Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:13 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford 5:13 pm, 23rd March 2021

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend Andrew Griffith and participate in the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. In what at times has been a gloomy and difficult year since we locked down last March, it is wonderful to debate a Bill that is truly blue sky in its thinking and forward looking, and which delivers on our manifesto commitment to create a high-risk, high-reward funding agency that will drive UK innovation as we build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a pleasure to discuss the Bill with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Amanda Solloway, before Second Reading. I am happy to tell the House, as I did her, that science, research an innovation are certainly not my “Mastermind” subject—as it clearly is for many hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken today. I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to their expertise and important contributions, especially those who outlined our wonderful history as a world leader in innovation in the past. Instead, I have an enormous interest, derived as a constituency MP, in the success of this Bill, and I congratulate all involved on securing £800 million of funding from the Treasury. Guildford is home to the brilliant University of Surrey and Surrey research park, and exciting sectors such as space and satellite. Guildford is not only a UK leader, but a global hub in gaming and technology derived from the gaming sector, such as virtual reality.

Although we do not know what ARIA will eventually focus on, my understanding of the intention behind the Bill is that it is to transform our lives and make the world a better place. I hope that climate change can be tackled as a result of investment in either UKRI or ARIA. I am on record with my desire, expressed at a climate hustings I attended during the general election campaign in 2019, to see brilliant inventions help to tackle climate change. Climate change is a concern I share with my constituents, and I will support any measure to truly improve the future outlook for generations, not only in the UK, but the entire world, which we live in and share.

This is not just about climate change; the research undertaken has the potential ability to transform our way of life through technology, improve economic growth and prosperity, and even to improve the quality of the lives we live, particularly through healthcare solutions. I have been able to witness the wonder of robotic surgery at the Royal Surrey County Hospital; it is truly mind-blowing, and it is technology we have at our fingertips today.

To say that I am excited about this Bill is an understatement. I might have even mentioned to the Minister that Guildford would be an excellent home for ARIA, as we have an innate understanding of the value of research and development, coupled with a cultural appreciation of the long-term benefits that high-risk, high-return investing will bring. Clearly there is some friendly competition for the home of ARIA, having listened to the pitches from many of my hon. Friends today. It is absolutely right that ARIA must sit outside electoral cycles and the day-to-day ministerial functions in order to truly deliver on the Bill’s intention. It fundamentally must be judged by what it learns through failure, rather than what it produces in measurable output, although it is also right that there should be an annual report directly to Parliament—I welcome the inclusion of that in the Bill.

To conclude on a slightly tangential note, ARIA is an inspired acronym. In music, an aria is a self-contained melodious piece for one voice, not the whole orchestra, and so this encapsulates the vision around this important Bill. With its adoption, we can get UK science, research and development truly humming.