Tuesday 15 January 2008
[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]
Elderly Mentally Ill People
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Liz Blackman.]
I am grateful to have the opportunity to open this Adjournment debate. As is often the case, I sought it because of particular local circumstances, and I shall turn in due course to the institution about which I am worried, the St. John’s hospital centre for the elderly mentally ill with particularly challenging conditions. It is under threat, as are similar units in other parts of the country. As I have been fortunate enough to obtain a long debate, I shall also take the opportunity to make general arguments about how the NHS approaches elderly mental illness. I wish to express appreciation of the various charities involved—Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Alzheimer’s Society, Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists—all of which have done admirable work in the field. That work all points to similar conclusions.
I shall continue in this debate a line of argument that I developed in an Adjournment debate last April, which was also a long debate and gave me an opportunity to mention a problem affecting Twickenham in particular as well as the wider treatment of mental health. From that, Members can infer that mental health is probably the most important NHS issue in my corner of London.
I shall make some general arguments before proceeding to the particulars of my local community. We are dealing with a phenomenon on a massive scale. Crude figures suggest that about 3.5 million people are loosely defined under the general heading of having mental illness in old age. Of course, such big abstract figures mean little unless they are translated into the cases of individual human beings. Most of us have ageing parents, and several people in this room will know exactly what elderly mental illness means. My late mother, who died a couple of years ago, spent the last few months of her life not having the faintest idea who I was, talking nonsense in our conversations and, in her brief, fleeting moments of lucidity, expressing the wish to die. Those are all symptoms that many people encounter.
One in five people over 80 have senile dementia, and two in five have depressive illnesses. My mother had both, as many people do, although they are often not properly diagnosed. The numbers are enormous, and all the people involved in work and analysis on the matter are absolutely confident that they will increase to what one charity has called pandemic proportions. Some 600,000 to 700,000 people suffer from the particular condition called dementia, a word that is often used loosely to refer to any form of absent-mindedness and confusion but which actually has a specific clinical connotation. That is expected to double in the next 30 years. Depression among elderly people is much more widespread and will double by the middle of the century to something in the order of 5 million people. There will be a total mentally ill elderly population of about 7 million—an enormous number of people.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I believe that he is referring to the report and analysis produced by the UK inquiry into mental health and well-being in later life. No doubt he will give in some detail the figures involved, so I shall not do that. Age Concern supported that investigation and is deeply concerned about depression and mental well-being linked to the supply of decent-quality stoma and incontinence products to homes, which some people find a taboo issue that is difficult to talk about. Does he share my concern that the Government have taken their eye off the ball on that and, in seeking to save a little money, are putting pressure on elderly people that will cause depression and reduce the quality of their life as they get older? We should consider that carefully.
I have had correspondence on that from quite a few constituents. I must say that I have not seen the link with elderly mental illness. That might reflect the hon. Gentleman’s creativity in finding an opportunity to bring it into the discussion, or there may well be a genuine link that I have not seen, which I would fully acknowledge.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I appreciate his educating me on that point. I had not seen that link, which is clearly important.
There are several other examples of what the statistics mean in reality. One thing that particularly horrifies me is how elderly mental illness translates to high suicide rates among the old. Apparently, for women, over 75 is the age category with the highest suicide level, much higher than in other age groups. The situation is not very different for men. In turn, that often translates into stress and depressive illness for people who have to care for the elderly mentally ill in their own homes. The problems are not confined to the elderly mentally ill themselves.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate, which is a successor to an excellent debate secured by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) a few months ago. As he says, dementia is sometimes considered synonymous with mental ill health among the elderly, but he has rightly widened the debate to include depression, anxiety, delirium, problems with drugs and alcohol and so on. We must transfer the care of mentally ill people in an older age group to general hospitals in many circumstances, as they are often left to vegetate in entirely inappropriate circumstances. Will the hon. Gentleman develop that point?
I shall. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is completely wrong that people vegetate in the community with unsatisfactory informal caring arrangements. Many people are simply never diagnosed, so hospital treatment is an improvement for them. However, it is often not general but specialist hospitals where the best treatment can be found.
I wish to explore the impact on the NHS of this massive pandemic, as it has been described. I was staggered by figures that emerged showing that, far from being on the periphery of the health service, the matter is at the centre of it. Some 40 per cent. of people who visit general practitioners are elderly people with some form of mental illness.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate.
On the burden on the national health service, does he agree that one problem that arises frequently is that older people who are admitted to hospital for a physical injury are then discovered also to have mental conditions. The physical injury, such as a broken hip resulting from a fall, often accelerates the mental condition that was previously undiagnosed.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that mental illness comes to light as a result of examinations that take place. I am not a medic and do not understand the mechanism involved, but it also appears that after elderly people have had operations, many of them lapse into confusion as a consequence of the treatment. The problem is enlarged as a result of admission to hospital.
In terms of the burden on the NHS, about 40 per cent. of visits to GPs and 50 per cent. of all hospital beds are accounted for by elderly people who have some form of mental condition. Such people also account for 60 per cent. of all residential home places. So, about half of the health and social care economy is taken up by people who have some form of elderly mental illness. I have found it difficult to get my head around that.
Age Concern did an economic study on the overall impact of elderly mental illness and concluded that the total cost to the health and social care economy was greater than that of cancer, stroke and heart disease combined. When I saw that in print, I thought that it could not possibly be right and that somebody was doing some creative accounting. On reflection, however, it was clear why that is the case: those acute conditions may be deeply traumatic, but often involve only short, albeit expensive, stays in hospital, whereas elderly mentally ill people often need years of either care in residential homes or informal caring at home. Such care implies costs in relation to the loss of work opportunities and to carers and the NHS system. Thus, on reflection, figures that seemed staggeringly implausible appear to be right.
How has the NHS responded to that enormous challenge? There has clearly been a growth in awareness of the problem over time. I was first exposed to the problem four decades ago, when, as a student, I looked for work in the vacation and was directed to the local mental hospital to do some nursing. I was given a posting on the geriatric ward, and the experience has stayed with me ever since. I acquired, among many other things, a lifelong admiration for the professional nursing staff who were, under appallingly difficult conditions, giving dignity to people who had lost their mental, and often physical, faculties. They showed respect for and gave care and attention to people who could not reciprocate or express their appreciation. They soldiered on in difficult conditions and played an admirable role.
The extent to which the problem was swept under the carpet, in that generation, is striking. Even in that enlightened mental hospital, which was doing experimental work on psychotherapy and adventurous work with children, the ward was a forgotten corner of the hospital. When I had been there for a few weeks, I noticed that nobody ever visited the patients; their relatives had long since forgotten them and did not want to know anything about them.
As a society, we have become more aware, open and honest over the years about such conditions. It has therefore obtained much more attention within the health service, and rightly so. None the less, many charitable organisations that have looked at the treatment of elderly mental ill health have expressed considerable concern about the way in which it is being approached even now. Age Concern carried out the important study that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) mentioned, which explained the scale of the problem and concluded that 3.5 million people did not obtain satisfactory support and service. It also noted that half of the mentally ill elderly population was never properly diagnosed, so there were major failures within the system. Help the Aged conducted another inquiry and came up with the rather stark conclusion that age discrimination is explicit within the system, with over-65s being subject to a service regime different from that for under-65s.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists was even more harsh in its assessment of the way in which the system is dealing with the problem. Its review reached two conclusions:
“Older People’s mental health services, which have been among the most innovative, are being cynically dismantled;”
“There is clear age discrimination within Government health policy.”
I was slightly shocked to read that. When I became a Member, about 10 years ago, I introduced a ten-minute Bill on age discrimination in the NHS, which was then rampant and fairly explicit. It is clear that, with ministerial guidance, many aspects of age discrimination in the NHS have disappeared and that there is much better practice and awareness of the issue. However, leading charities are alleging that age discrimination continues on a systematic scale within the field of mental health.
There is a small beacon of hope among all that negative analysis. I look hopefully to the Minister because he made a speech last August that everyone in the field has hailed as a positive breakthrough in the Government’s approach on this issue. His speech has been widely and favourably quoted, and I shall pick out a few lines to demonstrate why it is a good framework for judging the way forward. He said:
“I am determined that this disease is brought out of the shadows…By concentrating on improving awareness, diagnosis and managing the disease, we will help transform the lives of those with dementia by improving their quality of life...This is an exciting opportunity to make sure the knowledge and expertise we now have about dementia care and treatment makes a difference to the lives of thousands of people throughout England.”
“By the summer of 2008, Ministers will announce a transformation plan to ensure dementia services are improved in all parts of the country.”
I think that everyone in the field drew a great deal of comfort and optimism from that positive and helpful statement. I hope that the test applied to my local facility will be whether it meets the strategic approach that the Minister helpfully set out in his August speech.
Our local circumstances are not unique to Twickenham. I discovered from the press cuttings that there are similar problems with the closure of specialist elderly mental health units around the country, including units in north Staffordshire, Truro, Sutton and Tolworth, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). Perhaps the closure that has attracted the most attention is one in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where the leading champion of the local community is a member of the Government, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). He has led the organisation of a large petition and has spoken to Ministers about the issue, achieving some success in communicating the problems with the closure. So, our problem is not unique; indeed it is rather similar to the situation in Gloucester.
St. John’s hospital is a small facility in the middle of Twickenham. It was established in the mid-19th century by the Twining family. When Elizabeth Twining died, she said that it was
“forever thereafter to be used as and for the purpose of a hospital or dispensary”.
It had a somewhat mixed existence and, in 1995, a purpose-built, new facility was established to cater for the needs of people who are what I call band 1 elderly mentally ill: people with severe dementia and challenging behaviour. There are two wings to the small hospital: Cole Park lodge, which provided respite facilities, and Marble lodge, which provides extended care and initially had 18 beds. I shall talk about Marble lodge. I stress that the facility was newly launched just over a decade ago. Indeed, a key player in its establishment was my Conservative predecessor, Toby Jessel. His sister, Lady Panufnik, was the chairman of the League of Friends. In a bipartisan spirit, I was invited to play a role in support of the League of Friends. It has been seen ever since, by many psychiatrists, as one of the great successes of the local health service.
The unit has a different philosophy from that of many centres for the treatment of the elderly mentally ill. Its underlying philosophy is quality of life without medication. The significance of that is that most elderly mentally ill are, to put it crudely, stuffed to the eyeballs with drugs in order to calm their behaviour. Those of us who visit residential homes will see elderly people sitting around in a dazed state, often full of drugs that are used, in essence, to sedate them.
The hon. Gentleman may know that the all-party group on dementia, which I chair, will begin in the next month or so an inquiry into precisely the point that he raises about the use of neuroleptic or anti-psychotic drugs that are designed primarily for the treatment of schizophrenia, not dementia or other mental illnesses of the elderly. Does he agree that one of the most important issues to resolve is that drug prescriptions should be for the right drugs for the right period for the right conditions, and not simply to keep elderly mentally ill patients quiet for the benefit of staff and other residents?
That is exactly the point, but I would go beyond it. The philosophy that underlies the unit is not simply that of finding the right medication but that in many cases medication is actually unnecessary, and that, with sophisticated treatment, patients can be managed in a much more humane way and without extensive medication. The unit at St. John’s concentrates on two things: one is the built environment. That may sound rather fanciful, but enormous attention is paid to the design of the building, lighting and colours in order to introduce a calming environment.
Also, the unit is an oasis of peace. Instead of the noise that is frequently oppressive in many residential homes and general hospitals, great attention is paid to trying to keep patients calm at all times. Because the environment is carefully managed, patients are more easily managed. Even extreme conditions can be handled in a much more civilised and dignified way than is often the case when people are simply pumped with drugs.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. The Richmond and Twickenham primary care trust says that it will be able to halve the cost of St. John’s by privatising the service and contracting it out. How confident is he that the existing inspection arrangement will be able to detect a worsening in the quality of care in relation to the use of drugs? My own observations elsewhere in the country are that that type of approach is rather more common in privately run homes than in publicly run establishments. Is that a worry for him?
It is very worrying. The hon. Gentleman anticipates the key point that I shall shortly move on to, which is of concern to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who is also involved in this campaign. The simple point, as he said, is that of course one can halve the cost of treatment simply by sending patients off to an old folks’ home and pushing drugs into them. The fear is that that is what is envisaged.
I thank my colleague for giving way—he is being generous with his time—but I just want to pick up on that issue of cost. In one of the meetings that he and I had with the PCT, it became evident that the cost differential between a service contracted out to traditional care homes versus one in the NHS is partly caused by including in the NHS cost an allocation of a great deal of central overhead costs. I believe that my colleague would agree with that. However, if the service were tendered out to the private sector, that core overhead would not disappear. It would merely be reallocated to other programmes. In fact, it might even be that the service provided by the care homes would be more expensive in total to the NHS—the overhead costs would still be part of NHS costs—than continuing the service in its current structure. The accounting mechanism makes that apparent.
I thank my hon. Friend, who anticipates some of the points that I want to make in my concluding remarks. She is absolutely right: we are dealing with complex and often misleading systems of cost accounting in the NHS market, and the problem in this case arises from the fact that the costs are not merely irrational but completely opaque, because the NHS providers will not share with us how they have arrived at their cost assumptions.
Before I return to that point in my concluding remarks, may I add to one section of the narrative? Not merely is Marble lodge recognised as an enlightened institution, it was recognised as such in the local strategy for mental health that was developed as recently as 18 months ago. The local PCT, the local mental health provider—the South West London and St. George’s mental health NHS trust—and the local council embarked on a major strategic exercise involving a great deal of public consultation. It was an admirable, highly creditable NHS exercise designed to produce a strategy for mental health in the borough.
There were some controversial outcomes. Indeed, I raised the matter in Prime Minister’s Question Time with Mr. Blair when he was Prime Minister, but I am not here to deal with those controversies. What emerged from the strategy was that, whatever else had to change, Marble lodge—an admirable institution for the elderly mentally ill—should remain and, indeed, should be added to and strengthened.
That was where we were until a few months ago, when it gradually emerged, not through any formal announcement but through rumours and leaks from members of staff who were being encouraged to go elsewhere, that the PCT and the supplier of services, the mental health trust, had agreed that the facility should close. MPs and the council were not told. The information emerged from the system following an elaborate and very public public consultation that reached the opposite conclusion. I am bringing this to the Minister’s attention because of the unsatisfactory way in which that happened.
We became aware of the plans only because of the campaigning activities of an admirable individual, Mr. Paul Lamplugh, who is actually a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. The Minister may be aware of his name. His daughter, Suzy Lamplugh, disappeared 20 years ago, and, in their grief and distress, the family established a trust which later gave rise to the missing persons helpline. Its charitable work is acknowledged across the country. Unfortunately, Paul’s wife, Diana, who was the driving force behind that charitable work, had a major stroke in 2003 and lost much of her mind. She was recommended for treatment at Marble lodge and has been a patient there ever since. Paul Lamplugh sought to mobilise help from the two MPs for the borough and from councillors and others when he began to see what was happening.
My colleague and I have tried to construct exactly the logic that led to the decision to pull the plug on this admirable institution. It appears that two factors were involved. The first was that, as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) said a few moments ago, the PCT spotted that the unit cost of treating people in Marble lodge was twice that of the typical cost of a residential home for the elderly, which would normally cost £600 or £650 a week. Marble lodge was said to be costing twice that. I do not criticise the PCT for picking up on that. It is, after all, its job to obtain value for money for the health service, and it has a good reputation for purchasing good quality care for residents, and for maintaining financial balance. I do not criticise it for looking at the problem.
What has also contributed to the problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said, is that the provider has included costs that bear absolutely no relation to the real cost of providing the service. We cannot get to the bottom of this because the provider will not disclose the figures, but it seems to have incorporated administrative overheads from the headquarters in the costs. It also seems, as is often the case with large providers, that it is dominated by consultants and big hospitals with little interest in peripheral, albeit high quality, ancillary operations. It seems to be quite indifferent to the unit’s future. The problem is that the closure process is now well advanced. That is why I have brought the matter to a debate. The primary care trust has gone out to tender, despite protests from the council’s overview and scrutiny committee and from the carers and Members of Parliament.
Perhaps my hon. Friend would comment on the tender. From copies of the tender documents that we have seen, I think that he would agree that they do not even mention the highly challenging and severe nature of dementia in these patients, but in fact read as a standard tender for normal dementia cases.
My hon. Friend is right. That is one of the sources of the problem. As a result of the meeting that my hon. Friend and I had with the primary care trust, it has now been agreed that the carers should be represented in the tendering process. I acknowledge that, but none the less there appears to be no mechanism within the NHS for evaluating quality of care in relation to specialist services of this kind. How do we quantify the quality of life without medication? That is an important concept, but it is a nebulous one that does not have a figure attached to it and the accountants who are managing this process cannot get their heads round it or are fundamentally uninterested. How are these complex quality ideas to be built into the tendering process? That is a question for the Minister and for us locally and it is fundamental to the way in which this process comes out.
I am asking the Minister to look at this matter because the process is now well advanced. Tenders were sought in November and those are now being considered. There will be an assessment at the end of February. We are told that the unit will probably close in March. There has been no public consultation. We are told that, once the tender results have been announced, the council’s overview and scrutiny committee will be formally consulted. That is extremely perfunctory and very unsatisfactory and contrasts with the admirable public consultation on mental health 18 months ago. It is clear that the people in the primary care trust and the provider have determined that they want to shut this institution.
I want to make a specific request to the Minister. His own strategy will emerge in August in his strategy document. I would ask for this whole process, which is profoundly unsatisfactory, to be put on hold until there is an opportunity to test what is happening locally against the strategy that the Government are going to produce. I suspect that, having read the Minister’s speech in August, the Government have all the right ideas, are saying absolutely the right things and are setting exactly the right criteria. If that is so, we need to be able to judge what is happening locally against that strategy. I want some breathing space in order for that to happen.
I was struck by what my hon. Friend said about the absence of consultation and by his saying that it looks as if it will be only a formal consultation once we are presented with a fait accompli. Has he considered whether the way in which the bodies involved are proceeding meets with their statutory obligations on consultation with regard to a significant change in service provision?
I think that it probably does meet the statutory requirements and that is what is so worrying about it. It is so worrying because it is possible to meet the statutory requirements formally while wholly disregarding the spirit behind NHS consultation. I am sure that the people in the primary care trust, particularly, are well aware of their statutory requirements and will try to meet them. But it is possible to meet them while having minimal real consultation. That is the source of the problem.
I have a lot of sympathy with the case that the hon. Gentleman is making in a powerful and effective way, but I need to understand the question about consultation, because it is crucially important. Does he contend that every ward closure and every change of unit in the NHS throughout the country should be subject to extensive public consultation, as opposed to major reconfiguration of services locally? Is that now the policy of the Liberal Democrats? If that is so, they should say so up front in this Chamber.
