3.5 pm

Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for calling a debate on an issue that is important not only to me and several of my constituents, but to the broader population.

The Cancer Drugs Fund is not fit for purpose. As the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, who chaired the independent taskforce that looked into the fund, pointed out, we have several problems. First, curative treatments cannot be accessed readily enough. Also, insufficient data are collected in the system to prove the benefits of drugs and their effectiveness for patients. Although we welcome the data collection that is taking place now, it is a little too late.

We continue to lag behind other countries in cancer recovery rates and appropriate prescribing. Indeed, 20% of cancer patients present at our accident and emergency wards, and the later a patient presents, the poorer the outcome. As the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) said, certain cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, are devastating in the speed with which they attack the individual.

It must be remembered that the Cancer Drugs Fund is unique: cancer is the only condition with a dedicated fund. My constituents and I welcome the Prime Minister’s support, but I am a little concerned that cancer is being labelled as a special disease. My surgery often includes patients with other diseases, and we must look across the piece. My concern is that we should have a road map from the accelerated access review so that we can learn how to drive forward advances not only for cancer, but for all areas of medicine. Standing in this hall takes me back six months, to when I first spoke here, about a constituent’s access to the rare-disease drug everolimus.

In a system that is challenged financially, we need to be very sure that any drug for whatever illness is effective and offers value for money. Within that landscape, the CDF has gone from its original four-year spend of £650 million to a six-year spend of £1.27 billion. It could be argued that it has been a victim of its own success.

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With improved access to medicines for nearly 80,000 people, but with ever-increasing need and demand, it is right that the Cancer Drugs Fund should sit alongside the cancer strategy as part of the entire commissioning pathway. Non-surgical cancer treatments such as drugs can and should be incorporated into a treatment package of surgery and radiotherapy to deliver an integrated and effective approach. There is a need for radiotherapy machines right across our hospitals, because they deliver extremely high survival rates for cancer patients. We therefore need to be careful about these issues.

For me, the rub has been the lack of thought given to the removal of drugs, and like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire, I have been approached on this issue by constituents—particularly those suffering from pancreatic cancer and, given my history, those with breast cancer. A review in September led to 23 separate treatments being removed from the Cancer Drugs Fund, before we understood what the new horizon will look like for the charities and pharmaceutical companies, how the pathway will progress and whether we have a solution to ensure that our constituents can access drugs. In short, this removed the clinical choice from doctors and, more importantly, from patients. Those patients are my constituents and friends. With the loss of Imnovid and Revlimid—two drugs for myeloma—and the removal of breast, bowel and pancreatic cancer drugs for all those patients, life suddenly became less certain. A new CDF should have clear entry and exit levels for promising drugs. It needs to be a trial area, and defined as such; if, as proposed, it is to be brought into NICE, we need answers to some of the questions that other hon. Members have asked about how the Minister will hold NICE to account. In the cancer drug future, once a drug was approved it would be made available for routine use and would go into baseline commissioning. That would take some of the fear about whether someone would get it out of the system.

What remains to be seen is whether new drugs will have to meet the current inflexibilities of the cost-effectiveness criteria. That is a concern for cancer charities and pharmaceutical companies, which predominantly have the care of the patient, and patient outcomes, at their heart. To deliver cost-effective and timely treatments, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, we need a flexible new system. The NICE appraisal process is slow and unwieldy. It should be flexible enough to cope with new cancer drugs and—the Minister is aware of my interest in this—off-patent and repurposed drugs, which can also be effective in the area in question. That is about gathering and delivering the data on the patient for the patient, to allow drugs to be recommended and prescribed, or so that it is possible to return to an individual pathway for a funding request. However, that merely sends us back to where we are today—people not knowing whether they will get the drug or not.

The irony of our system is that with the vibrancy of our life science industry drugs are, often, readily available in Europe or Scotland before patients in England and Wales can access them. That is the bigger problem. We have improved one-year survival rates in the UK; but despite that we lag behind many other countries and our five-year survival rates have shown little progress.

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More must be done. In the world of pharmaceuticals and, more importantly, genomics, advances are happening at pace. We need a space where we can trial medicines for use not only in big cohorts but for rarer cancers and diseases. We need a landscape that will allow for the personalised medicine that is coming down the tracks to us. Cancer will not wait for NICE. Nor will it wait for the patient. I know: I have been diagnosed with cancer and pre-cancerous tumours on several occasions. That is why I challenge the Minister on behalf of other cancer patients and my constituents in need, to ensure that the CDF delivers reforms that will improve patient access to effective cancer medicine.

3.13 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Streeter. I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on securing a debate on a vital issue at such an important time.

No one is unaffected by cancer, and I am sure every Member present will know of a constituent who has had their cancer treatment improved by access to specialist drugs. However, particularly in light of recent decisions, I am sure that we all know stories of constituents and family members who have not had access to the drugs they need, and who have, sadly, suffered as a result. That is why we are here today to discuss this important subject.

There are many who believe that, wherever they live and whatever their age, cancer patients—and there many different types of cancers—should be able to access clinically effective, evidence-based treatments in a fair, consistent, timely and transparent way from the point of diagnosis. It is therefore deeply regrettable that, given that the Cancer Drugs Fund was already scheduled to come to a close this year, additional funding could not be found to provide the 16 medicines that were delisted last September, at least until a more effective commissioning system for cancer drugs was put in place.

Of course, difficult decisions will always have to be made about the allocation of finite resources, but this has been a particularly hard blow. It is difficult to describe how it must feel for someone to be diagnosed with cancer and then told, as the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire described, that the life-extending drug they need was funded yesterday but will not be funded today. I take on board the issues about pancreatic cancer, which is one of the severest forms. In fact there are many forms within that spectrum. I note particularly that it was not necessarily resources that were the issue: it was to do with clinical commissioning and clinical effectiveness, and drug trials. Many people who are desperately in need of help and access to drugs, and who feel very unwell, are at the mercy of wider decisions that are part of the NICE agenda and the wider Government agenda.

We may not find ourselves in that position deliberately. However, the Rare Cancers Foundation estimates that it will have been the experience for thousands of patients across Britain and Northern Ireland, and I feel that that suffering should be put on record in our debate today. It is, at the very least, a dire indication of why commissioning reform is needed so badly. It is not too late for the

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Government to provide the additional support needed to give relief to the patients who are being denied access to life-extending drugs, but, given that such an announcement is unlikely, I shall turn my attention to the ways in which a new system can be designed, to ensure that the same mistake will not happen again.

The funding given for cancer drugs, whether through a Cancer Drugs Fund or a special medicines fund, must be sustainable and well co-ordinated, and should work alongside comprehensive support for treatment and wider health infrastructure. On that basis, the review of how the Cancer Drugs Fund works with NICE should also consider how specialist drug support can be co-ordinated with more localised radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery options. Integrating the Cancer Drugs Fund with the NICE system creates an opportunity to address broader issues within the NICE commissioning process, offering the potential remedy for long-standing issues such as access to necessary specialist drugs.

I will mention by way of background, given that I represent a Northern Ireland constituency, a difficulty that we sometimes have. Many specialist drugs are trialled at Queen’s University Belfast, but because of the commissioning process they are not available to our constituents in Northern Ireland. They have not yet been commissioned, or they are commissioned for England and Wales but not necessarily for Northern Ireland. Therefore I urge the UK Ministers responsible for the issue to engage fully with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations, including Northern Ireland, to make sure that the issue is considered fully, and to turn the potential danger into an opportunity to improve both the NHS and access to specialist drugs. I hope that today the Minister, whom I am glad to see here, will provide us with some form of resolution, and a panacea that will bring relief to many people throughout the UK who are suffering from any of a wide variety of cancers, and particularly sufferers of rare cancers.

3.18 pm

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): I too thank the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for obtaining the debate. I feel that I am the most inexperienced of the Members present on this subject, having never been on a health committee, but having been lobbied hard; but I lost my sister some 25 years ago, and I know that everyone has either lost a family member to cancer or knows someone who won, and was cured.

There is a key thing to get across today. Every MP needs to realise the limitations on funding and what we are learning, so that we can all lobby, and help to find a better way forward. I was particularly impressed when President Obama said he wanted all cancers to be cured. I am not sure that that will always be possible, but it is the right aim with which to go forward.

As I have been trying to learn about, and get myself briefed on, the topic, I have realised that we need a more dynamic and flexible approach to what we are doing. It is right to have a fund that allows everyone to get to it, but we must find a way in which everyone does get to it—to the drugs. Taking drugs off the list seems to be the wrong way forward. Can we look for some form of flexibility, so that with drugs that have been removed there is perhaps a different way of getting at them, one step back?

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I had two main reasons for wanting to speak today. One, which has been touched on by my colleagues, is the difficulty that comes from Northern Ireland being treated as a devolved country with its own cancer. As we have heard, only £1.5 million is being put forward and the cost of cancer is a phenomenal chunk out of a small budget. People often have to travel elsewhere in the UK to get the drugs and the cures they need.

One such case is this. I was sitting on a train once—before I ended up here—listening to two Northern Irish people speaking loudly about how useless all politicians were, not just here but also in Northern Ireland, because no one had helped them with their cancer. I interrupted them, and it turned out that a politician from the Social Democratic and Labour party was the only person who had, in fact, helped them. One of them had had to sell his house and use all his savings to get the cure he needed, which was available only here in London. My main point is that we have to find a more joined-up way of doing this, so that the drugs are available for everyone, everywhere. Can we consider an approach that includes all four countries?

We have heard from others that we have an extremely good Queen’s University link-up with Almac and with other countries, and we also have, in my patch, Randox. We have fantastic pharmaceutical companies leading the way in Northern Ireland. However, it was from a meeting with one of those companies that a story we have touched on today emerged. The company tried to sell the diagnostic system to our local NHS, but it could not. It sold it to a company in America, which repackaged it, and the Northern Ireland health service then bought it from that company for an extra few million. We have heard about the difference in costs between Spain and Britain. There must be a system for looking at the procurement process, to ensure that we are more dynamic in how we buy things, so that the drugs are there and available to everyone.

Those are the two main points I wanted to make. One is: let us work it all together and get a better use of drugs. I am glad that we have had the debate today, and I am thankful for having had the chance to speak.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Thank you, colleagues, for your co-operation. We now turn to our winding-up speeches, and it is a pleasure to call first, for the Scottish National party, Marion Fellows.

3.22 pm

Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for securing this important debate. I will give the debate a more Scottish context.

For patients with a life-threatening or highly symptomatic illness, getting access to the best treatment is crucial. Living with a condition that has no cure or treatment is difficult, but knowing that you or your loved one is denied access to an available treatment is intolerable. Our biggest problem is accessing new drugs, which are often very expensive and above the limit set for NHS access by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—NICE—or its Scottish equivalent, the Scottish Medicines Consortium, the SMC. That results in delayed access to new treatments and, as has been mentioned, it appears to contribute to the UK’s poor cancer outcomes

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in comparison with other countries. The issue is even worse for those with rare diseases, because the commercial imperative to develop a drug in the first place is weaker, due to low patient numbers.

