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During the past six years, when the decision was made to go ahead with 4GLS at Daresbury, a prototype has been developed called the Linac project. The name has now changed to ALICE—accelerators and lasers in combined experiments. The problem is that although the Science and Technology Facilities Council is committed to ensuring that ALICE can be developed to demonstrate energy recovery, it has decided not to fund it beyond energy recovery being proven. That does not exploit the potential of ALICE or contribute towards Britain being able to lead the world in accelerator science. Nor does it fulfil what scientists expect of the Science and Technology Facilities Council in that area.

We need a commitment from the STFC not only in relation to proving the energy recovery of ALICE, but in relation to fully exploiting the prototype. That means investing more money into the project and working with the Northwest Regional Development Agency, which has committed £30 million to the project already. That is essential because it will give us the possibility of a new light source, and whatever the new light source is called it will be based on 4GLS. It has been developed at Daresbury and the staff are at Daresbury. If it is exploited to the full, it will retain scientific staff at Daresbury and will provide the piece of the jigsaw that ensures that we still have science and innovation on the campus. It is essential that that project is exploited to the full and that Daresbury is used to make that exploitation possible, because that will retain the scientific staff at the laboratory who will underpin the concept set out in the investment programme for 2004-14. That will send a clear message that the Government believe that regions such as the north-west are entitled to have world-leading science and that they are behind that concept.

Daresbury laboratory has another problem. If ALICE is fully funded and the commitment to the staff to retain pure research science at Daresbury is delivered on, that will no doubt secure the laboratory’s future, but the staff have taken a hard knock since the decisions on redundancies were announced last December. There is a feeling at the laboratory, which I share, that they do not have a powerful voice on the STFC advocating on their behalf. There are many scientists from Oxford, with powerful voices, advocating for the Oxford golden circle or golden triangle—call it what one likes—but Daresbury does not have an equivalent voice.

The Minister could send another positive message today by saying that a person will be appointed to the STFC specifically to advocate for Daresbury. That would send the staff a positive message that somebody at the highest level is speaking out on their behalf. They could then have confidence in decisions made in the future about the new light source and the future of the science and technology campus.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making strong and pertinent remarks and I support him wholeheartedly on this issue. Does he agree that the STFC has been extremely poor at consulting and communicating with Daresbury?

Mr. Hall: I agree entirely. I want to mention a specific problem about consultation of Daresbury, because it all seems to be done outside. The worst thing about all this is the rumour mill, and I have a good example. When the STFC said that it had an £80 million shortfall in its £1.9 billion budget over three years, and that it would call for 25 per cent. staff cuts and 25 per cent. cuts in
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project grants to fill what is a very small funding gap, if one exists at all, it was feared at Daresbury laboratory that 350 jobs would go. Compulsory redundancies have been called for at Daresbury laboratory but not at the two other sites covered by the STFC. Those compulsory redundancies relate to the running of the synchrotron radiation source, which we accept will finish at the end of this year; the run-down will start in September. Only 110 people are working on the synchrotron radiation source, but we are now told that 180 jobs must go.

My profound wish and hope is that there will be no compulsory redundancies at Daresbury laboratory and that, as a result of decisions that the Government and the STFC can take, more jobs will be secured at Daresbury to underpin the critical mass of scientists needed to ensure that we deliver the science at the laboratory.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether there will be no jobs lost, no compulsory redundancies or no redundancies at Daresbury? Which of the three, or which combination of the three, is it?

Mr. Hall: The hon. Gentleman would do better to direct that question to the Minister. In case this was not clear, I point out that the STFC is calling for 180 job losses at Daresbury relating directly to the running of the synchrotron radiation source, which will end in September to December of this year. When the synchrotron radiation source goes, those jobs will be surplus to requirements. I am pressing the Minister to try to ensure that there are no compulsory redundancies and that we retain as many scientists as possible at Daresbury, so that there is a critical mass of scientists able to deliver the new light source when decisions on that are made and when the decision for it to be at Daresbury is made. That is the point.

I am asking for three things. We need a fourth generation light source scientist heading the new light source review with the two scientists from Oxford and Imperial college. We need a commitment that ALICE—that wonderful facility—will be fully funded and fully exploited. It is a unique research facility and it would be a travesty if British science was not allowed to exploit it to the full. We also need a commitment about retaining staff at Daresbury laboratory and a voice on the STFC advocating for Daresbury.

