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Science and Technology Sector

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 1 December 2016

9. What representations the Government have received from the science and technology sector on priorities for its negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (907599)

13. What representations the Government has received from the science and technology sector on priorities for its negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (907603)

19. What steps he is taking to negotiate the UK’s continued participation in European science and research programmes after the UK has withdrawn from the EU. (907609)

The Department has a wide programme of engagements to ensure that the views of the science and technology sector are heard. For example, we have recently met representatives of the life sciences and tech sectors, and will continue to meet them in the coming months. While it is too early to speculate on our future relationship with EU science and research programmes, as part of our commitment to make Britain the global go-to nation for scientists, innovators and tech investors, we will be investing an extra £2 billion in research and development by the end of this Parliament.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The life sciences and pharma sectors are concerned that they need globally recognised and equivalent regulations to compete internationally. Can the Minister assure me that he will continue to work closely with these sectors to ensure they have the best possible opportunities in the Brexit negotiations?

My hon. and learned Friend is right, and the Government are committed to ensuring a positive outcome for the UK’s life sciences and the pharmaceuticals sector as we exit the European Union. We have welcomed many hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment from Alnylam and GSK, and I can assure her that Ministers in our Department are engaging, and will continue to engage, with the pharma and life sciences industry to ensure that we take the opportunities as well as meet the challenges ahead.

In Europe’s largest space innovation competition this year, the UK took the top prize and four major awards. We have been one of the leaders in, and most successful exploiters of, space technology, and it is vital that this support continues. In particular, can the Minister confirm that the European Space Agency is entirely independent and not an EU organisation, and that our membership of and participation in ESA will continue, as will the UK’s involvement in space research?

Absolutely. The UK space industry, in which I understand my right hon. Friend’s husband has played an important part, is a global success story, leveraging our best talent to deliver highly innovative products and services every year. We want a UK space industry that captures 10% of the global market by 2030, creating 100,000 new jobs. The UK will remain a member of the ESA, which is not a part of the EU. The ESA’s next ministerial council is being held in Lucerne today, attended by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

May I thank the Minister for taking time last week to meet me and science and engineering companies from my constituency? Will he heed the calls made at that meeting, specifically to continue the easy and free movement of scientists across Europe and to maintain our participation in European projects?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for arranging that very useful meeting. I will repeat what the Secretary of State has said before:

“We will always welcome those with the skills, the drive and the expertise to make our nation better still…Britain has always been one of the most tolerant and welcoming places on the face of the earth. It must and it will remain so.”

We are a global leader in scientific collaboration, and we want that to continue.

The Government are committed to ensuring a positive outcome for life sciences and pharma as we exit the European Union. The Prime Minister has already outlined steps to make sure that we continue to back research and development. No decisions have yet been taken as to the final location of the European Medicines Agency.

T.G. Eakin, which is located in my constituency, is a successful business that supplies medical equipment throughout the world. It is imperative that such businesses are kept informed of progress. Will the Minister outline how his Department will achieve that?

We continue to engage very closely with businesses across sectors and across the whole of the UK. We have already had a number of engagements in Northern Ireland, and there will be many more to come.

The absence of a Government plan for the science and technology sector is causing huge uncertainty. The Minister will be aware that the current funding arrangements for the ITER project, which includes a JET—Joint European Torus—centre for fusion energy in the UK, run out in 2018. If he can say nothing else about the Government’s plan, will he confirm that the UK will seek to maintain full participation in the Euratom programme?

I think that the hon. Gentleman’s question is better directed to Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I am sure that that is something on which we will work closely with them.