Julian Huppert MP writes… A new Lib Dem science and research policy

Britain has an excellent track record in science and research, with many great figures in natural sciences, humanities, computing, computing, engineering and mathematics over the years. We continue to outperform other countries in our achievements in these fields, in terms of outputs per person and per pound. We publish 13.8% of the world’s most cited papers, and massively outperform other countries on papers and citations per pound spent or per researcher.

However, we should not just assume that this will just continue automatically, and the UK needs both a thorough vision and policies that support science and research. It is in our own self-interest – our economy benefits greatly from the skills that we develop here in the UK and the knowledge that we obtain – and it ensures we can play our part globally in developing human understanding.

The Liberal Democrats have played a leading role in developing thinking among political parties in this area; people such as Evan Harris and Phil Willis, to name just two, have made sure that we were seen as a pro-science party. We took a lead in many policy areas of importance for science: highlighting the need for stable long-term science funding, for evidence-based policy making (such as in drugs reform), for libel reform to stop scientists being silenced, and emphasising the need for immigration policies that allow top scientists, engineers and academics to come into the country. We have repeatedly led the way.

The Guardian concluded in 2010 in a report on the different party science policies that ‘the Liberal Democrats have set a very high standard, with their engagement with the scientific community, and their commitment to evidence-based policy informed by advice from independent experts’.

However, our formal science and research policy has not been updated for many years, and as a Party we have relied on individual advocates, rather than a detailed written document.

Since the Coalition Government was formed, the Liberal Democrats have been influential in a number of areas – ensuring that the revenue science budget was protected, pushing for more capital funding, supporting the recreation of SMART awards for innovation, and much more. But there is also much that we haven’t yet managed to do – or where things have not gone in the right direction.

I have therefore been asked to produce a new science policy paper, which will hopefully go to our autumn conference to be discussed, debated and agreed. This will cover STEM subjects, social sciences and the humanities, pure research through to applied research and commercialisation, as well as issues of how government should use science and evidence in policy formulation.

Production of this policy paper will be useful for us in the second half of this government, providing a clear vision and list of priorities in this area. Additionally, it will ensure that our 2015 manifesto covers this area significantly.

The policy document will cover a range of issues, including but not limited to:

  • Money – how it is allocated, and funding sources, and how to attract more investment.
  • People – how to provide the right skills from school through to postgrad education, career structures, suitable immigration policies, and how to ensure gender/socioeconomic balances.
  • Science in policy – how government and parliament should utilise science and evidence, what role government should play in managing what research is carried out, and the correct balance between pure and applied work.

I would be grateful for your thoughts on what principles and policies you feel we should include in this updated document. I have set up the email address [email protected] – please send any ideas you have there.

I look forward to hearing from you with your suggestions!

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • Hello Julian,

    You ask about principles and you mention that you took a lead in many policy areas of importance for science, including evidence-based policy making (such as in drugs reform).

    The requirement to have scientists on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was dropped by your government.

    The Lib Dem leadership no longer have any principles, and they no longer feel themselves bound by party policy. If you had any principles yourself, you would leave the party.

  • The Coalition have cut science funding and their immigration policy is causing all manner of difficulties to the science and research sector.

    The Guardian might have praised the LD science policy in 2010, but that policy is not being enacted in any way whatsover.

    I know you are not a minister and not responsible for this, but your party leadership is and they have utterly betrayed those in science who voted LD.

  • Richard Shaw 30th Jan '12 - 6:38pm

    @Bernie R

    The Lib Dem leadership no longer have any principles, and they no longer feel themselves bound by party policy.

    [citation needed]

  • Julian Huppert MP 30th Jan '12 - 7:32pm

    @Bernie – you are of course welcome to your own opinions, but the facts are that we ensured for the first time ever that there is a written protocol for the ACMD work, so that government must pay attention to what they say.

    @Liberal eye – skepticism is very sensible, but pretty much any measure you could use shows the UK massively outperforming. there’s a recent report out from Elsevier with more analysis.

