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Research Careers

4. Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to promote careers in research. [227250]

The Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): The Government are currently looking at Professor Nigel Thrift's review of research careers in the UK, commissioned as part of the higher education debate launched earlier this year. We expect it to help in developing our approach to higher education and research careers in the longer term.

Phil Wilson: There has been a 100 per cent. pass rate in all science subjects among students at Woodham community technology college in my constituency. What is the Department doing to ensure that those young people’s fascination with science today turns into successful careers in science tomorrow?

Mr. Lammy: I applaud the work being done in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which places the institution to which he referred among the very best in the country. He is absolutely right: encouraging an ability in and an enthusiasm for science among young people is key to the country’s success in the coming years, and we are working closely with our colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families to achieve that. It is important that young adult scientists are returning to schools, and we are supporting that through our science and engineering ambassadors throughout the country. It is also important that we are supporting young people in those key stem subjects—chemistry, physics and mathematics—with an extra £15 million of investment over the next year.

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Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities in relation to science. Does he recognise the particular challenge involved in recruiting and retaining women in research careers? Given that they leave universities with high levels of debt, face a continuing pay gap and, indeed, publication gaps due to family commitments, and given that we are starting from a low base—especially in some areas—is there not a particular need for Government to give research councils and other employers the tools to enable us to do better by women in science? We need to retain their talents in research.

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He will, I hope, be aware of the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) to ensure that women are represented in science and engineering. Indeed, I did some work about that with my hon. Friend in my previous role as Minster with responsibility for skills. The Government have provided direct funding, including pilot funding, to encourage women in those spheres. We are also working with training organisations and trade bodies, particularly in engineering and science, to support women in their careers, including when they are on career breaks because we recognise that when women who have been trained and have an extensive science background leave work to have children, they often come back into science employment at a lower grade, or are unable to regain the positions that they left. We want to support the work of those organisations and trade bodies to ensure that those women are pioneers within science.

Scientific Research

5. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to improve public confidence in scientific research. [227251]

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): Earlier this year, when I addressed the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, I said that our ambition should be to go further than scientific literacy to a more mature relationship between the public, the media and scientists, where everyone understands each other. In particular, that means the public and the media maintaining the same healthy scepticism towards science that they do towards other information that they consume. We are currently consulting on a new vision for science and society, with a key strand focused on creating a society confident in the use of science. That will build on the good work that we already support such as funding the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank the Minister for that response. One of the less welcome consequences of the UK’s success in scientific research has been the increase in the number of animal experiments being carried out year on year. I welcome the fact that his Department has increased funding to look at alternatives to the use of animals in research, but can he assure the House that, as we seek to promote and support our scientific research sector, we will also try to ensure that that research is conducted as ethically and humanely as possible?

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Mr. Denham: Yes. I recognise the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed, which are quite widely held across society. We believe that there is potential to make advances in science and to reduce animal use. Some recent scientific advances, including tissue engineering, stem cell research and imaging technologies, have that potential. She will be aware that the Government have funded the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, or NC3Rs as it is known, which is the first centre of its type in the world. The two research councils will give £12.8 million to that centre over the coming three years.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Secretary of State will know that, in 2002, in a speech to the Royal Society, Tony Blair said:

The Secretary of State set out some recent things that the Government have done, but what did they do over that six-year period to renew that compact between science and society?

Mr. Denham: We did a number of things. The development of the sciencewise process meant that the Government increased not only their ability to consult with the public carefully and sensitively on controversial issues, but how to handle them. We were involved in encouraging the setting up of the science media centre, which is independent of Government, as it needs to be, and it has been critically important.

