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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered exiting the EU and science and research.
I am pleased to introduce today’s debate about science and research, which is one of a number of debates about our exit from the European Union. It is important that we continue to give Members of this House the opportunity to discuss and debate Brexit and the impact it will have on our country.
I would like to say up front that the UK’s science base is not only one of this country’s most impressive national achievements, but one of the strongest in the world. Within the G7, we have the most productive science base in terms of papers and citations per unit of GDP. With our world-class universities, four of which are in the world’s top 10, and 18 in the world’s top 100, we have a long-established system that supports and attracts the brightest minds throughout their career and enables them to generate high-quality research. With less than 1% of the global population and just over 3% of global research and development spend, the UK produces almost one fifth of the most highly cited research articles.
The benefits for our economy are very real. The World Economic Forum ranks the UK among the top four nations in the world for university-industry collaboration in R and D, and we ranked third in the global innovation index in 2016.
If hon. Members want a specific example, they might look at the space sector—a high-growth, high-productivity industry that showcases UK research strengths in a global market. Earlier this month at the European Space Agency Council of Ministers, the Government showed their confidence by investing an extra £1.4 billion in ESA, so that we support the world-class science and innovation underpinning this high-growth sector of the economy. Our investment of €170 million in the exploration programme will bring tangible benefits, ensuring, for example, that the ExoMars rover, which is being built here, in Stevenage, is completed and launched.
Thanks to our investments we now lead the research and innovation programmes in ESA for telecoms, Earth observation and navigation, thereby positioning the UK to seize opportunities in those growing markets. I also signed a new memorandum of understanding with ESA to ensure that its European centre for space applications and telecommunications at Harwell, which is a fast-growing space cluster in Oxfordshire, is the focus for the agency’s commercial exploitation of space data.
Those and earlier investments are delivering results. The space sector in this country is growing strongly. It is now worth £13.7 billion a year to the UK economy, employing just under 40,000 people, and we are ambitious for it. We want to increase our share in the global sector to 10% by 2030, creating 100,000 new jobs.
Space is one of a number of success stories that are in part due to Government investments in collaborative structures with international partners in Europe and around the world—a story that we plan to continue writing long after we have left the European Union.
The Minister has mentioned collaboration with EU partners and others around the world. I represent a university that has given us Dolly the sheep and, indeed, Higgs boson, so we know that collaboration works, but the only reason that Dolly the sheep and Higgs boson are associated with the University of Edinburgh is that it was able to lead those collaborative projects. We are hearing already that the prospect of leading such collaborative projects is being jeopardised, because of the decision to leave the European Union. Will the Minister do all that he possibly can to ensure that universities such as Edinburgh in my constituency are protected in our exiting the European Union?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. That is why the Government have, in various announcements, given assurances to UK institutions and institutions across the European Union that we remain full members of the European Union and that we are eligible to lead European bids and to compete successfully in bids for funding streams. We continue to do so and we want institutions such as that which the hon. Gentleman represents in Edinburgh to continue to be as successful as they have been in the past.
This Government recognise that our world-leading science and research must be at the very heart of our industrial strategy, and we are matching rhetoric with resources. At the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced an additional £2 billion a year for R and D by 2021. That is the single biggest uplift in research and innovation spending in decades and it is an opportunity for us to make Britain, in the Prime Minister’s words, the
“global go-to place for scientists, innovators and tech investors”.
My hon. Friend is making an important point. Does he agree that that investment and commitment also builds business confidence? This week, AstraZeneca opened a £120 million investment site, which demonstrates its commitment to the UK economy because of the support that he rightly highlights.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. It certainly boosts not only the confidence of our research communities, but that of the business community, which sees that we are putting innovation at the very heart of our industrial strategy. For every pound of public investment in research, we get back more than £7 of net economic benefit, both at local and national level. When we invest in research, we invest in our wider prosperity.
Our universities are successful in winning European funding bids. In fact, we have the top four slots of all European institutions, in Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and University College London—[Interruption.]—in terms of the share of participations. That underscores the strengths of our university system and we want them to continue to be able to bid successfully for as long as we are members of the European Union.
We want that level of economic benefit to continue long after we leave the EU, which is why we are setting up the industrial strategy challenge fund. It will back priority technologies such as robotics and biotechnology where, just as in the space sector, the UK has the potential to turn research strengths into a global, industrial and commercial lead. Although our research and innovation system is world leading, we are working to ensure that it stays that way by being even more effective. That is why we are implementing Sir Paul Nurse’s recommendation that we should establish a single strategic research and innovation funding body—UK Research and Innovation —which will be a strong and unified voice, championing UK research and innovation nationally and internationally.
The EU is, of course, important for the UK’s research base, but it is not the only game in town. The UK was a place of learning before many of the EU’s member states even existed. Some of our universities have been centres of research excellence for nearly a millennium. The UK will, of course, continue to play a leading role in major, non-EU research collaborations that take place here—from CERN in Switzerland, to the European Space Agency. We are a major partner in the new Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope, whose global headquarters will be based at Jodrell Bank. In the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, it was UK researchers, working with their counterparts, who made the dramatic gravitational waves discovery possible.
All that said, it will, of course, not be lost on many hon. Members that there are many valuable interactions between UK and EU scientific institutions. We work closely with our European neighbours on issues that affect our planet as well as everyone on it.
The Chancellor has promised to guarantee projects that win funds from Horizon 2020 before we leave the EU. He has set two further tests for those guarantees, namely that projects should be good value for money and in line with domestic strategic priorities. However, when researchers apply for Horizon 2020 funds, it is not clear how they will know whether their projects are “good value for money” and in line with the Government’s strategic priorities. Will the Minister please explain, for the benefit not just of the House but of academics, what they are supposed to do to meet the Chancellor’s criteria?
The Chancellor’s statement of
It is not in our interests to turn away from our long-standing partnerships. That message was reinforced by the Prime Minister when she stated that the Government are committed to a positive outcome for UK science as we exit the European Union. Our priorities in that respect can be broken down into two core issues: continuity in international research collaboration and maintenance of the factors that make the UK the location of choice for some of the best minds on the planet. With regard to a smooth departure from the EU, the two core inputs into those issues are funding and people.
On funding, as I have just said, the Chancellor announced in August that the Treasury will guarantee all successful, competitively bid-for EU research funding that is applied for before the UK leaves the EU. That means that UK participants and their international partners can be confident that they will have the funding necessary throughout the life of their Horizon 2020-funded project. The UK, as hon. Members know, has benefited strongly from Horizon 2020, with more than 5,200 participations and more than €2.6 billion of funding support since 2014. We are top of the table for participations and second only to Germany in funding won.
In addition to underwriting the competitively bid-for research funding, the Chancellor has confirmed that funding will be guaranteed for structural and investment fund projects signed before the UK departs from the EU. We have worked closely with the European Commission to provide swift reassurances. Commissioner Moedas stated immediately after the referendum that
“as long as the UK is a member of the European Union, EU law continues to apply and the UK retains all rights and obligations of a Member State.”
That helps us to reinforce the message that we still have the same terms of access to European research funding, including Horizon 2020, for as long as we are a member of the EU.
When it comes to people, we recognise the significant contribution to our research base made by non-UK EU nationals. The Prime Minister made it clear again earlier today that during negotiations she wants to protect the status of EU nationals who are already living here. As a global hub for research excellence, we will always welcome the best and the brightest. Others are concerned about EU national students and the rules regarding their student loans from the Student Loans Company, and I reassure the House that those rules are unchanged and remain in force.
These are important questions, which, my hon. Friend will understand, will form a significant part of the overall discussions around our future relations with the EU. We recognise the benefits of collaboration with European partners, and we will seek to ensure that we can continue to derive strong collaboration arrangements all around the world.
My hon. Friend has been a strong advocate for our university sector since he took up his post. One of the key concerns of my university, and of others across the country—he probably knows what I am about to say—is in relation to international student numbers. Given the opportunities available to us in a post-Brexit world, we have to be better at communicating what immigration looks like in our country. For me, and probably for most universities across the country, it is important that we split up our international student numbers from our overall immigration figures. That has the support of 70% of the public. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree on that point.
Whenever I get the chance, I reiterate that we welcome international students and value the contribution that they make to our universities and our economy. I am pleased to be able to repeat that there is no cap on the number of international students who can come and study here, and there is no plan to introduce one.
It is important that we make it clear that EU students continue to be able to access our loan book and come here to study on home fee status, just as domestic UK students do. The Government have been very quick to make that clear to students applying in 2016-17 and to those who will be applying in 2017-18. We will decide the policy for the 2018-19 academic year in plenty of time for the start of that application process.
May I come back to the point raised by Neil Carmichael, the Chair of the Select Committee on Education? Non-EU nationals may be more reluctant than they were to come to this country for as long as our international relationships with the rest of the EU remain unclear.
As I have said, we want to encourage international students to come to the UK. They bring enormous benefits to our universities and to our economy, and we have no plans to introduce a cap. We have a great higher education system, and the fact that we attract the second-largest group of international students of any country is testament to the quality of our institutions. That will continue after Brexit.
Will my hon. Friend tell us how much it costs to fund the loans to which EU students are entitled—unlike non-EU students, who pay the full fee and help to subsidise the rest of us—given that only 16% are repaying their loans at present? Should that cost not be taken into account when we talk about the costs and benefits of university education in this country?
Of course, we weigh up the costs of enabling EU students to access our loan book—a right that they have for as long as we are a member state of the European Union—and additional costs after the moment of Brexit will be taken into account as we put in place arrangements for EU students for the longer term. For the time being, while we are still members of the European Union, they have a right to come here and access higher education, as home fee students do, and to access our student loan book.
I am pleased to hear what the Minister has to say about students in the UK. Has he had any indication from his interlocutors in the rest of Europe about the status of the increasing number of British school leavers who wish to study in European countries, and the relatively favourable fees that they are expected to pay?
We wish that more UK students took the opportunities that are available to them to study overseas. International mobility is a great life enhancer. It improves employability, and it is something that we want to encourage. We are doing so through programmes promoted by the British Council, such as Generation UK-India and Generation UK-China. Those are valuable programmes that we want to promote.
In the first meeting of my stakeholder working group on EU exit for universities, research and innovation, I was impressed by the positive, outward-looking approach of key decision makers in the UK research and innovation community. As we prepare for the negotiations ahead, no stone can be left unturned in learning about the opportunities ahead for the UK. If we are to win in the global marketplace, we must win the global battle for talent. Britain has always been one of the most welcoming places in the world for brilliant minds, and it will remain so.
Throughout our exit of the European Union, we will continue to build on our ambitious global partnerships, including with our friends in the EU. We will put the UK at the forefront of international research on emerging global challenges, and we will continue to make sure that UK researchers have access to, and leadership of, world-class research facilities. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that our proud history in science and research has a bright future.
The American physicist Dr Michio Kaku calls science “the engine of prosperity”, and that is certainly true for us in the United Kingdom. In 2015, the Campaign for Science and Engineering found that for every £1 invested by the Government on research and development, we got back 20p to 30p each and every year in perpetuity.
I am a strong believer in science for science’s sake—it is part of our innate humanity to seek to push forward the bounds of knowledge—but we must also recognise that as far as the UK economy is concerned science investment is the gift that keeps on giving. Our world-renowned science sector plays a huge role in economic growth and the creation of jobs: 20% of the UK workforce are employed in science roles, and employees earn 40% more than the average wage in these high-skilled, well-paid jobs.
The UK punches above its weight on science. As the Minister said, we represent just 0.9% of the global population, but we produce a staggering 16% of the world’s most significant research citations. We are the home of Stephen Hawking, Ernest Rutherford and the discoverer of the Higgs boson. Peter Higgs may have been at Edinburgh University, but I am proud to say that he was born in Elswick in Newcastle.
Despite such a proud history, we lag behind on investment. Since 2012, UK public sector spending on science has fallen to below 0.5% of our GDP, the lowest level in any G8 country. The UK has long been known for its research and development, but we are at risk of losing that reputation and the rewards we reap for our economy and jobs if the Government refuse to support science through Brexit.
The UK’s world-leading position in technology, research and development is thanks in part to our integration with and the contribution of our soon-to-be ex-partners in the European Union. The Minister mentioned Horizon 2020, and £1 in every £6 spent on science by the European Union is spent in the United Kingdom. I know from my own constituency that scientists not only benefit from EU funding, but from the highly skilled researchers and scientists it brings with it.
Newcastle University employs nearly 600 staff from various European Union countries. European Union funding allows it to retain and attract talented researchers through prestigious European Research Council grants. For example, there are the Marie Sklodowska-Curie individual fellows, 50 of whom are hosted by Newcastle University, which equates to €11 million in research funding. Some of Newcastle’s leading research centres would not be possible without European Union staff. For example, in the John Walton muscular dystrophy research centre team, which is pioneering treatments for children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, more than 30% of staff are European and three of its four lead academics are from the European Union. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have similar examples in their constituencies.
Leaving the European Union presents our science and research sectors with numerous challenges in relation to process, timing, funds, skills, creativity and resources, and the Government have a duty to address those challenges. However, as highlighted in the Science and Technology Committee’s most recent report, the Government’s communication of its Brexit and science strategy—the Minister’s speech notwithstanding—has been woefully insufficient. Why is science not at the heart of the Government’s Brexit strategy when it is at the heart of our economy?
The Government say they will match the funding until the Horizon 2020 programme expires, but that suggests they are planning to withdraw from the scheme thereafter. The Royal Society has estimated that the programme accounts for 22.2% of global research programmes, which is higher than either China’s or the US’s contributions to global research. Why would we seek to withdraw from such a scheme? We receive significantly more from the EU than we pay in: we received €8.8 billion between 2007 and 2013, as against the €5.4 billion we paid in. We do not have to lose access to the framework programmes, because 13 non-member states currently enjoy associate country status, which gives them full access to Horizon 2020 funding and the same status as member states.
The benefits of involvement in European Union programmes are not confined to funding. Contrary to the picture painted by many in the leave campaign, EU science and technology institutions actually reduce bureaucracy and streamline administration processes. For example, they prevent the same work from being done in different labs, they spread good practice within the European scientific community and they harmonise clinical trial regulations. The last is absolutely critical for the diffusion and adoption of innovative new treatments on which many lives depend.
In addition, cross-border and cross-discipline collaboration has benefits for innovation and creativity that cannot be expressed in pounds, shillings and pence—or in euros. If the Government pursue their commitment to ending existing European Union freedom of movement arrangements, these benefits will be jeopardised. In 2014, Switzerland held a referendum blocking free movement for Croatian nationals, and that led directly to their suspension from Horizon 2020.
