§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Clelland.]9.30 am
§ Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)
It is customary on these occasions to express pleasure at having been fortunate enough to secure an Adjournment debate to discuss a matter of great importance. I am grateful for the opportunity, although I express regret that it has been left to a Back Bencher to raise a matter of enormous concern not only to the north-west of England but to the nation's scientific community. I regret also that we are having to debate the matter in Westminster Hall; I believe that it should have been accorded the prominence of the Floor of the House of Commons. Nevertheless, it is an important matter that deserves proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The Prime Minister spoke to the north-west group of Labour Members of Parliament about the Government's decision to site the new synchrotron in Oxfordshire rather than in Cheshire, but it is not good enough to address members of only one party; it is a matter of concern to all parties as well as to people in the north-west and elsewhere in Britain. I am pleased to have the opportunity to bring the matter to Parliament, as we can ask the Government to give a fuller account of their decision.
I welcome the Minister for Competitiveness. I have a high personal regard for him. I venture to suggest that he has been sent here this morning because his ministerial colleagues, too, have a high regard for his abilities. However, I am sorry that the Minister who made the decision, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the Minister for Science, is not able to account for it to elected Members of Parliament. It is an alarming and regrettable trend that Government decisions are made by unelected Ministers who are not directly accountable to the House of Commons.
All parties in the north-west are angry about the decision to site the synchrotron project in Oxfordshire rather than in Daresbury, where the existing synchrotron is sited. We agree with Peter Hetherington's assessment in The Guardian on 22 March, when he said that the move wasa defining moment for the government, and a kick in the teeth for northern MPs.I give full credit to hon. Members of all parties who have made their position clear and fought their corner for the north-west. I see that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) is present; although he is constrained from speaking, I certainly give him full credit for having fought for his constituents within Government. [Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. There was no need for a sedentary comment. The hon. Gentleman was making a 48WH perfectly ordinary reference. The Whip is constrained from speaking; it does not help if he intervenes from a sedentary position.
§ Mr. Brady
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was being complimentary; perhaps I should not have taken the trouble.
I know that other hon. Members have made an important contribution. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) described the decision last week as short-sighted, damaging and unimaginative and said that the Government must think again. She added that Lord Sainsbury should reconsider his position as a Minister. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) described Lord Sainsbury's comments as arrogant and dismissive. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), speaking on Monday evening, said:If ever there was a mixed message to a region, the north-west received one on Budget day.—[Official Report, 27 March 2000; Vol. 347, c. 62].I seek to be broadly non-partisan by trying to give credit to Members of all parties. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) has raised the matter in the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) has been battling hard on the issue since his election last July. He has asked me to apologise for the fact that a binding commitment means that he cannot be here this morning.
The issue is not just regional but, perhaps most importantly, scientific. The scientific community is baffled by the decision. Professor Woolfson, who chaired the 1993 review that led to the original decision to build the new Diamond synchrotron said in a letter—I think that it was to The Times—that he was dismayed by the decision. He said:Daresbury … where the UK built the first dedicated synchrotron source … was identified as a world centre of excellence … Users from many countries benefited from the expertise of the resident staff.He added that more was achieved there than could be achieved with more advanced synchrotrons elsewhere.
Professor Woolfson continued:many staff will take early retirement or lucrative jobs overseas … rather than move to Didcot with its high housing costs and UK salaries. It will take a decade or more to build up a team with the competence … and effectiveness that exists at Daresbury … It is disingenuous of the prime minister to say that there is no north-south divide. There is … and the Diamond decision has made it wider. Other things being equal the government should give preference to northern areas. In this case, other things are not equal and the northern site is, for many reasons, far the better. I fear that a dreadful mistake has been made.The man whose report instigated the development of the new Diamond synchrotron project is firmly of the opinion that the Government have made the wrong decision and that the siting should have gone to Cheshire and not Oxfordshire.
Even those who have backed the siting at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory frequently say that the case is tenuous. The Prime Minister has said that the scientific case is "marginally in favour" of Oxfordshire. Lord Sainsbury, answering questions in the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs last week, said that the French Government and the Wellcome Trust favoured the decision "on balance" but "not overwhelmingly."
49WH The French Government told the BBC that they did not favour one site over another. Following the dismissal of the French Minister, Mr Allegre, it is likely that the French Soleil project will proceed. A distinct possibility is that the French Government will want to withdraw from the Diamond project.
The Government have sought to hide behind the Wellcome Trust, but in evidence submitted to the Select Committee on Science and Technology a couple of months ago, the trust made it clear that it wanted to hold an open competition for the selection of the new synchrotron site. On 19 January 1999, the trust said in its evidence that the Office of Science and Technology agreed that an open competition would be acceptable.
On 28 April 1999, the OST proposed that the new synchrotron should be located at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory site near Oxford. The OST was the first to suggest that that should be the site, not the Wellcome Trust, which favoured a full open competition. The Committee noted in the minutes of evidence that the trust said:After much discussion the Governors agreed that the RAL site was an acceptable compromise.The trust's understanding was that that was the jointly agreed site, until it received a letter from the Secretary of State on 4 October 1999, which said that there wereonly two credible sites in the UK for this project, RAL and Daresbury,and that he wasminded to site the new Synchrotron at Daresbury.The director of the trust responded to the letter on 7 October, noting that it had been persuaded by the OST to accept its proposal in favour of RAL. Further, the director said:if the new synchrotron is not located at RAL, the Wellcome Trust would wish to explore some form of non-exclusive competition to identify an alternative site for the development of the new synchrotron radiation facility.The Secretary of State replied on 11 October, dismissing the idea of an open competition, stating that there were only two sites. He concluded by saying that he was still minded to locate the new synchrotron at Daresbury.
