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Science and Research

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2013

[Martin Caton in the Chair]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. It is good to see the key people here for the debate—the Minister for Universities and Science, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). The three of us were supposed to meet a few weeks ago for a debate under the auspices of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, which was cancelled, so it is nice that we can recreate it here in slightly more elegant surroundings and with a wonderful audience. It is good to have the Minister and hon. Lady here.

With the spending review considerations imminent, when decisions will be made that will affect the future of science and research for many years to come, this debate is especially timely. The theme of the debate is based on a paper I published last year called, “Developing a future: Policies for science and research”, which is available online for anyone who wants to see the whole thing, at I would like to place on record my thanks to those who helped, particularly Michelle Brook, who was critically involved in writing much of it. It was passed by the Liberal Democrat conference and large elements of it are now Liberal Democrat policy—things we want to achieve—but I do not want the debate to become a party political session. We are all used to the debates where we all say, “The last Government did this and this Government did that”, and it does not take us any further. I hope that the Minister, the hon. Lady and I, in particular, can work together to support science, because science works across parties.

There have been good Ministers for science from various parties: Lord Sainsbury, now the chancellor of Cambridge university, in my constituency, was an excellent science Minister; the current Minister is an excellent science Minister; and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has done a huge amount for science and is now a regular visitor to Cambridge to see what happens there. None of that means that I necessarily agree with everything that every science Minister says, but having the right push and trajectory is important. Although I will often use the term “science”, I want to make it clear that I do not mean just pure science. It is not only about the natural sciences. The humanities have a critical role, as do computing, engineering, mathematics and medicine—everything. An opposition between science and the humanities and arts subjects, has occasionally been suggested, but that is a false dichotomy that takes us nowhere positive.

I declare an interest, which is registered in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: before coming to this place I was a research scientist; I am on leave from a lectureship I hold at Cambridge university; and I am involved in a number of learned societies and science organisations. I am even an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association—as long as they never ask me to do anything with animals. I have an interest, in those senses, which I am happy to declare.

I also have a constituency interest, because high-technology is key to the success of Cambridge. We now have more than 1,500 companies, 54,000 jobs and £12 billion in revenue from the high-tech, knowledge-based economy in Cambridge. The details of the companies are made available by the wonderful Sherry Coutu on the Cambridge cluster map, where we can see details of every one of those companies—the £12 billion—that we have built in Cambridge on the knowledge economy. We can also see the $20 billion company that we have built up—ARM, a huge powerhouse, developing superconducting chips. People often talk about Intel as its major competitor, but just last year ARM shipped more chips than Intel has ever shipped. There are more ARM chips in the world than there are human arms, legs and heads put together. It is a huge company that comes from a small town in the fens. RealVNC is a three-time Queen’s award winner for exports in the past three years. Its software is a critical part of any shuttle launch and has a huge number of applications elsewhere. We have MedImmune, the biggest biotech company in Europe. Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group works in a very different area, but does incredibly important work for our armed forces and a range of others. There are more companies, including the growing, new wave of clean-tech.

Cambridge is a huge success story, which is one of the reasons why unemployment there is so low—the rate is about 2.5%, and the youth unemployment rate about 1.5%. We all have an interest in the success of science and research, because they are key to the success of Britain as a whole. How do we think we will earn our way in 2020, 2030 or 2050 if not in the knowledge-based economy, based on things that we will learn and develop now? They are already key sectors driving the economy and that is set to continue, because the UK continues to punch above its weight in scientific research. Although we only have roughly 1% of the world’s population, we have a huge research base, with 4% of the world’s researchers, an 11% share of world citations and 14% of highly cited publications. We have a great platform to develop and grow a successful knowledge-based economy to develop jobs and growth for many years and decades to come, but how can we do it?

I would like to explore three key areas: money; people; and attitude. Research and development costs money, but not all of it public sector money. UK spending on research and development dropped to just 1.76% of gross domestic product in 2010—well below the European Union average and, for the first time ever, less than China, not to mention pretty much all our other global competitors. That hits the UK economy, because we are less innovative. We are particularly behind in public sector funding: 0.57% compared with Germany’s 0.85%, which gives Germany a huge lead. We know that public money crowds in private funding: the more we spend in this area, the more industry will also commit. I know that it was a fight for the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that the ring-fenced science budget was protected. It was not cut in the previous spending review, which is a great achievement. There were many concerns. The £4.6 billion was protected, in cash terms, which was essential, but that still equates to a real-terms cut and capital funding took a very large cut. Capital is also essential to good science and research. The huge cut in capital has been ameliorated by a number of new announcements since then, on which I congratulate the Minister. He has managed to pull £1.4 billion, which I am sure he will itemise later, out of the Treasury to rebuild some of that capital. He has £300 million to claw back from the cuts to go, but I am sure he will come up with a way to deliver that from the Treasury.

There are other good new things that I am pleased to see: the Catapult centres, although I still have a reservation about the name; the reintroduction of SMART awards, and I declare an interest as a holder of a Department of Trade and Industry SMART award from a number of years ago; and the extension of R and D tax credits. Those are all good things. We are in a decent place at the moment; it is not as great as it might be, but it is nothing like as bad as it could have been. We must not have more cuts in the forthcoming spending review—that is one of the most important messages in the short term.

I recently hosted an event with the Association of Medical Research Charities to launch its vision for research. There was a clear message from academics such as Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society; medical charities such as Cancer Research UK; and industry, such as GlaxoSmithKline, that if we cut now, it would be a huge and clear signal to business that they should not invest in Britain. Companies are mobile. They will leave. Biotech and hi-tech companies will just go somewhere else. They can do it, and if we send a message that they are not wanted here, they will. Our academic base will decline as good people leave the UK or simply leave research to do something else.

Science and research is big business for the UK. The pharmaceutical industry—a huge, global business—generates a trade surplus for the UK of £5.5 billion. The industry is changing and becoming more biotech focused. We have to keep the small biotech companies here. When AstraZeneca closed their plant and decided to move to Cambridge, it was a shame for the north-west, but it is fantastic for Cambridge and for the country that it is staying in the UK. It or any other company could choose to leave. Pfizer has a presence in Cambridge, as does GlaxoSmithKline. We have the largest biotech companies in Europe—but only for as long as we can provide them with reasons to stay.

For the spending review, not cutting capital or revenue budgets is very least that can be done. If we want to prosper, we must increase investment—and it is an investment. A study by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Academy of Medical Sciences found that every pound invested in medical research generates an ongoing return of about 30p every single year, and 30% returns are fantastically good. Jonathan Haskel of Imperial college business school has estimated that a £1 billion cut in research council funding results in a GDP loss of the order of £10 billion. That is the sort of size we could be talking about.

