All 13 contributions to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Act 2022

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Tue 23rd Mar 2021
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading
Mon 7th Jun 2021
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & 3rd reading
Tue 8th Jun 2021
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
Lords Chamber

1st reading & 1st reading: Minutes of Proceedings & 1st reading
Tue 2nd Nov 2021
Wed 17th Nov 2021
Tue 14th Dec 2021
Mon 10th Jan 2022
Mon 31st Jan 2022
Commons Chamber

Ways and Means resolution & Ways and Means resolutionWays and Means Resolution
Mon 31st Jan 2022
Advanced Research and Innovation Agency Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
Commons Chamber

Programme motionProgramme (No. 2) Motion & Programme motion
Mon 31st Jan 2022
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendments
Wed 9th Feb 2022
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Thu 24th Feb 2022
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

2nd reading
Tuesday 23rd March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Advanced Research and Invention Agency Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Science and Technology Committee, A new UK research funding agency, HC 778, and oral evidence taken before the Science and Technology Committee on 17 March, on A new UK research funding agency, HC 778]
Second Reading
Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I should like to start my remarks by drawing attention to the much-celebrated work of Edward Jenner. I am sure that many of us appreciate his work. He is often referred to as the father of immunology; he was a British physician who created the world’s first vaccine. As I am sure all hon. Members know, he was an apprentice to a surgeon in Chipping Sodbury in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall). Mr Jenner essentially discovered immunisation. When we consider the coronavirus that has devasted our country and the world this year and last year, Jenner’s work takes on a particular resonance.

Thanks to the UK’s historic funding for research and the groundbreaking action of scientists at Oxford University, a British vaccine is once again helping us to return to a more normal life. It has shown us all the incredible benefits that breakthrough science and technology can provide. Building on our country’s proud history of wonderful inventions, I was particularly pleased to announce the creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency last month. I am sure that it will play a unique and exciting role in the UK’s research and development system.

The new agency will be characterised by a sole focus on funding high-risk, high-reward research. It will have strategic and cultural autonomy. It will invest in the judgment of able people, and it will also enjoy flexibility and a wide degree of operational freedom. I have spoken with many of our leading scientists, researchers and innovators and their message has been absolutely clear. I am convinced that these features will make ARIA succeed.

The creation of ARIA is part of a concerted action by this Government to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. With £800 million committed to ARIA by 2024-25, the new agency will contribute extremely effectively to our R&D ecosystem. As set out in our policy statement published only last week, we have to give ARIA significant powers and freedoms and a mandate to be bold. To deliver that, we have introduced the ARIA Bill.

The Bill recognises that funding transformational long-term science requires patience and a high risk appetite. The Bill explicitly states that ARIA may give weight to the potential of significant benefits when funding research that carries a high risk of failure. This freedom to fail is fundamental to ARIA’s model, and the provision will empower its leaders to make ambitious research and funding decisions. When we look back in history, to the 1950s and 1960s, we see that with this approach a US agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency developed GPS as well as the precursor to the internet.

The Bill will also signal a 10-year grace period before the power to dissolve the agency can be exercised. The agency will be focused exclusively, as I have said, on high-risk research. It requires patience and a laser-like focus as necessary conditions for success.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is making a strong case and refers to the work of the Vaccine Taskforce. In the past year, we have seen astonishing science conducted at breakneck speed because we have been in a crisis. Does he agree that for ARIA to work we need somehow to harness that sense of crisis and continue to use it in a normal period to get this sort of high-risk and high-reward research out and developed in Britain?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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The circumstances in which we have developed the Vaccine Taskforce have been really unfortunate, with this terrible pandemic, but the very thin silver lining around the cloud has been this remarkable vaccine rollout. My hon. Friend is right that ARIA needs to learn from what we have learned collectively from the vaccine rollout.

Our objective is for ARIA to fund research in new and innovative ways. The Bill provides the agency with significant powers that are necessary for it to perform its function.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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The right hon. Gentleman says that the agency is modelled on the American example, but the American example very clearly has a client. Which is the client Department for this Bill?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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Forgive me, I did not say that it was modelled on that example. I said that it was inspired, and I referred allusively, in my usual way, to historical precedent. I never said that it was modelled exactly on the American example. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make a fuller contribution to the debate.

Let me make some progress. Different funding methods obviously suit different projects. ARIA may seek to use seed grants. It will have inducement prizes. It may make its own investments in companies. All of these different approaches will drive innovation, and that will allow ARIA to target, for example, a Scottish university or a semiconductor start-up in Wales and to ensure that researchers across the UK can contribute to developing the key technologies for tomorrow.

ARIA will also have strategic independence. It will, as I have said, have the freedom to fail; it will have the freedom to take a long-term view and to experiment with new ways of funding the most ambitious research, which experience tells us is a necessary ingredient for some of the best results. A key part of this freedom will be trusting the leadership of ARIA to identify and decide on areas of research with perhaps the greatest potential. The Bill limits the ability for Ministers, as it should do, to intervene in ARIA’s day-to-day operations or to direct funding decisions. Instead, ARIA will have a highly skilled team of leadership programme managers who, supported by the board, will ensure strong strategic oversight over the portfolio of programmes. As the Bill makes clear, ARIA must have regard to the benefits of that research to the UK—to the people of this country—in terms of not only economic growth but trying to ensure that innovation can improve the quality of life of all our fellow subjects.

Our response to coronavirus as a nation has shown that agility is crucial in funding research in this fast-moving world. All of this work builds on action already taken by the Government and by UK Research and Innovation to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy in the wider ecosystem. We have learned from agencies such as DARPA in the US—the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) will be pleased to learn that—which has shown that we need to go several steps further in creating a culture that is primarily focused on pursuing high-risk research. There is a cultural need in such an organisation for autonomy and a measure of dynamism, which can be achieved through exceptional leadership and, perhaps most importantly, through a flat, streamlined structure.

ARIA will benefit from being a small and nimble agency. It will create a unique environment for its programme managers to be completely focused on their particular research proposal. The Bill therefore provides ARIA with some additional but proportionate freedoms, which are not generally found in the rest of our system. For example, it exempts ARIA from public contracting rules. That will allow ARIA to procure R&D services and equipment relating to its research goals in a similar way to a private sector organisation. To ensure that that process is transparent, it sits alongside a commitment in the Bill to audit ARIA’s procurement activities.

In order to further this research-intensive culture, ARIA has been given extensive freedoms. However, we will ensure, as the Bill does, that the organisation submits a statement of accounts and an annual report on its activities, which will be laid directly before Parliament. Those commitments to transparency will sit alongside the customary and necessary scrutiny by the National Audit Office.

It is clear that ARIA will be a unique and extremely valuable addition in our research landscape. It will create a more diverse, more dynamic and creative funding system, which will ensure that transformative ideas, wherever they may come from, can change people’s lives for the better.

I am very conscious that there is a huge amount of interest in this debate on the Back Benches on both sides of the House. I have committed myself not to go on for two hours or whatever the customary length of time might be. Having been a Back Bencher myself, I know that it is often frustrating to hear Front Benchers trench on parliamentary time. As a consequence, I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will agree that, as we build back better, we can have a full debate today about the merits of ARIA and its necessary existence. I hope that the Bill will show the Government’s strong commitment to building on a wonderful research base. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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This is an opportune moment for me to give notice to people who are hoping to speak in the debate—those here in the Chamber, but particularly those at home who perhaps might not pick up the atmosphere and be tempted to do the opposite of what the Secretary of State has just said by taking rather longer than they ought to take. I am going to try to run this Second Reading debate without a formal time limit, in the hope that Members will act reasonably and unselfishly towards their colleagues, and keep their speeches to about five to six minutes, or less. I say this particularly to people who are at home, because I cannot nod to them or grimace at them to let them know when they have spoken for too long. Five minutes would be just about right for everyone who wishes to speak to have the opportunity to do so.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab)
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Let me start by saying that across the House we share the admiration for British science. It is one of our most brilliant national assets, employing nearly 1 million people directly and generating extraordinary value for our country. As the Secretary of State eloquently said, the work on vaccines has been truly remarkable. We commend our scientists and everyone involved for their work. Indeed, I hope the Secretary of State will not mind my saying that it is a successful example of an industrial strategy; the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) probably shares my view.

I turn to the details of the Bill. I should say from the beginning that we support the Bill; we have some issues with it, but we certainly support its aims. I just want to say something about the wider context, because I found it slightly remarkable that the Secretary of State did not mention the fact that we are two weeks from the start of the next financial year but the scientific community does not know its budget, and the Government appear to be contemplating significant cuts to its programmes.

The Secretary of State said last week to the Science and Technology Committee, which is chaired by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, that the Government

“are talking the talk of a science superpower…but…we also have to walk the walk.”

Quite. We support the intent of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, but hon. and right hon. Members across the House should be aware that while the ARIA budget is £800 million over this Parliament, UK Research and Innovation’s annual budget is £9 billion. Last week, UKRI published a letter confirming that the BEIS official development assistance allocation will lead to a £120 million gap between its allocation and the commitments that it has already made. It warned of cuts coming on that scale, and the House should be aware of where those cuts are going to be. Potential areas include climate change, antimicrobial resistance, pandemics, renewable energy and water sanitation. Those are the kinds of things that that funding addresses. Mr Cummings was also at the Select Committee meeting—I will return to him shortly—saying that ARIA would solve the problems of civilisation. That is all very well, but I fear that these cuts seem to be coming right here, right now; and we cannot launch a successful moonshot if we cut off the power supply to the space station.

The other fear that we have is that the threat of cuts does not end there, because there is no clarity on how to cover the huge cost of the UK’s ongoing participation in Horizon Europe programme. To be clear, this programme used to be funded not from the science budget, but from our EU contributions. I say to the Secretary of State that it surely cannot be right to take money from the science budget to fund our participation. He will know that there is real fear in the scientific community about that.

I will give the Secretary of State the chance to intervene: does he not agree that cutting the science budget to fund Horizon would be exactly talking the talk but not walking the walk? I will happily give way to him if he wants to tell us. Maybe he can tell us when we will get clarity—when will the scientific community get clarity on how the Horizon money will be funded? He does not want to intervene, but the science community deserves clarity. We support ARIA but it deserves clarity. These are people’s jobs. This is incredibly important work and I hope he is fighting with his friends in the Treasury as hard as he can to give people that clarity and avoid the cuts.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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Maybe he is going to tell us the news.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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The right hon. Gentleman will know from his years in government—appreciably, many years ago now—that these conversations with the Treasury are ongoing, and we hope to get a satisfactory result.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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We shall look forward to the Secretary of State getting a satisfactory result. I am not sure that I always got a satisfactory result with the Treasury, although I was in the Treasury at one point, at least as an adviser. This is very important and, as I say, people’s jobs and livelihoods and the scientific base of this country, of which we are all so proud, depend on it.

Let me come to the Bill, which we support. The Bill is important—the Secretary of State said this—because there is incredible work going on in the scientific community, but there is consensus that there is a lack of a mechanism to identify, build and fund truly ambitious, high-risk, high-reward programmes. We recognise the case for an independent agency that operates outside the established research funding mechanisms, but we feel that the Bill requires improvement.

I guess our concerns cohere into a different view about the role of Government and the lessons of DARPA, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) talked about, on which in some broad sense—maybe not in the Secretary of State’s mind, but in others’ minds—ARIA is modelled. It is impossible to ignore what we might call the spectre of Dom in this debate. He was at the Science and Technology Committee—chaired by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells—and he does rather hang over this Bill. He is its sort of governmental godfather. In his telling, DARPA’s success—I think this is important—is simply because the Government got out of the way and let a bunch of buccaneering individuals do what they liked. It is definitely true, as I understand it, that DARPA has important lessons about the need for the culture that I talked about, including higher reward and, of necessity, a higher chance of failure, but it is simply not true that DARPA was somehow totally detached from Government. DARPA had an obvious client—the Department of Defense—a clear mandate around defence-related research, a clear synergy in its work with the procurement power of the US DOD and, incidentally, abided by laws on freedom of information.

I want to suggest that there are two different views about ARIA: one is that we should let the organisation simply do what it wants, relying on the wisdom of a genius chair and chief executive; and the other subtler and, in our view, more sensible approach—one more consistent with the lessons of DARPA—is that Government should set a clear mandate and framework for ARIA and then get out of the way and not interfere with its day-to-day decision-making. I also believe there is a democratic case, because the priority goals for the spending of £800 million over this Parliament should be driven by democratic choices; not about the specific items that it funds, but about the goals and mission.

That takes me to the three points that I want to make: first, about the mandate for ARIA; secondly, about its position in the wider R&D system; and thirdly, about accountability. I will try to emulate the Secretary of State’s brevity—perhaps not exactly his brevity, but as much as I can.

The deputy director of DARPA says about its success that

“having national security as the mission frames everything.”

The Secretary of State said to the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells at the Science and Technology Committee:

“If I were in your position, I would be asking what the core missions of ARIA are.”

I think the point that Dominic Cummings made, or I am sure would have made, is that this will be a job for the people we hire who are running the organisation. The Secretary of State went on:

“It will be up to the head of ARIA to decide whether he or she thinks the organisation should adopt what the innovation strategy suggests…or reject it.”

I really understand the wish to give freedom to ARIA, but surely it is for Government to shape and not shirk the setting of priorities, and it is not just DARPA where we can learn that lesson. Moonshot R&D—the Japanese agency established in 2019 to fund challenging R&D—has seven specific moonshot goals set by the Japanese Government, and my understanding from the evidence taken by the Science and Technology Committee is that the UK scientific community agrees with that idea.

I notice the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) putting his head in his hands. He has done that before when I speak, but let me just make this point in seriousness: £800 million is not in the scheme of things a huge amount of money, certainly when compared with UKRI’s budget. The concern is that unless, as the Select Committee said, ARIA focuses on a single or a small number of missions, it will dilute its impact.

Take the net zero challenge. I believe it is a challenge of political will and imagination, but it is also a technological challenge. If it is the No. 1 international challenge, as the PM said last week, and if it is the No. 1 domestic challenge, as I think it is, why would it not be the right mandate for ARIA for at least its first five years? Indeed, Professor Richard Jones and Professor Mariana Mazzucato, who perhaps have even greater claims than Dom to being godfather and godmother of this idea, said that climate change would be an ideal challenge on which an agency such as ARIA would focus. To be clear, providing a mandate does not mean micro-managing decisions, and it would be grossly simplistic to suggest otherwise.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to my feet, first, because I think he does a tremendous disservice to Dominic Cummings. Without his inspiration, this Bill would not be before this House. Secondly, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the chart that Mr Cummings showed while giving evidence to the Select Committee. It showed a large circle of areas with potential for people to investigate and a smaller segment of that, which is where all of the foreign Governments and our Government focus their research, precisely because they are driven by the political decisions, frameworks and missions that politicians set. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think there is some opportunity for us to do something slightly different and without the sticky fingers of Government interfering?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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The hon. Gentleman and I have a respectful disagreement on this: I think it is for the Government of the day and this House to say what are the massive national priorities. Then it is for an organisation such as ARIA to fund the research in the high-risk, high-reward way that I mentioned. That is simply a difference of view. Without a clear policy mission, we risk a fragmented approach.

I will make this other point, which is that the chair and chief executive will be in the somewhat unenviable position of having to decide which Government Departments to prioritise. Of course they can work with different Departments, but let us set a clear challenge for the organisation.

The second point is not just about the question of mandate, but how it sits in the life cycle of technological innovation and how it works with other funding streams. ARIA is born of a frustration about the failure to fund high-risk research. We do not disagree with that thinking, but that makes it especially important that it does not duplicate the work of existing funding streams. Let me give an example. Innovate UK, part of UKRI, is supposed to be a funding stream to turn ideas into commercially successful products. I do not know from reading the Government’s statement of intent what Innovate UK would fund that ARIA would not and what ARIA would fund that Innovate UK would not.

The vagueness of the mandate for ARIA is matched by vagueness about where in the innovation cycle it sits. I was not doing Mr Cummings a disservice on this score by the way, because I support the Bill, but he said to the Select Committee:

“My version of it here would be…to accelerate scientific discovery far beyond what is currently normal, and to seek strategic advantage in some fields of science and technology…I would keep it broad and vague like that.”

He went on to say that he would say to the agency:

“Your job is to find people…with ideas that could change civilisation completely”.

I am sorry, but that is too vague, and I do not believe it unreasonable to say that there needs to be greater clarity about where in the life cycle ARIA sits.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
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I think the right hon. Gentleman at heart is a secret Cummings-ite, because he is constructing a number of paper tigers to try to find offence with a Bill that he fundamentally wishes his party had thought of first. What possible incentive would a new disruptive ARIA have for trying to replicate the work already being funded by existing councils? It will have access to all of that body of work. What incentive would it have to try to replicate it when it could pursue new, disruptive and exciting opportunities?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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That just makes the case; if what the hon. Gentleman says is the case, would it not be a good idea, as the former Science Minister Lord Johnson suggested, for ARIA to share information with UKRI, for the two bodies to work effectively together and for the agencies to enter into a memorandum of understanding, which will benefit us all? If it is as easy as that, I am sure that will not be a problem for ARIA. I have been called many things in my time, but a secret Cummings-ite? Perhaps not. I have been called worse things. If it is as simple as that, they should be able to work together, and I hope the Secretary of State will reflect both on the mandate question and on this life cycle question.

Thirdly, let me turn to the issue of Government oversight and public accountability. We believe it is right that ARIA should be given operational independence from Government. As I say, we support the idea of specifying high tolerance to risk and failure. The challenge for public policy is how to establish this tolerance of failure. Obviously it starts with the agency’s leadership, where the Bill is also very vague on what attributes or skills the Secretary of State is looking for. My understanding is that this position is not going to be recruited outside the normal civil service procedures—okay, I think I understand the reasons for that—but it cannot just be decided on the whim of the Secretary of State, brilliant though he is. I hope the Minister will clarify this during the passage of the Bill. There does need to be an answer on who else from the scientific and research community will have a say on the decision and how this person is going to be chosen, given that, in the Government’s own words, they will have

“a significant effect on the technological and strategic capabilities of the UK over the course of generations.”

On freedom of information, we just strongly disagree with the Government. I do not think there is justification for ARIA’s blanket exemption from FOI. The Government say it is necessary for agility. DARPA is subject to the US version of the Freedom of Information Act. The Secretary of State and the Minister might be interested to know that DARPA, in the US, had 47 of these requests last year, so this is hardly an obstacle to getting on with the day job. There is a disagreement here about how we give public confidence. Just saying that everything should be secret does not give public confidence. Accountability matters to the public and we should have confidence that we can defend the approach of the agency. Tris Dyson from Nesta Challenges has said:

“The public will expect to know what’s happening with public money and greater risk requires transparency and evaluation in order to determine what works.”

We also believe there is a role for the Science and Technology Committee in scrutinising ARIA’s role. Perhaps that can be clarified as the Bill progresses.

I am conscious of time, so let me say in conclusion that we face enormous challenges as a society, including new threats from disease, as tragically illustrated by the pandemic, the advent of artificial intelligence and, as I have said, the climate emergency. So the challenges we face are huge, but I believe—I know this is shared across the House—that the ingenuity, know-how and potential of our scientists, researchers and others is as great as, if not greater than, the challenges. If we support them, they can succeed. ARIA can support our scientific research. We support this Bill as a way to add capacity and flexibility to our research and innovation systems. It needs to be done in the right way. On the Bill and what is happening to British science, we will support the Government when they do the right thing but we will also call them out on cuts to science funding, and during the passage of the Bill we will seek to improve it so that it can strengthen our science base and do what is required to help us meet the massive challenges we face as a society.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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It is an honour to speak in this debate and to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), and to warmly welcome the introduction of this important Bill. This is an extraordinary time for science, as the Secretary of State and his shadow have made clear. The interest in and standing of science in this country and around the world have never been higher during my lifetime. In a year, we have gone from discovering a lethal new virus to having not just one but multiple effective vaccines against it. That has never been done in the history of science, even going back to Jenner. This is a fantastic time for the House to be backing, as it evidently is, further investment in and progress of science in the UK. For all the horrors of the last year, some of the lessons that can be learned already—for example, the testing of new scientific procedures in parallel rather than in sequence—may, in not too many years’ time, save more lives than have been lost during the last year. We need to reinforce this.

British science is not just exceptional in the life sciences. Whether it is in space and satellites, with 40% of the small satellites in orbit above the Earth today being made in Britain, or the fact that the next generation of batteries are being researched by the Faraday Institution in Oxford, we have in this country so many of the pieces of science and technology that are transforming the world. This is at a time when the Government have made a historic commitment to invest in science. When I occupied the Secretary of State’s position, I was pretty pleased to negotiate out of the Treasury an increase in science funding from £9 billion to £12 billion a year—the biggest increase that had ever been achieved—but this Government have committed to an extraordinary increase to £22 billion a year by the end of this Parliament. That is the important context of the Bill.

For our inquiry, the Science and Technology Committee took evidence from people all around the world, including current and former staff of DARPA, and in our report of 12 February, we welcomed strongly the £800 million being committed to this new institution. Like the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, we recognise the important contribution that a new body outside the main research and development system could make, benefiting from a different culture. We saw the benefits to be had from transformational research that may be riskier than is commonly funded. The House should expect that quite a lot of the projects undertaken by this agency will fail, and we should not be quick to criticise that, because transformational breakthroughs are usually accompanied by failure on the way, and we need to be used to that.

Our report asked questions that I hope will be clarified as the Bill moves through this House and the other place. The question of what the agency’s focus will be is a legitimate one, if only for the fact that it is easy to dissipate £800 million in so many projects that we do not get the transformation that is in prospect. With that budget, and based on the evidence we took, our Committee recommended that the organisation should have no more than two focal points. The question of whether it should be about blue-sky research and brand-new thinking, without particular regard to the application, or whether it is looking to turn already nascent good ideas into practical applications, should also be clarified.

The role of Ministers and the chief executive, and the choice of the chief executive, will be important. Our Committee found that it is very important that, in pursuing our ambitions for ARIA, which is ultimately 1% of our annual research funding, we do not forget the other 99%, given some of the criticisms of bureaucracy and micromanagement that have been advanced by friends and to which ARIA is the answer. In fact, the founding chief executive of UKRI, Sir Mark Walport, thought that this was a good moment to refresh some of the procedures that it operates under.

Finally, it is important to state that we welcome ARIA because it is in the context of rising science funding. But it is paradoxical that, just at the point that we have the biggest increase by far in science funding and the whole scientific community is rejoicing at this country embarking on a golden age of scientific research, we should unexpectedly have the prospect of cuts to the science budget for the next year or two. To put it into context, the £2 billion subscription to Horizon, which has never been part of the science budget before, would amount to about a 25% cut in UKRI’s budget, and the official development assistance reduction would mean £125 million of cancelled projects.

This Bill reinforces the commitment that the Government and, I hope, the House make to building on the successes of UK and international science. The Secretary of State is a serious and committed advocated of this agenda. He was clear and candid when he appeared before the Select Committee. The decisions are not all in his hands, but I hope that he will continue to battle and, indeed, persuade his colleagues in the Treasury and the Prime Minister so that he can, I hope, have a long and flourishing tenure in his post, presiding over a period for UK science that we will look back on as a decisive acceleration of its potential.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. Like other Members, I tuned in, eyes wide open, to hear what was said. I look forward to further instalments of that show in the month to come, as I am sure others do. I place on record my thanks, as other Members have done, for the fantastic work that has been undertaken by scientists in the UK in relation to the vaccine programme. It is something that unites us all. We all know that it will transform our lives, and we are collectively thankful on that front.

I commend the Secretary of State, as he has achieved something that is quite remarkable, certainly during my short tenure in the House. He appears almost to have united everyone in vague or cautious support for the Bill. On the face of it, it is something that we can welcome, but we have concerns, which I shall come on to, and reservations that need to be addressed in a positive manner, and hopefully the Secretary is willing to do that.

Before I deal with that, I am conscious that for my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), who is sitting to my left, today is his last day in the Chamber, and he will make some valedictory remarks. I wish him the best going forward. As everyone in the Chamber will be well aware, all Scottish nationalists do not want to be here. He is getting away a little sooner than the rest of us, but we wish him well, and I am sure that Members across the Chamber do likewise.

Turning, you will be glad to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the substance of the Bill, I hope that, while I have made some positive comments, the Secretary of State will forgive me for saying—perhaps I have picked this up wrongly—that his short speech may reflect the fact that the Bill is incredibly vague on details. The first thing to reflect on in that regard is the wider mission of the Bill. That was addressed at length by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and by the Select Committee in its hearing last week. What is the Bill trying to achieve? Is it health outcomes, defence outcomes or transport outcomes? The clarity is not there. I heard what the Chair of the Select Committee said about having a focus on two issues. That is all well and good, but we do not have those answers yet from the Government. We need them moving forward, because there is a real concern and risk that what we have is something that becomes a jack of all trades, but a master of none. The Committee said that it was

“a brand in search of a product”,

which is entirely apt at this stage.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North has rather stolen my thunder in that regard, because I want to discuss what the Bill could seek to do. It could follow Scotland’s lead. In Scotland, we have the Scottish National Investment Bank, which has a clear purpose to invest in net-zero technologies. Why do we not replicate that in the Bill? Why do the Government not put that front and centre of their agenda? The hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) is shaking his head, and he is more than welcome to intervene, to state why climate change should not be at the forefront of the Bill’s agenda.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me a chance to speak. I want to check that we are talking about the same aspects of the Bill, because he is trying, while saying what he thinks in a broad way, rather narrowly to define the scope of what research science projects can be. Does he not accept that there is a tension there, and that the Scottish example is precisely not what this is about?

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I reject the suggestion that climate change is a narrow focus given that climate change covers a whole host of areas. I see the Secretary of State nodding along with that. Presumably he is in agreement having previously been the Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth. When we look at this, we need to bear in mind DARPA, which has been talked about at length by others. DARPA had that clear focus, and that clear focus has allowed it to excel, in terms of GPS, the internet and the like. We should seek to replicate that, with climate change at the forefront.

It is regrettable that the Government have not simply made that suggestion, but it is not surprising, because, just last week, they sought to invest billions of pounds in new nuclear weapons. They could have said, “Here is £800 million that we are going to invest in trying to save the planet rather than destroy it.” In relation to the mission, therefore, the Secretary of State still has a great deal of work to do.

The second key area that I would like to pick up on is in relation to the wider leadership on the Bill. Although that has been referred to already, we do need to have clarity about how that process will work. What will be its outcome? Who will be the leader, or the leadership team, that takes this forward? There have been suggestions, indeed by Dominic Cummings himself, in relation to eminent scientists—scientists who, unfortunately, have been excluded from their professional role given the comments that have been made in relation to eugenics and race. Although I appreciate that the Secretary of State may not be in a position to say what the qualifying criteria will be for someone who takes on this role, I expect him to say what the disqualifying criteria will be. I certainly expect that someone who projects views of eugenics would fit into that disqualification category.

My third point relates to resources and accountability. I am very conscious of the fact that much of what I am saying is a repetition of what has already been said, but that is often true of what is said by everyone in this House, and I am sure that there will be more of that to come. I cannot get my head around this notion that we can throw away freedom of information and public contract processes in order to achieve something. I may have incorrectly picked up the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) on that point he made earlier about being inspired to do that. I do not see it as inspired. I do not think that the public will see it as inspired. They certainly will not see it as inspired coming, as it does, from a Conservative Government, given what we have seen over a number of months in relation to cronyism and the concerns that we all have about that. When it comes to public money, public trust is of paramount importance. Frankly, the Government are not being as clear, transparent and open as they should be about the Bill.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
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Is the hon. Gentleman aware that UK Research and Innovation receives about 300 FOI requests a year? A small and nimble organisation such as ARIA would be completely buried under the weight of that many FOI requests. That is why we are taking the approach that we are here.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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That is an interesting point, but it appears that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what was said earlier in relation to DARPA. I think it was 40 FOI requests for DARPA, which is, obviously, a much larger organisation than ARIA will ever be. It is one that will perhaps attract a lot more focus, and yet there were just 40 FOI requests. If that is the strength of the argument that Government Back Benchers will put up in relation to this, then, frankly, it will fall short in the eyes of the public. The reality is that we are talking about £800 million of public money. There will of course be a tolerance of failure. Everyone accepts that there must be a tolerance of failure, but there needs to be openness and transparency around the process, and, quite frankly, at this moment in time, there is not. I do not have confidence that the Government will be able to deliver on that front.

Finally, I just want to touch on what is perhaps the most important aspect of this Bill, which is, unsurprisingly, in the Scottish context. A total of £800 million will be flowing towards this project. How much of that is coming to Scotland? Will it be Barnettised? Will there be consequentials from it? Is this going to be a UK-wide project? If so, why? Why are we not investing in Scotland? Are we trying to undermine the Scottish Parliament once again? We have seen it with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, the levelling-up fund and the shared prosperity fund; are we now seeing it with ARIA, too?

Why do the Government not seek to invest in the Scottish Parliament? Why do they not seek to allow the Scottish Government to put the money into the Scottish National Investment Bank, which I have already mentioned, so that Scotland can create the scientific achievements that it wants to use to shape our own agenda, particularly—I repeat—in relation to climate change? Why have none of those things come forward? It appears as though Scotland does not exist in the context of this Bill. The Government seek to talk up the Union; the way to solidify the Union is not to trample continuously over the Scottish Parliament, because the people of Scotland are well aware of what is going on in that regard.

Let me conclude by making one more important point. We all have concerns about the Bill. It has broad support, but we have concerns that ultimately it will become another London-centric project, and not only that but one that gets hijacked by the right wing of the Tory party for its own ends. That is not something we are willing to support.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con) [V]
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I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention, and that necessity has never been greater as we try to build back better following the huge consequences of the pandemic. It is fitting that we should hold this debate today, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the lockdown. As well as looking back over the past year, the Bill gives us an opportunity to look forward.

Before I look forward, I want to look back at the incredible contribution that UK scientists have made to scientific endeavour and their list of achievements. Over centuries, the UK has been responsible for many great discoveries and inventions—from the first refracting telescope in 1668 to the discovery and understanding of DNA, and from the humble tin can to the jet engine. Probably the most poignant today is, as we have already heard, the development of the first vaccine more than 225 years ago in 1796. That discovery is helping the UK and the world to tackle the ravages of covid today.

UK research and the work of UK scientists have truly led to inventions that are potentially saving the world. But we cannot rest on our laurels, which is why I welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to science and research and development. I welcome this debate and the meeting of our manifesto commitment to establish a high-risk, high-reward research agency, ARIA.

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to talk a little about the wider R&D landscape. I warmly welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to making the UK a science superpower. Their commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027 and the £22 billion commitment to science in 2024-25 are fantastic but, as we have heard, there is no point in our making progress in one area if we are taking funds from another to do that. I will not labour the argument about funding for our participation in Horizon Europe, but needless to say I would like to see that money coming from a different pot rather than the existing ones.

Let us talk about the positives and the investment of £800 million in a new advanced research and invention agency, based on the principle of high risk and high reward and free from Government interference. To make the most of that, we have to change our view of risk. Risk here is good. That requires us to acknowledge—indeed, to embrace—failure as part of the process.

For the agency, that is fundamentally about people. It is about having top-quality, confident and knowledgeable people in the right places—the right chair and the right chief executive. It is also about having a command structure that is fleet of foot, which is why I think some of the measures in the Bill to exempt ARIA from FOI are the right thing to do.

ARIA needs to encourage and embrace new and novel ideas in the areas of artificial intelligence, quantum and, potentially, superconductivity. I accept that some of its endeavours, if not many of them, will fail, but even where there are failures, I still want its culture to be one of encouraging future submissions—a culture where project managers are not judged on individual outcomes that encourage them to play safe.

ARIA should be judged as a whole, and only after a reasonable time. It should work with both the usual suspects—the established research bodies—and potential sectoral disrupters. If we are searching for inventions, ARIA also needs the ability to work with individuals who may have promising ideas but not necessarily the resources or experience to make them work. ARIA has a role there to help people find the right development path.

While there will be failures, I am sure there will be many successes, so I would like to hear more about how a successful ARIA-funded project will make the transition from lab bench to product or service. The UK has a great track record of innovation and invention, but we do not have the best track record of commercialisation—of turning an idea into an industry that keeps the rewards here in the UK and provides our citizens with well-paid, rewarding jobs.

ARIA needs to help research to cross the so-called valley of death, and it needs to be alive to that challenge. It needs to work with ideas to ensure that they do not fail due to a lack of funding, support or interest. If an idea is novel enough that it has potential, ARIA needs to support it until it can hand it off in the confidence that it will be in safe hands and that it will thrive. There is no point having taxpayer-funded research or invention only for it to fail through lack of practical support.

I welcome this Bill. The creation of ARIA gives us a fantastic opportunity to fill a gap in the current landscape, and I very much look forward to working with Ministers as we take the Bill forward and reap the benefits that it can provide us with.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe). Anyone who has attended the annual STEM for Britain event hosted by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which he chairs, will know that we are a country not short of brilliant ideas and young people—and many of them, I have to say, come from Cambridge.

However, that immediately begs the question, is ARIA a solution in search of a problem? As the excellent Science and Technology Committee report put it—I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and his colleagues on that—is it

“a brand in search of a product”?

We have heard a lot about Dominic Cummings. I just caution Government Members that they may not want to associate themselves too closely with a man who, in the public’s mind, is very much associated with one set of rules for some and a very different set of rules for them. Many will wonder why a vanity project designed to assuage the ego of one key adviser is being pursued by the Government when they have finally had the sense to ditch that adviser—or was it that he ditched them? Who knows? We will be generous, and I will ask an open question: can we do better?

Of course, our answer as a country is always yes, but if this is really about setting people free—and who does not want to cut the bureaucracy and set people free?—is it not curious that just yesterday, the Government announced a review, to be led by Professor Adam Tickell, the not “bog-standard” vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, of the whole issue of bureaucracy in our research sector? I suggest that there is muddle, not least around the problem we are trying to solve.

Could we do better? The landscape of research funding is complex. UKRI is a relatively new organisation, but there are some long-established principles in this country—the Haldane principle, dual funding and QR, or quality-related research funding. Add Horizon, and there is a balance in there. Add the catapults launched a few years ago under the coalition and the result, if we are not careful, is lots of people competing for the same funding. It is not simple, and it is frequently a subject of discussion in Cambridge, as I am sure the House can imagine. To be frank, in Cambridge the general view is that the issue is not finding the breakthrough ideas, but how they are developed and taken forward, as the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock just said.

Sadly, we have very few home-grown unicorns like Arm, although we have done better over the past 30 years because we have a strong investor community in Cambridge and real efforts are made through organisations such as Cambridge Enterprise to develop our spin-outs. Thoughtful contributions have been made by entrepreneurs such as David Cleevely, who rightly pointed out throughout the Cameron-Osborne years, when they were promoting Tech City in London, that we already have a tech city; it is called Cambridge and it is just up the railway line, along a powerful innovation corridor that has huge potential.

