Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Nos. 32, 33 and 34 have withdrawn, so we go to Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I cannot recall a time when we have rushed so fast through the speakers, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the beginning, as No. 35, I thought I would have three minutes. You have asked us to keep to six minutes, and we will do our best—indeed, I will keep to that.

I value the opportunity to speak on this matter of utmost importance. I also welcome the Chancellor’s announcement—I have my instructions for tonight as the one who will do the proxy votes on behalf of my party—that the UK Government will invest at least £800 million in this new agency as part of the Government’s wider commitment to increase public research and development funding by £22 billion by 2024-25 and to increase overall UK spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It would be churlish not to welcome that and not to say how good it is to have those figures on the record here tonight. It is clear that the Government have given a commitment to ensure that this agency will be a success story.

When I see that many of our shops have been tied up not simply by Brexit but by the over-dependence on overseas manufacturing and production, I lament that because we were at one time the greatest industrial nation, with the greatest innovators. I believe we can be that again; all we need to do is follow the Government’s policy and strategy, as set out here tonight, and then we can all benefit across this great nation. I still believe that that title is ours, but for us to become all we can become in terms of leading groundbreaking blue-sky projects, we must put the money in, and the Government are clearly putting their money in.

I want to ask the Minister—last time, we did not have much time, and she was unable to respond—to ensure that the R&D and the spend benefit all the regions. The hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and others referred to that. I want Northern Ireland very clearly to be a recipient of the R&D so that we have some of the benefit from this whole project. Technology does not come cheap, but the rewards are extensive. What we have achieved with the covid vaccine through investing money is an indication that greatness still awaits. The Government have been extremely successful in the coronavirus vaccine roll-out and in how they have benefitted and helped all the companies, whether with furlough or the grant scheme. Many businesses in my constituency are here today because of the Government’s commitment, and I want to put on record my thanks to them for that as well.

We all have a great affection for our mothers, and I have a particular affection for mine. She always said that her greatest investment was the time she invested to believe in her children. It is important that we take note of those wise words, and I hope that my mother will be very pleased with the investment she made in her four children. If God spares her, she will be 90 on 14 July, so she has had a long and very good life. When I phone her, as I did at about 6 o’clock tonight, she always asks me what is happening over here, and I always tell her, because she is really deeply interested. We are very fortunate to have a 90-year-old mum who is sound in body and mind and still able to tell this big boy what to do when the time comes. That is what a mother does—she tells you off no matter what age you are, and I am always very conscious of that.

We must invest in our own people and in their ability. That is why I support this Bill and why we will be voting with the Government tonight. I want to take this opportunity to press the Minister for an assurance that the investment to which I referred earlier will take place across the UK, and will allow the wonderful research and development that takes place in Northern Ireland to continue. We have a great scheme in Northern Ireland, which works really well, to avail us with increased support and funding. I believe that the Minister will be happy to give that assurance and I will be happy to hold her to that assurance. I look forward to her response.

Northern Ireland has the best education system in the United Kingdom. I thank my colleague Peter Weir, the Education Minister, for the great job that he has done in trying to secure our children’s ongoing education through covid. As a result of this education, we have highly skilled young people who have so much to offer in terms of vision and goals. I meet those young people every day in my constituency of Strangford and across Northern Ireland. We have some wonderful people. We need to encourage them and to ensure that they can be part of that future as well. We do this as well for my grandchildren and, indeed, for everyone’s grandchildren.

We should also allow those with grand projects to take on young apprentices, who will learn how to take innovative approaches. It is very important that we do these things. The R&D projects to give young graduates a place at the R&D table would benefit from their wisdom, experience, enthusiasm and learning. Again, I commend the Northern Ireland Assembly, and particularly Minister Dodds and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, for all that they have done, working alongside the Education Minister to ensure that we in Northern Ireland can be part of this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—always better together and always better if we can share what we have. I see my colleague and friend, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), having a smile to himself. But I mean it. I want him to stay in the United Kingdom. I do not want him to leave; I want him to be a part of it.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Nos. 36 to 40 on the speakers’ list have withdrawn, so we go to Virginia Crosbie.

--- Later in debate ---
Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
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It is a pleasure to be here on this special occasion, and not just because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) pointed out, it was a very special birthday yesterday—40. [Laughter.]

