All 6 Viscount Stansgate contributions to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Act 2022

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Tue 2nd Nov 2021
Wed 17th Nov 2021
Tue 14th Dec 2021
Mon 10th Jan 2022
Wed 9th Feb 2022
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a totally unexpected pleasure to follow the Minister as I am the first in the list. It is a great honour to take part in this debate, the first Second Reading in which I have taken part, when I consider the range of other speakers who we are going to hear from this evening, all of whom are so very distinguished. I am also mindful of the fact that the president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee is contributing to the debate. As his vice-president, I cannot remember a time when both officeholders were speaking together.

The relationship between the Government and science is subtle, complex and of critical importance to the future of the country. It goes without saying that we have a tremendous record on science in this country, to which I pay tribute, along with everybody else. Our record on Covid vaccine development and distribution is but the latest example. The UK is world class, but it is a competitive world out there and this Bill matters to our future if we are to be the science superpower we all want us to be.

The problem for successive Governments of all kinds is that they have to try to find a balance between giving researchers the freedom to follow their own instincts and curiosity, while at the same time guiding large sums of public money towards wider societal benefits, such as national prosperity and real improvements in the quality of life for their citizens. This balance is not easy to strike. ARIA represents an attempt to strike a new balance by introducing a new organisation with a relatively small staff and a relatively small amount of money with extreme freedom to decide what to do without the existing constraints that apply elsewhere. There is also a difficult and delicate balance to strike between parliamentary oversight and the intellectual freedom which will be necessary to enable ARIA to generate the creativity required to do things differently.

The Minister made it clear in his opening speech that what is being proposed is something very new because we are dealing with high risk and potentially high reward, as he acknowledged. Therefore, the heart of what the Bill is about is not so much an agency as an idea. We are discussing an experiment never before undertaken in the UK, and we are being invited to approve and establish a new participant in what is called the scientific landscape. If we were having a vote today, I would vote for the Bill because this is broadly a good idea and I support additional funding for science, but it raises lots of questions which is going to make the Committee stage very important, and I will return to that in a bit.

First, I hope the House will allow me a brief moment to consider the wider historical context of the proposals that the Government are inviting us to consider today. More than 100 years ago, I think in 1918, Lord Haldane chaired the committee that led to the establishment of the first research council. The Haldane principle that emerged was, in essence, that research should be decided by researchers and not the Government. This has stood the test of time not least because it is convenient for Ministers. It shields them from bearing the direct responsibility for making individual decisions on individual funding.

ARIA takes this a stage further. It will need to offer real scientific independence at programme level. With regard to peer review, standard processes may not always be appropriate for ARIA, as it aims to empower exceptional scientists to start and stop projects quickly. I do not particularly care for military analogies, but when I think about ARIA it makes me wonder whether in times past Barnes Wallis or Alan Turing might have been funded by ARIA. They were both individually brilliant.

Over the decades the structural organisation of science in government has been through endless changes. For about a quarter of a century science was put in with the Department for Education, to create the DES, and, frankly, that is where science languished. I regard the start of the modem era as being when the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, launched Realising our Potential in 1993, rearranged the research councils and set up the Office of Science and Technology. Even the current department, BEIS, has over the past 20 or more years been through many changes in emphasis and names from the DTI to the ungainly DIUS, if anybody remembers that, and there may be more name changes on the way. Then there are things such as the Technology Strategy Board, which became Innovate UK until its absorption into UKRI, and even UKRI itself, which was described at the time as the kind of reform that comes along only once in a generation, was formed only in 2018.

Some argue that there is no point in creating ARIA if it is going to be just another entity in the science landscape doing the same things as UKRI but with less money. There is no guaranteed method, and never has been, of successfully identifying commercially successful projects arising out of science research. Too often in this country, as noble Lords will know very well, we have suffered from what is called “the valley of death”—that is, we are good at discovering new things but bad at developing them and exploiting them for commercial success. However, it is hard to legislate for success.

The agency will not automatically succeed. On the contrary, one of its earliest proponents suggested that if ARIA is not failing then it is failing, which is an interesting point. Last weekend, I went to see the latest James Bond film—I recommend it—and it occurred to me that there is a link between those films and this Bill. If the Minister was promoting ARIA as a movie, I can see it now: “ARIA—Licence to Fail.” Whether it does or not is almost impossible to predict because we do not know when a transformational breakthrough will be made, so consistency of funding over the next 10 years will be crucial.

One thought that comes to mind at the start of the many questions I want to put is about the agency’s proposed name. We know that much of the inspiration for ARIA comes from America. When this idea was first mooted by the Government in March 2020, they called it ARPA. They have now chosen the letter “I” for “invention” rather than “P” for “projects”, and that is an interesting distinction worth exploring. “Invention” conveys more of an individual exercise, whereas “projects” suggests a more collaborative approach with many more people involved, so we may discuss in Committee whether we should reconsider the title.

I am grateful to all those organisations that have been in touch to offer advice on ARIA, and I am sure there will be a lot more as we go through Committee. They include the Royal Society of Biology, the Biochemical Society, the Physiological Society, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry and others.

My own list of questions is not exclusive; I am sure that other noble Lords tonight will have many more. But they include the following: what will the relationship be between ARIA and the existing parts of the research landscape, such as UKRI, in particular? What will it be with the new science and technology council, recently established by the Prime Minister, and the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy? What about its relationship with the Council for Science and Technology, currently co-chaired by the chief scientific adviser and the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I gently remind the noble Viscount that there is an advisory speaking time limit of seven minutes. If we go on from the first speech, we get rapidly out of control.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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It is kind of the noble Baroness to mention it. If I had a pair of scissors, I should have to cut this speech in half, and noble Lords would no doubt be only too grateful. I will do so verbally.

One area where I think we will divide in Committee is that the Government are determined to exempt ARIA from freedom of information. Like other noble Lords, I received a briefing from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which strongly advocates that FoI requests should be allowed. The News Media Association has also taken the trouble to write to us on the same issue. I am sure that is something we will explore.

In drawing my remarks to a close, I will mention the famous questions that DARPA used to identify projects which were worth funding. First, what are you trying to do, and can you explain it in jargon-free language? Secondly, how is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice? Thirdly, what is new in your approach, and why do you think it will be successful? Fourthly, who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make? Fifthly, what are the risks? Sixthly, how much will it cost? Seventhly, how long will it take?

Finally, the Bill proposes that the Government must wait 10 years before taking any action to close ARIA down, so I look forward to taking part in the Second Reading of the “ARIA (Continuation) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2031”, when we will at least have the experience of 10 years to guide us in our debates.

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Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who contributed for their engaging and, I thought, in general, very constructive contributions to the debate today. Many noble Lords made excellent points, and I will attempt to answer as many of their questions as possible.

Today’s debate, on a tripartite basis, demonstrates a shared passion to foster the UK’s world-class research base. Ensuring that the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live and work is at the heart of the R&D road map. Despite the small criticisms raised by the Opposition Front Bench, there was generally commitment from all three main parties and from the Cross Benches to those objectives. It is central to the Government’s plan to build back better, and an integral commitment which last week’s spending review and Budget showed.

It is thanks to our dynamic research landscape that we have responded so robustly to the Covid pandemic, as my noble friend Lord Bethell so helpfully reminded us. The challenges that we have faced show just how important it is that we always remain on the front foot of research and development. And, as set out in the UK Innovation Strategy this summer, this can only be achieved through a rich and diverse research and innovation ecosystem.

