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Connexions was not just about careers advice. Funding was made available to support young people like Thomas or others who for other reasons were not making a good transfer to further education or work. There was funding for programmes that provided support, training and education for young people, including a summer programme for 16-year-olds from the New Opportunities Fund. An activity agreement provided an allowance in return for fulfilling an agreed action plan and funding was provided to purchase experiential learning opportunities. There was a learning agreement aimed at engaging local employers and increasing the number of young people in jobs with training. The programme offered financial incentives to employers and young people, in combination with suitably brokered learning provision.

In Wigan there was a range of bespoke projects aimed at the most vulnerable young people in the borough—including teenage pregnancy courses and a video production course for young offenders. The re-engage project built on the success of the activity agreement pilot by securing a discretionary fund for young people living in Wigan’s most deprived neighbourhoods. That also funded summer projects, in partnership with the youth service, to keep school leavers engaged. An apprenticeship pathways project was delivered by Wigan college and local learning providers, which looked at new ways of engaging and motivating closer to the labour market young people who were struggling to find opportunities. Wigan council’s supported employment team was funded to assist young people with learning difficulties in accessing work opportunities. The council delivered a successful apprenticeship programme, recruiting young people and supporting them through trained mentors. In partnership with local learning providers and colleges, it successfully delivered a range of activities to engage and motivate NEET and potentially NEET clients—including the clearing house, taster sessions, locality-based summer programmes and careers events.

What happened as a result of all that support and all those programmes? Youth unemployment fell by 40% from 1997 to the start of the global financial crisis, and more than half the young people on jobseeker’s allowance were off it within three months. But now it is all gone.

Most young people from advantaged backgrounds will make the transition from school to employment, probably via university, with few problems, but surely we have a duty to support young people who, through no fault of their own, will find that transition difficult or impossible. We owe it to young people to help them fulfil their potential. We owe it to them to give them the best possible support and advice from trained and qualified advisers. I hope that the Government will do another U-turn and save either the Connexions service or the careers service—at least something that will be valuable to young people. And while they are at it, I hope that they will save the youth service, too.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): There are two speakers and 12 minutes left.

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9.28 pm

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): I thank the shadow Secretary of State for bringing this debate to the House, as I believe it is valuable—one of the most important debates I have attended since being elected. It is only a shame that so few Members are present to hear the contributions. [Interruption.] I am not naming names, just making a comment. The principle behind the motion is very good, but the way in which it has been written is very poor. [Interruption.] Those might be the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) but they are not in this motion. The problem with it is—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) has only just come into the Chamber, yet he seems to think this is a joke.

The motion says:

“That this House believes that the Government should act urgently to guarantee face-to-face careers advice for all young people in schools.”

It does not tell us how many times, at what stage careers advice is needed, or how old the young people should be. Let me explain why I believe it has been badly written. If it had been written differently, I might have been able to support it.

When I was leader of Burnley council some three years ago, I went to a junior school to speak to some year 6 students who were just about to leave the school and go on to secondary education. The headmistress had invited a number of prominent people in the town—the mayor, myself and one or two more—to say what our jobs were. After we had told the young people what our jobs were, we asked them what sort of vision they had for their future. One little girl said that she was interested in becoming a nursery nurse, as she had some siblings and was keen on looking after them. The shock for me came when one young man said, “I want to be a benefit claimant.” That was the aspiration in life of a young man of 11, and he had never been given any different advice. When I asked him why, he said, “My dad and uncle are benefit claimants and we live very well off it, so why should I get up every morning to go to work?” When I told the head teacher afterwards how stunned I was at that, she said, “I’m afraid that’s the way of the world round here.” I then decided that I would look into how that happened, and what we could do to try to stop it.

After that we got talking to people in the secondary schools. The secondary schools in Burnley have gone through a torrid time, although I am pleased to say that they are now recovering. Nobody in here needs to tell me about privileged students; if they came to Burnley, they would find that we do not have very many privileged students at the moment. I thought it would be a great idea to get the companies involved, and we managed to get a big company involved in every school. They carry out a lot of careers advice because they are the professionals; they know what educational skills they need from the people who are coming to them.

A lot of young people want to go on to university, and that is fine, but a lot of young people are going on to university to study subjects that do not qualify them for any jobs when they have finished studying them, while there are a number of jobs in manufacturing, particularly in Burnley, for which we cannot get staff.

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One company in Burnley is looking for 300 skilled workers and cannot get them. It has suddenly decided that taking on a vast number of apprentices, through the Government’s apprenticeship scheme, is a good idea. But a young person of 16 does not get to be a skilled airframe fitter or aero-engine fitter by the time they are 17. The process takes four or five years. For the past 30 years that process has not happened; we have let the whole thing fall apart. I am not blaming the Labour Government or the previous Tory Government, but that has happened; this is where we are.

We have a careers service that has failed the young people of this country for the past 30 years, and we desperately need to do something about it. We do not need the Government to do everything; we need to get the professionals from industry involved. Why do we not invite Sir John Rose, who has retired from Rolls-Royce, to talk to people and advise them about how he would run a careers service? He has run Rolls-Royce for donkey’s years and made it very successful. I do not think that the Government can do this on their own. People outside government can give better advice than anybody within it.

