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Research and Development Funding and Horizon Europe

Volume 731: debated on Tuesday 18 April 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered research and development funding and Horizon Europe.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie —I am trying to speak slowly enough that we might have the vote before I start my substantive comments. I am grateful to have been granted this debate to discuss the benefits of UK association with Horizon Europe, just as the Government are at an important stage of discussions with the European Commission. Research and development are clearly integral to ambition for growth and the productivity challenge that we face.

We have a special asset in the UK, in our universities. We often use the phrase “world leading” a little too casually in this place, but it certainly applies to our universities and the research they do, which helps us build our economy, creates innovative solutions to global problems and positions us internationally. Universities pay their way many times over. For every pound spent on public research funding, universities deliver an average return of £9 to the UK economy. Importantly, given the geographical spread of our universities, beyond the golden triangle and across all four nations of the country, R&D enables our universities working with business and industry to lead prosperity in towns and cities in every part of the UK. I know that from my city of Sheffield, where the University of Sheffield’s advanced manufacturing research centre is rightly held up as a model by Government—a model that would not exist had it not been for European funding.

Order. Forgive me; I was expecting to hear a bell. We will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes for the first vote and 10 minutes for any subsequent votes. I am not sure precisely how many Divisions there are, so I will see you back in 15, 25, 35 or 45 minutes.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

The sitting will run until 6.8 pm. Those with very agile mental arithmetic will work out that I want to start the winding-up speeches no later than quarter to 6.

It is good to see you again so soon, Mr Hosie. I think that, when we were interrupted in such an untimely way, I was talking about the AMRC in Sheffield. Its partnership with Boeing and Rolls-Royce has shown how universities and industry can work together effectively, and participation in Horizon and the earlier framework programmes was vital to its development.

It is not just big companies—for example, Footprint, which is a tool-making SME with hundreds of years of history in Sheffield, has been involved with several Horizon-funded projects, including as a lead industrial partner working with companies and researchers across Europe to develop new additive manufacturing processes for metal components for the aerospace sector. Its chairman, Christopher Jewitt, said of Horizon that

“it’s important to rub shoulders with other manufacturers in Europe…we are competing with the world”.

There is a lot at risk if we fail to associate with Horizon Europe.

Let me use another example. EU-funded research and collaboration laid the foundations for the University of Sheffield’s gene therapy innovation and manufacturing centre, which is now leveraging private investment to develop promising treatments for millions of patients with life-threatening illnesses.

Everywhere I go in Cambridge, the issue that is raised is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. I think that that is the point that my hon. Friend is making. Does he agree that without that collaboration UK science and research will be the poorer?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come to the point that much of the debate around Horizon is focused on the funding, but it is collaboration that is so important—not only in the way that my hon. Friend describes but, as in the case of the gene therapy innovation and manufacturing centre, in creating hundreds of highly skilled local jobs.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. It is important that we talk about the significance of Horizon; I am sure that he will go on to welcome the fact that negotiations with the EU have now been reopened by the Government, and I am sure that the Minister will be able to talk to that when he sums up.

On collaboration, let me give the hon. Member one other pertinent example, which has come to my attention as a result of the Environmental Audit Committee’s work with universities, not just in the golden triangle but including the hon. Gentleman’s university in Sheffield. Imperial College was host to our 25th-anniversary celebration the other day, and the president gave me a good example of the reach that Horizon has given the UK, specifically in collaboration. He talked about the graphene core 3 project, which had 160 partner organisations across 24 countries; allowed the UK research community to compete with the US and China, which have significant infrastructure themselves; and helped to spin out Bramble Energy, an industrial company that is developing graphene. The industrial connections are important as well.

Order. I do not mind slightly extended interventions when time permits, but that was longer that some speeches I have heard.

Thank you, Mr Hosie, but it was nevertheless an important intervention to hear and, given the authority of the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, worth noting. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making it.

There are countless similar examples. The example that I was giving about the gene therapy innovation and manufacturing centre is similar in many ways. It is led by Professor Mimoun Azzouz, who has won several prestigious EU framework programme awards. He leads a consortium of 34 international partners from academia and business, including big pharmaceutical companies, that is progressing gene therapy approaches for industry and patients. It is part-funded by the EU and part-funded by industry. The earlier funding that he received was European Research Council funding. The next step for his project is an ERC synergy grant, which will not be open to him if we are reduced to third-country participation in Horizon. That is an important point, and there will be many similar projects.

Some have suggested that the UK not only join the Horizon scheme but press forward with aspects of the Pioneer programme to cement ourselves as a global scientific powerhouse. Does the hon. Member think that that is a realistic solution that will boost our performance in research and development?

The hon. Member makes an important point and I will go on to cover it in a little bit more detail.

