[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Science and Technology Committee, A new UK research funding agency, HC 778, and oral evidence taken before the Science and Technology Committee on 17 March, on A new UK research funding agency, HC 778]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I should like to start my remarks by drawing attention to the much-celebrated work of Edward Jenner. I am sure that many of us appreciate his work. He is often referred to as the father of immunology; he was a British physician who created the world’s first vaccine. As I am sure all hon. Members know, he was an apprentice to a surgeon in Chipping Sodbury in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall). Mr Jenner essentially discovered immunisation. When we consider the coronavirus that has devasted our country and the world this year and last year, Jenner’s work takes on a particular resonance.
Thanks to the UK’s historic funding for research and the groundbreaking action of scientists at Oxford University, a British vaccine is once again helping us to return to a more normal life. It has shown us all the incredible benefits that breakthrough science and technology can provide. Building on our country’s proud history of wonderful inventions, I was particularly pleased to announce the creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency last month. I am sure that it will play a unique and exciting role in the UK’s research and development system.
The new agency will be characterised by a sole focus on funding high-risk, high-reward research. It will have strategic and cultural autonomy. It will invest in the judgment of able people, and it will also enjoy flexibility and a wide degree of operational freedom. I have spoken with many of our leading scientists, researchers and innovators and their message has been absolutely clear. I am convinced that these features will make ARIA succeed.
The creation of ARIA is part of a concerted action by this Government to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. With £800 million committed to ARIA by 2024-25, the new agency will contribute extremely effectively to our R&D ecosystem. As set out in our policy statement published only last week, we have to give ARIA significant powers and freedoms and a mandate to be bold. To deliver that, we have introduced the ARIA Bill.
The Bill recognises that funding transformational long-term science requires patience and a high risk appetite. The Bill explicitly states that ARIA may give weight to the potential of significant benefits when funding research that carries a high risk of failure. This freedom to fail is fundamental to ARIA’s model, and the provision will empower its leaders to make ambitious research and funding decisions. When we look back in history, to the 1950s and 1960s, we see that with this approach a US agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency developed GPS as well as the precursor to the internet.
The Bill will also signal a 10-year grace period before the power to dissolve the agency can be exercised. The agency will be focused exclusively, as I have said, on high-risk research. It requires patience and a laser-like focus as necessary conditions for success.
My right hon. Friend is making a strong case and refers to the work of the Vaccine Taskforce. In the past year, we have seen astonishing science conducted at breakneck speed because we have been in a crisis. Does he agree that for ARIA to work we need somehow to harness that sense of crisis and continue to use it in a normal period to get this sort of high-risk and high-reward research out and developed in Britain?
The circumstances in which we have developed the Vaccine Taskforce have been really unfortunate, with this terrible pandemic, but the very thin silver lining around the cloud has been this remarkable vaccine rollout. My hon. Friend is right that ARIA needs to learn from what we have learned collectively from the vaccine rollout.
Our objective is for ARIA to fund research in new and innovative ways. The Bill provides the agency with significant powers that are necessary for it to perform its function.
Forgive me, I did not say that it was modelled on that example. I said that it was inspired, and I referred allusively, in my usual way, to historical precedent. I never said that it was modelled exactly on the American example. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make a fuller contribution to the debate.
Let me make some progress. Different funding methods obviously suit different projects. ARIA may seek to use seed grants. It will have inducement prizes. It may make its own investments in companies. All of these different approaches will drive innovation, and that will allow ARIA to target, for example, a Scottish university or a semiconductor start-up in Wales and to ensure that researchers across the UK can contribute to developing the key technologies for tomorrow.
ARIA will also have strategic independence. It will, as I have said, have the freedom to fail; it will have the freedom to take a long-term view and to experiment with new ways of funding the most ambitious research, which experience tells us is a necessary ingredient for some of the best results. A key part of this freedom will be trusting the leadership of ARIA to identify and decide on areas of research with perhaps the greatest potential. The Bill limits the ability for Ministers, as it should do, to intervene in ARIA’s day-to-day operations or to direct funding decisions. Instead, ARIA will have a highly skilled team of leadership programme managers who, supported by the board, will ensure strong strategic oversight over the portfolio of programmes. As the Bill makes clear, ARIA must have regard to the benefits of that research to the UK—to the people of this country—in terms of not only economic growth but trying to ensure that innovation can improve the quality of life of all our fellow subjects.
Our response to coronavirus as a nation has shown that agility is crucial in funding research in this fast-moving world. All of this work builds on action already taken by the Government and by UK Research and Innovation to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy in the wider ecosystem. We have learned from agencies such as DARPA in the US—the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) will be pleased to learn that—which has shown that we need to go several steps further in creating a culture that is primarily focused on pursuing high-risk research. There is a cultural need in such an organisation for autonomy and a measure of dynamism, which can be achieved through exceptional leadership and, perhaps most importantly, through a flat, streamlined structure.
ARIA will benefit from being a small and nimble agency. It will create a unique environment for its programme managers to be completely focused on their particular research proposal. The Bill therefore provides ARIA with some additional but proportionate freedoms, which are not generally found in the rest of our system. For example, it exempts ARIA from public contracting rules. That will allow ARIA to procure R&D services and equipment relating to its research goals in a similar way to a private sector organisation. To ensure that that process is transparent, it sits alongside a commitment in the Bill to audit ARIA’s procurement activities.
In order to further this research-intensive culture, ARIA has been given extensive freedoms. However, we will ensure, as the Bill does, that the organisation submits a statement of accounts and an annual report on its activities, which will be laid directly before Parliament. Those commitments to transparency will sit alongside the customary and necessary scrutiny by the National Audit Office.
It is clear that ARIA will be a unique and extremely valuable addition in our research landscape. It will create a more diverse, more dynamic and creative funding system, which will ensure that transformative ideas, wherever they may come from, can change people’s lives for the better.
I am very conscious that there is a huge amount of interest in this debate on the Back Benches on both sides of the House. I have committed myself not to go on for two hours or whatever the customary length of time might be. Having been a Back Bencher myself, I know that it is often frustrating to hear Front Benchers trench on parliamentary time. As a consequence, I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will agree that, as we build back better, we can have a full debate today about the merits of ARIA and its necessary existence. I hope that the Bill will show the Government’s strong commitment to building on a wonderful research base. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
This is an opportune moment for me to give notice to people who are hoping to speak in the debate—those here in the Chamber, but particularly those at home who perhaps might not pick up the atmosphere and be tempted to do the opposite of what the Secretary of State has just said by taking rather longer than they ought to take. I am going to try to run this Second Reading debate without a formal time limit, in the hope that Members will act reasonably and unselfishly towards their colleagues, and keep their speeches to about five to six minutes, or less. I say this particularly to people who are at home, because I cannot nod to them or grimace at them to let them know when they have spoken for too long. Five minutes would be just about right for everyone who wishes to speak to have the opportunity to do so.
Let me start by saying that across the House we share the admiration for British science. It is one of our most brilliant national assets, employing nearly 1 million people directly and generating extraordinary value for our country. As the Secretary of State eloquently said, the work on vaccines has been truly remarkable. We commend our scientists and everyone involved for their work. Indeed, I hope the Secretary of State will not mind my saying that it is a successful example of an industrial strategy; the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) probably shares my view.
I turn to the details of the Bill. I should say from the beginning that we support the Bill; we have some issues with it, but we certainly support its aims. I just want to say something about the wider context, because I found it slightly remarkable that the Secretary of State did not mention the fact that we are two weeks from the start of the next financial year but the scientific community does not know its budget, and the Government appear to be contemplating significant cuts to its programmes.
The Secretary of State said last week to the Science and Technology Committee, which is chaired by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, that the Government
“are talking the talk of a science superpower…but…we also have to walk the walk.”
Quite. We support the intent of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, but hon. and right hon. Members across the House should be aware that while the ARIA budget is £800 million over this Parliament, UK Research and Innovation’s annual budget is £9 billion. Last week, UKRI published a letter confirming that the BEIS official development assistance allocation will lead to a £120 million gap between its allocation and the commitments that it has already made. It warned of cuts coming on that scale, and the House should be aware of where those cuts are going to be. Potential areas include climate change, antimicrobial resistance, pandemics, renewable energy and water sanitation. Those are the kinds of things that that funding addresses. Mr Cummings was also at the Select Committee meeting—I will return to him shortly—saying that ARIA would solve the problems of civilisation. That is all very well, but I fear that these cuts seem to be coming right here, right now; and we cannot launch a successful moonshot if we cut off the power supply to the space station.
The other fear that we have is that the threat of cuts does not end there, because there is no clarity on how to cover the huge cost of the UK’s ongoing participation in Horizon Europe programme. To be clear, this programme used to be funded not from the science budget, but from our EU contributions. I say to the Secretary of State that it surely cannot be right to take money from the science budget to fund our participation. He will know that there is real fear in the scientific community about that.
I will give the Secretary of State the chance to intervene: does he not agree that cutting the science budget to fund Horizon would be exactly talking the talk but not walking the walk? I will happily give way to him if he wants to tell us. Maybe he can tell us when we will get clarity—when will the scientific community get clarity on how the Horizon money will be funded? He does not want to intervene, but the science community deserves clarity. We support ARIA but it deserves clarity. These are people’s jobs. This is incredibly important work and I hope he is fighting with his friends in the Treasury as hard as he can to give people that clarity and avoid the cuts.
We shall look forward to the Secretary of State getting a satisfactory result. I am not sure that I always got a satisfactory result with the Treasury, although I was in the Treasury at one point, at least as an adviser. This is very important and, as I say, people’s jobs and livelihoods and the scientific base of this country, of which we are all so proud, depend on it.
Let me come to the Bill, which we support. The Bill is important—the Secretary of State said this—because there is incredible work going on in the scientific community, but there is consensus that there is a lack of a mechanism to identify, build and fund truly ambitious, high-risk, high-reward programmes. We recognise the case for an independent agency that operates outside the established research funding mechanisms, but we feel that the Bill requires improvement.
I guess our concerns cohere into a different view about the role of Government and the lessons of DARPA, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) talked about, on which in some broad sense—maybe not in the Secretary of State’s mind, but in others’ minds—ARIA is modelled. It is impossible to ignore what we might call the spectre of Dom in this debate. He was at the Science and Technology Committee—chaired by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells—and he does rather hang over this Bill. He is its sort of governmental godfather. In his telling, DARPA’s success—I think this is important—is simply because the Government got out of the way and let a bunch of buccaneering individuals do what they liked. It is definitely true, as I understand it, that DARPA has important lessons about the need for the culture that I talked about, including higher reward and, of necessity, a higher chance of failure, but it is simply not true that DARPA was somehow totally detached from Government. DARPA had an obvious client—the Department of Defense—a clear mandate around defence-related research, a clear synergy in its work with the procurement power of the US DOD and, incidentally, abided by laws on freedom of information.
I want to suggest that there are two different views about ARIA: one is that we should let the organisation simply do what it wants, relying on the wisdom of a genius chair and chief executive; and the other subtler and, in our view, more sensible approach—one more consistent with the lessons of DARPA—is that Government should set a clear mandate and framework for ARIA and then get out of the way and not interfere with its day-to-day decision-making. I also believe there is a democratic case, because the priority goals for the spending of £800 million over this Parliament should be driven by democratic choices; not about the specific items that it funds, but about the goals and mission.
That takes me to the three points that I want to make: first, about the mandate for ARIA; secondly, about its position in the wider R&D system; and thirdly, about accountability. I will try to emulate the Secretary of State’s brevity—perhaps not exactly his brevity, but as much as I can.
The deputy director of DARPA says about its success that
“having national security as the mission frames everything.”
The Secretary of State said to the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells at the Science and Technology Committee:
“If I were in your position, I would be asking what the core missions of ARIA are.”
I think the point that Dominic Cummings made, or I am sure would have made, is that this will be a job for the people we hire who are running the organisation. The Secretary of State went on:
“It will be up to the head of ARIA to decide whether he or she thinks the organisation should adopt what the innovation strategy suggests…or reject it.”
I really understand the wish to give freedom to ARIA, but surely it is for Government to shape and not shirk the setting of priorities, and it is not just DARPA where we can learn that lesson. Moonshot R&D—the Japanese agency established in 2019 to fund challenging R&D—has seven specific moonshot goals set by the Japanese Government, and my understanding from the evidence taken by the Science and Technology Committee is that the UK scientific community agrees with that idea.
I notice the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) putting his head in his hands. He has done that before when I speak, but let me just make this point in seriousness: £800 million is not in the scheme of things a huge amount of money, certainly when compared with UKRI’s budget. The concern is that unless, as the Select Committee said, ARIA focuses on a single or a small number of missions, it will dilute its impact.
Take the net zero challenge. I believe it is a challenge of political will and imagination, but it is also a technological challenge. If it is the No. 1 international challenge, as the PM said last week, and if it is the No. 1 domestic challenge, as I think it is, why would it not be the right mandate for ARIA for at least its first five years? Indeed, Professor Richard Jones and Professor Mariana Mazzucato, who perhaps have even greater claims than Dom to being godfather and godmother of this idea, said that climate change would be an ideal challenge on which an agency such as ARIA would focus. To be clear, providing a mandate does not mean micro-managing decisions, and it would be grossly simplistic to suggest otherwise.
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to my feet, first, because I think he does a tremendous disservice to Dominic Cummings. Without his inspiration, this Bill would not be before this House. Secondly, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the chart that Mr Cummings showed while giving evidence to the Select Committee. It showed a large circle of areas with potential for people to investigate and a smaller segment of that, which is where all of the foreign Governments and our Government focus their research, precisely because they are driven by the political decisions, frameworks and missions that politicians set. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think there is some opportunity for us to do something slightly different and without the sticky fingers of Government interfering?
The hon. Gentleman and I have a respectful disagreement on this: I think it is for the Government of the day and this House to say what are the massive national priorities. Then it is for an organisation such as ARIA to fund the research in the high-risk, high-reward way that I mentioned. That is simply a difference of view. Without a clear policy mission, we risk a fragmented approach.
I will make this other point, which is that the chair and chief executive will be in the somewhat unenviable position of having to decide which Government Departments to prioritise. Of course they can work with different Departments, but let us set a clear challenge for the organisation.
The second point is not just about the question of mandate, but how it sits in the life cycle of technological innovation and how it works with other funding streams. ARIA is born of a frustration about the failure to fund high-risk research. We do not disagree with that thinking, but that makes it especially important that it does not duplicate the work of existing funding streams. Let me give an example. Innovate UK, part of UKRI, is supposed to be a funding stream to turn ideas into commercially successful products. I do not know from reading the Government’s statement of intent what Innovate UK would fund that ARIA would not and what ARIA would fund that Innovate UK would not.
The vagueness of the mandate for ARIA is matched by vagueness about where in the innovation cycle it sits. I was not doing Mr Cummings a disservice on this score by the way, because I support the Bill, but he said to the Select Committee:
“My version of it here would be…to accelerate scientific discovery far beyond what is currently normal, and to seek strategic advantage in some fields of science and technology…I would keep it broad and vague like that.”
He went on to say that he would say to the agency:
“Your job is to find people…with ideas that could change civilisation completely”.
I am sorry, but that is too vague, and I do not believe it unreasonable to say that there needs to be greater clarity about where in the life cycle ARIA sits.
I think the right hon. Gentleman at heart is a secret Cummings-ite, because he is constructing a number of paper tigers to try to find offence with a Bill that he fundamentally wishes his party had thought of first. What possible incentive would a new disruptive ARIA have for trying to replicate the work already being funded by existing councils? It will have access to all of that body of work. What incentive would it have to try to replicate it when it could pursue new, disruptive and exciting opportunities?
That just makes the case; if what the hon. Gentleman says is the case, would it not be a good idea, as the former Science Minister Lord Johnson suggested, for ARIA to share information with UKRI, for the two bodies to work effectively together and for the agencies to enter into a memorandum of understanding, which will benefit us all? If it is as easy as that, I am sure that will not be a problem for ARIA. I have been called many things in my time, but a secret Cummings-ite? Perhaps not. I have been called worse things. If it is as simple as that, they should be able to work together, and I hope the Secretary of State will reflect both on the mandate question and on this life cycle question.
Thirdly, let me turn to the issue of Government oversight and public accountability. We believe it is right that ARIA should be given operational independence from Government. As I say, we support the idea of specifying high tolerance to risk and failure. The challenge for public policy is how to establish this tolerance of failure. Obviously it starts with the agency’s leadership, where the Bill is also very vague on what attributes or skills the Secretary of State is looking for. My understanding is that this position is not going to be recruited outside the normal civil service procedures—okay, I think I understand the reasons for that—but it cannot just be decided on the whim of the Secretary of State, brilliant though he is. I hope the Minister will clarify this during the passage of the Bill. There does need to be an answer on who else from the scientific and research community will have a say on the decision and how this person is going to be chosen, given that, in the Government’s own words, they will have
“a significant effect on the technological and strategic capabilities of the UK over the course of generations.”
On freedom of information, we just strongly disagree with the Government. I do not think there is justification for ARIA’s blanket exemption from FOI. The Government say it is necessary for agility. DARPA is subject to the US version of the Freedom of Information Act. The Secretary of State and the Minister might be interested to know that DARPA, in the US, had 47 of these requests last year, so this is hardly an obstacle to getting on with the day job. There is a disagreement here about how we give public confidence. Just saying that everything should be secret does not give public confidence. Accountability matters to the public and we should have confidence that we can defend the approach of the agency. Tris Dyson from Nesta Challenges has said:
“The public will expect to know what’s happening with public money and greater risk requires transparency and evaluation in order to determine what works.”
We also believe there is a role for the Science and Technology Committee in scrutinising ARIA’s role. Perhaps that can be clarified as the Bill progresses.
I am conscious of time, so let me say in conclusion that we face enormous challenges as a society, including new threats from disease, as tragically illustrated by the pandemic, the advent of artificial intelligence and, as I have said, the climate emergency. So the challenges we face are huge, but I believe—I know this is shared across the House—that the ingenuity, know-how and potential of our scientists, researchers and others is as great as, if not greater than, the challenges. If we support them, they can succeed. ARIA can support our scientific research. We support this Bill as a way to add capacity and flexibility to our research and innovation systems. It needs to be done in the right way. On the Bill and what is happening to British science, we will support the Government when they do the right thing but we will also call them out on cuts to science funding, and during the passage of the Bill we will seek to improve it so that it can strengthen our science base and do what is required to help us meet the massive challenges we face as a society.
It is an honour to speak in this debate and to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), and to warmly welcome the introduction of this important Bill. This is an extraordinary time for science, as the Secretary of State and his shadow have made clear. The interest in and standing of science in this country and around the world have never been higher during my lifetime. In a year, we have gone from discovering a lethal new virus to having not just one but multiple effective vaccines against it. That has never been done in the history of science, even going back to Jenner. This is a fantastic time for the House to be backing, as it evidently is, further investment in and progress of science in the UK. For all the horrors of the last year, some of the lessons that can be learned already—for example, the testing of new scientific procedures in parallel rather than in sequence—may, in not too many years’ time, save more lives than have been lost during the last year. We need to reinforce this.
British science is not just exceptional in the life sciences. Whether it is in space and satellites, with 40% of the small satellites in orbit above the Earth today being made in Britain, or the fact that the next generation of batteries are being researched by the Faraday Institution in Oxford, we have in this country so many of the pieces of science and technology that are transforming the world. This is at a time when the Government have made a historic commitment to invest in science. When I occupied the Secretary of State’s position, I was pretty pleased to negotiate out of the Treasury an increase in science funding from £9 billion to £12 billion a year—the biggest increase that had ever been achieved—but this Government have committed to an extraordinary increase to £22 billion a year by the end of this Parliament. That is the important context of the Bill.
For our inquiry, the Science and Technology Committee took evidence from people all around the world, including current and former staff of DARPA, and in our report of 12 February, we welcomed strongly the £800 million being committed to this new institution. Like the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, we recognise the important contribution that a new body outside the main research and development system could make, benefiting from a different culture. We saw the benefits to be had from transformational research that may be riskier than is commonly funded. The House should expect that quite a lot of the projects undertaken by this agency will fail, and we should not be quick to criticise that, because transformational breakthroughs are usually accompanied by failure on the way, and we need to be used to that.
