My Lords, it is a very great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and to be the first in your Lordships’ House to be able to congratulate him on his magnificent maiden speech, so clearly informed by the wisdom, experience and insight he has developed through his distinguished career in the City, which culminated, as we have heard, in serving as the 688th Lord Mayor of the City of London. I had the opportunity to speak to the Lord Chief Justice this morning, who indicated to me that the noble Lord was a most successful Lord Mayor of the City of London. He is highly regarded throughout the City and beyond, and your Lordships’ House will benefit from his future contributions to the important work that we have the responsibility of discharging on behalf of our nation.
I also congratulate the Minister on the thoughtful way in which he introduced this debate and declare my interests as professor of surgery at University College London, chairman of UCLPartners and UK business ambassador for healthcare and life sciences. I shall concentrate my contribution in this debate on the area of life sciences.
We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, that financial services represent the most important part of our economy, but beyond financial services the life sciences are the second. They are an industry and a sector predicated on the development over many decades of a very finely balanced ecosystem. At the heart of that ecosystem is the National Health Service. Four of the 10 leading universities of the world, three of the 10 universities leading specifically in the field of life sciences, and two of the top 10 pharma companies in the world are based here in the United Kingdom, between them employing some 200,000 people in more than 180 countries around the world and providing a surplus in excess of £20 billion a year to the UK economy. There are some 1,300 companies in our country manufacturing in the medical area. There are 3,500 small and medium-sized enterprises, 500 of which are exporting actively, and the life sciences industries employ some 235,000 people, which is just under 1% of total private sector employment in our country. Those are important statistics, because the life sciences sector not only makes an important contribution to the economy and to generating wealth but has the vital purpose of ensuring that we can improve healthcare and the outcomes we can achieve for our patients through the application of innovation and technology that has transformed life prospects over recent decades.
A recent UK Trade & Investment report, Strength and Opportunity in 2014, which looked at the life sciences sector in 2014, established that it was a true world leader. Since 2011, the sector has attracted some £7.5 billion of inward investment into our country, which has resulted in the creation of some 18,000 jobs. The medtech sector grew at some 5.8% per annum in the period 2009 to 2014, and the biotech sector some 4% per annum. Those are very impressive figures when one looks at the general pace of economic activity during that period, and something that cannot be neglected.
The Conservative Party manifesto at the last election committed to ensuring that the United Kingdom was the most innovative country in the world. Clearly, the gracious Speech has identified certain areas of innovation—we heard in the Minister’s introductory comments a particular focus on driverless cars and travel into space—but I hope that the Minister can confirm a continued emphasis on the area of life sciences. This important area of activity, which is so bound up with the public sector, our universities and the delivery of healthcare, will not thrive unless there continues to be a determined focus on ensuring that it can compete globally. It is a sector beyond many others that it is exquisitely dependent on collaboration—across universities, across industries and between Governments. Any loss of focus in that area will result in our country paying a heavy price.
In that regard, would the Minister be able to address two or three questions? First, is he content that there will be the opportunity for sufficient focus on the life sciences sector so that it can continue to deliver as required without any further legislation to deal with some anomalies with regard to the environment in which it has to operate? In particular, is he content that UK Research and Innovation will be able to drive the kind of collaborations and co-operation among scientists and innovators, not only in our own country but across the European Union, and potentially in other fundamentally innovative economies such as the United States and the emerging innovative economies in the east, such as China and India?
Is the Minister content that the vital role that the National Health Service has to play with regard to innovation in the life sciences sector can be delivered, particularly with the adoption of innovation at scale and pace—innovation established in our own country and applied for the benefit of the patients in our National Health Service but also using the fundamental opportunities of the NHS to demonstrate to the rest of the world the value of what we can bring to drive improvements in global health care?
Finally, is the Minister content that the life sciences sector can be properly supported in the negotiations attending our exit from the European Union?