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8. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What progress his Department has made towards achieving its public service agreement targets on innovation. [205667]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Ian Pearson): We have just entered the period covered by the new public service agreement. Past trends indicate that good progress is being made. For instance, the latest UK innovation survey reports that 64 per cent. of UK businesses were active in innovation over the period between 2004 and 2006 and that there was a 19 percentage point like for like improvement over the six years before that. University interaction with business and other users has been increasing across a range of indicators, with support from Government programmes such as the Higher Education Innovation Fund. Our White Paper, “Innovation Nation”, sets out further policy commitments to help innovation flourish right across our economy and public services.

Tony Baldry: There must have been some reason why the Department started out being called the “Department for Innovation” apart from the fact that a Department called “DUS”—Department for Universities and Skills—would have sounded a bit dismal. I suppose “DIUS”
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has pretensions to sounding like a Greek god-like Department. I remain intrigued to know what Ministers are doing in practical terms to encourage inventiveness, ingenuity and innovation in constituencies like mine? What difference do the people of Banbury and Bicester see as a result of this Department being called one for “Innovation”?

Ian Pearson: We are indeed the Department for Innovation, and Dius is a minor Roman god for oaths—or, as someone once said, for swearing! As a Government Department, we are doing a great deal to encourage innovation across our economy. If the hon. Gentleman looked at “Innovation Nation”, our White Paper launched in March, he would see that, in addition to our new policy commitments, a range of activities are already under way. There is funding for the Technology Strategy Board, which will spend £1 billion over the next three years in collaboration with industry to stimulate innovation. We are doubling the number of knowledge transfer partnerships, enabling university researchers to work with companies on practical projects. There are new commitments in “Innovation Nation” to annual innovation procurement plans that every Department will produce, so that we can harness some of the £150 billion that we spend every year on encouraging innovation and developing more growth-oriented small businesses.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): The Sainsbury review is a stinging indictment of Government failure when it comes to innovation. It contains about 100 criticisms. I am sure that the Minister has read it. As for the Government’s response—the White Paper “Innovation Nation”—it appears to me to be an admission of guilt.

After talking for 10 years about public procurement innovation, the Minister said last week that we haven’t cracked it yet. On page 3 of the Sainsbury review, Lord Sainsbury says:

Does the Minister agree with his well-respected predecessor?

Ian Pearson: When I met David Sainsbury yesterday, he was very satisfied indeed with the progress that we are making in implementing the review’s recommendations. One of the things that we have done as a Government is establish a science and innovation framework from 2004 to 2014. We have made a policy commitment to funding the science budget at least in relation to the level of growth of the economy, which is why it will grow by 2.7 per cent. in real terms over the next three years.

The hon. Gentleman’s policy, as I understand it from the shadow Chancellor, is to share the benefits of growth. When the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), rises to ask his question, perhaps he will tell us either that he agrees with the shadow Chancellor, or by how much he wants to cut the science budget.

Topical Questions

T1. [205650] Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): Despite all the progress that we have made in the past decade, too many adults struggle with low or out-of-date skills. A third of employers do not train their staff, and 8 million workers go without training each year. We must tackle those skills challenges to secure a prosperous and fair Britain. Yesterday we signalled our intention to consult on a statutory new right to request time to train, which will allow millions of employees to start a conversation with their employers about how they can become more productive members of staff and enjoy better career prospects. We also believe that that will encourage employers to take up the increasing Government support for training programmes that is available to them.

Mr. Reed: The Secretary of State will know that for decades Cumbrian Labour Members have sought to establish a higher education institution in the county. Thanks to the Government, we now have the university of Cumbria, Britain’s newest university, which is being funded with more than £100 million. How can the Secretary of State help me to ensure that it meets the needs of local employers?

Mr. Denham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to yet another example of the Government’s commitment to investment in higher education. We have all been delighted with the establishment of the university of Cumbria. I suggest that my hon. Friend sit down with university staff to examine the document on higher-level skills that was produced a few weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education. It sets out all the different ways in which universities can work with local employers to develop foundation degrees, short courses and many other ways of working—full-time and part-time—which can ensure both that the university meets the needs of employers and, equally important, that my hon. Friend’s constituents who want to go to university have the chance to do so close to home, and to study a course that will make a real difference to their lives.

T2. [205651] Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Given that the national student survey is endorsed by the Government and funded by the taxpayer, what action will the Minister be taking to investigate the recent claims that records have been falsified?

Mr. Denham: I take those allegations very seriously. The evidence—such as it is—is that this is an isolated example of students apparently being encouraged to rate their institution more highly than they might have done unprompted, and I utterly condemn it. I know that the Higher Education Funding Council will take this matter very seriously. It is very important, not least to universities and students, that people can have full confidence in the national student survey, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that Ministers will want to make sure that action is taken should there be any breaches of the protocol.

