Tuesday 4 June 2013
[Mr James Gray in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Swayne.)
On this sunny morning, it is a real joy to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray, and I hope that our expectation of great chairmanship will be delivered by the end of the sitting.
Tomorrow is vocational qualifications day, so this debate is particularly timely. That annual celebration of vocational qualifications is organised by the Edge Foundation and quite properly supported by all political parties and, most importantly, by colleges, training providers and awarding bodies. Celebrations and events will be held around the country, with outstanding achievements being recognised through VQ learner and employer awards. By celebrating learners and employers, VQ day recognises that the relationship between them, supported by providers, is crucial if we are to deliver effective vocational learning that meets the needs of both employers and the economy.
I have been struck by the number of individuals and organisations that have contacted me to say that they are extremely interested in today’s debate, including Cambridge Assessment, Clive Wilson—Franklin College’s excellent associate principal—the Association of Colleges, the National Grid, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Pearson, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, the Prince’s Trust, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Union of Students, McDonald’s and the Science Council.
That avalanche of interest is all the more amazing for the consistency with which those different organisations have raised the key issues for setting the landscape fair for vocational education in future. I can identify four broad concerns: first, the need for vocational education in key stages 4 and 5 to be placed in a broad and balanced curriculum offer; secondly, the importance of careers information, advice and guidance being impartial and linked to the economy’s needs; thirdly, the role of apprenticeships; and finally, the challenge of reskilling adults, particularly those who have become workless. Let me take each in turn.
The first issue is about all students having access to a vocational offer within a broad and balanced curriculum. Edge states a bold vision that I hope we can embrace. It has stated that it wants
“an education system where people discover all their talents achieve excellent results and are better prepared for apprenticeships, higher education and work”.
In my opinion, having worked hard to lead a college in delivering improving progression outcomes for students year on year, secondary education in 2010 had arrived at a positive place. That was largely down to the practical good sense of school and college leaders, exam boards and employers, working together within a largely stable framework set by the Government.
I apologise for being late, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate. For many years in Northern Ireland, it was them and us—it was the industry and educationists—but over the past couple of years, the two sides have come together, which encourages young people and helps them to get the skill base that is essential. Does he agree that that is certainly one way to achieve what he wants?
Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about employers and educationists coming together to set an agenda, which can be very powerful in liberating young people and delivering on their potential.
Through a focus on personalised learning, student achievement was being raised and student progression to work and higher education improved. Such personalisation of learning is important. Through the flexible use of BTEC firsts and BTEC nationals, as well as similar qualifications, general vocational qualifications were finding a place alongside GCSEs and A-levels, which led to students achieving more at both 16 and 18. Most importantly, progression into employment and higher education, though not perfect, was strong and improving.
Interestingly, a new study by London Economics shows that a higher proportion of students who do a BTEC and a degree end up in work than those who do straight A-levels and a degree. The research also shows the highly vocationalised HE choices of ex-BTEC students, particularly in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and business finance. Across all regions, BTEC graduates in skilled occupations earn more than their contemporaries. The curriculum we had in 2010 is therefore delivering results for us today. Even the ill-fated diploma spawned the engineering diploma, which has been fêted by engineering employers and HE providers for placing industry in the curriculum driving seat, thereby delivering for young people and the economy, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) has pointed out.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing in this Chamber a very important debate, which every one of us can relate to our own constituencies. Does he agree that one important opportunity in engineering at the moment is for young girls and young ladies? It is a job not only for young men, but for ladies and girls. There has been an example of that in Northern Ireland, with more young girls—and young people—being involved and wanting to do engineering. Should more be done to promote that among the female part of the population?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Many good projects are in place to get girls into engineering, and they must continue to be supported. I noticed in the information sent out by the National Grid how much it stresses the importance of bringing more women into engineering. After all, that covers 50% or so of the potential talent pool, so we need women engineers to help to drive forward the economy.
I hope that the Government, in their consultation to reform vocational qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds, listen to the wise counsel of the Association of Colleges and others, who caution against a rigid approach to routes that divide qualifications and young people into particular outcomes. The AOC’s Martin Doel has made the point well:
“Currently students can choose a mix of qualifications: they can study an A level alongside a substantial vocational qualification. We are concerned that separate ‘routes’ which segregate qualifications into pre-determined categories will restrict student choice.”
Edge’s insights are also helpful. It has argued:
“Vocational education is often presented as suitable for the 50% of young people who don’t go to university. Young people who do well in academic subjects are systematically steered away from vocational options. This is wrong: it limits choice. All young people should experience academic, artistic, technical, practical and vocational learning as part of a broad and balanced 14-18 curriculum which leads to an overarching diploma at 18.”
The overarching diploma sounds like Labour’s excellent tech bacc initiative, which the party is sensibly consulting on, and which forms part of the ongoing work of Labour’s skills taskforce, chaired by Professor Chris Husbands. By contrast, the Government are in danger of rushing out their alternative tech bacc without sufficient thought and planning, on a time scale that risks endangering the principle of developing a sound alternative for the forgotten 50%.
The Government would do well to listen to organisations such as Edge, which has a track record of engaging successfully with employers in delivering change through their university technical college programme and other initiatives, but, sadly, listening is not one of the Government’s strong points. They turn a deaf ear to those who speak with experience and knowledge, and instead assert that they, the Government—many of them have never worked outside policy think-tanks or media bubbles, and never worked in the real world—know best, even when confounded by the evidence. They pooh-pooh the evidence and press on regardless with their curriculum vandalism. A prime example is their insistence on imposing their narrow key stage 4 EBacc and the limited number of facilitating A-levels, set in a nostalgic image of 1950s grammar schools. Even today, The Times reports that these curriculum vandals are planning to replace GCSEs—a well understood and recognised brand—with something called “I-levels”. Will they never learn?
Before the Minister splutters that to criticise such a direction of travel is to accept lower standards and to become globally uncompetitive, let me assure him that it is not. Wanting high standards is a given across the parties; they are what we all want for our young people. Such an aim is not negotiable. Ironically, the Government’s deafness to evidence and their rejection of the common-sense approach of building on what they inherited in 2010 imperil the high standards that they say they seek. If there is any doubt about that, just reread the Education Committee’s excellent report on the EBacc.
The second area of universal concern was the state of careers education, information, advice and guidance. Again, the Select Committee did some excellent work in exposing the disastrous impact that the Government’s policy has sometimes had on that area. In our debate on the Select Committee’s report in this Chamber last month, it was clear that MPs across the House shared its concerns, but are the Government listening? I fear not. The AOC points out that good advice and guidance is crucial to helping young people make the right choices, and it draws attention to the perverse incentives in the current system that allow new schools to be established even where there is an over-supply of places, which is madness. As it points out, that militates against the provision of truly independent information, advice and guidance, because such advice might, for example, encourage a young person to consider other options than simply staying in the sixth form and doing A-levels.
The National Grid, and other such employers, recognises the value of work experience. It is disappointed that it is no longer a statutory requirement for schools in key stage 4. It says:
“We would urge policy makers to ensure that pre-16 students do get the opportunities to see industry at first hand—particularly STEM based occupations.”
The Federation of Small Businesses calls for a significant programme of careers education from early on in a young person’s education. As Edge says, a show-and-tell approach to careers is badly needed. Starting in primary schools, young people should meet and visit a wide variety of employers, apprentices, further education colleges, training providers and universities. They should also go to events such as the skills show in Birmingham, which has skills competitions, exhibitions and “have a go” areas.
Interestingly, we have just completed an employer-led investigation into the skills needs of the Humber, which I chaired on behalf of the Humber local enterprise partnership. The report, “Lifting the Lid: the Humber Skills Challenge”, will be published on Thursday. Two of the most significant concerns are the quality of careers education, information, advice and guidance and the lack of overriding priority given to teaching those essential employability skills. Why do the Government not rectify that by giving the resource, capacity and capability to LEPs to make the improvements that are badly needed to ensure that the education service delivers what local employers need both now and into the future? That is a way to deliver through City Deals what is needed and to allow city region leaders to make things happen. Why not go further and let LEPs commission Ofsted to do area-wide inspections of the teaching of employability skills in their areas? That would be localism in action and would directly empower employers and reward positive engagement between employers, education and training providers in a locality.
The third thing on which everyone agrees is that apprenticeships provide a significant work-based training opportunity as part of the vocational offer. The National Union of Students underlines the relationship between good impartial careers information, advice and guidance and the uptake of apprenticeships. It says:
“If more people are to be encouraged to enter higher level apprenticeships then work must be done to raise the profile amongst those responsible for delivering IAG.”
Both the previous Government and the current one have done some good work in developing and strengthening the apprenticeship brand, but, as Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment points out, what is really needed is a strong focus on revitalising the classical apprenticeship. The Richard review represents a strong step in the right direction, and Labour’s skills taskforce interim report is right to take the matter further. It says:
“Apprenticeships need to be longer, more rigorous and focused on the skills that will take our economy forward.”
The Work Foundation is right to recommend that Government should seek to persuade all large employers to sign an agreement to offer high-quality apprenticeships. There is an important leadership role to be played by employers’ organisations such as the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce to encourage even more employers to come forward and get involved.
In the Humber, we also identified a possible leadership role for the LEP not only in championing apprenticeships, but in considering establishing an apprenticeship training agency or an apprenticeship hub to support more small and medium-sized enterprises to take on apprentices.
In the quite understandable rush for robust higher level apprenticeships, there is a real danger of unintended consequences. We need to be alert to the concerns of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which says that
“it is imperative that the overall framework remains the same in order to provide stability and consistency for users.”
Furthermore, if access to level 2 apprenticeships is swept away, we risk leaving a significant gap for the almost 50% of youngsters who do not achieve the progression benchmark of five A* to C grades with maths and English to access level 3 programmes. Currently, they can access work-based training through that route.
Are we not in danger of leaving some people behind? I am talking about those who perhaps do not have the educational skills but who have the hand skills. It is important that we bring on those people as well. What opportunities can we give such people to enable them to reach high levels of achievement as well?
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on the button. I am sure the Government will think through this matter carefully, because it is an area where further thought is needed.
Around 350,000 learners are currently on entry level and level 1 and 2 courses in colleges. The number of students seeking those sorts of courses will rise with the raising of the participation age. Serious thought needs to be given to how to give them the best work-based training options in the future. One option might be to look at developing longitudinal traineeships—the Minister is keen on championing traineeships—that can be matched to longer-term vocational training when considered as part of 16-to-19 study programmes. It would also be sensible to consider how the model might be extended into employment for those who are ready for work, but who are not academically able to access level 3 apprenticeships. If level 2 apprenticeships are no longer available, there needs to be funded flexibility in approach to support young people into meaningful, sustainable work through the traineeship brand.
The final area of concern relates to adult reskilling, particularly when trying to support and encourage people out of worklessness into employment. The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, which has a long history of success in this arena, makes a strong argument for allowing flexibility and bite-sized learning to be funded in a way that supports learners and employers. More than anything else it believes that
“adult vocational qualifications need to be recognised by learners and employers as well as providing flexibility in terms of design and credit accumulation. There is no doubt that the current levels of learning are not well understood; there is also no doubt that A-levels and degrees have better recognition even though they may not be fully understood. Our work with learners, employers and providers has shown that the unitised and credit accumulation approach which the QCF allows is powerful in helping people get into work and to improve their skills.”
In addition, it is clear that vocational skills delivery for the unemployed requires much more effective join-up between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions. There have been improvements to the delivery, and the Government should be congratulated on them, but there need to be more. The divide between those who are on the Work programme and those who are the responsibility of Jobcentre Plus does not encourage the development of the holistic, collaborative, personalised programmes that are needed to get people into sustainable employment. There remain silly barriers to accessing training, whereby people’s benefit receipts can cease prior to their securing work even when appropriate training is being followed.
In our Humber Skills Commission, we are bidding for the LEP to be empowered to control and oversee the delivery of programmes to tackle unemployment locally, and to be granted the authority to align local resources more effectively to that end. Such an approach, which would put local businesses and employers in the driving seat to motivate and reskill their local work force, may well be part of the answer. What is undoubtedly clear is the need for more ladders of opportunity and success to be created if we are to get the best out of the people we have already got. So, on the eve of vocational qualifications day, I am pleased to have had this opportunity today to stimulate a debate on the future of vocational education.
Thank you, Mr Gray, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing the debate. He is a complete expert on this issue, given his background, and I have been pleased to campaign with him on a subject that I will touch on later.
Part of the problem with debates on vocational education is that too often it is just seen in terms of its utilitarian value to the economy. We need to change that approach and see vocational education as a form of social justice. If vocational education is just subject to economic efficiency, it will always be subject to the whims of current economic policy. Vocational education should be integral to the national curriculum and the well-being of our young people. It provides a ladder away from poverty for the most disadvantaged.
The question we have to ask is why—despite all the initiatives begun under the previous Government—did youth unemployment rise to 1 million? Although this Government have stemmed the tide, youth unemployment remains a huge problem. To consider the issue holistically, we need a cradle-to-grave cultural change in vocational education.
