Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:02 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Rob Roberts Rob Roberts Conservative, Delyn 5:02 pm, 23rd March 2021

It is a delight to follow my colleague from the beautiful island of Ynys Môn on this crucial and exciting Bill—well, exciting on the Conservative Benches anyway, as I look at the rows of empty seats on the other side of the House.

The UK has always been a world leader in scientific research and innovation. Creations such as the steam engine, antibiotics and even the internet hail from our wonderful shores. Considering that all those discoveries have been instrumental in shaping the world that we know today, I welcome the Bill, which will work to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower. The Advanced Research and Invention Agency created by this Bill will allow us to continue to build back better through innovation and will be vital in the UK’s economic and social recovery.

North Wales is no stranger to technological advancements, and I am proud that Airbus has a strong base in our region, with a 50-year plus track record of innovation and technological firsts, meaning that it is a pioneer in the aerospace world. It is fantastic that one of the central elements of the agency is its ability to deliver funding quickly to researchers across the UK; the £800 million committed to ARIA over the next four years has the potential to greatly benefit many different sectors, including aerospace.

As Airbus is so vital to Delyn’s economy, I share a sense of regret a little that the Budget did not mention funding for the aerospace sector through the Aerospace Technology Institute. Airbus has experienced a 69% decrease in net orders compared to 2019, and the additional funding that the Bill provides is needed now more than ever to ensure that research and technological advancements can continue long into the future. I am keen to see how ARIA works with and complements the ATI to further fund world-class research and development in this important sector.

I am likewise ecstatic to see that a key element of the agency includes a tolerance for failure. Failure is an important part of any individual or business life and is fundamental to success. As Thomas Edison said many years ago,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Without his efforts and many failed attempts, we would not have the technology on which we rely so much today. Failure is particularly central to finding technological breakthroughs that have the potential to create the industries and jobs for the future, and it is fantastic to see that that is recognised in the Bill. I have long said that we need to have a greater focus in the UK education system on skills, because many of the jobs that our children will be going into have not even been thought of yet, and it will be skills and the adaptability of our education and training that will add to and enhance ARIA in future.

I have said many times on these Benches that one of the main reasons that I joined the Conservative party in the first place was empowerment. One of my fundamental beliefs is that capital belongs in the hands of the people, not the state—that innovation is found in the imagination and inventiveness of the community, away from the bureaucracy and painfully slow machinations of government. Therefore, nothing filled me with more delight than read about the agency under the section headed “Organisational Form” the words “small number of programme managers with significant autonomy”, followed by the section headed “Relationship to Government” which included the magic words “very free from Government direction”. It was music not only to my ears, but, I am sure, to those of the scientific community at large.

Throughout history, giants of seemingly disparate fields of literature, science and sport have all agreed with the same principles. Two of my favourite quotes from Einstein are that we “cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used” to get them, and:

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

He also said:

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

It is curiosity and passion for discovery that will chart the course for the future of science in this country.

I mentioned earlier that failure is nothing to be feared and is, in fact, absolutely desirable. One of the most celebrated sportsmen of his generation, Michael Jordan—arguably the greatest basketball player ever to grace the court—said:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again…And that is why I succeed.”

Another celebrated sportsman, ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky, said that the only thing that is ever guaranteed is that

“you will definitely not achieve the goal if you don’t take the shot.”

In conclusion, the Bill ensures that this Conservative Government maintain their commitment to increasing public research and development funding and ensure that this country remains a world leader in scientific research and innovation. By pursuing a highly ambitious agenda, ARIA will provide transformational science and technology, and I look forward to seeing the economic and societal benefits that it will bring to the UK. Earlier, I mentioned literature, so I will end on a quote from one of the giants, Mark Twain. His words embody exactly what I think this Bill seeks to achieve:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”