Phil Willis

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George Philip Willis, Baron Willis of Knaresborough (born 30 November 1941, Burnley) is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and was Member of Parliament (MP) for Harrogate and Knaresborough from 1997 until retiring at the 2010 general election. Up to that date he was the chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Early life

He is the son of George Willis and Hannah Gillespie. He attended Burnley Grammar School on Byron Street in Burnley. He studied at the City of Leeds and Carnegie College (now the Beckett Campus of Leeds Metropolitan University) where he gained a Certificate in Education in 1963. From 1963-65 he was a teacher at Middleton County Secondary Boys' School; Head of History at Moor Grange County Secondary Boys' School (closed in the 1980s) from 1965–67; Senior Master at Primrose Hill High School (became Primrose High School) on Hill Street in Mabgate from 1967–74; and Deputy Head at West Leeds Boys' Grammar School from 1974-78. In 1978 he gained a BPhil in Education from the University of Birmingham. Moving from Leeds to Teesside, he was Head Teacher of Ormesby School on Stockwith Close in Netherfields, Cleveland from 1978–82, then moved back to Leeds to become Head Teacher of John Smeaton Community High School (now called John Smeaton Community College) in Pendas Fields from 1983-97.

Parliamentary career

He was first elected in 1997, beating Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in May 2007 announced his decision to step down as an MP at the next general election,[1] although he said that he would have stood again if a snap election had been called.[2]

From 1999 to 2005, Willis was the Liberal Democrat Shadow Education and Skills Secretary, having previously served as Higher Education spokesman and acting spokesman on Northern Ireland. Following the 2005 general election, he was appointed chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, succeeding Labour's Ian Gibson.

In 2006, he stated that he would force an election for the party leadership by standing if there would otherwise be only one candidate.[3] As two further candidates came forward to challenge the eventual winner, Menzies Campbell, Willis did not stand. Campbell's victory left a vacancy for the post of deputy leader. Willis considered running in the deputy leadership election but did not submit a nomination.

At the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in Spring 2007 (held in his home seat of Harrogate) he proposed a change to official Liberal Democrat policy on the future of Trident in an amendment to commit the party to getting rid of Britain's nuclear deterrent. The amendment was opposed by the party leadership and, in one of the closest votes in recent years at a Federal Conference, the amendment was defeated by 454 votes to 414.[4]

In September 2008, Mr Willis provoked the resignation of Professor Michael Reiss from his position as Director of Education at the Royal Society (on secondment from the Institute of Education). Professor Reiss, in a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, had commented that in his experience as a teacher, children with creationist views were difficult to persuade otherwise, and that merely silencing them didn’t cause them to change their minds at all. He suggested an alternative approach: that such pupils should be allowed to express their opinions, not as science, but as 'a world view'. This would provide the opportunity for real discussion and science teaching. Mr Willis demanded action by the Royal Society against Professor Reiss, so stimulating a furore which concluded with Reiss' resignation on 17 September.[5]

Personal life

He married Heather Sellars in 1974 in Staincliffe. They have a son (born 1980) and daughter (born 1975). Although from Burnley, he has lived in the Yorkshire area for many years.


Concordat on Openness on Animal Research working group member.[6]

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