(Apr. 8, 2021) On March 2, 2021, the government of the United Kingdom (UK) introduced the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. The bill provides for the establishment of an independent agency known as the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) and sets out the legislative framework that details how the agency should be governed. In addition, the bill enumerates the functions of the agency, which are to conduct scientific research; develop and exploit scientific knowledge; and collect, share, publish, and advance scientific knowledge.
The aim of the bill is to enable the development of cutting-edge science and technology while minimizing bureaucracy to enable ARIA to “invest in ambitious research at unprecedented speeds.” The government intends that ARIA would “empower some of the world’s most exceptional scientists and researchers to identify and fund transformational areas of research to turn incredible ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services – helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower.”
Clause 2 of the bill provides that ARIA could perform these functions itself, or commission or support others to do so. When supporting others in these functions, ARIA could act to encourage or facilitate the work of others, as well as provide advice or make rights or property available to others, such as by loaning property, providing a license or gift, or transferring property through other means.
ARIA could also provide financial support through grants, loans, and investments in companies, or through any other form, such as seed grants or prize incentives. This financial support could be subject to conditions, such as repayment, the restoration of property, or the provision of information to ARIA.
ARIA would be initially provided with 800 million pounds (approximately US$1.1 billion) of funding. The funding arrangements for ARIA would provide it with
flexibility outside the standard government contracting and granting standards. The ARIA Bill will provide the agency with exemption from the existing Public Contract Regulations, enabling ARIA to procure vital services and equipment with maximum flexibility so that it can carry out ground-breaking research at speeds rivalling a private investment firm.
Clause 3 of the bill explicitly provides ARIA with the ability to exercise its functions, even in cases that carry a high risk of failure, if it believes that significant benefits can be achieved or facilitated through the research. The government stated that “[t]his flexibility is necessary to enable the agency to develop technologies at speed that could create profound positive change for the UK and the rest of the world, recognising that failure is an essential part of scientific discovery.”
While there is no geographic restraint on the location on where ARIA could support others or conduct its own research, the bill provides that it
must have regard to the desirability of doing so for the benefit of the United Kingdom, through—
(a) contributing to economic growth, or an economic benefit, in the United Kingdom,
(b) promoting scientific innovation and invention in the United Kingdom, or
(c) improving the quality of life in the United Kingdom (or in the United Kingdom and elsewhere).
The government has also stated that it intends to exempt ARIA from information requests under the Freedom of Information Act, which would serve “to reduce the administrative time required to process FOI requests and protect Britain’s competitive advantage, while allowing the agency to run an extremely lean and agile operating mode – which is essential to its design and ultimate success.”
To help balance the streamlining of bureaucracy with adequate oversight, clause 14 of the bill provides that ARIA would be required to submit an annual report of its functions along with a statement of its accounts to Parliament, and that it would also be subject to review by the National Audit Office. Clause 5 of the bill gives the secretary of state the powers to intervene if it is “necessary or expedient” to do so in the interests of national security. Examples provided by the government include requiring ARIA to stop collaborating with hostile actors, or closing specific programs.
ARIA is modeled on the United States’ Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), and if the bill successfully progresses through Parliament and is enacted, the government intends for ARIA to be operational in 2022.
Clause 8 of the bill provides the secretary of state with the power to introduce regulations to dissolve ARIA, but includes limits on this power, requiring a period of 10 years to pass from the creation of ARIA before such regulations can be made. The reason for the restriction “is to provide ARIA with the necessary long-term security.” If ARIA is dissolved, the regulations may specify that any property, rights, or liabilities of ARIA can be transferred to the secretary of state or any other person.