On 15 October, the director of the Wellcome Trust said that several institutions around the country had approached the trust, suggesting an interest in siting the new synchrotron. Whether they could present a credible case if encouraged to do so has not been examined. The Secretary of State responded on 1 November. He stated that hedid not see any benefit from undertaking a new competition for the siteand that he haddecided to site the new synchrotron at Daresbury.Who insisted on Oxfordshire? We know from the French Government that it was not the French and we know that the Wellcome Trust's preference was for an open competition. We know that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry did not insist on that location, because he announced on 1 November last year his decision to site the new Diamond synchrotron at Daresbury. The insistence came from somebody who is 50WH even closer to the Prime Minister than the Secretary of State: someone who has close personal links with him and who has never had to face an election, as I noted at the beginning of the debate. I am speaking of Lord Sainsbury, who pressed for Diamond's location at Rutherford Appleton early last year, initially through the Office of Science and Technology. Why did he press for that site? I doubt whether any hon. Members who are present and who represent the north-west know; I also doubt whether anyone outside the magic circle around Downing street knows the true answer.
On 19 March, The Observer pointed to a web of connections, back-scratching and potential conflicts of interest. It referred toConcerns that the charity wields undue influence over governmentand said that there were a number of close links between the trust and Whitehall. It went on to state:Blair's chief scientific adviser, Sir Robert May … works in the same Oxford University zoology department as Professor Roy Anderson, one of the key governors of the Wellcome Trust board.It pointed out that Wellcome funds a scientist at the John Innes centre, which shares a site with the Sainsbury laboratory in Norwich, and that they have a joint venture company to exploit their discoveries. It also told us:The Wellcome Trust is paying for a key employee to work inside the Government's Office for Science and Technology.If the decision remains unchanged, it will take more than £500 million out of the economy of the north-west and send it to Oxfordshire. That is a spectacular instance of regional policy operating in reverse. It will take the newest and most high-tech jobs either to the south of England or overseas to other synchrotron facilities, and move a major scientific institution out of the north-west. I shall cite the words of a constituent of mine, Professor Young, of the Manchester materials science centre at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, who wrote to the Prime Minister on 13 February. He stated:Daresbury is of major benefit to our region. Its loss would have a profound effect upon employment and upon the north-west science base.There is no compelling scientific case for a move to Oxford, but there is a compelling regional case to keep the new facility in Cheshire. The reasons given by Ministers are contradicted by those at whose door they are trying to lay the blame. It is unacceptable for such important national decisions to be taken by a small coterie around the Prime Minister without explanation or debate. I hope that this debate will force greater accountability and openness on a Government who frequently prefer to deal in secret. If there is a genuine public policy reason for the decision to abandon Daresbury and to site the Diamond synchrotron in Oxfordshire, then let us hear it today. If not, let the decision be changed.
§ Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South)
I did not appreciate the comments with which the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) began his speech, when he complained that Labour Members had been leading the campaign for Diamond at Daresbury and had been speaking to the Prime Minister about the 51WH matter. He said that it was not good enough to address only one party in the House. I would have appreciated his active participation in the campaign for Diamond at Daresbury at an early date, before the decision was made. Instead, he has waited until now, when he has the opportunism to criticise after the event. Does the Tory Front-Bench team support his decision to site Diamond at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory? I shall give way if the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) wants to clarify her party's position.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
I am here today to examine in detail the process by which the Government reach important decisions. The issue is of great importance to people in the north-west and in Oxfordshire. I am concerned not about the location but about the integrity of the Government's decision-making process and its lack of transparency.
§ Ms Southworth
The hon. Lady is not prepared to answer my question; instead, she diverts us with red herrings. Does the Tory Front-Bench team support the siting of Diamond at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory?
§ Mrs. Browning
I do not have the background information on which the decision was made. It is in order to obtain that information and make a judgment that I am seeking clarification from the Minister.
§ Ms Southworth
The hon. Lady has made my point: either the Conservatives are behind the times and resort to opportunism and criticism, or they have not been paying attention for the past nine months when everyone else has been making a case to locate Diamond at Daresbury.
I have a final question for the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman.
§ Ms Southworth
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it remains the case that the Conservative Front-Bench team has not spoken in favour of Diamond at Daresbury.
§ Ms Southworth
Synchrotrons accelerate electrons to a speed close to that of light and act as sources of intense radiation over a spectrum ranging from X-rays to the infra-red. It is appropriate to cast some light on the science. Synchrotrons are used by physicists, chemists and molecular biologists to study atomic structure and movements in a vast number of different types of matter, from semiconductors in computer chips to living muscle. They are not science fiction; they are engines that are essential to scientific, technological and, in our knowledge-driven economy, economic success.
Synchrotrons are not merely high-technology machines with exacting specifications. It is not possible to put a synchrotron in a box, label it and send it somewhere else. It will not function without a high- 52WH quality team of scientists and technicians. Daresbury laboratory, although on the outskirts of my constituency, is an important part of it. It has been the home of British synchrotron science for 25 years. One of the few good things about the process of choosing a site for Diamond—the third generation synchrotron that will replace the current machine—is that is has made evident the worldwide reputation of Daresbury scientists and technicians among the scientific community of synchrotron users.
The Daresbury staff provide world-class experimental and computational facilities. Their outstanding performance has been endorsed by some of the world's leading scientists. The director of research at the European synchrotron radiation facility at Grenoble said that Daresbury staffhave an international reputation for innovative design and technology.Dr. Binns, chair of the synchrotron radiation source surface science user group, and Professor Norris, chair of the SRS user forum, said:Daresbury has been the site of all synchrotron radiation development work in the UK for over 30 years and now employs a world class team of machine physicists and engineers … there is an innovative detector programme led by the scientific research staff which will put the UK at the forefront of instrumentation for synchrotron radiation experiments.Professor Margantondo, co-ordinator of the European round table for synchrotron radiation, explained thata synchrotron laboratory is not merely a collection of instruments. Its ultimate success relies primarily on the competence, creativity and stature of its staff and users … acquiring such a multi-faceted competence at an international level of excellence takes decades—and the result is a resource of invaluable importance. Every expert in the field would agree that Daresbury laboratory constitutes such a resource. I would like to mention in particular the domains of spectroscopy and surface science in general, as well as structural techniques. The worldwide reputation of Daresbury laboratory is virtually unmatched in these areas.Unfortunately, I do not have time to detail the hundreds of similar comments from world-leading scientists commending the laboratory's staff. Nobel prize winners, directors of international establishments, university vice-chancellors and senior synchrotron users have been vocal in their admiration of the Daresbury team over many months. I am extremely proud of the staff at Daresbury who have been able to generate such support for their campaign.
