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Welsh Plant Breeding Station

Volume 447: debated on Monday 6 February 1984

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7.48 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to safeguard and promote the work of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the reason why I put down this Question is the very deep concern felt by many individuals throughout Wales regarding the severe cuts in funding to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. This is a concern which has been expressed by Members on all sides of your Lordships' House. It is a concern which has generated wide support from many organisations in Wales and beyond Wales which are concerned with agriculture, and from very many others which are not involved, or are only indirectly involved, in agriculture.

The Welsh Plant Breeding Station is the only agricultural institute in Wales which is grant-aided by the AFRC. There are seven such institutes in Scotland which are funded by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland—and I understand that they are unscathed by the cuts—and there are about 22 such units in England. We know that the Welsh Plant Breeding Station was established some 65 years ago by the late Sir George Stapleton. Over the decades, its research programmes have been of fundamental importance to agriculture in Wales and far beyond Wales. Its achievements have earned for the station an international reputation as a centre of plant breeding and grassland improvement research and teaching.

The proposed cuts arise from the AFRC decision to save £13 million from its current spending. I understand that this is necessary partly to offset a £6 million reduction in DES funding, possibly some reduced funding from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and partly to enable the AFRC to spend £7 million to extend its brief so as to include substantially more research in food science technology and to divert research work into the universities. In the result, the WPBS is required to save £300,000 per annum from its current spending, and an additional saving of £200,000 per annum will result from the AFRC's decision to transfer the station's barley breeding programme to other institutes. Therefore the total saving required from the WPBS amounts to £500,000 per annum, which is about 17 per cent. of its current budget.

The point should be made that agricultural research effort in Wales (this is true of all scientific research in Wales) is already seriously under-funded on any basis of comparison with England or Scotland. The annual funding of agricultural research institutes is £3 million for Wales, £26 million for Scotland and £70 million for England. The proposed cuts will worsen this already lamentable situation.

The response of the station to the reduction in funding which it will suffer is to declare that 26 posts will be made redundant, of which 11 are engaged in the barley programme and 15 are engaged in research work on pasture quality, crop physiology, plant nutrition and entomology. When considered together with posts which have already been lost by natural wastage, the total loss amounts to about 25 per cent. of the station's scientific staff.

I shall discuss first the loss of the breeding programmes. Over the past five years, the station has seen its breeding programmes on brassicae crops and field beans transferred to other institutions. The AFRC now intends to shift its barley breeding programme, the largest single United Kingdom arable crop, and associated research from the WPBS to other institutions in the eastern part of the country.

The barley breeding programme, with its emphasis on disease resistance and feeding quality, has particular relevance to Wales and the West. I understand that it has been producing excellent results. I am advised that, of the AFRC varieties in joint trials in 1983, the top five were all from the WPBS. Particular reference has been made to the F.1 hybrid barley breeding project which offers the prospect of increasing barley yields by about 20 to 25 per cent. in the near future. It is the only project in the United Kingdom private or public breeding sector. After 13 years of personal commitment and endeavour, this work is apparently now to go down the drain, at the very time when it is reaching fruition. This will leave the field clear to our European competitors.

Any plant breeding programme draws its strength from the variety and the extent of its bank of genetic resources. This depends upon it maintaining active breeding programmes in a range of crops. The present proposals will plunder those banks and will therefore further reduce its range of interests.

I turn now to the so-called "budgetary" cuts affecting such areas of vital interest to the Welsh livestock industry as pasture and silage quality, fertiliser usage and clover establishment on the hills. The WPBS has had a long and proud tradition since the pioneer work of the late Sir George Stapleton for its multi-disciplinary approach to grassland problems. The cuts now proposed at the WPBS would destroy this carefully nurtured and successful amalgamation of disciplines. Many of us find this ironic and incomprehensible at the very time that the AFRC is extolling the virtues of the multi-disciplinary approach.

I am advised that the cuts proposed in the chemistry department, for example, would virtually eliminate all research activity in pasture quality and animal nutrition. I am sure that many Members of your Lordships' House will have read the brief prepared by the staff employed in the chemistry department at the station and will have noted that the following research work will be terminated: the improvement of pasture feeding quality, which is aimed at reducing supplementary feeding costs; studies of the value of grass and clover mixtures for livestock feeding; work on forage conservation and silage quality; and studies of mineral requirement and the need for mineral supplementation.

We are also advised that the cuts proposed would terminate the station's research efforts in plant nutrition, crop physiology and entomology, all being areas of research which are vital to the station's integrated research programme and have a direct relevance to the specific problems of Welsh agriculture. I would mention in particular the plant nutrition group which conducts studies of fertiliser use in the hills and uplands and the production and establishment of clover. This work is specifically aimed at conditions in Wales and cannot be carried out elsewhere.

The proposed cuts at the WPBS are structurally damaging to its present remit and to its proposed new remit, which involves expanding work on hills and uplands. In the light of the proposed remit, many of us find the proposals to cut vital areas such as pasture quality and plant nutrition quite incomprehensible.

As against this, I must acknowledge the optimism of the Secretary of State for Wales. About a fortnight ago he said in another place:

"There is a firm future for that institution"—

that is, the WPBS.

"Its operations have just been extended by the acquisition of an upland farm in Powys and by work on the uplands".

However, in the submission of the people who are well

informed about the station, this statement is misleading. It is misleading on at least two counts. First, it assumes that the WPBS, which will have been so weakened by the redundancies to which I have referred, will nevertheless be able to undertake effectively the work allotted to it under the corporate plan. But how can this work be carried out effectively and to the benefit of the Welsh livestock industry if the expertise vital to its success has already been disbanded? Secondly, it does not acknowledge that the acquisition of the uplands farm in Powys is a replacement of an old uplands experimental station in another part of Powys whose lease has run out, and it does not acknowledge that the WPBS will not be a dominant partner in control of the work at the new farm but its role will be subsidiary to that of the Hill Farming Research Organisation—which will bring in Edinburgh staff, with a 750 mile round trip, to do the animal work at the new farm.

Significantly, we do not know what other less damaging alternative options, if any, were considered by the AFRC before it decided to demand this budgetary saving of £300,000 from the WPBS. Neither do we know what less damaging proposals, if any, were considered by the former director of the station—if he was the author of the detailed redundancy proposals—in order to meet this demand of the AFRC. In other words, we do not know what criteria were applied in deciding that this was the way it was going to go at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station.

I am not without some sympathy for the AFRC—a body which is not without its critics in England, also—which appears to have been trapped between civil servants under pressure (who do not appear to have fully grasped all the implications of their advice) and a contracting budget imposed by a Government firmly committed to cash limits in the management of public expenditure and the science budget.

I believe that I may best assist the Welsh Plant Breeding Station by addressing 10 questions to the Minister. First, when the AFRC gave its approval to the corporate plan, was it aware that 26 scientific posts would be made compulsorily redundant in order to achieve the savings required at the WPBS?

Secondly, when did the Welsh Office first become aware of the scale of the consequences of the budget-led cuts, and what representations were made by the Welsh Office to the AFRC, to the Minister of Agriculture or to the DES concerning the redundancies; and on what date or dates were such representations made? Third, when the budget-led cuts decisions were proposed, what account, if any, was taken of the new remit of the station?

Fourth, how do the number of proposed redundancies at the WPBS compare with ( a), the other institutes engaged in grassland research—that is, the Grassland Research Institute and Hill Farming Research Organisation; ( b) other institutes engaged in plant breeding—that is, the Plant Breeding Institute and Scottish Crop Research Institute? And what is the current funding and the proposed funding for 1984–85, 1985–86 and 1986–87 for each of those four institutes?

Fifth, will the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Wales ask the AFRC to publish particulars of the alternative options, if any, which were considered by the AFRC in the process of formulating its corporate plan; and will they publish also the relative costs and cost benefits associated with each option?

Sixth, in view of the long and close association between the University College of Wales and its agriculture department with the WBPS, what consultations took place between the AFRC and the University College of Wales, and the University of Wales, in relation to the savings demanded by the AFRC? If there were none, why was it thought appropriate that the university authorities should be kept in a state of ignorance?

Seventh, as the WBPS barley breeding programme is 80 per cent. commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, where and to what project or projects will this money be diverted? If it is to be retained by the Ministry, will the Ministry restore it to the WPBS?

Eighth, in the light of the particulars which have appeared since 23rd January, about the extent and the effect of the cuts, will the Secretary of State for Wales ask the AFRC to revise before April next its proposals for the station so that it is adequately funded and equipped to carry out the additional role envisaged in the corporate plan?

Ninth, if the AFRC takes the view that its proposals in respect of the station cannot be reviewed until, at the earliest, the next annual review—which I understand will be in 1985—will the Welsh Office, bearing in mind its responsibility for agriculture in Wales, set aside whatever funds are necessary to enable the station to continue its work and to accept new opportunities? Tenth, and finally, are there any valid arguments against financing agriculture research in Wales in a similar way to that which applies in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

At the end of the day we must come back not merely to the poor AFRC but to the role of the Government and its central departments. If the Secretary of State for Wales pleads that there is nothing he can do to protect the interests of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, then we are entitled to ask: why do we have a separate Welsh Office with responsibility for agriculture?

8.7 p.m.

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in his masterly deployment of the case for the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. I agree entirely with a good deal of what he said. I will start by making two points. First, it is open to any Government at any time in their term to say to their agencies and departments that there should be some curtailment or limit to the amount of money that is spent—whether it concerns tourism (and we have just had a basin of that from Scotland), sport, the arts, or—as in this case—research. None of these very desirable avenues of our national life is inviolate; none may be left untouched by any Government.

The second point I wish to make is that whereas the debate tonight will be answered by my noble friend the Minister, who has great knowledge of agriculture, in effect the person who ought to be answering this debate is not the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Wales, to whom the noble Lord referred, but the chairman of the AFRC. He alone can tell us what caused them to make these decisions, which we find totally repugnant. I make that point because the decisions were taken not by the Government but by an agency of the Government. It is the agency—in this case, the AFRC—which should be questioned upon this matter.

