Powers of Attorney Bill

Debate between Stephen Metcalfe and Chi Onwurah
Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He makes two important points. On the first, I emphasise that there is no intention at all—in my Bill or in any other thinking—to do away with the paper-based system. People will still be allowed to apply for an LPA using the paper-based system. However, the Bill introduces an electronic system, which will hopefully streamline the process and reduce the paper burden on the Office of the Public Guardian, making it more sustainable in the long term.

On my hon. Friend’s second point, seeking legal advice is a sound recommendation in many areas, but, particularly when creating something as powerful as a lasting power of attorney, it cannot be a bad idea to seek the advice and guidance of someone with professional qualifications and experience. For many people involved in making a lasting power of attorney, it may well be the first time they have done anything like it. Seeking the advice of an expert is sensible.

Finally, as we all know, LPAs are currently paper documents. To reduce reliance on paper, the schedule provides that all future LPAs will be electronic documents accessed through electronic means, as well the paper channel. The effects of that change will be increased efficiency, accessibility and confidence for users in the new system.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his Bill, which is an example of the much-needed modernisation of legal processes and—as he said—the efficiency and ease of access that digitalisation can bring. Does he agree that in addition to maintaining the paper route and providing efficiency and ease of access through the digital route, it is important to put greater emphasis on increasing digital literacy, particularly for under-represented groups?

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend—I say that deliberately, because she is—for her intervention, and I completely agree. We are moving to a digital world, but we are not all moving at the same pace, so it is important that we all promote digital awareness and digital accessibility where we can and help people to become digitally aware who have not had the opportunity before. We should always be thinking about how we can make people more aware of the services they could access if they had basic digital skills. This is an example of where, with digital skills, we can streamline the process, and that is important.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Debate between Stephen Metcalfe and Chi Onwurah
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for seeking to aid Madam Deputy Speaker in determining what is in order. I am not sure whether that was necessary.

On the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, I fail to see why he thinks that pedantry can make up for a lack of argument. Climate change is a core mission. We are not seeking to hem in the agency with absolute linguistic barriers for what exactly should be done, but we want it to have a direction. We want to know where it is going and what it is seeking to do. The core mission, as I intend to set out in detail, will be climate change. I do not intend to limit its interpretation of climate change, but I will set out the reasons why climate change will be its core mission.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

As the hon. Lady will recall, we had similar debates in Committee. Does she completely dismiss the idea that the mission is to find cutting-edge science, to explore it, and to go where no other agency is willing to go at the moment, because they will have to follow too many metrics to prove their effectiveness? That is its mission. This agency does not have to have a mission beyond trying to find something exciting, new and potentially really beneficial to mankind.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I fundamentally disagree with him on this issue. To go where no one has gone before is not a mission or a direction; it is a deliberate absence of direction. I spoke earlier about the vast expanse of ignorance that can present us with huge, existential challenges. The history of science has been about trying to reduce that huge expanse of ignorance, and for us to leave ARIA without any mission or direction in addressing that vast expanse of ignorance that is before us will severely limit its likelihood of success. That, together with other aspects of the Bill with regard to accountability and transparency, leave it open to cronyism as well as other issues.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Sixth sitting)

Debate between Stephen Metcalfe and Chi Onwurah
Thursday 22nd April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I give way to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the intervention from the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock be on a similar point? I imagine it will.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

It was going to be on exactly the same point. I could not have put it better myself.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My respect for the hon. Member only increases because he does not wish to repeat what somebody else has said. That is not always the case in this House, as we know. I welcome the intervention from the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, and I would welcome a long discussion on probability, mathematics and statistics, but I can see that my Whip might not be entirely happy with that, so let me confine myself to this. I was not claiming that the estimate was rigorous. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme suggested that because there will be more interest in ARIA, it will receive more Freedom of Information Act requests. That might be true for the first two or three years, but I do not think that level of interest would be maintained, even if it received more requests proportionately.

