I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the Science and Technology Committee’s Second Report on Brexit, science and innovation, HC 705, and the Government Response, Fifth Special Report, HC 1008; further takes note of the Science and Technology Committee’s Eighth Report on An immigration system that works for science and innovation, HC 1061; believes that the Government should seek to agree with the EU the far-reaching science and innovation accord proposed by the Prime Minister in her Mansion House speech and in The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union White Paper, Cm 9593; calls for this accord to be negotiated separately from wider EU-UK trade negotiations; and further calls for the science and innovation accord to include details of an immigration system that works for the science and innovation community.
It’s me again, I’m afraid. The motion relates to two recent reports from the Science and Technology Committee, and I again thank the members of the Committee for their work on the inquiries. I also thank the Liaison Committee for recommending to the Backbench Business Committee that the House should have the opportunity to hold this debate today. The House has spent many hours discussing the implications of leaving the European Union for the big political issues, such as trade, regulation and freedom of movement, often in ways that are deeply divisive between those who support remaining in the EU and those who believe we should be leaving, which was the decision in the referendum. Today, however, we have an opportunity to explore the effects of Brexit on something which, at least in theory, is less politically contentious for many but just as important to get right.
No one is rushing to the barricades to demand the end to scientific collaboration, about which we should all be able to agree. I am sure that Members across the House will want to join me in underlining the absolute importance of science and innovation to the economy, but I hope that today will also help to generate some political momentum to make it certain that science does not become a casualty of the Brexit process, particularly given the concerns that no deal could emerge from the negotiations.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s introductory remarks. Despite our views on Brexit, I am sure that we are on the same page. Does he agree that this country has led the world in many scientific discoveries for hundreds of years and that there has been close collaboration on such discoveries across Europe for hundreds of years? Scientific collaboration did not start on 1 January 1973 and will not end on 29 March next year. Can we agree on that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. In a sense, these reports are all about seeking to ensure that collaboration does continue beyond March next year, and I of course completely accept that fact about collaboration, not just across Europe, but across the world.
My Committee has produced two reports this year looking at the impact of Brexit on science and innovation. They build on work undertaken by my two predecessor Committee Chairs and their Committees in the 2015 Parliament. One of those Chairs was the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who continues to be a member of the Science and Technology Committee. I pay tribute to him for his work and note that he is in his seat for this debate. The first of this year’s two reports, as referenced on the Order Paper, was published in March following a summit with more than 50 representatives of the science and innovation community. We are grateful for the community’s willingness both to respond quickly to our call for evidence and to participate in that event.
The report recognises the current strength of British science on the world stage and the Government’s commitment to science and research through a range of policies. For instance, the Government have made science a key pillar of the industrial strategy, and they have also committed to increase R&D spending further to the OECD average of 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
Those commitments are very welcome, but the shadow of whether the UK will participate in all aspects of EU schemes such as Horizon 2020 and its successor programme after March 2019 looms large. Whatever form of Brexit we end up with, there is a need to make sure that the international standing of UK research is protected, and indeed strengthened, following March next year.
A key recommendation of our report is that the Government should explicitly commit to seeking associated country status for Horizon 2020’s successor programme, now known as Horizon Europe. The UK has received €4.73 billion from Horizon 2020 to date, and Horizon Europe is set to be a huge increase in ambition, and the pot of money available will total €100 billion from 2021 to 2027.
Since our report, the Government’s no deal technical note on Horizon 2020 funding has underlined the importance of such close association. The note confirms that, without a deal that secures associated country status, we will not be eligible to participate in some very important elements of Horizon 2020 during its remaining years, including European Research Council funds. The campaign group Scientists for EU has calculated that we stand to lose around £0.5 billion each year in the event of no deal by not being eligible to access those funds, although it is important to say that presumably we would not be paying in during that period either.
The plans for Horizon Europe set out an enhanced role for third countries—in other words, countries outside the EU—in the new scheme when Horizon 2020 has run its course. The Government have played their part in shaping the programme for Horizon Europe, but the Minister has said that participation is contingent on three things.
First, it is contingent on the programme’s continued focus on excellence. I think we have reassurance, but it would be helpful if the Minister updated us. Secondly, it is contingent on agreeing a suitable participation fee. The Minister has said that he supports participation but “not at any price”. Thirdly, it is contingent on securing a suitable level of influence on the programme.
The last point remains a challenging issue. We are likely to be one of the biggest contributors to the programme if we do participate, but the proposed rules for Horizon Europe prevent third countries from having “decisional powers” over the programme. In financial terms, it appears that we will not be allowed to get more out than we put in, as we have been able to do in the past.
The Minister will need to be able to sell the idea of participation to the Treasury, which on the face of it is made more challenging by there being no voting rights, according to the EU’s current position. On the other hand, formal voting is rarely, if ever, necessary, and there may be other ways in which the UK could have influence over the programme if the EU will not shift on formal voting rights. Either way, the science community takes the view that striking an agreement is vital, as this international funding programme is so important and so highly regarded.
Incidentally, I also urge the EU negotiators to demonstrate some flexibility, because if the UK is to be one of the largest contributors to the programme, it does not seem unreasonable that we should be given decision-making powers as a third country.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some sound and sensible points about the negotiations on the future of Horizon 2020. We have been a net beneficiary of those funds. Does he accept not only that, overall, as the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said, we contribute a great deal more than that to the EU budget but that Horizon 2020, which deals with elite science, is not the only source of science funding? Taking into account the regional funds that go into science, we are actually a major net contributor to the science budget, not a gainer.
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, but it is also important to say that, internationally, the Horizon 2020 funding scheme is regarded as the best in class. There are those, among both Brexiteers and remainers, who support participation in the scheme because it just makes sense for science. I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on progress on the critical issue of negotiating a satisfactory way for this country to participate.
Shortly before our report was published, the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech set out the Government’s intention to secure
“a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU”.
That would, in principle, address such concerns about our future relationship. A key recommendation of our report back in March was that the Government should therefore seek to agree such a pact as soon as possible. We argued that, because co-operation in science and innovation is a win-win for both the UK and the EU, getting an early agreement could set a positive tone for the rest of the negotiations. Sadly, that particular opportunity has now all but evaporated and discussions on the high-profile political issues are, of course, intensifying against a backdrop of red lines and deadlines, which are getting ever closer.
We see a need for urgency on this. Ongoing uncertainty is damaging to future collaborations, as partnerships and bids take time to develop. At the moment, no one who is considering bids for funding under the successor programme has any idea whether we will be part of it or not.
The report was published in March. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have since seen the White Paper on the Government’s wider Brexit strategy, which makes it clear that the Government wish to develop discussions towards having an association strategy? Many of the issues raised in March have therefore been followed by more detail in the White Paper.
I agree that what the Government have said is encouraging but, going back to the report, getting this agreed and ending the uncertainty is important because people want to develop bids now, and every month that goes by causes increased uncertainty. That is the key point I want to make.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one area where continuing uncertainty is a real problem for the future of our scientific research excellence, as mentioned in the report, is access to people? The expertise, the discoveries and the developments that the Exiting the European Union Committee saw on our visit to Cambridge fundamentally rely on the quality of research scientists and others.
One of the United Kingdom’s great strengths is collaboration between people. The Science and Technology Committee reports on people going home and on a decline in applications. Until there is certainty about the continuing flow of the best people from around the world into the UK to carry on that work, will that not be a problem for the future?
The right hon. Gentleman pre-empts what I was going to say. That was the subject of our second report, and he is right that, whenever we go to a research lab in a university or a research institute, we find a global community—a community not just of Europeans but of people from around the world.
If our pre-eminent position is to be maintained and indeed strengthened, we need to make sure we can continue to attract people to our country.
I have one other point to make about the danger of this uncertainty. Why would anyone risk their bid, which might involve other universities from across the EU, by listing the UK as a lead partner if there are question marks as to whether we can receive funds on behalf of others? The danger of this continuing uncertainty is also that the UK, which has been very good at leading research collaborations, will lose out on the opportunity to do that during this period of uncertainty.
The Committee also argued that it was important to try to separate out science and innovation from the rest of the process so that it does not become collateral damage. The no deal technical note shows why that is a pressing issue; science could suffer as a result of a no deal scenario, and it is in no one’s interests to let that happen. I would like to hear the Minister’s views on the possibility of creating an accord on science and innovation that could withstand a no deal scenario. I hope he will address that during the debate.
Access to funding has clearly been a big issue in this report, but we are also clear that a science and innovation pact—this relates to the point made by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—has also fully to cover the people element. We were told that a pact that did not address the need to attract and retain the people needed to support science and innovation would be of limited value. We were given the clear message that access to the best people is the most important priority; beyond the collaboration and the funding issues, we have to be able to bring in the best people for research in this country.