I suggest that the Government should examine what they are doing. I accept the need to do more and if money is available, I hope that they will do more. I also think that the local colleges and further education colleges could do more. Twice a year Burnley college has a careers day, when it invites all the companies from Burnley and most of them attend. They put stands up and speak to young people, and they take vast numbers of young people on as a result of those nights. One company took six apprentices on as a result of one of these nights—young people who had never thought of going into that sort of industry.

We cannot take too narrow an approach to this issue. We should expand it to include everybody involved in employing young people once they have finished school or university. I implore the Government to examine all the options. As I have said, I am disappointed that the motion has been so badly written. [Interruption.] It is not my right hon. Friend’s motion; it is the shadow Secretary of State’s motion. It is badly written—but if it had said, “We want to do this at certain times of people’s education and there is some money for it here,” I assure hon. Members that I would have supported it. Unfortunately, the Opposition motion does not say that.

9.35 pm

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): So much to say, and so little time to say it in.

Many of the contributions from Opposition Members have been about bad careers advice, stereotyping and ambition limiting. The unfortunate point is that guaranteeing that advice will be provided face to face does not get rid of bad advice; all that it guarantees is that the advice will be heard more directly. The title of this debate displayed on the annunciator is “Careers Service (Young People)”, but doing real service to young people in their careers is about much more than specifying a certain amount of time with the man from the council. It only happens when the whole education system and the economy work together on young people’s careers. We must take a much bigger, broader, holistic view of

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this at a national level, in industry, throughout the education system and in interaction with individual young people.

As we know, we live in a rapidly changing world that has already changed in many ways, not least through the disappearance of many jobs that young people used to do between the ages of 16 and 18 and in terms of the types of skills we need for the jobs that we expect to be available in the future. As the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) rightly said, the range of different jobs that people might now do over their lifetime calls for much more flexibility.

We do not have a great record in this country, historically, of picking winners, but we need to recognise that certain industries will be growth industries at which we need to excel. Without exception they are industries that need greater skills, and we need to help young people to focus on them. We need better links between industry and education, both so industries can inspire young people to want to go and work in them and so that the skills sets that come out of the education system include the things they need as companies, and that we need as an economy and as a country to succeed in the world. There also needs to be a feedback mechanism so that companies and sectors can tell the education system what they are looking for. We often hear complaints about what comes out, but it is not quite so clear what the mechanism for change is.

There must also be opportunities, of course, for young people to experience, sample and gain experience and training in firms, and I welcome the expansion in apprenticeships and work placements. I agree that we must look again at how the internship system works. We have heard about internships from Opposition Members, and a number of Members of Parliament have taken the decision that they will ensure that internships are paid, so that they are available to the full range of young people.

Education as a whole must guide young people towards fulfilling careers. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Leigh left colleges out of the motion, as they are an important part of the education system. He referred only to schools, but of course the whole system must work effectively. I do not think anybody could doubt the Government’s commitment to reforming the education system, both to raise the average level of education and, crucially, to narrow the yawning and embarrassing gap between rich and poor.

I am afraid that in parts of the education system too many young people have not been guided towards fulfilling careers. Let me quote the Wolf report:

“The staple offer for between a quarter and a third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational qualifications, most of which have little to no labour market value.”

At an even earlier stage—coming up to key stage 4—it seems that some young people are guided towards subjects that will boost the school’s performance in the league tables more than they might boost the individual’s performance in the job market and their opportunities through life. Perhaps they get face-to-face advice: perhaps somebody tells them that all GCSE subjects will be worth the same to them as any other; perhaps somebody tells them that equivalencies will always be accepted in the outside world; and perhaps somebody tells them

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that getting a GCSE in accountancy, law or financial services is a key step to starting a career in one of those professions.

I welcome what the Government are doing to publish destination data on schools as well as more information on higher education institutions, and I also welcome the reform of the key stage 4 league tables. I also welcome the somewhat controversial—in parts—English baccalaureate. The simple fact is that those core subjects have a premium value among employers and higher education institutions, and we should stop fibbing to young people. It is not a full curriculum. There is plenty of room for options on top of the English baccalaureate, but the best advice we can give to a young person who wants to keep their options as open as possible is to include in what they study those core academic subjects. Of course it will not be for everyone, and I also welcome the Government’s moves to ensure that the league tables and metrics recognise equally the progress of every child. We must find new and better ways to ensure that post-16 students are more engaged with mathematics.

In conclusion, the motion talks about guaranteeing good careers advice. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that the only way to guarantee a good careers service for young people is if all the elements—at national level, in industry, in education, and direct advice for people—are working in concert.

9.40 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): May I begin by extending the Opposition’s best wishes to the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning? He always makes these debates an absolute delight and pleasure; frankly, we have missed him today and we very much hope that he has a speedy recovery from his operation.

The debate has not been what I expected, which was more of the yah-boo politics that we have come to expect in the House. I expected to hear, “You spent too much money,” coming from one side and, “You don’t care about vulnerable people,” on the other. I have been struck by how much consensus there has been and what a good, measured, well-informed and excellent tone there has been throughout. At its best, the debate has featured hon. Members being very much in agreement. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have contributed tonight, particularly to the spirit in which the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) made his remarks. What I did find regrettable, however, were the contortions that he and the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) got into in saying, “We agree with every single point that the Opposition are making regarding the motion, but we cannot possibly vote with them tonight,” for whatever reason.

