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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 4 June 2013

[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

Vocational Education

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Swayne.)

9.30 am

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): On this sunny morning, it is a real joy to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray, and I hope that our expectation of great chairmanship will be delivered by the end of the sitting.

Tomorrow is vocational qualifications day, so this debate is particularly timely. That annual celebration of vocational qualifications is organised by the Edge Foundation and quite properly supported by all political parties and, most importantly, by colleges, training providers and awarding bodies. Celebrations and events will be held around the country, with outstanding achievements being recognised through VQ learner and employer awards. By celebrating learners and employers, VQ day recognises that the relationship between them, supported by providers, is crucial if we are to deliver effective vocational learning that meets the needs of both employers and the economy.

I have been struck by the number of individuals and organisations that have contacted me to say that they are extremely interested in today’s debate, including Cambridge Assessment, Clive Wilson—Franklin College’s excellent associate principal—the Association of Colleges, the National Grid, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Pearson, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, the Prince’s Trust, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Union of Students, McDonald’s and the Science Council.

That avalanche of interest is all the more amazing for the consistency with which those different organisations have raised the key issues for setting the landscape fair for vocational education in future. I can identify four broad concerns: first, the need for vocational education in key stages 4 and 5 to be placed in a broad and balanced curriculum offer; secondly, the importance of careers information, advice and guidance being impartial and linked to the economy’s needs; thirdly, the role of apprenticeships; and finally, the challenge of reskilling adults, particularly those who have become workless. Let me take each in turn.

The first issue is about all students having access to a vocational offer within a broad and balanced curriculum. Edge states a bold vision that I hope we can embrace. It has stated that it wants

“an education system where people discover all their talents achieve excellent results and are better prepared for apprenticeships, higher education and work”.

In my opinion, having worked hard to lead a college in delivering improving progression outcomes for students year on year, secondary education in 2010 had arrived at a positive place. That was largely down to the practical

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good sense of school and college leaders, exam boards and employers, working together within a largely stable framework set by the Government.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I apologise for being late, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate. For many years in Northern Ireland, it was them and us—it was the industry and educationists—but over the past couple of years, the two sides have come together, which encourages young people and helps them to get the skill base that is essential. Does he agree that that is certainly one way to achieve what he wants?

Nic Dakin: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about employers and educationists coming together to set an agenda, which can be very powerful in liberating young people and delivering on their potential.

Through a focus on personalised learning, student achievement was being raised and student progression to work and higher education improved. Such personalisation of learning is important. Through the flexible use of BTEC firsts and BTEC nationals, as well as similar qualifications, general vocational qualifications were finding a place alongside GCSEs and A-levels, which led to students achieving more at both 16 and 18. Most importantly, progression into employment and higher education, though not perfect, was strong and improving.

Interestingly, a new study by London Economics shows that a higher proportion of students who do a BTEC and a degree end up in work than those who do straight A-levels and a degree. The research also shows the highly vocationalised HE choices of ex-BTEC students, particularly in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and business finance. Across all regions, BTEC graduates in skilled occupations earn more than their contemporaries. The curriculum we had in 2010 is therefore delivering results for us today. Even the ill-fated diploma spawned the engineering diploma, which has been fêted by engineering employers and HE providers for placing industry in the curriculum driving seat, thereby delivering for young people and the economy, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) has pointed out.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing in this Chamber a very important debate, which every one of us can relate to our own constituencies. Does he agree that one important opportunity in engineering at the moment is for young girls and young ladies? It is a job not only for young men, but for ladies and girls. There has been an example of that in Northern Ireland, with more young girls—and young people—being involved and wanting to do engineering. Should more be done to promote that among the female part of the population?

Nic Dakin: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Many good projects are in place to get girls into engineering, and they must continue to be supported. I noticed in the information sent out by the National Grid how much it stresses the importance of bringing more women into engineering. After all, that covers 50% or so of the potential talent pool, so we need women engineers to help to drive forward the economy.

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I hope that the Government, in their consultation to reform vocational qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds, listen to the wise counsel of the Association of Colleges and others, who caution against a rigid approach to routes that divide qualifications and young people into particular outcomes. The AOC’s Martin Doel has made the point well:

“Currently students can choose a mix of qualifications: they can study an A level alongside a substantial vocational qualification. We are concerned that separate ‘routes’ which segregate qualifications into pre-determined categories will restrict student choice.”

Edge’s insights are also helpful. It has argued:

“Vocational education is often presented as suitable for the 50% of young people who don’t go to university. Young people who do well in academic subjects are systematically steered away from vocational options. This is wrong: it limits choice. All young people should experience academic, artistic, technical, practical and vocational learning as part of a broad and balanced 14-18 curriculum which leads to an overarching diploma at 18.”

The overarching diploma sounds like Labour’s excellent tech bacc initiative, which the party is sensibly consulting on, and which forms part of the ongoing work of Labour’s skills taskforce, chaired by Professor Chris Husbands. By contrast, the Government are in danger of rushing out their alternative tech bacc without sufficient thought and planning, on a time scale that risks endangering the principle of developing a sound alternative for the forgotten 50%.

The Government would do well to listen to organisations such as Edge, which has a track record of engaging successfully with employers in delivering change through their university technical college programme and other initiatives, but, sadly, listening is not one of the Government’s strong points. They turn a deaf ear to those who speak with experience and knowledge, and instead assert that they, the Government—many of them have never worked outside policy think-tanks or media bubbles, and never worked in the real world—know best, even when confounded by the evidence. They pooh-pooh the evidence and press on regardless with their curriculum vandalism. A prime example is their insistence on imposing their narrow key stage 4 EBacc and the limited number of facilitating A-levels, set in a nostalgic image of 1950s grammar schools. Even today, The Times reports that these curriculum vandals are planning to replace GCSEs—a well understood and recognised brand—with something called “I-levels”. Will they never learn?

Before the Minister splutters that to criticise such a direction of travel is to accept lower standards and to become globally uncompetitive, let me assure him that it is not. Wanting high standards is a given across the parties; they are what we all want for our young people. Such an aim is not negotiable. Ironically, the Government’s deafness to evidence and their rejection of the common-sense approach of building on what they inherited in 2010 imperil the high standards that they say they seek. If there is any doubt about that, just reread the Education Committee’s excellent report on the EBacc.

The second area of universal concern was the state of careers education, information, advice and guidance. Again, the Select Committee did some excellent work in exposing the disastrous impact that the Government’s policy has sometimes had on that area. In our debate

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on the Select Committee’s report in this Chamber last month, it was clear that MPs across the House shared its concerns, but are the Government listening? I fear not. The AOC points out that good advice and guidance is crucial to helping young people make the right choices, and it draws attention to the perverse incentives in the current system that allow new schools to be established even where there is an over-supply of places, which is madness. As it points out, that militates against the provision of truly independent information, advice and guidance, because such advice might, for example, encourage a young person to consider other options than simply staying in the sixth form and doing A-levels.

The National Grid, and other such employers, recognises the value of work experience. It is disappointed that it is no longer a statutory requirement for schools in key stage 4. It says:

“We would urge policy makers to ensure that pre-16 students do get the opportunities to see industry at first hand—particularly STEM based occupations.”

The Federation of Small Businesses calls for a significant programme of careers education from early on in a young person’s education. As Edge says, a show-and-tell approach to careers is badly needed. Starting in primary schools, young people should meet and visit a wide variety of employers, apprentices, further education colleges, training providers and universities. They should also go to events such as the skills show in Birmingham, which has skills competitions, exhibitions and “have a go” areas.

Interestingly, we have just completed an employer-led investigation into the skills needs of the Humber, which I chaired on behalf of the Humber local enterprise partnership. The report, “Lifting the Lid: the Humber Skills Challenge”, will be published on Thursday. Two of the most significant concerns are the quality of careers education, information, advice and guidance and the lack of overriding priority given to teaching those essential employability skills. Why do the Government not rectify that by giving the resource, capacity and capability to LEPs to make the improvements that are badly needed to ensure that the education service delivers what local employers need both now and into the future? That is a way to deliver through City Deals what is needed and to allow city region leaders to make things happen. Why not go further and let LEPs commission Ofsted to do area-wide inspections of the teaching of employability skills in their areas? That would be localism in action and would directly empower employers and reward positive engagement between employers, education and training providers in a locality.

The third thing on which everyone agrees is that apprenticeships provide a significant work-based training opportunity as part of the vocational offer. The National Union of Students underlines the relationship between good impartial careers information, advice and guidance and the uptake of apprenticeships. It says:

“If more people are to be encouraged to enter higher level apprenticeships then work must be done to raise the profile amongst those responsible for delivering IAG.”

Both the previous Government and the current one have done some good work in developing and strengthening the apprenticeship brand, but, as Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment points out, what is really needed is a strong focus on revitalising the classical apprenticeship. The

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Richard review represents a strong step in the right direction, and Labour’s skills taskforce interim report is right to take the matter further. It says:

“Apprenticeships need to be longer, more rigorous and focused on the skills that will take our economy forward.”

The Work Foundation is right to recommend that Government should seek to persuade all large employers to sign an agreement to offer high-quality apprenticeships. There is an important leadership role to be played by employers’ organisations such as the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce to encourage even more employers to come forward and get involved.

In the Humber, we also identified a possible leadership role for the LEP not only in championing apprenticeships, but in considering establishing an apprenticeship training agency or an apprenticeship hub to support more small and medium-sized enterprises to take on apprentices.

In the quite understandable rush for robust higher level apprenticeships, there is a real danger of unintended consequences. We need to be alert to the concerns of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which says that

“it is imperative that the overall framework remains the same in order to provide stability and consistency for users.”

Furthermore, if access to level 2 apprenticeships is swept away, we risk leaving a significant gap for the almost 50% of youngsters who do not achieve the progression benchmark of five A* to C grades with maths and English to access level 3 programmes. Currently, they can access work-based training through that route.

Jim Shannon: Are we not in danger of leaving some people behind? I am talking about those who perhaps do not have the educational skills but who have the hand skills. It is important that we bring on those people as well. What opportunities can we give such people to enable them to reach high levels of achievement as well?

Nic Dakin: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on the button. I am sure the Government will think through this matter carefully, because it is an area where further thought is needed.

Around 350,000 learners are currently on entry level and level 1 and 2 courses in colleges. The number of students seeking those sorts of courses will rise with the raising of the participation age. Serious thought needs to be given to how to give them the best work-based training options in the future. One option might be to look at developing longitudinal traineeships—the Minister is keen on championing traineeships—that can be matched to longer-term vocational training when considered as part of 16-to-19 study programmes. It would also be sensible to consider how the model might be extended into employment for those who are ready for work, but who are not academically able to access level 3 apprenticeships. If level 2 apprenticeships are no longer available, there needs to be funded flexibility in approach to support young people into meaningful, sustainable work through the traineeship brand.

The final area of concern relates to adult reskilling, particularly when trying to support and encourage people out of worklessness into employment. The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, which has a long history of success in this arena, makes a strong

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argument for allowing flexibility and bite-sized learning to be funded in a way that supports learners and employers. More than anything else it believes that

“adult vocational qualifications need to be recognised by learners and employers as well as providing flexibility in terms of design and credit accumulation. There is no doubt that the current levels of learning are not well understood; there is also no doubt that A-levels and degrees have better recognition even though they may not be fully understood. Our work with learners, employers and providers has shown that the unitised and credit accumulation approach which the QCF allows is powerful in helping people get into work and to improve their skills.”

In addition, it is clear that vocational skills delivery for the unemployed requires much more effective join-up between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions. There have been improvements to the delivery, and the Government should be congratulated on them, but there need to be more. The divide between those who are on the Work programme and those who are the responsibility of Jobcentre Plus does not encourage the development of the holistic, collaborative, personalised programmes that are needed to get people into sustainable employment. There remain silly barriers to accessing training, whereby people’s benefit receipts can cease prior to their securing work even when appropriate training is being followed.

