Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report

1  Introduction

1. The Science and Technology Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Office of Science and Innovation (OSI) and its associated public bodies.[1] The OSI has been part of the Department of Trade and Industry since 1995 and is divided into two parts:

  • The Transdepartmental Science and Technology Group which supports the head of the OSI, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA), in his role of advising the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister for Science and Innovation, on science, engineering and technology matters; and
  • The Science and Innovation Group which supports the Director General of Science and Innovation (DGSI) in allocating the Science Budget, assuring the successful operation of the eight Research Councils and assisting innovation.

2. The OSI defines its aim as "to improve the quality and use of science and technology (S&T) advice across Government and increase public confidence in the Government's use of S&T."[2] The breadth of this role is reflected in the wide-ranging remit of our Committee which examines science and technology issues within the UK Government, regardless of departmental boundaries. Nevertheless, one of our core tasks is scrutiny of the work of the OSI itself. Traditionally, this has been done through an annual report from the Committee. The last in this series was published in January 2005 and covered the work of the OSI (then the Office of Science and Technology or OST) in 2004. No report was produced the following year because of the General Election in May 2005 and the subsequent delay in establishing select committees until July that year. The current Report is therefore intended to cover the two calendar years, 2005 and 2006.

3. It has been the policy in previous Parliaments for our predecessor Committees to aim to hold an evidence session with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (who has Cabinet responsibility for science), the Minister for Science, the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Director General of Science and Innovation (DGSI, formerly the Director General of the Research Councils) during the course of each parliamentary session to inform the annual scrutiny report. We have adopted this aim in the current Parliament and fulfilled it by taking evidence from the Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, then Secretary of State for DTI, Sir Brian Bender, Permanent Secretary, DTI, Professor Sir David King, GCSA and Professor Sir Keith O'Nions, DGSI, on 24 April 2006; and from Malcolm Wicks MP, Minister for Science and Innovation, on 17 January 2007. We have also taken evidence from the GCSA and the DGSI on a number of other occasions and from the Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP, the current Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, on 5 July 2006, in connection with our inquiry into scientific advice, risk and evidence-based policy-making.

4. In addition, at the start of the Parliament we decided to continue with the Science Question Time format introduced by our predecessors, which enables us to discuss a range of science-policy related issues with the Science Minister in a 40 minute session. The former Minister, Lord Sainsbury, readily acceded to this proposal, and we held four such sessions with him on 19 October 2005, 25 January 2006, 20 June 2006 and 18 October 2006. We should like to take this opportunity to record our thanks to Lord Sainsbury for his co-operation with this innovation and for his contribution to its success. In November 2006, Lord Sainsbury resigned and was replaced by Malcolm Wicks MP. We are delighted that the new Minister accepted our invitation to continue these sessions, and we look forward to including an account of our meetings with Mr Wicks in next year's scrutiny report.

5. The transcripts of the evidence sessions directly linked to this Report (those from 24 April 2006, 18 January 2007 and the four Science Question Time sessions with Lord Sainsbury) are appended to this Report, along with memoranda submitted to the Committee during the course of 2005 and 2006 by the OSI and its associated bodies in connection with financial matters or subsequent to evidence sessions. We received assistance from the Scrutiny Unit in the House of Commons in analysing the financial information contained in certain of these memoranda.

6. During the course of the period covered by this Report we visited the OSI offices in London to discuss the changes brought about by restructuring with Professor Sir David King, Professor Sir Keith O'Nions and OSI management and staff. We are very grateful to those who organised and participated in an enlightening visit.

7. In this Report we examine the major aspects of the period under review as they affect the work of the OSI. These include the restructuring of the Office from 3 April 2006, its performance against targets and funding issues. We also look at two specific aspects of OSI responsibilities: issues affecting the Research Councils and the OSI's work in improving science across Government. Finally, and in chronological order, we comment on the vision for science of the new Minister for Science and Innovation.

1   House of Commons Standing Order No. 152 Back

2 Back

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