Problems with youth unemployment do not just start when young people enter the job market; they start at home, with disadvantaged families. The problems carry on into our primary schools—such that one in five of our children still leave primary school unable to read, write or add up—and they continue into secondary school.
What can we do to change that situation? First, we must transform the reputation of skills and apprenticeships, which will require a sea change in our culture. Secondly, we must transform our vocational infrastructure. Thirdly, if—as I have argued—vocational education is about social justice, we need to ensure that resources are directed at the most disadvantaged. That means not only providing the ladders of opportunity, which the hon. Member for Scunthorpe mentioned, for those who want to get on, but reaching those who will not even take the first step.
For far too long we have talked about university, which has led to vocational education falling into neglect. Vocational education came to be seen as a second-class option, only suitable for those who did not want to do A-levels, rather than being seen—as it should be—as equal to university. If we are serious about tackling youth unemployment, we must ensure there is a parity of esteem between vocational education and traditional academia.
That is why I have been calling, since I have been in this House, for the introduction of a royal society for apprenticeships, which would work in a similar way to the Royal College of Surgeons and other such bodies. A royal society would dramatically increase the prestige and culture of apprenticeships, marking a sea change in how apprenticeships are viewed.
We also need to expand the range of jobs that vocational education can offer. Traditionally, people have assumed that if someone does an apprenticeship that means they must become a builder or a plumber. That assumption is wrong, which is why I took on Parliament’s first apprentice three years ago. I am now on my third, Aaron Farrell, who works in my office four days a week as well as studying for a level 3 apprenticeship in business administration. This experience has been good for Aaron and for my office, and I am pleased that other Members are beginning to do the same. Also, I pay tribute to the senior Clerk of the House of Commons for establishing the Clerk’s apprentices scheme. It is invaluable for a profession that is often seen as being closed off to those who are from a disadvantaged background.
We also need to make teachers aware of the benefits of apprenticeships. Edge has already been mentioned and according to that organisation two thirds of teachers regard their knowledge of apprenticeships as poor, and just one in four teachers recommend apprenticeships over higher education. Sadly, 23% of A-level pupils still say their school is far more concerned with “sending students to university”. That contrasts sharply with parents’ wishes. A clear majority of parents—78%—would support their child if they chose to take the vocational qualification route. Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shows that people who have a higher apprenticeship are 25% more employable than university graduates and that on average those with an apprenticeship qualification earn over £100,000 more throughout their lifetime than other employees.
I am glad that the Government are taking steps to address the problem of prestige and I welcome the technical baccalaureate, according to which vocational courses should have the same rigour and prestige as A-levels. However, we must go further. We need to encourage teachers to find out more about the benefits of apprenticeships and to promote those benefits directly to young people and their parents.
That can be done in simple but effective ways. For example, Harlow college, which I must remind the House is the No. 1 college in England according to the Department for Education, has a fantastic record of offering vocational education for young people and it recently held a very successful apprenticeship fair. Consequently, young people can make well-informed choices and apprenticeships can get the fair hearing that they deserve. A royal society for apprenticeships would offer rewards to apprentices in the same way that university students get graduation ceremonies.
However, this process is not all about changing the reputation of apprenticeships. We also need to provide the infrastructure to make it easier for businesses to take on people to gain vocational skills. To be fair to the Government, they have made good progress on that. I disagree with the hon. Member for Scunthorpe, who believes that the Government are only interested in academia. The Government have shown that they support vocational education by investing £1.5 billion in the sector in this financial year. As we know, since 2010 the number of apprenticeships in the country has increased by hundreds of thousands, and just last year in my constituency the number of apprenticeships increased by a phenomenal 78%.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with further education for young people is the lack of proper careers advice for them at the ages of 11, 12 and 13? That is the desperate situation that we have—young people are not given any professional careers advice, or they are only given very minimal advice, when they reach 12 or 13. That is the critical age, when such advice should be given.
Now that careers guidance has been placed inside schools, does the hon. Gentleman believe that schools necessarily have an in-built producer interest to say to young people that their best interests are served by staying on at school because the money will follow the pupil, and that what we are seeing is exactly the fears about the lack of clear pathways into vocational education being realised?
Unless I misunderstand the hon. Gentleman, as I understand it the school leaving age has been extended to 18 anyway, which was something the last Government did. Given that, I think that if we change the culture in our country, schools will encourage their pupils to take vocational education over university. As I say, we need to change the culture and emphasise to pupils that the vocational qualifications that they will be encouraged to consider will be as prestigious as taking university degrees. On that basis, we should not forget that in this Parliament the Government are setting up 24 university technical colleges—in essence, pre-apprentice schools—and I am incredibly proud that Harlow is getting one, which will open next year. However, we must not settle; we should be aiming to set up at least a hundred such colleges.
We should also be encouraging employers to take on more apprentices. One major hurdle that employers face is the lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills among young people, and we must look at that issue. Recent figures show that 17% of 16 to 19- year-olds are functionally illiterate and that 22% of them are innumerate. It is essential that apprenticeships place a greater emphasis on these basic skills, so that young people are ready to join the work force.
As a country we must create the right climate to encourage businesses to hire apprentices. We have made good progress with this, creating the apprenticeship grant for employers, which gives employers who employ fewer than 1,000 people a grant worth £1,500. It is currently available to employers until 31 December 2013. We will know that the grant is successful if it boosts the uptake of apprenticeship programmes. A new charity called Access is encouraging young people, offering 10,000 youngsters work experience programmes. We need to look at and support such schemes.
Subsidising businesses to take on apprentices works. Essex county council has a groundbreaking apprentice scheme and its employability and skills unit saw apprenticeship starts increase by 87% in 2011, compared with a national average of 21%. The council provides a wage subsidy of up to 70% for businesses taking on new or additional apprentices. If possible, I would like that to be replicated across the country. I look forward to the successes in Essex, led by Councillor Ray Gooding.
I also welcome the idea of a skills tax credit, which would give employers a stronger incentive to hire an apprentice and would create a stronger relationship between the employer and the apprentice. That was recommended in the Richard review of apprenticeships last November. I urge the Government to consider it.
Parliament should lead the way, with clear apprenticeship career paths in Departments. The Minister knows, because I have spoken to him about this before, that I believe that all Departments should replicate the Department for Work and Pensions’ new model procurement contract, which encourages, but does not compel, their contractors to hire apprentices as at least 5% of the work force. That has resulted in the employment of nearly 2,000 extra apprentices who deliver goods and services to the DWP. It is revenue-neutral and should be extended across Whitehall.
As well as changes to incentivise employers to take on apprentices, there should be changes to encourage disadvantaged young people to participate in vocational education. There are currently 900,000 people aged 16 to 24 in England not in education, employment or training. This figure has increased by nearly 50% over the past 10 years and accounts for 14.5% of all young people in England.
We know that 90% of young people who complete their apprenticeship go on to further employment, but some obstacles actively discourage young people from vocational education, particularly if they are from disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, young people at further education colleges are not entitled to free school meals, even if they meet the criteria for them, whereas their peers at sixth form do receive them. The civil servants have said to Ministers that it is too expensive and that schools do not get direct funding for it, even though they are required to provide it by law. The Association of Colleges estimates the cost of extending the right to free meals to college students at around £38 million. I believe that this money can be found through efficiencies. If we are to support vocational education, we cannot say to students who attend FE colleges, which are primarily focused on vocational education, that they are not allowed to have a free school meal even if they qualify for one. That injustice cannot continue.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. He probably recognises, as I do, that FE colleges take a higher proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds than sixth forms in schools and that they are also a large provider of education to young people aged 16 to 18.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I am pleased to have worked on this issue. We have only one sixth-form school in Harlow and the rest of the children go to a sixth-form college, where disadvantaged students are denied free school meals. That situation is untenable.
The Association of Colleges found that 79% of colleges thought that free school meals for 16 to 18-year-olds would encourage them to stay on in education. The principal of my local college says, “If I can get them through the door and we can give them a good meal, I know that I can turn their lives around.”
I would like to follow the lead of Essex council, which has an apprenticeship scheme that primarily helps disadvantaged young people, particularly single mothers. I was pleased that the Government replaced the education maintenance allowance with a bursary for 16 to 19-year-olds. That is good news, as it provides targeted support for those who need it most, but it is important that the Minister assesses what impact it is having and whether it is encouraging participation. The terms of the bursary must also be looked at. It should not operate in a similar way to the House of Lords, where you get paid just for turning up, but should reward students for their hard work, for example, if they meet or exceed their academic targets. It is right that we reward hard work, and doing so would proactively reward those who are in the most need and who are doing the right thing.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that improving apprenticeships is not just about economic efficiency, but is a necessary consideration. In 2012, youth unemployment cost the Treasury £4.8 billion. That is more than the total budget for 16 to 19-year-olds in England. According to a study by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the University of Bristol, the net present value of the cost to the Treasury, even looking only a decade ahead, is approximately £28 billion. So it is essential that in these tough economic times we take action quickly. But we must not forget that this is about social justice. Young people are our best defence against poverty. If we give them opportunities, skills and training, we get them off the street, give them stability and a real chance of a job in the future. The Government, in many ways, are taking the right decisions, but we must go further and faster. We need a conveyor belt of apprentices changing the culture, changing our schools, and changing how vocational education is perceived.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I will take your direction about this debate, in the knowledge that education is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing the debate, which, in the current economic climate for young people, is very welcome. The subject is dear to my heart. I have been working with companies locally in Inverclyde and encouraging them to start thinking about increasing apprenticeships and to reach out to young people in our community, in the knowledge that apprenticeships—perhaps, the original “earn as you learn”—include a commitment to vocational and further education.
For too long, we have not paid enough attention to the 50% of our young people who do not go on to higher education. Those young people have suffered, and our economy has suffered. The central question is how to reform an education system, so that it equips young people with the skills and knowledge that they need to play their part, both as active citizens and as future business leaders and entrepreneurs.
It is not that our education system in Scotland is without problems and does not require improvements. Let me highlight some steps implemented to address some of the points that I have just raised, regarding active citizens, future business leaders and entrepreneurs. There is partnership between the schools and colleges, but unfortunately, as we have seen in Scotland, our colleges are under threat, as is our vocational education, because of the Scottish National party Government’s commitment not to charge fees for university places.
Order. I had a word with the hon. Gentleman before he spoke. Inverclyde is, of course, in Scotland, and this is a devolved matter. The debate is on future of vocational education in England and therefore he must address all his remarks to that question. He may not divert into the Scottish national Government or any other matter to do with Scotland. He must talk about vocational education in England.
Thank you, Mr Gray. I will take that direction.
Of course, the curriculum had to change to reflect what business was advising us about problems with employing school leavers. I have spoken to my local businesses and the chambers of commerce about what they required when hiring young people leaving school. The reply was always the same, and perhaps it is the same across the country. They said that they receive young people into the employment world, unready and lacking in the skills to contribute immediately to their business from day one.
Businesses need employees who can apply initiative and solve problems and innovate with limited supervision. There was, more than often, no prepared equation that could be applied to projects. Young people were looking for an equation to populate to get an answer for business. We had to change that and apply a process that would stimulate innovation and initiative when learning.
Business leaders and the entrepreneurs of the future have to be identified. In my constituency, we have pioneered an association with business employers and school leavers based on “The Apprentice”. With numerous employers, we have put in place a six-month programme called “The Recruit”, which provides vocational qualifications and involves tasks set by employers, who evaluate participants for potential hires at the end of the course; it is the longest interview a young person will have. The programme continues to be supported by many local employers, and it has been replicated by many local authorities. It has been a great success, and it regularly secures many jobs for school leavers who want to earn while they continue to learn. The course identifies and develops leaders and those with entrepreneurial abilities.
Our schools also link up with those in the third year of secondary school, offering basic skills in traditional trades that go towards an apprenticeship. The need for apprenticeships has never been greater. Too many young lives are being wasted on the dole queues. Long-term unemployed young people are the most vulnerable, with many trapped in a vicious cycle of joblessness, anxiety and depression. We desperately need to get our young people into training and apprenticeships. The 50% of our young people who do not go to university need every chance to improve their skills and to get good jobs.
I agree with the vast majority of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and we certainly need to encourage our young people. However, the research papers we received for the debate state that some schools now charge parents to send their children on work experience. Surely, that is wrong, and it will not help us target areas of deprivation or encourage young people whose parents cannot afford to pay for them to go on work experience.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about charging for work experience. I represent an area whose population is not over-wealthy, and people would find it extremely difficult to pay for work experience. We are therefore fortunate that many employers offer work experience free of charge.