In our Humber Skills Commission, we are bidding for the LEP to be empowered to control and oversee the delivery of programmes to tackle unemployment locally, and to be granted the authority to align local resources more effectively to that end. Such an approach, which would put local businesses and employers in the driving seat to motivate and reskill their local work force, may well be part of the answer. What is undoubtedly clear is the need for more ladders of opportunity and success to be created if we are to get the best out of the people we have already got. So, on the eve of vocational qualifications day, I am pleased to have had this opportunity today to stimulate a debate on the future of vocational education.

9.50 am

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Thank you, Mr Gray, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing the debate. He is a complete expert on this issue, given his background, and I have been pleased to campaign with him on a subject that I will touch on later.

Part of the problem with debates on vocational education is that too often it is just seen in terms of its utilitarian value to the economy. We need to change that approach and see vocational education as a form of social justice. If vocational education is just subject to economic efficiency, it will always be subject to the whims of current economic policy. Vocational education should be integral to the national curriculum and the well-being of our young people. It provides a ladder away from poverty for the most disadvantaged.

The question we have to ask is why—despite all the initiatives begun under the previous Government—did youth unemployment rise to 1 million? Although this Government have stemmed the tide, youth unemployment

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remains a huge problem. To consider the issue holistically, we need a cradle-to-grave cultural change in vocational education.

Problems with youth unemployment do not just start when young people enter the job market; they start at home, with disadvantaged families. The problems carry on into our primary schools—such that one in five of our children still leave primary school unable to read, write or add up—and they continue into secondary school.

What can we do to change that situation? First, we must transform the reputation of skills and apprenticeships, which will require a sea change in our culture. Secondly, we must transform our vocational infrastructure. Thirdly, if—as I have argued—vocational education is about social justice, we need to ensure that resources are directed at the most disadvantaged. That means not only providing the ladders of opportunity, which the hon. Member for Scunthorpe mentioned, for those who want to get on, but reaching those who will not even take the first step.

For far too long we have talked about university, which has led to vocational education falling into neglect. Vocational education came to be seen as a second-class option, only suitable for those who did not want to do A-levels, rather than being seen—as it should be—as equal to university. If we are serious about tackling youth unemployment, we must ensure there is a parity of esteem between vocational education and traditional academia.

That is why I have been calling, since I have been in this House, for the introduction of a royal society for apprenticeships, which would work in a similar way to the Royal College of Surgeons and other such bodies. A royal society would dramatically increase the prestige and culture of apprenticeships, marking a sea change in how apprenticeships are viewed.

We also need to expand the range of jobs that vocational education can offer. Traditionally, people have assumed that if someone does an apprenticeship that means they must become a builder or a plumber. That assumption is wrong, which is why I took on Parliament’s first apprentice three years ago. I am now on my third, Aaron Farrell, who works in my office four days a week as well as studying for a level 3 apprenticeship in business administration. This experience has been good for Aaron and for my office, and I am pleased that other Members are beginning to do the same. Also, I pay tribute to the senior Clerk of the House of Commons for establishing the Clerk’s apprentices scheme. It is invaluable for a profession that is often seen as being closed off to those who are from a disadvantaged background.

We also need to make teachers aware of the benefits of apprenticeships. Edge has already been mentioned and according to that organisation two thirds of teachers regard their knowledge of apprenticeships as poor, and just one in four teachers recommend apprenticeships over higher education. Sadly, 23% of A-level pupils still say their school is far more concerned with “sending students to university”. That contrasts sharply with parents’ wishes. A clear majority of parents—78%—would support their child if they chose to take the vocational qualification route. Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shows that people who

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have a higher apprenticeship are 25% more employable than university graduates and that on average those with an apprenticeship qualification earn over £100,000 more throughout their lifetime than other employees.

I am glad that the Government are taking steps to address the problem of prestige and I welcome the technical baccalaureate, according to which vocational courses should have the same rigour and prestige as A-levels. However, we must go further. We need to encourage teachers to find out more about the benefits of apprenticeships and to promote those benefits directly to young people and their parents.

That can be done in simple but effective ways. For example, Harlow college, which I must remind the House is the No. 1 college in England according to the Department for Education, has a fantastic record of offering vocational education for young people and it recently held a very successful apprenticeship fair. Consequently, young people can make well-informed choices and apprenticeships can get the fair hearing that they deserve. A royal society for apprenticeships would offer rewards to apprentices in the same way that university students get graduation ceremonies.

However, this process is not all about changing the reputation of apprenticeships. We also need to provide the infrastructure to make it easier for businesses to take on people to gain vocational skills. To be fair to the Government, they have made good progress on that. I disagree with the hon. Member for Scunthorpe, who believes that the Government are only interested in academia. The Government have shown that they support vocational education by investing £1.5 billion in the sector in this financial year. As we know, since 2010 the number of apprenticeships in the country has increased by hundreds of thousands, and just last year in my constituency the number of apprenticeships increased by a phenomenal 78%.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with further education for young people is the lack of proper careers advice for them at the ages of 11, 12 and 13? That is the desperate situation that we have—young people are not given any professional careers advice, or they are only given very minimal advice, when they reach 12 or 13. That is the critical age, when such advice should be given.

Robert Halfon: I agree with my hon. Friend, but this issue is not just about careers advice. As I have said, children in school also need to be encouraged to do vocational education, which at the moment they are not.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): Now that careers guidance has been placed inside schools, does the hon. Gentleman believe that schools necessarily have an in-built producer interest to say to young people that their best interests are served by staying on at school because the money will follow the pupil, and that what we are seeing is exactly the fears about the lack of clear pathways into vocational education being realised?

Robert Halfon: Unless I misunderstand the hon. Gentleman, as I understand it the school leaving age has been extended to 18 anyway, which was something

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the last Government did. Given that, I think that if we change the culture in our country, schools will encourage their pupils to take vocational education over university. As I say, we need to change the culture and emphasise to pupils that the vocational qualifications that they will be encouraged to consider will be as prestigious as taking university degrees. On that basis, we should not forget that in this Parliament the Government are setting up 24 university technical colleges—in essence, pre-apprentice schools—and I am incredibly proud that Harlow is getting one, which will open next year. However, we must not settle; we should be aiming to set up at least a hundred such colleges.

We should also be encouraging employers to take on more apprentices. One major hurdle that employers face is the lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills among young people, and we must look at that issue. Recent figures show that 17% of 16 to 19- year-olds are functionally illiterate and that 22% of them are innumerate. It is essential that apprenticeships place a greater emphasis on these basic skills, so that young people are ready to join the work force.

As a country we must create the right climate to encourage businesses to hire apprentices. We have made good progress with this, creating the apprenticeship grant for employers, which gives employers who employ fewer than 1,000 people a grant worth £1,500. It is currently available to employers until 31 December 2013. We will know that the grant is successful if it boosts the uptake of apprenticeship programmes. A new charity called Access is encouraging young people, offering 10,000 youngsters work experience programmes. We need to look at and support such schemes.

Subsidising businesses to take on apprentices works. Essex county council has a groundbreaking apprentice scheme and its employability and skills unit saw apprenticeship starts increase by 87% in 2011, compared with a national average of 21%. The council provides a wage subsidy of up to 70% for businesses taking on new or additional apprentices. If possible, I would like that to be replicated across the country. I look forward to the successes in Essex, led by Councillor Ray Gooding.

I also welcome the idea of a skills tax credit, which would give employers a stronger incentive to hire an apprentice and would create a stronger relationship between the employer and the apprentice. That was recommended in the Richard review of apprenticeships last November. I urge the Government to consider it.

Parliament should lead the way, with clear apprenticeship career paths in Departments. The Minister knows, because I have spoken to him about this before, that I believe that all Departments should replicate the Department for Work and Pensions’ new model procurement contract, which encourages, but does not compel, their contractors to hire apprentices as at least 5% of the work force. That has resulted in the employment of nearly 2,000 extra apprentices who deliver goods and services to the DWP. It is revenue-neutral and should be extended across Whitehall.

As well as changes to incentivise employers to take on apprentices, there should be changes to encourage disadvantaged young people to participate in vocational education. There are currently 900,000 people aged 16 to 24 in England not in education, employment or

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training. This figure has increased by nearly 50% over the past 10 years and accounts for 14.5% of all young people in England.

We know that 90% of young people who complete their apprenticeship go on to further employment, but some obstacles actively discourage young people from vocational education, particularly if they are from disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, young people at further education colleges are not entitled to free school meals, even if they meet the criteria for them, whereas their peers at sixth form do receive them. The civil servants have said to Ministers that it is too expensive and that schools do not get direct funding for it, even though they are required to provide it by law. The Association of Colleges estimates the cost of extending the right to free meals to college students at around £38 million. I believe that this money can be found through efficiencies. If we are to support vocational education, we cannot say to students who attend FE colleges, which are primarily focused on vocational education, that they are not allowed to have a free school meal even if they qualify for one. That injustice cannot continue.

Nic Dakin: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. He probably recognises, as I do, that FE colleges take a higher proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds than sixth forms in schools and that they are also a large provider of education to young people aged 16 to 18.

Robert Halfon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I am pleased to have worked on this issue. We have only one sixth-form school in Harlow and the rest of the children go to a sixth-form college, where disadvantaged students are denied free school meals. That situation is untenable.

The Association of Colleges found that 79% of colleges thought that free school meals for 16 to 18-year-olds would encourage them to stay on in education. The principal of my local college says, “If I can get them through the door and we can give them a good meal, I know that I can turn their lives around.”

I would like to follow the lead of Essex council, which has an apprenticeship scheme that primarily helps disadvantaged young people, particularly single mothers. I was pleased that the Government replaced the education maintenance allowance with a bursary for 16 to 19-year-olds. That is good news, as it provides targeted support for those who need it most, but it is important that the Minister assesses what impact it is having and whether it is encouraging participation. The terms of the bursary must also be looked at. It should not operate in a similar way to the House of Lords, where you get paid just for turning up, but should reward students for their hard work, for example, if they meet or exceed their academic targets. It is right that we reward hard work, and doing so would proactively reward those who are in the most need and who are doing the right thing.

At the beginning of my speech, I said that improving apprenticeships is not just about economic efficiency, but is a necessary consideration. In 2012, youth unemployment cost the Treasury £4.8 billion. That is more than the total budget for 16 to 19-year-olds in England. According to a study by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the

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University of Bristol, the net present value of the cost to the Treasury, even looking only a decade ahead, is approximately £28 billion. So it is essential that in these tough economic times we take action quickly. But we must not forget that this is about social justice. Young people are our best defence against poverty. If we give them opportunities, skills and training, we get them off the street, give them stability and a real chance of a job in the future. The Government, in many ways, are taking the right decisions, but we must go further and faster. We need a conveyor belt of apprentices changing the culture, changing our schools, and changing how vocational education is perceived.

10.6 am

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I will take your direction about this debate, in the knowledge that education is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing the debate, which, in the current economic climate for young people, is very welcome. The subject is dear to my heart. I have been working with companies locally in Inverclyde and encouraging them to start thinking about increasing apprenticeships and to reach out to young people in our community, in the knowledge that apprenticeships—perhaps, the original “earn as you learn”—include a commitment to vocational and further education.

For too long, we have not paid enough attention to the 50% of our young people who do not go on to higher education. Those young people have suffered, and our economy has suffered. The central question is how to reform an education system, so that it equips young people with the skills and knowledge that they need to play their part, both as active citizens and as future business leaders and entrepreneurs.

It is not that our education system in Scotland is without problems and does not require improvements. Let me highlight some steps implemented to address some of the points that I have just raised, regarding active citizens, future business leaders and entrepreneurs. There is partnership between the schools and colleges, but unfortunately, as we have seen in Scotland, our colleges are under threat, as is our vocational education, because of the Scottish National party Government’s commitment not to charge fees for university places.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. I had a word with the hon. Gentleman before he spoke. Inverclyde is, of course, in Scotland, and this is a devolved matter. The debate is on future of vocational education in England and therefore he must address all his remarks to that question. He may not divert into the Scottish national Government or any other matter to do with Scotland. He must talk about vocational education in England.