I could not understand why it was possible to have a major consultation—a valid, meaningful one—on mental health locally, which came to one conclusion less than a year ago, while the primary care trust and the health provider came to the opposite conclusion with minimal consultation a few months subsequent to that. There is clearly a mismatch, not just in the decisions but in the processes and in respect of engaging the public. That is what concerns me and why I am mentioning it to the Minister. It would be unrealistic to say that all closures must be stopped. Perhaps at the end of the day something has to happen here, but it is unsatisfactory that the process should be rushed through in this way without an attempt to test it against the criteria that the Minister will establish in a few months.
I am not making this a party political point at all. As I have mentioned, one of the Minister’s colleagues is fighting a similar battle in Gloucester. In other parts of the country a stay has been put on the closure of some specialist, high-quality institutions for the elderly mental ill as a result of the local authorities being forced to consider things again.
I ask the Minister to take a personal interest in this matter to help us have it properly considered. Perhaps in a year we will come to the same conclusion, but the process by which this is happening is fundamentally unsatisfactory and shows up flaws in the tendering process, in the way that costs are accounted for and in the way in which quality is measured. I hope that those broader lessons, as well as the narrower ones, will be learnt.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing this debate and on raising again an issue of fundamental importance. He has a track record on this matter. He mentioned that he secured a ten-minute Bill right at the start of his time in this place, demonstrating a commitment to a Cinderella part of a Cinderella service that does not secure nearly enough attention from the public or from politicians of any party.
My hon. Friend presented a powerful case with regard to the facility in his area, Marble lodge, which serves his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer). It is extraordinary that, having gone through a full consultation process just 18 months ago and reaching the conclusion that the facility should continue to play a valuable part in local health services, a completely contradictory decision was taken only a short period afterwards. There is, inevitably, concern that the decision was driven more by cost saving than by quality.
I pay tribute to the organisations that fight tirelessly to keep such issues in the public mind, including Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Alzheimer’s Society and Mind. They operate in a difficult area and are constantly in touch with the Minister, who has the same view about the role that they play. Their work is of fundamental importance in securing improvements to services that are so vital in a civilised society.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a longish list of the organisations that are involved, one or two of which believe that there is significant age discrimination in the provision of mental health services, such that older people are not entitled to experience as wide a range of services as those in younger age groups. Does he believe that there is any meat in that allegation? Does he hope that the Minister will respond to that in winding up the debate?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, which I was going to cover. I understand that there is clear evidence of discrimination, not because the Government want that, but because of the way in which the system has ended up operating in too many parts of the country. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has done a lot of work to highlight key concerns.
I acknowledge the Minister’s commitment to improving the quality of the service. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred to a speech that the Minister made last summer, and I acknowledge his role in seeking to improve service provision. I do not intend to make a knocking, party political contribution; I want to raise issues of genuine concern, which mirrors what my hon. Friend said. I hope that the Minister will accept my comments in that light.
I acknowledge that there have been significant improvements in funding. We supported the increased investment in the health service, which has clearly benefited mental health services in many parts of the country. None the less, increased investment in funding for mental health has lagged behind. I appreciate that it depends partly on how that is measured, but it has lagged behind investment in some other parts of the health service, and that should be acknowledged and addressed, particularly because, as my hon. Friend said, it is self-evidently a growing problem. It looks as though it will be the greatest challenge to face us in funding health care and social care.
The disparity in funding was highlighted in the autumn pre-Budget report; on the same page there was reference to a 4 per cent. increase in funding for the health service, but to an increase of only 1 per cent. for social care. Support services—the infrastructure for support—for elderly, mentally ill people depend not only on funding support within the health service, but on social care support. In many parts of the country, social care is drifting into a state of crisis. The Library’s helpful debate pack refers to a report about the situation in Lincolnshire, where social care is pretty dismal, and crisis management is ineffective in partnership with other organisations such as the NHS. We must never neglect the problems of social care within the health service.
As well as funding increases lagging behind other areas of the health service, the drift into deficit has had an impact on many organisations within the NHS where the political imperative is to get them out of deficit. The Select Committee on Health highlighted the extent to which mental health services around the country have been disproportionately affected by cutbacks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park talked about distortions based on accounting principles, but I have been told by people working in the NHS that there is another distortion. With payment by results in the acute sector and the impact of targets to reduce waiting times—a worthy ambition—there is a tendency for money to be channelled disproportionately into acute treatment to meet the stringent waiting-time targets. Because payment by results does not operate within mental health, there is less money in the pot for primary care trusts to enter contractual arrangements with mental health trusts for the funding of mental health services, so PCTs ask the mental health trust to negotiate a reduction in the contract or in what it hopes to provide for mental health service funding. That seems to have happened in many parts of the country and, in turn, puts pressure on trusts’ mental health services.
I shall talk about the impact of the pressures on mental health services as a result of funding challenges. The Royal College of Psychiatrists provided a helpful briefing for the debate, and highlighted two issues. It said that old people’s mental health services are among the most innovative person-centred community services in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham used the same terms as the Royal College of Psychiatrists when he referred to services being cynically dismantled. The RCP also raised concerns about age discrimination.
I shall deal first with the assertion that specialist services for elderly, mentally ill people are being cynically dismantled. The royal college said that primary care trusts throughout the country seem to be transferring the care of older people with mental health problems to general psychiatric services. Age Concern has also raised specific concerns about that. Part of the justification for transferring specialist services for elderly, mentally ill people to general psychiatric services is to end age discrimination by providing the same service for all ages. The paradox is that dismantling specialist services for elderly people increases age discrimination, as the services provided are not appropriate, suitable or sufficiently specialist for the particular needs of elderly people with mental health problems.
That can happen in a countrywide health service, and I am not blaming the Government for masterminding the drive to apply general psychiatric services to everyone, and thus being responsible for an increase in age discrimination, but I urge the Minister to address what seems to be happening, and the concerns of many specialists and charitable organisations in the field.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists fears that we will end up with a second-rate service for elderly people with mental health problems, that we will lose specialisms because we will not have people with training in that area of mental health and that the end result will be an inferior service for those with mental health problems in their older years. The royal college draws attention to the fact that the national service framework for mental health has introduced the targeted commission of new services. It refers specifically to early psychosis, assertive outreach, and crisis resolution home treatment teams and says that the £300 million investment in those new services broadly excludes older people, so again the services are discriminatory. I am sure that will be as much a concern for the Minister as it is for us. The RCP also says that the £1.65 billion cash increase for adult mental health services over four years excludes older people.
I am sure we all agree that access to services must be based on individual need, and not on the age that someone happens to be. There are some good, innovative pilots in the country. East Sussex has a particular commitment to ensure that services are suitable for each individual, and that must be the objective we all seek to achieve.
I want to comment briefly on the role of acute care, to which the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) referred. He seems to have disappeared.
Thank you for your clarification, Mr. Olner.
People with severe mental health problems often end up in acute hospitals. An intervention at that opportune moment could significantly improve their care after they leave hospital. However, according to the report “Improving Services and Support for Older People with Mental Health Problems”, there is insufficient co-ordination between psychiatric services and acute hospitals. Many acute trusts have no real provision for psychiatric support, which means that at the moment an intervention could make a real difference—when someone with a mental health problem is in an acute hospital—there is insufficient input. The report said that there was poor screening, diagnosis and management of care. Its conclusion was that nobody, including commissioners, had that matter on their agenda. I would be grateful if the Minister could specifically comment on how we can ensure that there is better co-ordination between psychiatric services and the work of acute trusts. There needs to be a point at which we can ensure that someone who has had no contact with psychiatric services before going into an acute hospital has access to services when they leave. Better co-ordination between services would provide a great opportunity to improve care significantly for the individual, and would save costs for the NHS, because better support in the community will mean fewer emergency admissions to acute care.
I urge the Minister to accept—as I know he always does—the spirit in which these issues have been raised and to acknowledge that this is the greatest challenge facing us as a society. The figures for the costs and possible social implications to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred are quite frightening. We need a national commitment from the Government to transform those services.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing this debate. As we have already heard, it runs on the back of the debate on 24 October 2007, which was secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright). My hon. Friend has not vanished; he is acting as Whip on the Health and Social Care Bill Committee. I understand that he apologised before he left us.
We need to address this massively serious area of public health. I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham on raising not only the very important issue of his own constituency but also the excellent work that Age Concern and others have done in this field over recent months. I want to take this opportunity to praise Age Concern for its report and the work it has been doing. I know that the Minister has read the report, and I wonder whether he will respond to the 35 points that the organisation has raised in its summary and conclusion. Will the Minister let us know how many of those recommendations he will accept and how many he will reject?
I am conscious that this is not a bipartisan debate; it is too serious for that. I am also conscious that, on this issue, we are seeking guidance from the Minister about how he intends to take forward certain issues. I am sure that he will consider the constituency problems of the hon. Member for Twickenham, but there are other issues. Following the speech and the comments made by the Minister last summer, he built up expectation levels among those who care for older people with mental health problems. Some 3.4 million older people may be suffering from mental health disease. That means that about one fifth of the population is involved in caring for such people. That is a very large lobbying group. It is also a very vocal group, who will demand concrete proposals from the Minister to back up the comments that he made in the summer.
I will quickly comment on some of the interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) raised a very important point, even though the hon. Member for Twickenham did not quite grasp what he was referring to. We all get correspondence about people who need specialist equipment, and this particular issue is very relevant to those who are looking after and caring for people with mental illness in their older age.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth is a member of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia which, as I am sure the Minister knows, is about to take evidence on the usefulness of the medication that is being used in this area. From the evidence I have seen, I have grave concerns about it. A witness statement from the Age Concern report said:
“I went to my doctor and he suggested Prozac. I told him no medication, especially Prozac. He’s a nice enough guy usually, but when I said I just wanted to talk to someone, he totally patronised me.”
I partly understand where the GPs are coming from. Given the time scales within which they have to operate, it is very difficult to treat someone who comes in suffering from depression. I think that depression is the forgotten subject in this area and it needs to be highlighted. It is very difficult when someone says to the doctor, “I need some time to talk to you.” We need to find ways in which that person can get the help that they need, rather than offering them the simplistic solution of putting them on drugs, to which they will almost certainly become addicted in the short term. In the long term, the drugs could have an even more adverse effect on their health. I look forward to the conclusions of the report from the all-party parliamentary group on dementia.
On Christmas day, I had the honour of visiting my local acute hospital. I visited the 14 wards that were open and the accident and emergency department. On many of the medical wards, half the beds were empty. When I spoke to the sister in charge of the wards she said that wherever possible they had sent people home over Christmas. I think that we all understand that. I noticed that the vast majority of the people still in hospital were elderly and, clearly, in most cases, suffering from some degree of mental health problems. In many cases, people with mental health problems had gone home over Christmas because they had loved ones and carers to look after them. For those who did not go home, the lack of provision within the NHS is stark. All too many of our wards are full of people who should not be there, but in a specialist unit being cared for by experts.
The hon. Member for Twickenham alluded to the time, some 40 years ago, when he first went on to a ward to work. In 1973, just before I joined the armed forces, I spent a year working at my local hospital on the geriatric ward, as it was known then. That is not a derogatory term; it is exactly what it was. I, too, at such a young age was astounded by the dedication and professionalism of those who looked after the patients. As we have heard, people were often unable to thank them or give them the credit that they deserved. Today, we may change the terminology that we use, but having gone round the different facilities that look after those with mental health problems, particularly among the older generation, in my constituency, I pay tribute to those who specialise in this field, whether in the public or private sector. In my constituency, Robin Hood house specialises in patients with dementia.
There is an issue that we have not had an opportunity to discuss this morning, and perhaps the Minister will write to me if he does not have the relevant figures before him. Each time I visit the different facilities it has been put to me that the age profile of people suffering from dementia, and Alzheimer’s in particular, is lowering, so that people in their early 60s are suffering from dementia. I appreciate that dementia is a catch-all term and that there are many different areas, but clearly something is going on. Have the Government been looking into any research in that respect?
We have had discussions about whether consultation has been done correctly and not only in relation to the constituency of the hon. Member for Twickenham. He clearly touched a nerve with the Minister when he mentioned the word “consultation”. It is an emotive subject in the community. The Minister is right to say that if a small piece of the NHS, such as a ward, is being moved or small facilities are changing, there cannot be full consultation in the public arena. I think that we accept that. However, when facilities as specialist as those that we are talking about are in the same position, everyone would expect the public and those concerned, particularly the carers, to be involved in the consultation process.
As the Minister knows, I am quite critical of the way in which the consultation process has continued to be operated across the country. We do not want a consultation process to take place in which the public, the experts and the other people involved voice a view, which is then ignored, because that causes even more anxiety and concern. I know that the Minister is aware of that. In my constituency, there was a public consultation in which 86 per cent. of the consultees opposed the relevant closure, but that fact was ignored. That just causes more and more anxiety.
We are talking about the NHS, which is publicly funded by the taxpayer. It is right and proper that major changes in the infrastructure should go out to consultation and that the views expressed in that consultation should be properly listened to. It should not just be a listening exercise, after which those views are ignored. All too often we hear that the decision was made before the consultation process even started, which just causes more problems. The primary care trusts and the different relevant bodies should consider a much more open way of conducting the process early on, so that people have a better understanding of what is happening.
The figures used in today’s debate are quite shocking, but other figures, which have not been discussed, are also frightening and shocking. I passionately believe that depression among older people is one of the undiscussed, quiet areas that does not quite receive the publicity that it deserves—it is a major problem. According to figures produced by Age Concern in its report, one in four older people have symptoms of depression, but sadly only one third of those with depression ever seek medical advice or ever discuss it with their GP. Sadly, as we heard from witness statements in the report, even when they do discuss the matter with their GP, they do not receive the type of care that they deserve. That leads to a disproportionately higher suicide rate for older people. We should consider the figures in the report. It cannot be right that the older generation, who have done so much for us—the generations who follow them—have a disproportionately higher suicide rate because they are not receiving the help that they often need.
I fully understand, and I am sure that the whole House would understand, that people are often frightened of talking about the fact that they have depression or that they feel they have the early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is for us as a community to come up with ideas to assist them, so that there is no stigma in any shape or form should people feel that they have a problem or others feel that they are starting to have problems.
We have rightly praised Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Alzheimer’s Society and Mind, and there are many other groups—small and large groups in our constituencies that do so much work—which we will not have an opportunity to talk about today. However, I would like to talk in more depth about carers—the carers who do so much for their loved ones. They do so not for money and not because they have been asked to go along and help as a volunteer, but mostly because it is their loved ones who are suffering.
I, too, have family experience. By the time I was 15 or 16, my great-aunt, who was mostly responsible for bringing me up, had no idea who I was. She had no recollection at all of the wonderful life that she had lived in the 62 years before the most difficult stages of her Alzheimer’s. Sadly, she lived for nearly another 20 years. That sounds like a terrible thing to say, but she had no life. She destroyed my great-uncle’s life, but he would not let her go into a home—he would not let her be taken away. In those days, there was not much respite. There is some respite today, although there are great concerns that some respite care centres are closing as well. In my constituency, there are real problems in that respect.
Without those wonderful people, what would the state do? What would we be able to do without those generous, caring, loving people who look after their loved ones in such a way? So when they do seek help and a little respite care, it is very difficult for them to learn that units are possibly closing and that there is not the necessary back-up from acute services, which we heard about. More training is needed in the acute sector to help people with this type of medical condition when they arrive at acute facilities.
I praise the Government for the increased expenditure that is there today in the NHS. However, it is difficult for the public to understand when units are clearly closing or being reconfigured or care is being transferred to other service providers because of money. There must be a better way of sorting out the situation and funding services through the system. I accept that there is a conflict between the local government funding side and the NHS side of mental health provision, but we need much more joined-up thinking. Actually, what we need is not more joined-up thinking, but more joined-up action—action that the Minister promised. The talk has happened and perhaps the action will now start.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing the debate and on setting its tone. We have had a high-quality discussion, free of the usual party politics and, as the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) said, we have been addressing one of the great public policy challenges that faces our society and all political parties and it is the responsibility of Government. May I also say to the hon. Member for Twickenham that the way he talked about his own experience with his mum was very moving? We should remember that the situation that we are discussing is reflected in an increasing number of families throughout the country. It does the body politic good that occasionally we talk in the language of our own families and life experiences, which shows that we are not as out of touch as sometimes politicians of all colours are accused of being.
As the hon. Member for North Norfolk said, this issue is one of the great challenges that our society faces. I refer to the fact that we live in a society in which people live longer and, in doing so, have increasingly complex conditions such as dementia. In his recent speech on the NHS, the Prime Minister said that demography was one of the top challenges facing the NHS. That is an important step forward because, often, the debate is solely about social care, but demography is every bit as important. As the hon. Gentleman for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) said, if one goes to an acute hospital, one will see an incredibly high number of older people receiving care. That is a challenge for the social care system, but, equally, it is a challenge for the NHS and, arguably, for all public services. If the demography of our society is changing, the future development of all kinds of public policy will have to reflect it.
People’s expectations are very different now. The vast majority of people wish to remain in their own homes rather than enter institutionalised care. That does not mean that there is no need for specialist, high-quality residential nursing units—there is, and there always will be—but the reality is that the vast majority of people, given the choice, would wish to stay in their own homes. The baby boomer generation—I shall not fit any particular Member into any particular generation—have much higher expectations of care than our grandparents’ generation, both in terms of the quality of care and of the level of personalisation.
As I have said before, I intend to bring dementia out of the shadows. For too long, individual families have struggled and battled with dementia, but public policy has almost been in denial about it, instead focusing on the generic needs of older people without recognising that dementia brings with it particular issues. Anybody who has seen the powerful and shocking documentary in which Barbara Pointon allowed the filming of her husband Malcolm’s deterioration could not help but understand the power of the condition for the individual and the family member. I am delighted that I have got to know Barbara recently and that she is playing an active role in the development of our national dementia strategy, and in the Department’s work with carers.
I have also focused on making the case for putting the dignity of older people at the heart of our care services, and I shall continue to provide leadership on that. I do not believe that there are easy solutions or magic wands, or that we can run every hospital, GP surgery and social care service, but providing national leadership that says that dignity at all times must be at the heart of care for older people would begin to make a difference and to get the debate going in every care establishment up and down the country.
The hon. Member for Twickenham talked about a number of issues. He was on to something when he put dementia alongside cancer, stroke and heart disease as a condition that challenges the NHS. Dementia should be given a much higher status and reflect the priority that we give to it. He was good enough to say that practice on older people’s mental health has improved in the past 10 years, but we are beginning in deficit, because practice is nowhere near as good as it needs to be. However, he said that we have seen advances in the way in which care is provided in the past decade.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Marble lodge in St. John’s hospital in his constituency. Quality of life without medication is the ethos of that institution, which provides a calming environment––as he said, an oasis of peace. Those are the qualities, characteristics and attributes that people with dementia and their families in every part of the country would want. However, I must tell him that I cannot instruct local NHS organisations how to do their business. He made a powerful case when he said changes should not be made in advance of the national dementia strategy, without, perhaps, all the evidence on the direction of policy. The people charged with making such difficult decisions—it is a difficult change to make—should consider whether it would be appropriate. I should also like to put on record that the national dementia strategy will be published in the autumn, but a consultation document will be presented in June and people will have the opportunity to comment before the final strategy is produced.