Dan Rogerson: The point that might have escaped the shadow Minister is that the Opposition have taken one recommendation out of a whole report and sought to force a vote on something tonight that they never provided for when they were in government. Unfortunately, that brings a yah-boo, cynical element to something that goes much wider. It would be better to debate the full report from the Government and the reaction to that report.

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Mr Wright: I disagree. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark made an excellent and measured contribution about expanding the provision of careers advice to younger pupils, about making sure that we have a wide variety of work experience and about making sure that careers guidance is not offered on a wet Wednesday afternoon, as we mentioned in the Committee on the Education Bill. I agree with every word. This is more complex than it just being about face-to-face guidance, but face-to-face guidance is an important complementary step. I should have thought that he agreed with that and would want to show his support and put pressure on the Government by joining us in the Lobby tonight.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman knows that I respect his commitment to these issues both before he came to the House and since he has been here. We are very clear that we want the same objective. Tonight is a chance for the Labour party to put its cards on the table, and we have made our position clear about where we want the Government to get to. I believe that they have listened and that the Minister will respond, and I hope that in not many weeks from now we will end up where we all want to be.

Mr Wright: The Minister said earlier that he did not want to rule anything in or out regarding the right hon. Gentleman’s recommendations and I should have thought that meant an abstention in tonight’s debate to make sure that all the cards were on the table, but that does not seem to be the case. I do think that the Minister is thinking about moving in that direction and I hope that he will accept an amendment to the Education Bill—we will certainly put pressure on him as the Bill makes its way through the Lords—but it is disappointing that, in the spirit of consensus that we have seen in tonight’s debate, he cannot make more positive remarks to make sure that we make provision for face-to-face guidance.

Two or three weeks ago, our young people got excellent GCSE and A-level results and, as hon. Members have said tonight, we should all celebrate their success. The Minister said in August that

“we have to make sure we prepare young people for the future, whether they are going onto further education, training or into the workplace.”

He reiterated that tonight by saying that it is important for young people to make the right choices in order for them to be guided in the future. We could not agree more, but it is abundantly clear that the Government are failing to do that.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has made clear, young people are facing the most difficult and turbulent prospects for at least a generation. The modern world is complex and often disorienting and is unrecognisable from what it was a few short years ago, both in its challenges and in its opportunities. The certainties that we had in the labour markets in the 1950s and 1960s when the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), listened to his gramophone records have gone for good. Much of that change is due to large-scale shifts in global forces, such as the economic rise of China. The present economic situation is made more difficult by the current turbulence in the global economy. I fully accept that when global aggregate

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demand goes down, additional pressure is placed on youth employment, but the Government’s policies are making a bad situation very much worse.

As we heard in an earlier debate today, the loss of EMA, the abolition of the future jobs fund, the scrapping of the young people’s guarantee, the trebling of tuition fees and the ending of Aimhigher have made it more difficult than ever for young people in this country to work hard, to get on and to succeed. That implicit contract that we had, in place since the post-war era and shared by successive Governments, that somehow the next generation would do better than the previous generation, is in real danger of being broken. That was made clear in an excellent contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg).

In difficult and confusing times such as these we need, now more than ever, an effective, functioning and professional careers service to support and navigate young people through the turbulence. We need a personalised service, with close links between the young person and the adviser. We need, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said tonight, face-to-face guidance, helping to motivate, inspire and enthuse young people in difficult times.

In the current economic difficulties, when a young person receives rejection letter after rejection letter, it is neither use nor ornament just to point them to a phone. As my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said, IT is important but we cannot do it with technology alone. We need a professional to say to that young person, “Keep going,” or “I think you should try this,” or “This might suit you.” As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) said, we need in the careers service trusted professionals who know the young people—young people such as Thomas—who can help inspire and motivate them. Tragically, the cuts to such services mean that the professionalism and expertise of careers personnel has been lost, and lost for good.

Time and again in the debate we heard that our young people from places across the country have been denied such opportunities. We heard that from my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield and for Darlington (Mrs Chapman), who in a powerful speech expressed her concern that high-quality advice might be confined to those in fee-paying schools.

Ministers in the Department for Education pride themselves on trusting professionals to make the right decisions, but we have had in the last month the astonishing, and possibly unprecedented, situation where a Government advisory group of some 20 renowned experts and professionals considered resigning en masse in protest at the Government’s shambolic and incompetent handling of careers services for young people. Steve Higginbotham, president of the Institute of Career Guidance, blasted the Government and stated that the service

“will not be an all-age careers service. It is a rebranded Next Step service for adults plus an all-age telephone advice line and website.”

As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said, if the Government truly wish to aid social mobility and break the cycle of multigenerational worklessness or low aspiration, they need to provide all possible tools. By removing face-to-face careers guidance for all young people, they are taking one of those vital tools away.

