Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 2:16 pm, 23rd March 2021

Let me start by saying that across the House we share the admiration for British science. It is one of our most brilliant national assets, employing nearly 1 million people directly and generating extraordinary value for our country. As the Secretary of State eloquently said, the work on vaccines has been truly remarkable. We commend our scientists and everyone involved for their work. Indeed, I hope the Secretary of State will not mind my saying that it is a successful example of an industrial strategy; Greg Clark probably shares my view.

I turn to the details of the Bill. I should say from the beginning that we support the Bill; we have some issues with it, but we certainly support its aims. I just want to say something about the wider context, because I found it slightly remarkable that the Secretary of State did not mention the fact that we are two weeks from the start of the next financial year but the scientific community does not know its budget, and the Government appear to be contemplating significant cuts to its programmes.

The Secretary of State said last week to the Science and Technology Committee, which is chaired by the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, that the Government

“are talking the talk of a science superpower…but…we also have to walk the walk.”

Quite. We support the intent of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, but hon. and right hon. Members across the House should be aware that while the ARIA budget is £800 million over this Parliament, UK Research and Innovation’s annual budget is £9 billion. Last week, UKRI published a letter confirming that the BEIS official development assistance allocation will lead to a £120 million gap between its allocation and the commitments that it has already made. It warned of cuts coming on that scale, and the House should be aware of where those cuts are going to be. Potential areas include climate change, antimicrobial resistance, pandemics, renewable energy and water sanitation. Those are the kinds of things that that funding addresses. Mr Cummings was also at the Select Committee meeting—I will return to him shortly—saying that ARIA would solve the problems of civilisation. That is all very well, but I fear that these cuts seem to be coming right here, right now; and we cannot launch a successful moonshot if we cut off the power supply to the space station.

The other fear that we have is that the threat of cuts does not end there, because there is no clarity on how to cover the huge cost of the UK’s ongoing participation in Horizon Europe programme. To be clear, this programme used to be funded not from the science budget, but from our EU contributions. I say to the Secretary of State that it surely cannot be right to take money from the science budget to fund our participation. He will know that there is real fear in the scientific community about that.

I will give the Secretary of State the chance to intervene: does he not agree that cutting the science budget to fund Horizon would be exactly talking the talk but not walking the walk? I will happily give way to him if he wants to tell us. Maybe he can tell us when we will get clarity—when will the scientific community get clarity on how the Horizon money will be funded? He does not want to intervene, but the science community deserves clarity. We support ARIA but it deserves clarity. These are people’s jobs. This is incredibly important work and I hope he is fighting with his friends in the Treasury as hard as he can to give people that clarity and avoid the cuts.