Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 4:37 pm, 23rd March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend John Redwood, who captured a number of key issues. He finished on the topic of national resilience, and there are so many areas in our economy and society in which we need to be more resilient. The covid crisis is a particular area of interest, but no doubt many other countries in the world and many organisations are looking at that. It may not be the opportunity on which the Advanced Research and Invention Agency might want to focus. Many other people have focused on the idea of disruptive technologies, which might be particularly well fitted to what ARIA is there to do. Those are areas where industry or sectors have perhaps become complacent, with old, established technologies, and it is about making the next-generation leap forward.

The debate has rather lent itself to the idea of the Haldane principle, going back 100 years or so—to the idea of having a research-led approach that is therefore taken away from the direction of politicians. That approach would be natural and healthy and would complement the wider research, innovation and development ecosystem. I was reassured by what my hon. Friend Mark Pawsey said; after he had conversations with a couple of his local catapults, they said that they are not worried that ARIA might step on their toes. It is a natural complement to so much else of what the Government are doing. This championing of science, technology, innovation and invention is immensely important, and it ought to be very reassuring to businesses and other organisations seeking to invest in the United Kingdom, and ideally also companies seeking to reinvest from the UK and into the UK. It sends the message right across the world that we are ambitious—the global Britain idea that we are not looking inward and downward but out to the world.

That is part of the reason for our ambition by 2027 to take our R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP. That is a stepping-stone, not the end point of the ambition. The ambition is to get to 3% in the longer term, looking to emulate other countries around the world who do that, and to be competitive. To be in the position we want to be in and ought to be in, we need to be seeking to reach that next level of 3% R&D spend, and ARIA is a stepping-stone towards that.

Ultimately we want high-tech, innovative progress in the United Kingdom. That is not an end in itself. Universities and other organisations are not an end in themselves; they are great generators of wealth to improve our standards of living, but ultimately what people around the country will be focused on is having good jobs. We want people right around the country to be ambitious: to seek jobs in this sector, and to be studying physics and mathematics and all sorts of other subjects that will come into this territory for research and development, invention and innovation.

It will be interesting to see how in future ARIA works on that invention side of things with UKRI, which is still relatively new, to get those inventions into innovation and into businesses, and to create those works and those jobs of the future. We could go on to mention so many different topics from nuclear fusion to the next generation of batteries to satellites. There are so many sectors that involve artificial intelligence and life sciences, and so many of them are in the UK. We are already in a leading position and we have the opportunity to make that leap forward. We do not know what sectors will be around in 10 or more years’ time, but this is the ambition—this is the timeline, this is the vision for the future that ARIA has.

The SNP spokesman, Stephen Flynn, started off with a war of words about where the headquarters will be, and he suggested it might end up being in London. I am sure it will not; I am sure there is a huge amount of competition around the country, and I thought my hon. Friend Mark Logan made a compelling argument for Bolton. I am quite modest in my ambitions and would not demand that the headquarters be located in Bolton West; I will sacrifice my personal ambition for Bolton North East—or even Bolton South East. Where the headquarters ends up is incredibly important as it is part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, but will my hon. Friend Amanda Solloway, the science and innovation Minister, confirm that, wherever ARIA is based, it will be a collaborative organisation that will do so much for the United Kingdom?