We need a highly skilled, highly educated work force to meet the challenges of tomorrow and to compete with other advanced nations. The economy needs value-added skills to compete with the economies of Brazil, India, China and other emerging nations. Apprenticeships are a valuable way to give young people skills, training and jobs. They also offer on-the-job learning opportunities and, of course, further education. They enable young people not only to learn about their chosen trade or profession, but to do so on the spot. They also enable them to talk to colleagues who are already skilled and experienced. Apprenticeships and vocational education can offer so much, and there is no reason why they should not be expanded to cover a wide variety of jobs and professions. If that is to happen, however, we need to engage more of Britain’s companies and to bring them on board.
We can plan for apprenticeships. Any company wanting to provide goods or services to the public should be required to have an apprenticeship scheme before it can win a contract. Labour’s jobs-for-contracts scheme would increase the number of apprenticeships by thousands and give immediate help to many of the 1 million unemployed under-25s. That simple idea—creating apprenticeship places through public procurement—would provide immediate help with alleviating youth unemployment and would strengthen the vocational sector. It works: the Labour council in Inverclyde has been using it for many years, and the number of those in the NEET category in Inverclyde stood at seven last year—not 7%, but seven pupils.
Today, Britain risks losing the global skills race. We need to be as strong as Germany and Switzerland on vocational education, and as competitive as Singapore and Japan on maths. Britain’s future national competitiveness is at stake and so is our young people’s future. We need to engage employers in designing high-quality apprenticeships, giving them a greater say in spending the £1 billion of funding available to target apprenticeships at our young people.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing the debate. His involvement with and commitment to vocational education has been long and passionate, and I share that commitment.
Tomorrow is vocational qualification day. I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on further education, skills and lifelong learning. I therefore take this issue very seriously, and I have a profound commitment to it. There are many reasons why I passionately support vocational education, FE colleges and, indeed, the whole sector, but the most important is that the conversion rates from apprenticeships to jobs run at about 90%. At my local FE college, Sussex Downs, which is outstanding and has had a tremendous track record over the past few years under the leadership of its principal, Melanie Hunt, the apprenticeship conversion rate is an astonishing 92%.
A number of people who have left university with degrees and who are, sadly, still struggling to secure employment come to see me in my constituency, and I know that the same happens to other Members of Parliament. I sometimes have to resist the urge to say that if they had gone down the vocational route they would not have the student debt that so many people are, sadly, lumbered with nowadays and they would almost certainly be in employment.
On vocational education, the FE sector plays an absolutely pivotal role. There are several reasons for that. One is that the better FE and vocational colleges develop close relationships with local employers, local alternative training providers and the local DWP—the Jobcentre Plus. In Eastbourne, Sussex Downs college, where I will attend an apprenticeship event this evening before returning to Westminster tonight, is pursuing yet another initiative in a particular area of employment—in this case, retail. The college has spent a lot of time over the past year or two developing and deepening its relationships with different employer sectors and with Jobcentre Plus. A good FE sector wants to listen to employers; it talks to businesses and to the private and public sectors to try to understand their needs, so that it can train people in the vocational qualifications that fit the jobs—in other words, so that it can help people to be job ready.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has admirably championed apprenticeships since his election in 2010. I totally support—I have said this before, and I will say it again—his desire for a royal college for apprenticeships. That is a superb idea; it is exactly the kind of thing that would raise the status of apprenticeships. Perhaps we can discuss it afterwards to see how we can push it forward, because it would make a real difference.
On apprenticeship initiatives, I pay tribute to the Minister, the Government and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who is probably the most passionate advocate of FE and vocational education we have ever had as a Secretary of State. I spoke to him about the issue in the main Chamber only yesterday, and he reminded me—not that he needed to—of just how important he feels vocational education is in the FE sector. He also reminded me of how important it is that colleagues who feel strongly about this issue continue to lobby the Treasury, so that it does not remove too much money from the Department.
On apprenticeships in Eastbourne, I was one of the first MPs, along with the local FE sector, to work on the 100 apprenticeships in 100 days initiative. It was essential that I developed a close relationship with my local FE college, Sussex Downs. The work, which involved us and a number of other partners, was very successful, and we achieved 181 apprentices in 100 days. More importantly, it allowed me and the FE college to open a really strong dialogue with many local employers in the private and public sectors. The success of that has been astonishing. The latest figures from the Library show that Eastbourne has recruited more than 2,100 new apprentices since the general election—more than in the previous 10 years—which shows than when things are done properly the result is tremendous success.
I want to focus on something that came out of that: it brought home to me how deskilled schools have become about pushing apprenticeships. I work closely with local secondary school heads, and they were the first to admit that because for so long—particularly under the previous Government, but, to be fair, for at least 20 years—there was a drive almost to push people into degrees, teachers had become deskilled in talking about apprenticeships and did not know anything about them. The system in the Department for Education and the school sector provides no advantages in school league tables to push people towards becoming apprentices. There are, however, advantages to A-levels and sending students to university: doing so gets more money. If I were a proactive head who wanted to educate my students towards the tremendous range of apprenticeship opportunities—let us say that I quintupled the number of people becoming apprentices—I would not get a single extra penny from the Department for Education.
How then does it help to bring careers guidance into schools, so that there is a producer interest telling young people, even with the rising participation age, that the best thing for them to do is stay on at school, rather than pursuing vocational and other options?
I note that the hon. Gentleman made a similar intervention earlier, and he has a strong point: I do not see how that can help. However, that is not to say that careers services should not be in schools; the question cannot be beyond the wit of man within the DFE, because I think the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would be keen for the careers service to be extended into FE. I do not think the solution is to stop careers guidance going into schools. I think that it is to do with the regulations and expanding the remit of careers services and the roles or opportunities that they need to talk to students about. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point.
There is a difficulty, because the issue is not one for BIS. I have spoken frequently with the Secretary of State, and several times with my hon. Friend the Minister; and it is clear to me that BIS is, considering the austerity programme, investing more, has greater commitment and is determined to continue the extension and improvement of apprenticeships and investment in FE. I think that we have now come to the tipping point with the vocational sector and FE, and the relationship with the Labour party and the Association of Colleges; there is now a profound understanding that because of the circumstances this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move apprenticeships and vocational education up the scale, as in Germany. I am not sure that the opportunity will come again. I urge the Minister to do whatever it takes—working in partnership or working assertively with the DFE—to persuade the Secretary of State for Education to sit down with him and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and work on a productive, positive way forward, in which the DFE takes on board its crucial role in pushing vocational education and recognising and appreciating that there is an opportunity to transform its status, as in countries such as Germany.
The hon. Gentleman makes a clear point about the difficulty that schools and colleges face because of confused and contradictory messages. He was right to praise the messages that BIS is giving out, including those from the Skills Minister. Those are often contradicted in some of what is measured in schools, and in schools’ lack of capacity to take forward the careers education, information, advice and guidance that has been mentioned.
I agree with the direction of travel of those remarks. I emphasise that the problem is an old one. It has been around for 25 to 30 years, so I understand that it cannot be laid solely at the door of the current Secretary of State for Education. It has a history. However, I believe we have reached the point where there is enough collegiate agreement between all the political parties and across the whole economic spectrum to transform vocational education. Some good steps have been taken. Now is the time for us to make the leap. I urge the Minister to continue firmly in the direction of travel that he and his colleagues have taken. For BIS and the Department for Education, it is time to work together productively for a transformation that would be universally popular.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing this hugely important debate, on today of all days—coronation day, when we pay tribute to our sovereign, Her Majesty the Queen. She worked in the family firm and learned her craft from a master monarch. She upskilled on the job, and now she is involved in her own training programme. Perhaps in future we may move vocational qualification day to coronation day, to give exactly the sort of royal imprimatur that the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) spoke so eloquently about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe was a long-serving principal of a sixth form college and is better placed than many of us to comment on the challenges that we face in creating an outstanding vocational education system. He set out the issues with authority and passion, and I pay tribute to his work at the Humber Skills Commission. Amazingly, he did all that while restricted by the anaconda of the omertà of the Whips Office, the perennial purdah that he suffers. Yet he still pursues his case with passion and authority. Furthermore, like me he represents an area that is on the front line of the Government’s austerity assault. One hopes that he has benefited from the recent changes in the climate change levy, but the truth is that for cities such as Stoke-on-Trent and places such as Scunthorpe, at the sharp end of the historic process of deindustrialisation, the profound brilliance of our local craftsmanship and artisanal skills has not insulated us from some challenging economic conditions. We can have brilliant craftsmanship while the situation for local skill levels is particularly challenging.
Now is not the time for a debate on the Government’s disastrous economic policies and the damage they have done to the demand side of the equation. We are gathered here today because we know that the supply side of the employment debate matters too: educational attainment and skills capacity are a vital component of rebalancing our economy to a more sustainable model. That much should be abundantly clear to all. Yet it should also be clear, as hon. Members of all parties have agreed, that we are nowhere near where we need to be on skills. Indeed, our weakness was illustrated in a recent global survey of over 1,300 chief executives by PricewaterhouseCoopers. That report revealed that UK business leaders are the most concerned in the whole of western Europe about the availability of key skills. Indeed, they rated it as the greatest threat to their businesses’ growth and three quarters of them said, rightly, that creating a highly skilled work force should be the highest priority for Government in the year ahead.
Sadly, however, there is still some complacency in Government, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) pointed out so brilliantly, is profoundly damaging to our international competitiveness, because we are, as the Government like to tell us, in a “global race”. How can we succeed in that race when we languish 21st out of all OECD countries in intermediate technical skills and while 31% of high-tech manufacturing firms have been forced to import labour from outside the UK because of a skills shortage? In this very Chamber, we recently had an excellent debate on engineering and the threat to parts of the national security supply chain because of the lack of UK-only trained engineers, particularly female engineers, as some hon. Members have suggested.
The Government, as the latest edition of The Economist eloquently puts it, are racing with their “shoelaces tied together”. That is why this debate is so important. It is absolutely clear to the Labour party that, if we are to build what we want to see—a one nation economy that can compete in a globalised economy while raising living standards right across the regions and nations of the United Kingdom—we simply must have the best skilled work force in the world. The cornerstone to delivering that must, now and in the future, be a relentless focus on driving up the standards of our vocational and technical education system.
I think it is fair to say that, as many hon. Members have noted, not least the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), successive Governments, including the last Labour Government, have not done enough to help the 50% of young people who do not want to pursue the academic route at 16 or 18. As he suggested, we are at a moment of agreement across the parties on the need to rebalance the debate, but I introduce a note of caution. We still want young working-class kids from Stoke-on-Trent, Scunthorpe, Eastbourne and Inverclyde to be able to go to university, and we should not be in the business of precluding those avenues. Although we can rebalance the debate, and although we all want to see growth in the respect given to vocational education and apprenticeships, we must not go down the avenue of suggesting that young working-class kids should not go to university.
I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right. What we are interested in is a cast-iron commitment to academic and vocational parity, because although our focus in government on raising school standards and academic rigour, and on expanding our outstanding, world-beating higher education sector, left the education system in far better shape than we inherited, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe said, we could have done more on vocational education. That is why the Labour party has placed vocational education not just at the heart of our education agenda but at the heart of our offer for the country in 2015, and it is why the leader of the Labour party made his call for focus on that forgotten 50% the heart of his recent party conference speech.
We disagree on the way the Government have pursued vocational education, however. Since they came to power, the Government have undermined careers guidance, which is a big issue for vocational routes. The recent report on that by the Select Committee on Education was absolutely damning. The Government have scrapped work experience and downgraded successful vocational qualifications such as the engineering diploma.
The Government have also made some bad mistakes on apprentices. When they came into power, they simply moved many of those on Train to Gain to apprenticeships. They were more interested in quantity than quality. We would like to think that there has been some rowing back on that recently, and we welcome the Richard review and all the hard work that the Minister is doing to try to enlighten the Secretary of State for Education on that, and we fully support him.
The Minister may now have persuaded his colleagues to hurry out their own version of a tech bacc, yet the difference between the Government’s technical baccalaureate and the Labour party’s original ur-version is that theirs is a performance measure whereas our ambition is for it to be a qualification that we want people to achieve. If some people are going to achieve it, other people are going to fail. If we want quality, it means some will succeed and some will not succeed. We want differentiation on the quality achieved.
As part of that, we need to raise the profile and status of vocational education to create a dual-track system that, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne suggested, genuinely gives no preference to either route. On vocational standards, that means having a clear line of sight both to work and to advanced, further or higher education, which means creating flexible and permeable pathways as a matter of importance. After all, young people are rightly wary of narrowing their options, and the whole ethos of a baccalaureate is to have a sense of broadness. Many see the option of gaining a degree or a gold-standard vocational qualification as part of their natural progression, irrespective of the route they choose at 18.
Furthermore, creating a genuine dual-track system also relies heavily on a deep-seated, collaborative ethos between institutions in delivering education and training. The countries that have enjoyed success in raising standards, such as Austria, Finland and Germany, all benefit from a system that has not only great career guidance but clearly defined roles for key stakeholders, with a great amount of time divested to building and maintaining institutional relationships.
