Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater and West Somerset 4:26 pm, 23rd March 2021

For the next hour, I will enthuse you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Seriously though, the Bill has an enormous amount going for it. It is a good Bill with a lot in it that I feel very comfortable with, although there are always things that one can question.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, one of the great sites in the United Kingdom is in my area—the Gravity site, just outside Bridgwater. This 660-acre enterprise zone has incredible potential. It is run by the Salamanca Group, with enormous support from the local community and Sedgemoor District Council. We could do something enormously important there with innovation, research and, I dare say, the very essence of what we want to be in the future. It is easy for a Government to say they will put all the money into universities or into proven areas, but I think of the Prime Minister’s policy of levelling up and making sure that every region and every area gets part of the money, be it for fusion or whatever. Let us use that constructively.

The Gravity site is halfway between Bristol and Exeter. It is enormous and it has everything in place to enable us to do something remarkable. We are close to Bath University, Bristol University and Exeter University. We could facilitate all this work. We are also very lucky in having next to the site one of the great tertiary colleges of the United Kingdom—the best, in my humble opinion. Bridgwater and Taunton College has 25,000 tertiary students. It has trained most of the people in the local area, including those working at Hinkley Point nuclear station and in our huge distribution and massive manufacturing sectors.

We get a lot of, “This is about innovation,” but so much of what we have had to learn in the past year is about how to keep supply chains running during a pandemic or any other crisis. We have learned that, and that is innovation. That is invention. That is what this is all about—learning from mistakes. We have heard a lot about vaccines, but again, we have a site where we could do this. We want to be levelled up. We want to strive to do better. That is why sites like Gravity in the west country lend themselves to the Government’s being able to say, “Yes, we can buy into this.” When there is a shovel-ready site ready to go, it is fairly easy for any Government to say, “Yes, we can do this.” I would welcome the opportunity to prove our case. I know the Secretary of State is fully aware of the Gravity site because we have talked about it and the opportunities. This is something we have to grasp. It has proceeded somewhat in the teeth of the local county council, which has been particularly unhelpful, but we are ready.

I am conscious of time and that colleagues wish to speak, so let me say finally that I believe that the very future of the United Kingdom lies in innovation. Napoleon called us the country of small shopkeepers. He was right: we are brilliant at this sort of small innovation. So much of the tech, the FinTech and all the other things that we now take for granted came from the United Kingdom. It came not just through our great universities, but through our entrepreneurs—in the west country, we have Dyson, who lives just outside Bristol.

Let us use what is great about Britain, which is our ability to think outside the box, laterally, in a way that turns the world on. Rah-rah Britain, and rah-rah Gravity.