    @Richard – indeed …

  • Leon Duveen 30th Jan '12 - 8:01pm

    Perhaps we need to look at science education in schools. The current Combined Science GCSE seems more focused on getting all pupils to pass the exam than on preparing those interested in the sciences to study tp study further to A level & beyond. As with the ICT syllabus, it needs to be re-examined and the fun part of science put back in. Unless we get young people interested & involved in science at a young age, then there will be no need for policies as there won’t be any scientists to implement them.

  • Good job Julian. The Lib Dems have all the right set up to make some really forward-thinking and interesting science policy and own the debate on this front.

    Will be in touch!

    Any other members interested in Lib Dem science policy do have a look at http://www.aldes.org.uk and join up if you’d like to get involved further in promoting good science policy in the party or just get to know other sciency Lib Dems …

  • Alan Rennie 31st Jan '12 - 3:33pm

    Jo Grimmonds classless society, not the Wright show mentioning middle class every day!!

  • Julian,

    All my political life I have wanted the Liberals in some form to get some sort of power so that at last my voice would be heard in government. I could agree to abide by Lib Dem policies and the way I was told they would be implemented, that the leadership would adopt and seek to implement the policies determined by the members. That was why I joined and made occasional small contributions to the party.

    Now the Lib Dems rather unexpectedly have got some sort of power. It is not through any form of PR, but it is a shared power of the kind PR would produce.

    Drugs policy is an enormously important issue in terms of public health, criminal justice and personal freedom. Reform of the kind set out in Lib Dem policy is desperately needed.

    The Libs Dems have done and said virtually nothing about this issue since getting into government. Any change has been in the wrong direction. When there has been an opportunity to promote party policies the response has been silence.

    I’m no longer a member, I really can’t see the point, if my voice isn’t heard because the policies aren’t promoted. A couple of extracts from the policy are set out below. Maybe you could leave them somewhere where the leadership would see them?



    The Liberal Democrat policy is to:

    Place policy making in the drugs field on a much firmer evidence-based footing by:
    Re-establishing the existing Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as a standing
    Drugs Commission with a wider range of expertise, greater independence from the
    Government, and a remit to look at social effects and abuse of legal drugs
    including alcohol, tobacco and solvents as well as currently illegal drugs.
    Giving the Drugs Commission the task of advising the Government on appropriate
    scheduling of drugs and policy responses on a continuous basis.
    Requiring the Drugs Commission to conduct a major audit of the extent and social
    and economic costs of the drugs problem in the UK and the effectiveness of
    policies to tackle it.

    Break the links between cannabis use and organised crime and release police
    resources for higher priority tasks by:
    Retaining the classification of cannabis as a Class C drug, in line with the
    recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which
    the Government ignored.
    Adopting a policy of not prosecuting possession for own use, social supply to
    adults or cultivation of cannabis plants for own use.
    Repealing Sections 8 (c) and (d) of the Misuse of Drugs Act so that it is no longer a
    crime for the occupier or manager of premises to permit someone to use cannabis
    on those premises.
    Permitting medical use of cannabis derivatives, subject to appropriate
    pharmaceutical controls and the successful conclusion of current clinical trials.
    In the longer term, seeking to put the supply of cannabis on a legal, regulated
    basis, subject to securing necessary renegotiation of the UN Conventions. The
    Global Cannabis Commission report of September 2008, published as part of the
    2009 UN drug policy review supports a policy of regulated availability to minimise
    the harms associated with cannabis abuse, adding that much of this harm is a
    result of prohibition itself.
    Reform excessive and counterproductive criminal penalties by:
    Ending the use of imprisonment for possession for own use of illegal drugs of any

  • @Liberal Eye I think you mistake publication with citation. 13.8% of the world’s most CITED papers means that we are producing papers of such quality that they are frequently cited in other research articles.

    In the field of medical research I would like to see greater investment in research in promising therapies or public health strategies that the pharmaceuticals have no incentive to investigate. Because we have a state-operated health service that costs us many billions of pounds each year, the onus is on the government to invest in these areas in order to save expenditure (and safeguard the health and happiness of the citizenry of course).

    Things like social and nutritional prescribing may create far more positive and cost-effective outcomes than pharmaceuticals, but they don’t have the funding and the lobbying power behind them to ensure they become a more formal feature of medical practice. It’d be good to have a policy that sought to address this failure of the market.

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