If there is another criticism of the Government’s education policy, it is whether we are seeing the right degree of collaboration between atomistic, competitive schools, which are raising standards in certain situations but are not necessarily providing the kind of collaborative ethos that a local skills economy might need. That is some way from the institutional culture that the Government seem intent on inculcating with their slightly high-handed approach to the expertise of teachers and professionals, the lack of business involvement in delivering training and their focus on competition as the only measure of improving performance. If we want a proper industrial strategy, as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills keeps urging, we need smarter local and regional collaboration.
Indeed, we only have to look at the shambolic execution of the Government’s careers guidance policy for a textbook display of encouraging perverse institutional incentives. In a tough funding climate, it will be a brave and outstanding school that advises its pupils not to stay on. In a recent conference in Westminster, we saw a very good example of that: a leading academy school that is part of a leading chain said that it had brought in outside careers guidance, exactly as it should be doing, but that it told the person coming in to give the careers guidance that they were not allowed to advise pupils to go to the college up the road. With in-house careers guidance, there is a producer interest in keeping kids along an easily understandable gold-path academic route, as it were, of GCSEs, A-level and university, rather than thinking far more creatively, which requires trained professionals with knowledge of local situations.
Perhaps the biggest problem we face in delivering a vocational education system for the future is the perverse and pervasive disconnect between the education system and local labour markets. All too often, skills policy is isolated from industrial and economic policy. That is why Labour’s technical baccalaureate would directly involve businesses in accrediting the quality of courses, and it is also why our tech bacc, unlike the Government’s tech bacc, would have a work experience requirement. Businesses have told our taskforce, the Husbands review, that that is absolutely crucial, which is why we would ensure that all vocational teachers spend time every year with local businesses and industry to keep their skills and experience fresh.
Those three measures would bring to education and training institutions a clear and realistic understanding of local labour markets. Closing the gap between employers and educators is vital if we are to develop a dual-track approach.
Of course, raising educational standards in vocational training does not mean that we weaken our focus on core subjects and on improving rigour. In vocational or academic routes, there should be no false division between theoretical knowledge in practical subjects. There is an interesting discussion to be had on where the journey begins for opening up pathways at 14 or 16. What have we learnt from the university technical colleges on the 14-to-19 parameter, rather than up to 16? Was the Wolf report 100% correct in saying that people should continue with the same totality of focus up to 16?
Fundamental to the Labour party’s education policy is a clear commitment to teaching English and maths to 18, irrespective of route, because although many further education teachers do an outstanding job, often in challenging circumstances—we have heard about the differences in funding and free school meals—we need to raise teaching standards in FE colleges in English and maths. Of the 40% of pupils who do not get a level 2 qualification at 16, only 20% go on to acquire one at 19 through the FE system. That needs to change if we want to upskill our country. The Minister should once again take his cue from Labour’s policy review, which is open and available to him, and from our one nation skills commission’s interim report, and commit to requiring all FE teachers to have at least a level 2 qualification in English or maths.
There are other problems with our system of vocational education, training and skills. We have acute skills shortages in crucial sectors such as engineering, too many young people who lack employment skills, low levels of employer involvement and a lack of good-quality advice for navigating the transition to work. Labour supports the proposals on traineeships that the Government are beginning to carve out. There is also a dearth of high-quality apprenticeships and a damaging divide between vocational and academic pathways.
However, I remain deeply optimistic about our ability to deliver on creating the skilled work force that we need. If we have problems with the manner of delivery, it is heartening that we have an element of cross-party consensus on the issue. We have a vast supply of dedicated, skilled, quality teachers who are willing to work with us to raise standards. If we get the system right, we can reverse the long tale of poor skills in this country and deliver a work force that can compete with the world.
We agree with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills that there is no future in a zero-sum game of depressed wages and longer hours. That is the Conservative future outlined in the terrible book “Britannia Unchained”—I do not know whether the hon. Members for Harlow or for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) contributed a chapter—which depicted a grisly neo-liberal world in which the British are too lazy and too slow. I do not know whether that includes paternity leave; the Minister might be able to enlighten us later.
The solution to our competitive challenge is not a low-skill, low-wage economy or a divided education system—the only race that will win is the race to the bottom. Rather, we must and can compete on our own terms, which means using our competitive advantage in innovation to build a one nation economy based on high-level skills and dynamic, technologically sophisticated companies. That is what young people want, it is what businesses want and it is what the Labour party is committed to delivering. It starts with a dual-track education system and our rigorous technical baccalaureate.
It is a great pleasure to serve yet again under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. It is a partnership that I hope will continue for a long time to come. This debate is extremely important and timely. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) for securing it today, the day before vocational qualifications day, which was set up to celebrate vocational qualifications in a similar way to results days for GCSEs and A-levels. It is part of the twin track discussed by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt).
The debate has been wide-ranging—it is typical to say so at the start of a winding-up speech, but it is also true—and important. Some valuable points have been made on both the detail and the big picture. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe began by discussing four areas of concern: vocational education at key stages 4 and 5, careers advice, apprenticeships and traineeships and adult skills and unemployment. I will try to answer all his questions in the time available.
The hon. Gentleman also set out a rather Panglossian view of the world in 2010, not mentioning that youth unemployment was rising even before the crisis and had reached 1 million. Thankfully, it is now falling, although it is still far too high. There were skills shortages at the same time, which says to me that the education system has not been producing the skills that businesses need. I was rather more encouraged by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, who took that argument apart and made a passionate case for increased standards. He was willing to criticise the previous Labour Government, rightly, for not focusing enough on standards in vocational education.
To address a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), I sit in two Departments. In the Department for Education, the action taken to increase standards in vocational education came first. Since the Wolf report, commissioned in 2011, we have taken action in the 14-to-16 age group, and we have now finalised a consultation on improving the quality of qualifications for 16 to 19-year olds. The area was radically in need of reform, and radical reform is coming through.
The devotion to increasing standards in vocational education—which has cross-party support, including clear agreement that there was a significant problem in 2010—has been led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, with the strong support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. All three major parties agree on the matter. I think that we can now all accept that a serious weakness needed to be addressed and that we are taking steps to address it.
I say to all involved in this debate that, given that we will the ends, we must also will the means. That involves clearly, carefully and in a spirit of high consultation going through the qualifications offered, funded and recognised and ensuring that we support high-quality, stretching, rigorous qualifications that are responsive to the needs of employers.
On the point about the engineering diploma, we must encourage the creation of stretching, high quality new qualifications that fit the needs of modern employers. We encourage their creation in areas needed by business, and that has begun in the engineering industry and across different economic sectors.
This has been a helpful debate on both detail, to which I will come, and the big picture. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central said, of the 40% who do not get a level 2 qualification in English and maths, only 20% get one by the age of 19. That situation cannot be allowed to continue. I have read the Labour plan to increase English and maths requirements for FE teachers. That is already happening; I will send him the details of what we have done to address the issue. That is hopefully another outbreak of consensus.
In setting out what we are doing to achieve those goals, I will answer the questions put. Satisfyingly, the questions put were already answered in the draft of my speech, which is always good news. Professor Wolf found in her report, commissioned in 2011, that as many as 350,000 students were being funded to study for qualifications that they could pass but that were too small or low-level to get them a job. We are changing the requirements for qualifications to be funded and recognised, but we are doing so alongside changing how we fund all education between the ages of 16 and 19.
From September, funding will be on a per-student, not a per-qualification, basis, removing the unintended and perverse incentive to offer more qualifications, rather than focusing on what individuals need. Pupils will be offered a study programme including either a substantial vocational or academic qualification or an extended programme of work experience.
I return to the point about work experience, which is part of the study programme. This will give schools, colleges and training providers the flexibility to offer the most challenging qualifications to students who want to excel, whether in a technical field, in practical, employment-based training such as an apprenticeship or in an academic field. The need to ensure that people have a choice to pursue technical or vocational education, academic education or a combination of the two is important, and the Government’s job is to provide excellent options in all of those fields. I was delighted that Her Majesty said in the Queen’s Speech that it should become typical for young people to go either to university or into an apprenticeship. Our job is to ensure that excellent options are available on both sides, and not to have a target that falsely pushes people one way or the other.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) argued that vocational education is social justice. The change in the funding system means that all students will be funded at the same base level, once the transitional protections are past. Instead of the average person who goes to an FE college being funded less than the average person who stays on at sixth form, because of the different amounts of funding awarded per qualification, everyone will be funded per pupil, on the same basis, with factors allowing for location, background and the higher cost of some qualifications.
The Minister is making a good point, but the plan is for 16 to 18-year-olds to be funded significantly less than students younger than that or than students who go on to higher education. There is an issue about the quantum, which I hope that the Government are examining.
I do not quite take the point on higher education, because students in higher education fund themselves through loans. I am pleased that through our introduction of loans and the progressive rules on repayment—only if people have a good job and earn £21,000—a record number of people are applying to university, and that also provides the hon. Gentleman with a response to an intervention that he made. To make the right comparison on how much we fund someone in an age group, we need to ensure that in the first instance the funding is equal across the different sectors and options, which is what the change will achieve.
I pay tribute in the strongest possible terms to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow on the parliamentary apprenticeship scheme, which he set up and champions. I support him for doing that, and now dozens of MPs and peers have apprentices. Knowing the impact that apprentices have on employers—they become much more passionate about apprentices when they have apprentices themselves—I am sure that the scheme will have an effect on MPs. Indeed, it was a great pleasure to take the parliamentary apprentices of all parties to No. 10 Downing street to meet the Prime Minister, and I enjoyed grinning with the apprentice of the hon. Member for Scunthorpe on the steps of No. 10.
An important point to make is about the participation age rising from 16 to 17—for those starting this year—and then to 18. The participation age will ensure and require that young people stay in education or training until, by 2015, they are 18, although not necessarily in school—it could be in college, in an apprenticeship, in employment with training or in voluntary work with part-time training. That is an important point because we do not want to close down the options available, but we want people to stay in education. An apprenticeship is a good way to deliver that.
Why are we making the reforms, which fall under the title of increasing rigour and responsiveness to the needs of individuals and of employers? What I call the motivating fact is the link between having youth unemployment that is far too high and skills shortages. To deal with that, it is important to ensure that the education system is more responsive and more rigorous and stretching.
How are we going to achieve that? I will go through some of the measures, four of which form the core goals that I think are necessary and the first of which is the introduction of traineeships. Many young people are highly motivated by the prospect of work, but are not yet ready or able to secure an apprenticeship or sustainable job. From this August, therefore, we are launching a high-quality traineeship programme within the study programme for 16 to 19-year-olds, to include work preparation, work experience, and English and maths, because English and maths are the No. 1 and No. 2 vocational skills. Other flexible training will be tailored to meet individual need.
The introduction of traineeships is positive, but my understanding is that they will be about six months in length. Will the Minister consider being flexible on how they are delivered, so that they could be delivered in a longitudinal way alongside other qualifications over a year, for example?
The plan is to introduce the traineeships this year and to have a full analysis of how they work over their first year of operation. I am willing to look at all questions, because the preparation for the traineeships has been highly evidence-based and consultative. Over the years, we have had many different programmes to help people who are not yet ready to take on a job, and some have been successful and some not. My Twitter account is full of descriptions of experiences of YTS—the youth training scheme—or the flexible new deal, for example, and all sorts of different Government schemes that have been in this space. We want to ensure that we learn where they have worked and where they have not.
The second big change is in apprenticeships, and I am delighted with the cross-party support for the Richard review. The number of apprenticeships has almost doubled since 2010 and, we found out last week, apprenticeship applications are up a third on the previous year. The new higher apprenticeships allow people to get into the law through an apprenticeship and to become a fully qualified solicitor, or, likewise, into the upper reaches of the worlds of engineering and manufacturing and even to become an accountant. People will get the same qualifications as those who go through university.
Yes, and we have introduced a minimum period of a year for apprenticeships. We absolutely have to do more on quality, which is what the Richard review is all about. We have introduced UTCs—university technical colleges—which will introduce the very best technical education in conjunction with universities and employers. We are reforming qualifications and standards, because we cannot will the end—higher standards—without willing the means. When colleges fail on minimum standards, whether financially or educationally, the new FE commissioner will take a tough approach when looking at all the options for how to serve local students better.
Finally, on careers advice and guidance, we want better inspiration and motivation, character building and the opening of young people’s eyes to wider horizons, with mentoring so that everyone can reach their potential. The information is out there—the web is littered with it—but we need to ensure that young people find it, know what is relevant to them and can set and reach their goals. Ofsted is inspecting against the new duty to provide independent and impartial advice, so schools will be inspected for that. Crucially, the new destination data will show not only how many people go to university, but how many go into an apprenticeship or a job. The data will better hold schools to account for the outcomes of the education that they provide, not only on the exams and where they get in those league tables, but on where the students get to. I hope that that improves matters a lot.