Thanks to the quality of the scientific research and technical support at the laboratory, the first Nobel prize awarded for research work at a synchrotron X-ray source—of which there are 40 in the world—came to Britain with the award of the 1997 chemistry prize to Sir John Walker. Daresbury research scientists are heading research teams on £15 million-worth of research programmes. One of the most exciting is led by Dr. Rob Lewis, a constituent of mine, who is developing a revolution in the early diagnosis of breast cancer. He is using the powers of the rays of the synchrotron to spot tumours as small as a full stop.
The research team is entirely based in the north-west and has taken five years to build up. Its work is vital. I have raised its significance directly with my noble Friend Lord Sainsbury and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and at the highest levels of Government. I am determined that the work will 53WH continue and that we should give it every support. It could save thousands of women's lives and it must be protected and given a secure environment in which to develop. Furthermore, it is essential that all scientists and technicians who are responsible for Britain's international success in structural biology and physical and material science have a secure future and can continue to use their skills and creativity in the interests of British science in the public sector.
Two weeks ago, the Government took a decision to locate Diamond, the third generation synchrotron, not at Daresbury laboratory, but at Rutherford Appleton laboratory near Oxford. That is a bad decision. It has undermined the confidence of Daresbury staff and has put the future effectiveness of Britain's synchrotron science at risk. The Select Committee on Science and Technology investigated the issue of location for Diamond and found nothing to choose between the two sites on science grounds, deciding that other factors would have to be taken into consideration.
Like many of my Labour colleagues in the north-west and on the Select Committee, I expected those other considerations to include two essential factors: the critical importance of the Daresbury staff in the design, building and operation of the new machine—they represent the total repository of Britain's synchrotron science—and the key importance to the regional economy of a synchrotron in the north-west. Science and research drive the new economy and our region is still struggling to create new industries after the wholesale destruction of our manufacturing base under the Tory Government. Biotech industries are a key part of our future success. We are good at them and that must be recognised.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told the Wellcome Trust in a letter of 4 October that he was minded to site Diamond at Daresbury because of all the factors that I have mentioned. The Wellcome Trust, a partner in the project to create the third generation synchrotron, decided, in secret, unilaterally to veto the siting of Diamond at Daresbury and to insist that it should go to Rutherford Appleton laboratory near Oxford—or it would withdraw its partnership. Why? Who knows? The Wellcome Trust has not been prepared to meet local Members of Parliament or north-west civic leaders to discuss the issue.
§ Ms Southworth
In their public and private utterances, Wellcome representatives have exhibited a prejudice in favour of Oxford that seems to have been grounded on the opinion that Rutherford Appleton has a better scientific culture, but when pressed for evidence they have provided none. They have mumbled about scientists drinking coffee together in Oxford, but we have perfectly good coffee in the north-west. After considerable prevarication, during which it gave information to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) that it was not prejudiced in favour of either site, the Wellcome trust issued a statement on 23 November, which said: 54WHOn the basis of the evidence made available to us, the Wellcome Trust has concluded that the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), in Oxfordshire, has a number of advantages when compared with the Daresbury Laboratory as the site of the new UK-French synchrotron.Our preferred option wa to carry out a site solicitation exercise between a number of sites in addition to Daresbury and RAL. We were persuaded that such an exercise should be constrained to the two Government sites only and we believe that there is a stronger scientific case for locating the synchrotron at RAL.I am afraid that the trust has not been able to demonstrate that stronger scientific case.
§ Mr. Jackson
It is clear from the hon. Lady's remark about mumbling over coffee that she is not aware that the director of the Wellcome Trust, in his evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, of which I am a member, gave a full and clear account of the reasons why the trust favoured the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
§ Ms Southworth
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman chooses to speak on behalf of the Wellcome Trust. It has been considerably advantageous to him that the trust took the position that it did. I listened to all the evidence given to the Select Committee, and the main points made by the director of the Wellcome Trust were rather vague scientific points, for which he could not produce any evidence. I was taught that science is about theory, creativity, imagination and testing the evidence. I have not seen the Wellcome Trust testing the evidence. In fact, I issue a challenge to the Wellcome Trust to meet local Members of Parliament to explain its position because, frankly, it appears to have been using science like a drunk uses a lamp-post—not so much for illumination as for support.
If I am wrong, I shall be happy to hear the trust justify its position. I am shocked that the representatives of the Wellcome Trust, who are senior scientists, are not prepared to defend their case in public. I am also surprised that the two professors from London university. two professors from Cambridge university and three professors from Oxford university who make up the majority of members of the Wellcome Trust, are not prepared to explain the scientific evidence for their case. I assume that it is because they do not have a case to explain and are more interested in the quality of wine at the high table than in the quality of science. I find that shocking.
The actions of the Wellcome Trust have damaged the credibility of the decision-making process and cast considerable doubt on the probity of its involvement in that process. I would be very happy for the trust to set the record straight. I also challenge it to publish the minutes of the board meetings at which the decision was made, because I should like to know who participated in the decision-making process and whether any interests were declared.
§ Ms Southworth
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I would have been happy to have had his 55WH support on the issue, to which many Labour Members have devoted considerable effort. I want to put on record my thanks and the thanks of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale, who is unable to participate in the debate, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg), for the extensive support that we received from north-west Members, as well as from members of the Science and Technology Committee.
Several outstanding issues must be addressed following the bad decision that was made. It is essential that the SRS at Daresbury can continue to operate fully while the new instrument is built. That depends on the continued availability of and Government commitment to the current technical support and scientific research teams at Daresbury. I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has agreed to meet representatives of the staff teams soon to discuss their future and the support action that the Government will take to ensure that Daresbury laboratory has a future. It is essential to build confidence in its continuation, to back that with an investment programme and to secure for the research scientists and technicians a future that will recognise their career needs.
It is essential that we develop a strategy in the north-west and build on the co-operation of the research universities, business, local government, regional development agencies and the research institutions that have up to now supported the campaign for Diamond at Daresbury, and need to be drawn on to ensure that science in the north-west develops an international reputation for the future. It is essential, too, that we build a third generation synchrotron that is of international excellence, on time, within budget and without a dark period. Many of us will observe closely to ensure that biosciences do not go through a dark period because of an unwise decision to site the laboratory at Rutherford Appleton.
