HL Deb 16 May 1984 vol 451 cc1405-7

2.51 p.m.

Lord Rodney

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what proportion of the Department of Trade and Industry's budget goes towards expenditure on research and development and how this compares with 1978–79.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, it is estimated that in the financial year 1983–84 19 per cent. of expenditure by the Department of Trade and Industry was on research and development, compared with 8 per cent. in the financial year 1978–79.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that Answer, which is certainly very encouraging. May I ask him whether he is aware that the support for innovation schemes is much appreciated by the medium and larger companies in this country, but that in many cases the smaller companies—that is to say, those employing less than 30 people—find it virtually impossible to avail themselves of this facility because in the first instance they have to find the minimum sum of £25,000, and also to involve themselves in considerable administrative costs which strictly apply to the audit? May I ask my noble friend whether he would investigate what percentage of small firms have successfully subscribed to this scheme, and whether there is any way in which he could simplify it so that the smaller companies can avail themselves of it?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his acceptance of my original Answer. It is not true, however, that a minimum figure of £25,000 has to be found by an applicant. The support-for-industry scheme is now currently under review, and I would expect a statement on the whole programme to be made quite shortly.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, in view of the importance of placing research and development work in industry now, could my noble friend say what proportion of the 19 per cent. is spent extramurally in industry, research associations and universities?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, not without notice. I think that my noble friend will find the information that he seeks in the recently-published Statistical Trends, which breaks down under a variety of headings all the governmental contributions for research and development.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, could the noble Lord help the House by giving, in addition to the percentage figures, the sums involved on a constant basis?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, not on a constant basis but on a current basis. In 1979–80, the DTI share of 11 per cent. equalled £167.6 million; in 1980–81, 9 per cent. equated to £240.1 million; in 1981–82, again 9 per cent, but this time equating to £251.8 million; in 1982–83, 12 per cent. and £284.8 million; and, in 1983–84, 19 per cent. equating to £341.3 million.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, before the noble Lord the Minister accepts too readily the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Rodney, at the increase from 8 per cent. in 1978–79 to 19 per cent. in 1983–84, could he possibly tell the House how this compares with our industrial competitors in Europe?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am not able to do that because the various bases used by government departments in overseas countries are rather different from our own. The noble Lord will probably recall that the adoption of the Frascati definition (which we are now using in our Government's returns) has only just started. It will be two years before a direct comparison can be made.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, could my noble friend go back to two questions ago, when he said that he would be announcing something shortly? Could he give the House some idea of whether it will be one month, six months or this year?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I would expect a statement to be made in a matter of weeks. Therefore, it will be less than six months and possibly more than one.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, while congratulating the Government on giving close attention to the all-important matter of research and development, may I ask whether they are aware that there is a grave shortage of designers in this all-important field, as opposed to draughtsmen? Will they consider ways in which this shortfall may be made good?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, we are aware of that. A scheme was introduced a few months ago to encourage more designers, particularly, to go through the university system.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the debate in your Lordships' House recently on higher education I raised the question of the lack of funding of research in polytechnics as compared with universities? Indeed, subsequently, I have had a very helpful letter from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. Will the noble Lord look at the possibilities of placing more of this 19 per cent. in the polytechnics?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I take note of what the noble Lord has to say, and will draw his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is true that the Government subvention was reduced on 1st May from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent.?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, that is not true. The SFI rate of grant was raised to 33⅓ per cent. in May 1982 for one year. Subsequently, in the 1983 Budget, it was extended for a further year mainly to attract—and this it has done most successfully—more applications from companies which were engaged in the key technologies of the future, including such things as biotechnology, information technology, fibre optics and so on.

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