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expert reaction to the Queen’s Speech

Reaction to mentions of science and environment in the October 2019 Queen’s Speech. 


(on Environment Bill) Professor Tom Oliver, Ecologist at the University of Reading and is seconded to Defra as a ‘design authority’ for their new Systems Research Programme, said:

“These measures to enshrine aspects of environmental protection in law are well received. Everyone knows that to deal with climate change and biodiversity loss we will need to do more, and the next step is intense dialogue between government and citizens in how to achieve effective transformation in a just and fair way.”


(on Environment Bill) Dr Joanna House, Research Lead, Global Environmental Change theme, Cabot Institute of the Environment, University of Bristol, said:

“It was disappointing to see nothing under infrastructure or environment ensuring any new build is low carbon, this is critical as new buildings and infrastructure could be around for centuries.  In fact while promising to “address the critical challenges posed by climate change and build on the UK’s world-leading commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050” there was little on specific plans for emissions reduction, but there were plans for “sustainable growth” in the aviation sector.”


(on Environment Bill) Dr Ali Mashayek, Lecturer & NERC Research Fellow, Imperial College London, said:

“I think we should be very careful not to mix up environmental issues with climate change. Of course there exist climate change consequences which will manifest in form of environmental issues in the near or more distant futures. But there also exist natural and environmental issues, such as city pollution, that would exist in some form even in the absence of a net global warming trend. The danger of mixing up the two is that it can be misused. As an example, the current US administration, and more specifically the president of the USA, stresses their commitment to providing clear air and water to the Americans – this may seem like an environmental issue but this does not necessarily amount to tackling climate change


(on Environment Bill) Dr Mike Rivington, a Climate Change researcher based at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, said:

“The proposed Bill is a welcome positive step towards improving the environment, but appears limited in scope and does not address the scale of the threats faced by our environment dues to the wider inter-relationships between economic activities and ecological capabilities.”


Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“There are some positive proposals for UK research in the Queen’s Speech today. I am pleased to see a strong focus on maintaining the UK as a leader in science. The specific proposals to invest more in research and revamp our outdated visa system are welcome.

“However, over the last three years, uncertainty about Brexit has had an undoubted negative impact on the research community and it is already affecting our ability to recruit and retain world class talent.

“Today’s proposals could help to give the sector the confidence boost it needs to continue to be a world leader in science, but in the short term it is vital that our world-leading science base is protected from the potential negative impacts of Brexit. Unless this is achieved the UK’s position as a world leader in science will be jeopardised.”


Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:

“I welcome the prominence of engineering and technology in the Queen’s Speech. Increased investment is essential for the government to deliver its target of increasing R&D spending to at least 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

“The Academy looks forward to working with government as it develops plans for a new funding agency to boost our existing research and innovation ecosystem. Innovation will need to be a crucial component to complement our excellent basic research.  Increased investment is required in both innovation and research for the UK’s world-leading research base to reach its full potential to deliver the associated productivity, economic and societal benefits across the whole of the UK.”


Dr Sarah Main, CaSE Executive Director said:

“We welcome the Government’s renewed commitment to science and innovation, placing it at the heart of it’s agenda in today’s Queen Speech. Increased public investment in science is vital to the UK’s future prosperity, improving quality of life and creating high skilled jobs.

“The Prime Minister has been keen to associate himself with science on the front pages; from his inaugural speech, peppered with glowing references to UK science, followed by bold announcements on research funding and skills. Brexit is a counterpoint to this, with many concerned about the scale of disruption that a No Deal outcome could cause for science.

“We look forward to working with the Government to develop its proposals. In particular we await further details on the proposed creation of a new funding agency and how it will complement the work of UKRI, itself just a few years old.”

“CaSE is already working with the Home Office, BEIS and other stakeholders to make sure the proposed new fast-track visa for science meets the needs of the UK’s science and research community. In particularly that it reflects the interdisciplinary nature of modern, cutting edge research and the various individuals, including technicians and early career researchers that make up successful research teams.”


(on Environment Bill) Professor Lord John Krebs FRS FMedSci, Emeritus Professor of Zoology, University of Oxford, said:

“It is very encouraging that the Government has announced that it will enshrine the environmental principles in law and establish a new environmental regulator.  The effectiveness of the legislation will depend on whether or not the new regulator has powers equivalent to those of the current EU system, in which national Governments can be fined for failure to comply with EU standards.  A toothless watchdog will not be enough.  Our membership of the EU has been crucial in improving our environmental protections, so if and when Brexit happens it will be important to ensure these protections and standards are not diluted. This is especially important as some members of the current cabinet see Brexit as an opportunity to do away with environmental laws.”


 (on Environment Bill) Prof Daniela Schmidt, Professor in Palaeobiology, University of Bristol, said:

“The Environment Bill contains many good ideas and  initiatives. It is important, though, to ensure that these actions are directly linked to climate change and its impacts. Current environmental legislation, for example our marine protected areas to support marine biodiversity, do not take climate change into consideration. As long as protection is directly linked to blame on one cause, protection is unsuitable for a world with many actors.  While it is wonderful to talk about new areas for nature, it is fundamental to  for biodiversity protection to ensure that we are looking after the existing ecosystems and their benefit for society.”


(on Environment Bill) Dr Claire Burke, Research fellow in Conservation Technology, Liverpool John Moores University, said:

“Whilst the proposed actions are welcome they do not go far enough to address the severity of the environmental challenges facing us all. These are indeed necessary measures but are not sufficient, and this lukewarm response from the government comes across as somewhat tokenistic. To make the most meaningful impact on ensuring a future for our children and the planet the government must cease its subsidy of the fossil fuel industry and make a more concerted effort for the UK to generate its electricity from renewable sources.” 


(on Environment Bill) Prof Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment), University of Sussex, said:

“Tackling the ongoing declines in wildlife is unlikely to succeed unless the government sets clear targets for reduction in pesticide use, with 16.9 thousand tons of toxins currently applied to farmland each year, and every arable field receiving at average of 17 pesticide applications. This would require support and advice for farmers to help them adopt alternative, sustainable schemes for pest management.”


Prof Sir Simon Wessely, Chair of Psychological Medicine and Vice Dean, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London (IoPPN) and Chair of the Independent Review if the Mental Health Act, said:

“I am delighted that the government is committed to taking forward the conclusions of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act that I had the honour of chairing. This was a major undertaking, which managed to achieve a broad consensus in an area not always noted for that.  The case for improvement and change was clear, and it is good that this is now formally recognised. Of course legislation, which this requires, takes time and it is important that it is not rushed and proper consultation and scrutiny must follow.  It is also important that everyone recognises that legislation is no substitute for good care taking place in appropriate surroundings.  I therefore hope that there will soon be a parallel announcement responding to our recommendations that do not require legislation, in particular the need for 800million of capital funding to modernise and improve our inpatient settings, which would be totally unacceptable in any other part of the health service. Parity is not about money per se, but it is about ensuring that some of most unwell patients are treated in environments that help and do not hinder recovery, whether they suffer from cancer, heart disease, the effects of road traffic accidents or serious mental illnesses.   The next government, of whatever complexion, must and I am hopeful will, continue this process – it is what our patients, service users, carers and staff now expect”


Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it.  So our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared, instead they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.

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