HC Deb 30 March 2000 vol 347 cc480-1
2. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

What recent discussions he has had concerning science with Ministers in other Departments which sponsor scientific research. [115661]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, DTI Ministers and I hold regular discussions with colleagues in other Departments on all manner of issues, many of which have a science dimension. My noble Friend the Minister for Science set up the ministerial science group in 1998. That built on the ministerial foresight group.

Dr. Starkey

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response and welcome the work of the ministerial scientific group. May I urge my right hon. Friend to be even more persuasive in convincing his colleagues in that group of the value of scientific research? In particular, will he draw the attention of the Agriculture Minister to the fact that it is not entirely sensible to reduce his research budget at a time when research could lead to new options that would help to inform the diversification that is being urged upon farmers by his Department?

Mr. Caborn

I know that my hon. Friend has a history in the field of science and that she is well respected for her work. Last December, the Government announced 13 cross-cutting reviews as part of the 2000 spending review, one of which is to examine how the science spend across Departments can be more joined up. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is spending about £30 million on its research and development budget. My noble Friend the Minister for Science has held discussions with Agriculture Ministers.

Let me put the matter against the backcloth that, in the comprehensive spending review, the Government are investing about £20 million in science, engineering and technology over three years. That represents a £1.5 billion increase for the pre-CSR outturn. That is commendable. If the Conservatives had shown similar foresight when they were in government, we might not be experiencing some of the current problems in industry.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

Specifically on the question of scientific research, may I ask about the Secretary of State's catastrophic decision for my constituents and for the north-west to award the Diamond synchrotron project to Oxford rather than to the existing facility at Daresbury? There has been complete confusion about the Government's reasons for that decision. Initially, the reasons were given as pressure from the French Government and the Wellcome Trust, but yesterday, in a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), the Minister for Competitiveness said in a debate in Westminster Hall that the decision was made for scientific reasons only. Will the Minister confirm the true reasons, and will he reverse this perverse and damaging decision?

Mr. Caborn

I respect what the hon. Gentleman says—he should convey his views to his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. They are sitting on the fence on this issue. The point made in the Westminster Hall debate was that science was one of the issues, but the partnership with the Wellcome Trust and the actions of the French Government also brought about the decision.