Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Jane Hunt Jane Hunt Conservative, Loughborough 4:54 pm, 23rd March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher and his wise words. For decades the UK has been at the cutting edge of innovation and technology, and our fantastic universities in particular have been a powerhouse of science and research. They include the formidable Loughborough University in my constituency, which has a global reputation for its cutting edge theoretical and applied research. It has been responsible for, and party to, many technological advances and scientific discoveries, including a recently announced and incredibly exciting project that is looking into the potential for human brain stem cells to be used to power artificial intelligence devices and bring about a revolution in computing.

One of my aims as an MP is to assist in creating pathways between our universities and businesses to ensure that talent and research are maximised so that projects such as these can be turned from an initial idea into an innovative and marketable product. As such, I am fully supportive of Loughborough University’s science and enterprise park, which provides businesses of all sizes, including start-ups, with an opportunity not only to collaborate with one another but to access the university’s research base and skilled workforce supply. As the Minister and I witnessed last year in a science showcase in Portcullis House, this country has a wealth of ideas and innovations just waiting to be shaped and developed.

That being said, there is still much more we can do to harness and grow our research and development sector, which is why I am very supportive of the UK’s R&D road map. In particular, we need to focus on creating more and stronger pathways between universities, research establishments and transformational businesses, and on removing unnecessary bureaucracy. That is something the USA does very well, and it is the reason that it is incredibly successful in bringing innovative products to market. I therefore welcome the Government’s proposals for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency modelled on the USA’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Crucially, we need to ensure that the agency is run by our brightest and best scientists, and that they have not only the funding and freedom needed to identify and invest in the most important and innovative research but the flexibility to redirect funding quickly when a project has come to the end of its lifespan. To that end, I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister how she will ensure that ARIA is not constrained by the bureaucracy that can currently inhibit R&D funding.

Alongside ensuring appropriate funding, flexibility and freedom, we also need to ensure that we mirror the USA’s culture of tolerance for failure, which is a huge part of research and development and often the key to its success. If we allow the risk of failure to hamper research, we ultimately jeopardise our pursuit of breakthroughs and potentially our ability to happen across another promising technology in the process. Instead, we should provide scope for failure within the agency, and I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend how that can be achieved.

By creating the space to maximise potential in our United Kingdom, we not only give all aspects of the economy the chance to bounce back now but create new routes to market for the future. New ideas and invention are the ways in which disruptor technology and science are created, leading to a new way of living for our future. Many of the great minds we have in this country have the potential to create great change; they just need the opportunity to come their way. ARIA is the opportunity. Let us not stifle innovation. Let us find the next internet, the next GPS and the next hydrogen technology. Now that we have left the EU, we are in a great position to reimagine how we support our researchers and harness our research base to cement ourselves as a global science superpower. The Bill will go a long way to achieve this, and I will be supporting it today.