The spiralling cost of Britain's membership of Cern, the Geneva-based particle physics laboratory, caused by fluctuations in the exchange rate, should be borne by the Treasury and not the science budget, says a report published yesterday.
Members of the House of Commons science and technology select committee say Britain's subscription to Cern through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council increased from Pounds 56 million in 1994/95 to Pounds 66.5 million in 1995/96. This year it will be well over Pounds 70 million. The fluctuations should be met by Treasury, say MPs.
The MPs are concerned that the council's heavy subscription commitment to Cern is leaving it with barely enough to enable British physicists to take part in experiments on the Large Hadron Collider programme.
A further problem has been caused by last month's explosion of the Ariane 5 launcher with four Cluster satellites on board. The European Space Agency is exploring ways of developing a follow-up mission. If a new mission is recommended later this year, ESA members will still have to find money for the instrumentation required. PPARC can only provide its share of resources for lost instrumentation if it abandons other projects.
The cost of any United Kingdom instrumentation on a mission to replace Cluster should be borne by the Government's centrally held Contingency Fund, says the report.
MPs consider there is a "good case" for a general increase in the science budget. Total funding of science has risen in real terms over the last ten years but it has not kept pace with the growth in GDP. If funding for science had grown in line with GDP it would be Pounds 280 million higher than its current figure.