There are other powerful voices who identify a very different problem from the one that it is suggested ARIA might address. Take David Sainsbury and David Connell. Lord Sainsbury is a highly regarded former Science Minister; look at the work he did a few years ago on economic growth, in which he cautioned—sensibly, in my view—against trying to import systems from elsewhere and expecting them somehow to work in a different culture. He also rightly queried the lack of co-ordination of research across Government Departments —an issue that I suspect is yet to be seriously addressed. David Connell has been a passionate advocate over many years of small business research initiatives—something we have adopted and adapted from the Americans—and of using contracts rather than grants and driving innovation through procurement. That idea has too limited an uptake, I would say, and needs a stronger champion in Government. Is DARPA really a model for the UK? Well, the US has an infamous military-industrial complex and we have nothing similar here. Who will be the client? The Secretary of State seemed to be touchy about this, but whether it is learned from, not modelled on, is a key question.

The obvious question about whether the current system can be reformed to address some of these concerns is also not answered, and some of the potential problems have been made worse by decisions the Government have already taken, or sort of taken. Reference has been made to the disappearing industrial strategy, which must be rather galling for the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, given the effort that he and others put in and the huge amount of work done across so many sectors. What is to replace it? Perhaps the Minister can tell us later. Perhaps it is nothing, but the mission-oriented approach that ARIA points to and is widely welcomed replaces, frankly, something remarkably similar. As we have heard, the great challenges are not that different, but for iconoclasts, of course, everything that went before has to be laid to waste. Not a very British approach, I would say. What is very British is the tradition of paying public servants badly. If ARIA can free up pay levels, good, but it really does not need an ARIA to do that, so stop making a song and dance about it; get on and do it.

All this is important because we have excellence. How ironic that the Government have turned a potential good-news story into a story about cuts. As we have heard, Universities UK estimates that if the cost of Horizon association is taken out of UKRI, it will cost 18,000 research jobs. That would certainly be a big hit to cities like mine. At the weekend, Stephen Toope, the University of Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, warned that Government claims about global Britain risked ringing hollow. As he says,

“World-leading research cannot just be turned off like a tap. Once our highly trained young researchers leave our universities they will not come back, and once they leave the country they will not return.”

He is so right. I visit many labs in and around Cambridge—the magnificent Laboratory of Molecular Biology being just one of them—but what strikes anyone who goes into any of them is that it is an international microcosm, with people from all across the globe. We are good because good people want to be here, but they can always go somewhere else. I tell the House, there are plenty of people who want them and plenty of inducements. Then there are the ODA cuts—so foolish, for so many reasons, not least the threat to our diplomatic soft power at a time when China is ramping up its influence everywhere. I am told that institutions have been sending letters to researchers who already have grant letters telling them that those grant letters will not be honoured. The system has worked for decades based on trust, and that is now being undermined. That is a clear message that with this Government, Britain cannot be trusted to keep its word. There is nothing that ARIA can do that will repair the damage—the huge damage to trust—that has already been caused and is continuing to be caused.

We need a fightback within Government. Last week, I encouraged the Minister to seek operatic inspiration, but far from “Vincero”—I will win—from “Nessun Dorma”, her reaction was more, “When I am laid in earth” from “Dido’s Lament”. That is Puccini’s Dido, not Track and Trace’s, I hasten to add. We need so much more. UK research is a success story. Please stop doing unnecessary harm. In my view, ARIA is worth supporting, but it is a distraction. It is worth discussing how we can do things better, but please, Secretary of State, stop doing harm now.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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It is genuinely a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who speaks with great knowledge on this issue and who of course represents an area where many people will be interested in the Bill.

In common with other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill, but I just want to make sure I am welcoming the same Bill as they are. In many of the contributions today, Members appear to have aimed their guns at destroying those elements of the Bill that are unique, special and different. The shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who is no longer in his place, started that off by talking about R&D as an example of an industrial strategy. Well, industrial strategies are playthings of Ministers and, as we know, Ministers can change from time to time. The whole design of the Bill is intended to prevent those issues.

The spokesperson for the Scottish nationalists, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), chided me a little about the importance of the environment and asked whether that should be a focus. I am not denying that the environment and climate change is an important issue, but the point here is that we do not prescribe that that is the only thing that this organisation can research—I am not saying that it should not look into it.

I do not wish to smother at birth the unique characteristics of this organisation. Essentially, the purpose of the Bill is to create an institution that, in Donald Rumsfeld’s terms, would look at the unknown unknowns, and politicians are not in the right place to define what those would be. If I may, I would gently disagree with the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), when he said that we should choose a couple of focal points for ARIA. That really gets to the point, because the question would then be, did we choose the right focal points? I am not sure that that is something the Bill is seeking to do with this agency.

I want to ask some questions, and perhaps the Minister can cover them in her summing up or perhaps we can cover them in Committee. Many hon. Members have spoken about the importance of the programme manager in DARPA. I looked at the worked case example cited in the policy statement released for ARIA. In it, somebody was recruited on the basis of a £50,000 grant and a three-month project. Subsequently, on review, they would, in this example, be granted £20 million for further research. I would say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that there are three key tensions there that we need to tease out.

The first is that that approach places tremendous responsibility on the evaluation of those initial projects, so how do we see that going? What are we thinking about in terms of the framework in which that evaluation will take place? That seems a very thin basis for the initial judgment—it is not wrong, but it is a thin basis.

Secondly, the appointments of the chief executive officer and the chair, which my right hon. and hon. Friends are already considering, also seem to be extremely important, because they will, in such an important way, define the culture of this organisation—certainly for the initial five-year term of the chief executive and at least for the first 10 years of this organisation.

Thirdly, DARPA has been commented on a number of times. It estimates that 25% of its programme managers turn over annually, so there will be quite a large turnover of these key members of staff in the UK. What is our expectation? As the hon. Member for Cambridge said, America can draw on an enormous pool of talent. Is the goal that we will be able to draw on a larger, perhaps global pool of talent to play a role in this agency? That would be a very good aspect of global Britain.

In 2019, 65% of DARPA projects were undertaken by companies, and only 17% by universities. Is that the intention here? If so, I would very much welcome that. Also, there is the opportunity in the Bill for ARIA to create companies and joint ventures, and a document will come out to explain how that will work. However, it would be helpful to know whether it will also include what happens to any returns from those joint ventures and companies, and whether the money will go back into ARIA itself or be returned to the Treasury—I think we all know what the answer to that might be, but it would be interesting to at least pose the question.

The Secretary of State will know that ARPA was set up in the same year—1958, if I can read my writing—as the Small Business Investment Act was enacted in the United States. I would like to close on this point. There is very positive reinforcement between the initiatives being taken in the Bill and encouraging support for venture capital and small businesses. I refer Members to my declaration of interests on the issue of venture capital. There is a tremendous opportunity.

DARPA likes to say that it created the internet, but venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins can point to the fact that it made billions out of Amazon, billions out of Netscape and billions out of Google. That is the essence of the problem we often hear about in this country. We are very good at doing the research, but we are very poor at commercialising it. Can we see further efforts by the Department to ensure that we have the same parallel tracks as the United States had when it successfully launched its equivalent of our initiative, ARPA, in 1958?

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate, and this will be my last speech in this Chamber. I shall come to that in a moment, but first let me address the substance of the Bill.

I represent a constituency, Airdrie and Shotts, with significant and incredible scientific research based around BioCity and MediCity as well as the Newhouse and Maxim Park industrial estates. Indeed, just last week Amphista Therapeutics, based at BioCity, secured £38 million of investment in its series B financing round to continue its work on potent and selective bifunctional molecules, known as amphistas, and to extend its targeted protein degradation approaches. I am incredibly proud to represent that major hub of the biosciences industry in Scotland, which is projected to be worth £8 billion to the Scottish economy in the coming years.

That industry needs continued support. It needs the start-up funding and ongoing research funding to continue to thrive. I am delighted that the Scottish Government have led the way with the establishment of the Scottish National Investment Bank, which is to have £2 billion of capitalisation and has a clear ambition to achieve net zero. The industry also needs significant and ongoing support to stop the Brexit drain of scientific researchers who have sadly returned to the continent in recent years.

Although I obviously welcome the UK Government’s following the Scottish Government’s lead in establishing a state-backed investment organisation, it is incredibly disappointing that they have not matched that with the ambition to tackle climate change or reduce inequalities. That example has been set by the Scottish Government through the Scottish National Investment Bank. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) in his incredible and fantastic speech from our Front Bench, and by others across the House, the lack of clear focus for ARIA is a major disappointment.

I also want to seek clarity from the Minister on a few issues, to follow on from my hon. Friend’s speech. I want clarity that the Minister has no intention of using ARIA as another Tory Trojan horse to bypass devolved decision making. Will the Minister ensure Scottish researchers and firms such as those in Airdrie and Shotts that I have already spoken about will receive their full Barnettised share of ARIA funding through the Scottish Government? Will the UK Government also commit now to give any powers going to ARIA in areas such as borrowing and debt financing to the Scottish National Investment Bank to ensure that there is parity there?

A string of cronyism scandals has engulfed this UK Government, from funds prioritising prosperous Tory-held constituencies over other areas with genuine need to multimillion pound covid contracts being handed out to pals by WhatsApp. What safeguards are in the Bill to ensure we do not see that repeated in the funding of this agency? Excluding ARIA from FOI does not fill us with confidence in this regard. There is a big difference between tolerable failure and a lack of scrutiny allowing for further misuse of public funds.

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, as this is the final time I will be making a speech in this place before I take my leave tomorrow, I wish to make some brief remarks not strictly related to the matters before us. As many colleagues will be aware, I am resigning from this House in order to seek election to be the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts in Scotland’s national Parliament.

I want to thank my colleagues and friends in the SNP group and its staff, as well as friends from across this House, for their support, and staff of the House across the estate, who are diligent public servants. My incredible constituency office staff have been with me throughout my time in Parliament: Adam Robinson, Lawrie Kane, Lesley Jarvie, Margaret Hughes and Michael Coyle. They have provided me and the people of Airdrie and Shotts with incredible service, and I thank them. I thank my campaign team, led by my incredible election agent, Graham Russell—we go again!

I also want to thank the people of Airdrie and Shotts. It has been an incredible honour to serve them for the past six years. They first placed their faith in me in 2015, and I hope that I have gone some way to repay that trust, both in this House, with approaching 1,400 oral and written contributions, and also in my campaigns locally. Of everything we have achieved over the past six years, I am most proud of having led the campaign to keep the new Monklands Hospital in the Airdrie area and worked on 14,500 constituency cases for people in every part of the Airdrie and Shotts constituency. Politics is always about people, and my driving ambition, which I am sure I share with others across this House, has always been to do what I can to help people locally as well as tackle injustices, poverty and inequality across these isles.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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I have the unenviable task of following my hon. Friend in his success in the role of SNP work and pensions spokesperson. He has been thanking people for their support. May I, on behalf of those of us who are Airdrie fans, particularly the Airdrie Supporters Trust, genuinely and sincerely thank him for his support of us as a community as well? He will be well aware that there are many people in the Diamonds community who think very highly of him and very much hope to see him elected to continue that good work in the Scottish Parliament.

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray
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It is very kind of my hon. Friend to say so.

In my maiden speech, I thanked my wife Karlie and my then 11-month-old daughter Isla for their love and support. I said then that it would not be standing up to Tory Governments or standing up for the people of Airdrie and Shotts that I would find most challenging, but missing my family when I am here—and so it has proved. But now that I have not only Isla, but Finlay, Emmie and Freya to be missing, being closer to home to be a good father, and being in the constituency more, is what motivates me to want to leave this place and seek election to Holyrood to continue my service to local people. If I am successful, I just hope that that service will, soon, be in an independent Scottish Parliament.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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May I, on behalf of all the hon. Gentleman’s friends from across the House, wish him well on his last appearance here in this Chamber? I fully appreciate that, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) said a few moments ago, no Scottish nationalist ever wants to be here in this Parliament, but I thank him for the service that he has given and the contributions that he has made while he has been here. Of course, I will try very hard not to say anything further than that, except that he is clearly going to be busy with his ever-growing family, regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, and in a personal capacity we wish him well.

David Morris Portrait David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con) [V]
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May I echo the sentiments that you just expressed, Madam Deputy Speaker? I have found the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) to be a good colleague, as was his predecessor, who is still a very close friend of mine.

The UK space industry has arguably benefited the most from the US ARIA equivalent, DARPA. For a very recent example, we need look no further than Astra, the launch vehicle manufacturer that had a successful launch on 16 December 2020. While discussing ARIA, however, attention should be paid to the necessity of having an ecosystem approach. There is now an acknowledged and accepted dependency on space, and the space sector is one of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors. The UK is at a decision point and is reaching a critical stage in terms of launches becoming commercially viable. To secure launches as part of the UK offering of space ports would ensure access to hugely significant economic opportunity through whole-sector participation, including end-to-end delivery.

While there is no doubting the UK’s space ambitions, there needs to be a clear line of investment, which will have two elements. At present, most of the Government’s investment is focused on academia and technology. There is little focus on launch infrastructure and the development of logistical support. Noting that it is generally accepted that a launch will make the difference for the UK’s standing and therefore economic benefit from the global space market, it is estimated that this alone will be worth £400 billion to us by 2030.

Regulation, though, is a key enabler of development in the space sector, and much has been achieved through the introduction of the Space Industry Act 2018. One anomaly is the Civil Aviation Authority and the intention of lifting the insurance liability from a £60 million cap to unlimited liability, which will make UK launches unviable from UK soil, with many other countries offering less liability. So that must be addressed very soon.

Have the Government ensured sufficient harmonisation between the existing regulatory authorities and the UK Space Agency? Is the UKSA playing its full role as the Government-sponsored agency with responsibility for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and to provide a clear and single voice for UK space ambitions? That has to be clarified.

The environment is rightly the lens through which we need to examine current and future actions and ambitions. The space sector is demonstrating its commitment to the environment through the development of new materials and processes, but with space acknowledged as one of the key enablers to understanding and monitoring of global environments and environmental change, are the Government driving the right relationship between space and the UK environmental agencies, acknowledging devolved responsibilities?

Ambition itself cannot deliver on enterprise for a nation. Leadership is key to ensuring the right information and that action takes place at the right time and with the right entities. Does the space sector enjoy the right nature of strategic leadership both in the Government and the private sector? Has the UK established the types of structures, executive councils and committees necessary to provide the support, confidence and assurance of decisions, making opportunities for the space sector to thrive under the new ARIA regime? A lot of clarification needs to come forward, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will provide that development and regulatory structure to allow a commercial and viable space industry to grow. I have highlighted some anomalies within the structure as it currently stands.

I would like to see the Bill pass, and I am certain it will. It will enable the UK space sector to do a better job than it is already doing. The UK space sector, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) has already said, develops 40% of what is already flying around in orbit, and we can do more. The UK space sector has bucked the trend over recessions and pandemics, and the sector is increasing.

I want to end on a positive note. I will be backing the Bill, and I would like to see more money for the space sector.

Alan Mak Portrait Alan Mak (Havant) (Con)
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I am delighted to welcome the Bill and the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency that it creates. I want to echo the sentiments of the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, and the tributes that they paid to our scientific community, who have done outstanding work during the pandemic.

Today’s Bill is one of the most important to come before the House in this Parliament. First, it lays the foundations for Britain to become the science superpower envisaged by the Prime Minister in the integrated review and building on the Government’s existing commitment to deploy 2.4% of GDP to research and development. Secondly, a new agency will create new jobs, products and services, and innovative communities across the whole country, levelling up our science and technology base and backing our scientists and entrepreneurs. Finally, it will enable Britain to lead the new fourth industrial revolution, pioneering in fields from artificial intelligence and robotics to genomics and quantum technologies. Just as Hargreaves’ spinning jenny and Stephenson’s Rocket propelled Britain to a new era of prosperity and invention in the past, this new agency, ARIA, can help us to success in the decades ahead.

We have all seen during the covid-19 pandemic the importance of investing in research, science and development, and as we build back better, ARIA can unleash the potential of our most visionary scientists, helping Britain to shape the future and get to the future first. In terms of shaping the future, many in the House will know President Kennedy’s words from 1962:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

Those stirring words are often remembered for their soaring rhetoric, but they were in fact designed to persuade the American people of the benefits of the Apollo space programme after the US had been caught off guard by the Soviet Union putting the first satellite and then the first man into space.

To beat the Soviet Union to the moon, the Americans relied on a radical new organisation that would be a catalyst for new ideas. America’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—ARPA, as it was originally known, founded by President Eisenhower and backed by his successor, JFK—would help to deliver not only the moon landings but an early version of the internet, the global positioning system and driverless cars. By launching ARPA, the US was determined that in the future, it would be the initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises.

By launching the UK equivalent today, as the fourth industrial revolution accelerates, we provide ourselves with an insurance policy against future challenges and an opportunity to shape the future through innovation. It is therefore welcome news that ARIA will incorporate the key features of the ARPA model that have been credited with its success, including a sole focus on high-risk, high-reward research; a high tolerance for scientific failure; freedom to explore new funding models, including prizes and taking equity stakes; minimal bureaucracy, with low Government intervention; and empowering talented programme managers to find and fund complex research programmes. That is the right framework, but what sort of technology should those programme managers focus on? That has been the subject of some debate this afternoon.

It would be tempting for ARIA to spread itself thinly and widely, diversifying across a range of technologies and disciplines, but that would be the wrong approach. If ARIA is to succeed, it must focus on the most impactful and transformative technologies that are most likely to create whole new industries, produce thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom and apply across a wide range of economic sectors where the UK can develop a strong and sustained competitive advantage. Those key technologies include robotics and artificial intelligence, which will become pervasive across all sectors of our economy; life sciences and synthetic biology, where the big theme of the coming decade will be personalisation; fusion, which has the potential to deliver a new carbon-free source of clean energy; space, where, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) said, growth is driven by manufacturing, including in satellites, ground systems and components; and quantum technologies, including quantum computers, which are exponentially more powerful than today’s devices.

It was in Britain that the first industrial revolution took off in the 18th century. It was this country that gave the world penicillin, unravelled the structure of DNA and pioneered the world wide web. Cambridge alone has produced more Nobel laureates than any country in the world except America, and more than France, Japan and China combined. We have an outstanding record of scientific innovation and discovery to be proud of. The creation of this new agency will help Britain cement its status as a science superpower, and it is a project that I am proud to support.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD) [V]
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the setting up of ARIA. Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly welcome any announcement of new public funding for science and technology.

I was struck by the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak) about Britain’s history of scientific technology and innovation. When I was a child growing up in the 1980s, we were still coming towards the end of the cold war, and science and technology felt almost threatening in a time of conflict revolving around nuclear weapons. A transformation has taken place over the last 35 years in public attitudes towards science. We have had a digital revolution. Here we are today, on the anniversary of the first lockdown of the pandemic, and in the last few months, scientific research and scientists have dominated the headlines with the extraordinary work they have done in developing the vaccine. It makes me think that today’s children have a very different attitude towards science, and I very much hope that the experience of the last few years will encourage more and more children and young people to consider science as a career. I hope they will be inspired by our great national history of science and innovation, and that this new agency will in some way pick up that great inspiration and some of that great talent, which is surely being fostered in our schools and universities as we speak, and bring new innovations and great scientific thinking to the world.

There is no doubt that in funding for science and innovation we have lagged behind somewhat in both the private and public sector. We have fantastic science, education and research capacity in this country, as we have done for many years, but our biggest failing has been our inability to match up the great work and innovation that we are generating in our universities, research centres and private sector companies and bring it into economic activity so that it can deliver wider benefits to our economy and workforce. It is a problem that Governments of all stripes have wrestled with for many years.

However, while I welcome the fact that ARIA has been set up with that express purpose in mind, is this particular agency the result of Government analysis of where we have been going wrong or is this Mr Cummings’s brainchild? Conservative Members seem to have almost limitless faith in Mr Cummings’s abilities and analysis, but I have to be honest that it is not that clear to those of us on the Opposition Benches that just because Mr Cummings thinks something is a good idea, the rest of us should automatically follow.

So I am very interested to know what analysis the Government have done as to how ARIA can fix some of these questions that have dogged our science and innovation space for so many years. How is the agency going to direct its activities to make sure that it can really address the issues we are facing? My first question is about who is going to be addressing these particular issues. The legislation is broadly drawn, which is probably right given that we want an unencumbered agency, but who is going to be appointed to lead it? I notice from the legislation that the board will be appointed by the Secretary of State; it will obviously include the chief scientific officer as that is clearly right, but beyond that what will be the qualifications of the people who are leading it? Will they be scientists, will they be from industry, will they be academics, will they be economists? The legislation is silent on what will qualify somebody to sit on that board and how they will direct the agency and to what particular ends. That is an interesting point, and I look forward to hearing more about how the Secretary of State will make those appointments.

I welcome the plans to provide the substantial funding for this new body, and particularly the direction that the projects it undertakes can have a high risk of failure. However, the Secretary of State must be aware that he is committing to taking big risks with taxpayers’ money. How can he or the hard-working taxpayer be sure that this use of public money delivers greater value to the British public than any other use? I acknowledge that that will be a difficult question to answer and that we need to accept that there will be downsides, but the Secretary of State should be clear about whether this high-risk investment is new money or whether it is being taken away from other established and lower risk programmes elsewhere. For example, is funding for ARIA coming from money for research and innovation for other programmes—perhaps money that UKRI received for official development assistance research into global challenges, which we know has been cut by two thirds? Is that money now going into ARIA? Are we cutting existing programmes in order to fund this high-risk research?

We know that ODA budgets and also the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Academy are seeing cuts, and again I ask is ARIA the new destination for that funding? It is essential that the Government confirm that this is new money and that it is going to be introduced to sit alongside existing funding streams. Otherwise, far from being a boost to scientific research, ARIA will put successful current research at risk. As has been pointed out, the wide-ranging remit of ARIA also represents a risk that research projects will be undertaken that duplicate work already being done elsewhere, which again risks taxpayer value for money.

In conclusion, the Liberal Democrats are very pleased to support the Bill. We are 100% behind efforts to increase science and innovation, particularly where they can have wider applications for the economy and quality of life in this country, but we will be watching very closely for answers on appointments to the board and funding.

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan (Bolton North East) (Con) [V]
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I welcome the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, which marks an increasing awareness across Government, Parliament and the country of the importance of innovation in securing our collective prosperity well into the future. The last year has shown us just how vital it is that we further bolster this country’s science and research ambitions. The Royal Society of Biology, with which I spoke last month, can attest to how our assiduous investment in the life sciences has clearly paid off, as we are reaping the benefits with our vaccination roll-out. Indeed, just look at the dividend that the UK’s sequencing expertise is now paying. That is why I emphatically welcome the Government’s commitment to increase public R&D expenditure, which, along with ARIA, forms part of the fundamental building blocks for the Britain of the next era.

We have thought hard about the pennies. Now we are turning to the pounds we pack internationally. Last week, we on the Science and Technology Committee heard from Dominic Cummings, who spoke about the need for the UK to take science more seriously. He said that competitor countries around the world debate at the highest level cutting-edge S&T on a daily basis. We are not entering—but rather have already entered—a new era of heightened global competition. We should not fear such a transition, as change is the only constant. I suggest that we all read “Who Moved My Cheese?”, and advance our science and technology expertise.

The strategic framework for the integrated review has S&T as the very first of four overarching objectives. I agree with the implicit argument that science and technology is often the forgotten magical element in Britain’s soft power. I trust that the Minister is considering how we use the global talent visa programme to add to this effort. As my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak) rightly pointed out, the UK has had 99 Nobel laureates. This fills us with pride. Aiming for at least another 99 fills us with focus. Taken together with the integrated review, this Bill will provide the UK with immense opportunities to become a science superpower across many domains.

The Government are here to get the big things right, but we must also—slightly counterintuitively—be prepared to get things wrong. By this, I mean that we face a cultural challenge in Whitehall, Westminster and, indeed, all walks of life when it comes to failure. It is an acutely British niggle. Fear of failure in both Government and business has limited our ability to take more calculated risks. Who can blame people, when the media is constantly ready to take someone down for the slightest slip? I am hopeful that ARIA can be part of a cultural change that can boost us in taking more risks for higher reward, and to scale up our ideas to compete with the east Asian and US giants.

ARIA may currently be of no fixed abode, but we are on standby to fix its abode in Bolton. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) will be up shortly to join what is probably going to be the most important debate of our generation: should ARIA’s office be in the west or the east of Bolton? Bolton and Greater Manchester’s thirst for radical innovation is palpable, with the National Graphene Institute a stone’s throw away and the University of Bolton just a few doors down from me. As the Bill outlines, ARIA’s membership is to consist of a small network of executive and non-exec members, in line with the Government’s agenda to level up, and what better location is there to base that network in than the north-west, surrounded by the brightest young minds, at the centre of Bolton North East?

Through the vaccine roll-outs, we have all witnessed the benefits of being able to work at speed and scale, and this has been testament to relinquishing overreaching bureaucracy. In its present form, the Bill can engender more clarity to signal adequate space for ARIA’s leadership to operate independently from Government. Exceptional scientists need room to decide which research to pursue and to give them the confidence and agility to make decisions, although I also appreciate the need for some parliamentary oversight. This has been emphasised repeatedly by the Science and Technology Committee’s witnesses. Let me finish by saying a big well done to the Government for being ambitious and bringing this Bill to the House, and for providing us with the stepping stones to punch not above our weight but above our basal metabolic rate.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP) [V]
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Most Members understand the importance of proper science funding, both in terms of supporting research excellence and as an economic multiplier, and I certainly welcome any announcement of additional funding. However, in a week when we have seen UK Research and Innovation funding for official development assistance being cut, and when we are facing ongoing uncertainty regarding our association fee for Horizon Europe, we have to be sceptical about whether this agency will really attract new funding, or whether this will simply involve the re-profiling of existing funds.

In his evidence on ARIA to the Science and Technology Committee last week, Dominic Cummings referenced the Manhattan project, Turing’s work on the Enigma code and the development of computers as projects that would have benefited from funding free from bureaucratic constraints. All those projects had one thing in common: a specific target. We need to have some idea of what ARIA’s mission should actually be. What are its priorities? Net zero technology? Autonomous vehicles? Quantum computing? I do not think any of us would deny that, if the UK were to face a specific urgent challenge, there would be a need to get money where it was needed, and fast. The difficulty here is that we are being asked to support a Bill to set up a body to fund high-risk research, but we do not know what we will be researching or why. In last week’s evidence session, Dominic Cummings talked extensively about the bureaucracy of current funding, and stated this as one of the reasons for the new body. We have heard from researchers about the difficulties in applying for funding, but we would surely be better off tackling that, rather than creating a new agency when we do not have a mission.

Earlier, the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), talked about the importance of failure. It is frustrating that we do not recognise how key failure is to scientific development. Failure is information. It tells us that something does not work, and science research often has many instances of failure before we experience success. This speaks to how we measure success in science through papers looking for positive outcomes. Maybe we should be looking more at papers that talk about negative outcomes or nor outcomes at all, because that is information too.

In everything, there must be accountability. Government spending during the pandemic on flawed procurement contracts should have taught us that there must be checks and balances in public money to ensure that cronyism is not the overriding decision maker. Removing ARIA from any freedom of information requests is problematic and will certainly leave it open to such cronyism. I would like some clarification on how extreme freedom in research does not mean extreme recklessness and cronyism in spending.

I would also like to raise the issue of national inequality of research spending. The recent National Audit Office report on the industrial strategy challenge fund noted:

“The Fund is unevenly spread across the UK with the majority being provided to the West Midlands, South East and London”.

This is not a new situation. For decades, we have seen capital spending on research concentrated on the south-east of England. I would therefore like to hear something about how the Government will ensure that ARIA is fully representative of the devolved nations.

The Government promised to double R&D spending to £22 billion by 2024 and repeatedly talk of being a science superpower. However, we are yet to see full details on this spending. The Business Secretary has admitted that UKRI’s 2021-22 budget has not yet been agreed, so a long-term funding plan for science should have some certainty for the funding cycles that we are already in.

The UK’s status as a science superpower is underpinned by international research collaboration and we need to make sure that that is protected. It is concerning that UKRI has announced a shortfall of £120 million between its official development assistance allocation and its commitment to grant holders. I have asked repeatedly about our commitment on Horizon Europe contributions, and, in the last few weeks, there has been no further information. We need to know whether the contributions will come from new money or whether UKRI will see its budget further squeezed to pay our association fee. Although many of us support an additional £800 million for science research, it really is difficult for us to work out whether it is actually new money. We need to see the sums and we need that clarity.

Finally, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray). He is a well-respected and much liked colleague across the House. I know personally how hard he works and that he gives 100% both to his parliamentary duties and to his family. I hope that he has great success in his new endeavours and that he has the opportunity to spend more time with his family, because all of us with families who have to travel to this place know that it can be a huge strain. All the best, Neil, and take care.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I would like to add my good wishes as well, as this is my first time in the Chair today. Good luck, Neil.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con) [V]
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I am delighted to have been called to speak in this debate and I will attempt to be brief to avoid the virtual grimace that Madam Deputy Speaker threatened.

There is so much to like and be excited about in this Bill and the creation of ARIA. The Secretary of State was spot on when he raised the covid pandemic and the breakthrough vaccine that has been developed in the UK. This is one of those moments that shows what UK innovation can achieve: saving lives, catalysing interest and effort, and instilling pride. However, ARIA could put those amazing developments in the shade, or, at the very least, normalise them. This year has shown the absolute importance of scientific innovation and ARIA could allow the UK to play to its strengths, tackling some of the biggest challenges facing our country, such as net zero. This is a statement of intent about the future direction of the UK and of our economy.

Going back to covid, interest in UK science and innovation has never been higher, but by focusing ARIA on ambitious and cutting-edge work, we will strengthen the sector that is driving that interest. Indeed, I am delighted that the Bill gives particular focus to projects that carry a high risk of failure. Those projects will be at the very cutting edge of science and technology and need support to determine whether we can gain a high reward or learn from their failure. We have seen too few of the genuinely exciting technologies of the last few decades being taken to market overseas. Providing a route to finance for the most cutting-edge science in the UK will be a huge benefit to us as a nation, driving the creation of new industries, jobs, skills and growth.

I am fortunate to represent Barrow and Furness, where roughly 10,000 people are employed in the national endeavour of producing the nuclear deterrent. On my last visit to the shipyard, I was struck when it was mentioned, almost in passing, that only one thing is made by man that is more complex than a nuclear submarine, and that is the international space station. The research, innovation and technology that underpin these incredible ships have been created over generations to produce vessels that travel in near silence, under tremendous pressures, and which keep their crew alive and our nation and NATO secure. That immense achievement is the end point of generations of research and development, some from the UK and some from further afield. That is what is exciting about ARIA and what it could deliver. With £800 million of funding behind it and genuine strategic and cultural autonomy, let us think what could be achieved in strides to keep us safe and secure, and to enable innovations in technology that genuinely shift the paradigm and which can brought to market.

The ability to be nimble and agile is key to ARIA’s success, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken the right approach in exempting it from public-contract regulations relating to its research goals. That will allow it to procure at speed and act more like the private sector organisation that it needs to be. Balancing oversight for this new beast will be difficult, and hon. Members have expressed genuine concern about that, but I believe that my right hon. Friend has got it right. In directing ARIA to consider the benefits of its activities for the UK as a whole the agency will, by its nature, foster a positive environment for developing the technologies of tomorrow, helping to make the UK a global scientific superpower. Indeed, alongside UK Research and Innovation, ARIA gives the UK a full-spectrum approach to funding scientific research. As the Jack Sprat and his wife of UK research and innovation, ARIA and UKRI will generate greater pull for UK science and research as a whole.

Finally, we must continue the tradition of pushing the boundaries of human knowledge with cutting-edge research and science. Without taking risks we will miss groundbreaking discoveries that will have far-reaching benefits for our nation, including the development of the jobs and industries of the future, based here in the UK. By launching the UK equivalent of DARPA, we have the opportunity to seize the future right here and today. Surely there can be no more exciting prospect than that.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab) [V]
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In my brief remarks, I should like to focus on the context of the Bill—on how we make the most of our country’s extraordinary research capacity, about which many Members have spoken.

Six years ago, I led a Westminster Hall debate highlighting the fact that the UK had fallen behind others in research and development investment, from a position in which we had led OECD countries. We had particularly fallen behind in publicly funded R&D, and I argued that we needed almost to double spending to 3% of GDP. Six years later, actual spending has not increased much—it is still about 1.6% or 1.7%. The Government are talking about their ambition to increase spending to 2.4% although, as ever, the Prime Minister’s rhetoric of the UK as a science superpower does not match the reality of his plans, as 2.4% simply brings us in line with the OECD countries overall. It is an ambition to be average.

There is an even bigger concern that the reality does not live up even to that target. The Bill proposes a new agency for research and innovation, but its funding is unclear. Some £50 million is set aside in 2021-22, but future funding remains unallocated, and there is no long-term investment model. The Government’s rhetoric is ambitious, talking the talk about an innovation nation, but real results are delivered through sustained investment in our brilliant science. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is obviously the most cited example today, and is the most current instance of the extraordinary capacity that we have as a country, but it was delivered through years of consistent funding and focus, incredible new science providing the route to reopening society and the economy.

The scientific community has made it clear that without certainty and stability we will lose out in the global market. I think one of my colleagues has cited this, but the vice- chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge Universities said:

“World-leading research cannot just be turned on and off like a tap.

Once our highly trained young researchers leave our universities they will not come back, and once they leave the country they will not return.”

Of course, the importance of research extends well beyond Oxbridge, throughout the universities sector and right across the country. It is worth remembering, at a time when we all share a concern about regional imbalance within our economy, that universities are one of the few national assets we have that are spread evenly right across the country, well positioned to generate economic growth in all regions and all nations of the UK.

The problem is that contrary to their stated intentions, the Government have started reducing research funding. First, as we have heard from others, £120 million is going from the international development budget, cutting about half of development-funded research activity. Only yesterday, the Royal Society described powerfully to me how this has forced it to withdraw funding from current projects that will not be able to continue, as well as shut down future opportunities, with huge implications not just for global research, but for the very relationships with the Indo-Pacific nations that the Prime Minister has been so keen to foster.

Secondly, there is the threat to give back word on funding the association with Horizon Europe. Clearly, participation in Horizon Europe is hugely welcome. The understanding has always been that it would continue as a separate funding stream. Now, apparently, there is a suggestion it might come from UKRI’s existing budget. When I met UKRI a month ago to discuss funding for extending studentships in cases where research has been delayed by covid, we discussed the immense pressure on its existing budgets. If it is expected to pay for Horizon out of existing budgets, that would take about 11% of its funding, or £1 billion. That is the equivalent of 18,000 research-focused academic jobs.