Our report asked questions that I hope will be clarified as the Bill moves through this House and the other place. The question of what the agency’s focus will be is a legitimate one, if only for the fact that it is easy to dissipate £800 million in so many projects that we do not get the transformation that is in prospect. With that budget, and based on the evidence we took, our Committee recommended that the organisation should have no more than two focal points. The question of whether it should be about blue-sky research and brand-new thinking, without particular regard to the application, or whether it is looking to turn already nascent good ideas into practical applications, should also be clarified.
The role of Ministers and the chief executive, and the choice of the chief executive, will be important. Our Committee found that it is very important that, in pursuing our ambitions for ARIA, which is ultimately 1% of our annual research funding, we do not forget the other 99%, given some of the criticisms of bureaucracy and micromanagement that have been advanced by friends and to which ARIA is the answer. In fact, the founding chief executive of UKRI, Sir Mark Walport, thought that this was a good moment to refresh some of the procedures that it operates under.
Finally, it is important to state that we welcome ARIA because it is in the context of rising science funding. But it is paradoxical that, just at the point that we have the biggest increase by far in science funding and the whole scientific community is rejoicing at this country embarking on a golden age of scientific research, we should unexpectedly have the prospect of cuts to the science budget for the next year or two. To put it into context, the £2 billion subscription to Horizon, which has never been part of the science budget before, would amount to about a 25% cut in UKRI’s budget, and the official development assistance reduction would mean £125 million of cancelled projects.
This Bill reinforces the commitment that the Government and, I hope, the House make to building on the successes of UK and international science. The Secretary of State is a serious and committed advocated of this agenda. He was clear and candid when he appeared before the Select Committee. The decisions are not all in his hands, but I hope that he will continue to battle and, indeed, persuade his colleagues in the Treasury and the Prime Minister so that he can, I hope, have a long and flourishing tenure in his post, presiding over a period for UK science that we will look back on as a decisive acceleration of its potential.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. Like other Members, I tuned in, eyes wide open, to hear what was said. I look forward to further instalments of that show in the month to come, as I am sure others do. I place on record my thanks, as other Members have done, for the fantastic work that has been undertaken by scientists in the UK in relation to the vaccine programme. It is something that unites us all. We all know that it will transform our lives, and we are collectively thankful on that front.
I commend the Secretary of State, as he has achieved something that is quite remarkable, certainly during my short tenure in the House. He appears almost to have united everyone in vague or cautious support for the Bill. On the face of it, it is something that we can welcome, but we have concerns, which I shall come on to, and reservations that need to be addressed in a positive manner, and hopefully the Secretary is willing to do that.
Before I deal with that, I am conscious that for my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), who is sitting to my left, today is his last day in the Chamber, and he will make some valedictory remarks. I wish him the best going forward. As everyone in the Chamber will be well aware, all Scottish nationalists do not want to be here. He is getting away a little sooner than the rest of us, but we wish him well, and I am sure that Members across the Chamber do likewise.
Turning, you will be glad to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the substance of the Bill, I hope that, while I have made some positive comments, the Secretary of State will forgive me for saying—perhaps I have picked this up wrongly—that his short speech may reflect the fact that the Bill is incredibly vague on details. The first thing to reflect on in that regard is the wider mission of the Bill. That was addressed at length by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and by the Select Committee in its hearing last week. What is the Bill trying to achieve? Is it health outcomes, defence outcomes or transport outcomes? The clarity is not there. I heard what the Chair of the Select Committee said about having a focus on two issues. That is all well and good, but we do not have those answers yet from the Government. We need them moving forward, because there is a real concern and risk that what we have is something that becomes a jack of all trades, but a master of none. The Committee said that it was
“a brand in search of a product”,
which is entirely apt at this stage.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North has rather stolen my thunder in that regard, because I want to discuss what the Bill could seek to do. It could follow Scotland’s lead. In Scotland, we have the Scottish National Investment Bank, which has a clear purpose to invest in net-zero technologies. Why do we not replicate that in the Bill? Why do the Government not put that front and centre of their agenda? The hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) is shaking his head, and he is more than welcome to intervene, to state why climate change should not be at the forefront of the Bill’s agenda.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me a chance to speak. I want to check that we are talking about the same aspects of the Bill, because he is trying, while saying what he thinks in a broad way, rather narrowly to define the scope of what research science projects can be. Does he not accept that there is a tension there, and that the Scottish example is precisely not what this is about?
I reject the suggestion that climate change is a narrow focus given that climate change covers a whole host of areas. I see the Secretary of State nodding along with that. Presumably he is in agreement having previously been the Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth. When we look at this, we need to bear in mind DARPA, which has been talked about at length by others. DARPA had that clear focus, and that clear focus has allowed it to excel, in terms of GPS, the internet and the like. We should seek to replicate that, with climate change at the forefront.
It is regrettable that the Government have not simply made that suggestion, but it is not surprising, because, just last week, they sought to invest billions of pounds in new nuclear weapons. They could have said, “Here is £800 million that we are going to invest in trying to save the planet rather than destroy it.” In relation to the mission, therefore, the Secretary of State still has a great deal of work to do.
The second key area that I would like to pick up on is in relation to the wider leadership on the Bill. Although that has been referred to already, we do need to have clarity about how that process will work. What will be its outcome? Who will be the leader, or the leadership team, that takes this forward? There have been suggestions, indeed by Dominic Cummings himself, in relation to eminent scientists—scientists who, unfortunately, have been excluded from their professional role given the comments that have been made in relation to eugenics and race. Although I appreciate that the Secretary of State may not be in a position to say what the qualifying criteria will be for someone who takes on this role, I expect him to say what the disqualifying criteria will be. I certainly expect that someone who projects views of eugenics would fit into that disqualification category.
My third point relates to resources and accountability. I am very conscious of the fact that much of what I am saying is a repetition of what has already been said, but that is often true of what is said by everyone in this House, and I am sure that there will be more of that to come. I cannot get my head around this notion that we can throw away freedom of information and public contract processes in order to achieve something. I may have incorrectly picked up the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) on that point he made earlier about being inspired to do that. I do not see it as inspired. I do not think that the public will see it as inspired. They certainly will not see it as inspired coming, as it does, from a Conservative Government, given what we have seen over a number of months in relation to cronyism and the concerns that we all have about that. When it comes to public money, public trust is of paramount importance. Frankly, the Government are not being as clear, transparent and open as they should be about the Bill.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that UK Research and Innovation receives about 300 FOI requests a year? A small and nimble organisation such as ARIA would be completely buried under the weight of that many FOI requests. That is why we are taking the approach that we are here.
That is an interesting point, but it appears that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what was said earlier in relation to DARPA. I think it was 40 FOI requests for DARPA, which is, obviously, a much larger organisation than ARIA will ever be. It is one that will perhaps attract a lot more focus, and yet there were just 40 FOI requests. If that is the strength of the argument that Government Back Benchers will put up in relation to this, then, frankly, it will fall short in the eyes of the public. The reality is that we are talking about £800 million of public money. There will of course be a tolerance of failure. Everyone accepts that there must be a tolerance of failure, but there needs to be openness and transparency around the process, and, quite frankly, at this moment in time, there is not. I do not have confidence that the Government will be able to deliver on that front.
Finally, I just want to touch on what is perhaps the most important aspect of this Bill, which is, unsurprisingly, in the Scottish context. A total of £800 million will be flowing towards this project. How much of that is coming to Scotland? Will it be Barnettised? Will there be consequentials from it? Is this going to be a UK-wide project? If so, why? Why are we not investing in Scotland? Are we trying to undermine the Scottish Parliament once again? We have seen it with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, the levelling-up fund and the shared prosperity fund; are we now seeing it with ARIA, too?
Why do the Government not seek to invest in the Scottish Parliament? Why do they not seek to allow the Scottish Government to put the money into the Scottish National Investment Bank, which I have already mentioned, so that Scotland can create the scientific achievements that it wants to use to shape our own agenda, particularly—I repeat—in relation to climate change? Why have none of those things come forward? It appears as though Scotland does not exist in the context of this Bill. The Government seek to talk up the Union; the way to solidify the Union is not to trample continuously over the Scottish Parliament, because the people of Scotland are well aware of what is going on in that regard.
Let me conclude by making one more important point. We all have concerns about the Bill. It has broad support, but we have concerns that ultimately it will become another London-centric project, and not only that but one that gets hijacked by the right wing of the Tory party for its own ends. That is not something we are willing to support.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.
As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention, and that necessity has never been greater as we try to build back better following the huge consequences of the pandemic. It is fitting that we should hold this debate today, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the lockdown. As well as looking back over the past year, the Bill gives us an opportunity to look forward.
Before I look forward, I want to look back at the incredible contribution that UK scientists have made to scientific endeavour and their list of achievements. Over centuries, the UK has been responsible for many great discoveries and inventions—from the first refracting telescope in 1668 to the discovery and understanding of DNA, and from the humble tin can to the jet engine. Probably the most poignant today is, as we have already heard, the development of the first vaccine more than 225 years ago in 1796. That discovery is helping the UK and the world to tackle the ravages of covid today.
UK research and the work of UK scientists have truly led to inventions that are potentially saving the world. But we cannot rest on our laurels, which is why I welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to science and research and development. I welcome this debate and the meeting of our manifesto commitment to establish a high-risk, high-reward research agency, ARIA.
With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to talk a little about the wider R&D landscape. I warmly welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to making the UK a science superpower. Their commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027 and the £22 billion commitment to science in 2024-25 are fantastic but, as we have heard, there is no point in our making progress in one area if we are taking funds from another to do that. I will not labour the argument about funding for our participation in Horizon Europe, but needless to say I would like to see that money coming from a different pot rather than the existing ones.
Let us talk about the positives and the investment of £800 million in a new advanced research and invention agency, based on the principle of high risk and high reward and free from Government interference. To make the most of that, we have to change our view of risk. Risk here is good. That requires us to acknowledge—indeed, to embrace—failure as part of the process.
For the agency, that is fundamentally about people. It is about having top-quality, confident and knowledgeable people in the right places—the right chair and the right chief executive. It is also about having a command structure that is fleet of foot, which is why I think some of the measures in the Bill to exempt ARIA from FOI are the right thing to do.
ARIA needs to encourage and embrace new and novel ideas in the areas of artificial intelligence, quantum and, potentially, superconductivity. I accept that some of its endeavours, if not many of them, will fail, but even where there are failures, I still want its culture to be one of encouraging future submissions—a culture where project managers are not judged on individual outcomes that encourage them to play safe.
ARIA should be judged as a whole, and only after a reasonable time. It should work with both the usual suspects—the established research bodies—and potential sectoral disrupters. If we are searching for inventions, ARIA also needs the ability to work with individuals who may have promising ideas but not necessarily the resources or experience to make them work. ARIA has a role there to help people find the right development path.
While there will be failures, I am sure there will be many successes, so I would like to hear more about how a successful ARIA-funded project will make the transition from lab bench to product or service. The UK has a great track record of innovation and invention, but we do not have the best track record of commercialisation—of turning an idea into an industry that keeps the rewards here in the UK and provides our citizens with well-paid, rewarding jobs.
ARIA needs to help research to cross the so-called valley of death, and it needs to be alive to that challenge. It needs to work with ideas to ensure that they do not fail due to a lack of funding, support or interest. If an idea is novel enough that it has potential, ARIA needs to support it until it can hand it off in the confidence that it will be in safe hands and that it will thrive. There is no point having taxpayer-funded research or invention only for it to fail through lack of practical support.
I welcome this Bill. The creation of ARIA gives us a fantastic opportunity to fill a gap in the current landscape, and I very much look forward to working with Ministers as we take the Bill forward and reap the benefits that it can provide us with.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe). Anyone who has attended the annual STEM for Britain event hosted by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which he chairs, will know that we are a country not short of brilliant ideas and young people—and many of them, I have to say, come from Cambridge.
However, that immediately begs the question, is ARIA a solution in search of a problem? As the excellent Science and Technology Committee report put it—I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and his colleagues on that—is it
“a brand in search of a product”?
We have heard a lot about Dominic Cummings. I just caution Government Members that they may not want to associate themselves too closely with a man who, in the public’s mind, is very much associated with one set of rules for some and a very different set of rules for them. Many will wonder why a vanity project designed to assuage the ego of one key adviser is being pursued by the Government when they have finally had the sense to ditch that adviser—or was it that he ditched them? Who knows? We will be generous, and I will ask an open question: can we do better?
Of course, our answer as a country is always yes, but if this is really about setting people free—and who does not want to cut the bureaucracy and set people free?—is it not curious that just yesterday, the Government announced a review, to be led by Professor Adam Tickell, the not “bog-standard” vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, of the whole issue of bureaucracy in our research sector? I suggest that there is muddle, not least around the problem we are trying to solve.
Could we do better? The landscape of research funding is complex. UKRI is a relatively new organisation, but there are some long-established principles in this country—the Haldane principle, dual funding and QR, or quality-related research funding. Add Horizon, and there is a balance in there. Add the catapults launched a few years ago under the coalition and the result, if we are not careful, is lots of people competing for the same funding. It is not simple, and it is frequently a subject of discussion in Cambridge, as I am sure the House can imagine. To be frank, in Cambridge the general view is that the issue is not finding the breakthrough ideas, but how they are developed and taken forward, as the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock just said.
Sadly, we have very few home-grown unicorns like Arm, although we have done better over the past 30 years because we have a strong investor community in Cambridge and real efforts are made through organisations such as Cambridge Enterprise to develop our spin-outs. Thoughtful contributions have been made by entrepreneurs such as David Cleevely, who rightly pointed out throughout the Cameron-Osborne years, when they were promoting Tech City in London, that we already have a tech city; it is called Cambridge and it is just up the railway line, along a powerful innovation corridor that has huge potential.
There are other powerful voices who identify a very different problem from the one that it is suggested ARIA might address. Take David Sainsbury and David Connell. Lord Sainsbury is a highly regarded former Science Minister; look at the work he did a few years ago on economic growth, in which he cautioned—sensibly, in my view—against trying to import systems from elsewhere and expecting them somehow to work in a different culture. He also rightly queried the lack of co-ordination of research across Government Departments —an issue that I suspect is yet to be seriously addressed. David Connell has been a passionate advocate over many years of small business research initiatives—something we have adopted and adapted from the Americans—and of using contracts rather than grants and driving innovation through procurement. That idea has too limited an uptake, I would say, and needs a stronger champion in Government. Is DARPA really a model for the UK? Well, the US has an infamous military-industrial complex and we have nothing similar here. Who will be the client? The Secretary of State seemed to be touchy about this, but whether it is learned from, not modelled on, is a key question.
The obvious question about whether the current system can be reformed to address some of these concerns is also not answered, and some of the potential problems have been made worse by decisions the Government have already taken, or sort of taken. Reference has been made to the disappearing industrial strategy, which must be rather galling for the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, given the effort that he and others put in and the huge amount of work done across so many sectors. What is to replace it? Perhaps the Minister can tell us later. Perhaps it is nothing, but the mission-oriented approach that ARIA points to and is widely welcomed replaces, frankly, something remarkably similar. As we have heard, the great challenges are not that different, but for iconoclasts, of course, everything that went before has to be laid to waste. Not a very British approach, I would say. What is very British is the tradition of paying public servants badly. If ARIA can free up pay levels, good, but it really does not need an ARIA to do that, so stop making a song and dance about it; get on and do it.
All this is important because we have excellence. How ironic that the Government have turned a potential good-news story into a story about cuts. As we have heard, Universities UK estimates that if the cost of Horizon association is taken out of UKRI, it will cost 18,000 research jobs. That would certainly be a big hit to cities like mine. At the weekend, Stephen Toope, the University of Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, warned that Government claims about global Britain risked ringing hollow. As he says,
“World-leading research cannot just be turned off like a tap. Once our highly trained young researchers leave our universities they will not come back, and once they leave the country they will not return.”
He is so right. I visit many labs in and around Cambridge—the magnificent Laboratory of Molecular Biology being just one of them—but what strikes anyone who goes into any of them is that it is an international microcosm, with people from all across the globe. We are good because good people want to be here, but they can always go somewhere else. I tell the House, there are plenty of people who want them and plenty of inducements. Then there are the ODA cuts—so foolish, for so many reasons, not least the threat to our diplomatic soft power at a time when China is ramping up its influence everywhere. I am told that institutions have been sending letters to researchers who already have grant letters telling them that those grant letters will not be honoured. The system has worked for decades based on trust, and that is now being undermined. That is a clear message that with this Government, Britain cannot be trusted to keep its word. There is nothing that ARIA can do that will repair the damage—the huge damage to trust—that has already been caused and is continuing to be caused.
We need a fightback within Government. Last week, I encouraged the Minister to seek operatic inspiration, but far from “Vincero”—I will win—from “Nessun Dorma”, her reaction was more, “When I am laid in earth” from “Dido’s Lament”. That is Puccini’s Dido, not Track and Trace’s, I hasten to add. We need so much more. UK research is a success story. Please stop doing unnecessary harm. In my view, ARIA is worth supporting, but it is a distraction. It is worth discussing how we can do things better, but please, Secretary of State, stop doing harm now.
It is genuinely a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who speaks with great knowledge on this issue and who of course represents an area where many people will be interested in the Bill.
In common with other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill, but I just want to make sure I am welcoming the same Bill as they are. In many of the contributions today, Members appear to have aimed their guns at destroying those elements of the Bill that are unique, special and different. The shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who is no longer in his place, started that off by talking about R&D as an example of an industrial strategy. Well, industrial strategies are playthings of Ministers and, as we know, Ministers can change from time to time. The whole design of the Bill is intended to prevent those issues.
The spokesperson for the Scottish nationalists, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), chided me a little about the importance of the environment and asked whether that should be a focus. I am not denying that the environment and climate change is an important issue, but the point here is that we do not prescribe that that is the only thing that this organisation can research—I am not saying that it should not look into it.
I do not wish to smother at birth the unique characteristics of this organisation. Essentially, the purpose of the Bill is to create an institution that, in Donald Rumsfeld’s terms, would look at the unknown unknowns, and politicians are not in the right place to define what those would be. If I may, I would gently disagree with the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), when he said that we should choose a couple of focal points for ARIA. That really gets to the point, because the question would then be, did we choose the right focal points? I am not sure that that is something the Bill is seeking to do with this agency.
I want to ask some questions, and perhaps the Minister can cover them in her summing up or perhaps we can cover them in Committee. Many hon. Members have spoken about the importance of the programme manager in DARPA. I looked at the worked case example cited in the policy statement released for ARIA. In it, somebody was recruited on the basis of a £50,000 grant and a three-month project. Subsequently, on review, they would, in this example, be granted £20 million for further research. I would say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that there are three key tensions there that we need to tease out.
The first is that that approach places tremendous responsibility on the evaluation of those initial projects, so how do we see that going? What are we thinking about in terms of the framework in which that evaluation will take place? That seems a very thin basis for the initial judgment—it is not wrong, but it is a thin basis.
Secondly, the appointments of the chief executive officer and the chair, which my right hon. and hon. Friends are already considering, also seem to be extremely important, because they will, in such an important way, define the culture of this organisation—certainly for the initial five-year term of the chief executive and at least for the first 10 years of this organisation.
Thirdly, DARPA has been commented on a number of times. It estimates that 25% of its programme managers turn over annually, so there will be quite a large turnover of these key members of staff in the UK. What is our expectation? As the hon. Member for Cambridge said, America can draw on an enormous pool of talent. Is the goal that we will be able to draw on a larger, perhaps global pool of talent to play a role in this agency? That would be a very good aspect of global Britain.
In 2019, 65% of DARPA projects were undertaken by companies, and only 17% by universities. Is that the intention here? If so, I would very much welcome that. Also, there is the opportunity in the Bill for ARIA to create companies and joint ventures, and a document will come out to explain how that will work. However, it would be helpful to know whether it will also include what happens to any returns from those joint ventures and companies, and whether the money will go back into ARIA itself or be returned to the Treasury—I think we all know what the answer to that might be, but it would be interesting to at least pose the question.
