Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the report from the Science and Technology Committee A Time for Boldness: EU Membership and UK Science after the Referendum (1st Report, HL Paper 85).
The report A Time for Boldness, which is the subject of this debate, is a follow-up to the April report of the Science and Technology Committee on EU Membership and UK Science, which explored the principal links between EU membership and the effectiveness of United Kingdom science. I first thank our committee clerk Anna Murphy, our policy analyst Daniel Rathbone and our specialist adviser Professor Graeme Reid, who once more gave valuable help to the committee.
Our previous report noted that a large majority of the UK science community highly valued European Union membership, but with some important qualifications. They particularly valued the ease with which talented scientists could move between member states, thereby enhancing scientific collaboration, the advantages—in most cases but not all—of harmonised regulations and the ability to access substantial funding.
In the light of the referendum result, the core question we resolved to address in this follow-up report was what actions are needed to ensure that United Kingdom science continues to flourish as the United Kingdom negotiates its exit from the European Union and thereafter plays an ever stronger role in delivering international competitiveness for the United Kingdom, as well as further progress to enhancing our quality of life.
The Government have recognised the key role that science, technology and innovation must play. The White Paper on exiting the EU has a chapter entitled “Ensuring the UK remains the best place for science and innovation”. It highlights the funding commitments made in the Autumn Statement and the Green Paper published in January on a new industrial strategy which seeks to,
“put the UK and British companies at the forefront of innovation by developing the products and services that address the challenges of the future”.
The Green Paper stresses our dependence in future on becoming a more innovative economy and on the need to do more to commercialise our world-leading science to drive growth across the United Kingdom.
While our report predates both the White Paper on exiting the European Union and the Green Paper on a new industrial strategy, it can be seen as a contribution to addressing the agenda of these policy papers. Our report considers the following issues: the future funding of science and the need for scientists to continue to move between borders; the Government’s role in providing research infrastructure; and the potential opportunities offered by and after Brexit.
First, on funding issues from 2007 to 2013 the United Kingdom received €8.8 billion for research development and innovation from the European Union, while contributing about €5.4 billion to the European Union for research. So we were net beneficiaries in that respect. The Government gave welcome assurances that it would underwrite approved Horizon 2020 projects funding with new money, in addition to the science funding already committed for the period to 2021. Even more welcome in November, the Prime Minister announced a real-terms increase in government investment, with £2 billion a year by 2020 for research and development,
“to help put post-Brexit Britain at the cutting edge of science”,
and technology discovery. This money will be challenged through a national productivity investment fund and a new industrial strategy fund. This was an encouraging response to the implications of Brexit but the new money promised by the Government should not be seen as a replacement for European Union funding after the United Kingdom has left the EU. The EU funding should be replaced with new money.
There remain reports about discrimination against UK researchers post the Brexit vote in seeking EU funding and collaboration. Both the Minister, Jo Johnson, and the EU Commissioner have urged scientists to provide hard evidence. In paragraph 39 we suggest that for the sake of transparency, any evidence received of discrimination, together with an assessment on whether the concerns have been adequately addressed, should be published in “anonymised aggregate form”.
The White Paper states that researchers should continue to bid for competitive EU research funding such as Horizon 2020 while the UK remains a member of the EU, and that existing EU students and those starting courses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and home fee status for the duration of their courses.
Once negotiations on the terms of our leaving the EU start, it will be highly desirable at an early stage to secure longer-term assurances both for European Union students in the United Kingdom and for British students in EU member states. In order better to refute any perception that we are less welcoming than before to students and researchers we recommend in the report that the Government should maintain the Chevening scholarships and create additional scholarships for the most talented career researchers at PhD and post-doctoral levels, expand the global challenges fund and the Newton fund and make additional resources available for international research collaboration.
In paragraph 69 we recommended that the Government initiate a search for “outstanding scientific leaders” from around the globe and attract them to the United Kingdom with compelling offers of research funding. It was therefore highly gratifying to hear in the Budget Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that £100 million is to be used to attract best minds to the UK over the next four years to make us a world leader in science and engineering. I congratulate the Government on this welcome initiative.
I turn to the free movement of scientists. The committee’s report is one of many to draw attention to the idiocy of not treating student numbers separately for immigration purposes. Can the Minister say whether the Government will seek to reverse the amendment made in this House to the Higher Education and Research Bill last week, which would remove students from the immigration figures? The Government’s response to the committee says that the calculation of net migration statistics is in line with best practice around the world. I would refute that—it simply is not the case, as has so often been stated in this House.
The title of the report, A Time for Boldness, refers in particular to our recommendation in paragraph 76 that we identify opportunities for bold long-term moves to reinforce the UK’s global standing in science. This could include hosting, in partnership with Governments and funding bodies from other countries, one or more new international research facilities, subject of course to a rigorous review and appraisal of value for money. We already host six pan-European research infrastructures in the UK, about whose long-term future the Russell group expressed some concern in its evidence to us. We also host such major research stations as the European Space Agency and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in his intervention today will speak on the need to ensure that the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts is retained in this country, although its data centre will be moved to Italy. I would very much support that.
The Committee recommended that the voice of the scientific community should be heard alongside the voice of business during the Brexit negotiations and in making future alliances. We need science at the centre of the negotiations. We urged the Government to assess in the short term the need for a chief scientific adviser in the Department for International Trade, bearing in mind the scale of scientific analysis that underpins the international trade regulations which will be required for trade negotiations. The Government’s response said that the Department for International Trade is considering the case for appointing a chief scientific adviser. Can the Minister tell the House of any progress in this respect?
Lastly, I turn to such opportunities as might be offered for science after Brexit, in spite of the very obvious challenges. The Science and Technology Committee is currently taking evidence on the Green Paper, Building our Industrial Strategy. As I said earlier, this Green Paper gives encouraging priority to investing in science, research and innovation and recognises that our future ability to attract inward investment will depend heavily on the quality of our science base. The Green Paper furthermore says that the United Kingdom is fortunate to be a nation of science and technical progress. I would put it more strongly: without excellence in science, research and innovation, our prospects would be dire. We need to invest wisely and more generously in our science base to match the funding of our competitors, build on excellence, reform our public procurement to support innovative businesses, and expand the scale and scope of the research and development tax credit to cover a wider span of business innovation. Could Brexit be the catalyst that leads to continuity of policies for science, technology and innovation for more than just a few years at a time? I beg to move.
I first thank the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for his extraordinarily good chairmanship of the Select Committee; I remember very well from when I was a member of that Select Committee some time ago his wisdom in leading our inquiries and debates. In response to the excellent report that the Select Committee has produced, the Government state that,
“a global Britain must … be a country that looks to the future. That means being one of the best places in the world for science and innovation”.
It also goes on to assert that:
“The Government made a series of announcements on EU research and innovation … to provide assurance and certainty to stakeholders”.
But the Government’s response to the recommendations to distinguish immigration statistics and student entries is, I am afraid, totally inadequate. Moreover, it gives no reassurance at all to the backbone of British science, the post-doctoral fellow—the first stage in a scientist’s career when he or she is working independently, supervising students, publishing key scientific advances and making innovations. Often these post-docs are underpaid and naturally insecure, because they are really only good for as long as their grant income lasts, and they have a constant problem with that. The added insecurity under which they are now placed is a very serious threat to them indeed. I repeat: they are undoubtedly the backbone of British science.
In a powerful speech yesterday, Alice Gast, president of one of the country’s leading scientific universities, Imperial College, pointed out the need for the Government to resolve the uncertainties that they have created and to demonstrate practically our continued welcome to this important science research force and not to use this research force as a tool for negotiation. I agree with that completely. She also pointed out in her speech the richness of the collaboration that universities in this country have with the EU—I can testify to that in my statement.
I understand some of the evidence that the Select Committee received, but not all of it. It suggests that there had not been a downturn yet in EU doctoral students and postgraduates applying to work in the UK, but I do not find this evidence convincing. In many respects it is far too flawed. It is, in any case, far too soon after the referendum to make a judgment on the longer-term prospects. From our practical experience in our labs—for example at Imperial College, in my research building, which houses up to, I suppose, 100 scientists—we are hearing of many students who are increasingly reluctant to come to Britain to train and work here because of this longer-term insecurity. As we have been saying to the Home Office for years—particularly as the Science and Technology Select Committee has been saying—we need to have much better records from the Home Office of those entering the UK for study, exactly what they are studying and how they are contributing to our universities. But, yet again, I am afraid that the Government’s response to what is a basic and important request has been totally inadequate.