At the time, the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on immigration and the UK economy was many months away. We were told it was due in September, so, presumably, it is due any day now. We recommended in March that the MAC should be asked to bring forward its conclusions relating to the migration of scientists and researchers so that the comprehensive pact could be agreed early on. The Government rejected that recommendation in their response. We were told that agreeing a pact—now described as one of the “accords” in the most recent Brexit White Paper—remained an ambition but that we would have to wait until September for the MAC to produce its report before anything relating to immigration could be considered. We are in September now and this becomes a pressing issue.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I declare an interest: I am a member of the board of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium. Does he agree that in attracting the highest calibre scientists and researchers from around the world, any legislation needs to look at the qualifications and experience of those people, not just a purely salary-based criterion? So often, science does not pay enough; the salaries are not high enough. We might find that if an arbitrary limit of £30,000, £35,000 or £40,000 a year were set, we would be excluding the best and the brightest, simply because scientists do not work for lots of money—they work for other, higher ideals.
Was I right in hearing that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, an amazing place, which I visited in my role as Chair? It undertakes incredible work in a previously deprived part of Liverpool and demonstrates that investment in science in some of the poorer regions of our country is vital. He makes an important point and, like the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, he pre-empts what I will say on this subject.
As a result of issues such as the one the hon. Gentleman raises, we decided specifically to explore the issue of immigration rules and what will be needed to ensure that the UK can maintain its pre-eminent position. Again, I do not think that this should be in any way controversial, for either Brexiteers or remainers; those who favoured Brexit were simply arguing that they wanted control of immigration rules, not that we should exclude the brightest and best people from our country. So for our report “An immigration system that works for science and innovation”, the second cited in today’s motion, the Committee asked the science community to work quickly to set out what it wanted to see in an immigration system. We are particularly grateful to the Wellcome Trust for hosting a workshop so that we could develop some concrete proposals. I hope that they will be of use to the Government as they seek to navigate their way through to their future position for this country.
Our proposals were designed to tackle the rapidly approaching problem of what to do about European economic area immigration when the transition period ends. We were warned that the worst thing to do after Brexit would be to roll EEA countries into our existing rest-of-the- world system, as that was seen as too restrictive and so would not facilitate the free flow of people to carry out research in our country. But in the future, if our proposals relating to EEA countries are accepted, we saw that there would be advantages to rolling out our proposals beyond the EEA, so that there is a single immigration system that works for science and innovation, and that attracts great people from wherever they are around the world to come to work in this country.
Our proposals for a new immigration system that works for science and innovation are based on several principles. We must bear in mind that this is important not just for academia, but for industry, and it is therefore crucial for our economy, too. Let me set out those principles. The first is that we need to be able to attract individuals who have different types and levels of skill, and who are at different career stages, as well as their dependants. That means going beyond the “brightest and the best” whom the Government refer to so that we can attract and retain people such as the technicians, who are so crucial to undertaking research; they may be part of a team we are seeking to recruit from overseas. Secondly, we need to be able to attract and recruit highly skilled people, wherever they are from, without being subject to an annual limit.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on bringing this important report before the House. Does he agree that we are already seeing challenges—I have certainly seen them in my constituency—relating to technical staff and the thresholds in the immigration system as it stands, which are putting people off coming to the UK to work or have already caused them to leave? The UK Government will have to be very bold and imaginative and to embrace fully these proposals if we are to retain and attract staff in the future.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and I agree with what she says. It should be in everyone’s interests that we facilitate bringing bright and great people to our country, whatever level they are at, because that benefits our economy, employment, our ability to fund our public services and so on. Those who come here need to be able to travel outside the UK for research purposes without it harming that individual’s ability to apply for indefinite leave to remain. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) was very persistent in pursuing that point during our inquiry. If spending time abroad on field trips and collaborating with others is part of someone’s research, they should not be penalised if they decide they want to make this country their home for the longer term.
The system also has to be efficient, and streamlined, with a low-cost application process for employees and employers. We currently have some of the highest visa fees in the world, which can be off-putting and burdensome. The cost of a tier 2 visa for a researcher, their spouse and three children will rise this month to £21,000, a fee that is way beyond what many people involved in research can pay. We argued in our report that the Home Office should not just use salary as a proxy for skill —that point was made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). It is a sad truth that some high-skilled jobs in research are relatively poorly paid, and the system needs to recognise that. This country should not do itself harm by denying those people the ability to come here and thereby benefit our economy.
The specifics of our proposals fell into two parts: for short-term migration to the UK, we proposed that the Government establish visa-free and permit-free work in the UK for up to 180 days for skilled workers. Eligibility should be verified at the border with proof of intent to leave within that period, and a letter from the employer describing the nature of the skilled work. For long-term migration, we outlined a five-year skilled work permit for those with either an offer of employment—with a minimum salary that reflects the going rate for the job, as well as regional and public or private sector differences in salary—or third-party sponsorship, such as from a university.
There are precedents for these approaches, both at home and abroad. For short-term migration, we currently allow visitors from Canada and the USA to visit the UK to do academic research, attend conferences and undertake training for up to six months without a visa. In the US, the ESTA—electronic system for travel authorisation—visa-waiver programme allows entry for business or tourism for up to 90 days. For longer-term migration, the French have a “talent passport” model, which includes a scientist category under which researchers who have a hosting agreement and the equivalent of a master’s degree or above can apply for a visa for up to four years, with family members also able to apply for residence permits and to work.
A report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust analysed the visa systems of 22 countries and found that half of them have a dedicated immigration route or provision for researchers. Other countries do it to support science and research; we can do it as well. There is no reason why we cannot. We suggest that the Government would need to undertake further work with the science and technology community to co-create a system at the detailed level, but our proposals show the way forward. The Committee and the community have worked hard to be constructive and proactive on this issue, and those are the qualities that I expect to see in the Government response, when it arrives.
During our inquiry, we also uncovered opportunities for the Government to make changes now, unilaterally, to improve the current non-EEA immigration system while negotiations with the EU are ongoing. We saw a need to revise and clarify the criteria for tier 1 exceptional talent visas, which currently have low take-up. Some 2,000 visas are available each year, but there are currently only around 400 applications, which is way short of the potential capacity. Many believe that that part of the system is not working because the exceptional-talent criteria are too restrictive.
We called on the Government to reinstate the tier 1 post-study work visas, so that talented international graduates who have chosen to study at a UK higher education institution are able to contribute further to the UK economy by working here for up to two years. Our call has been supported this week by Universities UK, and a ComRes poll found that 72% of people think that international students should be able to stay to work for a year or more after graduation, with 52% in support of their being able to stay for two years or more.
Finally, we recommended that the Government remove the cap on tier 2 general visas. They have removed the cap for doctors and nurses, which frees up space for engineers and other professionals, but why should there be an arbitrary limit on skilled workers more generally? Surely it makes sense to encourage them to come to this country.
The Government’s response to our second report is due later this month, but I hope we will get a flavour of what to expect from the Minister’s response today. I hope that he will recognise the urgency of the need to arrange new immigration rules. The planned transition period gives us some time to develop an immigration system, but universities have said that they need two years’ notice of changes to immigration processes so that the prospective staff and students can prepare properly. I hope the Minister will be able to give us an update on agreeing an accord on science and innovation, which has been discussed for many months now.
Many other related issues are not covered in detail in the two reports, but I suspect that Members will wish to raise them in the debate. Examples include the Government’s decision to ask pharmaceutical companies to stockpile medicines as preparation for no deal; the future regulation of medicines when the European Medicines Agency moves from London to Amsterdam; and concerns about Euratom in respect of nuclear research and the availability of medical radioisotopes, which are essential tools for diagnostic tests and the treatment of cancer and other diseases.
To conclude, Madam Deputy Speaker—I am sorry to have tried your patience—I hope that, as a result of both reports and today’s debate, the Government will work to secure the accord on science and innovation as quickly as possible, and include information on how they expect the people element to work for highly skilled workers. It is crucial that we do all we can to maintain the UK’s pre-eminent position as a science and innovation superpower. It is in everyone’s interest. Moreover, provisions need to be made to protect science in the event of a no-deal scenario. I would like to hear what action the Minister has taken on that, as well.
I will do my very best to stick to your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), my successor as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, for securing this debate and for his comprehensive remarks, with which he did an excellent job of covering the contents of our two reports. I shall try not to repeat too many of his points, but there is always a danger in these matters that we cover the same ground.
For clarity, we are leaving the EU on 29 March next year. That is what the Government have stated consistently and it is what the people voted for on 23 June 2016 in the largest demonstration of a democratic vote. It is now our duty to deliver on that. As we know, though, it is not without challenges, which are particularly poignant for the science community. The challenges were expressed almost immediately following that historic vote. Only five days later, we had our Parliamentary Links Day—for those who do not know, that is the largest interaction between the science community and Parliament—the subject of which was “Science After the Referendum: What Next?” It was a packed event and the first real opportunity for people from the science community to express their concerns, which they did vocally.
