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Science, Technology and Innovation Investment

Volume 642: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2018

When it comes to science, research and innovation, this Government are putting their money where their mouth is. We are investing an additional £7 billion in research and development funding by 2022—the biggest ever increase in public funding. Our ambition is to increase the UK’s R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, which will be an additional £80 billion over the next decade to help us to dominate the new industries of the future.

The industrial strategy’s commitment to supporting new innovation and investment in science and technology for food production was much welcomed, especially in areas such as North Yorkshire. Will the Minister update the House on what the Government are doing to deliver on these ambitions so that we can fully realise the sector’s potential as a source of high-skill jobs and growing exports?

My hon. Friend is right to mention agri-tech. As he is aware, we set out in the industrial sector that agri-tech is one of the six priority areas for the artificial intelligence and data economy grand challenge. On progress in what we are doing, we have announced a £90 million transforming food production challenge, which will continue to bring together the UK’s world-class agri-food sector with expertise in robotics, AI and data science.

In Chelmsford, we are making the sensors that will go on the Sentinel satellites, which will provide a step change in how we monitor our planet’s environment from space. Many European countries have national space programmes and are members of the European Space Agency. Will the UK have a national space programme and contribute to the European Space Agency going forward?

I can answer categorically: the UK will continue to be a member of the independent European Space Agency—currently, for every £1 we invest, we get £10 back—and Innovate UK is looking at a national space programme with the UK Space Agency. In addition, we are looking at a space sector deal to boost the work in our thriving space sector.

Some of the most exciting and innovative work in engineering at the moment is being done on the development of renewable energy from wave and tidal stream power. The sector itself has come up with a proposal for innovation in power purchase agreements. Will the Minister, or perhaps some of his colleagues, agree to meet me with a delegation from the sector to discuss how it can contribute to the Government’s industrial strategy?

Absolutely. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman mentions the industrial strategy, and I would be delighted to meet him.

Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to keep banging on about Galileo from a sedentary position. We want to hear the views of the hon. Lady, but we have heard the hon. Gentleman chuntering and we may hear him on his feet in due course.

When looking at investment in science and innovation across the UK, will the Government do what has not been done in recent years, and make sure that the north gets its fair share?

The hon. Lady mentions the Strength in Places fund—it is actually a big part of our industrial strategy—which is designed to ensure that research and development does not just benefit the so-called golden triangle, but benefits all parts of the UK in terms of jobs and growth.

Even though telecoms are reserved to Westminster, the UK Government are contributing just £21 million to the Scottish Government’s programme to provide superfast broadband to everyone in Scotland. What representations will the Minister therefore make to the Chancellor about matching the Scottish Government’s whopping £600 million contribution?

It is for the Scottish Government to make their own budget representations, but as we have always said, we are committed to the roll-out of superfast broadband across the UK. Some 95% of the country has superfast broadband, thanks to the work of this Government.

Science is a great British success story, supporting jobs and growth across the country. With Europe’s funding for UK science down a fifth, more than 6,000 engineers and scientists denied visas in this year alone and universities reporting that Brexit chaos is freezing them out of Europe’s new £90 billion science fund, UK science risks crashing down to earth. Does the Minister accept that his threat to spend the entire UK science budget on duplicating Galileo because the Government have bungled negotiations on this £9 billion UK-EU collaboration is final proof that his science strategy is lost in space?

As I said, we have the biggest increase in science and innovation in this country for 40 years. As for the UK-EU science collaboration, the EU Commissioner himself said:

“It is very important for the UK and it is very important for the EU to have a relationship in science and innovation. We’ve had this relationship for so long”.

On Galileo, negotiations are under way and we have made it very clear not only that it benefits the UK but that EU member states stand to lose skills and other important issues without the UK’s involvement.