Oral Answers to Questions

George Freeman Excerpts
Tuesday 7th June 2022

(3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What steps his Department is taking to promote fusion energy in the UK.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

The widely reported breakthroughs in fusion energy by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority team at Harwell this year signal UK leadership in a new era of industrial-scale fusion energy. I am sure the whole House takes pride in that achievement and will want to pass our best wishes on to the team at Harwell. That is why we are investing £700 million in the next phase of fusion facilities and research. We are announcing the location of the spherical tokamak, our first industrial power plant, and this month we will launch our paper on the regulation of fusion energy for industrial roll-out.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have written to the Secretary of State recently about our Severn Edge fusion bid in Berkeley and Oldbury, because we provide the ideal location for the spherical tokamak for energy production fusion programme. We can deliver the project and we have cross-party support spanning the south-west and Wales. I believe this is a good opportunity for Government to prove that we are not just levelling up the north. Does my hon. Friend agree that the decision on where to locate the STEP prototype is crucial to the UK’s fusion ambitions, and will he say a little bit more about the timetable he is working to?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being such an advocate for her patch. I completely agree that the location of the spherical tokamak plant is critical to our future fusion industry ambitions. Some 15 sites across the UK have applied to host STEP, and the UKAEA has shortlisted five: Ardeer in Ayrshire, Goole in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Moorside in Cumbria, Severn Edge in Gloucestershire and West Burton in Nottinghamshire. The UKAEA has now completed a detailed analysis of those sites and has submitted its recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will make a final decision and announcement by the end of the year.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Dounreay in Caithness in my constituency was in the 1950s the site of the UK’s first nuclear reactor. The nuclear industry did a very great deal to provide local employment and to halt the curse of the highlands, namely depopulation. Today, we have a licensed site, we have a willing and skilled workforce and we have a local population who support the nuclear industry. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister talk to the Scottish Government, who have not ruled out nuclear fusion, about the potential for developing nuclear fusion at a site such as Dounreay?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I congratulate him on his enlightened stance: he is supportive of the UK and the Scottish nuclear industry—a position we all rather wish the Scottish nationalists would take more widely. I have regular meetings with the Scottish Ministers for science, technology and innovation. This Government are very supportive of that cluster; if only the Scottish nationalists were.

Julie Marson Portrait Julie Marson (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What steps he is taking to ensure that UK businesses benefit from the UK leaving the EU.

--- Later in debate ---
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. What steps he is taking to support business and social business incubator and accelerator hubs.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

Incubators and accelerators across the country play a vital role in helping our high-growth start-ups and scale- ups. That is why we continue to fund the strength in places fund, and are investing £100 million to pilot new innovation accelerators. That is also why, on my various tours around clusters, I recently went to the Leicester space and satellite hub, the Leeds digital health and medtech hub in the hon. Lady’s county, the Northumbria University and Ashington further education hub, and the BioYorkshire hub in her area.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

York’s economic future depends on releasing the talent of our entrepreneurs and social enterprises. To do that, we need to ensure that they have space to innovate and grow. In each of the last four quarters, however, we have seen the loss of 100,000 entrepreneurs, so what investment will be made to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place for the acceleration and incubation of the future business industry?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes an important point about social enterprises being mainstreamed in the business community. She may have seen the recent report by the all-party parliamentary group for social enterprise, of which I have long been a supporter, that argued that we should mainstream social enterprise in the BEIS policy framework, which is an interesting proposal. We have just announced the biggest increase in research and development and innovation funding—an increase of £25 billion over the next three years. I have asked UK Research and Innovation to focus on that incubation hub infrastructure around the country, so that we can continue to support the university and small business networks that create the opportunities for tomorrow.

Holly Mumby-Croft Portrait Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What steps he is taking to support manufacturers.

--- Later in debate ---
Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. Mr Speaker, you will know as well as I do that Milton Keynes has a rich history of science and innovation that goes well beyond me banging on about robots in this place. I was pleased to see the historic settlement for the UK Research and Innovation fund last month. Does my hon. Friend agree that places such as Milton Keynes with such a history of innovation should get a fair share of that funding?

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Milton Keynes has been slowly becoming a globally recognised innovation hub on the Oxford-Cambridge arc, particularly on autonomous vehicles and with the connected places catapult. May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend and Milton Keynes on achieving city status as part of the jubilee celebrations? I assure him that our funding allocation mechanism is designed to support emerging clusters such as Milton Keynes.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. What is the Department doing, working with the Department of Health and Social Care, to improve the recovery of cancer trials and clinical research more broadly? Will the Minister meet me and Cancer Research UK to discuss how the rate of recovery can catch up with comparable countries post pandemic?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. We have allocated £8 billion over the next three years for life science and medical research across the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and all relevant agencies. We will launch a cancer mission shortly and I would be delighted to talk to her about it.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes  (Clwyd South) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7.   I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary markets group. The “Love Your Local Market” campaign, supported by many Members across the House, has just come to an end. Does my hon. Friend agree that local markets and traders are a vital part of the local business community and make a huge economic contribution to the health of our high streets and the regeneration of our city and town centres?

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. Insect protein is likely to play a significant part in meeting the needs of the agri-food industry and it can certainly address some of the sector’s climate impacts, but it needs the right support. Brexit and supply chain issues have caused major chaos for the industry. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how to support the industry and, more importantly, how to protect the really highly skilled jobs it supports?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The insect protein industry is becoming increasingly important, given the need to nearly double global food supply in the next 20 or 30 years. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. It is one of the sectors we are looking at, as part of our £25 billion three- year allocation, that needs development and support.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8. In a rural constituency like Newbury, fuel prices are a key driver of spiralling living costs. As such, it is a source of frustration that petrol stations are still failing to pass on the Treasury fuel duty cut. I know my right hon. Friend and his team have been working closely with the Competition and Markets Authority, but could he tell me what progress has been made to ensure that consumers are getting a fair deal at the pumps?

--- Later in debate ---
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Exactly what steps is the Department taking to reduce the prohibitive bureaucracy facing scientists trying to access the very welcome £50 million funding for research into motor neurone disease, a horrifying disease that affects more than 5,000 people in this country? The research was announced in November last year, but they have faced those problems.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes an important point. We made a major announcement on MND research and will shortly be setting out our fully funded broader dementia and mental health missions. On research bureaucracy, we are looking, through the Professor Adam Tickell review, at how we can reduce administrative bureaucracy in the system so we are able to get those grants out much more quickly. I will happily talk her through that.

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan (Bolton North East) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T9. Mr Speaker, would you believe it? Where I live in Westminster there is a lift that was made by the Bolton Gate Company 100 years ago and is still operating at the back end. Bolton Gate leads the door industry on the latest standards, but will the Minister outline what support we can provide to companies like Bolton Gate to navigate the new UK Conformity Assessed marking regulations, and to ensure that both Bolton Gate Company and its MP will be operating for another 100 years?

Potential for a Hydrogen Village

George Freeman Excerpts
Tuesday 24th May 2022

(1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I thank the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and congratulate him on securing this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) for making some powerful points. We are on the cusp of an exciting opportunity for the hydrogen economy, and the pilot is about making sure that we get the infrastructure right to roll it out across the country.

I will start by framing our hydrogen commitments within the broader context of clean energy, and then deal with the specific points that have been made. I am responding today on behalf of the Minister for Energy, but also as the Minister for science, research and innovation. We see the hydrogen revolution in the heating of homes and the powering of vehicles—in particular heavy goods vehicles, trains and planes—as a fundamental part of our clean energy revolution. That is why, as Minister in charge of our science, research and innovation budget, I am strongly supporting the net zero transition and innovation. I say that as a former Minister of State in the Department for Transport, where, in addition to the electric vehicle revolution, we have now stepped up fast to support hydrogen roll-out in the transport sector.

That is all part of our green industrial revolution plan—the 10-point plan set out by the Prime Minster. The key commitment is to double our ambition of low-carbon hydrogen production to 10 GW by 2030. Further work is required to understand the feasibility, costs and convenience of transporting 100% hydrogen in the gas grid and using hydrogen for heating and cooking. That is what this trial is about. We want to establish the costs, logistics and practical issues as quickly as possible, so that we can then deal with them in a wider roll-out. We are working closely with industry, regulators and other stakeholders to deliver a range of research, development and testing projects for hydrogen heating.

Last year, I was pleased to see that HyNet North West, in north-west England and north Wales, which I know the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston has long championed, was selected to progress within track 1 of the industrial decarbonisation cluster sequencing process. That puts the region at the forefront of the industrial “SuperPlaces” we are supporting in this revolution. In the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, we set out the goal of supporting industry to deliver a neighbourhood trial by 2023, a village-scale trial by 2025 and a potential hydrogen-heated town before the end of the decade. Fundamental to our approach is the development of hydrogen hubs: centres of expertise that drive forward and accelerate the adoption of hydrogen as an energy source. The plans for a hydrogen neighbourhood trial are already under way, as colleagues know. That trial in Fife will supply hydrogen to around 300 homes, with hydrogen distributed through pipes laid parallel to the existing gas network. The trial of hydrogen for heat on a large village scale will be the first of its kind globally. It is a groundbreaking project.

It is an exciting time for the hydrogen village trial. Ofgem recently published its decision to take forward two proposals to the next stage of development. As my colleagues will know, Whitby in the Ellesmere Port area was one of the potential locations, alongside Redcar. The village trial will be led by the gas distribution network and will convert 1,000 to 2,000 properties to hydrogen instead of natural gas. Unlike the neighbourhood trial, it will involve the complete conversion of existing gas network infrastructure in the local area, repurposing it 100% for hydrogen.

We believe the hydrogen heating trials will encourage local employment opportunities and investment, along with the culture change that is required, as was mentioned by both the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar. The trials represent another opportunity for us to build back better with investment in green jobs and new technologies, while reducing the cost of energy for consumers. I understand that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is closely engaged with the proposal in his constituency, which is all to the good and hugely welcome. It is important that we support the proposals at this stage, because they have the potential to both generate the diverse, quality evidence that we need and drive that culture change.

Ofgem and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will assess final proposals for the networks in spring 2023 and make a decision on where the trial will be located. Without prejudice to my ministerial colleagues’ decisions next year, the points the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar have both made today about scale are well made and on the record, and I will pass them on.