The Secretary of State will know that ARPA was set up in the same year—1958, if I can read my writing—as the Small Business Investment Act was enacted in the United States. I would like to close on this point. There is very positive reinforcement between the initiatives being taken in the Bill and encouraging support for venture capital and small businesses. I refer Members to my declaration of interests on the issue of venture capital. There is a tremendous opportunity.
DARPA likes to say that it created the internet, but venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins can point to the fact that it made billions out of Amazon, billions out of Netscape and billions out of Google. That is the essence of the problem we often hear about in this country. We are very good at doing the research, but we are very poor at commercialising it. Can we see further efforts by the Department to ensure that we have the same parallel tracks as the United States had when it successfully launched its equivalent of our initiative, ARPA, in 1958?
It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate, and this will be my last speech in this Chamber. I shall come to that in a moment, but first let me address the substance of the Bill.
I represent a constituency, Airdrie and Shotts, with significant and incredible scientific research based around BioCity and MediCity as well as the Newhouse and Maxim Park industrial estates. Indeed, just last week Amphista Therapeutics, based at BioCity, secured £38 million of investment in its series B financing round to continue its work on potent and selective bifunctional molecules, known as amphistas, and to extend its targeted protein degradation approaches. I am incredibly proud to represent that major hub of the biosciences industry in Scotland, which is projected to be worth £8 billion to the Scottish economy in the coming years.
That industry needs continued support. It needs the start-up funding and ongoing research funding to continue to thrive. I am delighted that the Scottish Government have led the way with the establishment of the Scottish National Investment Bank, which is to have £2 billion of capitalisation and has a clear ambition to achieve net zero. The industry also needs significant and ongoing support to stop the Brexit drain of scientific researchers who have sadly returned to the continent in recent years.
Although I obviously welcome the UK Government’s following the Scottish Government’s lead in establishing a state-backed investment organisation, it is incredibly disappointing that they have not matched that with the ambition to tackle climate change or reduce inequalities. That example has been set by the Scottish Government through the Scottish National Investment Bank. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) in his incredible and fantastic speech from our Front Bench, and by others across the House, the lack of clear focus for ARIA is a major disappointment.
I also want to seek clarity from the Minister on a few issues, to follow on from my hon. Friend’s speech. I want clarity that the Minister has no intention of using ARIA as another Tory Trojan horse to bypass devolved decision making. Will the Minister ensure Scottish researchers and firms such as those in Airdrie and Shotts that I have already spoken about will receive their full Barnettised share of ARIA funding through the Scottish Government? Will the UK Government also commit now to give any powers going to ARIA in areas such as borrowing and debt financing to the Scottish National Investment Bank to ensure that there is parity there?
A string of cronyism scandals has engulfed this UK Government, from funds prioritising prosperous Tory-held constituencies over other areas with genuine need to multimillion pound covid contracts being handed out to pals by WhatsApp. What safeguards are in the Bill to ensure we do not see that repeated in the funding of this agency? Excluding ARIA from FOI does not fill us with confidence in this regard. There is a big difference between tolerable failure and a lack of scrutiny allowing for further misuse of public funds.
With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, as this is the final time I will be making a speech in this place before I take my leave tomorrow, I wish to make some brief remarks not strictly related to the matters before us. As many colleagues will be aware, I am resigning from this House in order to seek election to be the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts in Scotland’s national Parliament.
I want to thank my colleagues and friends in the SNP group and its staff, as well as friends from across this House, for their support, and staff of the House across the estate, who are diligent public servants. My incredible constituency office staff have been with me throughout my time in Parliament: Adam Robinson, Lawrie Kane, Lesley Jarvie, Margaret Hughes and Michael Coyle. They have provided me and the people of Airdrie and Shotts with incredible service, and I thank them. I thank my campaign team, led by my incredible election agent, Graham Russell—we go again!
I also want to thank the people of Airdrie and Shotts. It has been an incredible honour to serve them for the past six years. They first placed their faith in me in 2015, and I hope that I have gone some way to repay that trust, both in this House, with approaching 1,400 oral and written contributions, and also in my campaigns locally. Of everything we have achieved over the past six years, I am most proud of having led the campaign to keep the new Monklands Hospital in the Airdrie area and worked on 14,500 constituency cases for people in every part of the Airdrie and Shotts constituency. Politics is always about people, and my driving ambition, which I am sure I share with others across this House, has always been to do what I can to help people locally as well as tackle injustices, poverty and inequality across these isles.
I have the unenviable task of following my hon. Friend in his success in the role of SNP work and pensions spokesperson. He has been thanking people for their support. May I, on behalf of those of us who are Airdrie fans, particularly the Airdrie Supporters Trust, genuinely and sincerely thank him for his support of us as a community as well? He will be well aware that there are many people in the Diamonds community who think very highly of him and very much hope to see him elected to continue that good work in the Scottish Parliament.
It is very kind of my hon. Friend to say so.
In my maiden speech, I thanked my wife Karlie and my then 11-month-old daughter Isla for their love and support. I said then that it would not be standing up to Tory Governments or standing up for the people of Airdrie and Shotts that I would find most challenging, but missing my family when I am here—and so it has proved. But now that I have not only Isla, but Finlay, Emmie and Freya to be missing, being closer to home to be a good father, and being in the constituency more, is what motivates me to want to leave this place and seek election to Holyrood to continue my service to local people. If I am successful, I just hope that that service will, soon, be in an independent Scottish Parliament.
May I, on behalf of all the hon. Gentleman’s friends from across the House, wish him well on his last appearance here in this Chamber? I fully appreciate that, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) said a few moments ago, no Scottish nationalist ever wants to be here in this Parliament, but I thank him for the service that he has given and the contributions that he has made while he has been here. Of course, I will try very hard not to say anything further than that, except that he is clearly going to be busy with his ever-growing family, regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, and in a personal capacity we wish him well.
May I echo the sentiments that you just expressed, Madam Deputy Speaker? I have found the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) to be a good colleague, as was his predecessor, who is still a very close friend of mine.
The UK space industry has arguably benefited the most from the US ARIA equivalent, DARPA. For a very recent example, we need look no further than Astra, the launch vehicle manufacturer that had a successful launch on 16 December 2020. While discussing ARIA, however, attention should be paid to the necessity of having an ecosystem approach. There is now an acknowledged and accepted dependency on space, and the space sector is one of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors. The UK is at a decision point and is reaching a critical stage in terms of launches becoming commercially viable. To secure launches as part of the UK offering of space ports would ensure access to hugely significant economic opportunity through whole-sector participation, including end-to-end delivery.
While there is no doubting the UK’s space ambitions, there needs to be a clear line of investment, which will have two elements. At present, most of the Government’s investment is focused on academia and technology. There is little focus on launch infrastructure and the development of logistical support. Noting that it is generally accepted that a launch will make the difference for the UK’s standing and therefore economic benefit from the global space market, it is estimated that this alone will be worth £400 billion to us by 2030.
Regulation, though, is a key enabler of development in the space sector, and much has been achieved through the introduction of the Space Industry Act 2018. One anomaly is the Civil Aviation Authority and the intention of lifting the insurance liability from a £60 million cap to unlimited liability, which will make UK launches unviable from UK soil, with many other countries offering less liability. So that must be addressed very soon.
Have the Government ensured sufficient harmonisation between the existing regulatory authorities and the UK Space Agency? Is the UKSA playing its full role as the Government-sponsored agency with responsibility for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and to provide a clear and single voice for UK space ambitions? That has to be clarified.
The environment is rightly the lens through which we need to examine current and future actions and ambitions. The space sector is demonstrating its commitment to the environment through the development of new materials and processes, but with space acknowledged as one of the key enablers to understanding and monitoring of global environments and environmental change, are the Government driving the right relationship between space and the UK environmental agencies, acknowledging devolved responsibilities?
Ambition itself cannot deliver on enterprise for a nation. Leadership is key to ensuring the right information and that action takes place at the right time and with the right entities. Does the space sector enjoy the right nature of strategic leadership both in the Government and the private sector? Has the UK established the types of structures, executive councils and committees necessary to provide the support, confidence and assurance of decisions, making opportunities for the space sector to thrive under the new ARIA regime? A lot of clarification needs to come forward, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will provide that development and regulatory structure to allow a commercial and viable space industry to grow. I have highlighted some anomalies within the structure as it currently stands.
I would like to see the Bill pass, and I am certain it will. It will enable the UK space sector to do a better job than it is already doing. The UK space sector, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) has already said, develops 40% of what is already flying around in orbit, and we can do more. The UK space sector has bucked the trend over recessions and pandemics, and the sector is increasing.
I want to end on a positive note. I will be backing the Bill, and I would like to see more money for the space sector.
I am delighted to welcome the Bill and the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency that it creates. I want to echo the sentiments of the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, and the tributes that they paid to our scientific community, who have done outstanding work during the pandemic.
Today’s Bill is one of the most important to come before the House in this Parliament. First, it lays the foundations for Britain to become the science superpower envisaged by the Prime Minister in the integrated review and building on the Government’s existing commitment to deploy 2.4% of GDP to research and development. Secondly, a new agency will create new jobs, products and services, and innovative communities across the whole country, levelling up our science and technology base and backing our scientists and entrepreneurs. Finally, it will enable Britain to lead the new fourth industrial revolution, pioneering in fields from artificial intelligence and robotics to genomics and quantum technologies. Just as Hargreaves’ spinning jenny and Stephenson’s Rocket propelled Britain to a new era of prosperity and invention in the past, this new agency, ARIA, can help us to success in the decades ahead.
We have all seen during the covid-19 pandemic the importance of investing in research, science and development, and as we build back better, ARIA can unleash the potential of our most visionary scientists, helping Britain to shape the future and get to the future first. In terms of shaping the future, many in the House will know President Kennedy’s words from 1962:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.
Those stirring words are often remembered for their soaring rhetoric, but they were in fact designed to persuade the American people of the benefits of the Apollo space programme after the US had been caught off guard by the Soviet Union putting the first satellite and then the first man into space.
To beat the Soviet Union to the moon, the Americans relied on a radical new organisation that would be a catalyst for new ideas. America’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—ARPA, as it was originally known, founded by President Eisenhower and backed by his successor, JFK—would help to deliver not only the moon landings but an early version of the internet, the global positioning system and driverless cars. By launching ARPA, the US was determined that in the future, it would be the initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises.
By launching the UK equivalent today, as the fourth industrial revolution accelerates, we provide ourselves with an insurance policy against future challenges and an opportunity to shape the future through innovation. It is therefore welcome news that ARIA will incorporate the key features of the ARPA model that have been credited with its success, including a sole focus on high-risk, high-reward research; a high tolerance for scientific failure; freedom to explore new funding models, including prizes and taking equity stakes; minimal bureaucracy, with low Government intervention; and empowering talented programme managers to find and fund complex research programmes. That is the right framework, but what sort of technology should those programme managers focus on? That has been the subject of some debate this afternoon.
It would be tempting for ARIA to spread itself thinly and widely, diversifying across a range of technologies and disciplines, but that would be the wrong approach. If ARIA is to succeed, it must focus on the most impactful and transformative technologies that are most likely to create whole new industries, produce thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom and apply across a wide range of economic sectors where the UK can develop a strong and sustained competitive advantage. Those key technologies include robotics and artificial intelligence, which will become pervasive across all sectors of our economy; life sciences and synthetic biology, where the big theme of the coming decade will be personalisation; fusion, which has the potential to deliver a new carbon-free source of clean energy; space, where, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) said, growth is driven by manufacturing, including in satellites, ground systems and components; and quantum technologies, including quantum computers, which are exponentially more powerful than today’s devices.
It was in Britain that the first industrial revolution took off in the 18th century. It was this country that gave the world penicillin, unravelled the structure of DNA and pioneered the world wide web. Cambridge alone has produced more Nobel laureates than any country in the world except America, and more than France, Japan and China combined. We have an outstanding record of scientific innovation and discovery to be proud of. The creation of this new agency will help Britain cement its status as a science superpower, and it is a project that I am proud to support.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the setting up of ARIA. Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly welcome any announcement of new public funding for science and technology.
I was struck by the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak) about Britain’s history of scientific technology and innovation. When I was a child growing up in the 1980s, we were still coming towards the end of the cold war, and science and technology felt almost threatening in a time of conflict revolving around nuclear weapons. A transformation has taken place over the last 35 years in public attitudes towards science. We have had a digital revolution. Here we are today, on the anniversary of the first lockdown of the pandemic, and in the last few months, scientific research and scientists have dominated the headlines with the extraordinary work they have done in developing the vaccine. It makes me think that today’s children have a very different attitude towards science, and I very much hope that the experience of the last few years will encourage more and more children and young people to consider science as a career. I hope they will be inspired by our great national history of science and innovation, and that this new agency will in some way pick up that great inspiration and some of that great talent, which is surely being fostered in our schools and universities as we speak, and bring new innovations and great scientific thinking to the world.
There is no doubt that in funding for science and innovation we have lagged behind somewhat in both the private and public sector. We have fantastic science, education and research capacity in this country, as we have done for many years, but our biggest failing has been our inability to match up the great work and innovation that we are generating in our universities, research centres and private sector companies and bring it into economic activity so that it can deliver wider benefits to our economy and workforce. It is a problem that Governments of all stripes have wrestled with for many years.
However, while I welcome the fact that ARIA has been set up with that express purpose in mind, is this particular agency the result of Government analysis of where we have been going wrong or is this Mr Cummings’s brainchild? Conservative Members seem to have almost limitless faith in Mr Cummings’s abilities and analysis, but I have to be honest that it is not that clear to those of us on the Opposition Benches that just because Mr Cummings thinks something is a good idea, the rest of us should automatically follow.
So I am very interested to know what analysis the Government have done as to how ARIA can fix some of these questions that have dogged our science and innovation space for so many years. How is the agency going to direct its activities to make sure that it can really address the issues we are facing? My first question is about who is going to be addressing these particular issues. The legislation is broadly drawn, which is probably right given that we want an unencumbered agency, but who is going to be appointed to lead it? I notice from the legislation that the board will be appointed by the Secretary of State; it will obviously include the chief scientific officer as that is clearly right, but beyond that what will be the qualifications of the people who are leading it? Will they be scientists, will they be from industry, will they be academics, will they be economists? The legislation is silent on what will qualify somebody to sit on that board and how they will direct the agency and to what particular ends. That is an interesting point, and I look forward to hearing more about how the Secretary of State will make those appointments.
I welcome the plans to provide the substantial funding for this new body, and particularly the direction that the projects it undertakes can have a high risk of failure. However, the Secretary of State must be aware that he is committing to taking big risks with taxpayers’ money. How can he or the hard-working taxpayer be sure that this use of public money delivers greater value to the British public than any other use? I acknowledge that that will be a difficult question to answer and that we need to accept that there will be downsides, but the Secretary of State should be clear about whether this high-risk investment is new money or whether it is being taken away from other established and lower risk programmes elsewhere. For example, is funding for ARIA coming from money for research and innovation for other programmes—perhaps money that UKRI received for official development assistance research into global challenges, which we know has been cut by two thirds? Is that money now going into ARIA? Are we cutting existing programmes in order to fund this high-risk research?
We know that ODA budgets and also the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Academy are seeing cuts, and again I ask is ARIA the new destination for that funding? It is essential that the Government confirm that this is new money and that it is going to be introduced to sit alongside existing funding streams. Otherwise, far from being a boost to scientific research, ARIA will put successful current research at risk. As has been pointed out, the wide-ranging remit of ARIA also represents a risk that research projects will be undertaken that duplicate work already being done elsewhere, which again risks taxpayer value for money.
In conclusion, the Liberal Democrats are very pleased to support the Bill. We are 100% behind efforts to increase science and innovation, particularly where they can have wider applications for the economy and quality of life in this country, but we will be watching very closely for answers on appointments to the board and funding.
I welcome the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, which marks an increasing awareness across Government, Parliament and the country of the importance of innovation in securing our collective prosperity well into the future. The last year has shown us just how vital it is that we further bolster this country’s science and research ambitions. The Royal Society of Biology, with which I spoke last month, can attest to how our assiduous investment in the life sciences has clearly paid off, as we are reaping the benefits with our vaccination roll-out. Indeed, just look at the dividend that the UK’s sequencing expertise is now paying. That is why I emphatically welcome the Government’s commitment to increase public R&D expenditure, which, along with ARIA, forms part of the fundamental building blocks for the Britain of the next era.
We have thought hard about the pennies. Now we are turning to the pounds we pack internationally. Last week, we on the Science and Technology Committee heard from Dominic Cummings, who spoke about the need for the UK to take science more seriously. He said that competitor countries around the world debate at the highest level cutting-edge S&T on a daily basis. We are not entering—but rather have already entered—a new era of heightened global competition. We should not fear such a transition, as change is the only constant. I suggest that we all read “Who Moved My Cheese?”, and advance our science and technology expertise.
The strategic framework for the integrated review has S&T as the very first of four overarching objectives. I agree with the implicit argument that science and technology is often the forgotten magical element in Britain’s soft power. I trust that the Minister is considering how we use the global talent visa programme to add to this effort. As my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak) rightly pointed out, the UK has had 99 Nobel laureates. This fills us with pride. Aiming for at least another 99 fills us with focus. Taken together with the integrated review, this Bill will provide the UK with immense opportunities to become a science superpower across many domains.
The Government are here to get the big things right, but we must also—slightly counterintuitively—be prepared to get things wrong. By this, I mean that we face a cultural challenge in Whitehall, Westminster and, indeed, all walks of life when it comes to failure. It is an acutely British niggle. Fear of failure in both Government and business has limited our ability to take more calculated risks. Who can blame people, when the media is constantly ready to take someone down for the slightest slip? I am hopeful that ARIA can be part of a cultural change that can boost us in taking more risks for higher reward, and to scale up our ideas to compete with the east Asian and US giants.
ARIA may currently be of no fixed abode, but we are on standby to fix its abode in Bolton. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) will be up shortly to join what is probably going to be the most important debate of our generation: should ARIA’s office be in the west or the east of Bolton? Bolton and Greater Manchester’s thirst for radical innovation is palpable, with the National Graphene Institute a stone’s throw away and the University of Bolton just a few doors down from me. As the Bill outlines, ARIA’s membership is to consist of a small network of executive and non-exec members, in line with the Government’s agenda to level up, and what better location is there to base that network in than the north-west, surrounded by the brightest young minds, at the centre of Bolton North East?
Through the vaccine roll-outs, we have all witnessed the benefits of being able to work at speed and scale, and this has been testament to relinquishing overreaching bureaucracy. In its present form, the Bill can engender more clarity to signal adequate space for ARIA’s leadership to operate independently from Government. Exceptional scientists need room to decide which research to pursue and to give them the confidence and agility to make decisions, although I also appreciate the need for some parliamentary oversight. This has been emphasised repeatedly by the Science and Technology Committee’s witnesses. Let me finish by saying a big well done to the Government for being ambitious and bringing this Bill to the House, and for providing us with the stepping stones to punch not above our weight but above our basal metabolic rate.
Most Members understand the importance of proper science funding, both in terms of supporting research excellence and as an economic multiplier, and I certainly welcome any announcement of additional funding. However, in a week when we have seen UK Research and Innovation funding for official development assistance being cut, and when we are facing ongoing uncertainty regarding our association fee for Horizon Europe, we have to be sceptical about whether this agency will really attract new funding, or whether this will simply involve the re-profiling of existing funds.
In his evidence on ARIA to the Science and Technology Committee last week, Dominic Cummings referenced the Manhattan project, Turing’s work on the Enigma code and the development of computers as projects that would have benefited from funding free from bureaucratic constraints. All those projects had one thing in common: a specific target. We need to have some idea of what ARIA’s mission should actually be. What are its priorities? Net zero technology? Autonomous vehicles? Quantum computing? I do not think any of us would deny that, if the UK were to face a specific urgent challenge, there would be a need to get money where it was needed, and fast. The difficulty here is that we are being asked to support a Bill to set up a body to fund high-risk research, but we do not know what we will be researching or why. In last week’s evidence session, Dominic Cummings talked extensively about the bureaucracy of current funding, and stated this as one of the reasons for the new body. We have heard from researchers about the difficulties in applying for funding, but we would surely be better off tackling that, rather than creating a new agency when we do not have a mission.