In a city of two large universities and more than 60,000 students, I can testify to how important research is to our communities and to our economy. We know that public sector research informs and improves private innovation, while generating revenue for the public purse. The University of Sheffield’s advanced manufacturing and research centre is a great example; one that is recognised internationally. From seedcorn public funding, it now has more than 125 industrial partners, and employs more than 500 researchers and engineers from all over the world, with the university at the centre of that network, pulling together that collaboration. Although the Prime Minister talks of increasing their investment in R&D, the Government are reportedly on course to miss their target of 2.4% of GDP spent on R&D by 2027, so now is the time to put their money where their mouth is and protect our research capabilities, and with that their futures.

In winding up, I ask the Minister to respond to three questions: what assessment has been made of the £120 million cut to official development assistance funding in R&D? Will she confirm that Horizon funding will not, in fact, be drawn from UKRI’s existing budget? Will she tell the House when the Secretary of State will be able to confirm what the UKRI budget will be for 2021-22?

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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As with the mood around the Chamber, I rise to welcome the Bill. In the 1920s, a young pilot officer in RAF wrote a thesis about how planes would be able to achieve longer ranges and higher speeds by flying at higher altitudes, but that they would need a new and different form of propulsion. At that time, they were powered by piston engines and propellers, and he realised that the lower air pressures at height would prevent the engines of the day from working, so he started to think about the alternatives. In 1935, he secured financial backing, formed a company and developed a new type of engine, which was first ready for flight in May 1941. The RAF officer was Frank Whittle; the new engine was the jet; and the development work was carried out at the British Thomson-Houston works in my constituency of Rugby. The site is still available—it is part of an industrial complex—and I recently visited to see where the work was done and was able to see the hole in the wall where the prototype was placed.

Whittle’s invention led to international air travel as we know it today—or as we have known it until recent months—and, significantly, to commercial success, with Rolls-Royce going on to be one of the world’s two major jet engine manufacturers. It seems to me that one purpose of the Bill is to answer the question: how do we encourage a present-day or future Frank Whittle? The creation of a new agency will improve the prospect of our creating truly life-changing inventions and, significantly, lead to commercial opportunities for their manufacture in the UK.

The current primary funder of invention is of course, as we have heard, UK Research and Innovation, through the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. It has a budget of £6 billion and provides grants for research and development. Some of the work is developed through the Catapult centres, which were set up from 2001 to promote research and development through business-led collaboration among scientists and engineers. Significantly, a third of the Catapults’ funding comes through the private sector.

I have a close association with two Catapults, one of which is in my constituency and one of which is close by. The Manufacturing Technology Centre is in my constituency and I visited it in 2011. I have since seen its massive expansion, with the list of companies involved taking up more space on the wall each time I have been there. The centre has done particularly effective work on additive manufacturing.

Close to my constituency is the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick campus, which of course has a close relationship with the automotive sector—highly appropriate as Coventry is the heart of motor manufacturing. The WMG has had a big hand in the research for the industry and is currently working on battery technology. As an aside, Coventry would be an excellent location for a gigafactory.

I sought the views of the two Catapults. The question for me was whether ARIA would be a threat to their funding or complementary to their work. In each case, there was strong support for the proposals in the Bill. The WMG

“welcome and support the establishment of ARIA”


“a funding agency with freedom to operate. The proposed structure is an improvement on the current UKRI set up and should allow for more informal and flexible working.”

The MTC said:

“Because ARIA will be able to fund different kinds of scientific and technological research within a single programme, organisations like the West Midlands based Manufacturing Technology Centre will benefit from joined-up funding streams, allowing projects to access funding in a more effective and efficient way”.

That shows strong support.

The MTC also draws attention to the additional funding and support for risky programmes. We have heard a lot about the risky nature of the programmes that ARIA will fund. We know that only a small fraction of the goals will be achieved and that failure will have to be accepted as part of the scientific process. The MTC believes that beneficiaries of funding will be able to take bold but calculated risks that they would not previously have been able to take. We have already heard that in these areas of development we often do not know exactly what we are looking for until we find it, but the benefits of success will be greater.

The WMG drew attention to an issue that we have heard about in this debate: the key role of the chair and how important it will be that this individual is strong and independent. In many ways, it will be perhaps one of the most important of ministerial appointments. It must be a multi-year programme with a long-term perspective, and the 10-year commitment in the Bill is incredibly important. The chairman must be free to set his own agenda and priorities.

We have heard discussion about how ARIA’s mission will fit with other Government priorities and the need for the organisation to be free to follow its own course. I am particularly concerned about the closeness of the links with industry and how important they will be. I was reminded of that this morning at an excellent Industry and Parliament Trust event on the UK role in the development of the UK battery industry. We heard Professor David Greenwood of the University of Warwick speak about the need to link research and development to the existence of a market for what is being introduced. He told us an account about the development of the lithium ion battery, I think at Oxford. It was developed in the UK at a time when there was no commercial application for it. The mobile phone and the move towards electric vehicle that we know about today did not exist, and it took a Japanese camcorder manufacturer to recognise the opportunity that small powerful batteries created. That gave an application for the battery, and once used in that application, other uses became apparent. This new body must be close to industrial applications.

We live in a fast-changing world, and UK businesses need to be able to respond to those changes. It is vital that we retain our manufacturing base to provide a mix to our economy, and the best manufacturing opportunities arise when they are close, both physically and with personal links, to those areas where the ideas are developed. Making full use of the energy and dynamism of inventors, researchers and entrepreneurs will enable that to happen, and this Bill, which creates the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, is key to that. I believe it makes the kind of invention developed by Sir Frank Whittle more likely.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
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I welcome the general concepts behind the Bill. Support for ambitious blue-sky research where application in the real world is not always clear could bring massive economic benefits if successfully applied. Electricity is the backbone of modern industrial society, but if the early pioneers had had to specify what it was used for, we might not have got beyond experimenting with shocks from electric catfish. On a day-to-day basis, where we all deal with so many emails coming in and out, without innovation and invention we might still be reliant on a flock of pigeons to deliver those messages.

A healthy research environment needs a healthy range of options and healthy funding levels. Additional funding from ARIA is therefore a welcome new tool in the box, as long as it is additional funding and not a subtraction from other important funds. Applied that way, ARIA could complement the high-impact, hypothesis-driven, goal-driven research and support currently delivered via UK Research and Innovation, but it cannot simply be there to replace that. Nor should the agency become just another political tool to bypass and crowd out devolved decisions on funding and support for innovation.

I have a clear constituency interest in any research funding, as some of the UK’s best work comes from my neck of the woods. Midlothian Science Zone is at the cutting edge of global research across many disciplines, but particularly in the fields of animal health, human health, agritech and related technologies. The world-renowned Roslin Institute, for example, looks forward to pitching some of its high-risk ideas to ARIA, in particular to investigate how the integrated transformation of the food system could contribute to solving global hunger and climate change, to improving human, animal, plant and environmental health, and to developing preparedness for future pandemics.

That type of exciting research certainly seems to fit the mission of another state-backed investment organisation that is already open for business. The Scottish National Investment Bank, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) mentioned earlier, is the single biggest economic development in the history of the Scottish Parliament, with a purpose to power innovation, reduce inequalities and accelerate the move towards net zero emissions.

I hope that in developing this new body, the UK Government will take decisions that support and do not undermine the progress of the Scottish National Investment Bank. There is room for both, but the powers given to ARIA for borrowing, debt finance and multi-year transfers should also be given to the Scottish National Investment Bank.

Given that it is public money, it would be wise, without any need to be too prescriptive, to have clarity over ARIA’s purpose and focus. We do not need every step mapped out, but we need at least to have the rudder in place and a general course of travel made clear. We know that DARPA, the US defence research organisation that inspired the model, has a mission focus. Horizon Europe has a mission focus. The Scottish National Investment Bank has a mission focus on reducing inequalities and tackling climate change. If we do not know what we want to achieve, how do we have any idea whether ARIA is being successful in achieving its goals?

There are serious questions not just about the focus but about the planned oversight and governance of the new agency. Alarm bells go off when I read that it will be exempt from freedom of information requests and public contract regulations, especially given the current Government’s woeful record on accountability and transparency. The Government seek to excuse that on the grounds of avoiding bureaucracy, but as the Campaign for Freedom of Information has pointed out, the US equivalent of ARIA is covered by the US Freedom of Information Act and was subject to just 48 requests in 2019. Such a volume of FOI requests could not conceivably be seen as a block to ARIA’s success.

Bureaucracy looks increasingly to be a convenient byword for bypassing scrutiny of this Government, who, ironically, have dramatically increased damaging bureaucracy for international businesses and academia since our leaving the EU. Covid has also been used as a cover for all sorts of contracts being handed out without competition, clarity or comeback. The need for speed is not an excuse for keeping the paperwork, for not printing the details within legally required timeframes, or for misleading Parliament over what has been made public.

Questions continue to be raised, and dodged, about why so many Tory donors, friends and associates have been the recipients of directly awarded contracts, even when their CVs show little experience in the field. I draw the Minister’s attention to my Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill, which would ensure that Ministers were answerable to Parliament where such situations arose—not to hold up the awarding of contracts but to allow Parliament the opportunity to question their appropriateness. I have written to the Cabinet Office seeking the Government’s support to take that Bill forward. Certainly, if there is nothing to hide, the Government should have nothing to fear from it.

In setting up a new funding body, especially for high-risk funding such as this, it is imperative that safeguards are built in to protect against the risk of corruption. There is an urgent need for more, not less, oversight in public spending decisions, and I am dismayed that the Government continue to dismiss those concerns.

In conclusion, while I support the concept and the dedicated high-risk research funding, more clarity is certainly needed about the plans, the funding implications for devolved Governments, and the relationship with existing R&D structures. I know that the Government do not always like detail, but a bit more understanding of who ARIA’s customers might be, how the body will be held to account and what it seeks to achieve would certainly be welcome. Big ambition is a good thing, but Government goals are more likely to succeed when we actually know what they are.

Chris Skidmore Portrait Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con) [V]
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I welcome this Bill. As the former Science Minister who ushered in this concept of the UK ARPA—now ARIA—in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, I am delighted that the introduction of this Bill so early in the Parliament demonstrates the Prime Minister’s key determination that research and development will be a priority as we look to build global Britain on the back of recovery from the pandemic.

The Bill needs to be placed in the context of the uplift in research and development spend that has been spoken about, from the £9 billion per annum that we have spent in the past to £22 billion by 2024-25. To put that in context, ARIA will represent just 1% of total research spending in the period it is set up for, over five to 10 years. That is obviously due to our commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, and we need to look at how we achieve that by creating multi-annual financial budgets. We know that ARIA will have £800 million over a five-year period, and that is incredibly welcome. We need that certainty and stability for the rest of the R&D sector to be able to plan ahead and devise research partnerships.

A number of Members have spoken about the current insecurities regarding the Horizon Europe subscription. There were plenty of insecurities when it came to seeing whether we would be an association member of Horizon Europe in the first place, yet we crossed that line. I am in no doubt that these issues will be resolved within the appropriate timescale to provide certainty for the science and research sector when it comes to plugging funding shortfalls, but in the future we should learn the lessons by creating multi-annual, sustainable, long-term budgets that stop us reaching this stage in the first place.

I believe that the Bill designs the right structure for ARIA, with that 10-year certainty that it will exist, free from ministerial whims and able to plan ahead. It is right that the Bill strikes the tone and balance between, necessarily, independence and autonomy, as well as providing the right flexibility to prioritise discovery-led research. There has been some discussion on Second Reading today around whether we should be taking a mission-oriented approach or whether we should be looking for moonshots for ARIA, but that is fundamentally to misunderstand the purpose of creating an organisation that will prioritise disruptive innovation. There are plenty of other opportunities for moonshots elsewhere within the R and D ecosystem. ARIA’s sole purpose will be to look at how we can create paradigm shifts in technologies or, indeed, in technologies that do not even exist at the moment. I reference back to the UK being a founder member of CERN in 1983. We put £144 million a year into CERN now, so our spend on ARIA is quite modest by comparison. No one expected CERN to help to develop the internet or touch-screen computing, and yet they have been spin-outs as a result of prioritising discovery-led technologies and putting our faith in research, not knowing where it might lead us.

Other countries are doing the same. When we look at this discussion around ARIA, it is important to understand that it is not just about ARPA—and it is nothing to do with DARPA. Obviously, DARPA is a mission-oriented defence-led project. We focused our intention on the 1950s and ’60s version of ARPA when looking at how to create ARIA. There is Vinnova in Sweden, which is £260 million a year; imPACT in Japan; and SPRIN-D in Germany, which was set up in 2019 on exactly the same framework as we are looking at for ARIA. In a way, therefore, we are behind the curve. Other countries are already powering ahead, looking at setting up these disruptive innovation centres that will prioritise discovery-led technology, and we need to step up to the plate now.

When it comes to the Bill, I will make two final points. First, there is the issue around commercialisation. As I have mentioned, £800 million is a modest amount. We can supercharge that, just as we need to supercharge our 2.4% target by leveraging private investment. How can we do that? We can look towards prizes that have been established, such as the $10 million Ansari X Prize, which has leveraged $100 million. ARPA in the States also relies heavily on SRI International at Stanford University to help drive the spin-outs. We need to be cautious about not leaving an open door when it comes to focusing on the “R” in research and then forgetting about the “D”. This has been mentioned before, but what we do not want to see is discoveries coming out of ARIA being taken advantage of by other companies abroad. We need to look at how we protect the intellectual property. We need to look at how we can create an organisation that will focus on the “D”. I do not believe that Innovate UK has the capacity at the moment to be able to achieve that, so we need to look at the Fraunhofer in Germany, which spends 10 time the amount of investment than the catapult centres, for focusing on how we can look at applied level research for the future.

Then there is the issue of high risk. Yes, we need high-risk research, and yes, we must have the freedom to fail, but we must also understand the risk when it comes to collaboration with foreign powers, hostile research and making sure that we have the right security measures in place for dealing with research integrity and that we have trusted research partnerships. That is why it is exactly right that we have the FOI exemption in place to be able to protect this research and make sure that other countries do not take advantage of it.

Finally, it would be remiss of me, as a local MP, not to mention the location of ARIA. It is right that it should be practically a virtual location spread across the country, and we need to ensure that universities and national laboratories have the right investment to be able to help conduct the research for ARIA. When it comes to the headquarters, the Bristol and Bath Science Park in my constituency has land that is free, and I am sure that it would give a very good rate if ARIA wished to set up there, right next to the National Composites Centre and the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems. It would be a huge opportunity if ARIA wished to locate in my constituency, which is only down the road from Chipping Sodbury—as the Secretary of State mentioned, the birthplace of the vaccine used by Edward Jenner.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) and wish him all the best as he leaves this place. I always find him a very easy fella to get on with. We have worked together in many debates; usually I intervened on him, and maybe there was the odd time when he intervened on me. We have a good friendship, and I wish him and his family well. We will miss his friendship in the Chamber.

I am a strong supporter of Government’s aim to increase public research and development funding to £22 billion by 2024-25 and to increase overall UK spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. I welcome and am really pleased to see the Government’s proposals. I will not make a plea for my own constituency, but I will make a plea for Northern Ireland as an area where we believe that we can help each other.

If we ever needed proof or a supreme example of just how well we can do things—when I say “we”, I mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; all of us better together under the Union flag, which is where the strength of our co-operation and friendship should be—who could fail to be amazed by the development of the vaccine? From the start to the end, we have got a number of effective vaccines on the streets within a year. After all the difficulties of the last year, the success story has been the vaccine and its roll-out. Which of us did not feel a wee bit better when the vaccines were announced by the Health Secretary in the Chamber? We could almost feel a smile on our face and a skip in our step. That was because of the scientists and the expertise that we have in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, leading the way. That is why I believe that the science and the R&D can and, indeed, will succeed.

I can understand those who are concerned at the speed of the vaccine development—they know that R&D usually takes years, but the coronavirus is an example of where it can take less time. The difference that dedicated funding and governmental support makes is clear. The Government and the Prime Minister in particular initially made sure that money was set aside for the research. Clearly that was a good move, and we thank them for it. The money is there to roll out the programmes, hire the staff and purchase the necessary equipment, and we have vaccines available because we invested; our Government and our country—our great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—invested.

Imagine what we could achieve if we put resources into other goals—if we thought big and funded those thoughts. Is it wrong to aim for the stars? I do not think it is. In the last year, we have aimed for the stars and achieved it. The right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) referred to the moonshot goals. One of my favourite films is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We all know the scene where James Stewart’s character talks about lassoing the moon, and it is not impossible to do some things we have always talked about doing in a romantic way. We can do great things in research and development through the moonshot goals.

Of course there must be regulation and restrictions. Common sense should go hand in hand with idealism, and we must ensure that safety is paramount. If we look at what we have done, it shows the best of British and the best of what we can achieve, with co-operation between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the mainland, as well as with our international colleagues; what a sight that is to behold. The Bill applies to the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Supporting scientific research and development sits within the legislative competence of the devolved nations—in my case, the Northern Ireland Assembly—although specific reservations exist, and I look forward to the devolved nations contributing to this process and passing their consent.

In a debate in Westminster Hall last week, at which the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), was present, I mentioned Queen’s University Belfast and the great partnerships that it has in health research in particular to find cures for diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Every now and again, that research has dividends and they are able to announce some of the good things they have done. Again, I ask the Minister to ensure that we can all benefit from the partnerships with universities and companies. As others have said, universities across the whole of the United Kingdom can deliver opportunities for people to progress their degrees, carry out investigations and find cures.

Northern Ireland has an excellent workforce—highly skilled, young, capable and educated to the standard that we all want. To give just one example, cyber-security in Northern Ireland is the best in the United Kingdom—indeed, the best in Europe. I suggest to the House that our workforce, their skills and their capability be used as we all move forward together.

My one note of caution is that while we must be ambitious, we must also be realistic. There cannot be a blank cheque for any project, but I believe that clause 3, on long-term ambition, must have a common-sense element and that projects must have an end date. We must be aware of our finite budget and of the need to fund projects that can provide immediate results and benefits such as pancreatic cancer drugs. I am my party’s health spokesperson, so I am very interested in how we can work together to find cures for diseases and reduce the number of deaths they cause across the whole of the United Kingdom. I look forward the fund being made available for health projects, as well as technological advances.

I support our research and development, I support the Bill and I support this Government and the Minister in the work she does. The Bill gives us a vision of the future—a vision that we must grasp. We have a glimpse of what we can achieve, and the potential can and must be exploited in a reasonable way for everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, always better together.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Before I call the next speaker, I point out that everyone remaining to speak in this debate is from one political party, so if you go wildly over the five-minute mark, you may be pushing one of your colleagues off the list. There is a challenge for Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Ian Liddell-Grainger Portrait Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con) [V]
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For the next hour, I will enthuse you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Seriously though, the Bill has an enormous amount going for it. It is a good Bill with a lot in it that I feel very comfortable with, although there are always things that one can question.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, one of the great sites in the United Kingdom is in my area—the Gravity site, just outside Bridgwater. This 660-acre enterprise zone has incredible potential. It is run by the Salamanca Group, with enormous support from the local community and Sedgemoor District Council. We could do something enormously important there with innovation, research and, I dare say, the very essence of what we want to be in the future. It is easy for a Government to say they will put all the money into universities or into proven areas, but I think of the Prime Minister’s policy of levelling up and making sure that every region and every area gets part of the money, be it for fusion or whatever. Let us use that constructively.

The Gravity site is halfway between Bristol and Exeter. It is enormous and it has everything in place to enable us to do something remarkable. We are close to Bath University, Bristol University and Exeter University. We could facilitate all this work. We are also very lucky in having next to the site one of the great tertiary colleges of the United Kingdom—the best, in my humble opinion. Bridgwater and Taunton College has 25,000 tertiary students. It has trained most of the people in the local area, including those working at Hinkley Point nuclear station and in our huge distribution and massive manufacturing sectors.

We get a lot of, “This is about innovation,” but so much of what we have had to learn in the past year is about how to keep supply chains running during a pandemic or any other crisis. We have learned that, and that is innovation. That is invention. That is what this is all about—learning from mistakes. We have heard a lot about vaccines, but again, we have a site where we could do this. We want to be levelled up. We want to strive to do better. That is why sites like Gravity in the west country lend themselves to the Government’s being able to say, “Yes, we can buy into this.” When there is a shovel-ready site ready to go, it is fairly easy for any Government to say, “Yes, we can do this.” I would welcome the opportunity to prove our case. I know the Secretary of State is fully aware of the Gravity site because we have talked about it and the opportunities. This is something we have to grasp. It has proceeded somewhat in the teeth of the local county council, which has been particularly unhelpful, but we are ready.

I am conscious of time and that colleagues wish to speak, so let me say finally that I believe that the very future of the United Kingdom lies in innovation. Napoleon called us the country of small shopkeepers. He was right: we are brilliant at this sort of small innovation. So much of the tech, the FinTech and all the other things that we now take for granted came from the United Kingdom. It came not just through our great universities, but through our entrepreneurs—in the west country, we have Dyson, who lives just outside Bristol.

Let us use what is great about Britain, which is our ability to think outside the box, laterally, in a way that turns the world on. Rah-rah Britain, and rah-rah Gravity.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) [V]
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Of course I welcome the idea that we should do everything we can to promote greater science and better technology. Our country has a fine history and tradition of scientific breakthroughs and scientific excellence in our universities and our scientific societies. We also have a fine tradition in technology, with entrepreneurs developing new industrial processes and new products and making great breakthroughs that have benefited humanity widely, and of course we should do everything we can to support that. There may well also be a gap that this body can fill between all the methods we have of backing science and technology, and I wish it every success.

In his introductory remarks, the Minister pointed to the recent great success of universities, companies, medics, scientists and Government in coming together—here and elsewhere, but particularly here—on the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Why did that work? Because there was a very clear, defined task. There was great excellence and expertise already in companies and university science, and the Government helped to bring that together, to pump-prime the process and then to provide very large orders, as did other Governments and health services around the world, to make it worthwhile and to defeat the virus.

Now, we hope that do not have too many of those concentrated needs, but that model worked without ARIA, so this body has to define something a bit different from that. I notice that MPs are already discussing the adequacy or inadequacy of its resources, by which they usually mean money. I do not think it is possible to have any idea of what would be a good and realistic budget for it until talented people have been appointed to run it and have set out what it is trying to do. The first thing the Government need to do, therefore, following the success of this legislation—I am sure it will pass quite easily—is to appoint really great people to lead this organisation who just have that feel, that touch and that intelligence to judge risk, to sense opportunity, to see where the niches are and to define the unique breakthroughs and areas where this body can make a serious contribution. As some have said, a scattergun approach is probably not going to work; trying to do too much across too broad a spread would require a lot of good fortune. This body will need some targeting.

ARIA then has to work out how it commercialises whatever it produces. The UK has had a century or more of plenty of breakthroughs and technical innovations, but in quite a lot of cases we did not go on to commercialise and exploit opportunities, and we allowed others around the world to adapt patents or take the underlying principles and develop their own products, making many more jobs and much more commercial success out of these things than we did. The leaders of this body therefore need to ask how they will commercialise the ideas, how big a role that will play, and at what point they will work with commercial companies that could come in and take advantage.

That leads on to the issue of security. I do not think British taxpayers want to spend more money on blue-sky research and interesting technical ideas only to see them taken away, perhaps resulting in many more products for the Chinese to export back to the United Kingdom. What we want is that integrated approach, where the ideas that the Government have helped to pay for through this body, working with universities and perhaps with companies, can go on to be commercialised and add to the stock of wealth and jobs and make a wider contribution to the human position.

I suggest that the Government link the development of this body to the work that they have started to do, and they need to do much more widely, on national resilience. I am an admirer of what President Biden has set out to do in the United States of America on supply chains. He has a very ambitious programme—a 100-day programme for targeted sectors and a one-year programme for all the sectors of the US economy. It is looking at what America can do better, at where America needs to fill in gaps in her knowledge and understanding of patent, designs and specifications, at where America needs to put in new capacity to avoid shortages or more hostile powers interrupting her production processes by withholding import, and at where the Government machine can use intelligent procurement, appropriate grants and interventions to work with the private sector to have a much better supply chain, creating more jobs and providing national resilience.

I hope that the agency will look at what we can do to ensure that we make our weapons and defence requirements, as the new policy suggests that we will do more often. It should look at how we can grow more food and make sure that we have more of our own fish so that we have fewer food miles and more national resilience in the food chain. It should look at a series of industrial areas where we have in the past been very successful to see where we can improve the technology and add to the UK capacity to produce.

My suggestion to Ministers is that the first task is to get really excellent people; the second is to work with them on defining realistic and achievable objectives; and the third is to ensure that the agency is properly resourced—£800 million might be the right amount, but if the agency comes up with really worthwhile things that look as though they will work, we will want to back it with more money. If it was not getting very far, I think a number of MPs who say that they do not mind failure would become rather more critical. This will need quite a lot of ministerial and parliamentary supervision. I wish the agency every success, and I look forward to hearing to more detail about what it is trying to do.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who captured a number of key issues. He finished on the topic of national resilience, and there are so many areas in our economy and society in which we need to be more resilient. The covid crisis is a particular area of interest, but no doubt many other countries in the world and many organisations are looking at that. It may not be the opportunity on which the Advanced Research and Invention Agency might want to focus. Many other people have focused on the idea of disruptive technologies, which might be particularly well fitted to what ARIA is there to do. Those are areas where industry or sectors have perhaps become complacent, with old, established technologies, and it is about making the next-generation leap forward.

The debate has rather lent itself to the idea of the Haldane principle, going back 100 years or so—to the idea of having a research-led approach that is therefore taken away from the direction of politicians. That approach would be natural and healthy and would complement the wider research, innovation and development ecosystem. I was reassured by what my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) said; after he had conversations with a couple of his local catapults, they said that they are not worried that ARIA might step on their toes. It is a natural complement to so much else of what the Government are doing. This championing of science, technology, innovation and invention is immensely important, and it ought to be very reassuring to businesses and other organisations seeking to invest in the United Kingdom, and ideally also companies seeking to reinvest from the UK and into the UK. It sends the message right across the world that we are ambitious—the global Britain idea that we are not looking inward and downward but out to the world.

That is part of the reason for our ambition by 2027 to take our R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP. That is a stepping-stone, not the end point of the ambition. The ambition is to get to 3% in the longer term, looking to emulate other countries around the world who do that, and to be competitive. To be in the position we want to be in and ought to be in, we need to be seeking to reach that next level of 3% R&D spend, and ARIA is a stepping-stone towards that.

Ultimately we want high-tech, innovative progress in the United Kingdom. That is not an end in itself. Universities and other organisations are not an end in themselves; they are great generators of wealth to improve our standards of living, but ultimately what people around the country will be focused on is having good jobs. We want people right around the country to be ambitious: to seek jobs in this sector, and to be studying physics and mathematics and all sorts of other subjects that will come into this territory for research and development, invention and innovation.

It will be interesting to see how in future ARIA works on that invention side of things with UKRI, which is still relatively new, to get those inventions into innovation and into businesses, and to create those works and those jobs of the future. We could go on to mention so many different topics from nuclear fusion to the next generation of batteries to satellites. There are so many sectors that involve artificial intelligence and life sciences, and so many of them are in the UK. We are already in a leading position and we have the opportunity to make that leap forward. We do not know what sectors will be around in 10 or more years’ time, but this is the ambition—this is the timeline, this is the vision for the future that ARIA has.

The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), started off with a war of words about where the headquarters will be, and he suggested it might end up being in London. I am sure it will not; I am sure there is a huge amount of competition around the country, and I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) made a compelling argument for Bolton. I am quite modest in my ambitions and would not demand that the headquarters be located in Bolton West; I will sacrifice my personal ambition for Bolton North East—or even Bolton South East. Where the headquarters ends up is incredibly important as it is part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, but will my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), the science and innovation Minister, confirm that, wherever ARIA is based, it will be a collaborative organisation that will do so much for the United Kingdom?

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green). As mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak), scientific and engineering leaders—such as Stephenson who almost 200 years ago started passenger rail travel on the Darlington to Stockton railway on the Aycliffe levels in my Sedgefield constituency —stimulated changes that we could not imagine. The bicentenary of this event in my constituency is 2025 and we look forward to welcoming visitors to see the celebration. This Bill can be an inspiration for more leaders to grow up among our young people as they see that our country supports the development and motivation of great ideas.

In speaking in support of this Bill, I remind the House that we heard in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the UK ARPA needs to be able to take risks. It therefore must be kept at arm’s length from existing public R&D structures to avoid culture-capture. Many of the UK’s existing research bodies seek to manage out risk, which is contrary to the terms of the UK ARPA, which must be able to tackle high-risk, high-reward projects with pace and energy.

We were also informed that the Science and Technology Committee had been told that creating a British ARPA could be destructive if it were to end up overlapping with the responsibilities of existing structures. It is important that we address these points; I believe this proposal does so but would like the Minister to confirm it. For too long we have not delivered the support that delivers innovation into a commercial space and this can be a lever to help.

I have on many occasions since joining this place referred to the hierarchy of knowledge: there are things we know; things we don’t know; but also things that we don’t know we don’t know. It is this latter space that I have found myself in so many times in the last 15 months. It is also the space that ARIA is to work in. It therefore feels appropriate that its remit is vaguer than some colleagues might like. This clearly makes the determination of its leadership critical, and this process must be credible and given time.

I will further explain my support by using a real-world example from a company that has already raised with me its belief that ARIA can be a force to develop UK innovation. There is a business in my Sedgefield constituency called Kromek. It is an innovation and export-led business in the UK and California that is based at NETPark in Sedgefield, which is the home of similar innovative businesses, including Catapult. Of course, this is in addition to the newly announced economic campus in Darlington that will include an International Trade footprint. The area would therefore be an outstanding site for ARIA to base itself.

Given the space that Kromek operates in and its footprint in the USA, it is very used to working with DARPA. That is interesting, because we understand that the intention is for ARIA to be in the same sort of space. Kromek has worked with a number of innovation agencies. For businesses like Kromek, innovation-led funding that accepts a higher risk can be the key that opens scientific advances quicker. It also provides better opportunities for such companies to develop production and supply chains in the UK, and, in Kromek’s case, in the north-east—helping the levelling-up agenda and frustrating the brain drain.

ARIA can provide transformational change to the innovation landscape by helping to create technology and solutions to address current UK needs. For example, Kromek developed a unique radiation detection solution that is now protecting critical infrastructure in New York. The products developed under this programme have been sold in more than 25 countries around the world so far. Further investment here could mean massive job opportunities. I invite any Minister who is visiting the north-east to join me in visiting this exceptional organisation, to understand the difference that an innovation-led business can make.

Kromek is currently working with DARPA to develop a virus detection system that can detect viruses, including covid-19, in open spaces. With ARIA support, these initiatives could be more UK-oriented and leverage more UK supply chain growth. The company has created a whole biotech part of the business, and because of this funding, this part of the business has already created 20 high-paid jobs and intellectual property in the space; it has real leverage potential.

ARIA, like DARPA, is to be positioned so that it can cut through most of the bureaucracy and act at speed. It is speed and greater risk acceptance that facilitate innovation within the necessary timeframe. For ARIA, we must be cognisant that not all rolls of the dice will be successful, but that the funds we are risking are proportionate and appropriate for the potential they could deliver—not just in hard cash, but also in mindset. Standing behind funds like this gives the investor confidence of intent, and encourages innovation and risk taking.

ARIA can help businesses to develop products and services linked to real-life applications that can meet the needs of the UK. As a result, it can make not only the companies globally more competitive, but the UK more sustainable in its capabilities; and it can drive global Britain as a world leader in innovation. The support of investment in innovation and innovative research, particularly in places such as Sedgefield, has the potential to help build back better and support levelling up. It can also make UK products to support our security forces, and provide the potential for us to be more self-sufficient and an exporter of products, rather than of IP and jobs.

I welcome the creation of this fund and hope that its initiatives are successful. I also hope that the expenditure is viewed in context and does not become the target of pressure from the first failure, but rather that it is given the time and space to deliver.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell).

This is the second time I have been able to speak on this programme, the first being in the Budget debate, and it is safe to say that as a proud Conservative and businessman, I am extremely excited about this initiative. This Government have spent much on supporting this country as it has battled against coronavirus, and that has been hugely appreciated by many in my constituency, but now is the time that we look at ways in which we can raise revenue and transform our economy for the better.

The ability to borrow money comes only through being a responsible debtor and showing your creditors that you are serious about paying the money back. If we are to maintain our position as a fiscally prudent country, we have three choices: spending less, taxing more, or growing our economy, primarily through exports. We must not forget that, as predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility, spending will reduce through the roll-out of the vaccine and the subsequent opening up of the economy. Furthermore, we now know that the books will not be balanced through one-off wealth tax grabs that were predicted; instead, the Chancellor rightly decided to introduce a tiered system of corporation tax while still encouraging investment through super deductions.

Today I want to touch on growth through innovation and exports. This innovative and export-led growth will of course only be possible if the UK has the best products and services to sell. This is possible now, more than ever, as we are no longer constrained by Brussels red tape. By establishing the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, we can finally fund our budding scientists, inventors and visionaries properly. The high-risk, high-value objective of the agency will ensure that the very best talent that the UK has to offer can solve problems, introduce ideas and create technological wonders that would not otherwise be possible. That is not just for show: this new approach will help to create wealth, jobs and prosperous futures for decades to come. After all, similar projects are what led to the creation of the internet and other transformative technologies that we once considered unimaginable. As highlighted, if we are again to become the workshop of the world, research and innovation projects must not be hindered by bureaucracy and slow decision making. Only then can the real risk-takers go ahead so that our innovators can be set free and get on with formulating and envisioning the next great technological changes of the 21st century. With the budget being offered to ARIA, I know they will be able to.

We have seen through this pandemic what talent our country has at its disposal. ARIA will unleash this talent and no doubt help to catapult our great industries on to the world stage, thus bringing our trade deficit and national debt down and supercharging a green industrial revolution right here in the UK. Yet the Advanced Research and Invention Agency can only unleash this talent if its chief executive is forward-thinking and a real visionary, for we are embarking on something truly revolutionary in the world of innovation and technological advancement. In other words, this initiative is far too important to be left in the hands of someone who does not share the stated aim of supercharging scientific discovery. I hope the Department advertises this position widely and is meticulous in appointing the right person who can lead this aspirational agency forward.

As someone who prides themselves on being a constituency-focused MP, I say to the people of Don Valley: “Do not think that what we are discussing here today will not affect you. Quite the contrary; the establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency is as much for you as it is for anyone else in this country, for I know that future innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs from Don Valley will all benefit from this forward-looking, exciting programme.” Finally, if the Government truly want to demonstrate their commitment to levelling up the north, there will be no better way of doing so than by establishing this agency right here in Doncaster.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and his wise words. For decades the UK has been at the cutting edge of innovation and technology, and our fantastic universities in particular have been a powerhouse of science and research. They include the formidable Loughborough University in my constituency, which has a global reputation for its cutting edge theoretical and applied research. It has been responsible for, and party to, many technological advances and scientific discoveries, including a recently announced and incredibly exciting project that is looking into the potential for human brain stem cells to be used to power artificial intelligence devices and bring about a revolution in computing.

