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

I reject the suggestion that climate change is a narrow focus given that climate change covers a whole host of areas. I see the Secretary of State nodding along with that. Presumably he is in agreement having previously been the Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth. When we look at this, we need to bear in mind DARPA, which has been talked about at length by others. DARPA had that clear focus, and that clear focus has allowed it to excel, in terms of GPS, the internet and the like. We should seek to replicate that, with climate change at the forefront.

It is regrettable that the Government have not simply made that suggestion, but it is not surprising, because, just last week, they sought to invest billions of pounds in new nuclear weapons. They could have said, “Here is £800 million that we are going to invest in trying to save the planet rather than destroy it.” In relation to the mission, therefore, the Secretary of State still has a great deal of work to do.

The second key area that I would like to pick up on is in relation to the wider leadership on the Bill. Although that has been referred to already, we do need to have clarity about how that process will work. What will be its outcome? Who will be the leader, or the leadership team, that takes this forward? There have been suggestions, indeed by Dominic Cummings himself, in relation to eminent scientists—scientists who, unfortunately, have been excluded from their professional role given the comments that have been made in relation to eugenics and race. Although I appreciate that the Secretary of State may not be in a position to say what the qualifying criteria will be for someone who takes on this role, I expect him to say what the disqualifying criteria will be. I certainly expect that someone who projects views of eugenics would fit into that disqualification category.

My third point relates to resources and accountability. I am very conscious of the fact that much of what I am saying is a repetition of what has already been said, but that is often true of what is said by everyone in this House, and I am sure that there will be more of that to come. I cannot get my head around this notion that we can throw away freedom of information and public contract processes in order to achieve something. I may have incorrectly picked up Richard Fuller on that point he made earlier about being inspired to do that. I do not see it as inspired. I do not think that the public will see it as inspired. They certainly will not see it as inspired coming, as it does, from a Conservative Government, given what we have seen over a number of months in relation to cronyism and the concerns that we all have about that. When it comes to public money, public trust is of paramount importance. Frankly, the Government are not being as clear, transparent and open as they should be about the Bill.