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Volume 537: debated on Thursday 8 December 2011

Graphene is the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive material known to man. Its discovery in Manchester in 2001 is testament to our strong science base and opens up a wide range of possibilities. That is why we have committed £50 million to create a new UK graphene hub to focus on its commercialisation. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board are now developing a detailed business case, which will be submitted to the Government shortly. We expect funding to start next year.

I welcome that announcement. Does the Minister agree that the investment of £50 million in a world-class hub is testament to the Government’s serious commitment to a rebalanced economy and a regional growth strategy? Will he agree to place a sample of graphene—like this—in the Library for the edification of us all?

The use of such props is on the whole discouraged, but we will let the hon. Gentleman off on this occasion.

I do not think that that is quite life science—nor is it supposed to be life-size, because it is one atom. I have some graphene in my office, and I would be very happy to show it to people who want to know what has been discovered. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As a result of the Chancellor’s announcement, we are now able to invest in labs that will ensure that researchers can develop and research the applications of this important material.

May I appeal to Members not to pass that rather unglamorous specimen around the Chamber? The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), to whom I have been generous, should secrete his graphene away, and behave with the tact and discretion for which he was previously renowned.

I beg to disagree, Mr Speaker. Graphene is very glamorous, and it is a fantastic discovery, made in Manchester. The Minister will be aware from his appearances before the Science and Technology Committee that there is a huge imbalance between the public investment in science in the golden triangle between Oxford, Cambridge and London, and investment in the rest of the country. Is this not a great opportunity to invest the vast bulk of that £50 million in Manchester, where the two Nobel laureates discovered graphene?

The hon. Gentleman makes a clear case. Of course, the issue is now being investigated by the EPSRC and the TSB, but we recognise the crucial role that Manchester played in the discovery, and I am sure that its role will continue.

Of course I readily concede that something unglamorous can also be very important. I call Penny Mordaunt. [Laughter.] Order. I am delighted that the House is in such a good mood.