I have worked in reproductive medicine; it may seem a trivial area, but it is not just about in vitro fertilisation and infertile couples, this research is important to human growth and development, the ageing process, regenerative medicine and stem cell biology, and genetic disease—there are some 6,500 gene defects that cause serious diseases, many of which are a result of thousands of different mutations. This research also involves cancer treatments, because how the early cell reacts, how you see apoptosis—cell death—and how you regulate cell growth is of vital importance in cancer research. Most importantly of course, reproductive medicine is important in public health, because of the epigenetic and environmental influences that affect all medicine. In my view—though as a reproductive biologist I would say this, wouldn’t I?—reproductive biology is the very foundation of biological science.
At the height of my laboratory’s international impact, we had scientists and doctors from France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Belgium, Poland, Italy, Scandinavia and the Republic of Ireland, as well as from some eastern bloc countries. It is not an idle boast to say that we trained most of the Greek scientists here in Britain, at Hammersmith hospital at Imperial College. They are still in practice and their research is now starting to lead our research, as is happening generally across Europe.
Regrettably, the work that is going on in Belgium, and sometimes in France, has in my view a higher impact than the work we are doing in Britain. In a typical academic year, we might have once had some 15 global languages spoken in the laboratory, mostly European, of course, and usually 10 to 20 EU nationals working on research and clinical translation of research. Now things are beginning to look very different and the number of EU nationals in our laboratories has undoubtedly decreased. For example, we now need a new chair in reproductive medicine at Imperial College. We have been looking for a long time for this chair but we cannot find a single British candidate who is up to the standard that we need. The best chance we have of finding such a person is to look to Europe, but I do not think we will find a professor in Europe who will be prepared to come here, given the uncertainty I have mentioned. We cannot find sufficiently well-qualified candidates from Britain. The situation does not look at all hopeful. We need more people from the EU to apply. In excluding post-doctoral fellows who have received the best training and then refusing their access to continued research in the UK we are, I am afraid, further bruising UK science. They go elsewhere and become eventually not our collaborators but our competitors. We need to consider the effect that immigration policy is having, and will increasingly have, on British science.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for his wise leadership of the committee, and I thank fellow committee members for their tolerance of my interventions. The advice we received and the support that we had from the team as well as the evidence that we received from the inquiry was all very helpful for the report. As the noble Earl pointed out, science and research are central to the economic future of this country. Its importance was recognised in the industrial strategy paper and I welcome the opportunity to debate it today.
As our chairman pointed out, a preceding report in April set out the challenges and some of the reasons why Brexit would be a problem for British science. The role of this report is to set out how we can address the challenge of Brexit and make it work for this country. The word “boldness” in the report’s title is an appropriate injunction. For that we have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, for persuading us to adopt such stridency.
There is certainly complexity around this issue. There is Brexit, of course, but also the industrial strategy, as previously mentioned, and the Higher Education and Research Bill, to name but two elements of that. There are a lot of moving pieces. However, it is important not to let these moving pieces divert us from the scale of the task that we should undertake. The enormity of that is set out in the report. Therefore, I shall try to simplify my remarks around the themes of people, money and co-operation.
People are the cornerstone of science in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, set out very spiritedly, and the present situation is not good in that regard. The report is clear that,
“the Government should send repeated signals to the global science community that the UK remains”,
an exciting place for talented scientists. This patently has not been done as regards the response to immigration. People who are vital to our research and our scientific future are already making decisions. Some are leaving. Others are deciding not to come in the first place, and many more are mulling their options very seriously. I know scientists in this country who are confused, uncertain and hurt by the reaction they have confronted. Therefore the decision not to unilaterally offer the right to remain in this country to EU and EFTA scientists, and to include them in immigration figures, is idiotic, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, put it. It hangs over science a bit like a foul smell in a fume cupboard and has a bad influence on our way forward.
The report is right: we need to continue to pursue schemes that attract people to this country, such as the Chevening scholarships, the Erasmus scheme and others. Far more ambitiously, we need to step out with the front foot and search for some of the world’s leaders in science. But how can that happen when the overall message is, “You are foreigners; you are alien”? Does the Minister agree with the approach to attract world leaders in science? If he does, why are the Government not working harder to make the leading scientists who we already have in this country feel more welcome?
My next theme is money. The noble Earl set out the huge amount of money that is at stake. Underwriting the approved Horizon 2020 funding was a good, reasonable first step and the Government should be commended for that. However, time moves on and the next programme is already being considered. We need to understand where we are going on that. The report raises those concerns. In today’s Times Higher Education, a leading German academic pointed out that the current confusion makes it very difficult to understand whether the United Kingdom will be part of the EU’s multibillion research funding system. How do the Government view our position within the funding system as regards Horizon 2020 and the other schemes? If they are not planning to be part of that system, what is the plan? Will all the money from which we benefit be replaced from somewhere else in the United Kingdom?
The additional funding set out in the Autumn Statement was welcome. Can the Minister confirm that this is additional funding and not the first down payment to replace money that we are going to lose? If the Minister could confirm that, it would be helpful. I also note that the first tranche of the industrial strategy challenge fund money—£270 million—was allocated to three important technology areas. However, I wonder whether the cart has not been put before the horse a little in that the industrial strategy itself is still just in the form of a consultative Green Paper and something of a twinkle in the Minister’s and the Government’s eye, and yet money has already been pitched into it. I hope that the Minister will explain how, without an industrial strategy, they plan to focus the industrial strategy challenge fund.
The report is strong on the need for continued and enhanced co-operation. I am sure that no one in this House would disagree with that. However, we have a very good example of where existing co-operation is already being threatened, which sends out a bad message. I am sure that other noble Lords will have their own examples, but that message and the speed with which we are dealing with the Euratom issue throws the future of Culham into full and stark relief. In the context of seeking future co-operation, will the Minister explain how we are going to deal with the current co-operation issues vis-à-vis this very important institute? More importantly, would he tell the House what is the position of the scientists at Culham today? What is their future and how will it be mapped out as we go through the disengagement process?
The report rightly calls for boldness. Boldness requires bravery on the part of the Government in unilaterally assuring EU and EFTA scientists that they have a place here as long as they want to stay, in stating how the European funding of British science will be managed in future, and in admitting that we are sending out the wrong signals through our handling of the Euratom issue, and changing the way we deal with it. I ask the Minister to see the report as a call for action to achieve the best ends. At the risk of sounding like the title of a South American soap opera, I urge him to be bold and brave.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and his committee on an excellent and timely report. As the noble Earl hinted, I intend to speak about the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts—ECMWF—as an example of how co-operation with other European countries and hosting European science centres bring great benefit to the UK. I seek reassurance from the Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has just done, that in spite of Brexit, we as a nation remain committed to hosting such institutions. The Minister of State for Science and Universities said in his evidence to the Select Committee:
“We are already host to a number of important research facilities and we are continuing to develop our networks … We continue to analyse all the opportunities to make more such commitments when they present good value for money”.
The ECMWF was established in 1975 in the UK after an international competition to host a new European institution. It is an intergovernmental institution independent of the European Union. Today it has 22 member states and 12 co-operating states from Europe. Its budget is around £85 million a year, half of which comes from member states and the other half from competitively won research and service contracts. It employs around 300 people located in Reading.
The role of the ECMWF is to advance the science of weather prediction and provide operational weather predictions, out to two weeks ahead, to the national meteorological services of its member states and other weather service providers. It was created to have facilities, such as a supercomputer, that one nation alone could not provide. The ECMWF quickly established itself as the world leader—a position it still holds today, recognised by all in the field. Its forecasting skill is the best in the world. It has become a magnet for atmospheric scientists worldwide to come to the UK to discuss and develop the science of weather, atmospheric pollution and climate projection. It works closely with the Met Office and the two together are seen internationally as a powerful scientific axis in the field of weather and climate. The ECMWF’s supercomputer is the largest in the world devoted to weather science and prediction.
The ECMWF’s accommodation at Shinfield Park in Reading was fully provided by the UK Government as part of the deal to locate it in the UK. But its success and growth mean that it has outgrown the site in Reading both in terms of office space and the computer centre. The governing body—the ECMWF Council—decided that the priority was to rehouse the data centre. As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has already said, on 1 March this year, the council made a provisional decision to relocate the data centre to Italy, with the final decision, after contract negotiations, coming in June.
The United Kingdom was not even second in the race to house the new data centre: Finland was the runner-up, with no third choice. Although the United Kingdom Government identified at least three possible sites in the UK for the data centre—near the University of Reading; at Harwell; and in Exeter near the Met Office—the financial input offered by the Government to provide the new facility was derisory and of a different order of magnitude from the Italian offer. I ask the Minister why the UK decided not to mount a competitive bid to house the one of the largest supercomputing facilities in the world for weather and climate. Why is something that was so attractive in 1975 no longer attractive in 2017?