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Ministers also often cite international comparisons to support their policies. The hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) cited those a lot tonight. But international evidence shows clearly that devolving such career advice to schools has not worked in other countries. Professor Tony Watts, giving evidence to the Education Committee, stated that in studying 55 countries it emerged that three negative things happen when it comes to school-based guidance. First, impartiality goes out of the window because schools have a direct and vested interest; secondly, there is a weakening in links with the labour market; and finally there is an unevenness in performance in schools. Professor Watts said that two countries, New Zealand and the Netherlands, have recently done what this Government are now doing, and in both cases it resulted in a significant erosion in the quality of help as well as the breadth of its extent.

I mentioned the Education Committee. In its excellent report on participation in education and training by 16 to 19-year-olds, it makes a valued point on the unease about the Government’s changes to careers. That was highlighted several times tonight. It draws attention to the fact that the Department for Education’s funding commitments to an all-age careers service consists only of online and phone services. As we heard tonight, the Select Committee makes the very clear recommendation that the Departments should fund face-to-face careers guidance for young people under the age of 18. Opposition Members very much agree.

So I ask the Minister—for the sake of his career, let alone the careers of hundreds of thousands of young people—to look again at this important matter. Will he listen to the impassioned pleas made tonight by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he consider the almost unanimous view of professionals? Will he take on board the Education Committee’s reasoned comments? Will he listen to what is best for young people? Will he listen again to the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and act urgently to guarantee face-to-face careers information, advice and guidance for all and not just some young people in schools? Listening to the speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that definitely seems to be the will of hon. Members tonight. I commend the motion to the House in a spirit of consensus.

9.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): First, I agree with the shadow Minister that we have had a lively, good-humoured and balanced debate this evening, even if it has lacked the sagacity and flair of my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. I am sure that we all wish him well in his recovery.

I must repeat that the Secretary of State is not here this evening because, heeding the shadow Secretary of State’s advice, he is not hiding his head in an ivory tower; he is out meeting 100 excellent head teachers who have gone to see him to talk about weighty matters—five times the number of Labour Members who bothered to come to the Chamber to listen to the shadow Secretary of State when he opened the Labour party’s debate in this Opposition day earlier this evening, so let us get things into perspective.

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We heard the same old script. Whether it is “Groundhog Day”, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), a wind-up gramophone—a phrase used by my hon. Friend the Minister—or an over-heated iPod, the shadow Secretary of State and the hon. Members for Halton (Derek Twigg), who is not here, and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) came out with the same old stuff: where is the money? They should tell us where the money went. Where did the money go? Why did we have such an inheritance, which meant that difficult decisions had to be made? Why has face-to-face advice become such a totemic issue? If it was such a be-all and end-all that it had to be guaranteed, why did the previous Labour Government, in 13 years of running the careers service, never offer that guarantee? Why has it become so totemic now?

It was an understatement par excellence by the shadow Secretary of State when he said that the previous system was not perfect. He is dead right that it was not perfect. Labour Members left a system where youth unemployment had risen from 664,000 to 924,000 on their watch and where the number of NEETs aged between 15 and 19 rose from 8% to 8.8% when it was falling in other OECD countries. They left far too many of our young people without the basic literacy and numeracy skills that they need to get any career going at all.

Labour Members trotted out the same old platitudes and clichés. The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) said that we are interested only in the elites. If pioneering a pupil premium for the most disadvantaged young people from the most disadvantaged estates in this country is an elite, call me elitist. If giving special treatment to those children in care who suffer appalling outcomes after 13 years of Labour Government is elite, call me elitist. If it is elitist to offer 250,000 additional apprenticeships and 80,000 more work experience places and to ensure that we will raise the participation age, despite the financial pressures at the moment, call me an elitist. Our view of elitism is to ensure that every child in this country gets a fair crack of the whip and a fair opportunity to get a decent career—something that got worse under the previous Government.

The hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman)—the successor to Alan Milburn, who came up in just about every speech that we heard—gave us the most unparalleled outpouring of stereotypes that I have ever heard in 14 years in the House: the feminine qualifications of cake decorating and the colour of cars. She talked about social mobility and said, “If Labour is about anything, it is about social mobility.” Why, then, after 13 years of Labour, at key stage 4 did 68.5% of non-free-school-meal pupils achieve five or more A to C grade GCSEs or the equivalent, compared with only 30.9% of free-school-meal pupils? Why did only 8% of free-school-meal pupils take the E-bac, with 4% achieving it, as against 24% of non-FSM pupils? Why, at age 18, are 29% of young people who have claimed free school meals not in employment, education or training? That is more than double the rate for those who had not claimed free school meals, for whom the figure is 13%. If that is social mobility under Labour, I do not want any of it. It is up to this Government to do something about social mobility, which Labour talked and talked about but delivered in reverse.