Since then, there have been many opportunities. With the help of the Royal Society, the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which I am fortunate enough to chair, held a number of meetings and eventually published a report, “Science priorities for Brexit”, which I think was the first report to try to bring together the views of the science community. That was followed up by a meeting last October, and we are planning another one for this October to try to keep gauging the temperature and the views of the science community on how it thinks things are going and what it thinks we should be doing.
Of course, there is also the work of the Science and Technology Committee. As we have heard, back in November 2016, when I was the Chairman, we produced a report called “Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research”, which has been followed up by a Brexit summit and subsequent report. More recently, we published our report “An immigration system that works for science and innovation”.
So, what did we hear? Time and again, we heard the same message: science is special and needs our and the Government’s support to ensure that we as a nation continue to be a science superpower. That phrase is much used, but it is true: we have 1% of the world’s population, yet we create 15% of the most highly cited papers. Pound for pound, we punch well above our weight. It is our scientists who are rising to the national and international challenges that face us.
My hon. Friend is too generous in giving way; I am sorry to interrupt his flow, because he is making an important and lively speech. Will he join me in welcoming the fact that the Government have made the biggest investment in research in 40 years? Does he agree that it is important that we now find a way to make sure that that drives growth and an improvement in wages?
I absolutely welcome the steps that the Government have taken to support the science community. I shall come back to that point later, but that investment is a very welcome step. Over the past eight years, the Government have been consistent in their support for science in Budget after Budget—there has always been something in there for the science community—but that does not take away from the fact that the science community is feeling anxious and concerned about the future. It is that uncertainty that we collectively have to try to address.
It is our scientists—scientists from the UK—working in collaboration with others who are coming up with the solutions to feed an ever-growing world population, to tackle and track climate change, to discover new ways to keep us healthy and happier for longer and to make breakthroughs in areas that would perhaps have struck fear in us. We have all heard about the big C. Being diagnosed with cancer 30 years ago was devastating news. Now, because of the work that British scientists are undertaking with others around the world, it does not necessarily have to be a terminal diagnosis. For the UK to continue to play a key role, we need to get a deal that protects the standing of the science community and addresses the key concerns that it has expressed. Those concerns fall mainly into four categories: people and talent; funding, both internally and externally; collaboration and networks and the ability to work together; and regulation and training.
In advance of this debate, not unsurprisingly, I was emailed rather a lot of support material from various places. I will just touch on a bit of it. The Campaign for Science and Engineering, which represents more than 110 scientific organisations and 380,000 people, is still concerned and wants the Government to co-ordinate efforts to unleash UK science and engineering potential. In particular, Professor David Price, Vice-Provost at University College London, highlights the fact that any restrictions on EU researchers coming to the UK post Brexit would damage the quality and impact of research, particularly at UCL and other universities.
The Royal Society of Biology wants the Government swiftly to communicate any decisions that they make, particularly those on immigration, that affect the science, technology, engineering and mathematics community. Again, there is a theme: it wants to remain, and see the benefit of remaining, part of global networks. That capacity to attract highly skilled people to the UK is vital.
The Royal Society of Chemistry highlights the fact that 29% of funding for chemistry in universities comes from the EU and is concerned that that may disappear. Again, it talks about the mobility of scientists between the UK and the European economic area. It says that the UK must continue to work in an uninterrupted full partnership with the European Chemicals Agency from March 2019 onwards.
The Royal Academy of Engineering highlights the fact that engineering business, research and innovation is a global endeavour and that we have to protect it. Universities UK says that £840 million of funding in our universities comes from EU sources and highlights the fact that international students are a particularly important source of income for universities.
Cancer Research UK says that the UK is at the centre of a web of international scientific collaboration and wants the Government to rule out extending the bureaucratic and costly non-EEA immigration system to EU citizens and, of course, points out that salary is not a proxy of skill.
The British Heart Foundation says that 60% of researchers have worked or studied in at least one other country outside the UK. Again, it offers the same themes around funding, collaboration and movement. The Wellcome Trust, which has already been mentioned, says that the Government must address the key issues for the science and innovation community in their Brexit negotiations. If they cannot do that, they must come up with a stand-alone agreement as soon as possible. The Royal Society has expressed concerns that no deal is a bad deal for science and highlights the fact that one in six academic staff come from somewhere else in the EU. The list goes on and on.
Whatever happens with Brexit and the wider negotiations, I, like many others, encourage the Government to address the concerns of the community as soon as possible. With all that said, I want to pay tribute to the Government for what they have done: for appointing a chief scientific adviser in the Department for Exiting the European Union; for developing a modern industrial strategy that has put science at its very heart; for committing to raise the amount that we spend on research and development to 2.4% of GDP, with an aspiration to get it up to 3%; and for providing billions of extra pounds in investment in science between now and 2020. I have heard consistently from the Dispatch Box speeches that highlight the Government’s understanding of the special nature of science. Ministers are trying to provide the reassurances and support that the community wants, despite not actually at this stage having any firm proposals. None the less, more still needs to be done.
We must start developing an immigration system that works for science. It must protect and reassure those who are already here, and it must allow for the easy movement of scientists in and out of the country for flexible periods. The system must recognise their value to the UK and to our global scientific endeavour, and that goes beyond sheer monetary worth, by which I mean that we do not want to use salary as an artificial barrier. A scientist’s worth is not just what they are paid. We also need to recognise that scientists, as we have heard, are supported by teams of skilled technicians and other key members of their teams. Let us not harm our global scientific standing by not thinking through how our future immigration system can adapt to those challenges. We must demonstrate that we our open for business.
We must also take another look at whether we need to include student numbers. I am in two minds about that. The overall immigration figure is something that we have pledged to address, but whether a student coming here should be included in that does need to be looked at.
The other key area of concern is funding. As we have said, welcome steps have already been taken, but we have been substantial beneficiaries of the EU-wide funding programmes, particularly Horizon 2020. We need to remain associated both with that and with its successor programme, FP9, assuming—I think that this is what the Minister is getting at—that it is based on excellence. The Minister, I am sure, will be able to reaffirm that, and I know that that is the Government’s aspiration. This will ensure not only that funding continues to flow into the UK, but, equally importantly, that the undoubted benefits of collaboration and cross-border working continue.
Brexit also presents opportunities. As we strike new trade deals and promote global Britain, we can also strike more bilateral research and development programmes with our friends—old and new—around the world.
I am drawing my remarks to a close, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course, I could say much more, but I am sure that others will do that for me. For now, I just want to reiterate the importance of science and innovation to the UK and ask that the Government continue to do all they can to protect it, take heed of the recommendations in the various reports that we have produced and, where possible, try to incorporate those as swiftly as possible and demonstrate to the community—the wider science and technology community—that this is a Government whom it can trust and a Government who are battling for it.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee and the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, of which I am a member, for arranging this debate today.
Members from across the House will agree that scientific endeavour—the pursuit of truths and the ability to support the people with the brightest minds and the energy to solve some of our biggest societal challenges at home and abroad—is something that, as a developed nation, we wish to pursue as much as possible both for our own economic and industrial purposes and for our contribution to the world. The UK, as we have heard already today, plays a significant role in world leadership.
The European Union, as long as we continue to be a member of it, continues to be the leader in the world, counting for a third of global scientific output—34% more than the United States. That is a huge contribution, and as a member of the European Union, we are the second largest recipient of the total funding that goes into research, accounting for €4.6 billion since 2014 and second only to Germany.
We heard on the Select Committee and indeed from universities in Bristol, which I represent, that we also lead a lot of these international collaborations. We are very successful at having the lead academic institutions in the world, which is something that has caused great concern for other European universities as a consequence of Brexit because our ability to lead and be part of Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020, is in question.
This is evidenced by the fact that 62% of UK research is now based on international collaboration. It is absolutely vital that we maintain our abilities to collaborate, to ensure our output. In fact, I want to focus my remarks today on collaboration—not least because the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) read all the briefings that we all received before this debate.
Collaboration was at the core of the Select Committee reports on both Brexit and immigration. We have heard time and again today that there are two groups when it comes to immigration. In this context, this is not about individuals; it is about academics, their teams and their support staff, and we have heard about the pay threshold that might cause problems in that regard. But this is also about families. This is, I think, the most expensive country in the world for these visa applications. The Chair of the Select Committee mentioned the cost of £21,000 for a UK visa for a family to come to the UK, whereas the French talent passport is £250.
The Committee heard from researchers in what I think was a Select Committee first—an open dialogue session with members of the audience, which all went perfectly well. One audience member said that their research funding does not include the cost of visa applications for them and their family. In many cases, individuals need to be able to pay for these visa applications, even if they have managed to receive hundreds of millions of euros for world-leading research.