The Conservatives cannot call themselves the party of business while actively working to undermine our science and technology sectors. The Prime Minister’s astounding refusal to reassure European Union nationals living in this country that they will continue to be able to do so and the Home Secretary’s reported plans to halve student visa numbers highlight their failure to recognise the potency of British scientific research in the wider British economy. We are entering a fourth industrial revolution and technological advancement is central to the way in which we work, but the Government are seeking to curtail our access to the brightest and best in science, as well as curtailing opportunities for our own citizens to work and study abroad.
The Conservatives’ current policy is more about short-term political point scoring than their now forgotten long-term economic plan. We do not hear so much about that now, do we? Indeed, as the vice-chancellor of one our leading universities recently said about student visas, “politics is trumping economics”. Of course, the Tories have form in this area. Under the last Tory Government, science spending was squeezed. Indeed, the Save British Science campaign was launched in 1986 in response to the then Thatcher Government’s woeful record on science and research. However, between 1997 and 2007, Labour more than doubled the science budget, from £1.3 billion to £3.4 billion, and it reached almost £4 billion by 2010. The Save British Science campaign had to be renamed the Campaign for Science and Engineering, because British science had been saved by Labour.
The boost to the R and D budget in the autumn statement has been widely welcomed, but we must set it against the backdrop of six years of subsistence spending. Not only are we now the lowest funder of science of any G8 country, but our spending as a proportion of GDP has fallen to its lowest point in 20 years. The increases in forecast expenditure also assume that all other spending commitments for science and research will remain in place, safe from sweeping Conservative cuts. Given the party’s previous actions, I believe we should remember the motto of the world’s oldest scientific institute, the Royal Society: “Take nobody’s word for it”.
I began by saying how important science and research are to our economy, and that is why today’s debate is so critical. Science provides the inventions and the infrastructure that propel our industry forward. It uncovers the challenges that we face today and provides our industries with a vision for the future. We in the Labour party recognise that in order to have an industrial strategy that works for each and every member of our society, a thriving science community is key. I asked the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last week whether he would give the UK economy the Christmas present it deserves: an industrial strategy. Sadly, it seems that Santa’s elves are nowhere near ready on this one.
As my hon. Friend Clive Lewis, the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has said, we believe that an industrial strategy should be mission orientated. When it is mission orientated, one of the roles of public spending is to lay down the foundations for new opportunities, which then galvanise businesses—the private sector—to invest. Mariana Mazzucato, the world’s leading economist on mission orientated innovation, has shown how business investment should not be assumed, but created via ambitious public investment policies. However, no matter how excited businesses may get, they will invest only when there is a potential market.
Government can help to create new markets and enlarge existing ones through procurement and, critically, trade agreements. The European Union is possibly the most successful trade agreement in history. It has benefited British companies for decades. Forty-four per cent of UK goods and services went to the European Union in 2015.
The hon. Lady said that the European Union was the most successful trade agreement in history. That was certainly true for a generation or so, but does it not worry her that it is now the slowest growing economic bloc in the world and that that 44% has fallen more than 10 points over the last few years and continues to fall?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that the European Union was the most successful trade agreement in history. He makes a point about the economic growth of the European Union, but it is still one of the largest and most successful economies in the world. It is still a huge market for our goods and services and has some of the richest people in the world. Although economic growth may have been slow over the last few years, I hope he agrees that, as one of the biggest trading blocs in the world, it still represents a huge opportunity. We should obviously be looking outside the European Union for trade opportunities, but we need to be trading with the European Union. There are a lot of people who buy a lot of our goods who need to continue to buy them.
It is clear that a hard Brexit would significantly reduce the size of that market for British companies. On top of that, Brexit will reduce European Union-financed research and development investments. That means that an existing problem in this country—low private sector investment in research—may get worse because the market for goods will be smaller. Given the Government’s claim to be focused on reducing public debt—although, as we know, it has gone up hugely under this Government —it is ironic that, by reducing private investment, public investment in research and development will need to take more of the strain. We in the Labour party believe in public investment, but it should not make up for a lack of private sector investment. We have committed to raise the total investment in research and development in science to 3% of GDP, but we expect the private sector to do its bit.
I urge the Minister to try to get this right for British science. If not, once again the next Labour Government will have to make up for the economic, scientific and social mess that a Tory Government have left behind. The history of these isles speaks of a people who have a verve for technological and scientific endeavour. All we ask is that the Government provide the conditions for continued investigation and inquiry. We cannot have an economy that relies on cheap and insecure labour. A high-tech, knowledge-intensive economy must be Britain’s future. This Government and the people of Britain cannot afford to suffocate our sciences in the smoke of Brexit.
Thank you for calling me so early in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I also thank the Government for putting aside Government time to discuss this important issue and for agreeing to tag the recent report by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, “Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research”? I am very appreciative.
Before I turn to the report and its obvious relevance to this debate, as this is the first opportunity I have had to address the House since my election as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, may I place on record my gratitude to the House for electing me to this important role? I hope I can live up to the example set by my predecessors. I pay particular tribute to my immediate predecessor, my hon. Friend Nicola Blackwood, for her stewardship of the Committee over the last 15 or so months. She moved quickly to launch the inquiry back in June, and I am sure the report’s findings will inform today’s debate. I also pay tribute to the interim Chair, my hon. Friend Dr Mathias, who stepped into the breach prior to my election. I am very grateful to her as well. I also thank the Clerks and the staff of the Committee for all their support and guidance in these first few months. Finally in the thank yous, I would like to thank the more than 270 individuals and organisations who took time to provide written evidence in response to the Committee’s call for evidence in the preparation of the report.
I had hoped to talk a little about Brexit itself, but because time is short and there is a great deal of interest in this debate, I will leave that for another time, except to say that Brexit was not about science. It was one of the casualties, along with many other sectors that got caught up in a much bigger argument.
As we have heard, our report identifies five key themes in the concerns of the science and research community, all of which I expect will feature in hon. Members’ contributions this evening—indeed, they already have. They are: funding; people; collaboration, leadership and influence; regulation; and facilities. I will talk properly about funding and people, but as for collaboration, leadership and influence, it is of paramount importance that UK researchers continue to be part of multinational projects and continue to influence the EU’s research agenda. On regulations, it is important that those which facilitate research collaboration and EU market access are retained while others that hinder innovation are revised. As for facilities, we will have to work hard to ensure ongoing access to the multinational research facilities hosted in other countries and to protect those based in the UK.
Our report outlines some of the opportunities arising from Brexit that should be maximised, such as the opportunity to embed science and technology at the heart of the Government’s industrial opportunity; the opportunity to look at genetic modification regulation, and to improve on the EU’s overly cautious approach; and the opportunity to revise VAT rules to stimulate university and business collaboration. However, above all the Government need to set out a truly ambitious vision for science in the context of Brexit, to send the message around the world that Britain’s position as a science superpower will continue to grow. They are starting to do that, but merely being open for business is not enough if we do not have any customers. The Government must think beyond the “open for business” model.
As time is short, I will concentrate on the two main issues: people and funding. My Committee agreed to highlight people as a significant theme. We called on the Government to make an immediate commitment to exempt EU citizen scientists and researchers already working in the UK from wider potential immigration controls. Telling EU scientists and researchers who are already working in the UK that they are allowed to stay is one way that the Government can reduce uncertainty. I have heard many warm words from the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr Walker, and the Prime Minister. Taking that extra step to provide reassurance for the 40,000 people to whom that applies is not a particularly big ask. Along with the risk of brain drain, the risk is that the UK will become a less attractive place for EU scientists to live, work and study.
On funding, when our report was published, I said that the autumn statement would be a chance for the Government to demonstrate their commitment to science and research in the context of Brexit, so hon. Members can imagine how delighted I was when the Chancellor responded by increasing Government investment in research and development to the tune of £2 billion a year by 2020. That is a huge step in the right direction, and a step towards meeting that 3% of GDP commitment to which all hon. Members want to sign up.
Our report noted that the Government had provided welcome and helpful short-term reassurances for the science community following the referendum, including underwriting EU funding for research and maintaining access to student loans. It is clear that the Government have done the right thing in the short term but my Committee is worried that there is no comprehensive communication strategy for those messages of reassurance. The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has said all the right things, but I worry that not everyone has heard him. That was brought home to me this week when I met the interim chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, who said that she attended a meeting at which someone said they had not heard about those reassurances. There is more to be done. The message is good, but do the Government know whether it is being received? The Government clearly cannot do all the communication, but they can have a strategy for providing reassurance, a clear idea of who their message needs to reach, and an idea of who is best placed to reach those people. The recommendation from my Committee is simple. The Government have taken some very helpful first steps, but they need a clear strategy for getting that message out to everyone who needs to hear it.
As we have heard, another key concern is that science and research is not at the heart of DExEU thinking. That was highlighted to the Committee during the inquiry by the fact that a chief scientific adviser is yet to be appointed to DExEU. I hope the Minister addresses that in his closing remarks.
The Government will respond to our report in due course, but I hope its themes give hon. Members an overview of the big issues for science and research. Science and research is the jewel in the UK crown, and needs to be front and centre of the Government’s thinking. If we get this right, we can go from strength to strength and support major life science industries here in the UK, but if the needs of science are forgotten, our position as a science leader will diminish. Science is not a zero-sum game. We can create a Brexit that is both a win for UK science and a win for EU science, but that comes with a warning. Getting it wrong will not only damage the UK, but hold back the cause of science, along with our understanding of the world and our ability to exercise appropriate stewardship of it, and our capacity to make it a better place to live.
I apologise in advance for my conclusion. It is the season of good will and Christmas is coming. The Chancellor has given us some gold. We now need some frankness, some sense, and a sustainable, sensible and suitable im-myrrh-gration policy.
I will not attempt to follow that. My goose would be roasted.
I declare an interest as both a scientist and an EU national—I hold an Irish passport. As such, I feel strongly about what is happening during the debate. Brexit makes no sense for many of us, but it goes against all normal rules for the scientific community and threatens a key activity that is central to their work. Scientists do not see a person’s nationality, class or ethnicity. They see only a mind and a personality. If that mind is brilliant, and if that person has a contribution to make and a part to play, they are part of the community.
We have heard arguments describing the importance of science and its impact on our economy. We have heard about the importance of continued or enhanced funding for science, and we know how important international collaborations are for science excellence. The Minister spoke of the importance of the space sector, but the UK’s continued participation in projects such as the Galileo programme is under serious threat. Galileo is the EU’s answer to the US-based global positioning system—Galileo is needed because the US can block GPS access in times of conflict, and Europe needs an independent system it can rely on. The UK could now be frozen out of both systems, which is a dangerous possibility.
The single most important element in ensuring that we continue to maintain the UK’s position as a science superpower is protecting and valuing the people who make UK science so impressive. I was delighted to welcome to Parliament a fortnight ago Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University. He provided us with some interesting statistics. He told us that 20% of the teaching staff and 50% of the research staff at Glasgow were EU nationals. There are two different types of staff. We have the typically young 20-something postgraduate or post-doctoral researcher, who is less likely to have family ties that would make it difficult for some to leave and go elsewhere. They are a highly mobile group of people who have chosen the institution because of its speciality. However, by the nature of science, many other institutions in Europe will have expertise in similar areas.
The next group of staff is more established—they would hold senior research or lecturer positions, and would be in charge of large projects or teams. They may well have family ties that make it difficult for them to leave. Both groups have doubts over their futures. The UK Government might well say that nothing will change for them in the short term, but I keep hearing about the requirement for other EU states to offer reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens.
These scientists are some of the very best minds in the world. They are the very people enabling the UK to maintain its position at the forefront of world science. They contribute to the UK economy—in Scotland we know our world-class academic sector of 19 universities creates an annual economic impact of £7.2 billion. Those people are being compared to non-economically active pensioners living in Spain. How insulting is that to those top scientists—to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations on rights to remain? Which of us would hang about where we are not wanted? My own husband, an engineer, is an EU national. His 17 years of service in the UK armed forces have been reduced to details of his place of birth.
Thankfully, in Scotland the First Minister has made robust statements on the importance of our EU nationals, and has thanked them for choosing to make Scotland their home. But we need similarly strong leadership on this from the UK Government. We need the assurances called for in the recent report on leaving the EU by the Science and Technology Committee. That report’s recommendations, which have already been highlighted, include an immediate commitment to exempt EU researchers already working here from any wider potential immigration controls. But we need to go further. We should be looking to exempt any researcher with the required skills, whether or not they are already resident in the UK. If we do not offer such assurances, plenty of countries are ready to snap those scientists up.
I move on now to the subject of EU students. There is the potential for a serious impact on the higher education sector if we are not clear about their immigration and fees status post Brexit. Again, that represents a potential lost funding stream. In its submission to the Science and Technology Committee the University of Liverpool stated that if it had no new EU students coming to study, by 2018-19 its loss of fee income would be £6.2 million. In Scotland, EU students contribute massively to the local economy and increase the diversity and improve the student experience for all involved in higher education. Indeed, the financial loss is only one aspect, and we need to consider how we will protect the talent streams that come from the EU. In the UK we cannot currently fill our science, technology, engineering and maths courses with UK students. The EU students who come to study in our institutions provide future talent in areas of key shortages.
I therefore ask the Minister the following questions. What student recruitment strategies are being considered in key STEM areas, at home and abroad? What fee structures will be in place post Brexit—an attractive UK university will quickly become less attractive if EU students are asked to pay international student fees? Visa restrictions already pose major hurdles for non-EU scientists hoping to come to the UK for short study visits. What will happen post Brexit when an EU researcher hopes to collaborate with a UK group? We keep hearing that Brexit means Brexit, but does Brexit really mean that the UK’s international reputation for science should be threatened?
Leaving the EU presents major challenges for the future of UK science, but there is no science representative in the Brexit negotiations. Science must have a voice in any negotiations. The clock is ticking. We need action now to prevent fundamental and lasting damage. It is said that Albert Einstein said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe”. The Government need not be infinitely stupid as they gamble with this most important area of the UK economy.
It is a pleasure to follow Carol Monaghan, with whom I agree on some aspects, in particular the importance of giving assurances to EU nationals in this country, whether scientists or not, that they can stay.
What the Minister and the shadow Minister have said about our universities is, if anything, an understatement. Our universities are every bit as good as has been said, and more. I would argue that they are too modest. They underestimate how attractive they are and will be as collaborators to universities not merely in the EU but throughout the world. They underestimate their ability to persuade their own Government of the importance of funding research, given that they have been successful in persuading EU institutions to fund that research. Given their success in attracting students from outside the EU, our universities also underestimate how successful they will be at continuing to attract students from within the EU once we are no longer a member. The universities have been too modest and too afraid of change. They should look forward positively to the opportunities that will open up when we are no longer in the EU.
