Scientists and politicians meet at UK and Welsh parliaments

30 June 2017

Scientists and politicians met at a packed event in the UK parliament on 27 June that saw a speech by science minister Jo Johnson in which he gave government pledges on support for the Joint European Torus post-Brexit and panel discussions on issues facing the science community chaired by BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh.

Scientists and politicians meet at UK and Welsh parliaments
Royal Society of Biology

 

Hundreds of scientists, politicians and policymakers gathered for the annual Parliamentary Links Day event in Westminster, which is organised by the Royal Society of Biology on behalf of the science community. High on the agenda were the mobility of scientists and collaboration in research in the light of Brexit and the need to increase the pool of scientific talent. Speakers generally acknowledged the large commitments to science and R&D spending in both the Conservative and Labour manifestoes.

Johnson said that despite the UK’s world-leading track record in science, there should be no complacency and we needed to work harder to achieve a better geographic spread of R&D and to create more areas of excellence.

The other keynote speaker was Sir John Kingman, chair designate of UK Research and Innovation, and the event was opened by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, with closing remarks given by Stephen Metcalfe MP, former chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee.

Scientists and politicians meet at UK and Welsh parliaments
Royal Society of Biology

On one panel, the IOP’s former president and now president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, paid tribute to the Institute’s work to address the shortage of science teachers. She and panel members Malcolm Brinded, chair of Engineering UK, and Professor Sir John Holman, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), discussed the need for heads of science in primary schools, measures to increase science capital and better careers advice for students.

On the other panel, Dr Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said it was important for the science community to engage with departments across government to address the mobility of scientists. She and others noted that public attitudes towards skilled migration were positive.

Also on the panel were Chi Onwurah MP, shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, and Professor Roberto Di Lauro and Dr Lorenzo Melchor, science attachés of the Italian and Spanish embassies respectively. Onwurah voiced concerns from some EU scientists about joining the UK community and stressed the need to give assurances to those already in the UK. Di Lauro said a survey of Italian researchers in UK universities found that 82% were considering leaving post-Brexit, while Melchor pointed to a survey by the Society of Spanish Researchers in the UK that showed that around 30% had changed their future plans due to Brexit, 12% were not sure and 43% said it would depend on how Brexit negotiations develop.

The event included a lunchtime address by Professor Alex Halliday, vice-president of the Royal Society.

Scientists and politicians meet at UK and Welsh parliaments
Royal Society of Biology

On 6 June, a similar event, Science and the Assembly, was held for Welsh parliamentarians and scientists in Cardiff. Sir John Holman also spoke there and the RSC organised the day on behalf of the Welsh science and engineering community.

All of the IOP’s Cardiff-based staff were present and were joined by the Institute’s policy officer, Dan Lee. Several members of the National Assembly spoke during the day, including Nick Ramsay, David Rees, Simon Thomas and Vaughan Gething, cabinet secretary for health. well-being and sport.

The theme of the day was antimicrobial resistance and several speakers working in the life sciences addressed the sessions, which were chaired by Professor Peter Knowles, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at Cardiff University.

Commenting on the day, Lee said: “Science and the Assembly provided an excellent chance for the science community to engage with senior politicians from Wales. It was particularly welcome to see such a good attendance from parties across the Assembly.

“Our team were delighted to be able to talk to the minister about the IOP’s work in Wales and the contribution that physics makes to advances in healthcare – from diagnostics to treatment.”