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Pride, excellence and innovation still underpin manufacturing in Swindon. This is still a town built more than most on manufacturingon Honda and all the other world-class manufacturing businesses located in the town. It is a town that knows better than most that manufacturing mattersin its own right, and for all the benefits that it brings to the economy as a whole.
Brunel was, in the words of his biographer, Tom Rolt,
the archetype of the heroic age of the engineer.
However, no country can rely on the genius of individuals alone for the economy to thrive. The manufacturing on which Swindon and this country depends requires that the Government create the environment in which it can prosper.
I want to spend the rest of the time allotted to me drawing attention to two areas on which it is very important that the Government continue to focus their attention, as I hope they will. In repairing the neglect of decades, the Department of Trade and Industry identified seven key conditions for creating the necessary infrastructure: macroeconomic stability; investment; the promulgation of best practices; the constant improving of skills and education levels; improving the transport and communications infrastructures; and creating the conditions for dynamic, open and transparent markets. They are all important, but I want to use this opportunity to focus attention on two particular areas.
Science and innovation relates to the seventh key condition identified by the DTI, and the Government have given it unprecedented support. Since 1997, they have doubled the science budgetto more than £3 billionand given industry and scientists the confidence to plan long term for the future by setting out a 10-year framework for science and innovation investment.
Today, I want to welcome the increasing emphasis on basic scienceacquiring understanding, as opposed to applied research for specific purposes. At a time of economic and technological change unprecedented in its speed and extent, it would be unwise to invest disproportionately in applied research that could become out of date in a few years. It is often better to invest in the fundamental understanding that can, and does, lead to extraordinary applications that are often completely impossible to conceive at the outset of research. In 1984, for example, Tim Berners-Lee took up a fellowship at CERN, the European organisation for nuclear research, and five years later he suggested a global hypertext project to enable the various existing national proprietary computer technologies housed within this multinational institution to communicate better with each other. This became the worldwide web, and was the basis of the internet revolution that now reaches into every area of our lives. That was completely impossible to foresee just a few years beforehand.
The percentage of total Government research and development funding spent on basic research increased from 31.5 per cent. in 1997 to 39 per cent. in 2003, and it is vital that this focus continues. Enabling brilliance to shine is essential for prosperity, as our competitors understand. China is planning to double the proportion of its R&D spending on basic science in the next decade. We cannot ever afford to fall behind.
The second area to which I wish to draw attention is even more fundamental to scientific and technological
achievement: a culture in which the command of mathematics is widespread. This is not the occasion on which to rehearse all the challenges that we face in achieving that aim. However, in 2004 Professor Adrian Smith, acting on a Government remit, reported to the Education Secretary that although mathematics
provides the language and analytical tools underpinning much of our scientific and industrial research and development...we currently face a situation of long term decline in the numbers of young people continuing to study mathematics post-16.
Professor Smith came up with far-reaching proposals to tackle the problem, and the Government are developing them. For example, in tackling the problem that too few of those teaching maths are adequately qualified, the Government are driving attempts to raise the percentage of lessons taught by those with a specialism in maths. Some 88 per cent. of those lessons today are delivered by such specialists and that figure should be 95 per cent. by 2014. Progress must continue. As we celebrate the bicentennial of the worlds greatest engineerthe founder of Swindon, whose name is indelibly associated with the town that I have the honour to representwe must continue to ensure that we nourish an environment in which future Brunels can flourish.
May I conclude my remarks by taking this opportunity to wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House a peaceful and creative recess?
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I shall follow the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) by raising several issues of concern before we rise for the summer recess. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not address issues of science, technology and mathematics, except perhaps as they apply to the terrible weaponry that is being used at the moment in the middle east. I do not envy those people who have to try to reach some solution to that extraordinarily complex problem.
It is too simple to say that all we need is a ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah is a state within the state of Lebanon, which suggests that Lebanonlike so many other weak statesneeds the help of the world to gain strength to resist the existence of organisations such as Hezbollah. I was pleased to note that it was not just me being a conspiracy theorist, but that others think that Hezbollahs actions were purely a proxy for Iran and a way to distract the worlds eyes from the offer by the US to discuss Irans nuclear technology and capabilityan offer that Tehran probably did not expect to receive from the US. While the worlds attention is distracted by the aggression between Hezbollah and Israel, Iran can get on with what it is trying to do with its nuclear capability. Those who will be involved in trying to sort out the problem for the long term have all my good wishes.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the deafening silence from the UN, which must eventually lead to a solution in the region, and does she accept the imperative of stopping the human rights abuses against civilians and children on both sides right now?