We are working closely with Cadent and Northern Gas Networks, the gas distribution network operators responsible for the short-listed projects, to develop their detailed plans for the trial. Strong community engagement is key and I hugely welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston in that regard. The gas distribution network operators are working with local consumers to encourage as many people as possible to participate in the trial. It is important for me to say that nobody would be forced to use hydrogen and nobody would be required to pay extra. I think those two messages will help drive public adoption.

I want to touch on consumer protection, because it is key. Our first duty must be to the safety of consumers, so before any community trial can go ahead, the Health and Safety Executive will need to be satisfied that it is safe. As with natural gas, measures will be needed to ensure that hydrogen is stored, distributed and used safely. As part of our world-leading research into the subject, we have gathered evidence on the safety of using hydrogen in homes. The BEIS-funded Hy4Heat programme has shown that the use of 100% hydrogen can be made as safe as natural gas when used for heating and cooking in the types of houses that were studied. However, research is one thing; practical roll-out in the real world is the key. That is why the pilot is so important.

I reassure hon. Friends and Members here, as well as those listening, that we are 100% committed to safety and that we want to make sure that protecting the rights and interests of consumers is at the heart of the trial. It is the first of its kind in the UK. We are therefore committed to a framework of additional consumer protections, which we set out in our consultation last year, including transparency of information, fair treatment and quality of service. We hope that they will enhance the existing protections in energy and consumer legislation, which already apply to consumers and will apply for the trial. We are clear that nobody taking part in the trial will be required to pay any extra.

With regard to multiple hydrogen trials, colleagues can see the logic of our next step, which is the village and neighbourhood trials. That combination, alongside the wider programme of research and testing that we are running, is designed to provide the Government with the necessary evidence to take big strategic decisions on heating within a matter of two or three years. I know the ambition that colleagues have shared today to go further and faster is shared by the Secretary of State, the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, and the Prime Minister. It is not lack of political will that is holding us back; we simply need to make sure that we have the practical realities of roll-out and conversion of the gas network clear.

Colleagues have raised the issue of blue versus green hydrogen. I want to make it clear that our hydrogen strategy sets out the Government’s twin-track approach to supporting both electrolytic green and carbon capture-enabled blue hydrogen production. We see blue and green hydrogen as complementary and not as an either/or choice. Our new UK standard for low-carbon hydrogen production will ensure that the technologies we support—green, blue and other potential production routes—make a real contribution to our decarbonisation goals.

We are on track to make a decision on blending in 2023. We are exploring whether to enable the blending of up to 20% of hydrogen by volume into GB gas networks, and we are on track to make the policy decision next year, subject to the outcomes of the ongoing economic and safety assessments, and wider strategic considerations about the energy market. If the decision to proceed with blending is positive, we will look to start the legislative and regulatory process to enable blending, as well as the process to make any physical changes that are required to gas networks. Given the timelines on that work, officials do not anticipate blending on a commercial scale to commence before 2025.

We are looking to publish the hydrogen-ready boiler consultation as soon as possible—“in due course” is the official phrase. I cannot speak for my ministerial colleague, but I know that is very high in his in-tray. The consultation will consider the case for requiring newly installed domestic-scale gas boilers to be hydrogen ready, which would be a step change. The consultation will also include proposals to improve in-home boiler performance, building on the existing boiler efficiency standards of boiler-plus in England.

On manufacturers’ commitments to make hydrogen-ready boilers in the UK and sell them at the same cost, we absolutely welcome the commitment to maintain gas boiler prices at current levels in the case of a widespread roll-out of hydrogen-ready boilers. We look forward to working with manufacturers to ensure that that is possible at scale, because it is fundamental to adoption.

On the trade union debate about whether it is possible to achieve a large-scale workforce shift from boilers to heat pumps, we absolutely think it is possible. I was grateful to hear the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, with his strong union background, make it clear that his unions are supportive of that. It is important that we send a signal that this is not a massive challenge, but a part of the upskilling of our broader workforce and economy. Existing heating engineers can train reasonably simply to install heat pumps in one week or less, and thousands of new heating engineers have already seized the opportunity to learn those skills.

I reiterate my thanks to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar for raising the issues today. I hope they can see how committed the Government are to making sure we protect consumers and get the practical logistics right. They would be the first on their feet if we rushed into something that had not been properly thought through. We want to make sure that the trials lay the foundation for a wider nationwide roll-out. The aim is not to have one or two world-class trials; the aim is to prove what we need to do to roll out hydrogen at an industrial scale across the country as part of our net zero targets.

As was outlined in our consultation last year, we are including legislative measures to facilitate the trials in the landmark energy security Bill. I very much look forward to working with colleagues here. More importantly, the Energy Minister looks forward to working with colleagues across the House as the Bill goes through Parliament. This is an exciting time not just for the UK hydrogen economy, but for the communities that are in the vanguard, and we are keen to make sure that that public support continues to grow.

Question put and agreed to.

Ending BEIS ODA Spending in China

George Freeman Excerpts
Tuesday 17th May 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, China plays a critical role in addressing many of the world’s most urgent challenges such as tackling climate change and preventing antimicrobial resistance. It is important that we continue to work with China in these areas, and BEIS will build on our collaboration to date with China to address those key global challenges together, as set out in the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy.



However, BEIS is bringing its bilateral official development assistance (ODA) funding in China to an end.



BEIS will not be using ODA funding to support research and innovation partnerships with China as we have previously done through ODA vehicles, such as the Newton fund and global challenges research fund. Existing ODA-funded activity with China through these will finish by the end of financial year 2022-23. The technical assistance we have provided through our UK partnering for accelerated climate transitions programme (UK PACT) is also no longer from our ODA from the end of financial year 2021-22 and, instead, technical assistance to China on climate change issues will be smaller in scale and use non-ODA sources.

[HCWS32]

UK Diagnostics Industry and Covid-19 Recovery

George Freeman Excerpts
Tuesday 10th May 2022

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) on securing this important debate and thank him for putting on record some serious points, which I have listened to and will read with great interest. I also pay tribute to his own personal experience as a respected professional clinician in the fields of oncology and adolescent cancer in particular. His bringing this different expertise to the House is hugely valuable and I welcome his input. I am grateful for this opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government.

The points the hon. Gentleman has made are probably better answered by someone from the Department of Health and Social Care, and I will raise them with the Department, particularly his points on infection control in the new post-pandemic landscape and on the importance of learning the lessons from the pandemic procurement emergency and the lessons for a sustainable and vibrant diagnostics sector. I also note the concerns he raised on behalf of his constituent, Craig Inglis, about investments, and the issues around Omega, the reliability of the lateral flow tests and the new pathogens. The point made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was also well made: Belfast University in Northern Ireland is a diagnostics powerhouse. I am very well sighted on that in the heart of our science superpower and innovation plans, and I am looking forward to revisiting Belfast to see that work.

In the three minutes that I have, I cannot deal with all the points that have been made, but I will pick up the specific questions that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has raised and write to him with an answer. It is worth saying that the covid pandemic was the most extraordinary unprecedented emergency that we faced, and the first pandemic that we faced as a generation—

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You have until half-past.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

I have until half-past? I will not detain the House unnecessarily, but that means that I do not need to rush quite so much.

If we cast our minds back to January and February 2020, the truth is that we were confronting completely unprecedented national decisions and emergencies. There was no playbook for this. Sadly, I was unable to bring my expertise in this sector to the Government at the time because I was liberated from the burden of office on 13 February, in the Valentine’s day reshuffle. In fact, my last Government role was to attend the first Cobra meeting on what was then called the virus emergency.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I may be professionally slanted on this, but one observation I made was that we had lots of very “academic” academics involved in the decision making at Cobra. There are some extremely capable and experienced senior nurses and emergency clinicians who deal with major incidents day in and day out, and they are the ones who understand how to run an emergency and where the gaps might be. I have a bit of a professional hero in Louise Boden. She was chief nurse at University College London Hospital and she got us through the 7/7 bombs and the Admiral Duncan pub bomb. Unfortunately I was on duty for both of those incidents, which was not pleasant, but it was important to have someone of that capability there, and I would gently suggest that the Government have someone with that kind of major incident experience in the room when planning these things in future.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Sadly, I was not a Minister at the time—I would love to have been—but I do not think it is a state secret to say that there were clearly mistakes made in that national emergency. That is why there is a proper and full inquiry. He has made some important points that need to be picked up, but I do not think he would expect me to give a running commentary here on the decisions that were taken. If we cast our minds back, there was a two or three-week period when we were worried that the lack of ventilators would be the great crisis. Innovative groups all around the country were stood up as part of the national challenge to try to design ventilators, with engineers working out how to do things. All that happened in very fast order, and all sorts of issues were raised and procurements flagged that we did not need in the end. I do not think anyone would say that it was a seamless process; it was a national emergency, and there were clearly many lessons to learn.

To deal with the hon. Gentleman’s bigger points—I will perhaps pick up the specifics in detail in a written reply—as a former Life Sciences Minister, I observe that the pandemic revealed that things that we had done seven or eight years earlier in the coalition Government had paid not just the four times return on investment that is traditional in this sector, but many times over that. The truth is that the reasons we were able to sequence the virus so fast were the launching of the genomics programme, which I was proud to have led back under the coalition, the accelerated access review we put in place, the parallel approvals process with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the early access to medicines scheme, and the setting up of Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. John Bell and I suggested in 2016 that it would be a sensible piece of foresight to invest in vaccine manufacturing, which was clearly going to change. Of course, we had no idea that a pandemic would mean that that facility would suddenly become incredibly important.

Also important was the establishment of NHS Digital. One of the lessons of the pandemic is the importance of really good data and of both national and local data sets. As a Norfolk MP, I remember being frustrated that we did not have the granularity of data or the ability to do public health by cities or districts; it was instead by big, clumsy Government regions. There are all sorts of lessons there about how an emergency requires not only national implementation and measures but the subtlety of local control, empowering local experts on the ground who are best equipped to work out how to contain and control.

I want to focus on where I can add perhaps most value in this debate and on the hon. Gentleman’s points about the importance of the diagnostics industry. One of the great lessons of the pandemic, which has absolutely been taken to the heart of Government, is that we must recognise that globalisation will drive more and more infectious disease challenges. God forbid we have another pandemic of this type, but over the past 10 or 15 years we have had zika, Ebola and covid. It is likely that we will see more such things. Hopefully they will be local or regional, but if we are not ready to contain them, we could see outbreaks of disease.