I mentioned funding because that is what enables activity, and freedom of information requests relate to that activity. Therefore, even if we doubled the greatest estimate to, say, 12, what price does the Committee think should not be paid for accountability and freedom of information? What would be too much? I was not here in Parliament for the expenses scandal, but we saw the impact that had on public confidence as we now see the cronyism scandals and their impact on public confidence and trusted institutions. Freedom of information and transparency is an essential part of that.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with its significantly higher budget, was subject to just 48 requests in 2019. During the evidence sessions, we heard that UKRI was happy to deal with FOI requests, because it viewed them as an important aspect of spending public money. We also heard—this was telling—that the Royal Society of Edinburgh, although it is not subject to FOI, behaves as if it is and responds to requests because it views them as an important aspect of transparency. Regardless of whether the Minister accepts the amendment—I very much hope that she will—ARIA should echo the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s approach.

We heard in evidence from DARPA that it believed that rather than hindering the agency, the transparency offered by FOI requests was useful in building public trust in its work. In fact, DARPA’s deputy director stated that the level of oversight that it is subject to is “important to its success”. Other high-risk, high-reward agencies such as the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation in Germany, Vinnova in Sweden and the French National Centre for Scientific Research are all subject to the freedom of information requirements of their respective countries. What makes ARIA so different?

The protection of sensitive information cannot be used as justification for a blanket exemption, as the Freedom of Information Act 2000 already provides exemptions where disclosure would prejudice research or commercial interests, or cause a breach of confidentiality. In their initial response to the Secretary of State’s announcement of ARIA’s FOI exemption, NESTA said:

“Radical openness and honesty is needed or distrust will undermine it. The public will expect to know what’s happening with public money”—

I think we can very much see that now—

“and greater risk requires transparency and evaluation in order to determine what works.”

The Campaign for Freedom of Information said that ARIA

“will spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on high risk projects but the government apparently wants it to be less accountable to the public than parish councils, which are subject to FOI.”

In the evidence session, Tabitha Goldstaub said that

“at Google’s moonshot factory, X…they started in secret and everything felt so appealing, to protect people from any feeling of failure, but what they learned is that there are so many other much better ways than secrecy to incentivise people and to give them the freedom to fail. Actually, allowing for more transparency builds much more trust and encourages more collaboration and, therefore, better breakthroughs.”––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 57, Q55.]

On what we are trying to achieve with this agency, the Minister has mentioned her concerns about bureaucracy a few times, but I think we as legislators have to decide whether we believe that rules and regulations are simply mere bureaucracy to be thrown out whenever possible, or whether we believe that they can contribute both to the effectiveness of an agency and to the contract that we in Parliament have with the public to take their hard-earned taxpayers’ money and spend it as best we can to encourage and enable growth, prosperity, and a national health service—all things from which the public benefit. We cannot do that in secret; we have to do it publicly.

I really urge the Minister to accept the amendment. She knows that the exemption has come in for much criticism and that the controversy around it will continue to mar the progress of the agency. I urge her to listen to the siren voices of concern and to accept the amendment to remove ARIA’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Fifth sitting)

Debate between Stephen Metcalfe and Chi Onwurah
Thursday 22nd April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and she is absolutely right. It would be a cause for concern at any time to exempt an agency of this importance and public funding from procurement rules, but it is particularly worrying when the Government are already embroiled in a cronyism and procurement scandal.

In support of the point that my hon. Friend made, Transparency International—a well-known and reputable organisation—found that, of 1,000 procurement contracts signed during the pandemic and totalling £18 billion of public money, one in five had one or more of the red flags commonly associated with corruption. Is that not a figure of which we should be absolutely ashamed? That has happened within the existing rules, and the Minister proposes to exempt ARIA from those rules.

In her letter to the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee on 2 March 2021, the Minister explained that the Bill will

“provide ARIA with an exemption from Public Contracts Regulations so that it can procure services, equipment and works relating to its research goals at speed, in a similar way to a private sector organisation.”

