(4 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, and I am loth to repeat what I said in Committee. I certainly will not mention any of the “Star Trek” references that he made in relation to that specific point. The reality is that we have seen, with the likes of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, how successful things can be when there is a specific mission. I accept that we disagree, and disagree on good terms, in relation to that point, but I re-emphasise that this is a missed opportunity for the Government.
If I heard that correctly, the Labour party is not agreeing with the amendments that it tabled in Committee and that the SNP has agreed to at this point in time, so it had to add more words. But I suppose that is the nature of this place.
That takes me to transparency and scrutiny, and a key token and standpoint of those on the Government Benches: to take back control. I do not suspect that they will agree to the SNP’s view on a mission for ARIA. That being the case, the mission—to all intents and purposes, what ARIA seeks to do—will be determined by the chair and chief executive officer. They will decide what happens. In that regard, the House will, of course, have no say and we suggest that the House should have a say. It is important that this place has a role to play in the process. I would be incredibly surprised if Members who fought so hard to take back control did not seek to have their say on such matters.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, but we will have to heartedly disagree on this point. The House, and we as democratically elected representatives, should seek to play as key and active a role as possible. Of course, all this could be avoided by the Government simply agreeing on what ARIA’s mission should be in the first place.
Our new clause 1, on human rights, would ensure that ARIA’s record in that regard is of the highest standing. I certainly hope Members across the Chamber would agree to that. If they did not, I would be somewhat concerned. We saw that in Committee, which took me a bit by surprise, but perhaps some of the Government’s Back Benchers were not galvanised enough to encourage the Government to take a different stand. The SNP tabled the new clause because ultimately we do not know where ARIA will seek to put its investments. We do not know what it will seek to invest in, where it may even take a share in an organisation. It will have the freedom to do that, but that freedom means it may delve into areas we find unsuitable in relation to human rights. That is particularly pertinent when we look at the situation in China with the Uyghurs. I encourage Members on the Government Benches to take cognisance of that fact this evening.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the role of Scotland in relation to the Bill, because I very much like talking about that. The reality is that, where the Government are seeking to spend money, that Government money should be spent fairly and evenly across the United Kingdom—that is, while we still remain a part of the United Kingdom. To that end, there should be a Barnett share of money spent on Scotland. Where that money is spent, it should not seek to bypass devolution, as the Government seek to do in a number of areas, from the shared prosperity fund to the levelling-up fund and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Scotland should have its fair share.
(6 months, 1 week ago)Public Bill Committees
I rise, obviously, to speak in favour of SNP amendment 30, which almost ties in with what is proposed by the shadow Minister. It is about providing greater transparency on the destination of ARIA’s funding disbursements within the UK.
I just want to pick up on a couple of things that have been said already. The shadow Minister reflected on the fact that the Bill makes no mention of the devolved nations. She almost seemed surprised, but that took me a bit aback because I am not surprised at that in any way, shape or form. I do not think anyone even on the Government Benches is over-surprised that they forgot to mention Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock mentioned his concerns about drawing conclusions. Yeah, I will be drawing conclusions about where that money goes and I am sure that every single person in Scotland will.
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, although I would caution that, when speaking to an MP from Aberdeen, people do not tend to mention a Glasgow university—it doesn’t go down too well, that’s for sure.
I understand the purpose of the hon. Gentleman’s point, but he must understand our concerns about making sure that Scotland receives its fair share of funding and investment from the UK Government while we remain a part of the United Kingdom. That ties into the wider narrative from this UK Government since the 2019 election. The views and will of the people of Scotland have been completely disregarded.
What we are seeing from the UK Government are attempts to impose their will on Scotland. We saw that with clause 46 of the Internal Market Bill and with the levelling-up fund that bypasses devolution but does not deliver for the communities in Scotland that it is needed for. This fits into our wider concern about the direction of funding from the UK Government.
