EU Programmes

– in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 7 September 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology 12:40, 7 September 2023

This is a momentous day for British science and technology as we have negotiated a great landmark deal, designed in the UK’s best interest. A hard-fought-for deal that will allow the UK’s world-leading scientists, researchers and businesses to participate with total confidence in both Horizon Europe and Copernicus, it gives the best and brightest of the UK’s scientific community access to the world’s largest research collaboration programme.

It means British scientists and businesses can co-operate with researchers not just in the EU, but in Norway, New Zealand and Israel, expanding the reach and impact of British science and technology to every corner of the globe. With Korea and Canada looking to join these programmes in the future, we are opening the doors to further pioneering, international collaboration with a growing group of countries.

We were always clear that we wanted to associate with Horizon and that is why we had it in the trade and co-operation agreement. However, as hon. Members know only too well, we were not able to commence those negotiations over the last two years because the European Union had linked it to the Northern Ireland protocol. However, our Prime Minister’s Windsor framework broke the deadlock and allowed us to commence negotiations.

We said all along that we would accept only a good deal, which is why we did not take the first deal on the table. Instead, we pursued a bespoke agreement that delivers for British taxpayers, researchers and businesses. We will not pay for a second of the time in which we were not members of the programme, and our deal protects and benefits hardworking taxpayers through a new clawback mechanism.

What is more, our scientists and researchers can benefit from Horizon today, meaning they can immediately bid into the programme, with certainty over funding. All calls in the 2024 work programme, including those that open for bids this year, will be funded through our association to Horizon, while the few remaining 2023 work programme calls will be funded by the UK guarantee.

But this is not just about Horizon. We needed a bespoke deal that gave us access only to EU programmes that would benefit the UK, not to those that would not. Listening to voices from our world-leading fusion sector, we will not be joining Euratom. Instead, we are investing an additional £650 million straight into our cutting-edge fusion sector, assisting our journey to becoming a science and technology superpower by 2030.

When I first started in this role, I made it my No.1 priority to listen to the voices and views of the scientific and tech communities. What I heard loud and clear was how essential associating to Horizon Europe was for the sector, and I am delighted that this Government have now delivered on that. The deal we have negotiated has been warmly welcomed by the whole of the scientific community. It gives it the certainty it needs to continue delivering long-term research and innovation, and it will enable it to change people’s lives and have a truly global outlook. Members do not need to take my word for it; today’s announcement has been supported by Universities UK, the Russell Group, all four of our prestigious national academies, leading tech businesses, including Airbus and Rolls Royce, and countless more.

The deal is not just about funding and support for universities, businesses and scientists. It is a deal that has a real-world impact for people and communities throughout the UK. This deal is set to create and support thousands of new jobs as part of a new generation of research talent who are attracted to the UK and work across the globe. The deal we have negotiated will allow the UK to continue to play a leading role on the international stage in solving the biggest challenges that we face, from climate change and the race to net zero to cures for cancer, dementia and other life-threatening diseases.

Alongside this deal, the Government are proudly backing our science and tech communities. We have committed to invest £20 billion in research and development by the next financial year. That means more record funding on wider priorities, from harnessing the power of AI to improving our public services to tapping the potential of quantum computing. We will continue to strengthen our collaboration with countries beyond Europe, building on the success of the international science partnership fund we launched earlier this year, to deliver our truly global science approach with global benefits.

Today we take another giant leap forward in our mission to make Britain a science and tech superpower. I am confident that scientists and businesses are ready to seize the moment. The horizon could not really be brighter for British science and technology. I commend the statement to the House.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Minister without Portfolio (Cabinet Office) 12:46, 7 September 2023

In a past life, I was a university lecturer. I have to say that, if one of my students had turned up to hand in an assessment two years late, I would not have been terribly amused. I do not think anyone could be very amused by the two wasted years here. On science policy in this country, we have a classic case of lions being led by donkeys.

Britain is blessed with many of the world’s greatest innovators: the developers of the covid vaccine and the internet, cancer specialists and green energy pioneers. We are home to those who are at the vanguard of research, yet they have been failed by this Conservative Government time and again. They have left our researchers locked out of the world’s leading scientific collaboration project, worth over £80 billion, for the past two years. It has been like keeping Lionel Messi or England’s Lucy Bronze out of the World cup.