Three issues have been raised. The first is money. The claim is that 10% of publicly funded UK research and development comes from the EU. That is a grossly misleading figure. During the referendum campaign there was much debate about the use of gross figures for our contribution to the EU rather than net ones. For instance, the gross figure of £350 million a week on the side of the leave bus was criticised. I always used the net figure, and we now know from the Office for Budget Responsibility that the net amount we will get back when we are no longer members of the EU will be £250 million a week. But anyone who criticised the £350 million figure should be equally critical of those who quote the gross receipts from the EU without netting off our contributions to it—Chi Onwurah mentioned those contributions. With the Horizon programme, we should not be talking about the gross figure of £8.8 billion but the net figure of £3.4 billion over the period 2007 to 2013, which was of the order of half a billion a year. I will come back to that quite significant figure.
Overall, we are net contributors to the EU to the tune of something exceeding £13 billion a year—again, that is from the OBR figures. It should therefore not be too difficult for our universities to argue for the continuation of the money they currently receive from the EU directly from the Treasury, instead of indirectly via the EU, because the Treasury will be £13 billion better off after meeting all the commitments currently funded from EU funds.
I come now to collaboration. It is obviously important that we continue to provide opportunities for UK researchers to collaborate with high-calibre researchers not just in the EU but across the world. Our universities and researchers are of such high calibre that they will be in demand as partners and should be given opportunities to work with partners from across the world.
If there are barriers to collaboration with researchers in north America, Asia, Australasia and Latin America, I would like to know about them. I constantly hear of and meet researchers from those countries in the UK. If we look out the figures, it turns out that alongside the 32,000 EU citizens working as academics in the UK we have 21,000 from non-EU countries. There does not seem to be too much difficulty in getting researchers and academics from outside the EU. If there are such problems, why have I never been lobbied by the universities to overcome the problems of bringing in citizens from non-EU countries? Do they not like Americans, Latin Americans and Asians? Do they prefer Europeans? Should we not be seeking opportunities worldwide, and not narrowly in the EU?
I am afraid it has been hinted that I should make progress rather than take interventions.
If there are such difficulties, let us overcome them and make sure they do not apply to EU academics in future.
On student numbers, Universities UK talks about increased barriers to recruiting EU students. I understand there are some 115,000 EU students in the UK. They are entitled to loans from the British taxpayer, and to the right to stay and work after they cease studying. By contrast, our universities are spectacularly more successful in recruiting students from outside the EU, even though those students pay the full cost of their education and effectively help to subsidise all the other students, British and European, at university. Their rights to remain and work in the UK are more restricted. When we introduced full fees for foreign university students, the universities claimed that that would make it impossible for them to recruit from abroad. Happily, they were wrong—spectacularly wrong. I have no doubt that they will be equally wrong about their ability to continue to recruit EU students once we are no longer a member of the EU. The EU countries are closer and richer than many of the countries from which we recruit students who pay full fees.
When assessing the costs and benefits, we ought to take into account the cost to this country at present of giving loans to EU students, which are, inevitably, much more difficult to get back when they have left. Indeed, the official figures show that only 16% of EU students are currently repaying the loans they have received from the British taxpayer. [Interruption.] I do not know what the figures are, but I will venture some so that people can knock them down and come back with better ones. Supposing that 60% of the students—[Interruption.] Would Tim Farron like to intervene if he has a funny point to make? [Interruption.] No, we do not have any facts or figures; I am trying to elicit them. There are 115,000 students. I do not know how many of them have loans. Let us say that 60% take out loans. If only 16% repay them, that means it would cost the British taxpayer over £500 million a year to subsidise EU students. I hope that the Minister or Opposition Members can tell us the sum is less than that, but perhaps they are not interested. Perhaps they like dishing out British taxpayers’ money without calculating how much is at stake and for whom.
Universities are also rightly worried about whether immigration controls will impinge on our ability to recruit students from the EU. They have reiterated their demand that student numbers be excluded from the immigration figures. That is a somewhat disingenuous request—it is not what they really want. If students return to their home country after they have studied here, their net contribution to the net immigration figure is zero. What universities mean, therefore, is not that they want the figures excluded, but that the limitations on students’ right to remain be lifted. They want to, as it were, sell university places by offering the added benefit of being able to get around our immigration controls. They want that in the present for those coming from outside the EU, and they want to maintain it in future for those coming from the EU when we are no longer a member.
That is not the right way to approach the issue. We should, of course, have immigration rules that allow us to recruit students from abroad but ensure that they return later, and that allow us to recruit academics from abroad, as we do at present, without creating added difficulties. If we have sensible and affordable policies to continue our funding and to recruit from abroad, which we ought to be able to do, and we do not impose any new restrictions on recruiting academics, the opportunities for British universities will be far greater than they imagine. I urge them to put their excessive modesty behind them, set aside their fear of change and embrace the opportunities that Brexit will give them.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me and giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. It is a privilege and an honour to be standing here as the elected representative of Richmond Park, which brings with it a great responsibility that I shall use my best endeavours to fulfil.
I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Zac Goldsmith, and thank him for his excellent constituency work on behalf of my fellow residents of Richmond Park over the past six years. In particular, we owe him our unending thanks for his efforts to block plans to build a third runway at Heathrow. The fact that he felt he could no longer be a part of a Conservative party that approved expansion demonstrates beyond all question his passion and commitment to the cause. It is a cause that I take up willingly on behalf of constituents who know that the claimed economic benefits of expansion will not compensate for the impacts of the increased noise and air pollution that millions will suffer if expansion goes ahead. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of his predecessor, my fellow Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer, who fought the third runway for so many years. I look forward to working with parliamentary colleagues from all parties as we continue to make the case against expansion.
It is a particular honour to be elected to represent Richmond Park, not just because it is my home and the place where I have been bringing up my family, but because of its great history and wonderful environment. Richmond takes its name from the Earl of Richmond, later Henry VII, who built his great palace in what was then called Sheen in 1500. Henry VII was the king who, having won a great victory against an unpopular king at the battle of Bosworth, came to power at a time when the country was catastrophically divided by the Wars of the Roses and urgently needed leadership to bring it back to harmony and prosperity.
Britain today is a divided country, split asunder by the decision taken in June this year to leave the European Union, and it is hard at this moment to see how these divisions can be healed. It is my belief that Parliament can be a positive force in bringing together the two sides of the Brexit debate. If the arguments can be aired openly, questions answered thoughtfully and votes taken on all the significant points of difference, then each British citizen will see that their point of view is being represented, whichever way they voted in June. There can be no question of people being silenced or sneered at for their opinion on Britain’s future within the European Union.
I make no secret of the fact that my own opinion is that we should remain. I believe that the will of the people is the same today as it has always been: to live in a prosperous and stable society. Our responsibilities as parliamentarians are the same as they have always been: to act in the best interests of our country. We have a duty to future generations to bequeath them a society in which they can thrive. Evidence and instinct both suggest that collaboration with our nearest neighbours benefit our trade, our education, our environment, our security and our individual wellbeing. Such benefits should not be carelessly thrown aside without a careful, sober and detailed examination of what the consequences will be.
The impact of Brexit will be wide ranging and not just financial. In my constituency, our hospital relies on the hard work and dedication of migrants from Europe. Many of my constituents work in financial services which rely on our privileged position inside Europe. Many of our businesses import from and export to the European Union, and rely on the tariff-free access and the harmonised standards of the single market for their success. Many families—hard-working, community spirited, warm, friendly people—have come to our little corner of London from across Europe and made it their home.
In the area of science and research, there is no doubt that the UK has benefited hugely from its membership of the European Union. I had the enormous privilege, before being elected as MP, to work for a world-renowned science and research organisation, so I have had some experience of the discussions and concerns that the prospect of Brexit has raised among the science community. The obvious impact will be the lack of access to research funding provided by the EU. There is no question but that the UK is currently a net beneficiary of this: between 2007 and 2013, we paid in €5 billion to the Horizon 2020 fund and received €8 billion back in grant funding.
But the impacts go deeper. One of the biggest concerns is that by being shut out of access to EU funding, UK scientists will also be excluded from cross-EU collaborative projects and lose access to specialist laboratory facilities across Europe. This will result in a loss of opportunities for UK scientists to participate at the very forefront of research. UK laboratories and research facilities currently benefit from the ability of scientists from across the EU to come and work here. If Brexit inhibits the ability of EU nationals to move to the UK, UK-based science and research will suffer. The success of the UK’s science and technology industries will be critical to our future economy, and we should be doing all we can to nurture and promote them.
I did not aspire to be a politician. I did not ever expect to be standing here addressing hon. and right hon. Members as I am today, but I felt compelled by the events of the last few months—not just the referendum result, but the Government response in the aftermath and the divided society that has resulted—to put myself forward.
I wish to close by thanking my fellow MPs from all sides of the House for the warm welcome they have extended to me since my election. Unexpected though my election was, I am enormously excited by the opportunity I have been given and look forward to playing a full part in the business of this House.
Let me be the first to congratulate Sarah Olney on her maiden speech, particularly on the generous tribute she paid to her predecessor and on the very real knowledge she brings to this debate from her professional background. She clearly feels passionately about this issue and the wider implications, and I look forward to hearing further contributions from her. She referred to the Brexit vote as “deeply divisive”, leaving us as a country divided. I would gently suggest that for some of us it seemed before the vote that we were becoming a divided country. Now that those people who found themselves so many times on the wrong side of the divide have spoken out, the hope is that we might find a way forward that eventually suits everybody.
I am proud to be the representative of the largest student body of any constituency in the country, with the University of Kent, Christ Church University and one of the campuses of the University for the Creative Arts in my constituency, amounting to more than 20,000 students.
In answer to some of the earlier points raised about visas, it seems to me that there is a clear middle way to follow. It is essential that top-quality academics have access to visas to come here, and indeed that those who are already here from the EU should feel completely secure in their jobs. I am with those who have already spoken out on that point, but I see nothing inconsistent in also believing that a sensible immigration policy, which is what the country wants, must include clamping down on abuses of the student route. The fact that we have closed 800 phony colleges is an important part of that.
I especially welcome what the Minister said about accepting Sir Paul Nurse’s recommendations. I am a strong supporter of the need for an industrial strategy. For too many generations, this country provided the cutting edge of research only to see it exploited by successful organisations outside this country. We need an industrial strategy and a focused research policy in order to ensure that we get the best response to our very successful university research programmes.
The University of Kent has facilities in Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome, and calls itself the European university. I am delighted to say that a withdrawal from the structures of the EU should certainly not mean a withdrawal from Europe. There is not time to list the university’s successes in the space world, but just in the past month on the medical side another grant from Horizon 2020 for a research network addressing biometric solutions to the use of mobile devices led to a successful bid for a £2 million grant for the Relate programme designed to step-change how nature underpins human wellbeing.
Like my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, I see nothing to be afraid of in breaking out into the world. The Times league of international universities puts 24 out of the top 25 in the English-speaking world, including five British ones. Intriguingly, the only exception is the formidable ETH Zürich, and Switzerland, like most English-speaking countries, has a structure in which universities are free-standing institutions, which is sadly not really the case in most continental countries, where universities are much closer to the Government Departments.
Although there may be a short-term concern, which we have heard expressed several times by Opposition speakers, that we might somehow lose out on collaborative ventures—even though we are putting in the money to compensate—on account of attitudes from the other side that are not in their best interests, the fact that we have so much excellence will, I firmly believe, win through.
We have another advantage that is particularly relevant to medical research. When we are dealing with America, which has the largest concentration of excellence in the world, we have a massive advantage, because we do not have the third party of the insurance companies constantly creating a drag on research. If patients want to be part of an experimental programme to access an experimental drug, perhaps as their last chance to stay alive, they can sign up for it in a way they cannot in America without permission from their insurance companies. That is why, for example, our first 14 experimental cancer medicine centres are attracting so much interest from American pharmaceutical companies.
I end by saying how very strongly I support the bid from Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent to create a group of healthcare centres of excellence, with a view to establishing in the long run a medical school in Kent. We are the largest area in the country without its own medical school. The inspirational leadership of Dr Abdol Tavabie would make sure that the medical school addressed the very buzz words that we keep hearing we need to fix in the NHS. It is no good talking about things such as ending silos, transferring things from secondary to primary care and closer links between social and NHS care, which people have been talking about for 30 years, unless we hardwire them into medical training, together with feedback mechanisms to make sure that people are brought up to date on new skills automatically—they need to be programmed into the lecturers, Those are just some of the ideas that this incredibly innovative programme leader is pushing for in the new medical school.
I am about to run out of time. It is a sad fact that of the thousands of university students, including my own son who is a medical student, who come through our hospitals, relatively few of them stay. That is because areas do not have a medical school of their own backing them up. I end by recommending to the Minister that we do something about that.
The straight banana syndrome, whereby some commentators would blame everything on the European Union whenever anything in the world went wrong, seems to have flipped on its head. I would now call it the Private Frazer syndrome, whereby the moment anyone mentions Brexit, everything is doom and gloom, with forecasts of everything going haywire and wrong. My advice to the Government on science and technology is the same as it is on other issues that run into Brexit—get on with it! It is the uncertainty that causes problems. The article 50 vote should have taken place in July, and if we were too busy with internal elections, we could have had it in September. It should already have been passed. Delay and uncertainty is what industry tells me they do not like and do not wish to see.
Let me advise the Government on what to do when the repeal Act comes—I hope they will listen. Make it simple. Every single piece of EU law should be brought into British law. If the Conservative or any other party wants to change that in the future, they will have plenty of opportunity if it is British law. Every single thing should become British law in one Bill in one swipe. That would help to remove uncertainty, and it would save us a lot of time to concentrate on other matters in the House.
I agree with Carol Monaghan that science does not see nationality. That is the problem with the European Union when it comes to science and technology, and, indeed, any other specialism: it sees nationality, but it sees nationality within the European Union. I have been involved in bidding for money, and I know that within the EU structures and rules, this or that EU country, this or that body, must be incorporated to provide the full mix, to the exclusion of the rest of the world—the other 170 nations, with all their expertise. That has been a strength on occasion, but it has far more often been a weakness in the EU. We should not see nationality when we are looking at science and research collaboration; we should see where the best expertise is.
I have spoken to many of my constituents, and several thousand have been polled. Something of a consensus is emerging in my area, and I want to share it with the House. The vast majority of people who voted remain feel that reducing immigration is critical to Brexit, while the vast majority of people who voted leave find access to the single market, in whatever form, perfectly acceptable. I think that the consensus is far greater than Members are prepared to admit.
What kind of immigration are we talking about? I do not think that my constituents will complain if Parliament decides that the big universities should accept students, teaching staff and experts in science and technology from abroad. Indeed, I will go a step further: I should like regional work visas to be introduced. My constituents do not have a strong view on which people Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland allow to work in those countries. They care about what happens in my locality. They care about whether we can stop Mr Ashley of Sports Direct employing 3.200 people from abroad and preventing them—my constituents—from applying for jobs, or reducing wages in adjoining industries. That is what they are bothered about. I think that, when it comes to where we need to be, the solutions are straightforward, although negotiations will always be complex. We need to get on with them.
