Higher Education and Research Bill - Report (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 15th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Lindsay The Earl of Lindsay Conservative 6:30 pm, 15th March 2017

My Lords, the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, address an important issue. I acknowledge that the significant proportion of research policy and funding reserved to Westminster offers advantages in its ability to support and encourage a cross-UK research ecosystem that can benefit all parts of the UK. I have had first-hand experience of what such cross-UK advantages can achieve from a Scottish perspective.

Until recently, I was chairman of a Scottish HEI with a strong research track record. The HEI that I refer to is SRUC, or Scotland’s Rural College. In the 2014 research excellence framework results, SRUC, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, came top in the UK for research power for agriculture and veterinary and food science. This is just one example of the extent to which Scotland contributes significantly to the overall strength of the UK research sector.

However, the ability of a cross-UK research ecosystem to benefit all parts of the UK, and in turn to benefit from all parts of the UK, relies on the research infrastructure. More specifically, it relies on a research infrastructure designed and operated in such a way that it clearly involves, understands, reflects and serves the needs of all parts of the UK equally.

In this respect, I am aware of well-placed concerns about the currently proposed design arising from the view that the different parts of the UK need a better defined role and involvement in setting overarching UK research policy and direction, hence my interest in Amendments 162, 184, 193 and 194 and my hope that my noble friend will support their intent.

The amendments would result in more structured, more certain and less ambiguous protection of UKRI’s duty and capacity to act in the interests of the whole UK. It could make sense for UKRI’s research strategy to be subject to consultation with the devolved Administrations. It could make sense for UKRI and for the councils to include members with experience drawn from the devolved jurisdictions of the UK to ensure that decisions were informed by knowledge of the diverse contributions made by different parts of the UK. It would also make sense for Innovate UK’s priorities to be informed by the specific economic policies of the devolved jurisdictions as well as by the UK Government’s economic policies. I hope that my noble friend will acknowledge the importance of the issues that the amendments address.