To provide certainty, the investment absolutely has to be long term. We must find a way of getting away from the three-year cycles. Long-term investment was called for in the “Fuelling prosperity” report, which came out recently from the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences. They make the case for investing in research in the long term, to drive UK economic growth. Similarly, a letter from a range of medical charities, industry, academics and parliamentarians across the parties, which came out in The Times a couple of weeks ago, states:

“Long-term funding is needed from the Government to ensure the continuation of the UK as a place blessed with a vibrant research eco-system”.

The message is clear, from all parts of the community involved in this field, that we need long-term funding.

My proposal, which was made in the paper I talked about earlier and is now part of Liberal Democrat policy, is to try to build a consensus around a 15-year 3%-above-inflation increase in a ring-fenced science and research budget, to include capital and revenue. I know that that is ambitious, and that 15 years is a long time, but I think it is the right thing to do and that it is something we could get together. Clearly, no one party can deliver it—no one party will ever be in a position to guarantee funding for 15 years—but I hope that my two colleagues here today, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood and my right hon. Friend the Minister, will be able to support that aspiration and ambition, and that over the next years we can ensure not just that we do not have cuts in the budget, but that we actually deliver an increase, and a prosperous Britain. That is in all our interests.

It is not, however, just about having the money; the money must be allocated well. It has to be allocated correctly between applied research and blue skies research and we must, of course, stick to the Haldane principle—whatever its exact wording—to ensure that none of us seeks to influence exactly how grant funds are spent, tempting though that might be.

It is the blue skies area that needs to be remembered, because there is a temptation to say, “Let’s just fund the things that are closest to being applied—closest to being products.” That would be a mistake, and it is one that industry warns us about time and again. No one can predict where new ideas will go. When work started on lasers, the world wide web, Google’s search algorithm and monoclonal antibodies, no one knew where it would lead. No one could have predicted their scale, but they are huge.

Probably the least well-known of those is monoclonal antibodies, and the investment from the Medical Research Council in Cambridge’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which has generated fantastic world-leading research and many Nobel prizes, also led to a multi-billion-dollar drug, Humira, the profits from which partly paid for the new lab that was opened just a couple of weeks ago. A huge amount of money can be made, but that is never known at the beginning. The Medical Research Council has made £390 million from monoclonal antibodies, but when the grant application was written there was no way it could have been claimed that that would happen—Sir Greg Winter would never have had that chance. In addition to the applied work, we must, therefore, fund excellent blue skies research, for its own sake as well as for its potential returns, because there is an interest in simply advancing human knowledge as well as in getting a financial return.

Aside from the science and research budget, we must also support innovation. As I understand it, much of the innovation budget sits outside the science and research ring fence and it has suffered from cuts in the past. The wonderful new Catapult centres, the SMART awards and all the efforts of the Technology Strategy Board will not work if money is not available to support the final stage of innovation. Equally, however, the money cannot simply be transferred away from basic research; otherwise, we will not have any of the new inventions we need to translate into real products.

We must also ensure that we use the money that is available from all sorts of other sources—medical research charities, for example. A recent letter in The Telegraph from 42 medical research organisations and 130 scientists highlighted the following:

“With medical research charities and their supporters together funding more than £1 billion of vital medical research in 2011, we have made a huge contribution to improving the health of the British population through scientific advances.”

I am sure that we are all grateful for the work they produce and the people who fund them. They call on the Government, and I join them in this, to

“protect both the Charity Research Support Fund and the amount available through it, as well as ring-fencing the science budget”.

I hope the Minister can confirm that we can continue with that support fund.

That is one source of money. We have money that can come in from industry and we need to get more of it through the small business research initiative and all sorts of other research and development mechanisms. We also have money from the Government, and we get a lot from the European Union as well. In this room, at least, we can be pleased to take that money from the European Union and make the most of it. Framework programme 7, which finishes this year, is estimated to have delivered €7 billion to the UK for research. That is fantastic, and the Government should encourage and support the UK in tapping into Horizon 2020, the next framework for research and innovation, which has an €80 billion budget. We want to get as much of that into the UK as possible—I will avoid discussing any referendums on how we use any of that money. The Government could, however, make it easier for that to happen. Yes, they should try to make the European processes simpler—having been involved with the European grant, I know they can be incredibly bureaucratic—but there is also the issue that the full economic costs of the work are not funded. I hope the Government will consider setting up an EU research support fund to meet the costs. In that way, we will encourage UK researchers to pull even more money from the European Union into our domestic research.

There are other things that could happen. The £l80 million in the biomedical catalyst fund has been very welcome, and I hope it will continue. There have been many successful applications to it, from my constituency among others, and I hope there will be money to continue that work. I am also very taken by some of the work developed by the BioIndustry Association on having pots of money available—similar to individual saving accounts—for funding high-tech companies. That model works very successfully in France, enabling people to invest smallish amounts—£5,000 to £10,000—in high-tech growth companies and to get some of the tax advantages of entrepreneurial investment. In France, they have had a good economic return by allowing that.

We should also make better use of the NHS. We are rare among countries in having a wonderful national health service, and it is an excellent place to do research. We have a single organisation that has access to a lot of patients who can get involved, and a lot of information that can be used. Privacy is obviously a huge concern and we must not do things that would jeopardise it, but there is far more we could do to use that rare and precious resource. I am pleased that we now have, as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, a duty to promote research in the NHS. That is very helpful, and much more needs to be done with it. More patients should be told about the trials that are available, and there is a lot of work from the Association of Medical Research Charities and others that highlights that.

I am also pleased that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills continues to work with the Department of Health; that works very well. What I would not want to see is all the Medical Research Council being transferred into the Department of Health. There must be a separation between the implementation—actually doing health care—and the pure research that the MRC does. The council is not the same as the National Institute for Health Research, and I hope we will not see such a transition. I am sure the Minister can reassure us about that shortly.

I have said a lot about money, partly because the spending review is coming up, but it is not the only thing that matters. Just throwing money at problems does not always work; people matter as well. The UK has to build a highly skilled work force to be able to attract industry and innovation to do the best research, and there are two ways of doing that. One is to start with people here in the UK, at school. Schools must be able to provide a more solid curriculum in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and have teachers who are specialists in their fields. That means primary schools having some sort of science subject leader, and secondary school teachers should have continuous professional development, funded by the Government, to make sure they are on top of what they are teaching. I am also pleased to see the proper teaching of computing—not just of IT, but of how to code. That is an excellent step forward, but I worry about where we will find the teachers to provide that education.