The hon. Gentleman may want to acknowledge that carers have been involved in the tendering process—they have had input and oversight. To say that there has been no engagement or consultation in the case he mentioned is not fair, because significant attempts to engage and consult were made. Indeed, the matter was originally referred to the overview and scrutiny committee of his local authority, which chose not to express any reservations about the change. It subsequently had second thoughts and raised its concerns, but to say that there was no consultation is not fair. The hon. Gentleman did not say that there was no consultation, but the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead spoke of consultation in a derogatory way. Genuine attempts to engage on the issue were made, but because of the unique nature of the unit, there is a great deal of emotional attachment to it and a great belief that the clinical care it provides is of the highest possible standard. I would be happy to speak privately to the hon. Member for Twickenham about that particular situation.
The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright), who has left the Chamber, does an excellent job as the chairman of the all-party group on dementia, and the group makes an important contribution to the debate.
The hon. Member for North Norfolk made a constructive and helpful contribution, and I echo his tributes to Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Alzheimer’s Society, Action on Elder Abuse, Mind and, indeed, to carers organisations such as Carers UK, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, Crossroads, Partners in Policymaking, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Those organisations frequently ensure that older people’s needs are placed far higher on the political agenda than they would be by constantly pressuring parliamentarians and using the media, and by championing the interests of older people and their families, so I pay tribute to them.
The hon. Gentleman talked about funding. We spend large amounts of money, in every community through the NHS and local government, both on social care and on mainstream well-being services through the benefits system, but that is not often not referred to in debates such as this. We spend money, for example, on the disability living allowance, the attendance allowance, housing, and, indeed, we spend money through excellent third and voluntary sector organisations. We need to get to a situation in which we have a joined-up, integrated approach to health and well-being in every local community that shifts us toward early intervention and prevention. We signed the “Putting People First” concordat before Christmas with local government and the NHS. I believe that in the next three years, a radical transformation of the social care system in partnership with the NHS, focused on a shift to early intervention and prevention, and on giving people maximum control and power through personal budgets, universal information and advice to people, including those who fund themselves, is massively important. It would begin to transform well-being services in every community in every part of the country.
Is the Minister indicating that he sees a need to integrate fully the funding that comes through the benefits system? For example, attendance allowance could be provided through the care system so that there is one mechanism for providing funding and support.
I am open to that view, but that is not what I am saying and it is not the Government’s position. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are about to embark on a major, extensive public consultation that will lead to a Green Paper and scope out the scale of the challenge of the future funding of social care and the range of available options. I am not necessarily talking about the need to put all the investment into one organisational framework because, sometimes, tinkering with organisational structure is not the solution. I am saying that those resources should be considered, commissioned and spent in a holistic and integrated way in every community rather than being looked at separately. That is not quite the same as saying that they should all be brought within the same organisational framework. In our view there is not enough money in local communities to ensure that older people, disabled people, those with mental health problems and carers have a much better quality of life. I argue that it is not only about more money, although the demography means that over the next 10, 15 or 20 years we will need more resources just to keep up with demand, but that existing resources could be used in a far more integrated and sensible way.
That is why I ask the House to consider the “Putting People First” protocol. It will be followed in the next few days by a letter to every local authority. Local government has signed up with the Government to a radical shake-up of social care services, in partnership with the NHS, in every community over the next three years, beginning in April.
The hon. Member for North Norfolk made an important point in respect of acute hospitals, and the opportunity for older people who are admitted to them to have access specialist mental health services.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead—I welcome his unusually non-political contribution—rightly spoke about the inappropriate medication of older people. He will therefore welcome the significant expansion of psychological therapies over the next three years. At primary care level, people will have far greater access to psychological therapy than ever. That will be as relevant to older people as to those of all other ages.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I spent Christmas day visiting the two acute hospitals in the vicinity of my constituency. I felt a sense of awe on meeting the staff, who were giving up their whole of their Christmas time to care for NHS patients in a sensitive and professional way. It demonstrates the power and the uniqueness of our national health service and the staff who work on the front line. Of course, we cannot walk away from the growing number of patients in acute hospitals that have dementia, and Lord Darzi’s next stage review of the NHS will give serious consideration to that factor.
I could speak about all that the Government have done on these issues over the past 10 years, but much of what we have done is already on the record. In 1999, we introduced an annual carers grant to every local authority, the right for carers to request flexible working and enhanced pension credits for carers—and we will be doing more. That is why the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I spent several hours in Leeds last Friday talking directly to 70 or 80 carers about what they want from the new deal for carers that the Prime Minister will announce later this year. Rather than a new deal for carers being drawn up in offices in Westminster and Whitehall, it will be based on the real, everyday experiences of carers.
We will consider respite care, a subject raised by the hon. Member for North Norfolk. There should be greater recognition and valuing of the tremendous contribution made by carers. That contribution will grow with the ageing population. Indeed, people often miss the significant implication for families if ever more people are to stay in their own homes rather than going to institutions. Nor, as the Minister for Schools and Learners arrives for the next debate, should we forget the plight of young carers. Together we need to do a lot more as we face one of the new challenges to which society is waking up—that far too many children are spending too great a proportion of their lives caring, inappropriately in my view, for sick or dependent parents. As the hon. Gentleman said, we must address the needs of carers, and we will be doing so in our new deal for carers.
The year 2008 will be crucial in facing up in a radical way to the challenges of demographic change. We will produce a national dementia strategy, which will focus on raising awareness of the problem among professionals and citizens, so that we can identify the symptoms at an early stage; the earlier we intervene the better. Appropriate diagnosis and intervention are important. Too often, family members or the older people themselves approach a professional, describe symptoms and are told that they are not suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, and many are given an inappropriate diagnosis. That is bad, because the earlier we intervene in such circumstances, the better and more effective the treatment and support will be.
The final element of the national dementia strategy will be quality specialist care. I agree entirely with those who said that we need specialist expertise, staff training and, when appropriate, specialist services. Simply to say that all older people should receive the same service, as an expression of equality, is a mistake.
The national dementia strategy will be produced in the autumn and we will consult on it from June. It will be incredibly important, and I am delighted that the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society is playing a central role, with recognised leaders in social care and the NHS, in developing the strategy.
As I said, extensive consultation will take place this year on the future funding of the social care system, and we will produce a Green Paper later in the year. I want an all-party consensus for change on the funding of long-term care. I hope that politicians will resist the temptation to resort to petty politics. We all know that it is not easy to balance the respective responsibilities of the state and the citizen when considering the scale of demographic change and people’s rising expectations. Publication of the Green Paper will be incredibly important.
I will be extending my campaign to put dignity for older people at the heart of all care services. We want the subject to be debated on every hospital ward, in every residential and nursing home, and within all domiciliary services, voluntary organisations and local authorities. The question is how to improve dignity for older people in every care setting.
We will review the protection regulation system for vulnerable adults. We know that elder abuse is a growing concern. Twenty or 30 years ago, we were beginning to talk openly about the scale of child abuse. With elder abuse, public debate is arguably at a similar stage so we will review the protection regulations later this year.
In the spring, the Prime Minister will announce a new deal for carers. With a 10-year plan, we will seek to address the growing number of people who spend a significant proportion of their lives caring for older or disabled relatives; and we as a society and as a Government must do more to recognise, value and support their contribution.
Alongside that is the Darzi review of the NHS. Having rebuilt the foundations of the NHS during the past 10 years, the challenge now is to move to a world-class health service, with personalisation at its heart—one in which people are treated as people and not patients, because individuals and families have distinct needs. As the Prime Minister said recently, we need to harness all our expertise and technology and the most recent medical advances to shift towards early intervention and prevention, moving from a sickness health service to a well-being national health service.
The year 2008 is the time for us to consider all approaches to the needs of older people and disabled people, and for the Government to demonstrate their willingness to step up to the plate and tackle the issues head on. I believe that many of them require an all-party consensus, and we will be striving to achieve that whenever possible as those debate become more acute.
Thank you, Mr. Olner. It is a pleasure to serve this morning under your chairmanship.
Unfortunately, this debate has clashed with a seminar on renewable energy that the members of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee are now attending at Imperial college. Otherwise there would have been a much greater attendance at this meeting. However, the quality is here and that is what matters.
First, I should declare an interest, in that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Royal Society of Chemistry. That is a non-pecuniary interest, which I have registered.
My contribution to this debate is not going to be about the supply or quality of science teachers, important as those subjects are, because they have been covered in two Select Committee reports. One was published by the House of Lords in the 2005-06 Session of Parliament and the other was published by the House of Commons in the 2001-02 Session of Parliament.
I intend to concentrate on issues that are used to embellish the teaching of science, some of which I have been closely involved in. Many of us, if not most of us, who became scientists in the past would probably agree that, foremost, it was the enthusiasm of the science teacher that attracted us to pursue such a career. Some science teachers can make the sciences, whether it be chemistry, physics, geology, biology or even zoology, sound extremely complicated, if not boring, probably because they do not enjoy teaching the subject or, in some cases, because they do not even understand the basic principles. Of course, the lack of specialist teachers is part of the problem and that situation has got worse in recent years.
The worst science teachers make no attempt at all to embellish the curriculum by taking their students out of the classroom, for example to listen to an outside lecture or to visit an outside facility that is trying to make science interesting to students and the general public. They are also reluctant to invite scientists or engineers into their classroom to talk about their experiences and they make minimum effort to run practical classes. Indeed, their sole aim appears to be to cover the curriculum so that their students will achieve the highest grades possible in examinations, even by abandoning many of the practical classes if that should prove necessary.
Recent surveys by the Science museum in Kensington and the awarding bodies have shown that hands-on practicals in laboratories and visits and excursions outside school are the most enjoyable aspects of studying the sciences. I am aware of The Times Education Supplement published in October last year that revealed that a third of teachers had cancelled school trips, with cost cited as the problem by 40 per cent. of the teachers surveyed and form-filling cited as the problem by 36 per cent. of the teachers surveyed. However, to be fair to the Government, they have responded to that criticism by publishing a manifesto entitled “Learning Outside the Classroom” and pledging £2.7 million towards encouraging school trips, for which I am extremely grateful, as I am sure are others.
I would like to pay a tribute to the 12,000 or more volunteers who take part in the science and engineering ambassadors in Schools, or SEAS, programme, which is organised in partnership with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network, or STEMNET, as we should now call that organisation; previously, of course, it was called SETNET. Those volunteers are mainly young people who are encouraged by their employers to convey the excitement of their work to secondary school children who might be attracted as a result to pursue a career in science or engineering. Unfortunately, pressures from the research assessment exercise in recent years have reduced the number of younger university academics willing to visit schools.
My own interest in science began with an opportunity, at the age of 11, to purchase a rather complicated chemistry set from another boy in my village who had become rather bored with it. It was accompanied by a very old practical textbook. The front porch in our house, which was only used on significant occasions such as funerals, became my laboratory. The absence of a fume cupboard did not deter me from carrying out the experiments, much to the consternation of my parents, I might add.
In those days, chemicals and basic glassware, such as round-bottomed and flat-bottomed flasks, retort stands and clamps, beehive shelves and thistle funnels, could be purchased from a chemist’s shop, believe it or not. All my purchases were made from Caves the Chemist in Neville street, Southport, the town where I attended secondary school and, later, the technical college.
In those educational establishments, my enthusiasm for practical science was fired by two very fine teachers, Mr. Jones and Mr. Crossley. They made full use of the demonstration bench at the front of the class. If they were talking about chlorine, they made chlorine before the very eyes of the students who were watching in fascination. Indeed, whenever they talked about a chemical, the chemical was there on the demonstration bench and many reactions were carried out, with wonderful colour changes, lots of smells and a few flashes and bangs. I must say that watching a teacher perform the thermite reaction was one of the highlights of the chemistry year.
I suppose it was those experiments that attracted me to become the first senior demonstrator in organic chemistry at Durham university, at the age of 24. That brought me into contact with the great demonstration lecturers of the day, for example, “Flash Porter”, otherwise known as Professor George Porter of the Royal Institution, and the famous B.D. Shaw of Nottingham university, who gave his famous lecture on explosives until he was well into his 90s; he also gave it on television. As a result, for 29 years I presented a demonstration lecture, which was 90 minutes long and called “The Magic of Chemistry”. I presented it at least once a month and many more times during the Christmas period. Indeed, Christmas lectures have been a tradition in many of our towns and cities in this country, especially here in London at the Royal Institution in Albermarle street.
I was on the “demo circuit” and came to know some of the “greats” in the business, people such as the Rev. Ron Lancaster, with his “Fireworks” lecture, and Dr. John Salthouse of “Son et Lumiere” fame. Ron, whose son is now a Conservative MP and is today sitting not very far from me, was a chemistry teacher at Kimbolton school in Cambridgeshire and became the only private individual in his day to gain a licence to manufacture fireworks. Kimbolton Fireworks is one of the few remaining manufacturers of fireworks in Britain today, and is well known for its public displays. In “Son et Lumiere”, John Salthouse takes the line of “Look what happens when you mix this with that”; the result, of course, is a flash, a bang or a wallop, and plenty of noise or light, or both. Now, imagine how much more interesting the teaching of science is when you have people such as that around the classroom.
Sadly, the classroom and teachers have changed. Of course, the fear of litigation should something go wrong and the health and safety regulations, such as the introduction of the control of substances hazardous to health—COSHH—regulations, have helped to put a damper on some of the more exciting experiences that a student can have in the classroom.. However, teachers very often use those regulations as an excuse. It is still possible to present science in an extremely exciting way, but the teachers are not trained to do it and few take the opportunity to engage themselves in reading the relevant and excellent textbooks on presenting demonstration lectures in the classroom. If they are not confident or able enough to present such lectures themselves, there are many visitors who can do so and they should be invited into the classroom or laboratory to fascinate the students with such demonstrations.
It is, of course, important, even mandatory, that risk assessments are carried out on all activities that are undertaken with young people, especially those working in a school laboratory. Learning about the hazards presented by all chemicals and the risks involved in their use is considered now to be a part of chemical education. However, recent statistics available from both local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive show that school science laboratories are one of the safest places in the school in terms of the accidents that may arise from science experiments.
In an interesting publication, “Surely That’s Banned?”, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2005, the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services, or CLEAPSS, and the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre, or SSERC, detail what is banned in school teaching. In fact, very little is banned, contrary to the perception of a significant number of science teachers. If teachers are unsure about what is banned, they can seek advice from those organisations and their publications, or from the Association of Science Education—the ASE—and the learned societies, or consult those societies’ publications.
Solvents such as benzene, which is a carcinogen, tetrachloromethane and 1,1,1-trichloroethane, which are ozone depleters, are banned, and there are restrictions on the quantity of thorium and uranium salts that can be kept in the laboratory. Not surprisingly, the amount of explosive materials that can either be made or stored in a school laboratory is also restricted.
I have been following closely the introduction of the new ways of teaching science in the classroom, and particularly the 21st century science syllabuses, of which there are a number. I recently visited two schools in Bolton—one in Turton and one in Westhoughton—that are teaching science using the new syllabuses and I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the two young teachers and the students I observed. I was also impressed by the way in which those teachers had prepared their lessons and I witnessed good use of modern whiteboards, plenty of interactive handouts, a laptop computer in front of every science student and excellent use of the large amount of material that is available on the internet.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that part of the problem in schools is that specific sciences are often not taught by specifically science-qualified teachers, but by generalists or non-science-qualified teachers? That is part of the reason why teachers are afraid to go down the “flashes, bangs and smells” experimentation route, which is a great sadness.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I referred to the shortage of specialist science teachers, although the best schools are trying to recruit them. What the hon. Gentleman says is, however, important.
Unfortunately, some teachers have used the teaching methods that I mentioned to replace practical classes. Watching an experiment being conducted by video link is not the same as the excitement of performing that experiment in the school laboratory. In one lesson that I attended, I was fascinated to see that pupils were learning about embryology, and I was able to explain the contributions that some of us in the Chamber have made during Science and Technology Committee meetings on the legislation that is currently before the House on that important issue. Such anecdotes, and the fact that people such as me and others can attend lessons to relay them to students and pupils, can bring subjects to life.
When I spoke to pupils after the classes in the two schools that I visited, however, one thing came over loud and clear: “Please can we do more practical work?” Nothing is more off-putting than walking into a school science laboratory that looks like the pictures of laboratories in Victorian science textbooks. If we are to attract young people to study the sciences, their places of study must look 21st century, not early-20th or even 19th century. In its “Science And Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014”, the Government committed themselves to providing
“capital funding to schools and authorities…to meet the Roberts Review target of bringing school labs up to a satisfactory standard by 2005-06 and to bring them up to a good or excellent standard by 2010.”
Their “Next Steps” document, which was published in 2006, makes the following commitment:
“The policy priority is to improve the state of school science accommodation by making school science laboratories a priority.”
Hon. Members should note the lack of dates in the second of those two commitments. Together with others I have questioned successive Education Ministers on the state of school science laboratories, but we have always been told that the building schools for the future programme is addressing those commitments. However, progress is just too slow, and none of the money that is currently allocated is ring-fenced for laboratory provision.
Sadly, even when refurbishment does take place, the quality of the work is not always good. There are reports of furniture that falls apart in a few years and bench tops that are not designed for the purpose, along with inadequate utilities and information and communications technology provision. The lessons to be learned are that school science staff must be involved in the design of new facilities and that adequate advice must be available from the local education authority or others to guarantee a good-to-excellent standard of provision.
In October 2006, with the support of the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry published the results of a survey of school science laboratories carried out by CLEAPSS. The survey estimated that there were 26,000 laboratories in secondary schools in England in 2005. At the time, the average cost of refurbishment—I should add that that was to an unspecified standard—was £38,000 per laboratory, with costs ranging from £2,000 to £125,000. The average cost for a newly built laboratory was £120,000, with costs ranging from £11,000 to £375,000. Those are high costs indeed. With only 34 per cent. of school laboratories in the sample surveyed rated as good or excellent, 41 per cent. rated as basic and uninspiring and a massive 25 per cent. rated as unsafe or unsatisfactory, the survey did not make good reading for the Government.
In addition, 13 per cent. of science classes are not even taught in a school laboratory, and teachers reported that an extra science laboratory was needed in each school, which equates to an estimated 3,500 extra science laboratories. Even when the laboratory space in schools has improved, the areas used by the technicians to prepare the science classes have often been ignored
The bottom line is that upgrading school science provision all round to a good standard in England alone would require an estimated £1.38 billion at 2005 prices. Indeed, a recent published estimate suggests that £2 billion would be required across Great Britain to upgrade school science laboratories that have not already been upgraded.
This is a most important debate, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing it. May I help him to set the scene and to explain why it is so necessary to improve our laboratories? Industry in this country relies heavily on scientists from abroad, but the supply of such science-qualified graduates, particularly from the sub-continent and China, may start to dry up as the economies there develop and mature. It is therefore essential for us to fill the planning gap by ensuring that we have decent science teaching, that we encourage women into science teaching and that we have good-quality science labs that will encourage students and teachers in schools and support science teaching in our economy.