Globalisation will drive the release of new pathogens, which is why pathogen detection is one of the technologies that I am putting at the heart of our three-year plan going forward. Indeed, I am working with the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on how we can ensure that we harness our leadership in genomics for broader pathogen detection across animal, plant and human health and make sure that we build that network off the back of the pandemic.

The hon. Gentleman made a more specific point that in the NHS, the care system and the life sciences industry—I say this as someone who spent 15 years in the sector before coming to Parliament—diagnostics was for years the slightly poor relation. Drug discovery and the pharmaceutical sector tended to raise the big money and have the higher profile, but the pandemic revealed that diagnostics is absolutely key to getting on top of the disease. The life sciences industry is moving to recognise that if we want to deliver real value and reduce the cost of disease, which is the real key to the economy and the health system, we need to build in diagnosis much earlier. That means both the easy diagnosis—if I may call it that—of easily detectable and treatable diseases and the deeper science of longer-term diagnosis of tomorrow’s conditions.

That is why, in the update to our life sciences industrial strategy that we set out last year, we have insisted on closing the gap over the next 10 years between the traditional dichotomy in Government—the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sponsors the research and the Department of Health and Social Care does the procurement, licensing and approvals—to try to build a much more integrated model through which we focus on diseases in places and the patient pathway and bring diagnosis, treatment and prevention together around the eight disease missions. One thing I hope and intend that that will do is put the diagnostics industry at the heart of those missions; traditionally, it has been an industry that has tended to be about the black box that sits on the hospital ward, but these days it is becoming integral to the life sciences industry and to working out how to treat, understand and detect disease. Those missions are completely key.

Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues here this evening by saying that we are also investing heavily, in this next phase, in the mRNA technologies that are key to the next phase of detection and diagnosis, and in new treatments. VMIC, which we set up as an academic unit to work on future vaccine manufacturing technologies, suddenly became an urgent facility for onshoring during the pandemic. I am pleased that we have transferred VMIC into the hands of Catalent, a world leader in mRNA diagnostics, therapeutics and treatments. So we have established a much more robust national supply chain in dealing with both flu and other respiratory diseases, and other pathogens. Many of the lessons have been learned, but obviously there is more to do.

We have set out in our latest life sciences vision an £8 billion commitment to research, including work with the Medical Research Council, deep research on my side of the portfolio at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and putting some £4.5 billion into the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The NIHR, where we are talking about £1 billion a year, is the sort of engine of research under the NHS. Crucially, we have said that, at its heart, diagnostics has to be central to that landscape. I refer not only to the detection of influenza and other respiratory pathogens, but to molecular diagnostics, biomarkers and genomic insights into disease. That is because the NHS is a huge procurer daily of blood tests for individual conditions, as the hon. Gentleman knows well. If we properly integrate that, we will be building up a database of deep expertise in biomarkers and understanding the early signals of disease, and we can harness that to make the NHS much more of a diagnostics research engine.

The dream and aim in respect of those eight disease missions is that we will be able to mobilise patients much more quickly, through digital technologies, into trials. Patients, through charities, will be able to enrol in clinical research. Using that spine of the biobank and molecular diagnostics, we can start to give industry much quicker access to the patients who are on the frontline of the conditions we need to treat.

That should drive a virtuous circle, in which we detect earlier, treat earlier and attract investment, and ultimately, as the hon. Gentleman says, we move from a paradigm where the NHS, under cost pressures, is a low-price and often late procurer to a scenario in which it does not have to be a high-price payer because it is giving industry an even more valuable thing: access to patients, charities and disease and patient consent for research. The NHS’s role in this sector is, thus, as a research engine. I have made it clear to industry that we will never, in a publicly funded healthcare system, be the highest-price payer—it would not expect us to be—but that the promise I can make it is that we will move heaven and earth to be an earlier adopter, an earlier tester and the best place in the world for it to come to test and diagnose its new treatments, and get the data on which patients they work in. Industry will then be able to use that to go around the world and sell to other countries. That is the vision of the NHS as a 21st-century research engine.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister referred to Queen’s University Belfast, and I know he has a particular interest in being there and being involved with it. Will he indicate whether Queen’s University Belfast, or any other university in Northern Ireland, has been involved in this type of research and partnership? It is so important to take advantage of the massive amount of knowledge in the sector.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and invites me to signal again my support for what is going on in Northern Ireland. If we look at the cancer outcomes in Northern Ireland, the Queen’s University team that has been working on biomarkers and earlier detection has ended up driving not just investment, but much quicker and better outcomes for the people of Northern Ireland. The real power of the sector is that it delivers better healthcare for everybody within the values of the NHS, but also attracts investment and drives industry. I would go so far as to say that in the new landscape, companies such as Randox will develop affordable consumer diagnostic kits that can help drive earlier detection, building on to a digital interface. We can then support patients to get into trials earlier and drive research medicine. Belfast is on the frontline of that.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This evening’s debate has been excellent. In York, we had a company that was developing aptamers to be used in the diagnostic process. The Government did not have a grip on the governance or an understanding of what could be produced and the quality that that would bring. How is that mapping being done to ensure that every part of the manufacturing process is brought together?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady, not for the first time, makes an important point. As I am not a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care, I had better defer to them on where they are on that specific mapping point. In terms of my responsibility at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we are looking to grow the innovation economy by mapping the clusters of expertise around the country, including BioYorkshire, which I visited recently, and to ensure that we are aware of and supporting those clusters of research. Given that I have been invited to comment on other geographies, I will highlight how proud I am that the Norwich research park was the first place in the country to establish a local testing facility and local testing infrastructure to support it.

One thing the pandemic revealed was that, whether it is test and trace, data or epidemiological control, the best people to get on top of it are those on the ground locally. One of the lessons of the pandemic is that, yes, we need strong national leadership, but we also need to free up and trust the clinical and professional judgment on the ground.

For the record, it is important to speak about the scale of the diagnostics challenge in the pandemic. At peak, more than 700,000 PCR tests and 74,000 genomic sequences were done daily. It has been the most extraordinary turbocharging of our diagnostics infrastructure. I think everyone is aware of what we owe the diagnostics industry—that needs to be put on the record—but also that the infrastructure must be maintained for future events.

Genomic sequencing technology has been fundamental. The groundbreaking analyses of the combined SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences and epidemiological data have supported the uploading of 2.7 million of 10.7 million genomes in GISAID—the global initiative on sharing avian influenza data. We are leaders in the global networks for genomic sequencing because of that genomics investment. More than 2 billion lateral flow tests have been provided across the UK.

I am conscious of the time. With permission, I will deal with the detailed questions that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has raised in writing. I hope that I have reassured colleagues that we have absolutely learned the lesson that the diagnostics industry will never again be the poor relation. Emergencies require us to learn the lessons—we will not have got everything right, and the official inquiry is important. I would like to take the politics out of it and ensure that the clinical lessons are learned. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are determined to ensure that the industry is put at the heart of our life sciences vision.

Question put and agreed to.

Performance Targets for the Intellectual Property Office

George Freeman Excerpts
Thursday 31st March 2022

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

Our innovation strategy sets out our ambitions for an innovation-led economy. Now, more than ever, we must support innovators as the UK looks to embrace the science and innovation that is at the heart of our post-pandemic economic plan to build back better.

For a company and as a country, having your IP secure makes life more enjoyable, easier, safer, and prosperous, giving researchers, inventors, creators, businesses and organisations the confidence to invest their time, energy and money in doing something new.

This confidence is essential. It incentivises innovation which drives economic growth and improvements in society.

The UK is fortunate to start from an enviable position. We are already renowned for our leadership in research and our excellent scientific institutions that generate life-changing technological advances. We are home to many innovative businesses, from established global players to burgeoning start-ups. Our research and development (R&D) roadmap has committed to unprecedented levels of public investment (a 30% increase) in R&D. And our creative industries are known around the world for their excellence in fields as diverse as music, cinema, literature and computer games.

Innovation drives economic growth and creates jobs. However, too few businesses are aware of and able to access the tools they need to translate new ideas into new products and services and to challenge established businesses. We are committed to making the UK the best ecosystem in the world for starting and growing a business. That means having the best access to capital, skills and ideas, as well as a smart and stable regulatory framework.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) corporate priorities 2022-23 will, through its stewardship of the IP system, play a fundamental role in ensuring the UK becomes the most innovative and creative country in the world. The IPO is an ambitious, growing organisation that aims to be the best IP office in the world. The IPO team has a clear plan to deliver its corporate priorities and provide excellent services internally and externally, shaping our UK IP environment and making the IPO a first-class place to work.

As an Executive agency and trading fund of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the IPO has set targets which are agreed by Ministers and laid before Parliament. I am glad that today I can inform the House that for 2022-23 the IPO’s strategic targets are:

By the end of March 2023, the service design, business processes and technical requirements for all six transformation projects (manage, secure, challenge, registers, search and IP journals) will be fully defined and documented.

Achieve an average overall customer satisfaction of 85% or more.

Produce a strategic threat and harm intelligence assessment of intellectual property rights infringement (by November 2022).

To achieve efficiencies worth at least 3.5% of our core operating costs.

IPO will work with BEIS and other partner organisations to review its priorities regularly, ensuring they support wider Government aims and that its efforts and resources are focused where they will have the most significant impact driving UK innovation and a creative economy.

[HCWS745]

Oral Answers to Questions

George Freeman Excerpts
Tuesday 29th March 2022

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect on consumers of removing standing charges on energy bills.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As the hon. Lady knows, the standing charge is designed to reflect the costs of connectivity and usually covers the fixed costs that the suppliers incur. If it was removed, that cost would simply be passed on to consumers. Standing charges are a matter for Ofgem, which has launched a call for evidence. The Government are focused on helping consumers through the £9 billion package of relief announced by the Chancellor a few weeks ago and the £5 billion announced last week to help families and households with the cost of fuel.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

From this Friday, households will face an average 80% increase in standing charges for electricity. Negligent policy making and bad practice in the industry will be paid for by the poorest and most vulnerable consumers, who will pay the highest standing charges, with those in Scotland amongst the hardest hit. Will the Minister consider capping or even scrapping these standing charges on the basis that they are discriminatory to the poorest and most vulnerable consumers?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

If it was as straightforward as that, the answer might be simple, but it is not—[Hon. Members: “Yes it is!”] No, it is not. The energy market is extremely complex, and there is a whole raft of charges. It is not true to say that Scottish consumers are hit particularly hard, as Scotland is also a net exporter and English and Welsh consumers are paying for it. The Government are absolutely focused on helping consumers with the cost of energy through the £9 billion relief announced in February, the £5 billion announced last week, the extra money for the warm home bonus and all the support mechanisms for the vulnerable. It is not simply a case of constantly tinkering with market price.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What assessment he has made of the capacity of the UK’s nuclear power generation industry to strengthen energy security.

