Monday 22 November 2021
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, before we turn to the main business, let me say that Members are encouraged to leave some distance between themselves and others and to wear a face covering when not speaking. As usual, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 4th and 10th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Schedule 1: The Advanced Research and Invention Agency
Amendments 19 and 20 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 2: ARIA’s functions
20A: Clause 2, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“(d) support the UK Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require ARIA to have regard to climate change by ensuring that ARIA had an obligation to support the Climate Change Act 2008 and the obligations flowing from that Act.
My Lords, since nobody else is speaking and I had prepared a response to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I might as well briefly respond. I was going to say—indeed, I am saying—that this is a slightly random collection of amendments to say the least. As the noble Lord is not here, I can perhaps adopt a slightly more doubtful tone. As my noble friend Lord Oates made plain in the very good debate on Amendment 1:
“If the purpose of DARPA was to protect the national security of the United States by retaining its scientific edge against the threat of the Soviet Union, today, the threat from climate change, although very different, is some orders of magnitude greater.”—[Official Report, 17/11/21; col. GC 86.]
He went on to say that he agreed that it should be part of ARIA’s objectives. I very much agree with him.
On Amendment 26A, many of us asked this question at Second Reading; indeed, that is why we have tabled, and will be discussing, Amendment 47 regarding the framework for ARIA. It is extraordinary that we do not yet know what the arrangements will be with UKRI, research bodies and so forth, particularly in view of what the Minister said last week in Committee:
“UKRI has a broad portfolio of projects that it funds to tackle climate change across 12 different areas”.—[Official Report, 17/11/21; col. GC 96.]
He set out what all those areas are, but the risk of overlap seems considerable. Therefore, it seems important that we get to know what the relationships are between ARIA and other research bodies.
I am rather lukewarm about the renaming of ARIA. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, quoted the Science and Technology Committee saying that ARIA was a
“brand in search of a product”.
The problem is not the brand; we want to look under the bonnet and see what it is actually going to do. The name is not what many of us are concerned about.
My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Stansgate, I should say a couple of words about his amendments. We tackled the issue of climate in some depth when we met last week; I thought that it was a useful discussion. On the name, I think that he was trying to get at why the change had been proposed. Perhaps the Minister, when he responds, can talk us through the Government’s thinking. I do not think that it amounts to a hill of beans, but it was something that my noble friend wanted to explore, to find out what was behind the change of thinking.
My Lords, I will be brief and will refer particularly to Amendment 26A. I repeat that I am a member of the board of UKRI and so have a particular interest in this. The more the Minister can say about ARIA alongside UKRI, the better—it would be very helpful. I do not mind if there is overlap; I am not a purist on this. Indeed, some overlap may be an inevitable result of having ARIA and UKRI. In fact, I would prefer overlap to the alternatives, which are either that UKRI is seen to be unable to do high-risk, high-reward research or that it is somehow seen as second best to ARIA. I hope that the Minister will assure us that UKRI will be able to carry on doing the wide range of activities that it does—including through Innovate UK, in particular—with the application and successful commercialisation of technologies. I see ARIA as supplementing that rather than displacing it, so anything that the Minister can say about that relationship here or in answer to subsequent amendments would be very helpful.
My Lords, my hope for ARIA was that it would look a bit like ARPA. ARPA is not a blue-sky, high-risk research operation; it is a project agency that takes challenges and builds systems to meet them. I think that this is essentially very different. It is not an invention agency and that is the reason behind this consideration. Whether it matters what the name is, I am not sure. ARIA has a nice sort of ring to it. After all, to call it ARPA would mean that we are copying the Americans, which is probably insufferable.
My Lords, I speak as an American citizen, although luckily I do not earn enough money for it to be a problem in terms of the dual-tax system, but I digress. I like the acronym ARIA. I think that it suits the operatic nature of this project. I apologise for not being present at the Second Reading of this important Bill and thank noble Lords for indulging me in allowing me to speak to this amendment, which I think goes to the heart of what the Government are thinking about how the ARIA experiment—if I can put it that way—will work.
ARIA is clearly modelled on ARPA and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ARPA model, which was created in 1958, has taken on a mythical status in terms of its success. It is a mistake to think that it is there simply to fund novel missiles or defence projects; it has a huge civilian impact. For example, it supervises a contest every year to take forward the ability of self-driving cars and, as I am sure many noble Lords are aware, it was a Marine colonel challenging pharmaceutical companies to take forward mRNA research into a practical project before Covid that meant that the world was better prepared when Covid struck. It is important to see what ARIA is capable of doing and I echo what the noble Lord said earlier: it is a project agency engaged, in theory—without wishing to sound contradictory—with projects that will have an impact in the real world, rather than basic research.
The reason I want to speak to this amendment is that I share what I think is an undercurrent of concern about how the ARIA model will fit in with the wider research landscape of the UK. I have to say that, when I was a Minister with my noble friend Lord Willetts, there was—it was certainly not our fault—a proliferation of different agencies that sprang up during our time in government. Many of them had extremely good intentions, such as the Turing Institute and so on. But I have lost count of how many organisations were created in the 2010s and, as I have said to the Minister before, I think that the time has come for the Government to have a proper review of all the agencies that they currently fund. For example, we still have the catapults merrily going about their business, but what is the role of the Satellite Applications Catapult as regards other organisations within the Government’s purview? As ARIA comes on stream, it would behove the Government to have a review of these agencies to see whether we can simplify the landscape and indeed perhaps even free up some budget that could effectively be used for ARIA purposes.
In speaking to the first amendment, I would point out that, while we love to talk about DARPA, in fact IARPA exists as well, and indeed ARPA-E. In the last five or six years, the Americans have created two new ARPAs. One is focused specifically on energy and one is involved with helping the intelligence services—so it is clear that the US Government believe that the ARPA model works. But the crucial point is this: they believe, clearly, that it works only when it has a specific sector as its focus. It is not for DARPA to start straying into climate change or intelligence capabilities: a new ARPA model has to be created.
I would meet the Government half way on this point by saying that the ARIA model is clearly an attempt —a welcome and interesting attempt—to break the mould, free up an institution and go wherever the science takes it, to coin a phrase. But, without a specific sector to focus on, I worry that ARIA may be distracted when trying to find its purpose.
Perhaps I might say to the noble Viscount that it is customary, if a noble Lord is not here for the commencement of a debate, for them to take no part in it at all. In the noble Viscount’s absence, the noble Baroness on his Front Bench formally moved his amendment so that a debate could take place—but that does not mean that he can take part in the debate.
I will be very brief. I take it that we are talking about the climate-change provision, on which I will say only this: on Thursday the House debated the impact of COP 26. The whole House knows that the future of planet earth is not unimportant, and I would have thought that, for a body such as ARIA, there is every reason to suggest, possibly in the Bill, that it should bear some serious regard to the Climate Change Act 2008, under which the Government of the time and succeeding Governments have been operating.
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, for tabling these amendments and for the discussions so far. I will not comment at length, given the discussions that we had last week about ARIA’s research focus and relationship with other research organisations, but I will respond to noble Lords who have spoken today.
To take up the point of my noble friend Lord Willetts, ARIA needs to be as complementary as possible in its functions to other research and innovation organisations. This of course includes UKRI, which retains its system-wide responsibilities and also funds high-risk research. However, ARIA’s fit within this system goes beyond just having regard to the work of other players; it is about actively engaging and making the most of the system. We are currently looking to recruit a brilliant CEO who will form a collaborative and open network of partners right across the UK’s R&D landscape as part of embedding ARIA as a high-functioning organisation for years to come.
Amendment 49 is on a new subject, ARIA’s title. I agree that the focus should be on what the agency does, but let me say a few words about why we decided to call it the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, will be aware that ARPA was the title of the US agency originally established in 1958; ARPA subsequently evolved into DARPA and the model was then developed, as my noble friend Lord Vaizey reminded us, in forming ARPA-E, IARPA and ARPA-H—somebody has been having great fun with the acronyms. It is also the inspiration for the agency that we are discussing today.
However, I stress that ARPA is only the inspiration. ARIA will learn many lessons from the original ARPA, but it is not a carbon copy. It takes into account what we think to be the distinct UK R&D landscape. As we have discussed, given the levers that the Government already have to gear R&D funding to national and strategic priorities, one key departure is that we are not mandating a specific area, such as defence, that ARIA must focus on. There may be other areas and ways in which ARIA’s incoming leadership wish to adapt the original ARPA model, given what we think is a fairly unique context. Calling this new agency ARPA could give a somewhat confusing message about its functions and easily result in it being mistaken for a purely defence-focused research funding agency. I strongly believe that ARIA must have its own brand and identity; that will be integral and crucial to its success.
I also believe that “invention” is a useful element of the agency’s title, which has been well received during the passage of the Bill in the other place and, so far, in our House, as well as by many in the research community. Together, “advanced”, “research” and “invention” signify that ARIA will be focused on high-risk research and clear, soluble challenges in the development and deployment of what we hope will be breakthrough technology. I completely recognise that the agency could be called many things—we could probably get 20 or 30 different examples in this Room alone—but I assure noble Lords that we have thought carefully about all the many options and come to the position, across government and with contributions from all departments, that the Advanced Research and Invention Agency is a clear, bold title, which clearly signifies what we want the agency to do and how we want its functions to evolve. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, will not feel the need to press his amendments.
Amendment 20A withdrawn.
Amendments 21 to 23 not moved.
24: Clause 2, page 2, line 15, at end insert—
“(7) ARIA is— (a) a public authority within the meaning of section 3 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and Schedule 1 to that Act is amended accordingly, and (b) a central government authority within the meaning of regulation 2(1) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, and Schedule 1 of those Regulations is amended accordingly.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would subject ARIA to Freedom of Information requests.
I want to talk about the issue of FoI. We all knew that this was coming in our discussions; it came up at Second Reading, and it has come up in much of the commentary about this Bill. As the Minister will know, there is serious concern about the Government’s decision not to include ARIA in the freedom of information legislation.
To put it bluntly, we think that ARIA should be subject to freedom of information, and we do not think that the Government have given any good reason or argument to justify the exemption. We think it is unlikely that ARIA would be overwhelmed with requests, as the Government seemed to indicate at Second Reading. As the Minister knows, that is not the situation with the equivalent agency in the United States. There is no reason that we can see why ARIA would be incapable of dealing with FoI requests that came its way.
At this stage, I know that we are all very familiar with the arguments about FoI, and I expect that we have all been in many debates not dissimilar to this, but it is helpful to remind ourselves why freedom of information was introduced 21 years ago. It gives us the right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good reason for them not to disclose them. This is called a presumption in favour of disclosure, and it is something that we very much support. It means that everybody has the right to access official information, and that disclosure of information should be the default—so information should be kept private only when there is a very good reason. As I say, the Government have not given a good reason to exempt ARIA.
At Second Reading, the Minister said that he was concerned about ARIA being overwhelmed. I do not know why that would be the case. Even if there were sufficient interest to make the burden of FoI substantial, I do not imagine that that will happen. The Minister has not given a reason why that would be a particular problem for ARIA and not for other agencies. It is just not a good enough reason to exempt ARIA from the scheme—the fact that you might get asked a lot of things is no reason to allow yourself not to answer them. If FoI was a burden for ARIA, I am sure that every local authority up and down the country would like to make the same argument for exempting itself. Why should ARIA be treated differently? That is something that the Minister so far has not explained.
I cannot remember who said this at Second Reading; it may have been the Minister who prayed in aid Tony Blair, which is usually not a bad thing to do. But I part company with Tony on this particular issue. As we all know, Tony Blair decided after leaving office that he regretted introducing FoI because, I think he said, it was a nuisance and it disrupts ease of communication between officials. I do not think there is a Prime Minister now or in the past who would not agree with him. I am sure it is a complete nuisance, but it is important; it is about the balance of power between Governments and their citizens. Tony Blair might feel that way, but that does not mean that the Government are right to keep agencies away from scrutiny. If the Government want to get rid of FoI or change the way in which it works, they should make the case, they should win the argument, and then they should change the law. They should not be attempting to undermine FoI slowly over time by excluding new agencies, which is what I think is happening here. They do not want to have the argument, so they are just leaving out new entities as they emerge.