I am particularly concerned about how people consider STEM subjects at primary school. One of my colleagues, a councillor in the east of England, trains primary schoolteachers. On one of her training courses, she asked them to come up with a curriculum for primary school, and every single group left out science. When she asked why, they said, “Well, it’s hard, dull and not very useful.” If that is the attitude among primary schoolteachers—I hope they were corrected—we will have a problem over forthcoming decades. We have to change that attitude where it exists; of course, it is by no means uniform.

We should support organisations such as STEMNET and all other outreach activities. I do not have time to list each one, but they do good work and need support, because we must get many more people in. For example, it has been estimated that we need about 20,000 more engineers a year to cope with the retirement bubble and the growth in the energy, automotive and aerospace areas.

We must consider doing far more to encourage diversity among people who go into STEM subjects. That is not just about women in science, although that is a very big issue; it is about the socio-economic background of people who go into those subjects. We are missing out on a huge number of people who could contribute massively. If fewer women and fewer people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds take STEM subjects, we absolutely have to take stronger steps to correct that.

We have to make sure that scientific and mathematical literacy are there for everybody, because skills taught in those areas—regardless of where students end up in the working world—help to create a scientifically savvy population that can engage in rational debate and critical thought. We want everybody to understand the basics of financial mathematics: how a mortgage works, or how to understand a Daily Mail front page about the latest wonder drug that also causes cancer.

We must ensure that university—and school—courses encourage entrepreneurial thinking, and we must support people to think about that. We need to make sure that people realise that science is fun: people do it because it is exciting.

There are issues about the career paths of academics. It is currently a very transient route for many post-docs, and we need to find out how to have a much more coherent picture. My paper goes through that in far more detail than I can do now.

We must look at funding for postgraduate courses, an issue which I have raised with the Minister on several occasions. I will not go through the pain of the undergrad funding issue—I dislike undergrad fees and have hated them ever since they were brought in by the previous Government and increased by this one, and I still disagree with all those decisions. However, a serious problem is now arising with postgraduates who do not generally have access to funding, except from banks, parents or savings, and may have to pay well over £10,000 to do a course. That has a huge effect on social mobility, because people cannot do those courses.

Tomorrow, with CentreForum, I will launch a report, based on work with the National Union of Students and a range of universities, which will propose some suggestions. I will not say much more about it now because I do not want to draw the thunder from tomorrow’s launch, but essentially, we have to extend income-contingent loans for graduate students, so that there is an easy way for them to get into graduate courses.

Those are some of the things we could do to get good people in the UK, but we must also look for skilled people globally. We should actively encourage students to come here and study, experts to come here and work, and entrepreneurs to come here and invest. Our immigration rules have often given the strong impression that many such people are simply not welcome here. The poor performance of the UK Border Agency, which often took months to make decisions, has made matters far worse. When I talk to companies in Cambridge, the major issue they raise is often immigration policy and how hard it is to get the people they need. I know the Minister has been good at standing up for science in that area.

Departments say that the number of high-calibre applicants has fallen, with promising students heading off to the United States, Canada or Australia because the UK is viewed as student-unfriendly. We have even been thanked for that by leaders in competitor countries. We do not want to be thanked for helping them to take our students.

The Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), came to Cambridge a couple of weeks ago, and I thank him publicly for doing so. He met language schools, businesses and universities, and it is fair to say that he was surprised by some of the problems he encountered, which relate not to the direction of Government policy but to UKBA’s over-interpretation of the rules. He offered to help fix many of the problems we are facing, and I thank him very much for that. I hope that will make the difference, because details, as well as the overall policy and messaging, matter. We have to show that we are open internationally in fact and in rhetoric, because we want the brightest and the best to come here to contribute to our economy.

There are many attitude issues that I could talk about in the time remaining. We need to push further on the important issue of open access. It is absolutely right in principle, and the Minister for Universities and Science is right to push ahead with it. It reflects the change in how publication works, with the transition of costs away from distribution, because we can just look at pdfs, the cost of which is very low. Open access is the right thing to do, and will open up information for many more people and help businesses to set up, but more care is needed with the transition, as is a bit more funding. It has to be made very clear, particularly to some nervous academics, that there is no intention to use open access as a way of banning the publication of good work. There will be difficulties during that transition, but we must get there in the end.

There is the related issue of open data. I visited the Open Data Institute in Shoreditch earlier today, and I have to say that I was seriously impressed. It is doing some very impressive work. To give one example of the power of open data, early on in its existence it did a study of statins in which it looked at the data available from prescriptions—anonymised data that did not identify any individuals—and showed that if generics were prescribed instead of brand-label drugs, in cases in which there was no clinical need for the branded drug, it could save £200 million across the NHS. That study was doable because the data were open. There is a huge potential there, of which that study is only the start.

We must encourage academics to publish data in an open way wherever possible, and that should be tied to funding support. A classic case is clinical trials. GlaxoSmithKline has been excellent in opening data on its historical and current clinical trials, for which I strongly commend it. That improves safety and allows better use of existing drugs. I must say that not all pharmaceutical companies are quite so open, but I hope they will all follow GSK’s excellent example.

We must ensure that there is much better use of evidence-informed policy in decision making in this place and in Whitehall, which is far too often lacking. I shall say more about that in two days’ time, when we have a debate on drugs policy in this Chamber. We need to strengthen the role of chief scientific advisers, and we should also look at having a chief social science adviser, so that that area is not neglected but made prominent.

Lastly, we must do far more to encourage more contact between policy makers and academics, so they can learn where there is fresh thinking. One great model for that is the Centre for Science and Policy in Cambridge, and I particularly highlight the work of David Cleevely, who set it up. It has proved an excellent tool to make sure that people in the civil service and businesses can find out what is happening at the interface between science and policy in Cambridge.

We have a lot to do to support science and research: the money, the people and the attitude must be there. If we get this right, we will deliver jobs and growth, new knowledge and exciting technologies, and global competiveness and inward investment; if we get it wrong, we will sabotage our future. I hope that all colleagues will support this call.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton, and to respond to this debate on behalf of the Opposition. The debate is timely given that, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) said, we will be going into the comprehensive spending review period later this month. I congratulate him on securing the debate. He is right that we had to postpone our Campaign for Science and Engineering debate, so it is good to pick up some of the issues here this afternoon that we would have discussed in that perhaps more adversarial format.

As a scientist before he became a Member, the hon. Gentleman has a deep commitment to this policy area. Occasionally, I gently point out to him that he is a coalition Member—although not himself in government, his party is—but it sometimes feels as though he is making a pitch from outside the Government, rather than from within. He has a consistent record of arguing for the points that he makes.

