Select Committee on Science and Technology Thirteenth Report

3  Innovations

Science Question Time

21. The Science and Technology Committee has traditionally held regular question time sessions with the Science Minister. This "Science Question Time" was originally agreed with Lord Sainsbury because his membership of the House of Lords denied us the opportunities enjoyed by members of other select committees to question Ministers during debates and departmental question times on the floor of the House. On 10 November 2006 Lord Sainsbury resigned and was succeeded by Malcolm Wicks MP, who continued the tradition notwithstanding his membership of this House.

22. The format of Science Question Time, broadly modelled upon Prime Minister's Questions, is four questions, including supplementaries, in forty minutes. We find that this question time with the Minister is an extremely useful way to follow up issues and track developments in different areas. We have raised topics such as building new nuclear power stations, the numbers of students studying science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, peer review, and the funding of science centres. We also believe that a regular session builds up a positive working relationship between the Committee and the Minister in a way that is not necessarily achieved by question time in the Chamber. We urge the new Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee to continue the tradition of ministerial scrutiny through Science Question Time.

Improving Scrutiny


23. In our Report on the work of the Committee in 2005 and 2006, we noted that we had received the majority of Government responses within the established two month deadline.[27] Unfortunately in 2007, the Government's track record was somewhat marred because, as well as the late arrival of several responses, two responses were of particularly poor quality. The Government's response to our Report on the Cooksey Review, for example, did not address any of our recommendations.[28] We therefore took the unusual step of requesting that the Government revise its response. The response to our Research Council Institutes Report was also disappointing.[29] Some recommendations directed to individual Research Councils had no direct response, whilst other recommendations went unaddressed. Rather than requesting a completely new response in this case, we asked for clarification regarding particular recommendations. As the responses had already been delayed and the summer recess was looming, we agreed to publish the initial Government responses on our website in order to keep the public informed. We subsequently printed the revised responses. We are pleased to note, however, that in the short time since the establishment of DIUS, performance in this area had improved significantly and that we received responses to two of our reports before the agreed deadline.


24. We resolved in October 2005 to develop a more strategic approach to following up previous inquiries. We have followed up Reports in a number of ways: holding one-off oral evidence sessions; publishing follow up Reports; initiating debates in Westminster Hall and on the floor of the House; holding informal meetings with those affected by our Reports; and writing to the departments involved in inquiries seeking updates. Table 3 outlines the various ways in which we have followed up inquiries.

Table 3 Follow up to previous Reports since July 2005
Science Education from 14 to 19

Third Report of Session 2001-02

HC 508

·  Informal meeting with representatives of the Nuffield Curriculum Centre
Scientific Publications: Free for all?

Tenth Report of Session 2003-04

HC 399

·  Debate in Westminster Hall (15 December 2005)
Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law

Fifth Report of Session 2004-05

HC 7

·  Debate on floor of the House (3 July 2006)

·  One-off evidence session with the Minister (12 July 2006)

Strategic Science Provision in English Universities

Eighth Report of Session 2004-05

HC 220

One-off evidence session with the Minister and the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (2 November 2005)

Follow-up inquiry and Report (Second Report of Session 2005-06, Strategic Science Provision in English Universities: A Follow-up, HC 1011)

Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)

Forensic Science on Trial

Seventh Report of Session 2004-05

HC 96

One-off evidence session with Ministers from the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Home Office (23 November 2005)

Debate in Westminster Hall (20 April 2006)

Meeting UK Energy and Climate Needs: The Role of Carbon Capture and Storage First Report of Session 2005-06 HC 578 Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)
Research Council Support for Knowledge Transfer Third Report of Session 2005-06 HC 995 Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)
Watching the Directives: Scientific Advice on the EU Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) Directive

Fourth Report of Session 2005-06

HC 1030

Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)
Drug Classification: Making a hash of it?

Fifth Report of Session 2005-06

HC 1031

One-off evidence session with Minister and Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (22 November 2006)

Debate in Westminster Hall (14 June 2007)

Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)

Identity Card Technologies: Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence

Sixth Report of Session 2005-06

HC 1032

Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)
Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence-Based Policy Making

Seventh Report of Session 2005-06

HC 900

Debate on the floor of the House (9 July 2007)

Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)

Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos Fifth Report of Session 2006-07 HC 272
Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)
Office of Science and Innovation: Scrutiny Report 2005 and 2006 Sixth Report of Session 2006-07 HC 203
Written inquiries to department (response printed with this Report)

25. As noted in Table 3, we have printed with this Report the responses received from the departments regarding their progress in implementing recommendations made in our Reports published since 2005.

New and Emerging Areas of Inquiry


26. We are conscious that change often takes place rapidly within the science and science policy communities. With this in mind, we trialled an horizon-scanning session in March 2007 in which we discussed current and future topics of interest with members of the science policy community. The session was attended by representatives from the Royal Society, OSI, Council for Science and Technology, Royal Academy of Engineering, Cranfield University, and the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, as well as Committee members. We found the exchange of ideas extremely interesting and note our thanks to those who participated in the session. We suggest that other select committees, including our successor, consider arranging such sessions.


27. During this Parliament, we have sought to bring emerging policy areas, such as carbon capture and storage technologies and human enhancement technologies in sport, to the attention of politicians and policy-makers. At the start of such inquiries, we have been aware that the subject matter may be new territory for Parliamentarians and the public, and have experimented with introductory seminars. The first seminar, on carbon capture and storage technologies, was a private, informal seminar with experts. We found this format so successful that we subsequently held public seminars relating to human enhancement technologies and the Government's proposals for hybrid and chimera embryos.[30] In order to engage a wider range of people, we have also begun to hold seminars outside Westminster. On 17 April 2007, we held a public seminar in Plymouth to launch our investigating the oceans inquiry.[31] We commend this practice to our successors and to our colleagues on other committees.

27   Science and Technology Committee, First Report of Session 2006-07, Work of the Committee in 2005-06, HC 202, para 42 Back

28   Science and Technology Committee, Third Special Report, The Cooksey Review: Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2006-07, HC 978 Back

29   Science and Technology Committee, Fourth Special Report, Research Council Institutes: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 979 Back

30   Speakers at human enhancement technologies seminar on 21 June 2006: Linford Christie OBE, Olympic Gold Medal Winner; Dr Roger Palfreeman, British Cycling Team Doctor; Professor Ron Maughan, University of Loughborough; Mr Steve Maynard, HFL Ltd; Professor Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford. Speakers at Government proposals for hybrid and chimera embryos seminar on 27 February 2007: Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Former Bishop of Oxford, Chair, HFEA Ethics and Law Committee and former Interim Chair of the Authority; Professor Sir David King, Government Chief Scientific Adviser; Professor Lord Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies, Imperial College; Dr David Jones, Academic Director, University College, Twickenham. Back

31   Speakers at investigating the oceans seminar on 17 April 2007: Professor Owens, Chair of the Plymouth Marine Sciences partnership and Director, Plymouth Marine Laboratory; Professor Steve Hawkins, Director of the Marine Biological Association; Dr Chris Reid Executive Director, Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans; Professor Laurence Mee, Director of the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth. Back

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