I should have thought, after everything the Government have experienced in recent weeks, that they would be falling over themselves to show the country that they welcome scrutiny and want to be transparent. Last week, the Minister accused me of being opportunistic in making that argument. I stand by my assurance to him that that is not the case. This is done out of a will to see ARIA succeed. I could stand here and make a very long speech about all the problems the Government have had through lack of transparency, but I will not do that. I want ARIA to succeed, but I think that without some measure—whether it is FoI or some of the other measures that the Minister dismissed last week—there needs to be some measure by which that transparency, scrutiny, oversight or whatever you want to call it can take place, either via Parliament or via FoI.
I am sure that we will come back to this at Report. The Government have declined every suggestion that we have made on this issue so far. That is a shame, and I just hope that they reconsider their stance on this.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Chapman and shall speak also to Amendment 32A, which, ironically, was the first amendment that I drafted. If there is any benefit to a signal failure on Thameslink, it is that by accident I turn out to be speaking to the very first amendment that I drafted. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, because it was her who pointed out last week that the former Prime Minister had said that he regretted the Freedom of Information Act. Next time I see him, I shall gladly discuss that subject, but I think it tells you more about Prime Ministers than it does about the principle of freedom of information.
There are two and a half arguments in favour of this amendment. The first is the principle. We live in a parliamentary democracy—we live, incidentally, in a world in which we learn less and less about the Government, who can know more and more about us—and it is a good principle of public life that any new body should be subject to freedom of information. The half argument is that, if it is suggested by the Government that this will cause practical difficulties for ARIA, I am perfectly happy for them to bring forward their own amendment saying that at a later stage they can review the operation of the Freedom of Information Act to see whether it has turned out to be very difficult.
The other argument in favour of making it subject to freedom of information is this. This is a new body. It will be given a not insubstantial sum of public money. It will be doing things the nature of which none of us around this Committee Room knows. If it is thought to be too secretive about what it is doing and in no shape or form accountable to Parliament, apart from the odd appearance by the chair or chief executive in front of the Select Committee in another place, there is a risk that ARIA’s work and reputation could be damaged. Freedom of information would protect ARIA against that risk. That is the other argument I put to the Committee in favour of the amendment.
My Lords, I spoke on this at Second Reading and quoted Tony Blair. Just to remind the Committee, he said that the Freedom of Information Act was
“utterly undermining of sensible government.”
I do not think it is, but I think anybody in the public sector will attest that it is often very burdensome and extremely costly to operate. It was looked at relatively recently by a group, led I think by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the conclusion was that on balance the law should remain as it is. But that does not mean that for every new body we should automatically apply the Freedom of Information Act requirements. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, was clear that if there was a case, the Opposition would support it.
It is worth looking at why an organisation such as ARIA might well be worthy of special consideration. Let us look further at what Tony Blair said:
“If you are trying to take a difficult decision and you’re weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations … And if those conversations then are put out in a published form that afterwards are liable to be highlighted in particular ways, you are going to be very cautious.”
We do not want an organisation that is dragged into caution and risk aversion. We want one that is fully open internally to grappling with some very difficult issues.
Professor Philip Bond, Professor of Creativity and Innovation at the University of Manchester, gave evidence to the Committee in the other place. One of the things he said was that
“if you are asking people to go out on a limb to really push the envelope, I would assert that there is an argument, which has some validity, that you make it psychologically much easier for them if they do not feel that they are under a microscope.”—[Official Report, Commons, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill Committee, 14/4/21; col. 29.]
This is the essence of the argument. We are asking this organisation to behave in a way in which no other public sector organisation has ever been asked to behave. We do not want it to be looking over its shoulder and worrying about what disclosure will do.
In addition, I think it is fair to say that there is quite a lot of disclosure already. There are annual reports. It is fully expected that the chairman and chief executive, and doubtless others, could appear before various Select Committees. I have the privilege to sit on the new Industry and Regulators Committee in your Lordships’ House, and I am sure it will be extremely interested in what ARIA does in due course. Of course, there is also the Science and Technology Committee.
Taken overall, because of the unique nature of this organisation it is worth considering whether a specific exemption from the FoI requirements would be a useful thing in this case.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 39 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. It is on something also asserted in Amendment 24 by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and, in the late runner, Amendment 32A, by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. We all seek essentially the same outcome, targeting different parts of the Bill to avoid the avoidance of freedom of information.
It is always good to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and strangely my opening assertion very much follows on from hers. Without our amendments, ARIA would follow in the footsteps of a very small number of institutions that currently do not have Freedom of Information Act obligations: the Royal Family; security and intelligence bodies such as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ; Special Forces; and the National Crime Agency. I think that is the list. There may be others, but I am pretty sure that is it. It gives noble Lords an idea of the sort of organisations. They do not seem to be natural paradigms to ARIA.
The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, will correct me, but the obstacles to innovation for funding bodies are many and various. Nowhere have I seen obligations to freedom of information as one of the things listed by those bodies as a barrier to innovation, or indeed invention. Indeed, as far as I can see, most if not all of ARIA’s client organisations—those it will fund—will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so where is the point in excluding ARIA itself?
In refuting me and others on this at Second Reading, the Minister said that
“robust arrangements are in place that will provide a clear picture to Parliament and taxpayers about how ARIA’s activities are funded and where it spends its money.”—[Official Report, 2/11/21; col. 1202.]
That is indeed the point, because ARIA will be holding the brush painting that picture. We will get to see what ARIA chooses to tell and show us about what it is doing. FoIs look at things from the opposite direction.
The Minister also points to the need for ARIA to be lean, and I absolutely agree with him on that, but I remind him and those who speak against these amendments why we are seeing growing evidence of huge levels of very worrying financial mismanagement across government contracting. It is because of the crony-type issues which the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, raised in her speech, which have a corrosive effect on institutions that need to be protected from any stain of impropriety. Transparency is very much that protection. By maintaining proper scrutiny, everybody can see that there are no problems and there is no favouritism going on. This will absolutely protect ARIA’s reputation.
ARIA will be substantially larger that many bodies already subject to freedom of information legislation. ARIA has no greater claim to avoiding complying with FoI legislation than any other public authority. Indeed, given its budget, there are compelling grounds for its inclusion. It is clear, through these three amendments, that we on this side find the current plan to exclude ARIA from the Freedom of Information Act’s provisions unacceptable. I feel sure that, between us, we can coalesce around a single amendment for Report. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I will make two points. The first is in response to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the other is in anticipation of a point that I think the Minister will make in his response to the debate.
The noble Baroness argued that the unique nature of this organisation should make it free from this burden. It will be unique here in the United Kingdom, but it is not a unique organisation. In fact, it is modelled on an organisation that has a history, and that is ARPA, which is now DARPA.
I will come shortly to the Minister’s rejection of that comparison at Second Reading, but I am moved to intervene because of data I have been given by the Campaign for Freedom of Information about the burden that freedom of information has been on ARPA and DARPA in the United States. Granted, the United States is a much more open society than ours, but ARPA and DARPA have been subject to the US Freedom of Information Act. It is incontrovertible that the need to answer FoI requests has not prevented them achieving successes that the Government here now wish to emulate. In fact, in the 11 years from 2009 to 2019, an average of 47 requests a year referring to DARPA were made to the US Department of Defense. It lived with that burden and has been the success that we all know and are seeking to emulate.
The Minister rejected this comparison, saying that there is a different freedom of information system in the United States of America. He referred to fees, and suggested that somehow the experience we have had of freedom of information thus far made it probable that ARIA would be prevented from being the lean machine focused on innovation that we all want to see if it was subjected to the burden of freedom of information.
Interestingly, 47 FoI requests per year is almost exactly the number of requests received by individual UK research councils before they were incorporated into UKRI. In 2017-18, the six research councils for which data was available to those who provided it to me received an average of 48 requests each. By comparison, in 2019 the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice each received nearly 5,000 requests. Maybe that is why the Government have this impression that everything they do is overburdened by FoI. It is not. Some things are, and there is a different politics about them than there will be about this.
I think that it is perfectly legitimate to make the comparison with the success of DARPA and ARPA, which have lived in an environment of openness and freedom of information. That is much more likely, on the data, to be the experience of ARIA, were it to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, than the perception of any burden that a Minister may have from their own experience of FoI in another department.
I would like to respond to that, which I find very interesting. I would like to know whether ARPA and DARPA have restraints on certain types of information. Having operated in industry in an R&D environment, I am familiar with the problems of what you have to keep secret and what you do not. In the American economy, by far the largest fraction of the vast amount of progress that is made is made in industry with private funds—and industry invests those private funds in R&D only if it can be assured that the products of that R&D will remain exclusive to it. I have been in situations where there has been industrial espionage and design manuals have been stolen for products that took billions to develop. Those thefts in the United States were of course prosecuted and those who obtained the information were fined large sums of money.
ARPA is going to be in that situation. It has to work with industry, using the results of its most advanced R&D, perhaps in new ways, to come up with new systems. It must be able to sign some memorandum of understanding, or in some way say to industry that it will protect from public knowledge that information. In an industry where you are relying primarily on novel processes, you do not tend to patent things, because patenting them puts them in the public domain. You rely on trade secrets and, to have a trade secret validated as a trade secret, you have to show that you have done enough due diligence to make sure that the information is not generally available to your competitors.
It has been a problem internationally for the past several decades that there has been international espionage on a large scale to obtain information from inside industries in the West. I ask the Minister whether that is being taken into account. Clearly, what the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and others have been saying is incontrovertible: we do not want the agency at risk because people are wasting vast sums of public money. On the other hand, you have to take into account that, if ARIA is to be successful and produce new capabilities that can be commercially exploited for the benefit of the UK, there must be adequate protection of what in industry is normally commercially sensitive and secret.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fox, in his amendment, and other noble Lords in theirs have pointed to the anomaly of ARIA not being subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and it has been a great pleasure listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, quoting Tony Blair with approval—a rare delight.
The Government have put forward a number of weak reasons to justify ARIA not being subject to the FoIA, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, raised the first of them, the burden of responding to FoI requests—an extraordinary argument for a body that is going to have a budget of £500 million over the first three years. Many bodies subject to the FoIA have tiny budgets and staff numbers compared with those that ARIA will enjoy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, called it costly, but will it be for ARIA? Interestingly, the noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised a number of questions prompted by the comparison or assertion that the Minister made at Second Reading that, because we do not have to pay for access to freedom of information requests, they will be pouring into ARIA, unlike in the United States. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, pointed out, actually the requests to each of the research councils is pretty much on a par with those that are put to DARPA. I do not think that that argument is there either.
We have heard other assertions. The Minister, Amanda Solloway, said:
“The intention is for ARIA to have a streamlined operating structure, with a small and agile footprint of decision makers”.
If you are spending £500 million of government money, you should have the resources to have proper governance processes. Of course, we have heard the statements of principle. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said that information should be kept private only for good reason. It is well worth going back to general principles. The balance of power between government and citizen is extremely important, but there are good reasons to retain public trust. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, made the point about it being counterproductive; it is a risk to the reputation of ARIA if there is no proper FoI accountability.
What is really the difference between this body and UKRI? Not a great deal. I wanted to address some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Broers, made. There is no question, under FoIA, that ARIA’s research programme could be prejudiced. There are clear exemptions under the Act for research interests—commercial interests, which cover trade secrets, confidential information, information intended for publication, personal information and vexatious requests. It is worth quoting the Justice Select Committee on the Act. In 2012, it said:
“The Freedom of Information Act is a significant enhancement of our democracy … Governments and public authorities can promote greater transparency but, without FOI requests, decisions on what to publish will always lie with those in positions of power. FOI has costs, but it also creates savings which accrue from the disclosure of inappropriate use of public funds or, more importantly, fear of such disclosure”.
