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Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 22 June 2006

5. What assessment he has made of the impact on environmental research of proposals for restructuring the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. (79346)

All of the centre’s six current areas of research activity will continue after the restructuring, and the centre will continue to deliver its contractual commitments to DEFRA and other Government Departments and agencies.

The Minister will be aware that four laboratories and 200 scientists will be lost in freshwater research and monitoring. The Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust, among others, has raised concerns about the lack of commitment to the conservation of the freshwater environment. How will the Minister ensure that we fund adequate research into the potential impact of global warming on vulnerable aquatic ecosystems, particularly on Atlantic salmon, which is an endangered species?

The hon. Lady will understand that the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is wholly owned by the Natural Environment Research Council and that it is its job to decide on the appropriate allocation of resources to ensure that the very best research programmes are carried out. Indeed, as part of the whole rationale driving the process forward, an additional £5 million a year will be made available for front-line quality scientific research—the result of savings made from the amalgamation.

It is hard to understand how £5 million a year will be saved when the total cost of the reorganisation is about £45 million and the centre’s total budget is £30 million a year. How on earth the Minister has come up with £5 million worth of savings, I do not know. To set our minds at rest, rather than simply saying, “It is not our problem”—the Government’s response on most things—will the Government give us an absolute assurance that all the scientific research currently undertaken in these vital biodiversity centres will continue after the reorganisation?

First, let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions about the mathematics. It is very simple. The restructuring will take £43 million—not £45 million—and over a period of six years, the £7 million a year saving from that restructuring will by year six achieve an additional £5 million going into front-line research. That deals with the mathematics. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not suggesting in the latter part of his question that, in deciding what are the best programmes of research, he and I should substitute our scientific expertise for that of the Natural Environment Research Council, which has far greater expertise in this area than we do. It is not a matter of shuffling off the problem, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, but of making sure that we continue to have, as we do now, the best qualified people to judge the quality of research undertaken and to decide which research is most vital for British interests.