Earlier, the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), talked about the importance of failure. It is frustrating that we do not recognise how key failure is to scientific development. Failure is information. It tells us that something does not work, and science research often has many instances of failure before we experience success. This speaks to how we measure success in science through papers looking for positive outcomes. Maybe we should be looking more at papers that talk about negative outcomes or nor outcomes at all, because that is information too.
In everything, there must be accountability. Government spending during the pandemic on flawed procurement contracts should have taught us that there must be checks and balances in public money to ensure that cronyism is not the overriding decision maker. Removing ARIA from any freedom of information requests is problematic and will certainly leave it open to such cronyism. I would like some clarification on how extreme freedom in research does not mean extreme recklessness and cronyism in spending.
I would also like to raise the issue of national inequality of research spending. The recent National Audit Office report on the industrial strategy challenge fund noted:
“The Fund is unevenly spread across the UK with the majority being provided to the West Midlands, South East and London”.
This is not a new situation. For decades, we have seen capital spending on research concentrated on the south-east of England. I would therefore like to hear something about how the Government will ensure that ARIA is fully representative of the devolved nations.
The Government promised to double R&D spending to £22 billion by 2024 and repeatedly talk of being a science superpower. However, we are yet to see full details on this spending. The Business Secretary has admitted that UKRI’s 2021-22 budget has not yet been agreed, so a long-term funding plan for science should have some certainty for the funding cycles that we are already in.
The UK’s status as a science superpower is underpinned by international research collaboration and we need to make sure that that is protected. It is concerning that UKRI has announced a shortfall of £120 million between its official development assistance allocation and its commitment to grant holders. I have asked repeatedly about our commitment on Horizon Europe contributions, and, in the last few weeks, there has been no further information. We need to know whether the contributions will come from new money or whether UKRI will see its budget further squeezed to pay our association fee. Although many of us support an additional £800 million for science research, it really is difficult for us to work out whether it is actually new money. We need to see the sums and we need that clarity.
Finally, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray). He is a well-respected and much liked colleague across the House. I know personally how hard he works and that he gives 100% both to his parliamentary duties and to his family. I hope that he has great success in his new endeavours and that he has the opportunity to spend more time with his family, because all of us with families who have to travel to this place know that it can be a huge strain. All the best, Neil, and take care.
I am delighted to have been called to speak in this debate and I will attempt to be brief to avoid the virtual grimace that Madam Deputy Speaker threatened.
There is so much to like and be excited about in this Bill and the creation of ARIA. The Secretary of State was spot on when he raised the covid pandemic and the breakthrough vaccine that has been developed in the UK. This is one of those moments that shows what UK innovation can achieve: saving lives, catalysing interest and effort, and instilling pride. However, ARIA could put those amazing developments in the shade, or, at the very least, normalise them. This year has shown the absolute importance of scientific innovation and ARIA could allow the UK to play to its strengths, tackling some of the biggest challenges facing our country, such as net zero. This is a statement of intent about the future direction of the UK and of our economy.
Going back to covid, interest in UK science and innovation has never been higher, but by focusing ARIA on ambitious and cutting-edge work, we will strengthen the sector that is driving that interest. Indeed, I am delighted that the Bill gives particular focus to projects that carry a high risk of failure. Those projects will be at the very cutting edge of science and technology and need support to determine whether we can gain a high reward or learn from their failure. We have seen too few of the genuinely exciting technologies of the last few decades being taken to market overseas. Providing a route to finance for the most cutting-edge science in the UK will be a huge benefit to us as a nation, driving the creation of new industries, jobs, skills and growth.
I am fortunate to represent Barrow and Furness, where roughly 10,000 people are employed in the national endeavour of producing the nuclear deterrent. On my last visit to the shipyard, I was struck when it was mentioned, almost in passing, that only one thing is made by man that is more complex than a nuclear submarine, and that is the international space station. The research, innovation and technology that underpin these incredible ships have been created over generations to produce vessels that travel in near silence, under tremendous pressures, and which keep their crew alive and our nation and NATO secure. That immense achievement is the end point of generations of research and development, some from the UK and some from further afield. That is what is exciting about ARIA and what it could deliver. With £800 million of funding behind it and genuine strategic and cultural autonomy, let us think what could be achieved in strides to keep us safe and secure, and to enable innovations in technology that genuinely shift the paradigm and which can brought to market.
The ability to be nimble and agile is key to ARIA’s success, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken the right approach in exempting it from public-contract regulations relating to its research goals. That will allow it to procure at speed and act more like the private sector organisation that it needs to be. Balancing oversight for this new beast will be difficult, and hon. Members have expressed genuine concern about that, but I believe that my right hon. Friend has got it right. In directing ARIA to consider the benefits of its activities for the UK as a whole the agency will, by its nature, foster a positive environment for developing the technologies of tomorrow, helping to make the UK a global scientific superpower. Indeed, alongside UK Research and Innovation, ARIA gives the UK a full-spectrum approach to funding scientific research. As the Jack Sprat and his wife of UK research and innovation, ARIA and UKRI will generate greater pull for UK science and research as a whole.
Finally, we must continue the tradition of pushing the boundaries of human knowledge with cutting-edge research and science. Without taking risks we will miss groundbreaking discoveries that will have far-reaching benefits for our nation, including the development of the jobs and industries of the future, based here in the UK. By launching the UK equivalent of DARPA, we have the opportunity to seize the future right here and today. Surely there can be no more exciting prospect than that.
In my brief remarks, I should like to focus on the context of the Bill—on how we make the most of our country’s extraordinary research capacity, about which many Members have spoken.
Six years ago, I led a Westminster Hall debate highlighting the fact that the UK had fallen behind others in research and development investment, from a position in which we had led OECD countries. We had particularly fallen behind in publicly funded R&D, and I argued that we needed almost to double spending to 3% of GDP. Six years later, actual spending has not increased much—it is still about 1.6% or 1.7%. The Government are talking about their ambition to increase spending to 2.4% although, as ever, the Prime Minister’s rhetoric of the UK as a science superpower does not match the reality of his plans, as 2.4% simply brings us in line with the OECD countries overall. It is an ambition to be average.
There is an even bigger concern that the reality does not live up even to that target. The Bill proposes a new agency for research and innovation, but its funding is unclear. Some £50 million is set aside in 2021-22, but future funding remains unallocated, and there is no long-term investment model. The Government’s rhetoric is ambitious, talking the talk about an innovation nation, but real results are delivered through sustained investment in our brilliant science. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is obviously the most cited example today, and is the most current instance of the extraordinary capacity that we have as a country, but it was delivered through years of consistent funding and focus, incredible new science providing the route to reopening society and the economy.
The scientific community has made it clear that without certainty and stability we will lose out in the global market. I think one of my colleagues has cited this, but the vice- chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge Universities said:
“World-leading research cannot just be turned on and off like a tap.
Once our highly trained young researchers leave our universities they will not come back, and once they leave the country they will not return.”
Of course, the importance of research extends well beyond Oxbridge, throughout the universities sector and right across the country. It is worth remembering, at a time when we all share a concern about regional imbalance within our economy, that universities are one of the few national assets we have that are spread evenly right across the country, well positioned to generate economic growth in all regions and all nations of the UK.
The problem is that contrary to their stated intentions, the Government have started reducing research funding. First, as we have heard from others, £120 million is going from the international development budget, cutting about half of development-funded research activity. Only yesterday, the Royal Society described powerfully to me how this has forced it to withdraw funding from current projects that will not be able to continue, as well as shut down future opportunities, with huge implications not just for global research, but for the very relationships with the Indo-Pacific nations that the Prime Minister has been so keen to foster.
Secondly, there is the threat to give back word on funding the association with Horizon Europe. Clearly, participation in Horizon Europe is hugely welcome. The understanding has always been that it would continue as a separate funding stream. Now, apparently, there is a suggestion it might come from UKRI’s existing budget. When I met UKRI a month ago to discuss funding for extending studentships in cases where research has been delayed by covid, we discussed the immense pressure on its existing budgets. If it is expected to pay for Horizon out of existing budgets, that would take about 11% of its funding, or £1 billion. That is the equivalent of 18,000 research-focused academic jobs.
In a city of two large universities and more than 60,000 students, I can testify to how important research is to our communities and to our economy. We know that public sector research informs and improves private innovation, while generating revenue for the public purse. The University of Sheffield’s advanced manufacturing and research centre is a great example; one that is recognised internationally. From seedcorn public funding, it now has more than 125 industrial partners, and employs more than 500 researchers and engineers from all over the world, with the university at the centre of that network, pulling together that collaboration. Although the Prime Minister talks of increasing their investment in R&D, the Government are reportedly on course to miss their target of 2.4% of GDP spent on R&D by 2027, so now is the time to put their money where their mouth is and protect our research capabilities, and with that their futures.
In winding up, I ask the Minister to respond to three questions: what assessment has been made of the £120 million cut to official development assistance funding in R&D? Will she confirm that Horizon funding will not, in fact, be drawn from UKRI’s existing budget? Will she tell the House when the Secretary of State will be able to confirm what the UKRI budget will be for 2021-22?
As with the mood around the Chamber, I rise to welcome the Bill. In the 1920s, a young pilot officer in RAF wrote a thesis about how planes would be able to achieve longer ranges and higher speeds by flying at higher altitudes, but that they would need a new and different form of propulsion. At that time, they were powered by piston engines and propellers, and he realised that the lower air pressures at height would prevent the engines of the day from working, so he started to think about the alternatives. In 1935, he secured financial backing, formed a company and developed a new type of engine, which was first ready for flight in May 1941. The RAF officer was Frank Whittle; the new engine was the jet; and the development work was carried out at the British Thomson-Houston works in my constituency of Rugby. The site is still available—it is part of an industrial complex—and I recently visited to see where the work was done and was able to see the hole in the wall where the prototype was placed.
Whittle’s invention led to international air travel as we know it today—or as we have known it until recent months—and, significantly, to commercial success, with Rolls-Royce going on to be one of the world’s two major jet engine manufacturers. It seems to me that one purpose of the Bill is to answer the question: how do we encourage a present-day or future Frank Whittle? The creation of a new agency will improve the prospect of our creating truly life-changing inventions and, significantly, lead to commercial opportunities for their manufacture in the UK.
The current primary funder of invention is of course, as we have heard, UK Research and Innovation, through the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. It has a budget of £6 billion and provides grants for research and development. Some of the work is developed through the Catapult centres, which were set up from 2001 to promote research and development through business-led collaboration among scientists and engineers. Significantly, a third of the Catapults’ funding comes through the private sector.
I have a close association with two Catapults, one of which is in my constituency and one of which is close by. The Manufacturing Technology Centre is in my constituency and I visited it in 2011. I have since seen its massive expansion, with the list of companies involved taking up more space on the wall each time I have been there. The centre has done particularly effective work on additive manufacturing.
Close to my constituency is the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick campus, which of course has a close relationship with the automotive sector—highly appropriate as Coventry is the heart of motor manufacturing. The WMG has had a big hand in the research for the industry and is currently working on battery technology. As an aside, Coventry would be an excellent location for a gigafactory.
I sought the views of the two Catapults. The question for me was whether ARIA would be a threat to their funding or complementary to their work. In each case, there was strong support for the proposals in the Bill. The WMG
“welcome and support the establishment of ARIA”
“a funding agency with freedom to operate. The proposed structure is an improvement on the current UKRI set up and should allow for more informal and flexible working.”
The MTC said:
“Because ARIA will be able to fund different kinds of scientific and technological research within a single programme, organisations like the West Midlands based Manufacturing Technology Centre will benefit from joined-up funding streams, allowing projects to access funding in a more effective and efficient way”.
That shows strong support.
The MTC also draws attention to the additional funding and support for risky programmes. We have heard a lot about the risky nature of the programmes that ARIA will fund. We know that only a small fraction of the goals will be achieved and that failure will have to be accepted as part of the scientific process. The MTC believes that beneficiaries of funding will be able to take bold but calculated risks that they would not previously have been able to take. We have already heard that in these areas of development we often do not know exactly what we are looking for until we find it, but the benefits of success will be greater.
The WMG drew attention to an issue that we have heard about in this debate: the key role of the chair and how important it will be that this individual is strong and independent. In many ways, it will be perhaps one of the most important of ministerial appointments. It must be a multi-year programme with a long-term perspective, and the 10-year commitment in the Bill is incredibly important. The chairman must be free to set his own agenda and priorities.
We have heard discussion about how ARIA’s mission will fit with other Government priorities and the need for the organisation to be free to follow its own course. I am particularly concerned about the closeness of the links with industry and how important they will be. I was reminded of that this morning at an excellent Industry and Parliament Trust event on the UK role in the development of the UK battery industry. We heard Professor David Greenwood of the University of Warwick speak about the need to link research and development to the existence of a market for what is being introduced. He told us an account about the development of the lithium ion battery, I think at Oxford. It was developed in the UK at a time when there was no commercial application for it. The mobile phone and the move towards electric vehicle that we know about today did not exist, and it took a Japanese camcorder manufacturer to recognise the opportunity that small powerful batteries created. That gave an application for the battery, and once used in that application, other uses became apparent. This new body must be close to industrial applications.
We live in a fast-changing world, and UK businesses need to be able to respond to those changes. It is vital that we retain our manufacturing base to provide a mix to our economy, and the best manufacturing opportunities arise when they are close, both physically and with personal links, to those areas where the ideas are developed. Making full use of the energy and dynamism of inventors, researchers and entrepreneurs will enable that to happen, and this Bill, which creates the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, is key to that. I believe it makes the kind of invention developed by Sir Frank Whittle more likely.
I welcome the general concepts behind the Bill. Support for ambitious blue-sky research where application in the real world is not always clear could bring massive economic benefits if successfully applied. Electricity is the backbone of modern industrial society, but if the early pioneers had had to specify what it was used for, we might not have got beyond experimenting with shocks from electric catfish. On a day-to-day basis, where we all deal with so many emails coming in and out, without innovation and invention we might still be reliant on a flock of pigeons to deliver those messages.
A healthy research environment needs a healthy range of options and healthy funding levels. Additional funding from ARIA is therefore a welcome new tool in the box, as long as it is additional funding and not a subtraction from other important funds. Applied that way, ARIA could complement the high-impact, hypothesis-driven, goal-driven research and support currently delivered via UK Research and Innovation, but it cannot simply be there to replace that. Nor should the agency become just another political tool to bypass and crowd out devolved decisions on funding and support for innovation.
I have a clear constituency interest in any research funding, as some of the UK’s best work comes from my neck of the woods. Midlothian Science Zone is at the cutting edge of global research across many disciplines, but particularly in the fields of animal health, human health, agritech and related technologies. The world-renowned Roslin Institute, for example, looks forward to pitching some of its high-risk ideas to ARIA, in particular to investigate how the integrated transformation of the food system could contribute to solving global hunger and climate change, to improving human, animal, plant and environmental health, and to developing preparedness for future pandemics.
That type of exciting research certainly seems to fit the mission of another state-backed investment organisation that is already open for business. The Scottish National Investment Bank, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) mentioned earlier, is the single biggest economic development in the history of the Scottish Parliament, with a purpose to power innovation, reduce inequalities and accelerate the move towards net zero emissions.
I hope that in developing this new body, the UK Government will take decisions that support and do not undermine the progress of the Scottish National Investment Bank. There is room for both, but the powers given to ARIA for borrowing, debt finance and multi-year transfers should also be given to the Scottish National Investment Bank.
Given that it is public money, it would be wise, without any need to be too prescriptive, to have clarity over ARIA’s purpose and focus. We do not need every step mapped out, but we need at least to have the rudder in place and a general course of travel made clear. We know that DARPA, the US defence research organisation that inspired the model, has a mission focus. Horizon Europe has a mission focus. The Scottish National Investment Bank has a mission focus on reducing inequalities and tackling climate change. If we do not know what we want to achieve, how do we have any idea whether ARIA is being successful in achieving its goals?
There are serious questions not just about the focus but about the planned oversight and governance of the new agency. Alarm bells go off when I read that it will be exempt from freedom of information requests and public contract regulations, especially given the current Government’s woeful record on accountability and transparency. The Government seek to excuse that on the grounds of avoiding bureaucracy, but as the Campaign for Freedom of Information has pointed out, the US equivalent of ARIA is covered by the US Freedom of Information Act and was subject to just 48 requests in 2019. Such a volume of FOI requests could not conceivably be seen as a block to ARIA’s success.
Bureaucracy looks increasingly to be a convenient byword for bypassing scrutiny of this Government, who, ironically, have dramatically increased damaging bureaucracy for international businesses and academia since our leaving the EU. Covid has also been used as a cover for all sorts of contracts being handed out without competition, clarity or comeback. The need for speed is not an excuse for keeping the paperwork, for not printing the details within legally required timeframes, or for misleading Parliament over what has been made public.
Questions continue to be raised, and dodged, about why so many Tory donors, friends and associates have been the recipients of directly awarded contracts, even when their CVs show little experience in the field. I draw the Minister’s attention to my Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill, which would ensure that Ministers were answerable to Parliament where such situations arose—not to hold up the awarding of contracts but to allow Parliament the opportunity to question their appropriateness. I have written to the Cabinet Office seeking the Government’s support to take that Bill forward. Certainly, if there is nothing to hide, the Government should have nothing to fear from it.
In setting up a new funding body, especially for high-risk funding such as this, it is imperative that safeguards are built in to protect against the risk of corruption. There is an urgent need for more, not less, oversight in public spending decisions, and I am dismayed that the Government continue to dismiss those concerns.
In conclusion, while I support the concept and the dedicated high-risk research funding, more clarity is certainly needed about the plans, the funding implications for devolved Governments, and the relationship with existing R&D structures. I know that the Government do not always like detail, but a bit more understanding of who ARIA’s customers might be, how the body will be held to account and what it seeks to achieve would certainly be welcome. Big ambition is a good thing, but Government goals are more likely to succeed when we actually know what they are.
I welcome this Bill. As the former Science Minister who ushered in this concept of the UK ARPA—now ARIA—in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, I am delighted that the introduction of this Bill so early in the Parliament demonstrates the Prime Minister’s key determination that research and development will be a priority as we look to build global Britain on the back of recovery from the pandemic.
The Bill needs to be placed in the context of the uplift in research and development spend that has been spoken about, from the £9 billion per annum that we have spent in the past to £22 billion by 2024-25. To put that in context, ARIA will represent just 1% of total research spending in the period it is set up for, over five to 10 years. That is obviously due to our commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, and we need to look at how we achieve that by creating multi-annual financial budgets. We know that ARIA will have £800 million over a five-year period, and that is incredibly welcome. We need that certainty and stability for the rest of the R&D sector to be able to plan ahead and devise research partnerships.
A number of Members have spoken about the current insecurities regarding the Horizon Europe subscription. There were plenty of insecurities when it came to seeing whether we would be an association member of Horizon Europe in the first place, yet we crossed that line. I am in no doubt that these issues will be resolved within the appropriate timescale to provide certainty for the science and research sector when it comes to plugging funding shortfalls, but in the future we should learn the lessons by creating multi-annual, sustainable, long-term budgets that stop us reaching this stage in the first place.
I believe that the Bill designs the right structure for ARIA, with that 10-year certainty that it will exist, free from ministerial whims and able to plan ahead. It is right that the Bill strikes the tone and balance between, necessarily, independence and autonomy, as well as providing the right flexibility to prioritise discovery-led research. There has been some discussion on Second Reading today around whether we should be taking a mission-oriented approach or whether we should be looking for moonshots for ARIA, but that is fundamentally to misunderstand the purpose of creating an organisation that will prioritise disruptive innovation. There are plenty of other opportunities for moonshots elsewhere within the R and D ecosystem. ARIA’s sole purpose will be to look at how we can create paradigm shifts in technologies or, indeed, in technologies that do not even exist at the moment. I reference back to the UK being a founder member of CERN in 1983. We put £144 million a year into CERN now, so our spend on ARIA is quite modest by comparison. No one expected CERN to help to develop the internet or touch-screen computing, and yet they have been spin-outs as a result of prioritising discovery-led technologies and putting our faith in research, not knowing where it might lead us.