Mrs. Lait: The problem is much more intractable than my hon. Friend suggests, although I hope that those people who hope to make some sustainable arrangements will take his points into account.
I also wish to raise a domestic terrorist issuethe animal rights terrorist movement. Unusually, I wish to congratulate the Government on what they have done to try to curb the activities of a few, very aggressive people. I was pleased that we were able to send down those appalling people who behaved so badly in the guinea pig farm case. I was pleased to note that the Companies Bill contains provisions to make it more difficult for such organisations, although they are unfortunately fairly shrewd and clever, to gain access to shareholders names and addresses from the registers of companies. Wellcome used to be based in Beckenham, so I have a disproportionate number of constituents who hold shares in some pharmaceutical companies, and they have suffered not only from the latest outrage but from the phone calls at 4 am and the posters stuck on their gates and their neighbours gates calling them murderers. That is not the sort of treatment that should be suffered by retired, older people.
I urge the Minister to ensure that all the reorganisation in the Home Office does not cause the Government to take their eye off the ball. We have to maintain a high level of policing against animal terrorists, and make sure that the animal terrorist unit is able to continue its work. We must also use all possible legislative means to curb the terrorists activities.
The people who are involved in animal terrorism believe that direct action works, and they have set out to train a younger generation to continue an outrageous attack on one of this countrys key industries. Everyone in this Chamber has benefited from its work, and I suspect that the same is true of the animal terrorists. If they are allowed to continue to take action against the industry, investors will make their decisions accordingly and facilities will close. That will happen quietly and graduallythere will be no announcement that it is due to the industry being targeted by the animal terrorists, but investors will decide that they can invest more profitably elsewhere. As a result, one of our leading industries will simply trickle away to countries that offer a more supportive environment.
Finally, I turn to a matter raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). The question of back gardens being treated as brownfield sites is of great importance to people in Londons outer suburbs, and throughout the country. The hon. Gentleman gave various reasons why blocks of flats should no longer be built in back gardens, a problem that affects my constituency as much as his, but he slightly glossed over the way in which a suburbs character can change because of increased population density.
People move to a new location as a positive choice. They come to my Beckenham constituency because they want its open spaces, large gardens and wide roads, with all the biodiversity that that implies. They want to bring up their children in leafy areas and they do not want to discover that they are faced with inner-city population densities.
I raised this matter in a Westminster Hall debate, but the Minister who responded seemed to be proud that housing in the outer suburbs was approaching inner-city densities. I hope that the Government can be persuaded to look againand hardat the question of population density, and at the way in which the planning function is becoming increasingly centralised. That centralisation is evident in the proposed transfer
of power to the London Mayor, and in the planning guidance announced in a written statement yesterday. That guidance, which is being consulted on, will make it much easier for central Government to dictate how many houses, and of what type, should go where.
I have long believed that the people who know best what should happen in a locality are the ones who live there. They know that their children need houses, and that older people need different accommodation as they grow older and are no longer able to manage so easily. Local people should be able to decide that their environment will remain as they like it. It is not up to central Government to dictate what should happen.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I am delighted to have this opportunity to raise a very serious issue on behalf of one young man in my constituency, William Watrin Cattrall.
William was born in England, at Derriford hospital, Plymouth, on 20 June 1996. His father is English, as are his grandparents, and he has lived nowhere other than the UK. William is a very keen and talented sportsman who would like nothing more than to represent his country, England. He swims and trains with Plymouth Leander swimming club, one of the most successful clubs in the country. Indeed, his ambition, like that of many other young people of his age, is to compete in the 2012 Olympics for the country that he regards as his.
William is a lad like any other. He supports his local football team, Plymouth Argyle; he sees a career for himself in the Royal Navy; and he loves bacon and eggs. He is also forthright in his views and supports the campaign, highlighted in the local paper, to provide funding for the Earlybird project, which is carrying out work on diabetes and obesity. I will return to the Earlybird project later.
However, unlike other boys of his age, William has no status in the UK. He appears to have fallen foul of legislation that has taken four years to implement and was designed to deal with circumstances such as his, where because his mother is not Britishshe has Dutch citizenshipand because his parents, like many others in this country, were not married at the time of his birth, he is not considered a British citizen. That has caused a number of complications for William, not least the fact that he cannot obtain a passport, despite registering as a minor, as suggested in a response I received from a Home Office Minister last year. That response paralleled guidance from the UK Passport Servicethat if the British-born child of a European economic area national is now refused citizenship, as happened in Williams case, it is worth seeking advice and considering an application for registration in due course. William did all that, but it made no difference at all.
