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Research And Development

Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 29 April 1987

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the current extent of research and development funding by his Department.

In the current financial year my Department expects to spend £412 million on support for research and development, which is a threefold increase on the expenditure level of the Labour Government.

Irrespective of those figures, is the Minister aware that, since 1981, the number of people who work in research and development has fallen by more than 20 per cent.? Within the figure for research and development there has been an increase in military research and development and that suggests a serious decline in industrial research and development. If the Minister is aware of that, should he not take steps to obviate that balance by putting more money into industrial research and development? That would make sure that, when the oil production declines, we are in a position to become a competitive nation.

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that fewer people were employed in research and development in 1985 than in 1983. Between those two years it is also true to say that there was an increase in research and development in the civil sector of 16 per cent. I believe that the other part of the hon. Gentleman's question is more interesting, as it suggests that the Government, through their expenditure levels, can positively encourage industry to do the thing that only industry can decide to do—to commit the requisite levels of research and development funding to improve industry's commercial prospects.

While congratulating the Government and my right hon. Friend's Department on tripling the research and development expenditure since the time of the Labour Government, may I ask my right hon. Friend to recognise that the important point is to get the private sector to increase its contribution to research and development on a year-on-year basis? Furthermore, is there not a role for my right hon. Friend's Department to support applications for the introduction of new technologies to existing industrial and manufacturing processes?

Yes, indeed, and that is why we have an extensive, advanced manufacturing technology programme and why we introduced the LINK programme in December of last year. That is a £420 million programme which, over five years, is to be targeted at precisely the area raised by my hon. Friend. The Government and industry, in partnership on a 50–50 basis, will improve what I might call the exploitation factor—taking a research and development idea and pushing it forward into a marketable product.

Now that the Minister is the sole obstacle to agreement on the European framework programme, and in view of the projected cuts in DTI research and development expenditure over the next few years, the lack of any growth of research and development in industry since 1981, and a 10 per cent. fall in research and development in the electronics industry between 1983 and 1985, is the Minister aware that, under the Government's leadership, Britain has become the sluggard of Europe with regard to research and development?

If we are the sluggard of Europe, I do not know what Europe would have made of us in 1979, when the Labour Government went out of office. At that time there was an expenditure level precisely three times below our current expenditure level.

If I am single-handedly holding up the European research and development, I am doing so because of my belief in the correct quality of programmes. I do not see why we should be relentlessly driven down a particular path simply to appease and accommodate the types of programmes for which we believe there is no competitive future for the rest of Europe.