We have several concerns about that explanation. What assessment has the Minister made of the ways in which private sector organisations procure services? Has she compared this with the success or otherwise of Government procurement processes for PPE during the covid crisis? Is she saying that private sector procurement is more effective, more honest and fairer; or is it simply quicker?

What the exemption is for is also a concern. The Minister implies that it is for services, equipment and works relating to ARIA’s research goals. Is it for equipment, services and works, or is it actually for research? Will ARIA be considered to be procuring research? We had been led to understand that it would a funder of research and development, not a body conducting its own research in a lab, so what actual procurement needs will it have, beyond office space and office equipment? There are months and months before ARIA is operational, so what will it need to procure at speed, or is the intention to enable ARIA to procure research without oversight? What is the justification for not having appropriate oversight for its procurement of research?

We absolutely understand, and support, providing ARIA with additional flexibility in terms of its funding activity, but the benefit of exempting ARIA’s procurement of goods and services is not clear. We suggest that ARIA’s procurement needs are not different from those of other Government funding bodies. We hope that the Minister will explain why that is the case. In terms of safeguards, the Government are proposing that in a future framework agreement BEIS will require ARIA to appoint an independent internal auditor to report its procurement activities. It is therefore going to have an internal bureaucracy, as the Minister puts it, rather than be subject to the procurement rules that have been developed, debated and put in place over time.

Will that framework agreement set out procurement rules for ARIA? Otherwise, what is the auditing requiring compliance with? How can we audit if there are no rules to benchmark against? Without safeguards, we have significant concerns about the risk of sleaze. What is to prevent ARIA from buying its office equipment from a mate of the Secretary of State or of the chief executive? Can the Minister say which of the regulations she objects to? The Public Contracts Regulations 2015, for example, state that a person awarded a public contract must

“be linked to the subject-matter of the contract.”

Does she object to that? What will prevent ARIA from operating effectively?

In the evidence sessions, we heard a number of times, including from Professor Glover, that there is a need for openness and transparency. David Cleevely said:

“The more open you are about what you are doing, the less easy it is to hide the fact that you have let particular contracts and so on, so there ought to be a mechanism within the governance structure of the agency to do that.”—[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 75, Q78.]

The Minister is removing such mechanisms as there already are. We heard that having rules and regulations in place was part of the culture of DARPA, on which this agency is supposedly based, with one of its directors, Dr Highnam, saying:

“Honour in public service is top of the list.”—[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 39, Q32.]

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

Did we not also hear from Director Highnam how DARPA benefits from other transaction authority and the flexibility that comes outside of the standard Government procurement process?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We heard from Dr Highnam repeatedly of the importance of rules and regulations. He spoke specifically of a culture in which the process was not considered bureaucracy and a barrier but part of enabling DARPA to meet its obligations. I say to the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock, for whom I have a great deal of respect, that the flexibility that DARPA benefits from in being able to procure research is not outside the United States procurement requirements. Dr Highnam made it clear that they benefit from providing extraordinary results while being open and following the highest standards in public service.

I hope that the Minister will agree to leave ARIA with public procurement rules that provide some measure of trust, particularly in the middle of the current cronyism scandal.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Fourth sitting)

Debate between Stephen Metcalfe and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 20th April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

These amendments are all concerned with ensuring that the benefits of ARIA are spread across our country and contribute to a more equal and prosperous country. Amendment 14 would insert a new sub-paragraph requiring ARIA’s annual report, for which there is provision elsewhere, to contain details of the geographical distribution of activities funded by ARIA, while amendments 16, 17 and 18, which relate to clause 2, would require ARIA to have regard for the benefits of its activities across the nations and regions of the UK in exercising its functions.

