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Industry Innovation

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2016

We want to make the UK the best place in Europe to innovate, to patent new ideas and to grow new businesses. That is why we are creating a supportive business environment—for example, with research and development tax credits and through Innovate UK.

The UK’s position as the world leader in offshore renewables is underpinned by industry and academics from across the European Union working together on innovation projects, and by funding from the European Investment Bank and other European or collaborative research and development funds. Can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that our No.1 position will not be put at risk by Brexit?

The UK is the world’s largest offshore wind market today, and it will still be the largest by the end of the decade, with 10 GW expected to be installed. Despite the decision to leave the European Union, I am confident that we can still co-operate on science and research, as many countries outside the European Union do with their EU counterparts. I believe that that will ensure that this sector remains very strong.

Innovation and research are inextricably linked. Yesterday, when I asked the Prime Minister about the impact on our research institutions of the decision to leave the European Union, he assured me that existing contracts would be honoured. However, researchers are applying for funding on a daily basis. What support can be put in place to deal with the uncertainty that exists today, tomorrow and next week?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there will be no change immediately; the current structures will stay in place for at least two years. Of course companies are concerned about what will replace them, and that is exactly what we are working on now with many researchers, businesses and others. The Minister for Universities and Science is taking this very seriously and he has already been speaking to a number of stakeholders.

A vital component of innovation in business is a superfast broadband connection. Would the Secretary of State consider extending the excellent satellite voucher scheme to allow the pooling of vouchers to enable the establishment of community schemes such as fixed-point wireless?

I will certainly discuss that with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I was pleased to have introduced that scheme in my previous role as Culture Secretary, and it has been making progress. My hon. Friend would perhaps also like to know that infrastructure will be absolutely key to the new national innovation plan, which will be published shortly.

Mr Speaker, you will know well, because you were with me, that I met representatives of the textiles industry and the university in my constituency last Friday. They are absolutely appalled by the decision to leave the European Union. Surely we need more than the rather calm words we have heard this morning. There should be an emergency package to deal with the real concerns of the great exporters and innovators of this country.

Of course there will be a number of companies, whether in textiles or other sectors, that will have concerns, particularly about the short term. That is why my colleagues and I are already in touch with a number of companies and businesses around the country. This afternoon, for example, I will be holding a round table with businesses representing every sector of the economy, and we will be following up on precisely those issues.

The innovation that British industry now needs is a range of innovative trade deals with the world’s super-economies outside the European Union, and we need to act on this now rather than waiting to start until after our exit. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to supercharge the trade unit within his Department to get crack trade officials working on these agreements straightaway?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With this decision, there are of course short-term challenges, but he highlights the fact that there are also medium and long-term opportunities, one of which is trade. The Department had already thought about that in case the decision went in favour of Brexit. I am pleased that we did that preparatory work and we will now be putting it to use.

Scotland, which voted to remain in the European Union, has secured around £120 million from Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation programme. Participation in EU research and innovation programmes has enhanced our scientific and business reputation, so what are the Minister and his Department going to do to ensure that similar funding and support options are available post-Brexit?

The hon. Lady may be interested to know that several countries that are not in the European Union are part of research and science collaboration programmes—Israel, for example—so if we choose to do so, it is perfectly possible to continue working with our EU partners on science and research.