I now turn to the specific points raised by noble Lords in some of their very good speeches. My noble friend Lord Bethell, and the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, asked good questions about why the Government will not be setting a research focus for ARIA’s activities. At her appearance during this Bill’s Committee stage in the other place, the chief executive officer of UKRI, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, spoke about how

“the priorities that the Government and Ministers set to solve particular challenges for the nation … fall very much within the UKRI remit”.—[Official Report, Commons, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, 14/4/21; col. 8]

The Government’s innovation strategy also set out our commitment to establish a new missions programme to tackle some of the most pressing challenges confronting the UK in the coming years. These will be decided by the National Science and Technology Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, in due course. Through these new mechanisms, this Government are taking a revised, strategic approach to assessing and funding our national scientific priorities. It would clearly be inappropriate to create another new body to do essentially the same thing. To reach new, brilliant people and ideas, we must diversify our ways of funding research, and I welcome the support of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe on this point. Clause 2 sets out how ARIA could achieve this, offering a broad range of support to R&D and—in response to my noble friend Lord Borwick—we do not expect it to offer prizes as understood in a common sense. What “prizes” refers to in this context is better termed as research competition, where multiple teams of scientists attempt to solve essentially the same problem.

The noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Davies of Brixton, asked about ARIA’s scope and objective. The noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Ravensdale, also asked about the technologies which ARIA would fund. The Bill sets out ARIA’s functions, and in the policy statement we have also set out its design principles. But to uphold the autonomy which is at the heart of this new agency, only ARIA’s leadership itself can be responsible for specifically setting out its strategy and its funding priorities. It is not a blank cheque, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has suggested.

The noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, in his contribution asked whether what we are trying to achieve through ARIA could be delivered through UKRI. I reassure the noble Lord that, in designing ARIA, we carefully considered all delivery options to optimise its chances of success. The noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Kakkar and Lord Broers, also asked about how we make sure that ARIA will work hand in hand with UKRI and the wider research landscape. Of course, while we are diversifying our system, it will only work if it is cohesive. It is not always necessary to legislate for these sorts of relationships. Communication, openness and trust are things which ARIA’s leaders will need to have not just with UKRI but with other stakeholders across the entire ecosystem. We have been looking for exactly these qualities in our recruitment of ARIA’s CEO. I pay tribute to the creation of UKRI and the bringing together of the research councils and Innovate UK under one umbrella, a point that was noted by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. His was an excellent contribution, and I hope we can look forward to further from him on this subject.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister, and would like to invite him and the Government Whips to approach Hansard and ask them to publish in italics the half of my speech which had to be cut.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
When this research centre was first mooted, it was in the context of it tackling a moonshot project. I do not think we need to look that far into the solar system.
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords—ah. I caught the expression on the Minister’s face, and I apologise for delaying his remarks. This is my first Bill Committee and I would like to say a few brief words in support of Amendments 1 and 21 and a word about the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

We are, after all, discussing something new. I spoke at Second Reading—those who missed it were spared that experience—and said:

“We are discussing an experiment”.—[Official Report, 2/11/21; col. 1169.]


In some ways, it is an interesting occasion. I presume that we will find out from the Minister that even the Government themselves do not know what it will be like, because it is in the nature of the thing that we do not.

The Committee and the Bill team have been spared the amendments I tabled, because as a new Member I submitted them too late. Nevertheless, some of the amendments I drafted relate to some of those on the Marshalled List, in particular relating to climate change as an objective that should in some way be associated with ARIA’s work. It is quite a timely moment to be discussing this in Committee. COP has just finished, there will be a debate in the House tomorrow on its aftermath, and, as it is the most existential crisis facing planet earth, as one noble Lord said, I do not see any reason why ARIA cannot play a part in trying to deal with the issues we face.

When I was very young, we had a model of Sputnik in our living room; I do not know how it arrived. I look back now and realise that that was what triggered ARPA and DARPA, which to some extent we are basing our discussion on now. As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, it was to prevent surprises. The United States Government did not like that surprise, for sure.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, also says in his Amendment 25, we are not here to create a body that duplicates UKRI. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who has an enormous amount of experience in this field. When you talk about the bureaucracy involved, that strikes a chord with everybody, maybe on this Bench as well, including—if I may use this phrase—my noble friend Lord Broers, who referred to his wish to change the Bill’s Title.

My first amendment was to change the Bill’s Title. I know you normally do not spend time thinking about it, but perhaps when the Minister replies he could at least explain why the Government themselves, who introduced the concept of ARPA, subsequently changed its name. It would be helpful to know some of the thinking that led to the change of name to ARIA, whatever the “I” stands for.

As we know that this is based to some extent on the experience of DARPA, I can report that I spoke recently to two Americans who are very interested in what we are doing here. The American Chemical Society and someone in the State Department expressed great interest in what we are discussing. They are looking to see how we develop this idea and put it into practice.

My last point to make at the outset is that the relationships between ARIA and the other bodies in the scientific landscape will be very important. Someone already quoted Dame Ottoline Leyser of UKRI, and I know that she said, I think before the Select Committee, that it will be vital to maintain relationships with key players right across the system. There is a range of other bodies. My noble friend referred to the new council for science and technology, chaired by the Prime Minister, and we also have a new set of relationships with the Chief Scientific Adviser, both in his existing capacity and in his new capacity as Chief Technology Adviser. I hope that we can explore some of those in Committee. Forgive me for saying this, but it would have helped if we had had some idea of what the framework document is due to say because, as I understand it, it will describe some of the relationships that the Government have in mind that ARIA should have with other major bodies in the rest of the scientific world.

I shall leave it there and try to cheer the Minister up by saying that I will sit down and, as far as I know, no one else is following me, so the floor is his.

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Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am very glad to follow my noble friend Lady Noakes, who has typically managed to make some penetrating remarks about the prospective corporate governance of ARIA. All the amendments in this group, including mine, are probing amendments; that is the nature of debate at this stage. I hope the Government will take on board some of the things my noble friend has said, think about them carefully and perhaps bring forward their own amendments. What she had to say about the size of the board and the desirability of setting a limit on the number of executive members in order to keep the size of the board as whole under control makes perfect sense, as does the point about committees of the board.

My three amendments in this group also to try to establish how the Government are going to address the membership of ARIA. The first, as my noble friend said, is Amendment 3, which would remove the Chief Scientific Adviser from the board. By the way, this is no reflection on the Chief Scientific Adviser now, in the past or in the future. The point is that if we want ARIA to be independent and autonomy is an essential part of its role, does it make sense for the Chief Scientific Adviser, whoever she or he may be, to be sitting on that board trying to make decisions that are, almost by definition, different from the decisions being made by the rest of the research and innovation landscape? Indeed, the Chief Scientific Adviser is now the head of the new office for science and technology strategy.

If the CSA is leading the strategy for science and technology across the landscape, you might say that surely, they should be there, so that ARIA fits into that strategy. That is precisely the problem: ARIA should not be led in the same strategy as the other parts of the research and innovation landscape. Does it not create an inherent conflict of interest for the Chief Scientific Adviser to be setting the strategy on the one hand and departing from it on another, which is potentially what ARIA will be doing?

Amendments 5 and 7 in my name ask whether the appointment of a chair by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should be subject to some scrutiny. I have not gone to the step on this because I do not think the criteria are met for this to be an appointment that is subject to an agreement of or a recommendation from a committee of the House of Commons. However, given the existence of the Science and Technology Select Committee and the work it does in the Commons, it would be extremely helpful for it at least to have a hearing and to make some of its own remarks. That would help in the process of giving some democratic accountability to the initiation of the board itself. ARIA is going to autonomous, relatively independent and determined in large measure by its board. The appointments of the chair and the chief executive in the first instance are very significant in this regard.

Amendment 7 is precisely about the appointment of the first chief executive officer. I think the Government are currently searching for both chair and chief executive. The first chief executive officer appointment is not going to be made by the chair, so it is particularly important that there be a degree of objective scrutiny of that appointment. Subsequent appointments will be a matter for the chair and the non-executive members of the board.