We are unashamed supporters of the Freedom of Information Act. As my noble friend Lord Fox said, the Government are equating ARIA with the security services, the National Crime Agency and the Royal Family. It is nowhere near justified that it is in the public interests to do that. If ever I saw a Report stage amendment coming along the track, this is it, and it will be an extremely important debate on Report. I urge the Government to rethink this issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, interestingly enough, did not speak to her Amendment 42, but it is all of a piece. I do not think that I need to say much, except to ask why we should not treat ARIA in line with other public bodies. The Government have had to perform contortions of statutory drafting to exclude ARIA. We have all sorts of weird and wonderful amendments coming later, which seems extraordinary. Why on earth should not ARIA be subject to exactly the same procurement regime as other public bodies? The principle that we have talked about on the FoIA is exactly the same as it is in regard to procurement.
I start with Amendment 24 from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, Amendment 32A from the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and Amendment 39 from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, which all deal with the Freedom of Information Act. As I said at Second Reading, our decision not to subject ARIA to FoI was made after much consideration. As on so many of these things, I find myself in full agreement with my noble friend Lady Noakes and I thank my noble friend Lord Patten for his support during the Second Reading debate.
I was hoping that some of my noble friends who have been in government would comment on how they found the Freedom of Information Act in government. From my point of view, it is a truly malign piece of legislation. At the risk of trashing his reputation even further in the Labour Party, I agree with Tony Blair on this matter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that all information on government contracts et cetera should be published, even if it is embarrassing for the Government. However, I think he will find that all the contracts to which he refers were not released under freedom of information but under normal government contract transparency.
In my experience, not much is ever released under freedom of information that causes any problems for government; it is normally stuff that is released in the normal transparency of contract negotiations and government transparency returns. I am fully in favour of decisions, and information about them, being released, but I fail to see how the processology of government benefits at all from FoI disclosures. I find that people just modify their behaviour and communication to take account of the fact that private conversations may be released in the future. I genuinely do not think that it achieves anything at all, but that is my personal perspective and not necessarily a matter for this debate. It was also new to me to discover at Second Reading that the US charges a fee for freedom of information disclosures. I think that is an excellent idea, even if it is only a nominal amount to get rid of some of the somewhat spurious fishing expeditions that many go people in for. Anyway, that is a separate matter for different discussions.
In contrast to UKRI, which comprises the seven research councils, ARIA is a new, unique organisation that we anticipate will attract a disproportionate number of FoI requests for its size. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I would reiterate, as I did at Second Reading, that comparisons between ARIA and DARPA do not hold, precisely because, as I said, DARPA adds a standard fee to the requester, which is not comparable to the situation in the UK, although we should certainly consider it.
My Lords, if I may have the privilege of intervening—a wonderful feeling, having been under different rules for a period of time—does the Minister not accept what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said: that the individual research councils receive no more than the number of requests that DARPA receive, something of the order of 47? It is quite coincidental that the average is 47. Why does the Minister think that ARIA will be inundated with freedom of information requests?
Because it is a fairly new and exciting agency doing new things. I suppose we will have to disagree on that. There is no point and nothing to be gained by doing otherwise. In designing ARIA, we are envisaging a lean agency that will employ people in the tens. I do not know how many people across government are currently employed to respond to the hundreds if not thousands of FoI requests that we get, but given the bundles of documentation that sometimes pass my desk, there must be many hundreds of civil servants engaged in doing nothing other than responding to these fishing expeditions. As I said, ARIA will be an agency employing people in the tens, with around 1% of the R&D budget.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I invite him to reread what he said at Second Reading. He virtually invited people who are being refused the opportunity to ask ARIA questions to ask them of his department. Then it will be a true comparison. I invited him to compare an organisation of the nature of a research council with one such as DARPA, not to compare DARPA with a government department. At Second Reading, he himself listed a whole number of organisations, including government departments, that are subject to FoI. It is an invitation to people who are refused the discipline of talking to a smaller organisation in a proportionate way to flood a department with requests and take up even more time. With respect to the Minister, I think this is verging on an irresponsible attitude towards this argument, even in his own interests.
I can assure the noble Lord that people need no invitation from me to table FoI requests to my department. They are well capable of doing it. I think some people already have forms set up on their word processors to submit some of these things with gay abandon.
Anyway, in designing ARIA we are envisaging an agency that will be lean and streamlined. It will employ people in the tens, and we strongly believe that it needs to be agile and efficient. “Lean”, “streamlined” and “efficient” are not always words that are used to describe nominal usual public bodies. However, as my noble friend Lady Noakes has attested to, this context has always been at the forefront of our minds in bringing forward this Bill.
We have carefully considered which procedures are conducive to ARIA’s success. I recognise here that part of ARIA’s success depends on it gaining public trust and being transparent and accountable for its activities, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, called for. I believe that we have found the right balance in freeing this small agency to fund high-risk, critical research but to do it differently, with appropriate visibility to Parliament and taxpayers.
The noble Lord, Lord Broers, raised some concerns about the protection of technological gains in sensitive projects. I note at this point that there are, of course, existing commercial confidentiality exemptions to the FoI Act, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. All requests still require processing and we are conscious of this in making the decisions to exclude ARIA.
Much has also been said on transparency today in the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. I maintain that the right provisions to hold ARIA to account are the ones that I outlined at Second Reading. They are the publishing of an annual report and statement of accounts, which will be laid before Parliament, as set out in the Bill; being subject to annual audits by the National Audit Office; and being accountable to Parliament through the CEO, who will be the agency’s accounting officer.
In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has pointed out, ARIA will remain a BEIS arm’s-length body, and my department will work with ARIA’s leadership to agree the appropriate arrangements for its scrutiny and oversight in the interests of good governance.
We expect ARIA, as far as possible, to have a culture of transparency, and we hope that will be championed by its incoming leadership. Working across the R&D community, and indeed with Parliament and the public, to communicate ARIA’s activities will be critical to ARIA’s commercial and research success. Given that, I hope the Committee will understand that I cannot accept or agree with this amendment. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has a different opinion.
I turn now to the exemption the Bill affords ARIA from the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, and to Amendments 24 and 42 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I think she omitted to speak in favour of her amendment, but I will respond to it anyway.
Our decision to exempt ARIA from the contracting authority obligations in the Public Contracts Regulations hinges on two critical expectations: first, that ARIA will be commissioning and contracting others to do research for it; and, secondly, that ARIA’s programme managers should be acting and investing with agility and speed. When ARIA is commissioning and contracting others to do research for it, it will be operating in a fundamentally different way from traditional R&D grant-making where procurement rules do not apply.
In my view, it is therefore appropriate for ARIA to be given freedom from procurement rules to ensure that the agency has greater flexibility in its contractual arrangements. However, to counterbalance that and to provide the assurance that this freedom will be used properly, we have provided a non-legislative commitment for an independent auditor to report annually on ARIA’s procurement activity. This measure, alongside ARIA’s robust conflict of interest procedures, the wider accountability I just talked about, and governance provisions, are an appropriate set of arrangements. I hope that reassures the Committee that we have taken all these matters into consideration and that this exemption is both essential to ARIA’s effective function and proportionate to the tasks it faces. Therefore, I invite noble Lords not to press their amendments.
I thank the Minister for responding to my amendment and speaking to Amendment 42, which I did not move; I am grateful to him for responding to something I did not say.
As he explained, the point of Amendment 42 was to include ARIA as subject to public contract regulations. I do not understand why it is not. These debates are all connected. We are constantly trying to push the Government to give us a bit more transparency and give ARIA more accountability, but they keep pushing us back. The Minister says that he wants a culture of transparency, but I do not see how that will come about as we are currently progressing.
As my noble friend Lord Browne said, ARIA is not unique and, as several noble Lords have said, it needs protecting from reputational damage. I make a plea to the Government not to allow ARIA to end up being called some sort of secret research agency, which is a real danger. When that kind of pressure starts, this agency will not stand a chance. Never mind the measures in the Bill about protecting it from being disbanded for 10 years; they will count for nothing. It would be very easy for a Secretary of State to get rid of this agency should the political pressure mount. That is what we are trying to avoid here.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, talked about the exemptions from FoI, which I hope reassures other noble Lords who talked about commercial interests and national security. Of course we would not want FoI to be used in a way that would harm ARIA, but that is already taken care of by the exemptions from FoI that already exist.
The Minister tried to say, “I don’t know why you’re so fussy about FoI. It never really tells us anything we wouldn’t already know.” I just had a quick look at what has been out in the past few weeks thanks to FoI. FoI revealed that 52% of councils spent nothing on electric vehicle charging, and the scale of data breaches at local authorities. FoI told us about the funding drop in early years in different regions of the country over the past quarter and about the number of operations cancelled by trusts. These are all things that we would not have been able to discover, except perhaps by a Parliamentary Question, if FoI were not available. It is important. It provides something that is unavailable by any other mechanism. Given the failure of the Government to take us up on any of our other suggestions for transparency, I am pretty confident that, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, we will return to this and push the Government hard on this issue at Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Amendments 25 to 26A not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3: Ambitious research, development and exploitation: tolerance to failure
Amendment 27 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Grants to ARIA from the Secretary of State
Amendments 28 and 29 not moved.
30: Clause 4, page 2, line 26, at end insert—
“(4) If ARIA gives a grant, or part of grant, made to it under this section to another entity, the giving of the grant must be subject to the condition that a person or entity may not gain control of that entity for 5 years after the date on which the grant is given.(5) If ARIA gives a grant, or part of grant, made to it under this section for the purposes of supporting a specific asset, the giving of the grant must be subject to the condition that a person or entity may not gain control of that asset for 5 years after the date on which the grant is given.(6) In this section, “entity” means any entity, whether or not a legal person, that is not an individual, and includes a company, a limited liability partnership, any other body corporate, a partnership, an unincorporated association and a trust.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that any grant made by ARIA is subject to the condition that the entity or asset supported may not be subject to a takeover for 5 years.
My Lords, Amendment 30 seeks to ensure that any grant made by ARIA is subject to the condition that the entity or asset supported may not be subject to a takeover for five years. I confess that, on reflection, this may more felicitously have been an amendment to Clause 2, which deals with the conditions of grants made by ARIA. As its tabling is for exploratory purposes, at least today, I do not think that matters, but if it comes back it will probably come back in a different form and as an amendment to a different clause.
On the first day of Grand Committee, the debate on the group of amendments led by Amendment 18 in the name of and moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, took about 20 minutes, and the phrase “intellectual property” was used 37 times. Introducing the debate, the noble Lord described the group as being
“about the way in which ARIA acquires, creates, disposes of, retains and shares intellectual property”,—[Official Report, 17/11/21; col. GC 127.]
so it is not really a surprise that the phrase was picked up.
In some senses, it is a pity that this amendment was not grouped with the noble Lord’s amendments, because the concerns that have given rise to the need for this amendment were to some extent aired in that debate. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, shared with us the extent to which there was concern in the United States that
“some of the public funding which has led to”
“research has led to private as opposed to public gain.”—[Official Report, 17/11/21; col. GC 128.]
I share his concern about the extent to which we are creating such an opportunity, but more so about the extent to which such publicly funded research may lead to foreign, mainly US, private as opposed to British private or public gain.
Refinitiv data shows that, in the first half of 2021, buyout groups spent $45 billion snapping up companies in Britain—more than double the next-best first six months on record and almost 10% of the total $547 billion spent across the world. Am I to understand that British stocks’ discount to global peers is the deepest in more than three decades and that Brexit is one reason? I do not want to divert us into another debate, but Brexit is for good, not just for Christmas, so that situation may persist for a period.
