5 SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING SCRUTINY
189. There are guidelines on the use of science,
a Government Office for Science, several Chief Scientific Advisers,
and hundreds of scientists and engineers throughout the civil
service, and yetinevitablymistakes happen. The former
Science and Technology Committee's inquiry on evidence-based policy
and our own inquiry on engineering each highlighted several examples
where science and engineering were not at the heart of Government
190. In the absence of a perfect system, when guidelines
and good intentions are not enough, scrutiny becomes a key player.
Our starting point for this chapter is that good scrutiny of science
and engineering issues across Government is important. We consider
two broad types of scrutiny: internal and external.
191. Internal scrutiny is that provided by the Government
looking in on itself. Following a recommendation made in Investing
in Innovation: A strategy for science, engineering and technology,
Sir David King, the then Government Chief Scientific Adviser,
set up a Science Review Team in what is now the Government Office
for Science. The reviews were "to independently scrutinise
and benchmark the quality and use of science in government departments".
Since 2005, six departments have been reviewed: the Food Standards
Agency; the Department of Health; the Home Office/Ministry of
Justice; the Department for Culture Media and Sport; Communities
and Local Government; the Health and Safety Executive and Defra.
Each review took about a year, although some took longer.
192. We asked Professor Beddington about the Science
Reviews. He told us that the time the reviews took was "ludicrous",
and that when he was involved in the Defra review "it seemed
to be going on forever"
(18 months, to be precise). Therefore, soon after taking up his
post as GCSA, he commissioned "a review of reviews",
which led to a decision that:
The new reviews will be significantly shorter,
maximum three months; they will be conducted in a completely different
way from other reviews. They will be jointly owned by the Permanent
Secretary of the department concerned and myself, and they will
be driven at a very high level. There will be an immediate going
in to look and see what are the key issue and if some things worry
us, then we would start to look at those in more detail. [
The pattern of reviews which we would then plan to start early
in 2009 should mean that we will be able to get a lot more done;
we will be using consultants to help us and we will be using a
much higher level of professional input into these reviews.
193. This new programme is called 'Science and Engineering
Assurance'. The objectives of the new assurance exercise are to:
"Provide departments with assurance that their policy and
practice properly reflects the [natural and physical] scientific
and] Ensure that departments have in place the
capability, systems and culture to access, quality assure and
use science effectively".
We have since been updated on the progress of Science and Engineering
Assurance by Professor Beddington:
[W]e reached agreement about two weeks ago that
these would be mandatory for any department or institution that
has not actually already had a review. For those that have [
we are in the process of ongoing assessment of how they are performing
against a particular review [
]. The aim is to complete this
exercise of having done a science and engineering review of all
departments by March 2011, so it is a relatively quick timescale
to get them, and this includes things of very different sizes,
it includes the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury.
194. Changes to the science and engineering scrutiny
programme to make reviews shorter and mandatory are welcome. We
recommend that there should be regular and constructive liaison
between the newly formed Science and Technology Committee and
the Science and Engineering Assurance team.
195. We turn now to external science and engineering
scrutiny. External scrutiny comes in many forms. The media provides
a key role, both the mainstream media and increasingly through
the work of bloggers. The professional and learned societies,
industry, unions and charities also provide scrutiny on science
and engineering issues in a variety of ways. Enough could be said
about external science and engineering scrutiny to fill several
reports, but we shall take up here only one aspect: the scrutiny
role played by Parliament through the work of select committees.
196. Science and engineering issues transcend departmental
boundaries and therefore have been covered in one way or another
by many different select committees in dozens of reports. For
example, the Environmental Audit Committee often considers scientific
issues associated with climate change and engineering issues associated
with reducing carbon emissions (this will similarly be a challenge
for the relatively new Energy and Climate Change Committee). Scientific
and engineering challenges are pertinent to much of the work of
the Transport Committee, the International Development Committee,
the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Health
Committee and the Defence Committee, to name a few. However, in
terms of focus on science and engineering issues, the most relevant
Committees are the former House of Commons Science and Technology
Committee, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee,
this Committee and the future reinstated Science and Technology
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SCIENCE SCRUTINY
IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
197. The House of Commons first established a Science
and Technology (S&T) Select Committee in 1966. It existed
for the duration of the 1966-1971 Parliament and was re-appointed
in 1971 and 1974. The Committee was abolished in 1979 when the
departmental select committee structure was established. In 1992,
a new S&T Committee was established to scrutinise the newly
formed Office for Science and Technology (OST). Since the OST
(later the Office for Science and Innovation) had a cross-departmental
remit, so in practice did the S&T Committee.
