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Motor Neurone Disease Research Funding

Volume 701: debated on Tuesday 21 September 2021

The pandemic has shown us just how important and world-leading the UK’s life sciences sector is, and our Government are committed to making it go from strength to strength.

As a fellow rugby league fan, Mr Speaker, you will know the brilliance of Rob Burrow on the pitch and now his inspiration off the pitch. Rob is in Parliament today with his friend Doddie Weir to raise awareness of motor neurone disease and of the campaign calling on the Government to invest £50 million in MND research over the next five years for a virtual MND research institute. Will the Secretary of State please commit to meeting the MND Association to discuss this funding proposal further?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work he is doing in this area. He will know that in the last fiscal year, UK Research and Innovation spent £15.9 million on MND research. In the previous Parliament, 2017 to 2019, we announced £20 million to support the work of medical research charities which have now been impacted by covid.

It has been said already, but rugby league fanatics like you and I, Mr Speaker, have long been inspired by the brilliance of Rob Burrow on the field, but I think we have been blown away by his tireless determination off the pitch to campaign to raise awareness of motor neurone disease. Does the Secretary of State agree with Rob and Scotland’s rugby union star Doddie Weir, who are both watching us, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) said? We need to act now, Secretary of State—now—to increase research funding into this devastating, debilitating and life- limiting disease.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member, who raises an extremely important point. I do not know Rob, but I am very pleased that his tireless work has been raised today. As I said, in the last fiscal year UKRI spent £15.9 million on MND research. We have had a wider offer for medical research charities—we announced £204 million for Research England in the fiscal year 2020-21—but I am very happy to meet him and see what more we can do to pursue this important topic.

Lucy Lintott from Moray was Scotland’s youngest person to be diagnosed with MND, aged 19. Eight years on, she is living with fiancé Tommy Smith. They have an 18-month-old, LJ, and, on Hogmanay, they are expecting their second child, a little girl. It is believed that Lucy is the first person in the world to have had two pregnancies after diagnosis. Will the Secretary of State meet Lucy and other campaigners to see what we can do to support her family and so many others in Scotland and across the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising in this House such an inspiring story. I would, of course, be delighted to meet Lucy and him to discuss how we can pursue further progress in this area.

As I am sure the Secretary of State will appreciate, there are very many of us in this House for whom this is a hugely important issue. He has already mentioned the research, but the key to the £50 million over five years is that it is not spread over other research—it is completely targeted on motor neurone disease. Will he take that to the Government and bear that in mind please?

Absolutely right. UKRI is responsible for the budget and I am in frequent conversations with UKRI. We have to work to see what we can do to focus, with laser-like attention, on this debilitating illness.

Thank you, Secretary of State. May I just say that everybody in rugby league is aware that Rob Burrow is an inspirational person? He really is that great man and great character.