The hon. Gentleman gave the example of Cambridge and, as its MP, he obviously has a very strong story to tell. He has a truly world-class university and truly world-class companies on his patch that are doing great business for UK plc by pushing the boundaries of invention and innovation. I will duck the opportunity of trying to get my tongue around his twister of ships and chips and so on, but the company that he mentioned is good not just for his region, but for the country and our whole standing.

The hon. Gentleman also made some important points about innovation as distinct from the overall funding that we provide for science and research. He talked about the incredible importance of the European Union and the money that it makes available for science and research. The UK punches above its weight, as it does in so many other areas, in terms of attracting that investment. Although this is not the place to talk about referendums and our future relationship with the European Union, let me just say that many in the science community support our continued EU membership; they know how important it is to the framework of science and research in our country.

The hon. Gentleman also made some good points about people that I will come to later in my contribution. Given that the comprehensive spending review is looming, we cannot help but talk about the money side of things. I hope that the Minister will use some of the points that are made to him today to arm him as he and the Business Secretary go into those difficult discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is true that we are at a critical juncture for the future of science and research in our country. It is unclear whether we will be able to retain and grow our standing in the world or whether we will fall behind in this aspect of the global race. As the Royal Society says, we must keep running just to stand still. That is the scale of the challenge that we face and something that must be in the mind of the Minister, the Business Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as they make their decisions in a few weeks’ time.

I am sure the Minister will talk about the Government’s ring-fencing and protection of the science budget thus far in this Parliament. However, he will recognise, as I hope the hon. Member for Cambridge will too, that the true picture is not all that rosy. Although many in the science community are genuinely grateful for the deal that the Minister and the Business Secretary achieved for science on the grounds that it could have been a lot worse, some significant issues about the funding of science still cannot be ignored.

The reality is that we are in danger of losing our standing as a world leader for science and innovation because of the cumulative effect of a short-termist, piecemeal approach, which is underpinned by real-terms cuts in the science budget. The Minister will accept the research by the Library and the Campaign for Science and Engineering that shows the 14% real-terms cut in the science budget thus far and the impact that that will have on our capacity to keep up with our competitors. Not only was this flat cash settlement an actual cut, but the science budget itself only represents about 50% of Government science spending. As we all know, science spending has been hit in other ways, too. For example, the scrapping of the regional development agencies, which spent something like £440 million per annum on science-related programmes before the last CSR round, has led to another reduction in funding.

Furthermore, capital spending, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, was cut at the beginning of this Parliament by 40%—a total of £1.4 billion. It is fair to say that the Minister and the Business Secretary have worked hard on this matter and implored the Chancellor to put back some of that money. As the hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out, we all know that we are still some £300 million short. The boldness of the decision to cut capital spending by 40% has not been met by a boldness of action to put it back, despite the fact that a mistake was made and that it should be rectified. We are seeing a piecemeal and unco-ordinated way of putting back some of that money. Researchers and industry need a clear investment framework on which they can rely to plan properly for the long term.

The long term really matters in science. The big projects that have been making the news recently, such as the work being done at CERN or at the Crick institute, did not come to life at the beginning of one Parliament and complete their cycle at the end of that Parliament; these are things that take five, 10, 15 or 20 years in the planning, the doing, the inventing and the innovating and then, we hope, in the finding of successful outcomes.

A clear, long-term framework is very important to the science community. One Government decision that I have the most difficulty with and that we would seek to change if we were to form the next Government would be the scrapping of Labour’s 10-year investment framework. What we have seen is a return to a short-term spending cycle. As I have said, researchers and industry need a long-term vision, so that they can plan over time. Although we had a 10-year spending cycle when we were in Government, the Royal Society has called for a 15-year period, and there are others who would argue for longer still. It is clear that long-termism is needed. The result of a short-termist, piecemeal approach is that the UK is falling behind other countries when it comes to investment in science.

I am afraid to say that the Government have also backed away from any commitment to meeting the Lisbon 2020 target of 3% investment in R and D that they had publicly accepted. Even allowing for the current economic situation, we have not been given any goal or even heard how we might catch up in future years. It would be good if we were able to get some detail on that, so that even allowing for the current decisions over how we meet the country’s fiscal challenges, we may at least be able to say when we return to growth that there is some plan for catching up that target.

Many of our international competitors are increasing their science budgets, even those with their own deficit reduction programmes. I come back to the point made by the Royal Society that we have to keep running just to stand still, and keeping up with our competitor countries really matters.

The overall condition of our essential research infrastructure will decline without long-term investment, so scrimping on maintenance capital now will progressively affect research. It will build an investment backlog for the future and it will negatively affect our ability to attract and retain the best global talent. The low level of investment now is not sustainable, and it is storing up problems for future Governments if we have any hope of maintaining our world leading position in science. I hope that we can all agree that we should try to maintain that position.

We do science well in this country. I often say that it should be a bigger part of our national narrative. We often talk about the British as the underdogs in business, punching above our weight, but our world-class higher education sector and our capacity to do science are essential parts of the British story. When it comes to higher education in particular, we are the preferred educators of the world. That is why so many international students want to come to our country.

We are also recognised as leading scientists and thinkers, so our capacity to innovate is something that is appreciated by the rest of the world; it is a competitive advantage and something that we should put front and centre of how we plan to be a major economic force in the middle part of this century. There is a lot of rhetoric around the global race—in political terms, it is a sexy thing to talk about—but it needs to be backed up with some action. I fear that at the moment the short-termist approach will prevent us from being in a position in which we can say that we are going to win the global race.

The hon. Lady is saying much that I agree with, particularly with regard to the concerns about short-termism. We want to see a long-term amount of money. Obviously, long-term protection is only good if it goes up. Will she say whether she agrees with my proposal to have a 15-year above-inflation increase in the ring-fenced science budget? I hope that she will say yes, and work on actually delivering it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He will not be shocked to hear that I am not going to give a spending commitment for what a Labour Government would do in 2015. However, the broader point is that long-termism is not just about the headline amount given to science. Saying, “This is your deal for 10, or maybe 15, years—off you go” is also important because it encourages private sector investment; the private sector will know that a Government are serious about science, and it will know what will happen if they stay in power at the next election. That certainty breeds greater investment, and it will offer a much better deal. I cannot, of course, give the exact sums that we will allocate when we, I hope, form the Government in 2015, but we will return to that theme as we continue to debate these important issues.

Let me move away from the size of the budget and the length of the spending cycle on which it is based. The hon. Gentleman talked a lot about people, and that is a really important part of science policy, although we often forget that when we are grappling with the overall sums and how long they are allocated for. In particular, he raised a really important point about women in science, which is something I have picked up on since I took up the science bit of my brief. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), was a female scientist, so she had experience of being a woman in what is very much a man’s world. I pay tribute to her work as a woman in science and a woman who speaks up for science and scientific issues.