All I seek to do this evening is ask my noble friend to use his influence to nudge the AFRC—I will not go so far as to say that he should twist their arm because no doubt the AFRC greatly value their independence and would not like ministerial interference. But may I ask my noble friend to request the AFRC to read this debate? I see that a great number of noble Lords from various parts of the Principality are to speak, and by the time this debate has finished, a great deal will have been said.

I think the issue is one of extreme concern to us. This plant breeding station is of great significance, not just in the Welsh sense but internationally, all over the world and, nationally. It is particularly important because of the very close contact between the plant breeding station and the practical Welsh farmer, mostly in the hills. Those of us who have farmed in the hills of Wales, not actually making a fortune out of doing so during our lives but enjoying doing so and being immersed in the problems, will recognise what the plant breeding station has done for grasses, for legumes and for barley, and the advances that have been made in all these fields.

The noble Lord referred, quite rightly, to Sir George Stapleton. I would add the name of a man who possibly did more than anyone else to make it possible, by his financial support. That was the late Lord Milford, the father of the noble Lord who sits on our Benches here today, who always had great faith and gave a great deal of help at difficult times.

It has already been said that out of the 29 research institutes in Britain the Welsh Plant Breeding Station is the only one in Wales, and therefore naturally we feel that the size of the cut is pretty unfair. It is probably in the chemistry field that the cuts will be most severely felt, and in the work which goes on to improve animal and human nutrition. I notice that the National Farmers' Union believe that the decisions lacked detailed consultation and were done in haste. I cannot judge that; I do not know. I just want the AFRC to spend a bit more time before reaching a final decision.

I happen to be at the moment chairman of the council of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, a society which is very closely connected with the plant breeding station. Last year we held a two-day open demonstration of the highest quality at the plant breeding station, which attracted a vast number of people. I must tell your Lordships that our society views these cutbacks with disapproval and with an apprehension that this may lead to a running down of the station. This is what is at the back of people's minds. We need reassurance on that particular point.

May I finally say this. Previous Governments of various hues have decentralised a great number of governmental functions from London and the Home Counties to distant parts of the country. The Forestry Commission, during our time, went to Edinburgh. The Mint, I think during the time of the party opposite—I think I see the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, nodding; probably he sent it; or it may have been Lord Tonypandy, but one of the two—was sent to Llantrisant. There have been many other examples of this, and all I am saying is that Aberystwyth is a long way from London and that the cuts in terms of employment will be felt much more acutely there than they would be in a densely-populated area.

I have produced arguments tonight that I hope may be used to persuade the AFRC to think again. In Wales we are extremely proud of our plant breeding station. I have been happy to say a few words tonight on the subject.

8.14 p.m.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for initiating this debate and for couching the Question in the terms in which he has—wide enough to give us scope for a proper debate on this matter. I must immediately cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, when he tries to dissociate the Government from any responsibility for these cuts. Surely the AFRC is carrying out a mandate given to it by the Government; and there is, of course, a joint consultative body which is consulted. If he reads the House of Commons reports on the financing of agricultural research and development he will read something of the background of this matter, which he already knows very well because of his great experience in this field.

In this debate I feel that I have three interests to declare. Like the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, though in a much more modest way, I am a hill farmer, and my grasses depend so much, as do his, on the research done at the plant breeding centre at Aberystwyth. Secondly, I was a "co-digger" with Professor John Cooper, FRS, the former director of the Plant Breeding Station. When I was a young student and he was a young lecturer we were in the same digs together, and I have the highest opinion of him. Thirdly, I was brought up by my father, who was a farmer, absolutely to worship, as it were, the name of Sir George Stapleton, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, scientific farming pioneer of our century; and as the years have gone by that value judgment has been wholly justified.

When I was a student at Aberystwyth it used to be a great argument as to which of the departments had brought the greatest glory to Aberystwyth, the agricultural department or the law department. In this House there are at least five members of the old law department, and it is a very good thing to see that four of them are speaking in defence of the agricultural department, which is so interwined in its work with the Plant Breeding Station. The fame of the agricultural department was great because, of course, Professor Stapleton, the founder of the Plant Breeding Station, was a professor at the university. The noble Lord has made the point that the work of the university is so intertwined with the plant breeding station.

The fame of the plant breeding station and the agricultural department does not need any monuments; their monuments are to be seen on every green hill in this country. Indeed, as a matter of historical record, to put it into perspective, the first director of the Australian plant breeding station and the grass research programme of Australia was an old student of Professor Stapleton, from Aberystwyth. The first director of the New Zealand research effort into grassland came over to Aberystwyth as a postgraduate student to sit at the feet of the great man. To any farmer I have only to repeat the words "S22", "S23" and "S24", to quote only three of the famous rye grasses from which so many other developments have taken place in the last two or three generations, to realise what an enormous contribution the Welsh Plant Breeding Station has made, not only to the life of Wales but also to agriculture worldwide, and particularly, perhaps, in Australia and New Zealand.

It was, therefore, with astonishment that I read the first report from the Agriculture Committee in the other place, Session 1982–83, published and printed on 11th May 1983. The subject was organisation and financing of agricultural research and development. When I went through the report and its evidence, not a single witness came forward from the University of Wales, nor from the Plant Breeding Station, nor from the Welsh Office, to give evidence in this matter. Whose fault that was, I do not know. Certainly the Scottish Office gave evidence, the Northern Ireland Office gave evidence, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the AFRC, the University of Reading, and so many other organisations; but I cannot find, first, that there was a single Welsh Member on the committee or, secondly, that there was any representative of a farming union, whether the NFU or the FUW, for Wales. I cannot find in this report, which is full of interesting things on this very subject, a single mention of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth.

My Lords, if I may intervene, I have been trying all day to find copies of the two written memoranda which were sent to the committee of the other place from the University Colleges of Aberystwyth and Bangor, respectively. They are not to be found in the Library of the House of Commons, and they cannot be traced in the Victoria Tower. They were not printed; they were merely deposited. That shows the degree of concern, it would seem, which is paid to any of our Welsh affairs.

I am grateful, my Lords, to the noble Baroness for telling me that; but looking at the report of the committee and the list of memoranda, and so on, included in the minutes of evidence, they are not referred to.

Excuse me, my Lords; they are referred to but as papers which were deposited but not published.

But not published, my Lords. I am grateful for that intervention. In many ways it is the most famous plant breeding station, and certainly the most famous on grasses—after all, we are a country that depends so much on grasses—and its seems very odd that we did not have the position of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station properly considered. Also, it is within my knowledge that in recent times there has been a proposal which was turned down by some of the shrewd farmers on the committee concerned with this matter, that the name of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station should be changed. It was suggested that it be changed to the Welsh Agricultural Research Station or the Aberystwyth Agricultural Research Station. That was an attempt to downgrade the station and treat it as an outlying station, which I think the farming members of the committee realised immediately. That is the general fear in Wales. This is the only Plant Breeding Station or institution that is directly funded through the agency of the AFRC in Wales. That compares with many in England, and I shall presently come to the position of those institutes in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It is my view that if we are to safeguard the position of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station the first necessary step is to put it under the Welsh Office; that is, to transfer it from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and have it funded by one fund directly by the Welsh Office. In support of that I look at the findings of the committee in another place which referred to the Scottish system. I quote from paragraph 35 of that report, which I previously adverted to:
"To begin with there is one single funding source in Scotland, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland which disposes of some £25 million in research and development".
When one compares that with the £3 million that is spent—until recently, £3.4 million but if this cut goes through it will be £3 million—on the only plant breeding station in Wales, we see a difference of degree already. The report continues—and I quote from the end of paragraph 37:
"Overall there can be no doubt that the close link between advisers, agricultural college workers and university students in Scotland is of immense benefit to agriculture and we heard a good deal to support the view of one of the witnesses that the system was 'immeasurably more effective' than that south of the border".
I realise that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund- Davies, the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Wales is to speak later and he can tell us of the importance of the very happy co-operation that has always taken place between the university and the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. If oral evidence had been given to the committee it would have appreciated that the co-operation between the WPBS in Aberystwyth with Trawscoed, the NAAS establishment with the Agricultural College of Wales and with the university faculty, which are all in a close physical proximity to Aberystwyth, make a Welsh set-up that is nearer in practice to the Scottish, although differently controlled.

When we consider the set-up in England, the committee said this in paragraph 45:
"The main thrust of the evidence given to us by the JCO was to the effect that the present administration of agricultural R & D is too complex and cumbersome".
The paragraph continued later:
"We hope to show that the entire weight of evidence of our enquiry has also been on the need for the development of such a strategy for R & D, though as we shall consider, opinions as to its shape and execution varied widely".
The thrust of the committee's findings is that it thought that the whole organisation in England, and the Ministry of Agriculture in particular, lacked a proper sense of strategy on these matters. In conclusion the committee said, in paragraph 99:
"We also believe that attention should be paid to the Scottish and Ulster systems in any reorganisation of the advisory service in England and Wales. In particular we would stress the advantages of the integration of agricultural education with advisory work at Scottish colleges, institutes and universities. Matters such as the training in communication and extension methods and a recognition of the importance of agricultural economics are valuable 'imports' that could well be brought South of the Border".
I submit that the detailed inquiry by the committee in another place clearly pointed to the enormous advantages of the Scottish system and, even more so, the Northern Ireland system—which I did not quote—where the committee found that the entire funding, even of the university chairs, lecturers, and so on, in agriculture in Northern Ireland is done by the Ulster Agricultural Department. That has enormous benefits. Therefore, I believe that instead of being an outlying station, which distant Aberystwyth no doubt is to the AFRC—it has a cut across the board and Aberystwyth must, as it were, pay its price regardless of the work done there—it would be very much better for Wales, for Welsh agriculture and for all concerned if the Welsh Plant Breeding Station came under the Secretary of State for Wales. Having said that, the immediate problems are obviously those which have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I entirely agree with the points that he made, though I doubt very much whether he will get satisfactory answers to his questions.