I hope that the Government will at least recognise the potential merit of the Science and Technology Committee having a hearing in each case and offering its views.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has said regarding his Amendments 5 and 7. One of the amendments lost to the Committee was drafted very much along the same lines, although mine made it. This is a very important issue. The work of the Select Committee in the House of Commons is superb. The former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, knows all about it.

This is a very important principle, especially as we are discussing something so new and there is so much about it that we do not yet know. It is essential for the Select Committee to explore these matters with the chair and chief executive designate. I would go further than the noble Lord and make the appointments subject to the agreement of the Select Committee. Indeed, I regard this as an important principle to apply in general across many appointments made by government, many of which could be made subject to the agreement of the appropriate Select Committee.

As to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I found myself wondering, especially in regard to Amendment 2, whether her remarks about the ideal size of a board apply to the membership of a Committee stage of a Bill. Are we too large a group of people around this table effectively to conduct our business? I have an open mind on that, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says in reply.

Lord Morse Portrait Lord Morse (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak only briefly, primarily about the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. They all reflect best practice in corporate behaviour and should be taken very seriously. The one that goes even deeper than that is Amendment 6, which looks at the prohibition of civil servants and former Ministers from being on the board for five years. That is really important and thoughtful—that we do not import Civil Service groupthink, which is well protected in other venues and continues for long periods of time. Not to have that on the board is a major protection for the qualities that you want ARIA to have.

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in her Amendment 4 and to speak to the sentiments behind my noble friend’s Amendment 23. I have discovered that, in this Committee this afternoon, there are really two ways of dealing with amendments. One is by tabling them in time and having them printed, and the other is by speaking to them having written but not tabled them. So it is my pleasure to say to the noble Baroness that I drafted several amendments about the very point that is made in Amendment 4. I drafted a range, one of which went further than that of the noble Baroness by saying that the appointments should be made by the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly, not on their behalf.

When the Minister comes to reply, I gently suggest that the Government must not allow ARIA to be seen as some golden triangle element. It would be fatal to its prospects of success if it is seen in that way, especially if its headquarters happen to be anywhere within a line surrounding Oxford, Cambridge and London; that would be a tactical mistake. I genuinely put it to the Government that, whatever the language of the Bill, they must have some regard to the United Kingdom as a whole and allow the four nations to feel that they are fully represented and involved in its work.

Lord Broers Portrait Lord Broers (CB)
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My Lords, I support our using our full capabilities across the regions; however, while they should all be represented, we have to be careful in trying to spread everything all over the place. I cite a specific example that has been important to British industry. In the 1960s, several people, including myself and Sir Eric Ash, who was then head of electrical engineering at UCL and went on to be rector of Imperial College, tried to co-ordinate the semiconductor industries in this country. At that time, America also had a problem as it looked like Japan was going to take the semiconductor business, run away with it and leave everybody else behind. In America, Ronald Reagan got together with industry and formed Sematech, in Texas, which sort of saved them. The industries all got together and worked.

When we tried to do it, it was too difficult, because there were efforts in Edinburgh, Southampton, London, Cambridge, Newport and Manchester. Nobody realised that we had to co-ordinate those efforts in a rather tight way that also perhaps meant putting things in one location.

At that time the Belgian Government saw the possibility and a few leaders there, Roger van Overstraeten chief among them, decided that they would have a shot at doing this in Belgium. That institute now has 4,000 people and an annual budget roughly equal to ARIA’s: €600 million. We could have done it. We had more talent at the beginning but we could not get around to facing the fact that in certain instances, proximity is very important if you want to pull off really high-technology advances. Again, this is a world issue. America has had to wake up its industry again and realise that it is not necessarily good for the world for Taiwan and South Korea to dominate; it would be a rather dangerous thing. So I think American industry is going to be reawakened.

I say a word of caution: while we want to draw from all of the regions, we may not be able to do some of the big projects spread out over the regions.

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Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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I apologise for wasting the Grand Committee’s time. I go back to the simple argument I made in relation to Amendment 16; in today’s global arena, setting an environmental, social and governance strategy is seen as an important benchmark of how a responsible organisation operates. This will be a responsible organisation, so it should therefore have that obligation. I do not understand why it should be excluded from passing that obligation on to people to whom it gives public money.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Chapman’s Amendment 11 in particular, as well as others such as Amendment 15.

On value for money, I would like the Grand Committee to imagine the circumstances in 2026 when there is a massive row about something that ARIA has done, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee holds an evidence session and the National Audit Office is brought in, as it would be, to look at what went wrong. I am drawn to refer to this potential future situation because of advice that the NAO itself gave to the Select Committee in the House of Commons when it was first considering what, by the way, the Government then called ARPA.

I shall refer briefly to some of the areas that the National Audit Office says it would consider when it comes to considering the value for money in an organisation like ARIA. Its briefing says:

“Based on our experience, we would normally look for … a clear statement of the ultimate policy objectives – readily understandable to those charged with running the organisation and to those holding the organisation to account … a statement of what success will look like into the future – short, medium and longer term – which is particularly important for programmes where ultimate success may take years to realise … a roadmap which sets out the steps to deliver success along with a realistic assessment of the resources required and their timing – our work frequently points to a risk of optimism bias at the start of new programmes … a clear agreed sense of how risk should be managed, including the organisation’s and sponsoring department’s appetite to tolerate failure in pursuit of the objectives; and … an agreed approach to considering progress towards meeting the objectives.”


My point in raising this is to ask the Minister whether he will make some comment in his reply on the role of the National Audit Office in the running of ARIA and whether indeed it is expected to produce a value-for-money report.

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Lord Broers Portrait Lord Broers (CB)
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My Lords, I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on a lot of penetrating understanding of how ARIA will work. It will all be a matter of working with others and IP from others. Far more will come into ARIA than it will generate itself. It is all a matter of doing these deals. When DARPA was working on GPS, it needed technologies from everywhere; its genius was in pulling them all in, doing the deals and getting the whole thing co-ordinated and working. It was exactly the same with the internet and the vaccine. It is all to do with interacting with intellectual property. In the generation of intellectual property, leaving the benefits of it with the creators is what drives and motivates them to do it. I agree on the need to really think through the intellectual property relationships that ARIA will have with others.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question, to be absolutely clear about his Amendment 22? Let us say that ARIA comes up with a fantastic invention. Would his amendment enable ARIA to vest the intellectual property of that invention, which might be worth millions, both in itself and in the researcher or researchers who were personally involved in discovering it?

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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The purpose of Amendment 22 —this is in the part of the Bill about what conditions ARIA might attach to its financial support—is to give ARIA the flexibility to attach whatever conditions it wishes. In some cases, it might give financial support and not seek to retain intellectual property, or it may enter into an arrangement which says that it retains all the intellectual property, or somewhere in between. However, that is for the circumstances of the individual project rather than something mandated in legislation.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Lord Vaizey of Didcot Portrait Lord Vaizey of Didcot (Con)
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My Lords, I speak as an American citizen, although luckily I do not earn enough money for it to be a problem in terms of the dual-tax system, but I digress. I like the acronym ARIA. I think that it suits the operatic nature of this project. I apologise for not being present at the Second Reading of this important Bill and thank noble Lords for indulging me in allowing me to speak to this amendment, which I think goes to the heart of what the Government are thinking about how the ARIA experiment—if I can put it that way—will work.