Above all, it is vital that the north-west should develop a strategy on science that builds on and complements the excellence in the regions. It must be explicit, it must have the Government's full support and it must not be distorted or taken off track by intransigent partners with vested interests. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to address all those issues and to ensure that the Government respond positively.
§ 10.1 am
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. May I correct the hon. Gentleman? While I am in the Chair, the form of address is Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I am replaced by Mr. O'Hara, he will be addressed as Mr. O'Hara or Mr. Chairman.
§ Mr. Jackson
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for drawing my attention to that important point of protocol.
It is an honourable tradition of the House that all of us speak for our constituencies. I understand well why hon. Members from constituencies in the north-west spoke as they did, but we—and the Government—also have a responsibility to think in terms of the national interest.
56WH I am the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which the Rutherford Appleton laboratory is situated. My motive for speaking today, and the line that I have taken in previous debates, will therefore be thought by hon. Members from the north-west to be easily explicable.
§ Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles)
How many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents came to him to demand that the synchrotron facility be removed from the north-west and located in his constituency?
§ Mr. Jackson
The answer is not very many. I will say more about that. No doubt what I am about to say will be interpreted by Members with north-west constituencies as simply an expression of constituency sentiment, but I assure them that I do not approach these important matters in that way. Our area of Oxfordshire has very high employment and there is considerable prosperity. We are part of the wealth-creating sector of the British economy. There are considerable pressures on housing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) told the Chamber. I therefore spend much of my time resisting new developments in my constituency to try to avoid excessive development in our part of the world. Accordingly, I do not approach this matter in a narrow, particularistic, constituency way.
I might add that I have some personal experience of such decisions. I know that there is no greater back number than an ex-Minister, but I have twice been Minister with responsibility for the research councils, in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. I also have some personal experience of taking such decisions and of the interests that are involved. It is against that background that I make my comments.
The Government have been saying, as today's debate has revealed, that the scientific arguments for location at the Rutherford laboratory are marginal. I do not agree. The Government are taking that line, as in the press release issued by the Department of Trade and Industry at the time of the announcement, because it was the only explanation that they could find for the delayed decision: delayed in the face of the powerful lobby from the north-west. The only plausible explanation for the delay was that the scientific case was marginal, so that was what was said; but I believe that the scientific case is overwhelming, and that is why I have supported the project coming to Oxfordshire.
The arguments supporting that case concern central scientific facilities. The Rutherford laboratory offers the United Kingdom a central facility for large scientific instruments, which play an increasingly important role in western European and international science. Such an arrangement is beneficial because it reduces overheads: it will be possible to run the new synchrotron at the Rutherford laboratory with a substantial reduction in administrative and technical overheads, and additional money will thus be available to invest in science. That is a powerful argument for locating such instruments on a single site.
Sometimes, the arguments for central facilities are dismissed in the belief that those using them are merely taking coffee together or drinking wine at high table. Such meetings are important, even if they are easy to 57WH caricature, as the hon. member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth) demonstrated. They permit cross-fertilisation and synergy between diverse user communities: those also are powerful arguments for central facilities.
There is also a local argument in relation to the Rutherford laboratory. The decision to invest in the early 1980s in the spallation neutron source of Isis machine at the Rutherford laboratory was an earlier important Government decision on scientific investment. That machine is approaching the end of its useful life and a successor is needed. Such a machine will cost a great deal, so international partners are needed. Locating the synchrotron in the Rutherford laboratory alongside that new machine will help to enable the laboratory's financial and user base to be broadened. The presence of the synchrotron in the Rutherford laboratory will help to broaden the potential international appeal of the other new machine that will be required in due course.
§ Ms Southworth
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Diamond is being taken away from the north-west and sited at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory so that that laboratory can justify its future existence? Surely, if the science is as excellent as the. hon. Gentleman says, it can be undertaken without taking science away from the north-west?
§ Mr. Jackson
I support the decision partly because it strengthens the position of the Rutherford Appleton laboratory as a national and international centre of excellence.
The supporters of the Daresbury laboratory are, in effect, arguing that national and international centres of excellence should be dispersed and broken up. That is the logic of their case regarding central facilities such as the Rutherford Appleton laboratory and our elite universities. However, national and international trends are in the opposite direction. Money and scientific manpower are scarce, and there is increasing competition between research centres throughout the world. We must therefore invest more in our national centres of excellence, not less.
§ Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that centres of scientific excellence in the north-west should be dismembered and that the south-east should be the ony part of the country to have such centres? Is he seriously offering that as a proper policy for this country?
§ Mr. Jackson
Having a national centre for excellence for such machines is a proper policy for this country. There happens to be one such centre in my constituency, so that is where this kind of investment should be concentrated.
§ Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)
The debate about centres of excellence is important. However, concentrating science in a small number of sites reduces the competition essential to scientific progress.
§ Mr. Jackson
I agree that there is a problem with competition, but the real competition is not within this 58WH country: it is international. The significant competition is between the Rutherford laboratory and other centres in Europe and around the world. The Government have rightly strengthened our national position in the context of that international competition.
I wish to make a mild complaint—it will be made more vociferously by other colleagues—about the way in which the decision was handled. The Government received clear scientific advice from people who—despite what the hon. Member for Warrington, South said—had no axe to grind. It came from Government scientific advisers, from the director general for research councils and from the Wellcome Trust.
§ Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is wrong for the Wellcome Trust to use its financial muscle to dictate policy to the Government? Does he accept that such people have a duty to declare their pecuniary or professional interests before taking decisions and that, by not doing so, they have destroyed all credibility regarding their views on this matter?
§ Mr. Jackson
I shall say more about the Wellcome Trust in a moment. However, I do not believe that Wellcome Trust members had any interest in the matter: indeed, they had less interest in it than the hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues. The Wellcome Trust is an independent third party and makes a valuable contribution to British science; he should treat it with more respect. I shall return to its role in a moment.
§ Mr. Ian Stewart
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is no inherent intellectual capital in a machine? The true intellectual capital is in the people who worked on these issues in Daresbury for 25 years; and he should show them more respect.