This is not just about people from the European Union, though. The Committee visited CERN, which I was amazed to see is not only trying to discover the basis of the universe, but has solved so many problems—from positron emission tomography for better cancer treatments, to the touch screens on our phones—as a consequence of trying to figure out the solutions. Many British scientists at CERN in Geneva live in France as a consequence of being an EU citizen, so we really need some clarity from the Minister and the Government about the rights of British citizens in Europe post Brexit and whether they will be able to lead their lives in France and travel to institutions such as CERN.
An important point on the immigration system is the exceptional talent visa, to which the Committee referred in our report. The Government have set a cap—thankfully, they have increased the cap for exceptional talent—both for academic research and for technology entrepreneurs, but we are actually not hitting that cap: there are visas that are not being used. The royal societies told us that this is a consequence of the fact that the requirements are quite high; there are not enough Nobel laureates in the world to meet the number of visas that we are offering. The definition of exceptional talent needs to be broadened a little, to include not only people who are professors in their 50s, but young exceptional talent, especially in the technology space. There are so many inspiring entrepreneurs who want—and will, we hope, continue to want—to come to the UK to set up and scale up their technology businesses, which are an important part of our research base.
Industry research and development is vital for our economy, as it is for many of my constituents, as my constituency has advanced manufacturing centres, specifically in aerospace and defence, but also in quantum computing at the University of Bristol and in other areas. We are part of many funds in Europe. With my other hat on, as a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I look forward to clarification of the Government’s intention to want to be part of each specific fund. For example, we do not yet have clarity on our future involvement in the European defence fund, which has a big industrial research component. In fact, the Government are apparently contributing to the European defence industrial development programme without knowing whether British companies can actually bid for it, which seems a bit nonsensical. We need some clarity on that.
The Erasmus project is an important European fund because, of course, we need students who are learning in the first place to become the professors of the future. The ability to collaborate and for researchers to see that collaboration as a normal part of their profession is vital. The European Commission has recommended a doubling of the budget for Erasmus in its next multiannual financial framework. As we have heard, if we are to be a third country, there is understandably an expectation from Europe that if we continue to get as much out of Erasmus as we do today, we probably need to pay more as we are currently getting more value than we pay for. It would be good to get some clarification regarding our future status in Erasmus and whether the Government intend to contribute to that project to ensure that we continue to be able to be a part of it.
The collaboration point is so crucial to this debate because, whether by perception or reality, the consequence of Brexit for many people around the world is that Britain does not want to collaborate any more—that we are drawing up the drawbridge and focusing on our navel and that people are not welcome here if they are not British. That is a great shame and it is a fundamental risk to the future success of our international collaborations in science and research.
We have to get through all the detail of budget allocations, which projects we want to be part of and fixing the immigration system, which I look forward to debating in the round when the Bill eventually comes to this House. However, I call on the Minister to say what more he is doing, perhaps with the Department for International Trade, the Foreign Office or others, to say to the world that we may be going through what the Government might like to call a period of change—people have different views, although everyone knows that I think that it is nonsense and that Brexit is a complete disaster—but that we are still open. We still wish to collaborate with the brightest and the best. We want people from countries around the world to work in our universities, to educate our students, to be at the forefront of our scientific and industrial endeavours, and we should recognise that the success of Britain and the role that we play in the world relies on that flow of talent, an openness to collaboration and a continuance in doing so.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on securing this important debate, and the rest of the Science and Technology Committee on their hard work on this issue.
It is only right that we closely examine what effects Brexit will have on all sectors and industries in our economy, and the Committees of this place are well placed to do that. I voted remain in the referendum, but in Scotland we know all too well the importance of referendums and how we must respect the results and the will of the entire electorate. Despite what our views may have been in the past, we must now all look forward to a United Kingdom trading on the global stage, yet one that still works closely with our friends and allies on the continent and across the border in the Republic of Ireland. The world of science and innovation is no different. We should not shut out academics and innovators from rest of the world, nor should we shut off those from inside the EU after we leave.
I have great respect and affection for the hon. Gentleman, who comes to this House with experience from what is, in my view, the greatest Parliament in the UK—the Scottish Parliament. Does he agree with me on the matter of referendums, given the detail that is now coming out about the impact of Brexit? It would have been very helpful if his party and the Government could have given us and people across the UK more detail—the kind of detail that we now have—because his dream and mine of a remain vote may then have come true, instead of the mess that we now find ourselves in.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point. Indeed, Scotland does have two Parliaments and two Governments. I have experience of both Parliaments, and I would argue that both have their merits. We had a very good debate before the referendum in which both sides set out their case very clearly. It is arguably clear that during the 2014 independence referendum campaign in Scotland, the Scottish Government, the Scottish National party and the yes campaign did not put forward quite the full analysis that they should have.
It goes without saying that Scotland was, and continues to be, a proud nation of innovators and scientists, from the invention of the world-changing telephone by Alexander Graham Bell to the discoveries by Peter Higgs at the University of Edinburgh. Indeed, this innovation continues today in my constituency in the Scottish borders, where Plexus in Kelso is building some of the most cutting-edge machines in the healthcare, communications and computing industries and selling them right across the world.
Just last week the Economic Secretary to the Treasury visited Galashiels, where we heard from business leaders how they are taking advantage of innovations in FinTech that are being pioneered here in the UK. I look forward to such innovation post Brexit too, especially with the support of the Conservative Government, under whom we have already seen the largest increase in scientific research and development funding since 1979, meaning an additional £7 billion of investment by 2022. Just today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a £16 million funding boost to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow to help develop quantum technology.
There is also the very welcome industrial strategy, which will focus our economy on becoming one of the most innovative in the world. That is not just good for our economy and our global science ambitions but will mean greener, healthier and cheaper housing for hard-working families. Improved healthcare technology will ensure that treatments on the NHS are world-leading and, most importantly, delivering for patients. The Government’s commitment to growth throughout our regions and nations is also clear to see. The spaceport in Sutherland in the north of Scotland is perhaps the most tangible example of our global and, indeed, universal ambitions in science and innovation.
As the Committee’s report highlights, to continue being at the forefront of science and innovation, the United Kingdom will still need to attract not only the brightest and the best but also the essential technicians and lab assistants, and many other roles that our universities and private sector businesses rely on. That is not an issue solely for the science and innovation sector, as many industries have the same concern. However, I do not agree that there will suddenly be no foreign workers the day we leave the European Union. There is a world outside and beyond the European Union desperate to engage with a new global Britain. That is already clear to see, with recent immigration figures showing that the highest net migration into the United Kingdom from non-EU countries since 2011 has just taken place. As the Committee reported:
“UK science is entering the Brexit process from a strong starting position.”
We are home to some of the most envied university institutions in the world. To say that suddenly the EU would not want access to that fantastic resource for their young, ambitious scientists is just not sustainable. I can understand the concerns that various organisations have when our country is going through such a substantial change, but plenty of our universities pioneered many ground-breaking innovations and discoveries long before the concept of free movement in the European Union was developed, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so long after.
Brexit will change things; we all know that. There will be challenges; we also know that. But as we see one of the biggest changes in the governance of our country in recent times, we must grasp the opportunities that Brexit will bring. A chance to make deeper and lasting relationships with countries around the world, and not only in Europe, will see our universities, science and innovation flourish.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee for starting this debate in such a positive manner, and I am grateful for his work and the work of other Select Committees in this area. It is a real pleasure to follow the interesting remarks of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont). Unlike him, I will refer to the impact of some of the matters at hand, particularly on my constituency.
That constituency is Oxford East, which contains a very high proportion of staff working in the fields of science and research. Many of them are very proud of what has been achieved through European research collaboration, whether it be at Oxford University, at Oxford Brookes University, or at other allied research centres such as the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. Their research is not just important for my city—it is enormously important for the world and for dealing with global challenges.
I am pleased to see the Minister nodding his head. I have also been pleased to see him in my constituency learning about some of the technology associated with some of that scientific research. We see in Oxford, through European funding and collaboration, the development of new medical technologies and of new clean energies for the future, and important work on dealing with modern threats from cyber-attacks, for example.
This is a timely debate, because it comes after we have had some more clarification following the release of the White Paper just before the summer, and then, more recently, the different papers on preparations in the event of no deal. There are three areas where we have more clarity, particularly through the no deal preparation papers, but two big challenges still exist. First, in very recent weeks—I would have preferred it to be earlier—we have had an indication that the Government will continue to fund European research programme participation until 2020, at least in Horizon 2020. We had a useful discussion earlier about some of the challenges in trying to seek associate status in what is becoming Horizon Europe. We often speak about Britain being committed to preserving the focus on excellence in European science, but that is not unique to British politicians or British scientists. We can sometimes risk coming across as patronising in that regard. We have many allies in Europe who also want to preserve that focus on scientific excellence, even when there have been pressures towards, for example, more regionalised funding or other metrics being used. It is important that we seek to collaborate with them rather than presenting the UK alone as having an interest in that, which would be thoroughly inappropriate.