Indeed. I agree and I shall produce some figures in conclusion to underline what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Let me turn now to another aspect of science teaching that has been on the wane in recent decades—field trips. Unfortunately, initial teacher education does not show fledgling teachers how to exploit the wealth of knowledge in the outside laboratory. I pay tribute to the Field Studies Council for the work that it does in that respect. It not only promotes outdoor education through its publications and lobbying, but walks the talk, too, by running 17 field centres in some outstanding parts of the country, such as Malham Tarn, in north Yorkshire, Brockhole, near Windermere in the Lake district, and Flatford Mill, which was made famous by Constable’s painting.
I still remember being taken into the countryside by my primary school teachers, who helped me to identify wild flowers, insects, birds, wild animals and trees. For a while, I was the proud owner of a flower press and I had quite a good collection of dried and pressed wild flowers, which I was able to identify.
An education officer at the London outdoor education centre has remarked:
“All we see these days are primary schools. We never see science groups from local secondary schools any more”.
The Government have argued that outdoor education is thriving in our schools, but the FSC’s evidence suggests otherwise. More than 96 per cent. of GCSE science pupils will not experience a residential field trip, while nearly half of all A-level biology students will do no field work, with the possible exception of half a day’s experience near their school.
Last year, the FSC and the ASE jointly published a report on the training of pre-service teachers to support the development of outdoor teaching in secondary science education. The report contains nine recommendations on how to halt the decline in the use of field trips to teach science outdoors and, inter alia, lists the barriers to such teaching, such as the lack of minimum requirements, the failure to recognise the potential of fieldwork, the lack of training among initial teacher education tutors and teacher mentors, the lack of a communication and organisational structure to promote fieldwork, the low status awarded to fieldwork by Ofsted inspectors and, inevitably, the cost of field trips. Let us hope that the new standards set by the Training and Development Agency for Schools will be fully implemented by those responsible for initial teacher education, and that the Malham protocol, a set of minimum standards for teaching science outdoors within ITE, will be adopted by the TDA.
In May the Institute of Biology published “Dissection in Schools”, a survey funded by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Eighty-five per cent. of the respondents believe that less dissection work has been carried out in schools since 1986, when the new national curriculum and compulsory science at GCSE were introduced. Time pressures because of the current nature of the curriculum, costs, doubt about what activities are permissible, difficulties in acquisition of materials, a shortage of skilled technicians and the need for a resource handbook were commonly cited reasons for that decline. Again, there appear to be problems with ITE. If dissection is not a minimum requirement of the curriculum, it will not be carried out by the teachers.
There are, again, incorrect perceptions of health and safety regulations. For example, contrary to a commonly held belief, cheek cell and saliva sampling is permitted, as long as students work only with their own cheek cell and saliva samples, the cotton buds and disposable cups are disposed of appropriately, and the glass slides are sterilised in a chlorine-based disinfectant. The taking of blood samples is not ruled out either, providing that the COSHH regulations are adhered to. Dissections of eyes can be carried out, but there are some rather complicated restrictions. There can be regional differences. Unlike those in the rest of Britain, pupils in Northern Ireland cannot take samples of their own cheek cells, saliva or blood. Dissection was encouraged in only 69 per cent. of the institutions surveyed. Only 17 per cent. of respondents cited dissections as a cause of students being turned off science. There appear to be increasing concerns, too, about animal welfare. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recently introduced requirements about the disposal of live material, which has caused biology teachers some concern.
Dissection is, however, regarded as bringing science to life. It enhances a student’s knowledge and understanding, makes it possible to understand the complexity and efficiency of animal anatomy and engenders an appreciation of the fragility of tissues. Students can relate animal anatomy to an understanding of how their own bodies work and dissection improves hand-eye co-ordination. Ethical issues about the use of live animals in research can of course be discussed in the context of dissection.
When the Connexions service was established, its staff concentrated, unfortunately, more on those with learning difficulties than on the most able pupils. Consequently, high-quality schools career advice failed to reach many of the most gifted pupils, who were unable to realise the breadth and excitement of the careers that can be pursued with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics background. Regrettably, according to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, “Science Teaching in Schools”, few careers advisers have a STEM background. In any case, the sciences are perceived to be difficult by teachers and pupils alike, and schools consequently adopt “softer” options to take their schools high in the league tables, which now seem to determine which schools are good or bad. In “Next Steps”, the Government largely neglected careers advice, and it has now become urgent that they address the deficit in good careers advice for the most able students.
By 2014, according to the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, the demand for science and technology professionals will increase by 20 per cent. compared to an increase in demand for all other occupations of only 4 per cent. That is the point that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) was making. A recent study of our 15 year-olds’ ability by the programme for international student assessment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that British teenagers have slipped 10 places in six years to a lowly 14th place in the world’s most prestigious league table charting scientific knowledge among schoolchildren.
It is worth reading out what the OECD said in its report on PISA 2006:
“As the first major assessment of science, the PISA 2006 assessment establishes the basis for analysis of trends in science performance in the future and it is therefore not possible to compare science learning outcomes from PISA 2006 with those of earlier PISA assessments as is done for reading and mathematics. Indeed, the differences in science performance that readers may observe when comparing PISA 2006 science scores with science scores from earlier PISA assessments are largely attributable to changes in the nature of the science assessment as well as changes in the test design.”
I am glad that the Minister has made that point, because I did not know that, and neither, obviously, did many people who have made the comparison.
In The Guardian of 3 December 2007, Dr Richard Pike, who is the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:
“The dramatic slippage of the UK to the 14th place in the league for science teaching should be seen against the backdrop of numerous, often failed, uncoordinated initiatives, and a reluctance within the whole community to stand back and look at education from a holistic viewpoint”—
which is what I have tried to do this morning.
I have tried to highlight the decline in what are regarded as important aspects of science teaching, and give possible reasons for that decline, which I hope that the Minister will address in future planning of science education. There is a lot of good will out there, in industry and commerce and in the teaching fraternity, and we need to tap it to the advantage of all those students who show an interest in pursuing a science career. Let us make science teaching exciting again in the classroom, as it once was, in my day.
I am delighted to take part in this debate once again. We have pushed this issue half a dozen times, because it is recognised as important, and I shall quote something from the Sainsbury report about why that is. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on once more bringing the matter into the arena of debate. We have similar backgrounds, except that I was in Scotland and he was in England. We always get more money in Scotland, for some reason—or perhaps we use it better; who knows? That is another argument, for another time and place. Nevertheless, Scottish science has produced some excellence, as has English science, and we compete well in the world.
Lord David Sainsbury has just produced a document entitled “The Race to the Top: A Review of Government’s Science and Innovation Policies”, in which he talks first about the need for a
“major campaign to enhance the teaching of science and technology”,
including raising the number of qualified science teachers, increasing the number of young people studying triple science, improving careers advice, establishing a national science competition and rationalising the many schemes to inspire young people to take up careers in science and engineering. Indeed, although we are worried about the future, there is much going on in different localities, about which I shall say something in a minute.
Lord Sainsbury also points out in his review that although it is not clear where in the future the jobs will necessarily come for scientists, there will be many opportunities for UK companies, and therefore there is a need for science education and research. New industries will appear in
“aerospace, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, regenerative medicine, telemedicine, nanotechnology, the space industry, intelligent transport systems, new sources of energy, creative industries, computer games, the instrumentation sector, business and financial services, computer services and education.”
That is not a bad challenge for a small island and we play, I think, quite a hard-hitting role in those fields internationally now. We are of course worried about what will happen in the future, as we watch the emerging economies of other countries, such as China, with a university in every street, everyone getting a degree and large numbers of people flooding through. One need only go to Singapore to see scientific excellence being developed. The journey to such developments starts with early school days and continues through university and into the job market, whether the jobs are in research or industry.
I want particularly to mention the field of cancer. In the 10 years I have been in the House, that has been a major commitment for me. I have seen how well things have developed through Government support. There is now a cancer reform strategy, which recognises that science is moving on and driving a need for new policies. That is very important. We know that more will happen in that context. For example, personalised medicine will be a key factor in a world in which we target drugs to people to the advantage of their genetics, around which are many issues, such as how drugs are produced and paid for, the reaction of companies, the kind of partnerships that we adopt and how academia and the industry can merge, in which regional development agencies and many other organisations will have a role to play.
I am told that in the cancer field—this comes from anecdotes from a dinner party on Saturday night with consultant oncologists—many medics now have never seen a tumour. They might see one on a video screen, but they will not see one for real until they are thrust into their oncology work. In many ways I think that that is true across science. Many people no longer learn the kind of hard science that I had to do. I do not want to be too crude—I must watch my parliamentary language—but there is nothing like seeing a real heart throbbing, and operating or working on it, to get a feel for handling the job. It is no use just seeing it on the screen and saying, “It will be all right on the night.”
Furthermore, as my hon. Friend said, it is no use students thinking that they know how things work in the world outside without actually seeing it. A generation of young people has been brought up watching Attenborough programmes, which I find fascinating. I watch big cat programmes and am amazed at how lions get chased by creatures that they fancied eating. Those educational relationships are good for young people and allow them to pick up on, and try to understand, the behavioural patterns of animals and plants, which they can reflect on to themselves. That is somewhat anthropomorphic, but is important because it gets them asking questions.
Young people are stimulated by all sorts of things at a very early age. We have been talking about how different people are not working together or united, and about various initiatives and publications. I know of a nice book for young people, called “Have a Nice DNA”, by a friend of mine, Professor Balkwill, at Queen Mary’s college. I also know of the school garden which is pupils’ new classroom project, which has helped pupils to build a willow tunnel, research life forms in the pond, and build a bird hide to watch wildlife, giving them first-hand experience of ecology. That project was not set up by a teacher, but by a science technician—a dying breed. A Committee that I used to chair once looked into patterns in schools on either side of the Scotland-England border and found that, in Scotland, technicians are still valued. They are the backroom people who prepare the experimental classes, ensure that the equipment is available and make noises if it is not. In a way, that also aids young people’s education when experimenting in laboratories.
I sometimes joke about a school in my area—Sprowston high school—that produces good drummers. In fact, one is marrying KT Tunstall, although I doubt if any Member here knows who she is—
The Minister obviously does.
I would much rather that the person marrying her was a scientist than a drummer—but there we go. It reflects the education in that school; the music department is well run, has all the necessary equipment and attracts young people. The science department could do the same, but its laboratories use those dull brown-topped wooden desks with “Tony loves Cherie” and other such messages scratched on them, because young bored people spend time listening but not really taking anything in.
The school garden in Norwich that I mentioned is important and is really developing. One young person said of it:
“It makes more sense actually seeing and touching things than reading about them in a textbook. We are even going to go to the junior school and help them with their own garden.”
My Committee found the same thing. That is the kind of experimentation that we want.
Young people are also fascinated by boiling things and get a kick out of making colours in test tubes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East said. I had a chemistry set as a child and remember applying to a medical school and saying, “Ever since the days of my first chemistry set, I have been interested in understanding how the world works.” However, that argument did not wash with the great deans of Edinburgh university, where applicants needed parents who went to the right school. But that is another story; hopefully those days are over, but I doubt it.
Professor Balkwill is also developing, at Queen Mary’s college, an outfit where a cell will be manufactured architecturally so that people can come in off the streets and get involved. I have always wondered why science and art museums do not mix. However, I shall come on to the interaction between science and the arts later. I do not have to tell Members about the fascination with dinosaurs and the Natural History museum, where people can learn what a dinosaur was and discuss, until the cows come home, how and why they died out.
I have some other books with me. One is “Why Can’t I… Jump up to the Moon?: And Other Questions about Energy”—perhaps the Minister will tell me why he cannot jump up to the moon—and another is “Why Can’t I… Sleep on a Bed of Bubbles?: And Other Questions about Materials”. They have been written for young people, but do not seem to have got into the classroom to the extent that I think that they should have. I know, too, about an anthology of poetry and artwork around science by children from Rockland St Mary county primary school and Framingham Earl high school, which is just outside Norwich. It is quite brilliant how they developed poems around scientific structures seen down an electron microscope and so on. It is wonderful to see the interest in the questions and the enthusiasm that it generates. That happened because a young woman doing a post-doctoral fellowship at the John Innes centre decided to do it. She is a high-flyer in her research field, but wanted to put something back into the community because she could see that there was a need for it.
We often talk about the shortage of teachers, but sometimes we could use people in universities, such as post-doctoral and PhD students, who are the lifeblood of research in this country. I learned that first-hand from Paul Nurse, who is one of our Nobel prize winners. They do all the work; they stimulate ideas, lecture among undergraduates and help them in practicals and so on. We should use that force, until we get the numbers that we need in physics, chemistry and biology. I speak from practical experience. I once went on a course to Murray house in Scotland for three months. I think that I passed, although I was told off for not wearing a tie—such is rebellion in Scotland. However, instead of teaching religion to a class, when I visited a school, I took the children outside to show them how to take corner and penalty kicks. I do not think that the two of us doing it were sacked, but we were moved on. Nevertheless, many stimulating activities can be undertaken.
I shall move on from the enthusiasm in practical school classes to postgraduate and undergraduate students, who to some extent get a rough deal. They cannot always see a career in front of them, because of the limited number of grants, which can be for one or three years, but not for five years. That is changing gradually; bright young people who want to stay in science are being given a career structure, which is necessary in that field.
Finally, one of the reasons why those students are giving up is that they cannot do exciting experiments on a Friday afternoon after they have been to the pub—hopefully not for too long. Nevertheless, they try things out—“I wonder what would happen if…?”. Science is about asking such questions. To a large extent, that has been taken out of their training. Research assessment exercises now require a safe pair of hands and safe experiments so that they can get the paper out. Much of the paper work is done by postgraduate students—although their names still appear last, after the senior professor and so on. They are not recognised properly in our society for their value to science education. We could do much more with them. Hopefully, at last, something will happen, because we have been talking about these things for some years. Things are happening in certain places—I gave a few examples—but not nationally.
I intend to make the briefest of contributions. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this very valuable debate and pay tribute to him for his lifetime’s contribution to the world of science, which was reflected in his speech. I was delighted to be with him when the Royal Society of Chemistry presented him with the president’s award for a lifetime’s contribution to science. That was very well deserved.
I declare an interest as a parliamentary adviser to the Royal Society of Chemistry. When I first came to this House, I thought that I had the honour of being the first Member of Parliament who was also a fireworks maker, which is rather appropriate on the 400th anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ execution. However, I then discovered that the hon. Gentleman had beaten me to it; I understand that back in 1997 he dressed up as Guy Fawkes and blew up gunpowder in the Jubilee Room. I am not sure whether the Serjeant at Arms would let me do that, but I certainly intend to try. My plea to the Minister is, simply, let us make science fun again. It is certainly not his fault, but there has been a general decline for various reasons that I shall consider shortly. Science is not as fun as it used to be, and that has to be a crying shame.
I am a lucky chap. We have discussed having chemistry sets when we were young, and my set was probably the best in the world. It was a firework factory. One of my earliest memories is as a young lad, pecking over my father’s work bench to see him mixing wonderful coloured chemicals, and with a glint in his eye, he would take me with him to blow them up in the garden. We would bury them to see how big a hole we could create. My mother would be absolutely horrified when my father got slightly bored on a Friday afternoon, because he would give me the nod and we would creep out and blow holes in the garden. It was a wonderful way to start.
I shall never forget doing Nuffield physics as an A-level student and being able to do practical experiments. Much of my A-level was practical, and that was the joy of Nuffield—going out into the school fields and firing tennis balls out of 3-in mortar tubes to investigate the optimum firing angle. I was very lucky, because the Lancaster household is a strange one, and all I had to do to get hold of gunpowder was to go the bread bin, where my father used to keep it. I also discovered through that practical process that although 45° was the optimum angle to send one’s tennis ball across the fields, it would go just as far if one put it at 60° or 30°. If one put it at 60°, it went much higher and one could dislodge the tiles from the headmaster’s roof. If one put it at 30°, one could get it under the trees and bounce it off the windows. Those are the lessons that only practical science can teach us.
There are no barriers preventing such experiments in the classroom, although I always remember the advice about pipettes and burettes and not to suck too hard because it might take the enamel off one’s teeth, but it is important that we educate people. That is why the Royal Society of Chemistry’s publication “Surely that’s Banned” is so valuable. I encourage the Minister to try to get it to as broad an audience as possible.
There are, however, practical barriers. The hon. Members for Bolton, South-East and for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) referred to the importance of having more or better laboratories in schools, and although I recognise that the Minister will probably tell us that the Government’s building schools for the future initiative may go some way to address that concern, that better schools programme will not hit my constituency until 2013. He knows that my constituency faces considerable financial challenges already, and I am delighted that he has promised to do something about it. Generally, however, more must be done sooner.
I ask the Minister to recognise also that science is a changing subject. It is vital that teachers receive the opportunity constantly to retrain, which is why it is slightly disappointing to discover that science teachers are not entitled to science-related continual professional development. That is another area for the Minister to examine. Indeed, I should tie that issue to the debate last week about equivalent or lower qualifications, about which the Minister knows I feel strongly because of its impact on the Open university. I ask him to talk to his ministerial colleagues and press the point that if the Government pursue the policy of withdrawing ELQ funding, it will have a significant impact on science teaching.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak, although as I fear that I may not be able to stay for the closing speeches the Minister will be relieved to hear that I shall not ask too many questions of him. There is science business in the House of Lords today, and it may take me away.
Instead of going on the trip by the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills to a seminar, I wanted to attend today’s debate in order to support the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and congratulate him on his work on the subject under discussion. This is one of a series of tributes that I have paid to him for his efforts in raising the profile of important science issues—not just chemistry and teaching—in the House. I agree with almost everything that he said today, so I shall stress just a couple of points.
There is a fundamental problem: the shortage of specialist teachers. It creates a vicious circle; if students are not inspired to study science subjects at university because they have not had an inspiring specialist teacher, they will not graduate in that subject and at least consider the option of a teaching career—in the state sector especially. The real issue is that the Government have to break that vicious circle. We must recognise that numerate graduates who understand science and are well trained in its methods are attractive not only to industry and teaching, but also in the City and in jobs that pay far better than public sector jobs such as teaching.
The Government must consider whether the huge burden of student debt imposed as a result of their student funding policies is a factor in the career choices of well-qualified science graduates. There is evidence of that, and although the Minister is quite right to point out that some statistics are misleading—as he claimed about the programme for international student assessment studies—one rarely hears the Government point out misleading statistics when it is not in their favour to do so. The Minister is smiling. I suspect that all political parties are guilty of such practice, so I accept that point, if it is the point he makes, but I campaign within my party to ensure that we improve our performance in that regard. There is, none the less, an undoubted impact when people are burdened with debt and have either the opportunity of a golden hello or the prospect of not being able to afford to buy their own house because they are in a less well-paid public sector job.
There are also issues about women in science teaching, women in science careers and female science graduates staying in science. There is clear evidence that debt has a particular impact on female graduates, and we will not solve the problem until we address the issues for women in science.