We have already seen reports of cancer research specialists leaving the UK to pick up Horizon projects elsewhere, while we have lost two years of funding rounds. That vital ground has been lost and cannot be revived, despite a promise in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto. That is what happens when bluster and division are put above delivering for people.

The Secretary of State spoke about the link with the Windsor framework. It was this Conservative Government who negotiated the Northern Ireland protocol in the first place and it is little wonder this Government have presided over such anaemic economic growth. So although the long-delayed confirmation of association to Horizon and Copernicus will be a relief, it cannot undo the damage that has already been caused and leaves serious questions for the Government to answer.

In her statement, the Secretary of State spoke about some of the costs, but can she set out the precise quantum of the financial contribution to Horizon and the other schemes in the years ahead? Has any financial disadvantage been accrued through missing out on the first years of the scheme? Could she confirm how the UK’s position as an associate member of Horizon impacts our ability to strategically shape the future of the Horizon programme? How do we ensure terms that are advantageous for our research communities?

I heard the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, George Freeman, chuntering earlier. He will probably recall his contribution to this debate:

“Of the three—Euratom, Copernicus and Horizon—Euratom is probably the hardest of all to reproduce…I still think of them very much as a bundle. We would like to remain in all three, but, if I had to pick one, Euratom is the one”.

Those were his words, but the agreement does not include association to Euratom. Can the Secretary of State outline what risks that might impose for international collaboration and energy security?

In short, today’s announcement is long overdue. It leaves vital questions outstanding. What I have no doubt about is that our brilliant scientific community can rise to the challenges and make the best of the hand that they have been dealt. I have no doubt either, I am afraid, that we cannot go on being held back by this chaotic Conservative Government who are a drag anchor on so much that makes Britain great.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

I welcome the right hon. Member to his position. I am delighted that the Opposition have finally got round to appointing a ministerial team to shadow the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology—it took them six months, but they did get there in the end.

I am also delighted that the right hon. Member has acknowledged the significance of this Government deal, but to address his point about the delay, he knows only too well that it was the European Union that linked Horizon association directly with the Northern Ireland protocol and it is this Government and this Prime Minister who managed to unlock that with the Windsor framework. It is also this Government who bridged that gap with the Horizon guarantee, spending more than £1 billion.

As soon as the framework was agreed, I was the first to hop on the train to Brussels to see the commissioner to ensure that we could kickstart that negotiation. At the time, I was eight and a half months pregnant, but I thought that that was vital to our sector and I am glad that we are able to deliver today. One thing I will not do is apologise for the Government wanting to get a good deal. Let us remember it was the Opposition who called for us to accept the deal on the table back in March. If we had done that, we would not have this good deal for our taxpayers, our businesses, our scientists and our researchers. I have already—it was in the statement— clarified the point that we will not pay for one moment that we were not associated with Horizon, but I reiterate that point.

To answer some of the right hon. Member’s other questions, the cost will be £2 billion a year and, as I have said, we are injecting £650 million directly into our fusion sector. On Euratom, the Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation agrees with me that it is the right strategy to proceed with Horizon and Copernicus, but not with Euratom. It is not just we who believe that. The Fusion Industry Association has welcomed the UK Government’s ambitious package of £650 million. Ian Chapman has said that he welcomes the clarity over our future relationship. In fact the association made representations directly to us in order to ensure that we put the money directly into our sector.

This is a great deal for Britain, for the taxpayer, for businesses, for scientists and for researchers. We believe that our country has the potential to be a science and tech superpower. It is a shame that the Opposition do not.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I call the Chair of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

Science does not recognise borders, and everyone wins when the best UK scientists can work with the best in the EU and around the world, so this is a huge and positive announcement and has been greeted with delight and relief not just by the science community in the UK, but across Europe and beyond.

