The work of the Committee in 2007-08 - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents


1  Introduction


Formation of the Committee

1. The Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills was established as a result of the machinery of Government changes announced on 28 June 2007 which created a new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). DIUS inherited from the former Department for Education and Skills responsibility for higher and further education and skills training as well as science and innovation policy from the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The new Committee was nominated on 8 November 2007 and this, our first Sessional Report, provides an account of our early work and the way in which we have addressed our core tasks as set by the House's Liaison Committee.[1]

2. Until the start of Session 2007-08 scrutiny of science policy was carried out by the Science and Technology Committee (a non-departmental committee) which had a remit to monitor the Office of Science and Innovation (OSI) within the DTI and science across Government. That Committee was abolished at the end of the 2006-07 Session and responsibility for scrutiny of science passed to the new Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee, a move which led to concerns being expressed by the Science and Technology Committee[2] and the wider scientific community (including in a letter to the Guardian in July 2007):

The recent changes to the organisation of government departments involved moving the work of the Office of Science & Innovation into the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, (DIUS) which will be scrutinised by a departmental select committee covering all those areas and matters to do with expenditure. However, as a result, there is the prospect of the abolition of the science and technology select committee along with its important functions.

This committee does a great deal of vital work scrutinising scientific matters and the use of evidence across government departments and agencies. Recent important inquiries include hybrid/chimera embryos, nanotechnology, the future of health research, the impact of EU legislation on MRI, open access publishing, carbon capture and space (published this week).

Just as peer review is important in science, so is adequate oversight of the use of science in policy-making. The government has acquired a good reputation in the science world for supporting science. It could enhance its reputation further by ensuring the continuation of this, either through a stand-alone science and technology committee or through an adequately resourced and autonomous subcommittee of the DIUS select committee. [3]

In one of our new inquiries, Putting science and engineering at the heart of government policy, the terms of reference include an examination of how science policy is scrutinised, enabling us to revisit this issue.

3. In parallel, the Education and Skills Committee was disbanded and while we assumed responsibility for scrutiny of Universities and Skills, a Committee was established to examine the work of the new Department for Children, Schools and Families.

4. Nine members of the former Science and Technology Committee and three members of the former Education and Skills Committee were appointed to the new Committee, which has 14 members rather than the more usual 11. Phil Willis (Chairman of the former Science and Technology Committee) was elected Chairman at our first meeting on 14 November 2007.

A change of name

5. Scrutiny of science policy is just one part of the remit of the new Committee and we have made a conscious effort to cover as many aspects of innovation as well as skills, higher and further education as possible. However we were keen to retain—and be seen to retain—our role in scrutinising science, and following our representations to the Government the House of Commons agreed on 11 March 2008 to change the name of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee to include the word science in the title.[4] This underlines the inclusion of science in our remit and our role in scrutinising science across Government. However, the title of the Department still does not include the word 'science'. Changes to both names had been recommended by the Science and Technology Committee in its Last Report, and we believe that the Department would be better named the Department for Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills.[5]

6. The Leader of the House, Harriet Harman MP, commented that "If the Committee chooses to have a Sub-Committee covering science and technology issues, it will be able to operate that Sub-Committee, in effect, as a successor to the current Science and Technology Committee."[6] We chose, on balance, not to appoint a standing Sub-Committee on Science and Technology because we thought that this could be seen as downgrading our science scrutiny role. Instead we have made frequent use of sub-committees to conduct inquiries on a variety of subjects.

7. 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 hearings. Table 2 lists all our inquiries and evidence sessions and Table 3 shows the visits we have made both in the UK and abroad. For further details see the Committee's entry in the Sessional Return, which is annexed to this Report.Box 1: Objectives and core tasks issued by the House of Commons Liaison Committee
OBJECTIVE A: To examine and comment on the policy of the department

Task 1: To examine policy proposals from the UK Government and the European Commission in Green Papers, White Papers, draft Guidance etc, and to inquire further where the Committee considers it appropriate

Task 2: To identify and examine areas of emerging policy, or where existing policy is deficient, and make proposals

Task 3: To conduct scrutiny of any published draft bill within the Committee's responsibilities

Task 4: To examine specific output from the department expressed in documents or other decisions

OBJECTIVE B : To examine the expenditure of the department

Task 5: To examine the expenditure plans and out-turn of the department, its agencies and principal NDPBs

OBJECTIVE C : To examine the administration of the department

Task 6: To examine the department's Public Service Agreements, the associated targets and the statistical measurements employed, and report if appropriate

Task 7: To monitor the work of the department's Executive Agencies, NDPBs, regulators and other associated public bodies

Task 8: To scrutinise major appointments made by the department

Task 9: To examine the implementation of legislation and major policy initiatives

OBJECTIVE D: To assist the House in debate and decision

Task 10: To produce Reports which are suitable for debate in the House, including Westminster Hall, or debating committees


