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

The hon. Gentleman and I have a respectful disagreement on this: I think it is for the Government of the day and this House to say what are the massive national priorities. Then it is for an organisation such as ARIA to fund the research in the high-risk, high-reward way that I mentioned. That is simply a difference of view. Without a clear policy mission, we risk a fragmented approach.

I will make this other point, which is that the chair and chief executive will be in the somewhat unenviable position of having to decide which Government Departments to prioritise. Of course they can work with different Departments, but let us set a clear challenge for the organisation.

The second point is not just about the question of mandate, but how it sits in the life cycle of technological innovation and how it works with other funding streams. ARIA is born of a frustration about the failure to fund high-risk research. We do not disagree with that thinking, but that makes it especially important that it does not duplicate the work of existing funding streams. Let me give an example. Innovate UK, part of UKRI, is supposed to be a funding stream to turn ideas into commercially successful products. I do not know from reading the Government’s statement of intent what Innovate UK would fund that ARIA would not and what ARIA would fund that Innovate UK would not.

The vagueness of the mandate for ARIA is matched by vagueness about where in the innovation cycle it sits. I was not doing Mr Cummings a disservice on this score by the way, because I support the Bill, but he said to the Select Committee:

“My version of it here would be…to accelerate scientific discovery far beyond what is currently normal, and to seek strategic advantage in some fields of science and technology…I would keep it broad and vague like that.”

He went on to say that he would say to the agency:

“Your job is to find people…with ideas that could change civilisation completely”.

I am sorry, but that is too vague, and I do not believe it unreasonable to say that there needs to be greater clarity about where in the life cycle ARIA sits.