The Minister ought to consider the impact of the closure of science centres, which are an inspiration to many students, and indeed, to teaching staff, but are not Government-funded. The centres have an uncertain future because their business plans were approved without adequate scrutiny during the millennium handouts, and unlike museums that promote arts subjects, they do not receive Government funding, whether or not they have collections. I look forward to the Government’s response to the report by the Select Committee on Science and Technology on science centres.
There is an anti-science culture, and it may have an impact on the willingness of students—particularly the brighter ones with many options before them—to take up or at least to be enthusiastic about science. There is an anti-rational movement in this country. Today, there is a demonstration outside the House of Lords against certain aspects of embryo research, where people will wear rabbit and cow costumes or masks to imply that early-stage, inter-species embryos, which will be needed to study embryological and genetic matters, are somehow equivalent to the creation of chimerical monsters. That is ridiculous, but it is the sort of idea that the media promote, and we must ensure that in schools there is a fight against such anti-genetic modification propaganda and, for that matter, against some of the anti-vivisection material that gets into schools.
The Government must draw a line in the sand and say that they will not accept the teaching of creationism in schools, either in science lessons—as they and the official Opposition have said—or as fact in religious education lessons. In RE lessons, it might be taught that some people believe in creationism, because it is a sincere belief, albeit one that I think is wrong, but there should be no instruction that creationism is equivalent to evolution, only that it is a belief. It is not science, and it is not knowledge in that sense.
The hon. Members for Bolton, South-East and for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) mentioned the need to ensure that dissection can be performed in schools. Even if it puts off a few, it can encourage others, and the Government have a challenge to reintroduce such measures in schools.
I know that the Minister is interested in these matters, and I was delighted that he held his seat at the last election. He is one of my favourite Ministers, and I hope that he will look favourably on the subject of the debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing the debate. I have found it incredibly interesting, and it has been a great privilege to share the enthusiasm for science that has been expressed. It is a strong indication that we can and should do better.
There has been growing concern recently about the decline in the number of pupils taking up science at A-level and university and the high number of pupils failing to achieve the required standard in GCSE sciences. It must be recognised that that is a symptom of a long-term decline. The latest Government figures show that at more than 1,500 state schools—about half the schools in England—fewer than 50 per cent. of pupils reach the required standard of two grade Cs or above in science. An accompanying downturn in the number of state education pupils taking science A-levels has been reported by the Cambridge Assessment exam board: although 33.3 per cent. of grammar school and 27.7 per cent. of independent school pupils go on to study chemistry A-level, only 14.8 per cent. of pupils at comprehensives do so.
The falling number of pupils coming through science A-levels has meant that many universities have cut science courses. The University and College Union revealed last August that 10 per cent. of UK science and maths degree courses had been axed in the past decade. The sharpest decline has been in chemistry, sadly, in which 31 per cent. of courses have been cut. The continuing downward trend in the number of science graduates threatens our status as a leading knowledge economy, leaves us vulnerable to emerging economies and is having a direct impact on the number of specialist science teachers in schools.
I should like to mention the vicious circle described by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). Way back in a debate in 2004 I used a little equation: unqualified teachers plus uninterested students equals a drop in the number of people taking A-level science; fewer science graduates equals fewer qualified teachers; and round and round we go. I am sad to say that the trend has not been reversed since that debate, and we are still struggling to recruit the teachers whom we need to inspire children and encourage them to study science and maths at higher levels. I believe fundamentally that all children have a right to be taught by a teacher who is qualified in the subject or area being taught. In conjunction with that, all teachers should have a right to professional development, in which they should be supported. That is important, and it is coming to the fore at last, but it is still a long way down the line.
Lord Sainsbury’s review of science and innovation, published last October, warned that Britain would be involved in a race to the bottom of the global economy unless more was done to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM—development. Similarly, the Confederation of British Industry estimates that more than 2 million graduates in STEM subjects will be needed by 2014 to avoid jobs going abroad. The Government have responded belatedly with the announcement of conversion courses for teachers to retrain as science specialists, and there is a £5,000 incentive. We also need supply cover if teachers are to be released for such important continuing professional development courses.
The Government are moving in the right direction, but it is too little, too late. We are four years on from the Treasury’s original proposals to increase investment in science and technology, and only a handful of teachers are being retrained. It is time that the Government understood the principle of compound interest: start small and early and the target is attainable, leave it late and it becomes unachievable. That is what is in danger of happening to their target for science teachers.
Crucially, the Government are still failing to make teaching a more universally attractive profession that is valued in society. Instead of one-off financial incentives and differential pay scales, which cause resentment and unhappiness and even risk some teachers facing salary cuts after their incentives have run out, teachers’ salaries in general should be addressed and consideration given to the many reasons why so many are demotivated—teaching to targets and so on, and being unable to carry out practical work. That would help to tackle the poor retention rates as well as aid recruitment. After all, about one in five science teachers who find a job in a maintained school have left the profession after three years, according to the Government’s own figures. We must work on generating enthusiasm at primary school level, and consider extra training for primary school teachers. Has the Minister made particular reference to science in the primary review that will be undertaken by Professor Rose?
Although the Government have made a lot of noise about curriculum changes designed to make science more accessible and attractive, movement has been slow. We have heard this morning about the new GCSE syllabus, and I hope that it enthuses students, but it will not be enough just to have exciting topics: there must be practical work. The Royal Society has congratulated the Government on the new syllabus, but we must consider that against the fact that it is still not possible for many pupils to take three separate science GCSEs—68 per cent. of state comprehensives do not even offer three sciences at GCSE, and the science diploma will not be introduced until 2011. Diplomas have been trumpeted as
“the biggest development in examinations anywhere in the world”,
but their staggered deployment, with science to be one of the last available, seems to continue the undervaluing of the subject.
The Government have also been slow to invest the £2 billion needed to upgrade school laboratories, about which we have heard a lot this morning. That investment is absolutely essential. Taking part in experiments and going on school trips are widely recognised as both engaging children in science and aiding their learning, a fact clearly recognised in the revamped gallery recently opened at the Science museum. Sadly, high levels of bureaucracy and a lack of resources mean that more and more teachers are cutting back on such activities. As has been said, a lot of attention needs to be given to making it easier for field trips to take place safely, and to initial teacher training.
Pupil engagement with science through more innovative teaching practice is still only part of the battle. We must get careers advice right. Again belatedly, initiatives are coming through, but I can only plead that much more needs to be done. The science ambassadors are of great importance, and I might mention that a retired scientist came to me recently and asked why we in Dorset were not making more of the Olympics and the sailing school through science and technology projects. I have suggested that to the county council but not had much of a response. We need governors and local education authorities to be engaged in the mission to make science more relevant and, most of all, more exciting.
Data management is still woefully inadequate. The Royal Society’s state of the nation report last year on the UK’s science and teaching work force concluded that
“Governmental statistics do not capture fully the acute problems faced by schools and colleges in maintaining a strong science and mathematics teaching workforce”,
“no accurate estimate of the population of science and mathematics teachers in the UK exists.”
We must have good data on the supply of, and demand for, specialist teachers before we can have policies that work.
If data management is bad in the schools sector, with the new staffing survey overdue like its predecessor, it is effectively non-existent in further education. We worry about the loss through retirement of the physicists who entered teaching in the 1970s, but what about their colleagues who went into the FE sector? Does anyone in Government know the state of STEM subjects there? Does there need to be a retraining programme to match the one in schools, or are pupils studying in schools without sixth forms, who progress to FE post-16, of no importance to our economy? In light of the Education and Skills Bill, we need urgently to ensure that we provide parity in the FE sector. Many colleges will provide the technicians to support our future Nobel prize winners and their needs, and it is important to take them into account.
Time is running out, with even selective schools unable to recruit physicists when they advertise in The Times Educational Supplement. There is so much more for the Government to do, and they would do well not to ignore the warning signs from such august bodies as the Royal Society.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this important debate. He has contributed greatly to the discussion of science and maths in this place, and we have been privileged today to hear from parliamentarians from all parts of the House, who have brought into Parliament not just their expertise in science but their passion and enthusiasm for the future of science in our schools—none more so than my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster). He gave us an exciting insight into his own childhood, including the keeping of gunpowder in the bread bin—not something that I shall mention to my own son—and, more importantly, into the practical physics and science experiments that he undertook, such as firing tennis balls at 45° angles to see where they hit and how far they went. I am sure that he took a practical application of that into his career as a bomb disposal expert in the Army, and that his practical science experience came to good use in his military career.
The importance of science is not to be underestimated. It is an important part of education, in the same way as history or modern languages, equipping the next generation to think about and deal with some of the most important issues facing the country—whether biofuels, energy, climate change, genetic modification or mapping the human genome. Those are all science-related issues, and we need young people, whether they are budding scientists or destined for other careers, to appreciate the importance that science has in all our lives.
Of course, science also has a vital role in our economy. My constituency, in north Hampshire, has one of the largest centres of employment. The pharmaceutical industry is at the heart of the success of my constituency, so I know at first hand how important science is to local business employers. The Leitch report clearly says that the demand for science and technology professionals will increase by 18 to 30 per cent. between 2004 and 2014—far higher than for any other occupational group. As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has pointed out, we cannot rely on overseas expertise to ensure that business needs are met, because those people can too easily return home, taking their skills with them.
The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East focused on the importance of practical science, but the pathway to achieving high-quality practical science in our classrooms has to be through our teaching staff and teaching professionals within our schools. It will be difficult for the Minister to disagree that there is a crisis in science in our schools today. Many hon. Members have stated their concerns about science teaching in our schools and the ability of schools to secure specialist science teachers. We have heard figures on the shortfall in the number of specialist science teachers: only 19 per cent. of science teachers have specialisms in physics, and only 25 per cent. in chemistry. Indeed, one in four schools in the state sector do not have a specialist physics teacher. That is another issue of which I have first-hand experience of problems in my constituency.
The failure to attract new science teachers is worrying, particularly given that many science teachers are nearing retirement. We must also make international comparisons. When one considers that 90 per cent. of teachers in China have some sort of science degree, one realises that, in this country, science simply is not as ingrained in the teaching of our young people as it is in our economic competitor countries. It is important for us to examine that issue and to hear from the Minister what he intends to do about it.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) spoke about the impact that the situation has had on the results achieved in schools, and on GCSE numbers. The number of young people who are able to take three separate sciences is low indeed: just 26 per cent. of comprehensive schools are able to offer the three sciences separately—clearly as a result of the shortfall in the number of specialist teachers. That has had a knock-on effect on the number of students able to study at A-level and a further knock-on effect on the number studying science at university. There has been a 40 per cent. fall in demand for undergraduate places in physics, and I know from my experience in south-east England that the physics department at the university of Reading, which provided an excellent opportunity for students in my area to study physics close to home, has recently closed.
The Royal Society of Chemistry has warned that too many science students need remedial lessons when they arrive at university, which causes significant problems for university teachers. Most sobering of all, it says that 30 per cent. of university physics departments have closed since 1994, and that only 47 out of 125 universities now offer physics places. It is estimated that only six chemistry departments will be left by 2014.
What has been the Government’s response so far? We should not be surprised that it has been to set a target. The target is that by 2014, 25 per cent. of science teachers will have a physics specialism, and 31 per cent. a chemistry specialism. Those are admirable objectives, and I am sure that the Minister will touch on them in his remarks, but the Royal Society felt that those targets were somewhat short on detail when they were announced. Indeed, the Institute of Physics did not feel that there was a well-defined strategy in place for achieving the goals that the Government set out. Perhaps we should not be surprised that in the past decade, parliamentary answers obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) have revealed that, year on year, the Government have failed to meet their targets on the recruitment of more science teachers into this area, despite the considerable effort put into golden hellos and bursaries, which simply have not been hitting the targets on improving recruitment or other targets that the Government wanted to achieve.
The most concerning statistics of all must be that 40 per cent. of science and maths teachers who qualified in 1999 were not teaching a year later, and that 50 per cent. were not teaching five years later. Those figures come from the Royal Society. Why are we not retaining the scientists whom we have enticed into the teaching profession? Perhaps the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East hit the nail on the head by making the lion’s share of his speech about practical work, which brings science to life, not only for students but for teachers. He talked about his experiences, in his early years, when he got a chemistry set from his friend and undertook his own experiments, thus finding out how exciting science can be for young people. For me, the highlight of biology at school was dissecting a cow’s eye, but I hear that, unfortunately, such dissections are not always offered in schools in my area.
The practical role of science was highlighted in the House of Lords report as an essential component of effective science teaching. The Lords also picked up on the problem of health and safety inhibiting teaching. Several speakers, including the hon. Members for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and for Bolton, South-East, have discussed the conditions in laboratories. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes that building schools for the future will not be available to many constituents until five years hence, which will be too late for the work that needs to be undertaken in our science laboratories.
Science teachers might feel let down by the Government, because many students do not have basic English and maths when they reach secondary school, and that affects the teaching of science in schools. How does the Minister feel about that? Surely, if children do not have a grasp of basic English and maths, it will be next to impossible for them to access physics, chemistry and biology. Does he not share our concern that that is a fundamental issue and that the Government must start to take it far more seriously?
I noted with interest that the Minister picked up on the fact that there have been some discussions on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings of the UK in science. I am sure that he is not complacent in that area at all, and that he is as concerned as Conservative Members are that, in absolute terms, China—one of the countries that we must keep in mind as a key competitor in the future—significantly outperformed the UK on science and maths in 2006. I would appreciate some thoughts from the Minister as to how he will reverse that situation in the coming years.
The Opposition want specialist science to be taken seriously by the Government. Too little progress has been made on recruiting and retaining suitably qualified teachers for core academic science subjects. The Government need to share our pledge that all secondary school pupils capable of doing so should be able to do the individual science GCSEs if that is their choice. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole also picked up on that.
The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) mentioned the importance of firsthand experience for children in schools, and echoed many of the thoughts of other Members. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) discussed the importance of inspirational specialist teachers. There is a great deal of agreement on the issues that face us.
Will the Minister pledge that students who wish to study individual sciences will be able to do so? When will the Government be able to meet their recruitment targets and perhaps make up the shortfall of the past decade? The Government’s promise in the 2005 general election campaign of £200 million for school science labs has not been delivered, much to the annoyance of some sectors. Given the declining number of science students, how will the Minister guarantee that building schools for the future money will actually be used to improve science labs in schools? What will he do to help more teachers access the regional science learning centres?
Last but by no means least, will the Minister undertake a review of science teaching and take up some of the issues that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East raised, to establish what can be done to enhance the excitement of teaching science in our schools? Science is the lifeblood and one of the most important aspects of the economy and the future of this country.
Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this important and engaging debate on science teaching. There is no greater champion of science in this House, and we have seen that not only today but through his work on the former Science and Technology Committee and now on the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee. I shall comment later on some of the points that he made.
We had excellent contributions from all the speakers. It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) has had to go to a Public Bill Committee—I shall say one or two things in response to his comments shortly. I was taken with the engaging contribution of the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster). We all enjoyed hearing about the holes in his lawn, and I agree that it is a crying shame that every young person is not taught science in a fun and engaging way.
I was pleased that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) thought that we were going in the right direction, and I share her desire and impatience for us to go further and faster. She thought that we needed to make teaching more attractive and spoke about teachers’ pay. I hope that she has had a chance to see the ministerial statement on teachers’ pay that we published at 9.30 this morning. It outlines the three-year settlement of 2.45, 2.3 and 2.3 per cent., which, according to the comments that I have seen to date, has been broadly welcomed by all but perhaps one of the teachers unions. Average teacher pay is up 19 per cent. in real terms over the past 10 years; for head teachers, it is up by more than 25 per cent. We have made some good progress on teachers’ pay.
Among his other comments, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) spoke about his worries that top-up fees would have a detrimental impact on recruitment of science students in higher education. A provisional figure from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for 2007-08 shows that, in comparison with the previous year, there have been increases in first-degree acceptances for physics of 10.3 per cent., for chemistry of 8.8 per cent., for biology of 3.3 per cent. and for mathematics of 9.2 per cent. I am sure that all Members who have shown their enthusiasm for science will welcome those significant increases. They follow the signs of recovery in A-level recruitment into physics, which I shall discuss later.
I believe the Minister will concede that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon made a particular point about the position of women and the burden of debt. Throughout this debate there has been great concern about the gender imbalance and the fact that more science teachers could be recruited if there were equality between the sexes. I would be grateful if the Minister addressed that general point.
I agree that there is a continuing need to redress the gender gap, particularly in respect of girls studying physics. There has been a slight narrowing of it, but it is not sufficient and we certainly need to do more. As ever, there is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation with such issues. If we could get more girls to study physics to A-level, there would be more chance of their going on to study it in higher education and then going into teaching, but which comes first is something that we have to address. I will say more about that as I go on.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) made an interesting contribution as well and asked all the right questions. Beyond what I already said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East on the programme for international student assessment, it is worth noting that only seven countries had mean scores that were significantly higher than England’s, and that England has the third highest proportion of students at the highest level of attainment in the world. There are some cultural as well as substantive issues—for example, gender was just mentioned—that we need to address. Only 38 per cent. of students said that they like reading about science, and only 55 per cent. said that they generally have fun when they are learning science. Those are the sorts of things that we have been talking about and that we want to deal with in our reforms. However, 61 per cent. of students—higher than the international average—agreed that when they leave school there will be many opportunities for them to use science. Some of the messages are starting to get through.
I agree that science should be exciting and engaging. I well remember my experience in school of lighting the magnesium, of wrestling with the ticker tape timer, and, in the days when I had hair, of static electricity having the necessary effect. I was delighted when I went back to my school last year that Paul McCartney, who taught me chemistry, and Jan Pringle, who taught me physics, were still there and still doing the great job that they did when I was a pupil.
I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East to make science a more attractive option for young people to study and for schools and teachers to teach—almost as much as I share my enthusiasm for KT Tunstall’s latest album, “Drastic Fantastic”, with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, who is an enthusiast. Perhaps it describes how we want science teaching to change: drastically and fantastically.
We want more students to continue to study science, to make it their career and to engage with scientific issues as citizens. I want to explain today how we will achieve that by inspiring young people with science throughout their journey through the various stages of school.
The key to good learning is, of course, good teaching. We know that to help students enjoy and achieve success in science we need more specialist teachers, as has been pointed out—specialists who can communicate their love for and depth of knowledge of their subject. We are encouraging people to train and to qualify as science teachers, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, by offering a teacher training bursary and a golden hello in the subjects that we need. That is working: the number of trainee science teachers recruited in a year has just reached more than 3,000 for the first time for conventional initial teacher training. Add to that the employment-based routes, and we are now recruiting well in terms of science specialists.
There is not an overall crisis in terms of the future numbers of science teachers, because the numbers entering training has risen by almost a third in seven years, but the hon. Member for Basingstoke is right to say that there are still not enough specialist physics and chemistry teachers. We are doing more so that teachers in other subjects can gain the specialisms that they need in science, through funding the development of the new accredited training courses that were mentioned. To ensure that those courses deliver the quality that is needed, the Training and Development Agency for Schools has worked with the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry, and together they have developed courses that allow science teachers—normally biologists—without a physics or chemistry specialism to gain the knowledge and teaching skills that they need to teach these science subjects well. In gender terms, that is significant, because many of those biologists are female, and we are now, through the use of this qualification, engaging them to become specialists, especially in physics, so that we can then address the gender imbalance in the physics teaching profession, which I hope will encourage more girls to stay on doing A-level physics and go on to study it in higher education.