Although it is clearly not ideal to have the computer in a different country from the scientists, it is workable from a purely technical point of view. So why is this a bad outcome for the UK? First, while we have housed the data centre, other countries have been investing in our infrastructure and engineering capacity; in other words, we get leverage. Secondly, this computing capacity enables us to be the hub of a global telecommunications network. Thirdly, it has given us technical know-how and experience in procurement, which has been valuable in the Met Office’s procurement of its new Cray supercomputer. Fourthly, it has been of benefit to the ECMWF to have the computer co-located with the scientists so that they can code in the most efficient way to get the most from the machine. But perhaps most worrying of all, in the longer run, the loss of the data centre from the UK may be a prelude to the loss of the ECMWF itself, if the UK is signalling, by its lack of willingness to invest, a lack of interest in the centre.
There could have been a good news story here for the UK. We could have demonstrated at the time of Brexit that the UK was still committed to collaboration with our European partners, whether in the EU or not. But by letting the ECMWF data centre go from the UK, the Government have given exactly the opposite message. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond by clarifying the Government’s position on the ECMWF and its data centre—either now or perhaps later in writing. I end by paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: to lose one centre may be regarded as misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.
My Lords, like others, I commend my noble friend—indeed, my noble kinsman—Lord Selborne for his very skilful chairing of this report. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I thank the other members of the committee for putting up with my strange interventions from time to time.
I will focus on regulation and its impact on innovation; in particular, the first item of the Government’s response to our December report. The Government say in that response that, thanks to UK influence,
“the EU has changed its approach to regulation”,
“Brussels is now more focused on reducing burdens for businesses”,
“recognises the need for innovation-friendly regulation”.
I am sorry to say that I disagree with this and I see few signs of it. On glyphosate and neonicotinoids, on GM crops and GM insects, on data mining and digital technology, on snus and vaping, on great crested newts and long-eared bats, on stem cells and gene editing, on biomass burning and diesel—on many, many matters—I see Britain losing opportunities to bring in safer, cleaner and greener innovations because of our interpretation of rules promulgated in Brussels. As a result, we are not just unhelpful but counterproductive and are making things—environmental problems, health problems and economic competitiveness —worse. We are overzealous in applying the precautionary principle so as to effectively outlaw safer new innovations to the advantage of less safe existing technologies. We refuse to distinguish between hazard and risk, so that chemicals that are safer than coffee—even though they are never ingested, like coffee is—are banned. We are indecisive, slow, cumbersome and sometimes in hock to big companies and their desire to create barriers to entry.
I stress that I am not against regulation that makes the world safer, I am against regulation that makes the world more dangerous. My opposition is not ideological but pragmatic. I am calling for regulatory reform, not deregulation. For example, we are using more insecticides today in farming than we would have done if we had adopted genetically modified crops—that is undeniable given the evidence from the rest of the world about how BT crops have reduced the need for insecticides. Being in the EU, therefore, has been bad for bees and bad for birds.
The EU is about to make the same mistake, I fear, over the even safer and even more organic technology of gene editing. As Nature magazine put it in an editorial recently, the EU is,
“habitually paralysed whenever genetic modification is discussed. Two years ago the European Commission requested all member states to hold back on giving the all-clear on gene editing while it considered its options. Now its hand is being forced, ever so slowly, by the referral of the issue by France to the European Court of Justice … last October”.
A decision on that case is not expected before 2018, while America roars ahead with this technology. If this is innovation-friendly regulation, we can do better.
Then there is data analysis, where EU red tape is handing a competitive advantage to other continents. Lenard Koschwitz, director of European affairs with Allied for Startups, recently said that,
“post-Brexit Britain could draw data analytics start-ups. We currently see countries including China and Singapore doing away with barriers for text mining. Why not the UK also?”.
More generally, we should listen to the wise words of Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University. Writing in the Financial Times last August, he said:
“Britain is more inclined towards a relatively liberal risk-based regulatory environment that allows fields to move quickly—to reflect on ethical issues but not to over-regulate. The EU, by contrast, has a record of deep regulatory conservatism, attempting to legislate and control many aspects of science that are not deemed here in the UK to present a significant danger”.
“A failure to implement sweeping changes to regulation and its institutions in the UK would be to miss an important opportunity. We need light touch regulation similar to Switzerland so that Britain can become a global leader in life sciences, data, genomics, regenerative medicine and other innovation-based fields”.
In the hearings for this report we heard similar responses in evidence. Dr Beth Thompson of the Wellcome Trust told us that,
“we are discussing where we might be able to tweak legislation or look for advantages for the UK”,
“there is real potential that we can use the UK as almost a testbed to try new regulatory approaches and within a more robust framework be more experimental”.
Sir Michael Rawlins of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said:
“We could be swifter than the EU. Right at the very end it is not the European Medicines Agency that gives marketing authorisation; it is the Commission en collège, and it takes 67 days on average. Someone I know very well in the pharmaceutical industry told me that each day of delay for a pharmaceutical marketing authorisation costs the company about $1 million. That is $67 million gone waiting for the Commission to decide to meet en collège”.
When we leave the EU we need an innovation principle, alongside a sensible version of the precautionary principle. It should state that all regulators must take into account whether the enforcement of a new rule would stifle innovation that could be beneficial. So in replying, I ask my noble friend to assure us that, in contrast to the message delivered by the response I quoted at the start of my remarks to our December report, he agrees this is a time for boldness, in regulatory reforms as well as in every other respect.
My Lords, I declare my membership of the Science and Technology Committee and add my tribute to the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I also declare my fellowship of the British Academy and my professorship of contemporary British history at Queen Mary, University of London.
When violence strikes, as it did yesterday, taking lives, injuring individuals and assaulting the central institution of our open society, it scarcely seems right, in the shadow of tragedy, to return to our disagreements over Brexit. Yet today we find ourselves on a significant patch of the post-referendum landscape, where I hope we can find more to fall in about than to fall out over. By this I mean the desirability—more than that, the powerful necessity—of our country remaining a world-class player in science, technology, the arts, humanities and social sciences; in short, the indispensability of continuing to think heavier than our weight in the world.
We may agree on this crucial shared purpose, but how best to sustain it—even to burnish it still further—in our new geopolitical circumstances, raises a host of questions, many of which are captured in the Select Committee report before us. Ours really is, as other members of the committee have said this afternoon, a time for boldness, not timidity, for building purposefully on past achievements and striving for an even greater national performance.
A powerful contributor to this cause will, I hope and think, be a knowledge of how we acquired our existing prowess—how it has been achieved over many decades. I am delighted to say that the British Academy, encouraged by your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee, is working on precisely this, analysing the singular and, I have to admit, rather baffling mixed economy that supports the life of the mind in the United Kingdom. I look forward to the results of that study with keen anticipation. We each have a kind of idea of the key factors in our prowess, ranging from the admirable Haldane principle, which helps keep the state an indispensable sponsor but not an unwelcome, overdirecting intruder into the free play of independent inquiry, right through to the dual support system for our university research.
Critical, too, I am sure, to past and current success is the scope given in the UK universities to young researchers to question orthodoxies and to open up new lines of thought; in other words, to not defer to their seniors. Crucial to this is the free movement of talent, not least to and from the nations of the European Union. There can be no tariffs on the exchange of knowledge. Nor should there be post-Brexit any barriers to the free movement of scholars who carry these ideas. The most precious of all common markets has always been the common market of the mind.
In the unfolding cartography of Brexit, the avoidance of boundaries on the scientific, technological and scholarly fronts is therefore a first-order question. Both the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade will need bespoke chief scientists of polymathic gifts to patrol the new rimlands, providing early warning of both problems and possibilities ahead and helping to ensure that our requirements and existing prowess are safeguarded during the great repositioning to come. For the free trade of the mind, in both people and knowledge, is as critical to our fortunes as the free trade of goods and services. Our intellectual and economic well-being depend upon it. It is a question of both funding and spirit—of recognising the sense of urgency required—and it links the uncertainties of Brexit with the wider industrial strategy that Mrs May has striven to make such a shining badge of her premiership so far.