However, I make one or two comments about the enlarged remit which it has been suggested should be given to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. As it is obviously on the wet, west side of the country, and as Wales is very largely a country of uplands and hills, there is a great deal of sense in enlarging the remit so that there is not only the fundamental research that is required and carried out at the Plant Breeding Station, but the applied research can be carried out also in the new farm in Powys.

It seems to be stupid to cut out of the Aberystwyth Plant Breeding Station the very departments that could carry out some of research on this new hill farm in Powys. We read of the barley programme which in this country is now to be concentrated at Cambridge and Dundee. Undoubtedly the greatest amount of barley growing in this country is in the eastern part of the country. Nevertheless, it is right to point out that in Scotland, understandably, and in Cambridge the main thrust of the research into barley is for malting barley which, of course, is very important to the Scottish economy, in particular, and of some considerable importance to the English economy. On the western side of the country, including Wales and the West Country where, say, 25 per cent. of the barley is grown, that is feeding barley. The thrust of the research at Aberystwyth has been not into malting barley but into feeding barley and that is very different. If we are dealing with the western side of the country we must remember that because of the wet areas we are more prone to some kind of diseases than is the eastern part and there is a great deal to be said for maintaining the barley programme at Aberystwyth.

But why do what the AFRC did? I suppose one could say, if one was looking at the whole question of research and development in agriculture anew, that one would not immediately select Aberystwyth as the obvious place for barley development. Presumably it was cut out for that reason. But it seems to me that it was a short-sighted attitude, particularly to cut it out at the time they did, when obviously the joint trial results showed how very well the work had been done. The development of hybrid barley, which has been referred to, was of great importance. Also the requirement on the director to save another £300,000 a year meant that he had to take his knife and suggest cuts here and there. Whatever he suggested would have been wrong.

In the light of what we now know, and of the enormous criticisms of agricultural research and development in this country—the detailed criticisms set out in the report of a committee in another place—one cannot have faith and confidence that the right decisions have been taken. In my view, an overwhelming case is made out for a complete review of the decisions that have been taken.

8.30 p.m.

My Lords, some years ago, until I had to give up the position on becoming a member of the University Grants Committee, I was a member of council at the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth. I must confess that I was then better informed of the details of the work of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station than I would claim to be today. But I was recently in Aberystwyth and was able to make some inquiries on the spot. I did so because virtually everyone in Wales in university or farming circles has been shocked by the relative down-grading proposed for our one and only agricultural research station in the Principality.

I suppose that it could conceivably have been argued that in some directions the Plant Breeding Station might have been tempted to rely more than was wise on its past glories and international reputation. But the masterly description given by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies of the work done there leaves me very doubtful of the possible validity of any such argument. In any case, had there been dissatisfaction with the quality of the work done there, should there not have been a timely word in the right place; and who better to receive that than my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who is not only a former Minister of Agriculture and Secretary of State for Wales but is currently the president and chairman of council of the University College at Aberystwyth? One should perhaps remind the House that the director of the Plant Breeding Station is a full professor of the University of Wales and a member of staff of the University College at Aberystwyth—although the entire funding of the station comes from agricultural sources.

In view of the forthcoming debate on Friday of this week on the work of the research councils in general, it would not be appropriate tonight to go into the full context of the five-year plan of the AFRC, of which the proposed partial dismemberment of the Welsh station is but a segment. But it is only fair to put our debate into context and to say that that plan has not received a particularly favourable press. For example, the recently retired director of the research station, Sir Kenneth Blaxter, who is a Fellow of the Royal Society, has just written in New Scientist:
"Britain's agricultural research has long been in need of reorganisation. But the five-year plan of the AFRC will damage research without going to the root of the problem".
He refers to the council's "parochial view" as being "devoid of vision and without moral concern".

This complaint comes from Scotland; but, as we have been reminded, the Scots are to retain their agricultural research institutions with very little, if any, diminution of resources. Both the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman rejoiced when the proposals in the plan were announced. They had good reason to. In England, too, one small institution will be closed and weed research will no longer flourish at Oxford. Otherwise, England is to retain its score or so of agricultural research institutions, no doubt under some pressures; but it nevertheless already has the lion's share of the agricultural research work done in the United Kingdom.

One of our complaints in Wales is that in general we are extremely poorly served in the number of publicly funded research institutions that we have outside the departments of the university colleges. We have a few small offshoots for hydrology, geology and terrestrial ecology and one shell-fish station. They are all very welcome and enjoy modest excellence. But the only research institute which can fairly claim to have an international reputation is the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. Opportunities for Welsh scientists to work at research in Wales are far too restricted.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who is Chairman of the Agriculture and Food Research Council and is extremely knowledgeable about apples, pears and hop growing in southern England, may say that this deprivation in Wales is no concern of the AFRC. But the disposition of the work of the research councils in the United Kingdom is not and should not be entirely a matter of pure or even applied research. In the United Kingdom we are a pluralistic society, and there are vital and important undertones and overtones in these matters—factors which presumably the AFRC, with its perhaps necessarily rather blinkered view, is unable to appreciate, but they are very real. It is partly because of them that tonight so many of us from all parts of the House wish to express our concern at what has been proposed. These matters cannot just be brushed aside.

Admittedly the Secretary of State for Wales is in a an awkward position. He is responsible for agriculture in the Principality but not, of course, for university education or for the work of the research councils, which in any case have their own independence. It may be that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that these matters should come directly under the Welsh Office—as in Scotland to a larger degree they come under the Scottish Office—is the right course to pursue. But meanwhile there is universal concern in the Principality at the way in which we believe this matter has been handled.

The proposed cuts in staff have been fully and eloquently described by other noble Lords, so I shall not reiterate what was said beyond saying that no one believes that the cuts will stop at the 27 scientific officers who have already been given formal notice either of dismissal or of transportation to Cambridge—a rather luxurious Botany Bay but not necessarily to their liking. As I have found in Aberystwyth, further adjustments—to use a neutral phrase—are almost universally expected. For example, reducing the number of chemists from nine to one is bound to create a further imbalance. As we have been told, there may be advances in other directions. But it is understandable that there is concern when we are given to understand that the farm which has just been acquired will be permitted to undertake field trials but that the serious research will now be carried out in Scotland. That hardly brings a song to the heart. It gives us little confidence about the level of work which is likely to be carried out at the research station.

As for the redeployment of AFRC funds to food research—which is one of the reasons given for cutting down on the resources available for agriculture—so far as I can learn, little, if any, of the food research resources will come to Wales. If that is so, we shall lose both on the swings and on the roundabouts. We do not claim undue favours and nor should we be content with any but the highest standards. We believe that with properly directed effort these can be attained at our one institution in Wales. We ask for no more, but we can be satisfied with no less. The AFRC should think again.

8.40 p.m.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, has explained, I am the chairman of the Agricultural and Food Research Council. I can therefore assure my noble friend that at least one member of the council will listen to, and not only listen to but read carefully, the observations made in this debate. Your Lordships are tolerant in these matters but I must nevertheless be careful not to speak on behalf of the Agricultural and Food Research Council. I hope that I may be allowed to speak as someone who has more than a passing knowledge as a farmer. I can perhaps assure the noble Baroness that I grow more than just hops and apples. I involve myself in many crops, dairy farming and the like, which will be familiar to Welsh farmers.

In many ways, I find this debate of enormous encouragement. This may seem totally paradoxical when I have had to listen to so many strictures about the organisation of agriculture and food research. I find it a great consolation because, for 18 months to two years, as great chunks of funding have been knocked off agricultural research, it has been difficult to whip up any response. I do not know how many of your Lordships recollect the paper I hold in my hand from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils to the Secretary of State for Education and Science. That set a precedent, in that its advice was published in October 1982. It has not been published before or since. It was a most devastating document from which, not unnaturally, the secretary of the Agricultural Research Council, as it was then, dissented. To be fair to the advisory body, it printed in full the strictures and warnings of the secretary of the Agricultural and Food Research Council at that time.

My noble friend will correct me, but I do not remember an enormous cry from the Welsh farmers. The response was muted. It tended to be along the lines that we live at a time of Government cuts, that your party will obviously be looking at all such cuts and that the fact that there may be interests way beyond those that we have been discussing today—I have to say that there are many issues at stake—is something that just has to be borne. I remember even a leader in The Times making just this point; that farmers and the food industry are complaining once more and that they must take their medicine because agricultural support in one form or another in this country is simply too great.

We are looking now at a situation where devastating cuts have been made. I assure some of the speakers in this debate that the cuts are more far-reaching than might have been suggested. It is not fair to say that in England there is one small laboratory being closed down together with one or two cuts in other institutes. Two institutes are being completely closed down in England, with cuts of the order of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station in other institutes. The cuts about which we are talking tonight are certainly damaging. Everyone in the House, having heard eloquent speeches, must recognise this. But cuts of that order are common throughout the institutes that we are required to run. The simple reason can be found in the cuts in public funding.

I take issue strongly with my noble friend who makes the point that the AFRC can somehow organise its affairs that it should be able to manage without apparent public funding of the order needed to run its commitments.

My Lords, with great respect, if I may intervene, that is the last thing I said. All that I said was that every form of agency and activity under every Government must come, at some time or another, under the eye of economy. I never said that research in itself should be cut.

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend has put me right on that. When assessments are to be made, as they have been made, Governments do so presumably by taking a hard look at the strategic considerations which are implied by withdrawing support in one direction and increasing support in another. I do not quarrel quite so strenuously as some will with the concept that the food industry does need further support. The reasons can be well justified, as has been done in another report to which Sir Kenneth Blaxter, who has already been mentioned, was a participant. He made the point that we are losing in the balance of payments on our food industry. The food engineering industry has badly lost its share of the market. Unlike agriculture, be it in Wales, England or Scotland, that has continued successfully to make a great contribution to the balance of payments and to reducing or preventing the full cost of living increase for food products, as for other industries, the food industry has a track record that is less impressive.

