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Science and Innovation

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 15 June 2006

1. What assessment he has made of the potential impact on the economy of Government encouragement of investment in science and innovation. (77539)

With science spending doubling since 1997 and research and development credits now worth £1.5 billion to business, Britain has seen 200 spin-off businesses created each year compared with 70 10 years ago. To support Britain as the world’s best location for science, the Minister for Science and Innovation is announcing today that he will build on our proposed new institute for energy and environmental research and the single budget for health research by inviting the Royal Society to create new international science fellowships to bring the world’s best scientists to the United Kingdom.

The House might be interested to know on the day of the national service of thanksgiving to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s 80th birthday that, in addition to a crown piece to celebrate her diamond wedding anniversary, there will be two £2 coins, one to mark the Union of 1707 and a second to mark the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his recent visit to Ellesmere Port, which was truly welcomed by the Vauxhall work force and management. What steps does he intend to take to enable UK manufacturers such as Vauxhall to position themselves so that the UK can take a leading role in future vehicles beyond the internal combustion engine?

To visit Ellesmere Port, to have confidence that the workers there can win the next model for Ellesmere Port and to know that 1.6 million cars are now being produced in Britain is to have faith in the future of British manufacturing, as long as it is modern and efficient.

In addition to all the other measures that we are taking, including the new institute to study environmental and energy technologies, there will be capital allowances available for investment in environmental technologies related to fuel. We are also working with Brazil, South Africa and Mozambique to develop bioethanol from sugar, which will contribute to our meeting our renewables obligation. We are determined to have the most environmentally efficient means of producing fuel in future.

The Northwest Development Agency has committed more than £50 million to develop Daresbury science and innovation campus. We now have a return on that investment, with 22 ultra-high-tech companies based at the centre. Will my right hon. Friend come to see world-class science in action at Daresbury and discuss further investment opportunities?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has worked hard to promote new investment for that important scientific campus. I understand that the Northwest Development Agency is investing about £50 million in that campus, which is one of two science and innovation campuses. Not only are 22 businesses operating there, but considerable new infrastructure investment is being made to attract businesses for the future. That reflects our recognition that, in modern manufacturing, we need to promote advanced science and technologies so that in future we lead the world in key technologies. The north-west is an important part of the new investment.

How does the Chancellor explain the fact that, on the one hand, 80 university science departments have closed in the past six years because of the squeeze on university research and teaching of science while, on the other, he is handing out £1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money every year to private companies, which have access to shareholders’ funds and capital markets and which have rewarded his generosity by increasing R and D not one iota? Is there not a fundamental lack of coherence in the Government’s approach to science and innovation?

The lack of coherence is in the Liberal tax and spending plans that were announced only a few days ago. There seems to be a £20 billion gap in the spending plans of the hon. Gentleman’s party.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the £1.5 billion in R and D tax credits so that Britain is a scientific leader in future. I hope that he supports our doubling of the science budget for the United Kingdom, so that instead of being behind the rest of the world as we were under the Conservatives, we are catching up and hope to lead the world. I hope that he also supports the money that we are putting into universities. It seems to me that in every part of the country the Liberals are making promises to spend on universities, science and R and D tax credits, but he must now explain his £20 billion spending gap.

Who is the Chancellor fooling when he boasts about extra investment in science, given that the permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills told the Select Committee yesterday that overall funding was going to get tighter? If total education and science spending is to increase more slowly than transport spending, is it any wonder that we end up with 15 million people who the Secretary of State for Education and Skills says would not pass maths GCSE?

We will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman. When we came into power, spending per pupil was £2,500. It is now £5,000 per pupil. We have doubled spending per pupil. When we came into power, spending on university students had been falling under the Conservative Government. It is now rising as a result of what we are doing. We have set the ambition that we will increase spending per pupil. By 2011, capital spending per pupil will equal that in private schools. I would have thought that Opposition Members would want to support our ambitions in this area.

Will my right hon. Friend remember when he listens to Twickenham Man that Twickenham does not have a university? Huddersfield does have a university. I was with Huddersfield, Bradford and York universities only last Friday. They are enthusiastic about the innovation, the science, the technology and the investment that has been going on over the past nine years. Will my right hon. Friend remember that I was told, “You don’t look at a university campus to find an entrepreneur.”? We need new ways to bring more entrepreneurial spirit and activity on to university campuses.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who chairs the Education and Skills Select Committee. He will be aware of the fact which I set out initially in the main answer to the question. It is that 200 companies are spun off from universities every year. That is three times what was achieved under the Conservative Government before us. There are 20 companies now listed on the stock exchange—this is in the past two years—that have a combined capital of £1 billion. The idea that Britain is not moving forward, as has been suggested by the shadow Chancellor, in high technology and science-based industries is completely wrong. We are making considerable advances and we shall continue to do so, but it depends on us making the commitment to both education and science, which we have done, but which other parties seem unprepared to do.

I am sure that the Chancellor will join me in congratulating three schools in my constituency that have received prestigious awards under the young enterprise programme for innovation. There has been a difficulty with funding throughout the United Kingdom. Has that problem been rectified? Lastly, I wish the right hon. Gentleman well for his trip to the Province on Monday.

I am looking forward to visiting Northern Ireland on Monday and meeting representatives of all political parties. No doubt I shall hear some spending representations from many of them.

The enterprise insight programme in Northern Ireland has been a tremendous success. It has encouraged young people to take up business opportunities and many have started their own businesses once they have left school or college. At the same time, throughout the United Kingdom, thousands of school children are involved in enterprise programmes, particularly as part of enterprise week. We are determined to continue to fund them. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about funding for his area.