[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Science and Research

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:11 am on 24th June 2015.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality) 10:11 am, 24th June 2015

I will certainly keep within the time limits. I thank Paul Blomfield for bringing this topic to the House. My hon. Friend Mr Campbell has left the Chamber, but at one stage my party had the second largest number of Members present, and that shows how important the subject is to us in Northern Ireland.

I want to talk about research on health technologies, and disease prevention and cure. The UK is renowned for its research capabilities. The importance of science and research has been recognised by successive Governments that have sought to protect the science budget from significant cuts. That speaks volumes, but many people in the science and research community have said that our spending is mediocre by international standards. That is a fact of life, so how can we work better with private partnerships to make things happen? The impact of science and research is tangible across the regional economies. In Northern Ireland we are lucky enough to be home to fantastic research universities, which are trailblazers for scientific research across the board.

Queen’s University Belfast is a pioneer and has made breakthroughs in medical treatments and disease. Its work on improving patient care in the treatment of bowel cancer is one example. It uses the latest state-of-the- art techniques to define the genetic make-up of bowel cancer cells and that will no doubt bring significant advances in diagnosis rates and treatment. There is also a company in Portadown, in the constituency of my hon. Friend David Simpson, which has projects to develop better diagnostic texts for prostate, ovarian and breast cancer. Yesterday’s ovarian cancer figures showed that Northern Ireland has the worst recovery rate and life expectancy rate in the UK; 70% of those who get it die within five years. Advances are needed, and they are happening at Queen’s University.

Terumo BCT—a blood technology company—has made great contributions domestically and globally to the detection and treatment of disease. Terumo is based in Larne, and 280 skilled people are employed there. In my constituency, TG Eakin manufactures high-quality medical supplies and has made significant contributions to the science, health and research community. In 2005 it launched its own research and development department, and is now successful beyond Comber in my constituency. Its 280 employees are in Comber, Cardiff and the constituency of Lilian Greenwood. Those companies make real-life contributions for the long term, to people’s lives, wellbeing and health.

I want quickly to talk about schools and the post-16 group, and about the focus on careers advice. What discussions has the Minister had with other Ministers to ensure that such advice encourages young people to look towards science? We need to focus on the science skills necessary to improve the core of a modern British and global economy. Science and research play a significant part in the creation of wealth and jobs, and we need to help prepare young people to exploit the opportunities in the market and to get well paid skilled jobs. That will require us to take into account the role of the secondary sciences, as the Science Council urges us, and not to consider only what are conventionally thought of as the science sectors.