Mr McKenzie: Thank you, Mr Gray. I will take that direction.

Of course, the curriculum had to change to reflect what business was advising us about problems with employing school leavers. I have spoken to my local

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businesses and the chambers of commerce about what they required when hiring young people leaving school. The reply was always the same, and perhaps it is the same across the country. They said that they receive young people into the employment world, unready and lacking in the skills to contribute immediately to their business from day one.

Businesses need employees who can apply initiative and solve problems and innovate with limited supervision. There was, more than often, no prepared equation that could be applied to projects. Young people were looking for an equation to populate to get an answer for business. We had to change that and apply a process that would stimulate innovation and initiative when learning.

Business leaders and the entrepreneurs of the future have to be identified. In my constituency, we have pioneered an association with business employers and school leavers based on “The Apprentice”. With numerous employers, we have put in place a six-month programme called “The Recruit”, which provides vocational qualifications and involves tasks set by employers, who evaluate participants for potential hires at the end of the course; it is the longest interview a young person will have. The programme continues to be supported by many local employers, and it has been replicated by many local authorities. It has been a great success, and it regularly secures many jobs for school leavers who want to earn while they continue to learn. The course identifies and develops leaders and those with entrepreneurial abilities.

Our schools also link up with those in the third year of secondary school, offering basic skills in traditional trades that go towards an apprenticeship. The need for apprenticeships has never been greater. Too many young lives are being wasted on the dole queues. Long-term unemployed young people are the most vulnerable, with many trapped in a vicious cycle of joblessness, anxiety and depression. We desperately need to get our young people into training and apprenticeships. The 50% of our young people who do not go to university need every chance to improve their skills and to get good jobs.

David Simpson: I agree with the vast majority of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and we certainly need to encourage our young people. However, the research papers we received for the debate state that some schools now charge parents to send their children on work experience. Surely, that is wrong, and it will not help us target areas of deprivation or encourage young people whose parents cannot afford to pay for them to go on work experience.

Mr McKenzie: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about charging for work experience. I represent an area whose population is not over-wealthy, and people would find it extremely difficult to pay for work experience. We are therefore fortunate that many employers offer work experience free of charge.

We need a highly skilled, highly educated work force to meet the challenges of tomorrow and to compete with other advanced nations. The economy needs value-added skills to compete with the economies of Brazil, India, China and other emerging nations. Apprenticeships are a valuable way to give young people skills, training and jobs. They also offer on-the-job learning opportunities

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and, of course, further education. They enable young people not only to learn about their chosen trade or profession, but to do so on the spot. They also enable them to talk to colleagues who are already skilled and experienced. Apprenticeships and vocational education can offer so much, and there is no reason why they should not be expanded to cover a wide variety of jobs and professions. If that is to happen, however, we need to engage more of Britain’s companies and to bring them on board.

We can plan for apprenticeships. Any company wanting to provide goods or services to the public should be required to have an apprenticeship scheme before it can win a contract. Labour’s jobs-for-contracts scheme would increase the number of apprenticeships by thousands and give immediate help to many of the 1 million unemployed under-25s. That simple idea—creating apprenticeship places through public procurement—would provide immediate help with alleviating youth unemployment and would strengthen the vocational sector. It works: the Labour council in Inverclyde has been using it for many years, and the number of those in the NEET category in Inverclyde stood at seven last year—not 7%, but seven pupils.

Today, Britain risks losing the global skills race. We need to be as strong as Germany and Switzerland on vocational education, and as competitive as Singapore and Japan on maths. Britain’s future national competitiveness is at stake and so is our young people’s future. We need to engage employers in designing high-quality apprenticeships, giving them a greater say in spending the £1 billion of funding available to target apprenticeships at our young people.

10.14 am

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing the debate. His involvement with and commitment to vocational education has been long and passionate, and I share that commitment.

Tomorrow is vocational qualification day. I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on further education, skills and lifelong learning. I therefore take this issue very seriously, and I have a profound commitment to it. There are many reasons why I passionately support vocational education, FE colleges and, indeed, the whole sector, but the most important is that the conversion rates from apprenticeships to jobs run at about 90%. At my local FE college, Sussex Downs, which is outstanding and has had a tremendous track record over the past few years under the leadership of its principal, Melanie Hunt, the apprenticeship conversion rate is an astonishing 92%.

A number of people who have left university with degrees and who are, sadly, still struggling to secure employment come to see me in my constituency, and I know that the same happens to other Members of Parliament. I sometimes have to resist the urge to say that if they had gone down the vocational route they would not have the student debt that so many people are, sadly, lumbered with nowadays and they would almost certainly be in employment.

On vocational education, the FE sector plays an absolutely pivotal role. There are several reasons for that. One is that the better FE and vocational colleges

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develop close relationships with local employers, local alternative training providers and the local DWP—the Jobcentre Plus. In Eastbourne, Sussex Downs college, where I will attend an apprenticeship event this evening before returning to Westminster tonight, is pursuing yet another initiative in a particular area of employment—in this case, retail. The college has spent a lot of time over the past year or two developing and deepening its relationships with different employer sectors and with Jobcentre Plus. A good FE sector wants to listen to employers; it talks to businesses and to the private and public sectors to try to understand their needs, so that it can train people in the vocational qualifications that fit the jobs—in other words, so that it can help people to be job ready.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has admirably championed apprenticeships since his election in 2010. I totally support—I have said this before, and I will say it again—his desire for a royal college for apprenticeships. That is a superb idea; it is exactly the kind of thing that would raise the status of apprenticeships. Perhaps we can discuss it afterwards to see how we can push it forward, because it would make a real difference.

On apprenticeship initiatives, I pay tribute to the Minister, the Government and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who is probably the most passionate advocate of FE and vocational education we have ever had as a Secretary of State. I spoke to him about the issue in the main Chamber only yesterday, and he reminded me—not that he needed to—of just how important he feels vocational education is in the FE sector. He also reminded me of how important it is that colleagues who feel strongly about this issue continue to lobby the Treasury, so that it does not remove too much money from the Department.

On apprenticeships in Eastbourne, I was one of the first MPs, along with the local FE sector, to work on the 100 apprenticeships in 100 days initiative. It was essential that I developed a close relationship with my local FE college, Sussex Downs. The work, which involved us and a number of other partners, was very successful, and we achieved 181 apprentices in 100 days. More importantly, it allowed me and the FE college to open a really strong dialogue with many local employers in the private and public sectors. The success of that has been astonishing. The latest figures from the Library show that Eastbourne has recruited more than 2,100 new apprentices since the general election—more than in the previous 10 years—which shows than when things are done properly the result is tremendous success.

I want to focus on something that came out of that: it brought home to me how deskilled schools have become about pushing apprenticeships. I work closely with local secondary school heads, and they were the first to admit that because for so long—particularly under the previous Government, but, to be fair, for at least 20 years—there was a drive almost to push people into degrees, teachers had become deskilled in talking about apprenticeships and did not know anything about them. The system in the Department for Education and the school sector provides no advantages in school league tables to push people towards becoming apprentices. There are, however, advantages to A-levels and sending students to university: doing so gets more money. If I were a proactive head who wanted to educate my students towards the tremendous

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range of apprenticeship opportunities—let us say that I quintupled the number of people becoming apprentices—I would not get a single extra penny from the Department for Education.

Tristram Hunt: How then does it help to bring careers guidance into schools, so that there is a producer interest telling young people, even with the rising participation age, that the best thing for them to do is stay on at school, rather than pursuing vocational and other options?

Stephen Lloyd: I note that the hon. Gentleman made a similar intervention earlier, and he has a strong point: I do not see how that can help. However, that is not to say that careers services should not be in schools; the question cannot be beyond the wit of man within the DFE, because I think the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would be keen for the careers service to be extended into FE. I do not think the solution is to stop careers guidance going into schools. I think that it is to do with the regulations and expanding the remit of careers services and the roles or opportunities that they need to talk to students about. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point.

There is a difficulty, because the issue is not one for BIS. I have spoken frequently with the Secretary of State, and several times with my hon. Friend the Minister; and it is clear to me that BIS is, considering the austerity programme, investing more, has greater commitment and is determined to continue the extension and improvement of apprenticeships and investment in FE. I think that we have now come to the tipping point with the vocational sector and FE, and the relationship with the Labour party and the Association of Colleges; there is now a profound understanding that because of the circumstances this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move apprenticeships and vocational education up the scale, as in Germany. I am not sure that the opportunity will come again. I urge the Minister to do whatever it takes—working in partnership or working assertively with the DFE—to persuade the Secretary of State for Education to sit down with him and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and work on a productive, positive way forward, in which the DFE takes on board its crucial role in pushing vocational education and recognising and appreciating that there is an opportunity to transform its status, as in countries such as Germany.

Nic Dakin: The hon. Gentleman makes a clear point about the difficulty that schools and colleges face because of confused and contradictory messages. He was right to praise the messages that BIS is giving out, including those from the Skills Minister. Those are often contradicted in some of what is measured in schools, and in schools’ lack of capacity to take forward the careers education, information, advice and guidance that has been mentioned.

Stephen Lloyd: I agree with the direction of travel of those remarks. I emphasise that the problem is an old one. It has been around for 25 to 30 years, so I understand that it cannot be laid solely at the door of the current Secretary of State for Education. It has a history. However, I believe we have reached the point where there is enough collegiate agreement between all the political parties and across the whole economic spectrum to

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transform vocational education. Some good steps have been taken. Now is the time for us to make the leap. I urge the Minister to continue firmly in the direction of travel that he and his colleagues have taken. For BIS and the Department for Education, it is time to work together productively for a transformation that would be universally popular.

10.26 am

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing this hugely important debate, on today of all days—coronation day, when we pay tribute to our sovereign, Her Majesty the Queen. She worked in the family firm and learned her craft from a master monarch. She upskilled on the job, and now she is involved in her own training programme. Perhaps in future we may move vocational qualification day to coronation day, to give exactly the sort of royal imprimatur that the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) spoke so eloquently about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe was a long-serving principal of a sixth form college and is better placed than many of us to comment on the challenges that we face in creating an outstanding vocational education system. He set out the issues with authority and passion, and I pay tribute to his work at the Humber Skills Commission. Amazingly, he did all that while restricted by the anaconda of the omertà of the Whips Office, the perennial purdah that he suffers. Yet he still pursues his case with passion and authority. Furthermore, like me he represents an area that is on the front line of the Government’s austerity assault. One hopes that he has benefited from the recent changes in the climate change levy, but the truth is that for cities such as Stoke-on-Trent and places such as Scunthorpe, at the sharp end of the historic process of deindustrialisation, the profound brilliance of our local craftsmanship and artisanal skills has not insulated us from some challenging economic conditions. We can have brilliant craftsmanship while the situation for local skill levels is particularly challenging.

Now is not the time for a debate on the Government’s disastrous economic policies and the damage they have done to the demand side of the equation. We are gathered here today because we know that the supply side of the employment debate matters too: educational attainment and skills capacity are a vital component of rebalancing our economy to a more sustainable model. That much should be abundantly clear to all. Yet it should also be clear, as hon. Members of all parties have agreed, that we are nowhere near where we need to be on skills. Indeed, our weakness was illustrated in a recent global survey of over 1,300 chief executives by PricewaterhouseCoopers. That report revealed that UK business leaders are the most concerned in the whole of western Europe about the availability of key skills. Indeed, they rated it as the greatest threat to their businesses’ growth and three quarters of them said, rightly, that creating a highly skilled work force should be the highest priority for Government in the year ahead.

Sadly, however, there is still some complacency in Government, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) pointed out so brilliantly, is

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profoundly damaging to our international competitiveness, because we are, as the Government like to tell us, in a “global race”. How can we succeed in that race when we languish 21st out of all OECD countries in intermediate technical skills and while 31% of high-tech manufacturing firms have been forced to import labour from outside the UK because of a skills shortage? In this very Chamber, we recently had an excellent debate on engineering and the threat to parts of the national security supply chain because of the lack of UK-only trained engineers, particularly female engineers, as some hon. Members have suggested.