There is clearly a problem: if we cannot ensure that we take forward the best talent that we have and make the most of it, we are truly missing out on something that should be a competitive advantage. Many in the science community tell me that the problem is often less about getting women into undergraduate science degree programmes and more about retaining them once they have graduated, when they are trying to plot their careers as researchers and academics and to combine their work with family life and career breaks to have children. I have said a number of times that the issue is not unique to the scientific community; it is a problem across our society, and those of us in the world of politics know only too well the difficulties that political parties of all persuasions have in attracting female talent into politics and in ensuring that women can progress to the very top in much the same way as men. This is therefore a cross-sector, societal issue, and it is important for the science community, too. In the few months that I have had this brief, I am pleased that so many people—not just women—have wanted to talk to me about women in science and about how we can do more to attract and, equally importantly, retain female talent in the science pool.

I was sad to see the Government withdraw funding from the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, which was set up when the Labour party was in government to encourage more women into STEM subjects. If the Government scrap something and replace it with something else, I guess that they have an argument that they are still committed to the agenda, but there is no plan B when it comes to scrapping the UKRC’s funding. I would therefore like to hear a bit more from the Minister about his plans regarding women in science and how he sees things developing. How will he ensure that we meet the challenge of not only getting women into science, but retaining them?

The hon. Gentleman made a broader point about inspiring our young people and children into careers in science and about making science fun. One of my best visits since becoming a Member of Parliament was the morning I spent at the Big Bang science fair a few months ago. Tens of thousands of children were part of the fair and experienced it. It was incredible to see the energy in the Docklands arena, as those young people were exposed to science and scientific ideas. One thing that really struck me was a project that had been entered in one of the many competitions being run at the fair. A group of young girls had done a study of the science behind hair straightening. Some of the women reading or listening to the debate will recognise that hair straightening is a big industry, and it is certainly something a lot of women grapple with—it might not affect the Minister or the hon. Gentleman quite so much, but I know a lot about it. It was really interesting that the young girls could take something that mattered to them—they talked about the protective qualities of the different serums that they can put on their hair to protect it from the intense heat that they apply when they use a hair straightener—and understand that there is a lot of science behind it. They were able to study, understand and relate that to their own lives. That was a powerful way to show them that science is all around them and that it is not a scary, dry, arid, austere thing that only geeky boys do when they are at school, but an exciting, challenging thing that they use every day, often without realising it. Lots of good work is therefore being done to make science fun for our young people, although we can always do more.

I sympathise greatly with the hon. Gentleman’s point about specialist science teaching in our primary schools. The Campaign for Science and Engineering has spoken to me a number of times about the issue, which is part of a campaign that it is running. I am very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, and I am involved in discussions with the shadow education team about how we might make it happen. However, I absolutely agree with the broad principle, because we need people who understand science and who are passionate about it to be there right from the beginning of the educational journey that our young children make if we are to make sure that they do not drop science as soon as they turn 14, when they have to decide which options to take.

The hon. Gentleman also touched on the impact of the Government’s immigration policies on science and the wider higher education sector. When I was promoted to the position of shadow Higher Education Minister, I had no idea that my previous experience as a shadow Minister in the Home Office team would be quite so relevant, but somebody will talk to me about the impact of the Government’s immigration policies almost every week. The Minister and the Business Secretary are very sympathetic regarding the problems that have been visited on the higher education sector and the science community as a result of the Government’s immigration policy, and I suspect that we are often on the same side when we talk about the fact that the impact has been negative and that we need to change things. Unfortunately, to date, we have been unable to persuade the Home Office and Downing street to change course.

Why is that important? Because the Government’s pledge to reduce net migration to tens of thousands can be achieved only if they dramatically reduce the number of legitimate international students who come to our country, and only if they sit back and pray that lots of British people leave this country, while lots of Brits living abroad do not come back. We cannot get away from that fact. On the other things that impact on net migration figures, such as family migration, the Government have limited rights of appeal and so on, but they cannot do any more without falling foul of human rights law; they cannot outlaw people from having any kind of family life whatever or from marrying spouses from abroad. That leaves international students as the one group the Government can decrease significantly to meet their target.

We are in the bizarre position that the Government are holding up as a sign of success the fact that net migration has dropped, but missing out the fact that that is entirely down to Brits not coming home, Brits leaving and legitimate international students not coming to our country to study. Our competitors are absolutely rubbing their hands with glee over this. I met some colleagues from Australia a couple of weeks ago. The first thing that they said was, “Thank you; you have done such a great job. We made a huge mistake by trying to reduce the number of our legitimate international foreign students. We were starting to pay the price, but then you guys did the same thing, and now they are all coming back to us.” That is a problem.

Will the hon. Lady confirm that the most recent set of Home Office statistics, in the past couple of weeks, showed net migration falling, and, within that, a rise in the number of overseas students coming to study in Britain?

There has been a drop in net migration and there is a flux backwards in relation to international students; the overall picture of what has happened in the past three years, since the policy was introduced, has been to create a perception that Britain does not want to educate international students and does not draw a distinction between legitimate international students and those who are here illegitimately or illegally. The London Metropolitan university affair did great damage to our standing in the world. Our competitors have picked up on that, and marketing departments in universities in Canada, Australia and America are homing in on it. It is the one thing that every higher education institution in this country—whether a leading Russell Group institution, a million-plus institution, part of the University Alliance or something else—has said is a big problem. Every part of the sector has been affected by the immigration policy; and it affects scientific talent as well.

Does the hon. Lady agree with the suggestion that the easiest route would be to take international students out of the migration figures that are reported in the standard way? People who come here, study and leave are not part of the migration pool.

To focus on how we measure the net migration target is to miss the point about what has happened. The Government have picked a target; it does not particularly matter what goes into the target, as long as the sole immigration policy is not just to set an arbitrary target limit. Net migration is a useful measure of influxes into a country and outflows, and a useful way for public bodies, for example, to try to work out the future pattern and shape of public services. I am not too fixated on how net migration is measured. There is merit in universities that want to increase the number of their legitimate international students engaging in a numbers-based conversation with their local authorities, so that bus routes and housing need can be planned. There is merit, therefore, in the way net migration is measured for that purpose, but there is a problem if the measure of success is whether it is reduced to tens of thousands. That pledge was made in the knowledge that the only way to get net migration down would be by significantly affecting the number of legitimate international students coming to the country. The Minister must recognise that if the number of such students continues to rise, the net migration pledge will not be met. We must stop sending out the message that the country is not open for business.