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The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), whom I respect greatly as a former Chair of the Select Committee, said that in his day technology alone would certainly not have solved the problem. Of course it would not; technology has moved on enormously in the past 10 or 20 years. Who, 20 years ago, would have envisaged ringing up NHS Direct to get medical advice, or using computer programs to get mental health advice? It is horses for courses. He talks about localism; what localism means for us is leaving it up to the expertise in the schools—the professionals, teachers and heads—to decide whether careers advice should be given face to face, over the internet, over the phone, or even by retaining Connexions. [Interruption.] If Labour Members listen, they will learn something, I hope. I have four minutes to try to get them to learn something, but they are in denial about where the money went, about where the £200 million exclusively to guarantee face-to-face interviews will come from, and about social mobility, when they know that it went the wrong way under Labour.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) for the work he has done on the subject, and for his report. He is interested not in numbers, but in quality. He says that there has been a proliferation of courses and qualifications, and he is absolutely right. That is why we are ensuring a concentration on good-quality, core subjects that people can understand—subjects in which employers want the people whom they take on to have qualifications.

My hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), in another excellent and typically thoughtful speech, said that we need pupils to have a core general education. We need real subjects for real jobs. Teachers, who did not feature much in the contributions of Opposition Members, have a crucial role in inspiring young people in the classroom. In the same way, people from industry—engineers, business men and women, scientists, doctors—who were mentioned by several hon. Members, have a crucial role to play in coming into classrooms and giving their face-to-face advice, and experience of what it is like to go into their career.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) gave some very good examples of good practice in his constituency. He talked about an industry day, when real people come in and share their real-life experiences to inspire others. We are talking about people who have lived those experiences, trained for those experiences, and are making a living from them. All that can happen under the new system; it is up to the schools to decide, because we trust the schools. We trust the teachers and head teachers to make the right decisions on the ground, locally, for the children whom they teach, and to have an interest in what those children go on to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) talked about “Groundhog Day”; he got it absolutely right. You would not believe it from the opening speech, or from other contributions from Labour Members, but there was never a golden age of careers advice. It was as if things had suddenly gone down the plug-hole after the election. The hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) talked about the youth service, as she often does; she has expertise in the subject.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

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Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 220, Noes 288.

Division No. 349]

[9.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Irranca-Davies, Huw

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Hendrick and

Gregg McClymont


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mr Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Grant, Mrs Helen

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Paice, rh Mr James

Patel, Priti

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Rory

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Stephen Crabb and

Norman Lamb

Question accordingly negatived.

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1005

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1006

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1007

Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Rights of the Child

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 7226/11, a Commission Communication on an EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child; welcomes the Government’s commitment

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1008

to children’s rights and urges that any European Union-level action in this area supports rather than supplants the role of Member States.

—(Miss Chloe Smith.)

Question agreed to.


Swansea Coastguard Station

10.16 pm

Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): I present a petition on behalf of the “Save Swansea Coastguard” campaign, which in a few weeks has collected more than 100,000 signatures in opposition to the closure of the coastguard station at Mumbles, Swansea.

The petition states:

The Petition of people concerned about maritime safety in the Bristol Channel,

Declares that the recommendation of the UK Government to close the Swansea Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at Tutts Head, Mumbles, would endanger the lives and wellbeing of people on the water and around the coast of the Bristol Channel.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons press the UK Government to retain the Swansea Maritime Rescue Centre as a 24-hour staffed coastguard station.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Lauderdale Avenue Tram Crossing (Blackpool)

10.17 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I should like to present a petition from the people of Blackpool and Cleveleys.

The petition declares:

The Petition of the people of Blackpool and Cleveleys,

Declares that the Petitioners are opposed to the permanent closure of the Lauderdale Avenue/Blandford Avenue crossing to traffic and pedestrians.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage Blackpool Council to ensure that the Lauderdale Avenue/Blandford Avenue crossing remains open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Port of Falmouth Masterplan

10.18 pm

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): This petition states:

The Petition of the residents of Falmouth,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the dredging of Falmouth Harbour should be permitted to go ahead so as to enable the implementation of the Port of Falmouth Masterplan which is essential to the future prosperity of Falmouth.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ensure that the Marine Management Organisation strikes the appropriate balance between environmental protection and social and economic development, with particular regard to the Port of Falmouth Masterplan including the dredging of Falmouth Harbour.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


13 Sep 2011 : Column 1009

Microgravity Research

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)

10.19 pm

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): This is a rather esoteric subject on the face of it, so I should like to explain why I have chosen it. I am vice-chairman of the parliamentary space committee, and as a consequence of that role I have come into contact with many people in the space industry who have spoken to me about microgravity, the research thereof and its potential value to the British economy. I do not have any direct constituency link, although I have a local company that provides equipment for satellites. In the past decade, the UK space industry has been growing, year on year, at a rate in excess of 10%. I genuinely think that it should be part of the Government’s growth strategy and that it would contribute to the diversification of this country’s economic base. I have had the particular pleasure of meeting Tim Peake, who is the only British astronaut on the European Space Agency manned programme, and who also happens to be a champion of microgravity. That is quite important, because it indicates how good we are in Britain at research in this area.

Why have microgravity research? First, as I said, the UK is very strong in that area. Microgravity crosses a large number of fields, and that may contribute to why it has not always received support from the research councils. Secondly, it has huge potential economic benefits, particularly in bio-medicine. Thirdly, I do not think I am alone in this House in thinking that we should have a manned space flight programme. We need to do that with partners—perhaps with Europe, Russia or the United States—but I genuinely believe that we are better off seeking out new knowledge, endeavour and aspiration. All those things are positives, and Britain was at its best when it was displaying those facets.