Secondly, the Government told us in one of the no deal papers that after 29 March, if there was no deal, the UK would leave Euratom but continue funding for its share of the joint European torus—subject, of course, to the Commission extending the contract until then. We also received notice over the summer that the Government have finally, in my view, seen the light—I hope that does not come across as too pejorative—with regard to clinical trials. I have been quite frustrated by some of the discussions in this place on that topic. A lot of the time, they have focused on the shortcomings of the previous clinical trials regime rather than on the incoming regime. It is good to see the Government finally stating that in the event of no deal, the UK would seek to align, where possible and without delay, with the clinical trials regulation regime. The scientists I have talked to in Oxford are very concerned that we could be shut out of opportunities for research collaboration and data sharing if we do not align with the new regime that is coming into play, which is specifically focused on greater data sharing.
We have had some clarity, but we need far, far more. I want to push for that in two areas, one of which we have not yet gone into in detail on: nuclear research. I am concerned about the language that we still see in the no deal paper on nuclear research. That language, in common with what we heard in the Lancaster House speech, seems to be incredibly passive. The no deal paper states:
“When the Joint European Torus operating contract ends, the UK government is willing to discuss options to keep Joint European Torus operational until the end of its useful life.”
“Willing to discuss options” sounds incredibly passive when we are talking about a very important technology and very important scientific research. It almost suggests that we will wait and see what we are offered by the EU27. I hope that that language does not reflect the Government’s intentions, which are hopefully much stronger. I hope that the Minister can clarify that.
Thirdly, we still lack clarity around the immigration regime, particularly for early-career and technical staff. The Government have released details about the regime for staff who are already based here, although I know from my postbag—I am sure other Members do as well—that there are continuing concerns among those people. I continue to worry about language focused on the “brightest and the best”. As others have usefully said, if salary is viewed as a proxy for promise and skill, then we will not be where we should be. We should view the science and research career structure as a pyramid where we have at the bottom large numbers of post-docs and short-period researchers who are relatively low paid. They can stay in that situation for quite a long time before they start to proceed up the salary structure, but they are doing incredibly important scientific work. It is important that the Government listen on this subject, because that concern has frequently been mentioned to me on the doorstep by people who are in that situation —early-career researchers who want that mechanism to stay open to others from the rest of Europe in the future. It was also mentioned to me by many impressive researchers whom I met during my Royal Society fellowship in the medical sciences division of Oxford University. This is a live concern.
We need that clarity—and, as we have heard, we need it very, very soon. We are running out of time on many of these issues. After the White Paper was released before the summer, the head of Brexit strategy for Oxford University, Alastair Buchan, called for the aspirations in the White Paper to become firm, detailed commitments in advance of the October EU Council. We have just heard that we have been promised some more detail around the migration arrangements, in particular, in September. We are already into that month. We need to have that information, because this is affecting how future research projects are being designed.
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee and all colleagues for what has been a constructive debate so far.
It is a pleasure to follow the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). I thank the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), for securing this important debate.
Many Members will agree that we need an immigration system that works for the science and innovation community. Back in March 2018, the Prime Minister, speaking on our future economic partnership with the European Union, called for
“a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU, facilitating the exchange of ideas and researchers.”
Collaborative research environments are currently being nurtured in our colleges and universities throughout the United Kingdom, and we must ensure that those arrangements do not simply survive but continue to thrive post Brexit. If we peruse the alumni of such colleges and universities, it is clear that students attend from many parts of the world, with many going on to complete PhDs here in the United Kingdom.
Similarly, several institutions and their professional journals cater for a global membership, again clearly illustrating the exchange of ideas and practices. Many members travel and participate in conferences around the world. One example is the Institution of Fire Engineers, which offers chartered engineer status to people throughout the world. We would not wish to lose such valuable contributions due to visa restrictions. Further evidence is to be found in medical and scientific textbooks. For example, one textbook on the complicated subject of polymyalgia rheumatica has 32 contributors from no fewer than eight countries. It is imperative that such contributors’ expertise and skills transcend borders and are not held back by them, to benefit practitioners and patients alike, whether that be by visiting to collaborate on further publications, lecture on good practice or carry out and demonstrate life-saving procedures.
Some countries operate consortia, with scientists sharing expensive equipment, such as in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics. That allows access to data through computers within laboratories or universities in their own countries without the necessity of travelling. However, for practical experience, and where shortages exist in specific skillsets, it is often necessary to ensure free movement of scientists and students of science. Such talent is vital to fulfil the vision set out in the Government’s industrial strategy to raise the total research and development investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. The immigration system needs to be supportive of that strategy, and it must be affordable and have a degree of flexibility.
While addressing EEA nationals, it may be an opportune time to reflect on the current immigration system for non-EEA nationals and any possible improvements to it. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the number of applicants per vacancy has fallen since last summer across all levels of skilled jobs, and the number of people moving to the UK from other EU countries has fallen to its lowest level since 2013. In placing greater emphasis on the need, when taking back control of our borders, to honour the stated aim to maintain a close friendship with our European neighbours, we need to find a pragmatic way to encourage the continued exchange of skills and developments, particularly but not exclusively in the scientific and innovative arena.
I fully acknowledge that people cannot be looked at in isolation, and due consideration will need to be given by the Government to funding for Horizon 2020 and various framework programmes and their successors, together with appropriate regulation to facilitate fruitful contributions by future generations of scientists and innovators. I trust that the Minister will be able to confirm that all those issues are being urgently addressed, in order to secure the future of science and innovation here in the United Kingdom, which is, and I am sure will remain, world leading.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on the Committee’s report and on how helpful it is in informing this discussion.
We cannot underestimate the importance of science to our country. We are the country of the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The Government’s recent commitment to increase R&D spending by £4.7 billion by 2020-21 is welcome. The UK is still a destination for science, technology and innovation. Whether it is satellites in Glasgow, batteries in Birmingham or FinTech in London, our constituencies have a fantastic opportunity to contribute to world-changing technologies and science that have an impact here in the United Kingdom and right across the globe.
But there is an opportunity that comes with Brexit, and that is our engagement with the wider world—not to substitute the EU with the wider world, but to be in addition to it. Members across the House have reiterated that we want to continue our scientific and technological co-operation with the EU. There are great examples of investment in this country with the EU and worldwide partners, such as the JET programme, mentioned by the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), where we are looking ahead to fusion power. Before I reach for my Starfleet uniform, let me say that that is the most exciting new technology. It could revolutionise energy production here in the United Kingdom and around the world, not only providing energy security but helping to defuse a lot of tension in terms of military and governance issues around the world. That project has already contributed so much to European scientific progress and will hopefully continue to contribute to world scientific progress, with the thermonuclear reactor project being constructed in France due to be operational in 2025.
There is a fantastic opportunity for the United Kingdom to not only underscore its commitment to European science projects but leverage in new partners. The University of Stirling, which neighbours my constituency but is making investments in it, has already been meeting partners in the middle east and further afield to look at what joint projects they can work on together post Brexit and what opportunities could be opened up to them.
Immigration has been touched on by various Members. The Government have made a clear commitment to allow skilled personnel into the UK. The report talks about immigration and the ease of verification at the border, which the right hon. Member for North Norfolk mentioned. From my experience on the Public Accounts Committee, where we have looked at customs and border control, I know that it is not just a question of looking at where checks could take place if they were at a border. We should be ambitious in looking at where borders could be. Some of our most successful border schemes have been where we have exported the border to other countries, so that a lot of checks on personnel and goods can take place before they even reach British seas or soil, and it is very clear that all the relevant checks have been made. When they come to a seaport, airport or other port in the United Kingdom, there is then a seamless transition and they can enter our country and hopefully make a fantastic contribution to both science and taxation.
When we talk about science, we are drawn to the sexy projects, such as those with fusion. We talk about the spaceport in Sutherland, and it is fantastic that the first British satellite will be launched from Scotland, but some sectors are not thought about so much. Innovation can happen in the construction sector, such as at Glenalmond Timber in Methven in my constituency, which is working on new manufacturing techniques for prefabricated houses. Diageo has invested more than £7 million in a new technology site in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, in my community, which will help it to develop more advanced blends; I think everyone in the UK and worldwide will appreciate that product.
So what can the Government do? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make clear his commitment to welcoming skilled people to the United Kingdom to contribute but also to exploring what can be done to help universities across the United Kingdom to have meaningful partnerships with partners in the EU and the rest of the world, as well as supporting the Erasmus scheme, to ensure that young people get opportunities in the UK and British citizens get opportunities right across the world. I hope we will be able to contribute to Horizon 2020 and successor schemes, just as Israel does at the moment. It would be good if we had the clarity that has been provided with the £90 million of funding for the British global positioning satellite system. It would also be great to hear from the Government that, although we are making provisions for that system, we are still trying to work with the Europeans on a European and global system, through which we can share the benefits of our expertise in the UK and the expertise of European partners.
