Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape Report

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Monday 20th November 2023

(8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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To ask His Majesty’s Government when they intend to respond to the Independent Review of the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape, published in March 2023.

Viscount Camrose Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (Viscount Camrose) (Con)
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The Government’s response to the landscape review is in its final stages of preparation and will be published imminently. The response will outline the ambitious actions that we have taken since the review’s publication, including through the Science and Technology Framework and the creation of DSIT. It will also announce further commitments to create a research, development and innovation landscape that makes the most of our strategic advantages and builds a more diverse, resilient and investable landscape.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that reply, but he will know that the review identified significant problems in the UK’s RDI landscape, some of which are long-term and serious, and are preventing us from becoming a science superpower. So can he assure us that the Government will take on board the integrated set of recommendations proposed in the review and establish an authoritative working group to implement them, rather than adopting a piecemeal approach to what it is a very serious challenge?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Indeed it is a serious challenge. The review identified, I think, 29 separate recommendations. The approach that the Government are taking is to address them not merely singly but, as the noble Baroness suggests, collectively, as a whole, as well. In fact, since its creation, two of our major steps build on the foundations laid by the Nurse review: that is, the creation of DSIT itself and the laying down of the Science and Technology Framework, which builds on the review, to set up the approach along many of the lines that the review suggested.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for intervening too soon. The Nurse review points out that government investment in R&D in the UK, at 0.12% of GDP, is five times lower than the OECD average. The UK ranks 27th out of 36 OECD countries. Where does the Minister think we should rank if we are to unlock the UK’s full potential in science?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I am not entirely sure where those figures come from. The R&D intensity of the UK—that is to say, the amount spent on R&D as a percentage of GDP—is between 2.8% and 2.9%. That places us fourth in the G7 behind Japan, Germany and the US, and behind Israel and Korea, so it certainly can be higher. That is why we have committed to spending £20 billion per year by the 2024-25 spending review.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, spoke of are in the review; I read it this morning. Will the Minister reassure us that the response will represent the views of the whole of Whitehall, not just the Treasury but the Department for Education and the Home Office, for the advance spending? The review says we need a workforce of several hundred thousand more by 2030, half from the UK and half from abroad. That will require a change in science education in schools and higher pay for research at British universities, while from abroad it would require the Home Office to reverse the huge increase in visa and health charges that it intends to impose up front on researchers attracted to work in this country.

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Indeed. The noble Lord is right: we have identified that from the base now of roughly 1 million people in this country working in R&D, taking into account retirements, by 2027 we probably need another 380,000 R&D workers. Inevitably, a great many of those are going to need to come via the immigration route. A wide variety of visa programmes can meet that need. The Government take the view that the going-in position is that those benefiting from visas, rather than the taxpayer, should bear the immediate costs of visas and healthcare. However, that is always kept under review and, should evidence emerge that we are not getting either the quantity or the quality of integration applications, then we will take appropriate action.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, there are two streams of funding that universities rely on: quality-related funding and charity research support funding. Both those funding streams are necessary for universities to develop infrastructure but both of them have been eroded over time. As charities have increased their funding for research, the amount of money available to support the universities has declined. Will the Minister commit to addressing those two issues and at least bringing funding up to inflationary levels?

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Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Yes, indeed. I am happy to look at that. I note that the Government currently contribute about 20% of R&D funding through UKR I and other sources, with non-profits accounting for around 3% of funding. As I say, the Government are committed to increasing by about one-third their R&D funding by the 2024-25 spending review, which should go some way towards addressing that gap. Meanwhile, I take on board the noble Lord’s comments.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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Does my noble friend the Minister agree that, in addition to government spend, R&D tax credits have risen to £7.3 billion from £6.6 billion last year, which is very welcome, but perhaps the figure could be higher if there were a campaign to explain to SMEs the availability of R&D tax credits?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Yes, indeed. As I say, businesses fund about 60% of R&D in this country and conduct just over 70% of it. I certainly would keenly look into any ability to campaign to encourage more people to take advantage of the generous tax credits scheme.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, when the review is published, will the Minister undertake to persuade the Leader of the House to arrange a debate in government time on it and all the issues related to it? Or, at the very least, can the Government arrange for a Statement to be made from the Dispatch Box so that Members in this Chamber can ask questions as a result of its publication?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for the suggestion. I will happily take that up with the Leader of the House and all the usual channels.

Baroness Wolf of Dulwich Portrait Baroness Wolf of Dulwich (CB)
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My Lords, one very well-established principle for effective research is institutional autonomy and freedom of action. The Nurse review identified numerous places and occasions where, at present, government-funded research does not allow for such freedom of action. Can the Minister assure us that the response to the review will pay due attention to these principles, which the Government acknowledged in the very welcome establishment of ARIA?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Yes, indeed: these are very important principles to allow research institutions, whether publicly or privately funded, autonomy in the research they undertake. As well as the Nurse review, the Tickell review into bureaucracy in the R&D landscape addresses these things and we will also shortly be publishing our response to the latter review.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is there evidence that the successive cuts in business taxes have led to increases in investment and research in the UK?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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If there any such evidence, I am afraid I am not familiar with it.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, when talking about research, the Government often seem to be most excited by and focus on the kind of research that generates new profits and services. But very often research is into social innovation: for example, the subject of antimicrobial resistance. Looking for new drugs is something that we need to do, but social innovation and changes in medical practice can reduce the need to produce new drugs and protect the drugs we have now. Will the Minister perhaps look into seeing how we can focus more on that social innovation as well as the profit-making kinds of research?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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The science and technology framework sets out five priority areas for research and innovation and those areas are then pursued across a mix of public sector, private sector and other bodies, each with their own goals for the research they are conducting. Within that, there is certainly room for all manner of research as the noble Baroness suggests.