Horizon and its predecessor programmes have been central to the UK’s research success, which is why the Government made association with Horizon Europe an aim throughout the Brexit negotiations. Obviously, that aim fell victim to the Government’s mishandling of the Northern Ireland protocol, but now that the Windsor framework has been agreed, which we can all welcome, the door is open again. I look to the Minister to reassure us, when he responds to this debate, that the Government will take advantage of that opportunity, because it is good news that these discussions have been taking place.

When the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology met Commissioner Mariya Gabriel earlier this month, she said that association must be on the “right terms”. Of course that is right, but we need reassurance that behind her comments there is a real commitment to securing the right terms so that we can re-engage with Horizon Europe, because we should remember that it is the single largest collaborative research programme in the world. Let us dwell on that fact; alternatives to Horizon Europe are not available. Horizon Europe provides participants with unparalleled routes to international partnerships, both within the EU and—importantly—beyond the EU.

I will give one final example from Sheffield. The University of Sheffield’s Amos project illustrates how Horizon provides a platform for collaboration with the world beyond Europe. The university’s nuclear advanced manufacturing research centre leads a €2.6 million four-year collaboration between European and Canadian aerospace manufacturers and researchers, in order to investigate the use of additive manufacturing techniques for repair and manufacture of aerospace components. The project was supported by Canadian funding agencies: the Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada, or CARIC; and the Naval Systems Engineering Resource Centre, or NSERC. However, it was more attractive to them because of its association with the Horizon programme.

Horizon is an established infrastructure—an ecosystem for leading innovation and research—that has been built over four decades, and built with the UK at its heart. It gives us a platform to establish ourselves as global research leaders, where we have been highly successful not just in securing grants but in shaping the direction of international research programmes and in training the next generation of scientists. It is a champions league for research and development; it connects the best countries with the best talent to produce the best results.

The UK received €7 billion in research funding between 2014 and 2020 as part of Horizon 2020, with 2,000 UK businesses participating and €1.4 billion being awarded to UK industry. In total, 31,000 collaborative links were established with countries around the world, delivering scientific breakthroughs that strengthen the breadth and diversity of both our trade and our academic connections. Russell Group universities alone won grants worth €1.8 billion through Horizon 2020, which was more than the whole of France won.

The economic benefit of Horizon is huge but, as we have begun to discuss, there are even more compelling reasons for association with it. Horizon Europe offers unrivalled access to a ready-made collaborative funding scheme, making it easier to work across multiple countries. That point was made in a recent letter to the Prime Minister from over 30 business leaders, who said that the UK cannot do alone what Horizon Europe offers. Their letter warned that a UK alternative to Horizon

“could not recreate…wide-ranging benefits”

of being part of the EU programme. While we are considering the contributions of Select Committee Chairs, I will add that the same point was made by the Conservative Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, whose Committee will look at this issue tomorrow. He said that

“the benefits of association go beyond the funding the government can provide”.

Horizon also gives access to international markets and strengthens trade. Without association, the UK is not eligible for grants or investment from the European Innovation Council fund, which supports small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups in developing disruptive innovations that are too risky for private investors. Horizon projects not only fund innovation, but bring together researchers, SMEs and multinationals to develop new products and supply chains.

EU officials have expressed concerns about the UK’s willingness to take part in the Horizon scheme, despite assurances that there would be no expectation of membership payments for the two years during which the UK was excluded from it. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that ongoing delays may push UK-based researchers to seek alternative access to funding by moving operations out of Britain, causing us to lose some of the brightest minds in the UK?

It was because of those concerns that I sought today’s debate. Government policy for quite some time—since the referendum—seems to have been going through a period of hesitancy, so I am looking for reassurance from the Minister, particularly given some of the issues about funding. We know that we will not have to make a contribution for those two years as part of the reassurances on the EU side, so we need to engage effectively in those discussions.

Through access to international markets, Horizon provides a springboard to partnerships with businesses and universities worldwide, and strengthens our position as a global player. This will be absolutely necessary to achieve the Government’s ambition of becoming a science superpower.

To train and recruit more scientists and researchers—the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy set a target of 150,000 more by 2030—we need to attract top talent from abroad. We will lose out without Horizon, which has drawn international researchers—not just other Europeans—to the UK for the past 40 years. We will lose domestic talent too. Even with the Government’s guarantee to match the funding that researchers are unable to receive through Horizon, Science|Business found that 13% of researchers relocated out of from the UK in 2021. According to the Royal Society, we have lost at least one in six of the outstanding UK-based researchers who were awarded flagship Horizon Europe grants, so matching funding alone, as plan B seeks to do, will not maintain our position as a global research leader. Finally, association with Horizon, as opposed to third-party status, gives us a seat at the table in shaping the direction of international research.

It is against that background that we should look at plan B, the Pioneer programme, which was announced during the recess. It is claimed that it would match Horizon’s £14.6 billion spending and its seven-year programme length. The prospectus is long and heavy on jargon, but light on detail, so we do not know whether it will match up to association with Horizon Europe. There are too many unanswered questions.

