It’s Swinson vs Lamb today

Today, MPs elect their Select Committee chairs. The Liberal Democrats are to chair the Science and Technology Committee. The House will have the chance to choose between two of our MPs, Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson.

Each has produced a statement in support of their candidacy:

Jo Swinson

Statement

“more collegiate than tribal” – Telegraph

Collegiate

Even the Telegraph said I’m collegiate, and they’re not known for their love of Lib Dems.  If you’ve been in Parliament for many years, I hope you agree that I engaged constructively with MPs regardless of party when I was a Minister: from pubs to payday lending, employment rights to equalities.  If you’re newer, you don’t need to take my word for it, do ask your colleagues.  And feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or ideas.

Fair

Select Committees are about the art of asking good questions to get to the heart of an issue.  It’s a wonderful privilege – and fascinating – to be able to quiz experts on any given subject, and I hugely enjoyed my time on the Environmental Audit Committee from 2007-2010.  Every member of a Select Committee has an important role to play.  In creating reports and recommendations for Government, Select Committees should be both challenging and constructive: giving credit where it’s due, and being bold about where change is needed.

Enthused by science and technology

Science and technology offer hope for the advancement of society, as an engine of growth for the economy, and to solve the big problems we face as humanity, from climate change to disease.  The UK has a pivotal role to play, with a well-respected scientific community that should be supported and celebrated.  I’m enthused by these opportunities, as an early adopter of technology for democratic engagement, a former Vice-Chair of the Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce, and having served as a Non-Executive Director of a data science start-up.  My constituency is home to the Beatson Institute, a world-class science facility focused on cancer research.

Can v Should

Science rightly pushes the frontiers of knowledge, and asks “Can we?”.  In public policy terms, we must also ask “Should we?”  Ethical questions range from balancing online privacy with security to preventing artificial intelligence entrenching current inequalities, from how to assess the benefit of new pharmaceuticals to understanding fully the impact of drones and driverless cars on employment.  The Select Committee should play a crucial role in exploring these dilemmas and finding a path forward.

Norman Lamb

The role of Chair of the Science and Technology Committee is an immensely exciting prospect, and I hope I could offer sound guidance, leadership and authority to this important position. In terms of what I would bring to the role and my thoughts about the Committee’s future work, there are three points in particular that I would like to highlight.

1. My personal style of politics

My approach has always been to work across party boundaries. I would want to build a close relationship of trust on the Committee. As a minister, I made myself available to members from across the House, holding weekly sessions for any member who wanted to raise issues with me. I plan to operate in exactly the same way, if elected. This committee will focus on key issues for the future of this country, and I want to be accessible to all those who have ideas or suggestions.

I want to ensure that the committee engages closely with the science and technology community, getting out of Parliament as much as possible. I have a strong interest in evidence-based policy making. In 2014, I won the Political Studies Association Award for best evidence-based policy making in my role as minister responsible for mental health and social care. More recently, I have been complimented for my cross-party work on mental health and NHS and care funding.

2. Making sure the interests of science and technology are fully considered in Brexit negotiations

The Committee must play its part in examining the implications of decisions taken during negotiations with the EU for science and research in our universities and elsewhere, including issues relating to Euratom. This is vital to our national interest. We have to ensure there is an environment which will allow our research institutions to flourish. Central to this will be maintaining the benefits of close collaboration with universities across the EU, access to EU research schemes, and attracting the best scientists and researchers from the EU and beyond.

3. The central importance of science and technology to our future prosperity

This committee’s remit is central to the economic and social interests of our country. It will be important to closely monitor and scrutinise the Government’s forthcoming Industrial Strategy which includes, as one strategic pillar, ‘science, research and innovation’. Other potential issues deserving attention include securing high-skilled, high-value jobs for the future given the existential challenges of automation and artificial intelligence, and the importance of encouraging more women to study STEM subjects.

I am particularly interested in the role of science and innovation in healthcare. There is much to explore in areas such as the adoption of new treatments and technologies, genomics (following the Committee’s incomplete recent inquiry), the importance of a greater focus on mental health research, and the science and evidence relating to early intervention and preventive

I am confident that I have the attributes and experiences to make an effective Chair of this Committee, and would be sincerely grateful for your support.

You can see the rules and regulations for the election here.

We’ll bring you the result this evening.

Whoever wins will receive an additional salary of £15025. A debate ignited on my Facebook wall the other day about whether this was a good thing. I have this old fashioned idea that if people take on extra responsibilities in the workplace, they should be paid for it and it is important that MPs set an example of this. Select Committees are an important part of holding the Government’s feet to the fire and we need to show that we value them. The Chair has more responsibility than anyone else because they have to be on top of the issues and are often the public face of the Committee.

Others argued that this was part of the duties of being an MP and shouldn’t attract extra remuneration. What do you think?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • David Becket 12th Jul '17 - 9:20am

    Whilst a few councils overpay their members the popular conception is that all MPs and Councillors are overpaid. If you take on a position of responsibility you should be paid. In twenty years I served as a Committee Chair, Cabinet Member and Mayor, for which I was paid (not too much). The same applies to MPs, take on extra responsibility and you should be paid. There is a case for some other roles to be paid, e.g. Chair of School Governors.

  • nigel hunter 12th Jul '17 - 9:33am

    As far as science is concerned I think we are inward looking too much. That is dealing with Earth bound problems. Fine but their is a Universe to conquer and we should be thinking outward, after all wFurther develop Skylon Space plane for example.here does population explosion take us? Technology can get us out their with vision.

