4 The effectiveness of the Committee |
28. Since our appointment on 19 July 2005, we have
published 19 Reports and pursued major inquiries into carbon capture
and storage technologies; scientific advice, risk and evidence-based
policy making; space policy, and marine science. We have achieved
several notable successes and these are outlined in Box 1.
|Box 1: Impact and results of the Committee's work
- Following the publication of our Report on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, the Government launched a consultation on CCS that subsequently fed into the Energy Review. In this Report, we urged the Government to support a large-scale demonstration of CCS technology. The 2007 Budget announced that the Government would launch a competition in November 2007 to develop a commercial-scale CCS demonstration project.
- Our inquiry into CCS technologies was held up as a case study of good scrutiny in the Centre for Public Scrutiny's Successful Scrutiny publication.
- We undertook an inquiry into strategic science provision in English Universities focusing on the University of Sussex's plans to close its Chemistry Department. Following the publication of our Report, the University of Sussex decided to keep its Chemistry Department open. In May 2007, the Government announced a proposals for a national campaign to promote STEM careers.
- Our Report on Research Council support for knowledge transfer was warmly received and many of the recommendations were accepted by the Research Councils. In order to improve co-ordination of knowledge transfer activities, for example, the Research Councils have established at Knowledge Transfer and Economic Impact Group and have embarked upon at Knowledge Transfer Co-ordination project.
- Our inquiry into the EU Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) Directive highlighted the potential impact of the Directive upon the use of MRI scanners. The Health and Safety Executive subsequently undertook research into impact of the Directive and confirmed our concerns that some procedures exceed the limit values set out in the Directive. The Commission has since announced that it will postpone implementation of the Directive for four years for further scientific reviews.
- The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has accepted our recommendation in our Report on the classification of illegal drugs to improve transparency. It is holding its Council meetings in public and publishing its agendas and minutes on the web.
- The Government welcomed our Report on identity card technologies and stated it "will endeavour to act on its recommendations". In response to our concerns regarding information and communication technology (ICT) within the identity cards scheme, the Government has expanded its Independent Assurance Panel to include ICT.
- In response to our Report on scientific advice, risk and evidence, the Government "agrees with the Committee that there is much further still to go in ensuring that science is managed and used by Government to best effect." In response to our recommendations, the Government is beginning the process to update the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees.
- We undertook an inquiry into the Government's proposals regarding hybrid and chimera embryos. The Government welcomed our report on "this scientifically complex and ethically contentious area of research". As a result of our inquiry, the Government is moving towards a more permissive regime and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has approved applications for work in this field. The Government said that "the Select Committee report has therefore very helpfully moved this debate forward". The latest announced Government position is in line with our recommendations.
- The Government welcomed our space policy report and accepted the majority of our recommendations.
29. We have received positive comments from Ministers
and government departments about our work. Government responses
have described recent reports as "thorough and constructive"
and "constructive and stimulating".
Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith QC, Attorney General, told us that our Report
on forensic science was "enormously helpful. It has meant
that a lot of key information has been shared across the agencies."
In relation to the same Report, Andy Burnham MP, the then Home
Office Minister, said "the Committee is not celebrating its
I do not believe that there has ever
been so much scrutiny or focus in Parliament on such matters."
During a debate in Westminster Hall on our Report on drug classification,
the Minister, Vernon Coaker MP, said "I welcome the Select
Committee report. I hope that what I have said shows that what
the Committee said in its report has led to changes in the Government's
policy and practice and caused us to think about the operation
of the classification system."
On 9 July 2007, when the future of the Committee was already in
doubt, the Minister for Science and Innovation, Ian Pearson MP,
said during a debate on the floor of the House, "Let me put
on the record the great value that the Government attach to the
work of the Committee and the positive and constructive spirit
in which its work has been conducted".
30. Despite these comments, it was only when the
impact of the machinery of government changes was revealed, that
the regard in which the Committee was held, both within Parliament
and beyond, became truly clear. Many organisations expressed support
for the Committee by writing either to newspapers or to the Leader
of the House, Harriet Harman MP. On 13 July 2007, a letter was
sent to The Times by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the
Institute of Physics, the Institute of Biology, the Campaign for
Science and Engineering, and the Geological Society of London.