ARIA is clearly modelled on ARPA and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ARPA model, which was created in 1958, has taken on a mythical status in terms of its success. It is a mistake to think that it is there simply to fund novel missiles or defence projects; it has a huge civilian impact. For example, it supervises a contest every year to take forward the ability of self-driving cars and, as I am sure many noble Lords are aware, it was a Marine colonel challenging pharmaceutical companies to take forward mRNA research into a practical project before Covid that meant that the world was better prepared when Covid struck. It is important to see what ARIA is capable of doing and I echo what the noble Lord said earlier: it is a project agency engaged, in theory—without wishing to sound contradictory—with projects that will have an impact in the real world, rather than basic research.

The reason I want to speak to this amendment is that I share what I think is an undercurrent of concern about how the ARIA model will fit in with the wider research landscape of the UK. I have to say that, when I was a Minister with my noble friend Lord Willetts, there was—it was certainly not our fault—a proliferation of different agencies that sprang up during our time in government. Many of them had extremely good intentions, such as the Turing Institute and so on. But I have lost count of how many organisations were created in the 2010s and, as I have said to the Minister before, I think that the time has come for the Government to have a proper review of all the agencies that they currently fund. For example, we still have the catapults merrily going about their business, but what is the role of the Satellite Applications Catapult as regards other organisations within the Government’s purview? As ARIA comes on stream, it would behove the Government to have a review of these agencies to see whether we can simplify the landscape and indeed perhaps even free up some budget that could effectively be used for ARIA purposes.

In speaking to the first amendment, I would point out that, while we love to talk about DARPA, in fact IARPA exists as well, and indeed ARPA-E. In the last five or six years, the Americans have created two new ARPAs. One is focused specifically on energy and one is involved with helping the intelligence services—so it is clear that the US Government believe that the ARPA model works. But the crucial point is this: they believe, clearly, that it works only when it has a specific sector as its focus. It is not for DARPA to start straying into climate change or intelligence capabilities: a new ARPA model has to be created.

I would meet the Government half way on this point by saying that the ARIA model is clearly an attempt —a welcome and interesting attempt—to break the mould, free up an institution and go wherever the science takes it, to coin a phrase. But, without a specific sector to focus on, I worry that ARIA may be distracted when trying to find its purpose.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I apologise for being late. I do not know whether amendments can be moved by Thameslink.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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Perhaps I might say to the noble Viscount that it is customary, if a noble Lord is not here for the commencement of a debate, for them to take no part in it at all. In the noble Viscount’s absence, the noble Baroness on his Front Bench formally moved his amendment so that a debate could take place—but that does not mean that he can take part in the debate.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I found the noble Baroness’s comments in our last session very helpful and I learned a great deal—and now I have learned some more.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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We discussed this with the Table and it was agreed that, because they are the noble Viscount’s amendments, we would allow him to speak. That is acceptable, according to our clerk—but perhaps briefly, if he would not mind.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I will be very brief. I take it that we are talking about the climate-change provision, on which I will say only this: on Thursday the House debated the impact of COP 26. The whole House knows that the future of planet earth is not unimportant, and I would have thought that, for a body such as ARIA, there is every reason to suggest, possibly in the Bill, that it should bear some serious regard to the Climate Change Act 2008, under which the Government of the time and succeeding Governments have been operating.

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I want to talk about the issue of FoI. We all knew that this was coming in our discussions; it came up at Second Reading, and it has come up in much of the commentary about this Bill. As the Minister will know, there is serious concern about the Government’s decision not to include ARIA in the freedom of information legislation.

To put it bluntly, we think that ARIA should be subject to freedom of information, and we do not think that the Government have given any good reason or argument to justify the exemption. We think it is unlikely that ARIA would be overwhelmed with requests, as the Government seemed to indicate at Second Reading. As the Minister knows, that is not the situation with the equivalent agency in the United States. There is no reason that we can see why ARIA would be incapable of dealing with FoI requests that came its way.

At this stage, I know that we are all very familiar with the arguments about FoI, and I expect that we have all been in many debates not dissimilar to this, but it is helpful to remind ourselves why freedom of information was introduced 21 years ago. It gives us the right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good reason for them not to disclose them. This is called a presumption in favour of disclosure, and it is something that we very much support. It means that everybody has the right to access official information, and that disclosure of information should be the default—so information should be kept private only when there is a very good reason. As I say, the Government have not given a good reason to exempt ARIA.

At Second Reading, the Minister said that he was concerned about ARIA being overwhelmed. I do not know why that would be the case. Even if there were sufficient interest to make the burden of FoI substantial, I do not imagine that that will happen. The Minister has not given a reason why that would be a particular problem for ARIA and not for other agencies. It is just not a good enough reason to exempt ARIA from the scheme—the fact that you might get asked a lot of things is no reason to allow yourself not to answer them. If FoI was a burden for ARIA, I am sure that every local authority up and down the country would like to make the same argument for exempting itself. Why should ARIA be treated differently? That is something that the Minister so far has not explained.

I cannot remember who said this at Second Reading; it may have been the Minister who prayed in aid Tony Blair, which is usually not a bad thing to do. But I part company with Tony on this particular issue. As we all know, Tony Blair decided after leaving office that he regretted introducing FoI because, I think he said, it was a nuisance and it disrupts ease of communication between officials. I do not think there is a Prime Minister now or in the past who would not agree with him. I am sure it is a complete nuisance, but it is important; it is about the balance of power between Governments and their citizens. Tony Blair might feel that way, but that does not mean that the Government are right to keep agencies away from scrutiny. If the Government want to get rid of FoI or change the way in which it works, they should make the case, they should win the argument, and then they should change the law. They should not be attempting to undermine FoI slowly over time by excluding new agencies, which is what I think is happening here. They do not want to have the argument, so they are just leaving out new entities as they emerge.

I should have thought, after everything the Government have experienced in recent weeks, that they would be falling over themselves to show the country that they welcome scrutiny and want to be transparent. Last week, the Minister accused me of being opportunistic in making that argument. I stand by my assurance to him that that is not the case. This is done out of a will to see ARIA succeed. I could stand here and make a very long speech about all the problems the Government have had through lack of transparency, but I will not do that. I want ARIA to succeed, but I think that without some measure—whether it is FoI or some of the other measures that the Minister dismissed last week—there needs to be some measure by which that transparency, scrutiny, oversight or whatever you want to call it can take place, either via Parliament or via FoI.

I am sure that we will come back to this at Report. The Government have declined every suggestion that we have made on this issue so far. That is a shame, and I just hope that they reconsider their stance on this.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Chapman and shall speak also to Amendment 32A, which, ironically, was the first amendment that I drafted. If there is any benefit to a signal failure on Thameslink, it is that by accident I turn out to be speaking to the very first amendment that I drafted. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, because it was her who pointed out last week that the former Prime Minister had said that he regretted the Freedom of Information Act. Next time I see him, I shall gladly discuss that subject, but I think it tells you more about Prime Ministers than it does about the principle of freedom of information.

There are two and a half arguments in favour of this amendment. The first is the principle. We live in a parliamentary democracy—we live, incidentally, in a world in which we learn less and less about the Government, who can know more and more about us—and it is a good principle of public life that any new body should be subject to freedom of information. The half argument is that, if it is suggested by the Government that this will cause practical difficulties for ARIA, I am perfectly happy for them to bring forward their own amendment saying that at a later stage they can review the operation of the Freedom of Information Act to see whether it has turned out to be very difficult.

The other argument in favour of making it subject to freedom of information is this. This is a new body. It will be given a not insubstantial sum of public money. It will be doing things the nature of which none of us around this Committee Room knows. If it is thought to be too secretive about what it is doing and in no shape or form accountable to Parliament, apart from the odd appearance by the chair or chief executive in front of the Select Committee in another place, there is a risk that ARIA’s work and reputation could be damaged. Freedom of information would protect ARIA against that risk. That is the other argument I put to the Committee in favour of the amendment.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I spoke on this at Second Reading and quoted Tony Blair. Just to remind the Committee, he said that the Freedom of Information Act was

“utterly undermining of sensible government.”

