HL Deb 29 April 1987 vol 486 cc1481-4

3.8 p.m.

Lord Molloy

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 why they do not support the EC research and development programme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government do in fact support the concept of a framework programme for Community research and development as they consider such a programme to be an effective means of assessing priorities for European Community research and development activity and for monitoring its implementation.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the Minister answer the Question? Are they supported or are they not? Is the answer simply yes or no? It seems to me that the answer is no. Can the Minister say that I am wrong? I shall give way if he wishes me to do so because the attitude of the present Government is extremely myopic and dangerous and could have a deleterious effect on industry and British research.

Noble Lords

Order! Question.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is opposed by all political parties in this country and by every one of our Euro-MPs in every party, including the six Conservative Members, who have endeavoured to get the Government to see sense? Does he not agree that one of the vital aspects of the whole idea is that European high technology could in a few years' time catch up with that of our chief opponents and competitors in high technology—the Japanese and the Americans? There should be praise of and approval for this scheme, which the Government with their myopic decision are turning down. They are missing a first-class opportunity for the British people.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, my original Answer was not intended to be discourteous to the noble Lord. As he put his question in a similar way and asked for specific replies, the answers are yes to the first part and that he is wrong on the second.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Government's refusal to support the European programme, together with their unenthusiastic response to the report of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology and the Answer given by the noble Baroness to a Question on a similar topic, are all rapidly giving the impression that the Government are anti-science? It is that impression above all that is causing the scientific brain-drain from this country.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite wrong. There is no refusal on the part of the Government to support the European Framework Commission, as I said in my original Answer. Indeed, we have proposed increases of 47 per cent. in the ESPRIT programme, 41 per cent. in the BRITE programme and a very large new RACE programme—that is, the telecommunications programme. The Government are not anti-science in any way. Our contribution to the European framework has been concrete and determined. It has given employment to a number of companies, researchers, their scientists and technologists in this country.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, is the noble Lord saying to the House that recent press reports on the Government's refusal to support the last and most recent phase of the European research programme, when Mr. Geoffrey Pattie's name was specifically mentioned, are totally erroneous, that they are in fact supporting all these projects and that the press has it all wrong?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am saying that there is no refusal on the part of the Government to support the EC framework programme. The framework programme was introduced at £5.486 billion. Our analysis of the necessities and of the resources available in the Community determined, and we suggested, a programme that would cost £2.98 billion. Since then the Belgian Presidency has introduced another suggestion costing £3.97 billion to which we have not yet responded. In no way can that be seen to be a refusal by the Government to support the EC framework programme.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I have a specific question arising from the noble Lord's reply. Will he confirm to the House that Her Majesty's Government will resist any endeavour to cut the Commission's proposal for funding of the JET project at Culham? Will he also confirm that that project, and the Commission's proposals for it, have Her Majesty's Government's full support during the current year and will have in the next budgetary year covering appropriations?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, that is a specific question which is rather wide of the original Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy. If the noble Lord tables a specific Question he knows that I shall be delighted to answer it.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we now have a very serious situation? He has made a statement in this House which is totally contrary to what Mr. Pattie and other Ministers have said in the other place. We must ascertain who is telling the truth. My understanding from the press, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, is that Mr. Pattie is quoted as giving a very forthright reason why we will have nothing to do with the programme. Eleven countries are for it and Great Britain is the only country against it. Can the Minister tell us whether we should believe Mr. Pattie, the press or what he told the House this afternoon?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, it is for the noble Lord and his colleagues to believe that which they wish to believe. I am giving facts to your Lordships' House in direct response to his Question. My honourable friend said that we do not agree with the current EC proposals. We do not believe that they represent the best value for money when there are scarce resources in the Community. Our analysis suggests that the various priorities for research and development in certain areas against the resources which are available are, as we have costed, £2.98 billion. There is therefore a difference of some £2.5 billion between the Community and ourselves.

The Belgian Presidency has proposed a different programme at some £3.7 billion—a difference of £1 billion between us. We are studying those proposals to see where we can agree so that policies can be continued.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that is the answer he should have given in the first place instead of trying to pretend that the Government fully support these proposals? They have a perfect right to criticise proposals which they consider are extravagant but the Minister has no right to pretend that that is not what they are doing.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

The noble Lord is being very mischievous, as I specifically answered the Question, which is: To ask Her Majesty's Government why they do not support the EC Research and Development Programme?". I answered that we support the concept of the framework. There can be nothing more clear than an answer of that kind. Other noble Lords asked for figures and I have given those figures.