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The campus concept is a great idea, under which the public and private sectors can co-operate with regional and national Government to generate real growth from new scientific discoveries. The first major success of the campus was the innovation centre. It was opened two years ago and it now houses more than 60 high-tech companies in fields such as information and communications technology and medical device design and manufacture.

Many of those companies are new start-ups and innovators, and some of them have been drawn to the UK because of the sort of science on offer at Daresbury. Scientists are attracted by the on-site facilities, particularly the research laboratories that are open to companies. They are also attracted by collaboration with the 500 scientists and other staff of the laboratories, who offer world-class capabilities in physics, chemistry, engineering, computing science, biology and other fields. Those industries are benefiting from that close proximity.

The universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster are key partners in the campus. The campus represents a unique mixture of publicly funded research, private sector companies and investment, and world-class universities—all working together to create innovation and economic growth. It is an incredible success story, and we must ensure that it continues. It is crucial for our economy, and for improving the quality of life for UK citizens, not only for jobs and manufacturing but for health and well-being. We must ensure that research funded by the public sector is made available for exploitation, and the world-class scientists at Daresbury laboratory are critical to that success. Last year, the Government announced that the Daresbury science and innovation campus would be one of only two major science sites in the UK, the other being at Harwell in Oxford. As a result, Government-supported large science projects will go only to those sites.

In the House last week, the Prime Minister said:

I hope that the Minister will give more detail, particularly in relation to the new generation light source, evolved from the 4GLS project developed by scientists at Daresbury over the last six years. Will he confirm not only that Daresbury scientists will be fully involved in and lead the project team, but that, if it is to be built, the new generation light source will be built at Daresbury? I support the call ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale for Daresbury to have a voice on the Science and Technology Facilities Council, so that decisions can be made with real knowledge rather than assumptions.

The Government have also funded the Cockroft Institute on the Daresbury site; as my hon. Friend said, it has already attracted leading world scientists. It secured more than £20 million of funding in just one year to develop the site. As well as demonstrating its success in research, the Cockroft Institute will play a key role in training physics graduates in the north-west, to ensure that local young scientists have the best opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills. One of Daresbury’s incredible successes has been to inspire young people in the north-west to succeed in physics and engineering.

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Will the Minister expand on the statement from the STFC that

That statement recognises the outstanding success of the Cockroft, but what does it mean in terms of further investment in the Cockroft and associated activity at Daresbury? We need further details.

The key to the considerable success of the science and innovation campus at Daresbury, in all its parts, is the outstanding quality of the scientists and the high level of the engineers and technicians on the site. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale’s concern about the announcement of redundancies associated with the closure of the old SRS. To develop next-generation facilities, the laboratories must retain key scientific and technological expertise on the site.

At the end of last summer, the STFC caused serious concern about the future of science at Daresbury. It is irresponsible in the extreme for a Government-funded body to take so little care with the success, and indeed the viability, of so important a body as the laboratory and the science and innovation campus. Will the Minister confirm that the STFC will be held to its commitment, made in the past few weeks, to retaining key scientific and technology expertise at Daresbury in high-performance computing, accelerator and detector research, and development of next-generation facilities and the underpinning technologies? Will he also give us details of what was meant by the STFC’s statement at the end of January that it was looking to expand skills on the site as its plans develop? Will he assure us that ALICE will receive the investment that it needs, so that it can continue to succeed?

Overall, will the Minister give us the Department’s assurance that the STFC will minimise job losses from the SRS closure, and deliver on its commitment to develop the light source expertise at Daresbury so that it can continue to play a key role in developing the next generation light source? Will he also confirm that the new light source will be built at Daresbury as part of the critical scientific research anchor to the other facilities on the site? A quarter of the north-west’s economy— £26 billion—is dependent on science. Daresbury science and innovation campus and its university partners at Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster are at the interface between science and industry. They are opening up huge advances in health diagnosis and treatment. Will the Minister assure us that the STFC will invest at Daresbury in order to build on its world-class success?

11.37 am

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing this debate. He has done an enormous amount of work to secure the future of Daresbury, and all MPs in the region are grateful to him for the lead that he has shown.

