7 Scrutiny of the Science Minister |
67. 2006 saw the first change in the Science Minister
in eight years when Malcolm Wicks MP, previously Minister of State
for Energy, was appointed to the post. Lord Sainsbury was a hard
act to follow, given the length of his tenure and the good relationships
which he had established with the science community.
68. Mr Wicks began his own period in office with
a speech in which he chose to stress the public or social aspects
of science. He told the Research Base Funders' Forum plenary conference
in November 2006 that, in addition to becoming a knowledge economy,
"we need to become a knowledge society" and that the
UK should become "a knowledge democracy
We asked him when he gave evidence to us to explain what he meant
by "a knowledge democracy". He explained that he was
"partly thinking about skills and the education agenda"
but also partly about crucial global issues such as climate change,
energy, medicine and water supply in Africa and how "we need
a more knowledgeable democracy if we are to make the right decisions
and get the balance right between what science can offer and public
policy concerns and some of the moral issues".
He stressed that this focus was not intended to be "about
taking our eye off the economic ball" and away from the emphasis
on the knowledge economy, but instead to add to this "the
application of science in, for example, the National Health Service
and, I suspect, other areas of social policy, which may
have been neglected by what science and technology has to offer".
69. We explored Mr Wicks' views on the role of science
and technology within society and his vision for "science
and the application of science, innovation, to move centre stage"
in the UK. Now
that the Minister has been in post for four months, we hope that
he has had an opportunity to develop his thinking on how to realise
his vision a little further. We recommend that the OSI outline
in its response to this Report the new dialogues and initiatives
within the OSI established since November 2006 to encourage the
creation of a "knowledge democracy" and spread the use
of science throughout Government and beyond. We will watch
developments in this area with close attention, as will many in
the wider research community, and we look forward to regular conversations
with the Minister on these important topics.
Science Question Time
70. Science Question Time was originally developed
by our predecessors as a means of directly engaging with the then
Minister, Lord Sainsbury, who was not available to answer questions
on the floor of the House. Once a Minister from the Commons succeeded
Lord Sainsbury, that particular justification no longer held,
but the format had proved to be valuable and we were keen that
it should continue. We were therefore pleased that Malcolm Wicks
MP agreed to make the same commitment as his predecessor to appear
before the Committee four times a year to answer questions on
topical science issues. The precedent is now well established.
We note that the value of this forum has been underlined in the
current session in which the Minister for Science has been called
upon to answer only seven questions during DTI question time,
not all of which were science-related.
Until such time as a Science Question Time has a proper place
on the floor of the Commons, we shall continue our own scrutiny
of Ministers on science matters in this way.
113 www.dti.gov.uk/about/dti-ministerial-team/page35870_print.html Back
Q 254 Back
Q 255 Back
Q 253 Back
Commons Hansard, 20 November 2006, c1200, 1209; Hansard, 18 January
2007, c 898; Hansard, 22 March 2007, c 932-3, 935-6, 939-940;
no science-related questions were reached on 22 February 2007. Back