The Government, as the latest edition of The Economist eloquently puts it, are racing with their “shoelaces tied together”. That is why this debate is so important. It is absolutely clear to the Labour party that, if we are to build what we want to see—a one nation economy that can compete in a globalised economy while raising living standards right across the regions and nations of the United Kingdom—we simply must have the best skilled work force in the world. The cornerstone to delivering that must, now and in the future, be a relentless focus on driving up the standards of our vocational and technical education system.

I think it is fair to say that, as many hon. Members have noted, not least the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), successive Governments, including the last Labour Government, have not done enough to help the 50% of young people who do not want to pursue the academic route at 16 or 18. As he suggested, we are at a moment of agreement across the parties on the need to rebalance the debate, but I introduce a note of caution. We still want young working-class kids from Stoke-on-Trent, Scunthorpe, Eastbourne and Inverclyde to be able to go to university, and we should not be in the business of precluding those avenues. Although we can rebalance the debate, and although we all want to see growth in the respect given to vocational education and apprenticeships, we must not go down the avenue of suggesting that young working-class kids should not go to university.

Stephen Lloyd: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree that what we are seeking is parity of both respect and esteem?

Tristram Hunt: I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right. What we are interested in is a cast-iron commitment to academic and vocational parity, because although our focus in government on raising school standards and academic rigour, and on expanding our outstanding, world-beating higher education sector, left the education system in far better shape than we inherited, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe said, we could have done more on vocational education. That is why the Labour party has placed vocational education not just at the heart of our education agenda but at the heart of our offer for the country in 2015, and it is why the leader of the Labour party made his call for focus on that forgotten 50% the heart of his recent party conference speech.

We disagree on the way the Government have pursued vocational education, however. Since they came to power, the Government have undermined careers guidance, which is a big issue for vocational routes. The recent report on that by the Select Committee on Education

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was absolutely damning. The Government have scrapped work experience and downgraded successful vocational qualifications such as the engineering diploma.

The Government have also made some bad mistakes on apprentices. When they came into power, they simply moved many of those on Train to Gain to apprenticeships. They were more interested in quantity than quality. We would like to think that there has been some rowing back on that recently, and we welcome the Richard review and all the hard work that the Minister is doing to try to enlighten the Secretary of State for Education on that, and we fully support him.

The Minister may now have persuaded his colleagues to hurry out their own version of a tech bacc, yet the difference between the Government’s technical baccalaureate and the Labour party’s original ur-version is that theirs is a performance measure whereas our ambition is for it to be a qualification that we want people to achieve. If some people are going to achieve it, other people are going to fail. If we want quality, it means some will succeed and some will not succeed. We want differentiation on the quality achieved.

As part of that, we need to raise the profile and status of vocational education to create a dual-track system that, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne suggested, genuinely gives no preference to either route. On vocational standards, that means having a clear line of sight both to work and to advanced, further or higher education, which means creating flexible and permeable pathways as a matter of importance. After all, young people are rightly wary of narrowing their options, and the whole ethos of a baccalaureate is to have a sense of broadness. Many see the option of gaining a degree or a gold-standard vocational qualification as part of their natural progression, irrespective of the route they choose at 18.

Furthermore, creating a genuine dual-track system also relies heavily on a deep-seated, collaborative ethos between institutions in delivering education and training. The countries that have enjoyed success in raising standards, such as Austria, Finland and Germany, all benefit from a system that has not only great career guidance but clearly defined roles for key stakeholders, with a great amount of time divested to building and maintaining institutional relationships.

If there is another criticism of the Government’s education policy, it is whether we are seeing the right degree of collaboration between atomistic, competitive schools, which are raising standards in certain situations but are not necessarily providing the kind of collaborative ethos that a local skills economy might need. That is some way from the institutional culture that the Government seem intent on inculcating with their slightly high-handed approach to the expertise of teachers and professionals, the lack of business involvement in delivering training and their focus on competition as the only measure of improving performance. If we want a proper industrial strategy, as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills keeps urging, we need smarter local and regional collaboration.

Indeed, we only have to look at the shambolic execution of the Government’s careers guidance policy for a textbook display of encouraging perverse institutional incentives. In a tough funding climate, it will be a brave and outstanding school that advises its pupils not to stay on. In a recent conference in Westminster, we saw a very good example of that: a leading academy school that is

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part of a leading chain said that it had brought in outside careers guidance, exactly as it should be doing, but that it told the person coming in to give the careers guidance that they were not allowed to advise pupils to go to the college up the road. With in-house careers guidance, there is a producer interest in keeping kids along an easily understandable gold-path academic route, as it were, of GCSEs, A-level and university, rather than thinking far more creatively, which requires trained professionals with knowledge of local situations.

Perhaps the biggest problem we face in delivering a vocational education system for the future is the perverse and pervasive disconnect between the education system and local labour markets. All too often, skills policy is isolated from industrial and economic policy. That is why Labour’s technical baccalaureate would directly involve businesses in accrediting the quality of courses, and it is also why our tech bacc, unlike the Government’s tech bacc, would have a work experience requirement. Businesses have told our taskforce, the Husbands review, that that is absolutely crucial, which is why we would ensure that all vocational teachers spend time every year with local businesses and industry to keep their skills and experience fresh.

Those three measures would bring to education and training institutions a clear and realistic understanding of local labour markets. Closing the gap between employers and educators is vital if we are to develop a dual-track approach.

Of course, raising educational standards in vocational training does not mean that we weaken our focus on core subjects and on improving rigour. In vocational or academic routes, there should be no false division between theoretical knowledge in practical subjects. There is an interesting discussion to be had on where the journey begins for opening up pathways at 14 or 16. What have we learnt from the university technical colleges on the 14-to-19 parameter, rather than up to 16? Was the Wolf report 100% correct in saying that people should continue with the same totality of focus up to 16?

Fundamental to the Labour party’s education policy is a clear commitment to teaching English and maths to 18, irrespective of route, because although many further education teachers do an outstanding job, often in challenging circumstances—we have heard about the differences in funding and free school meals—we need to raise teaching standards in FE colleges in English and maths. Of the 40% of pupils who do not get a level 2 qualification at 16, only 20% go on to acquire one at 19 through the FE system. That needs to change if we want to upskill our country. The Minister should once again take his cue from Labour’s policy review, which is open and available to him, and from our one nation skills commission’s interim report, and commit to requiring all FE teachers to have at least a level 2 qualification in English or maths.

There are other problems with our system of vocational education, training and skills. We have acute skills shortages in crucial sectors such as engineering, too many young people who lack employment skills, low levels of employer involvement and a lack of good-quality advice for navigating the transition to work. Labour supports the proposals on traineeships that the Government

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are beginning to carve out. There is also a dearth of high-quality apprenticeships and a damaging divide between vocational and academic pathways.

However, I remain deeply optimistic about our ability to deliver on creating the skilled work force that we need. If we have problems with the manner of delivery, it is heartening that we have an element of cross-party consensus on the issue. We have a vast supply of dedicated, skilled, quality teachers who are willing to work with us to raise standards. If we get the system right, we can reverse the long tale of poor skills in this country and deliver a work force that can compete with the world.

We agree with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills that there is no future in a zero-sum game of depressed wages and longer hours. That is the Conservative future outlined in the terrible book “Britannia Unchained”—I do not know whether the hon. Members for Harlow or for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) contributed a chapter—which depicted a grisly neo-liberal world in which the British are too lazy and too slow. I do not know whether that includes paternity leave; the Minister might be able to enlighten us later.

The solution to our competitive challenge is not a low-skill, low-wage economy or a divided education system—the only race that will win is the race to the bottom. Rather, we must and can compete on our own terms, which means using our competitive advantage in innovation to build a one nation economy based on high-level skills and dynamic, technologically sophisticated companies. That is what young people want, it is what businesses want and it is what the Labour party is committed to delivering. It starts with a dual-track education system and our rigorous technical baccalaureate.

Robert Halfon: On a point of order, Mr Gray. For the record, I did not contribute to the book mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): That is not a point of order.

10.42 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills (Matthew Hancock): It is a great pleasure to serve yet again under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. It is a partnership that I hope will continue for a long time to come. This debate is extremely important and timely. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) for securing it today, the day before vocational qualifications day, which was set up to celebrate vocational qualifications in a similar way to results days for GCSEs and A-levels. It is part of the twin track discussed by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt).

The debate has been wide-ranging—it is typical to say so at the start of a winding-up speech, but it is also true—and important. Some valuable points have been made on both the detail and the big picture. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe began by discussing four areas of concern: vocational education at key stages 4 and 5, careers advice, apprenticeships and traineeships and adult skills and unemployment. I will try to answer all his questions in the time available.

The hon. Gentleman also set out a rather Panglossian view of the world in 2010, not mentioning that youth unemployment was rising even before the crisis and had

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reached 1 million. Thankfully, it is now falling, although it is still far too high. There were skills shortages at the same time, which says to me that the education system has not been producing the skills that businesses need. I was rather more encouraged by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, who took that argument apart and made a passionate case for increased standards. He was willing to criticise the previous Labour Government, rightly, for not focusing enough on standards in vocational education.

To address a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), I sit in two Departments. In the Department for Education, the action taken to increase standards in vocational education came first. Since the Wolf report, commissioned in 2011, we have taken action in the 14-to-16 age group, and we have now finalised a consultation on improving the quality of qualifications for 16 to 19-year olds. The area was radically in need of reform, and radical reform is coming through.

The devotion to increasing standards in vocational education—which has cross-party support, including clear agreement that there was a significant problem in 2010—has been led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, with the strong support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. All three major parties agree on the matter. I think that we can now all accept that a serious weakness needed to be addressed and that we are taking steps to address it.

I say to all involved in this debate that, given that we will the ends, we must also will the means. That involves clearly, carefully and in a spirit of high consultation going through the qualifications offered, funded and recognised and ensuring that we support high-quality, stretching, rigorous qualifications that are responsive to the needs of employers.

On the point about the engineering diploma, we must encourage the creation of stretching, high quality new qualifications that fit the needs of modern employers. We encourage their creation in areas needed by business, and that has begun in the engineering industry and across different economic sectors.

This has been a helpful debate on both detail, to which I will come, and the big picture. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central said, of the 40% who do not get a level 2 qualification in English and maths, only 20% get one by the age of 19. That situation cannot be allowed to continue. I have read the Labour plan to increase English and maths requirements for FE teachers. That is already happening; I will send him the details of what we have done to address the issue. That is hopefully another outbreak of consensus.

In setting out what we are doing to achieve those goals, I will answer the questions put. Satisfyingly, the questions put were already answered in the draft of my speech, which is always good news. Professor Wolf found in her report, commissioned in 2011, that as many as 350,000 students were being funded to study for qualifications that they could pass but that were too small or low-level to get them a job. We are changing the requirements for qualifications to be funded and recognised, but we are doing so alongside changing how we fund all education between the ages of 16 and 19.

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From September, funding will be on a per-student, not a per-qualification, basis, removing the unintended and perverse incentive to offer more qualifications, rather than focusing on what individuals need. Pupils will be offered a study programme including either a substantial vocational or academic qualification or an extended programme of work experience.

I return to the point about work experience, which is part of the study programme. This will give schools, colleges and training providers the flexibility to offer the most challenging qualifications to students who want to excel, whether in a technical field, in practical, employment-based training such as an apprenticeship or in an academic field. The need to ensure that people have a choice to pursue technical or vocational education, academic education or a combination of the two is important, and the Government’s job is to provide excellent options in all of those fields. I was delighted that Her Majesty said in the Queen’s Speech that it should become typical for young people to go either to university or into an apprenticeship. Our job is to ensure that excellent options are available on both sides, and not to have a target that falsely pushes people one way or the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) argued that vocational education is social justice. The change in the funding system means that all students will be funded at the same base level, once the transitional protections are past. Instead of the average person who goes to an FE college being funded less than the average person who stays on at sixth form, because of the different amounts of funding awarded per qualification, everyone will be funded per pupil, on the same basis, with factors allowing for location, background and the higher cost of some qualifications.