Of all the eight previous industrial strategies since the Second World War, science and technology has more prominence in this one—if last January’s Green Paper is a guide—than in any since the early 1960s, when Harold Wilson used the “white heat” of his wished-for technological revolution to illuminate his path to 10 Downing Street in the autumn of 1964 and his promulgation of Labour’s National Plan a year later. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Prior, for whom I have the greatest respect, could promise us a bespoke debate on this, the ninth industrial strategy of his and my lifetimes. I hope he will forgive me if I make plain to other noble Lords that he and I have been engaged in a rolling conversation about what the magic ingredients of the 2017 version might be that were lacking in the previous eight. He might like to give us a little hint of that when he winds up.
What I am sure of is that when economic historians in the 2050s look back on the anxious, neuralgic politico-economics of the early post-referendum period through which we are now living, they will notice just how much was riding on the UK’s science and technology—on Britain as a knowledge power. If we do not get this aspect of our national life right this time, those historians will not spare us, and nor will our people, whose current and future needs this Parliament exists to serve. We have here a consensus in the making. We should act on it—and seize the hour.
My Lords, I am pleased to take part in this important debate and particularly pleased to be a member of the Select Committee under the able chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. We are served by a strong team, and particularly by a specialist adviser whom we regard highly, who puts up with a great deal of trouble from some of us at times. He is truly an asset to us. I also draw attention to my relevant interests as outlined in the register, specifically that I am a chairman of the Royal Brompton & Harefield Trust and vice-chair of Council at King’s College London.
The committee’s report in April, ahead of the referendum, reflected the overwhelming balance of opinion we heard. The UK science community hugely valued the UK’s role and partnerships within the EU, was concerned about the loss of strategic influence—including positions of leadership in important areas of research—recognised the significant funding advantages enjoyed by the UK, the harmonised regulatory environment, access to research facilities, and the easy movement of talented individuals and teams.
It was right to return quickly post referendum to this subject—and no doubt we will do so again repeatedly. Indeed, I suspect that we would all argue that support for science—in its broadest definition—has become even more important since 23 June and will be vital to the success of a post-Brexit economy.
There are real concerns about future funding beyond the period of funding guaranteed by the Government. I do not doubt that government, particularly the Treasury and BEIS, understands the need to fund science and research, but the reality of the financial pressures piling up makes me extremely nervous. Scientists have heard the reassuring confirmations from the Government about funding in the near future, but collaborations take time to develop and, as we know, they can last for very many years. There is no certainty at the moment for that sort of period.
However, in my brief contribution I will focus on the area that most concerns me: attracting, growing, retaining, valuing talent—in other words, people. In the end, they are the most valuable resource. International funding follows brilliant people, and they in turn create strong teams and attract more funding and talent. It is a sort of circle of excellence.
Throughout our hearings for the April and December reports, we heard repeatedly from academia and from business—from start-ups to large companies—that attracting talented, highly skilled people was top of their collective agenda. I am aware of, and was pleased to read about in the industrial strategy Green Paper, the drive for technical education, whether through new post-16 qualifications or apprenticeships. This reskilling and upskilling of our population both at school and throughout life is essential to harness opportunities now and particularly in the future as it becomes, presumably, more difficult to attract workers from overseas and as jobs change fundamentally and require new skills. The report from the Digital Skills Select Committee, before the referendum, highlighted the priority that should be given to improving digital skills at all levels in our population and the need to enhance these skills throughout life, but digital is only a small part of the STEM story.
However, I am anxious that there is still a lack of proper “joined-upness” across government on all this. In particular, I am somewhat anxious about the involvement of the DfE in a coherent approach to STEM. One example is maths. Last year I chaired a commission looking at how to strengthen STEM teaching and outcomes for students in Haringey. Among a range of recommendations around attracting strong teachers, getting STEM into primary schools, creating new partnerships with the independent schools sector and greater specialisation post 16, we looked in particular at maths in schools. We were told very clearly by employers and economists—from Sir Roger Carr at BAE Systems through to very small local start-ups and local health employers—that they all were looking for a similar thing in young people. They were looking for strong basics, confidence and the ability to work in teams and to think and question—in other words, rounded, bright individuals—but they also all emphasised the importance of confidence around numbers, at whatever level these young people left formal education. That meant, they argued, that students should continue with maths for as long as possible to develop capability and confidence, whether or not it was to lead to a further qualification.
However, we found that there was a widespread under-the-radar approach, whereby only students with an A at GCSE were being allowed to take maths in sixth forms. This is obviously the negative effect of blunt accountability—I confess that I speak with history on accountability—where head teachers are anxious about their students not getting a high enough grade at A-level, affecting what is out there in the public realm, and so are not allowing them to take maths post 16, coupled with difficult finances in schools. The Institute of Physics, among others, said that it was aware of, and concerned about, this approach. It thought it was wrong and limited participants in higher-level STEM studies across the piece. Limiting students who take up maths to only those who get the top A-level grades goes against the stated government intention of increasing STEM skills at all levels. I hope very much that the maths review headed by Professor Sir Adrian Smith makes clear recommendations around this issue, and in particular I hope that the DfE recognises its responsibility to sort this out.
When our Select Committee heard from Sir Mark Walport this week about UKRI, we asked about the promotion of STEM in schools. His reply gave little comfort that his team had any links with the DfE. He said that it would produce a “narrative” about why STEM is important. That is not to criticise Sir Mark but, rather, to emphasise the need to understand the whole picture of education and training rather than segment it according to government department. But of course the attraction of highly skilled individuals to university, post-doc and beyond, and to industry is crucial. We know that the intertwining of universities and industry is fundamental to the UK’s future success and in particular to less favoured, non-golden-triangle regions and sub-regions of the UK. The industrial strategy Green Paper is pretty weak on the attraction and development of high-level skills and I hope that it will be strengthened post consultation.
We know that EU students make up about 5% of the UK university population, with non-EU international students making up about l4%, the figure being particularly high in the postgraduate sector, but in leading research universities the proportions are much higher. I know that at King’s College London, for example, across the student body over 14% are from the EU and a further 22% are from countries outside the EU. Among academics, 28% are from EU/EEA countries. I have been involved in interview processes already where candidates are hesitant about either staying here or, in particular, moving here from another EU country, and even people outside the EU are now affected by the general uncertainty.
At the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, I have had a look at the relevant figures. The starkest figures are that 52% of nurses and 20% of doctors are EU nationals, and in cardiology the figure rises to over 26.5%. The reason that that matters is obvious: the Royal Brompton and Harefield trust, like other highly regarded specialist trusts, is important both to the delivery of healthcare and to the standing of the UK. It delivers top-end, innovative treatment, and it works with its academic partner, Imperial College, to push the boundaries in respiratory and cardiac medicine. That needs bright and highly capable people. The UK needs such places and such people as beacons post Brexit.
However, when I talk to colleagues at the hospitals and at King’s College, they report insecurity, nervousness and instability. That is hugely damaging for teams that rely on each other to deliver results in research and treatment. Such reactions are not surprising. To be blunt, at its best, they are getting mixed messages from government and throughout the media. The cacophony is confusing: positive one day and negative another, depending on the Minister, the department and the press reaction. They read distressing personal stories about long-standing residents of the UK being ejected, and they wonder what that means for them.
The Government say that it is important to attract the brightest and the best but then say that they collect statistics on students so that local authority services can be planned. That really does not wash. We already know that existing visa arrangements for non-EU students and highly skilled employees from non-EU countries are cumbersome and at best unfriendly. I have talked personally to many post-doctoral students moving away from the UK. In other words, as we heard very elegantly from my noble friend Lord Winston, we train them and then we lose them, and these are our new trading partners of the future. It is crazy.
It seems to me that the real problem is this: people are not run by algorithms—even scientists. They are not 100% rational. They have emotional reactions and are affected by stories and rumours and by someone saying something unpleasant on the train, in the supermarket or outside the school gate. They wonder whether their families will really be welcome here and whether they should take the risk of coming to the UK or of seeking their next post or promotion here. Should they limit the risk by seeking their next job in France or Germany instead of living with a level of insecurity? Crucially, they are asking whether the UK is the place they had understood it to be. There should be no more mixed messages and justifications, and no more concerns about Daily Mail reactions. This needs to be sorted out for our economic future but also for our collective values as a country. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am not a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee but I have read its report with great interest—it provides a forward-looking sequel to the earlier report of July 2016. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the committee on the production of an excellent report and I welcome its conclusions. I should perhaps declare my interests as an emeritus professor at the University of Liverpool and as chair of Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh.
