For the sixth year running, the Society was delighted to have supported the first in-person Parliamentary Links Day event since the start of the pandemic; one of the biggest events in the parliamentary calendar for science.
Organised by the Royal Society of Biology on behalf of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, over 100 people including scientists, policymakers, and politicians came together at Portcullis House to discuss Science and International Collaboration.
The UK’s pending involvement with Horizon Europe was a leading topic throughout the morning. At present, the EU is still in the process of formalising the UK’s association, whilst the Government works on a Plan B if the association was to cease.
Dr Mark Downs, CEO of the Royal Society of Biology, welcomed attendees before Rt Hon Dame Eleanor Laing MP, Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and Stephen Metcalfe MP, Chair of the Parliamentary & Scientific Committee launched the event.
Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, followed with a keynote address driving home the importance of striving to remain in Horizon Europe, and the value of science investment for the wider economy. Onwurah stressed the need to better support underfunded regions in the UK, and for universities to help drive regional growth:
“I believe in science for science's sake, but it is also important to recognise the economic importance of science and the role it plays in rebuilding our economy.”
Onwurah’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by the RSB’s Associate Director of public and parliamentary affairs, Susie Rabin MRSB. Panel speakers represented a diverse range of speciality areas and featured Professor Dale Sanders FRS FRSB, Director of the John Innes Centre, Professor Tom Welton OBE, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey and Dr Rosalind Coggon, co-editor of the International Ocean Discovery Program.
Professor Sanders discussed the need for collaboration to address the mounting food security pressures: “We are facing a huge food crisis…there will be two billion more people to feed in the next 30 years, with no additional land on which to farm.’” This can only be solved through collaboration and interdisciplinary efforts. He also stressed the need to increase accessibility in STEM sciences in the BAME population, a view also echoed by Professor Welton.
Professor Francis went on to explain how essential collaboration has been for research in the Antarctic, a continent completely governed through international efforts. She stressed: “We certainly can't do Antarctica research in the UK - so everything we do is part of an international collaboration. We work on melting ice sheets, marine ecosystems…everything we do has a global impact.”
Dr Coggon agreed and reflected on her personal experiences as an early-mid career researcher by adding “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for international collaboration, I don't know a single scientist who works as an island. Scientists work best by bouncing ideas off each other.”
George Freeman MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation delivered a second keynote. Sharing the Government’s recent announcement of an expansion on the support for Ukrainian researchers displaced by the war, before returning to the topic of Horizon Europe – as a driver behind the proposed Plan B alternative, Freeman stated he was keen to move forward and that “If the phone does not ring in the next few weeks, my working assumption will be that we are out [of Horizon Europe] and are moving to Plan B.”
Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, welcomed the audience to get more involved with setting their agenda, as they plan to relaunch the My Science Inquiry process. This will allow the select committee to explore new emerging and innovative research areas.
Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, gave a final keynote address, also stressing the importance of Horizon Europe:
“For us to not associate to Horizon would be mutual self-harm for both the UK and Europe.”
Sharing how he would meet weekly with other scientific advisors from across Europe to share updates, information, and provide support to each other as a ‘self-help group’, Sir Vallance discussed how collaboration has been crucial throughout the pandemic and stressed its importance for tackling the current climate crisis, using the recent success of COP 26 in bringing world leaders and scientists together to set global goals as an example.
Acknowledging that we are in an exciting era for Science, Research and Technology, Stephen Metcalfe gave the closing remarks, before the morning concluded with Dr Stephen Benn FRSB, the Viscount Stansgate giving a final vote of thanks. Proceedings closed with delegates heading off to a lunch reception at the House of Lords. Many thanks to our strategic partners and guests for attending.