--- Later in debate ---
Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

18. What assessment he has made of the effect of trends in the level of investment in renewables on household energy bills.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Achieving the UK’s ambitious net zero target to prevent global warming and climate emergency beyond 1.5° and protect consumers from global price volatility will require significant extra investment in renewable electricity generation. We have seen the cost of renewable technologies, most notably offshore wind, reduce fast and as more renewables are added to the system, household electricity bills will be less affected by fluctuations in volatile global gas prices.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

An effective way for household energy bills in Lincoln and across the UK to be cut by 25% right now is through the removal of the renewables surcharge on everyone’s bills, even temporarily. Have the Minister and his colleagues put that simple idea to their Treasury colleagues?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I can assure my hon. Friend that lots of ideas have been put to Treasury colleagues. The truth is that the falling cost of UK renewables, with offshore wind now down 60% through the contract for difference, is the best protection against global supply chain volatility. This country has led the way. In the past 30 years, we have grown the economy by 78% and reduced emissions by 44%. The Government focused on helping consumers, households and businesses with direct support and that is why the Chancellor announced £9 billion of relief in his February package, £5 billion last week, contrary to the claim from the Opposition that nothing was done, and extra funding for the warm home scheme and winter fuel levy.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Evans
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Constituents in Bosworth are concerned about three things: the cost of their energy bills, the environmental impact and the security of our energy supply. While being mindful of those three things, does my hon. Friend agree that a transition period is paramount while we deal with the fallout of a war, with rising energy prices and, of course, with meeting our net zero targets?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes an important point that has not been picked up by the Opposition. We are emerging from a global pandemic and experiencing a war in Europe. Those are two unprecedented shocks to the global energy system. The Government have done everything necessary through the pandemic and we are doing it again on energy, but in the end we are in a global energy market and the best strategy, as my hon. Friend sets out, is the transition plan we have put in place, with strong support for renewables and help with the cost of energy in the short term for consumers, businesses and households.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

For Norway to feed energy into our national grid it costs £1.36 per MWh, for Belgium it is 77p per MWh, for France, 17p and for Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands it costs not a penny. Can the Minister explain how Scotland can exploit its renewable potential when it costs £7.36 per MWh to feed into the grid?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am delighted to explain how Scotland can benefit from our renewables programme: the North sea transition deal, the net zero hydrogen fund, the industrial energy transformation fund, £20 million ringfenced for Scottish tidal, £40 million for carbon capture and storage, and £27 million for the Aberdeen energy transition zone. Frankly, we need fewer complaints from the Scottish nationalists and more support for the Scottish energy sector.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a little disappointing that the Minister could not just give a straightforward no to the question from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney). Moving on, however, there are more than 600 wind and solar projects in the UK that already have planning permission. Will the Government admit they made a mistake in stopping the development of onshore wind, and fast-track those projects? They already have planning permission and are ready to go ahead. They are the answer to meeting our energy needs in the future.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The evidence suggests that the UK is the fastest economy in the G7 in deploying renewables. Offshore wind costs have fallen by 60%. Of course, everyone can do more, but I do not accept the criticism that we have not been in the vanguard; we have been, and we are, and offshore wind and solar have been fundamental to reducing the cost of renewables. That is the best support against rising energy prices.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. What plans he has to support new energy transition projects in Scotland.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What plans he has to support new energy transition projects in Scotland.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

I am delighted to assure hon. Members that Scotland is at the heart of the UK’s transition to net zero—something I hope they will welcome. In November last year, we committed £20 million to the funding for tidal stream projects through the contracts for difference, giving Scotland’s significant marine energy sector a chance to develop its expertise. We have also allocated £40 million in carbon capture development funding for the Acorn Project and £27 million for the Aberdeen energy transition zone.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the rest of the UK welcomes that contribution to renewable energy as well, but local communities up and down the country, such as Partick in Glasgow North, want to champion the just transition by generating their own local renewable electricity. If the Local Electricity Bill, which has cross-party support on both sides of the House, is brought back in the next Session, will the Government make time and support it?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I will pass on to my hon. Friend the Energy Minister, who is currently suffering from covid. We have put money into the community energy fund. We are supporting community energy and we are passionate not just about the big infrastructure but, as the hon. Gentleman says, about community energy schemes.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The University of Stirling has cut its carbon emissions by 43.8% since 2007. It has an ambitious target to achieve net zero by 2040, with fantastic plans for a solar farm, geothermal developments, the repurposing of an existing combined heat and power plant, and hydro. However, it is finding that those developments are held back by a lack of UK Government support and the rhetoric is often not matched by the reality. Will the Minister, in a constructive spirit, meet me to see whether we can crack through the paperwork and support those great projects?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As Minister for Science, Research and Innovation I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. The university is doing great work. We have just announced and made the allocation of the biggest increase for a generation in science, research and innovation funding for universities, and I would be very happy to meet him and see what we can do to support that cluster.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for reminding the House that this is a transition, not an extinction. Can he confirm that, as part of the North sea transition deal, we need to keep extracting hydrocarbons for the ongoing, albeit declining, demand that we have in this country and to support investment and jobs in that industry? Finally, does he agree that the companies on which the Opposition parties, including the SNP, want to slap an arbitrary windfall tax are precisely those companies that have the skills, the knowledge, the expertise, the technology and the capital to invest in the energy transition that this country desperately needs, and that we can show the world how it is done?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. It is surprising not to hear the Scottish nationalists welcoming the North sea transition deal a bit more. To remind the House, it is a programme that will draw on the expertise in Scotland’s offshore North sea oil and gas sector and help it to lead the transition to carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, offshore wind and tidal, and it is set to create over 40,000 jobs and attract £14 billion of investment. That is the best way—and frankly, the best thing the SNP here could do is to help their colleagues in Scotland to support it.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What assessment he has made of the potential role of synthetic fuels in achieving net zero targets.

--- Later in debate ---
Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. We have world-leading motor neurone disease scientists here in the UK who are on the cusp of developing the first ever treatments for this disease. Patients, scientists and charities were promised that by the end of January we would know how the £50 million of targeted MND research funding would be allocated. It is now the end of March. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the funding will be awarded quickly and in full, and via a single application process, as set out by MND charities in the 2021 spending review submissi-on?

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As former Minister for life science and Minister for research, I would be very happy to meet with the hon. Member to talk that through. We have just made the biggest allocation for science, research and innovation, which included £9 billion for health research.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. I very much welcome the Chancellor scrapping VAT on home energy-saving products in his spring statement last week. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that now really is the time to turbo-charge a green homes programme? Let us insulate homes and help people to cut their energy bills and keep warm.

--- Later in debate ---
Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. On nuclear, there has been much talk of the small modular reactors created by Rolls-Royce, which the Government are rightly supporting, and lots of talk of the progress on nuclear fusion at Culham in Oxfordshire. What is the Department’s assessment of progress on these technologies? How can we increase the speed of their deployment, and what policy interventions might help with that?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

That is an excellent question. We can be very proud: UK scientists at Harwell recently demonstrated the ability to generate temperatures equivalent to those on the sun at the flick of a switch, and Rolls-Royce is ready to roll out and industrialise small nuclear reactors over the next 10 to 15 years. We are looking to accelerate their deployment to help tackle the global energy crisis.

Beth Winter Portrait Beth Winter (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T9. For the 11,5000 Cynon Valley households in receipt of social security benefits, the spring statement offered absolutely nothing. Inflation is anticipated to reach 9%, and they are expected to use a disproportionate amount of their income to cover energy cost increases of 50% in April—and another 40% increase is forecast for October. There is to be a social security payment increase of a paltry and quite insulting 3.1%, which links back to the inflation rate in September last year. What consideration have the Government given to introducing a low income energy tariff, so that they can better target support at lower-income households, as suggested by the Welsh Government?

--- Later in debate ---
Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

South Yorkshire is home to some extraordinary research and development assets, including the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Advanced Wellbeing and Research Centre. It was great to meet the Minister recently to discuss the issue. Will he continue to work with me and others on unlocking the undoubtedly huge potential in South Yorkshire?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

With absolute pleasure. The South Yorkshire cluster is becoming a world-class, globally recognised leader in advanced manufacturing and associated industries. I look forward to supporting that cluster.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Geothermal energy from old coalmines can heat our homes for years to come. Will the Secretary of State please assure me that he is doing all he can to support the Coal Authority in developing this fantastic new energy opportunity?

Large Solar Farms

George Freeman Excerpts
Wednesday 9th March 2022

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith)? The scale of attendance and the passion with which colleagues have spoken speaks to the importance of his advocacy and the issue.

I am standing in today for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, but I am absolutely delighted to be doing so, for a number of reasons. First, I come from a rural, agricultural constituency that is itself facing the introduction of substantial, industrial-scale infrastructure connected to offshore wind energy. The industrialisation of rural constituencies in pursuit of the noble aims of net zero is a local issue. It is very important and we have to get that planning process right. I have seen that for myself. I also drive through the Cambridgeshire-Suffolk border on my way to my constituency and see the Sunnica proposal, the signs in every field around the area and the concern locally.

As the former Minister for agritech, I am passionate about the importance of this country leading the world in net zero farming and showing how we can pioneer the technologies for and approaches to net zero agriculture. Nobody in this Chamber needs to be reminded that agriculture is the next dirty industry on the block. We are cleaning the energy system, but we will then have to decarbonise agriculture and transport globally. That is a big opportunity for this country.

As the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, including for fusion, I see it as fundamental to my role to ensure that we turbocharge our drive towards the technological solutions that will allow the planet to grow and develop sustainably in the longer term. I am also committed to the science of the data metrics of sustainable development, by which I mean both agrimetrics, so that when consumers pick up a pint of milk or a piece of British food they are clear about its environmental footprint—that is the best way to reward advanced, progressive farming—and carbon metrics, so that consumers can be harnessed on the journey to net zero, confident that they are making enlightened choices. That requires good science, which a number of colleagues have touched on.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is a strong advocate of human rights. He mentions enlightened consumers wanting to know what they are purchasing and what is in their community. Does he agree that we should not install solar panels when we know for a fact that they are being produced in genocidal camps where people are being exterminated? I am talking about the Uyghur in China.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes her point powerfully. I absolutely agree that we should not be supplying to consumers and citizens goods whose production involves torture and illegal practices. I am not the consumer affairs Minister, but I will raise that point with those who have that responsibility.