One of my aims as an MP is to assist in creating pathways between our universities and businesses to ensure that talent and research are maximised so that projects such as these can be turned from an initial idea into an innovative and marketable product. As such, I am fully supportive of Loughborough University’s science and enterprise park, which provides businesses of all sizes, including start-ups, with an opportunity not only to collaborate with one another but to access the university’s research base and skilled workforce supply. As the Minister and I witnessed last year in a science showcase in Portcullis House, this country has a wealth of ideas and innovations just waiting to be shaped and developed.

That being said, there is still much more we can do to harness and grow our research and development sector, which is why I am very supportive of the UK’s R&D road map. In particular, we need to focus on creating more and stronger pathways between universities, research establishments and transformational businesses, and on removing unnecessary bureaucracy. That is something the USA does very well, and it is the reason that it is incredibly successful in bringing innovative products to market. I therefore welcome the Government’s proposals for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency modelled on the USA’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Crucially, we need to ensure that the agency is run by our brightest and best scientists, and that they have not only the funding and freedom needed to identify and invest in the most important and innovative research but the flexibility to redirect funding quickly when a project has come to the end of its lifespan. To that end, I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister how she will ensure that ARIA is not constrained by the bureaucracy that can currently inhibit R&D funding.

Alongside ensuring appropriate funding, flexibility and freedom, we also need to ensure that we mirror the USA’s culture of tolerance for failure, which is a huge part of research and development and often the key to its success. If we allow the risk of failure to hamper research, we ultimately jeopardise our pursuit of breakthroughs and potentially our ability to happen across another promising technology in the process. Instead, we should provide scope for failure within the agency, and I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend how that can be achieved.

By creating the space to maximise potential in our United Kingdom, we not only give all aspects of the economy the chance to bounce back now but create new routes to market for the future. New ideas and invention are the ways in which disruptor technology and science are created, leading to a new way of living for our future. Many of the great minds we have in this country have the potential to create great change; they just need the opportunity to come their way. ARIA is the opportunity. Let us not stifle innovation. Let us find the next internet, the next GPS and the next hydrogen technology. Now that we have left the EU, we are in a great position to reimagine how we support our researchers and harness our research base to cement ourselves as a global science superpower. The Bill will go a long way to achieve this, and I will be supporting it today.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt). On Anglesey, we have a huge focus on research and innovation, which fits perfectly with the remit of ARIA. Our island hosts the Menai science park —M-SParc—which is Bangor University’s hub for creative and STEM innovation. The park supports companies and businesses in the low-carbon, energy and environment, ICT and natural product sectors, and links into the green energy agenda that Anglesey embraces through its Energy Island initiative. Professor Iwan Davies, the vice-chancellor of Bangor University, said to me recently:

“At Bangor University we treat innovation and entrepreneurship as an ecosystem with impact. An important pathway to impact is supporting funding for research and I welcome ARIA funding which can support the role that universities can play in promoting innovation, which is so often non-linear in its development.”

M-SParc has already seen the benefits of Innovate UK funding, with more than £1 million invested in 2020 in businesses such as Haia and BIC Innovation. Menter Môn—another resident at M-SParc—has spearheaded the work on the Holyhead Hydrogen Hub, which was awarded £4.8m funding in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget earlier this month. Bangor University, M-SParc and Menter Môn are all part of my Anglesey freeport bidding consortium, and we are working together on a proposal to bring freeport status to Anglesey, with an emphasis on local innovation.

Through UK Government funding, businesses and opportunities like these are able to grow and generate much-needed local employment. Young people across the island tell me that they want to be able to afford their own home, bring up their families in their community, and keep the Welsh language and culture alive, and to do this they need a good quality job on Anglesey.

This July I will be hosting an innovation jobs fair at M-SParc which I am proud to say will be opened by my hon. Friend the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. Not only will this fair highlight the good quality well-paid jobs that are being made available as a result of UK funding, but it will raise awareness among local young people of the opportunities afforded to them through scientific endeavour.

By filling a gap in the UK’s current R&D funding system and focusing on funding paradigm-shifting science, ARIA will provide a new source of finance that can be used by operations such as M-SParc to support transformational science projects that create real long-term benefit locally, nationally and globally.

The Managing Director of M-SParc, Pryderi ap Rhisiart said:

“R&D Funding is crucial for our network of innovative companies on the Menai Science Park. Despite the pandemic I have been especially pleased to see so many tenant companies securing R&D Funding, working with our Universities and growing in the region.”

By stimulating and supporting cutting-edge research and development, the ARIA fund also offers an opportunity for both Bangor University and Coleg Menai to attract exciting new talent to the region, creating further seams of innovation and enterprise.

As a scientist myself, I am excited that ARIA will empower the science community to identify and fund creative and groundbreaking research that can ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global innovation. The fund will allow the UK to be more responsive and flexible so that projects can be supported to give maximum impact.

I welcome the introduction of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill and this new funding agency and I look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend the Minister to Anglesey to open the island’s first innovation jobs fair.

Rob Roberts Portrait Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Con)
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It is a delight to follow my colleague from the beautiful island of Ynys Môn on this crucial and exciting Bill—well, exciting on the Conservative Benches anyway, as I look at the rows of empty seats on the other side of the House.

The UK has always been a world leader in scientific research and innovation. Creations such as the steam engine, antibiotics and even the internet hail from our wonderful shores. Considering that all those discoveries have been instrumental in shaping the world that we know today, I welcome the Bill, which will work to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower. The Advanced Research and Invention Agency created by this Bill will allow us to continue to build back better through innovation and will be vital in the UK’s economic and social recovery.

North Wales is no stranger to technological advancements, and I am proud that Airbus has a strong base in our region, with a 50-year plus track record of innovation and technological firsts, meaning that it is a pioneer in the aerospace world. It is fantastic that one of the central elements of the agency is its ability to deliver funding quickly to researchers across the UK; the £800 million committed to ARIA over the next four years has the potential to greatly benefit many different sectors, including aerospace.

As Airbus is so vital to Delyn’s economy, I share a sense of regret a little that the Budget did not mention funding for the aerospace sector through the Aerospace Technology Institute. Airbus has experienced a 69% decrease in net orders compared to 2019, and the additional funding that the Bill provides is needed now more than ever to ensure that research and technological advancements can continue long into the future. I am keen to see how ARIA works with and complements the ATI to further fund world-class research and development in this important sector.

I am likewise ecstatic to see that a key element of the agency includes a tolerance for failure. Failure is an important part of any individual or business life and is fundamental to success. As Thomas Edison said many years ago,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Without his efforts and many failed attempts, we would not have the technology on which we rely so much today. Failure is particularly central to finding technological breakthroughs that have the potential to create the industries and jobs for the future, and it is fantastic to see that that is recognised in the Bill. I have long said that we need to have a greater focus in the UK education system on skills, because many of the jobs that our children will be going into have not even been thought of yet, and it will be skills and the adaptability of our education and training that will add to and enhance ARIA in future.

I have said many times on these Benches that one of the main reasons that I joined the Conservative party in the first place was empowerment. One of my fundamental beliefs is that capital belongs in the hands of the people, not the state—that innovation is found in the imagination and inventiveness of the community, away from the bureaucracy and painfully slow machinations of government. Therefore, nothing filled me with more delight than read about the agency under the section headed “Organisational Form” the words “small number of programme managers with significant autonomy”, followed by the section headed “Relationship to Government” which included the magic words “very free from Government direction”. It was music not only to my ears, but, I am sure, to those of the scientific community at large.

Throughout history, giants of seemingly disparate fields of literature, science and sport have all agreed with the same principles. Two of my favourite quotes from Einstein are that we “cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used” to get them, and:

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

He also said:

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

It is curiosity and passion for discovery that will chart the course for the future of science in this country.

I mentioned earlier that failure is nothing to be feared and is, in fact, absolutely desirable. One of the most celebrated sportsmen of his generation, Michael Jordan—arguably the greatest basketball player ever to grace the court—said:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again…And that is why I succeed.”

Another celebrated sportsman, ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky, said that the only thing that is ever guaranteed is that

“you will definitely not achieve the goal if you don’t take the shot.”

In conclusion, the Bill ensures that this Conservative Government maintain their commitment to increasing public research and development funding and ensure that this country remains a world leader in scientific research and innovation. By pursuing a highly ambitious agenda, ARIA will provide transformational science and technology, and I look forward to seeing the economic and societal benefits that it will bring to the UK. Earlier, I mentioned literature, so I will end on a quote from one of the giants, Mark Twain. His words embody exactly what I think this Bill seeks to achieve:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), who has added to our lexicon of quotes most eloquently today. Today is the national day of reflection, and I join my thoughts to those of the Prime Minister when he said:

“The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and”—

we offer our

“sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones.”

I remember my own father, John Griffith, who passed away from covid on 2 April last year.

Sometimes—not often, but sometimes—an idea comes along that makes so much sense that we just want to get on with it and see it succeed. Today’s Bill is one such proposal. It is bold, additive and disruptive, very much like, if I may say so, my wonderful colleagues on these Benches from the 2019 intake—and I will support each and every one of their bids for the location of ARIA. It comes against the context of this Government’s already world-leading approach to research and development: increasing spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and £22 billion by 2024, publishing the R&D road map, setting out a vision for global talent and making the UK the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs. Only this week, the Government consulted on cutting red tape to free up our brightest minds so that they can continue to make cutting-edge discoveries while cementing the UK’s status as a science world superpower.

If we have learned anything at all from the past 12 months it is that we need more disruption, not less. Look at the success of the Vaccine Taskforce, ably led by Kate Bingham. Last summer, she put her role as a life sciences venture capitalist on hold, and used her industry and investment experience to direct the UK’s vaccine purchasing strategy—an outsider in conventional research council terms; someone empowered to take swift decisions, comfortable with owning those decisions, while politicians had her back, and were not peering over her shoulder.

A year into the pandemic, despite limited buying power, we have secured deals for more than 400 million doses of covid-19 vaccine, and we lead all the global rankings for roll-out speed for a country of our size. It is a magnificent, unadulterated success, but it pains me greatly that, rather than being a united national effort, that had to be achieved in the teeth of opposition, with members of the party led by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) still calling for us to be part of an EU-wide vaccines programme.

Disruption works, and we need more of it. No one is saying that ARIA will live in a bat cave—perhaps it should—or occupy a perfect vacuum, but limited exemptions from freedom of information and public procurement rules make perfect sense. I do not envy the Opposition their job today—clearly neither do they—and I question whether the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was a Cummings-ite. Not only should he accept that as a compliment, but he should know that we generally welcome the Opposition’s constructive tone on the Bill. Perhaps in the winding-up speeches we will learn whether the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) describes herself as a Dom disciple.

The Opposition take issue with the disapplication of freedom of information measures to the new invention agency. I not only point to public bodies that benefit from similar exclusions, including the BBC and Channel 4, but I am very much with the former boss of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North—the former Member for Sedgefield, who wrote in his autobiography:

“Freedom of Information…Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head ’til it drops off. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate.”

I conclude where I began. This is a rare and excellent piece of policy that I hope everyone in the House can get behind. It has been welcomed by the chief scientific adviser, the head of UKRI and the head of the Royal Academy of Engineering. It piles up money invested in research and development to ever greater heights, and by introducing a pinprick of disruptive process and innovation into Government funding, perhaps its biggest long-term impact will not be the money spent by ARIA but the leverage of that disruption, making even more productive the billions of money that is spent elsewhere.

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela Richardson (Guildford) (Con) [V]
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I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) and participate in the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. In what at times has been a gloomy and difficult year since we locked down last March, it is wonderful to debate a Bill that is truly blue sky in its thinking and forward looking, and which delivers on our manifesto commitment to create a high-risk, high-reward funding agency that will drive UK innovation as we build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a pleasure to discuss the Bill with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), before Second Reading. I am happy to tell the House, as I did her, that science, research an innovation are certainly not my “Mastermind” subject—as it clearly is for many hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken today. I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to their expertise and important contributions, especially those who outlined our wonderful history as a world leader in innovation in the past. Instead, I have an enormous interest, derived as a constituency MP, in the success of this Bill, and I congratulate all involved on securing £800 million of funding from the Treasury. Guildford is home to the brilliant University of Surrey and Surrey research park, and exciting sectors such as space and satellite. Guildford is not only a UK leader, but a global hub in gaming and technology derived from the gaming sector, such as virtual reality.

Although we do not know what ARIA will eventually focus on, my understanding of the intention behind the Bill is that it is to transform our lives and make the world a better place. I hope that climate change can be tackled as a result of investment in either UKRI or ARIA. I am on record with my desire, expressed at a climate hustings I attended during the general election campaign in 2019, to see brilliant inventions help to tackle climate change. Climate change is a concern I share with my constituents, and I will support any measure to truly improve the future outlook for generations, not only in the UK, but the entire world, which we live in and share.

This is not just about climate change; the research undertaken has the potential ability to transform our way of life through technology, improve economic growth and prosperity, and even to improve the quality of the lives we live, particularly through healthcare solutions. I have been able to witness the wonder of robotic surgery at the Royal Surrey County Hospital; it is truly mind-blowing, and it is technology we have at our fingertips today.

To say that I am excited about this Bill is an understatement. I might have even mentioned to the Minister that Guildford would be an excellent home for ARIA, as we have an innate understanding of the value of research and development, coupled with a cultural appreciation of the long-term benefits that high-risk, high-return investing will bring. Clearly there is some friendly competition for the home of ARIA, having listened to the pitches from many of my hon. Friends today. It is absolutely right that ARIA must sit outside electoral cycles and the day-to-day ministerial functions in order to truly deliver on the Bill’s intention. It fundamentally must be judged by what it learns through failure, rather than what it produces in measurable output, although it is also right that there should be an annual report directly to Parliament—I welcome the inclusion of that in the Bill.

To conclude on a slightly tangential note, ARIA is an inspired acronym. In music, an aria is a self-contained melodious piece for one voice, not the whole orchestra, and so this encapsulates the vision around this important Bill. With its adoption, we can get UK science, research and development truly humming.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) and to speak in this debate, because this Bill demonstrates our national ambition. The creation of an Advanced Research and Invention Agency is a clear statement of intent on science and technology, research and development, and innovation and entrepreneurialism. It means that when we say we want to be a superpower in all those things, we mean it and the world knows it. It also means that we have a tangible impact in those areas. All this matters because research, development, science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurialism are directly linked to our prosperity and to the job creation that all our constituents rely on. This is what will determine the kind of economy we have for decades to come, not just here in the UK, but around the world. Will it be an economy based on UK designs and UK ideas, fed by our universities and research centres, businesses and entrepreneurs, or will be a global economy based on the ideas of others? We all know in this House what we would rather it be, and ARIA is the way we can deliver that.

However, there is a question about what we model ARIA on. Is it an accelerator? Is it a funder? Is it a venture capitalist? Or is it a moonshot organisation, one that tackles the tough questions that we might not even have asked yet and that tolerates failure? On that, I recommend that we look really closely at DARPA. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who referenced a number of organisations around the world—not just DARPA in the US, but others in Japan, Germany and other such places—but DARPA has been truly transformational. In 1960, it launched the Transit satellite, the first space-based navigation satellite. Twenty-three years later, in 1983, the US Marine Corps went to DARPA and said that it was fantastic that it had that navigation, but it needed it to be smaller—smaller than we had ever contemplated before—and DARPA did it. That invention led to GPS receivers in our smartphones, smartwatches and cars. It is what allows farmers to irrigate their fields remotely and logistics companies to get products from China to the UK, monitoring from one centre.

In 1969, when DARPA was known as ARPA, it launched the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, ARPANET, a pioneering network for data to be shared between computers in two different locations. Ten years later, in 1979, it launched the internet protocol—IP—which packaged data up and sent it. DARPA then introduced the computer mouse as a way of allowing us to interface with computers, something now so commonplace that we do not give it a second thought. Much more recently, in 2002, DARPA launched its Personal Assistant that Learns programme to create a cognitive computer system. Today we know that as Siri, and it is on iPhones across the world.

I mention all that because it shows that these things have the potential to shape the modern world, and our ambition and optimism for ARIA should be equal to that. We should aim to shape the world—not just the world we know now, but the world decades into the future—to create the things that we have not even thought about but that will be the backbone of our economy and economies around the world.

However, I want to make a recommendation to the Government. The thing that set DARPA apart and led to its success was having a client—a customer who could ask the questions and show the problems that DARPA then went on to fix, and who could flag the programmes that it needed. We have lots of Departments and organisations that could be that client. It could be the NHS and healthcare. Do we want to be a leader in healthcare, asking the difficult questions and looking for solutions for treating an ageing population and dealing with remote healthcare? Could it be the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, looking at how we get battery technology into homes, how we do carbon capture, and all those things? Is it Defence, as it is in the US, with its unique ability to look across the whole of society, from logistics and communications to civil contingency and health? Or is it all of the above? If it is all of the above, then we should match our optimism and ambition with funding.

ARIA demonstrates our ambition to the world. It could, if successful, genuinely shape our economy and the economy of the whole world, but it needs to be given a direction so that it can ask questions, channel research and deliver prosperity for the nation, and it needs to be free from the shackles that normally govern Whitehall, tolerating failure, and allowed to innovate free from political interference.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) (Con) [V]
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It is a clichéd truism that research and development is the growth of tomorrow. It is an expression of confidence in the future prosperity of our country. Recent modelling by Cambridge Econometrics suggests that increasing R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 would boost annual growth by between 1.2% and 1.4%, and increase our productivity by 1%, with further increases thereafter. It is obviously the right course of action for the Government to continue to grow investment in R&D from the historic lows of the last Labour Government.

The lion’s share of Government investment is rightly channelled through UKRI, with its objective of growing a large and vibrant research and innovation culture throughout the UK. UKRI is deeply engaged with both the academic community and the business community, and it will continue to do the heavy lifting in this sector. ARIA will provide something additional to the mix.

Looking around the world for examples of effective applications of R&D investment, I am glad that the Government have learned from the experience of others. DARPA has been instrumental in assisting the crossover of research into commercial opportunities, despite having an overt focus on defence technologies. Given its global impact and consequent reputation, it is surprising to learn that it is a small organisation. I looked it up and found that it has around 220 employees, yet it supports some 250 research projects and has a track record to be proud of, as referred to by many speakers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham). DARPA has been operating since 1958, so it is fair to say that the Government have allowed the start-up wrinkles to be ironed out before emulating its success.

Much as the £800 million allocated in this Parliament will be welcomed by the research community, the greatest contribution of ARIA will be the expression of intent that it articulates. We are living in a new world in which the cosy certainties of previous years are no longer there. That democratic western societies have technological and economic superiority is no longer a given. Membership of the protectionist European trading bloc has been left behind. Our leaving the European Union has provoked a new spirit of national endeavour. Depending on one’s politics, this is either in response to opportunity or out of necessity—it does not really matter. What is important is that we recognise the change in attitudes and do all we can to promote it.

The creation of ARIA reflects this new dynamism: let us learn from the lessons of covid, breakdown bureaucratic barriers and be prepared to take risks and accept failures as part of the price of ambition. Global Britain must be not just a marketing slogan but a reflection of countless investment decisions in boardrooms right throughout the country. ARIA is part of a wider message to business and society as a whole that post-Brexit Britain is dynamic, taking control of its future rather than just hoping for something that is not too bad. It is saying no to the status quo and its cosy relative decline; it is saying yes to the new, to the unproven, to the possible, to the opportunities of low-carbon growth and to scientific endeavour. It is as much a response to the lessons taught to us by the Chinese Government as it is a lesson learned from the United States of America. I suspect it will just be the start.

DARPA has in the US military a guaranteed customer, helping with the development of commercial products from its technological advances. Close attention will need to be given to this process of commercial exploitation. Is there a role for Government to create markets and prime industries? The deindustrialisation of globalisation has delivered us cheaper products in the short term, but there is a difference between offshoring production, and with it the hubs of capacity and expertise, and growing a resilient domestic manufacturing base. To ignore that is to pretend that the geopolitics of the world have not changed in the past 10 years. We need to respond to that, and the response involves the shortening of supply chains. I therefore welcome the focus on UK exploitation as well as UK exploration.

As for the criticism of the Opposition parties, they have a choice: they can snipe from the sidelines, waiting to pounce on the mistakes of those brave enough to try new things, or they can support our dynamism, recognising that risk and opportunity are the two sides of the same coin. The Government have made the right choice in this Bill and they should be supported.

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)
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If you do not mind, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a slight confession: I am suffering from a rather extreme out-of-body experience. I have spent the past three and a half hours listening to Members from all parties—from not just the Conservatives but Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the DUP—praising the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. I am having an out-of-body experience not because the House is the most united it has been since I arrived in this place, but because it is so united behind an idea promoted by Dominic Cummings. That shows what an indisputably good idea it must be.

It is absolutely right that the Government do everything they can to promote innovation, which has been the single engine for human progress over the past few centuries. Innovation is the single main reason why our health and wealth are immeasurably better than they were in generations past. Cambridge, my city, is the capital of innovation in the UK and, indeed, in Europe—perhaps in the world. It has had many successes, which have been referred to by a lot of colleagues—it is the global headquarters of AstraZeneca and it has had more Nobel prize winners than almost any country in the world.

One strange feature of innovation is that people often cannot tell where it will lead to when they are doing it. To give one topical example, when the Cambridge researcher Francis Crick was decoding DNA, he had no idea that more than half a century later, it would lead to the Wellcome Sanger Institute in my constituency doing more decoding and genome sequencing of the coronavirus than the rest of the world put together, helping us to track and tackle this pandemic.

The Government do a huge amount to promote innovation already, and we have heard a lot about it this afternoon, so why do we need another agency? Why do we need ARIA? ARIA will help tackle one of the main obstacles of innovation in the public sector, which is that in the public sector, as compared with the private sector, the costs of failure are higher and the rewards for success are lower. What do I mean by that? In the public sector, if somebody fails, they get pilloried in the press and they get the Opposition after them. Ministers have to resign and civil servants lose their job. That does not happen in the private sector. In the public sector, if someone does something that succeeds massively, they do not get bonuses. They are not rewarded by an increase in profits and share prices. The incentives are less.

What we need to do with ARIA is reduce the costs of failure, and that is why it is so important to have a separate, stand-alone organisation that is not part of UKRI—one that has a culture of taking risks and knows that sometimes it is worth having failure. Indeed, if there are not occasional failures, it is not really succeeding in its objective of disrupting and taking risks.

It is important—I urge the Minister to do this—that we help ARIA get more of the rewards for success. Several of my hon. Friends touched on this point earlier. ARIA is able to commercialise and go into business, but let it keep some of the rewards from success, if those projects succeed. That would be a huge incentive for it to try to make sure that those things work.

I have four general points about ARIA. The first is that it must be additional to other forms of research and development. If it is just funding projects that get funded by UKRI already, it is not really doing what it should be. Secondly, it is very important that it can experiment to try out different forms of funding. It has to be able to do a whole range of different types of funding for different projects as it sees fit, and it should be flexible in doing that. For example, we can have a company or academics doing some sort of research that we think is disruptive and amazingly good, but it does not fit into any of the general pots we already have. ARIA needs to be able to give grants to projects that it thinks are worthwhile. It has to have flexibility, and that means not going through the public procurement rules as they exist at the moment.

When I worked in City Hall in London, I was responsible for the London Development Agency, and I did a whole range of projects with public procurement. All I can say is that the only people who think that public procurement rules do not strangle innovation are people who do not have direct experience of them. It is absolutely right that ARIA is exempted from the worst parts of those rules.

Thirdly, picking up on value for money, which some Opposition Members mentioned, it is absolutely right that the Treasury and the Government ensure value for money from public investments across the piece. The Treasury Green Book does that, but it is also right that the Government have a portfolio approach, like a private investor. They might have some lower risk investments in Treasury bonds and then some higher risk investments in venture capital, and they are not all judged by the same rules. We absolutely should not judge ARIA by the same blanket value-for-money rules as we would if we were building a bridge. That would strangle ARIA.

Fourthly, it is absolutely right, as a couple of Members have touched on, that ARIA has multi-annual budgets inasmuch as the Government and the Treasury can allow. Funding disruptive research often takes many years, and simply giving a drip-drip of funding one year at a time will mean a lot of disruptive technologies cannot take flight.

When I was chair of the Government’s Regulatory Policy Committee, I remember civil servants at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy saying to me sagely, “Governments have always set up organisations as independent, and then the politicians realise all the problems of independence and then chip away at the independence over coming years, and the organisations gradually get brought down to heel.” It is very important that does not happen to ARIA, otherwise it will lose the reason for its existence. We have heard Opposition Members in particular talk about the need for FOI requests, for procurement rules, for mission statements and value for money assessments. I ask the Minister and the Government not to listen to those siren calls, which will clip ARIA’s wings at birth, and it will then never take flight.

Finally, I just want to settle one little discussion or dispute that we have had this afternoon. Many of my hon. Friends have been making bids for the location of ARIA; we have heard about Bristol, Bolton, Sedgefield, Doncaster and Guildford. I can sort this for the Government. Put the innovation agency where the innovators are: Cambridge—done.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con) [V]
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I enthusiastically welcome the Bill, which not only fulfils a manifesto pledge made in 2019 but is the first step in demonstrating that the United Kingdom is an innovative superpower in the post-covid world. A high-risk, high-payoff research organisation has the potential to provide groundbreaking innovations with military and civilian applications.

Examining and utilising the United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency model in creating ARIA will be critical. I am encouraged that the explanatory notes to the Bill emphasise a desire to do exactly that, but in examining DARPA and why it has been such a success, one must look beyond its organisational structure. The flat management structure, sense of mission, minimal bureaucracy and streamlined process of project approval are all vital to DARPA’s success, but a number of other vital factors must be considered. DARPA’s success has also stemmed from the culture it has fostered and the connections it maintains with industries and academia. Project managers are recruited on a temporary basis from a permanent position in the academic or industrial research community and given tremendous autonomy in their duties.

DARPA has spent more than 50 years nurturing links with academia and industry, and attempting to replicate them hastily in the UK may threaten ARIA’s success. I appreciate that Her Majesty’s Government wish to have ARIA fully operational by 2022. Erica Fuchs’s article “Cloning DARPA Successfully” notes the risk of haste, and I strongly recommend that any of my colleagues who are interested in ARIA read all the arguments that Fuchs makes.

Those sceptical of the importance of DARPA’s model should just examine its successes. The internet, GPS, video-conferencing and the F-117 fighter-bomber—the first aircraft to be designed around stealth technology—are all projects based on funding by DARPA. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy both have a similar model, focusing on high-risk, high-reward in their relevant areas.

Her Majesty’s Government look to provide ARIA with initial funding of £800 million until the end of this Parliament. But if we truly wish to make ARIA a resounding success, increasing funding, so that more innovative projects can be pursued, will be critical. DARPA had an annual budget of $3.427 billion, allowing for groundbreaking innovations to be achieved. I notice that a number of Opposition Members accuse ARIA of being a waste of money. Projects may well fail, and funding may be turned off, but that should be expected. We cannot expect to make significant gains without there being high risks. I also note that some have raised concerns regarding ARIA’s exemption from freedom of information requests. By doing so, we will reduce the administrative requirements on ARIA, ensuring that it is as flexible and agile as possible. Without normalising the idea of failure, ARIA will not be able to drive forward change in how we conduct research and innovation.

In tandem with establishing ARIA, Her Majesty’s Government have championed research and development, committing to spend 2.4% of our GDP on R&D by 2027 to ensure that we remain a leader in science and innovation. The Bill is vital in establishing the United Kingdom as a nucleus of innovation, but if ARIA is to triumph, we must learn from why DARPA is such a success and how we can adopt its practices.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con) [V]
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This country is steeped in science and invention, so it is fitting that the Bill paves the way to create an agency that will lead to who knows what UK discoveries and innovation.

Members might not think that my constituency would be home to some of the most famous British inventions we have ever heard of, but they would be wrong. Christopher Cockerell, who was at Gresham’s School in my constituency, began with a prototype using a vacuum cleaner, a cat food tin and a coffee jar. He tested his invention on Oulton Broad in the 1950s, before it became the hovercraft, which saw its first commercial crossing of the channel in 1959. Perhaps one of the most famous inventors this country has ever produced grew up in North Norfolk and retains a close affinity with my constituency. He invented the ballbarrow, before inventing the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner. We all know him today as one of our greatest living inventors, Sir James Dyson.

What those two people have in common, apart from their connections to North Norfolk, is that they failed a great number of times until they created the inventions we know today. That is exactly what is so special about the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—that it will cut the red tape and bureaucracy and enable creativity and talent to take the risks that failure so often curtails before people are ever allowed the chance to succeed. With £800 million behind it, and the freedom to explore, ARIA is the launchpad that could so effectively uncover the next leading and pioneering inventor.

We are a scientific superpower. If anyone has any doubt about that, or about what we are capable of, they need only look at what we have achieved in this great nation in the last year, with the University of Oxford developing the coronavirus jab. That encapsulates why we should invest in science and pour money into such transformative research, which I have no doubt will be necessary again in our lifetimes. Free from the political union with Europe, the Government made the right choice. We sought our own vaccination strategy, and we backed our scientists with millions of pounds to develop the vaccine as quickly as possible. Long-term research investment also helped, and that is exactly what this new fund will provide. Oxford scientists had already been researching a vaccine that could be used against a disease such as covid-19. That research investment, which stretched back years, and the willingness to invest have added to the situation we find ourselves in today.

Sometimes in life, we have to take a little risk if we want to deliver rewards worth fighting for. Those who want to dismiss the Bill should think a little harder. They worry about the immaterial detail rather than the overriding thrust of the Bill, but they have to look back and they have to think, what could be? We should remember what one of the greatest entrepreneurs and inventors of the last 20 years said—a lot of my colleagues have spoken about disrupters, and this person was certainly just that:

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

That was Steve Jobs. This Bill is essential to support the efforts of UK people like that and to develop the entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers of the future. I warmly support the Secretary of State in all his efforts.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con) [V]
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I am privileged to have lots of world-class science in my constituency, not least at Harwell campus, which used to be hidden from Ordnance Survey maps when it was doing what it was with atomic energy, but is now very much on the map of the world’s leading scientific research and development centres in the world. I warmly support what Government do in this area, not least the £800 million that it will put into ARIA, which fulfils another manifesto commitment and takes us further along the route to 2.4% of GDP going on research and development.

When I was reading through the various briefings on the Bill, most of what I wanted to say came under three As. The first A is ambition. I hugely welcome the Government’s ambition to invest more in R and D; their ambition to get better at commercialising the world-class research that we develop; and their ambition to have our version—not the same—of DARPA, which has been so vital to the US and the world with its contribution to things from GPS to the internet.

The second A is autonomy. It is hugely important that we are to give autonomy to programme managers, and not to have Ministers direct them as to what they should research and what they should fund. Let us hire great people and let them do what has made them great. Let them get on with the things that they are successful in, and not ask them to conform to a particular type of what we are used to dealing with.

The third A is acceptance: acceptance of the need to do things differently; acceptance of a greater risk; and acceptance of failure. There is not enough of that in Government. That naturally leads us on to the various exemptions that ARIA will have, which I fully support. It is right that it is exempt from the traditional bureaucracy that comes with Government funding. It is right that we exempt it from public procurement regulations. It is right that we exempt it from FOI. I know that FOI has probably had more attention than other things. We can make a case that FOI has all sorts of benefits, but one benefit that we cannot claim that it has is encouraging people to take risk, because, on the contrary, what it does is encourage people to be risk averse. They may worry that people will go through with a hindsight ruler and decide that they should not have done the things that they did.

I smile to myself when people, whom I hugely respect, start by saying that they support the Government in wanting to do things differently with ARIA, but then come up with a list that is about doing things in the same way that we have always done—how we fund, what rules it is subject to, and putting it under the umbrella of UKRI. The more that we do that, the further we will get away from the purpose of this. Ambition, autonomy and acceptance of greater risk are exactly what the Government should be doing more of. It will help us both retain our own talent and continue to attract more talent from around the world. While we do not yet know what ARIA will create, I am very confident that we will look back and feel very pleased that we created it.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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It is a great privilege to speak in this important debate and to be part of an ever decreasing group of diehards from the new intake.

In November 2020, the spending review set out the Government’s plan to invest £14.6 billion in R and D in 2021-22 at 2.4% of GDP. That got me thinking and it got the juices flowing. One thing that struck me most about this Government is their appetite for the future: they plan, they set targets and they invest. They have ambition. They support opportunity. We can name it and it is there: electrification, infrastructure, and emissions. We were the first western nation in the world to specify a carbon neutral target. It is not about plans for the next five years, but about the next generation and over-the-horizon planning, which is really important.

The Bill has everything. It is about performing or commissioning others to conduct scientific research, developing and exploiting, and autonomy. It provides financial freedom for those willing to take the risk. It allows early decisions to be taken, it contributes to economic growth, it promotes innovation and it improves quality of life in the UK because this is about the future, and the future is really important. It also gives the freedom to fail, which for any innovator is really significant. Backed by £800 million of Government investment, the Bill complements the work that UK Research and Innovation and the R and D road map already set in concrete. It is really exciting and I commend it strongly to the House.

The Government have made no secret of their wish for the UK to become the innovation powerhouse of the world. The Bill is about maintaining and enhancing our competitive advantage. It is about synergy between public and private research. We can foster a better collaborative environment, with commercial and state investment coming together. ARIA’s funding will be absolutely pivotal, and I welcome it.

Before I sum up, I want to say that outside London, the Thames valley really is the economic powerhouse of the south-east, and Bracknell, my constituency, is the silicon valley of the Thames valley. With neighbouring Slough having the highest concentration outside London of UK headquarters of global companies, and the offices of 150 international companies in Bracknell, the Thames valley is absolutely ready to welcome employers and innovators to our area. Look at what we already have, though: the UK head office of Boehringer Ingelheim, Daler-Rowney, Honda, 3M, Dell, Waitrose, Fujitsu, Panasonic—the list goes on. It is a fantastic place to do business and I urge any CEO or director watching the debate to bring their business to Bracknell. It is a great place to be.

We often forget just how important innovation is to the UK and across the world. Fittingly, given current circumstances, we should recall Edward Jenner, who created the world’s first vaccine back in 1796. In 1930, Sir Frank Whittle patented the jet engine. More recently, in 1990, in the most important step forward in global communications, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the worldwide web. What is yet to come? What else is out there? What do we not yet know? The Bill certainly paves the way. To summarise in three simple words: bring it on.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland). We have heard about Bracknell; I will tell the House about the wonders of Warrington.

We in the UK have a proud history of scientific excellence and innovation. From the early theorists, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, to the major scientific discoveries of hydrogen by Henry Cavendish and penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and of course Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine, we have made huge contributions to science both past and present, so I warmly welcome the plans that the Secretary of State set out today to support and encourage our next generation of pioneering inventors and innovators, backed by this new independent research funder.