Nic Dakin: The Minister is making a good point, but the plan is for 16 to 18-year-olds to be funded significantly less than students younger than that or than students who go on to higher education. There is an issue about the quantum, which I hope that the Government are examining.

Matthew Hancock: I do not quite take the point on higher education, because students in higher education fund themselves through loans. I am pleased that through our introduction of loans and the progressive rules on repayment—only if people have a good job and earn £21,000—a record number of people are applying to university, and that also provides the hon. Gentleman with a response to an intervention that he made. To make the right comparison on how much we fund someone in an age group, we need to ensure that in the first instance the funding is equal across the different sectors and options, which is what the change will achieve.

I pay tribute in the strongest possible terms to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow on the parliamentary apprenticeship scheme, which he set up and champions. I support him for doing that, and now dozens of MPs and peers have apprentices. Knowing the impact that apprentices have on employers—they become much more passionate about apprentices when they have apprentices themselves—I am sure that the scheme will have an effect on MPs. Indeed, it was a great pleasure to take the parliamentary apprentices of all parties to No.

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10 Downing street to meet the Prime Minister, and I enjoyed grinning with the apprentice of the hon. Member for Scunthorpe on the steps of No. 10.

An important point to make is about the participation age rising from 16 to 17—for those starting this year—and then to 18. The participation age will ensure and require that young people stay in education or training until, by 2015, they are 18, although not necessarily in school—it could be in college, in an apprenticeship, in employment with training or in voluntary work with part-time training. That is an important point because we do not want to close down the options available, but we want people to stay in education. An apprenticeship is a good way to deliver that.

Why are we making the reforms, which fall under the title of increasing rigour and responsiveness to the needs of individuals and of employers? What I call the motivating fact is the link between having youth unemployment that is far too high and skills shortages. To deal with that, it is important to ensure that the education system is more responsive and more rigorous and stretching.

How are we going to achieve that? I will go through some of the measures, four of which form the core goals that I think are necessary and the first of which is the introduction of traineeships. Many young people are highly motivated by the prospect of work, but are not yet ready or able to secure an apprenticeship or sustainable job. From this August, therefore, we are launching a high-quality traineeship programme within the study programme for 16 to 19-year-olds, to include work preparation, work experience, and English and maths, because English and maths are the No. 1 and No. 2 vocational skills. Other flexible training will be tailored to meet individual need.

Nic Dakin: The introduction of traineeships is positive, but my understanding is that they will be about six months in length. Will the Minister consider being flexible on how they are delivered, so that they could be delivered in a longitudinal way alongside other qualifications over a year, for example?

Matthew Hancock: The plan is to introduce the traineeships this year and to have a full analysis of how they work over their first year of operation. I am willing to look at all questions, because the preparation for the traineeships has been highly evidence-based and consultative. Over the years, we have had many different programmes to help people who are not yet ready to take on a job, and some have been successful and some

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not. My Twitter account is full of descriptions of experiences of YTS—the youth training scheme—or the flexible new deal, for example, and all sorts of different Government schemes that have been in this space. We want to ensure that we learn where they have worked and where they have not.

The second big change is in apprenticeships, and I am delighted with the cross-party support for the Richard review. The number of apprenticeships has almost doubled since 2010 and, we found out last week, apprenticeship applications are up a third on the previous year. The new higher apprenticeships allow people to get into the law through an apprenticeship and to become a fully qualified solicitor, or, likewise, into the upper reaches of the worlds of engineering and manufacturing and even to become an accountant. People will get the same qualifications as those who go through university.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): As a former apprentice, I understand the value of apprenticeships, but what are often described as apprenticeships by some Government Members are nine-week training courses. We have to protect the quality of apprenticeships.

Matthew Hancock: Yes, and we have introduced a minimum period of a year for apprenticeships. We absolutely have to do more on quality, which is what the Richard review is all about. We have introduced UTCs—university technical colleges—which will introduce the very best technical education in conjunction with universities and employers. We are reforming qualifications and standards, because we cannot will the end—higher standards—without willing the means. When colleges fail on minimum standards, whether financially or educationally, the new FE commissioner will take a tough approach when looking at all the options for how to serve local students better.

Finally, on careers advice and guidance, we want better inspiration and motivation, character building and the opening of young people’s eyes to wider horizons, with mentoring so that everyone can reach their potential. The information is out there—the web is littered with it—but we need to ensure that young people find it, know what is relevant to them and can set and reach their goals. Ofsted is inspecting against the new duty to provide independent and impartial advice, so schools will be inspected for that. Crucially, the new destination data will show not only how many people go to university, but how many go into an apprenticeship or a job. The data will better hold schools to account for the outcomes of the education that they provide, not only on the exams and where they get in those league tables, but on where the students get to. I hope that that improves matters a lot.

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House of Memories Programme

11 am

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Mr Gray, to serve under your chairmanship, and to have the opportunity to discuss such an important issue so soon after the debate of the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) before the recess, although on that occasion it was discussed in a wider context. I want to explain why I chose to apply for a debate so soon after several debates about mental health conditions, including dementia and Alzheimer’s, in the main Chamber, which rightly highlighted the effects of such diseases and their impact on patients, families, carers, social services and the NHS. A benefit of parliamentarians debating such issues is that it helps practitioners in their determination to debunk the myths of Alzheimer’s and all forms of mental health conditions, and to alleviate their stigma. I make no apology for bringing the topic to the House’s attention again.

Colleagues will be aware that tremendous progress has been made in treatment to combat dementia-type illnesses with both clinical and non-pharmaceutical interventions that help to care for the condition or slow its onset. I want to use the time available not to rehearse what has been said about that previously, but to develop some of the details relating to an initiative that I first brought to the House’s attention during my contribution to a debate on 10 January 2012.

The innovative approach I mentioned then was the House of Memories project in Liverpool. There was interest from right hon. and hon. Members when I explained the benefits of that approach, and the project has merits that could easily be rolled out throughout the country. The best thing—the Minister will be pleased to know this—is that it would not cost the earth. Instead, it would undoubtedly save the NHS millions of pounds in the long term. I will give a brief overview of the project before coming to the crux of why I was so keen for the Minister to come to the Chamber today.

National Museums Liverpool has developed a sustainable partnership with care providers through a connection to local histories, objects and archives at the world-class Museum of Liverpool. The House of Memories project is described by experts as a

“tailored dementia…training programme, which uses artistic interpretation, curatorship,”

museum education

“and reminiscence therapy techniques to raise awareness of the condition, and enable professional health services, carers and families to help those directly affected live well with dementia.”

The project demonstrates how a museum or, by association, a library, arts centre or theatre can provide the health and social care sector with practical skills and knowledge to facilitate access to an untapped cultural resource simply by using their local treasures and art work. Such work is vital when considering that mental health issues in elderly people will not go away. In 2010, more than 700,000 people living in England were diagnosed with progressive symptoms, including loss of memory, mood changes and problems with communication and reasoning. Such symptoms occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, and by damage caused by a series of transient ischaemic attacks, or mini-strokes as they are known. A staggering

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21 million people in the UK are estimated to know someone with dementia, and one in three people aged over 65 will have dementia by the time they reach the end of their life. More than 86,000 people in the north-west alone are currently diagnosed with the condition.

National Museums Liverpool has recognised that museums are experts at recording and caring for people’s memories and treasures, whether they are thousands of years old or within living memory. A net result of the project has been the way in which the House of Memories project has encouraged the medical profession to consider new approaches and alternatives to established practices and therapies. We know that health care and medicine are evolving, but in Liverpool we have found that some of the components to assist patients’ well-being have been under our nose all along.

Developing new strategies is not easy, and the first phase of the project, which was funded by the Department of Health in 2011, was designed in consultation with Skills for Care, the Alzheimer’s Society and the local voluntary sector. Together, the partners informed a real-world training experience to connect the care sector with National Museums Liverpool’s cultural resources. The House of Memories project has not only achieved a high level of attendance from across the wider health sector but sustained that engagement.

The outgoing Liverpool primary care trust identified that the project met and exceeded the need to make Liverpool a city that supports greater health and well-being for all residents. More recently, Liverpool city council has recognised the project as a key driver of its age-friendly city ambition, and the Department of Health has expressed interest in expanding the project across southern regions. That demonstrates the thoroughness of the model. Not only have National Museums Liverpool’s staff dedicated much time and energy to ensuring that the health and social care side of the model is catered for, but it has a strong business model that stands as a leading example for other cities and towns to follow on a larger or smaller scale to suit their needs.

The current project was delivered in the Liverpool city region, Manchester and the north-east, including Newcastle and Sunderland. To date, more than 3,000 health and social care professionals have participated, and I see no reason why Parliament should not give a commitment today to an ambitious target for the number of health and social care professionals exposed to this leading training to increase exponentially in the next few years. I would welcome an opportunity to work with the Minister to facilitate that eventuality.

External evaluation of the House of Memories project makes impressive reading, and the feedback is available for hon. Members to view on its website. If the Minister has not had an opportunity to read it, it would be good if he did so. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and noted that the project increased awareness and understanding of dementia, and helped participants better to understand those living with the condition in a way conventional training has not been able to do to date.

I hope that I have demonstrated that in Liverpool we have begun the process of changing the culture of how we view those living with dementia, but there is more to do, and it is vital that the Minister recognises the economic impact that such projects have on NHS finances. Early intervention and targeted treatment that uses

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local resources have the potential to save the NHS millions of pounds. Instead of dealing with the condition in its latter stages, which is not only expensive but heartbreaking for patients and carers, we should ensure that any prevention or delay in its development is made a priority, and that those left to treat the condition are afforded appropriate training to deal better with its effects.

The British museum sector holds great collections of arts, artefacts and archives, as we would expect, but people would perhaps not normally associate it with playing an important role in the dementia arena—that is, until now, hopefully. There are other models to study: for instance, the Museum of Modern Art in New York runs an internationally acknowledged programme, where gallery staff engage with individuals living with dementia and their partners and families in conversations about modern art. However, the House of Memories project is qualitatively different from MOMA’s programme. It provides guidance for engaging people living with dementia and their carers in the museum experience, supporting that with a toolkit and resources such as a memory box.

One of the great success stories has been National Museums Liverpool’s ability to position House of Memories as a credible and important tool for dementia awareness, as its greatest challenge was to gain acceptance and support from the health sector by developing a learning tool that would be accessible, both creatively and intellectually, while acknowledging the real-world challenge of supporting people to live well with dementia. No one can be in any doubt that NML has been totally successful in achieving that ambitious recognition. One way that I and my fellow Merseyside MPs can ensure that the partnership keeps making progress is by continuing to raise awareness and by ensuring that the relevant Minister is constantly updated with the continued success of the House of Memories’ innovative work. I will, of course, ensure that I do so.

I am pleased to report that the project continues to receive a positive regional response and has secured additional health sector funding until 2015, which will include the development of an online digital tool for carers and families. I urge the Minister to outline what further support he can offer to the development of that capability. I am sure that Members of all parties will recognise and appreciate the innovative work of the staff at the Museum of Liverpool, and I should like to take the opportunity to praise each and every one of them. It should be noted that the Museum has also recorded an increase in visits from care home staff and patients. Cultural partners, such as Riverside housing, have taken inspiration from the training by developing personalised, culturally sensitive memory boxes for the Chinese and Afro-Caribbean communities, which exemplifies the social value of greater dementia awareness for the whole of Merseyside.