House of Memories Programme
It is a pleasure, Mr Gray, to serve under your chairmanship, and to have the opportunity to discuss such an important issue so soon after the debate of the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) before the recess, although on that occasion it was discussed in a wider context. I want to explain why I chose to apply for a debate so soon after several debates about mental health conditions, including dementia and Alzheimer’s, in the main Chamber, which rightly highlighted the effects of such diseases and their impact on patients, families, carers, social services and the NHS. A benefit of parliamentarians debating such issues is that it helps practitioners in their determination to debunk the myths of Alzheimer’s and all forms of mental health conditions, and to alleviate their stigma. I make no apology for bringing the topic to the House’s attention again.
Colleagues will be aware that tremendous progress has been made in treatment to combat dementia-type illnesses with both clinical and non-pharmaceutical interventions that help to care for the condition or slow its onset. I want to use the time available not to rehearse what has been said about that previously, but to develop some of the details relating to an initiative that I first brought to the House’s attention during my contribution to a debate on 10 January 2012.
The innovative approach I mentioned then was the House of Memories project in Liverpool. There was interest from right hon. and hon. Members when I explained the benefits of that approach, and the project has merits that could easily be rolled out throughout the country. The best thing—the Minister will be pleased to know this—is that it would not cost the earth. Instead, it would undoubtedly save the NHS millions of pounds in the long term. I will give a brief overview of the project before coming to the crux of why I was so keen for the Minister to come to the Chamber today.
National Museums Liverpool has developed a sustainable partnership with care providers through a connection to local histories, objects and archives at the world-class Museum of Liverpool. The House of Memories project is described by experts as a
“tailored dementia…training programme, which uses artistic interpretation, curatorship,”
“and reminiscence therapy techniques to raise awareness of the condition, and enable professional health services, carers and families to help those directly affected live well with dementia.”
The project demonstrates how a museum or, by association, a library, arts centre or theatre can provide the health and social care sector with practical skills and knowledge to facilitate access to an untapped cultural resource simply by using their local treasures and art work. Such work is vital when considering that mental health issues in elderly people will not go away. In 2010, more than 700,000 people living in England were diagnosed with progressive symptoms, including loss of memory, mood changes and problems with communication and reasoning. Such symptoms occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, and by damage caused by a series of transient ischaemic attacks, or mini-strokes as they are known. A staggering 21 million people in the UK are estimated to know someone with dementia, and one in three people aged over 65 will have dementia by the time they reach the end of their life. More than 86,000 people in the north-west alone are currently diagnosed with the condition.
National Museums Liverpool has recognised that museums are experts at recording and caring for people’s memories and treasures, whether they are thousands of years old or within living memory. A net result of the project has been the way in which the House of Memories project has encouraged the medical profession to consider new approaches and alternatives to established practices and therapies. We know that health care and medicine are evolving, but in Liverpool we have found that some of the components to assist patients’ well-being have been under our nose all along.
Developing new strategies is not easy, and the first phase of the project, which was funded by the Department of Health in 2011, was designed in consultation with Skills for Care, the Alzheimer’s Society and the local voluntary sector. Together, the partners informed a real-world training experience to connect the care sector with National Museums Liverpool’s cultural resources. The House of Memories project has not only achieved a high level of attendance from across the wider health sector but sustained that engagement.
The outgoing Liverpool primary care trust identified that the project met and exceeded the need to make Liverpool a city that supports greater health and well-being for all residents. More recently, Liverpool city council has recognised the project as a key driver of its age-friendly city ambition, and the Department of Health has expressed interest in expanding the project across southern regions. That demonstrates the thoroughness of the model. Not only have National Museums Liverpool’s staff dedicated much time and energy to ensuring that the health and social care side of the model is catered for, but it has a strong business model that stands as a leading example for other cities and towns to follow on a larger or smaller scale to suit their needs.
The current project was delivered in the Liverpool city region, Manchester and the north-east, including Newcastle and Sunderland. To date, more than 3,000 health and social care professionals have participated, and I see no reason why Parliament should not give a commitment today to an ambitious target for the number of health and social care professionals exposed to this leading training to increase exponentially in the next few years. I would welcome an opportunity to work with the Minister to facilitate that eventuality.
External evaluation of the House of Memories project makes impressive reading, and the feedback is available for hon. Members to view on its website. If the Minister has not had an opportunity to read it, it would be good if he did so. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and noted that the project increased awareness and understanding of dementia, and helped participants better to understand those living with the condition in a way conventional training has not been able to do to date.
I hope that I have demonstrated that in Liverpool we have begun the process of changing the culture of how we view those living with dementia, but there is more to do, and it is vital that the Minister recognises the economic impact that such projects have on NHS finances. Early intervention and targeted treatment that uses local resources have the potential to save the NHS millions of pounds. Instead of dealing with the condition in its latter stages, which is not only expensive but heartbreaking for patients and carers, we should ensure that any prevention or delay in its development is made a priority, and that those left to treat the condition are afforded appropriate training to deal better with its effects.
The British museum sector holds great collections of arts, artefacts and archives, as we would expect, but people would perhaps not normally associate it with playing an important role in the dementia arena—that is, until now, hopefully. There are other models to study: for instance, the Museum of Modern Art in New York runs an internationally acknowledged programme, where gallery staff engage with individuals living with dementia and their partners and families in conversations about modern art. However, the House of Memories project is qualitatively different from MOMA’s programme. It provides guidance for engaging people living with dementia and their carers in the museum experience, supporting that with a toolkit and resources such as a memory box.
One of the great success stories has been National Museums Liverpool’s ability to position House of Memories as a credible and important tool for dementia awareness, as its greatest challenge was to gain acceptance and support from the health sector by developing a learning tool that would be accessible, both creatively and intellectually, while acknowledging the real-world challenge of supporting people to live well with dementia. No one can be in any doubt that NML has been totally successful in achieving that ambitious recognition. One way that I and my fellow Merseyside MPs can ensure that the partnership keeps making progress is by continuing to raise awareness and by ensuring that the relevant Minister is constantly updated with the continued success of the House of Memories’ innovative work. I will, of course, ensure that I do so.
I am pleased to report that the project continues to receive a positive regional response and has secured additional health sector funding until 2015, which will include the development of an online digital tool for carers and families. I urge the Minister to outline what further support he can offer to the development of that capability. I am sure that Members of all parties will recognise and appreciate the innovative work of the staff at the Museum of Liverpool, and I should like to take the opportunity to praise each and every one of them. It should be noted that the Museum has also recorded an increase in visits from care home staff and patients. Cultural partners, such as Riverside housing, have taken inspiration from the training by developing personalised, culturally sensitive memory boxes for the Chinese and Afro-Caribbean communities, which exemplifies the social value of greater dementia awareness for the whole of Merseyside.
We are not talking about brain surgery; the concept is simple. I went to the museum to look at one of the sessions, and because it was in Liverpool, a lot of people were interested in football, of course, and music and comedy. The memory box, therefore, has such things as football programmes from Liverpool or Everton football clubs, ration books, some old tunes and records, and old theatre programmes, and those stimulate conversation with people. The long-term memory of most sufferers is very good. Short-term recollection is a problem for many, but those props really get people into conversations and act as a prompt for all sorts of detailed discussions, and—it must be said—for friendly banter from people who find it very difficult at times just to have an ordinary conversation. Liverpool’s aim is to make the project fully available across the constituencies of right hon. and hon. Members.
National Museums Liverpool would like to work in partnership with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health to lead the development of a house of memories resource in every town and city across the United Kingdom. That would create an opportunity for greater co-operation between Whitehall Departments and it would provide continued cultural innovation for health and social care, hospital and social housing settings. That is vital when we consider that all Departments and partners have been widely encouraged to support the Prime Minister’s national dementia challenge.
I ask the Minister to allow the professionals with a track record of success in Liverpool to help him implement similar projects across the country. Given the positive response from the health sector, I believe that if the Minister commits today to sustaining the ongoing work further with logistical support and funding, National Museums Liverpool will deliver significant outcomes and opportunities for a sustainable cultural and health sector partnership in communities across Britain. I do not doubt that in other parts of the country, the cultural sector is making strides towards improving the relationship between the arts and dementia treatment. However, I have yet to see a more comprehensive project, with a greater level of success, than Liverpool’s House of Memories. In other words, NML has set the national standard, and it has set the bar very high.
I wish to conclude by asking the Minister the following questions, which I would be grateful if he could address either in the time we have left today, or, for those that he cannot, in writing afterwards. Will he inform Members what discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport over the potential long-term economic benefits of supporting the House of Memories? If he is yet to have those discussions, will he commit to doing so this side of the spending review? Will he indicate whether his Department will support the House of Memories project further in 2013-14 and onwards? Will he meet Dr David Fleming, the director of National Museums Liverpool, and me at the Museum of Liverpool to discuss the work that we are doing on Merseyside, and to witness first-hand the positive impact that it is having on dementia patients in our city?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing the debate. I remember his speech in the Chamber during the debate he referred to earlier. He talked passionately about the House of Memories initiative in Liverpool, and I think I am right in saying that he also spoke about his mother’s battle with dementia, so I know he cares a lot about this issue. I am keen to work with him and to talk to him further about how we can maximise the benefits of such an approach.
I should also refer to another institution in Liverpool—Everton football club. I am not sure where his loyalties lie in that great city, but Everton have done great work on reminiscences and dementia. I have had people from Everton come to the Department, together with other representatives of football and sport. The hon. Gentleman talked about long-term memory and the power of reminiscence, and sporting memories can be incredibly valuable in bringing people back who are suffering from dementia. I am absolutely with him on that.
I thank the Minister for giving way, and for mentioning Everton football club and the Everton in the Community project. During my visit to the museum, Everton were represented, and they had their football reminiscence material there. It does exactly what the Minister has outlined, and stimulates conversation like nothing else because of people’s memories of great moments in their lives. Some of those will obviously be sporting-related, and that could be part of what the House of Memories project is about.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have been asked to give my own footballing memory, and it is Jeremy Goss scoring a fantastic goal away at Bayern Munich. Norwich City were for a long time the only club that had beaten Bayern Munich away. I am looking to see whether we can extend the work of Everton to other premier league and football league clubs, because they have a powerful position in their communities and can be opinion leaders in developing these ideas powerfully in their communities.
I am wholly supportive of the House of Memories. It is an exceptional project that has been funded in part, as the hon. Gentleman said, by the Department of Health; more than £220,000 has been allocated during the last two years. As we have heard today, National Museums Liverpool provides an innovative training programme that is making a real difference for social care staff by helping them to connect with the people with dementia whom they support every day. They use the objects that the hon. Gentleman referred to and the stories linked to the museums’ collections. Museums across the country have a rich collection of objects and art that can be so powerful in helping people to live well with dementia. It is a very powerful partnership with care providers. I think the hon. Gentleman said that 3,000 care workers had already participated. That demonstrates the reach of this project. It is fantastic that the cultural sector is involved in work on dementia; it is a great collaboration. Getting the medical profession to consider new and different approaches beyond pure medicine can be very powerful. The work to which I have referred is critically important in supporting our drive to create more dementia-friendly communities.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the value of early intervention and the savings that can be secured for the NHS in this way. My understanding is that the money from the Department of Health has already helped to roll out this approach to museums across the north of England. There is a funding application in at the moment for 2013-14. That is being considered by the dementia work force advisory group. It could extend the roll-out to museums and galleries in the midlands. I think the decision on that will be communicated to National Museums Liverpool over the summer. Obviously, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that application, but clearly, as I have said, I am wholly supportive of this project and keen to work closely with the people involved to develop this initiative and concept further.
There are 670,000 people in England with dementia. That number is increasing year on year, as is the £19 billion cost to society of dementia. Faced with that, the Prime Minister launched in March last year the challenge to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which builds on the dementia strategy the Labour Government initiated in, I think, 2009. It is a powerful and good initiative and was one of the first globally to be developed. This condition is the biggest fear for people over the age of 55—as someone who has just turned 55, I am acutely aware of that.
A year on from the launch of the Prime Minister’s challenge, dementia remains a priority for the coalition Government, for their partners in health and care and for me personally. The House of Memories was I believe referred to in the updated report on the Prime Minister’s challenge last November, so its effect has been recognised. In the first year, we have achieved a lot, not only laying the foundations for delivery but making progress across all three areas of the challenge: first, improving health and care services for people with dementia; secondly, creating more dementia-friendly communities, where this work can play such a valuable role; and thirdly, the importance of research and committing more resources to research into finding cures and prevention mechanisms for dementia. That is creating a momentum that will lead to real improvements in the lives of people with dementia and their carers.
For the first time, there is a quantified ambition to increase the diagnosis rate for dementia from the current 45%, which is far too low. Our aim is that by 2015 two thirds of people with dementia should have a diagnosis, with appropriate post-diagnosis support. We are also seeing real action on the creation of dementia-friendly communities, with 50 areas expressing an interest in becoming dementia friendly. An awful lot is going on in Liverpool, and I do not know whether the city as a whole is exploring that, but clearly there is good leadership in that city.
The launch of the Dementia Friends initiative has already captured the imagination of thousands of people, and the number of people attending the awareness sessions is growing every week. I participated in a session in Warwick in April, so I have become a dementia friend—I have the badge to show it. If the hon. Gentleman has not done that yet, I encourage him to do so and, indeed, I encourage others to take up that challenge locally.