On 17 November, reporting the Culture Secretary’s decision to announce a competition and national security investigation into the planned takeover of the British chip business Arm Holdings by the American multinational tech giant Nvidia, and coupling this with the recent news that Kwasi Kwarteng is investigating the proposed sales of defence suppliers Ultra Electronics and Meggitt to American suppliers on similar grounds, Ben Marlow, the chief City commentator of the Telegraph, wrote:
“For too long Britain has adopted a naive and unquestioning ‘help yourself’ approach to foreign takeovers. For a while it looked as though the … government would take an even more extreme laissez-faire approach as it sought to live up to its ‘Global Britain’ credentials but perhaps the penny has dropped in Westminster … It is a welcome shift in tone. Ministers routinely greet the sale of British companies to overseas buyers as a vote of confidence in this country’s prospects when it is nothing of the sort. It simply means foreign firms see the UK as easy pickings and an opportunity to make a quick buck. Hoisting a giant ‘for sale’ sign over your best and brightest companies is not sound industrial policy, it is an act of … self-harm.”
It will not be a surprise to anybody in your Lordships’ Committee that I am not used to quoting the Telegraph in debates or in support of my arguments. I do so because, in a sense, it may be a bit of an instruction to the Minister as to the attitude he ought to adopt to this issue. I do it because it may have more impact on the Minister.
I have tried twice now, in supplementaries to Questions in your Lordships’ House on these issues, to engage the Minister on what is actually happening in the United Kingdom to some of our best and brightest businesses and the effect it is having. I even quoted on one occasion the concerns of the Bank of England about the way these businesses are funded and the damage that this leveraged debt potentially poses to the economy of the United Kingdom in the long term, but he did not respond.
On another occasion, in relation to both the companies referred to in addition to Arm—Ultra Electronics and Meggitt—I pointed out that 85% of R&D in the defence industries in the United Kingdom is public money, and that the intellectual property of these businesses was in danger of leaving the United Kingdom, having been paid for by public money. That is exactly the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raised, although he did so in a slightly different context, and exactly the concern I have.
On none of these previous occasions did the Minister bite. With respect to him, he deployed a slightly less complacent version of the words the Telegraph’s city correspondent pointed out, but he deployed them nevertheless.
I close my remarks in support of this amendment by thanking the Minister for his gracious invitation to me over the last few days to indicate to him what lay behind it so that he could, if possible, give me the reassurance I sought. I responded with an even shorter version of what I have said to your Lordships’ Committee today. I hope he has the reassurance that I and others seek about how we will protect the product of this new initiative from being raided by the predators of venture capital funds in particular. I conclude with the words the Telegraph uses, that
“the Americans wouldn’t allow it to happen so why should we?”
My Lords, I am not as opposed to foreign takeovers as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, but I accept that there are some instances where this country is not well served by the ability of organisations outside the UK to cherry pick some of our best assets. The broad thrust is that foreign investment in the UK has been good for our economy—indeed, large amounts of our productive economy are owned by foreign businesses and they are an important part of the success of the UK economy—but I concede that there is a potential issue, especially when we deal with the kind of things we expect ARIA to fund.
However, I do not think the amendment works. It says that if ARIA gives a grant to an entity, it has to be subject to the condition that that entity cannot be taken over. That entity cannot give an undertaking that it cannot be taken over, because the people who will control who takes over an entity are the people who own the entity, which is not the same as the entity itself. While in some cases it might be a private company with two or three shareholders, which would probably be quite easy to deal with, if the shareholdings were much more dispersed it would probably be impossible to operationalise that sort of requirement. If there is a case, it needs another solution.
I also note that this is a bit of a sledgehammer. There could be very good reasons for an entity having the control over it changed. It could need greater access to capital to scale up whatever it has been looking at; it could have liquidity issues in taking its research and development to the next stage, before it even gets to scale up, and need the involvement of other partners; or it could just be that it makes sense to continue with whatever it has been looking at only if it is part of a larger organisation and subject to a merger or joint venture, where control would be ceded. If there is a problem, I do not think it can be met by this amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for raising this very interesting issue. Without repeating verbatim what I said at Second Reading, one of the highlighted issues in delivering technology into the market in this country is not the invention phase but the scale-up—getting it beyond technology readiness level 7 and then getting it into the market and scaling up.
I discourage the noble Lord from using the phrase “predator” for venture capital. The money has to come from somewhere to deliver that scale-up, and I doubt that the Government will be the provider. The issue and challenge is that the VC industry in the United States is massive compared with what is available in UK-based funds, and thereby comes the lack of centricity about which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, spoke. We should very much consider looking for a way for businesses that have an invention to take it to market. To some extent, this amendment is looking at the other end of the problem; it stops stuff happening rather than allowing it to happen in a different way. I am not sure that it is the answer, but its spirit is very important.
There is another unintended consequence I would be concerned about. In the event that an entity could avoid a takeover, by taking money from ARIA it would in essence lock itself away from any commercial activity that could be beneficial to it as a company, the country and ARIA’s intentions. A one-size-fits-all approach—“We give you the money and you can’t do any commercial activity”—is not in the spirit of what this seeks to achieve. Looking at this again, we need to find a way to deliver that scale-up story. That is really the issue facing this country, not the invention bit that somehow this agency is focused on.
My Lords, I very much appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has brought forward his Amendment 30 in particular. It is very helpful to our debate and rather complements the discussion we had about ARIA’s ability to exploit the intellectual property it gives rise to and to place the right kind of conditions. We will come back to that on Report; it is important that we do.
I hope the Government can, if not necessarily amend the Bill extensively, certainly make it clear that ARIA, in exercising its functions, should seek not only to promote economic growth and benefit in the United Kingdom but to make sure that—in so far as the public have subscribed through ARIA to the creation of intellectual property—the benefits of that will accrue to ARIA and, potentially, the Government. I would say that they should accrue to ARIA, with the ability to promote follow-on research activity as a result. I am sure the noble Lord is not planning to press his amendment and recognises the risk associated with its structure and the chilling effect it might have on the entities that might otherwise apply for grants, assets or activity.
I will just inject this thought. A number of noble Lords here in Grand Committee were contributors to our discussions on the National Security and Investment Act, and I hope my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us some specific assurances about how Ministers can use National Security and Investment Act powers to secure the protections that the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, is looking for.
I worry that there may be gaps, because the National Security and Investment Act has its own criteria and thresholds, and this may relate to activities, projects and assets that do not fit within those criteria—but we none the less want the intellectual property created by ARIA to be protected in some way. So there may be a gap and we need to explore whether there is one and, if there is, how it might be secured: how ARIA, and Ministers through ARIA, can protect the value that might be derived from the intellectual property to which its projects give rise.
My Lords, I rise to give the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, the very strongest support. We have talked around the issue of how we can solve the problem of losing our brilliant companies, because it is stunningly serious—and it is not just Arm and Nvidia. I am very pleased because I wrote to the Government about six months to a year ago to plead that the competitive agency should look at that, and it is at least looking at it now. The company Solexa was taken over by Illumina, having pioneered the successful way to decode DNA, and Illumina’s revenue flowed into the many billions—after the key technology had come entirely from the UK. These things should not have happened.
I ask whether we can add to the requirements on ARIA that incentives should somehow be given to our City, which has an appalling record of missing opportunities to invest in UK industries—creative industries in particular. It is all very well to talk about the scale of American venture capital: that is a very good point, but we can be very selective. Then perhaps we would not need a very big scale to look after companies such as Arm and Solexa—there was Verata before them, and several others that have left here almost with the certainty of being successful, and yet somehow we could not find our own funds to support them.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 31 in my name. It is a probing amendment to find whether the Minister would say a few words about how ARIA grants will interact with national security and our established defence industry. We have a very well-developed defence research capability in the UK. It is successful and world leading. I would like to understand how ARIA will relate to it.
I also fully support the amendment from my noble friend Lord Browne. I do not know anywhere near as much as he or many other noble Lords in this Committee do about the topic, but I was familiar with Cobham, which was based very close to Darlington: most people who worked there seemed to live in Darlington. Its substantial contribution in this field stretched over decades. I agree that we need to do whatever the Government think would work to deal with this problem. It seems to be a concern on all sides. If the amendment from my noble friend Lord Browne, is not the right one, or it this not the right clause, or perhaps not even the right Bill, there remains a concern that has been expressed that the Government would do well to respond to and let us know, if this is not the way they will deal with it, how they intend to tackle something that is clearly a concern of many noble Lords.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friends Lady Chapman and Lord Browne. Amendment 31A is in my name. The Government saw fit to put Clause 5 in the Bill for a reason and I am sure the Minister, when he comes to reply, will refer to the reason why it is so important. Similarly, some of us on this side of the Committee feel that it is particularly important that, when those powers are exercised by the Secretary of State, Parliament knows about it at the time—not just in an annual report produced later. Also, with others, I think that there may be further scope to consider whether in this legislation or the National Security and Investment Act, which has already been referred to, there could be ways of furthering the arguments of my noble friend Lord Browne, if the Government are prepared to consider constructive ways forward.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for his comments on Amendment 30. I recognise that this is an issue that he cares deeply about, as do other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Broers. As we heard, the amendment relates to ARIA’s ability to attach conditions to grants to prevent the takeover of an asset or entity, but this Bill is not about the general conditions or, indeed, climate for takeovers of UK private business by US entities; rather, in tabling this amendment, the noble Lord has raised important questions about the benefits derived from public investment in R&D. I appreciate his sentiments about the UK retaining the benefits of ARIA’s funding and, as we discussed on Wednesday, Clause 2(6) gears ARIA towards considering the UK benefits of its activities.
The UK is a world-renowned destination for foreign investment and the UK economy has thrived as a result. We are open to foreign investment; the Government would be very concerned that placing further restrictions in the Bill could deter foreign investment in instances where it would be beneficial and, in some cases, might sit at odds with the wider principles held by the scientific community about the free exchange of ideas and the benefits of international collaboration in research and innovation. Although many noble Lords will share the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Broers and Lord Fox, that we seek to incentivise the City to invest more funds in fledgling British businesses, as there is indeed considerably more private equity available in the US, that is not an issue that this Bill can solve.
However, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that, as set out in the R&D road map published last year, and the innovation strategy published this year, one of the Government’s key ambitions is to become world class at securing the economic and social benefits from research and to safeguard intellectual property. We are pursuing a range of activity to achieve this, and the Government are concerned that adding legislative constraints will impact our position as a free trade champion. ARIA will be expected to collaborate closely within the UK R&D landscape—with Innovate UK, the Catapult Network or private equity partners—to find clear onward paths to take the benefits of its programmes to the next level. This is indeed the challenge rightly identified by the noble Lord, Lord Fox.
Furthermore, the patent box tax incentive will support the retention of intellectual property in the UK by allowing businesses to pay a reduced rate of tax on profits arising from exploiting patents and other qualifying products. Its aim is to encourage the commercialisation of inventions by companies in the UK. I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that we are taking action on this issue outside of legislation. It might just come down to the ideological difference between protectionism and free trade.
On occasions where it is necessary, the National Security and Investment Act 2021 will give the UK Government robust powers to scrutinise and intervene in relevant acquisitions, such as takeovers, to protect national security. This Act will sit alongside the Secretary of State’s power in Clause 5 to give directions where it is necessary or expedient in the interests of national security. I hope that this will answer some of my noble friend Lord Lansley’s remarks.
Regarding Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, the Government’s position is that ARIA must be able to operate with strategic autonomy. This includes making its own decisions on funding research, without influence from government. Clause 5 was designed to ensure that ARIA’s activities could be limited only if they posed a threat to the UK’s national security; for example, ceasing a particular contract or activities with parties from a particular jurisdiction, or ceasing activities on a specific technology. These powers are necessary to ensure that the Government can intervene to protect national security.
I assure the noble Baroness that it is not our intention to use these powers to require ARIA to spend any grants in the interests of national security concerns. Given the autonomy that ARIA will have from Ministers, it would be more appropriate to expect the Government to use other structures if any such need arose. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will understand the intention behind this clause and that there is no need for this amendment.