§ Mr. Jackson
The hon. Gentleman does not understand how Daresbury works. Central facilities are run by local people there—and I pay all due tribute to them—but they are used by people from all over the country and all over the world, and will continue to be so used in future. May I say to the hon. Members who have intervened that I am not speaking for the Government, though it may sometimes sound like it? Their comments would be best addressed to Ministers who have responsibility for these decisions.
The Government received clear scientific advice from their advisers and from the Wellcome Trust—a completely independent organisation, as I said, with no axe to grind. They were then faced with a strong campaign—we have seen a manifestation of its strength this morning—from north-west Members of Parliament and trade unionists. It was perfectly reasonable for them to campaign but, frankly, the spirit behind it was, as they say in America, the spirit of the pork barrel.
In the face of that campaign, the Department of Trade and Industry deferred the decision. Consequently, the scientific argument was lost to view and pressure was put on the Wellcome Trust to change its position. Pressure was also pushed upwards within the governmental system to No. 10 Downing street. Let me tell my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and 59WH Sale, West that the decision was not taken by Lord Sainsbury, excellent man though he is. It was a personal decision taken by the Prime Minister. It is deplorable that our Prime Minister was put in the position of having to take that decision, but I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him on the strong, sensible decision that he took. It is precisely on such decisions that the quality of a Government can be judged.
The Government faced, as I said, a vigorous campaign by their own Back Benchers. All sorts of populist themes—north versus south, for example—were deployed, and they had to be countered by esoteric, scientific arguments. In that context, the Government and the Prime Minister decided to do the right thing.
Rover is in the news now. In the late 1950s—
§ Mr. Jackson
I do not regard what the Wellcome Trust did as blackmail. The Government did not have to do what it wanted them to do; they had only to find the money to replace that of the Wellcome Trust, but they chose not to do so.
§ Mr. Jackson
No, I want to continue my speech.
The Government took a sensible, rational decision on which I congratulate them.
In the late 1950s there was an argument about the siting of a new car plant, which is now part of Rover. In the face of populist campaigning, Harold Macmillan's Government made what he cynically called in his diaries "my judgment of Solomon". As his Government was providing a subsidy, he decided that the plant should be in two different places. That is one of the many reasons why Rover has not been effective, and both plants are probably now closed. Macmillan's Government took a bad decision in the face of populist pressure; in the face of similar pressure, this Government have taken the right decision.
However, the Prime Minister's decision was made in an unsatisfactory way, because of the growing centralisation of Government, especially in relation to science. There used to be a basic principle of scientific autonomy, which was a reflection of the autonomy of our universities. There was a structure within which research councils were genuinely independent, which was co-ordinated by the Advisory Board for Research Councils. It was a mistake—I say "mea culpa" because I was involved in preparing the 1993 science White Paper. In 1992, the Government abolished the Advisory Board for Research Councils because it gave Ministers more power. Giving more power to Ministers to take such decisions has exposed them to more political pressure, which is not always well advised. We need a mechanism for more independence and autonomy in decision taking about science through a structure such as the ABRC and the research councils.
60WH However, there is a ray of light: the emergence in Britain of the Wellcome Trust, the largest scientific charity in the world. It is genuinely independent of Government, has its own financial resources and can make an important contribution to rebalancing the process of decision taking, reinforcing the autonomy of the scientific community rather than the politicising of decisions.
It is ill advised, apart from being stupid, to blackguard the Wellcome Trust, because it is now, and will continue to be, an important partner for Government and university science, and not only in this country. We should remember that it could spend its money outside this country—the terms of its trust allow it to do so. It behoves Parliament to treat the Wellcome Trust with greater respect. It was a bad decision to leave the argument about scientific merits out of the picture; the Government have left themselves with little alternative but to say "We had to do it because Wellcome was putting a pistol to our head." That is not a good way to treat an important partner.
I hope that hon. Members from the north-west will now give up their attack on the Wellcome Trust. It has behaved honourably and reasonably, according to the terms of its trust, which were explained to us in the Science and Technology Committee by the director, Dr. Dexter. It is concerned with science and not with regional policy.
I congratulate the Wellcome trustees on taking a clear view of the scientific balance of argument for this country and on standing firm in the face of an unpleasant and personal campaign of abuse. I should like in particular to congratulate Dr. Dexter, the director of the Wellcome Trust, on his firmness and courage on this matter. Now that the Government have stripped out the autonomy of the scientific community in this country, it is just as well that the Wellcome Trust is around to keep the Government honest. I should like to end by congratulating it on what it has done.
§ Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)
I too, hope that the debate will shed some light on how a decision came to be taken that is wrong for science, wrong for the country and wrong for the region. I hope that it will also accelerate efforts to restore confidence at Daresbury and throughout the north-west and among scientists across the country. I hope that it will help to ensure that the north-west is not treated in that way again.
This is an issue for science. It is an issue about the national interest. It is also an issue about the region. When the regional development agency introduced its first regional economic strategy last year, it identified the importance of establishing a strong science base. That was fundamental to developing our economy and it is one of the reasons why the decision that has been taken seems to fly in the face of common sense and of the knowledge and commitment in the region.
The strategy must build on the sad legacy left us by the previous Government, in which Government-backed research funding supports 10.5 times more jobs in the south-east than in the north-west and 71 per cent. of the budget for research is spent in the south-east. We want to change that. It must be a source of great disappointment that the change has not yet been possible.
61WH Clearly, we should establish the facts. The facts are that there was no strong scientific case for transferring synchrotron investment from Daresbury to Oxfordshire in the south-east. A recent survey showed that 80 per cent. of users of Daresbury wanted the work to stay there. Furthermore, it has been shown that it would have been cost-effective to stay there. A detailed research study by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that it was cost-effective to stay in Daresbury and that moving to Oxfordshire would incur more costs and make the project more vulnerable to skills shortages. Professor Woolfson, who chaired the committee on the new synchrotron, confirmed that a dreadful mistake had been made in the decision to move from Cheshire to Oxfordshire.