I want to make a few brief points, some of which have been alluded to already. The first is about the international nature of our science and technology, on which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, spoke passionately. That internationalism undoubtedly contributes to the quality of UK science. In my own field of veterinary science, in the latest global rankings of quality, the QS World University Rankings, of the top five veterinary schools in the world, three are in the UK—a fact of which I am very proud. In our veterinary schools in the UK, nearly a quarter of our academic staff are non-UK EU nationals and they make a vital contribution to our academic discourse in teaching, in clinical teaching and research, and in bench research. It is essential that we retain such people for the future.
Especially in the smaller disciplines, the critical mass which so often fertilises and nurtures new ideas and innovation can be achieved only by interinstitutional and international contact, collaboration and exchange. That is why continuing participation in EU framework programmes, the latest of which is Horizon 2020, is so important. Yes, the research funding is valuable and UK scientists have been incredibly successful in winning EU research grants, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, mentioned in his opening remarks—but it is the collaborations that are intrinsic to those EU research grants that are so important.
I will mention a particular EU networking programme that I do not think was referred to in the report: namely, the European Cooperation in Science and Technology—COST—programmes. I have been a participant in a number of these. Funds are awarded specifically to support networks of scientists, funding meetings and laboratory exchanges and so forth on defined topics. They do not fund actual research, so the value of the awards is relatively modest: between about €100,000 and €150,000. However, as a catalyst for multicentric research co-operation, they give a big bang for the buck. I hope that the Government can ensure in the forthcoming negotiations that the UK will continue to participate in the EU COST programmes. Will the Minister give the House that assurance? If we are not able so to do, I urge the Government to find the relatively modest budget from our future science budget to set up a UK-led equivalent scheme, which could be globally inclusive and would be real testament to the Government’s global aspirations in science and innovation.
The other aspect of EU funding that I want to mention—I declare an interest as a beneficiary historically—is that the framework programmes have often funded what one might call “applied research”, bridging the gap between more basic research for which we can seek research council funding and the downstream R&D which industry may fund. Many researchers, particularly in the biomedical and health fields, recognise the so-called “valley of death” in funding, which can result in promising areas of research never getting to commercial application. It is essential for our country’s economic success that we ensure in our future funding environment, with or without EU involvement, a steady continuum, progression and sequence of research support from basic science to ensure that ideas reach a finished outcome.
The last point I wish to make is on the report’s recommendation that the Government, working with the UK scientific community and international bodies, seek to establish one or more new international research facilities; on the scale of the Francis Crick Institute, for example. That is a long-term aspiration with which of course I completely concur. However, could I make a plea on behalf of the UK regions? Let us please look beyond the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London in which to site such initiatives. Of course, a clustering of scientific industrial and commercial activities is important for the success of such ventures, but there are good universities up north and burgeoning high-tech industries in other parts of the UK. Our goal should be to foster several golden triangles.
My Lords, this is an important debate for the future of UK natural and social science, technology, medicine and research in humanities—which I will loosely call “science” in my remarks. I declare my interests concerning scientific research in various organisations, including in Europe. I was an emeritus professor at UCL and I am a former director of the Met Office and chairman of a small environmental company.
Broadly, UK science has become more integrated with European science over the past 40 years. Indeed, the science programmes and associated technology programmes of many countries outside Europe have become more European, as the New York Times has sometimes commented, with most leading countries taking up European scientific and technical standards and regulations. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that improvements are needed. But surely, if you want to make improvements, you do not walk away, you walk in there and make the improvements—so I have a different attitude from his, which seems to me too pessimistic.
Many UN agencies are also influenced by the European lead, yet the UK is walking away from this global trend. Examples of this global scientific integration with Europe are the major facilities such as the CERN hadron collider and the ITER fusion, with strong US and Japanese involvement. Major international companies also have research establishments in Europe as well as in the UK.
This global Euro trend is reflected in our House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report, under the able chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. However, it is not reflected in the rather insular approach of the Government’s response. The European dimension has greatly helped the UK develop its science since it joined the EU. To start with there was reluctance among many UK scientists to apply for EU grants that had to involve many European countries—jokes were made about having always to have somebody from eastern Europe or Cyprus—but that idea has now gone. As European science funding increased, so too did the recognition that EU research projects were generally of the highest international standard and rigorously refereed; indeed, sometimes the refereeing of these EU projects has been higher than in the UK, as has been commented by our European colleagues. The UK recognised that the excellence of its research was intimately linked with UK researchers being involved in EU projects.
Our committee heard evidence that the EU dimension of UK research has also enabled humanities research to expand greatly and that, with Brexit, there will be probably much less funding for this area of research. That is despite the fact that creative and humanities research is now recognised as an essential part of the UK’s industrial strategy, which we welcome. The EU, however, will not be left behind because, as I saw in some emails this morning, it now has an expanded programme on the funding of creative research, with some interesting new openings. The quote that guides its programme on this creative research and economics is that of Steve Jobs of Apple.
The first point for a future strategy should be partnering in research excellence with EU programmes, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, commented. One way will be to provide funds to UK research groups, centres and networks to enable this to happen. Again, that is not referenced in the government response. The leaders of EC programmes are already putting out feelers to see if the UK will continue participation, as they do with other non-EU countries such as Israel, north Africa, Norway and Switzerland. These programmes are for all areas of technology and science.
An example of how collaboration might develop in future is the fact that, in my own area of fluid mechanics, the EPSRC has an excellent UK network which is now considering how it can organise in collaboration with the European-wide network of special interest groups, which UK scientists took a lead role in setting up in 1989 in the great Henri Poincaré lecture theatre in Paris. This will be important for keeping Europe and UK industry in the lead, for example with new aircraft design for the 2020s.
Our committee recognised that a central component of European research is the intergovernmental science, technology and regulatory agencies and laboratories, such as—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—the medium-range forecasting centre, the space centre, the drug regulation centre and others. Some of these were set up before the UK joined the EU and they have, in all cases, been very successful in their specific technical role. For example, the ECMWF forecasts are now generally superior to those of the USA. It always talks about tomorrow’s weather being defined in Europe as this, and defined in America as that—and we usually see what the result is.
We also have to stimulate Europe and UK business. For instance, Tim Peake’s involvement with the European science agency part-funded space station was hugely successful as a stimulus to UK science—as are the Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution and school events at the Science Museum.
The committee did not also point out that there is now a very close working relationship between the research and development commissions in the EC, which leads to the applications of much of the research of these intergovernmental agencies. The UK will not be involved in directing future EU research programmes—which, as I say, will be increasingly important for these intergovernmental agencies in which the UK is participating. We need to think about finding a diplomatic way to lead in this role in future.
There is considerable concern, therefore, about future UK involvement in these European agencies. Although it is likely that the UK will continue its membership, there is concern as to whether the research and computer centres will continue to be located in the UK. The recent decision about the European centre has already been mentioned. However, I emphasise that this kind of centre is an example of how science is applied. The centre is now working on energy and environmental applications of atmospheric and ocean science, showing the value to the UK and to the consulting company of which I am chair in Cambridge. We also work with the European centre and this leads to practical benefits.
Similarly, the UK Government should affirm their commitment to the recently established data and modelling centre at Harwell for the European Space Agency. Will the UK continue to support it? Now there is a possibility that these centres may leave the UK, it will be very important for the Government to affirm their continuation.
The report of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee went further than just calling for the UK’s continued involvement in Europe, it called for the UK to consider setting up new major R&D institutes where opportunities might arise. These should be located where the UK already has strengths and be planned to contribute to the UK’s new industrial strategy. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, says, they should also be in locations where there are no such centres at the moment.
I suggest—the committee is considering this—we should establish a world centre for nuclear energy and nuclear waste. This would obviously be in Cumberland, an area that is not well supported in science. This is the kind of thing we need to have. That would certainly be bold.
My Lords, I speak as a member of this House’s Select Committee on Science and Technology, chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I declare interests as a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and of the Royal Society. I am also professor of civil engineering at Cambridge University, where I lead a large research group, many of whom are non-UK EU nationals.
My principal point relates to the Select Committee report’s recommendations regarding people, the subject of chapter 3. One of those recommendations is:
“In the short term the Government should send repeated signals to the global science community that the UK remains a welcoming place for talented scientists”.
This recommendation could not be more important. The continued success of our science and technology research is absolutely vital for the economic growth of the country, and it is the people who are crucial. At present, UK research is world-leading, second only to the USA. It is worth noting that in 2015 half of the UK’s research output was a result of international collaborations. About a third included EU partners. Losing this ability to collaborate freely would be very damaging.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, referred to post-docs being the backbone of research teams. I fully agree. In my own Department of Engineering at Cambridge, we have over 300 post-doctoral researchers, most of them employed on research grants. This community of young dynamic scientists and engineers from all over the world is the engine room for the research that underpins the university’s world-leading reputation. One-third of these people are non-UK EU nationals. The picture is similar across the whole of Cambridge University and for other leading UK science and technology universities.