198. The Committee came to an end in November 2007
following the Prime Minister's announced changes to the machinery
of Government in July of that year. DTI and DfES were divided
into three departments: BERR, DCSF and DIUS. The responsibilities
of the Office for Science and Innovation were taken over by the
DIUS Science and Innovation Group and the Government Office for
Science, which sat within DIUS.
199. The S&T Committee existed under Standing
Order No 152 to scrutinise the work of the OSI. The abolition
of the OSI meant that the Standing Order had to be amended. On
25 July 2007, the House agreed a motion to amend the Standing
Order to replace the Science and Technology Committee with a departmental
select committee, which would scrutinise the work of DIUS. Originally
the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee, the later addition
of 'science' into its titlewhich ran contrary to the normal
practice of committee names reflecting the name of the department
that they scrutinisedreflected the particular importance
we attached to scrutinising the work of the Government Office
200. As well as our duty to scrutinise all of the
work of DIUS, across the important and broad universities and
skills agendas, we have also conducted some science and engineering
scrutiny. In the 2007-08 session, we had the third busiest schedule
of all the departmental select committees:
During the 2007-08 Session we held 50 Committee
meetings and 12 Sub-Committee meetings and took oral evidence
on 46 occasions. We published seven Reports and over and above
the evidence for these inquiries also held 11 separate oral evidence
201. We have conducted several inquiries on science
and engineering issues. In reverse order these were: two pre-appointment
hearings with the Chair-elects of the Biotechnology and Biological
Sciences Research Council and the Economic and Social Research
Council; a major inquiry into engineering; biosecurity in UK research
laboratories; renewable electricity-generation technologies; and
the Science Budget Allocations. We also reinstated Science Question
Time with the Science Minister.
202. Our work has been appreciated by a wide range
of individuals and organisations.
Lord Drayson told us that "scrutiny of science and engineering
and technology within Government is incredibly important and becoming
only more important in the future",
and that our focus on "putting science and engineering more
at the heart of government policy" has been "helpful".
203. However, we received evidence of frustration
at the Committee's wide remit and the implications for science
scrutiny. Professor Ian Haines, from the UK Deans of Science,
In our evidence we suggested there should be
[a science and technology committee re-established]; it is not
the suggestion that the Chairman is not doing his job, nor is
it the suggestion that the members are not doing their job, it
is just that we feel that the Committee is too broad. From innovationand
that is economic innovationon the one hand, right the way
through to skills of all kinds of an undescribed nature, it is
204. The Royal Society expressed its concern about
"the extent to which the current (IUSS) Committee can scrutinise
policies that fall at the boundaries of, or cut across, Departments".
This view was also expressed by the Institute of Physics,
the Biosciences Federation,
the Science Council,
the Royal Academy of Engineering
and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
205. Recent changes to the machinery of Government
added urgency to the debate: DIUS and BERR were dissolved and
all their responsibilities passed to a new department, the Department
for Business, Innovation and Skills. This affects select committees
that have been established under Standing Order No 152, as ours
is, because they mirror government departments. That means that
both the IUSS and Business and Enterprise Committees were set
to be replaced by a single Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.
In our report on The future of science scrutiny following the
merger of DIUS and BERR, we argued strongly that the BIS Committee
would be in a worse position than the IUSS Committee to scrutinise
science and engineering given all the other areas it will have
to cover. We therefore
recommended the re-forming of a Science and Technology Committee.
206. On 25 June 2009 the House agreed with us and
the many other voices from the science and engineering community
who felt that science and technology needed dedicated Parliamentary
scrutiny. Standing Order No 152 was duly amended and on 1 October
2009 the IUSS Committee will cease to exist and the Science and
Technology Committee will come to life.
207. We would like to thank all those who made
strong representation to the Leader of the House on our behalf.
We also recognise the responsibility that derives from a consensus
in Parliament and the science and engineering community that science
and technology scrutiny matters. We will strive to make the work
of the new Committeewhich is essential for the democratic
scrutiny of science, engineering and technologyrelevant,
rigorous and transparent.
THE FUTURE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
208. The decision to create a Science and Technology
Committee was right, but the way in which the Committee was formed
was related to machinery of Government changes and the speed with
which the changes had to be made. In this final section of the
chapter we make three suggestions for the future committee.