One of the grave concerns highlighted is the lack of consideration given to the regional impact. The impact is on jobs, on scientific expertise and on the joint work currently carried out by the laboratory with hospitals, research institutions and businesses throughout the north-west. The important issue of cancer research has been highlighted; great steps are being taken to make new discoveries and to improve our work on cancer research. It would be criminal if that work were to be stopped. Important industrial research is also being carried out, particularly through the centre for surface science at Liverpool university. That university was the first in the country to operate a beam line directly with synchrotron research. That research is now vulnerable, partly because the people leading the team are being sought by other research institutions, abroad as well as in this country.
The question of the Wellcome Trust deserves examination. We need much more clarity about its role in the decision. We need to know not only what it said—although it is difficult to find out what it said to the Government—but what role it played. If outside partners are to fund scientific and other research we need to establish what their role is, what points they are making and what interests they represent.
This is a sad debate, which should not have been necessary, but it is on a matter of grave importance to science and confidence. It is also important in ensuring that the national interest is served by developing all the regions and considering matters such as the Daresbury laboratory, which is a centre of scientific excellence. We should recognise that the national interest is served by developing centres of excellence, not running them down.
I hope that the concerns expressed and the evidence adduced will ensure that greater attention is paid to the need to preserve scientific excellence and the scientific knowledge base in the north-west. I also hope that the working party that has been set up with the North West regional development agency and the Department of Trade and Industry, with the support of Members of Parliament, will quickly identify additional projects and bring new research into the north-west. It is essential that progress be made quickly. We need to boost confidence, to show those who work at the sharp end in the north-west that their skills are valued and to recognise that the needs of the people in the region and the country can be served only if we develop excellence wherever it is found.
§ Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)
I support what has been said by the hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) and for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth). Although there might be differences in tone, the sense of shock—almost grief—about the loss of the Daresbury facility has spread across the parties and is powerfully felt in the north-west. That loss has not produced a synthetic row; it has hit the foundations of confidence in the future development and growth of the north-west. Although I understand the remarks of the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) and the interests that he represents, I hope that he will not underestimate the genuine and sincere anger and bitterness that the decision has produced.
In 1967, I started work with the then Runcorn development corporation. Daresbury is on the fringe of that area. That was the first time that I encountered the facility. In 1981, I was elected to Cheshire county council, and Daresbury was then in that county. I served on that council with the hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg), who is here today. It is fair to say that Daresbury has always been a symbol of technological and scientific excellence in that area. Now that I represent Hazel Grove, some 25 miles away, I still feel a sense of identification with the work done at the facility. Some of my constituents work there and have corresponded with me.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Warrington, South was a mite ungenerous in the way in which she considered the all-party support for the project. I have corresponded with Ministers and have copied that correspondence to the chief executive of Halton council. I have made it clear that I fully support the location of the Diamond project at Daresbury, as hon. Members from all parties have done during the past year or so.
The synchrotron was sited at Daresbury for geological reasons—the site had unusually horizontal strata—but the current synchrotron is not horizontal but vertical, and its characteristic tower can be seen from many places in the area. It is sad that, after two generations of excellence, the third generation of possible excellence will be taken away from Daresbury and the north-west and located in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wantage.
§ Mr. Robert Jackson
I was the Minister who decided to locate the second generation synchrotron at Daresbury. It had nothing to do with my constituency; the issue was the scientific advantage.
§ Mr. Stunell
Perhaps it will mollify north-west Members somewhat to know that, even if the hon. Gentleman is now the apostle of darkness, there was a time when he was the apostle of light. It is a pity that the conversion happened that way round.
I should like the Government to reverse the decision, although I called it irreversible in business questions last week. If Labour Members could persuade the Government to reverse it, I would be delighted. We should concentrate this morning on what to do next as on how on earth we got to where we are now. The decision is difficult to understand from the north-west perspective. Despite what the hon. Member for Wantage said about the project and his theory about 63WH scientific centres of excellence, it is difficult for us in the north-west to accept the decision, bearing in mind the site and the dedicated work force in an acknowledged area of excellence with academic links that have been properly described as international. Whether one flies from Tokyo to Daresbury or from Tokyo to Oxford is irrelevant. Indeed, Daresbury is nearer to Manchester airport than Oxford is to Heathrow. Some of the arguments are difficult to comprehend and display ex post facto reasoning by those who support the change.
It is especially difficult to see how a Labour Government could have made such a decision. When necessary, I am a critic of the Government, but I should have thought that they took regional policy seriously. The decision to change the site would have been more explicable if the hon. Member for Wantage were still the science Minister. He has made it clear that, had he still been in that post, he would have made the same decision. I would have expected better from a Labour Government with a commitment to regional policy and to doing something about the north-south divide. Perhaps I should not have been so optimistic.
I turn now to what we may call the Wantage argument, which is that it would be a good idea to have one major scientific centre of excellence. Presumably, that means one centre in the United Kingdom, not in the European Union or the world; the argument does not have any boundaries when a process of centralisation has been started. On the one hand, the hon. Gentleman argued that it would be good to have such a centre in Wantage, while on the other he argued that he did not want political centralisation of decision making about science and that that had been a mistake and a process in which he regretted participating. There is a dichotomy between the idea of decentralised decision making at the political level and centralised outcomes at the scientific level.
What does the north-west do next, given that we have lost £500 million of investment potential as a result of the decision? We will have not the high-tech capital investment that was expected but a highly skilled research and technology work force with time on their hands. I hope that the Minister will tell us what will happen in the future and not only talk about how the Government reached their decision, although that would be of interest. What alternatives do the Government propose for the north-west? What will be the replacement structure for maintaining our research and technology lead in the north-west? How do the Government propose to fill the gap and how will they compensate the north-west and mitigate the blow?
I have listened to many ministerial responses in debates such as this. It is possible to produce warm words, to soften the blow and to sound full of consideration and compassion, but what we need is a clear, positive programme of action and investment. That is what I want to hear from the Government.
The Daresbury facility has done long and valiant service, and is still providing good service—its current projects were mentioned earlier. The synchrotron project may have been lost, but it is now vital for the Minister to explain how the north-west will keep its research and technological lead in the next decade and the decades beyond.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
Unlike hon. Members who have spoken so far, I clearly do not have a constituency or regional case to make. My purpose is to identify how Government decisions are made; the process that was examined to enable the Government to reach their decision; and, on a wider front, how those considerations may influence the Government's thinking and policy making in terms of scientific clusters around the country.