In the time available, I will set out the Government’s policy on solar, acknowledge the 16 very important points made today by colleagues from across the House, summarise the process in terms of disapplication and more broadly, and then make what I hope will be some important and helpful undertakings.

It is striking that, for all the concerns raised today, there is unanimity in the Chamber about the urgency of tackling the climate emergency. I think that everyone present supports the commitment, as enshrined at COP26, to reduce global temperature increase to 1.5°. There is good science behind that, and I think that many comments were made in that spirit. That is why the Government have adopted carbon budget 6, which is the world’s most ambitious climate change goal, to reduce emissions by 77% by 2035—that might sound a long way away, but it is rapidly drawing near—compared with 1990 levels. With limited time until that date, the UK’s electricity supply is in urgent need of decarbonisation. That is why, in the net zero strategy that was published in 2021, the Government committed that all UK electricity will be from low-carbon sources by 2035, subject to security of supply. At the end of my comments, I will come back to some of the changes relating to the global markets, the Ukraine emergency and the Prime Minister’s announcement of a review of energy policy.

I want to touch on the benefits of solar, which merit highlighting. It is a very flexible technology. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) has pointed out, we can be proud that we have deployed 99% of solar at huge scale, quite small scale and high scale across the country. Solar generates large amounts of electricity even on cloudy days, and from indirect sunlight. Solar also works at cooler temperatures, so its carbon footprint is normally much lower than that of coal or gas. Most solar panel components can be recycled.

Solar can complement other variable generation sources, such as wind, to balance the grid on summer days when wind speeds tend to be lower. We see solar as key to the Government’s strategy for low-cost energy and decarbonisation, and large-scale solar is one of the UK’s cheapest renewable generation technologies; I will come in my closing comments to where the externalities of cost may lie. That is why in the net zero strategy, the Government committed to a sustained increase in deploying solar in the 2020s and beyond, embedded through the contract for difference scheme.

I want to pick up the points that several colleagues have made, because those points are hugely important and need to be acknowledged seriously. The first was about the scale of what is being proposed. As the equivalent of 4,000 football pitches, this is not a small-scale development or even, by most people’s standards, a medium-scale one. This is huge, industrial-scale development in the countryside. There were fears about a wild west and a solar rush, and about precedent in the planning system—if one of these developments gets approved, it may be a signal that we are locked into precedent. There were concerns, which I share, about the use of good agricultural land and, particularly in the light of the Ukraine situation, about food security.

Concerns were raised about the solar supply chain—both the human rights point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) made, and the carbon footprint point. There were concerns about the lack of metrics of sustainability, and about taking into account the full externalities of the carbon footprint of developments. There were concerns about the abuse of the local planning system. I have been very struck in my constituency by the fact that because this is critical national infrastructure, the views of local people and local MPs—frankly, anybody locally—are very downgraded. The planning advice states that those local views are important, so I think that there is a real issue there.

There were specific concerns about Rutland and habitat impact, and calls for a clearer national policy on tackling these policy tensions. Points were made about the impact of the Ukraine emergency on food supplies, food security and food prices. Points were also made about the link to surreptitious approvals of, effectively, battery farms in inappropriate locations, about fire risk, about the impact on rural tourism and about the need for better co-location of generation, where possible, with use. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) made a point about beauty, identity and character, which is not just a magnificent ethereal concept; it also underpins tourism in the countryside. Some very important points have been made, and they deserve to be repeated and acknowledged. Forgive me; I am not going to list everybody, but Hansard will report what has been set out.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because I have made several interventions. On the point about fire safety, will he take on board, and comment on, the need for transparency about past fires? I should also have mentioned in my speech that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), cannot speak because she is a member of the Government, but she wholeheartedly endorses my views and is a great campaigner for her constituency when it comes to the Sunnica plant—and more broadly.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

I will happily pick that point up. My right hon. Friend invites me—wisely, perhaps, given the time—to clarify that at the end of this debate, I will raise all the points that have been made today with the relevant Ministers, including, perhaps, the Minister for fire safety. When such a number of colleagues meet in the Chamber, their points deserve to be heard and passed through.

I want to pick up on the planning point. Colleagues will be aware, but those listening may not be, that planning applications for projects below 50 MW are determined by the local planning system. Many hundreds of them around the country have been approved satisfactorily. Projects up to 350 MW in Wales are devolved, with decisions made either by local authorities or the Welsh Government. Planning in Scotland and Northern Ireland is fully devolved. For projects over 50 MW in England and over 350 MW in Wales, planning decisions are made by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Local authorities’ declaration of a climate emergency seems to be overriding the requirement to avoid developments on best and most versatile land. Should there not be an absolute prohibition of solar farm developments on BMVL?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes his point well. Let me come to the point I was going to make about planning, which tries to deal with that.

In 2021, the Government set up a national infrastructure planning reform programme, bringing several Government Departments together with the aim of refreshing how the nationally significant infrastructure project regime works to make it faster, better and greener. The Government will shortly consult on reform proposals—we will do so later this year. As a part of that, the Government are reviewing the national policy statements for energy. It seems to me that quite a lot of what has been said today is a call for a clearer national policy statement, and colleagues might want to raise that with the Minister for Energy and the Planning Minister. The draft revised national policy statement for renewables includes a new section on solar projects, providing clear and specific guidance to decision makers on the impact on, for example, local amenities, biodiversity, landscape, wildlife and land use, which must be considered when assessing planning applications. The Government plan to publish a response to the consultation on the revised national policy statement shortly.

Under both local and NSIP planning systems, developers must complete proper community engagement as part of the application process. Communities should and must be able to participate in the formal examination process run by the Planning Inspectorate. All large solar developers under the NSIP must complete an environmental statement for any application, to consider all potential impacts. Planning guidance is also clear that the effective use of land should be prioritised by focusing large-scale solar farms on previously developed and non-greenfield land. It seeks to minimise the impact on the best and most versatile agricultural land. It requires developers to justify using any such land and to design their projects to avoid, mitigate and, where necessary, compensate for impacts.

I am conscious of the time—I think I have one minute left—but I want to highlight that in relation to the planning process colleagues will understand that I cannot comment on the specifics of this individual case, because I do not want to prejudice it in any way. However, we anticipate that once an application is submitted to the planning inspector, it will be 15 to 18 months before it comes back to the Secretary of State after all the various consultations. Interestingly, in terms of precedent —all-important in planning—only one large-scale solar application has been approved, in Kent. One in Wales, Strawberry Hill—devolved, of course—was turned down on the agricultural land use point. I understand that one in Scunthorpe is imminent, and that Sunnica and one or two others are in the pipeline. The point about precedent is important: we all know that when a big decision is made it can trigger a wave of subsequent applications.

Let me close by congratulating and thanking colleagues for coming today. They have raised important points that I will undertake to pass on to Ministers who have responsibility for energy, planning, farming, tourism and fire safety. Colleagues have made a very important case for a stronger and clearer national policy statement, reflecting the situation in Ukraine and the Prime Minister’s emphasis on food and energy security. I will undertake to make sure that the points raised today are picked up by all the relevant Ministers.

Oral Answers to Questions

George Freeman Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd February 2022

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16. What steps he is taking to support the growth of science and innovation through the Government's levelling-up agenda.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

As part of our step-change increase in investment in science research an innovation—an increase of 30% over the next three years to £20 billion a year—we are putting levelling up at the heart of our investment through clusters around the country. That is why we are putting £200 million into the strength in places fund for 12 projects across the UK; making the groundbreaking pledge that 55% of BEIS funding will go outside the greater south-east; launching three innovation accelerators in Glasgow, Manchester and the west midlands; and extending eight freeports, with two in Scotland.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his answer. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Keele University plays a substantial role in levelling up north Staffordshire through its work with local authorities and its Keele deals addressing economy, health, culture and social inclusion. There is also the enterprise zone, including the science and innovation park, which provides a home and support mechanism for more than 50 companies, with more to come. Will the Minister confirm that universities’ role in such work will be supported as part of our levelling-up agenda, as we get more money spent outside the south-east?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I pay tribute to his work and that of Keele. The enterprise zone is first class—similarly, the work of Keele University. I confirm that we are taking into account the very important role of universities in innovation and levelling up. He will see that reflected in the allocation of £40 billion to UK Research and Innovation and Innovate UK in the next three years.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The advanced manufacturing research centre at Sheffield University would like to open an innovation facility at Doncaster Sheffield airport, which may bring the likes of Boeing and hybrid air vehicles to Doncaster. It needs just £24 million to do that. I have met the Minister on the subject before. Will he come to Doncaster and meet all the stakeholders to see if we can get the project moving forward and let the real levelling up begin?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because this is the third time that he has raised this matter with me. He makes in important point. The Boeing interest in Doncaster Sheffield airport is part of our plan to grow an aerospace cluster around the whole of the UK. I very much welcome the opportunity to visit him and meet Boeing and local stakeholders.

