I spend time reading the various comments about STEM in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. One of the reasons I do so is that I am a STEM Ambassador and I am very keen to get the Government and indeed the whole of Parliament to strengthen our nations approach towards STEM. So last Wednesday in the House of Lords there was a series of questions under the headline of Horizon Europe which was started by a chap called Viscount Stansgate who is a Labour Peer and is Stephen Benn who took over the Viscount role a few years after his Father, Tony Benn had died. Stephen Benn is the oldest son of Tony Benn. The person who responded to Stephen Benn and indeed the other Peers who took part in this question session is Lord Callanan who is Martin Callanan. The first few words from Stephen Benn included the same comment that my friend Andy Winter has just made in his blog which is available here which relates to the retirement of “Norman Tebbit, the Chingford Skinhead: they don’t make politicians like that anymore”
So here are the comments from Stephen Benn and Martin Callanan and while Callanan is blaming the EU for our lack of provision for STEM, that is partly because we decided to leave the EU and our Government has been very aggressive towards the EU ever since the referendum.
Benn: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to join the Horizon Europe programme; and if not, why not. My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper—and, if I may, I would like to wish the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, well in his retirement. He is a man I have disagreed with all my adult life, and I am sorry he did not quite last long enough in the Chamber to listen to the exchanges on what is my first Oral Question.
Callanan: My Lords, in line with the agreement made in December 2020, this Government are committed to finalising our association to Horizon Europe at the earliest opportunity. We continue to push the EU swiftly to formalise our association to Horizon Europe, as international co-operation is more important than ever now. We will support the UK R&D sector in all scenarios, either by associating to Horizon Europe or by implementing an alternative UK programme.
Benn: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the reply, but it is very dispiriting. On Monday this week in the other place, the annual STEM for Britain competition was held, which features early-career scientists from the UK and Europe, with brilliant work on display. It is the very week when our chances of co-operation with Europe are slipping away, which will be terribly damaging. Indeed, does the Minister agree with me that not joining Horizon Europe is
“harming scientific research and collaboration”?
He certainly should, because that is a direct quote from the meeting held before Christmas of the Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes.
Finally, may I also ask him about the money? Money has been allocated in the Budget for our participation in Horizon Europe. The financial year is drawing to an end, and we have not yet joined. Can the Minister assure the House that the money allocated for Horizon Europe will not be lost to science but will be carried over, either for the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe or for such other plan B as may eventually be necessary?
Callanan: I agree with the noble Viscount; it is indeed very disappointing that the EU is refusing to abide by the agreement we made with it. I am sure that some of the EU’s supporters in this House will want to urge it to press ahead with this agreement. The UK stands willing and able to associate. We have an agreement to that effect, and we hope the EU will also abide by its commitments. The noble Viscount will be aware that the spending review allocated funding for full association to EU programmes. In the event that the UK is unable to associate, the full funding allocated will go to UK programmes; £5.6 billion was set aside over the spending review period.