asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how the amount of money spent on research and development in the United Kingdom agriculture industry per £100 of income compares to other European countries.
Although only partial information is available, it is clear that expenditure on publicly funded agricultural research in relation to farm income in the United Kingdom compares favourably with that in other European countries.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply. She will be aware of the controversy surrounding the statements on this subject in the annual review of research and development published by the Government last year. Does she agree that such uncertain comparisons are an inadequate basis for making Government decisions?
There are many alternative measures on which to base comparisons, and different bases produce different results. However, it is clear that United Kingdom agricultural R and D has been well supported and that, even after reduction, it will stand comparison with that of our competitors:
Will the Minister concede that that statement will sound extremely hollow once the Government implement the full cuts that they propose in the general research, advisory and scientific programme, especially in Scotland, where so much of the territory for farming is in less-favoured areas, such as the Highlands? As this reduction, following the reduction in capital grants, will have a severe effect on farming, will the Government rethink the policy?
The hon. Gentleman exaggerates. There is no reduction in 1985–86, and the planned expenditure for 1986–87 will be reduced by £10 million, of which the Ministry's share will be about £8·25 million, within the general research, advisory and scientific programme. We should remember that the national spend for research and development on agriculture, fisheries and food was £204 million, of which agriculture spent £160 million. That puts the reduction in perspective.
When my hon. Friend examines future spending on research, will she remember how cost-effective it can be? The National Institute of Agricultural Engineering has developed the Paraplough, the Dynodrive cultivator and the hay mower/conditioner, which have helped the turnround in our exports of agricultural engineering products. Is this not money well spent?
We have asked the Priorities Board for Research and Development in Agriculture and Food to advise us, and it will undoubtedly advise on the wise use of resources to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. It would not be helpful to speculate on the outcome of that advice.
When will the staff at the scientific and research establishments know their fate? Does the hon. Lady agree that the fact that the priorities board has not yet said where even one cut will fall is liable to cause the maximum uncertainty and, therefore, anxiety in research establishments?
The Agricultural and Food Research Council is our major contractor for commissioned work, and we are working closely in collaboration with it. It is represented on the priorities board.