As I was saying before I took the intervention, that point is important for science as well. When some of the world’s best scientists and their research teams decide where they may spend the next 10 to 20 years of their careers, it is important that the country should attract scientific talent and be an easy and welcoming place to come to, with an atmosphere of celebration of the contribution made by people who come. If the overall offer from Britain is a bit mealy-mouthed and negative—or, rather, a lot negative, given some of the rhetoric of the past months—and if the immense contribution made by those who come legitimately from abroad to study or work in our country is not valued in words and actions, we face a significant problem.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing the debate and apologise for not catching the early part of his speech.

Stoke-on-Trent is well served by Keele university and Staffordshire university. They have had to work even harder at attracting students because of the rhetoric. Potential overseas students were telling them that Britain is no longer a welcoming place to come to. Does my hon. Friend recognise that that situation affects not only the universities and other higher education institutions, but the wider community: the landlords who would let properties to the students, the local authorities that might perhaps collect rates from them and the shops that would sell to them? There are big implications, and not just for the universities.

That is an important point. Higher education is our seventh largest export—a fact that shocked me when I took on the brief. I did not know that at the time. It is worth billions of pounds to the country. At a time when we are desperate for economic growth, the deliberate shutting down of one of our largest export industries is a big problem. Part of the issue is our reputation: we have been a destination of choice, because of not just the excellence of our institutions, which are world leaders, but what the country is and has stood for in the world. The English language means that there is already an affinity between our country and many others. Our offer contains something bigger, beyond the brilliance of our higher education and science sector, to do with what we stand for.

The rhetoric of the past few months has failed to draw a distinction between legitimate concerns about public services, the pace of change, the nature of identity and community and the things that are important for our continued economic standing. Also, there is a soft power that comes from having educated people who will be the leading business men and women of future and growing economies. We are missing out.

I implore the Government, as I have many times, to change course and bring some sense back to the immigration debate. I urge them to focus on things that people in Ladywood tell me they are bothered about: illegal immigration, which seems to have dropped off the radar. If everything is about net migration, the Government appear not to be particularly focused on enforcing rules that would clamp down on illegal immigration, or on making sure, when people are found to be here illegally, that they are quickly deported. I have for months been telling the UK Border Agency about some constituency cases in which people are here illegally, and nothing has been done; yet international students are being put off coming to study in this country. It is a bizarre state of affairs, and I wish that the Government would bring some sense back to that policy area.

The hon. Member for Cambridge referred to postgraduates and their funding. Universities have for months been telling me that early indications of the impact of the Government’s new £9,000 fees regime are that there is upward pressure on the postgraduate student market, as additional study now seems much less affordable for a generation of students that will graduate with a large debt. That is a problem that universities have been flagging up for a while.

By 2015, the first cohort of students under the new regime will graduate. There is a danger that their future decisions about whether to pursue postgraduate study will be inhibited by the view that it will be unaffordable. Many people have therefore talked, as the hon. Member for Cambridge did, about an income-contingent loan system for postgraduate study. The Minister and I have debated postgraduate funding before in Westminster Hall and recognised that it poses a significant challenge at a time of economic difficulty. However, we need to grapple with the supply of graduates into postgraduate study. If we fall behind, that will affect our future research base.

I am sure that the hon. Lady did not mean to imply that people who go on to do postgraduate courses do so straight after undergraduate courses. I am sure that she is well aware that a lot of mature people go on to do postgraduate study. People do part-time postgraduate courses as well. Lots of people already have concerns about postgraduate funding, and a number of those cases are nothing to do with the cost of undergraduate education.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that postgraduate study is not only something that people take on immediately after their first degree. The conversations that I have had with universities in the past few months have been particularly about the additional pressure from the new fees regime and how they think that it will inhibit future student behaviour. So the universities are thinking five to 10 years ahead as they consider the overall health of the UK research base, which they are right to do.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again; she is being most generous with her time. I am also hearing from a lot of graduates—either recent graduates or, indeed, people who are looking again at studying—who are finding the general labour market so difficult that they perhaps see university as an alternative way either to further their own skills or to move their career on, when they are having difficulty moving it on in work; but they cannot actually afford to go to university as an alternative. Is that something she has encountered?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; he is right to make that point. One of the things that lots of business leaders in particular have been talking to me about in the last few months has been that in previous recessions some of our biggest companies would have sent some of their work force back into additional study to expand their skills, in the hope that by the time those workers finished their studies the companies might be on an upswing again and benefit from having refreshed and re-energised workers who would have had the opportunity to go out there and explore new ideas. That has been missing from the behaviour of big companies in this recession, so there are changes in how people are reacting to the current recession, the squeeze on living standards and the way in which they are making decisions about study and improving their qualifications.

People from all parties have to grapple with that issue, because it is in all our interests to ensure that the UK has a properly qualified labour market that can meet our future needs. That is not just an investment for now; it involves thinking about what people will be doing years from now. I often say to young people I meet that the jobs they will be doing in 20 years’ time probably have not yet been invented. The pace of change is very quick, and the ability of our work force to refresh and renew their skills quickly is becoming ever more urgent.

I will finish my remarks by returning to money, given that the comprehensive spending review is looming in just a couple of weeks’ time. I hope that the Minister is able to continue to make the argument for science. He is a supporter of science and his work supporting science has been much appreciated by people in the science community. I hope that he is able to continue to make the case for science, but I also hope that he is able to argue for something that looks like a much longer-term approach, so that we get away from a piecemeal, “let’s just survive this year or this Parliament” approach and consider having a bigger and bolder statement about how this country truly thinks it will win the global race.

The time has come for rhetoric to start to match reality, if not to match reality completely; the Minister would not expect me to say that it would completely match reality because we are, after all, the Opposition. Nevertheless, I hope that we can get to a place where rhetoric starts to match reality and that we will be truly able to say in the middle of this century that we still hope to be a global power, punching above our weight and doing science well.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to this very important debate, Mr Caton, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on his excellent introduction of it. As he said, if we were not able to have this debate at a Campaign for Science and Engineering event, at least we can have it in Westminster Hall. I also enjoyed the contribution to the debate by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood).

There were many points in my hon. Friend’s speech that I agreed with, but I just want to mention a couple of them to start with. First, he rightly said that although this debate is called a debate about science, we are actually talking about the wide range of research activities across all disciplines. Indeed, within the science ring fence I was very keen, on the advice of the experts, that we should not do some dramatic rebalancing away from the arts and humanities or whatever. Within that ring fence, we have broadly maintained the cash funding going to the Arts and Humanities Research Council and to the Economic and Social Research Council. In fact, one of Britain’s strengths—we face challenges, but we should not forget our strengths—is that for a medium-sized economy we have an extraordinary range of scientific and research activities, and as every major challenge facing the world will be tackled by harnessing a range of different disciplines it is very important that we maintain that breadth.