I do not intend to repeat points that have been made, although I agree with them. However, I stress the importance of science on the Daresbury site to the future of the region. Since 1962, it has been a vital scientific site. It developed the world’s first synchrotron light source, and it was instrumental in helping a UK researcher win
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a share in the 1997 Nobel prize for chemistry. We all believe that the decision to send the next-generation light source project Diamond to the Rutherford Appleton laboratory was entirely wrong. However, we are where we are, and our concern is now to secure the future of the site because of the importance of the world-leading science that goes on there to the economy of the north-west.

In the early years, research at Daresbury was almost entirely physics based, but the dominant research disciplines are now biology and medicine; pure physics account for only 15 per cent. of research. The importance of the site can be seen from the fact that although 500 staff work there, the facilities are used by more than 5,000 scientists and engineers each year. The key to Daresbury’s future is the development of the science and innovation campus and the underpinning of that development by investment in world-leading science. One cannot exist without the other. Indeed, a master plan for the development of the campus is being put together, and there are plans to see new buildings grow from the innovation centre.

The vision for Daresbury over the next 25 years involves extending the scale and number of interactions between science, industry and employment on the campus. The link between universities, science and the development of new jobs is exactly what the Government tell us that they want to achieve. Although this country has been a world leader in science, we have never been as good at developing our scientific discoveries for the benefit of jobs and industry as a whole, but that is exactly what the campus at Daresbury seeks to achieve.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Manchester, we have the biggest single-site state university, and we have great universities at Liverpool and Lancaster. Through the Government’s university challenge, we have the chance to expand higher education in many of our community’s deprived areas. In my constituency, we will also see the development of the new Omega site for science and high-tech industries. However, such things must be underpinned by investment at Daresbury—they are all linked.

The economy of the north-west is heavily dependent on our science base. Major investment in sectors such as materials, aerospace, nuclear and biotech underpin regional development. The Northwest Regional Development Agency will invest more than £50 million in the Daresbury science and innovation campus over the next 10 years. That will give us a unique mixture of fundamental research facilities—the north-west universities will be involved—and commercially driven research and business growth. That is why the Sainsbury review highlighted Daresbury as an example of science and innovation driving collaboration and of investment that would drive regional economic growth.

As the Minister will be aware, the campus is home to more than 60 science and technology companies and more than 220 high-tech jobs. More than 95 per cent. of those companies are small and medium sized, and 40 per cent. are start-ups involving very young businesses. Our region’s future depends on using science to drive employment and growth so that we can provide well-paid, high-tech jobs to replace much of the low-paid employment that has been traditional in our region.

There is often a high level of interaction on the campus. There are already four joint developments and eight collaborative arrangements. However, I say to my
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hon. Friend the Minister—we are telling him what he already knows—that those arrangements must be underpinned by investment in world-leading science. The Cockcroft institute is a marvellous centre for accelerator science, which is jointly funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and our local universities. That is the kind of the collaboration that we want to encourage, but it can proceed only if we have the investment that we have asked for and if the Minister ensures that ALICE goes ahead and that any fourth-generation light source that is built is built at Daresbury.

This is a test of the Government’s commitment to the regions; it is a test of whether they want to end the disparities between the kinds of employment in the various regions. The north-west does extremely well in terms of investment from the private sector and universities, but it receives only about 3 per cent. of publicly funded research investment. That situation must end. We cannot have a situation in which much of our high-tech, leading science investment goes to the south of England, while the north and the north-west do not get their fair share. We have the world-leading scientists and we have the will to develop these projects. Today, we ask the Government to support us and to ensure that we get the investment that will keep us at the cutting edge of science so that we can develop our industries and so that our scientists and, most importantly, our young people have appropriate opportunities.

11.45 am

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) on securing the debate, and he is right to be so determined about pursuing the issue.

The key issue that we are debating is the future of the Daresbury science and innovation campus as a key centre of excellence for cutting-edge scientific research, and it is important to remember that that is the core point of our concern. Many of the highly successful activities on the Daresbury site are not in jeopardy, but our efforts must focus on ensuring that the centre remains one of international excellence for cutting-edge research. That is important if we are to ensure that we see developments nationally and internationally. The Daresbury laboratory has made magnificent contributions in that respect and is poised to do even more. It is also important to the north-west and to ensuring that we retain a high level of skills there, because those skills contribute to the north-west economy.

The debate takes place against the background of increasing regional disparities in investment in science and research. If we look at the figures for spending on science and technology in 2006-07, we see that the north-west received £26 per head, the south-east received £38 per head and London received £51 per head. The latest available figures for Government expenditure on research and development, for 2003, show that the north-west received £57 million, London received £258 million and the south-east received £635 million. That is not acceptable. What we are talking about today is providing much-needed support for a centre of scientific excellence, whose worth has been proved.

