Submission from the Wellcome Trust
1. The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity
in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK
and internationally, spending over £600 million each
year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas.
The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research
and its impact on health and wellbeing.
2. Science has a crucial part to play in the
development of government policy and we therefore welcome this
inquiry. Because of the breadth of the committee's investigations,
we have focused our response on a few cross-cutting issues, as
the need for a coordinated approach
ensuring the best available evidence
informs policy-making at an early stage;
recognising the impact of EU legislation
on UK science policy-making;
the importance of a strong research
base to inform policy-making;
the regulation of science; and
the need to ensure public confidence
in science policy.
3. Science in the UK has gone from strength
to strength over the past five years. We welcome the Government's
commitment to the excellence of the UK research base, signalled
first in the "Science and Innovation Investment Framework
2004-14", and recently reinforced through the 2008 Science
and Innovation White Paper, "Innovation Nation".
We welcome the recent appointment of Lord Drayson as Minister
of State for Science and Innovation, and particularly the recognition
that this should become a Cabinet role. We are also pleased to
see the continued development of the Office for Strategic Coordination
of Health Research, which is beginning to shape a single health
research strategy for the UK.
4. While science and innovation formally sits
within the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
(DIUS), it is important to recognise that many other departments
also depend on science for their policiesincluding the
Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR);
the Department of Health (DH); the Department for Children, Schools
and Families (DCSF); the Department for Energy and Climate Change
(DECC); the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs
(Defra) and the Department for International Development (DFID).
It is therefore crucial to ensure that there is a joined-up approach
across Government. DIUS must work closely with all departments
to ensure science is appropriately reflected in government priorities,
and that government policy reflects the needs of science.
5. The Chief Scientific Advisers have an
important role to play, working together to identify and explore
cross-cutting issues from an early stage. We note, however, that
there has recently been a significant increase in the number of
agencies and committees providing advice on science, enterprise
and education. We would encourage Government to ensure there
is not unnecessary duplication; it may be helpful to clarify the
remits of these different advisory bodies and to streamline their
activities if appropriate.
6. Government policy must be informed by
the best available evidence. We therefore urge the Government
to make the best possible use of the significant expertise of
academia, learned societies, research funders and charities in
the UK. The recent report by the Council for Science and Technology,
for example, made a number of suggestions of ways to improve engagement
between academia and policy-makers.
7. The passage of the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Bill through parliament provides a particularly good
demonstration of the benefits of consulting with the research
community from an early stage. A partnership of stakeholders
worked closely with the Department of Health and parliamentarians
from both Houses to ensure that the provisions of the Bill were
consistent and clear, and the legislation future-proofed so that
it will be able to respond to as-yet-unanticipated scientific
advances. We believe that the resulting Act will enable cutting-edge
stem cell research in the UK to continue to flourish within a
robust regulatory framework, while maintaining public confidence
OF EU LEGISLATION
ON UK SCIENCE
8. Legislation from Europe increasingly
has the potential to impact on science in the UKoften in
unintended ways. It is therefore vital to ensure that the process
for seeking scientific advice from stakeholders is as comprehensive
for the development of European legislation as it is for UK policy.
9. The EU Physical Agents (EMF) Directive provides
an example of the potential risks when the full implications of
European legislation are not recognised at an early stage. The
Directive, as initially approved in 2004, would have seriously
restricted the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), both in
the clinic and for research purposes. Thankfully, implementation
of the Directive has now been postponed for four years, allowing
time to review recent evidence and prepare amendments. We are
pleased to see that the UK Governmenthaving now recognised
the concernscontinues to work to ensure that the revised
Directive takes into account the concerns of the MRI community,
10. It will also be important to ensure
that revisions to the EU Directive 86/609 on the protection
of animals used for scientific researchcurrently passing
through the European legislative processare both evidence-based
and proportionate. The Directive must promote animal welfare,
patient benefit, and UK scientific and economic competitiveness,
without introducing unnecessary bureaucracy. The Government must
continue to work with all stakeholders in a coordinated way to
provide an informed response within a potentially tight timetable.
11. The best Government policy relies onand
is reflected bya strong and sustainable research base.
We therefore encourage the Government to continue its commitment
to the dual support system in UK universities. This arrangement
allows a diversity of fundersincluding charities, industry
and overseas funders, in addition to the Research Councilsto
support the best research. It is this system that has created
the world-class research base demonstrated by the recent results
of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.
12. Funding agencies can also play a role in
helping to identify key areas of need and prioritise research
questions, but should not be too directive. The Trust has developed
funding structures that enable us to respond rapidly to the best
ideas from the research community while providing the most appropriate
form of support to take these ideas forward.
The regulation of science
13. The regulatory framework must encourage
and facilitate research, maintaining an appropriate degree of
checks and balances without introducing unnecessary and unhelpful
bureaucracy. While clear regulations are needed to ensure that
research is safe, undertaken in accordance with the highest ethical
standards, and with appropriate protection for patients and the
public, it is important to ensure that a proportionate approach
is adopted, which reflects the degree of risk involved.
14. Researchers are increasingly expressing concern
about the current regulatory burden which results in needless
delays to research, particularly when undertaking clinical trials.
The various regulatory bodies are often poorly coordinated and
regulations are inconsistent. There is a risk that regulation
and governance of research becomes so overburdensome that the
UK loses its international scientific competitiveness. We recognise
that in the area of medical science, National Institute of Health
Research is introducing measures to tackle these concerns,
but would emphasise the unique role that policy makers in Whitehall
have in ensuring a more streamlined approach within the Better
Engaging the public to ensure confidence in science
15. For society to benefit from scientific
developments, the public must have confidence in the regulatory
framework. Research commissioned by the Trust in 2006 found
that there was strong support among the public in principle for
the importance of biomedical research, but there was very little
awareness of different models of research governance.
16. We therefore welcome the recent moves by
DIUS to develop a "Science and Society" strategy, and
the vision of "a society excited by and valuing science".
The public must not only be excited about science, but ideally
should be able to engage in informed debate about scientific issues.
This will also depend on a scientific workforce that embraces
its engagement role with the public, and is willing to explore
the potential benefits and risks of new developments. DIUS should
continue to work to coordinate efforts to develop best practice
to ensure that a scientifically literate public is able to have
confidence in science policy.
177 How academia and government can work together,
Council for Science and Technology, October 2008. Back
See, for example, Times 14 January 2008 p.4;
Stewart et al, BMJ 2008:337 1085-1087. Back
NIHR coordinated system for gaining NHS permission, National Institute
for Health Research, April 2008. Back
A literature review of research conducted on young people's attitudes
to science education and biomedical science, Wellcome Trust, August