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Medical Education and Research

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 13 June 2013

6. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of his Department’s budget for medical education and research. (159357)

The Government are committed to well-funded medical education and research and to maintaining long-term funding in these areas. In 2013-14 we will spend £330 million on health education and £630 million on health research.

I thank the Minister for his answer. However, the chair of the Medical Schools Council has said that any move of this budget to the Department of Health poses a significant risk of undermining Britain’s leading position in health research and education. Will the Minister confirm that he will resist all attempts at Treasury short-termism and a move of the budget to the Department of Health, as this area is a driver of growth and a global strength for the UK?

It is a global strength for the UK, and that is why we have protected the Medical Research Council’s budget in real terms. Only last week we had the topping-out ceremony at the Crick institute—the opening of the new laboratory of molecular biology. On the particular issue that the hon. Lady raises, I cannot do better than to quote the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said the other day:

“I give you an absolute commitment that I will do nothing that jeopardises that vital basic research that the Medical Research Council undertakes, and I would always make sure that that money is not used for other things.”

We cannot do better than that.

The Government have announced more university training places for medical students and doctors. This is a matter of some urgency given the wave of doctors who are due to come up for retirement and the fact that it takes seven years to train a doctor. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on this?

I know that my hon. Friend has a particular interest and expertise in this area. Of course, the number of students who come through for medical training is very carefully planned, taking account of the needs of the NHS for future doctors.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), but perhaps I could press him to go further specifically in relation to the potential moving of the Medical Research Council’s budget to the Department of Health. He will be aware that the chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities has described the proposed move as a “fudge” that will threaten the independence of medical research in this country. Does the Minister still believe in the Haldane principle, and if so, will he commit to keep the Medical Research Council under his Department’s control to ensure that it remains free of political interference?

I am happy to give the assurance that we are committed to the Haldane principle and it is important that medical research remains subject to it. That is essential for all parts of the science family. I can do no better than repeat the Chancellor’s assurance that we will make sure that the money is not used for other things, and that if there is any change the vital, basic research that the MRC carries out is not jeopardised.