1.The Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill was brought from the House of Commons on 8 June. It makes provision in relation to the establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (“ARIA”). The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has furnished the Committee with a Delegated Powers Memorandum (“the Memorandum”).
2.The defining characteristic of ARIA is that it can devote resources to projects that carry a high risk of failure. Clause 3 says so explicitly:
“In exercising any of its functions under this Act, ARIA may give particular weight to the potential for significant benefits to be achieved or facilitated through scientific research, or the development and exploitation of scientific knowledge, that carries a high risk of failure.”
3.The Memorandum (paragraph 2) says:
“The policy intention behind the Bill is to create ARIA as a nimble body that can operate at pace and which undertakes ground-breaking research with a high tolerance to the risk of failure.”
4.In the welcome given to the Bill, tribute has been paid to the tradition of British science and invention. In criticizing aspects of this Bill, we do so without of course criticizing scientific innovation. We draw attention to two delegated powers in the Bill.
5.Although ARIA is to be created by Act of Parliament, clause 8 allows Ministers to dissolve it by an affirmative statutory instrument. They cannot do so for another ten years and they must consult ARIA before doing so. They do not have to offer any reasons.
6.We object to this on principle. If Parliament creates a body, it should be for Parliament to dissolve the body. It should not be for Ministers to dissolve it by statutory instrument, even an affirmative instrument.
7.The Government’s justifications for including a power to dissolve ARIA by statutory instrument are inadequate.
8.The first justification (Memorandum, paragraph 11) is:
“As ARIA will be a statutory corporation, it is necessary to have a delegated power providing a legal mechanism for its dissolution if government policy on the delivery of science funding changes in the future.”
9.This is incorrect. It is not necessary (legally, politically or practically) for something created by primary legislation to be dissolved by secondary legislation. On the contrary, if Parliament creates ARIA, the right to dissolve it should naturally belong to Parliament. Rather than a statutory instrument being necessary for the dissolution of ARIA, it would be more accurate to say that a statutory instrument might be a more convenient way of dissolving ARIA. Necessity and convenience are different things.
10.If anyone suggested that a power to revoke regulations made by the Minister under paragraph 11 of Schedule 1 should require a new Act of Parliament, Ministers would rightly object on the principle that—if Ministers can make regulations—they should be able to revoke them. By parity of reasoning, what Parliament has created should be for Parliament alone to abolish.
11.Further justifications (Memorandum, paragraph 12) are:
(a)“the binary nature of the question whether ARIA should be dissolved”;
(b)ARIA must be consulted before being dissolved;
(c)the regulations dissolving ARIA must be affirmative.
12.These justifications are not convincing.
13.Accordingly, we take the view that the power in clause 8 for Ministers to dissolve ARIA by statutory instrument is inappropriate and should be removed from the Bill. If ARIA is to be dissolved, it should be done by Parliament in primary legislation rather than by Ministers in secondary legislation.
14.Schedule 3 contains a small number of standard consequential amendments. Clause 10 contains a Henry VIII power for Ministers to make regulations amending or repealing any Act of Parliament that they consider appropriate, including all Acts ever passed until the end of the current parliamentary session.
15.This is a short Bill mostly made up of standard clauses. The context of the Bill could not be simpler. The Agency is brand new. We expected the Department to have done more in the way of legislating for consequential amendments than the exiguous matter found in Schedule 3. The Government have offered two reasons (Memorandum, paragraph 18) to justify the wide-ranging power in clause 10.
16.The first reason is that clause 10 “enables provision to be made applying to ARIA legislation that applies to bodies that are similar in nature to it”. However, we consider that Schedule 3 could have gone further in the way of bespoke provision, rather than being limited to some standard amendments to legislation concerning public records, Ombudsman jurisdiction, House of Commons disqualification and so forth.
17.The second reason concerns the consequential provision that might be needed if ARIA were dissolved by regulations under clause 8. However, if clause 8 were to be removed from the Bill, as we have recommended, this second reason would no longer apply.
18.In the absence of a convincing explanation why clause 10 should contain such a wide-ranging Henry VIII power, we take the view that clause 10 is inappropriately wide. Any identifiable need for consequential provision should be added to Schedule 3.
1 Allowing for regulations to be made that relate to procedures to be adopted for dealing with conflicts of interest of members of ARIA.