Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 2:03 pm, 23rd March 2021

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I should like to start my remarks by drawing attention to the much-celebrated work of Edward Jenner. I am sure that many of us appreciate his work. He is often referred to as the father of immunology; he was a British physician who created the world’s first vaccine. As I am sure all hon. Members know, he was an apprentice to a surgeon in Chipping Sodbury in the constituency of my hon. Friend Luke Hall. Mr Jenner essentially discovered immunisation. When we consider the coronavirus that has devasted our country and the world this year and last year, Jenner’s work takes on a particular resonance.

Thanks to the UK’s historic funding for research and the groundbreaking action of scientists at Oxford University, a British vaccine is once again helping us to return to a more normal life. It has shown us all the incredible benefits that breakthrough science and technology can provide. Building on our country’s proud history of wonderful inventions, I was particularly pleased to announce the creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency last month. I am sure that it will play a unique and exciting role in the UK’s research and development system.

The new agency will be characterised by a sole focus on funding high-risk, high-reward research. It will have strategic and cultural autonomy. It will invest in the judgment of able people, and it will also enjoy flexibility and a wide degree of operational freedom. I have spoken with many of our leading scientists, researchers and innovators and their message has been absolutely clear. I am convinced that these features will make ARIA succeed.

The creation of ARIA is part of a concerted action by this Government to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. With £800 million committed to ARIA by 2024-25, the new agency will contribute extremely effectively to our R&D ecosystem. As set out in our policy statement published only last week, we have to give ARIA significant powers and freedoms and a mandate to be bold. To deliver that, we have introduced the ARIA Bill.

The Bill recognises that funding transformational long-term science requires patience and a high risk appetite. The Bill explicitly states that ARIA may give weight to the potential of significant benefits when funding research that carries a high risk of failure. This freedom to fail is fundamental to ARIA’s model, and the provision will empower its leaders to make ambitious research and funding decisions. When we look back in history, to the 1950s and 1960s, we see that with this approach a US agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency developed GPS as well as the precursor to the internet.

The Bill will also signal a 10-year grace period before the power to dissolve the agency can be exercised. The agency will be focused exclusively, as I have said, on high-risk research. It requires patience and a laser-like focus as necessary conditions for success.