Submission from the Association of Medical
Research Charities (AMRC)
AMRC response to Commons Select Committee on Innovation,
Universities, Science & Skills consultation "Putting
science and engineering at the heart of Government Policy"
The Association of Medical Research Charities
(AMRC) is a membership organisation of the leading medical and
health research charities in the UK. In 2007-08 AMRC's 115 member
charities spent over £900 million on medical and health
research in the UK.
Working with its membership and external partners,
AMRC aims to:
Influence the external environment
so that it is enabling of the work of medical research charities.
We are pleased to respond to this consultation,
as detailed below. The comments here reflect the view of AMRC,
based on our experience of working with and for our member charities
and we have necessarily concentrated our submission on a number
of key areas. We are aware that several of our 115 members
intend to respond individually to the inquiry.
AMRC applauds the Government's ongoing
emphasis on science, and welcomes the fact that the Science Minister
is now included within cabinet-level discussions. We
are concerned that the "economic" focus of the cabinet
sub-committee on Science and Innovation is too narrow and that,
strategically, science policy must also be considered in terms
of its wider social and environmental impact and benefits.
AMRC would instinctively welcome
the idea of establishing a Department for Science and envisage
that this would have many benefits for the advancement and promotion
of science in the UK.
AMRC continues to have concerns about
the process by which science policy is developed. This could
be more transparent and contributor-friendly, reflecting the important
role played by many stakeholders outside Government including
We support the Haldane Principle
as the underlying principle of Government policy-making in this
We believe that parliamentary scrutiny
of science could be strengthened and improved with the establishment
of a dedicated Commons Select Committee and better research and
support services for Parliamentarians.
The overall aims of Government efforts
to improve public understanding of science need to be more clearly
defined and their implementation based on a strong partnership
approach with other stakeholders.
1. AMRC welcomes the current cross-government
focus on science including the appointment of the Science Minister
to cabinet and the establishment of a Cabinet Sub-Committee on
Science & Innovation. Both steps will, we believe, help to
ensure that science and engineering is at the heart of policy-making
and overall Government strategy going forward.
2. However, we are concerned at the ongoing emphasis
on the economic benefits of science and innovation to the potential
exclusion of the consideration of wider social and environmental
benefits. For instance, we consider the terms of reference for
the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science & Innovation, "To
consider issues relating to science and innovation; and report
as necessary to the Committee on Economic Development",
to be too narrow. The recent report Medical Research: What's
commissioned by MRC, the Wellcome Trust
and the Academy of Medical Science, shows that there are clear
long-term social as well as economic benefits from investing in
medical research. And while we understand the Government's concerns
over economic impact, particularly given the current external
environment, we strongly believe that policy discussions at every
level need to reflect the wider impact of research and science
and society's needs at any given time.
3. With the establishment of the Department
for Innovation Universities and Skills (DIUS) in 2007, the scientific
community gave the new Department a cautious welcome while emphasising
the importance of it having strong cross-departmental links to
enable it to work effectively for science. In our view, it is
perhaps too early to judge how successful the Department has been
in achieving this. However, our sense is that there has been a
loss of momentum on some issues due to the changes in departmental
responsibilities and the implementation of arrangements for their
ongoing management and handling.
4. AMRC would instinctively welcome the idea
of establishing a Department for Science. In the experience of
our member charities, difficulties often arise for those trying
to feed into the policy-making process in ascertaining which department
is leading on particular issues and where their voice can be heard
most effectively and constructively. For example, responsibility
for animal research stretches across several departments, including
the Home Office, DIUS and BERR, but it is not always clear which
department has had authority on a particular issue or policy development.
5. A Department for Science with a remit
to provide leadership across government, forge strong cross-departmental
links and ensure consistency of approach and thematic emphasis
would ensure that the Government's approach and decision-making
apparatus was more open and transparent to all stakeholders.
