MP quits committee to launch think-tank

November 4, 2005

Labour MP Ian Gibson has resigned from the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and is setting up a rival group, The Times Higher can reveal.

The rebel MP, who was renowned for giving witnesses a tough time and for thrusting the committee's reports into the headlines, was removed from the chairmanship of the committee when Parliament reconvened after the last election.

He was replaced by Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, a surprise candidate who had not previously sat on the committee.

Committee members said this week that Dr Gibson was removed by Labour whips as punishment for playing a major role in the rebellion against top-up fees, as well as speaking against the Government on other issues.

Dr Gibson said: "A lot of people were furious that they kicked me off. Some were encouraging me to stay on the committee and cause trouble, but others were advising me to tell them to sod off."

He has sat as an ordinary committee member, but this week Dr Gibson handed his notice to the chair, saying his time could be better used elsewhere. He told The Times Higher he was setting up a science think-tank to investigate key scientific issues. The group, which Dr Gibson said would involve politicians, and young and more experienced scientists, would not have the same authority as a select committee.

But he said he was confident he could use the media to get publicity for its reports. He said: "Think-tanks have a real input now. And people won't be frightened to talk to us as they won't need to be named. I feel liberated in a sense to get on and ask real questions.

"Select committees are good, but they are caught by the structures of the House and they are driven by party politics."

Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, said: "There is no doubt that Ian was badly treated by his party for his independence of thought. I hope he will prove them wrong by continuing to contribute constructively to the parliamentary and wider scientific debate."

He added: "It is not clear how much support there will be for setting up new structures and initiatives designed primarily as a way of settling internal Labour Party disputes."

  • Phil Willis, chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, this week accused the Higher Education Funding Council for England of complacency in its approach to dealing with those subjects, particularly in the sciences, perceived to be at risk.

    Mr Willis said: "It is not proactive enough in this area and does not have the relevant research."

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