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22 Jun 2010 : Column 266

Those investors have choices: they do not have to choose the United Kingdom or, indeed, Europe, as other markets are becoming increasingly attractive. France and Germany-in fact, nearly all our major competitors-have taken tough measures to sort out their public finances, and make their economies strong and attractive to future investors. We would weaken the chances of prosperity for our children if we did not do the same.

As the Chancellor noted, we need to increase the incentives to work. Welfare costs under the Labour Government rose by nearly 40 per cent., but there are still more than 5 million people on out-of-work benefits. Youth unemployment is a massive problem-1.4 million people under 25 are unemployed-and Labour's spending to alleviate poverty failed, and has fractured society. Many people thought that the previous Government built barriers based on welfare payments that disincentivised individuals from finding a job. At the same time, those who are working pay more in tax, but why should they work hard to do the right things for themselves, their communities and their families when people who choose not to do so seemingly have everything that they do? It is a terrible disincentive.

I am a bit of a supply-side economist. I do not like tax rises, but anyone who looks at our structural deficit will understand that we need to remove as much of it as we can as quickly as possible. I will swallow my pride on the capital gains tax rise, but I note that it is a voluntary tax-people can sit on their hands and not realise the value of their shares, their property or whatever it might be. I certainly welcome the cuts in corporation tax, but I accept that the cuts in departmental budgets will be tough. I suggest that there is a great deal of waste to remove, especially from middle and upper management in some Departments. I recently received a letter from a constituent who works for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, who said that the directors, who were all based in the Bristol headquarters, travelled to Edinburgh for meetings, for no reason other than that it was a nice place to go.

Toby Perkins: The hon. Gentleman is raising an issue that many of his colleagues have raised, and said that somehow under a Labour Government there was profligate, wasteful spending that could easily be tidied up- [ Interruption. ] They all agree, and I am glad to hear it. Why, therefore, have the Government cut not that wasteful spending but the future jobs fund, thus pulling the rug from under the economic recovery? Why has the Sheffield Forgemasters loan been cut? Why do they not cut this waste, rather than all the things that will hit the poorest people most?

Chris Heaton-Harris: If only we had the money to spend on some of those projects, it would be wonderful but, unfortunately, your party spent it all. If you live in Northamptonshire, you can see areas-

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle) rose-

Chris Heaton-Harris: I should have said the hon. Gentleman's party.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Thank you for that. We have to make sure that we are in order.

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Chris Heaton-Harris: I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am new to the conventions of the House.

People who live in Northamptonshire see some parts of government where costs could be removed. Something that I hope will be looked at in the spending review is the cost of quangocracy. I am not against all quangos-some do a good job-but the money spent and the powers wielded by many non-departmental public bodies could, and should, reside with locally elected officials. The budget for those bodies in 2009 was a massive £46.5 billion, although the TaxPayers Alliance pitches the figure a bit higher.

To give a quick example, someone who lives in Daventry in my constituency has a good district council and a county council, but they also have the west Northamptonshire joint planning unit, which tries to impose housing plans and which, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) outlined, local people absolutely do not want. They also have the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation-there is also a North Northamptonshire Development Corporation-the East Midlands Development Agency and the Government office for the east midlands. All those quangos do roughly the same thing, so I very much welcome the announcement in the Budget-on page 31 of the Red Book-of local enterprise partnerships, which could lead to excellent consolidation in that field.

One quango that I would very much like to see examined is the National Policing Improvement Agency. Set up in 2007, it now has a budget of more than £500 million. I suggest that those who, like me, are facing cuts in their local police forces, look at the report on that agency, because it is not worth the money.

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I certainly welcome the measures on encouraging small businesses-

7 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.


Fuel Duty Regulator

7 pm

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I have a petition from my constituent Erica MacDonald of the Isle of Lewis, who has raised her concerns about the effects of disproportionate petrol and diesel costs under successive Governments.

The petition states:

a rural fuel duty derogation-

22 Jun 2010 : Column 269

Health Protection Agency (Porton)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Mr Dunne.)

7.1 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to bring the issue of Porton Down's future to the House this evening.

My purpose in requesting this debate is to highlight the critical role that the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response plays in the life of this country, and to raise the question whether the current outline business case that the chief executive and board of the Health Protection Agency have put before the Department of Health to move the CEPR to a site in Harlow is right for the country's public health needs and right for many of my constituents who work at Porton.

