Phil Willis

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Phil Willis was the Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough until standing down in 2010.

In May 2007 he has announced that he was retiring from Parliament and would not be seeking re-election at the next General Election.[1]

He was made a life peer in the 2010 dissolution honours[2].

Biographical background

Phil Willis studied History and Music at the City of Leeds and Carnegie College, qualifying as a teacher in 1963 from the University of Leeds Institute of Education. Later in his career he was seconded to Birmingham University where he gained a B.Phil. degree with distinction in 1978.

Willis's teaching career was mostly spent in Leeds where he rose rapidly from Assistant Master at Middleton Secondary Boys' School in 1963 to become Deputy Headteacher at West Leeds Boys' Grammar School in 1974.

Willis joined the Liberal party in 1985 and was elected to Harrogate Borough Council in 1988. He became leader of the Council in 1990 and following his election to North Yorkshire County Council in 1993 became Deputy Group Leader. Willis was first elected to parliament in 1997, beating Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Science and Technology Committee

In May 2007 Willis was appointed Chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. In November 2007 the Science and Technology Select Committee was disbanded and the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee was formed; Phil Willis was elected chairman soon after.

In the summer 2009 departmental reshuffle, the department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was disbanded, along with its corresponding Select Committee. The Science and Technology Select Committee was re-created on October 1st, with Willis elected as Chairman.[3]



Phil Willis was one of 206 MPs to sign the March 2007 Early Day Motion 1240 calling for the positive recognition of NHS homeopathic hospitals[4].

In 2009/2010, Willis was chair of the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into homeopathy and its use in the NHS[5]. He has been quoted as saying that "We found it very hard to find any evidence to support the efficacy of homeopathic remedies."[6] The final report, published 22nd February 2010, was highly critical of the use of homeopathy within the NHS[7]. It was well received by skeptics with, for example, Steven Novella on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast describing it as "really spot-on in just so many ways, it's shocking"[8].

MMR Vaccine

Phil Willis signed the February 2009 Early Day Motion 754: MMR Vaccine and the Media supporting the use of the MMR vaccine. The motion expressed disappointment with the reporting of the vaccine by Jeni Barnett on her LBC radio show in January 2009, and expressed the hope that future reporting of the issue of MMR would be less sensationalist and more evidence-based.[9]


Phil Willis was chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee during the investigation and publication of the October 2007 report on Scientific Developments Relating to the Abortion Act 1967[10]. The report's scope was limited to only scientific, medical and other research evidence. It acknowledged that this evidence was only one of many factors to be taken into account when legislating, and did not make any recommendations as to how MPs should vote on abortion law. Amongst the areas examined were foetal "viability" (survival rates after premature delivery), foetal consciousness/pain, impacts on women's health, and procedural changes. It found little evidence for a reduction of the abortion limit, or that viability below 24 weeks had improved since 1990, when a reduction had been prompted as the point of viability had been reduced to 24 weeks. It made some suggestions of procedural changes to encourage early, rather than later, abortion.

In May 2008, during the House of Commons debate on the abortion amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (now Act), Willis spoke twice, each time referring to reports providing evidence of low foetal viability below 24 weeks: the EPICure 1 & 2 studies, and the Trent study.[11][12]

Willis subsequently voted for the abortion time limit to be lowered to 22 weeks[13]. After four separate parliamentary votes on varying time limits, the majority of MPs voted to keep the abortion time limit at 24 weeks, hence no abortion amendments were added to the bill.


Willis signed an October 2006 Early Day Motion calling for schools to treat with caution creationist literature sent by the religious group 'Truth in Science'[14]. The motion was Early Day Motion 2708: Science Education.

According to the Guardian Newspaper, Willis was "horrified that the packs were being used in schools":[15]

I am flabbergasted that any head of science would give credence to this creationist theory and be prepared to put it alongside Darwinism, Treating it as an alternative centralist theory alongside Darwinism in science lessons is deeply worrying.[15]

Charles Darwin

Phil Willis was one of 79 MPs who signed Early Day Motion 377 noting the achievements of Charles Darwin, and calling for Darwin's birthday to be designated a public holiday to honour "one of the fathers of modern science and one of Britain's greatest, if not the greatest, scientific minds."

Libel Law Reform

In February 2010, Phil Willis signed Early Day Motion 423 calling for a reform of the English libel law[16]. The motion noted that human rights activists, scientists, writers and journalists are currently prevented from publishing, and the public prevented from reading, matters of strong public interest due to the chilling effect of the law.


  15. 15.0 15.1

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