For the record, the Minister has been generous in the time that he has given to colleagues from the north-west. Those Members are represented here today: my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth), for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) and for Eccles (Ian Stewart). My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) has also been involved in lobbying the Minister and the Secretary of State. We have also lobbied the Prime Minister. We have been fully supported by my close and hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg). We are committed to ensuring that Daresbury laboratory or Daresbury science and innovation campus has a future, both as a pure research facility and as an innovation campus. Today, we seek a positive message from the Government that they share that vision and will protect the laboratory and ensure that it delivers another 40 years of world-leading scientific research.

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11.15 am

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): A Northwest Regional Development Agency press release that I chanced across the other day, dated 2003, states:

In the same press release, Lord Sainsbury says:

I would like to give a few key facts that put that in context. Daresbury should be in a very enviable position now, because it should have got the Diamond synchrotron, the particle accelerator, which would have been a £382 million investment in Daresbury. It did get the £21.3 million investment in Linac and the promise of the fourth generation light source. Why did it not get the synchrotron? A National Audit Office report on big science projects makes it crystal clear that the economic benefits relating to the particle accelerator were far greater in the north-west than anywhere else, and than where it actually went in the Oxford area. The reasons why it went there are predominantly cultural. Scientists at Oxford or certain key academics would not forsake the leafy environment of Oxford for the rougher area of Cheshire. There was also direct pressure from the Wellcome Trust, which clearly also felt that it would be a little bit hazardous to go up north. There was no doubt, at the time the proposal was considered, that the physics base in the north-west—in Manchester, Liverpool and further afield—was very strong and capable of supporting such a venture.

However, if we look at the fourth generation light source as a consolation prize, it has to be said that it was, on the face of it, a good one. The NAO said of the project that the level and form of engagement with industry—

Mr. Mike Hall: The fourth generation light source was not a consolation prize for Daresbury laboratory. It will now be the leading project in terms of linear accelerator science. It is not a second prize at all; it is a real prize for the laboratory.

Dr. Pugh: It would be amazing if it turned out as we hoped; and it would be a major plus for the north-west. However, it is apparent to me that things will not turn out as expected.

The NAO praised the project and used positive terms, which the hon. Gentleman will welcome, and said that the project provides a

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That is crucial for the north-west because we need industry and jobs. It is ironic, in retrospect, that the NAO said that the project has

Because of that, one felt that the project would go ahead no matter what the economic climate. The Northwest Regional Development Agency, to its credit, has persistently emphasised that the key need in the north-west is high-quality jobs—a better quality of job than is widely available in many parts of the north-west—and not simply jobs. Key science fixtures obviously help in that regard. It now seems that there is a doubt about the consolation prize.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest, but does he recognise that the international advisory committee, which reviewed the 4GLS project and reported in February of this year, described it as world-class science?

Dr. Pugh: Yes, and we would be glad to see world-class funding associated with it.

I am less than impressed at what the Minister has had to say on the matter. He stated:

In the same letter, which was sent to all north-west Members, he states:

I read that carefully for hard financial commitments. On 13 March, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills stated:

I emphasise “had been”—

That sounds to me like jam tomorrow but never today; there is lots of commitment, but the letter is rather thin on money details.

What do we know? There is an £80 million shortfall in the Science and Technologies Facilities Council and there are cuts in physics provision in the north-west. European Union countries have a target of 3 per cent. of gross domestic product to be spent on research and development, but spending on that fell between 2000 and 2005 in the UK. Overall research and development spending fell by 14 per cent. last year. Things are not going well. It would be helpful if the Minister would assure us that things are going better than I think they are. I understand that my remarks are not comfortable for Labour Members, because they would genuinely like the Government to do better for Daresbury, to be more positive and firm in their commitments, and to couple that with resources.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman but, for the record, will he tell us what discussions he has had on the fourth generation light source with scientists at Daresbury?
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Would they describe it as a “consolation prize”? In calling it that, the hon. Gentleman is downgrading its importance to Daresbury’s future.