Finally, regarding Amendment 31A specifically, given the nature and sensitivity of national security directions, the Secretary of State may be required to respond urgently and privately and it would not be appropriate to publish all directions made under this section. ARIA’s annual report, which this amendment seeks to add to, will align with HMT’s financial reporting manual and the normal standards of reporting. I believe this will ensure the right level of information is provided to allow appropriate parliamentary and public scrutiny of ARIA’s activities, and I am therefore unable to accept this amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response and particularly for engaging with the reasons behind the amendment more than its technical perfection, which I accept it lacks. However, I will have to read carefully what she has actually said to see whether it is the reassurance that a number of noble Lords are seeking—from listening carefully to their contributions—about protecting the jewel in the crown, as it were, which is at the heart of what the Government and everybody are trying to achieve in the current environment. I will come back to that in a moment.
I also correct the omission of not thanking the noble Lord, Lord Morse—who is a good supporter to have in these sorts of issues—for adding his name to my amendment. I also tender on his behalf his apologies that because of timing he could not be here to speak to the amendment. He may get another opportunity to speak to the issues that lie behind it at some other point in the consideration of this legislation.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. They all added something to my knowledge and understanding of the issues I am trying to raise before the Committee in the context of this Bill. I hope there will be a collective, maybe holistic, solution to the different elements of this problem that have been identified.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for pointing out to me the complexity of the area that I am in because of the different forms of organisations that will be involved. I am familiar with some of this, but clearly not as familiar as she is. However, I encourage her not just to assume that every takeover is a foreign investment. It appears to me that the more I go into this, the more that I discover that it is a not a foreign investment. I go back to the article in the Telegraph, which I quoted liberally. Ben Marlow, the chief City commentator of the Telegraph—to whom I am deeply indebted—says:
“Moreover, ministers repeatedly conflate real investment with opportunistic takeovers when they couldn’t be more different.”
He then goes on to give examples of what he thinks are real investment, and Nissan is right up there, as you would imagine.
I am impressed by that and think I understand it. However, I understand it even better when I read the Financial Stability Report of the Bank of England in October 2021, when it points out that there is a developing danger to our economy in the leveraged loan markets with:
“the trend of increased prevalence of looser underwriting standards has continued, which increases risks to end-investors.”
It goes on to say:
“Recent UK leveraged lending flows have in part been driven by a surge in private equity investment in UK businesses: 2021 private equity investment is on track to exceed its 2019 level, which itself was a strong year.”
In a broader discussion of the indebtedness of this country, it highlights this in particular, which suggests to me that these takeovers have been funded by leveraged loans.
Because I have an interest in sport, I have followed carefully certain takeovers that got a lot of coverage in the sporting media, and I can see how that could work. I am not totally convinced that these are all properly foreign investment. I agree that they have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but if the Bank of England is worried, I am worried.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox, Lord Lansley and Lord Broers, for their helpful and supportive contributions, and my noble friends Lord Stansgate and Lady Chapman for their support. All speakers came at this issue from a different perspective, as did the Minister. This issue is worth taking away to see whether there is a holistic way to deal with it in this complex context.
Before I withdraw my amendment, I conclude by apologising to the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for anticipating that her male colleague would answer. That is not because I am inclined to look for men before I look for women in any context; it was simply because he was the Minister who wrote to me about this and the one to whom I responded. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: National security directions
Amendment 31 not moved.
31A: Clause 5, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(4) If the Secretary of State issues directions under this section then those directions must be reported to each House of Parliament and subsequently listed in the annual report made by ARIA to the Secretary of State.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the House to be notified if the Secretary of State issued directions to ARIA on national security grounds.
I think the noble Viscount is trying to say that he is not moving Amendment 31A. Am I correct?
Amendment 31A withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6: Information
32: Clause 6, page 2, line 40, at end insert—
“(2A) ARIA must provide the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology with such information, in such form, as the Chair of that committee may request, including by sending representatives of ARIA to appear before the committee.This is subject to subsections (4) and (5).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow the Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to request information from ARIA on its operation.
My Lords, this amendment is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. I will try to change gear and be very brief. The amendment would allow the chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to request information from ARIA on its operation. It would place a role for the committee in the Bill. In our view, it is another way to protect ARIA’s reputation.
I am sure the Minister will say that this is unnecessary, as the Science and Technology Committee can always have an inquiry, so we need not bother. This is true, and I agree that ARIA representatives can be questioned, but we should remember the culture of secrecy that the Government are unnecessarily cloaking this organisation with. There is no guarantee that ARIA will feel compelled to respond in full, and it might use this narrative that the Bill is creating around its specialness.
I recall the debate that many of us had when we discussed the National Security and Investment Bill. Several of us were there. There, too, we discussed the need for oversight of issues that might need to remain secret. At the time, the Minister—this Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan—was adamant that the appropriate Select Committee, the BEIS Select Committee, could be empowered to receive secret and confidential information. There was much debate and the Minister was strident in his view that this committee could do that job. The National Security and Investment Bill envisaged the handling of vastly more secret secrets than we are talking about here.
So the idea of trusting the Science and Technology Select Committee to scrutinise ARIA and maintain genuine secrets is consistent with how the Government have already said they want to work elsewhere. For that reason, I expect the Minister to welcome this tidying amendment, which would bring the Bill into line with his thinking on other legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Fox. It seems entirely appropriate that this committee should involve itself in asking for information from ARIA. I am fairly confident, given the Minister’s responses so far, that he would not share that view. This is the same theme that we have been on throughout all our deliberations. Whether it is this specific proposal, or one of the others that we have been trying to tempt the Government with, I am sure that we will be back at this in a couple of weeks’ time.
This has been such a short debate that it is barely worth winding up. I will just reinforce the point that this is a cultural issue, in the sense that we are trying to get over here. It was interesting that the Minister made the rather runic comment that ARIA will interact with Select Committees of this House and the other place in the normal way. I think what we are trying to do is underline the fact that we need rather more than that; we need disclosure as well—otherwise, we are worried that we will not get that. Good heavens, the committee might even look at the framework document when it eventually sees the light of day. How about that? That would be quite novel.
One has seen the benefit of committee reports. The Science and Technology Committee has made extremely constructive comments around ARIA and UKRI. It has demonstrated the benefit of parliamentary scrutiny. Why do the Government think that parliamentary oversight is such a bad thing?
I rise briefly to emphasise the points made by both Front Benches and to say that the Government should welcome an amendment that enables ARIA to be subject to investigation by both Select Committees in both Houses. One of the strengths of Parliament is its Select Committee system, and the reputation of the Science and Technology Committee in another place is very high. I think that, when the Government look back on ARIA in 2031, they will rather wish to have put on record their support for amendments such as this, for the reasons given.
Well, it may surprise the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to know that I largely agree with what she had to say on this. I agree with the sentiments that Select Committees should continue to scrutinise the work of arm’s-length bodies. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, interactions with Select Committees are governed by a different set of rules. They are governed by a long-standing convention set out in the Osmotherly rules, which indicate that members of arm’s-length bodies
“should be as helpful as possible in providing accurate, truthful and full information when giving evidence”
to Select Committees. Furthermore, under the House’s Standing Orders, Select Committees have the power to
“send for persons, papers and records”
relevant to their terms of reference, and for anyone to refuse such a request would be considered contempt of the House.
Finally, as I have said separately, ARIA’s CEO will be personally responsible to the Public Accounts Committee, as the accounting officer. So I do really believe that Select Committees do not need our help in legislation, and probably would not want it, to be able to do their job properly and efficiently. Such guidance is sufficient for ensuring a co-operative relationship between other public bodies and the relevant committees across both Houses. We have not set these things out in legislation before, and I do not believe it should be any different for ARIA.
I hope, therefore, that, with the assurances I have been able to set out—that ARIA will work with Select Committees in the normal way, as other arm’s-length bodies do—it will not be necessary to include any specific provisions in the Bill to enable it to happen.
I thank the Minister for his response and noble Lords for their contributions. I shall read closely the exact words in Hansard but, once again, the Minister seems unaware of the culture of suspicion that the Bill will create around this organisation. That did not need to happen and, in the end, the organisation does not deserve to have that as it sets off on its already difficult task. That said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 32 withdrawn.
Amendment 32A not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clause 7 agreed.
Amendment 33 not moved.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 8: Power to dissolve ARIA
Amendment 34 not moved.
35: Clause 8, page 3, line 35, leave out from “any” to end of line 36
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the power to treat legislative references to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency as references to another body which will be unnecessary as a result of the power to modify, amend, repeal or revoke those references under the power introduced by the Minister’s amendment at page 4, line 4.
My Lords, the Government have brought forward Amendments 35, 36, 44, 45, 46 and 48 in response to your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report on the Bill. I take this opportunity to thank the committee very much for its careful consideration of the Bill and the important scrutiny it has provided. One of its recommendations was that the power to make consequential provision currently contained in Clause 10 is too broad and should be omitted. I have reflected on the committee’s position and consequently given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 10 stand part of the Bill. Amendment 36 would introduce a much narrower and more specific power to make consequential amendments into Clause 8—the only remaining place it would be required.
So I will start by saying that the power to dissolve ARIA through draft affirmative regulations made under Clause 8 is, I believe, an important part of the Bill. Although the DPRRC also raised concerns about this power, there is a strong policy rationale and a clear precedent for this particular delegation of power. As the power can be exercised only 10 years after the Bill receives Royal Assent, I hope that that will give your Lordships sufficient indication of our long-term commitment to ARIA. We have clearly heard that patience will be essential if ARIA is to successfully pursue its most ambitious research and innovation. It must therefore have the opportunity to prove itself before it is judged. I therefore welcome the Commons Science and Technology Committee’s recognition in its report into ARIA that
“these projects will take a long time, potentially 10-15 years, to ‘bear fruit’”.
In terms of precedent, under powers set out in the Public Bodies Act 2011, several bodies established by primary legislation have been dissolved using secondary legislation. The Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, for example, was created by the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 and abolished using powers in the Public Bodies Act in 2013. I of course recognise that the super-affirmative procedure was applied in such instances, but in that particular case this was appropriate in the context of much broader powers. The Public Bodies Act gave Ministers delegated powers not just to abolish bodies but to merge them or change their governance structure and functions. This was also in the context of widespread public body reform, and it was therefore appropriate that the use of the powers was subject to a higher level of scrutiny.
In contrast, the power in Clause 8 is narrow, such that ARIA can only be dissolved. It cannot be merged or have its functions or governance changed in any way, as set out in my response to the DPRRC last week. I hope I have therefore provided sufficient reassurances that this power is justified.
I turn to the revised power to make consequential provision that Amendment 36 introduces. The first thing to say is that consequential provision could now be made in consequence of regulations made only under Clause 8, rather than any provision of the Bill, which represents a substantial narrowing of the previous power contained in Clause 10, which I will oppose.
The second point to emphasise is that, as a result, the power could be exercised only on one occasion, obviously. ARIA can be dissolved only once, and there would be a single opportunity to make consequential amendments in this way. However, ARIA could not be dissolved for at least 10 years, so at least 10 years’ worth of legislation will be passed or made before the power to make consequential amendments could be exercised. It is likely that there will be references to ARIA in those 10 years of future legislation. This amendment extends the power to make consequential amendments to legislation whenever passed or made, so references to ARIA that might appear in future can be removed, leaving a tidy and orderly statute book. I hope that all noble Lords agree that this is a sensible approach.
The final point to make here is that, as a result of this change to the power to make consequential provision, minor and technical changes to other parts of the Bill are required. Amendments 35, 44, 45, 46 and 48 to Clauses 8(4)(e), 11, 12 and 14 fall into that category. These correct the Clause 8 provisions and those on regulations, interpretation and commencement to reflect the replacement of Clause 10. They are consequential on that substantive change and are therefore necessary.
I hope that noble Lords will take a similar view and recognise that, in bringing forward these amendments, we are both taking the right approach and demonstrating the Government’s commitment to engage with and act on the DPRRC’s recommendations. I therefore beg to move.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that, in this group, government Amendments 44, 45, 46 and 48 do not appear as government amendments on the printed list.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. Without sounding whiny, this would have benefited from a “Dear colleagues” letter in advance. It caused me a little head scratching over the weekend when I was trying to fathom the purpose of these amendments, which the Minister has now told us. I guess it kept me busy.