By funding high-risk, high-reward scientific research, ARIA will give visionary scientists the support and freedom to identify and fund transformational science and technology at speed. Our brilliant scientists have led the way in the development of the coronavirus vaccine and our high-risk strategy has shown the world what can be achieved when academia and private and public investment are brought together. ARIA will allow the UK to make good on its Government’s ambitions as a global scientific superpower and allow us to contribute to Build Back Better through innovation. The agency will be able to operate flexibly and quickly, better supporting the UK’s most pioneering researchers and, importantly, avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy. By stripping back the red tape and putting power in the hands of innovators, ARIA will drive forward the technologies of tomorrow. While there is definitely space in the UK’s research landscape for a new funding agency that supports that sort of risk and investment, it should be designed in a way that complements the wider system of funding streams that already exist. Will the Minister set out clearly how the new agency will complement the existing bodies?

I want to see funding distributed across our prime science capabilities in the north of England. The Daresbury laboratory sits on my constituency doorstep, so towns such as Warrington, perfectly located midway between the two great northern cities of Liverpool and Manchester, could really benefit from such investment, allowing the high-tech sectors that develop there to be rocket-powered. I am sure that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) will not mind my plugging the opportunities further to bolster the Daresbury campus, which is recognised as the north’s centre of excellence for innovation in high-tech business from start-ups to multinationals across all kinds of sectors and research disciplines, including the growth challenge areas of healthcare, energy, environment and security.

As the Minister will know, the Cockcroft Institute and its particle accelerator research already has a home at Daresbury, and I know there are spaces there for a few more new ideas. Warrington is also well known as the research centre for the nuclear sector, and building on that campus at Daresbury and encouraging collaboration between the brightest minds and those that are already in the north-west means we have an opportunity to level up through the programme. Life sciences make up an integral part of the north’s economic ecosystem, generating £7.5 billion annually for UK, but the north has historically been underfunded for research and ARIA offers a great opportunity to narrow that divide.

A report published just last week shows that in the past 10 years, 72% of additional jobs created in the 10 most R&D intensive industries were located in the regions covering London, Oxford and Cambridge, despite those regions containing only 20% of the population. In 2018, London and the south-east received almost 50% of Government and UKRI’s total R&D spending. The Nesta report estimates that the regions outside London and the south-east have missed out on Government R&D funding of about £4 billion each year, which could have leveraged a further £8 billion from the private sector.

For ARIA to achieve its transformational change, it must work closely with industry partners. The north-west of England receives private investment in R&D at three times the rate of public investment. Industry recognises the opportunity available in my region, and ARIA is an opportunity to add extra drive and open up more opportunities in constituencies such as Warrington, where jobs and livelihoods are already supported and sustained by the thriving Cheshire life science corridor. We are already seeing northern universities collaborate through the Northern Health Science Alliance, N8 and the introduction of Northern Gritstone. We just need to give them the financial backing and the freedom to make this happen. I very much welcome the plans set out today and look forward to supporting the Bill later.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), and a particular pleasure to do so in person. He and I have been hanging around the same Zoom waiting rooms for much of the winter, and it is nice to be back in the Chamber.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) said at the beginning of his speech, today is the national day of reflection as we look back over the past year and remember our collective loss and, for many people, including my hon. Friend, our personal losses, but also look forward to a brighter future. That brighter future is because of science. In the past year, it has been a privilege to serve on the Select Committee on Science and Technology, together with the Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who spoke earlier, and other Members who have spoken in the debate—my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) and for Arundel and South Downs, and the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan). I praise the Clerks of the Committee for all the work they have done. We have had a number of sessions on covid at very short notice and have also considered ARIA—or ARPA as we knew it at the time, and I have in my hand our report which was published on 12 February.

Looking at the past year and the work that the Science and Technology Committee has done, there is a real read-across from what happened with covid to ARIA. As I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State, at its best ARIA will learn from what we have done on covid in the past year. If covid has a silver lining, it is what it has enabled us to do in the science sphere, allowing us to throw off some of the shackles related to funding, innovation and things such as mRNA vaccines.

The Government have not exactly followed the Committee’s recommendations, and that is fair enough, but the Secretary of State was very forthcoming when he gave evidence to us last week about the reasons for that. As my right hon. Friend the Chair said, it is easy to dissipate £800 million. I know that it sounds like a lot of money, but in the context of our overall science budget it is not quite all that much. The Committee recommended that there be a client, but if there is not to be one, it is important that there is focus. If we are going to have focus, the leadership of ARIA will be key. I hope that our Committee can be involved. There has not been an Order in Council because ARIA does not yet exist, so there is no pre-appointment hearing, but I hope that our Committee can speak with the prospective chair and chief exec of ARIA.

Let me turn to some of the detail. I am pleased to see the range of innovative funding envisaged for ARIA, particularly through prizes, which can leverage huge amounts of private sector investment. We have this target of 2.4% of GDP for R&D. It is all very well spending more Government money, but the key is getting more private sector investment to get us to that 2.4% target. Any ways that we can leverage private sector investment through ARIA would be hugely welcome. We are also looking into grant-prize hybrids, seed grants for very early stage developers and equity stakes. As many hon. Members have said, including my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), we need to be better at capturing the commercial benefit of the world-class science that takes place in this country, and perhaps equity stakes through ARIA can be a part of that.

Our Committee took evidence from a number of organisations in our inquiry into what has now become ARIA. We heard from organisations that had worked well, such as DARPA, and some that had not worked quite so well. I wonder whether the sense of crisis to which I referred earlier is necessary for these sorts of things to work. In world war two, the Manhattan project obviously led to the atomic bomb. The cold war led to DARPA and the need for the United States to secure its own defence. What we have seen in the last year with covid has led to so many innovations in vaccines, therapeutics and beyond that will last well beyond this period; as was said earlier, these innovations may ultimately save more lives than have been lost, because of the speed of their development.

If ARIA is to work well, it needs somehow to harness that sense of crisis, and the breakthrough, breakneck response to crisis and existential threat. It needs the space to do so, autonomy from the Government and the freedom to fail. Science often learns more from what does not work than what does.

Before I draw my remarks to a conclusion, it would be remiss of me not to make my own pitch. Keele University in the wonderful constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme is a fabulous university. It is a university enterprise zone and part of the Energy Research Accelerator, which links up multiple universities and private sector organisations across the west midlands. We also have a fabulous science and innovation park. We are a proud host of Cobra Biologics, one of the manufacturers of the amazing Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that is doing so much good in this country. It is not doing so much good elsewhere because of some rather foolish remarks by regulators, but we are very proud of our vaccine; if other countries do not want it, we will have it.

ARIA is a great idea. Like many of its would-be projects, it has the potential to be bold and transformative itself. But it also has the potential to fail, or at least not to work for as long as we might hope. I welcome the 10 years that we have set out in the Bill to give it a chance to work. Many iconoclastic structures end up being captured and overrun by bureaucracy; we must be really careful in that regard. As the Bill progresses through this House and the other place, I hope that the Government will be very firm in resisting all those who would strangle it at birth.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the final Back-Bench speaker, Richard Holden.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con) [V]
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Some places save the best until last, but I am afraid that the House of Commons just saves the Member for North West Durham.

It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) and many hon. Members from across the country who have been so positive about the Bill. I speak in support of the Bill, because through it we will create the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. Britain can finally back the sparks of creativity that flicker in the dark space—too often infrequently sampled by our existing scientific research institutions

ARIA will enable us to press forward on the global stage at the cutting edge of innovative scientific research, and to maximise the opportunities that science can bring to the benefit of my constituents in North West Durham, to our United Kingdom and to humanity. A few months ago, those words may have perhaps sounded hyperbolic, but, as many hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned, the United Kingdom’s world-leading vaccine programme has changed all that. Moreover, Madam Deputy Speaker, the ability I am afforded today to speak to you virtually in our historic House of Commons Chamber from my constituency office in Consett through the use of the internet is a product of innovation in digital telecommunications—innovation backed in its inception by the United States in a nimble, non-bureaucratic institution called the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. As many hon. Members have noted, by backing a few brilliant minds with a modest sum, that institution helped to develop and pioneer technologies such as the internet and GPS—innovations that have since generated trillions in pounds wealth, and, on the human level, kept the lonely connected throughout the pandemic. On a personal note, it allowed me to see my own grandmother in the weeks before she died—something that just a few years ago in similar circumstances would have been impossible.

The scientific research institutions we have today include UKRI, which incorporates our seven research councils. It backs bidders from business and academia to identify important societal and industrial challenges faced by the UK that might merit financial support from the industrial strategy challenge fund. It sets its assessment against aims set out by the Government to raise long term productivity and improve living standards. This has, for example, aided the development of batteries for electric vehicles, which has no doubt helped companies such as Nissan, one of the largest employers of my constituents. It has helped to transform food production, backed clean growth, advanced artificial intelligence and big data, and assisted in projects aimed at tackling our ageing society.

Combined with the largest ever increase in funding—over £22 billion—for UK research and development announced by any Government, one might ask, “What’s wrong, then?” Well, like many similar institutions in comparable nations to ours, UKRI is rigged to the academic calendar. It naturally focuses on papers with “sound” cases, it is tethered to burdensome bureaucracy, it is slow off the mark, and unfortunately it is, far too often, too risk adverse. If the men and women who kicked off the industrial revolution in constituencies like mine had been as risk averse, I wonder if it would ever have happened—whether the sparks that ignited the first industrial revolution and literally forged a new world in constituencies like mine would ever have come to pass.

As we look to the fourth industrial revolution, that risk-averse situation is what we are facing today. A constituent of mine, Professor Pal Badyal of Durham University’s chemistry department, who is a member of the Royal Society, has founded three successful start-up businesses and is one of the leading scientists in his field, has struggled to gain funding for his research into antiviral surfaces, despite successful preliminary proof of concepts funded by Durham University. This professor previously invented the waterproof coating for smartphones. That idea was turned down by UKRI for being “out of scope”, only to be subsequently adopted by industry an entire 10 years later. This waterproofing technology can now be found on over 1 billion smartphones worldwide. There exist in the world many such sparks of creativity in science and other fields that fizzle out, out there in the dark space. Far too infrequently are they nurtured by our existing scientific research institutions. In the case of Professor Badyal, his first spark came to light 10 years later through industry, but his latest, on antiviral surfaces, could save lives today and tomorrow. We cannot afford to miss out on such innovation.

This Bill creates ARIA, which can operate at pace, undertake groundbreaking research and back our scientists with its high tolerance for risk of failure. Decisively different, with less bureaucracy, ARIA has the power to launch dynamism supported but unfettered by the usual constraints of government. Clearly, as many Members have said, the role our scientists have played in jabbing our way to freedom throughout this pandemic, the spirit they have showcased in innovating the Oxford vaccine at pace, the generosity shown through their decision to do so at cost price, and the early backing with generous funds from our Government has afforded Britain a leading role in freeing the world from the coronavirus pandemic. Spirit, pace, backing and benefit: that makes the case for ARIA and this Bill better than any words any Member could hope to say. I urge hon. Members across this House to support the Bill and to back those sparks of innovation that can benefit my constituents in North West Durham, help us to level up the north of England, turbocharge our United Kingdom, and benefit the world.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab) [V]
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It is a real pleasure to respond to today’s debate, which has in many ways shown this virtual House at its best, united by cross-party consensus on the importance of science and support for our scientists. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken so constructively on both sides, even if I cannot do justice to every contribution. As the shadow Secretary of State emphasised, it is vital that we get the Advanced Research and Invention Agency right. As many hon. Members have observed, the UK has a proud tradition in science, engineering, innovation, research and development; it is renowned across the world. The Secretary of State mentioned the discovery of penicillin. The hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak) referred to the spinning Jenny and Stephenson’s Rocket. As a chartered engineer from Newcastle, I particularly appreciated the last example, and I would add to it the steam turbine, invented on the Tyne by Parsons. It made cheap and plentiful electricity possible, revolutionised marine transport and powered our Navy.

Again and again, UK science has pushed back the boundaries of knowledge, shrinking the vast expanses of ignorance which, as the pandemic has shown, may threaten humanity’s very existence. And science is a key economic driver. Our university research base alone contributes £95 billion to the economy, supporting nearly 1 million jobs in science institutes, charities and businesses of all sizes. Research by Oxford Economics commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that each £1 of public research and development stimulates between £1.96 and £2.34 of private research and development in the long run, and together they help address the key challenges facing humanity, from climate change to inequality, from pandemics to productivity. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said, Labour recognises that the UK needs new mechanisms to support high-risk/high-reward research. As such, ARIA is a step in the right direction. The United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency programme, which the Secretary of State cites many times in his statement of policy intent, has helped give us inventions from the internet to Siri, from cyborg insects to GPS technology.

Of course we want Britain to back similar high-risk/high-reward research that unlocks the full potential of our scientific creativity. But there are concerns—concerns shared across the House. Many Members highlighted the lack of direction for ARIA. The Secretary of State claimed that the Bill equips ARIA with the “tools and freedoms that it needs”. By implication, then, it doesn’t need a mission. But the renowned economist Professor Mariana Mazzucato has said:

“ARIA should be oriented around societal challenges with broad buy-in that define the 21st century and can just as effectively stimulate cross-disciplinary innovation, for example climate change”.

The Institute of Physics has said that a clear mission is “essential” and the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee raised concerns about ARIA’s lack of “focus and purpose”. Setting a mission would bring together business, Government and the wider public in support of ARIA. This Bill seems more designed to set it adrift.

We heard from Government Members best described as the disciples of Dominic Cummings. The former adviser to the Prime Minister said that the UK was in need of a blue skies thinking agency. But can I gently suggest that we should not test Mr Cummings’ ideological eyesight by driving to a scientific Bishop Auckland without a credible mission—not with public money at least. On the “Today” programme this morning, the Secretary of State for Health said that the vaccine programme

“will be a model of how Governments can make things happen and move fast and deliver for their population”.

But not, it would seem, when it comes to scientific research. The vaccine programme definitely had a mission.

Leadership in any organisation is critical, but ARIA seems entirely dependent on its CEO and chair, with little external accountability or ministerial direction. Hon. Members, including the hon. Members for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) and for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), highlighted some of the concerns this raises, including the potential for crony and vanity projects. I would like to add two points. First, however great the initial CEO and chair are, they will move on. What then? Secondly, science is a collective endeavour— perhaps one of the greatest collective endeavours—yet the Government seem to believe that by recruiting one or two star performers, ARIA can transform our science landscape. We need to build an institution that furthers our societal aims for decades to come.

The Secretary of State tried to present freedom of information as an obstacle to the UK being a science superpower, but he also said that ARIA was inspired by DARPA in the US, which is subject to freedom of information. We are concerned that this Government are driven more by an ideological disdain for scrutiny than by a desire to further UK science. The Campaign for Freedom of Information shares our concerns, fearing that without public accountability, ARIA will lack the weighty public interest needed to support its mission.

I also want to add a word of warning here, echoing the words of many Members today including the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), and the chair of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe). Let us not kid ourselves: high risk means failure. There will be failures—high-profile, expensive failures with public money. Is the CEO expected to weather that storm without ministerial accountability? Is it the Government’s intention to be able to throw ARIA to the wolves and keep Ministers safe?

The creation of ARIA must not serve as a distraction from the UK’s wider research and development challenges. My hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) both emphasised the lack of certainty and ambition on science funding now, and they both represent great science communities. The Government are reportedly on course to miss their target of spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027 following cuts to overseas research, which the vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, Chris Day, tells me may lead to immediate redundancies in the north-east. Labour is committed to raising the proportion of GDP spent on R&D to 3%, and for this Government to fail to reach their target of 2.4% would be shocking indeed.

Further, and even more astonishingly, just two weeks before the new financial year, the scientific community still does not know what funding is to be allocated for science. Just this morning, the Secretary of State did not deny the prospect of £1 billion-worth of cuts to next year’s science budget. He must stand up for science in his negotiations with the Treasury. I am sure I am not the only one to be somewhat dismayed by the languid tone, during his short opening remarks, in which he said that discussions were ongoing.

The Government have also failed to support medical research charities. They have failed to support early career researchers and doctoral students during the pandemic. The Government like to talk up research, but their actions do not match their words. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North asked how ARIA would work with existing bodies, given the lack of clarity on its mission. I am concerned that it may end up competing for existing funding rather than leveraging in new funds. That is a criticism levelled against some catapults.

It is also interesting that the worked example in the statement of policy intent from the Secretary of State uses—I think that is the most appropriate term—a female programme manager. Women are hugely under-represented in science research. They make up just 15% of the principal investigators applying for Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grants, for example. I am sure the Minister would agree that this lack of representation holds science back, and I hope she will tell us how ARIA will help to address that and the other fundamental disparities in science.

Labour wants ARIA to be a success, and we support its creation. We believe that science is an engine of progress and that ARIA can accelerate it, but we also believe that it must have a clear mission to address our great societal challenges and that it must be accountable. It is not as if there is a lack of challenges for it to address. Indeed, they are many, but without direction from the Government, the agency risks losing its way. We are determined to amend the Bill to empower ARIA to succeed, and I look forward to working with Members across the House to achieve that.

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
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I, too, want to go, “Yay!”, because this has been an absolute pleasure. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) said, we have seen the House at its best, and it is a great pleasure to take part in the debate. I listened to the fantastic contributions, and I thank all hon. Members for their thought-provoking input. Without exception, the debate indicates how essential and central science is to our economy and society. That has been recognised across the House, so I shall expand on how ARIA will build on the strengths of our R&D system.

The proposal to create the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—ARIA—has been welcomed by leading scientists, institutions, businesses and colleagues today. We have listened to agencies around the world, and consulted the research community at home. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) asked about that. We have, of course, considered carefully the recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee, brilliantly chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I am confident that this is a bold, brave and positive step towards our ambition to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. One of the things that we must be clear about is the way in which ARIA fits into the wider landscape and what it will achieve. My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central asked how we would define ARIA’s purpose, so let me set that out.

ARIA will fund high-risk, high-reward research in a different way from UKRI and the rest of the system. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) highlighted in his excellent contribution, ARIA will give us something genuinely different, drawing on the UK’s existing R&D strengths. In that way, it will reach fantastic people with brilliant ideas who are not currently funded.

There have been several questions about funding, but I think that the Secretary of State made the position clear. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak), and the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) raised ARIA’s mission and what it should focus on. That is an important issue, and I have listened to the different views with great interest. Climate change has been suggested. The Government continue to invest in net zero, including through the £1 billion net-zero innovation portfolio fund announced as part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan. I should make it clear that ARIA’s programme will be motivated by a single clear ambition set by the programme manager. However, those decisions will be made by ARIA, and ARIA’s leaders will be responsible for strategic oversight of their programme portfolio. They will be able to speak to researchers, other funders and Government Departments to help to inform their judgment. There are UK funding programmes for which Ministers set the strategic direction, and ARIA has been set up specifically without those constraints.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) asked about the need for ARIA to have a specific customer. ARIA’s groundbreaking work will absolutely draw partners for its projects and programmes, but we want to leave the door open for it to be able to forge those relationships across a range of sectors.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), the hon. Member for Richmond Park and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby asked about recruitment and ARIA’s culture. I recognise how crucial that that will be for ARIA, which is why we will recruit a CEO to provide the creative, inspiring leadership that the organisation needs—someone uniquely able to build a team of high-performing people. That will not be on a whim. We will conduct a genuinely open and fair recruitment process for a CEO and chair.

The hon. Members for Aberdeen South and for Glasgow North West asked about the oversight that Government will have. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) queried the way in which we will hold ARIA to account. They are absolutely right that ARIA will be at a greater distance from central Government than we are used to. That is a deliberate move based on international experience. The evidence suggests that freedom and autonomy is what makes this kind of agency work. I am mindful of the effective governance of ARIA, which is incredibly important, but it must be tailored to ARIA’s objectives if we are to get the balance right—and it is about balance. There are powers in the Bill for the Secretary of State to intervene on issues of national security and to introduce additional procedures to measure conflicts of interest. They sit alongside powers to make non-executive appointments to the board, which will of course include the Government chief scientific adviser in an ex officio role. The arrangements are robust.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North and the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray)—whose final speech was commendable; I wish him the very best—raised the Freedom of Information Act. ARIA will have a very small number of staff, and because of the load that FOI requests would place on the organisation we do not think they are the right way to provide scrutiny. I remind Members that the Departments and public authorities that work with ARIA will of course be subject to FOI requests. There will be other statutory commitments to transparency. The Bill makes it clear that ARIA will be required to produce an annual report on what it does, which will be laid before Parliament alongside its accounts.

The hon. Members for Aberdeen South and for Airdrie and Shotts also spoke about procurement. The Bill exempts ARIA from the obligations on a contracting authority in the public contract regulations, but procurement decisions will be taken by ARIA, not by Ministers. It is because it is one step removed from Government that the exemption will empower ARIA’s talented programme managers and directors. Again, the freedom to act quickly will be balanced by the requirement for ARIA to audit its procurement activities, as set out with the Department in the framework document.

The hon. Members for Cambridge and for Airdrie and Shotts, my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) and for Bolton West (Chris Green), and many other Members made representations on ARIA’s location. I recognise that they care passionately about the scientific excellence found in all parts of Bolton, Cambridge, Airdrie and, of course, right across the UK, but ARIA will be run by a small number of people and will have a small physical presence, and the potential candidates to be its CEO and chair will have a strong interest in the location of the headquarters. I cannot commit to a specific location at this stage, but if ARIA is to deliver UK-wide economic benefits, it should, like UKRI, function and deliver on a UK-wide basis. Stakeholders in the devolved nations—such as Universities Scotland—have been clear in their support for that approach.

Let me finish by thanking Members from all parties for their rich and considered contributions. My door is always open and I invite any Members who wish to discuss the Bill with me further to do so. We must remember that the United Kingdom is a hotbed of brilliant invention and innovation. The Secretary of State spoke about our proud history of scientific excellence, which I am confident the creation of ARIA will help to safeguard far into the future.

In the previous century, the US ARPA funded the ambitious research that underpins the internet and GPS—technologies that have transformed our lives, opened countless avenues of inquiry and created extraordinary value. Such successes do not happen overnight or by accident; they all start with a wild ambition that is nurtured into reality against all the odds. It is this ambition that will course through the veins of ARIA’s staff and the talented researchers they fund. As Science Minister I have listened to many inspiring scientists and inventors, and it is now my ambition to give their brilliant ideas the best possible chance to profoundly change lives and the lives of our grandchildren—and of my granddaughter—for the very better. I wait with excited anticipation for the remaining stages of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill:


(1) Public Bill Committee shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 27 April 2021.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Third Reading No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(David Rutley.)

Question agreed to.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State.—(David Rutley.)

Question agreed to.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Carry-over)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 80A(1)(a)),

That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session.—(David Rutley.)

Question agreed to.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Science and Technology Committee of Session 2019–21, A new UK research funding agency, HC 778, and the Government response, HC 1363, and oral evidence taken before the Science and Technology Committee on 17 March 2021, Session 2019-21, on A new UK research funding agency, HC 778.]
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Human Rights Abuses
“No ARIA resources may be used in any way that would contravene human rights.” —(Stephen Flynn.)
This new clause is intended to ensure that ARIA is not able to contravene human rights.
Brought up, and read the First time.
Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—ARIA’s primary mission: health research and development

“(1) The primary mission of ARIA is to support scientific research into human health and the development of new medicines and health technologies.

(2) In carrying out its primary mission under subsection (1), ARIA must prioritise research and development according to the policy objectives of the Department of Health and Social Care.”

This new clause would set ARIA’s primary mission as supporting health research and development and would make the Department of Health and Social Care the Agency’s main client.

New clause 3—Transition to net-zero carbon emissions

“(1) ARIA must be certified carbon-neutral at the end of each financial year.

(2) 25% of ARIA’s annual budget must be directed towards scientific research and development that will support the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2045.

(3) In exercising any of its functions under this Act, ARIA must have regard to the requirement under subsection (1) and the UK’s transition to NetZero carbon emissions by 2045.”

This new clause requires ARIA to be certified carbon-neutral annually, and to direct 25% of its annual budget to research and development that will assist the UK’s transition to net-zero. In carrying out its functions, ARIA must have regard to its carbon-neutrality requirement and the UK’s transition to net-zero.

Amendment 1, in clause 2, page 1, line 7, at end insert—

“(A1) ARIA’s primary mission will be to support the development of technologies and research that support the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions or reduce the harmful effects of climate change.”

This amendment sets the primary mission for ARIA to support the development of technologies and research that support the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions or reduce the harmful effects of climate change.

Amendment 2, page 1, line 17, at end insert—

“(2A) Where ARIA provides financial support or makes rights or other property available under subsection (2) to an individual who has a family or business connection to a Minister of HM Government—

(a) that individual must make a declaration of the connection as part of the application for support or property; and

(b) the Minister must make an oral statement to the House of Commons within 3 months of the decision being made under subsection (2).”

This amendment would allow for Parliamentary scrutiny of any contracts awarded by ARIA to a person connected to a member of the Government.

Amendment 12, page 1, line 17, at end insert—

“(2A) In exercising its functions, ARIA must have regard to its core mission.

(2B) In this section “core mission” means—

(a) for the period of ten years after the date on which this Act is passed, undertaking activities which support the achievement of the target established in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008,

(b) thereafter, mission or missions which the Secretary of State establishes by regulations every five years, and

(c) regulations under this section—

(i) shall be made by statutory instrument, and

(ii) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

This amendment would require ARIA to consider its core mission in exercising its functions. For the ten years following the Act passing, that core mission would be supporting the achievement of Net Zero. Thereafter, its mission will be established by statutory instrument subject to the draft affirmative procedure.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 18, at end insert—

“(7) In exercising its functions, ARIA must have regard to its impact across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and each region thereof.

(8) The annual report prepared under paragraph 15 of Schedule 1 must contain—

(a) the geographical distribution of ARIA’s investments over the past year, and

(b) the economic impact of this investment in each region and nation of the United Kingdom including the number of new jobs created.”

This amendment would require ARIA to have regard for the benefits of its activities across the nations and regions of the UK in exercising its functions and includes a reporting function, with Parliamentary oversight, on the impact of those activities in each nation and region of the UK.

Amendment 4, in clause 4, page 2, line 25, at beginning insert—

“Subject to paragraph 3(1B) of Schedule 1,”

This amendment is consequential to Amendment 3.

Amendment 6, page 2, line 25, at beginning insert—

“Subject to paragraph 2(3B) of Schedule 1,”

This amendment is consequential to Amendment 5.

Amendment 9, in clause 6, page 3, line 2, at end insert—

“(2A) ARIA must provide the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee with such information as the Committee may request.”

This amendment would require ARIA to share information with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee when requested.

Amendment 14, on page 3, line 15, at end insert—

“(7) ARIA shall be—

(a) a public authority within the meaning of section 3 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and Schedule 1 of that Act shall be amended accordingly, and

(b) a central government authority within the meaning of regulation 2(1) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, and Schedule 1 of those Regulations shall be amended accordingly.”

This amendment would make ARIA subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Public Contract Regulations 2015.

Amendment 10, in clause 8, page 3, line 26, leave out “, and” and insert—

“(ab) the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee before dissolving ARIA.

Amendment 5, in schedule 1, page 6, line 22, at end insert—

“(3A) The Secretary of State may not appoint a person as chair unless the appointment of that person has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(3B) ARIA may not exercise any functions under this or any other Act, nor may the Secretary of State make any grants to ARIA under section 4 of this Act, until its first chair has been appointed.”

This amendment requires both Houses of Parliament, under the affirmative resolution procedure, to approve the name of the proposed Chair. ARIA may not exercise any functions, nor may the Secretary of State make any grants to ARIA until its first chair has been appointed.

Amendment 3, page 6, line 26, at end insert—

“(1A) The Secretary of State may not appoint a person as Chief Executive Officer unless the appointment of the person has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(1B) ARIA may not exercise any functions under this or any other Act, nor may the Secretary of State make any grants to ARIA under section 4 of this Act, until its first Chief Executive Officer has been appointed.”

This amendment requires both Houses of Parliament, under the affirmative resolution procedure, to approve the name of the proposed Chief Executive Officer. ARIA may not exercise any functions, nor may the Secretary of State make any grants to ARIA until its first Chief Executive Officer has been appointed.

Amendment 11, page 7, line 1, at end insert—

“(6) The Secretary of State may not make executive or non-executive appointments to ARIA, nor determine the renumeration of appointees, without approval by resolution of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.”

This amendment would require the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to approve the Secretary of State’s nominated executive and non-executive members, as well as their remuneration.

Amendment 7, in schedule 3, page 13, leave out paragraph 11.

This amendment would remove ARIA’s exemption from the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

Amendment 8, on page 14, at end insert—

“(12) In Part VI of Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“Other public bodies and offices: general”), at the appropriate place insert ‘The Advanced Research and Invention Agency’.”

This amendment would make ARIA subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Before I call Stephen Flynn, I must point out that there has been quite a significant number of withdrawals from this debate, for obvious reasons. Should anyone else wish to withdraw, will they please do so through the Speaker’s Office so that we can be notified? Also, anybody who is working off the call list and thinks that they are, say, five off, will need to think again. Anyone intending to participate in the debate physically really should make their way to the Chamber.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I cannot imagine why so many people have withdrawn, given the exciting topic that we are going to discuss here this evening. I will speak to amendment 1 and in favour of all the following amendments and new clauses in the name of myself and my honourable colleagues. Of course, the context for what we are about to debate has changed markedly from this morning and, indeed, much of the last week. For the avoidance of any doubt, my colleagues and I were very much in favour of new clause 4, and while the Government may have not been defeated today, their card has certainly been marked.

To the matter at hand, which is of course the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. Much of what I seek to say will repay repetition. Many of the points were covered on Second Reading and in Committee, but I feel it is important that we cover them again, because, despite the concerns that we have expressed on these Benches and that have been echoed by the official Opposition, the Government have not sought at any stage to amend the Bill up until this juncture. That is something of a missed opportunity. The reality is that across the Chamber, nobody is criticising the ethos of the Bill or the aim of the Bill to try to improve the UK’s standing in relation to this specific topic, but we feel that the Government can and should be going further.

The first matter on which that is fairly obvious is the lack of a mission, a purpose, a raison d’être for the Bill. There is no clear mission for ARIA as it stands, despite much to-ing and fro-ing on this topic. The Government have been clear on their reasoning as to why they do not want that to be the case, but I find it extremely regrettable, when we know there is a climate emergency—hopefully everyone across the Chamber is in agreement on that—that the Government still refuse to make the climate emergency a core purpose of ARIA to ensure that meeting our net zero targets is the aim of this agency.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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On a point of clarification, could the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether there is no mission for ARIA, or is it just that ARIA does not have the mission he has just outlined?

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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That is an interesting point that. I believe it is regrettable that there is no set mission. The mission should be to combat climate change and to meet our net zero targets.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, we had these exchanges in the Bill Committee. It is not so much that ARIA had not got a mission; its mission is to discover areas of research that could potentially be high risk but deliver high rewards, but we do not know what those will be. That is its mission, and tying it to specifics such as health research or climate change, although they are very important, would potentially hamper its ability to find that cutting-edge science and make the most of it.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, and I am loth to repeat what I said in Committee. I certainly will not mention any of the “Star Trek” references that he made in relation to that specific point. The reality is that we have seen, with the likes of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, how successful things can be when there is a specific mission. I accept that we disagree, and disagree on good terms, in relation to that point, but I re-emphasise that this is a missed opportunity for the Government.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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I was not on the Committee, but there is a fundamental point here. I recall from the debate on Second Reading that the objective of ARPA is to think beyond what is normally thought about. The issue about the climate emergency is that we know it is a problem. We know that there are multiple solutions in multiple areas, which people are already working on. We also know that there is tremendous commercial interest, from the point of view of people investing in relation to the climate emergency and companies that are trying to sell products in that area. To what extent does the objective that the hon. Gentleman proposes fit that “beyond beyond” mission that I thought was the original purpose of ARPA?

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think it absolutely fits that point. Of course, there could be new solutions that we are not aware of at this moment. On Second Reading, the hon. Member made a similar point, and I said that he should not be so narrow in his view of climate change because to meet net zero we need to operate in a vast landscape. The Government do not seem to be acknowledging that through ARIA. To repeat myself, I believe that that is a missed opportunity.

The Government will point to their energy White Paper and point to the 10-point plan, and perhaps they will point to the North sea transition deal in terms of their aims in relation to combating climate change. That is fair and reasonable, but—notwithstanding the arguments we might have on those points, of which there are many—it does not mean that we stop there, particularly in the year of COP26. I urge Government Members to reflect on that as we move forward in the debate.

That covers amendment 1, which we hope to press later, but we have tabled other amendments. Perhaps the clearest, and the one that needs to be debated in this Chamber, notwithstanding what I have already said, relates to scrutiny—the fact that the Government have sought to put ARIA outwith the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It is no longer going to be applicable to public procurement regulations. That is simply unacceptable and there is no justification for it.

I listened closely to what the Minister had to say in that regard in Committee and on Second Reading, and I have read on numerous occasions remarks made in relation to that point by those on the Government Benches, yet I simply do not understand the logic of why they are doing this. From looking at DARPA, we know that there are 40-odd freedom of information requests—40-odd for DARPA, which is on a scale vastly superior to that of ARIA—yet the Government still seek to move away from that scrutiny. From a public perspective, that does no one any favours. I am sure that, if the Government had their time back, they might do things differently, because ultimately this benefits nobody. All it does is create more clouds of suspicion around what the Government’s activities are.

That ties in with our amendment 2, which relates to cronyism and the need to avoid it. The Government’s record and reputation over the last year and a half have been deplorable. The hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) shakes his head, but that is the reality. There is a reason that his Prime Minister is so disliked and distrusted in Scotland: it is what we have seen over the pandemic—not just from the Prime Minister himself, but from his Ministers and friends, the donors, and the family members who have benefited from contracts. What we do not want to see—what we cannot see—is ARIA becoming a vehicle for that to happen. Our amendment would clearly stop that.

On FOI and procurement regulations, the Labour party has said something similar to us, just with a lot more words. It is within the Labour party’s gift to do so, although I am not quite sure why it did not just agree with us. It can do so on occasion; we will not take it personally.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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I thank the hon. Member for his kind words. Of course, the SNP amendments were simply agreeing with Labour’s amendments during Committee. We sought to improve—as we should do—from Committee to Report.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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If I heard that correctly, the Labour party is not agreeing with the amendments that it tabled in Committee and that the SNP has agreed to at this point in time, so it had to add more words. But I suppose that is the nature of this place.