Perception is most important here. Since the referendum, young researchers around the world have the perception that they are no longer welcome in the UK. We have a huge cohort of young scientists and engineers currently in the UK contemplating their futures, who, to put it bluntly, are looking elsewhere, and the generation just behind them will not choose to come to the UK in the first place. This perception is also damaging for young UK academics contemplating their future. I am seeing this with my own eyes. Let me give an example. Only last week, a bright young British Cambridge scientist told me that, faced with a choice of applying for a position at Durham University or Trinity College Dublin, he was minded to go to Dublin. For him, the key questions were access to EU funding and freedom of movement of academics around Europe. Key non-UK EU nationals in my research group are already looking for positions outside the UK for the same reasons. The story is the same everywhere.
It is not only universities that are affected. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, 25% of UK start-up technology companies were founded by non-UK EU nationals, and 45% of UK start-up employees are non-UK EU nationals. A clear message is urgently needed from the Government if these vital start-ups are to remain and thrive in the UK.
Many of these start-up employees are engineers. At the very time when our country faces an engineering skills crisis—with an estimated 186,000 new engineers and engineering technicians needed per year until 2024, according to recent figures by Engineering UK—we risk making recruitment and retention difficult. Engineering in the UK is highly dependent on non-UK nationals. We cannot afford to lose them or to deter new ones from coming.
Speedy removal of uncertainty is clearly of paramount importance. The Government should act now, without delay. There needs to be a reconfigured immigration system which promotes academic and researcher mobility, enabling UK universities to continue to attract and retain these talented individuals, both now and post Brexit. Such a system should be simple and not a deterrent. It should be designed to support the dynamic nature of research by facilitating mobility for academics and innovators of all nationalities.
I have concentrated on the crucial importance of people because without people there will be no research, and, of course, without funding there will be no people. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred to the announcement in the spring Budget that the Government will invest over £100 million over the next four years to attract the brightest minds to the UK to help maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in science and research. This is a welcome announcement.
The Select Committee report recommends that the science and research budget will need to be adjusted at an early opportunity to compensate fully for the reduction of funding from the EU. The Government must ensure that there is no decline in overall public funding for UK science and technology.
The proposed industrial strategy has already been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, and others. The development of an industrial strategy during the UK’s departure from the EU is a major opportunity for the Government to strengthen their support for UK science and technology and to increase its role in the economy. The recent Green Paper on industrial strategy identifies 10 pillars, two of which are “Investing in science, research and innovation”, and “Developing skills”, both requiring the brightest minds and fully adequate public funding. As the committee report notes, the Government have the power to mitigate many effects of Brexit. They could use the industrial strategy not only to compensate for Brexit but to further increase the attractiveness of the UK as a place to pursue science and engineering careers.
In summary, the Government should take decisive steps to promote the UK both as a first-class location for research careers and an attractive partner for international collaboration. As soon as possible, the Government must provide certainty and stability for those researchers and innovators who are non-UK EU nationals. This is needed both for those currently working in the UK and for those contemplating a future here. This is indeed the time for boldness and I hope that the Minister will agree.
My Lords, the tone of our debates at Question Time this morning was more subdued than usual for obvious reasons, but in this debate we have rightly returned to a considerably more forthright tone. We have heard words such as “idiocy”, “derisory” and “carelessness”, so if I continue in that forthright tone, I hope the Minister will accept it in the spirit of returning to business as usual as soon as possible.
No scientist in her right mind would think of Brexit as being anything other than the worst challenge we could impose on UK science. Why would we want to lose access to major sources of funding, put at risk valuable international collaborations, deter top scientists from coming here and leave our biggest market for the outputs of science that make our lives better, healthier and longer? The committee’s report does its best to be optimistic, but it expresses very clearly the serious downsides of the choice this hard Brexit Government have made. As someone who is particularly concerned about the effect of Brexit on our life sciences, UK patients’ access to cutting-edge medicines and treatments, and the survival of our health and care services, I welcome the committee’ report, which highlights many of the concerns I have felt ever since 24 June last year, and it proposes some solutions to mitigate the worst of them.
One of the first effects I heard about, within a week of the referendum, concerned a research scientist I know who was in the early stages of a collaborative research funding application to the EU with scientists from elsewhere in Europe. He was asked to withdraw on the basis that his presence in the team would reduce the chances of the application being successful. So, while the committee states that there is a scarcity of hard evidence for this effect, it accepts that there is anecdotal evidence of discrimination in ways that may never be documented. I know that to be true.
A great many of our research projects are funded by the EU. The UK has benefited more than any other member country from EU money for science, partly because we are very good at spending it well, so the Government’s commitment to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding with new UK money is very welcome. However, what happens when Horizon 2020 comes to an end? It would be better if the Government tried to negotiate continued access for UK scientists to Horizon 2020, its successor and other EU funding, given that other countries outside the EU already have such access. The Prime Minister may not have the stomach to try to negotiate continued access to the single market, but surely our negotiators can have a try at this one, given its importance to our economy.
Harmonised regulations are particularly important to the development of medicines and medical technologies. While I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, on the issue of GM crops, I find myself more in agreement with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, about regulation. Regulation is not necessarily a burden, and if it was faulty we could have tried to improve it from within rather than walk away. We have the freedom to sell and the confidence to buy when our regulations are identical to those of our major customers. It is therefore not surprising that most of the submissions to the committee called for UK regulations in the scientific domain to remain harmonised with the EU.
In the medical domain, UK scientists have played a major role in the European Medicines Agency, and we have here in London a great deal of the expertise in medicines licensing and regulation. Where will that expertise go after Brexit? Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell pointed out that if we wish to trade with Europe, we are going to have to abide by the European regulatory system. But of course, that system will not remain static; it will change over the years, so I ask the Minister, how are we going to keep up? If the Government decide to set up our own system it will be very expensive, as pointed out by Mr James Lawford Davies, a solicitor and partner at Hempsons, in his submission to the committee. The UK would have to set up its own infrastructure and administration, with no additional benefit to us. It looks to me like a classic example of shooting yourself in the foot. The Government tell us that it will be all right but I am afraid that, based on their record to date, I doubt it.
Have the Government assessed the cost of setting up such a system, and if not, why not? The Government appear not to have heard of the phrase “plan B”. Will the increased trade we are supposed to be expecting post Brexit be in excess of the costs of this system? The committee recommends that such an assessment be made and published prior to the introduction of what my noble friend Lady Ludford calls, “The not so great cut-and-paste Bill”. Can the Minister assure us that that will happen so that we can assess the damage? Of course, the costs of an independent system are a fact, while the potential for increased global trade is speculation. No sensible business person exchanges facts for speculation, and neither do they take on unnecessary costs. That is why much of business is against Brexit, although as we know, big business is very flexible and resourceful and will survive.
UK science depends not just on international collaborations but on attracting top-flight scientists and student scientists to the UK. Here, the committee expresses serious concerns in its report about the Government’s approach to immigration. On the one hand, Jo Johnson MP stated,
“We remain fully open to scientists and researchers from across the EU”,
while on the other hand, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, told the Conservative Party Conference that she would,
“look again at whether our immigration system provides the right incentives for businesses to invest in British workers”—
a not so veiled threat that is to be followed up by action. In two weeks’ time the immigration skills charge—a charge of £1,000 per year for workers brought in from abroad on a tier 2 visa—will be implemented. There are exemptions for PhD chemists, physicists, social scientists, research and development managers and so on, but there are no exemptions for health and care employers bringing in essential doctors and nurses to fill the gaps in our health service. When we discussed the regulations two days ago, I demanded an exemption for the NHS and social care, and I repeat that demand today. The tax will cost front-line services £7.2 million per year and add to the black hole in funding, at a time of severe Brexit challenge to the health workforce. It is a very short-sighted thing to do. The committee pointed out that the Government are also being “less than helpful” in refusing to exclude international students from their immigration targets, rightly described as “idiocy” by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. The financial viability of many of our universities depends on being able to attract international undergraduate and graduate students and staff, so no wonder they are concerned about the Government’s intransigent attitude.
There are other avoidable threats. When the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill went through the House, we passed an amendment to ensure that when the Government use their new powers in the Bill, they have to take account of the need to promote a thriving life sciences sector and access for UK patients to new medicines. Considering the challenges outlined by the committee in the report we are debating today, I am surprised that the Government overturned the amendment in another place. I hope that noble Lords will stand their ground on this when the Bill comes back to your Lordships’ House in a couple of weeks’ time.
