Skip to main content


Volume 827: debated on Thursday 23 February 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the loss of funding to the United Kingdom since 2020 as a result of leaving the Horizon programme; and whether they have fully compensated for that loss.

My Lords, the Government’s preference remains to associate to Horizon, and we continue to do everything we can to secure this. As of 31 January, the Government’s Horizon Europe guarantee, administered via UKRI, had issued grants worth up to £750 million to 1,548 successful applicants. We announced an additional £484 million of funding in November to support the UK’s R&D sector and bolster talent and investment in R&D infrastructure while we continue to pursue association.

I thank my noble friend for that very full Answer. Will he join me in congratulating the success that the Horizon programme has brought not just to universities such as Oxford and Cambridge but to universities such as the University of York? Will he give the House an assurance today that the future of the UK science and university research community will be assured, given that there are no obvious international comparators and that countries such as New Zealand are applying to join the Horizon fund?

In her final remarks, my noble friend made an important point: many countries that have not been members of the European Union, unlike us, are able to be associate members of Horizon, and we continue to hope to be so. We in this country benefit from many world-leading universities, including the University of York, which she mentioned. However, there are other countries and partnerships to forge, which is why, in December, the Government announced the new international science partnerships fund, which is designed to collaborate with the best R&I partners around the world—for example, in the already announced partnership with Japan.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Oxford and Cambridge universities, once given more than £130 million a year in total by European research programmes, now get £1 million annually between them, since the UK left the EU. All of our universities and research bodies are similarly affected. The Minister referred to £484 million of research funding announced in November, but, yesterday, the publication of supply estimates showed that the Government have now withdrawn a massive £1.6 billion of unspent R&D funding, a good portion of which was the UK Horizon replacement. Will the Government reinstate this funding, not just the £484 million, as a matter of urgency?

The noble Baroness’s point does not reflect a change in the Government’s position, which remains that we would like to associate to Horizon as agreed with the European Union in the trade and co-operation agreement—we are disappointed that it has not acted on this. The surrender of the capital budget that she mentioned reflects the fact that, if we were to associate in this financial year, which obviously ends soon, any cash payment would take place next year. But that funding remains available to ensure that people who would qualify for Horizon do not suffer a shortfall.

Could we get some qualification from the Minister on that precise issue? Is he saying that, next year, the £1.6 billion that has been clawed back will be made available, in addition to the resources that would otherwise be in place? If he is not, this is sophistry of the worst order.

The Horizon Europe guarantee programme, to which I referred, is demand driven; it is determined by the number of successful applications. It is an interim measure while we pursue association to Horizon, which was agreed in the trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union. If the EU follows through on the promises it made, the support can continue in that way.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for all he has said, and I wish him every success. But is it not important that we also wish success to the Prime Minister in his negotiations on the Irish protocol, which would transform relations between this country and the EU? Would it not be a very good idea if those who landed us in this mess kept quiet?

Of course I wish my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the best of luck in his discussions with the European Union, but it is wrong to link this issue to the Northern Ireland protocol, as the EU has done. These were separate agreements. The trade and co-operation agreement undertook to allow the UK to participate in Horizon, just as a number of non-EU states do. We hope that the EU will follow through on its promises, notwithstanding discussions on the protocol.

I welcome what the Minister said about the Government’s intention being still to join as an associate of Horizon. Would he agree that, since that is plan A, it is presumably a bit better than plan B? Would he also recognise that, highly desirable though the links with non-EU countries are, they are not affected one way or the other by Horizon and our membership of it?

As I say, we have been pushing the EU to implement our association to EU programmes as agreed—that is plan A. We remain open and committed to collaboration with the EU but are ready to implement a comprehensive and world-leading alternative programme if needed, and that is under consideration.

My Lords, I am hearing what has been said about the EU not following through on its commitments, but our own Government have not done so. Look at the Erasmus programme. Promises were made that, in the interim, facilities would be put in place and there would be no deficit, but there clearly has been. Can the Minister tell us when the scientific community and academia will have some certainty, which is what they need?

The right reverend Prelate’s final question is a matter for the EU. We stand ready to follow through on what was agreed in the trade and co-operation agreement and hope that the EU will do so swiftly. Erasmus is another good example of an EU programme that is open to other countries which, unlike us, were not for four decades members of the EU. Regrettably, the EU takes a different view on that. However, our Turing programme replaces it and makes sure that there are opportunities for people studying in the UK to benefit from international collaboration.

My Lords, it is always best to know when you are beat on this. My view—and I am sure the Minister will not agree—is that the original negotiation on this programme was badly handled and we have been left with a poor deal. There have been a number of calls, including from health leaders, for the scheme introduced by government to grant applications with final submission deadlines on or before 31 March to be extended as a backup while we seek the important association that we are all agreed on. Will the Minister ensure that NHS patients can continue to benefit from the Horizon programme’s collaborative research? The last time I raised this issue, I asked the Minister then to confirm whether 31 March is the final cut-off date and whether the Government will bring forward a plan B to ensure that we have the right levels of international co-operation in research available. I did not get an answer then and the House deserves an answer today.

UK researchers and businesses will receive at least as much money as they would have done from Horizon over this spending review period. The Government are delivering their commitment to invest £20 billion a year in R&D by the end of the period; that is a rise of 30% in cash terms over three years, and the largest-ever increase in funding over a spending review period. We continue to pursue our associate membership of Horizon, as agreed with the EU in the trade and co-operation agreement, but it takes two to tango—it is up to the EU to follow through on that agreement as well.

The shared prosperity fund was billed as a replacement for EU structural funds, much of which was spent on university research partnerships across the UK. However, the shared prosperity fund is distributed by local authorities, which have no mechanism or incentive to give money to university research. What are the Government planning to do to fill the gaping hole that now exists on research funding in the UK?

The noble Baroness underlines the fact that decisions about that spending are now taken in this country rather than in Brussels, which is an advantage, following our departure from the European Union. We are able to invest that throughout the United Kingdom in things which are decided by the elected Government and by elected local authorities, who of course pay heed to our world-leading universities and research base.

My Lords, of the world’s top 20 universities, four are in the United Kingdom, most of the others are in other anglosphere countries, and none is in the European Union. Instead of approaching this question as supplicants, should we not be raising our eyes to the greater opportunities that lie over more distant horizons?

I agree with my noble friend. We want to continue to collaborate with the European Union. We have four of the world’s top 20 universities in this country—the EU has none in the top 20 but has many institutions with which we would welcome partnership. We are also pursuing other opportunities, such as with Japan, as I mentioned, and there are many countries—the United States, Canada, South Korea, India and many more—where we can and should be seizing opportunities, and the Government are determined to do so.