Plans for the creation of a UK research organisation have come under fire over fears of a fresh incursion into the Scottish Parliament’s devolved powers.

The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) would be responsible for supporting “visionary high-risk, high-pay off” development work.

However, ministers in Edinburgh are angry there is no current provision for shared oversight of the body. This is despite Holyrood having responsibility for research activity north of the Border. There is also concern about legal moves to make ARIA a reserved matter under the 1998 Scotland Act.

Now the Scottish Parliament is being advised to withhold consent from a proposed Bill that would allow the agency to be established. Permission is required since its scope would fall within areas of devolved competence.

In a letter to the Convener of Holyrood’s Education, Children and Young People Committee, Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Further and Higher Education, said: “I feel it is important to underline that the Scottish Government is supportive of the overall policy intent of the ARIA Bill.”

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However, he added: “The pace with which the UK Government has engaged with us in meaningful dialogue on our concerns has by my view been too slow. [Former UK Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway] wrote to me on 7 September to reiterate her view that reservation of ARIA is necessary to guarantee the independence of the prospective agency. I cannot see any case as to this being a necessity and moreover the ARIA Bill gives the UK Secretary of State key legal powers to influence the agency.”

The Scottish Government has also argued in a memorandum that “fundamental” amendments should be made to the legislation before consent is granted. It wants changes to ensure any administration in Edinburgh has representation on ARIA’s board, as well as removal of elements that would result in the agency becoming a reserved matter.

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has lodged a memorandum with the support of Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Further and Higher Education.Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has lodged a memorandum with the support of Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Further and Higher Education.

Lodged by Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville with the support of Mr Hepburn, the memorandum states: “The Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers have overall responsibility for the excellence, impact and sustainability of research and innovation in Scotland.

“ARIA has the potential to significantly influence all these aspects. The Scottish Government therefore believes it would be in Scotland’s interest to create the agency as a body overseen by the UK Government together with the Scottish Government (and potentially the other Devolved Administrations).

“As such, the Scottish Government has requested that amendments should be made to the Bill to provide for Scottish Government representation on the ARIA Board and not make ARIA a reserved matter.” It continues: “As such amendments are fundamental, the Scottish Government cannot, at this time, recommend the Scottish Parliament gives its consent to the UK Parliament legislating in respect of any provisions in the Bill... that are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, or alter that legislative competence or the executive competence of the Scottish Ministers.”

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Under the Sewel Convention, the British Parliament will “not normally” legislate in a devolved area without the relevant assembly having passed a consent motion. However, the Convention has previously been overridden, notably in the case of the UK Internal Market Act.

A UK Government spokesman said: “ARIA will fund transformational research so we can turn incredible ideas into new products and services, benefitting the entire United Kingdom.

“The UK and Scottish Governments have been in close and productive discussions on ARIA for many months, with both fully supporting the Bill’s potential to fund exceptional scientific research.

“The ARIA Bill does not affect any of the Scottish Government’s current powers to fund research or to create new science funding agencies of its own."