The UK will use its presidency of the G8 to identify and agree a new international approach on dementia research. A specific G8 dementia summit will be held in London in the autumn. It will bring together Health and Science Ministers alongside world-leading experts, senior industry figures and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The event will look to secure more co-ordination and collaboration on dementia globally. I suspect that initiatives such as the one from Liverpool could play a part internationally, through this G8 process, in teaching other countries about what could be learned from them.
A skilled work force is vital to delivering compassionate care for people with dementia. That is why we are taking forward work to ensure that we have front-line staff who are capable and competent in dementia care. The Department of Health and NHS England are working closely with Health Education England to put in place a forward work programme for the delivery of the work on dementia set out in their mandate. That includes ensuring that 100,000 NHS staff have undertaken foundation-level training on dementia by March 2014, so that they can better support people with the condition. A new e-learning package has been published that will lead to 100,000 nurses and health care assistants receiving dementia training via e-learning by 2015.
In March, the Department launched a new nursing vision and strategy for dementia care that sets out what is expected of all nurses in order to meet the level and quality of care expected in all settings. In social care, the dementia pledge builds on the care and support compact by supporting social care employers to develop their work force’s understanding of dementia and to adapt their services to meet the needs of people with dementia. More than 900 care providers have already signed up to the pledge and almost 150 to the compact.
The hon. Gentleman asked one or two questions at the end of his contribution. In the spending review discussions, the focus on and the priority that the Government give to dementia will remain central to our thoughts in ensuring sufficient funding to maintain the momentum we are starting to build. As I said, in this Parliament we are building on the last Government’s strategy through the Prime Minister’s challenge.
I confirm again my absolute support for the House of Memories initiative. I want to maintain the liaison and collaboration that has been developed in the last year or so. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of meeting in Liverpool, which I would love to do if time allows. My diary is a complete nightmare, but if it is possible I will be very happy to do that. I certainly want to do all I can to ensure that the valuable lessons learned from this exciting and imaginative initiative, bringing together two sectors, are learned elsewhere, so that people with dementia really benefit from it.
Science and Research
[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 www.TinyURL.com/scipol. 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.
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.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to debate this issue and I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), for being present to reply.
The A120 is a major economic artery in north Essex. Its route follows the old Roman road of Stane street from Standon in Hertfordshire, through Colchester and on to Harwich. Today, it is the vital trunk route from the M11 and Stansted airport to the port of Harwich. Its importance nationally, regionally and locally was recognised when the Department for Transport published a route-based strategy for the A12 and the A120 earlier this year. The route supports the national and regional economy by providing the link from London and the south-east to the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe and on to Europe. Locally, it is used as a commuter route, serving the growing towns of Chelmsford, Colchester and Ipswich.
The road will be functioning above capacity by 2021, and will struggle to keep up with demand if the large amount of growth proposed for the towns and cities along it is built. A significant level of growth is planned along the route in terms of jobs and houses. The key areas are around Chelmsford and Colchester, but the port of Harwich is also expected to expand.
Despite all that, the A120 is not designated as part of the core network, which prevents the road from qualifying for access to the £13 billion pot of funding in the European Union’s trans-European network fund—if we are going to pay into it, we may as well get our money out of it. There is no excuse for that; it is the only road in the UK connecting a major port to a major airport.
Improvements to the road were the subject of a section 106 agreement that was included in the Bathside bay planning application for the development of a five-berth container port at the Harwich International port. The development, however, is on hold due to the downturn in world trade, so the improvements suggested in the section 106 agreement, which would have addressed the failings I am about to discuss, will not happen in the foreseeable future. Improvements cannot be left any longer, and certainly cannot remain dependent on future developments and planning applications.
The key safety concerns must be addressed. In particular, the stretch spanning the three junctions of Harwich Road, Pellens Corner and Park Road is extremely dangerous. At each of the junctions, traffic turning right must cross the central reservation and oncoming traffic, which is travelling at the national speed limit of 70 mph. The geography—the ground rises, and there is a bend towards the Pellens Corner junction—makes it extremely difficult to judge the speed of oncoming traffic. Derek Hambling, the manager of local bus company Cedric Coaches, whose drivers use the junction every day, comments:
“I have seen many near misses where cars have been edging out to see past my bus as I wait to turn right towards Elmstead and have made traffic on the A120 swerve to miss them.”
Following a spate of accidents, works were carried out in February and April 2012 with the aim of making those junctions safe—I am grateful to the Highways Agency for its efforts. The overwhelming response from members of the public who use the junctions, however, was that the changes did not make the junctions any safer. In fact, drivers found that the new road markings made the junctions harder to navigate and even more dangerous. I speak from my own experience, because it is possible to lose the sense of where one is in the junction on a dark and rainy night, even if only driving down the A120.
I am listening to my hon. Friend with great interest, in particular as he discusses accidents that can happen. The focus of his interest is the eastern section of the A120, but, west of there and still on the A120, between Braintree and Marks Tey, there are two other accident points. One is at the turning of Bradwell village, where I live, where numerous accidents happen, and a bit further along at the junction between—
The three junctions I mentioned raise questions about the safety management of many similar junctions on the trunk road and motorway network: are they given sufficient priority? If as many injuries occurred on the railways or in the aviation industry as occur on our roads, far more money would be spent on that, and a far higher priority would be given to it than is given to these accident black spots. That is the point that I think my hon. Friend wants me to make about the junctions he discussed.
Fortunately, we have not had any fatalities at the three junctions since the works were completed—perhaps that is a benefit of the changes—but there has been a steady stream of serious collisions, often resulting in severe injuries, proving that that stretch of road remains extremely unsafe. We have been lucky. During the 12 months since the junctions were improved, there have been 10 incidents, nearly seven times the accident rate that would be expected statistically speaking. Prior to the junction improvements, the accident rate was 6.3 per 12 months, or 4.6 times the average expected statistically. The junctions were already dangerous, and may now be even more dangerous. Those figures again bear out Derek Hambling’s observation:
“It is much more dangerous than it was before the changes.”
The Highways Agency accepts that more needs to be done to improve safety on this stretch of the A120, and I am extremely grateful for its responsiveness. However, it carried out a further safety audit which gave rise to its proposal to close the gaps in the central reservation so that drivers would no longer be able to turn right off the A120 across the path of the oncoming traffic. That will stop accidents at the location, but it is not a practical or safe solution.
First, it will significantly increase many local journey times, including those for emergency vehicles responding to call-outs. Scheduled public bus services will be affected, and adding half an hour to a local bus journey is not unforeseen. There is no doubt that it will damage the local economy. Nigel Dyson, vice-chairman of Little Bentley parish council, commented:
“Since 2005 we have been fighting to stop the deaths on the A120 and get a solution”
“we are really no closer to doing this, and just to plunge our villages into chaos is not the solution.”
We must be mindful of the problems that that would cause for local businesses. Steve Wilcox, chairman of Little Bromley parish council, pointed out:
“The impact on local businesses will be significant. There are a number of businesses in Little Bromley”—
and in other villages—
“which operate on small margins, relying on deliveries or visiting trade. The pub trade, which is already struggling, would be dealt a serious blow putting them at risk in the village and the surrounding areas…The closure of these crossovers will affect a great many communities within Tendring, particularly the small rural ones struggling to thrive. Communities as far away as Clacton, Walton, Frinton and Harwich will also be affected.”
A local pub landlord told me:
“The closure of the access from the A120 to Little Bromley from Harwich, Clacton and surrounding villages will have a devastating effect on the future of the pub. As well as being a locals’ pub over 50% of our customers currently travel from these areas.”
That closure will put traffic back on to local back roads, with the attendant safety risks, and this is the point I want to concentrate on. One local couple said:
“There have been too many injuries and too many deaths over the past ten years, please do not relocate these accident black spots on to our country lanes.”
Many of the back roads and country lanes are very narrow and totally unsuited to a volume of commuter or bus traffic.
A long-term solution is needed. Ideally, it will include a roundabout to cater for two junctions, and closure of the third junction. This proposal is supported by Cedric Coaches, and the Highways Agency describes it as
“a viable long term option”.
However, the money must be found. There is an economic case for it at local and regional levels, given the importance of the road and the junctions to the local economy; but most importantly there is a strong case based on the improved safety that it would bring to the junctions, which they have lacked for so long.
In the meantime, interim measures are needed. The preservation of life and avoidance of more accidents is paramount. I recognise the pressure on the Highways Agency to act, but I share the overwhelming view expressed by local residents that closing the gaps in the central reservation cannot be the long-term solution. Peter Halliday, leader of Tendring district council, states:
“Whilst we acknowledge the safety issues that present themselves to road users at these junctions, the compounding of rural isolation their closure would cause is unacceptable for our district. In particular those residents and businesses that rely on two way access onto the A120 and those that simply need to cross the road to go about their daily routine. We simply cannot understand why, as is the case in other locations, speed reduction measures can’t be put in place to reduce the regularity and severity of collisions and free unfettered access to the major trunk road be maintained.”
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that, central to his premise regarding the required safety improvements to the east of the A120, is the need for much more strategic and long-term thinking, and to explore making that part of the A120 an economic corridor that will bring substantial benefits to all, including many of the rural villages along that stretch of the road?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention because she reinforces my earlier point about the huge economic importance of this route and emphasises its potential. However, the burden of my point today is what needs to be done now. The issue cannot wait for the long term and a strategic decision to be worked out and implemented: it must be addressed now, particularly given that it has been brought to a head by the threat of closing the junctions.
Steve Wilcox of Little Bromley parish council agrees that in this case:
“The correct, immediate, action is to impose a 40mph speed limit, enforced by speed cameras, and to rectify the dangerously misleading road markings which fail to indicate the correct priorities and the poorly marked traffic islands. The junctions should be then dealt with by providing a suitable designed traffic roundabout as a matter of utmost priority.”
I have argued that, instead of closing the gaps, there should be a reduced speed limit, coupled with enforcement using average-speed cameras. Speed is part of the safety problem. A seven-day speed audit in 2011 showed that between the Park road and Bentley road junctions more than 40% of vehicles were exceeding the speed limit, and that did not include heavy vehicles, which are subject to a lower speed limit and may well have been exceeding their own speed limit, but not 70 mph. Needless to say, that makes the junctions more dangerous and accidents far more serious. In four of the six accidents at the Harwich road junction since the works on the junction,
“failure to judge the other person’s path or speed”
was cited as a likely contributory factor. Correcting excessive speed would make it easier for drivers to make those judgments. The Highways Agency safety audit report recognised that a reduction in the severity of collisions
“could be achieved through reducing the speeds on the A120 by implementing a reduced speed limit and enforcing with speed cameras to ensure compliance.”
Reducing traffic speed would reduce the severity of accidents. Fortunately, the decision to close the gaps has been put off for a month or so, so that alternatives can be considered following public opposition to the proposal. I am grateful for that. We cannot have further delay while we wait for yet another safety audit to determine which is the best way to resolve this ongoing problem. Funding must be found for a roundabout at Pellens Corner, and in the meantime more immediate short-term measures must be taken, preferably an enforced speed limit reduction.
The only argument against average speed cameras appears to be the cost, but I am afraid that that is not good enough. A 40 mph speed limit would undoubtedly save lives and money. The same cannot be said for the proposed gap closures. Some lanes around the A120 are hardly wide enough for a school bus, and there are blind corners, blind driveways, no footpaths and there is no speed limit enforcement. That is not a practical or safe solution, which closing the gaps would require us to adopt.
We need a roundabout as soon as possible. In the interim, the only practical solution is average-speed cameras. In a letter to me today, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who has responsibility for roads, makes no reference to a lower speed limit and enforcement measures. I am disappointed by that. Please will the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, who is at least the Minister for traffic management, take that very clear message back to his colleague in the Department.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) on securing this debate on safety on the A120 east of Colchester. I know that he has rightly been campaigning for a long time on the issue and that he is concerned about the safety record of the road. I recognise his continuing concern, hence his raising the importance of the subject for his constituents, local businesses and the local economy this afternoon.
I am aware that my hon. Friend has written to the Highways Agency and has asked parliamentary questions on the subject, and that he recently met my ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), to discuss modifications to the road layout at Harwich Road, Park Road and Pellens Corner junctions completed in April 2012, as well as the continuing safety problems, which he referred to, and what might be done to tackle them. I understand that my ministerial colleague wrote to my hon. Friend recently to provide an update, as he confirmed.
Before I respond to the specific points that my hon. Friend raised, it is perhaps worth taking the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on road safety. It remains a top priority for the Department. We have a good record, but we are not complacent, and we are determined to improve on it. The Secretary of State has made that a priority since assuming office at the Department. We are determined to improve by training and testing drivers more effectively, by raising awareness of road safety generally, by enforcing the law, and by investing in our roads to make alterations to improve safety when the road itself is a problem.
