HC Deb 19 February 1997 vol 290 c917
11. Mrs. Wise

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement of the Government's prior options review of public sector research establishments; and if he will list the cost of the exercise to (a) his Department and (b) the establishments concerned. [15032]

Mr. Ian Taylor

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade announced the completion of the 1996 programme of reviews on 29 January 1997. The results will strengthen the country's science base. My Department incurred costs of about £75,000, and the overall cost of the reviews is estimated to be £1.5 million.

Mrs. Wise

Why will the Minister not accept that the real cost is £4 million, including the examination of the royal observatories? How does he quantify the costs to the research establishments of damaged morale, insecurity and wasted energy? Why do the Government not accept that those public sector research establishments perform essentially public functions, such as the public health laboratories that protect us from epidemics? When will he realise that they must be relieved of the constant threat of privatisation for the sake of Tory dogma?

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Lady is several weeks out of date with her information. I do not include the royal observatories, because they are not part of this year's research assessment review, so the costs are not applicable. I have told the House on more than one occasion that the excellence of the research conducted by those establishments goes without saying. Some establishments carry out research at international standards of quality, and are better than equivalent academic departments in universities.

When £690 million of Government money is being spent by those establishments, however, I have a responsibility to determine whether it is being spent effectively. There is no question but that some establishments needed to re-examine their management structures and, in certain cases, they have found new freedom in the private sector. However, as the hon. Lady now knows, the bulk of them will remain essentially in the public sector, which is absolutely consistent with the excellence of the research being conducted.