That takes me to transparency and scrutiny, and a key token and standpoint of those on the Government Benches: to take back control. I do not suspect that they will agree to the SNP’s view on a mission for ARIA. That being the case, the mission—to all intents and purposes, what ARIA seeks to do—will be determined by the chair and chief executive officer. They will decide what happens. In that regard, the House will, of course, have no say and we suggest that the House should have a say. It is important that this place has a role to play in the process. I would be incredibly surprised if Members who fought so hard to take back control did not seek to have their say on such matters.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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Och, why not?

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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Why not? I am grateful to him. If we had too much influence over the agency, we could breach the Haldane principle, which I am sure he holds close to his heart, as do I.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, but we will have to heartedly disagree on this point. The House, and we as democratically elected representatives, should seek to play as key and active a role as possible. Of course, all this could be avoided by the Government simply agreeing on what ARIA’s mission should be in the first place.

Our new clause 1, on human rights, would ensure that ARIA’s record in that regard is of the highest standing. I certainly hope Members across the Chamber would agree to that. If they did not, I would be somewhat concerned. We saw that in Committee, which took me a bit by surprise, but perhaps some of the Government’s Back Benchers were not galvanised enough to encourage the Government to take a different stand. The SNP tabled the new clause because ultimately we do not know where ARIA will seek to put its investments. We do not know what it will seek to invest in, where it may even take a share in an organisation. It will have the freedom to do that, but that freedom means it may delve into areas we find unsuitable in relation to human rights. That is particularly pertinent when we look at the situation in China with the Uyghurs. I encourage Members on the Government Benches to take cognisance of that fact this evening.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the role of Scotland in relation to the Bill, because I very much like talking about that. The reality is that, where the Government are seeking to spend money, that Government money should be spent fairly and evenly across the United Kingdom—that is, while we still remain a part of the United Kingdom. To that end, there should be a Barnett share of money spent on Scotland. Where that money is spent, it should not seek to bypass devolution, as the Government seek to do in a number of areas, from the shared prosperity fund to the levelling-up fund and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Scotland should have its fair share.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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May I reiterate again that anybody who wishes to withdraw from the debate—we have had 35 people withdraw already—should please do so through the Speaker’s Office? If you are on the call list, please do not assume that the people above you have not withdrawn. The chances are that they have.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)
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Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether your reiteration just before I stood up to speak, that you hope that anybody who wants to withdraw will do so, was a hint. When I put in to speak in the debate, I had intended to speak on a new clause that has not been selected, but after looking at the other amendments and new clauses, there is one aspect that I want to speak on briefly.

I apologise to those Members of the House who were on the Committee, because I can see that there was quite an exchange on these matters in Committee, but I want to pick up on an issue that was raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), who talked about the need for a mission and, in a sense, to restrict this organisation’s mission. He spoke particularly about climate change, which I know is a key issue. I was the Prime Minister who put the 2050 net zero emissions target into legislation, and the UK can be very proud of having been the first major country to do that.

An enormous amount of work needs to be done to ensure that we can take the decisions individually, as businesses and as a Government that will lead to net zero. Part of that will be about research, but as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) said, there are enormous numbers of people out there doing research and companies looking for products to sell that will help to get us to that position. It seems to me that we should not restrict the mission of ARIA. It is important to give this organisation the freedom to look widely. I say that not just in a blue skies thinking way, but also because I had some interaction with the American equivalent of ARIA, on which ARIA is based, when I was Home Secretary because it was doing some really interesting research and innovative work on issues of security.

In evidence to the Committee, Professor Bond suggested that ARIA should be about

“radical innovation, which is different from grand missions and grand challenges.”––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 20, Q16.]

That reference to “grand challenges” was, I am sure, a reference to the modern industrial strategy, sadly now cast aside, which set out grand challenges but also set out the aim for the UK to be the most innovative economy, and ARIA can have a real impact in that area.

The challenge for ARIA is that it needs to be truly innovative, it needs to have blue skies thinking and it needs to be doing what other people are not doing, but it has to have a purpose in doing that. What I hope we will not see is an organisation where lots of scientists and people get together, think lots of wild thoughts, enjoy talking about them and possibly publish a few papers, but at the end of the day, there is no practical difference to people’s lives as a result of that. The aim of this is to do that innovative thinking but, in due course, for that innovative thinking—whether it is taken up by other scientists, business or whoever—to lead to a real improvement in people’s lives.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
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I agree with the line that the right hon. Lady is taking, but she is missing out one really important factor in achieving the desirable objectives she has listed, which is that ARIA must be prepared to fail on a number of occasions and take high risks. Does she agree with that?

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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I do agree with that. Indeed, at the risk of scratching a sore for the Government, I would add that the modern industrial strategy made the point that, in terms of Government support for different areas of research and development, we must be willing to see some fail, because we cannot possibly know from the beginning everything that will be a success. That is important, but of course, I hope that ARIA will not be an organisation for which everything fails. It has to be prepared to have some failures, but obviously what we want to see is some really positive work coming out of this that can be of real benefit.

Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab)
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I absolutely agree with the right hon. Lady about wanting to see ARIA be successful. She talked about scientists sitting around, having a chat and producing some papers but having no real impact. Does she agree that, given the way in which ARIA is currently set up, without any freedom of information requests being allowable, that could be the reality?

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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No, I do not agree that there is a natural causal relationship between the two. We will see whether ARIA is successful by what actually comes out, because at some point these ideas will come out. I recognise that there are issues for scientists who are really treading new ground, to ensure that they are able to do so with freedom—without that ability being taken away by others. That will be important for this organisation.

It is exciting that this agency is being set up. With the right people, it can do really good things, but it should not be restricted to a particular area of mission. When it does that blue skies thinking, we should ensure that the aim—the reason that the Government are setting it up—is to improve people’s lives in this country. That is what we all want to do and it is what the organisation should be about.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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It is a pleasure and honour to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I am certain that the current Conservative Government could benefit enormously from her championing and promotion of an industrial strategy, and I hope that they are listening.

I thank all those who worked so hard to improve this Bill in Committee, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), for Luton North (Sarah Owen) and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), as well as the Clerks and House of Commons staff for their excellent support.

It is vital that we get the Advanced Research and Invention Agency right. Today we will hear many Members—although not as many as we had thought—raise a wide range of important issues such as climate change, regional and national economic development, international development and democratic accountability, but at the heart of this debate is science, which now plays such a critical part in all our lives.

The UK has a proud tradition in science, engineering, innovation, research and development. We are renowned across the world for scientific breakthroughs and discoveries that pushed humanity forwards. From the discovery of penicillin to the invention of Stephenson’s Rocket in my constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne Central, again and again UK scientists pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge, shrinking the vast expanse of ignorance, which, as this pandemic has shown, may threaten humanity’s very existence.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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My hon. Friend refers to some of that world-beating research. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS. There has been a great degree of concern among some of our global health all-party groups about the cuts that were and are coming to global health research. I totally support the amendments that we have tabled on climate change; there is also a critical link between climate change and global health. Does my hon. Friend agree that we absolutely need to continue that world-beating research, because it has so many benefits for health not just globally, but in this country too?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend’s all-party parliamentary group, with which I am quite familiar. I wholeheartedly agree with him about the importance of that research, and about the link between that important research and this agency. I will develop that point further in a few moments.

As hon. Members have indicated, UK science is not only inspiring; it can also be groundbreaking and is a key economic driver. Our university research base alone contributes £95 billion to the economy, supporting nearly 1 million jobs in scientific institutes, charities and businesses of all sizes. Research by Oxford Economics commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that each £1 of public research and development—such as the money to be spent on ARIA—stimulates between £1.96 and £2.34 of private research and development, and we cannot recover from the pandemic without inspiring and initiating more private sector investment in research and development. Together, private and public sector research can help to address the key challenges facing humanity—from climate change to inequality, from pandemics to productivity.

That brings us very neatly to the broken promises of this Conservative Government on overseas development aid, as raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), and how that betrays the poorest among us and the critical challenges faced by us all. With over £4.1 billion slashed from overseas development aid, the £120 million cut from science and research programmes may appear minor, but that has already had a devastating impact on science here and abroad. Cutting funding from global challenges research fund hubs, for example, threatens researchers at Newcastle University in my constituency, as well as scientists in developing countries working together on water security. These cuts are a consequence of the Government’s decision to scrap the legally binding 0.7% of GDP target for overseas development aid.

New clause 4 tabled by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), which sought to reverse that decision, has not been selected for debate, though a debate on the issue may follow; certainly, the debate is not going away. Particularly in relation to ARIA and the amendments before us, it is really important to emphasise that for UK science, research and credibility, these cuts have a significant impact. The UK has been the only G7 country to cut aid in the middle of a pandemic, and in so doing it has united hon. and right hon. Members across this House who are horrified by the harm done—harm such as, in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, in Yemen, slashing aid by 60% without conducting an impact assessment, and harm such as cutting bilateral funding on water, sanitation and hygiene—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. I would like the hon. Lady to return to the Bill.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because that is exactly the point to which I am going—to the amendments. Just to say that the funding for coronavirus research, which is the kind of world-beating or leading research that we would hope ARIA will be looking at, has been cut by 70%, which will kill the project. A Government happy to withdraw support for vital research projects across the globe are not a Government who wish to act in the best interests of science, the country or the world.

On ARIA itself, we have many serious concerns. We recognise the need for new mechanisms to support high-risk, high-reward research in our science sector, and as such ARIA is a step in the right direction. ARIA can transform our scientific landscape and we can build an institution that furthers our societal aims for decades to come, but we have concerns, which our amendments seek to address, about the lack of direction, strategy and accountability in the Government’s current proposals. Without such improvements, we fear that the agency could be used to pursue vanity projects disconnected from the public interest.

The first major issue with the Bill is the absence of a mission for ARIA, which has already been raised. What is ARIA for and what is it working towards? Labour’s amendment 12 would require ARIA to have a specific mission for ARIA’s first decade, and we want that mission to be climate change.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for reverting to items that are in order today. On amendment 12, she mentioned that that should be the “core mission”. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) talked about its being part of a bigger whole, but it is still a relatively small amount of money. Does the amendment mean that that is the only mission? Essentially, when she says “core mission”, what she means is the only mission and the agency cannot do anything else other than that for 10 years.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for seeking to aid Madam Deputy Speaker in determining what is in order. I am not sure whether that was necessary.

On the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, I fail to see why he thinks that pedantry can make up for a lack of argument. Climate change is a core mission. We are not seeking to hem in the agency with absolute linguistic barriers for what exactly should be done, but we want it to have a direction. We want to know where it is going and what it is seeking to do. The core mission, as I intend to set out in detail, will be climate change. I do not intend to limit its interpretation of climate change, but I will set out the reasons why climate change will be its core mission.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Lady will recall, we had similar debates in Committee. Does she completely dismiss the idea that the mission is to find cutting-edge science, to explore it, and to go where no other agency is willing to go at the moment, because they will have to follow too many metrics to prove their effectiveness? That is its mission. This agency does not have to have a mission beyond trying to find something exciting, new and potentially really beneficial to mankind.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I fundamentally disagree with him on this issue. To go where no one has gone before is not a mission or a direction; it is a deliberate absence of direction. I spoke earlier about the vast expanse of ignorance that can present us with huge, existential challenges. The history of science has been about trying to reduce that huge expanse of ignorance, and for us to leave ARIA without any mission or direction in addressing that vast expanse of ignorance that is before us will severely limit its likelihood of success. That, together with other aspects of the Bill with regard to accountability and transparency, leave it open to cronyism as well as other issues.

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela Richardson (Guildford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady talked about lessons learned from the pandemic. May I ask her to think about the fact that we were prepared for a flu pandemic but not a coronavirus pandemic? By stating that we have to have a core aim or principle for the ARIA Bill, is she not heading for the same problem? She says that this agency must be focused on environmental matters, but if something else were to come along of equal importance, would we not have limited ARIA already?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, which gives me the opportunity to clarify again that the difference between a flu virus and a coronavirus virus may be significant in medical terms, but it is not what we are talking about. We are talking about climate change—the existential challenge. We are not saying that it should be one part of climate change. To say that it is like preparing for one virus as against another virus is not an equivalent comparison. This is a much vaster challenge. Indeed, I think that she answered her own question. If something more important than climate change comes along in the next 10 years, with climate change being the existential challenge of our times, we would have significant issues to face as a Parliament. If she can think of something more important than climate change coming along in the next 10 years, would she like to intervene on me and suggest what that might be?

Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK Government have set the most ambitious climate change target, which is to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. Would it not be ridiculous if ARIA were to pursue something that undid that good work?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. As my hon. Friend says, the UK has set the most ambitious climate change target, but the Committee on Climate Change has said that the Government are currently on course to miss their manifesto commitment of achieving net zero by 2050. Amendment 12 aims to support the Government in that mission.

I now wish to make some significant progress in my comments, so I will not take any more interventions for a while. The lack of mission is a concern shared by many. The renowned economist Mariana Mazzucato suggested during the evidence sessions that achieving net zero should be ARIA’s mission. The Secretary of State said that ARIA needs a “laser-like focus”, but failed to provide it. The Institute of Physics said that a clear mission is “essential”, and the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) raised concerns about ARIA’s lack of focus and purpose. The president of the Royal Society said that

“£800 million is not a large sum of money, so if we have a plethora of missions, then I think we will go wrong. ARIA has to have focus of mission and a commitment to the model over the long-term”.––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 63, Q62.]

Finally on amendment 12, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) said, we are at a critical moment for our planet and for our country in respect of climate change. We should be leading by example, bringing forward a comprehensive, fair and credible plan, with the policies and investment to deliver on our legally binding targets. Science can play a central role in solving the problems presented by the climate emergency and develop solutions to accelerate the UK’s progress towards net zero. We can harness the UK’s science and research to address this great challenge. This is an opportunity for the Government to establish a mission-led funding agency that can benefit us all, but with no mission and the whole realm of science to choose from, the risk is that ARIA will be directionless, provide no societal return for taxpayer investment or be prey to vanity projects.
Labour’s amendment 13 addresses another hole in the Bill. During and since the general election, there has been significant discussion about the importance of ensuring that our whole country benefits from economic prosperity and from the transformational impact of science and research. This amendment presents the Government with the opportunity to take their so-called levelling-up agenda beyond warm words and bungs to Conservative MPs, and set the foundations for long-term regional prosperity.
ARIA’s funding is between 1% and 2% of the UK’s science spend, yet it is expected—indeed, required—to have a transformational impact on all our lives. If that impact is going to be transformational, surely it should be equitable—or is ARIA to make us yet more unequal as a nation? The current economic inequalities between nations and regions are certainly exacerbated by regional imbalances in research and development spend. Last year, the innovation foundation Nesta calculated that it would require £4 billion each year to bring per capita spending on science in the north-east, Yorkshire, Wales, Northern Ireland and the north-west up to the level of that seen in the south-east, east and London, and that equalising spending across nations and regions in this way would leverage a further £8 billion from the private sector.
So we have a £12 billion deficit in science spend for our nations and regions, yet the Bill does not take any action to stop ARIA making the same mistakes. In fact, there is not even a desire to measure spend across our regions and nations. No wonder Nesta characterises the Government’s public R&D spend as
“currently acting as an anti-regional policy”.
We believe that science and research can be the engines of progress for our society, but that needs to be for and by everyone, not just for the few. Amendment 13 simply requires reporting so that the Government can measure the impact that ARIA is having on the very important desire to reduce the regional inequalities in our country. Currently, the Bill does not even mention devolved nations and does not outline any reflection of the geographical realities of the UK.
Amendment 14 would make ARIA subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. We want to deliver greater oversight of ARIA and greater accountability for the Government in order to increase public confidence, particularly at a time when the Government are in the midst of multiple cronyism scandals.
ARIA’s current blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act and the public contracts regulations cannot be justified. Some £800 million of public money will be spent by ARIA. We have heard that ARIA needs to fail, but without transparency and accountability, the public will not have confidence in what it is doing or the reasons for those failures, and we believe that ARIA would provide the Government with a side-door to sleaze in science. I therefore hope that the Minister can explain what is the appropriate oversight for procurement of research if she is intending to exempt ARIA from existing procurement regulations. We have heard that DARPA is subject to FOI requests, and the Campaign for Freedom of Information has said that ARIA
“will spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on high risk projects but the government apparently wants it to be less accountable to the public than parish councils—which are subject to FOI.”
The Government have a track record of cronyism, and accepting our amendment would help them to change course.
To bring my contribution to a close, I want to make it clear that Labour wants ARIA to be a success and that we support its creation. We believe that science is an engine of progress and that ARIA can accelerate that progress, but we also believe that the Bill in its current form does not provide the optimal conditions for ARIA to work. Without our key amendments, the agency risks losing its way, so I hope they will receive support on both sides of the House. These are not partisan issues; these are issues rooted in an unwavering belief in science and democracy.
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Although a number of people have withdrawn from this debate, there are still a fair number of speakers. That means that if everybody takes about six minutes, we will be able to get everybody in. We need to think of each other in conducting the debate. Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 on the call list have withdrawn, so we now go to Layla Moran.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As a physics graduate and the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon—a constituency proudly at the heart of this country’s scientific innovation—I welcome much of what ARIA hopes to achieve. Time and again, the lack of funding for genuinely high-risk, high-reward science is a common refrain in conversations I have with scientists I meet, so on the face of it ARIA is a good idea.

Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats have concerns about the Bill, and I will quickly raise just two. First, we are very concerned about the Secretary of State’s unchecked powers to choose who leads this highly independent agency. On top of that, it was recently revealed that the Government’s intention is to exempt ARIA from freedom of information legislation. Transparency is at the core of good science, as it should be for good politics. If we want this organisation to succeed, the public should have faith in how taxpayers’ money is spent. That is why the Liberal Democrats have proposed a strong accountability mechanism in amendment 11, which would give the Science and Technology Committee the power to approve nominees for the position of chair and chief executive officer.

Secondly, it is beyond disappointing that the Government have failed to use ARIA’s potential to tackle the climate emergency. New clause 3 would therefore ensure that ARIA’s research did not lead to any increase in the UK’s carbon emissions. Moreover, a quarter of ARIA’s annual budget would be directed specifically to the development of green technologies.

In conclusion, transparency and the climate emergency are two of the very many important aspects that are missing from this Bill—ones that we seek to fix. This new agency has great potential. Let us not mess it up now.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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No. 10 on the speakers’ list has withdrawn. No. 11 is not here and Nos. 12 and 13 have withdrawn, so I call Richard Fuller.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a surprise to be called so early, but it is nevertheless welcome. I was not on the Public Bill Committee, which I know will have been a sadness for all its members, but for me it was of particular sadness because for the future of our country and most other countries, the way in which we nurture and promote innovation is crucial. Although this is a small Bill that generally has wide support across the House, it is rather important that we get it right. It is therefore important that today we debate some of the issues on which the Committee was not able to reach a full conclusion.

Innovation is crucial for our success, and I hope that the Minister and the Department will move on from the fact that we have innovation to look at ways in which we can promote the implementation of innovation, particularly through the removal of barriers and the promotion of competition, so that we can see the fruits of this investment in tangible economic and social success for our country.

Looking through the amendments, I would group them into three areas that it seems were not fully resolved in Committee: first, the extent of oversight; secondly, the issue of purpose or mission; and, thirdly, appointments. On oversight, although each of the proposed steps might be worthy, each of them is also an impediment. If there is one driving value that I hope we have for the Bill at this stage, it is to have the courage to enable this new and additional form of innovation investing to have the freedom to grow and do what it wishes to do.

If, at some point in the future, we find that the programme has gone off the rails somewhat and gone beyond what we know, it would perhaps then be useful for us to put more bureaucratic layers on top of it, but we certainly should not do so from the outset. If we do that from the outset, essentially we are killing the idea in its entirety. It is so easy for us here to say, “We really believe in this, but we would like this or that.” It is quite natural, as protectors of taxpayers’ money—that used to be a role of this House, but sadly it is one that has been lacking for about 40 years—that we want to take that responsibility seriously and to be thorough, but with this Bill we have to accept that if we are going to take that step, we have to put trust in this group. I would be interested to hear what other Members, particularly the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) with his long experience, have to say about whether this is the right step. I will come back to that point later in respect of appointments.

On the issue of purpose, the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah)—I know she has a strong and real passion for science, and I have listened to her speak up for science over a number of years, so I know her intention is right—has tabled an amendment saying that the core mission should be about the climate change goals. The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), who opened the debate, similarly said that we should focus on the environment.

It is important to ask what impact it would have if we made the environment the focus. We currently have $30 trillion-worth of environmental, social and governance assets in the world. The Bill is proposing to add a flow of approximately $1 billion a year, or 1 in 30,000 of the assets that are already there. In terms of where moneys are flowing, this year’s flow of ESG in the private sector is about $130 billion to $140 billion. If we were to make the environment the core mission, we would essentially be tossing £800 million on top of an enormous pile of assets that is already there and an enormous additional inflow this year that is already happening. By its very nature, we would be doing the thing that we are not supposed to be asking ARIA to do, which essentially is to do what everybody else is doing. The whole purpose of ARIA is to do those things that other people are not doing. I feel that it is a mistake to say, “This is a really important mission—aren’t you terrible for not saying that we should focus on it?”, rather than “There are other missions—there is a bigger mission out there that perhaps we as politicians do not have the insight to understand.” That is the whole purpose of setting up ARIA, because with our bureaucratic fingers and our tiny political minds we just are not able to think of those things. It is worth our while considering that, so I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) that it should not have a mission. The whole purpose of ARIA is to do those things that other people are not doing. I feel that it is a mistake to say, “This is a really important mission—aren’t you terrible for not saying that we should focus on it?”, rather than “There are other missions—there is a bigger mission out there that perhaps we as politicians do not have the insight to understand.” That is the whole purpose of setting up ARIA, because with our bureaucratic fingers and our tiny political minds we just are not able to think of those things. It is worth our while considering that, so I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) that it should not have a mission.

The Opposition spokesperson, whom I count as a friend, noted that the Secretary of State had said that ARIA should have a “laser-like focus”; she said that he had failed to provide it. She saw that as a criticism, but I think it is exactly the point. It is not for the Secretary of State to tell ARIA, “This is what you shall do.” We have lots of other things that do that; we have the UKRI and we have the remnants of an industrial strategy that, whether we like it or not, is still shaping a lot of what the Government are doing. I therefore ask Opposition Members who say that ARIA should have a mission whether they really believe in an ARIA that is different, or whether they want ARIA to be something over which they can continue to put the same sort of controls that they have put over other aspects of UKRI and other funding.
I look forward to listening to other Members, particularly the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton, who has more experience than me in these matters.
Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I generally agree with the comments of the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). Before I get on to the core of the Bill, I would like to pick up on two or three points from the debate.

The hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), with whom and under whose chairmanship I am happy to have served on the Science and Technology Committee, will not be surprised to hear me not quibble but disagree with his interpretation of the Haldane principle, which we have talked about many times. The Haldane principle does not—and never did, from when Haldane proposed it at the end of the first world war—prohibit politicians from saying that we should prioritise health over defence, defence over transport, or anything over anything else. It is to stop politicians interfering in the detailed technical decision of who the best person is to do that research. When we get on to the core mission of ARIA, I would want politicians to do some of that, but not all.

Unfortunately, the SNP representative, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), is no longer in his place, but it was absolutely extraordinary that he prayed the Barnett formula in aid of regional levelling up. I used to travel on the train from Manchester to London almost every week with Joel Barnett, who regretted the Barnett formula almost more than anything else he had done in his political career. Without getting into a debate, let me say that he understood that it meant people in Glasgow got more public subsidy or support than people in Manchester or Birmingham in very similar situations.

Finally, I would make a point about priorities. Hon. Members have talked about climate change being the top priority; politicians are notorious for having lots and lots of top priorities, but as far as I have noticed, the top priority over the past 15 months has been dealing with covid and the coronavirus. Incidentally, after 25 conferences of the parties, the only thing that has had any impact on the steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been covid: the response to covid has reduced carbon dioxide for the first time since people started talking about it, essentially.

Let me move on to the core issue of ARIA and the points that have been made about it. Now that new clause 4 has been taken off the agenda, the debate is much less controversial than it otherwise would have been, but that does not mean that it is not difficult. As the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire said, we may not need a mission statement. I go some way along that path with him, having looked at the practical evidence from what happened with ARPA and DARPA in the United States. They were given—certainly at the start of the process when the Americans got frightened when the Sputnik satellite went up—almost complete freedom and a lot of money, and that led to the development of part of the internet. Some of the messenger RNA work that has led to the vaccines we have now came out of the ARPA process, as did drones and many other things. That was not because people were given a mission statement that said, “Develop messenger RNA”; it was because they were looking for problems to solve and to make the United States a more secure society, so they had the most general statements.

What UKRI has done is excellent in many ways, but it has lots of accountability systems. The person who put forward the original idea for doing work on quantum computers stated in evidence to the Committee that he would not get through the process now. Lots of questions are asked, some of them ridiculous. Several Science and Technology Committees ago, Professor Brian Cox came along and we talked about impact assessments whereby every research project has to state how much impact it will have on society. He said, “I have no idea how to answer that question and nor do my colleagues.” The normal metrics are about citations and numbers of papers. Even when I was a scientist, a long time ago, I used to see chemists churning out papers, sometimes on ridiculous things or with only slight variations just so that they could say, “We got our 10 papers this year.” That is not really a good way to do science. Compared with the complete freedom process, there is a rather bureaucratic system that is delivering good science—we win Nobel prizes in this country—but is not pushing back the frontiers of science as quickly as we might like. Having an organisation with a great deal of freedom is very important.

I differ slightly from the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire on one point, as did the Science and Technology Committee in two recommendations in the report that we produced in February, both of which effectively said that there should be a client side to the organisation. The reason for having a client side is not to stifle innovation. Having a client is useful, not in telling scientists what to look for or stopping them looking for completely new things, but in situations where they develop something. One of the problems with all the different ARPAs in the United States is that they find it difficult to get product to market because they do not have a client, whereas DARPA, which has the Department of Defence as a client, can take many of the innovations and inventions and develop them straight away. So there is another side to the total freedom approach.

I suppose that most politicians want the best of all possible worlds, so the ARIA I would like would, as in my new clause 2, have the Department of Health as a client Department. It could be something else, but I think that what we have been through over the past 15 months means that health almost speaks for itself. It should also have freedom to find problems that nobody else has thought of—that nobody in this House has thought of and many scientists will not have thought of. When Dominic Cummings came to the Science and Technology Committee, in less controversial terms than his last visit to the Joint Committee session, we talked in detail about how the science develops and we heard something really interesting that I suspect is true. Finding somebody who can chair a body such as this is more difficult than finding Nobel prize winners or people who are likely to win Fields medals. That is what will make this organisation successful or not—somebody who is bright or clever enough to understand questions that have not been asked before. Will that lead to cronyism? When we asked the current chair of UKRI, she was clear that very few people in this world could do this job, and we could probably sit down and write their names. Am I worried about cronyism? No. I am worried about not getting the right person.

Does anybody ever think about what networking means? At the top of science, the best scientists, and the people who get the grants and funding, are basically the great and the good and the really well networked. If Einstein cannot get a job in science and works in a patent office, or whatever the 21st-century equivalent would be, they cannot get into cronyism because those elites in our top universities, which are excellent, swallow up all the funding, and in many cases exclude the young and the brightest scientists. I am not worried about cronyism; I am worried about this body not getting the freedom it should get.

Under schedule 2, the Secretary of State basically keeps control. What makes the Bill difficult is that all politicians who vote to raise taxes want to control public money. That is in our nature. It is right, part of the democratic process—no taxation without representation —and a fundamental issue in a democratic society. To say, “Go off with £800 million and do your own thing” is difficult, but evidence from the States suggests that that is the best way to push forward the frontiers of science. My worry about the Bill is that there is too much control, not too little, and it might stifle initiative.

Finally, on initiatives, when the vaccine taskforce was set up we invited it to the Science and Technology Committee. I was not impressed that somebody was appointed without proper process, but the woman did an extraordinarily good job and she is now getting honoured. Sometimes in an emergency risks were taken—it worked a lot less well with the test and trace system. Sometimes we have to take risks. If we understand the way that scientific advances have been pushed forward, freedom as opposed to bureaucracy tends to work.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I served on the Bill Committee, and I tabled various amendments at that stage, a number of which we have carried forward to Report. I was interested in a number of things that were said. On the supposed mission and purpose of ARIA, the Bill says only:

“In exercising its functions, ARIA must have regard to the desirability of doing so for the benefit of the United Kingdom, through…economic growth…scientific innovation...or improving the quality of life”,

and that it must

“have regard to the desirability of doing so for the benefit of the United Kingdom.”

It does not even have to do things for the benefit of the United Kingdom; that is not written in the Bill.

The former Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), spoke about high risk and high reward. I understand where he is coming from, but I do not know what that reward means or looks like. The reward is not identified in any way. I am happy for there to be a high reward, but I would like some idea of what that is supposed to be, so that we can measure whether it is successful.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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If I am honest, I do not know the answer to that question. The reward might be the next internet, GPS or, as we heard from the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), mRNA technology; we do not know. But what we do know is that if we give scientists the ability to explore an area, to fail and to report back, some of those things will stick, and some of them could become massive new industries of the future. The challenge—I accept this—is to keep those industries and that technology here in the UK, spread all over the country, to the benefit of us all.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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And what we are doing is just what the hon. Gentleman suggests: pointing scientists in a direction, saying, “Please could you do something about climate change? Please could you do something about our commitment and our journey to net zero?” and then letting them go. It is not about restricting them.

One of the things that has bothered me throughout is that most people seem to think that all this agency will do is invent widgets. Science is not all about making things. One of the biggest things that we need to do to tackle climate change is to convince every single person to change the way they live so that we can reach our targets. We will not be able to do that without scientific research into how people work and what changes they will make. That is not about creating widgets; it is about ensuring that we are on the right track and making the right changes for people to be able to do things in their lives in order that we can move towards net zero. I think that restricting ARIA to dealing with the most important challenge in our lifetimes is not too much of a restriction. It is a huge, wide thing.

One thing that really concerns me about progress to net zero is that an awful lot of folk are going to be left behind. An awful lot of these things that are made will be sold. Yes, great; that is going to make a lot of difference to the lives of people who already have money, but people who currently have nothing will find it even more difficult if we approach climate change with the stick method and require them to make changes or pay more for their energy when they already have very little money. Those are the challenges that I would like to see ARIA tackle, so that none of our constituents are left behind when we are moving to net zero.

I wrote to the Chancellor last week after a meeting with Aberdeen Climate Action about net zero organisations. Lib Dem new clause 3 suggests that ARIA should be net zero in every year. ARIA absolutely should be net zero in every year—that was one of the amendments we moved in Committee—because we should be saying that anything new should not add to our carbon emissions but reduce them or, at the very least, leave them neutral. The Government were not willing to accept that amendment in Committee. I am glad that the Lib Dems have put it forward again, because it is so important. If we are saying that we are going to be leaders and we are going to make a difference, new organisations such as ARIA should be net zero from the very beginning, and we should commit to that. If we are going to be net zero by 2050, everyone will have to make a contribution to that, and that includes ARIA.

On scrutiny, I am afraid that I disagreed with quite a lot of what the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) was making about the Barnett formula was not that it is the best thing since sliced bread, but that we have the rules that we have. The rules mean that the Barnett formula does exist. We have been screwed over with regard to the Barnett formula a number of times in recent years, and we do not want that to happen in this case.

We would rather not have the Barnett formula—we would rather be an independent country—but if we are going to have those rules and the Government do not stick to them, there is a major element of unfairness. We are asking the Government to stick to their own rules in this regard. We have seen with legislative consent motions in recent times that they have completely ignored what the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament have said. They are not sticking to the rules, so we are just trying to get them to live up to the trust that they expect us to have in them.

On scrutiny, public procurement and FOI, I was really pleased that in Committee, the Minister confirmed that in the estimates process, ARIA will have a discrete line in the supply estimates, so we will at least be able to see how much money ARIA has in any given year. I do not disagree that ARIA should have the ability to fail —it is incredibly important that it does—but we need to be able to have scrutiny of the money that is being spent and that we as a House are agreeing to spend on it. I am very glad that the Minister confirmed that.

Finally, I am hugely concerned about the Einsteins—about the people who work in patent offices who have not been able to gain grants. I do not think that ARIA will fix that. There is still going to be the issue where if someone is networked—if they are a white man in research —they are much more likely to be able to get research grants than if they are a woman or a person of colour. Unfortunately, with the lack of ability that we have to FOI and to scrutinise some of ARIA, we cannot see what is going on with that. We cannot see whether ARIA is further entrenching the current inequality in science and technology and academia or doing a positive job towards breaking down those barriers and ensuring that people who live in the most deprived communities in Scotland are given the opportunity because they have the best possible ideas, rather than because they have the best possible friends. It is hugely important that we have more scrutiny. That is why we tabled the cronyism amendment and the amendments relating to us as Houses approving both the chair and the CEO, because those roles will be so important and because we are so excluded from the scrutiny process in relation to ARIA.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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I wish to speak in support of amendments 14 and 8 in relation to bringing ARIA within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. It seems extraordinary to me that there is an exclusion for a body of this kind, although, to be honest, I have a long-standing interest in freedom of information, and for Government Ministers—this is not exclusive to this Government—to look to exempt bodies from that piece of legislation for one spurious reason or another is not that unusual.

I have worked closely with the Campaign for Freedom of Information. Three years ago I introduced, unsuccessfully, a Bill to bring the third of public sector expenditure that is carried out by private contractors within the scope of the Act. That has gained some currency recently with, as we have heard in this debate, the upsurge of cronyism, the scandals over test and trace and the employment of huge numbers of consultants on inflated salaries. The Bill is equally subject to some of the same concerns and rings the same alarm bells.

We hear about high-risk, high-reward research and ARIA being allowed to fail, and there is nothing wrong with those as functions, but there has to be transparency, and, frankly, having that in the public eye, rather than hidden away, is more likely to lead to better decision making. The parallel body that we have heard about—DARPA in the USA—has had scandals and ethics violations that have been brought to light because it is subject to the equivalent Freedom of Information Act in that country. I believe that this is the right thing to do and in the interests of good research and the good use of public money.

The excuses that are given are the usual sorts of excuses that are pulled out at this stage—that this is a small, cutting-edge body on which it will be too burdensome to impose freedom of information. Leaving aside whether a body given £800 million of public money is indeed a small body, we have heard from my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), that parish councils are subject to freedom of information. So are dentists and internal drainage boards. I am not quite sure what an internal drainage board is—it sounds quite painful, actually—but I doubt that such bodies get £800 million of public money. I would take an intervention from anyone who wants to explain what an internal drainage board is, but I think it would take us off the subject.

This is just nonsense. The idea that ARIA will not have back-office functions and that its status at the cutting edge of a science superpower—I am not making those phrases up; the Minister has used them—will be hampered by making it subject to the Freedom of Information Act is fanciful. The Science and Technology Committee did indeed say that there was a danger of ARIA being stifled by bureaucracy, but it was referring not to freedom of information requests from the public and other interested parties, but to micromanagement by Government. That sounds far more likely and realistic.