The Government’s strategic framework for road safety sets out our vision for achieving that objective. It is supported by the Highways Agency’s commitment to make further safety improvements to reduce casualties on the strategic road network. The network is the Government’s largest single asset, currently valued at about £100 billion and comprising approximately 4,350 miles of motorways and all-purpose trunk roads. The Government recognises the importance of transport infrastructure to support the economy, and we have already announced increased levels of Government funding to deliver improvements targeted at supporting economic growth. At the 2010 spending review, we began investing £1.4 billion in starting 14 major road schemes over the spending review period, with another £900 million to complete existing schemes.
About £1 billion of new investment was allocated in the 2011 autumn statement to tackling areas of congestion and improving the national road network. In the 2012 autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced additional capital investment in this Parliament that would enable construction to begin on further schemes and others to be accelerated. Those proposals will make an early contribution to stimulating economic growth.
The Chancellor also announced in his 2012 autumn statement the provision of a further £100 million of capital expenditure in this spending review period to undertake further pinch point schemes, bringing the total fund to £317 million in that period. That includes a £0.28 million pinch point scheme to widen Galleys Corner roundabout south of Braintree. Two other schemes were suggested for pinch point funding by the local enterprise partnership. One was at Earls Colne, which unfortunately did not, in our estimation, offer value for money. The other was at the junctions that are the subject of this debate, but it was unable to be taken forward from that funding source, as it was considered unlikely to be delivered by March 2015 because of deliverability risks that were due to land requirements. I will perhaps come back to that point.
I want to skip to the main points that my hon. Friend raised, and if I have time, I will come back to the comments that I have been invited to make about route-based strategies. Although they are interesting, they are perhaps less germane to my hon. Friend and the matters that he has raised directly this afternoon, which I take very seriously.
I have said that the Government recognises safety as a top priority. I share my hon. Friend’s deep concern and recognise his continued campaign for improvements at the junctions. Although the overall average accident rate for the A120 east of Colchester is less than the national average, the rate varies, with that for junctions generally higher than on the rest of the route. The collision risk at those particular junctions is significantly higher than one would expect. That is not acceptable, and I fully acknowledge that improvements are necessary.
It is regrettable that the modifications completed in April 2012, although generally delivering a small reduction in speeds and an improvement in speed limit observation, have not been successful, based on current evidence, in reducing the number and severity of collisions, as one might have expected. The Highways Agency is, as a priority, investigating options to try and make those junctions safer for the public.
The Highways Agency’s road safety audit concluded that further measures to improve safety at those junctions should be investigated and that the most effective way to improve safety would be to close the gaps in the central reservation. That was because the recent accident history suggested that motorists commonly find it difficult to judge the distance and speed of approaching vehicles when undertaking right turn movements at the junctions. If, following surveys, the Highways Agency concludes that it is not feasible to close the gaps, the severity of collisions could be reduced by implementing a reduced speed limit, as my hon. Friend advocates, enforced with speed cameras to ensure compliance. However, the Highways Agency, at the moment, has concluded that a reduced speed limit would not significantly reduce the frequency of accidents. It favours gap closures as a preferred short-term option, and it is continuing to investigate a longer-term solution.
I understand that point entirely. I fully recognise that simply closing the gaps will have an adverse affect on local residents and businesses, as my hon. Friend has eloquently described today. Indeed, diversions could be several miles long, depending on the journeys to be taken. Therefore, prior to deciding on the most appropriate method to improve road safety, traffic surveys will be undertaken to provide information on that and the likely impact on the local roads. He was concerned about rat-running as an unintended consequence of any changes.
I am advised that the surveys will be carried out in June. The Highways Agency, working with Essex county council, because clearly, it is responsible for the side roads, and the police, will use the results of those surveys to determine how best to improve road safety in both the short and long terms. I can confirm that consideration of the use of a speed limit will inform the decision, and that that is not intended simply to move the problem elsewhere.
At this stage, I want to make a point about localism and devolution. Across both coalition parties, the Government has been very keen on championing that and on paying more attention to what is said locally. I feel that we should be listening to local MPs, who know their patches very carefully, before final decisions are taken on any alterations to road schemes in their areas. Therefore, I confirm that I will feed back the comments my hon. Friend has made this afternoon to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, and ensure that the Highways Agency is aware of his views. He has asked whether there could be a speed limit trial, enforced by cameras. Clearly, that is something that will need to be considered. It is not my responsibility, but I will at least undertake to ask that that is properly considered before decisions are taken to close any gaps, which I know is of concern to my hon. Friend.
My view is that we need to look at all the options. Obviously, costs will be a factor, as will an assessment by the Highways Agency of the likely success rate of any particular action it takes, both in terms of the positive upsides in reducing accidents and the negative downsides in consequences for local residents.
I am waiting for the Minister to raise the land acquisition issue, which I will want to intervene on him about, but will he explain why he thinks the police might be objecting to average speed cameras? Do they bear any cost for the cameras’ installation and maintenance? I should have thought that the cameras might make quite a bit of money for the speed camera authority. Do they involve any additional labour for the police that would incur cost? Why would the police be objecting to it?
I hope I did not say that the police were objecting. I think I said that the police would be consulted, and we are working with the Highways Agency and Essex county council to determine the best way forward. If the police are objecting, my hon. Friend will have to pursue the matter with them. I suppose that, if I were to speculate, it would be that the police are concerned that speed cameras are put in places where they believe they would be most effective, and not in places where they believe the value of a speed camera would be diminished. However, that is pure speculation on my part. Their views will be sought as part of the activity in June involving the Highways Agency and Essex county council.
I have yet to have a coherent explanation from Essex police as to why it is objecting to the speed cameras. There are other places on the road network where very similar problems occur, such as on the A14 and on an A road in Nottinghamshire, between Nottingham and Ollerton, where speed cameras have recently been installed at similar junctions and have dramatically reduced accident rates. I do not see what the problem is in principle about speed cameras on this stretch of road. The police seem to be objecting to that and have not given an explanation.
The hon. Gentleman has put it on the record that the police have not given him an explanation. I am disappointed if that is the case. No doubt they will avidly follow this debate and will want to give him, as the local Member of Parliament, an explanation as to their views. I would hope that they would do so on the back of this debate, and that will help to inform future decision making about the road.
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the long-term solution might be a roundabout. Roundabouts are proven to be safe constructions on the trunk road network. They also, of course, enable U-turns to be made without people having to travel long distances to alternative points on the network. There is an issue, I understand, about land acquisition, because clearly it has to be determined whether a roundabout could be constructed entirely within Highways Agency land or whether that would require the acquisition of other land, either voluntarily or through compulsory purchase.
I can certainly confirm that any likely roundabout would involve the acquisition of private land, but I can also speak with reasonable authority on behalf of the landowners. They would be only too willing to contribute to a safe and practical solution to this junction, because they are local farmers and it affects the movement of their farm vehicles.
That is also a helpful intervention, and again I will ensure that it is fed back to my ministerial colleague.
We expect an initial analysis of survey results to be available in July and we would want potential measures to be introduced as soon as possible later this summer. I share the view that if there is an accident problem in this area, which there is, and if the measures taken so far have not dealt with it, we do have a responsibility to try to find a way of dealing with the matter, because obviously people’s lives are at risk.
I conclude by again congratulating the hon. Gentleman on raising this important issue for his constituents. I confirm again that the Highways Agency is developing proposals to improve road safety at these junctions in both the short and the long term, taking account of the impact on local residents and businesses. I will specifically ask to make sure that his suggestions are factored in and properly evaluated as part of that process, and I hope very much that the steps that the Highways Agency ends up taking will benefit him and his constituents.
Drug-resistant Tuberculosis (Developing Countries)
It is a pleasure to see you presiding in the Chair, Mr Caton. I will try to get through my remarks as quickly as possible, as a couple of other hon. Members would like to make a contribution and the Minister, whom it is good to see in her place, has very kindly indicated that she would be happy to hear them.
After making a few brief comments on tuberculosis and drug-resistant TB globally and in the UK, I will raise three important points that I hope the Minister will be able to address: support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; investing in innovation; and the need for a national strategy in the UK to include an international target. However, before raising those issues, I would like to make a few observations.
The Minister recently met the all-party group on global tuberculosis to discuss its report, “Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis: Old Disease—New Threat”. Much of what I will speak about today is focused on the conclusion and recommendations of that report, which makes constructive recommendations that are evidence-based. I thank Mr Simon Logan, co-ordinator for the all-party group, for his assistance in preparing my remarks for today’s debate.
Tuberculosis in the UK reflects the global reality. TB is one of the world’s most common deadly infectious diseases. In the 1970s, my wife was a junior hospital doctor. Her consultant told her that by the time she became a consultant, TB would have disappeared, like polio, due to BCG, mass X-ray and drug treatment. How wrong can you be?
One third of the world’s population has latent TB, but only a small percentage goes on to develop the active form of the disease, which makes them sick and can kill if not treated. Unfortunately, little progress has been made towards eliminating TB in the UK—there are about 9,000 new cases each year—and global progress is painfully slow. The disease remains an urgent public health problem around the world, and we now face a new threat—drug-resistant strains that are significantly more expensive and difficult to treat. It should be said that both are curable, albeit with a long course of antibiotics. TB does not get the profile that the death and destruction it causes warrant. This is a serious issue, and we must do more to tackle it. It is not only a moral obligation; it is in our national interest.
The first line of defence against drug resistance is appropriate management of TB and the strengthening of the World Health Organisation’s standard treatment, called directly observed therapy, to prevent resistant strains from developing. However, we also need to take steps to tackle this threat head-on, as it is often airborne and can be passed from person to person in the same way as normal TB.
Rates of drug-resistant TB appear small in terms of the global burden of the disease, accounting for 440,000 of the almost 9 million new cases each year, but only about 10% have access to diagnosis, and the financial and treatment burden is substantial. The number of people affected is increasing and so is the cost. Patients have to take 15 to 20 tablets a day for up to two years to be cured of this more extreme form of the disease and they often experience horrible physical and psychological side effects as a result. It is also on the rise in the WHO European region, particularly in eastern Europe. Almost 80,000 cases occurred in the European region in 2011, accounting for nearly one quarter of all DR-TB cases worldwide.
The UK is not immune to this problem. London has the highest TB rate of any capital city in western Europe, and resistant strains of the disease have gradually but significantly increased since 2000. In my constituency, there are 61 cases of TB per 100,000 people. That is in Tower Hamlets. Neighbouring Newham, which I used to represent before the boundary changes in 2010, has double that amount, giving it the highest rate of TB in the UK. It is comparable to that in some high-TB-burden developing countries. To put that into context, the UK average is 14 cases per 100,000 people.
The threat that this public health concern presents to the UK recently led the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, to warn that antimicrobial and infectious disease resistance poses a serious threat. One of her key recommendations was for the Government to campaign for it to be given a higher profile and priority internationally. In that regard, financing mechanisms such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria plays a crucial role in funding programmes for diagnosing and treating TB in low and middle-income countries. The global fund accounts for almost 90% of international TB funding. For many countries, there would not be a response to TB without the global fund’s support.
The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) and I were on a visit to Ethiopia and visited St Peter’s hospital there. I asked what percentage of the funding for the drugs came from the global fund, and it is 100%—without it, people would die.
My hon. Friend reinforces the point that I have just made about how important the global fund is. As I am sure the Minister is aware, the global fund is asking donor Governments, such as the UK Government, for new funding in this replenishment year, and the UK Government have a crucial role to play in ensuring that that process is successful.
In the history of the fight against TB, there have been periods of urgency and periods of innovation, but only rarely have urgency and innovation come together. The rise of this new extreme form of the disease has given a new sense of urgency to global TB efforts, and after a decade of focused investment in TB innovation, we have a promising pipeline of new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines.
It is clear that to address rising rates of drug resistance, action is needed at national and international levels. The all-party group recently published its report, which was the culmination of more than six months’ work consulting world-leading experts on steps that the Government could take to help to address the increasing threat of drug-resistant TB. I shall highlight three key recommendations from the report, and I would be grateful if the Minister focused on those in her response.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this important issue to Westminster Hall for debate. A group of children and young people from Swaziland were recently in my constituency. They were a Christian choir, and every one of those children had AIDS. In Swaziland, 40% of people have AIDS. Does he feel that we need to address such issues at the highest level? That choir is an example of what can happen when medication is available; if they can survive AIDS and TB, they can make a contribution to their country and ultimately across the world.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that the Minister will repeat that agreement on the positive outcomes that result from appropriate treatment.
First, the report recommends that we strengthen the global fund by doubling the UK’s contribution. International donor funding, including the majority of the UK’s response to TB in developing countries, comes almost entirely through the global fund. In 22 high-TB-burden countries, six are totally reliant on the fund and in another 15 it accounts for two thirds of their budget. To scale up access and treatment for DR-TB, which remain woefully low, the resources the global fund has at its disposal need to increase. The Government have a key role to play in the replenishment of the fund, having been a key driving force behind the recent reforms it undertook. I commend the Government for that policy. What are their thoughts on our contribution to the fund to address the threat of TB and DR-TB? A lead from the UK should happen as soon as possible, to help leverage more from other donor Governments in this important replenishment year.