First, on the funding split between the four pillars of Pioneer, the largest amount—£3.8 billion—will go to Pioneer Global. Pioneer Innovation will receive £3.5 billion, Pioneer Talent will receive £2 billion and Pioneer Infrastructure will receive £1.7 billion. That adds up to £11 billion—I know the Prime Minister is keen on maths—but page 4 of the document says that the UK will invest £14.6 billion through to 2027-28. Where is the other money?

Where is the guarantee over the duration of the programme? Horizon offers certainty for seven years, but the prospectus for the Pioneer proposal says in many places that funding will be

“subject to future spending reviews”.

A seven-year programme means nothing if the Government can pull the plug on funding at any stage. It is not simply about contributions; it is about confidence.

On the net contribution, how can the Government claim that researchers will get more from Pioneer than from Horizon when there is no certainty about the funding? Frankly, the Government’s record of replacing EU funding at the same level via domestic schemes is not great. Despite a 2019 Conservative party manifesto commitment to match EU economic development funding, the domestic replacement scheme, the UK shared prosperity fund, represents a 43% cut. It is even more for us in South Yorkshire, where the £605 million of structural funds we would have received as a less developed region has been replaced just by pots of £10 million here and £10 million there. But this is not just about money—it is about confidence. A lack of certainty will drive away talent to other countries where the funding can be secured.

There are also questions about the role of the European Research Council if we are left with Pioneer. Throughout the prospectus that the Government published over the recess, there is much emphasis on the importance of the ERC and the benefits it brings to the UK. That is right, but how will collaboration with the ERC be possible in practice if we are reduced to third party status? For example, we will not be eligible for ERC grants.

In the global pillar, the prospectus suggests that Pioneer will look beyond bilateral agreements to minilateral agreements, with groups of countries on specific challenges, but it is not clear how those partners will be chosen and what issues they will consider. As a plan B, Pioneer does not match up to what is needed.

Among the organisations that have commented on the prospectus, the Institute of Physics put it well, saying that

“any alternative to Horizon must also make up for the loss of the established networks, partnerships, and infrastructure the UK has benefited from over many years”—

which plan B clearly fails to do. It risks leaving us at the margins of global research, no longer at the centre. Clearly, a UK-based programme would be better than nothing, but I hope that the Government’s benchmark is higher.

Outside Horizon, or with third party status, the UK will have no seat at the table to shape the direction of the world’s biggest research programme. It will limit the attraction of the UK as a destination for talent and investment. We will be locked out of our leadership position in key research disciplines, because we will not be a trusted partner to lead on specific projects. Turning our backs on Horizon means putting us in direct competition with countries that should be our key global partners.

Frankly, this situation does not match up to the Government’s ambition to be a science superpower. If they are serious about retaining Britain’s position as a global research superpower and about promoting and sustaining economic growth, I hope the Minister will reassure us today that the Government are serious in the negotiations and that they will do everything in their power to secure association.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing this really important debate, and on his excellent opening speech.

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation. Running until 2027, it has a budget of €95.5 billion. Among other things, it aims to address climate change and help to achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals. However, the future is unclear where the UK’s association with Horizon Europe is concerned.

The Government recently stated that negotiations on this matter have taken place. Earlier this month, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation spoke of a recent visit to Brussels by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, to discuss research collaboration with the EU, including the UK’s expectations around association to Horizon Europe.

I hope the Minister will be able to tell us in his response to the debate what further progress there has been over the past few weeks and what progress he expects in the weeks and months to come. I hope he can also say whether he is hopeful, now there is an agreement in place between the UK and the EU on the way in which the Northern Ireland protocol operates, that that will move things along where the UK’s association to Horizon Europe is concerned. I would be grateful if the Minister could elaborate on that point.

Participation of the UK in Horizon Europe is vital to our universities. Back in July 2020, around 100 organisations signed a statement advocating that the UK participates in Horizon Europe. One of those organisations was Universities UK, the collective voice of 140 universities across the UK, including the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool Hope University and the University of Chester, Edge Hill University and others that are near to my constituency of Wirral West. These universities are crucial to the local economy and to the many academics who live in my constituency who work in them. The statement by Universities UK said:

“Horizon Europe association should be a core part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK for research, underpinning valuable scientific partnerships that have been built up over many years.”

It went on:

“Clinical trials, particularly on diseases with limited patient populations, are reliant on EU-UK collaboration, while close research partnerships continue to accelerate life-changing medical research. Our ability to respond to the threat of climate change and outbreaks of new diseases like Covid-19 has also been greatly improved by close scientific and clinical partnerships across Europe.

Knowledge and discovery do not stop at borders, and the shared global challenges we face require joint solutions.”

I would like the Minister to reflect on that point. I would also like him to address the fact that his Department recently returned £1.6 billion of funds previously allocated for Horizon Europe association to the Treasury, despite the Government having previously stated that research and development budgets would be protected, and that the money allocated for association to Horizon Europe would be spent on research and development. What has happened, and why was that funding returned to the Treasury?