The US body, DARPA, is subject to FOI. As one would expect, its budget is considerably larger, yet it gets about 50 FOIA requests a year. Comparisons have been made with UK Research and Innovation—a much larger organisation that brings together many different bodies in the sector. It gets about 20 FOIA requests per calendar month. There is no expectation that ARIA will be swamped by FOIA requests. Where they are appropriate, such requests are telling and essential, and they can bring important facts to light.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot see how ARIA will not be subject to environmental information regulations, which are the parallel regime of discovery. It seems to me entirely anomalous that one should be in and one should be out, and it may be that we would be breaching our Aarhus convention obligations. Breaching international treaties from time to time does not seem to bother this Government—I am not sure what other explanation there could be.

It is in the public interest for freedom of information to be exercised where possible. In this instance it is certainly possible, and I hope I have given some reasons why it is entirely appropriate. It was a good action by the Labour Government at the time to bring the FOI Act into force. Since then, successive Governments and Ministers—not only Conservative Ministers—have railed against it, but there have been independent investigations. The Burns commission, which was widely perceived to be a case of the Conservative Government trying to do a hatchet job on the Act, found that the Act was working well. In its inquiry, the Justice Committee—a fine body of men and women—also found that the Act was working well. The Supreme Court has spoken very strongly in favour, saying that there is a strong public interest in the press and the general public having the right, subject to appropriate safeguards, to require public authorities to provide information about their activities. That is right, and it is particularly right that it applies to ARIA. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will think again about the rather misguided steps they are taking.

Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne (Jarrow) (Lab)
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The UK has a long and proud tradition of science and innovation, and nowhere has this been seen more clearly than in the success of the NHS vaccine roll-out. It is because of our existing science and technology infrastructure that vaccines have been both successfully produced and rolled out in the UK and, indeed, further afield. It is British vaccines developed across the regions, including my own region, the north-east, that are allowing us to return to some form of normality. They show us all the incredible benefits that cutting-edge science and technology can provide. Any further investment in long-term, high-ambition research and development is of course welcome, but the proposals for ARIA in the Bill do not provide it with a clear purpose or mission.

I believe that ARIA must have a clear mission to offer a societal return on taxpayer investment. The Bill is an opportunity for the Government to establish a mission-led funding agency that can benefit everyone in every part of the country. ARIA must not be used to pursue vanity projects that offer no return for the public.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) and others across the House have highlighted, the Bill as it stands has a lack of direction, strategy and accountability. The Government could set a clear direction and use ARIA to address the greatest challenge we face in the shape of the climate and environmental emergency. Fighting the climate emergency should be ARIA’s mission within the broad objective of achieving a net zero economy. I do not think that I or Opposition Members should apologise for proposing that we focus on the biggest single issue facing us and our future generations.
Last month, the Secretary of State told the Science and Technology Committee that the Government want ARIA to
“reflect the wide talent and geographical spread of the United Kingdom”,
but there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that happens. In the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, the plans for an industrial strategy were conspicuously absent. We know that research and development can be a key driver in building the economy of tomorrow and creating new jobs as others are overtaken by automation. If the Government are serious about levelling up and unlocking potential, they must start to get serious about their industrial strategy and use ARIA as an effective tool to deliver high-skilled, high-paying unionised jobs in every region.
I am also concerned that ARIA will escape scrutiny as it will not be subject to the same transparency rules as other public sector-funded bodies. We know that ARIA is broadly modelled on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said, unlike its US counterpart it will have a blanket FOI exemption. How can the Government justify that when they are in the midst of a cronyism scandal? I am worried about that, and I share the concerns of my hon. Friend and other Members. Transparency must be at the heart of ARIA, because taxpayers have the right to know how £800 million of their money is being invested.
Overall, ARIA will not be put to good use if its purpose remains unfocused. If ARIA is to succeed, it must have a well defined mission, which the Government must play a key role in setting. I had prepared further comments on the foreign aid budget, but I will leave my contribution there.
Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
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The general concept behind the Bill is a welcome one. Support for ambitious research where the real-world application is not always clear could bring massive economic benefits if successfully applied, not least to my own constituency and the world-leading institutions in Midlothian. The Midlothian Science Zone is at the cutting edge of global research across many disciplines, particularly in the fields of animal health, human health and agritech and their related technologies. The ideas behind ARIA will be especially welcome to the world-renowned Roslin Institute, for which blue-sky research funding could allow it to investigate, for instance, how integration and transformation of the food system could contribute to solving global hunger and climate change and develop our preparedness for potential future pandemics.

Those are just a few of the positive real-world impacts that the principle behind the Bill could bring about, but principle can often fall victim to a lack of clarity and purpose. On Second Reading, I raised concerns about the Bill’s lack of clarity and focus and the effects that could have on ARIA meeting its aims in the future. Given that we are talking about public money, it would be wise to signal to the public exactly what ARIA is setting out to do—a guiding aim that acts as the body’s ruler and sets a general course of travel. That is not controversial; it reflects best practice elsewhere around the globe.

We know that DARPA, the US defence research body that inspired the model, has a mission focus. Likewise, Horizon Europe and the Scottish National Investment Bank have mission focus: namely, to reduce inequalities and tackle climate change. Why are the Government therefore so content for the UK model to be an outlier to those other schemes? Although it is disappointing that the Government have taken no steps to address that lack of purpose, the legwork has thankfully been done by Members on this side of the Chamber. I welcome the proposals tabled by the dream team from Aberdeen, my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), whose amendment 1 states that

“ARIA’s primary mission will be to support the development of technologies and research that support the UK’s transition to net zero… or reduce the harmful effects of climate change.”

Why do the Government remain so insistent on giving ARIA as unspecified a remit as possible in the face of best practice everywhere else? Perhaps the answer lies in the clauses related to the planning, oversight and governance of the new agency. It is hard not to feel as though I am watching history repeating itself when I read that ARIA will be exempt from freedom of information provisions and public contract regulations, especially given the Government’s woeful record on accountability and transparency.

In setting up the new funding body, especially for high-risk funding such as this, surely it is imperative that safeguards are built in to protect against the risk of corruption. There is an urgent need for more oversight, not less, of public spending decisions. We have been here before; we are all well versed in the Government’s rebuttal on less scrutiny—that speed and efficiency are the necessities. It looks as though similar lines are being trotted out on this Bill.

Ministers are saying that the exemptions will reduce bureaucracy for ARIA. Bureaucracy looks increasingly to be the convenient byword for the bypassing of scrutiny by the Government—a Government who, I might add, have dramatically increased damaging bureaucracy for international businesses and academia since leaving the EU.

It is important to remind ourselves that speed and scrutiny are not mutually exclusive if the Government are willing to think creatively, and in the previous Session of Parliament, I set out a model for balancing the two in my Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill and was devastated when it failed to secure a date for Second Reading. However, we have on the amendment paper today amendment 2, which stands in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen North and for Aberdeen South. It would allow parliamentary scrutiny of any contract awarded by ARIA to a person connected to a member of the Government. That would not increase bureaucracy for ARIA, nor hinder efficiency, as the parliamentary scrutiny would be retrospective.

To me, this is a no-brainer—an amendment that would increase the scrutiny powers of Members in this place to keep ministerial decision making in check and ensure that grants truly go to the best projects. I urge Members to back the amendment. I have said many times that if there is nothing to hide, there can surely be nothing to fear. A refusal to back the amendment would surely set alarm bells ringing among the research community and anti-corruption organisations alike. It would send the signal that this is the same old crony Tory Government reducing ideas for world-changing good to slush funds for pals or donors.

A body dedicated to high-risk research funding has clear benefits, but to ensure that the outcomes benefit all society and the world, and not just Ministers’ mates, we need to give it a guiding focus. By giving this place more power to understand decisions taken on funding allocated, we would strengthen, not weaken, mechanisms for scrutiny as well as ARIA’s effectiveness. Strength comes with openness, and I hope that Members will make ARIA as strong as it ought to be by backing these amendments.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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When I saw the list of speakers this morning, I thought I would keep my comments brief. Perhaps unusually, I will stick to that.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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I was happy to be a member of the Bill Committee and we had constructive, good humoured discussions, many of which have been echoed in this evening’s debate. One thing that particularly struck me was the quality of the evidence that the witnesses gave. I have a question for the Minister: if she, like me, was so impressed by what we heard, particularly from the representatives of DARPA, what did she learn from it and what changes could be made to the Bill to reflect the wisdom imparted by the witnesses?

I shall speak in support of all the Opposition amendments, but I want to address in particular amendment 12 and the need for a mission. I was struck by the outline of the Haldane principle by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who is my good friend. He is absolutely right that there is no need for the Government to get involved in the detail, but equally there is no obligation to withdraw from a having a general sense of what we are trying to do. The key issue is whether we say, “We’re just not going to have a view on what it is going to do” or we have some sense of where this might go.

I spent much of last week reading Professor Dieter Helm’s book on net zero, which I commend to hon. Members. He is quite influential on the Government, I think, but it is pretty depressing reading regarding where we are on achieving net zero. We are nowhere near doing what is needed. One of the key areas is science, innovation and research, so it would not be unreasonable to suggest putting our great scientific minds to work on the great challenge of our times: what to do about the climate crisis.

I am fortunate to chair the all-party parliamentary group for life sciences. When I chaired a meeting this afternoon, one question that I asked the people before us was, “Why was it that you were so successful in tackling the vaccines crisis?” It was because they worked in a different way, with a mission and a purpose, and I think exactly the same thing would happen if we set our great scientific minds to work on this great challenge of our times.

It is important to support amendment 12, as well as the other amendments. What a difference it could make, and what a political opportunity for the Government as we head towards the G7 this week and COP26. Unless something like this is adopted, frankly, we will not get where we need to.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Nos. 28, 29 and 30 have withdrawn, so I call Ruth Jones.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; yes, it is a surprisingly fast debate tonight, which is good.

I am grateful to be able to speak in this important debate and to say a few words on behalf of the people of Newport West. I commend the high level of debate, which has been impressive; I have learnt a lot.

Like other Opposition colleagues, I welcome the creation of ARIA. The UK has a proud tradition in science and innovation, but Labour has long called for further investment in long-term, high-ambition research and development. I join Opposition Members who have raised concerns about the Bill in its current form. Most concerningly, the Government’s proposals for the agency do not provide it with a clear purpose or mission. For the new agency to succeed, it must be given a well-defined mission and Ministers must play a role in setting that mission. In setting that mission, the creation of ARIA, which will only account for a fraction of the overall science spending, must not serve as a distraction from the country’s wider research and development priorities.

It is a matter of regret—but, alas, no surprise—that this 11-year-old Tory Government are reportedly on course to miss their target of spending 2.4% of GDP on R and D by 2027. They have also failed to provide the support needed to medical research charities during the pandemic, forcing them to make sweeping cuts. I say to the Minister that we need real clarity on how the devolved Administrations will be engaged with and supported to ensure that people across the whole United Kingdom benefit in the months and years ahead.

Labour’s amendment 12 on mission has a welcome focus on net zero, which, as a shadow environment Minister, I welcome very strongly. The greatest challenge that we face as a country and as a planet is the climate and environment emergency, so I applaud and thank the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), for proposing that the fight to preserve our planet and protect our environment be the new agency’s mission for the first 10 years. Achieving net zero offers a broad mission and ARIA’s new CEO would have plenty of discretion in choosing which aspects of the climate and environmental emergency to address.

I turn to oversight and accountability. As has already been mentioned, it is important that people know what is happening, how and when. By making ARIA subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, we would be drawing open the curtains and shining a light where it is absolutely necessary.

Let me turn to regional and national empowerment. As I indicated, I want my constituents in Newport West to benefit as much as those living in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. As such, it is vital that the Minister supports amendment 13, which would require the agency to have regard for the benefit of its activities across the nations and regions of our United Kingdom.

I am in the privileged position of having the Intellectual Property Office located in my constituency, and I am proud to stand up and shout on behalf of the next up-and-coming Einstein, to ensure that they can work on a level playing field. This Bill may be small, but it is important and we must get it right now.

I turn to the new clause in the name of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who has a long track record on fighting for the rights of the poorest in our world. I commend him and his many right hon. and hon. Friends—notably the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—for standing up and doing the right thing. So many colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken eloquently in this debate about who we are as a nation and about the values that drive what we do and when we do it. Although I would of course never question a ruling by Mr Speaker, I do want to place on record the fact that I regret that the new clause was not selected. However, I am really pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has secured his debate tomorrow, and I look forward to its outcome.

This last year has been like no other in living memory, and we have seen pain and suffering not just here at home but around the world. We have sought to respond to the ravages of coronavirus and to rebuild and move forward. That is why so many of us in Newport West were outraged when the Secretary of State announced that the Government would be scrapping the 0.7% target. However, although I could go on at length about this, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am content to know that we have the three-hour debate tomorrow. Therefore, I will keep my powder dry until then.
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Nos. 32, 33 and 34 have withdrawn, so we go to Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I cannot recall a time when we have rushed so fast through the speakers, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the beginning, as No. 35, I thought I would have three minutes. You have asked us to keep to six minutes, and we will do our best—indeed, I will keep to that.

I value the opportunity to speak on this matter of utmost importance. I also welcome the Chancellor’s announcement—I have my instructions for tonight as the one who will do the proxy votes on behalf of my party—that the UK Government will invest at least £800 million in this new agency as part of the Government’s wider commitment to increase public research and development funding by £22 billion by 2024-25 and to increase overall UK spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It would be churlish not to welcome that and not to say how good it is to have those figures on the record here tonight. It is clear that the Government have given a commitment to ensure that this agency will be a success story.

When I see that many of our shops have been tied up not simply by Brexit but by the over-dependence on overseas manufacturing and production, I lament that because we were at one time the greatest industrial nation, with the greatest innovators. I believe we can be that again; all we need to do is follow the Government’s policy and strategy, as set out here tonight, and then we can all benefit across this great nation. I still believe that that title is ours, but for us to become all we can become in terms of leading groundbreaking blue-sky projects, we must put the money in, and the Government are clearly putting their money in.

I want to ask the Minister—last time, we did not have much time, and she was unable to respond—to ensure that the R&D and the spend benefit all the regions. The hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and others referred to that. I want Northern Ireland very clearly to be a recipient of the R&D so that we have some of the benefit from this whole project. Technology does not come cheap, but the rewards are extensive. What we have achieved with the covid vaccine through investing money is an indication that greatness still awaits. The Government have been extremely successful in the coronavirus vaccine roll-out and in how they have benefitted and helped all the companies, whether with furlough or the grant scheme. Many businesses in my constituency are here today because of the Government’s commitment, and I want to put on record my thanks to them for that as well.

We all have a great affection for our mothers, and I have a particular affection for mine. She always said that her greatest investment was the time she invested to believe in her children. It is important that we take note of those wise words, and I hope that my mother will be very pleased with the investment she made in her four children. If God spares her, she will be 90 on 14 July, so she has had a long and very good life. When I phone her, as I did at about 6 o’clock tonight, she always asks me what is happening over here, and I always tell her, because she is really deeply interested. We are very fortunate to have a 90-year-old mum who is sound in body and mind and still able to tell this big boy what to do when the time comes. That is what a mother does—she tells you off no matter what age you are, and I am always very conscious of that.

We must invest in our own people and in their ability. That is why I support this Bill and why we will be voting with the Government tonight. I want to take this opportunity to press the Minister for an assurance that the investment to which I referred earlier will take place across the UK, and will allow the wonderful research and development that takes place in Northern Ireland to continue. We have a great scheme in Northern Ireland, which works really well, to avail us with increased support and funding. I believe that the Minister will be happy to give that assurance and I will be happy to hold her to that assurance. I look forward to her response.

Northern Ireland has the best education system in the United Kingdom. I thank my colleague Peter Weir, the Education Minister, for the great job that he has done in trying to secure our children’s ongoing education through covid. As a result of this education, we have highly skilled young people who have so much to offer in terms of vision and goals. I meet those young people every day in my constituency of Strangford and across Northern Ireland. We have some wonderful people. We need to encourage them and to ensure that they can be part of that future as well. We do this as well for my grandchildren and, indeed, for everyone’s grandchildren.

We should also allow those with grand projects to take on young apprentices, who will learn how to take innovative approaches. It is very important that we do these things. The R&D projects to give young graduates a place at the R&D table would benefit from their wisdom, experience, enthusiasm and learning. Again, I commend the Northern Ireland Assembly, and particularly Minister Dodds and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, for all that they have done, working alongside the Education Minister to ensure that we in Northern Ireland can be part of this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—always better together and always better if we can share what we have. I see my colleague and friend, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), having a smile to himself. But I mean it. I want him to stay in the United Kingdom. I do not want him to leave; I want him to be a part of it.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Nos. 36 to 40 on the speakers’ list have withdrawn, so we go to Virginia Crosbie.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate on ARIA and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who always speaks so eloquently and passionately. I particularly liked the fact that he mentioned his grandchildren.

I was proud to serve on the ARIA Bill Committee and I would like to thank the Minister and all those who have contributed to this landmark legislation. Setting up this agency will deliver on yet another manifesto commitment from 2019 and I wholeheartedly support the Bill. The last year has shown us the power of science to deliver solutions, and now is the time to further invest in the ideas of the future that will allow us to continue to make scientific progress.

ARIA needs to have as broad a remit as possible, not to be restricted in its scope, which would be the outcome if new clause 2 were accepted. Scientists need to have space and time to research new technologies without restrictions about the agency’s mission imposed upon them. In the words of Professor Bond in the evidence sessions of which I was part, this is about “radical innovation”.

In my constituency of Ynys Môn, there is already the infrastructure in place for research and innovation, hosted by the Menai Science Park, which is the innovation hub for Bangor University. Businesses such as Tech Tyfu, a vertical farming pilot project in Gwynedd and Ynys Môn delivered by Menter Môn, provide the opportunity for the UK to increase UK food production. We need to encourage more people with an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset, such as those at Tech Tyfu and the others located at M-Sparc, to engage with research in order to solve the problems that the world faces today and in the future. We need to recruit the right people and trust them, not micromanage them.

Amendments 1 and 12 look to focus ARIA’s core mission on achieving net zero and the impact of climate change. I am fully supportive of the goal of achieving net zero, as was laid out in the manifesto on which I proudly stood in 2019. Indeed, Ynys Môn— also known as energy island—will play a key part in delivering this target. However, restricting ARIA’s mission to this goal is not necessary, as we have already legislated for the net zero target by 2050, with ambitious interim targets and a cross-governmental framework in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan.

ARIA also gives the opportunity to level up around the country, be truly inclusive and involve the brilliant minds from all over the United Kingdom, including those in Wales. It needs to be able to do that without being weighed down by bureaucracy. I spoke in Committee about why ARIA should be free from the freedom of information regime proposed in amendments 8 and 14. In Committee, we heard evidence about the potential burden of administration. UKRI told us that it had a team of staff purely to deal with the 300-plus FOI requests it receives annually. As Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said, UKRI is “happy” to be able to respond to FOI requests, but

“there is a judgment call about the burden of administration”.––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 9, Q4.]

With its unique freedoms and independence to enable transformational research, ARIA will inevitably receive a disproportionate number of FOI requests relative to its size. Our vision for ARIA is that it should be lean and agile. Do we really want it encumbered by that level of administrative burden? Do we want ARIA’s brilliant programme managers to be stifled by bureaucratic paperwork?

We also heard about whether ARIA will be able to deliver the game-changing R&D that we want if it is subject to FOI. It was Tony Blair who gave us the Freedom of Information Act and who subsequently described it as

“utterly undermining of sensible government”

To use his words:

“If you are trying to take a difficult decision and you're weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations...And if those conversations then are put out in a published form that afterwards are liable to be highlighted in particular ways, you are going to be very cautious.”

Professor Philip Bond put this view into an R&D context in his discussions with the Committee:

“if you are asking people to go out on a limb to really push the envelope, I would assert that there is an argument, which has some validity, that you make it psychologically much easier for them if they do not feel that they are under a microscope.” ––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 29, Q21.]

Mr Blair and Professor Bond perfectly highlight the fundamental reason why ARIA should be free from FOI: the last thing our scientists need when they are looking for the next internet is to be held back by caution.

The Bill already contains very strong statutory commitments to transparency: an annual report will be laid before Parliament; ARIA’s accounts and spending will be published; non-legislative mechanisms will be set out in a framework document; and there will be a thorough and transparent selection process to ensure it is led by respected individuals who will uphold public honour. Freedom of information requests can still be submitted to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and any organisation that ARIA works with. Any contracts awarded by ARIA will be publicly available.

ARIA will give the United Kingdom and the island of Ynys Môn the opportunity to grasp and shape our future on a global stage. It will help drive innovation and investment, and secure our status as a science superpower. I am proud—I am proud to support this Bill.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Nos. 42 to 49 on the speakers’ list have withdrawn, so we go to Angela Richardson.

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela Richardson
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is such a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who is so passionate about this area. That came through in the Bill Committee, as it does whenever she speaks on behalf of her constituency.

It is a pleasure for me to speak on Report, as it was to be a member of the Committee and to speak on Second Reading. It is a relief to speak to amendments that pertain to the Bill today, even if I do not support them. I particularly want to speak to the procurement amendments tabled by both the Opposition and the Scottish National party, but first I wish to address the amendments that want to make ARIA’s primary mission health and research, or our net zero aims. We already have knowledge of and have committed significant resources to those two areas, and we understand the importance of tackling them. The benefit of freeing ARIA from those specific missions is the ability to go into the unknown—to the areas we do not have knowledge of. I have no issue with ARIA seeing successes or failures in those areas, but prescribing for those areas through ARIA may not necessarily be the cure we are looking for.

Turning to procurement, the exemption from the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 places freedom into the hands of the leaders and programme managers who will be recruited to run ARIA as an independent body. ARIA’s procurement will be at arm’s length from Government and Ministers. Procurement rules do not apply to the traditional R&D granting used by UKRI, but ARIA, like DARPA, will work in a different way by commissioning and contracting others to conduct research. ARIA will often be procuring research and development services, which can be in the scope of the procurement regulations.

If activities were subject to procurement rules, ARIA would be required to put contracts out to open tender, often for many weeks, even if it knew its preferred supplier. That would slow down ARIA’s programme managers. We want to avoid their needing to consult lawyers routinely to determine which niche contractual arrangements must go to open tender. If ARIA wished quickly to gain expert consulting advice on a technical issue, the procurement process might bias it against seeking expert advice on spending decisions, which might harm its ability to operate and use money. The most important check and balance in the Bill is in schedule 1, paragraph 14, in which the Government have made a commitment to ensure that ARIA internally audits its procurement activities, so the up-front flexibility afforded by the exemption will be balanced by reporting at a later point.
The idea was mentioned quite a lot in Committee—it was mentioned again today by the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah)—that ARIA could become a side door to sleaze; others mentioned that they were worried about cronyism. I think that it is a real shame, in talking about our scientists, who are world-class, to suggest that they would receive contracts for political favour rather than on the merit of their scientific ideas and expertise. It is a shame to put them in that sort of shadow, especially after the year that we have had and the huge amount of work that we have seen on the pandemic. I hope that as we go forward, we will put some faith in our scientific community and not accuse them of being potentially open to sleaze.
As I said on Second Reading, Guildford would be an excellent home for ARIA. Just over a week ago, I met the people who run Surrey Research Park. I know that they would be keen to have ARIA.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Minister celebrated a significant birthday yesterday, and I wish her many happy returns. After the time, care and attention that she has given the Bill, I cannot think of a better gift than to see it go unamended to Third Reading and on to the other place.
Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell
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It really is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson), who is one of my best friends in this place; it was a pleasure to serve on the Bill Committee with her and with so many other hon. Members present. Along with the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), my hon. Friend and I served both on the Science and Technology Committee when it conducted a report on what at the time we were calling ARPA, and on the Bill Committee, so I have felt a real sense of personal involvement in the process as it has developed.

Since I will not speak on Third Reading, I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of the process, particularly the Clerks of the Bill Committee; the Minister for her dedication; and the Whip, whom I see in his place, for his help on our side of the Committee. It was a very good-natured Bill Committee, as others have said. Some amendments that we are debating today are rather similar to those that we rejected in Committee, but obviously that is how Report works. I will not labour all the same points again, but I will speak briefly on them later in my speech.

Science is cool again, because science has saved us in the past year. It is not just about the vaccines—extraordinary though they are, particularly the mRNA advances. It is also about what we were able to achieve with Sarah Gilbert’s Oxford project, which I am very proud is being manufactured in my constituency at Keele science park in Newcastle-under-Lyme; what we have done scientifically in finding therapeutics through our world-leading recovery trial; and the advances that we have seen in rapid tests to enable the incredible amount of testing that we now have in the UK.

However, I would like to add a note of caution, because covid has also exposed some of the problems we see in science and some of the problems in the networks that the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) spoke about earlier. I am talking particularly about the so-called lab leak hypothesis—the theory that covid emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology rather than from a zoonotic transmission. We saw some of the worst of science and the media over that, but it was essentially shut down by a letter to The Lancet organised by the EcoHealth Alliance and its president, Peter Daszak, which squashed the theory on 18 February last year. Let us face it, the theory was assisted by Donald Trump and Senator Tom Cotton in the States taking the opposite view, and there was this whole politicisation of something that should have been about scientific inquiry. Speaking as a Bayesian, and based on everything I have seen, including the fact that the virus was in Wuhan in the first place, and on everything we have seen since, I believe it probably was a lab leak. I would go as far as to stake an 80% probability on that, and I think we should bear that in mind when we think about what we are asking of ARIA.

We do not want ARIA to get politicised and legalised, and we do not want it to fall into the same group-think that we have seen in some science, with a tendency to defend your mates and the people you know in your network and stick up for the institution rather than the principles behind the science. Instead, the DRASTIC group—the decentralised radical autonomous search team investigating covid-19—a bunch of people on the internet, correspondents and scientifically inquisitive people around the world, have managed to bring the lab leak hypothesis back to public attention to the point where it is clearly being actively considered by our intelligence services and our scientific community. I think we need some of that spirit in ARIA. We need that spirit of inquiry and of people outside the system getting their fair say in the system—the Einsteins in the Patent Office, as others have said.

On the amendments about cronyism, what we saw with the appointment of Kate Bingham was a complete disgrace. That is the sort of thing I worry about with some of the amendments to the Bill. I think “everyday sexism” is the term to describe the abuse she got on her appointment. We had the Runnymede Trust trying to go to court to get her appointment declared unlawful, the so-called Good Law Project seeking to crowdfund against her appointment, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party saying that she must resign and Labour’s deputy leader saying “this cronyism stinks”. The truth is that she was the best qualified person for that job. She was appointed at speed because of the circumstances we were in, and she has delivered in spades. If the rumours about her damehood are correct, she richly deserves it and we all owe her an enormous debt.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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On the Science and Technology Committee, we often share similar views and attitudes to science, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the violence of the language that is sometimes used; it is completely unacceptable. When emergency decisions are taken, as they were with the vaccine taskforce and with Test and Trace, there needs to be an assessment afterwards. I hope he agrees that it would be a very different assessment for Test and Trace than it would be for the vaccine taskforce.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell
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I thank the hon. Gentlemen for raising that. As a member of the Science and Technology Committee, he knows that we were looking at producing further reports into both Test and Trace and the vaccine programme as a result of our inquiry. I think the Test and Trace programme has actually got to a very good place now: the number of tests we are achieving is the envy of many other countries around the world. We could quite happily say that the vaccine taskforce is an exemplar for everything that went well, and that the Test and Trace programme has been more mixed—[Laughter.] The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) on the Opposition Front Bench laughs, but I think that the Test and Trace programme has helped our recovery from the worst of the covid pandemic. It is not the case that all that money has been wasted, as some Opposition Members say, and it is certainly not the case that it has all gone on cronyism; it has gone on the cost of the tests. That is what it has gone on. Contact tracing is hard. Some people do not want to be contact traced, but the role that Test and Trace has played is still significant, although perhaps not as significant as we hoped initially. I am sure we will move on with that in our inquiry.

Returning to what I was saying about the amendments seeking to give ARIA a mission statement, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) gave the House some good reasons to reject them. First, there is no point spending just a little bit of money on things that already have billions thrown at them; we should be looking at the things we do not necessarily even know about yet. I also think we should avoid circumscribing ARIA’s freedom. Likewise, on all the amendments that are trying to impose more bureaucracy on ARIA, the whole point is to do things differently, with freedom from all the usual processes and pressures that act on these sorts of bodies.

We need to empower scientists. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) quoted Professor Bond, who said of freedom of information in his evidence to the Bill Committee:

“In terms of the level of transparency, transparency is a good and wonderful thing in most areas, but if you are asking people to go out on a limb to really push the envelope, I would assert that there is an argument, which has some validity, that you make it psychologically much easier for them if they do not feel that they are under a microscope. Many people tend to step back when they are there.”

Some of the burdens that people are seeking to put on ARIA would potentially circumscribe it and reduce its effectiveness. The Bill does still have a statutory commitment to transparency. We will have regular reports, and I am sure that our Committee will be regularly engaged not only with the Secretary of State, who is in his place, but with the chief executive and the chairman of ARIA, who will come to speak to us as well.

ARIA needs to have the freedom to fail. In that sense, it needs to be a macrocosm of all its individual projects that also need to have the freedom to fail. Let us truly empower ARIA by rejecting these amendments. Let us let ARIA take flight and shoot for the stars, not weigh it down and prevent it from ever reaching the escape velocity it needs and the chance that it has to boldly go—returning to the “Star Trek” references we had in the Bill Committee—not into outer space but to the very cutting edge of scientific research and discovery. If we pass this Bill today, it will be a great day for science in the United Kingdom.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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I shall try not to come up with any more “Star Trek” references as we will probably run out in a minute.

I am grateful to the Minister for all her hard work on such an interesting piece of legislation that is going to be truly transformative. It has been a pleasure to be involved in the Bill, having spoken on Second Reading and been a member of the Bill Committee. I want to deal with a number of amendments and also to make this general observation: the Opposition amendments in Committee were, in the main, tabled to hinder much of the Government’s primary intention in what ARIA was set up to do in the first place. If we recognise that ARIA is set up with the sole principle of operating at pace, with flexibility, and with freedom to aid our position in the world in continuing to be a leader in innovation and science, then we absolutely must not stifle it by filling it with bureaucracy around regulation and oversight, thereby harming its very intention. Yes, there will be failures, as we have heard today. We all recognise that; it is almost part and parcel of what is built into the fabric of the agency to help it to operate without restrictions. From board compositions to freedom of information stipulations, even to dictating the agency’s priorities over health and climate change, it is quite revealing to be met with the level of shackles that were to be imposed rather than the vision to encourage our next generation of pioneering inventors.

Amendments 8 and 14 would make ARIA subject to FOI requests. If they were to be passed, we could immediately lose the competitive edge of innovative or potentially cutting-edge scientific developments brought about by risk. Instead, we are thrusting them into the spotlight whereby that ingenuity could be uncovered by FOIs. If we restrict people’s creativity, they will play it safe. They will not take the risk that is the very essence of ARIA in the first place in being an incubator for creativity to flourish.

New clause 3 and amendment 1 take us back to the ring-fencing of ARIA’s remit by constricting its freedom across all facets of science and research. Across the entire country and across all sectors, from automotive to farming, society is striving to decarbonise. We are already a world-leading Government in our commitment to decarbonise to net zero by 2050. To make the agency specifically concentrate its efforts on particular areas is again to dictate as to its uniqueness, and that will not give it the true freedom that is at the very heart of this Bill.

Finally, any organisation is only as good as the people that make it up. ARIA will need a visionary CEO to lead the culture and set its direction. Amendments 3 to 6 would require, among other matters, that Parliament approves the CEO. However, we know that if a small organisation is to be nimble, those decisions need to be made quickly. I do not see that there is a need for approving the board with Government representatives if that process is fair and open, which we are told it will be.

As I said on Second Reading, my constituency of North Norfolk was home to one of our greatest living inventors, Sir James Dyson. I hope that ARIA will be our launchpad to uncover the very next greatest inventor.

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
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It is a pleasure to be here on this special occasion, and not just because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) pointed out, it was a very special birthday yesterday—40. [Laughter.]

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have tabled amendments and new clauses, and who have contributed today.

The UK has a world-class science system, and a proud history of research and invention. Today, in our continuing fight against coronavirus, the importance of those skills has never been more apparent. What is it that makes ARIA so special? It is the fact that we are strengthening our science system, enhancing our capabilities and finding a new level of ambition. That means that it will be a small, agile organisation with autonomy from Government and unique powers that equip it to support groundbreaking ideas, with the potential to profoundly change all our lives for the better.

The Bill brings forward a bold and ambitious policy that seeks to deliver the transformational benefits of high-risk R&D for our economy and society. I have spoken to many colleagues who share my genuine excitement about the possibilities that ARIA could bring. We have heard on the Floor of the House and in every previous debate that all parties support the principle of ARIA and what it will try to achieve. I am glad that today we are able to give ARIA the focus that it deserves.

A focus of today’s debate that has been raised by the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), among others, has been giving ARIA a primary research topic, through new clauses 2 and 3, and amendments 1 and 12. Given the challenges that we face today, those amendments understandably focus on climate change and health. Nobody in the House should have any concerns about the Government’s credentials on tackling climate change. We are proud to be the greenest Government ever. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan and our COP26 presidency, to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) referred, are demonstrating that at home and abroad, the UK is leading efforts to accelerate action on climate change.

Without doubt, the covid pandemic has clearly illustrated the critical role that R&D plays in the health and wellbeing of our population. Our vaccine roll-out is the envy of the world. The Government already invest around £2 billion annually in health and care research in the UK. It is therefore right that such priorities are taken forward by Government Departments and agencies, with clear direction and involvement from Ministers. That includes the important role that UKRI plays in delivering Government priorities for R&D. We do not want to duplicate those responsibilities.

Instead, as many colleagues have put it much better than I could, ARIA must make its own distinct contribution to be effective. That means being an organisation led by brilliant people with strategic autonomy—not directed by Ministers. The continued chopping and changing of ARIA’s mission set out in amendment 12 would hamper ARIA’s ability to commit to long-term programmes.

New clause 3 also seeks to impose obligations on ARIA regarding the transition to net zero. ARIA is covered by the Government’s existing net zero commitments and will be required to make information available through the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter).

I turn to the contribution of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on the role of Parliament. Amendments 3 to 6 would require the proposed chair and CEO of ARIA to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Amendment 11 would require the Commons Science and Technology Committee to approve appointments by the Secretary of State and the remuneration of the appointees. I am extremely pleased that the recruitment campaign for the CEO was launched on 1 June and that we will launch the campaign for the chair on 5 July. All applications will be reviewed by an outstanding expert panel, which will include the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. The Government’s guidance sets out that the ultimate responsibility for appointments rests with Ministers who are accountable to Parliament, as is the case with UKRI. There is no precedent for requiring the approval of both Houses for appointments.

