5 The future scrutiny of science in
the House of Commons |
35. The support that we received when faced with
an uncertain future as a committee demonstrates, we believe, the
importance of ongoing science scrutiny within the House of Commons.
Our main concern is that, given its broader remit, the new Innovation,
Universities and Skills Committee will be unlikely to continue
the level of scrutiny undertaken by the current Science and Technology
Committee (see paragraph 5). Although the OSI no longer exists,
its activities continue under a different guise within DIUS. The
work will still be taking place within Government, even if there
is no adequate provision for scrutiny within the Commons. Indeed,
it is likely that scientific activity within Government will continue
to increase as more departments undertake science reviews of their
activities, the recommendations of Lord Sainsbury's recent review
are implemented and the Government grapples with issues such as
stem cell research, the spread of viruses and nuclear power. In
1966, the House of Commons established a Science and Technology
Committee with fourteen Members because science policy was rising
up the political agenda. It is somewhat ironic that in 2007 the
current Science and Technology Committee is being dissolved against
a similar backdrop.
36. We believe that there will be a gap in science
scrutiny when the current House of Commons Science and Technology
Committee is dissolved. This gap will not, and indeed should not,
be filled by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee
or POST, both of which have different functions within Parliament.
Lord Rees of Ludlow, President of the Royal Society, makes the
point that "The Commons should surely not be content to rely
only on the expertise of the parallel committee in the Upper House."
37. Even if the Innovation, Universities and Skills
Committee chooses to appoint a sub-committee, we are concerned
that Members would be stretched by the membership and workload
of, in essence, a second select committee. This issue was raised
several times during the debate on the Standing Order changes.
Theresa May MP, Shadow Leader of the House, said "the sub-committee
is no replacement for a stand-alone specialist Science and Technology
Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House,
echoed her view, stating "a Sub-Committee of another Committee
- however good its members - is not an adequate substitute".
38. Given the Government's focus on evidence-based
policy-making and the wide consensus on the value of science in
our society, we believe that this would be the wrong time to downgrade
or reduce the scrutiny of cross-cutting science issues within
Parliament. The strong view amongst the science community is
that such scrutiny is best carried out by a select committee with
a clear identity and a clear mission. Given the House's decision
to replace the Science and Technology Committee with a departmental
select committee, we hope that the new Innovation, Universities
and Skills Committee will have the authority to work across Government
rather than within the narrow confines of a single department.
We believe that in the long
term a separate Science and Technology Committee is the only way
to guarantee a permanent focus on science across Government within
the select committee system. We recommend that the House be given
an opportunity to revisit the question of science scrutiny in
the Commons at the end of session 2007-08.
42 Lord Rees of Ludlow, "A scientific subtext",
The House Magazine, p 14 Back
HC Deb, 25 July 2007, Col 945 Back
HC Deb, 25 July 2007, Col 952 Back