Brexit, Science and Innovation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:05 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 1:05 pm, 6th September 2018

The right hon. Gentleman pre-empts what I was going to say. That was the subject of our second report, and he is right that, whenever we go to a research lab in a university or a research institute, we find a global community—a community not just of Europeans but of people from around the world.

If our pre-eminent position is to be maintained and indeed strengthened, we need to make sure we can continue to attract people to our country.

I have one other point to make about the danger of this uncertainty. Why would anyone risk their bid, which might involve other universities from across the EU, by listing the UK as a lead partner if there are question marks as to whether we can receive funds on behalf of others? The danger of this continuing uncertainty is also that the UK, which has been very good at leading research collaborations, will lose out on the opportunity to do that during this period of uncertainty.

The Committee also argued that it was important to try to separate out science and innovation from the rest of the process so that it does not become collateral damage. The no deal technical note shows why that is a pressing issue; science could suffer as a result of a no deal scenario, and it is in no one’s interests to let that happen. I would like to hear the Minister’s views on the possibility of creating an accord on science and innovation that could withstand a no deal scenario. I hope he will address that during the debate.

Access to funding has clearly been a big issue in this report, but we are also clear that a science and innovation pact—this relates to the point made by Hilary Benn—has also fully to cover the people element. We were told that a pact that did not address the need to attract and retain the people needed to support science and innovation would be of limited value. We were given the clear message that access to the best people is the most important priority; beyond the collaboration and the funding issues, we have to be able to bring in the best people for research in this country.

At the time, the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on immigration and the UK economy was many months away. We were told it was due in September, so, presumably, it is due any day now. We recommended in March that the MAC should be asked to bring forward its conclusions relating to the migration of scientists and researchers so that the comprehensive pact could be agreed early on. The Government rejected that recommendation in their response. We were told that agreeing a pact—now described as one of the “accords” in the most recent Brexit White Paper—remained an ambition but that we would have to wait until September for the MAC to produce its report before anything relating to immigration could be considered. We are in September now and this becomes a pressing issue.