We tabled these amendments in a constructive spirit, to improve the Bill in line with the Government’s own aims, as we understand them. During and since the general election, there has been significant discussion about the importance of ensuring that our whole country benefits from economic prosperity and from the transformational impact of ARIA.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I accept what the hon. Lady says about geographical spread and making sure that we are treating the country fairly and levelling up, but we have to accept that while £800 million over a four-year period is a lot, £200 million a year is not a huge amount. We know that we are focusing ARIA on a small number of projects. The danger is that we dilute the impact that ARIA could have using that money by trying to demonstrate that we are spreading it equally across the country. The danger with that is that we do not achieve what we set out to achieve in the first place.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are two challenges here. ARIA’s funding is between 1% and 2% of the UK’s science spend, depending on whether the aims of the current Government are actually met, so in some respects it is considered too small to be subject to reporting requirements. Yet we also hear of how it is expected—indeed, required—to have a transformational impact on all our lives. If that impact is going to be transformational, surely it is critical that it should be as equitable as possible.

We have tried very hard to reflect those slightly conflicting aims. Amendment 14 is a reporting requirement; amendments 16, 17 and 18 are to “have regard to”. We have not set targets. We have not said that it has to be a certain proportion, but particularly with regard to amendment 14 there can surely be no objection to reporting how the funding has been spent. That is a basic requirement of transparency.

The hon. Member is right to infer that people may draw conclusions from that reporting, but I tend to feel that information is empowering, regardless of what the conclusions are, so the amendment takes a reasonable line between requiring that the spend be in some respects regionally distributed, which it does not do, and ensuring that the information is there to assess the extent to which ARIA is living up to its overriding goal—again, we do not have a mission, so let us say goal—of transforming our society.

The Opposition believe that that goal is possible. We believe that science and research, as I have said, can be the engines of progress for our society, but it needs to be for and by everyone, not simply for the few. It is essential, as I have said, that each region of the UK benefits from the creation of ARIA. The Secretary of State told the Science and Technology Committee that the Government wanted ARIA

“to reflect the wide talent and geographical spread of the United Kingdom”,

but there is nothing in the Bill to measure the extent to which it does that. As we have seen, the Bill fails to mention the devolved nations and does not outline any reflection of the geographical realities of the United Kingdom.

Amendment 14 is simply about requiring reporting so that the Government—whichever Government we have—can measure the impact that ARIA is having on the very important desire to reduce the regional inequalities in our country. It does not tie the hands of ARIA’s leadership; it just imposes reporting requirements. That is really important when we reflect that the Campaign for Science and Engineering found that for every £1 invested by the Government on research and development we receive 20p to 30p back each and every year. Surely we have a right to know where that money is going geographically, as well as which areas it is going to.

As a northern MP, I know that the north receives less than half of the life sciences investment per head that the south of England does, despite having great teaching hospitals and significant health inequalities that truly need to be transformed. We heard an important contribution from Tabitha Goldstaub of CognitionX, who said that

“ARIA has to be independent, but it also needs to ensure that it works really closely with central Government and with regional and local government. Local government spends about £1 billion on procurement, and cities are key investors in infrastructure, so finding a good link with local government, as well as with central Government, is important…Regional strengths deliver benefits to actual localities.”––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 56, Q54.]

We also heard from John Kingman, the chair of UKRI, that its structures involve regular consultation with the devolved Administrations. It is important that we see how well ARIA is able to benefit also from that engagement, whether indirectly through the UKRI or through its competitions and other means of funding.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It has been a long day and we have had lively debates covering many important themes set out in this admittedly short Bill. We now come to one of the critical themes: the mission of ARIA. What is ARIA for?

Amendment 15 would require ARIA to consider its core mission in exercising its functions. Under the amendment, for the 10 years following the passing of the Act, that core mission would be to undertake activities to support the achievement of net zero. Thereafter, its mission would be established by statutory instrument, subject to the draft affirmative procedure.

I am surprised that I find myself in the position of needing to argue that ARIA—the Advanced Research and Invention Agency—requires a mission and that that mission should be net zero, which is the greatest existential challenge facing our country and the world right now.