I end by congratulating all members of the committee on their forensic examination of the threats of Brexit to British science, and I congratulate them on their valiant effort to be optimistic. I hope the Government will accept the committee’s helpful recommendations.
My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as an investor in the UK science and research base. I congratulate the committee on an outstanding report. Its extraordinary strength is only complemented by its remarkably few pages. It is extremely well judged. It makes all the right points with tremendous force in a very brief summary. I have recommended it to far more people to add to their papers and to what they read from this House. It is one of the greatest summations of where we are at the moment and a very good road map of where we need to be. I thank all the members of the committee who helped to add some colour to the discussions that they clearly had and for giving us the benefit of the particular perspectives. I also thank those from outside the committee with a keen interest in this for adding their words to it.
It is an extremely important report because it not only deals with the perils we are facing in a future outside of Europe but provides a freedom to think again and to inject a new sense of ambition. It is certainly true that we are at a moment of reflection—a tipping point, if you like—on what we do with our science and research base. UK science is a global force. It plays a fundamental role in the success of our healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, technology and much else besides. We have won a prodigious number of Nobel prizes and our universities are well renowned. Our business and research institutions generate work of quality and influence far beyond competitors of similar populations and funding. We are a large economy, which can always support a strong base, but we have benefited hugely from our EU membership. It has given us a tremendous platform and we have excelled in it. Coming away from it will require an additional sense of purpose and an additional effort.
Of course opportunities will stem from leaving Europe, but there can be no doubt that the significant risks at this stage outweigh the potential benefits. We have to turn our mind to how we address those. As the committee’s report shows, we have received more in EU research, development and innovation funding than we have put in. The Government have rightly committed to underwriting the funds approved for Horizon 2020 projects that were applied for before the UK leaves the EU, but we need the Government to provide more certainty for the long term, including on future access to funds that would have been otherwise available through EU grants.
However, this is about more than just plugging a funding gap. There remains a corrosive level of uncertainty in other areas, not least the status of EU nationals working in our universities, research institutes and industry. The committee cites evidence of European scientists abandoning plans to come to the UK. The introduction to the debate from the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, was an incredibly impressive summation of the report. He has clearly done an outstanding job leading the committee. He referred to the problem of evidence and came out with a very well-judged and balanced sense of how we have to try to devise the right level of evidence. As I go round talking to people, I cannot believe that—since, on every single occasion, they cite particular cases and examples—we do not already have a significant base of evidence. Just recently a professor of medicine told me of his research team: all those who are EU nationals—almost 80% of them—have already made plans to leave. The only timetable difference is that they are waiting for the next school year for their children to move. As for businesses in particular centres, I heard of a chief technology officer who is now looking at moving back and delaying funding rounds. The noble Lord, Lord Mair, made a very good point about technology companies and start-ups here that are moving to other areas—even our big technology companies. Other countries that have centres here use them as a base to recruit EU nationals to come and live in London to add to their base. The strong engineers—the ones who go off and create start-ups—are reporting the same problems.
This is extremely important. We do not just have a drop in university applications from the EU; we have huge uncertainties and perceptions that we need to deal with. It is crucial that we look to expand scholarships. It is a very important recommendation to look at how we have a recruitment fund. I consider that we may well end up having to spend quite some money on retention. The noble Lord, Lord Mair, made a very important point when he said that our British-born academics who would otherwise live here are being attracted to other places. My son has recently gained entry into an American university he applied for. It is reporting that applications from UK academics have tripled since the Brexit vote. That is in one institution. Retention will also become a significant problem and the quality of the research projects we have will continue to be an issue that we will have to place some focus on.
As for the notion of using students in the net migration numbers, I very strongly agree that it is entirely incorrect to say that this is best practice around the world—it is more best fiction. It has always struck me that we put them in the net migration figures and then we put their economic contribution in tourism. That is a huge duality I have never been able to figure out.
The crucial point at the moment is our level of ambition. With all our strengths and requirements, to stand still is not just to replace what we have done before and do as we have done before—to stand still takes a huge amount of effort. But I do not think that we need to do that. We have to forge a new future, understanding what our strengths have been and what they are. In many ways the plan has to be to double down on our support for science and research. I am particularly grateful to the committee for using the notion, “A time for boldness”—not really a word I expected to see in a House of Lords report, but it is entirely apt to use such a phrase. It sends an important message that we will have to change fundamentally our approach to our commitment to what we will do in support of our science and research base, using it as a key instrument of our future economic success.
It is also important that we understand the central need for us to expand international collaboration and co-operation. Part of that is the problem of risk. We are the beneficiary of 20 bilateral science and technology agreements between the EU and nations including Brazil, China, India, Japan and the United States. The EU has 850 joint research projects with 160 nations. These are important projects that we are keenly plugged into and agreements that we have benefited hugely from. To maintain that level of co-operation and connection we need to have a tremendous amount of force and resource associated with our effort. To get ahead will require even more.
It is important for us to understand that international co-operation is increasingly a prerequisite for world-class scientific research. More than half our research output is now internationally co-authored. Much of our international collaborations are with EU partners. I think that seven of the UK’s top 10 strongest collaborators are EU countries. It is also important to recognise that people’s perceptions of the nature of international collaboration have changed. In preparation for this debate I recently read a survey of students who were asked the question, “Which country is having the most significant scientific impact on the world?”. Number one was international collaboration. The future of outstanding science and research is about international collaboration. Our place is to ensure that we remain at the very heart of it. That is also important. I add my voice to the committee’s point on making sure that sufficient scientific expertise is drawn into the Government’s Brexit negotiations and appointing scientific advisers to key departments.
Connecting our research base to business and industry will also be key in the years ahead. Innovate UK and UKRI will play an increasingly important role related to these matters. It is also essential to ensure that that partnership with business and other areas accompanies our expansion of facilities.
I strongly endorse the committee’s recommendation that at least one major research facility be introduced in this country—to say “at least one” is a good indication of ambition. More would be better, but if we fail to introduce one, we will fail to do more than stand still. I have been to Harwell and seen this tremendous new instrument, the Diamond Light Source, adding to the central laser facility and the ISIS neutron and muon source synchrotron. These are not the only facilities of this nature: others are being built across the world, in other continents as well as in other parts of Europe. We have to do more to centre more on such facilities and to back them more strongly.
On the importance of ensuring that our research base is connected with business, we need to do more to ensure a good circularity in our scientific and research application. It is especially important as we witness business investment, including R&D, falling for the first time since 2008: a drop of 1.5% in 2016 compared with 2015 according to the OBR’s most recent report. The OBR forecasts a further fall in 2017, citing,
“heightened uncertainty following the EU referendum”.
We will not return to 2015 levels until the end of the decade. Depressed private sector spending on R&D was a crucial factor in the economic slowdown that preceded the financial crisis. This is a dangerous and worrying sign and one we really have to address.
It is important in promoting our scientific and research base that we give some attention to the other sources of funds that are required—to being able to encourage instruments such as the Rainbow Seed Fund. I must declare that I have invested in companies that it has put money into as an early stage venture capital instrument. That was established by the department—I cannot remember its acronym at the time it was established, but noble Lords know the department I mean—and by the research councils in co-operation. It is a very small fund. It is an outstanding group of individuals who have backed an outstanding series of companies across the UK research base. It is exactly the sort of instrument we should be backing. There are also people such as Neil Woodford and foundations such as the Wolfson Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. Such places are where we look for new capacity. We must find new ways to encourage more to act like them and more instruments. This is a crucial time for us to take this challenge very seriously.
It has been an honour for me to participate in this debate and to reflect upon the committee’s outstanding report. As we focus on what we can do to benefit the people of this country and the world by expanding science and research, the particular importance of being an outward-looking nation, able to address other countries and other peoples is crucial. After a day such as yesterday, we have to show not just how importantly we treat our role as hosts to those people who unfortunately had their lives transformed by those events, but how much we value our place in the world. Science and research is one of our great contributions.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Selborne on this extremely good report. I hope that his committee can build on that report and that it will form a very big part of our industrial strategy.
I do not think there is any doubt that research is one of the jewels in the UK’s crown, but we should never take it for granted. The report is called A Time For Boldness and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, that while it may be an unusual title for something from the House of Lords, we do need boldness. I have heard, in talking to many other people about the industrial strategy, that the UK is incorrigibly incrementalist. When the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, asks, “Where is the magic?” or “Where has the magic not been?”, it is because we have been incorrigibly incrementalist. So it is a time for boldness. If Brexit does only one thing, if it acts as a catalyst for change and boldness, then it will have achieved considerably more than the eight industrial strategies that the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, referred to. We should take Brexit as a catalyst for change.
