Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:40 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:40 pm, 23rd March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. Like other Members, I tuned in, eyes wide open, to hear what was said. I look forward to further instalments of that show in the month to come, as I am sure others do. I place on record my thanks, as other Members have done, for the fantastic work that has been undertaken by scientists in the UK in relation to the vaccine programme. It is something that unites us all. We all know that it will transform our lives, and we are collectively thankful on that front.

I commend the Secretary of State, as he has achieved something that is quite remarkable, certainly during my short tenure in the House. He appears almost to have united everyone in vague or cautious support for the Bill. On the face of it, it is something that we can welcome, but we have concerns, which I shall come on to, and reservations that need to be addressed in a positive manner, and hopefully the Secretary is willing to do that.

Before I deal with that, I am conscious that for my hon. Friend Neil Gray, who is sitting to my left, today is his last day in the Chamber, and he will make some valedictory remarks. I wish him the best going forward. As everyone in the Chamber will be well aware, all Scottish nationalists do not want to be here. He is getting away a little sooner than the rest of us, but we wish him well, and I am sure that Members across the Chamber do likewise.

Turning, you will be glad to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the substance of the Bill, I hope that, while I have made some positive comments, the Secretary of State will forgive me for saying—perhaps I have picked this up wrongly—that his short speech may reflect the fact that the Bill is incredibly vague on details. The first thing to reflect on in that regard is the wider mission of the Bill. That was addressed at length by Edward Miliband and by the Select Committee in its hearing last week. What is the Bill trying to achieve? Is it health outcomes, defence outcomes or transport outcomes? The clarity is not there. I heard what the Chair of the Select Committee said about having a focus on two issues. That is all well and good, but we do not have those answers yet from the Government. We need them moving forward, because there is a real concern and risk that what we have is something that becomes a jack of all trades, but a master of none. The Committee said that it was

“a brand in search of a product”,

which is entirely apt at this stage.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North has rather stolen my thunder in that regard, because I want to discuss what the Bill could seek to do. It could follow Scotland’s lead. In Scotland, we have the Scottish National Investment Bank, which has a clear purpose to invest in net-zero technologies. Why do we not replicate that in the Bill? Why do the Government not put that front and centre of their agenda? Richard Fuller is shaking his head, and he is more than welcome to intervene, to state why climate change should not be at the forefront of the Bill’s agenda.