First, it may interest colleagues to know that Porton Down came into being almost 100 years ago, as a response to the horrific chlorine attacks on allied soldiers during the first world war. The institution has been active and working for almost 100 years. It was a chemicals research centre in 1916. In 1930 it became the Chemical Defence Experimental Station, and in 1940 it began looking at biological warfare and carrying out experimental investigations into anthrax.

The current CEPR building was built between 1948 and 1951 and named the microbiological research department. Thirty years later it became the Public Health Laboratory, and subsequently it split from the Ministry of Defence facility at Porton Down, now the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, which is co-located next door.

In 1993 Porton became an independent agency of the Department of Health, and in 2003 it became one of the founder establishments of the Health Protection Agency, being renamed the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response. Now co-located on site with DSTL, it is treated as one site by the Health and Safety Executive. DSTL provides a back up of containment level 4 laboratories for the highest microbiological risks. The work at Porton is complex, involving the study of dangerous pathogens of humans, animals and plants. They can be a major threat to public health and include anthrax, swine flu and foot and mouth.

Porton is a world leader for examining diseases that spread rapidly: for example, insect-borne diseases such as West Nile fever and malaria spreading to new areas. It is a world-class centre for translational research that helps to ensure that new discoveries are developed and translated from the mind of the scientist into real benefits of tested medicines for patients. It routinely works with partners to develop tuberculosis vaccines and vaccines for whooping cough, meningitis and anthrax. Porton has the biggest TB group in Europe. It also has an aerosol delivery function using specialist equipment.

The CEPR is routinely asked to do work by the US Government, as it is one of very few centres in the world with the capability and experienced staff to carry out that work. Through its work, Porton manufactures Erwinase, a drug developed there for the treatment of childhood leukaemia, estimated to save 1,400 lives annually. It has the rare capability to manufacture emergency vaccine in response to emerging disease threats. Porton
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receives a massive amount of its funding-between 70% and 80%-from the work that it does for academia and Governments overseas.

I wish to make the point that the CEPR at Porton Down has been very long established in my constituency, and it does critical work that is vital to this nation and to the world. However, I am a reasonable man, and if I felt that the proposed move was in the best public interests of the country as a whole, I would have to concede reluctantly and accept the proposals that have been tabled. I do not believe that that is the case.

On the day when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has indicated that future capital spending should be prioritised on those items of expenditure that give "significant economic returns", and at a time when £1 in every £4 is being borrowed, why has the option of allowing more operational autonomy for the CEPR not been examined carefully? It is my contention that the best way to maintain excellent service for the public health needs of the country, while achieving cost-effective solutions, is not to spend the estimated £400 million on a move to Harlow when the financial benefits set out in the outline business case would accrue after 60 years. I believe that a cheaper solution exists, whereby the risks of investment can be shared with a new co-operative led by experienced Porton-based scientists who are keen to take on the challenge of building new revenue streams from the US Government and academia while maintaining their vital commitments as an HPA establishment.

Let me move on to the background behind the outline business case proposing a move to Harlow. In 2008, the previous Government announced a major funding initiative-Project Chrysalis, a rebuilding programme to update the facilities at Porton, which was, I acknowledge, much required. Then, in October 2009, out of the blue, a proposal for Terlings Park in Harlow emerged as a option. Then, in January 2010, a new preferred option emerged-the GlaxoSmithKline New Frontiers site in Harlow. Now, the outline business case is being pushed through.

Project Chrysalis has already spent about £10 million on the plans for the rebuild at Porton Down on an site adjacent to the current one. It has been ongoing, assessed and developed over two years. The move to the GSK site in Harlow has been considered only since January this year, and it is thought that the project team is still undertaking assessment of the site. There is therefore significant cause for concern that insufficient information is available to substantiate a compelling business case to make this decision. The £85 million that was budgeted for the moving costs has not been fully scrutinised, and it is likely significantly to understate the true costs of the work required. The GSK site currently undertakes neuroscience research, and the laboratories are mainly chemistry-type labs that are not suitable for easy conversion to the sort of work that is undertaken at the CEPR. At so many levels, the move does not make sense.

Some questions need to be asked about the proposed move to Harlow. As there is to be a break of synergy with the DSTL, which is immediately adjacent to the CEPR at Porton, will it be acknowledged that the new CL4 lab in Harlow, which is to be the same size as the one formerly proposed for the new build at Porton, will cost more in reality? There will be no benefits from having a similar lab next door, as we do at Porton, because there will be nothing next door. What costing and risk assessment has been undertaken with respect
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to the travel arrangements between Porton and the densely populated town of Harlow?

