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Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:45 am on 1st April 2008.

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour, Liverpool, Riverside 11:45 am, 1st April 2008

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Hall on securing the debate, and he is right to be so determined about pursuing the issue.

The key issue that we are debating is the future of the Daresbury science and innovation campus as a key centre of excellence for cutting-edge scientific research, and it is important to remember that that is the core point of our concern. Many of the highly successful activities on the Daresbury site are not in jeopardy, but our efforts must focus on ensuring that the centre remains one of international excellence for cutting-edge research. That is important if we are to ensure that we see developments nationally and internationally. The Daresbury laboratory has made magnificent contributions in that respect and is poised to do even more. It is also important to the north-west and to ensuring that we retain a high level of skills there, because those skills contribute to the north-west economy.

The debate takes place against the background of increasing regional disparities in investment in science and research. If we look at the figures for spending on science and technology in 2006-07, we see that the north-west received £26 per head, the south-east received £38 per head and London received £51 per head. The latest available figures for Government expenditure on research and development, for 2003, show that the north-west received £57 million, London received £258 million and the south-east received £635 million. That is not acceptable. What we are talking about today is providing much-needed support for a centre of scientific excellence, whose worth has been proved.

When Lord Sainsbury opened the Daresbury science and innovation campus, he clearly said that he saw it, together with Harwell, as a centre of major excellence. He described Daresbury as one of two key centres of excellence, and that description has been repeated by Ministers since then. The key question is how their commitment will be shown in practice, given the current circumstances and uncertainty.

I take particular pleasure from the close links between Daresbury and Liverpool university. The laboratory's first three directors came from the university's physics department. Hon. Members have mentioned key internationally renowned personnel from Liverpool working at Daresbury, and I should add to the list the name of Professor Peter Weightman, from the university's physics department, who is the chair of the scientific steering committee for the 4GLS project. I should also mention Professor John Dainton, the Chadwick professor of physics at the university, the founding director and chief scientist of the Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology. Indeed, it is the close collaboration between scientists, universities and business that makes what is happening at Daresbury so unique.

There has been great concern about the way, in the beginning, scientists at Daresbury, and, indeed, other scientists who it was thought had the relevant expertise, were kept away from the assessments of 4GLS. It is important to recognise what the international advisory committee on 4GLS and the new generation light sources and the ALICE project reported in February. That international, important and highly talented scientific group, of international repute, reported:

"The IAC wishes to re-iterate its strong support of the science drivers originally developed by the 4GLS team. We believe the key research goals cited in the science case remain vital and exciting".

It said:

"The 4GLS design was and is an exciting world class approach to achieve capabilities not possible with any of the other sources".

Then, in considering the ALICE project, it discussed the importance of keeping the core skills developed at Daresbury. In its conclusion it stated, significantly:

"We recognise that accelerator light sources and capital intensive devices can strain development budgets of science agencies. Nevertheless, the reason such sources are so successful worldwide is that, ultimately, the value of scientific understanding and the economy it drives fully justify the investment. This conclusion is shared by all the major scientific funding agencies around the world".

That conclusion is particularly important, and underlines why it is so critical that 4GLS or a successor project of comparable worth should go ahead at Daresbury.

We are now at a critical point, when decisions are to be made. The record of the Science and Technology Facilities Council on this matter has not been a happy one, but I hope that it is now better informed by the debates and new research. Would it be possible for the 4GLS project team at Daresbury to become members of the project board for the new light source? It is extremely important to re-emphasise that we are talking about excellence—excellent science and the excellent record of achievements that the Daresbury laboratory and campus already have. We seek assurances from the Minister that Daresbury will be able to continue at the cutting edge of international scientific research, and that 4GLS or a similar project will be able to go ahead at Daresbury.