We are not talking about brain surgery; the concept is simple. I went to the museum to look at one of the sessions, and because it was in Liverpool, a lot of people were interested in football, of course, and music and comedy. The memory box, therefore, has such things as football programmes from Liverpool or Everton football clubs, ration books, some old tunes and records, and old theatre programmes, and those stimulate conversation with people. The long-term memory of

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most sufferers is very good. Short-term recollection is a problem for many, but those props really get people into conversations and act as a prompt for all sorts of detailed discussions, and—it must be said—for friendly banter from people who find it very difficult at times just to have an ordinary conversation. Liverpool’s aim is to make the project fully available across the constituencies of right hon. and hon. Members.

National Museums Liverpool would like to work in partnership with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health to lead the development of a house of memories resource in every town and city across the United Kingdom. That would create an opportunity for greater co-operation between Whitehall Departments and it would provide continued cultural innovation for health and social care, hospital and social housing settings. That is vital when we consider that all Departments and partners have been widely encouraged to support the Prime Minister’s national dementia challenge.

I ask the Minister to allow the professionals with a track record of success in Liverpool to help him implement similar projects across the country. Given the positive response from the health sector, I believe that if the Minister commits today to sustaining the ongoing work further with logistical support and funding, National Museums Liverpool will deliver significant outcomes and opportunities for a sustainable cultural and health sector partnership in communities across Britain. I do not doubt that in other parts of the country, the cultural sector is making strides towards improving the relationship between the arts and dementia treatment. However, I have yet to see a more comprehensive project, with a greater level of success, than Liverpool’s House of Memories. In other words, NML has set the national standard, and it has set the bar very high.

I wish to conclude by asking the Minister the following questions, which I would be grateful if he could address either in the time we have left today, or, for those that he cannot, in writing afterwards. Will he inform Members what discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport over the potential long-term economic benefits of supporting the House of Memories? If he is yet to have those discussions, will he commit to doing so this side of the spending review? Will he indicate whether his Department will support the House of Memories project further in 2013-14 and onwards? Will he meet Dr David Fleming, the director of National Museums Liverpool, and me at the Museum of Liverpool to discuss the work that we are doing on Merseyside, and to witness first-hand the positive impact that it is having on dementia patients in our city?

11.17 am

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing the debate. I remember his speech in the Chamber during the debate he referred to earlier. He talked passionately about the House of Memories initiative in Liverpool, and I think I am right in saying that he also spoke about his mother’s battle with dementia, so I know he cares a lot about this issue. I am keen to work with him and to talk to him further about how we can maximise the benefits of such an approach.

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I should also refer to another institution in Liverpool—Everton football club. I am not sure where his loyalties lie in that great city, but Everton have done great work on reminiscences and dementia. I have had people from Everton come to the Department, together with other representatives of football and sport. The hon. Gentleman talked about long-term memory and the power of reminiscence, and sporting memories can be incredibly valuable in bringing people back who are suffering from dementia. I am absolutely with him on that.

Steve Rotheram: I thank the Minister for giving way, and for mentioning Everton football club and the Everton in the Community project. During my visit to the museum, Everton were represented, and they had their football reminiscence material there. It does exactly what the Minister has outlined, and stimulates conversation like nothing else because of people’s memories of great moments in their lives. Some of those will obviously be sporting-related, and that could be part of what the House of Memories project is about.

Norman Lamb: I am grateful for that intervention. I have been asked to give my own footballing memory, and it is Jeremy Goss scoring a fantastic goal away at Bayern Munich. Norwich City were for a long time the only club that had beaten Bayern Munich away. I am looking to see whether we can extend the work of Everton to other premier league and football league clubs, because they have a powerful position in their communities and can be opinion leaders in developing these ideas powerfully in their communities.

I am wholly supportive of the House of Memories. It is an exceptional project that has been funded in part, as the hon. Gentleman said, by the Department of Health; more than £220,000 has been allocated during the last two years. As we have heard today, National Museums Liverpool provides an innovative training programme that is making a real difference for social care staff by helping them to connect with the people with dementia whom they support every day. They use the objects that the hon. Gentleman referred to and the stories linked to the museums’ collections. Museums across the country have a rich collection of objects and art that can be so powerful in helping people to live well with dementia. It is a very powerful partnership with care providers. I think the hon. Gentleman said that 3,000 care workers had already participated. That demonstrates the reach of this project. It is fantastic that the cultural sector is involved in work on dementia; it is a great collaboration. Getting the medical profession to consider new and different approaches beyond pure medicine can be very powerful. The work to which I have referred is critically important in supporting our drive to create more dementia-friendly communities.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the value of early intervention and the savings that can be secured for the NHS in this way. My understanding is that the money from the Department of Health has already helped to roll out this approach to museums across the north of England. There is a funding application in at the moment for 2013-14. That is being considered by the dementia work force advisory group. It could extend the roll-out to museums and galleries in the midlands. I think the decision on that will be communicated to National Museums Liverpool over the summer. Obviously, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that application, but

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clearly, as I have said, I am wholly supportive of this project and keen to work closely with the people involved to develop this initiative and concept further.

There are 670,000 people in England with dementia. That number is increasing year on year, as is the £19 billion cost to society of dementia. Faced with that, the Prime Minister launched in March last year the challenge to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which builds on the dementia strategy the Labour Government initiated in, I think, 2009. It is a powerful and good initiative and was one of the first globally to be developed. This condition is the biggest fear for people over the age of 55—as someone who has just turned 55, I am acutely aware of that.

A year on from the launch of the Prime Minister’s challenge, dementia remains a priority for the coalition Government, for their partners in health and care and for me personally. The House of Memories was I believe referred to in the updated report on the Prime Minister’s challenge last November, so its effect has been recognised. In the first year, we have achieved a lot, not only laying the foundations for delivery but making progress across all three areas of the challenge: first, improving health and care services for people with dementia; secondly, creating more dementia-friendly communities, where this work can play such a valuable role; and thirdly, the importance of research and committing more resources to research into finding cures and prevention mechanisms for dementia. That is creating a momentum that will lead to real improvements in the lives of people with dementia and their carers.

For the first time, there is a quantified ambition to increase the diagnosis rate for dementia from the current 45%, which is far too low. Our aim is that by 2015 two thirds of people with dementia should have a diagnosis, with appropriate post-diagnosis support. We are also seeing real action on the creation of dementia-friendly communities, with 50 areas expressing an interest in becoming dementia friendly. An awful lot is going on in Liverpool, and I do not know whether the city as a whole is exploring that, but clearly there is good leadership in that city.

The launch of the Dementia Friends initiative has already captured the imagination of thousands of people, and the number of people attending the awareness sessions is growing every week. I participated in a session in Warwick in April, so I have become a dementia friend—I have the badge to show it. If the hon. Gentleman has not done that yet, I encourage him to do so and, indeed, I encourage others to take up that challenge locally.

The UK will use its presidency of the G8 to identify and agree a new international approach on dementia research. A specific G8 dementia summit will be held in London in the autumn. It will bring together Health and Science Ministers alongside world-leading experts, senior industry figures and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The event will look to secure more co-ordination and collaboration on dementia globally. I suspect that initiatives such as the one from Liverpool could play a part internationally, through this G8 process, in teaching other countries about what could be learned from them.

A skilled work force is vital to delivering compassionate care for people with dementia. That is why we are taking forward work to ensure that we have front-line

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staff who are capable and competent in dementia care. The Department of Health and NHS England are working closely with Health Education England to put in place a forward work programme for the delivery of the work on dementia set out in their mandate. That includes ensuring that 100,000 NHS staff have undertaken foundation-level training on dementia by March 2014, so that they can better support people with the condition. A new e-learning package has been published that will lead to 100,000 nurses and health care assistants receiving dementia training via e-learning by 2015.

In March, the Department launched a new nursing vision and strategy for dementia care that sets out what is expected of all nurses in order to meet the level and quality of care expected in all settings. In social care, the dementia pledge builds on the care and support compact by supporting social care employers to develop their work force’s understanding of dementia and to adapt their services to meet the needs of people with dementia. More than 900 care providers have already signed up to the pledge and almost 150 to the compact.

The hon. Gentleman asked one or two questions at the end of his contribution. In the spending review discussions, the focus on and the priority that the Government give to dementia will remain central to our thoughts in ensuring sufficient funding to maintain the momentum we are starting to build. As I said, in this Parliament we are building on the last Government’s strategy through the Prime Minister’s challenge.

I confirm again my absolute support for the House of Memories initiative. I want to maintain the liaison and collaboration that has been developed in the last year or so. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of meeting in Liverpool, which I would love to do if time allows. My diary is a complete nightmare, but if it is possible I will be very happy to do that. I certainly want to do all I can to ensure that the valuable lessons learned from this exciting and imaginative initiative, bringing together two sectors, are learned elsewhere, so that people with dementia really benefit from it.

11.29 am

Sitting suspended.

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Science and Research

[Martin Caton in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. It is good to see the key people here for the debate—the Minister for Universities and Science, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). The three of us were supposed to meet a few weeks ago for a debate under the auspices of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, which was cancelled, so it is nice that we can recreate it here in slightly more elegant surroundings and with a wonderful audience. It is good to have the Minister and hon. Lady here.

With the spending review considerations imminent, when decisions will be made that will affect the future of science and research for many years to come, this debate is especially timely. The theme of the debate is based on a paper I published last year called, “Developing a future: Policies for science and research”, which is available online for anyone who wants to see the whole thing, at www.TinyURL.com/scipol. I would like to place on record my thanks to those who helped, particularly Michelle Brook, who was critically involved in writing much of it. It was passed by the Liberal Democrat conference and large elements of it are now Liberal Democrat policy—things we want to achieve—but I do not want the debate to become a party political session. We are all used to the debates where we all say, “The last Government did this and this Government did that”, and it does not take us any further. I hope that the Minister, the hon. Lady and I, in particular, can work together to support science, because science works across parties.

There have been good Ministers for science from various parties: Lord Sainsbury, now the chancellor of Cambridge university, in my constituency, was an excellent science Minister; the current Minister is an excellent science Minister; and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has done a huge amount for science and is now a regular visitor to Cambridge to see what happens there. None of that means that I necessarily agree with everything that every science Minister says, but having the right push and trajectory is important. Although I will often use the term “science”, I want to make it clear that I do not mean just pure science. It is not only about the natural sciences. The humanities have a critical role, as do computing, engineering, mathematics and medicine—everything. An opposition between science and the humanities and arts subjects, has occasionally been suggested, but that is a false dichotomy that takes us nowhere positive.

I declare an interest, which is registered in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: before coming to this place I was a research scientist; I am on leave from a lectureship I hold at Cambridge university; and I am involved in a number of learned societies and science organisations. I am even an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association—as long as they never ask me to do anything with animals. I have an interest, in those senses, which I am happy to declare.

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I also have a constituency interest, because high-technology is key to the success of Cambridge. We now have more than 1,500 companies, 54,000 jobs and £12 billion in revenue from the high-tech, knowledge-based economy in Cambridge. The details of the companies are made available by the wonderful Sherry Coutu on the Cambridge cluster map, where we can see details of every one of those companies—the £12 billion—that we have built in Cambridge on the knowledge economy. We can also see the $20 billion company that we have built up—ARM, a huge powerhouse, developing superconducting chips. People often talk about Intel as its major competitor, but just last year ARM shipped more chips than Intel has ever shipped. There are more ARM chips in the world than there are human arms, legs and heads put together. It is a huge company that comes from a small town in the fens. RealVNC is a three-time Queen’s award winner for exports in the past three years. Its software is a critical part of any shuttle launch and has a huge number of applications elsewhere. We have MedImmune, the biggest biotech company in Europe. Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group works in a very different area, but does incredibly important work for our armed forces and a range of others. There are more companies, including the growing, new wave of clean-tech.

Cambridge is a huge success story, which is one of the reasons why unemployment there is so low—the rate is about 2.5%, and the youth unemployment rate about 1.5%. We all have an interest in the success of science and research, because they are key to the success of Britain as a whole. How do we think we will earn our way in 2020, 2030 or 2050 if not in the knowledge-based economy, based on things that we will learn and develop now? They are already key sectors driving the economy and that is set to continue, because the UK continues to punch above its weight in scientific research. Although we only have roughly 1% of the world’s population, we have a huge research base, with 4% of the world’s researchers, an 11% share of world citations and 14% of highly cited publications. We have a great platform to develop and grow a successful knowledge-based economy to develop jobs and growth for many years and decades to come, but how can we do it?