In some of the major issues, for example, the MMR vaccine case, one of the problems was that the media coverage lacked any independent source of scientific evidence. We all know that real damage was done by the way in which that issue was handled in the media. Since the science media centre has been in place, the quality of public debate has been much better. I refer hon. Members to the House’s recent discussions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, where the level of public and scientific understanding displayed was much higher. Therefore, I think that over a period of time a lot has been done by Government to improve things.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): One of the ways that we have attempted to build public confidence in scientific research has been through the development of partnership with the business community. As we are facing an economic turndown, one of the areas that we must protect is that research; we must ensure that our companies are at the cutting edge of technology. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department going to do to ensure that companies do not see saving on investment in research and development as one of the ways to save money, so that we keep our companies and our country at the cutting edge?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In “Innovation Nation”, the White Paper we published in the spring, we recognised the importance of Government procurement in creating the markets for innovative products and services. We will shortly publish the first annual innovation report, and Departments are currently actively working on their procurement planning and on identifying how they will create a demand for innovative products. We have also revamped the small
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business research initiative, and Departments are now starting to offer new contracts to small start-up businesses for developing innovative technologies. One of the ways we can respond, therefore, is by making sure that Government procurement money is used in ways that reward research and encourage people to bring new products to market.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): We were surprised to learn from The Guardian last Monday that, after 50 years of consistent Government policy in space research, the new Science Minister in the other place, who had been appointed on the previous working day, made a hasty multi-billion pound pledge to send UK astronauts into space. Does the Secretary of State agree with this policy U-turn, or is the new Science Minister speaking out of turn?

Mr. Denham: I am delighted to have Lord Drayson as a member of my team. His record both in business and in science as a Minister is outstanding. He made it clear in his interviews that his personal view, which he had expressed prior to being a Minister, was that we should join a manned space programme. The position of the Government, which he supports and understands, is that we have a review of— [Interruption.] We are currently setting out a review, and we established it for a good reason. Twenty years ago, Baroness Thatcher took the decision that this country should not participate in manned space flight. I have to say that I think that decision has stood the test of time, because while we were not participating in that programme we have become a world leader in satellite technology, robot-exploring devices and so forth. In the future, we will have to look at the issue of whether the opportunities that would come from participating in manned space flight now outweigh the other opportunities and costs of investment in other research areas. It is right that, 20 years on, we approach this with fresh minds, but there are no predetermined decisions.


6. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What progress has been made towards meeting the Government’s apprenticeship targets. [227252]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): The 2007-08 apprenticeships performance indicator of 75,000 framework completions has been met and exceeded early. with 112,000 people successfully completing an apprenticeship framework in 2006-07. Apprenticeship completion rates reached an all-time high in 2006-07 of 63 per cent. compared with 24 per cent. in 2001-02—and an effective rate of zero under the Tories. Apprenticeship starts have increased from 65,000 in 1996-97 to 184,000 in 2006-07. Expanding apprenticeships will play a key role in improving the nation’s skills base, and we plan to deliver more than 250,000 apprenticeship starts and 190,000 successful completions by 2020.

Simon Hughes: I welcome the Minister to his new job, and I wish him well in what is a very important responsibility. Following on from what was said on Questions 1 and 2, may I tell the Minister that many of the young people, and their families, in Southwark and
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Bermondsey would far rather they did apprenticeships than stay on at school to 16, let alone to 18? It is therefore important that we have good opportunities for work experience related to apprenticeships, and then good careers advice linked to real companies who are willing to take these young people on, if they are qualified to do the job. Can the Minister give me some assurance that there is a real—not a notional—opportunity for youngsters in construction and other industries who are clear about what they would like to do, but at present find it difficult to get the encouragement through their teenage years?

Mr. Simon: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious words of welcome. I had expected a few such words from my old friend from South Holland and The Deepings, who was in fact just mean to me before I even had a chance to stand up and reply, but I shall soldier on. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, of which the Government are cognisant. We have introduced junior apprenticeships to try to take the whole concept of apprenticeships down into school so as to introduce schoolchildren gently to the notion of what an apprenticeship is and how it works, and to put them on the pathway to one. A whole new framework of careers advice and guidance will be part of the new Bill that we hope will be forthcoming in the next few months.

I have looked up the figures and noted that the number of apprenticeship starts in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is quite low compared with the national figure. If he would like to come to talk to me about that at any point, I would be more than glad.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I too welcome my hon. Friend to his new post, and I certainly do not see him as a novice.

There are disproportionately more apprentices in England and Wales than in Scotland. Does my hon. Friend have any advice for the Scottish Government about how to rectify that unacceptable situation?

Mr. Simon: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words of welcome. Indeed, if I am a novice, it is overnight success after seven and a half years on the Back Benches.

