§ Mr. John MacKay
A total of 157 letters from organisations and members of the public have been received. There is widespread support for the concept of the new institute. One hundred and thirty-four of the letters are in favour of Aberdeen and 23 have supported the objective assessment of the options, with some in favour of the location in Edinburgh.
§ Mr. Bruce
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread concern, not only among the staff of the Macaulay institute but worldwide, that the remit for the new institute will be drawn in such a way as effectively to end much of the excellent work done there? Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that that would he totally against the assurances given by Lord Gray? Will he recognise that the excellent work done by the Macaulay institute can be continued only if the centre is retained in Aberdeen?
§ Mr. MacKay
The concept of the merger has been generally welcomed, not least by the staff of both institutes. I accept that there is controversy about the location. That is why an objective assessment of the options is under way.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
I am sure that my hon. Friend did not want to mislead the House by saying that the concept had been agreed. It may well have been agreed. It has been agreed that the Macaulay should remain in Aberdeen. That is the important factor. This is not a Conservative or Liberal problem. The problem is fully recognised by all Members representing the Grampian region. Will my hon. Friend ensure that when the feasibility study is concluded, which will be soon, it will be publicised in such a manner as to ensure that it is seen to be fair and in favour of the Macaulay?
§ Mr. MacKay
My hon. Friend has an interesting concept of fairness. I recognise that both Aberdeen and Bush estate have attractions. The feasibility study will evaluate those attractions, covering the scientific, administrative and financial aspects. We should await the study before coming to any conclusions.
§ Mr. Eadie
Does the Minister agree that a little correction is needed here in relation to geography? The proposition is that the organisation should be sited either in Aberdeen or in Midlothian, and Edinburgh is not Midlothian, and Midlothian is not Edinburgh. Does he further agree that as a promise was given to my constituents on the Bush estate that there would be a feasibility study to decide on the technical merit of the sites, the case for Bush estate must be considered. I demand justice and fairness for my constituents, based on the promise that the Minister gave.
§ Mr. MacKay
It is perfectly clear that whatever decision is arrived at will not be satisfactory to both sides of this argument. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that Bush estate is in Midlothian, and he makes a fair point about the advantage of Bush. However, as I said earlier, there are advantages on both sides and the feasibility study ought to lead us to the conclusion of where the balance of advantage lies for the future of the service.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
This has absolutely nothing to do with rationalisation and everything to do with cuts in spending on agricultural research and sacking 100 members of staff. Is the Minister aware that he and his 939 colleagues stand condemned for creating an atmosphere of mistrust and fear and for forcing these two excellent research institutes to fight each other for their survival? Will he give an undertaking to consider the constructive proposal put forward by the Civil Service unions for a new Macaulay institute based on both the sites, at the Bush and at Craigiebuckler, in order to meet the growing need for land use research throughout Scotland?
§ Mr. MacKay
I think that shows that the hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways. As I said earlier, there is fairly general agreement on the sense of a merger between the two bodies, although there is disagreement about where the other organisation should be. The Government are committed to a comprehensive programme of research and development and, even after the reduction of funding, about £30 million a year of taxpayers' money will be spent in this field.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Does the Minister accept that there is no general agreement on the need for a merger? It is opposed by both institutes and by people who know the excellent work that both of them have done over a long period, so there is no reason why the question of amalgamation should have arisen at this time, apart from the Government's plans to cut them down. Will he, in the interest of an informed dialogue among all concerned, make public the remit of the steering group? The Scottish Office will make the decision at the end of the day, and everybody should have the fullest information.
§ Mr. MacKay
The right hon Gentleman should read again the correspondence that he has received and he will find that, as I have said, there is general agreement on the principle that it would advance and help the cause of research if these two institutions were merged. The question of the location remains to be decided, and I think that we should await the review.