Let me explain the structure of my speech. First, I will explain microgravity. I am sure that all colleagues here understand it fully and do not need a definition, but I will provide it for the benefit of the many people who have tuned into BBC Parliament for this debate. I will then touch on the sectors that microgravity research can impact on; talk about the history of the involvement in microgravity research, or the lack thereof, of Governments, this one and previous; and put some questions to the Minister.

As life evolved on this earth, lots of physical and chemical change took place in the environment that caused adaptations to take place in life, be it plant or animal. The only thing that has been constant in 4.8 billion years is gravity. It is therefore thought that organisms now have little or no genetic memory of how they would respond to low gravity, and that the low-gravity environment could uncover some novel mechanisms and responses to adaptations that may benefit the economy through commercial applications. That is basically why researchers are so eager to get into space, so to speak, to test the impact of microgravity.

This definition is just one of many I have read:

“Microgravity research = the research into the impact of low or zero gravity on human health and on other materials, and the exploitation of the low gravity environment to conduct research into pure science and human applications.”

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1010

We can create such low gravity here on earth in drop towers—something like those found at Alton Towers—or through parabolic flights. However, the best place for it to happen is in space. It can be done by a sounding rocket; at the moment, it is done at the international space station. Why conduct the research? Put simply, gravity adds complexity to certain experiments by contributing to convection currents, shear stresses and buoyancy, and that can impact on processes that we would like to study. In order to try to remove those potentially confounding variables from the experiment, one needs to go into a microgravity environment, and the best place for that is in space.

Let me turn to the sectors that may be impacted on, both economically and in terms of human knowledge and pushing back these boundaries. First, I will mention bio-medicine; as a doctor, I would be expected to do so. The bio-medical applications are numerous. Essentially, it is thought that putting cells—any cells—into a microgravity environment affects the way in which they work. Understanding how cells work and how they communicate with one another will have broad applications in the study of cancer, coronary heart disease, AIDS and diabetes. We can all understand that that might lead to the development of new therapies and drugs that would benefit mankind. In economic terms, if British patents were attached to such developments, UK plc would benefit.

One can also grow pure protein crystals in microgravity, and by doing so aid the understanding of the immune system, which would again benefit health care. One of the most noted areas is musculoskeletal systems and the response of bone and muscle. I am sure that most hon. Members know that spacemen who have spent lots of time in space have been found to have reduced bone density and muscle wastage. Why that happens is not fully understood. By trying to understanding that and how tissue remodels, we may very well find new techniques to treat musculoskeletal disorders.

Another sector where microgravity can be used is fluid physics. The understanding of the forces that affect fluids has wide applications. If we can understand them better, it might contribute to the miniaturisation of electronic devices. The BlackBerrys and laptops that we use have all benefited from greater knowledge in this area. Using these developments will undeniably lead to a reduction in costs for the customer when they buy such electronic devices at John Lewis and elsewhere.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I am not an expert in microgravity research—far from it—but I had a wee look at it before the debate. I understand that some microgravity research has looked at earthquakes and the pre-warning of earthquakes. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would comment on that, because obviously if people can be warned of earthquakes and tremors, it might save life.

Dr Lee: I have absolutely no idea about the prediction of earthquakes and I am struggling to think why an understanding of microgravity would help to determine when there might be an earthquake. The hon. Gentleman has given me something to look up when I leave the Chamber.

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1011

The final area is material science. Understanding how materials or composite materials behave in a microgravity environment might help to develop new alloys and ceramics. That has broad applications. We are at the cutting edge in Formula 1 and in the use of composite materials and alloys. That knowledge originally came from the space sector. By doing this research we will enhance our standing in that area.

This list is not exhaustive. A variety of different sectors are involved. In the area of plant biology, I have seen the suggestion that plant stem cells could be grown on an industrial scale in space, thereby assisting us in our need to develop biomass for energy. I could go on.

Moving on to the history of Government involvement in microgravity, the Pippard report of 1989 was the first mention that I could find. It made some interesting observations that have since proven to be true. The Wakeham review of 2003 found a lack of interest among the research councils, which goes back to the point I made at the start of my remarks that microgravity does not have a single voice. That is why it has not received funding in the past. As a result of the Wakeham review, Britain did not contribute to the European Programme for Life and Physical Sciences—ELIPS—with the European Space Agency, which was started in 2001 and is ongoing. The ELIPS 4 funding round is due at the next ministerial ESA meeting in 2012. I would push for us to participate in that, not least because doing so would allow us to work with NASA, which will not work with us outside ESA as I understand it.

Finally, I have some questions for the Minister. First, will he confirm that the Government are not against manned space flight? For some time in this country, it was Government policy to be against manned space flight. I think that manned space flight is inspirational. Anybody who goes into a school on a science, technology, engineering and mathematics day will find children building rockets and looking at pictures of planets. The reality is that space inspires children and that we will need more scientists and engineers in the future. I spoke about the inspirational quality of space in my maiden speech—I do not know how many hon. Members who are present were here for that. I strongly believe that there has to be a man on top of the rocket for it to be inspiring.

