Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 23rd March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East 3:34 pm, 23rd March 2021

I welcome the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, which marks an increasing awareness across Government, Parliament and the country of the importance of innovation in securing our collective prosperity well into the future. The last year has shown us just how vital it is that we further bolster this country’s science and research ambitions. The Royal Society of Biology, with which I spoke last month, can attest to how our assiduous investment in the life sciences has clearly paid off, as we are reaping the benefits with our vaccination roll-out. Indeed, just look at the dividend that the UK’s sequencing expertise is now paying. That is why I emphatically welcome the Government’s commitment to increase public R&D expenditure, which, along with ARIA, forms part of the fundamental building blocks for the Britain of the next era.

We have thought hard about the pennies. Now we are turning to the pounds we pack internationally. Last week, we on the Science and Technology Committee heard from Dominic Cummings, who spoke about the need for the UK to take science more seriously. He said that competitor countries around the world debate at the highest level cutting-edge S&T on a daily basis. We are not entering—but rather have already entered—a new era of heightened global competition. We should not fear such a transition, as change is the only constant. I suggest that we all read “Who Moved My Cheese?”, and advance our science and technology expertise.

The strategic framework for the integrated review has S&T as the very first of four overarching objectives. I agree with the implicit argument that science and technology is often the forgotten magical element in Britain’s soft power. I trust that the Minister is considering how we use the global talent visa programme to add to this effort. As my hon. Friend Alan Mak rightly pointed out, the UK has had 99 Nobel laureates. This fills us with pride. Aiming for at least another 99 fills us with focus. Taken together with the integrated review, this Bill will provide the UK with immense opportunities to become a science superpower across many domains.

The Government are here to get the big things right, but we must also—slightly counterintuitively—be prepared to get things wrong. By this, I mean that we face a cultural challenge in Whitehall, Westminster and, indeed, all walks of life when it comes to failure. It is an acutely British niggle. Fear of failure in both Government and business has limited our ability to take more calculated risks. Who can blame people, when the media is constantly ready to take someone down for the slightest slip? I am hopeful that ARIA can be part of a cultural change that can boost us in taking more risks for higher reward, and to scale up our ideas to compete with the east Asian and US giants.

ARIA may currently be of no fixed abode, but we are on standby to fix its abode in Bolton. My hon. Friend Chris Green will be up shortly to join what is probably going to be the most important debate of our generation: should ARIA’s office be in the west or the east of Bolton? Bolton and Greater Manchester’s thirst for radical innovation is palpable, with the National Graphene Institute a stone’s throw away and the University of Bolton just a few doors down from me. As the Bill outlines, ARIA’s membership is to consist of a small network of executive and non-exec members, in line with the Government’s agenda to level up, and what better location is there to base that network in than the north-west, surrounded by the brightest young minds, at the centre of Bolton North East?

Through the vaccine roll-outs, we have all witnessed the benefits of being able to work at speed and scale, and this has been testament to relinquishing overreaching bureaucracy. In its present form, the Bill can engender more clarity to signal adequate space for ARIA’s leadership to operate independently from Government. Exceptional scientists need room to decide which research to pursue and to give them the confidence and agility to make decisions, although I also appreciate the need for some parliamentary oversight. This has been emphasised repeatedly by the Science and Technology Committee’s witnesses. Let me finish by saying a big well done to the Government for being ambitious and bringing this Bill to the House, and for providing us with the stepping stones to punch not above our weight but above our basal metabolic rate.