Exiting the Eu: Science and Research

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:55 pm on 19th December 2016.

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Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham 7:55 pm, 19th December 2016

I congratulate Sarah Olney on her excellent maiden speech. I look forward to working with her on many matters that affect residents of both our constituencies.

I thank the Government for granting time for this important debate, and I offer very special thanks to my hon. Friend Stephen Metcalfe for his kind words. It was an absolute joy to be interim Chair of the excellent Science and Technology Committee. Having chaired one of its sessions, I can tell the House that although some of its members, like me, voted to remain and others voted to leave, the Committee was unanimous when it came to the report on the EU and the opportunities and risks for science and research, and is unanimous in wanting Brexit to work for the science community and for research. That is why I am especially proud of the report.

The United Kingdom is a science superpower. As the Minister and others have said, we make up less than 1% of the world’s population, but 15.9% of its most frequently cited research articles come from the UK. However, as we said in our report, science is a global and a mobile endeavour. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock pointed out, people were the major factor in the evidence that we heard. The Minister was right to say that the UK should be a go-to place, but, as the report shows, the Campaign for Science and Engineering has said that it is not enough to allow EU scientists and students to be in our country; we must fight for them, to enable our science and research to succeed even more. It is great that there are guarantees for EU students, and I note that the Minister has repeatedly confirmed that they will be available to current students and those who come here in 2017-18 for the duration of their courses, but it must be said that the communication programme is not enough. That needs to be worked on.

We are also glad about the guarantees for Horizon 2020, and applaud the important information that the funding guarantees will not be taken from the science budget, but will be additional to it. After the publication of the report, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, met several of my Twickenham science businessmen and researchers, and I valued that greatly. I know that he noted many of the detailed points that were made to him. I hope he will also note that Horizon 2020 may end, and, as the leader of the Laboratory of the Government Chemist has said, we need to establish our own transitional research projects.

Jim Dowd spoke of concern about some of our EU researchers already leaving the UK. The Committee said that we needed proper metrics before, during and after Brexit negotiations. Are we losing people? Are we still heading those research projects? As has already been mentioned, there is a big negative.

The Department for Exiting the European Union needs a chief scientific adviser, because it needs guidance on the metrics and on the regulations. I know that the Minister has received evidence from the British Pharmacological Society. The position in relation to the European Medicines Agency is critical. We were leading on the regulations for clinical trials in pharmacovigilance. We have also received evidence from Twickenham businesses such as Ikon, LGC and Mindsoft about the unitary patent system. The Department needs a chief scientific adviser to address what it is going to do. It has to fight for the students, the scientists and the researchers from the EU, and it has to fight for the funding to maintain those research projects. In this Christmas season we have heard lots of wishes that should be on the Department’s Christmas wish list, but primarily it needs Santa to give it a chief scientific adviser.