My reading of what has happened is that the Government are starting to make decisions about clusters. I am not necessarily challenging that, but if it is to be subject to input from a range of people—not only politicians—it is important that the Government spell out the policy on which they now seem to be embarking. The hon. Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth) asked me what my decision would have been and whether I think that the right location has been chosen. A decision about that can be made only by those who have analysed all the evidence and heard all the representations before making a judgment.
As a former Minister, I am well aware that when such a judgment is made, not everyone will be pleased. At the very least, it should be possible to account for the way in which the decision was reached. That is lacking in the decision that was made in this context, not least because in the run-up to the announcement—we have heard that it was somewhat convoluted—every public pronouncement by the Secretary of State and others, particularly when he gave evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, suggested that he was "minded" to locate the project at Daresbury. The decision was suddenly reversed—apparently by the Prime Minister. I challenge not the outcome but the lack of transparency that would enable others to look at how the process was carried out and determine whether it was the right decision.
§ Mr. Ian Stewart
Does that mean that Conservative Front Benchers have no view about regional policy or about where the Synchrotron should be?
§ Mrs. Browning
The hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue. I hope that the Minister will throw some light on the matter. If such decisions are to be made, are they to be made in future on the basis of regional policy and the regional importance to the significant scientific community in the north-west, or are the Government now embarking on a policy of scientific clustering in different locations? It is important that the House knows that. I will come in a moment to a quotation from Lord Sainsbury's press release that indicates that he has already a view of what the dynamics of scientific research and work in the north-west should be. It is important that that decision is shared with the House and others outside it.
§ Mrs. Browning
North-west Labour Members are upset because they have spent three years prefacing everything that they have said with, "May I congratulate my hon. Friend?" Now they find themselves saying, "May I criticise my hon. Friend?" I see that they have a problem.
65WH It is strategically important for the scientific community to know whether the decison will drive decisions made by the future Government on science. I think that the Government are now determining where scientific clusters will be located. If they are, they must share that information with the House so that we can examine the way in which they form their judgments and the overall strategic plan for not only Daresbury or the north-west, but the United Kingdom.
There has been a lot of confusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has done well to bring the matter to the attention of the Chamber. The reason why Rutherford Appleton emerged as a possible site is not clear. The Wellcome Trust released a statement on 24 November suggesting a preference for Rutherford Appleton, but Nature reported in November that it did not have a preference. The Secretary of State appeared to firm up his view that Daresbury should be chosen in his many comments to the Select Committee on Science and Technology. He said:This was always going to be a decision (in terms of the location) that was going to be taken by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.The fact that the matter has been taken out of his hands and No. 10 has made the decision is of concern not only on this issue, but to future decision making.
I hope that the Minister will give us a substantive reply to the point to which I keep returning: are the Government starting to determine where scientific clusters will be located in the United Kingdom? The Secretary of State told the Select Committee:One of the reasons why I indicated in my letter of 1 November that I thought Daresbury was the preferred site was that there was expertise that already existed in relation to the synchrotron at Daresbury and there must be a risk of disruption and of losing people if there is a decision to locate somewhere else.On scientific grounds as well as on regional ones that I know are important to hon. Members in this Chamber, the Secretary of State seemed to have been persuaded that that would be the decision. However, Lord Sainsbury of Turville outlined his decision in a press release on 13 March. As the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) suggested, Lord Sainsbury referred to additional money that he would put into the northwest as a sort of compensation, stating:I have asked Dr Bruce Smith to chair a team to review the options for capitalising on the strengths of the science base in the North West, for example in the biomedical sciences, looking at how we might exploit Manchester's "health corridor", and Daresbury's strength in instrumentation.That is all well and good, but do the Government intend, from the centre, to determine the location of scientific clusters? Are they looking for where organic growth in certain disciplines occurs, and will they therefore relate future decision making and policy around the clusters, however small? I believe that many people would like an explanation about that. It is not sufficient to toss a bit of money somewhere as a short compensation policy. If the Government intend to establish scientific clusters around the country, they must have an overall national strategy; an ad hoc, regional approach is not good and will not serve the purpose.
66WH We would welcome a much broader debate on the subject, so that we can uncover why the case was taken from the Department of Trade and Industry and the decision made in Downing street, and on the Government's policy—I hope that there is a policy, because it would be outrageous to make such decisions without an overall strategic view—on clustering and the promotion of specialisms throughout the UK.
§ The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Alan Johnson)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). It is evident from the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) that the Conservatives wish to engage in one of their favourite sports: running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. I am sure that she will accept that the energy and drive in the campaign for Daresbury came from Labour Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), who for obvious reasons has had to work behind the scenes, and has done so tirelessly. It is important to recognise the work done by my hon. Friends in the north-west on the issue.
§ Mr. Johnson
The fact that my noble Friend Lord Sainsbury is not replying to the debate was remarked on; around 400 years of constitutional history would crumble if a Member of the other place even attempted to walk into Westminster Hall.
The siting of the new synchrotron has been a topic of enormous interest and concern over the past few weeks. The debate has enabled some issues to be fully aired. While I appreciate the huge disappointment of hon. Members in the north-west, it is important to stress that the decision to build a new synchrotron in the UK is good news for the future of British science. It is a major long-term investment in our infrastructure, costing approximately £200 million in capital and £500 million in total over the next 25 years. It represents the largest single investment in science for more than a decade. The regional issues are of course a subject of great debate and tension, but the issue is a national one and it is good news for the UK.
Our aim is to build the best possible facility for synchrotron users and create an environment in which we can stay at the forefront of global research in important scientific fields, such as our increasing knowledge of the human genome—the building block of all life—biotechnology, development of new drugs, new plastics, textiles and electronic materials. The partnership that we have secured with the French and the Wellcome Trust is the best way of achieving a facility that has the leading-edge capability that current and future synchrotron users will demand. By working together, we can build a larger and more specified 67WH machine than we could afford by ourselves. We also bring in the technical expertise of our partners to help to design and develop the best possible machines.