T3. [205652] Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): In presenting the Government’s draft Queen’s Speech yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke about the
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importance of those who live in this country being able to speak English. I understood the point that the Secretary of State made earlier about it not being appropriate to provide English language tuition to everybody who happens to live in the UK, but there is real concern about the level of fees for ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—courses and the potential of that to discourage and disadvantage those who are established in the UK. Will the Secretary of State keep the effect of these fees under review, and will he make sure that they do not have an adverse impact on such individuals and on community cohesion?

Mr. Denham: Of course we will keep the level of those fees under review and look at what happens. It is important to say, however, that the ESOL budget has trebled since 2001, and we expect it to rise in real terms over the course of the comprehensive spending review. This whole exercise is about making sure that ESOL reaches those who need it most. A further consultation is currently under way on the suggested principle that, where areas have to set priorities, they should prioritise long-term residents with a commitment to this country who make the biggest impact on community cohesion, rather than transitory migrant workers who may not be here in a year or two.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the recent Foreign Office decision to cut massively the support that it offers students from other countries through Chevening and Commonwealth scholarships. Was the Secretary of State consulted in advance on that Foreign Office proposal, does he accept that it has caused widespread concern among our universities, and will he urge the Foreign Office to reopen this decision, which is harming the international links of our universities?

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): We are discussing this matter with the Foreign Office. It is part of the Foreign Office’s process of focusing on its key strategic priorities, such as climate change, security and counter-terrorism. Notwithstanding that, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is maintaining a global programme with a particular focus on countries such as China and India that are of real long-term importance to the UK, and the FCO expects more than 900 Chevening scholarships by 2008-09, so this is still a substantial programme. Nevertheless, I am talking to the Foreign Office about this matter.

T4. [205653] Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The chemical industry in Teesside is booming, thanks to the policies pursued by this Government, and there are many major investments and new projects in the pipeline. When I met industry representatives recently, they expressed concern about a shortage of engineers, certainly in the northern region. They estimated that we needed 13,000 engineers by 2015. What are the Government doing to tackle this shortage and to meet this demand in the future?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. The Government are doing a number of things already. We have reformed the training system through Train to Gain, so it should be easier for employers to
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influence the provision in local colleges to meet the needs of these industries. We have developed a national skills academy with the process industries, to make sure that we have the right infrastructure of training. Also, as we have discussed, it is now much easier for companies to work with universities to develop appropriate courses and degrees. Having said all that, we recognise that there are industries that are vital to the future of this country and that can project a clear need for skills in the future, and we must look at those key sectors and make sure that the training system is organised to meet their needs. I will be coming to Teesside in, from memory, early June, and perhaps I will have an opportunity to discuss some of these issues locally with the industry and my hon. Friend.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Secretary of State welcomed the establishment of the university of Cumbria, which means that the administrative county of Somerset is the last in the country not to have a university. Somerset has some university courses, which are administered by Yeovil college and others, but no university. In the light of what he said to the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed), does he believe that there is a strong case for a university in Somerset?

Mr. Denham: There may well be, but I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to take a leading role in responding to the new university challenge because the new university centres will go to the places that can put the best case locally to show that they have the capacity to deliver higher education, that it will contribute to the local economy and that it will open up opportunities for participation in higher education that would not otherwise exist. Ultimately, it will not be for me to say that Somerset should have a university, but I encourage people such as him, who think that the potential is there, to get working with partners at local level and be ready to put the case forward when the Higher Education Funding Council opens the process later this year.

T5. [205654] Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Do Ministers accept the urgency of the need for us all to live our lives more sustainably? What are they doing to ensure that higher education and further education institutions help to raise levels of awareness and application of sustainable development?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I shall point out three things. The further education capital programme of £2.3 billion, which I announced a few weeks ago, will be for new projects. They will all have to meet the new higher green standards that will be published in July, which will give us as high a standard of sustainability as any part of the public sector building programme. HEFC, too, is agreeing to ensure that its capital programme contributes to meeting the reduction in its carbon footprint necessary for the Government to meet their expected carbon budgets.

We are actively discussing with the Association of Colleges, Universities UK and others how we can work with them and with students to ensure that we achieve the reduction in carbon emissions right across the further and higher education estate that will be needed. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue, but we are very active on it and I look forward to his support.

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Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) about the e-Merlin project at Jodrell Bank in our respective constituencies? While accepting the point about the funding councils, will the Government acknowledge that this is not only a national but an international centre of excellence for astrophysics? It is vital that its valuable work, which greatly benefits the science and technology base in this country, is encouraged to continue and to expand.