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last September, Llandudno in Aberconwy was identified as having the fastest economic recovery in the UK and, last week, an analysis of Companies House filings identified it as the start-up capital of the UK. I pay tribute to the entrepreneurs and businesses for making that happen. Will my hon. Friend the Minister join me in Llandudno with some of those entrepreneurs to see how we can nurture those green shoots, secure the growth and turn Llandudno into a growth and enterprise hub for north Wales?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

With pleasure. My hon. Friend makes an important point: the Welsh dragon is roaring not just on the rugby pitch and in tourism, where Llandudno is the queen of Welsh resorts, but in the science, research and innovation economy. With the north Wales energy corridor, the south Wales life sciences cluster and plant health at Aberystwyth, Wales is a science and innovation engine that we intend to support. I pay tribute to his work in the area and look forward to visiting the Llandudno cluster as part of our work on supporting clusters around the UK.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister may be aware that many rural parts of the north feel that levelling up does not really apply to them, but of course it must and it should. The Minister may be aware of Cumbria’s energy coast. We are a country with plenty of wind, plenty of water and plenty of coast. We should bear in mind that, after Canada, the UK has the second largest tidal range on planet earth and we are making use of nearly none of it. Will he commit to making sure there is a tidal, marine and hydro-energy hub in Cumbria, based in Kendal where Gilkes is so wonderfully based?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I absolutely agree. As a rural MP, I do not need to take any lectures from the Liberal Democrats on the importance of rural innovation. I will address the specific point about tidal power: we have just put £30 million into it. It would be good hear the hon. Gentleman—and his party—applaud the nuclear industry, which is an important part of that region.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his answers. With reference to university places for those from low-income backgrounds, will he consider greater financial aid for STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—for students from any part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to find their passion and long-term career?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Member makes a really important point that is at the heart of our £100 million innovation accelerator pilot programme. We have chosen the locations—Glasgow, Manchester and the west midlands—for the initial tranche, because we want to invest in places where there is strong world-class research and development and innovation cheek by jowl with lamentable deprivation. I very much hope that over the next few years we can extend it out to areas, including parts of Northern Ireland, where that similar pattern of excellence alongside deprivation is sadly still present.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Levelling up, really? The Campaign for Science and Engineering has shown that the proposals in the White Paper simply freeze the current proportion of regional science spend, with the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London continuing to receive the majority of public sector science spend. When it comes to private sector science spend, London’s share has actually doubled under Conservative Governments, because they will not give our towns and cities the powers and investment they need to build strong science economies. Will the Minister say whether the proportion of public science spend going to the regions will actually increase as a consequence of the levelling-up White Paper, or is this just more broken promises from the department for funny numbers?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I suggest the hon. Lady reads the levelling-up White Paper. If she reads it, she will see that it is a very substantial document that deals with precisely the points she has just made. [Interruption.] I will deal with the specific question she asked about devolution and extending investment around the country. That is why we have made a pledge—a pledge that the Labour party never made, by the way—to increase R&D spending outside the greater south-east. Our Department, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is responsible for 75% of R&D, will move to being 55% outside the south-east. The point she misses is that we do not level up this country by destroying the golden triangle; we level up by building the clusters, moving from a discovery economy to a development economy. As a Member for the north-east, I thought she would be applauding the phenomenal growth in the north-east as a result of our policies.

Jake Berry Portrait Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, I welcome the targets to increase investment through levelling up in our regions, but the thing that really matters is not what the Government say in White Papers, but how the money gets to those businesses, particularly in Rossendale, Darwen and east Lancashire more widely. Will the Minister commit to publishing an easy guide for local businesses to work out how, through their innovation and their own R&D, they can access some of that new funding? Trash-talking levelling up by those on the Opposition Benches does not go down well in east Lancashire or anywhere in the north, because we believe in this programme.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. It was surprising to hear the Opposition not mention the phenomenal investment that is pouring in. In the end, levelling up will be achieved by the businesses of this country investing in partnership with us. I welcome the Bentley £2.5 billion investment and the Aston Martin investment in Wales. That is happening right now. My right hon. Friend’s point is well made. As part of our significant increase in Innovate UK funding, we are looking at how we can ensure small businesses find it easier to access grant funding. We are dramatically increasing Innovate UK funding. The key test will be whether small businesses around the country can access it.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on cross-departmental co-ordination on tackling climate change.

--- Later in debate ---
Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What steps his Department is taking to support research into Parkinson’s disease.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question on the importance of research into neurodegeneration and Parkinson’s, a cause I was proud to champion as Minister for life sciences. We are investing £20 million a year, including £14.8 million through UK Research and Innovation and another £6 million through the National Institute for Health Research. We continue to fund the UK Dementia Research Institute, and in the autumn we announced another £375 million for neurodegenerative diseases over the next three years.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Sharma
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

More than 150,000 people in the UK will have Parkinson’s by 2030. Parkinson’s UK is clear that, to accelerate the search for a cure, research must be supported by improved infrastructure, including the use of digital technology and better clinical trial design. Will the Minister meet me and Parkinson’s UK to discuss how its proposal for a challenge fund could help to defeat Parkinson’s?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Yes, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. He makes an important point. The truth is that the next frontier in neurodegenerative science will be a mixture of neural pathways, neural mapping, digital science and deep-tissue phenomic and genomic science, which is why I was recently in Switzerland at the institute of neuroscience in Lucerne to see whether we can establish a collaboration.

Ian Levy Portrait Ian Levy (Blyth Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

14. What steps he is taking to help support the growth of the automotive sector.

--- Later in debate ---
Peter Dowd Portrait Peter  Dowd  (Bootle) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4.   Less than 24 hours ago the Prime Minister said:“SAGE is certain that there will be new variants, and it is very possible that those will be worse than omicron.”—[Official Report, 21 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 44.]What practical steps has the Department taken to ensure the maintenance of the infrastructure needed to develop second-generation covid vaccines and to build the pandemic-readiness resilience to which the Prime Minister referred?

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will happily talk to the hon. Member offline about the extensive vaccine pipeline that we are in the process of procuring. It includes next-generation mRNA vaccines for both flu and the next phase of covid. We are ahead of the curve on the next phase, as we were during the pandemic.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T3. May I draw the Minister’s attention to the plans, due to be published tomorrow by Midlands Connect, to significantly improve and invest in the A50/A500 east-west corridor? It runs from the M6 to the M1 and is home to many of the UK’s leading manufacturers, including JCB, Toyota, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, and it is also a hotspot for the development of hydrogen technology by businesses and by universities such as Keele University in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The opportunities for skilled jobs, innovation and green growth are huge if the Government can help to unlock the infrastructure, so will the Minister meet me and local stakeholders to discuss the opportunities?

--- Later in debate ---
John Whittingdale Portrait Mr John Whittingdale  (Maldon) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8.   While I welcome the establishment of the digital markets unit, does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that it should be given statutory backing if it is to set a level playing field between publishers and platforms? Can he confirm that it is still the Government’s intention to introduce that legislation early in the next Session?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which I would be keen to talk to him about. Although that is a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport lead, we are tightening up on the intellectual property provisions, and we are minded to proceed with that legislation.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unscrupulous employers have used the pandemic to slash their loyal workforce’s terms and conditions and threaten them with the sack. Court cases have been lost by Uber and more recently by Tesco, yet all we have from this Government are platitudes. They have done absolutely nothing to stop brutal fire and rehire practices. Will the Government’s much-fabled Employment Bill finally ban them once and for all?

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T10. Cornwall is famous for its creativity and its inventions—whether it be Richard Trevithick’s steam engine, Cornishman Richard Lower, who did the first blood transfusion, or Sir Humphry Davy’s lamp. What assurance can the Government give that research and development funding is getting to Cornwall?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is an outspoken advocate for the Cornish cluster, which is growing fast. In addition to our groundbreaking pledge to increase investment in R&D outside the golden triangle to 55%, we are specifically investing in the South West Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications, the Newquay Spaceport and work with the University of Exeter and Virgin Orbit. This is an exciting time for the Cornish economy.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that workers in the UK should learn from Germany, where workers do not have a habit of going into work when not well. Will the Minister learn from the German Government and bring in statutory sick pay that covers 100% of workers’ salaries instead of the measly 90% that is covered in the UK, which leaves so many workers in the terrible position of having to do the responsible thing of isolating while being sick and not being able to put food on the table? On that point, will the Minister take this opportunity—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 15.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

I am delighted that the Bill to create this exciting new agency has returned to this House and that I am able to speak to it for the first time in my role as Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. I pay tribute to my ministerial colleague Lord Callanan for his work on the Bill in the other place. Not for the first time in matters scientific, their lordships have kept our Minister very busy on the Front Bench. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), who so capably led the Bill when it was first before the House.

There are 15 amendments for our consideration tonight. Fourteen of those were tabled or supported by the Government. I will summarise them quickly. Amendments 2 to 8 relate to changes the Government made in response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report on the Bill. In doing so, we demonstrated the seriousness with which we take the DPRRC’s recommendations and the Government’s commitment to acting upon them. The effect of those amendments is to omit clause 10, which contained a broader power to make consequential provision, and to replace it with a narrower, more specific power in clause 8. The new power can be used only in consequence of regulations dissolving ARIA. Other amendments are needed to tidy up the rest of the Bill and reflect that change. I hope that the changes are, in general, welcome.

Amendments 9 and 10 remove a power for ARIA to pay pensions and gratuities determined by the Secretary of State to non-executive members. We have tested that thoroughly and are content that in ARIA’s specific case, that power is not needed. Again, the two amendments reflect the usual process of improving the Bill in response to scrutiny and the expertise that colleagues here—and in particular in the other place—have brought to bear.

Amendments 11 and 13 remove the amendments previously included in the Bill that had the effect of reserving ARIA. I have had productive discussions on this with my ministerial colleagues in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, to reiterate the importance of ARIA and our broader science policy to help strengthen the Union. I am delighted that they share my vision and ambition for ARIA and that we have reached an agreement on the independence of ARIA—a memorandum of understanding that is a shared commitment to safeguard the organisation’s most important characteristics, and which means the reservations are not needed. I am delighted to be able to report that legislative consent motions have been passed in all three devolved legislatures on the basis of that agreement, and I similarly commend it to the House.

Government amendments 12, 14 and 15 apply some relevant obligations to ARIA that would normally apply automatically to public authorities listed in the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The amendments provide for ARIA to be treated as a public authority for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 2018, the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003, the Enterprise Act 2016 and the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. They also amend various regulations and the UK GDPR to reflect that. That ensures that ARIA is treated in the same way as a public organisation normally would be treated in those important areas.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will know from previous discussions that the question of freedom of information has come up before. Would it not be much simpler just to make ARIA subject to the Freedom of Information Act? In the current climate, would that not reassure the public?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

It may reassure the public, but we also have to take into consideration the fact that to succeed, world-class scientists have been recruited to ARIA to lead in cutting-edge science. That very small staff need to be sure that they will not be tied up answering 101—often spurious—freedom of information requests from the media, who are keen on running stories. We want to make sure the agency is accountable properly but not bogged down in what can be hugely onerous freedom of information requests.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In that connection, could the Minister give the House some brief guidance on what he, as the accountable Minister, would expect by way of discussion and influence over corporate plans and budgets and onward reporting to the House?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question, and he will not be surprised to know that it is one I have also been asking since coming to this role. The point of ARIA is to be a new agency for doing new science in new ways, and it has been structured specifically to avoid meddling Ministers, even those with a good idea, and meddling officials, even those with good intent, and to create an agency that is free.