§ Mr. Johnson
I will if I get time at the end, as long as I have answered all the important points raised in the debate.
This is the first time that the UK has hosted such a collaborative international scientific facility. The French Government have shown great commitment to the project, cancelling plans for their own third generation synchrotron, Soleil, in order to join us. No evidence suggests that those plans have changed. Indeed, the French Goverenment will meet the other partners next week. Officials have assured us that the change in the French Government has not affected the project.
The factors involved in choosing the site made the decision difficult. We are fortunate in the United Kingdom in that we have two locations, Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton laboratory, which both offered viable sites for the new synchrotron. Indeed, the Select Committee on Science and Technology concluded that it had no preference for either site and that both sites were equally acceptable. We therefore faced a dilemma. The decision might not have taken so long had the competition from both sites been less than equal. It has been a difficult decision. The key criterion in selecting the site was what would be best for UK science, bearing in mind the fact that the facility is designed to last for the next generation—at least 25 years. In addition, the project is a partnership, which, like all partnerships, involves negotiation and compromise. Although we had to take into account our partners' views, they are by no means the only reason why we reached that conclusion.
§ Mr. Johnson
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
We consulted users three times in the past 15 months, as it is they who will ultimately carry out research on the machine. They concluded that they require a world-class machine for a wide range of structural science research in the UK. Although they want a high-quality machine, ultimately the focus must be on the quality of science that the machine enables.
Demand was expressed for a strong science culture on the site and an environment in which researchers from different scientific disciplines could work closely together. On the basis of our officials' advice, the Government decided that that can best be achieved at Rutherford Appleton laboratory, which already has other major facilities using, for example, neutrons, lasers and nuclear magnetic resonance. In addition, we need to continue to invest in support technologies using, for example, low temperatures, vacuum technology and high magnetic fields, which can be shared among the different facilities on the site.
Co-location at Rutherford Appleton laboratory will prevent duplication of activity and encourage more efficient use of funds. Both our partners favoured the 68WH Rutherford Appleton site, and as part of a partnership we had to take their views into account. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West mentioned a comment made on Radio 4 by an attach?t the French embassy that was entirely refuted a few days later in a letter to The Guardian from the French ambassador. Our French partners expressed a clear preference for Rutherford Appleton.
The Government's final decision was based on a wide range of information provided by consultants and synchrotron users. The official Opposition have criticised the Government and in particular my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who would plead guilty to the charge of carefully considering and analysing Daresbury's bid. He considered many other factors in addition to the scientific case before reaching his decision. It is right and proper for him to have undertaken such thorough analysis.
We held three consultations with synchrotron users, in January, May and December 1999. The final review was held at the request of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The Office of Science and Technology contracted ADD Consultants in June 1999 to carry out an investment appraisal of options for the site of the proposed new synchrotron radiation facility. ADD Consultants is an independent company that provides technical consultancy and training services.
The Office of Science and Technology contracted Allott and Lomax to carry out the survey of both the Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton sites in December 1999. Allott and Lomax is an independent engineering consultancy based in Manchester. The Wellcome Trust employed its own firm of consulting engineers to survey both sites.
The studies showed that both sites could accommodate the new synchrotron physically and would obtain planning permission. The financial appraisal showed that Rutherford Appleton was marginally favourable. The consultation with users about the location issues showed that physicists using synchrotrons believed that there were advantages in locating the new one alongside the Isis neutron source.
§ Mrs. Browning
In the Science and Technology Committee, the Secretary of State said:in the survey that we conducted before Christmas what was particularly interesting was that the life scientists, who are the ones who are likely to use the new synchrotron perhaps more than the physical scientists, did not feel strongly about its location alongside ISIS at all.Why did he change his view?
§ Mr. Johnson
In a process of analysis and in carrying out the consultation that he commissioned in December, my right hon. Friend obviously had due regard to all the evidence. We went back over several consultation periods precisely because of what the hon. Lady has mentioned. However, while both Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton laboratories offered excellent sites, Rutherford Appleton was preferred for four key reasons. They were: first, the potential for operational, technical and scientific synergy between the new synchrotron and the other facilities on the site—especially Isis; secondly, the potential to produce a world-class international research centre, drawing 69WH together a range of scientific and engineering disciplines; thirdly, the sharing of many technical functions, such as accelerated design, magnets, pulse powers and support functions including security, safety and administration; and finally, its proximity to the biosciences expertise at Oxford university, the medical research council units, including the mouse genome centre on the adjacent Harwell site, and the national nuclear magnetic resonance centre. The basis for the decision was nothing but what would be best for British science. It was a difficult decision, but the Government believe it was correct, and it is, as was said in the debate, irreversible.
Many hon. Members raised questions about the future of Daresbury laboratory and the north-west, whose staff made a crucial contribution to the existing UK synchrotron source, the SRS. The design, construction and commissioning of the new synchrotron project will take about six years to complete. The current synchrotron source at Daresbury will continue to operate during and beyond that period, giving, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth) said, a period of light rather than dark. United Kingdom users will thus have continuous access to X-rays and instrumentation. The research councils are currently investing £5 million in new beam lines, so that service will be maintained at the highest level during that period. It is therefore anticipated that most of the current staff will remain employed at the Daresbury laboratory to support its effective operation. We also plan to use the expertise at Daresbury in many aspects of the new synchrotron project and so will take full advantage of the knowledge and skills built up there over many years. The very important work on breast cancer mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South is one reason for our belief that Daresbury has a viable future.
We shall not rush into decisions on Daresbury's longer-term future. It will be one of the topics considered in the review of the north-west science base announced by my noble Friend Lord Sainsbury on 13 March and due to report by the end of September. The first meeting was held yesterday. The review will consider how best to capitalise on the skilled people and assets of Daresbury and will also consult the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils.
The strengths of the north-west are built on its chemical, pharmaceutical, aerospace and nuclear industries, which deliver 18 per cent. of UK manufacturing output. The Government will contribute £25 million to the work of the task force and will look to strengthen further the science base in the north-west by contributing to the funding of a feasibility study to consider the potential for a biotechnology core technology facility worth up to £25 million—a further £25 million for the north-west. The Government are extremely concerned about the impact on Daresbury and the north-west and—