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Science Sector: International Collaboration

Volume 659: debated on Tuesday 30 April 2019

As announced in the spring statement, I have invited Professor Sir Adrian Smith to provide independent advice on potential future funding schemes in the context of the UK’s future ambitions for European and international collaboration on science and innovation. I also look forward to welcoming delegations from over 50 countries to the EUREKA global innovation summit in Manchester this May.

Our world-class scientists collaborate across the world, with the EU and beyond, and that collaboration is vital for further research and innovation in this country. Horizon 2020 is a ready-made platform for that collaboration. Will my hon. Friend commit to joining the Horizon 2020 programme as we leave the EU?

The Government have committed to guaranteeing all existing Horizon 2020 projects before Brexit. That was issued in August 2016 and demonstrated the Government’s commitment early on to protecting our scientific partnerships. We then had the underwrite extension in July 2018 which said that even once we had left the European Union—for two years up until December 2020—we would commit to funding those projects for the lifetime of them. We are now moving into negotiations on Horizon Europe, which is the successor scheme to Horizon 2020. I took part in the EU Competitiveness Council in February—I hope also to attend on 28 May—and it is our ambition to associate into Horizon Europe. On investment, my hon. Friend will be well aware that through our world-class universities we put in £4 billion and got back £5.7 billion in investment.

Even at the height of the cold war, there was a surprising level of collaboration between Russian and UK nuclear physicists. Will the Minister assure me that there will be similar collaboration when it comes to the skills that we have in the UK—particularly at Dounreay, in my constituency—in nuclear decommissioning, which is an industry that we could export and which could make a lot of money for the UK?

I entirely agree, and I pay tribute to the UK nuclear decommissioning sector. As science Minister, I have seen the innovation that is being developed. I recently announced £93 million for a robotics for hazardous environments programme involving about seven universities across the UK, which are looking into how we can use robotics more effectively to help nuclear decommissioning. I am delighted that that is now being transferred to Fukushima in Japan. The Government are ensuring that scientific collaboration is international. We will publish an international research and innovation strategy shortly, and I shall welcome any opportunities, involving any countries, to continue that work.