My right hon. Friend asks an important question. As we appoint the chief executive officer and the chair, the framework agreement will set out, a bit like a subscription agreement, the agency’s operating parameters, which will be published in due course. Each year ARIA will have to report on its stated plans. Crucially, as is so often not the case in scientific endeavour, ARIA will report where happy failure has occurred so that we do not continue to pour more money into scientific programmes that have not succeeded, which I know will reassure him. We want ARIA to be free to be honest about that, and not embarrassed. ARIA will be annually accountable through the framework agreement.

Finally, Lords amendment 1 deals with the conditions that ARIA may attach to its financial support. This arises from a series of important discussions in the other place relating to ARIA’s duty to commercialise intellectual property that may be generated, which I am keen to address properly. However, the amendment, as drafted, does not actually prevent ARIA from doing anything; it adds examples of conditions that ARIA may attach to financial support, but ARIA already has the general power to do just that. Legally, the amendment simply represents a drafting change. As such, we cannot accept it, but we understand and acknowledge the importance of the point that the noble Lord Browne had in mind.

It is our firm belief that, although it is not appropriate at this stage to specify ARIA’s contracting and granting arrangements in legislation, we recognise the substance of the concerns underlying the amendment: namely, that ARIA should have a duty to the taxpayer to ensure it is not haemorrhaging intellectual property of value to the UK. I will outline our position on that.

The amendment focuses principally on overseas acquisition of IP relating to the principles on which the Government intervene in foreign takeovers of UK businesses, particularly where those businesses have benefited from public investment in research and development activities. The National Security and Investment Act 2021, which fully commenced earlier this month, provides just such a framework, and it marks the biggest upgrade of investment screening in the UK for 20 years.

The NSI Act covers relevant sectors, such as quantum technologies and synthetic biology, that have benefited from significant public investment, and it permits the Government to scrutinise acquisitions on national security grounds. This new investment screening regime supports the UK’s world-leading reputation as an attractive place to invest, and it has been debated extensively in both Houses very recently. We do not believe that revisiting those debates today would be productive.

Although the NSI Act provides a statutory framework, a much broader strand of work is under way. As Science Minister, I take very seriously the security of our academic and research community. A number of measures have been taken in the past few months and years to strengthen our protections. We are working closely with the sector to help it identify and address risks from overseas collaborations, while supporting academic freedom of thought and institutional independence.

Members do not need me to tell them that intellectual property is incredibly valuable and we increasingly face both sovereign and industrial espionage. It is important that we are able to support our universities to be aware of those risks and to avoid them. The Bill already provides the Secretary of State with a broad power of direction over ARIA on issues of national security, which provides a strong mechanism to intervene in its activities in the unlikely event it is necessary to do so.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for the first time on this Bill. He is saying that ARIA can already do this, so the Government do not need to legislate in this regard, but that the Government would, none the less, be keen to see ARIA do it. There seems to be a discrepancy in that thought process.

--- Later in debate ---
George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

There is no discrepancy. I will explain why but, essentially, the Bill already sets out ARIA’s statutory responsibility to generate economic return for the UK, and the hon. Gentleman will know, as I do from my career negotiating intellectual property agreements, that at this stage it would be wholly inappropriate to mandate in statute the form that these intellectual property agreements will take. To be blunt, we do not yet know what programmes the chair and chief executive will put in place. It is only when we know the sort of science that ARIA is doing that we will possibly be in a position, through the framework agreement, to set out the appropriate ways to ensure that value is maximised.

Security issues will also be a core consideration in ARIA’s governance arrangements in the framework agreement to ensure its effective functioning as an organisation. I confirm to colleagues that the framework document, which deals with those issues, will include obligations on ARIA to work closely with our national security apparatus. That is prudent to ensure that ARIA’s research is protected from hostile states and actors and to stay connected to the Government’s wider agenda on strategic technological advantage.

The Government’s chief scientist, who will be on the ARIA board, will bring intelligence and expertise across security issues within Government, supported by the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy and the National Science and Technology Council. ARIA will of course have internal expertise to advise its board and programme managers, while also working with recipients of its funding in universities and businesses on research-specific security issues. That will be vital for ARIA to stay at the forefront of responding to the challenging nature of the UK’s interests in this area.

There is also the question of how ARIA responds to the UK’s strategic interests in science and technology more generally where they may not quite fall under the national security umbrella. The integrated review, the creation of the new OSTS and the National Science and Technology Council, on which I sit, outline our ambition to ensure that there is a serious, strategic machinery of government commitment to the strategic industrial advantage of UK science and technology. That is a fundamental priority for me and the Government more broadly.

ARIA is nestled within that structure and is required to be aware of all those priorities, but we must keep its role in perspective. It will be only a small part of a landscape that we are explicitly seeking to make independent of Government and free to explore new funding approaches. The whole point of ARIA is to be a new agency and to do new science in new ways.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being admirably blunt about keeping interfering Ministers and officials from controlling or influencing ARIA, but there is also influence from the scientific establishment, which has its own programmes and would like the sums of money in ARIA to go to them. Given the structure of the board, is he satisfied that ARIA will maintain its independence not just from the civil service and Ministers, but from the scientific establishment?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member raises a very important point. Yes, I am satisfied, and for this reason: the way in which the agency has been established through the Bill and our plans to appoint the CEO and the chair on the basis that they will set out a very bold vision for ARIA to be the agency for new science in new ways. All the support that we are providing is specifically designed to allow them to operate in an environment where they can draw on the very best of UK science infrastructure and expertise, but not find themselves bound by either the short-term grant application process that dominates or the often substantial interests seeking investment in their own field. We will be able to attract the people we intend to attract because of that freedom. For that reason, I am confident—as that will be set out in the framework agreement and held to account by the board of ARIA and the scientific advisory board—that we will be able to ensure that that is the case.

Although ARIA will operate independently, it will be guided by key obligations regarding economic and UK benefit. ARIA must, in all its activity, have regard to the economic growth or economic benefit in the UK, alongside other considerations. That statutory obligation is set out clearly in clause 2(6), and it is right that that is in the Bill. Public investment in R&D must drive long-term socioeconomic benefit and deliver value to UK taxpayers. ARIA will be scrutinised by Government and Parliament on how effectively it fulfils its functions, including that one.

I can confirm that mechanisms for that scrutiny will be in the framework agreement. This includes requiring an internal evaluation framework for ARIA programmes—that deals with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)—and looking at, for example, their expected benefits and alignment with the organisation’s strategic objectives. It also includes setting the terms on which ARIA produces annual accounts and reporting, through which ARIA’s CEO will be accountable to Parliament for how the resources allocated to it are used. The National Audit Office will be able to examine the value for money of ARIA’s activities, and we in the Government must be assured of that value, on which ARIA’s future funding will depend. Everyone involved is clear about that.

There are many ways in which the obligations that I have set out might be felt in respect of how ARIA operates. For example, ARIA may employ contracting arrangements that require funding recipients either to seek to exploit the outputs in the UK or forfeit the funding, as other funders routinely do. In some cases, ARIA may retain IP rights—it has that freedom—and will be able to draw on specialist support from the new Government office for technology transfer. That will help ARIA to extract the greatest possible value from its knowledge assets.

In general, we expect ARIA programmes to produce long-term, deep scientific benefits that are felt over the long term, and to support the highest-risk research where there is a clear role for public funding. It would be premature to seek to legislate in statute at this point, before the appointment of the CEO and the chair or the establishment of the funding programme plan. In addition to that being premature, given that its very freedoms will be a major attraction for people to come from around the world to work at the agency, we are concerned that to be seen to shackle those freedoms in statute may well disincentivise the most innovative scientists and researchers from coming to join programmes.

Finally, this issue encompasses the entirety of our R&D system and approach to investment in UK science and technology and we are extremely focused on it, but changes to ARIA alone cannot alter the wider environment. We must ensure that funding from ARIA is not subject to more stringent conditions than other public R&D funders, because that would undermine the independence and agility that are the defining characteristics of this exciting initiative for UK science.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister to his place in leading on this important Bill and echo his thanks to the former Minister, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway). I also thank colleagues in the other place who have worked so hard to improve the Bill. In particular, I thank my noble Friend Lord Browne for his successful and much-needed amendment to protect Britain’s intellectual property.

The UK has a proud tradition in science and innovation. We are renowned around the world for the scientific breakthroughs and discoveries that have pushed humanity forwards. From the discovery of penicillin to the invention of Stephenson’s Rocket—in Newcastle—UK science has again and again pushed the boundaries of humanity’s knowledge.

UK science is not only inspiring but key to our health and that of our economy, as the pandemic has shown. 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. We have many innovative start-ups throughout the country that require only the right support to contribute to the innovation nation that our history, economy, security and future prosperity all demand. That is why it is so important that we get the Advanced Research and Invention Agency right.

ARIA, originally the brainchild of very-much-former adviser Dominic Cummings, is positioned as a high-risk, high-reward research agency, based on the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency in the US. Labour welcomed ARIA and continues to support it—it has great potential to fill a gap in the UK’s research and development landscape and help deliver fantastic inventions—but we are clear that the benefits of ARIA’s investments must be felt in the UK. We are equally clear that without Lords amendment 1, that may not be the case.

Lords amendment 1 would give ARIA the option to treat its financial support to a business as convertible into an equity interest in the business and thus to benefit from intellectual property created with ARIA’s support. It would also enable ARIA to require consent during the 10 years following financial or resource support, if the business intended to transfer intellectual property abroad or to transfer a controlling interest to a business not resident in the UK.

--- Later in debate ---
We only want what is truly in the interests of our nation. We are not wedded to a particular form of words and we are willing to discuss an alternative that protects IP, but we need assurances that inventions generated by ARIA support, financial or otherwise, will benefit the UK, and I am afraid to say that the Minister just really has not given such assurances.
George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

To assist the hon. Lady before she decides whether to divide the House, I just wanted to make it very clear that there is a statutory obligation on ARIA, set out clearly in clause 2(6), that it must have regard to

“economic growth, or an economic benefit, in the United Kingdom”

as a core part of its statutory duties. We simply want to make sure that the leadership team, through the framework agreement, have the freedom to set out what the right mechanism is, rather than to mandate it now.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that intervention, which demonstrates that he is with us in spirit but he just does not want to be with us in actual legislation. There is something of a confusion of thought there. I am very familiar with the clauses that require ARIA to have regard to economic benefit, but if he thinks this is something ARIA should be doing and should look to do—again, as we have said, this amendment is enabling and not prescriptive—surely he should be happy to make that clear. If he thinks it is too constraining for ARIA to do this, he ought to make that clear. He is the Minister and this Bill should reflect what the intent is, and the intent should be to ensure that the benefits from intellectual property generated, created and invented in the UK should be felt in the UK.