I also very much liked and strongly agreed with my hon. Friend’s point that, unlike conventional fears about “crowding out”, this is an area where we “crowd in” spending. Indeed, there is a theme running through a lot of the new initiatives that the Government have been able to introduce of actively trying to encourage industry, business and charities to come in and invest with us. That was part of the logic, for example, of the competition for the investment in new research and development facilities on university campuses, the research partnership innovation fund. With £300 million of public money, we have attracted more than £700 million of private investment. There has therefore been £1 billion of new investment in R and D on university campuses, but with only £300 million of that £1 billion counting as public expenditure. My hon. Friend made a lot of other good points, but the two that I have mentioned particularly caught my attention.

Let me briefly touch on the nitty-gritty of spending, because underneath the fine words it is obvious that Members want to focus on where we are on spending. There is a powerful logic for the science ring fence as we have constructed it for this Parliament, because for the first time it brings together all the main areas of current spending. It is deliberately and explicitly a current spending pledge for this Parliament, which means it brings together the quality-related research funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, running at about £1.6 billion a year, and the spending of Research Councils UK, running at approximately £2.8 billion a year. In addition, there are specific items such as the funding for the learned societies and the Higher Education Innovation Funding programme, which get us to the £4.6 billion ring fence. I think that this is the first time we have had a ring fence that has included all those items, so that even in a time of austerity we have been able to say that we are maintaining the cash going into current activity.

Although sometimes people have set alongside that what has happened in the retail prices index and said, “Well, that is a real-terms cut”, if they look at the advice that we have received from the experts about the efficiency of the science base’s performance, they will see that there clearly was, and still is, scope for efficiency savings. In so far as any group of scientists and researchers can save money by working more efficiently, they can be confident that that money is extra resource that can go into real activity instead, because it is within the ring fence.

To give one example of how we are generating efficiency savings, there is now far better sharing of scientific kit than there used to be. If we consider some of the initiatives, for example, in the N8 group of northern universities, we see that for the first time—it is rather shocking that it is happening for the first time—those universities are preparing registers so that they know all the equipment that is available in all their science labs. Consequently, before one of them buys some expensive new piece of kit, they can work out whether they can share a piece of kit that one of the other universities has. If they do need new equipment, they can purchase it collectively so that it can be shared among them. I do not buy the argument that performance and efficiency are fixed, and that the cash ring fence therefore equals real-terms cuts.

I am pleased with what both the previous speakers have said about the scientific community, and I greatly appreciate and salute the community myself. However, one of my challenges to the community is to turn the cash-protected ring fence into a real resource-protected ring fence by delivering efficiency savings to offset the rate of inflation.

It is indeed the case that capital is outside the ring fence. Again, that was a deliberate decision. The aim in the time of austerity was at least to keep the activity going. However, more discretionary decisions about capital investment can of course be taken. I must say that we inherited some stark discretionary decisions from the previous Government. There had been an artificial surge in science capital spend in 2009-10, but we then inherited plans for significant reductions in science capital spend, as part of a wider reduction. People should remember that the 40% reduction in capital spend was simply the overall plan for capital that we inherited from the previous Government. We did not add any further cuts.

Let me get back to the figures. Initially, about £1.9 billion of science capital was expected in the five years of this Parliament. We have been able to add approximately another £1.5 billion to that so that we have ended up with science capital spending, over the life of this Parliament, that is not out of line with the level that it was running at before the exceptional year of 2009-10. With great support from the Chancellor, who completely understands the value of science, I have taken decisions that have enabled us to have imaginative investments in new science capital. I will not go through the details of that now.

We have heard criticism about those being ad hoc decisions. My hon. Friend made an eloquent plea, asking, “Can we have a long-term plan?” Last autumn, Research Councils UK published a strategic framework containing its plans. In fact, it was launched in the most favourable circumstances possible, as part of a speech by the Chancellor in august surroundings in the Royal Society. I cannot think of a better way for a capital plan to be launched than via a speech by the Chancellor.

We did not commit ourselves, there and then, to all the capital spending that has been set out, but we provided a framework and recognised the uncertainties of politics and finance. We cannot always be sure exactly what we will be able to afford at what moment. Nevertheless, we have a clear, consistent, long-term vision. Drawing on the expertise of the scientific community, we tried to identify where the need for new capital was most intense and where there were strong arguments for extra capital investment. We published that document, and in the autumn statement the Chancellor made a further £600 million of investment that helped deliver on some of those aims. Even with capital, our record and our plans show that we have achieved a lot.

I do not want to get into specifics at this rather delicate moment in the plans for public spending in 2015-16, but the coalition stands by its pledge. We are aiming to make Britain the best place in the world to do science. That is partly a matter of financing and partly about the wider context and culture. For example, our lead in the global debate on open access and open data ensures that we are seen as serious players in the science debate. Indeed, I look forward to putting on the agenda for discussions with G8 Science Ministers in London, just over a week from now, what we can do to agree on further progress towards open access to research findings internationally and—even trickier, probably—how we can ensure greater access to the data behind the research findings. In that respect, there are a host of rather tricky technical questions about standards for the storing, and hence the mining, of data. We can be proud of what we are trying to do to support Britain’s excellent reputation on science.

Let me touch on two or three specific questions. First, my hon. Friend asked about postgraduates. I understand the anxiety about postgraduates. I have to say that the Government have not been deliberately reducing funding for postgraduates; the funding through research councils and HEFCE has been broadly maintained. There has been some shift in some of the research councils’ policies on larger centres for doctoral training, reflecting a view that it is probably better for people studying for doctorates to be in centres alongside other people doing so. That has also enabled us to make stronger connections between people doing doctorates and their opportunities for business and industrial experience.

We have to understand what is happening with postgraduates. Some universities increased their postgraduate fees in line with what was happening on student fees, but, of course, the latter was being done as part of a policy and was matched by access to loans only to be repaid when the graduates were earning more than £21,000. There is not the same kind of programme for postgrads, so the decision by universities to raise their fees, even though there had not necessarily been any reductions in funding, has had some impact on demand.

Arguments are being made for postgraduate loans. I welcome the debate about options for postgraduate student funding, but my experience with part-time students suggests that if we went down that route, there would have to be some controls over numbers and some regulation of postgraduates, which would change the postgraduate scene from the relatively open, unregulated one that exists at the moment. Pros and cons need to be carefully assessed.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood asked about women in science. I understand where she is coming from, and I agree that the science community needs to do more to deliver diversity. I tracked down some depressing statistics, showing how many people with good As and A*s in GCSE physics and maths converted those into a decision to carry on at A-level. That brings home the challenge that she is concerned about. Some 52% of boys who get an A* at GCSE physics carry on to do A-level physics, but only 25% of girls who get an A* at GCSE physics do so. That is a real challenge. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note—sadly, we are talking about gender stereotypes—that 41% of boys with an A* in GCSE biology go on to do A-level biology and 56% of girls with that grade go on to do so. Some decisions are being taken that we need to tackle. I will be at the Cheltenham science festival later this week, which is a great event, and among the many things that I will celebrate there, I look forward to meeting our STEMNET ambassadors—now 40% female, which helps—who go round schools and colleges encouraging young people to get into science. There is obviously far more that we can do.