We should bear in mind what we have missed out on. We were the leaders 30 years ago. We were world leaders in analogue technology, because we had the scientists, but our weakness was always to do with turning that expertise into manufactured products. Then there was the digital era. In digital microphones—indeed, in all forms of digital technology—we were world leaders 30 years ago, but we were wiped out because we were incapable of turning the technology into effective products, and the EU did not assist us in that regard.
We were also world leaders in the energy sector, but, classically, when it comes to science, technology and energy, the EU goes in 10 directions at once because of national pressures, and does not have the necessary coherence. Europe lags behind in energy technology. In the 1980s, we were world leaders in robotics—our academics were the greatest in the development of robotic technology —but neither we nor others in Europe were capable of delivering the jobs that others did. We skipped a generation in terms of application, and that applies to the whole computer industry even more graphically. We did not protect our embryonic industries and companies because we were not allowed to protect them, but now we are.
There is nothing wrong with control and protection when a new sector is emerging. It would be good for us to use our freedom to protect the blockchain technology sector, for instance. The geothermal sector will clearly be the next development in energy: we have that capacity again, and we should use our freedom to protect the sector and allow it to develop. We now have a great opportunity; we have always had the necessary ingenuity. We must allow our universities to retain their partnerships with, for example, German, French and Italian scientists and technologists, but also to have partnerships with countries in the rest of the world. We must use our freedom to protect embryonic industries, so that there will be production, jobs and wealth in this country as well as ingenuity and innovation.
I thank the Government for granting time for this important debate, and I offer very special thanks to my hon. Friend Stephen Metcalfe for his kind words. It was an absolute joy to be interim Chair of the excellent Science and Technology Committee. Having chaired one of its sessions, I can tell the House that although some of its members, like me, voted to remain and others voted to leave, the Committee was unanimous when it came to the report on the EU and the opportunities and risks for science and research, and is unanimous in wanting Brexit to work for the science community and for research. That is why I am especially proud of the report.
The United Kingdom is a science superpower. As the Minister and others have said, we make up less than 1% of the world’s population, but 15.9% of its most frequently cited research articles come from the UK. However, as we said in our report, science is a global and a mobile endeavour. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock pointed out, people were the major factor in the evidence that we heard. The Minister was right to say that the UK should be a go-to place, but, as the report shows, the Campaign for Science and Engineering has said that it is not enough to allow EU scientists and students to be in our country; we must fight for them, to enable our science and research to succeed even more. It is great that there are guarantees for EU students, and I note that the Minister has repeatedly confirmed that they will be available to current students and those who come here in 2017-18 for the duration of their courses, but it must be said that the communication programme is not enough. That needs to be worked on.
We are also glad about the guarantees for Horizon 2020, and applaud the important information that the funding guarantees will not be taken from the science budget, but will be additional to it. After the publication of the report, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, met several of my Twickenham science businessmen and researchers, and I valued that greatly. I know that he noted many of the detailed points that were made to him. I hope he will also note that Horizon 2020 may end, and, as the leader of the Laboratory of the Government Chemist has said, we need to establish our own transitional research projects.
Jim Dowd spoke of concern about some of our EU researchers already leaving the UK. The Committee said that we needed proper metrics before, during and after Brexit negotiations. Are we losing people? Are we still heading those research projects? As has already been mentioned, there is a big negative.
The Department for Exiting the European Union needs a chief scientific adviser, because it needs guidance on the metrics and on the regulations. I know that the Minister has received evidence from the British Pharmacological Society. The position in relation to the European Medicines Agency is critical. We were leading on the regulations for clinical trials in pharmacovigilance. We have also received evidence from Twickenham businesses such as Ikon, LGC and Mindsoft about the unitary patent system. The Department needs a chief scientific adviser to address what it is going to do. It has to fight for the students, the scientists and the researchers from the EU, and it has to fight for the funding to maintain those research projects. In this Christmas season we have heard lots of wishes that should be on the Department’s Christmas wish list, but primarily it needs Santa to give it a chief scientific adviser.
The importance of science to Britain’s industrial revolution is well known: Newtonian physics, Faraday’s electrical magnetism, Jenner’s vaccination. These scientific advances were not simply great intellectual achievements; they also made a difference to the way of life of everybody in this country and across the entire world, and that is still true today.
The quality of our scientific research is not only valuable in itself; it also underpins our economic performance, standard of living and quality of life. It imbues our values as a civilised country, and it is what distinguishes us from our medieval forebears.
The leading clinical geneticist Professor Sir John Burn of Newcastle University, who was born in west Auckland, undertook research in 1990 testing aspirin across 68 countries and found that regular doses can reduce hereditary cancer risk. I asked him about the value of pan-EU collaboration; he said it makes things more effective, makes it easier to lure the best scientists on to projects and, despite the bureaucratic hurdles, it produces better results.
My constituency hosts a Glaxo plant. Sir Andrew Witty, the chief executive officer, tells me that the innovative medicines initiative, part of Horizon 2020, facilitates pre-competitive research into questions such as liver toxicity, which is far more economic to tackle at the EU level than it could ever be for an individual country. Currently, Glaxo does 30% of its R and D in the UK; it would be costly to move it, but in a worst case scenario that could happen.
Members have already spoken about the financial benefits to us of joining in the EU programme. A key aspect is that we are at the heart of shaping the research. The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures is currently chaired by a British academic, as is the European Research Area Board. We also host EU facilities and headquarters. Does the Minister think that if we became merely an associated country, or a non-associated third country, we would still be leading the EU direction for this research?
Everyone values Horizon 2020, so I call on the Government to make continued membership of it and its successor programmes a key objective in the negotiating strategy for Brexit. In the Treasury Committee, the Chancellor confirmed he was guaranteeing projects that receive Horizon 2020 money beyond that period, but the Minister was not able to tell us in his opening speech how researchers can know their guarantees meet his two further tests. I hope his ministerial colleague can explain that to us in the winding up speeches.
To save time in winding up, may I say now that the Treasury will underwrite all successful bids for Horizon 2020 that are approved by the Commission even when specific projects continue beyond departure. Government Departments will not assess Horizon 2020 grant applications; Horizon 2020 is an EU programme independent of the UK Government and grant funding is awarded by the Commission based on peer review. UK businesses and universities should continue to bid for those competitive EU funds while we remain a member.
Colleagues have spoken about the problems that will come if we lose freedom of movement—at best, discouraging European academics from working here; at worst, preventing people from coming at all. These people make up over 20% of teaching staff in some of the most crucial scientific subjects: physics, astronomy, mathematical sciences, biological sciences, chemistry and material sciences, and computer sciences. We cannot afford to lose them.
I will not repeat what colleagues have said and no doubt will continue to say, but it is vital that Ministers confirm the status of people who are in the country today. Furthermore, the Government should make it clear that they will seek a complete carve out for British and European academics post-Brexit so they can travel and work in each other’s universities.
The Government should commit to a shared post-Brexit regulatory structure so that researchers have a level playing field and minimised costs and can continue to run large population experiments in parallel across European countries. In essence this would be an open market in R and D post-Brexit.
We need to remember that scientific development is essentially a collaborative and co-operative part of human endeavour. It does not recognise national boundaries in the quest for truth. This is not a new idea. Writing to Robert Hooke in 1676, Isaac Newton said:
“What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much...If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
It is an honour to speak in this debate and to follow Sarah Olney, who gave an exceptional maiden speech. Although she is no longer in her place, I wish her well in her future endeavours in this House and in serving her constituents. It took me back to my maiden speech; I spoke on the same day as my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan. We both talked on science, and I congratulate her on the great work she has done since in helping to boost skills in that vital area.
I am delighted to speak on this subject. Science is a vital field, especially at this time of significant change and great uncertainty. Brexit is not something that we should fear. The fundamentals of our economy are good. Indeed, forecasts indicate that our growth will be stronger than that of Germany and France again next year. We should look forward with confidence as we navigate our way forward and realise the opportunities that lie ahead.
We must use Brexit as a spur and a call to action in addressing long-standing challenges that have been a drag on our economy for too long, including the skills gap and below-par productivity. Science and technology have a vital role to play here, as I am sure colleagues across the House will agree.
The advanced therapies manufacturing action plan from the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership—both snappy titles—says that, as part of leaving the EU,
“it is vital that the UK makes all efforts to retain and continue to improve its fiscal offering in order to secure investments and anchor infrastructure in the UK and give confidence to investors.”
That is why I join the Select Committee on Science and Technology in welcoming the Government’s funding guarantee relating to the EU science projects that we have talked about at length in this debate.
I also pay tribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he gets this: he understands how important it is that we build investor confidence and back innovation-led productivity and infrastructure. I welcome the £2 billion a year he announced in the autumn statement; it will be vital to science and innovation. It is an important step and hugely welcomed.
But this is not just about funding. Colleagues have spoken about the importance of collaboration. It is critical that we maintain relationships with European and other international partners and build our commitment to collaborations, not least of which is a science project that is vital to our area, the square kilometre array project at the Jodrell Bank observatory. This project will result in the creation of the world’s largest radio telescope. We must continue to be ambitious in backing world-leading scientific initiatives; that must be a clear priority.
That is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s demand and ambition for a modern industrial strategy that puts a clear value on science. She was right to say, in a speech in Birmingham during her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative party:
“It is hard to think of an industry of greater strategic importance to Britain than its pharmaceutical industry, and AstraZeneca is one of the jewels in its crown.”
AstraZeneca has a hugely significant presence in Macclesfield. The Prime Minister also gets this. She has learned lessons from Germany and Australia, which are setting out clear industrial strategies. We now need to do the same. We must not seek to pick winners; we must seek to create the conditions that will enable winners to emerge without being picked. There is a fundamental difference. I think we are well placed to do that.
When we consider our industrial strategy, it is clear that science and the life sciences have a role to play, particularly given their huge impact not only on job creation—there are 62,000 jobs in the life sciences—but in productivity per employee, which is critical, with £330,000 of gross value added per employee. That is staggering, and we must get behind this industry and other scientific endeavours to ensure that we realise all the available productivity improvements. It is also critical, as we all know in this House, that we tackle the productivity gaps that have plagued us for too long.
Here are some of the asks that I want to put to Ministers. Will they please continue to take action on the infrastructure that will be vital in underpinning our economic performance, not just on HS2 but on trans-Pennine links to unlock the potential in the north? Will they take action on skills and drive up the quality of apprenticeships? I am pleased that the Department for Education’s post-16 skills plan has an emphasis on health and sciences, as this will be crucial. I also urge Ministers to speed up the adoption of new medical treatments by implementing the accelerated access review. I was delighted to read what the Health Secretary said about this in his recent article in The Daily Telegraph. It will be vital for life sciences and for improving patient outcomes.
We need to see more being done in the north. We talk a lot about the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London, but important clusters are being developed in the north as well, not least in the life sciences corridor in Cheshire that links into the university city of Manchester. That will be key for the northern powerhouse. We will need to expand the network of catapult centres, and I am delighted that such a centre is being launched in the form of the medicines technology catapult at Alderley Park. We also need to have the anti-microbial resistance centre located there. As we do these things, we will build confidence in business. I have already mentioned AstraZeneca’s investment in Macclesfield, which has been most welcome.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the EU regulations on phase 1 clinical trials have not been helpful, and that there will be opportunities in that regard in the future?
Absolutely. We need to seize those opportunities and get behind science and the life sciences.
Looking at local examples, we have seen 600 jobs being created in just a couple of years at Alderley Park following AstraZeneca’s decision to relocate to Cambridge. Those jobs are highly important for the north. But this is not just about the life sciences. I have already talked about Jodrell Bank, and I very much hope that Ministers will support my drive to have it nominated as a world heritage site. That will be key in celebrating the science heritage of that site, which will be important for the north and for the visitor economy.
I also welcome the fact that the Government are re-examining their excellent work on research and development tax credits and allowances. This has helped to underline the importance of science and to show that the UK economy is open for business. I am pleased that the Chancellor has indicated that there will be a review of the tax environment to ensure that we can build on the introduction of above-the-line tax credits to make us even more competitive.
I cannot match the Christmas closing lines of the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Stephen Metcalfe, but I will echo the words of one of my constituents in one of the great Christmas jingles: it is time for us now to look to the future; it’s only just begun.
I would just say to David Rutley that, had my hon. Friend Graham Stringer and I known that the Chair of the Committee was going to write the last line of the report, we would not have voted for it in the first place. [Laughter.] None the less, I am delighted to be here this evening to support the Committee and its report and to discuss this extremely grave and urgent matter in the few minutes that I have. I shall try to be as brief as possible. I should also like to congratulate Sarah Olney on a very coherent and well delivered maiden speech. I disagree with her on Heathrow, but I agree with her on exiting the European Union. I shall set out my position on that briefly if I may.
I told the then Prime Minister during the statement on
My position is that we really should have made more effort to reform the institutions of the EU, but the chance to do that has now gone. I accept what might well happen in the future, but others have written to me to say that my intention is a betrayal of democracy. This House collectively has to try to represent the British people overall, but any individual Member really represents only the people who vote for them. If I have got this issue wrong—that eventuality has been known to occur—I will happily go back to my constituents at the next election and rest on their judgment. I do not believe that leaving the EU is in the best interests of this country, of my constituents or of the city of which my constituency is part, and I will not vote for it. It is no betrayal or denial of democracy, as some have suggested, for Members to represent their constituents to the best of their ability.
The subject of today’s debate is an extremely important. The UK is among the international leaders in science and research. I know that some people will say that British is best, almost regardless of what they are talking about. They say that something British is the best in the world even when they have little or no experience of what the rest of the world has to offer. In the fields of science, technology and research, however, there is a clear and strong case to be made that Britain is in a strong position, and widespread concern has been expressed, not least in today’s debate, about the uncertainty into which the British science and technology community has been placed following the decision of
I will now provide an indication of just how much things have changed in the intervening six months. When the Science and Technology Committee did a report into EU regulation of life sciences—it would become the first report of the 2016-17 Session—under its previous Chair, Nicola Blackwood, we took evidence in March and April and received 33 written submissions. The report that is appended to today’s debate, as the current Chair pointed out, held two evidence sessions in July and took evidence from Ministers, one of whom is in his place, in October. Given the entirely changed landscape of the science and research background, that inquiry attracted no fewer than 264 written submissions. Many came from the research universities and institutions that have been mentioned today, but many more came from individual academics and researchers who are concerned about the position in which they have been left.
I accept that it will not be easy to provide assurances in the short term. I dissent from something said by one of my hon. Friends earlier about getting on with things and getting them done quickly. I accept the value of clarity in the short term, but I want to ensure that we get this right despite my better judgment—I outlined that earlier. It is better to get it right than to get it soon. If it is possible to do both, all well and good.
