HC Deb 19 November 1991 vol 199 cc112-3W
Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to lay before parliament the annual report of the Agricultural and Food Research Council for 1990–91; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alan Howarth

The annual report of the Agricultural and Food Research Council—AFRC—has been submitted to my right hon. and learned Friend as required by the Science and Technology Act 1965. A copy is being placed in the House today.

During the period covered by the report a new chairman, Mr. Alistair Grant, and a new director general, Professor Thomas Blundell FRS, have been appointed to the council.

I am pleased that the AFRC has continued to make notable achievements under their leadership. For example, scientists at its Institute of Plant Science Research have identified and isolated a single plant gene which controls the development of flowers—the most productive part of the plant and also the source of grain, fruit and seed for propagation. Research on seed oils is providing new options for industry, including use of enzymes to upgrade low value oils and expansion of the industrial use of oilseed crops in the manufacture of plastics, lubricants and pharmaceuticals.

In 1990–91, the AFRC launched a new £9 million programme over four years on the biology of spongiform encephalopathies, involving seven universities, including an award to the AFRC centre for genome research in Edinburgh, the AFRC institute of animal health and the joint AFRC/M RC neuropathogenesis unit. A FRC scientists are also co-ordinating a 1.2 million ecu programme, involving 16 laboratories in eight European countries, to produce a genetic map of the pig. This will allow breeders to identify genes that determine commercially important traits, such as temperament, litter size and meat quality, and will greatly advance livestock breeding programmes. AFRC's scientists are participating in more than 50 EC co-ordinated programmes and the council has signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with its Dutch counterpart and has commenced a programme of joint research fellowships with its French counterpart.

I congratulate the council on these and numerous other achievements.