Secondly, will the Minister outline the Government’s position on the ELIPS programme and the ESA manned space flight programme in anticipation of the 2012 ministerial meeting? I ask that because for about £200 million a year we could participate in that programme. Over a 20 to 25-year period, we could perhaps participate in the exploration of the moon and, further, of Mars. That may seem an extravagance to some, but it is not. For every $1 spent on the Apollo space programme, it was estimated that the US economy got $14 in return.

We can make money out of space—it is as simple as that. Britain is outstanding at space, and we do it on a shoestring in comparison with some of our competitors. I think that in future, we should be a greater player in space. I know that the Minister shares my feelings on that. I forget the figures, but we are projected to increase our space industry over the next 10 years, and I am wholly supportive of that.

What is the Minister’s opinion on a microgravity forum? I have had e-mails from around the world since I tweeted that I would introduce this debate, and I have

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1012

met people, and it is interesting that there is not one, single voice for microgravity. Microgravity perhaps needs that one voice, but does the Minister have any views on that?

Finally, more generally, as a new boy in town, I get the distinct impression that Whitehall is risk averse. If there is one thing that we cannot be when it comes to space, it is that. We have to go for it. I am encouraged that the Government have in the last year announced changes to legislation with regard to aiding the space industry—it relates to space insurance—but ultimately, Whitehall remains risk averse. I would be interested to know the Minister’s view on that.

The best way to conclude is by quoting an e-mail that somebody sent. He ended one paragraphs as follows:

“In addition to providing benefits to society”


“research will also help the UK to maintain some degree of scientific relevance - scientific capability in a nation is a recognised necessity for economic development.”

I could not have put it better myself, and that is why I called for this debate.

10.32 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this important debate, which is particularly timely given that we are gearing up for the ESA conference in 2012, in which the funding priorities for the industry will be set for the future. As a result, the UK’s involvement in the ESA will also be forged.

May I thank Tom Gunner and Sarah Chilman from the parliamentary space committee for the work that they do all year round in promoting space? Unlike many other industries, space does not have lots of lobbyists with huge budgets, but the small team at the PSC is none the less effective. I must also thank Astrium for allowing Tom and Sarah to undertake their important work.

The space industry has grown 10% year on year. It is one of this country’s major success stories, but it has not been sung out loudly. For most people, the space industry seems distant—both literally and figuratively—but we need the public to understand just how big an impact that high-tech industry has on our lives.

Like my hon. Friend, I am a vice-chair of the PSC, and many of my constituents ask why an MP from a northern Lancashire constituency would take an interest in space. I point out to them that there are important benefits from the space industry, including high-tech jobs in places such as Bracknell and the M4 corridor. Perhaps more importantly, however, space technologies impact on areas such as Morecambe and Lunesdale and people’s day-to-day lives.

Owing to the space industry, people can get around easily by sat-nav and explore areas of the country that they would not ordinarily be able to go to and find their way around; we can roll out fast satellite broadband to rural areas; and we can watch satellite television, which has brought a wider entertainment choice to everyone. Those industries are direct spin-offs of the space industry. Even though the space industry does not have major funding, it is a success story year in, year out.

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1013

Space delivers a host of everyday benefits—some might even say that they are mundane—but we are not always very good at pointing out those successes. We can all agree that although we have led the way on space in general, we have lagged behind badly in microgravity research.

I add my name to the list of those who believe that we should be involved in ELIPS and, by extension, the international space station. It cannot be right that Germany funds 50% of it. The widely accepted tradition of the UK being negative about putting scientists into space should end, not least because space tourism and exploration are going to become boom industries in the future, in the same way as transatlantic shipping and air travel became hugely popular in a short space of time. We do not want to be on the list of countries left behind by this exciting new development in human history.

I have asked the Secretary of State about our preparedness for the next European Space Agency ministerial council, and I am glad that things are progressing well, but we need the Government to set, as a central aim for that conference, greater UK involvement in microgravity research. It is important that we ride on the back of this industry. Future generations are looking to science as a cool subject to be involved in. A report by the Science and Technology Committee, of which I am a member, has shown that young people are engaging particularly well in anything to do with space exploration. Amazingly, when I was a small boy, I made an Apollo rocket, like many Members here, from an Airfix kit. I am sure that we can all remember sitting at the kitchen table gluing our hands to our faces and everywhere but the model itself. Funnily enough, my little boy, Robert, found my Saturn 5 rocket that I made—I had forgotten that I still had it. I grudgingly put it back together. It brought back happy memories, but I looked at my eight-year-old son, and he turned around and asked, “Dad, why are we not going to the moon again?” I think that that was very poignant.

10.36 pm

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): This has been a rather special Adjournment debate in which the passion of colleagues for space travel and the space sector has been exposed to wider debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing the debate and leading it so well. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) for his speech, because he also spoke with the authority that comes from being a member of the parliamentary space committee. It is also great to see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who does an excellent job as the chair of that committee. We have people here who rightly care about space.

I would like to make it clear that the Government realise the significance of the space sector, which is why we have tried to support the space industry even during the tough fiscal decisions that we have had to take. Through my role as co-chair of the space leadership council, I have a good and constructive dialogue with the industry, and we were able to get a section of the growth review devoted specifically to the space industry. The space sector matters in lots of different ways. It is

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1014

crucial to scientific and technological advance. We undoubtedly conduct high-grade scientific research through the space programme, and the technological challenges posed by the programme drive technology forward.