As for Scotland, far be it from me to advise the Scots, but if I were a Scot I would support John Park’s proposed apprenticeship Bill in the Scottish Parliament. I would consider issues such as why apprentices get paid £40 in Scotland compared with £95 in England, and why the Scots have put all the apprenticeship budget into three sectors and abandoned the rest. I would be looking for answers to those questions in the Labour MSP John Park’s Bill.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on his promotion and on his new sartorial elegance, and I wish him every success in his important task. Does he agree that there is no more richly rewarding career than that of craftsman or craftswoman? We owe an enormous amount to the craftsmen of the past in the country. What are we doing to encourage young people to embrace a career in the crafts?

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Mr. Simon: We have now reached a situation in which everyone is being nice to me, and I am very grateful for yet another hon. Gentleman’s kind and gracious words of welcome. I can say only that my sartorial efforts, such as they are, like the hon. Gentleman’s are not so much a new fad as antique.

The bulk of my answer is the same as it was to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is absolutely right to say that learning craft skills from an early age is a way to encourage and develop a sense of the value of learning a craft, and of building or making something. That starts in schools and, more than ever in the context of a massively expanded, high-quality apprenticeship programme, there are junior apprenticeships in school. Young people are doing, in old-fashioned terms, woodwork and metalwork and really getting a love for the materials and the craft.

7. Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): What steps he is taking to increase the number of people successfully completing apprenticeship schemes. [227253]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): The number of adults and young people completing apprenticeships has almost trebled since 2001. The Government’s document “World-class Apprenticeships” confirmed our commitment to making apprenticeships a high-quality option for both young people and adults and set out steps to increase the numbers of people successfully completing an apprenticeship.

In the summer we published the draft Apprenticeships Bill to drive and help sustain improvements in the quality of the programme. That will be complemented by an increase in apprenticeships funding to more than £1 billion by 2010-11. Expanding apprenticeships will play a key role in improving the nation’s skills base and we plan to deliver more than 250,000 apprenticeship starts and 190,000 completions by 2020.

Ms Barlow: I welcome my hon. Friend to his new post, and I welcome the news of the increase in apprenticeships and completions. However, particularly in the hospitality and catering trade, some apprentices leave because of maltreatment by employers. My constituent Rosario Guarneri, in conjunction with City college Brighton, has developed a ground-breaking apprenticeship scheme that will, hopefully, address those issues and others. Will the Minister or a member of his team meet my constituent to discuss the matter?

Mr. Simon: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind personal words. The short answer to the end of her question is yes. The relevant Minister is the noble Lord Young, who I know is aware of this matter. He has agreed to meet the sector skills council, and has said he is very happy to meet her and her constituent. This sector is important: there are 14,500 starts made in the catering sector every year. In an apprenticeship, any mistreatment of employees by employers is unacceptable, and our new blueprint makes it very clear that a relationship of mutual respect between both parties is key. I am sure that Lord Young will do everything he can to ensure
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that this situation is rectified. My hon. Friend is a great champion of these matters and of her constituents, as we all know

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon). I also congratulate the Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), on his elevation—we can say that he now truly is PC.

My concern is that, in the present economic climate, the number of completed apprenticeships will fall, because fewer apprenticeships will be offered. Can the Under-Secretary give the House the figures on those who, having completed apprenticeships, are offered full-time, permanent jobs?

Mr. Simon: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words of welcome. I think that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) might be wishing he had been a little more gracious in the beginning.

Obviously, in economically straitened times there are pressures on this sector, just as there are everywhere. One of the things that we have done is to introduce, in the particularly pressed construction sector, a construction industry clearing house for apprenticeship places, so that as people are laid off, we can try to re-find such places for them. I do not have the specific figures on the placements that the hon. Lady wants, but I shall certainly write to her with them.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that Sheffield Forgemasters in south Yorkshire employs 70 apprentices, which is almost 10 per cent. of its total work force, and that the company has a record of taking on more than 90 per cent. of the apprentices who qualify? Does he agree that companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters are providing a best practice model for some of the bigger employers in the country in taking on apprentices?

Mr. Simon: I agree that Sheffield Forgemasters is an exemplary company. I know that my hon. Friend who is now Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property visited it when he was Skills Minister and was extraordinarily impressed by the outstanding work that he saw. I am thus happy to say from the Dispatch Box that the rest of the country should be looking to Sheffield Forgemasters for an example of how to do this brilliantly.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I am not going to be kind, because I expect Ministers to do a job. I want rights for apprentices who are working on building sites in England, because the way they are being treated is absolutely abominable. They are having to make themselves bogus self-employed. The situation is absolutely crazy—Siôn, sort it.

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