MPs talking science in Westminster Hall yesterday

Posted on November 11, 2010 by

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In Westminster Hall yesterday MPs were debating science research. MPs apply for debates in Westminster Hall on topics of their choice; this debate on science research was called by Nicola Blackwood, the new MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, former seat of big science champion Dr Evan Harris and home to a lot of scientists.

You can read the whole debate here.

Speakers included Andrew Miller (Chair of the Commons science & technology committee), Julian Huppert, MP for another science-heavy seat, Cambridge, David Lammy, former minister for higher education, Graham Stringer and Gavin Barwell – both members of the commons science & technology committe, fellow Oxfordshire MP Andrew Smith, Labour shadow science minister Chi Onwurah and former shadow science minister and chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Adam Afriyie. And the minister responding was Ed Vaizey, another Oxfordshire MP and Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The debate covers lots of the hot science research issues but in particular, Nicola Blackwood made a great mention of the importance of charity funding for medical research and the charity research support fund

My father would not forgive me if I did not take a moment to mention the importance of world-class medical research. Charitable organisations contribute greatly to scientific inquiry in the UK. The recently announced £50 million project on tumour profiling, which is funded jointly by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, is a great demonstration of the continuing commitment of DBIS to supporting charity-based medical research. I know that the Minister will be aware of the charity research support fund, which is a programme through which the Government support the infrastructure costs of charitably-funded pure research. However, for those in Oxford West and Abingdon and elsewhere whose hopes are pinned on the research coming out of these projects, I hope that the Minister will clarify the Government’s plans for the future of that fund.

And she ended by emphasising the cross-disciplinary nature of science, the need for an awareness across government, and made the case for ongoing investment to build on the UK’s science base.

The role of science in our society is not just a matter for DBIS. Science touches on so many parts of our society that it needs to be on the agenda for all parts of the Government. Now that the Treasury, by protecting the science budget, has sent the message that science research is a priority, we need to fill in the details and move to a cross-departmental strategy that can create the long-term certainty that is needed for sustainable growth and investment in STEM research and development. UK science is already world class-the growth rate of the space sector is evidence enough of that. With a Parliament and a Government who are behind it, there are no limits to what it can achieve.

Other topics covered included research funding – the impact of the decisions made in the spending review (Chi Onwurah near the end of the debate takes a detailed look at what the settlement means), how the money will be allocated, the dual support system for funding, the Haldane principle, support for pure research as well as more applied research etc – education and STEM skills, the Technology Strategy Board, decisions over capital funding, and the planned Technology Innovation Centres outlined in the spending review (the Commons science & technology committee are conducting an inquiry on these which is calling for written evidence now), business/academic interaction, the case for a scientific adviser in the Treasury (the one department that doesn’t have one), the impact restrictions on immigration could have on UK research, and lots more – worth a read.

The minister had very little time to sum up but squeezed in a mention of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) and the confirmation of its funding in the recent spending review

Yesterday the Department of Health signed an agreement for a UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, with £220 million for the construction of this new centre, which will bring together the Medical Research Council, University college London and medical charities

And on fears raised about the impact of the cap on non-EU immigration he said:

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science met representatives of further and higher education and of the UK Border Agency, and had the opportunity to hear their concerns directly. My Department is working closely with the Home Office to develop a system that, while delivering the Government’s objective-as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central pointed out, it is strongly supportive of reducing the overall level of immigration-allows those who can make a positive contribution to the UK, such as researchers and academics, to continue to come here.

Posted in: Policy