There is also frustration for clinical researchers who enter patients into trials that lead to a drug’s development in the first place. The UK, and particularly Scotland, punch above their weight in the active recruitment of patients into drug trials for diseases such as cancer. Patients may benefit from gaining access to the new treatment during the trial but, once the trial has been successfully completed, new patients do not get that opportunity, which is demoralising and could undermine research efforts in the future. Some of the drugs that have been researched over the years are now being removed from the list in England.

Once a new drug has gained a licence, NICE and the SMC carry out their assessments. In Scotland, however, the SMC utilises the evidence gathered to carry out just a brief review, with the emphasis being more on the drug’s effectiveness. Cost comes after that.

There are three major differences in the access systems north and south of the border. While both have drug access funds, in England the fund is only for cancer whereas in Scotland it is for any new drugs and rare diseases.

The Cancer Drugs Fund in England, which was meant to be temporary, has enabled patients to access new cancer drugs that would otherwise have been unobtainable. It has now been running for five years and some drugs are being excluded on cost grounds. In Scotland, after a review in 2014, the SMC established the patient and clinician evaluation, which allows reconsideration of a drug while taking into account the wider experience of it and capturing input from patients and clinicians. That gives patients a voice.

Sir Oliver Heald: Abraxane fails the test of three months’ effectiveness, but it is useful in producing two. Why is it that the Scottish system allows Abraxane? Will the hon. Lady give us a bit more of an understanding of that? I would like to see the drug back on the list, and if the Scottish system is a way of doing that, it might be worth looking at.

Marion Fellows: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his intervention. He has asked me something that I cannot answer definitively at the moment, because I am not a clinician. I am, however, more than happy to come back to him on that. I know that PACE—the patient and clinician engagement group—has done some development on it, but I would like to give the hon. and learned Gentleman a fuller answer and I can do that later, if he agrees.

Sir Oliver Heald indicated assent.

Marion Fellows: Where cost is a factor in prescribing drugs it is important that we consider ways of lowering it. The pharmaceutical price regulation scheme could be used. When a drug’s spending threshold is reached, a rebate is paid. In England, it goes back to the Treasury but in Scotland it goes on to further new drugs.

The delisting of cancer drugs because of cost causes untold heartbreak to patients and families—the very people we all represent—and the time has come to find

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a way of making new drugs accessible to, and affordable for, the NHS by considering arrangements such as multi-year budgeting, which would allow for a lower initial price. Pharmaceutical companies would hopefully be open to that in exchange for getting their drug into use at an earlier stage.

It is important to understand that drug companies fund drug development research for years before they even know if the drug is worth licensing. Many potential drugs fall by the wayside and, as the public purse would never be able to fund such a level of risk, it is necessary that pharmaceutical firms see a return on their investment, to secure ongoing research. That goes back to why some drugs are delisted because of their cost. However, there must also be recognition of the support provided by universities in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and in England, which get Government funding to help towards researching new drugs.

Off-patent drugs can also be used in cancer treatments, usually through repurposing. It is important that we consider that, as it could also lead to a cost—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I will just wind-up my speech. Some of the barriers to treatment can, however, be broken down through negotiation between all interested parties. The aim would be a system that worked equitably for all stakeholders, from patients, doctors and the NHS to Governments and the pharmaceutical industry.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): As a Front Bencher, the hon. Lady has 10 minutes if she wants them, so she should need not rush her important peroration.

Marion Fellows: It is fine. Thank you, Mr Streeter. I managed to get through my speech, with a rush at the end.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Thank you very much. I call Andrew Gwynne.

3.29 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on securing this important debate and on the depth of knowledge she has demonstrated. We might not share the same political allegiances, but we share a commitment to improving the lives of people affected by cancer, as do all Members—those who have contributed to the debate and all those in the House of Commons. The nature of the cross-party debate we have had today stands as a testament to that. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Solihull (Julian Knight), for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), for South Down (Ms Ritchie), for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) and for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for their contributions too.

Cancer transcends party politics. Each and every one of us has had a constituent, family member or friend affected by cancer. It is a disease that sadly touches us all, and it deserves the proper attention of the House of Commons. It is because it transcends party politics that I commend the Government on introducing the Cancer Drugs Fund during the last Parliament. Patients have benefited significantly since the fund’s introduction, and that has to be welcomed. However, we are here today because the progress over recent years to improve access to cancer drugs is now partially at risk.

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The Government introduced the Cancer Drugs Fund, but they are now sadly presiding over damaging cuts to the treatment available through it, as we have heard in the debate. At the general election, the Conservatives promised to continue to invest in cancer drugs, but less than six months later they announced that a number of treatments would be removed from the fund, meaning that they would no longer be routinely available to patients. That will have a tragic human cost for cancer patients. Indeed, the Rarer Cancers Foundation has calculated that the reductions could affect as many as 4,100 cancer patients every year. Members from all parts of the House have expressed significant concerns about the impact those reductions will have on all our constituents.

Many important points have been made during this debate, but I would like to add a few of my own. First, can the Minister, who I have a great deal of respect for, tell us what support is being made available to patients who will now miss out on treatments that have been removed? Will he promise that this is the last time we will see cuts of this nature? The sad truth is that the cuts were an inevitable consequence of an abject failure by Government to fix the drugs pricing system. The Cancer Drugs Fund was always meant to be a temporary measure, but the inability to implement value-based pricing and then value-based assessment during the last Parliament has to some extent led us to the situation we are in today. Cancer Research UK has said that it is

“unacceptable that after five years of conversation, there still isn’t an effective solution in place,”

and I agree. We need a better system of drug pricing that is fair for patients and has the confidence of doctors. At the moment, patients are being badly let down.

Before the election, Labour promised to reform the Cancer Drugs Fund to make it a cancer treatment fund and end the bias towards certain types of treatment. We also promised reform of NICE to ensure a clear route for new treatments to be made available on the NHS. Nobody wants a return to the days when people’s access to treatment was determined by the first two characters of their postcode. Unfortunately, however, the latest promise of reform to the Cancer Drugs Fund has been riddled with confusion and delay. Ministers said the consultation would be published in July, then September, and it finally came out in November. The consultation is expected to run until mid-February, with a new system ready to be in place by April this year. The Minister might be able to hear the scepticism in my voice about whether the Government can deliver meaningful reform to the Cancer Drugs Fund in such a short period, so will he confirm, secondly, that these are still the timescales for delivering reform? If so, will he promise us that the outputs from the consultation will deliver the change being demanded by the cancer community and not leave a half-baked solution?

Although some aspects of the Cancer Drugs Fund proposals are to be welcomed, others cause concern. Beyond some tweaks at the edges, it is not clear that NICE is proposing the fundamental changes to its processes that charities have rightly requested. Breast Cancer Now has warned that the consultation

“does not offer sufficient changes to the way NICE currently operates...to allow drugs to be approved for routine use on the NHS.”

The charity has also said that it is

“concerned that these proposals may result in fewer drugs being made available rather than more.”

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Those are troubling comments, so, thirdly, will the Minister respond to those concerns? Can he tell us the extent to which final decisions about treatment access will differ under the reforms? Which drugs that have previously been rejected by NICE will be available?

NHS England has not published an impact assessment for the Cancer Drugs Fund consultation. Members of the cancer community have raised concerns about that with me and asked what NHS England might be attempting to hide, so can the Minister confirm, fourthly, whether NHS England has carried out an impact assessment on the proposed changes? If so, will he promise to place a copy in the Library before the consultation closes, so that Members of this House can give it the scrutiny it deserves?

Beyond the current planned changes, there are disturbing stories of NHS England refusing to discuss price cuts with drug companies, effectively leaving deals on the table that could have helped patients and the taxpayer. Simon Stevens once said that he wanted NHS England to:

“Think like a patient, act like a taxpayer.”

At the moment, it is frankly doing neither. We cannot allow red tape to get in the way of what is right for patients. The reforms must create greater flexibility and pressure for both sides to get round the table and agree deals. Other countries seem to be able to make the drugs available without spending more money on their health services, which implies that they are better at striking deals, or at least are more flexible in doing so. Therefore, fifthly, will the Minister promise to intervene in NHS England to ensure it is doing everything it can to secure the best deal from industry for patients and taxpayers? Will he commit to reviewing the processes carried out in other countries for securing access to medicines and ensure that learnings from them are translated into NHS England’s new system?

It is also worrying that the drugs companies and the Secretary of State have negotiated a deal in secret that changes the drugs pricing scheme, effectively creating a half-a-billion-pound funding black hole over the course of the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme. I am fearful that that could lead to more bad news for cancer patients. I have pressed the Minister on that before, so will he tell me, sixthly and lastly, how that funding gap will be filled? Will he guarantee that the shortfall will not lead to any further damaging cuts in cancer patients’ access to treatments?

I want to end my contribution to this debate in the spirt in which I started, because this is not a party political issue. Our shared goal is an NHS that is the best health service in the world for treating cancer, but we will only achieve that if we can ensure that patients can access the most effective forms of treatment. Cancer patients need and deserve an end to the current uncertainty. We on this side of the House will stand with the Government to do all we can to ensure that cancer patients get that fairer deal.

3.39 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on securing this debate and I thank her for the chance to discuss these important issues, which I know

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are important to various Members who cannot be here this afternoon. I thank colleagues of all parties who have spoken. It was particularly powerful to hear the personal perspective of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who is a cancer survivor. I pay tribute to the work of Myeloma UK, Cancer Research UK, Macmillan and the other charities that have done, and continue to do, so much work looking after patients and supporting policy and research. As colleagues know, I am passionate that charities should have a bigger role to play in policy making. I have opened the Department’s door and invited them to come to the top table.

Few families in the country are untouched by cancer, and I am no different. My father died of throat cancer when I was 19, 18 months after I had met him. My mother-in-law died of myeloid leukaemia a few years ago. The family, like so many families, had to watch her go from a wonderful and healthy, vibrant grandmother to a corpse in 12 to 15 months. It is a tragedy when it happens, but the truth is that our generation has lived through the most extraordinary advances in cancer. Certainly in my childhood it was a death sentence. One sat in the back of cars as a child and heard parents discussing in hushed tones that somebody had a cancer diagnosis, which meant they would die. Now that has changed: 2 million people live with cancer and it has become a treatable disease. In some areas, it has become a preventable disease. That is why it is such a pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds here. Many others in the country today work and live with cancer. It is a stunning tribute to the success of our life sciences sector and our academic and clinical scientists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about Tina and Graham and their experience of cancer. We should always remember—I do every day—that at the heart of difficult policy decisions there are people living with the disease. As constituency MPs and parliamentarians we need to bring that personal perspective to policy making. Certainly as a Minister I try to do that. My hon. Friend highlighted the trauma experienced by patients who, at diagnosis, think they will be eligible for a drug but find they have been caught by the timing of the CDF review, which means that the drug is tantalisingly taken away from them. We can all sympathise with that. As in all Administrations, when change comes, somebody normally gets caught at the point of change and it is very difficult. My hon. Friend also made a powerful point about data being crucial, and I accept that we need to do better on data. I have picked out those comments, but we have had excellent comments from across the House.