I do not think it is, but I think anybody in the public sector will attest that it is often very burdensome and extremely costly to operate. It was looked at relatively recently by a group, led I think by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the conclusion was that on balance the law should remain as it is. But that does not mean that for every new body we should automatically apply the Freedom of Information Act requirements. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, was clear that if there was a case, the Opposition would support it.

It is worth looking at why an organisation such as ARIA might well be worthy of special consideration. Let us look further at what Tony Blair said:

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


We do not want an organisation that is dragged into caution and risk aversion. We want one that is fully open internally to grappling with some very difficult issues.

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 31 in my name. It is a probing amendment to find whether the Minister would say a few words about how ARIA grants will interact with national security and our established defence industry. We have a very well-developed defence research capability in the UK. It is successful and world leading. I would like to understand how ARIA will relate to it.

I also fully support the amendment from my noble friend Lord Browne. I do not know anywhere near as much as he or many other noble Lords in this Committee do about the topic, but I was familiar with Cobham, which was based very close to Darlington: most people who worked there seemed to live in Darlington. Its substantial contribution in this field stretched over decades. I agree that we need to do whatever the Government think would work to deal with this problem. It seems to be a concern on all sides. If the amendment from my noble friend Lord Browne, is not the right one, or it this not the right clause, or perhaps not even the right Bill, there remains a concern that has been expressed that the Government would do well to respond to and let us know, if this is not the way they will deal with it, how they intend to tackle something that is clearly a concern of many noble Lords.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friends Lady Chapman and Lord Browne. Amendment 31A is in my name. The Government saw fit to put Clause 5 in the Bill for a reason and I am sure the Minister, when he comes to reply, will refer to the reason why it is so important. Similarly, some of us on this side of the Committee feel that it is particularly important that, when those powers are exercised by the Secretary of State, Parliament knows about it at the time—not just in an annual report produced later. Also, with others, I think that there may be further scope to consider whether in this legislation or the National Security and Investment Act, which has already been referred to, there could be ways of furthering the arguments of my noble friend Lord Browne, if the Government are prepared to consider constructive ways forward.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for his comments on Amendment 30. I recognise that this is an issue that he cares deeply about, as do other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Broers. As we heard, the amendment relates to ARIA’s ability to attach conditions to grants to prevent the takeover of an asset or entity, but this Bill is not about the general conditions or, indeed, climate for takeovers of UK private business by US entities; rather, in tabling this amendment, the noble Lord has raised important questions about the benefits derived from public investment in R&D. I appreciate his sentiments about the UK retaining the benefits of ARIA’s funding and, as we discussed on Wednesday, Clause 2(6) gears ARIA towards considering the UK benefits of its activities.

The UK is a world-renowned destination for foreign investment and the UK economy has thrived as a result. We are open to foreign investment; the Government would be very concerned that placing further restrictions in the Bill could deter foreign investment in instances where it would be beneficial and, in some cases, might sit at odds with the wider principles held by the scientific community about the free exchange of ideas and the benefits of international collaboration in research and innovation. Although many noble Lords will share the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Broers and Lord Fox, that we seek to incentivise the City to invest more funds in fledgling British businesses, as there is indeed considerably more private equity available in the US, that is not an issue that this Bill can solve.

However, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that, as set out in the R&D road map published last year, and the innovation strategy published this year, one of the Government’s key ambitions is to become world class at securing the economic and social benefits from research and to safeguard intellectual property. We are pursuing a range of activity to achieve this, and the Government are concerned that adding legislative constraints will impact our position as a free trade champion. ARIA will be expected to collaborate closely within the UK R&D landscape—with Innovate UK, the Catapult Network or private equity partners—to find clear onward paths to take the benefits of its programmes to the next level. This is indeed the challenge rightly identified by the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

Furthermore, the patent box tax incentive will support the retention of intellectual property in the UK by allowing businesses to pay a reduced rate of tax on profits arising from exploiting patents and other qualifying products. Its aim is to encourage the commercialisation of inventions by companies in the UK. I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that we are taking action on this issue outside of legislation. It might just come down to the ideological difference between protectionism and free trade.

On occasions where it is necessary, the National Security and Investment Act 2021 will give the UK Government robust powers to scrutinise and intervene in relevant acquisitions, such as takeovers, to protect national security. This Act will sit alongside the Secretary of State’s power in Clause 5 to give directions where it is necessary or expedient in the interests of national security. I hope that this will answer some of my noble friend Lord Lansley’s remarks.

Regarding Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, the Government’s position is that ARIA must be able to operate with strategic autonomy. This includes making its own decisions on funding research, without influence from government. Clause 5 was designed to ensure that ARIA’s activities could be limited only if they posed a threat to the UK’s national security; for example, ceasing a particular contract or activities with parties from a particular jurisdiction, or ceasing activities on a specific technology. These powers are necessary to ensure that the Government can intervene to protect national security.

I assure the noble Baroness that it is not our intention to use these powers to require ARIA to spend any grants in the interests of national security concerns. Given the autonomy that ARIA will have from Ministers, it would be more appropriate to expect the Government to use other structures if any such need arose. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will understand the intention behind this clause and that there is no need for this amendment.

Finally, regarding Amendment 31A specifically, given the nature and sensitivity of national security directions, the Secretary of State may be required to respond urgently and privately and it would not be appropriate to publish all directions made under this section. ARIA’s annual report, which this amendment seeks to add to, will align with HMT’s financial reporting manual and the normal standards of reporting. I believe this will ensure the right level of information is provided to allow appropriate parliamentary and public scrutiny of ARIA’s activities, and I am therefore unable to accept this amendment.

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Tabled by
31A: Clause 5, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(4) If the Secretary of State issues directions under this section then those directions must be reported to each House of Parliament and subsequently listed in the annual report made by ARIA to the Secretary of State.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the House to be notified if the Secretary of State issued directions to ARIA on national security grounds.
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I will move the amendment, but I am about to withdraw it. In withdrawing it, could I say to the Minister—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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No!

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I think the noble Viscount is trying to say that he is not moving Amendment 31A. Am I correct?

Amendment 31A withdrawn.
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Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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This has been such a short debate that it is barely worth winding up. I will just reinforce the point that this is a cultural issue, in the sense that we are trying to get over here. It was interesting that the Minister made the rather runic comment that ARIA will interact with Select Committees of this House and the other place in the normal way. I think what we are trying to do is underline the fact that we need rather more than that; we need disclosure as well—otherwise, we are worried that we will not get that. Good heavens, the committee might even look at the framework document when it eventually sees the light of day. How about that? That would be quite novel.

One has seen the benefit of committee reports. The Science and Technology Committee has made extremely constructive comments around ARIA and UKRI. It has demonstrated the benefit of parliamentary scrutiny. Why do the Government think that parliamentary oversight is such a bad thing?

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I rise briefly to emphasise the points made by both Front Benches and to say that the Government should welcome an amendment that enables ARIA to be subject to investigation by both Select Committees in both Houses. One of the strengths of Parliament is its Select Committee system, and the reputation of the Science and Technology Committee in another place is very high. I think that, when the Government look back on ARIA in 2031, they will rather wish to have put on record their support for amendments such as this, for the reasons given.

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 47, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones. I feel at a bit of a disadvantage, if I can say to my noble friend Lord Browne, that I have no Daily Telegraph article that I can quote in support of what I am about to say. Perhaps he has one in his pocket and he can pass it along.