Scientific and technological innovation is one of the most exciting topics that we get to deal with in the House of Commons. It touches every single constituent’s life and can have some of the most transformational effects on them. I am very pleased to see the cross-party support for some of the report’s recommendations. I certainly support it as much as I can, and I hope my Government colleagues will do too.
I will be comparatively brief. I speak as a former member of the Science and Technology Committee—first under Nicola Blackwood, the former Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, and then under my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe). I even had the temerity to run for the chairmanship of the Committee, but the less said about that the better.
What struck me time and again during my years on the Select Committee was that science is hugely collaborative and international. Horizon 2020, which is now Horizon Europe, is a hugely important part of that, but we should not have this debate imagining that it is by any means the only part. One of the most fascinating visits the Select Committee went on was to DeepMind, a private business that was started in Britain and then bought by an American company in the form of Google. We should not pretend that this conversation is happening solely in the context of funding from the European Union, or solely in the context of us as a net beneficiary of scientific funding when we are actually a net contributor to the EU.
I urge the Government and colleagues to look at this in the round. When we went to see DeepMind and other companies, it was very clear that immigration is a hugely important factor, but it is by no means the only factor. The question of what the Government can do to encourage more people to work in science and in business that relies on science goes far beyond the conversations we are having about Brexit. I do not want to harp on solely about DeepMind, but what did we hear at such private companies? What we heard was as much about regulation, insurance when it comes to driverless cars and a whole host of things on which the Government will have greater freedom to act when we leave the European Union.
There are opportunities that I urge the Government to seize in relation to this issue, but there are of course challenges as well. I welcome the fact that the Government have made some very encouraging noises on scientific funding—not just post the referendum, but in every previous Budget while I have been lucky enough to be a Member of this House. This Government have consistently backed science and innovation, and I hope we will continue to do so.
The industrial strategy demonstrates a much greater commitment to such an agenda than we have seen for many years. I welcome that, but I would caution the Government not to be too prescriptive. This is about allowing businesses and universities to empower themselves, rather than about picking winners. I know that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has never sought to pick winners, but I suggest that that is something we should always guard against. In my constituency, we need greater innovation in agri-tech, which is also driven by business, and our own regional industrial strategy will deliver a huge amount of that.
What are the continuing barriers to working in science and to driving forward scientific innovation? It is as much the constant reliance on soft money that stops people coming to and getting work in our universities as anything else. Those are the systemic issues in science and innovation that we can tackle regardless of our decision to leave the European Union. Immigration is of course one of the single most important issues in relation to recruiting to universities and within the scientific community.
I welcome both of the reports that the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), talked about. As a deregulating Conservative, I wonder whether we could simplify even some of the suggestions in those reports. My own constituency voted more than any other to leave the European Union and free movement was a huge part of that, but I think many people might ask whether we could not look at something as simple as free movement for people with a PhD or something as straightforward as that. I am not by any means the first person to suggest it. That would allow us to send a very clear signal in contrast to some of the very unfortunate and inaccurate characterisations of the Brexit vote. There are legitimate worries in the scientific community around the world about whether Britain is the open and eager-to-collaborate landscape that it has been for many decades. I wonder whether we can do simpler things and be more attractive to the international scientific community even than the suggestions made in the Select Committee reports.
The most important thing in all that is to emphasise that this should not be a discussion about whether we are open to collaboration with the European Union or open for business. This must be a discussion about whether we are open to global collaboration that leads to future growth in our science and innovation sector. That is because science and innovation does not recognise the boundaries of the European Union or those of Britain; it is genuinely a global industry. We must do all we can to get across those borders and to meet those challenges.
We must have in mind what individual technology companies can be encouraged to do that will also be in our national interest. It worries me that Google has made a decision to avoid any contact with our military establishments, because some of the greatest innovations have come out of our military establishments and those of America. It is important that we recognise no barriers internationally, and that we recognise all the opportunities that come from working across sectors that have not previously thought of themselves as technology sectors. Thinking of my own county of Lincolnshire, the Air Force will need more computer programmers than ever before. If companies such as Google are disinclined to work with the Air Force, that will be a sorry state of affairs, although I am slightly simplifying the approach Google has taken.
These are the barrier-less worlds in which we must now live, and it is important to consider not just how the Minister sees this, but how he interacts with his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, and of course in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and elsewhere. I hope we can use the opportunity of leaving the European Union to see what we can do in a freer and different regulatory world.
The hon. Gentleman is talking of his concerns about such risks. In my constituency, I have a life sciences company called Hologic, which has just told me that it is on the verge of losing a major contract because of the threat in relation to reciprocal agreements and the regulatory framework for batch releases. It is very concerned about job losses and about losing contracts. Does he recognise that, for many companies in my constituency, such as Hologic, not knowing means that, in their words, the game is potentially a bogey?
I agree that uncertainty is the enemy of any business, whether it is a technology business or something else. That is why we should welcome the release of all the documents—no-deal documents or anything else—that the Government have been producing to try to provide as much certainty as they possibly can. I appreciate, however, that until there is a done deal, many businesses will take the cautious approach that the hon. Lady describes, and we must do everything we can to avoid that.
In closing, I return to the point that I made at the beginning. As many other speakers have said, this is a global industry in which Britain punches well above its weight. By seeking to look beyond the regulatory constraints that have been imposed by the European Union, as well as by looking beyond our borders and encouraging collaboration through the industrial strategy and the good work of the Minister, we can, I hope, not only preserve the brilliant position we are currently in, but enhance it. We can do that with some of the very sensible measures that the Select Committee has proposed in its reports, and we can even go further. In a debate on science and innovation, I hope that the Minister will be keen to embrace as many innovative suggestions as he possibly can.
It is a pleasure to have worked with the Science and Technology Committee on this report, and to speak in this debate. Science and research drives innovation, and if we in Britain want to remain the world-leading, cutting-edge economy that we are today, we must continue to support it. As many have said, science and research helps to find solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, health issues, and changing demographics. We are a world leader. We have less than 1% of the world’s population but, as was said by my excellent Essex neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), we contribute more than 15% of the world’s most cited research publications.
Increasingly, science is not just done by one person acting alone; co-operation and collaboration is important. Those of us who listened to the “Today” programme this morning will have heard about Jocelyn Bell Burnell who, as a postgraduate back in 1967, discovered radio pulsars. Her bosses got the Nobel prize; she did not. Today she has been awarded a $3 million prize, which she has said she will use to set up a fund for women studying physics—thank you! The point made on “Today” was that more diverse science partnerships are more robust and more successful. That goes for supporting women in science, but also for supporting co-operation and collaboration, and especially cross-border co-operation.
I thank the Government for the positive approach that they have taken to science. I am proud that more money is going into science and research under this Government than under any other Government for the past 40 years. The vast majority of public sector money that goes into science—about £6 billion per annum—goes through UK Research and Innovation, but about £1 billion comes from EU funding. In science, not only cash but collaboration matters, and it is important to ensure that scientists based in the UK can continue to collaborate easily with those in other countries. I know the Prime Minister has taken a personal interest in this issue because I was lucky enough to meet her within a few weeks of her taking up her role. I raised the concerns of scientists and their networks, and the Government and the Treasury were quick to issue a guarantee that anyone who already receives Horizon 2020 funds will continue to do so.
I must declare an interest because in my previous role as an MEP I was involved in negotiating the terms of Horizon 2020—I think I was the only British negotiator in the room—and I saw how the eighth framework for science and research was particularly helpful in areas such as the European Research Council, Clean Sky and the Innovative Medicines initiative, as well as for some of the infrastructures, nuclear fusion and the amazing work that goes on in bioinformatics. It is important that we keep those innovative partnerships going forward, and the Government’s White Paper contains strong statements about our need and desire to continue to have an association with all those projects.
A lot of the recommendations that the Science and Technology Committee made in March were picked up in the White Paper in July, but of course there were questions about the detail, and whether we will take part in the next project. The Committee’s report claims that the Government have not given a clear enough statement, and that they should say that they intend to participate, but that if the price is too high or the focus diluted, a change to that approach might be appropriate. That is exactly what the Government are now doing, and the Minister was in Brussels earlier this week, meeting MEPs who are considering potential amendments to the framework programme 9 and Horizon Europe. If some of those amendments are accepted, they could dilute the level of research money that goes into excellence, and might make the programme less good value for money than it currently is. That was a concern of the Committee, but I suggest to the Chair that the Government are intending to support exactly those recommendations that were made in March.
If the framework 9 programme turns out not to be 100% as Britain would like, I would urge the Government to participate anyway. If it is massively different, of course we should look at funding through our own projects, but if it is slightly different, perhaps we should err on the side of caution. We know that if we pull out of the next framework—framework 9—with what would now be quite a short period of notice, that could be disruptive. Therefore, provided that the changes are not too significant, I suggest we err on the side of caution. That is, of course, different from other decisions that we make about our future relationship with Europe, because this decision will affect the next seven years and is not a decision in perpetuity in the way that other elements of our future partnership could be. If the Government are entering the seven-year programme but are not completely convinced about how it may look in its later years, perhaps they should include a break clause at a mid-term point.