All Members, not just those here present, will have received numerous submissions about this evening’s debate from a wide variety of medical charities, universities, and other organisations. I do not have the time to read it out now, but I particularly commend the submission from the Royal Society, which highlights people, networks and collaboration, investment, and regulation as the key areas to address. On providing clarity, the Government could take the smart step of guaranteeing the position of EU nationals in the UK now. They could then go with a strong hand to the negotiations after article 50 has been triggered for equal treatment of British nationals overseas.
In conclusion, the referendum result has raised serious questions about the future of several vital industries and economic activities in the United Kingdom. Financial services may be particularly exposed, but science and research is at least equally significant to the wellbeing of our people. Amid the numerous complexities of designing our future relationship with the European Union, the Government must do all that they can, as soon as they can, to resolve the serious issues facing the entire science and research community.
I welcome the fact that this debate is happening in Government time, and I was delighted to support the Back-Bench application for it. It is also a pleasure to follow Jim Dowd. I congratulate Sarah Olney in her absence. Had she been here, I would have gently pointed out that Richard III is a rather popular monarch in Leicestershire and has been rather good for our tourist industry.
This debate is important to my constituency, which has Loughborough University at its heart, to my constituents and to our potential life science opportunity zone at Charnwood Campus. It is a shame that the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation is not still in his place, because I had hoped that he might have given us an early Christmas present by announcing life science opportunity zone status for the Charnwood Campus. Perhaps the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will make a note of that, although I do not expect him to make such an announcement this evening. I must also mention the other businesses and organisations in my local area that rely on science and research, including the University of Leicester. The Science Minister recently visited Loughborough, so he will know that, according to the 2014 research excellence framework, 65% of Loughborough’s academic staff are involved in internationally-leading research, putting the university 17th out of 154 higher education institutions. It ranks 10th in England for research intensity and generates in excess of £40 million a year in research grants. That experience is directly relevant to the university’s concerns about EU funding and collaboration.
It is right to recognise the commitment of this Government and previous Governments to science and research funding. I pay tribute to the Science Minister—he is now back in his place and if he has not heard from his fellow Minister about my request for an early Christmas present, I suggest he ask now—to my hon. Friend George Freeman and the previous Member for Havant, who now resides in the other place, for fighting the science corner in successive Budgets, autumn statements and spending rounds. The Government are delivering on their manifesto commitment to protect the science capital budget, and the science budget of £4.7 billion will rise in cash terms every year in this Parliament.
It is fair to say that science and research funding was perhaps not at the forefront of the campaigning or in the general hubbub around
“Being in the EU puts us in a much larger market than UK alone. It helps to attract and employ the best people to compete in fierce international markets. The UK should be seen as modern, open and inclusive to invite further investment.”
Some on the Government Benches will disagree about the terms on which we conclude Brexit, but we can agree, based on figures already cited, that UK research is enormously influential around the world. What was missing from the discussion before
Advances in research and the consequent benefits to society and the economy could not be realised simply by having the same level of funding go through a UK funding body. Loughborough University tells me that urgent action is required to guarantee UK participation in EU research networks post-Brexit, including continuing to contribute to funding of EU research programmes initiated during the two years after invoking article 50. We will all have anecdotes about research bids in which the UK has been dropped completely as a participant or co-ordinator due to the referendum, but I know of at least one case in which the UK institution was invited back into the project following the Treasury statement in August on underwriting UK participation, which demonstrates how important that announcement was and how important continuing announcements in the same vein will be. I welcome the Chancellor having given that commitment. We have already heard demands that the UK have associated country status in Horizon 2020—third country status would be much less satisfactory.
A non-university example is Medilink East Midlands, which has supported over 1,000 companies in the development of innovations through the European regional development fund project that it ran between 2008 and 2015. It has three new ERDF projects that will continue that support for the next couple of years, and it is worth noting that ERDF has been the only source of funding for business and innovation projects available to them since 2010. Over the past seven years, Medilink EM has delivered an intensive programme of innovation support to the east midlands life sciences sector. In addition to supporting over 1,000 companies, that has meant producing gross value added of over £8.2 million, creating or safeguarding 480 jobs, and helping over 25 new product launches. As we also heard, however, none of this is possible without talking about people, and this is top of the worry list for those most affected by this debate. We have already heard about how much money international students bring—£11 billion to the UK economy each year— but they also make an important cultural contribution. In 2012-13, 5.5% of students studying in the UK were from EU countries, generating £3.7 billion for the UK economy and sustaining 34,000 jobs in local communities. As a local Member of Parliament representing a large university, I can tell the House that those are not always high-value jobs; we are also talking about the cleaners, cooks and administrators who make a university function, leaving aside the other jobs created locally which rely on the university, such as those in retail and leisure. I echo the call of my hon. Friend Ben Howlett that students should not be taken into account in net migration numbers. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement at last week’s EU Council meeting that she wants an early deal on the rights of EU citizens, and I shall continue to push Ministers to honour that.
In the short time available, I just wish to say that by 2019 we are going to have new immigration and trading policies, and we look forward to a new industrial strategy, and we must have a new relationship that enables our institutions to take part in EU funding for science and research.
The debate about leaving the EU and science is not unique in having myths associated with it, and I wish to talk about two today. The first, which has been mentioned by a number of people, concerns problems with scientific collaboration and financing. As has been well documented and elucidated, this country benefits in its research budget: we are a net gainer in research. It has also been pointed out that we are a net donor when it comes to overall European funding. What is often not stated is that we are net contributor to the science budget as a whole—
I see the Minister is nodding. Science is funded through the European development funds and other funding, and when we look at that, we see that we are a net contributor. It should be possible, with human ingenuity, to sort out that funding issue.
Secondly, let me mention collaboration. There is not time to go into this fully, but one of my hon. Friends mentioned 17th century science. Isaac Newton put his theory of gravity together while a plague was going on. He used the work of Johannes Kepler, a German who put his work together by stealing work in Denmark and working on Italian and Polish work while the 30-years’ war was going on. Science finds a way to collaborate across all sorts of boundaries.
I want to quote from the Science and Technology Committee’s report that my hon. Friend Jim Dowd referred to, “EU regulation of the life sciences”, which was published about a week before the referendum. It was passed unanimously by the various parties on the Committee, albeit after some debate, and it is worth reading. The myth is that somehow the EU is pro-science and is good for science, but the report states:
“Our predecessor Committee’s inquiries had showed some resistance from the European Commission to evidence-based policy making and science, including the hostility to GM Organisms (along with an arbitrary and unscientific use of the precautionary principle), the dilatory approach to revising the Clinical Trials Directive and the Electromagnetic Field Directive, as well as the sacking of Professor Anne Glover.”
The EU is hardly a body with a good record on science. The sacking of Anne Glover was a disgrace. She was sacked not because she was a poor scientist, but because she was a good scientist giving evidence about GM foods. Greenpeace, quite disgracefully, lobbied against her staying, and the Commission, spineless as ever, sacked her.
The clinical trials directive has already been referred to. Not only was it a bad directive that led to science leaving the EU because it was ineffective, it took too long and it was inconsistently applied—the EU is now proposing new regulations for 2018, which we hope will be more effective—but it has taken 20 years, while science and scientists have been leaving the EU, to put that directive right. The electromagnetic field directive was relatively quickly rectified, as it took the EU only 10 years to put that right. It was hindering work on machines for diagnosing cancers and other diseases using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and other instruments.
Then we come to the phthalates. One phthalate was banned, and the EU then banned a series of phthalates. Almost the first lesson that any pupil gets in chemistry is that sodium chloride is essential for life and potassium chloride is a poison. We cannot just say that because one phthalate might poison rats, which was the evidence base the EU was using, all phthalates will poison rats. An over-use of the precautionary principle has meant that the ban on GM foods has continued, and because of that, this country does not have the benefit of a blight-free potato and many other beneficial agricultural products. During the referendum debates, we were told how good the EU was for industry. As I never tired of pointing out, our agro-chemical industry had almost disappeared because of the Commission’s and the EU’s attitude to science.
I will refer to two other non-EU agencies, mentioned in the debate, that show how anti-scientific the EU is. One is the European Space Agency, an excellent organisation that does some very good work indeed. When the Science and Technology Committee visited it in Rome just before the last general election, its senior scientists were desperate to keep the Commission out of their work because they were worried about its anti-scientific attitude. The Galileo project, which is funded primarily by the European Commission and is also used by the European Space Agency, is three times over budget and only halfway through—it will take about three times as long to complete as was expected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge said that it was better to get things right than not get them right; I think the EU had its chance to get things right, but there was never any reform. Now we are out, we can look after our own science.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate.
Following June’s historic referendum, I have been working closely with institutions and businesses in my constituency to ensure that, now more than ever, science and technological institutions have the right frameworks to secure as much funding as possible, before and after we leave the EU. I want to put this in context. Plymouth has a global reputation for marine science engineering research, not only through Plymouth University, which is well known for its technology work, but through the Royal Navy, the National Marine Aquarium, the fishing industry, the Marine Biological Association, which was set up in the 1870s to explore whether we could ever over-fish our waters, and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
Plymouth Marine Laboratory did a great deal of research into CO2 emissions and global warming. I am not surprised; after all, Captain Robert Falcon Scott was a Plymouth boy. I pay tribute to Stephen de Mora, chief executive of PML, for the work that he and his team have done in preparing me for today’s debate. Both PML and the Marine Biological Association do much for science and technological research—not only in the south-west, but throughout the rest of the country. They have links with South Korea, and together they have done much research into the movement of plankton in and around Antarctica—plankton are a key part of the diet of fish; without them, we would not have all those fish that we like eating.
I was pleased that in his recent autumn statement, the Chancellor announced that the Government are committed to making science and research a lynchpin of our economy after Brexit by taking steps towards increasing science spending, as the Science and Technology Committee had previously urged. I am also pleased that the Government have provided reassurance to the science and research community by promising to maintain the funding that now comes from EU grants beyond the point when the UK leaves the European Union. That is more important than ever: a Government study recently found that for every £1 of public investment in research and development, the private sector invested a further 136% on average—a pretty good return, as far as I am concerned.
I am unashamedly pro-science. Science contributes to economic growth, enabling the development of new goods and services, attracting inward investment and creating jobs. In February, when the former Prime Minister formally announced the referendum date, my local paper, the great Plymouth Herald, ran an article entitled “19 things EU funding has done for Plymouth”. In 2020, we will commemorate the Mayflower leaving Plymouth to found the American colonies. Interestingly, the strapline for Plymouth used to be “The Spirit of Discovery”, but then, of course, we did have Sir Francis Drake, and an enormous number of scientists have come from Plymouth. However, an incredible 16 of the 19 projects in that article sit within my constituency, with many involving science and research. In short, the funding is vital for industry and for my constituency, although I recognise that not all EU funding is necessarily generous, and I would encourage the Science and Technology Committee to undertake an inquiry into how the situation could be improved.
Statistics on the EU Horizon 2020 programme, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy earlier this month, indicated that the UK ranks first in terms of participation. Previously published statistics showed that UK-based researchers lead far more projects in Horizon 2020 than researchers from any other nation.
As we leave the EU, I would like the British Government to continue to invest in R and D and to not only work with research and science organisations in the EU but to use this opportunity to forge new alliances with our non-European partners in the US, where a significant amount of research and development takes place, and the far east, including South Korea. Although the costs of development in global research may be higher in the short term, I hope that market forces will make sure we bring them down.
One contentious issue, which we have heard about today, is immigration. I quite understand the Government’s position of not wanting to take the student population out of the figures, but it is really important that we make sure the Government are much more proactive in talking about the number of students. I am very aware that they have to do some work on that.
While I welcome the fact that any non-UK EU citizen who has lived in this country continuously for five years will be allowed to remain here, the Government must get the balance right between protecting those researchers who contribute so much to our science and technology, and listening to the very real concerns about immigration that Members of this House heard on the doorstep during the referendum campaign.
The June referendum’s vote to leave the European Union was historic, providing not only uncertainty but huge opportunities for our excellent science and technology sectors. Let us seize this opportunity to show the world that Britain is open for business and ready to lead from the front when it comes to improving the lives of everyone around the world through science and innovation.
This is a very welcome debate, and I congratulate the Government on recognising that Members of the House are worried about how the Prime Minister plans to take Britain out of the EU and about what the fine print of Brexit will be—not least for science and research and for the many interlinked sectors and economies.
The impact on our universities and on their ability to maintain their immense contributions to science and research is one of the many concerning and complex challenges Brexit throws up. The wide role played by our universities cannot be overestimated. Universities are engines for so much in our economy and society. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, they generate an annual output of £73 billion and around £11 billion of export earnings for the UK economy. They create jobs, drive innovation, support growth, and are beacons recognised by the rest of the world for their integrity, quality and innovation.
At a regional and local level, their importance is no less noteworthy. The University of Bradford, in my home town, is an important and central part of the city in many different and positive ways. The university supports local and regional growth, encourages enterprise and business development, attracts investment and talent, and provides and creates employment. Bradford is not unique in that regard. Our universities are dynamic, and they make an invaluable contribution to the UK’s place in the world. Brexit must not be allowed to undo that intentionally or inadvertently. The Government must protect and enhance the way in which British universities bring about positive impacts on behalf of the UK, not least in science and research.
Collaborative working with the EU in this field makes an enormous contribution to Britain. In its report on the challenges of Brexit, MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, stresses that the value of cross-country collaboration between academics in different EU countries cannot be overstated. This collaborative research, and the relationships that stem from it, need to be promoted as part of the negotiations to leave the EU. That is just as important as guaranteeing funding. In 2014-15, UK universities received £836 million in research funding from EU sources—15% of the total value of all research funding that year. MillionPlus says that this often proves more accessible than funding from UK sources.
As many Members will know, the Alzheimer’s Society offers one example of the importance of research and how a bad Brexit may damage Britain. The society points out that Britain is a global leader in dementia research but worries that this position, particularly in relation to funding, could regress as we exit the EU. The Alzheimer’s Society and I are urging the Government to prioritise securing continued access to EU funding schemes and programmes for research as they negotiate a new relationship with the EU post-Brexit. That is one example of how EU collaboration and investment can be critical; there are many others.
Collaborations are vital for science. Scientists should be able to work with the best in their field irrespective of their geographical location and institutional affiliation. Researchers collaborate; they overcome all sorts of institutional and financial difficulties by working together and pooling resources. EU funding has played a part in overcoming the sorts of challenges that researchers face. I am sure that I speak for many universities, and all the organisations who are beneficiaries of the research they do, when I urge the Government to look seriously at how to make up shortfalls in funding for research that arise from Britain’s departure from the EU post-Brexit.