In the children’s plan, we announced a further new programme, “Transition to teaching”, which will be a partnership between employers and the TDA intended to attract staff with science, mathematics or technology backgrounds who may wish to take up teaching to come out of industry and take on a second career in teaching. That programme is being developed under the leadership of Larry Hirst from IBM.
We do not just need more specialist teachers, we need to ensure that science teachers get the continuing support and development that they need to remain inspirational teachers. Continuing personal development is important, as all hon. Members have said. We fund schools to provide CPD for staff. Today is the fifth anniversary of the social partnership that the Department for Education and Skills developed with teaching unions, one of the main outputs of which has been the work force agreement, giving more planning preparation and assessment time for the teaching staff, and using Baker days—the in-service training or INSET days—that were developed by the previous Government. The combination of funding and time ought to be able to improve CPD, but we do not prescribe nationally how that should be developed.
In partnership with the Wellcome Trust we have set up a national network of science learning centres, as hon. Members have mentioned, to provide professional development for science teachers and technicians. Those centres focus on high-quality, innovative and inspiring courses, ranging from “Putting the wow into year 2”, through to “Creative brain warmers” for 14 to 19-year-olds, to ones using cartoons and puppets to encourage pupils to discuss scientific issues. However, I am not sure that those courses extend to blowing holes in the garden.
The take-up of CPD at science learning centres has been strong, and although it is not quite up to half of science teachers attending the equivalent of a day at the centre last year, it is not far off. However, the best measure of the success of science teaching is beyond that, in the classroom. The journey into science begins in primary school. We agree that it is really important, across the whole range of subjects in the curriculum, that young people have a mastery of reading and mathematics. That is where we put the priority throughout the past 10 years and why 100,000 more pupils every year are now leaving primary school with the national competency that they need in English and maths. That is 100,000 more than in 1997, when we took over as a Government, but we accept that we need to go further. That is why we are introducing the synthetic phonics, developed by Sir Jim Rose, in the “Letters and sounds” programme and why we are developing “Every child counts” to further improve mathematics and extending the use of one-to-one classes for catch-up for those that need it.
We have seen the enthusiasm of young children enjoying the hands-on science or looking in awe at the rockets on display in the Science museum. Teachers have been harnessing such enthusiasm with increasing success. In 1997, seven out of 10 pupils were achieving level 4 at the end of key stage 2, and now it is almost nine out of 10. Again, that is a good improvement. Building on these excellent results, we look forward to teachers having more opportunities to inspire children.
Hon. Members asked about Sir Jim Rose’s review of the primary curriculum, which he began last week. That will have a strong focus on scientific understanding, as well as literacy, numeracy and the effective use of information and communication technology. We have to ensure that the enthusiasm of primary children, who are doing so well, survives the transition to the next stage of their journey through education to secondary school. That is why the secondary national strategy is working with schools to promote high-quality interactive teaching, including imaginative use of practical work. At the moment, almost three quarters of pupils achieve level 5 at the end of key stage 3, and 41 per cent. achieve level 6. Those figures are much better than 10 years ago, but they are still not good enough—I am confident that the hon. Member for Basingstoke will agree.
I should like to pick up on the point that the Minister made about the importance of imaginative practical work. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts has estimated that 87 per cent. of science teachers have been prevented from letting their students undertake practical work because they believe that health and safety regulations prohibit them from doing so. What work are the Government doing to help science teachers in this area, which is critical to the issue that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East has raised?
I was going to address that. To help smooth transition and keep the excitement in these subjects, from this September schools will start teaching the new key stage 3 curriculum to their year 7 pupils, which some of the hon. Lady’s colleagues have been less than enthusiastic about. That will let the teachers engage the pupils by focusing more on the applications and implications of science and its relevance to and importance in everyday life. The new key stage 3 curriculum clearly says that there should be opportunities for pupils to experience science outside the school environment.
We agree that school trips are important. That is why we have developed the “Learning Outside the Classroom” manifesto to promote the value of trips and help overcome some of the associated obstacles, such as insurance and risk management. Equally, outside the timetable, 250 science and engineering after-school clubs are harnessing the interest and potential of thousands of 11 to 14-year-olds, bringing the real-world application of science into schools for them: how their iPod works or what chemistry is going on inside their brains when they fall in love. Perhaps they can do more of the science poetry that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North mentioned. From September we will be doubling the number of these after-school clubs that we fund.
Results are improving at the next stage in the journey through school, at GCSE level. In 1997, 44 per cent. of pupils gained at least one higher-level GCSE in science; last year, the proportion had risen to 51 per cent. The statistics are similar for pupils taking two sciences, showing that when they do one well the chances are that they will do the other well. However, we want to go further.
We are offering a revitalised GCSE curriculum with more choices for students and more recognition for schools that offer quality science teaching. We have already slimmed down the secondary curriculum at key stage 4, giving teachers more flexibility to structure the lessons the way they choose. We have reduced prescription while maintaining breadth, depth and challenge, giving teachers the chance to concentrate on the big ideas and the excitement, importance and relevance of the subject—the approach that captured those children’s interest when they started learning science in primary school. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East has seen in his constituency how enthusiastically the new curriculum is being received by pupils and teachers alike, and I hope that other hon. Members can see it in their own constituencies.
Beyond the changes in September 2007, we will go a step further in September this year, when all pupils who have achieved at least level 6 at key stage 3 will be entitled to study triple science GCSEs. I mention that in response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Basingstoke. That builds on what happened in September 2007, since which time all students have had a statutory entitlement to study science courses leading to at least two GCSEs.
From 2011, there will be a further option, from key stage 4, when the new science diplomas will offer another way to engage students in science and link them with employers and colleges. From this year, schools are getting specific recognition for good science provision, because we have added a new science indicator, for the first time, to this year’s attainment tables published last week. Parents can now see, for each school, the percentage of pupils with two or more higher-level science GCSEs.
As the study of science improves in numbers and quality up the school, I would expect more students to decide to carry on with science at A-level. Our “Next step” strategy, published in 2006, set out the targets, and in 2007 we saw a small rise to 23,932 in the number of A-level physics entries: the first increase since 1998. That is underpinned, equally, by expansions in the numbers doing physics at AS-level, and in the past few years there have been increases in the numbers of students doing chemistry. We are turning the corner in that regard.
One of the drivers of more students studying science at A-level and beyond will be the opportunities that are opened up in careers in science. We are working with schools, scientists and young people to let students see that science in the real world is well paid and works in various occupations. One day one of those occupations might be to follow the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East and be another passionate advocate for science in Parliament. We are increasing the number of ambassadors.
I should like to have time to respond in detail to the points about building schools for the future, but time is running out, so—
East Surrey Hospital
The principal institution in the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust is the East Surrey hospital in my constituency, hence the short title of this debate. It is a major NHS hospital, now serving some 450,000 people in Surrey and Sussex, which is more than three times the number it was designed to serve when it was built 20 years ago. Its location, which is adjacent to some of the busiest stretches of the motorway network, and particularly its proximity to Gatwick airport, with a daily transient population of 50,000, as well as a major incident risk, means that it serves far more than just the local population. It does so in one of the most pressured parts of the south-east, where providing public services on national frameworks has proved the most difficult. That is one of a combination of factors that has meant that the trust has accumulated a large deficit, and I understand that it is now the largest deficit in the country. The principal cause has been political, and I now seek a political solution.
Let me begin with the good news. The trust’s management have reduced the underlying operational deficit from about £27 million in 2004-5 and 2005-6 to £12 million in 2006-7, and expect to break even this year. That is a remarkable achievement. The accumulated deficit is no longer increasing, but the events of the past have left the trust with a £56 million debt to the Department of Health. At a cost of £2.7 million a year in interest, that loan is a serious burden on the trust, but capital repayments of the same order are also required. That will hold back the trust’s service provision, quite apart from removing any prospect of foundation status.
All that is set against a bleak assessment of patient care. The Healthcare Commission’s most recent appraisal of the trust was that it was weak in quality of services and in use of resources. Given where it was coming from in terms of finance, that seems little short of ungrateful, but I hope that it will change significantly this year.
My hon. Friend has taken a close interest in the matter for many years. Will he join me in paying tribute to the doctors, nurses, medical staff and all who work at the hospital, who have done so in very difficult circumstances in recent years?
I am extremely happy to do so. The medical staff have had to work in trying conditions, because the hospital has been in turnaround state for three years with the additional strains arising from that. I do not believe that that is the responsibility of the management, and far less of the doctors, nurses and important support staff who work there. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to them, and I should be grateful for his support, as I am to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), whose constituents are also served by the East Surrey hospital.
During the three years of turnaround, the trust has had four chief executives, but now seems finally to be returning to annual financial balance. Happily, none of the Ministers in the Department of Health was party to the critical decisions on the reorganisation of the trust. The unnaturally high turnover of senior management also means that those who are looking to remedy East Surrey hospital's financial situation cannot be blamed for the circumstances in which they now find themselves, although I am inclined to acquit previous managers due to the impossible situation in which they found themselves.
The background is that in 1998 the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust was formed principally at the behest of the royal colleges’ drive for medical training requirements for a catchment area of 250,000 from the merger of Crawley and Horsham NHS Trust with East Surrey Healthcare NHS Trust.
My hon. Friend mentioned a number of constituencies, so this is probably the moment to emphasise to the Minister that a considerable number of constituencies, including my own, look to that trust. A number of hospitals serve my constituency, and two are under financial threat.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose intervention refers to my previous comment that the provision of public services in Surrey has proved to be an enormous challenge under the financial settlement that all the institutions in the county have received.
On reflection, the merger between Crawley and Horsham NHS Trust and the East Surrey Healthcare NHS Trust was not a marriage made in heaven. As in many such mergers, reorganisation was required to provide the best services throughout the new trust's two district hospital sites and its other sites, but the principal sites were at Crawley and in east Surrey south of Redhill. The trust’s proposals for reorganisation were broadly supported by all local MPs.
The plan presented to Ministers in 1999 was that acute services, including major accident and emergency services and in-patient maternity services, should be co-located at the newer and less constrained East Surrey hospital. The plans were presented to the Department in 1999, but it took a year for approval to be given in June 2000 by the then Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). Ministers dictated that a review was to be established to produce recommendations on the long-term provision of secondary health care, including the prospect of a new hospital on another site at Pease Pottage, just outside Crawley, after 2020. That review was to be chaired by Peter Bagnall, and whatever its health merits, its overt political purpose was to address concerns in Crawley about the loss of the local accident and emergency department.
Those conclusions would have meant the transfer of acute services from Crawley to East Surrey hospital. The closing of Crawley hospital's accident and emergency department would inevitably have been unpopular, but the professional consensus was that those changes were necessary, and I recall that the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) was part of the consensus. However, the local papers in Crawley were not convinced and ran a strong campaign against Crawley hospital losing its acute services. In response, Ministers altered the terms of reference of Peter Bagnall’s review of future hospital services to consider changes to be made by 2010, holding out the prospect of a new hospital 10 years earlier than previously planned. That was still not enough to placate the residents of Crawley.
The hon. Member for Crawley lobbied the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), to postpone the transfer of services away from Crawley before the 2001 election. Meetings were held and a delegation taken to meet the Secretary of State for Health from which I and other local MPs were excluded. With weeks to go before the likely election in May 2001, which was later postponed to June 2001, the Secretary of State declared a moratorium on the clinical reconfiguration in March. That was despite that clinical configuration having commenced and maternity services having been moved. Paediatrics, ENT and gynaecology, all of which are associated with maternity, were left with twin-site working.
The political nature of the decision was made explicit in a letter dated 28 February from Sir William Wells, who was then chairman of the south-east regional office of the NHS, to the Secretary of State. He said:
“Although in practice there is little direct connection between the outcome of the Review and the need to move emergency services, in the short term this is not understood by the general public and in particular by Laura Moffatt's constituents and as a consequence she has asked whether there could be some moratorium on service moves until such time as the outcome of the review is known.”
In a draft statement, Sir William wrote:
“Laura Moffatt has agreed with the Secretary of State that, except on patient safety grounds, no further service reductions will take place at Crawley until the South East Surrey and North West Sussex Review is published in December 2001.”
It is indeed a novel departure for a Back-Bench MP and a Secretary of State to thrash out health policy, which will affect hundreds of thousands of people, in the interest of one constituency. I was not consulted, nor was I offered a meeting with Sir William Wells, despite the site of one of the two hospitals concerned being in my constituency; nor were my hon. Friends the Members for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Mole Valley and those with constituencies in the wider area, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), invited to agree the postponement with the Secretary of State. Let us not fool ourselves. We all know what was going on in the run-up to the 2001 general election. However, even if we accept that Ministers were entitled to make that decision to address local public concerns, it was a ministerial intervention.
The Bagnall review was finally published in 2002 and turned out to be an expensive diversion. Its initial political purpose was to hold open the prospect of a new hospital, but it was then used as a pretext to delay the closure of Crawley’s acute services. The continuation of twin-site working from 2001 came at an appalling cost both financially and in patient care. It cost the trust an estimated £10 million a year. That was not rectified until the end of 2004 or, arguably, September 2006 when Crawley hospital was finally taken off the books of the local hospital trust. The Secretary of State’s intervention cost some £40 million—or 1,600 heart transplants, 1,000 liver transplants or 50,000 cataract operations—which was a substantial majority of the deficit accumulated by the trust. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act 2000 show that the trust believed that clinical safety would be imperilled by that suspension. I am very cautious about making specific links between cases and the moratorium, but coincidentally mortality rates in the borough of Reigate and Banstead rose during the suspension while they fell in Surrey as a whole.
Peter Bagnall’s team considered six options and, after an exhaustive process, recommended a new hospital at Pease Pottage. Bagnall’s recommendation came with capital cost of £278 million and an annual additional revenue requirement of £42.9 million. His second choice, which was effectively the proposals put to ministers in 1999, envisaged a rise in the running costs of £24.5 million and a capital cost of £105 million. The strategic health authorities were then established by the Government and they immediately instructed health economists to review the Bagnall recommendations. In 2003, the recommendations were confirmed as unaffordable. The trust continued with the burden of a district general hospital that it did not want or need. In 2006, Crawley hospital was transferred to the local primary care trust.
Finally, the board was in a position to do what it had wanted to do all along, which was to operate with one district general hospital. Robin Eve, an excellent non-executive director at the time, has made that clear in public. However, the board was prevented from managing the trust as it wished by the politics of Crawley and ministerial decisions.
Today, we have arrived at Peter Bagnall’s option 2, namely single site operation at East Surrey. That was the cheapest option in revenue terms, but it still required, on Bagnall’s analysis, an enhancement of £21.5 million in revenue and a capital enhancement of £117 million by 2010. As far as I am aware, that capital expenditure has not been made despite it being the product of Bagnall’s detailed review.
Let me return to the management of the hospital after the imposition of the moratorium in 2001. The financial position deteriorated over the next four years until 2005 when the trust was in the worst financial position in the country. The management had undoubtedly been demoralised by the intervention in 2001, but it had the benefit of a talented and experienced chief executive, Ken Cunningham, who had been hand-picked to replace Isabel Gowan, who had herself been removed in 2000 when her accounting to meet Government performance targets had been rather too creative. The Minister will recall that in this period of the management of the health service, deficits were an increasing problem as managers tried to balance the imperative of meeting their performance targets with sustaining a balanced budget. The costs of providing public services in the south-east are well documented and those pressures, overlaid with this ministerial decision, made the trust impossible to manage, and led to the deficit running out of control.
In February 2005, Ken Cunningham and his board agreed to leave, and Robin Eve had to be dismissed. They were replaced by an interim administration from the private sector under Anthony McKeever. His successor, Gary Walker from the private sector, was still dealing with a £20-million-a-year deficit in January 2006, and it had become clear that it was not reasonable to expect the hospital to resolve this deficit alone. That position was shared by his successor, Gail Wannell, who took over in August of that year. By October, the principle cause of the deficit had been removed, as Crawley hospital was placed in the hands of Crawley PCT.
Now, it could be the case that that string of NHS managers were all equally incapable of handling the crisis at the trust, and it could be that the turnaround teams brought in by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) were stymied by the incompetence or obstruction of the management, but that stretches coincidence too far. Ministerial decisions had caused the crisis, and no manager could balance the performance targets and the budget in those circumstances.
The good news is that the trust is forecast to break even this year. However, there remains a debt of £54.9 million to the Department. I would like the Minister to address that figure when she responds. The interest on this loan is currently costing the trust £2.7 million. The trust’s financial managers are also in the position of having to find £2 million-plus every year from their budget to repay the loan, and they have to do that in the knowledge that for every year the loan remains, more money that should be invested in patient care is being used to pay interest.
In seeking this debate, my hope is to ask the Minister to look into the very particular history of the debt incurred by the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. If she does so, she will see that costly reorganisations were punctuated with costly delays—for reasons far outside the control of the trust. Ministers could have enabled the reorganisation to begin in 1999, but the Department took a year to consider plans that had taken a year to create. Ministers suspended the reorganisation in progress in 2001. Previous ministerial decisions have contributed directly to the highest deficit in the country. Today’s management should satisfy the Minister that the trust is becoming financially sound. The current management are bringing the trust on to a solid financial footing. The financial improvement, however, has come at a price. My constituents and I and my hon. Friends the Members for East Surrey and for Mole Valley are beginning to see a rising tide of concern about the clinical care and performance of the hospital. My impression is that the obsessive concentration on achieving financial goals has taken the current management’s eye off the performance goals in a way that runs counter to the position that was developed under Ken Cunningham. That is the area in which I would like the Minister to show real faith in the trust, and to put the needs of patients first.
Without this loan, the trust would be in a position to address the problems in its accident and emergency department that have played such a part in the weak scores ascribed to it by the Healthcare Commission. If the Department writes off this debt, the Trust can at last move on after nearly a decade of instability and uncertainty. The alternative is that my constituents, those of my hon. Friends, and those of the hon. Member for Crawley will continue to be served by a hospital that is paying debts imposed on it by political decisions. I have seen the very debilitating effects of a management being constrained from doing the right thing. The consequences today are that the patients served by this hospital could be enjoying nearly £5 million a year invested in improving services and the prospect of a management delivering further improvements under foundation status. That is quite apart from the £117 million of capital investment that was identified as required by Peter Bagnall in 2002.
Timing is everything. This year the health service is in surplus. I urge the Minister to use this opportunity to examine the case and to write off the deficit of this trust, which was imposed in unique and not very creditable circumstances.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) on securing this debate about the financial position of East Surrey hospital, which is part of the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. It is a matter of great concern to him and his constituents. I certainly appreciate the comments that he has made today about the quality and commitment of the hospital staff.