The Government recently published plans for the Pioneer programme, which they have said will

“protect and support the UK research and innovation sector”

if negotiations on associating with Horizon Europe break down. Pioneer has been described as a back-up plan, and a plan B, so why are the Government concerned that negotiations on an association with Horizon Europe might break down? It is clear that UK scientists and researchers, and those representing them, are still pushing for Horizon Europe association. For instance, Sarah Main, the executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, has said:

“Of course, it is sensible for the Government to prepare alternatives…but let not the alternatives get in the way of the progress on both sides towards the goal of a full and cooperative research relationship between the UK and EU.”

Similarly, Tim Bradshaw, the chief executive of the Russell Group, which represents the UK’s leading research universities, has pointed out that

“it will be a challenge to replicate the full benefits of the world’s largest collaborative research programme, with ready-made routes for talent flow, facilities access and collaboration with multiple countries.”

Tony McBride, the director of policy and public affairs at the Institute of Physics, has acknowledged

“the need for a fallback position”,

but has suggested that the Government’s priority must be to secure association to Horizon Europe, and Dr Owen Jackson, the director of policy at Cancer Research UK, has said:

“UK-based cancer scientists are in a strong position to win funding from Horizon Europe and the EU’s Cancer Mission…but they will be at the margins, rather than at the centre, of these important opportunities if we don’t get association over the line.”

Can the Minister confirm that the Government are listening to voices from the sector, and are continuing to engage with stakeholders on the importance of associating with Horizon? Will he make it clear in the strongest terms that the Government are fully committed to making an association with Horizon Europe? Can he also indicate when he expects the negotiations to come to fruition?

Order. I will start the wind-ups shortly after quarter to six. There will be five minutes for the SNP, five minutes for Labour, 10 minutes for the Minister, and a short time for the mover of the motion. If the remaining Back Benchers can take around six minutes, everything will be fantastic. I call Rachael Maskell.

Thank you, Mr Hosie; it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on opening the debate with such a comprehensive analysis of what is happening around Horizon Europe.

Before the Minister makes all sound well and plausible, I want us to appreciate the environment in which we are calling for immediate and urgent talks to settle our future in Horizon Europe. I welcome the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, which brings focus, and I welcome the commitment on energy. However, President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is dwarfing the global community. His “Build Back Better” plan for life sciences, climate mitigation and industrial investment is ambitious, challenging and market-changing, built on invest-to-save principles. He is investing half of what he will see in return, posturing as a global leader and ensuring that he is sucking in the global science community. Things are scaling and advancing at pace.

We need to be alert to what is happening across the water, and of course must integrate it with the focus around the bioeconomy strategy, which, over 20 years, will bring a possible 30-fold return. That can go back into resourcing the Government and the science community. We can start to see the power that has been realised in the States. That power has clearly not been realised by this Government. This is a wake-up call for Europe. Of course, we are talking about not just the flows of money, but the whole scientific community and the opportunity that it presents. If it is happening in the States, it is happening in China, too. We need to wake up.

I was speaking to scientists this morning who said that UK Research and Innovation and Horizon have been dwarfed into “irrelevance”—that was the word used by those leading scientists, including people leading in the field of biotechnology. That brings home the scale of what we are talking about and the importance of investment. Horizon Europe is investing £95.5 billion in this cycle, and it is really important that we understand what that brings. It is not just the investment; it is about one community. It is about one set of regulations from conception, research and innovation to scaling and manufacturing. It is about one market, and it is about how that market interacts with the rest of the world. Of course, we are now sitting outside that, as a result of decisions taken in 2016 and consequently.

Behind Horizon Europe is a brand that is understood on a global scale, builds confidence and delivers. The next phase is up to 2027, and there will no doubt be another to follow, yet we have lurched into a short-term commitment from February to June this year. What comes after that? Who knows? Who will make investments when there is no security or guarantee of where that will take us? We have heard about the Pioneer programme, which might be laudable if we were just an island, but we are part of the global community. This is certainly not the way that research works. Pioneer will not deliver the scale, connectivity and research interfaces required in today’s world of research to get the capacity that we need.

I particularly draw the Minister’s attention to the focus that is needed. Look at the BioYorkshire project. I have had debates in this place on it, and have engaged with the Prime Minister, Ministers and former Prime Ministers on it, but three years down the line, after UKRI and the Government recognised the importance of the project, we still have not seen any money. The investment is small compared with the return it will bring in 10 years; the amount returned to the Treasury will be greater by a factor of 8.3, and the project will create 4,000 jobs, return £1.4 billion of gross value added and upskill 25,000 people. It will also bring 2.8 million tonnes of carbon reduction and 1.2 million tonnes of landfill reduction. It is the biggest green new deal on offer and could be world changing, but the Government have failed to bring forward the money, despite how long we have begged for it.

As the days slip by, others across the globe take up these innovative technologies and advance, and that shuts down our opportunities to be world leaders in this field. We feel frustration; “negligent” does not begin to describe the Government. They really need to get their act together, get investment into the hands of scientists, universities and places of research, and bring these projects forward.