This letter stated that:
At a time when the Government has brought science
and innovation policy centre stage [
] it would be a tragedy
if its immediate parliamentary consequence was the abolition of
the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology
] this select committee has proved itself to be an outstanding
vehicle for the examination of science across government as a
On 20 July 2007, Lord Rees of Ludlow, President of
the Royal Society, Lord Browne of Madingley, President of the
Royal Academy of Engineering, Dr Mark Walport, Director of The
Wellcome Trust, Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of
the Medical Research Council (MRC), four Nobel Laureates and thirty
other distinguished scientists wrote to The Guardian. They
said that the Science and Technology Committee, "does a great
deal of vital work scrutinising scientific matters and the use
of evidence across government departments and agencies".
Professor Blakemore expanded upon this, saying "the MRC has
not always had an easy ride from the science and technology select
committee, but nevertheless I think it is really important that
that kind of rigorous scrutiny exists."
Five days later, during the debate on the Standing Order changes,
Harriet Harman stated that she had received representations from
"the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK, the
Chemical Industries Association, Professor Derek Burke (a special
adviser between 1995 and 2001), the Genetic Interest Group, the
Royal Society, the Institute of Biology, the Association of Medical
Research Charities and many more."
like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to the science
policy community, not only for its recent representations regarding
the future of the Committee, but also for its support in the forms
of evidence to inquiries, and assistance with visits, throughout
the existence of the Committee.
Inquiries affected by the Standing
31. When we heard that the Committee was going to
be affected by Standing Order changes, we had two inquiries planned
for the period before Christmas 2007: scientific developments
relating to the Abortion Act 1967, and renewable energy-generation
technologies. Due to time pressure, we decided to concentrate
upon the inquiry into scientific developments relating to the
Abortion Act 1967 in the period before the demise of the Committee
at the end of the session. We focused upon this inquiry because
we felt that the Committee had a role to play in helping to inform
Parliament about the scientific developments in this highly contentious
area, particularly in light of the anticipated presentation of
a Human Tissue and Embryos Bill in the new session. We believe
that our inquiry into the scientific developments relating to
the Abortion Act 1967 demonstrates the value of a cross-cutting
Science and Technology Committee within the House of Commons in
complementing the work of Departmental Select Committees in informing
the House about the scientific evidence base in areas of controversy
or great significance.
32. We chose not to pursue the inquiry into renewable
energy-generation technologies because we anticipated that this
would be a major inquiry and did not feel that it would be possible
to undertake it in the time available. We have published the written
evidence that we received and hope that the inquiry will be taken
forward by a committee of this House at some stage.
Treatment of evidence
33. It is normal practice for select committees to
put out a "call for evidence" at the start of inquiries.
Written submissions can be made by any organisation or individual
and we often receive submissions from a variety of bodies ranging
from Government departments to learned societies to interested
individuals. Although we welcome all submissions, we recognise
that whilst some submissions are firmly evidence-based, others
are primarily opinion pieces. It is important that select committees
distinguish between evidence-based submissions and other submissions,
particularly when undertaking technical or scientific inquiries,
that is inquiries where conclusions will be based on judgements
of the strength of the available scientific evidence. Following
our direct experience of this problem during our inquiry into
the science underlying the Abortion Act 1967, we believe that
organisations and individuals should be asked to declare potentially
relevant interests when submitting evidence and also state expertise
and experience when stating opinions about scientific matters.
the new Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee to explore
how the declaration of interests and expertise can be built into
the inquiry process and urge the Liaison Committee to consider
this approach for all select committees.
34. In the light of our Report on evidence-based
policy making, we recognise the potential for confusion, when
pursuing an evidence-based approach, caused by the term 'evidence'
being used in its scientific/research sense and also as a description
for submissions (both written and oral) to inquiries. We
call upon the new Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee
to explore the current terminology to avoid this confusion and
whether there is merit in recommending that the Liaison Committee
consider this issue.
32 Centre for Public Scrutiny, Successful Scrutiny,
March 2007, pp 13-14. Back
Science and Technology Committee, Fifth Special Report of Session
2006-07, 2007: A Space Policy: Government Response to the Committee's
Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 1042; Science and Technology
Committee, Second Special Report of Session 2006-07, Office of
Science and Innovation: Scrutiny Report 2005 and 2006: Government
Response to the Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2006-07, HC635,
p 1. Back
Oral evidence given on 23 November 2005, HC 685, Q1 Back
HC Deb, 20 April 2006, col 179 WH Back
HC Deb, 14 June 2007, col369WH Back
HC Deb, 9 July 2007, col 1245 Back
"Science Committee", Letter, The Times, 13 July
2007, p 18. Back
"Science needs its select committee", The Guardian,
20 July 2007, p 41. Back
"Scientists call for scrutiny panel to stay", The
Guardian, 20 July 2007 Back
HC Deb, 25 July 2007, col 941-942 Back