Table 1: Relationship of inquiries and evidence sessions to objectives and core tasks
Inquiries/Evidence Sessions Objective A Objective B Objective C Objective D
1 23 45 67 89 10
The Sainsbury Review XX X XX X
Higher education issues X X XX X
GCSA—Professor Sir David King X X X X
GCSA—Professor John Beddington X X X XX
Formation of DIUS X X
Renewable Electricity-Generation Technologies XX X
Funding for Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQs) X XX XX X
Biosecurity in UK Research Laboratories X XX X X
UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation X X X
Science Budget Allocations X XX X X
The work and operation of the Copyright Tribunal XX X XX
Engineering X X XX X
The Leitch Review of Skills XX X XX X X
Re-skilling for recovery - After Leitch: Implementing Skills And Training Policies XX X XX X X
The use of Government Statistics in Evidence-Based Policy-Making X
The Office For Fair Access (OFFA) X X XX
Investigating the Oceans X XX X XX
The Quality Assurance Agency's Recent Report on Standards in Universities X X
Scrutiny of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill X XX XX X X
DIUS's Departmental Report 2008 X XX X X
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council X XX XX X

Table 2: Status of inquiries at December 2008
Inquiries/Evidence Sessions Number of Evidence Sessions StatusGovernment Response
UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation
1
Reported January 2008 (HC 185) March 2008 (HC 459)
The work and operation of the Copyright Tribunal
1
Reported March 2008 (HC 245) June 2008 (HC 637)
Funding for Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQs)
1
Reported March 2008 (HC 187) June 2008 (HC 638)
Science Budget Allocations
3
Reported April 2008 (HC 215) June 2008 (HC 639)
Renewable Electricity-Generation Technologies
4
Reported June 2008 (HC 216) October 2008
(HC 1063)
Biosecurity in UK Research Laboratories
3
Reported June 2008 (HC 360) November 2008
(HC 1111) Awaiting outstanding memorandum
Engineering
12
In progress N/A
Scrutiny of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill
2
Reported November 2008
(HC 1062-I)
Expected early 2009
DIUS's Departmental Report 2008
3
To report January 2009 (HC 51) Expected early 2009
Re-skilling for recovery - After Leitch: Implementing Skills And Training Policies
5
To report January 2009 (HC 48) Expected early 2009
Investigating the Oceans
1
Reported follow-up session in May 2008 with Government Response (HC 506)
The Sainsbury Review
1
Minutes of Evidence
Printed 31 October 2008
(HC 113-i, HC 598-i, HC 443-i, and HC 471-i )
N/A
The Office For Fair Access (OFFA)
1
The use of Government Statistics in Evidence-Based Policy-Making
1
The Leitch Review of Skills
1
GCSA—Professor Sir David King
1
Minutes of Evidence
Printed 27 November 2008

(HC 115-i, HC 116-i, HC 114-i, and HC 905-i)

GCSA—Professor John Beddington
1
Higher education issues
1
The Quality Assurance Agency's Recent Report on Standards in Universities
1
Formation of DIUS
1
Minutes of Evidence (HC 186-i)

To be printed with Report on DIUS's Departmental Report 2008

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
1
Minutes of Evidence to be published shortly N/A
Table 3: Committee/Sub-Committee Visits
Location of Visit Date of visit Participants Purpose of visit
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory 31 January 20083 Members, 1 Staff Science Budget Allocations
Edinburgh4 February 2008 2 Members, 1 Staff Science Budget Allocations
Daresbury Laboratory 18 February 20085 Members, 2 Staff Science Budget Allocations
British Library 27 February 20081 Member, 2 Staff Engagement with the broader DIUS community
Pirbright28 February 2008 4 Members, 2 Staff Biosecurity in UK research laboratories
Berlin, Germany 3-5 March 20085 Members, 2 Staff Biosecurity in UK research laboratories / Renewable-electricity generation technologies
Porton Down 20 March 20083 Members, 2 Staff Biosecurity in UK research laboratories
CERN, Geneva 27 March 20085 Members, 2 Staff Engagement with the broader DIUS community
Bucharest, Romania 23-24 April 20081 Member (representing the Committee) European Forum on Habitat
Leeds14 May 2008 4 Members, 4 Staff After Leitch: implementing skills and training policies
AQA, Guildford 3 June 20083 Members, 2 Staff Engagement with the broader DIUS community
Sizewell B, Leiston, Suffolk 15 July 20084 Members, 3 Staff Engineering
September Visits: Sellafield, Imperial College London, Royal Society, UKCES, MRC, HEPI & DIUS, Culham Institute, RCUK & Technology Strategy Board, Printable Electronic Technology Centre September 2008Chairman and others Engagement with the broader DIUS community
China and Japan 19-25 October 20086 Members, 2 Staff Engineering



1   See Box 1 and Table 1 Back

2   Science and Technology Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, The Last Report, HC 1108 Back

3   Science needs its Select Committee, letter to the Guardian 20 July 2007: Prof Sir Martin Rees, President, Royal Society, Lord Browne of Madingley, President, Royal Academy of Engineering, Dr Mark Walport, Director, The Wellcome Trust, Prof Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council, and 34 eminent members of the scientific and engineering community. Back

4   Votes and Proceedings, 11 March 2008 Back

5   Science and Technology Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, The Last Report, HC 1108, paras 5-7 Back

6   HC Deb, 25 July 2007, col 942 Back


 
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Prepared 16 January 2009