We welcome ARIA, as we have said. We recognise that there is a gap in the UK’s research capability, which ARIA can and should fill, but we believe strongly that ARIA will succeed only if it is given a well-defined mission, which the Government must play a significant role in setting. As we heard in the evidence sessions—and as is, I believe, the opinion of the Minister—ARIA should not try to replace either blue skies research institutions or translational institutions, but should bring the two together to focus on the transformative effects that science and technology can have on society. I am sure that we are all united in the view that ARIA can have a transformative impact.

This is an opportunity for the Government to establish a mission-led funding agency that can benefit us all. With no mission and the whole of the realm of science—the whole of the unknown and the less understood—to choose from, the risk is that ARIA will be directionless, providing no societal return for taxpayer investment, or that it will be prey to vanity projects, providing return only for a few.

In evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, Dominic Cummings—I am mentioning him once again as the original inspiration and architect of ARIA—held up some sort of a diagram and said that general UK research was one bit and that ARIA should look at all the rest. That gave the impression that it would be like the SS Enterprise going off in search of new areas, but even the SS Enterprise—I know that “Star Trek” fans are present—had a mission, which was to seek out new civilisations. It was not a mission to—

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am speaking about “Star Trek”, so let me finish my point and then I will give way. It was not a general mission to go around the universe and galaxies. It was not a mission to look at mining new minerals or whatever. It was a mission to seek out new civilisations, yet here we have ARIA being proposed as an agency without any mission whatever.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

Just to clarify, I think it was the USS Enterprise. I believe that ARIA has a mission, which is to boldly go to areas of science that we have not gone into before. A focus on impact, high risk and high reward is not what we currently have, and we should not hamper it at this early stage. I would not for one moment deny that climate change is a huge threat that needs to be addressed, but that is not necessarily where the agency should focus. Why would we want to tie its hands before it has even started to look at the transformational science out there?

I also have great concerns, because the hon. Lady said she felt that the Government should have huge input into the mission of ARIA. That would potentially breach the Haldane principle, which Government after Government have applied and stuck to in order to make sure that politicians are not influencing scientists in what areas that they research.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept that it is indeed the USS Enterprise, and I thank the hon. Member for that correction. On the rest of his contribution, I will say once again that I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Member, but to boldly go where no one has gone before is not a mission. It is not even a direction—it is explicitly not a direction. As I said, the USS Enterprise’s mission was to seek out new civilisations, so it was anthropological rather than another domain of science. ARIA has no mission.

We do think we have to talk about the Haldane principle, given that we have seen the acceptance of mission-oriented research, including the grand challenges that were discussed during the evidence sessions. That makes it clear that we can ascribe a mission to ARIA without breaching the Haldane principle. The Government should not outsource their responsibility to direct the transformative change that ARIA can bring to our greatest challenge, which is one that—the hon. Member is familiar with this—inspires so many young people and that can get public buy-in: climate change and the need to address the impact it will have on our planet.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (Third sitting)

Debate between Stephen Metcalfe and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 20th April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I apologise to the Bill Committee for not being here at the start. That was due to a medical appointment that I could not avoid. I am sorry to have missed the opening speeches.

Labour welcomes this debate and the interest and proposed investment in advanced research and innovation through this agency. We have concerns about the Bill as it stands, which will I will go through in some detail, amendment by amendment. We champion our world-leading scientists, and we recognise the importance of giving science and engineering in this country the opportunity to enable us to build back better and create a fairer and more progressive world.

Amendment 9, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends, follows on nicely from the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North. I am sorry to have missed part of her remarks, but I caught most of them. We echo her desire to see diversity on the board of ARIA. I was very drawn to her comments about the oil industry in Aberdeen North. I worked as an engineer for 20 years before coming to Parliament, and I spent some of that time in Nigeria working not in the industry but with oil engineers, so I know about the lack of diversity that she is referring to and how challenging it can be to be the only person of one’s gender, ethnicity or class in the room.

Our amendment seeks to ensure that, in appointing members of ARIA,

“The Secretary of State must…have regard to the diversity of the members including the representation of those with protected characteristics.”