If there is to be a case for publicly funded research, it is fair to look at the opportunities which may lie for further employment and, from the farmers' point of view for assuring that the raw materials, which are mainly from the farm for the food industry, come from our own producers rather than through imported foods, thereby losing markets for our own farmers. There is a case, recognise, as the Ministry of Agriculture and others have urged. I accept that it would be only reasonable to expect that at least some of that food research should be undertaken in universities, colleges and the like throughout the United Kingdom. In the context of today's debate, the point has been made forcibly that at least some of that should come back to Wales.

What worries me in the broadest sphere is whether there is a sufficient understanding—not just for Wales but for England and Scotland as well—of the benefits that we expect from agricultural research. The industry is highly dependent on new research and new technology. The pace of change is perhaps bewildering. Sometimes, it is objectionable when the conservationists find that drainage schemes or the like do much to reduce the value of the environment. Certainly, for example, when it comes to pollution of water courses, this is in many respects objectionable. These are the areas where agricultural research can and should be making a contribution.

We are looking with great trepidation at the implications of static prices for agricultural products. This will hurt particularly the Welsh farmers who are living on lower margins than many of my neighbours in the South-East of England. The implications of static price levels for agricultural products must mean examining new systems and lower inputs in order to survive in what will be a fierce climate. There are considerations in the areas of social welfare and keeping rural communities alive.

The animal welfare considerations, which have been very much to the fore in recent years, have created a genuine requirement from a wide spectrum of society to know exactly what it is that puts an animal under stress, and what should be the relationship between the animals that we harness for agricultural purposes and the farmer. I worry enormously that the cuts which have been imposed deliberately as a result of this advice and as a result, more recently—only in November—of the cuts made in the commissioned research at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station by the Ministry of Agriculture and at the other 22-odd institutes have all been made calculatedly on the basis apparently of the sort of considerations that I have listed, are not of sufficient import.

The debate has demonstrated clearly that in the case of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station there is equally the Welsh dimension. I am sure that the point must be firmly upheld by all who organise research that the reputation of that institute must be protected from the sort of ad hoc cuts that are being inflicted widely throughout all our institutes. I do not think that this will be very acceptable to those who have spoken before, but it is the case that the cuts about which we are talking tonight—the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, mentioned a cut from £3.4 million to £3 million, although I think it is rather less and of the order of 6 per cent. to 8 per cent.—are very much in line with the cuts which are being imposed on the agricultural research service.

The discussions which we have had on how we organise research rather missed the point, because there is always a temptation when funds are cut, when plans have to be produced which will upset everyone—and believe me at the moment the animal farmer, the top fruit grower, the soft fruit grower and a whole range of arable growers are extremely disturbed by the corporate plan—to say that it is the plan which is at fault and that we cannot possibly live with it. I make the point once more that when we are required to cut our cloth according to our means we invariably produce a plan which is of great consequence to many people. No doubt there will be other debates in this House about other areas of agricultural research, and even though the points will not be made with as much fervour as they have been made by so many of your Welsh Lordships' tonight, they will, I suspect, he made with almost as equal force.

8.52 p.m.

My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, I, too, have to be careful as the chairman of my country's tourist board reporting on tourism to the Secretary of State for Wales. I have no wish to preempt his rights, and plead the Addison Rules. In fact, 40 years ago in Pembrokeshire, as a young student writing a dissertation on the agricultural areas of my own County of Pembrokeshire, I was part of the great plan to upgrade grass as the mother of milk in Wales, and I feel that type of association with it. It was the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, reinforced later by the noble Baroness, Lady White, who said that it was the point of internationalism. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, actually said that this thing is not merely for Wales. It is their point that I wish to reinforce.

The Wales Tourist Board, in common with other organisations in Wales, was approached and asked to consider its views on the plant breeding station. The issue was discussed as late as Friday last week. At its meeting on that day, while recognising that the activities of the WPBS naturally remain outside the remit of the Tourism Act, the board were mindful of the international reputation that is enjoyed by the station and, more particularly, the fact that it is visited by scientists from all over the world. As a consequence, it remained, we felt, an important institutional ambassador for Wales which featured in our specialist literature and was part of the marketing of our country's attractions overseas. I have, of course, conveyed that to the Secretary of State, before I would ever speak to it in this House.

Although the benefits are indirect and difficult to measure, we believe that the Welsh Plant Breeding Station makes a significant contribution to the image and the identity of our country. For that reason we formally resolved that I should convey to this House the concern that everything possible should be done to safeguard the future of the centre as a major centre for agricultural research, so that it might maintain its unrivalled reputation for innovative work on subjects that have a direct hearing upon the prosperity of our rural areas.

I am deliberately holding in my hand our own Wales Tourist Board's study of agriculture in relation to tourism. We have a very sophisticated product now in which we see tourism and agriculture together, integrating the rural community and being vital to sustaining life in an area which has for too long exported its best people. I thought it highly significant, when I asked for the figures, that, in 1982, there were no less than 2,170 official visitors to the station, 330 of whom came from overseas, and that in 1983 there were 2,500 visitors in all, plus 5,000 for open days. I asked for a breakdown of people so visiting and I found that they were scientists, advisers, students, farmers, media "dignitaries" and people who are extremely important in the promotion of Wales as a tourist attraction.

The decline of our traditional industrial base has placed agriculture and tourism together as providing one of the very few options open to our nation for stabilising its economy. There is evidence that tourism, together with the research that has been carried out at the establishment and the effect that it has had on agriculture within Wales, has at last begun to halt the great decline in the rural areas which has been the running sore of our country for a very long time indeed. It would be ridiculous—and I cannot stress this strongly enough as a private individual Member of this House—if, as we have done so often in the industrial field, we were to dismantle an asset now just at the time when its real value to the country is being understood. I can cite from within my own responsibilities the fact that we have learned over the last 10 years that those enthusiasts who worked to keep alive and working the mineral railways, which were clearly redundant in industrial and commercial terms, have created an asset that is now of infinite value to our country and is helping it to earn its living at a very difficult time.

For that reason, and underlining the points that have already been made without repeating them, I have travelled here from Wales tonight in order to add my voice to the plea that second thoughts be had upon this issue and that the Minister, when he rises to speak, should give the House the assurance that this plant breeding station will be allowed to continue its work.

8.57 p.m.

My Lords, at the outset of my remarks I think it wiser to reveal that I have both a personal and at least a quasi-official interest in the important topic which is currently occupying the time of your Lordships' House. My personal interest arises of course from the fact that I am a Welshman. Any Welshman cannot fail to be interested in the matter currently under discussion. My quasi-official interest arises from the fact that I have the honour to be the pro-Chancellor of the University of Wales—that is, as most people know, a federal university, the senior member of which is the University College at Aberystwyth, of which the present president will, in the near future, be addressing this House.

As far as the university itself and its connections with the WPBS are concerned, the director of the station is also a University of Wales professor of agricultural botany in the college; the scientific staff are listed both in the university calendar and in the college prospectus; and students are allowed to read for higher degrees of the university at the station, supervised by a scientific staff and under the direction of the director. I have to add that I, as a pro-Chancellor, have no knowledge of any consultations with the university at any time regarding the steps leading to the present position in which the WPBS finds itself.

I should have thought it was incontestable, and therefore accepted, that the work of the station was of both national and international importance. That that has been universally recognised is surely beyond challenge, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in his notable opening speech, has given the necessary detail to emphasise—if that is necessary—the fact of the matter. It is the only plant research station in the whole of the Principality. Scotland has nine such major institutions; and England, 20. The annual funding of these institutes by the AFRC in the case of Wales appears to be approximately £3 million, in the case of Scotland. £26 million and in the case of England, over £70 million. Wales faces a cut of £500,000—approximately 17 per cent.—in its annual funding.

What the university does not know—and I cite the university because of its interest and particularly that of the college, which naturally has a more intimate daily contact than does the university with the station—is what are the proposed annual cuts in Scotland and in England. We should like to be supplied with those figures tonight. If, as I understand it, having read at least two of the newspapers published north of the Tweed, Scotland is actually destined to be better off in the future than it presently is—and I congratulate Scotland but I do not envy it; on the other hand, there must be some fairness of approach to all institutions of this character—I ask rhetorically, can the grave consequences of the proposed cuts in the Aberystwyth funding be justified if that is the position in other parts of the United Kingdom? Can it really be said that the interests of the WPBS are being safeguarded, "leave alone promoted" (to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies) by the events which are threatened?

I and the university should be grateful for enlightenment on these matters, and we urge the noble Lord to the conclusion that at the very least further urgent consideration of the topics is called for, the details of which have already been furnished by earlier speakers.

9.2 p.m.

My Lords, I join with the noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for the way in which he opened this debate. It is just 14 years since I had the great honour of being Secretary of State for Wales. Like the noble Baroness, I have tried to keep in touch with what happens in the Principality. At that time I learned how much the agricultural industry in Wales looks towards Aberystwyth. The anxieties which have been expressed by noble Lords today from both sides of the House must surely give Her Majesty's Government cause for some concern.

I should like to say how deeply I appreciate the presence of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I think it was a great courtesy to us all that, as chairman of the responsible research body, he has come to participate in this debate and to give us the benefit of his advice. As I listened to my noble friend Lord Edmund-Davies, who claimed a cut of 17 per cent., and to the noble Earl, who referred to a cut of, I believe, 6 per cent., I realised that there is a very great disparity between the sources of information that have been available to various responsible people who have taken part in this debate.

It would be a grievous error to brush aside the anxieties of Wales with just a passing remark about the fervour of the Welsh. It is true that from time to time our people speak with fervour; it is natural enough because we love Wales. But Wales—north, south, east and west—little country that it is, is not always easy to unite. However, it is united on this matter. From all parts—and apparently all parties—in this House, there is an anxiety that the consultation that did not take place should even now be allowed. It is not too much to ask that the Government should listen to a united voice from the Benches behind them, from the Opposition Benches and from these Cross-Benches, and that they should realise something has clearly gone amiss.