Other countries are doing the same. When we look at this discussion around ARIA, it is important to understand that it is not just about ARPA—and it is nothing to do with DARPA. Obviously, DARPA is a mission-oriented defence-led project. We focused our intention on the 1950s and ’60s version of ARPA when looking at how to create ARIA. There is Vinnova in Sweden, which is £260 million a year; imPACT in Japan; and SPRIN-D in Germany, which was set up in 2019 on exactly the same framework as we are looking at for ARIA. In a way, therefore, we are behind the curve. Other countries are already powering ahead, looking at setting up these disruptive innovation centres that will prioritise discovery-led technology, and we need to step up to the plate now.
When it comes to the Bill, I will make two final points. First, there is the issue around commercialisation. As I have mentioned, £800 million is a modest amount. We can supercharge that, just as we need to supercharge our 2.4% target by leveraging private investment. How can we do that? We can look towards prizes that have been established, such as the $10 million Ansari X Prize, which has leveraged $100 million. ARPA in the States also relies heavily on SRI International at Stanford University to help drive the spin-outs. We need to be cautious about not leaving an open door when it comes to focusing on the “R” in research and then forgetting about the “D”. This has been mentioned before, but what we do not want to see is discoveries coming out of ARIA being taken advantage of by other companies abroad. We need to look at how we protect the intellectual property. We need to look at how we can create an organisation that will focus on the “D”. I do not believe that Innovate UK has the capacity at the moment to be able to achieve that, so we need to look at the Fraunhofer in Germany, which spends 10 time the amount of investment than the catapult centres, for focusing on how we can look at applied level research for the future.
Then there is the issue of high risk. Yes, we need high-risk research, and yes, we must have the freedom to fail, but we must also understand the risk when it comes to collaboration with foreign powers, hostile research and making sure that we have the right security measures in place for dealing with research integrity and that we have trusted research partnerships. That is why it is exactly right that we have the FOI exemption in place to be able to protect this research and make sure that other countries do not take advantage of it.
Finally, it would be remiss of me, as a local MP, not to mention the location of ARIA. It is right that it should be practically a virtual location spread across the country, and we need to ensure that universities and national laboratories have the right investment to be able to help conduct the research for ARIA. When it comes to the headquarters, the Bristol and Bath Science Park in my constituency has land that is free, and I am sure that it would give a very good rate if ARIA wished to set up there, right next to the National Composites Centre and the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems. It would be a huge opportunity if ARIA wished to locate in my constituency, which is only down the road from Chipping Sodbury—as the Secretary of State mentioned, the birthplace of the vaccine used by Edward Jenner.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) and wish him all the best as he leaves this place. I always find him a very easy fella to get on with. We have worked together in many debates; usually I intervened on him, and maybe there was the odd time when he intervened on me. We have a good friendship, and I wish him and his family well. We will miss his friendship in the Chamber.
I am a strong supporter of Government’s aim to increase public research and development funding to £22 billion by 2024-25 and to increase overall UK spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. I welcome and am really pleased to see the Government’s proposals. I will not make a plea for my own constituency, but I will make a plea for Northern Ireland as an area where we believe that we can help each other.
If we ever needed proof or a supreme example of just how well we can do things—when I say “we”, I mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; all of us better together under the Union flag, which is where the strength of our co-operation and friendship should be—who could fail to be amazed by the development of the vaccine? From the start to the end, we have got a number of effective vaccines on the streets within a year. After all the difficulties of the last year, the success story has been the vaccine and its roll-out. Which of us did not feel a wee bit better when the vaccines were announced by the Health Secretary in the Chamber? We could almost feel a smile on our face and a skip in our step. That was because of the scientists and the expertise that we have in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, leading the way. That is why I believe that the science and the R&D can and, indeed, will succeed.
I can understand those who are concerned at the speed of the vaccine development—they know that R&D usually takes years, but the coronavirus is an example of where it can take less time. The difference that dedicated funding and governmental support makes is clear. The Government and the Prime Minister in particular initially made sure that money was set aside for the research. Clearly that was a good move, and we thank them for it. The money is there to roll out the programmes, hire the staff and purchase the necessary equipment, and we have vaccines available because we invested; our Government and our country—our great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—invested.
Imagine what we could achieve if we put resources into other goals—if we thought big and funded those thoughts. Is it wrong to aim for the stars? I do not think it is. In the last year, we have aimed for the stars and achieved it. The right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) referred to the moonshot goals. One of my favourite films is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We all know the scene where James Stewart’s character talks about lassoing the moon, and it is not impossible to do some things we have always talked about doing in a romantic way. We can do great things in research and development through the moonshot goals.
Of course there must be regulation and restrictions. Common sense should go hand in hand with idealism, and we must ensure that safety is paramount. If we look at what we have done, it shows the best of British and the best of what we can achieve, with co-operation between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the mainland, as well as with our international colleagues; what a sight that is to behold. The Bill applies to the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Supporting scientific research and development sits within the legislative competence of the devolved nations—in my case, the Northern Ireland Assembly—although specific reservations exist, and I look forward to the devolved nations contributing to this process and passing their consent.
In a debate in Westminster Hall last week, at which the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), was present, I mentioned Queen’s University Belfast and the great partnerships that it has in health research in particular to find cures for diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Every now and again, that research has dividends and they are able to announce some of the good things they have done. Again, I ask the Minister to ensure that we can all benefit from the partnerships with universities and companies. As others have said, universities across the whole of the United Kingdom can deliver opportunities for people to progress their degrees, carry out investigations and find cures.
Northern Ireland has an excellent workforce—highly skilled, young, capable and educated to the standard that we all want. To give just one example, cyber-security in Northern Ireland is the best in the United Kingdom—indeed, the best in Europe. I suggest to the House that our workforce, their skills and their capability be used as we all move forward together.
My one note of caution is that while we must be ambitious, we must also be realistic. There cannot be a blank cheque for any project, but I believe that clause 3, on long-term ambition, must have a common-sense element and that projects must have an end date. We must be aware of our finite budget and of the need to fund projects that can provide immediate results and benefits such as pancreatic cancer drugs. I am my party’s health spokesperson, so I am very interested in how we can work together to find cures for diseases and reduce the number of deaths they cause across the whole of the United Kingdom. I look forward the fund being made available for health projects, as well as technological advances.
I support our research and development, I support the Bill and I support this Government and the Minister in the work she does. The Bill gives us a vision of the future—a vision that we must grasp. We have a glimpse of what we can achieve, and the potential can and must be exploited in a reasonable way for everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, always better together.
Before I call the next speaker, I point out that everyone remaining to speak in this debate is from one political party, so if you go wildly over the five-minute mark, you may be pushing one of your colleagues off the list. There is a challenge for Ian Liddell-Grainger.
For the next hour, I will enthuse you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Seriously though, the Bill has an enormous amount going for it. It is a good Bill with a lot in it that I feel very comfortable with, although there are always things that one can question.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, one of the great sites in the United Kingdom is in my area—the Gravity site, just outside Bridgwater. This 660-acre enterprise zone has incredible potential. It is run by the Salamanca Group, with enormous support from the local community and Sedgemoor District Council. We could do something enormously important there with innovation, research and, I dare say, the very essence of what we want to be in the future. It is easy for a Government to say they will put all the money into universities or into proven areas, but I think of the Prime Minister’s policy of levelling up and making sure that every region and every area gets part of the money, be it for fusion or whatever. Let us use that constructively.
The Gravity site is halfway between Bristol and Exeter. It is enormous and it has everything in place to enable us to do something remarkable. We are close to Bath University, Bristol University and Exeter University. We could facilitate all this work. We are also very lucky in having next to the site one of the great tertiary colleges of the United Kingdom—the best, in my humble opinion. Bridgwater and Taunton College has 25,000 tertiary students. It has trained most of the people in the local area, including those working at Hinkley Point nuclear station and in our huge distribution and massive manufacturing sectors.
We get a lot of, “This is about innovation,” but so much of what we have had to learn in the past year is about how to keep supply chains running during a pandemic or any other crisis. We have learned that, and that is innovation. That is invention. That is what this is all about—learning from mistakes. We have heard a lot about vaccines, but again, we have a site where we could do this. We want to be levelled up. We want to strive to do better. That is why sites like Gravity in the west country lend themselves to the Government’s being able to say, “Yes, we can buy into this.” When there is a shovel-ready site ready to go, it is fairly easy for any Government to say, “Yes, we can do this.” I would welcome the opportunity to prove our case. I know the Secretary of State is fully aware of the Gravity site because we have talked about it and the opportunities. This is something we have to grasp. It has proceeded somewhat in the teeth of the local county council, which has been particularly unhelpful, but we are ready.
I am conscious of time and that colleagues wish to speak, so let me say finally that I believe that the very future of the United Kingdom lies in innovation. Napoleon called us the country of small shopkeepers. He was right: we are brilliant at this sort of small innovation. So much of the tech, the FinTech and all the other things that we now take for granted came from the United Kingdom. It came not just through our great universities, but through our entrepreneurs—in the west country, we have Dyson, who lives just outside Bristol.
Let us use what is great about Britain, which is our ability to think outside the box, laterally, in a way that turns the world on. Rah-rah Britain, and rah-rah Gravity.
Of course I welcome the idea that we should do everything we can to promote greater science and better technology. Our country has a fine history and tradition of scientific breakthroughs and scientific excellence in our universities and our scientific societies. We also have a fine tradition in technology, with entrepreneurs developing new industrial processes and new products and making great breakthroughs that have benefited humanity widely, and of course we should do everything we can to support that. There may well also be a gap that this body can fill between all the methods we have of backing science and technology, and I wish it every success.
In his introductory remarks, the Minister pointed to the recent great success of universities, companies, medics, scientists and Government in coming together—here and elsewhere, but particularly here—on the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Why did that work? Because there was a very clear, defined task. There was great excellence and expertise already in companies and university science, and the Government helped to bring that together, to pump-prime the process and then to provide very large orders, as did other Governments and health services around the world, to make it worthwhile and to defeat the virus.
Now, we hope that do not have too many of those concentrated needs, but that model worked without ARIA, so this body has to define something a bit different from that. I notice that MPs are already discussing the adequacy or inadequacy of its resources, by which they usually mean money. I do not think it is possible to have any idea of what would be a good and realistic budget for it until talented people have been appointed to run it and have set out what it is trying to do. The first thing the Government need to do, therefore, following the success of this legislation—I am sure it will pass quite easily—is to appoint really great people to lead this organisation who just have that feel, that touch and that intelligence to judge risk, to sense opportunity, to see where the niches are and to define the unique breakthroughs and areas where this body can make a serious contribution. As some have said, a scattergun approach is probably not going to work; trying to do too much across too broad a spread would require a lot of good fortune. This body will need some targeting.
ARIA then has to work out how it commercialises whatever it produces. The UK has had a century or more of plenty of breakthroughs and technical innovations, but in quite a lot of cases we did not go on to commercialise and exploit opportunities, and we allowed others around the world to adapt patents or take the underlying principles and develop their own products, making many more jobs and much more commercial success out of these things than we did. The leaders of this body therefore need to ask how they will commercialise the ideas, how big a role that will play, and at what point they will work with commercial companies that could come in and take advantage.
That leads on to the issue of security. I do not think British taxpayers want to spend more money on blue-sky research and interesting technical ideas only to see them taken away, perhaps resulting in many more products for the Chinese to export back to the United Kingdom. What we want is that integrated approach, where the ideas that the Government have helped to pay for through this body, working with universities and perhaps with companies, can go on to be commercialised and add to the stock of wealth and jobs and make a wider contribution to the human position.
I suggest that the Government link the development of this body to the work that they have started to do, and they need to do much more widely, on national resilience. I am an admirer of what President Biden has set out to do in the United States of America on supply chains. He has a very ambitious programme—a 100-day programme for targeted sectors and a one-year programme for all the sectors of the US economy. It is looking at what America can do better, at where America needs to fill in gaps in her knowledge and understanding of patent, designs and specifications, at where America needs to put in new capacity to avoid shortages or more hostile powers interrupting her production processes by withholding import, and at where the Government machine can use intelligent procurement, appropriate grants and interventions to work with the private sector to have a much better supply chain, creating more jobs and providing national resilience.
I hope that the agency will look at what we can do to ensure that we make our weapons and defence requirements, as the new policy suggests that we will do more often. It should look at how we can grow more food and make sure that we have more of our own fish so that we have fewer food miles and more national resilience in the food chain. It should look at a series of industrial areas where we have in the past been very successful to see where we can improve the technology and add to the UK capacity to produce.
My suggestion to Ministers is that the first task is to get really excellent people; the second is to work with them on defining realistic and achievable objectives; and the third is to ensure that the agency is properly resourced—£800 million might be the right amount, but if the agency comes up with really worthwhile things that look as though they will work, we will want to back it with more money. If it was not getting very far, I think a number of MPs who say that they do not mind failure would become rather more critical. This will need quite a lot of ministerial and parliamentary supervision. I wish the agency every success, and I look forward to hearing to more detail about what it is trying to do.
It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who captured a number of key issues. He finished on the topic of national resilience, and there are so many areas in our economy and society in which we need to be more resilient. The covid crisis is a particular area of interest, but no doubt many other countries in the world and many organisations are looking at that. It may not be the opportunity on which the Advanced Research and Invention Agency might want to focus. Many other people have focused on the idea of disruptive technologies, which might be particularly well fitted to what ARIA is there to do. Those are areas where industry or sectors have perhaps become complacent, with old, established technologies, and it is about making the next-generation leap forward.
The debate has rather lent itself to the idea of the Haldane principle, going back 100 years or so—to the idea of having a research-led approach that is therefore taken away from the direction of politicians. That approach would be natural and healthy and would complement the wider research, innovation and development ecosystem. I was reassured by what my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) said; after he had conversations with a couple of his local catapults, they said that they are not worried that ARIA might step on their toes. It is a natural complement to so much else of what the Government are doing. This championing of science, technology, innovation and invention is immensely important, and it ought to be very reassuring to businesses and other organisations seeking to invest in the United Kingdom, and ideally also companies seeking to reinvest from the UK and into the UK. It sends the message right across the world that we are ambitious—the global Britain idea that we are not looking inward and downward but out to the world.
That is part of the reason for our ambition by 2027 to take our R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP. That is a stepping-stone, not the end point of the ambition. The ambition is to get to 3% in the longer term, looking to emulate other countries around the world who do that, and to be competitive. To be in the position we want to be in and ought to be in, we need to be seeking to reach that next level of 3% R&D spend, and ARIA is a stepping-stone towards that.
Ultimately we want high-tech, innovative progress in the United Kingdom. That is not an end in itself. Universities and other organisations are not an end in themselves; they are great generators of wealth to improve our standards of living, but ultimately what people around the country will be focused on is having good jobs. We want people right around the country to be ambitious: to seek jobs in this sector, and to be studying physics and mathematics and all sorts of other subjects that will come into this territory for research and development, invention and innovation.
It will be interesting to see how in future ARIA works on that invention side of things with UKRI, which is still relatively new, to get those inventions into innovation and into businesses, and to create those works and those jobs of the future. We could go on to mention so many different topics from nuclear fusion to the next generation of batteries to satellites. There are so many sectors that involve artificial intelligence and life sciences, and so many of them are in the UK. We are already in a leading position and we have the opportunity to make that leap forward. We do not know what sectors will be around in 10 or more years’ time, but this is the ambition—this is the timeline, this is the vision for the future that ARIA has.
The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), started off with a war of words about where the headquarters will be, and he suggested it might end up being in London. I am sure it will not; I am sure there is a huge amount of competition around the country, and I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) made a compelling argument for Bolton. I am quite modest in my ambitions and would not demand that the headquarters be located in Bolton West; I will sacrifice my personal ambition for Bolton North East—or even Bolton South East. Where the headquarters ends up is incredibly important as it is part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, but will my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), the science and innovation Minister, confirm that, wherever ARIA is based, it will be a collaborative organisation that will do so much for the United Kingdom?
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green). As mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak), scientific and engineering leaders—such as Stephenson who almost 200 years ago started passenger rail travel on the Darlington to Stockton railway on the Aycliffe levels in my Sedgefield constituency —stimulated changes that we could not imagine. The bicentenary of this event in my constituency is 2025 and we look forward to welcoming visitors to see the celebration. This Bill can be an inspiration for more leaders to grow up among our young people as they see that our country supports the development and motivation of great ideas.
In speaking in support of this Bill, I remind the House that we heard in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the UK ARPA needs to be able to take risks. It therefore must be kept at arm’s length from existing public R&D structures to avoid culture-capture. Many of the UK’s existing research bodies seek to manage out risk, which is contrary to the terms of the UK ARPA, which must be able to tackle high-risk, high-reward projects with pace and energy.
We were also informed that the Science and Technology Committee had been told that creating a British ARPA could be destructive if it were to end up overlapping with the responsibilities of existing structures. It is important that we address these points; I believe this proposal does so but would like the Minister to confirm it. For too long we have not delivered the support that delivers innovation into a commercial space and this can be a lever to help.
I have on many occasions since joining this place referred to the hierarchy of knowledge: there are things we know; things we don’t know; but also things that we don’t know we don’t know. It is this latter space that I have found myself in so many times in the last 15 months. It is also the space that ARIA is to work in. It therefore feels appropriate that its remit is vaguer than some colleagues might like. This clearly makes the determination of its leadership critical, and this process must be credible and given time.
I will further explain my support by using a real-world example from a company that has already raised with me its belief that ARIA can be a force to develop UK innovation. There is a business in my Sedgefield constituency called Kromek. It is an innovation and export-led business in the UK and California that is based at NETPark in Sedgefield, which is the home of similar innovative businesses, including Catapult. Of course, this is in addition to the newly announced economic campus in Darlington that will include an International Trade footprint. The area would therefore be an outstanding site for ARIA to base itself.
Given the space that Kromek operates in and its footprint in the USA, it is very used to working with DARPA. That is interesting, because we understand that the intention is for ARIA to be in the same sort of space. Kromek has worked with a number of innovation agencies. For businesses like Kromek, innovation-led funding that accepts a higher risk can be the key that opens scientific advances quicker. It also provides better opportunities for such companies to develop production and supply chains in the UK, and, in Kromek’s case, in the north-east—helping the levelling-up agenda and frustrating the brain drain.
ARIA can provide transformational change to the innovation landscape by helping to create technology and solutions to address current UK needs. For example, Kromek developed a unique radiation detection solution that is now protecting critical infrastructure in New York. The products developed under this programme have been sold in more than 25 countries around the world so far. Further investment here could mean massive job opportunities. I invite any Minister who is visiting the north-east to join me in visiting this exceptional organisation, to understand the difference that an innovation-led business can make.
Kromek is currently working with DARPA to develop a virus detection system that can detect viruses, including covid-19, in open spaces. With ARIA support, these initiatives could be more UK-oriented and leverage more UK supply chain growth. The company has created a whole biotech part of the business, and because of this funding, this part of the business has already created 20 high-paid jobs and intellectual property in the space; it has real leverage potential.
ARIA, like DARPA, is to be positioned so that it can cut through most of the bureaucracy and act at speed. It is speed and greater risk acceptance that facilitate innovation within the necessary timeframe. For ARIA, we must be cognisant that not all rolls of the dice will be successful, but that the funds we are risking are proportionate and appropriate for the potential they could deliver—not just in hard cash, but also in mindset. Standing behind funds like this gives the investor confidence of intent, and encourages innovation and risk taking.
ARIA can help businesses to develop products and services linked to real-life applications that can meet the needs of the UK. As a result, it can make not only the companies globally more competitive, but the UK more sustainable in its capabilities; and it can drive global Britain as a world leader in innovation. The support of investment in innovation and innovative research, particularly in places such as Sedgefield, has the potential to help build back better and support levelling up. It can also make UK products to support our security forces, and provide the potential for us to be more self-sufficient and an exporter of products, rather than of IP and jobs.
I welcome the creation of this fund and hope that its initiatives are successful. I also hope that the expenditure is viewed in context and does not become the target of pressure from the first failure, but rather that it is given the time and space to deliver.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell).
This is the second time I have been able to speak on this programme, the first being in the Budget debate, and it is safe to say that as a proud Conservative and businessman, I am extremely excited about this initiative. This Government have spent much on supporting this country as it has battled against coronavirus, and that has been hugely appreciated by many in my constituency, but now is the time that we look at ways in which we can raise revenue and transform our economy for the better.
