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Research and Development Investment

Volume 672: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2020

The Government are already increasing public spending on research and development by £7 billion over five years, the biggest increase in public funding for R&D on record. Every pound of public expenditure on R&D leverages a further £1.40 of additional private investment, generating even greater returns for the UK.

Given that nearly 50% of the core science budget currently goes to just three cities in southern England, can the Secretary of State assure me that the increase in R&D funding will do more to favour the regions outside the south, so that in future both my city of York and other regional hubs across Yorkshire, such as Leeds and Hull, will receive their fair share for the purposes of research and innovation?

I know that my hon. Friend is hugely supportive of R&D, and that last month he opened the Institute of Technology at York College. I absolutely agree that that is part of our levelling-up agenda. We want to support centres of excellence across the country. In December last year, UK Research and Innovation awarded £24 million to the University of York for a quantum communications hub, and we will set out our ambitious play strategy for R&D in the second half of this year.

Rothamsted Research in my constituency is a world-leading agricultural research centre, and we have made huge strides in commercialising that scientific knowledge, working with agritech start-ups. I am working with Rothamsted to build a new venture capital fund for agritech, working with those start-ups to incubate and develop them so that we can improve this facility, not just for Rothamsted and the region but for the whole country. Will the Secretary of State provide Government support for this work and come to see the work that we are doing at Rothamsted?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is showing his characteristic commitment to innovation by supporting an agritech venture capital fund. As he notes, Rothamsted has a world-renowned reputation for agricultural research, and that is why UKRI has awarded £3.4 million to determine protein abundance in plants at that research institute. Either I or the Science Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway)—would be happy to meet him to discuss how the Government can support his proposals.

I also welcome the emphasis that the Government are placing on research and development. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what further action is being taken on the proposal for a UK advanced research projects agency, following the departmental meeting last year?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The UK is ranked fifth in the global innovation index, and our strengths in R&D mean that we are well placed to develop a new funding body to specialise in high-risk, high-reward projects. As I have said, I am absolutely determined that the UK should be a global science superpower, and my Department is making good progress on a UK advanced research projects agency. We are engaging with a wide range of researchers and innovators, and we will set out further plans in due course.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the Science Minister to their places. Science is critical to our national prosperity, and it is important that it should be led by them, rather than by the misfit master of Downing Street, so can the Secretary of State clarify the confusing statement from No. 10 on the European research programme? International collaboration is the heartbeat of research and development. For every £1 we put into the European Union programme, we got £1.30 back, and such funding is essential if we are to retain our place as a global science superpower, so will the Secretary of State boost UK science by confirming that we will be going for full associate membership?

Of course I want the UK to be a science superpower, and we have set out our views on expanding the R&D budget. On Europe, our EU negotiating objectives are very clear: the UK will consider participation in Horizon Europe and Euratom, but this will be part of the wider negotiations.

The Royal College of Physicians has found that something like 64,000 people a year die prematurely as a result of unclean air at a cost of some £20 billion. In addition to continuing the research and development into electric cars, will the Secretary of State lobby the Chancellor and the Environment Secretary to continue the grant of £3,500 for clean cars, so that we can have an enforceable regime for air quality and a platform for research and development and for exports in the green industries, particularly in relation to sustainable transport?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We currently have 460,000 green jobs in this country, and we want to push that to 2 million. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the specific point that he has raised.

Across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, universities have played a critical role in research and development. What help will the Secretary of State give to Queen’s University and Ulster University in Belfast, as well as to the Greenmount Agricultural College, so that they can apply for funding to help research and development across the whole United Kingdom?

Of course, UKRI provides funding for a whole range of universities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas for projects, perhaps he would come forward with them.

It is possible to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but that is not happening at scale at the moment. Does my right hon. Friend consider it part of his Department’s responsibilities to support research into making this more widespread, which would be hugely beneficial for the planet?

I know that my hon. Friend is an authority on the house building sector, and I had an opportunity to work with him on these issues when I was the Housing and Planning Minister. He raises an important point. We know that 15% of emissions are from housing, and we are looking to see how we can bring that down as part of the net zero target.