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Medical Research Council

Volume 402: debated on Thursday 3 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what plans she has to assess the working practices of the Medical Research Council; and if she will make a statement; [106247](2) what plans the Medical Research Council has to fund future alpha rated research projects; [106246](3) what plans the Medical Research Council has made to increase funding for research into obstetrics; and if she will make a statement; [106249](4) what plans she has to assess the funding and management of the Medical Research Council. [106248]

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is internationally renowned for its promotion of excellent medical research. Its core mission is to support research that will have an impact on human health. Everyone is in agreement that it does this very well.The Office of Science and Technology (OST) has processes in place to review the planned activities of all the Research Councils. Each council, including the MRC, submits an annual Operating Plan which sets

Whole life award values
£ million
Provision for renewals of existing long-term investments (grants and units), to meet anticipated demand65105180
Career Establishment Grants666
Training/Career Development: Fellowships and studentships394041
SR2002 specific initiatives045105
All other new awards302938

out their planning and funding assumptions for the following year. The MRC will be publishing its 2003–04 Operating Plan on its website in due course.

Some of the recommendations and conclusions of the Select Committee report on the MRC issued on 25 March related to management and planning. We will be responding in detail to the recommendations of the SC report in due course and as part of this will consider what additional elements we might need to introduce in this specific case into the standard monitoring and reporting processes that we have with Research Councils in order to address the issues identified.

OST recognised some time ago that the processes underpinning the ability of the MRC to make a judgment of the financial implications of forward commitments could be improved. OST have been working with them to address this and are pleased with the progress made to date.

The MRC does not normally earmark funds for particular topics: research proposals in all areas will compete for the funding available. The MRC spent an estimated £19.1 million in 2001–02 on its reproductive health portfolio. Reproductive health research includes normal and abnormal fetal and placental development and growth, as well as conditions affecting pregnancy and childbirth.

The MRC always welcomes high quality applications for support into any aspect of human health and these are judged in open competition with other demands on funding. Awards will continue to be made according to their scientific quality and importance to human health.

In respect to funding alpha rated research projects, it is not possible to anticipate the number of applications MRC will receive, nor what the outcome of the subsequent peer review and rating will be at this stage in the cycle. However, set out as follows is a table representing the MRC's current estimate of the value of awards MRC will be making over the coming session:

Estimates for funding for sessions 2003–04 to 2005–06

These figures reflect the estimated value of awards which the MRC could make for the session which runs September to July as a useful guide to applicants. Alpha rated research projects would be included in all but the third row of the table. Whole life award values are the total value of awards. (A grant of £1 million per annum would show as a total of £5 million in the table). They do not represent MRC's annual expenditure on awards.

These estimates are necessarily very approximate since final totals still depend critically on the mix of awards made from the different forms of MRC support and assume no other change in MRC's circumstances or calls on its budget.