13:05, January 03 288 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-03 13:05:35
Andrew Miller obituary

Andrew Miller, the former Labour MP, who has died aged 70, was partly responsible for one of the most far-reaching pieces of employment legislation to have been enacted before the fall of the last Labour government in 2010. He was an unsung hero whose backbench attempt to introduce a new law to give equal rights to temporary and agency workers would lead to the eventual government decision to implement the European Union’s controversial Agency Workers Directive.

During the second reading debate of his temporary and agency workers (equal treatment) bill in 2008, Miller acknowledged the widespread opposition in Whitehall to the proposed legislation. But he called in evidence in favour of his bill a recent speech made by the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, who had envisaged the state of the British economy in 2020 with a skilled workforce engaged in a race for the top. It was, argued Miller, the provisions of his planned legislation that would provide the necessary motivation for the workforce to fulfil such an expectation and to do so was not only morally correct but in the long-term interest of the economy. His bill was nevertheless dropped because of government opposition, only to be reintroduced two years later in almost identical form as the Agency Workers Regulations Act.

Miller was a modest man who was unusually self-deprecating for a politician. He described himself as having been naive about the nature of politics when he arrived, somewhat unexpectedly, in the House of Commons in 1992 as the victorious Labour candidate who had overturned a Conservative majority to win the constituency of Ellesmere Port and Neston, despite John Major having secured the return of a Conservative government for another five years in that election.

But Miller swiftly demonstrated that he was far from naive in recognising the extent to which the career pattern of any individual politician was often determined by the sort of patronage he himself was not prepared to pursue. Instead he forged his own path, using his personal expertise from his previous employment to promote the interests of science in politics; his proudest achievement was as the first person elected by the Commons to chair the science and technology committee, a post he held from 2010 until he stood down as an MP in 2015.

Born in Isleworth, west London, Andrew was the son of Ernest Miller, a civil servant, and his wife, Daphne. The family moved to Malta and then Hampshire, following Ernest’s work. Andrew went to Hayling Island secondary school, then Highbury Technical College, Portsmouth, and in 1967 began work as a laboratory technician in the geology department at what was then Portsmouth Polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth). He joined the Labour party the following year when his complaint about the actions of a rogue landlord led to the issue of a personal challenge to him to “get involved” in politics.

By 1976 his political interest was sufficiently developed for him to leave his job and study for a diploma in industrial relations at the London School of Economics and then, in 1977, to become an official with the white-collar scientific trade union ASTMS (Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs), later the MSF (Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union). He moved to the north-west with his work as a divisional officer and, having married Frances Ewan in 1975, made his home in that area.

He had no intention of making a career in politics but was invited to contest the election in 1992. One of his first tasks on arrival at Westminster was to escort a school group from his constituency around the Houses of Parliament, an event arranged somewhat optimistically by his Conservative predecessor, and which proved in the event as educational for Miller as for the children. By 1997 the surge of popular support that swept Tony Blair into office had led to Miller increasing his parliamentary majority from under 2,000 to more than 16,000, and he was invited to join John Prescott’s campaign team at Westminster, where he had a post under the new deputy prime minister.

He was more interested in constituency work, however, and for more than a year became deeply involved in a campaign on behalf of his constituent Louise Woodward, the English nanny who had been convicted of murder in the US after the death of an eight-month-old baby in her charge. Partly as a result of that campaign her offence was reduced on appeal to one of involuntary manslaughter, and Woodward returned to the UK in 1998.

Miller had been asked to prepare a paper on intellectual property rights for the prime minister’s office and as a consequence, in 2001, was given a roving role advising ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry on issues of scientific policy. After the 2005 election he was appointed chairman of the select committee on regulatory reform, a subject dear to him and which he pursued vigorously until his last days in parliament. He took part in the innovatory “valedictory debate” for retiring MPs in 2015.

After leaving politics, he continued to work in science policy at the universities of Sheffield and Chester. He was a member of the UK Research Integrity Office, a body that oversees the ethics of research programmes, and of the Royal Society’s science policy advisory group. He was awarded an honorary DSc by Chester University in 2014 and was an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University in 2015.

He is survived by Fran and their two sons and daughter.

Andrew Peter Miller, politician, born 23 March 1949; died 24 December 2019