I could talk about the benefit we have seen at the University of York under Horizon 2020, for example through the European training network for safe autonomous systems. I could talk about supporting health technology through Horizon. I could talk about wellbeing-inclusive sustainable economies, and about the research and innovation at the cutting edge of bioarchaeology. We have seen so many benefits at the University of York; it has punched above its weight when it has been in receipt of funding. However, if the Government do not start to invest, we will seriously be left behind.

The Government need to get their act together. I echo what has been said by colleagues from across the Chamber: the Government need to get an agreement signed with Horizon Europe, because we need to keep up with the European community, let alone the global community, and time is running out.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on his excellent speech, and on getting this debate, which is relevant and pertinent, given what the Government are saying but not doing on this subject. I want to use my few minutes to talk about Imperial College London. Hon. Members will be familiar with Imperial; it is consistently one of the world’s top universities and is of great standing. It has been around for more than a century and leads in fields of science, engineering, medicine and business. If I can be slightly parochial, it also has the new White City campus, which is of much more recent origin, but which is already an innovation district. It has an industrial strategy jointly with Hammersmith and Fulham Council. It is a major employer, builder and investor in the area, and it is developing world-leading research on quantum engineering, clean energy, machine learning and clinical trials on dementia, infectious diseases, cancer and many other matters. This is absolute cutting edge, but like many of our leading universities, Imperial relies on Horizon, and has done over a long period. I will explain what that means and why the Government’s solutions are simply not adequate to the task.

UK universities have built high-impact science and innovation networks over more than three decades of collaboration within EU framework programmes. Those deep-seated networks aid the flow of ideas, talent and funding that underpins the UK’s leading science base. Imperial was a partner on collaborative Horizon 2020 research projects worth more than €2.2 billion over the course of the programme. That means that in addition to direct funding, it had access to the data, infrastructure and knowledge generated through the wider project consortia. On average across all its collaborative Horizon 2020 projects, Imperial received access to world-class research consortia that had funding at a scale of 27 times its own financial awards. Those projects averaged 16 partner organisations, which developed networks and shared research expertise. On average, over eight large-scale collaborative Horizon 2020 projects with a budget of more than €50 million, Imperial accessed world-class research consortia with funding that was at a scale of 280 times its own financial award, and those projects averaged 94 co-collaborating organisations. Hon. Members can take my word for it, but we also heard a lengthy intervention from the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) about one of those Imperial projects and its success.

We are not just talking about regenerating a whole district of London, and about a top UK university; we are talking about enabling British science and technology to compete with the US. The quality of the national ecosystem and the way it leverages in the wider EU ecosystem allows us to achieve scale through partnership. About 60% of Imperial’s research papers with a US collaborator also have a European co-author, as do 68% of research papers with Canada and 83% with Brazil. Imperial told me in advance of this debate:

“Outside Horizon Europe, the UK is in real danger of ceding our hard-won position in the global R&D hierarchy and becoming less attractive as a research partner and less attractive for foreign direct investment. As part of Horizon Europe, the UK can influence the future direction of billions of pounds worth of research investment to more closely align with UK strategic priorities.”

That is what is at risk.

Already, R&D investment in the UK is little more than half what it is in Japan, the US or Germany. Also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central indicated, the Government’s alternative simply does not address the issues of certainty, longevity or, in particular, leveraging in. It is impossible to replace what is being achieved. This is a real crisis and a fundamental moment of decision for the Government. We have to go back into Horizon; we have to have that access. Our universities are doing absolutely everything they can. They are world-leading. We need a Government who have the vision and understanding to match that.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I join others in commending the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing the debate. We have heard from the hon. Members for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who perhaps share a sense of frustration. In many ways, this is a story of what could have been—or what could be, if the negotiations are positive and we can get this sorted.

Scotland has a long and proud history of scientific and technological discovery. It punches well above its weight in science and research, accounting for 12% of all UK research output. No place demonstrates that more than the Midlothian Science Zone in my constituency, which is leading the way as a world-renowned centre of excellence in research, new technologies and scientific studies. Midlothian is at the cutting edge of advances in crucial research across many disciplines such as animal health, human health, agri-tech and aquaculture.

I appreciate the Government’s efforts on the Horizon Europe guarantee, which promised to fund all Horizon Europe calls from UK researchers and companies post Brexit. I also appreciate the Chancellor’s announcement of an extension to the scheme in his spring Budget; he stated that the support provided to UK Horizon Europe applicants would continue to be guaranteed, and that successful applicants to Horizon Europe would receive the full value of their funding at their UK host institution for the lifetime of their grant. However, it is disappointing, if slightly unsurprising, that researchers such as my constituent, who I will refer to as Dr A, are still being disqualified due to the UK not having associated with Horizon Europe in time, despite all those guarantees.

