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Research and Development Spending

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2022

4. What recent steps his Department has taken to help increase the level of research and development spending. (901018)

19. What recent steps his Department has taken to help increase the level of research and development spending. (901036)

We are providing the fastest ever sustained uplift in R&D funding, reaching £20 billion per annum by 2024-25. If association to Horizon Europe is not possible in good time to make the most of that programme, we will take forward a bold and ambitious package of UK alternatives.

This country has been world-leading in its covid-19 vaccination programme and so much more in our pharmaceutical industries as well as the health sector. Can the Minister say a little more about what specific research and development investment will go into pharmaceuticals and the health sector? I would particularly like to mention cancer services and Electa oncology in my constituency which is expanding.

My hon. Friend has always been a passionate advocate and defender of business in the Crawley constituency, specifically R&D projects and innovation, and I am glad he mentioned Alector and others, as they are important companies in his constituency. We continue to support investment in R&D through a vibrant research and innovation system that attracts private sector investment and drives up productivity across the UK, including in Crawley.

We are on the cusp of a green energy revolution with hydrogen, modular nuclear and now fusion in the mix. What steps is the Department taking to ensure British innovation is in the vanguard of that revolution, thus ensuring our long-term energy security?

My hon. Friend is always on the front foot on low-carbon energy and innovation in Heywood and Middleton. He will know that the Government’s flagship £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio is making those important investments in hydrogen, advanced nuclear technologies and so on. On fusion, we are investing £700 million in research facilities and programmes over the next three years. My hon. Friend will also know that the energy security Bill we published last week includes launch pads for both hydrogen and nuclear fusion.

That was the very first mention of hydrogen this morning. Does the Minister agree that there is such potential in hydrogen energy? We can already buy heavy goods vehicles and trucks that are hydrogen driven, and a network of hydrogen filling stations is being opened at the moment across our country. If he does agree, why does he not put more research money into hydrogen for every kind of energy use?

We are 14 minutes into Question Time; I do not think that is too bad for the first mention of hydrogen. I realise that on the periodic table, it is No. 1—right at the top left—but that does not mean that it always has to be the first thing mentioned at Question Time.

The amount of money and resources going into hydrogen remains extremely strong. It is a really important part of the net zero innovation portfolio. Just over the past few months, I have been to the Whitelee wind farm just south of Glasgow to see the new hydrogen production facility there. That facility is going to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman wants us to do: provide hydrogen for vehicles, particularly buses. The whole of the Glasgow bus fleet and, indeed, the whole of the Glasgow dustcart fleet will be fuelled by hydrogen from that wind farm.

We need to increase investment in R&D; we also need to think carefully about where we spend it. In South Yorkshire we have some outstanding translational research institutions—the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre—in two outstanding universities. I know that the Secretary of State is supportive, but will the Minister pledge to work carefully with the Mayor and partners in our region so that we can unlock the huge potential in South Yorkshire?

The answer is yes. We always welcome Mayors with a constructive attitude to working with the Government. If I am not mistaken, I have a meeting with the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues next week. A delegation is coming to see me, led by—I think—the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). It might be a different part of Sheffield; the Chair of the Select Committee on Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), is the Member I am thinking of.

Can I suggest that the Minister reminds Ministers in the other place that they are responsible to MPs in this House as well, and that they should meet with them? I hope that will be a clear message to the Lords.

I call Chi Onwurah, the Labour spokesperson.

Despite being critical to our world-beating research and a Conservative manifesto commitment, Britain’s participation in the world’s biggest science funding programme, Horizon Europe, is in peril. Before resigning, the then science Minister, the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), took to Twitter to lobby the new Chancellor for funding for his plan B, but the Chancellor was busy trying to get the Prime Minister he had just accepted a job from to leave his job. Now, although the former science Minister has asked for his job back, the still in place, though disgraced, Prime Minister is too busy nobbling those going for his job to fill the science job. It is total chaos. Science deserves better, doesn’t it?

I thought that was a rather convoluted question, if you do not mind my saying so, Mr Speaker.

We in the UK Government are absolutely committed to getting a good deal for UK science, whether through association with Horizon Europe or through our plan B Horizon plan, which is also a fully funded approach to making sure that UK science does not lose out. Perhaps the hon. Lady might welcome the big boost in R&D spending in this country, with the most sustained uplift, from £15 billion today to £20 billion in two years’ time—a 33% increase in just two years.