“Protected characteristics” has the meaning given by part 2, chapter 1 of the Equality Act 2010. That would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the diversity of the board when using their powers of appointment.

Labour wants to ensure that agencies such as ARIA are of benefit to the entire nation—indeed, to all nations in the United Kingdom—and every region and citizen. It is clear that, at the moment, diversity is not the strong point of our science establishment. Only 7% of managers, directors and senior officials in academic and non-academic higher education positions are black, Asian or minority ethnic, and only 24% of the UK STEM workforce are women. That has to change if we are to create a welcoming and inclusive culture in United Kingdom research and development. The Government’s R&D roadmap states:

“Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a critical aspect of research culture…UKRI will develop and launch bold initiatives to increase the participation, retention and promotion of a diversity of talent into R&D.”

I know that the Minister takes these issues seriously, so why is there no reference to diversity in this new agency? This Bill is a real opportunity for action. If the Government are serious about a forward-looking diversity programme, they must ensure that ARIA has diversity at its heart.

We want ARIA to be world leading and to make breakthroughs of which the whole United Kingdom can be proud. We cannot allow the research breakthroughs of tomorrow to be held back and hamstrung by old attitudes of the past. We are never going to unlock the full potential of our research sector if we do not use the talents of everyone. There are real issues with diversity in the UK science sector, with black and minority ethnic men 28% less likely to work in STEM than white men, and women representing 9% of people in non-medical STEM careers. Yet we face a shortfall of 173,000 STEM workers, which is estimated to cost the sector £1.5 billion a year.

The reason I am so determined that ARIA should reflect the importance of diversity is because when I graduated from Imperial in 1987—a long, long time ago—around 13% of engineering students were women. In my year at Imperial it was 12%. If we fast forward some 30 years—more than a quarter of a century—the figures have increased by 2 percentage points. In a quarter of a century, that is the amount of progress we have made in this critical area. We must not show any complacency or think that this will happen over time. As we have seen, it does not happen over time; it requires action.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to give way to an hon. Member who is a great champion of diversity in science.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Does she recognise that the Government have taken steps in this direction, particularly during the year of engineering in 2018 and in the subsequent creation of an engineering envoy to try to continue to promote engineering to everyone, regardless of background, gender or ethnicity? The Government are alive to the issues and take them seriously, so mandating it in this amendment is not the right way forward. We need to do exactly what the hon. Lady said, which is to set up projects that let people decide that engineering is the career for them.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention. I recognise the sterling work that he did as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee and as the Government’s envoy during the year of engineering, and that he now does as chairperson of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. He is not talking about this issue now simply because it has become more fashionable; he has a long history in this area.

I did not mean to imply that the Government have not taken any action. It is important for the Government to promote engineering, but in this, as in everything, itis the outcomes that matter, not the words. At the heart of this Bill is the creation of an institution. There are many challenges facing our research environment, including the lack of private investment in research and the lack of venture capital investment in early start-ups.

The Government have chosen to respond with an institution, and therefore it should reflect the Government’s priorities when it comes to diversity. If part of the answer to the challenges facing the scientific community is a new institution, at the heart of it must be the diversity that we want to see in the science establishment.

Obviously, I am not the only person to raise this issue; we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, and it was clear from witness evidence that there was significant support for ARIA acting as an agent of change in this important matter. Professor Leyser, the chief executive officer of UKRI, said:

“I have to think about all parts of the system. I have to think about the people—do we have the right kinds of people in the system, the right mix, the right diversity, the right set of skills, and the right career trajectories and pathways through the system?”

If the person who is in charge of the greatest portion of the UK R&D budget has to think about that, why not ARIA? We also heard from Tris Dyson of Nesta Challenges, who said specifically of the proposed agency that

“we think that there is an opportunity to explore new avenues and do things slightly differently. Some of the opportunities that that presents, both through ARIA and more generally, is around boosting the diversity of people involved in frontier technology and innovation and improving geographical reach.”––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 5-7, Q3.]

