Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:26 am on 1st April 2008.

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Photo of Helen Southworth Helen Southworth Labour, Warrington South 11:26 am, 1st April 2008

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Hall on securing the debate, which is on an important issue for the region, the UK and our constituents. He has been a redoubtable champion of Daresbury laboratory over many years.

Others on this side of the House have been champions of the laboratory for many years, because we see what it achieves. The science campus at the laboratory is a world-renowned large-scale science facility. It has an amazing history: synchrotron technology in the UK developed at Daresbury and it really is whizzy science. Light is spun around at such speed that things can be seen in incredible detail. One can see a cancer cell at the size of a full stop and identify it. For people, that means that we are going to be able to stop cancer, because we will be able to find it at the earliest stages.

The facility is not only about that; it looks at how to make aeroplane wings function more effectively. It is about major industry and manufacturing. It is revolutionising how we deliver industry in the north-west, which is keeping us competitive. My major dispute with Dr. Pugh is that Daresbury laboratory is not going cap-in-hand to ask the Minister for things; rather, it is world-leading and it is positioning our science and industry—our jobs—at the forefront of world science.

Daresbury is not only home to world-leading accelerator science. It is also home to advanced instrumentation and engineering, high-performance computing, nuclear physics, modelling and simulation. Our scientists are spectacular and the facilities and resources on our site must meet their abilities to ensure that they can deliver, because they are central to the decades of success that we have had on the site. The scientists and technicians are internationally acclaimed and I am honoured that a large number of them are my constituents. I have learned so much about our opportunities through what I have been told by those constituents about what they are delivering for the UK and around the globe. More than 5,000 scientists from more than 30 countries use Daresbury's facilities every year. They do not pop over here thinking that we are second best; they come to Daresbury because it is a world leader. They want to use our facilities, and we want to ensure that Daresbury will be able to continue delivering.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that eight years ago the Diamond project to replace the out-of-date synchrotron on the site was awarded to the Rutherford Appleton laboratory, even though the project had been developed by Daresbury scientists with international peer backing. My hon. Friends will remember being inundated by representations from scientists from all over the globe, including Nobel prize winners, calling for the recognition of and investment in the world-leading facilities at Daresbury.

As a result of strong representations from world scientists, from Members of Parliament, from business and industry and from local and regional government, the Government set up the north-west science and Daresbury task group, of which I was a member. That task group recommended a series of actions to support regional and UK science, including the establishment of the Northwest Science Council. One significant result was major Government investment in the science and innovation campus at Daresbury.

The campus concept is a great idea, under which the public and private sectors can co-operate with regional and national Government to generate real growth from new scientific discoveries. The first major success of the campus was the innovation centre. It was opened two years ago and it now houses more than 60 high-tech companies in fields such as information and communications technology and medical device design and manufacture.

Many of those companies are new start-ups and innovators, and some of them have been drawn to the UK because of the sort of science on offer at Daresbury. Scientists are attracted by the on-site facilities, particularly the research laboratories that are open to companies. They are also attracted by collaboration with the 500 scientists and other staff of the laboratories, who offer world-class capabilities in physics, chemistry, engineering, computing science, biology and other fields. Those industries are benefiting from that close proximity.

The universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster are key partners in the campus. The campus represents a unique mixture of publicly funded research, private sector companies and investment, and world-class universities—all working together to create innovation and economic growth. It is an incredible success story, and we must ensure that it continues. It is crucial for our economy, and for improving the quality of life for UK citizens, not only for jobs and manufacturing but for health and well-being. We must ensure that research funded by the public sector is made available for exploitation, and the world-class scientists at Daresbury laboratory are critical to that success. Last year, the Government announced that the Daresbury science and innovation campus would be one of only two major science sites in the UK, the other being at Harwell in Oxford. As a result, Government-supported large science projects will go only to those sites.

In the House last week, the Prime Minister said:

"We are committed to additional investment in science and technology in my hon. Friend's region, and to all the jobs that flow from that, making it possible for the north-west to continue to increase employment during a difficult period for the world economy."—[Hansard, 26 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 188.]

I hope that the Minister will give more detail, particularly in relation to the new generation light source, evolved from the 4GLS project developed by scientists at Daresbury over the last six years. Will he confirm not only that Daresbury scientists will be fully involved in and lead the project team, but that, if it is to be built, the new generation light source will be built at Daresbury? I support the call ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale for Daresbury to have a voice on the Science and Technology Facilities Council, so that decisions can be made with real knowledge rather than assumptions.

The Government have also funded the Cockroft Institute on the Daresbury site; as my hon. Friend said, it has already attracted leading world scientists. It secured more than £20 million of funding in just one year to develop the site. As well as demonstrating its success in research, the Cockroft Institute will play a key role in training physics graduates in the north-west, to ensure that local young scientists have the best opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills. One of Daresbury's incredible successes has been to inspire young people in the north-west to succeed in physics and engineering.

Will the Minister expand on the statement from the STFC that

"it will seek the further development of partnership ventures such as the Cockroft centre, an international centre for accelerator science and technology".

That statement recognises the outstanding success of the Cockroft, but what does it mean in terms of further investment in the Cockroft and associated activity at Daresbury? We need further details.

The key to the considerable success of the science and innovation campus at Daresbury, in all its parts, is the outstanding quality of the scientists and the high level of the engineers and technicians on the site. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale's concern about the announcement of redundancies associated with the closure of the old SRS. To develop next-generation facilities, the laboratories must retain key scientific and technological expertise on the site.

At the end of last summer, the STFC caused serious concern about the future of science at Daresbury. It is irresponsible in the extreme for a Government-funded body to take so little care with the success, and indeed the viability, of so important a body as the laboratory and the science and innovation campus. Will the Minister confirm that the STFC will be held to its commitment, made in the past few weeks, to retaining key scientific and technology expertise at Daresbury in high-performance computing, accelerator and detector research, and development of next-generation facilities and the underpinning technologies? Will he also give us details of what was meant by the STFC's statement at the end of January that it was looking to expand skills on the site as its plans develop? Will he assure us that ALICE will receive the investment that it needs, so that it can continue to succeed?

Overall, will the Minister give us the Department's assurance that the STFC will minimise job losses from the SRS closure, and deliver on its commitment to develop the light source expertise at Daresbury so that it can continue to play a key role in developing the next generation light source? Will he also confirm that the new light source will be built at Daresbury as part of the critical scientific research anchor to the other facilities on the site? A quarter of the north-west's economy— £26 billion—is dependent on science. Daresbury science and innovation campus and its university partners at Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster are at the interface between science and industry. They are opening up huge advances in health diagnosis and treatment. Will the Minister assure us that the STFC will invest at Daresbury in order to build on its world-class success?