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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage 3:40 pm, 12th March 2020

I start by congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), for Leigh (James Grundy) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter) on their maiden speeches. I already knew them to be good colleagues, but they have shown this afternoon what great advocates they will be for their constituents.

I will talk about the innovation aspects of this Budget, because there is a lot to welcome. The UK has a proud record of scientific and technological innovation, and the Budget alludes to various facts to back that up, such as being the country with the second largest number of Nobel laureates.

World-class science is happening across my constituency of Wantage and Didcot, so I welcome the Government’s commitment to 0.8% of GDP being put to research and development, and it is particularly welcome that that places us above countries such as the US, China and Japan as a proportion of GDP.

The Budget has a £180 million commitment for a new Natural History Museum centre at the Harwell campus. The Natural History Museum is not in my constituency, but it is a well-known and well-loved institution with 80 million specimens and 5 million visitors a year. I imagine that many hon. Members are among its regular visitors, and my hon. Friend Felicity Buchan has the privilege of having it in her constituency. If the museum ever wants to move, it can get me through the parliamentary switchboard.

The Harwell campus in my constituency is less well known, but it has £2 billion-worth of laboratories and 6,000 people working there from over 250 organisations. It does world-leading research in areas like space, energy and life sciences. It is less well known, partly because people cannot visit it in the same way as the Natural History Museum, but also because of its history. The UK did its atomic energy research there from the 1940s onwards, so it literally was not on the map at that time. Angus Horner, the entrepreneurial guy who runs the campus, has been working to get it on the map and is doing a great job.

The commitment to a new storage and research facility will move about 40% of the Natural History Museum’s collection to the Harwell campus, along with some of the scientists, so it can work on some of the biggest challenges we face today, such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity and emerging illnesses and diseases. The principle of Harwell is that if we bring people together on the same campus, they can work out the solutions to coming and developing problems.

The announcement is hugely welcome because it will help the UK to punch above its weight again in these areas, and it will have a number of other positive knock-on effects. For example, one problem with the Natural History Museum’s buildings is that the museum currently has to use galleries as storage facilities. Moving some of those items to Harwell will open up more of the galleries so that visitors, from here and elsewhere, can see more of the museum.

I also hope that it will play a key role in inspiring young people in Wantage, Didcot and beyond to get interested in science and be the scientists of the future. In that regard, it will show the benefit of Harwell to the constituency, to our country and to the global science and policy community. I very much welcome the Government’s commitment, and feel sure that the return on this investment in future years will be considerable.