The ability to borrow money comes only through being a responsible debtor and showing your creditors that you are serious about paying the money back. If we are to maintain our position as a fiscally prudent country, we have three choices: spending less, taxing more, or growing our economy, primarily through exports. We must not forget that, as predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility, spending will reduce through the roll-out of the vaccine and the subsequent opening up of the economy. Furthermore, we now know that the books will not be balanced through one-off wealth tax grabs that were predicted; instead, the Chancellor rightly decided to introduce a tiered system of corporation tax while still encouraging investment through super deductions.
Today I want to touch on growth through innovation and exports. This innovative and export-led growth will of course only be possible if the UK has the best products and services to sell. This is possible now, more than ever, as we are no longer constrained by Brussels red tape. By establishing the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, we can finally fund our budding scientists, inventors and visionaries properly. The high-risk, high-value objective of the agency will ensure that the very best talent that the UK has to offer can solve problems, introduce ideas and create technological wonders that would not otherwise be possible. That is not just for show: this new approach will help to create wealth, jobs and prosperous futures for decades to come. After all, similar projects are what led to the creation of the internet and other transformative technologies that we once considered unimaginable. As highlighted, if we are again to become the workshop of the world, research and innovation projects must not be hindered by bureaucracy and slow decision making. Only then can the real risk-takers go ahead so that our innovators can be set free and get on with formulating and envisioning the next great technological changes of the 21st century. With the budget being offered to ARIA, I know they will be able to.
We have seen through this pandemic what talent our country has at its disposal. ARIA will unleash this talent and no doubt help to catapult our great industries on to the world stage, thus bringing our trade deficit and national debt down and supercharging a green industrial revolution right here in the UK. Yet the Advanced Research and Invention Agency can only unleash this talent if its chief executive is forward-thinking and a real visionary, for we are embarking on something truly revolutionary in the world of innovation and technological advancement. In other words, this initiative is far too important to be left in the hands of someone who does not share the stated aim of supercharging scientific discovery. I hope the Department advertises this position widely and is meticulous in appointing the right person who can lead this aspirational agency forward.
As someone who prides themselves on being a constituency-focused MP, I say to the people of Don Valley: “Do not think that what we are discussing here today will not affect you. Quite the contrary; the establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency is as much for you as it is for anyone else in this country, for I know that future innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs from Don Valley will all benefit from this forward-looking, exciting programme.” Finally, if the Government truly want to demonstrate their commitment to levelling up the north, there will be no better way of doing so than by establishing this agency right here in Doncaster.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and his wise words. For decades the UK has been at the cutting edge of innovation and technology, and our fantastic universities in particular have been a powerhouse of science and research. They include the formidable Loughborough University in my constituency, which has a global reputation for its cutting edge theoretical and applied research. It has been responsible for, and party to, many technological advances and scientific discoveries, including a recently announced and incredibly exciting project that is looking into the potential for human brain stem cells to be used to power artificial intelligence devices and bring about a revolution in computing.
One of my aims as an MP is to assist in creating pathways between our universities and businesses to ensure that talent and research are maximised so that projects such as these can be turned from an initial idea into an innovative and marketable product. As such, I am fully supportive of Loughborough University’s science and enterprise park, which provides businesses of all sizes, including start-ups, with an opportunity not only to collaborate with one another but to access the university’s research base and skilled workforce supply. As the Minister and I witnessed last year in a science showcase in Portcullis House, this country has a wealth of ideas and innovations just waiting to be shaped and developed.
That being said, there is still much more we can do to harness and grow our research and development sector, which is why I am very supportive of the UK’s R&D road map. In particular, we need to focus on creating more and stronger pathways between universities, research establishments and transformational businesses, and on removing unnecessary bureaucracy. That is something the USA does very well, and it is the reason that it is incredibly successful in bringing innovative products to market. I therefore welcome the Government’s proposals for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency modelled on the USA’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Crucially, we need to ensure that the agency is run by our brightest and best scientists, and that they have not only the funding and freedom needed to identify and invest in the most important and innovative research but the flexibility to redirect funding quickly when a project has come to the end of its lifespan. To that end, I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister how she will ensure that ARIA is not constrained by the bureaucracy that can currently inhibit R&D funding.
Alongside ensuring appropriate funding, flexibility and freedom, we also need to ensure that we mirror the USA’s culture of tolerance for failure, which is a huge part of research and development and often the key to its success. If we allow the risk of failure to hamper research, we ultimately jeopardise our pursuit of breakthroughs and potentially our ability to happen across another promising technology in the process. Instead, we should provide scope for failure within the agency, and I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend how that can be achieved.
By creating the space to maximise potential in our United Kingdom, we not only give all aspects of the economy the chance to bounce back now but create new routes to market for the future. New ideas and invention are the ways in which disruptor technology and science are created, leading to a new way of living for our future. Many of the great minds we have in this country have the potential to create great change; they just need the opportunity to come their way. ARIA is the opportunity. Let us not stifle innovation. Let us find the next internet, the next GPS and the next hydrogen technology. Now that we have left the EU, we are in a great position to reimagine how we support our researchers and harness our research base to cement ourselves as a global science superpower. The Bill will go a long way to achieve this, and I will be supporting it today.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt). On Anglesey, we have a huge focus on research and innovation, which fits perfectly with the remit of ARIA. Our island hosts the Menai science park —M-SParc—which is Bangor University’s hub for creative and STEM innovation. The park supports companies and businesses in the low-carbon, energy and environment, ICT and natural product sectors, and links into the green energy agenda that Anglesey embraces through its Energy Island initiative. Professor Iwan Davies, the vice-chancellor of Bangor University, said to me recently:
“At Bangor University we treat innovation and entrepreneurship as an ecosystem with impact. An important pathway to impact is supporting funding for research and I welcome ARIA funding which can support the role that universities can play in promoting innovation, which is so often non-linear in its development.”
M-SParc has already seen the benefits of Innovate UK funding, with more than £1 million invested in 2020 in businesses such as Haia and BIC Innovation. Menter Môn—another resident at M-SParc—has spearheaded the work on the Holyhead Hydrogen Hub, which was awarded £4.8m funding in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget earlier this month. Bangor University, M-SParc and Menter Môn are all part of my Anglesey freeport bidding consortium, and we are working together on a proposal to bring freeport status to Anglesey, with an emphasis on local innovation.
Through UK Government funding, businesses and opportunities like these are able to grow and generate much-needed local employment. Young people across the island tell me that they want to be able to afford their own home, bring up their families in their community, and keep the Welsh language and culture alive, and to do this they need a good quality job on Anglesey.
This July I will be hosting an innovation jobs fair at M-SParc which I am proud to say will be opened by my hon. Friend the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. Not only will this fair highlight the good quality well-paid jobs that are being made available as a result of UK funding, but it will raise awareness among local young people of the opportunities afforded to them through scientific endeavour.
By filling a gap in the UK’s current R&D funding system and focusing on funding paradigm-shifting science, ARIA will provide a new source of finance that can be used by operations such as M-SParc to support transformational science projects that create real long-term benefit locally, nationally and globally.
The Managing Director of M-SParc, Pryderi ap Rhisiart said:
“R&D Funding is crucial for our network of innovative companies on the Menai Science Park. Despite the pandemic I have been especially pleased to see so many tenant companies securing R&D Funding, working with our Universities and growing in the region.”
By stimulating and supporting cutting-edge research and development, the ARIA fund also offers an opportunity for both Bangor University and Coleg Menai to attract exciting new talent to the region, creating further seams of innovation and enterprise.
As a scientist myself, I am excited that ARIA will empower the science community to identify and fund creative and groundbreaking research that can ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global innovation. The fund will allow the UK to be more responsive and flexible so that projects can be supported to give maximum impact.
I welcome the introduction of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill and this new funding agency and I look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend the Minister to Anglesey to open the island’s first innovation jobs fair.
It is a delight to follow my colleague from the beautiful island of Ynys Môn on this crucial and exciting Bill—well, exciting on the Conservative Benches anyway, as I look at the rows of empty seats on the other side of the House.
The UK has always been a world leader in scientific research and innovation. Creations such as the steam engine, antibiotics and even the internet hail from our wonderful shores. Considering that all those discoveries have been instrumental in shaping the world that we know today, I welcome the Bill, which will work to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower. The Advanced Research and Invention Agency created by this Bill will allow us to continue to build back better through innovation and will be vital in the UK’s economic and social recovery.
North Wales is no stranger to technological advancements, and I am proud that Airbus has a strong base in our region, with a 50-year plus track record of innovation and technological firsts, meaning that it is a pioneer in the aerospace world. It is fantastic that one of the central elements of the agency is its ability to deliver funding quickly to researchers across the UK; the £800 million committed to ARIA over the next four years has the potential to greatly benefit many different sectors, including aerospace.
As Airbus is so vital to Delyn’s economy, I share a sense of regret a little that the Budget did not mention funding for the aerospace sector through the Aerospace Technology Institute. Airbus has experienced a 69% decrease in net orders compared to 2019, and the additional funding that the Bill provides is needed now more than ever to ensure that research and technological advancements can continue long into the future. I am keen to see how ARIA works with and complements the ATI to further fund world-class research and development in this important sector.
I am likewise ecstatic to see that a key element of the agency includes a tolerance for failure. Failure is an important part of any individual or business life and is fundamental to success. As Thomas Edison said many years ago,
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Without his efforts and many failed attempts, we would not have the technology on which we rely so much today. Failure is particularly central to finding technological breakthroughs that have the potential to create the industries and jobs for the future, and it is fantastic to see that that is recognised in the Bill. I have long said that we need to have a greater focus in the UK education system on skills, because many of the jobs that our children will be going into have not even been thought of yet, and it will be skills and the adaptability of our education and training that will add to and enhance ARIA in future.
I have said many times on these Benches that one of the main reasons that I joined the Conservative party in the first place was empowerment. One of my fundamental beliefs is that capital belongs in the hands of the people, not the state—that innovation is found in the imagination and inventiveness of the community, away from the bureaucracy and painfully slow machinations of government. Therefore, nothing filled me with more delight than read about the agency under the section headed “Organisational Form” the words “small number of programme managers with significant autonomy”, followed by the section headed “Relationship to Government” which included the magic words “very free from Government direction”. It was music not only to my ears, but, I am sure, to those of the scientific community at large.
Throughout history, giants of seemingly disparate fields of literature, science and sport have all agreed with the same principles. Two of my favourite quotes from Einstein are that we “cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used” to get them, and:
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
He also said:
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
It is curiosity and passion for discovery that will chart the course for the future of science in this country.
I mentioned earlier that failure is nothing to be feared and is, in fact, absolutely desirable. One of the most celebrated sportsmen of his generation, Michael Jordan—arguably the greatest basketball player ever to grace the court—said:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again…And that is why I succeed.”
Another celebrated sportsman, ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky, said that the only thing that is ever guaranteed is that
“you will definitely not achieve the goal if you don’t take the shot.”
In conclusion, the Bill ensures that this Conservative Government maintain their commitment to increasing public research and development funding and ensure that this country remains a world leader in scientific research and innovation. By pursuing a highly ambitious agenda, ARIA will provide transformational science and technology, and I look forward to seeing the economic and societal benefits that it will bring to the UK. Earlier, I mentioned literature, so I will end on a quote from one of the giants, Mark Twain. His words embody exactly what I think this Bill seeks to achieve:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), who has added to our lexicon of quotes most eloquently today. Today is the national day of reflection, and I join my thoughts to those of the Prime Minister when he said:
“The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and”—
we offer our
“sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones.”
I remember my own father, John Griffith, who passed away from covid on 2 April last year.
Sometimes—not often, but sometimes—an idea comes along that makes so much sense that we just want to get on with it and see it succeed. Today’s Bill is one such proposal. It is bold, additive and disruptive, very much like, if I may say so, my wonderful colleagues on these Benches from the 2019 intake—and I will support each and every one of their bids for the location of ARIA. It comes against the context of this Government’s already world-leading approach to research and development: increasing spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and £22 billion by 2024, publishing the R&D road map, setting out a vision for global talent and making the UK the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs. Only this week, the Government consulted on cutting red tape to free up our brightest minds so that they can continue to make cutting-edge discoveries while cementing the UK’s status as a science world superpower.
If we have learned anything at all from the past 12 months it is that we need more disruption, not less. Look at the success of the Vaccine Taskforce, ably led by Kate Bingham. Last summer, she put her role as a life sciences venture capitalist on hold, and used her industry and investment experience to direct the UK’s vaccine purchasing strategy—an outsider in conventional research council terms; someone empowered to take swift decisions, comfortable with owning those decisions, while politicians had her back, and were not peering over her shoulder.
A year into the pandemic, despite limited buying power, we have secured deals for more than 400 million doses of covid-19 vaccine, and we lead all the global rankings for roll-out speed for a country of our size. It is a magnificent, unadulterated success, but it pains me greatly that, rather than being a united national effort, that had to be achieved in the teeth of opposition, with members of the party led by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) still calling for us to be part of an EU-wide vaccines programme.
Disruption works, and we need more of it. No one is saying that ARIA will live in a bat cave—perhaps it should—or occupy a perfect vacuum, but limited exemptions from freedom of information and public procurement rules make perfect sense. I do not envy the Opposition their job today—clearly neither do they—and I question whether the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was a Cummings-ite. Not only should he accept that as a compliment, but he should know that we generally welcome the Opposition’s constructive tone on the Bill. Perhaps in the winding-up speeches we will learn whether the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) describes herself as a Dom disciple.
The Opposition take issue with the disapplication of freedom of information measures to the new invention agency. I not only point to public bodies that benefit from similar exclusions, including the BBC and Channel 4, but I am very much with the former boss of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North—the former Member for Sedgefield, who wrote in his autobiography:
“Freedom of Information…Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head ’til it drops off. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate.”
I conclude where I began. This is a rare and excellent piece of policy that I hope everyone in the House can get behind. It has been welcomed by the chief scientific adviser, the head of UKRI and the head of the Royal Academy of Engineering. It piles up money invested in research and development to ever greater heights, and by introducing a pinprick of disruptive process and innovation into Government funding, perhaps its biggest long-term impact will not be the money spent by ARIA but the leverage of that disruption, making even more productive the billions of money that is spent elsewhere.
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) and participate in the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. In what at times has been a gloomy and difficult year since we locked down last March, it is wonderful to debate a Bill that is truly blue sky in its thinking and forward looking, and which delivers on our manifesto commitment to create a high-risk, high-reward funding agency that will drive UK innovation as we build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.
It was a pleasure to discuss the Bill with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), before Second Reading. I am happy to tell the House, as I did her, that science, research an innovation are certainly not my “Mastermind” subject—as it clearly is for many hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken today. I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to their expertise and important contributions, especially those who outlined our wonderful history as a world leader in innovation in the past. Instead, I have an enormous interest, derived as a constituency MP, in the success of this Bill, and I congratulate all involved on securing £800 million of funding from the Treasury. Guildford is home to the brilliant University of Surrey and Surrey research park, and exciting sectors such as space and satellite. Guildford is not only a UK leader, but a global hub in gaming and technology derived from the gaming sector, such as virtual reality.
Although we do not know what ARIA will eventually focus on, my understanding of the intention behind the Bill is that it is to transform our lives and make the world a better place. I hope that climate change can be tackled as a result of investment in either UKRI or ARIA. I am on record with my desire, expressed at a climate hustings I attended during the general election campaign in 2019, to see brilliant inventions help to tackle climate change. Climate change is a concern I share with my constituents, and I will support any measure to truly improve the future outlook for generations, not only in the UK, but the entire world, which we live in and share.
This is not just about climate change; the research undertaken has the potential ability to transform our way of life through technology, improve economic growth and prosperity, and even to improve the quality of the lives we live, particularly through healthcare solutions. I have been able to witness the wonder of robotic surgery at the Royal Surrey County Hospital; it is truly mind-blowing, and it is technology we have at our fingertips today.
To say that I am excited about this Bill is an understatement. I might have even mentioned to the Minister that Guildford would be an excellent home for ARIA, as we have an innate understanding of the value of research and development, coupled with a cultural appreciation of the long-term benefits that high-risk, high-return investing will bring. Clearly there is some friendly competition for the home of ARIA, having listened to the pitches from many of my hon. Friends today. It is absolutely right that ARIA must sit outside electoral cycles and the day-to-day ministerial functions in order to truly deliver on the Bill’s intention. It fundamentally must be judged by what it learns through failure, rather than what it produces in measurable output, although it is also right that there should be an annual report directly to Parliament—I welcome the inclusion of that in the Bill.
To conclude on a slightly tangential note, ARIA is an inspired acronym. In music, an aria is a self-contained melodious piece for one voice, not the whole orchestra, and so this encapsulates the vision around this important Bill. With its adoption, we can get UK science, research and development truly humming.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) and to speak in this debate, because this Bill demonstrates our national ambition. The creation of an Advanced Research and Invention Agency is a clear statement of intent on science and technology, research and development, and innovation and entrepreneurialism. It means that when we say we want to be a superpower in all those things, we mean it and the world knows it. It also means that we have a tangible impact in those areas. All this matters because research, development, science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurialism are directly linked to our prosperity and to the job creation that all our constituents rely on. This is what will determine the kind of economy we have for decades to come, not just here in the UK, but around the world. Will it be an economy based on UK designs and UK ideas, fed by our universities and research centres, businesses and entrepreneurs, or will be a global economy based on the ideas of others? We all know in this House what we would rather it be, and ARIA is the way we can deliver that.
However, there is a question about what we model ARIA on. Is it an accelerator? Is it a funder? Is it a venture capitalist? Or is it a moonshot organisation, one that tackles the tough questions that we might not even have asked yet and that tolerates failure? On that, I recommend that we look really closely at DARPA. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who referenced a number of organisations around the world—not just DARPA in the US, but others in Japan, Germany and other such places—but DARPA has been truly transformational. In 1960, it launched the Transit satellite, the first space-based navigation satellite. Twenty-three years later, in 1983, the US Marine Corps went to DARPA and said that it was fantastic that it had that navigation, but it needed it to be smaller—smaller than we had ever contemplated before—and DARPA did it. That invention led to GPS receivers in our smartphones, smartwatches and cars. It is what allows farmers to irrigate their fields remotely and logistics companies to get products from China to the UK, monitoring from one centre.
In 1969, when DARPA was known as ARPA, it launched the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, ARPANET, a pioneering network for data to be shared between computers in two different locations. Ten years later, in 1979, it launched the internet protocol—IP—which packaged data up and sent it. DARPA then introduced the computer mouse as a way of allowing us to interface with computers, something now so commonplace that we do not give it a second thought. Much more recently, in 2002, DARPA launched its Personal Assistant that Learns programme to create a cognitive computer system. Today we know that as Siri, and it is on iPhones across the world.
I mention all that because it shows that these things have the potential to shape the modern world, and our ambition and optimism for ARIA should be equal to that. We should aim to shape the world—not just the world we know now, but the world decades into the future—to create the things that we have not even thought about but that will be the backbone of our economy and economies around the world.
However, I want to make a recommendation to the Government. The thing that set DARPA apart and led to its success was having a client—a customer who could ask the questions and show the problems that DARPA then went on to fix, and who could flag the programmes that it needed. We have lots of Departments and organisations that could be that client. It could be the NHS and healthcare. Do we want to be a leader in healthcare, asking the difficult questions and looking for solutions for treating an ageing population and dealing with remote healthcare? Could it be the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, looking at how we get battery technology into homes, how we do carbon capture, and all those things? Is it Defence, as it is in the US, with its unique ability to look across the whole of society, from logistics and communications to civil contingency and health? Or is it all of the above? If it is all of the above, then we should match our optimism and ambition with funding.
ARIA demonstrates our ambition to the world. It could, if successful, genuinely shape our economy and the economy of the whole world, but it needs to be given a direction so that it can ask questions, channel research and deliver prosperity for the nation, and it needs to be free from the shackles that normally govern Whitehall, tolerating failure, and allowed to innovate free from political interference.