The relationships between different parts of the scientific landscape do matter. One interesting thing about the period that we have lived through in the past year and a half has been the changing nature of the role and influence of the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. We had a brief mention of that in Committee last week. Amendment 47 refers to the types of relationships that ARIA might have with UKRI, but in particular I would be interested in anything that the Minister might have to say about the relationships between ARIA and the new science and technology council established by the Prime Minister, in which the Chief Scientific Adviser is of course a major figure. Then there is the existing Council for Science and Technology, in which the Chief Scientific Adviser is also involved, and the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy, which has been set up only recently, in which again the Chief Scientific Adviser is involved. Indeed, he is not only the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser—he is now the Government’s Chief Technology Adviser.

We discussed last week why it had been put in the Bill that the Chief Scientific Adviser should be a member of the board of ARIA. I shall not rehash an old debate, but it is an important role. Undoubtedly, any Member of this Committee or anyone who chairs a Select Committee in this House or another place will want to examine the framework document in detail at a hearing, and I would welcome what the Minister has to say about how that document and how relationships between ARIA and others will focus on the Chief Scientific Adviser.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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Committees go in cycles: they can get very serious, but we are now getting towards the end, where consideration can descend into banter, if we are not careful. That is not something that I thought I would experience at this end of the building, but it is quite welcome.

I understand exactly where the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, are coming from with this, taking into account what the noble Baroness said. The framework document has been referred to so many times during our consideration; it has done a lot of heavy lifting, yet we have not been able to see a draft of it. That is something that I regret, because it would have been useful to know about it. We got lots of assurances about what it will and will not do, but we have not seen a draft that will enable us to test that or tease it out. That is a shame, and I think that is what is behind the amendment.

It is not great when the Government do this and ask a Committee to take these things on trust, or to take the intention. It is not how it is best for us to work. We take these things and our role in this process seriously, and we want to know how ARIA will operate in relation to the departments and bodies outlined in the amendment.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Lord Broers Portrait Lord Broers (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his kind remarks. I have spent most of my life in this environment working on very complicated projects, and I feel very strongly about this issue. I therefore support Amendments 2, 3, 21 and 22, which would secure ARIA’s rights to retain and exploit the intellectual property generated by its research and to obtain intellectual property from elsewhere in order to advance its projects. As I have mentioned before, the projects that ARIA will be working on will draw upon knowledge from all over the world. It is unlikely—almost impossible—that it can generate all its own intellectual property. The world has changed; that is not the way high technology develops today.

It is also of prime importance to the creative engineers and scientists working on ARIA projects that they feel that their creativity is recognised. There are various ways in which this recognition can be granted, but the most straightforward is for them to receive financial benefit, usually through shared ownership of the intellectual property. High-technology companies and universities have found it effective to have a fraction of the income from patents and other intellectual property go to those who create the intellectual property. This creates a sense of fairness and generates loyalty. The result is highly motivated employees who are not tempted to keep their ideas to themselves and go elsewhere where they can be more fairly treated. This is essential. There is massive competition for the top technological brains in this country. We will not get them into ARIA if they think that they will be entangled in a whole lot of bureaucratic government regulations that prevent them from getting the benefits of being entrepreneurs who are free in the world.

I notice that Amendment 17 seems designed to deal with such errant behaviour—how dare they consider doing such things?—but this sort of thing has its dangers, in that its very existence shows that the organisation does not trust its employees, even encouraging them to take their talents elsewhere. It happens with everybody. When you are working on a project, you suddenly have a brilliant idea. You know that you have cracked the nut and really opened up a way for progress, and your first thought is, “My God, I could be rich if I took this off and formed my own company”.

This happens with big companies. I spent a lot of time in IBM, which had to be terribly careful because it provided huge resources for people to make immense progress, but at the same time we did not want people, when they made that progress, to be immediately motivated to leave and exercise that somewhere else, and make more money; I am afraid that money is a motivation. In IBM, in essence you got points towards quite a lot of money when you invented something. You also got a very large award if you did something that opened new pathways in a technology, over and above your salary.

That is the way a company such as IBM in the great days, and Bell Labs subsequently, kept their brilliant people working there. ARPA has that reputation. You will be treated fairly, do well and get paid a lot if you work in ARPA or DARPA; they are prestigious places to work. I imagine that ARIA will be just like that; it will be a prestigious place to work and there will be lots of reasons for that. At times, there has been concern in the UK about the brain drain out of the country. Of course, this has been largely because the incomes offered to creative engineers and scientists have been higher elsewhere, but it is also because it has been perceived that their creativity will receive more recognition.

Those are my remarks on intellectual property for the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. That is the core of what we are doing; it is the intellectual output. It is a very familiar feeling among academics.

I also support Amendment 1, because I believe that it should help to arrest the flow of technology businesses that originate in ARIA being acquired by overseas businesses, which is a concern that everybody has. I just wonder whether 10 years is sufficient time for this to be effective. There are two very important examples of our losing, or potentially losing, outstandingly successful companies originating entirely in the UK.

The first is Arm, which designs the microelectronic chips for the majority of the world’s portable information and communications equipment. Founded in 1990, it went public in 1998, and was then acquired financially by Japan’s SoftBank for about $32 billion in 2016, 26 years after it was founded. If conditions similar to those in this amendment had been in place in the UK, it would have had little or no effect, and its effect would have been even smaller today in preventing the threatened takeover by the US company Nvidia, which began in 2020. Fortunately—as an aside—the American Federal Trade Commission looks as though it may prevent that takeover anyway because of the threat it presents to world competition in the semiconductor business.

The second company is Solexa, which was based on the fundamental research of Balasubramanian and Klenerman in Cambridge that enables the high-speed decoding of DNA. They obtained their initial seed funding to form Solexa in 1998, and in 2000 Solexa’s corporate facilities were established. Solexa was then acquired by Illumina in early 2007, and now generates billions of dollars of revenue. The conditions of this amendment might have slowed if not stopped this takeover. The amendment would help to retain businesses emerging from ARIA in the UK, but it is also important to enhance the activities of the Competition and Markets Authority, which is looking at that, to solve this problem much more widely in the UK. The loss of Solexa was a laughable mistake— one of the most exciting companies in the most exciting scientific field being pursued, and we just wave it goodbye.

We have to fix these problems. I will vote for these amendments if they are put to a Division.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 2, to which I have added my name, and the other amendments in this initial grouping. I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Broers, who, as the House now knows, will leave this House at the end of this week. He is president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee and, as noble Lords can see for themselves, he has carried on, to the very end, making excellent arguments for science. I thank the Minister very much for the letter and the offer of further discussions and a meeting with the Minister for Science, which I welcome.

In view of the points that others have made, I will be very brief. As has been said more than once in its passage through your Lordships’ House, the Bill is more about an idea or experiment than it is about anything concrete—at least at this stage. No one, including the Government, can be entirely sure what will happen after we establish ARIA and it sets out to fulfil its mission. We can probably all agree that this is what makes it an exciting venture. But one thing that we can be sure of is that, if it all goes well, ARIA will amass a great deal of intellectual property over the next 10 years, and it will certainly be dealing with successful ideas about which we know nothing as yet.

So these amendments—Amendment 2 in particular—are essential to enable ARIA to benefit from the intellectual property that it creates, and we must ensure that, whatever it comes up with, its intellectual property cannot be sold off or acquired by others without its agreement. Not to agree this amendment would run a risk that I do not think we should run.

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Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, Amendment 6 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Fox, the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. As my noble friend said in Committee, without the FOI amendments, ARIA would follow in the footsteps of a very small number of institutions that currently do not have Freedom of Information Act obligations. I will not extensively rehearse all the arguments, but suggest that the organisations involved, which include the Royal Family and security and intelligence bodies, are not natural bedfellows to ARIA. The Minister complained about the burdens for ARIA of responding to FOI requests but nowhere, not even in Dominic Cummings’s evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee last February, was the FoIA identified as an obstacle to ARIA’s success.