One of the key responsibilities of an NHS trust is to live within its resources. However, the Surrey and Sussex trust is currently in a deficit position of £2.6 million for the 2007-08 financial year. I appreciate that the trust has more work to do but, like the hon. Gentleman, I commend the efforts of the staff and management in reducing the forecast deficit from almost £30 million in 2004-05.
I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make, but the fact of the matter is that the deficit is a result of the trust spending more than its income, which was in part due to not meeting its savings plan. I understand from the South East Coast strategic health authority that a full restructuring—the hon. Gentleman touched on that—of the executive team, clinical directorates, governance, finance, work force and estates and facilities has been completed at the trust to strengthen accountability and to focus on delivery and performance.
I want to deal with the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the trust’s loan. In March 2006 the trust received a working capital loan of £56 million, repayable over 25 years. The loan was provided to cover the cash consequences of historical overspending that had previously been managed through an informal brokerage system, which was not transparent and often was not fair to the rest of the health service. The hon. Gentleman puts a straight question to me: why do I not simply write off the debt? I cannot write off the debt, for the following reasons.
NHS organisations must live within their means. The deficits of NHS trusts cannot simply be erased, not least because overspends in one part of the system must be covered by underspends in another. We are transferring money from elsewhere. The money loaned to the Surrey and Sussex trust by the Department has been provided by other parts of the NHS that have underspent. The trust needs to repay its loan so that the cash can be returned. Simply to write off the loan would be fundamentally unfair to organisations that have a firm grip on their finances.
I would like to go a little further, but I will give way before I conclude. I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that mechanisms in place with regard to the loan will address his specific fear that unreasonable financial pressure will somehow be exerted in respect of the loan and, therefore, that patient care will suffer. That goes to the heart of the matter.
A number of trusts, including Surrey and Sussex, are in challenging positions because of historical debts, but our first reaction cannot be simply to write off those debts. None the less, given the size of the loan and the length of the repayment period, it was agreed that the trust be classified as one of the financially challenged trusts that would go into a new formal review process. I want to talk about that to reassure the hon. Gentleman.
As a result of introducing the new loans scheme in 2006-07, there were 17 NHS trusts in which the financial challenges were such that either the Department could not give a loan because the trust could not afford to meet the repayments, or a loan was agreed but the amount could be repaid only over an extended time scale. One element of the review of each of the financially challenged trusts—the Surrey and Sussex trust is in that category—is a close examination of the ongoing impact of debt and the associated costs of repayment, which is exactly the point the hon. Gentleman talks about. That will ensure that a sustainable outcome is delivered that both provides financial stability and maintains quality of care. For the Surrey and Sussex trust, that means that if the repayment of the loan leads to problems, they will be identified and addressed through the performance management process in agreement with the strategic health authority.
The reviews of all financially challenged trusts have been completed, and strategic health authorities have made proposals in respect of them. Those proposals are being discussed with the Department, and acceptable solutions will be released as they are agreed. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are kept fully informed of those developments.
The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, since 1997, funding for the national health service has tripled and that as we move towards 2010-11, when we will have gone from expenditure of £33 billion in 1996-97 to £110 billion, it has also been necessary to ensure that we have a financial management system that is transparent and fair to all—to ensure that all health service trusts are treated in the same way. He referred to the deficits of the health service as a whole. He will know that we ended 2005-06 with a £547 million deficit and we needed to take rigorous action, but he will also know that the audited results for 2006-07 show that the NHS as a whole reported a net surplus of £515 million, and at the end of the second quarter of 2007-08 the surplus has risen. That represents 2.3 per cent. of total NHS revenue expenditure. The hon. Gentleman asked why we do not use that money, but I am sure he recognises that, in fairness to the whole health service, particularly those parts that are underspending—
I will give way in a moment. Locally generated surpluses are giving NHS organisations in all areas much more flexibility to respond to patient need, and giving clinicians and managers the necessary headroom to plan better for new services and to manage risks. I absolutely accept that the hon. Gentleman has identified one of them.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. She has yet to acknowledge that ministerial decisions played any role at all in the deficits of the trust. That is what happened. We all know why. It is because of ministerial intervention that I now seek her ministerial intervention, in the circumstances of the surplus that she has just described, to help the trust.
I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s proposition. He should look at the reconfigurations that have taken place in different parts of the country. He and his hon. Friends happen to have supported this one, but others have been held up where he and his hon. Friends do not support them. Each one is recommended on the basis of clinical need.
I have a tiny bit of familiarity with the areas that the hon. Gentleman talked about, because I lived in Crawley as a youngster. My mother was treated at Redhill. I know the Crawley site reasonably well and I certainly know and have some understanding of the demands of the widespread community that he identified. However, to say that the matter we are discussing is the result only of the Secretary of State or Ministers cutting across local accountability and clinical recommendations is simply incorrect. Any trust, including Surrey and Sussex, that has received a loan has a duty to repay it—a duty to the rest of the health service that is in balance. None the less, because of the status of the 17 trusts designated as financially challenged, there is a positive process in place to watch over the developments.
The Surrey and Sussex trust is one of four organisations nationally that received a Healthcare Commission rating of weak in both use of resources and quality of services for 2006-07 and 2005-06. As a result, David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, is meeting the organisations and their strategic health authorities to consider and agree a recovery action plan, and consider whether further support is required. The Healthcare Commission will inspect the organisations, assess the problems and make recommendations for action, reporting back nationally on any common traits in weak organisations. That puts in place a thorough review to address the hon. Gentleman’s fears and the risks he has identified. His contribution to today’s debate will form part of that consideration and I am grateful to have been able to respond.
I am absolutely delighted that I secured this debate. I believe that it is hugely important not only to Crawley residents, but also to people throughout the UK.
Aviation is one of the most successful industries in the UK. It has provided employment for a great many people and the UK is seen around the world as an industry leader. The Minister will know that Gatwick airport is wholly within my constituency. It is the busiest single-runway airport, and the seventh largest, in the world. It is a successful, award-winning airport. Some 90 airlines fly from Gatwick, taking passengers to some 230 destinations worldwide. More than 35 million people pass through the airport each year, which must make my constituency one of the most visited in the UK. My husband, Colin, has been employed at Gatwick all his working life, which is common for people in Crawley—generations of Crawley people have been committed to the airline industry. The airport provides direct employment for 25,000, and a further 12,000 to 13,000 people whose jobs are directly related to Gatwick work off-site.
The staff are fantastic. I visit the airport frequently, as a passenger to use the excellent transport interchange, and as a Member of Parliament to look at all aspects of its work. I have seen first hand how hard Gatwick staff work to ensure that the passenger experience is good. That goes for the whole organisation, from senior management through to cleaners. I would probably put the cleaners at the top at the moment—they are really good.
I believe that the staff have succeeded. They rose to the challenge posed by the need for additional security measures. The airport has employed more than 450 new airport security officers to ensure that the passenger experience remains one of the best in the country. Carriers worked with the Civil Aviation Authority to reduce the resulting congestion by bringing innovative ideas to improve check-in times. Virgin Atlantic introduced a great idea whereby passengers were allowed to check in from midday to nine o’clock on the day prior to their flight. That reduced a lot of stress and congestion at the airport. There are many initiatives—too many to mention—but people are really thinking about how to make Gatwick a better place. The immigration service continues to pose difficult challenges to those who seek to ensure that people get through Gatwick as quickly as possible, but there are good working relationships and people come up with great ideas to reduce queues.
The airport is frequently recognised for the contribution it makes. Last year, it won the Travel Bulletin award for best UK airport for the fourth consecutive year; it was voted the UK’s favourite leisure airport by British Travel Awards; and favourite British airport by readers of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph—I do not know what to say about the latter, frankly. More than 35 million people travel through Gatwick each year, so those awards are something to be proud of.
People make airports, and I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the people who work to make Gatwick such a decent place. There is an ongoing issue regarding the BAA pension. Staff and the trade union movement were concerned that those joining the company may not enjoy the same advantages as those who already work there, and they were prepared to take action. I see the fact that people are prepared to keep the issue at the forefront as positive. Also, the airport works with the trade unions on the 23 kg limit for single bags. That excellent initiative is supported not only by the trade unions, which know about the injuries sustained by people who move baggage, but by employers, who want far fewer people on sick leave because of injury and all that that involves.
There are lots of new issues at Gatwick. British Airways remains hugely important, and I hope that that remains the case. Virgin Atlantic has expanded its Gatwick operation by 20 per cent. in the past five years, and many other excellent carriers are expanding their operations. I hope that I have demonstrated that Gatwick airport is extremely important. It provides major employment opportunities and contributes hugely to the economic prosperity of my area. Gatwick not only attracts companies with interests in airport industries, but companies that need to locate near to a transport hub. That is what Gatwick brings to the business community, and the community puts Gatwick at its heart.
It is no wonder that so many of my constituents support Gatwick airport or that people in Crawley are rightly proud of it. It is acknowledged nationally that it provides one of the best travel experiences. Local people know only too well the difference that having the UK’s second largest airport locally makes to our lives. They also know that any decline of the airport would have a huge impact on them, which is why I introduced this debate.
In 2003, the Government White Paper recognised the importance of the aviation industry in the UK and, as such, was widely welcomed by the industry and beyond. Naturally, views about the environmental implications of the White Paper were strongly expressed, but they were examined closely and the paper included measures that could improve the environmental impact of aviation. A wide range of measures could be taken. In particular, the European emissions trading scheme will, I believe, create a much better platform for reducing carbon emissions from airports and the impact of aviation on our planet. New technology has a huge amount to offer. Some of the airlines at Gatwick have ordered new airliners such as the Dreamliner, which is much more efficient and easier on the planet.
With BAA, Crawley borough council has created groundbreaking environmental agreements to improve the environmental performance of the airport. That has never happened before, but it has been a huge success and it is about to be renewed. The airlines have done more. They now work to fly their aircraft differently to reduce noise and engine emissions pollution, so they have been actively engaged.
I mentioned that Gatwick is a fantastic interchange for transport of all sorts. The upgrading of the train station will benefit people who work in London and those who will arrive for the much-awaited Olympics. The Olympics will make Gatwick a very important part of the world, which is why I am keen to see it prosper.
The consultation document, “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport”, suggested that a second runway at Gatwick is unlikely, and we must focus carefully on what will happen now. Mark Froud, the chief executive of Sussex Enterprise, said that Gatwick was “on the subs bench”, which graphically describes its position. However, it now looks like Gatwick has been shoved off the “subs bench”, and it must now define its future in a different way, which is why I am raising the matter with the Minister. It seems likely that Heathrow will meet its environmental obligations, and I therefore want to ensure that Gatwick is not forgotten in those debates.
Opinion was very much divided on whether expansion was a good idea; my constituency was split 50:50. However, opinion is certainly not divided on how well Gatwick would do with a single runway.
Does the hon. Lady agree that, taking all the constituencies and residents in the areas surrounding the airport, opinion was hardly 50:50 on resistance to a second runway? In fact, it was a great relief that the second runway was apparently rejected.
I do not presume to speak for other constituencies; I speak only for mine. I undertook a huge survey there, and the result was 50:50.
We are committed to the ongoing success of Gatwick airport; we want to ensure that it continues to be successful. As it is no longer earmarked for expansion, many issues need to be raised with the Minister in order to ensure a place at the table on future discussions; we want to be part of the family of UK airports and to play our role, stepping up to the mark so that we can meet future challenges.
Maximising use of the single runway and increasing passenger numbers to 40 million is the goal. I want to ensure that we are lucky enough—perhaps not lucky; Gatwick has earned the investment of others—to ensure that Gatwick airport does not pay for expansion elsewhere. I ask the Minister to say a few words about that; it is very important that we do not find ourselves being used as a cash cow to pay for investment at other airports, and I know that many people from around Gatwick would feel most uncomfortable were that to happen.
The 2003 White Paper considered all UK airports. I ask merely that that debate continues on all airports, and that Gatwick has a seat at the table. I also want to ensure that Gatwick is not compromised by developments elsewhere. The much awaited T5 will open shortly at Heathrow, and redevelopment will continue there. Everyone accepts that it is desperately needed, as it is the UK’s first and largest airport. However, I want to ensure that Gatwick remains viable while that work progresses. We can see that it will be a challenge for Gatwick, but we need to tackle the challenges head on, and deal with them. We can do that only if we are provided with a seat at the table.
Other pressures are pertinent to the debate. Large areas of land around the airport were sensibly safeguarded while the debate was going on. It was the only fair and honest way to tackle a debate in which all airports were being considered for redevelopment and for further runways. That scheme was administered by BAA. Now that the debate is settled, we need clarity on what is going to happen to that land.
A much expected and much welcomed housing scheme was sadly put on hold and then lost to us because of the airport debate. I fully supported that action—it would have been utterly unfair to have left Gatwick out of the debate—but we need clarity about when we can move on. Much of that land still needs to be safeguarded in order to protect the environment for those who live in the area, but some of the land will provide much needed affordable housing for those many constituents who have no other opportunity for housing. It is now clearly off the agenda, and we want to get many of those issues settled as soon as possible.
I believe that Gatwick airport is the life-blood of the Gatwick diamond area. It gives us a quality of life that many people would never have achieved because of the quality of the jobs and opportunities that it offers. Of course it also brings challenges, but I believe that those challenges are worth facing. We should tackle them in a way that allows our airport to thrive and prosper but that also allows us to deal with environmental concerns. Gatwick is an important player in the UK’s aviation industry—and it wants to remain one.
I begin by apologising on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is absent today. As Minister with responsibility for aviation he should be responding to this debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) does not mind that while he is away on official duty I have been taken off the subs’ bench.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on the future of Gatwick. I pay tribute to the work that she continues to do on behalf of her constituents, particularly with regard to the airport. Earlier in my period of office, I had responsibility for the railways, and she was one of the first to knock on my door to canvass support for the retention of the Gatwick Express when that franchise was redrawn—and she was very successful. If someone were to ask me the name of her constituency, I would have to think twice before rejecting the name Gatwick.
The Government fully recognise Gatwick’s position and importance as a significant international airport and as a major contributor to the UK aviation industry and to the economy of the south-east. Gatwick airport remains the UK’s second busiest airport, the seventh busiest international airport and the busiest single-runway airport in the world. It is open all year round, 24 hours a day. It handles more than 35 million passengers and sees almost 250,000 air transport movements. About 90 airlines operate from Gatwick’s two terminals, which serve well over 200 destinations worldwide.
My hon. Friend spoke of the many people that Gatwick employs directly—about 25,000—and the 13,000 people employed indirectly, and of the airport’s impact on the local and regional economies. Her record in the House testifies to the importance that she places on Gatwick as the centre of employment in her constituency.
Gatwick is well known for serving holiday destinations around the world, particularly in the charter market, but it also supports a significant number of business passengers. It is well connected to the south-east’s motorway and strategic road networks and it has good public transport services, including a regular non-stop express rail service to London Victoria station.
Gatwick airport is a major employer in the south-east, directly providing about 25,000 jobs on site, with more being provided by associated companies and organisations away from the airport itself. As the second largest UK airport, it makes a significant contribution to the regional and national economies. The Government are keen to see that contribution continue. Indeed, our most recent passenger forecasts, published in November last year, continue to show strong demand for Gatwick. However, the Government also recognise that Gatwick has faced challenges to its future development, including the capacity limitations of its single runway during high demand periods.
Given Gatwick’s important contribution to airport capacity in the south-east, it was clear when we were preparing the 2003 air transport White Paper setting out our strategy for airport development for the next 30 years that we would need to consider options for its development as part of the process. In the lead-up to the White Paper, we therefore considered a number of new runway options at Gatwick, and we concluded that there was a strong case for a new wide-spaced runway.
However, the White Paper also concluded that a 1979 planning agreement preventing the construction of a second runway at Gatwick before 2019 should continue to be honoured. The White Paper therefore indicated that land should be safeguarded for the option for a wide-spaced second runway after 2019, in case the environmental conditions specified for a new third runway at Heathrow airport could not be met. Our policy has not changed.
As hon. Members know, the Secretary of State launched the consultation on adding capacity at Heathrow airport last November. That meets the commitment made in the White Paper to consult on proposals for adding a third runway and to explore the scope for making better use of existing runways. The consultation closes on 27 February, so there is still time for all interested parties, even those who have more specific interests in Gatwick, to respond.
In the light of the results of the consultation, we expect to be able to take final policy decisions on adding capacity at Heathrow by this summer at the very earliest. Depending on the outcome of the consultation, it will be for the airport operator to obtain the necessary consents in accordance with applicable planning rules and within relevant statutory and other criteria. However, even with the new proposals contained in the Planning Bill that is currently going through Parliament, preparing suitable planning applications and achieving planning approvals for a third runway will take several years. I know that, on this particular occasion, that will not be a surprise to my hon. Friend.
I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend about releasing land for housing; I know that this is a subject that she feels very strongly about. However, the option of a second runway at Gatwick remains a possible alternative depending on the outcome of policy and planning decisions relating to the expansion of Heathrow. We do not intend to lift the safeguarding of the land that might be used for a second runway at Gatwick before firm and final decisions on a third runway at Heathrow are taken. I do not believe that it would be prudent to do so.
For Gatwick, our forecasts for the White Paper showed that additional runway capacity would be very attractive to travellers. The option for a wide-spaced second runway at the airport would generate around double the economic benefits of an alternative close parallel runway option and it would provide additional capacity of about 40 million passengers a year, taking the airport to a total of about 83 million passengers every year. However, in examining the full picture and the wider economic benefits, the Government still concluded that they wanted to prioritise developments of new runways at Stansted and Heathrow.
In line with the White Paper, Gatwick’s operator, BAA, published a master plan for the airport in October 2006. That outlined plans for maximising use of the existing runway and identified land for a possible new runway after 2019, and it also outlined plans for enhancements to the existing terminal facilities. Developments since the master plan have included the opening in 2005 of the impressive north terminal pier 6 air passenger bridge, which is a major engineering achievement and the world’s largest passenger bridge at an airport. It spans an existing taxiway and cuts out the need for about 50,000 short-distance coach journeys across the terminal aprons, helping to reduce the airport’s environmental impacts as well as providing greater convenience and time savings for passengers. Investment also continues to improve the airport’s facilities with a comprehensive programme of refurbishment and maintenance works, including flooring, lighting and redecoration in the two terminals, which is designed to enhance the passenger experience.
Gatwick is committed to being a good neighbour to communities around the airport and is keen to address issues such as reducing the impact of aircraft noise, managing air quality and helping to reduce traffic congestion on roads around the airport. It is working with local authorities to review its environmental management and community and economic strategies, to ensure that the local authorities support the implementation of the airport’s master plan. This will lead, later this year, to a new legal agreement with local authorities that will set out how the commitments will be implemented and monitored. The airport operator also continues to work in partnership with local authorities and other groups and organisations on activities and projects ranging across many facets of local community life.