As we have heard, with 10% growth a year, the space sector is a rapidly growing part of the British economy. There are not many parts of the British economy growing as fast as China, but the space sector is. I absolutely agree with the final point from my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale that the excitement of space can get younger people involved in science. As someone who wants more and more young people excited by space, I believe that, by and large, it is space and dinosaurs that interest young people in science. In America, they still talk of the generation of scientists and technicians that came through as a result of the Apollo effect getting them interested and involved. The space sector has a lot to contribute, and within the inevitable constraints on public spending, we are doing our best to back it.

I was asked some specific questions that I will try briefly to answer. The first was about manned space flight. I should make it clear that the UK has historically focused its space investments on areas such as telecommunications, earth science and robotic exploration of the universe; and, as we are not directly involved with the international space station, we have not developed human space flight technology, although we have the relevant technology for the future exploration of the moon and Mars, including advanced robotics—of which the ExoMars rover programme is a classic example—communications systems and small satellites. So that is the view that we have taken, historically.

I was asked whether we had any objection in principle to a manned space flight, and the answer is no, although there will always be pertinent questions about cost effectiveness. The Government are delighted that Major Tim Peake has been selected on merit to join the ESA astronaut corps. That will be a great opportunity for him to inspire young people in the UK; indeed, I know that he is already doing so. So that is our attitude to manned space flight.

I was also asked specifically about microgravity. It would be correct to disentangle microgravity research from the manned space flight issue. It is possible to research microgravity without getting involved in manned space flight, and we do understand the value of microgravity research. There are difficult obstacles to overcome, however. First, the range of topics is so wide that there is no coherent voice to articulate the needs of the researchers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell said. I understand that point. Secondly, materials researchers do not normally work with biomedics or astrobiologists, but they would all find microgravity important in pursuing their research. The researchers who would benefit from microgravity research therefore comprise a rather fragmented and diverse group, but my hon. Friend eloquently argued that it would be helpful if they could come together to provide a more coherent voice.

Historically, the UK has had little involvement in microgravity research, so the researchers are largely unaware of the possibilities involved. Let me make it clear that I would welcome new collaborations, including the ones that are now developing, and new ways of serving the interests of UK researchers and those of our international partners.

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Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I was interested to hear about the Government’s support for a forum. Would my right hon. Friend support ministerial attendance at such a forum, if one were to be established?

Mr Willetts: As I hope those in the space sector know, I am personally committed to working closely with the sector. The idea of a microgravity forum is very worth while, and it would be great if people who could benefit from microgravity research came together. If it would make sense to do so, I would be willing to meet such a group, but I must stress that I am working within a fixed science budget. We have the protection of the ring fence around the £4.6 billion, and we are all very proud of that illustration of our commitment to science, but I have to work within that budget. So, provided that ministerial attendance did not give rise to the assumption that the Minister would come to the meeting armed with a cheque book, I would be happy to attend. We could then purse the matter from there.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): The research council model for funding research has worked incredibly well over the decades since it was established in the 1980s by Lady Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. I wonder whether the Minister might write a letter urging the research councils to consider such a forum or meeting to facilitate an interest in it.

Mr Willetts: It would be best if there were ways in which the research community could come together, but I am always wary of anything that could be taken as a breach of the Haldane principle, which hovers over all these debates. We have to be very clear in regard to giving instructions or directions on areas of research activity. One of the reasons that we have an excellent science research base in this country is that, by and large, Ministers have kept their grubby hands off these issues.

As I said, I have tried to indicate that I recognise that microgravity research could play an important role. It has suffered from the structural problem of having such

13 Sep 2011 : Column 1016

a diverse and different range of disciplines that could benefit from it. I can see the argument for them coming together in a more coherent way and I would be happy to look at that. Of course, many of the decisions would ultimately be for the research councils.

Let me briefly say in the few minutes remaining that a lot of this stuff will come up as we plan for the European Space Agency ministerial council in 2012. No doubt we will be invited by the ESA to join its microgravity research programme, ELIPS. I am told that the UK Space Agency has already held a workshop with researchers and providers of facilities to explore their mutual interests, and it will be holding a further workshop in November to examine the opportunities presented through the ESA’s programmes. As we prepare for the next ESA ministerial, we are of course considering this alongside many other options.

Let me conclude by saying that we recognise the significance not just of microgravity, but of the presence of people like Major Tim Peake who are aiming to become astronauts. I am delighted that Tim Peake has said that he will act as an ambassador for microgravity research in the UK. Because of our ambition that he should be able to engage in space flight, it is great that he is willing to take on that role. I am confident that, as part of that role and of the UK Space Agency’s work, we will consider the proposed strategy for space biomedicine that the UK space biomedical consortium is developing with Tim’s help. It will continue to facilitate negotiations between UK research groups and prospective international partners.

I should like to assure the several Members in their places today who all share this interest in space research—my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell has done an excellent job in bringing this crucial subject to our attention—that I will undertake, given my ministerial responsibilities, to follow the debate on microgravity research very closely as we prepare for the ESA ministerial next year.

Question put and agreed to.

10.47 pm

House adjourned.