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Science and Technology: Innovation

Volume 619: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2017

3. What fiscal steps he is taking to encourage investment in innovative UK science and technology projects. (908202)

As announced at the autumn statement, the Government are significantly increasing investment in research and development, which is rising by an extra £2 billion a year by 2020-21. That is the largest increase over a Parliament since records began in 1979. This includes an industrial strategy challenge fund, which will support collaboration between businesses and the UK’s world-leading science base. That will ensure that the UK remains an attractive place for business to invest in innovative research, and that the next generation of discoveries are made, developed and produced in the UK.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Scientifica, one of the largest employers in my constituency, won both business of the year and export business of the year for 2016 at the British Chambers of Commerce’s annual awards. I will be incredibly proud to join Scientifica when it opens the London stock exchange in March. Will he join me in congratulating Scientifica, and will he pledge to continue supporting such businesses, which export the best of British scientific innovation, collaboration and enterprise to the rest of the world?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Scientifica, and I am happy to make that pledge. At the spending review, we committed to a £175 million reinvestment in UK Trade & Investment, now part of the Department for International Trade, to drive UK exports. We remain committed to ensuring that UK exporters receive world-class support. Indeed, as the Prime Minister will make clear today, maintaining the UK as one of the best places in the world for science and innovation is a priority for us.

On Friday, I visited Wirecard, an innovative financial technology company in the emerging payments sector; it is based in Newcastle. It is concerned that leaving the European single market, and in particular the passporting rights, will diminish investment in fintech, an area in which this country leads, and which is growing in Newcastle and the north-east. What reassurance will the Minister give Wirecard?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Prime Minister will have just begun making a speech on this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will make a statement to the House later. Let me just say that the UK is in a very strong position on fintech, and on ensuring that this successful sector is a priority. Indeed, the Minister for Trade and Investment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), led a delegation of 33 companies to India, where the focus was, among other things, on this sector and promoting the best of British businesses. We will continue to ensure that the UK remains a strong place for the sector.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that Cheltenham’s GCHQ cyber-accelerator is now up and running? Does he agree that that key element of the Government’s £1.9 billion national cyber-security programme will allow start-ups to gain access to GCHQ’s world-beating personnel and digital expertise to bring jobs and opportunity to Gloucestershire?

Yes. I certainly welcome what my hon. Friend said about the opportunities here. He highlights an important sector that has significant potential for the UK and for Gloucestershire.

What discussions have taken place in Northern Ireland with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that catapult projects will happen in Northern Ireland just as much as in the rest of the UK, to help our science and business development?

We are, of course, determined to ensure that all of the UK is a good place for these businesses to develop, and to encourage the development of technology and businesses that are based on it. The future of the United Kingdom has to be as a highly skilled, technologically advanced, outward-looking country. We have engaged with all the devolved Administrations to further that aim.

We Labour Members believe that encouraging investment is essential to making our economy more productive, and we recognise that that will be especially important post Brexit. Does the Treasury have a genuine indicator of how foreign direct investment has been affected by the referendum result, given that it was recently revealed that the Department for International Trade’s figures incorrectly include decisions taken before the vote for Brexit?

We are at an early stage, in terms of the impact on foreign direct investment. On the level of business investment since the referendum, the numbers have held up pretty strongly, although, as I say, it is early days and early data. The hon. Gentleman says he welcomes business investment in this country; he should listen to some of the things his party leadership is saying, which would do nothing but drive business out of the United Kingdom.