My Select Committee, the members of which are in the Chamber, will examine the deal in detail, but may I congratulate the Secretary of State, her Minister and the whole of the Government on what seems to be a shrewd agreement that, for example, allows us to win grants even beyond our own financial contribution? Will she confirm that Horizon funding is available not just to academic institutions, but for innovation by British industry? Has she consulted formally the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which runs our fusion programme, about not participating in Euratom and, if so, what is its view? Does she agree that, with the reputation of British science as high as it is, with the science budget doubling as it has over the past 10 years to £20 billion a year by next year, and with now the opportunities of rejoining Horizon opening up, this is a golden opportunity for the UK to advance our status as a science superpower?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee. I am delighted that he has welcomed this announcement today. In relation to his comments on Euratom, we did consult widely the sector and the UK AEA, which has welcomed this publicly, along with many stakeholders, including the business community, which will also benefit from this announcement today.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw

The SNP welcomes this move, which will provide much-needed certainty and kickstart new research opportunities for key strength areas of the Scottish economy, including life sciences. The Prime Minister himself has said that rejoining this EU scheme is

“critical to a brighter economic future”.

But the SNP believes that rejoining the EU as a full member state is much more critical than that. Unfortunately, I know that this Government, and probably the incoming Labour Government, strongly disagree with that, to the detriment of Scotland.

Securing Horizon association is a matter of pressing importance. We must not forget that universities and members of the research community in Scotland have missed out on their share of the all-important funding provided by the €95.5 billion European research and innovation programme since the UK Government’s decision to pursue a hard Brexit.

We are disappointed that Euratom is not going to be pursued and is being taken separately. Although we welcome the funding, I think we all agree that it is much better that we work in conjunction with our European neighbours. Scotland has also been locked out of Copernicus, so what is the status of re-entering that and, indeed, the Erasmus+ scheme?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

We will not be rejoining the EU under this Government because we believe in democracy. On Euratom, the best people to listen to are the sector themselves, who told us directly and clearly that they would be better off with the money going straight to them and that is what we have done. We have listened to the sectors involved and we have delivered. This is a fantastic deal that creates many opportunities for businesses, scientists and researchers. It is not to be confused with Erasmus, which the hon. Member raised. That is a separate scheme. In fact, it was this Government, and I personally when I worked in the Department for Education, who established the Turing scheme, which is better than Erasmus because it is global in nature and supports those from different backgrounds.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Perhaps I could declare an interest: in my previous job, I was one of the six European Parliament rapporteurs involved in setting up the initial Horizon 2020 project and the only one from the United Kingdom. What I learnt during the five years that I worked on that project was that this is not just for Nobel prize winners or mega companies; it is also for researchers at the start of their careers, for innovators and for less well-known companies such as Teledyne e2v in Chelmsford, which provides our eyes and ears to world space programmes.

What I heard time and again was that, if we create an opportunity for scientists plus researchers and combine that with the ability to work across borders and across disciplines, we will have a formula that will often result in better innovation and more effective solutions to some of the world’s trickiest problems. May I thank the Prime Minister, his ministerial team and all those on the EU side—for there were many—who continued to press to have British science in these programmes? It is a great deal for Britain, for all of us on the continent of Europe and for all of us who live in this world.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

My right hon. Friend speaks a lot of sense. I thank her for her thanks, and for those to the Prime Minister and the negotiating team, who have done us proud in bringing home a deal that will truly deliver. I know that this is something that she has worked on considerably in her time and is passionate about.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I am very relieved by today’s statement, hopefully just in the nick of time to avoid really serious damage to UK science. I welcome it, and particularly applaud the contribution made by the Minister for Science, which I know has been very important to achieving this outcome. We are gaining associate membership of Horizon. To what extent does that give us a seat at the table to influence the future shape of the programme?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

We will be able to lead projects from 2024. Most of the projects open at the moment— 80% to 90%—are for 2024, and we have the opportunity to lead them, so we can be at the forefront of this agenda.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I warmly welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour. It will be warmly welcomed by the scientific community across the United Kingdom. It might even be described as one small step for her but a giant leap for British science. Will she comment particularly on Arctic science, as 78 universities or other institutions are looking into matters in the Arctic at this moment? They will warmly welcome the rejoining of Horizon, but I want to hear from her a particular commitment by the British Government to further support British science in the Arctic. It is such an important area with regard to climate change and other things, and I want to hear that she and her hon. Friend, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, who does great work on these matters, is fully committed to supporting British science in the Arctic.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