Another recommendation in the Committee’s report was about the importance of staying in parts of networks, particularly clinical trials. In some areas—rare cancers, for example—we cannot do the research ourselves, and we need to be part of international clinical trials networks. That recommendation was made in March, and on the day the Government’s White Paper on Brexit was published I sat down with researchers involved in cross-border clinical trials, and they reassured me that the document picked up on all they needed. Provided that the negotiations go through with Brussels, that issue should be covered.
On the visa system, it is incredibly important that individuals in science can continue to work with others. As part of our research, the Committee went across the river to St Thomas’ Hospital and met the British Heart Foundation. World-leading research is happening at that hospital, and more than 60% of the researchers doing heart research, funded by the BHF in the UK are from other countries, including a large number from the EU.
The hon. Lady’s point about visas and immigration is vital, as are the support staff in science and innovation. I am reminded of the story about John F Kennedy going to NASA in 1962, meeting a janitor with a broom and asking, “What are you doing?” The janitor responded, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”—and hopefully, eventually, then a woman. Does the hon. Lady agree that in reality we need staff with different types of skills, not just the brightest and the best, and that it is important to recognise that in the language used and in our policies?
I agree that the whole team is important, but it is also important that we invest in training for some of those support staff. In the past, previous Governments have perhaps not invested enough in ensuring that we can provide technological backup and support—lab assistance and so on—but over the past few years there has been a huge amount more investment in that in the UK, especially in the geographic areas where those jobs tend to exist. Having the team move is important as well because, as we saw at St Thomas’, one lead brings the other.
During its work, the Committee heard about good practice in other parts of the EU, and leaving the EU will give us an opportunity to look at good practice in other parts of the world. We were also told by several experts that the UK Government had done some very helpful things, such as unlocking tier 2 visas and Rutherford fellowships, for example. We must make sure, however, that when we bring in a new visa system we do not lose the good easy movement we already have within the EU. We must continue that together.
To conclude, this report is an excellent report and the strategy the Government are putting in place today is entirely in line with its conclusions and recommendations. The negotiations in Brussels are key to our science and research, and that is key to our future.
I thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) for opening this debate and the Committee for its report. I am a great admirer of its work under his leadership, as I was of its work under his predecessor, the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe). I also particularly thank Members who have contributed to this debate.
We do not talk enough about science in this Chamber. All too often it is sidelined for other apparently more sexy subjects, but I hope this debate has shown that science is sexy too. I speak not only as shadow Minister, a chartered engineer and a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, but as a constituency MP who understands just how important science is to my constituents. As many hon. Members, including the hon. Members for South Basildon and East Thurrock, for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) and for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), have emphasised, the UK has a proud scientific tradition. From Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, from Ada Lovelace to Rosalind Franklin, and from Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who we have heard about today, to Newcastle-born Peter Higgs, British scientific giants bestride the globe.
Our science sector leads the world, powering our economy in the process. Science is an engine of job creation: 20% of the UK workforce is employed in science roles, and wages for these jobs are 40% higher than the average. Science is crucial to creating the high-skilled, high-wage, high-productivity economy we in Labour want to see. Our science sector is intertwined with our European partners’ through pooled funding, the free exchange of talent and shared institutions. I shall talk to each of those.
According to the Government’s own 2013 report, it is the increasing internationalisation of UK science, powered in part by European collaboration, that has allowed us to surpass the US in science productivity. I am glad, therefore, that the Government are committed to achieving what they call
“a far-reaching science and innovation pact”,
but as the Committee’s report points out, delays are
“undermining the UK’s position as a science superpower”,
and a no-deal scenario would be a
“very real threat to scientific progress” ,
according to the president of the Royal Society.
One quarter of our research and development funding stems from international sources, predominantly the European Union. As has been said, we are a net recipient of Horizon 2020 funding. While the Government have committed to underwriting this funding, they have failed to commit to the £90 billion successor framework programme. That means that Britain would access these funds as a third country, making it impossible for us to receive the benefits we currently do and preventing us from being a net receiver.
As it stands, we could lose access to over £1 billion a year in the event of a no-deal scenario, which has yet to be ruled out, and the Royal Society has highlighted that even with the UK Government’s guarantees, UK-based researchers and businesses will still lose half a billion pounds a year in research funding, which will have an immediate impact on research under way in the UK. The Royal Academy of Engineering has emphasised that EU support for UK small and medium-sized enterprises, including the SME instrument, is critical, crucial and unique. Labour is committed to staying part of Horizon 2020 and its successor programmes. Will the Minister commit the Government to doing the same?
The second key area is access to talent—an issue raised by many on both sides of the House, including the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant). One in six academic staff in our higher education institutions is from the EU, while R&D-intensive companies rely on the frequent transfer of highly skilled staff between countries to respond to day-to-day challenges. So as the Committee’s report argues, a science and innovation pact that does not encompass people would be “pointless”. While the Government have said that they do not want to stop the brightest and the best from coming to the UK, their reliance on tier 1 exceptional talent visas fails to recognise that innovation relies on contributions from a wide range of scientific and technical staff, as my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) emphasised passionately.
In March, 48 leading science organisations wrote to the Prime Minister to say that
“the repeated rejection of skilled workers due to the Tier 2 cap being reached is already damaging the UK’s international appeal.”
Is the Prime Minister listening? More than 6,000 engineers and scientists from outside the EU have been denied visas this year alone. How many more have been put off applying? We cannot carry forward that approach to the EU. Even when visa applications are successful, cost can be a huge deterrent, as we have heard. Will the Minister say today whether EU nationals will be subject to these levels of visa costs? There is also the regional impact. I have repeatedly asked techUK to share the regional distribution of its visas, but it has refused to do so. Will the Minister look into this?
The Campaign for Science and Engineering has argued that
“immigration policy should be contributing to rather than fighting against Government’s wider economic and societal aims”.
Instead, the Government hide their incompetence behind an arbitrary migration figure, which they have never met and which damages our economic wellbeing. Labour would not set any such arbitrary figure and would guarantee the rights of EU nationals to remain in Britain.
Finally, I want to discuss regulation and institutions, an area on which the Government have said very little. International agreements and shared regulation are essential for so much of science, from chemicals registration, so that industry and academia know what it is they are using, to the movement of living animals and organisms, and from clinical trials to the exchange of medicines across borders. At present, 45 million packs of medicine move from the UK to the European Union each month, with 37 million moving the opposite way. Under a no- deal scenario, that would be impossible. AstraZeneca, our largest pharmaceutical company, is now openly talking about stockpiling medicines, and this morning, on Radio 4, the Health Secretary confirmed that this would be necessary. This is yet another example of the consequences of current Brexit uncertainty.
We know that Brexit raises complex issues and we also know that the Government lack the intellectual rigour or concentration to resolve them. An additional failing, however, is the lack of communication high- lighted by the Royal Society of Biology. That has led the Wellcome Trust to suggest that a standalone science agreement needs to be pursued. Is the Minister considering that?
Unsure and uncertain, scientists are either leaving our shores or not coming in the first place. Businesses are making investment decisions in a policy vacuum. Labour believes not only in our nation’s scientific future, but in putting in place the policies to make it happen. We would build an innovation nation supporting our world-leading science sector by investing 3% of GDP in research and development by 2030, democratising and spreading both the benefits and the sources of scientific greatness. Our industrial strategy will build on scientific strengths, our national education service and growing innovation infrastructure to provide high skill, high wage jobs in every corner of the country.
Building an innovation nation means retaining and strengthening the innovation union from which we currently benefit, but the chaos at the heart of this Government is preventing that. I thank the Committee for its report and wish we had a Government who could give it the response that it merits.
I thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the Select Committee for their report, which was published in March. I welcome its recommendations. A lot has happened since March, so while I would like to take the opportunity to respond to the points that were made in the report, I will also give reassurances in terms of developments since it was published.
The world is changing and the world of science is changing. For the UK to remain at the forefront of scientific research and endeavour, we need to invest financially, but we also need to be open to collaboration. The best science is done internationally and through collaboration. The best science is not just about curiosity and blue-skies thinking; the best science affects us in our day-to-day lives. In terms of our collaboration with the EU, from the development of an Ebola vaccine to the discovery of graphene, the toughest material ever tested, the partnerships we have built with the EU have led to life-changing discoveries.
It is heartening to know that the UK plays a vital role in this landscape. Since 2014, UK researchers and innovators have been awarded 15% of all Horizon 2020 funds—about £4 billion—and we have co-ordinated about 20% of all projects. From the Euratom research and training programme, the UK receives about 17% of its annual budget. The UK also hosts the most advanced nuclear fusion reactor on behalf of the EU.
