MPs' fury as whips remove Gibson

July 8, 2005

The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee appeared on the brink of an extraordinary rebellion this week as furious MPs condemned the Government for removing its chairman, Ian Gibson.

Dr Gibson, the outspoken Labour MP for Norwich North, was told by Hilary Armstrong, the Government's Chief Whip, on Monday that he would lose his position to Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat MP and former education spokesperson.

Members of Dr Gibson's committee reacted with anger, claiming that he was being punished for briefing against the Government on issues such as top-up fees. They added that his replacement, Mr Willis, had never shown a major interest in science.

Dr Gibson said this week he would consider setting up a rival committee to examine contentious issues such as nuclear energy. He said: "I could get experts together with MPs such as Gwyneth Dunwoody and Richard Taylor. We would have legitimacy only via the media but we could use questions and early day motions to get the Government to respond."

He added: "I'm used to getting shafted and in politics you get broad shoulders. I'm the only chair eligible for a second term who has been removed. They thought the committee was causing trouble and, of course, some of us voted against the Government."

Brian Iddon, a Labour MP who sat on the committee in the previous term, said: "It's a sad day for science. I feel disgusted. To put someone in the chair who wasn't even on the committee and who hasn't shown any great interest in science is astonishing."

He added: "They wanted to get rid of Ian because he voted against the Government - that can be the only explanation."

Dr Iddon warned that committee members might refuse to vote in the new chair, backing Dr Gibson. He said: "According to the rules we could overturn the decision, but the whips would probably throw us all off or even disband the committee."

Des Turner, another Labour committee member, said: "I'm angry and disappointed. Apart from Evan Harris, who sits on the committee, the Liberal Democrats have shown absolutely no interest in science. This is an insult."

Dr Harris, the Lib Dems' unofficial spokesperson for science, who was regarded by fellow committee members as a more obvious choice for the chair, said: "Phil Willis is a popular chap across the parties and has a style quite similar to Ian's."

Mr Willis declined to comment until after an official announcement about the chair was made.

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