I do not wish to take the time of the House other than to say that I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that consideration should be given to the research station being under the authority of the Welsh Office. If it were the responsibility of the Welsh Office, a misunderstanding of the mood of Wales of this sort would be impossible for whoever is in power, whichever side of the House happens to hold authority for the time being in the Welsh Office. It is a department that endeavours to be sensitive to the mood, the needs and anxieties of the Welsh people. I salute the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, who served a long stint himself both in office and as a Shadow Minister for Wales. I think that he did five years' hard work in another place. He speaks with very great authority on this subject. Therefore, tonight we have had the privilege of listening to people who know the agricultural industry in the Principality inside out and who know our university world thoroughly. I like listening to the Minister, but I shall feel sorry for him unless he has something hidden up his sleeve and unless he is able to say that he will think again.

9.8 p.m.

My Lords, I too join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies in initiating this debate, and indeed in the completely masterly way in which he opened his case. He did so with all the skill and painstaking accuracy that one associates with every case that he articulates. In hearing the splendid contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Gibson-Watt and Lord Hooson, my noble friend Lady White, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, one had for a brief moment a nostalgic feeling that one was living again a previous incarnation not far removed in distance and not even far removed in time from one's present locus and experience.

But the debate indeed has been much wider than the confrontations that I have mentioned, and that I and others, were used to in another place. It has been greatly enriched and, if I may say so, leavened by the distinguished contribution from all parts of the House. If ever there was need to endorse the fact that this is in no way a political matter, then that most clearly—and in a most distinguished manner—has been done this evening in this House. Indeed, one only has to speak to almost anyone in any part of Wales to find that there is here a feeling that is deeply rooted and broadly based utterly divorced from any consideration of party-political advantage. I myself am glad that the Honourable Society of Cymrodorion have indeed played so leading a part in relation to this most worthy case.

I am glad of the opportunity to intervene, albeit for a brief moment so late in the debate. There is no need to rehash any of the arguments that have been so splendidly and succinctly deployed. But may I mention three matters. First is the question that has been touched upon by many contributors to this debate, and that is the inequity that Wales has suffered for many decades—it goes back a long time—in relation to the funding of agricultural research compared with other parts of the United Kingdom.

I can well understand why that should be so. It was not brought about by any malevolence on the part of central Government from year to year. I suspect that in this, as in more than one other instance, Wales has been the victim of its own success. So great was the distinction, so great the fame, so great the achievements of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth, that it could not have dawned upon most people—even people utterly knowledgeable in this field over the years—that Wales was getting only one proportion of 8½ units that Scotland was getting. What is the human population of Wales? It is about half that of Scotland. But what counts here, I suppose, is not humans but animals. The dairy population of Wales is greater than the dairy population of Scotland. The sheep population of Wales is greater than the sheep population of Scotland.

Scotland, as we have heard from so many noble Lords, has nine such institutions as these. It has one major institution wholly devoted to dairy research, and another to hill farming. I do not think that any Minister—and this is not a party point, it is a point which could have been made during the incumbency of any other Government over the last 30 or 40 years—or anybody could have justified the relatively meagre proportion of funding that Wales has received over the years. That, in my respectful submission, is the starting point. Whatever might be said about the necessity for Wales to take its medicine—if I understood the first part of the speech of the noble Lord opposite, although he rallied fairly strongly late in the day and said that Wales had a special case—that is the beginning of it all. Wales starts in this field from a position of utter inequity in relation to the industry that is wholly central and vital to its whole economy.

Secondly, the Welsh Office does not, I am afraid, come out of this with very great glory. I appreciate the argument that was put, as always, attractively by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, but they cannot be exculpated completely. They do exercise an overall supervision in relation to the whole field of agriculture in Wales. I cannot conceive that a strategic decision would have been made in the first instance to subject Wales to an across the board cut. That is where it started. It must have started at the Treasury, then gone to the ARC and then relayed by the ARC to the various institutes, including Wales, on the basis of a broad across the board cut. I cannot believe that that could have been conceived without close consultation in the first instance with the Welsh Office. If there was no such consultation, it is an even graver situation than we had contemplated.

I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, would argue for a moment that the situation would have been the same in the time of Jim Griffiths, or my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, or the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, or the right honourable Mr. John Morris in another place. If that had happened in the day of any one of them, they and their friends would have descended upon the ARC like a shoal of hungry piranhas. It would indeed have been a gory confrontation. I do not think anything more need be said about that.

My Lords, would it help if I informed the noble Lord that his noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos has already descended upon me like a shoal of fish as he has already said?

My Lords, I am charmed to hear that he is true to type, but I am in no way surprised. I would not have expected him to have acted otherwise. I am grateful for that intervention.

The case which the Welsh Office had to plead was not one that demanded a great advocative skill. The very heart and kernel of that has already been touched upon by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. In the corporate plan published by the AFRC for 1984–98—in the main it is a miserable document dealing with proposed cuts—there are from time to time certain shafts of light to relieve the gloom. One of them comes at paragraph 6.9(vi) of that report. It is very short and if the House will allow me I shall quote it:
"The proposals for the next five years are…to alter the remit of WPBS to reflect the station's decreased involvement in variety development"—
then there follow these words—
"and increasing interest in production studies and farming systems for the hills and uplands in Wales. This new work has already been initiated, jointly with HRFO, at a recently-acquired upland farm in Powys".
In other words, putting it in lay terms, the AFRC is saying that there should be greater concentration upon what might be described as the practical end of the whole exercise; the evaluation of the nutritive value for animals of the fodder prepared and the crops grown. The body that was responsible for doing that in the Welsh Plant Breeding Station was the chemistry or nutrition department, which now is to lose nine out of ten of its members. That was the heart, core and kernel of the whole of that exercise. The subparagraph that I have quoted is utterly meaningless and rendered totally nonsensical by the disappearance of the nutrition section. Why did not the Welsh Office plead that utterly simply but totally irrefutable case?

I end on a local note. I, not unnaturally, am deeply saddened by what is proposed to happen at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. It was situated within the constituency that I had the honour to represent for eight years. It is located within a mile or two of my home. I suppose that I probably know more than half the people of all ranks who work there. I can tell the House—and I am sure the House will accept this in all sincerity—that morale is at a deadly low ebb. Even if those cuts were completely restored immediately, in my judgment it would take many years to repair the damage that has already been done.

Let me mention one other matter at a local level. The employment that is given by this institution locally in the area north of Aberystwyth is of immense significance. Even in more prosperous economic times that area had the deepest social and economic problems. The problems were not problems of unemployment, as many Members of this House know; there were the problems of employment. There were very few jobs; there were jobs that turned very much upon the sustenance derived locally from publicly-owned, publicly financed enterprises. The loss of even a few jobs will tell very heavily upon that community.

I am not interested in a witch hunt. I have my own views as to where the guilt probably lies. But I am not asking for any commission of inquiry to adjudicate upon such matters. I ask the Minister not to give a final answer tonight. I am sure that, with his usual good humour, and bonhomie, he will be able to deflect, or seek to deflect, many of the points that have been validly made. But I am sure that he is made of too genuine stuff to rely upon that. I urge him to consider that he is dealing, so far as Wales is concerned, with an invaluable, much cherished national institution. The damage that already has been done is considerable. It is possible to wreak immeasurable, even deadly, damage to it.

During the reign of terror of the French Revolution, a great and distinguished scientist, Lavoisier, was put to death. Someone said, a long time later, that cutting off his head took but a few seconds; replacing his scholarship was something that took many decades. Unless the Government are prepared to give agonising reappraisal to this matter, I fear very much that it could take decades to repair the damage that is now proposed.

9.22 p.m.

My Lords, it is rash indeed for an East Anglian farmer to enter into a debate which has shown itself to be the domain not only of Welshmen and Welsh women but of those who have, as most Welshmen and Welsh women have, the enormous grasp of the problem at issue, the deep feeling towards anything concerning the Principality and the magnificent command of words, of oratory, that we have been privileged to listen to this evening. I do so for two reasons. The first is that, despite coming from the opposite side of the country, I have an admiration which is as high as that shown by any noble Lord who has spoken so far for Aberystwyth, for the work that has been done there and for the tradition so magnificiently started by Stapleton and carried on by his successors.

I think that there are perhaps relatively few of us engaged in agriculture today who realise what that debt is that we owe to Sir George Stapleton and to his successors and colleagues. When I started farming, nearly 50 years ago, in most parts of the United Kingdom grass was not looked upon as a crop; it was looked upon as something which just happened. If you left the field long enough, it would grow green and that green would be eaten in some form or another by animals. It was thanks to Sir George Stapleton and others, but primarily to him, that we now look upon grass as being a crop as complicated and as important as any other crop which is grown in this country—indeed, more so, because our greatest natural assets in agriculture are our soil and our climate, a climate which may be decried by those responsible for tourism and those who enjoy holidays by the sea, but which is a blessing to farmers, and particularly to livestock farmers, because it is a climate particularly favourable to grassland cultivation. We are now as good as any country in Europe in the cultivation of our grassland because of the work started and continued at Aberystwyth. There is scarcely a grassland officer in the country today or even in the English-speaking Commonwealth who is not called "Davies" or a similar name and who has not been trained for at least part of his time at Aberystwyth. It is an institution which is world renowned, and rightly so, and anything which diminishes the contribution that it continues to make to agriculture is something which can only be viewed with the greatest possible alarm.

I do not wish to introduce a discordant note, but I do not go along with those who, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, suggest that this should perhaps he one of the yardsticks, that there should be, as it were, an equality of misery and that cuts should be on an equal basis throughout England, Scotland and Wales. I think that research should be carried on no matter in which part of the United Kingdom——

My Lords, I am sure there is a misunderstanding here: that is the last point I sought to make. I think there may have been an attribution here and it is not for me to say what might be the proper locality of the attribution, but it is certainly not at my door.

My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble and learned Lord and I am delighted to be corrected by him, because I am sure we all agree that the claim of Aberystwyth is not a parochial, local or Welsh claim but a national and an international claim. I will now move on to the second reason why I am intervening in this debate, and that is because of the overall importance of agricultural research—and I include food research there—and the very long-term nature of such research, which I know the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, understands as well as anybody here.

