Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party, Airdrie and Shotts 3:10 pm, 23rd March 2021

It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate, and this will be my last speech in this Chamber. I shall come to that in a moment, but first let me address the substance of the Bill.

I represent a constituency, Airdrie and Shotts, with significant and incredible scientific research based around BioCity and MediCity as well as the Newhouse and Maxim Park industrial estates. Indeed, just last week Amphista Therapeutics, based at BioCity, secured £38 million of investment in its series B financing round to continue its work on potent and selective bifunctional molecules, known as amphistas, and to extend its targeted protein degradation approaches. I am incredibly proud to represent that major hub of the biosciences industry in Scotland, which is projected to be worth £8 billion to the Scottish economy in the coming years.

That industry needs continued support. It needs the start-up funding and ongoing research funding to continue to thrive. I am delighted that the Scottish Government have led the way with the establishment of the Scottish National Investment Bank, which is to have £2 billion of capitalisation and has a clear ambition to achieve net zero. The industry also needs significant and ongoing support to stop the Brexit drain of scientific researchers who have sadly returned to the continent in recent years.

Although I obviously welcome the UK Government’s following the Scottish Government’s lead in establishing a state-backed investment organisation, it is incredibly disappointing that they have not matched that with the ambition to tackle climate change or reduce inequalities. That example has been set by the Scottish Government through the Scottish National Investment Bank. As was said by my hon. Friend Stephen Flynn in his incredible and fantastic speech from our Front Bench, and by others across the House, the lack of clear focus for ARIA is a major disappointment.

I also want to seek clarity from the Minister on a few issues, to follow on from my hon. Friend’s speech. I want clarity that the Minister has no intention of using ARIA as another Tory Trojan horse to bypass devolved decision making. Will the Minister ensure Scottish researchers and firms such as those in Airdrie and Shotts that I have already spoken about will receive their full Barnettised share of ARIA funding through the Scottish Government? Will the UK Government also commit now to give any powers going to ARIA in areas such as borrowing and debt financing to the Scottish National Investment Bank to ensure that there is parity there?

A string of cronyism scandals has engulfed this UK Government, from funds prioritising prosperous Tory-held constituencies over other areas with genuine need to multimillion pound covid contracts being handed out to pals by WhatsApp. What safeguards are in the Bill to ensure we do not see that repeated in the funding of this agency? Excluding ARIA from FOI does not fill us with confidence in this regard. There is a big difference between tolerable failure and a lack of scrutiny allowing for further misuse of public funds.

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, as this is the final time I will be making a speech in this place before I take my leave tomorrow, I wish to make some brief remarks not strictly related to the matters before us. As many colleagues will be aware, I am resigning from this House in order to seek election to be the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts in Scotland’s national Parliament.

I want to thank my colleagues and friends in the SNP group and its staff, as well as friends from across this House, for their support, and staff of the House across the estate, who are diligent public servants. My incredible constituency office staff have been with me throughout my time in Parliament: Adam Robinson, Lawrie Kane, Lesley Jarvie, Margaret Hughes and Michael Coyle. They have provided me and the people of Airdrie and Shotts with incredible service, and I thank them. I thank my campaign team, led by my incredible election agent, Graham Russell—we go again!

I also want to thank the people of Airdrie and Shotts. It has been an incredible honour to serve them for the past six years. They first placed their faith in me in 2015, and I hope that I have gone some way to repay that trust, both in this House, with approaching 1,400 oral and written contributions, and also in my campaigns locally. Of everything we have achieved over the past six years, I am most proud of having led the campaign to keep the new Monklands Hospital in the Airdrie area and worked on 14,500 constituency cases for people in every part of the Airdrie and Shotts constituency. Politics is always about people, and my driving ambition, which I am sure I share with others across this House, has always been to do what I can to help people locally as well as tackle injustices, poverty and inequality across these isles.