As I said earlier, £800 million is involved. While Scotland is still a part of the UK we will take an interest and argue Scotland’s case for getting that funding into Scotland. It should, of course, be at the Barnett level. I would welcome assurances from the Minister that we will see investment in Scotland—not necessarily in Glasgow or at the University of Strathclyde, but perhaps in Aberdeen: that would be much more beneficial. I hope that we will see that level of investment in Scotland and I hope that she will provide that commitment, in which case I will be able to withdraw my amendment.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge. I am not quite sure whether lagging roofs is necessarily within the remit of what I would expect ARIA to be doing. I like to think that the Government could do that notwithstanding any new technologies, but I appreciate the point he was making. I assure members of the Committee that there will be no “Star Trek” references coming from my mouth whatsoever—[Interruption.] Or “Star Wars”. We have had quite enough of that. I rise to speak in support of amendment 35, tabled by the SNP, which again is directly related to climate change and the drive towards net zero.
If ARIA is to have a mission—I think it should, and the majority of witnesses last week seemed to be in favour of that—there can be only one focus. I understand the premise of the Government’s not wanting ARIA to be constrained. I think the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock said that he did not want to hamper ARIA, but I disagree, and I think it is an honest disagreement to have. I do not see how instructing an agency to try to combat climate change and allow us to meet our net zero aims is hampering it. I think that provides not only the focus that the agency needs but the focus that we should all want it to have, because it is the biggest existential crisis facing us.
I certainly understand the hon. Member’s point, and, to his credit, he is persuasive in his arguments. None the less, hon. Members will be unsurprised to hear that he has not quite persuaded me, and I do not think his argument would necessarily persuade the witnesses—the likes of Professor Mazzucato and Professor Wilsdon—from whom we heard last week. It is right that we have this discussion, and it is good that we are having it in a positive and constructive fashion, but ultimately I believe there still should be a mission for ARIA. Without it, we are not doing all that we possibly can. DARPA is the clearest example of why a mission is important in this regard. We spoke about it on Second Reading, and we heard from the horse’s mouth just last week about the importance of the mission to DARPA.
(6 months, 2 weeks ago)Public Bill Committees
(7 months ago)Commons Chamber
That is an interesting point, but it appears that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what was said earlier in relation to DARPA. I think it was 40 FOI requests for DARPA, which is, obviously, a much larger organisation than ARIA will ever be. It is one that will perhaps attract a lot more focus, and yet there were just 40 FOI requests. If that is the strength of the argument that Government Back Benchers will put up in relation to this, then, frankly, it will fall short in the eyes of the public. The reality is that we are talking about £800 million of public money. There will of course be a tolerance of failure. Everyone accepts that there must be a tolerance of failure, but there needs to be openness and transparency around the process, and, quite frankly, at this moment in time, there is not. I do not have confidence that the Government will be able to deliver on that front.
Finally, I just want to touch on what is perhaps the most important aspect of this Bill, which is, unsurprisingly, in the Scottish context. A total of £800 million will be flowing towards this project. How much of that is coming to Scotland? Will it be Barnettised? Will there be consequentials from it? Is this going to be a UK-wide project? If so, why? Why are we not investing in Scotland? Are we trying to undermine the Scottish Parliament once again? We have seen it with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, the levelling-up fund and the shared prosperity fund; are we now seeing it with ARIA, too?
Why do the Government not seek to invest in the Scottish Parliament? Why do they not seek to allow the Scottish Government to put the money into the Scottish National Investment Bank, which I have already mentioned, so that Scotland can create the scientific achievements that it wants to use to shape our own agenda, particularly—I repeat—in relation to climate change? Why have none of those things come forward? It appears as though Scotland does not exist in the context of this Bill. The Government seek to talk up the Union; the way to solidify the Union is not to trample continuously over the Scottish Parliament, because the people of Scotland are well aware of what is going on in that regard.
Let me conclude by making one more important point. We all have concerns about the Bill. It has broad support, but we have concerns that ultimately it will become another London-centric project, and not only that but one that gets hijacked by the right wing of the Tory party for its own ends. That is not something we are willing to support.