Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 5:39 pm, 23rd March 2021

This country is steeped in science and invention, so it is fitting that the Bill paves the way to create an agency that will lead to who knows what UK discoveries and innovation.

Members might not think that my constituency would be home to some of the most famous British inventions we have ever heard of, but they would be wrong. Christopher Cockerell, who was at Gresham’s School in my constituency, began with a prototype using a vacuum cleaner, a cat food tin and a coffee jar. He tested his invention on Oulton Broad in the 1950s, before it became the hovercraft, which saw its first commercial crossing of the channel in 1959. Perhaps one of the most famous inventors this country has ever produced grew up in North Norfolk and retains a close affinity with my constituency. He invented the ballbarrow, before inventing the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner. We all know him today as one of our greatest living inventors, Sir James Dyson.

What those two people have in common, apart from their connections to North Norfolk, is that they failed a great number of times until they created the inventions we know today. That is exactly what is so special about the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—that it will cut the red tape and bureaucracy and enable creativity and talent to take the risks that failure so often curtails before people are ever allowed the chance to succeed. With £800 million behind it, and the freedom to explore, ARIA is the launchpad that could so effectively uncover the next leading and pioneering inventor.

We are a scientific superpower. If anyone has any doubt about that, or about what we are capable of, they need only look at what we have achieved in this great nation in the last year, with the University of Oxford developing the coronavirus jab. That encapsulates why we should invest in science and pour money into such transformative research, which I have no doubt will be necessary again in our lifetimes. Free from the political union with Europe, the Government made the right choice. We sought our own vaccination strategy, and we backed our scientists with millions of pounds to develop the vaccine as quickly as possible. Long-term research investment also helped, and that is exactly what this new fund will provide. Oxford scientists had already been researching a vaccine that could be used against a disease such as covid-19. That research investment, which stretched back years, and the willingness to invest have added to the situation we find ourselves in today.

Sometimes in life, we have to take a little risk if we want to deliver rewards worth fighting for. Those who want to dismiss the Bill should think a little harder. They worry about the immaterial detail rather than the overriding thrust of the Bill, but they have to look back and they have to think, what could be? We should remember what one of the greatest entrepreneurs and inventors of the last 20 years said—a lot of my colleagues have spoken about disrupters, and this person was certainly just that:

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

That was Steve Jobs. This Bill is essential to support the efforts of UK people like that and to develop the entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers of the future. I warmly support the Secretary of State in all his efforts.