Williams mother was not exercising treaty rights at the time of her childs birth. She arrived in the UK in 1995 and felt no need to do so at the time. She was clearly unaware of the implications for her child when he was born a year later. The history of the legislation that affects William is that under section 1(1) of the
British Nationality Act 1981, a person born in the UK will be a British citizen at birth if either parent was then a British citizen or was settled in the UK. Section 50 (9) of the Act goes on to provide that, for that purpose, parent includes the mother, butcrucially in Williams casenot the father of an illegitimate child.
In most other areas of life the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children has been abandoned, but we continue to retain it for nationality legislation, although, to be fair, the position changed on 1 July this year when section 9 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 finally came into effectfour years after the passage of the Act. However, to the horror of William and his family, it was decided not to apply the provision retrospectively, so as we understand it he no longer has any right to obtain settlement. His mother cannot provide the evidence of her settlement in the UK that is required for the alternative route.
The Cattrall family, and numerous other families in exactly the same position, want to know why the provision was not applied retrospectively. There were newspaper reports recently of the case of Leo Poole, the child of an Italian mother and a British father, born on 30 Junethe day before the provision came into force. There are similar examples from around the country.
Through the Minister, I want to ask some questions. What were the reasons for the four-year delay? It surely cannot have been due to lack of availability of parliamentary time. We have found time for a great number of orders to be made since 2002. Why is the provision not being applied retrospectively? Is it the cost, or simply the inability of a hard-pressed Home Office to manage the number of possible cases? Do the Government know the number of people who fall outside the change and who, like William, will continue to fall outside our citizenship rules?
For some time, William and his family have been pressing me to highlight his plight. His hope was that the change to the 1981 Act would make all the difference, but sadly the benefits of the 2002 Act will not apply to him. He is stateless and very unhappy. He simply wants to know whether the Government will, in due course, revisit the policy or offer further advice if we have misinterpreted the provision. We do not think that we have done so, but if we did I am sure that William would be delighted.
I want to touch on the Earlybird project, which is being carried out by the Peninsula medical school in Plymouth and led by Professor Terry Wilkin, to research the links between childhood obesity and diabetescurrently at the top of our public health priorities. The project is unique and has received testimonials from around the world. The researchers have visited the House of Commons and given evidence to the Select Committee on Health.
There is no other similar study at present and it would be catastrophic if this study, which has been going for six years, were stopped at this juncture because of a lack of funding. It is a 12-year study of 300 children across Plymouth, from a cross section of socio-economic backgrounds. For six years, the team has been testing the groupsince the members of that group were five years old. The data collected are already proving useful. Surely, if the Government want to ensure that NHS funding is effectively targeted to
tackle obesity and the diabetes that follows, strong evidence-based research should be used.
The future of this valuable project is at risk because £40,000 of NHS funding last year did not materialise. The Peninsula medical school is an excellent new facility, but because it is new it does not have the benefit of some of the longer-standing medical schools in terms of endowments, so it is not able to support the project, as it would certainly want to do. We are talking about a small team of medical researchers, not fundraisers. I have already written to the Minister to urge serious and urgent consideration of the research and development funding required for the project. I hope that, through him, a message will go back to the Department of Health about the importance and urgency of support for the Earlybird project.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I should like to touch on one subject in the period left before we rise for the summer recess: the way in which the Government recognise the gallantry, service and devotion of those who have served in Her Majestys forcesin particular in regiments that have been stood down. I want to touch on the Ulster Defence Regiment, which grew into the Royal Irish Regiment, the home service battalions of which were stood down in recent days.
First, I should say that I believe that the Government proposed a sensible package for the men who had been in the RIR, which was welcomed by many, although some people who served in the regiment ended up less well off than others and might not be as generous about the Governments role. However, by and large, it was a good package.
I also welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the additional difficulties faced by Ministry of Defence staff in Northern Ireland, who are being made redundant. They will not be able to find a job on the high street in the way in which MOD staff can in Great Britain. At least 50 per cent. of employers will not touch them and it will probably be a much larger slice than that as soon as the employers hear about their previous employment. I welcome the increased offer that the Government have made to MOD staff; many of them will welcome that, as well. I also welcome the sensible step that the Government took to increase the bounty, from £10,000 to £20,000, for members of the RIR who transfer to other regiments and remain as soldiers in Her Majestys forces.
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