[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Science and Research

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:39 am on 24th June 2015.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 10:39 am, 24th June 2015

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I apologise for missing the beginning of the debate. I add my congratulations to the Minister; it is good to see him in his place. I am obviously sad that I am not sitting in his place. None the less, if there has to be a Conservative Minister, I am glad that it is him. He is a fully signed up member of the thinking classes, despite what his father has to say, and I am sure he will distinguish himself in his new office.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield. It is good to see him back with such an increased majority, which is testament to his extraordinary work in his constituency and in the House over the last Parliament. It is with characteristic speed that he has secured this debate.

We have managed to achieve a degree of consensus on science policy over the past 20 years that has served this country well. We need to preserve and enhance that consensus during this Parliament. However, now is the time to begin making progress on a number of substantial policy issues. In this morning’s debate, some of those issues have become clear. As we set about that task, it is important that we keep our eyes on the prize that is there for the taking with science policy over the next decade or two.

Last year was a bumper year for British science, with extraordinary achievements from landing probes on comets to advances in medical science, but, as Sir Paul Nurse said—it is important that we pay tribute to Sir Paul’s leadership of the Royal Society—the progress last year represented the fruits of years and years of patient chipping away at the coalface. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian

Greenwood) and others have said this morning, we are in jeopardy of destroying the foundations of the progress that we saw last year unless important policy changes are made.

Over the next 10 years, we could seize the fruits of the very different world taking shape around us. The majority of the world’s people now live in cities; the majority will soon be interconnected with the cloud; and the internet of things will bring new networks to bear. We are now able to work together in a completely different way, and of course there is a new premium on us as a world making the right decisions. The decisions that are made over the next five to 10 years will have a critical bearing on whether we succeed in keeping global temperature rises below 2° C. As my right hon. Friend Mr Smith and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South spelled out, there is the potential for great progress in medical science and beyond if we make the right decisions over the next few years.

We in this country have a parochial interest in some of those decisions being taken in a correct way, not least because of the impact of science and innovation policy on our lamentable productivity performance. I am glad the Chancellor has now woken up to the crisis in British productivity growth, which is worse today than it was at the end of the 1970s when we used to call it the British disease. What the rest of the G7 now finishes making on a Thursday night takes us until the end of Friday to get done. We will not raise living standards in our country unless we close that yawning 20% productivity gap with the rest of the G7.