Dr. Pugh: If the only attack that Labour Members can make on my thesis is on that phrase, I shall use another. I was trying to say that, initially, we were unquestionably supposed to have the particle accelerator. It would have been nice to get both that and 4GLS—there is a case for that—but nobody can dispute that we lost out on the synchrotron. The only positive fact—the only firm, clear-cut financial commitment that I understand—in the Minister’s letter of 6 February is in the third paragraph, which states:

If people think that that is good news, so be it. It is a hard fact, but in the rest of the letter, a lot of the discussion is kicked into the future.

I should like to turn briefly, if I may, to astronomy, which we have not touched on but it generally affects the issue. We have a similar scenario with the EMERLIN project. As far as north-west science is concerned, a negative case is being made. The STFC says all sorts of good things about it. It says that it is the only world-class astronomical facility based entirely in the UK, and that it makes a significant contribution to radio astronomy and to our understanding of cosmology, galaxy formation and planetary evolution. That is all good stuff.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. You are moving away from the subject of the debate, Dr. Pugh.

Dr. Pugh: I was hoping that you would allow me a bit of latitude on that point, Mr. Martlew.

In the north-west—this is to do with Daresbury—physics funding has been cut and blue-chip research, which is commercially useful to the north-west for jobs and economic welfare, has been pulled. The Northwest Regional Development Agency and the universities in the area are being depressed. They are not toasting the Minister and saying, “Isn’t he doing a good job on this!” They are in fact expressing regrets to hon. Members, which is why so many have turned up to the debate. Regional differences are being accentuated by a lack of investment in key scientific facilities in the north-west, the prime cause of which is the £80 million shortfall in funding. That is not a huge sum in Government terms. I accept the points that have been made about the autocratic and, at times, eccentric decision making of the STFC, but what matters to me is that it is a betrayal of my region and its future.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. Four Back-Bench Members wish to speak and I should like the wind-up speeches to begin at about 12 o’clock.

11.26 am

Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing the debate, which is on an
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important issue for the region, the UK and our constituents. He has been a redoubtable champion of Daresbury laboratory over many years.

Others on this side of the House have been champions of the laboratory for many years, because we see what it achieves. The science campus at the laboratory is a world-renowned large-scale science facility. It has an amazing history: synchrotron technology in the UK developed at Daresbury and it really is whizzy science. Light is spun around at such speed that things can be seen in incredible detail. One can see a cancer cell at the size of a full stop and identify it. For people, that means that we are going to be able to stop cancer, because we will be able to find it at the earliest stages.

The facility is not only about that; it looks at how to make aeroplane wings function more effectively. It is about major industry and manufacturing. It is revolutionising how we deliver industry in the north-west, which is keeping us competitive. My major dispute with the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) is that Daresbury laboratory is not going cap-in-hand to ask the Minister for things; rather, it is world-leading and it is positioning our science and industry—our jobs—at the forefront of world science.

Daresbury is not only home to world-leading accelerator science. It is also home to advanced instrumentation and engineering, high-performance computing, nuclear physics, modelling and simulation. Our scientists are spectacular and the facilities and resources on our site must meet their abilities to ensure that they can deliver, because they are central to the decades of success that we have had on the site. The scientists and technicians are internationally acclaimed and I am honoured that a large number of them are my constituents. I have learned so much about our opportunities through what I have been told by those constituents about what they are delivering for the UK and around the globe. More than 5,000 scientists from more than 30 countries use Daresbury’s facilities every year. They do not pop over here thinking that we are second best; they come to Daresbury because it is a world leader. They want to use our facilities, and we want to ensure that Daresbury will be able to continue delivering.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that eight years ago the Diamond project to replace the out-of-date synchrotron on the site was awarded to the Rutherford Appleton laboratory, even though the project had been developed by Daresbury scientists with international peer backing. My hon. Friends will remember being inundated by representations from scientists from all over the globe, including Nobel prize winners, calling for the recognition of and investment in the world-leading facilities at Daresbury.

As a result of strong representations from world scientists, from Members of Parliament, from business and industry and from local and regional government, the Government set up the north-west science and Daresbury task group, of which I was a member. That task group recommended a series of actions to support regional and UK science, including the establishment of the Northwest Science Council. One significant result was major Government investment in the science and innovation campus at Daresbury.

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