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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 15th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour 7:00 pm, 15th March 2017

My Lords, I support Amendment 166 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I apologise that I was not present for this item when it was dealt with in Committee because I was abroad, but I have read carefully the discussion that happened at that point.

I, too, am a member of the Science and Technology Committee, which looked at this issue recently. I share the concern that was raised by a number of witnesses that Innovate UK would be hijacked by the research councils and become the commercialisation and innovation arm of the research councils, and that that would usurp the hugely valuable role that Innovate UK currently has in being business facing and supporting innovation, especially by small businesses and especially at very early stages, when an entrepreneur has a bright idea but no backers and no proof of concept. I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, that the membership and chairmanship of the committee for Innovate UK need to be very much business focused and to include a predominance of business-focused people.

I recognise that the Government have gone some way in Amendment 183 and I welcome that. Indeed, I welcome the meetings that I have had with Ministers here and Sir John Kingman and with the Minister of State for Universities and Science in the other place—who is not here today, although he regularly is—but it is probably my conversations with Jo Johnson that have made me the most alarmed, I am afraid, because although he gives assurances throughout about the business-facing role of Innovate UK, every time I have heard him describe it unprompted, he immediately describes it as being the innovation arm of the research councils.

I hope the Minister will recognise that the role of Innovate UK needs further strengthening and that to give it a business-based chairman and a predominance of business-based members on the committee would do that.