HL Deb 26 June 1979 vol 400 cc1327-30

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what arrangements for ministerial res- ponsibility at Cabinet and Minister of State levels have been made for the various forms of Government support to bodies promoting research in the arts, humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences hitherto administered by or through the Department of Education and Science; and what sums of money are to be provided in 1979–80 as grants to the bodies concerned, and to the Arts Council.


My Lords, the Government support research in the arts and humanities, and the social and natural sciences mainly through the universities and polytechnics, the research councils, the British Museum (Natural History) and the British Academy. The Secretary of State for Education and Science is responsible at Cabinet level for financial support to these bodies and to the Royal Society. He is assisted by his honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Neil Macfarlane, on those bodies exclusively concerned with the sciences, and by his honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Dr. Rhodes Boyson, on the universities, polytechnics and the British Academy. For 1979–80 total grant-in-aid to the universities is £725.4 million and the grants to the other bodies concerned are as follows:—

Agricultural Research Council 28.8
Medical Research Council 54.4
Natural Environment Research Council 35.1
Science Research Council 174.1
Social Science Research Council 16.3
British Museum (Natural History) 5.3
Royal Society 2.9
British Academy 1.9
Arts Council 59.7
The support of the polytechnics is included in the rate support grant.


My Lords, I am sure that Members of the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for that most illuminating and useful Answer. I should like to put to the noble Baroness two supplementary questions which are intimately connected. The first is purely technical. Do her figures relate solely to grants for research or do they in each case relate, also, to administration, publication and, in the case of the British Academy, to the support of schools abroad?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, they are grants-in-aid and they cover not only research but administration and publications. It is, of course, open to any of those organisations to charge whatever they consider to be appropriate for their own publications.


My Lords, I should like to ask my second supplementary question which is organisational. The noble Baroness has given us an extremely clear perspective of ministerial responsibility. My question relates to a lower level. Can we be assured that, within the Department of Education and Science, the purely research grants are, at some stage or other, under one hat so that comparability between science, social studies and the humanities, for example, is weighed up and a proper balance established?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I think that it would be right to say that there are, of course, different officials within the Department of Education and Science who deal in detail with the different research councils. However, it would be appropriate to say that all the research councils are under the Advisory Board for the Research Councils and that the Secretary of State, when considering the review of expenditure which had to be undertaken, would, of course, have done so with the advice of Sir Alec Merrison, the chairman of the advisory board


My Lords, what is the criteria for the distribution of these funds after they are allocated by the Government? Is there any Government direction or parliamentary control, or are these bodies provided with the funds and distribute them as, when and how they please without any parliamentary supervision at all?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, the funds are given to research councils and it is the responsibility of the councils to determine the distribution and use of the funds within the amounts that they have been allocated.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for those interesting figures, but I should like to ask whether she is in a position now to say how much of those grants may be allocated to Welsh activities? Can she do that without much research?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I regret to inform the noble Lord that I cannot do so without notice. However, I shall consider the matter and write to him.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether there is a standardised costing system for all those councils so that one can at least compare what percentage goes on organisation, what percentage goes on administration and what percentage goes to the receivers for the encouragement of pure research? Are there standard costings as there would be in normal industrial life?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, this is very much a matter for the individual research councils. I shall consider the point that the noble Lord has raised, but it is generally regarded—as is the distribution of the funds of the University Grants Committee—as a matter for the institutions concerned.