We are suffering, if that is the right word, at the moment from an over-production of food within the Community. The need for food appears to have disappeared and the problem is: what to do with the surpluses? But we do not have to go back many years to remember the work of people like John Boyd-Orr and others who alerted us to the problems of world hunger. There is still world hunger and, once the world recession has been mitigated, as we are told is happening now, once the third world has rather more money coming from higher prices for its commodities, and as the population doubles, as it will during the next 25 to 30 years so that there will be another 4,000 million mouths to feed, we shall remember the words of John Boyd-Orr and his teachings and we shall look with amazement at this period in the mid-'80s when we are embarrassed by surpluses.

Food is needed now and it will be needed even more in the years to come. This country having lost its preeminent economic position—by the end of the century we shall be still lower down the scale—our need for food will become even greater than it was 20 years ago. That is the time when the result of research which is being carried on now and research which is starting now will begin to bear fruit. If' we abandon that research now, no matter where it is—whether it is in Aberystwyth, whether it is in Scotland, whether it is in Cambridge—we, as consumers or as farmers, will not suffer for it: it will not have any effect on us. But those who come after us, our children, are the ones who will suffer. The farmers of the coming generation and, above all, the consumers of the coming generation will suffer. That is why this problem of Aberystwyth highlights the inordinate folly and shortsightedness of the present Government's policy towards research of any kind at all and not just agricultural research, although that is what we are talking about tonight.

I do not know whether any of your Lordships read an article which appeared in yesterday's Sunday Times. With permission, I will read the first and the closing paragraphs. It starts by saying:
"More than 100 scientists from Britain's small but crucial pool of biotechnologists have left the country to work abroad in the past five years—a brain drain that highlights the major cash crisis facing British scientific research.
"The biotechnologists, though few in number, work in a field which has exceptional industrial potential in the near future. The exodus, revealed in a report prepared for the Science and Engineering Council, means that North America, Australia and Europe will be benefiting from research which could have been building up Britain's high technology industries of tomorrow."
It concludes:
"One overall effect of the research cuts is noticeable now: a significant change in Britain's position in the international reserach league. A study by the US National Science Foundation of American utilisation of foreign research—an indicator of its quality and commercial value—showed that the Japanese position had improved dramatically, the German and French markedly, while the British remained roughly static. And that was between 1973 and 1979, before the latest round of cuts."
Any of us who have any concern at all for the future of this country, any of us who appreciate, however modestly, the essential nature of basic scientific research and the long lag periods between the theoretical research in the universities and the research institutes and its application, whether it is in genetic engineering and from there into the breeding of plants, or wherever it may be—as I think the noble Earl said, in what may seem a far cry, into the psychological stresses and environments of livestock, based on basic far-away research into psychology, with the enormous effect on animal production in this country today—must be, and are, horrified at what is happening now. It is not simply that we are eating our seed corn. We are deliberately taking our seed corn and throwing it away. Even half-developed research we are abandoning, and the results will make themselves apparent only in the years ahead.

I personally absolve the AFRC from responsibility in this matter. I do not know whether they have made a wise decision or a wrong decision, and, with the greatest respect, I do not believe any noble Lords here can possibly pass judgment on them, because we have not heard the competing claims of the other research institutes, some of which have to be cut and some of which are able to go on as they are at the present time. The blame lies with those who have decreed that there is less money available for research, and, until that is put right, whether Aberystwyth is reprieved and Dundee suffers or whether East Mailing suffers and Cambridge expands, those are matters on which we cannot pass judgment because we do not have the evidence. All we can pass judgment on is the need for an increasing amount of money to be made available for research, and for an awareness of the damage that it is doing, and will do, to our future as a country and to future generations if the present trend continues.

9.35 p.m.

My Lords, I join all those who have expressed gratitude to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for asking this Question today and for his well argued and very impressive speech. Other noble Lords on all sides of the House have supported my noble friend in powerful and deeply-felt speeches. They have deployed all the arguments and made my task an easy one. From this Dispatch Box my duty is to plead with the Government to heed the appeals which have been made, for I can say without any doubt whatsoever that what noble Lords have said reflects the very deep feeling which exists in Wales on this matter.

Let me make it absolutely clear to the noble Lord the Minister who is to reply and to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, the Minister of State, whom we are glad to see in his place, so that there may be no misunderstanding about it after this debate is over, that on no other issue for very many years has there been such widespread reaction, dismay and shock right across the political spectrum in Wales as there has been on this issue. Let me follow noble Lords in explaining why, but first, like my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, I must to some extent acquit the Agricultural Research Council of total responsibility. The cuts are not of their doing. It is the Government, through the Department of Education and Science and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who are responsible for telling the AFRC that they must make substantial economies. I believe that the AFRC did at some stage seek to resist them, but when they came to revise their budget and to plan their reduced expenditure I say that the AFRC did not treat the Welsh Plant Breeding Station as fairly as they might have done.

Like others, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the chairman of the AFRC, for coming to the House and for making his speech. He and his colleagues had a very difficult task. I am grateful to the AFRC for the work they have done over the years. On this occasion they had a thankless task to perform. Of course I agree with the noble Earl that cuts were made in England, but because the Welsh Plant Breeding Station is the only research institute in Wales the cuts there were far more deep-seated and fundamental than they were anywhere else. As far as fervour is concerned, we are grateful to the noble Earl for the compliment he was good enough to pay to Welsh peers, but the fact is that on this occasion the fervour reflected a united conviction on this issue in the House today.

Other noble Lords have made this point, but there is no doubt that in Wales the plant breeding station at Gogerddan is regarded as one of our national institutions. For historical reasons, Wales is not endowed with many national institutions, but because of its development since its founding by George Stapleton, to whom many references have been made, it has achieved an international reputation. In passing, it is worth mentioning that many countries in the third world have cause to be grateful for the research carried out at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. The cuts, therefore, carry a significance well beyond the boundaries of Wales itself, although its work has been of incalculable value to Welsh farmers and in particular to the hill farmers who were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, in his excellent speech. The proposal therefore deeply wounds a national institution in which we in Wales take great pride.

But it is called "national" because it is the only one that we have. It is the only research institute in Wales that is grant-aided by the AFRC. We are not seeking to gain some advantage this evening at the expense of England or of Scotland. As we have heard, there are 20 major institutes in England and nine in Scotland. I do not wish to see cuts imposed in those two countries, but you could make some and you would still have many institutes left. This is what is to happen in England after the AFRC have completed their plans.

But we have heard a great deal about Scotland this evening. This is what I read with great interest in the Glasgow Herald in its edition of 12th December:
"Scotland has miraculously escaped the cost-cutting axe wielded throughout agricultural research…this week. In fact, some of Scotland's research centres are gaining, being given work 'farmed out' from other establishments in a bid to rationalise and streamline projects".
I wish Scotland well. The Secretary of State for Scotland is to be congratulated on his success in preserving agricultural research virtually intact in his country. To keep several institutes intact is an achievement when we see the one institute in Wales severely mutilated.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales is fully aware of what is happening. I find it hard to believe that he would have tolerated this action if he had been aware of its full implications. On these occasions we are always told, "Wales is a small country and you must take your share of cuts vis-à-vis England". In fact, it is well known that a small country always suffers disproportionately if cuts are applied on an equal percentage basis. In this case, however, Wales has been treated not disproportionately but deplorably. I am staggered by the iniquity of the situation.

The reason is clear if we look at the annual funding of the institutes in the three countries. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, has given the figures. There was a figure of more than £70 million for England, £26 million for Scotland and £3 million for Wales. But let us break those figures down. They represent spending on agricultural research of £15·50 per hectare for England, £7·50 per hectare for Scotland and £3 per hectare for Wales. Those are the basic figures for agricultural research in the principality. We started off at a disadvantage before the cuts were ever made. If one looks at the cuts at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station in the context of those figures, one realises how grossly unfair and how totally indefensible they really are.

If the proposed cuts are implemented, the result will be to change the character of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station; that is something we find it hard to contemplate or to accept. In a letter to me, the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. Nicholas Edwards, said he believes that the WPBS will continue to operate "on a firm foundation". One begins to doubt whether anything is firm these days. Even if that be true, it will be a much smaller foundation—and the financial implications are very disquieting. The reduction of £500,000 per annum over three years in real budgetary terms from a working 1983–84 baseline of £3,025,000 represents a shortfall of 16·5 per cent. compared with a forecast reduction over the same period of 7 per cent. for the AFRC as a whole. That is the reality of the situation to which I would direct the attention of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne.

We have been treated unfairly, and this can be seen in the AFRC corporate plan, on page 28, table 2. I find it very difficult to equate those figures with other figures used by the AFRC or by Mr. Nicholas Edwards in his letter and in his reply to questions in another place. Some have tried to argue that the WPBS reductions are half way in the scale of cuts which are being made in some other English institutes. But those, if I may say so with respect to the Minister, are based on changes over the first year only—1983–84 to 1984–85. Budgetary projections into future years give no such assurance.

One of our problems is that there was no consultation of any kind with the staff or trade unions concerned and therefore no opportunity to discuss the full significance of these measures as they should have been discussed with the people who are deeply concerned with these measures in Wales itself. This morning I received a note from the National Farmers' Union, which no doubt other noble Lords received in their post and in which they make plain how deeply they deplore the lack of consultation on this matter.

The repercussive effects go far beyond the immediate proposals, because in order to achieve the total reduction envisaged I understand that it becomes necessary to identify redundancy areas in research on plant physiology, chemistry and entomology including work on plant and animal nutrition as well as the barley programme. The loss of barley breeding and its associated research programme, together with the previous loss of breeding work in forage, brassicae and beans, considerably reduces the diversity of crops and associated expertise. The Welsh Plant Breeding Station will be left with oats as its only cereal programme. The loss of barley is crucial and must be emphasised; it is unique in many ways; it deals with breeding for disease and pest resistance—a vital consideration in the wetter climate of Wales and the west. It is ironic that this remarkable programme is now coming to fruition, as shown by the outstanding success of the WPBS varieties in current United Kingdom trials, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson.

