Clifton-Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what funding his Department proposes to provide for academic research in 1995; and what was the figure in each year since 1990.

Mr. Freeman

Expenditure on military defence research in universities and further educational establishments has averaged approximately £30 million per annum over the past five years, out of a total military defence research budget currently at approximately £600 million per annum.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer. Does he agree that his recent announcement of a second five-year funding tranche for the London-based Centre for Defence Studies will provide stability and reassurance for the academics who work with that institution in providing some excellent worldwide strategic studies?

Mr. Freeman

Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I congratulate London university on its work on non-scientific research for the Ministry of Defence. I am grateful also to my hon. Friend for his support for our research effort. One of the Government's main aims this year is to share the benefits of military research with the private sector and with industry to improve the performance of our economy.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Minister ensure that part of the research budget, particularly that which is available to universities, is used to investigate the environmental effect of burying bombs and possibly chemical bombs at sea, as alleged by the Russians in the conference last week, and indeed in land locations such as in my constituency? Does he accept that there could be potential continuing dangers arising from such disposal methods? Does he understand the need to undertake further research into those dangers?

Mr. Freeman

I share the hon. Gentleman's view. That is an important aspect of research and effort. We have learnt from the mistakes made by many countries, including our own many decades ago, in the disposal of munitions. We observe the highest possible standards now, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that matter will be one of the aspects of the research.

Mrs. Gillan

I recognise the need for value for money in defence research, but will my right hon. Friend undertake to look more closely at possible co-operation between the civil and defence space programmes? With the increasing commercialisation of space and the opportunities available, there are more opportunities now for our defence forces to co-operate with civilian space programmes.

Mr. Freeman

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is not just a question of co-operation in our space programme, particularly the military communications satellites, between the public and the private sectors, but with France, Germany and the United States. Defence collaboration in procurement is very much the theme that must run through any Government's policies over the coming decades.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Does not the Minister understand that the real need is to transfer money from defence research into civilian research? Will he consider making a large contribution to research council funds, so that money can be used in genuine civilian research?

Mr. Freeman

No, I cannot give the hon. Lady that assurance. We spend £600 million on military research, and it is important that that is directed at the needs of the armed forces. Civilian research—and its funding—is the responsibility of other senior Ministers. I can assure the hon. Lady that the benefits of military research will be shared with the private sector.