It is a clichéd truism that research and development is the growth of tomorrow. It is an expression of confidence in the future prosperity of our country. Recent modelling by Cambridge Econometrics suggests that increasing R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 would boost annual growth by between 1.2% and 1.4%, and increase our productivity by 1%, with further increases thereafter. It is obviously the right course of action for the Government to continue to grow investment in R&D from the historic lows of the last Labour Government.
The lion’s share of Government investment is rightly channelled through UKRI, with its objective of growing a large and vibrant research and innovation culture throughout the UK. UKRI is deeply engaged with both the academic community and the business community, and it will continue to do the heavy lifting in this sector. ARIA will provide something additional to the mix.
Looking around the world for examples of effective applications of R&D investment, I am glad that the Government have learned from the experience of others. DARPA has been instrumental in assisting the crossover of research into commercial opportunities, despite having an overt focus on defence technologies. Given its global impact and consequent reputation, it is surprising to learn that it is a small organisation. I looked it up and found that it has around 220 employees, yet it supports some 250 research projects and has a track record to be proud of, as referred to by many speakers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham). DARPA has been operating since 1958, so it is fair to say that the Government have allowed the start-up wrinkles to be ironed out before emulating its success.
Much as the £800 million allocated in this Parliament will be welcomed by the research community, the greatest contribution of ARIA will be the expression of intent that it articulates. We are living in a new world in which the cosy certainties of previous years are no longer there. That democratic western societies have technological and economic superiority is no longer a given. Membership of the protectionist European trading bloc has been left behind. Our leaving the European Union has provoked a new spirit of national endeavour. Depending on one’s politics, this is either in response to opportunity or out of necessity—it does not really matter. What is important is that we recognise the change in attitudes and do all we can to promote it.
The creation of ARIA reflects this new dynamism: let us learn from the lessons of covid, breakdown bureaucratic barriers and be prepared to take risks and accept failures as part of the price of ambition. Global Britain must be not just a marketing slogan but a reflection of countless investment decisions in boardrooms right throughout the country. ARIA is part of a wider message to business and society as a whole that post-Brexit Britain is dynamic, taking control of its future rather than just hoping for something that is not too bad. It is saying no to the status quo and its cosy relative decline; it is saying yes to the new, to the unproven, to the possible, to the opportunities of low-carbon growth and to scientific endeavour. It is as much a response to the lessons taught to us by the Chinese Government as it is a lesson learned from the United States of America. I suspect it will just be the start.
DARPA has in the US military a guaranteed customer, helping with the development of commercial products from its technological advances. Close attention will need to be given to this process of commercial exploitation. Is there a role for Government to create markets and prime industries? The deindustrialisation of globalisation has delivered us cheaper products in the short term, but there is a difference between offshoring production, and with it the hubs of capacity and expertise, and growing a resilient domestic manufacturing base. To ignore that is to pretend that the geopolitics of the world have not changed in the past 10 years. We need to respond to that, and the response involves the shortening of supply chains. I therefore welcome the focus on UK exploitation as well as UK exploration.
As for the criticism of the Opposition parties, they have a choice: they can snipe from the sidelines, waiting to pounce on the mistakes of those brave enough to try new things, or they can support our dynamism, recognising that risk and opportunity are the two sides of the same coin. The Government have made the right choice in this Bill and they should be supported.
If you do not mind, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a slight confession: I am suffering from a rather extreme out-of-body experience. I have spent the past three and a half hours listening to Members from all parties—from not just the Conservatives but Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the DUP—praising the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. I am having an out-of-body experience not because the House is the most united it has been since I arrived in this place, but because it is so united behind an idea promoted by Dominic Cummings. That shows what an indisputably good idea it must be.
It is absolutely right that the Government do everything they can to promote innovation, which has been the single engine for human progress over the past few centuries. Innovation is the single main reason why our health and wealth are immeasurably better than they were in generations past. Cambridge, my city, is the capital of innovation in the UK and, indeed, in Europe—perhaps in the world. It has had many successes, which have been referred to by a lot of colleagues—it is the global headquarters of AstraZeneca and it has had more Nobel prize winners than almost any country in the world.
One strange feature of innovation is that people often cannot tell where it will lead to when they are doing it. To give one topical example, when the Cambridge researcher Francis Crick was decoding DNA, he had no idea that more than half a century later, it would lead to the Wellcome Sanger Institute in my constituency doing more decoding and genome sequencing of the coronavirus than the rest of the world put together, helping us to track and tackle this pandemic.
The Government do a huge amount to promote innovation already, and we have heard a lot about it this afternoon, so why do we need another agency? Why do we need ARIA? ARIA will help tackle one of the main obstacles of innovation in the public sector, which is that in the public sector, as compared with the private sector, the costs of failure are higher and the rewards for success are lower. What do I mean by that? In the public sector, if somebody fails, they get pilloried in the press and they get the Opposition after them. Ministers have to resign and civil servants lose their job. That does not happen in the private sector. In the public sector, if someone does something that succeeds massively, they do not get bonuses. They are not rewarded by an increase in profits and share prices. The incentives are less.
What we need to do with ARIA is reduce the costs of failure, and that is why it is so important to have a separate, stand-alone organisation that is not part of UKRI—one that has a culture of taking risks and knows that sometimes it is worth having failure. Indeed, if there are not occasional failures, it is not really succeeding in its objective of disrupting and taking risks.
It is important—I urge the Minister to do this—that we help ARIA get more of the rewards for success. Several of my hon. Friends touched on this point earlier. ARIA is able to commercialise and go into business, but let it keep some of the rewards from success, if those projects succeed. That would be a huge incentive for it to try to make sure that those things work.
I have four general points about ARIA. The first is that it must be additional to other forms of research and development. If it is just funding projects that get funded by UKRI already, it is not really doing what it should be. Secondly, it is very important that it can experiment to try out different forms of funding. It has to be able to do a whole range of different types of funding for different projects as it sees fit, and it should be flexible in doing that. For example, we can have a company or academics doing some sort of research that we think is disruptive and amazingly good, but it does not fit into any of the general pots we already have. ARIA needs to be able to give grants to projects that it thinks are worthwhile. It has to have flexibility, and that means not going through the public procurement rules as they exist at the moment.
When I worked in City Hall in London, I was responsible for the London Development Agency, and I did a whole range of projects with public procurement. All I can say is that the only people who think that public procurement rules do not strangle innovation are people who do not have direct experience of them. It is absolutely right that ARIA is exempted from the worst parts of those rules.
Thirdly, picking up on value for money, which some Opposition Members mentioned, it is absolutely right that the Treasury and the Government ensure value for money from public investments across the piece. The Treasury Green Book does that, but it is also right that the Government have a portfolio approach, like a private investor. They might have some lower risk investments in Treasury bonds and then some higher risk investments in venture capital, and they are not all judged by the same rules. We absolutely should not judge ARIA by the same blanket value-for-money rules as we would if we were building a bridge. That would strangle ARIA.
Fourthly, it is absolutely right, as a couple of Members have touched on, that ARIA has multi-annual budgets inasmuch as the Government and the Treasury can allow. Funding disruptive research often takes many years, and simply giving a drip-drip of funding one year at a time will mean a lot of disruptive technologies cannot take flight.
When I was chair of the Government’s Regulatory Policy Committee, I remember civil servants at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy saying to me sagely, “Governments have always set up organisations as independent, and then the politicians realise all the problems of independence and then chip away at the independence over coming years, and the organisations gradually get brought down to heel.” It is very important that does not happen to ARIA, otherwise it will lose the reason for its existence. We have heard Opposition Members in particular talk about the need for FOI requests, for procurement rules, for mission statements and value for money assessments. I ask the Minister and the Government not to listen to those siren calls, which will clip ARIA’s wings at birth, and it will then never take flight.
Finally, I just want to settle one little discussion or dispute that we have had this afternoon. Many of my hon. Friends have been making bids for the location of ARIA; we have heard about Bristol, Bolton, Sedgefield, Doncaster and Guildford. I can sort this for the Government. Put the innovation agency where the innovators are: Cambridge—done.
I enthusiastically welcome the Bill, which not only fulfils a manifesto pledge made in 2019 but is the first step in demonstrating that the United Kingdom is an innovative superpower in the post-covid world. A high-risk, high-payoff research organisation has the potential to provide groundbreaking innovations with military and civilian applications.
Examining and utilising the United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency model in creating ARIA will be critical. I am encouraged that the explanatory notes to the Bill emphasise a desire to do exactly that, but in examining DARPA and why it has been such a success, one must look beyond its organisational structure. The flat management structure, sense of mission, minimal bureaucracy and streamlined process of project approval are all vital to DARPA’s success, but a number of other vital factors must be considered. DARPA’s success has also stemmed from the culture it has fostered and the connections it maintains with industries and academia. Project managers are recruited on a temporary basis from a permanent position in the academic or industrial research community and given tremendous autonomy in their duties.
DARPA has spent more than 50 years nurturing links with academia and industry, and attempting to replicate them hastily in the UK may threaten ARIA’s success. I appreciate that Her Majesty’s Government wish to have ARIA fully operational by 2022. Erica Fuchs’s article “Cloning DARPA Successfully” notes the risk of haste, and I strongly recommend that any of my colleagues who are interested in ARIA read all the arguments that Fuchs makes.
Those sceptical of the importance of DARPA’s model should just examine its successes. The internet, GPS, video-conferencing and the F-117 fighter-bomber—the first aircraft to be designed around stealth technology—are all projects based on funding by DARPA. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy both have a similar model, focusing on high-risk, high-reward in their relevant areas.
Her Majesty’s Government look to provide ARIA with initial funding of £800 million until the end of this Parliament. But if we truly wish to make ARIA a resounding success, increasing funding, so that more innovative projects can be pursued, will be critical. DARPA had an annual budget of $3.427 billion, allowing for groundbreaking innovations to be achieved. I notice that a number of Opposition Members accuse ARIA of being a waste of money. Projects may well fail, and funding may be turned off, but that should be expected. We cannot expect to make significant gains without there being high risks. I also note that some have raised concerns regarding ARIA’s exemption from freedom of information requests. By doing so, we will reduce the administrative requirements on ARIA, ensuring that it is as flexible and agile as possible. Without normalising the idea of failure, ARIA will not be able to drive forward change in how we conduct research and innovation.
In tandem with establishing ARIA, Her Majesty’s Government have championed research and development, committing to spend 2.4% of our GDP on R&D by 2027 to ensure that we remain a leader in science and innovation. The Bill is vital in establishing the United Kingdom as a nucleus of innovation, but if ARIA is to triumph, we must learn from why DARPA is such a success and how we can adopt its practices.
This country is steeped in science and invention, so it is fitting that the Bill paves the way to create an agency that will lead to who knows what UK discoveries and innovation.
Members might not think that my constituency would be home to some of the most famous British inventions we have ever heard of, but they would be wrong. Christopher Cockerell, who was at Gresham’s School in my constituency, began with a prototype using a vacuum cleaner, a cat food tin and a coffee jar. He tested his invention on Oulton Broad in the 1950s, before it became the hovercraft, which saw its first commercial crossing of the channel in 1959. Perhaps one of the most famous inventors this country has ever produced grew up in North Norfolk and retains a close affinity with my constituency. He invented the ballbarrow, before inventing the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner. We all know him today as one of our greatest living inventors, Sir James Dyson.
What those two people have in common, apart from their connections to North Norfolk, is that they failed a great number of times until they created the inventions we know today. That is exactly what is so special about the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—that it will cut the red tape and bureaucracy and enable creativity and talent to take the risks that failure so often curtails before people are ever allowed the chance to succeed. With £800 million behind it, and the freedom to explore, ARIA is the launchpad that could so effectively uncover the next leading and pioneering inventor.
We are a scientific superpower. If anyone has any doubt about that, or about what we are capable of, they need only look at what we have achieved in this great nation in the last year, with the University of Oxford developing the coronavirus jab. That encapsulates why we should invest in science and pour money into such transformative research, which I have no doubt will be necessary again in our lifetimes. Free from the political union with Europe, the Government made the right choice. We sought our own vaccination strategy, and we backed our scientists with millions of pounds to develop the vaccine as quickly as possible. Long-term research investment also helped, and that is exactly what this new fund will provide. Oxford scientists had already been researching a vaccine that could be used against a disease such as covid-19. That research investment, which stretched back years, and the willingness to invest have added to the situation we find ourselves in today.
Sometimes in life, we have to take a little risk if we want to deliver rewards worth fighting for. Those who want to dismiss the Bill should think a little harder. They worry about the immaterial detail rather than the overriding thrust of the Bill, but they have to look back and they have to think, what could be? We should remember what one of the greatest entrepreneurs and inventors of the last 20 years said—a lot of my colleagues have spoken about disrupters, and this person was certainly just that:
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
That was Steve Jobs. This Bill is essential to support the efforts of UK people like that and to develop the entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers of the future. I warmly support the Secretary of State in all his efforts.
I am privileged to have lots of world-class science in my constituency, not least at Harwell campus, which used to be hidden from Ordnance Survey maps when it was doing what it was with atomic energy, but is now very much on the map of the world’s leading scientific research and development centres in the world. I warmly support what Government do in this area, not least the £800 million that it will put into ARIA, which fulfils another manifesto commitment and takes us further along the route to 2.4% of GDP going on research and development.
When I was reading through the various briefings on the Bill, most of what I wanted to say came under three As. The first A is ambition. I hugely welcome the Government’s ambition to invest more in R and D; their ambition to get better at commercialising the world-class research that we develop; and their ambition to have our version—not the same—of DARPA, which has been so vital to the US and the world with its contribution to things from GPS to the internet.
The second A is autonomy. It is hugely important that we are to give autonomy to programme managers, and not to have Ministers direct them as to what they should research and what they should fund. Let us hire great people and let them do what has made them great. Let them get on with the things that they are successful in, and not ask them to conform to a particular type of what we are used to dealing with.
The third A is acceptance: acceptance of the need to do things differently; acceptance of a greater risk; and acceptance of failure. There is not enough of that in Government. That naturally leads us on to the various exemptions that ARIA will have, which I fully support. It is right that it is exempt from the traditional bureaucracy that comes with Government funding. It is right that we exempt it from public procurement regulations. It is right that we exempt it from FOI. I know that FOI has probably had more attention than other things. We can make a case that FOI has all sorts of benefits, but one benefit that we cannot claim that it has is encouraging people to take risk, because, on the contrary, what it does is encourage people to be risk averse. They may worry that people will go through with a hindsight ruler and decide that they should not have done the things that they did.
I smile to myself when people, whom I hugely respect, start by saying that they support the Government in wanting to do things differently with ARIA, but then come up with a list that is about doing things in the same way that we have always done—how we fund, what rules it is subject to, and putting it under the umbrella of UKRI. The more that we do that, the further we will get away from the purpose of this. Ambition, autonomy and acceptance of greater risk are exactly what the Government should be doing more of. It will help us both retain our own talent and continue to attract more talent from around the world. While we do not yet know what ARIA will create, I am very confident that we will look back and feel very pleased that we created it.
It is a great privilege to speak in this important debate and to be part of an ever decreasing group of diehards from the new intake.
In November 2020, the spending review set out the Government’s plan to invest £14.6 billion in R and D in 2021-22 at 2.4% of GDP. That got me thinking and it got the juices flowing. One thing that struck me most about this Government is their appetite for the future: they plan, they set targets and they invest. They have ambition. They support opportunity. We can name it and it is there: electrification, infrastructure, and emissions. We were the first western nation in the world to specify a carbon neutral target. It is not about plans for the next five years, but about the next generation and over-the-horizon planning, which is really important.
The Bill has everything. It is about performing or commissioning others to conduct scientific research, developing and exploiting, and autonomy. It provides financial freedom for those willing to take the risk. It allows early decisions to be taken, it contributes to economic growth, it promotes innovation and it improves quality of life in the UK because this is about the future, and the future is really important. It also gives the freedom to fail, which for any innovator is really significant. Backed by £800 million of Government investment, the Bill complements the work that UK Research and Innovation and the R and D road map already set in concrete. It is really exciting and I commend it strongly to the House.
The Government have made no secret of their wish for the UK to become the innovation powerhouse of the world. The Bill is about maintaining and enhancing our competitive advantage. It is about synergy between public and private research. We can foster a better collaborative environment, with commercial and state investment coming together. ARIA’s funding will be absolutely pivotal, and I welcome it.
Before I sum up, I want to say that outside London, the Thames valley really is the economic powerhouse of the south-east, and Bracknell, my constituency, is the silicon valley of the Thames valley. With neighbouring Slough having the highest concentration outside London of UK headquarters of global companies, and the offices of 150 international companies in Bracknell, the Thames valley is absolutely ready to welcome employers and innovators to our area. Look at what we already have, though: the UK head office of Boehringer Ingelheim, Daler-Rowney, Honda, 3M, Dell, Waitrose, Fujitsu, Panasonic—the list goes on. It is a fantastic place to do business and I urge any CEO or director watching the debate to bring their business to Bracknell. It is a great place to be.
We often forget just how important innovation is to the UK and across the world. Fittingly, given current circumstances, we should recall Edward Jenner, who created the world’s first vaccine back in 1796. In 1930, Sir Frank Whittle patented the jet engine. More recently, in 1990, in the most important step forward in global communications, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the worldwide web. What is yet to come? What else is out there? What do we not yet know? The Bill certainly paves the way. To summarise in three simple words: bring it on.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland). We have heard about Bracknell; I will tell the House about the wonders of Warrington.
We in the UK have a proud history of scientific excellence and innovation. From the early theorists, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, to the major scientific discoveries of hydrogen by Henry Cavendish and penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and of course Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine, we have made huge contributions to science both past and present, so I warmly welcome the plans that the Secretary of State set out today to support and encourage our next generation of pioneering inventors and innovators, backed by this new independent research funder.
By funding high-risk, high-reward scientific research, ARIA will give visionary scientists the support and freedom to identify and fund transformational science and technology at speed. Our brilliant scientists have led the way in the development of the coronavirus vaccine and our high-risk strategy has shown the world what can be achieved when academia and private and public investment are brought together. ARIA will allow the UK to make good on its Government’s ambitions as a global scientific superpower and allow us to contribute to Build Back Better through innovation. The agency will be able to operate flexibly and quickly, better supporting the UK’s most pioneering researchers and, importantly, avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy. By stripping back the red tape and putting power in the hands of innovators, ARIA will drive forward the technologies of tomorrow. While there is definitely space in the UK’s research landscape for a new funding agency that supports that sort of risk and investment, it should be designed in a way that complements the wider system of funding streams that already exist. Will the Minister set out clearly how the new agency will complement the existing bodies?
I want to see funding distributed across our prime science capabilities in the north of England. The Daresbury laboratory sits on my constituency doorstep, so towns such as Warrington, perfectly located midway between the two great northern cities of Liverpool and Manchester, could really benefit from such investment, allowing the high-tech sectors that develop there to be rocket-powered. I am sure that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) will not mind my plugging the opportunities further to bolster the Daresbury campus, which is recognised as the north’s centre of excellence for innovation in high-tech business from start-ups to multinationals across all kinds of sectors and research disciplines, including the growth challenge areas of healthcare, energy, environment and security.
As the Minister will know, the Cockcroft Institute and its particle accelerator research already has a home at Daresbury, and I know there are spaces there for a few more new ideas. Warrington is also well known as the research centre for the nuclear sector, and building on that campus at Daresbury and encouraging collaboration between the brightest minds and those that are already in the north-west means we have an opportunity to level up through the programme. Life sciences make up an integral part of the north’s economic ecosystem, generating £7.5 billion annually for UK, but the north has historically been underfunded for research and ARIA offers a great opportunity to narrow that divide.
A report published just last week shows that in the past 10 years, 72% of additional jobs created in the 10 most R&D intensive industries were located in the regions covering London, Oxford and Cambridge, despite those regions containing only 20% of the population. In 2018, London and the south-east received almost 50% of Government and UKRI’s total R&D spending. The Nesta report estimates that the regions outside London and the south-east have missed out on Government R&D funding of about £4 billion each year, which could have leveraged a further £8 billion from the private sector.