The Minister has continually highlighted that ARIA is modelled on DARPA. ARPA was subject to the US Freedom of Information Act and DARPA is subject to it as well. This has not prevented them achieving the successes which the Government wish ARIA to emulate. We talked in Committee about the equivalent number of requests received before the restructuring of the research bodies, which were exactly equivalent to those of DARPA. The argument that DARPA charges fees falls away too. The main classes of requester—the news media and educational staff—and requests in the public interest are not charged. In practice, only commercial requesters have to pay.

As I said in Committee, there is no question that, under the FoIA, ARIA’s research programme could be prejudiced, given the clear exemptions under the Act for research interests. In Committee, the Minister gave away the real reason for the Government’s refusal to include ARIA under the FoIA. He illustrated his general contempt for freedom of information legislation, saying:

“From my point of view, it is a truly malign piece of legislation”,


and that

“there must be many hundreds of civil servants engaged in doing nothing other than responding to these fishing expeditions”.

It looks like this is personal—or is the truth that the Government find the daylight shed on them by the FoIA truly inconvenient, and ARIA is just the start of an erosion of FoIA rights?

Transparency is crucial for all our public institutions. ARIA will be in receipt of a substantial amount of public funding—£500 million over the next three years—so there are compelling grounds for its inclusion. Coming under the FoIA is an essential part of retaining public trust.

As regards Amendment 7, which relates to procurement, the Minister said in Committee that:

“When ARIA is commissioning and contracting others to do research for it, it will be operating in a fundamentally different way from traditional R&D grant-making where procurement rules do not apply.


In my view, it is therefore appropriate for ARIA to be given freedom from procurement rules to ensure that the agency has greater flexibility in its contractual arrangements.”—[Official Report, 22/11/21; cols. GC 147-49.]


If ever I heard a circular argument, that was it.

Why are the Government having to perform drafting contortions to exclude ARIA from these procurement requirements in the Bill? Why on earth should ARIA not be subject to exactly the same procurement regime as other public bodies? UKRI is subject to rules and procures and commissions services, including research services. What makes ARIA so different? I beg to move.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 6, to which I added my name. This is a subject I raised at Second Reading, but I reassure the noble Baroness acting as the Whip that, on this occasion, she can relax; there is unlikely to be any need to interrupt me on the grounds that I have gone on too long, because I want to be very brief.

There are two reasons why ARIA should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The first is one of principle. Public bodies set up in statute should be subjected to the same FOI requirements as apply elsewhere. In this country, I submit that FOI legislation is an essential safeguard in the political world in which we now live. To reject this amendment will send a bad signal and set a bad precedent. I even suggest to the Minister that he may reconsider his view as and when he sits on these Benches in the future.

The second reason is practical. We do not want to allow ARIA to come to be viewed with public suspicion and distrust, especially as it has the right to fail, so being open about its work will be beneficial. If it turns out that it is not easy to discover what it is doing, public support for ARIA might be damaged, to the detriment of its wider role. It is not difficult to imagine circumstances in which a campaign is waged against ARIA for excessive secrecy, possibly utilising inaccurate information about it, and for public support to be damaged; nor, in my judgment, would making ARIA subject to freedom of information turn out to be an excessive practical burden. Moreover, if there are aspects of ARIA’s future work that turn out to be sensitive, the Government already have powers elsewhere in the Bill for the Secretary of State to intervene on grounds of national security.

I will leave my remarks there, but I strongly urge the acceptance of Amendment 6.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I spoke about the freedom of information aspects of these two amendments in Committee, and I repeat that I think it is reasonable to exclude ARIA from the freedom of information requirements.

I do not regard the Freedom of Information Act as malign, and I am sure my noble friend does not either. It is appropriate in many cases that our public bodies are opened up, but it is true that it is burdensome. That has been a constant complaint, and certain kinds of organisations attract lots of fishing expeditions which increase the burden, and this goes beyond what would be regarded as being reasonable.

In Committee, I quoted both Tony Blair—who, having introduced the Freedom of Information Act, had a Damascene conversion and did not regard it as a helpful thing in the end—and Professor Philip Bond, the Professor of Creativity and Innovation at the University of Manchester. Both of them highlighted the fundamental reason why ARIA should be free from the Freedom of Information Act: because the last thing our scientists need when looking at the next internet, or whatever it is, is to be overcome with excessive caution because they are worried about what would happen if their conversations had to be revealed through Freedom of Information Act requests. Creativity thrives in an environment where it is not subject to ex-post analysis.

The other reason why I wanted to speak this evening is that I do not understand why Amendments 6 and 7 have been positioned as they are in Clause 2. They seem to set up a conflict with the provisions of Schedule 3, which is introduced by Clause 9. I have not followed through the detailed drafting in respect of freedom of information, but I have followed it through in respect of the Public Contracts Regulations. Basically, Amendment 7 says that the regulations will apply to ARIA, while paragraph 17 of Schedule 3 says that the requirements do not apply to ARIA.

So, the effect of these amendments—and I believe the same is true of the freedom of information amendment, but I have not completely followed that through—is that one part of the Bill would say that the requirements do not apply, but the next part would say that they do apply. That does not seem to me a very clever way to write amendments or legislation, so I suggest that the amendments themselves are defective. Also, I think they are defective in drafting terms—in particular, the public contracts amendment does not mention the separate Scottish regulations, which are included in paragraph 17 of Schedule 3. Paragraphs 13 to 15 are much more complex than Amendment 6, so that may well not be as effective as noble Lords seem to suggest.

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, is not with us this evening because, following Committee—which I attended, sat through, listened to all the debates of and did not say a word in—he said he was surprised that I had not found something better to do with my time. I just wanted to explain that I am extremely interested in this subject, but I am interested not in the detailed implementation of this legislation but in what it says about how research should be conducted. I am also glad that we have been joined by the Whip, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, because, in a previous debate on another subject, he cast me as a pessimist—and I have to own up to being a pessimist on this particular proposal as well.

However, I support the Bill because it provides an interesting scientific experiment from which we can learn. We have a very small sample size: we have the existing system and the new system, a sample of two. But, as scientists often do, we have to work with the material that we have. So I am pleased that we have this proposal. Let us see how it works—albeit that I am a pessimist.

So, in Amendment 10, I am proposing that the Government should commit themselves to a review of how this proposal affects the corpus of research that takes place in the United Kingdom. This is a helpful suggestion. If pushed, I might possibly accept that it is unnecessary, because it will be done anyway. People will look to see what happens, and I just hope that the Government will recognise this and build it into the legislation.

I support Amendment 9—clearly this is an overreach of power on the part of government. I also support my noble friend Lord Stansgate’s Amendment 11, which proposes a much more detailed and thorough review of how this proposal matches up against the specific objectives that the Government have set out.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 11, which is in my name. Of course, the idea behind it also applies to Amendment 10, as just outlined by my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton, who has probably halved my speech because there is no need to repeat everything.

This amendment is very straightforward. It seeks to ensure that, at an appropriate time—I have suggested half way through its allotted 10 years—Parliament has the chance to be sure that ARIA is fulfilling its broad mission. After all, as we all agree, we are doing something new, and, while it is scheduled to receive only a small amount of funding compared with the wider scientific landscape, the fact is that we are still talking about £800 million of public money. So I ask the House: is it that unreasonable to want to ascertain how it is getting on after five years?