My constituent was a successful applicant to the Horizon Europe funding call, and was successful in her evaluation, but Innovate UK—the part of the UK Research and Innovation funding agency used to manage the scheme—does not support or match her call, despite it falling into the listed scope of the Horizon Europe guarantee. The UK Government have committed to covering all Horizon Europe calls, but we must ask how they can claim to be sticking to that pledge when they make it impossible for applicants to be treated in the same way as non-UK Horizon Europe applicants. It is worth noting that successive Governments have failed to place strategic importance on science, and the continued underfunding of science.

Although the £370 million in funding for science and innovation announced in the Budget is welcome, it falls far short of the £1.6 billion in funding that had been earmarked for research collaborations with the European Union. The Government withdrew that money for participation in Horizon from the pot. If it is not being used for the UK’s part in Horizon, at the very least, the entire £1.6 billion should be delivered to UK Research and Innovation.

As we have heard, scientific progress is not achieved in isolation, but through collaboration. Only through joined-up, international programmes such as Horizon can Scottish and UK science flourish and contribute to wider European scientific progress. We should consistently stand behind UK science, research and development. It is being held back in Scotland by a lack of control over areas such as foreign policy and immigration.

The budget for the Scottish Funding Council, which supports Scotland’s world-leading universities, was taken above £2.2 billion for the first time ever in the last Scottish budget. Scotland attracts a higher proportion of EU and international students than any other UK nation. The latest statistics published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in 2020-21, Scotland led the way in attracting international students, with 24.1% of Scottish university enrolments coming from outwith the UK, compared with just 22.2% in England; also, 7.3% of university enrolments in Scotland came from the EU.

However, there has been a sharp drop in the number of new EU students coming to Scotland this year. The most recent data highlights the devastating impact that Brexit is having on new students. The UK Government’s previous refusals to negotiate a deal with the EU on Horizon typify how Brexit is harming Scotland’s science sector. Since 2014, Scottish and UK universities have lost almost £1 billion in structural EU funds for research, which has harmed Scotland’s research and development.

I hope that there are more positives to come from current negotiations, but we cannot overlook what has happened in past years. The UK Government must do so much more not only to draw STEM workers to the UK, but to incentivise those who are already here to remain. To do that, a firm commitment and increased funding is absolutely vital, and that will enable us to collaborate on a unrivalled scale while continuing to attract the best talent, signalling ambitions to lead the world in science. At the very least, it should not be too much to expect that the Government could make good on their own commitments.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I pass on apologies from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who has been unavoidably delayed. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing this vital debate. He is a great champion of universities and research across the country, particularly in his own constituency, and I know that my shadow ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, recently visited Sheffield University’s gene therapy innovation and manufacturing centre, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central mentioned in his speech.

I also congratulate the other Members who have spoken, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). They all made it clear that the UK has a world-leading science base. We rank third, behind only the US and China, in science and technology journal articles, and we have four of the world’s top 10 universities. As well as pushing the boundaries of humanity’s collective understanding, science represents a priceless platform for the UK’s future growth and prosperity, as well as to ensure our security and respond to the global threats that have been referred to today, from pandemics to climate change.

Under this Government, we have not seen our rich science base converted into the high-skill, high-wage and high-productivity economy that we all want to see. We have the lowest levels of business investment in the G7. As a result, our great UK science start-ups are being bought up or moving abroad. We have seen a constant churn of Ministers—nine in five years—with multiple changes of policy and strategy, and chronic uncertainty, making it impossible for people to invest or plan for the future. We have had an innovation strategy, a research and development road map, a science plan, an Office for Science and Technology strategy, Grand Challenges, the first National Science and Technology Council, the new National Science and Technology Council, and two reorganisations of UKRI, as well as other multiple broken promises.

The reality on the ground is stark. I recently met representatives of Universities Wales, who told me that nearly a thousand jobs are at risk across the sector in Wales because of a combination of the end of the Horizon funding with no deal yet on the horizon, the failure to replace the crucial European regional development fund and the European social fund, and the changes around Erasmus. That means that high-quality, high-paid academic and technical jobs are at risk for almost a thousand people in Wales alone, which is reflected across the United Kingdom.

As hon. Members of different parties have said, innovation and science are critical to building regional economies across the UK that are strong and self-sufficient. However, under this Government, that has very much been concentrated on the golden triangle of the greater south-east, which receives more public R&D funding than the rest of England combined, excluding regions, towns and cities from the high-paid, high-skilled science jobs that we need to drive growth. We on this side of the House would champion universities and clusters of universities across the UK as engines of regional growth, and we see a clear path from investing in scientific research to creating jobs on which people can raise a family. We have called for a target of 3% of GDP to be invested in R&D. I understand that Ministers claimed recently that we have reached 2.8% with the new accounting approach. Will the Minister confirm that and admit that we were right to call for that crucial 3% target?