I want to set the context before dealing with specific questions. In the past 20 or 30 years, we have seen incredible transformations in biomedical research and in our ability to develop new treatments and diagnostics. My own 15-year career in biomedical research saw us go from the early days of genetics to extraordinary abilities to drive diagnosis and personalised therapy. One looks at Herceptin for breast cancer, a genomic biomarker theranostic partner drug. We have guaranteed that it works in patients who have that genetic biomarker. This is the future: much more genomic targeting of drugs. Genomics and informatics are transforming the way in which drugs are developed.

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I arrived in the House of Commons six years ago. As a Government adviser on life sciences, I supported the Prime Minister in putting a life sciences strategy in place that built on the previous Government’s good work. We set out an ambition for the NHS to become not only a passive recipient of new therapies, but an active partner in the development of them, making available our genomic and informatics leadership and our clinical research, which is at the heart of the life sciences strategy: two cylinders pumping together, with the NHS not as a purchaser but as a partner in development.

Although we have had phenomenal revolutions in genomics and informatics and in the pace of discovery—pioneered in cancer, which is why cancer has led with this pressure on our funding mechanisms—it gives rise to great challenges: rising costs of treatment; ever more expensive drugs; smaller patient catchments, which puts a coach and horses through the traditional model of reimbursement; and the end of a one-size-fits-all blockbuster model of drug discovery, which is what NICE was originally set up to deal with. Those are very big challenges and I am putting policy responses in place. However, they are also big opportunities. As the world’s only integrated comprehensive healthcare system, nowhere is better equipped in the world to unleash the power of genomics and informatics for public good. I believe Nye Bevan would be banging the table today and saying, “The NHS was about the collective use of our health assets to prevent disease. Come on! Let’s harness the extraordinary ability of our NHS,” which is what we are doing.

As we reform the way in which NICE works, there is an opportunity for us to take the lead in the development of these new drugs and new specialised therapies, and to pioneer new models of reimbursement as well. It will not happen overnight—that is the honest truth—but it will happen over the next few years. That is why we have set out a 10-year strategy, and I am absolutely honoured and privileged to be at the beginning of a five-year Parliament as the Minister for Life Sciences with a chance to drive the reforms through. That is at the heart of the accelerated access review that I have launched, which I will talk about in a moment.

I urge everyone to recognise that the Government are not complacent. We have put £250 million extra into Genomics England. We are the first country on earth to do, at scale, full genome sequencing in cancer and rare diseases. Rare cancers are particularly well served. We have led on data and informatics for research in the NHS, often at a high political price, but it is essential if we are to drive this forward. We have set up the precision medicine catapult, the cell therapy catapult and the £700 million Crick Institute. We have protected, increased and ring-fenced science budget increases. We have announced and secured a multi-billion pound drugs budget, and more will be announced shortly. We have set up the rare diseases consortium, the accelerated access review, the early access to medicines scheme and a £1.2 billion commitment to the Cancer Drugs Fund, so I hope colleagues will acknowledge, as some have, that we are serious about trying to both invest and reform this space.

The Cancer Drugs Fund was set up with strong leadership from the Prime Minister. Because of the progress in cancer putting pressure on NICE’s systems, NICE’s clinically led, world class, independent advice

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rejected many of the new cancer therapies that did not fit well with its scoring system, so the Prime Minster said that we must make the money available to make sure cancer patients do not suffer while we reform the system. The fund is now £1.2 billion; another £340 million was invested this year. Some 84,000 people have received life-extending drugs that they would not otherwise have got.

Andrew Gwynne: The situation is worse than described. There were drugs that NICE had approved, but the primary care trusts refused access to those treatments.

George Freeman: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the balance of responsibilities between NICE and NHS England. The system was set up so that NHS England is statutorily bound by NICE’s recommendations. Part of the problem in recent years has been that even treatments approved by NICE can take up to two, three and in some cases five years to be rolled out across NHS England. Much as we all love the NHS, we accept—even the NHS accepts—that there is a problem with patchy roll-out. That is also to do with data, which various colleagues have touched on.

David Mowat: The Minister used the words “world class” in respect of NICE, but its scoring system was such that drugs did not get authorised, and many that the drugs fund includes were not authorised by NICE. Those two things do not seem to be consistent. Should we not look carefully at what NICE’s criteria are, as they have done in Scotland, and make them more appropriate?

George Freeman: The answer is yes. That is why I have set up the accelerated access review, which is doing precisely that. NICE is heavily involved in contributing to setting up the reforms, giving it new flexibilities and changing the way we adopt, assess and reimburse new medicines. I meant that NICE is recognised internationally. Indeed, other countries follow its health technology assessments, and its methodology and protocols. The challenge now is to update them for a world of genomics and informatics, with a much more targeted and precision medicine landscape. I accept that in that context we are not yet world class—we have more to do—but NICE is a world class organisation. Given the chance to update its systems, I believe it will lead the world in that field.

In the autumn statement we fully funded the NHS’s five-year forward view, including its cancer strategy, with a commitment to £10 billion extra per year by 2020. We frontloaded that with £6 billion, as was asked for, to allow it to make the investments necessary to modernise. That is a half-trillion pound commitment to spending on the NHS over this Parliament, so I gently point out to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), that to describe that as a cut is testing the admirable elasticity of the English language.

On the importance of NICE and independent, clinically led decision making, much as at times like this I yearn to reach for a big lever, pull it, make a decision and send hon. Members out dancing and cheering and send patients home happy, I think we all understand that it is right that such decisions are not taken by MPs or Ministers; they must be taken by clinicians, based on the very best evidence from the very best independent advice. That is how this system works: NICE makes an

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independent judgment using the very best systems available to it. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) that that needs to be, and it is being, updated to give NICE more flexibility to reflect the challenges of precision medicine—treatments that have a very definable, predictable response in a very small number of patients. NICE’s advice goes to NHS England, which makes the clinical judgment about treatment protocols. It is right that the Cancer Drugs Fund is based on that clinical decision making.

Nevertheless, there is an anomaly. Although we expect NHS England to be guided by NICE, in one therapeutic area, with the best of intentions, we have created a fund that sits at the end of the process, so that NHS England has a fund to buy drugs that NICE has said no to. That is an anomaly in the system. The point of the review is to take the CDF commitment to fund earlier, so that NICE can use it as an assessment fund to enable it to look earlier in the process at new drugs that are coming on stream and then give NHS England advice. That is in keeping with our general policy of opening up a space between research and medical practice in which we use data from the front-line treatment of patients and from the system to inform our procurement and reimbursement system.

Rather than “finger in the air” theoretical models of health-economic benefits, we are within touching distance of a system that is able to use real data in realtime from real patients with real diseases to drive real models of cost-benefit and health economics, and we are trying to wire the system in order to deliver that exciting prize. Members will understand that, where funding is finite—£1.3 billion is a big commitment, but it is finite—the system must re-prioritise which drugs it purchases. That is difficult for those who are in the process of getting a diagnosis and expecting a treatment that is then withdrawn, but I stress that no patient who is in receipt of a treatment that is withdrawn has that treatment withdrawn from them specifically. If they are getting a drug, they continue to get it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned pomalidomide, a drug used to treat relapsed myeloma. The CDF clinical panel looked at it, reviewed it, and, based on its independent, best-in-class assessment, the score was too low so the panel recommended that it not be approved. As I understand it, the panel is currently looking at other treatments for multiple myeloma, including panobinostat. I checked with the panel before the debate, and can say that final guidance on that treatment for that condition is imminent.

I remind Members that any patients receiving drugs continue to be treated, and that no drug will be removed if it is the only proven therapy available on the NHS. Sometimes in debates such as this we give the impression that we are taking away a drug, patients will stop getting it, and patients who have no other treatment will be left without treatment. That is not what happens. We should remember that there is an individual funding request mechanism—the IFR—for patients with exceptional conditions that are not met by other drugs. That is there specifically so that if any constituents have a unique claim on clinical exceptionality, their clinicians can make that case.

I should highlight the fact that two new drugs were approved in the previous CDF round. We sometimes forget that new drugs are being approved. We do not get

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requests for debates in Westminster Hall to congratulate the system on their approval, but it is worth mentioning them. The system approved panitumumab for bowel cancer and ibrutinib for cell lymphoma. Those approvals have been widely welcomed by patients and charities in the relevant sectors. I am delighted that, through the early access to medicine scheme that we introduced last year, which, with patient consent and their clinician’s approval, enables unlicensed drugs to be fast-tracked, we have now got pembrolizumab through, tested, into patients and purchased by NHS England several years earlier than would have been the case. That is a precursor of what we want to do much more widely through the accelerated access review.

It is no coincidence that one reason for the delay that was referred to earlier is that I am very keen for the CDF review to be done at the same time as the accelerated access review. Had we not done that, colleagues would have been saying to me, “How ridiculous, Minister, that you have reviewed the Cancer Drugs Fund and closed it before you have received the recommendations of the accelerated access review this spring.” I wanted to ensure that we are building a landscape that is logical and fit.

Sir Oliver Heald: Does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that it is worth while to look at the difference between a condition that goes from diagnosis to death over, say, 18 months, where an extra two months of life is proportionately quite small, and one of these very fast-acting cancers, such as pancreatic, where a person gets only six months and giving them an extra two would be very important in allowing them to settle their affairs and come to terms with the world?

George Freeman: My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. I urge colleagues, as elected representatives, to make such points to NHS England through the CDF review, which closes on 11 February. We represent 70,000 or 80,000-odd people, so it is appropriate to make the point that for different diseases there is a big difference between the benefits of extra time for patients.

In the limited time I have left, I want to touch on some of the questions that came up. Colleagues asked about performance measures for data. It is important that we use the data from the CDF better. We are introducing measures to ensure that the contracts for 2016-17 specify that trusts that do not submit complete datasets will be penalised. One hundred per cent. of

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trusts are now submitting data, so we have closed that door. Some of the horses may have bolted, but we are getting properly on top of the data.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire asked first about a draft treatment pathway for multiple myeloma. NHS England advises that that is currently in the process of being finalised. It has been the subject of public consultation and is being revised to take account of the comments received and the potential impact of treatments that have been removed from the CDF. The treatment pathway is due to be published in 2016. Secondly, on individual funding requests, NHS England does publish data on its website, including the number of individual funding requests for each drug on the national CDF list. Thirdly, on the issue of penalties for failing to produce data, we have built specific performance measures into the systemic anti-cancer therapy database.

My hon. Friend also mentioned multi-drug treatment cost reductions. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on NHS England’s individual commercial discussions with companies, but I can say that I am actively looking at ways to integrate better the Department of Health negotiators with NHS England commissioners through the accelerated access programme, so that we can get the benefit of time, cost and risk reductions in the pathway in more enterprising pricing mechanisms. I am confident that there is interesting progress to be made in that space.

I am aware that it is traditional for the Minister to leave a little time for the Member who secured the debate to wind up. I have around 15 questions that I have not had the chance to answer, so with your permission, Mr Streeter, I will write to the Members who contributed to the debate. I close by reiterating our commitment, as a Government, to get on top of the issues that have been raised. I hope that Members can see that, as the first Minister for Life Sciences, I am making progress in the direction that has been highlighted.

