The new standard bearer for science and innovation is… Norman Lamb

Congratulations to Norman Lamb, the newly-elected Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, who overcame competition from fellow Lib Dem Jo Swinson.

In seeking the role, Norman pledged to offer “sound guidance, leadership and authority” to the Committee and ensure that science and technology are “fully considered in Brexit negotiations”, all while emphasising the importance of science for the UK’s future prosperity.

The new role gives Norman a great opportunity to hold this Government to account on a whole range of issues covering science, technology, research and innovation.

This is especially important in today’s political landscape, because Parliament’s Select Committees have become increasingly powerful in the last couple of years – and they can only get stronger with a weakened Government in place.

(To see what I’m talking about, it’s worth reading a recent paper by the Institute for Government that talks about how Select Committees can exert their influence during a hung-parliament). 

It’s also really important because Brexit has the potential to impact on lots of ongoing science and innovation, from developing nuclear fusion to conducting medical research to improving weather modelling. Not only that, but the loss of EU research funding and the potential impact of reduced freedom of movement could have massive ramifications for UK science in the coming years.

Norman has a good opportunity to hit the ground running, because the unexpected General Election last month forced all parliamentary Select Committees to close down their inquiries early. He will be well placed to comment when the Government responds to those reports published earlier in the year.

In one of the more recent examples, the Committee found that the Government’s Industrial Strategy could do more to reflect Brexit opportunities. The Government didn’t get a chance to respond before the election, but hopefully they will once it’s recovered from its campaign losses, giving Norman the chance to have his say.

Norman will also have significant influence over which new inquiries the Committee launches. Only this week, the Lords’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee launched an inquiry into energy security post-Brexit – Norman will get the chance to press the Government on similar issues from a position of strength.

Of course, all Lib Dems know that scientific research, innovation and skills are crucial to the future prosperity of the UK.

However, although we’ve got a good foundation on Innovation, Science and New Technology in our most recent manifesto, we don’t quite have a dedicated science spokesperson in our current Shadow Cabinet (despite the scientific pedigree of several of our parliamentarians). That limits our ability to stand up for science over the next five years.

So it’s really important that Norman leads the Science and Technology Committee in holding the Government to account, and helps to make sure that the UK remains a world-leading hub of innovation and research.


* Matt campaigns with the Southwark Liberal Democrats and was Eastleigh’s Constituency Organiser in 2015. He tweets about politics, mental health and social care @MattDolman.

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  • Graham Evans 12th Jul '17 - 9:26pm

    What is the “scientific pedigree of several of our parliamentarians”? Names and details would be useful since in the past Julian Huppert was often quoted as being one of the few MPs in the Commons with a genuine scientific background.

  • Comfortable win for the better qualified candidate. Well done MPs

  • Tom Brake studied physics

  • Matthew Dolman 13th Jul '17 - 10:53am

    Graham – there’s a couple that spring to mind, though as you suggest our parliamentary party (well, Parliament generally) isn’t doing that well.

    To give an example from both houses, Layla Moran is a former Physics teacher, while Lord Fox (our Business spokesperson) has a background in chemical engineering.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Jul '17 - 11:03am

    The Article 50 letter signed by Theresa May contained a sentence about Euratom.
    On BBC2 on 13/7/2017 Tory MP Ed Vaizey expressed a constituency interest about possible job losses among researchers. The President of the Royal College of Radiologists said she wanted much more information from the government and clarity about access to and transport of isotopes from EU countries. She denied that she was scaremongering among cancer patients. She is therefore not satisfied by the statement which was read out at PMQ on 12/7/2017 by the First Secretary of State in the absence of the PM.

  • 87% of the science/tech/engineering/maths workforce is male and two thirds of select committee chairs are male. There are always so many blokes to go round aren’t there?

  • @ Ruth Bright. Well said, Ruth.

    Good to see David Davis squirm at the Lords Select Committee on Brexit when he had to admit to Helena Kennedy that there were no women in his negotiating team.

  • Graham Evans 13th Jul '17 - 5:06pm

    Well, it’s nice to see that a couple of our MPs have physics degrees, but I would be more impressed if the Party had far more people at the senior level who had worked in the science and technology sector. I accept that with so few MPs that’s difficult, but why do we not have more peers like Labour’s Lord Winston?

  • Congratulations to Norman Lamb, for whom I have much respect. However, it is disappointing that there are no scientists available.

    Science experience is badly lacking in our parliament. Scientists can bring analytical skills, objectivity and logic so often missing in politics.

  • The lack of scientists, and/or those with a STEM background is a huge weakness in our parliament, which in turn means we are not making the most of our resources, and have some very dubious legislative decision-making.

    Good news for us is that Ben Goldacre (popular science writer and author of, amongst other things, Bad Science) went public with his vote for Layla. He likes to campaign for better science writing in the press, and has lobbied politicians, of all persuasions, to employ a more scientific approach to policy decisions. He’s unlikely to be persuaded into a party political role, but he’s an ally we should reach out to.

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