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have tabled amendments and new clauses, and who have contributed today.

The UK has a world-class science system, and a proud history of research and invention. Today, in our continuing fight against coronavirus, the importance of those skills has never been more apparent. What is it that makes ARIA so special? It is the fact that we are strengthening our science system, enhancing our capabilities and finding a new level of ambition. That means that it will be a small, agile organisation with autonomy from Government and unique powers that equip it to support groundbreaking ideas, with the potential to profoundly change all our lives for the better.

The Bill brings forward a bold and ambitious policy that seeks to deliver the transformational benefits of high-risk R&D for our economy and society. I have spoken to many colleagues who share my genuine excitement about the possibilities that ARIA could bring. We have heard on the Floor of the House and in every previous debate that all parties support the principle of ARIA and what it will try to achieve. I am glad that today we are able to give ARIA the focus that it deserves.

A focus of today’s debate that has been raised by the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), among others, has been giving ARIA a primary research topic, through new clauses 2 and 3, and amendments 1 and 12. Given the challenges that we face today, those amendments understandably focus on climate change and health. Nobody in the House should have any concerns about the Government’s credentials on tackling climate change. We are proud to be the greenest Government ever. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan and our COP26 presidency, to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) referred, are demonstrating that at home and abroad, the UK is leading efforts to accelerate action on climate change.

Without doubt, the covid pandemic has clearly illustrated the critical role that R&D plays in the health and wellbeing of our population. Our vaccine roll-out is the envy of the world. The Government already invest around £2 billion annually in health and care research in the UK. It is therefore right that such priorities are taken forward by Government Departments and agencies, with clear direction and involvement from Ministers. That includes the important role that UKRI plays in delivering Government priorities for R&D. We do not want to duplicate those responsibilities.

Instead, as many colleagues have put it much better than I could, ARIA must make its own distinct contribution to be effective. That means being an organisation led by brilliant people with strategic autonomy—not directed by Ministers. The continued chopping and changing of ARIA’s mission set out in amendment 12 would hamper ARIA’s ability to commit to long-term programmes.

New clause 3 also seeks to impose obligations on ARIA regarding the transition to net zero. ARIA is covered by the Government’s existing net zero commitments and will be required to make information available through the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter).

I turn to the contribution of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on the role of Parliament. Amendments 3 to 6 would require the proposed chair and CEO of ARIA to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Amendment 11 would require the Commons Science and Technology Committee to approve appointments by the Secretary of State and the remuneration of the appointees. I am extremely pleased that the recruitment campaign for the CEO was launched on 1 June and that we will launch the campaign for the chair on 5 July. All applications will be reviewed by an outstanding expert panel, which will include the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. The Government’s guidance sets out that the ultimate responsibility for appointments rests with Ministers who are accountable to Parliament, as is the case with UKRI. There is no precedent for requiring the approval of both Houses for appointments.

I am grateful for the contribution that the Science and Technology Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), has made on this issue. However, I guarantee that this is an open, fair and robust recruitment process, and it is completely appropriate to find the right people to make ARIA a success. Amendment 9 would require ARIA to provide the Science and Technology Committee with the information it requests. The Osmotherly rules provide guidance on how Government bodies should interact with Select Committees, and they are clear that such bodies should be as helpful as possible in providing accurate, truthful and full information when giving evidence. I believe that that is sufficient to ensure a co-operative and constructive relationship between ARIA and the relevant Committees.

Amendment 10 would require the Secretary of State to consult the Committee before dissolving ARIA. Clause 8 already sets out the broad requirement on the Secretary of State to consult any persons they consider appropriate, and I am sure they will always consider it appropriate to consult the Science and Technology Committee about changes to the R&D landscape. The Secretary of State’s power to dissolve ARIA is subject to the draft affirmative procedure, which will ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to debate that decision.

Amendments 7 and 8 tabled by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South and amendment 14 tabled by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central seek to remove the exemption from the public contracts regulations and to subject ARIA to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We have covered procurement extensively before, and I will reiterate why the exemption is so important. There are three key points.