3.59 pm

Pauline Latham: I thank all Members who have taken part in this very important debate. Turning to my hon. friend the Minister, I would just like to say that imminent is great, but it might not be imminent enough for my constituent, Graham. He needs help now. I accept that the Minister is doing all he can to accelerate things, but imminent might not be soon enough.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the removal of drugs from the Cancer Drugs Fund list.

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Towed Trailers

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

4 pm

Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the safety of towed trailers on public roads.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful for the opportunity to hold this important debate.

My objective in securing this debate is to articulate the experiences of a constituent family who, just under two years ago on 27 January 2014, found themselves facing every parent’s worst nightmare. Although I need to explain the tragic circumstances that caused the death of three-year-old Bedminster resident Freddie Hussey, devastating the lives of his mum, dad and older brother, I hope to ensure that the Minister’s attention is focused on the action, legislative or otherwise, that can be taken to prevent similar avoidable tragedies from befalling others. I also hope that this debate will raise the profile of an issue that the family believes, and which my research backs up, is far more widespread and potentially life-threatening than might first appear.

On Monday 27 January 2014, three-year-old Freddie Hussey and his mother Donna were walking home along Parson Street, Bristol, after dropping off Freddie’s older brother at school. A Land Rover was driving along Parson Street that day towing a 2-tonne trailer, which became detached from the vehicle as the hitch had not been correctly attached and careered across the pavement, fatally crushing Freddie. I do not want to delve into the detail of the case brought against the driver, other than to say that at court he was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work and handed a six-month driving ban. It is easy in such tragic circumstances to call for sentence structures to be reviewed and so on, but I and Freddie’s family are keen that in this debate we instead focus on the possibility of introducing legislation to prevent unsafe trailers from being towed on our roads.

South Bristol’s people are made of strong stuff. They are resilient, they support each other and they are generous. In the face of that local tragedy, local residents rallied round with donations, which was particularly valuable after Freddie’s dad, Scott, a professional driver, lost his job after having become so traumatised that every time he got into his lorry he suffered panic attacks. I pay tribute to my constituents for their dignified response, which saw them hoisted into the public eye. The Hussey family deserve and expect to be allowed to continue to reflect on the tragedy that ripped apart their lives without any media intrusion. I express in anticipation our thanks to media representatives for their understanding and respect of the family’s wishes.

Having experienced that personal tragedy, the family impressed on me their determination that some good will come from Freddie’s death. Other families should not be forced to undergo a similar nightmare. They seek certain outcomes, which I want to articulate on their behalf. They accept that nothing can be done about the driver’s sentence, but they wish the law to be changed so trailers must pass a roadworthiness test.

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First and foremost, I ask the Government to state their position on the law surrounding the roadworthiness of trailers and the ability of drivers to ensure safe attachment, and why it will not be changed. Looking at this issue from a layperson’s perspective, people are surprised that there is no requirement for a person driving with a 2-tonne trailer on their tail to check how it can be safely fixed or to ensure it is roadworthy. I have been told by the Minister responsible that no change is planned, but I do not have a clear idea why that is so. I sought a clear understanding on my constituents’ behalf over a period of several months last year.

I was elected in May 2015, and I was first contacted by Freddie’s mum, Donna, a month later. I subsequently met her and her husband. Donna’s email outlined the tragic circumstances and explained:

“We want trailer and towing laws changed and tougher sentences for drivers. Our little boy cannot have been killed for nothing.”

Like many other residents of Bristol and elsewhere, I still remember where I was when I heard the awful news of Freddie’s death. The depth and cruelty of the disaster felt almost unreal, and shattered the special home-to-school journey that thousands of parents make every day. It surely must have been a one in a million occurrence, but Freddie’s mum explained that

“in the last two weeks alone I have come across four separate incidents where trailers have come loose.”

She gave me web links to news stories, and has added to them since, from North Yorkshire, Kent, Dorset, Tameside, Essex and Somerset. One from Taunton, Somerset, even included a dash-cam video of the incident. Anyone who watches that footage of a trailer smashing across a busy road into traffic lights, luckily without hitting anyone, will understand the risk to public safety we are dealing with. My constituents told me that they have kept a log of further similar incidents, and they assure me that many similar cases have come to light. Such incidents are far from uncommon. The work they have undertaken to highlight this issue means they have been alerted to new accidents on an ongoing basis by a network of people across the country who share their concerns. If the Minister would like to know more, they will be pleased to furnish him with more information.

In her email, my constituent stated that,

“in the UK trailers do not carry MOT or safety checks. In countries like Australia or New Zealand they do, and if you are caught with an unsafe trailer you are prosecuted.”

The Minister will be aware of the legal position in other countries across the world. For example, I understand that in New Zealand trailers require a warrant of fitness similar in principle to an MOT, and in Sweden all trailers are required to be registered, to have a certificate of conformity from the manufacturer and to pass a roadworthiness test. The family understandably wondered why similar measures cannot be enacted at home, so I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport outlining the case and asking what plans his Department has to introduce safety checks for trailers and other towed vehicles. I also asked whether any consideration had been given to changing the driving test regime to include towing a trailer. The short reply I received stated that

“there are no plans at this time to require MOT tests for small trailers”.

From my research, I became aware of a similar case that was raised in Parliament in January 2008 by the then Member for Amber Valley. It involved a hauntingly

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similar case of a four-year-old boy tragically killed when he was hit by a trailer that broke free from a car while he was walking in a Derbyshire village with his mother.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She raised the tragic case of young Finlay Martin in my constituency, who died just over eight years ago. I agree, first, that sentences for people who cause such accidents should be much tougher—the sentence for Finlay’s killers was derisory—and, secondly, that there need to be tests of trailers’ roadworthiness. When they are manufactured, we must ensure that they have all the controls and safety checks that they need. When they are used, an MOT is the right idea.

Karin Smyth: I am grateful for that intervention. I agree that sentences are an issue, although the Hussey family do not want to look at them. It is surprising that there are no checks at the moment, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s response to that.

That case was raised in Parliament at the time. Having expressed his condolences, the then Under-Secretary of State for Transport responded to the then Member for Amber Valley:

“Introducing MOT-style tests for such trailers is a possibility that we have considered before, and it is a matter that we keep under review. There have been several such accidents in recent months, and I will certainly consider the matter with officials in the Department to see whether we need to move on that.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1354.]

As I was aware from that parliamentary record that the Department pledged to keep the issue under review, last August I wrote to the Minister to draw attention to that case. I asked to see any documentation or advice that his Department officials had provided, and I asked whether the Department had considered whether it is now appropriate to introduce MOT-type tests for small trailers. The somewhat terse reply was:

“I am not able to provide information about advice given to Ministers in a previous government.”

It stated that the testing of small trailers had been considered at a European Union level in 2014, but that it would not be mandated. It did not explain why, so my constituents remain in the dark. It concluded, in the fourth short paragraph of four, by repeating that the Minister is not considering introducing MOT tests for small trailers at this time. Again, it failed to explain why. It prompted me and my constituents to ask, what has changed since 2008 and why? Had incidents of trailers becoming detached fallen or ceased? We know that they have not. In 2008, the Government kept the matter under review. Had the active review policy changed? If so, when? Who changed it? Why? My constituents are angry, but they are dignified and tenacious. They have asked me to seek answers. I have tried, but the Minister’s written responses have been unhelpful, in the opinion of those who have read them, because they failed to give answers to those key questions and prompted further questions.

Let me be clear. I am not calling for the Government to introduce a compulsory MOT test for trailers immediately, although I would like the Minister to set out how UK law compares with that of other countries

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that do have roadworthiness tests for towed trailers. It might be that a change in the law is the right course for the UK, but at this stage I, along with the family whom I represent, want to understand fully why the considerations that were actively undertaken as recently as 2008 have now apparently been dropped. If the process of introducing such a test is felt to be too bureaucratic or too expensive for trailer owners or for the taxpayer or both, what is the evidence base? Perhaps the issue is not considered important enough to justify public expenditure. Will the Minister please explain the sums involved? Speaking of the evidence base, will he outline data showing the number of recorded incidents of trailers becoming detached? If he will not or cannot, will he accept my constituents’ help in understanding the levels, and therefore the extent, of the issue, which would then allow them to contribute in some way to shaping future Department for Transport policy on an issue that has devastated their family and their south Bristol community?

Finally, will the Minister agree to meet my constituents, should they wish it, so that he can explain personally, face to face, what the Government can do to address this serious issue? My constituents believe that it cannot be long before there are further fatalities and, based on my research, I agree with them. They know that they cannot rewrite history, but they want to help shape a better future and to do all that they can to help avoid any other families suffering as they do. As a minimum, the Government should publish any evidence they have considered around trailer safety and allow further consideration of how tragic deaths from unsafe trailers can be avoided in the future in this country.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Before I call the Minister, I should advise the House that my information is that there are likely to be two Divisions at 4.20 pm, in which case the sitting will be suspended, the clock will stop on the Minister, and he will have to come back to finish his remarks.

4.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): I fully share the sadness, so eloquently detailed by the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), at the death of Freddie Hussey. I can only extend my deepest sympathies to his parents, Donna and Scott, and their other son, Archie, for their tragic loss. It is always devastating to hear about the impact that road deaths have on families. Losing a child is a burden that no parent should have to bear.

Road safety is right at the heart of transport policy and is a top priority for me, so I will first put my remarks into context with some words on road safety. I recently set out our new road safety statement, which contains our commitments to realistic and appropriate action to tackle deaths on our roads. We are particularly concerned about the deaths of vulnerable road users such as children. The statement sets out our key priorities for road safety, which include adopting the safe systems approach. That approach is clear in the framework we have set with Highways England, which it is now implementing. It is also a theme that runs throughout the statement. We are protecting vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders, through infrastructure and vehicle improvements, the promotion of safer behaviour and equipment, and ensuring that other road users are aware of the risks posed to these groups and adapt accordingly.

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Taking tough action against those who speed, exceed the drink-drive limit, take drugs or use their mobile phone has been a priority for successive Governments, and I intend to build on that. We are increasing the fixed penalty for handheld mobile phone use behind the wheel from £100 to £150 and increasing the penalty points for the offence from three to four for motorists and from three to six for HGV drivers. We are also consulting on legislative changes to improve urban cycle safety by ensuring that sideguards and rear under-run devices remain permanently fitted to HGVs.

I have also ensured that a £750,000 grant will be made available in this financial year to police forces in England and Wales to build drug-driving enforcement capacity, and we are consulting on options for a drug-drive rehabilitation scheme course and a high-risk offenders regime for drug-drivers. Further to that, I am consulting on proposals to support safety for motorcyclists, who tragically account for 19% of all road deaths and yet make up only 1% of road users, including better training and improved safety equipment. It is a comprehensive package of initiatives to tackle road safety and build on the progress that our country has made over many years.