I hope that the Government will commit to making sure that any lost research and innovation funding arising from Brexit is replaced. I also hope that they will reassure our research community and preserve our international reputation by committing to a real-terms increase in science funding. Safeguarding what we have and reassuring those with a vested interest is only the first step. The next phase will be to ensure that in the decades to come the way in which Britain works with the world does not lose sight of the vital and specific needs of our universities and the research they carry out. The Government will need not just a long-term plan for leaving the EU but a plan for engaging with the rest of the world on many important and fundamental levels.
Scientific research is one of the United Kingdom’s biggest assets, and we must ensure that Brexit provides us with an opportunity. We are in a position to critique and improve on aspects of EU legislation that hold back our development, to adopt the policies that have benefited us, and to create a Britain that is increasingly outward-looking and pioneering in science and research.
Many sectors claim that their people are their greatest asset, but this is most clear in the area of scientific research and innovation, where individual qualities count for so much, skills need to be developed over a period of years, and there is a great deal of specialisation. The search for and recruitment of talented engineers and scientists is already very challenging, and the potential for a barrier to go up between the UK and the EU is a great concern. I was pleased that the Prime Minister attempted to resolve this problem to enable the 1.3 million British subjects living in the EU to remain there and the 3.3 million EU citizens to remain here, but disappointed that Donald Tusk, playing politics with peoples’ lives, rebuffed the proposal.
When discussing migration, especially in the context of Brexit, we have to get the tone and values right. During the referendum campaign, I talked to hundreds of people about what it would mean to leave the EU, and controlling our borders was a significant concern, although not the greatest. I did not meet anyone who thought that we should stop scientists and engineers from coming to and settling in the UK. There is a desire that Britain should control her borders but also enable those with most to contribute to come here. It should be of huge reassurance to members of the scientific community that the British people greatly value their contribution, no matter from where they came.
Our universities sector is world-leading, with three in the top 10 of the Times Higher Education world university rankings. There is only one other European university in the top 10 and it is Swiss. To maintain our global position, it is vital that, post-Brexit, the whole of the UK universities sector not only maintains its attractiveness to EU students, but enables more students to come from countries such as India by removing barriers. Given that students come for a set period of time and for a specific purpose, they should also be taken out of our immigration figures so that the numbers reflect those seeking to remain here.
Although the vote to leave the EU has caused some to raise fears that it will result in our becoming an inward-looking nation, cut off from the world and its opportunities, most prefer to be optimistic. Brexit is an opportunity to ensure that people with the skills and talents that we need come to Britain so that we have an immigration system that works for everyone.
The UK has been a net beneficiary of EU funding for research, benefiting from the collaboration opportunities offered by EU programmes such as Horizon 2020. However, we need to be clear that our overall contributions massively outweighed any financial returns in this particular sector. Some countries receive most of their Horizon 2020 moneys in structural funds to build up their science base, but Britain largely receives money based on excellence. We ought to be clear that scientists from across the EU gain enormously from collaborating with us. We ought not to think that we are in a weak, dependent position, because we are not.
Funding concerns have been raised by the Science and Technology Committee in its seventh report of this Session. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response in the new year. Like many, I was encouraged by their recent announcement that there would be guaranteed funding for participation in Horizon 2020 projects, even if the project finishes after our departure from the EU.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of an additional £2 billion a year of funding by 2021 for science and innovation through the new industrial strategy is welcome, but I would like clarification on where that money will be spent. Given that we will no longer be a member of the EU, we will not receive any funding from the successor to Horizon 2020. Is it possible or expected that a proportion of that £2 billion will be used to buy into, in part or in full, the successor to Horizon 2020? According to the European Commission’s rules, Britain can participate in Horizon 2020 outside the EU, just like Tunisia, Norway and Israel.
Brexit offers an opportunity to correct any failings in EU policy for science and research. For example, the EU clinical trials directive, which was approved in 2001 and introduced in 2004, is widely seen as being a failure due to increased costs, delays and differing interpretations across the EU. It is due to be replaced by the clinical trial regulation, which is widely expected to be much better and is currently due to be implemented in October 2018. That demonstrates how slow the EU can be in amending and changing regulations, with that process taking nearly 20 years.
In conclusion, I am glad to hear assurances on the future of British science and its funding, but the whole scientific community has a responsibility to secure the future of British science. It is for each and every one of our scientists to go across the world and tell everyone that we are open for business and that science has a bright future in the UK.
I rise to speak in support of UK science and research, particularly in the two world-class universities in Bristol—the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England—one of which is in my constituency and the other just outside it, as well as the business and science incubators, the catapults and the other institutions that value and need a good research environment in the European Union.
Since the referendum I have been talking with the universities about the impact on science and research of a possible exit from the EU. The science carried out at the University of Bristol is pioneering, from better early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease to tackling antimicrobial resistance; from food security to understanding how we can prevent and stop violence against women. The University of Bristol has leading researchers doing vital work. Meanwhile, across the city in UWE work is being done on big data, developing flood resilience, improving air quality, shaping sustainable suburbs and improving labour productivity. I am sure we all agree that those are important things.
If I may join in the Higgs boson name-check, Mr Higgs was in the class of 1946 in Cotham school in Bristol West. The school has educated not just Mr Higgs but my nephews and nieces and the sons of my hon. Friend Karin Smyth, so I am very fond of it. I am glad to be able to get a Higgs mention in.
There are five key issues of concern for science and research, and they are linked; no single strand stands alone. Those issues, which were set out in the recent report by the Science and Technology Committee, are: funding—that has been mentioned quite a lot today, so I will not dwell on it—people, collaboration and influence, regulation, and facilities. As Professor Ian Diamond, chair of the Universities UK research policy network, explained,
“there is no point having a regulatory framework if you do not have the talent;
there is no point having the talent if you do not have access to the grants.”
Kevin Baughan, chief development officer at Innovate UK, said:
“We cannot really look at each of those parts individually. We need a strategy and a plan that allows us to move the whole ecosystem forward, because together they take worldclass science and turn it into jobs and growth;
and together they allow businesses to export, to compete in wider markets and to build broader partnerships.”
Like my hon. Friend Chi Onwurah, I am in favour of science for science’s sake, but I think it is critical that we are clear about the economic benefits of having world-class universities. The presence of the universities in Bristol contributes such a lot, as do the staff and the students, whether they decide to stay on after graduation or beyond the life of their research project. Some are telling me that they do not want to stay, and they feel as though they might as well take an offer from a university in Berlin, Bonn or Copenhagen. Some who have families or partners from the EU say they no longer feel welcome. That is of great worry to me.
Universities UK has said that it wants the Government to recognise that our universities are one of our best exports. They contribute to the economy directly through income generated, and indirectly through longer-term contribution to knowledge. I am not going to say anything else from that page of my speech, because someone else has already said it. I think it is good to junk things when they have already been said.
I have every confidence that the universities in Bristol can compete, whatever the circumstances they find themselves in, but the issues of concern that I have mentioned need to be tackled. As well as big universities such as the ones in my constituency, I am concerned about smaller universities, which often specialise in a particular field but which are less well-equipped than the larger universities, with their economies of scale, to weather any storm arising from the uncertainty about Brexit.
In Aberystwyth, the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences—I have to declare an interest, because my niece is a PhD student there—conducts pioneering research into topics from ways to help crops to resist disease to finding out what microbes live in glaciers; that is the project my niece is involved in. Other small institutes such as the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, various institutes for music and the arts, the School of Oriental and African Studies and the Royal Agricultural University all have unique contributions to make. I worry that their size will make it harder for them to weather the storm.
I urge the Government to consider the various options for our relationship with the EU through the lens of what will make it easiest for our universities—of all shapes, sizes and specialisms—to continue to be the world-class institutes that they are. What agreements can we make on free movement of students and researchers? I might as well be honest and open, as I have been in every debate on Brexit so far, about the fact that I am a passionate believer in the value of the free movement of people, and I think that universities have a strong case to make for why that should apply to them.
What is the best regulatory framework for us to be in in order to collaborate with other EU universities? How can we make sure that British people are not delayed access to new medical treatments because of different rules? One way to ensure that the Government keep those things in mind is, as Carol Monaghan mentioned, to have the voice of science in the process. I am deeply concerned by the fact that, as the report by the Science and Technology Committee mentions, the post of chief scientific adviser at the Department for Exiting the European Union has not yet been advertised. I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on that.
Finally, will the Minister tell us at the end of the debate whether the Government have considered the other recommendations in the report by the Science and Technology Committee? Will the Government commit to keeping student numbers out of the immigration targets and caps? If they have not yet prepared a response to the Select Committee report, when will they do so? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some—or, ideally, all—of these questions, because the production of knowledge is one of the things we do best in this country and one of the things I am proudest of in my constituency.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire.
Whatever our view of the United Kingdom’s place in the world, it is probably fair to say it is indisputable that the UK is a science giant. The impact our excellent science and research base has had on the country as a whole has been profound, particularly in our great universities. As I have said previously, my constituency of Cambridge is particularly productive—a hive of science and innovation. The University of Cambridge has fostered almost 100 Nobel prize winners, and the city and surrounding area is home to a thriving network of life sciences and technology companies.
However, as Baron Rees of Ludlow once cautioned:
“Unless we get smarter, we’ll get poorer”.
Eight years later, at a time when our relationship with Europe is at a crucial juncture, that warning is all the more significant. Unfortunately, in the words of Prospect, the trade union representing many people working in the sector:
“It is inescapable that the decision to Brexit has resulted in an instant reputational hit for UK science.”
Let me begin with a plea to the Government to provide concrete, real reassurances to the EU nationals working in science and research around the country. Existing EU research staff need certainty, which is sorely missing at the moment.
I recently visited a lab at the department of physiology, development and neuroscience at the University of Cambridge as part of a pairing scheme run by the Royal Society. I shadowed a neuroscientist-neurologist, Susanna Mierau, who is studying autism, and spent much of the day with her and her colleagues. It was a brilliant and inspiring day, but what was particularly striking was the number of people working in the lab who were EU nationals. It is the same in labs around the city and across the country.
The Royal Society tells us that there are 31,000 non-UK EU citizens working in research and academia in the UK. The Babraham Institute just outside Cambridge says nearly a third of their employees and visiting researchers are non-UK EU nationals. The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, which is on the biomedical park in Cambridge, tells us that EU nationals are a significant and valuable part of their workforce, who are dedicated to beating cancer sooner, with 33% of its PhD students and 39% of its research fellows being non-UK EU nationals. The adjoining Medical Research Council laboratory of molecular biology says that 40% of its research students and 45% of its postdoctoral researchers are from the EU. At the University of Cambridge as a whole, about a quarter of academics and postdocs are EU nationals.
EU nationals are undertaking vital work across the UK to tackle global challenges and improve people’s lives, and they make a huge contribution to UK science and research. Sadly, however, written evidence from the organisations I have mentioned testifies to those people all feeling “very anxious and unwelcome”, “insecure...or even abused”, and
“concerned about their ability to continue working here”.
I find that genuinely horrifying, and I urge the Government to tell EU nationals working in UK science that they are welcome in this country.
The evidence shows that the EU researchers attracted by the UK are at the top of their fields. More than half of European Research Council consolidator grant recipients in the UK in 2014 were non-UK EU citizens. The University of Cambridge argues that UK institutions risk losing this talent and the accompanying European Research Council funding should EU researchers no longer be attracted to the UK, which is the potential consequence of any restrictions on freedom of movement. Losing access to funding is not just about attracting talent; it is also about retaining it.
All of this is not just about the UK’s standing, but about scientific progress itself. Collaboration and the pooling of international talent are essential to scientific innovation. The famous discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick involved a visiting US scientist, and monoclonal antibodies were developed by an Argentinian and a German postdoctoral fellow. Science knows no borders, so talented people and their ideas must be allowed to flow freely. If EU citizens are required to apply for a tier 2 visa to work in UK universities, that will pose a risk to universities’ ability to recruit and retain staff. Maintaining researcher mobility and refusing to create barriers to internationalism must be a priority in Brexit negotiations.
I will conclude by briefly mentioning a couple of other vital areas. I have spoken previously about the importance of ensuring that the UK has continued access to the EU regulatory framework for new medicines under the European Medicines Agency. If we reject the importance of that—as, alarmingly, the Secretary of State for International Trade did in extraordinarily cursory fashion very recently—access to new treatments will slow down, drugs prices will go up and our NHS will foot the bill. Furthermore, our life sciences sector will suffer. In Cambridge there are more than 160 life science companies, but if our country is outside the single market and is no longer able to work with the EMA, and if it moves its headquarters from London, parts of the industry will surely follow. Just recently Sweden was reported to have thrown its hat into the ring to host the EMA headquarters.
Likewise, our technology sector is reliant upon retaining the current regulatory system, in this case ensuring that UK data protection rules are at least in line with the new general data protection regulation following Brexit. The cross-border sharing of international data flows is essential if we want our technology and financial services sectors to remain globally competitive. The Minister for Digital and Culture said in response to an Adjournment debate that I secured recently:
“We want a data protection framework that works best for the UK and meets our needs. Those consultations will be forthcoming.” —[Official Report,
Vol. 618, c. 594.]
I wonder whether we can now be told when those consultations will be published. He also said that the Government were considering all options for the most beneficial way of ensuring that the UK’s data protection regime continues to build a culture of data confidence and trust, which safeguards citizens and supports businesses in a global data economy. Perhaps the Minister responding today can outline some of those options.
We need better answers from the Government and soon, or we risk seeing the great advantages and opportunities achieved by UK science and tech squandered, at great cost to us all.
It is an honour to follow Daniel Zeichner, who I rather feel covered every corner of how important it is for science that the movement of people and scientists is kept in place.
I do not really apologise for being parochial; I am here to speak on behalf of Northern Ireland. I was vice-Chair of the Committee for Education in the Northern Ireland Assembly for three years. Under the previous Minister, I watched funding cuts for Sentinus, teaching and, basically, the whole of science, yet somehow Northern Ireland remained high up there with its results. However, we should keep in mind that this year it has dropped some six places in the science tables.
I spoke about this the week before last, but it is key to Northern Ireland, being an island off an island and having a land border with Ireland, that we keep our trade and the movement of people, which is becoming even more essential to our economy. The universities want all universities in the United Kingdom to thrive. Queen’s University is very much part of the Russell Group. It sees it as absolutely essential to maintain mobility of staff and students throughout the whole of Europe, along with access to research funding and collaboration in projects. That is the key, so when Ministers look at Northern Ireland and Brexit, I ask them to ensure that research and development and the funding for universities are some of our top priorities.
