Kennedy backs down over manifesto plan to scrap science research subsidies

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The Liberal Democrats have been forced to scrap a policy to abolish subsidies for scientific research after a revolt by MPs who feared it would make them look like Luddites.

The Liberal Democrats have been forced to scrap a policy to abolish subsidies for scientific research after a revolt by MPs who feared it would make them look like Luddites.

Earlier, Labour attacked Liberal Democrat plans to scrap the Department for Trade and Industry and to abolish the DTI's science budget.

Yesterday Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman, was forced to issue a formal statement pledging that the party had a "commitment to fund scientific research" including "blue skies scientific research".

The statement came as Steve Norris, who stood as Tory candidate for Mayor of London, warned that the Liberal Democrats could overtake the Tories at the next election and that the Conservatives had no "automatic right" to be the main opposition party. "The worst of all possible worlds would be to see the Lib Dems actually vault over the Tories and be in second place in the British political spectrum," he said in an interview for GMTV.

Vince Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, had made it clear the party would scrap state funding for private companies engaged in research, on the ground that they could pay for it themselves.

But the policy infuriated other Liberal Democrat MPs who at a meeting this week expressed disquiet about the policy. "There were a lot of concerns about this and we have dealt with it. We have changed the policy after a lot of us made our views clear,'' said one MP.

Yesterday the Liberal Democrats issued a formal statement saying: "Our commitment to abolish the DTI does not mean that government research funding will be cut.''

He said the party was "fully committed to universities and blue skies scientific research" and would pump £14bn into the science budget in the next Parliament. But the decision to change the policy on the eve of the Liberal Democrat party conference will raise questions about its funding proposals.

At the Liberal Democrat conference there is also expected to be further tension over Europe. Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, distanced himself from an assertion by Chris Davies, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, that enlargement of the EU should be halted until it is strengthened.

The key issues at the party conference are: rising personal debt; greater control over the security services by Parliament; dissatisfaction with the Hutton report into the death of the weapons scientist David Kelly; a motion calling for the phased withdrawal of British troops from Iraq once an elected government takes office; a motion to create a border police force; and a motion to reward green drivers and households and punish polluters.

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