It is proposed that the barley programme is to be taken over elsewhere. I note that barley breeding will be continued in the institute in Dundee. We could go for a long time discussing details, but I propose to desist. I will repeat what my noble friends have said; namely, that 40 staff posts will have to be lost, many of them involving compulsory redundancies. It is sad for them; it is sad for the WPBS, and it is sad in an area where jobs are hard to find and where unemployment is very high. It sharpens our anger and our resentment that so mean and ill-considered an act should be committed against Wales. I hope we can persuade the Government to think again. In the light of the argument they should do so. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, is personally a fair and reasonable man with a knowledge of mid-Wales. I say earnestly to him and to his noble friend that I hope they will not commit themselves tonight but that they will talk seriously to their right honourable friend about this. They should tell him what the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and my noble friend Lady White said, that the retreat from research is the path to national decline.

I can say to the noble Earl that we speak with deep feeling on a matter which will develop into a profound injustice if it is not soon rectified. The University College of Wales, of which I have the honour to be president, has a special relationship with the WPBS, and many noble Lords here tonight have a close knowledge of the University College of Aberystwyth and the plant breeding station. We have heard a memorable speech from my noble and learned friend Lord Edmund-Davies, who is the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Wales. There are five former students of the University College here tonight and four have spoken. My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones has restrained himself with great difficulty, because as President of the University College of South Wales, Cardiff, he feels as deeply as any of us about this. We were deeply moved to hear the plea made by my noble friend Lord Tonypandy who has also shown great interest in the university and in the plant breeding station.

Time is rapidly running out for the plant breeding station but I think there is still enough left for wiser counsels to prevail. We deeply hope that this debate will lead Ministers to act without delay and to give careful thought to the cancellation or at least the substantial modification of these unhappy proposals.

9.49 p.m.

My Lords I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for his Question and to the other noble Lords who have spoken on this important matter. I think I may say that I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Selborne, who obviously did not find it easy to come here and make the speech that he did in the circumstances; I am most grateful to him.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who said that morale is low, and that is why I am glad and grateful that this Question has been raised and that I have a chance to say something about this. The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, said he thought I had something up my sleeve, or wished that I had because I was in for a fairly rough ride. I have nothing up my sleeve and I will give your Lordships the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth. I have been told, I believe by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that I should cover up and not answer the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. In fact, I was grateful that he gave me prior warning of his questions and I intend to answer every one of them.

Perhaps I may first give some background. As I am sure your Lordships know by now, the Welsh Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth is a state-aided institute funded by the Agricultural and Food Research Council. It is one of 22 agricultural and food research institutes which are supported by the council, and is the only one situated in Wales.

The Agricultural and Food Research Council is a body which operates under a Royal Charter and whose main purpose is the support of research in the sciences relevant to agriculture. It does this by awarding research grants selectively to teams of scientists in the universities and by running, or grant-aiding, the 22 research institutes. It also supports postgraduate training in relevant fields of science.

The council receives money with which to conduct its various scientific activities from two main sources. One is the grant-in-aid allocated annually by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science from his department's science budget. The other is the income for research commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. About half the council's income is derived from each source. For 1983–84 the council's total estimated income, from both sources, is £96·5 million. This is a cash limited sum.

The council is having to face the likelihood of a reduction of funds from DES and MAFF, in real terms, between now and 1986–87. It estimates that its budget will be up to 7 per cent. less than now, in real terms, by 1988. The council's loss of income is due in part to a decrease in MAFF's programme of commissioned research work and in greater part to a planned reduction in the council's share of the science budget. That reduction was foreshadowed in the Advisory Board for the Research Councils' 1982 advice to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

The main reason why the ABRC recommended such a reduction was that the board's assessment of scientific priorities pointed to the need for an increase in the funds for one of the science budget's other client bodies, the Science and Engineering Research Council, to enable the SERC to expand its programme of research, especially in information technology. As the level of the science budget as a whole has been held steady in real terms, it is evident that this increase in funds had to be secured by reducing the provision for other councils. The main burden of the reduction has fallen on the Agricultural and Food Research Council and on the Natural Environment Research Council. This is not to say that the board doubted the quality of the science being supported by those two councils. It was a question, rather, of having to make harsh choices at a time of overall restraint in public expenditure. My right honourable friend accepted the ABRC's advice in this matter.

; My Lords, does the noble Earl acknowledge the priorities that have apparently been established, bearing in mind all the matters that have been brought forward in this debate, on the importance of what is being done in this plant breeding station for the benefit of the country as a whole?

My Lords, I think if the noble and learned Lord listens to the rest of my speech he will find out what I think about these matters. My right honourable friend thought for a long time before he accepted the ABRC's advice and I think, as my noble friend Lord Selborne said, there was no great outcry when that advice was tendered to my right honourable friend.

It is for the Agricultural and Food Research Council itself to decide how best to accommodate to its reduced income. I am pleased to say that the council has acted very positively in responding to the challenges facing it, which have consisted not only of living within a reduced budget but also of redirecting its research effort so as to meet new challenges principally in the areas of plant biochemistry and in aspects of biotechnology, neurosciences, food and nutrition. In December last year, the council published its first corporate plan, covering the period 1984–88. The corporate plan, copies of which are in the Library of your Lordships' House, was prepared in consultation with the agriculture departments, the universities and the industries concerned. It covers the work commissioned with the council by the agricultural departments, as well as work done with grant-in-aid from the DES, and deals with the whole range of work in progress, with areas of new scientific opportunity, with the priorities identified by the council and, in broad terms, with the measures which will be necessary to achieve the desired objectives within the funding expected to be available.

Within the context of the plan, institute directors have over the past months been reviewing their priorities and deciding in consultation with the council which programmes will have to be stopped and how many posts will have to be lost. In the agriculture and food research service as a whole, about 240 posts—including non-scientific as well as scientific jobs—are expected to be lost in 1984–5, with the eventual loss of some 800 posts by 1988. To create headroom for the introduction of new programmes and the expansion of promising work, the council intends to terminate lower priority work to the annual value of £7 million by 1986–7. It has concluded that some areas of work, including arable crops research and cereal variety production, are over-supported in relation to their importance.

I come now to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station.

My Lords, the noble Earl is talking of the general matter of financing and where the cuts will fall, may I ask whether due account has been taken of the income which accrues to the Government through the national seed development organisation as a result of plant royalties and specifically what is coming in from the work already done at Aberystwyth in that respect? Is that credited to each individual institute, is it paid back to the AFRC, or is it simply absorbed into the general maw of ministry expenditure?

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that.

I come now to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station—and some noble Lords may say, "At last"! The status of the station and the high regard in which it is held in Wales, as elsewhere, is acknowledged. This has been based, and must continue to be based, on the quality of the scientific work which it undertakes. The fact that it brings renown—and, indeed, as we have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Parry, tourism—to Wales is an additional bonus. Within the overall constraints that I have mentioned, the task of the AFRC, in close co-operation with the WPBS, has been to direct the available resources to those areas in which the station can excel. The station cannot escape programme reductions, and these will affect the station in two ways. The present estimates of the funds likely to be available to the station for recurrent expenditure over the next three years are £3 million in 1984–85, £3.04 million in 1985–86 and £3.08 million in 1986–87. This is compared with the station's budget this financial year of £3.2 million. This implies a reduction in real terms greater than the cash figures would indicate.

First, to live within these cash limits the station's director, in consultation with the council, has decided to cut back work in areas of lower priority, including developmental genetics and on chemistry. This should save about £300,000 annually over the period 1984 to 1987. Twenty-seven posts will have to be lost, including 14 in the science group. Natural wastage and voluntary early retirement are unlikely to be sufficient to achieve this reduction, and I understand that, unfortunately, some compulsory redundancies seem likely. Other economies, such as cutting back on fuel and power for glasshouses and making savings on laboratory supplies, will play their part in achieving the savings but cannot by themselves reach the total figure required.

I think that this might be a convenient moment to make clear a matter about which there was considerable argument, if not disagreement, in the House: exactly how the expenditure cuts will affect the WPBS. A figure of 17 per cent. was mentioned, but that just is not so. The 1984–85 baseline is £3 million, which, when compared with the 1983–84 cash limit of £3.218 million, represents a reduction of 6.8 per cent. The £3 million for 1984–85 excludes a contribution of £35,000 from DAFS for the hills and upland work at Bronydd Mawr. If this is added, the percentage cut is reduced to 5.7. Secondly——

My Lords, surely on those figures the noble Earl has just given one year, and he has not dealt with the cutting out of the barley.

My Lords, I shall come to cutting out the barley if the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, will bear with me.

Secondly, the Agricultural and Food Research Council, following its strategic review of programmes, has decided that spring barley breeding at the station must be stopped in 1984–85. This will leave the Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge and the Scottish Crop Research Institute at Dundee with responsibility for breeding barley in the AFRC. The Welsh Plant Breeding Station will continue to survey cereal pathogens and to conduct trials of advanced barley lines developed at the other institutes. The most promising advanced barley lines in the station's present programme will continue to be assessed. Annual savings of £200,000 are expected to be achieved within two years as a result of this reduction. Fourteen posts will be lost, though of these, three retirements and three redeployments are already in prospect.

On a more positive note, so far as the Welsh Plant Breeding Station is concerned, there has been a substantial increase since 1980 in the station's work on hills and uplands in collaboration with the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service. The station has gradually extended its traditional role of breeding improved forage crop varieties to studying animal performance and to general agronomic work on hill and upland pastures.

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but it is not right that the speech should continue without the noble Earl agreeing that if you add £200,000 saved on the barley to the other savings that he has already mentioned, you get 17 per cent.

My Lords, I shall have to have another look at my figures. As I shall say in answer to a question later, the savings in barley will be used to support new work on hill farms. If the noble Lord will be patient, again, all will be explained. Perhaps I am turning into a conjuror, as the noble Viscount said, and at the end everything will come out.