We are delighted that the Government have accepted one of the two recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I am speaking to oppose the Question that Clause 8 stand part of the Bill. As the Minister referred to, this is the other recommendation of the DPRRC. That committee was clear in its assessment of the Bill:
“Although ARIA is to be created by Act of Parliament, clause 8 allows Ministers to dissolve it by an affirmative statutory instrument. They cannot do so for another ten years and they must consult ARIA before doing so. They do not have to offer any reasons.”
The DPRRC continues:
“We object to this on principle. If Parliament creates a body, it should be for Parliament to dissolve the body. It should not be for Ministers to dissolve it by statutory instrument, even an affirmative instrument.”
The DPRRC could not be clearer. The Minister’s response to that was simply that he did not agree. We knew he would not agree, but this is a very influential committee and what it says matters.
Although I am calling for Clause 8 not to stand part of the Bill, there are parts of that clause that the Government might want to salvage. This gives the Government an opportunity to come back, perhaps with another lengthy set of amendments on Report. It is a chance for the Minister to accept the view of this influential committee, just as he has on Clause 10.
The Minister will point to the fact that this statutory instrument is affirmative, but he will do so knowing that this is a poor alternative. The dissolution of ARIA will throw up issues—not the sort of issues faced by the organisation that the Minister chose to use as an example of one which a statutory instrument has been used to dissolve in the past. For example, when and if ARIA comes to be dissolved, the fate of assets will be crucial. By then, the taxpayer will probably have poured billions of pounds into creating those assets. Parliament needs a say on how they will be allocated in future yet, as we know, statutory instruments are unamendable—take it or leave it. As I have often rehearsed on other Bills, your Lordships’ House virtually always takes them, sometimes with a touch of regret, but takes them none the less. Primary legislation, however, is amendable. It gives Parliament a role in deciding the fate of the organisation and these assets, which, I remind the Government, the taxpayers have created through their investment. That is just one of the recommendations of the DPRRC. It should be honoured. I beg to move.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I have a lot of sympathy with what he has to say. We welcome the government amendments, which act on the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and remove Clause 10 from the Bill. We can only hope that this is something of a sign of good habits to come and that the Government will prove attentive to the committee’s concerns about other legislation.
On Clause 8, where the Government have chosen not to act on the committee’s objection, rather than repeat everything that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, just said, I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I think the best way to sum up the DPRRC’s concern over the clause is that the Government were designing the law for convenience rather than necessity. It also made the point that, after 10 years or longer of ARIA’s operation, the agency would be well established and dissolving it might be a bit more complicated than Clause 8 suggests. Let us hope that ARIA makes it to 10 years.
We are content with the changes made by this group, but it would be helpful to the Committee for the Minister to respond in a bit more detail to some of the concerns. Can he outline how the Government envisage the winding down of ARIA would be managed? In particular, how would parliamentarians be kept informed and, aside from ARIA, who does he think it might be a good idea to consult before bringing forward regulations under Clause 8?
I can be very brief, because I do not have a lot to add to what I said earlier, beyond acknowledging to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that it might have been helpful for me to write a “Dear colleagues” letter informing him and other Members that we had tabled these amendments. They did have the information in advance, but it may have been more helpful specifically to draw noble Lords’ attention to it.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, I have set out why we think the power is justified. In terms of asking us to set out further thoughts on how we might wind it down, we have not even established it yet. Beyond taking the power potentially to do this in 10 years’ time, on the specific circumstances in which this might arise and what might happen in consequence, Parliament will clearly be kept informed through the normal statutory instrument process—
I have to respond because of the mocking tone of the Minister. He said I should not be asking how he would be winding this up—but it was he who put in the clause about winding up the agency that he is trying to create, so I do not think it is unreasonable to press him on exactly how that might be implemented.
Certainly I apologise to the noble Baroness if she interpreted my remarks as mocking: I was not at all implying that. I was just pointing out that we are still in the process of setting up the agency and recruiting the senior leadership team. I am justifying why the power is in the Bill. The noble Baroness asked me to set out further thoughts on how we might write down something that might happen in 10 years’ time. I will write to her if there is any further information, but I think I am correct in saying that not a great deal of thought has been given to how we might abolish something that we have not yet set up. I did not intend a mocking tone: it was just a point of fact.
I do not have anything to add to what I said earlier. We think the power is justified and there is a precedent for this—but I totally accept that this might be a point of difference between us.
Amendment 35 agreed.
Amendment 36 agreed.
Clause 8, as amended, agreed.
36A: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection of ARIA’s independence
In exercising functions in respect of ARIA, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to protect its independence.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to have regard for the need to protect ARIA’s autonomy.
My Lords, at the request of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and with the agreement of the Committee, I will move her amendment. My noble friend had hoped we would have a third Committee day and would go slowly today so that she could move it herself on Wednesday. However, she realised earlier this afternoon that that was not going to be the case, so I agreed to move it. I will be as brief as possible, because this is a relatively small point. The intention of the amendment is to underline the Government’s commitment to the independence of ARIA, and it requires the Secretary of State to protect the independence of ARIA.
My noble friend tabled the amendment because she heard the discussions on our first day in Committee about the purpose of ARIA and its mission, including whether it should be directed to act only in certain areas, particularly in relation to climate change. She was very concerned to ensure that the spirit of ARIA—that it should be unencumbered and able to think the unthinkable wherever it wants to pursue its issues—should be preserved.
Obviously, huge amounts of money are spent on research and development overall by the Government and by other organisations in the economy, all of which are subject to lots of different kinds of checks and balances, and controls and directions. But ARIA is supposed to be very different, and it would be easy to start altering the way in which it worked: for example, by attaching conditions to grants that are made to it, and by constraining or confining what it did, using the powers in the Bill. But ARIA is going to be a success only if it is genuinely independent of government, if it is not dancing to the Government’s tune in any sense, and if it is allowed to go wherever it wants in seeking new areas for research and innovation. I think the Committee understands that ARIA’s independence from government should be preserved.
So this very small amendment underlines the concepts that we believe underlie the creation of ARIA, and I hope that it will be helpful to the Government in enshrining its independence from government. I beg to move.
I just want to make a quick observation about this. Obviously, we have argued to have climate as ARIA’s overriding priority, and we stand by that—but should that not be the case, this amendment would not cause any problems were it not for the fact that the Government were declining amendments on oversight and scrutiny. I do not think that the two are incompatible. You can have an independent agency, and we would not wish to have government interference, but there is no compromising of independence by allowing for freedom of information or some of the other measures that we have suggested.
My Lords, I took the time to discuss this amendment with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on completely representing her views on it—but, strangely, we approach this from opposite directions and land in the same place, similarly to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. There is a false dichotomy here. Just because an organisation has a purpose does not mean to say that it cannot be independent. On that basis, it is important for it to be independent, and it is equally important for it to have a purpose—and that purpose should be climate change.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her comments and for stepping so ably into the breach to represent my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe in her amendment. It is perfectly right that we have returned once again to the central issue of ARIA’s independence, because it is a core part of equipping it for its unique funding approach and for the distinct contribution that we expect it to make to the UK’s R&D landscape.
I support the ambition for the Secretary of State to be mindful of protecting ARIA’s independence in all its interactions with the organisations, where such interactions are required by the Secretary of State’s very limited functions. However, I differ with my noble friend on how we protect its independence in a practical way. I submit that it would be the accumulation of many small things—perhaps creeping influence over strategy, new mechanisms of oversight, or ever-increasing reporting demands on issues of political priority—that would be the arena in which ARIA’s independence would be compromised or lost.
My noble friend Lord Willetts, who is not in his place, spoke eloquently on Wednesday about the challenges he has experienced in trying to carve out space for new approaches in the current R&D system. At that stage, we also had a fairly extensive debate on the accumulated obligations placed on ARIA. We considered how those obligations might be balanced with this vital principle of independence, in the context of amendments which, I believe, would have diminished ARIA’s autonomy in a way that would have been entirely counterproductive. If we truly wish to safeguard ARIA’s independence, it is on those issues that we must look to do it, and there is no easy alternative.
I do not suggest that this is a moment to reopen that debate, but I submit that we cannot have this conversation on independence in an abstract way, divorced from consideration of the practical and operational ways in which it will or will not be given to ARIA. I am sure that there will be plentiful opportunities to discuss this important issue in future. I hope, on the basis of the reassurances I have been able to provide, that my noble friend will, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, feel able to withdraw the amendment today.
My Lords, let me thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, that independence is not incompatible with the Freedom of Information Act and other aspects that are included in the proposition for ARIA in this Bill. However, I do not think that independence is compatible with prescribing that it should focus only on climate change. We will have to agree to differ on that point.
The point of this amendment was that the Secretary of State had to respect the independence of ARIA, not that everybody else had to respect that independence, and I am not sure that I got the ringing endorsement of the Secretary of State not interfering in ARIA. However, we have had a good debate, and I am sure that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe will enjoy reading it in Hansard. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 36A withdrawn.
Clause 9 agreed.
Schedule 3: Consequential amendments
37: Schedule 3, page 13, leave out lines 1 to 14
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the amendments that would have treated the Advanced Research and Invention Agency as a reserved matter in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland and funding provided to it through the Science and Technology Act 1965 as a reserved matter in Scotland.
My Lords, the Bill as introduced to the House added ARIA to the lists of reserved bodies within the three devolution Acts. That approach would have conferred on ARIA the same constitutional status as UKRI, which is the UK’s primary public R&D funder. More importantly, it would also have ensured ARIA’s independence by placing it outside the competence of the devolved legislatures.
Since then, my ministerial colleagues and officials have been in close discussions with all three devolved Administrations throughout the passage of the Bill, on the need for legislative consent Motions to be passed in the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly. During those discussions, principled objections were raised to the creation of ARIA as a reserved body. As a result, we have worked—as I am sure the Committee would expect us to do—to develop an alternative way of guaranteeing ARIA’s independence, through something called the “agreement on the independence of ARIA”, which all four Administrations of the UK have said that they will abide by, and which will sit beneath the overarching memorandum of understanding on devolution.
I am delighted that the text of this document has now been agreed by all four Administrations of the UK and that we have been able to share it with noble Lords in advance of this discussion. I apologise for the fact that we were not able to provide the opportunity for noble Lords to consider this document at greater length before the Committee. However, I wanted to share it as soon as possible, albeit fairly shortly in advance, rather than not sharing it at all. I am confident that this agreement will allow ARIA’s important characteristics to be protected. On that basis, I am content to remove, through Amendments 37 and 40, the reservations that we originally placed in the Bill.
ARIA will remain a single UK-wide organisation able to find and fund the most exciting projects in all regions and nations of the UK. Through the agreement, all four Administrations of the UK have committed to upholding the important principles of ARIA’s strategic autonomy, operational autonomy and minimal bureaucracy.
My noble friend also sent a letter to me following last week’s Committee; that was shared only with the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. My noble friend’s department has form on not sharing widely with those in Committee when things are circulated. Can he go back to his department to ensure that all active members of the Committee get access to all the information circulated in response to its deliberations?
My apologies—we shared it with those who had contributed to the debate on the subject previously. In retrospect, we should perhaps have shared it more widely; we will now do so.
As my noble friend Lady Bloomfield set out last week, all four Administrations are equally committed to facilitating ARIA’s seamless operation throughout the UK. I hope that this will provide some comfort, in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who raised some important points on this issue at the time. My department will remain as ARIA’s sponsoring department to reflect the power of the UK Secretary of State, who alone has the power to fund ARIA through Clause 4 of the Bill. In our view, the accountability for that use of public money must therefore flow through the UK Government.
In addition to these protections for ARIA’s autonomy, the agreement provides an input mechanism from a new forum of science advisers to the four Administrations of the UK, directly to ARIA’s executive leadership. While there will be no obligation for ARIA specifically to respond to this input, the scientific challenges relevant to the policy priorities of all four Governments will be jointly communicated.