The Government are not only putting their money where their mouth is on science, with this country’s highest ever investment in public R&D, we are determined to be a top collaborator with the EU and the world in future. Currently, the EU is our biggest collaborative partner. We are a top-five partner with each of the EU member states and the EU as a whole. We are working to make sure that that remains so. That is why we want to agree an ambitious science and innovation accord with the EU, one which facilitates the exchange of researchers and ideas along with allowing for UK participation in EU research programmes, including the successor to Horizon 2020—Horizon Europe—and Euratom research and training.
The Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), said that Labour has committed to associate with Horizon Europe. Not only have this Government committed to doing so, but we have published our intentions in a position paper and we are actively in discussions to make this happen.
I am extremely confident that there is scope for a win-win deal as far as science is concerned, and in my speech I will outline some of the reasons why.
To pick up a point that was made by the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), it is important to be conscious of the language here. The language of the texts that are used is the language of negotiation, but that necessarily does not reflect our desire and our ambition, because in a negotiation we make sure that we play our cards very closely and often as close to our chest as possible. We do that and so do our counter-parties in the EU.
I want to give the House the assurance, having spoken with Commissioner Moedas and fellow Ministers in various member states, that it is clear that there is an appetite on their side as well to continue the EU’s long- established relationship with the UK.
We want not only to confirm our relationship through a co-operative accord, but to build on that through exploring full association. We are taking steps to look at what it would take to achieve this, and, together with my officials, we are in constant dialogue with other association countries—my officials were in Switzerland last week to discuss the Swiss experience of going through the negotiations that we are going through—but as I have said in the past and to the Select Committee, association cannot come at any cost and any agreement must work for both the UK and the EU.
We must be sure that our priorities for the programme are recognised and understood. Those include ensuring that the programme remains focused on excellence. If there were desires to widen participation, for example, we would argue that that is what EU structural funds are for, rather than funds from the science and innovation programme.
We also want EU added value, and we want this to be open to the world, as outlined in our position paper, which was published in March to feed into the design process. We are also keen to ensure an appropriate financial contribution for associate countries, as well as a suitable degree of influence. As I said to fellow EU Science Ministers in May at the last competitiveness Council, it is important on the EU’s part that they do not take actions or steps that devalue being an associate member and partner as they think about their own positions in this negotiation.
A number of points were made, particularly by the right hon. Member for North Norfolk, about the timetable on the regulations for Horizon. As he will be aware, the Commission published its draft proposal setting out the Horizon Europe programme on 7 June. This proposal is being discussed in detail in the Council, the working groups and the European Parliament. As such, the detail will not be set in stone until those institutions agree. This process may therefore continue beyond March 2019. Until that regulation is finalised, association to the programme will not be possible.
On why we do not have an early science deal, despite the fact that the desire and the will are there, it is difficult for us to associate with a programme that is still being discussed, negotiated and designed.
Quite rightly, a question was asked about what we mean by a level of influence. Until the draft Horizon Europe regulations are finalised, we would not want to comment on some of the specific details of the programme, but we would like the detail of specific elements to include participation, but also influence as associate members. We would want UK scientists, for example, to continue to play a role in technical discussions and exert soft influence in the process.
The Select Committee has been concerned about the level of urgency and focus as far as this negotiation is concerned—within Whitehall, but also within the EU. I give the House the assurance that we are playing a full and constructive role through discussions and the Council working groups on shaping the initiative, which will be supported through Horizon Europe.
We are determined that, while we are still members of the EU, we will use every lever of influence we have to help to shape the programme that we will want to associate with further down the line. The meetings started this week, and we will continue to play an active role until we are no longer a member state.
I am also aware that we are not the only ones who will be personally impacted by the results of these discussions. That is why I have asked the UK science base to inform the development of policy through the high-level group that I chair once a month. Its meetings provide an excellent forum for key members of the science and innovation community to offer their thoughts and concerns and have proven highly valuable.
We have also had two rounds of talks with the Commission. They were productive conversations, where the Commission agreed that science and innovation should be an area of co-operation between the EU and the UK. Through these mediums, we are ensuring that Horizon Europe and the Euratom research and training programme will provide value for money and be suitable for us to associate with. I can assure the House that an excellent team of professionals is working round the clock to make sure that science and research are not forgotten as we go through this important negotiation.
I am aware that this is not just about money; it is also about ensuring that the UK remains a partner of choice for international collaboration in the EU, but also on a global scale. The Select Committee will be aware that we have made significant progress in exploring new avenues with existing partners—signing agreements with the US and Canada, and publishing a joint UK-China strategy and, more recently, an agreement with the Israel Innovation Authority. Those achievements reflect our shared commitment to drive growth and tackle global challenges, and I want the UK to maximise all opportunities to continue to contribute to life-changing discoveries across the globe.
Mobility is absolutely crucial to success in this field, and I recognise that co-operation in this context is dependent on the UK’s ability to continue to attract global talent, including from the EU. With that in mind, I assure the House that we are carefully considering the options for our future immigration system. The Department is in regular discussions with the Home Office, and I have personally had discussions with the Home Secretary on how to support the movement of those engaged in science and research. We look forward to the publication of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report, and we will consider its conclusions and recommendations before taking decisions on the future immigration system.
We want to carry on bringing together brilliant talent and inventive minds from across the globe. We have shown that we are serious about this, with the recent introduction of the UK Research and Innovation-led scheme to support the temporary movement of scientists and researchers. We have also doubled the number of tier 1 exceptional talent visas for top global scientists to 2,000, but I note the concerns that were raised earlier in the debate. Removing doctors and nurses from the ambit of the tier 2 visa cap also provides more scope, but I take on board the points that have been made about friction.
Those changes will help to underpin the UK’s position as a hub for international collaboration and research. The £1 billion UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowships programme is also open to international scientists, and that is example of us putting our money where our mouth is in terms of attracting the brightest and the best.
Despite that progress, there are other things we need to think about and act on, one of which is ensuring the existence of an appropriate regulatory environment. On that front, continued co-operation is in the best interests of the EU and the UK. I understand that there are further questions about what the future looks like, and I want to reassure the House that I am actively engaging with my European counterparts and with colleagues across Whitehall to make sure that we secure the right outcome for the UK science base as we exit the EU.
We are working constructively with European colleagues to find a positive path towards a future relationship on science and innovation, but we are also being a responsible Government in preparing for every eventuality. On 23 August, we published a technical notice setting out the actions we will take to enable continued participation in Horizon 2020. First, we have given UK participants a guarantee that the Government will underwrite EU funding for all ongoing Horizon 2020 projects, as well as for successful bids submitted before exit. This guarantee applies even if participants are notified of their successful bid after exit. In July, the Chancellor announced an extension to the guarantee, which will now, additionally, fund UK organisations that successfully apply to calls open to third country participation after exit day and until the end of Horizon 2020.
I am aware of some recent press reports suggesting that a no-deal scenario will threaten the ability of UK participants to co-ordinate Horizon 2020 projects. I am happy to clarify that UK entities would still be able to lead projects and carry out all usual co-ordination tasks as a third-country participant. The funding guarantee provided by the underwrite, and the extension that is in place if required, includes funding for co-ordination tasks if they are carried out by a UK co-ordinator. This would help ensure that the UK remains at the centre of collaborative science and research.
On the practical considerations, to deliver the underwrite guarantee, we will soon launch an online portal where UK participants can register their details. The portal is designed to make sure that our delivery partner, UK Research and Innovation, has the initial information it needs about current participants. I encourage all UK participants to register their details when the portal is available; this will help UKRI to keep them informed of what they need to do to receive their funding if the underwrite is required.
We are considering what other measures may be necessary to support research and innovation in a no- deal scenario. This includes looking at how we continue to support excellence-based research such as that currently funded by the European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, which are not covered by third-country participation. We should not, however, lose sight of the fact that a good deal, including an ambitious science and innovation accord, is the best outcome for both the UK and the EU, and this remains our top priority.
Well, someone representing a Brexit constituency then has made the case for a more liberal position on immigration for scientists and PhD students. I think there has been a clear call from this debate to the Government, and I welcome the constructive response from the Minister on the absolute importance of a deal for science that protects and, indeed, enhances science in this country. We cannot take our pre-eminent position in science for granted. We have to protect and, indeed, strengthen it, and the deal we do with the EU will be of vital importance to achieve that.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Science and Technology Committee’s Second Report on Brexit, science and innovation, HC 705, and the Government Response, Fifth Special Report, HC 1008; further takes note of the Science and Technology Committee’s Eighth Report on An immigration system that works for science and innovation, HC 1061; believes that the Government should seek to agree with the EU the far-reaching science and innovation accord proposed by the Prime Minister in her Mansion House speech and in The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union White Paper, Cm 9593; calls for this accord to be negotiated separately from wider EU-UK trade negotiations; and further calls for the science and innovation accord to include details of an immigration system that works for the science and innovation community.