Secondly, the report recommends investment in innovation through TB REACH and continued investment in research and development. The Government have already shown leadership in support of developing new, badly needed tools to tackle TB—a policy of successive Governments that I hope will continue. Some of those tools have come to market, specifically new rapid diagnostics, but despite that, 3 million people each year still fail to access diagnosis and treatment for TB, which includes a large portion of people with drug-resistant strains. We need to accelerate our efforts to diagnose TB by rolling out new technologies, and it is clear that we need to think outside the box. TB REACH is one way to do that.
As the Minister knows, TB REACH is a Stop TB Partnership-hosted initiative that gives small grants of up to $1 million to find and treat those who do not have access to TB diagnosis or treatment. It is an incubator for innovation and pushes the frontiers of technology. It works closely with DFID-funded UNITAID. In short, TB REACH goes where others cannot and shows Governments and donors how to reach the unreachable. Critically, it often demonstrates with data what projects could be scaled up. The Minister may wish to express a view on whether she agrees with that assessment. Beyond their contribution of core funding to the Stop TB Partnership, which does not cover TB REACH, I ask that the Government become a donor to TB REACH, to maximise their investments in UNITAID and support the expansion of new diagnostic tools to detect and ultimately treat cases of TB, in addition to the work of the global fund. The funding allocated should be directed by the evaluation of the Stop TB Partnership later this year. I will be interested to hear her view on that recommendation.
Thirdly and finally, I want to mention a national strategy for TB in the UK and the importance of a global target within that. A national strategy for TB has never been developed, despite the public health risk the disease presents. The UK has seen rising rates of TB since the 1980s and DR-TB increased by 26% in the past year alone. I welcome that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) indicated that her Department is supporting Public Health England to develop a strategy. I bumped into her before the Division and thanked her for her leadership on the matter, in which I have a constituency as well as a personal interest. I was recently invited to a seminar, organised by the Barts and Royal London TB unit, by Dr Veronica White, the consultant in respiratory medicine. Unsurprisingly, it is the biggest TB team in the UK and does sterling work locally and nationally.
With all that in mind and given the clear link between global and UK rates, will the Government set a specific target on their contribution internationally to tackling DR-TB as part of a comprehensive TB strategy, led by Public Health England?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the all-party group on global tuberculosis, which it is my privilege to chair—I am not paid. Not only does the work on TB help to deliver the Government’s international development objectives, but it is also in Britain’s interest to get it right.
The hon. Gentleman makes a critical connection between our national interest and the international case, which the Minister and her team acknowledge. I am grateful that she is here. I look forward to her response. I thank her and her officials for the excellent work that they have been doing on this subject. I know that members of the all-party group are also grateful for the engagement that she and her team have had with them, and we look forward to it continuing.
It is a a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this important debate on the evil that is TB. I draw your attention, Mr Caton, to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I want to make a short contribution today.
Earlier in the year, I was fortunate to visit Ethiopia, with my colleague the hon. Member for Workington (Sir Tony Cunningham), to study the changes that it had made to eradicate the scourge of TB, organised by the charity, RESULTS. Although I represent the leafy semi-rural seat of South Derbyshire, I became aware of the consequences of TB when a child at a neighbouring secondary school was diagnosed with it following a trip to see her extended family on the Indian subcontinent. What I saw in Ethiopia was frankly a success story, but a story based on years and years of diligent health care. We met Drs Amara and Abseno from St Peter’s hospital, who, having qualified as doctors 10 years ago, had given their professional life to that TB hospital on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. In other clinics, we saw that ordinary TB is being managed and now the next steps are to deal with the rising rates of DR-TB.
Outside of that specialist hospital, we visited the rural area of Awasa, where we saw the integrated Ethiopian Ministry of Health extension programme, which has been successful in delivering primary health care to communities, by training 36,000 health extension workers. That TB REACH programme has already doubled TB detection rates during a two-year period. I sincerely hope that our Government will consider joining the Canadian Government to fund existing and new programmes for case-finding and treatment in hard-to-reach populations. That is desperately needed: 90% of children in Addis Ababa are covered, but only 10% in the region of Afar are. Much has been achieved with our aid packages, but there is so much more to do. I hope that our Minister can respond positively.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for choosing a topic of huge significance and importance. I was delighted to be able to go to Ethiopia with the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler), whose work I pay tribute to. I was in Geneva at the global fund meeting with the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and I also pay tribute to his work in this field. The global fund is of huge importance. I do not want to spend time on it, because it has already been touched on, but I shall reiterate the question that we want the Minister to answer: what steps are the UK Government taking to support the future replenishment of the global fund in 2013? It is important because, as I said when I intervened, the entire budget of many of the hospitals dealing with TB comes from the global fund, so without it, they will have serious problems.
To put TB REACH, which the hon. Lady touched on, into context, of the estimated 9 million people who get ill with TB every year, 3 million go without proper diagnosis or treatment. Put simply, we fail to reach far too many people—often in the poorest and most vulnerable communities—with quality TB care. TB REACH offers a lifeline to the people in that missing 3 million. It is hugely important.
The hon. Lady mentioned the 36,000 health extension workers. The health extension programme in Ethiopia is successful for two reasons: the health extension workers are predominantly women and they are predominantly, or almost entirely, local. When we asked them, “What hours do you work?” they said, “We work nine to five, Monday to Friday, but everyone in the village knows where we live.” So they are available around the clock.
I want to give the Minister plenty of time to respond, so my final question is: does she agree that initiatives such as the one we visited in Ethiopia—the one that I have just mentioned—support innovative and effective techniques to find people with TB quickly, avert deaths and stop the disease spreading? I hope that such initiatives will be supported by this Government.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this important and timely debate, and I thank him for having done so. I will try to get through all the points that have been raised, but if I do not we will contact hon. Members afterwards.
Tuberculosis is an age-old disease. It is tenacious and persistent, and affects the poorest people in the world and those who are socially marginalised. Every year there are 9 million new cases and nearly 1.4 million deaths. Although its incidence has been declining slowly since a peak in 2004, and mortality rates have fallen by 41% since 1990, the vast majority of TB deaths—more than 95%—are in the developing world.
Despite some progress, there were 400,000 cases of multi-drug resistant TB in 2011. As honourable colleagues will be aware, MDR-TB is more difficult and more expensive to treat than TB. Its spread is threatening the global response to TB, and makes TB control even more difficult. It is true, therefore, that TB continues to affect the poorest people in the poorest countries, and remains a serious threat to global health, especially through the rise of MDR-TB.
The coalition Government share the concerns about drug resistance, and we remain committed to the global goal of halving deaths from TB by 2015. The emergence of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis poses a serious threat to the achievement of that goal and, indeed, to the effectiveness of our current armoury of medicines and treatments.
Our priorities for TB, and for MDR-TB, are to help to increase access to effective diagnosis and treatment of TB; to invest in research and product development in more effective treatment, diagnostics and vaccines; to support countries to strengthen health systems to deliver quality TB programmes—a really important point—and to work with our partners to tackle the risk factors for TB, including poverty and malnutrition. That is not always highlighted, and most of the work of the Department for International Development focuses on dealing with poverty and malnutrition.
As highlighted by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, Public Health England is developing a national strategy for TB, and engaging with key partners such as local government, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, NHS England, academia, the voluntary sector and the Department of Health. DFID will obviously input into the process, and will work with the partners on their strategy, to produce national and international policy and to ensure that there is co-ordinated action on domestic and global approaches to reducing rates of TB.
Our first priority is to improve basic TB control. Basic control includes early detection and diagnosis, effective and complete treatment, and contact tracing. Basic control is also critical in preventing the further spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis. If we do not deal with basic TB, the incidence of MDR-TB will be accelerated. We also help to strengthen all aspects of TB control through direct and indirect funding channels in a range of high-burden countries.
I will quickly give three examples. We are working with the Government of South Africa to expand the quality of and access to public sector services, including that of TB control, and are increasing the speed with which new TB drugs get registered. We have engaged in a new partnership with the private sector in South Africa and the World Bank that aims to reduce TB in mining communities, which I think will be welcomed on both sides of the House.
In India, DFID is working with Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers to improve the price and security of supply of high-quality drugs for resistant TB and the manufacture of new low-cost diagnostic products. In Burma, we are providing bilateral funding to the 3MDG fund, a multi-donor fund for the health sector, which is supporting disease control among the poorest communities.
I, too, am a member of the all-party group on global tuberculosis, and I visited South Africa recently with Lord Fowler. Is that country not a good example of the problem of drug-resistant TB? A full third of the budget that South Africa has to deploy in dealing with TB is spent on drug-resistant TB, yet the incidence of such TB is only 2%. That underlines the importance of getting on top of that form of TB so that the costs do not run further out of control and undermine the fight against the disease.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. South Africa is an epicentre, so far as its spend on what is a relatively confined industry is concerned.
I was talking about Burma. It is estimated that between 2013 and 2016, the 3MDG fund will spend $20 million on tuberculosis. Funding is an important strand. DFID also supports a number of global partnerships that work on strengthening basic TB control. For example, the Stop TB Partnership plays a critical role in helping countries to strengthen their TB policies, and in supporting the improvement of funding applications for large TB-control grants.
The UK’s contribution to UNITAID, of up to €60 million per year, has funded new laboratory infrastructure in 18 countries, 10 of which now routinely diagnose MDR-TB. The network will have detected approximately 12,000 MDR-TB cases by the end of 2011, compared with only 2,300 cases in the same countries in 2008.
I will move on to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, because I know it is of particular interest—this is not the first occasion on which it has been raised with me. The majority of UK funding to global TB control is channelled through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and we have increased and accelerated our funding and are on track to meet our £1 billion commitment to the fund for 2008 to 2015. The fund is, as hon. Members have mentioned, absolutely critical to achieving many of the UK’s health-related international development objectives, so it is important to us that it continue to deliver ever-more impressive results. The UK intends to increase its contribution, pending, as we have said, progress on the implementation of crucial reforms. That obviously falls within my portfolio, and I have had reports from all DFID offices around the world, having asked them to report to me on the fund. Recently I was in Nigeria and had a meeting with recipients of global funding from across the three diseases, to understand the changes that are being heralded in with the reforms at the global fund—so far so good.
We are committed to working with others to ensure that the planned autumn replenishment is a success. We are a world leader, but sometimes it would be nice to be at least equalled in some of these things by other donor countries. We will use our influence to draw in more overall financing. I understand the call to go early, but there are many multinational decisions to be made and, as I have said, this all depends on progress.
On investment in research and innovation, which I think all Members would agree is critical, DFID has a strong record of supporting research and development for effective treatments, diagnostics and vaccines. An example of that is our effort to increase the affordability of diagnostic testing for MDR-TB. DFID’s support of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics has contributed to the development of a rapid molecular test, GeneXpert, which has the potential substantially to improve the diagnosis of TB and drug-resistant TB.
DFID aims to continue our strong record of supporting investment in TB research and development, including through product development partnerships, and we will strive for value for money in such investments. On DFID’s support for innovation, we will consider the hon. Gentleman’s request that we fund TB REACH against, obviously, the competing priorities and commitments in our international health financing decisions.
Absolutely. The point is that we are waiting for the evaluation. TB REACH worked by giving a small amount to a great number of organisations to test how to reach people in difficult circumstances. It had precise pre-specified targets and cost-effectiveness benchmarks, and we have to await the evaluation of that first phase to assess what our funding might be for the second phase. We cannot go ahead of that, although I understand that reaching people is critical. We should also work to strengthen health systems, because ultimately we want health systems that are able to reach every individual in a country and dispense whatever medical care is necessary, but I understand the point in relation to TB.
On Ethiopia, about which I have not yet responded, DFID provides significant support to its health system, directly supporting community health workers, and we agree that they do a great job, including on TB. I have been to Ethiopia myself—twice, in fact.
In conclusion, I am very proud to serve in the coalition Government who, even in tough times, have protected the development budget and will reach the target of 0.7% of gross national income this year. I am also proud that we have cross-party consensus in this Parliament: it is one of our finer moments. We are equally clear about the responsibilities that come with those resources, particularly when this country is itself struggling for survival. Those responsibilities are to spend taxpayers’ money well, to deliver aid that is accounted for transparently, and to ensure that our support delivers value for money and gets to where it is most needed.
Significant progress has been made in controlling TB since 1995, with more than 51 million cases treated and 20 million lives saved. That progress was rooted in improved partnership, policy, innovation and leadership, so there is cause for optimism. I thank all hon. Members here, because the issue is really important and I appreciate their continued pressure. The issue needs to be worked on in all the ways they have proposed if we are to get the better of this disease: our progress is good, but not remarkable. The UK is playing its part, but as I have said, we are all clear that significant challenges remain.
Question put and agreed to.