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7.23 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I thank all those who have contributed to what I have found to be a very interesting debate, and I thank particularly my noble friend the Minister for his contribution and for the government response to our report.

Perhaps I may very briefly—because indeed the brevity of the speeches throughout this debate has been exemplary—make two or three points. In his stimulating contribution, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, referred to the German model. I think the committee would have had a lot of sympathy with that had we produced the report in 1991 or thereabouts. Instead, we are looking at the DRA four years into its existence, and that is very different. If the radical solution of which the noble and gallant Lord urges at least consideration and which he feels we should have looked at more carefully had been the answer, it should have been an answer four years ago, not now. We looked very carefully at the quality of the science and the need to try to ensure that that science delivers relevant research, particularly for its own purposes and the Ministry of Defence. We were not sure that yet another uprooting would be helpful.

My noble friend Lord Trefgarne referred to the issue of privatisation and seemed to imply that there was a self-denying ordinance on the committee not to look at this issue. That is far from the case. A number of people gave evidence on the ownership of the agency, and that was mainly in terms of whether it should remain in the ownership of the Ministry of Defence. Our terms of reference were as wide as you like: we were simply conducting an inquiry into the Defence Research Agency. This is very much a case of the dog that did not bark. Very few people referred to privatisation—

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although it is true that the Minister himself did so. And Sir Peter Kemp in his written evidence reminded us that at the time when the DRA was created privatisation had been quite a live issue. However, throughout all the written evidence that we received—and it was a large amount—there simply was no request for privatisation. That is why we did not take that line of inquiry very far.

Lastly, a very forceful and valid point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, when he referred politely to the "Alphabet soup" throughout this report. I refer the noble Lord to page 41 where, I am horrified to count, the number of acronyms comes to 60. I am afraid that that is the culture in which the Ministry of Defence lives. The noble Lord will remember from his days in the services just how widespread initials were, and they remain so. All I can say is that he read out to great effect one particularly awful paragraph. However, if he looks, for instance, at what SCIENCE (which you would think was a perfectly good word) really means—it is referred to on page 41—he will

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realise that in real life it is even worse than as an acronym, so perhaps we were wise to keep to the acronym in that respect.

The noble Lord asked me to refer to another point, and perhaps with your Lordships' indulgence I may briefly do so. If the DTI is not funding the research establishments within the Defence Research Agency as much as we would wish—and it is not—we look then to the Office of Science and Technology. The problem with the Office of Science and Technology is that it does not have the money. Nevertheless, it was set up two (or is it three?) years ago with the remit to try to co-ordinate research throughout government. We believe that there is a job to be done. I listened with great interest to what my noble friend the Minister said. I still believe that perhaps his ministry and the Office of Science and Technology could look carefully at this point. I therefore obviously welcome the appointment of Sir William Stewart to which my noble friend referred.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes past seven o'clock.

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