We have Ulster University and Queen’s University, with the Magee campus in Londonderry. When it comes to funding, Ulster University has had €9.92 million to date and is looking to try and get another €10.5 million. Queen’s has attracted €61 million and wants to get more, but the message that they are sending us is that they need clarity. They want an end to the uncertainty. They know that the funding has been guaranteed up to when we leave, but after that they need to be able to promise something to the people they are trying to attract, so that we hold them there and do not lose them.
To borrow a little bit of the Christmas spirit, someone said to me last week that we should be following the star. All students follow the star: they want to go to the university where that star professor is, so we have to make sure that we keep the key people in the universities. If there is a key message to take on board, that is it. I am grateful for what the Chancellor has said and for the clarification, but in Northern Ireland we need to know that the funding will be ring-fenced and not lost in the Barnett formula and spent with other things. We need to make sure that it comes through to the universities.
I was pleased to see that one of the British Academy’s key points was about paying particular attention to Northern Ireland and working with the Irish. Another of its points, which we should all remember, was that 50% of academic papers are written with international partners. That is how it should remain. We should keep working together. That does not mean only Europe—we can and should look outwards to gather in specialists from the whole world.
Northern Ireland is well known for aerospace, defence, pharmaceuticals and medical research—one example would be Frank Pantridge, the cardiologist. Like all hon. Members, I could name plenty of people who have set examples, but we have to ensure that it happens into the future. At the moment, the anecdotes we are hearing tell us that Northern Ireland universities are losing out. People are already looking elsewhere for collaboration. We must ensure that we stop that today. Six per cent. of University of Ulster and 30% of Queen’s staff come from Europe. We must ensure that we keep those people.
It is essential to take another point on board. The UCAS tells us that the number of students coming to Northern Ireland is 9% down on last year. We had increased the number every year until this year. We must look at what we are doing on science.
I have pleaded enough. I hate always making Northern Ireland a special case, but it is our home. It is important that we pull all those things together, work and see everywhere thrive.
Few will be surprised if I approach today’s debate from a decidedly Scottish perspective. With five universities ranked in the top 200 academic institutions in the world, Scotland certainly punches above its weight, which is reflected in the world renowned academic research carried out north of border. The University of Edinburgh is one example. The research carried out there is truly groundbreaking. We would be hard-pushed to find someone who has not heard of the Higgs boson or Dolly the sheep. It is little wonder that the University of Edinburgh enjoys such a consistently high placing in international league tables.
We should rightly be concerned when that esteemed university warns of the risk of harm to the quality of its research posed by Brexit. In written evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee, the institution gives a stark warning that our exit from the European Union could lead to fewer excellent researchers getting permission to apply to universities here; that fewer international universities will be willing to collaborate with UK universities and researchers; and that less funding could be available. It argues that that could lead to a loss of its global reputation, a loss of opportunities for UK researchers and scientists, and less high-quality advice being available to the Government and business. It warns that, in turn, that could seriously impact on our ability to tackle global problems such as clean energy, food security and ageing populations.
The Government seem capable only of sowing more confusion. There are reports that the Home Office is considering plans almost to halve the number of international student visas issued. Forty-two per cent. of students at the University of Edinburgh are EU and international students. Those proposals will only compound the stark Brexit warning it has issued.
One positive measure that the Government could take now is to give clarity that the immigration rights of EU nationals currently living in Scotland will not change in future. Such assurances would help forward planning and the retention of researchers and scientists. I recently received a letter from Professor Craig Mahoney, principal of the University of the West of Scotland, which plans to open a new state-of-the-art campus in my constituency. In the letter, he emphasises the huge importance of international students not only to universities but to our society and economy. He cites a report from BiGGAR Economics, which found that the university generates £538 million gross value added in Scotland and supports almost 4,500 jobs. He stresses that a significant element of the corporate strategy of the university is to grow the number of international students. It is my belief that the uncertainty caused by Brexit seriously jeopardises that. The immigration status of EU nationals is not some negotiating piece for the Prime Minister, and treating it as such is causing damage.
In addition to clarity on immigration, the Government should start to give answers on future research funding. The University of the West of Scotland has received more than €740,000 of Horizon 2020 funding, with Scottish higher education institutions receiving around €165 million in total. The promise of a Treasury guarantee for current Horizon 2020 funding is welcome, but simply does not go far enough. The Government need to provide the necessary certainty so that academic and research institutions know that they will have enough support for the duration of their projects. We also need a clear sign of Government intent to put in place an equivalent funding framework post Brexit.
The UK already compares very badly with its competitors, and the decision to leave the EU will only further exacerbate the UK Government’s failures in the fields of science and innovation. The hugely negative effect that will have on our economy cannot be understated. The Scottish National party Scottish Government take a very different approach, fostering innovation, investment and internationalism. We want Scotland to become a fairer and more competitive economy. Madam Deputy Speaker, you can be assured that those of us on the SNP Benches will not stand idly by and watch the Tories wage war on our world-class educational institutions.
Almost six months after the vote to leave the EU, it is time for the Government to get their act together and start coming up with some answers. I hope the Minister will do so tonight.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate on a subject that is very close to my heart. As an NHS scientist before I came to this place, I worked in a field that thrived on collaboration and recognised no geographical boundaries.
As many Members have said, our UK universities are rightly held in high esteem worldwide. We have 18 of the top 100 universities in the world, including four in the top 10. Listening to Danny Kinahan, I was pleased to hear that even the Brexiteers are remainers when it comes to our universities.
You’ll get your chance.
Looking at British science, it is well known that Britain punches well above its weight in the international university league tables. It does so mainly thanks to EU grants. It is not awash with funding, and in fact has the lowest per capita spending on research of any G7 country.
The referendum outcome has led to uncertainty about its implications for the higher education sector. It is easy to trot out the phrase “Brexit means Brexit”, but, as ever, the devil is in the detail and, for the sake of the future of science and research in this country, that detail cannot be glossed over in a soundbite. There are two aspects of the human and intellectual cost of Brexit for universities. The first is the potential for another brain drain. The second is the potential restrictions on overseas research students.
I say another brain drain as it sadly would be nothing new. Many senior figures in British universities remember the lack of support from the Thatcher Government in the ’80s and the exodus of scientists abroad. It is ironic that the four British Nobel prize winners this year, Duncan Haldane, David Thouless, Michael Kosterlitz and Sir Fraser Stoddart, are all based in the US, having been forced out during the 1980s brain drain. British research scientists are worried that the Prime Minister’s mantra of “Brexit means Brexit” will lead to a lack of funding and grants for British science and the potential for a modern-day brain drain.
Added to that is the potential for UK universities to become less attractive to international research students. The vice-chancellors of the London School of Economics, King’s College, London, and Bristol have already voiced their fears about recruitment of international students, and the serious potential financial and human resource consequences for our universities.
The vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, is a stalwart remainer, but in common with many who voted to remain, he is a pragmatist and wants Cambridge to get the best out of Brexit. He says that to achieve this the Government must provide some basic clarity on what exactly Brexit means. He is asking for three things from the Government: clarity on the national status of university staff; a recognition of the collaborative ideal implicit in EU projects; and a Government guarantee of vital university budgets.
I hope the vice-chancellor’s requests will be heeded by the Government. He is, after all, what some might regard as something of an expert. Although the people of this country were urged not to listen to experts during the referendum, on this subject, and indeed on many others affected by the Brexit negotiations, it is absolutely vital that the Government pay heed to our finest minds. They are not asking for a running commentary; they are asking for clarity and a coherent, informed plan as to the exact nature and manner of our departure from the EU. The EU makes substantial financial contributions to research in UK universities. Research funding from the EU amounts to around £l billion per year, while our own national research budget is below international averages.
I represent a Greater Manchester constituency and universities across our region have more than 4,000 EU students currently on campuses. That equates to spending of £90 million per year not just on tuition fees, but on expenditure in the local economy. Manchester University, which is 29th in the world’s top 100 universities, received £48 million in research funding in the past two years alone. The loss of such substantial funding and a failure to attract EU students could not fail to have a detrimental effect on our area. I cannot lay claim to a connection with Mr Higgs, but in a recent interview on the effect of Brexit one of Manchester University’s most famous academics, Professor Brian Cox—who, like me, was born in Oldham—said:
“The central issue for science is that it’s a global pursuit. I work at the Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. That’s a global project. The thing scientists and universities are most worried about is movement of people around the world. We need to say this is a country where you’re welcome to live and study and do science. But at the moment, the image we’re representing to Europe and the rest of the world isn’t the right one.”
I am very pleased to be able to speak in this debate. As a health spokesperson, I take a great interest in medical research and I am intensely proud of our universities in Northern Ireland, which are top in their field of medical research. I am also very happy to follow Liz McInnes.
I always, unashamedly, go out to bat for Northern Ireland and Strangford, and I will do so today. As a Brexiteer—one who voted to leave and was very proud that the people of the United Kingdom and my constituency also made that decision—I see an opportunity. The Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast is a cross-faculty, interdisciplinary research centre with over 300 clinical and basic researchers from across the world. It achieves the highest quality of research excellence. Research in the institute extends from population studies of cancer etiology, through tumour biology and clinical trials, to outcomes and health services research. The institute is committed to fostering transdisciplinary investigation of areas of cancer control that lie at the interface between fundamental, clinical and population research. The three are currently populated by approximately 250 faculty, graduate and post-doctoral trainees and support staff. Opportunities for graduate and post-doctoral training are offered in partnership with several departments at the university, including: biomedical, anatomy and cell biology, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, pharmacology and toxicology, community health and epidemiology, mathematics and statistics, oncology, pathology and medicine, and Queen’s school of policy studies. All that is done with expertise at Queen’s University. The institute is supported by the Terry Fox Foundation, in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
This high level of research needs a highly qualified and specialised skill set. It is clear that in leaving the EU, we need to ensure that that skill set is protected and that our universities are able to continue their priceless work. I support the recent call by the president of the Royal Society in the Financial Times to ensure that we continue to build on our position as a world leader in science and innovation. We are doing that in Northern Ireland, and we want to continue to do that. We are looking to the Government simply to make sure that that happens. I have every faith that the Brexit team understands the necessity of the arrangements that need to be put in place to ensure that this knowledge and skill share can and will take place. I see the Minister nodding in appreciation, and I am sure that it will be confirmed further in a few moments when he rises to speak.
It is clear that UK research benefits from the immigration of top foreign researchers to the UK. These include several Nobel prize winners, so we must have in place the ability to ensure that they are able to live and work here for the benefit of the UK and our scientific and research industry. As the President of the Royal Society has said:
“Today, 30% of our academic research staff are from abroad and a third of UK start-ups were founded by non-UK nationals. We are second only to the US as a destination for global talent. Their presence ensures that we remain first-rate, and importantly, produces a first-rate environment for training home-grown talent. Losing them would be a disaster for our economy. We need to take immediate steps to reassure those who are here that they remain welcome.”
And they are welcome; we want them to stay. I hope the Minister will say this very clearly in few moments. The role played by foreign scientists and graduates must not be overlooked or underestimated. They are an essential component in the cog of our industry, and I am taking the opportunity to underline that fact and put it on the record in this Chamber today.
In 2015, over half of the UK’s research output was the result of an international collaboration, and these collaborations are increasing. The European Research Council, which is part of Horizon 2020 and funds frontier research purely on the basis of scientific excellence, has established a very strong international reputation. In Queen’s University, we have international partnerships with companies and businesses, with other universities across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and indeed across the world—all coming together to bring the needed scientific excellence right there at Queen’s University in Belfast in Northern Ireland. Although this funding stream does not require international collaboration, 58% of papers with ERC funding have co-authors who are based in other countries.
Collaboration enhances the quality of scientific research, improves the efficiency and effectiveness of that research and is increasingly necessary, as the scale of both budgets and research challenges grow. I am sure that in his response, the Minister will confirm that the collaboration that already takes place will continue post-Brexit and into the future. The primary driver of most collaboration, however, is the scientists themselves. In developing their research and finding answers, scientists are seeking to work with the best people, best institutions and best equipment that complement their research, wherever they may be. It just happens that most of those good people are in Belfast at Queen’s University.
This collaboration must be maintained and enhanced, which brings me back to my foundation point about Brexit: this is an opportunity to put in place mutually beneficial co-operation between countries that we must make the most of. I believe we have an opportunity to do just that. We work better as a team, and Brexit must take the opportunity to put in place the rules that enhance the games and bring the best results. I have every confidence in the Brexit Minister and his team here in this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—we are better together!
Before I start to conclude the debate, it is worth noting that, as you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, while we have been debating this important issue, somebody has driven a lorry into a Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, killing nine people. I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House in expressing our solidarity with the German people at this time, and in expressing our shared commitment to work together to oppose all those who challenge the democratic values that we share across Europe.
This is the third of our general debates on exiting the European Union, and I am sure that at some stage the Government will tot up all the hours we have spent in the Chamber and claim that it in some way represents the involvement of Parliament in the Brexit process. I see the Minister nodding. However, that misses the point. Although we have had a very interesting debate, in which Members on both sides have demonstrated their understanding of and commitment to the importance of science and research in the economic future of our country, we have not been much illuminated on the Government’s thinking or plans, which I had thought—perhaps naively—would have something to do with these general debates.
I welcome the many speeches that were made today, particularly the powerful maiden speech from Sarah Olney. No doubt Mr Carmichael will pass on my view—which I am sure is shared throughout the House—that her speech demonstrated that she will add real value to this place. She rightly emphasised that we have become a divided country, and spoke of the need for leadership—a leadership which I think is sadly lacking at present.
As I have said, we are no clearer about how the Government aim to protect science and research in the Brexit negotiations. For example, Neil Carmichael, the Chair of the Education Committee, asked the Minister a relatively simple and straightforward question—whether the Government would seek associate country status in successor programmes to Horizon 2020—but we received no answer.
Members have pointed out throughout the debate that as we navigate our way in an increasingly competitive world, the future of our economy will depend heavily on research and innovation. Many have talked of our strengths, but there are also weaknesses which we need to recognise. A particular weakness is the lack of investment in research and development. We have slipped from leading the OECD countries in respect of spending as a percentage of GDP in 1979 to trailing behind all our competitors. The United States invests 2.8% of its GDP in R and D, and OECD countries, like the EU, average 2.4%, but the UK invests just 1.7%, less than half the 3.9% invested by South Korea, which, as a result, remains a major manufacturing nation.
As was pointed out by many Members, including my hon. Friend Judith Cummins, one of our strengths—and it is considerable—is the research capacity of our universities. However, that strength will be at risk if the Government get Brexit wrong. What does getting it wrong look like in relation to research and science? What are the risks? In an excellent report published by the Science and Technology Committee, its Chair, Stephen Metcalfe, highlighted the five key issues: funding, people, collaboration, regulation and facilities. He also rightly expressed a fear that if we were not careful, science could be one of the casualties of Brexit. I am sure that all of us, throughout the House, share a desire for that not to be the case, in which context it would be useful if the Minister could answer the hon. Gentleman’s question about when the Department would appoint a chief scientific adviser.
