Select Committee on Science and Technology First Report


The Science and Technology Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. In The Use of Scientific Advice in Policy Making, Sir Robert May, the Chief Scientific Adviser, stated that "Science is playing an increasingly influential role in contributing to the formulation both of UK and international ... policy and regulatory decisions".[1] Scientific advice is used to underpin Government activity in a broad range of fields but particularly in critical areas affecting health and safety, transport, and environmental protection and "Government needs to be sure that the systems which it has in place can provide scientific advice in a timely and effective manner".[2] The role of the scientific advisory system, its effectiveness and independence, are essential if Government is to fulfil its responsibilities.

2. We began our inquiry into the Scientific Advisory System last year and decided to proceed by conducting a number of case studies. This is the first of these.

3. We did not set out to answer all of the questions arising from the rapid scientific advances that for the last two decades or so have enabled scientists to modify the genetic makeup of plants and animals. Rather we used the genetic modification issue to test the scientific advisory system's contribution to the development of Government decisions, taking into account other factors and the wider political context.

Conduct of the Inquiry

4. In 8 oral evidence sessions we have heard from 13 sets of witnesses. Their expertise and insights have been supplemented by over 70 written submissions reflecting a broad range of opinion. We are grateful to all those who have assisted us during our inquiry either through oral or written evidence.

5. We would also like to thank our specialist advisers for this inquiry: Professor Michael Elves, former Director of the Office of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome plc; Professor Alan Malcolm, Chief Executive of the Institute of Biology and Ms Julie Sheppard of the Consumers' Association.

1  Sir Robert May, The Use of Scientific Advice in Policy Making, March 1997, ("The Use of Scientific Advice") p. 1. Back

2  Select Committee on Science and Technology, Session 1997-98, HC 796-i, p.1. Back

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