I have already mentioned Gatwick’s excellent links to the surface transport network, but we acknowledge that there is room to improve those links even further. We are pleased, therefore, that Network Rail plans to redevelop and improve Gatwick’s railway station facilities in time for the London Olympics in 2012. Of course, we also welcome the prospect of improvements to the Gatwick Express rail service planned for later this year, when the operating franchise is integrated with the Southern franchise. The improvements will include provision of 85 refurbished rail vehicles to provide extended express services between London and Brighton.
The non-stop Gatwick Express service will not only remain fast and frequent but will continue to be geared to the needs of air passengers by providing luggage storage and multilingual onboard announcements. The Gatwick Express franchise has been very well run by National Express and its early termination, in June this year, is no reflection at all on that company. An agreement allowing early, no-fault termination was agreed between the Department for Transport and the company some time ago, and this is now being invoked to allow the implementation of improvements to the London to Brighton rail service, including for the Gatwick Express service, under the Brighton main line route utilisation strategy.
The Government have always considered that Gatwick would remain a lynchpin in the development of future airport capacity in the south-east, in recognition of its significance to the region and to the country. We reflected that in our air transport White Paper and we remain confident that Gatwick will retain its position.
In conclusion, I would like once again to thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. I would also like to agree with the comments that she has made about the trade unions’ effective working at Gatwick and I would like to join her in paying tribute to the cleaning staff at Gatwick too, because I know that they perform what is often a very undervalued and overlooked service, which is, of course, extremely important. They form part of a work force at Gatwick who have helped to bring Gatwick into the 21st century and to create first-class, world-class services at Gatwick.
I know that my hon. Friend, as the Member representing the constituency in which Gatwick resides, will not allow the importance of Gatwick to slip from the Government’s agenda. I am more than happy to pass on the comments that she has made today to my hon. Friend, the Aviation Minister.
I am sorry that your successor in that chair, Mr. Harris, has not taken the Gatwick Express to get here a little quicker. Unfortunately, the sitting is now adjourned until 1.30 pm; no, he has not come in the door. We could have started earlier, but thank you all very much.
Science and Technology Facilities Council
It is a great pleasure to conduct this debate under your elegant chairmanship, Mr. Hancock.
The title of our debate should perhaps be “The Crisis in the Science and Technology Facilities Council”, rather than the “Science and Technology Facilities Council”. As the Minister for Science and Innovation knows, I am lucky enough to represent two of this country’s pre-eminent scientific institutions. One is the Diamond synchrotron, which has recently opened, and we thank the Government for that, because it represents a significant investment in science. The other is the Rutherford Appleton ISIS station and laboratory, which has been open considerably longer. Those are major scientific institutions, so it is with some consternation that we learn that the STFC has circulated a letter to employees at Rutherford Appleton asking for voluntary redundancies, and the same has happened in Daresbury and at the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh. As a result, certainly at Rutherford, between 300 and 600 scientists could be made redundant.
That is not the only crisis facing physics. There will also be a 25 per cent. cut in university research grants, which amounts to £20 million. In addition, there will be cuts to nuclear physics research programmes—in the same week that the Government have announced their commitment to nuclear power. Finally, the STFC has withdrawn from major international projects, such as the Gemini observatory and the international linear collider.
One might ask how on earth we have reached such a position. The STFC says that it has an £80 million deficit, so it is looking to make savings of £120 million and it is making scientists redundant. At the same time, the Minister is going around saying that he has increased the STFC budget by 13.6 per cent. We know that is what he will say again today because that is what he said at departmental questions last week. The attitude of the Minister and the Government seems to be that there is nothing that they can or should do. They are nowhere to be seen during this crisis and they say that they are not responsible for it—in effect, they are saying, “Crisis? What crisis?”
Indeed, the Minister has gone further. Apparently, the media were briefed before his now infamous appearance on the “Today” programme on 11 December that his Department—the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills—would not give in to “complainers”. Unfortunately for the Minister, the complainers are some of the country’s most eminent physicists. If anything is more complicated than a comprehensive spending review, it is probably particle physics, so I am indebted to those physicists, who have put their intelligence to use analysing how the STFC’s deficit has come about at a time when the Minister is going around saying that he has given the council a 13.6 per cent. increase.
If we analyse the extra £185 million in funding to the council, we find that £11.6 million, or 6.8 per cent., represents the increase in capital, £81.7 million, or 52.4 per cent., represents the non-cash increase and £91.9 million, or 8 per cent., represents the near-cash increase. Non-cash represents the provisions on the balance sheet for things such as future liabilities and depreciation, and the important point is that it cannot be spent as cash at all. What matters is near-cash, which can be spent on facilities, university grants and subscriptions. As I have shown, the annual rate of increase for the next three years is 2.7 per cent., which in effect constitutes a flat-cash settlement and is far below the 17 per cent. average given to other research councils. Of the so-called increase in funding, £40 million has already been eaten up by redundancy costs at the synchrotron radiation source at Daresbury and £35 million will go to meet the additional costs of running Diamond and ISIS 2. The important point, which has had to be teased out through freedom of information requests by some of our scientists, is that the STFC has been telling Ministers about the problem since July and painting clear scenarios of what will happen, depending on which settlement it was given.
Other factors that have come into play include the fact that money previously channelled to university research through the Higher Education Funding Council is now being channelled through the research councils. Although it looks as though the research councils have had a cash uplift, they are in fact spending not new money, but old money that was going towards research costs. That money is certainly welcome, and we welcome the reforms that the Government have made in terms of meeting full economic costs over the past few years, but the money that is being channelled through the research councils is not new. There is also the ongoing problem, not caused by the Government, of the growing cost of our international subscriptions, which are linked to gross domestic product growth.
Let me add as an aside that the cause of the STFC’s huge deficit was emphatically not cost overruns at Diamond. A rumour was put about just before Christmas that Diamond had somehow exceeded its bill costs, but that is not the case, and the project came in on budget and on time.
The Minister goes around saying that there has been a huge cash increase, but the STFC is slightly more straightforward. In its circular 01/08, which contains the news that staff at Daresbury, Rutherford and the Astronomy Technology Centre will be asked to apply for voluntary redundancy, the STFC states:
“The…Financial Settlement was significantly less than STFC had been hoping. Consequently there has been an urgent review of the Council’s programme.”
On 7 November, the STFC wrote to the Minister, saying:
“The settlement contained an increase for full economic cost and support for the SRS”—
synchrotron radiation source—
“closure costs but otherwise represented a flat-cash allocation.”
So the STFC is saying that it has had a flat-cash allocation, while the Minister is telling Parliament that it has had a 13.6 per cent. increase. It will be interesting to see how the Minister squares that circle.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate on what he rightly describes as a crisis in the STFC’s funding. Is he aware that the crisis affects not only the organisations and institutions in his constituency that he mentioned, but similar internationally renowned facilities elsewhere, including those carrying out physics and astronomy work at Leicester university, in my constituency? That vital work is being brought to a dramatic conclusion as a result of the council’s announcement, and the prospect of redundancy and of major programmes being halted is as great in Leicester as it is in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. In fact, my entire speech could be a catalogue of the cuts that are taking place throughout the particle physics community. As far as I am aware, every physics community in every university is affected by these cuts.
As I said, it is impossible to square the circle: on the one hand, the Minister is saying that there has been a 13.6 per cent. increase, but on the other hand, the STFC is saying that it has had a flat-cash settlement. One wonders whether our scientists are living in a parallel universe—perhaps some physicist has discovered one in their research. The Royal Society says that
“the STFC seems landed in a situation where it could inflict seriously damaging cuts on university physics departments”.
The Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics say that the reductions
“represent a hammer blow to the morale and future prospects of…physics and astronomy”.
A member of the Standing Conference of Astronomy Professors has told me that there is a
“huge amount of anger and frustration”.
A senior member at Rutherford, who must of course remain anonymous, tells me that
“morale at…STFC establishments…is at rock bottom”.
Some 559 young researchers have written to the Minister to say that they are
“baffled and dismayed by the swingeing cuts that are about to do serious damage”.
An Oxford physicist has written to tell me that
“this will tarnish, perhaps irreparably, the UK’s reputation in the international physics community”.
The debate provides at least two important opportunities. One is an opportunity for the Minister, for the first time, to set out in Parliament what is going on. So far he has merely responded to questions, and it is a pretty poor situation when people have to submit freedom of information requests to his Department and scrabble through documents reading obscure footnotes to try to find out what on earth has been going on. Now is the Minister’s chance to put his case, in time for next Monday’s Select Committee.
I do not entirely blame the Government. There is great frustration in the relevant community at the way the STFC has gone about its business. However, at the heart of the matter lies the fact that the Government have told the scientific community that there has been a generous settlement, when every fact tells us that it is a flat-cash settlement, which is the reason why there must be cuts.
The second opportunity provided by the debate is for the Minister to take action. That is what he is there for. He has commissioned a review by Professor Bill Wakeham, but it will be pointless if it reports in the summer after so much extensive damage has been caused. The Minister must put a stop to the cuts. I am told that a £20 million cash injection would carry the physics community forward until proper decisions could be taken, at a proper pace. He must bring the Wakeham review forward so that those two things can coincide; there would then be a moratorium on the cuts, a cash injection to support the physics community, and the Wakeham review—a proper review of the physics community. That is the opportunity that is being presented to the Minister.
I have been in touch with physicists from all over the country. There is enormous interest in the debate. It is probably the first debate in Westminster Hall to be piped live to the Royal Astronomical Society. I have kept my speech shorter than I normally would, because I know that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who also represents people who work at Rutherford Appleton, wants to make a few points; and other hon. Members may want to make brief comments before the Minister explains the Department’s permission.
Thank you for that compliment, Mr. Hancock.
I thank the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) not only for securing a debate on such an important subject at such an important time, but for introducing it so coherently and expertly in the time available, and for giving me time to say a few words. I am not only my party’s science spokesman but a member of the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills, which is meeting on Monday to consider the matter, at the request of several Members, including me. I have received correspondence similar to the hon. Gentleman’s—not just in volume, but in the concerns raised about what will happen. The concerns are not about what will happen to the writers of the letters, many of whom are senior scientists; they are concerned about the future generation of scientists who are threatened by the cuts, and about the implications of the cuts for some subjects currently being studied in the fields of particle physics, astrophysics and astronomy.
If there are to be cuts—there is no doubt that cuts are planned—there is a need to plan them coherently, instead of sending out redundancy requests, a scatter-gun approach that will not allow the science community and people who plan research programmes to work out the priorities. I hope that there will not be cuts. I entirely share the view of the hon. Member for Wantage about the figures. The Government cannot stand for panic cuts on their watch.
I spoke at a debate on science teaching in this Chamber earlier today, and it is important to recognise that we are short of home-grown physics graduates. The impact of the cuts on some of the relevant areas, for people who planned a career in physics and were looking forward to studying for a doctorate or to post-doctoral work, will be devastating. It will mean a flight of science and scientists from the area in question. I shall pursue the matter at Monday’s Select Committee sitting, but I hope that the Minister will acknowledge not only the figures that he has been given, but also the likely impact of the cuts, even before we consider who is to blame.
I thank the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) and the Minister for allowing me to speak briefly in this important debate. As I said in my intervention earlier, the cuts affect a wide range of institutions throughout the UK, but I am obviously particularly concerned about the one in my constituency, the university of Leicester, which has an enormous international reputation for its work on physics and astronomy. Very exciting programmes being undertaken there are under threat as a result of the funding cuts. I hope that what are, no doubt, unplanned and unintended cuts in the work of that institution and other institutions can be protected while the situation is reviewed.
As the hon. Member for Wantage suggested, it is not good enough to have to wait for the Wakeham review, which will be too late to save the programmes that are under immediate threat. We need to know how the STFC got into the present mess. We need processes to ensure that its decision making is in future transparent, rational and responsive to the research community that it is supposed to serve. Above all else I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that the immediate threats can be lifted, and that it will be possible to buy time to continue those essential programmes while the entire STFC funding situation is reviewed and assurances are established to prevent similar situations from threatening vital research in the future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) on securing the debate, and welcome the opportunity to debate the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The STFC deals with some of the key research challenges of our time, and has a growing role in the innovation agenda. Its portfolio of activities is very wide ranging and includes, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Government’s shareholding in the Diamond synchrotron at Harwell, which opened last year after being built to time, budget and specification. The STFC participates in major international research projects, such as the large Hadron collider at CERN—the European organisation for nuclear research—and funds research in UK universities.
Government support for the science base remains strong. We shall be spending almost £6 billion on research by 2010-11, which is made up of the science budget allocation and £2 billion of funding to reach universities in England through the quality-related funding stream of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. We remain second only to the United States in global scientific excellence as measured by citations, and we have a stronger performance across the range of scientific disciplines than most other countries. Of course, we retain our lead over all G8 countries on scientific productivity measures.
Many factors have contributed to the growth in UK economic productivity in the past decade, and the science and innovation measures that the Government have introduced, including the highly successful research and development tax credit for industry, and new bodies such as the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, are making a valuable contribution to science, technology and innovation. In addition, we are funding university knowledge transfer activities to the highest ever level. The higher education innovation fund will rise to £150 million a year by the end of 2010-11, which will help universities further to develop the professional capability to undertake top quality knowledge transfer.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council was created on 1 April 2007 by merging the former Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils. Any new organisation inevitably experiences a period of transition, and like all research councils the STFC faces challenging decisions to determine its priorities in the light of the resources available to it.
To restate the basic facts of the matter, which have all too frequently been incorrectly reported in recent weeks, the STFC’s budget will go up over the next three years; it will rise by 13.6 per cent. by the end of the comprehensive spending review period. The hon. Member for Wantage went into some detail on that point. However, he must recognise that there has been an overall increase, amounting to £185 million, and a total budget for the STFC of £1.9 billion. Of the seven research councils, the STFC has the second highest budget. We spend more on it than we do on medical research through the Medical Research Council.
The STFC’s delivery plan for the three years reflects its assessment of priorities across its activities, allowing it to manage its resources within the budget increases allocated to it. As the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills explained to the House last week, the Government are fully committed to the Haldane principle, which protects the autonomy of research councils in deciding what research should be pursued. On occasion, I get the impression that the hon. Member for Wantage has not looked in detail at the STFC’s delivery plan, from which I shall quote two short sentences to give a flavour of what I mean. The plan states:
“The implementation of our strategy will require us to think in new ways about how we focus our investments.”
That is right. The STFC’s mission is to promote and deliver world-class science and to achieve a step change in the economic impact that the UK derives from its science through knowledge exchange and the training of skilled people. However, that does not mean that nothing should ever change.
The STFC has determined its highest priorities. The delivery plan states:
“To accommodate the major facilities coming on line and create sufficient financial flexibility to enable us to pursue some existing high priority planned programmes and new opportunities, we will implement a substantial programme of organisational restructuring.”
I accept that point. The STFC is making its own decisions in its delivery plan about its new and highest priorities. We believe that, based on its assessments of the science, and in accordance with the Haldane principle, the STFC should make those decisions.
Non-cash cannot be transferred to near-cash. I do not pretend that the STFC has not had difficult decisions to make. The implications of full economic costing for all research councils make it a challenge to maintain research volume. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that full economic costing should not be pursued, I think that he would have the support of only a small number of academics. The vast majority strongly support full economic costing. The STFC’s delivery plan ensures that the research community will continue to have access to a range of world-class facilities, including CERN, the European southern observatory—which has not been appreciated sufficiently—the European synchrotron research facility, the Institut Laue Langevin and programmes of the European Space Agency.
A significant contribution—more than £200 million per annum by the end of the CSR period—for international subscriptions will retain membership of those international organisations for the delivery of STFC’s science strategy and give UK researchers access to world-class facilities. Priorities must be set and decisions taken, such as on the Gemini observatory in the southern hemisphere, which is why the STFC thinks that investment in the European southern observatory is a priority.
I shall come to the redundancy situation in a moment.
I emphasise the fact that major new UK-based science facilities, such as Diamond and the ISIS second target station, will provide opportunities for exciting scientific research, in addition to the international collaborations about which I have spoken. The funding will also enable the STFC to support major development of the Daresbury and Harwell science and innovation campuses—the Daresbury development will be in partnership with the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
The hon. Member for Wantage talked about the science and innovation campuses, but they were not the major focus of his speech. Harwell and Daresbury will develop into prime locations for world-class research and development. Harwell will be a scientific and high-technology commercial cluster and provide the opportunity for the public sector to work alongside businesses exploiting research. We are close to announcing the commercial partner selected to take forward the development of the campus, by means of a joint venture company that will be formed between the STFC and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, representing public sector interests at the Harwell and Rutherford Appleton laboratory sites and a private sector developer. The commercial developer has been selected on the basis of its sharing the Government’s vision for Harwell and of its relevant expertise and its commitment to financial investment in the development of the campus on a 50:50 basis. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be as enthusiastic as I am to see the campus developed further as a major, world-class centre of expertise.
In response to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) and the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), the Government recognise the concerns expressed about the STFC’s decisions about the relative priority of research grants and infrastructure. The discipline of physics is supported by several research councils, such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and through the funding council’s quality-related stream.
It is important that the individual funding decisions of all those bodies collectively underpin the health of the disciplines, which is why, as has been said, Ian Diamond, chair of Research Councils UK, is to organise a series of reviews into the health of key disciplines, particularly those that rely on funding from several research councils. The first review will be on physics, which plays a pivotal role in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM—agenda, and will be led by Professor Bill Wakeham, who is vice-chancellor of the university of Southampton. It is for him and Research Councils UK to discuss the length of time that it will take to conduct a thorough review of the health of physics as a discipline.
Members have mentioned the redundancy situation, and concern has been expressed that the STFC’s decisions on its priorities will involve reductions in the council’s work force to deliver its highest priorities. We are dealing with a new research council that is restructuring and focusing on its priorities for the future and which will spend £1.9 billion over three years.
It is important to state the facts. The consequences for staff at Daresbury working on the synchrotron radiation source have been known for several years, since its closure and replacement by Diamond was announced. Beyond that, the circular of 2 January, to which the hon. Member for Wantage referred, invited applications from staff for voluntary redundancy. However, the circular does not mention the number of jobs to be lost, about which there has been some speculation that has not been particularly helpful. Certainly, the STFC will consider those applications carefully in the coming months, in the light of its priorities. However, the research council must set its own priorities for the future and determine its strategy.
Looking ahead, the STFC’s mission—to deliver world-class science, to increase the UK’s influence in the international arena, especially in relation to large facilities, and to achieve a step change in economic impact through knowledge exchange and the training of skilled people—is fully aligned with its new strategy. The STFC is well placed to contribute to cross-cutting priorities, which address some of the major, long-term challenges that we face; for instance, in energy, STFC research into fuel cells, photovoltaic devices, renewable energy sources and technology for clean-burning coal offers potential for breakthroughs.
The Government’s commitment to the country’s research base is clear. The research settlement announced on 11 September last year showed significant increases for all the research councils, including the STFC. It might not be as much money as some would like, but it reflects—
Order. Unfortunately, 2 o’clock has come and we do not have sufficient time to finish the debate. I thank the hon. Member for Wantage and the Minister for allowing interventions and speeches by other Members. I thank everyone for their courtesy.
It being Two o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.