I appreciate that noble Lords have raised questions on how this will work in detail. At the moment this is necessarily a high-level document and clearly there is more work to do, at a working level, to flesh out this agreement between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This work is ongoing and will be the subject of further work in the months to come. However, as a result of it, Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all now given in-principle consent for the Bill on the basis of this approach. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will similarly be able to support it. I beg to move.
It was my intention to contribute to this debate briefly. Since the Minister has referred to the agreement, I probably ought to read it and digest it before venturing any additional comments.
I just point out to the Minister that the timing of all this is very odd. As far as I could have seen, and as I understood it in preparing for this debate, as of 9 November the Scottish Minister was not in the position of thinking that there was any agreement with the Government. He wrote to the convener of the Scottish Parliament on 9 November, set out the sequence of events stretching back to March, said that the Scottish Government, like the Welsh Government, were not in a position to agree legislative consent and gave the reasons he would not do so.
These amendments went down on 12 November, I think, so somewhere between 9 and 12 November the Government decided to do this thing. During the course of last week, they must have immediately entered into discussions with the devolved Administrations on the basis that they would give legislative consent. They have made clear all the way through that if it was not reserved, they supported the principle of the Bill and would give legislative consent to it. Now we are presented with this agreement and the consequences.
My noble friend is absolutely right; there are consequences. We had a debate last Wednesday about the role of the Chief Scientific Adviser in relation to the board, and the devolved Administrations have been looking for their chief scientific advisers to have the same status as the United Kingdom Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. I think that is not what they are looking for now; it clearly would be unhelpful were that to be the case. It would have been helpful to have told us about that in the course of that debate last Wednesday and to have prefigured the fact that we come on to this at a later stage.
At the end of the day, they get money. Unless I am missing something, if you shift something from a reserved matter to a devolved competence, Barnett consequentials flow from that. What are they? How is the budget to be divided? Is it to be divided or is it going to be added to by way of the Barnett consequentials? I think we should be told that. Will that therefore mean that we anticipate that the other devolved Administrations will make grants to ARIA? Does this agreement suggest that there will be a pooled budget with grants made by the Secretary of State but that because of the nature of ARIA’s independence the grants will be in a global sum with few, if any, conditions attached to them and the devolved Administrations are agreeing to that? It begs questions. At the moment, I for one cannot debate the consequences of this set of changes because we do not have the information on which to do it. Even if we maybe let it through on the grounds that it helps to get the legislative consents through, I think we may have to return to some of the consequentials on Report.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, because he shares some of my concerns. I thank the Minister for communicating the information earlier today. Obviously I will read the actual agreement with great interest, but of course one accepts the noble Lord’s assurance that this agreement stands and will operate effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raises a good point about the previous objections of the devolved Administrations, which now appear to have been withdrawn. At what date can we expect legislative consent Motions to come forward from the devolved Administrations?
I also have a detailed question. In an earlier debate, my noble friend Lord Fox made the point that having a purpose is not at war with the concept of independence for an organisation. I was thinking of that point as I read the paragraph in the Minister’s communication that says the agreement
“allows for the UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor, and scientific advisors or equivalent representatives on behalf of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to jointly communicate to ARIA the scientific challenges relevant to the policy priorities of their respective administrations. In keeping with ARIA’S autonomy, there will be no obligation for it to direct funding towards these issues.”
That worries me slightly. I am not arguing that ARIA should follow the separate views of the four nations, but if all four nations, via their scientific advisers, were to say to ARIA that one of the most important government priorities should be the road to zero carbon—I very much hope they would say that—would the Government really be happy for ARIA to invest in and champion a technology that increases CO2 emissions? There are serious, fundamental points, rather than points of detail, that we still need to take into account on ARIA’s purpose and it working with the grain of government policy—not dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” but working with the grain of public policy.
Finally, I underline the concerns and questions about Barnett consequentials. I will not repeat the point; it is absolutely clear that this will have implications. I look forward to the expressed views of the devolved Administrations and the detail of the agreement when it becomes public. Given the information we have been given today, I am sure it will be possible for us to scrutinise it before Report.
It was slightly surprising to get this agreement so late in the day. Although I have seen that it exists, I cannot pretend that I have properly digested it or discussed it with colleagues in, for example, the Welsh Assembly. I would have been very keen to do that. It is very clear that a legislative consent Motion was not going to be forthcoming as things stood and that if the Government wanted ARIA to embark with support from the devolved Administrations they had to do something. There is now this agreement.
I would accept the Minister’s assurance, but can he clearly confirm that this agreement is not just his but has been reached with the devolved Administrations and that they are all fully signed up to it, before we allow this to go through? My life will not be worth living if I go back to my office and find that we have agreed to something that has not secured the full support of—to pick one at random—the Welsh Assembly. I would really appreciate it if the Minister could confirm that. Can he also speak to this issue of Barnett consequentials, which I had not considered would be part of the debate? How do the Government think this would or would not have any consequentials for funding for the devolved Administrations?
My Lords, I rise to be genuinely helpful to the Minister. It appears that I am the most privileged Member of this Committee; everyone’s correspondence seems to be copied to me, although I am not sure if in this case it was a privilege, as I got it exactly one hour and five minutes before the Committee was due to sit. It has a draft agreement of 19 clauses, one of which refers to other agreements—too many for me to count in the small print I have on my phone—so I have not given it any serious consideration.
I think it was copied to me because I raised a question in an intervention to seek assurance that all aspects of this legislation that engaged with devolution issues had been agreed with the devolved Administrations. It turns out that there were at least aspects still under discussion. I understand that that can happen. I suggest that, because of the complexity of this, the Government arrange a meeting, between now and the next time most of us meet again at the next stage of this Bill, with interested parties to explain the situation with devolution. If the Government agree that there are Barnett consequentials—even if they do not, but can be persuaded that, in not agreeing, they are wrong—they can then say how they will deal with that significant complexity.
We must thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for raising in some detail last time we met where we stand on all these issues. None of us was comfortable with any of this and none of us was as sited as the Government were of everything that is going on. At the very least, there should be the offer of some engagement with Members of this Committee who are interested in these issues and would raise them in some context on Report. This should happen in sufficient time before Report for it to be meaningful, so that some of these matters, which may lend themselves to simple enough explanations, can be put to bed.
My Lords, this has obviously been an unsatisfactory semi-debate. That dissatisfaction has rung out in various corners of the Room. The advice of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, seems good; if we continue on our current trajectory, Wednesday afternoon will have some time in it. I will not repeat the questions which have been raised, but I add another which we would like to address on Wednesday afternoon when the Minister calls us together to explain. Is this outwith the framework agreement process? Is there a separate process going on? I add that to the list of unanswered questions.
I thank noble Lords for their comments. First, on the agreement, the text has been agreed by Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I thought it best to share it as soon as possible; I wanted to share it in advance—it was not far in advance but it was slightly in advance—rather than not share it at all. We originally committed to sharing it ahead of Report; I will ensure that all noble Lords have the opportunity properly to scrutinise it ahead of that and we can return to the issue then. Once noble Lords have had an opportunity to discuss it, I would be very happy to arrange a further briefing with officials for anyone interested in this subject.
For the benefit of saving the life of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, which is of course crucial for me, I confirm that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Ministers—particularly the Welsh—are all content with these arrangements and have written to give in-principle consent on the basis of them, so she should be safe for a little while longer. All are working to secure time in their legislatures. I cannot give definite dates yet for the Motions to be passed by all three; that is, of course, a matter for their own Assemblies and Parliaments. Sadly, Northern Ireland does not currently have a formal chief scientific adviser position. It is updating its structures and the language in the agreement reflects that.
On the Barnett consequentials, or rather not on that issue, this is still UK-wide funding, so we do not expect it to impact on the arrangements around funding to devolved Governments. In response to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about the framework agreement, that is not part of this agreement. The framework agreement is a governance document, for the UK Government. BEIS is the sponsoring department, so it is only to do with BEIS and does not concern the devolved Administrations.
As I reiterated, once noble Lords have had a chance to read these documents a bit more closely, I would be very happy to discuss further to arrange a briefing meeting with the relevant officials. Obviously, a lot of discussion has gone on in the background on this, but if the process was a little imperfect, I hope noble Lords will agree that, in essence, we have ended up in a good position. I am sure we will return to this subject. With those reassurances, I will move the amendments for which I am responsible.
Amendment 37 agreed.
38: Schedule 3, page 13, line 14, at end insert—
“Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003
6A_ In section 61L(1) of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 (meaning of “public authority”), after paragraph (b) insert—“(ba) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency,”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency to be a public authority for the purposes of Chapter 10 of Part 2 of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 (workers’ services provided through intermediaries to public authorities or medium or large clients).
Amendments 38, 41 and 43 are consequential on the omission of Clause 10 from the Bill and the narrowing of the power we talked about earlier to make consequential amendments through regulations. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee suggested that any necessary consequential amendments should be added to Schedule 3, so we are responding to that recommendation here. The amendments apply to ARIA a set of relevant obligations that would usually apply to “public authorities”, which are sometimes defined in reference to Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which, of course, ARIA is not listed in. Bespoke provisions therefore are required.
I will briefly summarise the obligations that will apply to ARIA as a result of these amendments. The first relate to the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 and the Social Security Contributions (Intermediaries) Regulations 2000, with which I am sure all noble Lords are intimately familiar. This legislation includes the off-payroll working rules, which are designed to ensure that individuals working like employees but through their own company—usually a personal service company—pay broadly the same income tax and national insurance contributions as those who are directly employed. These rules have been reformed over the past five years to improve compliance by moving the responsibility for determining whether the off-payroll working rules apply from the individual’s personal service company to the client engaging them. That reform came into effect in the public sector in April 2017, and in the private and voluntary sectors on 6 April this year. I do not believe that there is a justification for ARIA to be treated differently from any other public bodies here.
The second element is the Data Protection Act 2018, which gives the GDPR effect in UK law. Through the Bill as it was introduced, ARIA would already be subject to the normal requirements of the GDPR, but the obligations on public authorities are different, in terms of the bases for data processing and governance and oversight arrangements. Similarly, in this case, I do not believe that there is a justification for ARIA to be treated differently from other comparable bodies in this important area.
Finally, the amendments to the Enterprise Act 2016 and Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 allow us to avoid a situation where ARIA is considered part of the private sector for the purposes of business impact assessments of regulatory activities. Again, I do not believe that it is appropriate for impacts to ARIA, as a public sector body, to be included in any such considerations. I also do not believe that it would be appropriate for ARIA to avail itself of the support available through the office of the Small Business Commissioner, which is intended for private sector entities. So, while public authority obligations in other legislation have been considered, they were not assessed to be sufficiently relevant to ARIA to make further amendments here. I beg to move.
My Lords, there is a splendid irony in what the Minister has just said as he trotted through the contortions of these amendments. I think he had a former life as a contortionist: it was quite extraordinary, really.
I do not think that these amendments are consequential; I think they are “Oops, we forgot something, actually”, as far as the Bill is concerned. Because of the way they treated the FoIA, suddenly everybody woke up to the fact that, for the purposes of that, ARIA was not a public body, because the Government had been so keen not to define it as a public body and therefore it had to be defined as a public body for the purposes of other legislation in a rather different way. So I do not think that this is consequential—except that it is something that probably should have been thought about when the original FoIA omission decision was made. No doubt everything will be clear after Report: the Minister will have his definition of a public body, everything will be logical and clear, and we will not have to have contortions such as this.
I thank the noble Lord for his explanation, which I find rather more digestible than the Minister’s. It would be very inconsistent of me not to make this one point: we would not need to be going through all of this had the Government done what they ought and subjected ARIA to FoI. It shows what a strange decision it was that the Government have had to do all this. I just wanted to make that point, really. I do not think there is much more to say about all of this except that, should the Government change their mind, or have their mind changed, on Report, we might have to have this kind of carry-on again as a consequence. Let us hope that we do.
Amendment 38 agreed.
Amendment 39 not moved.