For ARIA to achieve its transformational change, it must work closely with industry partners. The north-west of England receives private investment in R&D at three times the rate of public investment. Industry recognises the opportunity available in my region, and ARIA is an opportunity to add extra drive and open up more opportunities in constituencies such as Warrington, where jobs and livelihoods are already supported and sustained by the thriving Cheshire life science corridor. We are already seeing northern universities collaborate through the Northern Health Science Alliance, N8 and the introduction of Northern Gritstone. We just need to give them the financial backing and the freedom to make this happen. I very much welcome the plans set out today and look forward to supporting the Bill later.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), and a particular pleasure to do so in person. He and I have been hanging around the same Zoom waiting rooms for much of the winter, and it is nice to be back in the Chamber.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) said at the beginning of his speech, today is the national day of reflection as we look back over the past year and remember our collective loss and, for many people, including my hon. Friend, our personal losses, but also look forward to a brighter future. That brighter future is because of science. In the past year, it has been a privilege to serve on the Select Committee on Science and Technology, together with the Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who spoke earlier, and other Members who have spoken in the debate—my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) and for Arundel and South Downs, and the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan). I praise the Clerks of the Committee for all the work they have done. We have had a number of sessions on covid at very short notice and have also considered ARIA—or ARPA as we knew it at the time, and I have in my hand our report which was published on 12 February.
Looking at the past year and the work that the Science and Technology Committee has done, there is a real read-across from what happened with covid to ARIA. As I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State, at its best ARIA will learn from what we have done on covid in the past year. If covid has a silver lining, it is what it has enabled us to do in the science sphere, allowing us to throw off some of the shackles related to funding, innovation and things such as mRNA vaccines.
The Government have not exactly followed the Committee’s recommendations, and that is fair enough, but the Secretary of State was very forthcoming when he gave evidence to us last week about the reasons for that. As my right hon. Friend the Chair said, it is easy to dissipate £800 million. I know that it sounds like a lot of money, but in the context of our overall science budget it is not quite all that much. The Committee recommended that there be a client, but if there is not to be one, it is important that there is focus. If we are going to have focus, the leadership of ARIA will be key. I hope that our Committee can be involved. There has not been an Order in Council because ARIA does not yet exist, so there is no pre-appointment hearing, but I hope that our Committee can speak with the prospective chair and chief exec of ARIA.
Let me turn to some of the detail. I am pleased to see the range of innovative funding envisaged for ARIA, particularly through prizes, which can leverage huge amounts of private sector investment. We have this target of 2.4% of GDP for R&D. It is all very well spending more Government money, but the key is getting more private sector investment to get us to that 2.4% target. Any ways that we can leverage private sector investment through ARIA would be hugely welcome. We are also looking into grant-prize hybrids, seed grants for very early stage developers and equity stakes. As many hon. Members have said, including my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), we need to be better at capturing the commercial benefit of the world-class science that takes place in this country, and perhaps equity stakes through ARIA can be a part of that.
Our Committee took evidence from a number of organisations in our inquiry into what has now become ARIA. We heard from organisations that had worked well, such as DARPA, and some that had not worked quite so well. I wonder whether the sense of crisis to which I referred earlier is necessary for these sorts of things to work. In world war two, the Manhattan project obviously led to the atomic bomb. The cold war led to DARPA and the need for the United States to secure its own defence. What we have seen in the last year with covid has led to so many innovations in vaccines, therapeutics and beyond that will last well beyond this period; as was said earlier, these innovations may ultimately save more lives than have been lost, because of the speed of their development.
If ARIA is to work well, it needs somehow to harness that sense of crisis, and the breakthrough, breakneck response to crisis and existential threat. It needs the space to do so, autonomy from the Government and the freedom to fail. Science often learns more from what does not work than what does.
Before I draw my remarks to a conclusion, it would be remiss of me not to make my own pitch. Keele University in the wonderful constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme is a fabulous university. It is a university enterprise zone and part of the Energy Research Accelerator, which links up multiple universities and private sector organisations across the west midlands. We also have a fabulous science and innovation park. We are a proud host of Cobra Biologics, one of the manufacturers of the amazing Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that is doing so much good in this country. It is not doing so much good elsewhere because of some rather foolish remarks by regulators, but we are very proud of our vaccine; if other countries do not want it, we will have it.
ARIA is a great idea. Like many of its would-be projects, it has the potential to be bold and transformative itself. But it also has the potential to fail, or at least not to work for as long as we might hope. I welcome the 10 years that we have set out in the Bill to give it a chance to work. Many iconoclastic structures end up being captured and overrun by bureaucracy; we must be really careful in that regard. As the Bill progresses through this House and the other place, I hope that the Government will be very firm in resisting all those who would strangle it at birth.
Some places save the best until last, but I am afraid that the House of Commons just saves the Member for North West Durham.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) and many hon. Members from across the country who have been so positive about the Bill. I speak in support of the Bill, because through it we will create the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. Britain can finally back the sparks of creativity that flicker in the dark space—too often infrequently sampled by our existing scientific research institutions
ARIA will enable us to press forward on the global stage at the cutting edge of innovative scientific research, and to maximise the opportunities that science can bring to the benefit of my constituents in North West Durham, to our United Kingdom and to humanity. A few months ago, those words may have perhaps sounded hyperbolic, but, as many hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned, the United Kingdom’s world-leading vaccine programme has changed all that. Moreover, Madam Deputy Speaker, the ability I am afforded today to speak to you virtually in our historic House of Commons Chamber from my constituency office in Consett through the use of the internet is a product of innovation in digital telecommunications—innovation backed in its inception by the United States in a nimble, non-bureaucratic institution called the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. As many hon. Members have noted, by backing a few brilliant minds with a modest sum, that institution helped to develop and pioneer technologies such as the internet and GPS—innovations that have since generated trillions in pounds wealth, and, on the human level, kept the lonely connected throughout the pandemic. On a personal note, it allowed me to see my own grandmother in the weeks before she died—something that just a few years ago in similar circumstances would have been impossible.
The scientific research institutions we have today include UKRI, which incorporates our seven research councils. It backs bidders from business and academia to identify important societal and industrial challenges faced by the UK that might merit financial support from the industrial strategy challenge fund. It sets its assessment against aims set out by the Government to raise long term productivity and improve living standards. This has, for example, aided the development of batteries for electric vehicles, which has no doubt helped companies such as Nissan, one of the largest employers of my constituents. It has helped to transform food production, backed clean growth, advanced artificial intelligence and big data, and assisted in projects aimed at tackling our ageing society.
Combined with the largest ever increase in funding—over £22 billion—for UK research and development announced by any Government, one might ask, “What’s wrong, then?” Well, like many similar institutions in comparable nations to ours, UKRI is rigged to the academic calendar. It naturally focuses on papers with “sound” cases, it is tethered to burdensome bureaucracy, it is slow off the mark, and unfortunately it is, far too often, too risk adverse. If the men and women who kicked off the industrial revolution in constituencies like mine had been as risk averse, I wonder if it would ever have happened—whether the sparks that ignited the first industrial revolution and literally forged a new world in constituencies like mine would ever have come to pass.
As we look to the fourth industrial revolution, that risk-averse situation is what we are facing today. A constituent of mine, Professor Pal Badyal of Durham University’s chemistry department, who is a member of the Royal Society, has founded three successful start-up businesses and is one of the leading scientists in his field, has struggled to gain funding for his research into antiviral surfaces, despite successful preliminary proof of concepts funded by Durham University. This professor previously invented the waterproof coating for smartphones. That idea was turned down by UKRI for being “out of scope”, only to be subsequently adopted by industry an entire 10 years later. This waterproofing technology can now be found on over 1 billion smartphones worldwide. There exist in the world many such sparks of creativity in science and other fields that fizzle out, out there in the dark space. Far too infrequently are they nurtured by our existing scientific research institutions. In the case of Professor Badyal, his first spark came to light 10 years later through industry, but his latest, on antiviral surfaces, could save lives today and tomorrow. We cannot afford to miss out on such innovation.
This Bill creates ARIA, which can operate at pace, undertake groundbreaking research and back our scientists with its high tolerance for risk of failure. Decisively different, with less bureaucracy, ARIA has the power to launch dynamism supported but unfettered by the usual constraints of government. Clearly, as many Members have said, the role our scientists have played in jabbing our way to freedom throughout this pandemic, the spirit they have showcased in innovating the Oxford vaccine at pace, the generosity shown through their decision to do so at cost price, and the early backing with generous funds from our Government has afforded Britain a leading role in freeing the world from the coronavirus pandemic. Spirit, pace, backing and benefit: that makes the case for ARIA and this Bill better than any words any Member could hope to say. I urge hon. Members across this House to support the Bill and to back those sparks of innovation that can benefit my constituents in North West Durham, help us to level up the north of England, turbocharge our United Kingdom, and benefit the world.
It is a real pleasure to respond to today’s debate, which has in many ways shown this virtual House at its best, united by cross-party consensus on the importance of science and support for our scientists. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken so constructively on both sides, even if I cannot do justice to every contribution. As the shadow Secretary of State emphasised, it is vital that we get the Advanced Research and Invention Agency right. As many hon. Members have observed, the UK has a proud tradition in science, engineering, innovation, research and development; it is renowned across the world. The Secretary of State mentioned the discovery of penicillin. The hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak) referred to the spinning Jenny and Stephenson’s Rocket. As a chartered engineer from Newcastle, I particularly appreciated the last example, and I would add to it the steam turbine, invented on the Tyne by Parsons. It made cheap and plentiful electricity possible, revolutionised marine transport and powered our Navy.
Again and again, UK science has pushed back the boundaries of knowledge, shrinking the vast expanses of ignorance which, as the pandemic has shown, may threaten humanity’s very existence. And science is a key economic driver. Our university research base alone contributes £95 billion to the economy, supporting nearly 1 million jobs in science institutes, charities and businesses of all sizes. Research by Oxford Economics commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that each £1 of public research and development stimulates between £1.96 and £2.34 of private research and development in the long run, and together they help address the key challenges facing humanity, from climate change to inequality, from pandemics to productivity. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said, Labour recognises that the UK needs new mechanisms to support high-risk/high-reward research. As such, ARIA is a step in the right direction. The United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency programme, which the Secretary of State cites many times in his statement of policy intent, has helped give us inventions from the internet to Siri, from cyborg insects to GPS technology.
Of course we want Britain to back similar high-risk/high-reward research that unlocks the full potential of our scientific creativity. But there are concerns—concerns shared across the House. Many Members highlighted the lack of direction for ARIA. The Secretary of State claimed that the Bill equips ARIA with the “tools and freedoms that it needs”. By implication, then, it doesn’t need a mission. But the renowned economist Professor Mariana Mazzucato has said:
“ARIA should be oriented around societal challenges with broad buy-in that define the 21st century and can just as effectively stimulate cross-disciplinary innovation, for example climate change”.
The Institute of Physics has said that a clear mission is “essential” and the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee raised concerns about ARIA’s lack of “focus and purpose”. Setting a mission would bring together business, Government and the wider public in support of ARIA. This Bill seems more designed to set it adrift.
We heard from Government Members best described as the disciples of Dominic Cummings. The former adviser to the Prime Minister said that the UK was in need of a blue skies thinking agency. But can I gently suggest that we should not test Mr Cummings’ ideological eyesight by driving to a scientific Bishop Auckland without a credible mission—not with public money at least. On the “Today” programme this morning, the Secretary of State for Health said that the vaccine programme
“will be a model of how Governments can make things happen and move fast and deliver for their population”.
But not, it would seem, when it comes to scientific research. The vaccine programme definitely had a mission.
Leadership in any organisation is critical, but ARIA seems entirely dependent on its CEO and chair, with little external accountability or ministerial direction. Hon. Members, including the hon. Members for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) and for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), highlighted some of the concerns this raises, including the potential for crony and vanity projects. I would like to add two points. First, however great the initial CEO and chair are, they will move on. What then? Secondly, science is a collective endeavour— perhaps one of the greatest collective endeavours—yet the Government seem to believe that by recruiting one or two star performers, ARIA can transform our science landscape. We need to build an institution that furthers our societal aims for decades to come.
The Secretary of State tried to present freedom of information as an obstacle to the UK being a science superpower, but he also said that ARIA was inspired by DARPA in the US, which is subject to freedom of information. We are concerned that this Government are driven more by an ideological disdain for scrutiny than by a desire to further UK science. The Campaign for Freedom of Information shares our concerns, fearing that without public accountability, ARIA will lack the weighty public interest needed to support its mission.
I also want to add a word of warning here, echoing the words of many Members today including the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), and the chair of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe). Let us not kid ourselves: high risk means failure. There will be failures—high-profile, expensive failures with public money. Is the CEO expected to weather that storm without ministerial accountability? Is it the Government’s intention to be able to throw ARIA to the wolves and keep Ministers safe?
The creation of ARIA must not serve as a distraction from the UK’s wider research and development challenges. My hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) both emphasised the lack of certainty and ambition on science funding now, and they both represent great science communities. The Government are reportedly on course to miss their target of spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027 following cuts to overseas research, which the vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, Chris Day, tells me may lead to immediate redundancies in the north-east. Labour is committed to raising the proportion of GDP spent on R&D to 3%, and for this Government to fail to reach their target of 2.4% would be shocking indeed.
Further, and even more astonishingly, just two weeks before the new financial year, the scientific community still does not know what funding is to be allocated for science. Just this morning, the Secretary of State did not deny the prospect of £1 billion-worth of cuts to next year’s science budget. He must stand up for science in his negotiations with the Treasury. I am sure I am not the only one to be somewhat dismayed by the languid tone, during his short opening remarks, in which he said that discussions were ongoing.
The Government have also failed to support medical research charities. They have failed to support early career researchers and doctoral students during the pandemic. The Government like to talk up research, but their actions do not match their words. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North asked how ARIA would work with existing bodies, given the lack of clarity on its mission. I am concerned that it may end up competing for existing funding rather than leveraging in new funds. That is a criticism levelled against some catapults.
It is also interesting that the worked example in the statement of policy intent from the Secretary of State uses—I think that is the most appropriate term—a female programme manager. Women are hugely under-represented in science research. They make up just 15% of the principal investigators applying for Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grants, for example. I am sure the Minister would agree that this lack of representation holds science back, and I hope she will tell us how ARIA will help to address that and the other fundamental disparities in science.
Labour wants ARIA to be a success, and we support its creation. We believe that science is an engine of progress and that ARIA can accelerate it, but we also believe that it must have a clear mission to address our great societal challenges and that it must be accountable. It is not as if there is a lack of challenges for it to address. Indeed, they are many, but without direction from the Government, the agency risks losing its way. We are determined to amend the Bill to empower ARIA to succeed, and I look forward to working with Members across the House to achieve that.
I, too, want to go, “Yay!”, because this has been an absolute pleasure. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) said, we have seen the House at its best, and it is a great pleasure to take part in the debate. I listened to the fantastic contributions, and I thank all hon. Members for their thought-provoking input. Without exception, the debate indicates how essential and central science is to our economy and society. That has been recognised across the House, so I shall expand on how ARIA will build on the strengths of our R&D system.
The proposal to create the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—ARIA—has been welcomed by leading scientists, institutions, businesses and colleagues today. We have listened to agencies around the world, and consulted the research community at home. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) asked about that. We have, of course, considered carefully the recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee, brilliantly chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I am confident that this is a bold, brave and positive step towards our ambition to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. One of the things that we must be clear about is the way in which ARIA fits into the wider landscape and what it will achieve. My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central asked how we would define ARIA’s purpose, so let me set that out.
ARIA will fund high-risk, high-reward research in a different way from UKRI and the rest of the system. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) highlighted in his excellent contribution, ARIA will give us something genuinely different, drawing on the UK’s existing R&D strengths. In that way, it will reach fantastic people with brilliant ideas who are not currently funded.
There have been several questions about funding, but I think that the Secretary of State made the position clear. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak), and the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) raised ARIA’s mission and what it should focus on. That is an important issue, and I have listened to the different views with great interest. Climate change has been suggested. The Government continue to invest in net zero, including through the £1 billion net-zero innovation portfolio fund announced as part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan. I should make it clear that ARIA’s programme will be motivated by a single clear ambition set by the programme manager. However, those decisions will be made by ARIA, and ARIA’s leaders will be responsible for strategic oversight of their programme portfolio. They will be able to speak to researchers, other funders and Government Departments to help to inform their judgment. There are UK funding programmes for which Ministers set the strategic direction, and ARIA has been set up specifically without those constraints.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) asked about the need for ARIA to have a specific customer. ARIA’s groundbreaking work will absolutely draw partners for its projects and programmes, but we want to leave the door open for it to be able to forge those relationships across a range of sectors.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), the hon. Member for Richmond Park and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby asked about recruitment and ARIA’s culture. I recognise how crucial that that will be for ARIA, which is why we will recruit a CEO to provide the creative, inspiring leadership that the organisation needs—someone uniquely able to build a team of high-performing people. That will not be on a whim. We will conduct a genuinely open and fair recruitment process for a CEO and chair.
The hon. Members for Aberdeen South and for Glasgow North West asked about the oversight that Government will have. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) queried the way in which we will hold ARIA to account. They are absolutely right that ARIA will be at a greater distance from central Government than we are used to. That is a deliberate move based on international experience. The evidence suggests that freedom and autonomy is what makes this kind of agency work. I am mindful of the effective governance of ARIA, which is incredibly important, but it must be tailored to ARIA’s objectives if we are to get the balance right—and it is about balance. There are powers in the Bill for the Secretary of State to intervene on issues of national security and to introduce additional procedures to measure conflicts of interest. They sit alongside powers to make non-executive appointments to the board, which will of course include the Government chief scientific adviser in an ex officio role. The arrangements are robust.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North and the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray)—whose final speech was commendable; I wish him the very best—raised the Freedom of Information Act. ARIA will have a very small number of staff, and because of the load that FOI requests would place on the organisation we do not think they are the right way to provide scrutiny. I remind Members that the Departments and public authorities that work with ARIA will of course be subject to FOI requests. There will be other statutory commitments to transparency. The Bill makes it clear that ARIA will be required to produce an annual report on what it does, which will be laid before Parliament alongside its accounts.
The hon. Members for Aberdeen South and for Airdrie and Shotts also spoke about procurement. The Bill exempts ARIA from the obligations on a contracting authority in the public contract regulations, but procurement decisions will be taken by ARIA, not by Ministers. It is because it is one step removed from Government that the exemption will empower ARIA’s talented programme managers and directors. Again, the freedom to act quickly will be balanced by the requirement for ARIA to audit its procurement activities, as set out with the Department in the framework document.
The hon. Members for Cambridge and for Airdrie and Shotts, my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) and for Bolton West (Chris Green), and many other Members made representations on ARIA’s location. I recognise that they care passionately about the scientific excellence found in all parts of Bolton, Cambridge, Airdrie and, of course, right across the UK, but ARIA will be run by a small number of people and will have a small physical presence, and the potential candidates to be its CEO and chair will have a strong interest in the location of the headquarters. I cannot commit to a specific location at this stage, but if ARIA is to deliver UK-wide economic benefits, it should, like UKRI, function and deliver on a UK-wide basis. Stakeholders in the devolved nations—such as Universities Scotland—have been clear in their support for that approach.
Let me finish by thanking Members from all parties for their rich and considered contributions. My door is always open and I invite any Members who wish to discuss the Bill with me further to do so. We must remember that the United Kingdom is a hotbed of brilliant invention and innovation. The Secretary of State spoke about our proud history of scientific excellence, which I am confident the creation of ARIA will help to safeguard far into the future.
In the previous century, the US ARPA funded the ambitious research that underpins the internet and GPS—technologies that have transformed our lives, opened countless avenues of inquiry and created extraordinary value. Such successes do not happen overnight or by accident; they all start with a wild ambition that is nurtured into reality against all the odds. It is this ambition that will course through the veins of ARIA’s staff and the talented researchers they fund. As Science Minister I have listened to many inspiring scientists and inventors, and it is now my ambition to give their brilliant ideas the best possible chance to profoundly change lives and the lives of our grandchildren—and of my granddaughter—for the very better. I wait with excited anticipation for the remaining stages of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill:
(1) Public Bill Committee shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 27 April 2021.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Third Reading No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(David Rutley.)
Question agreed to.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State.—(David Rutley.)
Question agreed to.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Carry-over)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 80A(1)(a)),
That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session.—(David Rutley.)
Question agreed to.