Liberal Democrat Leadership: Farron and Lamb answer questions on engineering and science

One of the great things about the leadership contest is that every party organisation has submitted questions to the candidates on their area of interest.

The Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists is no exception and you can see all Tim’s and Norman’s answers to a series of questions about science.

You can read them all here, but here’s a flavour of one question:

Both of you signed an EDM in 2007 supporting provision of homeopathic medicines through the NHS but then revised your support after a Commons STC report questioned the evidence in favour of homeopathic treatments. What resources would you call on personally as leader in order to obtain expert advice and how could the parliamentary party make better use of evidence?

TIM:

Systematic reviews and more support for real research are obviously important. I’d also like to see more openness and transparency in trial reporting because at the moment selective trial responses betrays trial participants and harms patients.

As a party we are lucky, FPC is stacked with people with PhDs and we have many members, and of course groups like ALDES, with scientific expertise.

As far as resources go, we have a party process which is democratic but still quite unwieldy. Many of new members who want to get involved in policy and will have expertise to give policy input may not know the arcane structures they feed into. The good news is there is going to be a consultation about policy process, as well as content which starts in July. This way we can find an even better way to make use of the evidence in our policy making structures.

NORMAN:

With a diminished force in the House of Commons, we will rely more than ever on those outside our Parliamentary Party to develop policy and make sure our voice is heard on a range of issues.

We have some fantastic scientists in our party – not least the brilliant Julian Huppert, who will be very gravely missed over the next five years – and we should make much better use of them.  I would want to work closely with ALDES to identify ways that you can contribute to our policy-making on an ongoing basis, helping sense-check the decisions that we take in Parliament and identifying the key issues for us to campaign on in the coming years. We must also be willing to open up our discussions to involve Liberal thinkers from beyond our party to help us come up with Liberal solutions to the big challenges of our time.

Oh, go on then. Let’s have another one:

Under Vince Cable, BIS began to develop an industrial strategy and long-term approach to economic prosperity. However, UK productivity is still low and our balance of payments is edging further into the red.

High tech industries, such as space and biotech, are an area where we compete well internationally. Should we pursue policies to support strategic sectors in order to address our trade deficit and low productivity? If so, how?

NORMAN:

If we are to tackle the challenges of low productivity and increasingly negative balance of payments, we need to continue the work started by Vince Cable in developing effective industrial strategies to support growth in key sectors.

Crucially, these strategies need to be worked out and developed in conjunction with those key industries rather than simply being designed in Whitehall.  And we have to look rigorously at what works, and what doesn’t, revising and updating our approach regularly based on the evidence from each sector.

As implied above, a key priority will be supporting R&D investment (including potentially through the tax system) and making sure that our schools and universities are training a generation of young people with skills to provide our future workforce in hi-tech sectors.

TIM:

Future success depends on scientific success and there is strong consensus about investment in science and I am proud that the Coalition government increased the science and innovation budget. The British are great innovators. We invent well and we design well. What we don’t do well is market and sell. Looking back at the amazing technological innovation of Concorde – an innovation which defeated NASA – was the result of co-operation between the British and the French (and we did the most exciting bits!). The difference in the aftermath is that the French developed an entire aeronautical industry on the experience, and we didn’t.

We need to support creative companies, industries and universities in design and development. But crucially, we also need to be on the ball when it comes to the payoff for all the hard work so the issue of technology transfer was important then, and it is vital now!  And this needs to be supported.

With that in mind there is a also strong case for support for strategic sectors and this includes housing and infrastructure in areas where the strategic areas of growth are.

 

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3 Comments

  • 1. How are going to expand the number of University Technical Colleges ?
    2. How are you going to ensure every A level pupil has access to Further Maths A level taught by a Russell Group group graduate? Without which entry to the top university departments will more or less impossible.
    3. Why do not make it possible to study for engineering , maths, physics, chemistry to degree level at night school as offered by the former polys and London University External degrees. This enabled people to obtain degrees without having to leave work. see Part 1 and 2 exams offered by the Institutes of Engineering – Civil, Mechanical, Electrical , etc, etc.

  • Jamie Stewart 10th Jul '15 - 9:58pm

    Charlie – one reason point three won’t improve now, even if we made the facilities available, is tuition fees. The stats on part-time students make depressing reading: UK part-time undergrad student numbers were fairly steady around 550000 from ~2002-2010, but have dropped to below 350000 in 2013/2014. If this isn’t worrying I don’t know what is…
    Stats from HESA:
    https://www.hesa.ac.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2077&ItemId=239&limit=&start=#Note_2

  • Charlie – Bath, Surrey, UEA and Loughborough are all good universities and of equal quality to most in the Russell group . Also it seems arbitrary as you could end up with somebody who got a 2.1 in engineering at liverpool over someone who got a 1st in maths at oxford brookes

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