I would like to explore three key areas: money; people; and attitude. Research and development costs money, but not all of it public sector money. UK spending on research and development dropped to just 1.76% of gross domestic product in 2010—well below the European Union average and, for the first time ever, less than China, not to mention pretty much all our other global competitors. That hits the UK economy, because we are less innovative. We are particularly behind in public sector funding: 0.57% compared with Germany’s 0.85%, which gives Germany a huge lead. We know that public money crowds in private funding: the more we spend in this area, the more industry will also commit. I know that it was a fight for the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that the ring-fenced science budget was protected. It was not cut in the previous spending review, which is a great achievement. There were many concerns. The £4.6 billion was protected, in cash terms, which was essential, but that still equates to a real-terms cut and capital funding took a very large cut. Capital is also essential to good science and research. The huge cut in capital has been ameliorated by a number of new announcements since then, on which I

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congratulate the Minister. He has managed to pull £1.4 billion, which I am sure he will itemise later, out of the Treasury to rebuild some of that capital. He has £300 million to claw back from the cuts to go, but I am sure he will come up with a way to deliver that from the Treasury.

There are other good new things that I am pleased to see: the Catapult centres, although I still have a reservation about the name; the reintroduction of SMART awards, and I declare an interest as a holder of a Department of Trade and Industry SMART award from a number of years ago; and the extension of R and D tax credits. Those are all good things. We are in a decent place at the moment; it is not as great as it might be, but it is nothing like as bad as it could have been. We must not have more cuts in the forthcoming spending review—that is one of the most important messages in the short term.

I recently hosted an event with the Association of Medical Research Charities to launch its vision for research. There was a clear message from academics such as Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society; medical charities such as Cancer Research UK; and industry, such as GlaxoSmithKline, that if we cut now, it would be a huge and clear signal to business that they should not invest in Britain. Companies are mobile. They will leave. Biotech and hi-tech companies will just go somewhere else. They can do it, and if we send a message that they are not wanted here, they will. Our academic base will decline as good people leave the UK or simply leave research to do something else.

Science and research is big business for the UK. The pharmaceutical industry—a huge, global business—generates a trade surplus for the UK of £5.5 billion. The industry is changing and becoming more biotech focused. We have to keep the small biotech companies here. When AstraZeneca closed their plant and decided to move to Cambridge, it was a shame for the north-west, but it is fantastic for Cambridge and for the country that it is staying in the UK. It or any other company could choose to leave. Pfizer has a presence in Cambridge, as does GlaxoSmithKline. We have the largest biotech companies in Europe—but only for as long as we can provide them with reasons to stay.

For the spending review, not cutting capital or revenue budgets is very least that can be done. If we want to prosper, we must increase investment—and it is an investment. A study by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Academy of Medical Sciences found that every pound invested in medical research generates an ongoing return of about 30p every single year, and 30% returns are fantastically good. Jonathan Haskel of Imperial college business school has estimated that a £1 billion cut in research council funding results in a GDP loss of the order of £10 billion. That is the sort of size we could be talking about.

To provide certainty, the investment absolutely has to be long term. We must find a way of getting away from the three-year cycles. Long-term investment was called for in the “Fuelling prosperity” report, which came out recently from the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences. They make the case for investing in research in the long term, to drive UK economic growth. Similarly, a letter from a range of medical charities,

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industry, academics and parliamentarians across the parties, which came out in

The Times

a couple of weeks ago, states:

“Long-term funding is needed from the Government to ensure the continuation of the UK as a place blessed with a vibrant research eco-system”.

The message is clear, from all parts of the community involved in this field, that we need long-term funding.

My proposal, which was made in the paper I talked about earlier and is now part of Liberal Democrat policy, is to try to build a consensus around a 15-year 3%-above-inflation increase in a ring-fenced science and research budget, to include capital and revenue. I know that that is ambitious, and that 15 years is a long time, but I think it is the right thing to do and that it is something we could get together. Clearly, no one party can deliver it—no one party will ever be in a position to guarantee funding for 15 years—but I hope that my two colleagues here today, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood and my right hon. Friend the Minister, will be able to support that aspiration and ambition, and that over the next years we can ensure not just that we do not have cuts in the budget, but that we actually deliver an increase, and a prosperous Britain. That is in all our interests.

It is not, however, just about having the money; the money must be allocated well. It has to be allocated correctly between applied research and blue skies research and we must, of course, stick to the Haldane principle—whatever its exact wording—to ensure that none of us seeks to influence exactly how grant funds are spent, tempting though that might be.

It is the blue skies area that needs to be remembered, because there is a temptation to say, “Let’s just fund the things that are closest to being applied—closest to being products.” That would be a mistake, and it is one that industry warns us about time and again. No one can predict where new ideas will go. When work started on lasers, the world wide web, Google’s search algorithm and monoclonal antibodies, no one knew where it would lead. No one could have predicted their scale, but they are huge.

Probably the least well-known of those is monoclonal antibodies, and the investment from the Medical Research Council in Cambridge’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which has generated fantastic world-leading research and many Nobel prizes, also led to a multi-billion-dollar drug, Humira, the profits from which partly paid for the new lab that was opened just a couple of weeks ago. A huge amount of money can be made, but that is never known at the beginning. The Medical Research Council has made £390 million from monoclonal antibodies, but when the grant application was written there was no way it could have been claimed that that would happen—Sir Greg Winter would never have had that chance. In addition to the applied work, we must, therefore, fund excellent blue skies research, for its own sake as well as for its potential returns, because there is an interest in simply advancing human knowledge as well as in getting a financial return.

Aside from the science and research budget, we must also support innovation. As I understand it, much of the innovation budget sits outside the science and research ring fence and it has suffered from cuts in the past. The

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wonderful new Catapult centres, the SMART awards and all the efforts of the Technology Strategy Board will not work if money is not available to support the final stage of innovation. Equally, however, the money cannot simply be transferred away from basic research; otherwise, we will not have any of the new inventions we need to translate into real products.

We must also ensure that we use the money that is available from all sorts of other sources—medical research charities, for example. A recent letter in The Telegraph from 42 medical research organisations and 130 scientists highlighted the following:

“With medical research charities and their supporters together funding more than £1 billion of vital medical research in 2011, we have made a huge contribution to improving the health of the British population through scientific advances.”

I am sure that we are all grateful for the work they produce and the people who fund them. They call on the Government, and I join them in this, to

“protect both the Charity Research Support Fund and the amount available through it, as well as ring-fencing the science budget”.

I hope the Minister can confirm that we can continue with that support fund.

That is one source of money. We have money that can come in from industry and we need to get more of it through the small business research initiative and all sorts of other research and development mechanisms. We also have money from the Government, and we get a lot from the European Union as well. In this room, at least, we can be pleased to take that money from the European Union and make the most of it. Framework programme 7, which finishes this year, is estimated to have delivered €7 billion to the UK for research. That is fantastic, and the Government should encourage and support the UK in tapping into Horizon 2020, the next framework for research and innovation, which has an €80 billion budget. We want to get as much of that into the UK as possible—I will avoid discussing any referendums on how we use any of that money. The Government could, however, make it easier for that to happen. Yes, they should try to make the European processes simpler—having been involved with the European grant, I know they can be incredibly bureaucratic—but there is also the issue that the full economic costs of the work are not funded. I hope the Government will consider setting up an EU research support fund to meet the costs. In that way, we will encourage UK researchers to pull even more money from the European Union into our domestic research.

There are other things that could happen. The £l80 million in the biomedical catalyst fund has been very welcome, and I hope it will continue. There have been many successful applications to it, from my constituency among others, and I hope there will be money to continue that work. I am also very taken by some of the work developed by the BioIndustry Association on having pots of money available—similar to individual saving accounts—for funding high-tech companies. That model works very successfully in France, enabling people to invest smallish amounts—£5,000 to £10,000—in high-tech growth companies and to get some of the tax advantages of entrepreneurial investment. In France, they have had a good economic return by allowing that.

We should also make better use of the NHS. We are rare among countries in having a wonderful national health service, and it is an excellent place to do research.

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We have a single organisation that has access to a lot of patients who can get involved, and a lot of information that can be used. Privacy is obviously a huge concern and we must not do things that would jeopardise it, but there is far more we could do to use that rare and precious resource. I am pleased that we now have, as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, a duty to promote research in the NHS. That is very helpful, and much more needs to be done with it. More patients should be told about the trials that are available, and there is a lot of work from the Association of Medical Research Charities and others that highlights that.

I am also pleased that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills continues to work with the Department of Health; that works very well. What I would not want to see is all the Medical Research Council being transferred into the Department of Health. There must be a separation between the implementation—actually doing health care—and the pure research that the MRC does. The council is not the same as the National Institute for Health Research, and I hope we will not see such a transition. I am sure the Minister can reassure us about that shortly.

I have said a lot about money, partly because the spending review is coming up, but it is not the only thing that matters. Just throwing money at problems does not always work; people matter as well. The UK has to build a highly skilled work force to be able to attract industry and innovation to do the best research, and there are two ways of doing that. One is to start with people here in the UK, at school. Schools must be able to provide a more solid curriculum in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and have teachers who are specialists in their fields. That means primary schools having some sort of science subject leader, and secondary school teachers should have continuous professional development, funded by the Government, to make sure they are on top of what they are teaching. I am also pleased to see the proper teaching of computing—not just of IT, but of how to code. That is an excellent step forward, but I worry about where we will find the teachers to provide that education.

I am particularly concerned about how people consider STEM subjects at primary school. One of my colleagues, a councillor in the east of England, trains primary schoolteachers. On one of her training courses, she asked them to come up with a curriculum for primary school, and every single group left out science. When she asked why, they said, “Well, it’s hard, dull and not very useful.” If that is the attitude among primary schoolteachers—I hope they were corrected—we will have a problem over forthcoming decades. We have to change that attitude where it exists; of course, it is by no means uniform.

We should support organisations such as STEMNET and all other outreach activities. I do not have time to list each one, but they do good work and need support, because we must get many more people in. For example, it has been estimated that we need about 20,000 more engineers a year to cope with the retirement bubble and the growth in the energy, automotive and aerospace areas.

We must consider doing far more to encourage diversity among people who go into STEM subjects. That is not just about women in science, although that is a very big

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issue; it is about the socio-economic background of people who go into those subjects. We are missing out on a huge number of people who could contribute massively. If fewer women and fewer people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds take STEM subjects, we absolutely have to take stronger steps to correct that.

We have to make sure that scientific and mathematical literacy are there for everybody, because skills taught in those areas—regardless of where students end up in the working world—help to create a scientifically savvy population that can engage in rational debate and critical thought. We want everybody to understand the basics of financial mathematics: how a mortgage works, or how to understand a Daily Mail front page about the latest wonder drug that also causes cancer.

We must ensure that university—and school—courses encourage entrepreneurial thinking, and we must support people to think about that. We need to make sure that people realise that science is fun: people do it because it is exciting.

There are issues about the career paths of academics. It is currently a very transient route for many post-docs, and we need to find out how to have a much more coherent picture. My paper goes through that in far more detail than I can do now.

We must look at funding for postgraduate courses, an issue which I have raised with the Minister on several occasions. I will not go through the pain of the undergrad funding issue—I dislike undergrad fees and have hated them ever since they were brought in by the previous Government and increased by this one, and I still disagree with all those decisions. However, a serious problem is now arising with postgraduates who do not generally have access to funding, except from banks, parents or savings, and may have to pay well over £10,000 to do a course. That has a huge effect on social mobility, because people cannot do those courses.