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When Lord Sainsbury opened the Daresbury science and innovation campus, he clearly said that he saw it, together with Harwell, as a centre of major excellence. He described Daresbury as one of two key centres of excellence, and that description has been repeated by Ministers since then. The key question is how their commitment will be shown in practice, given the current circumstances and uncertainty.

I take particular pleasure from the close links between Daresbury and Liverpool university. The laboratory’s first three directors came from the university’s physics department. Hon. Members have mentioned key internationally renowned personnel from Liverpool working at Daresbury, and I should add to the list the name of Professor Peter Weightman, from the university’s physics department, who is the chair of the scientific steering committee for the 4GLS project. I should also mention Professor John Dainton, the Chadwick professor of physics at the university, the founding director and chief scientist of the Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology. Indeed, it is the close collaboration between scientists, universities and business that makes what is happening at Daresbury so unique.

There has been great concern about the way, in the beginning, scientists at Daresbury, and, indeed, other scientists who it was thought had the relevant expertise, were kept away from the assessments of 4GLS. It is important to recognise what the international advisory committee on 4GLS and the new generation light sources and the ALICE project reported in February. That international, important and highly talented scientific group, of international repute, reported:

It said:

Then, in considering the ALICE project, it discussed the importance of keeping the core skills developed at Daresbury. In its conclusion it stated, significantly:

That conclusion is particularly important, and underlines why it is so critical that 4GLS or a successor project of comparable worth should go ahead at Daresbury.

We are now at a critical point, when decisions are to be made. The record of the Science and Technology Facilities Council on this matter has not been a happy one, but I hope that it is now better informed by the debates and new research. Would it be possible for the 4GLS project team at Daresbury to become members of the project board for the new light source? It is extremely important to re-emphasise that we are talking about excellence—excellent science and the excellent record of achievements that the Daresbury laboratory and campus already have. We seek assurances from the Minister that Daresbury will be able to continue at the cutting edge of international scientific research, and that 4GLS or a similar project will be able to go ahead at Daresbury.

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11.52 am

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I add my congratulations to those that have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), both for his steadfast support for the project and for bringing the debate to the House. As a member of the hideously named DIUS Select Committee I attended the Daresbury site earlier in the year. We found a demoralised scientific work force who were in despair as to whether the fourth generation light source would arrive. They believed that the world class library on which the fundamental research depended was going to close. They were in doubt about the future of ALICE and suffered further doubt on the basis that if ALICE goes EMMA goes. EMMA is the electron model for many applications for which ALICE is the particle source. That, in essence, is the bulk of the fundamental research that goes on at the site.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) mentioned the fact that only 3 per cent. of fundamental research goes on outside universities and outside the south-east; obviously, quite a lot goes on in universities. Most of that research is on the Daresbury site. The site will continue, and excellent science and technology will continue there, because of its applications and because computer modelling will go on. It is a great site. The real question for the Minister is whether fundamental science will go on, and whether Daresbury will be the one site outside the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London that will continue. If that is to happen, all the projects that I mentioned—ALICE, the library and the fourth generation light source—must continue there. From the information that I have had, I have doubts about whether that will happen.

Do the Government have a regional policy for science? Are they concerned about the dreadful figures? If they do have such a regional policy, what mechanisms will they use to ensure that the scientific community and the Science and Technology Facilities Council invest in the north of England? If the Government do not use their muscle and say, “We must have science at this site,” what the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) generously called the culture that pushes fundamental research into the golden triangle will continue. I do not think that it is culture. I think it is southern bigotry, and it should be taken on. What is the role of a Labour Government if it is not to say something when huge resources are being allocated throughout the country, with implications, as my hon. Friends have said, not only for how the relevant research is conducted, but for its relationship with the growth of the economy and education in the region?

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I apologise for being late, Mr. Martlew; I was at a meeting of the Select Committee of which I am Chairman. Perhaps I may add one more question for my hon. Friend to put to the Minister, given his experience some years ago, albeit in the chemical sector, in the north-west. What would be the impact of any reduction in the scientific centre in Daresbury on the science-based industry in the region? The use that companies such as Unilever make of Daresbury is incredibly important. It is part of the fabric of the region and is one reason why industry invests in the north-west.

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