As noble Lords have mentioned, of course there are risks, but I say to noble Lords who are naturally enthusiasts and naturally positive people that, if they become too pessimistic about the future, they will help create this perception that post-docs and younger academics to whom they referred have; the feeling that somehow things are not good. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, for whom I have huge respect, that although I cannot comment on the state of current reproductive medicine at Imperial, if he walks down the corridor he will see one of his colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, and what is being done on robotic surgery, for example. Imperial is at the absolute forefront of many technologies and the noble Lord, Lord Winston, should not forget that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mair, referred to issues at Cambridge. Again, if we take an area such as artificial intelligence, for example, Cambridge is clearly among the world leaders. Look at robotics and go down to Bristol and see what Bristol University is doing in robotics. We have some world-class technology still in the UK. If we want evidence of recent investments, we can look at the £60 million Novo Nordisk investment around diabetes at Oxford University, or the new investments that GSK and Apple are making in this country. Google has made huge investments, through DeepMind, in artificial intelligence in this country. So let us not be too depressed about the future when a lot of very good things are happening.
It is not unreasonable that we have focused today on what I will call the consequences of Brexit rather than looking slightly more fundamentally at the causes of Brexit. Actually, the causes of Brexit, together with the consequences of Brexit, are what we should be looking at, because, if we are honest, many of our difficulties predate Brexit. They predate even our accession to the European Union back in 1972. I think we set these out pretty clearly in the industrial strategy. We have gone through various stages of industrial strategy. We have gone through big government, nationalisation after the war and the sort of tri-partite power-sharing of the 1960s and 1970s, with the CBI, the TUC and the Government sitting around trying to sort things out. We then went to the privatisation and markets of the 1980s and then, more recently, with the coalition Government, we had more of a focus on sectors, but the one common constant throughout that time is that we have had low productivity in this country. Today, after all the iterations we have gone through, we are still 20% or maybe 30% behind the leading countries of Europe and the USA. The Green Paper is explicit about that, as indeed was Andy Haldane, the chief economist of the Bank of England, in his speech, if anyone saw it earlier this week. We have a productivity problem in this country.
It is not just a productivity problem. Since the 1980s—with the third Industrial Revolution, the information technology revolution, and as we move increasingly into what is called the fourth Industrial Revolution, with machine learning and artificial intelligence, as ever more cognitive skills get replaced by machines, rather than just manual skills—we have seen to some extent a hollowing-out of the labour market, as Andy Haldane put it, which is resulting in more inequality. In our country, we have not just societal inequality, but geographic inequality. We have a hugely successful and productive area in London, particularly, and the south-east more generally, but that level of productivity is not shared in the rest of the country. That is why what we face today is a productivity question but also an inequality question. Those are the questions we really have to address and that is the context in which we should see the research and innovation strategy.
The emerging themes of the industrial strategy—some of the magic that I hope we will be able to identify—are, of course, around the vocational skills that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, mentioned earlier. It is clearly critical that we address that. Looking back, perhaps one of the great policy mistakes that successive Governments made was to encourage too many people to go to university at the expense of vocational training, apprenticeship training and the like. The work that David Sainsbury—the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury—has done in that area is hugely important and I hope that it will be a critical part of our industrial strategy.
Then there is place: we have to address the fact that many parts of the UK have not done as well as they could. Look back at the history of towns such as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham: if we can rebuild those civic institutions, there is a chance that we can rebuild those clusters of technology and manufacturing that we used to have.
I turn to research, which is the specific issue that we are debating. In terms of the message and narrative, the Government could not have been more explicit that science and innovation are critical to our future. As noble Lords know, that was set out in the White Paper published in February this year, from which I will read a short extract:
“The Government is committed to building on the UK’s world-leading science base—including more Nobel Laureates than any country outside the United States—and making the UK the go-to nation for scientists, innovators and investors in technology”.
I appreciate that fine words butter no parsnips but look at the actions we have taken: the Treasury has underwritten all successful bids for Horizon 2020 funding and we have provided further assurance by confirming that existing EU students and those starting courses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and home fee status. We have also provided assurance about postgraduate support through research council studentships. These will remain open to EU students starting courses in 2017-18.
We have gone further to support a healthy science and technology ecosystem in this country than ever before. We are spending an extra £4.7 billion on research over the rest of this Parliament, with an extra £2 billion a year by 2020-21. That is the biggest increase in research spending since 1979, so we are putting our money where our mouth is. Our new industrial strategy challenge fund will direct some of that investment to scientific research and in particular to the development of a number of priority technologies, helping to address Britain’s historic weakness on commercialisation and turning our world-leading research into long-term success.
I tend to look to the USA—just look at the work that DARPA has done over the years. The federal funding of research in the US is far higher than it is in our country. That country, which purports to have small government, spends on a per capita basis significantly more on research than we do. Through institutions such as DARPA, the USA has managed to turn that into huge commercial success. Just look at the iPhone, which is probably the most obvious success: nearly all the technology in the iPhone, whether it is the chip, the global positioning, the LCD or whatever it happens to be, came out of federally funded research. That was of course taken up by great entrepreneurs, backed up by deep capital markets to turn it into a huge commercial success. That is something we need to do but in many of these areas, whether in robotics, AI, machine learning or whatever, we still have some fantastic technology in this country.
I turn to the issue that I think concerns noble Lords the most: attracting people. Can we attract the world’s best people into this country? I agree that if we cannot do that, then we have a serious problem. It has been said that perception is hugely important, but let me quote the Prime Minister:
“I want this United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country—a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead. I want us to be a truly Global Britain—the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too”.
David Davis also said that pulling out of the European Union does not,
“mean pulling up the drawbridge. That’s also not in our national interest. We will always welcome those with the skills, the drive and the expertise to make our nation better still. If we are to win in the global marketplace, we must win the global battle for talent. Britain has always been one of the most tolerant and welcoming places on the face of the earth. It must and it will remain so”.
We should not confuse our rightful desire to have control of our immigration policy with a policy that is anti people coming into this country. The two are not in conflict with each other. It is perfectly reasonable for any country to want to have some control over levels of immigration. That does not mean that we are in any way against immigration or, in particular, against encouraging people to come in with the skills and talents that we need to grow and maintain our research base.
I turn to what we are doing in that area. In terms of putting our money where our mouth is in that respect, we have announced a £250-million investment from the national productivity investment fund, which will include £90 million to fund 1,000 new PhD places. At least 85% of those will be in STEM disciplines and 40% will directly help to strengthen collaboration between business and academia through industrial partnerships. There will be a further £160 million to support new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers. We also announced over £100 million on global research talent over the next four years, to attract the brightest minds to the UK and help maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in R&D. This includes £50 million which will be ring-fenced for fellowship programmes to attract global talent, in areas that align with the industrial strategy. For example, that could be in life sciences or battery technology. Over £50 million of existing international funds will support fellowships that attract researchers to the UK from emerging research powerhouses such as India, China, Brazil and Mexico.
We have not only a compelling narrative in this Government about wanting to attract the best of the world to this country; I also believe that we are putting a lot more resource and funding into research in this country. Yet there is a perception out there that we are somehow not doing either of those things. To some extent, that perception is built up by people in this House who are incorrigibly pessimistic. We have some great technology and research in this country and we should start to talk it up.
I was going to be very trivial by wondering whether the Minister might care to apply for the vacant post of the reproductive professor at Imperial.
I may have many talents but I think that is one post that I am not qualified to do.
I did not address the particular issue that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I would like to meet him on that issue to understand more about it before I reply to him.
My Lords, it remains for me to thank all participants for their positive approach to our report. I was particularly pleased to hear from the Front Benches that they rather liked our title, for which the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, should take a bow. He had an even more exuberant title for a later report, which I am afraid I vetoed—but he got away with this one.
If there is a takeaway message from this, I think we accept that my noble friend the Minister is absolutely right: there is a compelling narrative from government and more resources have indeed been made available. But it is not just in this House that perceptions are created and what we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Winston and Lord Mair, and others who could be described as at the coalface is an accurate representation of perceptions which simply have to be changed. It is not just the Government who have a responsibility for doing this; I quite accept that academia will have to do its bit as well. We will all have to do our bit, including those of us like me who just sit on the sides and commentate or criticise.
This debate has given a lot of positive messages as to how the perceptions could change. We have unanimously recognised the internationalism of science and how critical international collaboration is. We need welcoming signals for both people and institutions. This has been a very helpful debate.