Because our universities are so good, as many have pointed out, we do disproportionately well from EU research funding, better per head than any other EU country. As we heard from Nicky Morgan, EU programmes provide nearly 15% of UK university research funding, and we can all agree on the importance of that funding. With it comes critical collaboration, and my hon. Friend Helen Goodman was right to refer to the pan-European collaboration that comes through involvement in Horizon 2020 and its predecessor programmes. All that will be at risk if research is not placed centre stage in the Brexit negotiations.
The second point made by the Chair of the Select Committee was about people. Again because our universities are so good, they attract great staff from all over the world. Some 28% of academics are non-UK citizens, and 15% are from EU countries. When it comes to key research staff, the proportion is much higher—more than half in some STEM subjects. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, we have all heard stories of jobs declined, or of those already here questioning their future in the UK because the Government will not give the assurance for which the House asked in July: a unilateral commitment that those who are currently in the UK will be able to stay when we leave the EU, on the same terms that they currently enjoy. As Carol Monaghan pointed out, we should never forget that these are highly mobile people. They do not have to be here; they have lots of other offers available to them. They are not a drain; they are an asset to the UK.
If we leave the EU with no deal on the future movement of workers, we will fall back on current immigration rules which, as my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner pointed out, will not work because there are tens of thousands of early-career academics and researchers who will not meet the tier 2 income threshold, which could create a crisis for our research community.
As with staff, so with students, as Danny Kinahan and others pointed out. Around 125,000 of our 436,000 international students are from the EU, and their future is uncertain. A survey before
One would imagine that the Government would be seeking to mitigate this risk by setting out a clear strategy for maintaining our position as a destination of choice for international students. But instead the Home Secretary has, extraordinarily, put international students at the centre of her plans to cut migration, making a bad situation worse.
What do we need from the Brexit negotiations? First, we need a plan. I am pleased that the House agreed, and we are looking forward to seeing it so that we can start some meaningful debates to replace the general debates we are enjoying so much at the moment. Clearly the Minister is not going to share the plan at this stage, but I hope he will share his views on a few key questions that will be central to it.
On funding, will the Minister give a clear commitment that the Government will prioritise research and innovation in the negotiations with our partners in Europe, with a view to ensuring continued UK participation in EU research programmes, not just for the full duration of Horizon 2020 but for framework programme 9 and successor programmes? Will he outline beyond the £2 billion already announced—which I think takes our R and D investment as a percentage of GDP from 1.7% to 1.9%, on a rough calculation—what plans he has to strengthen support for research and innovation more widely to mitigate any damage from leaving the EU?
On staff, will the Minister press for the earliest confirmation that EU nationals working in our universities and on research programmes in the private sector can remain on current terms without having to apply for leave to remain, as my hon. Friend Jim Dowd argued? Will the Minister go further and say what assurances the Government will give to those who join our universities during the pre-Brexit period until 2019, because if there are no such assurances, recruitment will be made significantly more difficult? What representations is the Minister making about future visa arrangements post-Brexit so that we can continue to enjoy the benefits of securing the services of the best researchers from the EU and the rest of the world?
On students, does the Minister agree that we need early clarity on fee levels and access to student funding for EU students? We have it for next year, but what about 2018-19, and will it apply to postgraduates as well as undergraduates? Does he agree that we need to confirm the immigration status of existing and prospective EU students and their right to remain in the UK for work and postgraduate study?
Among the many issues we face, these are relatively straightforward questions, but an awful lot depends on the answers. If the Minister cannot answer them fully tonight, I hope he will ensure that the answers are in the plan that we will see in the new year, because our economy and our future as a country depend on it.
It is always a pleasure to follow Paul Blomfield. First, I should like to echo his comments about the appalling loss of life in Berlin. I am sure that the whole House will join us in expressing solidarity and sympathy for the victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected, and we should stand shoulder to shoulder with Germany and our European allies and partners after a terrible incident of this sort.
This has been an excellent debate and I would like to thank all hon. Members who have contributed, particularly Sarah Olney, who made an accomplished maiden speech and who spoke about Parliament bringing people together after the referendum. I agree that it is the responsibility of all of us to aim to do that. This has been the third in the series of debates on important issues arising in the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union that was promised by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend Mr Davis. I would like to note how fruitful my ministerial colleagues and I have found these debates. I am also glad that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central has enjoyed them so much. I had the very first debate in Westminster Hall when the House returned after the summer recess, and it is a delight to conclude this term with the last major Government debate in the main Chamber.
The UK’s global status as a science and research superpower is fundamental to our wider economic competitiveness. Chi Onwurah described it as the engine of prosperity. This Government want the UK to be the go-to place for innovators and investors across the world, and we intend to secure the right outcome for the UK research base as we exit the European Union. This debate has highlighted some of the issues that we know we will have to consider as we negotiate to leave the EU, but retaining and building on our science and research base is a top priority that is shared by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, as we have seen today. Before I begin to respond to some of the helpful points raised by Members, I would like to take time to point to the action that the Government have already taken to secure our place in the world of research and science.
The Government are determined to ensure that all relevant views from stakeholders are reflected in our analysis of the options for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. We are conducting a range of meetings with stakeholders to build national consensus around our negotiating position. This includes a wide programme of engagement within the Department to ensure that the views of the research and science sectors are heard. I should like to reassure Liz McInnes that we are, in fact, listening to experts.
My ministerial colleagues and I have met a number of higher education institutions and groups, including Universities UK, the National Academies, the Russell Group and the Universities of Swansea, Reading, Ulster and Strathclyde, to name but a few. Just last week, I attended the new stakeholder working group on EU exit, universities, research and innovation, hosted by the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, my hon. Friend Joseph Johnson. The sector strongly supports our ambition to create an environment in which the UK as a whole can continue to be a world leader in research, science and the tertiary education sector.
We are also continuing to talk to representatives of the science and technology sectors. Between myself and ministerial colleagues, we have recently met Sir Mark Walport, the Government chief scientific adviser, as well as the presidents of Royal Society and the Royal Academies and representatives from the life sciences, environment, chemicals, space and tech sectors. I want to reassure Daniel Zeichner, who spoke passionately about data, that the digital sector has advocated a strong position on the freedom of movement of data.
I have also enjoyed giving evidence to the Select Committee chaired by my hon. Friend Stephen Metcalfe, and I welcome the report, to which the Government will respond in full at a later date. To answer a point raised by him and by my hon. Friend Dr Mathias, we are working closely with the Government’s chief scientific adviser and the Government Office for Science to ensure that we have access to the expertise that we need. I recently visited Surrey Satellites in Guildford to see at first hand the levels of innovation in the UK space industry, which the Science Minister was right to praise in his opening speech. We will continue to meet such stakeholders in the coming months.
The Government have already taken action on some of the concerns raised by such groups. The Treasury will underwrite all successful bids for Horizon 2020 that are approved by the European Commission, even when specific projects continue beyond our departure from the EU, giving British participants and their EU partners the assurance and certainty needed to plan ahead for projects that can run over many years. The Treasury guarantee sends a clear message to UK businesses and universities that they should continue to bid for competitive EU funding while we remain a member of the EU. My right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan, with whom it was such a pleasure to work during her time as Education Secretary, gave an important example of where restored funding was a direct result of the guarantee. It will help ensure that the UK continues to be a world leader in international research and innovation.
We have provided further assurance to universities by confirming that existing EU students and those starting courses in 2016-17 and 2017-18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and home fee status for the duration of their courses. We recently extended that assurance to postgraduate support through research council studentships, which will remain open to EU students starting courses in the 2017-18 academic year. The funding support will cover the duration of their course, even if the course concludes after the UK has left the EU. As the Science Minister said earlier, we will decide the policy for the 2018-19 academic year in good time for applications.
The hon. Member for Sheffield Central and his Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, challenged the Government on our science funding, but at a time of tight control over overall public spending, it is significant that the Government were able to protect the science budget, with a total investment of £26 billion between 2016-17 and 2020-21. We have been going even further to support a healthy science and technology ecosystem in this country. The Government recently committed to substantial real-terms increases in Government investment in R and D, rising to an extra £2 billion a year by 2020-21, to help put Britain at the cutting edge of science and technology. I join my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock, who is Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, and my hon. Friend David Rutley in welcoming that.
A new industrial strategy challenge fund will direct some investment to scientific research and the development of a number of priority technologies in particular, helping to address Britain’s historic weakness in commercialisation and turning our world-leading research into long-term success. To realise the full economic potential of new technologies, we have also announced a review of the support for organisations undertaking research through the tax system, looking at the global competitiveness of the UK offer. The Treasury will look at whether we can make this support even more effective to ensure that the UK continues to encourage innovation actively. Ultimately, we need to ensure that our world-beating science and research base maintains global research excellence in our institutions, innovation in our businesses, and strong local economies across the UK.
It was striking to hear hon. Members from both sides of the House, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) and for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), my right hon. Friend Judith Cummins, for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan), speak passionately about the benefits that science, universities and research bring to their constituencies. While we can be confident that our fundamentals are strong, we need fully to evaluate the consequences, challenges and opportunities to UK science and innovation of leaving the EU. That will take time, and I am grateful for the support and challenge that we have received from this House and from a wide range of informed sources.
I see continued confidence in the UK as a natural home for and world leader in science and innovation. Since the referendum, for example, we have welcomed many hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment in the life sciences and pharmaceuticals sector from Alnylam, GSK and AstraZeneca, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield; an £80 million investment in space technology from Seraphim Capital; and important job announcements from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM, which will build four new data centres here in the UK. A recent survey by the CBI shows that 70% of businesses plan to increase or maintain their innovation spending following the vote to leave the EU. Only 7% plan to reduce their investment. The UK has always been one of the most innovative nations on the face of the earth, and I am certain that it will remain so.
I will now respond to some of the helpful points raised by hon. Members from across the House. We have covered a wide range of topics today, so I want to try to summarise the comments made and what I have learned across three key areas: funding, people, and collaboration.
As my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation and I have both already set out, UK businesses should continue to bid for competitive EU funds while we remain a member of the EU, and we will work with the Commission to ensure payment when funds are awarded. The Treasury will underwrite the payment of such successful awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. The Government have also reassured organisations that structural and investment fund projects signed before the UK withdraws from the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave, up to 2020.[This section has been corrected on
The views expressed in the House today, including by many who campaigned to leave, such as my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, my hon. Friend Jim Shannon, have echoed what we have been hearing from stakeholders on the importance of research mobility. We are carefully considering the impact of this across the sector, but our ambition is to create an immigration system that allows us to control numbers, and encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country.
May I invite the Minister to visit Queen’s University Belfast? That would encourage people there, it would be a chance to show businesses what we are doing and it would allow the partnerships at Queen’s University to grow even more.
I would be delighted to accept the hon. Gentleman’s invitation. I have already visited one university in Northern Ireland, but I would be delighted to visit another, as soon as the opportunity arises.
There has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK, or of British citizens in the EU, as an immediate result of the referendum. The Prime Minister has been clear that during negotiations she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that would not be possible are if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return. I was glad to hear her repeat in her statement today her desire to see such a deal come early. Looking to the future, I will repeat again what my Secretary of State has said before:
“We will always welcome those with the skills, the drive and the expertise to make our nation better still. If we are to win in the global marketplace, we must win the global battle for talent. Britain has always been one of the most tolerant and welcoming places on the face of the earth. It must and it will remain so.”
Let us get back to the issue of the status of EU nationals in this country. Everybody will have noticed the somewhat embarrassing position in which the Prime Minister found herself at the European Council when she raised this issue; her next remarks apparently were,
“I think I’d better leave”, which got no response at all. I am sure the Minister will not be able to answer this authoritatively, but what is preventing the Government from offering that undertaking now and then going on to article 50 discussions at the later date?
I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that it is very clear that the Government have the ambition of securing that through the negotiations. We have raised the issue at the European Council and the response the Government have received is that there is no negotiation without notification. We need to secure this issue through the negotiations. However, as many colleagues have said, including my hon. Friend Chris Green and the hon. Member for Strangford, there are opportunities to support the needs of the research and scientific communities to attract global talent in the future. It is a mark of success that the UK is the second greatest destination for international students after the USA.
This debate has underscored what we have been hearing as to just how vital international collaboration is to successful research. We have also heard about the importance of access to European and global research infrastructures. Every international collaboration is different, and we will need to look carefully at all of them to ensure that UK scientists continue to have access to cutting-edge equipment and co-operations. In the majority of cases, UK access to research facilities is not dependent on being a member of the EU. For example, at CERN, we are a member in our own right and this will continue. The European Space Agency is another example of where our involvement is not dependent on the EU, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has mentioned the continued investments we are making there.
We have taken no final decisions on how our future relationship on research with the EU will look. There are a number of options under consideration, but let me stress that international collaboration in this space is nothing new. We are thinking through how best UK researchers can continue to be able to work with the very best of their international counterparts, both European and more widely. We start from a strong basis: a recent survey showed that 47.6% of UK articles were internationally co-authored. In line with our Prime Minister’s vision for a global Britain, we should seek to keep building on that. The decision to double our investment in the Newton Fund was a positive statement of intent in this regard. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport made clear, we must take the broader global opportunities. I should add that John Mann, who is no longer in his place—[Interruption.] Oh, there he is—sorry. I greatly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s endorsement of our strategy for the great repeal Bill.
I would like to close by saying that the Government are committed to ensuring that research and innovation in the UK will continue to be a major success story after we withdraw from the EU.
I will not; I have given way many times already.
As the Prime Minister said earlier, we will negotiate to reflect the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that friends and allies enjoy. That should include the fields of science and research, which are vital to our country’s prosperity, security and wellbeing. We are determined to ensure that people and businesses have stability and certainty in the period leading up to our departure from the EU and that we use the opportunities that that departure presents to reinforce our own priorities as a United Kingdom. In the field of research, Britain is not just a European leader but a global one, and throughout the process we will be doing all we can to ensure that we stay that way. The excellence of our research and the attractiveness of the UK as a place to do it are fundamental to our success.
As well as a more or less complete life history of Mr Higgs of Higgs boson fame, we heard a number of bids during this debate: from my hon. Friend Mr Brazier for a medical school; from my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough for a life sciences centre; and from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield for a world heritage site. There was also a request from the hon. Member for South Antrim for extra funding for Northern Ireland.
Although I am afraid I am not in a position to play Santa Claus from the Dispatch Box, I assure those Members that their pleas will have been heard. Speaking personally, I hope they get all the presents that they wished for. Mr Speaker, I take this opportunity to thank hon. Members on both sides for their contributions today and to wish them and you a merry Christmas and all the best for 2017.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered exiting the EU and science and research.