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Ian Pearson): The hon. Lady is right to highlight the internationally recognised experience at the university of Manchester, which owns Jodrell Bank. As has been said, decisions on the e-Merlin project are very much a matter for the Science and Technology Facilities Council. In accordance with the Haldane principles, it would be wrong for Ministers to interfere with that process. That body will probably be making decisions in early July. It has already indicated that the e-Merlin project is part of its future strategy for radio astronomy, which involves exciting projects such as the square kilometre array and, potentially, the extremely large telescope. Radio astronomy has a very bright future in the United Kingdom, and the Government are committed to continuing to support it.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): Tomorrow, the Bishop of London will celebrate 100 years of the Bishop Creighton House settlement in Fulham, which was founded by his distinguished predecessor. Bishop Creighton House, which is led by Rory Gillert, and Hammersmith and Fulham volunteer centre, led by Marion Schumann, are two of the most successful volunteer agencies in London, but volunteering requires money for infrastructure, training and development. Given the appalling cuts in voluntary sector funding by Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham council, what more can the Government do to support these outstanding institutions?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): I think that all in London are disappointed and astounded by some of the cuts that are being made in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I am pleased that my Department has been able to extend the Train to Gain programme, which is £1 billion-worth of investment, to volunteers. We have done so to ensure that volunteers with the right skills are able to play an active role in their communities, and I hope that those who wish to do so will be able to move on to jobs. I am also pleased that the Learning and Skills Council supports programmes for volunteers in his constituency, including the Torch project at the Lyric theatre. We will continue to do all we can against the backdrop of cuts that he describes.

T6. [205655] Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend make a statement on the proposed motion from some university and college unions calling for an academic boycott of Israel?

Bill Rammell: The Government are completely opposed to such a boycott, which will harm rather than help moves towards peace and reconciliation in the middle east. It is significant that the motion before this year’s
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University and College Union falls well short of calls for an outright boycott. I think that that is because the proposers of the motion know that there is no widespread support for that among UCU members. Both Israel and the occupied territories contain both progressives and reactionaries, and the problem with boycotts is that they make the job of progressives much more difficult and entrench the position of the reactionaries.

T7. [205656] Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): The young apprentice programme run by Jo Heavens at New college in Swindon has been a stunning success and changed the lives of many young people, as my right hon. Friend saw for himself a few weeks ago. Does his Department have any plans to expand young apprenticeship schemes, given yesterday’s announcements, as well as 18-plus and adult apprenticeships?

Mr. Denham: Yes, we do. I was delighted to go to Swindon and meet the young apprentices. There are remarkable success stories around the country of young people who have started an apprenticeship programme at 14 or 15 before they leave school, doing three days a week at school, a day in the workplace and a day at college. If such schemes are well run, they are hugely motivating for the young people. We want to see that provision expanded, and a significant expansion in apprenticeship starts for those over 16 and older workers. Our aspiration is that in a few years’ time, one in five young people—far more than today—will have a chance to do an apprenticeship. I hope that many of those will have the chance to get their first exposure to a young apprenticeship—as my hon. Friend’s constituents do in Swindon—as it is highly motivating.

T8. [205657] Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Stockport college of further education has received £69 million of Government cash to build a new state-of-the-art town
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centre campus, and the college and its leadership were rated as outstanding in a recent Ofsted report. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Peter Roberts, the principal, the staff and students on achieving such excellent results?

Mr. Denham: I am delighted to offer my congratulations to everybody at the college who has been involved in the building programme and in achieving such excellent educational outcomes. There are some fantastic things going on in further education. My hon. Friend’s college has benefited by £60 million, but 10 years ago the national budget for FE college capital programmes was zero. Earlier this week I was able to visit another part of the country, Crewe and Nantwich—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”]—where an FE college is being built, at the expense of £60 million, so that area too will benefit.

T9. [205658] Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): We heard earlier about apprenticeships. Some 150,000 new apprenticeships will be created, with Government support, and that has to be welcomed. However, we also heard disappointment about the Scottish Executive rationing apprenticeships—they have slashed modern adult apprenticeships by 80 per cent. Does the Minister share my concern that unless the Scottish Executive act now, Scotland will lack appropriately skilled people to fill the gaps left by 1 million people leaving the Scottish labour market in the next 10 years?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right. In 1997, there were only 75,000 apprenticeships on this side of the border, and many of us looked to Scotland, which still had an apprenticeship base. It is deeply worrying to see SNP colleagues now rationing and downgrading apprenticeships and, potentially, jeopardising the prospects of young people in Scotland. This is a devolved matter, but we take apprenticeships very seriously—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that we had better finish.

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