Turning to towed trailers specifically, I should start by explaining the type approval and licensing processes for trailers. While small trailers are not subject to MOT testing, all new trailers now need to be type approved. Trailers are, for legal purposes, divided into four different types. Category O1 and O2 trailers are the smaller variety—meaning under 3.5 tonnes laden—which are mostly for personal and domestic use and include caravans. The trailer in this case was in the O2 category. Categories O3 and O4 cover larger trailers, which are usually used commercially and include, for example, articulated lorry trailers. The latter varieties are subject to more rigorous inspection procedures that are appropriate to large and heavily used vehicles.

Recent developments have improved the safety of all new trailers, but given the long life of trailers, it will take some time for the trailer fleet to be completely renewed. All new road-going trailers that are towed behind road vehicles such as cars, lorries or buses need to be submitted for European type approval. The system checks the safety of a new trailer, with regard to important items relevant to road safety such as the braking system, the lights, the tyres and the towing coupling. For larger trailers, devices to protect other road users from under-running the side or rear of the trailer were already fitted in most cases, but they have been subject to more stringent strength testing. We and the industry believe that that has achieved a significant improvement in the safety and quality of trailers. The trailer manufacturing industry has invested in improving the build quality of its product and in more thorough testing, in particular of their braking systems and devices for protecting other road users.

Moving on, we are also clear with road users as to what is acceptable behaviour while towing a vehicle and we consistently make clear how people should behave. Rule 98 of the Highway Code makes it clear that individuals should not tow more than their licence permits and should ensure that loads are secured and distributed throughout the trailer body. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency also issues a significant degree of guidance on responsible trailer use, including on how

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much weight a trailer is allowed to bear and the checks that a responsible driver ought to undertake before driving off. The checks include ensuring that the lights are working and the coupling height is correct and checking that the load is secure. The DVSA also provides advice on what to do if the trailer starts to snake or swerve, which is to ease off the accelerator and reduce speed gently. It is entirely reprehensible for an individual driver to set off without ensuring that the trailer is correctly and appropriately coupled and the load correctly distributed through the trailer.

Karin Smyth: I am grateful for what the Minister is outlining. I agree that that is entirely reprehensible, but we are talking about guidance and advice, and there is no onus on the driver or any enforcement authorities to enforce the advice. Will the Minister expand on how exactly he sees that working?

Andrew Jones: I will come on to further points, so perhaps we can pick up some of the issues then.

One issue that came out clearly in the hon. Lady’s speech was MOT type testing. As I said earlier, smaller trailers are not subject to MOT testing, although larger ones are. There is no statutory or comprehensive national database to identify small trailers or to detail when they were built, so any such MOT scheme would prove difficult to implement.

A more universal testing regime for smaller trailers, such as those with the O2 category, was considered as part of a 2013 debate on the European Union roadworthiness directive. At the time, EU member states were in agreement that a scheme to register and test those vehicles throughout Europe was disproportionately burdensome—that was the phrase used—to establish and operate. Unless a registration scheme for such vehicles were established in advance of any testing scheme, it would be hard for enforcement authorities to check effectively that a trailer, such as a caravan, had its own authentic test pass certificate or, indeed, documentation on who owned it. It would be too easy, for example, for a certificate to be used for another, similar vehicle.

It might help our debate if I detail some accident data—I am aware that the hon. Lady’s opening speech included a request for more data to be published and, if I can find more, I will certainly write to her with that information. The number of accidents and casualties involving towed vehicles, compared with other types of vehicles, is low, at about 1% of all accidents. If we take 2014, the latest full year of data, 268,527 vehicles were involved in road accidents of all severities on the roads in our country. Within that total, 1,257 vehicles were towing a trailer, which equates to less than 1% of all vehicles involved in reported road accidents. Obviously that is absolutely no comfort whatever to families who have lost someone in any kind of incident, including the Husseys.

Furthermore, in many of those accidents the trailers are of the larger type, over 3.5 tonnes. Such heavier trailers are used by the operators of HGVs and for many years have been registered and tested under the DVSA’s heavy vehicles plating and testing scheme. The drivers are also used to towing trailers day after day, because that is in the normal course of their jobs.

In respect of large and small trailers, much of the work on road safety, including in relation to careless driving, mobile phone use, drug-hindered driving and

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drink-driving, is also relevant to those vehicle combinations and applies to drivers irrespective of what they are driving. In the case that we have been discussing, I understand that the failure was to do with coupling the trailer to the Land Rover, which was an error by the driver. It is therefore unlikely that that type of failure would be picked up in a test designed for equipment, such as an equivalent to the MOT test for trailers.

The available data suggest that most accidents involving light trailers relate to driver behaviour, such as inappropriate driving behaviour for the conditions or breaking the speed limit. Indeed, the national speed limits for vehicles towing trailers, including caravans, are lower than standard national road speed limits. That is because of the handling characteristics of those vehicle combinations. Sixty miles per hour is the legal maximum on motorways and other dual carriageways, with 50 mph being the maximum on single carriageway roads, subject to the national 60 mph limit for general traffic.

I want lessons to be learnt from the sad case that we have been discussing. We should all bear in mind the comments made about the family’s aspirations. I have met with many families who have lost loved ones in road accidents, and I am happy to meet with the Husseys, should they wish to do so. We are always seeking to learn lessons, so I will spend a little time on what we can do with driver behaviour.

I will ask the DVSA to review all the advice it publishes about trailer safety. That will include in relation to trailer coupling—[Interruption.]

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. There is a Division in the House on the Opposition day motion. I think there will be another Division straight afterwards, on the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, so I will suspend the sitting until after the second Division, when the Minister will have five and a half minutes remaining.

4.24 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4.50 pm

On resuming

Andrew Jones: Let me pick up on the points I was making in the context of driver behaviour, because it is important that we learn as many lessons as we can, not just from this case, but from all incidents that have resulted in fatalities or serious injuries on our roads.

I will ask the DVSA to review all the advice that it publishes about trailer safety, including in relation to trailer coupling. Safety of trailers, of course, involves more than the operation of coupling them safely. Cars, including four-wheel drives, and vans towing trailers can be driven in an unsafe way at excessive speeds. I will look at checking that those messages about vehicle control and speed are clearly put as well.

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The DVSA can and does undertake regular checks of trailers. I will ask officials to examine the trends and patterns being picked up at those checks in respect of trailer maintenance and use, and to feed back to me some underlying trends, if, indeed, that is what is identified. I will ask officials to consider how the DVSA guidance about trailers and the lessons learnt from the checks can be brought home to more of these motorists through some of their representative groups. That includes considering how we can communicate these issues to people towing trailers. For example, we can reach groups representing people towing caravans and horseboxes, although I appreciate that the trailer in this tragic incident was of a different type.

The hon. Lady mentioned other points, including European comparisons. I will ask my officials to make contact with their European counterparts and report back to me on any lessons that people may have learnt in other countries.

I mentioned earlier that I would write regarding data. I have some comparative data: in 2014, as I said, there were 1,257 total incidents involving trailers. That was broken down to 39 fatalities, 214 serious injuries and 1,004 slight injuries. Although that is a slight increase on the previous year, it is part of a broader downward trend. However, I will write with the data that we have, as they might help to inform the debate.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Minister mentioned discussing the matter with different bodies. I know that this particular issue is not the same, but have there been discussions with the National Farmers Union, for instance, about the safety of farm vehicles? That is important: they are on the roads regularly and there are sometimes issues with lights, trailers and so on.

Andrew Jones: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which I will certainly pick up with farmers’ unions.

I come to my last point. I have detailed a number of positive actions, which I will progress personally. I am extremely keen to see our country’s record on road safety improve. We have a good road safety record in our country and some of the safest roads in the world—I do not want people who may be following this debate to come away thinking anything other than that—but at the same time, we still lose many hundreds of people every year on our roads. Those people represent not just statistics, but families shattered, so I will continue to work to improve on our record. The case of Freddie Hussey is particularly sad, and I will do all I can to ensure that we learn from this case, so that the tragic circumstances faced by the Hussey family are not endured by any other families.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the safety of towed trailers on public roads.

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STEM Careers: Diversity

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Would all those who are not staying for this debate please leave quickly and quietly? It is now the big moment for Ben Howlett—who I barely recognise without his jumper on—and it is his job to move the motion.

4.54 pm

Ben Howlett: I beg to move,

That this House has considered increasing diversity in STEM careers.

Thank you, Mr Hollobone—my new style consultant, apparently. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

Put simply, the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector is largely dominated by white men and much more needs to be done to create a diverse and more balanced sector. I am sure that I do not need to explain to anyone why a more balanced sector will be beneficial to our economy and productivity, and to creating a much more equal society. I will therefore spend most of my time today discussing the lack of female representation in the sector, as well as the need to make it more appealing to the black, Asian and minority ethnic community, as well as disabled individuals.

As a man and as a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I must say that it is an absolute privilege to be leading this debate, as I believe strongly that it is not just a woman’s job to end up championing diversity in the sector; rather, it is all of our jobs to do so. I first got interested in this subject quite a while ago, but I saw a stark example of the problem last year, when I attended a school—which shall remain nameless—in my constituency to see an IT development class. There was a single woman in that class and a sea of men. To be frank, that is appalling in 21st-century Britain and we should be doing an awful lot more to change that.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on leading this very important debate. As someone who still is a chartered engineer, and who worked as an engineer across the world for 20 years before coming to this House, may I say how pleased I am to hear him say that this is the responsibility of everyone, including white men? Having men who talk about the importance of diversity—and not simply when they are being asked about it by women—and who raise it in the boardroom constantly is an important part of changing the culture. We need both men and women to speak up for it.

Ben Howlett: I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. I completely agree that it is the job of men and women to be championing this issue. Black, white, BME—from whichever sector of the community, it is important that we get that voice out there. I pay tribute to her for her work on championing this area, and particularly diversity in STEM, given her background. I have heard an awful lot from her over the last few months of being in this place, and I look forward to working with her on that in future.

Before I came here today, I was pleased to lead a digital debate on Twitter, alongside the House of Commons engagement team, using the hashtag #WomenInSTEM. As well as trending at No. 1 in the UK—it was the first time I have been involved in something like that that has

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been as successful, which was quite exciting—the debate was really insightful, with a huge amount of ideas, which I will hopefully be able to reference today, although I cannot reference every single one of them. There were over 800 tweets altogether, and I will try my best to summarise as many as possible. I want to thank the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who took part in the debate—I hope many of them will be watching today’s debate—which shows that Parliament can really speak up for people out there who do not necessarily have a voice. I am sure that the hashtag, #WomenInSTEM, can be used throughout today’s debate as well. Sometimes Parliament can be seen as distant from people’s everyday lives. Looking at the debate yesterday online, I hope that we were able to show that this place was and is listening, and is working to improve the everyday lives of hard-working people.

There are some truly shocking figures that show the lack of diversity in STEM. For example, in 2012, a survey of girls between the ages of seven and 21 found that the top three careers they would choose for themselves were teacher, hairdresser and beautician. As I am sure we can all agree, these are often seen as “traditional” female roles. We need to ask ourselves why engineers, physicists, chemists and mechanics are not mentioned in that list. When it comes to engineering, only 3% of engineering degree applicants are girls and just 6% of the UK engineering workforce are female. Physics is the third most popular A-level for boys, but only the 19th for girls, and around half of all state schools in the UK have no girls studying physics A-level at all.

Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to start earlier? A lot of research shows that from the age of seven upwards, girls are ruling out such careers. We need to tackle that stigma in primary schools, not just when it becomes too late in secondary schools.

Ben Howlett: I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. She is absolutely right, and I will come to that. We should be looking at diversity and removing gender biases even earlier, in nursery or even from birth—I will provide evidence to back that up.

It is not only science that has an issue with diversity. There is a lack of female academics in the English department of a very prestigious university—although I will spare its blushes by not mentioning which. An inherent misconception is putting girls off from a career in STEM subjects, but that does not apply to other sectors. The figures speak for themselves. There is something about STEM subjects that appeals to boys but puts off girls. I want to look at various key stages throughout life before suggesting some steps to see more girls taking a greater interest in STEM subjects and, ultimately, STEM careers. The trend will not change overnight, but we must stop stalling and start to bring about real change.

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): This is an important debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is real value in mentoring women and young girls in STEM subjects so that they look forward to careers in those subjects? Does he also agree that we could and should be doing a lot more to encourage women to step forward and to help in this way?

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Ben Howlett: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She is absolutely right. Mentoring is a key and valuable part of helping girls into careers in STEM subjects and, when they are in such careers, helping them to progress. It is clear from all the evidence across all age groups that women, black, Asian and minority ethnic people, and all groups that are under-represented in the STEM sector should also have improved access to mentoring.

I want to thank a local councillor in Bath who has done a lot of work to increase diversity in STEM and lobbied me for this debate. He rightly pointed out that there is a huge benefit to our economy from having the best of all potential talent going into science, technology and engineering, and anyone who makes a career in these industries will be guaranteed excitement, satisfaction and opportunities that are unique and rewarding. I also want to thank a constituent, Danielle Workman from Ralph Allen School in Bath, who produced a superb report on the lack of women taking STEM subjects, which helped me to construct today’s debate. I thank her for her time and commitment.

We will never address the lack of diversity without addressing the very foundation of career choice. In 2016, children are still pressed to conform to gender stereotypes, with pink Babygros, Barbie dolls and ovens for girls, and blue rooms, cars and chemistry sets for boys. Children obviously do not make that conscious decision; they are guided by their parents, family and society from an early age. That guidance is not malicious, but I am concerned that some decisions are affecting the take-up of STEM careers later on. The Campaign for Science and Engineering produced an excellent report backing up that evidence.

Even children’s advertising exploits gender stereotypes. Adverts for toys targeted at girls commonly use words such as cuddly, magic, princess and glitter, and those targeted at boys use words such as adventure, battle, action and launch. Yesterday’s Twitter debate on the “Let Toys be Toys” campaign, which campaigns to de-gender children’s toys, said that just 4% of adverts for toy vehicles feature girls. When so much of what children are exposed to seems to be so gender-biased, how are children expected to take a neutral look at future careers?

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): My hon. Friend is making some interesting points. Does he agree that much of the problem is about role models and that if children cannot see a role model they can identify with, their career choices will naturally go elsewhere? Torquay Girls’ Grammar School in my constituency has had STEM days with STEM ambassadors from the Met Office. Does he see a role for local employers to go out and ensure that technology is seen as an attractive career choice?

Ben Howlett: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree that that is one way in which schools can work better with businesses to help to de-gender the STEM career field. I pay tribute to him on his work in his constituency to help to promote that.

I want parents to encourage both their sons and daughters to look at all available careers options. That means acceptance by parents that their daughters can consider a profession in which females may be in a minority. If young girls are encouraged to get excited by

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chemistry sets and to enjoy thinking about space, more might start to dream about a career in STEM, rather than some of the more stereotypically female sectors.

By the age of six, children are already beginning to classify certain jobs as male or female, and by 13 many limit their career aspirations to fit in with these artificial boundaries. That is shocking and shows why the problem has been so difficult to overturn. Any action at older ages is potentially redundant unless these early misconceptions are challenged. As well as taking further steps to encourage retention of STEM subjects and uptake of STEM careers, those early preconceptions need to be altered.

If young girls have parents who think they should enter a gender-stereotypical career when they have grown up, how are they expected to look at STEM careers with an open mind? To increase uptake of STEM subjects and ultimately careers, we must remove this hugely inaccurate preconception, and that has to be reflected in the way these careers and subjects are treated both at school and at home. I hope the Minister will explain not just what the Government are doing to change the mind set in early years, but how we are going to take these arguments and change the minds of parents.

Following on from the development of early opinions on the gender of particular careers and subjects, the next key step is the choice of A-levels. At the age of 15 and 16, pupils are given the option to choose their A-levels and think more carefully about their future careers. Of course, some will have a clear career path in mind, but others will try to pick subjects that they enjoy, which could lead to a wide range of careers when they have decided what they want to pursue in life. It is important that young girls are reminded at this stage that a STEM career may be limited if they choose restricting subjects.

It is key at this point, when girls may turn their back on STEM subjects, that as many as possible are encouraged to consider STEM careers. When it comes to educational attainment, girls often outperform their male counterparts in STEM subjects, so that is not putting off girls. A large variety of careers advice is given to students and it is key that female role models are used to show where maths, biology, chemistry, physics, IT, and so on, can take girls. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) alluded to that.

Examples of successful women in STEM careers would hopefully see more girls continuing with STEM subjects and looking further into a career in the sector. That point was brought up repeatedly during the online Twitter debate yesterday, with many people agreeing that a mentoring system to support girls who have an interest in STEM subjects and show them where such careers could take them would help them and could see the industry change for the better. Some involved in the debate said they would support such an initiative. I urge schools to get in touch with local businesses to see whether they can help with giving young girls role models in STEM subjects. I hope the Minister will explore the various ways that the Government can facilitate and help to develop an alumni and mentoring scheme across the UK to encourage young women into the sector.

I want to make it clear that the uptake of STEM subjects at A-level and university is important. Apprenticeships are a key part of our economy, and a

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fundamental part of STEM careers. They are a fantastic way to get into the sector while earning, and millions of people are accessing apprenticeships. We need to tackle the fact that under 5% of engineering apprenticeships are being undertaken by women. Increasing the uptake of women in STEM apprenticeships is another route to improving the gender balance within STEM careers and ultimately changing the misconception that they are careers just for men.

Michelle Donelan: Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that encouraging women and people from ethnic minorities into STEM careers will not only improve diversity, but alleviate the bigger problem of the skills shortage in the industry throughout the country? It is a ticking time bomb in areas such as Chippenham, because companies will leave if they cannot find the right skills there.

Ben Howlett: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It seems outrageous to me, or at least incredibly strange, that the understanding that a woman can be as productive as, or more productive than, a man is not part of the mindset of many businesses in the sector. The skill sets that should be created to help to grow the economies that are important to us—the tech economy, in particular—are simply not being built. We need to be generating a whole new pool of talent, which can, obviously, come from women. There is no reason why it cannot; there simply seems to be a culture out there that prevents women from being able to access the sector.

Chi Onwurah: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. Part of the culture that he has just mentioned may well be the idea that science and engineering are somehow separate from arts and creativity, and that people must choose between the two. The great thing about engineering and science careers is that the best and the most productive involve creativity and imagination, which are the sorts of skills that we need for our future.

Ben Howlett: I completely agree with the hon. Lady. There is no difference between the two. Some of the most creative women I have met work in professions in the tech economy, and I do not know why the separation that she mentioned exists. The application of a particular type of STEM, whether it is science, technology, engineering or maths, seems to be missed in the wider debate. Women would be much better able to access the sector if they knew that science or technology would help them in their future careers and that they would be accessing a very creative sector.

Once women have chosen a career in STEM, we must work to make sure the sector retains them. I was saddened to learn of a former constituent of mine, one of Bath’s only female IT developers—given the fact that we have a huge tech economy, I find it absurd that we had literally one IT developer who was a woman—who needed flexible working and found that her only option was to move to London. Sadly, we have lost her now. The tech economy in the west of England, and elsewhere in the UK, should learn from that, understand the reasons why it happened and encourage more women to access the sector. I hope that example will shift the mindset of many employers.

It should not be difficult to allow women to work flexibly and pursue a career in STEM. I am not saying that every company that contributes to the STEM sector

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is not flexible or accommodating of women with families, but a sizeable number are not. All sectors need to step into the 21st century and be flexible. The STEM sector is no different, and I hope that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will work to encourage that.

I did say that I would touch on the importance of extending STEM to be more inclusive of the BAME community and disabled people. Just as we need to work to break down barriers for women, we need to break down any barriers that exist for the BAME community, and even more so for women BAME community members. There is much information available about female uptake of STEM, but for some reason far less when it comes to the BAME community. To create an appropriate strategy to combat any issues, we need to monitor the uptake of subjects and careers, and highlight trends, which policy can work to mitigate. We need to focus much more on workplace adjustments in STEM careers to help disabled people to access roles and further their careers in the sector.

I am pleased to say that there are success stories, which we need to hold high and use as models to improve the diversity of STEM in the future. Athena SWAN, as I am sure many Members are aware, is a national scheme that recognises a commitment to supporting and advancing women’s careers in STEM within higher education and research. Members across the country sign up to its charter, which contains principles such as

“To address gender inequalities requires commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation”,


“The high loss rate of women in science is an urgent concern which the organisation will address”,

to name but two. Athena SWAN grants awards to organisations for good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in higher education. Universities proudly display their certificates, which no doubt help when they are competing to attract the best staff and students.

In the last Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) was a strong champion in this area, and I pay tribute to her for her work on increasing diversity. I direct the Minister’s attention to the excellent report published by the Select Committee on Science and Technology during the last Parliament, which included a range of recommendations to improve diversity in STEM. Other sectors need to look at Athena SWAN and bring in similar charters to ensure that they are doing all that they can to put increasing and maintaining a diverse workforce at the centre of their work.

I am pleased to see that the Government have committed to addressing the lack of diversity in STEM, and I would like to suggest, as I am sure other colleagues will too, ways in which we could start to de-gender STEM careers and ensure that the sector is as attractive to young girls as it is to young boys.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I rise as someone who has three daughters and has failed with two of them, in spite of intense parental pressure, to get them to do STEM subjects. It is important to recognise that one area of STEM is medicine, which is increasingly dominated by women. Perhaps the propensity to do medicine, as opposed to engineering, can be an issue.

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Ben Howlett: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. There has been a propensity to encourage women to pursue careers in biology and medicine, but that has not been the case in maths, science, manufacturing and technology for generations.

David Mowat: Medicine is principally chemistry-driven.

Ben Howlett: Medicine and chemistry are intertwined. Chemistry is slightly less behind maths, technology and science; indeed, it seems to be positively favoured. We need to learn why more women are coming forward to do medicine, and we must apply that knowledge to maths, engineering and science. A range of different organisations has published recommendations about how to do that. We need to stop so many 16-year-old girls walking away from STEM. Some level of science is compulsory until that age, but we need to stop girls abandoning it just as they are getting started. The more girls choose to take STEM-related A-level subjects, the more will consider studying a STEM subject at university, and so on. To make sure that happens, I would like to see more female role models to show young girls the success that can be had in male-dominated areas.