I hope that the Minister will explain how that will be realised if not through an amendment such as amendment 9.

We also heard really important evidence from Dr Dugan of Wellcome, who is a past director of DARPA. She said:

“What I can tell you about diversity from my own experience, both in Silicon Valley and at DARPA, is that for decades we have known that specificity of goal and outcome is a good way to get more equality and diversity in assessment of ideas and in people conducting or pursuing those ideas.”––[Official Report, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Public Bill Committee, 14 April 2021; c. 39, Q33.]

We will come on to consider this in further debate, but currently ARIA has no mission, no specificity of outcomes, and no diversity requirements.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendment 10, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friends, reflects many of the concerns articulated by the SNP spokesperson—the hon. Member for Aberdeen South—and would require the Secretary of State to seek and obtain the consent of the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons to the appointment of ARIA’s first chief executive officer. Some members of the Bill Committee serve on the Select Committee and know how well able the Science and Technology Committee is to hold to account the potential—future—CEO of ARIA.

I feel that this amendment is particularly important because, in a response to a parliamentary question that I received just yesterday, the Minister made it clear that the recruitment of the first CEO was under way and that no interim CEO would be appointed. We therefore need to ensure that we get the first CEO right.

The driving factor behind the amendment is the need for greater oversight and responsibility. We are in the midst of a crisis of confidence; a scandal of sleaze is overwhelming this House and many of its institutions. I will start with a quote:

“The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way.”

That is how former Prime Minister David Cameron described back in 2010 the next big scandal to hit British politics. I want all members of this Bill Committee to think long and hard about the way the Bill is currently drafted. It leaves £800 million of taxpayers’ money, and our scientific future, open to just that level of sleaze.

We see in the current cronyism scandal the consequences of placing power and responsibility in the hands of those who are not accountable and do not have the moral judgment to hold that power wisely in the public interest. This Bill places huge power and responsibility in the hands of the CEO of ARIA, with little ongoing accountability, a significant budget and none of the checks provided by the usual public procurement and freedom of information rules. It is critical that there be parliamentary oversight of the choice of CEO if we are to avoid both sleaze and, equally important, the appearance of sleaze. This CEO needs the confidence of the UK’s scientific community: they will have a huge challenge. But they will receive that confidence only if they are appointed on merit. The Bill was drafted before the current sleaze scandal and reflects far too much the “Ask no questions—that’s too much bureaucracy” approach. We see where that has got us.

Labour’s Opposition day debate on 14 April, just last week, highlighted the fact that the Greensill scandal is just the tip of the iceberg of the cronyism rife in the Conservative party during the pandemic and long before. It is laced through the billions of pounds-worth of contracts paid for by taxpayers and of a slew of troubling senior appointments.

Bill Committee testimony from Government witnesses such as Professor Philip Bond, and Dominic Cummings’ evidence earlier to the Science and Technology Committee contained multiple references to trusting the leaders of ARIA with £800 million of taxpayers’ money with no purpose or mission, none of the usual safeguards and complete freedom for the Secretary of State as to whom they appoint. We are concerned that this is a recipe for sleaze in science. There is no detail in the Bill—

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Hansard - -

I am listening very closely to what the hon. Lady is saying, but I cannot imagine for one moment—I am sure that she cannot, either—that a chair or chief executive of ARIA would refuse an invitation from the Select Committee on Science and Technology to attend and answer questions. In the 11 years that I have been here, I have not been aware of a single incident of someone from the science community refusing to attend the Committee. To suggest that this could be science sleaze in the waiting is stretching the point way beyond reality.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am always grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s interventions, as he makes interesting—if inaccurate, in this case—points. Let me emphasise how it looks from the outside right now: we have all these friends getting contracts because they have the WhatsApp contact of the Secretary of State, and people appointed to be in charge of procurement also work for big producers. I am afraid that the Bill does not contain the necessary safeguards, and it is incumbent on the Committee to ensure that that kind of sleaze does not taint science.