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EU: Research Budget

Volume 757: debated on Tuesday 2 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the creation of the European Commission’s New Deal, what steps they will take to protect the European Union research budget.

My Lords, European Commission President Juncker made a statement about the investment plan last week. We are seeking to clarify details of the proposal, including any implications for the EU research budget, which is so important to the United Kingdom.

The new deal will provide €315 billion in an attempt to improve the economy of some nation states that are still in economic slump. It is reported that the current €81 billion research and innovation budget is going to be, as the Daily Telegraph says, “gutted” and included within the new deal. I ask Her Majesty’s Government what will happen to the projects that have already been started, plans that are already made and teams that have already been drawn up to use part of the €81 billion for the research and innovation budget. The UK benefits hugely from that money. I just wonder what will happen to the academic staff and the scientists if that is completely gone.

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Horizon 2020 has been indentified as a possible source of €2.7 billion financing for the investment plan. Further detail is required from the Commission. However, it is proposing that the plan will make existing funding for research go further through leveraging private sector financing, which could deliver better value for money. However, of course the noble Baroness is right to express concern. We will be keeping an eye on the detail and the existing research teams to which she refers.

My Lords, I really do not understand the Government’s approach to this. There ought to be support for the process. There ought to be recognition that if we are to have growth in the UK, we also need growth in Europe. Therefore, we should be taking a lead in conjunction with the European Union on this. We cannot and will not sustain high levels of growth in the UK unless we also get it in Europe.

My Lords, the Government agree that it is important to have an investment plan of this kind. There is much detail, for example, in the priorities that it sets out, which we would support and which link well to our own national infrastructure plan announced by the Chief Secretary today.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as a preamble to the European Commission’s new deal, it got rid of its excellent chief scientific adviser? She had previously been—and did a very good job as—the chief scientific adviser for Scotland. The Commission did not replace her; it just got rid of her. This action seems to many of us to raise significant worries. In particular, can we really trust the Commission’s new deal to protect the EU science research budget, upon which so much industrial innovation depends?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of Professor Anne Glover, who has been such a force for good in Brussels. I support what the noble Lord has said about the importance of R&D. The Science and Technology Committee in another place has expressed a similar view directly to Brussels. I very much hope that a way can be found in future to ensure that robust scientific advice is at the heart of European policy-making.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that any EU budget money would be used as loan guarantees, not as cash upfront? It is very important to safeguard the research budget. Besides that, will she confirm that this plan, while welcome, has been compared to the loaves and fishes; that an even more important boost to private investment in Europe would be through the completion of the single market, structural reforms and good regulation; and that, in that effort, the UK can take a lead only by being a positive and engaged member of the European Union?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that this is done mainly through supporting loans. I completely agree with her on the wider point; it is part of our objective that in discussing this plan we should also promote the single market, better regulation, competitiveness and her wider points that are incredibly important to our recovery in Europe, which I am as keen to see as she is. Indeed, I am off to the Competitiveness Council on Thursday to support EU work in this important area.

My Lords, I reinforce the words of the noble Lord, Lord May, about the chief scientist and the loss of that post. Is any effort being made by the Government to find a replacement?

My Lords, I have explained that we are concerned. We are in discussions in Europe to see what the right way forward is to find strong, robust scientific advice at the heart of European policy-making.

Is my noble friend aware that we hear a great deal from the Government about the ways in which the European Union could improve itself but we have not heard a great deal from them about getting this right? I hope she will ensure that the Government are seen as being very pro the European Union’s work in science.

I can agree with my noble friend that the Government are indeed very pro the European Union’s work in science. It is an area where we do well; the competitive processes that have been set up under the various R&D frameworks, including Horizon 2020, are an approach to funding out of which we do well. We have a good share of research for our brilliant scientists.

My Lords, the success of UK business is dependent on R&D, as I am sure the Minister will agree, but when do the UK Government intend to set the R&D intensity target for 2020? Is this likely to be supportive of the investment of 3% of GDP, in line with the European Commission, which is likely to be discussed this week?

My Lords, I will write to the noble Lord as I do not wish to mislead the House on the R&D intensity target. I can say that we are extremely engaged in ensuring that the R&D framework helps the UK and UK scientists, and that we have both value for money and beacons of excellence. That is our approach.