We have made progress and we strongly support the Athena SWAN principles, aimed at diversity. In the past year, the Department of Health has required clinical medical schools to have a silver award for Athena SWAN principles. Research Councils UK, in a statement earlier this year, which I welcomed, said that it expected institutions in receipt of RCUK funding to provide evidence of commitment to equality and diversity. Participation in Athena SWAN was the kind of evidence that they were looking for. We are trying, without getting too directive, to use our nudge powers—the fashionable doctrine that we in the coalition signed up to—to get research councils to use their clear financial clout to nudge institutions towards those important Athena SWAN principles.

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, asked about overseas students and student visas. I have to say to the latter that, not for the first time, Labour’s figures do not add up. The evidence that I cited in my intervention shows that it is possible to reduce the total net migration number, as measured by the United Nations, and maintain the flow of university students. I was intrigued and encouraged when she did not follow my hon. Friend into the issue of the measurement of migration. There are different ways of constructing the statistics.

There are two crucial issues for higher education institutions. First, they fear that, in response to bad figures on net migration, there would be a crackdown on legitimate overseas students as the only way of meeting the target, but we made it absolutely clear in the coalition’s mid-term review:

“We will place no cap on the number of genuine students coming from across the world to study in this country”.

We have no plans to introduce any such cap, so there should be no kind of planning blight with people saying, “We are okay at the moment, but they are going to do something nasty to introduce number controls.” There are no such plans, and we made that clear in the coalition’s mid-term agreement.

The second anxiety—I noticed how the hon. Lady shifted her ground to this position—is about bad public relations and bad publicity. There has been very bad publicity, with hostile and often misleading media coverage, in India in particular. That is why the Prime Minister made it one of the priorities of his most recent trade mission to India, on which I accompanied him with representatives of higher education, to get the message across in India that legitimate students are welcome, with no cap on numbers. I heard him say that in interview after interview, and I took the opportunity to say so, too. We all need to do everything we can to get that message across, which appears to be a particular challenge on the Indian subcontinent; the growth in the number of students coming here from China is healthy and being maintained. Our commitment on not planning to introduce number controls in the future should help.

The Minister is absolutely right. There is no cap, but there are issues with perception. There are also problems with administration, and there are cases of students being badly dealt with by the UK Border Agency, as it was. Will he try to ensure that problems that do not fit with the policy are corrected?

Yes. I accept that there are problems with administration, and the UKBA, HEFCE and Universities UK are now working together in a more co-operative spirit than we have seen for a long time to try to address those problems.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is now visiting universities. We have heard about his visit to Cambridge, and I went with him to the London School of Economics a month or two ago. It was an interesting visit, and it began with LSE officials saying, “One of our female students came back into the country yesterday to sit her exams. She wasn’t able to take them earlier because she had been ill, but, sadly, she was detained at Heathrow”, or wherever it was. They asked, “Could you perhaps ensure that she is released so that she can come and do her exams?” My hon. Friend undertook to sort that out, and I am pleased to report that she was released. My hon. Friend is actively visiting universities. He has already visited Cambridge and LSE, and I think he plans to visit others. I accompany him when possible, and he is trying to ensure that the systems work well and effectively so that universities know where they stand.

I will conclude this very useful debate by referring to some other initiatives, because I do not see what we have been doing on science as simply a defensive operation for maintaining the cash spend. The coalition can also be proud of the initiatives we have taken to drive forward the agenda, and I will end with some brief examples of those initiatives.

First, I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge does not like the name, but I think “Catapult centre” is a great name—although admittedly it is a bit unfortunate for the space Catapult centre. [Laughter.] Britain withdrew from having its own launch vehicle 30 years ago, but the space Catapult centre is not an attempt at bringing back a new, cheap option for a launch vehicle.

The space Catapult centre is a bit tricky, but the rest are excellent. Of course, the Catapult centres are our attempt to catch up with the German Fraunhofer institutes, and it is interesting that, in his report for the outgoing Labour Government, Hermann Hauser proposed something similar. When my party was in opposition, I was involved in commissioning a report from James Dyson, and he also proposed something very similar. The Catapult centres are proving to be a great success. We started with the high-value manufacturing Catapult centres, which drew on a lot of facilities that already existed. We inherited those facilities, but we spread them into exciting new areas such as regenerative medicines, applications of satellite data and renewable energy.

Another initiative is the catalyst fund, which tries to provide rather greater cohesion between research council spending and Technology Strategy Board spending. The £180 million catalyst fund in life sciences comprises £90 million of Medical Research Council funding and £90 million of TSB funding working together so that researchers in the life sciences may have a grant—it is non-dilutive finance—to fund their work all the way from the lab to commercialisation. The reaction to that scheme from researchers and industry has been very positive, and we have been able to repeat it on a smaller scale in one or two other areas such as biotechnology.

At the beginning of my speech, I think I referred to the research partnership investment fund and the co-funding of higher education R and D capital. That has now leveraged £1 billion. As well as those types of innovative policies, we continue to play a full role in the development of science globally. Later this week, we will be celebrating the topping out ceremony for the Francis Crick Institute in London. There is fantastic, massive investment in the life sciences in London. Last week, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge mentioned, Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the new buildings for the laboratory of molecular biology in Cambridge. Sadly, I was not able to be there, but it has a claim to be the post-war world’s most productive science lab, and it is up there as one of the greats.

In Britain, we have also been able to play a leading role in the square kilometre array, which is a massive radio-astronomy project that will involve 3,000 satellite dishes spread across the deserts of Australia and South Africa. The massive data flow from those dishes will be coming to and managed out of Jodrell Bank, where there are the finest traditions of radio-astronomy. We are keen to use the square kilometre array to drive the development of scientific capability in, for example, sub-Saharan Africa, because it will be one of the biggest single science investments that southern Africa has ever had. We can be pleased with the initiatives we are taking, and I will discuss open data and open access at the G8 summit.

As I believe there is about to be a Division in the House, I will conclude by welcoming the high level of shared recognition, across all three parties represented today, of the importance of science and of supporting it. In a way, the fact that our three parties approach science in that vein is our best single guarantee of long-term stability for scientific activity in this country.

Sitting suspended.