First, ARIA is expected to commission and contract others to conduct research in pursuit of its ambitious goals. Often, ARIA will procure research services. That commissioning and contracting is a fundamentally different way of funding R&D to traditional grant making, and procurement rules do not apply. Secondly, this way of funding research is core to DARPA’s approach—the successful US model from which we learned when designing ARIA. As we heard in Committee, DARPA benefits from what is described as “other transaction authority”, which offers flexibility outside standard US Government contracting standards. By taking that innovative new funding approach that is so fundamental to its objectives, ARIA will benefit from similar flexibilities.

Let me turn to amendments 8 and 14. ARIA is about creating a certain culture of funding and groundbreaking research, as I heard time and again throughout my engagement with the R&D community. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) put it so eloquently, that kind of culture is difficult to achieve within all the rules that would usually apply to public bodies. We have thought carefully about alternative ways to ensure that high standards of conduct are upheld within this unique context.

The Bill requires ARIA to submit an annual report and statement of accounts, which will be laid before Parliament. ARIA will be audited by the National Audit Office and will be subject to value-for-money assessments. ARIA will interact with Select Committees in the usual way, and it will draw up a framework document detailing its relationship with BEIS. There will be further reporting requirements, such as the details of what is published in the annual report. Together, those provisions will ensure that the public are informed of ARIA’s activities and where it spends its money. Although the Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows for exemptions in certain circumstances, the request must still be processed, and that administration runs contrary to the lean and agile operation of ARIA.

I turn to amendment 2 on conflicts of interest. Schedule 1 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations

“about the procedures to be adopted for dealing with conflicts of interest”.

The framework document between BEIS and ARIA will commit ARIA to the code of conduct for board members of public bodies, which includes the obligation to publicly declare any private financial or non-financial interests that may or may not be perceived to conflict with one’s public duty. This principle-led, non-legislative approach is appropriate. It is the standard approach taken by many other arm’s length bodies, including UKRI, and I have no reason to believe that it is inadequate here. In addition, we have the existing reserve power in schedule 1, should it ever prove necessary.

On the issue of human rights, I recognise the intent behind new clause 1. Human rights are already protected in law in the UK through the Human Rights Act 1998, and ARIA will be subject to public authority obligations under that Act. I therefore reassure the hon. Member for Aberdeen South that ARIA will operate in a way that is compatible with the convention on human rights. It would be unlawful for it not to do so under existing legislation.

Amendment 13 would require details of ARIA’s geographical impact to be included in its annual report. I believe that it is incredibly important that ARIA’s funding benefits those who are not always reached by the current system. That is the Government’s policy and priority, as well as a priority for me personally. The R&D place strategy, due to be published this summer, will set out how R&D will contribute to our levelling-up ambitions. Details of ARIA’s operation will be set out more fully in a future framework document, and that is the appropriate place to stipulate the contents of ARIA’s annual report, including geographical information, rather than legislation.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The Minister is being generous with her time tonight. In my contribution, I was very keen, as were others, to ensure that all the levelling-up that the Minister refers to will happen in the regions as well—in other words, that Northern Ireland will get its share. It is important, as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that we all benefit. May I seek her assurance that that will be the case?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
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Of course, I give my assurance that we will issue the place strategy shortly, which will indicate all of this.

I am very grateful for the contributions that right hon. and hon. Members have made today. The interest in the passage of the Bill in the House and in the R&D community is testament to the important role that ARIA will play in our future R&D landscape, creating a space in the system that is free to fund groundbreaking science in innovative ways, independent from ongoing Government intervention.

This is an incredibly significant moment, because the opportunity that ARIA affords us is truly limitless. By unlocking a new level of ambition, and by enabling truly bold and adventurous ideas to flourish, ARIA will allow us to take a huge leap into the future. Yes, this will mean embracing the unknowns that come from ARIA being free from Government control, but we should make that leap confidently, knowing that the brilliant people that ARIA will fund will change the world in ways that none of us in this Chamber would dare to imagine today. This is therefore a truly exciting time for all of us here in the Chamber—for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren—and I feel particularly excited for my young granddaughter, who will feel the benefits of the major breakthroughs that we will unlock through this Bill. I am sure that this opportunity is recognised by all hon. Members.

I hope that I have demonstrated the reasons that I cannot accept the new clauses and amendments that have been tabled, and I hope that Members will agree not to press them.