Finally, I would like to add my voice to those who have called for a link between STEM research funding and a university’s progress in Athena SWAN. That would lead to an increase in research funding for universities that have successful diversity strategies, and it might encourage more universities to reconsider STEM policies and encourage diversity.

Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con): It is so important that we get women into these areas. Does my hon. Friend agree that one big driver should be the fact that people who enter STEM industries attract wages that are significantly higher—up to 20% higher—than those in other industries? In my constituency, NXP Semiconductors, which is a big manufacturing exporter in a big industry, is looking for people to come and work in its industry. We want to see more women doing so.

Ben Howlett: I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution, and for the work she is doing in her constituency to champion this area. From my conversations with her, I know that it is high on her agenda. There are two angles. First, we need to improve careers advice and explain to many women that entering into a STEM career will give them a higher earning potential. Such advice is not necessarily available, although careers advice in the UK is getting better. My experience was that I was told to go into the Army when I left school—that was the only career option available to me in rural Colchester. Secondly, we have to explain to companies that they can increase productivity and grow into much more profitable businesses by employing more women. It is quite clear that women are incredibly productive members of whatever sector they are in, and we need to break down the stereotypes that exist in the business community.

I know that the Minister cares deeply about the issue and that she understands the need to improve diversity in the sector for the sake of increasing productivity. We must live in a more equal society, and if we do nothing, we will be damaging the opportunity to fulfil every woman’s potential.

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Several hon. Members rose

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. The debate finishes at 5.56 pm. The Front Benchers will be called at 5.33 pm and will have five minutes, five minutes and 10 minutes. With four Members standing, I will have to impose a time limit of three and a half minutes, which will include interventions.

5.19 pm

Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing this debate. It is good for a representative of Aberdeen to be thinking about this subject. The oil and gas industry is one of the major employers in Aberdeen, if not the biggest employer in the whole city—it certainly has a huge ripple effect. The other thing that we do quite well is academia. We have a major issue with the lack of women in STEM careers.

As an MP, I travel through Aberdeen airport quite a lot. I am there twice a week most weeks. It has the world’s busiest heliport, and it is the UK’s fifth-busiest airport in terms of total movements. There is a huge number of oil-related movements. There are very few women in the airport. Almost all the women I see at Aberdeen airport are going on holiday or are there with a male partner. Very few of those women are travelling on business in their own right. I have mentioned the two major industries in the city, and from the airport alone I can see that there is huge under-representation. OPITO, the oil and gas training body, did a survey in 2011 on the proportion of female employees in the industry as a whole. The survey found that more than 50% of those employed in the admin sector are women, and in all other sectors, including marketing, communications and engineering, it was less than 20%. Women are woefully under-represented in the whole oil and gas industry, and not just in STEM careers, particularly in higher-paid jobs.

I am beginning to wonder why that should be. I tried to find evidence for it, and all I could come up with was that these jobs are “not for women.” If we start with the entrenched cultural position—the hon. Gentleman said that there is a culture around this—that jobs in the oil and gas industry are not for women, women will not go into those jobs, and when they do go into them they will not be promoted because it will be assumed that women will not do very well. Actually, we are just as good—some of us might be better.

We are doing a couple of things in Aberdeen. At the weekend I visited Satrosphere, which is basically Aberdeen’s science centre. I went with my children, and it was fantastic. The boys and girls were equally involved in all the activities, and it was totally non-gendered. There was no place where there were more women or more men. Even the staff were pretty representative—they were pretty fifty-fifty—which is good for people to see. Aberdeen does some of those things well.

Aberdeen has TechFest, which is also encouraging young people to get into STEM subjects. Again, there is no bias towards either women or men at TechFest, and it will be interesting in a few years’ time to see whether these young people begin to choose STEM careers as a result. I studied advanced higher applied maths with mechanics in my sixth year of secondary school, and I

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was the only girl doing that subject. As the hon. Gentleman says, we also have a huge lack of women studying physics. Hopefully, talking about it can improve the situation.

5.23 pm

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing this debate. He is passionate about this topic, as I am, and his debate on Twitter yesterday was seen by 2 million people. The STEM agenda is very important to us in Portsmouth, where we have a history of naval engineering and are moving into high-tech industries. One graduate of Portsmouth University, Tim Peake, is now working on the space station, which I hope is inspiring a new generation of scientists.

To me, however, STEM does not necessarily mean academic subjects; to me, STEM is about a range of careers. That is one of the reasons why I invited the university technical colleges to look again at setting up in Portsmouth, and I am pleased that they will be setting up in 2017. The college will not only be doing maths and sciences but technical engineering, training draughtsmen and teaching craftsmanship in areas such as carpentry and other vocational subjects.

Many STEM subjects are perceived as boring with little practical relevance. I remember being interested only in the space shuttle’s heat-resistant tiles, rather than in the equations that got it into space. My daughter started doing engineering at university only to find it boring. She changed to natural sciences and is now training to be a doctor. Members will be glad to know that my other daughter also did science at A-level, but my sons did not.

I agree with many of the things that my hon. Friend said, but my wish is that plumbers, electricians and other technicians, whom I consider to be part of the STEM agenda, will be invited into schools. How much more interesting would it be to learn electricity from an electrician in the classroom and to learn about angles and the movement of water from a plumber? Architects could come in and show how everything fits together. Those jobs need a lot of trigonometry and maths. Would children not feel more engaged if they could see the everyday practical consequences of technology? As has been mentioned, this needs to start in primary schools to inspire children and to increase participation. Children all learn differently, and I suspect that we would get more women and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds engaged in STEM subjects if we made them more relevant in the classroom. I encourage schools to use their imagination in the way that they teach STEM subjects, using people from the community to come in and show practical applications of why STEM is important to life. I guarantee that it would also lead to more diversity.

5.25 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) on securing this debate and on setting an excellent scene. In Northern Ireland our society is not as ethnically diverse as in some parts of England, but with the rest of the country we share a lack of gender diversity in STEM careers.

We have made some giant steps forward. The hon. Gentleman mentioned role models, and what better role

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model is there than to have Arlene Foster as the leader of our party? I am immensely pleased to see that happening. I supported her when she was an Ulster Unionist. She is now a member of the Democratic Unionist party, and I am pleased to see her in place. Not only is she the leader of our party; she is now First Minister, too. If someone wants a role model, they should look no further than Arlene Foster. The sky is the limit for what can be achieved. It is good news to have ambition, drive and a target to aim for.

Nationwide, just 9% of people in non-medical STEM careers are women, despite women making up more than half the population. We could consider quotas to address the situation, but with such a low figure there clearly needs to be a much more thorough and comprehensive approach. Last week the House debated space policy, and the idea of introducing young girls and ladies to engineering and STEM careers was raised. There are obviously great possibilities for space policy, too.

With public spending in Northern Ireland still stubbornly high at a staggering 77% of GDP, STEM careers will be an integral part of future growth. It is essential that a STEM sector emerges that reflects the population. We must be more proactive in addressing the gender imbalance both here on the mainland and back home.

We also have a disabled population, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to that, because it was in my mind to do so. We must highlight that disabled people also need to benefit from any moves to address the lack of diversity in STEM subjects and STEM careers. There are 5.2 million disabled adults of working age in the UK, and almost half of them have a degree-level qualification—the same as for those without a disability—yet a small number are in employment. There have been noticeable steps forward since 2008, particularly on resources for disabled students and employees in STEM. The STEMM Disability Advisory Committee was founded in 2011, which is a welcome step. Both the Northern Ireland Executive’s programme for Government and the skills strategy for Northern Ireland, “Success through Skills—Transforming Futures,” recognise that the Northern Ireland economy’s future success will require increased numbers of skilled workers with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics qualification.

In engineering in Northern Ireland, I am encouraged by the number of young girls who are interested in apprenticeships at Bombardier, Shorts and Magellan. I am keenly encouraged by those who are taking up engineering opportunities, and I have advised many young girls when going around schools and universities, “There are opportunities in engineering for girls in Northern Ireland. Take the course now, get the university degree and get the job.” We can move forward very positively. We just need to focus on the right way to do so.

5.29 pm

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I welcome this debate and both the fact that it has been secured by a fellow member of the Women and Equalities Committee and that he is a white man. I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing this debate—he is setting an example by doing so.

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We have a lot of work to do in this country. Only 14% of all STEM roles and jobs are taken by women, and only 9% of engineering jobs, the lowest proportion among European countries. My constituency is home to a large number of employers that depend on technology, information and communications technology and transport roles. One of those is GlaxoSmithKline, which is headquartered locally. I congratulate GSK on the successful work that it has done to recruit women into STEM apprenticeships; 34% of its STEM apprenticeships are taken by women, against a national average of 16%. GSK has done so through a number of initiatives, particularly by promoting role models, ensuring that female apprentices and other staff attend careers fairs and feature in promotional videos, and talking to young women who might consider taking up a career in a STEM field.

Other Members have addressed gender stereotyping, an issue for which we all need to take responsibility, particularly employers and the Government. The small proportion of female teachers of STEM subjects is concerning. Teachers play such an important role in the career choices that young women make, and it saddens me that in the 21st century, we still have gender differentiation in the career choices of young people in our schools. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, because I believe that the Government have a significant role to play in taking action and leadership on this important issue.

5.31 pm

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) on raising this important issue.

I wish it were hard to believe, but 40 years ago I did a study on women in politics. For more than 40 years, I have had an interest in gender divides in society. I was particularly interested in the issue raised by the hon. Member for Bath, which I think is fundamental: this is predominantly a cultural matter. It is about our society and how we view one another. I was intrigued, too, when he raised the issue—if I recall his speech correctly—of the difficulty of getting an IT developer in his constituency, and the small number of women involved in that scientific area. It reminded me of the daughter of Lord Byron.

Lord Byron’s daughter began to study and show an interest in mathematics as a young child. She was fortunate for the 19th century in that she was strongly supported by her mother, who was keen for her to move away from the romantic and emotional interests of her father and take on something rather more practical, in her view. But, of course, it was difficult. Women had few rights to enter such areas at that time.

She began to correspond with Charles Babbage, the mathematician, who asked her to translate from the Italian a memoir describing his analytical machine, which was one of the first to carry out computations. Not only did she translate it, but she made her own notes about the machine, which even included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. Because of that, she is acknowledged as the world’s first computer programmer. The world’s first computer programmer

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was a female from our society, but she had to fight against many odds and break down many barriers to get there.

Hopefully, it is much easier for young women to break into such areas today, but they still face the same cultural biases. I am pleased that in Scotland we have a programme called Improving Gender Balance Scotland, which involves not only young people and teachers but, centrally, parents. They are the people who carry many of the myths, values and prejudices in our society. These matters will not be resolved by dealing with them through curriculum alone; we need to look much more widely at the things that create cultural influences in our society.

I was therefore pleased when the hon. Member for Bath mentioned the role of television and the like in the modern era—the types of adverts we get, and how they can discriminate, perhaps unwittingly, by characterising some things as only for girls and some as only for boys. That must be tackled from the earliest stage. It is too late to leave it to secondary school, and probably too late to leave it to primary school. We must think about influencing people from the earliest days, which means that parents are crucial in the campaign, as are nurseries and other people who come into contact with young children.