Has the planning process to allow the construction of such sensitive facilities, where such difficult work is undertaken, been examined? During any proposed transition, staff will need to be trained on both sites in both CL4 labs to ensure that there is no interruption during a national emergency. How will that be achieved initially and kept workable if the CEPR is in Harlow, when I am told that up to 80% of the experienced scientists do not want to move? Has a skills availability assessment been made as part of the outline business case?

What functional dependencies exist with other agencies of the HPA? It is my contention that although their technologies may be similar, the functions of the different HPA agencies are very different. Does the outline business case set out explicitly the financial business case for the co-location of the different agencies of the HPA? The head of the CEPR has said to me that the detailed synergies have not been worked out yet, but it seems that the logic for the business case relies on the notion that all the HPA agencies can be brought together at some time in the future. He also said that potential synergies would be looked for, but they have not been established yet. At a time when every penny counts and the health budget is facing severe pressure, why should we back a move in relation to which the co-location potential and synergies will be "looked for"? Furthermore, if co-location is such a panacea for the operational effectiveness of the HPA, can it be confirmed whether the costs of moving the other HPA agencies from Chilton and Colindale to Harlow have been worked out? When are those moves likely to take place?

Having visited Porton, I am unsure of what overlap there really is. There is the possibility of some animal facilities being shared with the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, and that some microbiology labs may also be shared. However, any sharing is not really possible, and money cannot be saved, until all agencies are on the same site, and there are no plans in sight for that to happen. Currently, the plans are therefore notional, uncosted and unproven. If the proposed move goes ahead, it will break up translational research-that is, scientists taking stuff from the desk to tested medicine. Manufacturing will remain at Porton, but the key translational function will be lost.

It remains my contention that the proposed Harlow move has not been properly thought through. The benefits of co-location had not been mentioned before the first Harlow site came on the scene, so opportunistic were the uncosted arguments for co-location. The well- intentioned arguments to move the Porton Down facility to Harlow have not taken into account the opportunity that exists for Porton to generate its own income and increase its own revenue. That should be explored before the Government back a move to Harlow, which would be expensive, is unproven and would put at risk the unique, world-class facility that we have been operating successfully at Porton.

The CEPR has its own funding stream from royalties from various vaccines, and it is almost self-sufficient. To upgrade its facilities, it would need help only with capital costs, which it could repay if given the operational freedoms that I have suggested. It has unique synergies with the defence establishment next door. Eighty per cent. of the work force would not like to move. It is
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important when working in those high containment laboratories to have experienced staff-their combined experience stretches back over many hundreds of years. If those people will not move, the challenge to the public health of this country is significant, putting it at risk.

7.15 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) for being utterly decent in giving me a couple of minutes to respond, given our conflicting constituency interests. It is much appreciated.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would expect me to seek investment in Harlow-I am the local Member of Parliament. However, that view is not just mine; it is also that of the Health Protection Agency. Its board concluded that, for pure cost-effectiveness and value for money, the HPA must move to Harlow. The foreword to its "Outline Business Case" states:

What are the facts? We know that the 50-year-old site in Porton Down is rapidly approaching the end of its life and that it would be expensive to refurbish-it would cost almost the same as buying the GSK facility, and offers little strategic value. We know that the option of staying at Porton Down was fully considered in the business case and rejected on the ground of poor value for money. We know that GSK will sell its Harlow facility to the HPA for 30% cheaper than the construction cost, so moving to Harlow is a bargain for the taxpayer. We also know that there are strategic benefits for the HPA in Harlow-the London-Cambridge corridor is the heart of biomedical research in the UK. Moving closer to its north London facilities will ultimately save HPA money because it can substantially reduce its overheads. Moving to Harlow would increase the HPA's capacity. The economic benefits have been assessed as "in excess of £100 billion" over the lifetime of the new site.

For the record, I must say that GlaxoSmithKline is a huge local employer in Harlow, and that it recently announced up to 1,000 redundancies. Unemployment in my town is already the highest in west Essex. Sadly, some estates in Harlow are among the most deprived in Britain, but the investment would transform economic prospects in Harlow.

The 50-year-old site in Porton Down is too expensive to repair. We have a good deal in Harlow, and we must take it. The huge regeneration that it would bring to the town is desperately needed, but I urge my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health to base the decision primarily on the business case and value for money.

7.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker-I do not think I have stood at the Dispatch Box with you in the Chair, so it is a pleasure to be here this evening.

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