Lords amendments 2 to 8 limit ministerial powers to dissolve ARIA, in response to the delegated powers in the Regulatory Reform Committee’s report on the Bill, and we will not oppose those amendments. They prohibit the Minister from making consequential amendments to primary legislation and from dissolving ARIA in the first 10 years. Lords amendments 9 and 10 remove the Minister’s powers to determine a pension or gratuity for non-executive ARIA members. It should be noted that the Minister appoints non-executive members to ARIA’s board, and it is refreshing to see a Conservative Government taking steps to limit cronyism in advance of major losses to the public purse. Lords amendments 11 and 13 mean that ARIA will no longer be treated a reserved matter in relation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and we also do not oppose this. Labour is clear that devolved voices must be heard and that scientific opportunities must be spread across the UK, so the consent of devolved Administrations is crucial.

Lords amendments 12, 14 and 15 provide for ARIA to be treated as a public body under the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003, the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, the Enterprise Act 2016 and the Data Protection Act 2018. My colleague in the other place, Baroness Chapman of Darlington, pointed out, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), that this would not be necessary if ARIA was subject to freedom of information requests, something that Labour has repeatedly called for. The Government were so busy trying to ensure that ARIA would not be treated as a public body for the purposes of FOI that they had to tack on these amendments. That these amendments were tabled only at the Committee stage in the Lords points to Government negligence. We have here a Government too busy trying to avoid accountability to do their job properly— why does that sound so familiar?

Oral Answers to Questions

George Freeman Excerpts
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What steps he is taking to harness science and innovation for the purposes of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Hansard - -

UK leadership in science, technology and innovation is already driving huge investment in new sectors, companies and clusters throughout the UK, from the Newquay spaceport to the Shetlands, and from Northern Ireland to Teesside, Aberdeen and other life science clusters around the country. However, we intend to go further, and following our innovation nation strategy, we are committed to supporting those clusters. I am engaged in talks with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and details will be provided in the forthcoming levelling up White Paper.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend may know that a leading example of science and innovation as a key tool in achieving levelling up is the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park in my city constituency of Lincoln, which has been headed by the excellent Tom Blount for a number of years. The aptly named Boole Technology Centre, of calculus infamy, has been a great success to date and continues to expand even further, recently attracting notable international tenants and job providers. What financial support can our Government offer, so that organisations such as the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park can continue to grow and nurture companies such as KryptoKloud, and similar new ones can be created?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Hansard - -

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has been a tireless advocate for the Lincoln cluster. He asked about funding. In the comprehensive spending review, we set out the biggest increase in investment in science and innovation for a generation. Specifically, 34 projects in the cluster are funded by UK Research and Innovation. I look forward to discussing this with my hon. Friend, who has made a powerful pitch for that centre to be recognised as a cluster, and I look forward to visiting it.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The University of Sheffield’s new gene therapy innovation and manufacturing centre shows that South Yorkshire can lead the world when it comes to research, but nearly half of all R&D spending goes into the golden triangle. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the north gets its fair share?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

That was a great question. The hon. Gentleman is right. In fact, there are several clusters in the Yorkshire area, and in a previous career I myself worked in the Sheffield university cluster, which is very powerful.

Our strategy is that if we wish to be both a global science superpower to attract investment internationally and an innovation nation, we will not achieve that by moving the golden triangle north. What we must do is increase spending in the north, which we are already doing, and grow the supply chains in, for instance, advanced manufacturing. We are not just an invention economy; we are also a manufacturing and innovation economy, and Yorkshire, and Sheffield specifically, have a big part to play in that.

James Gray Portrait James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

That truly iconic British-built scientific research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough—built by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead—came up the Thames just before Christmas, at the time of COP26. Does the Minister agree that she is the epitome of all that is best about British science, and that the British Antarctic Survey, through its work in both the Antarctic and the Arctic, leads the world in research on climate change in particular, and in so many other areas of science?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is right, and he is also a powerful envoy for the Government in terms of our polar science. The royal research ship Sir David Attenborough is something of which all of us in the House can be proud. It is an incredible platform, and it embodies the very best of British leadership in science and innovation, with international scientists working on global challenges.

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister publish details of the business innovation forum, and how it will hold the Government to account on the distribution of the shared prosperity fund throughout the UK?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Yes. We are in the process of establishing the forum, and I want to ensure that we are talking not just to the same old people whom the Government always talk to but to the companies on the frontline—the leaders of the sectors of tomorrow. In the innovation strategy we set out seven high-growth sectors, and I will publish details of that in due course.

--- Later in debate ---
Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What steps he is taking to develop the UK’s life sciences sector.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As a result of this Government’s long-term life science strategy, now a 10-year strategy, I am delighted to be able to share with the House that the life science sector has grown, in terms of private investment, by 1,000% in the last 10 years and is creating jobs all around the UK—in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales. At the heart of our strategy for the innovation nation, in our life science vision last summer we set out a plan, with £5 billion in the comprehensive spending review of funding for life science research, and we intend to support those clusters all around the UK.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the effort that my hon. Friend has given to developing this important policy and his characteristic kindness in engaging with me on it. Clusters will be crucial to improving UK resilience and building our manufacturing capacity. In Ulverston we have an established base with GSK, but I want to see that grow, with new entrants like Lakes BioScience coming in, building high-skilled jobs and the supply chain. With that in mind, may I ask how the strategy will apply to south Cumbria? May I also invite him to the sunlit uplands of Ulverston to visit and see for himself?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to his tireless campaigning for Barrow and Furness and on this issue. I understand well the concerns following GSK’s movement from the Ulverston site. I would just make this point: quite often such moves of pharma from one site to another create an opportunity. As the Minister for Life Sciences, I launched the life science opportunity zones and we created thriving clusters at Alderley Park and Sandwich; it would be my ambition to do the same up at Ulverston. I very much look forward to coming up and visiting, and my officials are working closely on that as we speak.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Central Park in my constituency is furthering Darlington’s ingenious spirit as it drives forward UK life sciences, with firms on our golden mile creating and developing the medicines of the future, as the Secretary of State knows from his recent visit. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that firms in Darlington use local talent in the pursuit of further scientific breakthroughs?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes an important point about talent and is right that a powerful cluster is taking shape in the north-east. Following my return to the Government two months ago, my first visit was to the north-east. From Darlington to North of Tyne, an incredible cluster is taking shape, with the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre, the Centre for Process Innovation and the National Horizons Centre all in that golden mile in Darlington. It is an incredibly exciting time and I look forward to going back up to see my hon. Friend’s constituency and how we can develop a skills plan so that the sector can grow in the next five to 10 years.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In his earlier answer, the Minister alluded to co-operation among the various parts of the United Kingdom; will he ensure that there is maximum co-operation so that sites such as the centre for drug discovery, which is linked to the life sciences faculty at the Coleraine campus in my constituency, can maximise their opportunities?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. With Queen’s University Belfast and the Randox cluster, Northern Ireland is a powerhouse in life sciences and both the Secretary of State and I have been to visit. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has made that point and will make sure that the Northern Ireland cluster is powerfully at the heart of our innovation strategy.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In York, we want to maintain momentum around the BioYorkshire project—York’s green new deal—so will the Minister set out when the project can apply for funding under the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council funding regime?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I have had meetings with the hon. Member since she raised this issue previously. We are in the process of allocating—I repeat—the biggest ever increase in science and innovation funding for a generation. Once that process has been completed, we will begin to allocate the money throughout the country. The hon. Member has made a powerful intervention on behalf of that cluster, which I am going to come up to see. There is an exciting cluster of companies in the York, Harrogate and east of Yorkshire area.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is absolutely right about the overall success of the Government’s life sciences strategy, but he will be aware of the chilling effect on UK manufacturers, including one in my constituency, of the outcomes of the coronavirus test device approval process. I know the Minister is a believer in agile regulation, so will he conduct a review, with the UK Health Security Agency, to understand what lessons can be learned to assist UK manufacturers in future?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As per usual, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I am not the Minister responsible for the vaccine taskforce, but I am already reaching out to my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care on that very point to make sure that in the light of this pandemic we boost our manufacturing centre as well as our research.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

British life scientists led the world in the battle against covid, and we need them to lead the fight against another great health challenge: dementia, which destroys so many lives and imposes huge private and public health and social care costs. This month, research published in The Lancet found that by 2050 worldwide dementia cases will treble and cases will go up by 75% in the UK. That is why Labour is promising to double research and development spend on dementia—a commitment that was also in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. Will the Minister confirm that dementia R&D spend has gone down since his Government took office?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I agree with the hon. Lady that that the dementia research and treatment sector is incredibly important, which is why, when then Prime Minister Cameron set up the G20 summit, I was incredibly proud, as Minister for Life Sciences, to launch the UK Dementia Research Institute. In the CSR, we announced another £340 million for motor neurone disease research. As I say, I am in the process of allocating the biggest ever R&D increase and we will look to make sure—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is heckling me from a sedentary position; perhaps she will listen. We are in the process of allocating that money to make sure that dementia gets the recognition that it needs.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ensure that our fantastic life science sector continues to prosper and lead the world, we need to inspire the next generation of life scientists. What more can the Minister’s Department do to show that there is a place for everyone in the sector, regardless of race, background or gender, and that their future efforts could change lives both at home and abroad and tackle some of the great challenges that we know exist.

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Not surprisingly, my hon. Friend, who is an expert in this field, makes an important point. In the people and culture strategy that we set out this summer, we make that very point: we need to build a diverse eco-system. I have already reached out to the Royal Society and picked up and commended its work on science, technology, engineering and maths and diversity in the sciences. The truth is that our science sector is creating opportunities all around the country, and we are absolutely committed in the innovation strategy to make sure that every community in this country has access to those jobs and opportunities.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. If he will make an assessment of the confidence of Scottish businesses in the UK Government.