Amendments 40 and 41
40: Schedule 3, page 13, leave out lines 15 to 30
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the amendments that would have treated the Advanced Research and Invention Agency as a reserved matter in relation to Wales and funding provided to it through the Science and Technology Act 1965 as outside the functions of the Welsh Ministers.
41: Schedule 3, page 13, line 35, at end insert—
“Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015
10A_ The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 is amended as follows.10B_ In section 7 (sections 4 to 6: interpretation), in subsection (2), for the definition of “public authority” substitute—““public authority” means—(a) a public authority within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (see section 3 of that Act), or(b) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency;”.10C_ In section 22 (sections 21 and 23 to 25: “qualifying regulatory provisions” etc), in subsection (8), for the definition of “public authority” (but not the “and” immediately after it) substitute—““public authority” means—(a) a public authority within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (see section 3 of that Act), or(b) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency;”.10D_ In section 27 (sections 21 to 25 etc: interpretation), in subsection (6), for the definition of “public authority” (but not the “and” immediately after it) substitute—““public authority” means— (a) a public authority within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (see section 3 of that Act), or(b) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency;”.10E_ In section 28 (duty to review regulatory provisions in secondary legislation), in subsection (4), for the words following ““public authority”” substitute “means—(a) a public authority within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (see section 3 of that Act), or(b) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.”Enterprise Act 2016
10F_ In section 13 of the Enterprise Act 2016 (definitions used in Part 1), in the definition of “public authority”—(a) omit “or” at the end of paragraph (a);(b) after paragraph (b) insert “, or(c) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.”Data Protection Act 2018
10G_ The Data Protection Act 2018 is amended as follows.10H_ In section 7 (meaning of “public authority” and “public body”)—(a) in subsection (1), after paragraph (b) (but before the “and” at the end of that paragraph) insert—“(ba) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency,”;(b) in subsection (4), for “described in subsection (1)(a) or (b)” substitute “described or mentioned in subsection (1)(a), (b) or (ba)”.10I_(1) Section 21 (definitions for purposes of Chapter 3 of Part 2) is amended as follows. (2) In subsection (5), in the definition of “FOI public authority”—(a) omit “or” at the end of paragraph (a);(b) after paragraph (b) insert “, or(c) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.”(3) At the end insert—“(8) In relation to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—(a) for the purposes of subsection (6)(a)—(i) section 3(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is to be read as if “public authority” included that Agency, and(ii) section 3(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (asp 13) is to be read as if “authority” included that Agency, and(b) subsection (7) does not apply.”Social Security Contributions (Intermediaries) Regulations
10J_(1) In regulation 3A of the Social Security Contributions (Intermediaries) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/727) (meaning of “public authority”), after paragraph (b) insert—“(ba) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency,”.(2) In regulation 3A of the Social Security Contributions (Intermediaries) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/728) (meaning of “public authority”), after paragraph (b) insert—“(ba) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency,”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts amendments of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, the Enterprise Act 2016, the Data Protection Act 2018 and certain regulations to treat the Advanced Research and Invention Agency in the same way as a body that is a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Amendments 40 and 41 agreed.
Amendment 42 not moved.
43: Schedule 3, page 14, line 3, at end insert—
12_(1) In Article 2 of the UK GDPR (material scope), in paragraph (5)(d), for “and (7)” substitute “to (8)”.(2) In sub-paragraph (1), “UK GDPR” has the same meaning as in the Data Protection Act 2018 (see sections 3(10) and 205(4) of that Act).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 13, line 35, so far as it inserts section 21(8) of the Data Protection Act 2018.
Amendment 43 agreed.
Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.
Clause 10: Power to make consequential provision
Clause 10 disagreed.
Clause 11: Regulations
Amendments 44 and 45
44: Clause 11, page 4, line 29, leave out “any of the following” and insert “regulations under section 8”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on leaving out Clause 10.
45: Clause 11, page 4, line 32, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 4, line 29.
Amendments 44 and 45 agreed.
Clause 11, as amended, agreed.
Clause 12: Interpretation
46: Clause 12, page 5, leave out lines 4 to 8
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at Clause 8, page 4, line 4.
Amendment 46 agreed.
Clause 12, as amended, agreed.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14: Commencement
47: Clause 14, page 5, line 23, at end insert—
“(1A) Before regulations may be made under this section, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of the framework agreement outlining—(a) the relationship between ARIA and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,(b) the relationship between ARIA and any other relevant government departments, (c) the interaction between ARIA and existing research and development, innovation, translation and funding institutions; and(d) any further relevant reporting requirements of ARIA.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a copy of ARIA’s framework agreement before regulations can be made to commence the substantive parts of the bill.
My Lords, this is the last group of amendments in Committee, and it is probably just as well, because if the Minister has any more jelly babies I suspect he will go into a coma. We have established through both our useful meetings with him and Second Reading that the framework agreement is a crucial document to point the way to how ARIA will operate and its future relationships. Without knowledge of that document, we are being asked to approve all manner of clauses, as we just have, that set ARIA in motion before we know how it will operate—actually, before we know what it is.
With Amendment 47, my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and I are offering the Minister an alternative to the Government’s magical mystery tour approach. Remember that this tour comes with a ticket price of £800 million of taxpayers’ money—and that is just the start. The Minister is loading us on to his metaphorical charabanc, ready to go who knows where, flat cap in place. The amendment is intended to remove some of that mystery. Thanks to it, before the vehicle can be put in gear, we must at least be told where we are going.
I have perhaps laboured that image a little much but, as I said, it is the last group. More prosaically, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a copy of ARIA’s framework agreement before regulations can be made to commence the substantive parts of the Bill. It continues our theme of ensuring that Parliament has sight of, and an appropriate say in, the progress of this important institute, and it would do so without impeding ARIA’s progress or meddling with its future. In this way, the Minister can remove the mystery without harming the magic, so I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not need to do very much more. My noble friend is finishing this symphony of a Bill Committee con brio, with metaphorical charabancs, mystery and magic. What more do we need at the end of a Bill stage?
I point out that the equivalent UKRI document of 2018 runs to 60 pages and 16 chapters. It covers a huge range of information: the purpose of UK research and innovation, its powers and duties, its aims, the partnership principles, and the responsibilities of the CEO. It then goes on to deal with devolution and relationships with other bodies, public appointments to UKRI, reviews of boards and committees, and so on. There is some really important content in the UKRI framework document, and I am sure that the ARIA document will not be very different. I very much hope that the Minister will reconsider the decision. On the arrival of the CEO, the Minister said that it followed the Treasury’s standard template. Even something in draft, which does not have to be agreed by the CEO, would seem fundamental to our understanding of what ARIA is going to do.
My Lords, I support Amendment 47, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones. I feel at a bit of a disadvantage, if I can say to my noble friend Lord Browne, that I have no Daily Telegraph article that I can quote in support of what I am about to say. Perhaps he has one in his pocket and he can pass it along.
The relationships between different parts of the scientific landscape do matter. One interesting thing about the period that we have lived through in the past year and a half has been the changing nature of the role and influence of the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. We had a brief mention of that in Committee last week. Amendment 47 refers to the types of relationships that ARIA might have with UKRI, but in particular I would be interested in anything that the Minister might have to say about the relationships between ARIA and the new science and technology council established by the Prime Minister, in which the Chief Scientific Adviser is of course a major figure. Then there is the existing Council for Science and Technology, in which the Chief Scientific Adviser is also involved, and the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy, which has been set up only recently, in which again the Chief Scientific Adviser is involved. Indeed, he is not only the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser—he is now the Government’s Chief Technology Adviser.
We discussed last week why it had been put in the Bill that the Chief Scientific Adviser should be a member of the board of ARIA. I shall not rehash an old debate, but it is an important role. Undoubtedly, any Member of this Committee or anyone who chairs a Select Committee in this House or another place will want to examine the framework document in detail at a hearing, and I would welcome what the Minister has to say about how that document and how relationships between ARIA and others will focus on the Chief Scientific Adviser.
Committees go in cycles: they can get very serious, but we are now getting towards the end, where consideration can descend into banter, if we are not careful. That is not something that I thought I would experience at this end of the building, but it is quite welcome.
I understand exactly where the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, are coming from with this, taking into account what the noble Baroness said. The framework document has been referred to so many times during our consideration; it has done a lot of heavy lifting, yet we have not been able to see a draft of it. That is something that I regret, because it would have been useful to know about it. We got lots of assurances about what it will and will not do, but we have not seen a draft that will enable us to test that or tease it out. That is a shame, and I think that is what is behind the amendment.
It is not great when the Government do this and ask a Committee to take these things on trust, or to take the intention. It is not how it is best for us to work. We take these things and our role in this process seriously, and we want to know how ARIA will operate in relation to the departments and bodies outlined in the amendment.
I thank Members who have contributed to this brief debate. I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, did not exercise us again with his Daily Telegraph subscription, which I was very impressed by. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fox, on saving the best to last with his bravura amendment. He has obviously been searching his thesaurus over the weekend for appropriate analogies. It was well moved and I do understand the seriousness of the issue and the noble Lord’s intention, which relates to the desire, as we have heard, to understand more details of how ARIA will work in practice.
As I mentioned at Second Reading, ARIA’s framework document is a governance document. It is a standard requirement for public bodies—which, of course, ARIA will be. As suggested in the noble Lord’s amendment, it will set the parameters for ARIA’s relationship with BEIS, as its sponsoring department. That is indeed its very purpose.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred to the guidance published by Her Majesty’s Treasury, and I reassure him that, by drawing on the Treasury’s guidance, ARIA’s framework document will ensure that the agency and BEIS work effectively together. It will outline ARIA’s accountability, its decision-making and its financial management structures, along with some broader reporting requirements. However, it is not the appropriate place to codify ARIA’s relationship with other government departments. Other departments have no accountability relationship with ARIA, so its terms of engagement with them are a question of strategy rather than governance. The framework document will not contain any information relating to ARIA’s strategy in terms of collaboration, its project portfolio or indeed, its areas of research interest, all of which, I know, are of great interest to noble Lords.
On the sequencing of publication and commencement, given that both ARIA and the department need to be in agreement on the framework document, I reiterate, as I said at Second Reading, that it is therefore not possible to finalise it before ARIA’s senior leadership is in place, as my noble friend Lady Noakes, pointed out. It is not possible for the framework document to be published in advance of ARIA coming into legal existence. Similarly, the framework document for UKRI, for example, was finalised and published after that body came into legal existence.
Finally, it is worth noting that framework documents are live publications and are amended regularly to reflect any changes in the sponsor department or indeed the arm’s-length body itself, and they are all thoroughly reviewed every three years.
On the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, on whether the framework document will outline the role of the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser on ARIA, it is likely to. I will be happy to write to the noble Viscount with any more detail that I can on that.
I hope therefore that noble Lords understand that, in our view, there is a logical process to follow in the establishment of a public body and therefore that they will accept my assurance that we will publish the finalised framework document as soon as practicably possible.
I have a couple of questions before the Minister sits down—or rather, I will now respond. The Minister seeks to downplay why we should be interested in the framework agreement, but the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, when he was in his seat, specifically asked about the relationship between UKRI and ARIA. That is just one question; there is a lot of interest in this and a lot of need to know. So the Minister should acknowledge that this is important to people and to organisations that are, in turn, important to this country.
I have a second point on which I would like an answer. I assume from what the Minister said that the sequence is: first, appoint a chief executive and then appoint the person to whom the chief executive reports. I still find that an interesting sequence, but certainly both those people will be asking what our relationship is with, for example, UKRI—or with others, as set out by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate.
It seems to me that either the Government will have an answer to that question during the recruitment process, or they will say, “Well, please yourself”. I suspect they have an answer and, just as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, trusting us with the draft of how that question will be answered would be completely reasonable and something that we would appreciate. With that said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
48: Clause 14, page 5, line 28, leave out “10” and insert “11”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to leave out Clause 10.
Amendment 48 agreed.
Clause 14, as amended, agreed.
Clause 15: Short title
Amendment 49 not moved.
Clause 15 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
Committee adjourned at 6.41 pm.