The noble and learned Lord doubts it! Several noble Lords have mentioned the fact that the Principality is famous for its hill farming. I think that my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, declared an interest in that both benefit from it. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said that it is a country that depends so much on grasses. The Agricultural and Food Research Council has encouraged this diversification and last summer helped the station to acquire the lease of a 164 hectare upland farm, Bronydd Mawr, near Trecastle, Powys. The farm will be used for new work on pastures, animal performance and systems studies jointly with the Hill Farming Research Organisation in Edinburgh. The importance which the council attaches to this new initiative is evidenced by the supplementation of the station's budget this year by £159,000 for setting up costs together wth £7,000 for farm buildings. In 1984–85 further sums are being allocated for these purposes. I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture also intends to redeploy money saved from the cessation of the station's spring barley programme to support this new programme.

I was asked a great number of questions. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies I believe, asked me 10 questions. It was rather like one of those quizzes where, in order to win the 64,000 dollars, one question is in eight parts. I shall wade through and see how I get on. His first question was to ask when the AFRC gave approval to the corporate plan, whether it was aware that 26 scientific posts would be made compulsorily redundant to achieve the savings required at the WPBS. Yes, I understand that all AFRC institutes drew up plans for programme reductions in 1984–85. The corporate plan anticipates the loss of about 300 posts by 1986–87 as a result of the financial shortfall to which I have referred and a loss of a further 500 by 1986–87 as a result of programme restructuring.

His second question was: when did the Welsh Office first become aware of the scale and consequences of the budget-led cuts, and what representations were made by it to the AFRC? The Secretary of State for Wales shares with his ministerial colleagues responsibility for decisions on the level of support for agricultural research. Reductions in the provison being made for the Welsh Plant Breeding Station are in line with the overall reductions being proposed.

As to the incidence of the cuts, the hills and uplands research programme has the full backing of the Welsh Office. It has been devised in co-operation with the WPBS and with the agricultural departments of the University College of Wales. It has been given priority by the AFRC. To achieve the overall savings and to create headroom for this new initiative, hard decisions have had to be taken, and the spring barley breeding programme at Aberystwyth has been abandoned, although testing of spring barley strains at Aberystwyth will continue.

My Lords, will the noble Earl clarify one point that he made about Bronydd Mawr? He said that the budgetary allowance in respect of Bronydd Mawr had brought the percentage down to 7 per cent. Would he say whether the budgetary allowance to Bronydd Mawr is a recurring one or whether it is an ad hoc grant? As I understand it, the money for Bronydd Mawr is an ad hoc grant and will not be repeated, in which event, of course, our argument that the percentage cut is nearer 17 per cent. is the right one.

My Lords, the importance that the AFRC attaches to the new work on hill and upland pastures is evidenced by the supplementation of the WPBS 1983–84 cash limit by £159,000 for setting-up costs, together with an additional £7,000 for farm buildings. Similarly, in 1984–85 the sum of £110,000 is being allocated for further setting-up costs, and about £186,000 for farm buildings, roadways, et cetera. So a total of £462,000 extra is being spent over the two years. I cannot, I am afraid, go beyond 1984–85.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question? Can the noble Earl say whether the expenditure at Bronydd Mawr over the next year and the following year is of a capital nature and non-recurrent?

Yes, my Lords, from the facts that I have given that seems to be the case, but I am not absolutely certain. I may be wrong, in which case I will have to write to the noble Lord. The figures that I read out seemed to be more of a capital nature.

My Lords, it appeared to me that the noble Earl was setting off the expenditure at Bronydd Mawr against the revenue cuts at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, Aberystwyth.

Yes, my Lords, I think I was. In trying to answer noble Lords' questions I have got into a bit of a muddle here with all the papers. I think that I have answered the first and second questions of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. Thirdly, he asked: when the budget-led cut decisions were proposed, what account, if any, was taken of the new remit of the station? Full account of the new remit was taken both by the station and by the council. The council is providing £500,000 over two years and four new posts for new work on hills, uplands and permanent pastures. So there will be four new posts provided up there, which perhaps contradicts a little of what I said in answer to the noble Lord's last question.

My Lords, it would appear to me that the new scientific posts at Bronydd Mawr will amount to two or, at most, four, whereas at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station there will be a reduction of at least 26, and possibly 40. Therefore, if the scientific staff at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station are reduced by 25 to 40, how can they undertake the expanding work which is anticipated at Bronydd Mawr?

My Lords, the AFRC and MAFF are fully committed to the WPBS new initiative on hills and uplands. Any requirement for expertise in animal nutrition, et cetera, will be provided either by redeploying existing resources at WPBS or by additional funds, subject to availability.

No, my Lords, I am not going to give way. The idea of an Unstarred Question is that the Minister may reply at the end. If the matter is put down in the form of a Question at Question Time, then I understand that the Minister may answer supplementaries. But this is being turned into a mixture between the two, and I will not give way again. I am doing my best to answer the noble Lord's questions.

I turn to the fourth question which the noble Lord asked me. Perhaps he will forgive me if I do not read out the question before I answer it, because noble Lords can check in Hansard that the noble Lord did give numbers for all his questions as he went through, and this will save a little time.

The answer to his fourth question is as follows. I understand that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland has yet to announce allocations to the Hill Farming Research Organisation and the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1984–85. The budget of the Grasslands Research Institute is £3.284 million in 1983–84 and £3.250 million in 1984–85. Thereafter, as the corporate plan makes clear, animal production studies at the institute and at the National Institute of Research and Dairying are to be consolidated.

The budget of the Plant Breeding Institute is £3.146 million in 1983–84, £3.140 million in 1984–85, £3.15 million in 1985–86 and £3.23 million in 1986–87. No redundancies are proposed at the Grasslands Research Institute. The Plant Breeding Institute will lose 22½ posts in all.

On Question No. 5, I understand that, in formulating the corporate plan, the AFRC considered with each institute director the scientific priority of each programme and made judgments accordingly, hearing in mind the overall level of savings which it knew it had to achieve. On Question No. 6, the director of the WPBS is, as we have heard, a professor of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. I understand that in the course of discussions leading to the formulation of the corporate plan, the director discussed details of scientific priorities with his consultative committee, whose membership includes the principal of the university college.

Question No. 7 was directed to the hills and upland work at Bronydd Mawr. I think that is a question on the barley. On Question No. 8, nothing that has so far emerged suggests that there are grounds for reviewing the decisions that have been made, either by the AFRC or by the WPBS. At the same time, in view of the intense feeling of the House. I think it would only be courteous of me and quite right that I should draw the attention of my three right honourable friends—that is, the Secretary of State for Wales, the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Education and Science—to the debates in your Lordships' House tonight.

Dealing with Question No. 9, funds for agricultural research are agreed by the appropriate departments. A change in the way in which they are determined would not increase the overall amount that is available. The funds which are being made available should enable the station to respond to the new opportunities that are arising.

On the final question, No. 10, agricultural research in Scotland is mainly funded by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland needs to assess the priority which he attaches to agricultural research against other priority areas in his programme in deciding how much money to allow agricultural research. If a similar system were introduced for agricultural research in Wales, it would not necessarily result in an increase in the money available for that purpose. There would certainly be a countervailing loss of the close co-ordination between research in England and Wales which exists under the present system.

Northern Ireland is set somewhat apart from Great Britain in nearly all aspects of public expenditure. Although there are arguments both ways, a change such as that proposed would not produce any net benefit for Wales or the wider national interest. Assurances have been given that the other reductions have been made in areas of lower priority. They will not affect the capacity of the station to undertake its work effectively.

I think that that answers all 10 questions of the noble Lord. Lord Prys-Davies. There were various other questions asked and points that were made. I believe it was the noble Lord. Lord Elystan-Morgan, who asked what account had been taken of cuts already made at the WPBS in the last five years, and several noble Lords mentioned the way in which Wales had been shabbily treated over the last few years. That is just not true. If the 1979–80 base line is inflated by the growth in the retail price index and compared to the 1983–84 cash limit, it will be seen that the WPBS budget has increased in purchasing power by 18 per cent. over the five-year period.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady White, and also the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund- Davis, asked me how the reduction in funding at the WPBS for 1984–1985 compared with that being experienced at other AFRC institutes. The WPBS is experiencing almost exactly the average percentage cut, as is Rothamstead Experimental Station, the council's oldest and largest institute.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, also asked why Wales is bearing an unfair share of the AFRC's cuts. One of the things I should most like to try to convey to the House is that this assumption is just not correct. Over the period from 1979–1980 to 1983–84, the Welsh share of the recurrent expenditure increased from 3·65 per cent. to 3·75 per cent., whereas the allocation to the rest of the United Kingdom fell from 96·35 per cent. to 96·25 per cent. The programme reductions now being implemented will not affect the national balance.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for going back on his statement that he would not give way. Does he think that 3·6 per cent. of the United Kingdom figure is a fair and proper figure for a country nation that represents 5·1 per cent. of the human population of the United Kingdom, 10 per cent. of its land surface and something like 12 per cent. of its animal population?

My Lords, this is one of the first questions I asked when I received my briefing and I found out the reason. The reason why there are nine institutes in Scotland and only one in Wales is mostly historical. It was only the good and great Sir George Stapleton who started one in Wales, whereas there were nine just men and good who did the same in Scotland and 22 in England, and that is a fact. People may not think it very equitable, but had there been some rather more generous landlords, or landowners, in Wales the situation might have been the other way round. That is the reason for the budget. If you only have one institute you cannot expect to have the same percentage as the 22 in England or nine in Scotland.

I think that I have answered all the questions I have been asked. I have tried to stress the importance that the AFRC are placing on the new hill farm and the work that will go on there. In conclusion, I suggest to noble Lords that the programme changes at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station should be seen in a positive light, in the wider context of the AFRC's need to maintain flexibility at a time of declining budgets, and of the evolution of the station's programme away from a relatively narrow base of plant breeding.

The station will retain its roles of having the sole responsibility in the United Kingdom for oat breeding and for breeding improved forage crop varieties. It will also be extending its role in studying animal peformance and in general agronomic work on hill and upland pastures. The station will also continue to make an important contribution to the council's priority programmes on genetic manipulation and photosynthesis. I truly hope that noble Lords will be reassured that the work of the station is indeed being broadly safeguarded and promoted.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes past ten o'clock.