I know that my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour does a great deal of work on this as Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, with a keen interest in this area. We have a fantastic track record when it comes to Arctic science, being fourth in the world, and we want to climb up that league table. Membership of Horizon Europe will certainly help us to achieve that.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The announcement that the UK will rejoin Horizon is very welcome, and I am very pleased about it, but there is so much more to be done to restore academic co-operation with the EU, especially for students. The Turing scheme is currently on a very sad par with the Erasmus programme. The University of Bath, as the right hon. Member will know, is a science university. As University of Bath students point out, the Turing scheme requires universities to forecast where students will go before their bid for funding, a year in advance. It restricts the freedom of students and creates a major challenge for universities. Will she work with the students’ union at the University of Bath to ensure that Turing will work as smoothly as Erasmus?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

I am more than happy to work with the Department for Education and co-ordinate a conversation with the University of Bath, but it is important to note that the Turing scheme is different from Erasmus; it is better. It is global in nature. It is also more inclusive. The statistics on the Erasmus scheme show that it particularly helped children of families from middle-class backgrounds, whereas the Turing scheme is much more accessible.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

I congratulate the Secretary of State and her Science Minister on a fantastic deal, which the scaremongers said could never happen. They said that we had to take what we were offered. We did not, and we have an excellent deal. Later today, I hope that the Science Minister will respond to a debate that I will lead on fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a terrible genetic condition where muscle turns to bone, restricting the life chances of so many people, including some of my constituents who are here. There was a Horizon project looking into this, but it was suspended because of covid. Will we be allowed to go back into that, even though we have had this period of time out, or is that something that the Science Minister would like to write to me about?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

The Science Minister has agreed to meet with our right hon. Friend and discuss this at great length.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Prime Minister for his timely and positive action following my question to him yesterday. I welcome the news, which comes as a huge relief to the research community after so much prolonged uncertainty. Can the Secretary of State assure the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, who welcomes the Government’s decision and has expressed the hope that this deal will pave the way for continued UK participation in future European research programmes?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

The hon. Member’s question to the Prime Minister was indeed timely. I can give her that assurance. One of the key missions of Horizon Europe focuses on tackling and addressing cancer, and that will continue to be key.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on today’s announcement that the UK will be rejoining Horizon. Scientific research opportunities are vital to the development of our future industries. However, young people in rural parts of the country, such as North Devon, often do not see the possibilities of a career in science. Will she work with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the opportunities from today’s announcement extend right into our remote rural communities?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

It is vital that the opportunities that young people have are not capped by the location where they live or are born, and that is certainly a key part of our levelling-up agenda. When it comes to rural communities, agri-tech is absolutely at the heart of the areas that we are focusing on. Horizon Europe will open up those potential collaborations across the globe.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

It is a relief that the EU has relaxed its rather self-defeating ban on the participation of British scientists and researchers in projects with their European peers. I congratulate the Government on holding fast to achieve a deal that was in the best interests of British taxpayers. I will probe the Secretary of State on three specific points. She talked about the opportunity for the UK to lead projects, but she did not say that the UK will have the right to determine the focus of projects in the future. I am interested in that specific point.

Secondly, it is always important to have all the brains in the building working on projects. Will the UK have the opportunity post 2027 to see the Horizon programme expand beyond its existing members? Thirdly, will she reassure the House that the Government’s commitment, which they have shown year on year, to increase research and development spending will continue to focus on the competitive interests of the UK first and foremost?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

We are confident that we will be able to use the Horizon programme to collaborate on areas of shared interest, including on strategically sensitive technologies, such as chips and semiconductors. Given the deal that we have agreed, we will be able to play a leading role within the Horizon agenda, and help to guide it through and expand it. Future association would, of course, be for future Governments to determine, but I am confident that our scientific community will seize this opportunity, utilise it, and prove how valuable membership of Horizon Europe is. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his interest in these topics.