Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents



1. This inquiry brought together several policy strands that have been of longstanding interest to this Committee and the former Science and Technology Committee. It follows, in particular, a number of issues that were raised in the following reports:

—  Engineering: turning ideas into reality (IUSS Cttee, Fourth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 50-I), on the Government's capacity for sourcing and using engineering advice;

—  Science Budget Allocations (IUSS Cttee, Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 215-I), on regional science policy and the Haldane Principle; and

—  Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy Making (S&T Cttee, Seventh Report of Session 2005-06, HC 900-I), on the Government's capacity for sourcing and using science advice.

2. It also proved to be timely in two respects. First, at our January 2009 Science Question Time, the Science Minster, the Rt Hon Lord Drayson, launched a debate about strategic priorities in science funding. He noted that other countries were making "strategic choices" regarding their economic priorities and he argued that the UK needs to have a "hard-nosed look at where we have real strategic advantage".[1] The nature of this debate, its content and purpose, has caused a stir in the science and engineering community. We seized on the opportunity to contribute to that debate in this report.

3. Second, just prior to the publication of this report the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), the home of science and engineering for two years, was closed down. It was merged with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) to create a super-department, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The potential implications of these changes to the machinery of Government, and the concomitant reinstatement of the Science and Technology Committee, make the timing of this report all the more important as we make our case for putting science and engineering at the heart of government policy.

The inquiry

The Committee invited evidence on the following issues:

—  whether the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science and Innovation and the Council for Science and Technology put science and engineering at the heart of policy-making and whether there should be a Department for Science;

—  how Government formulates science and engineering policy (strengths and weaknesses of the current system);

—  whether the views of the science and engineering community are, or should be, central to the formulation of government policy, and how the success of any consultation is assessed;

—  the case for a regional science policy (versus national science policy) and whether the Haldane principle needs updating;

—  engaging the public and increasing public confidence in science and engineering policy;

—  the role of GO-Science, DIUS and other Government departments, charities, learned societies, Regional Development Agencies, industry and other stakeholders in determining UK science and engineering policy; and

—  how government science and engineering policy should be scrutinised.

4. We received more than 80 written submissions and held five oral evidence sessions. Unusually, we opened our inquiry by taking evidence from the Science Minister, Lord Drayson. We went on to hear from the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Government Office for Science, the Council for Science and Technology, a number of charities and other organisations promoting science, the Food Standards Agency, two science advisory councils, and a number of individuals. Our final session was with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington, and the Science Minister.

5. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the inquiry through written submissions and oral evidence. In particular, we would like to thank our specialist adviser, Professor Sir Brian Heap, whose deep understanding of the science landscape and keen insight into the key issues were invaluable.

Structure of the report

6. The report considers a broad issue—why science and engineering are important and why they should be at the heart of Government policy—and three more specific issues—the debate on strategic priorities, the principles that inform science funding decisions and the scrutiny of science and engineering across Government.

1   Oral evidence taken on 26 January 2009, HC (2008-09) 169-i, Q 2 Back

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Prepared 23 July 2009