I mentioned Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron. She faced many barriers to her rights. I thought that, since this is January and I am a Scot, I would perhaps say a few words on the rights of women by one Robert Burns:

While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,

The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;

While quacks of State must each produce his plan,

And even children lisp the Rights of Man;

Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,

The Rights of Woman merit some attention.

5.36 pm

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) on obtaining this debate. We have heard about the Campaign for Science and Engineering report. Yes, the statistics are indeed depressing, although I was pleased to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) that there are exceptions. However, we must consider what we are doing to harness the enthusiasm for the subject that young people, both girls and boys, have from an early age. In primary school, at the age of eight, they are equally enthusiastic about STEM subjects, but by the time they reach 16, that enthusiasm has waned.

We have heard a lot about gender stereotyping, and some of it is down to that, but we must also consider the teaching methods used. A science teacher said to me, “It’s all big bangs and noise.” STEM subjects can put off young women by being seen as a bit dirty. The impression still exists that engineering and science are dirty and that it is about men in hard hats and is not for young women. Hairdressing and beauty are still the apprenticeships of choice for young women.

I have some questions for the Minister. First, what work is being done with the Department for Education to improve the quality of careers advice and, crucially, to involve parents? In areas such as mine, apprenticeships

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in Heinz, as they say, are for the boys, and apprenticeships in hair and beauty are for the girls, and teachers sometimes encourage that. A young woman came to me who is apprentice of the year at MBDA. Her maths teacher said, “Why are you taking an apprenticeship? You’re far too bright to be taking an apprenticeship. Go to university first.” She has a degree now, through taking up that apprenticeship.

I agree with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that more role models are needed. We must ensure, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) said, that high-quality jobs are available to young women as well as young men. We also need to consider career progression. Only 19% of young women working in the private sector are in engineering or STEM subjects. For all STEM occupations, only 13% employed in them are women, and only 10% of STEM managers are women.

What is being done to identify and address the barriers to women once they have entered these careers? We know from research that one barrier is the fact that if someone takes a career break, they tend to lose their immediacy of research. How can we identify that and help with that?

I would also like to know what strategy there is for the black, Asian and minority ethnic community to break down the barriers that members of that community face, and to explain why BAME men are 28% less likely to work in STEM careers than white men.

Finally, I would like the Minister’s comments on what is being done to break down barriers between employers and the employment of people with disabilities. I no longer want to hear from someone with a disability, as I have already heard, that they were not taken on in a factory as an apprentice in a STEM subject because they were a fire risk. Education matters, and again role models, to provide practical examples of how people with disabilities are forging forward in these careers, would be extremely useful.

We all know that these are the high-quality jobs. They range right from under the ocean to the moon, and we need to do a lot more to encourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds—young women, members of the BAME community and people with disabilities—to take full advantage of all the opportunities offered by these wonderful careers.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): If the Minister is able to keep her remarks to 10 minutes, that would allow Mr Howlett a few minutes to sum up the debate before I put the motion to the House.

5.41 pm

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I will do everything I can to comply. I have taken out some large chunks of the speech that was helpfully provided by my officials. And I always say—there are some here this afternoon who have heard the usual line that I trot out, and I am looking at my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), as I say this—that the usual rules apply. Anyone who I do not reply to by way of my speech will receive a letter that will answer all the points that have been raised in what has been an

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excellent debate, and I pay full credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing it. Truthfully, we could have gone on.

There have been some splendid contributions and perhaps most importantly of all there have been huge amounts of agreement across the House. It is not often that we hear that, but when these sorts of debates occur we hear people speaking in the way they have done today: free of party politics and not making daft points half the time; and speaking from experience but with shared common goals about wanting to make sure that more women and in particular young girls take up these STEM subjects and then do as well as any boy or man and flourish in them.

I will try to answer some of the points that have been made and obviously I will make the case for what the Government are doing. However, I begin by saying that I am getting very concerned, because I am becoming increasingly fond of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin). I am concerned that he is becoming the Scottish National party’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). [Laughter.] That is a compliment, because my hon. Friend is an outstanding historian and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is also a great historian, and I thought that his contribution today was very useful.

I just want to make a sensible point; I am now in my sixtieth year. I know that is difficult to believe; some would say that I look nearer 65 and it often feels it. The thing that slightly concerns me is that I think that when I was in my early 20s—almost 40 years ago—I heard this very same debate. What worries me and troubles me is that despite the efforts of all Governments to try to get more young women to break down these dreadful stereotypes, to get rid of the barriers and to open up all the channels of opportunity, I sometimes wonder whether we have made progress; I do not think we have made the progress that we all want. And trying to crack this problem is incredibly difficult. Yes, there are schemes and, yes, there is money going into it.

I praise the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, but actually he reflected what my hon. Friend the Member for Bath said—it is all about culture and changing culture. Yes, we can do masses in our primary schools, secondary schools and universities, but it probably begins long before that with the attitudes that we as parents impart to our children.

There were some great contributions. There was an intervention from the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) and I could not agree with her more; there was the contribution from the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman); and I thought that the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) was particularly important, and I will just concentrate on one particular thing she said. That was when she talked, quite rightly, about the fine tradition within Portsmouth in relation to the Navy. When I was in the Ministry of Defence, one of the things that really struck me was the fact that so many young women are now going into the Navy. They are doing particularly well in those highly skilled jobs—they are all skilled in the Navy, as indeed they are in all our armed forces—and the number of women going into Royal Navy really struck me.

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Those women are doing incredibly well, which resonates with the point that the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) made in her speech. I do not know whether hon. Members find this as they go round their constituencies, as I have done in my new role in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but one often finds that employers will talk about the quality of their apprentices and then they will produce the prize apprentice, and invariably they are women. So, we have those brilliant role models there; the trouble is that we do not have enough of them, and we all understand and recognise that.

We know that science is a universal culture; no one should face barriers to involvement in science because of their background. However, I will give what I suggest is a horrible statistic. The provisional figures for 2015 show more than 25,000 boys taking A-level physics; for girls, the figure is less than 7,000. And the United Kingdom has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe, at less than 10%. If those figures are accurate, they are not good ones.

In the research community, when we look at grant applications we see that men have higher success rates than women across all but one research council. White applicants have higher success rates than black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants. We know that there are barriers to achieving a diverse team at various stages of education and work, so as a Government we are committed to developing a strong, diverse STEM community, and we are working with the research councils, the national academies, industry and educators to deliver it.

There are some other facts that I hope will give people some encouragement that we are on the right track. We are investing £2.15 million in the Stimulating Physics network and £5 million in the Further Mathematics Support programme to help schools, academies and colleges to increase the take-up of maths and physics, with a particular focus on engaging more girls.

From 2014 to 2016, we will invest £11 million in the maths hubs. I pay tribute to the one in my own constituency of Broxtowe, which is at the George Spencer Academy, and I know that the academy’s brilliant principal—its headteacher, who is an outstanding woman—is determined that she will get more young women taking up maths. We are also investing £7.2 million in the Science Learning Partnerships to support better teaching in schools.

There are some other interesting statistics. I put my hand up to ask, “Please don’t tweet out in an adversarial way about this”, because I had not heard—it is not within my departmental responsibility, I quickly add, so I am grateful to be able to come along and respond to this debate—of the Careers & Enterprise Company. It is an employer-led, Department for Education-funded organisation that strengthens links between employers, schools and colleges. It will inspire young people—of course it will—and it has a £5 million investment fund. I shall certainly contact it, because I am finding in my own constituency a real willingness by schools to engage far more now with the business community and to bring people in.

We have heard from a number of hon. Members today about some of the work in their own constituencies, and their encouragement of schools and teachers to engage far more with businesses. Some really sensible

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and good points have been made about bringing in the engineers and the plumbers—it does not matter—to break down these stereotypes and to open the minds of all our young people to the fact that there is a full range of opportunities available to them, and to break out of those stereotypical opportunities of fashion and beauty.

I do not know what it is about our culture, which seems in some ways to be going backwards; whether that is because of the predominance of the personality culture, I do not know. So I pay full tribute to the fact that we have the first woman First Minister in Northern Ireland—fantastic—and the first woman First Minister in Scotland. Do you know what? I do not care what Nicola Sturgeon’s clothes are like; I am not interested in her hair, any more than I am interested in whether the Chancellor is on the 5:2 diet. [Laughter.] It really is so totally, utterly irrelevant, is it not? What matters much more is what they do; the Chancellor, of course, is brilliant, and Nicola Sturgeon could do an awful lot more. No—I am making a cheap political point. But we all know what the point is. We have an obsession now with the way people look, with what they are wearing and how they dress, but it does not matter; it is what they do and say that matters most. We have moved backwards in that respect, and changing that would encourage more young women to get involved in STEM subjects.

You will probably be pleased to know, Mr Hollobone, that I fear hugely that I will be unable to deal with all of the speech. In any event, it is far too long to deal with in the time available to me.

I pay full credit to the Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who is also the Minister for Women and Equalities, for the work she does and her absolute determination to ensure that girls and young women have all possible opportunities. For example, in 2014 we set up the Your Life campaign, which aimed over three years significantly to increase the numbers taking A-level maths and physics. It has a strong social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which is the way of communicating with young people, even if at times it drives people like me completely bonkers, because of the trolls and the abuse.

Regarding the levels of misogyny, I do not know whether the number of attacks on women in public life has increased, but certainly on social media we see that sort of abuse, and it is absolutely not acceptable in a modern world and does nothing to encourage women to step away from the stereotype.

I want to say just one other thing, and it is about mentoring. We have a great scheme to ensure that we get mentors into schools, and we have STEM ambassadors. In BIS we support more than 32,000 ambassadors to go into our schools, and I want to find out more about them when I go back to my Department. That really is the future, but it is also about changing the culture.

5.51 pm

Ben Howlett: I thank the Minister very much for her closing remarks. Her passion for the subject is clear. She is obviously looking to take on board the recommendations and the issues raised in the debate today and report back to us later, to carry on the good work that the Government are doing to address this culture.

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Members on both sides of the House are right to say that there is a cultural problem. We have talked about role models that need to be rolled out, and we need to ensure that the 5.2 million disabled people are not left to one side and forgotten about. They are hugely productive members of our community and we should do everything we can to encourage them into STEM careers as well. In addition, we have heard about the Improving Gender Balance Scotland project, and I will go away and read about that and find out what work has been done there too.

In particular, I hugely congratulate everyone who was on Twitter yesterday—I have to say that there was a limited number of trolls. The debate has been amazing, incredibly sensible and forthright and has shown how

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wonderful this place can be when we focus on an issue that has cross-party support. I hope that this will not be a single debate but a long-term campaign to ensure that we change our culture, so that in a number of decades’ time we will not have to talk about these same problems. I thank everyone who has taken part today, and particularly the millions of people out there who were watching the Twitter debate yesterday.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered increasing diversity in STEM careers.

5.53 pm

Sitting adjourned.