On Horizon Europe, the Conservatives made a manifesto promise that they would associate with that €95 billion programme, which is the world’s biggest science funding scheme. They have repeated that promise more than 50 times, and across social media, yet we have seen years of delay and uncertainty, whereby jobs, projects and inward investment have been lost. There was also chaos recently with the Northern Ireland protocol negotiations, which have now thankfully been resolved. The Minister will undoubtedly say that negotiations are under way, but the reality is that we have seen scientists and researchers having to choose between the country that they love and the funding that they need. Indeed, there is not even a single mention of Horizon in the latest two science plans.

We have heard a lot today about Pioneer, but it simply does not match Horizon Europe for funding, prestige, influence or range. The sector knows it, the Minister knows it and the Prime Minister knows it. I note that the national academies that would be delivering the Pioneer talent element say that Horizon Europe is still their first choice. The British Academy says that the association with Horizon must remain an “overriding priority”, and the Royal Academy of Engineering says that that is its “strong preference”.

We will also have huge administration and set-up costs with Pioneer. How much of the £14 billion would actually be spent as grants for our scientists and researchers? Much of it will be spent on bureaucracy, thereby short-changing our science base. The UK Government claim that Pioneer will provide more funding for R&D than it would have received through Horizon, but I am not sure how they can make that claim, when the reality is that the UK was the second top grant receiver from Horizon 2020 and we got more out of the programme than we put in. Almost half of Pioneer’s total budget—£6 billion—is set outside the current spending review period. Is that an unfunded spending commitment, or will it be part of the Government’s seemingly abandoned promise to invest £22 billion in R&D by 2027?

Can the Minister say what steps his Government will take to increase public and private research and development across the UK? I mentioned the loss of crucial funding from the European regional development fund—£618 million—that has not been replaced by the shared prosperity fund or other funds. Of course, the Government have not provided detail on how British scientists will be supported after the Horizon guarantee ends in June. Can the Minister explain whether that guarantee will be extended, and how the Government will prevent a draining of jobs and talent away from our crucial science sector in the months to come?

We deserve a Government who do not politicise the funding and livelihoods of our science base. We cannot build a science superpower with sticking plaster policies. Labour will deliver on Horizon association, boost R&D across the UK and catalyse the regions that have been left out of our science investment.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing this debate on research and development funding, and indeed Horizon Europe. It is a hugely important and timely debate, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to speak to Members today.

As we have heard today, despite our relative size, Britain outperforms our closest competitors. We are a main challenger nation to the US and China in so many areas, with four of the world’s top universities and a technology sector worth more than $1 trillion. Just eight of our university towns are home to more billion-dollar unicorn start-ups than the whole of France and Germany combined. However, when others, including France and Germany, are moving further and faster to invest in science and technology, we have to do the same.

In February, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of global scientific and technology advancement and to ensure that the brightest scientists, most brilliant innovators and most ambitious entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into companies, products and services here in the UK that will change lives and drive growth. We are focused on optimising public R&D investment to support our strengths and increase levels of private R&D to make our economy the most innovative in the world.

We are already making swift progress. We have launched the Government’s plan to cement the UK’s place as a science and technology superpower by 2030, challenging every part of Government to put the UK at the forefront of global science and technology through 10 key actions, creating that co-ordinated cross-Government approach. Those key actions include identifying critical technologies; investing in R&D and talent and skills; financing innovative science and technology companies; creating international opportunities; providing access to physical and digital infrastructure; and improving regulation and standards. That delivery starts now. Although the Secretary of State may pause in a week or so for her own delivery, the Department’s work will not pause. We have a raft of projects initially worth around £500 million in new and existing funding that will help to ensure the UK has the skills, talent and infrastructure to take a global lead in game-changing technologies and groundbreaking science.

In line with our focus on delivering long-term economic growth, we remain committed to increasing publicly funded and economy-wide R&D spending. As set out in the 2023 Budget, the Government are turning their vision for UK enterprise into a reality by supporting growth in the sectors of the future. There are huge opportunities to do that by capturing a share of growing global markets in green industries, digital technologies, life sciences, creative industries and advanced manufacturing.

The Government have recommitted to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion per annum by 2024-25, representing a cash increase of around one third—the largest ever increase in public R&D spending over a spending review period. We have provided UKRI, our national funding body, with a multi-year settlement across all parts of its budget, which will be vital to support our science superpower ambitions. The total UKRI allocation is £25.1 billion for 2022-25, and will reach more than £8.8 billion in the year 2024-25—its highest ever level.

On 25 January, we launched the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—ARIA—a new independent research body custom built to fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research. The Government have committed £800 million to ARIA out to 2025-26. ARIA will help maintain the UK’s position as a science superpower, helping to attract top talent to the UK, grow our economy, boost prosperity and, crucially, invest in break-through technologies with a potential to profoundly change the world for the better.

Clearly, we are also fully committed—we have heard the request—to science and research collaboration, including internationally and with our European counterparts. That is why we are discussing association to Horizon Europe with the EU, and we very much hope that our negotiations will be successful. I know people have been asking for guarantees. Clearly, it is not within our gift unilaterally so we have to negotiate, but Horizon Europe is our preference.