I am grateful for the contribution that the Science and Technology Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), has made on this issue. However, I guarantee that this is an open, fair and robust recruitment process, and it is completely appropriate to find the right people to make ARIA a success. Amendment 9 would require ARIA to provide the Science and Technology Committee with the information it requests. The Osmotherly rules provide guidance on how Government bodies should interact with Select Committees, and they are clear that such bodies should be as helpful as possible in providing accurate, truthful and full information when giving evidence. I believe that that is sufficient to ensure a co-operative and constructive relationship between ARIA and the relevant Committees.

Amendment 10 would require the Secretary of State to consult the Committee before dissolving ARIA. Clause 8 already sets out the broad requirement on the Secretary of State to consult any persons they consider appropriate, and I am sure they will always consider it appropriate to consult the Science and Technology Committee about changes to the R&D landscape. The Secretary of State’s power to dissolve ARIA is subject to the draft affirmative procedure, which will ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to debate that decision.

Amendments 7 and 8 tabled by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South and amendment 14 tabled by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central seek to remove the exemption from the public contracts regulations and to subject ARIA to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We have covered procurement extensively before, and I will reiterate why the exemption is so important. There are three key points.

First, ARIA is expected to commission and contract others to conduct research in pursuit of its ambitious goals. Often, ARIA will procure research services. That commissioning and contracting is a fundamentally different way of funding R&D to traditional grant making, and procurement rules do not apply. Secondly, this way of funding research is core to DARPA’s approach—the successful US model from which we learned when designing ARIA. As we heard in Committee, DARPA benefits from what is described as “other transaction authority”, which offers flexibility outside standard US Government contracting standards. By taking that innovative new funding approach that is so fundamental to its objectives, ARIA will benefit from similar flexibilities.

Let me turn to amendments 8 and 14. ARIA is about creating a certain culture of funding and groundbreaking research, as I heard time and again throughout my engagement with the R&D community. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) put it so eloquently, that kind of culture is difficult to achieve within all the rules that would usually apply to public bodies. We have thought carefully about alternative ways to ensure that high standards of conduct are upheld within this unique context.

The Bill requires ARIA to submit an annual report and statement of accounts, which will be laid before Parliament. ARIA will be audited by the National Audit Office and will be subject to value-for-money assessments. ARIA will interact with Select Committees in the usual way, and it will draw up a framework document detailing its relationship with BEIS. There will be further reporting requirements, such as the details of what is published in the annual report. Together, those provisions will ensure that the public are informed of ARIA’s activities and where it spends its money. Although the Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows for exemptions in certain circumstances, the request must still be processed, and that administration runs contrary to the lean and agile operation of ARIA.

I turn to amendment 2 on conflicts of interest. Schedule 1 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations

“about the procedures to be adopted for dealing with conflicts of interest”.

The framework document between BEIS and ARIA will commit ARIA to the code of conduct for board members of public bodies, which includes the obligation to publicly declare any private financial or non-financial interests that may or may not be perceived to conflict with one’s public duty. This principle-led, non-legislative approach is appropriate. It is the standard approach taken by many other arm’s length bodies, including UKRI, and I have no reason to believe that it is inadequate here. In addition, we have the existing reserve power in schedule 1, should it ever prove necessary.

On the issue of human rights, I recognise the intent behind new clause 1. Human rights are already protected in law in the UK through the Human Rights Act 1998, and ARIA will be subject to public authority obligations under that Act. I therefore reassure the hon. Member for Aberdeen South that ARIA will operate in a way that is compatible with the convention on human rights. It would be unlawful for it not to do so under existing legislation.

Amendment 13 would require details of ARIA’s geographical impact to be included in its annual report. I believe that it is incredibly important that ARIA’s funding benefits those who are not always reached by the current system. That is the Government’s policy and priority, as well as a priority for me personally. The R&D place strategy, due to be published this summer, will set out how R&D will contribute to our levelling-up ambitions. Details of ARIA’s operation will be set out more fully in a future framework document, and that is the appropriate place to stipulate the contents of ARIA’s annual report, including geographical information, rather than legislation.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The Minister is being generous with her time tonight. In my contribution, I was very keen, as were others, to ensure that all the levelling-up that the Minister refers to will happen in the regions as well—in other words, that Northern Ireland will get its share. It is important, as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that we all benefit. May I seek her assurance that that will be the case?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
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Of course, I give my assurance that we will issue the place strategy shortly, which will indicate all of this.

I am very grateful for the contributions that right hon. and hon. Members have made today. The interest in the passage of the Bill in the House and in the R&D community is testament to the important role that ARIA will play in our future R&D landscape, creating a space in the system that is free to fund groundbreaking science in innovative ways, independent from ongoing Government intervention.

This is an incredibly significant moment, because the opportunity that ARIA affords us is truly limitless. By unlocking a new level of ambition, and by enabling truly bold and adventurous ideas to flourish, ARIA will allow us to take a huge leap into the future. Yes, this will mean embracing the unknowns that come from ARIA being free from Government control, but we should make that leap confidently, knowing that the brilliant people that ARIA will fund will change the world in ways that none of us in this Chamber would dare to imagine today. This is therefore a truly exciting time for all of us here in the Chamber—for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren—and I feel particularly excited for my young granddaughter, who will feel the benefits of the major breakthroughs that we will unlock through this Bill. I am sure that this opportunity is recognised by all hon. Members.

I hope that I have demonstrated the reasons that I cannot accept the new clauses and amendments that have been tabled, and I hope that Members will agree not to press them.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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Madam Deputy Speaker, you will be glad to know that my final remarks will be brief, particularly because although we were expecting a rebellion tonight, I did not expect it in any way, shape or form to relate to any of the amendments that I proposed, which is disappointing. Maybe next time—we can only live in hope.

There are two clear and fundamental issues to do with the Bill on which we disagree with Government Members: where they are passionately and vehemently against public scrutiny, and where they are passionately and vehemently against ARIA having a mission. I believe the lack of a mission is a missed opportunity, and I am deeply concerned to hear that public scrutiny in the shape of an FOI request is regarded as an impediment to a public organisation. That should strike fear into all of us about what public money is to be spent on, not just now but in the future.

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion on new clause 1, but I wish to press amendment 1, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), to a vote.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 1, in clause 2, page 1, line 7, at end insert—

“(A1) ARIA’s primary mission will be to support the development of technologies and research that support the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions or reduce the harmful effects of climate change.”—(Stephen Flynn.)

This amendment sets the primary mission for ARIA to support the development of technologies and research that support the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions or reduce the harmful effects of climate change.

Question put, that the amendment be made.


Division 19

Ayes: 263

Labour: 197
Scottish National Party: 42
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alba Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 364

Conservative: 356
Democratic Unionist Party: 7

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Amendment proposed: 12, page 1, line 17, at end insert—
“(2A) In exercising its functions, ARIA must have regard to its core mission.
(2B) In this section “core mission” means—
(a) for the period of ten years after the date on which this Act is passed, undertaking activities which support the achievement of the target established in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008,
(b) thereafter, mission or missions which the Secretary of State establishes by regulations every five years, and
(c) regulations under this section—
(i) shall be made by statutory instrument, and
(ii) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”—(Chi Onwurah.)
This amendment would require ARIA to consider its core mission in exercising its functions. For the ten years following the Act passing, that core mission would be supporting the achievement of Net Zero. Thereafter, its mission will be established by statutory instrument subject to the draft affirmative procedure.
Question put, That the amendment be made:

Division 20

Ayes: 263

Labour: 195
Scottish National Party: 45
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alba Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 364

Conservative: 354
Democratic Unionist Party: 7

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Clause 6
Amendment proposed: 14, page 3, line 15, at end insert—
“(7) ARIA shall be—
(a) a public authority within the meaning of section 3 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and Schedule 1 of that Act shall be amended accordingly, and
(b) a central government authority within the meaning of regulation 2(1) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, and Schedule 1 of those Regulations shall be amended accordingly.”—(Chi Onwurah.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 21

Ayes: 263

Labour: 197
Scottish National Party: 45
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alba Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 364

Conservative: 354
Democratic Unionist Party: 7

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Third Reading
Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

When it comes to the future of the United Kingdom, this Government are unapologetically ambitious, and one of our greatest ambitions is to secure the UK’s position as a science superpower. Through this Bill to create ARIA, a new agency to support the most ambitious research, we are really focusing on delivering on that agenda.

The Bill provides ARIA with broad functions and powers to take an innovative approach to funding high-risk R&D so that each programme manager can provide effective funding to their talented research team. Critically, the Bill allows a balance between oversight of ARIA’s activities and the independence and autonomy that the evidence tells us is so important for its success.

The Bill creates an agency with a unique role to play and the capabilities it needs to do so. ARIA will sit alongside UKRI and other funders in our R&D landscape. It will provide something additional and complementary, and I believe that its offer will indeed significantly improve the UK’s research and development offer in the long term.

I am grateful that today’s debate has focused on making the most of this ambitious new agency. I would like to recognise the efforts of those across the House and in my Department who have got us to this point. I thank the Science, Research and Innovation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway). I know that she celebrated her 30th birthday yesterday, and I congratulate her on having achieved this signal success and that significant milestone. I am delighted that she should be such a focused colleague and have delivered what is a really important piece of legislation. I also thank the Bill team for their work at each stage of the proceedings, and parliamentary counsel for drafting such an admirably concise and, dare I say, elegant Bill.

As we continue our progress towards a more normal way of working in this place, I would like to thank everybody who, in the meantime, has ensured that our proceedings have been able to continue with minimal disruption despite these exceptional circumstances. I would like to place on record that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the House staff and your colleagues have done a remarkable job in keeping the lights on—so to speak—and making sure that we progressed in a very expeditious and calm way through these proceedings and through previous stages of the Bill. Everything has been to order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I also thank the members of the Public Bill Committee from across the House for their extremely constructive and welcome approach to scrutinising the Bill. I particularly thank the Chairs of those Committees: the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg).

I also thank a number of speakers on the Government Benches. I am referring only to the speeches that I saw myself . My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) gave a very positive account of why this Bill is so important to her constituents. My hon. Friends the Members for Guildford (Angela Richardson), for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), who is not in his place, for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) and others did a remarkable job in presenting the case for ARIA and in ensuring that the Bill proceeded smoothly.

I would also like to thank a number of Opposition Front-Bench speakers. When I saw her speak, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) gave a customary expert and well-considered view. We have our differences and disagreements, but no one, I think, can doubt her sincerity. I thank the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn). I am sorry that the rebellion that he anticipated was not as dynamic as he would have liked, but there you go.

Everybody really has supported the principle of this legislation and the creation of ARIA. While we do not agree on all the details, I think that everybody has brought to the debate a spirit of constructive inquiry and scrutiny, and we have greatly appreciated that.

I am confident, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, as the Bill continues its passage, our parallel progress to realise ARIA and to make it happen will elicit further debate and further questions. As the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North, said on Second Reading, and as we have heard again today, the UK is home to brilliant invention and innovation, and we should be able to shape ARIA in a way that can deliver on that promise. The creation of ARIA will, I firmly believe, make our outstanding UK R&D system even stronger and more dynamic, more diverse, and it will help us to innovate and level up across the country. On that very firm basis, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am delighted to commend the Bill to the House.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) [V]
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In this Third Reading debate, I want to start by putting on record our support for this Bill and the establishment of ARIA. The UK is a global scientific superpower, with a proud past, present and future, of innovative scientists, businesses and entrepreneurs. The success of the vaccine roll-out—I pay tribute to everybody associated with that—demonstrates our world-leading science and research power. What we have seen in the debate today and through the passage of this Bill is that we all want to build on this platform. ARIA has the potential to help fill the gap of high-risk, high-reward scientific investment, which is why we welcomed the Bill and sought to play a constructive role in its passage through the House.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah)—I thank the Secretary of State for doing so—for the superb job that she has done in constructively seeking to improve the Bill on behalf of the Opposition. I also put on record my thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), for Luton North (Sarah Owen), and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) for their diligent work in Committee, and all hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to this Bill. I join the Secretary of State in also paying tribute to all the House staff who have kept this Bill going and on track and all those associated with it. I want to single out the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway). I was going to wish her a happy 50th birthday, but I am happy, on this occasion, to be outdone by the Secretary of State. I say a very happy birthday for yesterday to the Minister.

As the Bill goes to the other place, we continue to believe that improvement is necessary and possible. As we heard in the debate, the biggest improvement to it would be a clearer sense of mission for the agency. We do not believe that the Bill as drafted provides ARIA with a clear enough mission. Ministers have suggested that it is for the chief executive, once appointed, to establish its priorities. We heard this a lot in Committee and again today, but this is not in our view the best way to meet our national priorities, which we believe should be set by Government. There is also a danger, we believe, that ARIA’s resources will be spread too thin. The greatest challenge we face, and this is shared across the House, is the climate and environmental emergency, and that is why we have proposed that fighting it be ARIA’s mission for the first 10 years, but however that mission is set out, I hope this is something that will be returned to in the other place.

Secondly, we believe that the freedom provided to those running ARIA should be accompanied by greater transparency and accountability. We do not believe the agency has anything to fear from this, nor is there justification for the blanket exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act and public contract regulations. The Government’s reason for exempting it is that it will be overwhelmed by requests, but that is not the US experience with DARPA. If the Government want ARIA to carry the confidence of the public, we hope they will think again on accountability in the other place.

Thirdly, as we have heard in the debate, it is essential that each nation and region of the UK benefits from the creation of ARIA—we believe that ARIA should have regard to that when exercising its functions. We have suggested that that could be done through the annual report that is already provided for under the Bill.

These are our issues with the Bill, but we cannot ignore in this Third Reading debate the Bill’s wider context, about which I want to speak briefly. ARIA is an important innovation, but it cannot be detached from the wider landscape of Government policy. Today’s amendment on overseas development aid—new clause 4—may not have been selected, but the argument is not going away. We should not be slashing overseas aid to the world’s poorest people. It is not right morally, and it is not right on grounds of self-interest either. With coronavirus and the climate crisis, our fates are bound together.

What is more, these cuts are impacting directly on British scientific researchers doing the right thing for the world on everything from research on infectious diseases to the development of clean water technology. Some £120 million has been cut from the BEIS budget because of the cuts to ODA. As the Sainsbury Laboratory, one of the country’s leading scientific research institutes, puts it, these cuts have

“pulled the rug out from under many scientific projects that were paving the way to solve urgent challenges in some of the poorest countries in the world.”

All this is in the year of COP26, when we are the hosts trying to persuade other countries to accept our moral authority on the climate crisis and development.

As someone who was at the ill-fated Copenhagen climate summit of 2009, I want to tell the House that mistrust between developing and developed countries was the biggest reason it failed and is one of the biggest risks at COP26. The cut in aid spending undermines our efforts and undermines trust; the Government are wrong to be doing it, and it is self-defeating for our country. There is a very strong feeling about this across the House—quite possibly a majority—and the Government should reverse this cut in funding forthwith. My general experience is that when there is a majority in this House for something, it will find a way to express itself one way or the other. I suggest that the Secretary of State and the Government take heed.

ARIA should not come at the expense of cuts to the core science budget administered by UKRI. This year, UKRI’s budget will be £7.9 billion, a cut from the budget last year of £8.7 billion. That is why Jeremy Farrar said recently:

“There’s a growing gulf between rhetoric and reality in the government support for science.”

It massively ill serves British science and our country to be cutting science spending, and ARIA, welcome though it is—£800 million over five years—simply does not make up for that.

To conclude, we support this Bill, but hope, in the spirit with which we have approached it, that the Government will reflect on the constructive concerns raised throughout its passage on the urgent issue of aid spending by Members on all sides, on science spending and on the detail of the Bill. We hope that the other place can build on and improve the Bill as it progresses.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). It is a particular pleasure as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee to warmly congratulate the ministerial team for bringing this important Bill to such a happy conclusion in this place. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, the team of officials in the Department and the Clerks in the House, and to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), whose enthusiasm and charm contributed in no small part to the sense of consensus, good feeling and good will that there is about the Bill. The fact that its House of Commons stages culminate after the weekend of her birthday is absolutely fitting, and I congratulate her on that.

As Members know, the Select Committee took extensive evidence on the Bill and published a report. We had some fascinating sessions, including a rather less high-octane performance from Dominic Cummings when he came to talk about science policy, as opposed to covid. I think it is a fair reflection to say that the suggestion of this agency, and indeed the important role that science played in the manifesto on which Conservative colleagues were elected, was an important contribution, whatever disagreements and disputes there may be on other aspects.

We can agree on several things. First, it is desirable and appropriate, when we are a science superpower, that we have agencies that do things differently from others. Diversity is a strength, and it is a good thing that we are having a very new agency doing things in a very different way. I think that that has been evident in the contributions we have had.

We took the view on the Committee that it is important that ARIA does not spread itself too thinly. Although £800 million is a lot of money, when it comes to substantial, world-changing projects of inquiry, it can soon go. It seemed for a time today that the budget would be rising not to £800 million but to perhaps £4 billion a year, in which case the advice of the Committee to—in the words of the book by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North—go big on a smaller number of projects may have been redundant, and we may have been able to do everything. However, it seems that that is not going to be the budget for ARIA, and the advice that the Committee has given the incoming chair and chief executive does stand: we should make sure that we do a few things well, rather than many things superficially.

On the subject of the chair and chief executive, leadership is crucial. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) emphasised the difficulty and the importance of choosing them, comparing it to electing a Nobel prize winner. That is quite a high bar, but I hope we will find people equal to the task, and they should be encouraged. I hope that those people, when they are appointed, will come before our Select Committee, not because we want to tie them down in any way and to constrain them with bureaucracy, but quite the reverse: our Committee champions science—we are enthusiasts for science—and we want to understand the ambitions and the motivation of the new team.

Achieving stability for a long-term agency such as ARIA is of great importance. In a Parliament that is limited to five years, and when Governments change from time to time, finding mechanisms to entrench institutions and policies that are there for the long term can prove challenging. David Cameron thought that passing a law to require 0.7% of GDP for aid spending was a solution to precisely that, but we found that there are circumstances in which it is not possible to achieve that. In office, I set up the Industrial Strategy Council to inject a bit of stability, but that is not continuing. So these things are challenging. I know that the intention of Ministers and the whole House is to achieve longevity. I think how this very desirable objective can be implanted will require a bit of thought.

The reforms that are embodied in this legislation—low bureaucracy, risk taking and the ability even to fail—are important to encapsulate in ARIA, but that is not to say that the rest of the research landscape could not benefit from those reforms. I hope that the Minister’s appetite, demonstrated through the passage of the Bill, to reform science funding and find ways to do things better and vigorously will not be completely satisfied with the passage of this Bill, but that, with the Secretary of State’s enthusiastic support, she will apply herself to the funding landscape more generally in order to have that same principle of vigour there.

The proposal for this new research agency was included in our party’s 2019 election manifesto and then the Queen’s Speech at that time. Two years on, we are at the point of recruiting the chief executive and the chair, and sending the Bill to the other place to make further progress. I hope that the Lords will give it their customary scrutiny with rigour and enthusiasm, but that they will not detain for too long because this is an important institution, which we want to see up and running and strengthening further our great attributes in British science as soon as practically possible.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), and the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). The points that have been made by both, although varied, have certainly covered off many of the points that I would seek to address. I have no desire—and I am sure that Government Members have no desire—to hear many of the arguments that I have expressed previously tonight on Report, in Committee and on Second Reading.

I would like to place on record my thanks to all those involved in proceedings over the course of recent months. They have done an outstanding job, particularly those in the House Service. I also thank our research team—in particular Scott Taylor and Jonny Kiehlmann, who have been a tower of strength, and provided us with a great deal of assistance and information.

I do not intend to keep the House much longer, as I am keen to get home myself, so I will leave it at that.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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That is one of the best conclusions to a speech I have ever heard.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn). On Report, I said that I would be brief because I was going to make a contribution on Third Reading, so I hope the House will accept my apologies for making a few points.

I have been on this Bill throughout its passage, as others have been. It has been a really positive experience as far as I am concerned. The only puzzlement to me is that the Bill was so perfectly drafted that it is in exactly the same state today as when we started; clearly it was impossible to improve. Now, I do not think that is the case. We heard some really important contributions, particularly during the evidence sessions. I echo the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in hoping that improvements will be made in the other place and that the Government will listen to some of the suggestions.

I looked at the job adverts for the chair and chief exec. I am grateful to research professionals, as ever, for pointing this out this morning: a remarkably vague canvass is being painted. Tonight it is being presented as a great opportunity. We have had the discussions in Committee, but, frankly, all we really know about it is that this is a unique and unprecedented opportunity. The right person may be out there. I thought this point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and referenced by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). There may be such an exceptional person, but I rather suspect that, in the process of choosing whoever is to do the job, some of the issues that they will pursue will inevitably follow. I think that, as we trace it back, we will find that the decision to give direction and mission, which has been ducked by this House, will inevitably have crept in during that process.

To some extent, as the shadow Secretary of State picked up, there has been an elephant in the room in our discussion. During the entire process of discussing the Bill, there has been a background rumble of unhappiness in the research community as we have seen some of the issues around BEIS allocations unfolding. There was uncertainty in my constituency running through March as people were very worried about the ODA cuts; perhaps many of us had not quite appreciated just how much that money was being spent in our constituencies on research programmes. For large numbers of people, it was left to the very last with projects having to be cancelled.

One of the moments that will stick in my mind from the evidence sessions was when I asked the chief exec of UKRI

“if you had £800 million to spend…would you spend it on this?”––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 13, Q8.]

Of course, it is all about the timing, because she is an impeccable and superb public servant. She hesitated just long enough before coming up with the right answer for the entire room to know that of course she would not—and nor would anyone else in the room.

If the money were genuinely new and extra, it would be a different debate from the one in which it is being taken from elsewhere. My worry—we are seeing this week in, week out with the rumours and debates about what is happening to Horizon Europe—is that it is deeply unsettling the research community. These are long-term issues, and I am afraid that they are doing huge harm.

My conclusion is that, if the funding is new and extra, of course we support it, but my fear is that over the months and years ahead it will get pulled into the general discussion and debate about where budgets are allocated from. It is all too familiar. Governments over many, many years have tried to lift spending on research and development, but sadly there is almost an inexorable law that we fail to do it. We need to do better in future.

There was also advice from the Americans about how to make this work, which was not really listened to. They have a model that seems to work in their system; whether it can be transported into ours is a moot point, but it is sad that we are not even listening to their advice.

Finally, it seems slightly curious that the Government continue to pursue a scheme that, basically, was pursued by a now discredited former adviser. I just hope that they will reflect, take the opportunity to change course, give this new idea a real mission, make that mission the climate emergency, and make something of it.

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan (Bolton North East) (Con) [V]
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How many times do we see politicians tweeting, Facebooking or, for that matter, speaking in the Chamber and saying, “I welcome—” or “It is with great delight that—”? The irony is that I have tried to ban such things from my previous external communications, but today I am both proud and delighted to welcome the Government’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. Along with the Secretary of State, I thank everyone who has been associated with getting us to this unique moment this evening.

A framework in the future, as the Minister said, will ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom will benefit from ARIA, which is why I continue to extend my hand of friendship to ARIA for it to be headquartered in Bolton. Bolton is a town of invention. We have a steady supply of inventors, long-standing institutions of invention, the appropriate infrastructure for future inventions and the mother of all invention: I have already secured a premier office location in Bolton that is ready for ARIA to move in. Essentially, invention is in Bolton’s DNA, and ARIA is made for Bolton.

ARIA is not just for Bolton or for Britain, but for the world and for the brainchildren of tomorrow. Invention blossoms from competition and diversity, so ARIA needs a range of cultural backgrounds to catalyse that creativity. We have the human capital, and people will come from far and wide to this new centre of invention, from all walks of life. I very much welcome the job advertisement, which I think went live last week, for the position of CEO of ARIA.

In conclusion, we have the tools ready to welcome a world-class invention hub. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the points I have raised with the Department, the ministerial team and, of course, the new CEO once they come on board. With that, I very much congratulate everyone who has been involved in getting us to this point this evening.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD) [V]
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I promise not to detain the House much longer. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I welcome the Bill. We support all science and technology spending. We support what the Bill is trying to do, and we wish it safe passage through the other place.

I beg your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I want to take just a couple of minutes to talk about my new clause on climate change and some of the other amendments on similar themes. I have listened to what those on the Government Benches had to say about why they did not want to support those amendments. Broadly speaking, that seems to be around not wanting the agency to be constrained in any way and wanting it to have full rein to take the science where it leads. Obviously, that is a laudable enterprise, but the point I wished to make in tabling that new clause was that nothing innovative can stand the test of time if it does not meet net zero targets or respond to the challenge of climate change.

If any of the new inventions or new research that come out of this new agency do not respond to that challenge, they cannot be a sustainable part of our future economy and society. That is why climate change has to be a baseline, and that is what I was trying to achieve. The need to tackle climate change is going to be a constraint anyway on the agency, so why not have that in the Bill?

During this debate, there has been a lot of reference to the vaccine roll-out, which has obviously been a great success. The research and how it has been carried out is obviously a fantastic example of science and technology really succeeding, but the key point is that the research and the vaccine were responding to a very clear and present challenge. The scientific community has responded amazingly, but the lesson to learn is that the science was responding to a challenge. We have no greater challenge ahead of us right now than tackling climate change. We will find, I believe, that even without the climate change amendments in the Bill, that is what the agency will be doing anyway. It will be responding to the challenge of climate change and it will need to take account of carbon emissions.

I briefly want to talk about scrutiny. I understand the reluctance to allow too much scrutiny and not allowing freedom of information requests. I know that scrutiny can sometimes be vexatious or opportunistic, but science answers questions. That is what science is for; that is the function of science, and it should never shy away from questions. At its best, scrutiny can be constructive and improving, and that can only be of benefit to the agency being set up by this legislation.

To sum up, we support the Bill. We absolutely want ARIA to succeed. We very much look forward to seeing what it can produce, and we support the Bill’s passage to the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

First Reading
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
House adjourned at 8.17 pm.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Second Reading
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill creates a new funding agency, ARIA. ARIA will support ambitious programmes of research and innovation, seeking the scientific and technological breakthroughs that transform the lives of people across the UK and around the world. It will further diversify and strengthen our UK funding landscape, which is appropriate at a time when public investment in R&D is increasing to £20 billion in 2024-25 and concerted action is being taken across Government to reinforce the position of the UK as a science superpower.

Our science system already benefits from a variety of funding streams: government spending through UKRI programmes such as the Strategic Priorities Fund, investment from businesses small and large, and charitable sources such as the new Wellcome Leap. That plurality is a strength that we are seeking to build on with ARIA. I therefore emphasise at the start that the motivation for ARIA’s creation is to innovate how research is funded, rather than any specific topics or areas which need investment. It is about enabling a new programme-led approach to public R&D funding, optimised for high-risk research—new for the UK, that is, as we have learned from the tremendous successes of this funding model around the world, mostly from the United States, which many noble Lords will of course be familiar with.

I emphasise the two core features of this approach: first, the expectation that the full benefits will be felt only over the long term, which therefore requires patience; and secondly, that for every programme that produces transformational benefits many will not, which requires a fairly unique attitude towards failure. The research community has been clear, in providing evidence and through engagement, that it wants to see these realities of the research process reflected in the new funding body. I hope that these issues similarly resonate with many noble Lords who are concerned with research and its funding. These features are central to the approach that we are seeking to take with ARIA.

Before expanding further on the role that ARIA will play, I must emphasise the existing excellence of the UK’s R&D system. Although the Government have engaged with and sought to learn from similar agencies in other countries, ARIA must be designed sensitively to the UK’s unique context. That means not copying wholesale from elsewhere, or blindly replicating features that might in some places be successful, without carefully considering the fit with the UK system. It also means remaining conscious of the scale of this new agency. ARIA’s £800 million budget is significantly less than 2% of overall UK R&D spending.

Looking at that total spending, ARIA represents a small addition at the high-risk end of the spectrum and is equipped to take a unique approach to supporting that type of research and development. Viewed through that lens, one important point should be clear: ARIA will complement rather than compete with the system-wide responsibilities of UKRI—the steward of our overall research landscape. Indeed, those responsibilities remaining firmly outside of ARIA’s remit goes hand in hand with the autonomy and freedom that we expect it to have.

ARIA is not an institution for responding to the day-to-day priorities of government, whether specific strategic challenges, or the Government’s desired balance of research, development and commercialisation activities. ARIA’s clear remit will be to pursue programmes of research focused on realising specific objectives that have the potential to produce transformative, long-term benefits. These objectives must be set by programme managers with deep technical expertise and brilliant ideas, who are empowered to pursue those objectives with a variety of tools and a single-minded focus and to fund research and innovation projects through contracting and granting in businesses, universities and elsewhere, drawing those contributors and their outputs together to realise their objectives. They must be free to do so, in the expectation that a small proportion of projects will in time lead to things that are truly extraordinary.

Taking this approach requires trust in the good that comes from investment in this type of R&D—the high-risk, long-term and difficult to measure, which we have clearly and repeatedly heard could be better provided for. But it is not only a matter of trust; the evidence for this R&D investment and its spillover benefits is compelling. Research suggests that while the annual private rate of return from R&D and innovation averages 20% to 30%, the social returns are two to three times higher.

Although ARIA will be specialised and—by taking a new approach—something of an experiment in how we fund UK R&D, it should be one that the whole system learns from. Aspects of ARIA’s unique approach might successfully be applied to other UK R&D funders, and I expect the potential benefits of that to act as an incentive for close integration with the wider research system, which will be so advantageous both for ARIA and other actors.

This Bill—and the creation of ARIA—aligns us with many other countries using the funding model that I have outlined. From the US to Japan and Germany, this programmatic approach to supporting the most ambitious research goals has been deployed, in some cases with extraordinary success, and it is entirely appropriate that at this point we seek to apply it through ARIA to benefit UK science, research and innovation.

I will now move on to the specific provisions of the Bill and set out how the key clauses relate to the ambition and approach that I have just described. I will first address ARIA’s functions, as detailed in Clause 2. ARIA is expected to primarily operate as a funder of others, which is reflected in its functions to

“do, or commission or support others to do”.

It is not restricted to operate at a particular point on the technology readiness level spectrum; indeed, individual programmes may require a mixture of projects that seek to solve fundamental science challenges alongside work to develop and apply existing knowledge in new contexts. This is reflected in Clause 2(1), which places development and exploitation alongside the conducting of scientific research. The range of financial support that ARIA can provide is expressly broad. This equips programme managers to tailor the funding that they provide so that it is appropriate to the specific recipient and project. This is essential in supporting a broad—even unexpected—coalition of researchers and organisations, and ensuring the diverse input that is known to be so beneficial in solving difficult scientific problems. The unexpected collaborations and high degree of interdisciplinary work that we expect this to support is one of the most compelling features of the programme-led ARIA model.

Clause 3 gets to the very heart of ARIA’s approach. Implicit in pursuing high-risk research and ambitious programme goals must be recognition that many projects and programmes will not fulfil their stated aims. The risk of failure is high, and that must be accepted from the outset if ARIA is truly to be equipped to tackle the most difficult challenges, with ground-breaking implications. Clause 3 states that ARIA may give particular weight to those ground-breaking benefits when supporting R&D activities which, almost by definition, carry a high risk of failure.

This is a valuable approach for two reasons: first, because of the transformational benefits of success in this arena—the scale of impact of technologies such as the internet, GPS or mRNA vaccines, all supported by the US DARPA, is difficult to overstate; and secondly, because of the spillover benefits that can accrue even from unsuccessful projects, such as collaborations and approaches that would not otherwise have existed, or progress that later proves vital for fields or problems unrelated to the original programme.

I turn now to the role of the Secretary of State, which is addressed in Clauses 4 and 5 and in Schedule 1. It is also notable by the provisions that the Bill does not contain. I have already spoken about ARIA’s need for autonomy, and on that basis, the role for the Government in its ongoing affairs must be limited. The provisions in Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill represent a baseline to ensure ARIA’s operation, allowing funding to be provided and issues of national security to be addressed. The public money provided to ARIA requires an appropriate level of oversight and, accordingly, there are provisions to ensure core tenets of good governance in Schedule 1. This includes the Secretary of State’s power to appoint non-executive directors and the reserve power to introduce conflict of interest procedures should it prove necessary in future. However, there is no power for the Secretary of State to require a strategy, no specific power of direction over ARIA’s allocation of expenditure, and the Secretary of State’s information rights are deliberately limited to the exercise of their functions with respect to ARIA.

In these matters we have sought to strike a balance between protecting ARIA’s strategic and operational autonomy, which is essential to its remit, and providing sufficient assurances for the important role with which it is to be entrusted. This difficult-to-strike balance has been a theme of much debate on the Bill so far, and I have no doubt that that will continue to be the case in our House.

Continuing this theme, I will speak briefly on the exemptions the Bill affords ARIA from standard public sector obligations around procurement and freedom of information. There are practical and operational reasons for both. Exempting ARIA from the Public Contracts Regulations’ contracting authority obligations is a result of its fundamentally different way of operating compared to our other core public R&D funders. We expect ARIA not only to give grants but to commission and contract others to carry out research. The exemption ensures that ARIA can procure services, goods and works related to its research goals at speed in a similar way to a private sector organisation. This mirrors the successful approach taken by DARPA, which benefits from other transactions authority, giving it the flexibility to operate outside US government contracting standards.

On FoI, the pertinent question to me is where we want ARIA’s staff to direct their focus. Earlier, I spoke about people with deep technical expertise and brilliant ideas who are empowered to pursue their objectives. I believe that of course that should apply to all ARIA staff and that this ambition is the last thing we should move away from if we want this organisation to succeed. In this unique case, I do not think those people should be employed to administrate FoI requests. This approach should be viewed in the light of ARIA’s other statutory commitments to transparency through its reporting and accounts, subject to scrutiny by the NAO, and with the natural incentives towards openness of having an identity to build and collaborators to attract.

Returning finally to the purpose of the Bill before us, it is right that we recognise the existing excellence of our R&D system and that we add to it only in a considered way. However, I believe we should also allow ourselves to consider the possibilities in doing so and challenge ourselves on whether we could do more, or better, in the ways we support UK science and innovation. The creation of ARIA, through this Bill, is an exciting addition to our research landscape, but it is also a judicious one, rooted in historic successes, drawing on international best practice and responding to the current needs of UK researchers. I beg to move.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a totally unexpected pleasure to follow the Minister as I am the first in the list. It is a great honour to take part in this debate, the first Second Reading in which I have taken part, when I consider the range of other speakers who we are going to hear from this evening, all of whom are so very distinguished. I am also mindful of the fact that the president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee is contributing to the debate. As his vice-president, I cannot remember a time when both officeholders were speaking together.

The relationship between the Government and science is subtle, complex and of critical importance to the future of the country. It goes without saying that we have a tremendous record on science in this country, to which I pay tribute, along with everybody else. Our record on Covid vaccine development and distribution is but the latest example. The UK is world class, b