  • nigel hunter 12th Jul '17 - 9:41am

    Oops that’ s a mess . It should read –After all where does population explosion take us?Further develop Skylon Space plane for example. Technology can get us out there with vision instead of navel gazing, looking at the Earth and not outwards.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Jul '17 - 9:43am

    Why on earth are we standing two candidates? If both of them want it then our own MPs ( who have the interests of our party at heart) should vote and then whoever wins that vote should be the sole candidate. We should not leave it to MPs from other parties who will certainly not vote for the candidate who will be best for us.

  • Simon Beard 12th Jul '17 - 9:51am

    I have had various dealings with the Science and Technology Select Committee as a researcher in Existential Risk. Leaving aside the personal qualities of the two candidates and what they say about themselves I feel that of the two statements Jo’s shows much more convincingly that she gets the nature of the technological challenges we face right now and could articulate these clearly, both to committee members and in reports. We badly need better communication between scientists, technologists and policy makers right now, and especially between all three and the General Public and I am convinced that Jo’s chairship of this committee could really help with that, so she would totally get my vote!

  • Yeovil Yokel 12th Jul '17 - 9:53am

    David Becket – agree, and £15K is peanuts anyway.
    nigel hunter – disagree strongly, we should learn to stop fouling our own nest before spending trillions exporting our problems to colonies out in the cosmos.

  • It is REALLY silly for a group as small as the Lib Dems’ present Parliamentary Party to be putting forwards two candidates for this position. Even if they both believed their occupation of this post is vital, there are coins which can be flipped!

  • Simon McGrath – impeccable political logic.
    David Becket – Some MPs work much harder than others anyway, for the same salary. But it is right to pay for extra responsibility, and the risk that goes with it.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Jul '17 - 11:06am

    Add 111 to HAL and you get IBM. “and tomorrow the world” Patent rights offer business the opportunity to create long-lasting monopolies, as also with Xerox. If the UK leaves the EU our ability to stand up to large international organisations will be reduced. Does the chair of the committee have enough influence to arrange that a green is a member of the committee?

  • I’d have hoped for a candidate with a genuine background in science. It’s exceedingly rare for people from a humanities background to really get science (sorry for being parochial). I’ll confess I’d be unenthused about either of these candidates or this role, based on their above statements, previous statements, and general political career. Appreciate she may not have wanted it (or maybe too soon) but Layla Moran would have been a far superior candidate

  • A Nonny Mouse 12th Jul '17 - 1:00pm

    Simon McGrath — this isn’t about what’s best for us, this is (in theory) about what’s best for the select committee.

    Select committee chairs require to be approved by the whole house, as (in theory) they work on behalf of the whole house.

    Can you imagine how outraged we would be if Tory MPs held an internal party vote for a select committee which it had been agreed a Tory should chair, before presenting the candidate to the house of commons as a done deal?

    I’m not the greatest fan of the system at present, but snorting in selfish disgust at what vestigial elements of cross-party collaboration and compromise continue to exist, seems very silly to me.

  • Interesting our MPs can make sure there is a contest for their fellow MPs to vote in but can’t make sure that our members are going to get a chance to vote for the leader of the party…

  • Ed Shepherd 12th Jul '17 - 5:50pm

    The extra amount paid is more than most people in Britain get paid in a year. Professional politics is just a different world to the one most people live in. No wonder elections and referendums are throwing up results that most politicians do not predict.

  • Thomas Papworth 13th Jul '17 - 10:02am

    IIRC, Chris Mullin claims in his diaries that he pushed very hard for payment of committee chairs, because he wanted to create an alternative career path, within parliament, for ambitious MPs, rather than see them always drawn off into government as ministers. He believed this to be important for scrutiny and democracy.

  • @Yeovil Yokel “agree, and £15K is peanuts anyway.”

    To you and the MPs maybe, but to the majority of people that the MPs are supposed to be representing this is a lot of money. Unbelievable that you don’t see this.

    Yes, people should be rewarded for taking on extra work and responsibility but why does this apply to politicians but not the wider population of the UK? People are struggling every day and having to take on extra responsibilities in their job but not getting any financial recognition for it.

    But it’s OK because the MPs deserve it and, really it’s “peanuts anyway”!?

  • I’m a bit late to this discussion, but my tuppence would be that I like the idea that chairing committees is taken seriously, and is recognised as a legitimate alternative to seeking cabinet positions, so an additional payment is fine by me, but £15k seems an awful lot extra when they are already being paid a decent salary for a full-time job.

    Ideally, we’d have many more scientists in parliament, and amongst our MPs, but we have a shortage, so we have to make the most of what we’ve got. I would argue that when you are the chair of any group, it’s important you have an understanding, but science and technology covers so many things, that no-one will have a good knowledge of all areas, and there is a risk that an MP with a strong knowledge of one area could be tempted to talk about what they know at the expense of other areas. This is one of those moments where I once again regret that Sarah Olney didn’t regain her seat, as she’d have been an excellent candidate, having worked at NPL with a bunch of scientists in a numerate discipline.

    Jo is right to point out the difference between can vs should, and it’s not the job of MPs to do the actual science, but rather to evaluate it and apply ethics on behalf of the nation. Nevertheless, if you can’t understand the science, or are vulnerable to being blinded with dubious figures, then discussion of ethics becomes discussion of dogma, which is a bad thing.

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