Association needs to be on the basis of a good deal for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. We welcome the EU’s recent openness to discussions on UK association to EU programmes following two years of delays. We have always wanted to do this, and the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) talked about the Windsor framework and the Northern Ireland protocol. They have helped unlock our move to have these productive conversations now. At the partnership council on 24 March, the UK and the EU agreed to take forward discussions on UK association in the coming weeks. Indeed, the Secretary of State travelled to Brussels on 4 April for an introductory meeting with the EU’s research and innovation commissioner Mariya Gabriel to discuss research collaboration, including the UK’s expectations around association to Horizon Europe.

Our discussions will need to reflect the lasting impact of two years of delay to the UK’s association, which means, as we have heard, researchers and businesses across the UK have missed out on over two years of a seven-year programme. In all scenarios, we will continue to put the interests of researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs across the UK first, so that they can take forward groundbreaking research and drive forward innovation with their international partners. With that in mind, if we are not able to secure association to Horizon Europe on fair and appropriate terms, and I highlight again that that is very much our preference, we will implement Pioneer.

Pioneer is the Government’s bold, ambitious alternative to Horizon Europe, should we be unable to reach that agreement with the EU on association. On 6 April, as we have heard, the Government published their prospectus on Pioneer. That has been developed with input from researchers and businesses across the UK, and it sets out the proposals that would inform the scheme. By publishing the prospectus now, we are giving the research community and industry a further opportunity to provide feedback to shape these proposed plans. Our plans provide clear reassurance that the Government are fully prepared to launch an ambitious alternative scheme should we be unable to associate to Horizon Europe. We look forward to engaging with and seeking further input from researchers and businesses as we develop these proposals over the coming weeks and months.

Pioneer would deliver four interconnected programmes covering offers for talent, global, innovation and R&D infrastructure to boost the UK’s R&D system. These programmes would be supported by the Horizon Europe guarantee, and a transitions package would ensure there is no gap in investment flowing to the sector. Pioneer would receive at least the same amount of funding as the UK would have paid to associate to Horizon had we associated from 2021-27, which means the UK would invest around £14.6 billion in Pioneer to the end of 2027-28, including the support we are already providing to the sector, such as via the Horizon guarantee. I will answer the maths question from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) because he mentioned some of the figures. Pioneer funding includes £2 billion for talent, £3.5 billion for innovation, £3.8 billion for global and £1.7 billion for infrastructure. Add the funding we are already providing for the sector, including the Horizon guarantee—a further £3.6 billion—and that adds up to the £14.6 billion.

Regardless of whether we reach an agreement with the EU on association or we launch Pioneer—that proposed alternative—the Government will ensure that UK researchers and businesses continue to benefit from world-leading collaboration opportunities with colleagues from Europe and beyond. The Government have already committed investment for UK researchers to engage in and benefit from global collaboration through the international science partnerships fund. That was designed to deepen scientific collaboration between the UK and international R&D powers on strategically important science themes. In December last year, £119 million for ISPF phase 1 was announced. That allows UK researchers and innovators to collaborate with international partners on multidisciplinary projects. It will help the UK and its partners to deliver bigger, better science than one country can alone.

Global collaboration under the ISPF will give researchers access to global talent, large-scale facilities, research ecosystems and markets to swiftly move forward ideas to greater maturity, applicability and commercialisation. It is being delivered through trusted and established partners, including UK Research and Innovation, the UK national academies and selected public research establishments, such as the Met Office, UK Atomic Energy Authority and the National Physical Laboratory. Should we not be able to associate to Horizon Europe, this fund would be expanded to tackle global challenges and develop future technologies, positioning UK researchers at the heart of global solutions.

I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and the hon. Members for Wirral West, for Cardiff South and Penarth, for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) for their contributions. There is a network of universities and innovators in many of the constituencies of hon. Members, across the UK in all nations. We must ensure we keep that collaboration going and build on those strengths. We are committed to being at the centre of what the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology can deliver. That will cement the UK’s place as a science and technology superpower by 2030, increase publicly funded and economy-wide R&D spending, optimise public R&D investment to support areas of relative UK strength and increase the level of private R&D to make our economy the most innovative in the world.

As I have set out, we are discussing association to Horizon Europe with the EU, and we hope our negotiations will be successful. However, if we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms, we will pioneer a long-term, bold and ambitious programme to support research and innovation in the UK. I can assure hon. Members that we are and we will continue to negotiate in good faith with the EU, because international collaboration with our closest partners is at the heart of what we are trying to do.

I would like to thank hon. Members for their contributions. We have had the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the benefits of association with Horizon Europe, and we have done it with unanimity on both sides and from all three Front-Bench spokespeople. I hope the Minister will take back the message from this debate to his colleagues that if they are serious about being a science superpower, nothing less than association will do.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered research and development funding and Horizon Europe.

Sitting adjourned.