6. What we would not want to see is the
establishment of a Department for Science in a solely cosmetic
sense with no consideration given to the mechanisms and vehicles
by which it will champion science across Government. The inherent
risk of establishing a single department is that it would create
the policy equivalent of a centrifugal force in Government which
would lessen or disempower the consideration of science issues
by other departments. It should also not disassemble or attempt
to assume ownership of effective mechanisms set up by other Departments,
such as the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research
(OSCHR) and UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC), to develop
strategy and policy on science and research issues (see below).
7. In the medical and health research arena
the main thrust of Government policy, as enshrined in Cooksey
and OSCHR, is well-aligned and responsive to the priorities of
the scientific community. AMRC welcomes the partnership approach
embodied within the mission of UKCRC which has created an effective
forum in which to develop a coherent approach to funding health-related
research and the practical steps taken by OSCHR to actively involve
all stakeholders this year, including medical research charities,
in setting National Ambitions on Health Research.
8. In general we would say that as regards other
science policy areas the Government has also endeavoured to be
inclusive of the relevant stakeholders throughout policy development
on key issues. The Foresight programme, for instance, has been
an excellent example of how the community can be brought together
to examine key issues and challenges and define an agenda for
9. What has been less transparent and inclusive
at times has been the Government approach to implementation of
policy. Here the goal should be the establishment of mechanisms
to gather views across the scientific community as policy is put
into practice. Many key stakeholders are resource-poor and the
process of contributing to policy implementation can be overwhelming.
Again, a single Department for Science could considerably improve
this situation by ensuring a more uniform engagement process rather
than requiring contributors to monitor and develop relationships
with several departments.
10. To provide effective scrutiny of detailed
science policy it is necessary to have access to specialist science
knowledge. Although many laudable steps are taken by Parliament
to ensure Members have access to scientific information, including
the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology and a team
of specialists on hand in the Commons and Lords library, it is
the case that Members of Parliament must proactively seek out
this information. Often faced with multiple demands on their time
and limited staff capacity, this is not a priority.
11. Currently a wide-range of mechanisms exist
which Parliamentarians can access if they are aware of them to
obtain information about scienceincluding the library,
POST, Foresight, All Party Parliamentary Groups etc. However,
the sheer volume of avenues can potentially be over whelming and
run the risk of repetition. Within any effort to review scientific
advice to Parliamentarians, AMRC would welcome an attempt to co-ordinate
and streamline such efforts. AMRC recognises the similar thinking
outlined in the Commons Public Administration Committee's second
report of 2006-07, Governing the Future,
Members' capacity to engage with
outside experts and the wider public could usefully be increased,
perhaps by building on the work done by POST to produce something
more like the Scottish Parliament's Futures Forum, where debate
can be informed by experts, and can involve those outside Parliament
and would welcome further exploration into developing
such a forum to improve Members' capacity to engage with outside
experts and the wider public on science issues.
12. During the passage of the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Act 2008 through Parliament, medical research
charities, working closely with the medical research community,
expended considerable effort to ensure all Members were aware
of, and had access to, detailed briefings on the science. However,
it may not always be possible for expert groups external to Parliament
to expend the time, effort and resources required to pro-actively
engage with Parliamentarians on a particular policy issue. Nor
would these necessarily be seen as impartial sources of information
and Parliamentarians lacking fluency with the scientific method
may also be at the mercy of groups with other agendas who profess
expertise. AMRC would welcome steps to strengthen the Commons
and Lords library and other resources to enable Parliamentarians
to identify and pro-actively engage on upcoming policy issues.
13. Furthermore, we believe that political
parties themselves could do more to empower their members to be
"science savvy" so they are in a position to scrutinise
science policy more effectively. AMRC therefore applauds the Conservative
to provide Conservative Parliamentarians with lessons in scientific
literacy, explaining scientific method and basic concepts, and
urge Parliament to consider similar pro-active engagement with
all Parliamentarians on science.
14. AMRC believes that the Haldane Principle
should continue to be the underlying principle for government
decision-making on science although we would welcome a more open
public debate about whether these need updating for the future.
15. The effectiveness of the Haldane Principle
in practice, however, rests on there also being effective checks
and balances across the policy-making process, including Parliament.