Tomorrow, with CentreForum, I will launch a report, based on work with the National Union of Students and a range of universities, which will propose some suggestions. I will not say much more about it now because I do not want to draw the thunder from tomorrow’s launch, but essentially, we have to extend income-contingent loans for graduate students, so that there is an easy way for them to get into graduate courses.

Those are some of the things we could do to get good people in the UK, but we must also look for skilled people globally. We should actively encourage students to come here and study, experts to come here and work, and entrepreneurs to come here and invest. Our immigration rules have often given the strong impression that many such people are simply not welcome here. The poor performance of the UK Border Agency, which often took months to make decisions, has made matters far worse. When I talk to companies in Cambridge, the major issue they raise is often immigration policy and how hard it is to get the people they need. I know the Minister has been good at standing up for science in that area.

Departments say that the number of high-calibre applicants has fallen, with promising students heading off to the United States, Canada or Australia because the UK is viewed as student-unfriendly. We have even been thanked for that by leaders in competitor countries. We do not want to be thanked for helping them to take our students.

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The Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), came to Cambridge a couple of weeks ago, and I thank him publicly for doing so. He met language schools, businesses and universities, and it is fair to say that he was surprised by some of the problems he encountered, which relate not to the direction of Government policy but to UKBA’s over-interpretation of the rules. He offered to help fix many of the problems we are facing, and I thank him very much for that. I hope that will make the difference, because details, as well as the overall policy and messaging, matter. We have to show that we are open internationally in fact and in rhetoric, because we want the brightest and the best to come here to contribute to our economy.

There are many attitude issues that I could talk about in the time remaining. We need to push further on the important issue of open access. It is absolutely right in principle, and the Minister for Universities and Science is right to push ahead with it. It reflects the change in how publication works, with the transition of costs away from distribution, because we can just look at pdfs, the cost of which is very low. Open access is the right thing to do, and will open up information for many more people and help businesses to set up, but more care is needed with the transition, as is a bit more funding. It has to be made very clear, particularly to some nervous academics, that there is no intention to use open access as a way of banning the publication of good work. There will be difficulties during that transition, but we must get there in the end.

There is the related issue of open data. I visited the Open Data Institute in Shoreditch earlier today, and I have to say that I was seriously impressed. It is doing some very impressive work. To give one example of the power of open data, early on in its existence it did a study of statins in which it looked at the data available from prescriptions—anonymised data that did not identify any individuals—and showed that if generics were prescribed instead of brand-label drugs, in cases in which there was no clinical need for the branded drug, it could save £200 million across the NHS. That study was doable because the data were open. There is a huge potential there, of which that study is only the start.

We must encourage academics to publish data in an open way wherever possible, and that should be tied to funding support. A classic case is clinical trials. GlaxoSmithKline has been excellent in opening data on its historical and current clinical trials, for which I strongly commend it. That improves safety and allows better use of existing drugs. I must say that not all pharmaceutical companies are quite so open, but I hope they will all follow GSK’s excellent example.

We must ensure that there is much better use of evidence-informed policy in decision making in this place and in Whitehall, which is far too often lacking. I shall say more about that in two days’ time, when we have a debate on drugs policy in this Chamber. We need to strengthen the role of chief scientific advisers, and we should also look at having a chief social science adviser, so that that area is not neglected but made prominent.

Lastly, we must do far more to encourage more contact between policy makers and academics, so they can learn where there is fresh thinking. One great model for that is the Centre for Science and Policy in Cambridge,

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and I particularly highlight the work of David Cleevely, who set it up. It has proved an excellent tool to make sure that people in the civil service and businesses can find out what is happening at the interface between science and policy in Cambridge.

We have a lot to do to support science and research: the money, the people and the attitude must be there. If we get this right, we will deliver jobs and growth, new knowledge and exciting technologies, and global competiveness and inward investment; if we get it wrong, we will sabotage our future. I hope that all colleagues will support this call.

2.58 pm

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton, and to respond to this debate on behalf of the Opposition. The debate is timely given that, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) said, we will be going into the comprehensive spending review period later this month. I congratulate him on securing the debate. He is right that we had to postpone our Campaign for Science and Engineering debate, so it is good to pick up some of the issues here this afternoon that we would have discussed in that perhaps more adversarial format.

As a scientist before he became a Member, the hon. Gentleman has a deep commitment to this policy area. Occasionally, I gently point out to him that he is a coalition Member—although not himself in government, his party is—but it sometimes feels as though he is making a pitch from outside the Government, rather than from within. He has a consistent record of arguing for the points that he makes.

The hon. Gentleman gave the example of Cambridge and, as its MP, he obviously has a very strong story to tell. He has a truly world-class university and truly world-class companies on his patch that are doing great business for UK plc by pushing the boundaries of invention and innovation. I will duck the opportunity of trying to get my tongue around his twister of ships and chips and so on, but the company that he mentioned is good not just for his region, but for the country and our whole standing.

The hon. Gentleman also made some important points about innovation as distinct from the overall funding that we provide for science and research. He talked about the incredible importance of the European Union and the money that it makes available for science and research. The UK punches above its weight, as it does in so many other areas, in terms of attracting that investment. Although this is not the place to talk about referendums and our future relationship with the European Union, let me just say that many in the science community support our continued EU membership; they know how important it is to the framework of science and research in our country.

The hon. Gentleman also made some good points about people that I will come to later in my contribution. Given that the comprehensive spending review is looming, we cannot help but talk about the money side of things. I hope that the Minister will use some of the points that are made to him today to arm him as he and the Business Secretary go into those difficult discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is true that we are at a critical juncture for the future of science and

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research in our country. It is unclear whether we will be able to retain and grow our standing in the world or whether we will fall behind in this aspect of the global race. As the Royal Society says, we must keep running just to stand still. That is the scale of the challenge that we face and something that must be in the mind of the Minister, the Business Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as they make their decisions in a few weeks’ time.

I am sure the Minister will talk about the Government’s ring-fencing and protection of the science budget thus far in this Parliament. However, he will recognise, as I hope the hon. Member for Cambridge will too, that the true picture is not all that rosy. Although many in the science community are genuinely grateful for the deal that the Minister and the Business Secretary achieved for science on the grounds that it could have been a lot worse, some significant issues about the funding of science still cannot be ignored.

The reality is that we are in danger of losing our standing as a world leader for science and innovation because of the cumulative effect of a short-termist, piecemeal approach, which is underpinned by real-terms cuts in the science budget. The Minister will accept the research by the Library and the Campaign for Science and Engineering that shows the 14% real-terms cut in the science budget thus far and the impact that that will have on our capacity to keep up with our competitors. Not only was this flat cash settlement an actual cut, but the science budget itself only represents about 50% of Government science spending. As we all know, science spending has been hit in other ways, too. For example, the scrapping of the regional development agencies, which spent something like £440 million per annum on science-related programmes before the last CSR round, has led to another reduction in funding.

Furthermore, capital spending, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, was cut at the beginning of this Parliament by 40%—a total of £1.4 billion. It is fair to say that the Minister and the Business Secretary have worked hard on this matter and implored the Chancellor to put back some of that money. As the hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out, we all know that we are still some £300 million short. The boldness of the decision to cut capital spending by 40% has not been met by a boldness of action to put it back, despite the fact that a mistake was made and that it should be rectified. We are seeing a piecemeal and unco-ordinated way of putting back some of that money. Researchers and industry need a clear investment framework on which they can rely to plan properly for the long term.

The long term really matters in science. The big projects that have been making the news recently, such as the work being done at CERN or at the Crick institute, did not come to life at the beginning of one Parliament and complete their cycle at the end of that Parliament; these are things that take five, 10, 15 or 20 years in the planning, the doing, the inventing and the innovating and then, we hope, in the finding of successful outcomes.

A clear, long-term framework is very important to the science community. One Government decision that I have the most difficulty with and that we would seek to change if we were to form the next Government would be the scrapping of Labour’s 10-year investment

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framework. What we have seen is a return to a short-term spending cycle. As I have said, researchers and industry need a long-term vision, so that they can plan over time. Although we had a 10-year spending cycle when we were in Government, the Royal Society has called for a 15-year period, and there are others who would argue for longer still. It is clear that long-termism is needed. The result of a short-termist, piecemeal approach is that the UK is falling behind other countries when it comes to investment in science.

I am afraid to say that the Government have also backed away from any commitment to meeting the Lisbon 2020 target of 3% investment in R and D that they had publicly accepted. Even allowing for the current economic situation, we have not been given any goal or even heard how we might catch up in future years. It would be good if we were able to get some detail on that, so that even allowing for the current decisions over how we meet the country’s fiscal challenges, we may at least be able to say when we return to growth that there is some plan for catching up that target.

Many of our international competitors are increasing their science budgets, even those with their own deficit reduction programmes. I come back to the point made by the Royal Society that we have to keep running just to stand still, and keeping up with our competitor countries really matters.

The overall condition of our essential research infrastructure will decline without long-term investment, so scrimping on maintenance capital now will progressively affect research. It will build an investment backlog for the future and it will negatively affect our ability to attract and retain the best global talent. The low level of investment now is not sustainable, and it is storing up problems for future Governments if we have any hope of maintaining our world leading position in science. I hope that we can all agree that we should try to maintain that position.

We do science well in this country. I often say that it should be a bigger part of our national narrative. We often talk about the British as the underdogs in business, punching above our weight, but our world-class higher education sector and our capacity to do science are essential parts of the British story. When it comes to higher education in particular, we are the preferred educators of the world. That is why so many international students want to come to our country.

We are also recognised as leading scientists and thinkers, so our capacity to innovate is something that is appreciated by the rest of the world; it is a competitive advantage and something that we should put front and centre of how we plan to be a major economic force in the middle part of this century. There is a lot of rhetoric around the global race—in political terms, it is a sexy thing to talk about—but it needs to be backed up with some action. I fear that at the moment the short-termist approach will prevent us from being in a position in which we can say that we are going to win the global race.

Dr Huppert: The hon. Lady is saying much that I agree with, particularly with regard to the concerns about short-termism. We want to see a long-term amount of money. Obviously, long-term protection is only good if it goes up. Will she say whether she agrees with my

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proposal to have a 15-year above-inflation increase in the ring-fenced science budget? I hope that she will say yes, and work on actually delivering it.

Shabana Mahmood: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He will not be shocked to hear that I am not going to give a spending commitment for what a Labour Government would do in 2015. However, the broader point is that long-termism is not just about the headline amount given to science. Saying, “This is your deal for 10, or maybe 15, years—off you go” is also important because it encourages private sector investment; the private sector will know that a Government are serious about science, and it will know what will happen if they stay in power at the next election. That certainty breeds greater investment, and it will offer a much better deal. I cannot, of course, give the exact sums that we will allocate when we, I hope, form the Government in 2015, but we will return to that theme as we continue to debate these important issues.

Let me move away from the size of the budget and the length of the spending cycle on which it is based. The hon. Gentleman talked a lot about people, and that is a really important part of science policy, although we often forget that when we are grappling with the overall sums and how long they are allocated for. In particular, he raised a really important point about women in science, which is something I have picked up on since I took up the science bit of my brief. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), was a female scientist, so she had experience of being a woman in what is very much a man’s world. I pay tribute to her work as a woman in science and a woman who speaks up for science and scientific issues.

There is clearly a problem: if we cannot ensure that we take forward the best talent that we have and make the most of it, we are truly missing out on something that should be a competitive advantage. Many in the science community tell me that the problem is often less about getting women into undergraduate science degree programmes and more about retaining them once they have graduated, when they are trying to plot their careers as researchers and academics and to combine their work with family life and career breaks to have children. I have said a number of times that the issue is not unique to the scientific community; it is a problem across our society, and those of us in the world of politics know only too well the difficulties that political parties of all persuasions have in attracting female talent into politics and in ensuring that women can progress to the very top in much the same way as men. This is therefore a cross-sector, societal issue, and it is important for the science community, too. In the few months that I have had this brief, I am pleased that so many people—not just women—have wanted to talk to me about women in science and about how we can do more to attract and, equally importantly, retain female talent in the science pool.