In looking ahead, Parliament will want to be sure that, for example, ARIA has not begun to duplicate work that can or could be done elsewhere—by UKRI, for example. Parliament will want to be satisfied that it has not been captured in some way by a scientific cabal or that it has not become involved in dealing with what you might call the “known unknowns”—because other parts of the scientific world are in charge of that—when we want it to focus on the “unknown unknowns”. We are all hoping—at least, I hope that we are—that ARIA will continue to focus on exciting and potentially disruptive new areas and inventions.

The purpose of this amendment is not—I repeat, not—to enable a future Government or Parliament to require a report into every single programme with which ARIA is engaged, or to burden ARIA with what we might call “excessive accountability”. We have already agreed to give the programme managers a huge degree of freedom, including the freedom to fail. However, we must remember that ARIA’s initial lifespan of 10 years will span at least one Parliament and maybe more, and it seems reasonable, without placing too great a burden on it, to enable a future Parliament to have the chance to satisfy itself that it is fulfilling its strategic mission. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and commend this amendment to the House.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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My Lords, we remain disappointed that the Government failed to accept the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendation to omit Clause 8, which provides a very broad power to be carried out with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has retabled the amendment, although I suspect that the Government will not change their approach this evening.

I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Davies of Brixton and Lord Stansgate for tabling their Amendments 10 and 11, which would ensure that there is better understanding of ARIA’s work as it progresses toward the magic 10-year mark. We agree with the thrust of both those amendments. On Amendment 10, it is important that lessons can be learned and any required changes enacted to ensure that ARIA’s funds are continually put to the best possible use. Amendment 11 would give Parliament a loose oversight role, which feels incredibly important, given its almost complete lack of involvement once the body has been established. I noted that when he was in his place earlier, the Minister described the arrangements that the Government are proposing as “robust”. I gently say that they are anything but.

We hope that the Government see some merit in these proposals. It is not clear that the provision needs to be statutory—I accept that—but can the Minister give a clear commitment about interim or periodic reviews beyond the publication of annual reports, which are the absolute minimum that we should expect, and opportunities for Members of this House and the other place to discuss and debate them?

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Tabled by
11: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—
“Interim review of ARIA
(1) Within five years of the date on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must undertake a review of ARIA and its operations.(2) The review under subsection (1) must include an assessment of—(a) the extent to which ARIA has, whether acting alone or jointly with others, fulfilled the functions listed in section 2(1),(b) whether projects undertaken or funded by ARIA are achieving value for money,(c) the geographical spread of grants awarded by ARIA, and(d) the operation of transparency measures and whether further measures are required.(3) Upon completion of the review, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for the contents of the review, including any recommendations arising from it, to be laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
To enable Parliament to review the work of ARIA after its initial five years.
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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her reply. I look forward to reading the National Audit Office reports over the next few years and taking part in such discussions as we may have in this House on how ARIA is developing.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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As the noble Viscount has made a short speech, I must now put the Question. The Question is that the amendment be agreed.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I should have added the words, “I beg leave to withdraw my amendment”.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I have just explained that, as the noble Viscount has made a short speech, it is not possible to withdraw, so I must put the Question. It is up to Members of the House how they vote.

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Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I think it may be helpful to your Lordships if I explain that only the first amendment in a group is moved. The noble Lord is speaking to his amendment, but it is moved or not moved only according to its place on the Marshalled List.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendments 12 and 14, to which I have added my name, and the other amendment in this group. I hope the House will appreciate that this is not a subject that was touched on in Committee—so it is fresh for consideration by the House today. It is nevertheless very important. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and my noble friends Lord Browne and Lord Hanworth have set out the case in some detail, and I do not want to repeat some of the examples they gave, very good though they are. However, I emphasise that mathematical sciences are vital not just to the future of science but to the work of ARIA.

Amendments 12 and 14 are very simple. They would insert the words “and mathematical” in the definition of scientific knowledge and scientific research in Clause 11. These amendments arise because the mathematical community is unsure about whether mathematical sciences are sufficiently included in the definition in the Bill—and it is because the mathematics community is unsure that this debate is taking place. Sometimes people think of sciences as only, or mainly, the core sciences of biology, physics and chemistry, but this is not the case. Mathematics underpins all the other sciences —hence we now use the term STEM as a routine acronym.

Perhaps I could just briefly introduce into this debate the definition of mathematical sciences that is accepted in the community: it is a group of areas of study that includes, in addition to mathematics, those academic disciplines that are primarily mathematical in nature but may not be universally considered as sub-fields of mathematics proper, such as statistics, computer science, computational science, data science, quantitative biology, operations research, control theory, cryptology, econometrics, theoretical physics, continuum mechanics, mathematical chemistry and actuarial science.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 1 is minor and technical and is consequential to the amendment made on Report in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes.

My noble friend’s amendment removed the power for the Secretary of State to determine a pension or gratuity for non-executive members. This government amendment is needed to remove a reference to that power, which no longer exists, in paragraph 7(4) of Schedule 1. This paragraph disapplies the power for the Secretary of State to determine a pension or gratuity for the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, who will sit as a non-executive member on ARIA’s board ex officio. The power is of course not relevant in this case due to the Chief Scientific Adviser’s existing employment and pension entitlement as a civil servant. As the original power no longer exists, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that this reference needs to be removed to tidy up the Bill before it returns to the Commons for consideration of the amendments made in this House.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, is it in order to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on her success in moving her amendment in Committee? I watched as it went through and I thought how pleasing it must be for anyone to get an amendment accepted by the Government.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments
Wednesday 9th February 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Advanced Research and Invention Agency Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 105-I Motion for Consideration of Commons reason - (8 Feb 2022)
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I very much appreciate what my noble friend on the Front Bench has said by way of response to the several debates that we had on the Bill about the centrality of intellectual property, and its protection and exploitation by ARIA. Often in your Lordships’ House, we send amendments to the other place, and occasionally—perhaps often—we find that they are not given the weight of debate at the other end that we think they deserve. On this occasion, it did, and I was much reassured by the Science Minister’s response, and by the appointment of Dr Highnam to the chief executive post.

I want to raise one question. In the midst of the many reassuring things that were said, including that the powers exist for ARIA, or through the NS&I Act, the framework document remains. I raised one issue on that in an amendment, which was whether under the framework document ARIA would be able to retain and reinvest the exploitation of intellectual property arising from its investments so as to create a growing activity in support of its mission of disruptive innovation. I hope that will be incorporated in the framework document. It was not referred to, so I hope that my noble friend will take note of it and that the Treasury will allow this to happen.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I will not detain the House for long, not least because many of the points I wanted to make have been ably made by my noble friend Lord Browne. I welcome much of the Minister’s speech and the appointment of the chief executive-designate. Considering his background, I venture to suggest that by the time he leaves the post he is about to fill, the name of the agency may have changed from ARIA to DARIA. That would reflect his personal background and possibly the way in which developments may move.

I also welcome what was said in another place by the Minister for Science, who the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to. I have a high regard for the Minister for Science and thought that he addressed seriously some of the concerns raised in our debates. However, to echo my noble friend, I point out that the National Security and Investment Act still provides too narrow a basis for protecting what really matters about ARIA, which is the intellectual property that it is going to generate. It is a strange position to be in, but I think that the definition of national security, which does not take into account the economic security of this country and the intellectual property attached to that, would be a mistake and possibly a loophole. I regret the fact that the framework document to which the Minister referred has not yet been seen by anybody, and I hope that in the months and years ahead we will be able to debate that framework and the new scientific architecture, which the Minister rightly referred to, because we are moving into a new era.

It is not often that Governments anywhere launch a new agency with so little idea about what it will do and how it will do it. Nevertheless, I wish it well, and I hope that in the months and years ahead when we come back to discuss ARIA and its development we will be able to see the progress it has made, which I for one hope it will.