209. Our first suggestion is related to our engineering
report. We concluded, among other things, that engineering advice
differs from science advice, that engineering advice is lacking
in many policy areas across Government and that cross-departmental
co-ordination of engineering programmes is weak. We also suggested
that the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, who is already Head
of Profession for Science and Engineering, should be re-titled
Government Chief Scientific and Engineering Adviser and that he
should be supported by the Government Office for Science and Engineering.
It is therefore logical that the Committee that is responsible
for this policy area should have 'engineering' in its title.
210. The current arrangement for the future Science
and Technology Committee is the best that could be achieved following
the machinery of Government changes. We suggest that following
the general election the committee responsible for science, engineering
and technology policy should be called the Science, Engineering
and Technology Committee.
211. Our second suggestion has to do with membership.
This Committee was, unusually for a departmental committee, set
up with a membership of 14, rather than 11. The rationale for
the larger membership was that this would allow us to run a main
committee on higher education, further education and skills, with
a quorum of four, and a permanent sub-committee on science and
technology, with a quorum of three, although we did not choose
this arrangement. We had an effective membership of nine, but
still with a quorum of four. We recognise that all select committees
have been under tremendous pressures in terms of membership; over
the years an increase in the number of government departments
has increased the number of departmental select committees, and
the establishment of the regional committees has exacerbated the
problem further. However, it is essential that for effective scrutiny
all political parties fill their places on select committees.
212. We suggest that the Science, Engineering
and Technology Committee should revert to its original 11 members
with a quorum of three.
213. Our final suggestion is to do with our remit,
namely, to scrutinise the Government Office for Science. This
means that the Committee remains a departmental committee. It
also means that the science budget, Research Councils and publicly
funded science-related bodies, such as the academies, NESTA, TSB
and so on, fall within the remit of the future BIS Committee.
These concerns were raised with the Deputy Leader of the House
on 25 June 2009. She replied:
Let me re-emphasise that it is up to Committees
to take a wide-ranging approach to their remit, and to examine
the full scope of science policy and related matters across government.
Earlier this week, a Hansard Society conference considered the
role of departmental Select Committees. We have now moved beyond
Departments turning around and saying to Select Committees, "We
don't want to answer that," or, "You can't look at that."
That should no longer occur in Select Committees. In the new spirit
of reform, if a Select Committee decides that it wants to scrutinise
research budgets, for example, it should be able to do so.
214. We welcome her acknowledgement that select committees
should be free to conduct inquiries that extend beyond their official
remit. However, that is different from saying that the future
Science, Engineering and Technology Committee should have responsibility
for the science budget. To avoid complications related to the
lines of departmental responsibility and future machinery of Government
changes, we suggest that following the next general election the
Science, Engineering and Technology Committee should be installed
as a free-standing committee with a cross-departmental remit for
science and engineering including research budgets across Government.
176 HM Treasury, July 2002 Back
IUSS Committee, Third Report of Session 2008-09, DIUS's Departmental
Report 2008, HC 51-II, Q 243 Back
IUSS Committee, DIUS's Departmental Report 2008, Q 243 Back
IUSS Committee, DIUS's Departmental Report 2008, Q 243 Back
IUSS Committee, DIUS's Departmental Report 2008, Q 243 Back
Q 324 Back
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Thirteenth
Report of Session 2006-07, The Last Report, HC 1108, p 5 Back
IUSS Committee, Second Report of Session 2008-09, The Work
of the Committee in 2007-08, HC 49, para 7 Back
Ev 83 (Natural History Museum); Ev 87 (UK Computing Research Committee);
Ev 138 (Research Strategy Office, Imperial College London); Ev
148 (Arts and Humanities Research Council); Ev 158 (SSC Science
Cluster); Ev 168 (Research Councils UK); Ev 224 (Sense About Science) Back
Q 392 Back
Q 319 Back
Q 215 Back
Ev 155 Back
Ev 113 Back
Ev 183 Back
Ev 199 Back
Ev 203 Back
Ev 219 Back
IUSS Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2008-09, The
future of science scrutiny following the merger of DIUS and BERR,
HC 662, para 7 Back
IUSS Committee, The future of science scrutiny following the merger
of DIUS and BERR, para 10 Back
HC Deb, 25 June 2009, col 1016 Back