16. While we applaud the work of the Innovation,
Universities, Science and Skills Committee in scrutinising science
policy across Government, we recognise that this is just one part
of the committee's very large remit. Indeed, we were disappointed
that the decision was taken not to retain a dedicated Commons
Science Select Committee following the changes in the machinery
of Government in 2007 and continue to believe that there
should be a Commons Select Committee established to scrutinise
and examine science policy and issues in more detail, regardless
of whether a Department for Science is established in the future.
17. As the Minister for Science currently
sits in the Lords and, therefore, is not able to answer MPs questions
in the House, we hope the Committee for Innovation, Universities,
Science and Skills will re-instigate regular oral evidence sessions
with the Minister for Science.
18. While laudable, the overall aims of
the Government's aspiration "
for all citizens to be
fully engaged with science and to understand the nature of science
better" (A Vision for Science & Society DIUS Consultation,
2008) need better definition particularly in terms of how
Government intends to measure impact and work in partnership with
19. We believe that more detailed public polling
is needed to explore what the public might want to see to make
them feel more confident in science and to inform more realistic
goals and strategies for public understanding and dialogue. What
is apparent from public dialogue work to date on specific health
research issues such as ageing
and stem cells
is that there is a real need for efforts to be focused on improving
public understanding of how research happens in practiceincluding
not just realistic processes, timescales and goals, but co-ordination
between funders including the involvement of industry as research
partners throughout the process etc.
20. In our view the focus on the notion
of "scientific literacy" does disservice to the public's
clear interest in, and thirst for information on, research as
highlighted by AMRC's public polling and dialogue work.
21. An Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by AMRC
in October 2008 showed that a majority (57%) of British adults
15+ have donated money to a medical research charity suggesting
such charities are highly valued by the public. When further questioned
"How interested are you in medical research in general?"
58% responded that they have an interest in this area.
This suggests there potentially is a large audience for initiatives
to engage the public with medical research.
22. Medical research charitiesalready
inspiring high levels of confidence and support from the publiccan
play a key role in engaging the public with science as the recent
BBSRC/MRC funded Stem Cell Dialogue report
recommended: "There is a significant opportunity for a coordinated
campaign by medical research charities to raise the resources
and profile of stem cell science."
23. Moreover the myriad efforts on public
understanding and engagement undertaken by many organisations
could benefit from a level of strategic co-ordination and leadership
which the Government is well-placed to facilitate and AMRC would
welcome the inclusion in the developing Science & Society
policy of steps to support and promote such co-ordinated engagement.
24. More provocatively, it is interesting
to us that the notion of a civic society, apparent in the policy-thinking
of other departments, has not translated across to DIUS and the
formulation of science policy. Hierarchical notions and assumptions
around engagement with a "scientifically illiterate"
public persist with no notion of what the supposed goal of a scientifically
literate public might look like in practise. In our view, this
prevents a more open-minded approach to improving public understanding
through greater public involvement and participation which will
benefit both science and its end-users.
AMRC and its members welcome the Committee's
inquiry and will be happy to assist the Committee further in its
deliberations in any way it can.
138 Based on AMRC Member Subscription Data collected
in 2008-09 Back
Medical Research: What's it Worth?, November 2008-
House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration-Governing
the Future, Second Report 2006-07, recommendation 16 -http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmpubadm/123/123i.pdf Back
Times, Nov 2008 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article5168006.ece Back
BBSRC, MRC, RCUK, Public Consultation of Aging,
BBSRC, MRC, ScienceWise, Stem Cell Dialogue, Dec 2008-
Question: Some medical charities concentrate on providing care,
information, education, doing medical research. Would you be more
likely or less likely to give money to a charity that uses its
donations to pursue medical research into a cause or cure?
Results: very interested 12%; interested 46%; not very interested
30%; not at all interested 10%; don't know 2%. Interested (net)
58%; not interested 41% Back
BBSRC, MRC, ScienceWise, Stem Cell Dialogue, Dec 2008-